Monday, November 5, 2012

I’m a Mormon, and I don’t care who knows it

We’re in the news, we Mormons. It seems everyone is talking about Mormons these days, thanks mostly to presidential candidate Mitt Romney whose campaign has caused a journalistic avalanche of articles, editorials, television interviews, and radio talk shows discussing, if not featuring, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and turning “Mormon” into a household word.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Just 3 must-haves for the car

Just Three

Water doesn’t count. Everyone knows that almost as important as keeping enough gas in the tank is carrying water in the car at all times. But beyond that, we all have things we can’t live without when we drive. Even though I’m down to just one child, I’m still driving a minivan, and the two of us have become quite attached; in fact, it has become a sort of home on wheels. So, over time I’ve personalized what I keep inside. I can get along without some things, but others are must-haves for the car. Here are just three:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beyond glue guns and kitschy crafts

I wanted to throw it away. It was just another failed craft project I did at a women’s church meeting, but being newly married with very few Christmas decorations, I really wanted at least one nice ornament for our tree. Besides, this project seemed so easy. Instead, I was impatient and tried to hurry along the glass etching then quickly glue-gunned the ribbon around it, with the end product resulting in a very homemade-looking ornament.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Robin Hood is back in town

Sadly, even some of the best political gaffes are lost on those who don’t understand the difference between capitalism and socialism, so I keep trying to explain the economy to my children in light of the presidential candidates’ platforms. To help me, I turned to my son’s 11th grade Social Studies textbook, whose sum total definition of socialism is “the idea that the government should own and operate industry for the community as a whole.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rediscovering parenting tools

Growing up, vacuuming was a real chore. Our industrial-strength canister vacuum looked like R2D2 minus the cool lights and funny voice, and hauling that clunky thing around was as much work as the vacuuming itself. We’d bang it against walls and furniture just moving from room to room, and going up and down stairs was out of the question. Dust mopping, in comparison, was efficient. Four times as wide as any broom we had in the house, our dust mop with its nifty little swivel device in the center made it easy to turn at the end of every pass across our hardwood floors. Good tools just make life easier.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Just three reasons I love being 50

When my mom turned 50, I thought she was ancient. After all, a half a century sounds pretty old to an eight-year-old. (Who knew she’d almost double those years of living?) But now that I stand where she once did, I think this a vibrant age. In fact, if I knew 50 was going to be this good, I might have looked forward to my birthday a little more. It turns out the fifties are great for lots of reasons, but here are just three:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Just give me a sign!

Yesterday I drove through the state of Idaho. After dropping Grant off at college, Ken and I followed our Google-Maps directions as carefully as we could, working our way across wide-open spaces crisscrossed by highways. Considering neither of us had ever made the trip before, we did pretty well until we got a little off track in Twin Falls, where we had to ask directions from the lone worker at the Reeder Flying Service (airport). “Just go back across the canal, turn left at the first intersection,” she said flatly, “then drive about five miles, and you’ll catch 93.”

Friday, August 17, 2012

Surrounded by old friends

I was only half kidding when I said Mom might love her furniture more than her own children. When it came time to downsize, she was torn up for months about having to part with her precious pieces. “Some people just need their things around them,” my sister tried to explain. (She would know.) Hearing that helped me appreciate Mom’s dilemma better, and I realized, of course, that she’d invested decades collecting and refinishing her antiques, but it wasn’t until I pressed Mom a little more that I finally understood why she was so attached to her possessions.

Friday, August 10, 2012

That’s where you live!

Our son Grant gives wonderful bear hugs. He often pulls me in close to his over-six-foot frame and croons, “That’s where you live!”

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep, but you can also tell a lot by knowing where they live—and I don’t just mean which city or house they live in. In college I tired quickly of the standard trio of introductory questions: “What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major?” I have to admit that knowing where people were from provided at least a small dot on my mental map and it did tell me something about them—if they had cold winters, if they grew up by the ocean, if they were city people or country folks. What it did not explain, though, is what kind of home they lived in. Even a photo of their home and family couldn’t really tell me where they were from.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Timing is everything

Alex Morgan, USA Women's Soccer Player
From sports to humor, from health to happiness, timing is everything. You can throw a zinger to first base, but it doesn’t do a bit of good if the runner beats you there, and who cares if you have a killer swing if you’ve already missed the pitch? In these Summer Olympics, over and over again we’ve seen split-second timing make all the difference. Suppose the women’s water polo coach hadn’t called a timeout with one second left in the game against Australia; no nail-biting overtime would have ensued. On the other hand, what if the most recent women’s soccer game hadn’t gone into overtime? We would have missed Alex Morgan’s spectacular header, the game-winning goal over Canada that sent the U.S. team to the gold-medal round. And half the art of telling a good joke is timing, too. Even with a great punch line, you won’t get any laughs if you deliver it too early or too late.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just one daughter

I’m the mother of four sons and only one daughter. Growing up a tomboy surrounded mostly by brothers, I was well prepared to be a tough-and-tumble kind of mom—the kind that could play catch, rollerblade, and wrestle with boys, and my sons would probably agree that I have, indeed, been that kind of a mom. Raising boys has been mostly a “What-you-see-is-what-you-get” experience—very fun, sometimes funny, and often very physical. No big surprises there. On the other hand, being a mom of just one girl has been full of surprises.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Finding our voices

My son Grant and his friend Kelsi pleasing the crowd
Grant never sings anymore. The truth is I don’t remember him singing an entire song audibly since he was about five years old. Back then, I actually had to shush him once because he was belting out the music above all the rest of the children. But since then he’s refused to sing in church. In fact, he'll rarely even pick up a hymnbook. 

So, you can imagine my shock the other night when I saw him on stage, cool as could be, singing a duet with his friend Kelsi whom he’s known forever. While she played the guitar, the two of them sang away as if they’d been doing it every day since they were kids. They’re no rock stars, I realize, but their voices blended well and they sounded great to me. Where had Grant been hiding that voice? 

Singing voices are a breed of their own, I suppose, but this experience made we wonder just what helps people find their own voices.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Don’t let geometry define you

Coming from the same "Given" is essential in geometry and in productive discussions
We’ve had more than one child struggle with geometry. Even Bryan, our son who ended up majoring in math, recently admitted at his college graduation that he was “not a geometry guy.” Along with many others in high school, he had a tough time grasping the spatial relationships of points, lines, angles, and figures. 

“I don’t want to major in triangles!” complained another smart but disgruntled guy who joined the ranks of those forced to face the world of geometry. Like Alice arriving in Wonderland, many frustrated teenagers often find themselves puzzled and bewildered by unfamiliar rules and strange new ways of looking at circles and other once-ordinary objects.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hiding our passions

When we're lucky, our passions intersect with our obligations
For a long time, we had to tuck away Mark’s Harry Potter audiobooks in my drawers. During that same time, we stuffed piles of Grant's favorite books under our bed and buried his Game Boy in a secret place. For a briefer period of time, Ken tried unsuccessfully to conceal Craig’s guitar and ukulele in our closet. Most of these attempts were in vain, however, because somehow the boys always managed to find their cherished CDs, books, or instruments and return to their pleasures.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just 3 foods meant to be shared

Just Three

Emeril Lagasse, the flamboyant American celebrity chef, says, “Food is meant to be shared, especially with friends like you." Although not universally true of all food, some foods are, indeed, meant to be shared and have the power to bring us together with friends—old and new. Besides some of the obvious choices, such as chips and dip, pizza, and fondue, the irresistible and tantalizing aromas of certain foods seem to invite us to enjoy eating them with others. Other foods are simply too much work to make for one person. Here are just three:

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Strong Women

Black Widow from The Avengers is an admirably strong woman
I’m not a big fan of superhero movies, but, I’ve got to admit, I loved that opening scene in The Avengers when Black Widow, tied down to a chair, manages to break free, take out every man in the room, and coolly walk away in her skin-tight, black jumpsuit. Immediately, she won my respect, and I was anxious to see the next scene packed with her superpowers on display. After all, she was the only female super hero in the movie, and I wanted to know if she would be strong enough to keep up with The Big Boys. 

Like good chocolate, strong women come packaged in assorted ways. On Mother’s Day particularly, we women consider our own mothers and wonder which of their strengths we carry forward. I’ve found it sometimes takes looking back a few generations to figure out who we really are and where we get our strengths.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The glass is half empty, thank goodness!

Why can't we call a glass half full and half empty?

Why do we buy into the notion that we can see the proverbial glass only one way—either half full or half empty? Why can’t it be both? I reject the notion that our view of the glass automatically relegates us to the ranks of either optimists or pessimists.

I’ve been slacking a little in my blogging, and I don’t have a terrific excuse except that I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about my life. Looking back on my almost-five decades, I’ve done a lot of really good living. By almost any standard, my life has been rich and full. Now, as I’m closing in on 50, some might say I’m only halfway through my mortal journey. If that’s so, then I’ve still got plenty of undetermined, unchartered, unlived years ahead of me. In other words, my glass is only half full; the other half is half empty, thank goodness! 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Tappers and listeners

Shared experiences can make listeners tune in so much more easily

I love those first letters home when kids go off to college. It’s that moment when they realize you know so much, they know so little, and they’re so grateful for you. Finally, after years and years of trying to teach them what they might need to know (how to balance a checkbook or work out a disagreement) or tell them things to beware of (too many late nights or poor nutrition), they finally get it. Suddenly, your words makes sense, and it’s payday for parents.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Etched in our hearts

Children leave home, but they often leave behind mementos of themselves  

I was mad. Really mad. In his path of destruction, Craig first spray-painted a big smiley face on the green utility bucket because he “just wanted to make everyone happy.” Then he took a sharp knife to the kitchen faucet, leaving deep gouges in the white enamel. But the topper was when he began carving his name into one of our kitchen chairs—“C R A . . . .” Enter the mean mommy, aghast at my little vandal. The dirty deed remains incomplete to this day, but the reminder of his errant behavior is forever etched in the chair.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Remembering the elderly and being a grandma

Grandmas come in all kinds of packages
My good friend of 20 years or more moved away and is now living in an old folks’ home halfway across the country. I miss her very much and told her so at Christmastime in a Facebook message, even though accessing such technology is challenging for her. Yesterday she sent me a letter in the mail—yes, the kind that comes with a stamp and a handwritten signature. She told me, “For sure I didn’t intend to live this long. It takes lots of effort to fight depression, but I’m doing just fine.” Evidently, her children and grandchildren visit when they can, but, as she says, “Everyone is busy.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A little more pink

Pink seems to add some softness even to a grown woman's personality

Sometimes I just need a little more pink in my life. I grew up surrounded mostly by brothers and their guy friends. As a young adult, I spent a year and a half serving with mostly male missionaries. I married my husband and had four sons, two of whom still live at home. I now go to networking events attended mostly by men, and I just started a volunteer tech group whose membership is about 95% male. (In fact, I would have been the only woman at our last meeting had my girlfriend not offered to come along as a carpool companion.) I’m used to seeing suits, ties, and black Wing Tips, and I’m used to washing blue jeans, boxer shorts, and white tube socks, which is all fine and good. I like boys and I like men. (Truth be told, at social events I typically gravitate toward the male conversations.) But sometimes I just need a little more pink in my life.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Please tell me when my fly is down

Real friends tell friends when their fly is down

Please tell me when my fly is down. I know it’s awkward (for both of us), but try to remember that discovering that kind of faux pas is even more embarrassing when it’s too late (and you know when that is).

I feel the same way about making typos and grammatical errors . . . like a couple Sundays ago when I misspelled a word while I was teaching.

Monday, February 6, 2012

In praise of country music (and other stories)

Country music's popularity may be due to the power of its stories

The summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I lived with my sister and her family in Utah where I landed a temporary job at a small factory doing manual labor. Not the kind of labor that gets dirt under your nails. No, it was the mind-and-seat-numbing kind. My brother-in-law, a very successful businessman and entrepreneur, kept telling my sister how good this was for me and how I would learn to appreciate more stimulating jobs and how I would become even more motivated to get an education. I thought, “Yeah, right! It doesn’t take more than one day at that place to figure out I should stay in school.”

Friday, February 3, 2012

Back in the day

Writing in the moment can capture inescapable truths about our lives

Back in the day (before emails, text messages, Skype, blogs, instant messages, Facebook, and inexpensive phone calls), my family of origin used to write letters to stay connected. Each of the 13 children would contribute a monthly update, and one person would mail copies to everyone. (Yes, we actually used "snail mail," stamps and all.) Recently, while cleaning out her garage, my sister-in-law found those letters and sent me the ones I’d written. One of them from 18 years ago helped me remember what parenting was like back in the day of tight budgets, toddlers, and tension. Here’s a portion of it:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Report Card for Parents"

School report cards are just one lens through which to measure children

Sometimes I forget how stressful it is to be a student. Tomorrow my boys begin their semester finals and soon after will face the "moment of truth." Report cards will come home, and we’ll know just how well they’ve measured up to the academic challenges of high school.

It’s been years since I received a report card—at least I thought it had been. Just a few days ago I was cleaning out old files and came across copies of a “Report Card for Parents” that Grant and Mark had each filled out for me ( Back in the day, I was a pretty good student, so I was very disappointed to see that Mark, addressing the report card to “Mrs. Perry,” had given me one glaring “F.” (My turn to be stressed.) Evidently, I failed at watching TV with him. Ouch. Grant had given me a failing grade in the same area. Double ouch.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Are your friends durable?

Challenging, monotonous, and unexpected moments help create durable friends

“Are your friends durable?” my friend Ruthie used to ask her children when they invited friends to come over. One of her sons was mentally challenged, often making him difficult to be around, and not just any so-called friend could handle the chaos and messes and uncomfortable moments he created. Having a brother like theirs provided those kids with a litmus test for identifying potential friends, sorting through them perhaps more quickly than they might have without him in the picture. But awkward moments pass, and kindness can be faked. If nothing else, people can excuse themselves and go back home. 

Real friends—durable friends—are not found but rather created over time in the crucible of tough circumstances such as sickness, stress, or sorrow. Any one of these can strip us down to the nails, exposing the real structure of our foundation.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Too efficient

Sometimes efficiency can go too far

I have an enviable little device in my kitchen that’s connected to our built-in vacuum. Whenever I sweep the floor, instead of using a dustpan, I just kick a little lever, and WHOOSH--away goes my pile of dirt through a labyrinth of pipes and into a canister in the garage. If I mistakenly suck up something I shouldn't have, I can rifle through the nastiness and retrieve it if I really have to. Efficient. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Swimming, driving, and kissing

Some things simply must be practiced in the moment

Some things just take practice. To illustrate this principle to my colleagues, I once created a presentation using three examples of activities that can only be mastered by doing: swimming, driving, and kissing. Talk about these activities all you want, but unless you actually do them, you’re not going to get any better.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Today I sold part of my soul

The real worth of books is the time spent with them

I could only bring myself to part with the ones I didn’t love, love, love, but I had to do it. We were just getting too many books around here. I had to let go of mostly children and young adult books that had done their job. So, after complimenting myself for purging our house of unused items, I schlepped two big, full boxes into Half Price Books.