December 31, 2012

Thoughts on Christmas messes and a houseful of kids

The kids are on a field trip and Scott is at work, leaving me alone in the house for the first time in weeks.  I had to step over clothes, shoes, backpacks and other belongings to get to the computer.  With so many kids here temporarily, one sleeping on a bean bag, others in beds and occasionally a couch, we are messier than usual.  Trevor brought us a nasty head/chest cold from San Diego which we have almost all shared, Scott and Spencer holding out for now.   I'm feeling it today, achy and tired, so much so that I haven't fussed over the mess for a few days now.  Of course we always take Sunday off, but usually I use Monday to tidy the place up.  It's pretty bad here today.  And I just don't have the 'oomph' today to clean it up. 

Nonetheless, I've enjoyed another Christmas with my family around me.  I realize that I won't always have each of my kids here for the holidays.  It took some heroics to get them here this year, in the form of 4 really expensive tickets!  When they are married and living in foreign countries, bringing them home, assuming they even WANT to come home anymore, might be out of our budget.  Funny that I used to budget for Christmas gifts, now I budget for tickets instead.  I just want them around me.  And they don't seem to mind fewer gifts this year.

The mess is worth it because these kids are fun to be around.  I used to grouse because it seemed like as soon as the kids were 'civilized,' they left home.  Once cured of slurping their sodas, leaving wet towels on the floor or burping at the table, they're out on their own.  I guess the goal is to make home a place where they want to return.  And amazingly, the kids are helping make our home inviting.

Even though the illness going around could be blamed for bad behaviors, everyone has been so good to each other.  They have kept each other laughing with family jokes, smoothed ruffled feathers quickly and pitched in with the dishes.  They have begged to play board games and gone outside to team up for some basketball.  They have babysat the babies so Shellie could get errands done. They've fallen asleep holding baby Scotty and read books to Clark.  They've chased each other through the house swinging Nerf swords or shooting Nerf darts at each other.  They've bit their tongue when tempers have flared instead of adding to the problem.  The higher noise level has been welcome, familiar and right.  Just like when they all were little and living here permanently.

I will really miss these kids.  Thankfully I have three kids still at home, still burping at the table, leaving their wet towels on the floor and slurping their food.  I have 8 more Christmases ahead until the youngest will be gone.  I will treasure these Christmases and hope to gather as many of them back to share the season with me and Scott each year.

So I'll step over the mess and watch for the car coming up the driveway.  The kids are coming home and we have a fun dinner planned for tonight.  I can easily get the house back in order when they're gone back to college in a few short days.  

Investing in my 7 kids all these years sure makes me grateful to have them around me for Christmas.  But more so, I can't imagine life without these kids.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I know that these kids will be mine forever.  With my husband, we are sealed together through temple covenants that bind us in heaven, as well as here on earth.  That is the greatest gift I could ask for!  

December 19, 2012

Our Adventure With Holiday Reunions

Important items-- my gas stove, land line phone, assorted candles.

Although I had planned to tell a different story today, after what happened yesterday, I changed my mind.  So there is no hero in today’s story, no exhibitions of courage or valor.  Just a story that shows that sometimes life is stranger than fiction.  And that God hears and answers our prayers.  I guess that makes God the hero!

Yesterday, a week before Christmas, we were looking forward to the BYU (Brigham Young University) student kids returning home for the holidays.  They were waiting at the airport for my husband Scott to collect them after he finished work.  I had my grandsons over, a 2 year old in diapers and a 4 year old.  And my friend was here with her daughter and another girl to run in our neighborhood with my daughter Paige, all teenagers.  

As I visited with my friend, the lights went out, followed by a loud pop.  Being about 6 pm, dusk was just coming on.  Thinking that the ‘pop’ indicated something serious, I started gathering up our candles to prepare for the darkness.  Fortunately, I had just pulled out two loaves of wheat bread I had baked, and a pot of soup was bubbling on our gas stove.  Dinner:  check.  

The grand kids were running around outside with my two sons, oblivious to the coming darkness.  The four year old came in shortly thereafter, wet.  He had been too busy enjoying the day to come in and use the potty.  In my daughter’s haste to get to her errands, she had not left me a bag of spare clothes or even diapers for her younger son.  I grabbed the last diaper I had tucked away and put it on the 4 year old.   We had no suitable underwear for him; we found a pair of jeans shorts size 8 which we clipped with a large paperclip to hold them on.  But that meant we wouldn’t have a spare diaper for the 2 year old.  All of the kids came inside as darkness closed in.  

My friend and the girls left, only to return a few minutes later.  A tree had fallen across the road, taking power lines down, which lay across the road.  The ‘pop’ now made sense.  It was the sound of the tree landing in the street.  Fortunately, no one had been hurt.  By now it was dark, but the house glowed as the fireplace blazed and candles flickered in groups.  We had only one good flashlight.  For some unexplained reason, we still can never find any even though I buy them for each camp out my son goes on.  The trick now was to keep the grand kids safe, as they gravitated to the candles and wanted to play with them.  It didn’t help to have my 10  and 17 year old pyromaniac sons facing the same temptations.  Gratefully, none of the kids, including the grand kids were afraid. 

I pulled out our fun game, “The Worst Case Scenario,” and handed it to the teenagers.  It was too dark to really play it by candlelight, but it did make for fun conversation!  

My BYU kids thought I was kidding when I texted them about the predicament we were experiencing.  Spencer texted back asking if the pool was on fire.  I guess last year’s shenanigans teasing him that they had lost his girlfriend in the airport undermined my reliability!  They sobered up when they saw the flashing lights of the police cars blocking the road into our subdivision.  We made arrangements for my husband and kids to switch cars with my friend and the girls, thinking they could walk past the road block to make the switch. 

I was so happy to see those BYU kids walk into the kitchen, in the flickering candle light!   Chaos ensued in the excitement and hugs, but we calmed the group down to have dinner.  Our lentil soup kept cooking on that gas stove in spite of the power outage.  Geoffrey used candle heat to melt the butter on his homemade bread.  I told you they were pyromaniacs! 

Now we had to figure out how to get the grandsons home.  To top it off, my husband (a Stake President in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was releasing a returning Missionary in an hour.  The plan had been for her family to meet at our house.  That was impossible now.  We tried to take care of both returning the grandsons and releasing the missionary at the same time.  We arranged to drive a car to the roadblock and walk the grand kids to my son-in-law, who would meet us there.  But they were in sad shape.  The 2 year old had a ripe diaper, the 4 year old was in clipped together shorts, neither one had socks (lost in the mayhem) or coats.  With the sunset, the temperature had dropped into the 40’s.  We wrapped them in fleece blankets to keep them warm.  My two BYU daughters carried them like giant gifts.  Scott had dug up a second flashlight: they came in handy now.  Parking as close to the roadblock, they used the flashlights to walk past the emergency and reunite the boys with their daddy.  The girls would stay with my daughter’s family for the night.

My son in law took Scott to the returning missionaries’ home, where Scott extended the honorable release.  The family brought him back to the roadblock, where he crossed and took the parked car back home.  Scott got home about 10:30 pm.  The power came on about an hour later.     

Although we had anticipated a completely different reunion with our BYU students for the holidays, this one was still sweet.  Our prayers for their safety arriving home had been answered.  I would never have put this series of events together in my wildest dreams for how they would arrive!  The truth simply was stranger than fiction!  But they came safely home, all was well.  

Today dawned like many others—bright, crisp and clear, as if nothing had happened yesterday different than the day before.  But I was grateful, more than usually, for electricity, for preparedness training within our church, and for the safe reunions that occurred.  Our friends made it home, our BYU kids and my husband made it home, and our grandsons got home too.  

I’m sure you agree that I can’t really derive any heroes from this, unless we count God as our hero!  He heard our prayers and answered them, in spite of the road closure and electricity issues going on.  And perhaps we can take some preparedness lessons from it:  we need to have extra diapers and clothes around for our grand kids!   And a few more flashlights that work.

December 12, 2012

Against All Odds, Red Pollard Made Seabiscuit Into a Winner

I usually ask my kids about heroes weekly.  Some weeks it's really hard to identify a good hero to write about.  With Christmas so close, heroes haven't been on my radar lately.  As I asked this question on Monday, my 10 year old son immediately responded 'Red Pollard.'  I asked him to allow me to type up his hero story, if I typed while he dictated.  This is a bit brief because he was anxious to get on to his next activity.  

"This is Geoffrey.  I just read a book called “Seabiscuit.”  There is one person in this story who was really inspirational.  His name was Red Pollard.

"Red was the jockey of Seabiscuit.  That means he rode the horse in the races.  What was inspirational to me was that he was severely injured in one of his races.  It was not a surprise; many jockeys became wounded in their races.  One jockey was trampled under by horses and his heart had stopped—he barely survived when the doctor pumped adrenaline into his heart to make it beat again.  The injury that affected Red was that he was rammed against the rail and his lower leg was stripped to the bone.  He had to exercise his muscles because part of his muscle was just ripped away.  He was in the hospital for weeks and no one expected him to recover to even be able to walk.  They really didn’t expect him to get on a horse for the rest of his life. 

"He recovered slowly and then he made a comeback and rode Seabiscuit to a glorious victory in the Santa Anita Handicap race, or the Hundred-Grander.  He helped Seabiscuit become famous and proved that Seabiscuit was the best racing horse in the world."

Illustration by Geoffrey

That's a really good summary of why Red could be considered a hero.  But I wanted to add a few important details that Geoffrey didn’t share. I also read the book and I see a few more insights into this interesting man.

Red came from a really poor family in Alberta Canada.  He helped out by delivering goods to his neighbors by pulling a toboggan behind his horse ‘Forest Dawn.’   He dreamed of being a Jockey and racing fast horses.  He left home to find his way in life when he was only 15 years old.  His protective parents let him leave home in the care of an adult guardian, but they were separated almost immediately after they left his family.  He scrounged for food and slept in horse stalls because he had always felt comfortable around horses.  Horses were comfortable around Red, a gift that made Red a natural horse trainer.  

At 5 foot 7 inches tall, Red was too tall to be a Jockey, but he still managed to race poor performing horses in obscure races.  He moved all over the United States to be a part of the sport of Horse racing:  Summers in Canada, Fall and Spring in California and Winter in Mexico.  He enjoyed caring for Jockey’s horses and racing when he could talk his way onto a horse.  Red rarely won a race; he was usually on a losing horse.  But he could manage the troubled horses, a gift that helped him make his way onto Seabiscuit’s saddle.  Red was so kind with the troubled horses that they would repay him by running fast.  No other Jockeys could coax speed out of some of the worst of them.

As Geoffrey said, Jockeys suffered terrible injuries as they hurtled down the track on the back of a horse.  In one early accident, Red lost the sight in one of his eyes, which ruined his depth perception.  That made it even harder for him to be a Jockey, as he couldn’t see on that side or how close the rails or the other racing horses were to him.  That didn’t deter him; he kept this to himself and did his best with one eye.  

For years, Red raced horses, losing most races.  During the depression, he and his manager finally hit bottom.  They were both broke and homeless.  Arriving at the Detroit Fairgrounds in Michigan, they bumped into Seabiscuit and his Trainer.  Seabiscuit was a troubled horse, but he was fast.  Within minutes of their meeting, the horse warmed up to Red’s kindness and Red was hired ride Seabiscuit as his Jockey.  

Suddenly Red was winning races on this fast horse, shaking up the racing scene.  But Red also continued to experience accidents and injuries that sidelined him for months at a time.  Geoffrey described the one that ruined his leg in 1938 and kept him off Seabiscuit for years.  But Red worked hard to regain his ability to race, coming back in 1940 and rode Seabiscuit to victory in the Santa Anita Handicap.

His long term hospitalization brought him a blessed side effect:  he found his sweetheart.  Red and his longtime nurse fell in love and married and raised 2 children together.  They spent 40 happy years together.  What was a setback was really a blessing.

Red wasn’t the right size to be a Jockey, and he had no depth perception due to his blindness in one eye, and his serious injuries should have kept him from ever racing horses.  But he was determined to ride a horse to victory in a major horse race.  His experiences riding the troubled, losing horses developed the kindness in him to win over Seabiscuit, the fastest temperamental horse of his day.  Red and Seabiscuit, a winning combination, made history.

Red Pollard's story teaches us that we can do really amazing things with the right combination of determination, hard work and opportunities. 

“Biography:  Red Pollard.”  American Experience.  n. pag. web. 11 Dec 2011.  Found at

Hillenbrand, Laura.  Seabiscuit:  An American Legend. 2002: Ballantine Books New York.  Print.

Photo courtesy Seabiscuit Heritage Foundation, Copyright Expired.  

December 6, 2012

The First American Hero-- Abraham Lincoln

I want to link to a wonderful article in the Los Angeles Times about Abraham Lincoln.  All Americans should know of his humble beginnings in Kentucky and his ascent to the most powerful man on earth as President of the United States of America.  After seeing the newest movie about Lincoln by Steven Spielberg, I am more impressed with this amazing man.  I feel as though God placed him here at the right time and place to rescue our country from dissolution.

This article written by Christopher Farnsworth really explains how American's revere President Lincoln and why.  It's entertaining and yet makes the correct point that Lincoln did amazing seemingly super-human things.  Perhaps he truly was guided by God.

Abraham Lincoln, America's First Superhero?

Photo dated November 1863 Courtesy Wikipedia Commons, Copyright Expired.  

Mary Ann West’s Short Life Manifested The Power of God.

By Melanie Jensen Johnson
Little Mary Ann Young West didn’t live long.  The three and a half years she lived were long enough to allow Heavenly Father to ‘manifest His works through her.’ 

Mary Ann was born in London, England in 1860, 10 years after her parents joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  For those 10 years, her parents Charles Henry John and Eliza West  worked hard and saved money in order to immigrate to America and join with the Saints.  To spur them on, they sent two of their daughters to America with another family in 1861. 

The girls made it safely to Salt Lake City, to the great relief of their family back in London. Borrowing from the Perpetual Immigration Fund, and with a bonus from Charles’ boss, they left for America. 
As Eliza paid the final emigration money to the agent, he made a promise to Eliza.  He knew of the sacrifices the family had made to emigrate.  He declared, “All of your family will arrive safely in Zion and not one of you will die on the way.”  This statement reassured the family.

Mary Ann would have been too young to remember much of the rough voyage across the sea.  They encountered rough winds most of the trip.  Mother Eliza experienced sea sickness so severely that father Charles ended up preparing all of the meals until they landed in New York harbor.  But little Mary Ann probably enjoyed the time to play with her siblings.

Arriving by rail and steamboat in Florence, Nebraska, the family gathered up their wagon and provisions with the other pioneers in the company.  The plains were so different from London, and their trip was adventurous.  Camping each night, walking all day, the family did their best to stay cheerful as they anticipated seeing their 2 girls in Utah.  Wood was scarce along the wagon trail.  Eliza and her daughters would gather up dried buffalo chips in their skirts for use in cooking dinner each night. 

Young Mary Ann was probably spared this chore, as she struggled with illness since disembarking from the ship.  She probably rode in the wagon while the others walked.  Charles wrote of an answer to prayer in her behalf. 
“Our little daughter Mary Ann Young West was sick more or less while crossing the plains.  Her appetite failing her, I thought I would go to the riverside, being near one, and get a fish.  I knew it would do her good.  The river being very low and leaving small puddles of water, I would try and chase the fish by my hands into shallow water, and so catch one.  I did not succeed in getting any.  I then and there prayed to God that I might get some if it was only one.  I was about to leave to catch up with the wagon train when a man came along with a string of fish and offered me one.  My prayer being answered, I went along rejoicing.”

The family made up their minds to be cheerful no matter what.  Charles wrote,
“We had made up our minds to enjoy the trip without grumbling and found it the best way, we had a few grumblers in the camp.  We had to wade up to our breasts some rivers we had to go through, if the current was very strong we would hold hands.  I would sometimes have a child in one arm and holding on to another.  If we got wet we would let our clothes dry on so we would not take cold.  We would average in traveling 20-30 miles each day.  Sometimes we had to travel by night in order to get to good camping ground.”

The family reached Salt Lake on 4 October 1863.  The family was thrilled to attend their first General Conference taking place that week.  But they were more exited to reunite with their girls who were living in Provo.  Within a few days, they reached their daughters and settled in the area.

As promised, no one in their family had lost their lives in the journey.  But Mary Ann wasn’t well.  Her condition worsened and she died a few weeks later on 22 October 1863 in Provo, Utah.   The family had gone to bed early to save the few candles the family possessed.  During the night, she awoke and tried to get out of bed.  Charles encouraged her to go back to sleep.  Reluctantly, she settled down to sleep again.  But first, she called each family member by name and bid them a goodnight.  She died in her father’s arms in the night.

The distraught family found no comfort among their new neighbors in Provo.  Neighbors stayed away from the new family, assuming that the illness that killed Mary Ann was communicable.  No service was held to remember or honor her, and if any had, no one would have attended.  Bishop Miller lent his buggy and horse to carry her rough coffin to the Provo cemetery.  Gloom filled each member of the tired pioneer family.  But again God had His eye on this family.

Charles wrote, “We had done the best we could and did not feel like murmuring.  Yet the loss of our daughter sent a gloom that seemed more than we could bear—What had we done, we reflected, that our child should be taken from us?  What sin had we committed?”  The sad family pondered these things deeply when a remarkable experience occurred.  Charles recalled,
“A tall gentleman came in without knocking.  He sat down on the only chair we had and commenced comforting us in our trouble and blessed us.  He was with us about one half to three quarters of an hour.  During the time we both felt a heavenly influence, and all our troubles ceased and we felt happy.  When he left he stepped backwards toward the door, opened it and went out.  I followed him directly after but could see nothing of him.  He was very grey and his beard came down to his chest.”

The next day, while thanking Bishop Miller for sending this kind man to their home, Charles was surprised to hear that Bishop Miller had no knowledge of him.  Bishop Miller declared, “Brother West, we have no such teacher as you describe.  You have been blessed with the visitation of one of the Nephites that was to remain on earth.”

Whether it was one of the Three Nephites, an Angel, or a divinely prompted Latter-day Saint neighbor, Heavenly Father sent someone to comfort and bless the grieving family. 

Little Pioneer Mary Ann Young West may not have contributed much in the few years she lived.  But her illness prompted the faithful family to seek divine help in her behalf.  And her death plunged her family into the depths of grief, alone in a new country to suffer such sadness to need divine comfort.  These entreaties resulted in the miracles showing the power and love of God for Mary Ann and her loving family. 

Disclaimer:  This story was written in good faith using the resources available to the author at the time it was written.  She is solely responsible for this content.  

Works Cited

"A Short Biography of Charles Henry John West." 1 Feb 2013. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 1 Feb 2013. .

Lewis, Hazel West. "Charles Henry John West, A Man of Faith and Integrity." 1 Feb 2013. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 1 Feb 2013. .

Olsen, Kevin V. The Story of the West Family. n.d. http:free-web-design-promotion/west10090/thewestfamily.doc. 12 Dec 2012. .

West, Charles Henry John. "A Letter from CHJ West to Thomas Charles West, July 12, 1893." 1 Feb 2013. Saints, Witches and Murderers. 1 Feb 2013. .

—. "Charles Henry John West-- journal." 5 June 2010. Our Book of Remembrance. 1 Feb 2013. .

Wheelwright, Shauna. They Came Before Us. 3 Feb 2011. 1 Feb 2013. .