Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Elizabeth Willis Barrett.........November 20, 2012

To those of you who have been faithful followers of my blog--I thank you profusely.  You have helped make me a writer--something I have wanted since I first learned to read the words,  “See Jane.  See Jane Run.”  For too many years I have let other life happenings take top priority and the joy of writing has followed behind, wagging its tail and waiting for its turn.  This blog has pulled my writing from behind and set it squarely in front of me.  I now have reason to organize the words that rattle around inside my head and a place to put them.  

I am changing my blog address a bit so I wanted you to know because it really, really matters to me that you visit my blog often.  The new address is theotherelizabethbarrett.wordpress.com.  Not that Blogspot isn’t a great blogging site, but because I think if I do what I need to do, I can reach more people using Wordpress.  So please, PLEASE, PLEASE go to the new site and become a follower over there!

I have challenged myself to post a new essay every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  That is a lot of writing for me but like they say, “If you want to become a writer, you have to write!”  I have a lot to say and so little time to say it in that a post once or twice a month was just not getting it out fast enough.  I’ve got to step it up.  I love your comments and your friendship.  I am very lucky to have you.  Thanks!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Elizabeth Willis Barrett
October 11, 2012

I used to squirm on Mother’s Day when I heard the rather sentimental speaker speak of her Angel Mother.  Angel Mother!  That term will never be given to me, I thought.    

It is highly unlikely that I’ll hear those words in reference to myself, but I have come to realize that time has a way of smoothing the edges of existence.  It is as though we live life in full glaring sunlight without any sunglasses; but we look back on life with the help of protective eyewear that softens the blaze of reality.  

When I was growing up, I don’t remember my own mom speaking of her mother as an “Angel Mother.”  But as Mom grew older, she’d say things like, “I wish you had known my mother. She was an angel!”  

I actually did know my Grandma Erikson.  But by the time I came around she was harried by dementia and would stand behind doors to scare us or drink from the syrup bottle or walk out the front door to visit her sister, Louie, who had been dead for 60 years.  I didn’t think of Grandma Erikson as an angel.

“She never raised her voice,” Mom continued.  “She had such a beautiful garden and kept the house so clean.  She was an angel,” she repeated.  

While I was growing up, I wouldn’t have referred to my mom as an Angel Mother.  In fact, I stored every one of her slips of the tongue or, as I viewed, grievous actions against me in a private place in my soul.  I would pull them out often and nourish them with angry thoughts.  But now that I am older, I am amazed at what a wonderful mother she was.  Her glowing attributes considerably outweigh any faults I may have perceived.  I was blessed beyond deserving to have such a great woman be my mother.  And it is easy to say, “I wish you had known my mother.  She was an angel.”

Perhaps time will soften the memories of my children.  I hope they will someday be able to empty their own jars of injustices they felt I hurled at them and refill those jars with sweet remembrances.  And maybe they will be able to say in some distant age,  “I wish you had known my mother.  She was an angel!”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How To Be a Drug Testing Family

Elizabeth Willis Barrett
September 5, 2012

I dislike the word “pee” and I had never used that derogatory word until drug abuse quietly stepped over the threshold of our home and created many changes around here.  I have currently given up all propriety and use the word “pee” often--most usually in “pee test” “and pee NOW!”   (I still refuse to use it with my grandchildren as in “Do you have to go pee?”   I really don’t like the term.) 

If you are still a bit reserved as I used to be, you can refer to pee tests as “UA”s if you’d rather or just “drug testing”.   UA stands for urine analysis which doesn’t roll off my tongue any better than “pee tests.”  So I will continue to refer to “UAs” as “pee tests” because it suits the situation better.  And the situation is this: there are way too many children becoming addicted to drugs and we as parents must do something.  Pee testing is one thing you can do to hold back the avalanche of drug abuse in the lives of your precious children. 

What has happened that our children think they can’t live life without something to take the sting away?  I don’t have an answer for that question.  I wonder if anyone does.  I do know that there aren’t enough fool-proof parental tools out there, but those we do have we’d better use.  Drug testing might not save your child.  But like seat belts--it might.

The first few times a child is offered drugs, he says, “no” on his own.  Our son did.  He even kept his friends from using drugs.  But he finally gave in and when he did, he found a world of escape that welcomed him like a long lost son and as hard and as often as he tried to leave it, that world held onto him like a jealous mother.

The “Just Say No” campaigns weren’t effective because “no” needs a backup and drug testing is the backup.  

Take your sweet 13 year old son.  Innocent.  Always obedient.  He’s at a friend’s house.  A  pretty good friend you think.  You’ve never met his parents, but he seems like a nice kid.  Your son goes down in their home’s basement family room.  Who should be there but his friend’s older sister and a few of her girl friends.  These are not dull, blend-in-the-wall sort of girls.  These make up half the high school cheerleading squad.  Your son is in awe of them.    They’re standing by an open window sharing a joint.  They ask your son if he’d like a puff.  He doesn’t want to seem like a dumb little kid to these super popular girls.  Who would?  He wants to please them.  He wants to be cool.

“Sure,” he is tempted to say.  And then he remembers.  His mom drug tests him.  As soon as he gets some of that THC into his system, his mom will know.  She will take away all of his privileges (if she’s smart) and she’ll tell each of these girl’s parents besides (if they’ll listen). Hmmm.  

“Nah,” he says.  “I better not.  My crazy mom drug tests me.”  

“Ah, poor kid,” they say.  “That’s too bad.”

They go back to their life-robbing dragging and your son is off the hook. If he had just said, “No”, the girls might have pestered him further. 

It would be nice if your child had enough self confidence to say, “Are you kidding?   And end up a drug addict with no education, no job and no future? No drugs for me, thanks.  I like myself a whole lot better than that!”

It would be nice, but don’t count on it happening too often.  Fitting in is a powerful draw.

The test becomes the scapegoat.   Let him blame his reluctance to use drugs on the test and on you --your prudishness, your invasiveness, your meanness--but give him a way out.  He needs all the help you can give him.

Here is another example: Your daughter complains to a friend that she is fat.  Her friend says, “I know a way that you can eat whatever you want.  You just take this pill and it will speed up your metabolism and you won’t have to worry about your weight anymore.” 

What a solution!  If you were a young girl struggling with her weight, wouldn’t you take an unknown pill for that kind of promise?  But that first pill could dangerously throw her into a cycle of addiction.  It would be life saving if your daughter could say.  “No, I’d better not. My crazy mom drug tests me.  And when she finds out I’ve been taking stuff, I’ll get grounded and she’ll probably tell your mom, too.”

I know, your kids would never do drugs.  They’re smarter than that.  You have talked yourself upside down convincing them that drugs are insidious, evil and simply unacceptable.  I was there once in that land of All is Well.  

We all hope that our kids are smart enough, but we don’t give enough credence to peer pressure.  It knocks and knocks and knocks until our child just has to answer the door.  And when he answers it, he had better have some tools beyond mere words to face down the temptation that marches right in with the peer pressure.  

Drug testing gives your child a stronger way to say no to temptation.  It also is a good report card to see how your child is doing as far as drugs are concerned. 

If you asked your boy how he was performing in English he might say, “Hey, Dad, I’ve got that English down.  I’m acing it.”  And you might say, “Great, Son, glad to hear it.  But let me have a look at that report card just the same.”

And even if your child didn’t want to show you his report card, you would insist.   If he really got an “A”,  you could be very proud of your progeny.   But if he wasn’t getting an “A” you would know that your treasured son not only needed to improve in English but also in honesty. 

Drug testing is like a report card.  It shows you how your child is doing and if she might need a little help.  “Any problem with drugs?” you might ask.  “No, Mom.  I’d never do drugs, you know that.”  “So proud of you,” you might say and you might have every reason to be proud, but you might not want to take her word for it.  You might want to check it out--look at her report card. That’s the Pee Test, the big UA.  If it is negative, you can praise her and reward her.  If the test comes back positive, you can fly into a red hot rage and then you can get to the bottom of her drug use before it gets out of hand.  

Getting started being a drug testing family might be a little rugged at first.  If your child had never had a report card until he was 15, the first report of his school grades would be hard for him to get used to.  The younger you start, the easier it is.  But even if your kids are older, you can establish that you are now going to be a drug testing family for their protection.  

I found a good way to teach younger kids about the addictive power of drugs. They might think they can try drugs and just stop when they are good and ready.  But like all addictions, drugs hold on and won’t let go.

Get a shoe box with a lid.  Cut a hole in one end that is big enough for your child’s hand to fit in. Put a banana in the box and tape on the lid.  Tell your child to reach through the hole and grab the prize.  Now tell them to pull out the prize.  If you’ve cut the hole small enough, they can’t bring their hand out with the banana.  They have to let go if they want their hand back.    That is a way, I’ve been told, that monkeys can be caught.  They are unwilling to let go of the prize and are therefore trapped.  If they would only let go, they could gain their freedom.

To teach them how drugs and other addictions can trap them, get another shoe box with a lid.  Instead of a banana, get a ball and cover it with Velcro. (I looked for a ball that had a Velcro-like surface but couldn’t find one.) Put an exfoliating bath and shower glove on the child’s hand.  You can buy them at Walmart for $2.98.  Have the child put his hand in the box and reach for the prize.  Now tell him to pull is hand out.  If you’ve done it right, the child can’t let go of the ball.  That is what happens with addictions.  You can’t just let go of them when you want.  They grab you and they won’t let go.  You are stuck.  You are inhibited from pursuing your dreams.  After all, how could you become a great baseball player with a box stuck on your hand?  Your kids might make a case, as my momentarily contrary grandkids did, that they could still do a lot with a box stuck on their hand.  But eventually they will have to admit that it is quite limiting.  Hopefully they will receive a mental picture that will stay with them long enough to say no to the things that are addicting.  At least long enough to say, “No, my crazy mom drug tests me.”

Since studies show that the average age for a child to start experimenting with drugs is 13, it might be a good idea to start testing at 11.  It should be done often enough that your child won’t forget that you are a drug testing family.  

Drug tests can be purchased online in bulk for as little as 50 cents for those that test for just one drug and use a dip stick--you provide the cup.  You can pay as high as $40.00 for those that test for many drugs at once and come with a cup and even the ability to send it to a processing place for further analysis.  The more you pay for drug tests, the less likely you are to use them often on each of your children.  So the $40 tests aren’t very practical or necessary.

There is a drug testing company in Gilbert that I have bought drug tests from in bulk.    Each time I thought it would be my last batch.  But the problem of drug abuse doesn’t go away.  It lingers and lingers and lingers like the acrid smell of a skunk, so I have bought in bulk over and over again. If you buy a batch of drug tests early in your child’s life and use them, you might only have to buy once.

We had access for a while to some very expensive drug tests and shared them with friends. Several months later one friend came back to us saying that she feared her son was doing drugs.  She had never used the drug test.  She was waiting to use it as a punishment instead of using it as a preventative tool.  

I took a drug test to another friend whose son was doing drugs with my son.  She didn’t want her son to see it so I put it in the back of her truck that was parked outside.  Because she didn’t want her son to think that she didn’t trust him, she never used it either.  What a waste of a great $40 drug test!  Her son is still on drugs.  

The best time to drug test is in the morning just as the child has awakened and before he has had a chance to go to the bathroom.  That’s because a favorite line of drug addicts is, “I just peed, I don’t have any more in me.” Also, the urine is more concentrated in the morning and will test well.  I’m not sure if you could ever drink enough water to dilute the test but I think my son has tried that.  Since all drug testing should be done randomly, morning time keeps the child from being able to “prepare” for it.  For instance, he could buy fake urine at a Head Shop to mess up the test. I know, your sweet innocent child would never do that, but you have to stay a step ahead of those who would.

Once I sent my son into the bathroom by himself and expected him to give me a mellow yellow unadulterated sample.  He diluted the specimen with toilet water and the test came out negative.  Now I go into the bathroom with him and stand there and watch.  I don’t want to turn my back for fear some shenanigans will go on that will ruin the test.  It took me far too long but I am finally done with modesty and rights. 

If you are just starting out as a drug tester, the best way to do it is to hand the child the cup to pee in, stand with him in the bathroom and turn your back.  The earlier you start and the better your relationship, the less the awkwardness.  

It will help if you can keep it light while you’re testing.  “Oh, I know, this is SO embarrassing.  I can hardly stand it myself!”  You can do that better when they’re young.  It might get a little harder when they’re older, but it is still imperative to be a drug testing parent. 

Your older children are especially not going to be excited about this new regime. “Yeah, Mom.  Wow, you are so progressive.  Yes, please, please let us be a drug testing family.  I can hardly wait.”

Their goal will be to make you feel stupid.  You can act tentative about drug testing if you want, but that won’t help.  Take back the reins.  Drive this parenting wagon and gallop it down the road to freedom.  Be strong.  Take courage from other parents who have finally seen the light after being herded unceremoniously into a very long and very dark tunnel.  You do not want to go there.

It is never too late to start a new pattern.  They’ll fight you on it, but when you have confidence in yourself and your parenting skills, you won’t cower under their bullying: “Get out of here!  I’m not going to pee right here in front of you! What are you thinking?  You don’t trust me, do you?  Nobody else’s parents do this.  This is so lame.  You’re crazy. I’m not doing it.”

Like I say, it is a lot better to start when they’re young but it is crucial as they get older. 

Drug testing will catch the big stuff like marijuana and heroin and Meth.   It will catch pain killers that doctors seem to hand out like M & M’s and the rightful prescriptees like to sell. But it won’t catch everything. You could test your child every day and it wouldn’t protect him against sniffing paint or huffing computer cleaner.  So along with the testing, you’ll need to continually educate him after first educating yourself.

Had I known about and used drug testing early, it could have saved our family an exorbitant amount of grief and a wonderful boy’s promising future. 

Drug testing is a tool.  It gives your child a way out and you a partial report card of their progress.  Use it!  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Talk for University Young Adult Ward  August 26, 2012
Elizabeth Willis Barrett

I like to know things precisely.  For instance, when I go into a grocery store looking for the Worcestershire sauce, I want someone to tell me exactly where it is: Oh, that’s on aisle 7 on the right hand side half way down the aisle on the second shelf from the top.  Better yet I want someone to take me right to it, so I won’t waste any time looking.  What I don’t want the store employee to say is: “Worcestershire sauce? Let me see.  I think it’s down Aisle 7.  Aw, you can’t miss it.”  Because I know I can miss it.

I feel like I have missed a few basics in my life in my desire to learn.  I’m still not positive what a browser is or a URL or a PDF file verses a Jpeg.  I’m still trying to figure out depth of field, aperture and shutter speed.  But there are a lot of basics far more important than these that are easily missed.  The one I’d like to discuss with you today is Charity.  Charity is easily missed.

What I wish I could do right now is take you straight to the Charity aisle and show you exactly where it is so that you could put it into your basket of life.  Charity is vital to your happiness, your well being and your eternal welfare.  It is a basic that you must not miss.  

Because “my beloved brethren and sisters, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth.  Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail--
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”
That’s why.

We are commanded to love, even if we don’t feel like it.  When asked what the first commandment of all was, Jesus answered,  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
“And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (see Mark 12:28–31).  
If we love God, we will strive to obey all of the commandments He has given. If we love others, we will treat them as the gospel teaches us to treat them, not as interruptions to our carefully laid plans.
Sophocles wrote: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”15
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said in Mormon Doctrine: Above all the attributes of godliness and perfection, charity is the one most devoutly to be desired. Charity is more than love, far more; it is everlasting love, perfect love, the pure love of Christ which endureth forever. It is love so centered in righteousness that the possessor has no aim or desire except for the eternal welfare of his own soul and for the souls of those around him” (Mormon Doctrine, 121).
We might get away without doing our genealogy or even without playing on the Ward’s Softball team.  But none of us is going to make it without becoming wholeheartedly and totally charitable. 
Charity really matters.  And like anything else that matters, there will be opposition to our attaining it.
So what gets in the way of putting charity into our basket so to speak?
One thing is envy.  It’s hard to love someone with a Christlike love when we are jealous of their looks, their accomplishments, their wealth, their friends.   There is always something to be jealous about.  
Let me tell you about a concept I heard that has made a great difference to me .  I wish I had heard it when I was as young as you are. That concept is this:  As hard as we try we are never going to get 100% in this life.  We weren’t put on this earth to “have it all.”  We only get 80%.  That person you envy doesn’t get 100% either.  He or she only gets 80%.  Let others enjoy their 80% while you enjoy yours. Be happy for their successes.  Love them.  Serve them.  We are each on a different path to get where we need to be. We each have different things to learn while in this mortal condition.
Another quality that gets in the way of Charity is being judgmental.
The Apostle Paul said that those who pass judgment on others are “inexcusable.” The moment we judge someone else, he explained, we condemn ourselves, for none is without sin.5
Do you remember President Uchtdorf’s two word sermon, “Stop It!?”
He said:  “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!”
He continued: “It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”
Another characteristic that gets in the way of Charity is our own self consciousness--our insecurity that keeps us from reaching out to others.  When we let our thoughts be totally consumed with our own problems, our own deficiencies, our own awkwardness, we don’t leave room for love for others.  Our self-ishness gets in the way.
We might think someone doesn’t like us so we back away and aren’t friendly which makes the other person back away and not be friendly.  Which makes us say, “See, I told you she didn’t like me!”  
In President Uctdorf’s words: “Stop it!”  Assume everyone likes you and treat them that way.  Make sure they know that you like them.  Use their names.  Did you know that you can go to the ward website and memorize everyone’s name and face?  Taking time to do that would be very rewarding for all of us.  Then when I ask you what someone’s name is because I’ve forgotten, you’d be able to tell me!
If you want to work on having charity, you’re going to have to forget yourself which I know is much easier said than done, especially when you’re totally ready for Church and someone is waiting to take you there and you dribble toothpaste onto your dark suit or your brand new vintage dress.
I think some come with more charitable tendencies than others.  I know your Bishop does.  He loves everyone.  In Walmart he’ll often call me over to meet the Walmart greeter because he has stopped to talk to her and knows her whole life’s story.  While standing in line at Circle K, he’ll find out all about someone’s tattoos and piercings.  I just want to fill up my very infrequent 44 ouncer and get out without a word to anyone.
So if we need to have charity to make it to the Celestial Kingdom, how are those of us not so inclined going to get it?  Here are some ideas:
#1: Change your thinking
Charitable acts start with charitable thoughts for as a man thinketh in his heart so is he.  When an uncharitable thought enters your mind, you can delete it.  And delete it quickly before it has time to grow.  Exchange a judgmental, unkind thought with a compassionate one until it becomes second nature to think the best of those around you. 
According to Joseph B. Wirthlin, “The more we allow the love of God to govern our minds and emotions and the more we allow our love for our Heavenly Father to swell within our hearts—the easier it is to love others with the pure love of Christ.”   
Charity starts in your mind.
#2: Emulate the life of the Savior. 
Since charity is the pure love of Christ, His life and example will teach us what we must do.  Our ultimate goal in life should be to be more Christlike.  
#3: Serve
Service is a must if we want to grow in charity.  As we serve others, we grow to love them.   President Monson said, “True charity is love in action and the need for charity is everywhere.”
It takes practice to become charitable, the practice of Christlike service.
Charity can turn “have tos” into “want tos.”
“I have to go help George move” becomes “I want to go help George move.”  It will take practice serving when it is inconvenient or unpleasant but the more you do it and as you let your heart fill with love while you serve, the better you will be at it and Christlike service will become joyful to you.  
#4: Pray for it
I think the best thing we can do to be blessed with Charity is to pray for it.  
The prophet Mormon admonished: Wherefore, … pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.....
Get on your knees and beg Heavenly Father to bless you with the gift of charity.  Then get up off your knees and work to be worthy of it.
#5: Rely on the Atonement  
The Atonement was Christ’s greatest act of charity.  Where we fall short, the Savior will pick up the pieces.  When we are mindful of His Atonement and put forth effort, the Savior will help us to master charity. 
Charity won’t come all at once, but as you practice changing your thoughts, following the Savior, giving service, praying for charity, and relying on the Atonement, the pure love of Christ will start to permeate your soul.  Those around you will become more precious and you will find a peace and joy in your life that perhaps has been missing.
Although I love the beautiful words of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 and I hope you’ll read them, I’d like to relate that scripture in a different way:
Though I can prepare a talk and speak angelic words from the pulpit, if I don’t love the people I’m speaking to, I might as well have come up here and blown a blast on a trumpet or hit a cymbal.
And though I can prophecy about who will end up with whom, and understand all the mysteries of biochemistry and have all knowledge of pyschology and even though I have all faith to remove the Superstition Mountains and don’t care about the people I encounter at Target, I am nothing.
And though I pay a lot to fast offerings, and burn up my strength in service projects like Thanksgiving dinner at The Boys and Girls Club and don’t love those people I’m serving, I might as well have held onto my money and stayed home.
Charity calmly puts up with a lot from roommates and is kind to everyone--even old crotchety people; charity doesn’t envy the girl who gets the most text messages from the handsomest boys; charity doesn’t think he’s too cool to chat with those he considers beneath him, because he is not puffed up enough to think that anyone is beneath him.  
Charity doesn’t behave in inappropriate ways like taking advantage of a girl by making her feel like she’s the one one day and dumping her the next, doesn’t seek to always get the biggest piece of pizza, is not easily irritated (although, goodness knows, who wouldn’t get irritated when McDonalds doesn’t get your order right?) and only thinks positive things about herself and others.
Charity rejoiceth in right choices and rejoiceth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in general, just rejoiceth because there is so much to rejoice about.
Charity knows he or she will be given strength to bear hard things, believes in the Plan of Salvation, hopes for a bright future and endureth many dates in order to find his or her Eternal Companion. 
Our University Ward is a great laboratory for learning and practicing charity.  We are all so different in age, experience, temperament, abilities and struggles.  There are those in our Ward who are homesick, are grappling with addictions, are hanging onto their testimonies by their fingernails, are suffering from depression and anxiety.  There are some who are going to try coming to Church just one more time.  It might be your smile or your hello or your reaching out to them that will make an eternal difference in their lives and in the lives of their families.
I have seen your good works and am gratified by the charity that you already display.  I would hope that this University Ward will be so full of charity that it will be palpable to those who spend their valuable time with us.
Charity--you can’t miss it.  You must not miss it.  I must not miss it.  Our eternal welfare depends upon our possession of charity.       

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trifling With Traffic School

Trifling with Traffic School
Elizabeth Willis Barrett..........July 14, 2012
My grandkids just finished watching Toy Story I.  While making puzzles with 6 year old Claire, I kept my eye on the movie and praised its cleverness.  Then I saw something that sounded very familiar.  Woody and Buzz Light Year are desperately trying to catch up with Andy and the moving van.  Woody takes a match--his last--attempting to strike it to light up a rocket that is sure to propel the two macho toys straight to Andy.  When the match goes out before the mission is accomplished, Woody loses it.  He falls to his knees and beats his head against the pavement, all the time moaning, “No, no, no, no, no!”  
A nearly identical scene of grief was acted out by myself recently.  I had finally made it to traffic school to work off my unfortunate yellow-light-sneaking ticket.  I say finally because I had at first paid the unconscionable $360 fine only to find that that admission of guilt bumped me into the Motor Vehicle Department’s disciplinary program that insisted that I then take a Traffic Survival class that would cost another $200.  Because of a kind Mesa City Court Clerk and a kinder judge, I was allowed to retract my guilty plea and instead sign up for a four and a half hour regular Traffic School class.  Upon completion, most of my $360 fine would be refunded.
So, once again saved from my own ignorance, I almost enthusiastically signed up for a class held on a Wednesday from 7:00 to 11:30 am.  I had everything ready the night before so I wouldn’t be late and arrived at a huge bank building on Boston and Arizona Avenue in good time, especially for me.  Too bad I hadn’t paid attention to where to go once I got to the building.  It could have taken me in several directions, but I even had the Traffic School phone number and the answerer of that number directed me.  
I was ready.  “Everyone needs to take this class once in a while,” I thought as I waited for my turn to walk up to the teacher with my $205 money order and my ticket.  My ticket?  Oh, oh.  I had shredded my first ticket hoping another one wouldn’t find me.  And the ticket that had been very sneakily hand-delivered at my front door was thrown away because I had paid the fine.  Why would I want to hold on to that?  I had other papers, though, with my docket number, my infraction number, my name, etc. Surely that would be acceptable.  No?  They needed a copy of my ticket and would take nothing less?  Seriously?!  (I could almost hear the instructor say my grandson Barrett’s favorite line, “I’m seriously!”)
So......with a crimsoned face I took my leave of that early morning class that I had worked so hard to get to on time. My old self would have started crying which would have been even more embarrassing.  But I am trying to take life more casually now, philosophically believing that everything happens for a reason.  I got in my recalcitrant yellow-light-running mini SUV and drove up Arizona Avenue--past Williams Field, past Guadalupe, past Southern, clear to First Avenue in Mesa.  I got to the Mesa City Court and promptly got a copy of my traffic ticket.  I had never taken time to look at that ticket during my last two opportunities.  Yep, that was me in the picture, no doubt about it--sun-glassed and hell-bent for the Institute Building to pick up Kyle. 
When I finally got home after a much deserved and enjoyed visit to the Mesa Library for a stack of books on CD, I immediately signed up for another traffic school class, painstakingly refilling out every *required field.   It isn’t easy to sign up for a class.  They are usually far away and at times that don’t coincide with one’s schedule.  
Luckily, there was a class on the next Saturday.  I would have to come home from the mountains early but at least it was the same Traffic School company that I had already made my money order out to and in the same building so I would know where I was going.
This was a very full class of law-breakers.  I didn’t want to stand in the long line, so waited until the end to take up my check and my retrieved ticket.  Should I have the “chance” again, I won’t be the last to pay.  “The first shall be last and the last shall be first” doesn’t apply in traffic school.  If you pay last, your name is the last one read to receive your certificate.  And you can’t leave the room and get on with life until you get it.
Our instructor was a very genial and informed man.  He had an interesting stomach that hung over his belt with astonishing hugeness, but after I got over its interest, I tried hard to concentrate on his words and learn what I came there to learn.  I even took notes.  Did you know that the “gore area” is that spot before a freeway exit that is marked by two solid lines that come to a point?  Don’t ever enter it.  Did you know that if you get high centered on a railroad track and have to leave your car because a train is coming that you should run toward the train?  Not on the track, of course.  
Things were going along well until the teacher gave us a one and only break.  He warned us that if we weren’t back in exactly 18 minutes, the doors would be locked.  Our class was held on the 3rd floor of the bank building and because it was Saturday, the doors were locked and had to be opened from the inside.  He would leave a “student” at the door to open it for us until exactly 18 minutes later.  If we weren’t back on time, we would be shut out from the class and would have to take it again.  The threat hit its mark.  “Please don’t make me retake this time-eating, money-eating class!”  
Because it was lunch time and I was starving and had forgotten to put granola bars in my purse as I had remembered for the Wednesday class, I got in the car and drove to Jack in the Box, as did several of my classmates.  I don’t know what possessed me--some Ghost of Minutes Long, or something.  Because when I drove the two minutes to Jack in the Box, I actually chose to go to the bathroom before ordering.  What a stupid thing to do!  The instructor had already given us full permission to leave the class for bathroom purposes.  Why take even a moment of the valuable 18 minute break time to go to the bathroom?  Then I ordered.  Not a full meal.  Not a greasy, calorie infested hamburger with fries and a shake.  No, just three cheese sticks.  That’s all I wanted.  Three fat-oozing cheese sticks that could hold me over ‘til the end of class.  It took forever!  I stood there trying to determine exactly when my 18 minutes would be up while my stomach rolled at the thought of getting locked out.  I should have just left the place cheese stick-less, but $3.00 is $3.00.  Time and money always seem to be an issue.  
I was definitely tempting fate.  Since fate hadn’t been helping me out much lately, that was a very chancy thing to do.  After snatching the finally offered bag of repast, I hurdled into my car and lurched it into submission.  But I quickly realized that I couldn’t drive directly back the way I had come. Arizona Avenue has an island that can’t be crossed in certain places--certain places that were very important to me at that moment.  I couldn’t turn left, so I had to turn right, stop at a light that was, of course, red and then make a U-turn back again.  I was near to sobbing.  If it would have helped, I would have rolled down the window, shaken a fist at the heavens and screamed, “Eighteen minutes for a lunch break is ridiculous!”  
I couldn’t speed back to class.  Another ticket wouldn’t have helped my cause.  So I prayed.  “Please, please help me get back to class on time.  Please, please let there be someone there to unlock the door!  Please say that the instructor was just joking when he said he would lock us out.  Please, please, please don’t make me have to take the class again!”
I slammed into a parking space and ran to the door with my unopened bag of  cheese sticks.  The door was locked.  Just like Mr. What’s It said it would be.  Locked!  I crumpled.  My hands slid down the glass with my nose sliding above them.  “No, no, no, no, no!”  Thus my similarity to Woody.  And all for three cheese sticks that would probably never get eaten.  
I picked myself up with great effort and was just about to slither back to the car when three other students came dashing around the corner of the building.  I wasn’t alone!  I had someone to commiserate with.  Someone with whom to bellyache about the unfairness of it all.  
“We got back on time!” the blond careless looking young man claimed.  “The clock must be wrong in there.”
“I can’t take this class again,” the hard diminutive woman voiced.  She looked like cigarettes had painfully smoked the life out of her.  “I’ve got eight kids.  I’m a single mom and I’m the only one who works.  There’s no way I can pay another $200!”
My life looked pretty good after that declaration.  
The third delinquent looked stunned into silence.
We all tried both doors again.  We all peered through the glass with our faces smashed and distorted trying to conjure up a soul who would unlock the door.  We all cursed the dutiful do-gooder of a door keeper who had carried out his duties so precisely.  We all looked in our phones to see if somehow we could find the Traffic School phone number even if it was a Saturday.  Nothing.  Our lateness had belted us in our tender stomachs making hope whoosh out.
And then came the miracle. 
“The instructor told me to come down and let you guys in,” said the assigned and accursed door keeper as he pushed the door open from the inside.  We’d been saved!
Up the elevator to the third floor, I assume we each said our own silent prayer of thanks.  I said mine anyway.  Then we entered the stuffy instruction room  and sat in our chairs nonchalantly as though we hadn’t just been a howling, sniveling mess of humanity. 
Relief blanketed me.  Once again I had been rescued.  “Oh ye of little faith,” I seemed to hear in a far corner of my mind. I felt like Woody must have felt when he miraculously landed “kerplunk” in the box right next to Andy. 
I finished the class.  I got my certificate--the last person in the room to do so.
I drove home with care and a feeling of liberation, stopping obediently at any hint of yellow.  Non-obediently--since we were taught in class not to eat while driving--I reached inside the offending bag of cheese sticks, brought one out and took a bite.  Cold and rubbery.  Definitely not worth the consternation they had caused.  But I had made it through another of life’s crises.  All was well!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Please Enjoy the Music? Impossible!

Elizabeth Barrett
June 20, 2012
When placing a phone call, as soon as I hear the word “Please...” I groan.  Because what is certain to follow is “....enjoy the music while your party is being reached.”  And then comes such an assault on my ears that every nerve is jangled as with the skill of a bell ringer.  I can’t enjoy the music, can you?  It is not music.  Even when the “song” is something I vaguely recognize, it is not music.  It is a cacophony of harsh, grinding, unremitting noise.  The sane person would simply hold the phone calmly an arm’s length from his ear until the din subsides and the pleasant, well-meaning call-ee answers.  But I always use ear phones with my calls and pulling them out each time my ears are attacked is rather inconvenient. 
The ones that put that “music” on their phones must never call themselves or they would know the disservice they render.   It couldn’t actually cost a monthly fee to keep that reverberation going, could it?  If it does, I would ask you to save your money and save what’s left of my hearing! Please!

Friday, June 8, 2012


Elizabeth Willis Barrett
June 6, 2012
(Reading this essay may save you some grief!)
Have you ever come up to a yellow light and debated a second too long whether to stop or not?  You must choose to slide on through the yellow or squeal your brakes causing bodies and 44 ouncers to slosh dangerously.  A second to decide is all you’ve got.  
I came to a light at Dobson and Main and my split second decision was decidedly the wrong one.  I drove through the yellow only to see a flash of brilliance that made my stomach reel.  Photo radared again!  Before this incident, I had received only one unflattering blurred picture of myself driving.  I took it to a complaint department and asked them how they could tell it was me.  He was very kind and said there was no denying the likeness.  He also told me how the lights are synchronized and that I did have time to stop but chose not to.  Off to traffic school I marched to avoid the fine and the record.
When this next expected indistinct photo arrived in the mail connected to a traffic ticket, I ignored it as many experienced photoed drivers have advised me to do.  Unfortunately, a hungry ticket issuer decided to knock on my door one evening with a copy of said ticket.  
“Are you Elizabeth Barrett?” she asked. Thinking she had something exciting to offer me, I admitted that I was.  “Here!” she said and thrust an envelope into my hand before she scampered away out of the porch’s light.  I felt the same way I used to feel as a kid when a racing child slammed me with, “Tag, you’re it!”  This one I knew I couldn’t run from.  
I didn’t want to spend a whole day in traffic school which also came with a rather steep price tag, so I opted to pay the very hefty fine of $361.50 which sounded a bit over the top for not stopping at a yellow.  I paid it anyway just to be done with the whole thing and thought I was.  

Yesterday, however, I got a letter which showed that not only was I not done, but the can of worms was proliferating.   
The letter was from the MVD.  It stated: “The following action has been ordered against your driving and/or vehicle registration privileges.” I thought that their letter had been sent before they realized that I had already paid the fine.  So I called the number given for those with questions.  Surely I could quickly explain that I had already paid the fine so they could cross me off their hassle list.  But as the young-man-in-training who was trying to help me explained, the MVD letter was totally separate from the court-issued ticket I had received.  In essence, he told me that since I had paid the fine, I had admitted to a traffic light violation.  Because Arizona is number one (or somewhere near) in red light run-ons, the state legislature has made a law that anyone admitting to running a light must take an eight hour Traffic Survival Class which could cost up to $200.  Therefore, my unfortunate second of mis-calculation could cost me about $561.50 plus eight grueling hours of class time.  Better than my life or someone else’s, I know.  But it seems like a high penalty for running a yellow light.   
I have a great respect for the law.  We should be held accountable when we make an error.  If we weren’t, there would be lots more funerals which would be terrible, especially if we know and love the one being grieved over.  I usually don’t even rail against photo radar because it keeps infractions down.  If it means I have to take my turn in traffic school once in a while, I’ll do it.  I just think the punishment should match the crime.  
Since I’ve had prevention on my mind a lot recently, I have three tidbits of advice to give to help you prevent the torment of a yellow light violation.
#1.  When approaching a yellow light, STOP!  Don’t try to out guess if it has a camera connected to it or not. Just STOP! Throw your right arm out to keep everything from continuing it’s forward thrust, and stomp your right foot on the brake.  The two minutes you save won’t be worth doing otherwise. 

#2.  If your doorbell rings, before you answer it, make sure you check the peephole to see who is standing there trying to look innocent.  If he/she looks like he/she is hiding an envelope behind his/her back, get away from the door and make absolutely no noise.  Hopefully, he/she will think you’re not home even though all cars are in the carport and your house lights are blazing.  If you do not receive an official summons, you cannot be held responsible.
#3.   If you fail to follow the first two pieces of advice, at least follow this one: When that letter is personally delivered to you by a nervous stranger, read every word of it so you don’t miss the fine print.  That print will probably say, “if you pay this fine you are admitting that you were wrong in a light violation.”  And if you pay the fine, the Court will send that guilty verdict to the MVD.  I don’t know why the MVD gets involved but they do. Then the MVD will require you to take an expensive eight hour class totally unrelated to the court requirement.  Fair?  I don’t think so.  But there it is.
Happy driving and just in case--keep smiling!