Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Worst Childhood Chore

Back in March I published a post entitled Nectarine Jam Day describing lessons learned from my mom about work. I concluded the post by stating that I would shortly write about working with my dad.

Dad's acupuncture practice was really a family business. Mom did the accounting and later became the receptionist. My brothers cleaned the clinic, or "office" as we called it. When they left home, I assumed the janitor role and I cleaned just about every weekend throughout High School.  I was paid $100 per month to do so. It took me a couple of hours each week to vacuum the waiting room and hallways, mop the exam room floors, clean the bathroom and all of the sinks, and dust. Like most teenagers, my weekends were often packed. Occasionally I'd arrive home from a Saturday school activity in the evening, then drive myself to the office to complete the cleaning by 10 o'clock at night. It taught me to plan ahead. If I was going to be gone an entire weekend I was expected to go over Thursday night before or Monday night after and get it done.

Having kids do the work saved my parents money because adult laborers would have demanded higher wages. Still, we didn't work for free, and we learned at a young age how to save, budget and make purchasing decisions.

One bit of trivia: Vernon, a classmate who made creepy advances towards me in during Mr. Svinth's 7th grade camping trip to Mount Lassen, worked in the Dental Lab that was attached to my Dad's Clinic. I would sometimes see him there on Saturdays. By the end of High School we were good friends!

My Brush with Death

Prior to the janitor job I sometimes worked at my dad's acupuncture clinic cleaning dirty needles so they could be re-used on other patients. This started when I was 11 years old. I got paid about $2 per hour, which was great because babysitting only paid $1 per hour.

I felt very grown up and competent wearing latex gloves and sitting on a real lab stool. I'd pick out the needles one at a time from the basin where they soaked in pink, sweet smelling antiseptic solution. The liquid and the needles felt cold through the gloves. Sometimes the tips of the needles would go through the gloves and prick me.

I would run an alcohol wipe up the needle to remove any blood or human tissue (Sometimes little hunks of human flesh would be attached.). If the wipe caught on the needle it was considered barbed and was to be thrown away. If the needle passed the wipe test I wove it through a strip of cotton gauze. This was hard to do at first, as my young hands were awkward, but eventually I got the hang of it.  I could fit about 8 needles on one strip of gauze. These gauze strips were placed in plastic bags and then into a machine called an autoclave, which was supposed to sterilize the needles. I was taught how to start the autoclave myself, which involved the handling of dangerous, yellow-glowing chemicals.

I felt very useful at the office, and enjoyed being around my Dad who often

Back at it

Took a 3 month leave of absence. Didn't intend for it to be that long. It may not have been necessary for it to be that long. Back at the beginning of the year I wrote that sometimes we get off track on our goals, but that we need to be self-forgiving. This allows us to Keep Moving Forward.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Smiling Grandma

This post is in honor of  Annabelle "Peggy" Bakaitis, my mother-in-law. Every child should have a grandma like her. I feel so blessed she was in my life and my children's lives for so many years. When I was sifting through photos, I noticed that every picture I have of Mom shows her with a smile on her face. We miss her, but rejoice in the sure knowledge that her Spirit lives in peace now.

5 year-old Rachael with Grandma Bakaitis, September 1994
Love Grandma's smile.
The first time I met my future husband’s family was December of 1986. Jim and I drove across the country the day after Christmas, from Petaluma, California to Detroit, Michigan. We had just gotten engaged a few weeks before. It was the first time I had been in the Midwest. To be honest, I thought the rest of the nation revolved around California, and that Northern California was superior in every way. Little did I know that 20-30 years later, I would begin to feel sorry for some of my California friends who had never lived away from the West. Seems like it’s hard to be “for real” if you’re not from the Midwest.
Everyone was welcoming in the Michigan and in the Bakaitis home. I don’t know what I was expecting. Jim kept telling me not to worry about meeting his family. His mother especially was “accepting.”

I was a little surprised that Joe and Peggy had three adult children ages 24, 26 and 28 living at home though. 

At the dinner table the next evening John and Marlene, Jim’s brother and sister, got into a discussion about whether one would turn orange if one ate too many carrots. The discussion turned into a heated argument.  As their voices got louder, John argued passionately that it was totally possible. Marlene argued that no one was physically capable of eating that quantity of carrots; you’d die or pass out before you could eat enough carrots to turn orange.

This was a funny argument to have, but what made it funnier was that after we married and returned to Michigan I witnessed John and Marlene having this same argument at the dinner table on at least three more occasions in 1987-1988.

Lively discussion about all sorts of topics were a regular feature of the Bakaitis family during those early years of my marriage. Sometimes Mom would leave the dinner table right in the middle of a meal and bring the encyclopedia back to the table to look something up in order to settle an argument. This surprised me, because my own mother did not allow us to leave the table during mealtime as she considered it poor manners. But Mom Bakaitis liked to be a peacemaker. Too, the entire Bakaitis family, perhaps inspired by the Matriarch Peggy, has always been seekers and keepers of random facts. That’s something I really enjoy when spending time with all of them. 

(Remember, there was no Internet in those days, so we couldn’t google “turning orange with carrots.”)

Mom often gossiped about Ronald Reagan. She did not like him, and actually diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s Disease while he was still in office, though it wasn’t officially announced in the media until a few years later. But both Mom and Dad Bakaitis were avid newspaper readers and they kept abreast of every move the POTUS made. (Dad was a little obsessed with Michael Jackson's activities. I considered it poetic justice when both Dad and Michael died the same year).

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nectarine Jam Day

This weeks prompt: Who taught you to work? What would you want your children and grandchildren to learn from their example?

My mother, Roberta Larsen Cordon, taught me to work. Oh boy, oh boy did she teach me to work! Assisted by my father, of course.

Here are a few of the lessons I learned from my mother that serve me today:

1) Set a routine and clear expectations. And start the day by making your bed.
Mom expected all of us kids to do our part in the home. In the mornings we were to make our bed, pick up our rooms, and do one additional chore before school. After school we each had an assignment to help with the daily family meal -- Four kids, four discreet tasks. Set the table or empty the dishwasher before dinner; clear the table or fill the dishwasher after dinner. These chores rotated weekly and were defined on a color-coded chart taped to our refrigerator. Shelly was red, Scot was green, Derek was yellow and I was blue. Before I learned to read Mom would draw pictures on my chore chart.

When I was very young -- and very short-- I set the table each evening. Mom organized the kitchen cabinets so the dishes were down low where a Kindergartner could reach them. She made a diagram of a place-setting to help me. She was always and forever a teacher. I would carry the picture around the kitchen table with me as I placed each plate, cup, fork and knife.

On Saturdays Mom would write out a personalized chore list for each of us. We weren't allowed to play with friends or do fun stuff until we'd finished. One chore she seemed to give me a lot was pick up the garbage in front of our house.

Once when I was 8 years old I was writing a story at school when I got a call to come to the office. "Your mother needs you to go home." We lived across from the school, so I skipped on home. Mom was waiting for me, a stern look on her face. She told me I had left the house that morning without making my bed or emptying the dishwasher. In fact, I had done this on several mornings recently. Not acceptable. Mom told me I could go back to school when my chores were finished. I did them! After that, I was more regular about morning chores.

2) Use your whole team 
There were special days unique to the Cordon household, in which Mom would corral us kids to work together. Walnut Day. Nectarine Jam Day. Fruitcake Day.

In the late fall our walnut tree would drop its fruit. Seems like the ground was always wet, fresh from rain, when we'd put on our jackets and go out to pick up the nuts. The nuts required husking. Sometimes the husks were green and easy to peel, but often they were dried and shriveled on the outside and filled with black slime. The black goo could stain your hands for weeks and I didn't care for it, but Mom made us all help. After rinsing the nuts we'd place them on wire screens to dry. A few weeks later, Mom would sit us around the table to crack the walnuts and pick out the meat. We always had delicious walnuts for baking treats to give to people.The walnuts were resource Mom used to reach out to others.

3) Do your work even when you don't want to. You will enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Nectarine Jam Day happened in the summer when the tree in our front yard would start dropping nectarines. Mom would wake us all up early and set us around the kitchen table to peel, pit and slice the nectarines. (Many years later Shelly and I learned that you don't have to peel nectarines for jam. But Mom was ignorant to that).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Best Friends

This week's prompt: Who was your first best friend? Are you still in contact with each other? What do you remember about the friendship?

Megan and Teresa, Millennium Park in Chicago, 2015

It started with a sleepover at her house on B Street in Petaluma in 1976. We were both in the 5th grade. She invited me. I don't recall when Teresa came to McNear Elementary, but I think 5th grade with Mrs. Butler was the first time we were in the same class.

Grade School

California schools had terrible budget issues in the 1970's. We had large classes by today's standards -- about 35 pupils. No gym, art, or music teachers. The main teacher did all of that, as well as teach us to dance. The only prep time elementary teachers got throughout the day was recess and lunch, which were were longer than they are today. We got a few 15 minute breaks morning and afternoon, and an hour in the middle of the day to eat and play.

Our class that year was a hybrid of 4th and 5th graders because the district was too broke to hire another teacher.  There was one totally 4th grade class and one totally 5th grade class in the school, and then there was ours. My mother didn't like my class at all. I don't know how I got assigned to the hybrid class, because I was one of the best students in my grade. It was probably because I could work independently. Mrs. Butler would give us reading assignments, worksheets, and math problems. It was all "go at your own pace" with not much group work or classroom discussion. I taught myself most of the math that year by reading sample problems from the text book. If I had a question I could approach Mrs. Butler's desk and stand in line until it was my turn to ask for help.

Next year in 6th grade I was a little disappointed when the teacher, Mrs. Gardener, got in the front of the classroom and actually wrote problems on the board to teach us math.

Although I resented being put with 4th graders, I came to like the learning structure that year. It was perfect for me. The number of minutes per day we were required to sit, be quiet, and focus up front was greatly reduced from a traditional classroom, so we kids had more time to socialize. That's how it came to be that Teresa invited me over.

The First Sleepover
Ready for the dance! 1979

It was an older house that her parents rented, painted white and with a small oval-shaped stained glass window in the front. There were wood floors, I think, in the living and dining room areas. There were two bedrooms and a bathroom in-between with a tub but no shower. Teresa and her mother Jackie slept together in one of the rooms, and her father and brother Shawn slept in the other. She said her parents didn't sleep together because her father snored. I thought it was cool she shared a room and clothes and makeup with her mother. The kitchen was in the back, and behind it a screen porch led to the backyard area.

Teresa's parents were from Missouri and spoke with a Southern drawl of sorts, which made them seem exotic to me. That first evening Jackie made Southern fried chicken for us kids. Yum. But she cooked hamburgers for Teresa's dad because he didn't like chicken. Right then I knew she was a different sort of wonderful mother than mine. At my house, whatever my mom was cooking, we were eating, my dad included. Mom would not cook a separate dish for just one of us. None of my family dared to be a picky eater.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How He Met My Grandmother

This week's prompt: Do you know how your grandparents met and fell in love?

I know some. My parents and their parents grew up in a very small community in Idaho -- the Teton Valley, close to the Wyoming border. My father once told me The Valley (as he called it) was the most beautiful place in the entire nation in which to have a childhood. The Larsens and Sorensens lived in Darby (Mom's family); and the Cordons and Nelsons in Driggs (Dad's family). They all went to the same high school, did barn raisings, farmed, and traded with each other. My grandparents probably had many encounters together in the community prior to forming an attraction. My (adoptive) parents actually lived next door to each other in Driggs for a few years, which led to their romance.

My Grandfather Alfred LeVoy Larsen wrote a personal history which I cherish. This work is one of the things motivating me to do this #52stores blog this year. He wrote about the every day life of his childhood around the turn of the 20th century. social gatherings, Halloween pranks, local superstitions, church work, farming. Born in 1899, ordinary life for Grandpa seems extraordinary to me. For example:

In my memory were the hours we spent grating potatoes. This was done by driving many, many holes in the bottom of a tin milk pan; then turning it upside down, and grating the potatoes across this rough surface onto a board. They were then put out to dry. This was the way we made starch for our clothes. The best puddings were made with milk, eggs, sugar, and flavoring thickened with this starch. Seems like the food that Mother cooked was the very best.

Here's another memory:

[When he was about 8 years old] Mother took nurse's training. They would travel from Darby to Driggs each day with a team and buggy. She was called as a mid-wife. She helped bring many babies into this world of whom many are still living. She was called day and night and was always willing to go whenever help was needed. She also helped dress and lay to rest those that had passed on. The epidemic of measles, diphtheria and various other diseases took their toll. There was only one doctor in the valley and enough work for two or more doctors, so mother was called on real frequently. I remember when the kitchen table was used for an operating table to remove the tonsils.

How my grandparents got together:

My grandfather Larsen wrote briefly about his courtship with my grandmother. He was my only grandparent to pass down such a story.  In 1919, at age 20, he was called to be a Mormon missionary in Oklahoma. He recounts many wonderful experiences, including miracle healings. I believe before he left on his mission, a spark had been ignited with 18 year-old Naomi Sorenson.

All this time I had continued to write to the girl of my dreams at home. My inferiority complex was dwindling, and I had more courage in my letters than when face to face, so I suggested marriage to her; only time was the answer.  I remained on my mission for 26 months, the whole time being a spiritual experience.

After his mission he returned home to Darby for a few months, then took a job as a "sheep man" during the winter of 1922-23. The summer of 1923 he moved 370 miles away to Nampa, Idaho near the Oregon border. He worked as a short order cook for a flour mill for almost 2 years. Naomi eventually showed up in Nampa, which moved their relationship along.

In the fall of 1924 I was very happy when Naomi Sorensen and her sister Ruth came to live with one of their girl friends in Nampa. The girls both got a job packing apples and other fruit. They worked there until December. This gave us more time to complete our plans, and we set the date for our marriage.

I wonder if Naomi went there 'cause she wanted to hang with her sister and needed money, or if she went primarily to be closer to Alfred. I'm guessing the latter. I also wonder why Grandpa didn't stay in  Driggs to be closer to Naomi. Maybe there was no work. Maybe their relationship was kind of on again - off again. Or maybe Naomi was seeing another guy during part of that time. The time lapsed between when Grandpa proposed to Grandma in that missionary letter until the time they got married was 5 or 6 years.

I could hardly wait until the first of March so I could again be with the most precious girl on earth. She was also very faithful to her belief in the gospel, which drew us closer together. On March 10, 1925 we boarded the train in Driggs. Without family or friends we went to Salt Lake City where we were married March12, 1925 for time and all eternity. Two very happy people returned again on the train to Driggs.

They lived for many, many years in the Teton Valley, farming in several different locations. My grandfather writes of loosing their first-born son Lawrence who was born premature.  He also lost the first farm he and Naomi purchased.

Due to the frost and hail storms that visited our crops the following years and completely destroyed our cash crops, we were unable to make the payments on our place so we had to give it up.

I want to leave this writing today with words of Grandpa describing life during The Great Depression. He farmed with his family after losing his own farm.

While on this place we farmed as a family group, which consisted of my father, two brothers Charles and Edgar, and myself. This was the start of the depression which met its climax in 1933. These were hard years; everyone was in the same condition, bills to meet and not much money to meet them with. Thank goodness we lived in a community where we received so much joy and happiness living together as one big family sharing each others' joys along with the sorrows. We didn't have much money, but we lived for the love we had for each other and as a community.

The thing that kept him going, the thing that brought him joy and happiness, was love. Happy Valentines Day everyone!
Me at age 4 with Grandpa Larsen, Christmas 1970

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Overcoming Chronic Pain: My Personal Journey.

This week's prompt:  What has been your greatest physical or athletic accomplishment? An endurance race, a difficult hike, a personal health goal? How did you stay motivated to reach the finish line?

I overcame chronic pain, and somewhere in the process got muddy. I am so, so very proud of that.

I have experienced sharp pains in my neck and shoulder since my early teens. Sometimes it made me not want to do things or to socialize. Sometimes I couldn't focus at work, in the grocery store or sitting at church. My father was an acupuncture practitioner and a medical doctor; I tried all of his suggestions and treatments, as well as medications, chiropractors and steroid injections. There was never any permanent relief for my pain. I wondered if something was wrong in my head. MRIs at ages 35, 40 and 45 have revealed disc degeneration, disc herniation, spondylosis, and stenosis.  Looking back, I believe the pain was exacerbated because I chose to play the piano instead of doing sports for many years. I had never seen myself as athletic. I would get picked last for every team in Physical Education. I was just a skinny girl. Trying to be athletic was just one humiliating experience after another. Instead, I spent long hours at the keyboard, which was not good for my upper back and neck, though it did teach me discipline and beauty.

In adulthood, doctors kept referring me to physical therapy. In PT they teach you exercises to help strengthen the muscles between the shoulder blades. This is supposed to alleviate pain. But the minute you say the exercises are working they stop PT and leave you on your own. If you don't keep exercising the pain returns and becomes harder to treat the next time. I had never seen myself as athletic, so I had not developed any habits related to regular exercise.

In 2013 I hired a personal trainer after I got kicked out of PT again for improving. I hoped paying a trainer would motivate me to continue to strengthen the targeted muscles. For a year the workouts seemed to help and I felt strong; but then something went terribly wrong and I was in excruciating pain, worse than ever before. I have since learned that planking isn't for everyone. I gave up training and went back to my pain doctor. I was hoping for some steroid injections and medications, but instead he sent me back to PT yet again.

About that time a friend was putting together a team for a 5 mile mud run called Mudderella. Impulsively, I volunteered to do it. Despite my pain issues, I was as strong as I'd ever been after my personal training workouts. The mud, the climbing and crawling just looked fun and I forgot momentarily that I had chronic pain and that I was not athletic.

I've never been able to run any distance. In elementary school the lunch ladies made you run laps around the field during recess if you were rude to them. I was never rude, but some kids were and one day they made all of us run for the entire 30 minutes of recess. One of the recess monitors grimaced at us the whole time. I was breathing so hard I was sure I would die, but she didn't let me walk. We didn't have gym shoes at school back then either, or gym clothes or sports bras.  I ran in my oxfords and bell bottom pants, and got them very muddy. My mom was angry that I came home muddy and she yelled at me. From that day forward I never liked running.

But look at me below. 35 years later, I got muddy while running again!

From left to right: Molly, Amber, Andrea and ME at Mudderella 2015.
The day I signed up for Mudderella, I started trying to run. The first 6 months I got a bunch of running injuries

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bible in a Year

Prompt for week #3:

What would you want your children or grandchildren to learn from your example about making and achieving goals? (I am uncomfortable writing about me me me. But here I go):

"Suffer the Children" by Minerva Teichert
This artist gives me inspiration to KEEP MOVING FORWARD

Here's a goal I've done that I'm very proud of:

I read the entire Bible in a year. I thank my friend and former coworker Sue Taylor. Back in September of 2012 her pastor at the Long Point Methodist Church challenged his congregation to read the Bible in a year. Sue was fired up about it, and her enthusiasm drew me in. Actually, I had wanted to do it for a while, and all I needed to be successful is a reading plan and a buddy to hold me accountable.  Sue provided me with both. Every week she would bring me the reading schedule printed in her church bulletin.

I highly recommend reading the Bible in chronological timeline order rather than reading it in the order the books are arranged. A chronological schedule may be found at this link.

I didn't just read the Bible, I took it further and read all four of the LDS Standard Works -- the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price-- in about 16 months. And when I finished, I was so fulfilled that I jumped in and read them all cover-to-cover a second time, this time completing the task in 15 months. 

There's a time and season for goals. In 2013 I only had one child at home and he was a teenager who barely came out of his room. I had the time and the concentration I needed for all of the reading. That's not to say a young mother couldn't read the Bible in year. I'm just saying I was able to succeed when I no longer had the distraction of a passel of children.

I will confess I got off track for a time. I was way, way behind Sue and was embarrassed to admit it to her. In March I took my Bible to Ireland on a trip. I had a nasty head cold the first two days and the weather was so blustery I stayed inside our cottage and

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What Grandma Taught Me.

The prompt this week was: "What is something you taught yourself to do without much help from anyone else?"  However, the memory that came to me most strongly and most immediately was not of what I taught myself, but rather, something my Grandmother Audrey Nelson Cordon taught me. I have had so many wonderful teachers in my life.

My latest flower embroidery project, unfinished.
When I was around 9 years old Grandma Cordon came and stayed with us for a whole month to get acupuncture treatments from my father. I think it was March of 1976. It was a happy time for me. I was not blessed to be raised near grandparents. They lived  in Idaho and Utah and we usually only visited them once per year. Grandma's visit to our California home bolstered my self-esteem. I felt unconditional love from Grandma which was something I needed.  She was so patient and so fun. I always felt important and  confident around Grandma. I loved her very much.

Grandma was tiny, around 5 foot tall. She felt a little soft when you hugged her, but she was not really plump. A big nose held up glasses through which peered melancholy eyes. The sadness on her countenance was juxtaposed with her loud laugh and penchant for dressing in bright colors like hot pink and orange.  She had a wonderful sense of humor, like all of my father's family, but she cried easily. When I was older I learned that she suffered from

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Defining My Dash in 52 Stories

This blog is my effort to take on the challenge from LDS Family Search's #52Stories Project, Define Your Dash.  The dash refers to the space between birth and death, such as one might see between dates on a grave marker. Years and years from now, my marker might read something like this:

Devoted Wife, Mother, Friend
1966 - 2076

The dates can tell you some things about me. For example, thirteen LDS temples were standing the year I was born. The newest one was in Oakland, California, just across the bay from the liberal mecca of San Francisco. There was high political unrest in the US in 1966-- civil rights demonstrations, war protests, stirrings for expanded women's roles in society. The Black Panthers and the National Organization for Women were both founded the year I was born. 

However, the dates don't tell you that I was born in that hotspot San Francisco to a mother who travelled there from Alaska to give birth, because she wanted me to thrive in a liberal political climate. The dates don't tell you that I did not get much instruction in liberal politics because Idahoan Mormons adopted and raised me, or that