Sunday, December 22, 2013

Full Mettle Jacket

Mettle:  vigor and strength of spirit or temperament; quality of
 temperament or disposition.

There is almost a tangible energy and magic in Manhatten.  The world is your oyster there and anything you could need or want is available within the concrete canyons of New York City.  Wandering the various districts gives you the opportunity to make discoveries; literally making your heart “skip” a beat.  Being a creative sort, I realize there are not just baubles, buttons, trinkets, embellishments, and trims.  There are entire streets of shops dedicated to baubles, buttons, trinkets, embellishments OR trims; it kind of makes my head spin.   My mind churns with possibility, creativity and ingenuity of that crazy and wonderful city….the sights, sounds, sirens, smells, the energy.  The goal of my visit to New York City was to infuse my creative side without any particular or specific agenda… just to come home inspired.  Inspired I was!

On Sunday morning, we jumped on the Subway before our return trip home and as the doors opened I heard a man speaking loudly to passengers in that car.  At first blush, I thought him to be some kind of delusional soul and I questioned for a moment if we were in a desirable or even a dangerous situation.  Through the outburst I wasn’t sure of the nature – friend or foe - and I momentarily considered backing out and trying another car.  As with subway doors, they leave little time for reconsideration and so they shut with no turning back.

Quickly I realized we were not in a dangerous situation . . . quite the opposite.   We were being preached to by a sweet and humble man in a suit, top hat, holding what appeared to be his well-worn scriptures.  This older gentleman was teaching a completely inattentive audience about becoming more like his Savior.  He suggested the possibility of a mighty change within us as we become more like Jesus Christ.  His message was drowned out by headphones, personal conversations and the deafening silence of indifference.

“If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it.”
Abraham Lincoln

What was it about this man that stopped me dead in my tracks on an ordinary Sunday morning in the city?  His message was not new to me and the object of his lesson familiar.  However, his delivery was nothing short of extraordinary.  This man was demonstrating for all that cared to observe the vigor and strength of his spirit or temperament.  He was not wearing his mettle as a badge, a pin, or even a vest.   In all his humility, he was wearing his mettle as a jacket for all to see.  There was nothing boastful, sanctimonious or attention seeking about his message or his delivery.  At the next stop, he paused, smiled and simply walked away with hardly any notice from those around him in that car.

There has always been a soft place in my heart for any individual who has the courage to live their convictions and set an example to the world.  It can be a lonely place.  It can be a harsh place.  It can be a place of persecution and ridicule.  However, it is a bold place and a place I, quite honestly, struggle to put myself.

I am paraphrasing the following from a talk given by Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley about leadership: “There is a sense of loneliness in living our convictions, but we have to live with ourselves.  A man must live with his conscience.    It was ever thus.  The price of leadership is loneliness.  The price of adherence to conscience is loneliness.  The price of adherence to principle is loneliness.  I think it is inescapable.  The Savior of the world was a Man who walked in loneliness.  I do not know of any statement more underlined with the pathos of loneliness than His statement; ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.’”  (Matthew 8:20)

One of the rich blessings of my life was to live in the tender shadow of a wonderful grandfather.  He, likewise, wore his mettle as a jacket for all the world to see.   He had been nicknamed the “grumpiest man alive” by a few, but beneath this tough exterior was one of the greatest examples of living personal convictions I have ever witnessed.  Perhaps that’s what happens to a man who walked across Europe and liberated Nazi prison camps—you get tough on the outside to protect the humanity on the inside.

Elwin Allred was not the most religious man nor was he the most gentle man.  He was however, the staunchest Republican there ever was.  He and I did not see eye to eye on everything.  As a teenager, I remember several times when he was picketing at a local grocery store or place of business against my friends’ parents who were politicians.  I was mortified at times in my youth as my friends questioned my grandfather’s motives.  Not only was he passionate, but he was extremely vocal about his beliefs.  He wrote what he coined “nasty” letters to the editor weekly during his adult life until he passed away.  He was the man that stood up in political conventions and shouted inappropriate comments about candidates.  Many times I shared the same indifference to his message as the passengers on that NYC subway car. 

As I matured, I began to see the value of his personal convictions.   Yet, my grandfather had one last lesson to teach me about his mettle as my grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and ultimately passed away.  He was a devoted and loving husband and had made a promise to her that he would never put her in an “Old Folks Home.”   When it became clear to the entire family that he could no longer care for her at home, a home was selected for her care.  To be true to his promise, he spent every day with her from the time she got up in the morning until she went to bed at night.  He would drive through a local fast food take out window daily where they would have a cheeseburger waiting for him and he would quickly return. 

After my grandma passed away, he visited her grave every single day, rain, shine, sleet or hail.  During the winter months in Cache Valley, Utah where he lived, it was not unusual to observe a well-worn path in the cemetery leading to her headstone through several inches of snow.  I am not sure I have ever seen such devotion before or since that time.

My grandfather, ornery old Elwin Allred wore a full mettle jacket.  He wore it proudly for all to see.  His intentions were certainly not for it to be seen, it just happened that way.  His motivations were of the purest form, they originated deep inside and radiated boldly outward.  My grandpa did things because he felt it was the right thing to do.  He never cared what others thought about him and was willing to stand alone with his conscience.  He fully embodied the bold and courageous.

At this time of year when we honor our Savior of the world and call his name Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace, we should ask ourselves how we will wear our own personal mettle.  Will we keep our convictions to ourselves or will we strive to share them with those around us in word, deed or example?  Our personal style may not be to preach in Subway cars or to stand and shout our beliefs in a political forum, but will we limit ourselves in our demonstration of personal strength and fortitude?  Will we carry our mettle as a pocket coin, a badge, a fleeting thought or will we have the courage to strive to wear a “Full Mettle Jacket?” 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

It Takes a Village....

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do
so much.”   ~ Helen Keller
This little gem of wisdom was vividly illustrated a few months ago as I tackled one of my bucket list goals - to climb a local mountain peak.  For the past twenty years I have lived in the shadow of the majesty of Mt. Olympus in the Salt Lake Valley.  The sun rises over Mt. Olympus each morning and the soft glow of the sunset gives it a surreal glow in the late afternoon.  I marvel at the bright green foliage, the brilliant leaves of fall or the contrast of a fresh winter snow against the granite rocky peaks with each passing season.  Yet, in spite of looking at it in complete awe almost every day of my life, I have never taken the opportunity to hike to the top. 
Over the years I have heard many accounts of hikers who have taken on the Mount Olympus challenge and it was no surprise to me that it would be a challenging hike.  Since I am in my fifties, my window for this endeavor is narrowing and I decided 2013 was going to be the year.  I guess you could say that not many among my peers have Mt. Olympus on their bucket list.  However, I run with a wonderful group of women with young, adventurous and determined spirits.  When I mentioned my desire, I had a few takers.  We all had the desire but figured we had let that opportunity pass.  While mentioning our plans to family and friends, we had a variety of responses from: “go for it,”  “you know that is really steep,’  “are you going all the way to the top?”  “be sure to take your phone” and probably our biggest motivator was “you are too old.” 
Our group comprised of four--each being grandmothers and all in our fifties and sixties.  It was a beautiful summer morning and we watched the sun rise and light the valley floor as we made our way up the west face.  We were full of anticipation and excitement.  I guess we all started with an expectation or our own personal agenda.  Mine was to go as far as I felt comfortable and safe.  I didn’t need to die climbing this thing or even do something dangerous that I was not equipped or trained to do. 

The hike is about four miles up to the peak of 9,026 feet.  There is a well defined trail ascending 4,100 vertical feet over 3.75 miles to a saddle.  The last stretch requires boulder scrambling to get to the peak.  There are several rescues each year on this trail and it has been reported that while the trail is well defined going up, it is easy to get lost coming down.  The hike is not technical and many people do it every day.  However, occasionally I see an obituary where a hiker has fallen climbing on Mt. Olympus.  With all that said, and not knowing exactly what to expect, I had what I thought were realistic expectations.  I am a reasonable person and not inclined to do anything crazy.  If I even got to the saddle where I could look into the next valley I would be satisfied, I told myself. 


People were not kidding when they said it was steep.  It was steep and long and hot.  However, we run marathons so we are strong and have trained ourselves to work through fatigue.  As we got close to the saddle, we met a family coming down.  They had children who were about 10 and 12 years old.  The mother told us that the boulder scrambling at the top is their favorite part.  There was a spark of consideration of going all the way that entered my mind at that moment.  A mother would not put her young children in a dangerous situation, would she?  Instead of telling myself I would go to the saddle and be satisfied, my new mantra was I will keep going as far as I feel like it is safe and then be satisfied.

Along the way a group of hikers from Texas scurried past us.  As we got to the saddle and relished in our accomplishment, I noticed the young Texans scaling up the side of the mountain peak.  There was absolutely no way I was going to do that.  The saddle is where I would stay.  Everyone else could do what they wanted but I was perfectly content to wait in the shade of the pines and take in the view of two different valleys.  One of the women said, “I didn’t come all this way to not go to the top.”  She had a point.

By going further, I was still staying within my new mantra.  I could see the trail for a distance and it still looked very reasonable.   After a short distance we approached a part of the trail where the trail was less defined because it became very rocky.  At that moment a man came up from behind and pointed the way we should go.  He reassured us that it was not difficult.  It was, however, tricky climbing the rocks because to was necessary to assess each foothold to propel you up.  However, it still felt okay to me.  If we fell, we would only fall the height of one big rock – not a big deal.  No one would plummet to their death.  One of our friends got very nervous and thought she was not going to be able to go on.  This kind man encouraged her up each and every step.  He showed her where to put her feet and where to pull with her hands.  He told her she could do it and talked her through it until she made it. 

At this point I turned around to watch my friend and my fear of heights gave me a huge reminder of its hold on me.  It is not a debilitating fear, but I have it none the less and it can turn me into jelly in an instant.  From this moment on fear took over.  Even though I could see going to the top was certainly within my reach, I was terrified to go back down this one particular spot.  It looked like a sheer cliff from where I was standing.  My stomach churned and I felt a little nauseous.  I was no longer enjoying the experience. 

We scrambled over giant granite boulders as we made our way to the top.  It is difficult to describe feeling like you are on top of the world.  Standing on a cluster of rocks looking down in every direction is a pretty awesome feeling.  I had done it!  I had climbed to the top; quivering with fear about getting back down, but I had done it nonetheless.  Or so I thought.  The nice man we were with said, “you can’t stop now.  You need to go to that other peak because it is about fifty feet higher and you should sign your name in the mailbox that is there.”  I was actually considering not going because I was so overcome with fear that all I wanted to do was get down.


“Good is the enemy of Great” ~ Jim Collins

The thought that kept ringing in my head was that we had not come all this way not to go to the top.  I was certainly not going to go down without signing that register.  Sign the register and get back down!  Unfortunately, that is all I could think about.  There was a marvelous experience to be had from that vantage point on the top of the world.  It was peaceful, it was grand, there were the most beautiful butterflies flying all around that peak.  Who even knew that butterflies could fly that high?  The air was cool, the valley clear.  I had just accomplished something far beyond what I had imagined.  My name and the name of my friends are forever written in the log at the top.  Yet, my experience was shrouded in fear; the fear of descending past one tiny spot that did not look dangerous going up but looking back became horrifying. 

As we approached the dreaded spot I had worried about the entire time I was standing on the peak, I decided to approach it like a crab and scramble down it.  I was down in about one minute with the greatest of ease.  Are you kidding me?  I just wasted one of the great adventures of my life worrying about that?  I tried desperately to remember how elated I would have felt and how peaceful it could have been if only my mind and stomach were not overwhelmed with pure terror. 

Those extra fifty feet were the difference between good and great.  How close I came to being satisfied with good when great was just a few more steps, and for me a few more anxious moments to get to the "top" of the top.  How often do we stop just short of great?  I would venture to say that quite often the difference between good and great is not vast even though we often feel like we can’t take one more step.  Sometimes, it can be one more try or ten more minutes, a few more attempts or just hanging in there a little bit longer.  In this case “great” felt significantly better than “good.”  There are no words to even describe the difference or the sense of pride I feel and will forever feel by that last small push.

It is quite clear I will need to do this hike one more time.  My wish is to experience the summit free of the jitters; with the confidence and peace that such an endeavor deserves.   While we descended the mountain, we processed the experience as a group and realized that each contributed something important to accomplishing this goal.  It took one to vocalize the desire, others to commit and join as none of us would have done this alone.  We were encouraged to go beyond perceived limits by a cute young family.  Likewise, the group may have been tempted to stop at the saddle without the adventurous spirit of one.   We all may not have made it without the encouragement of a stranger at a critical moment and our path may not have been clear without his direction and prior experience.  I certainly would not have gone on the extra fifty feet to sign the register without his insistence.

It clearly takes a village, a group or a congregation for us to go beyond where we can take ourselves.  Each of us has strengths to offer and share with others at times that are critically necessary.  Likewise, in our own humanity we can benefit from the encouragement, talents and strengths of others.  We take turns being the giver and the receiver as we forge ahead in this experience we call mortality.  There is a power that cannot be denied in surrounding ourselves with people that elevate us and encourage us to step outside ourselves to improve.

“Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers.  Pray for powers equal to your tasks.  Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” ~ Phillips Brooks.  I would go so far as to say that often the powers to help us equal our tasks come from the help, example and encouragement of others.  This is the great miracle of life--synergy develops as we assist and support one another along the way. 

I am reminded of a truth through this experience that is written so beautifully by Maya Angelou, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."  I don't remember exactly what was said or done to inspire us on a hot summer's day in July, but I will never forget the empowerment I felt through friends and complete strangers who helped me not only accomplish a goal, but exceed it ten-fold.  Now, as I look out my window and drive to and from my home in the shadow of Mt. Olympus and marvel at its beauty each and every day, I become breathless for one tiny moment knowing that my name is in the mailbox at the top.  Mt. Olympus, I will never forget you.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Opportunity Knocks.....

Several months ago while cleaning out and purging my closet I ran across some jewelry that had belonged to my mother-in law.  Amidst some vintage style costume jewelry was a pin that caught my eye.   The small gold pin reads “Just Say No”.  Merlyn J. Wright passed away almost twenty years ago, so this pin is at least that many years old.  Wait a minute!  Are you telling me that women and mothers had this problem a generation ago?  I thought the dilemma of being overtaxed, overburdened and spread incredibly thin was more of a contemporary issue.  Back in those days there were no super leagues, club teams, dance or gymnastic teams that make you sign a waiver relinquishing any type of personal or family life.  I don’t recall competitions in other counties, let alone other states.  I never had summer camps, games or tournaments that involved airline travel and chaperones. 

Sometimes my kids sarcastically ask me questions about my youth wondering if we had T.V. or garage door openers.  Really?  Of course we did, I am not quite that ancient.  However, I am sitting here wondering if PTA, room mothers or school fundraising coordinators even existed in those days?  What about swimming or tennis lessons that ran for just two weeks during the summers of our youth and not the year-round lessons  of today?  Life was simple back then, wasn’t it?  Didn’t kids just go to school, play the sport that was in season, have an after school job and do a little bit of homework after sitting around the family dinner table eating a carefully prepared tuna casserole?    If our mother’s needed pins that said “Just Say No”, apparently we need something on the scale of a billboard or a flashing neon marquis mounted on our front porch that says “Hell No.”  “Just Say No” seems like child’s play in comparison between the demands on women and mothers from that generation to this.

My mind wanders back to a conversation I had with a fellow volunteer for the District “Reflections” competition I was involved with during the 1990’s.  “Reflections” is a school program promoting the arts in elementary schools.  Children submit writing, artwork, photography, etc. and are judged on a local, district, state and even a national level.  This mother and I were discussing how we had come to be volunteers in that program with otherwise very busy lives.  Her comment to me was that she was taught by her parents never to turn down an opportunity.    By refusing an opportunity, she believed she would be shortchanging the possibility for learning and personal growth.    

Although I fundamentally disagree with her willingness to take on anything asked of her, I have struggled with the dilemma of opportunity versus balance.  By saying yes to everything, we are allowing outside forces to control our lives based strictly on the needs of others.  This seems like the tail wagging the dog.  Those requests from others take no consideration for our family, our routine or a desire to live with purpose by thoughtfully setting and achieving personal and family goals.  

On the other hand, there is some food for thought on being open to opportunities that come our way.  Declining things that seem challenging, time consuming, yet potentially worthwhile because we are busy doing mundane things would not ultimately be in our best interest either.  So often we are caught up in the “thick of thin things.”  Due to the fact that I am a multi-tasker, it is easy for me to get over programmed where some reprioritization might be the answer.  I often feel conflicted with choices like this.

There is a valuable argument for both sides of this coin.   Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”  William James wrote that “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he had failed.”  The notions of accepting whatever responsibilities that come to us regardless of ability, available time, or even desire are reinforced by opportunities to serve in my church.   Do we allow room for God’s will for us as we wrestle with the acceptance of opportunities that come our way?  Quite often I am asked to serve in a capacity where I feel inadequate or ill prepared.  It is after those particular months and years of service that I experience a level of personal growth that was unimaginable at the onset. 

 Balance on the other hand is proactive and an exercise in boundaries, limits and discretion.  We must strive for balance in our work, in relationships, in our families and with ourselves or we do nothing well.  There will always be more need in the world than we have energy, resources or time to fill.  Yet balance is not constant.  Balance is motion.  It is fluid and always changing to adapt to new circumstances, demands and people.  We are the only ones that can decide how opportunity, balance and harmony can co-exist in our world.  This begs the question about where I stand – to act or be acted upon.  Maybe it is not that black or white; maybe there is a very wide section of gray in between.  True balance does not exist in the world and we should not expect that we can always have that perfect blend ourselves.  

On June 24, 2013, Nik Wallenda walked 1500 feet across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.  As crazy as it sounds, he does not consider himself a daredevil.  Nik was raised on the rope and has a lifetime of practice with countless variables and situations.  He achieved that monumental Grand Canyon walk not because he defies gravity or because he is careless with his life.  Nik is a husband and a father of three children.  He achieved that incredible balance because he made small, incremental adjustments along the way as he perceived imbalance in the wind, the rope, his movements, etc.  Creating balance is our way of using our inner strength, flexibility and tenacity to make something out of imbalance.

Russell M. Ballard made an observation about balance.  “Simply said Balance is acquired internally and reflected outward…it is never the other way around.  The answer is simple –the balance we all seek is within ourselves.  It is important to allow ourselves some time in our busy schedules to unwind and clear our minds, even if it is only five or ten minutes a day, because this is where we begin to understand what we need from ourselves to reach mental steadiness or emotional stability.”

When it is all said and done, I don’t think it matters which generation we come from or what our responsibilities consist of.  We all must work on balance and harmony in our own situations as we try to achieve goals we have for ourselves while leaving the possibility for opportunities that are congruent with all we strive to accomplish.  This means that we do not have to say yes because we are capable and there is a need.  There will always be a need and quite frankly, there are others as capable as we are that may need an opportunity to serve and grow. 

From time to time we all need to reprioritize our lives, our responsibilities and our desires as we examine our need for growth and flexibility.  Our response should not be given immediately.  Our answer should come after some contemplation and soulful evaluation.  Any decision that is worth our effort is also worth the time it takes to examine its place in our world.  Balance need not be rigid or predictable.  Yet careful assessment will help us make those adjustments that will keep us on the wire as we accept or decline potential opportunities.

My hunch is that even Nik Wallenda would say that too many variables requiring too many adjustments all at once could result in a deadly fall.  We too walk a tightrope, of sorts, and must follow Nik’s example of taking on only as much as we have the ability to handle.  We owe ourselves and our families adequate time to assess “Just Say Yes” or “Just Say No.”

photo credits

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Reach of One...

Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or for evil, - the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life.  ~ William George Jordan, “The Power of Personal Influence”

I think it is fair to say that most of us try to use our talents, abilities and passions for the betterment of society.  That seems to be particularly the case when it comes to those within the circles of our influence.  Yet, doesn't it seem rare that we are  blessed with the chance to see how such efforts might make a positive difference in someone’s life?  Most often we carry on because it feels like the right thing to do whether we are noticed, praised or even thanked for our efforts.  However, from time to time we may ask ourselves if what we do really matters to anyone:   "Are my efforts really making a difference?"

History is full of examples and legends of how one person has changed the world.  Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, the Founding Fathers of this nation all brought individual talents to the drawing board before they were collectively acted upon by others.  These individuals inspire us and give us hope that we all possess a certain intrinsic power to initiate change.  Yet, in reality, there are not many of us who will be listed in textbooks as being a person who changed the course of history.

I love the empowering quote by Robert F. Kennedy that says, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events.  It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

A tiny ripple of hope.  One single idea.  An outward demonstration of compassion.  Those ideals are born in the minds of one single individual.  History has proved that we can originate change. The examples of others demonstrate that the possibility exists to make a mighty difference in our own little spheres of influence.  As individuals, we can initiate tiny ripples with the potential to become roaring currents.  There is much  that needs to be done at the global level, but there is also much to do within our own families, neighborhoods and communities.    

Recently, I have become aware of some seemingly small actions by a couple of individuals, the results of which were are impactful.  My daughter-in-law shared a copy of an essay written by one of the young men our son Chase has the privilege of serving in our church.  This young boy had a school assignment to describe someone who is a role model to him.  He wrote a piece about Chase and described the amount of time spent on his behalf and the effort made to teach, guide and nurture him and the other boys in his group. 

Hans Rosin of Revere, MA writes, "Although I’m surrounded by loving and caring people every day of my life that I’m thankful for, what sets Chase apart from everyone else is his determination, courage, and his Will of Fire.  Every day he inspires me to become a better person just like he is. I want to be someone who brings a smile to the faces of those around me. Someone others depend on for advice and guidance, but most of all I want to be as good as him in basketball.  I want to be a Man who lives up to be as dignified and righteous as Chase."

So often you hear about the scout leader who is given a run for his money year after year after year and he must wonder if there are any good “fruits of his labors.”  Yet, once in a while you get an indicator, such as this essay, to show that your efforts to reach out and share your talents and abilities with others is worth it. .  . maybe, just maybe you are making a difference for good.

Another example of how broad the scope of our influence can be is reflected in the small gestures of a sweet 100 year-old woman known fondly as "Grandma Miller."  Grandma Miller was born one of nine children in Mayfield, Utah in 1912.  She spent most of her life raising her own five children in Venice, Utah where education, music and a strong sense of family were her focus.  Living in a rural setting did not hamper her desire for her and her children to have great opportunities for learning.  She learned from an early age to develop her talents,  to serve others and  to cultivate her intelligence.  She continues to focus on those things to this day.

Grandma Miller lost her husband a few years ago and now lives with her daughter in Salt Lake City.  Because of her age, it is difficult for her to get out much and yet surprisingly, she will still go on an occasional family camping trip and she attends a few concerts and events with the aid of her walker.  She reads the daily newspaper, watches the news and crochets scrubbies. 

For those of you that have never had the pleasure of washing dishes with a Grandma Miller scrubby, you are missing out.  She does not just make a scrubby from time to time; she makes scores of scrubbies every week.  Her daughter reports that she buys a hundred yards of netting at a time and hopes it will keep her busy for a month.  These are small gifts of love.  It is her way of contributing to those who know and love her and to many who have never met her.

A few months ago, my husband and I took a trip to Nepal with three other couples to do some humanitarian work.  In my suitcase were approximately one hundred Grandma Miller scrubbies.  These colorful little gifts of love were passed out to women in the villages where we worked.  The women’s faces lit up when we gave them this little gift and their eyes widened when we told them they were made by a one hundred year old American woman. 

Who would have thought that this sweet 100 year-old woman's scrubbies would bring smiles to the faces of dozens of female villagers in rural Nepal?  In fact, not only have they been passed out in Nepal but they have been distributed over the years throughout the Middle East and to missionaries serving in Switzerland.  One woman, one idea, worldwide distribution.  Get the picture? 


“You don’t have to be a person of influence to be influential.  In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.”  ~Scott Adams

Our efforts need not be grandiose, and we should never think because they do not seem significant, they are not important or needed.  The focus should always remain on sharing whatever gifts we have; our smile, our encouragement, our belief in others, our knowledge, our brawn, our ideas, our passions.  We should never be tempted to underestimate the power or momentum of a single idea originating from one individual.  The possibilities are endless and the truth of it is that we may never know how far reaching our influence has or will become.  Whether a ripple, wave, current or even a tidal wave, it all begins within.

Whether we see the how far the ripple might carry is not important.  What is important is tossing the pebble into the pond, or making one more scrubby or unwittingly being a positive role model. 

Besides all that, knowing the full extent of our influence would probably create the wrong reason for doing it in the first place.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Scrapbook Paper Camp Journals

In preparation for my responsibilities as a leader for Girl’s Camp this summer, I worked on making some Camp Journals for the girls to record their thoughts, set some goals, and document their experiences.  I made the journals out of scrapbook paper and they turned out nicely.  My experience of sewing only on fabric, I was not sure how difficult it would be to sew on paper and was pleasantly surprised how easily they came together.  Since I have been looking on the internet for ideas myself, I thought it only fair to share this idea with others.

A few things to consider:

The thicker, double sided scrapbook paper seems to be more sturdy as you sew pages together.

I used blue painters tape (pressed very lightly) to hold some of the papers together while I stitched them to keep the papers from sliding.

Just as with fabric, I backstitched at the beginning and end of each seam.


Front and back – cut on paper 9 ½” H X 12” W

Inside pocket – cut paper 4 ½” H X 12” W

Outside flap – cut paper 3 ½” W X 9 ½” H

Strip for flap – cut paper 1” W X 9 ½” H

Elastic – cut 12 ½”


Sew strip on the left side of the flap.

Line up inside pocket with wrong sides together.  Stitch sides and bottom. 

Place inside pocket side down and line up flap on the left side of paper.  This flap will fold over the right side of the journal.  Overlap about ½”.  Secure with blue tape if necessary.  Stitch two rows to secure.  Sew elastic in the center of the flap seam (make sure that elastic is not twisted.)

Fold the book in half (half meaning the 12” paper only –not including the flap.  Six inches is the front of the book and 6 inches is the back.)  The flap folds across the front of the journal.

Fold regular copy paper in half.  Line up the folded line of the paper with the folded line of the journal.  Center the top and bottom and stitch the paper in place.

The inside of the journal has a handy pocket for notes, handouts, etc.

 Pair these journals up with stick pencils and it is the perfect combination for campers.

photo image:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Traditions - Love them or leave them....

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”  ~  W. Somerset Maughan

There is no sight more welcome than flowering branches, beds of daffodils and tulips, and trees bursting forth with bright green leaves after a season of rest.  From the time I was young mother, springtime has been the time for certain traditions for which my children have grown accustomed.  Traditions originating from very fond memories of cooking and baking projects during the Easter season with my mother and sisters.

For many years we have made divinity and peanut butter candy in the spring to share with neighbors, family and friends.  Some years we have found success, other years we have cooked up one batch of failure after another.  Notes are continually made of what worked well and what didn’t.  Humor seems to be the one required ingredient in our recipe for family fun and tradition.  If we remember the humor, it does not matter if our candies are the best ever or the worst flop.  Regardless of outcome or level of hilarity, the activity has been considered a success.  Success, that is measured only by the anticipation of my children to try once again to make our candy confections the next year.  It makes me smile that a few failures over time have not clouded their enthusiasm.  To be honest, the past few years our candies have actually turned out pretty well and sometimes we are not even sure why.  I spent several years as a caterer, but a candy maker - I am not.  That is an art that I have never acquired. 

Of all that life has to offer, there is not much in all its fullness that brings me more joy than gathering together in the kitchen with the warm smells of candy making and baking; working side by side as family and friends to create something that is not only delicious, but beautiful as well.  Ideas flow about how to make variations on old favorites and everyone gets involved with the process resulting in a completely different finished product from the candies that came before. 

My husband and I were traveling during the Easter season this year and my oldest daughter had an Easter dinner for other “Easter orphans.”  She sent us photos of her creations that she made and served.  This particular cake has always been one of our traditional family favorites.  The cake, as she presented it, made such a lasting impression on me because she took an old family favorite and gave it a wonderful and creative splash of her own personality.  My daughter is a florist and she views the world in a colorful and beautiful way. She took this multi-generational tradition and made it her own.  This has given me pause to consider the importance of tradition in my life and the sense of belonging that having traditions brings to me and my family.

Not everyone in the world shares my fondness for traditions.  The internet is full of negative thoughts on the subject.  To consider anything traditional would be taking on all the trappings of suffocation and lack of original thought.  Many assert that a free thinker would never consider any traditions from family, culture or society.  In the connotation of being completely bound by the traditions of others, the above quote by Maughan, "tradition is a guide and not a jailer," would definitely be considered a “jailer.” 

Yet in all fairness, America was born out of the notion that moving forward would be without the trappings and restrictions of previous old world traditions.  Much of the world’s progress has been due to the courage to deviate from previous and established ways.  A recent trip to Nepal illustrated to me, a culture so bound by tradition that there has been very little progress over hundreds of years.

Yet agreeing with all the above, I can’t help but feel slightly betrayed by complete and utter disregard for traditions.  I feel a great need to defend and champion ideas that have been passed down and entrusted to us by those who came before.  It is through traditions that we have a sense of belonging to a family, community and culture.  We feel rooted and grounded by those nurturing feelings of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.  Throwing traditions to the wind is a decisive maneuver to prefer to "reinvent the wheel" in most situations.  There must be some kind of balance; and I guess that is what we all need to decide for ourselves – just how and where that line between what we hold onto and where we let go for personal and societal growth and progress.

“A love of tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril; but the new view must come, the world must roll forward.”  ~  Winston Churchill

My daughter’s beautiful cake was the perfect balance of taking hold of the old, the familiar, the cherished and making it her own.  Tradition can be a guide; it can illuminate the way for us to carry on giving us the ballast of family ties and support to keep us centered.  However, it need not bind us and tether us to the past or to a present that does not allow for progress or positive change.  We continually hear of individuals that so desperately want to belong to something that they cohort with groups, gangs and individuals that bring much destruction into their lives.

My heart is grateful for the traditions of my ancestors and my family.  My sense of self is grounded by the lessons learned from their experiences and their lives.  I cherish the traditions of my faith and the instruction to learn and test for myself the teachings offered.  My life is rich because of the traditions my husband and I have adopted and passed on to our children and even richer watching them save, alter and create traditions for themselves to enhance their own lives and relationships.  Sure, there are some traditions and family patterns we chose to leave behind, but many things we chose to love and invite to linger.

Italian Cream Cake

2 c. sugar

½ c. shortening

1 c. buttermilk

2 c.  coconut

1 t. vanilla

½ c. butter

5 eggs, separated

1 t. soda

1 c. chopped pecans

2 c. flour

In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, shortening and butter.  Add egg yolks one at a time mixing thoroughly between each one.  Add soda to buttermilk.  Add buttermilk mixture and flour alternately to the creamed sugar mixture.  Fold in vanilla, pecans and coconut.  Also fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Pour into 3 layer cake pans with waxed paper liner, greased and floured.  Bake 325 degrees for 25-30 min.



4 – 5 cups powdered sugar

½ c. butter

1 8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 t. vanilla

Blend together and beat until smooth and good spreading consistency. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

LESS is so much more!!!!

“No man has a right to monopolize more than he can enjoy.”

~ Percy Blythe Shelley

Occasionally, we learn lessons over a period of time.  As more information is gathered, digested and pondered, there is a progression of thought that brings us to some type of logical conclusion and from time to time, an epiphany.  This type of progressive lesson began for me in the second half of 2012.  As long summer days gave way to the chill of fall, it became necessary to transition my summer wardrobe from my cramped closet to accommodate cooler temperatures and the emergence of winter.   
In pulling things from tightly packed racks, I realized there were items that had been completely overlooked during the summer because they were buried behind the sheer volume of “things” and could not be seen.  (I am giving the impression that my closet is large, which it is not.) However, the way it was originally designed created a fair amount of dead space in the corners making it difficult to see what was there.  About the same time I started this project, I ran across the quote by Percy Shelley in a magazine.  How much can one really enjoy and what does enjoy really mean?  Does enjoy mean to like, or is it deeper; such as things we use over and over and over because they are dear to us?  These questions took root and floated around in my mind for days.  Simplicity rang true to my senses reminding me it is probably impossible to thoroughly “enjoy things” that cannot even be seen.

Making things visible seemed like a reasonable place to start.  It was at that moment that my “Less is More” campaign of the past year or so transitioned to “If I Can’t See It, I Don’t Need It.”  Without hesitation, I pulled two clothing rods from my closet and decided that even with less space to hang my clothes, I probably couldn’t wear all the things on the two rods that remained.  Only things that I “really like” and that “really fit” could go into my newly downsized closet.  The rest was donated to various charities. 

A similar dilemma existed with a bulging bin of scarves, a pile of shoes and a box of tangled costume jewelry.  How can I enjoy things or remember to wear things I cannot even see?  My jewelry was soon organized onto a framed piece of corkboard and bracelets and necklaces were hung on a board mounted with drawer pulls from my favorite store, Anthropology.  I could see every pair of earrings and every necklace.  Scarves were sorted, folded and stacked in a shoe organizer.  Suddenly I could see every single thing that was in my closet.  A sense of pride was felt with my streamlined and organized space.  I now felt like I was on my way to following Shelley’s challenge to not monopolize more than I can enjoy.  What began as a closet organizaation endeavor (or so I thought), took a sharp turn to the right. 


Recently I took a trip to Nepal to participate in a dental humanitarian project in the rural Lamjung district.  After our initial arrival into Kathmandu, we spent a few days recovering from some long flights before heading into the villages.  My husband and I walked the streets in the very early morning because we were still wrestling with another time zone.  On the dusty streets of Kathmandu, before the city woke to the crazy chaos of vendors, traffic and noise, I noticed a young boy sorting through garbage with his bare hands.  He was pulling out all the organic garbage; watermelon rinds, pieces of tomato, bread scraps, etc.  Third world countries have many elements that assault our sensitivities and this was one of them.  I could not get this little boy off my mind and will forever remember those beautiful big, brown eyes and that precious brown little hand sorting through the wet garbage from the streets. 

The next morning I saw the same little boy with his parents once again sorting not only wet and smelly, organic garbage but cardboard, glass, etc. and placing it on a large cart.  My hope is that there is a sorting system in Kathmandu providing some kind of revenue for this sweet family.  The alternative is too heartbreaking to even consider.  Regardless of the reason for collecting and sorting the garbage, this young boy was actively participating in the very survival of his family.  Suddenly my “If I Can’t See It, I Don’t Need It” mantra seemed incredibly selfish and unreasonable.  What do I give to those in need?  Do I only toss away my scraps?    I have so much that I hold onto that I don’t need, wear or use.  What am I waiting for?  I have kept countless things for a variety of reasons that someone could have been using.  Countless things have never or hardly been worn or used.  Instead they have been hanging in that black hole in my closet or tucked away in a box taking space season after season. 

Paring down my possessions to things I can “see”, is merely justification to keep far more of those possessions than I can really “enjoy.”  Suddenly I had a new definition for the word "enjoy."  To be allowed to have as much as can be enjoyed is really quite generous.  To have more, borders on gluttony.  Therein lies the challenge for a society with abundance and a people whose habits include acquisition of personal possessions and consumption of goods. 

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.  ~  Franklin D. Roosevelt

Working with some of God’s most humble children, gave me clarity in the way I live my life, accumulate things I have convinced myself I need and cast off the things I don’t. My pockets, my closets, my pantries are deep in many respects both literally and figuratively. There is much that I can give and donate to those who, as Shelley suggested would love the opportunity to thoroughly "enjoy" them. 
photo credit - House Beautiful Magazine