Danger

 

October 18, 2018

We attended a “pie party” with Eric and Becky, her parents, all their children but Josh on his mission. Each family brought a homemade pie. Now we’ve had our Thanksgiving desserts while we’re hungry enough to eat them!

While the young people played board games, we three mothers sat before a cheerful fire and talked, as women do, about everything. The conversation shifted to the terrible disaster in Paradise, CA. A whole town wiped out. More than fifty dead and over a thousand unaccounted for. The wild fires under the influence of a “Santa Ana” wind roaring from the south ate up forest at the rate of a football field a second, approaching so rapidly that people perished because they couldn’t escape.

Daughter-in-law Becky said she and the other nurses at the hospital she works for were discussing the small hospital in Paradise that suddenly had to be evacuated. Only one ambulance, so the staff drove patients in private cars over the one road in and out of the town. The fires raged on both sides. Tires melted, door parts melted, clothing caught fire when people had to abandon cars. It was as horrific an experience as I can even imagine. Heroism was common. Heartache was equally common.

Paradise is/was a tiny community in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a place many retirees found affordable because of the isolation. Paradise looks like Hell right now. But in time it will be reconstructed and people will be able to see the grasses and new trees grow through the ashes. Death and regeneration up close and personal.

That in a few years it will all come back to life and beauty is certain. But I wonder why people choose to live in such fire-prone places. I wonder and then recall that our home is built on a gravel and sand base very near to the Wasatch Fault. That base will liquify in an earthquake, and our homes will be destroyed or damaged. People live in “Tornado Alley” in the Midwest. Floods visit our rivers and coastlines regularly. I think there is no place in our land or any other that is disaster-proof.

But we make our living right here. Our families are here. We have ties to schools, churches, even to the workers in the grocery stores. Where would we move that is guaranteed to be safe from natural disasters?  Yet, worse, even if we could find such a place, people can create disasters anywhere. In our own church building, a woman was locked in, practicing the organ. Someone knocked loudly and shouted at the door, but she ignored it. That someone must have been mentally ill because he picked up a large stone and shattered a classroom window. He then attacked the organist, squeezing her neck with his hands until she passed out.

Nowhere is safe. So how can we sleep at night with all these potential threats? Besides compartmenting bad things, we hope for the good. We cope when we can’t escape harm. And sometimes we die. The thing is, most people seem to think that death is the worst thing that can happen. Yet even an unpleasant death leads to release and to another, immortal life. Death is much harder on the survivors, actually, than on the departed. Of course, we value life and try to avoid suicide and other forms of self-inflicted death. Of course, we try to be safe when we drive and in our daily habits. Sometimes, in a theater seat, I look around for a seatbelt!

The answer to constant, inevitable danger is faith that struggle is worthwhile, the reason we’re on earth. Our reaction to what happens determines character—something that lasts beyond death. PMA

 

Advertisements

100 Years 11/11

 

November 11, 2018

One hundred years ago today, the armistice for the Great War was signed and the war was over—kind of. The young men who lived with damaged lungs from mustard gas, those with PTSD which then was called “shell shock,” those with terrible wounds that left them barely alive and all their families and loved ones “fought” the consequences of war. It wasn’t a sudden onset of prosperity from the virtual famine that wartime had brought. It wasn’t just bury and dead and forget it.

An article in Smithsonian magazine about the area 100 years later depicts the trenches, monuments, and detritus of the war even today. There still are the cemeteries, statues, and accounts such as graffiti on trench walls, letters describing the hellish conditions, and, more subtly, the holes in existence left by all those deaths, all those who never married and had families, all those women who never married because so many men were killed. The work these people never did to contribute to society is missing still in countries involved. All those homes, vehicles, schools, natural resources and cities ruined, destroyed, knocked to rubble, even now affect our lives.

Then, of course, came World War II. Even more of the carnage mentioned above.  Even more effect on the USA as both the European (and African) as well as the Asian continents were involved and our resources were used to fight on two fronts. The loss of resources as well as of human beings was incredible. Except that, strangely, the USA eventually profited such as with the Alaska (ALCAN) highway dug out through high importance because Alaska was invaded. And atomic energy, transportation and technology that changed our world were fostered by war needs.

I think a series of “small” wars since then have proven that there is nothing glorious in battle, in killing people. Yes, we send military off to war and admire their courage and patriotism. The article I mentioned above recounted how excited and even cheerful young men shortly to be in muddy trenches with disease, rats, and the occasional direct hit were. Such wars, I think, cured us of enthusiasm for battle. A recent death in Utah of a Major and mayor of a town with seven children has reminded us that fighting has terrible consequences.

It’s Gary’s 80th birthday today. He was born in America while all around in the world the fighting was escalating. He was born when freedom lovers wondered if anything we could do would stop the Germans. In 1941 when he was three, the Japanese attacked in Hawaii. The war would eventually stop in Europe and Japan would eventually surrender after two atomic bombs destroyed in ways never seen before.

It’s all pretty depressing in terms of loss and suffering. Yet in terms of supporting allies and dependent people, it was also brave and far-seeing. The USA erased our safe borders to send help to others and to prevent eventual destruction if the rest of the world fell. (There’s always a self-preservation aspect.) It happened and could happen again.

What’s left is individual goodness in a trench or in a home that sometimes seems a trench against evil influences. The verdict of millions of deaths is not really in who won or lost. It is in each person’s struggle to make life meaningful and to do some good with or without bullets and bombs. That struggle is what we’re here for. PMA

 

Opus# ?

 

November 4, 2018

I am not usually a procrastinator. Generally, I like to get things done rather than have them nag at me until I have to do them because it’s the last minute.

For that reason, this year’s Christmas Song by Penelope Moody Allen and Michael F. Moody my cousin is now being set from manuscript for sending out. It takes a long time to produce this opus. The text comes first, and I wrestle to try to give Michael a text that is “gentle and like a lullaby” as he always pleads for. I came up with a very gentle, “He Didn’t Yet Know Who He Was.”  Michael surprised me by asking me to change it a lot. It’s now entitled, “Christ’s Steadfast Love” and it leans more to the celebratory rather than the pensive it was at first.

The minute I send my text to Michael and it’s gone, I immediately have a lot of other versions come into my mind. He’s used to getting a different version the next day. Then he works to make the music fit. I had written four verses, but I was persuaded that the song would be better without one we could do without.

Back and forth. Understand, because we start quite a while before Christmas, we have time to trade ideas and to admire each other’s contributions. It’s intense and fun.

So in a few weeks, we’ll be e-mailing this year’s song. Michael says we’ve been doing this annually for over 20 years, maybe closer to 30? That’s a lot of Christmas songs. That’s a lot of mutual admiration and delight as we try to come up with something fresh, something that inspires faith. Hopefully, this will be one of the best. We wouldn’t spend all that effort and time on it if we didn’t hope that it would be worth people’s while. We have to be pleased and enthusiastic with each piece even if we don’t like it as well over time.

Probably I’ll send it in early December. If the words aren’t as beautiful as the music, I’m used to that. He has written many, many lovely settings besides to my texts. I’m very proud of his contributions. And proud that he asked me to fill in for Mabel Jones Gabbot with whom he worked for many years. It was her disability that gave me my opportunity. I can never equal her talent, but I have been grateful to have my chance to do this.

And, yes, it’s okay to write texts for other musicians to set. It isn’t fornication, after all, to go to different partners, although I must admit to a little jealousy at some of Michael’s beautiful works written to others’ words. I am working with another composer. But I don’t expect to always nail it. How many of my texts languish only begun because they just couldn’t be viable. I am plugging along at writing hymn texts for the new edition of the hymnbook. I keep wondering what someone in Ghana would profit by singing and how to write with a simplicity that lends itself to translation. I keep hoping I can do it. PMA

PS The manuscript image is taken from Google Images, not Michael Moody

 

 

 

 

 

DESIGN

 

October 28, 2018

Each month I read Discover: Science for the Curious. November’s issue features Life in the Quantum Realm, When the First Farmers Changed History and Cracking the Protein Code. The latter is today’s subject.

First a Wiki definition: “Protein folding is the process by which a protein structure assumes its functional shape or conformation. All protein molecules are heterogeneous unbranched chains of amino acids. By coiling and folding into a specific three-dimensional shape they are able to perform their biological function.

Got that? Well, here’s text from Discover: Proteins 101. “Each 6-foot-long strand of DNA packed into our cells has the information to create 20 different amino acids. These amino acids form chains and fold in a seemingly endless number of ways to create about 100,000 different proteins. Each protein has a specific purpose, most of them crucial to keeping our bodies functioning.”

I enjoyed reading an article about scientists who have come up with a computer model called “Rosetta” that visually shows protein structures. They now understand a lot about how these protein strands work and why. The point, though, of my essay is a quote from one of the lead scientists: “Proteins that just evolved by pure, blind chance can do all these amazing things. What happens if you actually design proteins intelligently?”

My jaw dropped. Everything I have ever read in this or any other magazine or book about the earth and its creation and workings convinces me that it is intelligently created. Mere “blind chance” can’t explain its glorious complexity and beauty. If we want one short, but cogent example, take the toucan. toucanIt has developed a beak so large that it actually hampers the bird’s life functions. This is not survival of the fittest, although scientists say female toucans love that beak, making it successful. No, I believe it’s that an intelligent designer with a sense of humor created it—and any number of fantastic, awkward and silly plants and animals that wouldn’t be around contributing to our wonder and delight without intelligent guidance.

Without such guidance, instead of the marvelous variety and diversity on earth, everything would have survived in the “fittest” and most homogeneous mode. Where’s the delight in sameness? Intelligent beings are guiding the creation and variation we see everywhere, including our marvelous bodies, host to billions of other living creatures that enable us to live.

This essay will not convince anyone who doesn’t already believe that God made this universe and continues to help mankind to invent and discover. Those who do believe in God may also believe that he has a purpose for making this earth and for placing his children upon it. They may also believe that the children of God lived with their parents before they were born to a mortal body. When Joseph Smith first restored this knowledge, it was thought of as heresy, as crazy, as senseless to people who believed they had been created from nothing and for no good reason except, perhaps, as playthings.

Things have changed since the 1830s and 40s when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was beginning. The more we learn about this world, its history and complexity, the less strange Joseph Smith’s restoration becomes. Atheists believe that we are mere animals and die forever when we die. But all over this world people obtain a knowledge that they are always existing intelligences and, furthermore, have an endless future identity obtained through a balance between mercy and justice planned by intelligent gods. That’s really amazing. That is “intelligent design.” PMA

 

 

Raptors

 

October 21, 2018,

I took a blog break for two weeks and now I’m back. I’m back with a newborn great grandson, with gold leaves outside and chilly nights and with no more luscious tomatoes from the garden except bottled soup and sauce. I’m back with a new driver license that I put “grey” on for hair color although it’s about half brown still. I’m reading the Book of Mormon again, but now in larger amounts, about 20 pages or so, to try to get a new perspective on it—it’s succeeding. I aced my last six month dental exam. I’m trying to figure out what I can write that is worth reading.

National Geographic is emphasizing birds in its “Year of the Bird.” Mostly, it’s bad news with habitats shrinking and black market peddling. But this month they featured raptors, particularly hunting hawks, falcons and other captive birds of prey. Hunting with birds is ancient. Many countries have thousands of years traditions of owning and training such birds usually by nobility and those with riches to support the sport.

Falconry, which I’m going to call this, although eagles and even sparrow-hawks can be used, is actually increasing these birds. There are breeding units with huge, netted training fields, veterinarians who specialize in them, and, as with everything else, they have on on-line presence with falconry clubs, apprenticeships, and tee shirts.

There are also product offshoots such as leather hoods and ornate perches, heavy gauntlets, roosts, and food. Now that there are so many captive birds, there is also a thriving business in dove and quail meat to feed these pampered pets. As far as I know, the owners are not being charged with cruelty any more than the owner of a dog or cat is.

Arab falconryIn fact, when the newborn raptor hatches in captivity, it thinks its handler is its parent. Later on, it may even think the handler is a mate. Apparently they don’t have bird psychiatrists to try to fix up mixed-up bird brains as yet. These birds are flown regularly and taught to kill prey using something like a quail wing on a long line to teach tactics and flying agility.

Is it cruel to keep birds as, essentially, working pets? Any more wrong than sheep dogs or bloodhounds? I don’t know if a raptor is happier being fed quail breast after a good workout than if it has to go hungry because it’s winter and it missed that rabbit. (Remember in Disney nature movies, they showed the cute little rabbit getting away without a thought for the cute little baby eagles who might get hungry?)

It’s time to get to the point, I suppose. Mankind is always messing with nature. Our beautiful whippet Beau emerged from thousands of years ago when wolves were lured to the campfire by food and petted instead of eaten. Long histories of domesticated animals indicate how necessary they have been for food, products and transportation. And, of course, war. Until the English longbow men shot arrows like missiles long distance, the knight on his horse was the tank of war, unstoppable.

Once homing pigeons flew messages through bullets in war. This is my transition back to birds. Some birds that fly over our heads and chirp in the trees seem to do very well living among houses and people. They manage without our intervention. However, in forests and fields, their habitats are being covered with construction or burned and used to grow crops. I don’t know enough about the subject to make moral judgments.

But I remember when we lived in Qingdao, PRC for a year in a college apartment. The only birds we saw were a pair of magpies trying to nest on a building across the way. The nest was knocked down. We didn’t see seagulls although we were on the coast. We heard some faint twitters when we were in an urban forest. Something had happened to the birds. Maybe they were all eaten in the starving times under Mao. Maybe insecticides. It was lonely without birds. PMA

 

More Fun

September 30, 2018

A feature of a funeral in the Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, usually held in the chapel of a ward/stake meetinghouse, is that it is generally a happy time. Yes, tears are shed as the family of the deceased gathers in the Relief Society room for the closing of the coffin and a family prayer. Then out to the chapel with a large central area saved for the seating of the family members who do not dress in somber clothing, as a rule, and who bring all the children as well.

The Relief Society provides a family luncheon for when everyone returns from the local burial. Here in the spacious west, we usually have cemetery plots and coffins rather than cremation, although there is no rule against cremation. We gather around the grave site and sit or stand while the last words are spoken, whatever military rituals enacted, and the grave is solemnly dedicated as a resting place until the Resurrection.

At the luncheon, people have a hard time taking time to eat the delicious ham, Jello fruit salad, tossed salad, green beans, and funeral potatoes with rolls. We are rushing around hugging all the aunts and uncles and cousins and in-laws and trying to catch up with the family events since the last funeral. Sometimes we’re surprised that someone is still alive or that someone is not. Often we meet the spouse and even the new baby of a recently wed niece or nephew. It’s enjoyable because we are, after all, related and share a lot besides genetic material, especially years of encounters at various family events, funerals in particular.

Friday Cousin Michael Moody, composer, and Jan Pinborough, lyricist were given a concert in honor of thirty years of collaboration in producing sacred songs of all kinds. A choir, soloists, a musical group of strings, French horn, oboe, piano, harp, and organ performed the music.

Assembly-Hall organFourteen pieces rang out in the excellent acoustics of the Assembly Hall. You may not know many of the works, but if you are acquainted with the Tabernacle Choir or a church movie, you probably know “This is the Christ.” It was a spiritual and pleasurable concert that showed only a sample of my cousin Michael’s production of numerous different types of compositions, including a yearly Christmas song with me as lyricist.

When it was over, the fun began. The Milton Moodys, parents of my father Von, had many other children who have multiplied and literally filled the earth. Michael’s family of seven children and their families filled up three rows of benches.

Gary and I met and spoke with friends and relatives we knew. There were cousins from Von’s line, me; from Emerald’s line, Lester; Manton’s line, Joan and Linda. Milo’s line, Michael, one of seven children, was also represented by Marilyn, Lyman, Lydia and Milton. There were also representatives from Maria’s (Michel’s wife) family. And a couple that had known Michael when he lived in Southern California getting his doctorate. Friends, associates, galore honoring the beautiful music and words.

I began with noting that our funerals are usually kind of fun because of the reunion aspects. Friday night was more fun than a funeral, partially because nobody had to die. PMA

 

Tomato Soup

 

September 25, 2018

Eric Allen and I planted a lot of tomato plants this year. Wheelbarrows full of them. So we have salsa, spaghetti sauce, and tomato soup we made last week. I looked at a can of tomato soup from the store to see what it contains: tomato paste and water, corn syrup, flour, salt, “natural flavors” and preservatives. At the Allen home, Becky served us a bowl of our just-made tomato soup Saturday afternoon with tuna sandwiches. Superb!

First we wash the ripe tomatoes just picked from the garden. Then we remove anything we don’t want to eat such as dark spots as we cut them into chunks. We very coarsely chop onions and celery. We put it all into a huge stock pot and squish the tomatoes enough to release some juice to cook it all without burning. This is several gallons of stuff on the stove (think army mess hall pots).  When it’s cooked enough, we put it through a Champion juicer that my mother bought at a garage sale, I kept, and now lives at the other Allen house. It reduces all that steaming pulp into thick red juice with a minuscule residue to discard. It’s amazing.

Not done yet, we heat the juice again and let it gently thicken to a nice consistency. It then gets salt and pepper and a roux made of butter and flour to smooth and thicken it. We bottle it in mason jars and pressure can it so it is super safe to keep.

This is our first year for soup.  It won’t be the last. I think Gary and I have about a dozen quart bottles to last the winter. I don’t know if we can ever go back to canned soup after this.

As with most things, homemade is best. The spaghetti sauce is thick and full of herbs, garlic, and onions. The salsa is just zippy enough. And I must mention that we also juiced grapes by the steam method. Eric insisted, this year, that instead of putting the picked bunches in with their stems, we pick the grapes off, so we did. After fifty years of canning juice with stems, I drank some without stems: velvety smooth, not a hint of bitterness, sweet without any additional sweetener. So that extra step is now no longer extra. Our standards have been lifted.

Eric is definitely the chef in charge of canning. Since he is the farmer, weeder, mulcher,  waterer and picker as well, he doesn’t want to waste all that effort so does most of the preservation work with a few minions such as Gary and me (note that me is correct English).

It is a source of pride to me that since I started him and his sisters out on the back porch peeling fruit and helping with the garden, he continues the work.  How can I help but feel that the bottled food, so carefully packed and cooked safely is better than store food? I don’t have the energy to do it myself anymore, but the Allens are generous to share with us. Sunshine has packed itself into unsprayed food that is processed at its prime and kept in the dark. When we unseal it, nutrition just bursts out! It almost has a glow as through the dark months we resurrect the sun and feel its warmth. You may think of it as tomato soup, but we would call it, as Bill Allen would say, “ambrosia.” PMA

 

Organ

 

September 16, 2018

Friday evening Gary and I went to Salt Lake City and Temple Square to attend an annual concert of organists playing the Tabernacle Organ. All of the present Tabernacle organists performed, plus the organist of the Cathedral of the Madeleine a few blocks east. Each one used the instrument’s infinite resources to create every kind of music from bells to a performance where only the foot pedals were used that really vibrated the whole building!

Each one of the performers is a lifetime master of the instrument, and each chose the piece carefully, so it was simply a delightful series of experiences.  About two thirds of the way through it occurred to me that the performers were just appendages. It was the instrument itself that was in the spotlight. The final number was an organ symphony that had been arranged from organ and orchestra to organ alone. It was a virtuoso performance by Richard Elliott in which he somehow managed strings, brass, and reeds with hands, fingers, and feet flying.

Tabernacle organjpeg

“A skilled player at a large organ such as the Tabernacle must use both hands, both feet, their ears and their eyes simultaneously,” a former organist said. “It is an extremely complex and amazing instrument. Music is a language of emotions so, without words, you’re expressing your feelings.” I include here a lead to a brief introduction to the organ elements: Mormon Tabernacle Organ 101

Richard Elliott, principal Tabernacle organist, introduces the various components that make up the Tabernacle organ on Temple Square.

The job is demanding. Here’s a quote from another full-time organist: “When I’m not at Temple Square, I’m a dad,” Unsworth said. “I have five kids, so most of my days off are spent cleaning or fixing holes in the walls. Actually, I like doing stuff like that. There’s something therapeutic about it. One time at the end of a really long day, I calculated I had spent 12 hours on the organ bench. On average, I practice about six hours a day.”

Last week I wrote that it takes about 10,000 hours to become first-rate (given sufficient talent, drive and education). These organists have gone through a very selective process. Sometimes they are organists for other churches before they get the plum of being a Tabernacle organist. I have no idea how many excellent organists there are in this country who would think they had reached the apex of their lives if they could be part of the cadre of organists: Three full-time organists are men. Two fully qualified women are part-time organists and mothers, sometimes appearing on the Sunday MoTab broadcasts as well as giving some of the 30-minute concerts held at noon most days.

Friday, Gary was in his wheelchair behind me. I sat on one of the wooden benches where, as the whole building shook, I put both hands down to feel the vibrations through my body. That’s not just an audible but a tactile experience! In the spotlight, a small human was bringing a magnificent instrument to life, disciplined and expressive of any emotion from sadness at the French losses at the Battle of Verdun to the sweet joy of living to the overwhelming might of God. PMA

 

 

Success

 

September 9, 2018

To become a professional in just about anything such as a concert artist, a pro quarterback, a Michelin-starred chef, or ballerina, it takes about 10,000 hours of practice, according to a statistic I recently heard.  Is that true?

We hear quite often about people who are suddenly famous for something on TV such as “America’s Got Talent” or other competition programs. Have they done the work or are they geniuses who are simply gifted? How long does it take to speak a foreign language without an accent? When did our hairdresser get to the point that the cut she gives is exactly right every time? How long does it take a trucker get good enough to pull three trailers behind and back them into the ramp?

Yet it’s not just the time we spend on a project. When I was teaching English, my students would complain about a grade, saying they had spent enormous amounts of time on the paper. I have done the same when I was a student. Effort doesn’t always match results. I have heard of singers whose technique is terrific, yet their voice doesn’t please. I have seen people work at art or other media without ever gaining their own “voice,” the product simply second-rate.

Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” But not to everyone all the time.  I recently finally gave away a little-bit-broken vase my mother had found at a yard sale and labelled as “collectible.”  Well, I never really liked it, but my mother gave it to me to put on my new knick-knack shelf. In fact, it was displayed when two little Chinese children visited. I kind of hoped they would knock it off the table and break it. It was never a thing of beauty to me except that my mother said it was.

Art is so personal that I wonder that anyone can be an expert. The art I see pictured in various media I read is sometimes completely beyond my ability to appreciate. For a period of about 15 years, 20 years ago, Gary and I were subjected at the Symphony, sometimes, to works of “modern music” that hadn’t anything beautiful or musical in them that we could discern. Now, modern minimalists write music that doesn’t hurt the ears but sometimes has nothing happening enough to keep us awake (with the exception of Mack Wilberg’s superb recent works). http://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/content/motab/en/videos/tree-of-life.html

It’s nature/nurture. The talent is nature, but to fully develop the talent, it takes a lot of practice and, in most cases, coaching. Plus, any successful performer will also add, “luck.” I don’t believe in luck so much, but plenty of people having put in the work and with talent to spare never become a “hit.” They just don’t reach what they think of as success. There is no answer to my original question except, perhaps the existentialist “Whatever is is good.” As with the 3 extensively researched novels I have written that are not good reads, I hope the very act of producing, working, trying to do something well has to be the point whether “successful” or not. PMA

 

 

 

Artistcoveries

Discovering the joy of art

roads bel travelled

Exploring open roads without breaking the bank