Entries in Light the Corners of My Mind (31)


Playing Catch-Up

DAY TO READ campaign

First things first: join me on January 10th for Reading Day! (I know; as if I need an excuse to read.) It'll be fun!

I skipped a few Scavenger Hunt items Thanksgiving week, so today I'm going to try and combine a few so we can end this whole NaBloPoMo thing gracefully tomorrow. I think it will work out. I apologize in advance the contributors; I certainly don't want anyone to feel like I have given them short shrift.

One of my BBFFs (Best Blog Friends Forever), Brillig, thought I should write about being both active LDS/Mormon and politically liberal, which is a somewhat unusual combination, for some unfathomable reason.

Goofball, a darling Dutch friend who has given me invaluable help with research on one of my novels, had two requests: 1) give the details of my weirdest travel experience; and 2) tell more about my faith.

And Jenna, my fellow recovering Mary Kay Sales Director, and one of the best women I know personally, wanted to read more about my church mission experience.

I can see a bit of a pattern there, so work with me as I answer in rather non-linear fashion.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed 'Mormons' over 150 years ago) are Christians. It's very important that you know that; apparently there are groups out in the world who claim we are not Christians. But Jesus' name is in the middle of the name of our church for a reason: He's at the center of every aspect of our religion.

We believe that God speaks to people today through prophets just as He spoke to prophets in ancient times. Joseph Smith was the first of these latter-day prophets; he organized the church in upstate New York in 1830.

Here are our official Thirteen Articles of Faith, written by Joseph Smith in 1842 in response to questions from John Wentworth, the editor of The Chicago Democrat.

Here are other facts about our religion and members of the church.

Here's a great explanation of the LDS view of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Goofball, if you have any other questions, please email me. I can go on and on about this subject; it's very dear to my heart.

My 'weirdest' travel experience was definitely my mission for our church. I've done a fair bit of traveling, all of it very positive (except for our family cruise a few years ago; we'll never do THAT again). But my mission was unusual for many reasons.

LDS missionaries are mostly young men and women. 19-year-old boys are strongly encouraged to go on two-year, full-time missions; if they choose, women may go for 18-month missions when they turn 21. Missions are a highly structured, ascetic experience. Missionaries are expected to forgo dating, television and movies, most music, and reading of anything other than the scriptures. In addition, they are expected to be with their assigned companions all of the time.

Missionaries have one day off per week, called 'Preparation Day' (or 'P-Day'), when they do all of their housecleaning, food shopping, and laundry, with a little time left over for limited sight-seeing and physical recreation. At all other times, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., they are supposed to be sharing our faith with people in their assigned area. They may be knocking on doors, holding street meetings, or meeting with people referred to them by other church members. They also spend significant amounts of time every day (they wake up very early) engaged in prayer, meditation, and scripture study.

You may wonder how many young people could possibly be willing to take up such an arduous and monkish existence in this day and age. Well, in 2006, there were over 53,000 LDS missionaries serving all over the world.

When you put in your paperwork for a mission, you have no idea where you will be sent. You could end up in Hong Kong or Helsinki, Guatemala or Ghana, Connecticut or Korea, Uganda or Utah. If you'll be learning a foreign language, you typically spend two months in one of several Missionary Training Centers (MTC). If you are going to an English-speaking country, your time in the MTC is just two weeks.

In addition to proselytizing missions, there are also humanitarian missions, family services missions, family history missions, temple missions, and church historical site missions. As I mentioned before most missionaries are young single men and women, but senior couples and senior single sisters are actively encouraged to serve as well.

Missionaries pay their own way as much as possible. When they have not saved enough to support themselves for the length of the mission, their families and congregations (called 'wards') contribute as well.

Why did I go on a mission? I had been wanting to all my life; I had been raised thinking that it was the right thing to do. I thought I'd probably be pretty good at it. It's a concrete, measurable way to serve. For Mormons, it is a rite of passage, one of the ways we come of age. Like running a marathon, it's a significant accomplishment. But the biggest reason I went is because I wanted to share the good news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible.

I was called to go on a French-speaking mission to Montreal, Canada. I was thrilled; I had studied French since first grade and was anxious to put it to good use. At the end of March 1989, I entered the MTC in Provo, Utah. After a great learning experience there, members of our group flew to Montreal and were assigned to various areas throughout the province of Quebec.

My area was Laval, an island suburb of Montreal. My senior companion was fantastic; we hit it off right away. She'd been out for over a year, and she was the perfect mix of enthusiasm and energy tempered with a lot of experience and wisdom.

I met people from all over the world in Laval; Quebec takes in many French-speaking immigrants, so we talked to people from Haiti, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco, and Egypt, as well as many native Canadians.

I woke up every day excited and happy; there is something unique about giving up worldly concerns and devoting yourself as fully as possible to serving in a cause greater than yourself. I learned new things about myself, my relationship with God, and the world on a daily basis; it was the greatest spiritual experience I'd ever had up to that point in my life.

Unfortunately, in October of that year, I got horribly sick and had to return home from my mission. Doctors determined that there was no way to know when I would get better, so I was honorably released after only six months of service. I was crushed, but I believe these things happen for reasons we sometimes can't see for a long time. It took me over a year to convalesce fully.

I would go again in a heartbeat; in fact, Patrick and I plan to serve as many missions as possible once the kids are grown and on their own. I very much hope all our children will decide to serve as well. It's an experience I recommend highly.

As for my political beliefs and how they mesh with my religious beliefs? Let me be as tactful as possible; I have no wish to alienate the very large portion of my readers who belong to the party I actively oppose.

God gave us the earth and commanded us to take care of it; therefore, preserving the environment is a crucial issue for me.

Jesus asked us to take care of our fellow man; social and governmental programs that make taking care of the poor and disadvantaged easier and more efficient are a natural outgrowth of that admonition.

Our eleventh Article of Faith allows all men the privilege of worship according to the dictates of their own consciences; therefore I believe in a clear separation between church and state.

The Book of Mormon (which I believe, along with The Holy Bible, to be the word of God) clearly teaches that defense is the only reason sanctioned by God to take up arms; I have never believed that the conflict in which my country currently finds itself embroiled can be rationalized as 'defensive' in any way.

Whew! We've covered a lot of ground today. If you're still reading, thanks for sticking with me. You're the best.


Over the Hills Where the Spirits Fly

Today, Jhianna wants me to write about a song that has significance for me. Anyone who has seen my crazy eclectic profile might wonder how I could pick just one.

Should I go with Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, the piece that introduced me to the ineffable joys of Bach when I was in eighth grade Orchestra?

Or Symphony no. 5, which Patrick and I first heard on the radio as we were planning our wedding, and which began my 18-year, still-going-strong love affair with British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams?

Or maybe I should reminisce about the first time I heard Thomas Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah sung at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, when the voices of the choir seemed to wind round one another in gorgeous and mysterious patterns as they ascended into the nave during the service of Tenebrae.

I might explore the above options in the future; Soccer Mom in Denial has just started Music Mondays, and I've got fodder for at least the next ten years. Today I'll go in a different direction: Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop."

It's mid-November, 1978. I have just turned twelve, and I am deeply in love with Ian Richardson, a lanky, black-haired, blue-eyed boy with a sharp mind and a sardonic sense of humor. We have several classes together; there is only one Gifted & Talented track in Albert Einstein Jr. High's eighth grade program.

Though I am a mere girl, Ian is willing to be friends with me because we have one huge thing in common other than our schedule: we are both obsessed with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. It's not just that we've read the trilogy several times; we have taught ourselves to write in Dwarvish runes and have absorbed every bit of dry backstory we could winkle out of The Silmarillion.

Despite his inner geek, Ian is a clown, making him immensely popular with students and (oddly) teachers alike. Since my nerdiness has never known the bounds of any closet, I am fully aware how privileged I am that Ian even takes notice of me. Of course, I want more; I hope that Ian and I will eventually get married and raise a passel of kids with names like Galadriel and Faramir. But I wisely keep this to myself.

One day, as Ian and I are discussing whether the soon-to-open Ralph Bakshi adaptation of LOTR will be any good, he says something that gets my attention. "I know this band that does some songs about Middle-Earth."

Really? I must know more.

(At this point, I own exactly two records, both soundtracks: Grease and Saturday Night Fever. I'm not completely culturally illiterate; my parents are huge Beatles and Beach Boys fans, and I listen to the same top-40 radio station as most other kids my age, grooving to timeless classics by Hall & Oates and Earth, Wind & Fire.)

Ian makes me a cassette tape that includes Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop," "Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp," and "The Battle of Evermore." I am instantly hypnotized by this strange new music, and my life is changed forever.

I'm not being dramatic. I set aside my quest to learn Quenya and let my obsessiveness autodidactism follow a new muse. Soon I've spent all my babysitting money acquiring Led Zeppelin's first four albums and subscribing to Rolling Stone magazine.

A single year later, with a little help from my friends Rolling Stone and the radio station KZAP, I've branched out into all kinds of hard and progressive rock: The Who, Boston, Yes, Foghat, Genesis, Rush, Jethro Tull, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I've worked my way backwards to fill in the gap left after the Beatles' break-up: The Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and The Doors.

Led Zep's heavy blues influence also leads me in that fabulous direction: B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble, then somehow to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Which means when we move from Rancho Cordova (generic suburb of Sacramento) to Truckee (last bastion of Lake Tahoe ski bum hippiedom) in the middle of ninth grade, I hook up with a whole different crowd. I've gone from this (eighth grade, and picture the gaucho pants and knee socks that complete this particular ensemble):

to this (ninth grade).Way cooler, yes? Led Zeppelin: better than What Not to Wear. Who knew?

Has my post given you a hankering for more Middle-Earth? Here are two gems not to be missed:

1) Recent discovery Phil's live-blog of his experience watching the Peter Jackson trilogy in one marathon session. Love it; can't get enough.

2) More compelling than a train wreck: Leonard Nimoy sings his "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins." As Spock would say, "Fascinating."


Déjà Vu All Over Again

Today's post topic comes from Jhianna at Queen of the Marginally Bright. I don't know Jhianna well (yet), but here are four things that make me love her already. 1) Serenity is one of her favorite movies. 2) She loves George R.R. Martin as much as I do. (Jhianna! I met him a couple of weeks ago! It was awesome!) 3) She lives in Castle Rock. (It's the one in Colorado, not the fictional one in Maine, but still.) 4) In her profile, she uses the word 'shiny' and the word 'parameters' in the same sentence.

Jhianna asked me about my favorite work of art. Since I love good art of all kinds from all cultures in all centuries, it would be well nigh impossible to choose one favorite. So I'll narrow the field quite a bit: I'll tell you about my favorite work of art in our house.

One of the many cool things about Patrick's copyright/trademark work is that sometimes clients show him their appreciation by giving him pieces of art. So we have some great original stuff that we could never afford hanging or sitting around the house. But as terrific as they are, my favorite piece is not one of these; instead it is one that has immense sentimental value to me.

When I was four years old, I would stare at a certain picture hanging on the wall of our living room for what seemed like hours at a time. It was in black and white, but it was not a photograph. It featured a girl lying face up in a body of water, apparently asleep, with a halo over her head. Who could she be? Why was she in the water? Who were the shadowy figures on the shore? I wondered about this picture endlessly.

When I was five, my parents split up. My dad kept the fascinating picture, and I never saw it again except on a brief visit when I was 21. By then, I knew enough to see that it was an engraving, and that the caption underneath read 'Martyre Chrétienne,' or 'Christian Martyr.' I also got the story on where the piece came from. In 1968, my grandmother found it in a Deseret Industries (a Goodwill-type thrift shop) in the Los Angeles area and bought it for about three dollars. She gave it to my father when he expressed intense interest in it.

When I was 27, Patrick and I went on our post-law school 'honeymoon' (we'd had neither the time nor the money for a real honeymoon when we got married three-and-a-half years earlier). It was a three-week trip to Paris, the Loire Valley, and French-speaking Switzerland, and it was heaven: 21 days of perfection (except for the horrendous perm I got at the Galeries Lafayette).

One day in the Louvre, as I was walking around goggling at beautiful things I'd seen in books my whole life, I turned a corner and stopped in my tracks. There on the wall was the picture from my childhood.

"The Young Martyr (A Christian Martyr Drowned in the Tiber at the Time of Diocletian)"
by Paul Delaroche, French 1797-1856

I was thrilled that the Museum Shop had a postcard of the painting; I bought two and sent one off to my father telling him how exciting it was to find it. Later that day, Patrick and I spend a fascinating few hours in the Louvre's Department of Chalcography. Here's what we learned. These days, if you love a great painting, but your budget is limited, you buy a print or a poster. In the centuries before this was possible, engravers made their living making copies of paintings, then selling them for display in people's houses. The next time you are at the Louvre, visit this department. They have thousands of original engraving plates of all sorts of fascinating images, and will make a print for you for a fairly modest fee. They didn't have a plate of "The Young Martyr," but we did get a cool engraving of the fountains at Saint-Cloud.

About four years ago, my father sent me a huge package in the mail; it contained treats for the kids and the engraving that had hung on his wall for so many years. At some point, it had gotten damaged by a swamp cooler, and the picture glass had broken in transit, so Patrick and I took it to our local framing expert to see whether we could get the piece repaired and reframed. The restorer did fantastic work on it and liked it so much that he offered to buy it from us; apparently it's worth quite a bit of money. It's an original print of an engraving by Hermann Eichens after the Delaroche painting, and it now hangs above our living room mantel:

Apologies for the poor photo; it really is a finely detailed engraving. You'll just have to come over and see it in person. I did some research a while ago to determine whether this was one martyr in particular, but apparently Delaroche had no one specific in mind. I did find out that Teh Great Internets apparently believe that the painting hangs in The Hermitage. Perhaps it had been on loan to the Louvre in 1993; I'm not sure.

I do know that some people walk into our house, see it, and question my taste in art, but I find this piece just as captivating now as I did 37 years ago. Thanks again for the gift, Dad. I treasure it.


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Four Great Ladies

From left to right: My Grandma Ybright, Auntie Mamie, Auntie Emma, and Auntie Esther.

The women in my family live a long time. Tomorrow would have been Grandma's 98th birthday; she passed on a little over eight years ago. Grandma made her own saddles, built her own greenhouse and a deck on the back of her house, sewed exquisite wedding gowns and ballet costumes, made and decorated wedding cakes that would serve 250 people from scratch at the drop of a hat, and canned everything in sight.

Auntie Mamie died the day after her 96th birthday. She was serving lunch to the 'old people' at the Senior Center even then. She had the best laugh ever.

Auntie Emma died just shy of her 100th birthday; she made the most delectable candied pecans, and she chopped firewood for her cookstove until she was at least 98.

Auntie Esther died two years ago at the age of 98, healthy as a horse and a rabid Oakland A's fan to the very end. I think she just missed her sisters. She could still kick like a Rockette and do the splits the last time I saw her.

Happy Birthday, Grandma. I sure do miss you and my great Great-Aunties.


Prom Night 1983

Though this story is not terribly soapy, I am nonetheless officially calling it part of Soap Opera Sunday, that weekly blogventure concocted by Brillig and Kate, guaranteed to make you laugh, gasp, and maybe even mist up a bit.

If you read the post just below this one, you'll remember that I spent most of my spare time Senior year with a certain Paul: swimmer, water polo player, co-AP-class-taker. Despite the fact that we had tons in common, our relationship really was like two worlds colliding. Picture a Venn diagram where the two circles barely touch: that was us.

Paul was a jock from the side of town that had trees (in California's Central Valley, that means you are from a well-established neighborhood). His mother was the golf pro at the local country club. He grew up in our cowtown, and so knew 'everybody.' It didn't hurt that his grandfather had founded a world-famous non-profit corporation that was based in our town and employed a ton of folks.

I, on the other hand, lived on downtrodden Main Street right next door to a mortuary. My mom worked long, hard hours trying to support my siblings and me. We'd moved to town right before my Junior year, so I was an interloper on long-established circles of friends. I had very short, multi-colored hair; Paul's friends preferred hanging out with people who had that chlorine-platinum thing going on.

My few friends liked Paul, but they were way too busy to pay much attention to him. Adele, Traci, Janice, and I were the entire yearbook staff that year; our advisor had quit, and in the vacuum, we four co-editors ran the show. In the days before computer layouts, we spent tons of unsupervised time with those big, blue-lined sheets putting together a yearbook for a high school of 2,000 students. We took almost all of the candid shots (many we staged), developed them ourselves in the darkroom, and wrote every bit of the copy. I don't know how we had keys to that yearbook room, or how the school let us do all this on our own, but we did, and we pulled many an all-nighter making those publication deadlines all by our teenaged selves.

So I was either working on the yearbook or hanging out with Paul all year long. Paul and I talked about books, Carl Sagan, and music. I'd sit next to him while he played Bach's Two-Part Inventions on his mother's little spinet piano. He taught me how to drive, first in a golf cart, and then in his ancient station wagon. We golfed straight through the winter (he could play for free). We watched the entire eight hours of the BBC's production of Nicholas Nickleby with Roger Rees on PBS, completely riveted. Paul was the best.

Prom time came around; though outwardly a rebel, I was enough of a romantic to know that I had to get to Prom at least once in my life. I searched high and low for an atypical dress that I could afford, not wanting any pastel taffeta or satin touching my person. I finally found a Grecian-style white dress with a cool beaded clasp at the shoulder--very different, and very flattering. I put it on layaway. A few housecleanings and babysitting jobs later, it was mine.

Paul had no money to rent evening clothes. He was too busy with sports to have a job, and his parents weren't the type to hand out cash to him, like, ever. So he ended up wearing his only suit: a horrible denim-colored polyester number with Western detailing. But he was handsome and hilarious; I didn't mind.

Limo? Oh, no. But we didn't have to go in Paul's station wagon, with the vinyl seats so weathered they had petrified and cracked, exposing yellowed, crumbling foam. No, for Prom, Paul's mom graciously loaned him her K-Car--a nice, Reliant automobile, with burgundy velour interior. We were stylin,' folks.

Paul did scrounge up money for a gorgeous corsage: gardenias, my favorite flower in all the world. They looked perfect with my long, white dress.

May in the San Joaquin valley is about the worst time and place for someone with allergy-triggered asthma. I woke up Prom morning barely able to breathe. The jasmine was blooming enthusiastically, as if Spring had conspired to murder me. My mother took me to the doctor and to the chiropractor, but neither helped much. I fainted while Mom was curling my hair, but there was no way I was missing out on my big night.

I don't remember whether we went out to dinner. I do know we weren't planning on doing anything with groups; Traci went to Prom with this hot, long-haired guy we barely knew from the stoner crowd; Janice and Adele were boycotting Prom (probably becaused no one had asked them out). The swim crowd barely tolerated me, and truthfully? I was happy to have Paul all to myself.

We got to the dance, stood in line for photos, and danced a few slow dances. At that point, I'd had enough. I was exhausted from trying to breathe; I asked Paul to take me home. On the K-Car's radio on the way, we heard the new single by our favorite band for the very first time: "Every Breath You Take," by The Police. High irony, people.

I must have fainted again; the next thing I knew, I was in the ER. Apparently Paul had run into my house and right into my mom's room, scared her awake, and then sped to the hospital with me unconscious all the way.

The doctor gave me a shot of adrenaline, and almost immediately, I had blessed relief. Anyone who has never had asthma has no idea what it feels like to suffocate slowly no matter how hard you try to get air into your lungs. Gorgeous, perfect air: there's nothing better.

An extremely kind, huge male nurse took the very best care of me. My mom and I still call him 'The Gentle Giant.' He pinned my gardenia corsage to my hospital gown and got me fresh hot blankets straight out of the autoclave: bliss. I spent the rest of the night in a curtained-off area, Mom on one side of the hospital bed, Paul holding my hand on the other.

I haven't had an asthma attack since; I have no idea why. My asthma pretty much disappeared after that night.

Paul and I dated the whole summer after graduation, but then we broke up when he went off to UC Berkeley. It broke my heart, but he was excited to explore college life to the fullest extent allowed by law, and we both knew a long-distance relationship wouldn't work. We stayed in contact for a year or two, but after I moved to Utah to go to BYU, we lost touch entirely.

Patrick and I saw Paul a few years ago at my 20-year high school reunion. The three of us went to breakfast together. The two men were like Ps in a pod (pun very much intended); they got along great.

Paul has never been married; he's never even dated someone for as long as we went out (almost exactly a year). I asked him why over breakfast; he's handsome, in great shape, smart, employed, etc. It seemed to me he'd have women crawling all over him. He laughed and said he always ends up correcting his dates' grammar, something that's always a romance killer. Patrick said wryly, "Clearly that was never a problem with Luisa." Poor Paul: I hope he finds his own Grammar Fascista someday.

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