Friday, April 29, 2011

Gifts for Mom Come in Unexpected Packages

Published with Allen Publishing, May 2011 (click HERE for the link)
Published on, May 2011 (click HERE for the link)

"That is one expensive skateboard!" remarked a chatty sales associate as he rang up our purchases.  I had tried to persuade my thirteen-year-old son to buy a less expensive one, but he refused to be talked out of buying the most expensive skateboard in the store.  It was his money.

When we got home the kids immediately took to the street to test the new wheels. 

Less than five minutes later, my son came crashing through the door.  "My skateboard just went in the gutter!!!"

"You mean the skateboard you just spent all of your money on?  The one that you have owned for exactly fifteen minutes?  THAT is the skateboard that is at the bottom of the gutter?"

I wasn't using my inside voice.

My son looked around frantically, grabbed a broom, and we all ran down the street.

The drainage openings for the gutter on our street are about four feet wide and less than a foot tall.   We could see the skateboard sitting at the bottom, but the angle was impossible - no one could reach it, not even the broom which was plenty long but entirely too straight. 

My five kids and I stood staring into the gutter trying to figure out what to do.

Teenagers are experts at thinking outside of the box.  My fifteen-year-old daughter suggested that perhaps her eight-year-old sister might be able to fit her skinny little body into the opening.  The very idea!  What kind of a mom would let that happen?

I inspected the gutter carefully and found it to be clean and dry.  Plus we were running out of time.  And my younger daughter was actually excited to try.  So I relented, and watched as my son held my daughter’s ankles and slowly lowered her, head first, into the gutter.

With some twisting and bending, she reached the skateboard.  But as soon as she grabbed it, I heard a sound that sounded a whole lot like the sprinklers about to spray.  Regrettably, I was right.  In the very lawn we were standing, the sprinklers turned on.  We were getting very wet very quickly.

Slightly panicky, I worried that by son would lose his grip.  Slightly more panicky, my daughter yelled that she couldn't pull the skateboard up. So my teenage daughter lay on the curb next to her, reached down to grab the skateboard and maneuvered it up and out of the gutter.

The precious skateboard had been safely retrieved.

Which was great.  But my daughter’s head and most of her body were still deep in the gutter, getting wetter by the second.  While I was ordering my son to pull her up carefully so he wouldn't scrape her stomach and reminding my daughter to turn her head so it wouldn’t get stuck, a man ran over from across the street and gallantly stepped on the closest sprinkler head to stop the flow of water.

I should have thought of that.

We all watched my daughter emerge victoriously from the gutter - unscathed except for her long hair, which had seen significantly better days.

Our neighbor was all smiles and amazement. "I've lived here a long time and have seen lots of things go into that gutter, but I've never seen anybody actually go in after them like you just did.  That is AWESOME!"

As we were walking back towards our house, my son turned to his sister and said, "Thanks.  I owe you one.  Let me know next time you need something."

These words came from the mouth of a boy who has recently been treating his younger sister as little more than an annoyance.  I have lost plenty of sleep over this, trying to figure out how to get my kids to be nice to each other for heaven’s sake.

In retrospect, it may not have been the best idea to let my son feed my daughter headfirst into the gutter.  But I wonder if any other situation on the planet would have compelled him to say those kind words to his sister, words that her tender eight-year-old heart needed to hear.

As a mother, I’ve learned that precious gifts often come in unexpected packages.  If it happens to be a skateboard stuck in a gutter, I’ll take it.  I'm not picky that way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Women of Character" Book Review

Published in Mormon Times, April 26, 2011
(click HERE for the link)

"WOMEN OF CHARACTER: Profiles of 100 Prominent LDS Women," edited by Susan Easton Black and Mary Jane Woodger, Covenant Communications, $24.99, 370 pages (nf)

The new book "Women of Character: Profiles of 100 Prominent LDS Women," published by Covenant Communications, offers readers a personal look into the lives of 100 LDS women who have accomplished something extraordinary. 

"Women of Character" profiles pioneer women such as Emma Hale Smith and Eliza R. Snow as well as contemporary women such as Jane Clayson Johnson and Gladys Knight. Each woman has her own unique life story, fascinating in its own right. Each woman experiences different challenges, defeats and victories. And as a result of her talent and contribution to society, each woman achieves her own degree of prominence.

Woven through these very unique stories, however, are important common threads.

One common thread is that each of these women shows unusual determination to succeed. Readers will appreciate and relate to the many stories of finally making progress after much hard work, seeing success only after multiple failures and finding happiness after experiencing heartbreak.

Another common thread is that the women in this book demonstrate strength of character no matter the circumstance. Notoriety often leads to situations where integrity could be compromised. The women in this book are truly women of character and choose not to make such compromises. Their lives demonstrate that true happiness and excellence can be found in remaining true to one's beliefs and in reaching outward rather than inward.

"Women of Character" is an inspiring book that can help LDS women find perspective and understand that their own lives are significant and meaningful. Readers will feel encouraged to develop their individual talents and serve more, ultimately making an important difference in their families and the world around them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I Wish He Were Mostly Dead

Published in Stillwater News Press, November 2010
Published with Allen Publishing, April 2011 (click HERE for the link)

He is so immature! He is the most annoying brother on the planet, and doesn’t even try to be nice to me.”

“Give him time, sweetheart. It may take a few more years. I know this sounds crazy, but someday he’ll be one of your best friends.”

I then throw in a few stories, attempting to back up my ridiculous claim that my teenage daughter and her younger brother might one day be friends.

I would fling myself onto my parents’ bed, sobbing, “I hate him! He’s so mean to me! Why did I have to get him for a brother?” I vacillated between wishing him mostly dead and wishing him entirely dead.

For good reason.

Dave (18 months older), my sister Debbie (21 months younger) and I once stayed up late watching the TV version of “Psycho,” where the hotel proprietor dresses up as his mom - whom he has previously murdered - and disposes of hotel guests with a kitchen knife. The uplifting movie petrified us beyond words, so my sister and I decided to sleep in the living room when it was over.

Minutes later, we heard a scream. My mom had gotten out of bed, walked into the hallway, and come face-to-face with Dave dressed as a middle-aged woman wearing a wig, nightgown, and carrying a kitchen knife. But instead of frightening his scardey-cat sisters into a state of irreversible shock, Dave nearly gave his poor mom a heart attack.
Debbie and I spent an entire month plotting revenge but gave up. Some things simply cannot be outdone.

The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were our favorite TV shows. If Dave walked into the room during one of those shows, we would scramble to our positions in front of the TV, arms out, risking life and several limbs to prevent him from changing the channel. Dave’s advantage was momentum, which he was able to gather while sprinting the full length of the room. Being robbed of so many sappy endings was the ultimate injustice. Dave figured he was doing us a favor. Which he probably was but still.

Big Jerk and Huge Retard were the meanest names I could think of, and I reserved them for Dave. But when he actually did something nice like invite me to join him and some friends for lunch at the beginning of high school, I would feel a twinge of guilt for the awful name-calling.

Thanks to Dave, the guilt never lasted long.

I was at Dave’s complete mercy when it came to getting a ride to school, was always ready to leave before he was and would watch in utter frustration as he put his shoes on very slowly just because.

Until one morning. For the first and only time in history, Dave was ready before me. He pulled the car into the street and leaned on the horn. Worried about annoying the neighbors, which Dave clearly wasn’t, I ran to the car and yanked the door open - just in time for Dave to drive forward a few yards. Bare feet flapping on the concrete, I tried unsuccessfully to jump into the moving car.

He stopped briefly, but drove forward again - erasing any doubt as to whether the driving and stopping had been due to driver error.

Dave then stepped on the gas for the third time, making the unfortunate mistake of pushing his luck. The right front tire, which had been creeping perilously close to me, rolled smack dab over the top of my left foot. Lucky for both of us - for entirely different reasons - no bones were broken, the scratches and bruises weren’t even too bad. But bones could have been broken, the scratches and bruises could have been very bad. And Dave knew it.
I was treated with caution and deference for several weeks after the foot incident. Dave even bought me donuts on the way to school. Honestly, the caution and deference started to get on my nerves. But never the donuts.

Things gradually began to change. We started talking. We hung out with each others’ friends. He helped me with math, even though I couldn’t reciprocate. I asked for his thumbs up or down on outfits. We went on group dates. I cried and he did what he could to make it better.

At some point, I no longer wished him entirely dead. Mostly dead on occasion, but never entirely anymore.

Immediately after Dave graduated from high school, he left for an out-of-state summer job. I still had a few days of school left. A friend saw me in the hall and asked, “So, do you miss Dave?”

I surprised myself by bursting into tears. It occurred to me – probably for the first time - that it wasn’t just my brother who had moved away. It was one of my best friends.
And I really missed him.

My daughter listens to my stories. But then she sighs, rolls her eyes, and says, “Whatever, Mom. That’s never going to happen with us.”

I guess I’ll have to give her some time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was rated as one of the best nonfiction books of 2010, so I thought I'd pick it up.

It took me into a fascinating world I knew very little of - human cell research. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman whose cancer cells were taken without her knowledge or consent before her death at age 30. She left behind a husband and five children. Her cells have since been instrumental in changing the medical world. Her family had no knowledge of what had happened until 20 years later.

This book explores the story of the cells, the ethics behind such research, and the personal stories of Henrietta and her family members. It reads like a novel - poignant, interesting, sad, fascinating, and spell-binding.

It was worth my time.

View all my reviews

Camping in the Rain

Published for Allen Publishing - March 2011 (click HERE for the link)

The idea of stuffing camping gear and kids and food and entertainment necessities into and on top of a van and driving for four and a half hours made me tired.  But I plowed through the extra work and extra whiny kids by keeping my eye on the prize:  spending three nights camping as a family at the mouth of a beautiful mountain, swimming in a heated pool and hiking in the canyons.  The kids, having performed very little of the manual labor necessary to prepare for the trip, were excited.  I was too once we finally got on the road.

The campground exceeded expectations - gorgeous scenery, playground, heated pool, nice restrooms.  Dinner was perfect because it was cooked over a campfire and slightly charred.  As we were cleaning up and tucking in for the night, a few raindrops started to fall.  But we didn’t worry because the weather forecast had assured us that the chance of rain was less than ten percent - which basically means it won’t rain.  Plus we were the proud owners of a brand-new waterproof tent complete with rain fly.

We learned a few things.

A ten percent chance of rain just might mean that it will rain all night and into the morning.  Waterproof tents with rain flies only keep the water out for three and a half hours.  Puddles of water inside a tent are a huge deterrent to a restful night’s sleep.  Dirt paths and roads and campsites turn into muddy paths and roads and campsites in a downpour.  Pancakes and bacon cannot be cooked outdoors on a camp stove while it’s raining.  RV owners who cook pancakes and bacon in the shelter of their tiny yet very dry kitchens are looked upon with much envy and some malice by tent campers whose stomachs are growling as they trudge through muddy sludge to use the facilities.  The song “Singing in the Rain” does nothing to lift spirits as muddy camping gear is being crammed back into and on top of the van in pouring rain.  Wiping mud off of shoes with a soggy towel as kids are climbing back into the van is an exercise in absolute futility.

The very very very long drive home was uncharacteristically silent until my thirteen-year-old broke it by saying, “That pretty much sucked.”

I pretty much had to agree.

Except that I’m still glad we went camping.  At the very least, it gives us something to talk about.  Had we stayed home watching movies, we would have no memory of that weekend at all.  We now have all kinds of wet and muddy stories to rehash, remember – and laugh about. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I fully admit that it took a solid six months before I could in fact laugh.

I’m currently planning a Spring Break getaway with our family and really hoping it will go a little better - ok a lot better - than our camping trip.  But a perfect vacation isn’t necessarily the end goal.  It’s more about the experiences, whatever they turn out to be.

Here’s to memories of family vacations.   Even the muddy ones.