Thursday, December 30, 2010

My sled is blue

Santa brought Adell a sled this year for Christmas.
We know because she called us up yesterday and told her grandpa he needed to take her sledding because she had a new blue sled.
It didn't matter that it was snowing heavily, big, wet flakes that made driving difficult and sledding miserable.
She was convinced that her grandpa would come through for her.
And he did.
He took one look outside and gulped before he said, "Sure! Let's do it."
So over she came and off they went.
Climbing upward
(We have this great sledding hill a few blocks away that doubles as an Easter Egg hunt hill in the spring.)
I followed them over with my camera and imagined I would find them both careening down the hill having a great time.
Fun in the flakes
It was partly so.
Adell was careening and Marc was alternately watching from the top of the hill and bounding down to collect her sled for the tow back up.
After a few rides, he wasn't even allowed to do that.
This plucky 5-year-old announced she could manage just fine on her own, thank you very much.
She'd plunk down on her sled, take the reins and sail off down the hill on her own.
The scrappy sledder
Then she'd gather herself up, and climb back up the hill on all fours dragging her sled behind her.
We kept offering to help as we stood on the hill, two grown folks watching this little kid labor.
But no, she's an independent cuss.
She insisted on doing it all by herself.
It was an interesting 45 minutes as we all got soaked through, standing knee-deep in snow.
At the end she decided Grandma could go with her for a ride and then she'd be ready for hot chocolate.
I guess that's a sign that I've been forgiven for last winter when I took her sledding and turned us both upside down.
Grandpa was tossed aside. No rides. No nothing. No respect.
But she knows who to call next time when she wants to go sledding.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dashing through the snow

It's with great interest and a considerable amount of dismay that I read about the deaths of a young couple from American Fork who died in a four-wheeler accident this past weekend.
The story I read said they went off a 200-foot embankment.
That made my stomach drop as I thought back to a snowmobile trip my husband and I went on years ago, a trip that could have ended for us in a similar manner.
We were invited by the Skyline Volunteers to check out their popular snowmobiling trails in the Mt. Nebo area.
They graciously promised to provide the machines, guides and hot chocolate.
Enterprising journalists that we were, we agreed and showed up ready to roll.
Neither Marc or I had much experience with snowmobiles but figured how hard could it be?
We set out and soon discovered the machines had plenty of power and it was exhilarating to glide at high speeds over the new fallen snow.
We were loving it, in fact, Marc loved it so much he shot ahead of the guides and raced away into the forest. grinning away.
I was stopped and watching when the guides became alarmed.
"We need to catch up with him," said one. "He's heading toward the cliffs."
Apparently ahead of Marc where he couldn't see them, there were cliffs hidden by the new snow.
The snowmobile club guys barely caught him, cutting in front of him to get his attention. That was scary but disaster was averted.
I was ribbing him about it later when we stopped for chili and chocolate.
I apparently was getting somewhat over confident myself as I stopped by the others, trying to make my machine climb to the top of the nearby ridge.
I was frustrated because I couldn't give the snowmobile enough gas to show off and make it up and over.
I stopped. Then I got off the machine and looked over the edge.
From the top of the ridge I'd been trying to clear, the ground fell away sharply. Nothing but trees and rocks for a really long ways down.
If I had cleared the ridge, I'd have slid about 1,000 feet or so with nothing to break the descent. I probably would've killed myself.
I was lucky.
I'm alive. So is Marc.
Those poor kids are not.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The end is near

So this lady knows I work for The Deseret News and specifically for The Mormon Times so when she shows up to talk to me about her emergency preparedness manual, I was surprised that she smelled like a chimney.
My eyes watered and I looked around at my living room wondering how much of the smell would linger. (I had a Relief Society Presidency meeting scheduled there in two days.)
I asked her if she understood the audience she was trying to reach, good Mormon people who would be taken aback by a chain-smoking preparedness expert.
She didn't. In fact, she thanked me for warning her that it could be a problem for her to show up at a food storage fireside or a Relief Society enrichment meeting wearing the evidence of having had a cigarette or two on the way over.
Then I started looking over the manual, a big self-published volume where she recorded every thought she'd had about the future over the past few years.
The advice is not your usual "store wheat and powdered milk" kind of thing.
There's a whole section on making sure you get out all the money you can before 2012, raid your 401k accounts, push your credit card cash advances to the limit, take out a home equity loan, have a garage sale, quit wasting money on car insurance and stash the cash for bad times ahead when the banks won't be open.
Buy a second home in another country with the cash. Or at least, invest in an underground bunker with a deep underground entrance. She recommends 300 feet for starters.
Take all your spare stuff like gold, diamonds and jewelry to a pawn shop and if the world doesn't end as predicted, buy it back later.
She suggests getting your dental work done now because all the dentists will be vaporized or at least not working office hours. Same goes for any surgeries you've been putting off.
"Don't get pregnant" is one piece of her sound advice. (Try telling that to a staunch Mormon audience.)
She quotes a number of reliable sources who predict the end is near including the Mayans, the Hopi Indians, the Chinese, the Hindus, the movies, science fiction novels and The Holy Bible.
She may be right. I'm not arguing her point but some of the information she shares is really strange.
She's listed the kinds of chocolate that will last the best. Now that's key.
She advises against buying a burial plot because no one will be around to bury you.
But do buy a plane or a helicopter if you're able. Learn to fly it and tie it down.
Get a motorcycle for every member of the family and a crossbow instead of a gun to save on the cost of ammunition. If you can't bring yourself to buy a gun or crossbow, stock wasp spray.
The book is hefty and this woman has clearly invested time and energy into it. She means well and during my interview with her, she was plenty enthusiastic. She really believes we're done by Dec. 21, 2012. Global warming, dirty bombs, air pollution or solar flares will kill us all off.
But just in case we're not dead on Dec. 22? She has a sequel already planned out.
Go figure.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Goodbye to the good commute

Never wanted to work in Salt Lake.
Never wanted to drive that infernal commute on a daily basis.
So as I say goodbye to full-time work at The Deseret News and the people there, it's with a mixture of deep sorrow and utter, pure joy!
No more hoping to clear Point of the Mountain before it A. ices over, B. backs up, or C. fogs in.
No more holding in my breath until I pass 106th South — which is the great bottleneck on I-15.
No more sitting in traffic whiling away the time because there's a fender bender three exits ahead.
Getting out from under
No more reading the electronic sign warning me it will take 47 minutes to reach downtown Salt Lake and bargaining in my mind with the reality that it won't really take that long. It just won't be. (The sign's behind the times and all that jazz.)
No more getting so acquainted with the backend of the car ahead of me that I have the license plate memorized, the funny bumper stickers imbedded into my brain and I've figured out every little stick figure member of the family and what he or she does for a hobby.
Of all the things I've had to do in my life as a news reporter over the past 35 years, the commute was the least fun.
It's so routine and yet so unpredictable.
And one is so powerless to do anything about it.
Sometimes, amazingly, one can whizz right from Utah County into inner Salt Lake City in 30-40 minutes, tooling along listening to Yanni and feeling good about life.
But most days, it's painful beyond belief.
Standand transmission cars are not designed to be happy going 5 miles an hour and neither am I. Gas tanks drain before your very eyes. Meeting starts and story deadlines have to be missed. Tears flow.
So as life changes and I move to becoming a freelance writer — meaning I can stay home and write e-mails and make phone calls to do my work — it's with a bubbly sense of release, a euphoric float.
Thank goodness for silver linings.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Understanding HannahSpeak

She's only two but she packs a powerful punch.
Hannah the great
This tiny girl flies around the house like an energized bunny, intent on exploring as much territory as she can in a short amount of time.
When she wants something she can turn the whole household upside down to get it.
And this from a child who cannot talk — except in her own language. We call it HannahSpeak.
This blonde, wispy-haired cutie chatters at a blue streak.
She has "No, I donwannit" down cold.
She says "Stuck!" when something doesn't work right or fast enough to satisfy her.
She says "Adell!" when she thinks there's something awry that could be her big sister's fault.
She says "Grampa" to call for me and or for Marc.
The rest of the time she's saying words that kind of run together and beg for translation.
And she learned to use it to her advantage.
For instance, she'll say "Wannahaicescreamscone, grampa!" in a sweet babbling tone.
"Ice cream?" I'll ask in an effort to understand and help her spell it out more clearly.
"Wannahaicescreamscone, grampa!" She'll say, taking my hand and leading me into the kitchen.
"Ice cream cone?" I ask again as she looks at me with these big, blue eyes and cheery smile.
"Wannahaicescreamscone, grampa!" She now demands, clearly frustrated that I'm not getting the message.
 "You want an ice cream cone, Hannah?" I ask again looking at her mother who would prefer that she eat a healthy meal first, particularly since she's already had some M&Ms, a cookie and gum from my purse.
"Wannahaicescreamscone, grampa!"
Noting that her tone is rising and she's losing patience thinking I still don't understand what she's saying, I say again, naively trying to verify that I get it.
"You want an ice cream cone, Hannah?"
"OK!!" Hannah  beams, nodding happily. "Wannaicecreamcone!"
I think I'm being had here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do you have a ladder?

My granddaughter is concerned that her house isn't decorated for Christmas.
She lives in a beautiful new home in Lehi that is routinely buffeted by strong winds and her parents haven't figured out yet how to hang lights that won't be blown away every night.
Seems the neighbors have all had trouble and several have just given up the battle.
In addition, the house doesn't really lend itself to decorating with ease.
The roof is bartile and there's nothing from which to hang lights.
Her dad would have to risk life and limb to string any serious lights.
But Adell doesn't get it. She keeps asking why they don't have lights?
In her 5-year-old way of thinking, it's a problem that could be solved if we all tried.
When we were taking her home the other night via the pretty Christmas lights route she told Grandpa his lights were great.
(We have a single string of snowflake lights strung across the front of our house. Nothing more. Just the one strand and I'm not complaining because Marc isn't big on decorating. I'm lucky to get the one strand.)
Then she asked Grandpa if he used a ladder to put up our lights.
He said yes.
There was a short pause as she thought about that.
Then she became excited. 
"You have a ladder!?" she exclaimed as if she'd discovered gold.
He said he did.
"Then can I borrow it?" she asked, thinking she'd found the answer. "My daddy needs your ladder."
Uh. We're not sure her dad would appreciate it but sure. (Sorry, Wade.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A dancer and a mouse

Ahhh. I've finally reached that lovely plateau in life where all I have to do when it comes to Christmas pageants and concerts is show up.
I'm not the mom anymore. I'm the grandma.
The dancing girl
So while my daughters are having to scour the landscape for costume parts — a red long-sleeved top for each child, please and a pink leotard — I only have to jot the time and place in my planner and be there.
It's a wonderful place.
The grandchildren are cute and I have a camera.
It's a great combination especially if I can grab a front-row seat with nobody's head blocking the view.
Adell was dancing in her first stage show and her two minutes in front of the audience were delightful.
I sat back and savored the moment which represented weeks of getting her to and from class and paying for class.
Fiona mouse
Fiona was performing with her kindergarten class, most of whom are a good deal taller than she is, so she was on the front row which works for me.
She sang and wiggled and danced.
Then she ran off stage to become a mouse — you know, the "not even a mouse" that wasn't stirring in the epic poem.
She came back and rolled around in pink and played with her mouse ears.
They apparently didn't fit well because her mother and I got lots of shots of Fiona tugging at her hair and big pink, plastic ears.
Nevertheless, it was still cute and when it was done, I gave her a hug and a candy Santa and went on with my day.
No hunting down the clothes Fiona was originally sent in to school.
No waiting around to see if the sound equipment, props and decorations all got returned to their rightful owners.
No checking in to see if anything else was required.
I'm not the mom now. After raising six children and as many stepchildren, being a real mother and a room mother again and again, my time here is done.
I've been paroled.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Waiting in line forever

My children and husband will tell you I have a knack.
I can pick the line that will slow down and die every time.
I get behind the old ladies who want to pay their bill with pennies or write out a check in slow hand.
I pick the people who have coupons they expect to have doubled.
I choose the line where something doesn't ring up correctly and we all get to stand around while a hapless bagboy runs to the back of the store to check on the price.
It's a gift and I've spent a good part of my life waiting in these lines.
Sometimes I gripe and groan which makes my husband and children cringe and hide. Often Marc lectures me on being nice.
So the last time I went to the grocery store and found the lady in front of me buying 175 gift cards I tried to be patient.
"I may be a while," she said, looking at my little pile of groceries on the belt.
Adell's patient grandma
I shrugged and smiled. I wasn't in a hurry and how long could it take to put in a price and tell the register to ring it 175 times?
Pretty long when the cashier has to hand enter every card.
I waited and read the magazines and rechecked my list to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything.
I started to pack up and leave once but the cashier said, "Oh, we're almost done!"
I smiled, still trying to be nice.
She punched in the 175th number and I started to get excited.
That's when the receipts started to print out, one at a time.
I lost the battle. I sighed. I even groaned.
I just can't be nice that long.
So when my husband and I went to the new Dickey's for lunch the other day, I was interested to see Marc's reaction when the ladies in front of us whipped out their two-page list of orders.
Seems they were ordering for the office of 43 people.
Marc sighed and huffed. He groaned and complained loud enough to be heard.
He wasn't very patient at all, not like he's often advised me to be.
Guess it's my turn to lecture.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The haunted house next door

Maybe we're really not fun neighbors.
Judging by the turnover at the house next door, it's occurred to us that perhaps we're a problem.
In the 20 years we've lived at this address, we've gone from living next to a vacant lot to living next to a slightly crazy person who routinely shook up the applecart around her (she once called the police on our six-year-old daughter's dog who got out once too often) to living next to a lady who had three husbands (one in an asylum, one AWOL and another in jail) who eventually went a little crackers herself.
Then the house sold and we had a fairly stable family move in or so we thought.
We didn't bother them much other than to say hello now and then and teach their children in primary.
But one day they announced they were moving — not selling the house — but leaving for another state and letting the bank figure out they were gone.
The next thing we knew there was a lady on the porch asking us to help her move in her refrigerator.
We tried to do the decent thing and welcome them with some homemade salsa and chips.
When I took over my little gift, the guy answering the door seemed a bit taken aback at my appearance which was followed by the Girl Scouts and the Young Women leaders.
He was distinctly reserved, closing the door quickly.
And now, a couple of weeks later, they're gone too.
Seems they really didn't have any rights to be moving in since the previous neighbors hadn't given them any keys or even knew they were "renting" the place.
Apparently, the new thing is to squat in empty homes.
(I did wonder about the heavy-duty cable TV cord swinging from the porch light and over the garage door and into the back yard.)
The neighbors who had lived there knew nothing about this arrangement.
The bank didn't agree to the squatting and the police who came to say hello weren't impressed with their credentials.
They're gone now after taking their own sweet time moving. (Every day for a week they put one thing an hour in the moving truck.)
We're left once more with an empty house next door in spite of the salsa.
Now we do have neighbors straight across the street that have been there as long as we have.
We have a cordial relationship with them. Two or three times a year we converse at church or when we meet them in the grocery store.
At least once a year we ask them to bring in our mail and newspapers and water the lawn and plants when we vacation.
Other than that, we aren't much bother.
We mow our lawn, spray down our weeds, plow the driveway.
We keep our grandkids in check and the partying to a minimum.
I just don't what the problem is with everyone else.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Torture and Christmas traditions

The gingerbread crowd
Years ago, my son Jeffrey created a memorable gingerbread house.
While the other kids in the family were busy decking their houses with candy corn and gum drop stars, Jeffrey was making a gummy bear torture chamber.
Outside, he had frosted the windows and doors and put little silver balls on the roof in a serious, well-ordered series of lines.
But inside his little graham cracker house, gummy bears were stuck to the walls and the ceiling.
Brayden's house
For a while, it worried me a little that this charming but goofy child had such a warped sense of Christmas but as the years marched on, I realized Jeffrey just likes to do things people don't expect.
He isn't willing to conform, especially when there's an opportunity to break out and do something really different.
In ceramics class, he made snakes and robots that could take over the world.
He's always been an inventive lad.
Adell and her dad's house
Now, his sons are following in his lopsided footsteps.
Brayden announced at our annual gingerbread house activity that he was going to make a torture house.
He soon had a couple of other grandsons doing the same.
So while we had a lot of pretty houses we also had these structures stabbed with toothpicks.
Kyle working away
Adell made a masterpiece with snowflakes and candy canes working alongside her dad "the greatest artist in the world" in her mind.
Alyson worked with colored M&Ms.
Alyson designing
Fiona tried everything she could reach while Kyle laboriously decked his walls with green chocolate chips, a tough task for five-year-old fingers.
We had a whole tableful of busy children working with all kinds of candy and getting all kinds of sticky while enjoying a sample of a wealth of sweet treats.
It's a tradition for us and we all look forward to it, as I'm sure many families do.
I'd just like to know if anyone else's table sports a torture trove?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bugged by the thought

I'm working on a story about unusual gifts for the holidays and that's why I ended up standing in the Thanksgiving Point dinosaur museum gift shop trying to get a two-year-old to eat a scorpion.
Well, not really eat it but lick it.
It seems one of the big sellers for the gift shop — called "Findings, Gifts of Extinction" — are the pieces of candy containing bugs.
There are Chocolate Crick-ettes, flavored larvae, candy worms and suckers with real scorpions and other kinds of scrumptious critters made right into them.
The shop manager said they're harmless and really pretty tasty. I wasn't sure I believed her.
Marc was helping me get photos for my story so he asked this mom and her little boy to pose.
He was cute and it would make for a good picture so I ripped open a scorpion sucker and handed it to the child who initially looked interested because it was obviously candy but very quickly noticed the bug.
"There's a bug in it," he said to his mom, his eyes wide. "I don't want it."
Trying to help us out, the mother assured him that this time it was OK to sample a treat that otherwise would be tossed in the trash.
"Here," she said, "I'll try it. It's OK."
And she licked the sucker.
The little guy looked horrified and then close to tears.
As we continued to try to get him to give it a whirl, I realized we were going against everything this small boy had ever been told about sanity and good nutrition.
I grabbed a dinosaur sucker from the checkstand that didn't have anything in it but artificial flavoring and sugar, tore it open, (assuring the cashier that I would pay for it in a minute) and handed it to him.
"Here," I said, "Here's a better sucker. No bugs!"
He took it and licked it and smiled.
Suddenly I felt much better, much less evil. It didn't matter if we lost the picture.
I think if I buy any of the scorpion suckers in the future, it'll be for a 12-year-old or a co-worker who truly deserves it.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The snowman's nose

Over the years, I've irritated a fair number of people.
I'd write an innocent little story about something and the readers would attack. I hadn't done my research, I never knew a thing about the subject. Had I gone to journalism college? Did I have noodles for grey matter?
I'd think I was doing something nice for someone and somewhere in the world it would set somebody off.
If I wrote a piece lauding the pillar of the community, I'd hear from an ex-wife or an estranged child and find out I should be punished for my efforts.
Most of the time I could understand the angst.
If I'd mispelled something, I apologized.
If I got it wrong (were you at the same show/meeting/event?) I put in a correction.
I'm big enough to take lumps.
But this is just silly.
The last two complaints I've received strike me as somewhat unwarranted.
The first came from a guy who hated my story about schoolchildren who raised money every year to buy animals from Heifer International for poor villagers in the world.
This guy wanted me to realize that eating meat is the root of all evil in the world.
If we send these poverty-stricken countries cows and sheep, they'll soon be eating them and then we're doomed.
This vegan really thought I should apologize and have the paper pull the story.
The second complaint had to do with a sweet story about a grandmother in Salt Lake who collects snowman figurines and tapestries and snowglobes.
This lady said I should know that her granddaughter nearly died after a run-in with a snowman with a carrot nose and button eyes.
Seems her grandchild pulled a ceramic snowman off the mantlepiece and the carrot nose pierced her head.
She ended up in the hospital and narrowly avoided brain damage.
Did I not realize that snowmen with carrot noses are a threat to society?
Guess I missed that one.

Monday, December 6, 2010

21 years and counting

It'll be 21 years tomorrow since Marc and I were married in a small ceremony in the Riverboat restaurant in Salt Lake City and although we have another wedding anniversary that marks the day we were married in the temple, Dec. 7, 1989, forever marks the official beginning of the adventure.
We took each other by the hand and leapt, a fairly courageous and perhaps crazy move, given that we'd both come out of unhappy marriages.
Since that day, we've created a life together that's fun and full of warmth and rewarding.
We've survived many challenges from being employed in enemy camps — he worked at The Daily Herald while I worked for The Deseret News for several years — to both being employed and now unemployed (effective in January) by The Deseret News.
We've survived the blending of two families and 12 children and the blessing of almost 28 grandchildren.
We've moved.
We've planted grass.
We've painted.
We've traveled.
We've lived in abject poverty and dealt with economic successes.
We've won some and lost some.
All the way, we've been friends.
Marc listens to me despite my protests that he often doesn't.
He puts up with the harangues, the blow-by-blow work stories and the tears.
He is my biggest fan and truest critic.
I help him get to places on time and remember things on his list.
I laugh at his jokes and let him buy Bob Dylan.
I encourage him to be a good dad and a good grandpa and a loving husband.
Together we discover information and people and places. We share a kind of irreverant humor
and a deep love of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We enjoy holding hands and games and Dr. Mario.
At the very least, it's been interesting as we took two lives and worked to weave one together.
Here's to at least another 21.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The many faces of Marc

Over the past two decades, I've been married to many men — all of whom actually exist in the body of my husband but each one of whom has had a unique face and look.
Because he's involved in community theater, I've lived with a bald man, a guy with a crew-cut, a guy with a battleship tatooed on his belly, The Music Man, the villian trying to kill Superman, the captain of the sinking Titanic, Buffalo Bill with a bullwhip, a crazed Catholic priest who did really bad magic, a murderer more than once and Huckabee from the Fantasticks.
Because he's game (and easily persuaded when I need him to help with Grandma's annual summer carnival) he's been a bone-sucking troll, a balloon-making clown and Harry Potter's Hagrid.
He's willing to look pretty silly and do dumb stuff for the right occasion.
Some might say he's a good sport but actually, sometimes it's embarrassing as we try to go to church and out in public as a couple.
People often just don't know what to say.
Grandchildren sometimes hide until they can be convinced that it's really just Grandpa Marc under the makeup or under the wig or behind the costume.
Some get-ups are easier to live with than others.
For instance, I didn't mind at all that he was crooning Elvis' Christmas tunes at the recent stake leadership party.
In fact, it's kinda fun to be his groupee.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Meeting in the parking lot

To the casual observor, it probably looks like Marc and I are into drugs.
First of all, it might appear to the uninformed that we are conducting a drug buy every day at 3 p.m.
Because we are too cheap to buy a second parking pass for the month we have left to work at the Triad Center in Salt Lake, we hand off the one we own when he reports to work and I leave each day.
The nearby Subway parking lot is our rendezvous point because we can talk for a minute without backing up traffic and even exchange our daily hug. (Right now, our life is a bizarre one: I work during the day. He works at night. We visit for a few minutes at breakfast and over the phone.)
The card is a little white plastic thing so I'm sure on the security cameras, it looks a bit suspicious.
Marc and Sharon's wacky weed
Then at home, we are bagging dry parsley on a daily basis.
We have this prolific parsley plant in the backyard that produced tons of fresh parsley before it froze.
We've been bringing it in, cutting off the stems, laying the leaves out side by side on parchment and drying it in the oven for 40 minutes at a stretch.
It makes the whole house smell kind of funky and in the end we have these little plastic baggies of dried leaves that look, well, kind of like marijuana.
It crumbles up really well and is very flavorful.
I now have about a dozen bags in my food storage and I've given away a couple to children.
I'm considering giving some away as neighborhood Christmas gifts.
The question is: Do I need to include a note that specifies "This isn't your Christmas weed. Really. Go ahead and enjoy?"
(Here's the recipe: Cut parsley leaves (stems have no flavor), lay onto sheets of parchment on baking sheets, keep leaves from touching. Dry at 170 degrees for 40 minutes. Cool. Package. Crumble as needed. Store in dry, cool place.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creating gingerbread masterpieces

Here are the gingerbread houses decorated by Samantha, her sister Austyn and little sister Justice. They taste as good as they look. Just ask 'em.