Jun 16 2014

Lessons from a Cobra

Published by Kathy under General

One of my “nap shows” (shows I allegedly watch on television when I am napping) is “Dual Survival,” a show that features two survivalists of vastly different temperaments, who try to survive in extreme environments while they are trying not to kill one another.

This season was so traumatic for the survivalists that the one I like, barefooted hippie Cody Lundin, only made it through three episodes before being booted off the series due to reasons we viewers will probably never know. But one of the three shows that did make it to air showed him and his co-survivalist cringing as a hooded cobra reared up at them and threatened to strike.

This brought up fond memories of my younger days as zoo reporter for the Salt Lake City Deseret News.

I once wrote an article about the process of devenomizing snakes. If you’re not familiar with this little piece of surgery, devenomization is the same thing as a vasectomy, except that the snake’s “business end” is up in his head, where the venom is. The surgeon ties off the tubes in two places, cuts the tubes between the ties, and ostensibly the snake is no longer able to inject venom into potential victims.

I do not know whether this surgery is even performed in these enlightened days when animals are considered to be more important than humans. It was, however, performed when I was a zoo reporter, and this was the subject of my article.

When I met the man I was interviewing, he took me into a windowless room the size of my current office. This room was filled from floor to ceiling on all four walls with tiny cages of poisonous snakes. If you can name a poisonous snake, there was at least one in this room. Bushmaster. Black mamba. Fer-de-lance. Death adder. Blue krait. Taipan. Eastern brown snake. Tiger snake.

This place was a regular Hotel o’ Serpents. I was super impressed, and I was even more impressed when the man I was interviewing (I would mention his name if I could remember it), pulled a five-foot cobra from its cage, dropped it on the floor, looked up at me, and smiled.

[This is where I would insert a picture of the incident, except this is exactly when the photographer who accompanied me turned on his heels, fled the room, and escaped for the duration of the interview.]

Without the photographer, it was the herpetologist, the snake, and I against the world. It was not lost on me that the cobra had its own built-in cheering section. Every last one of the several dozen poisonous serpents in that room was rooting for the cobra, and I knew it. It was quite possible that the herpetologist was on the cobra’s side too.

The herpetologist talked to me as the cobra reared up, spread its hood, and hissed. I could see the little eyeglasses on the snake’s hood from the front, alerting me that he was a king cobra.

King cobra. You can see a pattern that I think of as a pair of eyeglasses that are on the back, but that come through to the front of the hood. © iStock 2014. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Like a good little reporter (I must have been all of 22 years old at the time), I took frantic notes so I wouldn’t miss a word.

“Cobra fangs are as sharp as needles and are extremely breakable. The fangs will grow back, but if both fangs are broken the cobra may starve before they do. The cobra does not want to bite you, because you are too big to eat and it does not want to risk its fangs on you. The first thing the cobra does in defense when it sees you is to spread its hood. This scares many potential predators away.”

That’s exactly the effect the cobra on television had achieved on the “Dual Survival dudes,” with the operative word being “scared.”

The herpetologist didn’t miss a beat. He continued, “You notice that when the cobra struck at you, it missed.”

Yes. I had noticed that. When a cobra strikes at you, you tend to notice it. (I can vouch for this from first-hand experience.) It had missed my leg by about six inches on the side. I was glad to notice that the herpetologist was at least watching what the cobra was doing. It made me feel tons and tons more secure.

“This is the second thing the cobra does in his defense. If the hood and the hissing don’t scare you, the cobra will strike at you and purposely miss.”

“He missed me on purpose?” I said.

“Oh yes,” said the herpetologist. “If the snake had wanted to bite you, he would not have missed.”

This was a big relief, because by now the cobra had struck at me three times. Once it had missed my left leg, once it had missed my right leg, and once it had gone right between them.

I kept right on taking notes.

“There are two more things the cobra can do,” said the herpetologist. “He really does not want to use those fangs unless he has to, and even if he uses those fangs he does not want to give up that venom. The next thing he does is he’ll knock his mouth against your body, but without opening his mouth.

Up until now, the cobra had cooperatively demonstrated the things that the herpetologist had talked about. I am pleased to report that the snake lost interest in the demonstration at this point. It did not give me the mock bite without opening its mouth.

“The last thing the cobra can do,” said the herpetologist, “is that he can actually bite you, but without inserting any venom. It’s a nasty bite, but it won’t kill you.

“Only after the snake has exhausted all these things will the cobra bite you. If this cobra bites you, well, you’re dead.”

I stopped writing for a minute. “I assume this cobra has been devenomed,” I said.

“Oh no,” the herpetologist said cheerfully. “This snake is intact. If it bites you, you’re gonna die.”

He picked up the snake with a metal hook and put it back in its cage. I concluded the interview without batting an eye and went off in search of my photographer.

It was a whale of a story, if I do say so myself. But without any artwork whatsoever to illustrate it, it was not published for at least eighteen months. I was so embarrassed that I did not show my face at the zoo ever again, which was one of the nails in the coffin of my Deseret News writing career. You see, I never explained to any of my editors why I never returned to the zoo. Bad mistake.

Nevertheless, I think of the cobra incident occasionally. I enjoyed the whole thing — except for the aftermath, of course. I really enjoyed being the zoo reporter, and I only wish I’d had the courage to explain to the zookeeper why I was no longer visiting the zoo and writing zoo-related stories for him. He probably would have thought I was an absolute idiot — which, of course, I was.

I learned several lessons from watching the behavior of this particular cobra. The first thing a cobra does when it is confronted by a potential predator is to rise up, make itself look big and threatening, and hiss. What I learned from that is that we need to face the world with an air of confidence. This is always important, but it is especially important when we are feeling insecure.

Criminals who prey on women have been interviewed in prisons, and they freely admit that they look for victims who look afraid. They look for women who are cowering, who are clutching their purses tightly, and who telegraph by their body language that they are in fear of attack.

These are the very women, criminals say, that are the best victims. Yes, they are the ones who expect to be victimized, but their expectations do not protect them. On the contrary, their expectations tell predators that these women are weak and afraid. Women who appear to be strong and confident are less likely to be victimized because they will put up more of a fight.

The next thing a cobra does when it feels threatened is to strike out. This tells us not to sit around and do nothing. Human beings need to strike out and make our move in the world. We will never accomplish anything if we sit around and do nothing.

1 Chronicles 22:16 says, “Arise therefore, and be doing, and the LORD be with thee.” I have always liked that verse. If we’re doing — and I always believe the “doing” is assumed to be doing righteous things — we will have the company of the Lord.

The cobra’s next tactic is to knock against the predator with a closed mouth. This tells us to knock on every door of opportunity. This has always been a hard one for me.

I have been given numerous brilliant ideas throughout my life, but I do not have the gift of persistence. I tap on the door, but when the door doesn’t immediately open, I shrug my shoulders and walk away. Time and time again I have been given ideas or opportunities that have required only a little bit of persistence, but I have failed to follow through. I have never learned that lesson.

One idea came to me in 1973, when my car overheated in Death Valley. I longed for a can or a bottle of cool, clear water. I fantasized about cans or bottles of water that could be purchased just like soft drinks. Who needs a soft drink when water is the ultimate thirst quencher?

At the time there was a free source of water in my home town of Mandeville, Louisiana. There was an artesian well that came out of the ground at the beach and was there for anyone to drink. It was the best water I’d ever tasted. That was the name of the water I wanted to bottle — Artesia.

I had a bishop who was wealthy and who was an entrepreneur. I went to him with the idea. He laughed. He said to me, “Who would ever pay you for a bottle of water?”

Evian did not reach the U.S. market for another five years. And even then, it was carbonated. It was a different product altogether. If only I had persisted, I might have had a completely different financial history instead of being a starving writer for all my life. That might have been a good thing, or it might have been my undoing. I’ll never know.

As a last resort, cobras bite without venom. This teaches me that when you have to correct someone, do it without venom. You don’t have to scar people for life, and in fact people learn their lessons far more effectively if the lessons are taught kindly.

One of my earliest memories occurred when I was sitting in the neighbors’ yard, trying to keep their pet cat on my lap while I was pulling its tail. As you can imagine, the cat was not happy about this arrangement.

The mother of the house saw what I was doing and quickly came outside. Instead of paddling me as most of the mothers in the neighborhood would have done, she gently showed me that petting the cat would have far happier results for both the cat and for me than pulling its tail.

Sure enough, once I petted the cat instead of pulling its tail, the cat was happy to stay in my lap. I never forgot the lesson or the gentle way it was taught.

When the cobra has no other possible action, it bites. From that I have learned to defend yourself when you must.

There’s a big difference between making excuses and defending yourself. If I had gone to the zoo director and just given him a copy of the story I had written, he would have seen I was not a slacker. I could have continued writing zoo articles without embarrassment. A few years later, I possibly would not have lost my job with the Deseret News. My lack of performance as a zoo reporter was a big factor there.

Defending myself is one lesson I know intellectually but have never really internalized. If I live another twenty years, I am still going to have trouble defending myself if defending myself is needed. We all have lessons that are just about impossible for us to learn. That is one of my stumbling blocks. It always has been. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stop trying.

That’s one thing about life. There are lessons everywhere if you look for them. Everything you do can inspire you to be a better person, if that is what you’re trying to do. Of course, if you’re a lazy sort, there’s always something interesting on cable TV.

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Jun 09 2014

Taking the Back Roads of Life

Published by Kathy under General

We went to Atlantic City, New Jersey, a few weeks ago. We had never been there before, and we got a great deal on a hotel, so off we went. Armed with a full tank of gas and our Google Maps, we were on our way.

It is not as though we needed the maps. Pretty much every major city on the Eastern Seaboard is within spitting distance of I-95. All you have to do is get on the freeway and go north or south until you reach your destination. But Fluffy is an organized soul, and he thoughtfully placed the map above my visor so it would be handy as we drove.

But a curious thing happened. After we went through Maryland, waved at Philadelphia, and said hi to Delaware, we saw a sign that told us to turn right for Atlantic City. This was not what Google Maps told us to do. Google Maps wanted us to continue on the toll road all the way through New Jersey.

We had already paid four dollars and then eight dollars in tolls, all within a ten-minute time frame. Google Maps wanted us to continue to pay tolls until we had reached our destination. As the toll-payer in the family, I was not exactly thrilled with this proposition. So when we saw the arrow telling us to turn off onto State Road 40 in New Jersey, I asked Fluffy what he thought of the idea. He thought it was a good one.

We immediately knew we had made the right decision when we saw a gorgeous stand of fruits and vegetables, right inside the New Jersey state line. I wanted to stop and buy the produce. Fluffy wanted to stop and take pictures of the produce. We vowed to stop there on our way back.

Then we hit upon a puzzling sight. For about ten miles, everything we saw was “wild west” this and “cowboy” that. There is a certain part of New Jersey that has a serious identity crisis, even to having places where you can buy your cowboy boots and other clothing essentials, and locations where you can attend your weekly rodeos. Who knew that New Jersey had a secret cowboy fixation? Yee-haw.

When we got to Elmer, New Jersey, there was a whole building whose façade was made of stained glass. It must have been especially interesting at night, because it was topped by a wreath and Christmas lights.

Next we saw an old Texaco station, right in the middle of nowhere. It was just as you would have seen a Texaco station back in the 1930s, I guess (and I’m guessing because no, I was not around in the 1930s). There was not a person on the premises. Nobody was taking tickets. It was just there for people to look at who might possibly be interested in a relic of days gone past.

The Texaco station came complete with its own vintage outhouse.

Somewhere along the road we saw a building that used to be something interesting, but that was on its last legs. Fluffy could spend all day taking pictures of a building that is about to fall down. It took great self-restraint for him to spend five minutes at this ramshackle structure before we continued our journey.

We passed a home where the owner had dedicated his life to whirligigs. There were hundreds of them — maybe thousands. Unlike the person who recreated the Texaco station, the whirligig man was open for business. He was no doubt disappointed that Fluffy only wanted to take pictures of a few of his hand-created masterpieces.

Only a few of thousands of whirligigs we did not purchase.

Being card-carrying Mormons, we had never heard of Saint Padre Pio, a 20th Century Italian Catholic saint. But there is a shrine to him on Route 40, and there is actually one of his gloves as a relic at the shrine. There are benches where worshippers can pray at the shrine, and we saw several people worshipping at the altar when we were on our return trip.

You don’t see things like this on the Interstate.

Not only did we see signs advertising lambs and sheep and pigs and goats for sale, but we also saw a sign that advertised alpacas that were available for purchase. Fluffy said we were driving down a full-service livestock alley.

We kept noticing that people were lined up to pass us, even though we were going ten miles over the speed limit. Occasionally Fluffy would find a place to pull over, and impatient motorists, all of them younger than we are, would pass us in disgust. Undoubtedly all of them gave us dirty looks when they passed.

We realized that we have become exactly the kind of old people we used to pass on the road with those same looks of disgust. When did this happen? When did we stop being those young, impatient people who were always in a hurry to get places and start being the old people who are more interested in the journey than the destination?

Frankly, I like the stage of life we are in now, better.

As we neared Atlantic City, we saw a rental storage facility unlike any rental storage facility we had ever seen. This one was decked out to represent a small town, complete with people and a car dealership. There was even a truck with a piano roped onto the bed of the truck. It was amazingly creative.

This fascinating scene disguises a pedestrian storage facility.

A real Model T was parked outside the facility near here.

If you tried driving into this muddy parking area, you’d hit a brick wall.

Even the sharp keys on this piano are flat.

When we first saw the storage facility, there was a mint green Model T in perfect condition, sitting out front just as it would have been if it had been part of the tableau. When we drove back to take pictures of the scene, it was out for a spin so we missed it. It was a thing of beauty.

Our road merged into the road where Google Maps would have taken us shortly after we passed the storage facility. We only saw one other curiosity, but it was a doozy. It was a drive-in divorce facility. You plunk down your money, and four to eight weeks later you are rid of a pesky husband or wife.

I have had warts that have taken longer than that to get rid of.

For only $399 you can get rid of a slothful husband or a nagging wife. Such a bargain!

Eventually we reached our destination. When we saw Ventnor Avenue, we realized we were in the city that inspired the Monopoly board. We had not passed GO. We had not paid $200 in tolls on the toll road. We had done it all without Google Maps, and we were happier for having done so.

Although we eventually reached Ventnor Avenue, we did not pass GO, and we did not pay $200 in tolls on the toll road.

It’s always good to have a map when you start on a journey. Many people get hopelessly lost when they go on a trip without having a map to guide them to their final destination. It’s good to be organized when we go through our lives as well.

But sometimes we enjoy that journey even more when we take a detour and get off the beaten path — when we travel just for the sake of appreciating the wonderful world that God and the delightful people He has made have created for the enjoyment of others.

It amazes me how often we think we have our lives planned, and God sends us off on a different direction entirely. When God takes the Google Maps of our lives and throws them out the window, sit back and enjoy the ride. He always knows exactly what He is doing.

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Jun 02 2014

The Three Stages of Marriage

Published by Kathy under General

The other day, I came across a casual statement that hit me like a cannonball. On her Facebook page, Catherine Keddington Arveseth mentioned that there are three stages of marriage:

  1. Loving without knowing,
  2. Knowing and not loving, and
  3. Knowing but choosing to love.

Boy howdy, do I wish I had heard this one thirty years ago! Fluffy and I thought we were the only ones who had endured the long, arid years of Stage #2. We thought that all by ourselves, we had done something horribly wrong. We had no earthly idea that this was just a normal stage, and everyone else went through the same stage that we had done.

I learned this piece of earth-shattering news just as Fluffy was loading the car for a two-day trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. I couldn’t wait till we got on the open road so I could share this bombshell with him. He was every bit as gobsmacked as I had been.

I said to Fluffy, “Just think of it. All that time we couldn’t stand each other, it was normal.”

He said, “It’s a little too strong to say that we couldn’t stand each other. It was more like a Cold War. Our marriage has been tempered in the fires of adversity. But no fisticuffs were involved. We never had to go to the emergency room.”

No matter what Stage #2 is called, we had no idea that other people were in our situation. We thought we were suffering alone. We couldn’t talk with anyone about our marital problems, because we were certain we were the only people in the world who were messing up.

We had our honeymoon period, of course. Fluffy always was a cute little fellow. It helped that he traveled about a week a month, and he took me with him. We were always in one big city or another, staying in an expensive hotel and eating in fancy restaurants on his expense account. We had a pretty nice life.

Then we moved to Virginia and had to grow a whole new support system. I’m not going to sugar-coat it; it took a long time. For the first few years, the only friends who presented themselves to us were not people we both liked. They drove a wedge between Fluffy and me. The Cold War had started.

We found ourselves treading water, spiritually speaking and socially speaking. It was dark. Eventually, however, Fluffy was called as one of the executive secretaries of our stake, and we found ourselves with a better class of friends. We also became temple workers in 1995. Things didn’t start getting better immediately, but we started being able to feel the sand underneath the ocean.

We no longer had to tread water. We started being able to walk toward dry land. The best part was, we were walking together.

I don’t know when it started, but people started telling us they envied our relationship. They could tell we loved each other. The first few times people said that, I thought, Boy, do we have them fooled. But then I thought about it and realized, I really do love that little fellow and he seems to feel the same way about me. When did that happen?

The answer was that it sneaked right up on us without our ever knowing it. For years his little habits drove me crazy. I got annoyed over the smallest things. But eventually I started to tolerate them and finally I started thinking they were cute. I guess he felt the same way about me.

We had reached Stage #3. We knew each other, but we chose to love one another despite our flaws. The superficial love at the beginning of our relationship had been replaced with a deeper kind of love that could look beyond flaws and see the person we would eventually become.

Fluffy explains it to friends this way: “Eventually I learned she was never going to change. I couldn’t fix her. I just had to accept her the way she was.”

We found ways to do this. He meticulously squeezes the toothpaste tube from the bottom, and I squeeze the toothpaste tube wherever I pick it up. After about twenty-five years of being annoyed with each other, we just bought two toothpaste tubes. Problem solved.

He puts the toilet paper roll on the roller so the paper comes off from the bottom. Everybody knows this is the wrong way to do it, but eventually I decided that if he changes the roll, he decides how it’s going to be put on. Problem solved, but again it took us about twenty-five years to figure this out.

I have never mastered the science of balancing a checkbook, and on the rare occasions when I attempted it, I would usually end up in tears. We solved this problem by having separate checking accounts, and Fluffy cheerfully balances both of them.

We also determined that the person who loads the dishwasher decides how the dishes are going to be loaded; the person who makes the bed decides how the bed is going to look, and the person who cooks the dinner decides what we are going to eat. The person who sits on the couch and waits for these things to be done does not get a vote. In fact, she is extremely grateful that all these things are done at all.

We have friends who at this very moment are mired in their own Cold War, only their Cold War is a noisy one. Until we learned about the three stages of marriage, we have had no idea how to help them.

Each of our friends has been everlastingly upset because the other spouse has not been fulfilling his needs. What they do not understand is that we are not supposed to go into a marriage to be served or to have our own needs filled. We are supposed to go into a marriage to serve our spouse and the family we have created.

Instead of going into our marriages with the expectation that we’ll do fifty percent of the work and our spouse will do the other fifty percent, the way we should go into the marriage is to expect to serve as the Savior would serve. If each of us fully expects to do a hundred percent of the work around the home, joyfully, both of us will always be happily surprised if the other party does anything at all.

In addition, we grow to love the ones we serve. If we are each trying mightily to do the lion’s share of the serving, we’ll each be doing the lion’s share of learning to love. That alone could shorten the time we spend in our own personal Cold War.

Too many couples do not understand this. Like Fluffy and me, they had never heard of the three stages of marriage. They mastered Stage #1 just fine. They went into their marriage loving one another without knowing each other. Then, when they got to know each other, they recoiled in horror. Now they were mired in Stage #2, wondering if it would ever get better.

Husbands chewed with their mouths open. They scratched in embarrassing places. They did not leave the room when they had to pass gas. They left the toilet seat up, and they did not even apologize when their innocent brides fell into the toilet in the middle of the night. They only took out the garbage sporadically. And oh, how they snored!

The wives did not look like the women in the fashion magazines when they woke up in the morning. Their breath stank. They passed gas just like the guys did. They cried sometimes for no reason. They couldn’t do a simple home repair or squash a tiny spider. They needed constant reassurance that they were loved. They expected their husbands to work all day and then help around the home at night.

This was not what they bargained for when they looked at each other, dewy-eyed, at the altar. But since nobody had told the husbands or the wives about Stage #2, a lot of husbands and wives felt stuck. And a whole lot of husbands and wives have bailed out of their marriages, not knowing that things were going to get better. They did not know there was a Stage #3 to look forward to.

They blamed the person they were married to, not the process. They reasoned that their unhappiness couldn’t have anything to do with themselves. It had to lie in their defective spousal units. So they did the logical thing — they abandoned ship.

They headed for greener pastures. They found husbands who, they knew, would not chew with their mouths open. They found wives who, they knew, would look good at 5 o’clock in the morning. They were happy — at least, until they left Stage #1 of their new relationships and found themselves mired in Stage #2 once again.

The thing I can’t help but wonder is if people are warned ahead of time that Stage #2 exists, whether they can avoid that stage altogether. You should be able to sidestep it just as easily as a person can sidestep a pool of quicksand if only it is posted with a warning sign.

Perhaps hundreds and thousands and millions of couples were forewarned and were spared the misery that Fluffy and I endured, I thought. This simply had to be the case.

Then again, maybe it isn’t the case at all.  Maybe the three stages are like floors in a building.  You may not want to climb that whole staircase, but all three flights of stairs are going to be there if you want to make your way all the way to the top.

When we got home from Atlantic City, I looked up “three stages of marriage” on the internet. Maybe, I thought, there was a better explanation than the little bit that I had seen.  To my dismay, I could not find these three stages. Maybe it’s only Catherine Keddington Arveseth who knows about them. I am infinitely glad she mentioned them when she did. She has come across something I believe to be true.

Perhaps nobody but Catherine knows about the elusive Three Stages, but there are actual classes being taught within the Church for husbands and wives who are just like us.

These are great classes for getting you started. In fact, Fluffy and I took one long after we did not need help anymore, because friends of ours needed moral support or they wouldn’t go by themselves. If you’re in your own Cold War, seek them out and go to them.

If you do not have access to a marriage class, persevere. Serve your spouse as the Savior would do it. Once you make it to Stage #3, you will be glad you hung on for the ride.

I know from personal experience that Stage #3 is worth fighting for. I’m living it now, and it’s so terrific I’m just glad we had the patience and endurance to get here.

Those of you who are struggling in Stage #2, persevere. After all, the scriptures said it best: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

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May 26 2014

Listening to Your Personal Symphony

Published by Kathy under General

I have friends who are mesmerized by music. If they are awake, music is running through their heads. Music plays over their computer speakers. It plays in their cars. They have little gizmos that play music in their showers. They have tiny ear buds that play music when they exercise.

Some of them specialize. They like ‘60s rock, or classical music, or country-western. Others listen to anything at all. I have a friend my age that I am absolutely certain can identify any song released in the past fifty years once he has heard the first bar or two. He is that attuned to music.

I cannot understand this attraction to music. I like to hear music in the temple. It is recorded music that comes from the chapel, which is far away from where I sit. The music comes in the form of wordless hymns. This music does not distract me.

Ever since Easter, Fluffy has been playing Handel’s Messiah in his office. (The first public performance of the oratorio was at Easter.) This, too, is far away from me. It is comforting music. It does not distract me either. How could Handel’s Messiah ever be a distraction?

Other music takes me away from the business of thinking. If I am playing computer games, I don’t need to think — but then I don’t remember to turn on music. Sometimes I find myself humming a favorite tune, but it doesn’t happen often. I guess you could say I do not have music in my soul.

I have other friends who are inspired by poetry. Some of them can keep it to themselves, but some of them are so excited by poetry that they are certain that I, too, would be inspired by poetry if only I read the poetry they liked or, worse, the poetry they wrote.

I assure you, I will not.

Poetry is worse than music. Music is fine, if it’s in another room, far enough away that I can hear it without it commanding me to pay attention to it. Poetry has to take up my full attention, and reading it keeps me from doing the things I would otherwise be doing. I do not ever read poetry of my own volition. Poetry does not sing to my soul.

Yet I fully trust the people who tell me poetry sings to them. God speaks to many people through poetry. Poetry is how they hear His voice. I would never deny anyone else of poetry. I just don’t appreciate it when they want to share their poetry with me.

The scriptures are a different story. I can listen to the scriptures over and over again. I have gotten to the point that I can quote passages of scripture before the narrator gets to them, although I am just as likely to be able to recite, “And thus they did encamp for the night,” as I am to be able to recite something that is actually going to help me in a moment of crisis.

God speaks to all of us through the scriptures, but there’s a catch here. We have to be acquainted with the scriptures in order for Him to speak to us through them.

God speaks to me in many ways, but one of them is an unusual one. He speaks to me through color. Color is my symphony. I am as much of an evangelist for color as others are of poetry or music. At least, I used to be an evangelist for color until I realized that people looked at me askance when I rhapsodized about one color or another.

When I am shopping online, the color of an item is probably more important than its other features. I would probably order an inferior product in a beautiful color than a much better product that was only available in a gray or beige.

Now I keep my passions to myself, for the most part. But seeing just the right color combination can almost bring me to tears of joy. Colors speak to me just as oratorios do to people who love music or great stanzas do to people who love poetry.

Isn’t life amazing? We are all the same and yet all unique. Even identical twins are not identical. We are all children of God, and yet we are all different in millions of remarkable ways.

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May 19 2014

Explosion in the Vienna Sausage Factory

Published by Kathy under General

When people hear about my new, post-coma life, they marvel over my being in a coma, or being in a hospital for three whole months, or being paralyzed and in a wheelchair, or any of those other seemingly horrible things that happened to me some fifteen months ago. What they do not know is that these things are piddling and inconsequential. Anyone can deal with these.

The big thing is far more important. The big thing is that my feet are oozing, festering ocean liners. I cannot buy shoes. And any self-respecting woman knows that the inability to purchase shoes is a national tragedy.

I have tried to purchase shoes. Oh yes. I have made more than a valiant effort. I have spent as much as a half hour at a time on the internet, staring at shoes. (I was never a woman who salivated over shoes, pre-coma, so a half hour staring at shoes now represents an Herculean effort.) And I have come up with shoes that filled my shriveled, jaded little heart with hope.

I have ordered those shoes. I have waited for days and days until they arrived from Amazon or Zappos or Shoebuy. I have opened the boxes with excitement in my heart. And then my little hopes have been dashed and broken in tiny little pieces, as I have seen that the shoes I ordered have had no more chance of fitting my feet than the Glass Slipper had of fitting the warty feet of Cinderella’s Ugly Stepsisters.

Nay, the shoes didn’t just miss fitting my feet by centimeters. Fluffy and I could glance at those shoes without even holding them up to my feet and see that they wouldn’t fit my feet by inches and inches. It was as though I had ordered doll shoes. There was not even a question of trying them on.

Pre-coma, my feet were respectable size nines. I was never embarrassed about my feet. Today — well, today it is a different story altogether. Today I have sized out of women’s shoes altogether. I don’t know what size I would wear if I could wear women’s shoes at all. Eleventy-six, perhaps. Maybe galumphy-four.

The most recent experience occurred after receiving a pair of shoes I had ordered with joy in my heart. Fluffy and I opened them in my office. We both pretended they were going to fit. “Let’s try them on in the morning,” we said, “when feet are smaller.”

I would have needed a shrinking ray to get my feet in those shoes, but I had hope. The next morning, Fluffy gently tried to squeeze my foot into one of the shoes. It was a hopeless endeavor. I almost cried.

We had a mystery diner assignment that day in Leesburg, Virginia, which is the home of a factory outlet mall. I looked at the store directory, and to my excitement there was an outlet store of the same brand as my never-to-be-worn shoes. My heart sang. I decided that if the women’s shoes did not fit me, I could surely find a pair of men’s shoes of the same brand that I could wear in exchange.

Now you see how desperate I am. I have gone completely beyond the sequined purple shoes I would like to wear, or even the sturdy walking shoes I should wear. I am looking for any shoes I can wear that are not Crocs — any shoes that will provide traction to the soles of my feet and arch support to my arches so that I can learn to walk again without tripping over the inch-thick Crocs shoe soles I have worn for a year.

After we left the mystery dining establishment, Fluffy rolled me into the shoe store. We got a terrific saleslady. If anyone could fit me in shoes, she was the one. And oh, she tried. She put the ladies’ shoe sizer on my right foot and the men’s shoe sizer on my left foot, in the erroneous assumption that one of them would come up with a size to fit my particular feet.

“Hah!” my feet said.

Undaunted, the saleslady decided that men’s size 10.5 would fit my feet just fine. Off she went to get me a pair. “I guess they don’t come in purple,” I said.

“No,” she said. “In men’s sizes, you get brown, or you get gray.”

I sighed. Other than orange, brown and gray are the two colors I hate the most. But what could I do? “I’ll take gray, I guess,” I said. I felt brave. No, I felt like a child trying to pretend to feel brave. I am completely color-driven. Colors are the music of my soul. But I had to get the Crocs off my feet. I would even wear gray shoes to get the Crocs off my feet.

The lady brought the shoes over to me and took the Croc off my right foot. She stared down at my foot in horror. Thousands of toes, each the size of a Vienna sausage, exploded out of my stocking and lunged in her direction. I didn’t think there was any way she was going to get that men’s 10.5 shoe on my foot.

She looked at my foot. Then she looked dubiously at the tiny shoe. “The shoe is made of stretchy material,” she said.

“That may be true,” Fluffy said, “but the material will not stretch if we can’t get the foot into the shoe.”

The lady started stuffing Vienna sausages into the shoe. She made a valiant effort. Some of the Vienna sausages got within two inches of the end of the shoe before they got hopelessly stuck. My foot was way too wide for the shoe.

“I can’t understand it,” the lady said. “My son wears a double-E shoe, and these shoes are too wide for him.”

If I hadn’t been depressed before, that was the cherry on the sundae. What’s bigger than a double-E, footwise? Is anything bigger than a double-E?

I’m beginning to think that the hundred pounds I lost in my coma weren’t lost at all. They just moved down to my feet and have taken up residence there.

All was not lost. Fluffy had found a fine pair of men’s sandals in the store as we were on our way in. It was gray, but it was so lightweight and so attractive that I was willing to overlook that flaw. Surely the sandal would fit on my foot.

Not so fast, Kathy. The saleslady made an heroic effort to get the sandal on my foot, but my toes were having none of it. They firmly resisted any shoes in the store, no matter how desperately I wanted to wear them.

Finally the saleslady admitted defeat. “You’re going to have to see your doctor and have your shoes specially made,” she said. “They are terribly expensive, but if you can’t afford it you can probably get your insurance to cover it.”

I have two things to say about that.

  1. I am a professional writer and am, therefore, professionally impoverished.
  2. I am insured through Obamacare.

I do not even get a strike three. I have already struck out, dramatically and with great finality. I have no more chance of getting specially made shoes than a snowball has a chance of vacationing in Arizona.

I might as well send off for the latest Crocs catalog. I have a feeling I’m going to be wearing them for the rest of my natural life.

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May 12 2014

Recognizing Who We Are

Published by Kathy under General

I was staggering across the church gym — excuse me, “cultural hall” — on a recent Sunday, trying mightily to get to our pew in the chapel, when I was interrupted by strangers who wanted to say hello.

I need to be honest here. I am not exactly thrilled when people interrupt me when I am trying to walk from one place to another. Walking takes every bit of my concentration and my strength.

Picking up my right foot takes so much effort that I can barely get it a quarter inch off the carpet even with every ounce of focus. When people distract me, my focus shifts and I am just as likely to do a face-plant on the ground.

So when I looked away from the carpet and at unfamiliar faces, I was confused. I placed the faces in front of me as strangers. It took me moments and then long seconds before I realized I was staring at my former bishop and his wife from way back in the early 1990s. They had come all the way to our meetinghouse from their hotel in Leesburg, twelve miles away, just to say hi to Fluffy and me.

Not only had Lance Moss been our bishop, but Fluffy and I had home taught the Moss family for the entire time they had lived in our ward. We had even sat behind them in church, so we had enjoyed a deep and abiding relationship with them. They had not been casual acquaintances, to say the least.

But then the Mosses had moved to Leesburg in the mid-1990s and we had seen them only sporadically since then. And they had moved out of the state, back to Utah, years and years ago. We had not expected to ever see them again. We had been Facebook friends for several years, so we did have contact on some level.

So when Jean Moss headed toward me with outstretched arms, I was so focused on walking that it took longer than a moment for me to redirect my attention long enough to realize that I was looking at people I knew, to say nothing that they were people I dearly loved.

We were able to visit with the Mosses for a few minutes before church started, and they came over to our home the following evening for dinner. Fluffy took a picture of them before they left, and he posted it the next day on Facebook so our Facebook friends who also remembered the Mosses could see it.

A disquieting thing happened when Fluffy posted the picture on Facebook. As he added the picture, Facebook automatically labeled the picture for him: “with Jean Moss and Lance Moss.”

We have not seen Lance and Jean for at least seven years, and probably closer to a decade. They do not regularly appear on our Facebook page. We do not correspond with them. I did not even recognize them immediately when I saw them in church.

How in tarnation did Facebook immediately recognize their picture and correctly label it when Fluffy uploaded it to Facebook?

Facebook inserted the names of friends who lived across the country, who were not regular correspondents, and whom we hadn’t seen in more than seven years, without Fluffy having to type them in. Creepy.

All I can say is that’s more than a little creepy. At least, that’s what I thought. Fluffy thought it was cool. He was excited about the technology. He doesn’t care about Big Brother having eyes on him, as long as Big Brother is taking advantage of the Cool Factor. Boys are like that. They never grow out of it.

We have all laughed at those television programs where they take a fuzzy security camera picture, sharpen it, and then match it to a known bad guy after scanning the photos of 10,000,000 bad guys in under ten seconds. So we know the technology is there. But in Facebook? And on our computers?

Fluffy did a little digging into the Facebook help screens, and confirmed what we were seeing:

Because photos are such an important part of Facebook, we want to be sure you know exactly how tag suggestions work: When you or a friend upload new photos, we use face recognition software — similar to that found in many photo editing tools — to match your new photos to other photos you’re tagged in. We group similar photos together and, whenever possible, suggest the name of the friend in the photos.

I still don’t know whether I like this or not, but I have to admit the technology is amazing.

But all of this got me thinking about God, and how well he knows all of His children. He knows our face, our voice, our concerns, our strengths and weaknesses, and everything that there is to know about us. He listens to every sincere prayer, and always answers them (although we don’t always like the answers).

He is aware of us every minute of every hour of every day. His office is never “closed,” and he never takes a vacation (I find that last point rather depressing, for His sake).

Even more impressive is the fact that He maintains this relationship with all of His children, which currently number about seven billion people. And how about the billions of people that have already lived and died? I’m sure they are not forgotten either.

We do live in a wonderful age, but I’m sure it is primitive compared to the wonders of God, and the many marvelous things that we have yet to learn about Him and His creations.

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May 05 2014

Retouching Our Lives

Published by Kathy under General

When my husband Fluffy was in college, he took quite an interest in photography. In fact, he took enough photo classes that he ended up with a minor in photography when he graduated. For most of his college years he also worked part-time at the college photo lab, which provided a little extra money and also brought him even closer to the hobby that he loved.

One of the things he learned during that time was the art of photo retouching. You don’t hear that term very often these days, it having been replaced with more descriptive terms such as photo manipulation.

Retouching was the art of making tiny modifications to the surface of the photograph itself to enhance the subject or to remove imperfections. This was long before digital photography, so the printmaking process was more complex and involved things such as negatives, darkrooms, and chemicals.

It seemed that no matter how well you cleaned the negative, there were always dust particles and scratches on it that would appear on the print. So the final step of professional photo production usually involved retouching to remove these small imperfections.

After the print was produced, retouching was done with tiny brushes and paints of various colors. Because most prints were in black and white, those were the only colors that were needed, although brown was also included in the retouching kits for handling sepia-colored photos (this is where a brown tint is applied to a black and white photo).

Scratches and dust spots would usually appear as light spots on the print, so the retouching was simply a matter of mixing a matching paint color and then covering the light spot with tiny dots of paint. Because a photo is composed of millions of tiny dots anyway, the paint dots added during retouching would not be detected.

The basics of retouching could be expanded to improve photos in other ways beyond just imperfections in the negative. Skin wrinkles under the eyes could be removed (always popular with the ladies), as well as reflections in eyeglasses.

Radical retouching could be used to remove distracting backgrounds (the ever-popular telephone pole growing from the head), or even entire people (removing the black sheep from the family photo) after a scandalous divorce or crime or other disappointment that was too heinous to be forgiven.

Restoration of damaged photos could also be done via copying and retouching. Damage from folds and stains could be removed, and even missing portions of the photo could be reconstructed.

As we fast forward to the digital age, we find that retouching or photo modification is more popular than ever. The tiny brushes and paint patches have been replaced with a computer and photo manipulation software.

Fluffy has restored this ancient picture of me. It was actually torn in half, but he put it back together with the magic of PhotoShop.

Although this can still be a tedious process, the power of photo manipulation software is amazing. These days, the camera and the captured image is just the first step of the process, with much of the magic taking place after the photos have been transferred to the computer.

After we have loaded new photos onto the computer, we examine each one and use editing software to improve them. This may involve straightening the horizon, cropping out unwanted objects, correcting red eye (those zombie-like eyes that people have when you use flash in a dark room), correcting the brightness, contrast, and even the color. In extreme cases, it may even involve removing objects.

A few years ago we visited Stonehenge in England. Although Stonehenge looks remote in the pictures, it is actually next to a freeway, and there is a pedestrian path that runs right next to the stone structures.

On a busy day, it is almost impossible to get pictures of the rocks without having a bunch of tourists nearby. But not to worry. Fluffy was obscenely patient in waiting for breaks in the crowd. Then the few people he could not avoid were removed with the editing software. Our photos of Stonehenge would make you think it had been undisturbed for centuries.

Here is Stonehenge, minus the pesky tourists.

For a number of years I ran a lucrative business providing custom photo portraits of people’s dead pets. People would send me pictures of their dead animals, and I would use PhotoShop to provide “watercolor” images of the pets as a remembrance.

In theory, this was an easy proposition. But people would send me pictures of their pet tiger behind a chain link fence and expect me to get rid of the chain link fence. They’d send a picture of the dead hamster after he was dead and expect me to breathe some life into it. They’d send me a picture of half a dog and expect me to draw the back half of the dog onto the front half. All this for $14.95 a pop.

This took a whole lot of work on my end, but PhotoShop and I usually managed to satisfy the customer. I only wish I still had the Before and After pictures of the two whippets behind the fat guy who was lying on a lawn chair in his bathing suit with a beer can perched on his gut.

However, I do have a picture I took last month of the Jefferson Memorial. I took it from a moving car so it was blurry. People used to throw their blurry pictures away. Not anymore! Now we can get out the digital software and use the “watercolor” feature to pretend they were supposed to look that way. Voila! Art!

Thanks to PhotoShop, I can pretend this picture of the Jefferson Memorial is art and not a picture that should have been thrown away.

As I was working on a picture the other day, I was thinking about how Christ is the Master Retoucher of our lives. Just as we use editing software to perfect our photos, He has given us His atonement to perfect our lives.

Although we try mightily to be good people, the portraits of our lives are filled with imperfections. Yet He can correct our perspectives, remove distractions, restore the brightness to our eyes, make sure our balance is perfect, and even remove the ugly stains of sin.

He can take our rather ordinary lives and turn them into stunning masterpieces. Then we can share that wonderful light with others as we help them enhance the portraits of their own souls.

Rarely do you find a photograph that doesn’t benefit from some retouching. And not one of us has lived a life that is free from imperfection. Yet with the help of the Master Retoucher, we can produce a portrait of the human family that is perfect, magnificent, and acceptable to God.

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Apr 28 2014

“All is Well with the World”

Published by Kathy under General

I didn’t go to church on Easter Sunday last year. I was still only a month out of the hospital and our ward was still so full of contagion from the winter that our bishop said he did not want to see my face in church until May, and I complied.

Five months is a long time without church, when you’re a person who is used to going every week. It was especially odd to miss church on Easter, so I was glad to return to church for Easter services this year. Our religion does not have the hoopla at Easter that many churches do. We just have the one program on Easter Sunday. But it was a program I was glad to attend again.

The speakers were good this year, and I was glad to sing the Easter hymns. But what struck me most occurred when we were taking the sacrament. As we were waiting to take the bread and I was saying my own private prayer, I was overwhelmed with the most wonderful feeling. The words I heard to accompany that feeling were these: “All is well with the world.”

I felt awash in peace. The sense that all was right with the world was overwhelming. God had things firmly in hand. Everything was good.

I opened my eyes and looked around me. To my right was Fluffy. I thought of how kind he is, and how many good things he does for me every day.

To my left was Kev. Kev is a young artist who plays with color and light in fascinating ways. He hugged me when he came into the meeting, and it made me feel fuzzy and warm.

In the front of the room was Bishop Mark. He is young (in the sense that everyone in the ward is younger than I am) and lean and energetic. I like to watch him when people are giving their talks, because he is so animated as he listens to them. He likes people. He is a human Jack Russell terrier, except that he doesn’t jump up and down and yip. He is a human Jack Russell terrier in the most excellent sense of the word.

On the right aisle was our home teacher Mike, who had major heart surgery three weeks ago, and who almost had to be physically restrained from coming to church two days later and bearing his testimony. I was sorry he got talked out of going to church; I wanted to hear what he would have said.

In the front of the room was our other home teacher, John, who is a world traveler. John sent us selfies last week from Jerusalem and Petra and Frankfurt and Spain. We never know where he’s going to be next week, but he never misses a home teaching visit, and he usually visits several times during the course of the month.

Lorraine sat in front of us, in her corkscrew orange curls and a purple Easter hat. Other than wearing different jackets, she and her octogenarian mother Mary were dressed in identical Easter outfits. I would have taken a picture if I’d had a camera with me.

As I looked around the room, there were people I had loved for years, people I had just met and was just learning to love, and people whose names I keep mixing up but whom I love anyway.

Earlier in the meeting, we had sustained one of the Young Women to be our new ward chorister. I used to teach Katie, back when I still had a calling in that organization. From the first day she led the music as a twelve-year-old in our Young Women meeting, I’ve been waiting for her to lead the music for our sacrament meetings. She’s probably about fifteen now.

I was so excited to hear her name read out as ward chorister that I shouted out, “Yes!” People around me laughed, but sometimes the rightness of a calling just takes you with joy.

Yes, I thought to myself, as I sat there during the sacrament. All is well in our corner of Zion; “all is well with the world.”

As the feeling of peace washed over me, I realized that not everyone believes all is right with the world. Just this week I had overheard a conversation where people were bemoaning the fact that first a plane had gone missing and then a ferry had sunk. “This whole world is falling apart,” the person had said. “Everything is getting worse and worse.”

It’s true. Things are bleak. The California drought means grocery prices are through the roof. The Great Lakes are still frozen, and commerce is suffering in that region because of it. American politics are so crazy that they are better not thought about. Russia’s incursion into Ukraine may yet be the beginning of World War III. People lie and cheat and steal and kill each other because — well, because they can.

And yet, “All is well with the world.” When I heard it, I knew that it was true. The words may not seem true in the short term. There are going to be wars and natural calamity and horrible things on the horizon. Some of those things are going to be catastrophic. And on a smaller scale, there will be accidents and illness. People we love will get sick and die.

But God knew what He was talking about. He always does, doesn’t He? “All is well with the world.” I felt it. I knew with my whole soul that it was true — that it is true.

All my life, I have been unable to understand how the Atonement works. I’m still unable to understand the mechanics of it, but sitting in that congregation on Easter Sunday, it no longer mattered. I realized that the Atonement has worked for me, and it has worked for the people I love on this side of the veil, and on the other side.

It has worked for billions upon billions of human beings I have never even met — people of all colors and creeds, and who have been walking the earth as long as God’s sons and daughters have peopled the world.

Jesus Christ did the job He set out to do. Good has triumphed over evil. Despite comets and global warming-slash-cooling and wars and all the other things that mankind has thought to do to the earth, all will be well with the world. No — all is well with the world. That is all I need to know.

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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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