Thursday, March 31, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Sofiero and Krapperup

Today is my birthday and I have spent most of it outside, working on my flower garden and also battling the green brier that is trying overtake my trees in the back. My daffodils and forsythia are already in bloom which makes me incredibly happy!

 In honor of Throwback Thursday I thought I would share some pictures from Sofiero and Krapperup, two castles a visited several years ago in Sweden. I wrote a big piece about it on my wordpress blog but didn't include any pictures.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Thoughts on the article, "How to Save Marriage in America"

How to Save Marriage in America

I hope you are in a comfy place where you can relax and read without interruption. This post is going to be really long. Sorry! I want you to read "How to Save Marriage in America" by Richard V. Reeves that was written in 2014 for The Atlantic. It is long and dense, so take your time. Then come back once you are done.

Before diving into my thoughts and questions about the article, I did have a big gripe about the entire piece. The author makes several sweeping statements without an iota of discussion or evidence proving his assertion. I realize that it is an article, not a scholarly piece for an academic journal, but without evidence and facts, his claims fall flat. If you read this article, you need to read carefully and think about the piece carefully before just accepting every claim he makes.

The article begins with this startling statistic, "In 1960, more than 70 percent of all adults were married, including nearly six in ten twenty-somethings. Half a century later, just 20 percent of 18-29 year olds were hitched in 2010."  It takes awhile for Reeves to explain why this is a sobering statistic--for the sake of the children. There is a lot of evidence that suggests that children are less likely to live in poverty and are much more likely to go to college, if they have married parents. The numbers of  children born to single mothers are rising and so are the numbers of children living in poverty and having fewer opportunities for educational and social advancement.

So whether or not people like it, fewer marriages are bad for the economy, bad for children, and bad for social climbing. The author explores three types of marriage models and discusses their benefits and problems, especially in relation to children and economics. 

Traditional Marriage: What Reeves Gets Wrong

I felt like the discussion on the first type of marriage, Traditional Marriage, was hampered by obvious biases on the part of the author and also lacked evidence or experience with people who follow this marriage model. I felt like the author describes a marriage model based on an episode of "Leave It to Beaver" rather than a current version of such a marriage. The reality is that I know very few marriages who follow the 1950's pattern, but I know a significant number of couples whose marriages are "traditional" in the sense that the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is a homemaker. 

The author correctly points to economic challenges and the reality of those challenges for families trying to live on one income. However, I've lived at all income levels, as a SAHM while my husband pursued his education and now is gainfully and fully employed, so I feel much can be endured when expectations are managed and budgets are carefully watched. 

I felt like the author subtly disparaged traditional marriage throughout the article. He claims that there is no way moral values which include chastity and then complete sexual fidelity to a spouse could be revived. His description of a homemaker was simply that she keeps kids safe and fed. This simple statement reflects the authors total ignorance of the efforts of SAHMs. Clearly he has never looked on pinterest or followed a mommy board. The SAHMs I know in traditional marriages are deeply committed to educating their children and ensuring their success as adults. In today's parenting climate, that requires tremendous effort and sacrifice and moms aren't just focusing on safety and food. Furthermore, the author keeps asserting the unequal nature of these marriages. I think that he needs to do more on studying this issue. Most fathers that I know in traditional marriages are spending significant amounts of time caring for children and sharing household chores. Maybe they aren't on the same levels as the HIP marriages he profiles, but this isn't a case of dad sitting on the couch reading a paper while mother is finishing the roast. There is also the implied assertion that somehow traditional marriages didn't enjoy a period of romantic marriage before having children. (Lots of eye-rolling from that thought.) The most glaring sign that the author thinks traditional marriage is outdated is his careful sidestepping of the benefits and advantages children of these marriages have.

Reeves says, "Most Americans think marriage is not necessary for sexual fulfillment, personal happiness, or financial security, according to Pew Research. They're right." I can't argue with the poll, but Reeve's assertion that they are right is wrong.

Psychology Today flatly debunks the myth that you can find greater sexual satisfaction outside of marriage. Married couples generally report having more sex than their single counterparts and that they are happier for it.

In previous research I did in my blog post, Are Men Obsolete?, I learned that 51% of single working women without children live at or below the poverty line. Only 12 % of women living in poverty are actually married. It is ludicrous to assert that a woman has a significant chance to attain financial security without a spouse, in fact we can safely assert that her odds of living in poverty as a single woman are much higher than if she were married. I know its not PC, but those are the numbers.

As far as the claim goes that you can find personal happiness without marriage, the science does not exactly confirm that, according to this piece from The Greater Good. As single people age, their happiness levels steeply decline in a way their married peers do not.

So despite Reeve's claims to the contrary, if you want to be find personal happiness, financial security, and sexual satisfaction, the best place to find these things is in marriage, NOT being single. Reeves assertion that traditional marriage is dying is also inaccurate. Certainly numbers are declining, but traditional marriage is usually tied to strong religious belief. While religious belief is also declining, it isn't going to disappear entirely from the landscape. Conservative religions, such as Mormonism, still teach and promote this ideal.

Romantic Marriage: The Pitfalls 

Reeve's discussion of Romantic Marriage as bad for children was pretty solid. He defines romantic marriage as "a version of marriage based on spousal love--as a vehicle for self-actualization through an intimate relationship, surrounded by ritual and ceremony: cohabitation with a cake." We're not talking just about love or infatuation, but an attachment which is exclusionary and selfish. Energy and time cannot be committed to any other relationship outside of the partner, which leaves a child in this situation in a pickle. These types of relationships can be disposable once the spark fizzles out, again leaving kids in a an unstable environment. 

Even remarrying after divorce can cause problems for kids, because time and energy on the part of the child's parent is focused on developing a relationship, instead of energy being given to the child. 

Overall, this discussion was short, lacking evidence and detail. 

HIP Marriages: Lets Define Marriage So We Aren't So Politically Incorrect

Among the upper class, HIP marriages are booming. These marriages are based on well-educated and successful couples merging their lives together to raise children in a stable environment where the success of children are prioritized above all. According to Reeves, these marriages follow an egalitarian model, the wife is completely financially independent of her husband, and both husband and wife spend significant amounts of time with their children. I found myself wondering about what holds a couple together after the children have been raised, but again, Reeves ignores that point totally. I felt that Reeves also carefully constructed his argument to show that this is a stronger model of marriage and could be applied to any couple in any gender configuration...

Reeves biggest idea is that the HIP model of marriage is what has the greatest potential to "save" marriage in America. Marriage rates have declined rapidly among the poorest class of Americans, and especially among African-American communities. Because of the declining rates of educated men in those communities, Reeves believes that following a HIP model offers more opportunities for the communities in greatest need. By pooling resources and re-negotiating gender roles within marriage, marriages in these communities could be much more successful and thereby improve dramatically the lives of children born in these areas. 

I think it is intriguing notion for sure.  So how do you do that? I just don't know how you translate a model of marriage into a workable notion for people in very different circumstances. 

I'm not going to conclude with any brilliant conclusions because I don't really have any. There was a lot about this article that was wrong and bugged me. I would love to read your insights and thoughts about this topic. 

P.S. My bias toward traditional marriage is obvious because I am in a very traditional marriage myself. The reality is that it is really hard to escape biases and experience on a topic such as this. I think the HIP model of marriage has a lot to offer, especially for families where combining resources would make such a big difference. Mainly, I felt the author really had no clue how modern "traditional" marriages work and he seemed really intent on proving that they were dead, when that has been the opposite of my experience.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Egypt

Two weeks ago, in preparation for a trip, I pulled these photos with the intention of writing about Egypt, a country I visited in October 2012. I experienced this country as a tourist, seeing ancient ruins and artifacts. It was the trip of a lifetime, a trip I had dreamed of taking since I was really small. 

The reality of a place is always different, bigger, and more complex than we imagine. Egypt was no exception. The ruins and artifacts of Egypt's empire, complex religion, mythology, and artistry were all magnificent. Every hope and expectation I had of seeing these ancient sites was realized in fantastic and amazing ways. The tomb reliefs in the Valley of the Kings was magnificent and breathtakingly colorful. The vastness of the Luxor Temple Complex was astounding and remarkable.

Its easy as a tourist to imagine that the Egypt of the past is the Egypt of today and indeed you can contrive to make that the entirety of your experience. But it was awfully hard for us to ignore. In 2011, mass protests swept through the country, causing Hoshi Mubarak to resign after three decades as the leader of Egypt. Violent protests shook the country throughout 2012 as the military took control. Because I was planning our family trip to Egypt, I watched these events with alarm. Things calmed down but then flared up when the media reported that the embassy was being surrounded by hostile youths shouting anti-American sentiments. In that case, media reports were greatly exaggerated. When we went to Egypt at the end of October 2012, things had calmed down. Shortly after we left, tensions flared again as the new leader began to over-reach his power. 

So when we visited Egypt, this tension was fresh in our minds. We saw that Egypt struggles with poverty and that at times, the living conditions are really bad. Air pollution was so thick and bad that you could hardly see out over the city.

Egypt still has a strong agricultural system and you often see animals on the street. Indeed, many people use donkey carts and even camels for transportation.

Poverty is a very real state life for many people in the country. We visited Garbage Mountain where residents sort through trash, and even live in the trash of the city of Cairo. We visited a carpet school, where children were taught the trade of weaving carpets. For these children, this was a wonderful opportunity and they were grateful for it.

Egypt also is home to many religions, including three of the major religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. I'm not sure of the turn of events, but eventually Egyptians abandoned their poly-theistic religion. Christianity has its roots very early as some of the original Apostles taught the gospel. The Coptic Church (at least according to our guide) claim that the apostle Thomas brought Christianity to the country. This means that Christianity came here earlier than Islam. Islam took hold of the country and they are the majority. There is also a small community of Jews living within the country. In a time, where religious differences and those tensions can explode at any minute, finding balance seems to be rather remarkable for this country. 

Egypt is home to warm, friendly, and engaging people. Wherever we went, we met interesting and bright people eager to interact with us. This place is alive with energy.

I fell in love with modern Egypt for its potential, energy, people, culture, and history. I truly hope that the people of Egypt will be able to create the government and country they long for.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Mothering Monday: My Three Younger Children

Last week my youngest three children and I drove to Kentucky to visi my sister and her family. Because there is a much bigger gap between these three children than my oldest three boys, I often call this group my second batch. My daughter is nine, my son is six, and the baby is two years old. We broke up our drive to Kentucky into two days of driving. On the first day, my daughter, B, stretched luxuriously in the front seat and told me with satisfaction, "This is the best trip ever because I am with my favorite family members."   She sometimes has a difficult time with her older brothers.

Indeed, the whole trip felt a little magical to me. B and J were just so sweet and helpful as they reveled in the feeling of being the big kids. They were so careful when we stopped and did their best to keep an eye on their wild, toddler, baby sister. 

They were so happy when we opted to stay at a hotel. That felt like a real treat to them. They particularly liked being able to choose a show on TV. Usually the older boys pick the shows. 

During the week we chose activities they enjoyed and ate food they loved. 

Spending time together was really special. I am really grateful for  our vacation..


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: "He Is Not Here, for He Is Risen"

Today is Easter Sunday and like Christians all around the world, I have spent the day in joyous reflection on the meaning of Easter.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that he is the son of God and that he was born to a mortal mother and lived on this earth-for a relatively short time. I believe that while he lived on earth, he taught people about the gospel, healed the sick and afflicted, prayed, fed the masses, and worked many miracles. I believe that when his time had come, he went into the Garden of Gethsemane, knelt and took upon himself the sins, sorrows, and afflictions of every single person that has ever lived or will lived. Then he allowed himself to be taken by wicked, conspiring men and was crucified. I believe that he died on the cross and was laid to rest in a tomb for three days. After the three days, he rose and was resurrected.

I believe that because of his atonement, I can be cleansed from my sins, healed from my afflictions, and find peace and joy in my life. His resurrection gives me hope that I will see my loved ones again.

I believe that Jesus Christ will come again in great glory and that the entire world will be brought to their knees to acknowledge him as the Savior.

These are my bedrock beliefs.


Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Favorites: LDS Talks about Christ's Atonement

There are so many wonderful talks about the Atonement of Jesus Christ I would like to share. Here are just a few.

Elder Richard G. Scott, who only recently passed away, gave a talk entitled, "Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ." In this talk, Elder Scott used stories from the Book of Mormon to talk about the atonement.
"It is a fundamental truth that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can be cleansed. We can become virtuous and pure. However, sometimes our poor choices leave us with long-term consequences. One of the vital steps to complete repentance is to bear the short- and long-term consequences of our past sins. Their past choices had exposed these Ammonite fathers to a carnal appetite that could again become a point of vulnerability that Satan would attempt to exploit."

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, always gave such insightful talks filled with quotable sentences. His talk, "Hope through the Atonement" is a favorite of mine.
"Real hope keeps us “anxiously engaged” in good causes even when these appear to be losing causes on the mortal scoreboard (see D&C 58:27). Likewise, real hope is much more than wishful musing. It stiffens, not slackens, the spiritual spine. Hope is serene, not giddy, eager without being naive, and pleasantly steady without being smug. Hope is realistic anticipation which takes the form of a determination—not only to survive adversity but, moreover, to “endure … well” to the end (D&C 121:8)."

Elder James E. Faust's word touched my heart in his Oct. 1996 General conference talk, "Woman, Why Weepest Thou?" 
"All of us benefit from the transcendent blessings of the Atonement and the Resurrection, through which the divine healing process can work in our lives. The hurt can be replaced by the joy the Savior promised. To the doubting Thomas, Jesus said, “Be not faithless, but believing.”5 Through faith and righteousness all of the inequities, injuries, and pains of this life can be fully compensated for and made right. Blessings denied in this life will be fully recompensed in the eternities. Through complete repentance of our sins we can be forgiven and we can enjoy eternal life. Thus our suffering in this life can be as the refining fire, purifying us for a higher purpose. Heartaches can be healed, and we can come to know a soul-satisfying joy and happiness beyond our dreams and expectations."

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke about the atonement in his Oct. 2015 General Conference talk, "Strengthened by the Atonement." We studied this in Relief Society yesterday.
"Our Savior experienced and suffered the fulness of all mortal challenges “according to the flesh” so He could know “according to the flesh” how to “succor [which means to give relief or aid to] his people according to their infirmities.” He therefore knows our struggles, our heartaches, our temptations, and our suffering, for He willingly experienced them all as an essential part of His Atonement. And because of this, His Atonement empowers Him to succor us—to give us the strength to bear it all."


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Throwback Thursday: 2007 Visit to the (alleged) Garden of Gethsamaneand (alleged) Garden Tomb

In 2007, my family lived in Israel for six weeks while my husband worked with scientists at the Weisman Institute in Rehovot. A friend took us around Jerusalem one Friday. It was a highlight of our trip. We were deeply moved by the sacred sites around Jerusalem where Christ atoned for all mankind.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wondering Wednesday: Home in Transition

Since leaving my childhood home-the home I was brought to as a baby and lived in for eighteen years, I have lived in fourteen different apartments and homes, I never imagined that the reality of "home" would be in a state of constant flux. This has caused me to ponder often on the meaning of home and how that concept influences my life. Because of the fluidity of places I have experienced, I have fixated on the concept of home as being an inner place based on familial relationships, rather than a constant actual location. Home is where I am with family-my husband, children, parents, and siblings. I have worked hard to create stable, healthy relationships with loved ones. I often dream  of homes, always in a state of transition: I am always moving in and out and exploring the possibilities and flaws of different homes. I have thought of this a lot of over the years but have never encountered art which visualized many of my thoughts and feelings about the transitory nature and experience of physical homes, until now.

Today I visited the Contempary Art Center in downtown Cincinnati. I didn't have a purpose other than wanting to check out the building. Currently, the CAC is housing an interesting exhibit called, Passages, by Do Ho Suh, a Korean-American artist. My first impression of Do Ho Suh's pieces was how playful they were. The first thing I saw were these huge pieces made of out thin, transparent fabric, beautifully representing stairwells, stair-railings, and the inner walls of homes. All the details were elegantly and precisely articulated within the pieces. The flexibility, fragility, and transitory nature of the materials used to portray very solid and concrete structures gave me pause. The traditional concept of a home, at least in the American psyche, is that it is a place where one grows roots and grows upward and outward. Do Ho Suh's pieces challenge that idea-showing that perhaps the idea of home is more illusory than real-and that our feelings and experiences in the home provide the real development, rather than the structure itself. 

Do Ho Suh also created solid house frames but they were bland, neutral, and unfinished, suggesting to me that it is the owner or tenant who creates the character and feeling of the home. A home is really just a blank canvas that is dependent on an artist (or occupant) to bring it to life and imbue the space with meaning. 

I laughed with delight at the interesting appliance art Do Ho Suh created with more transparent fabric, thin pieces of wire, and pen. The toilet, sink, oven, tub, microwave, bathroom vanity, and refrigerator were beautifully imitated. Again, the medium he chose was playful, interesting and suggestive of the temporary nature of seemingly permanent and important household objects. 

I also spent a lot of time examining the wall art. Do Hoh Soh used thread on white cotton paper to examine what life is like in a constant state of transition from homes, cultures, cities, and places. The variety and depth of those transitions impact a person in significant ways and cannot be expressed or conveyed in a single sentence, or one artistic piece, but beg to be examined from different angles, in different mediums, and from different perspectives. 

I truly appreciated Do Ho Suh's exhibit because he seemed to express visually what life is like when one is always in transition. I think he captures the depth and breadth of that state. I also felt like he approaches his art with joy and curiosity, making his art energizing and compelling to his audience. 

It is a curious thing to live in a home, knowing how temporary one's sojourn will be. Sometimes I revel in the experience and pretend I will be there forever. Other times, I barely settle in, ready to pack my boxes at a moment's notice. It's a psychological game I play with myself often-trying to settle in without rooting myself so deeply that I am permanently damaged from the uprooting. Do Ho Suh's exhibit, Passages, reminds me that I am not alone in this experience, but that I can find meaning, experience, and even joy in my life.


Travel Tuesday: Newport Kentucky Aquarium


Monday, March 21, 2016

Mothering Monday: Two Kids Are Harder than Six

I am in Kentucky with my three youngest children visiting my sister. She has two little girls who are only 16 or so months apart. I love spending time with my sweet nieces. They have reminded me how hard this stage of mothering is. I babysat the girls-and my kids, for my sister so she and her husband could go on a date.

Nearly the whole time, all three babies cried, or at least one of them was crying at all times. To be fair, they were all tired and hungry and just wanted to be snuggled. I am not kidding when I say that I held all three for most of the time I babysat. The house was a wreck, food was everywhere, and I felt frazzled. My sister is amazing to manage this time of her life. 

There are so many reasons why two kids, especially babies, are harder than having six kids. 

1) Five of my kids are in school, so I have quiet time throughout the day to complete household tasks.
2) Five of my children can get food, drinks, use the bathroom, clean up after themselves, entertain themselves, and sleep without my help or attention.
3) I don't have to entertain my kids. 
4) My kids are big enough to tell me what they need.
5) My kids can wait if I am helping another sibling.
6) Babies need to be held a lot. 
7)  When you have babies at home, someone always needs to be fed, changed, cuddled, burped, etc. and they often need everything at the same time. 
8) I have lots of help with my older children. 

Don't get me wrong, I paid my dues and am reaping the rewards. I have lots of love, patience, sympathy, and understanding to the young mothers juggling two or more babies and toddlers.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spiritual Sunday: Fighting the Green Briars

A few weeks ago, inspired by the gorgeous warm weather, I decided to tackle the flower beds in my back yard. The past few years I haven't had the time or energy to work on these areas and so they have been vulnerable to the vagaries of the wild and nature.

One patch was particularly bad, totally overgrown with briars and invasive plants. My hands, despite wearing heavy gloves, were full of stickers after digging and raking put the briars. As I worked, I was appalled to discover that these green briar bushes had invaded our back woods and have been stealthy encroaching on our grass and flower beds. 

My friend came over and helped me tackle a bunch of the briars. We made some good progress, but I still have a lot of work to do. My boys and husband need to help me because I need their strength and energy to successfully fight this threat. You may laugh and wonder why it matters, but if I am not diligent, it will overtake my yard. 

Garden analogies work so well when applied to the gospel. I think there are many things that encroach upon the foundation of our testimony. It seems I haven't properly appreciated the amount of effort it takes to guard and grow a testimony. As I have focused my efforts on my testimony in the past year, I have seen how my neglect has hurt me and how I unintentionally allowed briars to grow. The only way I can adequately protect my testimony is through daily, focused effort. It is truly satisfying and joyful work.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Favorites: Yo-Yo Ma, Morning Dew

I recently read Omid Safi's piece about taking time to notice the little things in the morning rush. I feel for Mr. Safi and how hard it is take the time when trying to get kids out the door. "Love Written in the Morning Dew"  is a gentle reminder to be mindful in the morning.

Krista Tippets, the host of the podcast and show, "On Being" interviewed the world-famous celloist, Yo-Yo Ma on her show recently. His thoughts about being a Third-Culture Kid and trying to understand the world through music were very moving.

I appreciated this thoughtful piece on Segullah examining the tension between online interactions and real-life living.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Throwback Thursday: March 2015 Review

March 2015
  • The snow just kept coming and we were buried deep in it. After a while, that much snow gets old. We were all ready for Spring!
  • I celebrated my 38th birthday with my family. My kids gave me a fabulous iPad cover that reflects my love of travel.
  • Brent went to Turkey for a week for a business trip. He brought me back some amazing Turkish Delight and gorgeous chocolates. He enjoyed the trip and seeing part of Turkey.
  • Brooke performed in Aladdin, a musical performed by kids from her elementary school. She was a vendor and had a small solo.
  • I baked a lot and made food appropriate for holidays and fun events.
  • We celebrated Pi Day with pie and St. Patrick's Day with corned beef and cabbage.
  • The cat got a clean bill of health from the vet.
  • I was able to enjoy some pampering with some homemade lotions from my cousin. Drinking tea and reading a favorite book is always restful.
  • My husband is a really smart guy and has quite a few patents in his name. 
  • We have a great family and those everyday moments make me happy.