Sunday, August 28, 2016

How To Help Your 7-year-old Write a Primary Talk

In Mormonism, be believe in public speaking. Everyone takes turns speaking in Sacrament Meeting, and even The Husband, who hates public speaking, got roped into teaching Elders Quorum when we were first married. There are lots of opportunities to talk in front of large groups of people. And we start 'em young. As in, three-years-old (Sunbeam age) young.

The Engineer, who is now seven, has thus far been able to avoid the dreaded Primary Talk, but when the Primary secretary asked me this week if he could, I strong-armed him into doing it. "It's part of life, and it's part of our Church," I told him.

I didn't want to write his talk for him, though. It was his talk, and he needed to write it. But since he's in second grade, I helped him out a little bit.

He and I sat down with a paper and pencil. The topic was on "My Body is a Temple." I asked some open-ended prompting questions. "What do you like about Temples? What was your favorite part about the Provo City Center Temple Open House? What do you like about your body? Why do we need to respect our bodies?" I wrote down his answers. I thought that we could rearrange things as needed, but in the end what he came up with had a decent logical structure of its own.

It's not great literature, and he only briefly touched on why in Mormonism we believe that our bodies are holy temples of God, but these are his own words, so I am very proud.

I reproduce it here for you.

I like how temples are built and the way the windows are made. I just like they way they build everything. I remember when they built our temple, it was on stilts. I like the carpets. I like how they built the stairs. 

 I like how my body is built, too. I can pick up stuff and walk and see and hear and talk. 

They made temples so that they're really pretty. You show respect for Heavenly Father when you're inside the temple. 

I can show respect for my body by staying clean and eating healthy food. Our bodies are presents from Heavenly Father. We need to respect our bodies so that we can live with Him again. We will have our bodies when we live with Heavenly Father. 

I am glad we have bodies, and I am glad we have temples. 

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

An Anecdote About Peer Pressure

I got out my old journals. Oh, man. I have learned so many things about myself that I didn't think I wanted to know before. Like 1) if my journal entries from the age of 10 are any indication, I was a very sour young lady and it is no wonder that the kids in my primary class didn't like me, and 2) it would have made everyone happier if I had never, ever dated anyone until 2004.

But I found this little gem in an undated entry from the summer of 2000. I remember the actual event, and I am pleased that I wrote it down. I had gone to Chili's in Kuwait with some friends from school for lunch. I didn't go out with my friends often because I lived an hour away from everyone else. On this occasion, they attempted to introduce me to a tradition they followed every time after eating out together.

I watched in disgust amusement as they shoved all the leftovers into one glass. Cheese dip, ice cream, mounts of salt and pepper, french fries, ketchup, onion rings. But my amusement turned to disgust as they passed the glass around and started drinking from it through a straw.

"It's just one sip," they said. 

Just one sip. It always starts out that way, doesn't it? Just one glass of wine, just one drag on a ciggarette. Just once. Although the "vomit in a glass" was not harmful or addictive or bad for your body, the principle was the same. 

Why should I do something I don't want to do just because everyone else is doing it? As the glass of leftovers came to me, I said, "I'm going to take this opportunity to express my inner weirdness. Therefore, I am going to NOT be the same as everyone else."

Later, they told me that the noxious stuff really did taste like vomit. That's my story. 

I think my failure to drink from the cup of poison did signify that I would never really be "one of them," but as I don't have any contact at all with the people I had lunch with that day, I can't say I have any regrets. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What I've Always Wanted To Be When I Grow Up

Oh, My Dear Little Blog, how I love you. You've always been my safe little corner of the interwebs, and you've never let me down.

Except for that one time I told people I didn't want my kids to watch Ducktales any more and the internet freaked out. That's probably the most controversial thing I've done.

But anyway...

I just finished reading Julia Cameron's book The Right to Write. It took me a while to get through it because every chapter ends with a suggestion for a writing exercise, like homework. As I worked my way through the book, it made me connect to what I really want out of life and out of writing.

I thought about the multitude of notebooks I went through in high school and college, full of doodles and crazy poems about yellow submarines and pizza-induced heart attacks; the beginnings of stories about time travel, the ocean, and suspicious cats. I thought about how I was a pretty good A- and B+ student, constantly underachieving because my heart wasn't really in it, even though my classes were interesting. And then there was my difficulty in finding  a job in my field after graduating college, and how I was ultimately not successful at it, because all I really wanted to do was work on my writing, anyway.

Because duh. I never really wanted to do anything else. I've always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was in 5th grade and got my first short story published in the school's magazine. Writing isn't considered "respectable," though, and I wanted to be respectable. Maybe "respectable," isn't the word I'm looking for. I wanted to make enough money to pay taxes, and I wanted to not starve. Writing as a profession doesn't exactly have a track record for making you big bucks, unless of course you are JK Rowling.

Life is very different now, of course - I've got four kids, a husband, and a mortgage. I'm not some kid fresh out of college still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I no longer feel like I have to impress anyone or please anyone other than myself. When it comes to my writing, I am free to do what I want.

So I think I will.

Over the last 18 months since I started writing for, I've had a shift in my thinking when my writing is concerned. I've started looking at the Atalantic and the New Yorker as places to where I could actually submit my work.

I've had a shift in my thinking in regards to how I fit in my writing, too. I have time to look at cats on the internet, so I have time to write. I prefer finding bits and pieces of time here and there, anyway, because it allows me to be present in my children's lives. I think if I were to pawn the kids off on a relative or something and make writing a full-time 9-5 job, I wouldn't enjoy it the way I do. 

I have started to take more ownership of my success. I have a story in Monsters and Mormons, and I saw a copy on the shelf at my local library where they keep the books on hold. I met someone on Facebook today who read the article I wrote last summer about Mormon patriarchal blessings for, and hopes to use parts as inspiration for a book she is writing on the subject. I wrote an article about cultivating your own yeast that some people think is pretty funny. Those are things to be really proud of.

It wasn't until after I had already graduated with a BA in Middle Eastern Studies that I heard someone say that you should be so excited about what you're majoring in that you live and breathe it all day long. I really enjoyed my major, but I would not say that I had that kind of passion for it. It was actually a pretty big slog.I'm saying out loud, now. It almost sounds like I'm coming out of the closet. I never really wanted to work in DC as a translator, anyway. I always wanted to be a writer, as attested by the quantity of microsoft word files among my college data containing the beginnings of fiction novels.

So, world (according to Google Analytics, I'm kind of a big deal in Russia...), I'm going to take myself and my writing a little more seriously from now on. I'm kind of looking forward to it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Lies I Told My Brother

I penned this as a writing exercise, but it turned out so well I decided to share it with the world. Here you go, world.

I am three years older than my brother. Some siblings really love each other dearly and would die to protect each other. Not me. I was a poster child for sibling rivalry. One of my earliest memories involving Christopher was from a time I was really upset about something. I'm pretty sure I was dying, actually. My mom was unavailable so I (very noisily) appealed to my dad for help. I was met with no sympathy, for my distress had awakened the baby. 

Very shortly after that, I remember plotting with a friend to murder my baby brother. I think my mom found out and put a kabosh on that pretty early on, which I viewed as a supreme disappointment. So it was only natural that I became one of “those” big sisters. I never made an attempt to mail my brother to Australia or sell him at a discount at a lemonade stand, but I sure got my revenge. 

Revenge for what, you ask? Good question. He wasn't really offensive, per se. It was just the fact that he existed. Sometimes we had a good time together and played well, but deep down I loved nothing more than to push him around and make him cry. 

Which is why I gave him the “lemonade.” 

When I was five and my brother was two (see the picture above), our house procured a quantity of lemon-scented dishsoap. I never liked lemon candy, because it tasted so cloying and fake. But the lemon soap smelled fresh and gorgeous, like real lemons. I put just the tiniest little bit on my tongue, once, just to see. That the taste was so different from the smell was a puzzle, and an intellectually stimulating one. 

One day, it found itself within my reach on the bathroom sink. With a cup right next to it. It didn't take a lot of brains to realize the next step. 

I handed the cup to my brother, and for these last twenty-seven years, I have cherished how the expression on his face changed so beautifully from excitement (“Lemonade! Yay!) to confusion (“Why does this not taste like lemonade?”), to realization (!!) and finally sadness. His face turned red, tears leaked out of his eyes and streamed down his cheeks, and when he opened his mouth, a glorious iridescent bubble covered his lips. It was the most spectacular thing I had ever witnessed in my young life.

When my mom asked what in the world had just happened, I came clean immediately. Like a clever little sociopath, I spun it in such a way as to make it look like a semi-accident. “I just gave him this cup, I guess it must have had soap in it or something.” I honestly can't remember how or even if my mom punished me. I'm guessing I must have gotten away with it.

I wish I could say that I learned my lesson and never did it again. The truth is that I did learn my lesson, but the lesson learned happened to be, “pushing Christopher around is really great fun and you should do it all the time.” It wasn't until I was in college that he and my mom stopped reminding me of all the other stunts I pulled on him, from combustible ice cream (“That chocolate ice cream will make you blow up, so you should give it to me,”) to suspicious math (“One plus one is eleven. Two plus five is twenty five.”)

How has this affected our relationship now that we're adults? Well, trust is a thing. Obviously.

Monday, June 20, 2016

On Early Childhood Literacy

I like homeschooling. I do. And I think I do a pretty decent job of it, despite all the upheaval that our little Cleftie has brought into our lives, what with her being born on Christmas Day, and then having surgery for her cleft lip and everything.

But I won't sugar coat it. I'll come right out and admit it.

My kid is reading below his grade level. 

When I read the literacy requirements for kids entering 2nd grade, I feel many emotions. They want him to be an independent reader. He is not an independent reader. So I feel disappointed, wondering if I've failed him, if I should have been more consistent, if I should have tied him to a chair and made him read or something.

But then I feel angry. Who came up with these requirements, anyway? Don't they know that lots of kids learn to read later, and in the long run sometimes the kids who learned to read at 7 instead of 5 have better reading comprehension? Don't they know that the insistence that every child learn everything on a list at the exactly the same time is absolutely ridiculous?

I'm annoyed, too, because my kid is above his grade level when it comes to math, plus all the other stuff he has in his head. Like the fact that he has more encyclopedic knowledge of WWII aircraft than most history majors. I'm doing a great job homeschooling my son, but if you're measuring him against that little checklist, nothing that he's really good at matters for much.

And then I feel all the emotions I experienced as a kid when it came to reading. One of my very clearest memories of first grade was of sitting at one of those circular tables, staring at my dumb textbook, hating it so much I'm surprised it didn't catch fire from the strength of my gaze alone. I wanted to rip it to shreds, pick it up and throw it at my teacher's head, run screaming from the room, anything but read from that book in front of my teacher and all my peers.

Obviously I became literate. I remember the exact moment reading became a joy instead of a slog. I was already halfway through second grade, and it involved a big pile of Little Critter books at my grandma's house in Idaho Falls. In first grade I was barely making it. By the time I got to third and fourth grade, I was running circles around my peers. So don't tell me that a child MUST conform to a dumb list in order to be a successful reader.

I still make my son work from a phonics workbook, and he writes letters to his friends and cousins. He copies verses from the scriptures. I know I could be doing more, but I can't bring myself to fight him and fight him over it, not when a) I think state guidelines are stupid and b) I have confidence that he'll figure it out eventually, even if it's a little later than most kids.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Times They Are A-Changin'

It's been ages and ages since I updated my blog. There are several reasons for this.

1) Now that there are four little people running around my house, I have reached what I like to call "peak kid." My youngest, the Cleftie, needed extra care because she wore what is known as a NAM until two weeks ago, when she had her lip repair surgery.

2) Most of my writing energy has been transferred over to I've written over 40 articles so far, if you can believe it. Go check it out now! Emergency Preparedness is very important!

3) I read something (it was this book) that accused social media of being narcissistic. I wanted to deny it until I read some of my older blog posts from 2008. Most of those are like, "And then I went to the store. And then I knitted something. LOOK AT THIS THING I DID AND VALIDATE ME!) And I felt ashamed.

When I started this blog in 2008, I vowed that I would never quit blogging. Mostly this was because I a) couldn't envision a scenario where I would not have time for blogging and b) I didn't want to be a quitter.

I don't think I'll officially quit my blog, but don't expect to see many updates. I have a couple of other projects in the works, and I'll advertise those here. I'm going to start cleaning out my blog, deleting a lot of the old posts that are no longer relevant to what it has become.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Why I still like BYU

I felt a little cheated, I'll admit, when I graduated from BYU but didn't get a job in my field. I know several people in the same situation who have become quite bitter towards our alma mater for this reason.

But now that I have kids, I feel nothing but a sense of deep appreciation for what BYU is and what the university stands for.


  • Free museums! BYU has an art museum, a life science museum, a paleontology museum, and a museum of ancient cultures. They're pretty tiny, but we go to each one several times a year. 
  • Lots and lots of activities for children: Astrofest, Open Studio, and the Beverly Taylor Sorensen Concert Series, for example. We try to attend as many of these as we can. They're consistently well-organized and enriching. 
  • Professors who like kids. My Engineer had a question about squirrels, so I helped him write an email to the university's expert on small mammals. The reply we got from him was warm and informative, as though getting a question from a six-year-old absolutely made his week.
  • A culture of people who like kids.
Here's a big long story to describe what I mean by that last one: Last Friday we went to the Engineering Expo.  (I know it says it was for high school and middle schoolers, but it also said "open and free to the public." Well, we're the public. I knew they wouldn't kick us out. We had a truly fantastic time.) At the very first booth, the baby started fussing. I tried to duck into a corner of the room to get her to calm down, but she just cried louder.

I felt really self-conscious because of how loudly she was screaming. One of the student presenters came up to me and asked if I needed anything, which I found really embarrassing. I got up to leave because I was so mortified, even though he said that I didn't have to leave, and that his own son was the same way.

Well, the baby calmed down and then we went back in and stayed for another two hours. In this day of anti-child sentiment where people hate being seated next to the screaming baby on an airplane, I was shown a considerable amount of compassion. Yes, it was an embarrassing situation, but I felt grateful that everyone was so gracious about it.

I can't say that I have an intimate knowledge of what other universities are like in this regard, but something makes me doubt that we will ever find a university as child-friendly as BYU.


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