Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: The Things We Do

A new FB friend recently posted a picture from a book she is reading about a young African American student going through the process of integration into a white school. Integration has been on my mind lately as I listened to a podcast about integration and its positive impact on education for the African American community. I also read a lengthy piece in the New York Times about integration at an elementary school in Brooklyn. Something about my friend's photo and the ensuing conversation pricked my heart a bit.

My husband and I went house hunting for our first home in April 2013. We had saved money for eighteen months while living as expats in Riyadh. When looking for homes, we found many homes within our budget and size needs in a community that has a diverse population, a reputation for bad schools, and more crime than other areas. This community also has a reviving downtown with interesting restaurants, art galleries, and small local businesses. I will admit that the thought of living in that community made me uneasy. The first time I ever ventured there almost 10 years earlier, I didn't feel safe in the town and the thought of living there made me uneasy.

Just a few miles away, there was another town/village that was much more rural (more like my hometown in Wyoming) that was much less diverse, with much better schools. We found a home that we lived in this community and settled in.

In contrast, some friends of ours with a similar expat background and lifestyle, purchased a home in Cleveland in a struggling diverse area, with an up and coming art and music scene. They chose to send their daughters to struggling schools with the intention of being a positive influence to their community.

It feels easy to justify our decision to purchase a home in the less diverse neighborhood--using the excuse of schools. While that is initially true, perhaps I am being dishonest to myself about my own prejudices/fears. Whether I like it or not, I have unwittingly/wittingly contributed to segregation and poor education outcomes for African Americans. I exercised my white middle class privilege in choosing a better school for my children.

Coming to this realization is uncomfortable to me. I am not quite sure what to do about it. I think I need to do a better job of being more welcoming to the minorities in my school community. Certainly, in the future I can be more thoughtful about where we live and what responsibilities our family has to the greater community. I also need to educate myself about segregation and why segregated schools for African Americans do so badly.

What are your thoughts about this? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Travel Tuesday: On Immigrants

Yesterday, my friend, Colin Ray posted the following on his FB page:

shares a Batha, Riyadh moment.
I find myself waiting for the tire alignment on the Subaru. I got a whole set of bushings, and now need to have wheels aligned. (Did you see how I did that, just casually mentioning "bushings" as if I have always known what they are? See also "aligned".)
My favorite felafel place has been shuttered, apparently for failing a health-sanitation inspection. This seems to happen a lot to my favorite places.
So I had to walk a bit further, to the foul (no, not "fool"!) place. Another customer in line struck up a conversation with me, albeit with difficulty since my Arabic is even more non-existent than his English. He asked where I was from - "Ameriki."
I could not at first even understand the food choices. He helped me order. Then I went to pay, but the place did not have change for a SAR 50. (About $15.). My fellow customer - his name was Sultan; he is Saudi, from the south, near to Yemen - insisted on paying for my dinner.
People sometimes ask why I feel so strongly about immigration issues. Part of it is probably because I (and most of my friends and colleagues) buy into the free-market idea of the benefit of mobile labor.
But the primary reason, I am sure, is that I have been an immigrant almost all my life. And this positive interaction typifies what I experience. At birth in the UK, I was granted UK citizenship, although my parents were just American students/visitors at the time. From 6 to 18 in Nigeria, I was generally shown overwhelming hospitality. Cameroon. Netherlands. Japan. Saudi Arabia. The same. (Yes. There are sometimes bad experiences. Life is like that.)
So . . . that is basically why I bristle at suggestions of targeting or blaming immigrants. I want them to have what I have experienced.

I loved Colin's comment and thoughts about being an immigrant. It was so powerful that I wanted to share my own thoughts and experiences.

I am not nor have I ever been an immigrant. But I have been an outsider and an expat in three different countries.

I know what it is like to:

  • not understand a word of the language being spoken around you.
  • not understand the rules and bureaucracy of  the country in which I reside.
  • not understand the cultural norms and unwritten rules for conduct.
  • have someone speak super slowly to me like I am stupid.
  • be criticized for being a foreigner.
  • struggle and grapple with a language that is not my native tongue.
  • worry if I will be a target of harassment or violence because of my nationality.
  • feel isolated and alone because I am an outsider.
  • experience and learn about a new country and culture.
  • visit a country in the middle of turmoil and revolution.
  • eat new and different food.
  • make friends from my new country.
  • be the recipient of kindness when my ignorance of the custom and cultures was obvious.
  • be generously taught and instructed in new customs.
  • be the recipient of gracious hospitality as a foreigner.
  • talk religion with people from a very different religious tradition than mine.
  • make friends with people from different countries and religions.
  • discuss politics across borders.
  • have a baby in a foreign country.
  • go without a car in a foreign country.
  • learn how to use public transportation like a boss in a different country.
  • invited friends from different countries and cultures to my home and share a meal together.

Life as an immigrant isn't easy. It doesn't come with a free ride or doors opening automatically for you. It can be incredibly isolating and lonely. It means overwhelmingly difficult work. It means swallowing pride and doing humble jobs.

I have friends who were highly trained and skilled workers in their home countries who immigrated to the United States for better opportunities for their children. Now they work at daycare centers, cleaning house, moving, mowing lawns, scrubbing dishes at restaurants, etc.

I am really concerned with the rhetoric about immigrants that I hear from my fellow American citizens. The words from our president elect about immigrants are deeply distressing and alarming. With the exception of Native Americans, every single American citizen is a product of immigration. They came to the U.S. for the same reasons immigrants coming to the States today, for opportunities, safety, religious freedom, and for a dream of a better life.

Our immigration system does not function well. The laws are complicated and confusing. Immigrating legally requires money, access to lawyers, and extreme patience. I want to see immigration reform to make it easier for people to get work visas so they can work legally and pay taxes. Improved immigration laws would also likely reduce the human traffickers that prey on the vulnerable and feed into sex slavery, slavery on big farms, and abuse in other industries.

I think that immigrants in the United States need to follow our laws (even when they conflict with their religious or personal beliefs), learn English, and pay taxes.

I think we in the U.S. need to deport immigrants who have committed crimes in their home countries or on American soil, provide English courses for free, crack down on employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, crack down on organizations that traffic immigrants.

Most of all, I want Americans to stop being so darn nationalistic. Immigrants bring vibrancy, energy, and new ideas to our country. Extend hospitality and friendship to immigrants. I think doing so makes us a better, stronger nation.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mothering Monday: Self-Care

I am just starting to climb out of the hole of depression. In October, I started seeing a therapist. Through our sessions, I started to see that over the past year, I haven't been taking care of myself in the way that a woman needs so that she is fully functional in her life.

Apparently, when I don't take care of myself, I stop feeling pleasure in life. I stop enjoying food, cooking, creating, parenting, and living. It is an odd feeling really, when you can't experience simple pleasures like the delightful sweet tart bite of a blueberry in your mouth, or the soothing spray of a hot shower on your tense shoulders, or the shiver of delight from a loving touch, or your heart singing from listening to your favorite song. A world without being able to experience simple pleasures is such a bummer.

I have been slowing down lately, taking time to read silly novels without guilt. We have relied on processed food to make meal time easier. I took a week off from mom duty and visited two sisters and my parents. I bought some clothes, scrapbook supplies, and even some music. I have been going to bed early and resting as long as I can. I have delegated more and done less. Brent and I have gone out on more dates--just taking off and enjoying time together. I did a lot of soul-searching about my discontent and made some future goals that inspire and encourage me. I am also trying to consciously think and articulate gratitude.

I am starting to feel joy in things again. The fall leaves and the light this autumn have made me smile over and over again. My kids are cute and wonderful again. I am not all the way back to where I want to be, but I am not feeling dark and awful. I still don't enjoy cooking or food--which is super weird, I really don't understand why. Writing remains difficult as I am not flooded with ideas or thoughts. But I am not worried as I know this is just a dry season. It will work out.

I really want to thank all of my family, friends, and readers who took the time to reach out to me. You made me feel valuable and loved. You helped me get the courage to take the steps I needed to get better. You showed me that I am not alone--even when many of you live far away from me. I feel remarkably blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day America Lost

On November 9, 2016, I awoke to the news that Trump had won the presidency. Stunned and sickened, I have been in the throes of deep grieving, unable to comprehend how our country fell so far.

This has been the worst election cycle I have ever witnessed or experienced. The majority of the Republican candidates running in the primary were terrible. When Trump won against his opponents, I couldn't believe that people were really voting for such a gimp.

I disagreed profoundly with many of the campaign promises of Hillary Clinton. I think she is deeply entrenched in the trenches of very corrupt political practices. I couldn't vote for her either, so I opted to vote third party. I knew New York would go to Hillary Clinton, so I felt safe in voting third party.
If worse came to worse, I determined that I could live with a Clinton presidency because, while I think she is corrupt, I didn't anticipate things changing much for the worse.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think Trump could actually succeed. Surely the people of America would see what a dangerously unhinged man he is. Surely the people of America could see his unbridled temper and outrageous outbursts as liabilities in working with other nations or handling nuclear codes. Surely people could see that the way he shut down opponents and fought with the media did not bode well for the cherished right of free speech. Surely people would hear alarm bells regarding his rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. Surely men and women would be horrified as he admitted to sexual assault.

I expected and hoped too much. I believed in the decency of Americans. I understand deeply all the problems with a Clinton presidency. But there were alternatives; there were other candidates to select. I hoped and prayed that people would make a principled choice and choose from the third party options.

But the people of America chose a man who has all the hallmarks of enacting a regime like unto Hitler's. All these people I believed and hoped were good and decent people chose a man who openly advocated for racism, sexism, sexual abuse and assault, religious persecution, and everything that is the antithesis of what is good and right about America.\

Meanwhile the pleas from all these "good people" to unite and be kind make me want to throw up. I don't want to unite with them. I don't want to be aligned with anything they voted for. I don't stand with them. I can't respect them. They have shattered all my beliefs and cherished hopes for this nation. Everything that liberals and democrats said about Republicans is true. I learned yesterday that I am not safe with any of those people. I cannot pray for them. I cannot pray for that man who will take the highest office of the United States. I don't know if I can forgive or accept what has happened to our country.

May God preserve us. I don't think He will protect us from what we justly deserve. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Autumn in New York

When I was a girl, I used to read Anne of Green Gables and dream of living in a forest. Living in the high desert mountains of Wyoming, trees were scarce and twisted. The constant fierce wind made every tree remarkably strong, if somewhat deformed. Autumn is a funny time in Wyoming with the weather wildly vacillating between blizzards, warm weather, and proper fall temperatures. 

Experiencing Autumn in New York is, well, an EXPERIENCE. Unless you have witnessed the changing of the leaves, the astounding colors, and the way the light interacts with the colors, you truly cannot imagine what it is like to live in New York during the fall.

Don't believe me? Here are a few pictures I have taken over the past week.

So, when are you coming to visit me?


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Called

Today in my scripture study, I came across a very interesting exchange in Luke 1:26-38. 

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed artthou among women.
 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throneof his father David:
 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
 36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
 37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
 38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Gabriel's first statement:
  • Thou art highly favored of the Lord.
  • The Lord is with thee.
  • Thou art blessed among women.
Mary's first response to the angel:
  • I think it is best described as gawking and totally unsure how to respond. To be fair, it seems seeing an angel is actually pretty shocking, given other experiences recorded in scripture. So she waits instead of reacting.
Gabriel's second statement:
  • Do not be afraid.
  • You have found favor with the Lord.
  • You will conceive and bare a son named Jesus.
  • He shall be great.
  • He will be the son of the Highest.
  • He shall be King and have the throne of King David.
  • He shall rule over the House of Jacob forever.
  • His kingdom shall never end.
Mary's second response to the angel is very telling:
  • I don't understand how this will happen. I am a virgin. 
I don't think her response is doubtful or skeptical. It sounds like she is trying to understand.

Gabriel's third and final statement:
  • You will conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost and the power of God.
  • Your child will be the Son of God.
  • Your cousin Elisabeth is six months pregnant. You know she is old and has been barren her whole life.
  • With God, nothing is impossible.
Mary's final statement:
  • Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
  • Be it unto me as thou has said.
She accepts with faith the will of the Lord and proclaims her willingness to be a vessel for the Lord's work.

The angel used the example of her cousin's unexpected and unannounced pregnancy to show Mary that all things are possible. Elisabeth is also there to give comfort and strength to Mary as she embarks on this very difficult responsibility that few will understand or even accept. 

To me, Mary emulates a Christ-like pattern in her responses to this interaction with Gabriel.

1) She listens to the messenger of the Lord.
2) She asks clarifying questions to understand.
3) She proclaims her willingness to accept and then acts.

What are your thoughts about this interaction in Luke? What lessons do you take from it? 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Ordinary

The other day a friend of mine made the following comment on a photo I posted on Instagram. She said,
The tagline on your blog is a bit humble. "Ordinary" women do not raise large families with exceptional children. Ordinary women do not move around the world and pick up foreign languages and teach them to their children. Ordinary women are not as virtuous and humble as you seem to be. But of course you would shy away from a more accurate world, which is "extraordinary". You are an extraordinary woman leading an extraordinary life. So glad to have crossed your path.

My friend's kind and admiring words gave me pause. In so many ways, I do not feel anything but ordinary. I am doing very much of the same things that my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers did before me. They married, birthed many babies, and raised those babies- in whatever easy or hard circumstances they encountered. They kneaded bread, practiced the age-old alchemy of making a delicious meal out of nothing, and pinched pennies to buy shoes or clothes for their children. They expressed their creativity and intelligence in different ways-through sewing, working as a secretary and clerk for a lawyer and then for the county court, writing, or singing. Many of these women moved across the country leaving behind family and friends. Some crossed oceans taking an enormous risk in the hopes of a better future. All of them faced loss-some lost babies, others lost siblings and friends, parents, grandparents, and spouses.

My great-grandmother Gertrude Anderson Fenex, her son Floyd Fenex, and my great-grandfather John Franklin Fenex. Gertrude was a devout Catholic, educated at a Catholic school,  and was a school teacher. She was a great letter writer. She was the calm presence to my great-grandfathers fiery temper. Gertrude and John would lose a baby (Glen) during his first year of life and their eldest son would be killed as  a civilian POW in his early 20s on Wake Island in the Pacific Islands during World War II.

So when I look at my life, compared to the long line of women who preceded me in life, it is hard to consider myself as anything but ordinary. I cook, clean, wash laundry, make beds, run errands, pick up children from school, force children to do homework, and do what needs to be done to raise a family. I have friends all over the world doing the same thing with their families.

I will not demean myself though by proclaiming any of it is easy work. It isn't. It is the hardest work I have ever done. I often feel exhausted and grumpy trying to manage it all. I work very hard to parent deliberately, to instill order out of chaos,and to provide a warm and loving environment for my children to thrive.

Being a mother isn't the sum total of my existence though. I am a writer with some skill, but still have a long path to tread before I achieve anything approaching mastery. I am curious about the world with its mysteries and conundrums. I possess the capacity to adapt and thrive in unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. I am adventurous. I am a good friend. I strive to better myself.

Whether or not I feel comfortable calling myself extraordinary, I do feel like I live in an extraordinary time with extraordinary opportunities available to me. I only hope I can live up to the promise and adventure of those opportunities.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Jar of Soup and a Loaf of Bread

After yesterday's post asking for help and understanding, I was shocked at the flood of messages I received. Several of my friends posted loving, supportive, and compassionate comments. A few sent encouraging private messages. A few friends sent me texts offering support and advice. I truthfully didn't expect any of those responses. But oh, how they filled my heart and soul. I have amazing friends.

Reading so many messages of comfort and hope made me feel stronger than I have felt in a long while. This morning I made several phone calls and was able to arrange for a visit to a doctor and find a local therapist. I'm  fortunate that the company my husband works offers provisions for mental health services. Initially, I can get 8 sessions of therapy without paying anything out of pocket. After that, we can assess my future needs. I feel confident that with these measures, I am going to find help and solutions. I do experience depression occasionally, but they are often temporary-lasting no more than a few months at a time and I don't expect that my malaise will linger much longer with good care and help.

The most humbling and soul-filling moment also occurred today. Last night, my friend sent me a very long text sharing thoughts and offering concrete advice. This morning she asked if I wanted to spend time at her home. I wasn't up to that just yet and had to finish some other things at home. Later in the day, she sent me a text saying she was bringing dinner over and would let me know her arrival time later.

A few hours later she showed up at my back door, arms laden with grocery bags filled with food: delicious warm soup in jars, bread, salad, muffins, doughnuts, and potatoes. It was just so generous and wonderful that I could hardly believe it. We talked for a few minutes and she encouraged me in my efforts to get help.

This evening as I served this meal, I couldn't stop the tears. My kids watched me dish out soup, spread butter on bread, and spoon salad onto their plates in confusion as tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't even explain why I was crying to them. As I ate my friend's delicious soup, I swear I could hear a gentle voice saying, "You are loved, Tiffany. Everything is going to be OK."

And it will be. I feel like a giant load has been lifted off my shoulders. I have already taken steps to get help. I discovered that I have this amazing network of friends ready to lift me up and encourage me. My husband, parents, and sisters are all reaching out to me offering their love and support.

So thank you, friends. I certainly don't deserve you or your kindness, but I am wholeheartedly grateful for it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mothering Monday: Mom Burn-Out

If you have been reading my blog over the past summer, I think you can tell that I'm experiencing mom burn-out. The kind of burnout where I went from regularly cooking homemade meals to considering fast food as a viable option for dinner. Every.Single.Night. While I didn't serve fast food every night, I fantasized about it everyday. I used to read to my kids all the time but the other day, I searched for bedtime stories on YouTube. My patience and interactions with my children are extremely short. The worst thing is that I don't really feel much happiness when I'm doing my work as a mom or when I spend time with my children.

Let me be clear about something. I deliberately chose to be a mother. I was not coerced, manipulated, or forced into having babies. Most of my children were planned and those who weren't, were welcome surprises. I think being a mother is an extremely important calling and I willingly accepted that calling. I am proud of the work I am doing as a mother. Raising kids who are independent, hard workers, kind, compassionate, helpful, and decent people is worthwhile work.

Right now I am not feeling the joy of working on something important. I just feel cranky, tired, out-of-sorts, overwhelmed, and exhausted. I find that when faced with challenges (which is normal with kids) I don't even have the energy to cope with them. This is not good, people.

So how do I get my mojo back? How do I find happiness in the experience? How do I find more pleasure in interacting with my children? How do I stop being/feeling so darn grouchy with my family?

Seriously, I am so curious what kind of answers you have to offer.

© 2007-2016 TIFFANY WACASER ALL RIGHTS RESERVED                                              

Friday, September 23, 2016

An Explanation on My Absence

To all my readers (the faithful few),

I apologize for my absence and missing posts. When I set out to start writing daily, I thought I would do it for a month and see how it went. I found so much enjoyment from the practice and effort that I thought I could continue indefinitely. I still hope to resume my practice of daily writing.

However, the events of the past few weeks have been overwhelming. My children started school again and the transition to the new schedule has been a difficult one. I'm still struggling to find the right sleep schedule for myself.

I am also learning some hard parenting lessons right now that are sensitive and difficult. Because they involve other people I don't feel comfortable with sharing those struggles so publicly.

My oldest son has decided that he wants to graduate this year, instead of next year. This moves up his timetable significantly and means that we have to make a multitude of decisions about his future plans very quickly, which is also contributing to my stress and work load.

A couple of days ago, we learned that my BIL's younger brother died tragically. My BIL is devastated by the loss. I have spent quite a bit of time speaking with my sister and looking for ways to help her husband and family.

I have cried more in the past few weeks than I think I have ever done. Usually writing is my therapy, but I can't even get words out when I sit down to write.

On top of this, I have felt completely overwhelmed with parenting responsibilities to the point of exhaustion. Writing doesn't feel pleasurable or happy at the moment. I am pretty sure I am experiencing a low-grade depression that is likely caused by a hormonal balance. Trying to figure that out is also not fun.

All this to say, I'm having a hard time; I don't feel like writing right now. I want to return to my blog when things feel better.

Please don't give up on me! I'll be back.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Friday Favorites: A Tale of Two Cities Links

I loved reading A Tale of Two Cities. There are some great discussions of the book I want to share.

Some strong swearing in here, but this guy clearly loves literature and knows how to pick out the best bits.

Wikipedia has an excellent overview of the novel. The analysis is a bit weak, but provides some good notes to ponder.

This 18 minute animated short gives a good summary of the book.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Scrapbook Saturday: Telling My Story

I have a passion for understanding the stories of people's lives, especially the stories of my ancestors. My great-great grandparents immigrated to New York from Ireland during, at least I think, the 1840s. As I have followed their movements through census records and directories, I have asked myself lots of questions about them. What took them to Cayuga county in New York? Why were they living with David and Sophronia Taylor? When did they move to Pennsylvania? When did their daughter die? Why did they move to Pennsylvania? Were they a happy family? What were the kids like--were they happy together?

I doubt I will ever find the answers to the majority of those questions. As far as I know, neither of them left behind a diary describing their lives. So I have to make guesses.

Sometimes the stories disappear shockingly fast--within a generation. My mother moved a lot during her childhood. I know and understand why those moves were made, but will my children or grandchildren?

Those questions haunt me and press me to record my own life and the facts and stories about my own little family. We live a rich and complicated life that deserves to be recorded and shared. I want my children to understand what drove me to leave my small hometown in Wyoming. I want my grandchildren to understand their parents adventures as kids. I want my children to understand that despite the challenges of being a mother, it was work that I found (mostly) joyful and meaningful.

Do you know that if you don't share the stories you know about your family or stories about your past, they will die with you? The only way those stories will have any lasting power if they are written down, in hard copy form--on a piece of paper, in a journal, in a letter written on paper, or in a scrapbook.

Do you know that all those pictures you take will die with you if you don't print them? They will just go away if you don't print and curate them.

What's holding you back from sharing your story? Start telling it. You have meaning and your stories are important.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Throwback Thursday: That One Time I Was Stuck in Paris

A few years ago, my husband and I while traveling got stuck in Paris. It was such a delightful adventure that I feel like sharing and revisiting here. I blogged about it on my Saudi Blog, In a Maze of Beige.

Stuck in Paris

Have you ever had an unexpected detour on a trip? If so, what happened?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Thoughts on a Tale of Two Cities

I'm reading A Tale of Two Cities for my book group. Here are just a few thoughts about the book:

  • I'm kind of annoyed at how Mr. Lorry and Miss Pross (and other characters) conspire to hide events and truth from Lucie, as if she weren't strong enough or capable enough to understand them and appropriately process them. 
  • I found the rather matter-of-fact description of Mr. Cruncher beating his wife to rather shocking. I know the laws at the time permitted such behavior (and I know domestic violence is still epidemic in the present day) but still, it was rather horrifying.
  • The description of the poverty and distress of the French people was pretty awful. I don't know what the rates of poverty are in present day. Considering other works of literature, it seems the grinding aspect of poverty wasn't eliminated because of the French Revolution.
  • Some of the parallels with our present day are quite striking--the mass incarceration of people for relatively minor offenses in London could very well be a description of present day in the United States. 
  • Syndey Carton's character is my favorite in the book. I found his despair about his own character very sad. Somehow he found hope in finding redemption. His final act was profound and powerful.
  • I LOVE redemption stories and this was packed full of redemption.
  • I find Dickens easier to understand and absorb while listening rather than reading it.
  • The first chapter, man.... The first sentence is one of the best I have ever read. 
  • So many funny moments...
  • Why hasn't a current film been made of this story? It is so relevant and almost modern-despite being over 150 years old. What about a setting in Syria or the middle east? 

Have you read this book? If so, what did you get out of it?


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Peekskill Waterfront

I'm lucky to live in an area with a lot of beautiful scenery and places to enjoy. Peekskill is on the east bank of the Hudson River and has a fun park that my kids have enjoyed over the years. The city of Peekskill recently finished another section of their waterfront walkway. I've been dying to get out and try it. This morning Winter and I got ready fast and drove to the walkway right after we got the kids off to school.

It did not disappoint. First, there is a little memorial garden dedicated to those who died in the 9/11 attacks. We aren't that far north of NYC, and most of the area is considered the suburbs of NYC. Many people work in the city and commute on trains down south. There are many connections among the people here to the events that happened 15 years ago and feelings are still very tender and sad.

Winter and I walked on the trail for about a mile. The views are really pretty and soothing.

It was a lovely walk and one that I want to do again.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Mothering Monday: Back to School

My five older children started school on September 1st. Most of them were happy about the transition. I have two kids in high school, two in middle school and one in elementary school. I'm happy to see their progress.

Winter and I are having growing pains as we adjust to our new schedule. During the summer, Winter had constant playmates and spent most of her time outdoors with her siblings. Now that the kids are back in school, I have a tall list filled with things I had put off during the summer. I have fallen out of the habit and practice of playing with Winter. She would like to spend all her time playing on the iPad, but that isn't an option at home, so we are both trying to figure out how to keep her busy and entertained while I finish church and home assignments that have been piling up.

We are both having a tough time sleeping. She moved from her crib to a toddler bed. All toddlers struggle to adapt without the bars. I need to keep reminding myself to be patient.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Thoughts from Church Today

Lots of good things from church today that I heard and felt.

First, our Sacrament Meeting explored the question of how we come to receive answers and a testimony. My friend, who is a professor of Biology at a university, talked about the scientific method-which really appealed to me. She also referenced a book by Wendy Watson Nelson called, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, where Sister Nelson challenges readers to go to the scriptures with our questions.

My friend's talk made me consider the questions I have in my life, whether they are about spiritual matters or not, and how they weigh on my heart and mind.

In Sunday School we talked about how to avoid being susceptible to flattery and deception. It occurred to me that prayer and constant scripture study provide a tuning fork of sorts to efficiently help you find the truth. It can be so easy to be overwhelmed by untruth and deceit. It takes a lot of wisdom and work to discern truth.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Scrapbook Saturday: Just a Peek

This is a page for my "The First Four Years" album. This picture sparked a memory of how Walter and I used to play with this puzzle set all the time. I taught him his letters and numbers with the set. Sadly, I haven't spent equivalent time with the rest of my children playing games and working on literacy. Some were really resistant and then I got tired and lowered my standards.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday Favorites: A Smorgasbord of Thought

During Christmas Eve, Swedes serve a smorgasbord of select treats that follow a certain pattern, down to the types of food served and to the timing of the service. With that in mind, although it is much too early in the season to refer to a smorgasbord, here are a few favorites I have come across.

When God's Lovc Is So Big It Makes You Feel Uncomfortable, a  thoughtful piece about the atonement, forgiveness, and Brock Turner made me think deeply.  This particular passage is well-worth printing and referring to anytime grave injustices are done--which happens all the time.

But another way of interpreting this is that God loves EVERYBODY, including sinners like Brock Turner. That God is crying with Brock’s family and friends as they watch how his choices have forever altered his life and the life of his victim. That God is supporting Brock as he suffers through the consequences of his sin just as much as God is working on healing the terrible, awful, almost irreparable wounds Brock inflicted behind that dumpster. It could mean that God would want us to pray for the survivor of the assault AS WELL AS the assaulter.
I wrote the following comment on the blog piece:

I just wrote a big blog post about rape and sexual assault on my blog so I have been thinking about this topic a lot.
But I have also been thinking about the atonement. For a long time, I thought the atonement was all about the sinner. That seems to be how it is referenced constantly by our church leaders and everyone I know.
I thought about the atonement in this narrow, tightly defined way until a dear friend, after sharing her story of being physically and emotionally abused by her mother, found healing and peace through the atonement. She is one of the most emotionally stable and whole people I know.
That rocked my world. So yes, I believe God’s love is way bigger than we can imagine. I think most of us aren’t actually accessing the atonement for healing from the wounds which were inflicted upon us by others. I think sometimes we are so paralyzed by our pain, grief, and suffering as we grapple with the afer-effects of abuse, addiction, etc., that we don’t even know that healing is there or how to begin. 
I think the only way the Atonement can work to allow a sinner to be forgiven is that God has to offer the victim a way to be healed and become whole again. I think that’s the atonement. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m not. 

I was so impressed by this article where the magazine cover of a popular teens' magazine is totally and appropriately revamped. This  is the kind of magazine I want my daughters to read.

And, I've written too much tonight! What's the best thing you have read or listened to this week?


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The Storm Will End

Sometimes you get thrown into a storm that you didn't anticipate and it is shocking, paralyzing, terrifying, frustrating, scary, and also infuriating. I'm in the middle of storm that likely feels bigger than it is in reality. Today as I've been trying to process what happened, rethinking my own actions and mistakes, I am reminded that storms do blow over and end. In that spirit, here are a few storms I've faced that have blown over:

  • When I was diagnosed with lupus, I imagined the pain and challenge of the disease would haunt me forever. I still deal with lupus, but I am not riding out the lupus storm all the time anymore.
  • Losing a much-wanted baby through miscarriage was unbelievably painful but I don't carry a heavy load of grief anymore.
  • My five older kids did learn to potty train. None of them wear diapers anymore. There was a time I wasn't sure that would happen.
  • We almost got sued by a very angry landlord a few years ago. It was a heck of a storm and we were battered and bruised, but we recovered financially, emotionally, and physically.
  • I have watched people make big mistakes that they were able to recover from and are living happy lives now.
  • Labor doesn't go on forever, thank goodness. The contractions do end and a beautiful baby comes out to hold and love.
  • Children don't stay in the toddler phase forever, although they do revisit it from time to time.
  • My husband and I have weathered marital arguments more times than I care to count, but we keep surviving them. 
  • Hurricanes, Super Storms, and big winter storms eventually come to an end. Sometimes the aftermath must be dealt with for years to come, but they do end.

What have you learned from riding out big storms in your life? How do you keep yourself going during those tough moments?


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Personal Thoughts about Rape and the Objectification of Women

This topic has been weighing heavily on my mind for several days because I have come across several disturbing articles in the aftermath of the release of the rapist, Brock Turner. The articles and comments I have read shouldn't shock me, but they do because things haven't changed much in my lifetime. If anything, I feel like the acceptance of rape is increasing, which rather alarms me. This is not a comfortable piece to write and I acknowledge that it will likely make many of my readers feel uncomfortable because its a hard topic to discuss. I ask that you read carefully and consider my perspective.

Fortunately, I have never been raped, but the fear of rape has stayed with me since I became a young woman and learned what rape was. I have friends and family members who have either been sexually abused or raped. Of these women, not one of them was ever assaulted by a stranger. All of them were abused or raped by someone they knew and trusted: a parent, a grandparent, an uncle, a cousin, a brother, a friend, a boyfriend, or a trusted family friend. It's ugly but these things really do happen. I don't know of anyone who was every able to bring their rapist or molester to trial. Not one.  Most of them couldn't even bear to report because authorities or leaders weren't so helpful or respectful of what they had experienced. Trials are notoriously horrific for victims of sexual assault because their characters are often torn to shred by lawyers in public. Now, if you are reading this and you don't know anyone who has ever experienced this, then the people close to you aren't telling you for a reason--they may be so ashamed of what happened to them, they may wrongfully blame themselves, or you may have done something that signaled that you can't be trusted with such painful and scary information.

I hit puberty rather late in my teens--around the time I was 14 1/2. During Junior High, I endured comments, jeers, and even some attempts at groping from my male peers. This was normal for my school and very little was done to stop it by teachers or parents. In fact, if a girl complained, it was very unlikely anything would happen to her perpetrator. When I finally hit puberty, I grew rapidly and was very curvy, which brought new attention to my body. Attention I was extremely uncomfortable with. I also knew that no one was going to protect me and I had to protect myself. I'm very small and so I developed the biggest, gruffest, boldest, meanest personality I could manage. Learning about feminism helped me articulate the inequities and injustices I saw and experienced as a female, but also gave me courage to speak up about things that were happening right then. It worked and I basically scared a lot of boys away-something that I don't regret at all.

I have been thinking about my teenage experiences with a view toward what my daughter, who has just begun middle school,  and what she will potentially experience. She is sweet, innocent, and very much a child. I'm very nervous about the challenges ahead for her. How do I help her protect herself? How do I teach her to trust her intuition? How do I allow her to experience the joys of crushes and falling in love, but teach her to be wary of situations that feel wrong-even with boys she might like? I'm only in charge of one side of the equation here and it is really tough.

On the other hand, I have three teenage sons and we have these conversations often. I talk to them about how they talk to and about girls. I shared my experiences in junior high and the fear I felt about the way boys and men reacted to my body. They were very understanding and hopefully, they have listened to my advice and counsel. I would be so ashamed if one of my sons acted badly or inappropriately to any girl or woman.

As a woman with daughters, I want people to understand something really important about me. I'm not an object to be lusted after, leered at, or used. I have a body that is a vessel for my thoughts, feelings, experiences, intellect, and work. I have a body that is full of the power to create. I'm a person of value. I want my daughters to be viewed as people of worth because they are human, worthy, and valuable.

I want good men to:
1) listen with compassion when women talk about rape and assault,
2) openly condemn men who rape, assault, harrass, or abuse women (or children),
3) encourage justice and appropriate punishment for rapists,
4) stand up for women and be a protector,
5) treat women with respect and consideration,
6) work on not objectifying women or their bodies,
7) respond to young men and teenage boys and talk to them about appropriate ways to talk to and about girls.

What are you thoughts about this? 


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Travel Tuesday: The Beach Days of Summer

I grew up in the high plains and mountains of Wyoming where the cold desert landscape with its stark lines and shades of brown were beautiful to me. They still are and nothing makes me catch my breath, quite like a high, rugged, snow-capped mountain. As much as I enjoy the mountains, I'm not really a mountain girl. I don't love hiking nor do I find joy in camping. I have always preferred water.

My dad bought a boat when I was a little girl and some of my happiest memories were spent in that boat at Buffalo Bill Reservoir or at Yellowtail. The boat was quite large with a small cabin including a kitchen, table, tiny bathroom, and a bed. My sisters and I used to lay on the bed watching the water as we sailed in the water. Sometimes we would sit out top on the deck with our older sisters and pretend to tan. (Incidentally, we never used sunscreen back in those days. We often applied tanning lotion to help tan.)

My mom made my sisters and I take swimming lessons each summer. I have never been very strong, but despite that, I loved swimming. We would also visit the thermal water swimming pools in Thermopolis. I loved the feeling of weightlessness and feeling totally and completely relaxed.

While living in Sweden, we usually stayed in Sweden during the summer (unlike most expats who tend to go to their home country in the summer) because we didn't really have the money to travel. As a mother to three little boys who were BUSY, I was desperate for activities that would keep them occupied, out of trouble, and help them feel tired at night. The last reason was perhaps the most important because the sun sets rather late in the northern countries, the boys were resistant to normal and necessary early bedtimes. Faced with these challenges, I realized that hundreds of miles of beaches surrounded us within an hour of driving time. So we started to explore the different beaches and the ocean during the summer.

I soon discovered that sitting on the beach, playing with my little boys, or wading in the water with them was quite possibly the only time I actually relaxed while parenting. The relief and happiness was so strong that I tried to go as often as possible. Since then, I have considered going to the water-be it lake or ocean, and a beach to be an essential component of a successful and happy summer.

This summer was no exception. We spent a lot of time at a local lake, swimming, playing in the sand, and trying to catch fish. These lake expeditions were a great way to hang out with friends. I would send out a mass email to a bunch of friends giving them a time and date we were meeting at the lake. Because it only cost $7 per car to park, it was a reasonable fee.

The last day before school, Brent came with us and we went to a beach in Stamford, Connecticut. The ocean really is special. I really need to make more visits happen to the ocean next year.

I'm so glad I live near lakes and the ocean so I can visit often. Spending time on the sand and in the water really bring me a lot of peace and joy.

What is an essential summertime activity for you and your family and why? What makes you feel relaxed whiled parenting or are you super uptight like me?


Monday, August 29, 2016

Mothering Monday: Summer Confessions of a Mom

I let my kids sleep in their clothes with dirty feet, dirty faces, and dirty teeth.

I only washed the bathing suits a few times and instead just threw them in the dryer to dry for the next day of swimming.

I seriously neglected the laundry.

I forced my older kids to go on outings to the local zoo and to the beach.

I let the older kids go on biking expeditions around our village hunting for Pokemon Go.

I locked my kids outside while I cleaned the house because it was grossing me out.

I let the kids watch TV or play games on their devices all day.

I made the kids do chores and clean the house.

I forced everyone to clean out their clothes and toys and we got rid of bags and bags of stuff.

I took the kids swimming frequently and only brought along a few snacks.

I made the kids play outside without any electronic devices.

I let the kids sleep outside without an adult supervising.

I made lots of frozen and prepared foods like burritos, taquitos, etc.

I let the kids stay in their pjs all day.

I made the kids mow the lawn.

I woke the kids up around 8 a.m. and made them help me with stuff around the house.

I ignored the mess and did my own little fun things.

I stayed up late watching movies with my husband.

I skipped FHE and went to a movie with friends.

I took my kids on tons of outings to the local fair, local zoo, beach, etc.

How was your summer? Did you let your hair down and relax? Did you get on a tight schedule?


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Taking a Vacation

This is my children's last week of summer vacation and promises to be...stressful. We have a few loose ends to wrap up. I've been battling an infection that seems to get worse when I am stressed. I have other responsibilities I need to manage.

So I am taking this week off so I can focus on getting my children off to school, have one last summer hurrah, and finish up some other things.

I'll be back in a week or two. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Superheroes

I originally posted this entry on August 22, 2007 on my blog, A Stranger Here, when we lived in Sweden. At the time, my children were 7, 6, 4, and 1. I don't actually remember which son I had this conversation with, but I suspect it was most likely Trent. Today I took Trent to the high school for Locker Opening Day. He is a freshman. Time has flown by at warp speeds. 

Superheroes are a hot topic in our house as we have 3 boys. One of my sons and I had the following conversation yesterday.
 Son: “Mom, is MacGyver a superhero?”
Me: “I don’t know, what do you think?”
Son:”Yeah. He saves people and stuff.”
Me: “I think so too. Are you a Superhero?”
Son: thinks a minute before answering “No. I don’t build smoke bombs to save people.”
Me: “Um, okay.”
Son: “Mom! You’re a superhero!”
Me: “Me, why?”
Son: “Because you don’t kill people.”
You heard it folks. I am a superhero because I don’t kill people. I feel like I deserve that label this week.
Now to figure out my superhero name. . .


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Mourning with Those Who Mourn

Late in the afternoon I received a text from a ward member. It was news of the most devastating sort as a young man in his prime had lost his life in a tragic accident. His family, friends of mine, were cast into the deep valley of grief.

Later that evening, I knocked on their door and waited for them to open the door. My friend's husband welcomed me inside with red eyes raw from crying. I wrapped my arms around him and we cried together.

I then entered their home, whether the family was sitting silently and patiently, each waiting to receive a blessing from missionaries and a ward member. Friends sat in the room, offering comfort and silent support as we witnessed the blessings. I sat on the bench, in a holy place, mourning with my friends who were mourning.

After the blessings were given, more friends arrived, to sit and comfort, talk quietly, or to sit in silent acceptance. Words were inadequate and at times, we said nothing. I couldn't shake the feeling that the act of sitting together, often in silence, grieving together was an expression of love. Platitudes were not offered, but rather acceptance of the loss and the pain that accompanied it.

In my current responsibility as Relief Society President, I often have the opportunity to be present in those most intimate moments of loss and grief. Sometimes I have a personal connection that I also feel loss. At other times, my grief is for those who mourn. I am learning that holding space and comfort for those walking in that deep valley of grief is a hard thing to do because you have to be fully present and totally sensitive to their needs. Each situation is unique and cannot be navigated with trite sayings. Often words fail us and we resort to actions of love-washing dishes, bringing food, loving embraces, and tears.

What have your experiences been when helping a grieving family? How have you coped with loss? What does it mean to you to mourn with those who mourn?


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Saturday in Philadelphia, PA

Liberty Bell 

Let Freedom Ring

Independence Hall

All six kids--with varying degrees of happiness

Downtown Philly

A walk of international flags--including the Swedish flag!!

At the Philadelphia Temple Open House

Philadelphia Temple