Friday, December 30, 2011

The Gratitude Effect

As all of you are educated people (as far as I know, that is), you will be familiar with the concept of a chain reaction. Even if you weren't educated people (which would be alright as well), you would know how this works from playing with things like dominoes or billiard balls or tenpins. One domino hits the next which hits the next and so on until they've all been knocked over, or one ball runs into another ball which causes it to hit another ball, or the bowling ball hits the tenpins at the end of the alley and the whole thing happens in fast motion (resulting, if done correctly, in a strike). The same sort of thing happens on scientific terms, too - as in the nuclear fission chain reaction. A molecule of Uranium 235 is hit by a nuetron, which then causes the Uranium nucleus to undergo fission and split apart, the occurence of which releases further loose neutrons, which then go hit other Uranium 235 molecules and start the process all over again.

I would like to propose another chain reaction, not involving balls or dominoes or nueclear equations or anything like that. It's one that can and does happen every day, wherever and whenever someone is willing to instigate it. An individual can begin the reaction at any level. The process I will describe is much like the way I have experienced it, but there are many other ways. That said, without further ado I give you...

The Gratitude Effect.

An individual sees a need in another individual. Insert whatever specifics you will - a relief society sister finds out about a shortage of clothing in a village in Africa, or someone sees that their neighbor's garden needs weeding and watering. The individual realizes that the individual in need has less than he himself does, and feels compassion. He then fills the need for the individual, ont he condition (and this is very important) that no reward is wanted or expected - it is simply for the sake of service. The individual in need is then grateful to the serving one, and the serving one is grateful for the opportunity and grateful (having seen the need) for what they have been given. The experience on the whole produces love and gratitude in both participant parties.

It goes the other way, too. Imagine and individual sees in themselves a surplus - say that I discover that I have a lot of clothing I don't wear. Realizing a coexisting personal surplus and general want, the individual gives of their surplus to assuage the want. The giving and receiving parties are grateful for what they have, the giver because they have enough to give and continue in bounty, and the receiver for having received. Again, gratitude and love are produced.

This idea is not my own. It came from President Henry B. Eyring, who wrote, "We must ask in prayer that God, by the power of th Holy Ghost, will help us see our blessings clearly even in the idst of our trials. He can help us by the power of the Spirit to recognize and be grateful for blessing we take for granted. What has helped me the most is to ask God in prayer 'Wouldst Thou please direct me to someone I can help for Thee?' It is in helping God bless other that I have seen my own blessings more clearly."

God has commanded us (not suggested, but commanded) that we be thankful and express gratitude for our blessings. This is not because He needs our thanks or our recognition - because neither is the case. Rather, he commands us to show gratitude because He knows it will set of a multitude of cycles within our hearts and minds and spirits, the results of which can only make us better. Among a host of end products are increased love, greater happiness in everyday life, clearer sight for our blessings, and closeness to God. All we put into the equation is a little time or a little resource towards service of others, as well as personal spirituality (prayer, scriptures, church, etc.). Compared with the results, how easy it seems to do what is asked!

Easy though it is, I still struggle with this one sometimes. This I know for sure, though - when I want for things I can't or don't have, I am miserable. When I am grateful for what I have and want for others to share it, I am happy. That is the Gratitude Effect at its most basic level. That is how it always is, and that is how God intended it.

Thank you for your love, tolerance, and support, my friends. 'Til next time...

Friday, December 16, 2011

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

It's that time of year again - when the world falls in love, chestnuts are roasting on the open fire (maybe), the stockings are hung by the chimney with care (always), the halls are decked, and a spirit of warmth and good cheer descends upon the world with the new snow. People are hurrying about, giving and getting, baking and taking, singing and seeing and greeting... It's a wonderful time of year.

I love the traditions of Christmas as much as anyone. I look forward with great anticipation to the cookies we bake, the eggnog and Christmas morning wassail we sip from holiday mugs, the carols we sing and the stories we read in the evenings, the stockings and decorations hung about the house, and the resplendent Christmas tree. But there is one part of Christmas that is the more special than any other to me, and the most sacred part of my year.

It begins with the olive wood nativity that sits in the alcove in the front entry. My mother brought it back from her studies in the Holy Land over twenty years ago. It has changed locations several times, from window sills to hall tables, and the number of children who have handled the pieces has taken a toll. The shepherds and Joseph lost their staffs a while back (later having them replaced with anything from uncooked spaghetti to chop sticks) and the baby had to have a hand glued back into place once. Aside from those few alterations, the scene remains the same as it did when I was a child, carefully unwrapping each piece from its tissue paper and placing it in the stable. Humble Joseph, leaning on his staff, keeping watch over the manger... beatuiful Mary, her hands pressed gently over her heart, smiling down at her child... a shepherd boy with a cap on his head, accompanied by three wooley sheep... three wise men, lavishly robed and crowned, bearing ornamented boxes in their hands... And there, in the midst of it all, a tiny curly-haired infant lying in a straw-filled manger, wrapped in swadling clothes, his hands outstretched to all who look upon him. I remember the reverence with which I would hold the baby Jesus every year. I didn't understand everything about Jesus then, but I knew enough - I knew that this baby was something more special than any other doll or figurine I had ever seen or touched.

Christmas Eve comes, and the scene from the little olive wood stable comes to life. A little eight-year-old Mary rides into our makeshift Bethlehem on the back of Dad the Donkey. A bathrobed Joseph leads the way, and asks a very young innkeeper if there is room for them in the inn. A baby doll is brought forth, wrapped in crocheted swaddling clothes, and lain in a small laudry basket. The shepherds quake in fear as an angel brings them good tidings of great joy from atop a chair or the piano bench or the arm of the couch, and our little heavenly host joins her for a chorus of "Angels We Have Heard on High." The wisemen (who strangely wear the same bathrobes and costumes as the shepherds and Joseph) come with their gifts of yellow-gold tin, cinnamon, and lavender to worship the baby Jesus. There, in our living room stable, our family can remember here and now that a child was born for us a long time ago in a country on the other side of the world.

It is time for bed on Christmas Eve, but I lie awake. The words of the scriptures we read tonight echo in my head, and I picture the nativity. I close my eyes and imagine... and suddenly I am in a different place and time. It is night. All around me are buildings made of stone and streets laden with cobblestones and dust. I wear sandals and loose robes, my hair covered by a piece of pale linen. The wind blows and I am cold, but the night is not bitter. The streets are dark. I can see lights on in some of the windows and doorways of the buildings and envy the warmth and company within. I don't know where to go or which door to knock at, and I am alone.

On a moments' whim I look up - and stop to stare in amazement. High above, against the backdrop of a black night sky, a new star shines. It is so big and bright it dims every other star in comparison simply by existing. It seems so close, as though it hangs directly overhead. I begin the direction in which it lies, as though following a distant lighthouse across an ocean. Presently I come to an old stable, worn and out of the way - and suddenly I know where I am.

A man a woman lie near each other on the hay a few feet from me. They don't look up when I step into the light of their little flickering candle - it's as though they don't see me there. I don't see them for long, either - my eyes become fixated on a worn manger in the center of the room, and a beautiful new baby lying wrapped in linen upon the hay. He is asleep. As I draw close to the manger, he pushes his little eyes open and looks up at me. I sink to my knees beside the manger, unable to take my eyes away from the holy child, tears running unhindered down my cheeks. I speak to little Jesus for a while, and pray to the Father and worship my God and King - there in the light of a single candle in a lowly stable.

I will not write the words I say. They change every time I picture this scene, and no matter what I say it is Sacred, words to be known only by my Savior and me. Can you imagine it - that first Christmas? I picture the awe-struck shepherds, the wise magi, and the people of Bethlehem looking upon the face of the Savior - our Savior, Jesus Christ, a baby. I see that and I hear the angel of Nephi's vision declaring the same words to me that he did to that prophet - "Behold the condescension of God!"

That is what Christmas is all about. In the midst of all the other traditions and joys and excitement that make Christmas special, remember always the most special thing of all - that Infant Holy in a lowly manger in Bethlehem, born into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. It is the greatest gift that has ever been given in the history of all creation, there in a stable surrounded by humble animals and a few believers who knew the poor child for the King He would become.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Merry Christmas, everyone. 'Til next time...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Like a Box of Chocolates

Who doesn't like chocolates? I certainly do - especially the ones with different centers. Growing up, I remember my father bringing home boxes of Sees candy on special occasions - like Mothers Day or Christmas or Valentines - and letting each of us kids select one to try. Every now and then the box would come with one of those handy little charts that show which one is filled with what, but most of the time we were left to guess and be surprised. I learned in a hurry to avoid those with sprinkles (they were usually coffee-flavored) and the flat, cookie-like ones as well (toffee, which gets stuck in my teeth something fierce). My personal favorites were maple, strawberry, and marzipan.

I'm not trying to make you hungry (though I may have succeeded anyway, yes?). There is a point. Because this month has been so crazy, my blog posts this month and last have been few and far between. I have still been looking for magic and miracles, though, and there are so many I want to share. Therefore, this blog post is going to be the Everyday Magic Sees Candy Box of Chocolates, in which I will describe a varied and unorganized assortment of the little bits of magic that have come my way this semester. Some may be sweeter than others. Some look better than they are and some are better than they look. Some are Haiku, some are poetry, some are not. Each is different, and each is good in its own way.  So without further ado, here you are - enjoy!

I walk down the sidewalk, gray sky above and gray pavement beneath, braced against a chilling autumn wind. The wind is not beating upon me alone, however - a large, thick-branched tree across the street also feels the brunt of it's passing. As it's boughs shake and tremble against their assailaint, I look up to find myself assailed as well - not by wind, but by an army of golden-brown leaves, deserters from their mother tree. In seconds I was in their midst, watching them skirt about my feet and over the sidewalk, dancing around my head and shoulders on the wings of the next breeze. Watching them go, I can see why they chose to forsake their first home. I would have, too - faced, as a leaf, with a choice between falling and flight.

I pace about the living room
My heart alive with dread
To see encased in long-grain rice
A laptop nearly dead.

I thought it was man's only,
But now in retrospect
I see that Vaio laptops
Can also ressurect.

There are few sensations in this world more beautiful than the presence of a friend in times of distress to mend the heart and dry the tears. Fewer still are more beautiful than seeing the loving hand of the Lord reaching into your heart, healing and shaping in His own infinitely precious way.

Warm as summer's day
Chocolate nectar down my throat
Cocoa paradise

Empty silent home
Then a knock upon the door
Happiness returns

Over darkened hills
A golden summit appears
God's holy Mountain

Formula for a pleasant afternoon: Warm sun + Fresh Bread + River parkway + Pooh Sticks + Best Friend + Laughter = Blissful, Carefree two hours.

Formula for Effective Orage Rolls: Everything Grandma Pullan says + yeast that is younger than I am = a warm, sticky delight that does not resemble a pancake.

Formula for a Blessed Life: Family, Temple, Church, Jesus Christ, His infinite atonement, and enduring to the end. Combine all in full measure both in this life and the next. Result = Pure Joy and Eternal Life.

The sun sets over the Provo Valley, causing the night sky to bleed crimson and gold. Shadows lengthen, and the day comes to a triumphant close. I walk towards the blood red sun, feeling the last shreds of its warmth brush my face and hands. The day is done, and I am going home. All is well.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Songs of Thanksgiving

I don't know how many of you have noticed, but at this festive season of the year (November, in other words), the whole of the continental United States appears to be divided into two camps - those who approve of the singing of Christmas carols pre-December, and those who do not. I, for one, am a member of the former camp (I have, in fact, been listening to Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas songs since September). The reason, however, is simpler than just Christmas season mania - the trouble is that there simply aren't very many songs to sing for Thanksgiving.

It's a shame, really. It seems that if we are going to sing songs, what songs could possibly be better than those that express our thanks for what we've been given? The fact, however, is that while many hymns express gratitude, few are meant for Thanksgiving - only three or four. Perhaps one day I will write another. For the times being, however, with my lacking talent in partwriting and severely limited time (as this blog attests), I must look to other means to sing the God's praise and give him thanks. Today my song will be to do what I have been trying to do with this blog for over a year now - to look up, and see the hand of God in my every day.

I have a loving and devoted family, and better yet I know that I will be with them beyond this existence and for time and all eternity. As I walked though the airport the other day I saw a family embracing a member who had just arrived from a plane. Their joy made me realize anew just how important it is for us as human beings to be with one another, to have each other close. If I didn't know about the blessing of eternal families, I don't know how I could ever stand to be away from those I love. My family and friends mean more to me than anything in this world. It is a great blessing to know that when I am apart from them, they are watched over and cared for by someone who loves them more than I know - our Father in Heaven. I truly don't know wha tI would do without these loved ones, family and friends alike. They have shaped me into something better than I ever could have made of myself, and have made my days sweeter and more meaningful than anything else could have done. For that I owe them an unending debt of gratitude.

I have a means of being educated. I  have discovered that there are few experiences more exhilarating nad delightful than learning. My world expands more and more every day, and I become capable of doing more with every class I take and every book I read. I have heard so many stories about children in other countries crowding into their school rooms, keeping their pencils like they were made of gold and erasing their work from their papers so they can use the same sheets again. Hearing things like that makes me not only want to donate to the church humanitarian fund (which I try to do), but also makes me so very grateful for the schooling and knowledge that are at my fingertips.

I live in a country where I am free to vote, to own property, to worsip how and where I may, and to say if I chose that I think President Obama is a complete idiot (not that I would say that at all) in a public without fearing arrest or chastisement. This is a country sealed with the blood of sacrifice. There is no place on earth that affords greater opportunity to mankind.

I have my church and my God, and the knowledge of their truthfulness and reality. I know that I am a child of a Heavenly Father, who loves me more than words can possibly express, even though I am so often unworthy of that love. I have the chance to return to His presence through the atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ, as do all men who repent and let him into their hearts. I have the scriptures, the restored gospel, modern revelation, living prophets... In a world that cries out for answers, I have found them for myself. They give me hope for a future untainted by war and violence, but encompassed in the love of a just and merciful God. I have no greater blessings than these, and it is one of my greatest desires that I might share them with all the world.

This is my song of Thanksgiving, though it contains not a single note. I would like to add to it the words of the Psalmist, who says it better than I could possibly write:

 "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord, He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His courts with Thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him and bless His name. For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endureth to all generations."

I add my amen to those words. The Lord is good. I have been the recipient of his goodness since the day I was born. I could spend every moment of the rest of my life giving my thanks, and every breath that remains in me to sing his praise, and it would be insufficient.

My great great great aunt Louisa Mellor crossed the plains with the handcart pioneers. She and the rest of the Martin  handcart company were trapped in the winter snows in Wyoming. She endured great hardship on that journey and through all her days as she helped to settle Utah. Yet despite all her trials, there were two words engraved on her headstone that I echo in my own life every moment of every day:

"Blessed Indeed."

Praise God and his grace this Thanksgiving Day - we have so much to be thankful for. We are each of us "blessed indeed." Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

'Til next time...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Flock

Sorry this has taken so darn long. My teachers all decided to conspire against me the past couple weeks, all assigning me tests and deadlines at the same time. Consequently, many of my other commitments - my journal, my piano practicing, this blog, and occasionally food and sleep - got pushed to the back burner. But now here we are, and I promise at least one post a week this month, and more if I can manage it.

Getting up for an 8am class has its downsides. It involves me waking up when it is still dark outside, usually feeling groggy and sleep deprived. It often means eating breakfast on the go, making do with the "I don't know what else to do, so we're going with a pony tail" look, and potentially forgetting things that may or may not be important because I'm either too tired or too rushed to remember. However, it also has distictive advantages. I get to walk to and attend class with my best friend, for one, but not only that - the early hour has a sort of magic in itself. The day is cool and bright, only just on the verge of begining, ad things are able to happen that remain hidden once the rest of the world comes out to chase them away.

I got to see one such just a few days ago. We had just left the apartment when I looked heavenward and saw, hovering over the field behind our building, an enormous flock of seagulls. All were different shades of white and gray, sometimes fading out of sight against the bright, dawn-touched sky. They all moved with a grace and weightlessess that comes from being borne up bythe wind - wings outstretched, hovering efforlessly in space. There must have been smaller flocks making up the whole, because every now and then a group of five or ten or sixteen would break away from the whole and move in another direction, no one lagging behind or breaking off, but all of one mind and one movement. They all wheeled and pitched annd dove and soared over the grass, sometimes together and sometimes alone, the whole of them floating there like another cloud in the firmament.

By the time we had walked halfway down the block, the flock had begun to disperse. When we reached the stoplight at the end of the sidewalk I looked back, and saw only two or three birds remaining, flying in their own graceful way. Before another minute had passed, they too had gone. The sky was empty again.

Imagine what that would feel like... that kind of freedom. The cold autumn wind carrying you upward, breathing into your face and rushing beneath your wings, bearing your weight... watching the Utah valley grow smaller and smaller, the majestic cliffs and crags of the mountains looming into view overhead... seeing the sun break free from the peaks to illumiate the world... the sky above and the earth beneath, and all the world spread out before you to be seen and known and kept...

Humans have always had a fasciation with flight because it's one of the few things we don't do naturally. Watching the gulls awakes that same sense of wonder that mankind felt for so long - the wonder of seeing magic, and asking, "How do they do that? Can I?"With the invention of the airplane, the rocket ship, the helicopter, annd other such contraptions, we humans have come to believe that we can fly. I submit that in truth, we cannot - not really. The best we can do is bend metal and glass into what we like to call wings, point them skyward, and hope for the best.

In the words of another seagull I had the honor to meet in my readings, we simply "begin with level flight" - and that is probably as close as we can get.

'Til next time...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everyday Happiness

I have struggled some lately with being happy day to day. I start the day refreshed an energized, ready to charge into the fray. Then little things tend to come up - tests, homework, disappointments, unexpected stumbles - that make me feel worse and worse, until by the end of the day I am tired and stressed and upset and want to just hide in my bedroom.

However, fortunately for me, there is generally somebody already there. My roommate - Katie.

Katie is one of the most positive people I know - running a close race between my mother, grandmother, and a handful of aunts. When I ask her how her day went, the answer could be anything from "It was fantastic!" to "Well, my master class piece really didn't go very well," to "I had an awful exam in sight singing," - and every time there will be a smile on her face. It is an absolute marvel to me. She always knows when I've had a horrible day - theatre and sign language have made me a little transparent, I guess - but I can almost never tell with her. She is always happy, and always trying to make sure that I'm happy, too. I've questioned her about this talent on more than one occasion. "How do you do it?" I ask. Her answers have been beautifully simiple and surprsingly profound.

The first was this: "It's no fun to be sad, so I try not to do it."

Good heavens - is it possible that it's really that simple? I suppose it truly is. I don't particularly have an enjoyable time being in a bad mood or being upset or sad. In fact, I hate it. So, then, the question - if it's upleasant, why do it? The answer - there's no good reason at all. Don't! Being happy is so much better! It's about the most brilliant thing I've ever heard.

The second answer was this: "I just have such a wonderful life!"

This one gave me something to think about. And when I thought, I came to the following conclusion - when I was upset or down on myself, I was looking only at the downsides of life. Stress, homesickness, lonliness, fatigue, disappointment, inadequacy... looking at life like that, it's little wonder I ended up sad. Who wouldn't? But then I started to remember the things that make life wonderful... good food, a warm bed, great books... the trees putting on colored leaves, the cool outside air, the warm sunshine... Good friends, loving family, education... a purpose, a plan, the gospel...

Good grief. My life is wonderful, too.

To what end, then, is sadness? No end at all, in my mind. There are times when sorrow is worth something, as in times of mourning or true hardship. And hardship certainly does happen to everyone. It has happened to me. But life is wonderful, too - and it can be even better if we make it so.

"We are as happy as we make up our minds to be." My mother is a shining example of this. My Grandmothers did it before her, and my aunts as well. My best and finest friend in the world, my dear Katie, is living proof of its truthfulness for me every single day. They each have the remarkable gift of being able to disregard the circumstances. No matter how hard things may seem, they almost always find a way to be perfectly happy right where they're planted.

I want to be like that. I will be like that. Sadness is no fun at all, and I have so much to be grateful for, and such a wonderful life to live... If I have anything to say about it, sadness and bad feelings can go to the back burner and stay there.

I will be happy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Demeter's Lament

Yes, it has happened - Everyday Magic has put on new colors again, as well as some fancy gothic-looking type on the heading in honor of the upcoming All Hallow's Even (or Halloween, if you prefer). Feel free to observe and admire - it will be here all month.

I take you once again to the days of antiquity - back to ancient Greece, where the goddess Demeter reigned on Olympus over all the green and growing things of the Earth. Demeter was the only goddess besides Hera to have produced a divine daughter (not half mortal) - Persephone, patron of flowers, butterflies, springtime, and the prettier things of the earth. However, Persephone was very beautiful and Hades, Lord of the Underworld, desired her to wife. He kidnapped her one day and dragged her down to his palace Below. Devastated, Demeter went into mourning and refused to make anything grow, and so the world began to perish. A desperated Zeus pleaded with Hades to release Persephone, but because she had eaten five pomegranate seeds while there, it was required that she remain five months out of every year. Demeter rejoiced to have her daughter back, but for those five months she continues to mourn until her daughter can rise from the Underworld once more.

And thus it was created - Winter.

This past week saw the first snow of the year. Nothing stuck in the valley, but the mountains are bright, brilliant white from the summits down. The temperature has plunged, pinching a rosie blush into the leaves on the trees, scattering diamond frosts on the ground, and dispensing numb fingertips and rosy noses everywhere. Old Winter is slowly inching his way onto the seasonal stage, biding his time until he can have his grand soliloquy in the spotlight. He's still mostly in the wings now, reminding us of his presence with a few chill winds and icy rains, but as yet his cue has not come. As the story goes, Demeter has started to feel the pains of parting once again. One can see that more and more as the beautiful summer flowers and autumn fruits begin to die, bitten by a mischevious frost.

However, this time of year needn't be one of mourning for everyone. I, for one, have been enjoying myself thoroughly. Last week I went to the Creamery and bought a can of Stephens Gourmet Cocoa - the first of many that will inhabit my cupboard this season. I have experienced anew the delight of wrapping chilled fingers around a warm porcelain mug, of the steam and chocolate scent rise across my face, and of the beautiful sensation of something hot running down your throat and warming you from the inside out. I have remembered the blessing of warm coats and hats, and the comfort of being wrapped in a soft blanket while a storm howls away on the doorstep.

Demeter can weep all she likes. I love winter.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Necklace of Sunbeams

As anyone who knows me intimately can tell you, I have a tendency to stop suddenly when walking to look at something that has caught my interest, and to stand and enjoy it for at least a few seconds, if not longer. For example, I stop to smell the beautiful pink roses that grow on temple hill every time we walk up to the temple. Every Thursday. EVERY time. Fortunately, I happen to have kind and tolerant temple buddies who permit my slight exentricities without complaint.

I did this the other day - this stopping and enjoying, not smelling roses - and ended up seeing something I wish to share with you. I was walking up to campus to go to class when I simply halted, surely startling everyone behind and around me, all of whom were trying to be punctual and hurry along their way. I honestly didn't pay them a second thought, so awestruck was I by the evergreen bushes.

Not the bushes exactly - but what was on them. Strung across the needled limbs were several swaths of spiderwebs, and each strand of each web was adorned with dozens of drops of fresh morning dew, all glittering in the newly-risen sun. I've never seen diamonds so flawless or pearls so bright as were those little dew drops. I stood and gazed for some time, an image materializing in my mind of a richly robed Queen Titania dancing in a moonlit forest, a necklace of fine spiderweb and sunbeams captured inside tiny dewdrops draped about her neck.

"Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not, niether do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

The Savior said those words to His disciples, reminding them that the Lord would provide for them. I've always loved this verse of scripture, because it really is true - humans simply are inferior when it comes to beautiful rainment. All our toiling and spinning and refining and dying and styling and perfecting won't amount to anything nearly so beautiful as Nature and God can create. I could appear to the world wearing all the silks of the orient and all the perfumes of Arabia and all the jewels in Christendom - and still I would not be arrayed with such beauty and perfection as can be found in a single sunset or blushing rose.

I don't think I should like all the silks and jewels anyway. No, I would much rather be seen with a freshness of life, and a bloom of youth, and a blush of health - the beauties Nature has given me.

And perhaps, someday, with a necklace of sunbeams.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Voice

As some of you may know, for some time now I have had the opportunity to learn sign language, both here at the Y and back in high school. It has set me thinking a good deal lately about communication - and so I share with you those wonderings.

One often hears person-to-person communication difficulties referenced by a specific name: the Language Barrier. It occurs when two people are attempting to talk and neither understands very much (or anything at all) of what the other person is trying say. These two people could stand there and yell the words in each others faces until the cows come home, and still neither would have the least idea what the other was trying to communicate.

I don't particularly like that phrase. It seems to me that if it's simply a matter of two people not understanding one another, I've seen enough couples (married and not) dealing with that problem who aren't speaking different languages at all. And as for those of us who do speak different languages, there's a special kind of Magic there that can make those barriers turn trasparent, as though they had never been at all.

That Magic, I believe, is what most people would call Humanity - those thing that make us people know matter who we are. There are ideas and beliefs and hopes and griefs and dreams and sorrows and loves that simply cannot be stopped by the Language barrier. They go straight through, and bring some of the rest of the thoughts and feelings in behind that we couldn't communicate before.

I can sign with a Deaf person - even from another country - who doesn't speak a word of my first language, and we can discover commonalities between ourselves we wouldn't have known otherwise. I can share a smile with someone in Italy or China or Finland, and there will be no question as to what it means. I can I can stand beneath the Weeping Rock at Zions or on the highest point of a mountain top, surrounded by people from countries all around the world, speaking all kinds of tongues beyond my understanding - but we can stand side by side, looking at the marvels of nature, and wonder together.

I had a really neat experience with this a couple days ago. There is a girl in my ward who hails from South America, a first-language Spanish speaker. She speaks very good English, but when we gather for ward choir to sing what I consider to be a well-known hymn, she sometimes has trouble putting it into the English words instead of the Spanish she is familiar with. She has a remarkable ear for notes and tone, and in fact has never learned to read music, relying upon simply hearing the notes to learn them. I, on the other hand, speak fluent English and not a word of Spanish, and can hardly pick out anything aside from the melody without music in front of my face.

We got to talking about our favorite songs. She said that she had been Primary Music Director back in her home stake, and there was one song that she had always loved. "What is it?" I asked. She did not know the title in Spanish, so she began to sing it:

Yo siento su amor
En la naturaleza
Amore del Salvador
Que en ti bia el corazon...

After the first line, I took up the tune as well:

I feel my Savior's love
In all the world around me
His spirit warms my soul
Through everything I see....

And then together:

Yo siempre lo seguire
Mi vida le dare...

He knows I will follow him
Give all my life to him...

Pues siento Su amor
Que me infunde calma.

I feel my Savior's love
The love he freely gives me.

I can't accurately show you what it felt like in words, but it was easily one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced - two women, two voices, singing in unison, each in her native tongue, praising the Savior together. It reminded me that Heavenly Father hears us all, no matter what language we sing or speak or pray in. Joan of Arc was accused of heresy for saying as much - no one would believe her when she claimed that when the Lord spoke to her, He spoke not in Latin but in French, her native tongue. He hears all languages and understands every one - none is better than another.

This a beautiful kind of Magic all its own, which is at anyone's fingertips - anyone with an open heart and a willing mind. Anyone can do it, and the world desperately needs it.It's called Love, and Patience, and Understanding, and Peace and Tolerance and Friendship - or, in other words, pure undefiled Humanity. And if used at its best, it is the kind of magic that will approach any barrier - language, culture, or otherwise - and make it vanish for good.

'Til next time...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another Begining

Today is a marvelous day. It happens to be the day that the first Kit Carson movie debuted in the good old USA. It is also the anniversary of the publication of one of my favorite books - J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit." It is the day, over two centuries ago, when Benedict Arnold commited high treason against the American Continental Army. It is one of the last days of true summer, but two days shy of the Vernal Equinox - one of only two days in the year on which there is equal darkness and light from daybreak 'til nightfall. And it just so happens to be the one year anniversary of Everyday Magic.

Happy Birthday!!! Cake and confetti all around! Trumpet fanfares and a rousing chorus! Blow out the candles! Make a wish!

Just kidding. We could wait from now until next millenia for this blog to blow out a birthday candle and it wouldn't happen. Naturally - technology being what it is, one can't expect much better. However, everyone should feel free to make wishes... as many as you please.


And so we begin again. Once more, Autumn is upon us - with the color of leaves, and the sweet ripe peaches fat with juice, the crisp mornings and warm afternoons... A year of seasons past, and here we stand, watching Autumn make its entrance on nature's stage once again. One beautiful, wonderful, magical year later - and here I am.

The Magic is still here, too - it always is. Just the other day I walked through a lawn sprinkler on purpose, even in my school clothes, just to feel the cool mist on my sun warmed skin. I went out and sang in the rain one night, bare feet and all. Twice I have gone out to greet the sun as it climbs over the summit of the mountians and off into the sky, feeling its new warmth embrace me with the brightness of a new day. There are still peaches to sink your teeth into that will make your whole face sticky, and songs that you dance to until you can't possibly take another step, and stars to gaze up at and wonder. There are people who bring comfort in grief, cheer in sadness, companionship in lonliness. There are moments to smile, moments to cry, and moments to laugh until you feel your chest will burst. The small pleasures, the little graces, the tender mercies - the Magic - it's still there. It's always there - no matter how many years may pass.

This is me. Or rather, this is my blog. We are still carrying on, taking the weeks and the days and the hours as they come. I am still seeking the wonder and magic in the world, because no matter how many blog posts I write or prayers of thanksgiving I offer, there is always another treasure to be found. Autumn has come, Winter will follow, and Spring and Summer again... I cannot wait to see them all, and to share them with you once more.

Thank you to those who have read these musing and ramblings and wishes for so long. Thank you for a year of dedication and love. You truly are a Magic all your own.

'Til next time, my friends - and here's to another wonderful year to come.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Wise Servant's Talent

During His ministry on the earth, Jesus Christ told a parable about a master who has three servants. The master was about to go on a journey, but before he left he gave each of his servants a few pieces of money called talents - to the first servant he gave five, to the second, three, and to the last, only one. He told them to use their talents wisely, then left. The first servant, through trade and hard work, was able to make his five talents into ten. The second did the same and was able to make his three talents into six. The third servant was afraid he might lose his one talent, so he burried it where no one could take it away. When the master returned, he called his servants forth and asked them what they had done with their talents. The first and second showed how they had doubled their original allotment, and the third brought his one coin, dug up afresh. The master commended the first two servants, saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. As thou has been faithful over a few things, I shall make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord." The unfaithful servant had his one talent taken away and was cast out, for he had not used faithfully that which was given him.

I am not going to give you a gospel discourse, as much as I do enjoy gospel doctrine. However, with the way my life has gone lately, this story now has a special significance for me that I would like to share with you. You are no doubt fully aware of the similarity between the financial incrament "talent," and the word "talent" we use in our English vocabulary today. When I was a child, I thought the similitude was a coincidence. "Wow - that's cool. They use a word like ours!" I didn't figure it out until later that the similarity is meant and intentional.

You probably already know all of that as well. However, there is something particular that interested me last time. The foolish servant wasn't reprimanded for having few talents. He received his rebuke because he hadn't made more of what he had been given. He would have received the same words if he had been given five talents, or ten, or twenty. It wasn't a matter of a small number - it was a matter of slothfulness, and of not making more of oneself. Likewise, the wise servant was praised not for having many talents, but for having made more of what he was given. The praise and honor would have been the same if it had been twenty talents or two. This is evident to me in the fact that the servant with four talents received the same reward as he who had five.

Very few people in this world are exceptionally talented, and even fewer are truly gifted. The other ninety five percent of us have to get along in the world with fewer talents. We all have some given to us, but most of the world less than others. But the ammount is not what is important. In the end it isn't a matter of how many talents we had. It isn't even a matter of perfecting the ones we were given, because as mere mortals there's only so refined as we can get it. The point is that we worked to keep the talents we had, and to make more of them than the original allotment we were given. Even if the improvement is a small one, and even if some of those talents end up being flowers "born to blush unseen," it all counts. The improvement is there. More is returned than what was given, you and others have grown in the process, and the Master is well pleased.

That is what I want more than anything in the world - for the Master to be well pleased in me. My largest efforts may reap smaller results than others achieve in this life, but that is not the objective. If my talents are improved and built upon, and I am able to return more than I was given, that is all that matters. Exceptionality isn't the point. The point is being the best I can be, whether or not my talents are small.

And that is something the Master can be pleased with in the end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Their Honor

In remembrance of those who perished in the attacks of September 11, 2001, and all their sacrifice stands for to us, the people of the United States.

I was but nine years old. I didn't listen to the news, or read the papers. I didn't know.

My father was about to drive away to work. He paused at the foot of the driveway and called me to him from where I stood waving on the porch. He wasn't cheerful anymore. He told me to run inside and tell my mother to turn on the radio. I did, confused. My mother seemed confused as well. She turned on the radio. I don't remember if I heard what was being said, but I cannot forget the way her face changed as she listened. I remember the shock I felt when I saw the shock on her expression.

When I got to school, we were all confused. My teacher kept calm, and her presence of mind caught on to her students. She gathered us in a corner and explained in the gentlest yet most truthful of terms what had happened that morning. I have been told that the footage played on the televisions at school. I don't remember. The first time I remember seeing it was when I came home. My father had come home early - an extremely unsusal proceeding - and was watching the news downstairs. I joined him on the couch and watched, too. Over and over and over again the clip was played - the airplanes crashing into the towers, catching on fire, demolishing the face of the building, sending up smoke clouds, taking lives, over and over and over again. I was frightened by what I was seeing and because I could feel that my parents were frightened. I began to cry. My father turned off the TV.

We prayed for them often after that - the people who had died, and their families. For a time, Terror and Tension remained present, showing their faces occasionally in memories and news reports. But soon Peace came again. The attacks were over. We were safe. We need not feel fear anymore.

However, that was only in the mind of a ten year old. Across the country, the smoldering remains of what had once been the Word Trade Center stood witness to the impact of what had occured. Hundreds of grieving families had not yet felt that peace, and would not for a long time to come. Leaders of the nation were congregating, Fear and Insecurity and Indecision keeping their company, though no one would address their presence. Fear, though subtle as a shadow, continued to reign.

Then war began. Though peace might have come to a naive ten year old, there was contention abroad. In a far away country, there was pain and punishment. There were wrongs committed by many, so that it was hard to tell anymore who was the victim and who the attacker. Fear reigned unveiled there, along with new accomplices - Death and War and Poverty and Ignorance and Suffering, each playing its own part.

Since that fateful day, and the fateful events that followed after, there are pieces of Fear that never have left. We search for them in security lines, interrogate them in our war prisons, and keep them controlled in our laws. Sometimes Fear shows itself again in small attacks and smaller attempts - but on the whole it has been banished.

It is not time, however, that has rid the country of its temporary tyrant. It was something else that was reborn along with Fear the day the twin towers fell. Courage - pure, patriotic, undying Courage. It took Courage for those on the unsuccessful flight to give the call "Let's roll!" and go to work to protect the innocent. It took Courage for those firefighters and brave citizens who endured the smoke and blaze of the towers to preserve as many lives as possible. It took Courage for the families of the fallen to pick up the pieces and move forward, having faith in a new day waiting on the horizon. And Courage has given birth to beautiful offspring - precious Hope and stalwart Loyalty, fair Compassion and constant Faith. They in turn have carried Prayer and Charity and Love and Strength upon their wake. America took Courage, and in doing so made itself a little more perfect.

All our gratitude for those who perished on September 11, for the brave souls who fought the good fight that day, for the loved ones who have shown our country what sacrifice means, and for those courages service men who rose to our defense and fight for us even now. My gratitude to those who knew that September 11 wasn't the end, who believed in healing and brighter tomorrows, and who helped to make it happen. All of these and more have done something to America that nothing else could have done - truly giving this nation a New Birth of Freedom.

Let us not soil the name that has been made, nor lose hope for what we have. America proved to herself ten years ago that she can endure whatever the powers of earth may send - and she can do it again. Courage, my friends - and Faith, and Hope, and Dedication. Following in the footsteps of those who fell there, and standing in the paths that they who fought there so nobly advanced, there will be nothing we cannot accomplish. A new tomorrow waits for us just beyond the dawning horizon. Let us go, one nation under God, and find it together.

God bless America - and God bless her people. Onward, my friends - onward.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Bare Necessities

I know that some of the side links are hard to read, but I couldn't pass up this background. Everyday Magic is wearing its back-to-school clothes!

Now I know I'm not the only one who read the words in the title and started having flashbacks of an animated dancing bear and loin-cloth wearing boy singing a bouncy little melody together and throwing some papayas around. You all remember the words, right?

Look for the bare necessities
those simple bare necessities
forget about your worries and your strifes
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipies
That bring the bare necessities of life.

I am discovering the truth to those words these recent days. I have finally come back to school - yes, indeed - and things are changing and shifting beneath my feet all over again. I have grown nervous and anxious thinking about whether I'll be able to find a job, what my classes will be like, how I'll be able to cover expenses, why I can't relax, what's going to happen after I've got my degree - and most important of all, whether my Father in Heaven really is watching out for me. I know that the answer to the lattermost is and unquestionable yes, as I have been so recently reminded - but sometimes it is hard to remember when life becomes overwhelming and times grow harder.

Just as was the case those eleven months ago when I first began this blog, those hard times have driven me to refocus and prioritize my needs and wants. I cannot go through life without taking time to remember the things that are really important - those bare necessities that are so a part of me and every other human being on this earth. And those evalutions and difficult days have made me remember how important it is to look for the Magic every day.

Yesterday I visited my favorite tree on campus - that big, gorgeous willow I wrote about all those months ago, which I've fondly come to call my Neverland Tree. When I left campus in April, it was still grey, skeletal, and bare limbed. Now, it is a palace of greenery, blooming with life all over again. Today I was the recepient of kindness, the singer of songs, the dancer of dances, the rider of a bike, the reader of books, the student of teachers, the seeker of help, the asker of prayers, the winner of races, the lover of life - and in everything I became, and everything I saw, I found something to love and enjoy and show gratitude for.

The past few days have been difficult. Times are hard, days are long, and change still threatens to shake me off my feet. But the Magic remains - the blessings, the gifts, the beauty, every little thing that makes life worth living. They are still there - those bare necessities that are so simple they are almost invisible. Air to breathe, food to eat, a wind to cool a heated brow... The embrace of a friend, the presence of loved ones, the smile of a stranger... music and dancing, laughter and smiles, green grass and bare feet... the coolness of water, the warmth of the sun, the annointing of rain... a prayer said in secret, a favorite scripture, a reminder of divine love... They are everywhere, anywhere, right before your eyes, just waiting for you to reach out, take hold, and delight in the blessings. We need them, or life loses meaning and vibrance, and despair isn't long in finding clearance to start its invasion. Moments of beauty, and physical revatilization, and quiet holiness - they are necessities. "Old Mother Nature" put them there, and a loving Heavenly Father who only wants us to be the best and happiest that we can be.

And you know, as I begin to see these little blessings all around, and begin to rely on them as my necessities, my "worries and [my] strifes" begin to fade away, one little bit of Magic at a time.

'Til next time, my friends...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Everyday Heroes

I met Wonder Woman yesterday.

No - not the one with long, flowing hair that wears a red and white girdle in the Marvel Books. That Wonder Woman has never been a real favorite of mine. Besides being severely immodest, I've just never found her hugely exciting. The Marvel creators had already taken brought fame to Superman and Spiderman, and DC had created Batman, before they all suddenly realized that their male to female ratio was off and that they had better hurry and throw in a girl before the ladies of America got upset. Thus, the girl super heroes - Wonder Woman, Cat Girl, Bat Woman, and so on - were brought into being. But because of their second place incoming, they always seemed to me to be kind of an afterthought - a little washed out, and not nearly as exciting as their bold, damsel-saving male predecessors.

Yesterday, however, I met Wonder Woman - and she could have kicked the colored tights right off of any comic book superhero.

I don't know what her real name was - I only heard it said once, and I couldn't hear it very well. Madi or Marci, I think. She sat in a small white tower, rather low to the sand. She wore a bright red bikini swim suit - which isn't hugely modest in itself, I realize, but what she did next was enough to make me forget any ammount of revealing swim wear.

I didn't see it happen, but I've been told. We were sitting on a sandy beach in Southern California, watching the waves roll in their course as the little ones made castles and hunted for sea shells and got their suits full of sand. Perfect family outing. However, hidden to all but the most skillful eye, beneath the waves a hidden danger lurked - a Rip current, which had the power to pull even the strongest swimmer out into the open sea.

I had felt it myself, while out body surfing with my brothers. We knew that there was a withstandable current that pulled us parallel to the shore, such that we always had to be taking two steps forward and one to the left, in order to go against it. However, when we started to get a little deeper, I felt a pull that was completely different. It hadn't seemed that deep, just to our waists, but with the swells coming in, the water could rise up to my neck in a second. And it did. Almost before I knew it I was swimming a rapid crawl stroke, which, though fast enough in the pool, now felt downright pathetic. I wasn't making any headway. For a moment I began to panic and sent a silent prayer heavenward that I would be able to get back to shore. I did, riding a few of the bigger waves to give me momentum. However, there was that moment when I had felt I would not be able to get back, that I would be stuck out there - I didn't think I could keep swiming like that for long. I was fine, though - if far more wary of the deep water after that.

I tell you my own experience with the Rip because not long after, so I am told, the same thing happened to another swimmer. I don't know what he felt exactly, but I give you my own experience so you have something to imagine. I had been near the shore, though, and had come in safely. He was farther out, and had been pulled away by the current. It held him there, far from shore, and he could not swim back. He must have been a stronger swimmer that I, because he kept at it longer than I could have, but the fact remained - he couldn't keep swimming for ever.

And then - when all hope seemed lost - Wonder Woman came to the rescue!!!

Again, I didn't see most of this until the end, but I know what happened. She brought nothing but a small flotation device, abandoning everything else at the tower, and plunged straight into the water. She swam out to sea, not withstanding the current, until she reached the stranded swimmer. She gave him her floater to assist him and swam along beside him, urging him on and directing him where to swim, navigating the tretcherous underwater pulls until they were bothed brought back to shore. The deadly Riptide was defeated, and Wonder Woman saved the day!

You've deduced by now that this was not actually Wonder Woman, but a life guard. She emerged from the sea, soaking wet, and after ascertaining the safety of the rescued swimmer, returned directly to her tower, where she wrapped herself in a pink and green towel and once again looked out over the sea, watching. My father, talking with her earlier on, found out that this woman had to pass a series of tests in order to prove herself sea worthy enough, so to speak, to get the job. One was to swim about a quarter mile in the open ocean, against the current, with no floatation device to speak of.

See? Wonder Woman.

Perhaps one day they big creative imaginations that cooked up the Superman and Ironman and Spiderman movies will come out with a breathtaking, heart-stopping, box office hit Wonder Woman movie that will prove me wrong. For now, though, she's not at the top of my list. This lifeguard is. I didn't get a chance to speak with her, though I had intended to. The next time I turned around, another guard had taken her place. However, she will always be a Superhero in my eyes. Marvel's Wonder Woman, with only some shiny underwear and a nice sparkly title to her name, has got nothing on her. That single beach lifeguard was ten times better. Strong, brave, defending others against the upredictable pitfalls of the ocean, keeping the beaches safe one life at a time.

Spend a little time showing appreciattion to the everyday heros that are keeping the world safe and healthy and happy and peaceful every moment of every day. Superman and Batman can't hold a candle to the police officer who rescues a child or wife from abuse, or the EMT or doctor or nurse who forces life back into a heart that had stopped beating, or the teacher who elightens a stagnant mind, or the humanitarian worker who gives food and drink to a starving body. They are everywhere, always among us, saving us all...

One life at a time.

Signing off, my friends - til next we meet...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Enchantment by Moonlight

When I was in my early high school years, I happened to be doing some mindless sketching in a less than eventful class (though which one I shall not say). I had an idea for a scene of sorts, and in my sketchings I eventually ended up producing it as something like this:

This is a version I put together on Microsoft Paint. The original was only in pencil and very roughly sketched on notebook paper. This is a more polished draft, but the scene I envisioned is the same. In words, this is the scene my imagination provided:

The woman comes out onto the terrace to get away from the stuffiness and small talk of a party or ball or other such social function at which she has no desire to be. She comes out into the cool evening air, the sounds of music and conversation dying away behind her, and sees the moon shining above. She steps out of the shadows and into the fountains of moonlight, arms outstretched as though to embrace every part of this beautiful night. The stars shine, a gentle breeze blows, the darkness soothes, and the world seems to become at peace with itself. The woman stands on the terrace, leaning on the stone railing, drinking it all in - the cool air, the smell of nearby grass and jasmine blossoms, the sound of a distant fountain, all bathed in the light of the moon and stars. She knows, of course, that she will soon have to return to the heat and bustle and noise of whatever is happening inside, but for the moment the night is calm - and so is she.

I might put this scene in a book one day. Perhaps in context the girl will be a princess, trying to escape her obligations - a plot that has certainly been done, but that I continue to love. Perhaps she has some sort of magic powers, and the moon helps to make her more powerful. Maybe she has been experiencing intense pain or grief, and this moment alone is a time for her to heal. I don't know - I just drew it.

I wanted to share this with you because something magical happened the other day that had everything to do with this little drawing. It was Monday night, and I had just come home from Singles Ward FHE up at Wiskey Springs, where we had been having a ward Marshmallow Toast / Smores Making Party. After the drive back to the Cove, I pulled into the driveway to find my parents walking about the lawn, searching for my siblings who were nowhere in sight. Apparently they were playing Sardines, a variation on hide-and-seek the rules of which I shall not detail here, except to say that everyone was hidden and my parents were seeking.

I helped, and eventually we stumbled upon my hidden siblings, all crouched in the shadow of the Tower on a little patch of grass, nearly invisible. My parents took their turn at hiding next, and we all began to seek.

I was checking around the side of the deck when something caught my attention. The front of the deck was bathed in white light, creating a distinct dividing line between the lighted and shadowed. Mistified, I abandoned my search and slowly moved out of the shadows and into the light.

It was as though my drawing had come to life, and I had been thrown into it. I was the woman, standing in a pool of moonlight on the terrace, embracing the beauty of the night. My moon was a waxing gibous, a week away from being full, and I was wearing white pants and a t-shirt rather than a trailing gown - but for all intents and purposes the moment I was experiencing was identical to the one I had drawn.

The stars shine, a gentle breeze blows, the darkness soothes, and the world seems to become at peace with itself. The woman stands on the deck, leaning on the metal railing, drinking it all in - the cool air, the smell of nearby lawn and iris blossoms, the sound of distant laughter, all bathed in the light of the moon and stars. She knows that it won't be long before she must leave, and soon dawn will break and this moment will have to end - but for the moment the night is calm, and so is she.

It was perfect, glorious, beautiful, mystifying. I was under the enchantment of the moonlight and my own runaway imagination - but it was a spell I was reluctant to break. If all things didn't have to come to an end, I could have stayed there for hours, revelling in the beauty and magic I had so suddenly become a part of. But as things do have to end, I have to make do with a little magic of my own.

The next time I am overhwelmed with the heat and bustle of everyday life, when I am stressed or greiving or in pain, when I am drained of power and energy and need a moment to heal, I will lay my head back and close my eyes in some quiet place and bring the scene to life again. And I will be there - standing in the cool night air, the moon and stars shining above, feeling myself and the world around me settling into something real and constant and whole once again.

Thank you for being here and reading the ramblings of a misplaced muse. It means more to me than I can say.

'Til next time, my friends...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Magic

It's amazing how magical summertime can be, especially to a child. As school is out, the mind is no longer preoccupied with the normal scholarly pursuits - mathematics, sciences, social studies, grammar, and so forth. Therfore, the minds other ways to keep itself alive...

A couple weeks ago, little Nathan decided to be a pirate. He decided also that I would join his crew as first mate. So we sat upon the Tower (our playhouse in the backyard) - but that afternoon it was the pirate ship, "Pirate Ship." Nathan became Captain Skeleton, and I was Pirate Cousin Sharla. We ate our buckaneer otter pops, raised the anchor (rope swing), and set off for some deserted Island out at sea. When we arrived, we descended to our new world, and began seeking an X upon the sand. We found one, and dug up the Silver Treasure - according to the Captain it was not the one we were looking for, but good nonetheless. We carried it together up the hill, where we then deposited our find in the bed of our Pirate Truck.

I believe there is something truly magical about running across the cool green grass in bare feet like a little fairy child, flying beneath a broad blue sky, with a warm summer wind at your back. I have done this, an so much more in the course of my childhood summers. I have turned my backyard into most any setting in the world that suited my fancy. A large kingdom, over which I was princess... a fairy garden under my care... the atlantic ocean, over which I was sailing on the Titanic itself... an unending blue sky through which I flew on an Amelia Aerheart style airplane... a desert island... a foreign country... a great kingdom... a jungle wilderness... anything at all. The world was my own for the taking, and without hesitation I took it.

Summer is the perfect stage for this kind of mental exercise, otherwise known as imagination. The warm weather is perfect for outside play - in fact, the half of what we do in summer takes place outside, from eating to gardening to whatever you please. Most especially, however, summer is the perfect time for imagining because school is not in session. Mark Twain once said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education." I believe that children have a great capacity for educating themselves over the summer, if only they are let free to go and see and do and feel whatever they may dream of. And that, really, is the true magic of it - dreams and ideas and imaginings coming into being and begining to live, right there on the back lawn. Childhood dreams are a very unique and extremely potent branch of magic. It is powerful enough to create a world for a child, and perhaps enough to create a magic carpet for an adult - if only they are willing to take it and ride.

Summer won't last much longer. School approaches, and soon the long, carefree days will have to change. I am set on going out and enjoying all the potato salad and off-the-barbecue hamburgers and fresh summer fruits that I can get my hands on before that happens. I want to be a mermaid with my little sister in the swimming pool, read more fantasy books to my brother, write my novel like my sorry skin depends on it, and simply capture every moment and hold it for my own, hoarding it away like a chest of gold - so that on some snowy, somber, homesick day in December, I can peer beneath the lid and suddenly have the warmth and sun and magic of summer surrounding me again.

And who knows? Perhaps there shall be time for one more adventure with Captain Skeleton before the month is out. We are going to the beach in California in a couple weeks... perhaps we can start seeking the Gold Treasure this time. And perhaps we might find it. And after that.... it's anyone's guess. We'll be off to wherever the wind and waves and Nathan's abundant imagination can take us.

I happily await the adventure.

'Til next time...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sunday Scribblings #277: Distant

This is a painting that in part inspired this scribbling. I include it for whatever it may be worth to your reading.

He had been away at sea for eight years. Eight long years, and now he was coming home.

Sean had been her friend since before she could remember. Their fathers owned adjoining land, not far from the coast and half a day's ride from Belfast. It was beautiful country - long green grasses, blue sea, blue sky, the smell of new growth, the touch of the winds, the sentinel ruins on the cliff watching over it all... When they were small, she and Sean would run through the grasses and meet at the low wall dividing their two properties. Some days they would stay there, balancing on the wall or playing games in the grasses. Some days they would run up to the old watch tower and hide among the crumbling stone, pretending to be king and queen of their own castle, or fair folk in their lair. Some days, when the sun was particularly warm and the breeze especially fine, the would hike the mile and a quarter to the sea, where they would splash in the water and pretend to hunt for kelpies - sea deamons in the shape of horses, whom only the bravest could ride. They would draw pictures or build cities in the sand, staying as long as possible until the sun began to set and they knew that their mothers would be frantic with worrying where their young bairns had gone.

When they where small, they thought that their adventures were a grand secret, their friendship unbeknownst to anyone else. She realized in hinsight that their parents were well aware of their activities, and even encouraged them - for their was nothing to make a body grow up strong like running in the fresh air, and nothing to make a soul grow up good like being with a dear friend.

As they grew older, their adventures continued - though with less frequency, as Sean had to begin working on the farm and she herself had to start "learnin' to be a right proper lady," as her mother said it. So Sean worked in the fields, sowing and reaping, while she set to her "book learnin'" and her graces and baking and needlepoint. But in the evenings, when the baking and needlepoint were done, and it was too dark to see well in the fields, they two would meet by the wall again, and this time their meetings really were secret. At first, they would set off on adventures again, usually to the old ruins because they were closest. After a time, they would more often just walk in the moonlight, talking and enjoying each others' good company. Sometimes he would play his pipe and she would dance. Sometimes they would both dance without any music at all. It was upon that little wall that he kissed her for the first time.

By moonlight, they promised their love. They wanted to marry as soon as Sean could raise a little money for their support. It was still all a grand secret.

The next week, he signed on to a ship as a sailor. He would see the world, and earn good wages, and in a year or two return to his beautiful bride to be. He departed Belfast with her kiss lingering on his lips and her words of parting ringing in his ears.

Eight years. He had been sailing for eight years.

The first two years had been easy to bear. Soon her Sean would be home, she would be his forever. Surely she could wait a little longer for that. The third year had been harder. By the fifth, she was almost frantic. Now, six years beyond his promised return, she had begun to despair. Had he found someone abroad? Some beautiful, exotic maiden in a far off, adventurous place? Had he found a new world, with better prospects, where he had decided to stay? Had he been shipwrecked, or drowned, or worse? And her greaterst fear of all - had he promised to someone else the beautiful feelings he had once promised to her?

She knew she was thinking too hard. Her mother said that women needed men because women often delt in possibilities, while men delt with the present, right as it was. Her mother was right, but it didn't help. She didn't have a man to tell her what the present, right as it was, actually looked like. She tried to remember Sean as he was, as she had loved him, and felt as though that person were miles and miles and years and years away. She didn't know if the person out their sailing the world was the same person she had let into her heart on the little stone wall. For all she knew, that person was as far away as their childhood romps to the ocean.

When she received word from the shipyards that his ship was coming home, she became terrified.

He was supposed to come into port tonight. She stayed at home, fretting. A storm was boiling in the heavens and on the sea, thrashing about the waves and the countryside, and she worried for the fate of his vessel. The wind howeld and wuthered around her family's little cottage, driving sleep from her thoughts. She sat at the window with a candle, staring out at the storm. The moors and ruins and grasses and hills were invisible in the driving rain. She wrapped a shawl around herself and waited, staring, unsure what she hoped to see. A lantern... a light in the other farmhouse... a call in the dark... anything.

In the few moments when she dozed, she was tossed into dreams of tearing sails, splintering beams, spinning helms, and flying ropes... He was so close, so near, but the storm! The storm! What would become of the ship? If it wrecked, would their be any kelpie to rescue him from the water? He was brave enough to harness one... it would not pull him under the waves to drown him, as they creatures did to the faint of heart. He would tame the sea... he must... he must... But the wind howled on... and still no sign... no sign...

When morning broke, a little bit of sun managed to force a path through the clouds, which were now weakened from the night's downpour and begining to disperse. She lay at the window, her candle burnt down to a stub, awake but motionless. Her mother found her there and held her for a time, allowing her to cry away all the hopelessness and pain that had settled over the course of the night. The little ray of sun have little comfort.

The mother sat up slowly as a sound reached her ears. Footsteps on the path outside. The daughter didn't move. She didn't hear the sound, still weeping where she lay. Then the cottage door swung open - just a little ways, and familiar voice called to her, tearing her out of her grief. She leaped to her feet and whirled toward the voice - just one word, and she knew. Just her own name - and all other words could be left behind.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Top 10 List #1: How I Know I am Meant to Be an English Major

So it isn't particularly magical, but I did find it funny to see how literature classes have been influencing me.


10. and are two of my best friends.

9. My vocabulary has gained me a reputation (in high school especially) for being a walking dictionary.

8. I've done copy edits on my own journal entries.

7. My puns are intended more often than not.

6. I write in dactylic tetrameter for fun (and if you know what that means, it's possible that you are an English Major, too).

5. I can speak fluent Shakespearean (in soliloquy style, pun and play-on-words, dialogue and banter, or sonnet - you name it).

4. I manage to find situational irony if half the situations I encounter day to day (just ask my roommates).

3. My summer reading list looks like my ENG 292-293 syllabus (including but not limited to Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, The Merchant of Venice, The Great Gatsby, and Moby Dick).

2. The most exciting thing to happen to me in the last three weeks was the discovery of a topic on which I could write a really good thesis paper (Societal Origins of the Princess Story).

1. Reading Dickens, Twain, Joyce, Bronte (any of the three), Shakespeare - and/or any other writer that has a place in about 80% of the classical and contemporary Cannons - excites me to the point of rapture.


Well, there you have it. If it there was any doubt before, it is now dispelled. I am a literary fanatic. A novel enthusiast, a poetry zealot, a short fiction nutcase, a Shakespearean disciple - all of the above and more.

I don't think I shall be changing my major any time soon.

Thanks for reading through yet another example of my secret (and not-so-secret) craziness and eccentricity. Your patience and tolerance is much appreciated, as ever it has been.

'Til next time, my friends...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Rainbow Connection

Why are there so many songs about rainbows
and what's on the other side?
Rainbows are visions, but only illusions
and rainbows have nothing to hide.
So we've been told and some choose to believe it.
I know they're wrong, wait and see...
Someday we'll find it, the Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

I'm sure most of you have heard this song before. I can't sing it or play it on the piano without having a mental vision of Kermit sitting in his swamp, playing his little banjo and singing to the trees and lily pads and spanish moss. It's a beautiful song, about magic and belief and beauty - exactly what we're all about here at Everyday Magic. And it's sung by a muppet. Does it get any better than that?

I thought of this song yesterday as I was driving along highway 40 to singles ward FHE. The day had been gray and heavy, threatening rain since we first woke in the morning. The promise of a storm, however, had been kept back all morning and afternoon, held in suspense by the overhanging ceiling of clouds. Finally, just minutes after my father had finished grilling our hot dogs on the barbecue, the sky finally broke loose. The storm didn't last long - perhaps half an hour before temporarily abating - but it was long enough to water the plants, coat the windows, and turn the gray driveway pavement two shades darker. Just after the rain retreated, I clambered into the family van and headed out for FHE.

"Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side...?"

As I was driving along the highway, I discovered that hanging overhead there was an enormous rainbow, stretching clear from the neighborhood I had just left to the other end of town (so if anyone asks me what's on the other side of the rainbow, I can say "Timber Lakes"). It was magnificent, a full arc of every color spanning the valley floor. I was probably a hazard to traffic, as I kept taking my eyes away from the road to glance at it again. The purple-gray clouds behind it and the vibrant green fields below accented its beauty and gave it a perfect background against which to rest. It was all I could do to stop gazing upon it in favor of the black asfault road in front of me.

"Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide."

Anybody could have explained it in science terms - an atmospheric phenomenon caused by water vapor and sunlight creating a colorful illusion - but it was magical to me none the less.

"All of us under its spell... we know that it's probably magic..."

It didn't last long - in fact, by the time I turned off the highway it had all but disappeared. Before it was gone, however, I had time to marvel at the number of cars that were driving straight past it - some even underneath it - and who's drivers and passengers probably didn't see nature's masterpiece hanging in the sky above them, just waiting for them to look up.

"Have you been half asleep, and have you heard voices? I've heard them calling my name..."

Take time, now and then, to open your eyes and look up from your life. You never know what kind of magic you might see or adventures you might find if you do. I myself discovered my own little Rainbow Connection yesterday. However, because it is you and your eyes and your heart, you may see something that I would never have discovered, something that is brand new and no one's in the world but your own.

What might your discovery be?

"Someday we'll find it, the Rainbow Connection - the lovers, the dreamers, and me." 

'Til next time...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

God Bless America

Eleven score and fifteen years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in many great conflicts, both at home and abroad, testing whether that nation, or any other nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

You will have recognized above a little of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, but with my own alterations for the modern day. On this July Fourth, I read in the newspaper that only 4.5% of the world's past and present population has experinced the kind of freedom that we enjoy here in the United States. So few... I never imagined how fortunate I was until I read that article - how fortunate we all are.

I can walk outside of my house at night without fear. I can go to bed secure in the knowledge that I and everyone in my home will be alive and well in the morning. I can speak ill of the president or the senate if I choose, and not fear that I shall be arrested. I, a woman, can attend any college I choose, provided that my grades are good, and become anything I want to be - scientist, doctor, astronaut, lawyer, mother, writer, anything at all. I can stand up with others in a public place and raise my voice in protest against what I believe to be wrong, without arrest or law enforcement brutality. I will not be killed for choosing my own way, or going where I want to go, or saying what I feel is right. That is liberty.

So few countries enjoy or have enjoyed what I have just described. In Nazi Germany, enjoying music or literature that was not German was punishable by imprisonment or even shipment to a work camp. In China, youth raising their voices against their nation's wrongs were gunned down while protesting in Tianamen Square. Very recently, Egyptian pilots flying bomber planes had to seek asylum in other countries in order to refuse their orders to drop their deadly cargo among their own people, who were protesting a tyrranical rule of government. Yet we here in American speak and act freely, without fear.

It has not come without a price. Thousands, even millions of men and women have laid down their lives over the years to preserve that freedom. Some continue to do so today, and for them we are forever grateful. Their final sacrifice has placed the American cause in a temple where the whole world can behold it, and know that it is something worth dying for, concecrating our highest beliefs far beyond anyone's power to add or detract.

However, the brave military servicemen are not the only guardians of our freedom. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought and died for this nation have so nobly advanced. The only way that this country can continue to house the kind of liberty we have thus far held dear is if her people resolve that those dead will not have died in vain, and that they will give their own full measure of devotion - their voice, their hands, and their hearts - to her cause.

If we can do this, then our God-given government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

God bless America - land that I love!
Stand beside her and guide her
through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains to the praries
to the oceans white with foam...
God bless America,
my home sweet home!

And that He will my frieds - have no fear for that.

'Til next time...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

In Memorium

This is a little piece I wrote in response to a writing prompt. In honor of Kalem Franco and those others who leave the world early, before anyone is ready to see them go.

Dear Friend -

I don't know if I know you. As of right now, that is. I don't know whether we have yet met. If we have not, though, I am sure we will in the not-too-distant future. I do not konw who you are or what you look like or what sort of person you will be. I know only that I will love you, that you will be my friend... and that I will lose you.

I have thought much of this lately, as a couple of deaths have occured not to far from me, though not so close as to cause me immense grief. However, I know that I cannot go through life without at least once (and likely more) losing someone near to me. I write to you now, so that when, someday, that does happen, I might be a little more prepared to endure it.

I want to thank you for all the happiness you have brought (or will bring) to my life. I am a creature of emotions, and especially of emotional connection with others. Though I can be independent, I crave human company. The friends who I consider my closest companions are the ones who have given me beautiful memories to look back on - happy times spent in good company. Thank you for all the sweet memories, the happy moments, and beautiful dreams that will be ours to share.

I want to thank you also for shaping me into the person that I am. I have seen myself change as I have been acted upon by those around me. As I have surrounded myself by those who, like yourself, are better men and women than I am. Simply being with them, I find myself turning into something new - someone like them. And I like that person. I love being the person I am when I am with those I love. In the words of the poet, "I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you... Not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me." Thank you for your example, for your presence in my life - and for the person you believed I could be.

Thank you for the gift your life was, or has been, or will be - and for the strength and faith your death will bring. I know that I will see you again one day, and that we will be as happy then as we were on earth. I truly believe that friendship can be a divine relationship in itself - especially when those friends are encouraging and strengthening each other in righteousness, as I have no doubt that you will do. In the meantime, though we be separated, I know also that the veil is a thin barrier. You will be near, and we will be friends apart, just as we were friends together.

I love you, my friend - whoever you may be. God be with you until we meet again.

 Your friend,

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do You Hear the People... Swing?

I have recently seen an excellent movie. It is called "Swing Kids" (starring I really don't know who). It takes place in Nazi Germany, among the German people, and centers for the most part around a group of teenage boys who don't want to conform with Hitler's rule. They refuse to join the HJ (Hitler Jugen, or Hitler Youth), wear their hair long, dress like English kids, and listen to American music. Their biggest act of rebellion, however, is...

Swing Dancing.

That's right. They make their stand against Hitler by getting together on weekends to dance. It's resistance that isn't just peaceful and nonviolent, but also fun. Protest evil in the world by doing the Charleston. Or singing Django Reinhardt music. Or listening to good records.

Some people do the same today. Music and dancing have often been forms of rebellion or protest over the past century. Teenagers listen to music their parents don't approve of, just to say that they can do what they want, or go to dances where such music is played. Women in South America living under tyrranical rule, whose husbands, sons, and friends had been murdered, rebelled by going out into the streets together and dancing - an act which the guards and soldiers could not punish.   Civil rights activists sang as they marched in the streets, "We shall overcome!"

However, while it is easy to sing and dance, it is not always easy to stand up for what you believe. The Swing Kids were beaten, imprisoned, shipped to work camps, and even killed for dancing against Nazi command. The women in South America were left without husbands and fathers, alone against opression. The civil rights movement was stained with the blood of unpunished murders, terrible abuse, imprisonment, and martyrdom.

But they all did it anyway. In spite of threats of pain, prison, and death, they continued to sing and dance. And, eventually, their songs and dances were not in vain. Change came, and the world was made better for their work and sacrifice.

A wise man in my life - my father - said it this way. The only way for evil to gain power in the world "is if good men and women do nothing." It is easy to sit in our homes, surrounded by close friends and family, and say, "I don't like the way things are going." That is what many Germans did during the Nazi regime. But to step outside the door and raise your voice against evil for all the world to hear... that takes great courage, and it is the only thing that will make a difference in the end.

Mohamas K. Ghandi, the originator of peacful nonviolent resistance and one of the greatest men of the last century, said that we must "Be the change you want to see in the world." He is right. If we want change to happen, the only way is to make it happen ourselves. It is easy to think, "I am only one person. Nothing I do will make any difference, so why worry?" This is why - in "Swing Kids," the father of the main character said in a letter, "We must all take responsibility for what is happening in our country. If those of use who have a voice do not raise it in outrage at the treatment of our fellow human beings we will have collaborated in their doom."

You have a voice. We, who live in the freeset nation on earth, have voices. Raise them in outrage against wrongs, and in praise for that which is right. If enough voices join the chorus, change will happen, and the world will become as we know it should be. We will become the change.

Raise your voice in outrage for that which is wrong, and in praise for what is right. You don't have to be a politician, humanitarian worker, public speaker, or anything else to make a change. Sing. Dance. Paint. Write. Play sports. Whatever it is you do, do it while keeping in mind the reaons why you are doing it, and what you believe in. I, for one, will be on the dance floor, doing the lindy hop with all of my heart. "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing..."

'Til next time, my friends...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Eve of Midsummer

As I have thus far undertaken the task of informing my dear readers about the occurence of significant astronomical dates, I do so here again. Yesterday, June 21, was the Summer Solstice, or Midsummers' Day - the longest day of the year. I make particular mention of it because in many cultures it is not only the longest day, but also the most magical.

From what my little tidbits of research have revealed (thank you, Wikipedia), most countries around the world celebrate some form of Midsummer ritual - particularly any countries in which either (or both) Paganism or Christianity in some form has been present. The Christians celebrate it as a saints day - the day of St. John the Baptist. The Pagans had something else in mind.

I have found that in much of modern English, the words "pagan" and "heathen" have become synonomous (or at least very similar). There was a time when the were used as synonyms, back in the day when the Catholic church was trying to rid the continent - indeed, the known world - of Pagan traditions. However, Paganism wasn't all evil, or all heathen. They were simply polytheistic in a world where monotheism was begining to take the stage. They worshiped many gods, worshipped primarily through ritual, and possessed a deep-seeded belief in magic.

To the Pagans, Midsummers day was special. It was the halfway point between the equinoxes, the farthest away you can get from Midwinter before you start coming back. It was a time to celebrate life (the survival of one winter) and to pray for future good fortune (plentiful harvest and a good winter to come). They often celebrated by lighting bonfires, jumping over the bonfires, telling fortunes, performing fertility rituals for the young women (midsummer being a good time to conceive so that children will be born the following Spring), and in general eating, dancing, and making merry. Midsummer was also said to be a time when magic could be used at its highest potency. Sorceresses, magicians, alchemists, healers, and potion makers would go out in the darkness before sunrise and collect their herbs and ingredients for a new year, believing that the presence of the Midsummer sunrise would give their spells and potions added power. Midsummer's eve was also a night to have great caution, as it was said to be the night when devils and evil spirits roamed free upon the earth.

Some of these traditions have carried on into modern times. People from most countries (including the United States, as it happens) still participate in bonfire festivals - with and without fire-jumping. Women in Russian and the Ukraine take part in fertility rituals and tell their fortunes by casting their flower garlands onto the water and reading the petals. Eating, dancing, and overall merriment still prevail. Some places, sorceresses and healers still roam the hours before sunrise, collecting herbs.

I, for one, took part in my own celebration. I sat in the sunshine and read books, my feet dangling into the kidie pool. I drank cold lemonade (though not with mint leaves, unfortunately). I laid myself out on the dew-covered lawn and looked at the millions of stars that adorned the night sky, trying to find constellations in their midst. I even danced on the grass in my bare feet, in the light of a setting sun.

It's not a bonfire. It's not remotely ritualistic. And it probably won't produce any magic whatsoever. But it's my way of celebrating the coming of summer, and to rejoice in the warm days, full harvests, and magical memories to come.

Happy Midsummer, my friends. 'Til next time...