Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fifty Years and Friendships

This week I turned 50!!!  Wow.

 It was a lovely day, with a little bit of clouds, and cool and then plenty of warmth and blue sky... pretty much like my life... a bit of trouble now and then, but nothing too severe or life shattering, and mostly pretty terrific.  It was also a day of work, enjoyment, time at home with my husband and best friend,(who took me on a bike ride, fixed me up a cute, and super fun hand-me-down e-bike, and also cooked Mongolian for me in our back yard!)  calls, texts and phone messages and songs from far away loved ones who remember me even if they can't be with me.  It too was like my life, filled to overflowing with things that matter most but without the exotic.  No cruises, foreign travels, or expensive jewelry.  Happily, I'm good with that.  I'll keep what I have and everything else will be icing.

  I have attended an aqua (water) exercise class quite regularly for much of the last 5 years.  I am pretty sure I am among the youngest if not the youngest class member but began attending due to a knee and foot injury that was preventing from me from doing other activities.  When I started, I had nearly all our children still living at home,  but in that five years time, all graduated from college, got married and have begun to have children of their own.  I have tried other exercises and other classes since my injuries healed, but I always come back to this one because of the class members.  How I enjoy and admire them!

Many are widowed, most retired, some have health challenges that provide excuse for minimal activity, yet, most are so consistent in doing this good thing for their mental and physical health and much more as well.   They are so welcoming, inclusive, humorous and fun!  I loved just eavesdropping in on their conversations for many months at first.  Their playful banter and jokes among each other drew me in.  I enjoyed the witty, teasing these ladies gave to one of their friends, Leah (in her 70s) as she began dating and becoming more serious with a man she had met through  another friend.  They all told her they would come and be her "brides maids"... or "brides -widow's" at her wedding, they quipped.  They also added that likely they'd all have to come dressed in swim suits or no-one would recognize each other in real clothes out side of swim class!  When Leah did in fact become engaged, they held a large and really fun bridal shower for her.  Truly, their cheer and mutual support and other examples of community service, involvement and activity whether in golfing, caring for aging parents, library volunteering, or reading with underprivileged elementary school children was and has been a source of inspiration to me.  Their inclusion of me as well has been an answer my prayers.  They have been my "mothers", sisters, and friends.  Today they met me for lunch at a local diner to celebrate my birthday and presented me with cards, and small gifts.  But I wished they could know that it is their friendship and influence that is the dearest gift to me.

Leah and I have become close friends.  We share the same church and our paths have crossed outside of class over the years.  How I love her.   Tomorrow she will also become my piano teacher!  I am thrilled and excited and hope she will become proud of me!  (That is the best motivator for practice, I believe.) Today at Leah's suggestion, they each shared what they were doing 50 years ago.  One was 15, and being a challenging teenager... I'm not surprised.  She's still a bit of a spunky spitfire! All the others were between early 20's and mid 30's, beginning life, starting college, or as young mothers, young wives.  Several were brand new to the  Tri-cities; one was new to the country itself having just moved to Pittsburg US from Germany after the war.  She intended to stay in the US only one year, 7 years later she was still here, met her husband and then stayed for good.   One was living in the Middle East running a bowling alley of all things!  Their stories were fascinating and inspiring.   Even my own mother is younger than most of them, yet I feel no unpleasant "generation gap".

I wish these dear gals could know what their friendship has meant to me, the hole it has filled as my own mother and sisters live far away busy lives, and our children left home and moved away.  They are reminders to me that we really all are "family", brothers and sisters of Heavenly Parents and He wants us to include and care about one another, and to seek to meet each others needs.  These women (and a few brave men in the class too!) care for one another by driving to doctors appointments, helping move and clean during divorces, or other challenging times, even aiding during and after surgeries and recoveries.  What a support system they are... from a gym class!

Thank you for accepting even embracing me in the arms of your friendship ladies!  How I hope I may do the same for some other "young" gals through the coming years, and that there will be others like you to do similarly for my son, daughters and daughter-in-law wherever they may be.

Much love, and Happy 50 to Me!


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fresh Courage Take and Carry On, Carry on CARRY ON!

Come, COME ye saints… fresh courage take… …. Carry on, carry on, CARRY ON!

Jeff and I recently returned from a two week road trip, during which time we saw and personally visited with every living parent, sibling, child and grandchild in our large circle, except for two; Jeff's brother living in New Jersey, and my brother in Alabama whom we visited earlier this year in February.  With 12 siblings, 5 children and currently 3 grandchildren, this was a remarkable feat.  It was refreshing and encouraging renewing acquaintances and making memories and sharing happy events.  As we traveled, we attended church meetings in various states, and every time, I felt uplifted and edified by the spirit and the messages.  The hymns in particular seemed to remain with me.  On this beautiful fall day, the first day of school here, I have several of them running through my head.  You may have noticed the heading, which combines two.

We used our many hours in the car driving from the Northwest to Southern Utah, to read our love letters from over 30 years ago, written during the beginning of our courtship while Jeff was away working in Alaska and I continued nursing school and worked in a nursing home.  Later the letters resumed during our engagement, when Jeff graduated from the college I still attended in Idaho and transferred to continue his Engineering degree at BYU in Utah, leaving me to graduate for another semester.  Our letters prompted much discussion for many hours.  They were immature in many ways, silly, and shallow, but they were also filled with commitment, insight, occasionally great wisdom and often a value of one another's characteristics, that perhaps we have come to under-appreciate, through years  of familiarity.  It was good to remind ourselves of the  perception and perspective we had of one another then and to discuss how it has altered.  We considered the hope we had for the future, our fears and concerns and discussed how those hopes and fears have worked themselves out… We have in fact had trials, and challenges, yet, feel over 30 years to be on the whole, remarkably blessed.

On the way home by contrast, we read a book filled with hardship and suffering about a Muslim man, converted to Christianity, and particularly the LDS Church.  This too, prompted discussion of how blessed we are, and how our fears for life and the future thus far, have been so small compared to the hardships of many in the world, and of our own heritage.  My nephew Landon Winegar spoke of a few of our common ancestors at his mission farewell we attended 3 weeks ago, and truly, their faithful endurance of hardship in many ways, has made possible so much I now hold dear today.  

The circumstances of our world, with it's increasing persecution of Christians throughout the world, and certainly the rejection of moral, and Godly values, and the tremulous resulting conditions for families and our youth around us, is a source of great worry, concern, even fear for me.  My heart is regularly burdened with these fears for our children, grandchildren, and for our siblings, nieces and nephews as each use the precious gift of agency to makes his or her way in life.  Thankfully, I have yet around me, many of those same family members, and dear friends, who buoy me up when needed and remind me to "hush my fears" and focus on Christ, and His goal for each of us, and me personally.  I had that happen today during my exercise with just such a friend.  We discussed a variety of things in our lives and then this friend shared with me a talk she gave this summer based on Elder Bednars April Conference Talk, "They did Hush Their fears", on page 46 of the May 2015  Ensign.  I highly recommend you review it.  As we talked, I was reminded of an experience I had earlier this summer and in my mind it suddenly became a personal parable.  

Our daughter Whitney was having her first baby in July, right at the time they planned to be preparing for her husband to take medical boards, and move.  She lived in LA and I expected to fly there to help them during this time of many transitions.  I live in a small town, I generally avoid driving in large cities, and unfamiliar places, and I feel challenged by weak dusk/night vision.   However, I still planned to go and to do what was needed to the best of my ability.  I was concerned… even a bit afraid, but I knew I was going anyway and chose not to dwell on the fearful, too much.  

I went, and in fact circumstances required me to drive right at dusk, from a large hospital in Pasadena, in an unfamiliar car, alone, an hour a way in heavy 6 lane California traffic, the very first night; then to stay alone in an unfamiliar house, navigate shopping, and picking up prescriptions, and then do the long drive back to the hospital in heavier daytime traffic the next day.  I really had NO clue where I was, except that I knew I was in Pasadena, and I was going to Claremont… but those were really names only… a starting place and ending place.  But I also had a GPS. It was well lit and I had made myself familiar with it over months and even years of use in the past.  I trusted it.  I placed it clearly in my window view on the first night with a prayer that it would verbally warn me in time to change lanes or take exits early enough in the heavy traffic and falling night.  I felt an almost humorous sensation that all of this was very scary…… yet, I was NOT afraid.  Things went remarkable smoothly, over all.  On the return trip I am quite sure at one point I missed an exit…. but the GPS adjusted nearly seamlessly, and in fact with out knowing at all how it happened, I ended up back at the hospital, from a totally different direction, and being amazed (and grateful!)  that there it was!  And even sooner than I expected.  

Our earth life is much like this.  We come to earth, an adventure and experience we knew was necessary, even though it contained much that is concerning, worrisome even fearful of some us.  But we came.  Fortunately,… I know where I am starting….. sort of…... in a family who loves me, and I also know generally where I am headed….I want to return to my Heavenly Father.  I really can't tell you where each of those are specifically, nor how long exactly the journey will take or exactly what I will experience on the way.  BUT, I do have a GPS of sorts, that is very reliable, even if I really can't explain how it works. I strive regularly, some times better and more consistently than others, to be familiar with it and to use it so I can trust it.   I have the spiritual GPS of the scriptures, prayer and the Spirit. Together they really do guide, and navigate me through most of the pitfalls of this journey.  Yes, like any real memorable and meaningful journey, there will be construction on the road, (growing experience that challenge but can improve), tedious slow downs, detours, even accidents.  Sometimes I only observe, or hear about the accident and pray mightily for those involved and other times I am IN the accident, and sometimes my choices create the detours, which may be long and dangerous.  But there is always available to me a way back, if I will patiently follow it, even through the dark when I do not see any way, nor do I understand at all where I am or how to move forward on my own.  The Spirit, like my GPS can guide me safely through the dark and unknown.  

I know that when we are striving to be where we need to be, doing what we are needed to do, whether nurture children, provide for families, serve in church callings or be a friend to the lonely, infirm or afraid, we will have the ability to do fearful things without being overcome by the fear we acknowledge. By feasting on scriptures daily, applying them to our own lives, and praying with faith, trusting in a mighty and Loving God to guide and aid us through the storms, and unknown paths of this life, we will receive the peace we need even crave,  and courage to hush our fears and move forward in faith.  

With the foundation of overcoming and persevering from our Pioneer heritage, or the examples of persecuted Christians throughout the world, "Why should we think to earn a great reward if WE now, shun the fight?"…. yes, I can now "gird up (my) loins, fresh courage take, (knowing that my) God will never us forsake"  

I cling to the examples of the past, (hymn 36, They the builders of the Nation second verse), ….." Courage their unfailing beacon, radiating near and far.  Every day some burden lifted, Every day some heart to cheer, Every day some hope the brighter, blessed honored pioneer."  I want to be like those then and now, who  (hymn 35, second verse) "  at the hand of foul oppressors,   have born and suffered long; thou has been our help in weakness, and thy power hath made us strong.  Amid ruthless foes outnumbered, in weariness we trod …We are watchers of a beacon, whose light must never die; we are guardians of an altar Midst the silence of the sky.  Here the rocks yield founts of courage, struck forth as by the rod;  For the strength of hills we bless thee, our God, our fathers,' God.."

Most of all, I find myself craving, drawn with a mighty thirst to the songs with messages of hope, power unity and joy;  songs like Hymn 251, Behold a Royal Army, and I want to BE one of those " soldiers, bold and strong.  Who follow their Commander, and sing their joyful song. " The song made joyful because we KNOW victory has already been assured, "through Him that redeemed us!"

Through my savior and your savior, even Jesus Christ our Lord, and only through him, I can be as hymn 255 "Firm as the mountains around us, stalwart and brave…" others before and around me, have "raised His banner triumphant".   I will now strive to  help you hold it high during your times of fear and weakness and I trust many of you will help me hold it up when I also, feel weak or afraid. 

 Thus, together, we can be for this generation "the Youth of the noble birthright", and Carry on, Carry on, CARRY ON!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fathers and Other Great Men

Perfect Dad for Me!
I love you Dad.

 I have been  privileged to be surrounded all my life with the finest of men.  I don't know why that has been so, but I recognize and feel it deeply.  Today, on our only son, Layton's 25 birthday, and a few days before Fathers Day I choose to acknowledge it again.

Yesterday, I called home to my parents to check on details for a memorial service my mothers was putting together for an uncle that had long been lost to our family.  Dad answered and we enjoyed a good hour or so of cheerful, chatty conversation.  My Dad is interesting, funny, witty and a great guy.  I have always enjoyed time with him, and this conversation was almost as good as being with him.  He and Mom are a wonderful team, the kind I hope Jeff and I are becoming, and the kind I hope for and see in our children and their spouses.  They minimize one another's weaknesses and build up their strengths and together make up a whole that is a powerful blessing to the individual needs of all who cross their path. 

Our family and extended family has often seemed so un-notable to me… nothing famous or particularly outstanding… just good ordinary people.  However, as I listened to Mom and Dad remind me of the miracles that have occurred in the finding of a number of "lost" extended family, I realized our parents ARE more than notable!  Oddly in our otherwise uneventful family, there have been a number of family members, particularly in Mom's family, who have at times, become, "lost" to the others, sometimes for long years.   Mom and Dad's cooperative efforts over many years have "found" most of them in ways not explained to those who don't believe in Divine intervention.  They both support and seek the spirit, and in a church who preaches of family relationships extending beyond this life, it seems natural then, that our parents would also live so fully, the principles of concern and connectedness in THIS life.  We all feel it, and we all are better for it.  I have learned much, watching how, unlike some spouses who could complain or criticize their in-law relations, my parents never have.  They work together to make their home, life and choices inclusive of all, to repair breaches or hurts, and strengthen ties that have become loose or cut.  Dad has been an involved partner and participant in the constant charitable outreach all of us know our parents to live.  And all they consider it is, LOVE.

A few weeks ago, I substituted in seminary and the topic was an historical event that occurred in the church the summer I was 12.  I wondered if I would have written anything about in my journal.  Sure enough I did, and as I perused the other entries near it, I was reminded again how valuable my dad was in that tender time in my life.  He was a young and harried father with a large family to provide for.  And yet, he noticed me,  trusted me and took me as his "secretary" on trips to Boise to work with him.  I loved those outings and recorded them in detail; trips to the Capital, our lunches and how much they cost, the sights we saw and even our conversations.  I wrote about how dad always chose me to work with him on the "hard" family chores, like cleaning the garage or cutting firewood.  But I didn't mind (too much) because I knew Dad valued ME, more than just my help.
My parents and the way my family looked one year before I married.  Busy parents!
And how grateful I am  now, for every single sibling!

  What a gift to society, a devoted and loving Father is!  It doesn't take a perfect one.  Just one who knows the VALUE of HIS role, and the value of his wife and children.  Dad how I love you.  I love you so much I am always trying to find time to spend it with you and Mom.  And I never regret it!  I loved our private camping trip years ago during the week I waited for the kids at AFY (Adventures For Youth), and my recent visit when Mom and I went early to ride the bus on your bus route in the morning.  No wonder all your patrons love it when you're the bus driver!  I do too!  I've always been proud of my Dad. You taught me among many other needful and vital skills, what to look for in a husband. 

Jeffery Bird, has been the man of my dreams. He too is witty, and funny, silly and sweet.  He is kind and patient, and has almost no temper at all. He is the sweetest father to little ones ever, and my photo albums and memory are filled with photos to prove it.  I believe there are very few things more attractive to women than a man who is good and kind to children.  It is the MOST manly of things!  And even now… how he worries about his children and grand children! You have only the tiniest idea how much!  Each are constantly in his prayers and conversation.

And he is VERY smart!  I never go a week, often even a day, when someone does not comment to me how much Jeff has influenced their life.  What a great thing to know about ones spouse, that he is a blessing to others.  I also appreciate all the things he takes care of in our home and life.  He is a capable and talented DO-er, and he does things well if he's going to do them.
Jeff and Me and our little 
Father and Son
Fun Daddy!
 He takes me on road trips, and enjoys the local cafes and tolerates the history and scenic stops I love, so patiently.  And he is forgiving.  One cannot minimize or underestimate the value of that quality in a marriage.  Oh how kind he has been with me and my too often pettishness. Jeffery, our children and I are so very fortunate to have you as Husband and Father!
Bird's multiplied! (Conrads, Lees, Robinson's, Bird, Bird, and Udall)

Just as my Dad showed me what to watch for in a man, Jeff did for his children. All four daughters have connected themselves to the finest of men.  They are disciplined, hard working, smart, kind, and faith filled.  We admire and love them all!

And for our son, Layton, born in the middle of 4 sisters, just before Fathers Day just like today, Jeffery was a role model. Layton was the cutest, funnest son and brother.  He was literally "in the middle" of every event with his sisters.

 Layton is fast becoming just like his Dad. We both think  he's soon ready to pass Jeff up in ability and knowledge!

 He is brilliant and capable and now, as his first tiny little daughter Emma, struggles, and grows and develops in the NICU in Idaho Falls, he too is a most devoted and involved husband and Father, just as his Dad has been.

He was  so concerned about his work that was conflicting in his desire to be all the support,  emotionally and physically he wanted to be for his wonderful wife Meredith, and to be there to help with and connect with a tiny baby girl, they cannot bring home for months.  And it was worked out.  They have not missed a day yet in 6 weeks, and likely have many more to go, but they leave one feeling there is truly nothing else or no where they'd rather be.  Wouldn't every child like to know that is how their parents feel?  Wouldn't the world be better if it were so?

To Jeff's father, and brothers and brothers in law, and to my brothers and brothers in law. You too, are part of my fabric of gratitude for the tremendous value and influence of devoted, sacrificing Fathers.  You have been mentors to us, as we have watched from a distance and tried to add into our lives, (sometimes belatedly), your best attributes.

And now, with our 4 Sons-in-law, the cycle continues. We see and expect the same great contribution to the world that we have seen thus far.  You matter!  You are loved and you DEFINITELY make the world better!  I hate to disagree with the world, (maybe I don't HATE it  at all!), but diamonds and dogs are NOT women's and mens best friends, it should be and can be and for me, has been,   a wonderful FATHER, husband, son, and brother, who are the very BEST, the most loyal and devoted and meaningful, and valuable of friends!  Thank you!

Happy Fathers Day ALL,   I love every one of you!  And feel gratitude for all like you.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Hat...

SURPRISE!  This is going too be a hat review.  Odd for me I know, but it is.  It will even include a brief consideration on bicycle helmets!  They are hats too… sort of.  :)

I like hats.  I bet you did not know that…. even if you thought you knew me pretty well.  But I do, and I always have.  I do not like baseball hats, visors or cowboy hats, but I do like cute, fun, girly sun hats.
That said, I do not wear hats very often.  The reason is varied, but mostly, cute hats today, draw attention and I am uncomfortable with that.  Still, I do like them and as I become ever less concerned about what people think, I become both more practical, and in some ways, more brave in doing what is needful and fun.
My Lands End fleece hat and Jeff in his rabbit/leather Aviator .
Hats today, are mostly practical, to keep one warm, dry, or shaded.  In the past they were often merely decorative. I am still way too practical for that.   Both my husband and I, each have a small collection of hats.   His worn constantly, mine till recently, only rarely.  Jeff sadly no longer has his head of tight thick blonde curls and thus his head gets cold, or sunburned.  He has a thick soft long hat for sleeping that covers his eyes and his head..., (yes, just like the night before Christmas, "… and papa in his cap.")  He has one for walking, one in his suitcase for traveling, a winter hat, a fun western felt hat he wears on the 4 Pioneer Trek's he has led over the years,  a cotton canvas Tilley hat he wore for years, but has since largely replaced with a lighter, airer, vented Tilley that shades his bald head, dries fast and stays put, a very fancy, cool russian beaver hat, and maybe his favorite winter hat, is a combination rabbit and leather aviator style hat the kids and I got him for Christmas one year.  He wears it almost nonstop in the winter, even in the house and in his office! The ladies there love it and want one like it if it came in colors!

What describes the PERFECT hat?  Well, the perfect hat to me, will do it's job, be comfortable, STAY ON, and be nice to look at.

After going through many over the years, I currently have 3 wonderful winter hats I hope to never replace. One is creamy off white fleece, purchased on sale from Lands End, with an upturned brim.  It's light, warm, comfy, washable and cute.
 The other two are gorgeous fancy fur hats, that were a Christmas gift from my darling husband, who spent weeks scouring Etsy!  to find them.   One is  a spice brown mink hat, that is so comfy and warm, and stays a bit closer to my head.

Last of all is a knock out silver fox Russian hat that is to die for.  It is so fluffy and soft and incredibly warm, and living in the Northwest, every time I wear it I get told constantly, "Your hat is so beautiful."  However, I realized on a recent winter trip to Utah, that the more conservative population there, was embarrassed for me in my expensive and fancy hat.  The comments there were markedly different and awkward and I could tell it wasn't there style of couture …. kind of funny, since so many more hunters make themselves known in Utah than where I reside, but….. whatever.  I don't think it had anything to do with the fact that it was fur in that sense, just that it was…. fancy.  As I said, I am becoming better able to  take the heat of "standing out" at least when it includes being warm.  I can handle it.

My beautiful Silver Fox winter hat.

But now, it's summer, and I like to be outside, on my bike, by the river, in my garden and in the pool classes at the gym.  I care less now about my facial tan than facial wrinkles and cataracts and so, I dug out my collection of sun hats…. but somehow they were all wrong… which is likely why I wear them so seldom.  All of them are oh so cute!  One is a floppy, cute woven sun hat with a broad brim.  But it blows off in the smallest breeze and its a bit scratchy on my forehead…. and….. I don't know.

The other is a darling white knit hat with a black sash and bow.  We purchased it years ago on a trip to Victoria BC and it does have a bit of an English flair.  I long ago added a tie to keep it on in the breezes crossing the ferry from my Western Washington,  Poulsbo days, but… it's hot, and makes me sweat, and it's not very washable and I'd hate to get it wet as it would not only be hard to clean but would be heavy and saggy!

The third is a darling linen colored thinly woven hat we purchased with friends in Maui 4+ years ago. It's my favorite and looks pretty cute on me and is the right size, for keeping the sun out, and not heavy to pack in a bag etc, But…. it too blows off in the slightest breeze, isn't' really washable and would sink in the pool, and stain in the garden with berries and dirt on my fingers.  I've had others, but parted with them easily as being too casual, too big, or too tea party fancy with flowers on the brim etc.

So, I have spent much of the week on "the perfect hat hunt".  I've been on the internet, and identified what I thought/think would be the perfect hat… a T9 down sloping Tilley hat in off white.  It's expensive though and I'd really like to try it on first.  Tilley's I already know from Jeff's experience, fit well, stay on, LAST, float, are washable and guaranteed for LIFE, even for LOSS!  How can you beat that?  But still, I'd like to try it.   Well, only two places carry Tilley's in our small Tri-Cities area, REI, and Sportswearhouse, but they only carry one variety and it's NOT the T9  :(  Bummer.

I eventually brought home a DARLING summer/denim blue down sloping hat from Columbia. It was oh so cute, and light and flattering, and shaded well.  But, the moment I stepped out the door, with the smallest breeze, it was off my head.  :(  Not going to work.  I returned it sadly.

I did purchase a grey green Columbia shade hat from Costco, for a great bargain.  It has a strap, it's adjustable to my head so it stay on even with out the strap in most light breezes. It floats, and had great shade coverage.  But after trying it out in my pool class, the brim in back was a bit too big and made it hard for me to do the moves as it dragged a bit…. It's not as cute, and I didn't love the color, but it won't show the dirt and will wash well and I will keep it for hiking and working in the yard and garden.

But I was back to the drawing board.  Now I had more information though.  My experiments taught me that I wanted a light weight, floating hat that would shade my eyes but not have too big a brim for pool classes, and would wash well, and dry quickly, had a strap and adjustability to stay on my head in small breezes without a strap!  Well I headed back to Sportswearhouse and bought a children's hat by Sun Day Afternoons, I'd tried on a hundred times this week and now knew it would be perfect!  For $15.00 I am set for the pool class, and another $15.00 from Costco covers me in the garden.  (See the top photo, upper left hand corner for that hat.)
The perfect"quick-dry", light weight, floating shade hat for the pool.  Chin strap, and adjustable inner strap included.

And I think I STILL want that expensive Tilley, just to wear out and about.  Like my winter Silver fox, it's a summertime classic and I know it will just LOOK good!  (I do think it would be too heavy for the pool though and take too long to dry for my pool needs although for boating it would be lovely, classy and PERFECT!.)

Last of all, about the Bike helmet/hat…. I've LONG known everyone SHOULD wear a helmet.  I even tried with the typical shallow, top of head things.  But they were uncomfortable , hard to adjust and hot.  All terrible excuses.  Nevertheless, I did not wear mine.  I hated it.  Jeff kept telling me he wanted a full head kind and the picture that conjured up in my mind, was just too too ugly for even my less vain nature.  But eventually, a few weeks ago, we went helmet shopping. I needed to set a better example for my two, almost three tiny new granddaughters and many more, we hope, to come, as well as their parents.   Shockingly, I jokingly picked up a round, full type helmet at REI in a Hawaiian pattern and put it on my head just for kicks!  Guess, what, I fell in love!  It's called a Nutcase.  It's NOT cheap, but it is so very comfortable and very easily adjustable for those like Jeff and I whose "hassle factor" has shrunk to very nearly zero! Just turn the knob at the back base of ones neck and viola!  Perfect fit.  The under chin strap is genius. It's magnetic and does not pinch! and connects and disconnects so naturally. And with an optional little visor in the front, I feel like a snazzy jockey in stead of a granny biker.  I love it!   Best of all, I don't avoid wearing it, I even look forward to it!  I've worn it with pleasure every bike ride since!  SUCCESS!  
Amia sets a good (and fashionable) safety example!  :)

So WHICH is the PERFECT hat?  The one you wear with pleasure for the time and purpose!
 And yes, according to Jeff and I, one is just not enough!    We give you permission to indulge!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Interconnectedness...Then and Now


 It's a chilly grey day here.  I've been spending the afternoons lately going through some large manilla envelopes of letters and photos that Mom sent to me some time ago. They are mostly letters and drawing and photos that the kids and I send to her over the last 20 years, with a few letters from my younger sisters LeOni, Kristi or Tandi mixed in for good measure. It has been a fun journey to go through them and I find myself amazed I took so much time to write and feel grateful we worked so hard to stay connected with a large variety of family. They tell a remarkable tale of a very busy family striving to do all they could to do what they thought was good, right and needful, always struggling for balance and improvement.  

I have thrown much away but I have saved a bit to pass on to kids or siblings who may enjoy a small reminder themselves for they too to pass them along or throw them out.  It's okay.  However, after hours of sorting and reading, I came to the very last letter in the pile, a letter from me to Mom, Dad and Family (whichever siblings were living at home on June 25, 1996.)   I will quote from the last page of it:

…… ( Jeff had just got our computer and printer set up for email for the first time)  

" so Jeff is ready to start sending e-mail to Dad on it!  We signed up on line through our library system for free and wondered if your library offered something similar.  Now that our computer can print, I'm anxious to learn a few things for Primary handouts and how to use our terribly inconvenient library system from home etc.  Anyway, if you get an email address let us know what it is. We should have ours in a few days.  Jeff says we're becoming like the "Borg" on Star Trek, all interconnected by this computer stuff. It's amazing and confusing and overwhelming to me-- mostly because it changes so rapidly  that I realize you can never really say "I know it". Your'e basically always obsolete unless you're the genius in development. 
But I can see the day when my pen and paper and comforting books are only "collectors items,"…or  works of art.  We'll curl up in  a comfy chair instead, with a little portable screen, like a large calculator maybe, to "read" our favorite book.  Grandma and I both can say "we never had this and we never had that" in our  youth.  But I  realize how technology is condensing our lives when I can look back 13 years to high school and realize so much we learned and studied is literally obsolete--- shorthand, manual typewriters, etc.  I learned typing in high school on a manual typewriter, now Layton starts keyboarding in kindergarten!  I would fail a math test in high school if I used a calculator - now they teach my first grader to use them!  and I'm still young!  what will I be able to say when I'm old?! "

Well….. nearly 20 years later I had to laugh as I read this hand written letter (in my very nice handwriting I must say) just inches away from my i-pad on which I had been listening to an audio book this morning while I exercised and tried to do a bit of cleaning in the yard  and on the other side of the pages, was my iPhone, on which a long string of texts  from our daughters, and photos of our lovely granddaughter had been streaming in for hours.

 I still had to hire a guy to help us work on our printer this week so I could scan some family history in to share with Jeff's family, but I also had spent time last week in Alabama with my sweet almost 13 year old niece, Megan, helping me learn family search stuff on my iPad while she sat by me on the sofa… I still need her help by the way…. I'm not proficient yet!  

But wow! What a long way we have come! I still feel barely competent on all this stuff, and feel an almost equal mix sometimes of awe and frustration with it.  But overall, I think I feel pretty great about the blending of old and new in my life… I feel pretty good about my efforts to stay up to speed and to use the tools of my generation for good.   It makes me grateful for the way these things have helped or large, dispersed family stay connected and involved. AND I feel so excited to see what else will come in the future to bless our lives and solve problems.  What an amazing generation in which to live!  

So… here's to "interconnectedness", however it happens!

Monday, February 23, 2015

February 2015 on the Gulf Coast

Hey Y'All!  How all y'all doin'?   (since Jeff and I just returned from two weeks on the Gulf Coast, I can say it that way.) It's been a bit and I just haven't taken time to write about all the good in our lives….without children at home to share what they are saying  and doing and teaching us, well... it seems harder to explain and share now than in times past, and besides, its all about US now and that could be VERY boring! But..

Life is good and we are now returned home from our visit to my brother Brandon and Patrice in Alabama,  to re shoulder daily responsibilities of home, work and church.

  The day after we returned, we used our sunny (but chilly) northwest weather to do the late winter yard work of mowing, fertilizing and fruit tree pruning.  Sorry to all of you buried in snow. We did have to tackle it a bit different this year however.  Jeff keeps reminding me of a "certain" birthday coming to me (much) later this year.  I have started 2015 with some unexpected reminders that our bodies don't stay the same, just as our children don't stay home, small and innocent forever.  Without injury or explanation my lower back and hips "went out", (an easy explanation for PAIN!) a few weeks into January.   For me the pain lasted and moved about my lower body for several weeks, making dressing and activity very challenging.   But when my right shoulder did the same thing in the middle of the night 3 days before we were supposed to leave for Alabama, I was rather distraught.  Now not only could I not move, but I could barely care for myself.  I resorted to things my children know are "last resorts" for their mom…. medicine and doctors appointments.   We theorize that during a time when many around us were getting flu viruses of some sort, I got a virus that settled in certain muscles, and voila!  A Set back,  just as I was trying to add some weights and yoga back into my routine.  The doctor put me on a high dose anti-inflammatory/prednisone that felt like a miracle to me at the time.   In the meantime I had to hire one of my Young Women to help me pack, prepare our house to leave and cook dinner for the missionaries one night because I was unable to even so much as make my own bed or write a note.  I am scheduled to begin physical therapy to restrengthen things now that I am home, and I am optimistic that I can get back to doing what I enjoy and value.  However,  I am having to acknowledge that most of us have limits that change over time and are real.  I needed help to start the mower Saturday, and could not work the saw or pruner as I always have to prune my own trees.  I had to mark everything with a marker and Jeff did the rest.  It's humbling, but still it is a blessing to have a body that still can move and enjoy life.  And besides, maybe it's another way to help Jeff and I spend time together!  :)  

Still, life is great for Jeff and I.   We are thrilled and amazed by the blessings we are experiencing.  To name a few, a beautiful little granddaughter, Lyla,
Lyla May Conrad 5 months, is a roller now!
whose parents send us pictures and video regularly to keep us connected, and news of two more new babies to come this summer! Our children are still our joy and they have been multiplied by spouses who enrich all our lives.  How do I express the thrill of the 'conversations' that  group text technology allows us to participate in or 'overhear',  between our girls as they ponder and research political issues or candidates, as well as share insurance, and career questions and solutions?  Or the deep satisfaction that follows the recent calls and discussions with our son as he tackles new skills making such wise use of his time, but mostly wrestles with ideas and personal application of cooperative living and unity and 'one-ness'?  To us, this is what we worked,  sacrificed and sought to create in our family culture….. thinkers, who had open minds but could also discern between truth and error.  And to be included in their lives;  not in a 'needy way' but a sharing, equal way, is a joy beyond expression to us.

We truly enjoy and value this stage in our life.  It's a  "first" in so many ways for me; personal time and calm and order and…. again, I find it hard to express…. different, and better too, than the brief time early in married life when it is just the two of you, as our relationship is matured, and comfortable as well as many other circumstances that go with nearly 30 years of loyal, and happy married life.  It's lovely and I hope you all experience it at some point.  Our circumstances feels unique to us, in that we are (contrary to some perceptions) younger than many to arrive at this time of "empty nesting".  
Trying to prove that all these snowy looking photos, is really soft
white sand here in the Gulf!
Me and my favorite guy!

 With that segue, let me clarify some other perceptions this has presented.  Being an empty nester, does not automatically equate to "OLD" or "RETIRED".    Despite my recent physical set back, we are not yet  "old", nor are we retired.  Jeff, at only 53, still works full time, has a job that he enjoys with people he respects and influence that brings him satisfaction. (I STILL for a time yet, remain in the 'under 50 crowd! :)  ) However,  much of the Hanford Complex has moved this last year to 10 hour days, giving Jeff the option to do the same, which he has chosen to do.  This has allowed us to have every Friday together, and is a gift we do not take for granted.  It is allowing us some gym time together, temple time together instead of me alone every week, and time for progress that is actually measurable (sometimes) on home maintenance, and repairs.   It is also allowing us to plan ahead with our vacation time, combine it with the long weekends when Jeff can get away from Stake needs, and make visits to family we have struggled to make time to see for years, or a few small bucket list items that may fit in now and then. 

Which also explains these last two weeks.  We combined the long presidents day weekend, with our Fridays off, and 7 days off and that made two weeks to spend in the Gulf Coast, visiting my brother Brandon and his great wife and family, who,  like us, have experienced the isolation of being far from loved ones they miss, enjoy and admire.  We know how it feels to miss out on the regular celebrations and togetherness of extended family life for years on end and enjoyed being with them and sharing time and testimony and making what we hope will be a lasting happy memory.
Like Father, like Son

Two 'gentlemen' making valentines breakfast for the 'girls'.  ( I loved seeing how the 'family attitude' towards this holiday has perpetuated from our Mother through many of us.  High Five good brother and what an example for that sweet little guy!)

The Gulf coast is a beautiful place to visit.  I highly recommend it to you.  We learned from the locals that while many treat it as a fabulous spring break location, (March-April),  for more family friendly environment, and just as lovely weather, choose October or November if you can.  But even for us, early February (6-20) was when we could make it happen and it was still lovely.  We had a mix of warm, sun, barefoot in the sand days, quite a number of chilly, need a jacket and maybe a hat, sunny breezy days, one wonderful humid, rainy southern day, and several very chilly, glad to stay inside or visit a museum days.  

If you want beautiful beaches… wow… they are known for the most beautiful sandy beaches in the world and many say they found  Hawaii positively disappointing after visiting here.   We can see why. The sand from Lousiana, through Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle are the softest, whitest sand I have ever seen.  If you saw photos I posted, they looked like snow.  They are not rocky, they are clean and the water is shallow and blue blue blue.  

The people everywhere we met were so friendly.  It is a bit slower, and don't go feeling rushed or you will be frustrated. Everyone was helpful and nice and we got to experience new things which we always enjoyed.  Jeff fell in love with "hushpuppies" after trying 3-4 different kinds in various states and places.  Our favorites were a light, sweet version, and ones with "crawfish and peppers" in them, but they are all good.  How can one go wrong with a fried cornmeal?  We loved a crawfish taco we had in Florida, and Jeff ended up ordering a second southern bbq brisket sandwich on a tiny beach shack bbq place on Dauphin Island in Alabama with Brandon's family.  

Several people have asked me what my favorite part of this rather extended trip was.   Well, I learned lots about Mardi Gra.  Did you know it is connected to the Catholic keeping of Lent?  
  Mardi gra is the whole MONTH before Lent.  Lent is when they give up something for 40+ days before Easter, kind of like Christ fasting. 
 It's odd to Jeff and I the excesses manifest in Mardi Gra prior to Lent, but I decided to enjoy the fun of it, kind of like Mom taught us to do with Halloween.  I enjoyed seeing some of the beautiful gowns and crowns from the 20's and 30's in the Art Museum near Brandon's university.  They were works of art and I think Meredith would have enjoyed it with me.  The floral parade in Mobile was truly the most exciting parade I have ever been to.  It was fun and happy and felt "generous" in a way.  They throw out so much stuff from toys and stuffed animals, candy and 'moon pies'  and even hoola hoops and of course BEADS!  I've never seen anything like it.  No stinginess or  skimpiness in a mardi gra parade!  Unless it is in the attire of the high school dancers…. then watch out!  I appreciated Brandon's attitude.  Instead of being appalled, he expressed deep sadness for those girls who "felt so little of them selves that this was all they felt they were worth or the only way to get value, by displaying their bodies".  
Whitney:  notice the tiny dog on the back?  It's REAL!  Funny huh.  It just stayed there and looked at everyone like it was a person!

Somehow I forgot to take pics of any of the lovely mardi gra dresses, but I did get this cool photo of a most amazing versatile antique, highchair/ rocker,/chair.  The legs pop up to make the taller chair. the tray folds and lifts up… it is a truly a creation of "first intent"( i.e., useful and lovely….see Hugh Nibley"Approaching Zion" if you don't understand that.)
But mostly, while I really enjoyed the scenery of white beaches, and blue water, amazing giant oaks, dripping with hanging brown moss, and branches so wide,  one alone could cover a large house, ( I thought of Nikelle and Layton each time I saw one and wished I could take a picture of them climbing up in those lovely climbing branches).


and beautiful historic homes and history, and rolling fields with neat red brick houses set way back, (all most ALL with classy side-entry garages),   my favorite thing.. was the people.. 
friends from decades ago,   early in our marriage,
Graham and Tracy are still fun and dear to us!

           family,  and kind strangers.  
"The boys" (Brandon, little Matthew and Jeff, visiting in the
beautiful foyer of the art museum.

Kaitlyn, me and Megan touring history.

In the jail of the old Fort Conde'.

For details about that, you may read the notes from excerpts of my journal at the end if it interests you.  But a few things below:

Singing in church became an unexpected memorable experience.  While singing in church in Brandon's  Semmes Alabama Ward, there were so few voices to join mine, but it was not uncomfortable, and I love the hymns and so I sang as normal.  The first Sunday, the couple in front of me spoke to me immediately after sacrament meeting, saying I sounded like an angel......uhhhh......I know I don't.   (I just smiled and said 'Thank you'.)  All those musically gifted reading this from my own Richland ward, may smile,... And today as I sit amongst more people on the first four rows in Richland's Shoreline ward, than in the whole sacrament meeting in Semmes, and my voice blends like an unnoticed grain of sand on the beach, I know my place....but still, what kind words from strangers united by threads of faith.  It is a miracle I can't explain how one can walk into an LDS meeting anywhere in the country ( I imagine the world) and not know a soul, and even acknowledge cultural differences, but find that you could have a friend and to find it easy to contribute to a well prepared sunday school class full of otherwise strangers.  I cannot describe how integral and beloved Brandon and Patrice and EACH of their children are to this tiny ward.  Everyone young and old loves each one and seeks them out and knows about them individually.    I imagine that is how Mom and Dad were in Arlington.  Those friendships have lasted for decades and I can see Brandon and Patrice that way here.  

Anyway, it was interesting and Brandon and Patrice are lovely tour guides and hosts and made things very easy and comfortable for us. We tried to not be too bothersome  or intrusive.  (Thank you, thank you for a wonderful visit!  How we love you.)  We know they would accommodate you any way possible if you arranged to come!   

We love this wonderful, interesting beautiful country, our good and kind family, and time with each other.   It's good to have time to explore.  It's also good when one can leave home in "winter" and come  home to "spring".  I know many of you are still buried in snow, but I spent the afternoon spraying trees, and trying to rake old leaves with one hand…. it wasn't very effective, but it sure was nice to be out with the sunshine, and birds singing!

Ya'll come back now, ya hear!  (Sorry, I couldn't resist! :) )

Journal Excerps and details:

Sweet observations from my journal:
    The girls (Megan and Kaitlyn) were so excited when we came,  to share their collections of sea shells and rocks, and Hannah was so excited to have us come 
although she does not even know us.  

Matthew picked me flowers nearly daily and told me he loved me and would snuggle in my lap as if I were familiar and dear.  He is truly as much as I can remember/imagine his Daddy being as a child.  He's remarkably creative, his face is the most expressive I have ever seen, he entertains himself for hours, hunting for spiders, egg sacks, birds or lizards, or mostly drawing and making things with paper and tape and string.  He is sweet and tender, adores his mother (she has weed flower bouquets in cups on every counter!) and his sisters each of them differently.  (Hannah is is beloved playmate and Megan and Kaitlyn are his "ladies" for whom he has "responsibility" to care for) and yet is thrilled to be with his daddy too, and also is not shy or reserved with 'old" relatives he does not know.  He is adorable.  It makes me hope that Layton and Meredith could have such a boy….. not sure why, but a boy like that for our dear son seems a treasure to me.
     The girls loved showing us the things they selected from last years "Browning Free Freight " collection we made for everyone  at the reunion to choose treasures from.  It was fun to see that some of Flora Mays ceramics (beautiful birds) ended up being loved again in a 'new home' far away.

     A neighborhood walk with my brother Brandon, so different from those with my sisters,  reminded me of the joys of having a brother, and how that same little brother used to take me on similar 'hikes' through the "paths less traveled" to the Portneuf .river when mom and sisters always took the road.  Brandon and Jeff and I hiked first thing on our first morning, on the trails near and around Brandon's neighborhood that I could tell were as beloved to him as our paths by the Columbia river at sunrise are for me.  Brandon's trails wandered through the shrubbery and woody edges of his neighborhood to and through nearby fields and commercial nurseries, as well as drainage areas.  It was a sunny warm day and a lovely reminder of how much the same and familiar my grown man/husband/father/brother still is to the memories and feelings I retain of him as a child of 4-12 when I was 

On the nightstand of our room, (really Megan and Kaitlyn's room) was the sweetest letter from a loving father (Brandon) to his daughter concerned at her criticism of her body.  What a mighty and powerful influence a righteous and insightful, tender father is on wife, son and daughter.  One need not be perfect to have a deep and profound influence for good.  And I had a father like that.  And Jeff has been a father like that.  For this reason alone, my life has been abundantly blessed.  I believe our son, and each of our sons-in-law (can I just call them all our sons? For so I feel.  And same for Meredith.  I do not think of her or any of them one whit less.  I just have fewer memories of them.  But the depth of my feeling and love for them is the same as if they each were our very own.) will be equally fine.

    Visiting Graham and Tracy Wright in Mississippi.
We met them just weeks out of BYU and with a tiny baby Nikelle, they,  married only a year perhaps and barely out of their teens and he a new enlisted man in the Navy.  And yet, as they have traveled the country with the military,  we have maintained contact from those first few years we shared;  when babies came (Graham IV and Layton on the very same day!)  and siblings lived with both of us, and Graham was out to sea and both of us were adapting to marriage and being refined and shaped.  So much has changed over the years and yet we shared an important shaping time that has bonded us together although we have seen each other only 3 times in nearly 20 years.   Seeing them again, here in the south, Jeff and I described feeling as Alma, thrilled to see them but more joyous to know that they were "still our friends in the Lord".  They are faithful, and they are raising a good and committed and valiant family.  We see in action the influence of the Gospel lived, as it magnified, and shaped this convert couple into a family of leaders and influence.   We had a lovely visit with them  in Biloxi, on the Gulf Coast.  A sunny, lovely day, toured the last home of  Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy during the civil war.  It was thought provoking for me to especially listen to the films about him and I realize there is much I  do not understand  about the choices made by many then and certainly now, and I often judge amiss.
One of the confederate widows buried behind
the Beauvoir… wonder if we're related?

Kaitlyn earned her faith in God award on our first Sunday here, and her dad presented it to her and asked her to share what she learned as she worked on it. At only 11 years old she remarkably shared that she learned many things, but mostly that the "attributes worked on were to prepare her to for young women's and to become a mother and be sealed in the temple".  She said a few other brief but very insightful and mature comments and reminded me anew what remarkable youth have been sent for this important and challenging generation.  And a couple sitting in front of me, turned at the end of the meeting and told me I sang like an angel…. sweet, and funny too, knowing how mediocre my voice is in our ward at home.  There we live in the smallest but most active ward in the stake, and it looks GIANT compared to this tiny, tiny ward with much less than 100 present.  

Monday:  February 9, 2015
 Rented a car today and drove 3 1/2 hours into the Florida panhandle.  Its a beautiful day for a drive, the scenery is flattish, and with a shocking mix of beach foliage and lots of tall long needle pines, that somehow seem out of place along the beach.

Jeff thought this sign was funny because if a tree provided all
those uses it would need to be "harmed"….
  Drove to Panama City Florida tonight and ate dinner in a funny old seafood place highly recommended, called Captains Table.  We had grilled scallops and shrimp, that were delicious, especially the shrimp, and a divine, "sheCrab chowder?..yumm!  And some southern sides, cheesy grits, Fried okra, and really yummy sweet hush puppies.  I'm not big on okra, and the grits were good to try, but now and then is more than enough.   Mostly, we're still happiest to eat yogurt, and green smoothies, salads, and home cooking at our house.... We think there's no place like home.  Thats a good thing, but I love a visit too.

 As we explore and wander the kids have been calling, and cheering us on and it's so good to hear from them.  We've heard from each one of them in some way in the last two days and there are few things better than that.  Tiahna sent some hilarious videos of Lyla too.  Love our family!  And treasure time with Jeff.  We are just road trippers by nature it's true…. maybe not "cool"  but true.

Feb 15, Sunday,    "Sister Sanchez :  says to friends "happy  Sabbath!   I hope you spent it at a church of your choice and keeping the 10 commandments."
Pretty amazing "chalk art" eh?

One day, Brandon and Patrice took us to a charming town called Fairhope, with one of the coolest parks I'd ever seen.  It had "hammock swings" that I knew Nikelle would LOVE and large musical interments like chimes and xylophones!  How great for children!
Where we ate in the "french quarter", down an alley, in an antique green
house, at a famous place that's been on Diner's Driv-ins and Dives,
called Panini Pete's.  It was great.  I highly recommend it.
 Some of the most interesting architecture in Fairhope!
Pretty cool huh!

 (Sorry about the crazy photo arrangement but I cannot figure out how to place them well, so oh well!)
Sad parts of the history of the area…...

 The inside foyer of the Battle house Hotel in downtown Mobile where we watched the Floral Mardi Gra parade.

 One of a zillion lovely settings for very symmetrical, charming homes that never have a visible garage.
 Hmmm…. Jeff, the pied piper on one of our walks…. lets just say it was interesting. (There were 8 dogs at one time.)
Shrimpers lined up in the village of Bayou la' Batre

Somehow my imagination seriously underestimated
what the shrimping business looked like.

A literal MOUNTAIN of oyster shells.

February 20, 2015, retuned home to Richland.  It is thick with clouds, but quite warm, and feels and smells wonderful to us.  As we flew in we loved anew, seeing the crop circles, even in the mostly brown of late winter.  Even then it looks "productive" to us in a way that that the marshy flatlands of the gulf even with spots of lovely old gnarly oak trees did not.

We do enjoy a few weeks 'away' from duty and responsibility this time of year. It is bouying to us but it was good to connect to family and to sense that we were a lift to them as well.  I do believe it meant great deal to my brother Brandon to have us there long enough to really make a memory with his children but just barely not too long that we became a serious nuisance.  

All for now. It is good to be in our big old house and our own bed. ...... But it was also so nice to be away from our own responsibilities for a while.  Now I have lists running in my mind again, and trees to prune and a garden waiting to be planted, and yw's to organize.....I did not miss any of that.