Friday, April 28, 2006

Monday, April 24, 2006


My grandpa died on Easter Sunday. He was a wonderful man, and lived a long and good life. Luckily, Steve and I saw him when we were in Utah just a few weeks ago. We had a great visit, and he seemed in good spirits - his dry sense of humor fully functioning, and his beard still as bristly as ever when he kissed me goodbye.

Before the funeral, my siblings and cousins gathered to practice some hymns we'd been asked to sing. I looked around the room, and thought about the legacy grandpa left. I thought about summers spent in our grandparents' swimming pool, and trips to Bear Lake. About that sign in their bathroom that said "We aim to please. You aim too, please." About the many times grandpa asked me why I wasn't married yet, and told me I was too picky. About how much he liked Steve. I thought about family, about eternity. I also thought his grandkids sounded pretty darn good singing those hymns.

During the funeral, I noticed too late that I'd put my violin directly under an air conditioner vent. I'd already been having problems keeping it in tune because of the California-to-Utah climate change, and the fact that it'd been resting under a cold stream of air did not bode well. I was a little nervous to begin with because I'd been asked to play a really tricky piece I hadn't played in years (I'd promised grandma I'd play it at her funeral, but she decided I should play it at his, too). Sure enough, I'd only made it halfway through when there was a loud sproinging sound, and one of the strings went completely out of tune. I think grandpa would have found the whole thing pretty entertaining.

After the funeral, the family was invited to a dinner that the Relief Society made for us. On the way there, my sister and I bet that there would be funeral potatoes and ham. My brother-in-law (who grew up in a different country) didn't know what funeral potatoes were. He found out at the dinner. They were right next to the ham.

Less than 24 hours later, I (along with my aunt, 3 cousins, sister-in-law, and sister) became violently ill. I don't think I've ever been so sick in my life. What did we all have in common? That second batch of funeral potatoes. Food poisoning at a funeral: a memory to treasure. My mom took care of us, bringing me Coke with a straw, and I was reminded of all the times she's taken such good care of me when I've been sick. As I sipped my Coke, and sang songs with my 2-year-old nephew (he does a truly amazing "Popcorn Popping"), I thought about family again, and eternity, and how incredibly grateful I am that these people I love with all my heart will be with me forever, and I with them. And how, in heaven, there won't be any need for funeral potatoes.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On Big Storms and Superheroes

Three-year-old Alex, a little guy in my Primary class (with curly, curly hair and big brown eyes), sits so quietly and reverently that I worried about him at first. He barely makes a peep. Once in a while, however, he will raise his hand in response to a question, and give an incredibly detailed and (most often) amazingly accurate answer. There is one caveat: the answer must always involve a "big storm" of some kind. He worked in the big storm reference quite easily and aptly when the answer involved Jonah and the whale, and on another occasion when we were discussing the pioneers. He had to get a little more creative when the answer was about prayer, but, in the end, it all made perfect sense.

Another of my little guys brings a big stuffed Spiderman doll every Sunday. Spidey is a little worse for wear: he's missing a foot, and part of his head. He also loses bits of stuffing during each class - bits that are eagerly scooped up by his classmates and referred to as "clouds." It is important that Spiderman get his own chair during the lesson, as well as his own crayons and paper. He prefers the lined paper from my notebook, but only if it has no rips at the top. Spidey is quite particular.

Along with the importance of big storms and Spiderman's preferences, I've also learned that there is one magical response which can serve as the answer to any question asked in Primary. This response is, of course, "Jesus."

Exhibit A: Last week's "I Am Thankful for Water" lesson.

"Where does water come from?"

The hands shoot up before I finish my sentence.

"Jesus!" calls out Spidey's pal.

"And what do we use water for?"

A second of silence as they ponder.

"Jesus! Jesus!"

I have a fleeting thought about working in some reference to the water we drink in Sacrament meeting, and how that relates to their answers, but instead reply:

"Yes! We all love Jesus, and He loves us! Who wants to color?"

For several weeks now, we've been learning the Articles of Faith. We are learning them by singing them, because they've been set to music.

My problem with this is three-fold:

Firstly, I just don't think the Articles were written with musical accompaniment in mind. They don't rhyme, and they've got pretty awkward rhythms. It's kind of like setting the Declaration of Independence to music. (Although most likely that's been attempted as well.)

Secondly, the tunes to which they've been set are in a minor key, and sound like a cross between the soundtrack in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion and "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler On The Roof.

Thirdly, no one is explaining what the Articles mean. Not that I expect my three-year-olds to grasp the finer points of doctrine, but when they're singing about not being punished for Adam's transgression (in a minor key, no less), it'd be nice if they at least knew why we were teaching them to sing about it in the first place.

This brings me to another issue. Raise your hand if you remember the Primary song "It Shouldn't Be Hard To Sit Very Still." (Also in a minor key.) Sing it with me if you recall:

It shouldn't be hard to sit very still
To think about Jesus, his cross on the hill
And all that he suffered and did for me
It shouldn't be hard to sit quietly
It shouldn't be hard even though I am small
To think always of Jesus. Not hard at all.

Hmmm. Maybe it's just me, but at age 31 I still find it hard to sit very still. What was the reasoning behind this song? Let's start the guilt at an early age?

So I've decided I'm going to write my own Primary song. To keep my little class interested, it will be about big storms (in life), and how Jesus can help us through them (even more than a superhero like Spiderman). And it'll have a catchy, upbeat tune. So catchy that you won't even be able to sit quietly while you sing it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Wonderful Welshman

A remarkable man and gifted poet passed away last week. Leslie Norris, BYU's emeritus poet in residence (whose work is known and revered worldwide), died after suffering a stroke. I've had the privilege of attending some of Leslie's poetry readings, and chatting with him and his wife in their lovely home. Leslie was self-effacing, witty, and generous; his charming Welsh brogue made conversation all the more delightful. He will be greatly missed.

A second printing of Norris's Ark, one of Leslie's books of poems for children, was issued in 2000. In the Author's Note, he says:

"[Writing poems for children] was both harder and more enjoyable than I had expected. I had to learn to look at the world with newer eyes, and to be perfectly clear in what I said. I had to forget the words 'if' and 'but', except when they opened up worlds of the imagination . . . If I could fly . . . But a dog can talk . . . It was very good for me to think like that."

One of my favorite poems in the collection is called The Wire-Haired Fox-Terrier. An excerpt:

I am a great
Cat chaser
And garden tennisball
Nosy Parker

Noisy Barker

And middle of the lawn bone-burier

I'm a wire-haired
Fox Terrier.

At night I am

A sleeper

And nobody can sleep
Or snoozier

Or cosier

When the frost outside gets frozier

Than a tired

Fox Terrier.

And from another of my favorites, Bird And Boy:

So you want to fly. Why?
You haven't any feathers.
Do you think it's good fun
Being out in all weathers?
Said Bird to Boy.

You haven't any wings,
You can't build a nest.
Why aren't you satisfied
With the things you do best?
Said Bird to Boy.

What would it be like?
A sky full of boys,
Their arms flapping, their big feet -
And the noise!
Said Bird to Boy.

If you'd like to know more about Leslie's life, click on his picture above.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Recommendation

Anyone seen the documentary New York Doll? I saw it tonight, and thought it was fantastic. It's about a man who played bass in a wildly popular '70s rock band, and joined the LDS church many years later. Amazing film.