Thursday, May 31, 2007

We Are What We Own?

We read Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter for book club the other night. It includes three novellas, one of which is about a relationship between Miranda, a journalist, and Adam, a soldier on leave just before being shipped overseas.

Someone in the group brought up the following passage that I've been chewing on for the past couple of days:

He had showed her snapshots of himself at the wheel of his roadster; of himself sailing a boat, looking very free and windblown, all angles, hauling on the ropes. . . . Miranda knew he was trying to tell her what kind of person he was when he had his machinery with him. She felt she knew pretty well what kind of person he was, and would have liked to tell him that if he thought he had left himself at home in a boat or an automobile, he was much mistaken.

What is it about us humans? We're always getting our identities entangled with our physical stuff. I know that I have spent the better part of the past year trying to unravel myself from my identity as a bookstore owner and from my daily routine of chatting with customers, mining for treasures to order in and share, and keeping the back office from spinning out of control.

Who on earth am I without my happy little bookstore? Intellectually I know that I didn't leave myself behind when we closed up shop, but spiritually and emotionally there are many days I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


It's amazing how quickly my life goes from zero to sixty. Two weeks ago I was living a life of leisure. Jack was in school, and I could procrastinate chores to my heart's content.

Now Jack is out of school, we're having house guests three weekends in a row (which I love, but which means I need to pay a bit more attention to housekeeping), and we've got oodles of family events including birthday parties for both Roger's dad and mine and Jack's baptism this coming Saturday.

Yesterday I had to scramble to get a book finished for book club with Jack jumping on top of me because he never hooked up with friends. I took breaks from reading to play Uno with him and to take him out for milkshakes. Then I stayed out with book club friends until nearly midnight.

Today I've been trying to focus on a proofreading project for Mom (a 140-page genealogy called The Pierponts of Roxbury, Massachusetts). I took breaks from working to do laundry and mow the lawn.

I'd better get back to it!

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Visit from Sarah

We've just had a fabulous weekend with my cousin Sarah, who is in Utah doing field research with some of her students. She's a geophysics professor at the University of South Florida, and they are here mostly studying volcanic formations in the San Rafael Swell a few hours south of us.

It was fun to hear about her research, but it was more fun to just hang out with her. Sarah is a few years older than me, and I've looked up to her as long as I can remember. We don't see each other very often, but when we do, we just fall into this great, comfortable relationship. Despite the fact that we've always lived at least a thousand miles apart and usually more, I've got so many good memories of experiences we've shared and the conversations we've had.

Lots and lots of summers at Lake Geneva--swimming, sailing, making up plays, watching marathon slide shows of trips our grandmother took all over the world. Traveling in Europe together when I was 17 and she was spending her junior year in Munich--visiting Dachau, hiking for miles along the coast of Wales and in the mountains of Switzerland, hitching a ride with a crazy Scotsman and his wife, lots of museums, trains and beer gardens.

Meeting up in Seaside, Florida, with our kids and on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Hanging out with her in Boston whenever I was home visiting my family and she was studying at MIT. Crashing for the night on the boat she and her family lived on when she was teaching at William and Mary in Virginia and Roger and I were on a year-long runaway adventure in our red Jeep.

Celebrating when she and her husband adopted their two children, and relying on her wisdom and experience as we adopted our Jack. Both envying and being inspired by her passion and tenacity as she kept herself in fabulous shape with lots of long distance biking and running, expertly sewed her own clothes in high school (in contrast, I spent most of my efforts at my mother's old, old sewing machine cursing under my breath every time it jammed), learned to speak German fluently, earned her Ph.D. and then subsequently earned tenure.

I think, though, that one of the reasons I love hanging out with Sarah is that while all of her achievements are genuine, she is also very genuine. She's willing to share the frustrating and nerve wracking bits of her life with me.

I love knowing people that inspire me to be a better person. And not only do I know Sarah, I get to be related to her!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Am I Reading Him Right?

I can't be completely sure because he won't talk about it, but I actually think Jack is sad that today was his last day of school. When I picked him up at noon, he looked totally dejected and it took nearly an hour for him to perk up.

Every year one of our neighbors hosts an end-of-school bash (water balloons, games, etc.) on the last day of school. Jack didn't want to go and asked why they would have a party when some people are sad. He wouldn't actually say why he was sad, but we talked about how people often have mixed feelings about things.

All of a sudden Jack changed his mind and decided to go to the party after all. I am choosing to believe that maybe second grade wasn't all that bad.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I think Jack and I have had one of those pivotal moments that may scar him for life.

Last night he discovered that I haven't been keeping every single paper that he's brought home from school. (I figure he's brought home a ream's worth of paper representing all of the busy work he's been assigned over the course of the year, which is a whole other issue to blog about someday.)

As he descended deeper and deeper into a pit of despair over this ("Mom, my work means NOTHING to you. You threw it all in the GARBAGE! I won't remember ANYTHING I learned, and now I can't live my dream of becoming an engineer and designing stuff. Mom, you've destroyed my DREAMS!"), my guilt-o-meter was off the charts.

Now that we've recovered from our irrationality, I'm hoping that Jack and I can have a rational discussion about this fact: By nature I am a purger and he is a hoarder. Somehow we need to learn to respect these differences in one another and to coexist in peace.

I promise that when Jack starts third grade next year, I won't throw anything out without letting him know up front. But if ever one day Jack becomes a compulsive hoarder (you know, the kind they profile on 20/20), I believe that behavior can be traced back to May 2007.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Ikea Update

Ikea opens in two days, but I fear I will not be there for the grand opening. I am so not a crowd person, and I just saw on the news that people are already camping out in front of the store. Yikes! I'll get there soon, though!

Saturday, May 19, 2007


As I was driving in our Jeep with the roof off at dusk last night on my way home from buying a bridal shower gift for our nephew's fiance one of my favorite songs came on the radio and I cranked it.

So I thought I'd invite you to crank it up and enjoy! Click here for Natasha Bedingfield's video of Unwritten on Youtube.

Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

Friday, May 18, 2007

Happy Birthday, Harry

Our Jack is now eight!

A few months ago, I panicked at the thought that Jack may yet again see a Harry Potter movie (#5) before reading the book. We read all sorts of novels together, but for some reason never got into the Harry Potter books. So we've been on a Harry Potter binge. We're now on #4. And Jack is transfixed.

Last week we made broomsticks (I even went to a craft store and used a glue gun!), this week we went all out with a Harry Potter birthday party. The kids played variations of quidditch with tennis balls and super balls, we had a Harry Potter cake, and we went on a neighborhood wide treasure hunt complete with marauder's maps and visits to Gringotts, Kings Cross Station, the Three Broomsticks, Hagrid's house and the whomping willow.

Harry, er Jack, is sure growing up to be a fine young man!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Goodbye Girls

Sure they're just characters on a tv show, but I'm sure going to miss the Gilmore Girls after watching the series finale last night. I didn't discover the show until last spring, and watching all of the reruns during the summer was a bright spot for me as we closed our business. Thanks for the good times, Lorelai and Rory!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Do Not Pass Go

I had the unique opportunity to visit our county jail the other night, including visiting with some women who are inmates there. I'm trying to figure out how and where to get involved in community literacy programs, and working with inmates is one of the options I'm seriously considering. Knowing how to read is power: if you can read, you can figure pretty much anything out. And being able to figure things out is an important part of turning your life around.

Many years ago I did an internship with our County Attorney's office and I was stunned to find out that 3 out of 4 of the crimes they prosecuted were drug related--using, selling, stealing to buy drugs, or inflicting some sort of harm due to being on drugs. Today, I'm sure that percentage is even higher. So many people are ending up in a place in their lives that they never intended.

The two women we talked with were very different from one another. One of them (heroin, one two-year-old child she's hardly seen) had pretty much given up on herself and laughed when she said she was sure she'd end up in jail again. The other (meth, five children she's relinquished rights to) had already been through giving up on herself and was clearly trying hard to get out of that mindset, to tap into some self respect.

I think about all of the stupid mistakes I make, and I think about how important it is to treat one another like human beings. To look people in the eye. To acknowledge that they aren't simply a sum of their mistakes. I want to be the kind of person who does that.

Two other random impressions from my visit to the jail: Inmates have a serious lack of personal space, and I wasn't too sure what to make of the fact that the residence halls were named after Utah ski resorts (is it meant to be hopeful or is it meant to remind inmates of where they can't be?).

Friday, May 04, 2007

PBS "The Mormons"

A four-hour Frontline/American Experience documentary about the Mormons debuted on PBS this week. Overall, I thought film maker Helen Whitney did an amazing job, weaving a complex and nuanced portrait of our faith.

Of course she had to address many of the controversies, misconceptions and missteps that are part of the church's history and lore. She tackled the tough stuff with intelligence and respect, and I appreciated that. The official reaction to the documentary of LDS church leaders, who participated freely with Whitney in her research, is overall positive.

Four hours of documentary about any religion can only scratch the surface. And I'm not sure it's really possible to understand anything as complex as religion from the outside looking in--in the same way, for example, that it's impossible to understand what it's like to be a part of a specific family without actually being a part of it. And just as with families, individual members of the church experience it differently.

Here are some of the things that I personally wished Whitney had been able to squeeze in those four hours.

While various LDS beliefs and practices were sprinkled throughout the documentary, I'm not sure a viewer unfamiliar with the church would end up with a concrete sense of what it's like to practice Mormonism or what our answers are to these fundamental questions: who we are, why we are here on earth, and what the heck is going to happen to us after we die. It would have been nice to have an overview of LDS beliefs and practices.

At its core, the LDS church is not actually a new or even American religion (culturally maybe, but doctrinally, no). We believe that the church is a restoration of the same church that Christ established during his life and ministry. The controversial idea we have that ours is the only "true" church refers to the reestablishment of the priesthood, which is the authority to act on Christ's behalf here on earth (to baptize, etc.). And to clarify, we do not believe that ours is the only church that teaches truths. Truth can be found in many places. We do believe that through revelation we have found more complete answers to spiritual questions. We also believe that there are many more things we don't know yet.

Lay ministry is mentioned, but I'm not sure the documentary really captured the way that at some point virtually all members--women, men and even small children--are called on to pray, speak and teach in church on Sundays and that we hold many different positions through the course of our lives. We practice full engagement in our faith, consecrating our time, talents and energy to lift each other up.

When the documentary focused on intellectualism and the church, I wish it had been clear that not only do we understand that intellectualism can be "dangerous" when it leaves faith behind, but that we also believe that faith should not leave thinking and reason behind. God wants us to learn everything we can about our world and the people in it, and that includes using scientific method to do it. We believe there are many ways of "knowing" and if we limit ourselves to our five senses and our earthbound logic, we'll never really get to all of the answers.

Several times the documentary mentioned the LDS focus on obedience, but didn't explore at all one of the most fundamental tenets of our faith--agency. Freedom to choose what we believe as individuals and to act accordingly, freedom from being compelled to follow. (That said, we are only human and social pressure to conform can feel weighty at times. But social pressure isn't part of the gospel.)

Our aspiration toward "perfect obedience" must be accomplished in the larger and essential context of agency. We are not meant to be sheep, though of course some church members are because for some it's just easier that way. We are meant to be very aware and deliberate in our obedience--to consciously choose it.

If we are confused or unsure or even offended by something we are asked to do or believe, the onus is on us as individuals to prayerfully find answers. Some church members rarely have issues; some church members spend their lives questioning and grappling; some church members leave because they do not find the answers they are looking for, and some of them later return as the light shifts for them.

We don't baptize children until they're 8 so that their baptism involves a conscious choice on their part. We take the sacrament each week to renew our baptismal commitment to follow Christ. And because it's all about progression, here on earth and after we die, it is quite possible for excommunicated members to be rebaptized (one dear member in our ward followed this path).

Jack's baptism is coming up, and I've had several talks with him about his choice to be baptized and about the fact that while we make him go to church now because he is a child, it is his reponsibility to decide what he thinks about it all and what he believes. It's an important part of his journey through life.

I think perhaps the most amazing thing about the LDS church is how it encourages and enables us to connect to the divine on a deeply personal level, reflecting the trust God has in us as his children. We are empowered as we are taught our responsibility to seek our own personal revelation of truth and to exercise our own faith, not simply to rely on the faith of others. With few exceptions, such as our sacrament prayers, our prayers both public and personal are not rote. And we are each individually engaged in the work of God. Roger, for example, not our bishop, will be baptizing Jack next month.

Oh, and one last thing. I wish Whitney had taken the opportunity to dispel the myth of magic underwear. While we wear special undergarments as a private, ongoing reminder of our commitment to follow Christ, we do not believe they are magic. We can't rely on them to stop a speeding bullet.