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For the Birds

Blog Post #7

As long as I can remember, I have awakened to a concert of birdsong, which has mostly been taken for granted. Gradually, my mind has awakened from an oblivious stupor, and taken notice, realizing how much their trills and whistles are a part of my life—how devoid of joy the rustle of leaves in the breeze would seem without the accent of their sweet music.   

Mourning Dove

The first welcome greeting of the day is always the low and melancholy cooing of the mourning dove. Aptly named, her subtle tones, soft and sad, transport me to a time long gone—a time lost to time—the time of my youth. As I listen, I am sixteen again—up early, the window slightly ajar, listening—the dove reminding me that each day is like the next. Nothing will change. But everything does.  I am not a child anymore. My nest, once full, is now empty. I stand where my sixteen-year-old self stood, by the same open window, listening. The dove is still there—ageless. I can’t imagine beginning a day without her gentle warblings. So accustomed to her soothing tones am I, that they speak comfort and peace to my heart, and pledge a vow of constancy amid the inevitability of change. How ironic that the dove—the symbolic bird of peace—bodes both loss and comfort.

One tweet leads to another…. Another bird song comes to mind, one that disappeared with the passage of time, as the neighborhood grew and developed. The elusive singers of the abrupt and scratchy ballpark cry of Chi-ca-go! Chi-ca-go! were most often heard and not seen. 

California Quail

When leaving for elementary school early in the morning, sometimes I had the rare treat of meeting a family of quail in front of our house. I whispered a greeting to the little family, but the mother scurried off with her little covey of four or five chicks, their curled plumes pointing the way as they swiftly followed on quick, tiny feet to find cover in the large pine and gazanias that once occupied the west side of the driveway.

As a child, I was less fond of the ominous, scavenging crows—always watching from their perch on the power lines—peering out of those beady black eyes, ready to swoop down for carrion and crumbs as they cawed their warning cry. Now, I think of them as old pals, still watching from a distance, but in a friendlier way.


 After decades away, we have returned to my childhood home to care for my aging father. The birds are still here—same ones, and some less familiar to me. My husband has become particularly annoyed with a mockingbird that lives up to its reputation, for mock he does! He purposely made his home outside our bedroom window, and like a long-running Broadway musical repeatedly performs his repertoire of calls with show time beginning at five o’clock every morning. I think he does it just because he knows how much it irritates Brad, who has always been a light sleeper.


A favorite of mine is the meadowlark. His cheerful, melodic song beckons me outdoors, “Open the window!” he says. “Come outside, and enjoy the sunshine! Be happy! It’s a beautiful new day!” And when I do, I’m not disappointed.
Brad takes care of our tiny friends, the hummingbirds, inviting them to sip sweet nectar outside our windows so we can enjoy their aerial antics and their beauty. The only sound I’ve ever heard from them is the bee-like buzzing of their wings, as they zoom like flying aces in and around the feeder with their sword-beaks drawn to defend their territorial rights. Their iridescently colored vests flash like brilliantly painted shields in the sun.


Not long after we moved back to my father’s home, I heard a loud squawking coming from the trees out front. Unfamiliar with the sound, I rushed out to see what it was. Brilliant flashes of chartreuse and vermillion perched on limbs and branches and fluttered from tree to tree. Hundreds of wild Yellow Head Amazon parrots decorated the silk and pepper trees in our front yard like tropical Christmas tree ornaments. The “Pasadena Parrots,” purportedly escaping fire in a bird shop in the 1950s or 60s, have developed a following in Southern California, as they move from town to town parading their vibrant plumage and filling the air with their dissonant tones. 

Amazon Yellow Head Parrot

The contrast between these new and transient feathered neighbors and the settled presence of the doves, mockingbirds and crows punctuate the current dynamics of our neighborhood.
Over the fifty-plus years since my parents purchased their dream home, we’ve seen all our neighbors either move away, or pass away. At ninety-one, my father is the last original owner on the street. Changes in lifestyle have also affected our neighborhood. With the exception of the dog-walkers and school kids, we see but little of our neighbors. So many pull out of their garages in the morning, and pull back into them at night. We wave, and peer at them from a distance like the crows on the line, wondering if we can snatch a morsel of friendship before one or the other of us swoops away again.
Many neighbors are shy and anxious acquaintances—wary, like the quail—sharing a parcel of earth for a short time, until they up and leave without a good-bye.
Others, like the hummingbirds, we see speed up and down the street on brightly colored “wings.” They’re in too much of a hurry for conversation; the only noticeable sound is the humming of their engines as they disappear down the street and around the corner.
The bright spots in the neighborhood are those who talk to us, and to each other. We see them at work in their yards, then flit from home to home, sharing the bounty of their fruit trees and gardens, and a few cheery words along their way. Like the meadowlark, they understand the meaning of the words “neighbor” and “friend;” they sing songs of joy, encouraging others to “come out into the sun, and enjoy the beautiful day!”

But of all the birds, the doves have nested in my heart. They soothe me with their motherly lullabies each morning, calming me with a sense of security and constancy, and assuring me that some things remain the same in an ever-changing world.

© Copyright May 27, 2014

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“In Defense of Worthy Words “

Blog Post #6 (Soapbox)

 “Refinement in speech is more than polished elocution. It results from purity of thought and sincerity of expression. A child’s prayer on occasion may reflect the language of heaven more nearly than a Shakespearean soliloquy.”  – Douglas L. Callister

I love beautiful words. I love to hear words eloquently spoken. I love to read powerful and illuminating words. I love words of truth. I love words that inspire a wellspring of goodness, virtue and light.  

I know a man—a very scholarly man—whose speech is that of a farm boy. Yet this humble, quiet man speaks with power and authority. He isn’t loud or bombastic. He doesn’t sound practiced in oratory skills. His words are born of years of sacrifice, intense study, and a commitment to principles of integrity. The words that flow from his mouth are deep, sincere, quiet, simple, and ring with truth that resonates in the deepest fibers of the soul.

This post is in defense of worthy words,—not ostentatious, redundant, or vulgar words—but words that cheer, uplift and enlighten. A farm boy’s drawling speech is of far greater worth than that of a hundred skillful orators if his words transcend theirs in wisdom and truth.

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 
‘It might have been.”  
― John Greenleaf WhittierMaud Muller – Pamphlet

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. 

Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” 

― Michael OndaatjeThe English Patient

  “We live and breathe words.” ― Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince

Words are important. They can alter relationships. They can bind hearts. Words are in and through every part of life. They Challenge, Inspire, Uplift, Depress, Weary, Strengthen, Appease, and Unite. Words begin and end wars.

Words are the beats in the metronome of language. When arranged in various phrases, with varying punctuation, the same words can mean completely different things, having completely different *effects.
Look at how words have shaped art, philosophy, emotion, and action: think Shakespeare and the scriptural language of Tyndale, think music lyrics and poetry, think Lincoln, Emerson, Wordsworth, and a host of others.

I’ve never understood why there are learned people who choose to pollute and dilute their communications—particularly the written word—with unworthy words. I am always especially surprised to hear and read swear words coming from a teacher, just as I’m often astonished to find a singer smoking. It’s baffling to me. It’s paradoxical. Why do they choose to do it?
A teacher, by virtue of his or her position instructing and correcting others, might at least attempt to articulate the most accurate and lucid words the English language has to offer. To teach is to model. While it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words uttered speak volumes about a person’s character.

Recently, I’ve noticed Facebook posts by a teacher I knew when I was a student in the public school system many years ago. His remarks sounded intelligent and friendly until he introduced crude and obscene words into some of his posts. At first, I thought it was just a slip of the pen, but I finally decided it was intentional. I no longer read his posts because I never know when these unwelcome surprises will surface. 

I was saddened by this revelation. Disappointed, really. For a man with a cultured persona, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would include foul language in his words to the public. He had to make a conscious choice to include obscenities. 

I realize that writing isn’t the same as speaking. When speaking, it’s easier to let inappropriate words slip out unintentionally, especially in emotionally charged situations, or when a habit of swearing already exists. A word sometimes escapes out of the mouth without thought, but unworthy spoken words are never retractable. They are like seeds in the wind, blowing wherever the wind (and people) will carry them, planting  ignoble thoughts in the minds of others.

When writing (as in a Facebook post) it’s so simple to delete or rethink words. Every word is retractable, exchangeable, and erasable. It’s easy to find relevant and appropriate words on the computer with Google and a thesaurus only a click away.

Visual Thesaurus for “word”

I guess I hold teachers to a higher standard of communication than the average person. Not because I think they’re better than others are, but because they should know better than others do by virtue of their position among those “enlightened by knowledge.” They should value the beauty and utility of language enough to use the most descriptive and accurate words for any given situation. They should respect those they once taught, and those they continue to influence, by holding their torch for the written word a little higher than average.
In my mind, using expletives demonstrates a lack of mastery of the English language. A person who uses expletives and vulgarities to express a wide range of emotions and descriptions reveals a limited vocabulary. Of all people, a teacher should value the example they set when it comes to word usage. After all, words, and word usage form a primary part of their job description. Communicating ideas, concepts, facts, principles and ideals is a high and noble occupation.

Plato, the teacher of Aristotle
from “The School of Athens” by Raphael

Would a professional athlete, such as Michael Jordan, purposely fumble or mishandle the ball on court? Wouldn’t it outrage his adoring fans? Wouldn’t that set him up for ridicule? Wouldn’t he infuriate his employers? I may be wrong, but I doubt he would allow himself to consider doing such a thing. It would be a humiliation to his high personal standards of performance. I think he would always perform to the best within himself. 
Why do we expect less of teachers? They are professionals. They are every bit role models for those in their sphere of influence as athletes are in theirs. Teachers who purposely use foul language show a slovenly contempt for the highest ideals of education they represent. They trample beautiful language under their feet while elevating the weakest, most deplorable form of speech. 

 “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, 

we seek after these things.” 

– Joseph Smith13th Article of Faith 

I love beautiful language. I love eloquent speech. I am not eloquent in speaking myself. I often trip over my tongue. I am verbose. I can say nothing in a million words. Perhaps it is better to speak simply—or to remain quiet—than to impugn one’s own character, while showing a lack of respect for those around you with unworthy, vulgar and profane language.
I have deep respect for most teachers. I’ve worked among them. I know how many strive to use worthy and appropriate words, and to live a high standard of behavior—“to walk their talk.” In reality, we are all teachers. Someone somewhere is watching us, listening to us, noting our example, and maybe doing and saying as we do. 

I hope my words are always worthy ones.

*See Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

© Copyright May 15, 2014


“The Day Off”

Blog Post # 5

(Otherwise referred to as “The Most Stressful Day of the Month”)

Having acquainted you with a sample of one of our family’s typical days of home schooling in my last post “Home School Daze,” I thought you might be ready for a leisurely stroll through one of my days off.
Yes, it’s true! Once a month, I got a day off from the 24/7/365 of home schooling, thanks to my equally desperate—(Whoops! Faux pas! I meant to say extremely generous)—sister, Karen. (The one with the six kids.)

We struck on the scathingly brilliant idea of giving each other a day off so we could enjoy a relaxing day pursuing long-deferred activities and interests. After experimenting with a twelve-hour day, we decided that wasn’t enough, and extended the time to a full twenty-four hours. (This included a sleepover with cousins at the home of the sister who was babysitting. O Joy! O Rapture!)
Living about 40 minutes apart, we settled on a half-way point for the exchange of valuables. As close as possible to daybreak, I piled my sleepy-eyed children in the car with a light heart and growing anticipation. For days, and with high hopes, I had been planning and listing the multitude of activities I hoped to accomplish during the next twenty-four hours. Shoving and stuffing the last of the backpacks, pillows, and dangling arms and legs protruding from doors and windows into the car like cramming an over-packed suitcase, we set off with merry hearts aflutter.

At the half-way point,–a shopping center at the corner of Haven and Baseline–I sat eagerly waiting for my sister to arrive.  My children, also eager for the fun they inevitably would have with their cousins, watched with an all-searching eye for the big blue 1980s Dodge Ram Van (AKA “Big Uggs”) to roll into the lot. We were always right on time,—if not super early. Karen was usually a few minutes behind my schedule. (I can’t blame her. It was my day off. Hers had either already passed, or was still in stages of careful planning and anticipation.)
Once the children were settled into her car, like a crowd of octopuses with arms and legs aplenty suctioning sticky fingerprints onto windows and upholstery, I waved and blew kisses to that precious busload as they drove off…a surge of emptiness briefly wrenching my heart as they moved away through the traffic.

Then, an internal gun sounded, and like a rearing and skittish horse, I was off! The race to complete every item on my list had begun!
The Day Off” was, for me, a little slice of freedom. A sliver of quiet “alone” time carefully carved out of a packed and chaotic daily schedule. Each day off was an amalgam of opposing forces: productivity verses relaxation—culminating in a feverish cram of anxiety and bliss.

My initial list looked something like this:

In case the image (above) is too small for the reading-glasses set, 
(of which I am a full-fledged member), a less aesthetic list is included below:

Fabric store
Book store
Stationary/Art Supply store
Grocery store
To Do:
Put away groceries
Tidy up the house
Throw in a load of laundry
Make a batch of bread
Cut out and sew two new shirts and a dress
Make drawings and sketches
Play the piano and harp
Work on upcoming school curriculum
Create a work of art for our home
Write letters
Make a batch of jam
Greet my husband with an attitude of serenity
Leisurely lounge in the living room reading a good book
Wear one of the new articles of clothing made to Church meeting

I fully expected to accomplish everything on my list every single time I had a day off. I imagined myself gliding through these activities with flawless perfection. Not one hair out of place. Not one glitch in my plans. Perfect and complete execution. Checking items off a list was its own reward. I thrived on getting things done. I thrived on the feeling of accomplishment. 
When reality set in, my list looked more like this:

(Again, text provided beneath the image)

  • Spent hour of indecision in fabric store pouring over patterns. Spent second hour looking over every bolt of fabric before deciding on less expensive (and less appealing) piece (of fabric)
  • Spent hour wandering aisles of Barnes & Noble, finally got small journal from discount area
  • Never made it to stationery or art supply store –not enough time
  • Spent hour shopping in grocery store, and 1/2 hour standing in “wrong” line
  • Decided to put library books in drop box—will browse shelves next day off

To Do:
  • Put away groceries
  • Tidied up the house
  • Threw in a load of laundry
  • Made a batch of homemade wheat bread from scratch
  • Cut out and began sewing one shirt. Cut fist-sized hole in fabric with serger. Spent 45 minutes picking out threads, cutting new piece of fabric and fixing mistake. Two hours later, shirt done
  • Made sketch on scratch paper of project to save for next day off. Put it in new journal (where it was forgotten, since next entry made two months later)
  • Found broken string on harp. Spent 1/2 hour replacing & tuning. Piano idle ‘til kids got home
  • Worked 2 hours on school curriculum.
  • Made & hung new pictures on school bulletin board in dining room  
  • Spent 2 hours thinking about writing letter while running errands forgot to do earlier (Never wrote letter)
  • Greeted Brad [husband] with hot bread. Frazzled expression—hoping fresh bread will compensate for lack of serenity
  • Devoured 1/2 a loaf of fresh bread for dinner (used last year’s jam)
  • Gazed longingly at book sitting forlornly on bedside table…quickly put on old dress for church meeting
  • Fell into bed, an exhausted heap of partial satisfaction and semi-disappointed accomplishment 
The Box Karen Gave Me (I still have it!)
At the beginning of another of my days off, Karen surprised me with a beautifully decorated box. Inside the box were accoutrements suggestive of ultimate relaxation, such as bath salts, and a cassette tape of calming music (yes, a cassette tape–this was during the Stone Age). She urged me to spend at least part of my day with a good book, and a soothing bath accompanied by the music. A wonderful gift! I was so grateful and touched by her thoughtfulness. 

(Looking back, this was strangely ironic since Karen’s passion and drive far exceed my own. Her “day off” lists were equal to, if not exceeding mine in frenzy. In principle, she was devoted to the ideal of “Living a Beautiful Life,” and took measures to do that, always seeing things–as I often do–through idyllic eyes.)
The box, which remained in plain sight every day off from that time on, was a sweet and gentle reminder of the ultimate goal: rejuvenation of mind, body and spirit. The music was beautiful and relaxing. I know, because I played it while I dizzily worked to accomplish my list…the bath salts a lovely reminder of what I intended to do…on my next Day Off.

© Copyright May 3, 2014