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.