Monday, December 16, 2013

My Bollywood Crush

"Interesting" is relative, so screw it: I'm writing that Bollywood post after all. Strap on your sitar and take a journey with me into the colorful world of Indian cinema. My name is Eva Aurora, and I'll be your tour guide.

For the last few years, I have developed a bit of an addiction to Indian movies. I've always liked good movies and how they can sweep you away into an alternate reality for a couple hours, laughing or weeping with the characters on the screen. Yes, books are better, but sometimes your brain just hurts. That's when movies really shine.

The thing about Bollywood movies is that they are...well...epic. For one thing, they are very long; often they last more than two-and-a-half hours. They also tell a very thorough story, which is what I find frequently lacking in Hollywood films. There are conflicts with no easy solutions, and you don't always get a happy ending--although you often do, as well, even if the happy ending comes at a price. There are humorous movies, sensitive movies, and action thrillers. And, of course, there are love stories. Plenty of love stories. I'm a sucker for character-driven plots--whether in books or movies--and Bollywood feeds my addiction quite nicely.

If I were to have a celebrity crush, it would be Aamir Khan, actor, producer, and director. I've never seen one of his movies that I didn't really like. He chooses stuff that has substance, that grabs your heart and refuses to let go until the story is fully explored.

However, to start your Bollywood journey, I suggest something from my second favorite actor, Shahrukh Khan (not related to Aamir as far as I know).

Shahrukh Khan does a lot of romantic comedies, Bollywood-style. That means you get conflict and obstacles preventing two star-crossed lovers from being together along with plenty of music video inserts and dancing. And the boy can dance! His 1995 classic hit Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is a good starting point for your Bollywood adventure. It's silly and fun in places but also deep enough to be taken seriously. Shahrukh as a plucky, hopeful romantic male lead is always a good choice, and he's not afraid to do slapstick comedy here and there. One of Shahrukh's more current romance movies (2012) is Jab Tak Hai Jaan. If nothing else, his soulful acting and very attractive graying stubble will keep you hooked as his character deals with the bleak aftermath of a severe promise made to God. Shahrukh also does action. Don, which tells the tale of a naive blue-collar worker sent to imitate a nasty gang boss, is a bit violent, but it will glue you to your seat until the very end. You won't be disappointed by the turns this movie takes. Plus, if you like the first movie, there's a sequel, Don 2.

But Aamir Khan, ah, Aamir...He has a deep soul. The movies he chooses to do always strike me to the heart. Unfortunately, one of my absolute favorites of his, Lagaan, is suddenly only available on Netflix DVD services, where it was, until recently, available on Instant Watch. I think that is also true of the one where he plays an art teacher who helps a struggling boy overcome undiagnosed dyslexia. I can't remember the name of that one because it's long and I don't speak Hindi, but if you ever come across it, watch it. You won't be sorry. Other great Aamir Khan movies are the thriller/romance Fanaa, which is complicated and gripping; the detective mystery Talaash; and Dil Chahta Hai, a story of three childhood friends who are forced to grow up.

Just for fun, Aamir Khan has a nephew named Imran Khan, who makes some cute romantic movies.

If you've read this far, it's time to order some curry takeout and fire up your Netflix account. Try something new and exotic! The world is a diverse place.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Thank You

Yesterday, I wrote a long and exceedingly uninteresting post about my favorite Bollywood actors and which Bollywood movies I particularly like. I even included pictures. Then I scrapped the entire thing until I actually have something interesting to say.

Until I have something interesting to say, I am not allowing myself to post anything. Today, however, I have a special thank-you to make. In the past week, we received an anonymous gift that was completely unexpected but very much appreciated. I don't know who sent it, but we are very touched by the generosity and the effort it took on someone's part to make this gift happen. Thank you. May God bless you and yours as you have blessed us.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What Makes a Hero?

The other day I was sorting through boxes of my things we finally removed from my parents' house and found a picture of me and my first boyfriend. I was surprised, as I thought I only had one picture of us. Now I have two. I'm not making a statement about my former boyfriend here (he was a good guy and I wish him well wherever he is today), but I am making a comment about the fact that not having taken a lot of pictures is pretty much the norm for my life. I just want you to know that at least I'm consistent in one thing.

And don't expect pics in this blog post, either, which is going to be somewhat controversial.

I was thinking about what makes a hero and why we choose to nearly worship some people. That line of thought was triggered by Nelson Mandela's death this week, and as I read the tributes to him from many of my Facebook friends, I was struck by how we can attribute to simple humans so many amazing and nearly godlike qualities of goodness.

The truth is that Nelson Mandela was an avowed Communist terrorist before he was jailed, and he was ready to come out of jail and strike with terror once again until he realized the world had changed in his favor. His 1960s group, the ANC, was one of several groups seeking change in South Africa--and rightly so! But the MK, of which Mandela was an enthusiastic member, and which was the guerrilla force of the Communist-based African National Congress (ANC), was the most ruthless of all the groups seeking change, and they had no compunction about taking the lives of as many of their fellow countrymen, black or white, as was necessary. They killed dozens of men and women (and wounded many more), including black leaders who refused to acquiesce to the ANC's particular brand of change. They would tie the offending black leader to a post, hang a tire around his neck, fill the tire with gasoline, and then light it on fire. It was called "necklacing," and Mandela's wife, Winnie, was right there, involved in the action. These are not the actions of peaceful, peace-loving men and women.

Mandela was offered release from jail in 1985 (he was jailed in 1963 after a raid of an MK farm, where he was posing as a farmhand) if he repudiated terrorism. He refused. He was finally released in 1990, much to his surprise, and he vowed to continue the fight MK had started 30 years before. Except now the government was ready to change, and suddenly Mandela was a hero. He even managed to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 and get lauded by Queen Elizabeth in 1996 for being a hero.

So did he do good in his life? Probably. Did he do nasty things as well? Absolutely. Are all heroes a mixture of good and bad? There is no question about it.

I'm not saying we shouldn't honor and respect people for the good choices they make. Indeed, Christlike behavior should always be vaunted as the ideal, as there will never be peace in this world until we all, collectively, submit ourselves to the will of our Heavenly Father, who would teach us to love one another. But I am always suspicious when one particular person or other is raised on the pedestal, who to popular sentiment and the applauding fans has no faults, and who seems to have been born from another, better universe.

So the question is this: is it necessary to remember the evil and darkness in a person while honoring the good? Is it harmless to gloss over acts of terrorism and murder in order to believe in something good, in something better than the ordinary stew of humanity? Is it bad to worship a hero who is not perfect?

I guess the answer depends on each person's personal definition of "worship." I cannot worship or even greatly admire Nelson Mandela. He is complicit to many murders and much pain. By his own mouth, he vowed to be complicit in future murders if it was necessary to forward his cause. I cannot honor those who feel that murder is an acceptable political statement. I do honor peace, love, and voluntary unity between people.

I believe it is dangerous to forget the true nature of our human heroes, to re-write history in order to satisfy our love of a happy ending and a prince riding grandly on his noble steed into the beautiful sunset. We must endure the pain of accepting a hero's faults and sins as a reminder that none of us is without blemish and that all of us desperately need the atonement of Jesus Christ. I expect many things will be named after Mandela--streets and buildings and parks and newborn children--and hopefully the thing that will be remembered and respected is the good (whether imaginary or real) that he did. Hopefully, the world will be a better place even if the story of a hero is based on a deliberate erasing of his horrible actions in the past, a fairytale. I think most people genuinely do want to be good and to lighten the burden of all humanity in some small way.

The only person I worship who ever lived on this earth is Jesus Christ. He is beyond reproach. He is perfect. I can set him as my example and never be disappointed. I pray that I can use the atonement to erase my own sins and flaws while I continuously try to be better and more loving. I do love and respect ordinary humans in this world who try to do good, and I also accept that none of us is without flaws. But my only real hero is my Savior.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Bit of Unrighteous Bragging about Husband

Husband told me a story yesterday that I had to share.

The 8th and 9th grade choir came to his elementary school to perform. He recognized several kids from his classes in years past, and he also managed to dredge up their names from his excellent memory. After the concert, he went up and said hello to his former students.

When he called them by name, one of them started yelling excitedly, "He remembers my name! He remembers my name!" This attracted the attention of one of her friends, who came over. The friend hadn't gone to Husband's school, but when she was introduced, she exclaimed, "YOU'RE Mr. Aurora? You're a legend!"

We ran into one of his former students and the student's siblings at the store the other day (which is odd because he works in an entirely different school district and there isn't a lot of reason for those kids to come out here). They were all excited and waving, but as a kid is who runs into his teacher out of the context of the classroom and school hallways, they were also suddenly shy and a little bit confused. I remember being really thrown when I realized that my teacher didn't live at the school and probably had a family.

Husband has implemented the free reading experience in his classroom by working out an extra visit to the library for his class each week. He also asked the librarian if instead of reading a picture book to the kids, she would present a short "commercial" about a book she likes during the first weekly visit. During the second visit, the kids would simply be allowed to sit and read or select books for later. He was pleased because the librarian's recommendation was so well done that one of the students immediately checked out the book she had highlighted. They will also be allowed to do "commercials" for each other about books they have read and enjoyed.

As discouraged as he gets with not bringing home a lot of money, I try to remind Husband that he is making a huge impact on his students' lives. Obviously, they remember him with fondness and have even talked about him to their friends. My elementary school teachers in Idaho were highly instrumental in helping me develop a deep and abiding love of learning, and I will remember them forever. Husband's goal is also to help his students have a desire to continue learning throughout their lives. I'm very proud of him. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Just a Day in the Life

Today at church, Sian was sitting next to me when a man leaned forward from the row behind us and said to her, "Has anyone told you that you look just like the girl in Hunger Games?" Actually, she gets told that a lot. It was even worse before she cut her hair. I don't think there's anything wrong with being compared to Jennifer Lawrence, but Sian does get tired of it. Boo hoo.

After church, I instructed everyone to keep their Sunday clothes on because Husband had signed us up for Tithing Settlement in the afternoon. In the meantime, we tidied up a bit, as the main floor was still in some disarray after our holiday get-together and a sleepover that Joseph had with a friend. After Tithing Settlement (which is when you declare whether or not you are a full tithe payer and receive a statement of your tithes and offerings for personal and tax purposes), we came back home and knelt in family prayer for one of my nieces, who is struggling right now.

Husband and I drove Sian back to school today after an early dinner. It was so nice to have her here for Thanksgiving, and she got to spend some quality time with some of her best friends from the neighborhood. The next time we see her will be for Christmas break, after which she will be living at home again. She has decided to serve an LDS mission, so she will be taking a leave of absence from college and then working to pay for the mission while waiting to turn 19. I find myself getting a little worried about where she will end up serving. Will she be safe? How far away will she be? What adventures will she have? Did my parents wonder the same things when my brother and I were sending in our papers way back in 1992?

On the way to her school, we tried to help her with an upcoming Linguistics assignment. She and her team have to develop a new language, and one of Sian's contributions is to create a history for the fantasy civilization they have dreamed up. This is Husband's particular strength, as he spends a lot of time world-building for the novels he writes. We spent over an hour determining how the first people arrived on an imaginary volcanic island, what their societal structure is, and what events triggered changes in their language.

After we'd dropped Sian off at her dorm, Husband and I turned around and began the lengthy drive home. For a while, we talked about Sian's book idea, which is so good that Husband has wished she would tell him she isn't interested in writing it and let him have it. We also talked about a book Husband just read that is written by a woman who believes that independent reading is the key to helping children love to learn and has her elementary students read 40 books a year. Her students love it because they get to choose their own books, recommend books to classmates, and they don't have to write tedious book reports or analyses after reading. Husband really likes that idea, but wondered how to implement something like that, given that he has to move his classroom every nine weeks or so and cannot, therefore, maintain a large in-class library. Later in the drive, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about a house I've designed in my head, finessing the details and figuring out how to make it work on either a flat piece of land or a steeply sloped lot.

When we got home, Sophia had completed her dishes duty, and the kitchen was sparkling. The kids have put up the Christmas tree and hung some lights on the bush out front. Very festive.

Just a day in the life.

As a side note, Husband told me that he allows his students to play chess after they have finished their work. They love to play chess, and I think it's a great game for stretching your mind and developing strategic thinking skills. He did have to break up a chess gambling ring, however, that was instituted by an entrepreneurial girl in his class. You have to admire her ingenuity, even if it's completely inappropriate.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

And a Happy No-Golf Thanksgiving to You!

In my dream, I am greeting someone I haven't seen in years. I am very happy at this meeting, and I feel joy in the moment. Suddenly, the dream is interrupted by a golf game, presented as if it's on a television screen. Around the edge of the screen, a large border of light, grayish brown plaid includes three picture-in-picture shots of women commentators. One of them looks like me, but she is not talking much. The second I can't quite make out. The third is a tall, whip-thin, angular woman with her gray hair in a no-nonsense short style that looks fairly masculine. This woman is going on and on in a very serious way about golf. After a while, I get so bored and restless that I wake up.

This is my subconscious's way of telling me I'm not living up to my potential, though it took me a while to figure that out. Meanwhile, every night, in every dream, that golf game would show up and I would bore myself awake. To me, golf is one of the most boring activities on the planet--especially when viewed on television--and that light brown color is the most boring color on the planet. To listen to someone endlessly discuss golf is like hearing nails on a chalkboard. My apologies to anyone for whom golf is a fun hobby and/or obsession. It's not personal. I am sure some things I do that I love doing would make you want to tear your hair out in large clumps just so you're not bored anymore.

Me and my subconscious, we're talking a lot. No, better to say my subconscious is deluging me with information, mostly through dream elements. The same dream element will plague me night after night until I figure out what the message is. What's nice is that the message is always positive and uplifting. My subconscious is gentle with me, unlike my much more critical conscious. Boring me awake with golf was just a kind kick in the butt. "You're wasting too much time," my inner self tells me. "You know what you want to do and you're not doing it. Get going already! You know you're capable enough." It's great to know I believe in myself at the deepest of levels.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. This is one of my favorite holidays. It combines all the joys of family, friends, great food, lots of laughter, and plenty of gratitude. There is also a distinct lack of stress that, for me, is very much associated with Christmas. I love the safe feeling of Thanksgiving, with everyone gathered in our home, talking and playing games and telling each other such funny jokes that someone inevitably snorts their drink through their nose. Far-flung relatives have traveled for hours to be here this afternoon. Cousins will reconnect and become engaged in fierce Lego building competitions. Adults will laugh together, and if the subject of politics is broached, we're all pretty much on the same page that way and there won't be any fierce arguments. If we're lucky, two of my brothers will give us a classical guitar concert and my daughters will sing. One of my nieces will play her new piano compositions for us, which are stunningly good for someone of her tender years. And at the end of the evening, everyone will sit back with full tummies, trying to figure out how to stuff a slice of my mother's delicious pumpkin or vanilla cream pies down their gullet.

I'm a lucky girl indeed to be surrounded by so much love and abundance. My cup runneth over. I thank my God for my blessings.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Gratuitous Self-Unburdening. Caveat Emptor.

What people think you are and what you actually are are sometimes two different things. I had a lengthy conversation with a friend yesterday, during which she praised me for a particular service I had performed for someone. She wondered why she wasn't more like me, more Christlike and giving. I started laughing. That question has come up once before with another friend, so I felt like I needed to set the record straight.

"I spent a lot of time doing that service," I said, "and while it was needed and I was glad to be able to help someone who needed it, it was hard for me. Sometimes it took hours a day, and I had to play frantic catch-up with my family and work. I wondered why I felt resentful sometimes. My family certainly resented all the hours I spent running errands, doing shopping, driving to doctors appointments, and driving over there whenever she called for my help. I wondered how someone can be Christlike if they feel resentful about serving someone else, so I don't give myself too many pats on the back for it."

My friend breathed a sigh of relief.

"You are human!" she exclaimed. "To me, you always appear to be so calm and put together, like you have everything under control."

When I stopped laughing, she said, "Do you have insecurities? Tell me about them. I'm interested to hear them."

Oof. Share my insecurities? Expose my weaknesses? It was because I know this woman is particularly humble in that area that I didn't change the subject, but did she have all day to listen to my laundry list of insecurities? I realized then just how much of a public persona I accidentally create. It's not because I am afraid that if someone sees me as less than superhuman they won't like me. I think superhumans are, perhaps, the hardest people to like because you are so tempted to compare yourself unfavorably to them and feel like a waste of space. Who enjoys that? It's far easier to blame the superhuman for your inadequacies than to accept yourself as worthwhile even with your warts and flaws. The people who know me don't see me as superhuman, I hope.

The reason I don't share more of my worries is because I don't feel like it would be an interesting subject to other people, not because I don't have them. Plus, I grew up as the listener, the one to whom my friends came to unburden their souls. I got so good at it that people I barely knew would unburden their souls to me. There was that time in the high school library when one of the popular girls I didn't particularly like plopped herself down at my table and launched into an unburdening about her boyfriend. As I quietly listened and nodded, I wondered to myself what strange stars had aligned that we were having this girl moment together, when the rest of the time our circles never crossed--even in a class of  forty kids. When she was finished, and as I was struggling to process this very personal information about two people I barely knew, she breezily grabbed her stuff and ran off to her next class. We never had a conversation like that again, though I kept her confidence out of a sense of personal integrity. In the years afterward, almost complete strangers would tell me all about something painful to them and walk away feeling better while leaving me slightly bewildered. But for the most part, I was glad to be the shoulder to cry on, the person who could help lighten an emotional load. I used my journal to unburden myself, spilling out my angst and worries and frequent teenage loneliness on the pages of numerous notebooks.

But even writing this in the open (so to speak) is hard for me, so I guess I do unconsciously craft a public persona of serenity. Thankfully, I am pretty optimistic and serene the majority of the time. I will go through periods of frantic depression and self-loathing, but I don't like to dwell on those thoughts because they have a tendency to become entrenched if they are given too much attention. Better to look forward, to rise above, to pray for strength to get through the dark tunnels and walk back into the light. I have a husband, children, family, and friends who know me very well and still love me, which is sometimes surprising but always gratifying as I return that love.

So, did I share my insecurities with my friend? I did share a couple, and they aren't too much different from what I think most women feel. "I always thought I was the only one who felt like that!" said my friend. No, I assured her, you are definitely not the only one. We are all of us light and shadow. We are all of us worried that we will never measure up, a little hesitant to accept that our best is good enough. I know this because I have heard so many others tell me. Because I frequently feel it myself.

I do like to serve others, and if I help one other person realize that I see her as a wonderful, glowing being of light (including the warts, because no none is exempt from warts), I will be happy. In that way, I am serene and Christlike, because I can see the good in others and accept them for exactly who they are. For everything else, all bets are off.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Conditional Birthday Cash

MIL and FIL know me too well. I just thought this was too funny not to share.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Secret Recipe for Carl's Jr.'s New Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwich: Cut One Strawberry Pop-Tart in Half. Sandwich It Around a Scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream. Freeze. Charge Money.

I have been buried in the manuscript I'm currently editing. "Let's get this done!" said my client excitedly on the phone last week. "I've got another book in my head."

"Get writing," I told him.

Bring it on.

He also spent some time praising me. "You're the best editor I've worked with. You're so intuitive, and you get exactly what I'm trying to say." I try to remember that when I feel like my eyes are going to explode from staring at the computer screen and my shoulders and neck feel all tight from sitting hunched over. The life of an editor is not glamorous.

Well, I take that back. Husband came home from work with some coupons for free Pop-Tart ice-cream sandwiches from Carl's Jr., so on Saturday, I took the boys to get one each. They stayed and played on the playground for a good two hours while I edited my way through a respectable chunk of words and concepts. Though I couldn't stomach the idea of a Pop-Tart and freezer-burned ice-cream sandwich for myself, the boys had a great time and I got out of the house. I could tell the other customers were impressed with how official I looked, as if I was pointing out that here I was making money right in front of them! It could have been millions, for all they knew, right there in a fast food restaurant! I'm a fast typer, you see, so that looks impressive and glamorous. And I think I had changed into a shirt that wasn't stained. And maybe I put on some makeup. I can't remember. The fact that Little Gary's neglected ice-cream was slowly melting into a puddle all over the table (which I didn't see for a while because it was behind my laptop) probably only enhanced my glamour.

I had a sweet moment with Joseph while we were there. He had come to sit by me while he took a rest from playing, and he asked what I was reading. I happened to be checking a poem for accuracy that my client had included in his text, and I was enjoying the poem immensely (and if you know my history with poetry, you'll know that I don't say that often). The poem was The Calf-Path, by Sam Walter Foss. I read it out loud to Joseph and asked him what he thought it meant. He wasn't sure, so I told him the story about a woman who always cut the end off the roast before she cooked it. She never knew why she did that except that her mother used to do it, and one day when her mother was there, she asked her why she always cut off the end of the roast. The mother didn't know either, except that her mother used to cook the roast like that. They called the young woman's grandmother and asked her why she cut the end of the roast off. Did it help the taste? Did it enhance the cooking? The grandmother laughed and said that she always cut off the end of the roast because her pan was too small to fit the entire roast into it in one piece.

Joseph threw his head back and laughed. "I get it now," he said. "A little wobbly calf made a path and everyone followed it for 300 years without knowing why." We talked about how some traditions that we hold sacred and untouchable can actually have been the result of an accident or an unconscious action on someone's part, but that time and/or ignorance have hidden the reason for its beginnings. In the poem, men who followed the twisting path cursed it as they traveled it back and forth, turning a one mile distance into three miles. But they never thought to change it or make it straighter, and eventually its very antiquity gave it a sacred aura, though its beginning was caused by nothing more spectacular than a little wobbly calf walking through the woods to get home. Joseph thought about it for a while, and then he hugged me and ran back into the play area while I got back to work.

At least my intuition is good for something.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I'm a Libra, So Maybe All of This Makes Sense in That Regard

I recently read The Book of Hyrum: Freemasonry, Venus, and the Secret Key to the Life of Jesus, by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas. I haven't read the previous books in the series, but I don't think my understanding of this particular book suffered much for it as the topic, though related to previous books, was not a direct continuation. It was an interesting book, but I was frustrated with the authors' conclusions for two reasons: a) even though they claimed not to, I believe they fell into the trap of considering all civilizations, societies, and individuals who lived previous to our time as primitive in intellect and understanding; and b) the information they unearthed about The Grooved Ware people and their reliance and reverence for the path of Venus in relation to the sun and moon was considered the basis for all types of religious worship. In other words, Venus worship formed the base of most (if not all) superstitions and religious methodologies from that point onward, including for Jesus Christ. The authors' research was phenomenal, and it was incredibly interesting to read, but I constantly wanted to argue that their conclusions were backwards.

But that's a blog post for another time.

What I really wanted to write about was something that has been slowly solidifying in my mind over time. The authors listed above heavily reference a book called The Astrological File, by Gunter Sachs, who set out to investigate in a thoroughly mathemetically sound way whether or not astrological signs seem to have any bearing on a variety of aspects of peoples' lives. Sachs and his team are not believers in astrology themselves, but they were curious to see if sound statistics taken from very large data sets could prove any correlation between what sign you were born under and who you were likely to marry, how likely you are to divorce, what career you might choose, how likely you were to be a criminal, and so forth. Turns out there are some very significant correlations, and Knight and Lomas used this information to bolster their theory that the stars do, indeed, play a large role in the formation and basis of ancient religions and spiritual beliefs. I decided I needed to get a copy of Sach's book and read it for myself.

When I was younger, in elementary school, I was curious about astrology and even read a few books about it. That's probably because I'm a Libra with strong Scorpio tendencies. The more I read, the more I felt that the information was too vague to be of any real use. I also have a healthy respect for individual agency, so running my life according to the stars seemed like a very silly thing to do. But I also believe (and that belief has been supported by my further research into quantum physics and energy) that each of us influences every other of us, from our own small bodies made of star dust to the great celestial bodies that float in the black of space. Therefore, to find that there are, indeed, significant correlations between signs of the zodiac and areas of our lives doesn't surprise or shock me even if I find the practice of astrological life predictions itself to be thoroughly inadequate.

Here's the picture that I think best explains my conclusions: I was remembering my youngest child watching the trees outside the window back when he was two years old. The wind was blowing very hard, and the tree limbs were moving around very energetically. "The trees are dancing!" he exclaimed in delight. In his mind, which was not yet very versed in how the wind works and in cause and effect, this was the most likely reason the trees were having such a party. He assumed the trees were acting independently of any other influence. Likewise, if you were an adult who had been raised entirely indoors and had never experienced any cause-and-effect from a breeze or wind, you might look out of the window and see individual grass blades bending in the wind and conclude that the grass blades were acting in concert, somehow communicating amongst each other when to bow and when to straighten. You might not consider that an outside force, invisible and unguessed, was working on all the grass blades simultaneously.

I think astrology is something like seeing the grass blades bending or the tree limbs dancing and assuming that they are acting on their own. We fail to see other as-yet invisible but completely natural forces that may be in play.  There is good evidence that something is happening here, that the grass blades are bending and the limbs dancing, but we don't know enough yet to know exactly what that force is or how it works, or even if there are multiple forces in operation.

And for me, the charm of life is knowing that there is so very much more to learn. I am very grateful for people who take the time to research, think, ponder, and write about what they learn, even if the result is very dry (you'd think a book on astrological correlations would be just a little more spunky and entertaining, wouldn't you?). Being a Big Picture kind of gal, I feel like I ingest all these pieces and details in order to learn more about what really is and how everything works. As the author of the manuscript I'm editing wisely stated (and I am paraphrasing here), education isn't about finding an answer and being done; it's about learning what new questions to ask. Asking the questions and finding the answers leads to finding new questions and revising the answers. It's all such fun!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Happy Birthday with Cheesecake to Me!

Yes, it is my 42nd birthday today. In celebration, Sian came home from college for the weekend, and my parents, a couple brothers, one of my sisters, possibly her fiance, my nephew, and my in-laws are coming over for dinner tonight. And Mom is bringing cheesecake for dessert. What more could a girl possibly want?

In fact, MIL asked Husband on the phone what I wanted for my birthday and I said, "I don't want anything," as the absolute truth. "Okay!" said FIL. MIL glared at him (I wasn't there, but I know she glared at him right then). "No, we have to give her something! If we give her money, she'll just spend it on paying bills or buying groceries."

"If you gave her money, she'd probably spend it taking me out to dinner. She really likes eating out," said Husband.

So MIL and FIL have settled on taking me and Husband out to lunch tomorrow while the kids are in school. Husband is off-track for a few weeks, so that works out really well. And I do love eating out. Any time I can eat good food I didn't have to cook is a win for me. Though I have never had the funds to try it, I have proposed the theory that I could happily eat take-out for weeks--and possibly a month--at a time with no complaints. Of course, I would then gain even more weight, but I am also open to the idea of eating salads I didn't make. Even low-cal soups. Lightly cooked veggies in Chinese stir-fries rock my world as long as I don't have to spend the hour or so prepping all the veggies.

Speaking of food, a great birthday present would be a five gallon bucket of cold-pressed virgin coconut oil. When I'm rich, I'll invest in a few dozen of those. I use coconut oil for all my cooking oil needs. I could eat it with a spoon, in fact.

I must be hungry, which is why a post about my birthday has veered into a post about food. It's not like I had anything of substance to say about my birthday anyway, so I'll share that I'm going to eat the spaghetti and red sauce I just made for lunch. I was home from church with the boys today, who are feeling poorly. I did attempt to take a nap, but sick little boys are extra cuddly, and it's hard to sleep when you keep getting hugs and kisses. Not that I'm complaining. I've got everything I could want right here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Is Human History Stranger Than You Ever Imagined?

Today, something that will blow your mind. I'm not making any comments on the theory of evolution, nor am I stating that I have done any of the research required to back up what this man is saying. But I have always wondered about the other people that were obviously already on the earth after Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden. I have also speculated privately to myself that instead of evolving we have actually devolved. The story of the creation in Genesis is so vague, in my opinion, because of two possibilities: a) we do not currently possess the knowledge that would allow us understand the mechanics of the creation story, and because of our infancy in that regard, the story is necessarily lacking in details; and b) having that knowledge--coupled with our extremely predictable human nature--could result in catastrophe until we have learned to control the "natural man," both individually and collectively as a species.

One thing I have noticed as I travel from one Relief Society lesson to the next on a given Sunday (I do this because of my calling in church), is that people tend to make the same comments and come to the same conclusions in each class--sometimes even using the same words. Yes, the class is taught within a very specific culture, so that is natural, but I'm sure you have noticed the same sort of thing in more general arenas. I think this can be extrapolated, to a certain degree, to all of humanity. As a species, we tend to come to the same conclusions in various societies and civilizations, even when separated by time or distance. We cycle, so to speak, along a finite spectrum of knowledge and technology. If you have ever wondered if the Bible was literal when it talks about our society being much like the society and civilization that existed before the Great Flood, this video will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. Really interesting stuff here. I would love to do some research and find all of the evidence that the speaker refers to so I can test his ideas for truth.

{{{ Archaeology's Surprising Revelations}}} from BRUCE TIMPANY on Vimeo.

So This Is Why I Always Struggled With Trig!

I've been a downer the last few posts, so to lighten things up, I invite you to click on the following link. Please get your copy book and a pencil ready so you can follow along. It also helps to put on your dry British humour cap.

Look Around You (Maths) from Numbers on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On Slavery

On Sunday, I finished reading a book called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. It was written by a woman named Harriet Jacobs (though she wrote under the pseudonym Linda Brent), who was born to a slave mother in the American South in 1813. According to the laws at the time, any children of a slave mother were also slaves, owned by the mother's master or mistress. Though Harriet's mother was married to a free man, his children were the property of his wife's owner and could be sold away at the whim of the owner at any time.

Harriet wrote her story in the form of a sentimental novel, which was a popular writing form at the time. Though it is written in story form, all the incidents in the book are true. This type of writing was sure to grab the attentions and sympathies of white women in the northern Free States who were working to abolish slavery in the South as well as those who were not yet familiar with the plight of their sisters of African descent. When she wrote the book, Harriet had only recently become legally free, though she had escaped from slavery years before.

It's a heart-wrenching story, and it is impossible to imagine living a life in which the law declared that I was the personal property, body and soul, of another human being. Harriet, who had been taught to read and write at the age of six (which was a crime), frequently stops to ask the reader how they would feel in her situation as a female slave. Because her complexion was light and she was pretty, she was constantly under threat from her mistress's father to be raped and impregnated, and Dr. Flint (her mistress's father) spent years making her life absolutely miserable. Many white slave owners fathered children on black slaves, and the children that resulted were often sold away--with or without their mothers--because the slave owners' wives felt so much anger and jealousy toward them. The other choice, frequently taken, was to smother the infants to death. Even clergymen, who would have caused a scandal by having an affair and a child with a white woman, were not held to account for fathering black babies. In fact, slave women were frequently used as breeding horses to increase a slave owner's stock of slaves, whether he fathered them or forced them to breed with other slaves. The lenient owners allowed the women to choose their own husbands, but there was never a guarantee that the families would be allowed to stay together.

Harriet's story is truly horrific, and I think everyone should read the book to see what is possible when slavery is allowed. It's what she writes about the universally corrupting influence of slavery on an entire society that is really penetrating, however. She talks about how the institution of slavery changed what would have been otherwise fairly decent people into despicable human beings. White men and women and their children were all surrounded by slaves, and they grew up learning to treat an entire class of human beings as property. Because of that, they lost much of their compassion and humanity for each other, as well. The pain and misery of slavery didn't just rest on the whipped shoulders of the slaves.

My point in sharing this is that we must learn from history, from what human beings can do to each other. We decry any thought of slavery today, and yet we defend twisted practices such as pornography as "freedom of speech," when, behind the scenes, an entire industry thrives on trafficked women and children to feed the ever-growing and ever more insatiable demand for explicit and violent pornographic material.

We see a problem and demand that government do something about it, ignoring the historical tendency of all governments to increase in power and tyranny until the people who once cried to the government for safety and security are now running away from it for fear of their lives. We so willingly put the yoke of slavery on our own shoulders, believing the soothing promises of men and women who are both corruptible and corrupted with power.

Samuel, the great prophet who preceded King David, tried his best to set up a government among the Israelite nation that would champion freedom and liberty. He ran effective military campaigns against the neighboring kingdoms that wanted to conquer Israel and force them to pay tribute (slavery). He taught them how to council together in order to govern themselves. And yet, Samuel's people, for whom he had given his entire life, demanded a king. They wanted a monarchy so they would appear strong to the surrounding nations. They wanted the pomp and circumstance associated with a king and a royal court. They wanted to quit thinking for themselves and rely on a king to make their decisions and lead their military campaigns against their enemies. When Samuel went to the Lord, depressed and discouraged at their immaturity and refusal to accept freedom, the Lord told Samuel to give them what they wanted, but to warn them first.

As commanded, Samuel warned the people what would happen if they willingly subjected themselves to a monarchy. They would be taxed heavily from their crops and profits to support the king and his court; they would have to send their children to serve the king in his court and on the battlefields; they would end up groaning under the burden they had willingly taken upon themselves because they wanted the appearance of strength and the false security of having a king.

Despite Samuel's warnings, and despite the fact that Samuel had shown them another way to govern themselves, the people chose a king. They got what they wanted, and they lived to regret it within just a single generation. Solomon, though a wise man, taxed the people incredibly heavily to build a new temple. After Solomon, the kings were largely oppressive and wicked, with a few bright lights of righteousness and kindness here and there. Eventually, Israel was divided into two rival kingdoms, and eventually, both of those kingdoms were conquered by other nations. The Israelites were either captured and taken with the conquering armies or forced to scatter among the other nations, no longer a mighty people.

My point is that if we choose slavery, we will suffer. When the Israelites chose their idols over the One True God, they suffered. When we choose a strong, all-powerful federal government over the One True God (who helps us learn to govern ourselves), we will suffer. We have only to look to Germany and Russia as recent examples of what happens when we elect despots. Unlike Harriet Jacobs, who suffered from the unrighteous decisions of others, we will be choosing to enslave ourselves and our children.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Well, This Extremist Terrorist Has Just About Had Enough

During the whole kerfuffle of a government shutdown, it has become apparent just how much of an influence federal government has in our lives. I, personally, find it incredibly dismaying, but then I would, as a person who could be labeled among the Libertarian Right (wondering where you fall on the political beliefs spectrum? Take this quick little test here.) Granted, the Executive Branch has also overstepped its bounds when it comes to shutting things down in order to cause pain, chaos, and confusion among the American people. It's been documented how many private businesses have been illegally cowed into shutting their doors, after all. But the fact remains that even in the parts of government that were shut down completely legally, it's too much. Too, too much. It makes me want to vomit, in fact. 

Rhetorical question: how did this happen?!

Let's consider Obamacare for a moment (and remember that no one is forcing you to read this blog, so you are free to click away the moment my views grate on yours). My view is that the Affordable Care Act is an atrocity foisted upon the American population through guile (which, as I learned in Relief Society on Sunday means "cunning intelligence," with a strong inference of intentional deceit). Not only is it neither affordable nor caring, but this single piece of legislation will decimate what was left of our God-given rights and liberties as explained in our Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. It was touted as the cure to our healthcare ills, but those of us who are naturally suspicious of any solutions presented by a federal government that created the problem in the first place were condescendingly told by the Queen of Idiocy, Nancy Pelosi, that "we have to pass it to see what's in it." 

Ms. Pelosi has already been proven to have rabies (I'm sure I could find some backup internet link to prove that claim if I looked hard enough), but even if we all had rabies and we would have been unilaterally overjoyed to see what was in it, the legislation was passed with NOT ONE Republican vote. Since then, Republicans in Congress have tried 30 times to repeal Obamacare. Their constituents demand it. Tea Party politicians were elected primarily on that platform. And yet the mainstream media continually issues inane commentary such as, "Republicans are keeping the issue alive because they need to get people all up in a froth and a dither for mid-term elections coming up in 2014." Or they offer nuggets of "journalism" that label people who do not support Obamacare as being racist, homophobes, bigots, extremists, and terrorists. After all, another government program that effectively takes over a huge, huge chunk of our economy will be different than all the thousands of other programs, right? This one will allow you to keep your doctor and your current insurance if you like it. It won't cost us an extra dime! Your insurance premiums won't go up because we'll make the evil, evil insurance companies reduce their profits and all that. Sh, sh, now go to sleep, little darling. There is not trouble here. Just quietly take my hand and I will lead and guide you. Just look at every other government program that has worked exactly as it was originally mandated. Wait, don't look.

Well, pardon me for my extremism and terroristic tendencies, but I can do some math, and the math doesn't add up. I spotted those promises as outright lies the first time the teleprompter said them. I also found out that many more aspects of my life will come under federal government control (through this legislation and a flurry of executive orders that have already been issued), either through outright usurpation by the Executive Branch of the Legislative Branch's responsibilities (the Judicial Branch is already mostly an extension of the Executive Branch by this point) or outright force. The umbrella of healthcare, you see, is so vast and intricate that the government will need to take care of you from birth to death. This means that everything is related to your health--what you eat, your career, your hobbies, where you travel, when you can see your doctor, where you go to school, your political views, your religion, etc., etc., etc. You see where that is headed?

Didn't they do some sort of movie about this? Wasn't it called Terminator? Where computers and artificial intelligence came to the conclusion that the only way to protect humanity was to completely control it (or eliminate it)? Or was that I, Robot? Yeah, I get my sci-fi stuff confused now because it's all happening for real. 

The problem with the labels mainstream media is giving to the opposition is two-fold: it tries to isolate what is, in actuality, a large percentage of the American public who are angry about this legislation and who find it the next big step toward total socialism (and then Marxism); and it trains the American people to accept the propaganda that certain segments of the American population (those, in short, who do not agree with the administration) are undesirable and detestable. You know what happened to Hitler's undesirables. And no one thinks it could happen here? 

My last point is that human nature has changed not a whit since Day One. Have you ever taken the time to make the scary journey into your dark side? I'm a big believer of knowing the shadows in your soul, and everyone is a combination of light and shadow. When you know what is lurking in those closets and dank alleyways that make up your psyche, it is truly frightening. But knowing it helps to control it. It helps you face your unnamed fears and name them, and names have power. I, for instance, fully realize that I have within me a full range of horrors, from unmitigated cruelty to the love of ultimate tyranny (me as tyrant, of course). I have never acted on those dark things because the light in me finds them repulsive and hideous. But they are there, and now that they have been named, I can imagine the possibilities of what human nature can stoop to. 

Someone else knows exactly the depths to which we can fall, as well, and the Father of Lies (Satan, in this case, and not Obama) carefully works on naive or unsuspecting peoples' ambitions and weaknesses to bring out the worst vices, tyranny, and oppressive tendencies. Some people really believe they are doing good works by forcing people to bend to their will. Some people realize what is happening but are just glad it's not happening to them. Some people revel in the oppressive control they inflict on others. Any of us can be any of those types of people if we want to be. This legislation allows those who have the power and who believe they are smarter, more compassionate, or more relevant to use the population as a collective resource. That can only be accomplished with complete control. Socialized healthcare is a major step in that direction. Just ask Lenin, who said, "Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state." What's even better is to have the people clamoring for their enslavement as the yoke is placed upon them.

If you're not sure that being in a socialist state is a bad thing, I imagine you would find my entire argument (see above) to be null and void. In that case, I weep for you. And I invite you to do some research and to read my next blog post.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The In-Laws Are Back, and They Brought Goodies!

My in-laws returned triumphantly last weekend from their visit to Great Britain. I say "triumphantly" because they managed to make both connecting flights despite the agony of long customs and security lines (there's that government shutdown effect!), kept their bags under the acceptable limits, and had their coats out by the time they arrived home to find a dusting of slushy snow on our valley floor. They left when it was hot enough to melt rocks and came back when fall was in full swing.

My MIL has a gift for packing things. She can fit 20 gallons of something into a 10 gallon container with room to spare. The only limit to her superpower is the weight restrictions the airlines place on luggage, which is a shame because it limits the amount of good, British chocolate we can then consume. But they did bring back various chocolates and crisps (prawn cocktail and Worcester flavored Walkers, pickled onion Monster Munch, and some scampi flavored Fries), candies that Husband requested that bring back memories of his youth, and a couple logs of marzipan. They also brought back some jewelry for us girls and some cool shirts for the boys. Husband's extensive supply of rugby and football (soccer) jerseys all came from MIL and FIL. We also got some

Bisto for making gravy and a couple Battenberg cakes. I see some roast meals in our near future.

I'll need to play soccer for days to work off the bounty, and the official England soccer shirt I was given will be my uniform. Fortunately, there are six other people in this house ready to help gobble down all the fattening treats, and if I just ignore it, everything will be gone in no time. MIL was kind enough to send Sian her own package containing chocolate and other treats because there ain't no way any would be left by the time she came to visit.

You can envy us just a little if you want. What I wanted most, however, were things they cannot bring home with them: hot Cornish pasties from the bakery; a cone of chips drenched in malt vinegar; the smell of a small English town in the morning before the mists have lifted; the sounds of a High Street market day; the juxtaposition of a castle ruin basking in the sunlight nearby modern homes and office buildings. The scent of hot apple and blackcurrant squash after a long day in the rainy drizzle.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Very Serious and Very Long Post About Dreams, the Subconscious, Energy, and Cotton Candy

In my dream, I am two people. When I am the first person, I am the speaker, and I am offering food to the second person, who is mute. The second person accepts the food gratefully, knowing that it is nourishing and good. But halfway through the meal, I yank the food away from the second person and hand him (him? why is it a he?) a big cone of cotton candy. Then, I switch to being the second person, and I refuse the cotton candy. I don't want it because it is useless to me. It has no nutritional value and I want something of value. Repeatedly, the first person forcefully shoves cotton candy at me, and I wordlessly throw it away, where it dissipates into the air. I say nothing while I am the second person, just shaking my head against the onslaught of the first person's demands that I accept and eat the cotton candy.

This element has popped up in my dreams every night for weeks now. It has been so disturbing that I have been very restless and my sleep has suffered. Even as the plot and scenery in my dreams changes each night, this element has remained. 

Finally, yesterday morning, I figured it out. Due to General Conference weekend (where I don't have to roll out of bed before 7am and shake the kids awake to begin getting ready for church), I got a few quiet moments to think and pray without distractions.

Let me preface my interpretation by telling you that I have been in frequent communication with my subconscious lately. I read The Emotion Code by Dr. Bradley Nelson recently, and it was a nice culmination of the things I've been researching about energy, quantum physics, and the amazing biological machine that is a body. Great read. I highly recommend it to everyone. Dr. Nelson teaches, in essence, that each of us is made of energy (our physical bodies being a form of energy that vibrates at a low enough frequency to be visible to our eyes). Our thoughts and emotions are also energy and have their own vibrational frequencies; the lower the vibrational frequency, the more negatively we are affected. Sometimes, a negative emotion can become trapped within our electro-magnetic field, and the frequency of that trapped emotion (view it as a ball of energy) can begin affecting surrounding tissues and organs. Over time, the frequency (which promotes disease and ill health) can cause problems in our physical bodies, such as cancers and other illness. They certainly influence how we feel about ourselves and others. These trapped emotions can be created within us or inherited from others.

Our subconscious mind is the part of ourselves that runs the body. The subconscious takes care of all the automatic and reflexive systems that keep us alive so we don't have to consciously dwell on it. Imagine if we had to constantly tell our hearts to beat! So the subconscious mind is very aware of exactly what is going on within our bodies, including what is working and what is not. The subconscious can also tell where trapped negative emotions are residing. By using muscle testing (kinesiology), you can literally communicate with your subconscious to identify trapped negative emotions and dissipate them from your energy field. By releasing these trapped emotions, people have enjoyed some amazing results, from outright healing of symptoms to the ability to love and trust more fully.

So I've been releasing trapped emotions, and in the process have become pretty good at talking to my subconscious. Therefore, I recognized that it was my subconscious telling me something important in my dream. In fact, the mute person in my dream element represented my subconscious. And what it wanted to tell me consciously was that I am done worrying about the opinions of others. The only opinion I really care about is God's opinion of me and what I do. This is significant for me. Really significant. By releasing trapped emotions of low self-esteem, fear, being taken for granted, or love unreceived that became trapped during various episodes of my life, I have given up much of the need to please others at my own expense. The real food in my dream represents the love that my Heavenly Father has for me. The cotton candy, which is of no value even if it tastes sweet, is the fickle opinions and imperfect knowledge of man. The reason I was so restless before I figured this out was because I hadn't yet fully acknowledged this new reality in myself. Now I have. Last night, I slept peacefully for the first time in days.

I have seen other surprising results of my conversation with my subconscious. I released one trapped emotion that was residing in my right shoulder, and the constant pain that had been bothering me forever suddenly disappeared. My left kidney and gall bladder must be functioning better because a lot of trapped emotions were hanging out there (misery loves company, I guess, and one low frequency attracts another). My thinking and attitude have changed subtly, too, as I've broken down the wall around my heart. I've still got plenty of releasing to do, but I feel very connected to my body in a way I never have before.Obviously, my subconscious is talking to me in dreams, as well, which means we've become friends.

Why do I have a sudden craving for blue cotton candy?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Just a Teeny Bit of Venting

It may come as no surprise to you that I am not a fan of big government. I also oppose changing the Utah caucus system, as the caucus system allows normal people coming from grassroots situations and budgets to run for office.

In addition, I think President Obama has gone off the rails in his latest speech about raising the debt ceiling. He must really believe we have absolutely no grasp of mathematics, economics, or human nature. Indeed, he must really believe we are all complete idiots -- or worse, he actually believes what his teleprompter tells him. Hey, if it's on the teleprompter, it must be true, right? And 2006 never happened, either, when he was on exactly the opposite side of this argument.

If Obamacare doesn't get defunded (or if there doesn't end up being any measure that will dry it up like an unwanted wart), I'm going to cry. For reals.

I just had to get that off my chest. Thank you for being so understanding.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And Murphy Giggled Delightedly

I was telling someone the other day that being poor isn't all that bad. After all, you get to figure out creative solutions to things all the time, and successfully solving a problem on the cheap brings with it a great deal of satisfaction. Plus, you're forced to look at what is truly important in life and discard things that aren't important that you can't afford.

Because I said it out loud, however, Murphy laughed. His law immediately went into effect, and that evening, I got an email from my place of work informing the contract writers that the content writing department had nearly run out of work items. That's the first time that's happened since I've been working for them (several years now). They offered one of two options for the near future. First option: take two weeks off with no penalties for failing to make the weekly quota. The only stipulation is that you cannot write any work items whatsoever. Second option: continue to write, but be told how many work items you are allotted and stick with that amount.

Either way, it spelled a big decrease in our finances and a chance to really get creative. Every single penny counts. When Husband commutes 30 miles to work, you have to prioritize gas expenses, juggling your pantry and fridge with the hunger of the gas tank. Any money you do have for food has to be carefully spent. Are eggs more important than milk? I can make bread, but do I have enough flour to last until the next payday? And how can I dress up the supply of dried beans I have in my pantry in order to fill tummies without it becoming dull and monotonous? When several episodes of severely depleted finances have already mostly emptied the larder, what do I have left? How is it possible I could have accumulated so much canned spinach?

We don't live on the raggedy financial edge because we enjoy the thrill. Nor are we insensible to the wisdom of paying off debt, saving for a rainy day and retirement, and budgeting so we are not living paycheck to paycheck. Husband regularly beats himself up for choosing a profession that is not very lucrative, even though he works hard at what he does. I tell him that as an elementary school teacher, he is touching lives in a way that simply isn't possible in the corporate world. He still gets angry with himself. Every penny goes into living expenses, with nothing left over.

I don't think there is more purity or wisdom to be had by being poor than being wealthy. People with plenty of money can also learn the lessons of what is important in life. We're not better because we're struggling vs. someone who has never had to worry about whether or not their kids will be able to eat lunch for the rest of the week. We try very hard not to be frivolous. I certainly don't feel incredibly righteous, as I am always wondering if I'm squandering the stewardship I've been given.

But I am grateful. As tiring as it is, there is still a thrill at the challenges we are presented with. How do we overcome them? What is the best course? And will anyone eat another pot of peas porridge hot?

We have our children and our nearby family. We have good friends around us. The kids can be educated, we have never starved, and even if we can't afford a lot, we have everything we need. I would feel blessed even if we had to give up the house and all of our possessions, but just so you know, Murphy, that isn't something I really want to be tested on, thank you very much. On a side note, I wouldn't mind having a heftier bank account, if that's something within your power.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Always Available, All the Time

I fixed the cell phone problem by myself. Yes, you read that right. All by myself. I know I'm too lazy when it comes to finding solutions to simple issues like that because I can always ask Husband for help and he will do a far, far better--and quicker--job than I. Since he was at work, however, I had to figure it out on my own this time. Sad that I'm always so proud of myself for sorting out easy tech problems, like where the SIM card goes in the new phone and how to get it out of the old phone. So very sad.

Anyway,  I asked Gabrielle if she still had my old slide phone and charger from a few years back. "You mean Mr. McChunky!" she exclaimed, and then ran downstairs to her room to fetch it for me. Wow. This thing is nearly an inch thick, but it was top-of-the-line back in 2007. The only thing that was better than this phone when it was brand new on the market was the groundbreaking phenomenon known as the iPhone. But Mr. McChunky, old and thick as he is, still works just fine for making and receiving calls. It even has a full QWERTY keyboard for all those thousands of texts I'm constantly sending. Not.

Now I just have to get used to carrying a cell phone around with me again. I keep accidentally leaving it behind. Definitely by accident. But I was so glad to have it today when I dropped my in-laws off at the airport in The Big City so they could catch a plane to England. Just as I pulled up to the drop-off zone, I got a call from Gabrielle.

The essence of the call was, "Save me! These kids are driving me nuts!" The essence of my answer was, "Suck it up. And be nice."

Then, as I traveled across town to the hospital to see my grandmother in the Intensive Care Unit, I got another couple of calls.

"Can I and all the girls in the neighborhood use up the cake mixes and then leave the kitchen in a total mess while refusing to allow my brothers to eat any of the cake we baked because we're going to charitably give it away to other people but not charitably give any to my icky brothers?" (That was Elannah, and no, that's not exactly what she asked. I just read between the lines.)

Also, "Save me! These kids are driving me nuts! I may literally commit homicide!" (Gabrielle again.)

After I'd visited my grandmother--along with my mother, who was staying with her for the day--I got back in the car and began making the long journey home. When I got tired of listening to talk radio, I played my mixed CD full blast and sang along at the top of my lungs because no one was in the car to tell me to stop it, or that I was embarrassing him/her, or could I please, please, PLEASE turn off the CD and turn on their favorite radio station instead. The phone rang right in the middle of my very swanky rendition of "Black Velvet."

"Can I have a turn on the TV? [My sibling] has had it for [some extremely exaggerated amount of time] and I want a turn. [My sibling] has denied me a turn. Can you tell [my bleeping sibling] to get off the TV because they've had it forever! And when are you getting home?" (Joseph)

And again a phone call, interrupting me and Jamie Cullum during a terrific duet. "Can I cook that frozen dinner I found in the freezer?" (Sophia)

Ten minutes from home, the phone vibrated again. By this time, I had quit trying to do the dangerous gymnastics required to get it back into my pocket while I was driving and had set it into one of the cup holders. It was Husband.

"So....where are you?"

Apparently, every child in the house had forgotten that I had gone to see my grandma in the hospital after dropping off the in-laws at the airport. Husband had arrived home from work and had been met with shrugs and mumbled "I don't knows" when he asked where I was. He probably thought I'd run away for good this time and was inventorying the pantry and fridge to see if he could keep everyone from starving before I came to my senses.

So you see why I'm so glad I have a cell phone again, even if it is named Mr. McChunky. I definitely won't accidentally leave it at home anymore. Absolutely not.

(And, as you're probably curious, my grandma is in the hospital because she's bleeding in her stomach. While she has required a couple of blood transfusions, and the doctors can't figure out where the blood is coming from, she was resting comfortably and was happy that I came to see her. I think she'll be okay. The bleeding isn't constant, and once they scope out the problem area, the scope can also be used to cauterize or pinch off the blood source. I and my family will be praying for her. If you want to send up a prayer on her behalf, as well, it would be greatly appreciated.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bargains! The Musical

I was lying in bed one night when I came up with the idea for Bargain! The Musical. In it, a spunky, energetic woman sings about fantastic bargains she's found, accompanied by a joyous and physically coordinated chorus. The costumes are all early 19th century (which is absolutely the best period in which to set any musical because of the hat styles), and there is no swearing or offensive subject matter, making it a visual spectacle fit for the entire family! There will be dancing! Singing! Lights! Costumes! Sets!

Okay, so I might have been half-asleep and not entirely in my right (left?) mind at the time. The strangest things flit through your head when you're in that gray world between being fully awake and fully asleep. What brought on a fit of play-write fever was probably the fact that I am the proud new owner of a very decent used laptop, purchased at an excellent price from a local pawn shop. I am no longer tethered to my home computer! I can now write my work articles and blog posts anywhere that has wi-fi!

The problem is that I'm burned out. I can't complain, because I have a work-at-home job that pays me for as much work as I am willing to do. So I am really not complaining about that. I am complaining that my brain, after four nearly non-stop years, is pretty much done, and getting through even a bare minimum of writing ends up taking most of my day while I allow myself to get distracted or wander away from the computer altogether in search of something less mentally exhausting. I'm getting quite good at some of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, particularly Duet. I am also a huge Sharukh Khan fan, by this point (Khan is, I think, the undisputed King of Bollywood Actors). I read Brandon Sanderson's new book, The Rithmatist, in one day. If I had more money, I'd probably shop more. Notice how many blog posts I've written lately? And I was briefly tempted to learn how to write in Gallifreyan. 

Sadly, the house isn't that much tidier, as I am not often motivated to clean like a thing possessed when fueled by anxiety (or any other emotion, really). 

So getting out of the house and into another environment is good because I can focus a little better. Once I solve the problem of a lack of a cell phone, I won't have to worry about missing an important call from one of the three schools my children attend. It's happened. Chaos ensued. Hey, even if I have to buy a cheap $30 Walmart phone, at least I could get and receive phone calls about children vomiting noisily all over their desks or not having enough lunch money to be able to eat that day. That is always helpful in focusing my mind on writing.

Oh, but speaking of bargains, MIL wanted to visit my favorite grocery discount store last week to buy American treats and sweets for the British relatives (whom they are soon to be visiting), and I found 2-pounds punnets of blueberries for 99 cents each! If you know of my love for blueberries, you will not find it hard to believe that I nearly passed out right next to the display. I now have a goodly amount of frozen blueberries all snugged away in my freezer, ready to be dropped into my kale/spinach/coconut milk smoothies or cooked into wheat pancakes or baked up into a pie (I love pie). My main character in Bargains! The Musical will definitely sing about blueberry bounty.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Off to College

My baby girl, my oldest, Sian, went off to college yesterday. As she's attending a university fairly close to us, Husband and I got to drive her there and help her haul all her stuff up to her third floor dorm room. We met her roomie, visited the cafeteria, and walked onto campus to get her student ID and find out where she can do her banking. I went to this university 20 years ago, and just about everything has changed since I walked those grounds and sat in those classrooms. The dorm rooms are reconfigured, the cafeteria has undergone a complete and lovely overhaul, and many new buildings have been added.

We were standing in a crowded hallway waiting for Sian to have her student ID printed and Husband asked me, "You look like you're enjoying this. Would you go back if you could?"

I don't know. Would I go back? If I went back knowing what I know now, I would miss my family too much. If I went back in time with no memory of my life since college, I'd end making all the same decisions I made the first time around and simply relive my life. No, I wouldn't go back. Nor do I expect Sian to have all the same experiences that I did. She's not me, and she'll make different choices and do different things. I just hope there are plenty of happy times interspersed with the inevitable drama of living with other girls, dating, and learning to take care of yourself as an adult.

I only went to the university for 1 1/2 years. I didn't finish my degree because I left college to be a missionary, and then I got married soon after returning home. I hadn't counted on meeting the man I was going to marry while I was in England; rather, I had fully intended to come back home and finish up my education. I have no regrets about my decision to marry and have children while supporting my husband as he finished his education and began providing for our family. I have been wonderfully blessed with love and happiness.

What more can a parent wish for their child than to be happy? Because she's always lived her life in a manner that allows her to respect herself and others, I think Sian will do just fine. It won't stop me from missing her, but I can sleep peacefully knowing she's ready for this big change and whatever she will face.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Exhaustive Discourse On My Two Culinary Triumphs

I had two culinary triumphs yesterday. For the last several years, as my interest in complex cooking has waned, any culinary triumph is a miracle. So to have two in one day was almost too much for me, and I will now have to publicly pat myself on the back.

First, after years of unfruitful attempts, I produced a loaf of bread that had the crispy, crackly golden crust of a bakery loaf. Second, I successfully roasted a leg of lamb.

First, the thorough and extensive story of the bread: (you can stop reading now if stories of baking or roasting make you want to repeatedly pound your head on an unforgiving surface or stick spikes through your eyeballs. I would not want to be responsible for blog-induced injury. Just celebrate my triumphs with me for a moment and then go on about your life.)

Do you know how impossible it is to recreate steam injection in your home oven? I played with terra cotta tiles and spraying water onto the bread as it cooked, but every time you open the oven, all the heat escapes (as well as the steam), and it takes a good ten minutes for the temperature to recover. Leaving pans of water on the bottom shelf didn't help, either.

But yesterday, in a burst of culinary inspiration the likes of which I haven't experienced for a very long time, I pulled out my unglazed clay pot. I bought this clay pot from a thrift store about a year ago, knowing I was getting an incredible bargain; but even at that very reasonable price, I have only used it once in all this time. Yesterday, however, I suddenly realized I had the perfect ingredients for a steam oven (the original recipe calls for a cast iron Dutch oven with a lid, which also traps steam and is what gave me the idea, but I don't own a cast iron Dutch oven with a lid). I soaked the pot in water for 15 minutes while the oven heated up. Then I stuck the loaf of bread into it (my hands were wet, so that also helped create that crackly crust), snugged on the lid, and popped the whole thing into the hot oven. After 30 minutes, I took the lid off so the crust could brown. 15 minutes later, I pulled out this gorgeous, golden-brown loaf and put it on a rack. I could literally hear the crust cracking as it cooled.

Later, when Husband got home, I sliced off a hunk of it, slathered it in butter and Fortnum & Mason's Christmas Extra Jam Spiced Preserves ("Extremely full of plums, redcurrants, strawberries & raspberries") and presented it to him with a flair.

"Just look at that crust!" I crowed.

"It looks just like bakery bread. You bought this bread, didn't you?" he said with some unbelief.

"Remember that clay pot you wondered why I bought and when I was ever going to use it? Turns out it's perfect for baking bread."

He loved it, of course. Now he's having fantasies of enjoying fresh, crusty bakery bread every day, and I can't wait to play with different flours. Of course, I forgot to mix up a batch in the evening so I could let it sit overnight. But tomorrow, the heavenly scent of baking fresh bread (mixed with a slight undertone of wet clay) will once again bless the house.

Later in the evening, I pulled the leg of lamb out of the fridge, where it had been marinating in olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary all night. I roasted it directly on the oven rack and let the juices drip into a pan on the rack below. I don't buy lamb as a rule. I don't buy much meat at all, in fact, much less meat from darling baby animals. But the leg was a gift from someone, and I felt that the poor, sweet little lamby would have died in vain if I didn't make use of his leg.

It turned out really well, all tender and juicy, and so tasty when doused in mint sauce. We ate dinner and then I cut the rest of the meat from the bone and put the bite-size pieces into baggies in the freezer to be used later for a Greek pita filling and Indian lamb coconut korma. I'll use the bone and bits to make a broth. Then I will probably never eat lamb again.

I don't know...two culinary triumphs in one day is kind of exhilarating, and exhilaration can be exhausting. I don't even know what we're having for dinner tonight. I also just remembered I have a meeting at six o'clock, so my family will be lucky not to starve until I get back. It's feast or famine around here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Good-Bye For Now, Mark

At the end of February of this year, I got a Facebook message from one of my high school friends. "Call me," it said. "I have something to tell you, but it's not something I want to tell you over Facebook."

I knew immediately that is was about our mutual friend, Mark, the guy I blogged about on his birthday in this post. At the time I wrote that post, I had no idea of what was shortly to come. Mark and I had kept in intermittent contact by passing messages back and forth, but I didn't have any reason to suspect something was really wrong, though I had wondered about his lack of status updates and pictures of his girlfriend. Now, suddenly, my stomach was sick with the sense that something terrible had happened.

I called Caleb, feeling breathless. We greeted each other soberly.

"It's bad, isn't it? What is it?" I asked, my voice wobbling.

"I'm so sorry, Eva," he said. "Mark passed away in his sleep two nights ago."

I started crying, though I tried to keep my voice steady enough to talk.

"What happened? Why did he die? Was he sick? Why didn't he say something?"

Caleb told me that Mark had found out near the end of 2012 (right around his birthday, and right around the time I started thinking about him and wrote that post) that his liver was failing. He ended up spending months in the hospital, nearly dying several times and losing a tremendous amount of weight. Though he had tried to get himself healthy and stay alive long enough to get a liver transplant, he had finally lost the battle.

"I was able to visit him several times in the hospital," Caleb told me. "We had some long talks. He didn't want me to tell anyone because he was worried that people would judge him, I guess."

That made me feel awful. Of course I wouldn't have judged him! Didn't he know that? But Mark was always concerned about how people viewed him, and it was just one of his personality quirks that I didn't question anymore.

I sniffled a bit and Caleb was kind and patient while he waited for me to compose myself.

"That jerk. You know, I never fought with anyone else more than I fought with him." I was crying and laughing at the same time.

"You were very special to him, Eva. He talked a lot about you. Someday, when you come back up to Minnesota, I'll make you a cup of tea and we'll talk about it."

Caleb ended the phone call quickly after that, knowing I was very emotional. I sat on my bed and cried for a while. Then I logged into my Facebook account and re-read the last few messages Mark and I had exchanged. Sadly, they were from over a year before he died.

Mark and I never dated. We were never a romantic couple, though we spent a lot of time with each other during the times we weren't fighting. He and I as a romantic couple wouldn't have made sense, and that wasn't how we felt about each other; as it was, we were each others' sounding boards on the people we dated, our jobs, our life decisions. We talked for hours, watched movies, ran errands together, and saw a lot of late-night episodes of Married, With Children. And that was perfect for both of us.

He never let me touch him, though. We weren't huggy or snuggly in any way, and at times he seemed to almost have some sort of phobia about me touching him. I remember one time when he was driving kind of quickly around a curvy road and the force of gravity made me lean to my left. "Get off me!" he said, laughing, and pushed be back upright with his arm. He was never mean about it, but it did puzzle me, as I was not a clingy person and was never trying to snuggle up to him.

Once, in one of his messages to me, when he was feeling a little sentimental, he wrote how I was and would always be his best friend. As part of my response (which was more light-hearted than serious), I responded, "You never let me touch you, though, except for that prom dance [when my then-boyfriend, who was a college sophomore, and who didn't want to go to prom, took me to the part of the evening where all the prom-goers parade past in their finery with their dates. Mark, who was at the prom with his girlfriend, asked my boyfriend and his girlfriend if it was okay, and then led me out to the dance floor so I could say I had danced at my senior prom. It meant a lot to me.] and when you hugged me good-bye the night before I left for my mission. I would have hugged you more."

During the week after Mark's death, I felt him near. Of course I was thinking about him, but I could actually feel his spirit visit me throughout the days. It wasn't at all spooky; in fact, it was a very natural sensation. I missed him, but I didn't feel that he was all that far away. The veil between mortality and the spirit world seemed very thin.

Then, the day before his funeral, which I wasn't able to attend, I was sitting in church waiting for the last meeting to start. I was sitting alone, and as my thoughts often had during the last seven days, they turned to Mark. Suddenly, he was there, right next to me. I couldn't see him, but I knew without a doubt that he was there. And he hugged me. I felt enveloped in his arms for a few seconds. I sat stock still, the tears chasing each other down my cheeks as I sensed that he was expressing his love to me and saying good-bye. He was going now to stay full-time with his family, his parents and his sister, and especially his two children, as they celebrated his life and mourned his death. Then I felt his presence leave. The next day, I distinctly felt the veil draw closed, and Mark stepped forever into the post-mortal realm. I checked the time and saw that his funeral had recently ended.

I had started a post about him months ago, but it's easier to edit yourself when the emotion isn't so strong. There are so many stories I could tell about Mark, but I'll pick one that has to do with this picture. Mark had won some sort of contest sometime after we graduated from high school. The main prize was a free cruise, and one of the additional prizes was a free portrait. He said he felt stupid having his portrait taken alone, so he asked me to come with him. The photographer, assuming we were a couple, tried to get Mark to put his hand on my shoulder. We both laughed, and the photographer settled on having Mark put both of his hands on his knee. I tell you that because of what happened a few months later, which is when the following incident occurred. I'm just going to quote the letter Mark sent me in September of 1991, when we were both turning 20 and  I had started my second year of college in Utah while he was back in Minnesota (you'll recall that the internet was still sort of a twinkle in Al Gore's eye at this point, so it was either paper mail or phone calls back in the day).

"I was at this party that Joel was having at his dorm room. And as fate would have it, a female was actually talking to me. She had dropped her purse when she came in, so I was giving her a hard time about that. (AND I WONDER WHY I DON'T HAVE ANY GIRLFRIENDS?) Anyway, she thought I was charming, and we talked about various items which were exposed when she dropped her purse. To make a boring story longer, she told me that, because I saw what was in her purse, she wanted to look in my wallet. (GOOD THING I LEFT THE 35 CONDOMS I USUALLY CARRY IN MY WALLET AT HOME) Well, I gave her my wallet and the first thing she sees is the picture of you and me together. She gives me this 'look of death' and says, 'Is this your girlfriend?' I screamed  nicely told her that you and I are just really good friends. She paused for a moment, looked up at me, and said, 'Listen, I may be a blonde, but I am not dumb. Nobody gets a snuggle picture taken with just a friend.' 

"So now I am laughing at what she is saying, and I am trying to tell her with a straight face that we are just friends. Then she says, 'Look! You can't even keep a straight face!' I am trying to explain to her about my free cruise, and how I didn't want a picture of just me. Then I see Joel and I tell him to tell this dumb blonde who you are. Joel (WHO HAD ABOUT 492 BEERS IN HIM) says, 'I recognize her. That's the girl you got pregnant and then dumped.'


"So now this girl is having like 4893 cows and at the same time telling me what an ass I am and how I should be ashamed of myself. Needless to say, I slowly walked out of the dorm room with about 20 people looking at me. I found out the next day that Joel told everyone the truth and that the dumb blonde wished she wouldn't have been so mean because I was cute and charming. We have a date next Friday. Just kidding. I still have a boring life."

That's not the funniest letter Mark ever wrote to me. His letters usually had me laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. But it's a good story nevertheless, and it explains the "snuggle" picture and the consequences of carrying it around in his wallet to college dorm parties. I think he left the picture at home after that. It's the only picture I have of the two of us.

I have many memories of Mark, both good and bad, but they all add up to a sincere and deep friendship that grew as we grew and matured. As I said before, we fought a lot and could go weeks without speaking to each other, and there were times when I sincerely did not care if we ever spoke to each other again. He could be quite an idiot; but, well, so could I. And always, some little voice inside would tell me to soften my heart and get off my high horse, and eventually I would listen to it. Over the years, I saw him for who he really is, and I loved him for it in a way that goes beyond anything trivial and earthly. I believe he's found peace and happiness where he is now. He said to me once, "I love you. Very much. I am a better person because of you. Best prom dance ever? YOU."

Right back atcha, buddy.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Poignant (But Pointless) Vignette

Sometimes the conversations you have with your kids are somewhat surprising. I say "somewhat" because poop comes up a lot, and after minutely dissecting that subject, you've pretty much covered most of the foul topics a small boy can come up with. The other night, I was in the kitchen putting dinner together and Little Gary was sitting on the floor by the pantry, playing with some of his toys.

"Are unicorns real, Mom?" he asks, and I can hear that note of sincere hope in his voice. I recall pictures of one-horn goats I have seen, but I know Little Gary is talking about magical animals that are named things like Honey Wings and have silver blood and talk to princesses and stuff.

"No, sweetie. Sorry, but they are creatures in stories."

He sighs. "I wish unicorns were real. I really wish they were real."

There is a pause. I scrape another carrot with a knife because the last of my three Pampered Chef vegetable peelers has mysteriously disappeared and I'm reduced to using paring knives for potatoes and cucumbers and butter knives to scrape carrot skins. I think about how irksome that is. The people I knew and lived with in England didn't use vegetable peelers, preferring to muddle along with paring knives. Consequently, that was how I had to peel all those pounds of potatoes I ate during my 18 month stint in an otherwise beautiful country. I found it a backward practice, though I suppose paring knives are much more traditional (and, therefore, somehow more solidly British) than newfangled peelers. I know people owned peelers over there, even back in the early '90s, but I never actually met one. My MIL still prefers a paring knife.

I finish the carrot and step around the kitchen island to the pantry to grab a couple potatoes, avoiding the stepstool that is useful but always underfoot.

"What do unicorn farts smell like, Mom?"

I furrow my brows to pretend I am thinking, but mostly I am trying to hide the fact that I want to giggle.

"Roses, I think," I say, and take the potatoes back to the island, where I shuffle through the utensil drawer to find the paring knife.

"Well, then, what do unicorn farts taste like?"

Which is when I ended the conversation and changed the subject. 

I don't mind talking about awkward bodily functions, but I have a strange aversion to my children using the word "fart." I know it's just a word, and it's not even one of the words on the list of Bad Words You Will Get Your Mouth Washed Out For Using In Any Other Way Than A Sober Discussion Of What Makes A Word Offensive. I think it's the way the mouth must form the word "fart" that I find distasteful. When you say the word "art," your mouth must open, turning the vowel into an open, beautiful sound. The "f", which requires your teeth to be placed on your lower lip, prevents the mouth from opening quite so widely, and the vowel sound is then flattened and distorted, the "r" becoming grossly obvious before the abrupt "t" ending. Plus, it's just so lowbrow. At least, that's how I see it.

When I was little, I couldn't say the word "lips." For some reason, that word made me blush with shame, though I can't even explain why except that the "ps" was somehow embarrassing. I'm proud to inform you that after much practice, I can say it now with only residual blushing. Lips. Lips. Lips. 

"What's for dinner, Mom?" asks Little Gary, who is finished playing and is now hanging out by the island, watching me chop the carrots into thin slices for the stir-fry. 

"Unicorn farts," I answer. He smiles.