Writing My Life

Now and Then


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One of My TRUE Stories Illustrating the Power of Reading

I am an admitted read-a-holic. I constantly listen to audiobooks, too. There are worse addictions – like Facebook. (I struggle with that! What a time-sucker!) Anyway, back to reading. I’ve been thinking about it a lot: why it is an important part of my life, how it enriches my thinking, why it finds my heart, and how it straightens me out.

I suppose a friend’s recent comment about books in general and novels in particular stimulated this thinking. She said, “I’m having trouble figuring out how a novel could be useful or helpful for anyone.” And that’s when I remembered the two Ruths. The first Ruth is a young mother I once knew, and the second Ruth is Ruth White, author of Belle Prater’s Boy and many other young adult novels.

A favorite YA novel of mine.

A favorite YA novel of mine.

The two Ruths came together when I agreed to lead a book discussion as part of a Relief Society monthly meeting. (The “Society” is the Mormon Church’s women’s auxiliary.) The hardest part of this assignment was choosing a quality book that would not shock, bore, or overwhelm the participating women. While many were well-read, some were not, which meant I needed a novel that was not too long, too simplistic, too challenging, or too popular.

Because I was a middle school teacher, it was not hard for me to turn to adolescent literature where I can always find rich options that appeal to young and old alike. The reading levels may not be high, but the subject matter can be multifaceted. I decided upon Belle Prater’s Boy as it features fine writing, likable and unlikable characters, charming humor, plus a complex, heart-wrenching theme about loss.

Author Ruth White

Author Ruth White

As I recall, all the women enjoyed the book, and our discussion was filled with excellent insights, diverse viewpoints, and intelligent analyses. My friend Ruth’s response, however, was the most touching, but she did not share it that night. I saw her a few days later at her half-sister’s house, and she pulled me aside to tell me how much she loved the book. Ruth then told me she suffered from dyslexia, and her schooling included special education classes where teachers usually read the novels aloud. Belle Prater’s Boy was the first novel she had personally read from beginning to end. It had taken her the entire month, but Ruth read every word.

If that wasn’t enough to start my waterworks, Ruth then shared her favorite part of the novel. It seems that her mother had taken her own life when Ruth was young, and, of course, the event haunted her. But a passage near the end of the book brought a level of understanding and peace to her heart and mind.

In chapter 23, twelve-year-old Gypsy and her cousin Woodrow go to a treehouse to watch the sunrise and to commemorate the day Woodrow’s mother Belle disappeared the year before. During the conversation about their losses, including the suicide of Gypsy’s father Amos, the two youngsters face the fact that their parents left their children on purpose – not because Belle and Amos did not love the two of them, but because “their pain was bigger than the love.”

That choice encounter has never left me. It is one way a novel can be “useful or helpful” to someone.


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A Lone Woman in a Household of Guys: A Tribute to My Husband and Sons

One Saturday morning in early January 1989, we received one of those dreaded calls that many families have experienced: a “you have been laid-off/fired/let-go/get-lost” calls. We pretty well knew it was coming as the technology company G.E. worked for was always “restructuring”, and he had been pretty lucky to avoid the repercussions over his 10 years of employment. Nevertheless, we were devastated, and losing a job that provided a good salary at age 41 was more frightening than being laid off during the “entry-level” years of one’s life.

Realizing our luck would not always hold, I had gone back to college part-time in 1987 to finish my teaching degree. By 1989, I had completed my general education credits, but still had a long ways to go because I changed my major. I had long wanted to complete my degree, and I knew I should have started sooner as there was no career I wanted to undertake more than teaching. Nevertheless, I did apply to work as a secretary at my brother’s-in-law accounting firm, but I failed the typing test miserably, and we wisely agreed that secretarial work was not the best fit.

Of course, there were unskilled jobs I could have pursued, but after much discussion and many prayers, G.E. and I decided I should do everything I could to finish school as that would benefit our family more in the long term. This meant applying for every grant, loan, and scholarship I could find, carrying a heavy heavy class schedule, and attending school year round. It was a huge decision that placed a significant burden on our entire family.

For my husband’s part, he collected unemployment benefits – which barely scratched the surface of our needs – plus picked up every odd job he could find. These included janitorial work, delivering Yellow Page directories, and yard work once spring came round. He even worked construction with a fireman friend who also owned a small handy-man company. G.E. was willing to undertake any project that would enable him to provide for our family and put his wife through college.

For our boys it meant many things more than just downsizing a lifestyle that included activities and opportunities they enjoyed and planned for. Andy and Joe couldn’t go to the International Boy Scout Jamboree as their older brother Chris had because we didn’t have the money or the time to help them with fund-raisers. None of the boys could attend all the sport camps they had hoped for, but they were able to play Little League Baseball because of the generosity of the Draper Youth Baseball League who waived their participation fees – something they were willing to do because of G.E.’s long-time association with that organization’s board and coaching staff.

Because of the change in our financial circumstances, the older boys willingly helped their dad with his side jobs in addition to their summer employment. Over the years, Chris and Andy worked at some pretty “interesting” places – the smelliest and dirtiest of which was the egg farm.(I’m surprised they still like omelets!) Employment at the nearby elementary was a relief in comparison! Joe, 12, joined his brothers and dad in cleaning offices and delivering the Yellow Pages, and 8-year-old Tim became the resourceful entrepreneur who sold toys, video games, and other odds and ends to get money for the things he wanted or needed.

Like Tim, G.E. and I sold everything we could. The first to go was our fairly new Suburban. My parents gave us their old car to drive, and Gar’s father gave us a dilapidated 1968 seafoam-green stationwagon and a utility trailer to use for the yard-care business. Sometimes, out of desperation, 14-year-old Andy had to drive the thing because he was the only one available to complete the appointment to mow, trim, and edge!

Even with the class-load I carried, it took 2 1/2 years for me to finish my degree. This was the era of keeping in touch via pay phones and long distance charges. Because I went to BYU in Provo, I became a long-distance mother. I purchased a “1-800” card that allowed me to call home and check on the boys. Home-cooked meals for them often meant eating cheese quesadillas on the run or in between homework, chores, part-time jobs, church and school activities. For the most part, they handled it all splendidly – better than their mother.

I knew the toll it was taking when I read one of Joe’s school essays based on the book Banner in the Sky. The assignment asked students to share a challenging experience in their own lives, and our son wrote about the impact of his father losing his job. He earned an “A”, but the essay made his teacher and me cry.

While G.E. obtained employment a few months after the layoff, the pay was just over a third of what he had been making. That meant he and the boys continued to clean offices, mow lawns, and work other jobs. One year, Joe hired on at Taco Time and bought his school clothes and Tim’s.

Over the course of that experience, a neighbor tried to recruit G.E. to sell a multi-marketing product, but my husband said no because he couldn’t live in the “iffy” world of straight commission. We needed to know exactly how much money was coming in and when he’d be paid in order for us to meet our obligations. The neighbor’s response was that he would never perform manual labor as G.E. did to bring in a few dollars here and a few dollars there. But somehow our patched-together income was enough to keep us afloat for the several years it took us to “swim to shore”.

In the meantime, I finished college and started teaching middle school and finances improved. Whenever I count my blessings – which is often – I always include the fine men in my life who made that possible. As a result, I enjoyed a wonderful career in an area I loved and was able to significantly contribute to our family’s income. When financial challenges struck again – which they did – we were able to tackle them in a better, less stressful way.

I adore my “boys” – G.E., Chris, Andy, Joey, and Tim –  who have all had to overcome many difficult trials in their lives, And today I want thank them for putting their mom through school over 25 years ago!

I love you all – and Happy Father’s Day, 2015


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Apparently We Brought Ireland Back with Us!

I doubt we have had more than a handful of sunshiny days since our return from Ireland nearly two months ago! The republic knew how much I loved our visit and so the climate followed us to the western desert we call home.

Ireland comes to Eagle Mountain!!!

Ireland comes to Eagle Mountain!!!

Every cool rainy day reminded me I hadn’t posted the photo essay I have planned, and so now, as the sun is fighting against wind and clouds, I feel prompted to finish what I started. Sit back and enjoy the FACES and PLACES of the Emerald Isle.

Dublin – March 26-28, 2015


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Oh, Dublin! How You Make Me Laugh!

I know Dublin town is crowded and bustlin’ at most hours, but who cannot appreciate the cobbled stones, the cathedrals and pubs, the River Liffey with its Ha’penny Bridge, its viking origins, and the beautiful, friendly people. Walking the winding streets for two plus days was enough to start the love affair, and here are some of the reasons why!

Our Georgian accommodations where we had to read instructions on how to open the room door with an actual key and how to flush the loo with “gusto”!


Faces of Dublin: Devlyn Elvis TaylorDevlyn Taylor – Our Irish Elvis – drove the “hop-on/hop off” tour bus and he broke out in song whenever the mood struck him or the traffic jammed. He had a great voice, and he really could sound like Elvis! He belted out “All Shook Up” and “Danny Boy” among others. And when his voice tired a bit, Devlyn loaded the CD player so we could hear his original compositions recorded in a studio. My favorite was a lullaby he wrote for a grandson who passed away in January. Intermingled amongst his songs, he shared an occasional historical tidbit, but I especially liked his tales of growing up as a “true blue Dubliner.”

FOOD! GLORIOUS FOOD! I RELISHED the food and tried different sorts of yummies in all kinds of pubs where folks don’t just stop in for a pint, but they eat and chat and play games and listen AND dance to Irish bands when they can. We enjoyed the BEST FISH & CHIPS EVER at Leo Burdocks, est. 1913. And Keith and Cedric (if that’s their real names) kept us laughing. You can see their pics on the Leo Burdock website, but these poses were just for me!

Aren't they just too cute?

Aren’t they just too cute?

Temple Bar is the “happenin’ place” when it comes to the “Traditional Irish Music Pub Crawl”. G.E. and I dropped into a few to hear Irish tenors, guitars, and fiddles and watch a little Irish 2-step. Gogarty’s was the most festive pub we visited as guests sang along with the performers and one husky patron finally convinced a visiting miss to join him in dance. It was delightful. And one more thing – “Temple Bar”, a seemingly oxymoron to people of faith, refers to Sir William Temple, Provost of Trinity College in the 1600s. who owned a home in the area back in the day. The “bar”could be a play on words as the district is located on the Liffey River, thus referring to a sand bar as well as the pubs themselves. But there is nary a fact to back that theory as it’s my own.


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46 Shades of Green: an Unforgettable Anniversary

Forty-six years of marriage is a rather non-descript anniversary. Other than the comment – “WoW! You’ve been married that long? That’s really something in this day and age!” – there is not much to set it apart. I researched the appropriate gift for such an occasion and found there is no traditional present, but the “modern” suggestion is an original poem. As romantic as that is, I could hardly imagine my very “left-brained” husband coming up with a verse he hadn’t plagiarized. (In his defense, he is excellent in picking out cards that share the perfect tributes.)

Months ago I came up with my version of what couples could give each other for having stuck together for 46 years – a trip to Ireland. That didn’t seem any more random that “an original poem”, so I went with it. While G.E., the homebody (I almost wrote “homeboy”), wasn’t exactly thrilled about this idea, I whispered in his ear one night, “Don’t you remember that day we married, you kissed me and then said, ‘Sweetheart, when we’ve been married 46 years, I’ll whisk you off to Ireland.’?” He didn’t remember, but I reassured him the promise was made.

“Why Ireland?” you ask.

And I answer, “Why NOT Ireland?”

So off we went to the Emerald Isle on March 25 for nine days, including two for flying and flying and flying. Now, I’ll not bore you with dozens of photos and minute-by-minute details of our most wonderful holiday, but I will regale you over the next few posts with a few favorites of a MOST fascinating island of endearing people that are now part of my heart!

First: PRE-TRIP favorites –

  • Miracles: 1) Getting G.E. to be my traveling companion. He was heroic! 2) Recovering from a nasty cold and 3) packing 9 days of everything into 2 carry-ons!
  • Best investment: Skechers GOwalk – only shoes you’ll need!
Sum Total of My Luggage!

Sum Total of My Luggage!

"These shoes are made for walkin'!"

“These shoes are made for walkin’!”


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Back When I Wanted to be Catholic – and an Ice Skating Olympian

I think my fascination with Catholicism was born at St. Anthony’s Hospital where my mother gave birth to me. Somewhere in my early growing-up years, I heard rumors that before nuns brought babies to their mommies, priests baptized tiny infants. I therefore concluded that I had dual citizenship in the Catholic and the Mormon Churches. I may have even told a few people that I was Catholic.

Vern and Mary with their daughters and Penny, their Cocker Spaniel

Vern and Mary with their daughters and Penny, the Cocker Spaniel

I vaguely remember one or two neighbor children who were bona fide Catholics, but it wasn’t until 1954 when we moved across the street from Vern and Mary and their daughters Ginger, Susan, and Sharon that I learned some details of my “alter-religion”. Susan was closest to my age, and so I assume she served as my mentor in all things Catholic. While she shared some complaints about her faith, I loved everything I learned. For example, I really liked the idea of confession and the resulting absolution from sin. Yes, I know that a tenet of Mormon theology includes repentance, but when I prayed for forgiveness of what I considered many grave transgressions, I wasn’t sure I had been forgiven. I wanted somebody to make it official. Additionally, I was a repeat offender so the idea of frequent trips to the confessional bothered me not in the least. And because I thought of myself as pretty sinful, I also longed to pay penance. For example, I welcomed saying extra prayers especially if I could use a beautiful rosary to keep track of my efforts. In fact, I once bought an early treasure while vacationing at San Juan Capistrano when I was eight: a bracelet designed like a rosary, cross and all.

I really liked the idea of sacrifice, too – at least the ones my friends made. When I was young, Catholics abstained from meat every Friday, not just during Lent, and Fridays were my favorite school lunch days. Cafeteria workers at Lewis and Clark Elementary and Alameda Junior High always served fish sticks or toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup to all students, Catholic or otherwise. I even wanted to “give up” something for Lent. Susan and her sisters usually said goodbye to candy for the six weeks prior to Easter. I think I may have tried to do the same, but if I did, I doubt I lasted 6 days, let alone 40. (Recently I gave up Diet Coke. While this “abstinence” correlates with the Lenten season, it was unintentional, AND I plan to make this a permanent change. I know friends and family are snickering at this – “oh ye of little faith!”)

The biggest attraction to the Catholic faith, however, was First Communion – not because of the importance of receiving the Eucharist for the first time, but because of the beautiful little “wedding” dresses Susan and then Sharon wore. I was SO jealous. When I was baptized into the Mormon/LDS Church at age 8, I wore white knee-length bloomers and a white blouse. I didn’t get a new frock – white or otherwise – for my confirmation. No veil either. Not even white gloves. The adorable Easter dresses and bonnets Mom always bought or made for us did little to diminish my Communion-dress envy.

Looking back at that experience, I find it interesting how religion was often a topic of our childhood conversations. And while my interest in the Catholic Church was fleeting, there was a significant reason I was enamored with my Catholic friends. They were such good, good people. The family was fun and kind. Mom Mary’s wide smile invited friendships, and the girls were intelligent, talented, and beautiful. One summer Ginger kept us busy when she organized a backyard carnival. Under her tutelage, her sisters and we friends created booths by hanging blankets from their clothes line. We featured all sorts of games and prizes, and promoted the event beyond our street to nearby neighborhoods. We charged for the activities but then donated the money – which I don’t recall as being very much, maybe $12 or $15 – to a local charity. Somewhere in my archives is a newspaper photo of us presenting our profits to the organization.

Skating with Mom at Caribou Nat'l Forest rink

Skating with Mom at Caribou Nat’l Forest rink

Then there was Dad Vern; quiet and unassuming, he spent winter nights watering down their back yard to create an ice skating rink. Small at first, the rink’s popularity inspired him to enlarge the square footage until several inches of ice covered all but a tiny corner of their yard. We loved the rink and often hurried home from school to spend a couple of hours there before dinner. I remember one particularly freezing week when schools closed for fear of bursting pipes; nevertheless, the temperatures didn’t dip enough to keep us off the ice. Everyday we spent time playing Crack the Whip and other games with our friends, taking breaks now and again to thaw our toes or sip hot cocoa before resuming.

Wearing our "ice-skating dresses" with Daddy at Caribou rink a few years later

Wearing our “ice-skating dresses” with Daddy at Caribou rink a few years later  

 

When I think of how much time we spent there, I wonder that Vern and Mary rued the day they started that tradition. I can’t imagine how many times children rang their doorbell to ask permission to take the ice, but I don’t remember being turned away very often.

Because of this neighborhood experience, my sister Connie and I became skating devotees, and while our “expertise” did not qualify us for the 1964 Winter Olympics, Mom believed that our love of the sport warranted red corduroy skating dresses!!

The best outcome of that neighborhood skating rink, however, was the closeness we felt to our friends and neighbors. Vern and Mary created lifelong memories of a fun, happy, and safe place for all of us to enjoy regardless of our differences – religious or otherwise. I’ll never forget them!


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Confessions of a Born-again Cook

When I retired last June, I listed some goals I wanted to work on. Among those was to take up cooking. And if I was going to do that, I wanted to prepare healthier and lighter meals. This was not a goal I enthusiastically endorsed but felt it necessary in order to improve my golden year’s health and to save money. So it has shocked, surprised, and amazed me that I have fallen in love with cooking. (Yes, this revelation deserves all three of those verbs!)

This discovery comes from years of seeing myself as a possible candidate for the food network series “Worst Cooks in America”. I am a slow, messy, noisy, compromising, and clumsy chef that uses expired ingredients! (If you doubt my poor image of myself as queen of culinary arts, just read all posts listed under “my cooking life”!) Regardless of how I view myself, I have enjoyed cooking as I never have before, and these are half a dozen reasons why:

  1. Cooking cheers me up. One dismal, cold January day earlier this year, I felt SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) raise its dreary head. Not having anything exciting on my retiree’s calendar, I decided to dedicate the entire day to cooking! I created several recipes from my new favorite food site Skinnytaste.com and a grocery store-mini-book Taste of Home: Light Slow Cooker Recipe Cards(The Taste of Home link takes you to my favorite stew recipe, but I use dried mangoes instead of dried apricots – SO delicious!!) Anyway, by the end of the day, I was in THE BEST MOOD!
  2. Cooking feeds my creative juices. Because I am experimenting with scads of different dishes, I feel like a scientist in the lab, an artist in her studio, an engineer on a design team – well, you get the idea. To serve a successful, delicious, unique meal is so rewarding. Of course, not all recipes have been a hit especially with my meat-and- potatoes, plain-palate husband, but those have been the exception. He LOVED the vegetable beef stew that includes chunks of BUTTERNUT squash as well as the mango, but he wasn’t a big fan of the Quinoa stuffed peppers I whipped up for last Sunday’s dinner. (To appease his boring taste buds, I cook one of his favorites about once a week: meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti, or sloppy Joes. And yes, my eyes just rolled.)
  3. Cooking makes my house smell like a home. I adore the aromas that permeate our little place, and no Scentsy or Febreeze can duplicate wonderful cooking odors that feeds “feel-good” hormones.
  4. Cooking inspires service. Because there are only two of us at the dinner table most nights, we have a lot of leftovers, and G.E. is not high on those – but he’s working on it. That’s okay. I put some in the freezer and try not to forget they are there, but I also deliver my “meals on wheels” to Mom or neighbors who aren’t privy to my poor-cook reputation! So that’s a double bonus – cooking plus service makes me happy!
  5. I have time to cook. Not having to hurry is critical for this slow poke. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, if the recipe claims prep time as 10 minutes, that’s 60 minutes in Renae time. Seriously. But I don’t care. I often cook in the morning when I’m feeling rested and eager. If I am missing an important ingredient, I can run to the store and buy it because I HAVE TIME!!! As my daughter-in-law is a Wildtree representative, I have cooked and frozen 20 yummy meals using their organic ingredients! Yes, it takes a bite out of my week, but again, I am fine with that because – yup, I HAVE TIME!! – and it saves precious minutes in the future!
  6. Cooking is healthier than eating out! While I’m one who has ALWAYS loved a trip to eating establishments – be they restaurants or fast food – such fare is losing its appeal. I get excited to eat my own cooking!!! Seriously. And nearly every dish I make is a “from-scratch” recipe. No preservatives or artificial flavors – I get enough of those in my Diet Coke.

So those are just a few of the reasons I know “cooking is true”. And I hope this newfound love lasts because I am feeling dang good about it. While I’m sure I’ll never be a foodie, I am thrilled with my status of “born-again cook”, and G.E. is too – well, most of the time.

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