Stress and Beavers

Two seemingly unrelated topics provide fodder for this week’s blog posting: stress and beavers.

According to a recently released Gallop Poll Utah now has the dubious distinction–at least in 2010–of being the most stress-laden state.  Not surprisingly, Hawai’i has the least stress!  And coming in at #5 in the least-stressed list is Washington, DC.  With the inability of congress to get anything done, I guess that works out somehow.

Now why would the good folks of Utah, of all places, be the most stressed out?  And sadly, Utah has one of the highest state high suicide rates, as well, teen and adults; last year there were 495.  You do the math; that’s about 1.5 per day.  There are many theories floating around in the primordial soup, and the one that’s least mentioned, due to political correctness out here, is pressures from being LDS.

Once out of high school, young folks feel pressure from their families and bishops to go on their mission (either abroad or somewhere stateside) for 18 months to 2 years.  One young lady I know of just left for 18 months in Uganda.  In fact, last fall the announcement was made by church leaders that the missionary age was being lowered to 18 for young men and to 19 for women.  On their mission they can’t call or come home for any reason (even the death of a family member) and they are limited to minimal e-mail and letters.  If a friend or family member travels in the area, like on businesss, they cannot visit.  Once back from their mission, they are expected to attend college and/or get married right away and start a family and plan for a big one.  Most Mormon families, even today, end up with 4 or more kids.  Church callings and basketball leagues (each LDS church is built with a basketball court in the activity area) suck up a lot of time for men and women; there’s usually some church-centered activity or meeting each weeknight, except Mondays, which are family-home evenings (dinner, board games and scripture lessons).  And women often put pressure on themselves to be the perfect wife: well-dressed, hair and make-up masterfully arranged, raising perfect and polite children, producing lovely flower gardens, and entertaining graciously.  Plus, since you have to attend the ward church in the neighborhood where you live, all your neighbors attend as well, so everyone knows your business and just how active you are and if you’re temple worthy (meaning you participate in weekly Sunday sacrament meetings, tithe 10% of your time and income and fulfill all bishop-assigned church callings) and have your bishop-issued Temple Recommend card.  If that doesn’t produce stress, I don’t know what does.

On top of that, with the LDS church’s position on homosexuality as a big no-no, young gay Mormons feel the pressure to date and get married anyway, often with disastrous results.  Those who don’t often feel ostracized to the point of suicide; hence, adding to the already high rate.  Several times a month an obituary of a young man (usually)will hint at this.

So in the land of great natural beauty, from the snow-capped peaks to the red rock canyons, stress is apparently an unwelcome companion.

And even in the world of nature, animals can get stressed out.  Consider the recent Chevron oil spill just north of us in Willard Bay.  That’s a somewhat freshwater area of the Great Salt Lake with a wildlife refuge that birds and animals like beavers use.  Luckily, the beavers had built a dam, as beavers do, which contained a 27,000 gal. crude oil mini-disaster in late March.  Because of their dam, clean-up was in a confined area, but, of course, the beavers paid the price.  A family of beavers was rescued and is being cleaned and taken care of in a local wild animal shelter.  Repeated baths with Dawn dish detergent, special foods, pain medicine to help with the discomfort of chemical burns, and loving attention should return the beaver family to their natural surroundings.  To Chevron’s credit, it is donating $10,000 to help save the hero beavers (the spill would have reached farther without their dam!) and will cover costs beyond that.  Saving an entire family gives wildlife biologists a rare opportunity to take blood samples and run DNA testing on the beavers to see exactly how they’re related.

One of the hero beavers of Willard Bay.

One of the hero beavers of Willard Bay.

It seems that all the beavers will live to see another day and build more dams.  I just wish we’d be more like Hawai’i and have less stress.  Perhaps we need some palm trees and ukulele music….

Published in: on April 30, 2013 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Furry Follies at Finley’s Continue

Nothing but innocence.

Nothing but innocence.

It’s been about 6 months since Samson–Sammy–the cat became a member of the household and it’s time for an update, now that we’ve all settled into a routine of sorts.  For those of you who love pets, cats and/or dogs, you’ll probably get a kick out of this report.  For those who prefer birds, caged reptiles, or fish tanks, this week’s blog might not be your cup of tea or bowl of kibbles.

Charlie, our corgi, like many dogs, is governed by a set routine and the steps must be done in the correct order or we start again.  For example, in the morning it’s up and out the back door for his morning duty, then race in, wolf down his bowl of breakfast, grab his little rawhide twist stick and then the day can start.  Sammy, not to be outdone, leaps to the dining room table–which he has now pretty much claimed as his own–and awaits his handful of crunchy cat treats.  This is repeated at night, even if Charlie has just been outside.  When it’s time for bed (and his internal clock tells him when it’s dinnertime and bedtime) he goes out again with 2 little dog biscuit treats and then zips into his crate for sleep and safety from Sammy’s harassment.

Resting up for evening festivities.

Resting up for evening festivities.

Up til about noon, both pets rest up for afternoon and evening rounds of antagonism and chasing.  If I go up or down the stairs, the 2 of them race the steps ahead of me, shoulder to shoulder as though they are yoked.  Neither of them wants to come in second.  The other day Lara was heading up the steps, the pets were heading up too and Charlie decided to stop cold in the middle of the stairs.  Sammy didn’t react in time and Charlie almost had a cat up his butt!  That would have been an interesting trip to the vet’s!

By dinnertime, they’re fed and raring to go.  Sammy tempts, harasses, bothers, and stalks Charlie until Charlie takes off after him down the hall or into the front room, chasing him at break-neck speed while emitting a weird growl-bark that we never hear at any other time.  Annoy, chase, repeat.  Annoy, chase, repeat.  Again.  And again.

Waiting and watching from a high perch.

Waiting and watching from a high perch.

Then at other times, they will be best buds and curl up together and Charlie will tolerate a face and ear cleaning from Sammy.  I’ll give Charlie this: he does have endless patience most times with the cat and Sammy is totally fearless when rough-housing with the dog.  Several times a week they will roll on the rug playfully tussling and chewing on each other.  Neither has walked away with scratches or bite marks.

Of course, Sammy isn’t interested in Charlie’s food and for the 40 seconds it’s in his bowl the cat couldn’t get near if he tried.  Sammy’s dry food is another matter and Charlie–who is motivated by food–IS very interested in that bowl, which is filled all the time.  So it’s out of reach on a high shelf downstairs in the laundry room.  Poor Sammy has to navigate jumping up on shelves, usually in dim light, to enjoy his meals.  If we kept it filled on the floor in the kitchen where Charlie eats, well, it wouldn’t stay filled and Charlie would be grossly overweight!

A big treat for Charlie is a quick drink of water from the tub spigot while he’s hanging over the edge.  Not sure how that started, but unless I’m fast, he’ll join me in the bathroom for a shower and has even joined me in the tub, surprising both himself and me!  He loves water and getting wet in the hose in the summer, so I guess the tub is a natural extension of all that.

Charlie over the tub edge awaiting water from the tap.

Charlie over the tub edge awaiting water from the tap.

Charlie’s also quite fascinated by the cat litter box downstairs.  That, too, is up on a shelf, as apparently “litter box sausages” are a gourmet treat for him.  Enough said!

Both animals enjoy petting and human affection, which is good, as there’s a lot to go around, but it’s amazing how jealous Charlie gets if we fuss over Sammy.  He jumps close by and reminds us that he’s there and never asked for a cat to be brought home!  As long as Charlie doesn’t cross the line and repurpose Sammy as a chew toy, we’ll be just fine!

The follies continue….

Published in: on April 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Romance of the Old Time General Store

Right now, we’re all focused on yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon.  My prayers go out to the people who were killed, injured, or otherwise affected by this event.  I guess none of us are safe anywhere or any more.  It’s a sad day.  Our innocence is shattered, once again.  There were quite a few Utah runners in the marathon, and, luckily, none of them were injured.  This coming weekend, is the Salt Lake City Marathon, so it will be interesting to see how that unfolds, expecting heightened security of some sort.

In the meantime, my most recent history article for the Islander on the old-time general store is somewhat mindless reading, so I offer it here as a brief diversion to the current news headlines.

The Romance of the Old-Time General Store

Today, if we need to buy something, we have many options from small mom and pop stores to big box or chain stores, usually around the corner from most of us.  In an emergency, like you ran out of sugar, you have a Plan B; some retailers stay open on Sundays and holidays.  But let’s journey back in time and place 130 years to remind ourselves how it used to be in the “good old days.”

If you lived in the 1880s in a big city, you had access to shops, goods, and supplies, but consider the plight of those folks in rural areas, like the area of Utah we live in.  Of course, most people grew or raised what they could for foodstuffs and supplemented their diet with wild game.  But what about staples and supplies you couldn’t secure anyplace else but a store, like sugar, flour, cloth and thread, lard, ammunition, and any number of other items?

If you were lucky some sort of general or dry goods store had been established in a centrally located town and near a railroad, once the tracks cut across the nation.  And if you were really lucky, it was only a 10-mile each way round trip, so you could take your wagon and return in the same day.  If you lived further out, it might be an overnight expedition, and that cost extra money for a room at the hotel.

A lot of thrifty folks would make the trip only every three to six months, so a farm wife planned ahead for what she would need and bought in bulk.  Just consider how much flour or sugar you’d have to lay in to get you from April to September!

Beside the ordinary necessities, the country store usually also had a cracker barrel and perhaps a pickle barrel and a really upscale store carried candy treats in tall glass jars like licorice, caramels, or rock candy on strings for the “young-uns.”  Candy is so common now, it’s hard to imagine what a rare and special delight it must have been for the pioneer child in Utah.

Shelves of dry goods from the greneral store.

Shelves of dry goods from the general store.

The store was also a social center full of the latest politics, news, weather reports, farming concerns, and gossip.  Especially in winter when customers would shake off the chill near the pot-bellied stove at the heart of every general store, gossip, laughter, and heated discussions would have filled the air.

By 1888, Syracuse had a general store, probably because of the resort on the lake.  Around 1891, it was sold to the Walker Brothers and moved to their property below the bluff, just south of present-day Antelope Drive.  Besides the usual items, they carried rice, nuts, spices, ribbons, corsets, and buggy whips.  In 1901 the store installed a telephone line and messages could be called in and delivered by runners: the Walkers children, Golda and Martha.  Letters and parcels often could be delivered to the store and eventually picked up by the recipients.

The shopkeeper was a vital member of the community in a world with no charge or debit cards.  Cash-strapped farmers often relied on the merchant to extend a running line of credit to a family until the crops were harvested and payment was received.  Accounts could then be settled, only to probably start the cycle again the next year.

Make your purchases here at the counter.

Make your purchases here at the counter.

For a sense of what a sales counter of a general store might have looked like, stop by the Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center and head out to the back farm building.  There, the museum has recreated a corner of an old store and you can see the limited choices that faced a customer, but in 1880, that’s what it was like.

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on April 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Everything But A Lightening Bolt

While a lot of the country is bracing itself for an early spring storm or turbulent weather, we caught the backside of the weather pattern last night and this morning.  Sustained winds of 50 mph roared through last evening with higher gusts and we got a dusting of snow in the valley, while the benches saw measurable snow with the ski areas in the mountains being blessed with an additional 2 feet of snow.

Yesterday, in anticipation of the wind, we were securing anything loose in the year, including stabilizing the trampoline and gas grill so we wouldn’t have a repeat of last year’s wind storm where the tramp was flipped into the neighbor’s backyard (up and over a 7′ high fence) and the grill was tipped over.

Personally, I think this storm, coming on the heels of the LDS bi-annual Conference Weekend has everything to do with it.  Why you ask?  Twice a year, Mormons convene in the huge (120,000 seat) conference center and hold a General Conference of their church members.  Mormons from all around the world, fly in for their version of the pilgrimage to Mecca.  This weekend’s was the 183 conference and as they gathered to hear messages, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and any new revelations from the current prophet and president, Thomas Monson, something happened for the first time in the church’s history: a woman led them in prayer!  And okay, we got wind but no lightening bolt.  A comment from on high?  You decide.

All this year LDS women in Utah have been very vocal about expanded leadership roles in the LDS church.  They started with a gentle protest by wearing pants to church (women are more or less expected–read required) to wear skirts to Sunday church services at their wards.  Then they formally petitioned the church offices in Salt Lake City to invite a woman to lead the conference in prayer.  The final request was to start considering women for leadership roles usually reserved for men.  In fact, the opening session of the General Conference (both days on TV for everyone’s viewing convenience) showed rows of cushy red velvet armchairs on the stage facing the audience, all filled with old, white men.  I lost count at 30+.  To be fair, women can be leaders in three areas the men don’t see as a calling: Women’s Relief Society, Primary (Sunday School), and Choirs.  But the priesthood is denied to them, as is being named a bishop in a local ward.

Women representing the Relief Society and Primary will address the conference attendees, but leading the members in a prayer was unthinkable–until this year.  I suppose this could be viewed as a crack in the facade, a toe in the door, and if it is, it’s been a long time coming.  The LDS faith is quite patriarchal and has fought long and hard to keep it that way.

I hope the women who are spearheading these calls for changes continue and make their voices heard.  It is 2013, and time to recognize the contributions of women.  An Episcopalian is cheering you on.  You go, girls!

Published in: on April 9, 2013 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Heavenly Music

Last week’s blog hinted the next one would be about heavenly music, but first an intro is in order.  Since Palm Sunday and Holy Week just passed, culminating in the glories of Easter, I had been inspired by one of the objects at the museum–a zither–and to write about it for last week’s history article for the Islander.  Back in the 60s, I was swept along, like many of us, by the folk music wave; I had a guitar and a cousin of the zither, an autoharp.  So researching and writing this piece brought back lots of good memories.  And, so in the spirit of love, peace and Peter, Paul and Mary, I share this with you.

Heavenly Music

When you think of instruments that produce heavenly music, specifically, the type angels would play, perhaps while flying around above the clouds, a harp comes to mind.  In practical terms, harps are pretty heavy, and besides, how would angels manage the foot pedals to change the sharps and flats?  No, they require a more portable stringed instrument, like a lyre, psalter, or zither.  Yes, you read correctly, zither.

The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center just happens to have a zither on display, but ours didn’t fall from heaven.  Rather it was carefully brought back from Germany years ago by volunteers Russell and Sonja Barker.

Zither from the 1880s

Zither from the 1880s

A popular instrument throughout Alpine and Eastern Europe, versions of it can also be found in Asian cultures, including China.  In fact, it comes from a large family of related stringed instruments now found and appreciated world-wide and different from the violin family in that the strings don’t extend beyond the sound box (violin strings extend via a neck).  The Appalachian and hammered dulcimers, piano and harpsichord, đàn tranh, sitar, and santoor and other exotic-sounding instruments all qualify as members of this family.  Even the autoharp, easy to play (due to fixed chord dampers) and made popular in the 1960s with the resurgence of folk music is a second-cousin.  Zithers can be fretted or fretless and are played by strumming or plucking, just like a guitar or harp.

Usually played on a table or across one’s lap, they can also be mastered held up against one shoulder and strummed with the opposite hand (that’s how the angels would manage it!).

For you history buffs out there, the word “citara” is derived from the Greek word “kithara,” an instrument from classical times used in Ancient Greece and later throughout the Roman Empire and in the Arab world; the word “guitar” derives from “kthara” as well.  Zither is a corruption of these ancient words.  The term zither is mentioned in in the Bible in the Book of Daniel during the Jewish exile of 606 BC; however, the earliest known instrument of the zither family is a Chinese guqin [a fretless instrument], found in the tomb of Maquis Yi of Zeng dating from 433 BCE.

Not normally a concert or symphony instrument, the instrument has a prominent solo in one of Johann Strauss II’s most famous waltzes, “Tales from the Vienna Woods” (sometimes played on a mandolin, when a zither is not available).

The number of strings on a fretted zither can range from 30 to 35 and the Alpine zither has 42 strings, adding more bass notes.  A zither with frets would be played more like a guitar, where one hand would pluck or strum the strings and the other would press down on the frets to alter the pitch of the notes.  A fretless zither can have anywhere from 12 to 50 strings and with no frets, or fingerboard, is played open, like a harp.

Often decorated with flowers or fancy scrollwork, the wooden sounding boards can be black or natural wood color.

The zither at the museum is the fretless variety, and unfortunately not stable enough to be played again; it’s music-making days are over.  But it is a reminder that in days gone by, before recorded music, people used their talents to entertain themselves and their families with all kinds of musical outlets.  Today, there are examples of zither music easily found on YouTube, so zithers have made their way into the modern world for a new audience.

Next time you’re at the museum make sure you check out the zither on display and try to imagine its heavenly music.  The Syracuse Museum and Cultural Center’s hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5 pm and by appointment (801-825-3633) and is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West, Syracuse, UT.

Published in: on April 2, 2013 at 3:07 pm  Leave a Comment