Saturday, July 29, 2006

Food storage gone seriously wrong...

I spent the afternoon helping a dear elderly sister clean out her freezer. It had gotten so iced over inside that the door would not unlock. The door had to be removed entirely and serious work undertaken to put all items into ice chests (about a dozen of them!) for safe keeping so the freezer could be thawed and cleaned. That all happened before I got there. Once everything got taken out, my friend became quite overwhelmed by the project and called me, her trusty VT, for reinforcements.

Little did I know that a simple act of service for a lady I dearly love would become such an ethical dilemma.

The freezer had been tightly packed with boxes and bags and containers of every kind you might imagine. A LARGE portion of those items were dated prior to 2004. A SIGNFICANT portion were dated around 1986 and then on up through the 90's.

And my friend insisted it was all perfectly good.

These jars and bags and boxes were totally encased in thick layers of ice. She was picking them up and whacking each one with a hammer to knock the ice of, taking a peek to try to figure out what it might be, then carefully re-labeling to put each thing back in her freezer. She had finally realized that process would take her all day long and stuff would start to melt, so that's why she called me. She wanted help in the process.

I tried to reason with this dear lady that any food more than two years old really should be thrown away. She was insistent that she wanted it all. I tried to be kind about it, but was very firm that we must at least throw away anything dated from the past century. Anything that bore a date of 1999 or before I would put in a box and cart off to my dumpster for her. She did NOT like that. But grudgingly went along with it, and then questioned each and every thing I started to throw away - saying "oh this one looks pretty good!"

I started giving her tasks to remove her from the work area ("could you please get me another towel to wipe these?" or "I think this marking pen is going dry - would you mind going to get another?" and then I would quickly toss out as much as I could before her return. My husband was there also, a party to my "crime." As soon as I could get a full box ready to go I'd have him load it into our car out of her view. We filled then entire back of our SUV with very old, very freezer burned, very dead nasty looking food for disposal. But we did it in a pretty sneaky way.

So I'm wondering about this... was it my place to do that? Darn right! or was it?

Which leads to the larger issues of how we deal with people we love who lose their judgment as they grow older. At what point do we "younguns" have the right to impose our values and wishes over what they may prefer? How do we say "You really should not drive any more" or "it's not safe for you to live alone" to someone who very much wants to maintain independence, but in our eyes seems to be a danger to themselves or others?

This dear lady is increasingly showing signs of not being able to care for herself or her property. Her family are all totally flumoxed about what to do about it, because any time they make suggestions for other arrangments "grandma" will have no part of it. At what point do they insist?

I am a firm advocate of honoring our elders. And I'll be the first to admit there are plenty of people in their 2o's, 30's, 40's or 50's who have shown poor judgment in a variety of ways that I would never consider putting into an assisted living facility. But when someone is 80 and had previously been sharp yet now is frequently confused or forgetful it seems to be an entirely different playing field.

I have no fear of death, but I am terrified of being left alone as a fragile, dependent person in my senior years. I wonder and worry at times about whether I will live with chronic illness or if I will lose my lucid mind. One thing I do know for sure. If I ever get to the point that I'm keeping 20 yr old food in my freezer and refusing to get rid of anything so much so that my house becomes a wild, haphazard warren of newspapers, special TV offers and old ice cream containers, I'd very much appreciate it if SOMEONE would step up and intervene rather than worrying they might hurt my feelings.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Good Grief!

I usually look forward to Sabbath days as a time of reflection and renewal. Today, however, I came home form church frazzled and exhausted.

I teach a class of 5, 6 & 7 year old children in Primary. Although they can certainly get silly at times, for the most part they are great kids. I enjoy teaching them the stories about Jesus and helping them to understand how very much their Father in Heaven loves them.

Today there were three new kids in my class. Two of them are from families who just moved in to the area and one was the grandson of an investigator. I was trying to make a point of really helping these children to feel welcome and go out of my way to be sure they had a positive experience coming to church. The two move ins were great and went away happy. The third child was a bit more of a challenge.

Obviously this kid was not used to being in church, so I tried to be patient with his wiggles, his chair tipping, his talking out of turn, his general distracting behavior. I kept reinforcing what was expected and trying to gently remind him how we were supposed to act in Primary. He did reasonably well during class time. But by the time we gathered with the other age groups for the singing & sharing time, the kid had all the sitting still he could stand. He started squirming all over the place , kicking the chair, playing with a toy he wasn't supposed to have, and generally being disruptive. I took him out into the hall, got down close to his eye level and spoke very firmly to him about the rules for church. I told him he could choose if he wanted his toy to stay in his pocket or in my pocket, that it was entirely up to him - but it WOULD be in somebody's pocket until the end of class. I showed him again how we fold our arms and explained why we do not kick chairs. He got very serious and solemn, promising to behave.

When we went back in he let out a big sigh and just went all limp, sliding down his chair till he was laying on it with his feet stuck out in the aisle, and somehow he managed to get his head stuck in the hole in the back of the chair. Yep. SERIOUSLY stuck. It took three teachers several minutes to get him unwedged and left a bit of a mark across his forehead.

We have these molded plastic stacking chairs for the little kids that have never appeared to me to be any particular hazard. The opening in the back really isn't very big at all - just makes it easy to lift and stack them. Just how he managed to get his head through that small hole I honestly don't know. He had to have is head tipped in just a certain way to squeeze through it, which is what made it so hard to get him back out.

All in all, I don't think I was his favorite person today and he probably thought the whole scene was a big drag that turned into a nightmare. I guess the event appeared pretty funny to some of the others in the room, but I can only imagine how awful and embarrassing it must have felt for him. Ah, the adventures of Primary.... no matter how hard we try as leaders to provide a strong spiritual base for these kids there's always SOMETHING to add a bit of drama.

Monday, July 17, 2006

St. Katherine's

We are starting to pin down the specifics of our itinerary for our trip to Egypt. Of course we are going to do all the usual things... take a camel ride near the pyramids, see the great Sphynx and go down the Nile river visiting various temples from the time of the Pharos.

But there is one other stop that I am really looking forward to . I plan to spend some time at St. Katherine's monastery.

This is what the Lonely Planet guide to Egypt says about it:

"Tucked into a barren valley at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the ancient St Katherine's Monastery has been a place of pilgrimage since the 4th century. It traces its founding to about 330 AD, when the Roman empress Helena had a small chapel and a fortified refuge for local hermits built beside what was believed to be the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. In the 6th century Emperor Justinian ordered a fortress to be constructed around the original chapel, together with a basilica and a monastery, to provide a secure home for the monastic community that had grown here and as a refuge for the Christians of southern Sinai. Since then the monastery has been visited by pilgrims from throughout the world, many of whom braved extraordinarily difficult and dangerous journeys to reach the remote and isolated site. Today St. Katherine's is considered one of the oldest continually functioning monastic communities in the world, and its chapel is one of early Christianity's only surviving churches.

The monastery, which together with the surround area, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, is named after St. Katherine, the legendary martyr of Alexandria, who was tortured on a spiked wheel and then beheaded for her faith. Tradition holds that her body was transported by angels away from the torture device (which spun out of control and killed the pagan onlookers) and onto the slopes of Egypt's highest mountain peak. The peak, which lies about 6km south of Mt Sinai, subsequently became known as Gebel Katarina. Katherine's body was subsequently "found" about 300 years later by monks from the monastery in a state of perfect preservation.

Today a Tarmac access road has removed the hazards that used to accompany a trip to the monastery. Although much of the monastery is closed to the public it is possible to enter the ornately decorated 6th century church of the Transfiguration, with its nave flanked by massive marble columns and walls covered in richly gilded icons and paintings. At the church's eastern end, a gilded 17th century iconastasis separates the nave from the sanctuary and the apse, where St Katherine's remained are interred (off limits to most visitors). High in the apse above the alter is one of the monastery's most stunning artistic treasures, a 6th century mosaic of the biblical account of the transfiguration of Christ. To the left of and below the altar is the monastery's holiest area, the chapel of the Burning Bush....

Near the burning bush is the Well of Moses, a natural spring that is supposed to give marital happiness to those who drink from it. Above the well is the superb Monastery Museum, also known as the Sacred Sacristy, which has recently been magnificently restored. It has displays (labeled in Arabic and English) of many of the monastery's artistic treasures, including some of the spectacular Byzantine-era icons from world famous collections, numerous precious chalices and gold and silver crosses, and a priceless collection of ancient manuscripts and illuminated Bibles from the monastery's library.

There are trails up Mt. Sinai for either hiking or camel route. They say the camel route is the easier way, and takes about two hours to ascend, going at a steady pace. The alternative path to the summit, the taxing 3750 Steps of Repentance, was laid by one monk as a form of penance. The steps, 3000 up to Elijah's basin, and then the final 750 to the summit, are made of roughly hewn rock and are steep and uneven in many places, requiring strong knees and concentration in placing your feet.

I'm thinking I'll do the camel route...

Such a privilege to visit this holy ground.

Although I am active LDS and deeply committed to my faith, my Orthodox friends have taught me much about the ancient faith. That has a lot to do with why I am interested in seeing this sacred site. But apart from any of that, just to be in a place with so much history - even if I didn't believe in all that I do about the reality of God, this would be an amazing experience.

Learning about Orthodoxy has been quite the spiritual adventure for me. I had the opportunity to visit St. Anthony's Monastery in Arizona (where I had the privilege of being in the presence of Elder Ephraim) and I've also been to St. John the Forerunner Monastery in Goldendale, WA.

I've learned about the fasts and feasts, the icons, the saints, the liturgies and the prayers. I've read several books about the history and teachings of the early monastics.

While my core spiritual beliefs have some very key differences from Orthodoxy, my spiritual life has been deeply enriched by pondering repentance as I've studied the life of St. Mary of Egypt and following my own version of observing Lent. I praised and celebrated with my pals as we each cried out "Christ is Risen" on Pascha morning. I was deeply honored to be invited to attend the baptism of young Milos, even though my church's position is quite opposed to infant baptism. It wasn't about who was right or who was wrong in what we each hold sacred - it was about every one of us honoring the Lord our God as we understand him to be and standing in holy places together to share that.

I do not expect that I will ever convert to Orthodoxy and I have absolutely no illusions than any of my Orthodox friends will consider investigation the doctrines of my faith. But we are able to set our differences aside to embrace each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and all of us have been enriched by it.

That is a mighty blessing indeed!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

8 Cow Woman

I had some work to do around the house today - playing my "domestic godess" routine. So of course I dressed suitably for the occassion.... loose comfortable pants and my 8 cow woman T shirt. I always get strange looks from people when they see me wearing this shirt.

It is symbolic of the story of the Legend of Johnny Lingo. BYU produced a very cheesy movie depicting this story in back 1969. It's a classic in LDS culture, even though the original story the movie is based on had nothing to do with the church. There is a newer version of the movie out now, an expanded full feature film that adds way more production and backstory . Personally, I like the old 20 minute classic myself.

It is such a solid reminder of the power of social influence and labeling.

I have a lot in common with Mahana (called Sarita in original story). I grew up convinced I had no value. I lived in shadows, shame and fear. But I have this amazing man who came into my life, who treated me like I was worth more than any other woman he had ever known. His love and honoring of me, even when I have not been at my best, have made me want to be a better person. I am so blessed to have him as my life partner.

Hard to believe we will have been married for 25 years this November.

When I am with Larry, I truly feel like an 8 cow woman.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Do you remember playing mad libs when you were a kid....those crazy stories where you put in your choice of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc to create your own individualized tale? I used some of these when I was teaching GED.

You can build your own fun story by going HERE.

Thanks to Naddin J over on "What On Earth Is That Smell" blog for posting this!

Humanitarian Aid

Last night I gathered with a group of women from my church to tie quilts and put together school supply kits to be sent all over the world where ever they may be needed for humanitarian aid. It felt good to share companionship as we busied our hands to help others.

In her book Take Two Chocolates and Call Me In the Morning, Emily Lytle writes about the importance of spending time together and fostering connection in the chapter called "Recapture Some Pea Shelling Time." Like her, I too am very grateful for the modern conveniences that make it possible for me to whip up a meal or get through my duties without having to hand shell my peas or beat rugs or manufacture my own soap. But, also like her, I think in the rush to acquire modern conveniences like washers and dryers and vacuum cleaners and food processors and the like that freed us of much of the drudgery of pioneer life, we've also lost a degree of the connection people used to have when they relied on each other to get things done. My grandmother's generation met together often to raise barns or birth babies or pickle something or sew quilts. We rush around from one appointment to the next text messaging or leaving voice mails or dashing off a few lines of quick e-mail, but too often have precious little time to truly sit in one another's company and share sorrows, share joys, share wisdom, share matters of spirit.

I enjoyed having this opportunity to get together in an informal setting where we could just chat, yet not feel like we are being frivolous or wasting the time because our hands are producing things that will fill an important need. I'm glad I belong to a group that does actively support doing good for others and that I've been taught to view giving service like breathing or eating lunch.... it's not a one time do-good project, but rather an ongoing part of my life.

There were young women with new babies, there were older sisters who had been at literally hundreds of these gatherings over the years, and many like me who were someplace inbetween the two. Some were single. Some were married. Some had careers. Some stayed home to contribute to family. Some were highly educated. Some never completed high school. Some were talented in many ways that show in the world : being gifted in music or writing or the arts. Others had skills in less acknowledged areas - the ability to listen well, a compassionate heart, a great smile. There were many differences between the women who came together for the evening, and yet the sense of unity as a group was palatable. We were all there united for a common purpose. Bookending the meeting at the beginning and end with prayer was the only outward sign that religion had anything to do with bringing us together....the rest of the time was simply laughter and conversation and work. But in my mind, that's some of the best religious practice.... learning to serve and to love is good worship in my book.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wedding Bells

My youngest son has recently announced that he is getting married. I am excited, apprehensive, and amazed by the turns his life is taking.

Aaron has been a single dad raising three kids on his own for quite a few years now. (The youngest, who is now six, was not quite two when their mom left the family.) Aaron did he best he could on his own, facing life struggles with varying degrees of success. As any single parent can tell you, balancing work and family and other obligations with no one there to back you up is a very tough job indeed.

This past January he re-met Stephanie, a woman he had liked when they were teenagers (they once got in trouble when they were fifteen for getting caught kissing behind the church when they were supposed to be in Sunday School!) But they grew up different ways, lost touch with each other, married other people, had families, went through messy divorces, and have both been struggling on their own for some time. Now they have come together again and are ready to blend their families. She has four children ages two to twelve - essentially one counterpart kid for each of Aaron's brood with an extra little girl thrown in as a bonus.

Raising seven children on a struggling college student's part time work salary is not going to be easy. But Aaron never has worried about if something was easy or not. And eventually his schooling should pay off in a career that will take care of the whole tribe, if they can just get through a few lean years.

So come August I will be off to Michigan to meet this new brood of children and re-meet the girl who told me 15 years ago she wanted to marry my son.

And as of the day of their wedding, I will become grandma figure to the whole bunch.

To celebrate this union Larry and I will take the entire clan to Michigan Adventure Amusement park and then we will stay at their house to babysit the wild brood for a week while Aaron & Stephanie take off for a honeymoon. I look forward to having time with them, but a whole week of 24/7 responsibility for this tribe of kids - half of whom we've never even met, has me more than a little intimidated! We are arranging out time off from our jobs so we'll have a few days of R & R to recuperate here when we return before heading back to work. I suspect we'll need it!

Moving Day

It seems half the college where I work is moving offices - I'm losing some space but gaining better temperature control which I suppose is an equitable trade off. I've got all my files boxed up and am trying to figure out what will go where.

I've talked to a couple folks who have worked here long term and they warn me the college does this just about every summer - some say that's the only way they can get faculty to clean out their offices. I don't mind the move just so long as nobody expects me to be able to actually get anything DONE for othe next day or so. It's a friendly chaos here as we share hand trucks and tape, encouraging one another through the transition.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Caledonia Games

This weekend is the annual Caledonia Games festival in Athena. Larry and I went down to the park for a while to listen to the bagpipe players, watch some of the dance competitions, amble around through the clan tent displays and watch the sheep dog trials. And of course we saw many a kilt of one style or another worn over many a knobby knee. It was a fun diversion for a couple hours.

I was pondering the whole "Clan" phenomena as we saw people proudly displaying their specific tartans and insignias. What is it about this that can give a pipe fitter in Ohio or a wheat farmer in Oregon so much of a sense of connection and belonging?

All in all it was a fun celebration - the big event for the year for our sleepy little town.