Thursday, December 31, 2015

Red Plastic Cups

A late Merry Christmas and a right-on-time Happy New Year to you!

Christmas was fun. Family, food, the playing of games. The reading of the Christmas story. The opening of gifts.

Husband and I told each other that we weren't going to get gifts for each other. So Husband justified the little gifts he gave me because he gave me one before Christmas and one after. I, of course, had not even planned that far, so he got nothing. See what he has to put up with?

The pre-Christmas gift he gave me was a sleeping mask. He'd given me one several months ago, but the elastic band caused the mask to squish my eyeballs a bit, and you know how annoying squished eyeballs are. This new mask has little cups so I can blink my eyes even when it's on. No squished eyeballs!

Then, yesterday, another package showed up addressed to me. Curious, I tore it open and found 12 red plastic drinking cups--the kind you get in a restaurant. I started laughing with delight and gave him a big hug and a kiss.

Here are the red cups ready for guests--Sophia and Elannah are having friends over for New Year's Eve.

See, when my parents were over, we were reminiscing about old times, and I animatedly reminded them about how, when we lived in Idaho, they used to take me and my next younger brother and one of my sisters (who was then a baby) to a place called Keystone Pizza. It was a great little pizza parlor. I loved it so much. You got to eat pizza while watching old silent black-and-white movies of the hilariously slapstick Keystone Cops. And just as great: root beer in red plastic cups. It's one of my favorite childhood memories.

Red plastic drinking cups have forever been a reminder to me of that excited, delicious feeling of those occasional visits to Keystone Pizza. It might even be why pizza is my favorite food. Husband overheard that conversation, and like he frequently does, remembered it and decided to surprise me with something small but special. Thus, the box with the plastic cups that showed up a couple days after Christmas.

Happy New Year! 2016 is gonna be exciting!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lucky Mom

This is me with Elannah. Elannah has taken to snapping photos of me on the sly while pretending she's taking a selfie, and then Snapchatting them to Sophia (along with some sassy comment) while I demand that she quit it because I'm always caught making some sort of weird face or smooshing out my double chin. This is the first time (and probably the last) she actually let me pose with her. She just loves catching me unawares.

We were going to go into The Big City this evening to look at the lights on Temple Square, but Elannah had a ballroom dance team party she really wanted to go to. We decided to postpone the trip to see the lights until tomorrow evening when we'll all be home.

The boys were disappointed about not going, so Elannah, Joseph, Little Gary and I did some stuff around town, instead. First, the library, where everyone found some books they were excited about. Then the pet store, which is the next best thing to walking around the zoo (and warmer, too!). After we inspected all the animals and petted the massive tortoise that wanders freely around the establishment, we bought some bones for Marmite the Dog (who was as excited about getting them as we all hoped he would be). Finally, a stop by a fast food restaurant with a massive indoor playground. That's where Elannah snapped the above shot.

Isn't she pretty? Believe it or not, she just lopped six inches off the bottom of her hair. It was so long and thick she couldn't even put it into a bun for practices and performances, so she figured she had to cut it enough to be manageable but keep it long enough to easily pull it back. And those eyes! All the kids have Husband's amazing blue eye color. Mine are blue-green, but theirs are all pure blue. I love it.

This girl...she makes me laugh.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

People Say She Reminds Them of Audrey Hepburn

The rounds of Christmas performances are now over, school is out for two weeks, and the kids are anticipating many mornings of sleeping in and becoming bored enough to wish they were back in school (almost).

Today is also Sophia's 17th birthday.

After the high school's choir/orchestra/band concert last week, I happened to be standing next to Sophia's Show Choir director. After telling him what a great job he has done with the choir, I introduced myself as Sophia's mother.

"Oh, Sophia! She's a wonderful addition to the choir," he said, "but I can never tell what she's thinking."

"She's inscrutable," I agreed. "She has quite the poker face."

We laughed. I wondered why I used the word "inscrutable" in casual conversation.

But it's true. You can hardly ever tell what Sophia is thinking. She keeps her feelings hidden behind a neutral facade, and she's not a talker, even if she isn't necessarily shy. Maybe it's no wonder that she loves drama, dance, and music, places where she can safely express deep emotions without making herself vulnerable. When she's on stage, she lights up.

Sometimes she gets animated at home. This usually happens when large numbers of family members have turned up for dinner, and we all get to talking and laughing together. She's very comfortable with my parents and siblings because we lived with them for years--from the time she was three months old until she was 10. We all have a very similar sense of humor, so when we all start to joke around in our dry, sarcastic way, she joins in freely. And then she's hilarious.

You also wouldn't expect that she's an accomplished practical joker. In fact, she's such a great practical joker precisely because no one expects it of her. Now that Elannah is also in high school and in drama with Sophia, they cook up plenty of harmless but funny plots together, all of which keep us in stitches as they report on them.

As her mother, I can read her very well. I see the little facial movements that indicate happiness or sadness. I know that she is a deep thinker and incredibly loyal to her friends. I know that she likes it when I stroke her back while we're sitting and watching television.

This last week, I was asked at the last minute to provide a couple musical acts for the ward (congregation) Christmas party. Well, you can't exactly coordinate lots of schedules when you only have a few days to prepare, so Sophia got tapped to sing a solo, which she sportingly did even after only a couple hours' preparation and while she was worried about losing her voice after a full week of concerts, caroling, and play practices. Here she is singing "Winter Wonderland" at the party. She was nervous, but she did it anyway.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Woman to Woman: Knock It Off!

As you know, I do contract work for the company that recently laid me off as a full-time worker. (Yeah, they're getting a great deal, but even if it's humbling and pays way less than before, I can still work from home, which is necessary for those times--like today--when a kid has an asthma issue and I need to be here. It's a blessing.)

Anyway, the point is that I know the people with whom I have contact and who ask me to do specific work and give me the information to complete it. One of them is the developer/project manager, who is a young, bright, seriously talented woman. When my former manager and I worked there, we were the three women in the entire agency. Now she's the only woman working with all those guys.

One thing about this woman (let's call her Shelly) is that her communication style is very masculine. I noticed that right away. It was in stark contrast to the way my manager and I tended to communicate, which is very feminine. I won't launch into a diatribe about how women are taught to communicate from childhood except to say that we are not supposed to be overly direct or make blatant demands or tell someone they are dead wrong. We tend to apologize a lot or play down our needs in various ways. I'm often totally guilty of communicating that way.

Shelly, on the other hand, says what she thinks. She asks direct questions and explains what she needs in order to do her job. She is not angry or arrogant or stuck-up. She is just very competent and direct. She never apologizes for existing. I liked how she communicated, even when I felt that her blunt manner could open the door for miscommunication. Because she had trained me in several technical programs over the months I worked there, I knew that she is also very patient and would never intentionally offend or belittle anyone. 

So, yesterday, one of the account managers (a man) asked me via email for some clarification on something I had done for a client. I explained, but I still didn't make it incredibly clear. Shelly, who was part of the conversation, asked me another clarifying question, and I realized where I had failed to clearly explain myself. I fixed it, and then I jokingly said something to the effect of 'Whoops! I switched topics on you and expected you to ready my mind. But, hey, I'm a girl that way.'

As soon as I sent it, I cringed. Where did that come from? And why in the world would I make that sort of reply to Shelly, of all people? I've joked about stereotypical girl stuff with another of my friends, but no one can see you being sarcastic in an email.

Sure enough, Shelly immediately wrote me a private response calling me out and telling me to knock it off, but she did it in the kindest of terms. Here it is:

Just as a personal note from women to women. 

Women are just as intelligent as men. We are not scattered, stupid, illogical, or anything else. I know you're joking. All women do it sometimes (including myself), cause it's silly and an easy way for us to write off little things. But it does us no good. If you talk that way (even jokingly) about yourself, people believe it. You're better than that. 

I don't want this to come off condescending, or anything like that. I don't want you to feel bad, awkward or stupid. I just don't want to see women continue to play themselves down when they have so much to offer. It's this attitude that keeps others believing the same things about us. Things that are not true yet hold us back from truly competing at a higher level. 

Anyway, I hesitate to even send this because I don't want you to take offense, but I'd like to send it so you are aware you're doing it (sometimes we don't recognize these random things we say). I'd want someone to tell me if I was playing myself down in little ways. So maybe you care, maybe you don't. But I do think you're better than writing your intelligence off. 

I hope you have a good day :) Thanks for all you do. 
I wrote back and told her I was not offended and that I considered it a compliment that she would call me out. The reminder will stick with me. For some reason, I had a little cry, and I think it was because she cared enough to tell me not to belittle myself.

So, ladies, Shelly's right. Knock it off. We're smart, we can say what we need to say without having to beat around the bush or apologize for existing. We can be direct while still being considerate. We can explain what we need in clear terms.

It's okay.

We're worth it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Spindler's Whiplash

My sister-in-law started a blog wherein she posts candid pictures with short captions of things that happen in her day. It's a great blog because it's interesting and gives me a peek into her and my brother's lives with their beautiful children.

You, dear reader, must suffer through this blog. But, to quote the immortal Popeye, "I yam what I yam." My kids get suspicious when I keep taking photos of them, and I am in no hurry to post photos of myself, so, instead, you get long blocks of text about things that are going on inside my head. Lucky you!

(Mmmm. Yams sound really good right now, actually. Dinner?)

So, today Husband got stuck on the side of the road on his way to work. Actually, he was lucky in that it wasn't literally on the side of the road that the van stopped moving in a forward direction; he was able to make it to a gas station, at least, so he was out of traffic. That meant that I was able to buy a package of gum and some water bottles from the convenience store when I finally arrived to switch cars with him and wait for the tow truck while Husband continued his delayed journey to work.

The tow truck was late, of course. Because I had run out the door to drop the boys at school before heading into the outskirts of The Big City to rescue Husband, I didn't think to bring anything to read, so I sat and chewed my gum and delved into the magical world of my imagination for over an hour.

(You could have used your phone to entertain yourself, you idiot.)

I really only use my phone to text my children, put stuff on my calendar, and play solitaire, and I didn't feel like playing solitaire. But look! I did find these pics I took recently:

One of our neighbors gave me a big bag of homegrown jalapeño peppers. I used some of them in a salsa, but I did it without using gloves. Yeah, I see you nodding! You know what happened! I know better and I still de-seeded jalapeños gloveless! Not only did my hands feel like they were spontaneously combusting for a couple days, but I also managed to touch the area around one of my eyes after I thought I'd washed the pepper oil off, and that produced a lovely burning sensation, as well. So, in this picture, I wanted to document that I am sometimes smarter than I look. I was making cream cheese-stuffed jalapeños. (Note my Cutco French Chef knife on the cutting board. I love that knife so much I would marry it. I'm not even kidding.)

A couple weeks ago, our town got five inches of snow all at once. When I say "our town," I really mean that snow only fell within the city limits. There wasn't even a snowflake a half mile out (we're in some special little section of land between the mountains and the Great Salt Lake where clouds stop to cry all their tears before moving on, weak and limp, to other places). Everyone's cars were sliding around and getting stuck all over the roads. Anyway, it had been a couple days since that snow, and no one had yet made tracks in the field when I went to take our dog, Marmite, and his buddies, Millie and Bonnie (my in-laws' dogs), on a walk. The little dogs (Marmite and Millie) enjoyed it for about five minutes--bounding around like tiny kangaroos--after which they got really tired and I had to break a trail for them by shuffling through the snow in my boots. The dogs had a great time, but I was exhausted and sweaty by the time we got back home.

Elannah took a selfie with Marmite. Oh, wook at the cute widdle puppy all snuggled up wif his favorite human!

(That was way more information than anyone wanted about those pictures, you know.)

So, I entertained myself mentally until Tyler, the tow truck guy, showed up and hoisted the van onto the towing bed. I hopped into the front seat of the tow truck for the 30 minute drive back home, which disconcerted Tyler a bit, I could tell. He admitted he had been out late the night before and his boss had had to call him and wake him up. "But I wasn't out partying!" he assured me. I told him he probably felt better this morning for not having been partying late into the night. He agreed.

Then we struck up a lively conversation. I asked him stuff about himself, and that got things rolling. Where would he live if money were no object? Montana. Bozeman, specifically, because the people are so nice. Is tow truck driving his main job or is he a mechanic, too? Nope, he's just a tow truck driver, but it keeps him busy all day. Where did he grow up? Riverton, Utah, but he's lived in Wyoming and Montana, too. Etcetera. And, just before we got to my house, he told me he'd spent a summer working on Antelope Island repairing the old pioneer structures out there. They were originally made of mud and stones and were falling apart. He said he and his team had to scour the nearby land for rocks and then mix them with mud and a bit of concrete to rebuild the structures.

"Oh, man!" I said. "I should have been picking your brain about that from the beginning!" I told him of my interest in building according to the landscape, and he was pleased with my barrage of questions. I would have asked more about it, but by that time I was guiding him to my house and it was too late to delve deeper into that fascinating bit of his life experience.

He put the van back in my driveway, and I shook his hand, thanked him for the tow and the conversation, and offered him one of the bottles of water I'd bought at the convenience store, which he accepted. I don't know if you tip a tow truck driver, but I didn't have any cash on me, so the point was moot. Then I went into the house and he drove off.

(People are going to think you've got a crush on the tow truck guy based on the fact that you are repeating all this stuff about him.)

Please. I'm old enough to be his mother, though I should have complimented him on his very neat and trim beard. I was just really excited to get out of the house and meet another human being to whom I am not related. And sitting in the van waiting for him to show up was a lot of fun, too, because I didn't have anything else to do but think. I got a lot of good, solid thinking done. It was very satisfying.

(This makes you sound like the most boring person on the planet.)

I yam what I yam.

Breaking News! 
Husband has just finished putting in a new alternator on the van. He just started it up, and it's running as smooth as you could wish. I can hear it through the window. Husband often fixes the vehicles, and he's learned a lot of basic mechanics skills over the years. Rowr!

Also, Husband suggested the random title when I told him I was trying to come up with something. There you go.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Nerdy Birthday Goodies

I had an Amazon gift certificate for my birthday a while back, and I finally got around to ordering some stuff with it. I ordered books, of course (although I did have a look at their perfume offerings, I swear!).

I was telling the girls what I ordered, but they weren't all that familiar with the books or the authors, even though the books are fantastic fiction and Husband and I rave about them. Sophia and Elannah were both born with some sort of gene mutation that makes them enjoy horror movies and horror stories. I and their father, on the other hand, aren't even emotionally comfortable with extreme thrillers, and both their grandmothers would probably give them a good, long lecture about the evils of their heart-racing entertainment choices (I read part of one Stephen King novel when I was 15 and we were driving cross-country to visit my grandparents in California. I didn't like it much, but it was all I had with me. My mom happened to pick it up and page through it, was aghast at some of the subject matter, and then impulsively threw it out of the window somewhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert). So where they developed a love for a good scare, I have no idea whatsoever. As long as their scary movies and books aren't raunchy, linguistically shocking, gory, or X-rated, I'm all right with it even if I don't understand their little alien minds.

Sian and Gabrielle are better devotees of Husband's and my book preferences. Gabrielle, in particular, is a frantic fan of Brandon Sanderson. Perhaps it's because we had more time to read them fantasy and science fiction as small children--before their siblings came along and outnumbered us as parents and Barney the Dinosaur took over a lot of the entertainment duties.

Anyway, Sophia and Elannah weren't all that excited when I informed them that we will now possess our own copies of Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law and Jonathan Stroud's The Screaming Staircase. When I told them that our collections were closer to complete, they mumbled something without much enthusiasm.

"I also ordered an adult coloring book!" I said brightly.

There was a silence, pregnant with disapproval.

"Um, Mom? What, exactly, is an adult coloring book?" asked Sophia, eyebrows raised. "Is it, like, not appropriate for children?"

I can see where she would make that obvious mistake. But "adult coloring books" is how they're listed on Amazon and it's how people describe them when they rave about the mental relaxation benefits of coloring in them. It's easier than calling them "coloring books for adults who wish they could escape back into the best parts of childhood again."

Rest assured, the coloring pages in adult coloring books aren't racy. In fact, they are filled with scenes of men and women sitting at the kitchen table paying bills, shopping at the grocery store with a list, making sensible shoe choices, leaning against an office desk holding a Dilbert mug, and--in one of the more moving scenes--dancing around a bonfire on which they are burning the mortgage papers.

I kid, of course. The one I chose mainly contains scenes of ladies who lunch.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What if Addiction is Not a Disease?

Chances are you know someone who is addicted to a substance or a behavior. It might even be you who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling, excessive shopping, gaming, an eating disorder or some other thing taken to a harmful level that simultaneously makes you miserable even as you anticipate the rush of the next fix.

Chances are you have been told that addiction is a brain disease from which there is some relief but no cure. That's the most popular theory going. The other main theory (fortunately, not as prevalent today) is that addiction is a choice, and people who do not give up their addiction are morally repugnant because they consciously choose their addiction over their health, their family, and their careers. That's just stupid and ignorant.

I have a sibling who is addicted to alcohol. He is not in denial, and he has already willingly submitted to a medical rehab program; however, the addiction remains. He's a great guy, and I know he feels a great deal of shame and self-loathing about how compelled he is to drink even though he hates what he is doing to himself. While the medical rehab worked to get his body accustomed to the lack of alcohol, it did nothing to help him discover the underlying psychological reasons for why he started drinking so much in the first place. That issue remains.

I picked up a book at the library a couple weeks ago that brilliantly answered the question of what addiction is and how the brain works during addiction. I was fascinated by it from page one. It's called The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease by Marc Lewis, PhD.

Lewis, a neuroscientist, gives definitive reasons why classifying addiction as a disease is both biologically incorrect and damaging to addicts. It's great for the medical establishment, he acknowledges, as well as for the rehab industry. Medical professionals love to put labels on things (not to mention the pharmaceutical industry, which loves a good disease because it means they can create a profitable drug to fix it), and expensive rehab programs also benefit from the disease label.

For addicts, however, having your addiction classified as a disease is both demoralizing and incorrectly describes what is happening in the brain. To understand that addiction is a powerful (and extreme) result of desire helps addicts understand what is happening and how to change it in order to kick the addiction.

Lewis shows how the brain's neuroplasticity--the ability of the brain to change and evolve and then stabilize into particular pathways, only to evolve again when needed--is both the  culprit and the savior for addiction. He lays out in layman's terms the process of how habits are formed: the neural pathways getting reinforced, the synapses building and multiplying, and the dopamine cascade that helps create that rut of habit. He describes the parts of the brain that are involved in both habit and addiction and how they work together. It soon becomes obvious that addiction is an extreme result of the stabilizing of particular habits, and the brain responds to cues surrounding the anticipation of the substance or behavior.

Lewis introduces us to five different people who have eventually kicked their addictions of choice (including one with an eating disorder). While each person and case is unique, there are underlying similarities. One similarity is that the root psychological cause of addiction is a sensation of suppression or lack, usually formed in childhood or early adolescence. The addiction, then, attempts to fill that hole. When the root cause is unearthed, examined, and understood by the addict, the need for the substance automatically begins to lessen as the former addict rewires the synaptic pathways into new habits with different cues and different results.

Lewis shows how impulsivity hardens into compulsivity as the brain is wired into a certain pathway as the addiction takes hold. Even as the addict loathes the addiction (or loves it, which is also the case), he cannot help himself from obsessing and planning the next fix. This is compulsivity. Addiction is the twin sister to OCD.

I won't go into all the biological points Lewis makes--and he makes them extremely well in a manner that any person can understand and enjoy--but his main argument is that you cannot classify the brain as diseased when it is merely doing exactly what it is designed to do. Instead, once you understand what is happening, you use the brain's natural neuroplasticity to make needed changes.

I loved this book. It was an absolute page-turner. If you know an addict or are one yourself, this book will give you tremendous hope. Boyd K. Packer, late elder in the LDS church, said, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." In this case, studying the principles of how the brain actually works will help addicts and their loved ones more effectively work to change behavior. I'm not an addict, but I saw excellent applications for this knowledge in my own life. I've read many books on habits and how to change them (the study of behavior), but the study of true doctrine of how the brain works has done more for my desire and ability to change bad habits into good ones than all of those books combined.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Facebook Rage: Resolved

I finally did it: I deactivated my Facebook account.

I was finally done with it. Just done. And the pain of keeping the account was more than the pain of deactivating. In a little while, when it's obvious that my world doesn't end because I don't sign in on a daily basis, I will delete my account entirely.

Long-time readers know I coined the term Facebook Rage to describe my inexplicable anger whenever I logged in and spent way too much time sifting through my newsfeed.

Some of you are already way ahead of me. You either never signed up or you have quit before this point. You already know Facebook is a time-suck as well as a great way for advertisers to get to use your information for free. I'm not even going to get into the whole NSA spying thing.

What's more, you already realize that Facebook represents an alternate reality, a reality that exposes everything most shallow about our society.

Some of you can handle Facebook just fine and are not victims of Facebook Rage like I am.

I salute you. All of you. (slow clap of approval)

So what was the final straw for me? It wasn't the fact that I dislike any of my friends, because I don't--even if I heartily disagree with some of them on just about every issue imaginable. It wasn't because I didn't find some downright delicious recipes or hilarious videos. It wasn't because I don't have friends whose status updates aren't clever and humorous or upbeat and informative.

There are two things I hate about the whole social media world (not that I ever use my Twitter account, and I'm not even signed up for any other social media sites): the fact that a relationship on social media is so often different than a relationship with the same person face-to-face; and the culture of unthinking impulsivity that social media encourages.

The first hate point is particularly repugnant to me. I am not a child of the digital age, and when I was a teen in the '80s, if you wanted to build a relationship with someone, you had to put time and effort into it. You had to spend time together, talk about things, get to know and accept each others' quirks and flaws, and celebrate each others' strengths. If you were too far away to see each other in person, you had to write letters (snail mail!) or make a phone call (on a rotary phone!).

In short, it took a lot of deliberate thought and consideration to create and maintain a friendship. Sometimes it was worth it and you worked at it, and sometimes people slipped out of your life because you either couldn't or wouldn't keep it up. It was just the way of things.

These days, I have Facebook friends from every single era of my life since I was four years old. I have friends from every place I've ever lived, every major activity I've ever been involved in, and every maturity level I have reached. People who had once slipped away from my life have been restored. Huzzah! But what kind of relationship do I have with these hundreds of people? How much time do I (or they) have to maintain more than the most superficial of acquaintances? For some, it's enough to know you can reach out and say hello whenever you want. But for me, that superficiality is just painful.

Even worse (for me) is having a relationship with someone on Facebook that doesn't match up to real life. With people I know right now, that I see in my neighborhood and in my community and at church, there is often this dichotomy. We may interact digitally, but there is no continuation of that in real life. When you meet that same person face-to-face, there won't be a lot of talking or carrying on. A couple of them walk right on by without saying anything at all (I am, of course, not counting times when such people are busy and can't stop)!

The nature of Facebook and other social media is that it keeps relationships and communication slightly impersonal, and you don't necessarily want to see one of your Facebook friends in real life if you're not really interested in putting effort into a real relationship. It's so much easier to keep it online--safe and sequestered from the sometimes less-than-simple nuances of real life.

I accept that. Fine. But it drives me absolutely nuts, and I will not have it for myself anymore. If we wouldn't be friends in real life, then why are we pretending in the digital world? Screw the digital shadow. I'd rather keep it 100% real.

My second hate point is how much social media in particular seems to have stopped people from evolving into thoughtful, considerate, critically thinking beings. Or, rather, how the social media culture has encouraged us all to be creatures of unthinking impulsivity. What I mean by this is that it's so easy to get caught up in the immediate reaction, the instant emotion. Some controversial news story or status update pops up, and immediately you feel the need to respond.

Because social media also allows each of us to share our opinions over and over, we get used to this freedom to never have to sit down, think it through, and then wisely decide if your opinion (and corresponding emotion) is valid or not before sharing it over and over again. We've elevated our personal opinions to celebrity status.

Facebook is the first and best school for knee-jerk reactions. I've been a knee-jerker more than once, and I have despised myself for it every single time. Did I really think I was going to change someone else's opinion about something by ranting about it? Has anyone else's knee-jerk reaction ever changed my own opinion?

This may make me sound absolutely callous, but I really couldn't care less about 600+ peoples' opinions on all the minutiae of life, on the latest trending news stories in all their salacious or controversial glory, or whether or not my personal opinions are acceptable to anyone else. When I want someone's opinion, I have asked for it. I decided, too, that if I don't care for everyone else's unsolicited opinions on absolutely everything, I would no longer clutter up the timeline with my own.

Lastly, of course, is that Facebook takes up far too much of my time. So if you haven't read this and you ask me why I deactivated my account, that's what I'll tell you.

For the people whose friendship I wish to continue to actively cultivate, I have email addresses (if they live far away), or I will be more than happy when I see them in person around town or in the neighborhood or at church, and if they're amenable, we'll have a little chat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reflections on My Frequent Idiocy

A young lady I know was lamenting on Facebook about the fact that she just wants everyone to be happy for her and support her choices instead of giving her grief. Knowing that she has made some questionable decisions recently and is making yet another very questionable decision that I cannot agree to cheer on, I had to stop and think about things for a minute.

The young lady in question is an adult and she has good parents who love and support her. It has never occurred to me to share my thoughts on the potential consequences of her behavior with her because I am not a person she would generally look to for advice (and, indeed, she has not asked me for advice in this particular situation, either). But she shares so much of her life publicly that I can't help having an opinion, and I resent being guilted into cheering her on no matter what she decides to do and how stupid I think it may be for her future. I would not want my own daughters to follow her example, as wonderful of a person she genuinely is.

What I'm really grateful for is that God doesn't let any of us get away with insisting on being cheered on in our unwise decisions. When I have headed down a path to pain and try to justify myself, God never says, "Well, kid, maybe you're right, and maybe those rigorous commandments I gave you aren't all that important--especially since you've seen something shiny and you are pretty sure it will make you happy even if I have warned you otherwise. I could be wrong here. I mean, what do I know? You might be so darn special and unique that you can somehow avoid the negative consequences of those actions that EVERY OTHER PERSON IN HISTORY has had to experience."

Yes, I'm really grateful that Heavenly Father isn't a sarcastic jerk.

Instead, He lovingly speaks to us, and we hear him when we're humble enough to listen. I'm pretty sure He speaks to each of us in the tone of voice that we are most willing to listen to. For me, the tone of voice chastens me in the most kind but exact manner, and with some humor. I am led to see my errors, but never allowed to feel irredeemable. He assures me of his unconditional love for me, and yet, He never compromises in His requirements. If I want to make a stupid decision, He never withholds the negative consequences. If I insist on learning the hard way, at least it's a lesson I'll remember well (if not fondly).

So I wish this young woman the best of luck in her future endeavors, but I will not be standing and cheering her on in trying to be the exception to the rule. I don't want my Heavenly Father to ever coddle me in making wrong choices, either. No matter how much I might fight it, resent it, and throw a temper tantrum, I don't ever want my Heavenly Father to give up on reminding me that there are, indeed, immutable truths, and that I am only going to hurt myself by bashing my head against them.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Share the Warm Glow with Me

I'm kind of looking forward to tomorrow. It will be the first day in a long time that I won't have work assignments--contract or otherwise--hanging over my head. Of course, the downside is I'm not sure when I'll get more contract work, but I think I'll just take some time to enjoy the stress-free day. Wringing my hands in anxiety never seems to work anyway.

I'll do dishes, for one thing. And laundry. And I'm planning on writing a list of every little job that needs doing around the house and slowly working my way through it. The kitchen cupboards, for instance, desperately need rearranging, as some of them are filled with things I never use. What the heck was I thinking when I picked up one of those little donut makers?? Sure, it was a thrift store find, but still! I have never once used it.

Another plus: since I only have two children still young enough to trick-or-treat, the candy load in the house is minimal. I bought a bag of candy that I don't like (Skittles and Life Saver gummies) so when we put it all into a bowl to hand out to the kids at the door, I wouldn't be tempted to snack on it. The boys already gave me all the Reese's peanut butter cups they had (and I consumed them), so we're down to the Tootsie Rolls and Starbursts (for which there is no temptation), and I'm feeling pretty good about that.

I did, however, buy apple cider. The kids don't like it, but Husband and I always make hot mulled cider for Halloween evening.

I started and finished a Korean soap/drama in October (You're All Surrounded). It kept me sane while I wrote endless articles about golf, a subject on which I have no practical experience and which is not at all interesting to me. While I still can't play the game, I've got a lot more theoretical knowledge about it than I used to. Perhaps that will come in handy someday. I imagine myself in a tight spot when, suddenly, my previously trivial education in golf will allow me to MacGuyver my way out of dying a horrible death. I'll keep you updated on that as events warrant.

I got to teach Sunday School today. It's my regular job (calling) at church, and I confess that I love this calling more than any other calling in the world. I'm the only teacher, so I get to prepare lessons every week instead of sharing teaching duties with a team teacher. As we've been studying the New Testament this year, it means that I've read and learned so much; and then I get to share what I am learning with my class!

Joseph gave us a bit of an asthma scare last week. I had to take him to the doctor on Saturday, and we were fortunate that even though they were booked solid, the doctor still carved out a bit of time to see us. Joseph needed steroids to deal with the current crisis, and because the doctor saw us, we didn't have to end up taking Joseph into the hospital today.

I'm just feeling good today. Thanks for letting me share with you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Please Pass the Sauerkraut!

Last week, I walked into the library and spotted the latest book by Robin Hobb winking at me from the New Arrivals shelf. I danced a little jig (which the librarians completely understood), and took the  heavy, shiny new book to my house, where I devoured it over the course of three or four days.

But normally, as you know, I am very careful about when I allow myself to read fiction, taking into consideration my ability to completely and utterly forsake every other activity--such as feeding the children, showering, or working--until I've finished the last word.

It's an addiction. I admit it.

So my last checkout, which was a non-fiction book, totally surprised me by being just as readable as any fiction novel. I've pored over it and neglected stuff almost as much as when I read fiction, only because there are no characters or plot line in which to become personally invested, I have an easier time putting it down. Still, it's fascinating.

The book is The Art of Fermentation: An In-depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World (with practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats, and more) by Sandor Ellix Katz. Who wouldn't want to tear into something with that intriguing title? And, since I have had great success in making my own delicious fermented sauerkraut and rejuvelac (a beverage made by soaking whole grains in water), I was hooked.

Katz's previous book, Wild Fermentation: the Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Food offers more specific recipes and how-to's, but The Art of Fermentation takes you around the world to get a peek at how globally prevalent fermentation is as a method of food storage as well as cultural cuisine. Before refrigeration and electricity were the norm, people had to preserve foods in other ways. Fermentation not only preserves foods for long periods of time, but those foods provide a great deal of nutrition along with their rich flavors.

Fermentation is the process of encouraging specific, desirable cultures of bacteria (or, in some cases, mold) to begin breaking down the sugars, fibers, and cell walls of a food before consumption. The fermenting process literally pre-digests the food, allowing your body to reap greater benefits from the now unlocked nutrients that are normally trapped within. The environment of a successful ferment also prevents the growth of the types of bacteria that spoil or putrify fresh food and cause illness or even death (I'm looking at you, Clostridium botulinum!).

Americans probably don't consider just how much of our food is fermented. There are the obvious alcoholic beverages, of course, but we regularly consume fermented vegetables (pickles of all sorts, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.), dairy (yogurt, kefir, cheeses, sour cream, buttermilk), meats (salamis, sausages), breads (sourdoughs) and others. Commercial food production has taken so many shortcuts that we are no longer likely to get truly fermented food products on the grocery store shelves anymore, but the ones we do buy and eat were originally based on truly fermented food.

Truly fermented food, though it can be an acquired taste, is so good for you. The same bacteria that make up a healthy human gut also populate fermented foods, so when you eat real ferments, you are strengthening your gut. Gut health is largely ignored by Western medicine, but when you have a healthy gut, you have a healthy body. Prescription medications, antibiotics, junk food, and refined foods are insidious because they cause a massive imbalance in the gut flora and fauna. This imbalance allows one or two strains of microbes to overproduce, which is why so many people suffer from an overgrowth of Candida yeast, for instance. When the gut is healthy, microbes grow in a balanced, beneficial way, and work to extract the nutrients from the whole foods you eat and distribute them to your blood stream, cells, and tissues. If you have an imbalance, the yeasts and bacteria that become too prevalent demand the foods they love--usually sugar and simple carbohydrates. The gut can no longer adequately break down and absorb nutrients, and your gut becomes severely damaged, leading to chronic diseases and inflammation of the entire body.

I'm not sure I'm ready for fermented mare's milk, but I don't live on the Mongolian steppes, where mare's milk is one of the primary sources of food. But I would love to step up my fermenting experimentation with more vegetables, grains, and dairy and use some of the methods that other cultures have used. Asian cultures, especially, have perfected fermentation. I would love to try making my own tempeh (which is actually culturing mold, not bacteria), for instance. Or Japanese koji, which is similar to tempeh but also uses rice or barely as substrates on which to culture the right mold.

My cabbage sauerkraut is going to get some other vegetable additions, too. And rejuvelac and other beneficial, non-alcoholic fermented beverages are so exciting to me. Kombucha, anyone?

I haven't been more successful at ferments simply because I haven't gotten into the rhythm of taking care of them. Ferments, starters, and cultures are kind of like pets in that they need regular attention in order to thrive. If you start small, I'm sure you get accustomed to it gradually, both in developing a taste for fermented foods and getting better at nurturing them to maturity.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It's Not about My Ego: It's about What Needs to be Done

I'm doing some contract work for the company that just laid me off.

Hey, it's money, and while I look for another job, it helps boost the budget.

My contact is the president who delivered the bad news last week, and we're both trying to figure out how this works now. It really is like being dumped and then having your ex ask if you still want to be friends, and then both of you figuring out what the new boundaries are and how you're going to communicate. For instance, can I still talk to all of his friends (my former co-workers) who used to be my friends, too? Do I log in to their communication and organization software in order to move assignments along like I used to, or do I only communicate to them through my contact?


I like them all fine. They are good, upstanding people. But I cannot lie and say that it doesn't kill me just a little to have to accept contract work from them. I'd much rather find some awesome new job and then tell them I'm too busy so they can find someone else to do the contract writing and we can all be on an equal footing once again.

Meanwhile, I will be researching and writing extensively about one of my least favorite subjects: golf. Golf! I've only ever played mini-golf, but I am writing to an audience of avid golfers, so my work is definitely cut out for me.

I am also polishing up my resume and looking around at my options.

Monday, October 5, 2015

"Pardes," a Fun Adventure into Indian Patriotism and Hip Hop

I've been watching a movie in pieces. It's a long show--over three hours--so maybe it won't surprise you when I tell you it's a Bollywood film. I would watch a few minutes here or there during a break or while I ate lunch, but today I finished watching it. I mean, what else do I have to do, except a million things on my to-do list?

Pardes (translated as "Foreign Land") was released in 1997, the 100th-year anniversary of India's freedom from British rule (and this explains the very strong patriotic "I Heart India" slant of the entire film). It stars Shah Rukh Khan as the male lead, Arjun, and Mahima Chaudhry as the female lead, Ganga, with a couple of mainstays of Indian cinema such as Amrish Puri, who must have had a lifetime contract to never be portrayed as irredeemably bad even if the characters he played were almost always stubborn and arrogant (Puri died in 2005).

All the way through the thing, I was very aware of the cultural and political undertones of the plot line. I'm not nearly savvy enough with the Indian culture, however, to also catch any nuances like subtle sarcasm or satire, so I am not entirely sure if the way they portrayed the American culture was  grossly heavy-handed by accident or was just a humorous wink-and-a-nod for Indians who have lived in or who have relatives in the U.S. After I got over being slightly offended at having all Americans stereotyped as shallow and materialistic, it was funny to watch the director mimic some of the tricks of American soap operas: the well-dressed woman full of nefarious schemes and the lingering shots of the scheming woman's face, her mind whirling through further nefarious plots and plans. (FYI, this side story did little to further the overall plot, but it was amusing nonetheless.)

STOP READING HERE UNLESS YOU WANT A FULL REPORT OF THE PLOT. I can't think why you would. Are you bored? If you're that bored, you can watch the full three-plus hours of the movie on Netflix Instant Watch. Be sure to note all the political messages embedded within. Enjoy the fact that the characters constantly break into song and dance. Relish Shah Ruhk Khan's million or so patented soulful glances.

But if you're game, read on. Spoiler alert.

The plot is as follows: a young, beautiful Indian farm girl named Ganga (Chaudhry) enchants her father's visiting friend (Puri), who is a NRI (Non-Resident Indian) who has made it big in America and has wealth beyond measure. During a visit to his childhood friend's rural farm in his beloved India, the wealthy man asks for the daughter's hand in marriage for his thoroughly Americanized son, Rajiv. Ganga, the perfect example of a pure, sweet Indian girl, will save his son and family from further Western corruption when she comes to live with them in some unnamed American city.

Against the wishes of the mother, aunt, and grandmother, Ganga's father accepts the suit, and Ganga prepares to meet her handsome suitor when he arrives for his first-ever visit to India. Accompanying Rajiv is Arjun, a man who was taken in as an orphan by Rajiv's father and who has served him humbly and loyally ever since. Arjun was born and partly raised in India, so he guides Rajiv through some of India's strange customs (it's interesting to see India-as-a-foreign-land through the eyes of an Indian director).

Rajiv courts Ganga, who finds him suave and handsome. But Ganga develops a friendship with Arjun, as well, whom she trusts to tell her the truth about Rajiv. Arjun, eager to fulfill his assignment from his adopted father to make sure this lovely pure girl marries Rajiv and saves them all as good Indians, glosses over Rajiv's flaws and reassures Ganga that Rajiv is a nice guy and will make a good husband.

Arjun wisely convinces all parties that Ganga should have a chance to visit America before the wedding, since she will be living there and will need to become accustomed to the culture. In order to keep things completely proper, Rajiv and Ganga are formally betrothed before the trip so that the neighbor's gossiping tongues will be stilled.

Once in America, Ganga begins to realize that Rajiv is not the man she thought he was. Like all Americans (including all his relatives), he is corrupt, immoral, materialistic, and completely self-centered. Ganga accuses Arjun of lying to her about Rajiv, but although Arjun realizes he is in love with Ganga, he is too loyal to his adopted father to either steal Ganga away from the increasingly violent Rajiv or even admit to Ganga that Rajiv is a pretty nasty piece of work. Instead, he vows to never see Ganga again and leaves quietly after Rajiv's father senses romantic trouble brewing and creates a business position for Arjun in the faraway city of Los Angeles.

Finally, Ganga runs away from Rajiv after he attempts to rape her during a trip to Las Vegas, and she ends up alone on the mean streets of Sin City. Arjun, alerted to her disappearance (and who happens to also be in Las Vegas, for some reason), manages to find her. At first, he urges her to go back to Rajiv and his family, but she absolutely refuses. When he realizes that Rajiv has attempted to rape Ganga, Arjun accompanies her back to India to return her to her family.

Back in India, Ganga's father is furious with Ganga. He refuses to believe that she is not having an improper relationship with Arjun or that Rajiv is not perfectly upstanding, and a phone call from Rajiv's father convinces him that Ganga is guilty of all of his suspicions. Arjun intercedes before Ganga's father can actually kill her with a sword. Arjun is forced to leave the house, and Ganga is locked into a room to await Rajiv's and his father's arrival.

Meanwhile, Ganga's female relatives and siblings work to get her out and away from the house before she suffers an honor killing. The climax occurs as Ganga, Arjun, Rajiv, Rajiv's father, and Ganga's father and grandmother all end up at some ancient ruins. The young men start battling it out with sticks and fists. Rajiv and his cohorts manage to beat Arjun nearly senseless, but Arjun finally rallies enough to give Rajiv a proper whoopin', just as Rajiv's and Ganga's fathers show up to witness the goings on. Arjun, bloodied and handsome, delivers an impassioned speech to his adopted father in which he admits he lied to Ganga about the rascal Rajiv because of his loyalty to his father and then asserts that he never did anything improper with Ganga, even though he also admits he loves her and always will. Then he sweeps up his backpack and dramatically stalks past Ganga and out into the Indian sunset.

Rajiv's father gives it some thought in the pause that follows, during which Ganga's grandmother pops up from between the columns to deliver some wise words. Finally, Rajiv's father gravely announces that Ganga is still his daughter, as per the agreement he made with Ganga's father. But Ganga will not marry Rajiv, who has been exposed as the cad he is. No, she will marry Arjun, the true son of India.

Thrilled, everyone runs around looking for Arjun, who has gone back to the farm and has been patched up by the children. Arjun's adopted father warmly embraces him, and then Ganga shows up, running down the road towards them (where the heck was she when everyone else was looking for Arjun?). Ganga warmly embraces her own father, the loyalty of a daughter to her father allowing  her to overlook the fact that he was ready to kill her a few short hours earlier. Arjun's and Ganga's eyes meet lovingly over their father's respective shoulders.

I'm not kidding when I tell you that Shah Rukh Khan is the master of soulful glances, with or without a sincere welling up of real tears and a trembling of the lips. You tell me if it gets to be a bit much by the end of the film. Although I enjoyed it for the most part, I did find myself yelling exasperated advice to the characters on the screen, but I imagine I did that because my corrupt, immoral, materialistic, and self-centered American tendencies blind me to the beauty other cultures and their practices, such as blaming the woman for being raped. I admit that. Otherwise, fun movie.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Sideways Jog in the Journey

Sometimes you go on journeys you don't expect to end. And then, one day, they do.

I just got laid off from my amazing job.

The company is a startup, and though things are going pretty well, revenue was down enough and would be down enough for the foreseeable future that the CEO and the president had to figure out where to cut the budget to keep going. A day or so ago, after much discussion and debate between the two of them, they decided to cut the entire Content team (all two of us) and focus more on the SEO angle of marketing. I got an email from the president yesterday afternoon wondering if I had a moment to talk on the phone. Though there had been no foreshadowings or warnings, I kind of knew what he was going to say before he said it.

So, as of Wednesday (tomorrow), I am unemployed. Or, as a writer, I can just state that I'm back to being a self-employed freelancer.

I have no bitterness or anger. These were all lovely people to work with, and I have learned so much during my nine months with this agency. I am, however, a little concerned about our financial situation, as this will effectively cut our income in half. But we've been there before, so we can manage it again. It's just a good thing I learned of this before we bought another car!

The Lord knew our situation when I miraculously got this job, and He still knows our needs and situation now. I feel a great deal of comfort and peace, even if it is mixed with some anxiety about what I should do next and how I should go about it. I remind myself to be still and know that God is fully aware, and that dwelling in worry and anxiety might make it hard to hear the promptings of the Spirit.

As Husband said to me after he had taken a while last night to digest the news, "Well, it sure was fun while it lasted, wasn't it?"

Yes, it was. And I'm grateful for the blessing this job has been.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sticks and Rocks

You know what they say about men: they grow up and their toys just get more expensive. Or something like that, anyway.

Husband is no exception. He still likes to play with rocks and sticks, but now his rocks and sticks have become far more sophisticated and costly.

Husband has a thing for rocks and minerals. He also has a thing for carved wooden flutes and Irish penny whistles. Yesterday bought about a serendipitous culmination of these two hobbies when we got to visit the Mountain Man Rendezvous and Gem and Mineral Show going on in the same spot in our fair city.

We were drawn to a flute maker's tent pretty quickly. The flute maker, a young-looking mountain man in his 60s with a long white beard, a straw hat with a rattlesnake skin as a band, and bundles of his flutes hanging around his neck, was demonstrating to a group of fifth graders on a field trip some of his musical talents using a singing bowl, a Native American drum, and two small flutes that he played at the same time. We were as mesmerized as the kids.

When the kids left, Husband started asking about the flutes, which were stacked on stands throughout the interior of his tent. Eric (for this was the flute maker's name), talked about the different woods he's used in each of his creations. He played several of them to demonstrate the different tonal qualities the individual woods produce. Husband was enchanted with one made out of cocobolo, but he eventually settled on one made of kingwood, which has a rich but clear sound all the way up to the top registers.

Top to bottom: the Eric Hash E-flat kingwood flute, a High Spirits G flute, and a carbon fiber Irish whistle. Also featured: Lincoln, the cat, who decided it was time for a cuddle with me only because his favorite human, Gabrielle, was at work.

Husband has been playing flutes and the penny whistle for a while now. In the evenings when he gets home from work, the house is often filled with the trill of an Irish jig or a soulful and plaintive Native American tune.

We also visited the gem and mineral booths, with their enchanting displays of rough rocks, polished spheres and other shapes, and jewelry. It was here that Husband found a small piece of ammolite, one of the rarest gemstones in the world (you can see it leaning against the purple amethyst's stand). The vendor and his friends had found a small deposit of the stuff in Utah, which makes it even more rare, since most ammolite comes from Alberta, Cananda. The price was incredibly good, so Husband now has a new rock to add to his growing collection.

Here you can see some of Husband's rocks and gems. I'll detail them more thoroughly in a future post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Here's to Always Being in Over Your Head!

Please tell me I'm not the only one who is constantly winging it. I'm referring mostly to my job here, but I'm mostly winging it everywhere else, too. I'd be more worried except that I have noticed all of my co-workers are mostly winging it, as well. Also, all the moms I know.

If everything in life were rock solid routine, wouldn't that be utterly boring? Winging it may be overwhelming, but at least it's interesting.

Can I get a fist pump of solidarity? Maybe an amen?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Braving the Embarrassment and Mortification of a Family Outing

What's a fun answer to the inevitable, "Are we doing anything fun today?" question?

Why, go to IKEA, of course!

Husband and I decided a while ago that we have plenty of stuff. We don't need more stuff. Therefore, buying stuff for birthdays and Christmas presents just creates a situation where the kids use the stuff for a little while and then forget about it. The stuff then becomes so much clutter.

"Why don't we," I suggested in exasperation, "DO things instead of buy stuff. Why don't we use the money and create memories rather than add more items to our bulging house?"

Husband agreed. The thing is, he really is good at figuring out the perfect present for each person; it's just that kids' desires are so ephemeral, and what they want today, they won't be interested in tomorrow. But he's also good at planning outings.

I suggested this radical idea to the children, and, surprisingly, they warmed to the idea. Even the boys. Even cutting down on Christmas gifts in favor of going places and creating memories.

But because we sometimes need stuff (such as more inexpensive drinking glasses to replace the broken ones and a half-width Lack table to put on top of my desk to create a standing desk so I don't have to sit so much in front of my computer and die young from heart disease), we can sometimes combine the getting of needed stuff with a fun outing.

So on Saturday, we packed Sophia, Elannah, Joseph, and Little Gary into the car (Gabrielle was at work, and Sian, of course, is not even in the country) and made it a family outing.

Our first stop was Main Street in Lehi, where we grabbed lunch at a cute little restaurant called Porter's Place. It's dedicated to Porter Rockwell, a colorful character in early LDS history. The restaurant is decorated to look like a slice of pioneer times, with old-fashioned wallpaper, boarded walls, and dim lighting. The menus are real leather, and the menu items are imaginatively titled to reference prophets and apostles. We were all having fun--all of us, that is, except the two teenage girls.

Now, having been a teenage girl myself, I understand how embarrassing your family can be. I have distinct memories of going to McDonald's with my large family and wanting to crawl under the table and hide when my dad and siblings all started deliberately squeaking their straws in the plastic drink cup lids. Of course, they continued to squeak their straws just because I was so mortified by it. This is what it means to be family.

On Saturday, Sophia and Elannah were united in their embarrassment and mortification. I mean, Elannah is always in a constant state of embarrassment whenever we go anywhere, and even when I am the only other person with her. She particularly hates it when I start cooing at random babies.

"Mom! That baby isn't even yours!" she says, hiding her face in her hands. "You're so embarrassing!"

At the restaurant, the boys wanted to explore a small balcony in the room where we were seated. Because no other patrons were in the room (or even visible), Husband and I allowed them to go up and have a look. The boys also peeked out into the main part of the restaurant to inspect some of the decorations and pictures that are scattered all over. They refrained from running or shouting or acting like hooligans, much to our parental gratification.

Sophia and Elannah, however, longed for a quick and painless death to remove them from the embarrassment of their brothers. Seriously, they moaned about it the entire time we were there! It's enough to make a mother want to deliberately do something extremely embarrassing just to send them into further paroxysms of mortification.

Sadly, there were no babies in the near vicinity. And our drinking glasses did not come with lids or straws.

We managed to choke down lunch through our embarrassment and humiliation (I had a delicious buffalo burger, which shocked Elannah exceedingly because the buffalo is their high school mascot, but I told her I wasn't going to eat horse meat instead just because their rival school has a stallion mascot. Besides, horse wasn't even on the menu! "Beef, Mom, beef! You could have a normal beef hamburger just like everyone else!" she countered uselessly. Her father also had a buffalo burger, even bigger than mine. He also thoroughly enjoyed it.)

After lunch, we braved the construction bottleneck through Point of the Mountain and headed north to IKEA, where we shopped until our legs ached and our embarrassment levels were maxed out. Everyone was tired and slightly cross as we crowded back into the car a couple hours later for the long drive home.

Still, on the way home, each child shouted out, "Thank you, Mom and Dad!," which we took to mean that our outing had been an overall success. That's very heartening. I figure the girls will live through the embarrassment of their family and enjoy many fun trips and outings to come. I did, after all.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Of Agony and Redemption

My personal trainer is a very nice young lady even when she's trying to kill me. We meet up once a week for a torture session (that I pay for!), and she instructs me to do various things with my body that leave me agonizingly sore for days after. Fortunately, her nefarious plots on my life have so far been unsuccessful, and I might even be building some muscle.

This last appointment, she had me doing all kinds of leg work. To distract myself from the full-length reflection of the chunky middle-aged woman unattractively lunging about and dripping sweat off the end of her nose, I struck up a conversation about pain. In particular, the pain of childbirth.

Lindsey, my personal trainer, is young, extremely cute, very fit, and newly married. She's so excited because she and her husband are closing on their first house in a week or so. We've discussed gardening and being addicted to HGTV shows, and I told her about the book Compost Everything, which I bought a few weeks ago and read in one night.

So, this last appointment, as I valiantly did pull-ups, squats, lunges, and planks, she admitted she'd never broken a bone or anything. Of course, I had to tell her the story about snapping the bones of my foot right across the top during the Nutcracker ballet dress rehearsal when I was 12 or 13 and how the adults told me it was just a knot and to walk it off, which I tried to do by shuffling up and down the hallway, shivering and shaking with the pain, and when it was time to go on stage to dance, I took the first step of that first balancé and fell into a quivering, tearful heap and ended up with my foot in a cast and not able to perform that year (and got a lecture from the director the next year about not breaking anything, as if I was just looking for attention by snapping some bones and ligaments) .

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conversation soon landed on the topic of childbirth. Pain, childbirth: the two are inseparable. To speak of one is to speak of the other. It is the way of mothers. But she was eager to talk about it, so what could I do? Besides, it distracted me from the way my muscles were trying to dissolve into mush during the first 30-second plank.

"Midwives," I said with a wise nod as I struggled to catch my breath. "I love midwives."

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Did you prefer having a midwife to an OB? I'm really interested in this topic!"

"Absolutely," I said. "I had two male OBs before I got clued in to midwives. They were good guys, but they've got exactly 10 minutes to talk to you before they have to go to the next patient. They've never actually given birth. And they show up to catch the baby when you're in labor, while it's the nurses who stick with you the whole time. But midwives, they've got time. They answer your questions. They wait with you during the labor."

We stopped our conversation for a moment while Lindsey demonstrated the next activity designed to make my already strained thighs so noodly that I wasn't likely to be able to walk out of the gym without the assistance of canes.

"Midwives let you move around during labor," I panted at her a minute or two later. "OBs want you on your back with sensors strapped to your belly at all times, which is the worst way to go through labor and give birth. With the midwives, I got to use birthing balls and the tub, and I could walk around if I felt like it."

"I've heard of birthing balls," said Lindsey. "Did the tub help?"

"Best delivery ever," I assured her, waving away her helping hand as I struggled to get to my feet after collapsing into a pile. "I sat in the tub until it was time, knelt on the bed, and a couple pushes later, the baby was born."

Lindsey was obviously impressed. Her eyes had gone big as she ordered me to do another 30-second plank. I got into position on the mat and gritted my teeth, determined to hold my shaking body in a solid line until the end of the longest half-minute in the history of time.

"I want to go completely natural. No drugs," she said dreamily about 15 seconds in. I started laughing, but I held my plank position through sheer stubborness and force of will until Lindsey said, "3..2..1..You did it! Way to go!" She hopped up, ready to order me on to the next exercise, but I told her I needed a moment to actually breathe. She squatted down beside me again while I curled up helplessly on the mat--not quite in the fetal position.

"Make no mistake: labor is the worst pain you've ever felt," I gasped. "You'll want drugs. You'll want anything to stop the pain." I looked up at her through eyes bleary and stinging from the sweat that had run into them. I was too weak to reach over and grab my towel or my water. I glanced at them longingly, but Lindsey didn't catch the hint. She was inspecting the floor, thinking about what I'd said.

My tongue felt swollen in my mouth. I considered vomiting. I swallowed hard.

"You had all yours naturally?" she asked.

"Four of them," I admitted. "I had epidurals on the first and the last one.  I desperately wanted an epidural on the fifth one, but the only anesthesiologist in the hospital was already in surgery, so I was out of luck."

"Never," I continued, shaking a limp finger at her, "go into labor on the weekend."

She nodded.

"On the other hand," I continued, somehow not vomiting, "going through that pain makes holding the baby that much sweeter. You bond faster, I think. It must be all the oxytocin or something, but when you've given that final push and it's all over and they lay that sweet little baby on your chest and you're sort of half sobbing and totally exhausted, you realize the pain was worth it. It was the crucible you went through for that tiny little person, a person you'll love so fiercely that you can't believe you had all that love in you."

We were silent for a moment. I finally caught my breath and struggled up to my knees and then to my feet. The torture was over for the week. Lindsey grinned at me.

"Great job!" she said. "I'll see you next week!"

Surprisingly, I managed to shuffle all the way to the parking lot and collapse into my car. I knew I would be hurting for several days after this, and I still needed to come back and complete my cardio later in the day. But somehow, it was perfectly okay. I had survived Lindsey's malicious attempts to kill me off once again. There's a certain thrill in that.

Friday, September 11, 2015

This Explains a Lot of Strange Coincidences

I'm convinced I have a Magazine Fairy. Thank you, Magazine Fairy! The newest subscription made me laugh out loud when I got it in the mail yesterday.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

This Uncompelling Headline will Have You Clicking Away in 3...2...1...

I get that it's ironic that I am a copywriter, and yet my personal blog basically breaks every rule of writing scannable, interesting content that keeps readers reading and not bouncing away.

I write long blocks of text.

I often do not have a compelling headline.

I almost never have a compelling subheader.

You'd have to know me very well and be interested enough in my life to want to read through those long paragraphs. Even if you know me and like me, I bet you skim most of the long entries without reading each carefully crafted word.

And that's okay. I pretty much do it on purpose. I don't pick keywords, I don't spend long minutes coming up with a compelling subhead, I don't make sure I include bulleted lists and the right amount of white space or work to elicit the right emotion. If I'm feeling particularly gregarious, I might work harder on it, but most of the time, I have this stuff bumbling around in my head and I have to get it out in order to get my paid work done. So I write it out, do a little editing, consider adding an image and how long that will take, and then publish. Done.

Or, frequently, I don't publish. I have a LOT of unfinished drafts that I haven't deemed worthy of being published for various reasons--mostly because I'm not sure if I'll be regretting having published it in the future.

I'm not advertising anything here. I'm not trying to build a brand. I honestly don't care if I have many readers--not because I don't appreciate the people who read my blog, but because I'm not trying to be popular. I never advertise a new blog post on social media simply because I'm contradictorily outgoing enough to write publicly but still shy enough not to want too many of my personal friends to know everything that's going on in my head. If you want to read this, you'll have to find it, and while I welcome you back with open arms, I also understand that this isn't the kind of copy that sells itself.

When I write professionally, I spend time doing all the right things. Writing here lets me relax.


Monday, August 24, 2015

A Little News

Elannah has been stressing out about starting school. She's going into high school, so it's a new school and new classes and new adventures, but she doesn't feel ready. I told her she'll be okay, and that after tomorrow, she'll know exactly how prepared she actually is. Somehow, she doesn't believe me at the moment.

Sophia quit drill team earlier this summer. They did so well last year--after years of lackluster showings in competitions--and most of that is due to a new coach and assistant coaches. They worked hard last year, and they succeeded in winning Region and barely missed placing at State in their division. They also had fun as a team. They bonded, they became best friends, they supported each other.

This year, the coach has caught the winning bug, so she quit her day job as a teacher at a dance studio to focus solely on the drill team. Along with early-morning practices, she has instituted after-school practices and Saturday practices. Drill team practices all year long, not just for a season. Basically, being on drill team has now become a full time job, but if they work hard enough, chances are they can give the big southern schools a real run for their money this time--maybe come in first or second or third at State! All these practices are in addition to the endless fundraisers, because funding a competition-level drill team costs $30,000 a year and up, depending on your division. For the moms of drill team girls, there's never a dull moment: if you aren't driving your daughter to practices, you're heading up a fundraiser or cooking lunch for long practices or driving your daughter to extra dance technique classes or whatever else is needed at the moment.

As happens with everything of a competitive nature, adult egos got involved. I'm not dissing the coach because she's nothing if not absolutely dedicated to taking her team to victory, but there's a fine line between the benefits of being on a team and learning responsibility, how to support each other, and enjoying the bonding and just working to win it all, as if winning is the ultimate portrayer of worth.

Frankly, I was tired of it. I am not a Type A person, and all this school spirit and the need to win at all  costs and the general hullaballoo leaves me pretty cold. I don't usually admit this out loud to a crowd of die-hard [school team] fans, but it's probably pretty obvious to everyone else even if I try to be as pleasant and social and supportive as possible. Go team!

So when Sophia casually mentioned she was thinking of quitting because it wasn't fun anymore and because she wanted to be in school plays and get a job (both of which being impossible with her practice schedule and drill team commitments), I did a happy dance in my mind. Outwardly, I remained neutral and left it up to her. I didn't want her to feel pressured to continue or quit based on my wishes and desires. Eventually, the coach told the girls that if they were thinking of quitting, now was the time, before they got seriously into competition routines. Sophia thought about it long and hard, and then informed her coach she was out. The coach was sad to see her go and was very kind and gracious (she really is a lovely woman), but now Sophia is done with it all and I'm not at all disappointed.

There are areas where I won't let my children quit. If they've made a commitment to be there for a specific performance or date and the team or group would be in a lurch without them, they have to stay in, even if it gets a little boring or inconvenient. Once their commitment is fulfilled, I'm more lenient. In Sophia's case, the whole thing was taking over her entire life, which is not what either of us signed up for. Given that the coach was telling the girls that now was a good time to leave without putting their teammates in a bad place later on, I was fine with Sophia quitting. Learning when to stick with it and when to let go are valuable life lessons.

Elannah will be fine, too. She's still learning what stuff is worth stressing out over and what stuff isn't, although it's easy for me to tell her--with the benefit of 25 years of experience past the ups and downs of high school--that most of what she's stressing about isn't important.

What's really fun is that Elannah and Sophia have a TV Broadcasting class together this year. They sometimes collaborate to make short films, so learning more about the equipment (and being able to check out stuff like boom mikes and whatnot to use at home) will help them increase production quality of their personal films. The following film they made makes me laugh every time. They have these dry senses of humor that show up in so many little ways: the count-off after Sophia says, "This is dangerous, so let's get things started," the seriousness with which they take their crappy stunts, the way Elannah does a little in-and-out breath before hanging on the tree...They laugh at me for how many times I've watched this thing.

It won't let me embed the video, so click the link here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Flowers on My Desk

I have two vases sitting on my work desk. One is a red glass vase, and it is full of a large bunch of beautifully made red silk amaryllis blooms from Pottery Barn (which I found at the thrift store for a price that made me quite giddy). They stand tall on thick green stems, a cloud of one of the happiest colors I can imagine. I smile every time I see them. I know amaryllises are usually displayed singly in decorative pots at Christmas, but I don't feel that is a rule I need to stick with.

The other vase is a narrow bud vase filled with tiny green rocks and a spray of yellow silk flowers with deep green leaves. The vase and flowers are obviously from the dollar store, but they were a gift, and because of the reason and meaning behind the gift, I keep this vase on my desk, as well.

I got the yellow flowers in little green rocks from a group of young women in my ward (church congregation). They had an activity one night where they identified women they knew who had qualities that matched their Personal Progress values of faith, divine nature, individual worth, knowledge, choice and accountability, good works, integrity, and virtue. They decided I exemplified the value of knowledge (which is paired with the color green), and so they came to my house one Wednesday evening and presented me with the vase and a framed certificate that quotes the scripture and theme for Knowledge: "'Seek learning, even by study and also by faith. (Doctrine & Covenants 88:118); I will continually seek opportunities for learning and growth."

It was so sweet. I shed a tear after I closed the door. Of course, I also immediately thought of at least a dozen other amazing women I know who exemplify knowledge, but the vase and certificate remind me that I need to be striving to strengthen all of the Personal Progress values in myself, even though I've long since graduated from being a young woman. Knowledge is important, and I have a passion for learning new things and for stretching my mind in new ways. But seeking knowledge without also working to strengthen faith reflects 2 Timothy 3:7, "Ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Likewise, faith means nothing without action, including good works. You also need integrity and the ability to understand your responsibility for the choices you make in order to increase your own virtue. Understanding your divine nature (as a child of God) and your worth as an individual--unique and precious, who has a mission only you can fulfill--makes you anxious to develop faith, be charitable, and to strive toward being more like Jesus Christ.

Sigh. It's a big job. Fortunately, as I remind myself frequently, I have a lifetime to work on it.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hello, all.

I thought I'd take a break from my glamorous job as a writer to say hi. Oh, what am I wearing as a glamorous writer? you ask. Ha ha. I don't like to brag, but I'm wearing my writing costume. Picture this: comfortable old t-shirt, denim jeans, and no makeup. I'm not even sure I managed a shower this morning, but I am wearing a bra, so that's good. Let me tell you that I look pretty darn stunning.

In this photo, I am actually wearing some makeup, but note that the writing costume is intact. Elannah wanted to see if my hair is long enough yet to do a French braid. (Answer: only for about 10 minutes before it falls out. I like layers.)

My manager and I were lamenting about this problem during one of our phone meetings. On the one hand, working from home means never having to stress about business attire and wardrobe flexibility. On the other hand, yikes. It isn't that I don't want to look nice and wear deodorant; the problem lies more with the fact that I still haven't figured out my priorities.

As any working-from-home mother knows, there are plenty of competing needs, almost all of which seem to be urgent and important: personal hygiene vs. eating breakfast vs. personal scripture study vs. making sure the kids are fed vs. meeting work deadlines vs. cooking something nutritious at least once per day for the welfare of my family vs. keeping the boys entertained vs. kicking kids out of my office because I just have to concentrate vs. listening to them talk vs. getting after the kids to do their chores vs. wanting to lock my door and watch movies all day vs. the yard. Oh, the yard. It has almost as many needs as the children.

As this is not a problem unique to myself, I won't belabor the point. You don't have to be working from home as a parent to wonder how to order your priorities, but thanks for listening to me vent for just a moment.

BUT, I do have an office now! With all these kids, every bedroom in this house is taken, including the family room. I hated having the office be in my bedroom because it was like I never left the room, and when I went to bed at night, my work was still there, staring me in the face. Shudder.

So Husband and I came up with a clever solution: an office alcove.

We have a large master bedroom. It's the same size as the double garage directly beneath it, so there was plenty of room to create an office alcove and still have a decently sized bedroom area. I sold Husband on the idea (excited hand gestures and animated talking points) and he made it happen with some research and a trip to IKEA. Here is a picture of our office alcove with Little Gary hanging out and reading a book. I'm standing in the doorway of the room to take the photo.

First, we bought three Billy bookcases. Then, after a trip to the As-Is section, we scored an orphan countertop for about $10. It's a little over five feet long, so it's perfect for two people to work at. IKEA sells table legs, so Husband attached six legs to the countertop and voila! we had a new desk, which we set against the wall by the entry into the bedroom.

The tricky part was getting the inexpensive and cheaply made Billy bookcases to be stable enough to act as a barrier wall. We played with various options, but Husband eventually rigged up a very nice system: he used sturdy metal brackets to attach the bookcases to each other at the top. A wooden bench I had been planning to repaint ended up getting its seat repurposed into a footer that attached the base of the bookcases to the base of the wooden headboard of our bed, which is now directly on the other side of the bookcase wall. Now the bookcases are attached to each other and to the headboard, which makes it a very stable partition that doesn't threaten to fall over at the slightest bump (we also loaded our books onto the bottom shelves first to further stabilize the bookcases).

There is a doorway opening on either side of the partition wall, so we can comfortably enter the bedroom to either side of the bed. I will be buying some fabric to attach to the back side of the bookcases, which are somewhat unsightly.

Now I don't have to see my work when I am going to sleep or reading in bed. Also, I can get up and work early without disturbing Husband (which, okay, never happens because I chronically stay up too late, but the option is there if I ever magically change into a morning person).

In my next post, I'll ruminate on how to get my manager on board with the Results-Only work system that the CEO and president of the company fully embrace and endorse. K, my manager, has been working in the industry for nearly 20 years--mostly in corporate settings--so she's still kind of stuck on a traditional work day. I, on the other hand, have only worked in the industry as a contractor until now, which means that I'm very comfortable with setting my own hours and only worrying about delivering quality work on time, not clocking how long I have my behind in my chair or that I'm sitting in it during traditional work hours. If you're interested in learning more about Results-Only environments, read Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: the Results-Only Revolution by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. I've also recently read Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland. That is your homework, if you're at all interested in reading that kind of thing (personally, I really want to go and play the piano right now. I'm kind of done with words).

Monday, March 16, 2015

Celebrate with Me!

Who's the girl who never managed to finish college?

This girl!

Who's the girl who just got hired as the Senior Copywriter for a fast-growing digital marketing company (which has tripled its growth in the last seven months alone!)?

This girl!

Who's the girl who is now making enough to double our income?

This girl!

Today was my first official day as an employee with my new company. Last week I was a contract writer. This week, I can't invoice for every single piece of work I do, but I am part of a team at a company whose philosophy is one for which I can stand up and cheer. Plus, the numbers added up, which is always crucial, don't you think? I'm not mercenary, but I did want to make sure it made sense to walk away from being a contract writer and tie myself down to one company. I think there's plenty of room to grow here, though.

I just attended my first company-wide call. I was asked to introduce myself as one of the two new team members whose official start date is today, and I managed not to make an utter and complete fool of myself, which is always nice.

I've only met one person at this company in real life. The Senior Content Manager, who is my direct manager, is also stationed in Utah, and she's not so far away that a couple meetings a month aren't doable. We had lunch last week, which was the first time I've ever met her in person after knowing her for four years. At the end of this month I'll be meeting the president and one of the directors when they come up to give us some training. All twelve of us employees are scattered throughout the United States and Hong Kong, and we all work remotely. There are clusters of people, like most of the marketing division in Chicago and the design division up in Seattle. A few live in Phoenix. Several are in Hong Kong, including the CEO, who has to get up at something like 4:00 in the morning his time to attend the Monday meetings.

So what do I do? I am part of the Content Team. We write the stuff that goes on website pages, in clients' blogs, and manage the social media campaigns. The sales team is doing such an excellent job bringing new clients on board that we are kept very busy. Except for the meetings I now have to attend, I don't know that I'll be any more busy than I was working as a contract writer for this company, and I was really busy then, too. If we get much busier, we'll have to hire more writers.

Anyway, thanks for celebrating with me. I'm very excited for this new opportunity, and I'm so grateful to God for being aware of my family's needs. I can still work at home and be my kids' mom during the day while bringing in a paycheck that makes me finally have hope that I'll be able to put together a strong food storage and keep my family from starving when California runs out of water/the apocalypse happens/WWIII finally explodes. Whichever comes first. :)