Monday, December 15, 2008

Perspective and Spilled Milk

Another blogger recently posted something that went straight to my heart. The other day she was pouring something into a glass and she spilled a little onto the counter. Her four-year-old observed this and commented, "Mom, sometimes you spill, and I don't get mad at you."

I don't consider myself a scrupulously neat person, but nothing pushes my freak-out button like seeing my toddler spill something. I gasp, I shriek, and I grit my teeth as if the spill was a personal insult to me rather than a mere step in the process of my toddler developing motor skills and learning cause-and-effect (e.g. tilt glass beyond angle x = spill y quantity of milk onto carpet). I'm trying to accept that spills are just part of growing up, not earth-shattering calamities. And I'm trying to remember that sometimes I spill things, too.

For heaven sakes, if I ever hosted a cooking show it would be billed as a comedy.

Death-defying Quote

"I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so." --Stephen Leacock

This just made me laugh. Thought I'd share.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rejecting Spongy Tradition

My daughter turns two this month, and I decided to have a little birthday party with her play group buddies and their moms today. The occasion led to some deep reflection on the subject of . . . cupcakes.

I'm generally not a big fan of cake. I prefer desserts with more substance like a fruity pie, some cheesecake, or a cookie bar I can sink my teeth into. So why on earth did I feel obligated to make cupcakes for my toddler's party when she and her pals will neither expect nor remember them? I suspect it was because I think my fellow moms expect cupcakes to grace a birthday party, but realistically they don't want to eat them any more than I do. I split the recipe between mini- and full-sized muffin pans, and at the end of the party the minis were nearly gone and all the full-size cupcakes were still sitting patiently on their plate. Apparently even the grown-ups prefer a small bite of sugary sponge over a fist-sized mass of it.

Lesson learned: In a couple years when Munchkin #2 turns two, I'll just make a small batch of mini cupcakes, and a double batch of Mom's Salsa, which we ran out of way too quickly. Better yet, maybe I'll forgo the cupcakes in favor of brownies and just stick a birthday candle into one of them. THERE you go . . .

Friday, December 5, 2008

Padawans Rock

My company (I worked there before Joy arrived, and still telecommute a little from home each weekday) held its annual Christmas party at Disneyland this year. We enjoyed good food and a magic show at one of the hotels, then we headed over to the Magic Kingdom for the rest of the day. Alas, they don't let pregnant gals ride Star Tours or Thunder Mountain, but Phillip and I still enjoyed riding some of the lower-key attractions.

My favorite Disneyland experience was actually not a ride, though. I loved watching the Jedi Training show, where kids get to learn basic light saber fighting moves, then face off against Darth Vader himself. I’m sure this would be a dream come true for many kids, and it was fun to see some of them really get into it.

Each "Padawan" got to wear a robe and wield a light saber in the show. This girl decided to accessorize with a crown, and the Jedi instructor deferentially called her "Princess."

One of the boys in the group showed particular enthusiasm and skill at following instructions. After he bested Darth Vader in hand-to-hand combat two menacing storm troopers suddenly closed in on him, and the Jedi instructor urged him to stretch out his hands and use the force to drive them back. Without hesitation, boy shot his hands forward and those storm troopers went reeling. It was awesome to watch, and I bet that young Padawan will remember the experience for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Buzz Saw Meditation

A while back, I read about a blogger who takes the frustration out of bad situations by viewing them as opportunities to meditate. If she's exasperated with a slow grocery line, she labels the wait "grocery line meditation." Stuck in traffic? "Freeway meditation." The simple addition of the word "meditation" makes her feel serene and wise, rather than trapped and exasperated.

Today a neighbor decided it was a perfect afternoon to run his loud table saw, over and over again, right in the middle of my toddler's nap. It actually didn't disturb her much, but the first dozen times he turned the thing on I gritted my teeth and fought the urge to open the window and say some rather unneighborly things to him. Remembering the "meditation" trick I'd read, I started mentally referring to the odious noise as an opportunity for "buzz saw meditation." It really did make me feel better, possibly because humor dispels tension.

Friday, November 28, 2008

They, Who Are So Fresh From God

"It is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us." (Dickens)

Lately this quote about the pure love of children has been on my mind a lot. My nearly-two-year-old daughter certainly has her moments of impatience and pushing her (and my) limits, but on the whole she is unassumingly cheerful and loving, and it often fills me with wonder that such a being is so intensely fond of me. Watching her face light up when she sees me, and hearing her little voice call out "Mama!" as she hurries toward me melts my heart. May I live worthy of such wholehearted, unconditional love.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Nice Place to Visit . . .

This will not be a deep, philosophical post (which will probably be a relief to many of you). After all the brow-furrowing political dialogue this blog has seen over the past few months, I felt it was high time to just post something fun. Maybe this post will provide you with a captivating window into my soul. More likely it will just be an amusing read.

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Joy and I often go for walks in our community, and as we stroll by the endless variety of houses and yards I often find myself daydreaming about what I want my home to look like when our apartment-dwelling days are finally over. I find that some yards appealing and instructive about what I want to shoot for with my own future home. Other yards provide helpful insight into what I don't like.

The following are an interesting mix of both qualities. They're the top three local yards that I enjoy looking at but WOULDN'T want for my own home.


#3 - Latin-Spiced Xeriscape

Most xeriscapes (landscapes using plants that require no supplemental irrigation) look decidedly barren to me. This one is the most vibrant I've ever seen, but while the eco-friendly concept appeals to me the plants just aren't my cup of tea. I prefer the lush look of non-desert foliage, and I want most of my future landscaping to be edible, or produce something that is. In other words, my front yard will probably contain things like herbs, almond trees, etc., and those require water.

Plus, while I love the fact that this person had the guts to paint their house bright orange with electric blue trim, I just don't think I could bear to come home to those colors every day. I would feel like the building was an edgy art project, not a home. But that's just me.

#2 - Japanese Zen Garden

This yard makes me feel more serene whenever I look at it. I love its flowing, natural design, and its sense of sanctuary. What's more, it has a certain exotic thrill to it since it is so strikingly different from the typical lawn-with-a-floral-border American yard you see nearly everywhere you turn.

I love visiting this yard, but I would no more replicate it at my own home than I would wear a kimono to church. Kimonos are nice and all, but they're not me. I would feel like I was wearing a costume, masquerading as someone I'm not. The clothes you choose make a statement about you, and I feel your yard does, too. If I create a yard that suggests my home is some oriental haven of Zen wisdom and serenity, it would be cool statement, but an inaccurate one. That kind of place would be nice to visit, but I neither expect nor really desire to establish a home that fits that description.

#1 - Harvest Festival

This is not a trick photo; those corn stalks really are about ten feet tall (or at least they were a few months ago when I took this shot). The gardener in me geeks out whenever I pass this house. I've always got to stop and see what they've planted this year, how tall it's grown, and how big their pumpkins are getting. I don't think I've ever seen a vegetable garden so exuberant. Someday I've just got to find out what they put in their dirt.

All that being said, I can't see myself ever doing something like this with my front yard. While the Zen garden would make an inaccurate statement about me, this type of yard would make an accurate one AT THE TOP OF ITS LUNGS!!! That's not my style.

While I love the idea of functional, edible landscaping, and at least a significant portion of my backyard will probably be home to squash, berry bushes, fruit trees, etc., I'd prefer that my front yard be more subtle in its unconventionality. Hence the "herbs and almond trees" approach. They're both decorative and functional, and they don't scream "Look at my funky hobby!" They also don't scream "Come eat me before my owner can!" the way an orange tree would.

So I guess this post does provide at least a small window into my soul: I'm perfectly willing to be different, I just don't want that to be the first impression I make on people. Whether that's a virtue, a vice, or just a neutral observation is open to debate.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Little Election Day Humor

Here's a little election day fun for everyone. Enjoy!



And finally, in the spirit of bipartisanship . . .

Let's hear it for democracy (and Photoshop)!

Divided Heart

It's Election Eve, and I find myself in an unexpected tug-of-war. I plan to vote for McCain, and part of me sincerely wants him to win (read the inordinantly long squirrel post if you want to know why). On the other hand, part of me really wants the victory to go to Obama.

The contradiction arises partly from curiosity--I want to know if an inexperienced visionary can live up to his image and deliver on his promises. I think my main motive, though, could best be described as idealistic yearning. I WANT him to be as great as he says he is. I want to believe that such a political leader exists, even though I know he probably doesn't.

In my more rational moments, I remember that all politicians stretch the truth, promise more than they can deliver, and basically tell us what we want to hear. I also know that even if Obama gets every program that he calls for passed into law, they still may not achieve all the glittering ends he has described. You know that, and I know that, but part of me still wants him to be the knight in shining armor, the cowboy in the white hat, the flawless good guy who will ride in and save the day with a nice, tidy, happy ending.

We Americans love that good vs evil scenario--the Good War against the Nazis, the Jedis against the Sith, Superman against Lex Luther--which may explain why many people on both sides can be so dogmatic. We want there to be a "good side," and we want to be on it, so once we choose a candidate our cause we tend to filter out everything bad about our choice and everything good about the other one. Soon we think we really ARE voting for Luke Skywalker, and that if his opponent Darth Vader wins it will mean the end of civilization as we know it.

I can't imagine McCain as Superman or Robin Hood, even if he were the one encouraging us to rob the rich to feed the poor. After all his condescension, smear attacks, and policies that seem to favor the rich and big corporations, I just can't see McCain in any sort of heroic light. But against all reason I keep hoping that Obama, with his high-road rhetoric and effort to engage minds rather than strike fear into hearts, will be the good guy he implies he is.

I know that's emotion talking, not reason, but by golly I wanna to believe. And for better or worse, I will probably get what I'm guiltily wishing for. Heaven help us, either way.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama and the Squirrel

Have you been curious why I obviously like Obama but haven’t committed to vote for either presidential candidate? Or have you just been wondering what I thought about the “town hall” debate? Well if you want answers, you’re about to get them. But first, I better explain about the squirrel . . .

A while back I heard a story about a farmer with a large tree growing next to his home. One day as he was walking across his yard, he startled a squirrel which scampered up the tree and disappeared into a hole in its trunk. The farmer had never noticed the hole before, and he paused to take a closer look. His inspection revealed that the interior of tree was hollow and rotten, and that discovery presented him with two unpleasant options.

On the one hand, tearing down the tree would be a huge hassle and he was reluctant to give up its beauty and shade. On the other hand, if he left the weakened tree standing a strong wind might break it apart, possibly harming his family and damaging his home. One option would certainly deprive him of some things he valued; the other might cost him everything that mattered most to him. As he considered his difficult choice, the farmer muttered, "I wish I'd never seen that squirrel."

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it . . .

The recent “town hall” presidential debate had a big impact on me. I felt that both candidates held their own on foreign affairs, but their discussion of domestic issues was more one-sided. While McCain had plenty to say about his foreign policy views, in the domestic sphere he seemed to spend most of his time making canned campaign statements and attacking Obama. It especially irked me when McCain made some particularly scathing remarks about his opponent’s economic plan when (due to the debate format) Obama would not have an opportunity to respond in his own defense.

While McCain seemed more intent on slamming his rival than presenting his own views, Obama seemed absolutely driven to share his ideas and explain how they could benefit people. I loved the fact that he had something of substance to say, and clear plans that he was eager to share. He was also more likely to actually answer questions rather than launching into some unrelated political diatribe, and he was willing to set concrete goals (e.g. reform social security in his first term, freedom from oil within ten years).

As I listened to him, I thought, “Wow. This candidate is actually talking to my brain instead of trying to strike fear into my gut. He’s passionate about explaining his ideas rather than obscuring them, and the more he discusses them the more I like them. I want to vote for this man!!!!”

Enter the squirrel.

At this point there is only one thing keeping me from deciding to vote for Obama, and it isn’t abortion. As I’ve previously stated, I think both candidates share my belief that education is the best way decrease the number of abortions in our country, and I feel that the principles Obama advocates are a good balance of teaching abstinence and respect for intimacy while addressing the fact that not all students will embrace those ideals.

No, the issue that troubles me is barely on people’s radar screen in most of the country, but it weighs heavily on my mind here in California, where the state supreme court recently overturned a traditional marriage statute that 61% of state voters approved. In November we will vote on Proposition 8, which would amend our state constitution to declare: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The current heated debate about allowing same-gender marriage has made me study and consider this issue more than I ever had before, and the prospect of legalizing such unions really concerns me from both a religious and sociological point of view.

Each of those perspectives could be a lengthy post in its own right (and probably will be at some point), but in a nutshell—whether you take your cues from religion, sociology, or evolution—marriage is between two complementary beings (a male and a female), whose distinct parenting styles potentially provide the best environment for rearing children. A same-gender union, however loving, does not meet either of those criteria and therefore does not fit the definition of marriage.

Opponents of Prop 8 insist that its supporters are trying to force their beliefs on others. In actuality, both sides are fighting for their beliefs about marriage and what is best for our society. However, supporters of traditional marriage have millennia of history and copious sociological evidence to show that heterosexual marriage is an effective foundation for society.

By contrast, proponents of same-gender marriage are proposing a radical social experiment, with virtually no evidence to back their claim that redefining the fundamental unit of our society will have a positive or even neutral impact. They’re essentially asking us to have faith in their unproven opinion. Frankly, if they want me to support a radical change to the family, which has an enormous impact on every individual’s entire life and destiny, they’re going to have to offer me a lot more than their opinion that the effects will be positive.

Some say that this debate is about providing equal rights to everyone, and I couldn’t agree more. The thing is, California Family Code 297.5 already guarantees homosexual domestic partnerships the exact same rights as heterosexual marriages, and that will not change if Prop 8 passes. The only rights actually at stake are those of people who disagree with homosexual marriage – free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from having a homosexual agenda imposed on our kids at school through lessons and field trips. Opponents of Prop 8 insist these rights will not be threatened, but troubling precedents are already being set here, in Massachusetts, and elsewhere.

Now back to McCain and Obama . . .

In some ways, they take a similar stance on this issue. Both declare that marriage is between a man and a woman. Both voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006, insisting that the definition of marriage should be left to individual states. Unfortunately, the similarities end there.

In 2006 Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which stated that if some states allow same-gender marriage, other states and the federal government are not bound to honor those marriages. McCain voted for the bill; Obama voted against it on the grounds that it was discriminatory, and says as president he would support efforts to repeal it. Even if he only repeals the federal aspect of it, I worry that would create a slippery slope toward forcing all the states to recognize a few states' redefinition of marriage.

What’s more, when Proposition 8 was placed on California’s ballot this year, McCain expressed his support for it while Obama declared that "I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states." What is divisive about inviting a state’s population to define marriage once and for all? Would it be more fair and unifying for us to stand idly by while the state supreme court tells 61% of Californian voters that they are ignorant bigots unfit to set state policy? I thought Obama supported democracy, not oligarchy.

As for his potential influence on the national stage, some of my friends have made the argument that there is little a president can actually do to impact this issue. While it is true that he cannot singlehandedly pass laws or make Supreme Court rulings, he does have three powerful tools at his disposal: 1) His high profile, 2) His veto, 3) Judges he recommends for the Supreme Court.

When a president proposes new legislation, that proposal gets a lot more attention than an average senator doing the same. What’s more, if Obama is elected he will be working with a Democrat-controlled Congress. If President Obama proposes, say, a reversal of DOMA, he’s more likely to get a positive response from the current Congress than he would have from the Republican one that passed the bill two years ago. Furthermore, while President McCain would likely veto such a reversal (and any other bills he found threatening to state sovereignty on same-gender marriage or homosexual adoption), President Obama would sign them with gusto and hail them as blows to discrimination.

As for the Supreme Court, one of the most lasting legacies any president leaves behind is his appointments to that body. As a Californian, I’ve watched a single high court decision reverse both the voice of the people and millennia of tradition about what marriage means. Since Obama apparently feels that the traditional definition of marriage is discriminatory, I’m concerned about what kind of judges he might appoint (with the approval of the Democratic Congress). By contrast, considering McCain’s stance on marriage and the fact that he is a staunch opponent of abortion, I doubt he would recommend any judge who takes a liberal view on those subjects.

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So there’s my dilemma. How many things must I admire about Obama before I can ignore the fact that he wants to redefine the fundamental unit of our society, which has a greater and more lasting influence on our life and destiny than economics, diplomacy, or any other factor? Am I willing to take the risk that he really won’t have any impact on this issue? If he does back legislation or appoint judges that undermine the traditional family, will any of the things I respected about him remotely compensate for that?

Sigh.

I know my individual vote will not sway the presidential election in California or the nation as a whole, yet the decision will make matters a lot to me. It’s a statement of where I stand, and where my priorities lie. If I vote against Obama, I’ll also be voting against good character, lots of sound ideas, and so many other things that I value. Yet, if I vote for him, I will feel partly responsible if he takes action against the institution that matters most to me. Which is why I will most likely vote for McCain on November 4.

I wish I’d never seen that squirrel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Voting for a Philosophy

I'm glad tonight's presidential debate was the last for this season, because I don't think I could endure another one. I didn't hear much about the issues that hadn't been said before, and I'm getting sick and tired of McCain's negativity.

I am determined to vote with my left brain firmly engaged - to analyze health care plans, economic plans, moral stances, and everything else to decide who will be the best leader for our country. I'm committed to doing that on November 4th. But right now I just want to turn off the left, logical side of my brain and let my right brain vent its frustration and disgust with a candidate who would rather strike fear into my gut than talk to my mind.

While Obama spent most of his time on substantial discussion of issues and what he hopes to accomplish, McCain spent the majority of his time attacking his opponent and harping on blatant inaccuracies like the supposed Ayers connection, and the born-alive abortion bill Obama opposed because it was already covered by Illinois state law and the new law would just stir up a Roe-related hornets' nest. One of the truest statements I heard this evening was Obama's comment that McCain's fixation on the Ayers issue instead of more important subjects says a lot about his campaign.

Why does McCain spend so much time smearing, and so little talking about his own goals? Is it because his plans are weak, or he fears they are too business-friendly to resonate with most American voters? Or is it simply because he believes it's easier to win by attacking his opponent than by making his own case? Whatever the justification, the strategy certainly isn't helping him win my heart or mind, and the more disgusted I get the harder it's becoming for me to analyze his views objectively. It's hard to look for the good in someone I have an increasingly difficult time respecting.

Yes, I know Obama sometimes stretches the truth, too. I know these are politicians, not saints. But I wish I could cast a vote for a campaign's philosophy. I wish I could vote in favor of being treated like an intelligent human, and against being treated like a skittish animal that can be frightened into voting a certain way. I wish I could just cast a vote in favor of dialogue and against divisive scare tactics. And I wish Mr. McCain's verbal commitment to chastise slanderers extended to his own ad team.

P.S. In case you're wondering what I thought of the "town hall" debate last week, it actually made a big impression on me. It's just taking me a while to frame my thoughts effectively. Hopefully I'll get that post finished soon.

The Pumpkin and the Semi-successful Teaching Moment

Since Phillip had late class last night, we decided to have family night this evening. We piled into the car and went to Trader Joe’s to pick out our Halloween pumpkins (at $3.49/pumpkin, they’re the best deal in town). Joy picked a little sugar pumpkin, then Daddy and I each chose a larger one to carve.

When we returned home Joy was eager to carry her own pumpkin, so we let her give it a try. She did fine until we reached the stairs, then she accidentally dropped it down a few steps. We handed it back to her when we reached the top, but she soon dropped it again. We returned it to her once more, encouraging her to be careful, whereupon she smiled and threw the pumpkin several feet ahead of her.

I rescued the unfortunate squash and carried it up the second flight of steps, then Joy began reaching for her pumpkin again so I decided to try a technique I recently heard at a parenting class. Before handing it to her I reminded her that we shouldn’t throw pumpkins, then I asked if she was willing to carry it without throwing it. I seemed to get a positive response, so I handed the little pumpkin back to her. True to her word, she didn’t throw it. She set it on the ground and kicked it like a soccer ball most of the way to our front door. The sight made me laugh out loud. Ah, kids.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Peace After a Small Storm

Joy and I were on our own at stake conference this morning, since Daddy was sitting with the choir on the stand. I was fine through most of the meeting, but by the time my active toddler and I neared the end of the second and final hour I was pretty worn out (and yes, years from now when I have more kids I will probably look back on that statement and laugh). I reached that point at about the same time our stake president was encouraging us to be a little more valiant in living the Gospel. At that moment the thought of adding anything more to my plate seemed totally overwhelming, and I had a fleeting temptation to go home and hide under a blanket for a while.

Fortunately, the Lord whispered a reminder that He won’t ask me to run any faster than I have strength. If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other on the path He has laid out, He will enlarge my capacity as much as I am ready for at a given time. It was reassuring to remember that I can do as much as He needs me to, and He will never ask more than I am able to give.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Not What I Expected

In one sense, the vice presidential debate was not what I anticipated. Since both candidates have a reputation for occasionally talking themselves into trouble, I expected a train wreck at one or both podiums. Obviously that didn't happen, which is probably for the better.

In another sense, the debate confirmed many of my impressions about Palin.* Some people try to draw a comparison between Palin's and Obama's level of experience, but their respective debate performances demonstrate that there isn't much to compare. Obama has studied, formed opinions about, and in many cases taken action on nearly every national and international issue there is, and he can discuss his stance on them at length. Palin has that kind depth on a few subjects, but when confronted with the rest I always feel she is carefully reciting a script the campaign has handed her. She may agree with that script, but the fact that she even needs it underscores the fact that she is not ready to be a national leader.

Perhaps the clearest evidence of that is the vice presidential job description she provided. In contrast to Biden, who explained that his duties would be to spearhead important legislation and advise Obama on vital matters, Palin says McCain wants her to focus on energy and advocacy for children with handicaps. While those are two very admirable causes, they sound more like the job description for a First Lady: choose a couple noble causes to champion using your high-profile position, and let the boys in charge handle all the other stuff. Perhaps McCain's narrow assignment for Palin is the result of sexism, but I think it more likely that he knows she just isn't qualified to do much else at this point.

I know, I know. Neither of the people who debated tonight is running for president, and realistically my impressions of the VP candidates will have little impact on my vote next month. Frankly, the main reason I'm writing this post is that I'm really disappointed.

I want our first female VP (or president) to be so much more than this. I want her to be selected for the job because she is hands-down the best person for it, not just because it would look good to have a woman (any woman) with a clean image on the ticket. I want her to know the issues inside and out and take a principled stand on them, not just repeat virtually the same scripted lines in response to any question she doesn't want to answer (at one point tonight, I thought I would scream if I heard the word "energy" one more time). I want her to be a leader I can have confidence in, not a well-meaning but unprepared person I have to make excuses for.

I want to see the glass ceiling shattered, not just nicked.

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*On the other hand, I confess I knew little about Biden going into this. My impression after tonight is that he is experienced and well-informed, and will perform competently in the roles of advisor and legislation promoter. We'll see if he lives up to that as I get to know him better.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

You Knew This Was Coming . . .

You're probably wondering whether I watched the debate on Friday. As a matter of fact I did, and I found it rather informative, but it's taken me a while to process what I thought of the candidates' positions. Perhaps that's because nothing really outrageous happened. The debate was fairly civilized and both candidates held their own, neither scoring any real knockout punches on the other. Still, there were a few statements and trends that made a lasting impression on me.

First off, I think Obama earned points simply for delivering a competent performance. Many people had speculated that the more experienced McCain would steamroll him on foreign relations, and though McCain did indeed demonstrate impressive knowledge of global history and issues, Obama kept pace with him and presented some alternate ideas which I think are well worth considering.

By contrast, some of McCain's proposals and attitudes concerned me a bit. While I don't believe that McCain is the Bush clone that Obama sometimes paints him to be, he did demonstrate some of the philosophies that have most troubled me about Bush's administration. For example, Bush and company were so intent on invading Iraq that they chose to do it despite the fact that evidence against Saddam was shaky and Al Qaeda was somewhere else (i.e. that country where we were already waging a war). During the debate McCain seemed to show a similarly narrow view, constantly harping on Iraq as if his opponent never acknowledged that it was important. Obama completely agreed that we need to act wisely in Iraq, but he made the valid point that we can't let that battle distract us from other equally important fronts in the War on Terror: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other areas where Al Qaeda has a presence.

I'm also troubled by the Bush/McCain "us vs. them" mindset. McCain proposed bypassing the U.N. and organizing a league of democracies to put some real pressure on Iran. Obama pointed out that if we want to have any kind of influence on that country, we'll need non-democratic Russia and China to participate, too. McCain also wants to take a hard line with Russia, isolating them and sending a strong message that their behavior is unacceptable (even though the Bush administration has made little headway with that same stance). Obama agrees that we need to take a firm approach to Russia, but he also insists we should look for common interests with them, since nations rarely want to negotiate if they have nothing to gain. Obama also pointed out that if we're worried about extremists hating and attacking us, we ought to cultivate a national reputation for promoting positive things (like education) instead of being an international bully (or maverick, or sheriff) who seems to act unilaterally without regard for other nations.

The "us vs. them" factor also figured into the candidates' interactions with each other. Some commentators have criticized Obama for occasionally saying he agreed with McCain while the latter never made any such concession. Considering that both men bill themselves as candidates who can reach across the aisle and work with both parties, I find it telling that only Obama even acknowledged they had any common ground during the debate. That detail is reflective of their entire campaigns: Obama and the Democrats in general profess respect for McCain's war record and some of his character traits, but McCain refuses to acknowledge there is anything worth praising about Obama. If McCain's bipartisanship goes out the window when an election is on the line, does that mean he's only willing to reach across the aisle when it's convenient?

As for Obama, it's difficult for me to tell whether some of his foreign policy ideas are wishful thinking or just different from McCain's philosophy. Since I myself am inexperienced with foreign policy, it's hard for me to tell whether McCain's dismissal of unconditional talks with Iran demonstrates sounder judgement, or whether it merely reflects his personal opinion. My general conclusion is that since our current approaches with some nations aren't making headway, it can't hurt to try something new. I also believe that Obama is both flexible and smart enough to recognize whether a policy is working, and make course corrections if needed. McCain is smart, but he doesn't strike me as the flexible type.

Also, while I appreciate Mr. McCain's crusade against earmarked funds in recent years, I would encourage him to please stop treating them like a major campaign issue. His relentless emphasis on that subject rang hollow with me because, 1) Congressional earmark allotments have already decreased by over 20% in the last three years, 2) As Obama pointed out, they're small change compared to tax cuts and other big financial matters we should be discussing, and most significantly 3) McCain's own running mate supported earmark funds for Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere, and kept those earmarked funds for her state even after the bridge project was cancelled. If McCain doesn't feel that disqualifies Palin from being his right-hand woman and a potential future president, he shouldn't imply that Obama's recent conversion to the anti-earmark gospel disqualifies him either.

And speaking of Ms. Palin, tomorrow's vice presidential debate should be veeeeeery interesting . . .

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seussian Wisdom

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind. " - Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can She Walk the Walk?

The strongest argument that Palin is unprepared for international diplomacy is her own campaign's refusal to admit reporters to her first big interviews with international leaders at the UN yesterday. The McCain/Palin campaign originally insisted that only photographers would be allowed in the room, but when the news agencies protested the campaign agreed to allow some reporters in, too--for less than a minute. The journalists got to hear Palin and Afghan President Hamid Karzai exchange pleasantries about Karzai's young son, then all members of the press were escorted out before anything else was discussed.

The McCain camp is nothing if not shrewd. If Palin was going to shine in these interviews, if she was going to impress the world with her diplomatic prowess and summarily lay to rest any doubts about her abilities, they would have invited every reporter on the planet to be there to witness it. The fact that they wanted cameras to show her looking diplomatic but no journalists to report whether she lived up to that image convinces me that her own campaign believes she isn't up to the task yet. They insist she's ready to lead this country in a very complex global community, but actions speak louder than words. Or photo ops.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Rectangular Friends

In response to the previous post, Christopher posed the question why readers often speak so fondly of books, but rarely of TV, film, the internet, etc. I originally planned to put my reply in a comment, but the subject is so dear to my heart (and my response was so lengthy) that I felt it deserved a post of its own.

I think one of the reasons books are so engrossing is that they require mental effort on your part. With film and television the story has already been imagined for you, and you can passively take it in. Books, on the other hand, require you to imagine the characters, their actions, and their settings for yourself. The story you experience is partly the author's creation and partly your own, and the whole adventure takes place inside your own mind. I think that's why books are so captivating, and why we often set them aside feeling we've just returned from a journey. In our minds, we really have been in another time and place.

I suppose you can have a similar experience on the internet and perhaps the radio, but those words seem very fleeting to me. While I admittedly read more electronic words than printed ones these days, they rarely inspire the same affection in me that a book does. Perhaps it is because internet words are constantly being replaced by the latest news or blog post. By contrast, the books that have earned places of honor on our front shelf exude a comforting sense of permanence and the pleasant memories we've shared together.

I think Internet text could be compared to acquaintances--the countless people I encounter each day whose presence, whether dull or captivating, is almost certain to be short-lived. They appear, they make their mark on my life, then they move on. Books seem more like close friends who are in my life to stay. There is a certain feeling of permanence about a book I can hold in my hands, and there's something comforting about the knowledge that whenever I feel like taking a fun or thoughtful journey, The Secret Garden or Garlic and Sapphires or The Screwtape Letters are waiting just across the room to invite me in.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Joy Will Surely Favor the History Books . . .

Sometimes a comic strip just speaks to me.

President Hinckley spoke fondly of growing up in a home with over a thousand books containing millions of words. I want that for our family, too. I love how the internet provides instant access to info on any subject, but there's just something delicious about picking up a real live book, flipping through its pages, and suddenly finding yourself immersed in a whole new world.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Pro-Life Feminist Has An Epiphany

Some of you, upon reading this, will praise Heaven that I finally saw the light. Others of you may think I'm either crazy or apostate. Or both. Heck, if I'd read this post a week ago, I probably would have thought the same thing. Let me try to explain.

Earlier this week I stumbled upon a blog post by a feminist professor. Among other things, she posed the question whether someone (i.e. Palin) can be both a feminist and pro-life. She said she doubted it, since she believes the the fight for abortion rights and "reproductive freedom" is an integral part of the battle for women's rights and equality.

I'm not sure what possessed me, but I decided to comment that being feminist and pro-life seemed perfectly logical to me. After all, the fundamental principle of feminism is that one person or group should not arbitrarily impose its will on another. If you believe that an unborn baby is a person (as I do), perhaps a true feminist should be defending his or her right to life, especially since (unless she was raped) a woman seeking an abortion already made a choice that led to pregnancy, and she is unwilling to accept the consequences of that choice.

All the previous commenters on this post were solidly pro-choice liberals, and though I tried to frame my comment respectfully, I was just sure that sooner or later somebody was going to verbally tar and feather me. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised that we all had a respectful, thoughtful conversation about what we believe and why the two sides rarely manage to see eye to eye. Though I still disagree with many of the perceptions pro-choice views are based on, the commenters did repeatedly emphasize something I agree with, and as I’ve reflected on it, it has completely transformed my approach to the abortion debate.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that widespread abortions and our society’s acceptance of them are two of the great horrors of our time. It deeply troubles me that so many women kill their own babies for essentially selfish reasons, especially since those babies only exist because of choices the mothers made. I view abortions as murder of innocents who cannot even defend themselves, and I have always assumed that the logical outgrowth of that belief should be advocacy of laws to label abortion as the crime it is.

While I feel our laws make important statements about what we value and tolerate as a society, the blog commenters pointed out that in the case of abortion, it isn’t quite that simple. They insisted that so many women have come to see abortion as a right and a necessity that if it were made illegal the practice would not stop. It would simply go underground, still killing babies and potentially endangering the mothers with shady, back alley practices. The law might make a statement, but practically speaking it would have little effect.

As I reflected on this, my thoughts turned to the Prohibition movement of the 1800s. In that era, the great moral debate was about liquor and its corrosive effect on individuals and families. In 1919, opponents of alcohol finally saw their dreams realized in the form of a constitutional amendment prohibiting alcohol in the U.S. The law was a dismal failure. Public demand for liquor was so strong that the law proved unenforceable; since people couldn’t obtain booze legally, they just found ways to get it illegally. Fourteen years later after its ratification, the prohibition amendment had the dubious honor of being the only amendment in the U.S. constitution that has been repealed.

While I would love to see our country reject abortion, I think pro-life efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade are doomed to the same failure as prohibition. Even if they could obtain such a law or ruling, a generation after Roe the genie is too far out of the bottle and the law would most likely be unenforceable. If people really want to take a stand against abortion, I don’t think fighting for a law or ruling is the effective way to do it.

A year ago—or even a week ago—I never would have imagined I would write the above paragraph. As previously mentioned, I always assumed that if you believed abortion was a pernicious, murderous evil, the only logical course was to fight for a law prohibiting it. When I suddenly questioned that assumption today, I wondered if I had become delusional, or worse: apostate. In search of a little clarity, I went to the LDS Church’s website to see what the General Authorities have to say on the subject. If an anti-abortion proposition was slated for California’s ballot next year, I wondered if our ward would receive a letter from Salt Lake urging us to throw our full weight behind it, as we did with Prop 8.

Lds.org has an index of gospel topics that provides basic information on Church doctrine, with related quotes from Church leaders. I was surprised to find that the “Gambling” entry clearly “encourage[s] Church members to join with others in opposing the legalization and government sponsorship of any form of gambling,” and the “Same-Gender Attraction” entry declares that “we cannot stand idle if [those with same-gender inclinations] indulge in immoral activity, if they try to uphold and defend and live in a so-called same-sex marriage situation,” yet the “Abortion” entry merely explains why the Church soundly condemns that practice. It declares that we should not encourage or assist others to obtain an abortion, but there is not a word about opposing it in the political sphere. I wonder how many Latter-day Saints assume the Church supports passage of anti-abortion laws, and would be stunned by the suggestion that it doesn’t.

I should clarify that while I think advocating national anti-abortion laws is an ineffective way to combat abortion, I’m not saying pro-life people should throw our hands up and accept the practice, either. I think if we really want to decrease the number of abortions in our country, we need to decrease the demand for them through education. It encourages me that both presidential candidates regret the existence of abortions and feel the best way to prevent them is not to keep butting heads about Roe, but to educate people so there are fewer unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Though it’s hard to get a clear picture of what kind of education McCain has in mind, Obama has been outspoken in his support for sex education that focuses on abstinence and the sacredness of intimacy, in addition to explanations of contraception. He also supports counseling for pregnant women that would present viable alternatives to abortion. That strikes me as a sensible balance between presenting people with the best and wisest course, and accepting the reality that some will choose not to follow it.

Here's to a day when abortion is no longer debated because there is simply no more demand for it. Even if we never achieve that completely, I'm hopeful that efforts in that direction will bear some fruit. They certainly can't be less productive than 35 years of butting heads has been.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Praise Effort, Not Brains

A commenter on STM’s blog recently included a link to an article about praising children. It reported that children who are praised for their intelligence come to fear risks and don’t work as hard, whereas children praised for their efforts are more willing to try new things, and try harder. The “smart” kids fear that failure will mean they aren’t smart after all, and they put in minimal effort because they assume smart people succeed effortlessly while dumb people have to work at things. The “hard-working” kids, on the other hand assume they are in control of their success, and that they can always achieve it by working a little harder and trying again when they do fail. Studies also found that continual praise can actually be less effective than intermittent praise, because the child comes to expect constant reinforcement.

I was particularly struck by a study on inner-city students in which a group of them were taught lessons that intelligence is not innate and that the brain is like a muscle—if you exercise it, it grows stronger and more effective. Many of the students openly mocked the lessons, but as the semester progressed their study habits and grades improved while the habits and scores of the control group stayed the same.

All of this particularly resonated with me because I often praise Joy for being “smart” when she figures something out or “good” when she obeys a rule. I don’t know if she entirely understands me, but I’ve already noticed that when I prompt her to say a word she knows well, she sometimes evades my request, even if it means walking away from a toy she apparently wanted to play with. Perhaps that behavior is unrelated to my past praise, but I do think it wise in the future to praise what she does (e.g. “good job sounding that word out” or “thanks for following directions”) rather than praise qualities she can’t control (e.g. “you’re so smart”).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prove Yourself

I'll try not to rant, but the McCain campaign's accusations that Palin critics are sexist is really getting on my nerves. The criticism and scrutiny she has received is no worse than what the other candidates have endured (remember Reverend Wright?), and it positively pales in comparison to the false rumors about Obama that too many Americans accept as solid truth (e.g. the belief that he's Muslim or was raised in the Middle East).

Even more frustrating to me is the double standard these complaints demonstrate. The Palin supporters who howl the loudest are often the same ones who skewered Hillary Clinton supporters a few months ago for making a similar implication that Clinton was heavily criticized because of her gender.

Palin herself summed the whole matter up nicely in March 2007 (presumably talking about the Clinton-related sexism complaints): "When I hear a statement like that coming from a woman candidate, with any kind of perceived whine about that excess criticism or maybe a sharper microscope put on her, I think, 'Man, that doesn't do us any good.' . . . I mean, work harder! Prove yourself, to an even greater degree, that you're going to be the best candidate." Perhaps she still feels that way (so far I haven't heard her personally play the gender card), but if so I sure wish she'd share that philosophy with some of her fans.

The latest incident of supposed sexism speaks volumes about both campaigns. In a statement about McCain’s resemblance to Bush on major issues, Obama said that “if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.” Since Palin recently compared herself and other hockey moms to pit bulls with lipstick, the McCain camp insisted Obama's comment was an insensitive, sexist insult to Palin, and they demanded an apology. Never mind the fact that McCain made the same pig-and-lipstick joke about Clinton’s health care plan last year.

For his part, Obama expressed regret that when our country is in the middle of an energy crisis, two wars, and a recession that threatens millions of homes and jobs, the McCain campaign wants to focus on slander rather than solutions, taking an innocent remark out of context and blowing it out of proportion when there are so many other things we need to be talking about. The whole affair is consistent with the campaigns' contrasting philosophies: Obama tries to inspire people's hearts and minds, while McCain appeals to their fears and prejudices.

The most frustrating thing for me is that McCain's smear campaign, though reprehensible, is also shrewd. Our emotions affect our choices more than we like to admit, and propaganda often influences people more than rational discussion. It also requires less mental effort than actually analyzing issues and reaching a conclusion about whose plan is best. It's so tempting to take that easy road, but I really hope Americans will base their ultimate choice on reason and principle rather than inflammatory rumors, no matter who they vote for.

Cheaper than Therapy

STM has vowed not to post (much) about the election until November. Bless her for her restraint. As for me, I'm tired of resisting the urge. If I don't post about things that inspire or bug me, they buzz around in my head all day and make it hard to focus on anything else. It's starting to drive me nuts, and since blogging is cheaper than therapy I've decided to just accept reality. I never imagined my blog would have a political theme, even temporarily, but it looks like that's just how it's going to be for the next couple months. And I haven't even decided who to vote for yet.

If you want to skip the political posts, it won't hurt my feelings in the slightest. There will still be plenty of warm fuzziness on our family blog, and occasionally here, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mosaic

I felt like posting tonight, but I didn't feel like thinking, so I decided to borrow an idea from my cousin-in-law (and Flickr).

Concept:
1. type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
2. using only the first page, pick an image.
3. copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd's mosaic maker. (choose 4 columns, 3 rows, individual URLs).*



Questions:
1. what is your first name? Kimberly
2. what is your favorite food? Good food
3. what school do you go to? BYU (I suppose "life" would have been more accurate)
4. what is your favorite color? Blue
5. who is your celebrity crush? Phillip (he's a celebrity - just ask Joy; he's a fun guy, too)
6. what is your favorite drink? Cranberry juice (cranraspberry, white cran peach, cranstrawberry . . . gooood stuff)
7. what is your dream vacation? British Isles (or Italy, or the Yucatan Peninsula . . .)
8. what is your favorite dessert? Fruit Cobbler
9. what do you want to be when you grow up? More loving
10. what do you love most in life? God
11. one word to describe you? Curious
12. your nickname? Sweetheart

Photo Sources:
1. Heart Glow, 2. Chmurka & BuĹ‚eczka (+ MESSAGE TO THE WORLD), 3. The Reason Why I Love Spring, 4. When I'm sleeping, I slow down my breathing...Living in dreams, dreams that come true...thinking of the color blue... ZZZzzzzzz..., 5. Clitocybe fragrans Fragrant funnel 1, 6. ballerina tea party, 7. A PIECE OF HEAVEN ON EARTH. (KILKENNY, IRELAND), 8. Peach & Pear Cobbler with Candied Ginger and Butter Pecan Ice Cream, 9. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 'tiz the Season! ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ What have we here? ~ Christmas Kitty, Good Cheer! Happy Holidays, Everyone ! ! !, 10. Cosmic Dream:kerala:India, 11. Got milk?, 12. ♪ Yellow Rose

*If you want to try this at home, I hope you're more familiar with Flicker than I am. It took me forever to figure out how to get the resulting mosaic into my post. If you need help I'll do my best to explain what I did, but it would really be the blind leading the blind.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Post That Thought It Was a Comment

This blog is becoming too political for my taste (and probably yours), but by golly, if I don't post something about Palin's speech last night, my head's gonna explode. So I'm going do the next best thing: I'll keep the post nice and short, so you can stop reading here if you want to. On the other hand, if you can still stomach any more of my mixed thoughts on Ms. Palin, go ahead and read what promises to be my lengthy comment on this post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Observor Observed

"Didion [suggests] that when we write down details of place and time and people, we are also writing a description of ourselves. I never thought about it that way before, but it's true. . . . Who we are will always be present in what we observe, what we write; what, out of all we observe, we choose to write; how we choose to write it; how we are changed by writing it."

This evening I wandered onto a friend-of-a-friend's blog that had a single entry, most of which appears in the preceding paragraph. Her words reminded me of another recent experience I had in the blogosphere.

This whole Palin thing has been on my mind a lot lately, and when I read another blogger's enthusiasm about McCain's choice I was struck by the differences in our perceptions. Christie's view was very optimistic; mine was more pragmatic, and perhaps a bit cynical. Seen in the context of our other posts, our responses say as much about us as they do about the event we observed. Christie strikes me as a very positive person who finds joy in the colorful pleasures of life. By contrast, I feel my approach to life is mostly black and white practicality, with a hint of world-weary cynicism. I want to see more color in life, but I'm just not sure how to do it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wow! . . . Hey, wait . . .

This morning in the car, I heard on the radio that McCain had chosen Governor Palin of Alaska as his running mate. When the announcer then employed the feminine pronoun "she" I nearly gasped. A woman? He chose a female running mate?!? Awesome! Tell me about her credentials, radio people!

"Well, she's adamantly pro-life and won the governorship on an anti-corruption platform after blowing the whistle on some crooked party big-wigs. She's done an effective job of cleaning up Alaskan politics since her election."

Cool. What else?

"Uh, she's a woman."

Yes . . . you said that already.

"She's a really sincere woman. And she won a beauty pagaent once. And since she's soft-spoken, if Joe Biden gives her a hard time in the debates he'll look sexist."

.

.

People, is that the best you've got?

"Actually, we're kind of faked out, too. Maybe McCain was trying to appeal to Hillary supporters, except Palin is pretty much the exact opposite of everything Hillary stood for. The only thing the two have in common is that they both possess a pair of X chromosomes."

Yeah--I've never even been a Hillary supporter, and I still feel kind of demeaned. If McCain thinks pro-Clinton women will vote Republican just because some female (any female) is on the ticket, that's kind of insulting. And if they do it, the insult is merited.

Sigh.

I love the idea of a female VP, but I don't want it to happen like this. For all that I'm not a Hillary fan, it was rather breathtaking to see a woman seriously considered for the presidency because of her undeniable leadership skills and experience. On the heels of that heady historical moment, it's painfully anticlimactic to see a woman tapped as a potential VP despite her lack of skills and experience, just because she's a (safe) woman.

Neither outside observers nor people familiar with Alaskan politics can imagine Gov. Palin actually running the nation or squaring off with Putin, and those are real considerations when her running mate is over 70. This choice pokes oil-rig sized holes in anything the Republicans say about Mr. Obama's level of experience. The more I think about the whole thing, the more it irritates me, especially since I can't imagine Obama ever making such a superficial choice.

And despite all this, I will probably vote for McCain anyway. Which just makes me want to cry. Hard.

And that's a whole other post in itself . . .

Friday, August 22, 2008

How to Get Rid of a Heel

Don't worry folks - I haven't fallen desperately ill or been kidnapped by nefarious brigands. We just returned from a long trip and, let's face it, on the rare occasions when I had access to a the internet I didn't feel like exerting the mental effort that blogging usually requires. I was on vacation, after all.

I'll try to write something meaningful and thought-provoking about our trip sometime soon, but in the meantime, here's a totally random thought some of you may find beneficial.

Do your family members have a certain aversion to the heels of bread loaves? Do you periodically find that your loaf has been reduced to the two all-crust ends that no one is willing to eat? That's certainly the case in my family, and I think I've finally found a way to increase heel appeal: spread Nutella on them. Slather it, if necessary. 'Cuz Nutella makes practically everything taste better.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Little Imagined I Was Capable of Such Depravity

Phillip's sister Emily recently returned from serving as a missionary in Croatia, and today we drove out to hear her speak in church. Several other relatives were there, including Cousin Jodi, who I haven't seen in person for nearly a year--long before she became pregnant with Baby #2. After the meeting today when I saw her cute, seven-month-pregnant tummy, I am mortified to confess that I cooed and rubbed it without even asking permission. Good. Freakin'. Grief.

I’ve heard stories about nutty people cheerfully rubbing pregnant women’s tummies without so much as a “by your leave,” and I never dreamt I would do that to another person, even if they are related to me. Sorry Jodi. And Alissa, when I see you in a couple days, I promise to exercise more restraint. Yeesh.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Forget Self-Esteem

The current marriage debate in California prompted me to pull out an old textbook that compares sociological findings with LDS doctrine on the family. The book contains numerous essays by psychologists, family therapists, and the like, and I was particularly interested in Wells and Burr's* take on the idea of self-esteem.

The authors note that in the previous century, many social scientists believed that the best way to improve someone's quality of life was to increase their self-esteem. In recent years, however, scholars have found that the exclusive focus on self (e.g. my needs, my happiness, my progress) often leads to selfishness which doesn't actually make a person very happy.

While it is, of course, important to see to your needs and take time for yourself periodically, many scholars are shifting their focus from improving self-esteem to improving relationships. They believe the most effective way for a person to increase their happiness is to "heal relationships with others, and to cultivate love and harmony and forgiveness in their relationships."

These ideas really resonate with me as a full-time mom. My responsibilities leave little time for hobbies, and I find that if I devote a morning to some personal pursuit and only interact with Joy when she absolutely refuses to be ignored, all that personal time doesn't actually make me feel better. My happiest days are the ones when I'm fully engaged with my daughter while she's awake--playing with her, teaching her, or even just watching her make her own fun. In my pre-motherhood, so-not-into-babies stage of life, I never would have dreamed I could get so much satisfaction from watching a toddler pick up pebbles or from reading her "Goodnight Moon" for the hundredth time.

The same is true at night when Joy is in bed and Phillip and I are free to attack our to-do lists. If we each spend the whole evening working separately, we get lots done but feel kind of empty at the end. On the other hand, if we take some time to talk or just cuddle on the couch and watch the dust motes settle, most of our work still gets done and we are a lot happier and closer as a couple.

In short, personal activities can be fun and satisfying, and I do find time for them now and then, but whenever I shove them to the top of my priority list they turn to ashes. By contrast, when I turn my attention to nurturing my relationships with my family and others I get a lot more satisfaction from life, and they probably do, too.


*M. Gawain Wells is a professor of psychology at BYU; Wesley R. Burr is an emeritus professor of family life from the same school. The book is Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family, edited by David C. Dollahite. A bit pricey, but an excellent resource.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

In Which I Dream of Tomato Paste

I think pregnancy has affected the subject matter of my dreams lately. Whereas I used to dream about bizarre things totally removed from reality (e.g. helping Robin Hood fight a giant pizza), these days my dreams tend to be about everyday situations. That can be stressful when I repeatedly try to do a mundane task and it doesn’t work out. For some reason I can handle dreams where I should be able to fly but can’t manage it, but dreams where I simple cannot get the dishwasher to run are really exasperating.

What’s more, daily life dreams can be downright disorienting in the mornings when I drift in and out of reality and quasi-reality. In my dreams I feel like I’m up and going about my usual routine, until I suddenly open my eyes and discover I’m back in bed again. Sometimes this happens several times in one morning, and it's a little disconcerting. In the Robin Hood dreams, I'm involved but some part of me recognizes it's not real. In everyday dreams, I'm not as aware that it's fake so it's strange to be in one room of the apartment then open my eyes and find myself in another one.

This morning’s dream scenario was a particularly odd case. Last night I tried a new curry recipe that didn’t turn out anything like what I expected. The flavor balance was strange, and I’m not really looking forward to eating all the leftovers. In the wee hours of the morning, my dream self got to wondering whether I should have put in half a can of tomato paste instead of the whole can. I spent most of the morning trying to check dream cookbooks or look up the recipe on my dream computer, and often I would wake up just before I “found” the answer, only to drift back to sleep and begin the search anew.

Of course, when I finally got out of bed (for real) the first thing I did was fire up the computer and check the recipe. It turns out my dream self was on the right track—I should have put in just a tablespoon of tomato paste instead of the entire can. No wonder dinner tasted weird.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fine Dining is Relative

A woman just related an interesting childhood memory on NPR. Years ago she attended a snooty private school on scholarship, and each September when the teacher asked what everyone had done that summer, this girl would describe her family’s low-budget road trips to local cities while her classmates talked about their trips to Europe.

One year, after another student described “another stupid trip to stupid Paris where we ate at some stupid restaurant where they only spoke stupid French,” the girl who always stayed local got up and told everyone about a fabulous restaurant her family had been to. She recalled the novelty of carrying her own food tray, getting her own soda, and serving herself as much ice cream as she wanted. That evening, the family phone rang practically off the hook as her ritzy classmates’ parents called to learn the name of the fine eating establishment their kids were so eager to try.

While I’m definitely looking forward to our own family vacation back East later this year, I appreciated this reminder that you can make memories wherever you are, and you don't even have to leave home to have fun with your family.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Seize the Diaper

"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today." (Anonymous?)

I've heard that saying mocked and parodied more often than I've heard it quoted correctly. This is particularly true among college students, who practically revel in their ability to pull rabbits out of hats at the very last minute (on two hours sleep, no less).

Well, as further evidence that I'm turning into some sort of practical grown-up, I'm actually starting to apply that sage advice, on occasion. For example, when Joy's Diaper Genie (translation: "odor-proof dirty diaper storage unit") gets full I usually move it to the hallway before I put her down to nap, so I can then empty it and take the bag out to the trash without wondering what my toddler is doing in my absence. Efficient system, right?

The trouble is, once lullabies were sung and the door was closed, did I ever want to lug a bunch of icky diapers out into the hot sun? Of course not. So the Genie would often sit in the hallway for hours, and every time I glanced at it my heart would sicken and I would think, "Blast! I must attend to that wretched task before Joy wakes up. Maybe in a few minutes . . ." And of course, I would miserably repeat that same feeble line to myself a dozen times until Joy finally woke up and I had to cram yet another diaper into the poor, stuffed Genie. No wonder it never granted me three wishes. But I digress.

Lately, I've employed a totally different strategy. Instead of letting that nagging task torment me for three solid hours, I take preemptive action and . . . empty the Genie as soon as Joy goes down. Instead of feeling like a miserable, hounded slacker, I feel proactive and my periodic Genie sightings yield satisfaction instead of shame. These heady emotions can be somewhat addictive, and when I find myself confronted with other nagging tasks I think, "Wait! If I just do this NOW I can feel satisfaction instead of festering guilt! Huzzah!"

Of course, most of you sensible people probably grasped this principle years ago. For any of you who haven't, I seriously encourage you to try it. Careful though--liberty can be habit-forming.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Someday Was Today

Today was a red-letter day, people. Yes, I'm feeling mostly better (which is the best one can hope for in one's first trimester) but the real news is that I finally used . . .

. . . that egg separator I was so excited to get with a new measuring cup set three years ago. If you have a kitchen gadget fetish like I do, you know how it is--you covet some random item for years, then finally purchase or receive it and think, "At last! I have arrived!" Then the thing sits a drawer or cupboard for years and your spouse or roommate occasionally asks why you still hang on to it. "It's the principle of the thing," you reply. "Even if I never actually use it, I know that I CAN, and there is hope that someday I WILL."

So I lived the gadget junkie dream today--I finally used my separator. What was the recipe, you may ask? Only Cousin Jodi's Nutella Swirl Ice Cream. The finished product tastes divine, but my second batch froze practically solid--I think I removed it from the ice cream maker while it was still too soft. What can I say--I'm still an ice cream making newb. Guess I'll just have to make more. With my little egg separator. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bless His Husband Heart

Morning sickness was an absolute bear today. My head hurt, my stomach constantly threatened rebellion, and I had zero energy. I could barely lift myself off the sofa. Since most other days of this pregnancy have gone just fine, I really, REALLY hope today's trauma was a fluke.

As the time drew near for Phillip to leave for his morning train, he asked if I needed him to stay home. I desperately wanted him to, but I knew he had a lot on his plate today. I asked how badly he needed to attend class, and he responded that he could watch it remotely and it sounded like I really needed him to do that. With tears in my eyes I hugged him and thanked him for staying to help me. Bless his husband heart.

I am glad to report that things gradually got better, and by late afternoon I was back to my usual self. I regret that this morning's misery complicated Phillip's day so much, but I’ve noticed that his choice to stay and help me has drawn us closer together. We are both so busy much of the time that we sometimes spend hours working on separate activities in the same room. While that is an efficient use of time, if we do it too often it can sap the unity and closeness from our relationship.

By contrast, Phillip’s service to me today increased our love and affection for each other. It reminds me of a recent quote we read from President Hinckley: “Tremendous happiness and peace of mind are the results of loving service to others. Nobody can live fully and happily who lives only unto himself or herself.”

French Burqa Debate

I occasionally check a fun blog with daily photos from Paris. Today’s photographic subject was a graffiti picture of a Muslim woman wearing a veil.

The photographer noted that the French Council of State recently denied a Moroccan woman’s application for citizenship even though she is married to a French citizen. The reason they gave was that “She has adopted a radical practice of her religion, incompatible with essential values of the French community, particularly the principle of equality of the sexes.” An article I found elsewhere elaborated that she lives a reclusive life in total submission to her husband, but the blog post (and comments thereon) focused on the fact that she always wore a burqa (a head covering with only a slit for the eyes to see through) in public.

Some of the comments declared the burqa an object of oppression that should be outlawed. As I read that, I got to thinking of at least one interview I’ve read of a Muslim woman who viewed the head covering as a sacred symbol of her devotion to God and respect for her body. Though I may not agree that veils are God’s ideal for female modesty, I respect her convictions and I’m sure there are other Muslim women who voluntarily wear a veil as a statement of their commitment to God in spite of societal pressure and even persecution. I felt it my duty to give that woman a voice in the blog discussion, and point out that forbidding a religious practice because our culture considers it oppressive can be just another form of oppression.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Yin and Yang of Parenthood

This morning was pretty rough. My stomach was grumpy, and for a while I just wanted to lie down and rest until the nausea subsided. It’s tough to do that when you have a toddler, though. The most I could get away with was reading her a few board books from a horizontal position before she insisted I get up and do something else. Sigh.

Fortunately the afternoon was full of hugs, games, and lots of Joy giggles, which more than made up for the morning. Funny how a few of those moments can make you forget about the tough stuff.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Prego Q & A

Thanks for the well wishes, everyone. In response to your questions about the due date, my first OB appointment is this coming week, so I don't have a firm date yet. It will probably be around February or March, though.

As for how I'm feeling, morning sickness has been mercifully mild this time. During my first pregnancy every food on earth sounded revolting with one exception, and that exception changed often and without warning ("Quick! Chinese food sounds good! Let's go get some before my stomach changes its mind!!"). I soon learned not to take lunches to work because by the time my lunch break rolled around I had no desire to eat whatever I'd brought.

This time, my stomach often feels slightly unsettled, but not so much that I don't feel like eating. My appetite also isn't as finicky as it was last time (though, come to think of it, Chinese food DOES sound pretty good right now). I really, REALLY hope this is the worst I can expect during this pregnancy.

Actually, fatigue has been the toughest prego symptom to deal with this time. I remember that by the final weeks of my first pregnancy I could barely get out of first gear, but I don't recall being this tired at the beginning. Perhaps it's because I was sitting at a desk instead of raising a toddler. Before this pregnancy I was pretty good about exercising and taking Joy outside to play, but lately there have been far too many days when I just wanted to lay down on the futon and maybe read my daughter a board book now and then. It takes a major act of will to get us both outside for some fresh air.

Weariness aside, things are going well and we're excited to meet the new member of our family. I'm curious to see how our family dynamic we'll change, and I'm glad Joy won't get too used to being the center of our universe. Hopefully the transition won't be too rough for her. Any suggestions?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Farewell to Brie and Other Delights

See this?

I'm sure gonna miss it for the next seven months or so, because you're not supposed to eat cookie dough when you're pregnant.

You're also not supposed to eat Brie, which required some serious self-restraint at Thursday's Young Women board meeting. There was a whole wedge of it just inches away from me, beckoning. . . . I finally had to move it several feet down the table so I wouldn't be tempted to throw caution to the winds and eat the whole dang thing.

Ah well, at least I can still eat (lots and lots of) this. And even if I couldn't, the little baby who's coming to join us would be well worth it. I can't wait to meet him. Or her. Or them?!? (twins run in my family - yikes!)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Call Me A Heretic . . .

I hadn't even heard of the Twilight books until the third one came out. At first I avoided them because I didn't need yet another literary addiction. As I learned more about the series, I started avoiding it because a whiny heroine and teenage sexual tension didn't sound like my cup of tea. However, as more of my friends, acquaintances, and neighbors' third cousins became Stephanie Meyer disciples I became curious in spite of myself. Actually, it was the Twilight movie trailer that finally pushed me over the edge. I just had to know what these stories were about.

So I cheated. I went to Wikipedia and read the plot summaries for all three books. The summaries both satisfied my curiosity and confirmed my suspicions, but they also left me with two burning thoughts.

First, of the three main characters the vampire is the only one who isn't a monster. Edward cares about others more than himself, isn't self-indulgent to the point of endangering himself and those he claims to care about, and both considers and cares that decisions have consequences. By contrast, Jacob's heavy-handed attempts to manipulate Bella make him more monstrous than his transformation to a werewolf ever could, and Bella (in addition to being a head case in the second book) is so recklessly absorbed with her own self-gratification that I don't think I could endure four whole books about her.

Which brings me to my Second thought: Why does someone of Edward's intelligence, character, and sense like a person like Bella in the first place? Is it because she treats him like a man instead of a monster? Or because he finds it fulfilling to constantly save her from the peril she gets herself into? Perhaps it is simply because that's what the Male Lead does in a romance novel: love the Female Lead unconditionally, brave all hazards to protect her, and utter sensitive, well-crafted, romantic lines to make all the female readers swoon.

The whole business reminds me of "An American in Paris," another story where I found most of the characters more annoying than endearing. The Male Lead essentially says, "She's a selfish, unpredictable girl with serious character flaws and little regard for the feelings of others, but by golly, we're MEANT for each other. I'd marry her in a heartbeat." Right. Because that's exactly the type of person you want to spend decades with in the trenches of marriage. And those words could as easily have been uttered by Edward as by Jerry Mulligan.

Perhaps all of this wouldn't bother me so much if it didn't reflect a broader societal assumption that successful relationships have everything to do with attraction and nothing to do with character. While the epidemic of American divorces doesn't stem entirely from that misalignment of priorities, I suspect it's a major factor and many of the stories we tell ourselves in print and on film reinforce it. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good romance as much as the next female, but we've wandered pretty far from Jane Austen whose protagonists loved each other because of good character traits, not despite bad ones.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I'm Back, Again

No, I didn't have second thoughts about resuming my blog. We moved to a new apartment last month, then our computer died shortly after my last post. We've spent the ensuing weeks trying to settle in and replace our old computer, during which time I only had computer access when Phillip was home and not using his laptop. In the rare event that those criteria coincided I spent every spare minute working or journaling (because I'm a compulsive, extensive journaler, and apparently I can't bring myself to hand-write entries if there is any remote possibility I can type them).

Now that life is back to normal I look forward blogging more. I actually have something on my mind that I want to post about, but I'm still mulling it over a bit. I'm sure it will make its debut soon, for better or worse. In the meantime, here's a delicious quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne (from a letter to his wife) about his introduction to farm work at Brook Farm:

"After breakfast, Mr. Ripley put a four-pronged instrument into my hands, which he gave me to understand was called a pitch-fork; and he and Mr. Farley being armed with similar weapons, we all three commenced a gallant attack upon a heap of manure. This affair being concluded, and thy husband having purified himself, he sits down to finish this letter to his most beloved wife. Dearest, I will never consent that thou come within a half mile of me, after such an encounter as that of this morning. Pray Heaven that this letter retain none of the fragrance with which the writer was imbued."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wishing, Blaming, and Other Futile Practices

Most of the time I enjoy being a mom, but now and then there are days when I just want to scream. Loud. The majority of those wanna-scream moments (or hours) boil down to a conflict between good things I want to do, and better or best things that I need to do (i.e. I want to read books and develop talents, but I need to teach, nurture, protect, and entertain my toddler).

This conflict between good and best can be frustrating, and when we're frustrated we often want to blame someone (our spouse, the president, the oil companies, etc.). In my case Joy is a tempting scapegoat because when I want to do something but can't, she is usually the one who needs me to do something else. I forget that if I weren't a mother I'd be working and have even less free time. I also forget that I do actually have some discretionary time that I spend blogging, journaling, gardening, etc.,--I just don't have nearly as much of it as I'd like.

I suspect part of my frustration stems from the fact that when I was working, I could do whatever I chose once I got home. Now I'm home all the time, with my books, hobbies, and nagging tasks literally at my fingertips, but my new career (which I wouldn't trade for a moment) requires that I turn my back on them while they call after me with seductive voices.

Sigh--the longer I live, the more convinced I become that humans are not rational beings. We like to think we are because the prospect of unpredictability is unsettling, but the truth is that we often vote for who we (or our demographic) like not who's best, we buy things because we want them not because we can afford them, and we'd rather mope about something than fix it or get over it. I think we can be rational (at least most of the time), but many of us prefer not to make the effort.

For my part I do try to think and act rather than just react, but I really should work harder at it because the days I blame and wish and mope are usually the days I end up wanting to scream. More importantly, they are the days I overlook the fun and joy of my life because I'm distracted by unrealistic wishes. Far, far too often I have failed to appreciate stages of my life because I wished they were different in some way, and I usually carried that mentality over even when I reached the milestones I yearned for. Heaven help me if I miss the wonders of parenthood because I wish I had more time to myself. Before I know it Joy will be off to kindegarten then off to college, and I'll be willing to trade all the free time in the world to have these days back again.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Shy Bookish Girls Rock

A fellow blogger recently noted that almost every young adult fantasy novel involves a shy, bookish heroine who discovers magical powers, faces challenges that reveal strength she little imagined, and in the process falls for a charming and witty prince with whom she lives happily ever after.

I suspect that formula exists for several reasons: 1) The authors themselves were probably shy and bookish girls, 2) The authors are probably still like that, but wouldn't mind having magical powers and a prince, 3) Most of the readers are shy and bookish, too, and wouldn't mind having powers and a prince either, 4) None of the above really want to read/write about a gorgeous, popular prima donna winning yet another round in life, and 5) Shy bookish girls rock.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Change Your World

Sorry I haven't written in a while. We are in the process of moving to another apartment in our building, so I don't have a lot of free time for blogging. Even so, I wanted to share at least something with you this week. To that end, here's a quote I read recently that I'm trying to live by, something along the lines of "casting a positive spell on yourself" . . .

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." (Norman Vincent Peale)

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Love You More Than Napkins

This evening as I was cumbered about with much serving, I started wondering whether my husband was free to help me out. Suddenly I heard the thunderous sound of playful daddy footsteps, and Joy’s wild giggles as she scurried to find refuge from the Tickle Monster. I realized my sweetheart was doing something much more important than setting the table, so I let them keep playing and took care of it myself. It was a small price to pay to hear my family have so much fun together.