The Most Important Things...

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to where your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear.

~Stephen King~

This Old Road

I was walking down the road the other day, walking stick firmly in hand, when I stopped and took in the scenery along the way. Off to my left were cows grazing in a really pretty little pasture, and to the right was an old house down another road, this one made of dirt and gravel. As I stopped to ponder the sights and sounds and smells, I began to reflect upon my journey down this old road. Where did it begin, and where will it end. This is an old road I’m on, and the real wonder of it all is that this old road I’m on is the same road upon which I’ve always been.

Sometimes this old road I’m on is nothing more than a footpath through some wooded landscape where the only sounds are birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, and water flowing across rocks and stumps as it travels down its own road that we know as a creek bed, and the smell of leaves freshly crumbled under my foot fills the air. The yellows and golds and reds and browns of the leaves and the blue and purple and orange and pink of the sky as dusk approaches and many different colors of the various flowers and other plant life are near impossible to take in all at once.

Other times, this old road I’m on is a massive six-lane freeway, where I find myself helplessly trapped in one of the middle lanes. Six lanes of traffic seem to be going in the same direction as I, but all of those shiny cars with their drivers seemingly oblivious to one another while talking on their cell phones and changing radio stations are heading not to the same place I’m going, but to destinations unknown, and I, in the midst of all this random activity, walk along and take in the din of traffic, tires screeching, horns blaring, radios booming that deep bass thump, thump, thump, and all of the other beautiful noises of city life.

At any given moment, this old road I’m on has been any type of road in between that footpath and the freeway. Avenues, streets, highways and byways, boulevards, cul-de-sacs, drives, sidewalks, runways, creek beds, beaches, lakesides, parking lots, lanes, alleys, expressways, turnpikes, railroads, and all manner of trails where I could walk along, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.

This old road I’m on took me and my boyhood friends to adventures in Austin that were wondrous to behold. We walked down the paved road that passed in front of our house until it went left around a corner and eventually turned into a dirt road and then nothing more than a couple of ruts through the grass. We took the turn to the left that led us downhill to a creek where we became explorers, adventurers, pirates on occasion, Native American Indians looking for and finding arrowheads, and eventually young little men learning how to learn hard lessons along this old road.

This old road I’m on took me almost all the way through school, but I took an early exit ramp and it was some time later that I was able to find my way back from that other side road and finish my journey along that particular stretch of road.

This old road I’m on led me to San Antonio in 1980 where I found myself enlisted in the United States Air Force. Then it took me to Illinois where I met Kelley who became my first wife a year or so later. It took me to Ohio for a year and then on to California. We took this old road back to Texas for a year, and then backtracked our way back to California, where Kelley decided to take a different road than the one I’m on.

This old road took me to the Rio Grande Valley where I tried to find myself, but only found myself alone in a strange and unwelcoming environment. It took me to Virginia where I eventually did find my real self and somehow attracted the attention of Sheri who graciously joined me on this old road and has helped me navigate some of the more difficult sections as we walk together.

This old road runs in front of our little farm house in Good Hope, Missouri where we live a happy life with my family just down the road and where our pets rule the abode. A half mile down the road is a small store that I like to walk to with Jaz the Beagle.

This old road I’m on has been fraught with dangers. I have walked past so many of the posted warning signs along the way, Signals to the traveler that unknown and unwanted perils await just ahead and around that bend. The signs were there but I didn’t always see them, sometimes not even venturing a passing glance, but rather walking past with blinders on, so arrogantly confident in my own self-importance that a road map would be nothing more than wasted effort. Directions surely would only slow me down in my haste to get where I thought I was going, where I thought I should be going, and where I thought I would ultimately arrive. Well, I’m still on this old road, but nowhere near where I thought I would be.

There are also handwritten notes nailed to trees along the sides of this old road I’m on with one word and a scribbled arrow at the bottom that pointed down a path lined with great trees and I could hear the silence spilling out onto the road and feel the wonderful warmth in my bosom as I neared that path. The smell of warm bread or chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven or some such other pleasing fragrance was floating on the clean and fresh and pristine breeze. The aroma of jasmine and roses and honeysuckle came wafting out to greet me like an old friend I haven’t seen in years. I could see light down this path even though no sunlight could possibly get through the rows of mighty oaks or elms or black walnut trees. Sometimes I saw this sign with the arrow and its one handwritten word of “peace”, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I saw it and turned to go down that path, and sometimes I just ignored the message and went on my way. I can’t think of a single time, however, when I stumbled upon that pathway to peace without either looking for the sign, or spotting it accidentally out of the corner of my eye. Something more inviting must have caught my attention perhaps.

There were flashing beacons that foretold of different happiness’s if I would but take the next ramp and follow this road wherever it would lead. They were signals to me that my health, wealth, spirituality, relationships, time, and other freedoms would improve and grow as I made my way down this road. Sometimes I heeded, and sometimes I thought I knew a better way to go.

There are signs along this old road that caution against high speeds, making me aware that it’s ok to slow down and take in the scenery, smell the roses, take notice of where I’ve been, where I am at the moment, and where I’m going.

There are signs of caution, signs of warning and dangers ahead, signs to slow down or speed up. There are big and colorful and bright signs, and there are signs that I had to nearly run into before I noticed them. There was a sign written by Jerry Garcia that simply stated the obvious for most of us, “What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been!”

There were also great big billboards along this old road. One in particular gave me cause to reflect. It was a large white billboard out in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere, unassuming except for its size, and it was erected by Rolling Thunder, an American Indian medicine man. His message to whomever passed by was simple yet powerful: “People have to be responsible for their thoughts, so they have to learn to control them. It may not be easy, but it can be done. First of all, if we don’t want to think certain things we don’t say them. We don’t have to eat everything we see, and we don’t have to say everything we think. So we begin by watching our words and speaking with good purpose only.” I think I went the rest of the day without uttering a single syllable.

My journey has been one of complex twists and turns. This old road I’m on has taken me through and to some of the most beautiful scenery that this country has to offer. Parts of this old road has run alongside fields of bluebonnets in Texas where no green could be seen, only the blue that stretched to the horizon where it was difficult to distinguish the field from the blue sky. It has taken me by the impressive skylines of our major (and not-so-major) cities in this great land of ours. This old road has wound its way down steep hillsides, across rustic iron bridges, through tunnels carved through mountains. It has turned slowly though the buttes and plateaus of New Mexico, and twisted wildly from side to side and up and down through the City by the Bay. I’ve seen this old road where it just went as straight as my own eyesight and then disappeared into the sunset as I walked through West Texas. I’ve walked down this old road through the Mojave Desert in stunned amazement at how the Joshua Trees can all look so much alike but at the same time be so different, each having its own shape and size and individuality.

There were times as I wandered down this old road that I’m on when I thought I would never see daylight again, where I found myself in darkness even at noontime on a cloudless day. Those were the times when I thought I was truly alone, and forgotten, and yes, those were the times when I was frightened because I thought I was lost and perhaps even on the wrong road. I know better now, because there were also those times when I could see clearly down the road in the dead of night when there was no moonlight to illuminate the way before me and I knew that this is the road upon which I belong, in any weathers, and in every condition.

There were times when I was walking down this old road I’m on when it was cold and raining and I could find no tree to huddle up against for shelter. There were times when I was hungry but the restaurant was on the other side and the median was lined with a tall fence that rendered it impassable. There were times when I thought I was intentionally run off the road and into the wilderness, and there were times when friendly passers-by offered companionship, directions, helpful warnings or advice. Maybe they just waved and smiled as they went by. I always liked those people.

This old road I’m on has seen me running down it for a purpose known only to myself, and also for no reason at all. Not that I ever ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours like Forrest Gump did, but I have been known to step lively when the urge struck me. This old road has also seen me stumble and fall off into the ditch where I was torn up rather handily by the briars and the brambles growing wild there. It has witnessed as I strutted with pride, strolled leisurely, limped in agony, crawled in humility, marched militarily, ambled aimlessly, and trudged along against my will when I wanted to just stop and sleep.

I have skipped, jumped, jogged, advanced, ambulated, padded, hit the road, strutted, knocked about, lead, followed, gotten out of the way, shuffled, marched, hiked, meandered, paced, strode, plodded, limped, pranced (but not too often), traversed, promenaded, raced, traipsed, run, walked, crawled, ambled, paraded, sauntered, scuffed, shambled, slogged, hoofed it, stalked, stepped, lumbered, strolled, legged, stumped, toddled, moseyed, toured, roamed, tramped, patrolled, traveled, treaded, escorted, trekked, trooped, cantered, trudged, wandered, lumbered, and wended my way down this old road I’m on.

This old road I’m on has taken me through some areas of bitter contradictories. Places where on one side of the road are parents rejoicing the birth of a child and right across the avenue are children mourning the loss of a parent whose mortal life was cut too short by disease, an automobile accident, or the evil actions of another person.

On one side of this old road I have witnessed our youth without a care in the world playing marbles or jumping rope or involved in a highly contested game of sandlot baseball, while on the other side stood hospitals filled with children bravely fighting for life against muscular dystrophy, leukemia or some other form of cancer, abuse and neglect, and loneliness.

I have been a witness to some of the most horrific hate-driven tragedies that persons of a so-called civil society have perpetrated on one another, shaking my very faith in humanity to the core, and then strolled on another few feet ahead as an old homeless man resting by the way receives a hot meal, a few bucks, and some encouraging kind words of hope that lift his spirits enough to take up his travels along this old road again. Walking along for a spell with this old man renews my faith and reminds me that those others are truly the exception, and not the rule.

This old road I’m on has been at times brand new, with a solid and flat and smooth surface on which to meander. Other sections have been in dire need of some serious attention, causing me (when I happen to notice) to take care in my stride, placing each foot down carefully, avoiding the pitfalls that may cause me to stumble and fall. I have tripped more than a few times along this old road, but I’ve always managed to get back up and continue this amazing expedition.

I have met some amazing people while walking down this old road I’m on. Friends who have touched me in ways that they cannot realize. Friends whom I’ve not spoken with in years but still have a special place in my heart and of whom I have many fond memories as I stop and turn around and look back down this old road I’ve traveled. There are friends who have picked up their own walking sticks and joined me for a season, friends who have waved as I hustled on by, and friends who have been with me for many years, traveling within me in my heart and mind instead of beside me on the road itself. Of all of these friends, there is neither a favorite nor a “bottom of the list.” Each is unique in his or her own way, and all are the same in that they have helped me find my way down this old road that I’m on, while adding value to my journey.

So here I am, walking down this old road and I wonder what wonders I will behold around the next bend or what hazards lie just over the next hill. My journey has been long and short at the same time; it has been an uphill climb and difficult to navigate at times; it has been a downhill coast easy and delightful at times; and I have been able to see both sides of the road, the good and the evil, the easy and the difficult, the exciting and the mundane, the joys that come from walking on one side of the road and the pain that comes from walking on the other side.

At the beginning of this old road were my parents, caring for me and nurturing me until I could take my first steps. But even before I took that first step putting one foot in front of the other, even before I could crawl on my hands and knees, and even before I could muster enough strength to hold my own head upright, or roll from my belly to my back, I began my journey down this old road… a journey that I’m still walking today.

Sometimes I want to get off this road, but that urge never lasts very long. This old road I’m on lays out long before me, and when I finally reach the end, I hope to find many of my friends and family there to be with me as I step off and begin my new adventure.

All in all, this old road that I’ve been on and continue to journey along was and is a good road, and the trip was worth every step I’ve taken and I’m fairly confident it will remain so in where ever my future endeavors take me.

I’m walking down this old road, and I love this old road I’m on. Come walk with me and let’s find out together where it leads… I’ll even let you use my walking stick if you need it.

Until next time…

Bringing Home the Bread

I probably wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t actually performed the task myself.

I have, on occasion, surprised even myself by surpassing my own self-imposed limits, trying to obtain a goal that I truly thought to be beyond my reach, but giving it the ol’ college try anyway just to (if for no other reason) see what might happen.

This is what transpired and this is how it happened.

A few weeks ago my sister (the one who irrationally despises goats) and my mom safely deposited my niece Mary Ann at BYU to begin her 4 (or so) year career as a student of higher education. While they were in or about Provo, or maybe they were in Salt Lake City, they were able to purchase several 45 pound buckets of whole white wheat, and some active dry yeast.

When my mom gave me a bucket, the first thing I thought of was a Finnish bread that was made by several members of my former wife’s family. My daughter Jessica even made it on at least one occasion.

Since I was unable to obtain the recipe from the former family, I happily skipped along the information super-highway until I found what I was looking for… Finnish Cardamom Bread, also known as Nisua… or Nisu for short.

The following is my account of how the experiment took place. I thought about changing names to protect innocents and all that, but since I was the only one involved and I’m the one writing the story, it just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to do so.

We begin with the whole wheat. The bucket looked like this…

And the grain looked like this…

I had borrowed my mom’s spare copy of a wheat grinder…

and began to grind away at the wheat right there on the kitchen counter. I have since learned that wheat grinding should take place on the back porch. Everything in the kitchen was covered in a fine layer of wheat flour, and the floor turned into a sticky mess that I can only refer to as “nasty”.

After the grinding (and the subsequent mandatory clean-up before the wife got home) I set about making the dough. Now those of you who know me well know of my distain for anything sticky (or raw meat) to come in contact with my bare hands. I tried to mix the dough with a wire wisk at first until that became impossible… kind of like trying to cut firewood with a dull butter knife. Then I tried it by hand with latex gloves, (this is how I get around the sticky and raw meat thing), but that didn’t last long either. I finally broke down and finished kneading the dough with my (ack) bare hands.

This is the result…

After the rising and the required punching down of the dough, I divided it in half, divided each half into thirds, rolled each third into something that resembled a doughy snake, and then I began to braid. I vaguely recalled from my youth how to braid hair, but this was not hair, it was doughy snakes, so it took a few braidings and unbraidings before I got it to look like I thought braided doughy snakes should look.

Then I put each loaf on a cookie sheet and let them rise again. This is what they looked like at this point.

Then into the oven went the fattened braided doughy snakes. After 25 minutes in the oven and a light butter brushing, this is what I ended up with.

All in all… not a bad effort. I’m told that they tasted even better than they look, even though I think they look pretty darned good. The fact that all the bread disappeared quickly leads me to believe that my family and friends weren’t just being polite.

For those with an adventurous spirit, here is the recipe as I have used it several times now since my first excursion into bread-making.


2 pkgs active dry yeast (this equates to 4½ teaspoons of the stuff)

¼ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees - be careful here, you can kill the yeast if the water is too hot)

2 cups of warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)

¾ cup sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted sweet butter – softened (about 1o seconds in the microwave does it for me)

1½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon ground cardamom

2 eggs

7 – 8 cups bread flour
In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, eggs, and 3 cups of the flour, beat until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough.

Turn onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Note: While I am kneading the dough, I turn the oven on the lowest temperature bake setting, then when it’s time to let it rise, I turn off the oven, open the door for a minute or so, and put the bowl of dough in the oven on an overturned cake pan with a towel on top, and close the oven door. The oven should stay warm, but not hot enough to actually cook the bread at this time)

After the dough has risen, punch it down and turn onto a lightly floured surface, and divide in have. Then divide each half into thirds and shape each third into a 13 inch rope (or snake). Place three ropes onto a greased baking sheet and braid, pinching the ends and tucking them under to seal. Do the same with the other three ropes.

Cover and let rise in a warm place (see above note) until doubled, this time about 45 minutes.

When they have risen again, remove from the oven, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake 25 – 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from baking sheets and onto wire racks for cooling. (Before cooling, I like to brush them with butter, and this last time I mixed just a few drops of honey with the butter before brushing)


Until next time...

Here a Little, There a Little

I know, I know… It's been a while.

First it was a couple of days gone by, then a week and then a month. I never set out to go so long between posts, but that’s how things happen.

A few months ago back in the spring of this year, there was a lot of rain around here. It seems as though we were in the national news quite a bit, although we only really knew how bad the floods were when we had to cross the streams to get around. Yes, some of our journeys take us down dirt roads, through fields, and across running waters. Some were literally impassable, and even the mighty Jeep couldn't handle some of the raging waters, as difficult as that may be to believe.

As a result of the flooding, our water supply was contaminated and began to run brown out of the faucets. Yuck. It only lasted a couple of days and then things were back to normal.

Some time later, maybe a month or so, I noticed that the water pressure wasn't what I thought it should be. It wasn't a drastic or sudden change like it was there yesterday and today it’s not, but I just happened to notice it for some reason. I asked Sheri about it and then she noticed it too.

After doing some maintenance on the well pressure tank and changing all of the filters (which really should have been done right after the brown water had cleared up), we had our water pressure back. That first shower was delightful too, I might add.

I thought about that and made a mental note to myself to jot down some thoughts on why this seemingly insignificant and minor inconvenience was such a big deal to me. Like most of my mental notes though, this one got lost for a while in the mental mess that clutters up my mental desk.

The thing that really struck me is that this decrease in water pressure didn't happen all at once. It happened very slowly and over a period of time so that it went unnoticed until one day we said "Hey, wait just a dingdangcottonpickin’ minute..." and there we were with a problem that had really started some time back and had been constantly building in the meantime.

OK, so that's how things happen with me. Here a little and there a little until something is noticed, right? I would guess that I’m not alone in this either.

I am neither young enough nor do I shave often enough to be considered by any stretch of the imagination a clean cut young man. I don’t intentionally set out to grow a beard most of the time. I just don’t shave one morning, and again the next morning and so on until someone (usually Sheri) asks me if I’m growing a beard again and why didn’t I just keep the last one I had. I have no answer for that. It just happened because I wasn’t paying enough attention to my own face. (Have you seen my face and is this really a great surprise to anyone?)

My weight is the same. I don’t notice the pounds accumulating one by one, but here I am a good 50 pounds or so heavier than where I should be (according to those know-it-all-smarty-pants doctors.)

The length of my hair, the ever-dwindling pile of firewood in the winter that never replenishes itself, the ever-increasing pile of ash in the bottom of the wood stove, the pile of dishes, the state of the litter box, the amount in the bank account, the length of time since the last birthday card was sent or the last anniversary remembered (Happy 1st anniversary to my daughter Jessica and her husband Brandon), other important dates that have come and gone, the time that’s elapsed since we noticed that our kids are growing up, realizing that our families are growing apart, the frequency of visits to the in-laws, the last time “I love you” was said with real feeling, the visiting of friends that used to be almost every day but now doesn’t happen at all, the time that goes by between phoning loved ones, checking on each other, the regularity of reading our scriptures or getting down on our knees to give thanks, how long it’s been since we took the time to remember what’s important, the accumulation of dirt on the mighty Jeep, the growth of the lawn … all change at a pace that we don’t notice until we find ourselves at a place where it can no longer be ignored or unnoticed.

I’m not trying to be a downer here. The truth of the matter is that this is how things happen. Here a little and there a little.

We don’t expect our children to be born ready to enter the business world and fend for themselves. We expect them to learn things, yes. But we don’t expect them to absorb everything that we would like to shove down their little throats just because we want them to know that fire is hot and gravity can be their enemy when they’ve climbed to the highest branch in that tree. We know that they learn what they need to know when they need to know it, and then they build upon that previous knowledge until one day they realize that they have mastered something that was previously thought to be impossible.

I am thankful that I was raised in an atmosphere where my imagination was allowed to run wild. Sometimes it got me in trouble, sometimes it spawned great ideas, and sometimes it was just fun to dream about stuff.

I am about to embark upon an adventure that began somewhere in my past with an idea that I can’t even really remember. I didn’t set out to be a home builder. I never thought that this is where fate (if you want to call it that) would take me. I’ve done so many other totally unrelated things and I’ve been so many other totally unrelated things. Building homes just snuck up on me. I guess if I had been paying close enough attention, I would have seen this coming somewhere in my past. But that’s how things go… here a little, there a little until I look up and notice what I’ve become, and have the audacity to be surprised.

Things happen like that spiritually also. I never made a conscious effort to fall away from my beliefs, it just happened while I wasn’t paying attention. And when I finally noticed where I was, I thought that I was too far gone to ever be able to find my way back. And then while I wasn’t paying attention, my core beliefs found their way back to the forefront of my everyday thoughts, the standards that I had set for myself years earlier began to manifest themselves in my daily behavior, and I found that hitting my knees to give thanks was a lot harder then I remembered only because it had been so long.

Have you ever found yourself face to face with someone that you used to be really close to but had just stopped making contact with for no apparent reason? Awkward, huh? All of those things that you used to share together are no longer part of your daily lives and so you struggle to find any commonality until you give up and go your separate ways. Sometimes we get lucky and find that common ground before the awkwardness becomes too great to bear, but sometimes we let the moment slip by and give up because that’s easier than actually working to rekindle a relationship.

That’s what happened with me. It was just easier to go about my daily life and avoid discussions with God because it had been too long and I didn’t really know what to say anymore. That relation ship was gone and I didn’t know how to get it back, you know. It was easier to avoid reading scriptures than to do the work involved in applying the lessons therein to my own life.

But you know what? I began to read, and then reading became easier. I began to pray and praying wasn’t so difficult after a few times. I went to church one time, and then going to church was something I looked forward to instead of dreading because I hadn’t been for so long.

Just as easily as we can develop bad habits, we can develop good habits. Just as we can forget to do the important things, we can remember to make them a daily part of our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if we could automatically hold on to the things that make our lives great while not having to work to keep them? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could decide what and who we want to be and then become that person and just stay that way without any effort? Doesn’t work that way though.

After our adventure with the water pressure and the investigation into the problem and the numerous trips into town for filters and filter wrenches and the effort it took to make things right again so that we have sufficient water pressure with clean water, I’m a little more in tune with what is coming out of the faucet. And after the effort it took to relearn what I had forgotten, I’m paying a little more attention to the state of my own spirituality.

I don’t want to take any more weak showers, and I don’t want to have to fight my way back from the dark and dreary places that I’ve found myself.

I really do enjoy writing these thoughts of mine on this blog. I don’t know who reads them and that’s really not why I write. These posts help me to clear off that mentally cluttered mental desk of mine. When I started this blog, I wrote every day. Little by little though, I slowed down until one day I looked up and found that I hadn’t added anything in quite a while. I almost screamed out loud when I made a visit to that mental desk and saw what had piled up there.

I was tempted to set fire to the whole thing and just start over, but I decided to write this instead. I said from the very beginning that I write for myself and that remains as true today as it was when I first said it. So I’ll work a little harder on clearing off that cluttered up mental desk of mine, here a little and there a little. I hope it never gets completely clean though… what would I do then?

I’m pretty sure that I’m going in the right direction now, but I’m not that much different that most things that go in this world… I go a little at a time, working on things here a little and there a little until I look up one day and notice that I like where I am, and I’m really kinda surprised that I’m here.

Until next time…