Monday, May 21, 2018

Youth in Action

April 28, 2018: These young men tackled our pine needle problem.

Three weeks ago, we had the privilege of having a group of young men from our church ward's youth group come to our home and clean up the yard for us. There were nine young men (ages twelve to seventeen), five of their youth leaders, and two members of our bishopric who showed up at my door at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, prepared to work.

The big backyard is always the worst.

These are young people with a work ethic! They jumped right in and had the whole yard done in less than two and a half hours. I didn't see a single youth who failed to carry his own weight. No one stood around looking uncertain or trying to avoid the labor. I also didn't see anyone who worked grudgingly. Each person, youth and adult, had a smile on his face and spoke cheerfully, laughing and joking and solving problems together.

I asked what I could provide, like a snack or a breakfast, but the Young Men president said, "Water would be good. That's all they need." So I filled an ice chest with ice and bottled water. As the day warmed up, it became a very popular stop. A mother of one of the boys brought by three dozen donuts, and one of the youth leaders brought a big bag of fruit snacks, so the boys had energy sources available.

The big pile of branches in my yard was becoming a fire hazard.

In a sense, this service project was an extension of the men's November project, when the elders and high priests from church came to put on my new metal roof. A few of the men had also pruned some trees and trimmed back a bunch of dead branches from my oak trees and Ponderosa pines, resulting in a huge pile of green debris in a corner of my driveway, along with another, smaller pile of leftover roofing supplies. They assured me that they'd send a group back to haul away the piles (since I don't have access to a truck or trailer), and bring along the youth to rake my yard for good measure.

Backing in a trailer to haul off the green waste.

Our fire season has always had the potential to start early, but back when we used to have wet, snowy winters, we generally didn't have to worry much before May and June. This year, though, after an extremely dry winter, the mountain fires began very early, in March. All have been human-caused so far, which is scary because it's completely unpredictable. So I was getting nervous. I told several people I was worried that my yard would become the catalyst for burning down our entire neighborhood. And I was only half-joking! Thus, I was SO relieved when these men and youth came to rescue my yard.

Chopping up the branches cut down by our bishop (on the right).

I did make one special request, which was, again, a carryover from the November project. Two tall oaks on the north side of my house had extremely long branches that hung very low, especially when weighted down by snow. Unfortunately, they were attached to the trunk at a very high position, difficult to reach. The men who were there in November didn't have a tall enough ladder and didn't feel they were young enough to tackle such a tricky, strenuous task.

Prior to the arrival of this April group, I asked if some of the younger men (not the boys) could get those branches for me, and they did. They brought a taller ladder and a chainsaw. It was, in fact, our ward's bishop who took on the task, and it was a little bit frightening to watch. But they did a great job!

Tackling the pile.

I love how the people in my church family are always willing to minister to each other in a variety of ways, serving needs both physical and spiritual. I've always felt inadequate in this regard, having a desire to serve but coming up short in the recognition of needs and how to effectively offer help. As a single, working, older mom (I was thirty-five when my first child was born) with limited energy levels, my own life was often so overwhelming that it was hard to push myself forward, let alone see the need to reach out to others. Most of my service opportunities seemed to be reserved for my children and closest friends and family.

Now that I'm retired and my children are adults doing great things on their own, I'm working to become more aware of the needs around me. I hope to get better at this throughout the coming years. Although my ability to physically serve will become diminished over time, I know there are many other subtle ways in which we can show love and give support to one another. It really is, always, all about love.

The leftover roofing materials were finally taken away to the dump.

As for being the one on the receiving end, that can also be difficult. I love these givers for their selfless service during my time of need, but I'm frustrated that there's no way I can ever pay back what they've given. This has required a shift in perspective for me. It's not truly service if something is required in return, so I need to let go of my need to pay it back. Instead, I need to look for ways to pay it forward. Somewhere, someone has a need I can fulfill. I just need to open my spiritual eyes, listen to the Spirit, and be prepared to act.

Wish me success!

Loading the big pile of branches into the trailer.

It was awesome to see that huge pile dwindle to nothingness.

And soon the job was done! It just took two loads to do it!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Quick Trips

May 2, 2018: Dinner at Texas Roadhouse in Mesa. Left-to-right:
Mark, Steve, Karla, Gabby, Addison, Mary, and Jake. Photo by Dylan.

I don't like quick trips to the Valley. Sometimes they are necessary for brief matters, when you don't want to spend money on a hotel room or sleep on a relative's couch or miss two days of work, but I really prefer to spend at least one night in town when possible. Not that it's a major trip, like traveling out of state. It's only a three-hour drive, but it can seem ridiculous to drive three hours, stay for an hour or two to complete your business, and then turn around and drive three more hours back home. I don't like it.

Mark and I have been doing a lot of quick trips these past few months, especially for dealing with the house we've inherited and the legal issues involved with evicting the people living in it. I can't justify spending all that time on the road and all that money on gas, just to take an hour or two to eat lunch and file papers in court (or whatever else), and then turn around and drive back home.

So we look for things to do while we're in town, things to stretch out the time (and stretch our legs) before getting back in the car for another three hours of sitting. In the old days, we would always stop to visit my sister, Karla, for a few hours. Back then, she was a stay-at-home mom, but now that she's a working lady, she doesn't get home before we're back on the highway, so we rarely do that anymore.

Dylan, Mark, and Jake head into Texas Roadhouse for dinner.

Earlier this month, though, we were given the opportunity for a family visit via Arizona's big "Red for Ed" teacher walkout. Karla's school (where she's the executive secretary) closed down for about six school days. Not a great thing for lost instruction time and lost support-staff pay, but a nice chance to see my sister while she was briefly a "woman of leisure."

We began our get-together as soon as we got into town, around 12:45. Karla met us for lunch at Chick-fil-A, where we enjoyed the delicious salads and a fun chat. Karla bragged that she'd ordered nice weather for our visit, and it was very nice for early May in the Valley, since a cold front had moved in. I think the day's high temperature topped out around 78 degrees. Perfect!

From Chick-fil-A, Karla had an appointment to go to and we had to go see if our "tenants" were still in our house (they were), being the day after the eviction notice stated they needed to be out. However, by a little after 4:00, we were together again at Karla's house to continue our visit.

Karla and her husband Steve enjoy peanuts at Texas Roadhouse.

Karla's husband Steve, a trucker, got home a little earlier than expected, so we were all able to go out to eat together at Texas Roadhouse. I'd never eaten there before, but I really enjoyed it. Good food, fun atmosphere, great company. And plenty of low-carb options so I didn't need to feel guilty about my meal.

Another family group shot, this time with Dylan in it. Photo by Jake.

Originally, this was going to be one of those dreaded quick trips. We'd planned to meet Karla for lunch and have a brief visit, and that was to be the end of it. However, our plans changed when Dylan called to ask about joining us so he and Jake could enjoy a short visit with some of Jake's family. I was happy to change my plans, but we quickly realized this would turn it into a two-day trip instead, so I booked a hotel room for overnight.

I stayed low-carb for the whole day! Grilled shrimp and steak, with
green beans, broccoli, carrots. My dinner rolls went to Mark & Dylan.

After an amazing evening of dining and visiting with Steve, Karla, Gabrielle, and Addison, we all shared hugs and said our goodbyes. Then we headed to our hotel for the night.

The next day, Wednesday, we stopped by West Mesa Justice Court to file my complaint for the eviction before spending the afternoon visiting with Jake's side of the family. After a nice lunch at Golden Corral, it was time to make that drive back home to the White Mountains. Two days are so much nicer than one.

Mark and I visited this Bass Pro Shop in Mesa.

We returned to Mesa just five days later, to appear in court on the eviction complaint. This time, it truly was a one-day jaunt. We had to leave home really early, at 6 a.m. We drove through Payson, stopped at a Carl's Jr in Mesa for a bathroom break, and arrived at court by 9:00. Our appearance was scheduled for 9:30, but it was closer to 10:00 when we went before the judge. We walked out at 10:30. 

Now what? Three hours in the car again? Not so fast! I asked Mark what he thought we should do. He recommended the mall. Which mall? Fiesta Mall? I had to remind him that it's closed. Not closed for renovation, but closed forever. Then how about Arizona Mills mall, about 20 minutes away? Maybe.

"Welcome fishermen, hunters, and other liars."

Meanwhile, since we'd eaten a quick breakfast of deviled eggs at 5:45 a.m., we drove to a nearby El Pollo Loco for an early lunch at 11:00. This place just happened to be on a street called "Bass Pro Drive." While we were eating our grilled chicken, Mark suggested, "Why don't we go to Bass Pro Shop instead?"

Inside the Bass Pro Shop, looking toward the main entrance.

I loved that idea. I wasn't feeling in the mood to wander a mall, but I love Bass Pro Shops. To me, they're like a mini Las Vegas. That's probably because I don't gamble when I'm in Vegas, but I love to see the themes of various casinos (including often-free exhibits), from ancient Rome at Caesars Palace to the canals and gondolas at the Venetian. At Bass Pro Shops, it's the idyllic world of the great outdoors. So that's what we did for the next hour and a half. We even bought Mark a couple of new Bass Pro tee-shirts.

Loved this tableau. That's a mannequin, not a real angler.

I'm no hunter or fisherman. I don't think I could kill any living creature (except insects and arachnids who invade my home turf). On the other hand, I greatly admire outdoors-men (and outdoors-women) for their skills. And, while I may not kill my own meat, I'm always happy to eat some venison stew or elk steak! As long as the rules of the hunt are respected (including the limits that keep our wildlife in balance) and the kill is used for food and not sport alone, I support the right to hunt. I'm not freaked out by guns or by taxidermy.

Mark's favorite was the boat sales. He's a fisherman through and through.

If I were to buy a boat, I'd choose this $70,000 luxury model.

Mark liked it, too. He even made motor sounds while pretending to drive!

One of two elevators going to the second story at bass Pro Shop.

A beautiful aquarium was nestled under the elevator.

Will I get in trouble for showing firearms on my blog?

A shooting arcade on the second floor.

Getting close to this bull elk reminded me how huge these beasts are.
Mark and I were almost trampled by a running herd in the early 1990s
while in the forest near home, searching for the perfect Christmas tree!

The view from Bass Pro's second floor. I see the fudge shop below,
but I managed to walk away without even asking for a free sample!

From there, we went to the Walmart across the street to purchase an ice-free ice chest (it plugs into the car to chill). I'd been looking for one since last summer, but they always seemed to be sold out (even at the Bass Pro Shop). I was so happy to find one, and then we used it to keep our water bottles and my leftover chicken chilled on the drive home.

Mark finds Riverview Lake almost unrecognizable these days.

Next, we stopped by Riverview Park. We'd passed by the park on our way to El Pollo Loco earlier, and now Mark suggested we go back to check it out. It's a place with a lot of history for us, although it's been so modernized that now it's barely recognizable. There's even a big Sheraton Hotel on the property, across from the lake.

East end of the lake.

I first came to know Riverview Park when we moved to Mesa from California in 1980. My brothers played baseball there, although they mostly called it "Sewer-view Park," due to the stench from a nearby wastewater reclamation plant when the wind blew the wrong direction.

Center of the lake.

When Mark and I were dating, and then newlyweds, we used to go to Riverview Park for picnicking and fishing. It required a special urban fishing license, but it was close to home and therefore more convenient than driving out to a real lake, such as Canyon Lake or Saguaro Lake. Most of the time we went in the evening, after the sun went down. There wasn't enough shade for me then, and there's not enough shade for me now! (Which is why I prefer our mountain lakes, surrounded by forest.)

West end of the lake.

This park was where I first realized I was never going to be a fisherman. I'd go along with a big blanket and a book, thinking it would be a romantic way for us to be together, even if I wasn't fishing, but that quickly got old. Mark can sit still for literally hours when he's fishing, and he loves it. All I'd get was a headache, a sunburn, and boredom! Eventually, I'd just say, "Have fun fishing. See you when you get home!"

Mark walks past the path curling around to a pavilion on the hilltop.
If it had been after sundown, I'd have enjoyed walking to the top.

The lake at Riverview was quite different back in those times. It may have been man-made (not sure), but it was a real body of water surrounded by a real dirt beach. Now it's just a cement pond, although a maintenance man there told Mark they'd recently stocked it with 6,000 lbs of catfish.

Ducks on the water, hoping we had food to share. Sorry!

By the time we got to the park, it was approaching 1:00 and the temperature was rising, nearing 90 degrees. Last week's cold front had moved on. For Mark, this was fine. He took off to walk around the entire, rather large park. I opted to sit on a bench under the sparse shade of a palm tree and enjoy the quiet and the view. An occasional hiker would walk past and there was a group of schoolchildren having an activity on the other side of the lake, but it was mostly quiet and still. I like that. It's relaxing, even in the heat.

My not-so-shady shade tree.

We stayed at Riverview for about 45 minutes. By the time Mark finished his walking tour and rejoined me, we'd been in Mesa for almost five hours, so we decided it was time to get on the road. We stopped by Mark's lawyer's office in Apache Junction on our way out, so we continued on the route home through Globe even though we knew we'd encounter some serious roadwork. Which is why we'd traveled through Payson in the morning. Can't be late for court!

The view from our stop for roadwork on the trip home.

In true Hobbit style, we stopped for "second lunch" at Carl's Jr. in Globe at 3:00. Despite a lengthy wait for the expected roadwork, we were home by 5:00. Hopefully, that will be our final quick-trip for a very long time!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mothers Day 2018

Two of the three reasons I get to be a mom! Sarah, Mary, and Dylan
together on Mothers Day, May 13, 2018. (The third reason is still in Utah!)

As they do every year, my children make Mothers Day a memorable event for me.

I started off with church, where our bishopric outdid themselves in honoring mothers and all women of influence this year. Nearly all the men in our ward Elders Quorum had volunteered to cover the duties of the ladies throughout the three hours of meetings (except the organist and music director in sacrament meeting, because there simply were no men in our ward with commensurate skills).

Thus, the Primary children's classes were taught by the men of the priesthood, as were the Young Women youth group classes and any other classes ordinarily taught by a woman, leaving all the sisters free to attend the Sunday School gospel doctrine class during the second hour, and giving them a break from the planning of their lessons for one week.

During the third hour, the bishopric took over our usually-all-female Relief Society meeting. They had set up tables in the cultural hall, where they served us cheesecake with various toppings and then showed a wonderful old video of a tribute to women by one of our beloved former prophets, Gordon B. Hinckley. 

It was awesome to see the room filled with the many great ladies of our ward. I think we sometimes forget how many of us there are, since so many serve in the various auxiliaries of the Church each Sunday. I loved that we were all able to gather in one room while the brethren waited on us! As a member of the Relief Society presidency (I was upgraded a few weeks ago from secretary to counselor, although I'm doing both callings until we get a new secretary), it was nice to feel pampered and to relax with no duties for one Sunday (well, I did still have to pass around the attendance rolls...).

To our bishop and his team: Bravo!

A surprise from Mark.

Mark was already home from work when I got back from church. Mothers Day is such a busy day at Denny's that the manager scheduled every dishwasher to work, but eventually the crowds died down and the overkill was no longer needed, so Mark got off at 11:30. Our block of church meetings lasts from 11:00 to 2:00, and then there's always someone to visit with afterward, so I didn't get home until after 2:30.

When I walked in the house, one of the first things I saw was Mark's little display of a silk rose, a cute pair of heart-shaped earrings, and a Mothers Day card. That was such a sweet surprise.

Then Jacob called me on his break at work this afternoon, to wish me a happy Mothers Day. We spoke briefly about his upcoming move back to Arizona, just seventeen days away! It would be unrealistic to think that all three of my children will be able to be together for every event for the rest of our lives, but I will be hugely grateful to have all three of them living in the same state again! Three hours away is so much better than ten or twelve hours!

Sarah sautes pork chops in olive oil, diced onion, and garlic.

Sarah had announced a few days earlier that she was going to prepare dinner for us, in honor of Mothers Day. I was to plan nothing. She chose a new recipe: Creamy Parmesan Garlic Pork Chops. Arriving with two bags of ingredients just before 6:00, she set to work.

Then she sets the browned pork chops aside to make the sauce.

Along with cooking the pork chops, Sarah threw together a green salad and stirred up a batch of Crystal Light. Meanwhile, we were waiting for Dylan to join us on his dinner break, around 7:00, since he had to work until 10:00 that night. Jake joined us at 7:00 and Dylan arrived fifteen minutes later, just in time for dinner!

Sarah makes a sauce of chicken broth, heavy cream, cream cheese,
Parmesan and cheddar cheeses, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.

Sarah's meal was a huge success. Everyone commented on how much they loved the pork chops. I suggested Sarah should make them for us about once a month. She rolled her eyes, but everyone seconded my motion!

Finally, the chops are returned to simmer in the cheesy sauce.

Dylan only had an hour before he had to return to work, so we needed to move things along. Before we ate, he had rushed into another room with a roll of birthday gift-wrap to wrap his Mothers day gift for me. When he came out, he showed me the perfectly wrapped box and I was duly impressed by how quickly he'd done such a great wrapping job.

Perfect wrapping job, or...

Then he turned the box and I saw that he'd fooled me by only wrapping one end! We all had a good laugh over that.

...or an optical illusion!

No one has ever given me an orchid before!

After dinner, Dylan and Jake's present was the only gift for me to open. When Sarah and Chris had arrived, they couldn't exactly hide the big orchid plant and large card they'd brought me. The orchids are beautiful, my very first ones, and the big card is all glittery. Glittery is my favorite kind!

All my gifts, including a new yoga ball from Dylan and Jake.

It didn't take long to peel off the tiny bit of wrapping paper and reveal that my gift from Dylan and Jake was a yoga ball. That may seem odd at first, but they know I don't like to sit at my desk in a chair. I use a well-inflated yoga ball instead. I find it so much more comfortable, and it keeps my back and hips flexible (an important detail at my age!). It's also good for maintaining balance. Even at school, I used a yoga ball at my desk for about the last twenty years. It always fascinated my students, who constantly begged to sit on it. The answer was always a firm, "Absolutely not!"

For dessert, Sarah planned and prepared strawberry shortcake! Yum!

At the end of the festivities, Dylan had to eat his dessert on the run, since he was late returning to work. The rest of us enjoyed visiting for a while, and we were able to enjoy our delicious strawberry shortcake in a more leisurely fashion.

Chris surprised me when he took over the kitchen and washed up all my dishes for me. A home-cooked meal like this one can dirty up a lot of dishes. How nice to wake up to all clean dishes this morning! I told him, "Chris, that might just be my favorite gift of all!"

This morning, I put my two cards on display in the living room.

There are no words to describe how blessed I am to be a mother, especially to be the mom of three good-hearted people as wonderful as my kids. I don't need a holiday or cards or gifts or special meals to remind me what an honor it is to have them in my life. The fact that they consistently pay tribute to their mother--and not just on Mothers Day--says more about what great children they are than it could ever say about me. 

What a blessing you are to me! I love you all, Sarah, Jacob, and Dylan, and my sons-in-law, too, Chris and Jake! Thank you for making me feel loved!

I also moved my lovely orchid to the living room, since
it's supposed to receive only indirect light.

Now it's on the coffee table with my redwood burl from northern California.
Yes, it's still alive seven months later!