Friday, December 31, 2010

A Series of Unfortunate Events...

"Each little clam here, Know how to jam here, Under the sea.
Each little slug here, Cuttin' a rug here, Under the sea.
Each little snail here, Know how to wail here.
That's why it's hotter, Under the water,
Ya we in da luck here, Down in the muck here, Under the sea!"
-sung by Sebastian in The Little Mermaid.

Well, today is New Year's Eve and I'm pretty sure our party style will be a little more subdued than most tourists.

I've never been much for raucous celebrations and after our adventures yesterday I'm just glad we're all alive and kicking to see 2011 roll in!

Actually that's a little dramatic, but we did happen to have some run-ins with our "under the sea" creatures yesterday. After a gorgeous morning hike around Peter Island we settled in to spend the afternoon on Dead Man's Bay. Yes, that's an ironic name for the location of our little incidents.

First, we rented a small Hobie and Brent and Webb tested their sailing skills. Then, while Paige had a sailing lesson, Andie and I were relaxing with the Peter Island Resort crowd. When Brent rented a stand up paddle board, Paige, Webb and I went kayaking. But, while Webb was snorkeling near a big reef I had a harebrained idea that we could relax our arms if we got closer to the rocks to rest a bit.

Unfortunately, my rowing prowess is more about canoeing in lakes and it didn't take long in the rough waters for Paige and I to bash up onto a rocky reef and sport some bloody leg scratches. Then, for my 2nd bad decision I tried not to lose our kayak but in the attempt I ended up with sea urchin stings all over my hands and feet! Although I did save the kayak (fwiw!).

Meanwhile, Andie summoned Brent to our folly and his rescue efforts to swim toward us was thwarted by a jelly fish sting to his arm. Ouch! As Andie described it; it was just plain one series of unfortunate events!

Luckily, Brent's sting wasn't severe enough to cause any paralysis! Phew! Although he had a miserable night trying to get any sleep. And I learned that one way to alleviate my pain is to pee on the sea urchin stings although I didn't feel that desperate. But our skipper Terry had to extricate about 7 sea urchin spines from my hands and feet. What a guy!

Happily, Webb saw lots of cool things snorkeling by the reef so the rough waters didn't spoil everything. And we're all on the mend and no worse for the wear. But, I do think the Disney Little Mermaid movie needs a disclaimer: these "Under the Sea" creatures are not are as friendly as they are portrayed! Who knew there were such dangers lurking down under!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"No Bad the BVI!"

"No Bad Days. . . in the BVI!"

The positive affirmations are so plentiful in the British Virgin Islands that you almost start to believe the "No Bad Days" rhetoric. T-shirts and souvenirs all endorse the hype.

We bought a bumper sticker from the Perfect Pineapple Inn that reads: "Positive Is How I Live." Since most bumper stickers with "positive" usually reference HIV Aids, it's nice to find the slogans in the West Indies are all upbeat!

Yesterday we explored the island of Virgin Gorda which was named by Christopher Columbus who thought the shape looked like a fat woman lying on her back. The highlight of Virgin Gorda was The Baths National Park. The Baths and Devil's Bay were super cool. And the trails between the two take you hiking through boulders and tight spaces and wading through water and crashing waves. It's quite a rush! Especially for people like me who get a little claustrophobic. But I came and I conquered....loved it actually!

It was no small effort to order "virgin" drinks in Virgin Gorda. The waitress acted like leaving the alcohol out was impossible. With all the young families we've seen we can't be the first tourists to make such requests!

So far, the only trip casualty is Paige's Nano that got wet and appears dead, but, all in all, it was another great day in the British Virgin Islands!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Clothes...No Problem!

The dress code in the British Islands is definitely casual (you could pitch up almost anywhere in a swimsuit). The general theme here is a "no problem" mentality...followed up with a "no hurry" policy (especially when ordering food).

The pace is pretty much slow and slower. No one is in a rush to be anywhere or to do anything.

Yesterday we hiked across the Jost Van Dyke Island over to The White Bay which is home to the Soggy Dollar Bar. Patrons at the Soggy Dollar were talking about a Gwyneth Paltrow appearance yesterday but even the news of celebrity sightings is shared with minimal excitement.

Listening to the beach crowd it seems the most enthusiasm comes in comparing notes about the local bars. For example, The Soggy Dollar Bar is renowned for a rum drink called The Painkiller. So, it's not really a scene I can relate to, but it's been interesting to observe.

One lady on the beach had seen us out running earlier and she told me it just depressed her. She'd said she thought of the islands as a vacation where you couldn't really get much exercise, only finding a whole family out running, spoiled that theory for her. Oops, didn't mean to ruin her trip!

It's true that exercise doesn't come easily. First, no one else exerts themselves much. And the islands are mountainous so running and hiking aren't for the faint of heart.

Yesterday we also did some kayaking and then set sail for Marina Cay. The sailing was rough; a pretty treacherous ride. Everyone got a little seasick except our skipper, Terry, and his self appointed first mate, Brent. Webb officially lost his lunch over the side of the boat but he was quite stoic about it, Andie was so nauseous she couldn't move out of her cabin (we're not sure why she stayed there in the first place), and I laid on the floor in the stern of the boat hoping the fresh air would help (it did, but I'm sure I wasn't a pretty sight).

It was a windy night so the boat was pretty bouncy most of the night. With the high winds I'm not sure what ideas Captain Terry has planned for today. But I'm certain the weather shouldn't be a 'problem', since nothing in these parts is a problem!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

British Virgin Islanders...

After our redeye flight from San Francisco to Miami we flew to Puerto Rico and took a half hour shuttle flight to Tortola.

Terry, our skipper, and Kay, our cook, are an awesome team. The meals are so good that Paige keeps taking pictures of her food!

The Moorings company requests information before arrival to cater to special dietary requests or food allergies. They also asked for a ranking of interests (ie. snorkeling, diving, shopping, nightlife) and favorite drinks.

Kay told us they were really curious to meet us; they thought we were quite a mystery! At first Kay thought we sounded old (I guess for lots of young tourists it's all about the party scene and we requested no alcohol) but we sounded fit (we had noted that we'd like to find good spots on islands for running). She thought we might be Jewish but we hadn't listed that we were kosher. Basically Kay was a bit dumbfounded with what to expect.

I don't know if Kay and Terry have been pleasantly surprised that we aren't old geezers (well, 3 of us anyway - maybe Brent and I fit their image of old) or disappointed. They are much too polite to reveal if they think they are stuck spending the week with our goofy group. But they did seem relieved to learn that we are Christian although they aren't familiar with Mormons so we'd better set a good example.

On Sunday we sailed from Tortola to Norman Island and anchored for the night. Monday morning we went hiking/running on Norman Island and Terry set us up with snorkeling gear to explore around these cool caves in Great Harbor. We sailed slowly (not much wind) up to Jost Van Dyke Island on Monday afternoon and checked out the famous Foxy's Bar. But the Conch Fritter Appetizers at Foxy's paled in comparison to Kay's spicy cooking.

The first night our boat, named "My Ann," was parked next to T. Willy's, a boat that is actually a party bar, so we listened to entertainment late into the night. Apparently Andie captured some of the wild and crazy nightlife on video! Last night was a little more subdued. Webb impressed us with his magic tricks and we played Crazy Eights, BS, and California Speed. Paige was the reigning card champ for the night but she'll likely have to defend that title in the upcoming days.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

No Worries, Mon!

"No Worries, Mon!" - John Keyes

We're off on an adventure unlike anything the Knudsen bunch has done before. We've charted a boat with The Moorings to go sailing in the British Virgin Islands.

In addition to the 5 Knudsens, a Captain and a Cook accompany us. So it seems I've been replaced for the week. Since the meals will be prepared by the Chef and the homefront (or, boatfront) duties are the Captain's responsibility, I'm not sure what I'll do with myself all week. Maybe eat, sleep, read, swim, snorkel, shop, and possibly even learn to sail!

This could be my last blog post until we return since we might not have internet. However, since most (maybe 99 %) of my blog readers will be cruising the islands with me, the interruption won't likely be noticed a bit.

The classic line was emailed to Brent a few days before our departure. Brent's been asking The Moorings all the questions we throw out like, 'Is there electrical power for blow dryers?' and 'What size suitcases?' packing questions, yada, yada. Finally, after several email exchanges Brent asked about the forecast and the potential for rain. John Keyes wrote back encouraging us to relax, it's all good, and closed with "No worries, Mon!"

Yes, the laid back, laissez faire, island lifestyle could be good for this uptight Silicon Valley family! We'll probably return all ready to just "chill" in 2011!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

"what is christmas?

it is tenderness for the past,
courage for the present,
hope for the future.

it's a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace." - agnes m. pharo

Friday, December 24, 2010

Removing Christ from Christmas...

Stealing Baby Jesus from nativity displays has almost become an ancillary part of Christmas traditions. Every year there are widespread reports of Baby Jesus theft.

I think most Baby Jesus disappearances are likely just pranks by teenagers but some think it's done by people with an anti-Christian agenda, a blatant "taking the Christ out of Christmas" theft.

But it's also possible that completely innocent reasons are behind a missing Baby Jesus. Consider the following (not true) but touching story from an episode of the old TV series, Dragnet.

Sergeant Friday is investigating the theft of a Baby Jesus from a church nativity display on Christmas Eve. When he is unable to solve the crime, Sergeant Friday tells the priest that Mass will have to be celebrated without the Baby Jesus.

But the figurine is restored when a boy arrives with it in a wagon. He tells the officers that he vowed that if he got a wagon for Christmas, Baby Jesus would have the first ride.

Hopefully many Baby Jesus figures that disappear are off on adventures that bring the theft culprits closer to Christ. After all, that's kind of the reason for the season! Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Positive Psychology for any Holiday Blues!

"The four things that help people be and remain happy even during the holidays are: good relationships, meaning in life, gratitude, and goals." -Trish Henrie

The holidays can definitely be a stressful time and many Americans have a hard time coping with the pressures of gift giving, the lack of time, or lack of money.

Professor Trish Henrie believes that positive principles like focusing on strengths instead of weakness, building the best things in life instead of repairing the worst, and paying attention to the things that contribute to human health instead of healing wounds and focusing on sickness, can lessen stress and increase well-being.

Positive psychology techniques can help us cope with difficult people (from store clerks to relatives), learn how to forgive our parents or siblings, and to be happy for what we have during the busy holiday season.

I've always believed in focusing on the positive over the negative so Professor Henrie's principles make sense to me. In fact, those 4 things that help keep us happy over the holidays are pretty much the same things that keep most of us content in life generally: relationships, meaning, gratitude, and goals. I'll toast to all 4!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Christmas Giving Tree...

"While we try to teach children all about life,
children teach us what life is all about." -Angela Schwindt

The excitement of children during the holidays is often contagious. It's hard to be a grinch when kids around me get caught up in the spirit of giving. Consider the following (true) story:

For several years our ward has sponsored a "Giving Tree" where the ornaments are tags with specific gift requests for underprivileged families. Ward members can look at the ornaments and decided whether they'd like to take home the tag to shop for a chemistry set for a 12 year old boy, crazy socks for a teenage girl, or toys for 4 year old twins, etc.

So, we take an ornament tag and return the following week putting the gift under the same tree.

On Sunday, Connor Holland noticed about 8 ornaments still left on the tree - even though our "Giving Tree" drive had officially ended last week. Connor pointed out to Julie that if they didn't take those 8 tags and buy those presents, some kids weren't going to get anything for Christmas!

How can you turn down a kid like Connor? He can be pretty persuasive! So, on Monday, Julie and Connor went shopping for all those tags from the giving tree that nobody took. Connor wants to make sure all those children have presents to open.

Connor's giving spirit and Julie's generosity makes me want to be more charitable. I have to confess that I walked right by the giving tree and didn't even notice that some of the ornaments were still up, waiting to be noticed. Sometimes it takes a child to see the things adults might overlook!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease...

The Laundry Moratorium is over! Whew!

My incessant complaining finally resulted in a washing machine repair! Two weeks later. My daily phone calls were probably annoying but sometimes you have to keep bugging people until someone will help you, just to be rid of you.

Although, I felt justified in my frustration. A state-of-the-art 2010 washing machine should not break down in the first year. Even if Brent's comments about our washing machine getting more use in 1 year than some get in 10 years are true. Still, it's basically a new appliance, even if it's used frequently.

When the Best Buy estimate on getting the necessary part changed from 10 days to a whopping January 15th date I was livid. The words "it's on back order" are akin to cursing! I can't survive for a month without a washing machine, especially over the holidays.

With Best Buy giving me the run around, I went from the retailer straight to the manufacturer. Samsung was initially reluctant to get involved but I can be relentless. Which paid off because the Samsung repairman was 100% better than the guy Best Buy sent last week.

And, lo and behold, the mysterious back ordered part was located and installed yesterday. We have clean clothes once again. And, as I told Paige, it's like Christmas came 5 days early for me this year! The Laundry Fairy is back in business!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Worship Through Music...

"Music is truly the universal language, and when it is excellently expressed how deeply it moves our souls." -President David O. McKay

Paige was the lucky Knudsen that scored tickets to the "David Archuleta & the Mormon Tabernacle Choir" Concert in Salt Lake last Thursday night.

Since it was a free concert the church tried a lottery to distribute tickets fairly. But there were over a million email requests and only 3 performances at the Conference Center with a 21,000 seating capacity. So Paige truly was very lucky! Just one nice benefit of having great friends like Mike & Linda Dunn with connections!

Yesterday our Sacrament Meeting service was like a Christmas Concert of sorts and while we didn't have any American Idol stars or the MoTab, we still had our own star-studded cast of local ward celebrities! Our ward concert was also free, no ticket lottery needed (wouldn't Bishop Knudsen love to have that problem).

Seriously, I really enjoyed our home ward Christmas program. With Kate Finlayson's funeral I couldn't make the Salt Lake concert so I'm glad a didn't miss our Los Gatos Ward Christmas Program. There is something about music to bring the spirit and then something additionally special about Christmas music.

While Tom Lugaresi isn't quite Lloyd Newall, Tom was sporting a nice black tux to narrate the program. And Paige didn't think the ward choir rendition of "Joy to the World" was quite as powerful as David Archuleta's version. But David Archuleta had MoTab back up vocals and the ward choir had our congregation joining them. Major difference there. So we might be a little more scruffy than the professionals but music is still a great way to worship. Especially at Christmastime!

"When we rejoice in beautiful scenery, great art, and great music, it is but the flexing of instincts acquired in another place and another time." -Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1984

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Poet suffers Writer's Block...

The Poet Is Told To Fill Up More Pages
by Mary Oliver

But, where are the words?
Not in my pocket.
Not in the refrigerator.
Not in my savings account.

So, I sit, harassed, with my notebook.
It's a joke, really, and not a good one.
For fun I try a few commands myself.
I say to the rain, stop raining.
I say to the sun, that isn't anywhere nearby,
Come back, and come fast.

Nothing happens.

So this is all I can give you.
not being the maker of what I do,
but only the one that holds the pencil.

Make of it what you will.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ice & Snow! Take it Slow!

Paige and I were so efficient on Friday. We loaded some of her school stuff into a storage locker, filled Bella with the rest and hit the road.

We smugly thought we had made it out of town before a big storm hits Utah today. And driving was a breeze but only until Wendover.

After that it was risky all the way. "All the way" unfortunately doesn't mean we made it home to Los Gatos. Not even close.

The snow and low visibility kept most cars (us included) creeping along at 20 miles an hour. Trust me, it takes a long time to get very far at that speed.

Safety trumped desire and as much as we wanted to keep cruising onward we hunkered down in a Comfort Suites for the night. Which leaves the rest of the journey ahead of us today. After a night of steady snowfall. Yikes!

We're heading out asap and hoping we can get to and over Donner Pass before any road closures. Our mantra for the day is definitely a "Slow and Steady" mindset!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Story of Kate. . .

"Yes. I do have a lot of pain. But I try to cover it up with love." -Kate Finlayson

Peter Finlayson shared the quote above at the memorial service for his 26 year old little sister Kathryn Finlayson. Kate's comment was in response to her family asking about her pain during the health decline during these last 18 months of Kate's life. Managing the excruciating pain was an ongoing challenge.

It's exactly the kind of statement you'd expect from Kate. She was all about love! "Kate" and "Love" seem to go hand in hand. Kate's service yesterday in Danville was packed. People came from every stage of the Finlayson family's life (Stanford, Boston, Washington, D. C., Japan, Phoenix). Kate has inspired people all over the world!

Despite Kate's adversity with health challenges she was kind, she was loving, and apparently, she never complained.

For me, Kate will always be "Baby Kate"; the most beautiful one and and half pound baby I'd ever seen. When baby Kate arrived 4 months early every day brought medical miracles. Kate showed her fighting spirit from her 1st breath.

Looking back on those days it occurs to me now that Grant and Pam (all of us) were just kids. Kids having kids! But there was something about Pam, even that young, that took a mother's devotion to a new level. Pam was extraordinary. It's hard to convey the respect and admiration I had for Pam during our mutual Boston years. Pam's friendship was/is a treasured gift.

The entire Finlayson family is exemplary. Kate's perseverance, Pam's devotion, Grant's patience, and the tender hearted brothers, Peter and Sam. They're all impressive on every front.

Kate's funeral service touched my heart. Her mortal journey was shorter than most but her impact on others was great. Since we all experience various forms of pain, imagine a world where we all tried to cover up our pain with love. Like Kate did. The thought alone brightens my day.

So, that's just a tiny glimpse of The Story of Kate! Sweet Baby Kate!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Putting People on Pedestals. . .

"There are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human." -Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards wrote the quote above on Facebook the day before she died. No, we aren't Facebook friends but I read about it in the New York Times.

And, yes, I am aware that I blogged about Elizabeth Edwards already (last week following her death).

But, I've been thinking about Edwards and her legacy. Most of us will remember her fondly and with great admiration. But some were critical of her choices along the way.

Generally speaking, we (as a society) can make it very difficult for people of notoriety. We put them on pedestals and then vilify them when they don't live up to the standards we place upon them. I claim imperfection of myself but expect others to be infallible. It's impossible not to be let down when we put unrealistic expectations upon others.

As I've read the tributes to Elizabeth Edwards over the past week it's given me insight into her as a 3 dimensional woman. She was controlling at times, demanding, and maybe overly protective of her family but she was a good woman (not a saint) but good nonetheless!

"I laughed that I never was and don't want to be St. Elizabeth. But I cried that I don't want to be seen - and maybe here I should admit, remembered - as the worst of the portraits of me." -Elizabeth Edwards

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Life of our Lord...

"My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived, who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong..." - from "The Life of our Lord" by Charles Dickens

Last night at Bookgroup we all shared favorite Christmas stories. One worth mentioning is Charles Dicken's "The Life of our Lord." It's a quick read and especially enjoyable during the Christmas season.

The Life of Our Lord was written during the same time period (around 1846) that Dickens was working on his classic work, David Copperfield. But it was written specifically for his children. Dickens never intended it to be published (which always makes me, a nonrelative, feel a tad guilty about reading it).

It's basically a retelling of the New Testament Book of Luke. While it's not a literary masterpiece, it was never meant to be. The text is simple. It's like a bedtime story version of the birth and life of Jesus Christ.

It makes me laugh when critics scorn the book for inane reasons (like being didactic). Charles Dickens had strong feelings about the Savior and a desire to share that message with his children. It's what I love most about the book, the sense of importance Dickens feels to make sure his children understand the significance of Jesus Christ. I find Dicken's motivation behind the message really touching (perhaps as only parents can).

"Remember! It is Christianity to do good always - even to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to show that we love Him by humbly trying to do right in everything." -Charles Dickens, The Life of our Lord

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wash Day!

It's only been 5 days and I'm going crazy! Last Friday the repairman had the disappointing news that it would take 10 days to get the parts to fix my (reasonably new) washing machine!

At least I washed the sheets the day before it went kaput! A small consolation!

Some people have a weekly wash day but I am not one of those people. I throw in a batch as soon as I have enough light or darks for a load. I prefer this method because this way the laundry never overwhelms me. It's ongoing perhaps, but not overwhelming.

Plus, I have a wee tiny clean-sheet-fetish. I have rather strong opinions about how often I like to wash sheets. Mine never go longer than a week. I heart fresh, clean sheets!

So, this week, as our hamper fills with dirty clothes, I'll be visiting the local laundromat. 13 quarters a load!

The warranty should cover the repair but unfortunately gives me no priority on the schedule. Furthermore, the repairman doesn't even seem the least bit distraught over the wait. His wife must be a once-a-week laundress!

Whenever something I use regularly breaks down, I gain new appreciation for how many things work on command and rarely fail us. So as soon as it's fixed, I will no longer take my washing machine for granted!

Monday, December 13, 2010

...Lead Us Not Into Temptation...

"The central theme of the book and the movie is temptation, how you meet temptation and beat it. You have to fight it and defeat it. You can never find how strong temptation is, unless you beat it. You only find out the level of your own weakness." -Douglas Gresham

Walden Media (Webb's employer) released the 3rd Chronicles of Narnia movie last weekend, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It's a great show but didn't get the opening box office success that it deserved.

The movie is in 3D and most reviews agree that it's better than the 2nd movie, Prince Caspian. Still, for some reason it didn't generate high tickets sales (yet, anyway).

The executive producer of the movie, Douglas Gresham, is the stepson of C.S. Lewis. I read his quote above in a movie review where Gresham comments on his mission to keep the movie true to the legacy of C.S. Lewis.

When C.S. Lewis wrote the Narnia books in the early 1950's he worried that our western societies were abandoning important values like personal responsibility, commitment, courage, chivalry, and courtesy. Lewis felt that ignoring these values could lead to our demise. And, history has shown that societies struggle when standards fall.

I've always loved the Narnia books and Walden Media has done a nice job with all 3 of the movies. Any movie that taxes me to think about the themes explored gets high marks in my book (the K2 adnauseam book, that is!).

"To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself." -the Magician in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I've had concerns about our judicial process since O.J. Simpson was acquited in 1995. Fortunately, the jury for the man accused of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart was a little more professional in their assignment.

Yesterday, 8 years after Elizabeth's terrible 9 month ordeal, Brian David Mitchell was found guilty! Phew!

There is no question that Mitchell is disturbed and suffers from mental illness, but the jury did not believe that he was completely insane (which the defense tried to argue).

Juror #12 explained his reasoning: "The question is, did he know right from wrong? I think compelling evidence throughout the trial was that he did know right from wrong."

The prosectution painted a portrait of a man who was a sick pedophile. Witnesses (particularly ELizabeth Smart) described Mitchell's insatiable appetite for sex, drugs, and alcohol. And the attorneys showed that Mitchell is more narcissistic than schizophrenic.

As you would imagine, the Smart family was elated with the verdict! Happy day!

I'm not sure when Judge Dale Kimball will sentence Mitchell but finally the Smart family can begin to get on with their lives and Elizabeth can return to France where she is serving a mission. And, Brian Mitchell can never abduct other young girls.

Justice has been served! And I'm regaining confidence in a court system that can work!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Motherlode of Nutrients...

"I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." -George W. Bush

Poor Broccoli! It gets such a bad rap. It didn't help matters when President Bush dissed the healthy vegetable shortly after he was elected and the media was filling us in on Bush's taste preferences.

I actually heard that Air Force One, the presidential aircraft, had a sign in the plane with broccoli and a slash across it that read "Broccoli Free Zone."

In a different twist on broccoli, during the 2008 presidential election when we were still getting used to the unique name of Barack Obama, Ashley Barth called the Democratic candidate 'Broccoli' Obama. How's that for a Vegie Tales: Broccoli Obama elected President!

There was a great line in a Glee episode this season when Sue Sylvester, holding a broccoli stalk, asks one of the students obsessed with Tator Tots if they know what she is holding. The student's reply: "I don't know. Is it some sort of toilet brush?"

I'm not sure why I'm writing about broccoli. Maybe because I read an interesting statistic that 90% of the fresh broccoli sold in the United States is grown in the Salinas Valley. So, I suppose I just want to spotlight our local homegrown-in-Cali vegetable! And, for my own taste palate, broccoli sure beats califlower!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, R.I.P.

"I always thought I was the kind of wife to whom a husband would be faithful." Elizabeth Edwards, from her book Resilience

That's probably one of the saddest quotes I know of!

When I first read Elizabeth Edward's book, Resilience, she was alive and fighting a courageous battle with cancer. But she passed away on Tuesday and some of the tough stuff this woman had to endure is haunting. I'm impressed by the grace with which she lived and died.

No one should have to bury their children - it goes against the natural order in the circle of life. And when 16 year old Wade Edwards was killed in a car crash, John and Elizabeth Edwards were devastated.

Wade's death was just one watershed event. The Edwards family came into the national spotlight in 2004 with the Kerry/Edwards Democratic ticket. Then when John Edwards sought the presidency in the 2008 election Elizabeth was campaigning at his side despite the fact that her breast cancer (first diagnosed in 2004) had returned.

When Elizabeth Edward's cancer came back there was criticism of the Edwards for John's decision to stay in the race. But Elizabeth was tenacious in her resolve for the campaign to continue. As two successful lawyers, the Edwards appeared to be a golden couple. Until John Edward's sordid affair became public.

Initially Elizabeth Edward's supported her husband but his indiscretion turned out to be a full blown betrayal of their marriage and not a one time event. In fact, John Edward's mistress was pregnant. The humiliation would be shattering for any wife but since the Edwards were in the spotlight, it was conspicuously public for Elizabeth.

Yet, as I reflect on everything I've read about Elizabeth Edwards I'm impressed by her honesty to face the infidelity and her cancer head on. She was willing to openly talk about both and I'm sure her candor will be helpful to others in similar situations. I admire her ability to discuss her private pain. Elizabeth Edwards strikes me as a very courageous classy woman!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tattoo Removal....

I find the news story behind these photos fascinating. A defense lawyer won the right for a make up artist to cover the tattoos on John Ditullio (at tax payer expense) for his court trial. The left photo shows the defendant before concealing his tattoos and the right photo after hiding them.

Apparently John Ditullio is charged with murder and his lawyer argued that he would not get a fair trial with the unsightly and prejudicial tattoos (Swasticas, crude words, etc.) that adorn his face and neck.

The judge agreed with the lawyer's assessment. And, I also concede that his tattoos could create a bias.

However, I'm intrigued on several levels. Since it was Dutillio's choice to get tattooed shouldn't the responsibility to cover them up be at his own expense. It doesn't sit very well with me that our court system provide a daily cosmetologist when it was his decision to prominently display offensive tattoos.

Besides, not everyone prosecuted for crimes has the ability to eliminate all possible prejudice in their appearance. For example, it's impossible to change the color of your skin for trial.

While the defense argued that the tattoos are not evidence of guilt, I'm a little skeptical. Apparently John Diluttio is accused of killing a gay man in a premeditated "hate crime" homicide. As a neo-Nazi fanatic, it seems that the Swastica tattoo could almost be considered part of the evidence; perhaps a silent testimony to the character of the defendant.

It's definitely a bizarre story and I understand the complex issues for a judge in his responsibility to grant a fair trial. But I just can't come around to thinking it's okay for taxpayers to spend $125 per day for a makeup artist to conceal inflammatory tattoos that the defendant willingly chose to display!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Behind the Scenes...

This year, instead of my usual trek to simply enjoy the Christmas Creche Exhibit in Palo Alto, I volunteered as a hostess. It was fun to meet some of these talented women who collect nativities and display them so beautifully every year.

The question visitors repeatedly asked me was: "How long does this take to set up?" (6 days with dozens of workers) And, the comment I heard most frequently expressed was variations of "The presentation is incredible, amazing, so well done, etc.!"

So, one take home lesson for me after hosting at the creche was the power of presentation!

There are always "oohs and aahs" over the nativity collections that span the globe (over 80 countries represented) and enlist every material you can imagine (fimo dough, legos, felted wool, metal, wood, beads, tinker toys, etc.).

But the guests aren't just impressed by the sheer number and quality of creche's on display. They're every bit as amazed at the way each creche is arranged and every room uniquely staged. The entire church building is transformed with trees and lights and every creche on display is showcased with class.

The exhibit looks professionally done but it's actually run by a group of volunteers who are probably more gifted at staging than people who get paid for it! All those years of Relief Society homemaking skills comes to fruition perhaps! In addition to the natural talents of the creche committee, it's a huge labor of love!

Following my annual visit I usually come away with a desire to add to my meager creche collection. But this time I've mostly been pondering the gorgeous presentation of it all. Which has me thinking how this 'importance of presentation' applies to many other aspects in life. Taking a so-so dinner and presenting it well. Giving a lesson with style and flair. I think it's a poignant message that we can take things and by how we adorn them we add value.

The creche exhibit is always a great holiday starter. And this year instead of leaving with an inclination to purchase more nativities, I'm pretty excited about how I can best present the ones I already own. Although I'm sure I'll still keep my eyes open for unique creche's. Like the rubber duck nativity I found last week.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prayer of the Woods...

In honor of our Woodside Trail Run I thought I should post the "Prayer of the Woods." It was first used in the Portuguese Forest Reserves over 1,000 years ago. Today it can be found on nature trails all over the world.

"I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly shade screening you from the summer sun, and my fruits are refreshing draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.

I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table, the bed on which you lie, and the timber that builds your boat.

I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead, the wood of your cradle, the shell of your coffin.

I am the bread of kindness and the floor of beauty. Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer: harm me not."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trail Running...

"I was passing trees like they were standing still." -unknown runner

A Trail Run is an entirely different animal than a Road Race. Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) sponsors back country long distances runs all over the Bay Area with the slogan: "Trail Runs: Serious Fun."

On Saturday some of our running crew participated in the Woodside Trail Run, a few (Andie, Maria, Brent) running the 17K and the rest (Becca, Tia, Mallory, Jeremy, K2) the 10K. The Woodside Run, in Huddart State Park, makes St. Joseph's seem like a piece of cake. Huddart Park is filled with steep canyons and the run is mostly uphill on back country trails with very little flat terrain. Daunting but beautiful!

Running through the gorgeous redwoods was a little frustrating since I had to spend so much time looking down at my feet. I'm enough of a klutz that I risk tripping and falling if I lose concentration. While it's impossible to run the narrow, rocky, winding trails without focusing on the path, I still kept gazing in awe at the scenic course. All my gazing probably didn't help my course time. Oh, well!

The trail run draws a different crowd than a road race. There are still plenty of fast runners but racers seem as enamored by the natural beauty as they are by the run. It's a crowd of people you can't help but feel drawn to. Spectacular surroundings and likeable people makes a nice combination for a running event.

Most of us ran Woodside more like a practice than a race so I don't have many impressive stats to divulge. Except Andie. Andie was our star runner of the day finishing 3rd woman overall in the 17K!

"Now bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible." -Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Finding the Needle in the Haystack....

The other day Paige went berserk when she had to rummage through 5 Provo stores to locate advent calendars. I felt her pain since I frequently end up on a goose chase.

But all this practice has given me an odd sense of mission: If I need a certain brand, a special size or a specific color, I've become adept at detective work in retailing!

As a consumer I can be relentless. I will search high and low until I find the exact widget!

This special skill set comes at a price! While the end result is awesome, the process can be incredibly maddening!

Sometimes I refuse to settle for anything but the exact thing, no variations acceptable! If I am looking for "it" (imagine any host of possible wants/needs) and I find "it" but not in the size, the color, or the style of my preference, I do not like to compromise! I can compromise in a relationship much faster than I will as a consumer! I will call every store in the chain (or the US), search online for hours, pretty much whatever it takes!

Whether this honing skill with shopping is an asset or character flaw is a bit of a conundrum. I generally end up getting what I want. Or, I save money by doing without if I can't get it exactly as I want. And, while those are good things, I can definitely drive myself crazy along the way!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Catcher's Mitts & Service!

"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. - Maya Angelou

Throwing something back is definitely the best way to make life meaningful. Serving others just might be the quickest way to cure anything that ails us. Not to mention make us happier at the same time.

One of the best things about the church community is the endless opportunities I have to practice serving. Besides that, some of the best examples I know of consummate volunteering are fellow ward members.

"In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy. - Karl Reiland

Friday, December 3, 2010

Spelling Wanna...Bee!

"You can't help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn't spell it right; but spelling isn't everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn't count." -Winnie the Pooh

I rue the fact that my elementary school did not hold a Spelling Bee! I think I may have missed my opportunity to be a "Champion" at something simply because Rosslyn Heights Elementary didn't validate spelling prowess!

Spelling came easily for me as a youngster. If I had seen a word before, I could usually spell it. I could hardly conceive of "studying" spelling words; one gander at the list and I was good to go. Bring on the spelling tests, I aced them every time!

Of course, this natural ability only went so far. 5th grade maybe? I eventually hit a stage where words with illogical or difficult spellings tripped me up. But until then I thought I was pretty hot stuff when it came to spelling! Although without an official spelling bee I never got to flaunt my skills. Which is probably why I'm pathetic enough to brag about it in my blog! You probably didn't know being an avid speller was such a claim to fame!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Empty Nest

"When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they're not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They're upset because they've gone from supervisor of a child's life to a spectator. It's like being the vice president of the United States." -Erma Bombeck

Wow, it really happened! That "empty nest" stage I've heard so much about has arrived for us. We're a little behind our peers in the fine art of empty nesting so I'll need tips from friends with expertise and experience.

So far, I'm not crazy about having an empty nest. Even late in coming, it's not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, it's a perk to clean up a room and magically it actually stays clean. But the trade off might not be worth the pleasure of basking in the pristine room. After all, who wants to live in a big house that's empty?

Brent always told me I'd miss the messes. Smugly I thought, nah, I'll miss the kids but not the mess. I kind of, sort of, miss it all (to which Brent will happily say "I told you so"). A grass is greener paradox. When you have little rascals underfoot it feels like you'll never have a moment of peace. Then, when the solitude comes, you miss the chaos. Such is life.

We dodged the empty nest for a few extra years with Andie's return. But Andie's taking up residence in Palo Alto in a tiny house a block from Stanford. Sounds fun to me! It's a big transition. Andie will gain a new appreciation for the sweet deal she had with the parentals now that she gets to pay rent, utilities and share household duties.

If Webb reads this, he'll definitely tell me to get a dog but I think I'll let Webb be the family dog owner for now. Ernie and Bodie are welcome and encouraged to visit anytime but I've witnessed firsthand the commitment those cute pups bring on.

Fortunately this empty nester has plenty to do between now and Christmas, no time to cry the blues until after the new year. And by then I might have come up with a radical new plan. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spinning my Wheels!

"Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing." - Lao Tzu

Sometimes the holiday season feels a little bit like a treadmill of busywork! Don't get me wrong, I love the holidays and I love traditions, but, they don't happen without intensive behind the scenes labor. Which only feels overwhelming in the beginning. Eventually it all comes together but getting started can feel like a bevy of endless tasks looming ahead!

In order for the home to look festive the decorations need to go up which can involve unloading Christmas boxes while packing up other things to make room for said decorations.

In order for greetings to be sent a holiday card needs to be made or bought. Homemade requires time and effort but opting to purchase a card might not save any time for the very picky buyer (which would be me).

In order for gifts to surround the Christmas tree, somebody needs to buy those presents. As well as the wrapping paper, ribbons, tags, and bows. Ditto the discriminating buyer dilemma; it can take inordinate amounts of shopping time when I'm trying to find the "perfect" gift!

And in order for holiday treats to be enjoyed they also need to be made. Between cookie exchanges, neighborhood parties, holiday dinners, and church events the social calendar can quickly fill up. Which doesn't leave much time to stay home to bake those goodies!

So, the good news is that the month of December is never boring. December is automatically filled with plenty of busy and lots of long lists. But at least I'm not busy doing nothing. December brings the activities and chores that create a memorable Christmas. And there is probably nothing more worthwhile than that; even if it feels mundane at moments along the way. It could be worse; I could be busy doing nothing!

"Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings." -Jane Austen