Sunday, March 24, 2013

Helle - what???

“Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.”  ~John Morley

As snow melts and winter begins to turn to spring we usually take an assessment of trees, bushes, and perennials in our surroundings to see what survived the winter, especially this year with the unusual amount of snow and the cold temperatures.  A few days ago, I walked through my yard looking for signs of life.  My tulips and daffodils are just “barely” starting to raise their drowsy heads to make their presence known.  However, to my great surprise the hardy little perennials I planted last year were already budding, just shy of bursting into bloom in my otherwise dormant yard. 

Flowers are one of nature’s greatest gifts.  I have spent many hours planting, growing, cultivating, transplanting, and studying about flowers.  Some suggest that flowers have a language that can communicate happiness, peace, love, and even sorrow.    Just letting the names of flowers roll off my tongue brings a bit of joy to my soul.  Daffodils… sounds happy; Honeysuckle….yummy;  Lavender…delicately  French; Jasmine…little flower, big fragrance; Peony…grandiose; Lotus…exotic; Belles of Ireland…prickly, but regal; Tea Roses…exquisite;  Hellebore….what????  Hellebore, what kind of name is Hellebore?  That name does not suggest beauty.  The name does not roll off your tongue like dripping honey.   It is a terrible name that sticks in your throat like a pincushion.  It does not make you feel happy or inspired.  Flowers have botanical Latin names and many of them have undesirable Latin names such as “Digitalis” but have been given improved common names like “Foxglove.”  The only name change from the Latin genus name “Helleborus” is to “Hellebore” – not really much of an improvement!  What happened during this process of identification and making the formal, less formal?  Okay, this name is not worthy of such a beautifully delicate and resilient flower.    

When we talk about the relevancy of names or labels that we use to identify or categorize, we have to ask what really is in a name or a label?  We give things names and labels all the time but do those names really reflect the content and depth and beauty of its namesake?  Is a name or label truly to identify or do we use this method in negative ways to put down and demoralize others?  “The line between labeling for the purpose of providing information and labeling for the purpose of marginalizing others can be subtle,” says  D. Gordon Smith of the J. Reuban Clark Law School.  Giving something or someone a name or a label is usually done because of a particular incident or fleeting behavior.  Names and labels can stick for a very long time; sometimes a lifetime.   In a moment of conflict, poor judgment, or struggle, labels can not only be negative but very limiting.  Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that, “Name- calling and labeling are forms of judgment, and the problem with judgment is its finality.”  Once a label or name is given, there is little room for one to grow or evolve and since we all change and evolve almost continuously, labels are static and do not change as we do.

Since we all are imperfect and flawed mortals but blessed with infinite potential, labeling others or allowing the names and labels others attach to us to hold us back, defeats the gifts of hope, encouragement, inner strength and power given to us by a Living God.  Our hope is to live in a sufficiently nurturing environment that we can continually change, grow and improve, and afford that opportunity to others as well.   Labeling should be for cans and file folders and not people. 

“The temptation to label is ever present.  Labeling shrinks our capacity for genuine understanding of and love for the people involved.”  ~ Ann Madsen

The little perennials thriving in my backyard are Hellebore plants.  They are the first flowers on the scene in the spring.  As a cut flower, they are the longest lasting of all the other flowers in my yard.  Unlike people, they are not held back, nor are they incapacitated by their name.  They do not cower, make excuses, wither, shrink or fade into the background.  They are bold, resilient, strong, subtle, yet lovely, in spite of the name that humankind has given them.  Hellebores are my botanical heroes.   Like the Hellebore, I want to stand tall and not cower under labels others attach to me, nor do I want to limit others with silly, limiting or negative labels.  That would be a Hellev – a way to be!!!   

A few years ago I walked through the Brooklyn Artist’s Brownstone Home Tour in NYC and visited a townhouse owned by a brilliant artist.  One of the most clever things I saw was demonstrated by his use of flowers, greenery, sticks, etc. from his own yard to beautify his home.   Small votive candle containers were filled with flowers, flowering branches, ivy, herbs, etc. and were placed around the home.  They adorned the mantles, were placed on nightstands, in windowsills and in bathrooms.  It was such a simple and yet wonderful way to bring the beauty of the outdoors inside.  I was so inspired by this simple use of readily available and beautiful flowers that upon arriving home, I vowed to make ten of these little arrangements each week and bring them inside to brighten my surroundings.  Obviously, this has not happened every week, but I often make a few when my yard is bursting with lovely things.  It makes me happy and I hope by sharing this simple idea will, in turn, make you happy.  Today, in my small arrangement is my shining star – the Hellebore.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Of Mice and Minds

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  ~Albert Einstein

A few nights ago while having a conversation with my daughter we discussed how often thoughts enter our minds that seem to catch us off guard.  Occasionally, they come out of nowhere and can jilt us off our axis for a time.  My advice to her was that while we cannot always control the destructive thoughts that enter our minds, we certainly can decide how long we will allow them to stay.  As damaging as thoughts and ideas can be, we are not powerless against them and certainly do not have to be incapacitated by their invasive and uninvited nature. 

My mind wandered back a few years to a yearly cheer fundraiser of my daughter's high school squad.  From early spring until the garage sale in late August, we collected, stored, sorted and endured an  accumulation of “stuff” (I am being kind) from anyone who had anything to spare, give away or salvage from the donation heap.  Our garage yielded its purpose of storing and protecting our vehicles to, in turn, storing and protecting this “less than precious stuff.”  As is the case with accumulated items from cellars, basements, garages and sheds, there are oft-times unwanted and uninvited pests transported in tow.  During the wee hours of one summer morning I saw a mouse run from my food pantry and dodge under my refrigerator.  It took me less than ten seconds to realize this rodent party was over!!!  I could not help that they had been brought in with old sofas, chairs and boxes but I certainly decided right then and there how long they would stay in my home.

Experts were promptly called in, crevices were plugged and a variety of traps were set.  The evidence of these rodents became increasingly clear in broom closets, pantries and enclosed spaces.  We were mortified and disgusted by their presence in our home.  There was nothing more graphic or dramatic than when a trap snapped shut on a screaming little mouse (yes, it was screaming) while having a dinner party.  Our guests were horrified and needless to say, we all lost our appetites.  This is not the only vivid memory of rodent infestations I have had over the years.  As a child I remember going into our basement to get the fruitcake for our Christmas Eve celebration only to find a hole bored completely through it from a mouse.  Incidently, not an enormous loss in my opinion.  We had the leather seats of a recreational vehicle completely torn to shreds by mice while being stored during the off-season to reach a single peanut.  Why are they so pervasive, filthy and destructive and how in the world do they get through the tiniest of spaces to get where they are going?

There are not many of us that would allow these rodents to nest in our homes or our spaces without resistance and yet why is it that we will allow negative and destructive thoughts in our minds to completely take up residence, nest and reproduce?  There is science behind the power of  positive thinking and yet why do we still compare our worst with other's best, tell ourselves that we are no good and nothing beneficial will come our way and consider the worst case scenario about things that may never happen?     

In a book called Change Your Brain Change Your Life by Daniel G. Amen, M.D. he suggests that negative thinking is quite often automatic and goes unnoticed.  We have poor brain habits that chose for us how we handle situations.  I will repeat, WE ARE NOT POWERLESS when it comes to allowing poor habits to cultivate a habitat for destructive thoughts and patterns or learning a different and better way to eliminate them.  Dr. Amen provides several suggestions for changing our patterns: 

1.        Surround yourself with people that provide positive bonding – Negative people rub off on you.  Positive people provide you with a sense of optimism and hope.

2.       Build people skills to increase a sense of connection – Nurture relationships to keep them strong.  Improving relationships is empowering.

3.       Recognize the importance of physical contact – Touch is critical to life itself.  Physical touch is crucial to good mental health.

4.       Surround yourself with great smells – Aromatherapy is the use of fragrances to affect our moods.  Smell and memory are processed in the same part of the brain.  Scents can trigger positive and happy memories.  Surrounding yourself with fragrances that make you feel happy can have a powerful effect on your brain and your sense of well-being.

5.       Build yourself a library of wonderful memories – We often times remember only things that are consistent with our moods. To change this pattern you need to remember good and happy memories which will actually change your brain chemistry.  Make a list of the ten happiest things you can remember in your life and then refer to them often.

6.       Consider medications to help your body normalize – some more serious situations require medical attention.  Talk to your doctor, he/she can help.

7.       Try physical exercise – the release of endorphins will produce a sense of well-being.

8.       Watch your nutrition – diets should be well balanced with protein, complex carbohydrates and good fats.  A diet too heavy in any of these areas can throw your body out of whack and can affect your moods.

I cannot help but think of the Thirteenth Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say we follow the admonition of Paul – We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.  If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

To seek after good, lovely and uplifting things is not to be prudish or sanctimonious but rather a hope to elevate us through worthy things to a state of positive mental and emotional well-being.  By seeking the good, the praiseworthy and the positive we can change our brain chemistry to help us be happier and avoid fear, anxiety, depression and helplessness.

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be.  If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it.  On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”  ~Mahatma Gandhi
The Positivity Blog - 7Destructive Thought habits that can hold you back from living a happier life.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bringing Things To Our Remembrance

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking.  As a caterer for several years, the opportunity existed over time to collect and create “tried and true” recipes and adapt them to different circumstances.  One of my favorite recipes is for a basic sugar cookie.  Just looking at these simple cookies brings back a flood of memories from my past, as happened this past week as I made a batch to take to a party.

When my children were young, we often rode the bus downtown to visit dad’s office to take him to lunch.  In those days, the business district of town was booming.  Two lively malls flanked Main Street.  There were restaurants, galleries, theaters and all the trappings of a vibrant downtown.   My children covered their eyes and trembled as we walked past the punk rockers who loitered in front of Nordstrom, as if covering their eyes would protect them from the spiked haired individuals with chains and black lipstick.  They giggled at the absurdity of walking over the bridges temporarily built to cross the rivers diverting flood waters  down the streets of Salt Lake City.  They oohed and awed  as we observed the beautiful gardens at Temple Square after sipping a bowl of Lentil soup from Lambs CafĂ©.  From time to time we visited the bakery at  ZCMI, America’s oldest department store, and bought a sugar cookie with white frosting that was oddly offset but piled high and adorned with colorful sprinkles.  This ritual was usually the culminatation of the outing before dad went back to work and we boarded the bus for home and naptime. 

Just the sight of my cookies took me on a fieldtrip of sorts and put a smile of deep satisfaction on my face and warmed my spirit for bygone days filled with love, learning and spending time together as a family.  How quickly time passes, but for a moment or two, long enough to look at those cookies, it seemed like yesterday.

Last Saturday, I went to a Vintage market with my daughter and her friend.  There were vendors with their wares and creations from several western states.  In the very first booth, I discovered some vintage puzzles.  Caught with wonderful surprise, memories of my sweet grandmother overwhelmed me and  tears welled up in my eyes as outing after outing rolled past my mind like a filmstrip.  ( I don’t expect many of you to remember what that is.)  I remembered her constant scent of rose perfume, her cotton candy strawberry blond hair and her smile that made me believe I was the most important person in the world.  I could almost hear the music that played from a stereo that was as large as a set of dresser drawers and remembered her walk-in closet that had more hats, belts, brooches, clip-on earrings that made our tender ears ache and shoes than were befitting a princess which kept my sister and I busy for years.  In the few minutes it took for me to purchase those three little cardboard puzzles, I had all those memories and so many, many more.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”  John 14:26

Bringing things to our remembrance is a spiritual gift that comforts us with past knowledge of our competence and goodness when we falter, reminds us of lessons learned from past relationships, pricks our conscience when we are at the fork in the road as decisions must be made, helps us to strive to lift ourselves beyond where we currently are to what we can undoubtedly become.  Bringing things to our remembrance as we go about our daily lives, gives us cause to not only be fortified by the past, but to help us have faith in the future.  The best defenses we have to tackle an uncertain future are our successes and failures of the past.

“How important is it for each of us to remember those times when without the Lord’s help we could never have accomplished the mission or the calling, the task or the challenge given to us?  When we can draw from the past, we don’t have to retest every decision or experience, or burn our hand on the hot stove yet again.  We can turn to our storehouse of memory over and over again to recall, replay, or relive precious, important, and sacred moments.  These will sustain, comfort, and protect us against uncertainty or a faltering faith. “ ~Ardith Kapp

My two remembrances this past week have nothing to do with cookies and puzzles but have everything to do with my desire to be a wonderful and caring mother to my grown children and an equal desire to be the same type of doting and loving grandmother that made my childhood rich with experiences offering self esteem and confidence to my young life.  I am reminded that my priorities are still with my family even if we are scattered from coast to coast.  Situations, jobs, opportunities to serve come and go, but those deeply rooted areas of great importance or urgency enlarge and develop.   What is sometimes lost or dimmed from our immediate view becomes new again, if only we can remember.
I have included my favorite sugar cookie recipe shared with me by my neighbor Linda Anderson.
Crisp Sugar Cookies
1 c butter
½ c vegetable oil
1c sugar
1c powdered sugar
2 eggs
2 t vanilla
4 ½ c flour
1t soda
1 t salt
1 t cream of tarter
Cream butter, oil and sugars together.  Add egg and vanilla.  Mix well.  Add all dry ingredients and mix until incorporated but don’t over mix.   Roll out and cut into shapes or drop into balls with small ice cream scoop.  Bake 350 degrees for 8 min or until barely turning brown on edges. 
¼ c butter
4 c powdered sugar
1 ½ t almond flavoring
Few drops half and half, cream or milk to achieve desired consistency

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Few Parting Thoughts...

 Church service is often characterized as opportunity for personal growth, not to mention, helping and serving those around us.  Over the course of my lifetime, I have had many opportunities to serve in my church in a variety of ways.  Most of those years have been spent with the youth and young single adults.  It is where I connect and feel most comfortable.  There is an exuberance;  a contagious energy about young people that I enjoy and a tenderness and tolerance I feel for their efforts to discover who they are and what they will become.  As parents and church leaders we can teach by the book and from personal experience, but I firmly believe each individual has a unique journey that is theirs alone to travel and everyone deserves their own learning curve.  Obstacles and challenges litter the way and it is a privilege to offer reassurance that they are not alone in their trials and they have the adequate strength to overcome.  Associating with the youth of this church brings with it a sense of rallying the troops, of fortifying the castle and collectively conquering the enemy. 

When it comes to serving there are the rare opportunities and callings that you just don’t care for, many more that were dreaded but actually turned out to be beloved and then there are some that bless and change your life in incomprehensible ways.   How privileged I am to have had several of those opportunities to serve in my life.  The most recent has been to serve with my husband, Mike, in a Young Single Adult ward in the Salt Lake Area. 

My skills in writing and articulating my thoughts, feelings and insights of the past six and a half years are hopelessly inadequate.   How do I begin to identify the men and women who have impacted my life in such a profound way?  I marvel at their mastery of gospel principles both in practice and in knowledge.  I marvel at their level of strict obedience demonstrated solely on personal motivation and discipline.  I marvel at their conviction and testimony of dedicated home and visiting teachers that don’t just “visit,” but strive to become friends with those within their stewardship.  I marvel at goodness and kindness and love.

For the past several months I have been studying the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul from the New Testament.  Year after year, he fought an uphill battle of trying to reorient the people who were steeped in tradition of outward religious manifestation teaching a more important notion to be inwardly, rather than outwardly converted.  He was mocked, hated, spit upon and beaten for his missionary efforts to relay this message of the gospel from our Savior. 

Paul, in no uncertain terms, traveled the known world of his time to teach the new notion of pure religion.   So what is pure religion?  Joseph F. Smith defined pure religion as follows,

“This may be interpreted as meaning that a person who is religious is thoughtful to the unfortunate, and has an inner spirit that prompts to deeds of kindness and to the leading of a blameless life; who is just, truthful; who does not, as Paul says, think more highly of himself than he ought to think; who is affectionate, patient in tribulation, diligent, cheerful, fervent in spirit, hospitable, merciful, and who abhors evil and cleaves to that which is good.  The possession of such a spirit and feeling is a true sign that a person is naturally religious.”  

In every sense of the word, Pres. Smith’s quote has just described the current and past members of the Winder YSA 2nd and the Winder 19 wards. Each and every week I drove away from the church building feeling not only edified, but uplifted and inspired to do and be better.  Thank you, all of you, for your example of pure religion.  Thank you for constantly demonstrating the qualities I just listed whether anyone is watching, whether in the confines of your apartment with your roommates, or alone. 

Thank you also for allowing us to participate and observe your struggle with a variety of issues.  You are strong and capable and demonstrate resilience and the ability to move forward.  You demonstrate great courage when your life’s goals do not seem realized and a level of humility as you teach us to trust the Lord’s timing and course for you.  You are God’s greatest instruments in building His kingdom and I feel great confidence in the future of the church with you at its helm.

I feel profound gratitude to have served with a husband that magnified his calling every step of the way with a relentless energy for the task.  I am grateful for the support of our children who shared the dinner table, holidays and a great deal of family time with members of the congregation.  I am thankful to have served with amazing individuals who taught me so much about life, dedication and pure charity.  Thank you Kimballs, Burdettes, Ralphs, Hubers along with Jonny Day, Mike Scrogham and Brian Bowers for those precious lessons.  Yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the kind gestures of support that we felt at the farewell dinner and by the attendance of so many past and present members of the ward, by all the social media posts and the photo album that will be such a keepsake for us. 

One thing I have tried to live by and have tried to teach my kids is that to be a true friend, you should strive to leave those with whom you associate better than you found them.  The tables have been turned, I am being left better than I was found.   I love you, I admire you and I will never forget you.
JD,it seemed like something was missing from the photo and very thoughtful comments you posted.  It was sort of like posting a photo of an airplane without its engines.  Here is one with both engines attached at the wings in the form of @[1258620563:2048:Jonathan Day] and @[761435050:2048:Mike Scrog]!  Your service was, and continues to be, extaordinary.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Power of a Single Word

A few weeks ago I received a text message from my son living in Boston thanking me for a fun weekend  spent together as a family.  Warmly reminiscing about the time we had together, I quickly responded to his message by telling him that the pleasure of their visit was certainly ours.  Upon pushing the send button, I realized that my predictive text had inserted the word “plague” for the word pleasure.  Oh how much of a difference one single word can make in the messages we convey to those we love!  A message of gratitude and love quickly changed to something much more sinister.  In certain situations something of this nature could not be passed off for the humorous situation that it was.

The power of words is somewhat magical in the way they can uplift and edify or tear down.  We use words every day to encourage, buoy up the down-trodden, praise, appreciate, and comfort those in our lives.  A single word of encouragement can turn around situations; can inspire individuals to change the course of their very lives.  The Savior used the magic of single words to uplift those closest to Him.  His friend John he called “beloved”.  Can you imagine how your attitude, your outlook and even your very behavior might be elevated if the Savior called you “beloved?” 

Randall Jones, a BYU Professor addressed a crowd at BYU stating, ”Watch your language!  It is a tool far more powerful than you can possibly imagine.  Think of the good you can accomplish by using it in the way that the Lord has intended.  Like many things that our Father in Heaven has blessed us with, language can be used as a force to bring about much righteousness, to bring us blessings, and to bless the lives of those around us.  But it can also be used as a tool of destruction.  It can edify and uplift as well as vilify and destroy. “

Language is like music; we rejoice in beauty,

        range, and quality in both, and we are demeaned

                      by the repetition of a few sour notes.

                                            ~Spencer W. Kimball


Elder Charles A. Didier of the Church of Jesus Christ said that, “Language is divine.  Some may know this but do not realize its implications in their daily family life.  Love at home starts with a loving language.  This need is so important that, without loving words, some become mentally unbalanced, others emotionally disturbed, and some may even die.  No society can survive after its family life has deteriorated, and this deterioration has always started with one word.”

Often we are careless in the selection of the words that we use in conversation, in discussion and to describe one another.  We blurt them out, sometimes, without thinking through the power they may have on others.  Much like our cell phone, we have the ability to proofread and substitute, so to speak, before sending if we will only use the filters that we possess.  The difference is that we have the intelligence and humanity to insert more appropriate words for the situation.   May we strive to leave people that we associate with better than we found them.  It is within our power, if we proof before we “send.”

A Word or Two on Multitasking

I was born a multitasker and I will die a multitasker.  If ever there was a constant in my life it is that I have always had far too many balls in the air.  At times, I even deluded myself into thinking this was one of my finest qualities – the ability to handle many demands, situations and tasks at once.

A short time ago, I read an article about the underbelly of multitasking – especially as it pertains to the aging brain.  When you rob your brain of fully and completely focusing on one particular thing for a period of time, your ability to store short term memory suffers.

After letting out an audible gasp, it dawned on me that for the past few years I thought I was just not as capable and efficient as I used to be – forever busy but not really getting anything done.  The article was frighteningly “spot on.”  I have robbed myself of the ability to concentrate and focus – the two things that are necessary for memory.  When you are a fifty-two year old, that is a big deal!  I need to be kinder and gentler to my mind.  This must be a priority and quick!  Due to the amount of information currently available and the access to a variety of media, I assume that overburdening our ability to concentrate will become more and more of a problem for everyone and not just the middle aged.

An article published on Buffer titled, What Multitasking Does to Our Brains, written by Leo Widrich, shows that research proves multitasking is not only bad for our brains, but is not the effective tool we always thought it to be.  What’s more is that Clifford Nass, a researcher at Stanford found that people who multitask a lot, are in fact, worse at filtering irrelevant information and also perform significantly worse at switching between tasks, compared to singletaskers.

“Do two or more things simultaneously, and you’ll do none at full capacity,” writes Brandon Keim in an article printed in Nova science NOW entitled Is Multitasking Bad for Us?  Keim also refers to the Nass study which stated the results nothing less than “a damning indictment” of multitasking’s effects, summarizing the multitaskers’ condition as, “They look where they shouldn’t, and their memory is all sloppy.”  In a subsequent study, Nass also found that high multitaskers have more social problems than low-multitasking peers, perhaps because they have trouble paying attention to people.

Another article asserting the dangers of multitasking entitled Multitasking and Stress by Chris Woolston, M.S. suggests that multitasking can indeed interfere with short-term memory.  Woolston quotes David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan “Anytime you’re trying to multitask, you have less attention available to store memories.”  Short-term memory loss isn’t always a short term problem.  The flood of adrenaline and other stress hormones unleashed by trying to do too much at once can actually cause permanent damage to the brain cells that store memories.  Meyer says.  After years of multitasking, a person might eventually have trouble doing just one thing at a time.

There you go:  I now have a scientific explanation for my inefficiency and lack of productivity.  I am not going crazy, just senile – not really a comforting realization.  Let’s be honest, we can’t stand by the dryer and wait for the clothes to dry before taking on another task, but we can set limits for ourselves on what we allow ourselves to do simultaneously. If we want to develop memory and focus we must devote time and energy to the habit of focusing on one thing at a time.  It is within our power to intentionally control situations every day where we can discipline ourselves to focus on things individually and give them the concentration and focus that they deserve.

Interestingly enough, there is one caveat to all of this.  Music does not seem to break our ability to concentrate and focus.  Nass stress that “In the case of music, it’s a little different.  We have a special part of our brain for music, so we can listen to music while we do other things.”  All is not lost…