Apr 21 2014

When Opportunities Blossom

Published by Kathy under General

We moved to Virginia in 1987. In case that’s just a number to you, let me tell you what was going on in that year.

  • Ronald Reagan was president of the United States.
  • No smoking rules were just starting to take effect inside public buildings. (Here in Virginia, it was not uncommon to be waited on in a store and have the clerk blow smoke in your face.) It would be another fifteen years or so before non-smoking laws started taking effect in restaurants. Because of its love affair with tobacco, Virginia was one of the last states to adopt no-smoking laws.
  • The Fox TV network began, with its first show being “Married With Children.” We watched that show for years. (This shows how culturally discerning Fluffy and I are.) The best of Fox TV’s shows, “The X-Files,” wouldn’t even begin running for another six years.
  • Michael Jackson tried to buy the Elephant Man’s remains. I have no comments about that incident, not being a Michael Jackson fan or a particular follower of the Elephant Man.
  • Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” ice cream flavor was introduced. (Here’s a culinary hint. If you taste cherry in something you are eating but do not see cherries, it is probably almond extract.  That’s what cooks use to get “natural cherry flavoring.”)
  • The first salvaging of the Titanic wreckage was begun by RMS Titanic, Inc. Fluffy and I have been to the burial ground for the bodies that were brought up from the Titanic. The graves were arranged in the shape of the hull of a ship on a hillside in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There is a Marriott buried there, but he isn’t related to the hotel Marriotts. I asked Mr. Bill Marriott himself.
  • “Star Trek: The Next Generation” premiered. I remember that night. Fluffy and I were in a dingy New York hotel for that one, but we got reception on our television and were able to see Captain Picard in all his glory. What a hunk!
  • The day of infamy for our generation, 9/11, was still 14 years into the future.

Yes, friends and neighbors, 1987 was a long, long time ago. In fact, a whole bunch of the people reading this column were probably not even hatched when Fluffy and I moved to Virginia. We have lived in Virginia for 27 years this year. That is 27 years of glorious Virginia springs — 27 years of dogwoods and redbuds and, well, cherry blossoms.

And therein lies the rub. We live within spitting distance of the White House (oh boy, is that appropriate these days!), at 24.3 miles according to Google Maps. We have many, many friends who commute into Washington, D.C. (referred to around here as “The District”) every day for work. People around here don’t even think twice about driving into the nation’s capital.

So in twenty-seven years of glorious East Coast springs, how many times do you suppose Fluffy and I have gone to see the cherry blossoms bloom in Washington, D.C. — just 24.3 miles from our doorstep? That’s a big goose egg, friends and neighbors. Zip. Zero. Nada.

This is particularly noxious because I have wanted to see the cherry blossoms. Oh yes. In fact, I have a dear friend in Utah who has planned for years to fly all the way to Virginia to have Fluffy and me show her the cherry blossoms, but she keeps finding herself in China or Peru during cherry blossom season, so she hasn’t been able to time a visit at when the cherry blossoms have been blooming.

Every time Dian has told me she was going to be at Machu Picchu or climbing the Great Wall instead of coming to our house during cherry blossom season, I have heaved a sigh of relief. I, you see, have had no earthly idea how to show her the cherry blossoms, because I have never been there. It has been the bane of my existence — or one of them, at any rate.

Saturday before last, a friend of ours, Jeff Stolk, called at about dusk and said he was available for fun and frolic that night. He knew that Fluffy and I had been cooking all day, and he no doubt hoped that fun and frolic would include some tomato tortellini soup and a game or two of pinochle. But no, he had not counted on the brazen Kathy, Queen of the Universe, She Who Will Not Be Denied.

I said, “We’ve never seen the cherry blossoms. Wouldn’t it be fun to see the cherry blossoms after dark?”

There was dead silence at the other end of the line. Finally he said, hesitantly, “Yes, I guess it would.” It was only after we were halfway into the District that we learned this was Jeff’s fourth trip into the District to see the cherry blossoms this week. But we were on our way.

Our friends Jeff and Maura Stolk. If Jeff looks somewhat weary, it’s because he went to see the cherry blossoms four times in one week. He was probably cherry blossomed out long before he took Fluffy and me on that Saturday night.

I had been told by one of the temple workers that nobody goes to see the cherry blossoms after dark, so that would be a good time to go. All I can say about that is that it is not nice to lie in the temple. There were only about 50,000 other people who had the same brilliant idea.

But we did eventually find a parking spot, and the two men got out of the car to take pictures while I stayed behind and enjoyed the crush of humanity and the nighttime breeze.

The Jefferson Memorial at dusk, with cherry trees on the right. (All these pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them with the mouse. Hit the backspace button to restore them to their original size.)

The pale pink cherry blossoms are illuminated by a street lamp.

Only the magic of PhotoShop saves a picture that I took from a moving car, but this is a good illustration of how many blossoms there were. They were everywhere.

Jeff was such a good sport and we had such a grand time seeing the cherry blossoms that Fluffy and I decided to take our temple worker friend’s advice and see the cherry blossoms a second time on Monday.

This excursion took us to the Kenwood neighborhood in Maryland, a small neighborhood that received its own cherry tree plantings when the Tidal Basin in the District did.

Relatively few people know about the Kenwood cherry trees, but there were enough of them that the Kenwood neighborhood was festooned with temporary “No Parking” signs and signs commanding interlopers not to climb on the trees. Scores of tourists, many of them Japanese, wandered up and down the streets of the community.

Fluffy parked me in a wonderful spot, and he went off to take pictures while I remained stationary to take photographs of my own. Monday was probably the last good cherry blossom day before a huge rainstorm on Tuesday wiped everything out, so it was raining cherry blossoms, and there were cherry blossom puddles on the sidewalks and in the streets.

The slightest gust of wind caused a cherry blossom petal snowstorm. (See the "snow" by clicking once with the mouse. Hit backspace to restore the picture to the original size.)

Petal puddles pooled on sidewalks and in streets.

This gate with matching lanterns made a picturesque place for me to sit while Fluffy wandered. I never got tired of looking at the scenery and sticking my camera out the window on the side or up top to take a picture or two.

Every tree was covered with thousands of sprigs, just like this one. If they only produced cherries, all of the D.C. area would be in for a cherry feast.

As we drove off to finish our adventure in a Mexican restaurant, Fluffy and I marveled that we had lived in this area for so many years and had never taken advantage of such a glorious opportunity. But that’s the way people are.

God has given us an amazing world, full of blessings that are ours to take. But how many of them do we actually take advantage of?

Children are so good at exploring the world around them. They dig in the dirt for bugs. They walk in the rain. They jump in the puddles, and they pull everything out from the closets or the cabinets. They want to discover everything.

When we get older, we tend to get complacent. We tend to get caught in our routines, and we forget to explore. We forget that there are blessings right under our noses. All we have to do is to open our eyes, and to look.

Just this week, Fluffy found a box in a closet upstairs. A friend of ours had found a whole bunch of family pictures — my family pictures — all over the upstairs of our house when she was designing my office, and she had put it in a box that she plainly labeled “Family Pictures.” I had never even looked through the box.

Fluffy brought the box downstairs two days ago, and we have been going through it ever since. What a treasure trove it is! It has pictures of my mother I have never seen. My mother died in 1970 and never allowed her picture to be taken as long as I could remember, so pictures of her are rare treasures.

This picture of my mother as a teenager has been in my possession for decades, but I never saw it until two days ago because I never went through a box of old family photographs.

The recent experiences with cherry blossoms and with old family pictures have shown me that we are surrounded by blessings that are ours, if we will only stop to take advantage of them.

God showers us with gifts every day, but we are so busy with our lives that we often don’t even see them. We ignore them as Fluffy and I did with the cherry blossoms, or figuratively put them in a box and shove them in a closet, the way I did with my treasured family photographs and genealogy.

What gifts has God given me that I have yet to discover? What treasures has God given you that are yet to be unwrapped and appreciated? Look around you. You may be surprised and gratified at the presents that are right underneath your nose, ready to be opened and savored, and to show you how much He loves you.

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Apr 14 2014

A World of Too Many Choices

Published by Kathy under General

Years ago, Fluffy and I were given a book called The Paradox of Choice. The premise of the book was that the more choices we get, the greater our potential for being unhappy.

The author divided people into two groups — Maximizers and Satisficers. Maximizers are people who have to have everything just right. Satisficers are people who are okay with having things that are just good enough. According to the author, Maximizers are never happy, because the moment they get the best car or the best computer, a brand new one comes out that is just slightly better.

We have many friends who are Maximizers, and we have seen how true this is. The best sound system in the world is only good for a few months. The best computer system in the world isn’t good for that long. The largest TV screen is only good until a larger one appears. And it drives Maximizers crazy to know there’s something better than what they have, and they don’t have it.

Fortunately for us, Fluffy and I are Satisficers. It isn’t something we chose. It isn’t something we attained by virtue, because we certainly aren’t virtuous. I think it’s something that’s genetic, like eye color. It’s just the way you’re wired.

We have dear friends who are Maximizers, who do a whole lot of home remodeling projects and who have helped us do a lot of home remodeling in our own home. At one point they volunteered to do the herculean task of painting our two-story living room and foyer. This required replacing lighting fixtures, doing the ceiling and trim painting, and basically spending a couple of weeks climbing up on scaffolding.

I spent days choosing a color for the room and finally chose a dark parchment color called jute. I was happy. Life was good. We bought a zillion gallons of the stuff. Our friends got on the scaffolding and, like Michelangelo, we started painting.

They painted with the speed of gazelles — if gazelles could hold paintbrushes, that is.

Ten minutes later, when they had painted a whole lot of wall, I looked at what they had painted. “That’s a very dark jute,” I said. They looked at the can. They said, “The can says the color is pashmina. Let’s go back to the store and change it.” They got off their backs and started to climb off the scaffolding.

But I, like Fluffy, am a Satisficer. Satisficers realize that the same room can look equally beautiful in a million different colors. Perhaps I had not chosen pashmina, but it would work. In fact, the dark taupe that was now on the wall was the color I had wanted to paint the room until other friends had talked me out of it. This was a happy accident I could live with. Best of all, it wasn’t my fault.

“Keep painting,” I said. Fluffy agreed. Our friends protested, but I’m sure they were glad they didn’t have to go back to the paint store and redo the work. I’m happy to say that our artwork and furniture look just as good with pashmina as they would have looked with jute. We bought more furniture to match the pashmina. The room looks great. We are happy. Life is good.

That’s the joy of being a Satisficer. When plans go awry, all you have to do is throw away the plans and go in whatever direction life is taking you. We Satisficers don’t have to have the Best Dishwasher on the Market. As long as we have a good one that works, we’re happy. And if the good one that works breaks, we’re still happy — as long as we have a friend who will wash the dishes with us.

Maximizers don’t have the luxury we do. The more choices they see in front of them, the scarier life gets. And that could be one reason we’re seeing so many young people with what I call Peter Pan Syndrome. They’re getting older, but they refuse to grow up.

When I was a kid, girls had three choices when they left high school. They could get a job, they could go to college, or they could get married. (For Mormon girls who were still unmarried by the age of 21, they could serve as missionaries as a fourth option.)

Boys could get a job, go to college, or join the military. If they were Mormon boys, they went on a mission when they reached the age of 18. That was about the extent of it.

And those were enough choices for both young Satisficers and Maximizers to handle.

Today, the choices are endless. Not only can girls get jobs, go to college, or get married, but now the Mormon girls can consider missionary service as young as age 19, or they can choose to go when they are older.

Boys and girls are starting to think about “gap years” of travel after high school, adopting a custom that has long been followed by young Brits and other Europeans. They pick up their backpacks and their maps; buy an open-ended ticket across the Atlantic and wander — much to the consternation of the parents they leave at home.

The concept of travel is a heady one, but how do they do it? Do they do it alone or with a friend? Which friend? What if they find a girlfriend along the way and want to ditch the friend? And where do they go? Which European countries? Or maybe they’ll go to Asia instead. How much of a barrier would the language be? Which languages could they get by without speaking?

Instead of going to school, many of them are thinking about helping out in third-world countries. But where do they help out? There are so many third-world countries. What if they choose the wrong one? Should they go to Thailand? Ghana? Somewhere in Central America? What about Haiti? That’s a place closer to home. Which place needs them the most?

And once they choose a country, what should they be doing? Should they be digging wells? Should they be rebuilding places that have been destroyed by storm or by war? Should they be helping orphans? Should they be helping plant gardens? There are just so many needs.

Maybe they’ll just go to school and study abroad. But even then, which country will they choose? There are so many choices. How do you choose the right one? Will a semester in Jerusalem be too dangerous? Will a semester in France be too frivolous? Will a semester in London be too much like home? What if they choose Salzburg and their future husband/wife is in Barcelona?

The same is true of dating. The world is full of eligible candidates, and college campuses are rampant with them. Jane is beautiful, but Eliza has a great personality and Betsy would be a terrific mother to your children. And if you pick any one of them, you could meet a better one a year from now — or not. Should you choose one of them, or should you wait? How do you choose?

Every door a Maximizer opens means he is shutting other doors all around the universe. The thought of it is paralyzing. There are too many choices, and sometimes when there are too many choices, the easiest thing to do is to make no choice at all.

If your child finishes college and then knocks on your door, expecting to reclaim his old bedroom and his old place in the family, he may be a Maximizer living in a world of too many choices. But all is not lost.

In the recent April general conference, Elder Ronald L. Hallstrom gave hope to Maximizers everywhere when he said, “Once any of us conclude, ‘That’s just the way I am,’ we give up our ability to change.”

If you’re harboring a Maximizer in your basement, or if you’re raising a Maximizer who is yet to graduate from high school, there is hope. Give him love and guidance. Narrow his choices in subtle ways. Give him tough love when necessary.

Remember, roughly half the population is made up of Maximizers. Maximizers can be happy and successful people. In fact, you may be one yourself.

Life has always been about choices, and our happiness depends in some degree on the choices we make. Although our array of choices sometimes seems unlimited, those who approach these decisions with thoughtfulness will muddle through somehow and eventually find their destiny.

Perhaps those of us who have already been down some of these roads can serve as guides for those still trying to navigate the big decisions of life. Stranger things have happened.

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Apr 07 2014

Serving with a Happy Heart

Published by Kathy under General

When I arrived home from the hospital last year, Fluffy was automatically promoted to head chef of the Kidd household. This was fine with me. Fluffy always did enjoy cooking, and I was too weak to wield a spatula with any authority. Besides, my wheelchair was so low that I could not even see into the frying pan while it was in use on the cooktop.

Things are better now. I’m stronger. I can pick up a knife and wield a spoon. My wheelchair has been adjusted so that I can almost see what’s cooking on the cooktop if I sit up really straight, and most of the time I’m out of the wheelchair and sitting in real chairs anyway. But Fluffy continues his head chef role.

It makes sense. Fluffy still loves to cook. And he’s retired now, while I’m still employed on a part-time basis. He does have more time to cook. Plus, he can reach the refrigerator and the cabinets and the cooktop. I help him with some of the big cooking projects, but he does the day-to-day cooking chores.

With Fluffy as our head chef, I never know what to expect. Last Tuesday, for example, when he served our dinner plates, I asked him what we were eating in the semi-darkness. He replied, “Leftovers.”

“What leftovers?” I asked, as I picked up a slender triangle of finger food.

“That’s part of a quesadilla,” he said.

I dimly remembered the quesadilla. We made it a couple of weeks ago when we invited friends over, and we had one slice left. It was a quesadilla in name only because the filling was not Mexican. Fluffy had made Carolina-style pulled-pork barbecue with our last pork loin, and that was what was between the two tortillas, along with some cheese and jalapeños.

Next to the small sliver of quesadilla was a helping of red beans and rice. We made the New Orleans-style red beans with some leftover ham from this month’s empty-nester family home evening group. They were great red beans and rice, and I was sorry to see the end of them. We’ll have to make some more as soon as we get some more leftover ham.

The other third of the plate was filled with corned beef and cabbage, a leftover from St. Patrick’s Day. But that wasn’t all, because between our plates was a small bowl of smoked salmon and crackers, left over from when we had invited guests over on Saturday.

In one meal, you could say we sent our taste buds from Mexico to North Carolina to New Orleans to Ireland to Alaska. Eating with Fluffy is always an adventure.

Sometimes our friends do not like the way their husbands or wives do things around the house. They drop offhanded comments, usually “jokes” in front of their spouses, telling how their companions hang the toilet paper backwards or make the bed so it has lumps in it. Or sometimes they set the table so the knives and forks are reversed or fold the socks wrong or put the towels on the towel rack incorrectly.

Frankly, I think our friends are crazy.

Now that I have a househusband doing these things for me, I realize there are only two things that are important.

The first thing that is important is that the work is done at all. If you’re a wife whose husband helps around the house, count your blessings. There are a lot of husbands who do not help at all. Period. They do not change diapers. They do not make beds. They do not do laundry. They do not cook.

Yes, this is the 21st Century. Things are different now from the way they were when I was growing up and men were men and women were women. Even so, there are no guarantees that men will help do the so-called women’s work in your household.

Even if the wife is working full-time outside the home and coming home to a houseful of children, there are many, many husbands who still assume the wife will cook and clean and do the laundry as well as do the lion’s share of the child-raising.

Ladies, if your husband helps around the house, consider yourself blessed.

The second thing that is important is if he does those things with a happy heart. Fluffy may not sing as he works (well, sometimes he does), but he is so happy he almost pops. He just has the sunniest disposition I have ever seen. He’s happy when he makes the beds, and when he cooks dinner, and when he washes the dishes. He’s just plain happy.

Sometimes he pauses when he works and detours through my office and kisses me on the top of my head. Then he goes off to work again, hanging up the clothes or cleaning the kitchen or making the bed while I do my small part to pay the bills.

How fortunate I am!

No, I didn’t do anything to deserve this. Fluffy just made up his mind to be happy. It’s a choice all of us make. Whether you’re a husband or a wife, or whether you’re even married or single, happiness is a choice. People decide whether to be happy. Fluffy decided to be a happy worker.

I have always found it fascinating to interact with other people and observe the attitudes they bring to their jobs. We’ve all had those store clerks who won’t even acknowledge you. Mindlessly they ring up your purchases without saying a word, thinking only of the clock and when their shift will be over.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve all met those people who bring great enthusiasm to their work, even while doing jobs that many people would consider menial.

Years ago we met a little man who worked in the grocery store on Saturdays, playing Caribbean music and selling his crab cake sandwiches that he made on the spot. One of the other workers told us that his full-time job was being a stock broker. He owned his own business and he was rich, rich, rich. But he sold the sandwiches on Saturday because he really loved cooking and interacting with other people.

Oh, that everyone could bring such passion to their assignments!

For those of you who haven’t chosen your husbands (or wives) yet, take this message to heart. Look for people who serve with a happy heart. Are they happy when they go to work in the morning? Are they happy when they come home at night? Are they happy when they take out the garbage or scrub the toilet or feed the dog? Are they happy when they come in from shoveling snow or mowing the lawn for you?

Those nasty jobs will always be there to do, so why make them nastier than they need to be because of your attitude?

And it helps if you don’t have to have things done your way. If you stand over your husband and tell him that he’s putting the dishes in the dishwasher the “wrong” way, I can tell you from sad experience it will be a long time before he puts the dishes in the dishwasher again.

Finally, if your husband (or wife) isn’t serving with a happy heart, one way to make him or her happier in service is to show a little appreciation. If you can thank him for washing the dishes or cleaning off the counter or even putting his dirty socks in the hamper — and mean it when you say it — he will be more likely to do it again in the future. You will find that a little genuine appreciation goes a long way.

A good friend of ours likes to say that most people get married to have someone serve them, when in reality their goal should be to serve their spouse. Sadly, some never learn this truth, or learn it through hard experience. Those who truly find joy in life are those who serve others and do so with a cheerful heart.

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Mar 31 2014

Noah Way!

Published by Kathy under General

I actually went to a movie last month. I know going to a movie isn’t a big deal for most of you, but prior to this year the last movie I saw in a theater was The Passion of the Christ, which came out in 2004. I like to shoot for one real movie per decade.

There is a reason for this. There are people in movie theaters. People talk when I am trying to watch the movie. Even worse, people chew. They chew, and chew, and chew. And they chew loudly. I have a thing about loud chewing, and it really sets me off my feed. My idea of a nightmare is to be surrounded by hundreds of people, all chewing loudly and at the same time.

As far as I am concerned, sitting in a movie theater represents one of Dante’s nine circles of hell. It is probably the third one, which Dante defined as gluttony. But in all fairness, the talking bothers me just as much. As humorist Tom Lehrer once said, “I feel that if a person can’t communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up.” If you’ve paid to watch a movie, watch the movie.

Okay. I’m old. Old people get crotchety. What can I say?

Fluffy feels the same way I do about movie theaters, so we watch movies in our cabins on cruise ships, on television, or not at all. But we usually don’t even miss them. Most of the movie trailers that are even mildly interesting to us end up being rated R, and we tend to stay away from those because of the raunch factor. (“R” does stand for “raunchy,” doesn’t it?) But I digress.

This year we went to see The Saratov Approach, which was a movie based on a true story of Mormon missionaries that were kidnapped in Russia. You probably didn’t see it because it was only shown on a few screens in the United States, but one of them happened to be only ten miles from our house.

We went during the day on a Thursday, when there were only six people in the theater. I am glad to report that none of them were talkers or chewers. It was a great movie. You should go see it, even if you aren’t a Mormon, except that it’s probably gone from the theaters now and you’ve missed your opportunity. Bummer. Maybe you can find it for rent later this year.

We had such great success going to see The Saratov Approach that when the television commercials for the upcoming movie Noah started running, Fluffy and I decided this was definitely a movie we were going to see. This was going to be a two-movie decade for the Kidd household!

We were fascinated to see the trailers. It was an all-star cast. Noah was a big-budget biblical epic, just like the Cecil B. Demille classics that were popular when we were kids. In fact, it was the first one that had been produced since we were kids, so it was a real milestone. We needed to support it, so there would be more just like it.

But then the ugly rumors started surfacing. Apparently Noah’s story had been Hollywoodized on its way to the movie theaters. God, Who once had a starring role in the story, barely makes a cameo appearance in Noah. And instead of inspiring a prophet, this Babylonian deity inspires Noah to kill his family, channeling Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Don’t get me wrong. I really liked Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I thought he gave a fabulous performance. But when I think of prophets, I don’t think of wild-eyed crazies with butcher knives who are out to kill their children and any other hapless human beings who get in their way. Jack Nicholson is not the person who comes to mind when I’m casting a prophet of God.

So from what I’ve read of Noah, here’s what we’re supposed to believe:

  • The earth came about because of a generic entity known as the Creator (using the name God might offend someone).
  • Human beings are bad. The Creator must not have created people, because people are horrible creatures that eat animals and kill the planet and must be eradicated.
  • The flood came to punish mankind for being bad to the environment. (Gee, was there global warming in Noah’s time? Was there a Biblical Al Gore who stole the Babylonian Peace Prize from a Biblical Mother Teresa?)
  • God (oops, the Creator) tells prophets to kill all the people so animals can have the earth.
  • Rock people come out of the earth, ostensibly to help prophets kill people and help the animals.

By the way, until all the people can be killed off, virtuous people are supposed to be vegetarians. Sorry Texans. It’s time to turn off those barbecue grills, unless you’re grilling veggies.

Don’t you hate Hollywood? Sheesh. Only they could take a simple Bible story and turn it into a pot of politically-correct hash.

So we aren’t going to see Noah. I’m betting that after the opening weekend, nobody else will, either. And then the pea-brains in Hollywood will say they can’t make any other Biblical epics because nobody goes to see them.

Wrong, idiots! It’s because you don’t put God in them! Put God in your movies, and then see if people go to see them.

Fluffy and I are voting with our feet and not going to see Noah this year. Well, he’s voting with his feet and I’m voting with my cinderblocks that I call feet. Sorry, Hollywood. You’ve lost our lucrative one-movie-per-decade business.

But on second thought, maybe we are going to see two movies this decade. You see, Son of God is still playing in a theater near us. Fluffy and I need to show Hollywood that films like this — where the producers are believers and where God is more than an afterthought — deserve to be made. I think we are going to the movies this week.

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Mar 24 2014

Candles, Popcorn, and Thou

Published by Kathy under General

Let’s just say that our St. Patrick’s Day was not a riot of shamrocks this year.

I may be Alsatian rather than Irish, but I’ve always been partial to St. Patrick’s Day. No, I don’t run out and get soused on good old Irish whiskey. I don’t sing Irish songs, I don’t drink green beverages and I don’t even make an effort to wear green.

It’s the corned beef and cabbage I like. (Wouldn’t you know my celebration would center on food?) My dear Fluffy is not a beef-eater, but corned beef and cabbage is his one concession to beef-eating. He eats the vegetables that have been cooked with the beef, and leaves the beef to me.

We got up early on Saturday morning and went to our favorite grocery store, stocking up on carrots and cabbage and onions and corned beef. Not one to prolong the excitement, we decided to eat our St. Patrick’s Day meal for Sunday dinner rather than waiting for Monday.

After returning from church on Sunday, while I was busily sitting at the computer working on family history, Fluffy chopped the vegetables and put the corned beef and cabbage and everything else in the crockpot. We were on our way to a joyous feast.

Alas, we did not ask permission of the weatherman before we started our festivities. Suddenly it started snowing. Then the power started flickering. Then, right before dusk, the power went out.

We checked the crockpot. The corned beef was hot. There was juice, and it was boiling, but the vegetables were still raw, and there was no way the meal was edible. It would take hours more cooking before this dish would be ready to eat. This was not a happy development.

Without a computer to use or a book to read, I was semi-lost. I did what I could: I sat in front of the television. At least I could pretend I was watching reality TV.

But then a wonderful thing happened. Fluffy sat beside me. He put a blanket around us, and he put his arm around me. We talked, just like actual people. When dinnertime came, he brought us a sumptuous feast of crackers and cheese and popcorn, which we ate by candlelight. We talked some more. We had a delightful evening.

At 11:05 p.m., just as it was getting uncomfortably chilly in our powerless house, the power came back on. We were able to crawl in bed and spend a toasty warm night, unencumbered by the cares of the world, as the corned beef and cabbage merrily cooked in the kitchen.

We awoke to what Fluffy and I sincerely hope will be the last of (by actual count) 9,276 snowstorms of the season. This is what Fluffy posted on his Facebook page:

Another day, another 4-6 inches of albino manure to shovel. I am *SO* ready for spring!

I have to admit, it wasn’t the best way to start St. Patrick’s Day. At least we had power, so the house was warm. Plus we had a pot of corned beef that smelled delicious.

Fluffy spent the morning shoveling snow. It was heavy snow. There was a lot of it. He said there was about six inches. What was stacked up on the railing of our deck looked deeper than that to me. Other people in our ward said it was “six to ten” inches. I think they may have been closer to being right.

It was a revolting development in any case. Fluffy needed to clear the driveway because I had a doctor’s appointment later that day.

But then the revolting development became a little less revolting. The doctor’s office called to say all appointments had been cancelled, so that freed up our afternoon. Then a friend in the ward who comes over to give me brain exercises called to say the federal government was closed due to the snow, and her husband was on his way over with her. I alerted Fluffy, and our day was suddenly brighter.

I quickly finished my work for the day while Fluffy made a carrot cake, and then we shared our day and our food with friends, playing games and eating corned beef and cabbage and acting silly. What had promised to be yet another miserable snowstorm turned into a holiday we did not plan but will nevertheless treasure.

Who would have guessed when we awoke on Sunday morning that we would spend our Sunday evening eating crackers and cheese and popcorn by candlelight? It wasn’t on our agenda, but a lot of the best things in life are not the things we schedule in advance.

If we can throw our agendas aside at appropriate intervals and enjoy the surprises God gives us — whether the surprises are as small as popcorn by candlelight or as big as an unplanned year in a wheelchair — life is a lot more fulfilling than it is if we can’t adjust to changes in our schedules.

This life is like a roller coaster. We might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.

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Mar 17 2014

Mind of the Beholder

Published by Kathy under General

Back when I was in the hospital, the nurses impressed on Fluffy how important it was for him to get me out of my wheelchair pronto. They said if I stayed in that chair, I would identify with being a cripple and I would soon think of myself as a helpless human being.

Fluffy took this counsel to heart. Unfortunately, the advice was hogwash. I never thought of the wheelchair as something that made me a cripple. On the contrary, the wheelchair was a piece of furniture. And when compared to the chairs at church, it was a comfortable piece of furniture. I had no interest whatsoever in getting out of it, when the alternative was those horrible church chairs.

Instead, I perfected a series of wheelchair moves as I waited for my legs to come back. I started doing wheelchair maneuvers, much the same as the wheelchair basketball players but without actually having to carry a basketball.

I really got good at it. I could back up or move laterally without benefit of my arms, using just a touch of my feet to the floor or even my legs to the side of the chair. This wasn’t a skill I could actually show off, but I secretly knew I had it. I had never been able to call myself an athlete, but I finally had a physical skill, albeit a tiny one, and I was pleased.

Eventually, however, my feet started telling me they were ready for just a little bit more. It was time for them to simulate walking, with the operative word being “simulate.”

Now when I walk down that church hallway on my walker, I finally know the meaning of the word “cripple” in a way I never knew it in a wheelchair. My right foot is a cinderblock that has no human feeling. My right leg does not have the strength to pick up that heavy right foot, so I stumble.

I think my right foot is secretly a drunkard roustabout that has no intention whatsoever of following the Word of Wisdom. It probably smokes tiny little cigarettes, too, but I haven’t caught it yet.

Despite my daily upper-body exercises, my right arm and shoulder do not have the strength to hold up my body on that side the way the left side does. That right side tends to collapse like an accordion as I walk down the hall, so that I stand straighter on the left than on the right. When I was in the wheelchair I didn’t even know the right side was weaker. Now that I’m walking, the weakness is inescapable.

I truly now feel like a cripple. Bummer.

Now that I’m using the walker in church, everyone seems to think I have taken great strides toward my recovery. They congratulate me as though I have run a marathon or placed in a swimming competition, but I feel like anything but a champion. On the contrary, I feel like Igor from the Frankenstein movies, all hunched over on one side and barely making it from one destination to another.

I never felt like Igor when I was in a wheelchair.

Looking at me from the outside, the world thinks I have made great improvements now that I am standing on my own two feet. From my inner perspective, I feel as though I have gone leaps and bounds backwards. After all, when I was sitting in the chair, I was an athlete (albeit in my own mind).

I was not bent over sideways. I did not have a cinderblock foot. I was not scouring the village, looking for brains for science experiments.

Oh, the joys of progress.

But if this is the price of walking again, I’m gladly paying the admission fee. After all, we signed up for this life with all its experiences — the good ones, the bad ones, and the really nasty ones. Walking like Igor is an experience I never actually wanted, but if it’s on my life’s menu, bring it on. God must have decided I needed it, and if that’s what He thinks, it’s good enough for me. Until then, please keep any extra brains safely under lock and key.

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Mar 10 2014

Useless Things of Beauty

Published by Kathy under General

As the time came for me to start using a walker rather than a wheelchair at church, I looked on Amazon for a walker that would suit my needs. I had owned two walkers in the past, both of which were things of beauty, and both of which had met tragic ends on cruise ships. I wanted another walker just like them.

I found a great deal for a similar walker on Amazon, and it seemed to be just for me. I eyed it for a month or two, and one day the price plummeted. Normally a $123 item, it was suddenly being listed for the incredible price of $73. I could hardly believe my luck, so I immediately snapped it up. Immediately after I did so, the price went up again. Apparently there was just one for sale at that price, and I got it.

If there were a prom queen of walkers, this would be it.

I loved the color. I loved the little wire basket that could carry my treasures. I loved the foam back I could lean against when I was sitting on the padded seat. This was a sweet unit. But I especially loved the color. Have I mentioned before that I am completely helpless when it comes to colors? This is true. If something is a pretty color, that seems to be the primary consideration as far as I’m concerned.

I am a shallow person.

So the walker arrived, and I took it for a test drive around the house. It was a total disaster. I had thought I was ready to stagger around the house with the benefit of a walker, but apparently I was premature. That walker slid around sideways like crazy. It took most of my energy just keeping the walker moving in a straight line in front of me. Obviously I had never used a walker on hardwood floors.

I took the walker to church on Sunday, and things were marginally better. The walker did not zip out from under me on that industrial carpet, and with great difficulty I was able to navigate the great lengths of the hallway. It was the hardest thing in the whole, wide world.

I felt like Columbus, Magellan, Joseph Smith, and the Apostle Paul, all rolled into one, but I still looked like Kathy so nobody treated me like a hero. Nobody except for Fluffy, and Marcia, my ex-visiting teacher. Marcia and Fluffy are the two world’s best cheerleaders. They both cheered me on even when I wanted to punch them in their cheery little faces.

Did I say using that walker was hard?

Then one day Fluffy pulled out the old-lady-style walker that was given to me in the hospital and replaced the front legs with a set of wheel attachments that had also been provided with it. I had no idea why he was doing it. That walker was bug-ugly. There wasn’t a prayer I was going to use that thing.

But just to humor him, I walked with it across the floor of our living-room-turned-bedroom. Holy cow! That thing had integrity. With the other walker, I had been using half my energy to walk and the other half of my energy to keep the walker upright. I didn’t even know that until suddenly I was able to devote all my energy to the task of walking.

I had been flirting with the beautiful prom queen walker and leaving the bug-ugly-battleship-gray Eleanor Roosevelt walker alone in the corner.

Eleanor Roosevelt, my old lady walker.

Bravely I said to Fluffy that the following day I was going to put the wheelchair away and use the walker in our house all day long. I knew this would not be easy. It would involve all sorts of nasty transfers into real chairs, some of which had wheels on them without brakes to keep them from rolling. These things were going to scare me to death, but progress is progress. I was up for the task.

But alas, I am still Kathy. That walker was ugly. So I sat in the bathroom, washing my hair and wondering if we could get some spray paint at Lowe’s that would turn the walker purple or teal or Kelly green or some color that was not gray. What a dipwhistle I am!

I am such a dipwhistle that for one brief moment I even wondered if I should just go back to using that other walker — you know, the pretty one. The dangerous one. But I knew I couldn’t. As pretty as it was, that walker just didn’t have the structural integrity to keep me walking upright.

So I used Eleanor Roosevelt for a whole day, and then a day after that. I zoomed around the house on Eleanor Roosevelt like a kid on a tricycle. I looked forward to using her on Sunday. I envisioned flying through church like an almost-well human being, impressing everyone to pieces and signaling the beginning of a brand-new life.

At the same time, I wondered how I could dress up Eleanor Roosevelt with colored tape or stickers or other bright and shiny decorations. It wasn’t going to happen. Eleanor Roosevelt was doomed to look like Eleanor Roosevelt, and I knew it. But boy, could she fly on our hardwood floors!

We got to church on Sunday, and I practically leapt out of the car, ready to show the world the new Kathy. Alas, there was no new Kathy. By the time we got into the building, I was bent over like an old lady on an old lady’s walker, tired and miserable just as I had been the week before.

And then, with the drag of the church carpet instead of our hardwood floors, things were not as happy as they had been at home. I was worn out from the rigors of the parking lot, and the carpet grabbed me. Alas, I no longer had a seat on my walker that allowed me to sit down and rest. Once I was walking, all I could do was plod toward the chapel, which seemed to get farther and farther away.

Once again, by the time we got into the chapel, I felt like Columbus, Magellan, Joseph Smith, and the Apostle Paul, all rolled into one, but I still looked like Kathy so nobody treated me like a hero. Nobody except for Fluffy, that is. And Marcia, my ex-visiting teacher. Only they had even the slightest idea that I wanted to give up and go home crawl in bed and lie there in the fetal position and cry.

But things had been better. Things had been a whole lot better than they had been the week before. And they continued to be better throughout the day.

Eleanor Roosevelt may have been ugly, but she was a smashing success. I know that with her as my trusty companion, I will one day be able to walk the terrible distance from the car to our seat in the chapel without feeling like I have trudged to the far end of the world. It is sturdy Eleanor Roosevelt, not the beautiful red walker I so admired, that will carry me to the next step in my healing adventure.

I have learned a lot of lessons during the past year. Eleanor Roosevelt has taught me, once again, not to look for the flashy beauties that promise everything but do not deliver on their promises. Often it is the quiet ones that are overlooked in the corner that are the ones who can take you wherever you want to go.

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Mar 03 2014

Life in the Snail’s Lane

Published by Kathy under General

This week is a momentous week on Planet Kathy. Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the day when I got released from the rehabilitation hospital and got sent home to live a so-called normal life.

If I had thought a year ago that I’d still be sitting in a wheelchair at the one-year mark, I would have been more than a little surprised — but I shouldn’t have been. My chief therapist, Wonder Woman, told me when I got discharged that I’d be spending “at least a year to eighteen months” in my wheelchair after discharge. Being the optimists that we are, both Fluffy and I translated that to mean “up to a year.”

I guess we should have cleaned the wax out of our ears.

Now we’re thinking of that eighteen-month mark, but we’re still thinking of it as “up to” eighteen months. Wonder Woman never said that. Her words were “at least.” We’re still thinking, “up to.” We are still wearing those rose-colored glasses.

I keep trying to do new tricks, here at the gymnasium we call home. Today I tried to go up our stairway to the second floor. I have not been on that floor for more than a year, and I am forgetting what it looks like. I have been doing 20-25 steps per day on a little set of practice stairs, and my body finally thought it was ready to try the real deal.

In my quest to conquer this new challenge, I decided I’d do the first five stairs up to the landing and then take a rest there. Fluffy thought I was being a little optimistic, but he cleared off the first five stairs and he also cleared off the wonderful leather stool on the landing so I could sit on it and rest when I reached that resting point.

Ha!

First I tried my weak right leg. I got it situated on that bottom step and then tried to get my left foot up there. I was a dismal failure. I landed back in the wheelchair with a plop and sat there to survey the situation. This was not going to be as easy as I had thought.

Then I decided to start with my stronger left leg. My last physical therapist, André, said to always start with the stronger leg when going up and the weaker leg when going down. I decided to listen to him for once, but it didn’t get me anywhere. In fact, I did worse that way than I had the time before. My stair-climbing experiment was not a success.

Twice in the past week, friends have asked me what I do all day. I’m sure they are not trying to be rude. The truth is, just being Kathy takes a whole lot longer than it used to take. I don’t know why.

Here is a typical weekday:

  • The first thing I do in the morning is to sit up and have Fluffy put on the support stockings that keep my chicken legs from becoming piano legs. We try to do this without my screaming, although we are not always successful. It is amazing how much sensation there can be in paralyzed legs, and none of it is pleasant. In fact, all of it is pretty much excruciating.
  • I retire to the bathroom for my morning toiletries and to get as dressed as I’m going to get. It is not easy to get dressed sitting down. If we have nowhere to go that day, I get dressed in one of a large assortment of nightgowns. One of the few real perks of life in a wheelchair is that one gets to stay in a nightgown all day long, if one is so inclined. Fluffy keeps me nicely dressed. He is an excellent valet.
  • Then I wash my hair in the bathroom sink. This is a messy process, although it is debatable whether any of the water that I feel splashing on my feet is actually water. It may be that some or even all of it is bogus water that is imagined by my feet. The fact that the floor is dry when I am finished generally bears this out, unless our home is blessed with water that evaporates in five minutes.
  • Bathroom duties are followed by my morning exercises, climbing steps while Fluffy cheers me on and then lifting five-pound weights and using stretch bands. My goal is to achieve a six-pack in the abdominal region. This is a work in progress.
  • I do my work for the Nauvoo Times. If it is cold, I have an electric blanket wrapped around me or a space heater on the chair next to me. The cold is not my friend. I continue working at the computer until 1:30 or so, interrupted by Fluffy, who brings me a small bowl of cereal and my morning pills. Fluffy is my pharmacist, and he cheerfully doles out the 30+ pills that I take each day.
  • Then our friend arrives who also serves as my brain trainer. She is coaxing my brain to return to this world, using an assortment of exercises that, quite frankly, turn my cognitive processes into spaghetti. This is good for me. But by the end of an hour, I’m mentally useless for the rest of the day.
  • Once my brain is trained, we eat lunch while watching some television. I sit in front of the television, sleeping and at least figuratively drooling. If we have time, I often take an afternoon nap. We may or may not have a visitor. We may or may not leave the house. We may or may not play games. I check my email to see if any more Nauvoo Times work needs to be done.
  • Dinnertime arrives. If we aren’t eating with friends or dining out, we watch television again and visit with each other until 9:30.
  • At 9:30 or so, we watch a half-hour segment of the Great Courses. We recently enjoyed “The History of Ancient Egypt,” which was 48 lectures. We are currently watching “Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond,” which is only 24 lectures, but which is not so enjoyable. Until I get my brain back, I am not smart enough for that one. Maybe I won’t be even then.
  • Then we play on our individual computers until 11 p.m. or so, catching up on our emails, the latest news, and our friends on Facebook.
  • We crawl in bed and read until midnight, when I turn out my light and go to sleep. Fluffy follows shortly thereafter.

Yes, we are living at a snail’s pace. But there’s nothing wrong with a good snail.

Most people live life in a blur, compared to the way we live it. They watch the news. They zoom back and forth in automobiles. They listen to music that puts them in frenetic moods. Stimuli bombard them constantly.

We know, because we used to live this way too, but my medical adventure and Fluffy’s unexpected retirement from the work force have changed our lives radically in the past year.

Nevertheless, from our vantage point, the snail’s way of life has some advantages. It is not altogether bad to live life from quarter-speed, if you can manage it, which most of us can’t. Even I couldn’t have managed it, if my body hadn’t stopped me in my tracks and managed it for me. Now I have no choice but to live snail-like, one precious inch at a time.

We have learned many lessons in the past year. One of them is this: It doesn’t matter how fast one goes; it only matters which direction one is going. As long as I am going in the right direction, I have an eternity to get there. And because Fluffy has slowed down to join me on the journey, we can enjoy every sublime moment of the adventure.

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Feb 24 2014

Company Policy by Dart Board

Published by Kathy under General

Unless you are a hermit who lives in a cave, one facet of daily life is that we deal with different companies on a daily basis. For me, I stick with Amazon and eBay when I can. It’s fun to shop there, and I don’t have to leave home to do it.

But the world is full of utility companies, retail organizations (both online and brick-and-mortar), government organizations, and many others. People who live in civilized nations can’t avoid them.

When you deal with companies, it’s only a matter of time until you run into the dreaded “company policy.” These are those arbitrary rules that organizations establish so that all customers are treated somewhat equally. Although this sounds good in theory, almost everyone can tell horror stories about how organizations mistreated them because of some company policy that seemed to make no sense.

Shortly after our marriage, we saw a piece of future in Sears that we really liked. Okay. We were young, we were poor, and our tastes were two steps above “cardboard box” as far as furniture was concerned.

At that time, most furniture stores had a 30-days-same-as-cash policy, meaning that if you paid your bill in 30 days, there were no extra charges, and you could still have full use of the furniture for that first month. You would sign an agreement, have the furniture delivered, and then pay your bill. The whole transaction took less than five minutes.

But such a policy would be all too simple for a bureaucracy as big and important as Sears. We were told that the 30-days policy was available, but only if you had a Sears charge account. We’re sure some genius in marketing saw this as a great way to generate future loyalty and sales.

So we spent the next half-hour filling out the required applications. We left some of the questions blank, because they were way too personal for what we wanted. We weren’t after a top secret security clearance; we only wanted to buy a piece of furniture and have a month to pay for it.

A couple of days later we got a call from Sears, telling us that our application had been denied because of some of the missing information. If we wanted the furniture, we would have to try the application again or pay for the furniture before it was delivered.

All our attempts to appeal to common sense were fruitless, as the polite but firm customer service person told us that this was their company policy and could not be changed. With equal firmness, we told them that they could keep their furniture, and we would spend our money with companies that were more concerned with customer satisfaction than company policy.

Although this happened almost 40 years ago, we have been pretty good about avoiding Sears ever since then. With the exception of some tools and appliances (Sears has a reputation for tools and appliances that is hard to beat), we have pretty much had a Sears-free marriage. Our one bad experience has cost the mighty corporation a whole lot of money, at least from our family.

Since that time we have mellowed a little, and realized that silly company policies are just part of daily life. Unless they are especially egregious, it is better to just laugh about them.

But sometimes you just come across a policy that is so silly, you just have to scratch your head and wonder. What was the reason behind this policy? Were these rules designed by a committee of weasels? Does the CEO just spend his day throwing darts at a dartboard, and use that to set the company policies? Sometimes it seems that way.

Here’s an example.

For Christmas, a kind friend gave us a new TiVo. This new beauty can record up to four television programs simultaneously by means of a cable card. The cable card fits inside the TiVo, replacing the older cable boxes that sit on top the TV or somewhere close by.

This meant that we needed to acquire a new cable card and return the older cable box that we no longer needed. When we called our cable TV provider (name rhymes with “Verizon”), we were told that although cable cards are free, there would be a small handling fee of $19.95 if we wanted a cable card mailed to us. How generous of them!

I don’t know about you, but on Planet Kathy, $19.95 is not a small number when it is preceded by a dollar sign. For old people like us, $19.95 is a whole boatload of money.

The nice lady on the phone told Fluffy we could avoid this charge by visiting one of their local stores, and there was one about 10 miles from home. We were also told we could return the unneeded cable box at the same time. Perfect!

The next day Fluffy packed up the old cable box and headed towards the store. As promised, getting the free cable card was no problem. By appearing at the store in person, he saved the $19.95 processing fee. But when he attempted to return the cable box, he was told there would be a $9.95 processing fee if he gave the cable box back in person.

Here’s the kicker. The nice lady in the store told Fluffy he could avoid the $9.95 processing fee by going to a shipping company and mailing the cable box back to the cable company. She explained that the cable people had an agreement with a national shipping company, and he could just drop off the box at one of their stores. They would provide the packaging and the postage would be paid.

So Fluffy took the box away from the cable company, found a shipping store, packaged up the cable box, and had it mailed back to the same place he had just left. That way he was able to avoid the $9.95 processing fee and all he lost was an hour or so of his time.

All we could do was laugh and wonder about the logic (or lack it) associated with this policy. In order to get our cable card we could save money by avoiding shipping and visiting the business in person. But to get rid of our cable box, the opposite was true; we could save money by using shipping instead of a personal visit.

Somewhere, in the bowels of the corporation, there is an explanation for this. Maybe the two different products are handled by two different divisions, each of which sets its own policies. Or maybe the CEO of the cable company plays golf with the CEO of the shipping company, and they made a deal to send the shipper some business.

In any case, this was just one of those experiences that make life so interesting and amusing.

Life is full of experiences like that. If life were easy — if life were seemingly rational — we would placidly go from one experience to another. Everything would be fair. Goodness would be rewarded. Evil would be punished. There would be no bumps in the road. We would not need faith, because everything in our lives would be abundantly clear.

But life is full of bumps and twists and turns and all sorts of surprises. A lot of those surprises are not happy ones. As we dart from one place to another in this game that we call life, we stretch our muscles. We expand our knowledge. We grow. We fall down. We pick ourselves up again. We lean on each other. We learn compassion.

Sometimes, it seems as though God’s hobby is to send His children on wild goose chases while He sits in His heavenly stadium seat, enjoying the show. But if we think our lives are situation comedies and God is laughing at us, we are wrong.

On the contrary, God is cheering us on. He is the dad in the stands, cheering for His child who is playing the game of a lifetime. He is the father at the chain-link fence, Whose very presence inspires each child to do his best.

At the end of this life, we will see the path that is invisible to us now. We will understand what makes no sense from this earthly perspective. All will be made clear.

We may never understand how the policies are determined by our cable company, but I trust the rules that have been designed for us by God, and I know that eventually all will work out for the best and according to His perfect plan.

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Feb 17 2014

Building Your Own Windmill

Published by Kathy under General

This month our ward book group discussed a book about a 14-year-old boy from Malawi who brought electricity to his African village by building a windmill.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind did not dream of fame and fortune when he built his windmill, however. Originally, all he wanted was some way he could listen to his reggae music on the radio without having to rely on batteries that kept running out and causing the music to die.

From that simple dream, bigger dreams were born. Young William Kamkwamba next decided he was tired of going to sleep when the sun went down. He thought it might be nice if he could have a little light in his bedroom so he could read when he was lying in bed after the sun disappeared for the night.

It didn’t immediately occur to him that he didn’t even have to be in bed after the sun went down. After all, going in bed when it got dark was what people had done since the dawn of man. He just wanted to listen to the radio in bed and, later, read in bed. Was that so much to ask?

So William and his trusty sidekick, Geoffrey, scoured the village for parts they could use to build a windmill like the one in a library book that showed him how to harness the wind. They took apart defunct bicycles and radios, and they went to abandoned factories. William had a knack for seeing new uses for old materials.

He even dug up sewage pipes, washed off the slime, and used them in his contraption. Some of the sewage pipes were still being used, but progress usually requires a little bit of sacrifice. That was the length he would go for his beloved reggae music.

The people of the village laughed. That is what people do when they do not understand genius. William’s own family laughed. Even they did not understand him, especially when he pirated pieces of their home to use in his ever-growing windmill.

But when the blades of his windmill started to turn and music started coming from William’s battery-less radio, people stopped laughing. And when William’s windmill brought a tiny light to life, dimly illuminating his bedroom, people started lining up to see the miracle that 14-year-old William had wrought.

Dreams may start small, but they have a way of growing and taking over the world. Soon William’s family realized that if he could lie in bed at night and read by the light made from his windmill, they could too. In fact, if they had light after sundown, they didn’t have to lie in bed at all.

Here is a passage from the book:

Not long after I’d completed this wiring, I walked into the living room one night and found my family sitting around, listening to the radio. My mother sat on the floor in the corner, crocheting a beautiful orange tablecloth. My father and sisters just stared ahead, lost in the news program on Radio One. I pretended to be one of the reporters on the radio, barging in with my microphone.

“I’m now standing in the living room of the Honorable Papa Kam-kwamba,” I said, in a deep, serious voice. “Mister Kamkwamba, this room used to be so dark and sad at this hour. Now look at you, enjoying electricity like a city person.”

“Oh,” said my father, smiling. “Enjoying it more than a city person.”

“You mean because there’s no blackouts and you owe ESCOM nothing?”

“Well, yes,” said my father. “But also, because my own son made it.”

That is a secret shared by people who make things. Things that are created by the people who use them bring a whole lot more satisfaction to the user than things that are thoughtlessly purchased.

That homemade loaf of bread is infinitely more satisfying, not to say a whole lot healthier, than a loaf of Wonder Bread from the supermarket. The chair that was lovingly carved and planed by hand brings a lot more joy to the user than something that was carelessly brought home from the store.

If you aren’t a maker yourself, the next best thing is to earn the money to pay for it rather than plopping down a credit card to do so. It may be a fine distinction, but if you have scrimped and saved for months to buy that nightstand, it will mean a lot more to you than if you just went out and bought it on credit. Earning the money to buy a wished-for object is the modern equivalent of making it yourself.

But I digress. When we met for book group, the person leading the group quoted William as he later told the story of building a windmill to a worldwide audience. William said, “After I drop out from school, I went to library … and I get information about windmill … and I try, and I made it.”

(How’s that for describing a project that eventually brought electricity to an entire village? The boy had a genius for understatement.)

The bottom line was worthy of thought, however. The kid looked at a windmill and decided that if he tried to make one he could do it. He tried, and he was successful. The lesson he learned? In his own words:  “If you want to make it, all you have to do is try.”

How often do we look at something and think of it as insurmountable? Fluffy recently fixed our trusty clothes dryer using a $21 fuse and a video he found on YouTube. Although he had never fixed a dryer before, he said it was not that difficult when he had the instructions to follow. But often we sigh and say to ourselves, “If only.” Then we sit back on the sofa, pick up the remote control, and turn on the television.

Our dreams are worth more than that, however. If we follow through on our dreams, we can build windmills. Those windmills can bring a little music to our lives or, if we stretch our dreams a little further, they can light up an entire village.

It may be easier to sit back and have things done for us, but it is a whole lot more rewarding to take our dreams by the horns and turn them into reality.

If we fail, at least we’ll have the consolation of knowing we gave it our all. And if we succeed, we may eventually be able to hear music or read a book after sundown. Or, as William Kamkwamba did, we may even be able to change the world.

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