Monday, September 29, 2008

Service Soothes

In our LDS culture we possess a wonderful tradition---that of rendering service to those in need. This magical balm heals the hearts of those in distress, and those who reach out to help.

My first experience with this kind of thing took place in my youth. There were many times when I witnessed my mother helping those around her. Among other things, she often babysat for busy young mothers when I was quite young. I remember wandering into the living room one day when I was about nine years old and seeing my mother rock a tiny baby, trying to ease his young heart. She later explained that this baby was suffering from what is now known as fetal alcohol syndrome. His mother was an alcoholic---a neighbor who lived down the road from our house. This young woman had brought her baby over for my mother to tend, then she had disappeared for a day or two. My mother patiently attended to the baby's needs until his mother returned, contrite and suffering from yet another alcoholic binge. I remember how patient my mother was in trying to teach this young woman the fine art of mothering. I'm not sure what ever happened with that family---we moved from the area for a time and lost track of them. But I'm sure my mother was of greater help than she ever fully realized.

As a teen, I was often given the chance to assist my mother as she continued with her knack for helping those around her. When the tiny baby of a local seminary teacher passed away, my mother not only asked me to help her put a meal together to take over to the grieving family, but she then insisted that I come with her to deliver it. I was appalled. I didn't know what to say or do and I dreaded making this visit. Through my mother's example, I quickly learned that it didn't matter so much what was said or done---the important thing was being there, offering solace in a quiet manner as directed by the Spirit.

The years passed by and I began learning for myself why service is so important. Not only does it fulfill a crucial need---we also gain so much from helping those around us. I saw a huge example of this the summer I worked as a nurses' aid at the local hospital. I had just graduated from what was then called, Ricks College, and my parents, who were both employed at the hospital (my father was the hospital pharmacist, my mother was a CNA), had managed to secure a position for me at the nursing home end of this facility. I was not amused to learn this upon my arrival home. I envisioned horrendous things that I would be called upon to do and cringed. But jobs were hard to come by in this small community and I grudgingly accepted. I was unprepared for what transpired next. It wasn't as bad as I had first thought. I actually enjoyed working in that challenging environment. My heart seemed to sing within as I helped those who through illness were unable to care for themselves. I distinctly remember one morning, feeling like I was floating on the clouds as I made up a bed for one of our patients. I marveled at what I was experiencing and discussed it with my mother later on. She assured me that the best feeling in the world occurs when we are helping others.

I also learned another important lesson---we are never too old or too feeble to be of service. One of our patients spent hours creating potholders, pin cushions, and cute notepad holders that she would donate to the hospital to sell to raise money for the hospital auxiliary. They were featured inside of a glass cabinet in the hospital foyer. The money raised from the sale of these items was used by the auxiliary to help fund specialized equipment for the hospital. The picture of this wonderful woman is located above. I've forgotten her name (don't make fun, it happens when one ages a bit) but I've never forgotten her wonderful example.

In the years to come, I learned that acts of service also help us heal when we're dealing with heartache. The days following the suicide death of my father were extremely difficult. Borrowing from a book I've been working on, here is an experience that changed my life forever: (I apologize for the mixture of weird text styles below---blogger had issues this morning. I tried to fix it several times and finally gave up. Sigh . . .)

My father had been gone for approximately six weeks when I received a phone call from a Relief Society leader in our ward. She called to see if I would be willing to help take dinner in to a sister who was sick. I am ashamed to say that I had to choke down my initial response. A part of me wanted to scream: No! Why should I do an act of service when most people treat me like I don’t exist?! I should explain that because of the circumstances surrounding my father's death, most people had avoided contact with me, not knowing what to say or do. I'm not excusing my reaction, just explaining why I felt that way. It was a combination of the grieving anger I had been experiencing after losing my father, not to mention the hurt over being treated like a non-person that nearly caused me to say something I would regret. Tamping down my first reaction, I sullenly agreed to take dinner into the sick sister in our ward.

Even after agreeing to help, I struggled with pangs of bitterness. I took out some of my frustration on the vegetables I later chopped for the clam chowder I decided to make. I was so caught up in my moment of self-pity that I nearly sliced off a finger in the process. I attempted to calm down by reminding myself that in the past, I had usually been one of the first to help out when a need arose in our ward. Unfortunately, I then reflected on how little had been done for me in return. It is never a good thing to dwell on our own pain.

We are told that “if a man . . . giveth a gift, {and} he doeth it grudgingly; . . . it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift . . .” (Moroni 7:8) How grateful I am that our Father in heaven was patient with me during that turbulent time. I received so much more than I deserved that night, I still count myself blessed by the experience.

A woman from my ward came with me as we took dinner to the woman who had been sick. We knocked on the door, then entered her house when we heard her feeble reply. This poor sister was so sick, she was bedridden. When I saw how ill she was, I was filled with remorse for the unkind thoughts I had pondered off and on that day. We not only dished up dinner for this suffering sister, but as a further act of service, the two of us joined forces in doing some light housekeeping chores before we left.

On the way back to my home, I felt like a piece of the iceberg that had invaded my heart had chipped away. I experienced an inner warmth that stayed with me the rest of the evening. I found myself wondering if I had stumbled onto a magical cure for heartache. I know I had been guided toward figuring out a well-known truth:

“Live in all things outside yourself in love and you will have joy.” (Robert Browning)

Why does it give us so much inner joy to help those around us? I believe it is in part because we become less selfish. We focus on others instead of ourselves. In essence, we are on the Lord’s errand. One of the benefits of that is to experience inner joy, even if our own hearts are heavily burdened.

King Benjamin put it this way: “ . . . when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)

It is an echo of what our Savior taught: “ . . . Insomuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

We feel good inside when we serve God, when we act in a way that honors the sacrifices made by our Elder Brother. As we reach out to others, ignoring the pain we may be experiencing, it gives the Spirit a chance to penetrate our hearts, to offer comfort when it is needed most

In the days following this experience, I found myself looking for ways to serve. It started out as an experiment; I wanted to see if that one night had been a fluke. It wasn’t. I learned repeatedly that when I was having a bad day, the best thing I could do was an act of service. It is a formula I still use to this day. When life bogs me down, I do something for someone else. The problems in my life do not disappear, but I gain a sense of inner peace not possible any other way. We always gain more than we can possibly give.

". . . sinew and blood are a thin veil of lace

What you wear in your heart, you wear on your face

If your life is unselfish, if for others you live,

For not what you get, but how much you give,

If you live close to God in His infinite grace

You don’t have to tell it, it shows in your face.”

Unselfish acts also show inside of our hearts. Service is an important stepping-stone on the pathway to healing. It is the best way I know to ease tremendous heartache.

Return to the Neighborhood

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tiptoeing Through Tijuana

A few years ago, my family had the opportunity to travel to Mexico during a trip to San Diego. It was my first time of traveling outside of the United States. Friends who had already made the journey to Tijuana had given me the heads up about a few things. They had warned me that the poverty I would see would break my heart. They commented about the bargains to be found in this location, and suggested that I should be on the lookout for pure vanilla---a treasure worth its weight in bottle form.

My husband and I set out on this adventure with our three sons, who were all in their teens, and my mother. Excited, we parked the car near the crossing point and boarded a bus that would take us across the border into Mexico.

My friends were right. The poverty I saw along the way broke my heart. By the time we reached the bus stop in Tijuana, my heart was a bleeding mess. This is why when I stepped off the bus and I was approached by a man who wanted to sell "the pretty lady a nice T-shirt," I bought it without question, ignoring my husband's counsel that I could have bargained for a better price.

We entered the bus terminal and saw several small shops there. My mother immediately was drawn to a tiny store that advertised the desired vanilla. She purchased a large bottle and we waited for the menfolk to return from their journey to the mens' room. They came out with disgusted looks on their faces, sharing that they had had to pay money to use the facilities. Something about the stall doors wouldn't open until the appropriate coins were placed in the appropriate slots.

Wandering out of the bus terminal, we walked down the crowded sidewalks. I was immediately drawn to the colors, sights, and smells that surrounded us. Authentic Mexican cuisine was cooking all around us. Colorful shawls, capes, and woven bags lined walkways and shops. We entered one shop that caught my husband's eye; it offered a variety of beautiful chess sets. Jewelry and trinkets inside other shops beckoned. Deciding to explore a bit before we made further purchases, we walked around and found this beautiful civic building. Since none of us speak Spanish, we weren't certain what it was called.

On our way back toward one of the outdoor restaurants we had spotted along the way, small children came up to us, begging for anything we could give them. Their hopeful, dirt-smudged faces tore at my heart and I gave them money that didn't seem to mean anything to me anymore.

Suddenly we saw a disturbance. It looked like two American teenage boys were being roughly apprehended by law officials. When these young men were thrown up against the side of a nearby building, my husband glanced at our sons, and suggested that we head back to the safety of our own country. We weren't sure what was taking place, but it didn't look good.
Feeling uneasy, we altered our plans and practically ran back to the bus terminal. There we boarded a bus heading back to San Diego, and received an unauthorized tour of the slums of Tijuana. Never have I ever witnessed such poverty. People were living in cardboard huts, or shacks made up of mismatched pieces of wood and tin. Some were cooking over simple campfires, as others lay in the shade of whatever they could find. Children ran around unclothed, again with dirty faces and unkempt hair. Tears streaked down my face as we drove past these makeshift communities of misery.

We stopped at the border and had to pass through a security check. It was a little unnerving, but all we had to do was to show our ID, verify which state we had been born in and display the items we had purchased while in Mexico. Since only my mother and I had bought anything (the t-shirt and the bottle of vanilla) it didn't take us long to pass through. Then we boarded another bus and began to cross into the United States. That was when I experienced something totally unexpected. A huge embrace of the Spirit. An impression came to mind: this country is truly a blessed nation. It's an affirmation I will never forget. That sweet feeling stayed with me for quite some time, bearing further witness that we do indeed dwell in the land of promise.

I know that our country is facing a lot of problems right now, but we still enjoy so many opportunities and blessings that other nations and people will never savor. Freedom is a gift we must never take for granted. Gratitude for all that we have been given must fill our hearts if we are to survive the days ahead. Sometimes we get so caught up in all that is wrong, focusing on the negatives, we forget the long list of positives that exist. That is the challenge I'm extending today. Count your blessings. It may indeed surprise you what the Lord has done.

Return to the Neighborhood

Monday, September 22, 2008

Battling Mists of Darkness

Recently, as my husband and I traveled through a nearby canyon, we came upon a scene that was not only picturesque, but deeply symbolic in our LDS culture. I think most of us ponder the significance of Lehi's Dream and how it applies to our lives. I find that I'm always on the lookout for "tall and spacious buildings" (pride of the world), "iron rods" (scriptures, including inspired talks and counsel from our current priesthood leaders), and the "tree of life," (the love of God.)

This past weekend, we came across mists of darkness. It was a combination of a series of storms colliding with a crisp fall morning. The result was breathtaking---which meant that my husband patiently pulled over and gave me the opportunity to take several shots. ;) As I snapped the final image, I was struck with the symbolism of what we were seeing.

We all face challenging moments during our lives. These adventures can be the result of poor choices, temptations that lie in our path, or heartbreaking trials that descend without warning. Regardless of how these mists arrive, fearing doubt can keep us from continuing with our journey. The way ahead seems uncertain, the path unsure. At times, we may be tempted to remain where we are, or to wander off into the mist as we succumb to what the adversary would have us believe---that we are lost, there is no hope for a brighter future.

How do we press on under such conditions? How do we find our way? Returning to Lehi's Dream, the answer is clear. We must cling to the iron rod, even when the mists of darkness arrive in our lives, clouding our path with uncertainty. Despite the darkness that inspires fear, we hang onto hope. As Moroni tells us in the 12th chapter of Ether:

"Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world . . . which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men . . ." (Ether 12:4)

Hope is an anchor that can steady our souls when challenging times descend. With hope, we can rise above all things.
In his final words, Moroni explains:

"And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me . . . How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope? And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ . . ." (Moroni 7:33, 40-41).

Only the adversary would have us believe otherwise. Only he would have us give up and let go of the very things that will bring us the peace of heart that we seek.

In my own life, I have faced a myriad of misty times. Health challenges (I've been a Type 1 diabetic for a little over 26 years, plus I deal with a form of rheumatoid arthritis on an almost daily basis); heartbreaking loss (the suicide death of my father 25 years ago, plus the more recent passing of a brother-in-law, not to mention other loved ones we have lost along the way); and those "little trials" that plague us all on a too frequent basis: financial difficulties, stress, worry over loved ones, neighbors, and friends, ie: life in general. I could probably dedicate an entire blog to items that plunge us into misty darkness. I won't. =) I will say this---on my darkest days, the things that help me cling to hope are items we've been counseled to do repeatedly: read the scriptures, pray, fast, & attend the temple. It also helps to realize that the Atonement of our Savior, covers far more than any of us ever fully realize. Our Elder Brother suffered every pain, every sorrow any one of us would ever experience. (See Alma 7:11)

I can testify that if we will anchor ourselves in place, even when the darkest mists descend upon us without mercy, we can survive. It is up to us to allow the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to filter into our lives. This light will dispel the dark mists, making the way clear for us so we can continue on with our journey. It will never be an easy thing---it was never intended to be. But I believe with all of my heart that it is definitely worth every step we make as we continue forward toward the tree of life, knowing we're never as alone as we sometimes think we are. Our Elder Brother patiently waits for us to turn to Him. With His help, all things are possible.

Return to the Neighborhood

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Palisades Dam & Reservoir

A favorite fishing hole for avid fishermen like my husband is Palisades Reservoir. Years ago, this same reservoir was a major landmark that my siblings and I watched for eagerly whenever we traveled to our grandparents' home in Wyoming. It meant we were about half-way to our destination. We were always amazed by the size of this reservoir, which reaches up into the Alpine, Wyoming area when the spring run-off is impressive. (This reservoir begins about 55 miles southeast of Idaho Falls, Idaho and is located on the south fork of Snake River. Most of it is in Idaho territory.)

To keep us entertained as we traveled around the reservoir, our mother would remind us that her father had helped build this dam in the 1950's. My grandfather made $400.00 a month while working on this dam project. (Okay, bad pun, but I digress.) ;) This dam\reservior provides water for irrigation and electrical power for the valley below. Mom would do her best to share this kind of important information. It inspired stimulating conversation:

"That's my mountain."
"It is not!"
"It is, too."
"I saw it first."
"Oh, yeah, well your mountain is ugly and stupid. I like that one over there."

And so on . . . =) There were always plenty of mountains surrounding the reservoir to argue over. I'm sure our mother was pleased when we finally tired of that and stared out at the beautiful water instead. ;)

"I saw a fish jump."

"Did not."
"Did, too."
"Oh, yeah, well that's a stupid fish. It's letting everyone know where it is."

The years have flown by since those intellectual discussions. Soon, I was driving my own three sons past the Palisades Reservoir, usually on our annual Memorial Day Jaunt. Their conversations usually went something like this:

"Kris is ignoring me. He's listening to his CD's."
"I'd rather listen to music than you."
(Brief silence)
"Ow! Derek punched me."
"Did not!"
"Did, too."
"Gross! Devin threw up."

Our youngest son did have an extremely challenging time with motion sickness. I quickly learned the importance of drugging him before each trip with Dramamine. It also helped to let him walk around in the fresh air. Sometimes we would pull over as we traveled around Palisades to give everyone a chance to get some fresh air and to stretch and walk around. In the fine tradition of my mother, I would attempt to educate my children:

"Sons, your great-grandfather helped build this dam---"
"Gasp! Mommy swore!"
"I did not. I'm trying to tell you that years ago this reservoir didn't exist. My grandfather helped to build it---"
"Like with Legos?"

"No, she means with tinker toys." (Snicker, snicker, laugh, guffaw.)

I usually gave up about then, and loaded everyone back up in the car to continue with the journey. Periodically, I would point out other interesting items of historical family significance as we continued driving around the large reservoir. (It is approximately 70 miles in circumference.)

"That's where our family used to camp for the annual Sibbett Reunion," I would say, pointing to the Alpine Campground near the Wyoming border. "One year when I was about ten, our family was in a car accident right there, when my dad pulled out in front of a car. There used to be a large, wooden sign that hampered the vision for those who were trying to leave the campground. They moved that sign because of our accident."
"Cool! You were in a wreck. Did you die?"
"Yes, that's why we're having this conversation."
"Were you hurt?"
"Yes," I began.

"Neat! Was there blood?"
"No . . . well, yes, but not my blood. One of the women in the other car cut her forehead."
"Cool! Could you see her brains?"

About then I would change the subject. "Over on the other side of the road is the 4-H camp where I spent one week the summer I was about nine or ten. We had a lot of fun and on the last night, there was a live band. It was the first time I ever danced with a boy."
"Was it Daddy?"
"No. I didn't know your father when I was a little girl."
"You danced with another guy?"
"I'm tellin' Dad!"

Can you tell we never lacked for entertainment during those trips? =) There were other times when we would drive to Palisades. Usually it was for a picnic (there are 5 picnic areas around this reservoir), or to fish along the banks or boat docks, or to camp. (There are 6 campgrounds located in the surrounding area.) We always had a lot of fun. It is still one of my favorite landmarks. Not only is it a beautiful area, but I feel a tiny bond with this creation. After all, my grandfather helped to build it---and it's still standing. That's got to count for something. ;)

Return to the Neighborhood

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Land ho, swab the deck, and all that jazz . . .

You may have noticed the new look here at Crane-ium. I decided it was time to move on from the "tiny bubbles" format. I actually thought of it as random bubble thoughts. (The past Crane-ium template featured lots of circles that could have been interpreted as bubbles, but I digress.)

I recently embarked upon a boating adventure. And since I've always loved water, I picked this template to use for now. It features a lighthouse, something that has taken on a new meaning to me.

When you think of lighthouses, you probably envision those tall, slender, remarkable buildings that line seashores. Beacons of light to sailing types, these items come in very handy during stormy seas. They warn of dangerous passages, and are a symbol of hope and safety.

So about a week ago, my husband and I borrowed his brother's boat and set out upon an adventure. We took it out on beautiful Bear Lake, intent on catching big fishies. The first dock (known as Rainbow Cove) proved to an unsuccessful launching moment. I climbed inside the boat, then my husband backed the boat trailer into the water. I was instructed to toss him the rope as he continued to guide the boat into the lake. But the water wasn't deep enough for the boat to float free of the trailer. So we had to pull it out of the water and head somewhere else.

We drove down to Cisco Beach, also along the east side of Bear Lake, and found that others had successfully launched from this location. They were out fishing, having a good time. So we tried things again. I climbed back inside of the boat and prepared it to release from the trailer as my husband backed down the boat dock. This time the water cooperated and the boat floated free. I tossed the rope to my husband and he pulled the boat in close enough so that he could jump in beside me.

He drove around for a little bit, getting acquainted with his brother's boat, since neither one of us had ever done this sort of thing before. We've been passengers in boats belonging to other people, but we've never navigated a motorboat ourselves. After a while, Kennon taught me how to drive the boat while he started the trolling motor, and baited the two large fishing poles we had brought along.

Large Mackinaw and Cut-Throat Trout live in Bear Lake. Those were our target fish that day. We eventually learned that most of them were frolicking down about 180 feet below the surface of the water, too deep for our poles to reach. So while my husband kept track of the poles, I was instructed to drive the boat slowly, over water that was around 80-90 feet to see if we could spot fish that were closer to the surface. Since there really aren't any lighthouses around Bear Lake, my husband picked out a large, white house in the distance and had me focus on it as I drove the boat. It gave me a goal to strive toward as I steered the boat. I aimed toward it and we stayed in the depth of water that would bring us the most success.

After a couple of hours had passed and we didn't catch any fish, my husband decided we would go for a boat ride around the lake. He shut off the trolling motor and took over the wheel. Then he taught me how to drive at a fairly good speed, across the middle of the lake. I lost track of how deep the water was, somewhere around 200 feet (this boat comes equipped with a fish-finder that shows where the fish are, and at what depth) but I was having a good time. Then without warning, the wind came up.

My husband immediately adopted a look of unamusement. I didn't realize the danger we were in, and continued to drive around until he stepped forward and said he would take over. I had noticed that the boat was a little more difficult to steer, but it wasn't until I stood up and looked around that I saw why. The waves were getting a bit intense, averaging around 3-4 feet high. That might not sound like much, but when you're sitting in the middle of a huge lake like Bear Lake, it can mean trouble.

My husband picked a landmark, this time our white truck. He aimed that direction, knowing we would find safety and a boatdock. Things got a little entertaining, but we did eventually make it to shore. Because of the direction of the wind, we were fighting waves all the way across. Once we reached the shore, I figured we were out of danger, but then the real fun began---getting the boat out of the water. Can I just say that the waves were not our friend?!

Kennon drove the boat fairly close to shore, then hopped out into the water, instructing me to throw him the rope that he could use to secure it to the dock. Once we had managed to accomplish this, I hopped out onto the metal walkway next to the dock and did my best to keep the boat under control while my husband backed the trailer down to the boat.

The waves were really picking up steam and I learned why my husband had looked so grim. It is a difficult thing, getting a boat out of the water and onto a trailer when the water is filled with whitecaps. We had our hands full. I was kneeling on the metal grate, pushing against the boat, keeping it from hitting into the walkway. I soon realized I'm not as strong as I think I am. =) Those waves were hitting that boat without mercy and my poor shoulders and knees took the brunt of the impact as I tried to keep it safe. Good times. ;)

In way of good news, we did finally get the boat onto the trailer and out of the water. Then we both stood there, contemplating all that could have happened. It could have been a lot worse.

Every year, people die on Bear Lake. Usually it's from things like swimming out too far, or the wind wreaking havoc with the rafts, boats, etc. True, I was wearing a trusty life jacket the day we went boating, but with the water temperature around 64 degrees that day, it still wouldn't have been a very good scenario if we had capsized.

I also pondered the importance of guiding forces, like lighthouses. These beacons of light are crucial, especially when storms arise and we lose our way. We can look to them and find the path we need to survive.

You've probably gathered by now that I'm making an analogy out of this. ;) It's what I do. Storms come into all of our lives, most without warning. When the darkness descends and peril seems imminent, how important it is to look for the lighthouses in our lives. These guiding lights can appear in various forms: friends, relatives, the scriptures, prayer, church leaders, and our Savior. We are never as alone as we sometimes think we are when our lives are filled with turmoil.

Years ago, I wrote a song about this sort of thing. I'd like to end this particular blog with the lyrics I wrote for a musical production we performed with the Young Women I was teaching at the time:

No Matter How Dark the Storm
(From: “The Adventure of a Lifetime)

1st: There are times when the world seems an awful place to be
When the sky is full of thunder and the sun is hard to see
Sometimes fear and inner pain make you want to run and hide
And you cry all alone in a world filled with pride.

Chorus: But no matter how dark the storm
There’s a harbor safe and warm
Where the Savior holds forth His hand
See His footprints in the sand
Though life is hard, you’re not alone
The Savior’s love will guide you home
Through the darkness He shines a light
An endless glow through the blackest night
And life’s shadows will fade from sight
Through the gospel’s light.

2nd: Close your heart to empty voices that seek to cause you pain
The sun will always shine after a chilling rain
Lift your eyes to the heavens there is hope shining there
A silver lining lies hidden in every cloud of despair.

Cheri J. Crane

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Thursday, September 11, 2008


I doubt any of us will forget a moment frozen forever in time: the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001. For me, it was a time of surreal sorrow. The day before, the daughter of a close friend had lost her valiant battle with spina bifida. I had been asked to sing at the funeral. The morning of September 11th found me preparing to meet another friend at the local church to practice the song I had been asked to sing.

The phone rang before I made it to the church. It was my mother, who instructed me to turn on my television set. That is how I learned about the terrorist attacks on our nation. I sat, already numb with grief, in shock as I watched all that transpired that day.

I called the friend who was to meet me at the church that morning. She was also in shock. Family members and close friends lived in New York and she was trying to find out if they were okay. Obviously we postponed the song practice.

I called another friend, a sister of the heart. She simply couldn't fathom what I was trying to tell her until she turned on her TV. Then we cried together, absorbing pain beyond description.

Seven years have passed. Hearts are still healing. It is a tender day. As such, we have been challenged to show our colors on this seventh anniversary. I thought I would begin by posting mine here today.

Below is a small poem I wrote for this occasion:


Disbelieving anger,
Sorrow without end
Mourning loss and numbness
Collide, conflict, and blend.

Inner pain and turmoil
Led to determined grief
Joining hands we united
To extend service and relief.

The flag unfurled within our hearts
Wounded pride refined
In an instant lives forever changed
Were shaped anew, defined.

Time has passed, we have survived
Though wounds are healing still
The anniversary of this day
Inspires an inner chill.

We will go on to rise above
All that has transpired
Proudly we wave Old Glory
A symbol of what's required.

We place our trust in God above
Knowing He will direct our path
He is the One who granted peace
In the horrific aftermath.

United in prayer and unwavering faith
We will continue to heal
Our hearts will mend; life will go on
Made whole by heaven's seal.

Cheri J. Crane
September 11, 2008

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Monday, September 8, 2008

September Morn

My husband is a huge Neil Diamond fan. One year for his birthday, I managed to procure tickets to a Neil Diamond concert in Salt Lake City. He loved it and it was a lot of fun. That said, for some reason, the music to September Morn is going around in my head this morning. Here is my version of the lyrics:

September morn what is it that you truly do intend?
Pretending to be nice you are no friend
You arrive and summer's at an end,

September morn, you came and froze my garden yet again.

Don't get me wrong, I do look forward to fall, it's just that this summer has sped by so fast, I'm not ready for cooler temps, and I'm a bit miffed about the sorry state of my garden affairs. We work hard to grow gardens here in the heart of Bear Lake County. Spring usually arrives about the middle of June. We can expect a frost or two just about the time our gardens come up. It has been known to snow in July and by August, we've usually thrown our hands in the air, pondering our silliness to attempt growing anything but weeds, which seem to flourish in this area. A few years ago, I wrote a poem to document this strange tradition that seems to be part of our pioneering culture here in Bear Lake. It is as follows:

Ode to Garden ‘93

Eagerly I clutched my hoe
In anticipation of things that grow.
New seeds needed to be placed in the ground,
'Though my husband felt they would not abound:
“This is a waste of effort and time!
“You can’t raise veggies in this clime!
“Every year the frost descends . . .”
“But we can’t control what the weather sends,”
I pointed out with a stubborn grin,
“And this year I know my green thumb will win!”

Despite his misgivings, he helped me rake and till
And plant every row and future squash hill,
Until at last our task was done,
Our new garden was ready for rain and sun.

Excitement gripped me with each passing day,
As tiny seedlings grew without delay.
But the joy was short-lived, summer never came,
And record lows achieved national fame.

The first frost took out my squash and beans,
Inspiring a series of emotional scenes.
Eventually I pulled myself together,
Determined to outwit the frustrating weather.
But a few days later there came a second freeze,
Which brought my strawberries to their blossomed knees.
That freeze was followed by frosts four and five,
My garden survivors were barely alive.

Meanwhile my husband strutted around with a glow,
His little smirk indicating, “I told you so!”

Undaunted I fought for the life of my peas,
Losing them in the next severe summer freeze.
I’ve lost the battle, if not the war,
My canning this year will come from the store.

For the only thing thriving through this summer’s foul deeds,
Is a bounteous crop of unruly weeds.

My green thumb is suffering a case of the blues
Garden ‘93 has given my ego a bruise.
But there is one thing I know for sure,
I’ll have a beautiful garden in ‘94!”

Cheri J. Crane

Yes, hope springs eternal, when and if it ever arrives here in Bear Lake. ;) I will no doubt attempt growing a garden yet again next year. It's tradition. And and as my dear friend, Tevye might sing out:

Who every spring must fiddle in the dirt
Plant seedlings by the thousands, coddle them with care
And who pulls the weeds and waters the precious garden

Hoping for a harvest to enter produce in the fair

The gardeners, the gardeners, Tradition!
The gardeners, the gardeners, Tradition!

Or something like that. ;) We silly gardeners here in Bear Lake County are rather like Fiddlers on the Roof. Borrowing yet again from one of my favorite musicals of all time:
A fiddler on the roof...
Sounds crazy, no?
But here, in our little village
you might say
every one of us is a fiddler on the roof.
Trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.
It isn't easy.
You may ask,
why do we stay up there
if it's so dangerous?
Well, we stay because
[This] is our home.
And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word!
Return to the Neighborhood

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New Orleans' French Quarter

A couple of weeks ago I promised to post more tidbits from New Orleans. As you may recall, I fell in love with this area during a trip my husband and I embarked upon in October of 2006. It was a business trip for Kennon---I got invited to tag along and we spent two weeks in New Orleans.

I've cringed the past few days, praying for the brave souls in the New Orleans area. Hurricane season brings back sharpened remembrances of the havoc Hurricane Katrina wreaked in this beautiful Gulf state. New Orleans is surrounded by water. The Mississippi River cuts along the southern and western boundaries. To the north lies Lake Pontchartrain, the second largest salt water lake in the United States. (Salt Lake in Utah is the largest.) Two bridges known as the Causeway lie across this huge lake (the longest bridge stretches across the middle---approximately 23 miles). To the east of New Orleans lies Lake Borgne & the Mississippi Sound, entrance to the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans sits in the middle of these bodies of water, one of the oldest cities in the United States. The initial French explorers: Bienville & Iberville settled
New Orleans in 1718 (This city is named after the Regent of France, Philip II, Duke of Orleans.) They selected the highest spot of ground to establish what is now known as the French Quarter.

Kennon and I enjoyed a walking tour of the French Quarter. Tourists were still a bit leery of visiting New Orleans during the fall of 2006, and we were the only two who sallied forth with our guide that day. Because there were only two of us, we got to see a lot of things that our guide didn't normally have time for during other tours, and we loved it.

We were told by our guide that during Hurricane Katrina, the French Quarter only sustained minimal damage because of its location---it was constructed on the highest ground available in the area. The modern section of the city was hit hard---it lies west and below the French Quarter. The two parts of this city merge in the middle, Canal Street links them together.

You've probably heard of the famed Bourbon Street. My advice---avoid it. Many of the windows of varied establishments are filled with pornography. Our guide met us on Bourbon Street in the Cafe Beignet, also home to the Musicians Park---a tribute to jazz greats like Fats Domino. We had decided to take the French Quarter History Tour that day, and as soon as we linked up with our tour guide, Dave, a native to New Orleans, we left Bourbon Street to explore other streets of the Quarter, like Royal Street, Chartres and Decatur. Dave told us that it is a shame what has happened to Bourbon Street---it has become a place of lewd behavior, especially at night.

On with the tour: our guide pointed out the graceful black iron balconies that are evident throughout the French Quarter. Some possess barbs---to keep out the neighbors. There were also barbs attached to some of the iron poles that lead up to the balconies. These are known as Cassanova Curtailers. They were in place to protect the women who watched the original Mardi Gras parades. Men would attempt to climb up to the women, but the barbs soon discouraged their romantic inclinations.

We were shown a beautiful courtyard that lies behind one of the hotels. These courtyards were built as a protective feature. The entire French Quarter burned down a couple of times. The buildings were so close together that tremendous destruction took place compliments of a wayward fire. Courtyards were established that not only provided stone barriers between the buildings, but most contained fountains or ponds, ready sources of water should a fire flare into existence. These courtyards are now relaxing havens from the busy streets of the city.

After enjoying the courtyard, we walked through a fancy hotel that sits where the original St. Louis Hotel used to be. Back when the slave trade was thriving, this hotel attracted a large crowd of plantation owners who would come to buy and trade slaves. A lower section of the hotel was called the slave exchange and it was where the unfortunate slaves were kept. It is the only portion of the original hotel that survived destruction. You can still see the word "Change" on one side. Our guide pointed out that this word ironically depicts the needed change that took place in our nation following the Civil War.

From the top of this hotel, you can see the entire city. Our guide pointed out the canals that wreaked such havoc in the 9th ward areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We also later saw the devastation that took place when the levees broke on the southern edge of Lake Pontchartrain. But that is a story for another day. Back to the tour:

Next, we explored Jackson Square, named after Andrew Jackson, the president of the United States, and hero of the Battle of New Orleans. This large area was used as military parade grounds. Now it is the heart of the French Quarter. A cast-iron fence surrounds the park that bears a statue of Andrew Jackson. Artists and musicians alike line the outside of the fence, sharing colorful paintings and wonderful jazz music with all who pass by.

The St. Louis Cathedral lies behind Jackson Square and is the oldest and most photographed cathedral in the United States. It was originally constructed in 1724. The building that now exists in this location is the third attempt at maintaining the catherdral. Fire damage and war took their toll through the years. On the west side lies the Presbytere, the original dwelling place of the monks who served in the cathedral. On the east side of the cathedral lies Cabildo, a government building where documents like the Louisiana Purchase were signed. It is now a museum.

On either side of Jackson Square are the famed Pontalba Buildings, thought to be the oldest apartments buildings in the United States. They were designed and built by the Baronnessa Pontabla in the 1850's. It was her desire to encourage a resettling of the Creole families who were migrating elsewhere, away from the heart of New Orleans. These buildings now house fun shops on the ground level and the apartments on the upper levels that are still leased out.

If you walk south of the square, and up several cement steps you have a grand view of the Mississippi River. We watched large ships pass through, marveling at their size.

Across the river lies Gretna, the original German settlement. We learned during our stay in New Orleans that it is a blend of several different cultures and people---part of what lends such magic to the Crescent City.

To the east of Jackson Square lies the French Market and several fun places to eat. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant to savor a muffuletta---an Italian sandwich filled with scrumptious things like olives, provolone cheese, varied meat slices, topped with a spicy olive oil that makes this one of the most wonderful sandwiches I've ever sampled. I heartily recommend it. As we munched away enjoying ourselves that afternoon, we were entertained by a live jazz artist. All part of the New Orleans experience, it adds an exciting touch of class to this culinary delight.

The French Market is filled with booths of food, Cajun and Creole spices, books, clothing, jazz CD's, and just about anything you can imagine. I could have easily spent an entire day just exploring all it had to offer. And if I get to return to New Orleans someday, this is one of the first places that I'll stop and savor.

The French Quarter is the heart of New Orleans. There were other places to see and numerous attractions I'll tackle in future blogs, but if I had to pick one area to visit in New Orleans, it would be the French Quarter, hands down. It is my hope that it will continue to survive the storms that visit far too often. The historical significance of this choice area is of tremendous worth to our nation, embodying the French theme, "Joi de Vivre," or joy of living. It is such a blend of culture, music, and food, there are no words to adequately describe all it has to offer.

Return to the Neighborhood