Saturday, December 28, 2013

Seven Days of Christmas: Day 4

I have been a bit slow getting the next of our seven days of Christmas posted, but today while my kids are at a sleepover with their cousins I have taken a moment to add more to this series. 
It's been a fun change to work on publishing these - being so different from my usual posts because of their focus on the every day adventures with my kids (and there are even real pictures!)

Still Giving!

So, as I mentioned in Day 2 (Games and Giving), we made all the cookies only to find I couldn't find the gift bags! So on Day 4, I bought new ones and we started the day off by venturing up and down our street to deliver neighbor gifts the old-fashioned way: no car, in the cold, stopping to talk with anyone who was home. We had some great visits and got to meet neighbors we hadn't before - loved it! I might just do this every holiday!
The second door we knocked on, we were welcomed in to the house of Elise's old Sunday School teacher (not that he's old, just that he isn't her teacher any more :). He has recently retired from managing the BYU Bookstore art department and is a native of Italy. We loved seeing all the art in his home (both his and others'). To the left, Elise is posing under a beautiful replica painting of Mary and the Christ child being serenaded by angels - playing the violin no less! Below is a picture of a holiday decor he made for his wife from a block of wood and an old tree decoration that had bell-ringers hitting bells to play Christmas tunes.

It was VERY impressive! And still so much we could have gazed at and taken in on the shelves and walls of his home. What a fun visit! Before we left, he shared pictures with us of his recent experience being an extra in a few of the LDS Bible videos (they bleached his hair to fit him for the role of being a shepherd in one of the videos).  No, he wasn't trying to look like Santa this season - but he sure does now!

In all, it was a wonderful morning spent getting to know our neighbors better and spreading some Christmas cheer - a great ending to Day 2 . . . two days late. :-)

But the day was just getting started! We still had to get ready for . . .

Books and Blankets

This is one of my favorites of the seven days. The kids make a tent out of blankets and sheets and we give them new books and read them together before they sleep in their "new residence." Before we could make the tent, though, we had to perform a miracle!!  What miracle would that be? Well, I thought it would be going from this:

 To the house looking more like this:

But I was soon to find out that the best miracles are the unexpected ones you don't plan on or ask for.

 Like your youngest daughter throwing a tantrum because she WANTED to be the one to do the dishes.

Or your two youngest children having fun taking turns being the one to wash (four turns 8 minutes each mind you!)

Or that your daughter was upset that she didn't get to do the last dishes (hadn't she had enough??)

Or that taking her picture can settle her down so quickly (my little narcissist) 

But even better were these words from my daughter:

Me: Norah, you have been such an amazing helper today. You passed out neighbor gifts, you cleaned dishes, and now you sure are cooking that chicken well.
Norah: Yeah. That's because I want to be a mom and have kids.
Precious. Gifts mommy's like to hear.

So. This is reality blogging. Yes, our living area went right back to being a disaster after making dinner and a tent, but that brings up one more miracle I've felt a lot this year and I guess I'll make it the thought for this post (and somehow I'll tie it in to Christmas!): 

A messy house doesn't have power over me like it use to. 

I finally came to realize a couple years ago (and it's been growing deeper every passing day) that it's not my job to keep the house clean. The state of the house does not reflect how well I'm doing my job. Because I'm not a housekeeper. I'm a mother (in training!!!!) And being a mother means raising a family in Light and Truth with love-guided agency. At least, that's what I believe.

If chores are killing the love in our home in the Present Moment, my Inner Guide has taught me I need to remember to scrap how I'm going about them until I find a way that brings light (which builds, binds and strengthens relationships) and chases away darkness (which creates cracks and emptiness in relationships). If that way doesn't come at first, I must keep trying something new, make it a matter of prayer, listen for and follow the nudges that come until I find that way.

Because Light is more important than cleanliness.

I should probably explain my lingo. When I say "Light," I'm not talking about sunlight, I'm talking about a spiritual light. I'm talking about a condition of the soul and the environment that grows out of your soul's influence that makes it possible for you and others around you to see and feel Truth and direction from the spirit (Truth being eternal Truths that don't change, not temporary "trues" that are often used to darken our soul - infinite thanks to my mentor for highlighting this important distinction).

I believe that just as sunlight or artificial light helps me see things in the physical world, Light (with a capital "L" :-) helps me see Truth in the spiritual world. You could say, then, that this kind of Light expands our understanding - gets us outside of our temporal world boxes (follow that link for a picture of what I'm thinking of when I say that). A spiritual state of darkness is a time or moment when I feel clouded, contentious, lazy, boxed in, or when I might feel the need to justify my actions, when I can't think clearly or learn easily, when I am fearful, worried, anxious, or seeking addictive forms of relief.

So! Putting it all together!

 If a messy house is the result of a way to create things full of LIGHT and TRUTH by:
searching for them in books, 
sketching them with paper,
 feeding the search for them with food, 
playing in that stream of Light with string,
 and glue,
 and clay,
 and LEGOS,
 and blocks,
 and scissors,
 and pens,
 and pencils,
 and instruments,
 and music,
 and sheets,
 and wooden stools ETC!!!

... then I'll take the mess as PROOF of doing my job. And if the mess needs to be cleaned before we can go on, or in order to not make visitors feel unwelcome, in order to keep an environment of Light - then that is purpose and motivation to clean! TOGETHER. And there is nothing wrong with a daily habit of this group effort! But I'm doing better at remembering to keep the purpose in place.

It took a miracle to get me here - angels and inspiration and blood sweat and tears. I'm still growing in my understanding of it. Still polishing the craft. But it's becoming one of the greatest gifts of understanding God has given me in the recent past.

And now I share the "taste" of it with you this Christmas season!
There. I tied it in to the holiday. :-)

Reading our new books together before bed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Seven Days of Christmas: Day 3

Day Three: Fleece and a Film

Last year we made fleece blankets while watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with the intent of dropping them off at Primary Children's hospital. When Elizabeth had gone to that hospital with a concussion on Easter of 2012 they gave her a fleece blanket as soon as she arrived. This act of love overwhelmed me. My daughter was not able to remember her name, couldn't say more than a few letters of the alphabet, knew she knew me, but wasn't sure who I was. All because she'd collided with a cousin on the swings at grandma's thirty minutes before.  I was a mess. And that blanket was a comfort like no warmth on a cold day could bring.  I still cry remembering the feeling that some woman loved enough to take the time to make something that could bring so much reassurance and peace during a particularly difficult time. Lizzy sleeps with it every night and I will never forget. 

Yet, the trip to Primary's with all the kids in tow never came until I finally decided to save them for this year. Here we are, finally dropping off our blankets carefully tucked away in the window seat for a year! *sigh*

Next, we met Adam at home to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" together. The kids decided to use the boxes from violin shipments for theater seats :-). The rest of us snuggled on the coach.  They weren't sure about this black and white movie (even though they'd seen it last year), but after a little convincing and ten minutes in, they were hooked. Adam needed to get up early to work in the temple so I suggested we finish the rest the next day, but they insisted they wanted to finish it and would put their selves to bed. 

Twenty minutes later as Adam and I were drifting off to sleep, Norah knocked on our door crying, "This movie is too sad!  I can't watch, I can't watch!"  I assured her she'd like the ending and that it was only pretend that he'd lost all his family, but that she could snuggle with me if she didn't want to finish watching. She decided she wanted to give it a try. 

Forty or so minutes later when we were asleep, another little knock came on the door followed by Norah coming to me and giving me a kiss on the cheek with a sweet "I love you mommy, goodnight." Then Ellie came next, giving me a hug, crying, and saying how sorry she was that she had made a fuss saying she didn't want to watch the old black and white film.  Sweet Daysies. 

Thinking of the story of that film brings to mind the story of Handel a friend wrote and shared during a Community Christmas Concert I participated in just after Thanksgiving. I'll quote part of it here as a final "liken" thought:

Seven Days of Christmas: Day 2

Day Two: Games and Giving

 The kids were so excited to open their games, they insisted we do it first thing in the morning instead of at night as I'd planned. Adam led us in a Christmas song and then shared the following before he headed to work. (Yes, I recorded it -glad I did, too!) 

"Today I took Ellie out to breakfast [for her birthday] and gave her a card with this scripture on it, D&C 88:11 'and the light which shineth which giveth you light is through Him who enlighteneth your eyes which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings.' I shared that with her because I have been very impressed with her example. She came first, so she sets the example and . . in her and in each one of you I see you take on the Light of Christ in a big way. You are very obedient, you love to mind, all of you are sensitive to the Spirit . . . and there is a certain light about you.  It is the most important thing, the most significant thing you can ever have in your life. Because if you don't have light, you have darkness . . . you have a dimness that you can see in a person. . . . I want you to notice that the tree is covered with light. There is symbolism in that. It glows with light. Happiness comes when we allow more light into our lives and the more you give, the more light you allow into your life."

Worked as a team to the end!
 This year the learning game was a wooden Sudoku board with a storage drawer. For the purely "fun" game, "Sliders" - a spin on "Sorry!" that's like a cross between bowling, darts, and Sorry. Nathan really enjoyed that he had to build the board and use his pliers to pull apart two playing pieces that came stuck together. My little engineer.  The "active" game was a badminton set that had a super big shuttlecock and large, padded rackets. Nathan and Ellie wanted to stay and create with their LEGOS and listen to their latest audiobook, so the little girls and I ventured out into the snow storm for errands badminton at our nearby recreation center.

 "Day of the Bells" at the library. Find and keep your own bell. Sweet!

After 20 minutes, Lizzy was tuckered out (and Norah was ever-ready to pose for a pic). I realized the girls hadn't eaten lunch yet - we'd been so busy with the games all morning . . . Lizzy had to crawl to the bench where we ate the snacks she was so famished :-). No drama in these girls!
 "Bounce Catch" is their favorite game to play together at the gym. We simply count how many times in a row the girls and I can bounce the ball and catch it without dropping it or letting it bounce more than once.  We got to 50 in a row this time, so I made things fancy: Single or double "Left-Right Bounce-Catch" and "Twirl-Catch." 

We'd spent long enough at the gym I felt ready to try getting home again (our first try we couldn't get up any of the hills to our neighborhood and almost got stuck). Slowly inching through our neighborhood, I was warmed by the sight of seeing many people on every street out shoveling their driveways. You mean there are actually people living in those homes? We have neighbors?!  Such a sight as real, living, breathing people out in their yards, talking to their neighbors, helping each other and playing - it had a strange and penetrating beauty about it. Gave me a craving to be out among them.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Seven Days of Christmas: Day 1

Last year, I wrote about a new tradition we'd began in my family doing the Seven Days of Christmas. 
The idea is that we have a theme each day and the presents given and experiences shared get less and less about ourselves and more and more about others and about Christ so that by Christmas, there is only stockings in the morning and family and Christmas stories and music and memories. It requires very little shopping, and only a little planning each morning. I'm loving it! It's my version of likening the meaning of Christmas to my family and life.

This year, I decided to take pictures and share how each day goes. Maybe you'll find ideas that inspire you to try this with your own family! Otherwise, it's a good old-fashioned blog designed to update my family across the country.

Day one's theme is "Treasure Hunt for Toys." This year was easy - every single one of my kids begged for LEGOS. Thanks to aunt Mary's donation, I could do double what I was planning for each child. Way to start the week off with a materialistic focus, right? ;-)

Treasure Hunt for Toys

Ready for the treasure hunt? YES!

Singing Silent Night to set the tone. . .

Then a video of Jesus' birth... (This one)

Then I told the kids to look at this table and find two things that will help them in their treasure hunt. 

They found a card on the Bible that read,
 You search for treasure, toys to be exact, but shepherds 2013 years ago looked to find something more valuable than gold - our Savior Jesus Christ. Find treasure if you must, but let the scriptures be your guide. In word and in letter you’ll spell out your treasure:
Luke 2:7
3-4, 1-2, 1-3, 2-3, 3-2, 13-1, 7-2, 20-5, 20-3, 21-2

_ _ _ _ _     _ _ _ _ _ 

They set to work!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Woman Power

(Either you are a woman, or you are a man who loves a woman (wife, daughter, mom, sister, whatever). That means the picture I'm going to attempt to paint in this post could change your life. It is changing mine. And, though this isn't the place it started, I'll start, with a book.)

I bought a book the other day that came highly recommended called, Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I think I decided to grab it and add it to the pile of ten partly finished books on my nightstand because when I read it, I feel closer to my brother and sister-in-law who live on the other side of the country in Ithaca, New York; feel like I get a taste of the things my brother is thinking and studying so much about.

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic EconomicsI finished chapter two while waiting at my daughter's Nutcracker rehearsal earlier today and my brain wouldn't stop thinking about the "liken" thoughts that came (still hasn't).  In quick summary, Hazlitt takes a page from Frederic Bastiat and explains the fallacy behind thinking that a "hoodlum" braking a window has a positive side because it provides employment opportunities for others (those who would replace the window). This is an error, he (Hazlitt) explains, because there are the "unseen" effects, namely, the things the baker would have done with the $250 had he not had to spend it replacing his broken window.

Here, because I've been thinking so much lately about physical creation verses relational or spiritual creation, my mind wandered and I thought: What if the "hoodlum" didn't smash the window, but instead used his time to create something - say a playhouse out of discarded wood and tools nobody wanted (no money spent)? And what if he enlisted his father's help and as they worked on it together, it created a stronger bond between them that was lacking before? What if the boy included his friends - included a lonely boy who lives down the street and has no friends? What if he trusted this lonely boy with part of the creation of this playhouse and then included him in the "play" that later went on there?

In this scenario, nothing has been bought and nothing has been sold. No jobs were created, and no jobs were lost (at least jobs that paid in physical value), but was value created? Yes! And talk about unseen effects! The interactions between the father and son, between the son and the new friend could have positive effects for years to come.  Something so small and simple could change the course of all three of their futures for good if enough relational value was created, if enough relational pain was healed. We talk so much about creation in the physical world. What about spiritual economics? Creation like this that goes on every day in the "unseen" world?

(As we go forward, I will use words like "relational" or "spiritual" to describe this "unseen" world. That is because, to me, the spiritual realm is all about relationships; spiritual laws, covenants and ordinances are all about eternal relationships. And yes, I know I'm shifting and using a different meaning for the word "unseen" than Bastiat used in his essay that I read so long ago. Click on that link if you want to know how he used the word :).

Trying to liken these thoughts to my life, it makes me want to play a game, the how-much-value-can-I-create-out-of-nothing game. In other words, how can I use the physical seen things I already have to create something in the spiritual or unseen world? The more I play this game, the more I wonder how such actions might affect the world's. . . "balance sheet"? Because I begin to think that accountants and economists are missing a certain "asset column" in their calculations.

I was in the beginning of this train of thought on our way home from the Nutcracker rehearsal yesterday when Elise asked if we could quickly stop at the Kmart by our house so she could use money she'd been saving to buy a new LEGO set. We made the stop and she quickly chose a LEGO Creator Treehouse (huh, funny! I wasn't thinking of that when I wrote the playhouse bit haha).  As we walked back to the register, I couldn't help feel as I always do when I go there - that I wonder how they're still in business; where all the merchandize goes when people never buy it and they can no longer sell it; if there can possibly be enough people that frequent this "ghost town" Kmart to put to use the rack of Santa boxer shorts, cheap jeans, or the wall of fabric softener? Surrounded by so much stuff, I couldn't help wonder if we can possibly use it all - those who shop here.

Then the feeling grew while waiting in line: there are more people creating stuff, than there are people creating relationships.

(It's okay, you can laugh. It might sound funny, but if you keep reading, I think I can explain. And, I also think the solution might be more simple than we make it.)

 It's like we feel a lack of balance in our life and in turning to the physical world to fix it, we just get more out of balance. The evidence of this imbalance is the undeniable truth that there are more people created on this earth than there are people willing to love them (because we're too busy creating . . . stuff?).  Suddenly, the dusty merchandize sitting on the Kmart shelf month after month symbolize all the people who feel just as lonely, unneeded and forgotten. 

As I write this, it brings Mother Teresa to mind. Her words in a YouTube video my husband played the other day gave me a new perspective on what it means to help the poor and who the poor are:

 "Jesus said, I was hungry and you gave me to eat. Hungry not only for bread; hungry for love, for the word of God, for the tender concern of somebody. Naked. I was naked and you clothed me, not only with a piece of cloth. Nakedness is that loss of that beautiful human dignity of the child of God.  That dignity that I have been created to love and to be loved. That dignity of that beautiful virtue, purity. That we keep our purity pure, that we keep our chastity chaste, that we keep our virginity virgin.  This is a nakedness when that is lost.  I was homeless and you took me in. Not only for a house made of bricks.  A life homeless, unwanted, unloved, a throw-away of society. Today we have right in our country, we see the poor people, the young people with that disease - unwanted, unloved, a throw-away of society. Are we there to be that love, that kindness, that thoughtfulness to them? And share with them the terrible pain, the terrible feeling of terrible loneliness, being a throw-away, to have no one to be somebody to."

So wait, the poor don't need more stuff?! And we can be poor even if we have stuff!? Wow. Mother Teresa seems to imply the solution to the increasing liabilities on our world's balance sheet doesn't lie in creating more things or donating more money (physical world stuff) as much as in the giving and strengthening of the things that are unseen - the relational world? If this is true, I suddenly feel a big finger pointed at myself

Here's why:


My boy and all the boys I have ever taught, teach me of their natural strength to create in the physical world. They draw action verbs, they learn better while moving, and something begins to die in them if they are made to sit still and use their mind without their body involved. They want to build with blocks, LEGOS, wood and, well, anything! The cars they play with are not used to interact with each other as much as to go somewhere or build something. They grow up and this strength is balanced (or not) by the influence of the opposite sex - but I find the majority of men continue to create from this physical core. They are physical creators. They can create in the spiritual world, of course, but it seems to begin, or originate, from their core strength in the physical world. 

Think of it - when men try to wield power over other men, they use the physical realm: a fist fight, a war. When women try to wield power over men, they use the physical realm: their body.


My little girls and all the girl's I've ever taught, teach me of their natural strength to create in the inner, unseen, relational world. They predominantly draw nouns, especially people in relation to something or someone. They have little problem sitting (mostly) still to practice the piano, to draw, to read or write - and I think this is because they find those things such great tools to pretend and create with in that inner world.  And something dies in them if they have no free time to dream and think and imagine; if they are told what to think.  They grow up and this strength is balanced (or not) by the influence of the opposite sex - but I find the majority of women continue to create from a spiritual/relational core. They are spiritual creators. They can create in the physical world, yes, but it seems to begin, or originate from their core strength in the spiritual world.

Think of it - when women try to wield power over other women they use this inner/spiritual world: Manipulation and creation or destruction of relationships. When men try to wield power over women they use that same inner realm (or they use the physical realm to manipulate a woman's inner world just as well). 

Can I say how much I am loving the yin/yang symbol lately because of how it shows what I am increasingly seeing? It may sound cheesy, but I consider it one of the most important revelations of my life: Men and women need each other; we complete each other. And, as a member of the LDS church, there is a cool balance that begins to grow in my mind: men dominantly create in the physical realm and women in the spiritual realm. On the flip side, women preside over the physical ordinances of the body (pregnancy, birth, lactation) and men preside over the spiritual ordinances (baptism, confirmation, sealing). Are you seeing the beautiful balanced picture it is suppose to be?

If this is all true and if it is also true that there is more being created in the physical world than in the spiritual world, causing a poverty (or a loss on our balance sheet) as that quote describes - then wow, women, we just might be responsible. At the very least, we need to step it up.

Because as a woman, I look around and frankly, I'm a bit ashamed of us. If we were dominated by men before and "emancipated" now in this modern era, we sure haven't used our "freedom" well. We're looking for power in all the wrong places. Specifically, two ways:
  1. We use our bodies to control men (pornography on the page, movies, the internet, or walking down the street, let's face it - at its core, it's a power thing that we have the power to stop).
  2. We think power comes from being the same as men so we copy the way they create. In doing so, we put on the back burner our natural abilities in that unseen realm, our abilities to instigate, nurture and heal relationships.
You know this is true. You know it by that hole that tugs in that unseen place. That ache to find that something that feels like it's missing. And from personal experience, you can feel this just as easily if you are a stay-at-home mom. 

In other words, I'm saying it doesn't matter whether you work at home or away from home. What matters is if your work centers in your core strength to instigate, nurture and heal the relationships in your world. Unless a woman is taught her real, god-given power and potential and finds a way to use it and strengthen it, I believe she will have a gaping hole in her life. I believe these holes are the cause behind most depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and addictions. But it could manifest itself as simple fatigue, boredom, frustration, or thinking that what you do doesn't matter. 

Women who instinctively get this are something to behold. They are powerful. They love life. They create, cleanse, heal and nourish the inner lives of their family and friends every day. That is their real work. It is these kind of women who have had the greatest impact on my life. I am drawn to them. I bet you are, too. They work together with men to complete a beautiful balanced whole in each other and in their little (or big) worlds.  They have been there to show me the way my whole life, but I'm slow. I could see it, I could copy their actions, but I couldn't fully feel it. Pieces in my understanding were missing. 

I feel it now.

So girls, this is me knocking on your door. Wanna play the how-much-value-can-I-create-out-of-"nothing" game with me? Because I think it's time we take a page out of that old Disney movie. We need to remember: Remember our strengths. Remember the way we are meant to work with men, not against them. Remember what it feels like to complete each other. There's nothing cheesy about it. It is time. . .
Remember. Remember. Remember who you are.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Words That Move Me - Thinking Generationally

It must be November. I feel it rising - that feeling of thanksgiving. It was this month I entered the world almost 32 years ago. I woke this morning many hours before my alarm with thoughts of gratitude. I come to the computer to write words that flood my mind, but before I do, the Little Red Poem Book calls to me from the glass table next to the sofa. What was it we read the other day? Ah, yes. I'll include you, too.

       Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
      But we build the ladder by which we rise
      From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
      And we mount to its summit round by round.

I look at the rung my hands are holding this morning. I don't have to look far to realize I did not get here in one single bound. But it doesn't always make sense, the way the rungs twist and turn beneath me. Because of Clair Rasmussen's death on a motorcycle, his daughter would make course corrections that put her on the path to meet my father. They raised us (five little climbers) upon the values they had learned from those before them. Because of Barbara and Clair, my mother raised us with a passion and determination for strong relationships. Because of Mary and Chuck, my father knew how to work hard to provide for his children, but he also made sure to genuinely enjoy when there was time to play - his father's illness having taught him what it was like when your dad couldn't. Because of my mom's childhood of moving we were taught at home so a move wouldn't hurt so much. Then, ironically, we only moved two blocks our whole childhood.

Together, they chose the soundtrack to the "Circle Game" of our lives - Grand Canyon Suite, Peer Gynt, Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and a little James Taylor and Joni Mitchell sprinkled in. It was an idyllic childhood.

I count this thing to be grandly true:
      That a noble deed is a step toward God,
      Lifting the soul from the common clod
To a purer air and a broader view.

I look and see the rungs that race down through the ladder of time and I am struck by the realization: I stand on the choices of generations before me. My mom calls it a football game. Each generation takes the ball down the field a little farther. Some lose ground, the next generation picks it up and moves it down the field. Some generations make touchdowns - there are many that need to be made. We can't see how far we've come unless we see where they started; can't appreciate another's success if we don't realize the "yard" where their journey began.

 We rise by the things that are under feet;
 By what we have mastered of good and gain;

Under my feet are the rungs trod by past generations. Anything I master is because they first mastered the "yard" before. Any gain, is a gain built upon their gain or loss.

      By the pride deposed and the passion slain,

"Pride" triggers a story as I glance downward through time: Great-Grandpa Ras (I've posted about him before HERE) was being interviewed by Bruce R. McConkie before the latter was an apostle. McConkie asked him what he would do if he were given a certain position of leadership. Ras answered sincerely what he'd try to do and be. McConkie quickly cut in with something like, "Well, I didn't say we had called you, brother, don't assume the position already!" I listen to McConkie's talks now and can imagine the tone of voice.  My grandpa's reply? "Well, you know what you can do with that, bub!" and he walked out. 

Rulon Rasmussen ("Ras"), second from the left.
Ras told the story later in life, regretting his pride. I think of where he started. How he worked for his own clothing and necessities when he was as little as six years old. How he mastered the trumpet so well, he was invited to live in California to study with a renown teacher and performed in popular big bands. How he gave it up to come home and marry Velma before another man could snatch her away. How he became a top manager of Sears Roebuck. He had pride, yes. But he learned. He moved the ball down the field. He gave all he had to his wife, his son and grandchildren.  I carry the memory of his smile and grateful hug each morning when I'd give him his breakfast he humbly let me make for him.

 And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

I look back another rung. Ras married Velma. Velma's father, Charles, struggled with depression. I see the dates on the family pedigree and go back farther. Charles' mother had died giving birth to him, her mother had died giving birth to her while crossing the plains. Two generations of entering life with that kind of loss - severed from the one who could have suckled you, nurtured you. Who filled in that hole? Or did the hole remain? How does that affect you? Where did you start on the "generational football field," Charles? 

     We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,
      When the morning calls us to life and light,
      But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,
     Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.

When you hung yourself on Christmas Eve, Charles, leaving your four children and your wife pregnant with great-aunt Sally, leaving my great-grandmother fatherless at an age younger than my youngest now - how far had you traveled before you chose to lay the ball on the field? It might have been quite far. I cannot know.

 What ills did your wife, Mary Elizabeth, hourly meet that Christmas?  Did she find courage in the fact that her mother had managed being a widow with nine children ages 2-19? 

(Widow) Mary Ann Berrett Chard with her nine children. Mary Elizabeth back row far right.

Or did that make it harder to bear knowing the challenges that awaited you? Neither Mary or her mother ever remarried from the records available to me. How did they do it alone?

We hope, we resolve, we aspire, we pray. . .
      We may borrow the wings to find the way —
      We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray;
But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

I have walked the ladder of my history this morning. I have examined some rungs below my feet. There are still so many ladders that branch beneath me, though. I feel I stand on holy ground, this rung in my hand, that one under my feet. I have not come to this rung on my own.

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown
      From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;
      But the dreams depart, and the vision falls,
And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

 "And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. . . and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee . . ." (Genesis 28:10-15)

Heaven is not reached at a single bound;
      But we build the ladder by which we rise
      From the lowly earth, to the vaulted skies,
And we mount to its summit, round by round.

                                     "Gradatim", by Josiah Gilbert Holland

As I look down the ladder and see the game of life that has played out before me, there are only very small words that fail to describe profound feelings: Curiosity. Awe. Love. Gratitude. And a new perspective. I begin to realize that the rungs on the ladder are relationships. Jacob was on his way to find a wife when he had that dream. Also, I see how I bring into this life spiritual and physical traces of my ancestors. I worry like Barbara, Alice and Luna. I look like the Pedersen side - especially Luna and Mabel. Get my allergies from Velma. My joint pain from Luna. I play like Martin? Like Ras? I compose like Olof? I analyze like . . .? I teach like. . . ? I love like . . . ?

It isn't so mysterious then, why when conquering a weakness, I feel almost as if someone unseen rejoices with me. Do I carry the ball they carried on the field years ago? Or maybe we carry it together; feel relief together when that ball finally reaches a touchdown?

What will I hand to my posterity? Where were my ancestors climbing to? Am I moving in the right direction? Were they? I'm finding answers . . .

"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

" . . . For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect . . . the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children . . . For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died . . .  How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion:
Behold, thy God reigneth!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Ondine" Likened

Back in July, I shared a dilemma I had between the new way I was mentoring in piano and the old reasons that were the only way I really knew for using my own piano skills.  I felt in need of a destination to journey toward. I shared here how witnessing a cellist's performance had reminded me of a purpose for music that became the seed of what led to this post and others that will follow (as I've decided to do this again with new pieces). 

I wrote:

"An idea keeps nudging me.  A destination I could give myself. . . Choose a piece. Set a date. Post it here. . . Ravel's Ondine. . . I'll record it without demanding perfection, but communication. I'll post it pretending that those who listen, do so not to put me down or prop me up on a pedestal, but to 'meet' and 'communicate' together."

And so, I chose September 25th to post the recording.  It's been quite the journey from July to now.  I will hold my tongue and not go into analyzing, apologizing or giving excuses as I'm tempted to do. That was the point of this experiment after all!

Instead, a quick word about the piece for those unfamiliar with it, or those unfamiliar with translating music into their . . . "native tongue."

Ondine is a piece I've wanted to play for years. I find that I am drawn to pieces that depict water, and pieces that have a relational element.  This has both and I find it very fulfilling to play and easy to find messages of truth in. It is by Maurice Ravel, written in 1908 and based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. You can google and find any number of explanations about this piece or the poem it's based on (and I suggest you do, like this one I found on someone's blog).

Here, though, I'm going to stick to the theme of this blog and share a smidgen of how I've likened this music to my own life (you can find the link to the recording at the end of the post). The way I play the piece might not be acceptable to other pianists, they might think I am not true to the way Ravel wanted it played.  That is partly intentional.  There are plenty of recordings that are "true to Ravel."  I believe the notes and rhythms composers organize have potential to say things to individuals that the composer never planned.  This happens when we share things in the written word as well, right?  For instance, did those that recorded the events in the scriptures know how many thousands or millions of different ways future readers would apply them to their specific lives? No. I believe there is a lot of untapped potential for communication in music. Yes, learn the "right way" to play the piece, but then experiment and ponder how the notes speak to you and if that means a different tempo, different dynamics or the stretching of a phrase that "shouldn't be" stretched - why not? The composers are usually long gone. If it doesn't mean anything to you, it won't mean much to others.  Maybe this is a reason behind classical music interest waning and popular music thriving? Well . . . I'm going off topic now. Back to "Ondine."

Somehow, what goes on in my mind (when I'm not hyper aware trying to record the piece and can lose myself more fully in that stream of sounds - the irony, right?) loosely combines the original water sprite idea of the poem with . . . well . . . caterpillars and the Garden of Eden.  Pretty strange, right?  I had three pages written up about triads and cool patterns I'd found and their symbolism, and a bedtime story version of what I'm thinking when I play, but I decided that would be the fire-hose approach. Instead,  I've whittled it down to three little "translation clues" you might find helpful (with a bit of what to listen for and minute cues) and then I'll set you free to try and decipher if those clues fit what you visualize in your mind as you listen and what it all might mean to you.  Remember - this is an exercise in communication through music! Not a "ta-da!" performance. Forget the person playing (and all their mistakes) and enjoy likening it to your life.

"Translation Clues"

#1. The motif that begins when the left hand first plays I think of as the seeking, searching voice.  You'll notice the same descending two notes often throughout the piece. In my mind, each time, it is a new question, a new search for truth. If the voice was speaking with words, what would it say to you?

#2. The constant motion throughout the piece (beginning with the right hand) is that watery, immortal element. Ondine in the poem was an immortal water sprite (fairy) and tried to persuade the mortal man to marry her. I picture the immortal element more as energies and oppositions we might face in life that can lead (if we navigate with God's help and grace) to an ever increasing knowledge of good and evil; a continuing process of being recreated, or reborn - just as the fruit in the Garden of Eden began such a journey for Adam and Eve.

#3. Instar =  The name for a stage of a larva's life. Each time it molts, it beings a new instar. A larva will generally pass through five instars before it makes a chrysalis or cocoon and becomes a moth or butterfly. I hear the main melody voice (in clue #1) going through a journey in this piece that includes:

  •  Moments of curiosity, wonder, and discovery (minutes 00:00 - 02:05)
  •  Moments of vulnerability and confusion (2:05-2:47)
  • Times of deep seeking (notice the conversation between the low and high voices 2:47-3:32)
  • Anxiety, fear, anguish (3:33 -4:38)
  • Seeking relief, a prayer offered three times (4:39 - 5:00)
  • A moment of cleansing, nourishing, and reassurance (5:00-5:43)
  • A point where it is possible to look back. The past begins to take on the look of Isaiah 61:3 (5:44-6:09)
  • The choice to view the journey through the lens of faith now brings a moment of gratitude and inspiration from a still, small voice (6:09 - 6:38)
  • Perhaps the darker energy that has been so constant in the journey now sees all its efforts only played into the hand of goodness and Light. It reveals its true nature in a sudden tantrum (reminds me of Moses 1:21-22), is washed away, and finally dissipates and fades (6:39 - 7:20).

Click here for the youtube link: Ondine

Many thanks to Steve Phillips ( and Adam (videography, AKA Mr. Golden) for their help in this little project of mine.