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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

J. R. R. Tolkien, Popcorn, and Life

On my desk at school, I have this card, laminated, to remind me often of the choices in my life.


Popcorn led me to discover Tolkien as an author before Hollywood did anything to make the books popular.  I am a “baby boomer,” which gives a hint to my age.  While attending BYU, I heard a speaker talk about the “Popcorn Theory,” which he had heard from someone else.  (My apologies, I don’t remember who shared this, I can’t give credit for the idea.”  I googled popcorn theory, but didn’t find this theory.)  This was presented in relation to being a successful student.  Simply stated, If you have completed all assignments for school that you have been given as far as possible on Saturday afternoon, you reward yourself with something “worth working for.”   For the speaker, this was “go to a movie and eat hot, buttered popcorn.”  Well, while I like the occasional movie, and popcorn is great (occasionally, but definitely not “movie popcorn”), I LOVE to read, explore library stacks, used book stores, buy books.  Substitute a “new/favorite/recycled/library/ebook” for “popcorn” and you have my formula for success as a university student.

One day, during my junior year, I bumped into a friend who had lived near me earlier in my college experience.  As we walked across campus, she mentioned a new book she had gotten from the campus bookstore.  “It’s about little people in Middle Earth known as hobbits.  They are short, live in wonderful designed homes that are holes in the ground, have hairy toes, and love to eat.”  She continued to talk about The Hobbit, and how much she was enjoying the story. At that point, I remembered (yes, remembered) the popcorn theory, and the studying necessary that week for my classes.  Time to conduct an unscientific experiment in the application of the theory.  I stopped at the bookstore that day, and took a copy home, placed it where I would see it, and studied the rest of the week so I could open that book.

This post isn’t about studying, directly, just the background into my love of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  Reading the Hobbit led to Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King.  My copies went with us when, as newlyweds, we moved to the Pacific Northwest, carrying all our “worldly goods” in a Dodge D500 that required one quart of oil with each tank of gas.  I reread those books, and, as time went on, “hooked” our oldest daughter.  She read the copies enough that I gifted her with the worn copies and bought a new set.  Those went to a son, who also loved them, and I now have my third set (in paper), and the ebooks.

The quote above, however, is one that has had great meaning to me.  It has become more meaningful as I watch the increasing darkness of the world around me.  Life has, for me, as for all, given me more “dark moments” than I had experienced that sunny day in Provo, Utah when I was introduced to Bilbo, Gandalf, and later, Frodo.  But the meaning of this exchange continues.

“The Shadow takes another shape and grows again.”

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”     (The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien, Chapter 2)

So, what to do with the time given me?

1. Time is a construct of man.  We use it to make sense of our world, to place events into a perspective, to measure limitations for successful completion of a task, be it baking cookies or building a magnificient building, a baby sleeping through the night, or the time required for Voyager to leave the solar system.  But each of us has within us a spirit that is eternal, outside of time, and that means I will continue to live, forever.  The fact that my experience in time is limited becomes more important, because this is my only opportunity to decide and do those things that will influence my “forever,”

2. The most important possession I have in time is my family.  I love each and every one of them, even those I only read about in our electronic family letter (currently go to about 130 families).  We are bound by common ancestors.  Those I know well are dear to my heart.  I think of them, I pray for them, I talk/email with them, and when possible, I visit them.  Some are as close as “down the street and up the hill,” while others are walking the streets of New Zealand, in the military installation of Kandahar, in Africa, and other areas of service throughout the world.

3.  I can’t imagine eternity without my family.

4.  I am blessed, beyond measure, to blessed to have been taught the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Member ship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) is 15 million, a mere drop in the bucket of 7.2 billion.  Because of that, I am blessed with the opportunity and blessing of having my marriage sealed for time and all eternity in a House of the Lord.  (Learn more here. about temples and their purpose)

5. Though the world is darkening, I see light, constantly, because of my faith.  In fact, He said, “I am the Light of the world…”  (Click here for a video and more information.)

6.  I want others to know and experience the joy, the peace, and the confidence I have received by this great gift in my life.

So…the point of this post?

I choose to use my time as an example of Jesus Christ in my actions, to look always for the Light, and to share with others the message we, as members of His church, treasure.

Would you like to know more about…

Where did I come from?

Why bad/hard things happen to good people?

Why am I here?

Where am I going?

What can I do to strengthen my family?

How can I help my spouse, child, friend, neighbor….”

Here are a few links to help you…

All about the “Mormons

Who am I?

How can I know the truth?

Want to know more?  Click “Chat with us” on this page.

Click here to read my testimony of the truths to be found on these links.

The answer Gandalf gave Frodo can be applied by each of us to our lives.  Darkness is covering the earth, but the light always breaks through.  Sunday did come, and the Savior of the World rose from the tomb, conquering death, and that victory is eternal.  Darkness cannot destroy it.  Jesus Christ made the ultimate choice and sacrifice, because of love, for each one of us.  So the question to be answered, by each of us, is:

What will YOU do with the time that is given you?


P.S.  The popcorn theory worked for me in my studies.  Twice since receiving my B.S. degree, I have returned to college.  I used this each time to help me prioritize and stay focused.




Recently, my middle school science classroom was privileged to have guest speakers from the Boeing Company.  A group of engineers from Boeing, named MECA (Making Engineering Cool Again), presented a lesson on the forces of flight, with hands-on activities to learn about these forces.  Each year, they do a better job than the previous years.  Even now, my students are referring to this experience.  Their interest in engineering has been “tickled,” and some will never forget the excitement of that day.

With Christmas break (which arrived one day early, thanks to the snow!) here, naturally, I am thinking about school!  After all, that is what good teachers do…ponder how to “hook” students on learning.  I was also thinking about life…family (I am blessed to be one of a large extended family, one with a continual “newsletter”  that has continued in some form for over sixty year)…the arrivals (a new grandson, born six weeks early, home, growing, thriving)….the departures (my sister, who will celebrate this Christmas with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ)…friends (each with struggles of their own)…my life and progress towards my own, eternal goals.  Suddenly, the forces of flight aligned with the forces acting in my life.

So, for a brief science lesson:

There are four forces acting upon an aircraft.   These are defined as:

  1. Weight is the force of gravity. It acts in a downward direction—toward the center of the Earth.
  2. Lift is the force that acts at a right angle to the direction of motion through the air. Lift is created by differences in air pressure.
  3. Thrust is the force that propels a flying machine in the direction of motion. Engines produce thrust.
  4. Drag is the force that acts opposite to the direction of motion. Drag is caused by friction and differences in air pressure.

(If you want to learn more about flight, go here.)  If you know enough now, keep reading.  I just have to keep my teacher hat on while writing!

There are also four forces acting upon me in life.

1. Weight:  I am a spiritual being experiencing a mortal life in a fallen world.  I am removed from the presence of my Father, buffeted by the Enemy in any way possible.

2. Lift:  I can always lift my eyes to my Father.  He doesn’t sleep, go on vacations, or get too busy to hear me.  He has promised to always hear my pleas for deliverance, help, succor, peace.

3. Thrust:  I am in control of the throttle.  I must press forward with the goal in mind, eternal life.  All I will take with me when I depart this life is what I have learned, with the record of that learning (good and bad) being recorded in the heavens on media that will not crash, burn, or fade.

4. Drag:  The things in my life that cause “friction,” my sins, my earthly “gods,” my actions contrary to His will.

As I pondered these things, four scriptures came to mind, with a picture of an airplane.  In my mind, I saw my thoughts portrayed.


How is your “airplane” flying?

Books, books, books….

Books, books, books…


My first visit to the public library is lost in the mists of my infancy.  Doubtless, knowing my mother and her great love for books, it occurred within the first few months of my life.  Certainly, it was well within the first two years.  I don’t remember the walks, but Mother tells of putting my baby sister in a buggy, my brother carefully sharing the space with her, as I walked at their side to the library.    Books were always under the Christmas tree and included in birthday gifts.

It was no surprise to my parents when, at four years of age, I learned to read.  Mother had been reading to me at an age, like the library visit, lost in those early mists.  She would have her children sit on the opposite side of the ironing board and hold the book so she could read to us and iron at the same time.  This she did until all her seven children could read for themselves.

The first book I remember reading, really reading myself, was a Little Golden Book, Chip and Dales’ Toy Train, featuring not only the chipmunks, but Donald Duck.  Grandpa and Grandma Ohlin were visiting us.  We lived just more than a mile away,  so we often were together.  I announced, “Grandpa, I can read.”  “No, Sylvia, you have the book memorized.”

Indignantly, I ran to the kitchen, crying, “Mommy, Grandpa says I don’t know how to read.”  Her response burned itself into my memory.  “Daddy, she can read.  Point to any word in the book and she will read it to you.”  I remember reading at least part of the book to my grandpa that day.

My first memory of the library isn’t until about third or fourth grade.  Our home was in the “country,” lots of a few acres where once farms had been.  Across the street, an enterprising developer saw the potential of the area, and built a small subdivision.  Connie and her family moved into one of the homes.   Connie was a year older than me, and we became friends.  She introduced me to the Nancy Drew mysteries.  I couldn’t wait to go to the library and check out some for myself.

Mom told me how to find them in the library, and I walked straight to the section where books by Carolyn Keene should be.  Nothing.  I looked and looked, but couldn’t find any of the coveted Nancy Drew books.  Disappointed, I told Mom they didn’t have any.  She suggested I ask the librarian and pointed out that very special individual.  The librarian smiled at my question, opened her desk drawer, and revealed a “stash” of the books.  She explained I could only check out two books so there would be some for other children to borrow.  She also explained the concept of “late” in regard to library books and asked if I would be able to read two books in the time allowed.  I believe  it a two week checkout.  Two weeks?  I could read those in a few days!  That drawer became my target each time we visited the library.

If we ran out of library books to read, Mom and Dad had purchased a set of encyclopedias, the Book of Knowledge set, and many other books, all neatly arranged in a floor to ceiling bookcase.  A veritable treasure house, just down the stairs from my bedroom.

We moved when I was fourteen years old, and to my joy, we lived right at a stop for the Bookmobile.  A Bookmobile looked a lot like a little school bus, with two doors.  The entrance was by the driver’s seat, and the length was lined with bookcases, filled with books.  There wasn’t a great variety, but I always found something I wanted to read.  I would walk the length of those shelves, choosing my books, then check out at the back.  Down a couple of steps, up the sidewalk, into my room, where my bed was waiting for me to curl up and READ!     If I requested a certain book, the librarians would try to find a copy and bring it to me.  This was “book heaven.”  Those wonderful women on that little mobile library became unseen friends two years later, when a serious illness confined me to bed for five months.  Each week, Mom would bring a stack of books to my bedroom, where I devoured them.  Often, included in the stack would be books the librarians had chosen especially for me.

During that time, I also received a special bag of books, chosen and delivered by my Aunt Ethel, a journalist on the local weekly newspaper.  Among the treasures were books that became most beloved.  The Yearling, Random Harvest, Freckles, and Girl of the Limberlost became a part of me during those months.  I also remember reading, for the second time, that wonderful story, Tale of Two Cities.  At times, Marilyn and Maurine, my youngest sisters who were twins, would come on the bed and I would read to them.  My bishop and his wife gave me a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post, so I would have something new to read each week.  What an exciting day that was each week as the world appeared in my bedroom.

The years passed, and each time I moved, the library was one of the first buildings I would locate.  I worked in the high school library as a service club member.  In college, I not only studied, but explored the literature provided in a university library.  A move to Oregon resulted in a library just down the street.  Seventeen months later, when my mother came to help at the birth of our first child, she walked down the street and brought back several Mary Stewart books, introducing me to yet another author I would enjoy.  Libraries in Kennewick, Washington, then Bellevue, Washington, became another home.  Now, I was taking my own children with me.  Meeting the librarians in the first month of life was a rite of passage.    A library card became a fifth birthday tradition.  My youngest daughter still treasures her card, her first name carefully printed on the card.  My children know the number on their card, and have refused to “upgrade” to the much fancier cards now available, because that would mean learning a new number.  Without your number, no electronic requests!

With the expansion of technology, and the busyness of teaching school, I have found new and fun ways to read.  Ebooks allow me to take a library on a trip, fitting neatly into my  “personal item” on an airplane    Books on CD accompany me on my drive to and from the school, to the shopping center, and to church on Sundays.  Audiobooks on my computer have replaced the TV as entertainment as I sew, fold laundry, and dress for the day.  Once again, someone else reads favorites to me.  My love of reading has brought me full circle.  Where once my mother read childrens books to me, talented readers now read favorites, bringing to life the characters, just as my mother did many years ago.

Oh,  paper books have not disappeared from my life.  Electronic catalogs make it possible to request a book from my county library system (advertised as “biggest and best in the nation”), and, a few days later, drop into the nearest branch library to pick it up.  Even better, I can walk the mile to a recently completed branch library and pick up my books.  What a deal!  Exercise and books, at the same time!

And, on my book shelves are great treasures.  Little Women, given to my mother for Christmas when she was 9 years old by her sister, Amber,  then given to me ten years ago.  I read it at the same time my friend, Gaylyn, next door, read it.  (Sixth grade was a very good year for books.)  The first chapter book I read, Heidi, was also my mother’s book.  A Children’s Friend Storybook, the last gift from Grandma Ohlin, is dated 3/17/1952.

From Chip and Dale to Dickens, Keene to Stevenson, Shakespeare and Dickens to Principles of Immunology,  Hawthorne to Rowling, Twain to Organic Chemistry, Buck to Foundations of Education, and always, always, the word of the Lord as found in the scriptures… books…my friends…gateway to the world.

Now, I am looking for a book the library doesn’t have…Amazon, here I come.

P.S. Any recommendations?  I’m always looking for books to add to my “reading wish list!”




Birth…and death

Yesterday, December 14, was a day pondering birth…and death.  Part of my early morning routine is checking my email.  One of my sisters lives in New Zealand, and her emails are so fun.  Yesterday, I had a notice of a new blog post from my dear Aunt Ethel,  The Real Child of Christmas.  I pondered her wisdom, gained over the past 95 years.  Yes, Christmas is for the child, young and full of wonder at the season.  What fun I had as the mother of young children, watching those sparkling eyes.  But even more, Christmas is about The Child, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger.   I remembered the year my daughter, Deborah, was born, and I nursed her by Christmas tree lights.  I felt a closeness to Mary, the mother of The Child of Bethlehem, that Christmas.

I didn’t working yesterday, even though it was a school day.  Yesterday was the funeral service for Lennie.  I met Lennie just a few weeks after we purchased our home, years ago when our family was only three.  She was the mother of a high school daughter, Annette.  In a few years, Annette would become a friend, another “sister.”   Over the years, my family grew to nine, Annette’s, to ten. And so, Lennie has been part of my life for many years.   Lennie passed away last Sunday.  Actively involved in her family, she had already sent a Facebook birthday greeting to a teenage family member that morning.    Friday morning,  I was preparing to attend her funeral, to help serve a meal to the family after the services.  And so the morning began, birth and death.

Then the news broke of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I’m a school teacher, and I have been in two lockdowns with my students, both prompted by possible weapons threats.  Each ended with no danger being found.   I can’t begin to imagine what those teachers and their children experienced.  This wasn’t a drill.  This was painfully real, terrifying, brutal, wrong.  My heart and soul cry for the teachers, the students, the parents, the families of those whose lives ended all too soon.

And so, I ponder life…and death.  Death for Lennie was sweet.  The reunion with her husband, who preceded her in death by 27 years, and her son, George, last seen 40 years ago, was,  beyond doubt,  joyful.  Even those left behind rejoice in her life.  She will be missed, for she leaves a large family.  But there is joy also, for who she was and what she did.  For the families in Connecticut, and all who know and love them, there is no answer to the question,”Why?”  that will satisfy.

The only comfort is that given by The Child, whose birth we celebrate this month.  In Nazareth, He stood in the synagogue and read from the prophets, saying, “he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted.”  (Luke 4:18, KJV)  He loved little children, for He said, ”Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 18:16, KJV)  May He heal our broken hearts, and give us peace.  May those closest to this tragedy find the peace available only from the Great Comforter, who said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27, KJV)

May we, this Christmas season, seek to be His hands, to serve others, to give comfort to the broken hearted, to hug our loved ones a bit tighter,  to seek for the peace from The Child who is the Great Comforter, from everlasting to everlasting.

Musical alarm clock today…



I awoke early this Thanksgiving morning with the tune and words of a hymn running through my mind.  “For the beauty of the earth…” seemed to wind through those early moments of consciousness.  As I listened to the celestial choir in my mind, examples wove their way into my thanks.  The verses continued, and I felt the need to share with you this morning.  May your day be one of gratitude and rejoicing, filled with love from friends on earth and friends above.

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies.

For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies.

For the beauty of each hour, of the day (the incredibly bright rainbows I’ve seen this fall) and of the night

Hill (Mt. Olympus) and vale (Norris Geyser Basin) and tree and flow’r.  Sun and moon, and stars of night (the Milky Way from a secluded camp)..

For the joy of human love, brother Steve and Brent), sister (Kathy, Carol, Marilyn, Maurine), parent (Mom and Dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins), child (Suzanne, who added Glen, then Aidan and Ryan; Jenn, who brought Matthew; Deborah;  Robert, who added Katherine;  Ben;  Bekah; and Rachel).

Friends on earth (Marilyn, Nancy, Annette, Louanna, Carrol, Linda, Megan, Julie, Ethel, the list continues),  and friends above (Linda, Rene, Debbie,…) .  For all gentle thoughts and mild.

For the truths from teachers wise (too many to name) , for the words from fertile minds  (all the writers I’ve learned to love and read).

For the heroes I daily find, walking through the sands of time (Jesus, Enoch, Captain Moroni, Joseph Smith, Jean Valjean, Sidney Carton, Aslan,…).

For the gift of earthly life.  Body, spirit, heart, and mind.

Heart to love and hands to serve.  God’s good work to do on earth.

For the daily simple deeds, waking, sleeping, working, play.

Daily learning how to lead, how to follow the Master’s steps.

For the gift of ears to hear, voices speaking from the dust.

Leading to eternal life, teaching patience, truth, and love.

For the daily simple deeds, waking, sleeping, working, play.

Daily learning how to lead, how to follow the Master’s steps.

Lord of all to thee I raise, this my hymn of grateful praise.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…”  James 1:17


Teachers – Life Changers

Teachers – Life Changers

Yesterday, I met a woman, Melanie, for just a few minutes, at a medical appointment.  We chatted briefly as she drew my blood.  She asked where I worked.  I explained that I work at the middle school, just up the hill.   “Are you a teacher?” she asked.

“I will never forget one of my teachers,” she said.  Her face lit up as she told me the story of her fourth grade teacher.  Her family had moved from Texas to California in the spring that year, and she was woefully behind her classmates.  Her teacher explained that she needed to catch up, and said, “If you will come to my home for four hours each day this summer, I will get you caught up.”  No pay, and many years ago when the world seemed much safer.  (We are both “grandma” age.)  She went, each day. “That teacher,” she said, “changed my life.”

Teachers… If I tried to list all the teachers who have influenced me, the list would be too long to share.  Not all of those teachers stood in front of a class, either.  But there are some who directed and, in one case, changed the course of my life.

First, and foremost, my parents.  Education was important to their parents, and it is still important to Mom and Dad.  I don’t remember my first trip to the library, I was too young.  My parents taught me to love books by reading to me and by their example of loving to read.  (My children can say the same thing.) Birthdays and Christmas always included a book.  And no excuses – I was expected to do well in school. Of course, there are the grandparents, aunts, and uncles who encouraged and taught me much that wasn’t included in “academics,” but in “life skills.”  Today, when many have passed to the “next room” of life, some, including an aunt in her nineties, continue to teach me.  In fact, my dear Aunt Ethel is a talented writer, and uses modern technology herself!  She may live 850 miles away, but she is just “one click” away.  Thank you….

Next to my parents, and always part of their lives, is my Savior, Jesus Christ.  His word, preserved in holy writ, the example of His life, and the works of those who serve Him, have become an integral part of my life, regardless where they choose to worship. All I am and have is a gift from the Master Teacher.

My teachers, as I grew, came in two varieties – my church teachers and my school teachers.

My “church” teacher, when I was a Laurel in church (16 – 18 year old girls) was Anne Pinnock. I was first her neighborhood “for hire” babysitter, and I spent many hours with her children.  Then she became my teacher.  I will never forget her, for she taught both by word and by action.  She practiced what she preached.  It is her actions that remain with me, not the words she spoke.  She cared about me, as an individual.  Oh, there were many others, men and women, but Anne…her name is first in my memory.

My school teachers were many, and most were good teachers.  But there is one, oh, what a life-changer he was for me.  I approached seventh grade and junior high with great excitement.  Then my class schedule arrived in the mail, and the joy became tears.  Science was my least favorite subject.  (I didn’t dare say I “hated” it.  After all, Dad is a scientist. But really, I hated it in sixth grade.)  My first period class read:  Science, Mr. Holmes.  It didn’t matter what I said, begging and pleading with my mom to “get my schedule changed so my home room isn’t science.”  I walked into Mr. Holmes’ room that morning, many years ago, butterflies in my stomach and knees knocking.  I took a seat in the back of the room. (If I hid back there, maybe he wouldn’t notice me.)  I don’t remember a word he said.   But I will never forget walking out of his room that day.  I was excited about science, I looked forward to the next day, and the day after that.  In eighth grade, I took a front seat the first day in science.  In ninth grade, I took science as an elective.  High school found me taking science every year, including a bacteriology class being offered for the first time.  College days, and I majored in microbiology.  Years passed, with experience in the science of motherhood as well as microbiology.  Other employment in the school district allowed me to work and be home with my children.  That job, however, led me to an opportunity to get my teaching certificate.  Fearing I was “too old” to be considered, I applied nevertheless.  I was accepted and asked where I wanted to intern.  “Sixth grade,” I told an incredulous administrator.  “Really?  Why do you want that age instead of high school?”  The answer was easy.   “Because I owe it to a teacher who never knew what he did for me.”  Then I told the story I just told you.  Ten years later, I still owe Mr. Holmes.  I keep trying to “pay it back.”  And someday, I hope to meet him in another place and tell him, “Thank you.  You changed my life.”

Who was the teacher you will never forget?

Life’s harder moments

Sunday night, I received a phone call from a colleague.  One of the counselors at the middle school where I teach was killed Saturday night in an auto/pedestrian accident.  Monday was, without a doubt, the most difficult day of my almost 23 years in education.  We had to tell over 1000 students, grades 6 – 8, that a counselor they loved was dead.  Soon after school started, one of our admin team members had created a bulletin board with pictures and room for students to sign.  For three days, I have watched these students write notes about him, often waiting their turn to reach the board.  We have grieved, and we will continue to do so, for he had an incredible way of connecting with each person he spoke to.

For me, however, there is a peace that comes from my knowledge of God’s plan for man.  I am grateful for my sure and certain knowledge that one day, we will all meet again, for death is but a step into another phase of my eternal life.  While most of my students, and our counselor, don’t have that knowledge, I know each will one day hear the message of eternity from missionaries, on one or the other side of the veil.  Until that time,  I am grateful for the opportunity that was given me to work with this phenomenal man.