Category Archives: Current Family Life

Young Schussboomers

Young Schussboomers

An idea germinates in a family and grows rapidly until the idea becomes an obsession; then it grows into an undertaking that involves the entire family, and then the extended family. Something like that happened last year when one of my grandkids came up with the idea of skiing. They had never seen their parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles ski. It must have been a friend at school, or maybe the complimentary season pass offered their father as a result of a business negotiation, that sparked their interest. Whatever the cause, the idea caught on and I offered to help them out. My stepfather taught me to ski, and I had taught skiing off and on since I was in high school at Alta, Brighton and Solitude. I taught my own kids to ski when they were young, and I thought it would be fun to teach the grandkids.

One child cannot begin skiing without their siblings also learning as well, and the same goes for cousins. The skiing project grew to include four grandchildren with new skis, pole, boots, helmets, goggles, and clothing. I was in for a busy winter!

The youngest was Eliana, age 4, and her brother Connor, age 7. Then there was their cousins Dylan, age 8, and his sister Deana, age 16.

Eliana is a delightful, artistic type with very strong and definite opinions about appearances. What she wore and what other people wore was her primary interest. She has been known to change her outfit two or three times before going somewhere, where she needs to be dressed up. She picked up skiing quickly, but her main concern was what the other people on the hill were doing and/or wearing. She would constantly point to someone  and ask, “Why is she wearing that? “or “Why is he doing that?”  Eliana also loved to sing. At age 4, she could sing many  children’s songs in tune and on key without missing any of the words, either at home or in front of a full congregation at church.

Connor is a boy with no brothers, two sisters, and 10 cousins. Of the cousins, 8 are girls and 2 are boys.   Connor needs to defend his masculinity. He is accustomed to not doing what all the girls around him do. Connor is smart – he is always at the top of his class and somewhat aggressive. His birthday is in August. I have a September birthday and, having suffered all the disadvantages of being one of the youngest in my class, I had encouraged his parents to postpone his enrollment in school so that he would be one of the oldest in his class. Then he would enjoy all the advantages such as coordination and intelligence that come with being almost one year older than his classmates.

Dylan is a tech nerd. He probably would rather have been at home playing Minecraft on his computer, but he agreed to try skiing.

Deana is a dancer. She is tall, slender, attractive, smart and a teenager. She is on the school drill team, and can do things with her body that I could never think of.

I usually skied at Snowbird and  had a season pass since ever since I got old enough for the senior rate. We all ended up at Snowbird on the Chickadee hill, which has a gentle slope and is a great place to teach beginners. Normally, I only use the Chickadee lift to get me up to the parking lot at the end of a day of skiing. Also, at the bottom of the hill there is a small area with a short, gentle slope and a conveyor belt about 50 feet long that skiers can step on and take it to the top of the slope. They could easily get to the bottom after attempting one or two turns, get back on the belt, and try again. The best part is that the area is enclosed. I could keep all the kids within shouting distance. As they appeared to master a turn, I could take one or two of them to the Chickadee lift while the others could stay on the belt.

I began with the fundamentals. I began with how to hold the skis, how to put them on, how to walk on level ground in skis, how to fall and how to get up. It was not easy to keep them from going down the hill out of control before they learned how to turn, but I did manage to show them the snowplow and even how to use it to turn. It would have been so nice if they would all stay in a straight line and pay attention while each one attempted a turn.

Being the grandpa, I did not have the control, nor could I demand the discipline, that comes with the authority (and accompanying special parka) of a professional, certified instructor to whom mom and dad paid big dollars. I could not keep them on the top of the hill, let alone in line. Once they thought they could turn, I lost control.   Some went their own way, and all I could do is try to direct them to the area with the conveyor belt.

The younger kids picked it up faster than the older kids, probably because they had no fear. Eliana picked it up quickly once she began to pay attention to skiing. The first time I took her on the lift, she got on ok, and I tried to explain what she was to do when it was time to get off at the top. When we reached the off ramp at the top, she was looking over her shoulder and her skis were turned crosswise. She fell and as I tried not to step on her,  I could not get out of the chair. I continued in the chair until I hit the bar that stops the lift. When I asked her why she was looking over her shoulder instead of getting of the chair, she replied, “I was looking at people.”

As a dancer, skiing came naturally to Deana. I likened skiing to dancing and taught her to rhythmically move her weight from one ski to the other. She did not like the snowplow, probably because it looked to undignified, so I started her out on parallel turns first thing.   On her first trip down the hill, she was doing parallel turns.

Dylan and Deana’s dad was an accomplished skier and was there with us, so when he saw that his kids had caught on to the basics and could ski in control after just a few runs, he took over and skied with them while I was left with the two younger kids, Eliana and Connor.

We spent one or two more days on the Chickadee lift, and then it was time to try the big lifts. Connor had a season pass and Eliana was young enough that a day pass was free. School got out at noon on Fridays, so the next Friday I picked up the kids to go skiing after Connor got out of school.

Eliana could turn when she needed to, but she preferred to just get in the snowplow and continue straight down the hill without turning. Sometimes she scared me when the hill was steep and she reach what I thought were excessive speeds. Connor was even more aggressive and had a hard time waiting for Eliana who would have stopped to smell the flowers if there were any. The first couple of runs Connor waited for Eliana and me, but his patience waned and the second run he was off on his own. We looked for him for a while, but he was nowhere to be found. We had been riding the Mid Gad lift and had been talking about trying the Baby Thunder lift, but I was not sure if Connor had gone there. I wanted to stay on the lift we had been riding in case Connor was looking for us there. I asked the Ski Patrol to help find Connor.  After an hour or so, I was sitting on the porch of the lodge talking on the phone to Connor’s mother telling her I had lost her son, when I saw him getting in the lift line of the Mid Gad lift. I immediately ran to catch up with him, and he said he had been skiing on the Baby Thunder lift as we had discussed. I was not surprised that he did not know he had done anything wrong. It was obvious that I could no longer take Connor and Eliana skiing together.

It really worked out better when Eliana went with me on Tuesdays and Connor on Fridays. It was a great bonding experience for us and they learned to love skiing. After just a couple of days on the smaller lifts, I took them on Gad Zoom, the high speed quad lift, and they could ski any of the blue runs just fine. Connor could go as fast as he wanted and on whatever trails he wanted. Eliana skied like she was just loving the experience. She was never in a hurry, and she never stopped singing. She would sing the entire way down the hill. Once in a while she would reach down, without stopping, and pickup some snow to eat.

Connor and Eliana’s parents had signed each of them up for professional lessons later in the season. They were both qualified for the advances classes. As it turned out, Eliana had only one other student in her class and Connor had no other students in his class. Private lessons were a good break for Connor, he and soon advanced to the Black Diamond runs.

This year we all have season passes at Alta since Deana and Dylan’s dad could get an Alta pass for half price and we all wanted to ski together. Connor and Eliana are eager for me to take them skiing regularly this next winter and I am looking forward to it.

My Favorite Season of the Year

My Favorite Season of the Year

As a boy, I loved summers because there was no school. I could do anything I wanted all day long.  I had to report in for lunch and dinner unless I made other plans and kept my mother informed.   My bicycle gave me enough mobility that I could go anywhere in Salt Lake City.  I remember riding my bicycle to the zoo or airport from the East Millcreek area where we lived.  Several years, during summer, a friend and I rode the bus downtown to take swimming lessons at the Deseret Gym.  At the Deseret Gym, swimming suits were not allowed, and we had to swim naked for our lessons.  It had something to do with cotton from swimming suits clogging up the filters, or something like that.  Boys and girls used the pool on different days.  I wonder how different life in Salt Lake City would be if boys and girls used the swimming pool on the same days.  The American Association of Nude Recreation(AANR) would be doing a booming business here.

When I got old enough to have a job, summer lost some of its allure.  School sucked, but working sucked even more.  While working, I was confined to one place and had to follow someone else’s directions. Ever since I was old enough, I always had some kind of job—a paper route at about 11 or 12 years old, but not a job full-time during the summer until I was 16.  Working brought in money but cost me the freedom I had enjoyed previously.

My mother married my stepfather when I was ten; my father died from polio three years earlier.  My stepfather was a skier and taught me to ski. He was friends with the Engen brothers. Alf Engen developed the first ski resort in Utah when Alta’s Mayor Watson asked Alf to develop a ski resort at Alta.  As a matter of fact, Alf gave me my skiing merit badge when I was a boy scout.

At ten, I was able to fit into my step grandmother’s skis and boots. The skis were the right length because they came up to the palm of my hand when my hand was stretched as high above my head as possible.  They were wood skis, but good skis for their time because they had metal edges.  The bindings were referred to as “bear claw bindings” because your foot would not come out of them if you fell. If you fell wrong, your leg would snap before the bindings would give.  The boots were leather lace-up boots with a thick sole that would fit into the bindings.  The bindings had a front section that held the toe of the boots and there was a cable that went through rear guides and around the heel of the boot.  The boot had a groove in the heel to hold the cable. For cross-country skiing, all you had to do was remove the cables from the rear guides and the heel could rise up off the ski for easy walking.

Since the boots would not come out of the bindings, one of the first things taught was how to fall without breaking a leg.  If you felt you were in trouble, you would just sit down on your uphill side.  Skis were not as high tech then, and body rotation was taught for turning.  It was not easy to get those long, straight wooden boards to change direction.

It took me about five years and a whole lot of patience on my stepfather’s part to get me to the point where I could ski any terrain on my own.  By then, safety bindings had been developed, and toboggans transporting skiers with broken legs were not as common on the slopes as they had been before safety bindings that could release before your bones snapped. I believe it was safety bindings that made skiing much more popular in the sixties.

I was never all that good at team sports.  I attribute that to the fact that my birthday was just four days before the cut-off date for the school year.  I was younger than the others in my class, and therefore, I had less skill and coordination.  I was always chosen last when teams were formed during recess and after school.  Skiing gave me a sport that I was good at and I did not have to compete with my classmates. It also gave me freedom, speed, and a constant challenge to improve.  I loved skiing.  Skiing had not become popular when I began to ski.  I only knew of two or three others in my school that skied. I was a better skier that my friends, and it as I began to teach my friends to ski, gave me a little badly needed confidence.  I remember once, I was skiing with some friends who were just learning and I caught an edge and flipped over.  Fearing embarrassment, I tucked and rolled back into a standing position and continued my momentum as if I had just performed a real cool trick.  My friends were totally impressed.

When I was in high school, I became a ski instructor.  The cost of a day pass had risen from $3.00 to $5.00.  Teaching beginners to ski helped me with the cost of skiing.  I would teach from 10 am to noon on Saturdays and ski the rest of the day for free.  In addition I got a day pass to use another day and more than enough cash to pay for the gas to drive to the resorts.

Even after I was married with kids, I still taught skiing on Saturdays.  The commitment made it possible to keep skiing at a high enough priority to trump yard work or house work. However, when we moved to Denver in 1975, 20 years after I began skiing, the ski resorts were too far away to make skiing a weekly event.  It took four hours instead of a half hour to get to the resorts in the mountains west of Denver.  As a matter of fact, for a weekend of serious skiing, sometimes I would travel to Salt Lake City to ski.

I did find the time to teach my kids to ski.  I loved the time I could spend with them.  I enjoyed having the undivided attention of my kids while I sat next to them on the ski lift.  There was nothing else for them to do; they could not go away, and we could just talk.

The last four years, I have purchased season passes.  That has given me a renewed interest in skiing.  I can go for just one or two hours, almost every day.  Last year I loved teaching four of my grand kids to ski.  This year the five of us have already purchased season passes at the same resort, so I am looking forward to skiing with them a lot this winter.

I believe skiing had made winter my favorite season of the year.  In addition to skiing, there is little yard work to do.  Shoveling snow is not nearly as much work as cutting and trimming lawn, weeding and pruning.  Cold weather has never bothered me. I am not usually aware if the temperature is too high or too low until someone else mentions it, and then I think, “Oh yeah, I guess it is.”  Now, in winter, I get that one-on-one, undivided, attention with my grand kids while on the ski lift.  Living in Little Cottonwood Canyon, I can be working in my office and then on the ski lift in 20 minutes.  So when everyone around me is complaining that summer is coming to a close and the temperature is getting colder, I don’t say anything, but I begin to look forward to the snow flying.

Someday, when my wife retires and is no longer tied to the Utah legislative session during the best part of the snow season, she will be able to join me on the slopes with her own season pass.

Last Rites

Last Rites

It was early in January, about 5 am, when the family began to gather in my mother-in-law Jan’s room in the memory care unit. When we reluctantly moved Jan to a care facility eight months prior, we tried to make her room warm and inviting and as much like home as possible. The furniture was all from her home. The pictures on the walls were of her family and were the same pictures that surrounded her in her bedroom at home—all grouped by families. Jan could gaze around this room and feel familiar.

Jan lay peacefully in her bed, but this time was different. MSNBC was not playing on the television. There was no discussion of politics, family dramas, or the familiar family humor, but the thermostat was still set uncomfortably high at 78 degrees. Jan had passed away just an hour earlier. As family members arrived, there was little of the sorrow typically exhibited when a family member dies. After the usual greetings, the discussions centered on the remarkable events of the past few days.

Three days prior, she was taken to the hospital when she was found unconscious in her room with no vitals signs. When my wife Janeen arrived at the hospital she was awake, more lucid than she had been in months and she said, “They’re going to bury me tomorrow or the next day.” Remarkably all her family was able to visit her over the next few days. At times it was difficult to understand her through the oxygen mask, but over the next two days she told everyone that she had seen David, her husband who had died 45 years ago, (she had never remarried) and that she was going to die in about two days. She was 90 years old, and was happy about the prospect of dying.

The mood was ambivalent. Along with her declining physical health, she had suffered from dementia and had been miserably confused for months, but she now appeared to be thinking clearly. The hospital ran some tests, and the doctor said death was imminent. To our surprise, however, her condition improved and we moved her back to her room at the memory care center. That evening she lay in her bed knocking on the wall and commenting on how beautiful it was where she saw Dave and how happy she was to be joining him. We stayed with her until late that evening but we finally went home. She was probably anxious for us to leave so she could die in peace.

Due to Jan’s dementia, we were accustomed to her uttering strange things that made little sense, but this time she was right on. Even thought she was well enough to be released from the hospital, she had predicted her death to within one hour.

We were notified of her death and returned to her room. Janeen’s sister said, “Isn’t that just like Mom to wait until we all left before she dies.” Jan was always very independent and did things just the way she wanted.

While visiting that next morning, as her remains were in her bed, I asked to have the thermostat lowered. and one of her grandsons rose and lowered the thermostat. It was like a ritual signifying her death. Everyone looked at each other and realizing the significance. She no longer needed the room overly warm. She was gone.

There was no reason to grieve, Jan had seen to that. She had prepared us all, had returned to say good-bye, and let us know she was going to a much better and happier place. So instead of talking of how we would miss her, the talk was about how much happier she was and how happy we were for her. Although the thermostat had been turned down, The warmth of the small room had more to do with the united feeling of tenderness shared by everyone in the room.

Janeen loved her mother. She had shared meals with her mother twice a week for the previous 29 years and I had gone too for 10 years. Janeen wanted to be with her mother even after death. She sat on the bed and instead of being uncomfortable with death, wanted to touch her, feel her hands and feet, her face, and torso. She kept commenting on the temperature of her body, how her hands and feet got cold first and her stomach stayed warm longer. There was no crying; there was only peace and the finality of a long life having been surrounded by a loving family.

I had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with Jan, but I was new to the family. Janeen and I had not been more that 10 years. When I married Janeen, Jan was my advocate. and would defend me, even when I did something dumb like unintentionally spraying Round-UP on the lawn and killing a large triangular pattern of grass. However, I was turned off by the idea of touching a dead body, but Janeen seemed to be saying goodbye in a physical manner. Her caresses showed the love she had for her mother as if she was saying thanks for a good life, thanks for a family that had kept close throughout the years, and thanks for all the love and support whenever it was needed. It was as though she was calming a crying child as if to say, “Everything will be fine—there is no need to worry—you will be alright—we will be alright.”

Other family members also went to Jan’s bedside, but no one spent so much time there as Janeen. Janeen wanted it to last so she could cherish the moment and the memories. She wanted to review her life with her mother, to revisit all the hardships such as when her father had died suddenly from a heart attack, and her divorce. Then there were the good times, the marriages, and the births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After a few hours I began to think of what comes next. Who shall we call? We need a death certificate, a mortuary, funeral plans, obituary. I mentioned it once or twice, but I was told there was no big hurry. “Let us enjoy these last few minutes with our mother.”

Our Food Ritual

Our Food Ritual

I live with a beautiful and talented wife, Janeen, who is a good cook. Each of us was married previously to abusive and domineering people, and as a result, we are not accustomed to making decision because they were always made for us.  Rituals, including those related to food, have a strong influence in our lives as they ease the decision-making process.  Neither of us wants to instigate anything that the other may not want to do, eat, or observe.

We have several food rituals.  For breakfast we have eggs one day and cereal the next day.  I cook the eggs(scrambled with salsa) or prepare the cereal, and every day Janeen makes protein shakes.  On weekends we may branch out to pancakes or French toast, and we always have something special if any of our grandchildren have spent the night.  Janeen and I only eat warmed pure maple syrup with berries, sliced bananas, and Cool Whip on our pancakes, but we maintain a large bottle of the imitation syrup for the grandkids since they want their pancakes swimming in syrup.  If we are in a hurry, we have the “tennis breakfast” that got its name when Janeen played tennis early on Saturday mornings.  It consists of toast, jam and scrambled eggs.  The real food ritual, however, is our Sunday dinners.

Janeen has four children from her previous marriage who all live within just a few miles of our home, including one who lives next door.  All are successful, have families, homes, busy lives, and many friends.   The first and third Sunday of every month, they join us for Sunday dinner to enjoy their mother’s cooking.  They are invited to join us every Sunday, but they have other parents, in-laws, and friends to spend time with, too, so every Sunday is not practical.  The grandchildren enjoy playing together, so having them all come on the same day is better than having them come when their cousins are not here.   The family room inside our home has one corner dedicated to indoor toys for the grandchildren.  First and third Sundays was agreed upon years ago, and the ritual has continued ever since.  In the summer, the Sunday dinners are moved outside in the shade next to our swimming pool that is kept close to 90 degrees during the summer months by our solar panels.  Our pool house includes not only the pool equipment, but a kitchen, bathroom, and storage area for the large number of pool toys for the grandchildren.

This Sunday food ritual has continued down from generation to generation.  Janeen’s mother hosted the dinners until old age made it hard for her and Janeen took over, but Janeen’s mother always joined us until she passed away about one year ago.  Janeen’s mother lived with Janeen’s sister, Julie,  who has never married and is included in the Sunday gatherings.  Janeen’s sister, however, joins us every Sunday.  The food ritual with Julie and her mother included not just Sundays, but lunches every Saturday at a local restaurant.  Janeen always made more than enough food, and Julie and her mother became dependent on leftovers they took home for several dinners during the following week.  We maintain about a hundred plastic containers in our pantry for transporting those leftovers.  There is also enough food left over for two or three evening meals for Janeen and me throughout the week.

With about 16  people, there is a birthday close to most of the dinners, and the one having the birthday can choose the menu.  They all have their favorites and they get what they want.  Some are on diets, but the diets do not apply to Sunday dinners.  There is no evidence of dieting or even healthy eating at our Sunday dinners. Pigging out is the norm. Healthy eating is for the other six days of the week.

Our Sunday dinners keep the family together.  The ritual with the Sunday dinners is not just for eating.  Dinners are a time for communication, expressing love, teaching, planning, building relationships, and recreation. We have a large home with plenty of room for them to relax and for the grandchildren to play.

The Sunday dinner ritual has helped me personally become accepted into the family.  When Janeen and got married ten years ago, I was the new guy—the guy who is intruding into their close family circle. The best thing they had to say about me was, “He’s not bald and he doesn’t have a big pot belly.”  I have since been able to break down that barrier.  I am now accepted into the family circle.  Some of Janeen’s kids even calls me “Dad” and I seem to be the favorite “grandpa.”  They come to me for advice; they ask me for my help in various ways.  Just this winter, I have taught five of our grandchildren to ski.  When the family is together, we share stories, tell jokes (and in my case, obnoxious puns), plan vacations, and talk politics—sometimes TOO much politics.

Last December, three of Janeen’s kids and their families spent a week with us in Hawaii.  We have a membership at the “Grand Wailea” on Maui.  Everyone of the kids purchased memberships there, as well.  We are planning a combined trip to Lake Powell this summer and  a return vacation to Hawaii—all families together.  These plans are made at our Sunday dinners.

How many families can boast of a relationship like this one?  Without these rituals, how often would we see the family?  These relationships are in stark contrast to the relationship we have with my four children from my previous marriage.  Janeen has never seen some of them, and we have never been to any of their homes.  I have not seen some of them in years.  My youngest daughter got married locally this last August, and security guards were hired to keep me from attending the wedding.  The lack of a relationship cannot be blamed on the absence of Sunday dinners, but on a sociopathic ex-wife—and that subject is best left for another story or perhaps an entire autobiographic novel.

 

On August 3, 2013 I posted the following on Facebook.

My daughter Julie is getting married this afternoon at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City. I asked her via text message if she would have a problem with me attending. She said I could not attend because of “big emotions” of some of the people there. (My ex wife, Nancy, I am sure)

They are so freaked out at the idea of my being there that they asked my bishop to tell me not to attend. They even mentioned hiring special security guards to keep me out. Can you believe it?

The only possible reason I can think of for this infantile behavior is that Nancy is terrified that I may tell my kids the other side of the story behind our divorce which they have never heard.julie wedding w jason

Here is a photo of my son Jason walking my daughter Julie down the aisle.  I should be there instead of Jason.  I wonder how she felt.  What is more important than having her father next to her at this time? What would make a young lady reject her father so?  Ask the one who hired the security guards.

There will be much more to come on this sub ject, but in the mean time I am going to share the short texts I submitted in my Creative Nonfiction class at the U.

Watch for “The Other Side of the Story.”

I welcome your comments.