Friday, December 26, 2014

Cloch na Smoochan

The story of Kent's gifts to me for our first Christmas as a married couple is one that we enjoy retelling for laughs.  Truly, I was not heartbroken to receive a Scumbuster that year.  If there were any lingering feelings of disappointment, though, this year's gift erased them all.

Kent was surprised that I liked this year's gift so much.  After all, it was a quick order online, a coat of paint brushed on by #2, and a few minutes of writing.  Maybe the simplicity of it makes it even better.  There is so much for me to like about this gift: it's practical, it matches the decor without being obtrusive, it strengthens our marriage, and it came with a story.

Kent used to write for me.  When we first started dating, we would sit in a park and read each other's creative writing efforts.  It was his letters during his two years of missionary service in Mexico that revealed his soul and cemented my love for him.  Occasionally, I'll still get a poem for Valentine's Day, but his written wooing was mostly concentrated on our courtship.  When he does take a few minutes to write, and the words flow with no eraser marks, it makes me feel special.

Here is my Christmas gift:

The Kissing Stool (Irish: Cloch na Smoochan) was set into the White household late in the year of our Lord, 2014.

The father of the White family would arrive from his toils at the end of the day and find himself set upon by his affectionate wife.  The goodwife Mary would place her lips upon his, humming gently whilest her eyes closed.  No sooner had she cast him under her charms, but the spell was broken as she had to retreat from his embrace.

Making up the seven inches of
height differential.







The goodwife complained that her neck was too delicate to reach up at such an unnatural angle for any lengthy duration.  Seeing his wife distressed by the difficult circumstances in which they barely touched, the householder took it upon himself to make the difficult trek to the Amazon.  There, he found a worthy tree which would support the weight of their tremendous love.  He made the Kissing Stool, and presented it to her on Christmas day.

According to Legend, kissing while on the stool endows the kisser with the gift of great flattery, sweetened by humor and flavored by wit.


I love this guy! xoxo

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Defining Purpose

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

As a child, that was an easy one to answer.  I wanted to be a writer.  Or an attorney.  Or an artist.  Or a game-show host.  In my experience, though, the closer one gets to adulthood, the more elusive that answer becomes.  There are so many wonderful and fascinating opportunities in this wide world and finite life that choosing just one feels intimidating.  What if I don't choose the most interesting career?  What if, after pouring time and money into becoming something, I change my mind?

As a teen looking forward to college, I knew that I wanted to learn business management.  Law was intriguing, too; but I also knew I wasn't interested in more than four years of college, so business won out.  In my first year of college, I knew that Kent and I would be married.  I then received direct instruction from God that, even though I wasn't much interested in babies and little children, Kent and I were not to wait to have several babes of our own.  Knowing that, I finished my degree quickly and settled into motherhood.

It was the most challenging thing I've done.  I poured myself into the work of diapers and feeding a family, organizing neighborhood preschools, and frequent trips to the park.  Sometimes it was rewarding, but mostly it was hard.  I pushed through it, knowing I was on purpose and believing the sentiments expressed in the following video were true.



As a young mother looking forward to the light at the end of the pre-school tunnel, the question changed to "What do you want to do when the kids are all in school?"

I wondered why I needed to change my direction.  Yet society indicated at every turn that while motherhood was fine and noble, I would again have every opportunity before me once the youngest child moved into first grade.  When that blessed day arrived, I did cherish the quiet hours during which I could finally catch up on laundry, balance some bank statements, and enjoy lunch with a friend.  Certainly, though, there was something more meaningful I should do with my time to contribute to humanity's cooperative; and maybe I could help out our household income too.  And so I took on lots of things that felt more important than cleaning my house and preparing after-school snacks.

Kent has faced similar decisions in the past two decades.  Like me, he is interested in everything and wants to try it all.  He's been a plumber's apprentice, a real-estate investor, a small-business investor, a door-to-door salesman, a phone salesman, an entrepreneur, a business consultant, an office-furniture guy, and now an executive for hire.  In the 14 years since college he's been involved in nine start-up companies.  It's been an adventure being married to a man with so many interests.


Our children are following in our footsteps.  We teach them that college is only an option, not a requirement.  They should feel free to instead start a business, travel the world, intern or apprentice, serve others, or find a job.  My teenagers know that they are intelligent and the world is full of opportunities and crossroads.  So how does a person narrow her choices and pursue just one?


I think that question needs to change.  We now ask our children, "What do you want to do for the next five to ten years?"  None of us need commit to a lifetime in one occupation or passion.  With so many options, and with decades before us, why not pursue several?  We need to give ourselves permission to change our minds down the road.  College and knowledge are always available.  We encourage our children to first choose a destination, and then define the path.  If college is part of that path--great.  If it's not--great.

I am 2 1/2 years into my youngest's full-day school career, and I think I may have chosen a path without a destination in my hurry to be doing something to contribute to income and satisfy the question of what to do with my quiet time.  As I ask myself what I want to do with the next five to ten years, another question begs, "What am I passionate about?"

I am finding that I am no longer passionate about what I have become good at.  I am also finding that my children's ages continue to define my purpose.  With #1 only a year-and-a-half away from adulthood, I've realized that I am not done being a mother first.  I truly love volunteering at the secondary schools to work with my children and their peers.  I like driving my children around to their various activities.  Field trips and dropping in for school lunch are fun.  I like being a thoughtful wife.  I want an organized and sparkling-clean home.  I could spend all day gardening, remodeling, or building furniture.

It seems pretty clear that my defining purpose for the next decade is as a homemaker.  I want to be the mom who chaperons choir tours and coaches my kids' academic teams.  I want to dabble in writing on the side.  I want to support my kids in their business ventures, and maybe even teach the child who wants to be home schooled.  I'd like to partner with Kent in a valediction project in a couple years.  Primarily though, I want to maintain and be a refuge for my family.

My current commitments continue to pull me away from that choice, and so I am in the process of defining my path away from those and back to my family.  I have to say, their pull is strong.  I know I could be an awesome manager for the charity I work for.  I could pour hours into my Church service and never come up for air.  But giving my time primarily to those occupations takes it away from my purpose.  I need to take my own advice: family is first--and--it's okay to change course.  This doesn't mean that I'll relinquish my Church service.  It just means I'll delegate more and be satisfied with less than I know I could accomplish there.  Additionally, I will work myself out of my paying job to let someone else takes those reins.

A moment with #5 earlier this week cemented my decision.  For nearly three weeks, he's begged me to give him a haircut.  This was unusual, given the other two haircuts that went bad, and considering how much he likes the hot-towel treatment at Sports Clips.  But I was confident that I could give him a trim without a bald spot.  Still, between work and travel and holiday prep, I had to put his twice-daily requests off.  Finally, I had 17 free minutes before school on Monday.  I pulled #5 onto a kitchen stool and got to work.  Midway through the cut, my 8-yr-old said, "Mom, you know why I wanted you to cut my hair this time?  It's because I like having conversations with you.  The stylist at the haircut place always talks to me.  Last time I heard her manager tell her she did a good job on conversation.  I like talking with you.  We have good conversations."  That was a slightly painful compliment to hear.  How many of these conversations have I missed by being too busy?




Here's another piece of my own advice that I need to take:  Out of all of eternity, I have each of my children under my roof for a minuscule 18 years.  My children should not have to wait for each month's hair growth to get my undivided attention for 17 minutes.  I am tired of shushing them so I can finish an email to someone who is paying for my time.  I have covenanted to the work of wife and mother, and I will now bring my purpose back to where I first promised it.  In another five to ten years, feel free to ask me what I want to be.  For now, I'm choosing motherhood.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Night Write

20 years ago, when I was in college, I began waking in the middle of the night.  That habit has been a bane to me for two decades.  As someone who can't stand wasting time--and with five children in the mix--I wouldn't let myself nap during the day.  Instead I would let my sleep deficit accumulate until I could sleep in until 7:00 a.m. on weekends.  I know, I'm sick.

Or rather, I thought I was.

Me in my goggles as I write this post.
Kent has tried for the past two or three years to fix my sleep.  He's found a variety of supplements to swallow, a software program that dims my screen during dark hours, and some sexy orange goggles to block out blue light waves from sunset to sunrise.  Those things have made some difference to me.

This year, as I approach 40, I started allowing myself an afternoon power nap; sometimes I'd even feel so sleepy after taking kids to school, that I'd grab a full-hour morning nap.

Yesterday, Kent sent me the following article, which has changed my perspective on my insomnia "problem" so I now realize it is a creative gift.

Why Broken Sleep is a Golden Time for Creativity

When life started demanding way too much of my time a year ago, I began using my middle-of-the-night wakefulness to squeeze in more work.  Often, though, I found my brain being too "loopy" at that time to trust the work I was doing.  I would go back during daylight hours and edit emails or fix bookkeeping entries that didn't have great clarity.  I also often felt drawn to write on this blog during those hours, but felt like that was a waste of a gift of a few hours of productivity.

Now I know that not writing during these hours is a waste of a gift of creativity.

I've wanted to be a writer ever since fifth grade when I composed a short story about a plant that grew out of an illustration in a book.  The book was left lying open on a bedside table, and during the night hours, the vine took life, grew out of the pages, and slowly strangled the sleeper in the adjacent bed.  I'm not usually one for dark stories, but I really loved how that story came to life as I wrote.

Unfortunately, the strong, logical part of my brain has suppressed my interest in writing ever since high school, instead favoring work and checking off to-do lists.

Last weekend, I accompanied Kent on a business summit, anticipating two days of quiet solitude in the hotel room.  The second day, I decided to take a look at a novel I started writing over three years ago.  Back then, I had written all the way through the first paragraphs of Chapter Two.  The book has been forming in my mind since that time, so I decided on Friday to at least jot my ideas into an outline.  As I re-read the first chapter I wrote three summers ago, I realized it's actually quite good writing.  Or, at least, I was pulled into the story and wanted to see what would happen next!  So I picked up at paragraph three of chapter two, and started writing what would happen next.  The afternoon flew by as I wrote, researched, and wrote some more.  It was so renewing to get those words on paper.

It is no coincidence, I think, that Kent would send me the above-linked article two days later.  I now see the gift that my segmented sleep is offering me to pursue writing.  Those loopy hours are perfect for creating fiction instead of addressing real life.  I now have permission from myself to take a one-hour nap during daylight so I can write for a couple hours at night.  Maybe I'll even turn out a novel in the next three years!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Incensed

While it was nice to get away for six days and focus only on each other, Kent and I did think about our children occasionally, and we decided it would be nice to bring them something from our trip to San Francisco.  Chinatown seemed like the perfect place to pick up a little gift.

We probably could have bought any junky toy with a "Made in China" sticker, but we decided to go a little more authentic. There was a little shop where passersby were welcomed by the smell of raw fish, and where the clerk was happily chatting away in Mandarin with her customers.  Perfect!  Moving beyond the fish, we wound through a maze of shelves of toys, food stacked high on unopened shipping boxes, and candy bins taking up one-fourth of the floor space.  We decided it would be somewhat adventurous, and hopefully funny, to pick out some candy with absolutely no English writing on the label.  In Mexico, we often find candy that is salty, sour, spicy, and sweet all in one.  We were hoping for some interesting surprises with our mystery Chinese candy too.

Wandering to the back of the store, I found a corner packed with brightly colored boxes of all shapes and sizes.  Knowing that the Chinese are big on fireworks, I decided a box of those would be a perfect consolation gift to make up for the potentially disgusting candy.  We are one of those families who never buys our own fireworks.  We prefer to instead gather with friends and watch other people literally burn through $200 worth of paper and chemicals.  So we decided it would be a real treat for our kids to participate in an ancient Chinese tradition and to get to use matches.  Additionally, they would be the only ones on our street putting on a light show for no reason in October.  I found a canister of some extra-long sparklers, figuring their burn time gives more bang for the buck and probably fewer troubles with the TSA.  Plus, my inexperienced children would be less likely to need a trip to the hospital lighting sparklers than bottle rockets.

Our first night back, we gathered the children and spent an hour going through photos and telling them about all the interesting places we had visited.  We wrapped up with Chinatown, at which point I pulled out the candy.  They liked choosing two pieces each of the unknown, and were kind enough to not complain too much about only two pieces each.  The candy was stiff and chewy, like Laffy Taffy, but with real fruit flavors instead of artificial.  They thought it was weird, and asked if we had brought anything else.  I pulled out the sparklers, and they were excited to find 50 sticks crowded into the container.  They each took one out and we headed to the front porch.  After a few unsuccessful attempts at lighting the sparklers in the night's breeze, we moved into the garage.  #2 got one of the sticks to catch and burn like a candle for about five seconds before it went out and just smoked.  We tried with two others and got the same result.  We looked at the package to try to figure out what was wrong with these sparklers, but my limited memory from one year of studying Mandarin in college was no help with the gold characters covering the canister.  We brought the sparklers inside where Kent took one sniff and realized that our surprise gift giving had backfired, so to speak.  We had brought home another 4000-year-old Chinese tradition.  Even though the kids' excitement quickly turned to disappointment, at least we can now add incense to our family meditation practices.  So much for our fun October light show; incense doesn't pack quite the same punch.




Monday, September 29, 2014

San Francisco: The People

Eight years ago, Kent and I started planning a getaway to San Franciso.  We didn't list all the reasons we wanted to visit this city.  It was simply the place we each were drawn to when we sat down to choose a destination we could likely afford that would still hold plenty of the elements of an interesting and romantic vacation.  I came here once as a kid with my family.  I was around ten years old, and all I remember is driving Lombard St. and visiting my great uncle and aunt and playing with their Corgis.  For Kent, it was a family trip that brought him to the Bay at the age of 18.  He spent most of that trip analyzing his love life.  At the time, my cousin, whom Kent was pursuing, had recently told him they would never be more than friends.  Getting away from school and friends gave him the opportunity to clear his head and to see that I was the friend who loved him truly.  He came home and asked me to the Senior Dinner Dance.  Two decades later, here I sit with 14 hours left of our six-day stay in this fabulous city.  I have loved nearly everything about this trip!

If I had listed my reasons for choosing this destination, one would be the people.  I love social diversity, and I was sure I would find plenty of it here--especially in contrast to my hometown of Provo, Utah.  When thinking of San Francisco's diversity, it's GLBT community is probably the first thing that comes to mind.  However, I also knew that my colorful great great aunt Margaret--someday I'll write a book about her--was a child of San Franciso.  Though she probably couldn't explain how the city shaped her, she remembered the 1906 earthquake and knew the city when it was only half a century old.  San Franciscans love their city and its history, and I wanted to see who else was drawn to and shaped by this interesting place.
Our friend, Bri--here is a shout out to Bri who is kind enough to take on five extra kiddos this week!--emphasized that I must see a San Francisco drag show.  We happened to catch one Friday night when we went to the de Young Museum of Art to see what performing art would be displayed during that evening's extended hours.  I'd never before thought of drag as an art form, but the contestants in the Fourth Annual Tiara Drag Pageant certainly were performing!  Kent and I found the show a little too silly and were glad to have artwork to peruse as the music pounded away in the background.  We didn't stick around to see who won, yet I am grateful to those drag princesses and queen for encouraging snapshots, because I didn't take many pictures of the people we met during our trip.  At one point when I was dying to ask someone if I could snap their picture, Kent confirmed my supposition that I could only do so in a complimentary way if I had a good camera.  While I wanted to record the distinctiveness of San Franciso through the variety of its people, walking around as a tourist snapping pictures with my cell phone would be tacky.  I wanted people to know I found them interesting, but not freaks.  A cell phone camera would have crossed that line.  My words will have to suffice in describing most of the remarkable people I've seen and met.

With seven million people living in the San Francisco bay area, I should not be surprised that I've met several men named John.  There was the kind-eyed, gray-haired docent at the Point Reyes lighthouse who told us the basic information of the tour.  When we followed up with a few interested questions, we found that he was still just as fascinated with the history and mechanics of that machine as we were.  We learned that he was stuck behind a desk when he first started volunteering with California's Park Service; but it was getting out with the people visiting from around the world that now keeps him excited to descend and ascend the 308 stairs to the lighthouse each shift.  That, and the 50-mile motorcycle ride from his home to the coast.

John is also the name of the tall and pleasant volunteer at the Grace Cathedral.  After asking where we are from, he commented that he used to attend school at the university in Salt Lake City.  There was no emotion, positive or negative, betrayed in that comment, and it left me wondering whether John experienced rejection, acceptance, or none of the above in our mostly LDS culture.  Either way, we very much enjoyed our tour around the cathedral with John.  He has probably the best posture I've ever seen, and I was amused each time we paused to talk about an art piece or a chapel and he would plant his feet about two meters apart so he could address us at eye level.  As the tour was wrapping up, he put away his volunteer persona and talked a little more openly.  As a boy being raised in the Episcopalian faith, he had attended a Catholic boys' school, so he had found the overlaps and divergences in the two religions to be interesting.  I observed that the cathedral itself represented multi-faith influences, and John said that is the main reason he feels drawn to this place.  It was built in the likeness of Notre Dame, and the two cathedrals have swapped gifts: Grace Cathedral displays a beautiful stained glass piece of the virgin and her Son.  The Ghiberti doors, which were molded from a cast of the original doors made in the mid-15th century for the Duomo in Florence, Italy were another great addition to this cathedral of unity.  I especially liked the panel depicting Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac.  From our tour of the labyrinths to the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel to viewing the bell tower, John's admiration for this peaceful place came shining through.  He concluded our tour by asking our names and making sure that we knew all the best places to visit before we leave this city that he loves.




In Carmel by the Sea, we happened upon a little Mediterranean restaurant called Yafa.  We were greeted by a couple of servers, including a blonde man who checked on us several times.  A few minutes into our meal, this man, Ben, came into the small dining room with a drum and three backup singers.  They clapped and sang a song of Palestine to their guests, and we all swayed to the beat with enjoyment.  The song ended and Ben came to ask us how we were enjoying the food.  We loved the filet mignon and the apricot chicken, and he gave all the credit to his grandmother, whose recipes were being served.  Throughout the evening, Ben would come chat.  I think he felt a connection with Kent, who studied Hebrew in college, and who is now a serial entrepreneur.  I asked Ben if this were his restaurant, and he replied, "Yes, but tonight it's your restaurant."  We learned that he came to America from Palestine eight years ago, and has tried several businesses, including the charming Yafa that opened last year.  When we left, I thanked him for a delicious meal, for the music, and for being a good host.  He took both my hands in his, gave a little bow, and asked us to come again.


There was also the server at Cafe Jacqueline who sported the best, bushiest, curl-tipped mustache I have seen.  You know those mustaches that are the trend on jewelry, clothes, and even cars right now?  He had a real-life one of those.  In his black-and-white uniform, with his gracious professionalism, he reminded me of the footmen from Downtown Abbey--with one charming distinction: the occasional use of a casual phrase, such as, "That's awesome", which reminded me that we are in California and not a French cottage.  He practically beamed with pride when I asked how long Jacqueline has been cooking souffles in her San Francisco cafe.  The elderly woman that we could see whisking around her kitchen with a scarf tied over her hair has been serving customers since 1979.  I'm glad we could experience the magic of her cooking, the romantic ambience of her cafe, and the delightfulness of her staff before her retirement, which I imagine must be any day now.



At the various museums we've visited, there was an interesting contrast between volunteers and staff.  I found that paid staff members tended to be aloof, not very helpful, and sometimes rude; whereas volunteers were personable and ready to share their fascination with the place we were sharing for that moment.  Maureen, a volunteer with San Francisco City Guides, led us through the Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park.  She forgot a few facts, but I liked seeing how much she loved the garden as she pointed out topiaries cut in the shape of clouds, told about carefully selected stones, and explained the history and people of the garden's creation.  There were also great volunteers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium who encouraged us to pet bat rays and to let the urchins suction onto our fingers.  One volunteer fed off my interest in the barnacles and told me all sorts of interesting facts about that little animal that has the longest penis in the animal world--12 feet!


We've seen hair colors in all the hues of the rainbow, and people in all sorts of interesting outfits.  Perhaps my favorite was the gentle giant we sat next to for the planetarium show at the California Academy of Sciences.  I approached this man who was wearing striped knee-high socks with sneakers, denim shorts and a plaid button-down shirt.  In his back pocket was a neatly folded, red bandanna that looked to have been ironed, along with a chain that linked to a belt loop on the front.  He had tattoos, a black spiral through each nostril, a grizzly beard down to his chest, and the largest ear gauges I've ever seen.  Seriously, he could probably pass a soda can through those gauges.
This isn't the guy, but his gauges
were at least this big.
Picture these pierced
through nostrils.















I noticed that he was cramped for leg room and asked if he would like me to leave a seat between us to accommodate his knees.  He said that at six-feet-six-inches, he's used to lack of leg room and invited me to sit next to him.  We chatted a little before the show started.  What I found most endearing was that as the average-looking man behind us snored at the end of the show, my carefully dressed friend led the applause.  It was one of those social situations where I wasn't sure if applause is appropriate; but I really wanted to let the planetarium know what a good show they have; and more so, I wanted to applaud the wonders of the cosmos and the fact that we insignificant humans have been able to start to figure out the vastness of creation.  It was pretty mind blowing.  So when my planetarium buddy started clapping, I heartily joined in until the audience was filing out.

I regret that I didn't ask his name.  I've been reading a book that has me thinking about the importance of our names.  In LDS temples, there is emphasis on names, and I'm beginning to think our names are more significant than just using for introductions and communication.  I've often found myself noticing name tags of cashiers and servers, but feeling weird about using those persons' names without a formal introduction.  Kent's mom recently sent the following link to Coca-Cola's new campaign--which, by the way, I think is brilliant marketing--and this video really has me thinking.  (It's a bit long, but much shorter than the reading time for this post, and well worth watching.)



I decided that starting in San Francisco, I would begin thanking store clerks, bank tellers, restaurant servers, and everyone else wearing a name tag by using their name at some point during our transaction.  Most people don't acknowledge that I noticed their name, but there was one clerk whose reaction let me know that this is an important practice to continue.  Kent and I were in a shop in Chinatown, looking for a kimono.  A young sales clerk approached to ask if we needed any help.  I tried to politely send her off by saying we were just looking around.  Kent told her I was looking for a kimono, and then she really dug in.  She showed me robes in a variety of patterns, fabrics, lengths, prices, and colors.  I am one who usually doesn't like help from a salesperson when I am just browsing, so I was a little irritated, but tried to let it go.  She stood back to give us a little space, and then jumped to help when I pulled three kimonos off the rack.  Eventually, I decided on a nice teal kimono.  She took it to her counter and asked if she could fold it for me.  My irritation disappeared as she snipped off the tags, carefully folded and tucked the fabric into a neat square, and then tied the bundle up with the kimono's sash.  She said I could take it downstairs to the main counter to pay for it.  I smiled and said, "Thank you for your help Suki."  Her reaction melted my heart.  Her mouth gaped in surprise, then she looked at the name tag hanging from her neck and in childlike honesty she beamed and gushed, "You know my name!  You must have seen my name tag.  That makes me so happy!  I'm so happy you know my name."  Names are important.  We need to connect with each other, and sharing our names is a big part of inviting another person to get to know us, even if for just a few minutes at a store counter.

Addendum: The People of Utah
While we were able to get to know the people we personally interacted with in San Francisco, there were hoards of people we passed with no acknowledgement exchanged.  It was so good to land at the Salt Lake airport and connect with strangers who share our home state.  As we climbed aboard the shuttle bus bound for long-term parking, we all played Tetris fitting our luggage and bodies into the cramped quarters.  None of us knew each other, but everyone was asking each other where we were coming home from, were their travels nice, what do they do for work, etc.  It was a friendly welcome home to a state that feels like we all share the same small town.  I love the people of Utah!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Word for the Day: Badinage

The last sentence of our family's mission statement is as follows: "We value humor, even when it gets us into trouble!"  We take humor very seriously in this family.  Take the following evening from last February for example.  We had gathered to sing, read scriptures, and pray for a few minutes before sending the kiddos to bed.  Theoretically, this should be a peaceful, winding-down time of the day.  Unfortunately, #2 found a party mask laying around, which gave her the idea to put it on and request "Scripture Power" for our song that night.  Not a bad suggestion, but the costume idea caught on too quickly with her younger siblings, and our devotional time quickly devolved into this:

video

I have to admit, my children are pretty funny.  I like to think they get their sense of humor from me; but Kent frequently reminds me that my humor is simply an attempt at Dad Humor, and I really should stop before I hurt myself.  I also have to admit that Mom Humor usually results in eye rolls from the kids, while Dad Humor does get them giggling.

This past year, though, Kent and I have discovered the power of understanding each other's humor to enhance both.  Last summer at a Corporate Alliance event for couples, each couple was invited to introduce themselves for about two minutes.  Not planning beforehand what we would say, Kent and I stood and he gave our names and added, "We've been married for 16 years and have three children that we love very much."  I gave him a quizzical look followed by an eyebrow raise before turning to the audience an adding, "And two others."

Friends sometimes approach me to repeat something Kent said to them and ask whether he was kidding.  My advice is that he is always kidding.  Kent likes having that reputation for keeping people on their toes, and I've come to like that I am the humor interpreter, because it gives me the opportunity to play along.  With 17 years of marriage now under our belts, I have a good grasp of when he's pranking someone.  Unfortunately for our children, they've only been around for 16 years or less and are often still caught off guard by his sense of humor.  Yesterday, Kent was even able to perfectly pull off a classic joke--one that the kids should have seen coming.

We were all gathered in the kitchen for a late Labor Day breakfast.  Kent had come through and kissed everyone goodbye as he headed to work.  (Yes, he is self-employed.  Apparently, Labor Day means something different to him than to the rest of us.)  A few minutes after driving away, he called the home phone, which #3 (12 years old) answered.  Here is the half of the conversation the rest of us heard:

#3:  "Hello?"

(Dad posed a question.)

#3:  "Mom, Dad wants to know if the refrigerator is running."

I glance behind me at the fridge and say, "Nope.  Tell him it is still right here in the kitchen where it should be."

#3, rolls her eyes at my lame Mom Humor:  "Mom, seriously.  Will you just check if the refrigerator is running."

Me:  "It's not running.  It's right here."

#3 with a sigh of consternation: "[#4], will you open the fridge please?"

#4 opens the fridge door, and #3 sees the light on.

I give a sideways glance to #1, who is beginning to see that this is a joke.

#3 to Dad:  "Yes, it's running."

This is followed by a BIG eye roll from #3 as she listens to her dad's response and my interjection that "I tried to help you!"  But she also can't help grinning, which just sets the rest of us chuckling as she hangs up the phone, drops her head, and braces herself with both hands on the counter against her parents' lame joking.  This makes all her siblings laugh, the younger two not even knowing why this is funny.

When the chuckling stopped, #5 (eight years old) asked #3 what Dad said.

#3, with a smile:  "If the refrigerator is running, then you'd better go catch it."

Ba-dum bum!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

It's Not Worth the Seven Bucks

"Not again!"

Okay, those weren't my exact words.  It was more along the lines of, "Oh crap!  Are you kidding me?!!"

#5 has been needing a haircut for the past two or three weeks.  I kept it trimmed enough to satisfy his school's uniform guidelines, but over spring break it got really shaggy.  He usually keeps it quite short, so the fact that you can see it blowing in the wind at our early Easter egg hunt this afternoon is telling.
I thought I'd try my hand at keeping a little length on it, and then taking him for a cleanup cut a week before his baptism next month.  I've made plans with my photographer friend, and was looking forward to some good photos of my youngest reaching this milestone.

He sat patiently for me for 35 minutes tonight while I worked with the scissors.  Then I backed up and realized I wasn't good at blending, and decided to just go with the clippers as usual.

About six minutes into that, the guide comb popped off and the clipper blade bumped down to his scalp to clean off an inch-thick rectangle of hair.  Now I have mirror images of the boy from last year and this:


I really don't want this to become an annual thing though!

#5's reaction to the haircut shows what a sweet soul he is.  When I blurted out my frustration at the mistake, he said, "What?  Did you give me another bald spot?  I love bald spots!"  When I was done evening out the hair that was left on his head, he jumped down, ran to the bathroom to check the mirror for his damages, and came back saying he loved it!  I was glad he wasn't upset about it and that he was showing it off to the other kids.

I then left to pick up Kent from his travels and came back to find my brother- and sister-in-law playing cribbage with the older girls.  I asked if #5 had shown them his haircut, and they said he had met them at the door with his hand covering the spot.  The poor kid actually is embarrassed, but he is more concerned about my feelings than about a botched haircut.  Heart of gold in that one.

I really do know how to cut hair--see, no bald spots at age 2--but I think I'll toss these clippers and cough up the $7 to have a professional do it from now on.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Adventure Days 2014: #1

When our oldest children were little, we started a tradition we call Adventure Day.  In those days, an Adventure Day was when Kent and I would make plans to take up an entire Saturday in exploring our great state, and then surprise the kids on Saturday morning by whisking them away from the usual routine of cold cereal and DVDs.

With #1's impending flight from the nest (in 2 1/2 years--too soon!), we are getting pretty serious about squeezing in lots of family time.  We've decided to make Adventure Days a monthly activity, schedule them on the calendar, and knock off some of the items on our family's bucket list.

Today's gorgeous weather coincided with our plans to hike to the hot pots in Diamond Fork Canyon.  When we arrived at the trail head, we realized we were not the only ones chomping at the bit to enjoy the lovely spring warmth and get into "the nature".  For possibly the first time ever, our family left home within three minutes of our planned departure time this morning, and three dozen other vehicles still beat us there.  We, including our friends, the Higas (whom we failed to get a picture with because we're lame) were not thwarted, however, and we quickly passed up the scout group that tried to get a leg up on us.


Poor #4 had really sore leg muscles from participating in her school's walk-a-thon yesterday.  We took that as an opportunity to give Mark and Bri's dogs an extra workout by pulling #4 up the trail.  After about 75 minutes of hiking, we reached the hot pools and were happy to discover that the groups of people at the lower falls didn't know about the upper hot pots.  We soaked in the sulfur water for a good hour.  Kent led the younger and more impressionable (read: gullible) of our children in dipping into the cold river water for three seconds before jumping back into the natural hot tub.  They tried to peer pressure me into it, arguing that it's invigorating and jump starts the immune system.  I withstood their claims and enjoyed the warm soak.

#4 enjoyed taking pictures on the trail back to the car.  I've included some of them here for your viewing pleasure.  Just kidding.  I can't figure out how to get them off the camera phone that she used.  Maybe I'll add them later.

The second part of our Adventure Day was to take the whole family out to eat.  Considering that the cost of one restaurant meal for the seven of us is almost as much as our weekly grocery bill, this is a rare activity indeed.  We had hoped to be out of the canyon in time to catch some food and chalk at the Festival of Colors in Spanish Fork; but alas, we were too hungry to figure out parking and tickets and the rest of the logistics to getting there.  Maybe next year.  (Doesn't this look fun?!)


After a good amount of bickering and listening to the opinions of children who didn't want to try new food, Kent and I decided to expose the children to Mongolian BBQ at HuHot Mongolian Grill.  This restaurant does Mongolian BBQ right with their all-you-can-eat grill line and entertaining grill chefs.  Everyone had fun choosing their own recipes and trying 25% of their 100+ drink options.  It was nice to finish a perfect afternoon of hiking with full bellies and healthy, mineral-soaked skin.


Mary and #3 attended the LDS General Women's meeting at our Stake Center for an uplifting and spiritual end to the day.  We're all looking forward to our next Adventure Day!  Maybe we'll bike the Provo River Trail, ride the Heber Creeper, or hunt for geodes.  Any suggestions?

Beauty

Last night, our friends hosted an evening discussion about the topic of beauty and aesthetics.  Each person of the six couples was invited to watch some TED videos and to consider a list of questions on the topic.  Our homework was to bring something beautiful, an item for show-and-tell.

Several of us expressed the difficulty of deciding what represented beauty or struck us aesthetically.  At first, I found myself not knowing at all what I owned that I considered truly beautiful.  After a couple days thinking about what to share, the ideas started flowing and I ended up needing to narrow my selections down...to three.  In my attempt to truncate my show-and-tell time, I looked deeper at the reasons that I was drawn to each item and discovered there were layers of meaning for each.  I liked each object for its own accord, but the meaning behind each item made them more beautiful to me.  Because there was interesting meaning behind each, and because they all differed in their beauty to me, I just shared all three.

Before I share them here, I will say that I was surprised by some of the items that my peers chose.  Most of the items I could also agree were beautiful, such as my friend's yellow African flowers.  A few people chose drawings made by their children, or other items that held sentimental value.  I can see why those items were chosen; but I found that sentimentality wasn't enough to raise an object to "beautiful" in my choices.  Others chose charming items that represented care and hard work on the part of the creator, such as needlepoint work on pillowcases.  In contrast, the items I chose represented skilled work from the creator, but unless the object itself rose above charming to fulfill a sense of the beautiful to my taste, I couldn't select it.  One of my friends brought a picture of hands and said she has always found hands to be beautiful and interesting as they often represent the owner's life.  I never would have considered a body part as one of my items.  I certainly think the human body is an amazing creation, but for me, no one part stands out as an indication of beauty across our species.

So what did I choose?

The first item I shared via email before our meeting, so I'll link it here too: 33 Unbelievable Places to Visit Before You Die.  This is a collection of photographs from some truly stunning places on this planet.  My sister, Christy, happened to share it on Facebook a day or two before our discussion group, and when one of the photos elicited an unbidden and whispered, "That's so beautiful!" as I scrolled through, I knew I had to share.

Reflective salt flat in Bolivia

Here is the one that surprised me with its beauty:

Colorful highlighting in the Reed Flute Caves, China

And one two more, for good measure.  (See?!!  Once I find beauty, I can't not share it!  You really should follow the link to see them all.)

Phytoplankton outdoing the starry sky on Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

Aerial view of rice fields on Ailao Mountain, China.  Christy and I are encouraging our youngest sister, Jenny, to craft a stained glass piece of this photograph.
I don't like these photographs just because of their composition or subject matter.  Their beauty lies in the unedited snapshot of places that really exist.  They represent the glory of our Creator in the work that He did to form this world for us, His children whom He loves so dearly.  I love that man's influence, though often touted as deleterious, can also make things more beautiful, as with the rice fields.  In LDS teaching, we learn that Adam, who was known as Michael in his premortal life, helped to create the earth.  Scripture teaches that when the creative work was finished, God recognized the good in His works and was pleased to give it to His children.  To me, these photos represent the glorious beauty of the earth and Heavenly Father's love for all of us.

One of the items I shared at the discussion group drew looks of surprise from my friends and a chuckle from Kent, who said, "This is so Mary."  I pulled out a folder holding a copy of the 2012 tax filing for A Child's Hope Foundation.  I'll admit that this item doesn't hold a lot aesthetically on its own, but I do find organization quite pleasing to look at, and this cleanly presented stack of papers does that for me.  More importantly, I explained that I've always been attracted to numbers.  In receiving my finance degree, I came to appreciate how numerical digits represent living organizations.  Numbers organized into financial statements and tax filings tell the story of an organization's work.  I spend hours every year ensuring that donations, expenses, payroll hours, etc. are recorded accurately and reflect what we did as a group to change people's lives for the better.  I am proud of that work and the processes I've created to connect with co-workers and volunteers to sustain my area of the foundation's work.  I love that all the work of a year can be summarized by numbers organized on lines on a tax report.  Beautiful!

The other item I brought to share was #4's violin.








The instrument itself is a thing of delicate beauty, a demonstration of form fulfilling function. It's craftsmanship is lovely, from the scroll to the bow.  I love its lines and curve, its rich wood color, and the way light gleams off its smooth surface.

As I said, though, the items I chose are beautiful for several reasons.  Certainly, I love the sweet notes that a violin can make, whether it's being used as a fiddle or a classical instrument.  Beyond that, I've always loved classical music because it reaches into my soul and speaks images to my mind even in the absence of lyrics.  Additionally, I love how good music can bring people together.  I invited my fellow discussants to watch this six-min. video, which communicates better than my writing the beauty that I experience through classical instruments.  (You may want to grab a tissue before watching the video.  My tears are always brimming by the end of the first minute, and they are streaming by the third.)  Watch the expressions of the onlookers as well as the musicians.



It's not just the effect of the flash mob that I love.  I love this Ode to Joy from Beethoven.  This piece has become a piece of world history as it has been played at most Olympic game closing ceremonies, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and as the European Union's anthem.  Even Everybody Loves Raymond and The Beatles have used its theme.  There is something about this piece, composed by Ludwig when he was almost completely deaf, that unites people around the world in a very beautiful way.

At our discussion, I was surprised at other reactions to our assignment.  One friend didn't bring an object, but shared a moment on a hike that reached him deeply.  Three others chose music.  The first shared a sampling, the second brought unopened records, and the third, Kent, didn't even share his because he thought no one else would connect with Flamenco the way he does.  I found it very interesting how people shared--or didn't share--their music, and I wondered if it was so personal to them that they feared being rebuffed for their tastes.  I don't know Kent's favorite Flamenco, but here is a sampling of the music and dance he finds beautiful:


I enjoyed our discussion of beauty as we weaved through everyone's show-and-tell.  I had written notes about my thoughts leading up to the discussion.  Somehow, in three hours' time, we never got around to talking about the TED videos or all my thoughts, so I'll share them here.
Richard Seymour, “How Beauty Feels”  http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_seymour_how_beauty_feels.html 
Dennis Dutton, “A Darwinian Theory of Beauty”  http://www.ted.com/talks/denis_dutton_a_darwinian_theory_of_beauty.html 
Another source I looked to was Dr. Sebiha Al Khemir, who was the project director for the "Beauty and Belief" exhibit of Islamic pieces that came to BYU a while ago.  I agree with her statement that "Humanity needs to learn about each other, and crossing bridges with art is a very easy way to cross."  Another friend in the group showed one of her favorite paintings, which I happen to like, too.
Brian Kershisnik's "She Will Find What is Lost"
As Dr. Khemir suggests, I feel like I know my friend a little better knowing that she finds this piece beautiful.  We connect through aesthetics because beauty is a way of seeing and a way of being.
I realized through this assignment that not always, but often, I find beauty in the unexpected.  Something that may have once taken my breath away can become customary, as with these rock formations just outside of Utah:
Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
Because I live in the West, I've seen photographs from Antelope Canyon many times.  I do always agree that these are beautiful, but they are no longer stunningly so because I have become somewhat accustomed to them.  There has to be an element of surprise for something to take my breath away with its beauty.

The very basic question posed by our hosts was "What is beauty?"  In pondering this, I wrote a list of words that defined beauty for me: glory, order, meaning, light, and truth.  Beauty serves to lift our spirits, give us a taste of the divine, and communicate God's love for us and our love for each other.  When beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it helps similar beholders connect on a spiritual level.

Another quote from Dr. Khemir: "The shaping of beauty, the making of beauty, is directly connected to the divine, is directly connected to faith... Belief played a very important role in the shaping of beauty."  I was satisfied that our Friday-night discussion came to God a few times and to the way we feel His love through beauty.  My mind was drawn repeatedly to my experiences in LDS temples, and I found myself thinking of the Manti Temple.  Though all temples teach through the same symbols and ordinances, I am drawn to loving the Manti Temple because of it's sweet, humble people.  Beauty reaches beyond our physical senses to our sensibilities.  

As I discovered through the process of defining for myself the different layers of a beautiful object, beauty invites us to look closely and unravel what is there.  Sight leads to insight.  In the words of the Talmud: "We see things not as they are, but as we are."
What is it that you find beautiful?  Must beauty hold layers for you?  What does it have to represent: skill, love, light?  What words define beauty for you?
I'll leave you with this thought-provoking poem that our hosts shared: "One More Day" by Czeslaw Milosz.
And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
[Evil] sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence 
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly. 
And when people cease to believe there is good and evil 
Only beauty will call them and save them 
So that they still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Life in the Canyon

My friend, Gina, has been keeping a gratitude journal of sorts on Facebook this year.  When I occasionally open that site, I like to see the little moments in her life that make her happy and grateful.  Living in gratitude makes all the difference in a whole-souled life.

When our family works in Mexico, we have the opportunity to serve breakfast to families who live in the old dump in Tijuana.  The dump is a series of hills that forms a canyon, and that is the kind name for that neighborhood.  Really though, it's just a dump built into houses.  It amazes me each time I visit that this level of poverty is just minutes away from the wasteful wealth of Americans living a bountiful life in San Diego.  I do like seeing the ingenuity of people who build homes from others' unwanted items.  Even more, I love the gratitude and happiness of the people who live there.  My first time serving breakfast in the canyon, I was flattered by some young boys who brought me a tiny flower as a thank you gift.  They giggled shyly when I fawned over their gift and stuck the flower above my ear.

I've never visited any of the residents in their homes, but as I began reading the following account written by David Hessler, who runs the Breakfast Club there, I felt a burden of hopelessness.  I would not know where to start each day knowing that it was just another day to try to survive.  Yet these people manage to feed not just their families but also their spirits.  David's words at the end of his post chase away the hopelessness I feel on behalf of these people, because they aren't feeling it for themselves.  Instead, as he states, they choose to live with gratitude for the blessings God gives them and with a positive outlook for their lives.  I can attest that I have seen their smiles and their warmth in the short interactions I've had with them.  Because they don't feel sorry for themselves, I can be better at being grateful for the blessings I have too.

I hope you remember your own blessings as you read this description of Life in the Canyon, which was originally posted November 4, 2013 on the Life in the Canyon blog.

Gratitude
Imagine if you would, going to bed at night in the comfort of your home, in thenice house 1neighborhood where you currently live. Your digesting the huge dinner you had not long ago, the dishes are working their way through the dish water, the kids finally asleep in their rooms, the car alarm set and the truck is secured away in the garage. The coffee maker set so that the aroma in the morning provides incentive to get out of bed. The dogs have settled into their beds glancing up wondering how long you are going to be in the shower before tucking yourself in. All the while trying not to think about all the things you have to do tomorrow; school, lunches, traffic, paying the utility bills, work, meetings, dinner, back to school night….
…. and then waking up in the Canyon.
No need for an alarm clock, the Roster’s have you up well before any sense of normalcy. It’s not the aroma of coffee you smell. It’s the smell of mold and mildew from the previousIMG_6749rains that have soaked the pieces of carpet on the dirt floor. Your eyes open to the gaps of space in the roof trying to determine if the sun is up yet. Your back aches from the old mattress lying on a piece of wood. You look over to see your children sleeping in bed next to you and on the small love seat that you found discarded along the roadway. As you place your feet on the ground, you look around to see what lies ahead of you today. There’s no need to move, everything is just aIMG_6752few feet away. Except for the bathroom, which might be an outhouse if your lucky or a bucket if not.
You look over at the small cook stove in the corner of the room. Last nights rice and beans still coat the pans they were reheated in. The two plastic cups that everyone shared drinking from, rest on top. No refrigerator to look in, no cupboard to search for what might be available to cook. Actually no food at all. That’s something to work out a little later on.
Looking at the water jugs sitting below the dishes, you remember why last nights pans are still sitting there. There was no water left in the jugs to wash them with. Which means there’s no water to wash with. Looking at the drinking water jug, you see there is only aIMG_8969few inches remaining. Which do I need to go get first? Do I wake one of the children to help me, or do I just venture off on my own attempting to carry two 5 gallon containers of water the mile and a half away. Maybe it’s best if I just head out on my own. It will give me time to think about how I might find work today.
Meanwhile, mom wakes up to the same sights and smells. Her thoughts gradually gravitate to realizing that the children need to get ready for school. Their school uniforms have notIMG_7711been washed in 2 days, but if they can get through today, laundry will be on the list of things to do. Noticing that her husband is gone along with the water jugs, she hopes he will not be upset when she asks him to go fill the jugs again so that she can wash clothes. But from her perspective, thinking about how long it will take her to scrub everything by hand and the time it will take to air dry the clothes hanging on the fence, she figures he is getting the better part of the deal.
She chooses which of the children to wake first, based on the degree of difficulty it requiresIMG_6744 to get them ready. The 5 gallon paint bucket filled with rain water, serves as the shower. The children try to run as the cold water is poured over them. Unable to escape, standing there shivering as mom soaps them up, waiting for the next dowsing of water over their head. And then on to the next child…..
Before she is finished, the younger ones are saying, “mom, I’m hungry.” How many creative ways can you come up with to hold off their hunger for just a little while more. Knowing that their father will most likely stop to pick up tortillas on his way back. Hopefully he will have enough to buy warm ones today instead of the cold day old ones that are half the price. As she puts their back packs together, gathering up the books and supplies lying around from the day before,her thoughts go to how to make lunches for them. Nothing here today, but there’s still time to put something together and return to the school later on.
Dad returns dripping with sweat as he places both water jugs on the ground. He retrieves the packet of tortillas from his waistband and smiles as he pulls an avocado from his front pocket. Quickly slicing it up into the tortillas as the children surround him with their hands raised in the air. With a few drops of hot sauce, the kids are feed and ready for the walk to school. Dad advises them to be careful as their was rain during the night and the IMGP0161ground outside has turned to mud. Mom wonders if there will be school, knowing that most families will decide not to go today. But knowing how important it is for them to have a chance at a different life, off they go on their 5 mile hike to 3 different schools.
As they arrive at the front gates of each of the schools, all the other children arrive at the same time. Some by car. Mom’s thoughts go to wondering what it would be like to be able to live somewhere where you could have a car and how that life might be. She sometimes thinks about how she is dressed in comparison to the other mom’s and tends to slink away from the others out of embarrassment. But reality soon takes over and her thoughts return to getting back home so that she can figure out what to make them for lunch and then the return trips to the school in just a couple of hours. She looks at the store next door where children line up buying what they will need for lunch thinking about how much easier that would be. However, there is no money for that today, so she starts on her way back home.
When she returns, she finds two small packets of rice and beans next to the cook stove. Scrawled in pencil on a torn piece of paper is a note from her husband. He was able to go with a neighbor to catch a ride to the garbage dump to work for the day. If things worked out well, he would return at night fall with enough money to buy food for dinner and maybeIMGP0227for the next day. If he were able to do this a second day, maybe there would be enough money to buy a candle or two so they could have lights at night. Quickly washing the pans, she prepares the rice and beans and makes burritos for the children’s lunch and for herself. No time to wash the pans again. She needs to hike back to the schools again to bring them lunch. This time she brings one of the 5 gallons jugs so that on her way back she can stop at the Pilar and fill it up for free so that she can do the laundry. Upon returning home, she only has a short amount of time before she has to return to school again to gather the children up for the walk home. It’s only just noon.
When the children are home, they all want to go play. Mom explains that there will be time for that later, but right now they need to help her with the laundry. The children are each assigned a different task of washing, rinsing, scrubbing or hanging. Some tasks can be more fun than others, but not really what they had in mind. When they are finished, they areIMG_0147hoping that now they can go play. However, mom has a different idea. It’s time for homework. Wishing that they might be able to just do it on their own, but knowing that now it’s time for mom to be a school teacher. So everyone goes inside to lay their books out on the bed. (There’s no kitchen table.) Motivation comes in the form of encouraging them to finish so that they CAN go and play. Mom’s motivation is that maybe she will get just a little time to herself along with hoping that the activity will keep their mind off of being hungry for a couple more hours until Dad get’s home.
Then mom remembers that it’s Thursday. The day she hosts Bible Study with some of the other mom’s who live close by. She likes this time together with others who think like she does. It’s a time of gratitude for the blessings that they have in their lives. Thankful for husbands who spend their time looking for work to take care of their families and not outAliciadrinking and doing drugs. Thankful for all of their children and they are healthy and not in need of medicine or treatment. Grateful that they were able to eat today and had water to drink. And grateful for the opportunity to study God’s word, but mostly for the love that he shows them. And a time to pray for their needs, which gives them hope. For some, it’s the glue that keeps them together.
Just before dark, Dad returns. Although he is visibly tired and dirty, he’s in a good mood. He had a good day. He was able to cover all the costs of working today and made enough to buy food for this evening as well as a little bit for tomorrow. The people he went with promised him a ride again tomorrow which gives him hope of being able to buy something more than just food and water; the candles that his wife mentioned and maybe gas for the cook stove. The week was looking up….
A small fire burns outside to heat up some water for Dad to wash up with and also for the dishes. The morning promises to be a little easier than it was today. The family visits together for awhile and then Dad spends some time reading from the Bible to the children before bed. Not what they really had in mind, but they are happy to have Dad spend time with them and it does make them a little sleepy. Luckily for Mom and Dad as they put them all in their bed, hoping they will fall asleep soon. Darkness surrounds them, but the fire outside provides a little light to see inside. The dogs go to their places on top of the roof to keep an eye out for passer’s by who they may feel the need to protect their territory. Finally it’s time for Mom and Dad to move the children over so they can find room to sleep in anticipation of new opportunities tomorrow.
When I wrote this, there were specific families that I was thinking of.  The thing that has impacted me the most, is the sense of gratitude that each of these families show each day.  They are so grateful for their families, for the work that God provides their men, for the food that God provides for their children, for all of the things that they are blessed with each day.  They are so positive in their outlook on life which is reflected in the smiles on their children’s faces.   These families also serve each day at their Church.  I often hear them saying how when they serve others for just a few hours, God blesses them all day long.
They are such a powerful example for others to see and an inspiration to me each day.
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