Monday, December 20, 2010

All we NEED for Christmas

I spoke in Church on Sunday, after two wonderful youth speakers and three beautiful choir pieces. I say, "I spoke", but really, "I cried" in church on Sunday. I was so emotional. Now, I feel completely spent. What a blessing it was for me to concentrate and focus on the Savior the entire month of December as I prepared this talk. I had at least 5 different versions of my talk written up in my head and in bullet forms on different sheets of papers. Then, a few days ago, I took a really long shower, and a new idea came to my mind. I sat down to my computer shortly thereafter, and, with a prayer in my heart, typed out my talk -- an entirely different talk than all five versions.

This is the reason I haven't blogged in over a month. This is the reason I haven't even thought about Christmas Cards yet. So, with gratitude to the Spirit, and to my hot water heater (it was a long shower).... Here is my talk. Merry Christmas!

All We Need for Christmas

Jerusalem, just over 2000 years ago. The people were struggling. They were unhappy with their current political regime. They felt oppressed. They were over-taxed and under-paid. The economy was terrible. Does any of this sound familiar?

The people of Israel -- God’s chosen people -- wanted a deliverer. A new King. They wanted a Redeemer from their current troubles, woes, and sufferings. The people knew the Scriptures. They understood that a Messiah was promised. But most of them confused their wants with their needs. They wanted a deliverer from their political and economical strife. They needed a deliverer from their sins.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The promised Messiah came. As a baby, born in a stable. But, many were too focused on their wants to see the miracle right in front of their eyes. To truly see and understand that their needs were met in a small child, sent to us from a loving Heavenly Father.

Despite the countless wants of the Israelites, the Savior came to meet their needs. Among many others, they needed to learn three important things that we still need this Christmas. They needed to learn to forgive, to serve, and to love. He knew, that if they learned those critical things, they would come to know Him, and to accept Him, as their Redeemer. Then, they would be saved.

First, they needed to learn to forgive.

The Roman empire taxed the Israelites at insane levels. They forced them to be almost slaves to an emperor in a far away land. They smote them and whipped them, and treated them like less than human beings. And, Christ, whom they wanted to help free them from tyranny, taught them, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt alove thy bneighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, aLove your benemies, cbless them that dcurse you, do egood to them that fhate you, and gpray for them which despitefully use you, and hpersecute you; That ye amay be the bchildren of your Father which is in heaven.”

They wanted retribution. They needed forgiveness.

A few years ago, a stalwart, LDS family was living in Southern Idaho. Suddenly, their youngest child, who was 18 years old, got very sick. After several doctor’s visits, she was diagnosed with a serious life-altering condition. Treatment was possible, but they were told not to get their hopes up. The entire family and many, many friends fasted and prayed. This girl went through treatment after painful treatment. Months went by and they finally started seeing some progress. Gradually, she started getting better. Her health was improving daily. The doctors were amazed at her miraculous recovery. She was scheduled to finally go home with a perfectly clean bill of health. The doctors wanted to give her one last ‘precautionary’ treatment, for good measure before she was released.

Then, through miscommunication and miscalculations, the ‘precautionary’ dose of medicine this girl was given was in reality an enormously high amount. A lethal dose. By the time the staff at the hospital realized their mistake, it was too late. The death-delivering dose was coursing through this girl’s veins. They only had time to call the family, who rushed to her side to say goodbye. This beautiful girl, who just hours earlier was planning on leaving for home after endless painful health issues, now had to be ready to leave for a different home, her Heavenly home. She leaned over to her father, and whispered, “I know it was an accident. Please, please forgive them.”

She passed away just a few short hours later. Over the next few days, the family was inundated with calls from lawyers across the country who had heard of the situation. I can only imagine those conversations. They had been wronged, in the most grievous way possible. Would they chose retribution? Or Forgiveness? My father was working in the temple later, when the entire family was there to do the work for their beautiful daughter. This family knew what they needed in their lives. They needed forgiveness. They needed the Savior.

Second, the Israelites needed to learn to serve one another.

The people of Israel wanted a new leader, one who would stand up to the Romans and the ruling class. One who would take back their rightful property. But, what they needed was to learn how to serve. The Savior taught them, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”

Alma taught us, “Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him” (Alma 30:9). King Benjamin further explained this truth. “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger to him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13) Do we desire to come to know our Savior and be like Him? If so, then how? The answer is simple. Serve Him. And, how do we serve Him? “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17).

When we think of service, do we think of wants or needs? When I think of what I want, I want to pass around a sign-up sheet in Relief Society to feed the Blaser family for a week. That is what I want. But, what do I need? I do not need side dishes and salads. I need a smile. I do not need freshly-baked food, I need a friendly word or a phone call -- just because. That is what I need. I am not alone in that. Many of us do have temporal needs at this time, in this economy, but ALL of us have emotional, social, and spiritual needs that ought to be addressed as well. And, all of us, regardless of our income, marital, health, or spiritual status, can provide the service require to fill those needs of one another. THAT is what the Savior taught. That type of service -- the giving of one’s self, of one’s heart, of one’s time. That is what the Savior did. His atonement was the ultimate give of one’s self, of one’s heart.

During Lucie Gallman’s funeral, I witnessed a selfless act of service. Carlie Welling had just been in our ward a short time. She came to the funeral, as most of you did, out of love for the Gallman family, which she barely knew. She then saw a need. Several of you had young children you had brought to the funeral. Carlie decided to open up the nursery room and offered to watch all of your little ones so you could attend the funeral and be a part of the spiritual outpouring that it was. No one asked Carlie to do this. She saw a need. She saw an opportunity to serve. She followed through. That is true service. That is understanding and acting upon the vital difference between wants and needs. That is coming to know the Savior.

Five and 1/2 years ago, my best friend, Trudy Barrett, died in a car accident. I was devastated. I didn’t know how to begin to cope with the loss of someone who was such an integral part of my daily life. I didn’t even know what to pray for. But, the Lord knew what I needed. I needed service. I was soon called to be the compassionate service leader. Bishop Williams asked me to oversee taking meals to Aaron and the boys for an entire year. After just a few weeks, Aaron pleaded to reduce it to three times a week, as they could not possibly eat all the food they were receiving before it went bad. So, we started bringing in meals every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For one whole year. Every few weeks I would pass around a sign-up sheet in Relief Society to cover the next month. Many of you, who never even knew Trudy, signed up regularly to bring in meals to the Barrett family. In all that time, for over 150 meals, guess how many times the sign up sheets came back with a blank slot? Zero. Never once did I have to ask twice for help. This ward knows how to serve. Through these acts you have come to know your Savior and to be like Him.

The only possible area where we could improve in our service is to look around with a closer eye at the more subtle needs surrounding us. There are people who need friends, phone calls, and a person to sit by during a lesson. There are children who long for your faithful testimonies as you teach them the gospel. There are hugs that need to be delivered, and shoulders to cry on. As we learn to serve, with our focus on the Savior, we will see needs around us we might have never realized were there. And, we will have the strength and the desire to fill those needs.

Finally, they needed to learn to love.

John 3:16

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

This is true love. To give up something of yourself that is so precious because you love someone so much. That is how much our Father loves us. He gave us His only son. His ONLY Son. He knew what the Savior would go through. He knew the suffering and the heartache and the lonely, necessary journey His ONLY Son would have to take. Yet, He sent Him here -- for You. For Me. For each one of us. And, I’m positive that our Father in Heaven is full of love towards us when we pray and express our gratitude and appreciation for that gift of Love. But, I’m also sure that He is just as full of love towards those of our brothers and sisters on this earth who have never even had the thought of praying and thanking Him for that most wonderful of gifts. He loves them just as much as He loves you and me. That, that level of love, is the type of love we need to strive for in our lives.

Our Savior understood and answered with that level of love. The Atonement, in its infinite and eternal nature, could not have been performed by anyone who did not have a perfect love for us. The Savior knew us. He knew we would make mistakes. Even after we knew better. Yet, his love for us remains.

It is easy to love someone who loves you back. That level of love is something we can all experience when a child cuddles up to us, or a friend does something out of the blue and extraordinarily kind. But, as we come to know our Savior, and strive to be like Him, we need to learn how to love on a completely different level. With a Christ-like love. Sometimes you can learn to love someone so much that it is physically painful to see them make choices you know will lead to a life of unhappiness. But, the key to having Christlike love in our lives, is that when this happens, our love for that person increases, rather than decreases.

I served a mission in Slovenia, a small country nestled in the Southern Alps of Eastern Europe. The church had only been there a year or two when I went. There were very few members. The work was hard, and we often went months without meeting anyone who even want to listen to us. Towards the end of my mission, we met a wonderful lady named Marija. She immediately latched onto the saving words of the gospel. The gospel is perfect for everyone, but sometimes, there are certain people who are just perfect for the gospel. The struggling branch needed Marija and her faith. We met with her often, reading from The Book of Mormon, teaching her the various discussions, and sharing testimony of the restored truths. We always left her apartment uplifted and excited that we had found someone who was ready to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. We had talked seriously about baptismal dates. She had already chosen the place, a beautiful little pool at the base of a small waterfall in her favorite mountains. We just needed to firm up the day.

Just before Christmas, we were in her apartment one day, and I noticed a beautiful nativity set on a dresser. She showed me each piece, the shepherds, the angel, the wise men, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus with careful attention. They were made out of clay and quite breakable. I absolutely loved them all, loved the way they looked, and told Marija just that.

At our next appointment, a few days after Christmas, Marija gave me a small little package, a late Christmas present. It was a tiny tin box. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper, was the little angel from her Nativity set. I gasped out loud in delight. She smiled and said, “I could tell how much you loved it. Well, you have been like an angel to me, so I wanted you to have my angel.” I thanked her profusely and carefully wrapped it back up to bring it home.

And then, a few weeks later, just four days before I left the mission field to return home, we went to see Marija. She was somber as she let us in and we took our usual seats around her dimly-lit table. She had all of the pamphlets and her copy of The Book of Mormon stacked neatly in a pile. She proceeded to tell us that she had made the decision to take a different path in life. One that did not include the Church.

Stunned, we tried to understand what had happened to cause this enormous shift in her life. She did not want to share any more with us, but let us know we were not to return there to teach her any more. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Even as we were led out of her apartment, I turned around as if to make sure this was really happening. It couldn’t be. My companion and I both bore solemn and bold testimonies of The Book of Mormon and of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. She smiled, but then said good bye and closed the door.

We had no choice but to walk away. It was a bitter cold January morning and the wind seemed to mock my tear-stained cheeks. We got a few feet onto the icy sidewalk and I just stopped and turned back towards her apartment building. We had been rejected so many times on my mission. Why did this hurt so bad? And, then, I understood something eternally important. I had come to love Marija. To love her the way our Savior loved her. I saw her through the eyes of our Savior Jesus Christ and saw how He was crying for her as well. He loved her so much. It was so painful because of the love. But, the pain did not decrease our love for her.

It has been 15 years since that windy, sad morning. But, every Christmas, as we get out our increasingly large amount of decorations, there is one small tin box that I keep for myself. Inside it, wrapped in tissue paper that is now quite yellow and brittle with age, is a small clay angel. My angel. And I carefully set it up high on a shelf and am filled with love. I remember the wind. I remember the tears. And I remember the piercing love for one of our Heavenly Father’s children. That love has not faded in the slightest with time.

Oh, how we NEED that love in our lives this Christmas. As we strive to learn how to freely forgive, with no conditions, to truly serve and not just with our wallets and watches, and to really love, we will come to know our Savior.

As parents, we understand how vitally important it is to give our children what they need -- love, safety, structure, yes, Josh, even carrots, and not just what they want.

The Savior taught, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will ye for a fish give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts, through the Holy Spirit, to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11, JST included).

Our Heavenly Father knows what we want. But, of infinite more importance, He knows what we need. We need the gift of His Son in our daily lives. We are not that different from those, the chosen people, of Israel over 2,000 years ago. The economic situation is bleak. We are over-taxed. We feel frustrated. But, are we crying out for a Deliverer from our temporal trials? Are we focused on our wants? Or, do we remember what we really need. Forgiveness, Service, and Love.

What do you want for Christmas? It is a question oft repeated, by Santa Claus to little children as they sit on his lap, by strangers waiting in line at the post office, or to friends and family alike. And, I hope that everyone within the sound of my voice does get something that they want this Christmas. But, my prayer is that we will all receive something that we need. That we will receive the Savior into our lives. That we will learn to forgive, to serve, to love, and to come to know the babe born in Bethlehem. And, really, all of those are actually the same thing.

Moroni 7:48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, apray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true bfollowers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall cbe like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be dpurified even as he is pure.” In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The flies on the wall were cracking up!

This is guaranteed to summon a few snickers (not the candy bar kind), a giggle or two and and least one good snort.

This is what the flies heard Monday night:

(At dinner)

Josh: "What do you think I'll be when I get up?"
Eden: "Get up?"
Josh: "I mean grow up. What do you think I'll be when I grow up?"
Dave: "A doctor."
Me: "An engineer."
Josh: "Nope. I don't think those will work out."
Dave: "What are you going to be, then?"
Josh: "An Illustrator"
Eden: "You mean an artist?"
Josh: "No, an Illustrator:
Me: "Drawing pictures for books."
Dave: "Just as long as you can make enough money doing that Josh, you'll be fine."
Josh: "Money isn't the most important thing, Dad."
Eden: "Fun is the most important thing."
Me: (Laughter)
Dave: "No, that's not right, Eden. But, Josh, I know money isn't the most important thing..."
Me: (interrupting), "Josh, so what is the most important thing?"
Josh: "Love!"
Teya: "I know how to make paper dominoes!"

Two pleadings with the kids to please eat their dinner later...

Josh: "Does it cost money to get something fixed at a hospital?"
Me: "Yes!"
Dave: "A lot of money!"
Josh: "Do you have to pay for it before they will fix you?"
Dave: "Yes."
Josh: "Even in an emergency?"
Me: "Yes."
Josh: "What if you don't have any money?"
Dave: (insert small discourse on how hard-working people pay health insurance every month, and they are the ones who have to pay for those who don't have health insurance, but still expect to get treated)
Josh: no more questions.

Scene II: Cut to me reminding Josh he has the lesson for FHE.

Me: "So, Josh, what are you going to teach for the lesson?"
Josh:"I don't know."

(Three minutes later)

Me: "Josh, have you decided what you are going to teach for FHE?"
Josh: "Yeah. Just go on Netflix and instant stream the VeggieTales movie about the 2,000 stripling warriors."
(There are several things wrong with that sentence. Can you find all of them? None are grammatical in nature, hopefully. Answers listed at the bottom of the post.)
Me: "Josh, there isn't a VeggieTales movie about the stripling warriors."
Josh: "Why not?"
Me: Because the VeggieTales movies are made by a Christian company that just believes in the Bible, and the 2000 stripling warriors' story comes from the Book of Mormong.
Eden: "Yeah, they are Christian, Josh!"
Me: "So are we, Eden."
Eden: "I thought we were Mormon!"


Josh instead reads the chapter from Daniel and the Lions Den aloud to us for FHE. We are trying to elicit a decent discussion afterwards.

Dave: "So, what does this story teach us?"
Josh: "Well, there is this VeggieTales movie about chocolate bunnies..."
Me: "That's about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, not Daniel."
Eden: "They had to go in a furnace."
Teya: "And it happened to fruit, not real people!"
Me: "No, it happened to real people, and an angel came and protected them in the furnace."
Josh: "It was VEGETABLES, not fruit."
Dave: "Teya, do you think it is more important what happened to real people, or to fruit?"
Josh: "They were VEGETABLES!"
Me: "Let's just say the prayer."

Tucking the kids in that night:

Me: (to the girls) "Remember, NO candy when you wake up in the morning!"
Teya: "Pixie sticks aren't candy."
Me: "Yes, they are."
Teya: "They are just plain sugar. Sugar isn't candy."
Me: "Go to bed."

Dave: (to Josh) "Just close your eyes and go to sleep!"
Josh: "But closing my eyes doesn't make me fall asleep! It just makes everything go dark!"

And, that was just Monday. Between the hours of 6:30 and 8:00 p.m.

Answers to above question: 1)I'm just not used to my kids demanding we instant stream anything yet. They are truly part of the "I want it here and now and I don't want to wait" generation. 2)Since when is a VeggieTales MOVIE a FHE lesson? 3)VeggieTales make Bible stories only and have no affiliation with the Church, or Book of Mormon Stories.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween, Groberg style

For my mother, it was no coincidence that the words sugar and sin started with the same letter. Carob was more commonplace in our cupboard than chocolate. I was a teenager before I realized they were not the same thing. Everything was made from scratch, picked from our garden, or ground with our wheat grinder. We made our own yogurt from cultures grown on light boxes. Alfalfa sprouts grew underneath our sink. We purchased preservative-free peanut butter in gallon sizes. When we needed a new jug, we had to expend significant elbow grease to reunite the oil and the mushy nuts before it was cloaked in spreadability. Cold cereal only existed in the form of oatmeal that was ready to eat before I was. Vitamin C pills were as close to treats as we ever came.

So, when Halloween dared to come around, my mom had to get creative. While thoughts of candy bars and lollipops danced in our eyes, she was busy figuring out a way to thwart the sugar that would infallibly fall into our digestive tracts through school parties and the t-words. Trick or Treating. She came up with a meal stuffed with an assortment of the most disgusting vegetables, as if filling us up with vitamins and goodness would make us recoil at the sight of a Snickers bar.

She called it “Dinner in a Pumpkin”. The very phrase still gives my stomach nightmares. It was a goulash of meat and peppers and other spices cooked inside a real, down-to-earth, squashy pumpkin. We would scoop out the seeds, (to be roasted and eaten later, instead of our candy). She would slice up the fleshy pulp and inject all the ingredients. Then, our oven would host the unwelcome gourd for an hour or so while everyone but me dressed up in costumes and giddiness.

Every year I begged for an alternate meal. I offered to eat an entire plate of just green beans, or three corn on the cobs, or five bananas. I begged and begged. I hated pumpkin. I hated all stringy, pulpy squash. But, the rule of no substitutions applied on this night as it did on every other night of the year. There would be no mercy, no advocate would come to my aid. I had to eat the pumpkin or stay home from the one night where adults who normally intimidated and scared me gave me candy.

So, I would always eat it, trying my best not to chew. I would take the smallest of bites, and chase them down with water, choking and gagging my way through my alloted portion. When my plate passed inspection, off I would trudge to the nearest bathroom, each step echoing my displeasure with ‘dinner’.

The bathroom’s wallpaper was beige with pictures of planes, trains, cars, and boats. It spoke of happier times and carefree hobbies. It shuddered when Halloween came around. It knew why I was there. I would pull my hair back into a ponytail, kneel down and lift up the porcelain lid to evacuate the contents of my dinner and sometimes my lunch.

Stomach freshly scoured of any traces of vitamins and nutrients, I donned the hand-me-down costume earmarked for me and joined my siblings for our adventures in begging. We couldn’t go trick-or treating ad hoc. We were to go up and down our little street, and maybe, just maybe, hit a few houses on the side. But, any candy we got was like manna from heaven. For about an hour, we were the official owners of contraband. When discretion was our friend, some of the candy never quite made it into our bags.

Upon our return, we were allowed to select a few pieces. I would both savor and devour those favored items. Then, we dutifully turned the rest of our candy over to senior patrol. After that, I’m not sure were it went. Perhaps some of it was doled out periodically over the next few weeks. I’m more inclined to think my parents ate it surreptitiously. I think some of the less popular pieces made it all the way to our Christmas stockings.

As a mother of three perfect-for-trick-or-treating aged children, I am now faced with the dilemma. What do I feed them on All Hallows Eve? Dinner-in-a Pumpkin? Never. In fact, I’ve been tempted to tear ‘Dinner-in-a-Pumpkin’’s page from our family cookbook and offer it up in some fiery ritual. But, it would probably catch my hair on fire in some final act of vengeance. So, I reflect on my many trips to the wallpapered room of doom and always end up making macaroni and cheese -- their favorite. Better to stuff them with food they will actually eat, right? Then, when their little feet have had all they can of our vast neighborhood, home we go. They get to choose a few pieces to eat right then. The rest? Well, I’ve graduated now. I’m senior patrol. Surreptitious is my middle name.

P.S. While my childhood mind felt tortured by the lack of sugar, my mother obviously knew best. She has never spent a day of her life overweight. And, even though she had 11 children, and is now well into her 70s, she still doesn’t have any grey hair. Maybe there is something magical to Carob after all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lesson learned from Disneyland

We just returned from a wonderful trip to Disneyland and California Adventure for Fall Break. Here are a few things I learned during our vacation...


* Rarely is any ride ever worth an hour-long wait. The Toy Story Midway Mania ride is the exception.

* Sometimes the look on your daughter's face during the ride is better than the ride itself.

* When the concierge at the Grand Californian Hotel chooses your family as the "Grand Family of the day" and then forgets to tell the people in charge of the 'fireworks from the top floor balcony and dessert bar' party about it, they are trained to cover it up really well. We still got to eat chocolate-covered strawberries and fruit tarts to our hearts content and view the fireworks, even though we were now part of 3-year old Ariana's private birthday party.

* If you sit side-saddle instead of straddling your sea-horse on King Triton's Carousel ride, the workers will push the emergency stop button in the middle of the 2-mph ride and come over and help you straddle the sea horse, even if you are a full-grown man. I doubt he will show his face in the undersea kingdom for quite some time.

*Eight-year-old boys are equipped with amazingly high level of immunities. Josh must have purposely opened and closed every trash can in both parks.

*People are slightly insane to bring one and two year olds to Disneyland. Especially when they have no older kids. The small ones will never remember the trip. What a waste of money. I was comfortable resting on my soap box when all of a sudden I remembered that Dave and I took Eden to Disney World while visiting Dave's parents when she was only 9 months old. I was just about to start in on my humble pie when I also remembered that my father-in-law footed our entire bill at Disney World. Mental equilibrium and judgement was restored.

*Having stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel, we are now destined to spend our well-earned dollars there on every future trip to the area. Staying anywhere else would be like using rough brown paper squares for toilet paper when you know that Charmin Extra Soft is in the stall next door. Fortunately, we know to wait for certain promotional mailers giving us great discounts. In fact, when we checked in, the clerk said, "Wow! You have a really, really great rate!" Made us feel much better.

*When you decide to splurge and use valet parking for your arrival and unloading, remember to go and move your car into the self-park lot, or you will be charged the valet fee every day, even though your car just sat there for 4 days straight.


*It is part of a mother's job to ride the Carousel and other kiddie rides while the Dad takes the older kids on rides like "Tower of Terror" and "Screamin" for the 5th and 6th times. I was perfectly fine with my role.

*Sometimes you make really wise financial decisions. Two years ago I bought a used ipod for $25. I've used it hundreds of times since. Every time I think, "This was a smart use of money!"... And, then, there's Goofy's Kitchen.

*Texting reaches its true potential for parents in Disneyland. I texted Dave more in the three days we were in the parks than I have texted my whole life combined up until that point. It was too loud to actually talk on the phone and a quick note to say where I was, or where we were planning on meeting was just the perfect way to communicate.

*My tolerance for high-speed roller coasters really has gone down with each child I've had.

*Fast Passes are Disneyland's greatest invention.

*Getting into the park one-hour before it opens is worth buying the 5-day pass, even though we were only there 3 days. (We sold the other two days, so it was really worth it!). We went on more rides in the first two hours that day than we had the entire day before.

*After having spent 99 consecutive hours all together, including travel time. We came home tired, but ready to do it all again (in a few years). Perhaps there really is something magical about Disneyland after all!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lagoon (part 4 of 4)

THE FINALE!!!! Make sure you've read parts #1, #2, and #3 first! So, you will probably think differently of me once this is over... Remember, I did get my Bachelor's and Masters degree in Finance... This might explain that. Thanks for taking the time to read. If you enjoyed this, please spread the word. And now..... part #4.

-------------------------------------------- (this is an actual photo of me and my siblings weeding)

I looked down into my adolescent palm and saw a shiny 1979 quarter staring back at me. A quarter! In that exact moment, Newton and his gravity-defining apple had nothing on me. It was more than a lightbulb. The sky parted and inspiration poured down on me in the form of quarters.

A quarter! The granddaddy of all coins. Half a churro. One-quarter of a cotton candy.

Growing up in a family with eleven children, we were never given allowance for our weekly chores. While our friends were paid for good grades, my straight-A report cards earned me a hug and a pat on the back. If we wanted to earn actual money, we had to apply for extra jobs -- above and beyond the normal call of familial duty. Weeding was always a reliable source of income. But, my parents didn’t just throw money at us. If we filled up a old 5-quart ice cream bucket with weeds, we earned a quarter. I would work my little fingers to the bone for the better part of an hour to get my bucket full, fluffing up those weeds to get to the top rim sooner. I’d take my trophy of accomplishment to my dad and hold out my hand for my quarter.

“Just a second,” he would say. And then, before I knew it, the bucket was on the ground, my weeds suddenly greeting the bottom of his size-11 shoe. Instantly he had turned my almost-overflowing bucket of profits into a less than 1/2 full bucket of shame.

“Keep going”, he’d say as he handed me both my squished dreams and weeds. “Remember to get the roots.”

I’d trudge back to the garden, kneel down, push up my velveteen sleeves with a heavy heart and start all over, wondering why I thought maybe this time I could have pulled off the fluff job.

A quarter equaled over an hour of back-breaking weeding, and here it was, sitting in my hands and all I had done to get it was ask. That first quarter was born of innocence. But, in the few seconds it took me to return to Viki and explain that Mom was not coming unless we called again, I had formulated an entire business plan, replete with provisos, exceptions, and rules. A Rockefeller was born.

It only took the promise of all the churros we could eat (she was feeling much better) to get her to go along with my plan. I would continue to ask various people for quarters, explaining how Viki had been sick and we needed to call our mom. Effortless. How quickly I rid my mind of the shame of begging. The thought of more quarters was simply that powerful.

The first step was to locate the perfect victims. We targeted middle-aged mothers who were not weighed down with little children taxing their patience. We didn’t want the distractions. Older couples were also acceptable, especially those dressed in polyester and grandparenthood.

Step two was the approach. While Viki writhed in apparent pain in the near background, I would advance. I had to time it to appear frantic and panicked.

“Excuse me, Ma’am,” I’d begin and then point over to my sickly sibling. “My little sister just threw up. I was wondering if you had a quarter so I could call my mom.” Within seconds, I had a quarter and was off to the nearest phone booth. Of course, I never actually made it to the phone booth. I’d wait for my target to pass on, and circle back to Viki, the banker.

Within half an hour, we were skipping down the road to affluence. But, apparently Viki wanted to sprint. She suggested we split up and double our money. Brilliant! Why hadn’t I thought of that sooner? In no time, our pockets were anchored with those silver gods of the coin world. In less than an hour, without pulling up so much as a single root, we had amassed over five dollars. But greediness is not easily satisfied, and we found ourselves wanting more and more. And that is how we brushed noses with disaster.

I had spotted them next to the carousel. Their faces painted with that smile that only comes from watching a grandchild. The carousel was just starting up its circular ride into fantasyland. I squared my shoulders and began the approach.

“Excuse me,” I began. But that is as far as I got. At that exact moment Viki’s frantic waving caught my attention and my words were tackled to the ground. Something was terribly wrong. I stood there frozen while my benefactors looked quizzically at my behavior. Time took a turn for the worse as I concentrated on the words Viki was mouthing in slow motion. With jarring fright, I realized what she was shouting.


Panic. Guilt. Shame. We’d been found. Everyone in the park knew our crimes. Lagoon security was on its way to lock us up in a cell behind the haunted house. My parents were already being informed. I could see them wringing their hands in front of the judge crying, “Where did we go wrong?”

And then, I realized they hadn’t seen Viki. They were still looking expectantly at me. The whole interchange had lasted less than ten seconds. Life was handing me a second chance. Would I turn over a new leaf and repent?

“Sorry,” I said, and turned around searching for any crack in the pavement big enough to swallow me whole.

Just like that, we decided we had enough money. Funny how things like that happen. One minute you can’t get enough, and the next you are weighed down with quarters clinking, “guilty, guilty” with each step.

We went to the nearest food booth, got a table and counted our profits. Six whole dollars. The entire plastic lettered menu was ours to consume! What would it be. Pizza? Ice cream? More churros? Why not all of the above! Viki’s stomach was long past queazy. Within seconds our six dollars became a mound of deliciousness.

We were casually eating our winnings, enjoying the fruit of our labors, when I looked up and spotted them. Tom and Emily! They were headed our way. What could we do? They’d already seen us. My first reaction was to devour the churro in my hand and I started pushing it in my mouth faster than I could chew. But it was no use. There was too much cinnamon-sugary goodness.

“Hey! Where’d that come from?”

“How did you get that?”

“Gimme some!”

Siblings. Allies or enemies? Both. We confessed to our crimes while we shared our loot, what was left of it. Surprisingly, they were both jealous and stunned. Mainly jealous of our ingenuity. We sat there sharing some of our funnier encounters and experiences of the past few hours. Laughing till our stomachs started to hurt. Or maybe it was from the cotton candy.

For the next few years, the four of us had a semi-lucrative, very hush-hush side business to pay for our sugar habit: panhandling.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lagoon (part 3 of 4)

BEFORE you read this -- make sure you read parts #1 and #2 or this will make no sense.... Try to put yourself into the mindset of a bossy 13 year old older sister when you read this. Maybe one day Viki will forgive me for how I treated her in part #3...

I was in shock. Instinctively, I went to the sink to wash off my face and arms. I shuddered out of my clothes and went into a stall for privacy. Anger was waiting inside. Viki hadn’t stopped apologizing this whole time, so I decided to let her show how sorry she really was for using me as target practice.

I made her stand there at that miniscule-sized porcelain sink and scrub out every bit of my clothes by hand. The only cleansing agent available was that white powdery substance that clumped out from the dispensers located periodically above the sinks. Grit. White grit. She scrubbed her little fingers away on my clothes, washing them with sink water and grit until the smell and stains were gone.

In between my complaints from the stall, I also demanded a fresh supply of wet, brown tri-fold paper towels so I could sponge bathe. After I felt sufficiently cleansed of puke, I sat there alternating between anger and annoyance. Every so often, I’d flirt with remorse, but never enough to give it words.

Once my clothes passed inspection, I forced her stand there and hold them up, part by tiny part, to the hand dryer and push the button over and over and over again. Towards the end of this task, remorse tickled at my edges and I, belatedly, apologized to Viki for making her go on that ride. As I watched her slave next to the dryer, I felt bad that there wasn’t a chair for her to rest on. I guess the restroom wasn’t expecting too many work-weary laundresses that day.

When my clothes were just damp, Viki brought them to me and practically begged me to say ‘enough’. I put them on, thanking my lucky stars that I chose to wear my training bra that day. Whether or not I actually needed one was still to be determined. But the only thing worse on a teenage girl than a damp white shirt with a bra showing through is a damp white shirt with no bra showing through.

After what seemed like hours, we emerged from the restroom. Now what? Viki was feeling much better, having evacuated everything that was bothering her. She still wanted me to call Mom and see if she’d come pick her up early.

“Gimme a quarter.” I insisted. There was no way I was going to foot this bill. Apparently my sub-conscience had not received enough penance from her laundering labors. Besides, my dollar had long since fallen prey to a sugary siren called cotton candy.

“I don’t have one! I already spent my whole dollar.” Of course she had. She was a Groberg too. Free money plus anything whose first ingredient was sugar was no match for our weak wills. Give a Groberg a quarter, and he or she will find the nearest candy vending machine.

“How are we supposed to call Mom?”

“Beats me,” Viki said. She sat down, finally, on a nearby bench and sighed, exhausted. Remorse came back. I felt bad about making her scrub my clothes for so long. I’d make it up to her by remedying our lack of the larger coinage.

“I’ll go ask someone for a quarter. If I explain the whole situation, I’m sure they’ll understand.” By ‘whole situation’, I meant leaving out certain parts that were non-essential to accomplishing my monetary goals. Parts like me forcing my sister to ride and making her clean up with grit.

I sat down next to Viki and studied my surroundings. Who is the least intimidating person here? Who would have a quarter they would be willing to part with? There she was, sitting in the shade just waiting for her family to finish a ride nearby. Her short brown hair was spritzed with gray, meaning she was probably rich. No one was around her. She had a purse that no doubt housed more than our junk drawer. Surely there would be a spare quarter in there for the needy.

I took a deep breath, got up and walked speedily over to her before I could change my mind.

“Um, Ma’am?” I was new at this -- asking complete strangers for money. In about three seconds, I would be an experienced beggar, an accepter of alms. “My little sister got sick and threw up. I need to call my mom, but I don’t have a quarter. Do you have one?” I used the sweetest voice in my arsenal. The one I reserved for my Dad when my Mom had already said no.

Her face smiled. “Of course, honey.” With those three words and her accompanying action, I brushed off the worst of the shame that had hovered over me like an umbrella. I awaited my handout with true gratitude, both to her and to how easy it had been. “Here’s two quarters, dear. Just in case the first one doesn’t work. I hope your sister feels better.” Acknowledging she knew more of the waywardness of phone booths, I thanked her sincerely and walked off to find a phone.

The first quarter worked fine. No defects. My mom was naturally worried when I explained what had happened. I told her Viki wanted to go home, but that the rest of us wanted to stay.

“Are you sure she wants to come home early?” She asked. But what she was really asking was that if there was any way I could keep Viki there, she would be infinitely grateful. I could hear in her voice she had plans for the day which didn’t include an extra trip to Lagoon.

“Actually, Mom,” I hesitated, looking over at Viki, “I think she’ll be fine. She is feeling much better. We’ll just go on slow rides and take it easy.”

“If you’re sure.” She answered, with a thank you in her tone. “Call me again if you change your mind.”

I hung up the phone and turned around to find Viki. But I didn’t turn around empty-handed. ......

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lagoon (part 2 of 4)

STOP! Before you read part #2, make sure you've read part #1. It will make much more sense! Warning: do not read this section on a queasy stomach. Also, this is my favorite of the four parts, but still not the most 'surprising'! Isn't the suspense just getting to you???? Enjoy.... Jennie

Part #2

“I think I’m going to throw up!” She gagged out between fingers covering her mouth. About two seconds later, she could have dropped the “I think” part. Fortunately, she caught the majority in her hand, but not before a few drops of proof fell on the seat. I hoped no one was correctly guessing that they’d get cart number 16 next. I grabbed her available hand and yanked her away from the scene of the crime. We mingled in with the rest of the victims and made our way safely through the exit path and out into open air.

I ran to the nearest authority figure to ask for directions to the bathroom. About ten yards in front of me was a row of game booths. The one closest happened to be “Whac-a-Mole”. The booth lodged three nine-patch holes side by side, waiting for gullible passerbys to drop a dollar for the opportunity to hit some ill-meaning moles who popped up more irregularly than popcorn kernels. There was an overly enthusiastic teenager operating the booth. He saw me approaching and mistook my eager gait for an keen desire to throw away money.

“How about a game of Whac-A-Mole?” he shouted into his make-shift microphone.

“Where is the bathroom?” I shouted at him. Viki’s stomach was not done punishing my manipulation. We needed sanctuary in the form of a backless toilet.

Either he hadn’t heard my plea, or he was more interested in refereeing a silly game, because he shouted out to the park, “Step right up! We have one player! Come try your hand at ‘Whac-A-Mole’. Only one dollar a game!”

“PLEASE!” I was screaming at him now. “I NEED to know where the nearest bathroom is!” I was whacking the game top with enough force the scare any moles back in their holes, should any rebellious rodents dare show their annoying plastic faces. I think Enthusiastic Teenager was scared for the safety of his game, but still he refused me passageway to the restroom. By this time Viki had made it to the booth and was tugging at my shirt, afraid to open her mouth for fear of what might come hurling out. I looked up, begging with my eyes for aide.

What happened next will stay with me until my deathbed, and probably well into the next life. If I grow old and get Alzheimer’s and forget my own children’s names, I will still remember the stark details of the next ten seconds of infamy that sunny day in Lagoon. It felt like the world was suddenly turning in half speed. Everything occurred in slow motion, but it still wasn’t slow enough for me to stop it.

I was facing Enthusiastic Teenager head on, willing him to point me in the right direction. He was a typical employee of a local amusement park, too tall for his body. His standard Lagoon-issue striped shirt was short on him, but practically fell off his shoulders. His hair was full of unruly brown curls and his face was blotted with acne. His red bow tie was crooked and partially undone. But, in his booth, he was king of his dominion. His fist-sized microphone was a scepter that bestowed power he would never find in the halls of High School. He was determined to get people to play his game, as if that was the entire purpose of life and he was our guide.

Viki was facing me, on my right side, impatiently pulling at the sleeve of my white cotton shirt with green rims. Enthusiastic Teenager could see Viki’s side profile perfectly as he continually tried to lure people to the game.

And then, Viki could wait no longer. Out came everything she had digested for the past 24 hours at least. Out it came, and found a home all over me. She was just a few inches shorter than me, so it perfectly drenched me from the tops of my shoulders to my shoes.

Enthusiastic Teenager still had his fingers on his precious microphone and had just started over on his sales pitch.

“How about a game of “Whac-A-WOOOOAH!!!” He screamed into the speaker. I finally had his undivided attention. Unfortunately, thanks to his announcement into the microphone and Viki’s display of undigestibles, I also had the attention of every person within a 50 foot radius.

“Looks like YOU need a bathroom!” Enthusiastic Teenager was still holding the button that relayed his voice for all to hear, but at least it was in response to our situation.

I didn’t even nod. I didn’t speak at all. I couldn’t move. I just wanted to disappear, to blink my eyes, which were the only part of me not covered in stinking puke, and magically vanish. I’d willingly join those pesky brown moles in their protective holes now. Bring on the whacking.

When he finally pointed us towards the bathrooms, I waited two more seconds and then I started to move. I didn’t bother to thank him. I just moved away, letting the sick and whatever pride I had grown in thirteen summer seasons on earth fall off me. Someone was speaking, but I couldn’t process the words.

“so, so, sorry.... didn’t mean..... please..... sorry...... Jennie...... so, so.” Viki was following me, apologizing her apparently-working-just-fine-now mouth off. I couldn’t respond to her. I made a beeline for the bathroom hoping to get out of my clothes before I added to them with my own vomit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lagoon (part 1 of 4)

The Centennial Screamer. Just swishing those words through my lips sent alternating ripples of bravery and shivers down my spine. The Centennial Screamer. It was the newest attraction at our local amusement park, Lagoon: mecca for all children in the greater Salt Lake Valley. And today, today I was going to conquer it. Of course, I still had to convert my little sister to the gospel of The Centennial Screamer. But, I had a plan.

Lagoon was a once-a-year-at-most prize and I was going wrap my arms around it and soak it in like a bee collecting pollen. The sun was shining, accompanied by a slight breeze, making it the perfect background for a day spent outside. My mother dropped us off at the entrance gate loaded with sack lunches and enthusiasm. Before she left, she gave us enough money for admission fees plus one entire dollar for each of us to spend at our leisure. At our leisure! She probably said something like, “Save some in case of an emergency.” But, I stopped listening once the coin was in my palm.

“I’ll pick you up right here at 8:00 tonight.” And then, she was gone. Gone! I turned around to face the enormous entrance gates and smiled. The world behind the metal bars was mine to consume. I was thirteen and primed for the task. There was four of us; my older brother Tom, me, my 11-year old sister Viki, and my 9-year old sister Emily. Immediately, we divided up to attack the park. Tom went with Viki and I had Emily. We set up a meeting place for a few hours from then and ran as fast as we could to wait in the nearest line.

Emily would have been easy enough to convince to go on The Centennial Screamer with me, but I couldn’t fool the height charts posted periodically throughout the park. She wasn’t tall enough. So, ‘The Ride’ would have to wait until I was with Viki, harder to convince, but several inches taller. Time launched by and soon we were meeting up and trading siblings. I didn’t waste anytime approaching my first order of business: The Centennial Screamer.

“No way I’m gonna ride that one!” Viki said.

I expected as much. She hated these rides. She got sick easily, and no one willingly repeats that exposure. So, I had to convince her to convince herself. I had to make her believe she would not get sick. If I was overly confident, my conviction might bleed onto her. If she just got into line, more than half the battle would be won. We’d be committed. But, I had to completely manipulate her without her being aware of it, and she was no idiot.

“You can do it! It’s not really that scary. Besides, you’re almost twelve years old.” The difference between eleven and twelve was so much more than a single digit. Twelve meant responsibility and dependability. Now, I needed to stay quiet and let my infallible logic sink it. Would she take the bait?

“I really don’t want to, though.” She almost sighed, as if preparing for resignation. Wow! This was going better than I thought. She had catapulted from ‘No way’ to ‘I really don’t want to’. Just a few well-placed shoulder taps, words, and smiles and we’d be wasting the near future waiting in a long line.

“Of course it seems scary, but look how many people are in line! And, you know how fast these rides are. It will be over before you know it. You’ll probably wish it was longer.” I playfully hit her arm and stifled a laugh to make sure she knew I meant no foul.

“But I might get sick. I..”

“Hey!” I interrupted before we went too far down that literally slippery slope, “You won’t get sick. It’s all in your head. Just tell yourself you won’t get sick and you won’t be sick. I promise.” My logic was impressing even me! Mind over matter. Simple as that.

“Can’t we just go on another ride instead?” Viki asked, with both hope and defeat in her eyes.

She paused on the word instead. It was her tell. She’d been had. I’d won. But, just to play it safe, I pulled out my trump.

“Look, if we get all the way up to the front and you are still scared, we don’t have to actually go on the ride.” Before I had even finished, we were moving toward the target. We both knew we’d go on this ride before the hour was out. There was no way we were going to spend time in a line without payoff. And the condition I slipped in? She had to admit she was too scared. It was never going to happen. I smiled inwardly at my sales skills.

The line was longer than the Oregon Trail. Everyone wanted to test their bravery on this ride. ‘You will Scream’ the tag line promised. And scream they did. And scream and scream and scream. Group by daring group, the passengers got into carts which would spin and spin, then, usurping the magic that only exists in metal form at amusement parks, the entire contraption would slowly rise up on its side and spin not only horizontally, but vertically as well.

As we got closer to the no-backing-out-now point, even I started to panic. There was a lot of screaming going on. But, no amount of money in the known world would have convinced me to walk away from what lay ahead. Okay, I’m sure anything over about twenty dollars could have lured me away, but no one was offering, so I was staying put. But, Viki was getting more and more scared. I could see it in the whites of her knuckles and how sub-consciously one hand would hold her stomach, as if trying to send it calming signals. One thing always worked well in situations like this one. A wonderfully useful friend called Distraction.

“Let’s try and guess which cart number is going to be ours!” My voice was falsely enthusiastic. “Winner gets to choose the next ride.”

It worked. Before we’d had time to change our guesses more than three times each, it was our turn at destiny. Neither of us guessed our cart number correctly, so ride dictatorship was still up for grabs. Number 16 was our home for the imminent future. We secured both the bars and our seat belts. It should have been a sign of potential disaster that there were two methods of protection. I had time to flash Viki one last smile and slough off some sincere words of encouragement before we started to spin.

We hadn’t been spinning more than two or three times, however, before my concern for the state of Viki’s stomach was thrown from my mind with overwhelming concern for the state of my own. It was well-past too late to do anything about it now. It’s all in my head. I tried my ‘mind over matter’ logic out. Yeah, right. This ill feeling is definitely NOT coming from my head. More like my stomach, esophagus, no wait, back down to my stomach, ooh! up it goes, this is never going to end. If I actually scream, more than a scared voice might just come out.

But, as all amusement park rides do, this one ended in just over a minute. As we started to normalize, I turned to Viki with a smile etched on my face from sheer necessity. If I got that sick, then how was she handling it?

Apparently, she wasn’t.

Related Posts with Thumbnails