Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pie and Song

I've written about three blog posts that are deeply personal and cathartic. Obviously, I haven't posted any of them, and that's probably a good thing as they were mostly devoid of humor, although I did mention my Shoulder Demon several times. But none of those blog posts was political, which should come as a surprise. Let's just say that I've had some major stresses lately, and caring about the staged theater that is this year's presidential elections falls far down my list of Stuff to Worry About.

But at this point, you're probably wondering if I still love pie. You were, weren't you?

Yes. Yes, I do. Deeply. Forever. I just can't shake that pie thang. I would be upset about it if I thought that was a bad thing.

But to keep things completely superficial (and to avoid waxing poetic about my favorite pie--or to avoid talking myself into eating my feelings), I've got some new music obsessions that I thought I'd share.

I was working on a Da Nang, Vietnam, travel guide, which naturally led me to YouTube, where I explored music in an effort to cool my overheated brain and do a little procrastinating at the same time. Bonus: my brain is really going to have to perform in a hurry because the deadline is tomorrow and I'm only 1/3 of the way through a very, very long travel guide about a city and a country I've never been to. I've already completed travel guides on Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Long Bay, and Ha Long City. This should be a piece of cake, right? No worries.

I do mean it: no worries. My adrenal glands have completely shorted out. They're done. Kaput. The good thing is that I now have a hard time getting too fussed about anything inconsequential, and if I'm a little late on my deadline, the assignments will be done by Monday. Whatever.

Here's what has grabbed hold of my ever-loving pie sensors:

Zayn Malik may once have been part of One Direction (or 1D, to the rabid fans), but he's got chops all on his own, too. The chorus of "It's You" sends me. There is one gentle F-bomb in the first verse, but I've embedded the clean lyrics version. Also, the posted lyrics are slightly incorrect: where the video reads, "So my silence won't be mistaken for believing," it should actually be, "So my silence won't be mistaken for peace." That's a big difference. The poetry of the correct lyrics must be preserved. Except for the F-bomb.

At risk of making you think I can't get enough of men singing in falsetto, I must also share Borns's "Past Lives."

Just for fun, Borns does a cover of Zayn Malik's "It's You." You can compare and contrast, if you wish. Personally, I prefer the original by far. You know what would be great? If Chase Holfelder did a cover of "It's You," I'd probably wear out the replay button.

Watch out: this one doesn't cover up the F-bomb, but it's an easy F-bomb to miss.

I was in the car with Sophia, and I insisted she listen to "It's You," which, surprisingly, she hadn't heard yet. After she listened, she said, "Wow, Mom! You actually like cool music!" Um, thanks, young one. I'll be DJ-ing your next high school dance. But what she said next made me howl. Literally. Like a wolf.

"Mom, have you ever heard of 'Open Arms' by Journey?"

SMH, as the kids say. S.M.H.

She loves "Open Arms." We both belted the chorus, and I proved to her that I remember all the lyrics. Mostly.

Singing at the top of your lungs in the car with someone you love, that never gets old. Pie and song.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Their Anger Ferments...

I remember this time Husband and I were talking to someone we knew. Somehow, the famous book about the Great Depression came up. Husband said, "It's The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck." But the other guy was pretty sure it was The Wrath of Grapes. He kept insisting that was the title, and he was very serious about it.

I still laugh at the image his title put into my head.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Vicariously Attending Homecoming with My Girls

In a lovely break from our usual Saturday activities, Husband and I got to chauffeur six teens (two of them our own) around on their Homecoming Day Date. What is a Day Date? you ask. It's a Utah thing. It's not enough to just go to a dance. No, you have to make an entire day of it. That's perfectly fine if you like your date, but it's torture if you find out you can't stand the person you're with.

Fortunately, the boys who asked my daughters are great kids, and my daughters are good friends with them, so they all had a good time.

The boys had planned a hike, a visit to a mystery room, and dinner at a swanky Brazilian restaurant--all of which required them to be in The Big City. However, a couple days before the event, their driver bailed, so Husband and I woke up early on a Saturday to pick them up and cart them to their various destinations. While the kids were busy, Husband and I hung out with each other. A win-win situation.

It was a lot of fun. The kids had a great time, and Husband told them a joke that they found so funny that Elannah's date was repeating the punchline the rest of the day. I don't even think he was sucking up.

The only annoying part of the day was that all of the kids in the car are drama kids (kids who love being in the plays at school), so when I put Sophia in charge of the music (because I really like Sophia's and Elannah's taste in alternative music), all we got to listen to were show tunes. All the kids (and Husband) were singing along at the top of their lungs to selections from Les Miserables and Grease, and I just had to deal with it. I realize it makes me a heathen and a Philistine, but those are my two least favorite musicals of all time. I loathe them for reasons I can't explain. But I kept my mouth shut about that.

In the evening, when we got back to our fair town, all the kids went to get themselves gussied up before going to the dance at the high school. I think they cleaned up well.

Elannah and her friend, who, in this picture, looks like he's about 12. These two are hilarious together.

Sophia before her date picked her up. She pulled her waist-length hair into a low bun at the back, which I thought was a very practical way to keep from overheating at the dance.

The gang. Sophia's date, A.J., looks like how my youngest, Little Gary, will look in seven or eight years--tall, lanky, large eyes, similar mannerisms. The girls and I have told him that, but I don't know how he feels about it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Great Service Dilemma

I'm having the second round of vertigo that I've had in a few months. I've never had this problem before, but it's both uncomfortable and inconvenient, as you can probably imagine. When the world is spinning like a top even when you're lying down or sitting as still as possible, it isn't pleasant.

It also makes you so nauseated you puke a lot. Before I took some Dramamine for motion sickness on Monday, I wasn't keeping anything down.

Things are a bit better now, thankfully. I'm pretty sure I'll live. Almost 100% sure. :)

In other news, I got a phone call today from an older lady I know. She's a nice lady, and our family and others have given her and her daughter a lot of help getting settled in their new house. She's called several times to ask for rides or to get a little help unpacking and lifting something or other, and I haven't had a problem with that. She's always very grateful for the help.

I have been extremely careful in the last couple years about setting boundaries for myself when it comes to service. That is based on past experience. For me, it's very easy to extend my help so much and so far that I end up actually hurting the person I'm trying to help while feeling a great deal of personal resentment in the process. That's no good for either of us. Better to know where my boundaries are so that I can actually provide some quality assistance without "serving" another person right into dependency. I think that's much healthier, don't you?

Today, I missed a call from this lady, and I caught her voicemail a little later. She was asking for someone to go and clean her kitchen. She's recently had shoulder surgery, and if she were living alone, I could completely understand needing help in keeping things tidy in the kitchen. But she's not alone. She has some other able-bodied people living with her. She explained, however, that one of them wasn't feeling well and that the other of them was in court.

My immediate reaction was, "And why is this my problem to fix?"

While a messy kitchen is certainly inconvenient and problematic when it comes to fixing meals, the fact that there are able-bodied members of the household available would seem to negate the need to ask for outside assistance. Temporary unavailability on their part does not constitute an emergency on my part, does it? I have to battle with my children just about every day when it comes to loading the dishwasher, wiping down counters, and keeping things at least clean enough that we can move freely around the house. If I or they don't feel well or have other things scheduled, it never occurs to me to ask someone else to come in and take care of it because it's bothering me. It's my problem, I have the means to solve it, and it will get solved eventually.

That was my first reaction.

My second reaction was to chide myself with, "Now, don't be selfish! She's asking for help, and we are on this earth to serve each other."

And yet I saw the results of such knee-jerk service on my part spread before me: I respond to this call, though I, myself, also feel quite unwell, and she is gracious and grateful. I am pleased that I could do some good, and that makes me happy. Yet there is another call in a few days because of the same problem or another little problem, and who will fix it immediately when no one else in her household has the time or inclination? ME! I grit my teeth, remind myself to be generous with my service, and respond to every call. Eventually, I hate her and her lazy family and she is so dependent upon me that she becomes demanding and resentful when I don't jump at her command.

Think that's extreme? I beg to differ. It's happened before because I didn't know when it was all right to say no.

So I'm saying no today. This is where it starts, and from this point I must make the boundary clear. When it comes to people I know are potential vampires (people who could end up sucking your life away in serving their personal needs and wants), even if you are very nice people, I will not do for you what you or someone you live with can do for yourselves, even if you are momentarily inconvenienced by it not getting done. I will certainly try to assist you in things you cannot do and that need to be done, even if it is occasionally inconvenient to me. But I will not put my family or my needs permanently at the end of the list in order to serve you. In that way, we can both keep our dignity and still be friends.

Sound fair? That's how it's gotta be.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Couple New Musical Obsessions

I get a little obsessed sometimes when I find an artist whose work absolutely stuns me. I have a hard time getting any writing work done, which is one bad side effect of being transported to musical nirvana. It's probably also yet another way my brain demands rest and relaxation because I don't let myself read fiction anymore.

Recently, we had a young man serving his mission here who has the voice of an angel. He sang for us once while visiting our home, and then he sang in our Sacrament Meeting last Sunday before getting transferred to another area this last week. He gave us a CD his mother had put together of some of his best pieces, and my girls listen to it over and over.

Here's a little video of Elder Vizzini from South Africa singing "Skyfall."

Here's another recent obsession. This guy is amazing. I've spent a lot of time not writing a travel guide to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) today because I've been exploring his YouTube channel.

Here's one of my favorite offerings from Chase Holfelder.

Monday, August 15, 2016

And Something Sweet, PLZ!

We have a running grocery list on a white board by the fridge. I love that the kids occasionally add their personalities to it. Sometimes it's drawings, sometimes it's additions to the grocery list such as this:

There's nothing like Mondays for a new start.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Beautifully Lazy Sundays

There are plenty of Sundays when family comes over or we go to my parents' house. Those are the crazy busy Sundays full of family and cooking and scrambling to make sure all the utensils are washed (and finding which kid has hoarded all the spoons in her room) and everyone is talking and giggling with everyone else and the world feels perfect. I love those days. But I also love the Sundays when, after all the church meetings and duties are finished (including the extra ones), it's just us. Things are quiet, the kids are just a little bit bored, and there is no worrying about work--nothing to do but take a nap or study the scriptures or plan a lesson.

On those evenings, we usually end up gathering in the living room while waiting for dinner to finish cooking. Maybe there's a board game going. Someone is playing the piano. The girls have their heads together and are laughing hysterically with each other.

When there's a natural lull, Husband often suggests we watch a classic movie. While this used to be a suggestion that was met with groans from the younger generation, they're now calling out requests: Some Like It Hot! Gentlemen Prefer Blondes! Anything with Carey Grant in it! Oliver! My Fair Lady!

Because of the festive feeling of it all, I'm inspired to make some sort of dessert. After I get suggestions and decide which one I'm going to make, the movie is turned on, and I watch it while whipping up a recipe. Then I snuggle up next to Husband on the couch and we hold hands.

The luxurious quality of endless time on Sunday afternoons and evenings sparks creativity such as this sarcastic rearrangement of pins on my sweet, innocent tomato pin cushion (Sophia's mischief):

Or snacking mindlessly on these ginger coconut candies we always buy from the Asian market when we're in The Big City:

Or we finish up the night with family movies and I see how much all my children have changed in just a few short years.

These are precious days.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Funniest Video Ever Recorded

This may possibly be the funniest video ever recorded.

Personally, I laughed so hard I nearly vomited.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sian Is Home!

Sian arrived safely after a very long trip from Ukraine via Paris. Our family stood in the small International Terminal at the airport, waiting anxiously for her to get through Customs and come out the doors. Only one other family was there waiting for a returned missionary, and from the sign they were holding, we knew he was coming from Russia.

We waited and waited. Airline personnel (flight attendants and pilots) would occasionally walk through the doors, see our signs, and assure us that "they're coming!" Even after the returning elder and his family left, people would come through and say, "She's coming! I saw her in there!"

Only in Utah.

Sophia had created two signs. One was a welcome. The other said "We Missed You!" in big letters. Underneath, in smaller letters, she wrote, "Kinda." Our family's brand of subtle, understated dry humor.

When Sian came through the door, I couldn't help myself: I was right there hugging her and shedding a few tears. You'd expect that, me being her mother and all.

From left to right: Gabrielle, Little Gary, me, Husband, my brother Aaron, Sophia, Sian, and Elannah. You can see the top of my mother's head behind Sophia, and Joseph must have been hiding somewhere off-camera. My dad's health prevented him coming to the airport.

Sian's been home for over a week now, and she's slowly adjusting to the time change (nine hours' difference), the altitude, the dry heat, and the lack of a structured schedule. When I got home from my mission, one of the first things I did was go to the library and catch up on all the news I missed. I enjoyed going places alone for the first time in 18 months, and I reveled in the lack of a structured schedule. Sian has been stressing a little. She's not terribly interested in music or movies she's missed. She likes going with me whenever I run errands, has been eager to go out with our local missionaries, and hates being alone in her room way down in the basement, even if it's nice and cool down there. She's also been sorting out her next steps of getting a job and preparing to go back to BYU. I did have the advantage of knowing exactly what I was going to do after I got home (get married to Husband!), so I can understand her feeling a bit at odds and ends.

Also, she still has to occasionally stop and remember the English word for some things. She'll start muttering to herself in Russian to define the concept she wants to convey and then furrow her brow while she furiously tries to remember her mother tongue.

Gabrielle drove up and stayed the night on Sian's trundle bed Saturday, so on Sunday, we had all of our kids in the van on the way to church. It's been a very long time since that happened. I think I may have mentioned it several times on the way to church while my kids rolled their eyes. What? So I'm happy to have all my kids in one place! Is that so wrong??

Monday, July 11, 2016

Major Milestones and a Bulgogi Recipe

Today is the lull between two major milestones. Yesterday was Joseph's 12th birthday, and tomorrow, my daughter, Sian, who has been in Ukraine for the last 18 months serving a mission, comes home.

On Saturday last week, I was stressing about getting Sian's bedroom ready for her. Elannah had painted three of the walls a lovely periwinkle blue but ran out of steam before she managed to clean and paint the final wall. Plus, she had taken off to an amusement park with her friends for the day. I was really excited because I had finally finished all my work assignments and had a few days' break before getting more, so now I had time to sort out the room and no reason to have to sit in front of my computer all day.

I went downstairs to the basement and had a look around the crowded little room. It was overwhelming. Gabrielle had left most of her things behind when she moved out, and the bed and the dresser had been taken apart and stacked in the middle of the room so Elannah could paint. There were boxes and bags full of things everywhere. The desk, too, was covered in the detritus of Gabrielle's high school career, along with some of Sian's old things.

My  phone rang, and it was my brother, Aaron. Could he come and spend a few nights at our house? For some reason, he hasn't been able to shake this cold/congestion thing that he's been suffering from for months, and now some of his limbs are starting to swell. The doctor told him he has allergies and prescribed him a pill for it, but it's done nothing. Maybe it's something in his house, and if he sleeps better at our house, that would be a good indicator that there's something going on.

I enthusiastically told him to come right over as soon as he liked. He's so much fun to have around, and my kids adore him. Plus, though he was perfectly willing to sleep on the couch, it gave me great motivation to get Sian's room done that day so he could sleep in it for a few nights.

It took me all day, but I got it done. All of Gabrielle's old things have been boxed so she can sort through them when she comes here to stay tonight in anticipation of the whole family picking up Sian from the airport tomorrow. The final wall has been painted, the floor is scrubbed--along with the bed frame and the dresser and the desk--and the trash bags and the old carpet remnant used as an area rug have all been hauled out to the garbage cans. Sophia spent some time helping me, as well, which was a great way for us to have a little conversation about life and whatnot. By 8pm, the room was ready: sparkling clean and freshly blue.

Aaron said he had a pretty good night after the congestion finally lifted. We'll see if he continues to improve. He took off for work before I saw him this morning, so I didn't get a chance to ask him how last night went.

Yesterday, Sunday, we had my parents, grandmother, and one of my sisters over to celebrate Joseph's 12th birthday (my in-laws are currently out of town). I was sore and exhausted after getting that room finished, but I faced a long afternoon of food prep for Joseph's birthday dinner. Joseph requested his favorite food, which is bulgogi, Korean marinated beef. I didn't know if I had the budget to make enough bulgogi to serve as a main entree for 11 people, so I decided to make bibimbap. Bibimbap is a very flavorful dish. For each serving, the base is sushi rice that has been steamed and then fried so that it has a crisp coating. Small amounts of various side dishes go on top of the rice: the bulgogi, matchstick carrots cooked in a soy glaze, glazed mushrooms, green onion slaw, flavored quick-fried mung-bean sprouts, garlicky-soy spinach, wakame (seaweed), sauteed zucchini, and a fried egg. It's delicious. Here's a bibimbap recipe. (I used a different bulgogi recipe for the meat because I like it better.)

As you can imagine, it takes hours to prep and cook all the components of bibimbap, which is why it's more of a celebration dish than everyday fare. It's great for when you have tons of people to help you out in the kitchen (and the kitchen space for those people, which is not something I have, alas). It was a huge success, and Joseph loved it. That's what counts.

You could also make bulgogi and serve it with steamed or fried rice and just one of the bibimbap side dishes, which is what I usually do. I particularly love the carrots, mushrooms, and zucchini. Any of those would be an excellent single accompaniment to the meat.

Here's the bulgogi recipe that I really like. Once you have the meat sliced (you can even ask the butcher to thinly slice a roast for you to save even more time), it's mostly just letting it marinate before broiling or grilling it right before serving. If you want to spend even less money on the meat, choose chuck roast or any other tough cut on sale and tenderize it with baking soda before marinating.


4 pounds London broil (top round) roast, cut into 1/8" or 1/16" slices (to ensure that the meat will be fork-tender, lightly sprinkle both sides of the slices with baking soda, let sit for 10-15 minutes, and then rinse and pat dry before continuing)
1 large onion, skinned and cut into quarters
1 head garlic, peeled
1 cup soy sauce
1 medium green pepper, seeds removed
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper
1/2 cup sesame oil

Put all the ingredients except the meat and the sesame seeds into a blender or food processor and puree.

Toast sesame seeds in a metal pan and mix them into the marinade.

Put the meat into the marinating dish and pour the marinade over it. Mix the meat and marinade with your hands so that all surfaces are completely covered. Cover dish with cling wrap and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours (overnight is better).

Grill marinated meat strips on BBQ or lay them on cookie sheets before broiling them in the oven. It only needs a couple minutes per side.

Chop or mince leftover bulgogi and add it to fried rice, scrambled eggs, or soup; or mix with some cornstarch before deep frying into crispy beef. Or just eat it cold for breakfast. Yum.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Brief Review of Girls Camp

I spent most of last week camping with a large bunch of teenage girls. Why? Well, they do it every year, and this year I happened to be the ward camp director. We went up into the foothills near Evanston, Wyoming, to a Boy Scouts High Adventure camp. For four days, we worked hard, played hard, and slept in near-freezing temps while gasping for air at 8,000 feet above sea level.

On the shooting range, I proved that I need glasses. How the heck is a middle-aged woman like me supposed to spot that tiny little black dot at the center of the target from 30 feet away?? I just aimed for the white paper instead. Elannah, on the other hand, did incredibly well. I'm pleased to report that neither of us suffered PTSD after shooting rifles.

During archery, Elannah managed to get a bullseye.

I, on the other hand, was really pleased to hit the target at all. During my second round, I got four of my five arrows into some part of the target. Watch out, Katniss Everdeen!

Here are my archery injuries. Until I figured out how to slightly bend my left arm, I got thwacked by the powerful string of my compound bow once on the forearm and twice above my elbow. I did not swear, but I did make a sort of loud strangled noise through my teeth because it HURT! I put on my long-sleeved hoodie after that. Nearly a week later, I still look like I've been beaten.

I hate sleeping in tents. Hate it. I am still catching up on lost sleep.

The good part was that there was very little girl drama. It was probably the least amount of drama I've ever experienced at a Girls Camp in my life. If you've ever hung out with any number of teenage girls for days on end, you know how much of a miracle that is.

Also, no bug bites. Always a bonus.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Uff Da! I Went to Minnesota and Back, Don'tcha Know!

"Oof-da" or "uff da" is a singular expression used by Minnesotans to express surprise, amazement, genial disbelief, or true dismay. Of Norwegian origin, as the vast majority of the original white settlers in the area were Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish (thus explaining the preponderance of Sven and Ole jokes). Used in such sentences as, "Uffda! That's the 17th Lutheran church I've counted on this block alone!"

What a great trip! The whole thing went without a hitch (I did get pulled over in Montana for failing to change lanes before passing a cop car with its lights on on the side of the road; but though the officer was angry when he finally caught up to me, he kindly let me off with just a warning after I expressed deep regrets for my mistake). I enjoyed great scenery, great company, and lots of nostalgia.

Minnesota in summer is spectacular. I had forgotten how much my soul yearns for the lush and bounteous greenery of that area. I mean, the desert has its own beauty, but whenever I daydream about building my dream home, it always seems to be encircled by the kind of green you only find naturally in a place where water is abundant, where the only thing you really have to do to keep your lawn looking green and tidy is to mow it every couple weeks.

I had also forgotten just how nice people of the Northland actually are. Utahns are generally pretty pleasant to strangers, but Minnesotans take "nice" to a whole new level. I can see how Europeans or New Yorkers might think it was creepy--and possibly suspect--but once you get used to it, it's utterly charming. All kinds of strangers struck up conversations over nothing and took a genuine interest in the answers to questions they asked me. Now I remember why I'm a such an indiscriminate smiler: I learned it in Minnesota.

Yeah, I'd move back. I'd move back even though the splendor of the brief, green summer months are counterbalanced by nine months of cold and winter. I'd move to idyllic small-town Minnesota even though overnight parking lots include electric outlets so you can plug in your car's engine block heater when the temperatures drop to dozens of degrees below zero and you still have to get to work or school or the grocery store the next day, even if you could suffer frostbite on exposed skin in under three minutes.

(Wait. Maybe I'm just not strong enough to handle that kind of cold anymore. The solution is to keep a summer house in Minnesota and flee to dryer, warmer climes in winter.)

(And now I have officially become a theoretical snowbird.)

We arrived at my sister's apartment and enjoyed how happy she was to get her new, reliable car. Then she gave us a tour of the town, and we had lunch with some friends of hers at a restaurant that was crammed into the back of a tiny little Hispanic grocery store and run by a very congenial El Salvadoran woman whose chile rellenos and rice were to die for. When my mother ordered Mexican tamales, the woman insisted on also bringing us a sample of an El Salvadoran tamale, steamed to a pudding-like consistency in a banana leaf, just so we could taste the difference.

In the evening, we got to canoe on the river before dinner. The water was like glass, barely dimpled by tiny eddies in the shallows. A few men and women stood silently along the banks, fishing alone or companionably in pairs. As we pulled our paddles into the boat and just sat still for a while as the current gently moved us downstream, the only sounds we could hear were the calling of birds in the hundreds of trees around us. The sun was beginning to set, and the indirect light was golden and soft. I felt myself relax so deeply that I realized I hadn't truly felt that level of stillness and peace in myself for 20 years. It was a transcendent experience.

We wore my poor sister out despite how much we tried to alternate all our activities with down time, so it was probably a good thing we had to turn around and leave for home the next day so she could rest and regain her strength. As the three of us were now in one car, I offered to read The Fighting Littles by Booth Tarkington, one of the best books for read-alouds ever written (if you can do it without busting out laughing). Mom and my brother got so involved in the very amusing story that they insisted I start it up again after every rest stop, and I finished it entirely about eight hours later, hoarse and satisfied. I jobjam love sharing that book with others.

So now I'm home. My family survived my absence, and I'm having a very hard time wanting to return to the regular stressful routine of writing to deadlines. Such is the nature of vacations. I'm grateful I could go and satisfy some of my wanderlust. What a great way to do it.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Adding to My Road Trip Playlist

I'm going on a road trip next week with my mother and one of my brothers. We're heading to Minnesota to deliver a car my sister bought from The Big City. Long story short, she's got health problems that prevent her from coming out here and driving herself home, so, like the good family members that we are who absolutely love a long road trip, we'll head up there instead.

I won't be getting back to my old stomping grounds further north in the state. We're going to end up in a little town just across the North Dakota/Minnesota border, stay a day, and then head back home.

The week after we get back, I have to go to Girls Camp with the teen girls in our congregation. I'm still the ward camp director, so I'm kind of stuck with that--not like it's a big burden, except for the fact that I do not sleep well in the great outdoors. I have preternatural hearing, and I'm always up with the sun. Ugh. And it's been a very long time since I had to deal with the amount of girl drama that always comes up at camp. The fun part is that this is a Boy Scout high adventure camp, so we get to do the shooting range and archery and canoes and rowboats and stuff.

Husband was worried about my being gone for practically two weeks. "We'll starve!" he exclaimed. Then, after a while, he acknowledged that I probably could use a break. I'm hoping I regain some of my sense of humor during the time that I can ignore the constant stress of completing assignments from several clients while also being a full-time mom. That would be excellent.

Road trips mean you need new music. New music keeps you awake on those long stretches of highway when your driving companion(s) has fallen asleep or gone silent and the white lines on the road start to hypnotize you and tell you bizarre stories. I'm putting together a nice long playlist with some of my favorites from other playlists along with new finds.

Here's one I keep listening to:

Also this one, which is from the soundtrack to Chris Evans's movie Before You Go.

I guess I'm on a bit of an Indie Rock kick, cos there's also this one that I am always humming:

This one is pretty peppy and fun:

This guy's voice fascinates me.

What genre is this? Indie R&B? Who cares?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

On, Wildfire, On!

One week ago, I was released as the ward Gospel Doctrine teacher. I admit I cried a few tears over that. I love, love, love teaching that class, and I felt very sad that I hadn't made it through all the standard works. I started when we were partly through the Old Testament, taught all the way through the New Testament, and only made it up to Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. Two years total just isn't long enough. Is it greedy to want at least two more years? Maybe three? It's not that I feel I am the best teacher in the world or anything, but I have learned so much as I've studied and pondered the scriptures in order to share the joys contained in them with the class and hear their comments and insights in turn. When I teach something, it sticks in my head better. I learn more as I study and prepare in order to try and teach it coherently, and I have learned amazing things.

So my new adventure will be in the new ward Relief Society presidency as first counselor--I've now come full circle, as that was the calling I received when we first moved here in 2009. The new president came up to me last week and told me that she knew how much I loved being the Gospel Doctrine teacher, but my name came to her at three in the morning one night and wouldn't leave no matter how much she prayed. Having been a former Gospel Doctrine teacher herself, she knew how hard it would be for me to leave it, but she knew I was supposed to be one of her counselors.

That's the way things work, and I'm fine with that. Besides, I get to work with three absolutely wonderful women as we serve and love the women of our ward.

Plus, Husband found me a brand new aluminum-frame street cruiser at the thrift store yesterday for $20. It's the little things that really give me a kick.

I'm naming this bike Wildfire II. I rode the original Wildfire (a purple Diamondback) on my mission in England over 20 years ago. And yes, that's a tribute to Rex O'Herlihan's grand steed in Rustler's Rhapsody, the 1985 cowboy parody starring Tom Berenger.

On, Wildfire, on!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In Which I Dream up an Entire Architectural Neighborhood!

I frequently have what I call Architectural Dreams, where I dream up some fantastical building and spend my time running through it for reasons that make perfect sense when I'm asleep and do not make much sense at all when I'm awake. It's the building my subconscious creates and not the storyline that I treasure when I wake up.

Last night, I dreamt a whole neighborhood. Lots of crazy stuff happened on my way to this neighborhood (including a massive traffic jam comprised of millions of people pushing shopping carts full of empty plastic containers down a highway), but suddenly I am there, walking up a hill on a sidewalk, looking around me at the beautiful homes and perfectly manicured gardens along both sides of the street. Some of the trees, for instance, were amazing--shaped somewhat like vast weeping willows, whose branches defied gravity and were covered in flowers so white they hurt my eyes to look at.

As I walked up the hill, I came to a fairly unremarkable but very neatly kept blonde brick house, and an old man in a wheelchair sat outside in his driveway. He greeted me, and I said hello back. I noticed he had a short brick column standing alongside the entrance to his driveway, and as I looked at it, the front face became transparent and I could see into the hollow interior of the column. The interior was swathed in white muslin, and I saw a mother mouse and several tiny mouse babies playing on the floor.

"We have mice," said the man, and I thought I'd be funny and respond, "And do the neighbors have mice, too?" Somewhere in my dream recollection, I drummed up a dim vision of once having a mouse infestation in my house (true). I felt alarmed.

The man said, "I didn't want them in the house, so I made them a little house outside. And they have a way to get in and out if they want."

I looked again at the transparent face of the column and noticed that there was a hole near the bottom right corner. It was like a soft membrane, with a tube of the membrane material extending into the interior of the mouse house.

As I watched, several rats suddenly appeared inside the mouse house. They were huge--as big as cats. They wriggled their way through the membrane and out to the sidewalk. The mouse family followed them, and I watched them all waddle up the sidewalk in a line: three massive rats followed by four tiny mice.

I had an alarming thought about how these rats and mice were going to infest this entire beautiful neighborhood, and I started to say something about it to the man in the wheelchair, but then I noticed that several of his neighbors across the street were gathered outside on a very green lawn and were happily socializing. They all glanced over at the line of rats and mice wandering up the sidewalk, but they continued smiling and talking as if it were perfectly normal. I was completely baffled. Then I woke up.

Perhaps there is some deep symbological meaning to that dream, though I noticed that elements of the dream were lifted from things I had seen or thought about the previous day. I was far more disappointed that I woke up before I could explore more of that neighborhood. I rarely visit the same place twice in my dreams, so I'll just have to memorialize it now so I can remember and mull it over it later.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What I Know for Sure

Question: how angry does a person get when their world view is challenged by credible evidence?

Answer: angry like The Hulk.

"Hulk SMASH!"

I went through a bit of rage not too long ago for this very reason. I was seriously angry. And I was angry for several reasons:

1. If this new evidence is correct, why have I been taught a lie for so very long?
2. Was it purposeful or accidental that I was fed a lie?
3. If this new evidence is correct and it looks like I was fed a lie purposely, who is behind the lie, and what do they gain by perpetuating the lie?
4. Now what?

I am always in search of truth. I don't care if it's painful truth or not: if it's truth, I believe it will set me free. Being free is worth all the psychological pain I might go through in being forced to change my worldview. Therefore, bring it on. But it doesn't mean I'm not still human, so I do still go through the perfectly normal psychological distress of wanting to mock and reject things that shake up my understanding of the world. If things make too much sense to ignore, I get pretty furious until I can accept it. I have been learning how to leave my ego out of it, which does help to reduce the anger.

When I was younger, I knew lots of things for sure. Now I know two things for sure.

What I know for sure:
1. God exists.
2. God cannot lie.

There are corollaries to those two things I know, and those things I also believe. If God says it, and He doesn't lie, then I can believe those things, as well. This covers the reasons why I go to church and have faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and try to live those beliefs on a daily basis.

It's the stuff that humans state are absolute facts that I question. If the "science is settled," I'm not on board, especially if it contradicts what God says. If a human theory is taught as a gospel truth--no matter how diligently and no matter how widely--I'm going to ask questions. I've asked the questions about God, and I've received my answers, answers that I cannot ignore or deny. But humans have this fantastic habit of getting things wrong because we are infants in our understanding of reality. Worse, some humans purposely mess with the facts for power, money, or ego.

We are human. And we're not even that smart. How can we know anything for dead certain when we only experience such a narrow spectrum of reality? Much of what we call Science these days has become as much of a religion as a belief in a Supreme Being, and it has also become corrupted by human desire and ego. We don't even know what we don't know. How can we dismiss God and then worship ourselves as gods when what we know for certain changes so frequently? That way lies madness.

When you start jumping down the rabbit hole of wanting to know truth no matter the psychological toll, it's tempting to become so cynical that you end up believing nothing. But you have to put your faith in something or you'll go crazy, so I put my faith in the one thing that has consistently proven itself to be: God. I have no scientific instruments to measure God, and I have no evidence that is not a personal anecdote in order to prove His existence to anyone else, but it's evidence enough to me. I have far less trust in humans with all their scientific tools, no matter how well-meaning. I do believe we know stuff as humans, but when we humans start worshiping ourselves and our vast and glorious knowledge of Everything, it makes me want to laugh and laugh. Or cry and cry.

Thanks for listening. Just had to get that off my chest.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Another Experiment with High Dose Vitamin C

I like to experiment on myself occasionally. For instance, I haven't had any soda for 15 months. I wish I could say that I've lost tons of weight and feel great, but that isn't the case. However, knowing how nasty soda is for me, I am only occasionally tempted to indulge in an ice-cold, sweetly carbonated Pepsi. I ruthlessly squash the urge.

If only I could apply this same self-will to portion control of the foods I like best, such as my homemade crispy black bean tacos with cabbage/cilantro/red onion slaw. My kids are so done with that dish, but I still love it so much, even when I don't have feta cheese to add to it.

Right now I'm experimenting with high dose Vitamin C. I'm trying to find my bowel tolerance (the number of grams of Vitamin C that it takes to cause diarrhea), and I started out by taking 3000 mg total throughout the course of the first day. Then I read some more articles, such as this very helpful one, and decided to greatly increase my dosage amount.

Today, I've already had 4 grams (4000 mg) of ascorbic acid Vitamin C fizzy tablets in water. At our request, my in-laws bring home many tubes of fizzy Vitamin C tablets from England (though the tablets are made in Germany) whenever they go to visit. While I can stomach the black currant flavored ones (I'm not a huge fan of black currant), I prefer the orange flavored ones. When I run out of those, I'll buy some more pure ascorbic acid Vitamin C from a drugstore or health store, or I may order more acerola cherry powder.

I'm taking 2000 mg of the stuff every one or two hours today. I think I may be reaching bowel tolerance, which is great (if one can ever be excited about deliberately giving oneself diarrhea) because it means that despite my being overweight, I am pretty dang healthy internally. I would increase my dosage rates if I start feeling sick or if I am stressed. But for now, I'll find bowel tolerance and then reduce my dosage to 80%-90% of bowel tolerance on a daily basis.

I am also taking more zinc, but I had forgotten about the side effects of taking zinc on an empty stomach. Blech.

Tip: don't take zinc tablets on an empty stomach. If you don't actually vomit, you'll be suppressing the urge to vomit for hours.

You're welcome.

Last thing:

I know everything I write lately is completely dry and humorless. I blame it on my job. For years now I have been writing thousands upon thousands of words of dry and humorless content for the Internet. In fact, except for all the random trivia I have stored up in my head because of the research I have to do, I have become an utterly boring person in general.

The cure for being boring and humorless has got to be enjoyable, though. Right? I think I've found my next experiment.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Curious Reason I May Have Become a Flat Earther

Here's a thing:

Back on November 7, 2015, I and several others were walking through a parking lot around 7pm. It was dark, and our eyes were suddenly caught by an extremely bright, unusual light in the western sky. We stood and watched this light until it slowly faded out. It was so unusual that I didn't forget it.

When I looked it up on the Internet the next morning, there were several articles (herehere, and here, among others, written in the two or three days following the incident) and a couple videos about it. This video, taken by amateurs in Southern California, includes some foul language (some F-bombs), but the light show they captured is exactly what I saw.

So the government says it was a rocket test over California, and they closed down air traffic over the Pacific. Fine. Just because it looks nothing like a rocket trail or like any light I've ever seen in the sky before, fine. We're used to explanations from the government that stretch the limits of credulity--not that I actually believe in aliens from outer space for a number of reasons. But I do believe the government has technology far beyond what they normally allow the public to see.

But that's not the issue I want to address, even if it is a good subject.

The question I have is this: if that rocket test happened over 670 miles to the southwest from where I was standing, how did I see it?

In the video above, the light is high in the sky, and it's massive. Standing where I was in Northern Utah, I saw it high in the sky, as well. In fact, to the direct west of my location is a range of very tall mountains. Given the curvature of the earth, I should not have been able to see that light either because it was below the horizon line or (even if it was very, very high in the sky above LA) still hidden behind the range of mountains. Yet I saw that light high in the sky, unobscured by the mountains. People reported seeing this same thing from all over the Western States.

There are two explanations I can think of.

Either the officials failed to mention that they shot off multiple rockets in various places throughout the West simultaneously (a theory that is not confirmed in any of the articles about the subject)


the earth is actually flat and there is no curvature of a global world that would obscure my ability to see a light of that magnitude and height even from 670 miles away.

I can think of no other explanations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

I'll Do It Now in a Minute!

The Welsh have invented a wonderful phrase: "I'll do it now in a minute!"

It may seem contradictory at first, but then when you really think about still is contradictory. However, it makes a certain amount of sense in certain situations.

For instance:

I was eating dinner the other day when Husband asked if I had put the colors into the wash. Oops. I had forgotten. So I said, "I'll do it now," and then immediately realized I was still in the middle of my dinner, so I instantly added, "in a minute." Then I repeated the entire phrase again in a Welsh accent, which caused Husband to laugh out loud for quite a long time.

It's obvious how useful this phrase is when you're being hounded to do something right that instant, but you're just not yet ready to jump to it. Like right now, when I am trying to digest a 22-page white paper on robotics software in order to coherently summarize it in about 500 words (including correct terminology), I stopped at page four in order to jump over here and write in my blog, thus relieving my overheated brain.

Yeah, yeah. I'm getting back to the rest of it. In a minute.

(Closely related is the phrase, "I'll be there now in a minute!")

(I think you get the idea.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

This is Not an Allegory

When I was at the end of my sophomore year of high school, the student body of my small school roundly rejected the sensible candidate for student body president and elected a pot-smoking punk instead. The sensible candidate was female, a cheerleader, and a straight-A student who seemed to be in the leadership of nearly every important school organization. She was smart, responsible, and just a tad bossy. She would have followed a long line of sensible, responsible student body presidents, each of whom would be qualified to win the "Most Likely to Succeed" award.

The pot-smoking punk, on the other hand (who happened to be in my circle of friends, though we were not close), was part of the inner drama club elites (and an excellent actor) and would, as a secret signal, wear the front of his hair in a little pigtail on the days he came to school high. He was charismatic and popular, but he wasn't necessarily what you would call responsible or sensible.

It was a revolution that brought Nate to power. Everyone was just sick and tired of the smart, responsible, rich, popular kids getting elected. They wanted something different, something not so status-quo. In a surprising upset, the cheerleader lost to the pot-smoking punk, and we all waited to see what would happen the next year.

When I started my junior year of high school, it soon became apparent that electing Nate had been a mistake. He was really terrible at being president. He didn't take it seriously, and when he did anything presidential, he butted heads with the real authority: the school administration. He wanted things that weren't appropriate, and he treated the position like a joke (which, okay, it really is in high school, where no student is ever going to be given any real authority to make changes). It was an interesting year, and there was even talk of impeachment amongst the more outraged.

Although no real damage was done, I think everyone learned a little bit of a lesson. The next student body president elected (one of my graduating classmates) was a responsible, athletic, charismatic, straight-A young man. I know I voted for him because I had had a secret but very intense crush on him since the first moment I saw him at the beginning of our freshman year. He was something special, that guy. And the girl who got elected as the senior class president that year was a straight-A cheerleader, athlete, and leader in the most important academic school organizations. She was also our class valedictorian, so you can imagine that she was also responsible and sensible.

Before you ask, I am not equating anyone in my story with any of the current presidential candidates. This is not an allegory. I was just musing on this memory as I was listening to and reading the news of the last few days of our nation's presidential circus race. If I have any points to make by sharing this memory, perhaps they are these (which I do not claim to be profound or even useful in any way):

1. Change simply for change's sake alone is never a good idea. Indiscriminate destruction is stupid and dangerous.
2. The real power behind the throne will never give up its power lightly or easily.
3. If the person who is elected actually does manage to wrest power and control away from the shadow power, you better be absolutely sure of his or her character.
4. Collectively, we're still reacting like immature high school students even as adults. Perhaps that is a sad constant.
5. Sometimes it is really satisfying to vote for the underdog.
6. Don't let the satisfaction of voting for an underdog make you forget your responsibility to seriously weigh the consequences of electing said underdog.
7. Presidents of the United States (along with members of Congress) can do real and lasting damage, unlike high school student body presidents. (As a side note, so can unelected Supreme Court judges and hundreds of thousands of unelected bureaucrats.)

That's it. That's the most profound I'm going to end up being today. I hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

20-Second Lectures on the Dangers of Socialism

I realize my children don't want to hear me spout off about politics, so I have made a conscious effort to restrain myself around them. I will, however, answer their questions when they ask, or make very brief commentary on something we're both hearing on the radio. I keep it short, though, because they have the attention spans of a gnat when it comes to such boring topics, and I don't want them forever equating learning about political ideologies with the need to immediately tune out.

Because of my restraint, I've noticed that they are more willing to ask questions. This morning on the way to school, for instance, Sophia said, "A lot of people like Bernie Sanders because he is talking about free college and stuff," with the implication being, "Why is this a problem?"

I said, "Bernie Sanders is a socialist, and socialists believe in forcing everyone onto an equal playing field. The government does not produce any material thing of value, including money. Therefore, in order to give things for free to some people, they have to force other people to pay for it. When Bernie talks about free college, what he means is that some people will get free college tuition, but the government will force other people to pay for it. There is no such thing as a free lunch. If you disagree that some people should be forced to pay for things that are given to people who didn't work for them but you still want free college, you would have to force college teachers and professors and staff and janitors to work for free, which would make them slaves in the truest sense. That's what they don't tell you about socialism. They make it sound so wonderful and equal, but it's just a way of making some people slave away for others to get something they didn't work for, or taking from those that produce and giving them back a lot less of it because you've shared it with everyone else, including those who produce nothing. Eventually, you run out of the producers' money because they aren't interested in producing things they are forced to give away."

Then I shut my mouth and said no more. We had almost arrived at the school anyway.

We have discussed briefly in recent days how true socialism and communism also represses innovation, takes away peoples' incentive to work hard, and reduces everyone to an equal state of misery--except those at the top who are in charge of distributing everyone else's property and who can (and will) take the biggest chunk for themselves.

I can tell they're thinking about it and actually getting it. My job is to help them see through the rhetoric and propaganda and think critically about what they are hearing and learning--not just about politics, but about everything (although you could argue that nearly everything has become politicized anymore). They need to know when an emperor is wearing no clothes and be confident enough that they can note it both to themselves and to others.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cream of Crisper Soup

Sophia and Elannah have just completed Hell Week, the week before a play opens and the cast and crew go through numerous grueling hours of technical and dress rehearsals. There have been many late nights. Yesterday, Saturday, there was a very long day. Because the kids were going to be there all day and into the evening, cast parents were asked to bring food for lunch and dinner.

I was asked to provide a big pot of soup for dinner. I had a busy day, and when the time came to start preparing the soup, I searched through my crisper bins to see what vegetables were on hand. I ended up throwing together a soup I like to call Cream of Crisper. It contained baked potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and some herbs and spices. Also cheese. And milk, of course, since it was a cream soup. After it was ready, I pureed part of it to give it a silky texture while also leaving in some toothsome chunks. By that point, I was rushing to get the soup to the school, so I barely had time to check it for seasonings. I worried that high school kids would not be interested in a soup that looked like it had vegetables in it.

Still, I was so inspired by cooking the soup that I made crispy ginger beef and rice for my family at home. It was heaped with praise as being even better than take-out.

Much, much later, when the girls were done, I picked them up from the school and grabbed my crock pot and ladle. Elannah told me that one of the boys had raved about my soup, and had, in fact, helped himself to five bowls of it. I'm still feeling a glow from that sort of praise. I often don't cook with passion anymore, and my family is left uninspired by the meals I prepare. It was nice to get a win and feel excited to cook again. Funny how much a high school boy's excitement about my soup means so much to me.

Cream soups are dead simple. You don't even need a recipe to make a cream soup as long as you know the basics of how to make a roux. Another tip is that if you have vegetables that need to be sautéed or cooked in a broth, do it before making and adding the roux. Trust me: you're far less likely to have to throw the entire pot of soup away because it got burnt by accident (been there, done that).

Cream of Crisper Soup (serves 4 or 5)

2 or 3 cups of whatever veggies you have in your crisper, chopped
2 or 3 leftover baked potatoes, peeled and cubed (or bake some potatoes in the oven or microwave)
2  cups stock or broth (water and bouillon cubes do fine in a pinch)
fresh or dried herbs and seasonings (I used parsley, rosemary, Montreal Steak Seasoning, Mrs. Dash, and would have used thyme if I could have found it in time (ha ha))
butter for sauteeing
a knob of butter or bacon fat (about 1/4 cup)
flour (equal to the amount of fat)
2 cups (or less) milk or cream
grated cheese of any kind (optional)
leftover mashed potatoes or potato flakes for extra thickening (optional)

1. Sautee the chopped vegetables (except cubed backed potatoes) in butter. When they are getting soft, add the stock or broth and let the veggies simmer until soft. Add the cubed baked potatoes. Add herbs and spices.

2. Make a roux: melt the butter or bacon fat in a medium saucepan. Add flour and whisk until smooth. Let cook for a couple minutes to eliminate the flour taste. Slowly add the milk or cream, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently to prevent burning. This is a white sauce.

3. Add the white sauce to the vegetables in broth. Heat gently, stirring frequently, and then stir in the grated cheese and let it melt.

4. Puree some or all of the soup with an immersion blender or regular blender.

5. If you want a thicker soup, add a cup of mashed potatoes or 1/4 cup potato flakes. If it is too thick, add some more broth.

6. Check seasonings and adjust as you like.

7. Serve it to a hungry person who will appreciate your culinary genius. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers for another meal.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sophia Beats Anaphylactic Shock

Sophia, who is 17, went into anaphylactic shock yesterday after biting into a brownie that, it turned out, contained walnuts. Even though she immediately spit the bite out after noting the taste and immediate reaction of her body, it was enough to start the chain reaction that nearly led to her death.

The ER team at our local hospital surrounded her for almost an hour, injecting adrenalin and other drugs into her bloodstream and making sure she got enough oxygen and that the CO2 levels in her blood didn't rise to dangerously acidic levels that would stop her heart.

For the first 30 minutes, Sophia was panicked. As her mother, it was awful to watch her struggling so hard to breathe and only being able to pray that the doctors and nurses would do all the right things. After they gave her ketamine in order to help open her lungs and relax her muscles, she appeared to lapse into unconsciousness, although she told us later that she could hear what was going on but couldn't move her muscles. The ketamine also made her unconcerned with having multiple needles and IVs stuck into her arms, which is a thing she is normally very apprehensive about. She also remembers being worried that she couldn't breathe but then realizing that she was still alive, so somehow, she must be breathing.

Elannah and I had to leave the room so that all the people working on Sophia would have enough space to move freely. I peeked around the curtain at the doorway after that, watching them work and trying to understand what was happening. I also worked hard to control my emotions so I could deal with all the people who needed information from me and so that I could keep Husband updated on what was happening, but there were definitely tears on my and Elannah's part.

After the doctor and his team got her stabilized, Sophia rode in an ambulance to the children's hospital in The Big City, where they are far more experienced at dealing with acute respiratory emergencies. She would have been flown, but the weather wasn't cooperating, so the doctor had the Air Med team accompany the regular EMTs. I made the short drive home to drop off Elannah (so she could watch the boys) and grab Husband, who was nearly desperate with fear for his little girl and who was only getting information through my texts.

When we arrived at the hospital and finally found our daughter in the maze of departments and corridors, she was still unconscious (really unconscious this time) and intubated in the ICU. The worst was over, however. Within a few hours, she had the tubes removed and, after falling into a normal deep sleep, woke up lucid and shaky, but fine. She was released before dinner. She's had no further reactions, and after a good night's sleep, she swept and mopped the main floor this afternoon. She said it was because it needed to be done. I find it surprising behavior.

I now have epinephrine in the house, which is something we didn't have before. She's had allergic reactions before, but never anything this serious and severe. She's usually very careful about eating desserts or chocolates if she's unsure whether or not they contain nuts, but she's really learned her lesson this time.

My emotions are still on the surface. You cannot watch one of your children go through such an emergency and not be deeply, deeply affected. But at the same time that I was worried, I also felt that calm reassurance from the Spirit that all would be well, and I took comfort in the many recent lessons I have had on the tender mercies of the Lord.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

To Vote or Not to Vote?

Just because I haven't commented much on the 2016 race for U.S. president doesn't mean I haven't had the Circus Theme Song playing on an endless loop in my head.

I made the decision in 2015 to not actively research anything about the candidates of either side. Life just seemed complicated enough without the added burden of encouraging a growing despair. Now that it's 2016 and the official election year, I have still not actively researched any candidates. I haven't needed to. It's in front of my face wherever I go on the websites where I choose to get my news. And I still trust none of them. None. (And what is up with stumping for Trump like slavering dogs??)

Even before the obvious voter fraud going on in the Iowa caucuses, my biggest question has been this: do I vote or refuse to vote in the national elections?

To vote means exercising my civic duty and right. But by voting in what has become a completely corrupt system, I give my tacit consent to this charade that my vote means anything anymore in an age of electronic voting and very questionable vote counting. By voting, I am saying, "Well, I have to go with the lesser of two evils, but hopefully, this time, the guy who promises to do stuff I like better will actually do it." And I'll then be able to complain and moan when he doesn't do it and things just get worse than before.

What if I'm done playing along? What if I'm calling it that the emperor has no clothes?

Anyhow, here's what it will come down to: at the end of the day, the only two candidates will be those the Establishment Powers That Be have decided are acceptable. Maybe after Obama decides the FBI is actually going to indict Hillary Clinton and legally halt her campaign, Biden swoops in and Bernie Sanders gets pushed out. If Biden gets into office, he appoints Obama as Secretary-General of the United Nations so that Obama can be King of the World at last. If Hillary doesn't get halted, she will either steal the nomination or assassinate Sanders and then take the nomination. That woman is as corrupt as they come.

For the Republicans, Rubio ends up being the candidate because he's a controllable RINO who believes in compromising your way to victory (which only actually works in Bizarro World, but a strategy that establishment Republicans seem to think is gospel). Why do you think Microsoft allowed him to surge into third in Iowa?

For my money, neither Trump nor Cruz is allowed to win the nomination, however that is accomplished. I would never vote for Trump, and I'm still suspicious of Cruz simply because he's a politician.

The end result: those with the power and money and control keep the power and money and control. The American public loses no matter who ends up in office.

While voting on a local level still might mean something, I have no faith in the integrity of the national elections. If you know voter fraud is the norm and politicians are speaking out of both sides of their mouths just to get elected, why would you continue to pretend? Where do you draw the line and say, "I'm not playing your game anymore. You can't fool me one more time"?

Since I don't have an independent nation island I can move to, I'm kind of stuck.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Latest Musical Obsession

I am obsessed with this piece. I listen to it over and over.

Here are the words and the translation:

Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculus tuos a me
quaia ipsi me avolare fecerunt. 

Thou are beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thy eyes from me
for they have made me flee away.

I bought a copy of this piece (along with several others I'm obsessing over) in order to sway my choir director to add it to our next season's list.

Friday, January 15, 2016

We Go Home When We Die

On Saturday night, January 2, at 6 pm, my sister got a phone call. On the other end of the line was a police investigator who had to inform her that her husband had been found dead while sitting in front of a slot machine at a truck stop in Nevada (he was a trucker, though on this occasion, he'd gone with some friends to Wendover, NV, to ring in the New Year). He'd simply leaned back, closed his eyes as if he were tired, gone into cardiac arrest, and never moved again.

The next day, when I learned the news from my mother, I knelt down to pray for my sister's well-being. I had barely started the prayer when I was completely washed in a sensation of warmth and utter peacefulness (which is how I usually experience the Spirit), and I could feel my brother-in-law's presence in the room. I'll call him Curtis.

It felt like Curtis was right next to me, and I could see him in my mind's eye, with his salt-and-pepper beard, his wide grin, and his hearty laugh. He wanted me to give a message to my sister: that he is fine; he's happy and he's free and he is in a beautiful place. He wanted me to tell my sister that he loves her and he is sorry for causing her grief. I continued kneeling by my bed until the warm feeling faded (I never like to shorten that experience, if possible), and then finished my prayer.

Later, I told my sister the message at our family dinner to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. My sister, who is one of the strongest people I know, burst into tears because the message was a huge comfort for her. A few days later, one of Curtis's young granddaughters told her mother (Curtis's daughter) that she had had a dream about Grandpa, and that he had given her a hug and told her he was very happy.

Once I got over that shocking childhood period that every kid goes through when they realize their parents will one day die, I haven't been afraid of death. I know the spirit that inhabits our bodies is eternal and merely leaves the physical body and goes somewhere else after death. My other sister, in fact, proved that fact when she drowned as a baby. Her spirit left her body, and even though she was a baby, she says that she understood that everything was fine, and she felt this all-encompassing sensation of love all around her even though she didn't meet any other people in her near-death experience. She was sad that she wouldn't have longer to live on earth, however, and after that thought, her spirit quickly re-entered her body while my mother was performing CPR. That experience stayed with her, fresh in her mind, all through her life. Now in her 30s, it still feels for her as if she experienced it yesterday. She says she has never had a fear of death, and she has always felt that she is loved and has a mission and purpose in life. It is what sustained her through many trying times, including 10 years of living with an abusive man.

I told you about my experience when my friend, Mark, died--how he came one last time to say good-bye before stepping through the portal to eternity. In fact, he came recently to visit me in a dream, where he told me he is very happy.

We go home when we die. It's a home we don't consciously remember after birth, but I think each of us feels a connection to that place in some way--even in life. Death isn't death, after all. It's merely a graduation. The people you love who have passed on before you are all waiting in that place to welcome you home. Christ is there, too, and it is His love people talk about feeling when they've gone there and come back.

So, good-bye for now, Curtis. I loved your presence and your sense of fun and your devotion to my sister and her son. We'll meet again someday.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dr. Seuss for $1000, Alex

Little Gary, who is eight, has begun requesting that I read Dr. Seuss's The Sleep Book to him every night. This has been going on for a few weeks now, and he doesn't seem to be getting tired of it. He won't let Husband read it to him, either. It has to be me. Plus, he notices when I change my usual inflection in any part of the book (and comments on it).

This morning, he said to me out of the blue, "What's in Culpepper Springs, Mom?"

I had to stop and think for a minute. Culpepper Springs...Culpepper Springs...I know that town name, but what's in it?

"I don't know," I finally answered.

"The Stilt-Walker's Hall," he replied pleasantly, and I suddenly realized I'd been Alex Trebeked. According to The Sleep Book, Stilt-Walker's Hall is where all the stilt-walkers sleep after a long day of stilt-walking. Then I wondered: he's eight. Has he reached that advanced level of subtle sarcastic pleasantness that most British people strive all their lives to achieve for the sole purpose of putting boorish Americans into their place without them being any the wiser? (If so, I'm so proud.)

You see, last night was the first night I refused to read the book since Little Gary started asking for it. It's a long book, and by the time I noticed how late it was (the girls and I were thoroughly involved in several scintillating episodes of "Boys Over Flowers," which Sophia has recently become obsessed with after Elannah started watching it again. HA HA HA HA HA! I'll comment on this delicious bit of irony later), it was after 10pm on a school night. He was upset, but he was too tired to make much of a fuss. Maybe he just saved up his frustration and poured it all into that question this morning. Or it could be that he fell asleep mulling over the fact that none of the stilt-walkers in Stilt-Walker's Hall seem to need a blanket to cover them while they snooze, and he just wanted to remind me of that fascinating little place.

Speaking of kids, I took both the boys to their swimming lessons yesterday evening. I was armed with a book (Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo) and was ready to happily read out the hour of lessons in the hot and humid environment of the city pool, when a woman walked up to the spot next to mine on the bench and started putting her children's hastily discarded outdoor clothing into neat piles. She had a baby on her hip and looked to be around my age. When she made a comment to me about the clothing she was folding and then asked what book I was reading, I recognized the look of a mother of young children desperate for adult conversation.

We chatted for the entire hour, and she asked if I'd be back today. I assured her I would be. I remember well the feeling that, when the children were very small, everything that came out of my mouth all day was things like "We don't put our heads into the toilet bowl!" or "You just asked for a peanut butter sandwich, so why are you crying when I give you a peanut butter sandwich??" People tell you to cherish the time when your children are small, but let's be honest: some things you don't really miss. Dirty diapers. Sleep-deprivation. The agony of shopping with multiple tired, hungry little children.

Reading them the same book over and over and over or watching the same kid's show over and over and over.

But I'm a lucky mom. I have survived the years of very small children, and I don't mind reading The Sleep Book to my eight-year-old--provided it is at a reasonable hour of the evening. He generally keeps his head out of the toilet, too, and sucks it up when I give him the sandwich he asked for moments before. And every once in a while, he says, "Remember when you used to kiss me all over my face?" so that I will kiss him all over his face.

I love that.