Saturday, September 5, 2015

A Letter to My Blogging Novice Self on the Occasion of 100,000 Page Views

It has been almost a year since my last blog post. There are very good reasons for that, that I don't wish to share here, but I thought today deserved a closing chapter. I noticed that, as of this hour, there have been 100,438 views of my blog since I started it on August 6, 2007. I am surprised and pleased about that amount but also realistic. My writing has improved over the course of my posts, but I'm pretty sure that isn't the reason there are over 100,000 views. My experience in Qatar has a lot to do with most of the hits on some of my entries. It was an interesting adventure living in the Middle East and writing about my interactions with a first ever (and probably last) expat assignment. I've often been good at noticing the subtle ironies of a situation, so Doha was this observer's dream. I found a lot of writing material, and as I look at the stats of my posts, those are definitely the ones capturing the most attention.

But I certainly didn't start my blog so I could write about the up-and-coming star of the Middle East, Qatar. If someone would have told me that day that in a year's time I would be recording my thoughts on smelly camels, crazy drivers, and the plight of the immigrant work force in the tiny country of Qatar, I would have said they were speaking of impossibilities, but that is exactly what happened.

Before that though, I wanted to awaken my long ago writing skills of my college days. My blog began with a desire to write again and have some small audience to speak to. I wanted to express my voice in a way I seldom have the opportunity to do in a verbal setting. Thank you to those of you who have been reading from the beginning. You are kind and have such brilliant taste about what you spend your time with! ;)

So to commemorate this writing adventure and those readers who have carved out time to validate my offerings, I would like to sum up some of the learning that has taken place in my heart, as well as my head as I have blogged. If I could go back and speak to myself on that blog kick-off day, I would have a lot of advice, a lot of warnings, and a lot of compassion for the internet novice I was.

That was then . . . . 

Dear Dianna,

Your excitement in starting this writing adventure is well-placed and worthwhile. Make sure you enjoy every minute of putting your thoughts out there on the internet, and make sure you have something worth reading about. Here are some points to ponder, wisdom of a seasoned blogger, that you might want to consider each time you sit down to post.

1. Publishing your writing comes with risks.

2. Writing creates decisions, opinions, and passions in a writer AND in a reader. They are necessary and important on both sides, but not always embraced, understood, or praised by the readers who are removed and hidden by the invisible internet curtain. Blog writing is a performance of one that captures a few moments of clarity and insight but prolongs or even denies the inevitable audience reaction in a painfully tormenting way at times. And the reactions are not always universal applause.

3. Just like a wailing baby's cry in a movie theater can disrupt a contented, thoroughly entertained audience, a strident writing piece (or any piece for that matter) can disturb tranquil reader/writer relationships and cause discord that often can't be harmonized ever again. Retractions are part of a writer's job and can smooth some flustered feathers so forgiveness can be forthcoming. So you might want to consider keeping some of those powerful posts to yourself - posts that speak truth and ahh-ha moments to your own soul but are misunderstood and used as relationship walls for others. That is why on this blog wrap-up day you will have many writing revelations in cold storage.

4. Even though one of the purposes of your blog is to allow others to know you better, they might not be ready for that all at once. Just like you often say awkward things in social situations, some of your blog pieces will make readers uncomfortable. That's okay though. Make sure you include humorous, life-flavored pieces more often than the internal dialogue ones. Let your readers see your lighter side. They might not understand that either, but at least you will be developing your different writing voices.

5. The risks are worth it, so get writing, and always remember your audience.

I've now come to a phase in my life where I need less of an audience and more of an internal coach who can be kind and gentle to my aging self. Opening up on the internet brought me a lot of joy, but now it is time to find other joys that are not so public, joys that are more bittersweet and more precious than my writing skills can describe.

. . . this is now.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Internet Quiz I Haven't Seen Yet

If you have been on Facebook recently you might have been tempted to take an online quiz, you know that silly link one of your friends fell victim to and proudly posted their score from to their timeline. These quizzes can give you a plethora of "valuable" insight into your personality, secret desires, and hidden tendencies. You might want to determine which Pride and Prejudice character you are most like, how old you really are at heart, which religion you should belong to, which country you should live in, or even better, what your I.Q. is. And the best part of these quizzes is that you can get results after a few tedious minutes and answering only about six to ten questions! If that isn't handy, I don't know what is.

Since my experience with taking these random quizzes is somewhat limited, I did a little research. BuzzFeed has quite an impressive line up of ways to make yourself delve into the hidden recesses of your personality, habits, and long lost (probably on purpose) useless knowledge. If you visit this site, be prepared to jump into finding out how kinky you really are (don't follow this link unless you really want to know - ewww), how introverted you are, how well you know the animal kingdom, where you should have your Disney themed wedding take place, and even if you really exist. The possibilities for self discovery seem to be endless! Note that I have only listed some of the quizzes I actually understood. There were plenty that might as well have been written in another language. That is how up-to-date I am NOT. For example, the quiz called "What Completely Random Jaden Smith Tweet Best Represents Your Soul" was waaaaaay over my head and waaaaay under my age group.

As part of my research, I took a quiz called "The Hardest SNL Quiz You Will Ever Take"; and yes, it was the hardest one I've ever taken, because I've never taken one before. I scored a sorry 7 out of 20, so I guess that definitely proves that I am not a Saturday Night Live expert by any means, and my infrequent late night watching in the 70s was poor preparation. I declined taking the quiz called "How Well Do You Know Fractions" because, well, I actually already know the results of that one - not well at all.

The one internet quiz that I haven't seen displayed on my Facebook news feed yet is the "How Much Time and Brain Cells Are You Wasting By Taking Internet Quizzes?" one. I am totally guilty of wasting time on the internet, especially with Facebook, but I am going to have to draw the line on these quizzes people! The few times I have succumbed to boredom and indulged in an internet quiz here and there have been very unsatisfying and even destructive at times. The self-esteem damage that has been done is shameful when my score is lower than yours, and of course I don't ever post my results. Since when did we need an internet quiz to tell us how creative, bossy, or decisive we are?! I can't even decide which Disney princess I would want on my spy team, let alone which style of dog house fits with my pet's personality best. Isn't that what Pinterest is for?

You know, these so-called "quiz writers" don't bother to include their credentials with their scam exams, so I don't think we need to look to these assessments as the final word on our God given gifts. I don't want just any old internet person to know what kind of Mac 'N' Cheese I should be eating right now, so privacy could also be an issue. And then there's the fact that I've never been a good competitor; I am more of the group hostess type who makes sure everyone feels welcome and validated while they are taking the quiz.  And besides that, how does one study for such quizzes? They just appear in my news feed without warning. Am I supposed to shut down everything and cram for the test on Project Runway All Stars? Whew, that is just too much pressure, so I'm just letting you all know that I will be opting out of this semi secret competition that very well could be destroying lives everywhere and forcing people to confront their pop culture stupidity. I am going to have to say no to the late night study sessions for the Elizabeth Taylor 101 quiz and my Brangelina IQ assessment. Besides, I have so many good books to read and such a small amount of time. I think I will just get back to my careful reading of The Rent Collector now . . . you know . . . so I can check to see if there is an online quiz on it that I can ace.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


I first saw Baylee through a dirty window at the villa in Qatar where our church services were held. Her yellow eyes connected with mine and I instantly knew we had a future together. When I tried to coax her toward me, she rubbed her thin white body against my leg, but was gone before I could return the affection. I thought maybe I had imagined the connection with this stray kitty, but when my friend told me that she and her family had rescued this orphan cat, and that they couldn't keep her because of her daughter's allergies, I knew I had to officially meet her.

She was all kindness and cuddles when we were introduced. Her fur felt like whispered feathers as I stroked her in my lap, and she looked at me with hesitant expectation. She soon joined our family and was "welcomed" by our menagerie of pets. We named her Baylee Boo because she was as white as a ghost and hid like one too. I spent a lot of time trying to ease her into her new life with us, but just as she was getting somewhat relaxed and settled in, off she went to the vet to get spayed. Her stay at the vet forced a case of kennel cough on her and forced me to be nursemaid. I quickly learned that our pure white angel cat was not as sweet as I had thought. She bit through my thumbnail when I tried to get her to swallow her much needed medicine. Even after another trip to the vet where I was tutored by an "expert" on how to dose this cat, it was clear that no one, not the vet, not I the self-proclaimed "Cat Whisperer", was going to tame this sad kitty.

I tried to tell myself that Baylee was damaged from a tortured past of terrible owners, breeders, or children. I tried to LOVE her into being a secure, happy pet, but nothing worked, and I mean nothing. Demons from the past seemed to haunt her and keep her from completely trusting me. I still remember the day that I realized I had failed. After working with Baylee for over a year, and constantly reassuring her that she was safe, loved, and at home, while trying to brush her, she clawed and bit me so desperately I knew that we were going to have to call a truce. She wasn't going to be the lap cat I wanted her to be. Her appearance signaled everyone who saw her that she was angelic and warm. Even her initial meeting of strangers was all sweet and friendly, but then in a schizophrenic snap, she would turn into a devil.

So I went to my corner and she went to hers. She eventually accepted a little love and cuddles from Brett early in the mornings when he would get ready for work, but even on those occasions, she would have a quick change of personality, ending the love fest as quickly as it started. Even though Baylee adjusted to life with us, her wanderlust never went away. Whenever the front door opened, she was there in a flash, ready to run for freedom. No matter how many times she left our comfortably air-conditioned villa and suffered from hunger, thirst, and heat, she would gain her strength back only to try to run again.

When we came home from Qatar in 2012, Baylee made the long trip with us and became an official American cat. She endured the long 28 hour flight and seemed to adapt well to yet another new environment. But she couldn't stay away from the door! The world outside seemed even more inviting to her with all the green grass, plentiful trees, and outdoor sounds. After being home for about a month, Baylee slipped out the front door when company came and we couldn't find her anywhere. We called for her, walking the neighborhood with sad footsteps. We put up signs with her beautiful picture and hoped someone would call. We visited the animal shelter to make sure she wasn't stuck in the corner of some smelly cage, scared to death. She wasn't there, but we left our information with those in charge and it paid off. It was about three weeks later that a neighbor called us and said that she had a white cat who was hanging out in her window well. It was Baylee. She was all skin and bones when we got her home, but she had survived three long weeks on her own AND in the middle of fireworks July. She didn't go near the door for at least a month after that little "vacation", but the door still held her captive. Last night she slipped out undetected yet again, for the last time.

Brett found Baylee this morning on our front parking strip, stiff and cold, the victim of an apparent collision with an unforgiving car. It broke my heart to watch as Brett picked her up and carried her home once more. Even though she and I had kept a wide berth over the last few years, she was family and I knew her heart. Fighting and running had saved her life time and time again, but now she was finally enjoying peace that she had never known before; the peace only heaven can bring. We will miss the playful, beautiful Baylee who reluctantly became part of our family and taught us how to love no matter what. Enjoy those extra birdies and bugs up there, Bay Bay. We will always love you.

After her July "vacation" she was thin and dirty but surprisingly grateful to be home. Her gratitude was even vocal as she ate her food.

Abbey wrote this poem today:

The white cat was her name.
She never skipped a beat
or let a hand be unplayed with.

She started with a yawn,
and ended with a silent bow
that only other creatures can understand.

Living a life of running,
May her paws be rested and well,
That she will chase and jump
At those birds that
Her sisters had scampered after.

Oh white cat,
May you swat and play with the big man's hand
And brush against angels' feet,
For you can be kind to all.

When the wind rises,
And the snowflakes fall,
May you be in our spirits,
And prance through the snow.
And you my dear white cat,
Will conquer all.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Little Poetry Today

Alternate Plumage

The flit of a bird caught my eye this morning
As I soaked in the late winter sunshine
at my kitchen window.

The tiniest of sparrows sat perched on the wood rail of my deck,
And turned his head this way and that - in an instinctual effort
To protect,
To defend
His quick heartbeat and delicately feathered existence.

Balancing there he revealed a slice of orange trailing down his back -
A secret something for my human eyes of appreciation,
But more likely for the lady birds who might come to call.

Had it been a dangerous winter for him and his aviarial crowd?
Was it time to escort springtime out into the crisp March embrace?
Were the worms waking for ravenous beaks to gather?

Or was the ground still frozen with hard hearted indifference,
Forcing my little bird to beg for the crumbs of a stranger?

The questions crowded my head for this little one in my gaze.
Ah, questions.
Maybe he didn't have any.
Of course he didn't!
His hidden tangerine tartan
Gave him all the answers he needed.
His destiny was to trust, and
Allow himself to be encircled
In the arms of safety,
Ready for the promise of warmer days and
Delicious delicacies in the bug section of his
Outdoor grocery store.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Women and the Priesthood

If you are on social media these days you have probably seen a lot of links to blog posts, newspaper articles, and various statements about LDS women and the Priesthood. Women have been using the priesthood inside and outside of the temple for years and years. I feel like I use the Priesthood on a daily basis. It is so sad to me that women feel "less than" and unfulfilled if they are not the ones at the pulpit conducting Sacrament Meeting or laying hands on the head of their child to give a blessing. Because I am an endowed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am accessing Priesthood power when I gather my family to pray, to search the scriptures, or to have Family Night. I am activating Priesthood power when I use the knowledge and blessings I received in the temple to manage and direct my career. I am blessed with priesthood power when I make decisions with the help of the Holy Ghost and the strength of my temple covenants. I have been blessed with Priesthood power when I have prayed at the bedside of my child when she was suffering from a terrible illness. I have been able to call down heaven's power with my relationships, profession, and family crises. Our church has been organized by our Heavenly Father and He has inspired both men and women to be a part of its infancy. Now He inspires them in the church's modern day.

I have been directed and guided in every church calling I have ever had because I recognized and utilized the gift of the Holy Ghost and my endowment in the temple. No, I didn't lay my hands on the heads of my primary class members and administer blessings on them or anoint my visiting teaching sisters with consecrated oil because there is a cultural, ecclesiastical, and even a divine decision in our religious organization that assigns men this more public responsibility. I realize that this is the part that many women are unhappy with, but truly, I have learned in my 50 years that whenever I have sought out a responsibility or calling because it will give me more public acknowledgement, I know those have been the times when my motivations have been skewed and selfish. I'm so sorry that some women in our church today don't realize the priesthood power that they already have and use on a daily basis. The covenants we make in the temple and the astounding blessings that are pronounced on our heads are powerful and life changing if we can but see them for what they truly are: eternal blessings from a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to see our potential so we can fulfill that potential. I know that there are women who feel like they are being held down from being fulfilled because they are not allowed to use Priesthood power in a public forum, but my experience has taught me that this is Satan's whispered lies that confuse and degrade the strength of women on this earth. Satan would have us think that everything must be the same for men and women so that we can be truly fulfilled, but my time on this earth has taught me that "equal" is a term that is thrown around in this world to suggest scarcity and lack. I know that the Lord wants each of His children to have the earthly experience that she needs to learn and grow in order to return to our heavenly home and heavenly parents.

Sadly, there are very imperfect men who sometimes use the Priesthood as an opportunity to exercise authority and power over others because they are in a public position. I have experienced this first hand. This is always a counterfeit of what the priesthood's purpose is. Its true purpose is to bind families together and bless the lives of others, and if that is being sacrificed for the more selfish purpose of bringing acclaim to an individual, then it is wrong. That is the very definition of what the Lord has called a "secret combination" or an "abomination". We usually think of a secret combination as a secret organization of wicked men, but looking closer at the purpose of the secret organization we can identify the root purpose as building up a handful of men to have all the power, all the acclaim, all the riches they can gather. Men who use the Priesthood power they have been given to set themselves up above others might be guilty of being an abomination in the sight of the Lord. An abomination is that which the Lord hates. He is not pleased with those of us who use the church, and especially His priesthood, for our own personal gain. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that our baptism is only the beginning of humility. If that is true then the temple endowment would be yet a continuation of our opportunities to be more humble and more selfless.

After reading this blog post, I felt like I needed to articulate some of my feelings about this important issue in the Mormon church. Yes, there are those who, because of their confusion and lack of gospel education, make embarrassing comparisons and statements about women and the Priesthood, but this should not be an invitation to mock the Lord's anointed or condemn leaders. It should be an invitation to teach and testify.

I hope that I haven't offended anyone by expressing my thoughts. I sorrow with anyone who feels left out, disenfranchised, or marginalized. If we had perfect people in the church's leadership roles we could probably expunge any actions that create this dissonance, but we don't. We have very flawed individuals who are usually doing what they think is best, and sometimes they get it right. At other times tender feelings are hurt and hearts are offended. But the Savior is aware of all of us and can soften hearts and bind wounds that seem beyond healing. He alone can conquer this for us.

You Know You Are the Bonus Baby of the Family and Have Oldish Parents When . . . .

. . . you're the designated reader when their glasses aren't handy.

. . . they're sacked out and snoring when you come home punctually before your curfew.

. . . your nieces and nephews' ages are closer to yours than your actual brother and sister's ages are.

. . . you're constantly having to "put words in your mom & dad's mouths" so they will finish their sentence before you nod off.

. . . you have to wake up your dad to have scripture study and family prayer each night at your bedtime.

. . . you develop a love/hate relationships with 70s & 80s music, especially Fleetwood Mac and Michael Jackson.

. . . you also develop a rare teenage ability to talk to adults confidently and challenge some of their conversation points in a respectful manner.

. . . you dine on take-out food instead of the "gourmet" mac and cheese your brother and sister endured.

. . . you attach yourself to your friends' big families and hang out with them as often as possible so you can be entertained by "annoying" little brothers and sisters who always want your attention (which you're happy to give), and as a result, you are the most in-demand babysitter in the neighborhood.

. . . you find yourself arguing with the dog over who is going to sit closest to mom during the movie.

. . . you have an extra sensitive sense about someone else's aches and pains and know the appropriate words of comfort and solace.

. . . your family dinner conversations consist of a lot of questions about doctor appointments, medications, sore feet, and retirement funds.

. . . you're the I.T. expert in your home.

. . . you hear the phrase "Oh, if only I could have some of your energy!" at least once a day.


. . . you are a blessing of strength, hope, and bubbling, joyful youth in your home where your parents can teach you in a more relaxed, less strict style because they have time to savor the last few years of their hands-on parenting time.

(We love you to eternity Abs!)

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Growing Time

When I left my first teaching job in Ogden, Utah for a closer-to-home job, the staff gave me a gift certificate from a local nursery so we could use it to help beautify our unfinished yard in our new home. I had a difficult time saying good bye to my colleagues at Mt. Ogden Middle School, and wanted to have a reminder of their love and support, so I asked Brett to pick out a beautiful blue spruce with the certificate. We planted this little tree in the corner of our back yard and watched it grow. Every time I looked out my window and saw the majestic symmetry of the small evergreen, my thoughts went back to those wonderful teachers and support staff who really showed me what my new teaching career was all about.

Here is a photo from May 2004, and you can see our little tree just over Abbey's shoulder. Unfortunately, this doesn't show the perfection that the tree started with because a winter storm had already broken off two delicate branches with heavy snow.

Our tree has grown quickly over the last fourteen years, and in spite of the harsh conditions of Utah summers, Utah winds, and the neglect it has endured, it stands today. But it is definitely a much different tree now.  When we first planted it, the blue spruce had a perfection about it that I was so proud of. If there had been a photo of the perfect evergreen in the dictionary, it would have been of my little tree. Even though it survived some of the big wind storms at the beginning, as it grew, our tree became more susceptible to the monstrous winds and winters of Bountiful, Utah.

I really noticed the toll our tree has taken when we came home last summer after living overseas for four years. The 2011 winter had brought a dangerous wind storm in December that tore down fences, flipped shingles everywhere, ripped trees out of the ground with their roots, and prompted a county wide disaster clean-up on a Sunday with church meetings being cancelled. We had to watch that storm, with its 100+ mph winds, play out on the internet in Qatar, and we prayed that we would still have a house standing when it was all over. Thankfully, our house had damage that could be repaired, but our precious tree in the corner had been unearthed. The photos our son sent to us showed the naked roots above ground that were as vulnerable as a compound fracture. The tormented tree lay prone on its side. The fence was gone too and made the tree all the more hopeless and exposed. The work of repair and clean-up would have to wait until summer when we could orchestrate the monumental task, so the leader of our back yard forest had to bide its time. I gave it up for kindling and prepared myself to watch it be chopped up and hauled away.

It is difficult to see in the photo, but this is one of the insurance photos that shows the fence gone and our tree laying on its side with the roots exposed. So sad!

When we finally returned to Utah in June 2012, standing next to my tree was even worse than looking at the insurance pictures, but remarkably the tree was still growing. I don't know how the spring had won over this hopeless cause, but life was definitely left in my Mt. Ogden memory tree. We didn't know what to do. If we tried to straighten the tree and replant the naked roots, would it die? What if we removed the exposed roots to make it look more "normal"? Would it survive the makeover?

Here you can see the exposed roots of the tree.

Well, sometimes there are too many decisions to be made, so some go ahead and make themselves. Our tree went ahead and kept growing while we kept working out the other issues. Maybe it was our way of letting nature repair itself or not wanting to face the inevitable demise of the tree. It wasn't my perfect tree anymore, but it was alive and it was thriving. There were new knobby starts on the ends of the branches. The exposed roots were settling into their new environment and standing firm. So the other repairs and decisions took priority.

When fall arrived, the growth of our tree was remarkable, and instead of growing in the horizontal direction that the top had been pushed to, there were inches and inches of growth shooting at a 90 degree angle for the vertical sunshine. This was one tenacious tree. I could only stand in awe and take pictures of something that would not be stopped or deterred from its mission - to grow.

So now our tree has survived yet another winter, and a harsh one at that with more snow than we have had for quite a few years. It isn't the perfect little tree we once planted, but its remarkable shape is inspiring and even more forcefully reminds me of those in my life who grow and bless others with their love in spite of their challenges. Our blue spruce continues to grow towards the heavens and believes it will brush up against the glories of God one day to be ushered into the forever forests of the next life. This brave tree has made me believe the same thing, and not only about my tree, but about myself and anyone else who keeps bracing themselves against the winds, worries, and disasters of this life and keeps growing towards the Son.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn Blessings

We are so happy, so peaceful about being home in Utah again after our four year adventure in Qatar.  We took some time today to enjoy the fall colors as we drove home from Provo via the Alpine Loop (which is where Robert Redford's Sundance is for all you non-locals).

It was so glorious to behold the beauty of autumn, and we were especially appreciative because we haven't seen the fall colors in person since 2007.  It was long overdue.  I marvel at what God has made for us to see.  Enjoy these beautiful shots, especially those of you in the Middle East who have been on a fall fast for awhile like we have.

 I think there is a hawk in the distance in this one.