Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Designs

So, I've updated the look of my blog. For those of you who read via google reader or emails, come on over and take a look. I really like it. :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Myth and Truth

I associate with a number of people who are intellectuals, questioners, or who are involved in the field of theology in general or mormon studies in specific. Some of these people are deeply committed to the LDS church, and others find their faith wavering or changing. There is (so they tell me) archaeological and DNA evidence that indicates that the Book of Mormon isn't a historical document. There are contemporary accounts that conflict with the way Joseph Smith said things happened during his visions, translations, and revelations. There is also a whole lot in the Bible that seems pretty far fetched if we're supposed to accept every word of that as historical fact too. These incongruities cause a trial of faith for many and a loss of faith for some.

But not for me.

The reason why is simple: I have come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter if these things are factual, or if they are stories (myths), because they can still be true.

Yes, you read that correctly:  fact =/= truth

A myth is not true because it is factual, but because it is meaningful.

Take Job. Do you really think that God and Satan made a bet? Really? I can go along with someone being faithful through enormous difficulty, but the betting part? That never sat very well with me. (And did Satan visit Heaven or did God visit hell do you suppose? Or did they have a bookie somewhere in the middle?)
What about Jonah? Swallowed by a fish? How about the post-fish part, where he was sitting on the hilltop waiting for Ninevah to be destroyed, and the vine grew to shade him (in one afternoon?), and then a worm (one worm?!) came and ate the whole vine (in the same afternoon?)  Yes, I believe in miracles...but I'm inclined to say that this one is probably a myth. There is a valuable lesson in the story of Jonah, and actually, because of the unbelievability of it, I think it might be better if taken as a parable. Because if we take it as a parable, then we stop saying "oh that poor guy, stuck in a fish" and instead we say "what is my fish? What is catching my attention to point me toward what I should be doing?" In other words, when we hear parables, we skip the "history lesson" part and move right into the "liken it to myself" part. Which I think is the more important part anyway.

I found an excerpt from CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien that I think expresses this best:
Myths, Lewis told Tolkien, were "lies and therefore worthless."

"No," Tolkien replied. "They are not lies." Far from being lies they are the best way — sometimes the only way — of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbor.
And so I am comfortable with following in a faith, even though there are some things that may appear problematic. In many things I am a literal believer, but I'm also ok with  trusting that some things might just be parables, and that they are still useful and valuable and, in fact, TRUTHful, even if they are not factual.
That has been very freeing, and helped me maintain faith in the midst of the many conflicting and confusing messages out there.

(My thanks to the several friends, particularly Jared and Genevieve, who helped me sort all this out.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

25 Manners Every Kid Should Know by Age 9?

I saw this link shared on facebook recently:
25 Manners Every Kid Should Know by Age 9
I thought oh cool, someone out there saying that our kids should actually have manners! My husband and I both are regularly upset by the rudeness that we see among young people toward their teachers, parents, and friends. It's disgusting.
But then I went and actually read the list at the link.
And I was not happy folks.

Some of the manners are good:  
When asking for something, say "Please." (#1)
When receiving something, say "Thank you." (#2)
Knock on closed doors -- and wait to see if there's a response -- before entering (#10) (I  have a couple of kids who need to work on this one...then again, daddy and mommy need to work on this one too, so it's no wonder is it?!)

Others of the manners were also good in theory, but were a little overdone, such as #19 (As you walk through a door, look to see if you can hold it open for someone else.) Sure, that's nice, but is it essential? I don't really think so.
Or #16 (Even if a play or an assembly is boring, sit through it quietly and pretend that you are interested. The performers and presenters are doing their best.) I would have said that you should sit still and quiet and not be disruptive of others, but if you're bored, I honestly don't care if you pretend to pay attention. Just don't distract anyone else, and don't say anything rude afterward.
And how about #24 (Keep a napkin on your lap; use it to wipe your mouth when necessary.) Um, I don't put a napkin in my lap unless I'm at a restaurant. Actually, I keep a damp washcloth at the table--I use it for the baby, and anyone else is welcome to use it for messy fingers too. At the end of dinner, we wash our hands in the sink when we clear our plates. Honestly? Napkins in laps for children under 9? Who wrote this?!

Finally, though, were a few items on the list that I found deeply troubling. It's not because the advice was bad per se, but it was either patronizing to the child, or didn't give the child respect equal to an adult. As my readers know, I have a real problem with both of those things. Here are the two that most particularly bothered me:
#3 Do not interrupt grown-ups who are speaking with each other unless there is an emergency. They will notice you and respond when they are finished talking.

Do I like interrupting? No. But this is something that needs to be taught by example. The wording of "do not interrupt grown-ups" makes it very clear that grown-ups conversations get precedent over young people's conversations. They should not. They should be equal. I think it's appropriate for an adult to say "just a minute" and I think it's appropriate for a child to wait a minute for the adult to finish what they are saying...but it is plain old rude for an adult to ramble on and ignore a child who is standing there clearly wanting to say something. AND, it's equally appropriate for an adult to wait a minute for a child to finish what they are saying, and so on.
#6 The world is not interested in what you dislike. Keep negative opinions to yourself, or between you and your friends, and out of earshot of adults.
Pardon me, I just threw up a little bit. (Oh, wait, was that a negative opinion?!) Just that first sentence gives one message loud and clear "the world is not interested in you or what you think." I find that deeply offensive. Do we or do we not want to teach our children to respect others? Do we or do we not want our children to develop confidence in themselves? Trust of their own abilities and feelings? Don't ever tell my kid that the world is not interested in him! Go ahead and tell him that you have different preferences, or even that you're not interested in a specific topic. That's ok. That's opinion. But don't tell him that his interests and opinions are invalid!  And as for the negativity, I always start by telling my kids that you can't have an opinion about a thing unless you are educated about it. If it's a food, you can't dislike it until you've eaten some. If it's a book, you can't be uninterested until you've read a few chapters. If it's an activity, try it before you decide to hate it. I don't generally force them to try things, incidentally (I do encourage, but not force), they're just not allowed to voice an opinion if they haven't tried it. I also ask my kids to not speak negative opinions in front of siblings who might be influenced by it (ie, Bear learns to hate tomatoes because Wolf says they're gross). But if my son wants to come to me privately and express his frustration or dislike about something, he is entitled to do that. Everyone is entitled to an (informed) opinion, and if my kids can't share with me, who can they share with?!

To end on a better note, I also read a great parenting blog post this week: Ten Ways to Confuse a Child. Go check it out. ☺
Also, I've added a section to my "my parenting philosophy" index page, so now as well as linking to the many posts that I have written, it also has links to outside posts and articles that I thought were particularly good. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Percy Jackson Greek Party

It has come to my attention that I never posted about the Percy Jackson party we had in January. Since we are currently working on a Fablehaven party, I figure I should cover the last one before we start the next one, right? OK then.

Wolf is 10. He loves to read, and he loves to talk about what he's reading. I relate to these sentiments, and have really enjoyed the few times I have been part of a book club. So I thought that Wolf might enjoy a book club, only, being 10, I was pretty sure that he wouldn't want to just sit around and talk about the book.
And then it came to me:

Theme parties based on the books!!

Think of it as a young person's version of a book club, ok? The basic policy is that you should have read the book (or at least one book from the series) in order to attend. We're not really strict about it though.

For those who have not read it, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series puts Greek mythology in a modern setting. They are filled with references to the classic myths, and I thought they were very clever (and intelligent) as well as fun.

As we discussed possible activities for the party, ultimately what Wolf wanted to do was dress up and watch the movie.

So we got the movie from netflix.

I made a bunch of Greek food (which I then mostly neglected to take pictures of): pitas, tzatziki, hummus, and slow-cooked beef (because I didn't have lamb), grapes, grape juice (“wine”), and baklava. The beef, and tzatziki rolled up together in a pita make a gyro, and Hubby and I made those, but the kids seemed to prefer just eating things separate. Everybody especially loved the baklava, it is AMAZING when it's warm!

We all ate our good Greek food, and then made bedsheet togas.

We cut leaves out of construction paper, and then stapled them to yarn to make laurel leaf crowns for our heads.

Then we watched the movie.

oh yeah, I made my hair cool too
Pretty simple stuff. Pretty fun party (although only one other boy came). Apparently after the fact though that friend kept telling everyone else at school what a cool party it had been, and kept asking when the next one would be. So, you see, when we hold the Fablehaven party this weekend, I anticipate a bigger crowd. :)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

I've miscarried twice as many times as I've carried a baby to term. I don't know why my body does this. I've had a battery of tests done, and the results told us nothing. I have no idea how many times I have burst into tears and wailed to the sky "Why?!"
Why do bad things happen to us?
You know, the bad things that are not the natural consequences of choices, but the things that nobody has any control over: poverty, untimely deaths, chronic illness, famine, abuse...

One explanation I've often heard is that we cannot fully appreciate good if we have no bad to compare it to. I think that is part of it. I think that's why we get hangnails or ear infections or bang our funny bones. I think that's why we have disappointments and phobias. It's why some days are diamonds and some days are stones. But I don't think that anyone needs to feel starvation in order to be grateful for food--mere hunger for a few hours or a day can make a person glad of a meal. And I do think I treasure my children a little bit extra because of how difficult it was to get them here, but obviously mothers without angels also love their children very much. Opposition is just a little piece of the answer to this question.

I have come to the conclusion that the primary reason that bad things happen to good people is to make us more patient and compassionate with others.

In my youth I was very judgmental about couples who waited to have kids, because I knew we were supposed to multiply and replenish... now I realize that life is so much more complicated than that, and maybe they had good reason for waiting, and maybe they didn't want to wait but didn't have a choice. In my own case, with all my miscarriages, for the first 2 1/2 years of my marriage an outsider looking in would not have known what I was going through. They would merely have seen someone who wasn't having children. It's not unusual for a couple to wait a few years after marriage to have children. Unless we told someone what was going on, I'm sure that most people assumed our lack of babies was intentional. They had no idea of our pain.  Now that I've been on the inside of a situation, I have learned to not judge, but to just love.

Could God stop the bad things? The pain and the sorrow and suffering in the world? I think so. I think He could. But I think He doesn't, so that we'll learn to be compassionate to our brothers and sisters in the world around us.

Have you learned yet?

Monday, May 9, 2011

30 Days-Day 20

Day 20 - A picture of somewhere you'd love to travel.

It's like Alaska, only with more culture. Plus my ancestors. And vikings. Mustn't forget the vikings!

(I know, I have a really hard time doing just one picture, don't I. Oh well!)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

“Motherhood becomes a holy calling, a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord’s plans, a consecration of devotion to the uprearing and fostering, the nurturing in body, mind, and spirit... Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.” 

Year after year, on the second Sunday of May, we are inundated with these quotes, poems, and stories of motherhood. Of the perfect mothers with magazine page living rooms, gourmet meals, perfect children, and nary a hair out of place.
Year after year, I have watched real mothers listen to those stories and think "well I'm a pathetic failure then. My kids pick their noses, my hair is frizzy, I hate being pregnant, I can't make a chocolate torte, and Mt Laundry is in direct competition with Everest for tallest mountain on earth."
I have also watched women with infertility who listen to those stories and bawl for the rest of the day because they have neither perfect children nor imperfect ones.
On my first Mother's Day as a married woman, I was still recovering from a difficult late-term miscarriage, and I was definitely not uplifted, comforted, or encouraged by anything I heard about mothers that year.

So here's to all the mothers who aren't June Cleaver.
To all the women who would like to be mothers but don't or can't have children.
To all the women (whether they have kids or not) who reach out into their communities and mother those around them, by being Big Sisters, doulas, midwives, teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends.
The poem says that "the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world," but here is to all the women who have never (and possibly will never) rock a cradle, but who are ruling the world all the same, by getting out and doing good in the world.

Motherhood is broader than biology. 
May we never forget it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Our Beltane Festivities

Our Feast

I made fruit braids, since one of the traditional foods is a fertility bread with spices or sweetmeats (fruit and nuts) inside. I had meant to just make one loaf, but, shall we say, errors were made! So I ended up making a huge batch with three loaves. One had my (homemade) apricot marmalade, and it was too runny and as you can see the braid opened up in the oven. The second one had a cranberry filling, and the third was chopped almonds with butter and cinnamon.
The Feast Table
Bottom center are the fruit braid slices, to the right are the oatcakes, and in the center is a fruit plate. Barely visible in the bowl at the top left is cottage cheese with tomatoes and chives in it--that was our 'dairy' and also 'fresh herbs' from the official holiday foods list. On the other side of the fruit plate is fried zucchini and steamed artichokes (which aren't traditional, but they sounded good). In the crockpot was beef chuck, which also just sounded good to us.
Bear wound ribbons around our candle wreath, and we got some potted flowers but had to take them off the table for dinner because there wasn't room.

The Blutkake "bluht-ka-ka" (Norwegian for "moist cake")

It is a dense cake, sliced into at least three layers with sweetened whipped cream and fruit between each one. The bottom layer also has fruit syrup poured in it to make it extra moist.

I had a ribbon wreath in my hair all day, and also I wore green with a floral skirt

The Battle between Winter and Summer
The "Winter" team, with snowflakes taped to them

The "Summer" team, with flowers taped to them
A moment from the battle...
(we make swords with foam swim noodles, they're great for having all out battles without hurting anyone!)

Friday, May 6, 2011

30 Days--Day 15

Day 15 - A picture of something you want to do before you die.

This will take a series of pictures:

I want to take wool "from sheep to sweater," participating in (if not wholly doing) the shearing, cleaning, carding, dying, spinning, and knitting of the sweater. It doesn't actually have to be a sweater, but sweaters are practical. And also, "from sheep to hat" doesn't have the same ring.
I have already learned many of these skills separately, but I very much want to do them all in sequence with the same wool, and literally 'make it from scratch' myself. ☺ You have no idea how giddy the whole idea makes me. (The only thing I can think of that would top it would be if the sheep in question were born on my own farm and raised under my oversight prior to the shearing!)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Stand By Your Man

I am writing today to my women readers. I believe I have two or three male readers, and you can feel free to read along too of course, but this isn't really directed to you.

In recent years my family has faced unemployment three times. In 2007 my husband was laid off and was not able to find a new teaching job until the last week of July (a mere two weeks for us to tie up everything and move from Utah to Alaska). In 2009 we left Pelican, but he did not get a job offer until the first week of July (better than before, but still several months of stress and uncertainty). Last year he was again laid off, and even though we had a good Plan B (of going to school), he has still been unemployed for this last year, and that takes its toll. Now we are actively job hunting again, and the ups and downs of it are really hard. I have watched the way these events have affected my husband each time, and I have seen and heard similar things from my friends about their own situations with unemployment or job hunting. In all cases, our men have struggled in a way that goes beyond just finances.

When a man has a family, and has taken on the responsibility of being the financial provider for that family (whether in part or in full), then if he is unable to provide for them it is a major blow to his ego. (I'm sure there are occasional exceptions to this, but based on what I have seen they are a minority.) It has been my observation that when a man is not able to provide, it hits him deeply. He may feel less of a man. He may feel that he's a failure (first at providing, then at anything/everything else). He may feel worthless. He may become withdrawn or stand-offish. His libido may suffer. He may get short-tempered. He will very likely face some degree of discouragement or depression.

Now let me interrupt myself for a moment by pointing out that I know that there are people out there who believe that gender roles are are taught, and who would fault me for being so male-centric in this post. I know that a lot of aspects of gender identity are taught, but I do believe that some things are definitely inborn. I have offered my sons a wide variety of playthings, but do they play with the play food or the baby dolls? Nope. Not for more than a couple of minutes. Then they go back to building rockets and swords and catapults and guns. Even when I didn't allow any toy weapons in the house, they would use their legos and lincoln logs and tinker toys to make weapons. They are sweet and affectionate boys, but they are very much 'male' regardless of my efforts to not push roles on them one way or the other. For that among other reasons, I feel unequivocally that there is an inherent difference between boys and girls. I believe that the role of providing is something that is hardwired into the average man as part of his protective nature. It is then no wonder that an inability to provide would leave him feeling like less of a man. Obviously if a woman is the primary provider for her family she would likely feel the same kinds of things as a man would, but culturally there is a precedent and also usually an expectation of a man to be a provider, so I write here primarily of men.

Speaking from my own experiences (both with my own depression and with seeing it in my spouse), when you are the one who is depressed, it is really hard to self-diagnose. All the feelings of inferiority seem justified. All the malaise seems normal. Even milder manifestations of discouragement can still affect spouse and family.

What he needs the most in this situation is to have his wife's unfailing support. The specifics will look different from one couple to the next, but the basic principle is the same. He needs to know that he is still man enough for her. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but if it is his manhood that is threatened, then it is his manhood that needs to be supported. You may find that it helps you with your own frustrations or disappointments as well. Even when your man is happily employed and everything is hunky-dory, little reminders of your love and support will not go amiss. So here are a few ideas of ways to support your man:
  • Tell him that you love him.
  • Tell him why you love him.
  • Tell him--and show him--that you find him romantically and sexually appealing (support an aspect of his manhood that is not out of work!)
  • Compliment him, especially about things that demonstrate his manliness (his strength, his skills, his physique, his intellect, his ability as a lover, etc)
  • If he is applying for lots of jobs, help with whatever you can, whether that is proofreading his resume, helping collect applications, or finding new ways to cut the budget.
  • Bring up concerns if you need to, but try really hard to avoid complaining (about finances particularly).
  • If you are eligible, get some help, whether it's from family or church or government. For example, if you're able to get food aid, then you'll be able to continue to eat well in spite of your financial pinch, and a good meal can help things feel normal even when they aren't.
  • If you can help bring in money, go for it. If you are both on board with the idea, seek employment to help the family through. If he does not want you to get an outside job though, I think it's also important to respect that. If he is unable to provide, and then you do so, that could make the situation that much harder for him.
  • When he's gone all day applying or interviewing, try to have a meal ready for him when he gets home--just as you would have when he came home from working all day.
  • If he is at home a lot, ask him to help with things, help him stay occupied and productive. A Honey-Do list is one option. You might also ask or encourage him to take on a large project, such as putting in a garden or refinishing some furniture. Especially try to find 'manly' things to ask him to do. For example, the average guy will probably feel more excited about washing the car, moving heavy items, reaching things from high shelves, or changing the oil than he would about scrubbing the bathroom or cooking dinner. Not that he shouldn't help with those latter things too, but try to find a balance.
  • Spend time together doing fun things. Picnics, frisbee, hikes, parks, playing board games, stargazing, trips to the beach, etc. If you have kids, be sure to include them in many of these, but be sure to do some things with just the two of you as well. It doesn't have to cost money to bring happiness and make great memories.
  • Encourage him to do things that he enjoys with other adults, for example going to play ball with his friends, or game nights or movie nights with the guys. There are a lot of socializing and entertainment options that are inexpensive or free. Get a little inventive.
  • Just as you give him nights out, keep some balance, and take your own nights out too. It gives him a chance to have daddy nights with the kids (if you have them), or to have a quiet night at home alone.
  • If nothing else is helping, seriously consider seeking therapy or medical help. Depression can be a very dangerous thing in its more severe manifestations. It's probable that he won't feel that help is necessary, but if you feel it is, then it probably is.
  • And no matter what, you vowed to do it when you married him, so stand by your man. ☺

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

30 Days-Day 19

Day 19 - A picture of you when you were little.

How little? Is two weeks ok?

Too little?
Alright then, this is one of my favorite pictures of me. (oooo, cringe, don't look at the pants!!)

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