Monday, January 31, 2011

"I Wanna Know Stuff"

Last Friday was a great day.  It was a great day for many reasons.  It began well.  It ended well.

I spent most of the day finalizing my manuscript, focussing on the reference list, dotting my i's and crossing my t's. Then I took the trip to the post office, one of the longest roads of my life.

Later, my husband and I headed up to Portland to cash in my Birthday present to him.  I had given tickets to see the comedian Brian Regan at the Schnitzer Auditorium. 

While in the car my husband asked me what I was going to do now that my manuscript was on its way.

Without too much hesitation I responded with "I am going to learn things".  I had already decided that my quest for knowledge would continue in the unconventional way it has up to now.

Imagine my surprise when a couple hours later nearly the same words came out of the mouth of the comedian.  Brian Regan plays upon his ability to come across rather buffoonish, and makes it very easy to laugh at his silliness. Frequently during his performance, in a very endearing way, he comments that he really wants to know stuff.

I'm glad.  I think we should all have the desire to learn more.  Most of us have adequate knowledge to get us through our every day, but imagine how great it would be to know more.  The only thing often holding us back is ourselves; well, ourselves and our laziness.

So won't you join me and my new friend, Brian Regan, as we set off to "know stuff"?  Sounds fun to me.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Second Part of the Journey

I have been on an incredible journey.  It began last year as I acted upon an itch to write a book. I received positive feedback from my blog readers and decided to pursue what had been a lifelong dream. After months of research and writing, I came up with a final draft and prepared it for submission to a publisher.

Yesterday was the day.  With butterflies in my stomach, and admittedly a few tears of relief in my eyes, I drove to the post office with my baby bundled in a brown envelope.
Thus begins the second part of my journey:  the road to publication.  I felt a need to give the "big boys" the first chance.  But I am encouraged that if they send it back I still have a few other options.  One way or another, this book will be published.  I feel strongly that it belongs in the hands of my posterity as something physical and tangible, something from Grandma Haws.

A long road lies ahead of me, one that will certainly be paved with doubt and frustration.  It would be easier to keep this process to myself, to hide the likely rejections, and discouragement.  But I do better when I find ways to be held accountable.  So don't be afraid to ask how this journey is going.  I am determined to see it through to the end. 

Life is too short for indecisiveness.  Life is too short to fail on follow-through.  So, here's to the next challenge.  Here's to the second part of the journey!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Nearly Missed a Rainbow

Years and years ago, I had a record album that I played on the portable record player in my bedroom.  It was a collection of music from Sesame Street.  Of course, "Rubber Ducky" was there, "Who are the People in Your Neighborhood" was there, and naturally, "It's Not Easy Being Green" was there.

But there was another song included that I don't think I ever heard sung on the television show, but it soon became one of my favorites.  I think the original Susan sang it; it was melodic, it was beautiful, it was meaningful to me. The song was called "Nearly Missed" and its message reminds us of the beautiful things we might miss if we fail to look up, to look around once in awhile.

During a recent trip to the coast, while enjoying a walk along the beach, I noticed a bunch of people with their backs to the ocean, all bent over and all intently studying the sand.  I can only make some broad assumptions that they were probably looking for something that would bring monetary rewards of some kind and they were indeed working hard.
My thoughts as I watched them turned to this song of my youth. Clearly they were so focussed on diligently making a living, on working hard, on being productive, that they were failing to notice the beauty of where they were.
Perhaps the real foolish one here was me.  What were they finding that had so much value, and why wasn't I with them seeking to cash in on the great find?

No.  I don't think so.  I had found the treasure I was looking for.  The coast is therapeutic to me.  Its raw beauty keeps me coming back for more.  The rhythm of the waves is hypnotic and the slower pace reminds me of the way I think God intended for us to live; to slow our heartrate down to meet His tempo; to find the inner peace that often gets pushed to the side, misplaced and forgotten in our rush, rush, rush everyday lives.

A trip to the coast isn't the only time to stop and look up occasionally.  I know in our own little corners of the world there is beauty to be had every day.  Sometimes just the contrast of a striking blue sky against the rooftops and the trees can be breathtaking. 

Work is important.  We should not be idle and expect others to attend to our needs.  But we can lift our noses from the grindstone occasionally.  I don't want you to miss the rainbows either.
While studying a brand new hole in my sneaker,
And finding a quarter and an old bus token,
I nearly missed a rainbow, I nearly missed a sunset,
 I nearly missed a shooting star going by....

As an aside, I looked this song up on Youtube (which always has everything, doesn't it?). Apparently in 1998 the song was dug up from the Sesame Street archives and redone as a hip-hop version with Rosie O'Donnell and Elmo. NOT the Same!! What a disappointment....

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Validation By Followers

Have you noticed that in the world of blogging there is a huge emphasis put on "followers"?

'Ooh, look how many followers she has!'

For some reason success or failure, happiness or discouragement, 'life or death' seems contingent on how many followers a blog has.

There are countless pleas out there on blog discussion groups:  "If you will follow me then I will follow you".  In other words, the numbers are stacked frequently by collusion and not necesssarily by sincere expression of approval or interest.  Mining for followers seems to be as much apart of blogging as actually coming up with ideas to write about.

I, myself, have stooped to the gathering process.  I have sent out invitations to unsuspecting friends, hoping that they will care enough to "follow" me.  I hope they realize that by following me, they are under absolutely no obligation to even check in on Ardith's Quest (though of course I hope they will).

So why do bloggers even care about their numbers?  Well, of course we all respond to curiosity and to persuasion.

 'Wow, this must be a good blog!  Look how many followers it has'

or 'I sure want to be in the popular crowd; it seems to be congregating here!'

Certainly if any money is to be made in the blogging world, the number of followers begins to hold more importance.  Large numbers naturally translate into clout, and clout leads to opportunity and reputability.

So every blogger must eventually ask themself:  Am I going to live or die by my numbers?

My answer (after much thought)?  No.  I am so flattered when someone shows a vote of support for me.  I love the validation I feel.  I recognize most of my followers probably felt backed into a corner to become my follower.  I'm sorry about that.  I hope they will continue to be interested. 

So if my humble numbers continue to climb a little?  Awesome!  Especially if they are harvested from genuine admirers; those are the best!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three Kinds of People

There seem to be three classifications of people in the world right now:  those that have no interest in joining the unique, albeit consuming world of facebook; those that were curious enough to see what it was all about, have signed up with a facebook account, but are hesitant to participate for one reason or another; and then there are those that have discovered the marvel of it all.

I fall into the last category.  I will admit to being apprehensive at first.  From what I had read, it was a college student craze but I was drawn to the relative protected nature of it.  Only those that I allowed would be able to see what I was up to.

After getting my feet wet, I have been drawn into this world of friends, particularly friends from long ago that seem not to have aged.  It becomes so easy to pick up in conversation as easily as if there weren't thousands of miles that separate us, nor decades that have passed since the last time we spoke.

Initially I joined facebook to stay in touch with my children; to see what they were up to while living away from home.  I also love to see fresh pictures of my granddaughter from time to time, as I don't get enough "face time" with her. 

But facebook fills a need for me.  It validates myself as "Ardith Wakeman Haws".  I am no longer just Jackie's mom, or Elder Haws' mother, or Bishop Haws' wife.  For the first time in years I have my own circle of friends, especially those that knew me as the shy, brown-eyed girl who moved around a lot.

I love sharing the day to day lives of my facebook friends.  I love sharing the happy times and the sad times, the silly times and the touching times.  How fun to cheer on the triumphant and how poignant to pray with those in need.  I love a forum that accepts my idiosyncrasies.  Perhaps my voice may not be heard by multitudes, but it is heard by my little circle of facebook friends.  And that is enough.

Those that may hesitate to jump into the conversation, what have you got to lose?  I promise you will gain more than you ever would have imagined.  You will regain a part of your youth.

Friday, January 21, 2011

May I Quote You?

Have you ever been quoted?  Have you ever received validation by someone using your own words of wisdom?  

As our family gathered at Thanksgiving, one of our topics of conversation gravitated toward Bucket Lists.
We all divulged our personal desires and enjoyed learning more about each other.  When it came to Brian's turn, he surprised us all when he said  he would like to have something he said be considered worthy of hanging on someone's wall.

You know, why not?  Who decides which quotes end up on plaques and frames anyway? 

Imagine our surprise then, when two of our creative children took this idea and ran with it.  Robert and Josalyn decided to take Brian at his word and came up with a wildly unique, innovative Christmas gift for the whole family.

While Brian served as bishop, his ward clerk compiled a list of "Bishop Haws Quotes", quite a random collection of pithy, witty, often silly, and always uniquely wise things that Brian said during bishopric meetings.  Rob and Jos chose one of these quotes, enlisted an online designer to turn it into a cross-stitch pattern, then gave each of us the materials to create our own wall hanging; thus fulfilling an item from Brian's bucket list.
I think I am the first one done! 

It was a fun project.  As I reacquainted myself with cross-stitching, I thought about a lot of things.
  I thought about the value of thoughtful gifts, ones that needn't cost a lot of money but that tune into a unique interest of the recipient. 
I thought about a husband who quietly serves, strives to be a man of integrity, and who sets a great example for his family. 
I thought about a sister who could have done the designing for Robert if he would have known about her amazing skills. 
 I thought about what an honor it would be to be remembered for something profound we may have said. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's Stopping You?

Have you ever lived with regret?  Have you ever let an opportunity pass you by because you were simply too afraid to act upon it?  Sadly I have, certainly more than once, but perhaps none quite as memorable as a snorkeling trip in the Caribbean.

When my children were young, we planned and took "The Trip of a Lifetime".  We actually called it that because we never anticipated being able to do it again.  In preparation for this trip, which would include a snorkeling opportunity, I bought my kids snorkeling gear and took them to a local pool to practice.  I wanted them to get the most from their adventure in the ocean, without being hampered by not being familiar with the equipment.  They practiced going along the surface; they practiced diving down and following it with a mighty burst of air to clear the water from their snorkel tube.  They were ready.  What followed was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
It was a beautiful day on Castaway Cay.  There was sun; there was sand.  I think Brian and Miranda were staying near the shore while Jackie, Robert, Erica and I set out like the adventurors we were to snorkel in the bay.  Feeling reasonably confident with their snorkeling skills, each took off in their own direction to explore the recesses of this normally out-of-bounds world.

Drifting along casually, enjoying the sun on my back, I was startled by something sparkling in the sun.  Wait a minute.  What IS that?  Hovering at the surface of the water, I eventually determined that a golden ripple in the sea grass was indeed REAL gold.  I was able to make out a claw hook and realized it was a gold necklace, left behind some other day by some other snorkeler. 

Now is the time to use that practiced skill of diving to the bottom and claiming my treasure.  And yet?  I WAS PARALYZED WITH FEAR.  I couldn't bear the thought of filling that tube with sea water.  I couldn't bear the thought of sucking in a mouthful of salt.  In hindsight, apparently my brain was paralyzed too.  It never occurred to me to rip the snorkel out of my mouth and just hold my breath.
Did I claim the prize and come home the snorkeling champion?  No.  After looking for any kind of landmarks, of which there were none, I surfaced to look for one of my expert children to dive for me.  In doing so, and treading water with my fins, I churned up all kinds of sand and sea grass and was never able to find the necklace again.

Life brings all kinds of lessons, doesn't it?  This painful one has always remained in the back of my mind, never to be forgotten.  I think of it whenever an opportunity comes along that, for one reason or another, fills me with fear.  I think of it whenever I read scriptures that speak of fear like: "but you feared and the time is past"(D&C 9:11), or "there were fears in your heart, and verily this is the reason that ye did not receive" (D&C 67:3), or "But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man" (D&C 60:2).

I hope you are not living with regrets due to fear.  They may be the most painful kind. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Potential: Mining the depths?

I have been thinking a lot about potential.  To what degree are we utilitzing our innate, God-given potential?  Are we mining clear to the depths, exploring every possibility, stretching and building every muscle?  Or are we merely skimming the surface, making do with the acceptable, leaving untapped the most valuable resources of all?
Honestly, the impetus for this train of thought has sprung from my son, Robert.  Naturally as his mother I have always considered him a wealth of brilliance, talent, skill, and of course, boundless potential.  And he has never let me down.  I have seen in him qualities of a great leader, a great scholar, a great musician.  While becoming a great missionary, a great husband, and a great father, he continues to cultivate those gifts that are unique to him.
During our last visit with him and his family, he overwhelmed us with an overview of his future aspirations.  I always expected great things from him, but he has set his sights even higher than they've ever been.  The sky is not the limit for this man; he truly seems to be shooting for the stars, setting goals that will stretch himself to perform, to lead, to tackle great challenges.

My counsel to my son?  Go for it!  You take the gifts you have been given and stretch them to their very limits, and then watch them grow even more.  I have felt from the beginning of your life that you are destined for greatness.

President Gordon B. Hinckley would give you this counsel:

‎"The Lord would want you to be successful. He would. You are His sons and His daughters. He has the same kind of love and ambition for you that your earthly parents have. They want you to do well and you can do it."
Don't stop believing in yourself, nor in giving credit where it is due, that being your Father in Heaven.  All blessings come from Him.  Determine to serve Him and He will help you always.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Reading List for those looking for more

I don't have anything against popular fiction.  I am thrilled that many people are choosing to read as part of their leisure.  In a world where most of our input is through simplified mind-numbing television, movies and youtube videos, books represent a great exercise for our minds.

That said, I am an advocate for classic literature.  I believe there is a reason that a handpicked selection has proven the test of time, has been around the block and back again, offers something to each new up and coming generation. And never fails to deliver!

Many think that if something is given as an assignment, it must be approached cautiously.  Nope.  Many titles, from your summer reading lists of the past, really are great books, ones that can be enjoyed for their own merit and you will never be faced with a pop quiz or a writing assignment about them.  That is the true meaning of pleasure reading to me.  These are tried and true and have merit, whatever your interests are.

Personal Favorites
The Scarlet Pimpernel series by the Baroness Orczy (lots of swashbuckling heroism)
The Horatio Hornblower series by C.S. Forester (I am in love with Horatio, a true hero with integrity)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (One of the most inspirational books I've ever read)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (This book changed my life, gave me courage when courage was needed)

Here is a link to a thorough, outstanding list of classic literature, categorized for adults, teens, and children.
As an editorial note, don't be afraid to partake from every category.  As an adult I have enjoyed many selections from each list.  They also contain excellent selections to be read aloud as a family.

Can't Miss Authors
John Steinbeck
Ernest Hemingway
Jane Austen
Mark Twain
Arthur Conan Doyle
J.R.R. Tolkien
Louisa May Alcott
Harper Lee
H.G. Wells
Robert Louis Stevenson
C.S. Lewis
L.M. Montgomery

For those wanting to venture into poetry, start with Shakespeare's Sonnets.  So beautiful.  But perhaps that is another blog for another day....

"Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain"***

I love poetry.  I love the challenge it presents.  Rarely is anything straightforward, easy to grasp; it requires slowing down, broadening one's sensitivity to language, to imagery, to symbolism. 

I love when my children take literature courses.  It awakens in me memories of days past, studying English myself in college, feeling a little guilty for enjoying my classes so much.  Wasn't college supposed to be hard?  These classes were a delight!  I love being reacquainted with poets of the past.  I love being introduced to new ones

I love opening my books, my heart, and my mind to new ideas. 

I love thinking about life on a higher plane.

I love poetry.

***Thanks, Anne Bradstreet.  Thanks, Miranda.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I didn't faint! Yay for me!

I have a confession to make.  I'm a fainter.  I faint at the mere suggestion of blood and gore and crunching bones.  I have a history of fainting in movie theaters.  I have fainted in doctors' offices, basketball games; well, you get the idea.

Brian and I have been anticipating seeing the remake of the old John Wayne movie, True Grit.  This evening we got our chance and enjoyed it very much.  Nice throwback to the old Westerns, but naturally they had to update it with a generous helping of blood and gore so it would fit into the taste of present day moviegoers.

I have gotten very adept at covering my eyes, plugging my ears, and trying to block out the images that my imagination replaces for the ones I am not seeing.  The power of suggestion is a powerful thing.  Success!  I was able to stay for the whole movie.

By most standards this is quite a tame movie.  For me, I feel triumphant that Brian didn't have to scoop me off the floor.

And I did miss Glen Campbell and the old sountrack....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"Life Elevated"

So where have I been?  Apparently Utah introduced its newest slogan in 2006, and it wasn't until my recent trip there that I became aware of it.  I saw it on license plates.  I saw it on signs.  And naturally, it got me thinking.

It didn't make me think of skiing, though I'm sure the tourism board wants me to.  It didn't make me think of hiking in the mountains.

I was drawn to the idea of living life above the fray; of elevating one's thinking; of refining one's life to rid it of the worldly, the crass, the common.  To me, that is truly a Life Elevated.

Thanks, Utah, for the inspiration.  You never let me down.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How competitive are you?

I have always considered myself as un-competitive.  I'm not sure that is very honest though.  Certainly I am un-competitive in anything that has to do with physical athleticism.  I won't even try in most cases because I know that I will surely come up lacking.  And that's fine.  No skin off my nose.  It has always frustrated Brian that I won't even try to wrestle him.  Yea, right.  Like I would have any chance?

But I don't think these are the only types of things that can bring out our competitive natures.  I think I am very competitive against myself.  I want to do better than I have done before.  I want to exceed my own standards; my own levels of performance.   And I think this is healthy.

Recently while my husband and I were on a trip to Utah and Idaho, in the middle of winter, I could not get my husband to put on the only light jacket he had brought along, at my insistence of course.  Granted he is a big guy that never seems to feel the cold.  But these were extreme temperatures we were experiencing; below zero kind of cold!

Finally I asked him why.  Certainly you are cold?  Certainly you must be feeling the effects of this awful place?

His response?  "I don't want to let the cold win."

My hyper-competitive husband is so stubborn he was challenging the cold to get to him, to break him somehow.  It was like some kind of triple-dog-dare against the elements.

You know what?  As crazy as I think that is, I also admire his spirit.  I think a person can go far in this life with a "Must Win" attitude.

So I ask you, and I ask myself:  What are we letting win?  Are our habits winning?  Our weaknesses?  Our addictions, perhaps?

Going into this new year, I plan to foster this competitive spirit.  I am determined to overcome things that may have whipped me in the past.  I am not going to "let the cold win"!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Recalculating Route

I have a Navigator on my phone.  I have a love/hate relationship with it.  It has gotten Brian and me out of many a pickle in our explorations.  I won't say it has "saved" our marriage, but it certainly eliminates a lot of stress and makes traveling in new territory much more relaxing and enjoyable.

Then why do I sometimes hate it?  Well, aside from the annoying voice, there are a couple of phrases that we have heard a few too many times:  "Make the next legal U-turn" and "Recalculating Route"!
I have thought about those directions and even though they are irritating to hear when navigating unfamiliar roads, what a blessing they really are!  Sometimes we do find ourselves going down the wrong path and need some course correction, and it is usually when we are too proud to admit it on our own. 

I believe we all have a "Navigator", giving us direction and guidance if we will attune ourselves to hear it.

Brian and I have received the not-so-subtle instruction to "Recalculate our Route".  And we are.  Good health has become more precious to us after having caught a glimpse of the dangers and limitations of poor health.  There are too many things we still want to do in our life together; too many places we want to see; too much service we want to be involved in.

Changing direction is difficult.  Finding a place to make a safe U-turn isn't always easy.  Yet we have; we have made a complete 180 degree course correction.  I pray that we will have the strength and the courage to continue down our newly chosen road.

And maybe I can get rid of my "fat" jeans....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Our January Birthday Girl

Today is your day.  Today is the day we look back and remember your beautiful eyes, and your amazing smile, and your incredible memory, and your fascination with details and trivia.

And your brilliant mind, and your triumphant singing voice, and your talented and gifted hands.
You are one of our greatest blessings!  You bring joy to our lives every day!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

C'mon Jane! Give us what we want!

As part of a newly formed Book Club, whose members are scattered around the world, I was given the suggestion to read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and then blog about my impressions.

Ah, I love these kinds of books.  Often I have wondered if I was born in the wrong century, finding many charms of ages past to be right in line with my tastes.  The 19th Century was certainly a kinder, gentler society if one was fortunate enough to live among the privileged classes.  Perhaps I could have been content to spend my days expanding my accomplishments, writing letters to acquaintances, and being seen but seldom heard.  (Hmmmm...sounds a bit familiar)

Would I have been content to abide by the structure and rules of social interaction, trying never to let on one's true feelings, and searching often in vain for any clue of returned affection.  (Wait a minute!  Not much has changed, has it?!)

Northanger Abbey is Jane's  tongue-in-cheek response to the popular romance novels of her day, a genre that fed upon society's hunger for suspense and mystery, for gothic melodrama, and a formulaic unpredictable predictability.

Jane satirically describes her heroine as very un-heroine-like.  She's normal.  She has ordinary looks.  She travels in predictable circles, rarely meeting anyone of heroic proportions.  In other words, "Catherine" is just like you and me.

I found it delightfully refreshing to note such a practical approach that stayed fairly constant throughout the book.  Catherine did not find herself in any real danger or peril.  Her thoughts were consumed with balls and gowns, and who might ask her to dance, and whom she might run into by chance if she put herself carefully into the right location.

As most of our own lives go, she does meet her hero, a kind, albeit average gentleman who nobly and predictably plays by the rules of gracious society.  (No bodice ripping here.)

Yet, here is where I find my frustration (not in the lack of bodice ripping...)  The tension and mystery of the very basic climax of "will he or will he not propose" is not taken advantage of at all (like in any respectable chick-flick).  It is treated in the uptight, proper, inexcitable nature of the day, as sort of an "Oh, by the way they're getting married".  We get no impassioned declaration of love.  We get no poetic words delineating the development of mutual affection.  As we know, even "normal" people can feel joy and passion and relief and happiness, which I am certain even our sweet little Catherine and her polite Henry Tilney did.

Apparently in Jane's staid society, they weren't yet ready to share such pivotal, private moments in proper literature.  I respect that.  But if we are invited in to become so engaged in their lives and in their characters, is it wrong for us to feel like we should be part of the resolution?

Did he kiss her?  I guess we'll never know.  Perhaps Jane just intended for us to read between the lines, and draw our own "proper" conclusions.

No Excuses!

In looking forward to a new year of change, of improvement, of accomplishment, I want to quote two of the wisest men I know. The first is President Thomas S. Monson as he quotes another legendary statesman:

"Professor Harold Hill, in Meredith Willson's The Music Man, cautioned: 'You pile up enough tomorrows, and you'll find you've collected a lot of empty yesterdays.'

"There is no tomorrow to remember if we don't do something today, and to live most fully today, we must do that which is of greatest importance. Let us not procrastinate those things which matter most." (Conference Report, April 2003)
Are you a procrastinator?  Are you merely dreaming of better days, or are you doing something to assure them?

My new mantra for the new year is "No Excuses!"  And that is how I intend to live. 
I know that I have weaknesses that have held me back in the past.  No excuses.
I know that I am getting older, with all the limitations that imposes.  No excuses.
I know that I get distracted by time-wasters.  No excuses.

The old cliche' has been around a long time because it is an indesputable truth: 
 The longest journey starts with just one step.
I am choosing to look  forward, with my eyes on the promise of a brighter future,
 determined to take it one step at a time..

And the value of that first small step?  "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."  D&C 64:33

Happy New Year!