Thursday, July 6, 2017

Days For Girls - Simple solutions for big world problems

Blogs, podcasts, documentaries and print articles - they are all contemporary forms of media but is there a common denominator?  I would venture to say that listeners and/or readers of these types of media take pride in doing things with purpose.  Most likely, they are personality types preferring substance over style, information over entertainment or figuratively speaking, meat over potatoes.  I might even gamble that anyone who might read this blog has imagined doing something great, something that would be life changing or make a difference in the world.  Do you ever wonder if your own pet “worthy cause” might be part of something that really, really matters?  The cynic will tell you that solving the world’s problems is like spitting in the ocean.  All the efforts in the world won't really do much and it is not your best use of time or resources.

“Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.”  
  ~Alma 37:6
Having participated in several third world humanitarian projects over the years, I heard a news story last fall that peaked some personal interest.   An online search led me to a group called Days For Girls International and I quickly saw a way that I could personally contribute to an upcoming humanitarian trip to rural Guatemala with two of my adult children.  The nature of the trip was primarily dental, but this project for girls and their personal hygiene was something that my daughter and I could do independently and would interface well into the overall mission.

Sadly, many years of humanitarian experience never created in me, any curiosity about what girls in undeveloped countries do to meet their feminine hygiene needs.  Apparently, many cultures do not have any resources to help girls and women with their monthly cycles.  Many of them sit on bales of hay or cardboard on their beds for one week out of every month.  Often girls will use grass, weeds, mattress stuffing and a slew of unsanitary products to avoid missing school to stay competitive with their male counterparts.  Some girls determined to become educated are exploited by trading sexual favors for feminine hygiene products distributed by schoolmasters or village elders.  This is just completely unacceptable on every level.

Celeste Mergens, a woman from the Northwest, having a background in sustainable education and resources for third world communities was working on helping villages in Africa.  She prayerfully considered how she could best serve that population and was inspired to ask about feminine hygiene.  After being informed about the dilemma for girls, she designed and created these sustainable kits over a period of time to meet, not only the needs, but to make a product that did not create more embarrassment and shame than already plagued women and girls.  Below are two links for more information about Celeste’s story and the development of these ingenious kits.

My daughter, Brynn and I quickly mobilized.  We purchased and pre-washed yards and yards of fabric.  The Days For Girls resource center in Orem was tremendously helpful to us since we did not have much time to make and assemble the 100 kits we had committed to take with us.  Unfortunately, I soon realized that the sustainable feminine hygiene kits we were making were very labor intensive and it would be impossible for us to make 100 drawstring bags, 200 washable shields, and 800 flannel liners before our trip.  Each component part has been carefully designed to withstand 2-4 years worth of use and washing.  They are carefully sewn, reinforced, and finished to be able to provide a good and stable product for girls and women worldwide making them difficult to produce quickly.  

We concluded that we would purchase 50 kits from Days For Girls International and make 50 kits ourselves.  My firm belief is that you get out of something what you put into it and I knew that we wanted to share our love and commitment by making a portion of these kits ourselves.  Yet, it was still a ton of work and we solicited the help from women we knew, and some we didn’t, who were more than willing to help.  After several sewing nights with a handful of caring women, our fifty kits were completed the week before our trip and we proudly took all 100 kits to the Eastern highlands of Guatemala.

Girls and women came from the local villages on the first day of our dental/health clinic.  We giggled together as we discussed sensitive and sometimes embarrassing topics.  Boys from the village tried to peek through the windows to see what all the fuss was about.  Our experience was not so different from the maturation programs in most elementary schools in the US.  We were moved!  Our collective efforts from Holladay, Utah were giving resources to girls in a small setting in rural Guatemala and we were honored to help.

Nothing would prepare us for the events of the second day.  The plan was to set up at a local school a few minutes drive from our clinic.  As the bus dropped over the hill into a lush and fertile valley, I immediately knew that what we had to offer was completely inadequate for the throngs of women trying to gain entrance to our small classroom.  As is the case with humanitarian projects, you roll with situations because they often don’t go as anticipated.  We divided the women into two smaller groups and ushered in women and girls, hungry for our message of honoring and managing our roles as woman.  There was standing room only and the decision was made to give our kits to young girls first.  There were over 100 women in that classroom and we only had about 40 kits left after the first day of distribution at the clinic, even when you factor in some extra kits already stockpiled on site.  

With heavy hearts, we were unable to distribute any kits to approximately 100 women and girls in the second wave.  Our offering was information only.  I choked back tears as we took a dusty bus ride back to our dental clinic as I watched women carrying babies on their backs walking back over the hills to their homes.  It is uncertain how word was transmitted to such a large area in a 24 hour period, but hundreds of women felt like it was worth their while to walk a great distance for our kits and information.  We could have used 150-200 more kits.  My daughter and I could not even talk about our experience for weeks without tearing up. We were determined that this would not be how this story ends.  Our commitment intensified to look for ways to meet this need. 

Americans take so much for granted and there are women and girls around the world that need what we can offer.  Before our Guatemala trip, we had organized a tiny little “spit bucket” and in the grand scheme of things it did not change the world much.  However, since then, I have discovered and continue to be encouraged by the scale of this DFG movement.  Women care about women and girls and they are mobilizing in great numbers to help!  

My niece in Vancouver, Canada desired to get involved and there are several chapters in her area.  One of the dentists on our Guatemala trip talked to a neighbor in the Phoenix area and we discovered there are several chapters in her area as well.  Just last week, I sat in a small LDS branch in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the women were organizing a service project throughout that entire area reaching all the way to Green Bay, WI to participate with Days For Girls International.

I am convinced that if enough people really “spit in that bucket,” we can help solve big world problems.  There is no problem more important than helping women and girls live productive and safe lives.  We can make a difference.

“Every solution to every problem is simple.  
It’s the distance between the two where the 
mystery lies.”  ~ Derek Landy

Okay, so here is the skinny.  How can you help?  Brynn and I have committed to send 50 more kits in September to the same region in Guatemala.  Our friends from the Phoenix area are also making 50 kits.  We have committed to buy another 50 kits from the recently created Days For Girls Center in Guatemala that was created to help local women generate income to sustain their families while helping local villagers.  A similar center was recently started in Nepal and one in Africa.  It is a win-win solution for families and villagers and a brilliant way to further the solution for eliminating extreme poverty.

What I am asking for is fabric donations.  We want every girl to feel like their kit is the cutest one, so I am talking about bright, happy, designs of 100% quilters cotton.  Dark colors are obviously the best.  The fabric should not promote pop culture (ie. camouflage, high heels, lipstick, Disney, etc., you get the point.)  You may already have stacks of good quality, cute, quilters cotton in your fabric cache.  If you need to purchase fabric, the best way to do so is to take a 50% off coupon from JoAnn’s and buy 5-6 yards of fabric.  You may PM (private message) me and I will send you my address where the fabric can be shipped or delivered.  There is also a need for flannel.  Flannel yardage also needs to be even more stain hiding than the fabrics for the bags and likewise 100% cotton.  See photos below for examples of appropriate fabrics.
                                           examples of flannel

                                      examples of quilters cotton

I am proud to be part of a movement that is committed to helping women and girls reduce extreme poverty.  We need your help.  Days For Girls International needs your help.  We are asking you to “spit into our collective bucket" that REALLY IS making a difference.  If it is not convenient to help me, look online for your local chapter and make a similar donation to them.  Girls everywhere will look upon your contribution and smile.

Monday, July 3, 2017

America The Beautiful - Confirm Thy Soul in Self-Control

What is it about small town America?  Perhaps there is a certain magic that lures one to a less complicated and more relaxed place.  Even though I spent my childhood in a small town, I am a self-proclaimed city girl.  In spite of that fact, I wax nostalgic when I visit and take in the charm of any small rural town. 

You can take into your mind and heart the city life, but sometimes your spirit yearns for small town goodness. I recall parades down main street on my bicycle with decorated tires, streamers and flags.  There were floats and banner-lined cars and trucks celebrating local business from which business owners threw candy to the pursuing children.  There is nothing quite like the whole town turning out for the rivalry of a high school football or basketball game. It is difficult to imagine a small town without an American Legion or an Elk’s Club Supper club.  Small towns have heart, they have a sense of collective community and are grounded in hard work and unparalleled patriotism.

A thoroughfare for freedom beat, 
across the wilderness. 

While in the heartland of America this week to celebrate Independence Day, driving down flag lined streets of rural Michigan, a wave of patriotism washed over me.  For a few days I forgot about the negative rhetoric, steady as the beat of a drum, pounding the message of what is wrong with America.  Gone for a few short days was pessimism and cynicism in what some call a failed system of government. 

Instead, I saw roadside refreshment and fruit stands, sleepy towns waking after a long hard winter, patriots hanging banners and flags for the upcoming holiday. This is the type of grit and tenacity that makes America great. It is here in an uncluttered community that I am reminded of all that is right with America. 

I certainly don’t have the answers for what makes all the difference.  Perhaps, it is easier to find a sense of solidarity in a small town.  It was in such a town where I sang the well known and revered song “America the Beautiful” with a small congregation on a warm summer morning this weekend.

Many of us sing this song every year over the Independence Day holiday but this particular time there was one line that peaked some curiosity on my part — confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.  I am not sure if I have ever really thought about the meaning of this curious but profound line.

While taking a summer break from a teaching assignment at Wellesley College in 1913, a thirty-three year old Katheryn Lee Bates was inspired and touched as she crossed this beautiful country by train.  As she departed from the city and its accompanying distractions, she contemplated the rural and natural magic of this nation and penned the words to America the Beautiful.

Her poem was put to music by Samuel A. Ward as he rode a train back from Coney Island to his home in New York City.  Ward was so overcome on that summer day that he asked his friend Harry Martin for his shirt cuff to write down the tune that was swirling in his head.

Confirm thy soul in self control.  Is that what seems lacking in America?  It doesn’t seem like people are willing to stay true to any type of ethical line while seeking their own personal advantage — rather, each person seems to exist for their own self gratification, increasingly willing to step away from the rock of principle that has existed in America for generations.  People support, comply with or even enforce laws only when it benefits them or serves their agendas; otherwise, they rationalize or justify discarding the rule of law.  So many individuals want it both ways - all choice and no consequence, and self-control almost seems non-existent. 

George Washington, one of the founding fathers and first president realized the importance of self-governance and stated, “Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

The second president of the United States, John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”  He went on to suggest that if the populous “cannot govern themselves by principle, no written constitution or code will suffice to force us on to an ethical path.”

There can be no substitute for self-control based on internalized true principles.  ~ Unknown

Thy liberty in law is the second half of that phrase from the song America the Beautiful. Within that brief stanza lies a profound truth about our liberty.  Liberty, in the sense of choice and opportunity, promulgates discernment and the ability to carry on as one ought and not as one would always prefer.  Liberty was never meant to act in a way that gives anyone the right to harm oneself, family members, neighbors or community.  For some reason, we have confused this ideology in what Pope Benedict XVI calls “the self-destruction of freedom.” 

James Madison, another founding father posed the question of whether a people who did not practice self-control or self-governance in their private lives, could possibly practice it in their public lives.  It was Madison’s opinion that government requires a fairly high degree of ethics and principle in the critical mass of its citizens to safeguard a republic.

During this Fourth of July week let us reflect on the messages of freedom, and of liberty and the role of self control, including respect for each other,  as we celebrate what is right with America.  With greatness comes responsibility, but with that sense of responsibility comes reason to exercise discretion and maintain integrity.  It is our discipline and self-control that makes us truly great as a people, as a community and as a nation.

And crown thy good with brotherhood, 
from sea to shining sea.

Happy Birthday America!!!

Photo credit:  Steven Depolo/Flickr

Thursday, June 15, 2017


It’s getting cramped in here… 
the nest we call America.

For the past few weeks from my dining room window, I have witnessed one of natures finest miracles.  Reproduction - up close and personal.  With great excitement, I peered at an unsuspecting mother robin tend her nest with tender care.  Each tiny and delicate bird, cloaked in velvet down, popped its head out of a carefully crafted nest in search of food.  As instinct dictates, their noisy and over-scaled beaks stretched forth with insistence that they each be heard and fed.

With each new dawn there was a marked and rapid change as eyes opened, their oversized beaks became more proportioned and down became feathers. Within a two week period, they were developed enough to leave the nest and doting care of their mother.  At one point, four - almost grown birds in a single nest made for a pretty tight squeeze.  When one bird moved the others were jostled around as each movement required a necessary accommodation by the other equally cramped birds.

My DSLR was left on my table for those two weeks as I stealthily stole as many action shots as were allowed by a suspicious mother.  Aside from the miracle of birth itself, was the miracle that these four birds somehow managed in a tight space taking turns being fed.  In two short weeks they all grew to a level of independence and were gone.

My husband and I recently saw the Broadway play Hamilton which stirred in me a remembrance of principles that passionately resulted in the creation of this great country.  As is depicted in the play, American politics from the beginning, have not been easy nor completely conciliatory.  However, there were some truths that emerged from the collective efforts of those founding fathers and many others who have given time, effort and their own lives to make our country work.  One of the great truths that emerged was that of unity.

The correlation between my two week bird observation and the current state of American politics seems fairly profound.  Sometimes, it feels mighty cramped and not much room for us in the grand scheme of democracy.  However, I am reminded of the words from a song written by one of the Founding Fathers John Dickinson called “The Liberty Song.”  It was first published in the  Boston Gazette in July 1768 and a portion of the lyrics are familiar to us all…  

“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!  By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” 

Patrick Henry, also one of the founding fathers, through passionately clasped hands and a steady and unwavering stance repeated these words,

Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter.  United we stand, divided we fall.  Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our essence hangs.

It was through a truly united faction that these UNITED States won independence against a much stronger and better organized Great Britain.  Many have written about the miraculous defeat of that great power and it is fairly undisputed how our scrappy, underfed and ill troops could pull off such a defeat without divine intervention. 

United we stand, divided we fall.  What have we forgotten about those words of power and strength?  There were converging ideas, differing opinions, cultures and traditions coming together then as there are now.  Hungry and noisy beaks are open with necks outstretched as each group demands their fair share, then and now.  We needed to be reminded during the inception of this great nation that we all win when we unite together, and without that united front we all fail.  With that failure comes vulnerability, bitterness, hatred and in many cases death.

Abraham Lincoln centered his speech in 1858 when running against Stephen Douglas on the analogy of a “house divided” in illustrating the need for a universal decision as related to slavery.  We all know the human toll of that division calling for a civil war.

There is room for everyone in the nest.  We might feel cramped, have our feathers ruffled and may even feel that we are not getting our share of worms.  However, we can make it work.  We can stand united in cause, in spite of our differences, as we search for common ground.  

It was not easy in the beginning and we have a great deal of history that suggests it has not been easy along the way, but there are plenty of examples to prove that it is possible.  

Eleanor Roosevelt sums it up quite nicely and her message could not be more on point than it is now, 

Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer!  We must not let that happen here.

The ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop uses a phrase that is similarly repeated in the Greek version of the New Testament in Mark 3:25,

 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

My plea is not meant to remain silent or even to agree, my plea is to seek common ground as we wrestle for solutions to difficult problems.  My plea is to do so with civility and respect with a confidence that there will be a forum for difference without persecution and disrespect.  If all the collective energy that is being used currently for faultfinding and division were channeled into solutions, there is not a problem we could not tackle.

Our necks are collectively outstretched for survival.  May we all try a little harder to wrestle together to keep everyone in this remarkable nest that has withstood the test of time, the storms of man and nature and the multiple battles fought and won. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Under Renovation

My temptation is to be officially closed for renovation until further notice.  The beginning of 2017 has proved necessary to implement my own personal renovation or shakedown.  A renovation is the act of modernizing, overhauling, revamping or updating.   A shakedown, for all practical purposes, is the intent to test a new system under different operating conditions.

Let me explain.  My childhood was spent with two lovely grandmothers.  My paternal grandmother was the most doting, sweet and involved woman a child could hope to call Grandma.  She had us sleep over every Friday night, came to everything we ever did and even had a drawer in her kitchen devoted to our favorite things.  She was named appropriately, Grace.

My maternal grandmother was not nearly as enamored with her role as grandma.  We stayed with her only when she could not quickly think of a reason why we couldn’t.  She found every activity for us to do that required outside play, in spite of mosquitos the size of dogs, and we could only eat dry macaroni in her house.  Yummy!

Interestingly enough, I had a great deal of fondness and admiration for both.  Having said that, I decided long ago that when I had the opportunity to be a grandma, I was going to be Grandma Grace hands down!

There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t get to see or interact with one of my three grandchildren.  They light up the room when they enter, and my soul when they speak.  Whenever I take their tiny hands in mine, I feel like I am in a corner of heaven.

As a grandma, I do ridiculous things I did not do as mother.  I am not sure if that puts me further ahead or further behind, but we have had our share of fun.  We eat popcorn on papa’s side of the bed while watching movies.  We raised quail in the shower because they had to learn to fly if we were going to turn them out into the big harsh world. Our art projects include scissors, pins, glue and “heaven forbid” glitter.

My little grandchildren are just learning to play together and they look forward to the next time they will see each other.  It was all working out for me to live the life that Grandma Grace lived with my sisters and me, until now.  My little sidekick and his brand new baby brother are moving to Michigan.  My little Harper may also be moving to the far end of the valley.  Having contact with them will not be the daily indulgence I am used to - resulting in a course correction or shakedown - a renovation.

Grandma Grace was hands on.  She was not remote Grandma, Skype Grandma or UPS Grandma.  We played dress up in her amazing closet, hide and seek in her haunted basement, giggled at the sight of her girdles in every color and ate marshmallow peanuts after dinner.  She taught me to knit, she helped me sew and bought me a piano so that I could aggravate a string of piano teachers.  

A life different from that is difficult to wrap my head around.  I can’t even talk about it without tearing up just a little.  Of course, most people live away from their families and they seem to manage, so I am sure I will too.

Talents, gifts of expression, and precious time are 
exhausted in swimming against too many tides. 
- James E. Faust

I was recently impressed by an article in The Atlantic.   A theory was tested on the notion that anxiety could be changed to excitement by using three little words - I am excited.  The idea is that both anxiety and excitement are aroused emotions with accelerated heart rates and release of cortisol, the stress regulating hormone.  It is, therefore, much easier to transition from a state of anxiety to one of excitement than to calm body functions taking one from anxiety all the way to calm.

The words “I am excited”  change negative emotions that create a sense of threat or focus on what is wrong with a situation to opportunity, a positive emotion focusing on good things to come.  Some studies suggest improvement in ability increased between 17-22% after merely believing in excitement rather than accepting anxiety.  Sounds almost too simple to be true, but what could it hurt?

Okay then,  I am excited for what lies ahead.  My personal renovation is a shift from having things how I hoped, to having things as they are.  It can’t be changed, nor do I really want it to.  I am equally as excited for my kids opportunity and growth as I am mourning the loss of being Grandma Grace for all my grandkids.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone 
can start today and make a new ending. — Maria Robinson

Each year, I decide on a theme around which my New Year’s resolutions are set.  Obviously, this year must be “Under Renovation.”  At the beginning of a brand new year, I have much to be excited about.   Opportunities before me are countless.  I can and will modernize, revamp and overhaul some of my roles.  Since my operating system has changed, I will quickly test out my adjusted system.  I will take the best of Grandma Grace and Grandma Wilma and send boxes and boxes of marshmallow peanuts (do they still make those?) and dried macaroni. 

I had not even considered the possibility, but does UPS deliver to Houghton, Michigan?

Happy New Year!
May we all be excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.  We are better people because of them - so I have been told.

photo credit: HSD backdrops
USGW archives

link to video from The Atlantic: