Friday, November 30, 2007

What Next?

Have you ever received unsolicited food in the mail? Until this week, I hadn't either. Then one day my husband found this granola in our mailbox. The food-loving, fiber-junkie cheapskate in me was delighted. The post-X-files, slightly-paranoid chicken in me wondered whether I should be accepting food from strangers.

Of course, the foodie voice won the argument, but I'm still a little baffled by the idea of getting breakfast from my mailbox.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Solar Google

This evening I read something that reinforced my impression of Google as a an innovative, forward-thinking company that is truly driven to make the world a better place. I knew Google was taking steps to make America's cell-phone system more customer friendly like Europe's, but today I learned that they've also set a goal to develop cost-effective, solar energy technology. Cool.

The Biker Blinks

Dreams are bizarre. At least, mine are. The premises, settings, and cast of characters shift constantly. One minute I could be fighting aliens, the next I could be stuck in a 70s film with Burt Reynolds and a bear (probably my dream brain's weak attempt at a pun: "Smokey (the Bear) and the Bandit" - nyak, nyak. Cough - moving on).

The funny thing is that I usually accept the bizarreness as reality, even when it means doing things I would never do when I'm awake. Of course, that raises all sorts of moral questions. The only one I intend to address this morning is why when I faced two objectionable choices last night, I went along with one and not the other. Don't worry - it's nothing racy unless you're offended by biker fights in bars. On the other hand, if that's your cup of tea, by all means continue reading.

So, Burt, the Bear, and I pulled up to a bar in Burt's 18-wheeler, and I got out and headed for the bar's front door. At this point in the dream I was a burly biker dude, complete with beard, long hair, and black leather. I knew my role as if I were reading it from a script. Part One: Knock someone across the room to establish a reputation as a tough-guy-not-to-be-messed-with. No problem. Some random guy went flying and everyone else subsequently avoided eye contact. Part Two: Saunter up to the bar, scowl, and order a drink. It can be anything, even something weird or campy, as long as I'm convincingly gruff about ordering.

For some reason, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't even order a virgin strawberry daiquiri, a tame, non-alcoholic beverage I've always been kinda curious about. I just stared at the bartender, then turned and stalked out of the bar. The dream went on unruffled - we continued merrily along to a waterslide park with a great buffet - but after I awoke I wondered why I could sock a total stranger but not order a fake drink.

My best guess is that actions in my dreams often seem to happen with little mental input from me and I just accept them as normal, but ordering the drink would require words, and that requires thinking. Once my brain was engaged in the decision-making, my moral standards were, too, and I refused to override them.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Art of Enjoying People

A post on Beth's blog got me thinking tonight. She is living outside Utah for the first time in years, and encountering a lot of people with very different standards from her own. She's trying to figure out how to see these people not as "sinful," "wrong," or even necessarily "other," but as folks trying to live life the best way they know how. Her questions highlighted some similar challenges I've been struggling with.

I sincerely try to be the best I can in every sense, and when I meet people with different values I'm often tempted to be critical and focus on how I'm different (translation: "better"). I think my behavior is motivated by pride ("I'm so much better than them. I rock.") and fear ("If I tolerate that in them, maybe I'll let my own standards slip.").

Of course, both attitudes are sheer twaddle. First of all, life isn't a competition and God doesn't grade on a curve, so focusing on the differences and/or shortcomings of others only distracts from the real road to progress: looking inside ourselves to improve our own character.

As for the fear that acceptance will lead to moral laxity, Christ was the ultimate example of loving others despite their (often egregious) mistakes. He cared more about what a person truly desired to be than about the mistakes they made along their way. That applied to everyone from weak apostles to reformed persecutors to repentant harlots.

All that being said, I still struggle with the temptation to judge and compete. It may take years, or even my whole lifetime to break the habit, but I'm determined to keep trying. Lately, I find two principles have helped me a lot.

One is encapsulated in this quote from Sister Hinckley's "Small and Simple Things": "Fifty was my favorite age. It takes about that long to learn to quit competing--to be yourself and settle down to living. It is the age I would like to be through all eternity!" A nice dose of perspective from a woman who was definitely comfortable in her own skin. I just hope I can learn those lessons before my fifth decade.

The other principle is from Stephen R. Covey's original "7 Habits" book. Years ago one of his sons was struggling socially, and Covey realized that he was trying to change his son's behavior mainly to gratify his own sense of self-worth as a parent. He decided that what his son really needed was a father who would let him make his own way and enjoy him for who he was, rather than struggling to mold him into the personality he expected him to be.

That principle of enjoying people rather than wishing to change them has really stuck with me. Of course, there are many instances (especially for parents) when we need to teach correct values and behavior. Most of the time, though--with friends, co-workers, grocery store clerks, etc.--efforts to change behavior would be futile, and probably even inappropriate. In those cases, we are faced with the choice to either grump about what we don't like, or enjoy what we do.

There is something fiendishly tempting about the grumpy road, but I find that when I look for things to admire and enjoy in people, I always find them and come away from the encounter a happier person.

Now, if I can just remember that when I don't have Beth to remind me . . .

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Purple Thoughts on Red and Blue Entertainment

A while back, I mentioned to a neighbor that I listen to NPR. He grimaced and said, "You listen to that bunch of liberals?" His response baffled me because I think NPR is pretty balanced, especially compared to some of the screaming shock jocks you hear on other stations. Well, a few days ago I heard about a study that puts our conversation in a much clearer light.

Earlier this year, The Normal Lear Center conducted a study on political views and entertainment preferences. They surveyed people about numerous political issues, then asked them questions about what TV, music, and books they like. They found that political views can be a huge predictor for what entertainment a person enjoys.

I'll refer you to the press release and the Center's web page on the study if you want to read the details. For my part, the study's most interesting finding was that liberals tend to enjoy entertainment that presents diverse viewpoints, while most conservatives prefer things that reinforce their existing values.

This makes conservatives sound rather close minded, and in some cases that may be true (for that matter, I've met a few close-minded liberals, too). Be that as it may, I suspect the difference stems from the fact that conservatives' values are often linked to religious beliefs, and in that context exploring other viewpoints would always be considered a negative thing. I think liberals tend to base their values more on intellectual reasoning, and since one idea is as good as another until it's disproved, liberals feel there is nothing to lose and possibly something to gain in considering different viewpoints.

Of course, views on taxes, health care, immigration, etc., are probably not religiously based in most cases,* but I think since many conservatives have moral objections to some liberal views, they tend to think all liberal ideas are tainted by association.

Back to the entertainment issue, it's interesting to see how it plays out in my life. I'm conservative on some issues and moderate on others, and I find that the more conservative I am about a given topic, the less I want to watch or listen to something that conflicts with my beliefs about it. I feel such media is degrading, and think it has a negative impact on our society. On the other hand, I'm more than willing to hear diverse opinions about my moderate issues, as long as it isn't an arrogant monologue or a shouting match. That's probably why I like NPR.

And it's probably why my neighbor didn't. He's one of the most conservative people I know, and I suspect he prefers all those AM stations where conservative talk show hosts shout about what idiots liberals are. I don't have much patience for arguments whose main premise is that the other side is evil and/or stupid. I think that view stifles dialogue and progress, and I know too many good people on both sides to believe it.

*There are certainly exceptions to this statement. For a look at some differing Mormon views on religion and economics, check out STM's recent post.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I have a confession to make: I'm a sucker for forwarded email surveys. You know, the ones that ask questions like, "Favorite ice cream flavor?" (Anything with chocolate.) "Summer or winter?" (Spring. Ok--winter, if I have to choose. Why the discrimination against seasons that actually have pleasant weather?) I like reading what my friends write, and for some inexplicable reason I enjoy answering them myself.

A friend recently posted a blogging equivalent of these surveys, and tagged me to do the same. So here, for your reading enjoyment:

5 Things I was Doing 10 Years Ago:
1) Trying to figure out whether to switch from an English major to Linguistics.
2) Wishing the cafeteria would serve Beef Tips again instead of radioactive Curry Chicken.
3) Teaching eight girls in my dorm to crochet.
4) Debating whether to serve as a missionionary.
5) Struggling to get a peppermint plant to thrive in a dimly lit dorm room (I'm not great at gardening, but I can't resist trying).

5 Things on my To-Do List:
1) Find time to read for personal enrichment.
2) Review the family budget.
3) Create a weekly exercise plan.
4) Write my personal history.
5) Scrub the shower.

5 Things I Would Do If I Were A Millionaire:
1) Pay off our debts (student loans and car).
2) Buy a modest home with a modest yard.
3) Put a big chunk in savings.
4) Make large donations to the LDS Church's Humanitarian Aid, Perpetual Education, and temple building funds.
5) Take a university class each semester. My first class would probably be some British literature course. Or perhaps woodshop.

5 Things I Would Never Wear Again:
1) Big scrunchies.
2) Those clunky snow boots that gave me blisters freshman year. I vowed never to buy shoes from a catalog again.
3) A semi-see-through top that was part of our Women's Chorus uniform in high school. I don't think the director realized how bad they'd be. Of course, she always did like Vocal Ensemble better . . .
4) Humongous earrings.
5) Braces.

5 Favorite Toys:
1) Joy :)
2) Computer
3) Kitchenaid
4) Bookstore gift card
5) Digital camera

5 People to Tag:
1) Snowdragonne
2) STM
3) Serena
4) Nicole
5) Jodi
(No pressure though, folks.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

End of an Era

Joy has decided that she is done nursing. Last evening she started to latch on, then pulled away and looked at me as if she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. I encouraged her to eat, but she showed no further interest in what I had to offer. The same scenario repeated itself this morning, and frankly, she hasn’t been very interesting in nursing for most of this week. Apparently she has decided it is time to stop, and I feel it will be best to follow her lead.

I didn’t weep over the loss of our special, daily bonding time, as I’ve heard some mothers do, but this ending of an era did hit me harder than I expected it to. In the past, when I’ve contemplated the end of nursing, I’ve focused mainly on my increased freedom. Now that it’s actually happening, the idea foremost in my mind is that a sweet part of Joy’s babyhood is gone, never to return.

I suppose I should get used to this pattern. When babies first arrive they are totally dependent on us, and their parents are their whole world. Then slowly but steadily they learn and grow, becoming more and more self-reliant, needing their parents less and less. Of course, that’s as it should be, but that doesn’t make it easy. Tomorrow I’ll try to focus on the many adventures that lie ahead of us, but for today I’m indulging in the absurd wish that my sweet baby could stay a little bundle of Joy forever.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Cold, Hard Facts

My baby is finally starting to get over her cold. This one was a doozy - high fever, nursing strike, sleep deprivation (for both parents and baby), you name it. Still, at least I can say I learned a few things. Here are my hard-won lessons (for the information of fellow rookies, and the amusement of veterans):

1) Tylenol (available in drops for infants) is very effective at reducing fever. Maybe the rest of the planet already knew that, but I had to have a doctor tell me. Administer 15mg (or .15mL) per kilo of Baby's weight (1 kilo = 2.2 pounds).

2) It's also helpful to strip a feverish baby down to her diaper (and maybe a light shirt) in a room heated (or cooled) to about 70 degrees. Surprisingly, a cold bath is NOT a good idea, because it causes the body's heating system to kick in and can actually make a feverish baby even warmer.

3) If you're worried about dehydration, it's better to give Pedialyte or Gatorade than water all the time. First of all, they supply needed electrolytes which would be diluted if Baby got nothing but water all day. Second, since they're sweet she'll be more likely to accept them if she's shown little interest in food or drink. If severe dehydration isn't a concern yet but she's not eating or drinking much, it still might be better to offer juice than water because it has some needed carbs and vitamins, and again, the sweetness may make her more willing to drink it.

4) If Baby refuses to nurse (perhaps because her nose is stuffed), you can pump milk and sneak some into her apple juice so she's still getting the health benefits of nursing.

5) If your OCD nose-wiping makes Baby cry, sometimes it's just better to let it run.

6) If you keep wiping anyway, she may eventually just get used to it and not mind anymore.

7) This too shall pass!!! (Hard to remember at 3:00am, but true nonetheless.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Quote of the Day - "Reality"

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." –Albert Einstein

It's so easy to get caught up in career, school, hobbies, fashion, or just the day-to-day struggle to get stuff done. Some of these legitimately require a lot of our attention, but sometimes we forget that the things we spend most of our time and energy on aren't necessarily the most important ones. In the end, the only things we can take from this life are our family, the character we've developed, and our relationship with God. The rest is just details.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Thanks, Honey

My dear husband gave me a fabulous gift today. He stayed home from school* and took care of Baby all day while I finally sorted through piles of clutter and cleaned up longstanding messes. I worked for hours on end, but I did it with a spring in my step because I knew I could labor away without worrying about when naptime would end or Joy would get bored and want some Mama time.

Of course, there were still occasions when I couldn’t resist stopping to play with her, but most of the time I was grateful to let Daddy take over so I could get some solid hours of work in. Bless his heart.

In addition to my progress with the piles, Phillip and I both gained a bit of empathy from the experience. Phillip said that after hours of entertaining, protecting, and running errands with Joy, he can understand why I’m so eager for him to take charge when he gets home so I can devote my full attention to making dinner.

For my part, I now understand why many parents hire nannies. If it wasn’t so important to me to establish a tight-knit family and teach my children certain values, the liberation of having someone else take care of them would be awfully tempting.

*His only class on Thursday is Book of Mormon at the Institute, but he usually spends several hours working in the lab, too.