Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Christmas in a box

Because of Brenda's current health issues, we will not be able to travel for the holidays. We have tried to visit in Utah for Christmas as often as possible so we can enjoy celebrating with our grandchildren (oh, yes, and our children). But this year that will not be possible. So we are thinking about gifts that our grandchildren will enjoy and that are reasonable to send through the mail.

It is increasingly a challenge to select gifts as our grandchildren get older. When they were toddlers, almost any gift would do ... and the grandkids were as likely to enjoy the wrapping and box as the actual gift. I adopted a personal rule several years ago that I do not give the grandchildren gifts that make noise or that require batteries. This is out of consideration for the parents! For the most part I have abided by that rule, though there have been rare exceptions. For example, one year I came across a (used) electronic toy that would "speak" the letters of the alphabet or the names of animals depending on which button was pushed. Normally I wouldn't have given this gift consideration, but when I pushed the button with a picture of an older man the toy said, "Grandpa!" That was not unusual, except that the voice sounded exactly like me! It was so uncanny that I just had to give this gift.

We have not yet decided what to give this year. I think we will visit the Learning Post to see if we can find something that is both fun and educational. I know in the past we have gotten somewhat carried away with Christmas. After one year when we admittedly went overboard a limit was imposed on our gift giving -- one book and one toy to each child. That makes sense. So now I have to pick out the PERFECT book and a MARVELOUS toy! This will be our "Christmas in a box" year to celebrate long distance with our grandchildren.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Do the Zoo

Brenda and I have a membership to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. We usually go several times during the year because the zoo gives Brenda an opportunity to take photos of interesting animals. Today the weather was quite nice and I wanted to get Brenda out of the house, so we decided to "Do the Zoo" and experience Iowa's wildest adventure.

An impressive new entrance was recently added to the zoo. This is what greets visitors now as they drive into the parking area.

Today's excursion was interesting for two reasons. First, Brenda did NOT bring her camera. That really is unusual for her, though once in awhile she will leave her camera at home so I don't spend a great deal of time waiting for her to take photos. Thanks, Brenda! Second, I did not push Brenda in her wheelchair because she used her scooter.
We did have an enjoyable day and Brenda certainly enjoys being able to get around more freely. And the basket on the front is just the right size to bring home one of those cute red pandas that were recently added to the zoo.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Beggars' Night

Urbandale is unique compared to other places I have lived in that children here don't "Trick or Treat" on Halloween. Instead, they do so the day before Halloween on Beggars' Night. The way this is SUPPOSED to work is that the kids come in their costumes to beg for candy, but are supposed to tell a joke in order to get the treat.

This tradition started because Halloween pranks had gotten out of hand, resulting in hundreds of calls to the police department and a number of arrests for vandalism. In 1938 some 550 calls to report vandalism were made to the police. In an effort to address the problem, October 30 was designated as Beggars' Night and the emphasis was on harmless "tricks" such as a song or poem or stunt or musical number ... which has evolved into jokes.

In recent years the number of kids visiting our house has dropped off, but most of the ones that came did have jokes to share. Tonight I was very much surprised that hardly any of  those visiting us had jokes to tell. "Do you have a joke?", I asked one little boy dressed up as one of the modern super heroes I don't recognize. "No," he said. "I just want candy."

Another little boy, also without a joke, wasn't content to have me hand out candy. He reached up and grabbed the large bowl I was holding and barked, "I want to get my own candy!" I informed him that I would be handing out the candy ... and somehow managed to avoid him tipping out the contents of the bowl.

Some typical examples of Beggars' Night jokes from previous years:
  • Why didn't the skeleton cross the street? Because he didn't have any guts.
  • What do skeletons say before they begin dining? Bone appetit!
  • Where do baby ghosts go during the day? Day-scare centers.
  • What is a ghost's favorite syrup flavor? Boo-berry.
Actually, I finally did hear a few jokes tonight, including these:
  • What is a mummy's favorite type of music? Rap music.
  • Why do witches wear name tags? Because they can't tell which witch is which.
  • How do you light up a soccer stadium? With a soccer match. (Not a Halloween joke, I know, but better than nothing.)
  • And -- the most questionable joke of the evening -- Have you seen the movie "Constipated" yet? Of course not; it hasn't come out yet!
Happy Halloween, er, Beggars' Night!

Monday, October 29, 2012


I just finished reading two books. One, by Gerald Lund, was recommended to me by my mother. The title is "The Undaunted: The Miracle of the Hole-In-The-Rock Pioneers." This is a book of fiction based on actual events describing the tremendous sacrifice of pioneer families called to leave their homes and cross desolate, nearly impassible areas in the middle of winter to establish settlements in the four corners region. What they went through in response to the call they received is almost beyond imagination.

Here is a photo of the Hole in the Rock through which the pioneer had to take their wagons in order to reach their destination. How did they do it?

The second book is one I picked up at a thrift store. This is "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. (No, I didn't see the movie.) The author relates the story of Michael Oher, one of thirteen children born to a crack addicted mother who somehow defies the odds and, with the help of his adopted family, completes high school, graduates from college where he starred as a football player, and as the book ends is drafted in the first round of the National Football League.

Here is an image of the book cover. 

The common theme of these tales is people achieving what they could not really have been expected to accomplish. In both cases they overcame problems and challenges that appeared to be insurmountable.

I am blessed and my problems pale in comparison to what others experience. I hope my children and grandchildren come to understand that they have reservoirs of strength that will allow them to overcome trials and tribulations, and to accomplish great things in their lives. They, too, will be blessed by a kind and loving Heavenly Father when they turn to him in faith and obedience and sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Isn't this the year that, according to the Mayan calendar, the world is supposed to end? But that isn't until December, so I don't have to worry about this for a l-o-n-g time.

My resolution this year is not to make resolutions. My list of goals is always too long and my "resolve" doesn't last long enough. Instead, I will continue music lessons (even though my instructor INSISTS that I learn theory when I only want to learn to play songs). And I will work on de-cluttering and simplifying my surroundings to see if I can restore our house to some semblance of order. I have two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet. I must be wired to focus only on two things at a time.

I saw a funny Bizarro cartoon recently where the creator of the circular Mayan calendar on a large stone filled with etchings says to his friend, "I only had enough room to go up to 2012." His friend replies, "Ha! That'll freak somebody out someday." A Rubes comic has the calendar maker saying that he ran out of room on the rock. (Search online to find either comic.) If there is more to it than this, at least my house will be clutter-free when the world ends.

Monday, January 02, 2012


I am being dragged kicking and screaming into the age of modern technology. Recently I inherited a smart phone from a co-worker who upgraded to a version more suitable for the international travel she does. I haven't figured out how to use this phone yet and suppose this will be a resolution for the new year.
I also installed a webcam on my computer in hopes of being able to do video calls with my grandchildren (oh, yes, and also my children). So far it appears that I can take still photos, but I don't yet know how to do the video component.
I may need to borrow a ten-year-old neighbor to show me how to use this technology.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful for ...

Thanksgiving is not the only time of year I am grateful for my many, many blessings. I recognize just how blessed I am in ways big and small. Today I am thinking about some "small" blessings in my life for which I am extremely grateful.

  • Hot running water. Each day when I shower I say a little prayer of thanks for hot running water. As a boy when I visited my grandparents' farm we took baths in a number two metal tub. We thought this was unique and exciting, but that was because it was a novelty rather than the routine. When we went back home I enjoyed bathing in a "real" tub, never appreciating how fortunate I was. Today I am grateful for hot showers whenever I want one.

  • Indoor plumbing. Can you even imagine using a chamber pot? We used an outhouse when visiting my Allen grandparents, with a Sears catalog for toilet paper. My Grandmother Oviatt had an inside bathroom, but we used this only in cold weather and only for our "number one" business. Otherwise, we used her outhouse. My mother tells how as a child she and her sisters used to wait until their father would go to the outhouse first on cold winter mornings. Once he was finished and the seat was defrosted, there was a mad rush to be next.

  • Electric appliances and lights. My gas and electric appliances offer great convenience in preparing meals, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping food cold and fresh. My grandparents cooked on coal stoves very similar to the one pictured here. Note the metal tool to lift the lids from the top of the stove without getting burned. The looped metal handle would be warm to the touch, but would not get hot enough to burn. And I am so grateful that I did not depend on candles or fuel lamps for light.

Sometime the small blessings are the greatest!