Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Quiet Moment with Grandma

When I arrived at Grandma's house on Tuesday evening (May 6), she had waited dinner for me and the second I walked in the door she threw the chicken in the oven. That gave us 30 minutes of quiet time together to just talk (Royce was down in the office). I love those moments with my Mother because I always gleen something wonderful. This time she was telling me a story I had never heard before about her and Grandpa.

They had met in the fall of 1944 in Cedar City. Mom was teaching there and Dad was in the area doing rare minerals research for the war effort. They had been dating and had quite fallen in love with each other through the fall. Mom wanted Dad to come to Wyoming (to the ranch at Star Valley where my Grandparents lived) for part of the Christmas holidays. She was not sure that it would work financially, but she invited him anyway and said that she would really like him to come up to Wyoming and be with her and her family for a few days after Christmas. He accepted the invitation.

She said that it was a very heavy winter that year and the snow was deep. One night, after Dad had been there for a few nights, they decided to take a long walk to a nearby town. They just wanted to be alone together. So, off they went. They didn't want anyone to see them along the road so any time an occasional car would come by (this was at night) they would jump into the deep snow on their backs and just lay there until the lights of the car would pass.

Dad came from a very inactive family in the Church. He was now around the Facers who were very much the opposite. As they walked hand-in-hand together that night, Dad said to Mom, "This is the kind of family I want to have. Ones who love the Gospel, who love the Lord and His Prophet, and who have family prayers and read the scriptures and go to Church." I felt the Spirit so strongly as Grandma was telling me this because I realized that this conversation, that night, affected my entire upbringing. They both talked and talked as they made their way those many miles in the snow and decided on what kind of parents they wanted to be. Within the week, Grandpa proposed to Grandma--and she said YES!

I love that scene and that story and I'm so deeply grateful that on that walk, that night, in the last week of December of 1944, this precious young couple decided how they were going to raise me and my brothers. It fills me with joy.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Surrounded by Women

This past weekend has been about as fun as it gets in life. I told my Fairfax friends that I had nearly all my girls with me this weekend (just missing Janette--well, also Kate and Madison) and we were having a blast. I loved the variety of activities (yes, even as a guy, I was involved in a number of them--as was the lone man of the next generation--Truman)--from breakfast at Mimi's (man, their food is SO good) to facial masks (I only observed) to cheering at Michaela's soccer game (the half-time show was the best we've had in 13 seasons) to going to Mariah's play at Robinson (Les Mis sank deeper and deeper into my heart) to wonderful talks during the airport runs (I can learn a lot in 65 minutes) to a whole-wheat waffle breakfast at home (we're learning how to be healthy eaters) to a Boston Market picnic at Burke Lake Part (now THAT'S a combination) to just sitting around and talking--this was all just pure fun and pure love. There were many times when I was just listening to all the chatter and I felt my heart would just burst with love for my family. I truly loved having my girls surround me again--in fact, my greatest wish for the entire weekend was to have one shot of me with my girls--and we got it right after Les Mis in the hallowed halls of Robinson. Thanks to all the girls for their love and sacrifice to make this journey to Virginia (clear from San Diego, Vancouver, Salt Lake and Boston). What a wonderful tradition! All I can say in conclusion is this: Watch out for the men, because I'm cookin up a competing tradition (I should say a complimentary tradition) of an amazing gathering somewhere that will be top-of-the-line fun--so, Scott, Eliot, Dave, Lucas, Jeremy, Andy, Thomas and Truman--stay tuned! Below are some fun pictures from the weekend (I'm still learning how to do this, so forgive any formatting problems).

The question on this picture is: Where is Mariah? (Hint: She's the one with her hands up in the air!)
So, all I can say here is that I'm glad Mariah played the part of the woman who bought Fontine's hair--"what pretty locks you have there!"
Mariah doesn't seem as aggressive here to get her money from her labors at the factory--probably because of the injury from the cart many years before...
Okay, so here's my wish come true--surrounded by my girls (my women). What a picture of joy and love and happiness!
You have one more chance to find Mariah in this picture. She is the one smiling.
Here we are waiting to go to our table at Mimi's! That is a gorgeous group of loved ones!
Here's a nice picture of Rachel. Love that back-lighting!
Two more of my girls--yes, Lucy is now one of the girls, too, and will be around for many fun years to come.

Best caption? To be in this family you really have to put your best foot forward! Second best caption: You have to stay on your toes to be in this family! I have to say those are the most beautiful feet I have ever seen.
There's the "Boston-Market-Picnic-at-Burke-Lake-Park group. Truman took the picture.

Here are TMWOSC (the masked women of Sideburn Court).
I don't know why I lost the last picture I had posted, so please also note that TMWOSC are wearing very cute aprons that are hand-made in the Philippines--actually they were made with love by Sister Rachel. What a sweetheart.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Friday Lunch Out

Mom and I have a wonderful tradition that we are pretty good about keeping--Friday lunch out. It's very simple, but it is so wonderfully fun, we just love it. We've been to many places over the years, including some that have since gone out of business or been torn down. It really has nothing to do with the eating, although we enjoy that very much, it's just that we love to be together and we love to be away from what we do all the time.

Probably our favorite place is Haveabite Eatery in Old Town Fairfax. This is a little Greek place that is tiny (as you can see in the photo there--in fact, I don't know how they took that picture--must be with smoke and mirrors because it just is not that big), kind of plain, uses little cheesy paper maps of Greece as placemats, has these cheap red plastic apples on each table filled with sugar substitutes, and has some poor art prints on the wall of some scenes from the Greek isle of Santorini. With all this Mom and I have been there countless times. It's like a refuge from all pressures of life.

The people here are so friendly you really feel good that you know them and have seen them for years. They are really Greek (no other nationality works here but Greeks) and have all that Eastern Mediterranean charm. And the food--the food--it is off-the-charts, beyond wonderful. Let me walk you through a typical visit to Haveabite--this is fresh reporting as we just went there on Friday (April 25).

We find a park somewhere close by and enjoy our little walk through Old Town Fairfax. We love this little section of our town. We open the little door and hear a warm welcome from the owner's wife and a waiter or waitress who say, "You can sit wherever you want to." We pick a booth on either side, it doesn't matter, I think we have sat in every one of them, and before we are finished sitting down our waiter is there with menus and ready to find out what we'll have to drink. We always just get ice water and he keeps it filled perfectly throughout the meal. He hands us two menus and we do a perfuntory gaze through them. We've never ordered anything different from the first time we went there. I guess I look at the menu to make sure what I'm going to order is still on the menu. We tell the waiter we'll start with the Humus and pita. It arrives before we have even settled into reality that we are at Haveabite again. The Pita is cut in triangles and rectangles and it piping hot. After our silent blessing of gratitude, Mom and I slowly take a piece each and dip it in the humus. When the amazing, mouth-watering flavor hits our taste buds it's as if all that is good passes before our eyes, and all that is bad in life passes away. Seriously, it's that good. We always say, "This is the best humus in the world," or "I could just live on humus," or "Have you ever tasted anything so good in all your life?" We savor every bite. Oh, we have already told the waiter what we want--The Greek Gyro salad plate. We have always had our own--this time we split it. They served it to us on separate plates and I'm not sure that we got any less food--it was just wonderful. The thin sliced lamb kabob has a cucumber sauce drizzled on it. The pita is hot again. The salad is dripping in olive oil and Greek vinegar dressing and covered with feta cheese. The three or four greek olives hidden in the midst make the meal. The sliced tomatoes always are fresh. Every bite makes us want to go on another Eastern Mediterranean cruise. We start looking more closely at our paper placemats and talk about all the places we have been to in Greece. If we can stop talking about the amazing taste of the food for one minute, we'll start talking about how much we love our family or how blessed we are, or how much we love Fairfax, or how happy we are. Usually, though, we have a hard time getting beyond talking about how good each bite tastes. With every savory bite of salad we remind each other how we should use more feta cheese in our salads. We get to the end of our meal and feel just right, like this was the healthiest choice and the best decision we have ever made. This last time on Friday the waiter brought the bill and I said, "Oh, I think we'd like to share a rice pudding." "No problem," he said, and he brought it in a matter of two minutes. They make the best rice pudding in the world, served in a way that the top is very warm and the deeper you dig, the hotter it is. I don't know how they do that. Every bite makes us so happy. And through the meal we're always telling the owner or the owner's wife how good everything is. On Friday we got the bill after all that I've described and it was $17 something. Now, that is a great Friday Lunch Out.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A True Rush

This past weekend in New York City was just exhilarating. I loved every minute of it. Mom and I had MWE's (multiple wonderful experiences) throughout the two days we were there. Mom chose the best hotel on the Internet (sight-unseen) which happened to be on 47th Street less than a block (about 200 feet) off Times Square. This Hotel Edison was an old classic, had everything we needed and was, for New York, cheap. The parking lot for our car (which was just $40 for 24 hours) was only 100 feet away. We bought tickets to Lion King (which neither of us had ever seen) from a scalper who told us we were just a few rows back on the Mezzanine and only 22 rows back (in total) from the stage. He lied through his teeth and we were dead center on the very back row of the entire theatre. At least we were dead center. We still loved every second of the show. We found this wonderful part of New York, South Seaport by Pier 16 and 17, that was just so very fun. We had been there many years before shooting some shots for Parley, but it has since become a major redevelopment and tourist attraction. We loved our time there. We visited the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art Gift Shop and replaced Mom's 8th Century Celtic brooch necklace that we had lost somewhere in England last summer (seems appropriate to have lost it there), got a couple of scripture journals and some classic frig magnets. We visited a Stationer's Shop that was beyond charming. I could have spent the rest of the day there. We walked around the piers and loved observing the myriads of people. We had been watching so many people on the outside and then we went to the Bodies Exhibition which we had never seen. It was wonderful to get an inside look of the marvels of creation. We read every caption and made multiple observations. The exhibition made me want to live a very healthy life.

In the evening, based on Mariah's recommendation, we went to Ellen's Stardust Diner on 1650 Broadway. It is an old-fashioned diner with wantabe Broadway actors and actresses who are waiters and waitresses. They sing for you the entire time you are there, one after another in succession. Most were really good, some were excellent, one, Dana, was fabulous and should be the next lead in The Little Mermaid. We sang along with most of the songs--so yes, we have sung and performed on Broadway now. How could we have so much fun? There's just nothing like doing all these things with someone you adore.

Sunday we hurried and got ready (after a late night before) to attend the Manhattan Ward, assuming that we would hit the 9-12 block. We got there right at 9. I was surprised how few people were attendance and figured that maybe the meetings started at 9:30. We sat down by a couple and started talking and found out it was Stake Conference Sunday and would start at 10:00. It was nice to be there an hour early, because you know Mom and me, we talk to everybody and, in fact, could hardly stop talking by 10:00. We made multiple new acquaintances and also found dear friends from the past, Brent and Lorinda Belnap (the just-released stake president). The meeting was off the charts full of the Spirit. I felt like every talk had been written and designed just to talk to me and to penetrate my heart. The new stake president spoke. His talk was so good we talked to him afterwards and we're going to publish it on Meridian (that happens a lot). The Temple Matron and President spoke. A young elder who just got his call spoke and was full of the Spirit. The 1st counselor in the mission presidency and his wife spoke. Elder Richard Maynes (of the 70) and his wife spoke. Every talk was stellar. We felt personally blessed and lifted and prepared for the coming days ahead. I felt so drawn to the Savior and His atonement. I just was so happy.

We took a cab from conference to the hotel to pack out and stow our things in the lobby storage room and head off to Carnegie Hall to hear Michaela perform. What a great blessing for us to have this experience. We had talked to Michaela by phone about 12 times in the past couple of days but we hadn't seen her yet. We finally had our rendezvous right before the performance, just outside Carnegie. It was a joyous moment for us and we were thrilled to see her. (This was taken on 56th just outside the back entrance of Carnegie). The thrill of us being able to actually witness this event was so wonderful. Michaela's choir (the Fairfax Chorale Society) joined with others totaling 232 voices, with a 50 piece orchestra and two guest soloists. They performed John Rutter's major piece called "The Mass of the Children." It was so moving. I felt the Spirit. I felt so happy. Mom will post the picture of the setting. Carnegie Hall (which I had only seen from the outside to this point) is everything I ever dreamed it was--magnificent, stunning, moving. I loved being there with all that went with it. We met Michaela afterwards and gave her lots of love (I think that's the only picture I've ever had taken of me in my glasses--because I NEVER wear them--except for performances in Carnegie Hall or Lion King). This was a joyful moment.

On the way from Carnegie Hall on 57th to our parking lot on 47th, as we walked down 7th Avenue, I had such a rush of love for each of you, my children. I truly was filled with gratitude for the blessings that have come into my life by having each of you in my life. I felt a rush of the Spirit that gave me such happiness and joy. It was a wondrous feeling and I felt like I could fly. There we were in this, one of the greatest cities in the world, walking down 7th Avenue, surrounded by thousands of people and a cacophony of sounds and a windstorm of smell and all I could think about was how happy I was to be a Dad. Oh, how I love each one of you precious souls. I know, it sounds like I'm talking to a bunch of little children (and most of you are adults now), but you are our children and I rejoice in this gift you are to us!

Mom and I left directly after the performance and headed home to Virginia. We had listened to the Tabernacle Choir's new CD on the way up--Called To Serve--which is beyond wonderful. On the way back we just talked up a storm, had a million ideas for Meridian, loved being together and felt joy and happiness. And to top it all off (no pre-pun intended) we passed every gas station from Fairfax to New York City and back--no fill up required. Our little Toyota Prius performed at a whopping 55.1 MPG--we went 513 miles on 9.3 gallons of gas! That was a kick and a half. Mom and I really do love this little car (as much as you can "love" a material thing). We really thought that was smashingly great. All in all, this was a perfect weekend and I am filled with gratitude and thanksgiving.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Being a Blessing to Others

Our bishop spoke to the young women at their special personal progress evening this past Wednesday. His job requires him to travel most of the time (many days each week). He talked to the girls about his travel bag (a leather computer carrying case on steroids) that he always has with him. He went through all the items that he carries in it and talked about each item and how it helped him be prepared. He pulled out a number of things (like show and tell) that he had: A fresh copy of The Book of Mormon for sharing; copies of the Articles of Faith; his personalized copy of the last General Conference edition of the Ensign; the special edition of the Ensign on Christ (for sharing), his personal journal, a separate scripture journal, his laptop, his own scriptures; the list went on and on. His talk was full of the Spirit. I loved it. One item he pulled out that moved me so deeply was a tattered, well-worn envelope full of the Patriarchal Blessings of his wife, his children and his mother. He said that he studied the blessings often so that he could seek to help fulfill any blessings that were promised to himself of any member of his family. The Spirit was so strong to me at this point in his talk, it caused me to reflect on my own Patriarchal Blessing.

I received my blessing just 24 days after I turned 16. My brother, Kirk, received his blessing the same day. Our Patriarch, M. Gerald Neuffer, lived 100 miles away, not too many blocks from our stake center in Columbia, Missouri. In those days a Patriarchal Blessing was often thought to be very private and very individual. Neither my Mom or Dad came to it, and when Kirk got his blessing, I waited outside the room, as did Kirk when I received my blessing. A friend of ours from the Rolla Ward, Doug Law, was also with us. He had come to be set apart for his mission to France. We often economized our 200-mile-round-trips like that.

I have always been moved by one particular line from my blessing that refers to you children. It starts by talking about my marriage then it goes on to my family: "If you remain faithful and seek after the things that are spiritual and if you keep about you those companions that believe as you believe you will find a choice daughter of our Father in Heaven to be your companion for eternity (yep<--the word 'yep' was not in the original blessing), one that you can take to the Temple of the Lord that you can love and cherish (yep, yep) and together you will have a family that will be a blessing to mankind." Wow. What does that mean, to have a family that will be "a blessing to mankind?" I've thought about that a lot for the past 35 years.

Our family is large. We have, as Mom used to call it, "shear numbers." We can and should strive to do everything we can to bless each other and bless others. To start with, and I know all of you do this, when someone in our family is in need, like Julie Ann, for example, and her health, or, Melissa in her employment, or Lucas in his career path, or Mitchell with his ears, or whomever, we should keep them in our fervent prayers, praying that blessings will come to each person according to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But further, our family is kind of like the children of Israel. We first went through "the gathering" and now, we are in the stage of "the scattering." The Lord scattered the Children of Israel so that they could be a blessing to the entire earth--to all mankind. We have been, I believe, purposely scattered about to various locations so that we can have diverse experiences, use our talents and gifts and bless other people the Lord wants us to bless.

Consider these thoughts: Ten of our immediate family have served missions and have had the opportunity to bless lives in Germany, Japan (2 missions), South Africa, Ukraine, Brazil, California (2 missions), Philippines and Chile. Some of us have been blessed to bless others by living or studying in foreign countries--Turkey, Israel, Dominican Republic, Mexico, the British Isles. Now we are all blessed to be a blessing to others in diverse areas: In Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, California, Utah, Idaho and Colorado. Of course it seems like it would be much more fun if we were all gathered on Plum Creek Lane and each of the homes there belonged to our family. That truly would be fun--but we certainly could not bless as many people.

We will all have the opportunity to bless others in diverse places at diverse times in diverse situations. The Lord will put us in contact with specific people that we have been called to bless, kind of like being on a mission, but taking the idea of "mission" as being "life." Sometimes we will bless them with our words, sometimes with our experiences, sometimes with our physical labor, sometimes with our minds, sometimes with the priesthood, always with our love--but we will be able to bless people far and wide. We should constantly be thinking about ways that we can be a blessing to others--it should be our modus operandi. Shall we not all rally to be "a blessing to mankind?"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Gratitude that Spring Has Kind of Sprung

As we come out of winter each year, spring is always so welcome. This year spring has had a really hard time getting started. We had a few warm days in February and that signaled to the tulip and daffodil bulbs to come on up. Then we had a lot of cold weather for a long time--until about two days ago--and so the various frosts wiped out literally half of all our tulips. Yesterday (Saturday, April 12) our first tulip actually opened. It was fun to talk to Rachel for a minute on the phone and she said their first tulips opened the exact same day! I imagine today many more of them will open. We actually had spotty sunshine yesterday and we have spotty sunshine today. I counted 100 tulips in one section in the front that are ready to burst. The daffodils have been pretty sparse this round. Again, I think the frost really affected them. I need to talk to Lucas about when we can plant some more bulbs, I think I would like to put in another 500.

The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin this year were spectacular. For the ten or twelve days they last there were literally only a few hours of sunshine--and we actually drove by one day when the sun was shining on them! That is one of the most beautiful sites in our nation. I love that amazing place. Remember when we first came to look around Washington as a family and we heard on the news that a beaver had chewed and felled one of the nation's cherry trees there and dumped it in the Tidal Basin? That was quite a beaver. The magnolias have started to come out (they are actually more spectacular than the cherry blossoms). I wish we had more of them around. The dogwood should be soon to follow. I think I like the delicate beauty of the dogwood most of all.

My delightful Mother gave me a sense of delight for the spring each year. As we would gaze out across our two-hundred-acre wood (just twice as big as Christopher Robin's) she would first see the red-bud trees (an actual tree). She would be so excited about them and exclaim each morning with joy and rejoicing that the red buds were returning. Then would come the dogwood (Mom's favorite) and they would be like little explosions of white all through the dreary forest. We could see every one of them from the house because no other leafs would be on the trees. Mom swooned over the dogwoods and could not drive but a few feet without exclaiming with gratitude her joy over the arrival of the dogwood. She would always connect her joy and happiness about nature with her love for the Creator and her absolute faith in Him. Her exclamations of delight, gratitude and joy would not cease in summer--the focus would be on the myriad of wild flowers on the farm and the arrival of the blackberries. She would not wane in the fall as she loved the changing of the colors and the increased movement of all the wildlife on the farm. And there was not a complaint to be heard through the bleak Missouri winters, only delight in the beauty of the light as it shone upon our crystal forests covered with ice. I heard these exclamations for the forty-eight seasons (less eight) that I lived on the farm. With such a Mother as I have, how can I not be grateful for the arrival of any season, come what may?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Coming to Know That I Knew

Hard as it may seem to believe, for those who know me well, I grew up with an inordinate fear of public speaking. I just could not bear even the thought of getting up in front of a group and speaking. I don't know what it was but I felt so nervous even thinking about it that I would nearly start crying. Even to give a short talk in primary or "Junior Sunday School" was more than I could handle.

To give you an example, I remember one year the annual primary program was coming and I was just handed a part. I didn't have any say in the matter (hey, I was six or seven years old), they just gave me the piece of paper with my part on it. They asked the primary kids to memorize their parts. That was WAY over the top. My heart pounded wildly at the very thought of just being at the podium and having to read something. Beyond that I could not imagine! My mother, who was (and still is) an amazing public speaker, told me that I had to memorize my part. I told her I couldn't. She said that I would and told me that if I had the piece of paper with me and tried to read it, she would come and take it from me while I was speaking. Oh, the embarrassment and multiplied fear that would cause me! For two or three weeks I was petrified. The time came to do my part. I came to the stand. I started to speak my memorized part (hey, I had the paper with me as a backup) and my voice was so nervous it sounded like I was already crying. I got a line into it and I had to pull out my paper. I glanced quickly back at my Mom (she was on the stand with all the children) and then glanced at my paper for the needed prompt and finished my part (Mom didn't move). I made it, but I thought I was going to die. That fear continued to reside in my heart for years.

Then I remember one day in teacher's quorum (I was 14 years old) our advisor, Darrell Ownby, challenged all the boys to bear their testimony that day in fast and testimony meeting. There was some grumbling among them, but I just said "I'm not going to bear my testimony. I don't have one" (that fear was still there). Darrell looked at me and calmly said, "You don't? Then Scot, what are you going to do with your life?" I said without hesitation, "Well, I read somewhere in the scriptures that if you labor all your days and bring even one soul to the Lord then your joy will be great and if you bring many souls to Him then your joy will be even greater. So, I think I'm just going to bring souls to the Lord." Darrell just looked at me and said deductively, "Scot, you have a testimony." It hit me like a ton of bricks--I really knew something. This gospel really did mean the world to me. I really, really did want to share it with others. I really knew that there would be joy if I did--both in this life and in the next.

Did I bear my testimony that day? No. But I knew I had a testimony. I knew.