Friday, October 17, 2014

Pumpkin Pie: A Return to Blogging

Post-mission food intolerance. It's more common than you might realize. Missionaries leave home for 18 months to 2 years, eating whatever is offered to them, whether they like it or not, and everything is just dandy. Then they come home and find that, for some strange reason, milk suddenly makes them sick. Or maybe it's gluten that they can no longer stomach. Sugar, meat, bread, whatever the culprit may be, it seems that one thing or another finds its way onto the "Banned Foods" list for a returned missionary. For me, my post-mission "Banned Foods" list seems to read "All Foods Except For..." and then a short list of friendly comestibles. Sugar, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, chocolate, potatoes, and a few other randoms are my new worst enemies.
    I've gotten pretty good at saying no to foods that upset my stomach. I've had a lot of practice over the past 6 months since I've been home. Candy is no longer a temptation. Processed foods puffed up with soy and corn make me laugh. Sugar can be tough, chocolate depressing, but I manage.  I no longer go to parties for the food, since there's never anything I can eat there anyway, and every date has me on my knees praying that we won't do anything that involves food (who wants to be THAT girl who turns down every delicious morsel?). Overall, I feel pretty good about the self-control I've developed. I'm almost always good about doing what's good for my body.


A few weeks ago I went to Institute with one of my roommates. It was an excellent class and, as always, it was followed up with a treat at the back of the room. I lingered to talk with some friends and didn't so much as look at the food table. Until....

    "What do they have back there?"
    "Eh, it's just pumpkin pie."

     Like a werewolf changing under a full moon, my body reacted. I felt my hair stand on end. My gums seemed to retract to bare my fangs-- er, teeth. My muscles tensed, my fists clenched. My senses of sight, sound and smell were heightened and my mouth began to water. With large, wild eyes, I whipped around to face the refreshment table. "PUMPKIN PIE?!" Heaven help the poor fools who got in my way as I tore through the crowd.
    "Your stomach," my roommate cautioned. But it was too late. I had already sunk my teeth into the nostalgic delicacy and was lost in another time and place, my eyes closed to the world around me.

      If memories could be eaten, they would come in the form of pumpkin pie. It tastes like the middle school Thanksgiving play with Pilgrims and Indians. It tastes like crispy red, gold, and orange leaves blowing down the street with every gust of autumn wind. It tastes like being home with the whole family because school's out and no one has to work. It tastes like laughter. It tastes like a prayer of thanks over a home-raised turkey on the family farm and feeding apples to the horses. It tastes like pulling the holiday decorations out of the attic. It tastes like setting the table with the gold-tipped china and learning how to fold the cloth napkins with Rebecca. It tastes like Reana singing while she plays the piano and the cat makes off with a piece of the ham and the dog throws all his weight against the sliding glass door, demanding entrance to see to it that justice is served. It tastes like reading a book with a warm blanket while rain beats on the windows. It tastes like Bing Crosby singing about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. It tastes.. it tastes....

When I came to, I was sitting in my roommate's car with an empty paper plate in my hands and a plastic fork licked clean. Oh no, thought I, what have I done? I resolved to put the incident behind me and move forward with dignity.

I am not a frequenter of the snack bar at work, but yesterday I noticed a white box sitting on the counter, offering the PP-word  for a price. Exercising great restraint to silence the snarling beast within, I turned away and walked calmly back up to my desk. I had evaded the intruder for the moment, but that golden crust and fluffy orange filling haunted me for the rest of the day. Even when I went home that night, I itched for the PP-word. This morning when I came in to work, I had to deliver mail to one of the offices downstairs, and as I passed the snack bar, I saw that the PP-word had been labelled as "Free: Please Eat!"

It tastes like snuggly warm scarves and the clicking sound of your favorite boots on the sidewalk, the leaves crunching beneath them. It tastes like getting lost in a corn maze with your friends and finding the perfect pumpkin in the muddy patch.  It tastes like watching Miracle on 34th Street during the transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It tastes like Little League baseball practice in the park down the street. It tastes like reading newspaper comics on an overcast morning. It tastes like school fundraisers and Church picnics. It tastes like joy!

And though it may have left me with a bit of a stomach ache, thank you, Pumpkin Pie, for the inspiration to pick up blogging again.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Little Women

It's a Little Women day today. The trees are dripping gold and red all over the sidewalks, the sky is overcast, and little flurries of snow are twirling around the windows. It's a day for brewing tea or hot chocolate and snuggling on the couch with a blanket while watching the March sisters parade about their attic in costumes and say "Marmy" and be scandalized about Laury putting snow on Meg's ankle. Unfortunately, a DVD of said movie is nowhere to be found. Apparently everyone likes to watch the March sisters at this time of year.

Clearing away the Halloween drawings from my front window and replacing them with Turkeys and ships and corn and Indians and Pilgrims with Jessi, I once again found myself missing my own little women. My sisters, all with beauty and wit and character to rival that of the fictional March sisters. Rachel, Reana, Rebecca, and Risa, my very best friends, my greatest treasures! As I settled for listening to the songs from the stage version of Little Women, my mind came alive with my own memories of growing up with four of the most fantastic women ever to grace the planet and, like Jo, I couldn't help wishing that we'd never grow up and wondering, "Will we never all be together again?" I do so miss the days when we were all together every day.
.... But then I thought of my new sister, Rachel, and my new brother, Blair, and my very new Nephew, Paul. Growing up brings so many changes that are hard for me, but there are the blessings, too. It was hard for me when Rebecca moved out of the house to live with her husband, but Blair proved to be such a great blessing to the family that I was glad she did. Though the family is more spread out these days, it's also growing, and the times we do get to spend together become even more precious. I am so excited for Thanksgiving to come so I can see my beautiful family! It is only the tiniest taste of the excitement I feel for an even greater reunion in the next life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bram Stoker and Candy Corns

It's funny how you don't even realize how many family traditions you have until you move away from home. At least, that's been the case for me. We had a perfect, motion-picture-worthy Autumn day here a little over a week ago, and everything about it-- the colors of the turning trees, the overcast lighting, the crisp chill of the air tickling my skin, the smell of wet leaves on the ground, the sound of their squish as I walked over them in my boots, and the cozy confines of a coat and scarf, all shot me with thrilling ease back into the days of past Halloweens and Thanksgivings. The Holiday season is beginning! It's been my favorite time of year for as long as I can recall. The season starts off with my dad's birthday in September and rolls on from there with one family birthday (including my own) after another, mixed in with the best of the holidays. But I have to confess, I've been dreading this joyous time for the past few months. This is the time of family and memories. How can it possibly roll forth without my Risa?
So when I felt the familiar holiday spirit bubbling up in my gut last week without hesitation, I confess it took me by surprise. I ran with the feeling as easily as a piece of straw runs with a river current. Using the spare change in the bottom of my purse, I picked up some little pumpkin candy dishes from the DI and filled them with candy corns.
Then I bought some window crayons and went wild decorating my front window for Halloween. I draped a ribbon made from a pumpkin-patterned fabric over my entryway door frame and perched a dollar-store Dracula figurine on top of the VCR. It seemed that every cheap decoration brought to mind more memories of traditions I'd always taken for granted back home. Like mom's fun Halloween picture books: Cinderella Skeleton and Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwhich, that sit on the coffee table every year. And the stuffed black cat with the gangly limbs that perches on the piano.

All of the decorations and do-dads gathered over the years from seasonal bazaars and craft stores that I was used to pulling out in the month of October. I miss them all so terribly now. Not so much for what they are, but for the memories behind them. I remember pulling them out of the attic this time last year with Risa. She was much lighter than I, so she braved the broken ladder in my parents' bedroom and passed down the Halloween boxes to me. I can still recall the smell of them-- the smell of rubber masks and tangled wig hairs stuck to old, sticky candy. How we giggled! It never got old, year from year, pulling the decorations from each box and saying, "Oh yeah, remember this?!" and then finding a place to put it.My roommates were all off at school and work as I decorated the apartment. I felt so lonely, missing Risa and thinking back on our last Halloween together. But then I put on some fun Halloween music (thank you Michael Jackson and Tim Burton for your contributions) and cheered up and let myself enjoy this college experience. I even went to the library and checked out my favorite picture books that mom has back home and set them on my little apartment coffee table. And then I checked out Walt Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (another family tradition) and invited some friends over to watch it with me on Sunday night. Then I went to the library again and checked out Bram Stoker's Dracula-- a classic read for this time of year.
It's been great fun, inviting friends and neighbors to draw something on the window when they come over. So, the moral of the story is... just because things are different, it doesn't mean they can't still be fun. :)
(And yes, the "S" is backwards. YOU try writing on the inside and making it look right!)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Make me an Instrument

Twenty years old, living far from home, working part time to scrape up enough dough to pay the rent and feed my bottomless pit of a belly, and entangled in the college world as I am, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I've been thinking a lot about my future lately. Where will I go? What will I do? What should I be doing now to prepare for it? Should I continue to flail around helplessly in the treacherous waters of the dating pool, or should I brave the vast mission field? Should I go the medical rout and make bank as a nurse? Should I go into business so I can pursue my dream of opening an adorable pie shop? Should I study teaching so I can have some effect on the rising generation? Or should I be an English Major and, after many years of editing for other writers, some day publish a work of my own? And on top of all of these questions, I'm reminded again and again that I haven't yet evaded the question that preceded them all: where should I go to school?
I was attending BYU as a Visiting Student for the past two terms, but now my time is up and I have to apply to be a Full-time Student. If I am accepted, hurrah! But if not... I'll have to find myself another school. I've been accepted at UVU (Utah Valley University), which isn't far from where I'm living, but I'd have to pay out-of-state tuition there, and I really can't afford it. I suppose I could just continue living and working here until next April, when I'll gain residency and won't have to pay out-of-state, and then I could start at UVU. But if I were to do that, I worry that I'd be wasting a lot of time. You see the dilemma. Boo hoo, poor me, I'm going through what everyone goes through at some time or another.

A good friend of mine played his cello for me and my roommates last night. The instrument had been sitting in my closet for the past two days, silent and still, while he'd been out of town, but it came to life when he held it. As I watched the way Joseph's fingers moved with seeming ease over the strings of the cello, and the way he guided the bow with majestic precision, creating the most beautiful sounds I'd ever heard, the phrase "an instrument in God's hands" came to my mind and lingered. I marveled at what could come out of that cello when it was in the able hands of its master. He knew his cello. He knew what it was capable of, and how to bring out the best it could produce. Without him, it could never have filled my home with such melodious strains, but with him-! My goodness, what a magnificent creation it was!

I thought of myself as an instrument in the hands of my Master. Of myself, I can do little more than a cello sitting in a closet, but if I place my will into the Hands of the Perfect Musician, He can use me as an instrument to accomplish amazing things. He knows me. He knows what I am capable of better than I myself do, and He knows what strings to touch, how to hold me, and how to guide me so that I can accomplish what He wants me to accomplish.
After this beautiful experience, I was led, during my scripture study, to this quote by Elder Henry B. Eyring:

"The real life we're preparing for is eternal life. Secular knowledge has for us eternal significance. Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things so that we may one day create worlds and people and govern them. All we can learn that is true while we are in this life will rise with us in the Resurrection. And all that we can learn will enhance our capacity to serve. That is a destiny reserved not alone for the brilliant, those who learn the most quickly, or those who enter the most respected professions. It will be given to those who are humbly good, who love God, and who serve Him with all their capacities, however limited those capacities are-- as are all our capacities, compared with the capacities of God."

Maybe it doesn't matter so much exactly what I do, as much as how I do it. A nurse, a pie-maker, a teacher, a writer... in any one of them, I can accomplish amazing things and be an influence for good in the world as long as I keep my heart in the right place, and allow my Master to do His work through me. No matter where I am in life, He can use me. So whether I start up school at BYU in the Winter, or work until April to attend UVU, or go to another school entirely, or serve a mission... as long as I am anxiously engaged in good causes, immersing myself in good books, practicing what skills I do have and working at gaining new ones, serving those around me, magnifying my calling, and diligently applying/preparing for school, it won't be a waste of time. I already have a stack of books in my room that I'm going to read, starting with the autobiography of Helen Keller. I'm going to pick up writing again. I'm not going to waste this time I have. I'm going to let myself be an instrument in the Lord's hands to accomplish whatever it is that He wants me to accomplish while I'm here-- because I know that I am where I need to be, even if I don't know exactly why.
I'm reminded of a song I sang in Encore choir a few years ago:
"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy."

I still don't know for sure what I'm going to do, but the moral of the story is... it's ok. For now, at least. I'll do all I can, and not just wait around for things to happen. I'm learning to be grateful for this time in my life that I'm learning patience and diligence and humility and what it takes to make things happen. Whatever happens, or doesn't happen in the winter, I won't be enrolled in school during the Fall, and this will be a great opportunity for me to learn how to be an instrument in the Lord's hands.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blue Skies

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin.
I see the blue above it.
And day by day this pathway smooths
since first I learned to love it.
The Peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing.
All things are mine, since I am His.
How can I keep from singing?

I sang this folk hymn with my sisters at Risa's funeral three months ago, and the words held so much meaning for me then, but it's amazing how every stanza continues to touch me more and more deeply as time passes.
The day we learned that Risa was dying, I stood in the hospital and looked out the window so she wouldn't see me crying. I remember that the window was very big, and the sky was covered in gray clouds, except for one long, clear, bright patch of blue. When dramatic things happen in your life, somehow everything takes on some meaning to you (at least, it tends to be that way with me), and this was one of those times. I remember feeling bitter at first, thinking of the clouded sky as a representation of reality- dark and gray and gloomy- and the blue patch as the few months that I thought Risa was going to get better. It didn't seem fair! Why had we been allowed to have such hope? Why those happy months, when it was all going to end so suddenly? What a cruel trick for the Lord to play on us. Thankfully, these bitter thoughts didn't last too long before I was shown that I was wrong. A paradigm shift revealed that the clouds weren't reality, but just the veil that is drawn over reality by this mortal state. The blue patch- that time we had with Risa when we thought that she was going to make it- was actually a window into what was real. Reality is that behind the clouds, there is nothing but blue sky. It may sound silly, and maybe it doesn't even make sense, but I took great comfort in it at the time. It was peaceful to think of those happy months with Risa as a window into eternity. In eternal reality, we will always be together without fear of death or sickness or anything else.

Even with all the comfort and sweet peace that the gospel provides, there are days that it's still hard. It's hard when the ache of missing Risa is so strong it hurts and the veil is thick. When I visited home over the 4th of July weekend, I was extremely nervous on the plane. I'd been away from home and family since the day of Risa's graveside service. It was a long ride back. My dad had purchased the cheapest possible airfare available on such late notice, and as a result I had to switch planes in Denver and again in Seattle, making it a 5-hour trip. My stomach seemed to squirm and twist inside me. I'd received a glorious phone call from Rebecca and Blair that morning, informing me that I was now an aunt!
Baby Paul Corson Hasler had been born at 8:01 that very morning! I was itching to see him and hold him in my arms! In that respect, it seemed I couldn't get to Oregon soon enough. But then on the other hand, I was terrified to go back to the place where Risa had died. I was terrified to find my old, beloved world changed.
My brother, Ryan, picked me up at the airport in Portland. I tried not to think of the last time we'd been together in Oregon. As we drove through Portland (my beautiful Portland), the memories barraged me with more force than I'd anticipated. Not just memories of Risa-- but memories of past relationships and friendships. Good times and bad, all swirled together in one, big, emotional tide-pool. I found my feet pressing on the floor of the car, as if that would somehow slow us down, and I shrank in my seat. We were going too fast. We were getting to close. I realized I wasn't ready for this. I wasn't ready to pass the Doernbecher Children's Hospital, where I'd spent several long nights during Risa's chemo treatments. I wasn't ready to pass the Portland Zoo, where my sisters and I had gone with Risa the weekend before she'd started chemotherapy. I wasn't ready to see the Allen freeway exit. I wasn't ready to see the Taco Time on Lombard. I wasn't ready to see the Taco Wagon and the Shell gas station on Hall Blvd. I wasn't ready to see the little park on the corner. I wasn't ready to turn at the green sign that read "Barlow"! Before I knew it, we were pulling in front of the big white house on the corner of Barlow and Lilly. There was dad's work van. There was mom's green Ford Escape. I noticed that a new baby tree had been planted to replace the old one that had died. I wasn't sure how I felt about that.
My feet made their way unwillingly to the door. Not the beautiful blue one on the porch-- the mudroom door. The handle was still as finicky as ever, and my stomach knotted at the way the door stuck at first and the familiar scraping sound it made as it was pushed open. It's strange how such little things come to mean so much.
The mudroom was empty, as usual. But even as I stood in its entryway, the house felt different. Too clean. Heavy. It smelled good, but the scent was unfamiliar. I felt like a stranger here.
Bowser looked like he was about to attack me at first (some strange girl invading his castle!), but after a moment of hearing me squeal his name in the customary overzealous greeting, his stubby tail began to wag, he trembled with excitement and welcomed me home.
It was so strange, and wonderful, and painful, to see mom and dad again. Dad looks older.
Finally dad took me to the St. Vincent Hospital to meet my new nephew. The last time I'd been in that building, it was to learn that Risa's liver was failing and she had mere days left to live. I kept my fists tightly clenched as I walked through the sliding glass front doors, past the
too-familiar front desk, the sickeningly pleasant gift shop, the statue of an angel... it was all like walking into my worst nightmare. Dad seemed to be reading my thoughts. "I haven't been here since Risa..." he said.
I didn't want to talk about it, but I nodded and said I was thinking the same thing.
Back into that dreaded elevator, up we went. The baby floor looked uncannily like the cancer floor. They were on the same side of the hospital. But as we walked down the hall, rubbing sanitiser into our hands, I noticed the cheerful pink and blue bubbles on the outside of each door announcing, "Boy!" or "Girl!"
Rebecca's room was set up just like Risa's had been, only everything was reversed. It was like a mirror image. The bed was facing the other way, up against the opposite wall. The shelves, the TV, all opposite from where they'd been in Risa's room. And there was a crib. The whiteboard, instead of listing nurses' names and drugs to be fed into the I.V. at certain times as Risa's had, had the name of the midwife and in large letters, "Congratulations!" This room was a place of cheer. One thing only was exactly the same... the large window and the view it looked on.
I'll never forget the moment that my little nephew was placed into my arms, glorious in all his tiny perfection. He was so soft. I marveled at this little person who had so recently left the presence of God. Did he remember Risa? What had she told him about us? Did he know who I was? Beside me, Rebecca related the events that had transpired to bring him into this life. It was a story of pain and fatigue beyond anything she'd experienced before, and it was strange how similar it sounded to what Risa had had to go through. Something about this life-- it's hard to get in and it's hard to get out.
As I was thinking about this, my eyes were drawn again to that big window. Holding the newest member of our family (our eternal family) in my arms and feeling Risa so near, the veil felt very thin. I couldn't help marveling when I realized there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It stretched clear and bright and blue as far as the eye could see.
A friend told me the other night that peace doesn't necessarily come all at once, but over time, as we keep exercising faith in the Lord and obeying Him even when it's hard. This, he said, is the witness that comes after the trial of our faith.
I know that there are still many hard, lonely days ahead of me, but I have felt such peace and love from my Savior. As time goes by, I feel that I understand a little better. Just a little at a time. And while a cloudless sky may mean nothing to anyone else, it was exactly what I needed at the time and it served as a powerful reminder to me of what is real. The Lord is mindful of me and my family. Day by day, this pathways smooths as I
learn to love it.

My life flows on in endless song
above earth's lamentation.
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul--
how can I keep from singing?

What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord, my Savior, liveth!
What tho' the darkness gather 'round?
Songs in the night He giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that refuge clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of Heav'n and Earth,
how can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin,
I see the blue above it.
And day by day, this pathway smooths
since first I learned to love it.
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing.
All things are mine, since I am His.
How can I keep from singing?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

LIVE, Because You Can

I'm pretty much convinced that I live in the best area BYU has to offer, with some of the coolest people on this green earth. I'm not looking forward to Genevieve and Alex moving out this week. It's been such a fun term! Thank goodness I'll still have Nataly and Chelsea, along with all of my incredible neighbors!
It's been hard, being away from my family so soon after losing Risa, but I think it's been good for me. Admittedly, I have my days (well, it's usually nights) when I find myself wondering why I'm here, but I can't deny that this is where the Lord wants me to be, and I've been so blessed since my arrival. I've had the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing people, and I can feel my horizons expanding, my experiences growing, and my understanding of myself and other people stretching. Though I can't say that everything makes sense to me right now, I can say that I feel good about it and I'm ok with being patient. ...Most of the time.
I have my last Final for Spring term tomorrow morning, bright and early, so I really should be studying for that right now. Isn't it amazing how productive you can be when you're avoiding doing what you know you really should be doing? I finally cleaned my room yesterday, re-caulked my shower, put up the rest of the pictures my mother so kindly mailed to me, cleaned out my shelf of the pantry, posted to my blog, and saved all of the package peanuts from the massive box the pictures were mailed in by stuffing them into a huge black garbage bag, and now I'm posting to my blog again! Yay for me! ...But actually, bad for me, because I haven't even cracked open my D&C manual yet. Gargh. It's such a gorgeous day outside, and the pool is calling my name (which is crazy, considering I don't really care for swimming that much, and I'm kind of allergic to chlorine).
Alright, enough of this nonsense! I'm going to study now! For real. This is it. A beautiful day can only be made more beautiful by immersing myself in the Doctrine and Covenants, right? Right! So... here I go! Wish me luck!