Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Play Dates

A young family just moved here from Utah, and the mom recently shared an interesting story about interstate differences in the definition of "playtime." She was picking up her oldest child from kindergarten, and the daughter asked if a schoolmate could come over to play. They walked over to ask Mommy A if that was all right, and the woman seemed taken aback by the request. Seeking to diffuse the situation, Utah Mom invited Mommy A to come over, too, to get to know the family. She even offered to come to Mommy A's house instead, if that would work out better. In the end, Mommy A said she "just wasn't comfortable with that."

The next day, Utah Mom's daughter asked if a different girl could come over. UM approached Mommy B about the prospect, thinking that perhaps Mommy A was just unusually protective. To her surprise, she got the same reaction from Mommy B. Both Mommies seemed to think that spontaneous, unscheduled play was a totally alien concept.

After Mommy B walked away, Mommy C (who had overheard the exchange) said, "Look--that woman probably has her child scheduled for sports, music lessons, and who knows what else throughout the week. If you really want your child to interact with other kids, you'll need to schedule a play date. Or better yet, just sign her up for gymnastics."

When Mommy C moved on, Mommy D (who had heard BOTH conversations) approached UM with a smile and said, "I think our daughters need to be friends." So while the rest of the kindergartners are working on everything from ballet to Chinese, these two girls are just playing. Like normal kids. Revolutionary idea, I know.

For some reason, the idea of play dates has always struck me as odd. When my daughter is older and my life busier, maybe the idea of scheduling time for her to have fun will seem reasonable, but right now it seems to represent an inversion of priorities. Don't get me wrong--I'm all in favor of extra-curricular activities, but when they completely crowd out good, old-fashioned fun, there's something wrong with that picture. There are important lessons to be learned from playing, too.


In one of my previous wards, I knew a man who detested Halloween because he didn’t like the idea of celebrating evil. I can understand his point of view, but I think he and I think of very different things when we consider that holiday.

When I think of Halloween, I visualize jack-o-lantern carving and kids dressing up as their heroes or favorite cartoon characters. I see Halloween as a great excuse to be imaginative, eat tasty sweets, and generally have fun with family and friends. In short, it’s a positive, uplifting holiday that I look forward to each year.

While there are certainly plenty of people who give Halloween a dark slant (costume stores wouldn’t stock all that fake blood and severed plastic limbs unless there was a market for them), but I think that mentality is no worse than associating Christ’s birthday with stress and materialism two months later. In either case, the holiday is as uplifting (or unuplifting) as the observer makes it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Farewell to Another Gene

Today I attended my second funeral this year for someone named Gene. The first was for my friend Siobhan's grandfather. The second was for Gene Barrows, an elderly man I knew from church.

Most of us have been taught the principles of right living, but every now and then you meet someone who demonstrates how to live them. Gene was such a person. He was a physicist of vast intelligence, and one of his relatives commented today that he only seemed aware of matter at the atomic level. He never noticed whether clothes, cars, or houses were fancy or plain, cheap or expensive. If he measured people at all (which I don't think he did, frankly), it was by their heart.

Gene may not have been interested in things, but he cared a lot about people. When family members daydreamed about what they'd do with a million dollars, Gene declared he'd spend every cent helping his stepkids with their careers. In a Sunday school lesson, he once said that in the next life, the reward for those who have discovered the joy of service will be the ability to serve much more quickly and efficiently, and thus experience even greater joy.

Funerals are such bittersweet things. I feel for Gene's grieving family, yet I'm so grateful for all that I learned today about his life, and I'm excited that he's gone home to a place where he can learn and serve even more than he did here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

American Values

About decades ago, I saw an image on the news that troubled me. A grown man was standing atop a Toyota, taking a sledge hammer to its hood as a small crowd cheered him on. The reporter called this pastime "Japan-bashing," and said it was growing in popularity.

You may recall that in the 1980s, most Americans assumed Japan was poised to take over the world. The Japanese seemed to be smarter and have a stronger work ethic than we did, and their high-quality products were steadily crowding out our homemade versions. American anxiety was understandable, but what bothered me was that people didn't respond by studying and working harder. They simply took out their frustration on an inanimate symbol of someone else's hard work and commitment to quality.

Fortunately, the car-smashing fad was relatively short-lived. I had always assumed that was because the Japan's financial bubble burst, and consequently it didn't knock us squarely off our superpower pedestal. I learned on the radio today that there was a little more to the story.

This afternoon, NPR aired a piece on the car manufacturer Toyota. Apparently many of the folks wielding sledge hammers years ago were American auto workers fearful of losing their jobs (as well as a fair number of politicians currying favor with the masses). Toyota executives responded to the Japan-bashing by stepping up plans to build factories among the very people that vilified them. By providing so many jobs in the U.S., they apparently allayed workers' fears of unemployment and the furor died down.

Fast forward two decades. American car makers are still struggling to compete with Japanese quality, and earlier this year Toyota finally supplanted GM as the top international car seller. There were no riots; no destruction of Corollas or Celicas. Apparently Americans don't mind mediocrity as long as it doesn't impact our bank accounts.

Japan may not have overtaken us yet, but sooner or later they or someone else will if Americans as a rule maintain a comfortable sense of entitlement, rather than the commitment to work and innovation that put us on top in the first place.

Nature vs Nurture in the Pumpkin Patch

Our little family went to pumpkin patch together for the first time last night. Last year I just bought a couple pumpkins at the grocery store, and the year before that we were newly-minted newlyweds with too many boxes to unpack to deal with frills like jack-o-lanterns. I'm glad we all went together this year--it's just one of those family tradition-type things that makes me happy.

Speaking of family traditions, it’s interesting--when I was growing up, my dad always selected tall pumpkins because he likes carving long, thin faces. When Phillip picked up one short, squat pumpkin after another last night, I found myself thinking, “Wait—daddies are supposed to like tall pumpkins! Something’s wrong with this picture!” I quickly realized how illogical this train of thought was, but deep down, part of me still can’t figure out why there’s no tall pumpkin on our porch.

Monday, October 22, 2007

As Requested

Who am I to oppose the will of the people?

Unless, of course, the people want me to do an interpretive dance to the theme song of Mission Impossible, in which case the people are doomed to disappointment.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Water For Thought*

OPTIMIST: The glass is half full.

PESSIMIST: The glass is half empty.

REALIST: The glass is.

IDEALIST: The glass should be full.

FEMINIST: My glass seems less full than HIS glass.


ANARCHIST: Break the glass!

CAPITALIST: Let's sell the glass.

CHEMIST: It's approximately 50% dihydrogen oxide, 40% nitrogen, and 10% oxygen.

*These quotes come from a shirt someone once gave my husband. Wish I could reproduce the cartoon faces that go with them - the environmentalist has really wild hair.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lesson from a Nosedive

This afternoon, I glanced up just in time to see Joy lose her balance and plummet forehead-first toward the carpet. They probably heard that "BONK" as far east as Detroit. After the standard 1.7-second pause during which a toddler mentally registers that they're hurt and not happy about it, Joy started wailing while I did my best to comfort with hugs and few favorite toys. I found myself wondering why baby stores don't sell infant-sized helmets with full face guards in their childproofing sections.

I also got to thinking about the oft-used analogy that we should approach life like toddler learning to walk. Most people focus on the fact that babies don't let the frustration of mistakes deter them from their goal of walking. I think it's also significant to point out that learning to walk isn't just difficult and fraught with mistakes - it hurts! If Joy invested a dollar for every time she bopped a body part in the pursuit of mobility, we wouldn't have to save a cent for college.

What makes babies persevere despite all the bumps and tumbles? Is it because they have such short memories? Is it because they have no concept of failure, or simply that they don't yet care whether they fail at something that interests them? I would guess it's a combination of all those options.

As an adult, I can't simply forget that I have failed in the past and will no doubt fail at things in the future. However, I like Joy's example of making decisions based on interest and curiosity rather than fear. I'm better at that than I used to be, but I still have a little room for improvement.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Its Good to Know You're Grammer

I don't usually think of grammar lessons as entertainment, but this post's dry humor was rather amusing, in a sheik sort of way. :)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Define Hobbie

Someone once said there is a fine line between a hobby and a mental illness. That line becomes particularly blurry when your hobby is composting. The concept itself (carefully tending a pile of decaying organic matter) seems squarely outside the realm of normal human behavior, and I find my involvement with this hobby led to some slightly bizarre behavior.

For example, this afternoon I was explaining to Phillip the need to add some dry material to the compost pile to keep it from becoming a slimy mess full of smelly, anaerobic bacteria. My husband politely reminded me that we were having lunch, and asked if we could continue this riveting conversation later.

As for the aforementioned dry material, since I lack a yard to supply fallen leaves or lawn clippings (which you can dry out and then add to the pile), I have to seek alternative sources of dry stuff. I find I’m almost excited to get junk mail these days so I can shred it and add it to the compost pile. If the credit card pushers start slacking off, though, sometimes I have to load Baby into her stroller and pay a visit to a neighbor that doesn’t rake their leaves very often. I’m sure they appreciate the anonymous disposal of their yard waste, but I can only guess at the thoughts of passing motorists who watch me with slightly furrowed brows.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sobering News

This evening, my brother sent me a link to Utah's Deseret News website. I was happy to learn that Elder Wirthlin's "ailment" during Conference was just a case of locked knees. However, the main reason Andrew directed me to the site was an article on what Utahns Google.

The good news is that Utah ranks number one in the nation for searches on things like "Jesus" and "family history." Oh yeah - and "Lord of the Rings" and "Mitt Romney." The bad news is that it also leads the nation in searches for "pornography" and other more unsavory words which shall not be written on this blog.

I should clarify that the Google Trends site employed for this article measures the ratio of searches, rather than the total number. That means that even though highly-populated areas like California may have a higher total number of "Jesus" searches, if you compare an average 100 Californians to an average 100 Utahans, the Utahans are more likely to search for Jesus. And porn.

Experts cited in the article speculate about why such a highly religious state would have such shady internet habits. Some point out that in a society where there is lots of pressure to conform, there is also temptation to rebel. Others suggest that since immorality is so strongly forbidden among Mormons, many become curious and use the anonymous internet to explore what all the fuss is about. Some specialists also raised the question whether those searching for wholesome subjects and those searching for unsavory ones tend to be separate people, or the very same people. The Trends site offers no clues on that one.

The most sobering statistic in the article was the estimate that 35% of Church members view shady material on the internet (that's slightly lower than the national average). This doesn't mean they view it every day. Apparently most of those people wander to questionable sites, then catch themselves and sheepishly log out, only to repeat the process a few months later.

So why am I writing about this? I don't usually like to post depressing things, but I felt we need to be aware that this problem is not restricted to the rare reclusive stranger. Most likely, people you know personally struggle with it - not necessarily every day, but enough to haunt them and slowly poison their lives. If we're aware of the danger, perhaps we can prevent it or help someone who already has a problem get help for it.

How tragic that people who have access to so much light are still so tempted by darkness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Happy Blog Unmasks Fallacy

I stumbled across an interesting blog today. It's called The Happiness Project, and the author has set a personal goal to try practically every existing theory, principle, and tip for increasing happiness, then report what works for her and what doesn't. Interesting idea. I might just choose a few promising theories and try it myself.

Today's THP post particularly resonated with me. She discusses the "arrival fallacy" - the assumption that we'll finally be happy if we can just attain or achieve a certain thing. That future-focus blinds us to sources of happiness in the present, and it overlooks the fact that our desired achievement (be it a baby, a job, or even just getting your little apartment clean) often brings with it not blissful euphoria but additional responsibilities (e.g caring for baby, learning new job skills, or KEEPING the apartment in its pristine condition). As the saying goes, life doesn't get "better"- it just gets different. Moral of the story: enjoy the journey.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Conference Reflections

Conference weekend has come and gone again. I’m still trying to process everything, but one thing I will say is that I love the calling of Henry B. Eyring to fill President Faust’s seat in the First Presidency. He embodies all the qualities I so loved in President Faust: gentleness, dignity, and messages that always resonated deeply with me.

I must also say that the most memorable talk of the conference was Elder Wirthlin’s on Saturday afternoon. Halfway through his talk he suddenly began trembling terribly, yet he continued on for five or ten more minutes, determined to finish his message. Elder Nelson (who is a doctor) came to his aid immediately, and stood protectively by his side until the end of his talk. The principle Elder Wirthlin felt was so important to teach was Christ-like love, and I can think of few more powerful lessons on it than the image of those two apostles side by side: one feeble and trembling, yet determined to teach us a crucial truth; the other tall and strong, eager to both protect and support his friend

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Doing Violence to a Book

I'm glad that the success of Harry Potter, Narnia, and other fantasy book/movies has convinced the movie studios that such family-friendly films can be a worthwhile investment. Unfortunately, they still don't always understand and honor what made the books popular in the first place.

Case in point: This week saw the release of "The Seeker," a film loosely based on "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper. I say "loosely" because whereas the Harry Potter people worked closely with J. K. Rowlings to stay true to her vision, the folks behind The Seeker made such major changes to the plot and characters that Cooper sent them a letter requesting that they make alterations (which I don't think were made).

For example, the book's main character is a cheerful 11-year-old British boy from a well-adjusted family. The screenwriter apparently decided audiences would relate better to a 13-year-old American struggling to adjust to life in Britain, cope with a dysfunctional family, and deal with relationship angst. Oh yeah, and save the world.

In a radio interview, Cooper said she deliberately placed her hero at the end of childhood rather than the beginning of adolescence because he would still be figuring out who he really is, rather than how he (and his hormones) relate to others. She conceded that you can't avoid "doing violence to a book" when you try to translate it to the screen, but you could sense the disappointment in her voice as she discussed how her book has been reworked.

I suppose that pain I heard in her voice was what made me want to write about all this. I couldn't help thinking how difficult it would be to I pour my heart and soul into into a story, then see it transformed into something I barely recognized. It seems almost like a sad form of plagiarism. The story's been reworked so much that it's no longer really Cooper's, yet the new version borrows so much from the old that the writer can't really claim it as his either. Perhaps if he'd added a subtitle: "The Seeker: An Unauthorized Retelling."

This sad business alone was enough to turn me off of the film, and since most reviews range from lukewarm to outraged I don't feel any great temptation to go see it. As one critic put it, the studio took a charming children's adventure and removed all the adventure and charm.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Someone Called for Chocolate?

STM, these are for you (and anyone you care to share with).

Because sometimes life's just a bear.

Life and Death

My friend Snow Dragonne recently complained about a show in which her favorite character sacrifices his life for the cause and to achieve his own redemption. Of course, this happens right as he finally begins dating his long-term love interest. SD wanted to know how come our media often equates heroism with sacrifice and death, rather than just letting the good guys live happily ever after. Her frustrations got me thinking about how (or whether) media reflects life.

We all know that triumphs purchased cheaply are valued cheaply, and pain and struggle strengthen our character far more than ease. Of course, I don't enjoy or invite tribulation, but on the other hand I know God didn't send us to this world to take a vacation. Life is supposed to be a mix of happy and hard, because if it were all easy and fun it would actually be a waste of our time. It would be like trying to work our muscles with inflatable dumbbells.

As for wanting to see the good guys live happily ever after, there are actually many shows and movies where that happens. They're produced by a company called Disney. I like those scenarios, but what I'd like to see more of is the sense that death is not the (often tragic) end of a story. Most of our tales treat death as the worst possible tragedy, to be avoided at all costs. If a beloved character dies, there is wrenching grief, but rarely any mention of hope for a reunion or that they have gone to a happier place. One of the things I love about the last Harry Potter book is the concept that death is merely an (admittedly intimidating) gateway that leads a good person on to something better, and to loved ones who are waiting eagerly to greet them.

Don't get me wrong--I am not overly eager to experience tribulation or death. However, I think it's important to remember that life is SUPPOSED to be hard, that trials serve an important purpose, and that the death of a good person is neither a tragedy for them nor a permanent separation for us (assuming we're good, too :).