Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Any Insights?

Tonight feels . . . strange.

My children are in bed and, presumably, sleeping.

James has gone to a friend's house seeking publishing advice and offering food.

The house is quiet, and maybe that is strange. Maybe it feels strange because after having two months off work, I went back for a week and then had a week off because of Labor Day. Maybe I've been listening to too much public radio in the car. I heard from both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I've had enough of politics for a while.

But that's just me avoiding the issue.

Boo has a friend who comes to our house after school three days a week. Boo's friend brought over a friend today. We had never met the little boy who came over, and he wasn't even sure where he lives because he's new to the area. He was a polite boy, according to James. (I was at work and only met him briefly when I came home after 7:00 tonight.) But bringing home a child we'd never before met, whose parents we don't know, without prior arrangement was quite stressful. Especially because the boy's mother said she was on her way an hour and a half before she arrived at our house.

A few things stood out to James, though. The boy has two older brothers. One is in prison. When a child tells you that, how do you react? He was eager to meet Boo's "baby brother" who was napping when the children came home from school. He was excited when he heard Ji stirring. So excited that Boo ran into the room and woke Ji from his nap too early. The boy was amazed that a prayer was said before dinner. He praised James's pasta, saying it was so good. He seemed unconcerned by his mother's delay in coming to get him. After all, he was having a lovely time playing with Boo's dolls.

But how do address this situation emotionally? Obviously, this child felt a sense of comfort from the stability and routine of our home. He was happy here. But James was surprised at how stressful the situation felt. And I was more than surprised to see an unknown child at our house after seven o'clock at night. Not really upset but definitely confused.

I don't know what to think about this situation. James may have briefly met his mother in the car when she came to pick him up. He spent four hours here, so he's no longer a stranger. But the situation is strange. It makes a pit in your gut that you can't shake. It's not that his mother must be irresponsible or that his home must be unhappy; it's that you aren't sure how to feel.

Even though Boo didn't bring him over, we told her that we need to make arrangements before children come over to play, especially right after school. She seemed to understand, but she couldn't take responsibility, obviously.

But maybe he needed to come over today.

Maybe he needed to hear a prayer over dinner.

Maybe he needed to eat James's delicious pasta sauce.

I don't know.

When I was a teenager, my parents let a couple of my brothers' friends live at our house. There were problems. These young men had been involved in some trouble. My parents wanted to help them. My dad told me recently that he realizes now that he was "naive enough" to think our family could influence them for the better and give them some stability. After one of the young men introduced some bad habits to some of my siblings, my dad realized that the influence had gone wrong. Maybe that's why I feel skeptical. Boo is only eight, and a little boy who plays with dolls is certainly no threat.

But it feels . . . strange. It feels strange in the familiar way that I felt strange when one of the young men would try flirting with me, even though he was eighteen or nineteen and I was only thirteen. Nothing ever happened, but I felt uneasy. I felt uneasy in my own home because we had opened our door to him.

But we can't close our door. It doesn't seem right. 

So how do you manage your feelings in such a situation?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Phone Takes up a Lot of Phone Time

James and I are responsible adults.

It only took two years and eight months of marriage to create our own phone plan and get off our parents' plans.

Very responsible.

Unfortunately, switching two already-existing numbers into a new account is tricky. Really tricky.  But it shouldn't be so tricky. It should be simple to transition in to responsible adulthood. Right?

The young woman who helped me set up the new phone plan a month ago was really enthusiastic and helpful. As we concluded each step, she'd say "Awesome!" and move onto the next item of business. Maybe her awesomes addled her brain a bit because that weekend I had a voice message that there was some problem with the billing for the new phone. My name had been entered wrong. Which was weird since she had put me on hold to make sure the payment went through. I know because she told me it was awesome afterward.

So I talked with some other customer service representative who got the payment all worked out and spelled my maiden name wrong and forgot to put my married name on the account.

Then I received a notice that there was some change on the account, so I called. They said it was all right. I shouldn't have believed them.

But the phone that was supposed to have come within five business days still hadn't arrived after two weeks. I lost my temper with the poor young man who was only trying to do his job.

After the phone was finally delivered, some other customer service representative told me that I had only signed up for a single line. "No," I told them, and explained the plan we had set up three weeks before.

Finally, after the phone came and we got things straightened out with my name and James's contacts (by going into the store, of course), I was able to transfer my number and start using the account. We still had to wait for James's number to be released by his parents, but it was all right. We had our two lines, our texts, our minutes, our account, and the latest in a string of customer service representatives assured me we wouldn't be charged for the entire month of June since we didn't activate the account until the end of the month.

We got the information we needed for transferring James's number, so we called today. Pretty straight-forward. Here's the previous account number, pin, and account holder name. Yes, they'll release the number. Automatic text message comes up, telling us the phone now uses the old number. It's all set. Yes. Oh, but we need to check that one weird message we got about adding data. We didn't add data. Let's create an account online to see what happened.

What does "?!" sound like? Maybe some kind of groan or shocked guttural sound. That was the sound we made---in unison. We had a $407 bill. Ummm  . . . What happened?

So two and a half hours of calling (and losing the call and calling back and transferring to supervisors and talking with multiple customer service representatives) later, they dropped the excess charges for "changing" our plan to the plan we had initially signed up for, and blocked the data option, and moved the billing date to the end of June instead of the week before we had first called.

Fixing phone problems is a really time-consuming way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. I'd rather have a Moody Blues kind of day with quiet reflection and whistling, but at least we have saved about $250 in unjustified charges.

It's just one of those things responsible adults have to deal with.

Don't get me started on insurance . . .

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No One Reads My Blog Anyway . . .

James writes on his Mormon Midrashim blog two or three times a week. Two hundred people are reading it every day.

I am still unsure as to why I started writing on this blog. When I'm at home, I don't want to cuddle up with my computer and write about the cute or weird things my children did that day, or complain about how exhausted I feel after working for three hours and walking across campus because my second trimester energy boost hasn't kicked in yet. I want to space out or play games or read young adult books on James's Kindle.

But here are a few thoughts:

Today is Boo's last full day of second grade. The kids are supposed to go for an hour and a half on Thursday, but since she doesn't go to school in the morning, we figure she's fine. Besides, we've already given up on her report card; it certainly isn't a reflection of what she knows, only what she's done in her teacher's classroom. James decided that Boo's teacher isn't bad; she's Javert. You know, Javert from Les Misérables. She is cold and calculated not for villainy but because she works entirely by the book. No accommodations. Javert is not a good second grade teacher. Maybe she missed her calling as an inspector.

I ended up in a BBC news article yesterday. James found it while looking at headlines. After the broadcast last week, Paul Adams interviewed four of the five panelists about some of our experiences and perspectives. I referred to The Book of Mormon Musical to explain how Mormons are viewed as both naive and out-of-touch as well as "the world's last optimists." I'm pretty sure I'm not naive, but neither am I as optimistic as many other Latter-day Saints. I admire the optimists in my faith; they seem to know a lot more than I do.

Grading is intolerable anymore. I have managed to grade two papers since Friday. Maybe it's this pregnancy brain cloud that keeps me from thinking or reading well, but I feel sick at the prospect of grading fourteen more papers. 

James, Boo, Ji, and I joined my mom and dad at their house for a barbecue on Memorial Day. It was so quiet with just the six of us. Boo was hoping to have cousins to play with, but I appreciated the quiet night in which we could watch hummingbirds flit around the backyard. The neighbors came by, so she had some play time. I think I need more quiet time outside. Right now I'm either running around busy or completely useless and wiped out.

Yesterday I spent an hour in the Temple. I felt like crying every time I heard the promises the Lord has made. Maybe because He is so good and generous; maybe because I am so emotionally unstable. Either way, I want to live up to those blessings. I want to be worthy of such gifts.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Possible Reconsideration

I used to listen to NPR, read news magazines, and keep up with internet headlines. 

I've given up the news. That was five years ago.

The news has been particularly difficult lately. Of course I am thrilled about Egypt's first free democratic presidential elections. And it's good to see Aunt Sheila's concerns about her seventeen-year-old driving home with friends after being up all night at a graduation "lock-in" party. The recent news stories I find most disturbing have been about Mormons.

I don't fault Mitt Romney for running for president. It's his call; no big deal. The problems arise when people say, "Mitt Romney isn't Christian. He's part of a secretive, polygymist cult." "Mormons are racist, sexist, and homophobic." Or my personal favorites go something like this: "I had a Mormon boss once, and he was a tyrant. He was a bishop, too, and he treated us like children. I would never trust a Mormon to run the country." (Maybe I should refer these journalists and internet commentators to our series, The Beatles Teach Logical Fallacies. They might learn something about sweeping generalizations and guilt by association.)

It makes me want to take a long, long nap and wake up after November 6th.

I guess I want to stop composing defensive, over-reactive responses when I'm unable to fall asleep or driving to work. Maybe I just want to shout to the masses, "I'm a Mormon woman, and I'm not oppressed!" I probably think so highly of myself that anyone who tries to tell me I'm brainwashed, clueless, or naive just pisses me off.

So, I'm going to shout a little something here:

Maybe I am using this blog as my personal soapbox.

I am a Mormon woman. I am not oppressed. I have had access to excellent educational opportunities. My family has strongly supported me in my educational goals. My husband is awesome. He actively seeks my feedback on his work. He completely supports my desire to keep working and be an otherwise full-time mother. I have a sense of self, a unique identity, and a relationship with God. I also know countless amazing women in the LDS Church: they are doctors, nurses, attorneys, artists, teachers, yoga instructors, editors, therapists, photographers, office managers, and homemakers. They are tall, short, large, small, funny, serious, lively, mellow, athletic, physically limited, curious, joyful, and complicated. These are individuals. They have opinions, ideas, and energy. Anyone who has seen a group of LDS women arrange a service activity knows exactly what I mean. Even after twenty funerals in under three years, the women in my ward have continued to step up and make and serve luncheons for fifty to a hundred of the deceased's relatives. These are all volunteer hours.

Relief Society is a big part of why being an LDS woman rules. I belong to the largest and oldest women's organization in the world. We learn to serve each other, our families, our communities, and the world. We truly have the power to change the world. That kind of power can't be oppressive.

And guess what?

I got to talk about it on BBC radio today.

You know, World Have Your Say's host and producer, Paul and Richard, were such nice news fellows, I just might reconsider giving up on the news.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Batman Is Constantly Throwing Me Off

While I am teaching, I try hard to stay focused.

That's not totally accurate.

I do try, but I don't always succeed. When we're having fun in class, it's easy to go off on a tangent. Today's tangent was Batman.

Let me back up.

We read and analyzed a really interesting essay by Barbara Kingsolver titled "Life Is Precious, or It's Not." Her main argument is that we are a society that glorifies violence so our children are learning that killing is acceptable. Her call to action is to get rid of all of our books, movies, video games, and music that represent murder ("however symbolic") as anything but the tragic loss it is. This pushes students a little too far. That's why we analyze it. I told my class today that I am unwilling to give up my Batman movies (and graphic novels).

Just before moving into the next phase of the lesson, a student asked if I had seen the newest trailer for The Dark Knight Rises. Well, he got me. We spent two minutes of class watching Bane torture Batman, and Selena Kyle in her catsuit.

It was awesome.

My life has been full of Batman awesomeness lately. Last week our friends invited us over to play the Wii LEGO Batman game.

We were greeted by this:

On the kitchen table were a selection of snacks, like these:

Yes. That is actually a venus flytrap next to Poison Ivy's carrot cake.

They had a balloon pit for the kids (not a Lazarus Pit, thank heaven). Their littlest is just younger than Ji, and those boys went crazy with the balloons.

After the girls had both had a turn battling bad guys as Batman and Robin, I was paired up with their four-year-old to battle Mr. Freeze.

Here's a confession: I think this was the second time in five years that I've played a video game (if you don't count the three times I've died on Google Pac-Man). The last time I played a game was Dr. Mario on a Super Nintendo. My brother, sister, and I had a three-player game going, but since my gaming skills are pathetic they put me on the easiest level. They were busy competing against each other, watching the other's progress and freaking out because their diseases weren't eradicated quickly enough. The screen suddenly stopped; they both thought the game had frozen. The truth was that I had won. They hadn't even noticed my few laughing diseases had all been cured by my slow-falling Dr. Mario pills. I think that's the only video game I've won.

But I stood up and played LEGO Batman.

If I look confused, it's because I am.

I kept having to pause and figure out where the A, Z, and B buttons were. Our friends' four-year-old was politely asking if he could do different tricks, like constructing some LEGO carts and things. As a heavy magnetic-suited Robin, I fell down into the depths of Mr. Freeze's ice cream factory dozens of times.

It's good to be humbled. I may be able to rhetorically analyze an argument with my hands tied behind my back, but even Batman can keep me guessing.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Elisabeth asked her grandma what they would be doing for Easter Sunday. Grandma replied, “nothing pagan.”

So we kicked off the Gill family Easter weekend with an Easter egg hunt. Yeah, it’s pagan but when a nine-year-old who has lived in England for the last two years anticipates coming back to the United States just for the candy, I don’t feel too bad about stuffing plastic eggs full of cinnamon bunnies, speckled malt eggs, and jelly beans.

Passover started last night at sundown. Our seder started about two and a half hours before the sun set and lasted about thirty-five minutes instead of four hours because guests included six children, three teenagers, five grandparents, two aunts, three uncles, James, his sister, her boyfriend, and me. We reviewed the essentials of the seder, particularly the three symbols of the seder tray, which Rabbi Gamaliel expressly stated must be explained or one has not fulfilled his duty. We also played “Who knows one?” and tried to breathe out all thirteen principles in a single breath. No one passed out.

My favorite moment in James’s condensed, Jewish-Mormon seder is when we dip into our glasses of juice (not wine) and drop ten droplets onto our plates to symbolize the suffering of Egypt from the ten plagues. James then holds up an entire cup of juice and explains that when during the Last Supper Jesus says “This is my blood,” He was illustrating the power of the Atonement.
During Passover and Easter the Atonement is always foremost in my mind. That is, after all, the purpose of the holidays: to help us remember that God delivers His people—from bondage, from death, from despair.

And so in this season when snow tries to bury budding fruit trees and the ground cyclically freezes and thaws, I remember death came to Mary’s firstborn, just as it did to all of the firstborn sons of Egypt. But He rose triumphant on that Sunday, and on that day the cold earth could not hold back its bounty. Each of the sons of Egypt is delivered by Him, as is every soul who has come to this earth, and so am I.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Romantic Gestures

Last month my sister-in-law called to ask if I knew any good poems under twenty-five lines. I was at work and didn't have my 1997 edition of Perrine's Sound and Sense with me, so I started searching for poems online.
I found a poem I felt compelled to share with James.
To My Dear and Loving Husband
By  Anne Bradstreet   Nicole*

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay; 
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let's so persever,
That when we live no more we may live ever.
The subject line read, "I wrote a poem for you . . . sort of."
This was James's response:
"I plagiarized a poem for you" sounds less romantic than it is. ;)
This was unexpected, so I replied,
So the gesture is still romantic?  
He wrote back,
Absolutely. :)  

Tonight James and I are going on a date. We're 
homebodies, so we're cool making dinner each night and hanging out with 
our children, so going out to dinner and to a party together is quite 
exciting. But even without Valentine's Day or date nights, I'm glad to 
know we can still keep romance in our lives through plagiarism. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Shhh . . . This is a secret just between us.

Yesterday, we played hooky.

Boo woke up late; I woke up later. She crawled into my bed and said, "Mama, I'm ready for homeschool." I thought, "I'm not."

Then I remembered the email we had received the night before. We found it at about 11:00 p.m. It was from Boo's teacher. Her teacher clarified our misconception about Boo's reading improvement. We thought that going from a level 18 to a level 24 was six levels up; it's only two. We also didn't realize that when Boo dropped from a 20 to an 18 she had only dropped one level. Nor did we understand that getting from level 24 to 28 is only one level. All of these ups and downs seem like a much bigger deal when you actually know how to count by ones. If counting by twos, then fours, the levels seem almost arbitrary.

But then her teacher was . . . not nice. She had called me last week to report the improvement in Boo's reading level, but assured me that Boo will never pass level 28 because she can't respond to her reading in writing. Okay. Negative, but we can work on that during our two and a half hours in the morning. It's a good and important skill, and Boo certainly has a hard time writing her ideas clearly. We work on writing every day, but we can incorporate that.

Again, she addressed Boo's behavior in class: she's talking back now, still not focused, not following directions. Talking back is unacceptable. I will address that with her. The other two seem to be her teacher's biggest concerns, or she wouldn't have asked, "Have you met with your pediatrician yet?"

What? She filled out the Conners test even though we told her we'd rather talk with a mental health professional, and now she's asking if we've gone to our pediatrician? I said, "I mentioned it to him, but we have not followed through with a diagnosis."

James was sitting next to me, seething. When he received a friendly email from her later that night, letting us know the read-a-thon would be in the afternoon to accommodate Boo's morning homeschool schedule, we were glad. Since she asked if I had told him about our phone conversation, he decided to reply. He clearly told her that we have researched ADHD and don't want to discuss it further with her, and we don't want it to be a part of her behavior plan. He was firm but polite.

I think that's when he hurt her feelings or sent her into a fury. In that late-night email she told us that we are limiting our daughter's "potential and ability to succeed in life."

We were ready to pull her out of the class completely. We were ready to tell the principal that she has a mean, vindictive second-grade teacher on her hands. We were ready to cry.

Instead of crying, I let Boo dress up for the day--all day. And skip school. And learn to sew. And eat pancakes. And go on an adventure.

She told me she sometimes feels "overwhelmed" at school. She gets frustrated because of the "reminders" her teacher gives, reminders to stay on task, reminders to stop talking. I tried to talk through her feelings and get to the core issue. I think, mostly, Boo gets tense and emotional when she receives any kind of criticism. She doesn't know how to deal with her feelings of insecurity, feelings that may be linked with her intense fear of abandonment.

Boo, Ji, and I walked to the library. Boo had her Rapunzel dress on and a flower wreath in her hair. Ji was Batman with cape and cowl. We picked out too many books and The Court Jester and met up with Daddy. We bought candies and bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Ji's laughter was encouragement enough to keep blowing bubbles. Boo danced in the backyard with her bubble wand. Later Boo made a fort out of blankets and chairs in our living room.

Boo told me yesterday that I'm the best mama ever. Except I still feel sort of guilty for pulling her out of school for the day.

And then I remember her face when we saw the daffodils and tulips coming up in a neighbor's flowerbeds. And I remember the joy of the sunshine and breeze. I think of Ji pulling down books and books, wanting all of them to come home with us. I picture Boo running to hug her daddy when he walked through the library doors.

It was a magic day.

I need to let go of the guilt and remember the magic.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Standing on a Soapbox

Usually people don't listen to me: I'm used to this.

As the fourth child in a loud and raucous household, I learned to shut my mouth.

My three older siblings would yell, "Shotgun!" and race for the front seat. I would say, "I want the back."

My sister continually cajoled me out of sodas and sweets by insisting that she have the larger portion. At the time she thought she was tricky; she knows now that I was just complaisant.

My daughter has recently developed an attitude of argumentation. "Why?" passes her lips instinctively after I ask her to go do something.

"Put away your sweater."


"Would you rather I throw it away instead?"

Whenever I tell my son, "Let's go change your diaper!" he runs away, laughing maniacally. Pajamas are a wrestling match.

But today I'm standing on a soapbox.

On our Everyday Mormon Writer website (where you can find a lovely new literary work at artwork every Friday), we've pulled out the soapbox. Unfortunately, it's only a metaphorical soapbox, a menu option on a website, not that good old fashioned wooden soapbox that would lift one above the crowd just enough to get the message out.

I'm hoping that my voice will carry. Maybe someone will listen.

Go ahead and argue with me, if you want.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thoughts from a University Writing Instructor . . .

Once upon a time, I went to college. It was a little college in a little town in southern Utah. I met all kinds of highly educated professors whose life experiences were as diverse as their hairstyles. They talked intensely about the sensuality of Klimt's Water Serpents, the potential of Locke's social contract, and the resonance of Richard Wright's graphic violence.

I graduated from the college and went to a university. Then I went to graduate school.

Now I stand in front of my classes with my long, blonde, hippy hair and talk to my students about poverty, education, immigration, healthcare, and politics.

But part of my job as a university writing instructor is to bring up issues that will upset my students enough to get them to form opinions. Once they have figured out what they think, these students need to formulate arguments. Then, I teach them how to shape their arguments for audiences who initially disagree with them. Because I teach at a religious university, many of the arguments end up defending more conservative viewpoints. They do, however, have to figure out "how to talk to a liberal" despite Ann Coulter's insistence that it's not necessary. A surprising number are more politically liberal arguments, something that many people, including Rick Santorum, would immediately blame on the indoctrination of the liberal university system.

The Desert News just published an article reacting to Santorum's claim. Apparently, a lot of liberal professors have spent a lot of time looking into how education relates to religiosity. (A student emailed the article to me because we had discussed the issue earlier in the semester. See, they are thinking.) The article shows that the more education people get, the more likely they are to be religious. One study looked into different aspects of religiosity (scripture study, prayer, volunteering, church attendance, etc.) and found that those whose education is above the seventh grade are more likely to participate in all religious activities. A handy bar graph shows that only one percent of people who graduate from college are less likely to be affiliated with a religious group (85% down to 84%). Unfortunately, post-graduates (PhDs, MDs, attorneys) are down to 81% compared with 85% for high school graduates.

So if 81% of post-graduates (including Rick Santorum and his Juris Doctorate) are still affiliated with a religious organization, why is the education a constant battleground for liberals and conservatives?

My theory: Because educators teach.

No matter what teachers do, we are going to upset someone. We get a classroom of twenty to five hundred students whose life experiences are as diverse as their hairstyles and are expected to never offend or upset any of them.

Now I'm not being defensive. The system is set up this way from kindergarten. Educators need to be more than just masters of our subjects: we also need to be respectful, understanding, unbiased, politically neutral, compassionate, fair, patient, generous with our time and feedback, and constantly available by email.

This isn't a bad list of responsibilities, really. I know most people expect the same things from their parents, best friends, spouses, therapists and pets.

Except that I am not my students' parent, best friend, spouse, therapist, or pet.

I'm a teacher.

And I am in front of the class because I possess some knowledge that is necessary for them to gain. So I share it the only way I know how: I teach.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blitzing Out

James and I were talking (as usual) one night and discussed the possibility of a web magazine devoted to short Mormon works.

We were really excited about the possibility of heading up this project, but who would contribute? Would people read it? How do we get writers and artists involved?

James posted about this on the Association for Mormon Letters blog, and Scott Hales came on board. They devised the Mormon Lit Blitz, a contest to feature works of 1,000 words or fewer that would appeal to an LDS audience.

Pass-along card by Scott Hales

The response was awesome.

We received about 230 submissions.

Scott, James, and I read through them and picked the top 32.

Then our everyday readers picked up packets of eight works and ranked them.

We ended up with thirteen finalists.

They've all been featured on the Mormon Artist blog, and now it's time to vote.

We've had thousands of visitors the last two weeks, but we need you to speak out. Not just to see who wins the contest and the Kindle, but come show your support for a compelling field of literature that needs to know there are people out there ready to read.

Then, you should keep reading when James and I get that magazine going.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What Does ADHD Look Like?

Boo has been taking guitar lessons since the beginning of second grade. Her Grandpa George was so excited to take us to the music store and pick out the right guitar for her little hands. We found a bright red Oscar Schmidt 3/4-size acoustic that fit her just right. Grandpa has given her a thirty-minute lesson every Monday afternoon for the last six months.

Yesterday he was concerned.

It's the same concern I've heard from Boo's teacher all year.

She won't focus.

I'm not ready to call it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I am willing to accept mental illness, learning disabilities, or other issues with my child. I'm just not sure that a teacher who believes doodling is "not consistent with grade level" is qualified to fill in the Conners test for my second grader. After all, I doodled my way through graduate school.

ADHD in girls is tricky. Most studies have focused on boys because they tend to display more disruptive, hyperactive behaviors than girls do. Boys are more likely to be more defiant and moody. However, girls are more likely to participate in substance abuse.Current research believes that ADHD is caused by overly thin brain tissue surrounding the parts of the brain that sustain attention. This theory attempts to explain children "growing out" of ADHD since the brain tissue will often grow as the child ages. Unfortunately, more girls are misdiagnosed as ADHD before the age of ten than boys.

I'm a little skeptical at this point. I have been teaching college students writing for the past six years. As a tutor and teacher I have worked a great deal with students with learning disabilities, particularly ADHD. The adult women who have been diagnosed with ADHD have struggled with inattention and hyperactivity their whole lives. They have been on medications at times (for example, while in college), and they have learned to cope without medication at other points. The key with these women has been the lifelong struggle. They didn't suddenly wake up attentive and calm. Just as I haven't suddenly woken from my mental health issues, I don't know that I can accept the possibility of suddenly "growing out" of a mental disorder.

The school has assured us that even if we choose not to medicate our daughter, a diagnosis will provide her with accommodations. We are five months into the twelve-month waiting list for clinical tests, and maybe we should take her to her pediatrician. There may be other issues, such as a generalized anxiety disorder. Of course I don't want her to break down in tears because she has lost her gloves again or because she is overwhelmed by the ticking clock. However, asking our pediatrician to assess the teacher's Conners test, so our seven-year-old can get through timed math seems odd.

Medication does seem like the easiest fix for ADHD. It's been really effective for a lot of people who have struggled with school and work. I am definitely an advocate for mental health medication. But the world Boo lives in is beautiful and imaginative. She constantly creates stories, characters, scenarios, and games. If a stimulant let her complete thirty addition problems in three minutes but took away the faery dust that constantly sparkles around her, how could I justify the loss?

It's such a colorful, magical world with Boo. I can't imagine changing it.

Pretending It's Summer

It snowed all night. Hardly any snow has fallen all winter, but the sidewalks and car were covered before work this morning. Our summer travel plans were thrown in a tailspin when our teaching schedules were posted since James and I are scheduled to teach opposite terms. Ji woke up crying at 1:30 this morning, completely inconsolable. He proceeded to vomit all over himself and our bed.

But yesterday we pretended it was summer.

Strawberries were on sale at the grocery store, so I bought two pounds this weekend. Yesterday morning I realized we hadn't touched them for two days, and winter strawberries don't last that long. I determined to make a strawberry pie.

Now, I'm not much of a baker. I once boiled a cake inside the oven. I'm not exaggerating. The boiled-over cake fell on the heating coils and caught on fire. We threw baking soda on the fire but missed most of the flame the first few throws. Our upstairs neighbors came down to ask if we were all right because they smelled burning. I had to admit that I lit the oven on fire, but everything was under control. But my love for pumpkin pie has driven me to experiment with pastries. I have made pumpkin pie every autumn for the last six years, but it wasn't until last summer that I decided to make strawberry rhubarb pie, peach pie, plum pie, and apple pie.

And nothing says summer like strawberries.

I don't have the simplest pie recipes, but my grandma's pie crust is delicious. My mom recently abandoned this family recipe for one that she said is "so easy to work with." Grandma's pie crust can get really sticky, so make sure to add plenty of flour before gently kneading. Also, this recipe works fine with shortening instead of butter, but margarine was a little bit of a mess.

My Grandma's Pie Crust
2+ cups flour
1 cup butter
a pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1Tablespoon vinegar
cold water
1 egg

Combine 2 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl.

Cut butter into the mixture until crumbly. Crack the egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add the vinegar. Fill the cup with cold water until it reaches 1/2 cup full. Mix together.

Add to flour and butter mixture. Add small amounts of flour to work with crust. Be gentle with the crust. The trick with pie crust is to handle it the least amount possible.

This is a sticky crust. To roll out, divide into two balls. Place one ball at a time in wax paper and roll flat with a rolling pin. Press into pie pan. Cut small slits into crust to keep from bubbling.

Strawberry Pie
2 pounds of sliced strawberries (about 8 cups)
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 lemon rind grated
1 Tablespoon of butter
2 pie crusts

In a large bowl combine sugar, flour, and lemon rind; mix with the strawberries. The mixture should be gooey. Place inside pie crust.

Cut small tabs of butter and place over the mixture. Top with other crust. Cut slits or shapes in the crust.

Bake at 425 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. (If possible, cover the edges of the crust.)

Variations: I've made this same pie with peaches instead of strawberries. I originally made this as a strawberry rhubarb pie for my husband's uncle. The lemon rind makes the pie taste really fresh. Yum.

So to complement my unseasonal strawberry pie, I made a summer-inspired dinner. I used the leftover lemon (plus two others) to make frozen lemonade slushies. We feasted on grilled vegetable sandwiches, spinach and cheese baked beans, superfood salad, and sweet potato fries. 

My family was very happy to have a taste of summer despite the cold.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Mythic Life

Myth is one of the most misunderstood concepts in our vocabulary. We have, unfortunately, equated it with untruths or lies. A more generous definition is a system of outdated beliefs. Most of us willingly accept Norse, Greek, or Roman gods as mythology, but we don't see that our own beliefs fit within a mythological system.

I believe in a complex mythology that spans from the creation of the earth by the hand of Jehovah under the direction of His Father God. The mythos that inspires my day-to-day life is deeply rooted in beliefs of a premortal and postmortal existence with God the Father. Prophets, scriptures, and good people all contribute to my family and people's belief system or mythos.

N. Scott Momaday explored his family and people's mythos through his autoethnography The Way to Rainy Mountain. The book is laid out in three distinct sections: "The Setting Out," "The Going On," and "The Closing In." Within each section he tells stories, three parts at a time. The first part is the mythos, the experience or believe of the Kiowa. The second part gives a historical context, often drawn from anthropological records. The third part is his own. Here is a sample from the very beginning of Momaday's inspiring work:
You know, everything had to begin, and this is how it was: the Kiowas came one by one into the world through a hollow log. They were many more than now, but not all of them got out. There was a woman whose body was swollen up with child, and she got stuck in the log. After that, no one could get through, and that is why the Kiowas are a small tribe in number. They looked all around and saw the world. It made them glad to see so many things. They called themselves Kwuda, "coming out." 
They called themselves Kwuda and later Tepda, both of which mean "coming out." And later still they took the name Gaigwu, a name which can be taken to indicate something of which the two halves differ from each other in appearance. It was once a custom among Kiowa warriors that they cut their hair on the right side of the head only and on a line level with the lobe of the ear, while on the left they let the hair grow long and wore it in a thick braid wrapped in otter skin. "Kiowa" is indicated in sign language by holding the hand palm up and slightly cupped to the right side of the head and rotating it back and forth from the wrist. "Kiowa" is thought to derive from the softened Comanche form of Gaigwu.
I remember coming out upon the northern Great Plain in the late spring. There were meadows of blue and yellow wildflowers on the slopes, and I could see the still, sunlit plain below, reaching away out of sight. At first there is no discrimination in the eye, nothing but the land itself, whole and impenetrable. But then smallest things begin to stand out of the depths--herds and rivers and groves--and each of these has perfect being in terms of distance and of silence and of age. Yes, I thought, now I see the earth as it really is; never again will I see things as I saw them yesterday or the day before. 
Dr. Suzanne Lundquist, my master's thesis chair and a good friend, taught me how to bring students to an understanding of their own mythic experiences through this same pattern Momaday uses. She called it "Mythos, Logos, Ethos." Sue encouraged our small class to write our own three-part Mythos, Logos, Ethos stories. Here is one of mine:

After rising from intelligence and dust, man and woman dwelt within the Garden naked and unashamed. They ate freely of all of the fruit save the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden. God had warned them that death awaited them if they ate or even touched the skin of the fruit. Without curiosity or interest in the fruit of death, man and woman tarried in the garden until the beguiling serpent exposed the power of the fruit to the woman. “Naive one,” the serpent beckoned, “the fruit does not bring death but the knowledge of good and evil.” After she and her husband ate the fruit and opened their eyes, they discovered their nakedness and were ashamed. Desperately, they gathered fig leaves and sewed them into aprons to hide their sexuality. For once they understood good and evil, they discovered that nudity is fearful, shameful, and evil. When the man and woman later heard the voice of God in the garden, they hid their nakedness from their God. Having never before known opposition, their fear exposed them. “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” God asked, knowing His creations had transgressed. They were cast out; man and woman would suffer greatly on the earth outside of the garden.

Christian European colonists generally assessed a nation’s progress on few premises: agriculture and industry, technology, written communication, and  the traditional dress of its peoples. The elaborate costuming of Europeans during the Colonial Era reinforced the supremacy they had granted themselves over the “savages” of the so-called third world. Women in corsets and layers of petticoats signified the apex of civilization while men in starched collars and silk ties epitomized industrial progress. Peoples in arid nations whose clothing was scant and technology appeared less developed were categorized as primitive. The Primitive, the Oriental, the Noble Savage–all acted as symbolic binaries posed against the Civilized European. Exhibitions of “primitive” peoples whose torsos were bare especially fascinated the sexually repressed Victorians in England whose empire spanned the globe. In 18th and 19th century Europe nudity was equated with indecency, and the primitive was associated with sexual promiscuity. Sexual repression was indicative of devotion to God, as embodied by celibate Christian leaders and the image of the Holy Virgin Mother, and such repression maintained the binary between primitivism and civilization.

I am standing before the mirror, naked and ashamed. The skateboarding and playground scars haven’t yet faded; years later they will be lost in the translucence of my skin. The roots of my shame are buried under skin and scars, unattainable and untraceable. I run my fingers over my hips, wrists, and palms, begging for an indication of the origin of my disgust. My mother never told me to despise the curve in my waist, to feel unquestionably dissatisfied with my appearance, or to loathe the inexplicable sexual impulses that sometimes inflict themselves upon my being. Through my mother’s refusal to weigh herself at the doctor’s office, the emotional escapade of clothes shopping, and the mournful loss of her slim thighs, she shows me every day the value of body-hate. Periodic church lessons and firesides on sexual purity reinforce my shame. Standing naked in the steamy bathroom after a shower proves my indecency. Studying the whiteness of my hips and smooth, round belly feels sinful. I am fourteen, virginal, unintentionally preoccupied with sexuality whilst curiously detached from sensuality. The guilt that drives my life begs me to cover my nakedness, clothe my body, hide the white curves. I close my eyes and picture myself standing before God unclothed and unconcealed. Mortified, I reach for the towel. My God tenderly asks me, “Who told thee that thou wast naked?” I search the map of my blue veins under my skin, longing to find the source of my humiliation. My veins tangle like roots, for I have inherited the fruit, the fear, and the sorrows. The legacy unfolds in my flesh, yet I cannot remember the fall.
For two consecutive semesters I taught an experimental service learning section of first-year writing and incorporated The Way to Rainy Mountain into the curriculum as a way for students to displace themselves as the "givers" and reconsider their positions to be more inclusive of the people with whom they served. When students turned in their own stories, I was amazed. Here is one I've never forgotten:
2nd Corinthians 4:8-9 8.We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9. Persecuted, but not forsaken, cast down, but not destroyed. Proverbs 3:5-6 5. Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Sometimes untreated depression and other struggles lead to unhealthy ways in which we try and deal with the hurt and pain we are feeling. We try and find anything that we can do to take away the hurt, painful feelings, or negative thoughts we are experiencing, such as self-injury. Self-injury is also termed self-mutilation, self-harm, or self-abuse. It can be defined as the deliberate, repetitive, impulsive, non-lethal harming of one’s self, including but not limited to 1) cutting, 2) burning, 3) picking or interfering with wound healing,4) infecting oneself, 5) punching/hitting self or objects, 6) inserting objects in to skin, 7) bruising or breaking bones, and 8) some forms of hair pulling. While these behaviors pose serious risks, they may be symptoms of a problem that can be treated.  Experts estimate that 4% of the population struggle with self-injury. It has the same occurrence between males and females, even though in popular culture it appears to be more prevalent among girls. Those who struggle with self-injury may have many different reasons for their behavior, some of which may be feelings of emptiness, inability to understand or express what they are feeling, loneliness, fear, past abuse, depression, as well as many others. Self-injury, is sometimes a way to cope with emotional pain and suffering.  While self-injury may be someone’s way to cope with or relieve painful or hard-to-express feelings, relief is always temporary, and usually only perpetuates a destructive cycle that continues the struggle. This cycle often means that those who do not get help can become more depressed and shameful, adding to the pain and need for relief, thus perpetuating the cycle.
My battle began in high school. The acrimonious remarks to my face and behind my back from catty girls shattered my already fragile self esteem. Turmoil raged in my life, and I was out of control. I told myself I was searching for answers, but God seemed to have turned His back on me. I had to abate my inner pain, or else I was going to explode. So, I turned to physical pain to lessen my emotional pain. The pressure of the cool metal from the knife against my wrist was a welcome relief. Whenever life became Hell, I would turn to cutting. I was proud and I convinced myself that God didn’t care and I didn’t need help, that I was in control. I felt that God had let me get past my breaking point, and so I had to deal with my depression on my own. I felt ashamed that I had turned to such a harsh form of what in my mind was relief. I thought that I could stop cutting myself at any given time. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My body soon started to crave that physical pain when things in my life went wrong. It was a form of addiction. I was becoming baneful to my own self.  I had to find inner halcyon before it was too late. I swallowed my pride and turned my whole soul over to my Heavenly Father. I begged him for the help I so desperately needed. My parents became lachrymose as I admitted my problem to them, yet they supported me fully in my journey to recovery.  God blessed me with the strength to overcome my battle with self injury. I acknowledged that I needed His help, and he assisted me in my darkest hour.  God will let us get cast down, but not destroy us.
Each of us has a complex mythic life. Our inner lives. We can take time to explore our own mythologies to better perceive that which drives our choices, disappointments, and hopes.

Please share your own Mythos, Logos, Ethos. Even if it's only a glimpse into your mythic life.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snakes and Spice

When Boo was born, I was determined that she wouldn't just be a girly girl. I had been a girly girl, but that's what I was expected to be. My sister could throw a baseball like a guy and run faster than most of the girls in her grade. During PE softball, I made dandelion chains while waiting for my turn at bat.

But I decided that my daughter would be taught that girls and boys can share interests and talents. She has been given tea sets and cars, Batman action figures and Barbie dolls.

Unfortunately, I can't get the Enlightened Parent of the Twenty-first Century award just yet. Even though she scooted a Batmobile around as a toddler, seven-year-old Boo told me recently that she's "just not that interested in her Batman toys anymore." Or her Star Wars toys. Or the box of cars that sits in the top of her closet.

In fact, she spends most of her playtime with dress up, jewelry, play food, and baby dolls.

What has surprised me, however, is that my seventeen-month-old son has gained his education from his big sister. Once he started scooting and crawling, he learned to reach for one of Boo's bright pink tea cups. Ji would turn the cup every direction, examining it with his wide eyes and slobbery mouth. As he became more mobile, he began to spend most of his playtime cooking with Boo's pots and pans and plastic foods. He had become jealous of Boo's attention to her babies, so we even bought him his own baby doll.

I'd like to say we're raising a sensitive boy who is all cuddles and sweetness. However, Ji's an adventurer who climbs on the furniture, jumps down the concrete steps, barks at the neighborhood dogs, and has torn his favorite books apart. He's also much more interested in that Batmobile than his sister ever was. People keep assuring me that my son's fearlessness can be wholly attributed to his sex.

I'm not sure what all of this means for gender roles. I don't believe that girls are "sugar and spice and everything nice" because I've known a lot of girls who were snotty and mean. Boys can't really be made of "snakes and snails and puppy dog tails" because that's just disgusting. Snakes are cool. Snails are okay. But puppy dog tails? Really? I've never shaken the image of dozens of little puppies' tails severed to mix into a giant pot of boy.

I heard recently about a couple in England who decided to raise their child as gender neutral for the first five years. The mother called gender stereotyping "stupid" and compared gender roles to horoscopes in limiting personality characteristics. Considering the number of times "like a girl" was used as an insult against me as a child, part of me wants to agree with her. But, I just can't believe it. I'm too attached to my femininity. I feel like it is most of what makes me who I am. And it seems to be the same for my daughter.

Boo has finally decided that pink is no longer her favorite color. (I'm a little relieved. So much pink can really get to a parent.) She's decided that she prefers turquoise. She assured me that "there are no girl or boy colors; they're all just colors."

At least there's something in that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What the Tofu?

My father-in-law recently sent me this joke:

A man in the grocery store noticed a woman pick up a package of extra-firm tofu and put it in her basket.
"Excuse me, but what do you do with that?" he asked.
"I usually just put it in the fridge, forget about it, and throw it away when it expires," she said.
"Oh," he said, "that's what my wife does. I was hoping you had a better recipe."

I remember the first time I ate tofu. My friend was an inconsistent vegan; that is, she sometimes cheated on her veganism by going out with a milkshake or spending an evening with a grilled cheese sandwich. We were at her house one afternoon when she brought out some tofu, mixed it into a soup, and let it simmer.The soup may have just been bad, but the tofu made it worse. After a few spoonfuls of the slippery, slimy mess, I pretended I wasn't hungry. A grilled cheese with a milkshake would have been heavenly at that moment.

Everyone says, "tofu absorbs whatever flavor you cook it with!" like tofu is the food equivalent to lead andwith a little alchemyit can transform into garlic sauce, pancakes, or chocolate mousse. But, I have eaten enough mucousy tofu to tell you that isn't true. Tofu can easily ruin a dish.

So, what do you do you do with tofu?

Look toward Asia, go farther, yes, stop there in Thailand. I've been to every Thai restaurant in the valley, and I know that some cooks plop in uncooked tofu at the last minute. I don't return to those restaurants. Others, however, bring out crisp, spicy cubes of tofu dancing in a sea of chili-spiced coconut milk with potatoes, onions, and cashews.

Bom from Aiyara taught me the difference. "Do you want your tofu fried?" she asked.

At last, it all made sense. And now that I know the secret, I will share it with all of you.

Thai Curry

One package of extra firm tofu
Two large white sweet potatoes
One large onion
Two cloves garlic
Fresh or dried basil
One bunch of asparagus
One large sweet bell pepper or six mini sweet bell peppers
A handful of cashews
Two 16 ounce cans coconut milk (I use light coconut milk and it's lovely)
Prepared Thai curry paste (like Thai Kitchen or something from the grocery store)
Ground fresh chili paste (Chinese style)
Flour and sesame seeds (about 1/2 cup)
Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Drain the tofu. Place on a plate and put some weight on it to squeeze out excess liquid (I usually put a stoneware bowl on it).
While the tofu drains completely, scrub the sweet potatoes. Cut off any blemishes. I don't peel potatoes because the skins are full of nutrients. Or because I'm lazy. Cut the sweet potatoes into cubes. Heat a shallow pool of oil in a frying pan. Add the sweet potatoes and stir frequently.
Slice the tofu in half laterally to make smaller cubes. Cut tofu into about one-half-inch cubes. Roll the tofu cubes in the flour and sesame seed mixture until each cube is covered. Remove the fried sweet potatoes from the oil and drain. Add more oil if necessary. Add tofu to the oil and let the tofu cubes become crispy on each side before turning them over.
Slice the onion into long strips. Crush the garlic. Chop the fresh basil. Trim the ends of the asparagus and cut into one-inch pieces. Slice the bell peppers in long strips. (I suggest red, gold, or yellow bell pepper with the sweet potatoes. I recently used six mini sweet peppers, and it was delicious.)
Remove the crispy tofu from the oil and let it drain. If necessary, pour out the excess oil in your frying pan. Add the onion. Simmer about two minutes and add the garlic and basil. When I use dry basil, I will just sprinkle a layer over the onions. If using fresh basil, add in about four chopped leaves. Simmer a couple more minutes. Add the peppers and asparagus. Toss in the cashews. Stir it around with all of the joy a stir fry deserves.
Shake the coconut milk really well. If you don't, the thick stuff will stick inside the bottom of the can. Pour in both cans of coconut milk. Add in a couple of teaspoons of curry paste. This recipe is probably better with red curry paste. Stir the paste in really well.
Stir the sweet potatoes and tofu into the curry.
Increase the heat with spoonfuls of fresh ground chili paste. You know how much spice you like, so you'll need to taste it. I like spicy (but I can't put in too much spice because of my children), so I'll add in three or four teaspoons. Stir it well.
Let the mixture simmer long enough for the vegetables to absorb the flavor.
Serve over white long grain rice. Jasmine rice is recommended with Thai food, but we always use Basmati rice.
Variations: use regular potatoes instead of sweet potatoes. With a green curry paste, use green bell pepper. Mix in your favorite chopped vegetables. (I do not recommend broccoli. Broccoli makes the curry taste kind of rotten.)

 Maybe next time you pick up tofu in the grocery store you won't just put it in the fridge, let it expire, and throw it away. Or, more likely, you'll actually buy the stuff because now you know what you can do with it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Shape of You, the Shape of Me

The shape of you,
The shape of me,
The shape of everything I see . . .
There's something magical in Dr. Seuss. Whether you are exploring decimated landscapes with the busy-handed Once-ler or walking along the beach with a star-bellied Sneetch,  Dr. Seuss delivers creatures no one else can.

Like the BLOGG . . .

So, why should I write a blog?

I wish I knew.

Here are my theories:

1) My husband, James, and I have been working on promoting literature by Latter-day Saint writers through the Mormon Lit Blitz and an upcoming web magazine. Until James and I met I wasn't too invested in Mormon Arts, but he's gotten me into promoting good work by LDS writers. Maybe this will be a good space for developing my own writing as well as encouraging others' writing.

2) The recent Republican presidential primaries have inspired me to breech my political neutrality in the classroom (I can't help but call Newt Gingrich "greasy") and online.

3) The school system is getting me down. My seven-year-old recently started half-day home school, so we can get her reading accuracy, timed subtraction, and writing process up to date. It's an adventure in balance.

4) My shower musings are constantly running through my head long after I'm ready for the day.

5) Oh, crap. Am I melding into my husband?