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