Friday, September 28, 2012

What I Learned by Immitating a Labrador Retriever

Dogs Sticking Their Head Out the Window
This morning I drove to work.

Not unusual since I do this every weekday morning. What made it different today was that I did it with all the windows of my car down in the middle of a pouring rainstorm. That seems a little silly but a bottle of chlorine bleach had leaked into all the nooks and crannies of my trunk overnight and it was creating a mini-terrorist attack effect in my little commuter. You can understand why I was driving 70 miles an hour in a deluge with my head hanging out the window like a Labrador Retriever. As a side note I really don’t see what the allure of that activity is for dogs. 

When I walked in the front door of my office, mascara running down my face, hair exploded, looking like the offspring of a drowned rat and a lunatic raccoon I told everyone I was going for the wind-blown look. It’s all the rage again.

Embarrassing as this all was it tested out something that I have been thinking a lot about lately on the subject of faith.

From an LDS perspective we take Paul seriously when he taught that “faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) Alma, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, made a similar statement. “If ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). 

Obviously, you have to have some information to know if something is a true principle. So when I say I have faith in God it means that I know enough about Him to have come to the conclusion that He really is there and that I believe what He says. I trust Him. I know that He is a supernal being who is perfect, that He knows everything, and that most importantly He loves me. 

That is the starting place for all people of faith but let's take it a step further. Since I know that God is perfect and all-knowing this means that I know that he doesn't waste time or space. He is perfectly efficient in His work. As a Latter Day Saint I know that His work specifically is to "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). That necessarily means that He has perfectly tailored an individual plan to get me from my weakness to my full potential in the most effectual way.

Since I also know that He knows me perfectly, including all of my strengths, weaknesses, and character defects He knows how I will react in any given situation. He knows that if you place a plate of snickerdoodles in front of me that it will take exactly 2.4 seconds before I lose control and eat one. He knows how cranky I will get when anyone asks me a difficult question before nine in the morning. He knows that if a football coach yells at my kid during a game I will come flying over the fence and beat him with my foam finger. 

Thus moment to moment He places me in the perfect state of affairs to most quickly help me grow, and with His help, work out all on the things in my character that need to be kicked to the curb before I can come and live with Him again. He gives me every possible opportunity to make the choices I should and access to his help to do so. The key to this plan is that He has provided me with a Savior to atone for my sins so that when I mess up, which I do multiple times every single day, I can repent and move forward.

Once this all dawned on me it became clear why it is so dumb to complain, whine, murmur, moan, wail, shake my fist at heaven and etc. when things are not going the way I think they should. And believe me I have spent a lot of time fist shaking. All that shows is a lack of faith because I think I know better than Father does what is best for me.

The really wonderful thing in all of this is the true realization that God doesn’t set us up to fail.
Whatever we are going through is happening specifically because He knows we can be successful and that it really is for our good. Not only that, but our circumstances are the best possible option with the greatest chance of attainment of those attributes that will most benefit us now and in the life to come. It is completely possible for us to overcome everything that gets thrown at us and He already knows we can do it.

Now if we would just stop second guessing ourselves and Him.

So when life is obnoxious and you arrive at work looking like a crazy person, have faith. When it’s full of temptation for things you shouldn’t do, have faith. When it’s confusing and difficult, have faith. When it's boring or you're tired, have faith. When it's filled with joy, have faith. When it brings you physically and spiritually to your knees and you are crying out for deliverance, have faith. You can do it, God knows you can, and when you have faith you will know it too.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Wild Wonders of West Texas

The last few weeks have seen me occupying the fabulous world of air travel in the United States. While enjoying the cattle truck conditions of my flights I found myself reading the germ slathered magazines in the seat back pockets. In these periodicals I was regaled with the world travels of authors "Sailing the Rhine River" and finding the "Best Haunts in Holland". So here for your reading enjoyment I offer up my travel log of somewhere near and dear to me in "The Wild Wonders of West Texas". 
A tasteful centerpiece adds ambiance to any West Texas home.

My husband Buns guns the car up and over the rolling, mesquite covered hills of West Texas. The spring rains have soaked the land in the last few days and a cacophony of blue and pink flowers is just beginning their waving riot towards the burning sun. The Mariah wind that ever-blows in these parts has a silky softness to it from the dewy moisture that hangs in the air. We needn't verify with our cell phones that we are in “no bars” territory and have entered a place that seems to be nostalgically caught in a 1950’s Western.

Buns and I are on a quest that many spiritual adventurers have sought before, to find the creator of armadillo eggs. This voyage will allow us to truly take in the Western essence of rural Texas. It is not a search for the  gastronomically-impaired, pepto-allergetic, heartburn sufferers, but we feel our stomachs are up for the task. It will also require a rugged character, one that will able to decode the fascinating local language and stare toothless cooks directly in the mouth.

The fabled armadillo egg is not exactly what it alleges to be. Specifically it is a jalapeƱo pepper, picked at the exact moment of its brightest green flavor, filled with buttery cream cheese, and then encased in fresh wild pig sausage. This delectable torpedo is then rolled in bread crumbs and seasoned with an out of the ordinary blend of surreptitious herbs and spices. All of this is then baked in a fired oven.

The armadillo egg was a local best kept secret for many years until Paula Dean introduced it to the national stage. The news that a home recipe had made good was not met with the fanfare one would expect. Instead there was a visible backlash that something sacred had been shared prematurely with the outside world who certainly not understand the nuances the down-home treat. West Texans are serious about their cooking and this could possibly be a challenge as we try to find the originator of the treasure.

Our first stop is a restaurant named Ramona’s. Located on the access road to I-20, Romona’s is a quaint turquoise blue trailer in the parking lot of a deserted gas station. The paint makes a tortoise shell pattern of light and shade as it peels from the building. Upon entering the establishment Buns and I immediately notice the 1960’s portraits of flamenco-clad senoritas clinging to the beige wall-paper. They look like the artwork from a Herb Alpert LP. The floor has a definite slant to it and as I place my smart phone on the table it immediately slides into the wall.

The rustic smells of authentic Mexican food  and water damage assail our senses and we are approached by Ramona herself. At 94 years old she is a tiny wrinkled fireball of a woman with a beehive hairdo who still takes all the orders in the restaurant herself. When I ask for a diet coke she laughs and says that only water or tea is served. I opt for the water and she brings it back in a half-gallon jug which is thumped down in front of me with audible wallop. Unexpectedly there are no menus at Ramona’s and so I quickly check the other patrons’ plates and order a chicken enchilada. “Cheese enchilada” Ramona says as she writes the order down. “Chicken” I correct her. “Cheese” she says again. “Ok, cheese is good too” I say as I realize this is an argument I cannot win. 
While we wait for our cheese enchiladas Buns turns to the table next to us and asks a State Trooper we find out is named Bubba “Does Ramona make Armadillo Eggs?” He is told in friendly tones that we have come to the wrong place and that to pick up the trail of the mysterious eggs we need to continue up the freeway. We finish our cheese, wave goodbye to the good folks at Ramona’s and motor on up the road.

Following the advice of the Trooper, several miles later we pull into the Love’s Truck Stop on the Ranger exit of I-20. The place is full of activity as hundreds of big rigs pull in and out of the colossal parking lot. The smoke from their stacks fills the air with thick diesel smell and soot. Buns carefully navigates his way to a spot in front of the convenience store. Signs on the front door advertise a Subway Sandwich joint inside, just the place we were looking for. As we reach the counter the runny-nosed sandwich artist points to a sign that says “the toaster is broke”, wipes his beak on his sleeve and tells us that if we want a toasted sandwich creation we are out of luck. We explain that we are looking for someone who can help us find the birth-place of Armadillo Eggs. The nose replies “well I didn’t know they were born but if you want Armadillo Eggs you need to get on down to the Roaring Ranger Days celebration that is happening in town.”

Gleefully Buns and I jump into the car, speed out of the truck stop at top speed, and down the pot-hole infested roadway towards town. We pass the rust covered hulks of twisted metal in the town junkyard, guarded by a foam mouthed pit bull. We continue down the thoroughfare and pass the manicured lawn of the community college. Flowering trees line the walks of the utilitarian brick buildings there. Further on a side lot full of goats is looked at in awe and we pull over to view the assortment “free toilets for sale” in another yard. The homes of Ranger are spread out in a hodgepodge of well cared for charming southern architecture and the remnants of falling down domiciles left over from the oil boom days.

We reach city center after passing through the one and only stoplight where the parade has just ended and a beat up Winnebago, with the state of Texas shaped in Christmas lights on the side, is receiving the grand prize for best entry. We follow the crowds of welcoming people to the booths in the park where the smells of deep fried everything hangs in the air. My arteries begin to clog just from breathing.

I snapped this from my front yard as the parade went by that year.

We circle the venue filled with little alcoves selling hand-made crocheted hats, quilts and artwork. There is popcorn, corn on the cob, BBQ pork and baked goods. Just as we are about to give up, there behind the dunk tank I spot it. Armadillo eggs are being served up by the dozens to the populace. We frantically race to the front of the line and shake the hand of owner of the little cart. “Are you the genius who first produced the armadillo egg?” we ask breathlessly. The owner wipes the sweat from around his ball cap, spits tobacco juice into an empty water bottle and then says with a thick southern drawl, “well I ustacould say that but not no more. My Mema beat me for steal’n her recipe so now I give her the credit. How many do ya’ll want?”

Once again the bars on our cell phones show no signal as we bounce out of town on the rough brick roads. Then a familiar flashing or red and blue lights in our rear view mirror. Bubba the trooper from Ramona’s is pulling us over. “Did ya’ll find what you were looking for?” he asks as he whips out his citation book. We answer in a self-satisfied affirmative. 

If a life long case of heartburn is the price to pay for spiritual enlightenment and a wonderful experience among friendly and colorful people then we willingly had put our money on the table.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why I’m Pretty Sure I’ve Been Banned From Heaven

Many religions and people around the world hold certain animals to be sacred. Hindus revere the cow, Finnish Pagans believe that bears are deity incarnate, whales are seen as omens of good luck in many South Asian cultures. From the Greeks, to the Egyptians, to Native Americans it goes on and on. 

Christian tradition holds the dove in high esteem because of its prominence in the Old and New Testament. Specifically because it was chosen by God to be a symbol of the Holy Ghost or Spirit and was the sign of divine approval at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.

White doves are a sign of peace and are released at ceremonies denoting love and brotherhood. It is for these reasons that I’m pretty sure somewhere on St. Peter’s list outside the Pearly Gates my name has a big black line through it. 

How did I get to this terrible state of being? 

When my oldest son David was about two years old my husband Buns came home from a trip to Texas with a pair of white doves. His parents bred exotic birds and he thought it would be a  good idea to bring these beautiful birds into our humble home so that they could continue to procreate and replenish the earth in our guest bedroom. 

In my usually supportive way I welcomed the newest members of our family with moaning about having to clean out a filthy bird cage and groaning about having to feed the little darlings all the time. Since we lived 2000 miles away from my in-laws at the time there was little to no possibility of returning the pair to their previous owners. 

About three days after they arrived, David came walking into the living room holding the female he had named Dove. He toddled over with his adorable chubby little cheeks to show me how much Dove “liked” to be hugged. 

I noticed immediately that Dove’s head seemed to be hanging off at a weird angle for someone who was enjoying the love and attention of a little boy. As Dave continued to tell me how much he loved Dove, in horror I became aware that he had managed to hug her to death. 

“Uhhhh, let me see her for a minute will you?” I asked in shrill voice. “I’m going to put her down for a nap.”
After that, any time he asked where Dove was I would just say in a slightly crazed way “she’s sleeping, yeah, that’s right she’s sleeping.” It was at that point that I first developed what would be a lifelong eye twitch that would kick in whenever doves were mentioned. 

Dove Dove, the widower of Dove was moved to a secure location on top of a high shelf where it would be much more difficult to be reached by a curious toddler. Dove Dove made it clear immediately that he did not appreciate being deprived of his mate. I’m convinced he had a nervous breakdown. He would sit in his cage rocking wildly on his swing and laughing like a maniac. 

In case you were unaware, when a white dove is being aggressive they laugh like a killer doll in one of those ridiculous horror movies. It is completely unnerving. For the longest time I didn’t know it was Dove Dove making the noise, I was beginning to think that our apartment was haunted by the ghost of a child comedian. <eye twitch> I began to feel the nervous breakdown making it's way from Dove Dove towards me. 

Dove Dove also turned out to be the Harry Houdini of the bird world. No matter what I would do to the latch on his cage he would figure out a way to get out. I seriously think he was using that long slender beak to pick the lock. He would loose himself and then spend whatever time he could pooping on the living room furniture.

One day when I left to go shopping he once again got out of his cage. Unfortunately on that particular jail break he came face to face with our mostly outdoor cat who had sauntered in to recover from a night of carousing. The cat who was notorious for harassing the birds outside decided this was a gift strait from heaven. He proceeded to give Dove Dove the what for. 

I returned home laden like pack horse with grocery bags, diaper bag, and two year old all in my arms to find the cat sitting on top of Dove Dove. All of the bags and nearly the two-year-old, went flying up into the air as I raced towards the cat. He took off at light speed and I was left nose to beak with poor Dove Dove there on the floor. 

He was not in good shape and after a consultation with Buns and a call to the vet it was decided that there was only one thing to be done. We called my brother who is an expert shot and that brother took Dove Dove out back.

I cried like it was the end of Old Yeller out there. 

All in all I had been involved not once but twice in the inglorious death of a dove of peace. I was sure that the first offense may have been passed over as forgivable but the second was just not going to fly, or so to speak. 

Since that time our family has religiously kept a bird feeder in our yard. The kids like to watch the birds but I mostly keep it up in the hope that somehow it will make up a little bit for the “Dove episode.” 

The thought is that hopefully if I feed the neighborhood doves for the rest of my life that will have a little sway when I get to the other side but somehow I think it may all be for the birds. <eye twitch, eye twitch>



Friday, September 7, 2012

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Newby

Many moons ago we lived in a small home in Idaho. Packed into this diminutive residence was my pregnant self, my hubby Buns, and our two elementary school age sons. Having taken up residence in the basement of said house were both of my early twenty-something, video-game playing, pizza inhaling, younger brothers. 

Along with this large contingency of people we also had a litany of animals that one or the other of us had brought in from the lone and dreary world in an effort to save. There were a couple of birds, a lizard or two, some unnamed rodents, various fish, as well as two farm cats.

The house was so full of people and animals that I began to call it “the Ark” since it seemed to me to be a pretty good representation of what Noah’s wife must have had to put up with in regards to space and sometimes smell. The Ark was crowded but generally a happy place and life was going along a in a fairly uneventful manner.

Dog Silhouette Clip ArtThen, quite unexpectedly, our next door neighbors packed all their belongings into a moving truck and left town. (I wonder now if it was to get away from the lunatics next door.) Left on their front porch was an adolescent black lab with soft chocolate eyes. After waiting for a few hours the dog realized that they weren’t just circling the block and so he decided to make his way to our back porch.

I’m not sure why he came to us but I suspect that word was out among the neighborhood pets about the people in the little orange house on the corner. The fact was that they were a bunch of suckers and you could get a free meal and scratch behind the ears there any time you wanted.

Of course when he was found on the doorstep the residents of the Ark, with the exception of the cranky pregnant one, gave a shout of joy and immediately adopted the little vagabond. In a lavish ceremony he was given the name of Anubis.We were on an Egyptian mythology kick at the time. By the way, the original Anubis was lord of the underworld and as cool a name as it sounded like I should have taken notice someone might be sending me a message.

Soon Anubis was shortened to Newby and he quickly became a beloved member of the family.

How I wish that I could end this charming tale now with a “and they lived happily ever after” but such was not the case. This is real life let’s remember and somehow those happily ever afters are not what fate ever has in store for us. Instead here is the hard cold truth.

Brace yourself.

It became immediately apparent that Newby was not your average dog. He had some personal habits that sent up red flags about his mental state and caused one to wonder if he had possibly escaped from a detention center for the gastricly impaired criminally insane instead of the neighbor's yard.

First was his all out love for rocks. Rocks were his favorite thing in the entire world. He carried them around, wanted you to play fetch with them, snuggled up with the larger versions, and on a regular basis ate them.

Yes, you heard me right, he ate them.

I became aware of this when one night I had taken him out into the yard to do his business. As he completed the task I kept hearing a strange clinking sound. It only seemed to happen as he squatted down. I thought “what in the world is that noise?” After about the fourth deposit it finally dawned on me. He was passing rocks and they were hitting each other as they landed.

He also had an unnatural affection for a tube sock that the boys used to play tug-o-war with him. He enjoyed the game so much that he decided the sock should become a permanent part of his make-up and so he ate it. The sock’s reappearance several days later caused him much concern. He sniffed it cautiously and with a look on his face as if he were asking why it wouldn’t stay where he put it, he decided to eat it again. Ack!

Socks Clip ArtOnce again the sock made a re-appearance a couple of days later and by the time I had realized what had happened he had downed it a third time. This cycle may have gone on indefinitely if it hadn’t been for my sweet mother. She was visiting one day and while out in the yard playing with the boys she walked over and asked “why is this dirty old sock just laying here in the yard?” She deftly reached down, picked it up, and took it to the trash can.

The boys then rather hysterically then told her just what she had been holding in her hand and after some high pitched screaming mixed with dry retching she raced into the house to wash with disinfectant. She didn’t come over again for a while. I can’t imagine why.

 Volcano Clip Art
We had two recliners in the living room that were prime real estate for watching T.V. Directly behind them was Newby’s favorite napping spot. While he slept the effect of the rocks and socks on his digestive system would begin to manifest themselves. Noxious gas eruptions that would rival Krakatoa in scope and aroma would begin to emanate from the back portions of his anatomy.

This action would catapult the villagers out of the recliners and send them running for the exits all while gagging uncontrollably. The noise would finally disturb sleeping beauty and he would groggily raise his head and look around for whoever was disturbing his siesta. He would soon discover it was his own back end and then look at it like it was some alien being he had never seen before.

On top of all the gastric nonsense he had a deep seated hatred for exactly three things. Postmen, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Women. Yes, our dog was a confirmed misogynist. This worked out well for everyone in the Ark except your truly who happened to be of the female persuasion. For all the boys, including the four-year-old, he was perfectly behaved. I on the other hand was viewed as a lower life form. For me he wouldn't mind, ran away every chance he got, snapped at me when I would try to take him out, and tried to run me down out in the yard. As for the other two groups I mentioned, look out. He acted as if they were a threat to the survival of his species on the planet and he was going to do everything possible to eradicate them.

This all kept up until I finally had my fill. With a new baby girl on the way, I knew it was not going to be a safe circumstance for her to come home to. I then had to do one of the worst things a mom can do. I decided to get rid of the dog.

Let's just say between the puppy dog eyes and the tears, and that was just from my brothers, it was a miserable experience. Happily I found him a nice home out in the country (and no that's not code for the pound) where he could be as gassy as he wanted and nary a woman or JW was to be found. Still, on the scale of mean mom things I never thought I would do, that one tops the list.

That was long ago and since then our family has grown in children and seen brothers move out. Much later we adopted another black lab named Zoe. Thankfully the traits that Newby showed are not genetically inherent in all of that breed. Zoe is a protector, a nanny, a playmate, a best friend, and an important member of our family.

Looking back I'm not sure what I would have done differently with Newby. Hopefully we learned as a family that before taking in strays we had better make sure that we could do it safely and well. It's easy to jump into things with your heart and ignore your head. It seems that is one of the real challenges in life, to do your best to help the downtrodden and abandoned but judge when that means bringing them into your home or maybe sending them on to other resources.

Anyway, Newby contentedly ate rocks the rest of his days in a place that made him happy. And I never had to see a three-times eaten sock again.



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