Monday, January 31, 2011

Oops on the ballot slip

So Marc and I are at the 2011 LDS Film Festival trying to watch good and bad movies with pure intent.
We have three we need to see so I can write about them for The Deseret News but our pass allows us access to the whole four days of flicks so we try to find a few others we ought to view.
Unfortunately, one of those we chose was "Start With Nothing," a horrendous little show about this guy who wanted to get this girl's attention at a fast food joint.
The acting was wooden beyond belief. (Can you say fossilized?)
The storyline was weak at best and it moved ponderously slowly even though the producers threw in just about every story device they could think of to jazz it up.
The hero is a nerd who cannot believe the pretty carhop likes him for who he is. His stupid best friend tells him the way to win her heart is with an Ipod.
This precocious little girl who must have been the producer's child comes up with a trade-for-what-you-want scheme that has everybody trading someone else for odd items: c'mon, a laptop for a hand-held video game? A screwdriver for a prom dress? Never mind that the precocious little girl isn't cute or appealing.
The complicated ballot
The drinks get spilled. The food ends up on the waitress. The waitress spits on the sandwich -- really a revolting little scene. The manager keeps yelling at the waitress for goofing off but becomes the kindly, old grandfather toward the end.
If I were he, I'd be upset that she NEVER collects any money for her orders.
The wigged-out mother comes by to find her son who should be studying at the library. She's white and he's Latino but then maybe he's adopted.
The cars are traded all around like we, the audience, would believe kids, brothers and parents wouldn't mind if their shiny car was lent to a complete teenage-stranger. Somebody throws up. Somebody else drinks too much of Joe's special sauce. (Don't ask.)
The point is, it is a really badly done movie and so at the end, I happily ripped my voting slip, giving it the lowest rating of 1.
At least, that's what I thought I was doing.
At the end of the festival, I started to rip another voting ballot. This time I wanted to give the movie we were watching a 5 for being exceptionally good.
I looked over and saw Marc was tearing his at the bottom, not the top.
"Wait," I said, "If we liked it, we're supposed to tear it at the top so it gets a 5."
"No, I don't think so," said my husband carefully because he knows I hate to be wrong. "The top line is for the really bad movies. The bottom line is for the really good ones."
Oops. I guess I liked "Start With Nothing" a whole lot better than I first thought.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Killing us softly

Years ago, when my husband and I heard a rumor about The Daily Herald looking to buy the weekly newspapers in north Utah County, we laughed.
"How silly," we thought. That could never happen.
But it did and soon after the monumental purchase, my husband was pulled over to the Provo main office to be a duty editor.
From there, it was a short trip to managing the five remaining weeklies to being let go in a reduction of force.
He didn't get a goodbye party or a gold watch. In fact, he barely got out with a few files and bits of memorabilia. The Daily Herald didn't want his departure tied to the shutdown of the papers a few months later.
Now they're axing the south county papers, including the Springville Herald which has been the baby of the Conover family for decades. The family is losing a loved one and the town is losing an important outlet.
The Daily Herald management is explaining that for the preservation of their core project, the decision is a necessary one.
Perhaps at this point, it is.
But when the process started with Pulitzer, the directive was "don't kill the weeklies." They didn't. But they did pull back on financial resources and cut back on support. The correspondent budget was slashed and the editors tried to push the freelancers to do lots more for lots less.
Then Lee Enterprises took over and things got even worse. The recession was here and Lee was losing money in every direction, so again, budgets were cut to make up the deficit.
I'm sure today the situation is dire. It's a tough go everywhere for newspapers — just ask those of us not working at The Deseret News right now.
But the loss of weekly newspapers in these little cities in incalculable. No one cares about the local issues and goings-on as much as an editor and writers who live in the place. No one else will respond to the readers and subscribers with as much passion.
My heart goes out to the Conovers and their family and to the Spanish Fork, Springville and Nebo Reporter communities.
Their presses have been stopped.

Feeding the many birds

Flying in
Since my husband and I are currently watching the household budget very, very carefully, we've been going through our expenses line by line.
Here's one you'd think could be eliminated: Birdfeed: $26 a month.
When we started feeding our little feathered friends we were only buying a bag for a couple of dollars every now and then.
Over the years, the price has gone up and our guests have spread the word.
It's not unusual for a whole flock to fly in for breakfast and several pigeons and Mourning Doves to stay over for lunch and dinner.
Our little feeder is a going concern.
And they are picky.
They only want the more expensive black sunflower seeds.
Marc says they like the oil in them. It helps them survive the cold, he says.
We've tried the cheaper mixes and various kinds of seed but whenever we offer the discount fare, they stay away or sit in the trees looking at the feeder with disdain.
As soon as we shape up and come through with the good stuff, they're back in droves.
These birds have learned that we're good for a hearty meal.
They don't even panic anymore when Marc comes out to refill the feeder.
Instead of flying away in fright, they merely take up roost in the trees only a couple of feet away.
We've had regular visits from the neighborhood sparrows and finches. We sometimes have blackbirds and songbirds with yellow tailfeathers.
For a time we had a big, blue jaybird who rocked the feeder when he came in. (It was kind of like having a 747 land at a small town airport.)
It's been years now and several birdfeeders since we started this endeavor.
We enjoy helping out nature's creatures and the flutter and chirp in the backyard is delightful.
We feel we're doing a good thing here.
We'll keep buying the birdseed with our chickenfeed as long as we can.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A child's prayer

The missing bear's costume
The bear returneth
We were finishing up a family party when Adell discovered she'd lost her little bear — a tiny, blue creature that fits inside a white Panda bear coat kind of thing.
It was late. People were leaving.
The house was big with plenty of places for a tiny toy to hide and I wasn't sure what the thing looked like.
I hadn't paid attention when Adell lost it at the church or in the car.
But she was frantic and unwilling to leave until we found this itsy, bitsy bear.
We were up in the family room at my daughter's house and because cousins and adults had been playing something or other in the room for hours, there were toys scattered everywhere.
Finding a half-inch plastic creature was nigh impossible.
"We'll have to go. Maybe Kristy will find it later when she's cleaning up," I suggested.
Adell ignored me and forged on, turning over toys and bean bags and dolls.
"We really have to go home, it's late," I said, as I surveyed the littered floor.
"I know! I'll ask Jesus to help!" said this 5-year-old who had obviously listened in her Primary classes.
She dropped to her knees and said a simple but heartfelt prayer telling Jesus her bear was lost and she needed to have it.
Then she popped up and looked around expectantly.
No bear.
I said my own earnest little prayer, hoping the bear would magically turn up and reward her faith.
I doubted whether God had time to look for a miniature bear with all that's going on in the world.
Probably my lack of faith hurt Adell's chances for finding her precious toy because we had to leave without it.
We told Kristy to keep an eye out for it and we journeyed home when more disaster struck.
She lost the bear costume that goes with the bear.
Marc tossed the blanket and searched the back of the car but we couldn't find it either.
A very sad little girl went in to tell her mom she'd lost her new toy.
This morning, I found the costume under the seat belt and we're headed back out to Kristy's to conduct a more thorough search.
If that doesn't work, we'll probably head to the Smith's to buy a new bear. (Adell told us when we offered that then she'll have two bears and she doesn't need two bears!)
Meanwhile, I'm left with this image of a sweet young girl dropping to her knees in all confidence only to be disappointed.
What do you say when this happens?
P.S. The bear has been found and is safely back with its youthful owner. It took a united effort on the part of Kristy, Marc, Kari and Grandma to accomplish the mission but in the end, Adell's prayer was answered. All is well.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Paper cuts and eggshell injuries

My loving husband seems to think I am accident-prone.
And not just prone to accidents from the usual modes like car crashes and walking into doors but accidents that come from simply living.
I once tore a tendon in my wrist just from stopping my bike before it crashed into his. I apparently gripped the handle too hard.
At the newspaper office, I came around the corner one day to collide with my manager carrying a big box computer. That put me in a back brace.
I blew out my right knee skiing — not by running into a tree or careening across an icy slope — but by tripping on a twig as I moved into the ski lift line.
I hurt my elbow carrying my computer case in and out of the office. It'll take about a year to get better, the doctors tell me.
The other night I popped my left knee when I tried to put my foot up on the chair in front of me in the theater. It's all swollen and angry.
I fell coming out of the department store one night on perfectly dry road and re-created havoc with my knee.
I routinely slip on invisible but probably wet spots in the grocery store aisle and bend my toes tripping on the carpet.
I fell out of the sled at the end of a sloping, easy run with my granddaughter and hurt the discs in my back.
There's always something that has my insurance company asking why I'm going in for physical therapy yet again and can't tell them who or what else is responsible for the mayhem. I have a pile of braces, splints, bandages and boots to show for my grace.
It's a gift, I suppose, one that manifested itself the other day when we were shopping for a birthday book for a grandchild.
I was perusing different new books and checking out the latest titles when I noticed my fingers were bleeding, threatening to destroy the store's inventory.
Marc laughed at me as he took away the offending literature.
"You'll have to add paper cut injuries to your list," he said. (He has already outlawed snow sports for me.)
I felt stupid, having once again found a way to hurt myself with otherwise benign objects, right up until the next morning when Marc was making omelets for breakfast.
All of a sudden he started to wail and shake his hand.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh," he cried, looking down at his bleeding fingers.
"What," I inquired curiously, "happened?"
He'd cut himself on an eggshell.
"How could that happen? Nobody cuts themselves with an eggshell," he asked me, shaking away the blood and pain.
I certainly wouldn't know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Oh, the games we play

As Marc and I watch my dad and my stepmother fight to stay together — either in their home or in an assisted living center somewhere — we can't help but make a wish list for our own future.
First off, we'd prefer to be healthy enough to stay in our own home and take care of ourselves up until the day we drop dead but then that's what all old people want and seldom get.
We'd prefer to have enough money that we could alternate between staying in a little house on the beach and a snug cabin in the mountains, but again, the likelihood of that scenario coming to pass is slim.
So if our options are few and Social Security is paying the bills, we'd settle for the simple pleasures in life.
We want to stay together someplace where the yardwork is done for us, the neighbors are friendly and we have a working television and a place to plug in our Nintendo 64.
That's more important than landscaping and access and ambience.
We figure we can survive older age if we can still play Dr. Mario or Tetris on a daily basis.
It's our stress release mechanism, this little ancient game machine that we've had for something like 40 years already.
There's nothing like making little golden squares or lining up colored pills in matching rows to pass the time. It can be so rewarding.
It's good for the brain and good for the relationship. (I say that in jest because some of our biggest disagreements have come over Dr. Mario. Marc likes to dump on my game and make me die while I like to play along without any outside interference. Despite what he'll tell you, I seldom dump on his game. I just play to score.)
We're hooked beyond reason. We'll play these stupid games until our fingers ache and our eyes glaze over.
We recognize it's a trivial pursuit but nevertheless, it's something we do almost every day at any given opportunity to kill a few odd minutes.
And beware anybody who tries to deny us.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My dad and the debts

My father is 87 and is busy rewriting history.
He's also keeping pretty occupied redefining words like debt and coming clean.
While we as his children are trying to figure out ways for him to cope with his current financial situation, he's going along telling himself (and us) that everything is fine. Nothing to worry about.
This man who is facing destitution if his wife (my step-mother) doesn't come back from the hospital is saying he has plenty of money to go around.
The $40,000 debt consolidation loan he took out 3 years ago?
That's in the hands of a guy he likes and it'll be paid off in a year.
The $1600 judgment we found online against him?
He doesn't remember getting a letter about anything like that so it isn't his problem.
The $8,000 he owes MasterCard?
Oh, he'll take care of that when he finishes paying the debt consolidation loan.
His poor credit history?
He isn't going to need good credit. He figures he's only going to live another eight years or so.
We listened the other night as he explained away our worries.
He said he'd always taken care of us and he could certainly take care of himself.
Uh, we're all grown and the last any of us got anything monetarily from our father was about 40 years back. When my brother asked for a co-signer on his first home, my dad couldn't get out of the room fast enough. When I was single and struggling to feed six children, he didn't want to hear about it.
He talked about taking us all hunting and fishing when we were kids. We recall a one-time venture.
But that's in the past and we're mature individuals who want to do our duty to our parent.
Since he's spending freely while he waits for his wife to recover and come home, we're trying to sort out the money with him.
"Dad," I said, after he bragged about upgrading his television service. "You need to save your money. You're going to need it for a place on your own."
"How much can that be?" he returned. "An apartment will cost me $500. That leaves me $1500 a month." (He's not kept up with the cost of renting in today's market or the cost of utilities, security deposits, food, etc.)
"Dad," my brother said. "What about these debts?"
"Those aren't debts," he said. "I'm taking care of them. They're not a problem."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Poor Bambi

My son-in-law Wade is a big-time hunter which is ironic since my daughter is an animal lover.
While he looks forward to heading out on the next deer-elk-antelope-moose-bear-whatever hunt, Kari prays for non-success.
He comes home with a kill proud and happy.
She freezes over to find freshly bagged meat in the refrigerator.
So when he told her he was invited to go on a buffalo hunt, she was less than impressed.
But the trip was pretty much his friend Wade's idea and undertaking so she agreed to support the fun.
Off he went to a little town in Montana that sponsors a buffalo hunt at $800 a pop.
The town is near an Indian reservation so the buffalo there are off-limits except to the Native Americans. It's also next to a wildlife preserve so the buffalo there are off-limits.
The buffalo in the town proper are so domesticated that it would be unsportsmanlike to shoot them and besides, one could hit a townsperson so shooting inside the town limits is off-limits.
A real guy
That leaves a narrow band of land open to hunters which is frustrating to them since the buffalo all seem to know that's a danger zone.
Wade and Wade and his friend's dad drove for 8 hours to get to the hunt. Then they tramped around all day long searching for a hapless buffalo buck who wanted to become a family room rug or wall trophy.
Finally, discouraged and mad, they were ready to give it up when they ran into a wildlife officer. He said the agency had just pushed a herd into the hunting zone so their chances of success were better.
They stayed and soon spotted a herd of about a dozen buffalo hanging out in the grass.
Here was their chance but they couldn't tell if any of the beasts were bucks.
"They're big," said the friend's dad. "Look for a big one."
But they were all big.
Wade told Wade he thought a particular buffalo could be a buck but he wasn't sure.
Agitated and unsure, Wade tried to wait when the herd started to suspect something was up. When they began to pack up to leave, he shot.
A buffalo fell. The others scattered, except for one — a young buffalo calf who started to wail.
Oh no. Had he killed the baby buffalo's mother?
He hoped not. He told himself the chances were slim. Any of the other cows could be the mom. What are the odds, anyway?
But when they returned the next morning to harvest their kill, the baby was still standing a few feet away, unwilling to leave the dead buffalo's side.
It was true. They killed Bambi Bison's mom.
I'm horrified. And while the bison steak I tried a while ago hurt my tummy, this hurts my heart.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Paper routes and high finance

It's been a couple of decades but I still count the homes on 100 East when I drive by — the homes that housed people my sons could count on to pay their paper bills — and the jerks who stiffed them.
We were scraping by at the time and these two young boys were trying to make their own money by delivering papers.
Derek on the road
In theory, they should've been cleaning up because they each had big daily routes plus a weekly and they were pretty faithful in their efforts.
They came home from school early every afternoon and got up early on Sundays to make their deliveries.
They bundled and banded and counted and usually got most of their papers roughly out on time. (There were some days when it would be getting dark and we were still bundling or vacation days when they'd ask a friend to cover for them and we'd come home to find all the papers still sitting in our driveway. But that's another blog.)
My husband was getting brownie points for helping them as well. He'd climb out of bed every Wednesday morning to help Derek deliver the weekly and Marc is not an early morning person.
I was proud of their efforts and their diligence. I appreciated what they were learning about working hard and being consistent.
But I absolutely hated collection. No matter what we did, it was a nightmare.
Because The Daily Herald deemed these kids independent contractors they basically sold the kids the papers at a discount and then the kids got to keep whatever they collected over what they paid for the papers.
It worked out great for the Herald because there was little or no hassle on their end.
It didn't work out so good for us because it only took one or two deadbeats to defeat the system.
Most subscribers paid promptly when these two forlorn kids showed up on a winter's night but there were a few notorious people who either didn't answer the door, couldn't find their checkbook or insisted they'd already paid that month.
It was discouraging and it became an obsession of mine to see that these boys got their fair share of the money.
We'd go back and back. I'd keep detailed books.
Usually they broke even. Sometimes they made about $20 apiece.
Sometimes they lost money which was sad because I couldn't afford to take the hit for them.
So when I drive down 100 East, I still mentally tally it up.
There's Mrs. S. She rarely paid but she gave them cookies.
There's Mr. G. He was downright dishonest and never admitted he owed any money.
Mrs. W. was nice but flakey, sometimes she paid but mostly she didn't.
And on it goes.
You'd think I could let it go after so many years.
But you know...injustice to kids is just so very wrong.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My teacher is gone

I'm on Adell's speed dial and so lately I'm getting a lot of short but fascinating phone calls.
I picked one up just yesterday.
"Grandma?" said this sad little voice.
"Yes, this is grandma. Is this Adell?" I said.
"My teacher is gone," she stated. "My teacher is gone."
"What?" I asked. "Where did she go?" (I knew that her preschool teacher was having financial difficulties and facing a foreclosure but her mom hadn't been told her leaving was imminent.)
"She's gone. I went to her house and she was gone," she said again through tears.
"Oh, no!" I said. "So you don't have school anymore?"
"I have school," she insisted with 5-year-old logic. "But my teacher is gone!"
Seems that her teacher had packed up over the weekend and departed.
She didn't say goodbye. She didn't leave a treat. (She didn't refund the month's tuition she'd collected just days before.)
She is just gone.
All these little kids showed up Monday morning in their winter coats on the front steps and there was nothing but a cold, dark, house waiting for them.
The moms were all mad.
The kids were all sad.
And at least this one grandma is incensed.
How can a preschool teacher lady do something like this?
These sweet children loved their teacher. They'd come to depend on her and the things at her house.
They trusted her and counted her as a friend.
For her to just disapper without even a hug or a goodbye scene is deplorable.
Wish she was on my speed dial.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Taking a flying leap

I've asked my oldest daughter to take a flying leap.
And she's agreed although she admits the images of what she's agreed to do are keeping her up at night.
See, Marc and I want to do a travel feature on the new ride offered at the Stratosphere Casino in Las Vegas. It's called the SkyJump and it involves leaping 10 stories on a sort of bungee jump apparatus to the ground 855 feet or so below.
Kristy's sons have a national gymnastics competition in Vegas the first part of February so we offered to tag along.
Kristy the jetskier
As long as we're in Sin City we figured we could take advantage of the opportunity and photograph someone jumping off the top of the casino and write a story to go along with it.
We want to be sure we have a willing participant so we asked Kristy.
Kristy the runner
She's known for being a good sport and an adventurous girl. She was in  gymnastics as a girl and competed way up on those high bar things. She was a cheerleader in high school and college and because she was small and light, she was always the one at the top of the human pyramid or being tossed in the air on the helicopter moves. (She's now actually a mother of four and just a wee bit over 30 but it hasn't slowed her down.)
I mentioned it to her and she said, "Sure!"
Then I contacted the Stratosphere people and made the arrangements.
They wanted a name to go along with the reservation and some particulars like weight and health status, etc.
So I called Kristy to make certain she was on board.
"Uh, sure. I'll do it," she said, a little less enthusiastically than the first time she'd said yes. "Now, what is it?"
I briefed her on what I knew and gave her a picture of SkyJump's ad with a lady all trussed up and grinning.
"I've been having nightmares about this," Kristy said. "But I told you I would so I will."
She calmed down a little when I explained that she wouldn't be free-falling from 1,000 feet up. She'd be securely attached to a zipline that's anchored into the earth below.
Kristy the mom
Her husband got all excited and started making plans to buy a little video camera to attach to her so we could record whatever she said on the way down and get a visual of the ground coming up at her. (The company has vetoed that!)
Her children had various reactions from "Is mom gonna die?" to "Cool. Can I do it?"
Everybody in the family is getting excited about it and it may turn out to be a family journey to see her jump.
I'm interested to see how it turns out but I'll admit, I'm starting to have some nightmares myself.
This is my beautiful baby girl, after all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Harry Potter thingy

I finally got what I wanted for Christmas.
It arrived in the post yesterday from England, compliments of my son Derek and his British-born wife Helen who understood when I told them I wanted a toast rack.
Toast on parade
They have these all over Europe, little wire deally-whoppers that stack the toast.
I've wanted one since I first saw them the year we picked up my daughter from her mission in Scotland.
I searched the United States for one and never found what I wanted.
It was beyond Bed, Bath and Beyond's inventory.
The gift shops I purused hadn't a clue.
So when I mentioned it to Derek and Helen this past summer, they seemed amused.
I think it's a little like asking for a toilet-paper holder, not so grand a gift, more like a minor household accessory.
But they heard my plea and when I opened the battered and bruised package via the Royal Mail, there was a shiny, metal toast rack. (It had been lost for several weeks because it was addressed to the States rather than the USA.)
It's great.
I can now put my pieces of nicely buttered toast in the slots and set it on the table and add a European flavor to my breakfast meals.
When I showed it off to my daughter, she was nonchalant.
"Oh," she said, "A Harry Potter thingy!"
Apparently these have been in the Harry Potter movies all along, floating along over the banquet table in the Great Hall in Hogwart's.
I'm now on my way to check it out because I'd never noticed. How astute of the movie producers to recognize the value of these items.
That validates my need, right?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chatting with an English lad

My granddaughter Samantha has a half-brother an ocean away in England.
She's quite intrigued by the thought and when she met him this summer she fell in love with this 4-year-old charmer who speaks in the British mode.
So since it was her birthday Monday and we have newly discovered Skype, we arranged to make a long-distance call to Jack.
It was fairly complicated to figure out since Jack's parents really like this energetic little fellow to go to bed before he turns into an Attack Jack and there's a significant time difference between Utah and the United Kingdom.
To avoid keeping him up too late, we would need to call around noon and since Samantha was back in school we'd have to check her out for a lunchtime phoner.
Samantha liked that idea a lot.
Then we had to find a place for lunch in Spanish Fork where she lives that had free WiFi and drag along our computer and its camera.
The birthday girl
Enterprising grandparents that we are, we worked at the details.
Samantha's parents arranged for us to pick her up, ID in hand.
We drove to McDonald's for WiFi and fries since nobody really wanted lunch at McDonald's, just the Internet access. We needed the access, space and a cooperative Skype account.
It was a task but we did it!
On Jan. 3, Samantha's 11th birthday, at approxmately 12:05 p.m., she was talking from Spanish Fork in the US of A to a wee lad dressed in Buzz Lightyear robes in Cannock, England.
The birthday connection
They made an instant, renewed connection. Samantha was thrilled.
Jack too was delighted, alternately grinning at us, appearing and then disappearing from the screen to fetch another Christmas action figure to show us.
He even softly sang his big sister a birthday song, complete with the accent and the lilt.
It was a marvelous few minutes, something not even thought of a few years ago, something modern technology makes possible without an outrageous cost or having to involve an operator.
I don't know how it works or why but it doesn't matter.
To me, it's like getting on an airplane. Don't know why it works. Not sure it should but it's great.