My Grandfather, Franklin Smuin, LDS Missionary 1915-1917, Southern California

Smuin, Franklin, Missionary 1915-1917   Smuin, Frank with mission companion, LA

Today I received a fabulous treasure in the mail–these two photographs of my grandfather, Franklin Smuin, who served an LDS mission 100 years ago.

I can’t even remember what took me to the Early Mormon Missionaries database, but I was there and looking for some family members when I noticed the photo above (left) posted with my grandpa’s information.  I’d never seen that photo before.  It made my heart pound.

My mother had given me these 2 photos from his mission: Smuin Franklin Missionary, top leftFranklin is in the top row, far left.  Below Franklin is with 3 others.Smuin, Frank with Elders

These are the only photos I had of Franklin before he was married in 1924.  I contacted the Early Mormon Missionaries database to ask who had submitted the wonderful photo of Franklin.  It turns out that the man overseeing the database knew me.  He contacted the woman who had submitted the photo and gave her my contact info.

I’ve been corresponding with her ever since.  Her name is Mary Ann and she lives in Salt Lake County.  She told me she inherited her grandfather’s missionary scrapbook and it was filled with photos of the places he’d served and his missionary companions and friends.  Some had captions and some did not.  Franklin’s photo had his name and we were able to identify him in other photos.  She was kind enough to share the images with those managing the database.  Because she shared, I am now holding these beautiful treasures!

When I learned that her grandfather was Elder Daniel Probert, I was thrilled that he was one of the Elders captioned in the photo I had and possibly in the group photo.  I was able to share my photos with her.

This week I’ve been reading about many of my ancestors who served LDS missions a long long time ago.  I feel connected to them and feel love for them.  Their families and descendants have been blessed because of their service.  I can see it and I can feel it down through the generations.

I am grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ that is so compelling and brings us such happiness that we leave our homes and families just at the thought that someone we share it with might listen and find the joy we feel.  That’s why I am here now, in Washington, away from my family, sharing what I know and what I believe with others.

A couple of nights ago, I was considering these things when a FB message popped up on my computer screen.  It’s from the son of dear friends I taught in South Africa, where I was a missionary 35 years ago.  It brought me to tears.

Dear Ann,
I have been asked to give a talk next week about the blessings of the priesthood in my life for a session in Stake conference and today while I was thinking about it I had this incredible experience that I felt prompted that I should share with you. I have been thinking about my topic for weeks and for the most part I could only come up with generic answers. I was struggling to see what those blessings were specifically because they are so intertwined in my life. My parents ensured that we were brought up in that environment.

Today though, in the temple rededication, I was thinking how grateful I am that I have been sealed to my family and then in my mind I could see a timeline of all the blessings that I have received from the priesthood play out. From callings that I have now, to home teachers, to father’s blessings, to a mission that changed my life, to wise council from priesthood leaders and a patriarchal blessing, to receiving the priesthood, to baptism and the sacrament, to being sealed and being blessed as a baby.

Those blessings are the core of all my happiness and hope. My whole life is based around it. Whenever I think of the blessings of the gospel I always first think of my incredible parents who, having hardly any experience, made sure our home was a place the Spirit could dwell and where the gospel was taught. After that though, I always think of the incredible missionaries that my parents told me about that brought that gift to our family. I don’t like to get soppy (it ruins the tough, rugby player image I’m trying to create) but I want you to know that I am eternally grateful for not only what you shared with my parents but also who you were and are. The gospel is the source of every happiness I have and I received it through your faithful service and the way you have shown your love to me and my family has given me another example of how to live it.

I just felt that I needed to let you know that your small acts over 30 years have completely changed my life for good in every way and that outside of my parents and siblings, I don’t see anyone in a higher light or consider anyone more like family.
Thank you always

With all my heart, I know that God lives and loves us.  He sent his Son to provide a way for us to return to Him someday.   I am grateful for the peace and happiness I feel every day as I try to follow His plan for me.

This week I have felt surrounded by love–from my ancestors who believed and made sacrifices to share with others, from families I taught when I was a missionary long ago, and from missionaries that surround me today.  My heart is full.

2017-6-6 (14)


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God’s Perfect Scheduling

2017-5-27 zCowiche Canyon wildflowers (8)We are on the road, away from our Yakima home for several weeks each transfer.  Our lives revolve in these 6-week periods.  This afternoon we were returning home through the Canyons behind our mission home and the hills that were covered in purple Lupine last week, were decorated in yellow this week.  For a minute I felt sad that I’d missed the wildflowers that had passed, but then I felt thrilled that new ones had bloomed.2017-5-27 zCowiche Canyon wildflowers (4)I marveled that Heavenly Father created such a lovely world for us, with on-going beauty for us to enjoy, every day, every month, every year.  What if all the wildflowers bloomed at the same time?  His timing is perfection.  It’s continual.  It moves us forward, from one season to the next, from one year to the next.2017-5-27 zCowiche Canyon wildflowers (5)I was sad that we were so busy this spring that we had no time to walk into the blooming apple orchards here and inhale the fragrance.  We just sped by them, and then before we knew it, the blossoms were gone.  But within days, the Dogwood trees were exploding in brilliant pinks and whites. Now the Dogwoods have faded, their petals have fallen on the ground.  Soon we will be eating cherries and other early varieties of fruit from the orchards that surround us.  Anticipation moves us forward, ever onward.2017-5-27 zCowiche Canyon wildflowers (12)I’ve been working on a blog post about my 2nd Great-grandfather, Jacob Bushman, and his death in 1919.  Twenty years before, his wife, my beloved Charlotte died in 1899, the year after their granddaughter, my grandma Ruby was born.

I wonder if Heavenly Father schedules our time on earth like he schedules wildflowers, with continual blooming throughout each season.  We are family, and we take turns coming to earth, where we each have our season to grow, to spread fragrance, seeds and beauty.  And then we pass.  But our families continue on, moving forward, ever onward.2017-5-27 zCowiche Canyon wildflowers (10)Those who have “visited” heaven, or who have had near-death experiences often return describing the exquisite beauty of the plants and flowers growing there.  They describe colors unlike anything seen on earth.  Some have even described the beautiful sound of blossoms opening.

Heavenly Father is a Master Creator and a Master Scheduler.  And we are His children, organized into families.  We take turns coming here, to earth.  We take turns going Home to family there.  I am grateful that when we are Home again, we and our beloved family members will bloom there together forever.

Posted in Family History, Thoughts and Insights | 1 Comment

“to be held in remembrance”

2017-5-20 Stake Conf The Dalles (1)

This afternoon we attended a Stake Conference in The Dalles Stake.  During the 4:00 Priesthood Leadership Meeting, I sat in the foyer, preparing my talk for the evening session.  I couldn’t help but notice a grandma near me writing in what looked like a journal.

The talk I was preparing was on Family history and preserving our family stories, so I watched this lovely lady intently as she wrote, and smiled and wrote more.  I loved what I was seeing.  After the meeting ended, I introduced myself and made a new friend–Harriett Madden, grandma to a lucky 23-year-old granddaughter who will receive this book–this perfect gift–for her birthday in a few months.

We had a delightful visit about what she was writing and sharing–her stories.  What I watched reminded me of 3 scriptures I’ve been thinking about:

D&C 127:9 talks about records and how things like histories, stories and testimonies should be “held in remembrance from generation to generation.”  What does it mean to be held in remembrance?  If it’s not recorded, it won’t be remembered.

2 Nephi 25:22 also talks about records and says “these things shall go from generation to generation, as Nephi describes what and why we should write.  In verse 26 he says that we write “that our children may know.”  How will they know if we don’t record our experiences?

In Jacob 4:1-3, Jacob writes (about 500 BC):

1. Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain;

2. But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers—

3. Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents.

4. For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.

I loved watching Sister Madden as I thought about the reasons we write and record.

2017-5-20 Stake Conf The Dalles (4)

These things remind me of my 20 November 2013 post:


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The Calf Path by Sam Walter Foss

Calf Path

One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should,
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer, the calf is dead;
But still behind he left this trail,
And thereon hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way,
And then a wise bell-weather sheep
Pursued that trail o’er dale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-weathers always do.

And from that day o’er hill and glade
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because ‘twas such a crooked path;
But still they follow–do not laugh–
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

The forest became a lane
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath that burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The village road became a street,
And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this
In a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Followed the wanderings of this calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed this zigzag calf about;
And o’er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one poor calf, three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For just such reverence is lent
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And in and out, and forth and back,
And still their devious paths pursue,
To keep the paths that others do.

But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach —
But I am not ordained to preach.

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Ann Laemmlen and Mary Ellen Edmunds in Nigeria: Our report to headquarters 27 October 1984

2017-05-18_221335From 1984-1987 I lived in Eket, Nigeria.  Mary Ellen Edmunds and I were sent to direct a child health project for the Thrasher Research Fund in Salt Lake City.  I recently found this report we sent to headquarters not long after we first arrived there.

We lived in The Palace, mostly without electricity or running water.  We helped build our furniture and we killed lots of cockroaches.  It was a grand adventure!  This letter gives a fun taste of establishing ourselves in an African village.2Nig174

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 1

The Palace:Nig077

The generator house:2Nig114

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 2


The local markets:Nig041Nig038Nig039

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 32Nig177

Collected rain water::Nig084

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 42Nig104

Furnishing The PalaceNig0652Nig1072Nig1342Nig105

Film canisters filled with spices, and a few things we brought from home:2Nig095

We had to filter, boil and chlorinate our water and soak all of our local fruit and produce in a chlorine solution.

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 5

2Nig119  Cockroach has wings

Dedication of the chapel in Aba.  This was the first building built to be an LDS Church in the whole Cross River State area.  Now there is a temple there.2Nig2902Nig325.jpg17097945_10210905722353402_2298671528927089642_o.jpg2Nig458

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 6Killing bugs:


Eket Branch meeting in Samuel and Cecilia’s home:Nig0961984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 7Baptisms:2Nig304

On this day, more than 60 people were baptized.  You can see the 3 baptismal sites below:2Nig310Some of the men were confirmed, and received the Priesthood so they could baptize their family members.2Nig3132Nig321

Dinner with the Tretheways and Madsens:2Nig253

1984-10-27 Eket to SLC Letter 8Cecilia working in the garden planting waterleaf:Nig025

Our front yard with my pineapple crop:2Nig361Grass grew non-stop in my pineapple garden:Nig078Chief’s wife, Ama Imeh helping in our garden:Nig079Wandering Bob “mowing the lawn”Nig080Our garden, before and after–ground nuts, waterleaf, potatoes, beans:2Nig092

2Nig179   2Nig1362Nig096Nig0812Nig097  2Nig140

What our rice looks like before cleaning it.  Yes, those are bugs.  Yes we ate it all.2Nig151

This sweet child is Doraty.  She was 9 years old and weighed 23 lbs.  We called her “broomstick” because her arms and legs were no larger.  Her little belly was filled with roundworms living on whatever little food she received.  2Nig166

Here is Doraty’s family, the Bassey Udoeyos.  They were our dear friends and neighbors. Sister Helen, the mom had 9 children.  They lived on what they could produce.2Nig1702Nig465

We gave the children worm medicine to kill the worms in their bellies.  Here is Esther, Doraty’s sister with the worms she passed the next morning:2Nig330

Helen named her 9th child after me:  Ann Bassey Davies Udoeyo:2Nig2672Nig4612Nig417

Samuel and Cecilia and their family, our neighbors, mentors and dear friends:2Nig2282Nig2352Nig462

Eket Branch members at our new meeting place:2Nig2992Nig4312Nig467

I served as the Relief Society President in this dear Branch.2Nig2872Nig2812Nig456

Fetching water–the children bathe, wash laundry and gather drinking water all in the same place.  No wonder the children are so often weak and sick.Nig0582Nig1912Nig199

We taught and trained 100s of men and women to be Village Health Workers during the next 3 years, working in more than 25 villages.  Here are a few of these good friends.  I hope their lives were better because we were there.2Nig3372Nig3402Nig3492Nig3482Nig377Branch members participated too:2Nig3442Nig3452Nig3472Nig167

A big part of my heart will always be here, in Eket with these dear friends and with Mary Ellen, who taught me to love more than I’d ever loved before.

Posted in Family History, Humanitarian Work | 6 Comments

Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo0320Thinking of my mom today, on Mother’s Day.

Here is an essay I happened across this week that speaks to my heart in many ways.  Not all of us had perfect mothers or perfect relationships.  We all struggle.  My mom struggled.  But so do I.  “We don’t just love people for their strengths. We love them for their struggles. I suppose the lesson is in learning to trust that God trusts us. Flaws and all.”

I’m Celebrating Mother’s Day Differently This Year
PUBLISHED ON May 13, 2017
by Toni Sorenson

I must love and trust you all because I’m sharing something that’s sacred to me: a portrait of my mother. It is, after all, that time of year to honor those who gave us birth and those who’ve given us life. (think about that for a sec, will ya?) I’ve always loathed Mother’s Day because I leave church as wilted as the little pink geranium passed out to the mothers in the congregation. I never measure up to the standard preached from the pulpit. I never will.

This year I’m in a mind to turn the whole thing upside down. Mother’s Day is no longer about my kids honoring me. It’s about honoring the women who have mothered me. They are legion. My own mother was my world when I was growing up. She was an alcoholic, so my childhood was mapped with all kinds of experiences: good and anything but good. Mom was gone long before I became a teenager, leaving me an orphan, someone in dire need of mothering.

John Updike believed, “It’s easy to love people in memory; the hard thing is to love them when they are in front of you.” I spent most of my life assuring myself Mom was a wonderful mother because to say anything less would be disloyal to her memory. But then I went to therapy. That’s where I learned I could still be loyal, still love Mom, and still tell the truth. That’s when I saw my mother as something more than a woman who had given birth. She was a woman with a past, a woman with dreams that came true and disappointments that devastated her. She had relationships. She had talents. She had secrets and desires. She had addictions and she had breakthroughs. My mother’s wild side led her to a long-term friendship with Judy Garland, a fur coat from Howard Hughes, and plunge from the top of a building.

Being able to admit that Mom wasn’t anywhere near perfect brought me blissful freedom. If I could love her—flaws and all—I could love my very imperfect self. That set me free to love others, and to celebrate the phenomenal mothers my daughters have become.

We don’t just love people for their strengths. We love them for their struggles. I suppose the lesson is in learning to trust that God trusts us. Flaws and all.

That means this Mother’s Day I’m celebrating unconventionally. I honor women who have never even given birth, but still they’ve mothered brilliantly. I honor the mothers who cry real tears, not over the messes they’ve had to clean up, but over the messes they’ve made for others to clean up. I honor the bruised, broken, battle-scarred women who are still in the fight. I honor the ones with the guts to present themselves genuinely. I honor those who sew and bake from the home front and those who march on the front lines. I honor those with stellar faith and those who admit God is foreign to them. I honor all their shapes and sizes. I dance in happy circles at the rainbow of their cultures and varying skin colors. Oh, how blessed am to be encircled by so many different women who mother.

This year let’s focus on miracles instead of mistakes. Let’s lavish love. Forgiveness. Joy. Let’s let go of the judgment and the self-criticism and simply celebrate that we’re partners with the Giver of life. That puts us, not on a pedestal where we can fall, but at an elevation where we can see clearly: we’re all in this together doing our best.

My friends, I love you. I love you because you try. I love you because you dare. I love you because you give it all you’ve got. I’m thinking of my friend whose child is incarcerated. I’m thinking of my friend who sings lullabies to the world’s babies. I’m thinking of my friend whose only daughter died this month, and another whose son is in his last days of cancer. I’m thinking of my friend whose child hasn’t spoken to her in a year. I’m thinking of my friend who desperately wants to bear a child, but can’t. I’m thinking of aunties, grandmothers, and an abundance of friends. I’m missing my own Mom. A lot. Maybe because I’ve matured enough to ache for a sit-down with her to discover who she really was: “How’d you get that scar? Why are you scared of the dark? What’s life like from your viewpoint, Mom?”

If you’re blessed to still have your mom available, please get curious about who she is as a person, not just a mom. Get to know her and to appreciate her for more than the resources she offers.

No judgment, no justifying, just loving. Celebrate those people who’ve managed to love you when you weren’t so easy to love. And do me a favor…please release the stranglehold you’ve held on your own throat. Inhale. Exhale. There. That’s better.

Now have a safe, memorable, peaceful weekend, celebrating love. Isn’t that what this day’s really all about?


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Moving Day

Moving Day

It’s beginning.  My peeps are beginning to fly.  Today Claire and Graham drove away from our Orem home in a U-Haul filled with everything they own.  They are moving to Rock Springs, Wyoming, where they will begin living their own lives away from ours.

Every time I see a moving van or truck, I get emotional and think of this song by our favorite Story Teller, Bill Harley.  I haven’t moved many times in my life.  I grew up on a farm.  Farmers don’t move.  But I moved to college.  I moved to Israel.  I moved to South Africa.  I moved to Nigeria and then Salt Lake, and then Orem, with quite a few apartment moves in between.  Then two years ago we moved to Washington.  Leaving a place is always hard for someone like me.  I love the history of places and the memories those places hold.  It’s hard for me to move away from those memories.   I like keeping memories close.  I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I write.

This tender children’s song captures the emotion of Moving Day perfectly.

Moving Day
©Bill Harley, All rights reserved

Listen to it here.  Makes me cry every time.

Car’s full,
Trunks packed –
Stuff on the roof rack.
Mom says
We leave soon.
Last time
In my room.
One last look out my window –
The yard, the street,
the place I know.
I go, they stay –
It’s moving day.

Here’s where
My bed stood.
Floors made
Of old wood.
Mom left
The light on
Walls marked
With crayon.
The door I slammed when I was mad.
The place I cried when I was sad.
I go, they stay
It’s moving day.

When I grow up, I might come back
To this place again.
If I find some kids live here
I’ll tell them who I am.

“Let’s go,” Dad calls
I guess that’s all
Goodbye house,
Goodbye room
I won’t be back soon
Down the steps,
Out the front door
Now I don’t live here
Part of my heart stays
On moving day.

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