Sunday, January 10, 2021

2020 - The Year of Climbing Mountains.


Mount Shasta, California
Climbing mountains is the best description of 2020 I can devise. Leaving New York, finding a job, driving across the country, the death of my older sister, the COVID 19 pandemic, teaching remotely, social distancing, the death of my favorite cat, forest fires, and an imploding president are some of the mountains I climbed this past year.  

Some 'climbing' was physical. I drove through the Appalachians, Smokeys, Rockies, Sierra Nevada and the Cascades to get back to my old school district in Washington to fill a need as a long term substitute teacher for the school I had lived near for 14 years.  Working with people I knew, my daughter's previous teachers and in my old neighborhood? How could I say no that?

Some 'climbing' was emotional. I hadn't planned on ever moving back to Washington and was so content on the east coast, but to continue my career, Washington was my best bet. New York would only allow me to teach Earth Science and I wanted the option of teaching biology, chemistry and math. It was hard at first, but people welcomed me 'home' with open arms. I am back working with students, families and friends that I love. The pandemic has made things difficult, but not insurmountable.

Doing the best thing, the right thing, is not most often easy. It is, in fact, most often difficult. But after I climb that difficult mountain, I relish the view and the pride I feel in my accomplishment. And I learned to find joy in the journey. I visited a younger sister in Virginia and went to plop my feet into the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in my life. I drove to the Raleigh, North Carolina, to the Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and observed the temple work of my father, brother, grandfather and great grandfather. I was sealed to my parents for time and all eternity, and participated in the sealing of my parents to each other, my brother to my parents, my grandparents together, my father to his parents (my grandparents) and my grandfather to his parents. 4 generations of Soutars sealed. A mountain peak of peace and gratitude, 41 years in the making.

I drove to Myrtle Beach and saw a friend from home whom I had not seen since graduation in 1979. I saw my older sister a mere few weeks before she passed away. I saw my daughter before the pandemic kept us two highly-infected states apart. I drove through new states! Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. All along my two, well-traveled kitties in the car who kept me deliciously cuddled in Motel 6 beds across America. I Facebook haikued my way across the mild, southern, February landscape and up the west coast back to Bothell where I was embraced with love and bids to 'come see us.'

And here I sit hoping for fewer mountains to climb this year, but the nation in crisis after the attack on the Nation's Capitol January 6, the constant change of growing older and the hope for a COVID vaccine sooner rather than later are my first hurtles. There will be more...and I must patiently remember: JOY IN THE JOURNEY.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Seasonal Influenza Death Totals Compared to COVID 19 Deaths as of July 31, 2020.

"The seasonal flu kills people, too." 

Ok, yes it does. People have said it, but they haven't backed up their statement with data.

I'm a science teacher, so I want numbers. I went to the CDC. The data is public.

The following number of estimated deaths OF ALL AGES occurred during these associated years. 

2018-19 34,157 deaths
2017-18 61,099 deaths
2016-17 38,230 deaths
2015-16 22,705 deaths
2014-15 51,376 deaths
2013-14 37,930 deaths
2012-13 42,570 deaths
2011-12 12,447 deaths
2010-11 36,656 deaths

Keeping in mind that there is a seasonal shot for the seasonal flu, and nowhere are there remotely accurate estimates of how many influenza cases are PREVENTED by the flu shot, let's compare the number flu deaths per YEAR (12 months) to the number of COVID 19 deaths thus far recorded (6 months - end of Jan - July 31, 2020) by the CDC. (July, 31, 2020)

So far there are 151,499 deaths due to COVID 19 in the first 6 months of 2020. If we look at the number of deaths for 12 months for each of the years listed above, it would take the sum of last 4 years of flu deaths (2015-2019) to come close to how many COVID 19 has killed already for 2020. 

Total number of flu deaths recorded in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 = 150,191 deaths, still lower than today's COVID 19 total (as of this writing) of 151,499.

If you look at the particularly hard flu years of 2012, 2014 and 2017 and add them together, you get 155,045 flu deaths, which is actually more than today's total COVID 19 deaths. There were 1,216 new COVID deaths recorded since yesterday. If we make a blatantly unscientific assumption that the same number will continue to die every day after today, (I could run an algorithm to extrapolate the data into a best fit curve, but it's summer...) 2020 COVID 19 deaths would reach the same number of deaths as the three highest flu seasons above by August 3, 2020 at approximately 4 pm, CDC time.

So, yes, the flu kills people. Lots of people. There is a flu shot. It does help stem the spread of the seasonal influenza, some. It is not 100% effective. I have had the flu, twice. Once without a shot (age 15) and once with a shot (40 something). Not something I want to repeat. I get a flu shot every year. 

The numbers show that this new coronavirus which causes COVID 19 is a more lethal illness than seasonal influenza. Numbers do not have emotions. Numbers do not choose sides of political or personal arguments. Numbers are what they are, representative data of each person who has lost their battle against a terrible disease.

I do not want to experience COVID 19. I do not want to cough and choke for breath. My mother had asthma, that is what she died from when I was 16. I watched her die. It is a violent way to go.

My age and underlying health conditions would no doubt cause any health care provider great concern as to the outcome of my battle with this disease. They cause ME concern.

So, I will stay where I am. I will cautiously leave my disease free domicile in small trips for necessities and an occasional social distanced, outdoor excursion. I believe that battling COVID 19 is a far greater threat to my freedom to enjoy life than wearing a mask.

Check out the CDC numbers; they speak for themselves.

Aug 3 update:  at 7:35 Pacific Daylight time the CDC reports 155, 204 deaths.

Copyright 2020

Penny Lee Soutar

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Life in the Time of Corona Virus

I didn't worry about catching it at first; I was more worried about being asymptomatic and giving it to someone who was vulnerable. Now that has changed, as I have learned that my age of 58 in combination with my high blood pressure puts me in that category. So I keep my distance.

I started my new job as a long term science sub at Leota Middle School on February 24. I saw students for all of 7 school days before we closed. I won't see them again for the rest of the year.

I've made a couple of masks, the first from a fitted bedsheet and harvested elastic, the second from a small bit of fabric I purchased on sale before I left New York. Lucky for me it was 100% cotton and a much higher thread count than the bedsheet. Yes, I buy cheap sheets.

I wore it once out and then washed it again directly. I don't think I am claustrophobic but can't tolerate tight collars. Not too bad since I only go out about once per week. Being one person alone, it is not hard to stock up, and I did that in anticipation of the stay at home order. I also purchased an Instant Pot before all this and my freezer is now full of soup. It'll last.

So after my experimental cooking endeavors, I have found it useful to be creative every day in some way. While constructing lessons for my classes I get to explore online science simulations and videos, then whirl them into engaging activities for my 7th and 8th graders. I've created videos of my nature walks and melded my ocean photos with a poetry reading of "Sea Fever" by John Mansfield.

I've painted a wooden sign to match my tropical colors of turquoise and bright blue. And I knit every day, just a straight garter stitch wrap in light purples and greens. My biceps tendonitis limits the number of rows I can do, but I still try to get in 5 or 6 a day.

I have done a little bit of unpacking, putting up artwork on the walls, living with it for a while, then moving it on to a new spot. I didn't bring furniture with me, so my apartment is arrayed with a lawn chair, some folding tables, mattress pads and a few crates for the TV to sit on. I'm camping but very comfortable.

And so it is...but for how long?

Penny Lee Soutar

On the Burial of My Older Sister

My sister Jo Ellen, who passed away Feb 29, was laid to rest yesterday in the same grave as her husband. I wrote this poem to express my sorrow, but it keeps leaking out of my eyes.
On the Burial of My Older Sister
I walked alone a mile today
And noticed blossoms on the way.
Junco parents thought it best
To curse and drive me from their nest.
You did not see; you did not hear;
Because you are far gone from here.
But when we meet again we'll sing
Of burdocks, cow pies, snow in spring,
And waterfalls and ships that sail-
When next we meet beyond the veil. 
Penny Lee Soutar
10 July 2020
Photograph from Kim Newell-Johns

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 The Year of Learning

I learned a great deal about myself this year. I learned about my past. I learned about my future. I learned Heavenly Father is with me in my greatest joys and my lowest lows. My head knew this, but now my heart does. I am a Child of God.

I learned a great deal about others. I learned things I surmised I would ever learn. Sad things. Abusive and unkind things that seem impossible but exist in the mortal world because we humans have agency - the right to choose how we treat others. I learned to do battle. I learned to walk away. I learned who I am not. I am a child of Integrity

Armed with this knowledge I will go forward into 2020 with greater testimony of peace, compassion and unwavering loyalty. I will go forward into rain storms with zero visibility and come out dry on the other side. I will serve the under privileged, the under represented and the under sieged and not falter in need. I am a child of Love.

Penny Lee Soutar
Copyright Dec 31, 2019

Thursday, May 2, 2019


I've enjoyed seeing how many friends are celebrating this Easter holiday. I went to church, thankful that Tamara Soutar sacrificed sleeping in so I could worship with my congregation. Came home, put a small ham in the oven and took a nap. Mom requested sweet potatoes and asparagus, so those were served with the ham, as well as bread and butter. We had a diabetic friendly small dessert and some family chat. Dylan surprised his grandma with a visit and of course, Buttons the dog also enjoyed Dylan's visit.
This day is about love. The undeniable, all encompassing, perfect love that our Heavenly Father has for us. So much love that he sent our brother, Jesus Christ, to Earth to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. As profound and incomprehensible as it seems, the Savior took upon himself the sins of all the past, present and future inhabitants of the Earth, suffering beyond mortal understanding all the pain and sorrow that we do not suffer because of his infinite atoning act. This atonement has made a profound impact in my life and I invite you to discover the impact it can make in yours.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

One in Christ

I have been asked to speak on Elder Ulisses Soares' General Conference talk “One in Christ.”

In it, he compares the Restored Church of Jesus Christ to the mighty Amazon River, which is a blending of the Solimões and Negro rivers. I did a little research and discovered the following:  These rivers flow side-by-side over distance of six kilometres. The reason they never mix is because of the distinct differences in temperature, speed and water density between the two. The Solimões is faster, cooler and denser, its waters flowing up to 6 km/h at 22 degrees Celsius, and the warmer, slower waters of the Rio Negro flow more slowly 2 km/h, and maintain a temperature of around 28 degrees Celsius.

Elder Soares says when new members join the church and truly merge with its membership the restored Church of Jesus Christ becomes even stronger and steadier. 

What does merging with the church mean? 

He quotes Moroni 6: 4-5:

4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

How do we nourish new members of the church?

First of all, I didn’t say CONVERTS, because we are all CONVERTS.

Elder Soares says we can help them do this in three ways, 1) they need to have friends; 2) They need assignments; and 3) They need to learn Gospel principles.

So, how we nourish new members of the church? I did some more research and put Elder Soares' questions in an anonymous Google survey and gave it to some of my friends, (no one from this ward.) 

Here are some of the concepts I learned:

  1. I am a PERSON not a PROJECT. You may be assigned to minister to me, but please love me and treat me like a friend. Our spirits are siblings. That doesn’t necessarily mean I need a LOT of friends, just good ones. Take time to get to know me! Ask me to do things with you outside of church. I’ll make time for you.

  1. Presume positive intent. Kindness goes a long way. Harsh words could drive me and my family away for generations. I know I need to learn to repent and forgive also, but it is hard to learn the gospel if I don’t feel comfortable in my ward. I’ll try to be positive as well.

  1. Don’t make assumptions such as, because I wasn’t born in the covenant I am less than a person who was. I am at a different place in my eternal progression than others. We are all at different places. Please be patient with me as I learn the Gospel, after all you are still learning too. And likewise, I’ll try not to assume that you know everything because you have been in the church longer than I have. We do not fit stereotypes; we are unique children of Heavenly Father.

  1. Having a calling is wonderful, so please help I have the training and support I need to carry out my responsibility. If I don’t know who to talk to, help me find out. Point me to members and sources in the ward, and in books or online. I’ll ask if I need help, but If I feel overwhelmed, I may not know who or what to ask.

  1. Help me to learn the Gospel! Help me understand the scriptures, have the lesson manuals I need, and go to my classes. Do I have a ride to Sunday meetings or church activities? Ask me! Sometimes it’s had to advocate for myself because I feel like I am bothering others. When I learn these things I can help others.

  1. I know the church has a place for me, please help me find it. I am looking, really I am. If you have found your place, then guide me to mine.

We all know that we are imperfect people trying to learn, live and teach the gospel to each other. When we genuinely focus on individuals, we make the connections that bring us closer together as a community and church as a whole. I think the Primary Children’s Song Book easily covers these concepts:

I Am a Child of God,  I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,  Love One Another,  Jesus said Love Everyone,  Give Said the Little Stream,  We Welcome You,  Our Door is Always Open,  We are Different, and my personal favorite,  Kindness Begins with Me. 

Elder Soares says of new members:

“They leave behind a world they knew well and choose to follow Jesus Christ, with full purpose of heart, joining a new “river” like the mighty Amazon River—a river that is a valiant force of goodness and righteousness that flows toward the presence of God.”

I’d like to return to the metaphor of the two distinctly different rivers merging together into the mighty Amazon. 

When I first read about the specifics of the difference in the Solimões and Negro rivers, my science teacher sense kicked in. One river carries sand, silt and clay, small particles of weathered rock. These particles are carried from high in the Andes Mountains and deposited in the ocean as the speed of the Amazon river slows down when it mixes with the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Brazil. The other river carries dissolved nutrients which are deposited in the same underwater region in likewise manner. To me, when I see sediments mixed with nutrients, I know that the end result of this mixture is underwater soil. So, in my final research, I searched for the conditions of the underwater areas in the Amazon Delta. In 2016, a massive coral reef that stretches for some 600 miles was discovered in these the muddy waters at the mouth of the river, and spans 3,600-square miles along the ocean floor. 

These two great rivers, flow alongside each other and finally merge, bringing life giving waters to this coral reef. It is unique, perhaps even peculiar in a sense, since it is deeper and darker that what is expected for a reef, but it is a direct result of the mixing of the two rivers. The sand, silt and clay particles provide stability and surfaces for plants and coral to grow. The dissolved nutrients provide the organic compounds necessary to nourish the flora and fauna. Each river, by itself will not not produce this precious coral reef burgeoning with life. It is only when they travel side by side and merge together they can provide the necessary environment for life to thrive.

Brothers and Sisters, we, both new and experienced members, are the rivers. Together we flow, side by side, each having a place in God’s kingdom, until we merge into the mighty Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And with oneness in Christ, provide structure and nourishment for the restoration of the fullness gospel throughout the earth, so that we may, with our other brothers and sisters throughout all time and eternity, flow toward Christ our Redeemer.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Copyright 2018 Penny Lee Soutar