Sunday, November 28, 2010

Family, Inc.

I love this time of year. In fact, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it hasn't yet become overly commercial and that the focus is still simply on giving thanks.

I was dismayed to learn that some stores are now opening on Thanksgiving Day to attract early holiday shoppers. I sincerely hope this does not become widespread. There seems to be such a true "Peace on Earth" on Thanksgiving. Folks seem content to be at home. The holiday frenzy that runs from "BlackFriday" until after New Years has not yet begun and world just seems "still."

This year we joined with our extended families for Thanksgiving and therefore I did not prepare an entire meal, but I did get to contribute one of my favorite items: pie. Making pie from scratch always reminds me of one special person, my paternal Grandmother, Sarah Aldora Alder Keller.

Grandma Keller, as we called her, was an extraordinary woman. Not only did she graduate from college in the 1930's, but she raised four children and even took more college courses. She was an expert teacher and had a gift for preparing then sharing in just the right way. She used her gifts to serve others. She taught for many years at the Intermountain Indian school in Brigham City miles away from her home in Logan, Utah where she continually built confidence and character in many struggling youngsters. Also, while my Grandpa Keller served in the Department of Agriculture under Ezra Taft Benson, Grandma taught Sunday School in College Park, Maryland. People of all faiths would attend her class and would come from miles sometimes to do so. It was there at the University of Maryland that she took a course in Philosophy as well.

You would think that such an intelligent woman would not be very domestic. You might imagine that such a person wouldn't know her way around the kitchen, but this was not the case! On the contrary, Grandma Keller was the very epitome of grandmotherly cooks. As a child, I didn't know anything about Indian schools, philosophy classes, federal departments and such. I only knew one thing: my Grandma Keller was the best cook in the world.

Grandma would spend most of her time in the kitchen. I was fascinated by her cooking and baking skills. I followed her around in the kitchen, wanting to be a part of it all. She never shooed me away or acted as if it were an imposition at all, though now I can see that my constant "helping" was most likely more work for her. During these countless hours together in the kitchen (in the days before video games or even VCRs!), she taught me so many things. I remember the lessons on fractions. I could double and triple recipes in seconds! We went over the Articles of Faith, the state capitals, we talked about family history and other family issues, and of course, we cooked. I stirred, mixed, kneaded, prepared wax paper or pans, etc.

I knew when it was time to be silent too, like when the caramel was just about to form, or when the nougat was at the boiling point. I watched silently in awe during those moments when she would work her magic; my eyes mesmerized by her hardworking, skilled, beautiful hands. Her hands were as "doughy" as her rolls. Sometimes while she kneaded, her grandma hands would disappear as she became one with her creation for a moment.

Grandpa and Grandma Keller have been gone for a while now. I am grateful that they are together, but I sure do miss them. Grandma Keller was a "kindred spirit" to me. She was patient, soft spoken and wise. She treated me with respect and as if I were much older, always trusting me to understand and to be a positive force in my family.

So, the other day while I was busily making pies (Grandma would be happy!), I suddenly tried to remember a particular word that she would use to describe a certain cooking process. Grandma was raised in Cache county and her dialect reflected that. I loved how she said "lard" for example, which came out more like "lord." There was a special word she used to describe the process of mixing ingredients together until they were just right. As I worked the shortening into the dry ingredients, trying to make a coarse meal, I labored through mental gymnastics trying to remember that word! It was on the tip of my brain, though I'm sure I had not heard Grandma say it for more than 25 years. Finally it came to me! A tear came to my eye just as a smile came to my lips. "INCORPORATE!" that was the word! She would always say, "stir this until the flavors incorporate," "mix that until the wet and dry ingredients incorporate," etc. I was cutting in the "lard" until it was "incorporated" into the dry ingredients. I paused to reflect how this word applied to more than baking.

For Grandma, family was everything. She was unafraid to teach essential life lessons even when it meant great sacrifices for herself or her children. She built character and confidence in each member of her family whenever she could. Although she was qualified to work in any setting, her greatest desire was for the betterment of her family. One example was how she insisted that they have cows mainly to provide honest labor for her children. Her "business" was family. This realization has helped me see with more clarity than before, what my daily business should be. As I use my gifts and talents to benefit people outside my home, I am trying my best to still "incorporate" the needs of my family. For example, drama and music are two things I love. I therefore enjoy conducting musicals, but I do so where my children will be involved with me. This is a joy, to use my non-domestic talents, but still involve my family.

I know that Grandma Keller left a legacy more far-reaching than just my life. She affected many people, including strangers, but especially all my cousins, and now our children, as the next generation learns of her and reaps the benefit of her education.

I will ever be grateful for her friendship, her example and her lessons to me. I see now that during all those hours in the kitchen, she was "incorporating" me. I am thankful at this Thanksgiving season for her ability to incorporate family with her many talents. I am thankful for her good son, my father, who passed down many of her strong character building ideals and her baking traditions from homemade bread to candy. I am thankful for my mother who knew my needs and allowed me to spend so many uninterrupted hours in the kitchen and elsewhere with Grandma.

Most of all I am thankful for my Heavenly Father who is the wisest of all parents. Who organized this earth experience and organized our families with such care. I am thankful He allows and even expects us to use our God-given talents to build the kingdom in every way, including building joy for all involved.

I hope someday I will have a child or a grandchild who remembers my "hands in the dough" of life and knows how very much I love and live for "Family, Incorporated."

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS: I made apple and pumpkin pie, yum! (photos taken by my amazing daughter Michaelah)

"The Family is ordained of God...the Family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children."

The Proclamation on the Family,
First Presidency 1995

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sharing Mascara with my Teenage Son and Loving It

The summers of my youth were spent under the stars performing at our local outdoor amphitheater. How I loved it! The smell of grass, the cool balmy evenings; folks stretched out on the sprawling lawn with their blankets all cuddled up and enjoying "Music Man," "South Pacific," or "Oklahoma!" as only Jerry Elison could direct.

Two summers ago realized my children were growing up at an alarming rate. My oldest was already 16! None of them had ever been in a Scera Summer production. I was completely ripping them off! And, they would never understand this one place in my heart, this one love of soul without having that experience. ("What about your husband?" you say? no worries, I made him be in a play with me there while I was 5 months pregnant with our oldest. I wisely realized it would be our last chance! He got a bigger part than me, the stinker!).

Anyhoo, I decided to persuade my eldest son to try out for "West Side Story" to be performed in June of that summer. He finally agreed. He made it! Yes, he was ok talented at that time, but let's just face it, he's also a guy. and they always need guys. Or so I thought. Wow! He was amazing! He was one of the Jets (can't think of his really hilarious name at this moment, but hopefully he can remind me!). Anyway, I couldn't believe how much dancing he learned and he was really quite good!

Well, it has gone on from there. He has had several lead roles at the high school, just recently appearing as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls this last week. He was fantastic! To top it all off, he was named the Orem High School Sterling Scholar for Speech and Drama just yesterday!

That summer in West Side Story he came to me on opening night and said, "Um, mom, do you have any mascara I can borrow? They said I'm supposed to bring it." I handed him some and smiled. "Hmm" I thought for a moment, "is this a good thing?" but then I thought about many of his peers. It seems to me that the average american teenager spends hours in front of the computer or TV each day. Many are overweight and unhealthy in many ways. I thought, "This IS a good thing! He's out there, exercising, learning, growing, sharing his talent, telling an important story, making people remember things, feel things; and best of all, smelling the grass and seeing those stars."

He's such a wonderful kid. Just turned 18. Wow. I'm having a hard time with that. But he's grown up so great that I can hardly grumble. In less than one year he'll be out of my home. You always hope you've done enough. I have faith that the Lord will make up the difference. So, this is my little belated birthday tribute to him. Love you sweetheart!

Jacob: Drama Sterling Scholar, 4.0, Senior Class President, Choir student director, obedient, loving son and brother. Happy Birthday Sweetheart!

"Every son and every daughter of God has received some talent, and each will be held to strict account for the use or misuse to which it is put."
Joseph F. Smith

(Check out video clips from Guys and Dolls on my Facebook page!)