Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Cringe-Worthy Christmas

Stop me if I’ve told you this story before, but this is probably one of my most gut-wrenching Christmas stories that I’ve ever personally witnessed. I’m not sharing this story for sympathy, although, I have been known to tell stories for that end. I’m telling this story because it’s just plain, good storytelling.

After I graduated from high school in 1994 (to me, years are important), my family moved from our small home in Heyburn, Idaho to my dad’s car lot in Burley, approximately three miles away. Yes, I said car lot.

You see, my dad was a successful car salesman at a Chevrolet dealership in Burley in the early-to-mid 80s. But then the owner of that dealership wanted to move on, probably due to lagging sales brought on by fierce competition of the Japanese auto markets. So my dad partnered up with a fellow co-worker and friend, and they started another used-car business.

Yada, yada, yada, they built a big building, yada, yada, yada, the car business didn’t do so great, yada, yada, yada, the partner left leaving my dad with a huge mortgage payment on the building, yada, yada, yada. So after years of trying to sell the business, my parents had the brilliant idea of moving the family into the car dealership and selling our Heyburn home so that they only had one mortgage to pay.

It sounds worse than it was. I left for college the week they moved into the car dealership, but from a girl coming home to visit, living in the car dealership was pretty cool. There was a pop machine readily available at all hours of the night. That’s probably where my youngest sister Hetty developed her deep and abiding love for Dr. Pepper. And we were within walking distances to grocery stores and video-store rentals. Ah, the good ol’ days before Netflix.

My parents had divided the show room into half car office, half living room. There was also another living room behind the main showroom. There was a kitchen, three huge bedrooms, a laundry room in back by the shop, and two bathrooms. Really, it wasn’t so bad. It was probably nicer than our Heyburn home, which had red, shag carpet and popcorn ceilings. Seriously, don’t feel bad for us.

And it was good for my parents to move from Heyburn. Don’t get me wrong: I love Heyburn. My grandpa started the first Heyburn Garage and was one of the first school bus drivers for Heyburn Elementary. But there’s something great about getting a new start somewhere else, where hopefully people don’t know you as the irresponsible family whose dog escapes all the time and wreaks havoc on neighbors’ lawns; or whose children wander the streets looking for welcoming doors and refrigerators full of food.

We left our old baggage in Heyburn, but as everyone knows, there are bags waiting for you in new towns, too.

The first Christmas in the car lot was interesting. For a church youth group activity, my younger siblings were asked to bring gifts for a needy family for Christmas. I can already see you cringing. Just wait for it, please. Shall I continue?

So my sister brought a rubber ball. I don’t know what my brother brought.

I was at home from college for Christmas. One night as we sat around playing solitaire on the computer or watching old movies, we got a phone call. I think it was my sister Mary who answered it. The person on the other line said, “There’s something at your door.” The car lot had four different entrances, and it took us a while to figure out which door exactly they were talking about. At any rate, we found the goods, and yep, there on top was the rubber ball my sister had taken to the youth activity to give to the needy family. I remember there being a turkey, too.

I can still see my dad’s face. It wasn’t so much sadness as it was bewilderment mixed with anger. I’m still perplexed as to how to think about this act of service. On the one hand, good for them for helping a needy family. On the other hand, I really didn’t view us as the needy family who needed help. Trust me, I’ve seen MANY needier families.

It was interesting being on the receiving end of something like that. It’s actually not that great of a feeling. I’ve always thought about that incident when I pass Giving Trees or Sub for Santa. Will these gifts go to truly needy families, or will they go to families who are just struggling like the rest of humanity? Will the kids see the tag that says, “Boy, age 5?” I don’t want to sound ungrateful, nor do I want to encourage NOT giving at Christmas time. Please continue to give. However, I’ve learned that it is almost harder to receive than to give.

To wrap up this already long story, the next day we took that box of food and presents to another home not far from our home. The family lived in a home that was patched up with tin siding. We knocked on the door and introduced ourselves. We asked if they would like some things for Christmas. They were smiling and couldn’t speak English, but they took our gifts.

I just mention this last part in passing, mostly because I love my parents like nobody’s business. On a few occasions, my mother has spearheaded us to give Christmas to another family. I remember in my youth, my mom taught us the first verse of “Silent Night” in Spanish. Then when we went to the people’s house to give them our Christmas gifts, we went in smiling and singing. My parents tried to communicate to the family who we were and to leave them a warm welcome. I remember another time, I think I was a junior in high school, when we did the same thing. And my mom in her very broken Spanish tried desperately to communicate love.

I’m not sure I have the guts that my parents had to actually go into a family’s home and bring a feeling of love, as well as physical relief. I’m fonder of the anonymous Christmas giving, purely because it’s easier.

That night when we received those gifts was a true defining moment in my life. That’s when it really hit home that we don’t need presents for Christmas. What we need is a communication of love. You are loved. You may not believe in Him or even have a desire to know Him, but I know that He loves you. In those moments in my life when I have felt the lowest emotionally, that is the one truth that has brought me back to my proverbial feet. I am loved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How Divorce Affects Friends and What it Means to Me, Me, Me!

Recently, Kulani visited an old friend who is going through a rough patch in his life. His wife has decided she doesn't want to be married anymore. They have three young children.

Because we never know what to do in situations like this, we brought them some dinner. It's the Mormon way: "You feel like you're at the worst emotional low in your life? How about some spaghetti to bring you out of the abyss." I personally think it works.

I waited in the car while Kulani delivered the dinner, so he could talk with him privately. After visiting for a short while, Kulani came back to the car.

"The guy's not doing well. He's lost a lot of weight," Kulani said.

"Well, it's good we brought him some food," I said.

And then it was kind-of silent. There was small talk about the kids and how the guy is going to handle it from here. But inside, Kulani and I were both thinking: "Could this happen to us?"

This couple was married only five days after us. We left our honeymoon to make it to their wedding at the Salt Lake Temple.

We don't know what goes on behind closed doors, and we aren't judging or blaming. (Well, we could and we do, but that goes on inside our heads, and I wouldn't speak it openly. Just like you wouldn't mention how snug my clothes have been fitting lately.) But when an announcement of divorce is made, especially from close friends or family, it does make me pause and look at my own marriage.

After we came in the house, Kulani says to me, "We're implementing date night around here." I was all on board for that.

So for that, my divorced friends who probably already have so much guilt, sadness, frustration, unpeace, embarrassment, and  consternation, perhaps it has helped me have a better marriage in a small, little way. I don't want to end up divorced, so I'll work harder to not succomb to that end.

(Sorry for the selfishness of this post. In times of divorce, the least people to worry about are how friends are affected. But this is the Fisher blog, and what you will likely read about on here is how world events affect the Fishers, not the Brownstones down the street with their dog that yaps all night and how on earth they think that's acceptable?!)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Sister Amy turns 40

Writer's note: Sunday is a special day it's the day I catch up on my blog posts. This is long overdue, as my sister turned 40 in October.

My oldest sister is a mixed bag of everything wonderful in life. Already I've rubbed people the wrong way just for writing that, because if you've met my sister Amy, you either hate her or love her. I am in the latter camp: I love her like I love my right arm.

Amy is opinionated, bossy, no-nonsense, a Democrat in Utah, compassionate, a justice fighter, strong, strong-willed, and tough. But she's also incredibly thoughtful, sweet, and when I say she'll do anything for anyone, I mean it. She has the HUGEST heart of anyone I know.

Amy is a lawyer and has always wanted to be a lawyer. Her patriarchal blessing even mentions her being a lawyer. Currently, she works for Hunstman Corp., but I fully expect she'll be a judge before she's dead. She used to say she would be a Supreme Court Justice. Who knows, that could still happen, maybe eventually.

For Amy's 40th birthday, my brother-in-law Nathan and husband to Amy, threw Amy a big family party. He was able to video record each of her siblings sharing a few stories about Amy and wishing her a happy birthday. It was fun to hear what all my siblings had to say. He even managed to get a recording from my parents serving their mission in Texas.

But I didn't get to share some more personal stories I have of Amy that I likely wouldn't ever get to actually speak, because had I shared these, I would have been a complete bawling mess of a person. So I'll share them on this blog.

One of the first examples I witnessed of Amy's toughness was when I was in first grade, Amy was in sixth grade. We were walking home from school, and these scary looking fifth-grade boys waited for us to pass, and then they started throwing rocks at us. Amy turned around and berated them with her voice. She picked up some rocks and started flinging them back at them.

"How do you like how it feels." The boys started running. "Yeah, run, you chickens. I better not see you throw rocks at my sister ever again."

It was a small thrill for me when elementary school teachers would call me "Amy" instead of "Cindy." I loved it when people would stop me and ask, "Do you have an older sister named Amy? You look just like her." Of course, it also made me try to work harder and live up to her reputation. But I've always had a slight case of the lazies and the dumbies.

When she was in high school, Amy worked at Kmart part-time, kept straight-A's in school, and played on the varsity volleyball and basketball teams. I remember seeing her study after she came home from work at 9:30 p.m. I remember thinking, "It's too late to study. She should go to bed." And then when I got up in the morning, she would be the first one up and studying.

Needless to say, she graduated as the valedictorian of her 260+ class, and in her graduation speech, she berated some of the male teachers for being sexist. (One of her high school history teachers had made the remark that if the guys in the class wanted a good show, they should go check out how short the girls' volleyball players' shorts were.) And she told her rural Idaho classmates that they were as good as any other students graduating from any other high school in America.

She went to BYU based almost solely on her love for BYU football. She later served a mission to Sweden, where she met her now husband. She is fiercely loyal to the LDS faith, and will serve in any calling she is asked. She reminds me of Marlin K. Jensen, the LDS general authority, historian, and loyal Democrat.

Amy wasn't able to have children, but in typical Amy fashion, she didn't let it get her down for too long. She and Nate have adopted four children, and she loves being a mom.

I have personally witnessed a few incidents that Amy likely wouldn't want me to share, but I will anyhow.

Amy and Nathan lived in a small condo in Taylorsville for many years. I lived with them for one summer. Late one night, Amy heard a knock on her door. She went to the door, and a lady was there who said she'd just been beaten by her husband.

Amy had her come into her home, and not long after the husband banged on Amy's door. Amy told him to go away or she would call the police. He kept pounding on the door. So Amy started to lecture him about how he thought it was cool to beat up women.

I don't remember what ended up happening. I just remember Amy not being afraid of the guy, or maybe she was, but she didn't let on that she was.

On another occasion, Amy asked Kulani if he would do her a favor. She had a big black sack full of stuff and an envelope. It was Christmas time. She asked Kulani to take the sack and the envelope to a house in her neighborhood. She never told us what was in it, but we knew it was a lot of money and gifts for kids.

Amy is like the second mom in our family. Whenever I was low on money, I would ask Amy first with explicit instructions not to tell mom. Ten minutes later I would get a call from mom asking, "Do you need some money?" Amy could never keep a secret from mom. Plus, she confessed to me, that she didn't have any money either.

I have many more stories of Amy I'd love to share, but time is getting away from me. The following is a picture of Amy holding the gift I gave her for her birthday: Michael Jackson's Thriller CD. I remember when she got the original album in 1985 for Christmas. She screamed like a little girl.

She is an amazing sister and rare human being. I'm not sure the world could take more like her, but one is plenty awesome for me.

Lilia's Baptism

Writer's note: This is more of a journal entry, and I know Facebook will pick up this feed, because I haven't figured out how to turn off the automatic Facebook feed. If you don't like reading people's journal accounts, then please stop reading now. But all that disclaimer did was probably peak your interest more and now you are determined to read this, aren't you? Just know that you've been warned.

We had a wonderful day yesterday participating in Lilia's baptism. She has been preparing for this day for a long time, and she was very excited for it. Everyone seemed to be in an unusually great mood, and for once, we weren't late.

Aunty Sisty came over before the baptism and braided Lilia's hair. She looked so pretty.

Lilia was baptized with two other children from our ward: Austin and Claire. When I'd see Austin and Claire around at school, they seemed just as excited as Lilia. "I'm getting baptized on Saturday," they'd tell me. They all seemed very prepared for their baptism day, and they all looked so sweet.

Kulani and I both don't think we were as prepared as Lilia when we were baptized. In preparation for the baptism in the LDS faith, you have an interview with the bishop to make sure you know what it means to be baptized and to be sure you are ready for that commitment.

The days leading up to the interview, Lilia was nervous about meeting with the bishop. Sister Crosier, who is the primary president, tried to help calm their nerves.

"Think of the bishop as the ward grandpa," she said.

Lilia went in for her interview with the bishop and came out smiling.

"That was fun. I'd like to meet with him again. It was just like Sister Crosier said."

Lilia had a lot of family come to support her on her big day. We cooked for 50 people, which is small compared to the luaus. I'm glad it is over, and now I can concentrate on getting ready for Christmas.

Kamika took some great pictures of Kulani and Lilia standing by the baptismal font, but he hasn't given me the pictures yet. So these are pictures my sister took with my little camera.

Lilia wanted pumpkin pie for dessert, and she wanted me to spell out "Lilia's Baptism" on the pies in whip cream. I did my best.

Lilia has a big desire to choose the right. It's like she was sent to us with her switch set on angel mode. She's kind hearted and sweet to her younger sisters. She is also a great helper. I'm so thankful to have her in our family!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Brother's Account of his First Black Friday Shopping Adventure

My oldest sibling Doug is possibly the funniest, most postive person I know. He wrote my parents, who are serving a mission in Texas, an e-mail recently describing his first Black Friday shopping adventure with his wife Sherri. I'm copying it to this blog without his permission, so I hope he isn't angry. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

"Mom, I do have to report on the Black Friday shopping adventure. I had never partaken in this long-standing tradition, so I thought I had better check it out just to see what the hubbub was about. Let me see if I can put into words this transformative experience.

It all started with the Wednesday before the Friday sales. We received all the ads from the stores in Logan. We also learned that this year Walmart and some of the other stores were splitting their sales. Many of the Black Friday sales would begin at 12:01 AM and the electronic stuff would begin at the traditional 5:00 AM. As you can imagine, this bit of information changed the whole shopping plan. Now we would not have to get up before the roosters--we were not going to go to bed at all. It was going to be an all-nighter.

All day Wednesday and Thursday we worked over the ads formulating the game plan that would give us the greatest bang for our buck. We knew which stores we would visit first and who was in charge of getting what bounty. Finally at 10:00 PM, Thursday, we put the kids to bed instructing them that if there was an emergency, give our phones a call. At 11:10 PM we left the house, game plan rehearsed and in hand, ready to do battle for the ultimate prize of the best deals in the world.

We arrived in Logan at 11:45 PM and to our astonishment had to park about a half a mile away from the front door of Walmart. Apparently others had found out our secret that Walmart would be open early. There was not a parking spot in the substantial Walmart parking lot. We finally found a place to park the car, then walked our 1/2 mile to the store and received our map as to where all of the great deals were located. What Walmart had done was put all the crates of the door-buster deals in the aisles. They then covered them with black plastic with a note that said 12:01 or 5:00, indicating the time in which the treasures would be unveiled to be purchased by eager shoppers.

I was told to get DVDs and games, so I found where I should go and headed over to that spot. To my chagrin there were about 200 people who had the same plan. The poor clerks at the center next to the black plastic-covered crates of deals must have felt like Daniel as he was sent to the lion’s den. Actually they probably would have preferred the lion’s den to this mob of people. I was now faced with a problem. My prize was within sight but there was a multitude of people between me and pay dirt. I decided that I would just wait until the items were uncovered, and then I would make my move. As the clock ticked down, the crowd began to quiet with anticipation.

Finally the 12:01 time struck and the workers removed the black plastic. It was simply jaw dropping what happened next. You know in the movies when everything goes into super slow motion, and you can see the stream of the bullets that had been shot from a gun? Well that was what it was like. All of the air in the whole store rushed toward the aisles as thousands of people inhaled at once. I think I could see Oxygen atoms being sucked out of the air and into people’s lungs as they began to reach for the magnificent deals. The air began to buzz with the sound of people pulling at the sale items. I had never been in a mosh pit before, but all of the sudden there I was: hundreds of people pressing against each other trying to get to the DVDs.

I realized that I needed to move into action...well, it wasn’t really action; I kind-of pointed my body in the direction I wanted to go and swayed back and forth. The crowd then just kind-of moved me along. I got over to the crates and started pulling DVDs. Sherri had given me good direction. She said it doesn’t matter what the DVD is. Just grab them, then we will meet and decide which ones we would keep. Initially I thought that was not a good idea because I would waste time trying to grab something we did not want. Now that I was in the battle, I realized that Sherri’s strategy was the best. I began grabbing every DVD I could put my hands on. I noticed that there were some DVDs still on lower shelves, but I dared not put my head down as I was afraid that I would be shoved to the ground and trampled by the herd of value shoppers.

I soon had quite a pile, and so headed out to meet Sherri and decide which were keepers. I got out the same way I got in by pointing my body in a direction, rocking to and fro, and letting the crowd push me along. I called Sherri on the cell phone (great invention these cell phones), and we met in the women’s clothing.

Another of Sherri’s great strategies was to not get a shopping cart at the start. We had the Walmart bags. That way you could knife through the crowds and not have to try to move the bulky cart. That was a genius move. Once we got together we found a cart and started filling it with our wonderful trophies we had won in our hard-fought shopping battle.

We still had stuff to get so Sherri started shopping for some of the other gifts that were not part of the Black Friday sales. I was instructed to go meander through the store and see if I could find other Black Friday things that people had decided not to get. I thought that was crazy as all the great deals had been taken from the aisles. But to my surprise, almost everyone uses the same strategy of taking everything and then figuring out what they want later. They then just discard the things they do not want in whatever section they are standing in. I walked around the store finding DVDs in automotive, bakery, toys, cosmetics, and other crazy places. It was like an Easter Egg hunt.

I would find something then run over to Sherri with prize in hand.

“Do we need this?” I would ask. Many time she would say, "Oh yes. That’s a great find." I felt like a dog that had finally learned not to defecate on the carpet. I got my pat on the head, and I was off to find another item. This continued on until we had about everything we wanted.

The next instruction was to get in line for the electronics. Again I consulted the map to see where they were and headed to that part of the store. For these items, they had us stand in line until a little before 3 AM, then they handed out tickets so that we could leave the line and shop, and then return at 5 to claim the prize. It was great fun standing in line with all the people. We laughed and talked about all the great shopping we had done. Told stories about our kids and just got to know some neat people.

Once I had my ticket I again found Sherri by use of the cell phone. When I got to her she had the cart filled. It looked like the Grinch’s sled after he had taken everything from all the people in Whoville. I asked her if there was anything left for the other people to buy. We then checked out and loaded our booty into the van and headed to our next destination which was Kohls.

We arrived a Kohl’s to a more traditional Black Friday opening. There was a line of people who as soon as the doors opened rushed in like a great ant horde devouring everything in its path. I went in to the store worked my way to the back, went to the restroom, took care of business there, and then left. Kohl’s is not my kind of store, to many clothes and not enough toys. We then notice that it was getting close to 4 AM and JC Penny was going to be opening up soon. So back in the van and over to Penny’s we went.

We got there before the doors opened, but because the line was not real long, we waited in the car until one minute before it opened. We then jumped out and rushed in. Here I was commanded to go get the pillows. I went quickly there and picked them up. Now I was stuck walking around the store with four giant pillows in my hands. I had to be careful, because if I turned too sharp I would knock something or someone over. I am glad that I did not try to pick up one of those free snow globes, because I had nowhere to put it. I guess I could have stuffed it in my mouth, but that would have looked dumb.

Once the Penny’s shopping was done it was back to Walmart to get the electronic stuff. This was nice. I just stood in line with my ticket, and then when the 5:00 hour chimed I got my stuff and checked out. We then went to IHOP for breakfast and finally home. I must say that it was an amazing adventure. I am sad that I had not had this experience before now. I cannot wait to do it again next year. We really did enjoy it. Mom I think you and Grandma would have been proud to see the way we fought for the good deal.


Your son Doug"

Editorial note: My mom, aunt, and grandma are LEGENDARY bargain shoppers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Note of Encouragement to Entering College Freshmen

Nearly two decades ago, I considered myself “smart.” I put “smart” in quotes because, well, I’m not that “smart.” Words don’t usually need quotes, but to illustrate that I thought myself “smart” but really I wasn’t, I put “smart” in quotes.

At any rate, I took a college placement exam called the ACT, and to put it lightly, I bombed it. Fluke, I thought. So I took it again. Same – exact – score. See? Not so smart. I’d reveal the score, but it’s really embarrassing. And one time I overheard my husband, who scored something like a 31 on the ACT, remark to one of his smart friends something about another friend who scored a 24 on the ACT and how he was really dumb. I have never told my husband my score, but I’ll sheepishly admit now that it was actually lower than a 24 by two points. Think you know my score? Well, you probably scored higher than me too. Rub it in next time you see me.

Nevertheless, I applied to BYU. At that time, BYU was at its height of being selective. It’s a touch less selective now, as Ricks became BYU-Idaho and allowed more students, thus, less students applying at the “real” BYU. But when I applied to BYU, the rumor was that if you didn’t score at least a 28 on your ACT, don’t bother applying.

But who was I to listen to rumors. And crazily enough, I got in, but with one caveat: I had to start in the summer. If I did well in my courses, I could stay for eternity…or until I got my degree. Whichever came first.

I provided this background to illustrate that nearly my entire adult life, I have had this dark cloud hanging over me. I’ve scraped by somehow on my Forrest-Gumplike brains. Every job post college that I’ve had, I’ve been grateful for. I’ve never been the one who is complaining that at “such and such job, we got to do such and such.” Are you kidding me? You know those people holding the sign telling you that $5 pizza is this way? That should have been me.

It’s a miracle that I’ve found a job I love and appreciate that’s indoors and out of the elements of Utah weather.

And for you college-age freshmen with a similar background, I had a huge ah-ha moment the other day at work.

I was talking to a colleague about her being salutatorian of her 1,000+ class in California, and how she scored a perfect on the language part of the SAT.

And I looked at her. And I looked at me. And her desk is a lot like mine. And her job responsibilities are a lot like mine. And her pay scale is a lot like mine. And you know what?

She thinks her job is beneath her. I think my job is heaven sent. Guess which one of us is happier with our station in life?

Hallah for the Forrest Gumps of the world!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Defense Rests, Your Honor

It was Fall break for the Alpine school district, and all week we psyched the girls up for a camping adventure on Friday.

Each night, Lilia reminded us of the countdown: "Three more days to camping...two more days to camping...one more day to camping."

The day arrived. We're a touch rusty when it comes to camping, as we haven't been for close to three years. Kulani has been busy due to his employment at a firm we lovingly refer to as "Work'em Night and Day." But now that he's working from home, time is on our side.

We had forgotten how long it takes to get things ready. Around 4 p.m. we set out for Cabella's to get some attachments for our camp heater and a carbon monoxide detector, so we could sleep soundly but not too soundly, RIP.

Then we took our propane tank to get it filled up, as well as secure some firewood. Finally around 6 p.m. we made it back home and started throwing the camping supplies into the BMW (Big Mormon Wagon):

  • Cots, check.
  • Lantern, check.
  • Camp heater, check.
  • Tent....
We found the tent, but upon closer inspection, it appeared that the pole strings had been cut. It was 6:30 p.m. and we were just finding this out now. It gets dark here around 7:30 p.m., and we still needed to travel to our camping destination about a half an hour away.

We were (deep breath, deep breath) mad.

"Girls! Get down here right now!" I shouted. Family meeting was in order.

"Who cut these tent poles?" Kulani asked in a stern voice.

After hemming and hawing, Lilia said she'd cut the tent poles, so she could use them for a magic wand.

Kulani dismissed them to their rooms telling them we wouldn't be camping tonight and to think about that the next time they wanted to ruin our stuff.

The girls went up to their room and cried and cried while Kulani assessed the damage. After some time, Lilia came back downstairs.

Fearing that we didn't hammer our point enough, Kulani said, "Lilia, I don't think you've ever seen me this angry. I am really upset by what you did."

Lilia meakly answered, "Dad, I was five when I did it."

Kulani stopped in his tracks. "That's a good argument. In fact, that's probably a winner."

The prosecution threw out the case, and the scheduled camping trip was back on.

Using some fishing line, he tied the ends of the tent pole elastic and strung the elastic through one pole and connected it to the other. He managed to fix the poles except for one. One pole was missing two sections.

I called Recreation Outlet in American Fork, and it turns out they sell replacement sections for around $10 for four sections. You can also buy the elastic for $.15 a yard. It was now 7:30 p.m. I hurried to the store for the replacement sections and more elastic.

I also made a stop at Macey's for some s'more supplies and batteries for the lantern.

By 9:00 p.m., we had all the poles fixed and the camping supplies loaded.

We crammed into the mini-van and rushed up the canyon to find a spot. Surprisingly, all the spots at Salamander Flats weren't taken, so we cozied up next to some car campers, and set up tent.

By 11 p.m. camp was set up and we were roasting marshmallows by the fire. Even though it was very warm in Cedar Hills, it was cold in the mountains. I was very glad for the camp heater, as we slept very soundly that night.

In the morning we went for a short hike.

It was a memorable adventure. Even though getting ready to go camping is a lot of work, I'm really glad we didn't lose our heads completely over the small hiccup. We all lived to camp another day.

Kulani fixing the tent poles.

Kulani and Lehua snuggling by the campfire.

Lilia and Melissa roasting marshmallows.
Lilia, Lissy, and Lehua enjoying the flames.
Girls reading in bed.
Nohea and Lehua settle down for a brisk night of camping.
Jesse finds a place to lay his tired head.
Up early in the morn' for a hike.

Scenic stop on the hike.

Lehua hitching a ride on dad.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Making the Best of It

It seems a lot of heartache is flying all around me these days. I have friends who are going through some hard things, and my heart grows heavy just thinking about it.

But tonight my heart was light as I watched a bunch of 10-year-old boys swirl around a swimming pool singing nursery rhymes. The boys, around 20 of them, walked in unison in a quick pace to their pre-pubescent singing causing a boy-made whirpool that catapulted them around faster and faster.

On and on they walked and sang: "Old MacDonald had a farm. E-I-E-I-OOOOOO!" The lifeguard, not much older than the boys, asked them to keep it down. I wanted to shoosh the lifeguard. Their singing was giving me back my Norman Rockwell America; naivete, sweetness, joy.

It gladdened Kulani and me. Usually when we go swimming at the local recreation center, Cub and Boy Scout groups are crowding out the lap lanes where Kulani is trying to swim, not apologizing or caring if they bump into swimmers. Other young boys seem much too young to have their tongues hanging out while watching young girls in swim suits. (I could never even repeat the nastiest thing that was ever said to me by a 10- or 11-year-old boy at the Orem Rec. Center.)

Kulani said the boys were making the best of it; making do with what they had. Boys being boys.

I wanted to take them all home with me and raise them, feed them, and read them stories. For a split second, I even thought that maybe Kulani and I should try one more time for that boy.

But then I held fast to my Lehua, not quite four months old. No, girls are just as great with their own sweetness and light. Four children is plenty enough for me. Boys will be boys ... at someone else's house.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Christenson Family Vacation of '82

I'm writing about my Christenson family's super, extraordinary vacation trip of 1982 for one reason: my dad recently purchased this:

I think it's a Chevy Traveler van. It may not be a Chevy, but knowing my dad, it is. My dad was a Chevrolet dealer in Burley for many years when I was young. He later bought his own used car dealership, but his heart always remained with Chevy.

In 1982, my mom's family, the McEuens, had their first ever family reunion. Well, the first reunion that I remember. It was to be in Redding, California.

My dad had use of any car on the Don Ovitt Chevrolet lot, so he brought home a new traveler van for our road trip to Redding. How many people do you think can safely travel in a traveler van? Here's a picture of the inside of one of these vans:

Four bucket seats and a bench in the back. So does seven sound about right? Well, my parents had seven kids at the time, so that answer would be correct. Except, we still needed to fit Mom and Dad in the front seats. Oh, and Grandma and Grandpa Christenson needed to come.

So what does that total? Eleven. We crammed eleven people into that traveler van. I was six at the time, so that meant that I almost never got to actually sit in a seat of my own. I sat on my mom's lap, or Amy's lap (my big sister), but mostly I sat on the floor. I think it was Mary, the baby at that time, who got to sit on Grandma's lap for nearly the entire trip. Mary! Mary! Mary!

But it was a glorious trip and ranks in my memory as one of the best trips ever. If you know my parents, you know they like to take the long way to anywhere. Did we take the direct route to Redding from Idaho? Oh no.

We first traveled south through Utah. Stopped at Bryce Canyon. Then we meandered to southern California to visit Disneyland and Grandma and Grandpa McEuen, but not without stopping for Indian jewelry along the way.

I remember it being very hot through the Arizona desert. The car had air conditioning, but with that many bodies in the car, it still got hot, especially in the back. We would dip our paper towels in this big pitcher of water my mom brought, then wring the paper towels over our heads.

And my mom taught us a song that we sang during the whole journey: "California here I come, right back where I started from." That's all I can remember.

And I'm sure we stopped for treats at gas stations along the way. And I'm sure my dad grumbled about it being so expensive, but still allowed each of us one treat. You can bet that my oldest brother Doug always chose jerky as his treat.

After visiting Gma and Gpa McEuen, we took Highway 1 as far north as we could. Highway 1 is very winding but beautiful. It follows the California Coast. I remember stopping in Carmel for one night.

Mary threw up during one of the winding parts of the journey. We stopped to take pictures every 50 miles or so (maybe a slight exaggeration, but maybe an under exaggeration as well. I don't remember all the details).

And we finally made it to Redding for a memorable reunion complete with a tandem bike, a trampoline, a pinata, and all the makings for a great family reunion.

And it's always been my dad's dream to actually own a traveler van. And now that he has it, he continues his travels on the road east. He and Mom took my sister Kathy's family on an unforgettable journey east through Nauvoo and Indiana, through Pennsylvania where he served his mission, and up to Palmyra, New York. And then they're traveling through West Virginia to visit Kathy's mission, and somehow they'll make it back home.

I hope the van doesn't break down. Or luggage doesn't fly off the top.


As a parent of more than one child, it's a juggling act to make sure each child is given a fair dose of personal attention from mom and dad. Even on this blog, I fear I've written about some of my children more than others.

So this post is all about Lissy, my second child and who we refer to as "the Toader." Why do we call her Toad? Check out these pictures:

Lissy has huge, bulging eyes, like a toad's eyes--or like two martini olives in James Bond's glass. But we went with Toad.

Lissy will start first grade in the fall. If I were to predict what career choice Lissy will pursure based on her interests of today, I would guess she will either go into forestry, farming, veterinary science, food sciences, art, or child development. She is our domestic goddess. She loves everything "domesticky."

When I work in the garden, she's the first to help. When we find earthworms and bugs, she gets excited and grabs her bug collecting jar. When we go on hikes, she stops to pick the wild flowers and comments on the beautiful scenery. She is the first to volunteer to hold Lehua.

When Jesse our dog was hit by a car and scraped up his back legs, Lissy went into full-on emotional meltdown. Jesse almost went to doggy heaven, but Lissy's tears saved him. We couldn't put him down and dissappoint Lissy, so we paid the $750 veterenary bill to keep him alive.

She can also be very emotional and cries more than any of my other kids. In that respect, she takes after me. We've tried to help "thicken her skin" and give her tools to help her control her crying. Sometimes I'll ask her to do 10 jumping jacks. Her kindergarten teacher told me that she had Lissy get up and get a drink of water when crying ensued. One time she tried to mask her crying by saying, "Something is in the air. My eyes are watering."

She likes to follow whatever Lilia is doing, but she doesn't like Lilia or us to know she's secretly following Lilia. For example, I asked Lilia what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer was an artist or a chef. Then I asked Lissy what she wanted to be.

"Well, either a chef or an artist."

Lilia says, "That's what I said."

Lissy: "No, it's not."

Here's a picture of Lissy holding a feather. We were waiting outside Hot Doug's in Chicago, and Lissy and I went for a walk around the block. Leave it to Lissy to find a multi-colored feather in the grass.

This is a snack Lissy made me. I think she thinks I'm a rabbit or a gorilla or something. Grapes with cut-up vegetables. I like how she tried to make the food look pretty by spacing the grapes around the vegetables. It was delicious!

We love our Toad!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Meet Lehua

It's been a crazy busy summer. Mostly, I feel like a bus driver taking kids to swimming team, swimming lessons, the incredible E&J summer camp, family reunions, parades, etc. I'm almost looking forward to the start of school. Almost. But I'm loving this sun and weather, and I'm loving on this little baby:

For friends/family who haven't met her, this is our newest (and last) baby, Lehua. How do you pronounce that? First say lei, as in the flower you wear around your neck, and then say the same phrase Marines say to each other: Hua!

Lehua! Lehua! Lehua! Hooray!

Kulani's even created some arm movements to the Lehua cheer.

So what does it mean?

Lehua is a flower that grows on a tree in Hawaii.

In Hawaiian mythology, ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua were two young lovers. The volcano goddess Pele fell in love with the handsome ʻŌhiʻa and approached him, but he turned down her advances. In a fit of jealousy, Pele transformed ʻŌhiʻa into a tree. Lehua was devastated by this transformation and out of pity the other gods turned her into a flower and placed her upon the ʻōhiʻa tree. (Other versions state that Pele felt guilty but was unable to reverse the change, so she turned Lehua into a flower herself.) Separating these united lovers is not encouraged, and it is said that when a lehua flower is plucked from an ʻōhiʻa tree, the sky fills with rain representing the lovers' tears. (From Wikipedia)

I can already hear her saying 18 years from now, "But Mom, I love him! I'd rather die than be without him." Drama coming our way.

In a previous post, I wrote about how all my kids come out looking like Kulani. Well, Lehua came out looking like me, poor little thing. She was 8 pounds 13 ounces at birth, but she's packing on the pounds and is now close to 11 pounds.

She's very sweet at times and very colicky at times. I'm looking forward to being past this stage, honestly. But I do love holding her when she's not crying. And snuggling her. And breathing her in.

Since she is our last, I really want to enjoy every moment. If only I could get a little more sleep. Oh well. I can sleep when I'm dead, as they say.

Lilia Likes to Write

Lilia is a writing machine these days. Everyday she writes something new for me to read. At the end of her first grade year, the teacher awarded her "Best Writer" for the class.

So I've created a blog for her postings. It will be private, but for this first week, it's public. She wrote a great piece about the birth of her sister:


A love note for my girls

Your dad says I have the memory of an elephant, or is it that elephants have GOOD memories? I can never remember. I think I read somewhere that we think one thing about elephants, but it's actually the opposite, so now I always think the opposite, which is bad because I don't remember what the opposite actually is.

Your dad says I have a bad memory. I have an especially bad memory when it comes to the birth of you precious girls. You'd think one of the most life-changing moments of my life would cause my mind to easily retain each minutia and detail, but sadly, it doesn't. Your dad is better at remembering than me.

People will ask me, "How was it with your first child?"

"Oh, not too bad," I'll answer.

And your dad will say, "No, it was bad. You were cranky all the time and frustrated and basically a zombie."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot that part."

So I'm writing this down for your sakes. I'm not sure you'll have the exact same experience as me when it's your time to have children, but if genetics plays into it, maybe you will. And maybe it will be nice to know your mom has experienced feelings you have had.

Unless, of course, you find yourself unable to have children. Or maybe you don't find someone you'd really like to marry. In the case of any of these situations occuring in your life, I will seek out some very good mentors and cull their brains for advice and comfort to give you. Aunt Amy would be a good starting point. And I'll put my arms around you and love you regardless.

So let me tell you about what it was like to have Lehua. It was generally the same for all of you, but maybe your dad can correct me on that. However, with Lehua, I was induced. Being induced was very similar to going into labor naturally, except the nice nurse anesthetist hooked me up to the wonderful anasthesia before the pitocin reached my blood stream and the heavy contractions set in. Therefore, I was on a happy cloud for the whole delivery. With you other three, I experienced moments of strong contractions and even made it to 8 1/2 cm dilated with Melissa before finally getting some anasthesia.

Maybe you'll decide to have your children "naturally," but don't feel guilty if you don't. Your ol' mom was too chicken to try birth without pain medications.

From the time the pitocin was injected to the time of Lehua's birth was approximately two hours. A couple of pushes and she was out. Dr. Watabe was the doctor who delivered Lehua. Dr. Watabe is a great doctor, and we share a common bond: triathlon. He was the doctor who gave me the go ahead to train for the Hawaii Honu Half-Ironman after Nohea was born. So mostly we talk about triathlons on my doctor visits.

Dad says Lehua came out very peacefully with a smile on her face. All the nurses agreed that it really did look like a smile was on her face. I find it a beautiful analogy for the Plan of Salvation: a soul filled with joy after finally arriving with her earthly family. But it didn't take long before her lungs filled with air and she was crying. Perhaps another analogy of how sad and harsh this world can be.

Immediately after Lehua was born, the nurses placed her on my chest for skin-to-skin contact with mom. There's nothing like the feeling of having a wet newborn on your chest. It's glorious. After some time, the nurses took Lehua and dried her off and weighed her and gave her an apgar score of 8.

And then things quieted down and congratulations and greetings were said as nurses and the doctor left us alone. I nursed Lehua while Dad took a nap.


The hardest...thing...I...have...ever...done. And that includes my half Ironmans. For some people, nursing comes easy. For others, it's completely awful. For yours truly, it was the latter. Lilia, unfortunately, took the brunt of my nursing learning curve. I was cracked and bleeding and in pain for a solid 2 1/2 months, and on one of the most sensitive parts of the female anatomy. The only thing that kept me going was this idea that for some people, it doesn't hurt. I wanted to get to that point to see if it really was true; that nursing actually doesn't hurt. That stubborness is what kept me going. And I did get there. With the other three of you, I was more experienced and kept myself from cracking, so the pain only lasted around three weeks.

I tell you this so that if you have to quit nursing because of the pain, don't beat yourself up. Your Grandma Christenson and Great-Grandma McEuen didn't nurse all of their children. But if you keep it up, I understand your pain. Call me up and I'll be there with lanolin and comfort.

Grandma Christenson

Which brings me to my mom, your Grandma Christenson. If there's a reason I'm half way sane today it's because your grandma is a saint of all womenhood. She came to help me out for each of your births.

With Lehua, I really put Grandma to work, and Grandpa too when he came down to visit for a day. We rearranged furniture to fit Lehua's crib into her room; fixed the garbage disposal (via a plumber that Grandma paid for); planted some roses and peppers; and basically just caught up with things I needed done. Grandma was very cheerful throughout it all, and she paid for everything. I always feel a little bit bad when Grandma pays for things, but your dad asked me, "How would you feel if you tried to do nice things for your girls and they just felt bad about it? Just be happy and grateful for her help." And that hit home for me. So girls, if I offer to pay for things after you have your children, just take it and be grateful, and that will make me very happy.

No one knows how to comfort like Grandma Christenson. She made me any meal I requested, and no one makes fried chicken like Grandma. She joyfully watched you girls when I needed a nap after a long night of nursing and crying. And she especially showed compassion when the postpartum depression set in.

I remember the depression setting in longer with Lilia. Because Grandma was still teaching, she could only stay with me for a few days. But after she went home to Idaho, she would call me everyday for two weeks to ask how I was feeling. Sometimes I just cried a lot on the phone. But other times I felt strong.

Postpartum depression is a pretty crappy feeling. I tried not to affect others when I felt its dark tenticles creeping into my psyche, but your dad always knew when I was off, and he'd offer to take us out to dinner or take you girls somewhere so I could get a break. I think he was secretly fearful of me hurting you.

But for me, postpartum depression didn't bring on thoughts of suicide or hurting you girls. I was more just fearful and hopeless. I also felt overwhelmed. Sometimes having people visit helped, and other times I just wanted people to stay away. I also wanted Kulani and you girls close by as if we could all be wrapped up in a cacoon and push the rest of the world away.

Luckily with Lehua, the depression only lasted about a week. Having her in the summertime really helped my mood.

Normalcy takes a while to set in after having a child. My cousin Carol used to say, "If I can make it to the baby's first birthday, than it's easy sailing from there." Carol has had seven or eight kids while living in a 1,000 square foot apartment, so I believe anything she tells me about raising kids.

Plus, as you know, Hawaiians like to celebrate a child's first birthday with a huge luau. Historically, Hawaiian babies often times died before reaching the one-year milestone, so making it a year was cause for celebration, and also an indication that the child would live until adulthood.

And so the circle of life goes. In each of you I can sometimes see glimpses of your grandmothers from my side and your dad's side. I love to think of our ancestors rooting for us on the other side: Go Team Fisher Girls!

Seeing you girls grow up is the most joyful thing in the world to me. I want you to know how much your father and I love you and want the best for you. I hope to be able to watch you and care for you as you traverse this life and reach milestones far greater than even you may dream.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Back on the Skag

I've been a little consumed lately with my yard and my garden and, oh yeah, a new baby. I've been wanting to call friends and family; visit neighbors; write thank you notes; send out baby announcements; etc. Instead, I've just been being. Human being.

But I'll start bloggin' and postin' here for reals one of these first days. But today is a short post about my baby.

I love the way she smells.

She smells like Kulani.

But here is the kicker. Ever since I've known Kulani, even before we were married, whenever I got close to him, I thought he smelled like a baby.

"You smell like a baby," I'd tell him.
"Is that good?" He'd ask.
"Yes, very good."

And now Lehua, my newborn baby, is here, and she smells like Kulani. And yesterday I caught Lilia lifting up Lehua's arm and smelling her armpit.

"You're right, Mom. She does smell like Dad."

Bottle that stuff up and it'll sell millions.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Incubated Rivalry

Last night Nohea started crying in her sleep. Kulani tried consoling her, and then she scooted over by me to see what I could do for her. I snuggled her in close to my belly and stroked her hair.

Wouldn't you know it--the little lady inside of me turned into Mia Hamm kicking like crazy. I think she was saying, "Get away, big sis! This is my territory!"

Already it begins. Oy vey.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Idaho Sistahs

So I've admitted my fascination over an incredibly stupid reality show on Bravo called "The Real Housewives of Orange County/New York City/New Jersey/Atlanta." I think there is some correlation between the television shows we choose to watch and the kind-of people we are.

However, my fascination with this show runs almost completely perpendicular to the kind-of person I think I am. Maybe I'm just not self-aware enough, but if you were to look up "high-maintenance housewife" in the dictionary, I like to pride myself into thinking my name would appear under the antonyms.
  • I've had exactly ONE manicure in my whole life, and zero pedicures. Call them a "mani" and "pedi" and I'll want to scratch your eyes out with my chewed-on nails.

  • I get a haircut once or twice a year whether I need it or not.

  • I own about five pairs of running shoes, three pairs of flip-flops, and two Sunday shoes. No Minola Blaniks (or however she/he spells her name).

I blame it on my rural-Idaho upbringing. Perhaps this is a news flash for some of you, but Idaho girls, at least the girls I grew up with, were as tough as they come. Put a hardened gangster girl from the streets of L.A. in a ring with an Idaho farm girl, and I'd put my money on the farm girl.

I didn't actually grow up on a farm. My dad was a used car salesman, and my mom was a teacher. But I had friends who lived on farms, and I was hired with them for summer help starting at the age of 13.

Most of the farm girls I knew had to move pipe right alongside their brothers. They also picked rocks and hoed and thinned sugarbeets. There was no line between "girl's work" and "boy's work." Well, except for maybe hauling hay. But I'll bet some girls even did that. It was all work, and it all needed to get done, and everyone in the family pitched in to help.

My friend Jana's dad was one of the farmers who hired me for the summers. Jana's poor dad had four girls before finally getting a boy. So did his daughters just sit at home getting manis and pedis? No, they were out in the fields working.

It's not to say that we didn't WANT to dress up and curl our hair and have expensive clothes. It just wasn't an opportunity that was readily available to us. We had too much work to do, darn it! Daylight was burning!

And we had tons of fun, too. After most of our days of working in the sugarbeet fields, we'd drive to the nearest canal and go swimming. And we'd slather ourselves with mud as if we were at an expensive day-spa. And then we'd jump in the canal to clean ourselves off.

At the end of each summer, we'd take our hard-earned money and go to Lagoon in big-town Farmington, Utah.

One year I also saved enough to buy me a "fancy" pair of shoes. I bought me a pair of Birkenstocks. Maybe there is some high maintenance in me afterall.

And when I'm outside working in my yard and hauling big rocks around, I think of the Pussycat Dolls song, and I sing it loud and proud, "Don't you wish your girlfriend could move rocks like me? Don't you wish your girlfriend could mow the lawn like me?"

This was part of our beet-hoeing gang. Pictured to the left in the back are Jana Baily (now a realtor and business woman in the Boise area), Jaime Catmull (now a fashion marketer and model who bounces between L.A. and SLC), me (mom and yard maintenance extraoirdinaire), Carol Cueva (mother and school counselor), Stacey Schafer (landscape designer in the Boise area), and Keri Anderson (mom to four girls, just like me, in Colorado). My two cousins, Monica and Wendy, also hoed beets with us, but they weren't there this summer.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Anytime I take a bite from my children's food, or drink a swig from their drinks, I proclaim it "Mom tax." Not that I do it THAT often, just every meal or so. Especially if it involves french fries from the Golden Arches.

Well ask not for who the tax man comes for he comes for all.

The other day I asked Lilia to get me a can of Squirt. She did, opened it, and took a swig. After taking  her share she told me, "Lilia tax."

Touche, tax lady, touche. None of us ever escapes death or taxes. Or lessons of "what goes around comes around."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Some reflections on the life of Grandma

"Mother could be both extravagant and frugal, generous and somewhat stingy, loving and exasperating, full of praise and full of criticism, thoughtful and impulsive, diplomatic and tactless, in other words, just like the rest of us. But when we look at the finished tapestry of Mother’s life, it is rich and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to change it a bit." -- Karen Christenson McEuen, from a talk given at Grandma McEuen's funeral
I've been wanting to post something about my Grandma McEuen since her death on March 17. But the words haven't really come. I'm not so much in sadness or overcome with grief. By this stage in my life, I've experienced enough of the life cycle to know that everyone does die eventually. And Grandma's death wasn't catastrophic or unexpected.

But even still, like my father said after my 97-year-old Grandma Christenson died, "We prayed for my mom to be able to leave this life, and now that she's gone, I miss her." And I miss Grandma, and it's hard to sum up my life experiences with this lady, because my feelings for her are so diverse. Like my mom said in her talk, Grandma exhibited attributes from all over the human psychological spectrum.

I've tried to add up all the months I spent living with Grandma. Between me and my sister Mary, I think we lived with Grandma the longest of all the grandkids. So I do feel justified somewhat in telling a little bit of Grandma's story, but from my perspective.

Grandma and Grandpa were the "cool" grandparents who lived in Southern California. So during my grade school years, visiting Grandma and Grandpa McEuen's meant the beach, Disneyland, and all the glories of Southern California.

Grandma liked to send us small newspaper clippings from her favorite newspaper: The National Enquirer. She'd always include a few lines of advice and instruction. My mom unburied a small piece of advice she left us:

“I believe getting along with people is important to our personal happiness. And the only way to live happily with people is to overlook their faults and admire their virtues. This is a tall order. Faults and virtues are both real, but we can become skilled in the art of human relations and people (loved ones especially) become more valuable in our eyes. There is always something good in all people, if—we look for it. And when we find it, we ought to express sincere appreciation. The poor human ego gets quite a kicking around.…It is grateful for any expressions of admiration.”

Grandma and Grandpa moved from their home in Montebello, California to Orem, Utah in 1987. They had both retired and wanted to live closer to their children. They built a brand-new house in an upscale neighborhood in Orem. To us, their house was a beautiful, extravagant place.

Grandpa died in 1993, but Grandma continued living there. I graduated high school in 1994, and was determined to go to BYU. I wasn't accepted for fall attendance, but at that time, BYU allowed students to come during the summer, and if your grades were good, they allowed you to stay for the fall, winter, and beyond.

Because I didn't have that summer to work and save, I asked Grandma if I could live with her rent free. She allowed me free room and board, with a constant supply of cottage cheese in the fridge.

Grandma didn't cook a whole lot, but what she did cook was good. She made really good chicken. Cooking chicken is a bit of a dark arts for me. It can either be burnt or too dry, but both my mom and my grandma could and can cook great fried chicken.

Living with Grandma had its pluses and minuses. Grandma expected a lot out of you. Perhaps its that pioneer stock that seeped from her very core.

Her great-great grandfather had been pulled by a Missouri mob from his house at night, was tarred and feathered, his health ruined, and was considered to be one of the first martyrs of the restoration.

Her great grandfather was with Brigham Young in the first pioneer company into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. He colonized San Bernardino and spent years away from his family doing missionary work. Her grandparents left relative ease and comfort in Sweden to join with the saints and come to the harsh desert environment of Southern Utah. Her own mother was the Relief Society President for many years as she cared for her family of 11 children in difficult circumstances. Grandma Johnson instilled a fierce loyalty in her children.

As if magically, this heritage of sacrifice and faith could be intensified down into one look from Grandma. The look that said, "Me and all of my ancestors have sacrificed everything for YOU, and if YOU disappoint us, there will be hell to pay." Never, never, did I want to disappoint Grandma. (Side note: My mom also inherited that look, and luckily for me, I have too. One look and my girls know I mean business. It's a top-secret weapon I only use sparingly so as not to lessen the affect.)

Grandma didn't need to yell or browbeat. It was just that look and we knew she expected greatness. To which more than anything else she taught, I'm grateful for that expectation she had for us to rise above ourselves and be great. (Not that I'm great--far from it. But the goal is there.)

She didn't make it easy to live with her. She wanted me in bed and asleep by 9:30 p.m. I had an early morning custodial job, and she wouldn't allow phone calls to reach me past 9 p.m. While other college kids my age were partying it up and wasting their parents' money on flunking grades, I was chilling in Grandma's basement or watching reruns of Matlock with her. At 18, I was atrophying into an 80-year-old.

That summer I moved back home with my parents in Idaho and worked two jobs to be able to afford college in the fall. I saved enough that I was able to move into my own apartment.

I moved from Grandma's upscale basement apartment to the cheapest apartments near BYU. There were six girls living in three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and buckets full of hair everywhere. And I loved it. I loved my independence. Living with Grandma helped me to value independence.

And in the end, isn't that what a good parent does: encourage the kids to leave the nest, to live on their own ... to make their own way in this world? Not one of Grandma's 24 grandkids lives with their parents or relatives. All have managed to make a spot for themselves in this world, some in nicer living arrangements than others. When times were hard, we may have leaned on Grandma a bit, or our parents, but it was only a temporary stop.

Grandma was quite the lady indeed.

Some pictures of the ones she left behind:
My sister Hetty sporting some of the bling Grandma left behind. Grandma loved jewelry and all of us granddaughters inherited at least one piece of her bling-a-ling.

Pallbearers, from back to front: Bryce McEuen, David McEuen, Kenny Greer, Keith Greer, Anthony Thomas, Dan McEuen, Edward Christenson. You can't see Wayne in this picture.

Edward and Amanda Christenson. Ed is the youngest of Grandma's grandchildren.

Family members listen for the family prayer. From left to right are Liz McEuen, Kathy Christenson Heslop, Hailey Heslop, Liz's daughter, Nathan Smedley holding his son Ty, Amy Smedley, Sarah Smedley, Grace Smedley, Brian Christenson, Kelsie Christenson, Carson Christenson, and Dan McEuen.

Mom and Aunt Kathy sharing a story of Grandma, while Uncle Pat tries to listen in. Cousin Kenny is also in the picture.

When Kulani graduated from law school, we lived with Grandma for a short time while he looked for a job. Lilia was about five months old in this picture. Grandma loved little babies.

I wanted to find a picture of me and Grandma on my wedding day, but this was as good as I could find. I was probably thinking only of myself to take the time to get a picture of me and Grandma. Both my Grandma Christenson and Grandma McEuen are pictured in the left of this photo.
Grandma's four children from left to right: Fred McEuen, Karen McEuen Christenson, Kathy McEuen Greer, and Patrick McEuen.

Me and my girls next to Grandma's casket.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grandma's Decline

Judging from both sides of my family gene pool, I will likely live to be older than dirt. My Grandma Christenson lived to be 97. My Grandma McEuen is nigh unto 88.

But sadly, these look like Grandma McEuen's waning months. I'm not sure she has a whole year left in her. She may surprise us, though.

The Johnson women, Johnson being my grandma's maiden name, are sturdier than an amish barn. Living with Grandma in my late teens, Grandma and I would travel around the state of Utah visiting each of her sickly sisters. I watched her sisters peel off one by one. Aunt Effie and then Aunt Alice. Aunt Hazel held on like her life depended on it. All in their 90s before leaving this life for the next.

Grandma McEuen, in her not-so-delicate way, would say to me after we'd visit Aunt Hazel in the care center, "Why doesn't she just push off?" Sweetness doesn't exactly roll off the tongue of Grandma.

And now it's Grandma's turn. Grandma's been inflicted with Alzheimer's for the last six or seven years. The first thing to go was Grandma's ability to drive. It was very hard on Grandma, and especially hard on her children as Grandma made it known in a not-so-quiet way how upset it made her that they would take away her car.

Then Grandma had a bad fall that broke her arm and hip and bruised her face. After that, she needed better care and she sold her house and now lives in an assisted-living apartment.

And up until recently, it's been a great place for her. Her Alzheimer's actually made her rather nice. She didn't have any worries. Her apartment is very pleasant. Her needs are met.

But she's lonely. Yesterday while Kulani took the girls out for their weekly culinary appreciation dinner, I visited Grandma.

No less than 13 times did Grandma ask me who I was, who I was married to, and how many kids I had. That was the okay part. I don't mind answering her questions again and again. Thankfully, Kulani took a continuing education class on Alzheimer's and gave me some tips on how to interact with people suffering from it.

Firstly, you don't say, "Do you remember me?" You just tell them who you are, again and again.

Grandma has a super sweet care lady who checks in on her in the morning and at night. I'm not kidding you when I say this woman is getting a free pass to the heaven of her choosing. She is so sweet to Grandma, and before she leaves each time, she says, "Goodbye, Helen. I love you." And I definitely feel like she really does mean it.

Grandma's helper lady said that Grandma hadn't been out of bed for two days, and she gave me a run down on everything Grandma had eaten. After the care lady left (shame on me for not remembering her name!), Grandma started asking me if she could come home with me.

"Sure," I said. And then she'd call my bluff.

"Let's go," she'd say, and make a gesture as if she was getting out of bed.

I stopped saying "sure" when she'd ask, and instead said, "I'll talk to your kids about it in the morning." And then Grandma would get upset with me and give me the gesture that says, "Forget you!" Well, not that gesture. It was more of a wave-of-the-hand gesture, but I got her meaning.

Another lady came in and administered her some medicine. I asked her if it would help Grandma sleep. She said that was one of the side effects, but that it was for anxiety.

Grandma asked if I'd like to stay the night. I told her I'd stay with her until she fell asleep. (Mind you, you don't talk normally with Grandma. You have to yell so she can hear you.) That didn't make her very happy either.

We watched some basketball, Grandma's favorite sport to watch. And then we watched part of the Olympics. I think I was keeping Grandma awake, as I would catch her nodding off.

She asked me if I had someplace to be. I told her no. Then she asked where my husband was. I told her for the dozenth time that he was on a daddy-daughters date. She told me they would be waiting for me.

I got the hint. She was ready for me to leave. I kissed her goodbye and told her I loved her, and I left.

I'm not sure my visit did any good. It seemed to bring her more disappointment than anything.

Next time I visit, I'll bring my kids. Seeing the little girls always cheers Grandma up. And she likely won't ask to come home with me, because although she loves seeing kids, she doesn't like living with kids.

And when looking into my future, it's nice to be surrounded by those I cherish most.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Compliments and Complaints

Kulani bought me a new pan. It's the Turbo X3000 Calphalon Super G 12-inch non-stick pan, melded from hot coles burnt from rocks brought back by the astronauts who landed on the moon.

Check out the side-by-side comparison between the new and the old pan (which we bought at Shopko for what we thought was really expensive ($20) when we were still students):

See how the egg in the old pan on the left is sliding and not staying uniform? When I flip that baby over, half of the egg stays stuck to the pan. On the right is the super deluxe new model. No egg slipping. It all stays nice and uniform. The new pan also has no Crisco or buttery coating to aid in unsticking, and when you flip the egg over, no sticky-sticky. I'm no scientist, but I think it has to do with moon-rock vaporage condensation and the planetary pull of waves that gives the pan it's awesomeness.

I'm Not 80 Yet, But I'm Doing My Darndest To Complain Like It

My bellah is getting huge. I'm not kidding. It's like Sputnik; a virtual planetoid. It's got it's own weather system. I'd cry myself to sleep every night on my huge pillah...except...

Every pregnant woman knows you want to get the best sleep you can get before the baby comes, because once it gets here, your sleeping nights are over. The only problem is, sleeping with a huge belly isn't all that easy. You shift in the middle of the night and you roll around and your hips hurt and you have to use the potty every two hours. And then you have the following crowding you out of the bed:

More Misadventures of Nono

When it's only me and Nohea at home, she likes to play house while I work on the computer. I'm always the dad at work and she's the mom, but she brings me the baby to show and hug. She's started to entertain herself better, too, which doesn't always have the best results. I won't hear her for a half hour, so I'll go looking for her to make sure she is okay. I found an exploded pen on my comforter once, and her body was covered with ink.

And why do I even bother putting pillows back on the couch? She's just going to take them off again and build herself a house.

Lost Teeth and The Toad

Lilia lost another tooth. That makes two teeth in the last few weeks. This last tooth was pulled out by a girl at school. This girl is known for her teeth-pulling abilities, and she had Lilia hold two other girls' hands while the Tooth-Puller yanked out her tooth. Lilia then lost the tooth later while at school.

Being the tooth fairy is more difficult than I thought. I kept forgetting to write her note and stick it under her pillow with some money. So one morning while she was getting ready for school, I snuck the note into her room with the money. I put it behind her bed, as if it had slipped between the cracks.

I asked Lilia if the tooth fairy brought anything. We went to her room to look under her pillow. I told her to look all around her bed, because sometimes those things slip off the bed. Then she found the jackpot. Tooth-fairy gold.

And here's a picture of my Toad in all her rainbow-drawing glory:

Fishers out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

For the Po' Folks

"Now, for some of you it doesn't matter. You were born rich and you’re going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything, but they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget it." -- Herman Blume from Rushmore.

I'm coming clean with a terrible habit I have of disliking and distrusting wealthy people. If you've never been the po' kid, I'm not sure you'd understand. Just as I probably don't understand how hard it would be to be the rich kid (poor little rich kids!).

In all honesty, where I grew up, most kids were the poor kids. We probably only had a handful of rich kids, and even they weren't really all that rich. Remember Napolean Dynamite and that "popular" girl's house? That's about as rich as they got in my town--maybe a touch richer.

Growing up in rural Idaho, we didn't have the disparity of classes as viewed in popular 80s brack-pack movies like Pretty in Pink, or the differences seen in an uber-wealthy private school setting like in Rushmore. But even still, in high school I found myself limiting some of my friendships because they would go out to fast food for lunch, and all I could afford was the 90 cent school lunch.

Nor was I able to afford to go snow skiing more than once or twice a year, and when I did go skiing, I brought my D.I.-discount boots and skis that didn't really fit me all that well. And I wasn't as poor as others, who I'm sure probably do view a bigger dividing class in south-central Idaho. And they never EVER got to go snow skiing, not even with used skis that cut off the circulation to the toes.

And while watching the Winter Olympics last night, Kulani summarized why it is I don't really care a whole bunch about the Winter Olympics.

"It's like watching all the rich kids compete."

He got an "amen" and a head nod from me with that comment.

When I'm watching the downhill skiiers, I think, "Dang! How much money did their parents spend to get them to this level?"

Still, I watch the Winter Olympics, but I don't have a love for them. These are people I just don't relate to. I'm glad for their accomplishments, really. Like I'm glad when I see someone winning an Oscar, or when someone tells me about a new boat they bought. It's nice for them.

And if they're happy, I'm happy.

Like Max Fischer said, I guess the secret is, you've gotta find something you love to do, and then do it for the rest of your life. For some, that's snow skiing. For others, it's a stable job that pays the mortgage and puts food on the table.