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While driving around LA the other day, I saw this Facebook post from Lana. I literally had just driven past the Getty. After commenting on having just passed her on the 405, Rob and I invited ourselves were asked to have dinner with the Utzingers on Sunday. What a treat! We love Rob and Lana and their family. Lana made a yummy dinner centered on my Rob’s request for Kauai Krunch Cake. Rob has a habit of making dessert requests of our hosts. It’s a good thing they like him…We also got to tour their cute home in the desert. It really is nice. Lana has created a library out of one of the rooms. It is the perfect room.

While we were visiting, Lana mentioned that Jenna and Clayton had incorporated regular family councils into their lives as a result of the family life education I had conducted with her. Jenna kindly agreed to be a participant in my student teaching requirements for my degree. I was so happy to hear that they had found family/couple councils to be helpful! I have had 2 or 3 classes that have taught the benefits of conducting family councils based on the council method employed by the Council of the Twelve Apostles. One of my classes suggested it as a means of conflict management. Another suggested it as a method to help families deal with stress. This is a Prezi presentation created by a BYU-I instructor that explains the use of councils to reach consensus as opposed to compromise. It includes a YouTube of Henry B. Eyring’s and Cleon Skousen’s first experiences with council deliberations. It is incredibly eye-opening. The guiding principles of council deliberations are love and selflessness. The Twelve open their meetings not with prayer first, but with expressions of love for one another. (Consider the instructions we are given before beginning a prayer circle in the temple.) During council discussions, all members speak frankly regarding the business at hand. One apostle described his first meeting with the Twelve this way:

…an apostle once shar[ed] with the faculty at BYU Idaho that when he attended his first meeting with the Twelve he was surprised at the forcefulness of the discussion. After he sat quietly for some time, another apostle passed him a note that read,

“Welcome to the Quorum of the Twelve. Here we play hardball.”

No one takes offense because all members are seeking to know the Lord’s will in the matter, and are not trying to persuade members to adopt their own position. That is key. When our council discussions become about asserting our will instead of ascertaining the Lord’s will, we have lost the influence of the Spirit and our deliberations become contentious rather than collaborative. David Pulsipher gave a really good talk about the difference between disagreement and contention that elaborates on learning to see disagreement as positive, provided it does not become contentious.

I wish I had learned of these methods when Rob and I were young and Rob and first married. I have heard of family councils for a long time now, but how to make them useful and meaningful was lost to me until this last semester. This is the agenda that the Twelve follow:

 

Before opening the meeting, express love, appreciation, and admiration for one another. Be genuine, but also be generous.

  1. Open with prayer, inviting the Spirit to assist in the decision process.
  2. Discuss the topic, making sure that each person has obvious opportunities to share her/his perspectives without interruption or dispute.
    • This will likely be unusual the first time, so it may need to be discussed in advance. It might be useful to explain what Elder Eyring and Cleon Skousen related (refer to the YouTube video embedded in the Presentation: Counseling with Our Councils). You may also show them the statements from Elder Ballard’s book, Counseling with Our Councils, beginning on page 47.
    • Don’t be surprised if participants get off track. Model the best behavior possible, and try to keep the meeting on task, not letting it deviate into complaining.
    • Seek to reach a consensus regarding how to respond to the need, challenge, or opportunity—even if the consensus is only to try a particular solution for two weeks and then revisit the issue again.
  1. Close with prayer, asking for Heavenly Father’s assistance in fulfilling what you have felt impressed to do (2 Nephi 32:8).
  2. End with some form of snack or refreshment.

And these are some “rules” to consider:

  • A meeting agenda distributed in advance of the meeting
  • Regular time and place to meet (the Twelve meet in the temple each Thursday morning)
  • A member invited to initiate discussion of the item by defining the problem and current status of decisions, etc.
  • Opening for orderly discussion (one at a time, “additive” rather than corrective comments from each member in turn, etc.)
  • On-going, focused discussion until consensus is reached, under the clear influence of the Spirit (as opposed to compromise)
  • Moving forward with unity in accordance with the decision reached
  • Follow-up discussions of results and progress toward determined outcome
  • Do not make the council a time for airing grievances – this is a spirit killer

I thought that ending with a refreshment was really interesting. They say the Twelve often end their meetings with pie or cookies. Picturing the Twelve eating in the temple is a little humorous. I know that Mormons are big on refreshments, but it seemed a little out-of-place for what is otherwise a business meeting. Then I had an experience. I am a Cubmaster and every month we have a pack committee meeting. A recent committee meeting focused on some boys in a den with severe behavior problems. It was a long and difficult discussion. One of our committee members, without being asked, made some monkey bread and brought it for us to share after our meeting. It was the perfect thing. After having such a hard and exhausting discussion, we were able to decompress and visit with one another while eating something yummy and comforting. It gave me an added appreciation for all the benefits of breaking bread with others.

 

 

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Eating Chinese food at the Far East Cafe was our family tradition. If there was a birthday to celebrate, a visitor to welcome, a moment to commemorate,  it was done at the Far East. Our version of a family reunion was meeting at the Far East and communing over plates, served family style, of pork chow mein, pork hash, char siu, tofu, bok choy, sweet and sour pork, and egg rolls. If we were lucky and the adults were feeling flush, we got fried shrimp. It was served with little condiment dishes of cocktail sauce that we mixed with hot Chinese mustard.

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The Far East Cafe was on 1st St. in downtown Los Angeles. It was actually located in Little Tokyo. The neighborhood, like most of the city proper back then, was old, run down, and a little grimy. The restaurant opened in 1935. My mom, the oldest of her siblings, was born in 1933, so she and her brothers literally grew up eating the food here. My grandparents, both Hawaiian Island natives who grew up eating Chinese and Japanese food, naturally gravitated to this little home away from home.

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Inside, the dining tables were divided by wood partitions, so families could take over the space without feeling like they were disturbing other diners. If you followed the walkways to the back of the building, you entered the kitchen. Today, I’m sure, the kitchen would violate every health code on the books. It was not separated behind walls and doors or even counters from the rest of the restaurant, and you had to walk through it to reach the bathroom – a single toilet affair with one of those old, cloth hand-towel machines that rotated the same used, wet towel over and over.

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Can you imagine the germs?

Upon being seated, the  waiters brought  big pots of hot tea. It was served unsweetened in little cups. The adults ordered the same food every time. You don’t mess with tradition or perfection. The meat was always pork. The cooking oil was peanut. The noodles were pan-fried and you hoped for the crunchy, browned parts on your plate. Big bowls of sticky white rice anchored the food on the table. We never order fried rice. That wasn’t “real” Chinese. No one made sweet and sour pork like Far East Cafe. When I was older and experienced “other people’s” Chinese food, I was shocked by the overly sweet, pink food-colored impostors. I felt sorry for these people that only knew neon-hued sweet and sour.

The food at Far East was Cantonese, which has fallen out of favor these days. The style today is Szechuan which packs a lot of heat. The kick in Cantonese food came from the dipping sauce we created from Chinese mustard and soy. My uncles’ mixtures would be thick, more yellow than black, and so hot it made your eyes water and nose tingle and  run. We dunked the egg rolls, pork hash and char siu in the mustard-soy before eating.

There were no desserts at Far East Cafe, but they did sell Chinese preserved plums at the cash register.

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If the weather was warm, and we were lucky, the shave ice counter at the back of the candy store across the street was open and we could have Hawaiian-style shave ice for dessert. Heaven. We pitied the poor kids who only knew rainbow-colored crushed-ice snow cones that came out of the side of a musical truck. My mother almost always bought some Botan rice candy for us as well.

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We then walked up and down the street eating our shave ice. We liked to look at the food displays in the windows of the Japanese restaurants.

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Why do the Japanese do this?

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We also watched the ladies at the Japanese bakery make little bean-filled pastries.

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A couple of the stores sold mochi.

Mochi is expensive, so we didn’t get it very often, but rejoiced when we did.

With our  shave ice finished, it was time to head back to our cars and drive home. The last time I went to the Far East Cafe was the summer of 1993. We were visiting Los Angeles and took the kids to share in the custom of family and food. A few months later an earthquake centered in Northridge so damaged the 60-year-old building that it was condemned. The restaurant never re-opened and we still mourn. Truly!

The earth is torn asunder and our chow mein is no more

The other sweet and sours, they are false

Gone is our Cantonese

The Panda and P.F. do not measure

Weep, weep and wail

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Dave Ramsey says his wife has something called a “security gland”.  He claims that all women have it.  This is what he says about the security gland:

Somewhere down inside the typical lady is a “security gland,” and when financial stress enters the scene, that gland will spasm. This spasmodic gland will affect your wife in ways you can’t always predict. A spasmodic “security gland” will affect her emotions, her concentration and even her love life. Apparently the security gland is attached to her face.

I think I have a huge security gland. Ginormous. My theory is that people who live through unusually trying financial difficulties have really large security glands. It causes them to do odd things. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. She never threw anything away. Not so good. It was a little excessive. She also was extremely thrifty and good at saving. Very good! Her experience did not create in her a love of money for money’s sake. She did not become an Ebenezer Scrooge who was miserly and uncharitable. She was actually really generous.

My hyperactive security gland came from the financial disorder that surrounded me during my childhood. My parents divorced when I was young. One of my mother’s major complaints was my dad’s utter lack of fiscal responsibility. I think my grandmother’s experience during the Depression, and the fact that my dad was an only child, caused her to be indulgent with my dad. Consequently he was reckless in many ways, personal and financial. My mom, on the other hand, is horribly disorganized and finds it abhorrent to buy anything but the most “quality” items. She refused to eat margarine when she was a kid and her parents were being frugal. She made her own money and bought butter. Funny story  and showed real independence as a child, but that quality also made life for her difficult as the wife and mother of a young family on a limited income. What a recipe for financial disaster they both were.

So my parents divorced, and ironically, the finances got worse for both. My mom, already an organizational nightmare, had to handle work, children, a house and pets on her own. My dad let his anger at my mom get the better of him and quit a good job with a future and stumbled around from job to job the rest of his life. It was rather pathetic and he died utterly broke. My mother has been saved a pauper’s end by marrying a man who was educated, always employed or self-employed and good at investing. He came from a family of entrepreneurs who also invested wisely.

Before my mom married Bob she made a whole host of poor life choices, which, when added to her lack of fiscal aptitude, my dad’s irresponsibility, and periods of serious illness, left us rather in the lurch as kids. There just was never enough to get by. Bills were always late getting paid. The car went without needed repairs. I went through a period where it seemed like I never had a pair of shoes without holes, or enough clothing, or a warm coat. Usually at some point, one of my grandmothers would swoop in with a pair of shoes or clothes. This went on for years. Then I started to get work. When I got into high school I signed up with the student employment service and got work babysitting and cleaning house. When I turned 16 I added food service jobs as well, and in my senior year I also worked at the local intermediate school. I had a lot of jobs! Those jobs paid for my clothing and at least half of my food. At one point, my mom applied for us to get “free” school lunches. I was mortified. I would not take charity. I either bought my own food with babysitting and cleaning money or went hungry. The adults at home were furious with me, but I wasn’t about to go get a handout when I could work for my own food.

Because of this upbringing, personal finances can leave me feeling anxious and sick. It’s that security gland. It’s super sensitive.

 

On roles and responsibilities:

1. If you have a two income household, all household chores and child care are shared equally between husband and wife. Period.

2. If you have a one income household, you are employing a division of labor with specialization of tasks. He works (hard) to support the family. You work (equally hard) to keep the house clean and children cared for.

3. School is the same as work and is treated as such. It better enables one to fulfill one’s duties whether at home or at work.

On the importance of a clean and tidy home:

1. Your home can be a place where the spirit dwells, not just makes occasional appearances.

2. It’s healthy.

3. It shows you are a good steward and are grateful for the blessings that Heavenly Father has given you. Conversely, if you do not show respect for the material goods with which He has blessed you, He will take note and stop giving you stuff you cannot manage or appreciate. You will get what you deserve: junk.

On cleaning your home:

1. When you have children, you must sweep after every meal.

2. You must sweep your kitchen every day. Leaving dirt and crumbs on the floor to get tracked around the house is slovenly and spreads the mess.

3. You must mop and vacuum several times a week. Your family tracks more dirt into your home than you realize. It gets ground into carpets and furniture. Clean it up before it can permanently damage your floors and upholstery. Also sweep doorsteps. That’s where the dirt gets tracked in.

4. Wipe off your kitchen counters habitually throughout the day. Do not leave spills and crumbs sitting there.

5. Look at your cabinets, walls, door jams and window sills. If there is something there other than paint or stain, it doesn’t belong. Clean it off. Every day.

6. If you spill something on the stove, clean it. Don’t let it sit. It will get harder to remove with heat and time.

7. Run the dishwasher every night and empty it before going to bed or first thing in the morning so you have a place to put breakfast dishes.

8. Don’t let dishes build up in the sink all day.

9. There is nothing more gross than a dirty bathroom. If that means you must clean daily, so be it.

10. Your car is your home on wheels.

11. Everything takes longer with kids. You must plan sufficient time to clean and tidy up before moving on to a new activity or going out so you don’t leave messes behind.

On kids and stuff:

1. Only get and keep quality toys. Some of the best toys are simple, like blocks and balls. Don’t load up on cheap crap that breaks easily.

2. If something breaks, remove it from sight and fix it or throw it out. Keeping around broken stuff encourages mistreatment of remaining belongings. (See number 3 of On the importance of a clean and tidy home.)

3. Don’t let your kids have too many clothes while they are young. It makes it tempting to put off doing the laundry.

4. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Do not bring things into your house for which you do not or can not make a “home”. You will only create clutter. (See number 1 of On the importance of a clean and tidy home.)

5. If you bring something home for which you do not have room, you must get rid of something to make room.

6. When organizing stuff, group like things together.

7. Containerize everything.

8. Do not let flat surfaces (floors, tables, counters, pianos, dressers, chairs) become dumping grounds. (See number 4 above.)

 

Keeping a home and caring for children is hard physical labor. Rewards seem to be fleeting when your children are young, but are ultimately enduring.

 

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God…

~D & C 88: 119

Holly and Gretchen

 

I’ve always loved this photo of Holly and Gretchen. If Holly hadn’t been early, they could have shared a birthday.

Holly was born on the morning of June 8 in a little military hospital at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas. Hers was a pretty quick and simple birth. I think it was assisted by the fact that the labor and delivery nurses didn’t want to waste the labor room space on someone who was progressing as well as I was, so they used curtained room dividers to create a quiet, dark corner for me to labor in the hallway, of all places. Every once-in-a-while a nurse would poke her head through the curtains, observe conditions, and leave Rob and me to ourselves.

Other than the morning sickness the first three or so months, my pregnancy with Holly was pretty nice. I stayed relatively slim (I was back in my clothes the NEXT DAY!). I shared Holly’s acute sense of smell for nine months, which was a curiosity for me.

When Holly was six months old, I was called to be the Relief Society president. I felt so sad for myself. It seemed like I was always handing her off to someone so I could do my calling. Holly seemed to handle it well. She learned to roll with the punches at an early age.

Holly was extraordinarily observant as a baby. When she discovered her hands, she would stare at them for the longest time, turning them and looking at them from every angle. I think that is reflected in her artistic abilities. Her art has been very detailed from the time she was very little.

Holly was such a sweet, easy baby. But she had her stubborn side too. She just was very quiet about her stubbornness. Holly was always very earnest as well. She is very patient and has a great deal of self-discipline. I think all of those qualities combined to make her a very good missionary. And a very good person.

 

Gretchen was Rob’s mother. She was a complicated person, but I loved her and wanted to have a close relationship with her and for her to have a good relationship with her grandchildren. She and I went through a bit of a rough patch at one point, but after our difficulties were resolved, she understood my boundaries, and I can honestly say, our relationship was loving and respectful. Working things out was painful, but I have been spared the greater pain of unresolved issues.

Gretchen had a mother that was hard to live up to, so I think she underrated her own talent and gifts. She had a great eye and created a beautiful home. She had lovely prose and wrote beautiful letters to family and friends. She made truly outstanding reproduction cross-stitch samplers. Each of her children and grandchildren were the lucky recipients of her handiwork. She introduced me to British choral music and it changed my life. Literally.

Gretchen died too young. Despite having quit cigarette smoking years before, she developed lung cancer and passed away before her family was prepared to see her go. The progression of her illness left her childlike and pain-free. That was a blessing. My last days with her were a gift. I cooked for her and joked with her and helped her to bed at night. The day we took her to hospice was a warm and sunny early fall day. Rob drove the car and opened the windows and sunroof. He joked with her about it “messing her hair” (there wasn’t much) and she laughed. A genuine and guileless laugh.

I look forward to hearing that laugh again one day.