Friday, December 30, 2011

You Fell Out of the World

A while back I was listening as my son coached my daughter with a video game.  I heard a squeal of disappointment and he said, "You fell out of the world."

I'm not quite sure what the implications of this were for her; I'm not very familiar with the game.  But that phrase struck me.  And has stuck with me.

You see, sometimes I fall out of the world.

I am going along, doing my thing, and suddenly I am nowhere.  There is no earth beneath me.  I simply am.  But what I am is unclear.

I've been in this non-place lately.  Disconnected but somewhat present.  Visible but absent.  Unable to find what I've lost.

I have moments of normalcy.  My feet touch the ground and I run from here to there trying to get things done, knowing my time is temporary.  And then normal dissipates like a fog and I am undone again.

Time passes and yet the earth is still.  My mind races and yet I can't think.  I speak and do and yet there are no results.

I will find my footing again.  Gravity and I will renew our relationship.  The earth will be solid.  And I will be a part of all that exists.  I will exist.

For now I am simply waiting.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Snips, Spice, Sugar, Snails - Gender Identification

The most important thing about you is your gender.

Really.  Want to know how I know?  It's the first thing anyone asked when they found out you were born.  Unless there were complications, it's the first thing the doctor told your parents.  It's the first label you got in this world.  It's why you were no longer an "it."

The doctor told your parents which gender you were and it will be a part of your life forever.  You will be checking that gender box on forms for the rest of your life.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of forms.  Declaring your gender.  It's kind of a big deal.

Is it really the most important thing about you?  I don't know.  But it is a big deal.

I'm a science girl.  For me, the question of whether someone is male or female is usually pretty simple.  If they have a penis, they're a boy.  If not, they're a girl.  Seems pretty simple, huh?

And there was a time when I believed it was that simple.  But that was a long time ago.

Even speaking scientifically, it's not always that simple.  There are cases when a person has mixed gentalia.  Sometimes external male genitals and internal female genitals.  Along with other situations, this can get complicated.  And I'm not going to lie, when I was pregnant I worried about this.  (Because when you are pregnant you worry about everything!)  I worried that when my baby was born there would be some question as to gender and I would be faced with incredibly difficult decisions that could affect this small person forever.  It wasn't a big worry, it's not common, but it was a possibility that crossed my mind.

I have no idea what I would do in that situation other than pray a lot.  I would do a lot of soul searching to try to do what was best for that child.  I don't believe people are ever put in the wrong bodies.  (But I understand why others disagree with me on this.)

Fortunately, I have been blessed.  All of my children have been definitely male or female at birth.  I have also been blessed that each of them feels comfortable with their gender and accepts it as correct for them, as far as I know.  And I have always felt comfortable being female.

But there is so much more to gender identification.  There are parental preferences.  There are social prejudices.  There are nurturing styles.  There are abuse situations.  There are hormones in our food.  And there are so many societal expectations and definitions of what it means to be male or female.

It's not just about your body and science.  It's not just about what parts you have.  Part of gender identification is external; part of it is internal.

There is so much more to talk about.

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This post is part of an on-going series discussing gender issues.  To start at the beginning, go here.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Scary Super Power

We all have things we're good at.  Things we do better than others.  Sometimes, lots better.  We think of them as gifts, talents, abilities.  And I have those, too.

But I think, every now and then, we discover something about ourselves that is so powerful that it scares us.  It's just something we do.  We didn't understand what it really meant.  And then something happens which brings it front and center. 

When this happened to me I freaked out.  I panicked.  I swore to never use my power again.

I have the power of persuasion.  And it scares me.

I used to think it was cool to win an argument or get my way.  I used to like using words to convince my friends to do what I wanted instead of what they wanted.  I used to like using logic to disprove what everyone knew was true -- to the point that everyone was questioning what they believed before.

It's not cool.  It's dangerous.

So many people don't want to make decisions.  They don't want to think for themselves.  They don't want to choose.  And I have often had people try to put me in the position of making the decision for them (which I am actually not doing even if I tell them what to do; they are still choosing to do what I said).

Before I understood this I answered requests for advice.  What do you think I should do?  And I would tell them.  I figured everyone else was like me and would seek lots of advice, do their own research, and follow their heart.  I was wrong.  People would ask.  I would answer.  They would do.

I remember the first time someone said they did something because, "Robin said I should."  WHAT?  No, I didn't.  I just tried to give you more information.  Just my opinion.  Not a directive.

I don't want that kind of responsibility.

But, like King Midas and X-Men, sometimes it's tough to not use this power.  I don't even know I'm influencing someone and then hear later that I changed their mind.

I can argue either side of most questions.  I am quite analytical.  I am logical.  I am good with words.  And I am a student of human behavior, so after a few sentences back and forth I can tell whether this person is arguing with their heart or mind and which area they feel strongest about and which attack will work.  It's kind of like a sport I am naturally good at.  It just happens.

I have learned to be very cautious when answering a request for advice.  If I sense that this person wants me to make their decision for them, I try to give arguments on both sides.  I'm good at seeing options.  And usually people asking for advice aren't seeing options.  I try to give several options without weighing any of them more heavily than the other so they don't think I'm telling them to do this or that.

Why won't I decide for them?  Why won't I tell them what to do?  Especially all those people who are obviously screwing up their lives that I can easily see the answers to?  Because I did in the past and it was bad.

There is always information I don't have.  They don't grow if they aren't self-determining.  And because I believe to my core that each of us should choose for ourselves whenever possible.

And that is something I would like to persuade you of.  That you should choose for yourself.  I believe it with all my heart.  Because that is what this power is truly for.  To testify of truth in a way that allows others the chance to choose it for themselves.  Because we are all more capable, more powerful, than we know.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fact Check: A True Friend is Always There for You

Poppycock!  Seriously, I'm calling a big baloney on this one.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this is a girl truism.  We women think this is true.  We tell other women it's true.  We all want to have that kind of friend.  We all feel pressure to be that kind of friend.

Well, let me tell you right now, I don't believe this kind of friend exists.  I don't believe this person exists.  And if she does, she is very unhealthy emotionally.

Let's talk about a real friend.  Let's call her Jane.  Jane is a great friend.  She loves you and supports you.  She listens to you when you are struggling.  She calls you on it when you are avoiding things out of fear.  She loves you even after you yell at her when you're having a bad day.  She is a great friend.

But Jane has crises in her life, too.  Jane sometimes leaves town.  Jane sometimes gets sick.  Jane sometimes gets angry with you and doesn't want to talk to you.  Jane sometimes has emotional breakdowns and has nothing left for you.

When you've had a fight with your husband and think your world is ending, Jane may be dealing with the loss of her dear mother.  She just can't comfort you right now.

Sometimes Jane just isn't there for you.

Why?  If Jane is a true friend, why won't she put everything in her life aside to make you feel better?

Because she is a person, too.  And she's not in charge of making you happy -- you are.  She is in charge of making herself happy and taking care of her emotional needs.

That's why we all need a support system.  Not just a best friend.

As part of self-care, it's your responsibility to build a support system for yourself.  No one is going to do it for you.  People aren't just going to fall into your life and become important to you and supportive of you without any effort on your part.  You have to reach out.  You have to open up.  You have to risk rejection and find those people.  And it will probably take many of them to get you through this life.  Because life is tough and we need others.

No one should be the ONLY person in the world who understands you and can help you through.  That's just not a kind position to put someone in.  It's unrealistic and it's selfish.  Even if it's your spouse.

Reach out.  Make friends.  Find support.  Let your friends be real people. 

And if you're Jane, quit trying to be everyone's saving grace and just be Jane.  A good friend who helps and supports when it's healthy to do so.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Snips, Spice, Sugar, Snails - An Introduction

Gender.  What does that mean to you?  Does it inspire questions or debate in your mind?  How often do you find yourself thinking about it or discussing it?  How often do you reference it?  How much does it affect your life and how you interact with those around you?

I've been pondering gender a lot lately.  And I have some thoughts.  Some things to say.  Some practices to question.  Maybe some pots to stir.

But I have too many thoughts for one post.  So I have decided to do a series of posts on the subject of gender.

I am not a fan of stirring controversy.  Really, I usually like to keep my political and religious beliefs to myself.  I do not feel a need to convince others to believe what I believe.

But I imagine that my beliefs may color some of what I say.  So I guess I better get some of them out in the open.

I believe we existed before we came to this earth.  I believe that gender was part of who we were then.  I don't believe we came to earth as a girl or boy because God assigned that to us; I believe we came as whatever we were before.  If you are a girl on earth, I believe you were a girl before earth.

I also believe there are some really big questions about gender and gender-related issues that I don't know the answers to.  Things I have thought about, studied, and prayed about that I am still unsure of.  There are things I haven't taken a position on.

There are generalities.  And there are exceptions.  There are assumptions.  And there are truths.

There is love.  And hate.  And fear.  And confusion.

And I want to talk about some of these.

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This post is part of an on-going series on gender issues.  If you would like to continue this thread, go here.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Thank You for Touching My Life

The other day I was privileged to participate in a two-day activity for our church youth group called Youth Conference.  Over the course of those days there were many activities, from physical to spiritual.

One of those activities involved a partner.  Everyone in the room partnered with someone else.  We stood facing each other, within about half an arms reach.  Then we followed instructions as led by the speaker.  The last instruction really got me.  "Look this person in the eye and imagine what you would say to them if this were the last time you were ever going to see them.  Tell them."

I was caught off guard by the emotion this evoked in me.  My partner was a lady from our neighborhood who has become a good friend of mine.  She has been supportive and understanding in a way most people aren't.  She truly cares about me and doesn't hide it.  She is genuine. 

And in that moment I truly thought about losing her.  My eyes welled up with tears.  I had difficulty speaking clearly.  And I thanked her for touching my life.  If we were never to see each other again, I would want her to know she made a difference.  And I am grateful.

I am grateful for many things.  I live in a time and place where most of life's basic hardships aren't a factor.  I have food, shelter, heat, money, a bed, clothes, electricity, clean running water, access to health care.  I have so many things that so many people in the world don't have.  And I am grateful for those things, even though I don't notice them most days.

But what I do notice are the people in my life.  I notice them every day.  I feel their impact every day.  They shape who I am.  They enrich my existence.  They are the whipped cream that makes my life sweeter.  They are the duct tape that keeps me together when I am falling apart.

I am incredibly blessed to have had so many wonderful people touch my life at one time or another.  And I am grateful for all of them.  For the ones who are still around and the ones who just passed through.

To all of you -- thank you for touching my life.  I am better for it.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Where Did the Color Go?

Sometimes life is bright and full of color.  Other times it gets dark.  Mostly shades of gray.

The color was there.  It was everywhere.  And then it started to fade.  So subtle.  Barely noticeable.  Until the color was gone.

And I am left wondering where it went.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

The Center of Attention

As a kid, I loved being the center of attention. Anything I could do to be in the spotlight, I did. Sing a song. Dance. Tell a joke. Do a cartwheel. Whatever.

Somewhere along the line, this desire waned. No longer did I enter a room loudly declaring my presence ("I'm here! The party can start now!"). I kind of stealthed in. Trying to find somewhere to sit or someone to talk to so that I didn't stand out. Trying not to be noticed.

How did this happen?

As children we come into this world with great energy and no fear. The world quickly puts a stop to that silly nonsense. Over time we learn that when we shine others sometimes try to squelch our glory. When we put ourselves out there in the public eye we open ourselves up to criticism and ridicule. We make our offering and it is sometimes rejected as inadequate. We learn that the cost of attention is sometimes too high -- it costs us a bit of our self-worth.

I no longer hide from the spotlight, but I usually don't seek it either.

So why do I blog?

I started blogging at a difficult time in my life, while I was in therapy. I found that writing things out helped clarify my thoughts and helped me process things. It helped me find truths I was hiding from myself. Writing works for me.

But choosing to publish my writings on a blog took a lot of pondering and soul searching. I just wasn't sure I wanted to put it all out there.

I tip-toed into blogging. I began writing without telling anyone. Then I told a couple of people. And I was surprised to find that others enjoyed my writing. Others found value and strength in the things I was learning and sharing. The things I wrote made people think and started conversations. To me, this increased the value of my writing.

Plus, it's fun to get nice comments.

My blogging has evolved. There are fewer therapy sessions but still plenty of philosophical ideas. There are more family stories. As I have moved through that painful time to a happier place, my blog has reflected this.

But I still don't use pictures.

**********
Today is my day to shine. I am the featured blogger on SITS (a wonderful blogging community that teaches, supports, and connects bloggers). If you are visiting me for the first time, welcome. I hope you feel comfortable here. Check out my About the Author and About the Mess pages -- they have pictures!

I usually stink at replying to comments, but for this day only I promise that if you leave a comment I will reply and/or visit your blog in return.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Celebrity Dinner

You know that question, "If you could have dinner with anyone (alive or dead) who would you choose?"  Have you ever answered that question?  The possibilities are incredible.

I've thought about this question many times.  I'm not really big on celebrities, so it probably wouldn't be one of them.  I do like deep thinkers.  I've thought about Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, Einstein.  And Jesus.  Who wouldn't want to spend time with Jesus?

But none of these would be my choice.

My choice would be my grandma.  She was the greatest influence for good in my life.  She was the person who made me believe in myself.  She always made me feel important.  And loved.  And valued.

And I miss her.

At first I think I would want her to cook so that I could taste those moments of joy again.  Those dishes that no one else makes like she did.  That little bite of heaven.

Then I think I would want to cook for her, to repay her.  To show her that I was listening to the things she taught me.  To share something wonderful I discovered.

Eventually I realize it doesn't matter.  We wouldn't need to eat.  That really has nothing to do with the idea of this dinner.

We would be together.  We would talk.  I could tell her about all the difficult things in my life.  She could point out the ways they've helped me to grow.  I could tell her about all the wonderful things in my life.  She could help me recognize God's hand in them.

And I would listen so much more.

So much of my life with her was while I was young and so self-centered.  I wish I'd allowed her to talk more.  I'm sad about the parts of her I don't know because I was worried about my own life.  My time spent with her was before I really knew how to slow down and just be in that moment.

But even if I went on and on, she would radiate love.  She would be glad to be with me, too.  And when it was time to go she would tell me how much she loved me.  She would tell me to be good.  And as she hugged me she would give me those rapid, successive kisses on my cheek.

I want to be like her when I grow up.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

All Sorts of Trophies

I have recently been in the process of gutting my house.  Getting rid of the superfluous.  Ditching the things that don't matter but are taking up space in my home and my life.

Last week I focused on the living room. 

I know some people have big homes and the living room is kept nice and rarely used.  That's not us.  We live in a relatively small home, the living room is the first room you walk into when you enter the house, and it's where we live.  It's where we congregate.  It's where we hang out.

And, when I got sick, it started to stack up.

Every horizontal surface was covered with stuff.  Boxes of things were stacked in corners.  It was a dizzying array of our lives on full display for everyone who walked into the room.

Most of it was easy to deal with; it just took time.  Throw it away.  Put it away.  Anyone know what this is?

But there were other things that were tougher.  One category that I've struggled with is trophies.

In our living room there were 28 trophies, 33 medals, and 1commemorative pin.  None of them belonged to me.  Or my husband.  They are our children's.  They are for softball, baseball, basketball, soccer, wrestling, track, piano, band, choir, math, writing, and art.  And there are more in some of my kids' rooms.

There are just so many.  And they serve no purpose.  Or do they?

I asked my kids if they wanted to keep them.  They each said they did.  I told them they'd have to make room for them in their rooms.  They said they'd think about it.  I ended up putting them all in a box in storage.  Maybe after they've been out of sight for a while they will decide they don't need them.

And I asked myself why they are so desirable.

When I coached there were times we bought trophies for the kids.  They cost about four dollars each.  They usually have a solid base and incredibly cheap plastic moldings of some sort on top.  They also usually have a nameplate of some kind.  They are pretty, but whittled down to their basic materials they aren't really worth much.

They have value because of what they represent.  Trophies represent a victory, like the trophy of a hunt.  They say, "Look at this cool thing I did!"  And through this they say that at one time we were great, maybe the best.

And I think that's why we hold onto them.  We all have moments when we doubt our worth.  But we can look at these and see that there are (or were) things we are good at.

And there are all sorts of trophies.  I think that's often what the big, beautiful library is.  It shows that we read all those books.  That we conquered.  That we are of value.  Or the trophy wife which shows that a man was chosen as superior to other men.  Or the trophy car.  The trophy home.  The trophy title.

There are so many trophies in our lives.  Why do we want them?  Why do we keep them?  Isn't knowing that we won enough?

When my kids ask, "What do I get if I win?" and I say "bragging rights" or "the knowledge that you won" it doesn't always cut it.  The world seems to ask, "Why is it worth working hard if I don't have a prize to show for it?"

But I'm going to keep trying.  I'm going to keep teaching that even when the thing that marks the accomplishment is gone, the accomplishment isn't.  That doing great things is shown in the people we become, not a cheap piece of plastic.  That many friends and a life you can be proud of are the best trophy.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

We Gladly Feast on Those Who Would Subdue Us

It's here!  It's here!  I can't believe it; it's finally here!  It's the most magical time of year!  It's Octoboween!  Huzzah!

There aren't many things that get me truly excited, and I am usually very frugal in my use of exclamation points, but this is wonderful!

Octoboween is a tradition at our house, a time when we join together in our celebration of the macabre.  And it makes me incredibly happy.

The gist of Octoboween is that we watch a Halloween movie every day.  But there are so many great films to choose from that we frequently watch more than one.  This year I was so excited in anticipation that I started watching a few mid-September.

I wrote about this tradition last year.  As October approached and I felt inclined to write about it again, I started to ask myself why Halloween is my favorite time of the year.  Have you ever tried to explain why you like something?  It can be tough.  But I'll try.

There's the glory of the cooling weather and the changing leaves.  There's the fact that my grandmother's birthday is in October, and she was my favorite person in the whole world.  There's football.  But those things are just part of the spell.

To me, Halloween is a time to play.  It's a time to be mischievous, to be sneaky.  There is something about the ability to laugh at danger, and death, and things that are frightening that can make us feel powerful.  Plus, there is something fun about doing things that make others shake their heads and doubt our sanity.

I'm not a big decorator.  The only reason anything gets put up for Christmas is because my kids insist on it and do all the work.  I don't even do much for Halloween.  But there will be a few touches. 

There will be a big, black swath of fabric draped above my front porch.  There will be a stuffed, rubber rat the size of a large cat in my living room.  And my living room is already pumpkin orange, so the mood is kind of preset.

I'm not sure why the macabre is so fun for me.  It has been for as long as I can remember.  I grew up on Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent Price.  I grew up watching Thriller Theater every Saturday afternoon.  I grew up telling horror stories.  I grew up loving the strange and spooky.

I love scaring people and getting scared.  Not the startling "BOO!" kind when someone sneaks up on you.  I like the scaring that is like a beautiful dessert.  It takes time.  There is a recipe to it, many details.  And after preparing it slowly and lovingly and carefully, I savor it!

No, we don't eat people.  My title comes from Morticia Addams.  It's the Addams' family motto.  One that we have adopted for our own.  Don't worry.  We're just playing.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Fallacy of Getting Organized -- Smartly

I have a new essay up today over at Smartly.  I tackle The Fallacy of Getting Organized.  I don't think it's the cure-all some people think it is.   You should check it out.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Doing It Out of Obligation

I read an interesting article today that has me thinking.  So, of course, that means I need to write.

This post by Jowita Bydlowska, A Failed Woman Out of the Kitchen: Why I Don't Cook, appears on The Huffington Post website.  It is one woman's explanation of why she doesn't cook.

I do not intend to pull apart her arguments.  I will say that if you say there is a difference between selfishness and self-interest (knowing that you have to state it because people will accuse you of one when you claim to be the other), you ought to at least try to define the difference.  I will also say that while she claims not to have a political agenda, with all her references to societal expectations about gender roles and how they make her feel like a failure sometimes, she has at least taken a political stance.  Also, her assertion that a painting or photograph is a higher art form than a beautifully prepared pie says a lot about her feelings toward women (and men) who consider food an art.

But none of this is what has me thinking.  The idea that bothers me from this essay is that doing something out of obligation is wrong.

Please understand, I don't like to cook either.  I don't cook well.  I don't derive satisfaction from a meal well prepared.  It's part of the reason I got the rest of my family cooking as soon as they were able.  I don't care if this woman cooks, bakes, or pickles.  It's her family and they can all work out what's best for them.

I am also in full support of taking care of one's self.  I believe there is an amount of selfishness in every healthy individual.  I believe it is appropriate.  We must meet our own needs, and that includes the need for creative outlet and relaxation.

I also believe that when I chose to start a family, I chose to accept the obligation to care for them.  My husband and I chose this together.  The obligation is shared.  It is up to us to decide how the obligations involved are to be met.  (And if something were to happen that he were no longer able or willing to fulfill his part of the obligation, I would assume his share as part of my obligation.)

In our case, he is the primary breadwinner and I am the primary nurturer.  It fits us.  I am happy in my role and he is happy in his.  Maybe not every day, but most days.

I think the point that is missing in this article is the idea that we choose to accept obligations.  I chose to have kids.  I chose to care for their well being.  My husband chose to work.  They are our obligations because we agreed to them.

I do not believe in society-dictated obligations, aside from obeying the law.  If society thinks I should cook, that doesn't make me believe that I should.  I weigh my options, listen to my heart, and do what I think is right.

Other people have expectations.  Other people have ideas about what or who I should be.  That does not mean I am obligated to fulfill those roles.

Obligations are something I choose when I make an agreement with someone.  Doing something out of obligation is not a bad thing.  It is a way for me to do my part.  It is how I earn my share of whatever I get in this life.  Fulfilling my obligations, those I chose to accept, makes me feel good about who I am and what I offer to the world.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When I Was the Mean Girl -- Smartly

I have a new essay up over at Smartly about a time When I Was the Mean Girl.  It's not a moment I'm proud of.  Hopefully, I've finally learned my lesson.

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Fly, Baby Bird

No one could have prepared me for how difficult it would be.  I had no way to know how much my heart would ache.

A little over a week ago, my oldest daughter left for Russia.  She will spend four months there, teaching English to young children.  And I miss her so much.

I am not generally an emotional person.  I have even been accused of being Vulcan because I don't get emotional when people think I should.

Because of this, I thought I'd be okay.  I knew I would worry and I would miss her.  I had no idea I'd be a basket case.

She's been planning this trip for over a year.  She's worked so hard to save the money and get everything done.  She's been so grown up in handling the details. 

But she's still my baby.  I don't care if she's twenty years old; she will always be my baby.

The days leading up to her leaving are still kind of a blur.  I was very busy with other things and other children.  That was a blessing.  Because every time I had a minute to think about it my heart would seize up with fear.  And pain.  And loss.

I thought it would get better after I knew she'd arrived safely.  And part of it did.  But there is so much more that still hurts.

Please don't misunderstand.  I am so thrilled that she gets to have this opportunity.  I know it is good for her.  I know it will help her to become an independent adult who will flourish on her own.  And I want that for her.

But my heart hurts.  And I am scared.

I worry that something will happen and she will need help and I won't be there to fix it.  I worry that she will be sad and scared.  I worry that she will get hurt.  And I worry that she will get a taste for adventure and make things like this a regular part of her future.

She needs to choose her own path.  She is so wise and chooses well.  I have to trust that.  But I will admit, I would be happier if she chose to live down the street for the rest of her life.

There was a time at the airport when we had to go our separate ways.  She entered the cattle lines waiting to go through security (after I finally quit hugging her).  We waited and watched.  She would move out of our vision and then, as the line progressed, back into it.  Around and around.  And each time she would look to find us and wave with a big smile on her face.  And we would wave back, letting her know we were still there.  Still watching out for her.

And I thought back to years ago, when she was on the carousel.  She would move out of our sight for a while.  Then when she came back she would wave and we would wave.  Each time she went around we would reconnect, knowing it would be over soon and we would be back together again.

But this time, when the round and round ended, she didn't come back to us.  She flew away.  To the other side of the world.  And my heart breaks missing her.

I trust her.  And I trust that God is watching over her.  But I want her back.

So, fly, baby bird.  Just remember where the nest is.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Dreaded Dishes

I have a confession to make.  I hate doing the dishes.

No, that's not the confession.  The confession is that I hate doing the dishes so much that I bought more dishes so I could go longer without doing them.  My husband hates doing the dishes.  My kids hate doing the dishes.  That means we need more dishes so we don't have to fight about them as often.

Right?

Wrong!

As part of my efforts to live my minimalist desires, we have gotten rid of most of our dishes.  We used to have 2-3 plates per person, probably 3 bowls a piece, and I'd guess at least 5 glasses each.  We have seven people in our family.  You do the math.  That's a lot of dishes.

And when you hate doing them as much as we do, that means you don't do them until you absolutely have to -- when you run out of dishes.  So when you finally do them there are a lot of dishes to wash.

We now have only enough dishes for each of us to have one of each.  Each person has a spot in the cupboards.  This is where they keep their dishes.  They have a plate, a bowl, a mug, a small cup, a large cup, a table knife, a fork, a large spoon, and a small spoon.  There are a couple of extras.  One person got to keep her hot cocoa cup.  One person traded a large spoon for a fork.  But basically that's it.

And this is what that means.  Each person is responsible for his/her dishes.  Some of us wash them right after we eat, so that they are ready the next time we want to eat.  Others stick them in the sink, but end up washing them soon anyway because that's all they have to eat off of.  We wash them by hand because we are washing one or two at a time.  This means less running of the dishwasher (which wasn't as effective anymore anyway since the law required changes in dishwasher soap).  It means fewer dirty dishes stacked in my kitchen.  It means no one is relying on someone else to do their chores before they have clean dishes available.  It means fewer dishes left throughout the house.  It means no more tracking down strange smells because a dish that still has food on it is left somewhere in the house.  It means a lot more personal responsibility.

My kids are older (13 and up) so they can easily do their own dishes.  And they all know how to use the dishwasher so I don't feel like I am neglecting their instruction.

When I first presented the idea my family thought I was insane.  I planted the idea about a month before it was implemented (due to my energy level).  Then one day we went through the cupboards and pulled everything out.  People chose their stuff, it was placed in their spot, and everything else was boxed up and put away.  It's not gone yet.  Not because I'm not committed, just because I haven't made another run to the thrift donation area.  Soon.

Everyone's biggest concern was about guests.  What if we want to have someone over for dinner?

Okay, seriously, we rarely have anyone over for dinner.  When we do it's usually just one person.  I let my daughter keep an extra plate because if someone is going to be here when we eat it's probably her boyfriend.  If it's someone else, they can use his stuff.

We also kept a picnic set.  This is a plate, bowl, and cup for each of us along with silverware.  It's stored in a carrying case that is packed away.  These are emergency settings just in case and will be used when we go to a church function and are supposed to bring our own dishes.  They won't be used often.

I have not solved the problem with the dishes used for cooking.  Since we no longer have a lot of dishes our old assignments for dish washing don't quite fit.  I'm working on a plan for that.  We already don't own a lot of food preparation dishes.  That means that even if people don't wash as they go, things don't stay dirty long. 

We've only been living with this setup for about a week, but so far it seems to be a great success.  People are happy with it.  I haven't heard a single complaint.  (Before, yes.  Since, no.)  It's working.

And how can you argue with the system when it works?

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ending a Relationship

He was sobbing.  He didn't understand how she could do this.  Had it all been a lie?

I remember standing with my friend as he faced the end of his marriage.  She said she never loved him.  She said it had always been terrible.  And his heart was breaking because he just didn't understand.

My heart was breaking for him.  She was also my friend, but I was hurting for him.  This was something she was doing to him.  She was hurting him.  She was the bad guy.  I never got her side of the story.

When a relationship ends it's easy to feel like we need to take sides.  Those of us on the outside seek to understand so we know who's side to be on.  Maybe not always, but often enough that we should be ashamed.

No matter how close we are to the situation, we are not those people.  We do not feel what they feel.  We have not experienced what they experienced.  We do not know why they made the choices they did.  And no matter what is said or who is blamed, we probably have no real way to know what happened.

I have never ended a marriage.  I have never had my spouse end a marriage.  But we did come close.  I did ask him to move out.  And he was so angry. 

I didn't understand.  I was trying to save our marriage.  I believed that separating would help us figure out what was wrong and heal without being in such close proximity that we were destroying each other.  He felt rejected and powerless.

And that's why being in relationships is so scary.  We are giving power to the other person.  By choosing to love someone, we are giving them the power to hurt us.  Sometimes relationships end because both people want them to.  Other times, one person chooses to end it and the other person is at their mercy.

This is true of any relationship that involves love.  When you love and value someone, and they remove themselves from your life, it hurts.  It could be a parent.  It could be a child.  It could be a friend.

For me, it was a friend.  I am the one who ended it.  And I am seen by many as the bad guy.

I guess I am, in a way.  I didn't handle it well.  I was so afraid of hurting her that I was not direct.  I slowly removed myself from her life.  Little by little we were just no longer connected.

Friendships are tricky things to end.  It's not like you file for a divorce from a friend.  Where is the line?  How do you tell when a friendship is over?

I was not angry.  I do not think she is a bad person.  In fact, I think she is an incredible person.  I admire her a great deal.  But for whatever reason the friendship was no longer good for me.  I think we grew in different directions.  I think we both changed so much that we didn't fit together any more.  Even after trying to put it back together a couple of times, it just no longer felt right.  It felt forced and fake.

The relationship was not good for me.  I'm not saying she wasn't good.  We weren't good together.  I was unhappy.  I wanted out.  The more I tried to make it work, the worse I felt about myself.  I was being untrue to myself by pretending I could make it work.

Ending our friendship hurt her.  I am sorry about that.  I hate the fact that I caused her pain.

But it is my responsibility to take care of myself.  Our relationship was causing me pain.  Maybe that is selfish, but I believe it is what was right for me.  I wish there were a way for me to make the decision that is right for me without making a decision that caused her pain.  I couldn't find one.  And I did try.

We had many good years together.  I am a better person because of her influence in my life.  I think of her often and hope she is happy.

And I know I made the right choice.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Big, Beautiful Library in My Home

I grew up wanting walls of books.  A room where each wall was floor to ceiling with them.  Maybe a small den area with a fine oak desk and a great leather executive chair and a bay window with pillows to read in.

The wonderful room I saw in so many movies growing up.  I was in love with the magic of this imaginary room.  I knew that I would one day have one in my home.

And so, as my life progressed, I accumulated books.  I believe strongly in the power of reading.  A love of reading.  And in order to facilitate this for my children I made sure to have lots of books.  Lots for them to read at every age.  Lots for me to read, since it's important for children to see their parents reading if they are to catch the reading bug.  And because I like to read.

But I learned that books are mostly a one time deal.  You read them once and move on to the next adventure.  Maybe little kid books are read over and over, but even then it's only a select few.  We own hundreds, if not thousands, of books.  I would estimate that the ones that have been read more than once are fewer than five percent.

So why do I still have them?  I've been pondering this for quite a while now.  How many books that I own do I love enough that I would save them from a burning building?  Truthfully, none.

The reasons I came up with for still having them are interesting.  I have them because I spent money on them and books are good and noble things to have.  I have them because I enjoyed them and would like to have them to loan to friends or suggest to my kids.  I have them because I always wanted that big library.

None of those reasons are good enough to me anymore.  The magic is not in the big, beautiful library.  The magic is in gaining a love of reading.  Taking my kids to the public library is an adventure.  It's magical.  The library has more than I can possibly ever offer.  They can keep up with my kids' changing tastes.  They have all the newest books.  And they store them so I don't have to.

I'm not going to lie.  It's tough.  I consider this sort my first.  I know I will sort again and get rid of more.  Right now if I struggle to decide, I keep it.  Or if one of my kids feels strongly about it, I keep it.  And I'm boxing some up for my daughter who is going to teach high school English; she'll have a good collection of classics in her classroom without having to buy them.

There are a few that I really enjoyed that I considered keeping.  But I'm imagining that there are others out there who would enjoy them too.  I am ready to pass them on, knowing I can always get them from the library if I really want to read them again.

I'm keeping several for my grandma days.  I want to be the grandma who reads with the kids.  And who encourages reading when they visit.

But the tough ones.  Oh, yes, there are tough ones.  I have many books that were given to me after my grandma died.  With inscriptions.  To her from her father.  The book is not something I will ever read.  I have many other keepsakes from her.  And yet, I can't just donate them.  I'm cheating and giving them back to my mother.  I'll probably have to face the decision again when my mom passes away.  For now, they can live at her house.

There are also some that are quite old.  I have several from the 1900s and a few from the 1800s.  Some in good shape, some not so much.  I can't seem to part with the ones that are over a hundred years old.  Whether I would ever read them or not.  Even if the binding is falling apart.  I still might donate them, but I would want to donate them to someone who would know how they should really be cared for.  Someone who could preserve their beauty.

I've made lots of progress.  I've got a few boxes ready to go.  I'll be getting rid of more as I continue to clean and sort through my house.  I'll let some friends go through them and take what they want and then I'll donate what's left to the public library.  I'm ready to let these old friends have a new adventure with a new home.

Most of them, anyway.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shut Up, Stupid Brain!

It's after four in the morning.  I'm tired.  It's dark and quiet.  Why won't you let me sleep?

Don't you understand what tomorrow will be like for me?  I have things to do and people counting on me.  I want to sleep.  Why can't you shut up?

I know you have a million ideas.  I know you want to plan for tomorrow, which chores we'll do and which errands we need to run. 

I know you want to review today, thinking about what we got done.  And, more importantly, what we didn't.  Yes, I know there is still so much to do.  But it's four in the morning; we really can't do it now.

If I go out and start cleaning the living room and sorting the books and toys one of two things will happen.  I will wake someone else up and they will be miserable, too.  Or, it will just make me even more awake and I won't get any sleep at all tonight.

It's easy for you.  You don't have to worry about limited energy.  Why are you the only part of me that never seems to get tired?

And why do you take such pleasure in torturing me?  Do you get some kind of sick satisfaction from keeping me up all night?  Is there a battle being waged between you and my body?

It's not fair, you know.  I am trapped in the middle.  Trying to maintain the peace.  Trying to meet your needs and my body's needs.  Do you have any idea how difficult that is?

Of course not.  You worry only about yourself.  It's all about you.  "Look at what I can do," and then you take the stage.  Performing songs, stories, and wondrous feats to dazzle the mind.  To occupy the thoughts and senses.  To stimulate the body into producing adrenaline.  Because you are afraid that if I go to sleep you will lose your audience.

I guess that's kind of true.  You go on performing while I sleep, and when I wake up I have no memory of all you've done.  Sometimes I have a slight memory of the shows you put on while I sleep.  Quite the imagination, you have there.  They are fantastical shows.

If I promise to try to remember, will you let me sleep?  Let's give it a shot.  I will listen and watch while I sleep.  You put on your best show.  And in the morning we'll review.  Do we have a deal?

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Friday, July 29, 2011

The Worst Day of My Life -- When My Husband Left the Church

I have wanted to write this post for a long time.  I have also avoided writing this post for a long time.

It happened almost five years ago, but it is still so tender.

I worry that I won't be able to capture the devastation I felt.  That I still feel when I think about it.  Because, truthfully, I try not to think about it too often.  It's still so painful.

Five years ago was a difficult time in my life.  I was working.  My health was getting worse.  And my marriage was in trouble.  We'd been in therapy for a while and things were getting better.  At least, our relationship was getting better.

But it was at this time that my husband had a crisis of faith.

In order for this to make sense, you must know a few things about our faith.  I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).  I have been my whole life.  While there was a time when I was young that I followed along because it was all I knew, that's not what it is now.  I have long since quit relying on the testimony of others.  I am a member of this faith because it makes my heart happy.  It brings me peace.  I believe this is what I was taught before I came to this world.

One of the elements of our faith is a belief in a pre-earth life, this life, and a post-earth life.  We believe this life is just a tiny portion of our existence.  Most of what we do here is in preparation for the next life.  As part of that, in our temples we perform ordinances that we believe carry on into the next life.  In particular, sealings.  We believe that if we are sealed together in the temple, and live the best life we can, that families can be together forever.  We believe we are sealed for time and all eternity.

I believe this.  And I grew up believing this.  This is why I was careful about the boys I dated.  This is why I chose to live my life according to God's commandments.  As a child and teen, getting sealed in the temple to a worthy man who loved me was my main goal.  I tried to do everything I'd been taught to make that happen.

And it did.  I married a returned missionary who took me to the temple.  We were sealed for time and all eternity.  Because of this sealing power, our children were sealed to us also.  There was such safety in knowing that. 

When things got ugly between my husband and me, I knew that things would get sorted out with time and we could still be together forever.  We would find our way back to God and would do so together.

And then he said he had questions.  He wasn't sure anymore that certain parts of our faith were true.  He shared his concerns, we talked about them, and he was reassured and found his footing again.  Then he had more questions, bigger struggles.  We worked through those, too.  Then it went beyond questions and doubts.  He came to a point where he no longer believed it was true.  In fact, he felt it was harmful.  He wanted out and he wanted to take his family with him.  The months that we worked through this were incredibly difficult.  It was hard not to push him to choose the church for me, to make me happy.  Or for anyone else.  I believe in honesty.  He was honest with me and I am grateful for that.

He started blogging about his feelings, denouncing the church.  He made accusations and claims that were anti-Mormon in nature.  We were in counseling with our bishop (pastor) during this time.  I told him of the blog.  He discussed it with my husband and said that if it continued, because of the things he was writing (preaching against the church), his membership in the church would be in jeopardy.  We returned to visit with him a month later, he asked about the blog and was told it was still up, my husband was still adding to it and had no intention of stopping.  And we were at a decision point.

My husband was given two choices.  He could withdraw his name from the church records or the bishop could start proceedings to have him removed.  My husband asked which of these would be easier on the bishop.  I admire that.  My husband chose to have his name removed from the records of the church.

It had been a while coming and I thought I was prepared.

But the day the letter came saying that he was no longer a member of the church I died a little.  My heart broke into a thousand pieces.

It came while he was at work.  I called to tell him it was there.  He asked me to open it and read it to him.  I did.  He said okay and that was that.

But not for me.  I held that letter.  I stared at it.  It didn't matter that I knew it was coming; I was not prepared.

How would we tell the children?  Our families?  Our friends?

And what did this mean for me?  I was unsure about who I was now.  We had been one and now we were two.  I was unsure about eternity now.  I didn't know how I fit in.  I didn't want the attention and sympathy that I knew I would receive.  I fit into a new classification now.  I was a woman married to a non-member.

It was the most lonely day I have ever experienced.  I had this information that seemed to stop the world from spinning and I couldn't talk to anyone about it.  The person I usually talked to about things that made me sad was my husband and he didn't understand.  He was happy and relieved about it.  I felt like a widow.  I walked around in a daze that day.  I cried a lot.  I felt so lost.

I had a friend whose husband died around this time.  I remember feeling like she was lucky because he was living a righteous life when he died and at least she knew her sealing was intact, she knew he would be waiting for her.  I am ashamed of that feeling.  I was jealous of her ending as opposed to mine.

It felt like an end. 

He and I are in a better place.  He is more kind about the church and the fact that the children and I still participate.  But something is gone.  There is a spiritual intimacy that is no longer there.  It died that day.  And I don't know if I will ever be done mourning its loss.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Doctor Who Didn't Listen

Oh, how I wish I'd known then what I know now.

Ten years ago, in the spring of 2001, the world fell out from under me.  I was hit with unbelievable exhaustion.  No matter how I ate, how much I exercised, or how much good sleep I got I was so tired I couldn't function.  I couldn't parent.  I went to bed for about a year and a half.  More on that story another time.

After a few months (when I knew it wasn't getting better, and after much prodding from my husband and other friends and family) I finally went to my doctor.  I told him how tired I was.  I told him I couldn't get anything done.  His words are forever burned into my mind.  "You have five small children; of course you're tired." 

And that was it.  Since nothing showed up in a cursory glance, in a routine physical, there must not be anything wrong with me.  I had tried to explain that it was more than that.  It was more than tired.  I was not a human anymore.  I was a shell, a pile of skin and bones, walking around trying to participate in life.

He didn't listen to me.  I felt chastised, like how dare I waste his time?  I felt diminished, like a small child told to get over it because life is hard.  I felt like I'd been told to quit whining.  To suck it up and get back to work.

I would never stand for that now.  I would insist that he listen, I would repeat myself, I would tell him he misunderstood.  And if he still didn't listen, I would leave him and take my business elsewhere.

I was incredibly vulnerable at that time and did not know how to fight for myself.  I did not know I could insist on certain tests.  I did not feel safe questioning what he told me.  I believed doctors truly knew more about my body than I did.

I have had many incredible doctors.  Doctors who listened and cared.  Doctors who were more concerned about making me feel better than I was.  I have friends who are doctors.  I have a brother who is a doctor.  I have great respect for doctors.

But I no longer think they know more about my body than I do.  When I say something is not right, then it should be respected.  Even if I can't prove it or put it into words.  My doctor and I are supposed to be a team.  We are supposed to work together to find the solution.

I will never know if he could have helped me.  Maybe if we had run a blood test at that time something would have turned up.  Maybe I wouldn't still be fighting the debilitating fatigue 10 years later.  Maybe there were answers then that were too far gone by the time I found a doctor who would listen to me.

I will not allow myself to be ignored by a doctor again.  Ever.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Difference of Opinion

How do you handle it when you have a difference of opinion from someone else?

There are times I think I handle it well.  I have a good friend with whom I frequently disagree, especially about politics.  Sometimes people come to our book club just to watch the heated discussion they know my friend and I will be having.  We argue and debate.  We get passionate.  But in the end we are still friends and we are able to let things go.  I believe it's because we approach our discussion with mutual respect.  The fact that we disagree doesn't mean we think the other person is stupid.  We don't call each other names.  We don't bring in irrelevant events to try to prove the other person is lacking in intelligence and so their argument can't be valid.  I believe I have a healthy dialogue with this woman.  We are friends who work well together in our church callings.  We choose to get together for game nights.  Despite our political differences, we remain friends.

Maybe my friend deserves more of the credit here than I do.

Because there are other people I don't argue with as respectfully.  There are some people who choose to attack when they disagree.  Sometimes I can remain in control and be polite in these disagreements.  Sometimes I lose it.  Sometimes I get right down in the mud with that person.  Even if I win the argument, I come away feeling dirty.

This is how I feel about my last post.  I responded to a post by a fellow blogger.  And I did so badly.  Something she said struck a nerve.  I did not intend to be unkind in my response, but I was.  I had a juvenile moment and attacked.  Not my shining moment.

I disagree with her point of view.  I believe women should be told they are of worth no matter how they look.  I believe women should be told they are wonderful even if they choose to spend the whole day in their pajamas.  I believe we should do all we can to build women up.  I believe we should strengthen each other and back up a woman's right to choose her own path.  I want women to feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be, regardless of society's dictates.  And that includes my fellow blogger.

Because I fought back in an immature way, my message was lost.  And I did not offer this woman the same support I was arguing for.  Sometimes I get so frustrated by women thinking they have to be what society tells them to be that I forget some women actually choose that route because it's right for them.

This woman has made choices in her life because she felt they were right for her.  More power to her.  I believe all women should be able to choose for themselves and with far less judgment.

I apologize for letting my emotions overtake my manners.  I apologize for being unkind.  I apologize for not arguing her right to choose for herself because I didn't agree with her choice.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shopping in My Pajamas

As I hop from blog to blog, I frequently run into people whose lives are completely different from mine.  People who value different things and focus their energies in other areas.  For the most part, I enjoy this.  I like learning about other people and seeing a way of life that differs from mine. 

But every now and then I run across someone who irritates me.  Not because she is different, but because she is superior, snotty, and judgmental of those who are different from her.  In her world, she is right and anyone who sees things in any other way is wrong and stupid and doesn't deserve the good things in life.

This happened recently.  Through a blogging community, I found myself at the blog of a woman with whom I am fairly certain I have almost nothing in common.  We are both women.  We both live on the planet earth.  I'm guessing we both breathe oxygen.  I'm pretty sure that's where our similarities end.

She is single, lives in London, and focuses much of her attention on fashion.  And I offend her.

I know I offend her because she said so.  In the post that bugged me she said that anyone who shops in their pajamas offends her.  She said that I had no business in the grocery store in my pajamas.  That there is no excuse, no matter how tired or lazy I am.  She said shopping in my pajamas is a statement about my low self-esteem.  She then proceeded to tell me the proper way to go to the grocery store.  The GROCERY store!  Seriously?

I understand that this post was meant to be comedic.  She was going for snarky/funny.  And from the comments on her blog it looks like her audience liked it.

I found it ridiculous.

If we are going to ban people from coming to the grocery store dressed offensively then I have a few things to add:  ultra-short shorts (the kind that barely cover their cheeks); wife-beater shirts; intense cleavage; and any clothing that is so tight or revealing as to be inappropriate for public viewing (since I am making the rules, I get to decide what is inappropriate).

From now on we will all shop in uniforms.  All pants/skirts must reach the knee.  All necklines must reach the collar bone all the way around.  Your clothes must be loose enough that you can easily put them on even when you are wet.  And I want them to all be olive green.  That way, people won't clash as they walk past each other -- because that offends me.

What an incredibly lucky young woman the author of said post is.  Her life must be flowing along smoothly and without any major problems if she has time and energy to worry about this.  She must be generally healthy and have plenty of money.  And thank heavens she decided to make sure we know what is and is not appropriate to wear to the grocery store.

I guess she has never run to the store in a hurry to try to get there before it closed because her child came down with a fever and she needed medication (after she'd gone to bed).  I guess she was never told at 10:45pm that her child had a project due the next day that would make or break his grade so she decided to sacrifice her sleep to run to the store to get what he needed and stay up all night helping.  I guess she has never been so ill she didn't know how she would make it to work and had to run to the store for anti-diarrhea medication so that she didn't get fired for missing work.

And besides all this, I guess she is so worried about what other people think of her that she feels she must put on a show every time she steps out of her house.  Some of us are actually self-confident enough to be seen in whatever we happen to be wearing without caring if the people around us approve.

I sometimes shop in my pajamas.  Sometimes because it takes every last bit of energy I have to get to the store so my family has milk.  Sometimes to get a treat for my daughter who had a difficult day.  And sometimes just because I am comfortable in my pajamas.

When I mentioned this to my friend, she pointed out that when super models are trying not to be noticed they walk around without makeup on and in sloppy clothes.  (I guess that's because they're so insecure, right?)

So I would say to the author of that post, next time you see a woman shopping in her pajamas just pretend she is a super model in hiding.  Maybe that way she won't be so offensive to you.

**********

No question, this was a full-on rant.  I was not proud of how I handled myself and addressed it soon after in A Difference of Opinion.

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Who Asked You? -- Smartly

My essay Who Asked You? is up over at Smartly today.  I invite you to go check it out.  And read a few more while you're there; they've got some great stuff.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Sunday in the Life of a Mormon, part three

Go here for part one.
Go here for part two.

We attend Sacrament Meeting as families.  It ends at about 2:10pm.  We then have ten minutes for transition.  During this time people might get chalk from the library or have copies made for a lesson.  Others take time to get a drink or go to the restroom.  The kids generally make a mad dash to Primary.

Sacrament Meeting is followed by Primary/Sunday School. 

Primary is for children 3-11 years old.  There is also a nursery that is part of the Primary program; children 18 months to 3 years attend nursery.  In nursery they play with toys, have a lesson, have a snack, make a craft, have singing time.  Children change classes in January, so they are in nursery until the January after they turn three.  Children 3-7 are in Junior Primary.  Children 8-11 are in Senior Primary.  In our ward there is one class for each age group (3-year olds, 4-year olds, etc.).  Primary begins with an opening song and a prayer by one of the children.  Junior Primary starts in sharing time.  This is a time when a member of the Primary presidency gives a lesson to several classes on topics that fit the theme for the year.  (This year's theme is I Know the Scriptures are True.)  The Primary music director then has about 20-30 minutes to teach and review songs.  Junior Primary then goes to class.  Each age group has their own teacher(s) and classroom.  This schedule is reversed for Senior Primary.  About 15-20 minutes before our block meetings end, Junior Primary comes back into the Primary chapel and the two groups have closing exercises together.  They recognize and welcome visitors, sing to birthday children, recognize children who were baptized that week, give announcements, and recite an Article of Faith or scripture.  Then one or two children give 2 1/2 minute talks (assigned the week before).  A child reads a scripture of his/her choice.  They end with a closing song and a closing prayer by one of the children.

After Sacrament Meeting (when the children go to Primary) the youth and adults go to Sunday School.  Sunday School for the youth is divided up every two years: 12&13-year olds, 14&15-year olds, 16&17-year olds.  The 12&13-year olds are taught about the past presidents of our church.  The older groups are taught about whatever the course of study is for that year.  (This year it's the New Testament.)  Adults are offered varying classes.  Right now we have two Gospel Doctrine classes on the New Testament (the course of study rotates each year).  People can choose which to attend.  Sometimes there are other classes offered, as the bishopric deems necessary:  Temple Preparation; Marriage and Family Relations; Family History; and Teaching, No Greater Call (a class to prepare members to teach).  Sunday School is about 50 minutes.  Each class is opened and closed with prayer.  We usually do not sing as part of Sunday School.

After another ten minute transition, the youth go to Young Men or Young Women and the adults go to their Priesthood quorum (men) or Relief Society (women).  In these settings we have lessons directed specifically to our lives and our responsibilities.  YM and YW are divided in ages like in Sunday School.  Since I work with the Young Women, I go there instead of Relief Society (on the second week the YW meet with the RS for opening exercises).  These classes are about 50 minutes as well.  They open with song and prayer.  We usually have announcements.  We then have a lesson of about 40 minutes on varying gospel subjects.  Tomorrow I am teaching a lesson about agency and responsibility.  We close our class with prayer by one of the young women.

Five minutes before 4:00pm the librarian rings a bell (like a school bell, it goes through the whole building).  This is our five-minute warning.  Then on the hour, the librarian rings the bell twice (hopefully not right in the middle of the prayer).

Then church is over.  I head toward the foyer as that's where I meet my family.  I usually chat while waiting for everyone to show up.  If someone has a meeting or needs to visit with the Bishop they usually walk home.

Once we get home we have certain rules about what we do on the Sabbath.  These are our family rules.  Every family has slightly different rules.  Sunday is family day at our house so my children aren't allowed to play with friends.  We don't watch TV on Sunday.  They are also not allowed on the internet.  In theory, they aren't supposed to use their cell phones to chat with friends either.  (This isn't followed well by my 18-year old daughter and her boyfriend.)  We really only have one family meal on Sunday, usually around 5:00pm or 6:00pm.  People are responsible for taking care of their other food needs.  Sometimes we visit grandparents on Sunday.  We play board games.  Some of us take naps.  We watch DVDs (they have to check with me first to see if I am okay with that DVD on Sunday).  They might go outside and play catch together or go for a bike ride.  Maybe they do a puzzle.  Maybe we have a family home evening lesson.  Maybe they play the piano or another instrument.  Maybe we read scriptures together.  The idea is to make Sunday a day that is different from the others.  A day that focuses on spiritual things and on family.  And sometimes that means sacrifice.

We have only given up TV on Sundays for the last year or two.  It was tough.  We are NASCAR and NFL football fans.  We miss a lot of these events by not watching TV on Sundays.  That's been hard on me probably more than anyone else.  But I feel like it's been worth it.  It's changed the spirit of our home.  It helps to carry the peace we gained at church through the rest of our day.  And I believe it's important to teach my children to sacrifice some of what they want on Sundays as a sign of devotion to God.  It's a way of saying thank you.  It's a way of saying that we are willing to do what is necessary to become the people God would have us be.  (We do have a few exceptions.  We watch the Super Bowl and the Indy 500.)

We end the day with family prayer.

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I know I probably lost many of you through this exercise.  Sorry about that.  I'll be back to regular programming next time.  I probably included too much detail, too.  Sorry again.

Oh, and Libby made a comment on the first part of this that reminded me of a way our church is very different from most.  We do not choose which congregation to attend.  Our wards are assigned based on where we live.  Each area of the world is divided into wards or branches.  Whichever boundaries you're in, that's where you go.  I believe this helps us focus more on the gospel itself rather than just the people we like.  Plus, when we move or travel we don't have to hunt to figure out where we belong.  We check the church website to find our ward and that's where we go.  The lessons taught are the same around the world.  It's like having access to instant family wherever we go.

And our ward is truly like that.  We are a tight knit group.  A family.  We serve each other.  Watch out for each other.  Love each other.  There are easily a hundred people in a two or three block radius that I could call on for help.  And I know they would have my back.

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Sunday in the Life of a Mormon, part two

Go here for part one.

After my meeting, I go home and make sure everyone else is getting ready.  (I should mention that I only live about two blocks from my church building.)

My husband had his name removed from the records of our church about five years ago, so he isn't involved in this process.  It's taken some time, but we've come to a mutual respect of each other's choices.  Sundays are his day to himself.  He spends them sleeping, playing on his computer, watching movies in his room.  It's up to him.  We don't see him much on Sundays.

When I get home I wake anyone who is still asleep.  My kids are old enough that they get themselves ready.  Boy, it was a lot tougher when they were young.

I usually use this time to put the finishing touches on my lesson, if I'm teaching that day.  Or I lie down for a few minutes.  Sundays are a long day for me.

My eighteen-year old daughter gets ready pretty fast and then starts playing the piano.  No, we don't make her and haven't even asked her.  She just really likes to.  She's self taught and is working her way through the hymnbook.  It is requested that she keep her music spiritual when playing on Sunday.

My goal is to be out of the house by 12:30, even though we live close and church doesn't start until 1:00.  This started a while ago.  When my kids were younger we were often late for our meetings.  That meant we usually sat in the foyer or in the overflow on hard chairs.  I figured out that they were better behaved during the meeting if we were in a pew.  By changing my mindset to leaving at 12:30 instead of being there at 1:00 we are always able to get a pew, even when we're running late -- because we're still early.  Also, going early means that they have time to switch into church mode, get a drink of water, go to the restroom -- hopefully, so that they won't need to do those things during the meeting.  And I get to relax and listen to the prelude music, knowing we are all there and ready.  (If one of my kids isn't ready when it's time to leave, he/she walks.)

Since we are so early, we can sit anywhere we want.  We always sit in the back row on the right.  Habit.  My husband liked that spot when he used to come with us and it just kind of stuck.

Our Sunday worship service is three hours long.  The first meeting is Sacrament Meeting.  This is the most important meeting of the day because we participate in the holy ordinance of the sacrament.  The meeting is an hour and ten minutes.  It is conducted by a member of the bishopric.  (Our bishop is similar to a pastor. He has two counselors.  Together, they make up the bishopric.  They are responsible for the spiritual and temporal needs of everyone who lives in our ward boundaries.)  It is opened and closed with music and prayer.  Announcements are given.  New callings are presented for a sustaining vote.  The sacrament is blessed and passed by the young men who hold the priesthood.  The program is presented by various ward members who have been invited to speak by the bishopric on an assigned topic.  There is often a musical number presented in between speakers.  (On the first Sunday of the month we have testimony meeting.  On this day any member of the congregation may go to the pulpit to share his/her testimony.)  On the third Sunday, the musical number is usually presented by the ward choir.  (That's just in our ward.  Each ward decides for itself when the ward choir will sing.)

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To answer Linda's questions:  We call our weekly Sunday worship church.  Everyone is welcome at Sunday worship, member or not.  We do have temples.  These are buildings where sacred, eternal ordinances occur.  Only worthy members may enter the temple.  They must have an interview with the bishop and stake president (a stake is a group of wards).  They must be following the guidelines of the church like paying tithing, being honest, attending their meetings in order to obtain a temple recommend.  They can then attend the temple at a time that is convenient for them.  The temple isn't open on Sunday so that all may attend their regular Sunday meetings.  It also isn't open Monday afternoon or evenings so that it doesn't interfere with Family Home Evening (a time set aside for spiritual instruction in the home and family time).  And the formal name of our faith is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

More to come.

Go here for part three.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Sunday in the Life of a Mormon, part one

No theology here today, just a glimpse into what my Sundays look like (because I think it's fun to see how others live).  Some of this would vary depending on what my current calling is.  Also, different families establish their own guidelines, so a Mormon in a different family may have a very different Sunday from mine.  I will try to explain terms that may not be understood, but if I do too much explaining this post will be a novel.

Let's go with the second Sunday of the month; currently, that's my busiest one.

We are on the 1:00pm meeting schedule.  That means our meetings start at one in the afternoon.  There are three wards (congregations) that meet in our building so we have to take turns.  The start times are 9:00am, 11:00am, and 1:00pm.  This rotates every year.

Being on the late schedule means we can sleep later.  That is both good and bad at our house.  Good because we are night people and it's easier to get people moving happily in time for church.  Bad because we are night people and tend to stay up later on Saturday knowing we can sleep late the next day.  That is why you will see that the times I am waking people up are ridiculously late.

I am in charge of Sunday dinner.  I try to prepare something that can cook while we are at church or that is really fast and can be prepared after (our church ends at 4:00pm).  Since we don't shop on Sunday, I have to plan ahead.  Usually I get up at about 9:00am (maybe 9:30) and put something in the crock pot.  Then I get myself ready for the day, knowing there won't be time again later or I will be fighting for the bathroom.

I wake my 14-year old son at 10:00am if he isn't already up.  (Funny how he can get himself up just fine for football practice but struggles to get out of bed Sunday mornings.)  He has priesthood duties to perform.  On the first and second Sundays of the month the young men go to each house in the ward to collect fast offerings (donations for the welfare needs in our ward).  Hopefully he gets up and gets himself ready and out the door.

My current calling is second counselor in the Young Women organization (YW).  That means I work with the girls in our ward who are 12 and 13 years old.  It also means I have a YW presidency meeting every second Sunday at 10:30am.  I meet with the president (who works with the 16 and 17-year olds), the first counselor (who works with the 14 and 15-year olds), and the secretary.  We open and close the meeting with prayer.  One of us shares a spiritual thought that we think can help us in our callings.  Then we discuss the needs of the young women in our ward.  We note who is struggling.  We discuss ways to help individuals as well as the group.  We plan activities, hopefully those that will meet the needs of our girls.  We review activities we've already held to note things that worked and things that didn't.  Our president presents items that we need to know about from Ward Council.  Our goal is to follow the guidance of the Spirit as we try to help these young ladies prepare to be wives and mothers.  This meeting usually lasts about an hour.

Okay, I can see that this is going to take longer than I thought.  I guess I'd better break it up into several posts so as not to overwhelm anyone.  More to come.

And I'd love to read about how other people spend their sabbath (no matter what day you observe it) or how you choose to worship.  If you write about it, please send me a link so I can check it out.

Go here for part two.
Go here for part three.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let's Talk About Minimalism

A few months ago I wrote about finding my kind.  Finding my place.  Feeling at home.  In the minimalist movement.

Much of that post talked about getting rid of stuff.  And having less stuff is certainly a big part of minimalism.  But minimalism is so much more than that.

It would take many posts to give you an accurate idea of the current minimalist movement.  I'm sure I will write about it again to cover various areas and how they fit into my life.  But for now, I would like to offer a small introduction to minimalism of today.

While there is a push toward minimalist architecture and decorating and design, that's not really what I'm talking about.  The minimalism I'm talking about is a lifestyle change. 

As with any lifestyle generalization there are many different interpretations on what it means to be a minimalist.  There are probably as many interpretations as there are people trying to live this lifestyle.

A few of the things I've seen people working toward:  owning fewer than 100 things; 33 items in their wardrobe; quitting their regular job; becoming location independent; giving up their car; traveling the world with nothing but their backpack and a laptop.

I do not anticipate doing any of these things.

More commonly I read about people who are getting rid of stuff, rethinking commitments, challenging the ideas that they've been told for years, defining what they want out of life and making it happen.

My definition:  Minimalism is about creating space for the things you love.  Maybe that's physical space and you're focusing on clutter.  Maybe that's time and energy and you're adjusting your work week.  Maybe it's emotional space and you are letting go of relationships that are draining.  Whatever.

It's not about living without.  It's about only having what you need and what you love, realizing that anything extra takes away from the joy of life.  It's not all about thrift shopping.  Maybe instead of ten cheap pairs of pants I want to own three really nice ones. 

It's about choosing what I want in my life, what feels good in my heart.  It's about knowing when I have enough.  It's about living with intent.  It's about slowing down.  It's about making this very moment important, no matter what I'm doing.  It's about not choosing things based on what other people say I should want.  It's about listening to my own heart and letting it help me find myself.  Chipping away at all the garbage the world has buried me in.

It's about thinking.  Choosing.  And enjoying.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

What's the Opposite of Wanderlust?

Our family just got back from San Francisco.  It was perfect weather.  The completely different scenery and diverse population were fascinating.  Everyone got along almost all the time.  We had a great time -- success!

But even on the heels of this successful adventure I will readily admit I don't like to travel.  It's just not in my top ten list of things I like to do.  Probably not in my top one hundred.  And to some people that's a crime.  It's just not right to not like to travel.

About a year ago I was with a group of women, chatting.  One of them mentioned a trip she was planning and how excited she was.  The rest of the group got excited as well, talking about how much fun they were going to have.  I said I didn't like to travel (at an appropriate time, not just in the middle of everything).  The room went silent.

They stared at me like I had two heads.  How could anyone not like to travel?  How can you possibly not want to visit every corner of the earth?  (Especially the travel agent in the room.  You'd have thought I just said her kids were ugly by how offended she seemed.)

I like reading about, hearing about, or watching documentaries about other places.  Other people and lifestyles fascinate me.  But not enough to want to go there.  I just really like where I am.  There are enough incredible things to see within a two or three hour range of my house to keep me busy and satisfied for a lifetime.  Actually, there's enough in my own town to keep me happy for a lifetime.  I just honestly cannot think of another place in the world I'm dying to visit.  My life will be perfectly complete if I never leave my hometown again.

But what I found most interesting in this whole thing is how strongly it affected the other women in the room.  Why should they care if I don't like to travel?  Why would they spend the next fifteen minutes trying to convince me that if I were with the right person or "did it right" then I would love to travel?  Why isn't it okay for me to feel differently about something they love?

I bear no ill will toward those who like to travel.  In fact, I love hearing about their trips when they come back.  I love watching their faces light up as they describe each incredible thing they saw or did.

I love differences of opinion (as long as they are handled respectfully).  I think that's what makes our world function.  How would we survive if no one wanted to farm because everyone wanted to be an electrical enigineer?  What would happen if all little boys grew up to be firefighters and no one became a garbage man?  We need diversity.

So feel how you want to feel.  Celebrate what you want to celebrate.  Love what you want to love.  And please offer me the same freedoms.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Wearing My Cranky Pants

I find myself wearing my cranky pants a lot lately, almost all the time.

I don't know why I do this.  They aren't very comfortable.  They're constricting, showing too many of my flaws.  They are not flattering at all.

And yet, day after day, I wear my cranky pants.

Maybe I've been getting dressed in the dark too often.  I reach for my pants and think I've got the ones I want.  Then later, in the light of day, I find I chose the wrong ones again.  I reached for my comfy pants or my peaceful ones.  But because I was in a hurry and didn't take the time to turn on the light, I ended up miserable.

And I've noticed that when I wear my cranky pants too many days in a row my family starts to think it's the new uniform and they all put on their cranky pants, too.  Before you know it we're one big, cranky family.

I guess I need to find my other pants and keep them closer.  I need to quit going with what's easy and look for what is really best for me and my family.  I need to plan in advance and work to have what I want available.  And most importantly, I need to turn the light on.

And maybe, after I change my wardrobe, I can help my family find their happy pants, too.

Do you know where your happy pants are?

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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Glory of Women -- Smartly

I have a new essay up at Smartly today singing of the Glory of Women.  Read it and recognize the women in your life.  Or yourself.

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Note to bloggers:  If you have a blogspot blog with embedded comments, I am currently unable to comment (as are many others).  Changing your comment setting to either of the other two options will take care of this.  And please provide an email address somewhere on your site.  There are a couple of you I've been trying to contact since I can't comment.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Making Other People Happy

How much of your time and energy is spent trying to make other people happy?  Well, I have a secret for you.  You can't make other people happy and it isn't your job.  So stop it!

You are not in charge of anyone's happiness but your own. 

I'm going to let you just think about that for a few seconds . . .

Do you believe me? 

There are two ideas in that one sentence.  You are not in charge of anyone else's happiness.  And you are in charge of your own happiness.

Today I want to talk about making other people happy.

Is there someone you have always tried to make happy that just never seems satisfied?  For many of us that person is a parent.  For some it's a spouse.  For others it's a friend.  We may spend our entire lives trying to make them happy.  We do everything they want.  We become exactly who they say we should be.  We give up everything.  And they still aren't happy.  Why?

Because they are the only ones with the ability to make themselves happy.  They have to choose happiness.  They can have every need and desire met beyond belief and still be unhappy.  And there isn't a thing you can do about it.

You can be kind, giving, charitable, serving, forgiving, loving, valuing, and self-sacrificing.  These are good and healthy things when they are done because you choose to.  These may affect another person's happiness.  But they won't determine it.

You can spend your whole life giving up everything you want, jumping through hoops, and killing yourself to meet their demands.  This is not healthy.  It is not good for you or for them.

The idea that we can make others happy is a fallacy.  It's just flat-out untrue.  It's an illusion we carry around; a belief in a power that we don't actually possess.

So be a good person.  Live a life of kindness and generosity.  Send value to those around you.  But quit thinking it's your job to make them happy.  You'll be better because of it.  And so will they.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Walk in Faith . . . Believing

I wondered if this day would come.  If there would come a time when I needed another outlet.  It has.

I started a new blog.  A blog about faith.  My faith.  I offer my heart and my thoughts.  Join me if you wish, but no pressure.

I Walk in Faith . . . Believing.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

The Power of Women

I have four daughters and one son.  They range in ages from 12-20 years.  We are talkers.  We talk about almost anything.  One of the things we talk about a lot is human behavior.

Recently we were watching a movie.  One girl got angry at another girl for a perceived offense.  She then began to systematically ruin this girl's social life.  And so began our conversation.

My son didn't see it coming.  My daughters were all able to predict what would happen each step along the way.  It seems this is one way males and females are still different.

My husband taught me about how boys handle things like this.  He told me a story about when he was in junior high.  A boy had a problem with him, didn't like him.  He told my husband so.  My husband said that was fine because he didn't like the boy either.  Soon the fists were flying.  They both got in trouble.  The police were involved.  They learned their lesson.  And before long, they were good friends.

As I've talked to men over the years I've come to understand that this is a common happening.  Guys have a problem, they deal with it (not always with fists), and often they become friends afterward.  If not, at least they are direct and know where they each stand.  Then they just leave each other alone.

Girls, on the other hand, are not as direct.  They often continue to act friendly in person but destroy each other behind their backs.  They spread rumors, they steal friends, they poison the social waters in any way they can.  And it works.  It works because girls/women are of the heart.

We understand how people feel.  We learn what is important to them.  We understand that they are social creatures, that cutting off their social support is like suffocating them.  We know how to hurt another person in a way that is so much deeper than a physical injury.  And because we are of the heart, these wounds damage us.  This attack works.

I wish I could say this ends in junior high.  For some of us it probably does.  I've known some incredible women who would never say anything bad about another person, who would never strike at another's soul.

I wish I was one of them, but I'm not.  Sometimes I'm petty.  Sometimes I'm jealous and self-centered.  Sometimes I'm just impatient.  And often I am critical.

As women we have an incredible ability to do good.  We can use this same power to lift others up.  Instead of seeing how those around us don't measure up, we can look for things they are doing well and praise them.  We can encourage them.  We can thank them.  It's this same exact power -- the power of the heart -- that offers us this choice.  We can do so much good or so much harm.

People don't need to be told what they are doing wrong; they already know.  They need to be told that they are of worth.  They need to be told that they are capable of better, that we believe in them.  They need to be appreciated for what they have to offer, not told how they are lacking.

I am a woman.  I have the power of the heart.  I commit today to use this power more wisely and kindly.  Because I can.  I have a choice.  I hope you will join me.

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