Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanks for Giving

When I was in elementary school, my mom started a tradition. Every year at thanksgiving time we would make fresh homemade apple juice and take it to our teachers. Mom called it "thanks for giving" juice. I loved making it with her--and I loved giving it to my teachers.

As you may know, I've been making aprons. They've been a great healing, creative process for me over the past couple of months. I realize, though, that these aprons are thanks-for-giving aprons. I have so many dear friends and each apron is a tribute to a wonderful person. Here are my latest creations:This is for the wife (whose name I cannot remember!) of the sweet mechanic friend of a friend who replaced my timing belt. Not only did he do it at his house on his day off so I could save a TON of money, but he replaced my windshield wiper blades. He loaned me his car while he had mine, and they fed me dinner when I went to pick up my car. Incredible.

This apron was for my sweet friend Shireen. She was my next door neighbor at Heritage Halls my frieshman year at BYU, and I quickly knew I had found a kindred spirit. She and her husband Aaron (whose shrine I met in Shireen's dorm room) moved out to DC after they graduated from BYU. They have welcomed me into their home several times and I've had many a delectable meal at their house. Shireen is an incredible cook, so I'm sure she'll put this to good use.Stacie Perkins was my roommate for a very brief six-week window in between the crazy comings and goings of my house this summer. Not only is she a capable, talented, beautiful woman, but she is a sensitive, kind-hearted person. I was so grateful for her emails and words of support and thought for me over the past couple of months. I hope she can use this feminine apron in the next phase of her life...This little deal was for my great roommate Jenette. What a champ. I'm so grateful for her laid-back, easy-going approach to life. I love that she loves museums and books and football. I'm so glad she's been around the past few months. You all need to get to know her. She is GREAT.
This was a very late birthday present for an old roommate Janel. Janel and I lived together in Arizona several years ago. Our birthdays are very, very close, and after a quick visit together in the spring, she sent me a really sweet birthday present. I had a crazy couple of months in there with a conference and a family wedding and vacation, and then other events, and got around to sending her this apron (which I duplicated for myself!) to her new home and adventurs in Tennessee.This little orange number was for my friend Autumn. We ran the Baltimore half marathon together. I think Autumn is an amazing person, doing amazing things, all with an amazing little family. I love sitting next to them at church--Avery is one of the most entertaining little guys ever, with a smile so big it'll crack his face open.
And whil this isn't an apron, it's still a thanks-for-giving project. This little quilt came of the quilt block exchange this past spring. I put together these four blocks for my new little nephew, Luke. I met him this past week in Colorado (pictures coming up!), and he filled my heart in so many different ways. Only two months old and he's a giver! Boy do I love that baby.

Just a sample of my thanks-for-giving gig...

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Done and done. And boy does it feel good. But mostly it feels like relief. And a LOT of tender mercies.

Let's start with the marathon last week. Here are the things I experienced in Richmond:
  • I forgot how long and hard it is. I mean, my training went relatively smoothly and I never got sore (thanks to the ice bath!), so I sort of thought this race would be a breeze. But there's a big difference between running 22 miles and running 26.2. And that's really the most important part. I got tired and my stomach hurt and I thought I'd have to walk the last little bit. And I was fine with that. Because I'm a finisher.
  • The finish line flourish. This was worth every last bit of lost strength and exhaustion and sore muscles. This was why I ran this marathon. I needed to find my innermost reserve. So when I turned the corner and saw the finish line just down the hill, I waited for that finish line flourish to kick in. And it didn't. I pushed and pushed and pushed, and then it came, from out of the marrow and sinew--I have never run so fast in my whole entire life. I ran with all my might. I crossed that line with my head up and my heart pounding and I was alive with all my being.
  • It's all about the fuel. A serious marathon-crazed friend suggested I eat every 30 minutes to maintain energy, and he gave me some Carbo-Boom packs. It sounded like a good idea to me, and I tried it out. Somehow, though, the combination of my bite of banana before the race and the gel energy candies did not do me well, and my stomach hurt. It's all about finding the right fuel at the right time with the right combination. Not something to experiment with at race time. (And it was funny that people were passing out Cokes and beers and doughnuts on the sidelines along the route. Not appealing).
  • The forecast called for rain all day. Even that morning on TV the newscasters laughed about the tornado warning and the serious rain and flooding. I prayed. I mean, I ran 17 miles in Hurricane Hannah, but there's a big difference between running in 70 degrees and no wind, and running in November in rain and wind and wet cold. So I just acknowledged that I knew people needed rain and were praying for rain, but if possible, if the rain could hold, just for a few hours in a very specific location, I would feel much better. And it didn't. It didn't rain one drop. I dropped my poncho at mile 6 and the clouds seriously parted and the sun even came out. Sure it was muggy, but it didn't rain.
  • Spectators mean everything. I LOVED seeing my great friend Marni at mile 10 and then at mile 26 and at the finish. And my friend Sarah who saw me at mile 25, when I was sure I'd have to walk the rest of the way. She simply said, "Finish strong!" and suddenly I found an extra store of energy to run just a bit more. And the thousands of people who cheered for me, who told me I had good form at mile 20 (when I know I didn't), who told me to keep smiling, who told me how close I was. It was amazing. And I thought of all my dear running friends who I've run with in the past and I pretended they were running with me. I had my own running crowd. It was fantastic.
  • There is nothing like running revelation. I love those quiet moments of clarity I often find on a run when I can finally run past my present and into a clear connection with a higher power. I also spent a lot of time imagining my oral exams, visioning myself in my zen spot with clear thoughts and smart words.
  • Richmond is a great city. The route was beautiful. The leaves were still changing. We crossed the river a few times and the neighborhoods were incredible. We passed a statue of Stonewall Jackson and houses with Confederate flags.
Nothing like sweet victory on the road on my own two feet to push me into the home stretch of my oral exams. I spent all of last week--every minute--studying. I reviewed my last books and I went over questions and I rushed through a textbook to get an overall chronology. I prayed and fasted and got priesthood blessings and realized the support of dear friends and family who were cognizant of my needs and who supported me in so many different ways. And I walked into that office on Friday full of confidence and light, recognizing the need for heavenly help.

And boy, did it come. I started strong, and looking back on some of the crazy questions posed to me, I'm so grateful they didn't faze me. I burrowed through daguerreotypes and Fawn Brodie, Reconstruction and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, material culture and memory, Vietnam and the New Deal, Civil Rights and women's history. I was able to think and speak and communicate and listen and learn and argue and analyze. I was magnified beyond my natural ability. I participated in scholarly historical discussion with three professors. I proved myself. And I proved the power of grace and Spirit.

When it was all said and done, after over two hours of grilling and proving and thinking and talking, after they closed me out to deliberate and welcomed me back in with a warm congratulations on passing my oral exams, I felt like I had just run a marathon. Sure I took moments to walk and I didn't exactly remember in my list of things significant in 1968 that beyond the TET offensive, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and I needed help to clarify the difference between slave women in 1650 and slave women in 1750, but I (and a host of heavenly help) did it. I walked out of that building and couldn't talk. My knees almost gave out and my heart was pounding. But I had crawled over that finish line. I am now on the other side.

I really think the clouds parted and a beam of light shone down on Brian Platt's office in Robinson at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia on Friday. And that was, in part, due to you, dear friends. Thank you thank you for your support. I couldn't have done it without you. I'm eager to find ways to help YOU in your marathons and oral exams. We can do it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rallying the Forces

I'm in a tight spot.

Last evening I met with one of the professors on my orals committee, and after what I thought was a positive demonstration of my abilities (I was able to talk coherently about changes in women's history between 1750 and 1850, the differences in studying white women and black women, and the impact of Native American study on the paradigm of early American history, all with examples from books and clear themes and historiography), he expressed his concern that I'm not ready. He had heard I'm training for a marathon this weekend, and thought maybe that's too much to pull together at the same time. This really threw me, and I plunged into an evening of insecurity and lack of confidence, followed up with a phone call to my committee chair, who admitted to having received emails from the other two committee members expressing concern over my abilities.

Suddenly my mind goes back to Miss Biggs, my seventh grade algebra teacher, who told the whole class that I would never amount to much. Or there's Mr. Hill, my high school orchestra teacher, who pulled me out of my eleventh grade English class and told me that my going to yearbook camp for two days during our intensive rehearsals for a tour to New York and Europe would ruin our performance at Carnegie Hall and other places. Then there was my thesis committee at ASU--Drs. Valentine, Parker-Fuller, and Davis, who during my comps defense critically questioned my Mormon beliefs in light of my academic understanding. And we can't forget another--She Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned--at NYU, who told me I didn't belong in graduate school, that I can't write and that I have no good ideas. Woah... that's a lot of stuff going on.

Back to the present. Last night my committee chair Paula quickly restored my confidence. She believes I am ready, that I am coherent and I know my material and my historiography. She listened to me talk through a few questions and remarked that my insight is sharp. She asked me what questions I would like her to ask me. She told me that as chair, she will take charge next week and start on a strong note and steer the way. And she made it clear that while there is definitely the risk that I may not perform satisfactorily, that we can regroup from there and make another plan. She wants me to succeed. She and all the countless other teachers and professors who have believed in me and have encouraged me and have seen my potential.

So it's time to rally the forces. I've made a plan:
  • Study. Study like crazy. Esconce myself in my basement library. Finish reviewing my books, my textbook, and my articles.
  • Take my flashcards with me wherever I go. Review them in the car, in line, as I'm walking across campus.
  • Take next week off work. Make up the hours over the winter break.
  • Remove distractions--no TV or surfing the Web. No emails or blogs.
  • Meet with my professors. Ask them for practice questions, for advice, and for their confidence.
  • Simulate the orals experience. Collect questions from people who've been there. Ask them to sit down with me and ask me questions and follow-up questions. (Thank you, Scott & Robin, for FHE last Monday. Can we do it again?!? Anyone else interested?!?)
  • Utilize my plan: repeat the question, take a minute to think of a response, come up with a one-sentence response with three key ideas, and list some books with soundbites that illustrate each point.
  • Go to bed early. We all know my abilities to think clearly and positively are directly impacted by the amount of sleep I've had. Get up early, when my mind is fresh, and study.
  • Eat & drink. I tend to push those things aside in times of emergency.
  • Fast on Sunday. My sweet mother said she'd join me.
  • Pray for grace to fill up where I am lacking. Pray for the Holy Ghost to bring all things to my remembrance. Pray for faith and confidence.
  • Priesthood blessing from my hometeacher.
  • Positive thoughts. Grandad always told me to have a PMA--positive mental attitude. Mom used to tell me to pretend something to be true. I'm just going to have the belief that I CAN do this next week. If it doesn't work out, I'll regroup and replan. But until then I'm going to do it. Hip hip hooray.
  • Call upon the spirits of orals past: I have a lot of people on the other side who will rally their forces, too. I'm pretty sure.
  • Run my marathon on Saturday--think through my topics and themes, put the pedal to the metal and ride that finish line flourish all the way through next Friday. Study all the way down to Richmond and all the way back up.
  • Find time for a temple trip. Maybe if I can find someone to go with me, I can even study in the car as we drive.
  • But if not, I still believe in a God who loves me and who has all power... but who also has all wisdom and knows all things from the beginning.
I feel like the brother of Jared who figured out how to build his boats, get oxygen and supplies, and then he figured out a way to get light. He did what he could--he found rocks and asked the Lord to touch them with His finger. He knew exactly the forces he could rally and he recognized the power of the Lord. So that's what I'm going to do.

Is there anything else? Can you think of anything I've missed? I know I'm not on death's door (although my nurse roommate said the two tiny dark spots on my thumb may be cancer); I don't have a dying baby, I'm not burned over 83% of my body, I'm not losing my job and my home, and I have all the love and respect and concern for dear friends who have been and are in those situations. But I am in my own tight spot and I ask you, dear friends, for your positive thoughts and prayers and lit candles and whatever it is that you do.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Split Seconds

Today I am grateful for split seconds--for moments of clarity and understanding--for times when the stars align just right or a beam of sun breaks through the clouds or a pillar of light appears on your pillow. In that split second--that moment--that sliver of absolute clarity--when the clouds part--I see and understand. And, perhaps most importantly, I remember.

The other night I had a crazy dream where I was in a precarious position. I was traveling in a car along an ocean highway, in the middle of a stormy water. The waves started crashing over the road and we were all terrified. For one split second, in my dream, I reached out to both sides of the car and somehow with a power beyond my own, calmed the storm and stayed the car on a firm road. Right then, my alarm went off and I was transported back to the crazy storms of my daytime life--school, marathon training, work (don't even get me started on my online history quizzes), social life, family. But for one split second, I was calm, in control, and in sure footing.

The other night I had a study group. We meet weekly in our mad quest to conquer our oral exams. As time is drawing nigh, I proposed that we put each other in the hot seat, that we each ask a provoking question and that we answer on our own merits--but then that we add to each other to collectively share knowledge. I was second. "Has America really seen a true revolution?" "Discuss American foreign policy post-WWII." "Talk about the market revolution." "Was Reconstruction a success or failure? Discuss its historiography." All tough questions. But somehow, I remembered much of what I have spent the last few months studying, and my words and ideas flowed out coherently and polished. I felt smart. For maybe 30 minutes, I felt smart--and I haven't felt smart in months. I drove home on fire. The next day, I was back in my insecure footing of the Cold War and the Korean War, but I remembered having felt smart the night before and I pressed forward.

This morning I ran up Rock Creek. The colors were incredible and the variety was inspiring--some trees had lost all leaves, others were just starting to change. The skies parted and it stopped raining and proved to be a beautiful, scattered sunshine kind of run. My favorite views were when a very gentle breeze blew snowfalls of leaves, catching the sun as they came down. Suddenly, in that second, I remembered all that is good and that has been good in the past year of my life. I have some great memories, my friends. Good stuff has happened. I've felt new things and experienced a grand change of heart. All that has sort of crowded over lately in fear and insecurity and despair, all wrapped together. But for a single moment, I remembered. And I smiled and laughed and danced on the street.

So even if those moments are fragmented, they spread out throughout my life, and I remember them. I draw upon that clarity and press forward. And that, my friends, is a great tender mercy.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Ever since I read Robert Frost in Miss Jarman's 9th grade Enriched English class, I have been intrigued with this short poem:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf's a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

I didn't think it was true--I was a firm believer in what is gold is pure and stays gold. At least I hoped for that.

I've changed my mind.

Now I agree with Frost. There's a realistic part of me that has learned with experience that nothing gold can stay--that the only constant is change. That doesn't mean there is no hope for pure gold. But I believe that the things of value--the gold, the relationships, the accomplishments, the beliefs and testimonies--those things we hold dear--require constant work and constant change.

I've also always thought spring was my favorite season. I've loved the new growth, the new life, nature's first golds and greens.

I've changed my mind.
I love fall. I LOVE fall in Virginia. And I think there's a gold in fall that Frost doesn't acknowledge in this poem. That first early gold of spring somehow filters to a magnificent, warming, invigorating, enlightening gold of fall. I've felt that as I've driven the roads of Virginia, as I've wandered my own tree-lined streets. My legs and pumping heart felt the gold of the leaves on my dark early morning run this morning--the golden trees of my Fairlington neighborhood literally lit my way in the gray mist. The golden leaves were both light and warm. And I loved them.
And what about the golden sunlight of a summer sunrise or sunset? What about the strange purple-gold of snowy winter nights?

There's a great tender mercy in a gold that doesn't stay gold all the time. Sometimes gold requires work and polish and exposure, and sometimes it requires waiting. Take these flowers. I went on a fall mum craze a couple of weeks ago. I needed to be surrounded by color and fall flowers, so I bought a big yellow one for my front porch, a smaller gold one for my coffee table, and another one for my back patio. Well, my living room mum did not do well. In a mad rush of preparing for Fall Festivus, and realizing that dead fall flowers did not communicate fall festivities, I switched out the patio flowers into the living room and threw my poor dying pot onto the patio. Imagine my delight the next afternoon when I saw my dying gold flowers thriving in the fresh air and fall sprinkles. The dear pot just needed its own space and some natural autumn assistance that I certainly couldn't give it on my own.

As much as I love fall, I know that every day more leaves are literally falling, and soon (although I thank God every day that seasons last so long here) the trees will be bare and vulnerable and you'll be able to see all that stuff behind them. I hate that part. And then even with the occasional delightful snow and frost storms here, it's a long, long wait for spring and that first golden green.

The great part is that it's a cycle. It's a pattern. It happens every time. Every time. While nothing gold can stay, while Eden is not--and cannot be--eternal, there is something past there. I'm a believer. It may be a different gold, but it's just as pure.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fall Festivus of Flavor

Of course I forgot to take pictures, so enjoy some other fall photos.

Last night a group of friends came over, each with a carefully prepared dish containing an ingredient she had never cooked with before. It was a delightful evening--new tastes, a beautiful spread, and lots of chatting and laughs. Here's the menu:

Tomato with goat cheese and basil: Shireen
Red curry soup with coconut milk: Robin
Roasted red pepper soup with coconut: Audrey
Omelet with potatoes, onions, and saffron: Marni
Spinach dip: Andrea
Quinoa with Mango and Curried Yogurt: Dianna
Risotto with mushrooms: Suzanne
Thai Spring Rolls with peanut sauce: Lindi
Cranberry muffins: Jenette
Gingerbread cakelets: Julie
Pumpkin cheesecake with pecan praline: me(yes--it's true--I've never cooked with pumpkin. I hate pumpkin pie but have grown to love pumpkin cheesecake, thanks to Jessica, the Carlyle, and the Cheesecake Factory. In fact, when I told my mother I was making pumpkin cheesecake, she said, "That sounds disgusting!" to which I replied, "and YOU are the reason I've never cooked with pumpkin before." She just didn't raise me to be that way. But I'm learning. Oh, I'm learning. And just you wait--she'll love my pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving. Then she'll learn, too.)

And thanks to our two male participants--Scott & Aaron. Thanks for balancing us out!
And yes, I've had a thing with gourds this fall. There's something about their bubbly, bumpy, colorful, imperfect, prickly, warty skin and bright colors...
Marni's pumpkin-carving party...