March 26, 2011

Joy of Luck, Days 2-4

Day 2 on my "Joy of Luck" photography assignment was to photograph something green.  Since I'm desperate for spring, I thought that, surely, I could find some cheerful little flowers poking their heads up through the ground.  Ahem. 

I guess winter is never leaving my little corner of the frozen tundra, so I was forced, instead, to find green things around the house. 

I may be 20-something with many years experience, but I still love me a teddy bear, especially the old-fashioned looking variety.  I also have discovered that for 5-bucks, I can treat myself for months with this wonderful goat's milk soap that is sold in a boutique here in town.  I love the creamy softness, and it smells divine...

This is one of a set of cute frog canisters that I inherited when my Grandma Hooper passed away.  I didn't get to know her very well for a variety of reasons, but every memory I do have of her house includes this little frog set.  They also had a creaking rocking chair, and I can vividly remember my little 4-year-old self sitting on my grandfather's lap rocking in what I had dubbed the "frog chair," the woodsy scent of his pipe filling the air. 

Another of my five-buck pick-me-ups is flowers from the grocery store.  Mother nature may not be willing to bring spring to me, so I occasionally bring it to myself.  What can I say?  It keeps me from curling into a ball and crying in the corner...

Moving on to Day 3:  A lucky token.

I have never been one for believing in lucky tokens, although I still have to stop myself from lifting my feet whenever I pass over train tracks to avoid bad luck!  Anyway, instead of a lucky token I thought I'd show you a "lucky find" instead.

About 6 years ago I stumbled on an estate auction one Saturday morning.  I had never been to one before, and this one was a doozy.  Fortunately, I had Evan with me that day, and I kept him busy carting boxes of my loot out to our vehicle.  My favorite treasure of the day was this little Enesco music box...

It has an electrical plug, and when turned on it plays "Oh What A Beautiful Morning," while all the little mice figurines move around inside.  In short, it's adorable and never ceases to bring a smile to my face.  Enesco no longer makes these "musicals," and they routinely sell for $100 or more on E-bay, although I've never seen this particular one on there.  I did find a listing for it on a collector's website for a mere $750... I paid $20, and was instantly addicted to auctions!

Finally, Day 4's assignment was to take pictures of 7 material items that I love. 

I'm counting the music box and the canister set, followed by these:

I always loved the comic strip "Bloom County," (still do, actually!), and received this Opus stuffed animal for my 16th birthday.

I love to cross-stitch, and I started this picture when I was pregnant with Evan.  A year later, I finally finished it and had it framed. 

I started a large cross-stitch for Savannah when I was pregnant to put in her nursery.  It's only about two-thirds done, but I tell myself that I will finish it for her high school graduation.  Or to put in her baby's nursery, you know, after she's allowed to marry in her 40's.

I've imagined myself sitting on these porch steps many a time... :o) 

When my Grandma Collins died, I was given her jar of charms.  Here in this old Miracle Whip jar lays tokens from my mom's, my aunt's, and my uncles' childhood...  My biggest thrill when I was a kid was getting to get out a cookie sheet and spread the contents of this jar around, looking at each little trinket individually.

Another thing I got from my Grandma was a love of salt and pepper shakers, which she collected.  A few from my collection were handed down from her, but the rest I've amassed myself.

These are a few of my favorites from her collection: a Maytag washer and dryer set, the penguins - Salty and Peppy, and my all-time favorite, the toaster.  The shakers are the slices of bread, and if you press down the lever the bread actually moves down further in the slots. 

I found this little guy on a family vacation - I can't remember if it was in the Tetons or Glacier National Park.  Either way, I love how his body hugs the trunk of the tree.

This little stacking Victorian house set I got on our honeymoon.

This is the first pair I ever bought for myself, purchased when my Aunt Lois took my brother, cousin, and I to the Grand Canyon.  They also remind me of the pair I didn't buy because I am too cheap!  It was a rattlesnake, and both the head and the rattler lifted out of the body and were the shakers.  I will go to my grave regretting that I didn't shell out that five bucks!

These are Savannah's favorites because the Route 66 sign actually lights up, and the nozzles can actually lift off the side of the gas pump.

Another one from Grandma's collection.  I never learned to play piano, but I love this because it reminds me of both my grandparents'.

Finally, this little frog music box that my aunt bought for Evan when he was a baby, which is never allowed to leave my house because I love it so... :o)

March 24, 2011

My cup runneth over...

Or  The Joy of Luck - Day 1.

"Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want,
but the realization of how much you already have." - Anonymous

I signed up for a free online photography class - one of those that doesn't really go in-depth on technical stuff, but more or less gives you prompts to get you to use your camera and to photograph all parts of your life. The prompt for the first day was to take pictures of things we take for granted.

Did I get out my camera and immediately start taking pictures of faucets with running water, or light bulbs? No and no. Pictures of my family or the roof over our heads? Nada... The puppy dogs with wagging tails? Well... yes, but not for this assignment.

For Day 1, I didn't take a single picture.

Now I know that we all are guilty of taking many things for granted, myself included, but I can honestly say that I am at a stage of my life where I feel so thankful and blessed beyond measure. There is not a day that goes by that I don't thank God for all He's given me: a marriage filled with love and friendship, kids who are full of life, spunk, and humor (yes, even the teenagers), our home, abundant food (even if I do have to cook, dang-it), a good job, health insurance, on and on and on it goes...

Events in our life the past few weeks have driven home to me just how incredibly blessed we are. I read the news about all that's going on in the world, and it's easy to get discouraged. If you watch TV for more than five minutes, or read the headlines, it seems that God is nowhere to be found.

But then.

But then I see God working diligently in the lives of those I love. Giving strength and peace to family members facing desperate illnesses... Helping a teen stand up for what is right, rather than what friends' say is "cool"... Meeting physical and financial needs... The list is endless.

And answering prayers whispered long ago...

 Happy "Love Thursday". <3

March 3, 2011

Through Grandpa's Eyes - Part 2

I had driven for Grandpa a few times now, and we’d settled into a comfortable routine. After visiting with Grandma for a few minutes, she handed us our destinations on 3x5 cards, typed both in Braille and on a regular typewriter so either of us could read them. Grandpa rested a giant paw on one of my shoulders, towering over me with his sturdy 6-foot frame, as I led him out to the car: a behemoth 1970’s era Chevy Impala in the ugliest olive green ever seen. I was embarrassed to be seen in it – it was that ugly – but to my grandpa it may as well have been a Rolls Royce with all its legroom and ample seating. That was an added benefit to being blind: his vision was based solely on impressions from his heart, and in his eyes both the car and I were beautiful.

“Okay, Kewpie. You need to drive east on Broadway until we reach Saturn, then you’re going to want to turn south…” he instructed me as soon as we pulled out of the driveway.

Everyone thinks that in-car GPS units are a fairly recent invention, but I know better. Grandpa was the world’s first GPS unit. He had built a virtual map in his head of all the cities he had travelled in, and if he was unfamiliar with an area he would ask for the names of the roads we were crossing, and just like that they were added to the internal map. Idaho Falls is not like most Mormon communities which are built on the grid system, making addresses easy to find. No, in the Falls, most roads have random names: Broadway, Pancheri, Skyline Drive, St. Clair, and there was no rhyme or reason to where they were. However, I cannot remember a single time that he couldn’t get us to our destination, though he’d always joke with me that “you can’t get there from here.”

“Which way is south?” I asked, heading towards Saturn, and then listened as he patiently tried to teach me, for the umpteenth time, how to tell directions by the position of the sun in the sky, the time of day, and whatever else you needed to know; I still haven’t been able to figure that one out. Turn by turn he piloted until we glided right up in front of the house we were looking for.

“It’ll be on the right-hand side,” he said as he checked the house number on the Braille card, and so it was.

Once inside the house, he introduced me proudly to the lady who answered the door, embarrassing me by bragging about my recent win of the school spelling bee, as she led us to the upright piano, then left us to do our thing. Like a well-practiced surgical team, I cleared the piano top of all the smiling family photos and knick-knacks so that grandpa could pull the piano away from the wall. While he did that, I opened his battered toolbox and started laying out the tools he’d need, like a nurse prepping the doctor for surgery: tuning fork, tuning lever, myriad screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers, and the rolls of wool felt strips, used to mute and isolate the specific chords. I grabbed the blunted putty-knife-like tool used to stuff the felts, and carefully started threading them between the steel strings, each attached to the 88 piano keys, as he’d taught me to do.

At our next stop, we repeated the procedure, complete with some other bragging tidbit of what a “wonderful” granddaughter he had. These introductions always embarrassed me, but inside, my soul lapped it up like a kitten drinking sweet cream.

On these trips, Grandpa and I discussed everything under the sun. We’d talk about the current events of the day and what I was learning in school. I’d tell him about friends, and boys I liked, and what a pest my brother was. We discussed religion (he was a devout Baptist; I was being pressured by friends at school to attend and join the LDS church), and he explained the difference to me between religion and a personal relationship: two very different things when you are talking about God, no matter what church you belong to.

In more personal discussions Grandpa would tell me about his childhood and his early adult years, which were far from perfect. His dad, Frank Sr., died when he was 6 years old. A year later he started losing his sight to glaucoma – one of the earliest cases known in the country at that time – and went completely blind by the time he was 13. He told how his mom remarried when he was about 8 years old, giving him a cold and aloof man for a stepfather, who soon shipped both Grandpa and his brother Chuck, also blind, to the School for the Deaf and Blind in Gooding, Idaho, almost 400 miles to the south. He lived through World Wars I and II, and supported himself during the depression by hitchhiking around the country selling women’s hosiery with his guide dog, Hal, by his side. When Hal died a few years later, he vowed to never have another guide dog – you can’t replace a love like that.

Once he was set up, hands deep in the bowels of the piano, we got started on one of our favorite topics: reading. He must have had a photographic memory before he lost his sight, because he could recite whole pages of books that he’d read back then. In my English class I was being required to memorize The Children’s Hour by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Mentioning this to Grandpa, he immediately launched off in his deep, rich voice:

“Between the dark and the daylight,
When the light is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupation
That is known as the children’s hour…”

And finished by reciting perfectly, the entire 10-stanza poem.

Like me, he was a voracious reader, preferring to listen to talking books because his fingers, calloused from wrestling with untold thousands of piano strings, sometimes had a hard time feeling the raised bumps of the Braille. Each weekend we’d discuss at length books that we were both reading. I was in the midst of a preoccupation with Stephen King horror novels. Explaining the plot of the latest that I’d brought along with me to read while he tuned, Grandpa gently introduced me to the concept of “garbage in, garbage out.”

“Why do you want to fill your mind with that kind of thing?” he asked, perplexed. “Why, when there are so many good things to read, would you want to fill your heart with garbage? Reading should build you up, make you stronger, make you want to be a better person, help you learn things. You can read hard books, things that make you grapple with a truth. But books like that do nothing for you.”

Hmmm… there was no arguing with that one. All Stephen King really did for me was make me afraid to sleep at night, something I already had trouble with even without the gory books. Somehow I had convinced myself that it was “cool,” a safe way to exert my rebellious teenage nature since I knew better than to actually act out in other ways. I took that lesson to heart, its truth piercing me like an arrow, and that was the last horror novel I ever read.


One week that next summer, my grandparents and I took an extended road trip. My grandma was going to be staying in Boise for two weeks for some specialized training on a machine that could “read” the mail for her, a job that had hitherto been mostly mine. We loaded up the beast (as I fondly called the car) and drove, with only one glitch along the way: we blew a tire right as we took the exit into Boise. I was sure it was somehow my fault. The sound and jerking of the car scared me to death, but Grandpa calmly walked me through the steps of putting on the spare (“Be sure to tighten every-other lug nut in a star pattern until you’ve gotten them all”) and then helped me find my way through Boise – also in his catalog of in-head maps – and its maze of one-way streets to a tire store that was still open. The next day, after leaving Grandma at a friend’s house where she was staying, we started the trek back home.

Like always, there was no shortage of things to talk about, and we were cruising steadily along, while he told me many stories about his life. He attempted college several times, although his plans kept getting sidelined (something I definitely relate to now) so he never finished. One of my favorite stories he told was from his college days in Lewiston when one of his friends allowed him to drive his car around campus. They piled into the friend’s Model-T and drove all over, Grandpa at the wheel while his friend hovered close to his shoulder giving him detailed instructions. He laughed uproariously as he recounted the reaction they got when they pulled back into the dorm, shaking his head at the memory.

Grandpa’s car might have been ugly and big, but it sailed like a yacht on balmy seas, and you could be doing well over the speed limit without noticing, something I had to watch closely. As we were driving, he casually mentioned, “Let me know if there’s anything you want to stop and look at.”

“Really?” I said, thinking to myself yeah, right… It had never occurred to me that I could have a say in where we went. In my mind, cars were merely tools meant to get you from Point A to Point B in the quickest amount of time.

Testing the waters, I mentioned a sign we had just passed announcing a place called Massacre Rocks State Park. “It’s about 10 miles out of our way,” I told him when we passed the next sign for it, thinking that he’d tell me to keep driving, but instead he encouraged me to take the side trip – after all, we didn’t have to be back at any particular time. It was a beautiful day, sun shining. We walked the trail, me leading the way as he walked, attached, steadily behind me, to look at Register Rock, a huge boulder that was covered with the names of pioneers who’d passed through on the Oregon Trail. I read him the historical markers that were on the trail, and then we spent a few minutes resting at a picnic table, enjoying the slight breeze.

He took the moment to share with me a story about his grandfather, a hard man with his daughter but one who’d shown a soft-spot when it came to his grandson.

“When it became clear that I was going to go completely blind, my grandfather gave me a real treasure: a pair of 8-power binoculars that I could look at things with, encouraging me to appreciate it all. Oh, I carried them with me everywhere, studying things intently. When I finally did lose my sight, grandfather, ever practical, took the binoculars back from me. Sad as I was to lose them, I was so grateful for the gift that he’d given me, the gift of seeing."


Summarizing all the things I learned from Grandpa is an impossible task: tips on driving through the winter snow (“Be extra careful on bridges and overpasses, as the air under them is colder and creates ice”), lessons on ancient Roman engineering, and how to re-cover piano keys (a tedious, seemingly endless job but one which taught me the importance of paying attention to detail), among a thousand others.

Grandpa taught me to live life and see it as the gift it is, planting the seeds to sing just for the enjoyment it brings me no matter how terrible I might sound (and trust me – it's pretty terrible! I still do that only when I'm alone), to let down my guard and act silly on occasion, and to treat myself with kindness, not taking myself so seriously all the time.

More than that, though, he showed me what unconditional love looks like and that I was, indeed, worthy of it. To the casual observer watching us walk together it would appear that I was leading a blind man, but in truth, he was the one leading me.

March 2, 2011

"G" is for Gentle Giant

See "Grandpa." 

One of my friends has been posting blogs for ABC Wednesday (click on the link to see more "G" posts), so I thought I'd give it a try.  As usual, I'm a little late getting started, but I'll try to make up A-F some other time.  Here's an excerpt from one of the personal essays I wrote in my memoir-writing class.  I hope you enjoy!

"Through Grandpa's Eyes"

Age 14 was truly magical if you lived in the potato-filled land of Idaho, for that was when you could earn your driver’s license. “Spud-miners,” as we liked to call them, needed help during the harvest, and kids our age were cheap labor.  In order to drive the farm equipment, though, you had to have a license, so the legislature had at some point lowered the driving age, a very wise decision my friends and I all agreed.  I had finally turned 14 in late July, and my mom had driven me to the driver’s license division that very day (after much wheedling by myself, I’m sure) to put my name on the list to take the Driver’s Ed. Class.  Unfortunately for me, there were too many people with June birthdays, so I would have to wait for the next class, to be held in the winter, seemingly light-years away.

Ugghhh! Life was so unfair…


In my exuberance, I slammed the door of my mom’s 1978 Buick Regal shut with a little more force than necessary. A beautiful burnt orange color, the Regal was almost eight years old, but it was the newest car we’d ever owned.   I was still in shock that Mom had handed me the keys and allowed me to drive the entire 15 miles from Rigby to Idaho Falls, in February, in the snow.

Cringing at the loud sound, I yelled “Sorry, Mom!” over my shoulder as I bounded toward the front door of my grandparents’ doublewide mobile home on Vassar Way, leaving her and my little brother, Forrest, behind, still fumbling with their seatbelts.  I hurried into the house, the cheerful jangling sound of the bells hanging on the inside of the front door announcing my arrival.  “Mad Manor” we affectionately called the house because of the never-ending hustle and bustle that went on under its roof: phone ringing, TV blaring, dog, cats, and assorted grandkids underfoot, and always my grandparents’ loving banter. 

I practically danced into the kitchen where grandpa was in the process of cooking dinner.  The aroma of his special cheesy ham and rice casserole, one of my favorites, perfumed the air, and the kitchen was extra warm and cozy thanks to the well-used oven.  In the office, grandma was busy on the phone, booking his jobs for the next week.

Grandpa was a piano tuner by trade, with well over 40 years under his skilled fingers.  Grandma was his “favorite secretary” and had been booking jobs for him just as long, calling in the evenings when people were home, keeping grandpa informed of her progress while he cooked their meals for them in the kitchen. 

He and my grandma also happened to be totally blind.

 “This is Mary Collins, the piano tuner’s wife,” she chirped into the phone nestled up to her ear, snuggled in place by the oversized shoulder rest.  Confirming the appointment, she dug to get one of the 3x5 cards out of the plastic-wrapped packet.  Finally succeeding, she deftly slid it into the Braille writer and started typing up the details – name, date, time, address, and when it was last tuned – the distinctive crunch-punch sound of the cardstock seeming to fill up the room.  After hanging up the phone, she called out to my grandpa in her sing-song voice: “Oh goody!  I got you another one for Tuesday.”   Grandpa, rifling through a drawer in the kitchen in search of a serving spoon, boomed out words of encouragement.

“Grandpa!  Look what I got!” I said, placing the laminated plastic card in his outstretched hand. 

“Well, well… what have we got here?” he asked, with an air of teasing in his voice as he held the card in one hand and ran a finger from the other around the plastic.

“My driver’s license!” I exclaimed.  “I can’t believe I finally got it!”

“I’m so proud of you Kewpie,” he said, pulling me to his side with one of his tight hugs.  Kewpie dolls were little bald baby-dolls that were popular when he was a kid; he had labeled me such at birth, and the name stuck even though I was no longer a baby, or bald for that matter.  Seeing one for the first time I thought they were hideous little things, but the way he said it made it seem like the greatest compliment ever.  In his eyes, I was truly precious, even though I knew better.

From the office, I could hear my grandma calling to me: “I want to see!” so off I went to show her too, repeating the process of placing it in her outstretched hand and watching as she caressed it with her fingers.  “Just think, Frank,” she called to my grandpa.  “Now you have a Saturday driver!”  Because of his blindness, he had to employ drivers to ferry him around to all his appointments. 

Grandma followed through and managed to regularly schedule us a few jobs several days each month.  There were times that I didn’t want to give up my Saturdays, but there weren’t that many ways to earn spending money at that age.  Among other things, I needed the money to feed my Q-Bert habit, an arcade game that sat in the Skyline Bowling Alley and which officially proclaimed to the world that TLV was the “Supreme Noser!”  I had coveted that award for months and had spent hours and hours of baby-sitting money, frittered away one plunked-down quarter at a time, before finally attaining it; now I had my honor to defend.  

Driving for grandpa would give me a steady income, and it sure beat babysitting the neighbor’s little brats. 

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW... (It's just too long otherwise!)