Oct 23 2015

Party of Two

Published by under General

Every month, the old married people in our church congregation who don’t have children living at home (the “empty-nesters”) get together for a potluck dinner on a Monday night. We eat and visit and usually have some kind of churchy-type lesson. The dinner is almost always held in our home, because that way I don’t have to struggle up a foreign set of stairs. Besides, it gives us an excuse to clean the house.

At the end of our September meeting, when the group organizer asked who wanted to be the host in October, he reminded everyone that October’s meeting was going to be held on Columbus Day. You would have thought he was suggesting we hold the meeting on Christmas Eve.

We’re not going to be there,” half the people said, aghast that anyone would even suggest it. “We’re going to visit our grandchildren.”

(As you can imagine, the “grandchildren” card is sacred in any group of people our age, especially Mormons our age, who collect grandchildren the way a Boy Scout collects merit badges. It is such a valuable excuse for getting out of things that I am tempted to tell people I am going to visit my grandchildren, even though everyone knows I forgot to have children in the first place.)

Other people said they were going to be traveling, or having guests come to visit them. I don’t remember the excuses. Everyone spoke at once.

Fluffy and I checked our calendar, and we were going to be home on Columbus Day. In fact, I had a doctor’s appointment that day, so we couldn’t go anywhere. So we volunteered to be the hosts. It was probably our turn. And it was easy enough to do, seeing as how it was our house anyway.

I had been thinking about chili, and wanting to create a new chili recipe. Fluffy does not eat beef. Usually this doesn’t bother me. I eat my beef, and he eats whatever he wants to eat. But ground turkey does not make a hearty chili. I am a turkey lover myself, but even turkey lovers must concede that ground turkey and the word “hearty” do not go together. I was in the mood to create something different.

Anyway, hosting the potluck would give me the perfect opportunity to create a decent chili recipe, because the hosts of the potluck are always responsible for the main course. So I put my little pea brain to work and came up with a recipe that used pork sausage as a base for chili. This was going to be fun.

Then I sent out the Evites. I always send out the Evites. I’m not sure why. Fluffy and I are not the official organizers, but the organizers weren’t sure how to send out the Evites, so the job fell to me by default so I do it every month. We send out the invitations, we have the party at our house, and we provide the drinks, but another couple in the ward is “in charge.” I have never figured that one out.

Our happy invitation, designed to lure hapless chili-eaters to our home from far and wide.

Once the day was approaching, it was time to make the chili. But how much were we going to make? We knew a lot of people weren’t going to be there, but up to twenty-five people show up on a good night, so we thought we’d have a half dozen or so on a bad one, and we’d seal up the leftovers and freeze them. We decided to buy four pounds of meat and go from there.

Four pounds of meat would feed an army.

I was gratified to see that pork sausage was an excellent choice. It fried up just like ground beef, but without the grease. But pork sausage gave flavor and more heft, so to speak, than ground turkey. And the brand I picked was all natural, so there was none of the nasty MSG that gives Fluffy migraines.

We added all sorts of other good stuff — a whole head of garlic, and cumin, and paprika, and cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes. We used RO-TEL tomatoes in addition to regular canned tomatoes, just to give our chili an extra kick.

We have the largest size crockpot they make, but all this filled the crockpot so full that Fluffy had to take a saucepan of chili out just so he could stir the rest of it. We made a lot of chili. (Frankly, we have been told we do a whole lot of things on the “overkill” setting.)

And Fluffy made a pan of cornbread — just one pan, because we really didn’t think there would be more than eight people there, and a pan of cornbread serves nine.

Then we wondered who, if anybody, would show up. We have an interesting assortment of people at our potluck dinners. Some of them are from Asia, and even when the theme is Mexican, they are likely to bring Oriental food. If they showed up, we might be eating chili with kimchi. But that is one of the joys of this little group. We can never predict what is going to happen.

The day before the big party (which was a Sunday), the Evite web site showed that a grand total of one couple had responded to the invitation, and they had declined. That does not mean anything, because our group tends to not be good at responding. But it was still an ominous sign.

Fluffy was assigned to teach the high priests that day. He used the first part of the lesson to remind the high priests who were still in town that there was going to be a party the next day. They all smiled and nodded, and seemed to indicate that it sounded like great fun.

On Columbus Day, I quickly did what little work I could before Fluffy bundled me in the car and took me to my doctor’s appointment. Then I spent the afternoon working while Fluffy warmed the chili, made the cornbread, and cleaned the house.

We were all ready for company when the time came. I was even dressed, which was unusual for me. One of the perks of being in a wheelchair is that I get to entertain in my flannel nighties, but since I had already been out of the house I was actually in my big girl clothes and ready to entertain like an actual person.

The party started at 7 p.m., but we had to be ready before that. The first people arrived had promptly at 6:30 last month, so we got to start visiting a whole half hour early. That was fine. As I said, I was actually dressed this month. Fluffy even turned on the outside light to welcome as many guests who came.

He played on his computer. I played on mine. At 7:15 he said, “How long do we have to wait until we can eat dinner?” I said, “People are usually late. Let’s wait till 7:30 or so. We usually eat later than that.”

But the chili was simmering. The aroma was there. We watched the clock like there would be no tomorrow. We were ready to frolic.

The moment the clocks chimed 7:45, I threw off my clothes, put on my nightgown, and settled myself in front of the television. Fluffy gave us each a big bowl of chili and some cornbread, and we watched the most recent episode of “Naked and Afraid.” The star of this week’s episode was a Utah boy. Since he was obviously a naked Mormon, we counted that as our “lesson” for the week. We had a grand old time.

We cooked for twenty, and we ended up with a party of two. But who says you can’t have fun when there are only two people on the guest list? It all depends on which two people show up.

On Columbus Day, it was just fine that there were only two of us. Our monthly Family Home Evening is an optional activity. People come and go if it’s convenient for them, and there is no penalty if they can’t come this month, or the next, or the month after that.

This particular month, it just didn’t seem to be convenient for anyone but the two of us. Plus, we got a big pot of chili, a good recipe for future meals, and a clean house out of the deal.

Fluffy and I would have been happy if twenty people had shown up, but we were just as happy to watch “Naked and Afraid” all by ourselves. We’re flexible that way. That’s the kind of people we are.

There are parties where the attendance is optional, and our little Columbus Day chili fest was one of those parties. Nobody cared whether the people who were invited actually intended — not even the hosts. But there’s another banquet that we have been invited to, that is not such a flexible feast. It is the banquet that Jesus talks about in Luke 14:16-24:

16 Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:

17 And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.

18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.

19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.

21 So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

22 And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.

23 And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

24 For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.

I don’t know about you, but the Savior’s banquet is one that I do not want to miss. I want to be at the table, with my napkin on my lap, and I want my loved ones to be there with me. If there is an oil lamp that is required of us, I want mine to be filled, with its wick trimmed and ready to go. I want your oil lamps to be filled, too, because I care about you.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to fill that lamp with oil and to set aside other things and go to the Savior’s banquet. Christianity is not always an easy religion. The sacrifices of our religion are ones we won’t regret making, however. A lot of the time we all waste precious hours on things that matter a whole lot less.

 

This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

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Oct 12 2015

The Parable of the Ten Students

Published by under General

My husband Fluffy is an only child, so we just assumed that when his parents departed this mortal coil, he would inherit all their earthly possessions.  That shows how wrong we were!

Although they had never said a peep about such things while alive, after they departed we discovered that they had an extensive estate plan, and that Fluffy was to serve as the executor of it. Although they didn’t forget us, they focused on organizations that did good things.

For the most part, we were happy with the way things ended up.  Fluffy’s parents found good places to put their money.  They donated money to the Perpetual Education Fund and the Humanitarian Aid Fund of our church.  Primary Children’s Hospital got some money too.

How can you complain about losing money you expected to get, when it goes to an organization that educates people in Africa or saves people’s lives after tsunamis in Thailand or Japan?  You can’t — well, at least, I can’t.  I can’t think of anything we would have done with the money that would have spent it any better than that.

Do I need a new nightstand more than somebody needs a roof over his head after an earthquake in Chile?  I think not.  Do we need a car to replace one of our 1999 vehicles more than somebody needs an education, or an expensive medical treatment?  No — our 1999 cars are running just fine, thank you very much.  We can wait another five years, or even ten.

But some of the disbursements were not as easy to stomach.  Fluffy’s parents also set aside grants for college scholarship endowments at several of their favorite universities, all of which were in Utah. This was okay too, until Fluffy read that 50% of one of the scholarships should be given to “deserving athletes.”

In Fluffy’s mind, you see, “deserving athletes” are more difficult to find than “military intelligence.”

In fact, it took everything in him to carry out that part of the will according to his parents’ wishes. It was not that he wanted the money for himself, mind you. He just wanted to siphon it over to Humanitarian Aid or Perpetual Education or anywhere that did not involve drooling, ball-dribbling and/or ball-passing Neanderthals at his alma mater university.

Fluffy’s experiences with the afore-mentioned ball-dribbling and/or ball-passing Neanderthals at his alma mater university were not good ones, you see.

Although Fluffy majored in computer science (this was back in the dark ages before most people had even seen a computer), he minored in photography, and also had a part-time job working in the college photography lab. One of his tasks working in the lab was to work with the athletic department and the “deserving athletes” they recruited.

These scholarship “students” (and I must put the word in quotation marks) were treated as gods on his campus. They were certainly not on campus to study. They were there to play ball and bring glory (and donations) to the school, and as such nobody cared whether they even cracked a book.

They were lured to the campus with promises of money and cars and stardom, with hints of liquor and sex. (Fluffy obviously did not attend Brigham Young University.)

Their first big experience on campus was the signing of the contract, which was done with the coaches and the player. Thousands of pictures were taken, as you can imagine. Then they’d depart the photo lab and go out for a big celebratory steak dinner on the university’s dime.

The first time Fluffy ever witnessed this rite of passage, he waited until the coaches and the “deserving athlete” had left the premises. Then he turned to the assigned photographer and volunteered to go develop the film. The photographer responded by opening the back of the camera. The camera was empty. There had been no film in it (this was decades before digital cameras).

The photographer shrugged. “Oh, this is just an ego thing for the new athlete. Nobody ever orders the pictures, so we learned long ago to not waste any film on the spectacle.”

As you can imagine, Fluffy looked at the athletes in his school with a cynical eye after working with them for four years as a photographer. But what drove the final nail in the coffin was when we announced to his parents that we were getting married at the ripe old age of 26.

One would assume that having their only child get married would be a red-letter day in the life of any parent. Not so, on this occasion. Fluffy’s parents lobbied, and lobbied hard, for us to change the date of our wedding. The night we had selected, we were told, conflicted with a home game of Fluffy’s alma mater’s basketball team.

I have probably written enough in these columns about Fluffy that you know without my having to write it down that the moment Fluffy’s parents told him the reason why they wanted him to change the date, the date of our marriage was written in stone. So we got married as scheduled, and his parents were kind enough to attend, even though they would have preferred to be in a stinky gym watching a basketball game.

But Fluffy’s father, who is probably where Fluffy got his stubbornness in the first place, got the last laugh. When Fluffy was going through his father’s effects, he found his father’s handwritten journal. In his spidery, old-man handwriting, he had recorded that he and his wife had attended every one of the college basketball home games except one. “Except one” was underlined, maybe more than once.

It was perhaps for this reason alone that Fluffy parents had revised their will to include the beloved athletes who had given them so much joy. Bummer.

But as I said, Fluffy and I thought the disposition of his parents’ marital assets was a grand idea, with the possible exception of the college scholarships, and the definite exception of the athletic scholarships. Oh, did those athletic scholarships grate on Fluffy.

It hurt his sweet little heart to write the checks, but I am proud to report that he did it anyway, because that’s the kind of person he is. He wrote out the checks, he mailed them off, and then he forgot about them.

And then an odd thing happened. We started getting thank you notes from the recipients of the scholarships. Not only did we get annual financial reports from each university, but we got individual thank you notes from most of the students who got the scholarships.

Some of these were generic, fill-in-the-blank thank you notes, but others were quite heartfelt and touching. We could tell that these scholarships really made a difference in people’s lives, to the extent that their degrees might not have been obtained without that help.

The years passed, and we continued to get thank you notes from all over Utah. The scholarship endowments in all three schools should be perpetual (the school invests the money and funds the scholarships from the investment returns), so the thank you notes should be continuing to come in for the rest of my life and beyond.

Recently Fluffy was going through some of these papers, when he discovered that he had heard nothing from his alma mater since 2013. So he sent an email asking what had been happening with the scholarship endowment at that school.

Why had we received no statements or thank you letters for the past two years? And even when we received those reports, why were they not anywhere as thorough as the reports received from the other two universities?

Fluffy’s email must have caused a flurry of activity in a little town in northern Utah. Fluffy quickly got an email apology, with the promise that a thorough accounting would arrive in the mail soon. That big packet arrived last week, and it contained details for every year back to when the endowment was funded.

The packet also included thank you letters from students that had been written in 2014 and 2015. The thank you letters had been sent to the scholarship office at the university, but nobody had ever forwarded them to us.


If your mailbox is lonely, just establish a scholarship endowment at your favorite university. Then you will get all kinds of mail from grateful students and scholarship administrators.

 

The letters that nobody had ever bothered to send to us were quite interesting. In fact, once we finally got them they were much more interesting than the ones we had received from the other two schools.

One of them was hilarious. The recipient was on the brink of quitting school when she got the scholarship because she could no longer afford to attend classes and indeed almost didn’t open the scholarship letter because she thought it was another bill. It was such a funny note that we thought she should change her major to creative writing.

If that letter made us laugh, another letter almost brought us to tears. One man from Sudan was allowed to finish his education because of the scholarship. Many of his family had been killed in civil wars, and attending school in the U.S. was a struggle for him culturally and financially. But he was determined to get his degree and then take his education back to Africa.

Both he and one of his professors thanked us profusely for the education that would have been cut short if not for the scholarship that Fluffy’s parents provided.

With the updated financial report in hand, Fluffy sat down with a pen and paper to do a little research. He found something that was both interesting and predictable to him.

Of the ten scholarships that had been awarded by this university, seven of them were academic and three were athletic. Of the thank you notes he received, all seven of them were for the academic scholarships. There wasn’t a thank you for an athletic scholarship in the bunch.

Fluffy said, “This is just like the parable of the ten lepers in Luke, isn’t it?”

11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.
12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (Luke 17:11-19)

Sure enough, the athletes are those scuzzy, ungrateful lepers. You take their pictures and give them steak dinners and tell them they really don’t have to keep up their grades or follow the rules that everyone else has to follow, and they think the world owes them a living.

Scholarships are thrown in their laps, and it doesn’t matter if the people who throw the scholarships in their laps are people who are driving cars that were built in 1999, and who could use the money themselves. They’re athletes, after all. They are owed.

The thing is, none of us are owed anything. Fluffy and I weren’t owed an inheritance just because Fluffy was an only child whose parents had money in the bank when they died. The athletes aren’t owed scholarships. We aren’t even owed the air we breathe or the clothes we put on our backs.

Everything we have — including the things we work hard to “earn” — is a gift from God. Even the things we think are not especially wonderful (things like my feet that do not walk, for example) are gifts. We can learn great things from them if we will let them teach us.

It is up to us to be grateful for the gifts that are given to us as gifts, the gifts that are the products of our sweat and labor, and the gifts that come to us in the form of adversity. All these things ultimately come from God and are for our good. We should be thankful for all of them, and for the Giver who makes all things possible.

 

This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

 

 

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Oct 05 2015

Another $1,000,000 Idea

Published by under General

We went on our annual apple farm excursion last week, and as part of the overnight trip we stayed in a big name hotel. Fluffy made sure to request a handicapped room, because I need guardrails in the bathroom in order to help me negotiate the terrors of porcelain and tile.

When he called the hotel, he specifically said, “My wife uses a wheelchair so we need a room where there are grab bars in the bathroom.” The cheerful person on the phone told him that the request had been noted, and that all would be well.

When we checked in, Fluffy once again told the smiling Millennial behind the desk that a handicapped room was needed because his wife was in a wheelchair and needed grab bars in the bathroom. The desk clerk cheerfully complied, gave Fluffy his keys, and Fluffy went off to inspect the room.

Fluffy got his first clue that not all was well in Zion when he reached the door of the room and saw a big ear symbol printed on the door. He went inside the room, and sure enough — there were no grab bars anywhere in sight.

We had been given a handicapped room, all right, but it was a handicapped room that was designed for a deaf person. The room was equipped with a doorbell that flashes a light inside the room when pressed. That is all well and good for someone who is deaf, but isn’t much help for someone who has a difficult time walking.

But as far as the smiling Millennial at the front desk was concerned, a gimp is a gimp. You say Po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to. Either you can’t walk or you can’t hear. What’s the difference?

(This is not unique to Winchester, by the way. Last November when we went to Williamsburg, Virginia, we were also put in a handicapped-for-the-deaf room after we had specifically ordered a mobility handicapped room six months before. So I guess Millennials are not restricted to Winchester in terms of thinking that way.)

Getting back to the incident in Winchester, Fluffy came back to the car and discussed the situation with me. We actually ended up taking the room. We had stayed in this hotel several times before, you see, and we knew all about the handicapped rooms that were designed in this hotel for people in wheelchairs.

In the handicapped room on this trip, the bathroom was conveniently located right next to the bed. In the handicapped rooms for people in who cannot walk, the bathrooms were far, far from the bed, but that wasn’t all. The bathroom door opened such that I had to wheel beyond the bathroom and then open the door, because the door opening faced the hallway rather than the room itself.

But even that wasn’t all, because the threshold of the door was so tall that I could not wheel myself into the bathroom going forward, but had to back myself in. Just getting into the bathroom was such a major hurdle that we decided that we’d skip the wheelchair-accessible room altogether and see what the room for the deaf had to offer.

Sure enough, I learned to navigate by using the sink instead of grab bars. It turned out that the room that was not wheelchair-accessible was more wheelchair-accessible than the wheelchair-accessible room we stayed in on several previous visits.

Other than the advertised Wi-Fi not working and having the hotel housekeeper nearly beat the door down when she tried to get into the room the next morning at 9 a.m. and clean it (she thought we were deaf, you see), we had a perfectly delightful stay.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but it is not. We just got off a cruise ship, where the wheelchair-accessible room worked the same way as the wheelchair-accessible room in the big-name hotel. The hinge of the door was on the bed side, so I had to wheel myself past the door and open it, rather than just opening the door and going in. I also had to back the wheelchair in because the threshold was so high.

But the cruise ship added its own little humorous feature. The door of the bathroom (I guess I should call the bathroom the “head,” because it was on a ship) was designed to close as soon as you opened it. So I’d throw the door open and then try to turn my wheelchair around to back in. By the time the wheelchair was turned around so I could fit through the opening, the door had already closed so I couldn’t get inside.

Pause here for a string of non-Mormon-worthy expletives.

But getting into the bathroom was only part of the problem. Once inside, the handicapped bathroom was tiny. It was divided into three parts (sink, shower, and toilet) by — get this — a ceiling-to-floor glass divider that the wheelchair was supposed to navigate around. This glass divider was glued to the floor with putty.

If the wheelchair hit the glass divider, the whole divider detached from the floor and swung away from the floor and had to be stuck down again. And every time I moved in the bathroom, I hit the glass divider and dislodged it from the floor, causing it to swing perilously behind me. It was a real experience.

Lest you think I had trouble in that bathroom because I am so large, I must insert here that I do not travel with a large wheelchair. My travel wheelchair is a standard size, and there is actually one standard wheelchair size bigger than the size I use.

I have spent two cruises wishing that somebody from the cruise line would put a camera in that handicapped bathroom, and then put the president of the cruise line in a wheelchair, with his legs taped together, and see how well he navigates from the doorway to sit on the low, low toilet and then to the sink to wash his hands to then sit in the shower and then to the sink to brush his teeth before exiting the room.

The resulting video would be shown to the employees of the cruise line for their viewing pleasure. I suspect the employees would laugh and laugh to see their president being subjected to what wheelchair-bound people are routinely subjected to in his wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

I suspect the handicapped bathrooms would be redesigned posthaste.

I’m sure those who design such things go through the checklist — extra wide door, check; grab bars, check; roll-in shower, check. But if the same people would sit in a wheelchair and spend five minutes navigating around their creations, they would find dozens of ways that their designs could actually be made workable with just minor changes, such as ordering a door where the hinge is on the opposite side.

I spend a whole lot of time doing secret shopping, where I attend restaurants to taste the food and subject myself to the service, just to let the owners know how well their establishments are doing. After being in a wheelchair for nearly three years, I think it’s high time that somebody started doing the same thing on behalf of handicapped people everywhere.

What we need is Rent-a-Gimp — an organization where people like me could go into a hotel and test the handicapped rooms to see how handicapped-accessible they really are. And they shouldn’t just go into one room; they should test all of them. Our experience just this week showed us that not all handicapped-accessible rooms in a single facility are created equal.

This sounds like a joke, but I believe somebody should do it. Hotel owners, cruise ship designers, and others who are allegedly designing handicapped-accessible rooms (and ramps and other devices) should know exactly how accessible they are. What exactly is the point of having laws about handicap accessibility if the so-called accessible things aren’t usable by the people they are supposed to help?

Of course, if anyone starts such a business, I hope you will at least hire me as one of your rental gimps. Send me out on the luxury cruise ships, please, with Fluffy as my handicap escort. This sounds like a terrible job, but somebody would have to do it, and Fluffy and I might as well be the ones to take one for the handicapped team.

 

This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

 

 

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Sep 28 2015

Dealing with Helpful People

Published by under General

“Hello.  We’re here to help you.”

Fluffy and I looked at one another and blinked. We had not been aware that any help was needed.

It was the third day of our six-day cruise, and the trivia pecking order had already been established. There were two teams that had won all of the competitions. One team was a five-person team from North Carolina that took trivia contests as seriously as Fluffy and I take Mormonism.

This team, the “Tarheels,” told us they play trivia games three or four nights a week against different groups of people, and that they host trivia contests in their community. They watch “Jeopardy!” and other TV shows and even cartoons and TV commercials just to get trivia questions for their games.

The other winning team was the “Virginia Hams,” a two-person team consisting of Fluffy and me. We had not played any trivia games whatsoever since we had taken our last cruise eleven months before.

Although we have recently started watching “Jeopardy!” each night, we do not watch cartoons and Fluffy fast-forwards through all the TV commercials — even the ones I want to see. So we do enjoy trivia, but it is not a vocation or even an avocation for us.

We two teams were battling it out for total trivia domination, with the “Tarheel” team registering shock and awe and just a little bit of betrayal when Fluffy and I won the prize for any particular contest. No, the two teams were solidly neck and neck. The last thing that Fluffy and I needed was anybody else’s “help.”


Here is one of our winning score sheets — and our valuable prizes —
before we started getting “helped.”

 

But what can you do? Fluffy sighed. I looked up and assessed the situation. There were three interlopers — a man and two women, in their late sixties or early seventies. They looked fairly intelligent, but how can you tell?

I smiled up at them. I wanted to tell them to just go away, but how could I? I’m not that kind of person. My mother raised me to be polite. Besides, Mormons have sociability beaten into them. “Do you know about sports?” I asked. “What about Shakespeare, or Broadway musicals, or Hollywood celebrities? Those are our weaknesses. If you know those things, we can use you.”

“Ron can help you with the sports,” one of the women said. “And Nancy can help you with everything else.”

“Sit down,” I said, with another big smile that really meant, “Please go away.” “We’d be glad to have you.” And with those lying words, Fluffy and I knew we had lost any chance of winning the progressive trivia competition, which spanned several days and was the biggest trivia competition of the whole cruise.

We had our team name already written at the top of our score sheet. We’re the Virginia Hams for two reasons. First, we live in Virginia. The second reason should be obvious. Ron looked at our team name and said, “We’re from Maryland. We’ll have to come up with a different team name.”

He mused for half a second and said, “I know! The Ravens!”

Gee. That was original. Two-thirds of the people on the ship were going to name their teams after the Baltimore Ravens. “Not going to happen,” said Fluffy. We aren’t football fans.”

Ron looked at Fluffy as though he had sprouted another head. I could tell it was going to be a long trivia game.

“What about the Chesapeake Crabs?” I suggested. Everyone else shrugged. It wasn’t an inspired name, but that’s the nature of teamwork. Everything is born of compromise. Besides, it matched my mood at that point.

Then the game started, and the compromising really began. And that’s the problem with having people join us at trivia. Which is, we have to accept their help, even when their help isn’t helpful. We have to let them contribute. We have to play nice.

So when the question is, “Name a movie where you can see Kevin Costner’s bare butt,” and the stranger across the table says, “The Bodyguard!” with absolute conviction, good manners require you to accept that answer, even though the little niggling voice in your head says, “Wasn’t Kevin Costner butt naked for almost the entire movie Dances with Wolves?”

Then we were asked which actor played the title role in the film Malcolm X. Even though we had not seen the movie, Fluffy thought the answer was Denzel Washington. But then, again with great conviction, another of our teammates said the answer was Jamie Foxx. So being polite, and not being 100% sure ourselves, we accepted that (wrong) answer instead of Fluffy’s correct guess.

By the end of the trivia contest, we had accepted the strangers’ answers just enough times to be kind to them, which, coincidentally, was just often enough for us to lose that particular contest by two points. The thing about progressive trivia, though, was that we had to keep the same team for the duration of the cruise, which meant we were stuck with our teammates for two more games.

We knew we were doomed.

Sure enough, no matter where we hid ourselves in the Schooner Bar, our intrepid teammates found us on both those occasions. And on both those occasions they “helped” us go down in flames.

For example, the juice from a strawberry (not a blueberry) will help whiten teeth. John Lennon was shot on a Monday, not a Tuesday. And the first Super Bowl game was played in Los Angeles (sorry, New Orleans). We finally decided we would press for the correct answer, if we knew it, and only defer to the other team members if we had no clue or weren’t sure. But by this time, it was too late.

By the end of the competition, the Tarheels beat us so soundly that we weren’t even in second place. We still had a respectable score. I think we were about four or five questions behind the winners. But we were the fourth team in the rankings, and that made for a miserable showing. The Tarheels had ground us into the decking, and they knew it. It wasn’t even a fair fight.

The thing about Ron and his two female companions is that they never did understand that they were the reason we lost the progressive trivia competition. From the beginning to the end, they thought they were helping us, and that our team just wasn’t as good as the three teams that scored higher than we did. They gave it their all, never knowing that their all was what caused Fluffy’s and my defeat.

How many times have I thought I was helping someone, only to do exactly the wrong thing that was needed? I’m sure it happens all the time. Perhaps when Jane gets sick, she does not need my casserole. Maybe she needs to have her laundry done instead. Or perhaps instead of a visit, Claudia needs to have her children picked up from school and taken to Grandma’s. The list goes on.

Does John really need a get-well card in the mail, or does he need a talk with a friend? Does the wife of a man who is in the hospital need someone to send flowers to him, or does she need someone to sit with him so she can go to the movies and get her mind off things for just two hours?

When help is needed, the first thing we do is inventory our own set of gifts and see what we feel comfortable giving. Instead of looking at what is comfortable for us to offer, we should look instead to see what the person on the other end needs.

Instead of blindly showing up with a dinner, perhaps we should give the recipient an option: “What can I do for you, Daisy? Can I bring you a dinner on Thursday, or would you like me to come over and mop your floors, or can I take your kids to the park for you and give you an afternoon to take a nap?”

Let her choose — and don’t be surprised if the answer is something that is not even on your list. The service that someone needs may be something you or I would never have thought of giving.

I remember an act of service that my friend Michelle gave me way back in 2011 — back in the days when my worst physical ailment was congestive heart failure, coupled with a nasty case of pulmonary hypertension.

Okay. Both of those were fatal diseases. I couldn’t walk ten paces without having to sit down and rest, and I used an oxygen tank when I was at home. I was a lot worse off then than I am today. Today, my worst problem is that I temporarily don’t have the use of my feet.

Early that month, the mother of a mutual friend died. I knew I should go to the funeral, but this was before my coma, and while Fluffy was still working and couldn’t get the time off. I couldn’t take myself because I couldn’t park a car and get from a parking lot into a church. Even then, I needed to use a wheelchair, but I didn’t have a wheelchair except for a “transport wheelchair” that somebody else had to push.

Out of the blue, Michelle gave me a call and asked if I wanted a ride. She would give me door-to-door service from my home to the Catholic Church to Arlington National Cemetery to the country club where the funeral luncheon was going to be held, and then back home again. It was going to be an all-day affair.

I really needed to go to that funeral, but just as much as going to the funeral I thought it was a great idea to spend some time with Michelle, who is even more of an introvert than I am. It was going to be a real sacrifice for her, and I knew it.

That day became one of the great memories of my life. The day was snowy and cold and miserable. Michelle and I laughed and took pictures and acted like idiots (acting appropriately solemn when solemnity was called for, of course). She pushed me everywhere, and I am not a lightweight person to push. The gift of her time was a treasure. I will love Michelle for the rest of my life — and beyond.

We, too, can give gifts of our time and our hearts. All we have to do is think outside the casserole dish, and we can change a person’s life forever.

 

This article first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

 

 

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Sep 21 2015

Floods of Water and Blessings

Published by under General

A few weeks ago we were preparing to leave town for a short vacation. In the middle of our preparations, Fluffy was called away to help our friend Jeff with an unexpected emergency. It was an emergency the friend did not expect, but then that’s the nature of emergencies. You can’t exactly schedule them and put them on the calendar.

Four or five months ago, Jeff had decided to apply for a job out in California. It was a temporary job, if you can call a job of four years’ duration temporary. He would be packing everything up and moving out there for four years, but coming back here afterwards, so the move would not be permanent. He planned to rent out his house while he was gone, and live in a condo for the time he was in California.

Ever since that decision was made, Jeff has been going crazy to get ready for that move. He wanted to get his home here ready for people to rent it, so he remodeled it inside and out. A self-professed handyman, he re-roofed the place himself. He also re-tiled the bathrooms and did all sorts of other work on the home.

I have never been inside Jeff’s house, because it is hard for me to get into other people’s houses, but he showed me pictures, and the work he did looked pretty impressive.

Jeff did little things too, if you can count fixing his refrigerator’s ice maker and painting a fence as “little” things. He didn’t let anything slide.

In addition, our friend Pam was moving from one house to another in our ward. Jeff pretty much moved her too, hauling all her big stuff on his trailer and sealing her driveway and doing her landscaping and doing everything else that she needed to have done.

Where were Pam’s home teachers all this time, who should have been helping Pam? Wait. Fluffy and I are Pam’s home teachers. All we did was invite Pam and Jeff over for dinner a few times. Oops.


Our good-hearted friend Jeff.

 

As if this weren’t enough, Jeff sneaked over to our house at least a couple of times and put weed killer on our lawn. I am sure he did this for other people as well. Last autumn when the leaves were falling, he came over several times with his leaf blower to clear our leaves. Our yard looked like it had been vacuumed — that’s how clean it was. There wasn’t a leaf in sight.

Jeff is the kind of person who is always doing good things for other people, without being asked, even if he is in the process of moving. He does not let grass grow under his feet.

So you can see that Jeff has been pretty busy ever since he decided he was going to move. Finally he was all ready to move, with the house completely ready to go, and all the boxes packed up and sitting on the floor, ready for the movers to come in and haul them away. At last Jeff and his wife were able to fly out to California and look for a place to rent for the next four years.

While they were gone, he sent a neighbor into the house to retrieve a document and send it to him. It was a good thing he did. Apparently when Jeff was working on his refrigerator’s ice maker, the water line was bent just enough to cause a tiny pinprick hole to form. While they were away, the hole turned into a leak, and the leak had flooded his entire house.

Not only did his entire wood laminate floor have to be replaced, but the sheetrock on his walls had to be taken off. The boxes of papers that were on the floor were soaked, and much of the house was destroyed.

Poor Jeff, who had fixed his house to perfection and then had spent time he didn’t have to help other people, found himself back to square one. It isn’t often when you find yourself with less than ten days before you are supposed to move, with no floors in your house and the walls torn down to the studs and with many of your possessions needing to be unpacked, dried out, and repacked in fresh boxes.

So now in addition to all his other tasks, Jeff had to deal with moving his family into a hotel, and supervising not only the packing but the repair efforts on the home. There was even a “mold person” coming in every day, and the repairmen could not lift a finger until he told them the house was dry enough for them to start making their repairs.

One of the silver linings in this dark cloud was that it provided an opportunity for Fluffy and other ward members to lend a hand, and partially repay Jeff for the many acts of service he had done for us over the years. And when he was out in California, Jeff was able to find a place to live that will be a real blessing to his wife while they are living on the West Coast. That is a silver lining, too.

Even so, the destruction of Jeff’s home was a disaster. His house is a wreck. Fortunately, Jeff did not shake his fist at God and curse the heavens. Being a mature human being, he realized that this is the nature of our world. This life is not supposed to be fair. It is a series of tests, and how we respond to those tests measures our worth as human beings.

As the Bible says, “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45).” No matter how many good works you do, it is not an insurance policy. Bad things are going to happen to you, too.

Jeff is definitely one of the good guys. Right now it is raining on him. Tomorrow, it could be you or I.

Where will be when our friends are caught in a thunderstorm? Will we be safely at home, curled up with a book, or will we be standing next to them, holding an umbrella?

 

This column first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

 

 

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Sep 17 2015

Lessons Learned from Naked People

Published by under General

It is no secret to anyone who reads this column that Fluffy and I watch our share of television, and one of our favorite “guilty pleasure” shows of this summer has been “Naked and Afraid XL.”

We assume that “XL” means extra-large, but that is being optimistic.  For one thing, all of the naked people have their naughty parts pixilated, so we have no idea who is extra-large versus average.  And for another thing, after being in the wilderness for forty days without food, nobody on that show is going to be extra-large, even if they started out that way.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  “Naked and Afraid XL” is a survival show, where twelve people were divided into groups of three and dropped into a particularly nasty area of the Colombian jungle, where they were left to fend for themselves for forty days.

By “fend for themselves,” I mean that literally.  When they were dropped off, they had to shed their clothes, even their shoes.  Each group of three was given one fire-starter.  (This is a cheat that was not allowed in the early days of the show, and I didn’t like it, but the producers didn’t ask me.)

And each individual was given one other item of his or her choice.  Some chose a machete or a knife.  Some chose a pot.  One chose mosquito netting.  Whatever one survival tool he or she wanted, he could take.

Each group also had a rough map.  It showed approximately where they had been dropped off, and where they needed to be in forty days’ time to get picked up.  In every case, they were at least five or six miles from where they needed to be.  In between them and their extraction point was the mighty Orinoco River, which was teeming with snakes, piranha, caiman and other predatory creatures.

That was all the naked people were given.  There were no shoes to protect the bottoms of their feet.  There were no clothes to protect them from bug bites.  There were no fans to cool them in the 100+ degree heat. There were not even shoelaces to use as cordage.  Whatever else they needed, for forty days, they had to get from the jungle.  Period.

Each group of three survivalists knew there were other naked people out there somewhere, and they all knew where they had to be in forty days’ time.  But none of them had any particular requirement to meet up with one another, or live as a group together.  They just needed to survive, in whatever way seemed best to them.

Fluffy and I immediately started following a group that called themselves the Alpha Males.  They were aptly named.  One of them did not do well and quit the challenge in only the second episode because of health issues, but the other two were as strong as lions.

As a little aside, one of the alpha males of this duo happened to be a Mormon.  You non-Mormons who think of Donny and Marie as your representative Mormons may want to feast your eyes on this picture, next time you are called upon to visualize what a Mormon looks like:

Jeff Zausch, just another basic Mormon. We who watched "Naked and Afraid XL" are well aware that this triumphant picture of Jeff bagging his third electric eel actually went all the way down to his feet. Thank goodness for the art of pixilization!

Jeff Zausch, just another basic Mormon. We who watched “Naked and Afraid XL” are well aware that this triumphant picture of Jeff bagging his third electric eel actually went all the way down to his feet. Thank goodness for the art of pixilization!

As the series progressed, different groups of survivalists chose different ways to survive.  The Alpha Males went out hunting every morning, staying out until after sunset, and choosing to subdue the land and kill and eat whatever they could.  There were actually a couple of vegetarians in other groups, though, and one of them made it all the way to the end without eating meat.

Contrary to the Alpha Males, most of the other survivalists were dominated by the philosophies of some loud, domineering, and, as far as Fluffy and I were concerned, stupid women who decided that the best way to survive for forty days was to lie on their rear ends and to do nothing whatsoever in the way of work.

This is not to say they did nothing at all, however.  They decided they were going to criticize whatever anyone else did in the way of work.  It went way beyond nagging.

“Bullying” is a word that is way overused these days, but these survivalists did it, choosing two members of the group who were at the bottom of the pecking order and then picking on them until they chose to “tap out” (go home) rather than stay and endure the torments of their peers.

These weren’t fifth graders. They were adults.  This was a social experiment that sociologists should study and write books about.  These survivalists systematically chose two people, excluded them, and drove them out of the tribe.  If there had not been producers there to take them home, they would have died in the wilderness.

Eventually all of the naked survivalists found themselves in the same area, Piranha Lake.  The team of Alpha Males decided, wisely, to stay away from the rest.  Perhaps they didn’t stay far enough, because every time the Alpha Males caught an electric eel, the other people arrived with their hands out, ready to eat.

To their credit, the Alpha Males would usually share their catch, even though the sharing was not reciprocal on the rare occasions the other team found meat.

The other team would not have survived without the food the Alpha Males gave them.  But after the challenge was over, the rest of the group sniped that they didn’t really need the food the Alpha Males gave them.  They would have made it anyway, they said.

As we watched this show, we saw two kinds of people.  We saw people who were builders.  They got up in the morning and worked toward feeding themselves and having a productive life.  When they found food for themselves, they even fed others.  You may even say they fed their enemies.  They certainly weren’t feeding people who were being kind to them.

The other people were people who were lazy.  They didn’t do anything but lie around from morning till night.  They said they were “conserving their resources,” but they certainly worked overtime in looking for evil things to say about the people around them.  And their feet ran to the food that was produced by others.  They always had a hand out to take a share of the resources that they had no hand in procuring.

The older I get, the less I am physically able to do.  Frankly, my ineptitude drives me crazy. But I hope that I am always able to do what I can do, and to accept what others do for me, with a happy heart.  The least I can do is to offer a word of encouragement, and a smile, along with what little help to others that can give.

If the day comes that I stop trying to do something productive, I will feel so guilty that I will probably curl up in a ball and die.  And if I ever become a sniper who preys upon the goodwill and the tender feelings of others, I will have lived too long upon this earth.

 

This column was first published in the Nauvoo Times.

 

 

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Sep 07 2015

The Six Degrees of Mormon Bacon

Published by under General

Back a decade or two ago there was a game that was popular in Hollywood circles — The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The premise was that Kevin Bacon had worked with so many other actors that there were no fewer than six degrees of separation between him and anyone else in Hollywood.*

For example, how do you connect Kevin Bacon with Elvis Presley? Well, Kevin Bacon worked with Edward Asner in JFK, and then Edward Asner worked with Elvis Presley in Change of Habit. The person who can make the connection with the fewest number of links wins the game.

The game swept through Hollywood because Hollywood is such a small community that people realized the phenomenon applied to just about anybody. There were no more than six degrees of separation between any two people, if you compared their common friends and stopped to work out the details. It was fun to figure out how you were tied to so-and-so. You just had to figure out how to connect the dots.

With 15 million Mormons, you would not think we are a small community. But we can play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” with the best of them. In fact, we’re so good at it that when we get going you’d be tempted to get out the waffle maker and whip up some breakfast.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

The first of them happened back in 1974, the year of the Spokane World’s Fair, which was called Expo ‘74. This is such ancient history that I had not even met Fluffy yet. (Meeting Fluffy would not happen until Halloween of that year, and Expo ’74 was a summer event.)

I am somewhat of a World’s Fair freak, having been to the ones in New York, San Antonio, Spokane, Knoxville, New Orleans, and Vancouver. Some people like Disney; I like World’s Fairs. World’s Fairs do not have those annoying theme park characters in them. Whenever I see one of those, I just want to punch them in the mouth. I have anger management issues with theme park characters, I think.

On this occasion, my sister Susie flew up to Utah and we drove to Spokane to the fair. Being 24 and oh, so stupid, I did not bother to get housing reservations for Spokane before we set off on our journey. I did look at the map and thought the town name of “Fish Trap” sounded cute. I decided we would stay there, but I did not bother to get any motel names or try to secure any reservations.

Little did I know that “Fish Trap” was not a town at all but a farm exit that did not have so much as a gas station for weary travelers. I learned this from the state trooper who pulled me over to give me a ticket at the other, not so cute imaginary town of “Speed Trap, Washington.” “Speed Trap, Washington” was apparently a big moneymaker during the fair and I was a visitor there.

On the whole, I would have preferred Fish Trap.

The state trooper told us that if we did not already have reservations we were in big trouble, but I was not worried. We were on our way to the Fair! So off we went, and we did have a grand old time.

Of course, this was Washington, and even back in those days Washington was a tree-hugging, granola-eating state. This was the first environmentally-themed World’s Fair, and it made us feel guilty for using toilet paper (or any paper, for that matter) or driving gas-powered cars. If you could come up with a one-word theme for that Fair, “guilt” would pretty much be the theme. Washington was that way even back in 1974.

It was rainy and cold on that first summer day we visited the Fair. We didn’t care. I should have cared. I was already on my way to double pneumonia, which is something I can cook up for myself the way the rest of you can cook up a batch of microwave popcorn. But I didn’t think twice about it. Susie and I were having a grand old time.

When it started getting dark, we started thinking about lodging. We packed ourselves into my Chevy Nova, turned on the windshield wipers, and headed north through town.

The state trooper was right. There wasn’t a motel room to be had, anywhere. I stopped at all of them, even though there were “No Vacancy” signs posted at each and every one. We kept driving and driving until eventually we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Scratch that. Eventually we weren’t in Washington anymore. We had crossed over into Idaho. Surely there was a motel room in Coeur d’Alene, which was 33.8 miles away.

Well, no there wasn’t. There was a dental convention in Coeur d’Alene, and not a room to be had in the whole town. It was cold, it was raining, and it was close to midnight. We were doomed.

At that point I got a bright idea, or what passes for a bright idea in a really dumb person. I drove us to the police station and asked that we be arrested for vagrancy. The police officer wasn’t having any part of it, however. There was no way he was going to let us sleep overnight in his warm jail when I had a cold, wet car right outside in the parking lot.

I was completely out of options. I didn’t know what to do. Then, the inspiration struck. I would call the local Mormon bishop. I found a pay phone and squinted in the darkness to make out a number. The telephone was answered on the first or second ring. (It is experiences such as this that made me realize no sane man would ever aspire to the office of Mormon bishop.)

Sure enough, the bishop’s wife was glad to make a pallet for Susie and me on the floor of their living room. By the time we got there, the blankets were ready for us. We spent a warm, dry, and safe night. It didn’t stop me from catching pneumonia, but we were able to enjoy the rest of the Fair.

Several months later, when I returned home and met Fluffy in Salt Lake City, I learned that he was the home teacher to the daughter of that Mormon bishop, way off in distant Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. What would be the odds of a thing like that?

The other incident happened to Fluffy, when he was a tyke in what was then the little town of Ogden, Utah. Halloween was approaching, and he and a friend decided to build a spook alley in the friend’s family garage. That was a popular thing to do, and you could charge other kids in the neighborhood a nickel or a dime for the opportunity of being scared by a ketchup-stained dummy.

All went well, until the evening approached and it started to get dark. Then the friend, who was trying to hook up one of the displays in the spook alley, needed a little extra light, and decided to run into the house for a flashlight. When he returned, he told Fluffy he couldn’t find a flashlight and was going to use a candle instead.

Fluffy didn’t think this was a great idea. This particular display featured an open container of gasoline that would burst into flames when it was heated by the wires from an electrical battery. The flame feature had been tested successfully multiple times, but it was getting difficult to fill the gasoline pan in the fading light.

Fluffy didn’t think it was a good idea to be pouring gas by candlelight. He even told his friend it was probably not a good idea.

The friend told Fluffy he would be careful. He said he would hold the candle way … out … here, far away from the dish of gasoline, and from the glass bottle of gasoline he was pouring into the dish.

You can guess what happened after that. It began with a big, “WHOOOSH!” and it ended with a burned-down garage. Fluffy’s friend spent several days in the hospital, with serious burns on his legs. Fluffy was told never to associate with his former friend again, which he considered pretty unfair considering the candle was not his idea, and that he had even advised his friend to come up with a better plan.

Several decades later, and all the way across the continent, Fluffy was sitting in one of the rooms of the Washington D.C. Temple where temple workers gather. He sat there listening to one of the men tell a story about his crazy brother-in-law that got more and more familiar as the story progressed.

Sure enough, the crazy brother-in-law had been the “WHOOOSH” friend of Fluffy’s childhood — the ex-friend that lived two thousand miles away and that Fluffy had not heard a word about in more than thirty years. It just served to show us once again that no matter how far a Mormon goes, we can’t escape who we are.

Of course, these days you don’t have to be a Mormon to play the “Six Degrees” game. The Facebook phenomenon has shown us all that the world is much smaller than we ever knew.

Fluffy gets a real kick out of going into his friends’ “Friend” pages and seeing who knows whom. Sometimes he’ll find that two people he knows who live thousands of miles away from each other are somehow connected to one another. It always blows him away to see that these “strangers” are friends with one another, and also with him.

How did they ever meet each other, anyway? How did their lives touch? Sometimes his curiosity gets the better of him and he will ask one of them. “Oh, he is the former missionary companion of a guy who dated my sister’s roommate when she was in college.” Kevin Bacon would be so proud.

The world used to be a big place. People’s whole lives used to be circumscribed by the distance they could drive in a horse and buggy. In fact, there are communities today within driving distance of my own home where people are still confined to horse-and-buggy-distance from home, without benefit of television or internet or modern transportation. Communities that are outside that horse-and-buggy circumference are dead to them.

This makes it convenient when you are doing genealogy, because you will find generation of ancestors who lived within spitting distance of each other.

But for those of us who have modern conveniences, the world is tiny. Just a casual glance through my own Facebook Friends page shows people in Singapore and Abu Dhabi and Tokyo and Australia and the United Arab Emirates and Quito. I’m sure there are others. I’m too old to keep up with where people are living these days. I wish I could visit all of them. I want to see everywhere.

Despite the vastness of the world, we need to remember that we are all God’s children. He knows us all by name and loves each one of us as if we were His only child. We need to show the same concern for one another as He shows for us. For all we know, that random stranger next to us in line might be our future boss, or bishop, or daughter-in-law. The older we get, the smaller the world seems to be.

 

 

*Kevin Bacon is not your typical Hollywood jerk. He capitalized on the phenomenon of the game by creating a charitable foundation, SixDegrees.org, which connects celebrities with other charitable endeavors and helps raise money for worthwhile causes.

 

This post first appeared in the Nauvoo Times.

 

 

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Aug 31 2015

Ripples in a Pond

Published by under General

Fluffy couldn’t get to sleep a couple of nights ago, so he went into a guest bedroom and watched a movie in the hopes that it would bore him to sleep. He never got back to sleep, but he did enjoy the movie. Its title was A Sound of Thunder, and it was based on a science fiction story by Ray Bradbury with the same title that was published before we were in nursery school.

It may have been an old story, but it was a good one. The next morning as he was helping me with my morning exercises, he mentioned the movie to me, and I immediately asked him if it was the one about stepping on a butterfly. He confirmed that indeed that was the story in question.

The story takes place in a future time when time travel has been perfected, and a company offers to take people back to a prehistoric era to allow them to shoot a dinosaur. Because changes to the past could affect the future, the company takes great pains to make sure nothing will be changed by these hunting expeditions.

The hunters can only shoot a particular dinosaur just before it is about to die anyway (by being trapped in a tar pit or covered by an erupting volcano), to ensure that killing the dinosaur 15 seconds earlier will not alter history. The company also provides an elevated path above the jungle floor, and everyone has to stay on that path.

The hunters use ice bullets that melt and leave no metal residue behind. The organizers of the expedition believe they have covered all the bases.

But on one occasion there is a mishap, and one of the hunters accidentally crushes a butterfly under his boot. The owners of the hunting expedition hope that such a minor accident will have minimal effects, but when they return to the future, they find that the whole world is different.

In the short story, the changes were political in nature (the world they returned to was now under the influence of communism, as befitting our own world’s obsession with communism in those Cold War days when the story was written).

In the movie, the changes were environmental, as befitting the times in the movie was filmed. The weather was warmer, and plants were more aggressive, growing up through concrete and seeking out humans as potential food sources. Different types of animals had also developed (a cross between a dinosaur and a gorilla, for example), which were also predatory towards humans.

At the end of the movie, the heroes go back and prevent the butterfly from being killed, thus allowing the future to unfold as expected. The moral of the story is that seemingly unimportant actions may have dramatic and long-lasting consequences.

This reminded me of a Relief Society lesson that we had a year or so ago. The teacher asked us to think back to an experience where someone did something that changed our lives, and then to share that experience with the class. She was no doubt gratified to see that there were more women willing to share experiences than time would allow.

In fact, the people who shared their experiences went on like a chain. In an entirely unplanned sequence, each woman who stood up said that her life had been positively influenced by the woman who had stood up and given thanks immediately before her.

Each one gave specific examples, so we had a chain of gratitude that filled the hour. It was an impressive lesson that I will not soon forget. Who knew that there were so many instances of our actions having such long-lasting effects?

There was another incident that hit even closer to home. Back in those glorious days when the Relief Society used to have craft classes, I drafted Fluffy to teach a class in how to make stained glass hearts. A whole bunch of women signed up, and each of them made one of several varieties of hearts to take home and hang in their windows. Fluffy and I still have two of them hanging in our kitchen, all these many years later.

The heart suncatcher we made in Relief Society craft class.

One of the heart sun-catchers we made in Relief Society craft class.

Months after teaching the class, Fluffy needed to go to the stained glass store to purchase some supplies. When he got to the store, fifteen miles away, who should be standing behind the counter but one of the women who had been in his class?

When Fluffy asked her what she was doing there, she said she had enjoyed the class so much that she had gone to the stained glass store for more lessons. Then she had abandoned her career and gotten a job at the stained glass store so she could spend all her professional time pursuing this newly-discovered passion.

This was a real surprise. I don’t remember specifically what Brook used to do, but was one of those women who was a high-powered corporate executive. She was married to her job. She wore a suit to work and gave presentations, getting home to her daughter at all hours of the night. Now, all these years later, her Facebook page says she does “Custom Glass Art Work & Architectural Glass Commissions.”

This was a big jump for her, and it was precipitated by a small thing. Fluffy had no idea when he gave that little class that he was completely changing somebody’s life. He threw a small stone in a pond, and it resulted in ripples that went far beyond what we could imagine.

As we sail through life (or, in my case, blunder through it), we have the opportunity to help others along the way or to step on a lot of butterflies. Sometimes I think I spend my life in army boots, tromping on the tender feelings of others. Oh, I do not do it on purpose! But as my feet move at little old lady speed, my tongue goes at eighty miles an hour.

The memory of that old Ray Bradbury story was a good reminder that even the most casual word we say has an impact, and that every action is being watched — and all too often imitated — by others.

 

(This article was first published in the Nauvoo Times.)

 

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Aug 24 2015

The Mother of Awkward Moments

Published by under General

A couple of times in my life, I have found myself in situations so awkward that I knew no amount of explanation was going to get me out of them unscathed. Alas, one of those happened just last week.

We found ourselves with a fairly quiet Friday, and decided we would celebrate by going out to lunch. It was our first lunch date in a long time, because I’d been in the hospital and because we’d had company, and because all sorts of other things had intervened. Needless to say, we were having ourselves a whale of a good time enjoying our drinks and waiting for our appetizer to arrive.

At long last our appetizer arrived and I had just taken a picture of it, when lo and behold an old acquaintance of ours stopped by our table to say hello. Brent Wells used to be a counselor in our bishopric, but he and his family had moved about twenty miles west of us. He had been a bishop and a high councilor, but was currently working in the scouting program of the Church in his neck of the woods.

Because church is what ties us together, we talked about churchy things. We wondered how long the Church is going to be affiliated with the Boy Scouts, now that the Boy Scouts are hiking away from traditional family values. We talked about Brent’s youngest son, who is off serving as a missionary in Brazil.

Brent asked if Fluffy and I were still serving as temple workers, and I assured him that yes, indeed, we are going to be going back there as soon as the temple reopens after it gets a new roof put on it and a new air-conditioning system and new seats in many of the rooms. The projected re-opening date is October 5.

As we were visiting with Brent, it was fun to watch his eyes, because it was obvious he was trying to avoid looking at the open beer bottle on the table. But like bees to honey, Fluffy would catch him stealing a quick glance, and then quickly looking away.

Fluffy could almost hear his thoughts. “Is that really a beer bottle on the table?” “Maybe they are no longer practicing Mormons and just are too embarrassed to say anything.” “Or maybe they have this one little vice, and here I caught them in a pretty embarrassing situation.”

Finally Fluffy put Brent out of his misery. He said, “I hope you are not going to tell our bishop about this bottle of beer.”

Brent nodded. He really, really wanted to know what that beer was doing on our table. So we told him, and I sure hope he believed us, because we were only telling him the truth. He finally left to find his own table, and we could almost hear him thinking “Yeah, right.”

The beer that almost gave our friend Brent a heart attack.

We talked and laughed about this on the way home, and we couldn’t help but empathize with our friend. After all, if the tables were turned and we had caught some Mormon friends in the same situation, what would we think? Would there be any legitimate reason for a group of card-carrying Mormons to be sitting with an open bottle of beer on the table? We couldn’t think of many (if any) legitimate situations.

But actually, I have found myself with beer on the table in a public place for two completely different reasons. Both times, I was completely innocent — or as innocent as Kathy ever gets.

The first time must have been twenty years ago. Janece Ford, who at that time was my saintly Relief Society president, was sharing lunch with me at a local restaurant. We were just deciding whether to order dessert when, to our utter horror, the waiter brought over a big, foaming glass of beer.

Two evil women who shall remain nameless (because you know who you are, Sandi Berrett and Holly Davis) had ordered a beer to be sent over to our table. As we looked at the yeasty head on the beer, Janece and I could only mourn because they had not sent us something that was chocolate.

What I should have done was to take a big swig of the stuff, just to shock them. Instead I think we gave the beer to the server, to augment his already handsome tip.

On this occasion, though, the beer was on our table for a much more pedestrian reason. Fluffy and I were on a secret shopping assignment, and the beer was an assigned purchase. We have had to buy beer so often now that I forgot it was even on the table. It was only Fluffy who caught Brent’s horrified glances and realized he needed to defuse the situation.

In case you are wondering what we do with the beer we purchase, this is how we dispose of it. We buy beer in a dark bottle rather than a glass. That way people from across the room do not know that we haven’t consumed even a drop of it.

We also order a dark-colored soft drink, like a cola or a root beer. At the end of the meal, I make sure the soft drink glass is about half full. Then I pour some of the beer into the glass. The resulting mess looks something like this:

The beer poured into the glass leaves a concoction that looks like a watered-down soft drink. Problem solved.

If Fluffy had been as oblivious as I had been, poor Brent probably would have gone home and told his wife that Fluffy and I were beer-drinkers. It would have been an obvious conclusion, but it would have been a wrong one.

In Brent’s eyes, it was so obvious that we were drinking that beer. The bottle was sitting right there between us, and there was nobody else at the table. What other conclusion could he honestly reach? But even then, his own eyes would have deceived him.

If Brent’s eyes lied to him about something that was so obviously black and white, how often do our own eyes lie to us about other things? How often do I look at things and make snap judgments about people and situations? How often do I decide that people have acted foolishly or even sinned based on something I have seen or heard or even inferred?

How often am I wrong?

The Book of Mormon (Moroni 7:18) says this about people like me:

And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

The New Testament (Matthew 7:2) says roughly the same thing:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

The older I get, the happier I am that I am not responsible for the judgment of others. It is hard enough for me to figure out what my own motives were for doing something. There is no way I can judge my next-door neighbor or my errant friend, or even the lady in the Relief Society whose pot looks suspiciously like the pot I’ve been missing ever since I took it to the church dinner and never saw it again.

I’m not even going to think about whose fault it is in the most recent divorce, or who should get the cat when they divide up the family possessions. I can’t even decide who should get the biggest scoop of ice cream when Fluffy and I are dishing up our daily dessert. (Well, that part’s easy. Fluffy always gets the biggest scoop of ice cream.)

But as for judging, that is best left for the Judge of Israel. I have learned not to believe my own eyes. Not even when there’s a stinky bottle of beer on the table to tell me that something is rotten in Denmark.

***

P.S.  By the way, there is a little postscript to this story.  On Friday, Fluffy and I once again went on a mystery dining assignment to a place where we had to order a bottle of beer.  This time, Fluffy was so paranoid about that beer bottle that he hid it on a chair seat during the entire course of the meal.

The waitress probably thought we were out of our ever-loving minds, but at least no church members caught us with that bottle of Miller Lite on the table.  We have our priorities straight.

 

 

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Aug 17 2015

R.I.P. Cecil

Published by under General

When I was lying in a hospital bed recently, all pretzel-shaped because the bed was somewhat lacking in the mattress department, Fluffy looked for anything he could to distract me from my pretzel status. One of the things we discussed was the sad death of poor Cecil the Lion, over in Zimbabwe.

Cecil’s sad fate is old news to many of you, but in case you were hiding under a rock or on vacation or have quit reading newspapers (as I have) because you are fed up with the state of the world’s affairs, I will tell you the condensed version.

Cecil the Lion, in happier days. Photo by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.

A hapless Minnesota dentist, whose hobby is shooting exotic animals with the intent of killing them dead, went over to Zimbabwe with the intent of bagging a lion. He spent a whole lot of money — $55,000 according to the news story Fluffy read — to buy the permits that would allow him to do this legally and lawfully.

Unfortunately, the guides he hired were not as excited as he was with the prospect of doing it legally and lawfully. They lured a lion out of a protected game preserve, where the dentist shot him with a bow and arrow. When the lion didn’t die after more than 40 hours of being tracked, it was eventually dispatched with a gun and decapitated so the dentist could take home his expensive new trophy.

It was only after the animal was dead that the dentist realized something was wrong. For one thing, the lion was wearing a GPS tracking collar, meaning that perhaps it wasn’t as wild as he had hoped. Oops.

But things would only get worse from there. It turned out that the lion wasn’t just any old GPS tracking collar lion. Oh no. This lion was Cecil, Zimbabwe’s all-time favorite mascot lion. And when the people of Zimbabwe found out he had been killed by an American hunter, they were steamed.

Before I go any farther in the story, I need to tell you where we in the Kidd household stand as far as the hunting of animals is concerned.

First of all, I am an unabashed carnivore. If it is a meat product, bring it on. Bones and fat and sinews are fair game. No, that is an understatement. Bones and fat and sinews are the stars of the show. I can chew on your standard pork chop bone for over an hour, removing every atom of non-bone material.

My mother once asked the doctors she worked for if there was something wrong with me because I ate so much of the animal, up to and including the gristle and the marrow. The doctor said if I was eating that, it was because my body needed it. Sure enough, I have been anemic for most of my life. I crave liver and spinach, too.

So yes, if you hunt the animal with the intent of eating it, go ahead and hunt. We have friends who bag twenty deer (and more) per year, and they eat every scrap of the meat. More power to them.

But if you’re hunting big game animals such as lions or giraffe or wildebeest, we would prefer you use a camera. There’s a compelling reason for doing this, and that’s that only one person can bag a lion with a bow and arrow, but tens of thousands can shoot the same lion with a camera. Why in the world would someone choose to destroy such a magnificent creature?

Despite this bias against trophy hunting, it may surprise you to learn that we have come down firmly in the camp of the Minnesota dentist. Here is a guy who spent $55,000, thinking he had dotted all his i’s, and crossed all his t’s. He thought he had bagged a completely legal lion — right up until the moment his guides cavalierly cut off the GPS collar from Cecil’s neck and proceeded to destroy it.

I’ll bet the dentist had his own “Oops” moment then.

As odious as the whole lion-shooting thing is to me, lion-shooting is legal, or at least it is legal where the dentist did it. I am assuming (and we all know that “assuming” is a big word) that the dentist could not see the GPS tracking necklace on the lion’s neck when he shot the lion, and that his story that he shot the lion in good faith is the truth.

If that is the case, why has he been harassed to the point that he has had to close his dental practice and go into hiding? Why is he getting death threats? Why is his summer home in Florida being vandalized (with bloody pickled pigs’ feet, no less)?

Why are the do-gooders who write YELP reviews writing phony reviews that give the dentist’s practice one star, not because of his dental work but because he is a hunter?

I have always thought YELP reviews were worthless for exactly this reason, and this only confirms it. Millennials get in a snit and ruin someone’s reputation over something that has nothing to do with the business at hand. And I wondered how many of these enlightened YELP users are proudly pro-choice, and therefore support a practice that is light years more barbaric than trophy hunting. But I digress.

What I find more than a little pathetic is one little bitty news story that appeared last week about an Idaho woman who just killed a giraffe in South Africa.

I had to look really hard to find this article the second time. I knew it was there, but it took nearly fifteen minutes before I finally tracked it down. And I consider myself to be pretty much expert on the internet.

You can be sure this hunter is not going to get back to Idaho to find pigs’ feet in her driveway, or death threats, or other horrible things going on in her Idaho community. Do you know why? I will tell you.

This hunter has the ultimate free pass. She is a woman. And right now, women can do just about anything and get away with it. The lion killer’s sin was not that he killed a lion. It was that he was a white man who killed a lion.

If he had been a woman who killed a lion, he would have gotten a slap on the wrist, and the people who would have been blamed were the people who should have been blamed all along — the guides who baited the lion out of the protected game preserve for the hunter to shoot.

But because he was a privileged white man, nobody is blaming the people in Africa who set up the kill. Everyone is blaming the hunter who paid $55,000 to kill “a” lion and instead killed “Cecil the beloved mascot lion.” And I am not at all sure that is where the blame belongs.

I am sorry that Cecil, the beloved mascot lion, is dead. But you know what? I am equally sad about the giraffe. And I think that the Minnesota dentist is an idiot. But you know what? I think the Idaho woman hunter is an equal idiot. If one deserves to be pelted with bloody pickled pigs’ feet, so does the other.

I am fed up with a country that treats men like pariahs just because they are men, and treats women better than men just because they are women. Didn’t women campaign for equal rights? Then why are they demanding to be treated better than equal, and why do they not speak out for men who are attacked for just being men?

I don’t like any of it, but I’m just a grumpy old person. I like women and men, just as I like lions and giraffes.

So sue me.

 

 

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