Tuesday, May 26, 2020


I'm going through all the stages of grief right now, sort of all at once. We've lost a lot of friends since the quarantine started. We can't mourn or grieve or comfort in the usual ways. And I feel sad. And I want to tell someone about it. So, I'm here typing to the world in an incredibly private way :)

Back in March, our friend Patricia died. She's deaf and black and had a lot of health problems. Communication with healthcare providers was always a challenge - not only was there the language barrier, there was the poor person barrier. It made me angry sometimes. But I don't think she died because of that. Actually, I don't think we'll ever know just why she died - she died just as COVID was getting bad, and they didn't have a lot of time to evaluate. No visitors were allowed at the hospital, and her brother wasn't able to talk to someone about retrieving her body for weeks. Marriner spent a lot of time on the phone, trying to help or at least make sure that the family remembered her spiritual concerns in parting. But as far as we know, two months later, she has still not been laid to rest. Maybe she has been, and they forgot to tell her pastor about it. Which would be so sad for all of us who loved her and served her since she joined the church two years ago. 

We gave Patricia a ride to church, since she lived pretty much on the way for us. She was so considerate of us - always punctual and always let me know if she was sick and couldn't come (which was often.) Before we picked up Patricia, we parked in a parking lot a few blocks from the church and walked, due to the scarcity of parking in the church parking garage. Patricia used a walker. When we started giving her a ride, we went to drop her off at the church, then drive back to our usual parking spot. But there, right in front of the church, was an open parking spot. The kids thought we'd won the lottery. They jumped out, experienced 5 seconds of sweltering heat, and were in the church. But the funny thing was that this happened every week we gave Patricia a ride. One week when she was sick, we went for the front of the church and couldn't find a spot anywhere. We ended up back at our old parking spot. God clearly loves Patricia - he reserved a special parking spot for her himself!

She was called as a Primary teacher. She cheerfully did whatever she could. When she was sick for 6 months once, the rest of us all assumed she was done being a Primary teacher, but the first week she came back, she was there in Primary, helping the kids cut out crafts. I asked her once if she thought she'd like to hear when she got to heaven, or if she liked being Deaf. She didn't have to think about that one - she'd rather be hearing. I hope she's enjoying it!

Last week, our friend Tracie died. We knew her from when Marriner served in the Anacostia ward. She grew up with all the disadvantages that poverty and a messed up family life bring and joined the church as an adult. She was the most loving, cheerful and optimistic person I know. She's like a ray of sunshine that draws you to her. She had MS, and her body was deteriorating. But she was fighting it. She tried to raise money to buy a MS therapy machine. Rich people get these all the time, and they help a lot with symptoms. But she wasn't rich, and medical bills became more urgent, anyway. There was one time we gave her a ride to a Stake choir practice. I put her scriptures and purse on top of my car while I loaded her walker...and you can guess what I did - I drove off with everything she owned being left on the street. It wasn't until we arrived 45 minutes later that we realized what happened. She was not angry or frustrated at me. We drove back and searched the area, but everything was gone. She was not angry or frustrated, just so kind to me. We bought her some new scriptures, since that was the only thing we could really replace. Then, a week later, the police called that they had found her wallet and scripture, all in good shape, only minus the cash. That was an actual miracle. We gave the scriptures we ordered to Ellis for her 8th birthday, instead :)

We haven't talked much to Tracie in the last few years, but she met a wonderful kind man who joined the church, married her, and took her to the temple. They were beautiful together. But, she was diagnosed with cancer, and the two of them had far too short of a time together. Why does it seem like the sweetest people always get the worst bodies? I know she's enjoying being free from MS. but I imagine she must be missing her sweet husband as much as he's missing her. Fortunately, they have eternity to look forward to together.

Today, as I was still feeling a lot of sadness for Tracie's passing, we got an email that just put me over the emotional edge. One of Lige's best friends at school died. Her name is Davee, and she played the clarinet. I know Lige really looked up to her, and she was a wonderful friend. And this one made me mad. It's one thing for me to work through some grief by myself, but really, does my teenager son have to do this in isolation, too? I grieve for Davee and her family, and any fear or pain she went through (she died from an accident, but we don't know the details.) And I grieve for my son, who is such an odd duck at his school, and doesn't fit in with a lot of people, but does have a few really good friends - and now one of them is gone. And it just doesn't seem fair, and it makes me want to go punch walls or rip up papers or something. (Don't worry, I'm not going to!)

So, today I did a lot of crying. (Did. Hah. I'm bawling me head off right now.) That's ok - I thoroughly believe that crying makes things better. I hope that writing these memories will be a good substitute for a memorial service for me. I just wish their whole family could know how much good their lost loved one did in the world. They were all such wonderful people. Love you, Patricia, Tracie and Davee. Until we meet again.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Whispering is not signing, Jane.

Jane is 3. She is the only one of our kids who grew up around ASL from the beginning. All her church teachers sign. Her family signs. But this little girl does not sign. For the longest time, when you sign to her, she'll whisper back, with a look on her face that clearly conveys that she got what she was supposed to do. It makes no sense to me.

The last couple of months, we've been working a lot on sign language, and one thing we've been drilling down on is whisper signing. That's when you sign, but you mouth the words so loud that nobody has to look at your hands to understand you, they just listen. Some of our kids do this a lot. It really helps aid communication. But it doesn't aid language acquisition, I don't think...so we said everyone needs to turn their voices all the way off. And interestingly, Jane's concept of what sign language is started to change!

Last week, we were reading scriptures. When it's Jane's turn, I say a phrase, and Jane copies it. So here's how it went:

Mom: "And it came to pass..."
Jane: "And it came to pass."
Mom: "...that Mosiah did read..."
Jane: "That Mosiah did read."
Mom: "...and caused to be read..."
Jane: moves her mouth silently like a guppy
Mom, again: "And caused to be read..."
Jane: moves her mouth silently again. Then whispers, "Mom, I'm doing it in SIGN LANGUAGE."

WHAT!?! This is NOT an improvement. Jane. Sign language uses your HANDS. (And yes, your mouth too...but the hands are sorta key here!)


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Virtual Temple Day

One of the most disappointing parts of the current pandemic is not being able to go to the temple. We try to go once a month, and our whole family usually makes the 3-hour drive to Philadelphia. The kids will watch a movie or play at a park while the parents take turns going to the temple. Now that our kids are getting older, the parents will even go together sometimes, leaving my oldest to babysit! Going to the temple is definitely a sacrifice - there are always things we want to do on a Saturday - but it's a special and well-loved part of our family schedule.

Now that we are home all day, Saturdays have become wonderful opportunities to get projects done at home. But as we pondered over President Ballard's challenge from General Conference to "consider what offering you will present to the Lord in righteousness in the coming days", we thought of our missed temple days. President Nelson's invitation from 2017 hit us, as well.  "I invite you to prayerfully consider what kind of sacrifice—and preferably a sacrifice of time—you can make to do more family history and temple work this year.”

Our family decided that even though we couldn't physically go to the temple, we would still have a Virtual Temple Day. We would use the time we'd normally spend going to the temple and dedicate it to temple and family history work from home.

Spoiler alert: it was one of the best days my family has ever had. Everyone from the 41-yr old to the 3 yr old wished the day would never end.

What did we do? We brainstormed some activites we could do as a family. We didn't end up doing most of them, but some of these might work for your family:

Activities on FamilySearch
  • Look for ancestors on FamilySearch who need temple ordinances
  • Pray that we can find people waiting to be baptized.
  • Index records
  • Find ancestors connected to interesting historical events - for example, people on the Mayflower or who served in WWII.
  • Who was the first person on each line to join the church
  • Do some Family History education - watch sessions from RootsTech or tutorials on FamilySearch
  • Pull out a family history book and see if there are pictures and memories that could be uploaded on FamilySearch Memories
  • Find a story on FamilySearch and write a simple picture book of the story to share with the younger children in the family.
Activities that don't require FamilySearch (for our younger children, who were too small to sit at a computer all day)
  • Make a food from a country your ancestors are from.
  • Make a family trivia game by interviewing family members
  • Visit local family history sites (from the car) - for example, the cemetery where an uncle is buried or the office building great-grandpa worked in long ago.
  • Learn about a temple you'd like to visit and make a poster about it
  • Read about temples and temple work
  • Perform a skit of a family history story
  • Build a temple out of building bricks or another material
  • Color from the church's Family History coloring book
I invite you to have your own virtual temple day. How much time do you usually spend going to the temple? Set that time aside and spend it on family history work. You will feel a special spirit in your home. Both my husband and I had special experiences where we felt to acknowledge the angels around us assisting in the work. My teenagers asked when we could do it again. My Primary aged children enjoyed the time with various family members learning about their family. My toddler just ran around all day and played, but she loved the snack one of the older kids cooked to learn about a new country! In other words, it was one of the best days ever.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

ASL Day, Take two...

We thought you all would like to know that we had an ASL day without any (er, many...) tears finally!

We decided to back things up a lot. We didn't start signing until breakfast, and stopped signing after dinner. The only penalty for talking was that you had to sign what you said, then do your age in push-ups. Needless to say, Mom did NOT talk all day long. Because I literally can't do more than 10 girl push-ups...so.... But Sam can't do 7 real push-ups, either, he does some crazy kid version. Which is fine :) We also said that you only had to sign when you were inside the house, not if you were outside.

And, the kids did a better job. There were still some temper flares. There were still some tense moments. There were a few serious door slams, and one moment when Mom signed so emphatically, Dad came out of his "office" to see what was going on. And of course, a few times Sam went outside to yell something to Mom, who somehow managed to not hear him, so he stomped in and fingerspelled the whole sentence with an exasperated look on his face :)

We celebrated with generous bowls of ice cream.

And Sam, Martha and Jane are all signing more. It's been soooo good for them.

The older kids want to do a 2-day long challenge. I said the little kids have to review all the Signing Time movies to strengthen their vocab first, which will buy me a couple of weeks. I'd love to do a 2-day challenge myself, but 2-days of reminding people not to talk all day does sound a little exhausting...

Still...it's getting easier!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Hump Day?

This post will be a little introspective. I looked at my calendar for the first time in a few weeks. We decided it was time to get rid of all the things that don't apply any more and put all our Zoom meetings on there, so we don't overlap. Yeah, we're getting busy again. Ha ha.

On the calendar I saw a note I wrote at least a year (or maybe two) ago - "Hump Day," this Thursday. What do I mean by that? The average tenure of a bishop or branch president is five years. It can be much more or much less, but five years is a pretty normal expectation. If that's the case with us, we are now halfway through. It's been two and a half years.

This is NOT like when you finish two laps running the mile in middle school PE and think, "Yay! I'm half done! Oh no, I'm only half done!" But it does evoke some mixed feelings. Feelings like, "Wow, I can't believe time has gone so fast! Actually, it seems like we've been in the branch forever." and "I've learned so much and come so far! And I am also overwhelmed by all the opportunities missed and things I still need to learn...and time could be running out!"

I challenged my kids to take a few minutes and ponder on the things they've learned and the blessings they've seen in their lives over the last 2 1/2 years. I thought I'd do that, too.

I think that one of the biggest blessings/learning things for me has been the experience of becoming "one of the least of these" for a little bit. My whole life, I've been among the talented, capable, leader sorts. I'm grateful for the talents I've been given, and my goal is to just use them to bless God's children as much as I can. But when you're not very fluent in the local language, it doesn't matter so much how talented you are - your ability to contribute is limited. I remember growing up listening to women who had immigrated from Latin America bearing testimonies in church. They rarely held "important" callings, nor were they asked to speak in church as often as everyone else. I think I know what that feels like now. It's not a completely negative thing - there are some hard things, but also some beautiful parts of occupying that spot in a group. I think that going forward, I have a lot more understanding for the people who don't quite fit in - who feel their own shortcomings, and just hope their offering is enough. I've realized that you can feel simultaneously thrilled and scared to death at being asked to participate - and how much a big smile from the people around you can give you the courage to keep giving your clunky, awkward service.

When we joined the branch, not all my kids were thrilled to be there. It wasn't easy to sit through church that was hard to understand. And it was tough to get up much enthusiasm to learn a language "in your spare time." I'm happy to say that all my kids have overcome their issues, and found their place in the branch. I think this is due to 1.) lots of unconditional love from wonderful leaders and friends and 2.) the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We went into this trusting that if God wanted us to do this, He obviously had plans for making it work without messing up our family. And that has been abundantly fulfilled.

So what do my thoughts look like, going forward? First off, I need to learn to interpret. So far, I've shied away from that, but I think I'm at the point now where I need to practice. I don't like that idea, because if I'm practicing, someone who needs interpretation is getting a poor experience....but, I think that's something I need to learn to do. I also think I need to start to get out of my Primary teacher shell, and make more effort to meet and talk to other adults at church.

Happy hump day!

Monday, April 13, 2020

We have changed...

Yesterday was Easter, which is a special holiday in our house. We have all of our silly traditions on Saturday or Monday (they have Easter Monday here! It's the BEST!) and Sunday is set aside as a day of special worship. A long time ago, Marriner would wake up early on Sunday morning and make paska, a special Ukranian Easter bread, while watching "Special Witnesses of Christ" but that tradition got crowded out as he had various callings that required more work on Easter.

This year, we brought that tradition back a little bit, and watched Special Witnesses of Christ with the family in the morning. Then we all got ready for church. We don't have all our Easter dresses yet - shipping is slow, and so are the sewers. Ok, we put off sewing to paint last week. That's ok, we can take Easter pictures next week :)

One of the counselors in the branch presidency has really done cool things with our branch worship service online. He can get several people on the feed at once, and switch back and forth between the screens. So Ellis was asked to give a talk, and we didn't have to go to anyone's house or anything. Lige gave the prayer, too. Here is a funny story from our our worship service: we were all watching the broadcast on YouTube in one room, while the people who were on camera would go next door to the computer for their turn. As we finished up the opening song, Marriner shouted to Lige, "Are you ready, Lige?" Then Lige came on the screen saying the prayer, and he also walked into the room. What? Turns out, there was like a minute of lag. When Marriner shouted to him, he was in the middle of the prayer. He was so startled, he just ended the prayer and walked over to see what he was supposed to be doing. So we smiled a minute later when we saw him wrap up his prayer quickly on screen. Now we know! :) It was funny to see him in two places at once. During Ellis's talk, Jane got restless and ran around by the camera. Then she came back and sat on Dad's lap. A minute later, Jane suddenly popped up on the screen!

For the past few weeks, we've been uncertain about which language to do the Sacrament in. For our morning home study (a.k.a. Pajama Church) we do English. But as we started doing the sacrament in English, we struggled. We're just used to doing the songs and the prayers in ASL. So yesterday, we just did what came naturally and it all came out in ASL.

What a big change! Two years ago...who would have thought that ASL would have become our language of worship? But Lige hasn't practiced the Sacrament prayer in English - he's learned it in ASL. They don't flip to the prayer in the Book of Mormon or D&C, they pull the video up on their phones. We don't play the piano to sing - we play the music on our phone and sign. That's what we've practiced doing, and it's what we're comfortable doing. At some point my kids are going to have to learn to play and sing with a piano on Sunday, and I doubt it will be a hard transition. But for now, we're just sticking with what's easy and natural.

One thing I enjoyed yesterday was doing my own interpretation of the Sacrament song. Usually, we stick to a translation by a reliable source - a native speaker. But since we're at home, I figured we could do a song we don't usually do, and make our own interpretation for it. And it was fun.

After church, we made our huge dinner, then ate our huge dinner, then put some kids to bed early because they'd been fighting non-stop for the last hour ;) It made for a pleasant evening....hahahah. It was a great Easter. I'm go grateful for the hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

In which a great idea falls flat

One thing we've been putting off as a family is a big stretching ASL challenge. We all know we should do it. We know we need to push ourselves to get off the plateau we're on. But life is so busy and tiring, and we just haven't done it.

But now that we live in the time of "Not having enough time isn't a good excuse any more", especially with no school work this week...well, we have to do it.

Two and a half years ago, we did the hardest thing we've ever done, and turned off our voices for a full day. It was so hard and educational and good for us. We wanted to do something like that again. We've noticed that our little kids don't sign so much as they used to. And to be honest, I don't have a lot of signing opportunities right now, either, and my expressive capabilities are suffering! So, we set a reward for a day without talking and told everyone to turn their voice off when they woke up in the morning.

Well, friends, the day did NOT go well. One of our children fought with us the whole day because he was whispering the whole time he signed, and we kept telling him that wasn't fair, but he doesn't see it that way. One of our children pretty much just hid in her room all day. One of our children couldn't remember that it was signing day unless she had tape on her mouth. One of our children woke up on the wrong side of bed and walked around the house for the first two hours loudly proclaiming, "I'm not going to sign today. This is stupid!" And the last two of my children, we learned, do NOT know as much sign language as we thought. They have great comprehension. We thought they could sign back if they wanted. Turns out, they can't.

In summary, everyone had a rotten day. If our day had been a cartoon, a dark and stormy cloud would have been looming over one house in the neighborhood despite the beautiful and perfect weather. My whole day was spent saying, "Shh!" Everyone else's day was spent shooting mom angry looks.

What went wrong? We had a good prize (which we did NOT get), and we thought we had good buy-in from everyone before the day started. I think it was just that storm cloud that showed up and put everyone in a bad mood. Because we can't really pinpoint a reason why this should have been so bad.

So last night, we called a retreat. At the beginning, we'd talked about trying to go two or three days, but we've put that on hold. Today, I think we're going to convalesce and nurse our wounds by watching movies. And we'll see if we can pull up some energy to work on ASL again towards the end of the week.