Monday, December 26, 2011

Favorite Christmas Picture Books

Before I take these back to the library, here is a short review of some of our favorite Christmas picture books, in no particular order:

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say: a Japanese mother surprises her young son by teaching him about Christmas.

Good King Wenceslas by John M. Neale & Tim Ladwig: Esther wanted me to read this one every night.  It is the lyrics of the classic song set to illustrations.  She preferred the sung version.

Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble: A story of a young artist and the winter she realized how well her father knew and loved her.

My Prairie Christmas by Brett Harvey & Deborah Kogan Ray: a pioneer family's first Christmas on the prairie, away from their family in Maine.  Reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck and Mark Buehner: The story of a 15 year old boy and how he first realized his father loved him and tried to give him a gift to express his love back.

Winter's Gift by Jane Monroe Donovan: a widower's first Christmas alone and a miracle of love brought by caring for a wild horse.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston & Barbara Cooney: A little girl and her mother do their best to prepare for Christmas while the father is away fighting in WWI.

An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola: a German family brings many new Christmas traditions to a New England town.

Christmas Tree Memories by Aliki: a family gathers around the tree on Christmas Eve discussing the memories sparked by each of their Christmas ornaments.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wonder Woman is in the house

The other night Dan expressed his concern for me and his desire to help me.  I was taken off guard because I had not been feeling down-trodden or bad about myself.  I analyzed the situation and realized that the house was a mess, I hadn't been keeping up with the dishes, our dinners were of the boxed variety for the most part, and I'd been staying up really late reading and doing Pinterest.  Normally, these behaviors would signal a sad Potato Girl in need of help.  So why did I not feel that way?  Why did Dan's concern seem surprising and somewhat unnecessary?

I have actually been feeling like Wonder Woman lately because I'm still following my new diet.  Every day I make many small choices to continue this diet.  They are not easy choices for me to make, and I've been making them consistently without flubbing up for...well, today is day 25.  I'm pretty sure I've never gone this long without sugar, bread, fruit, milk, yogurt, cereal--basically, all of the things I normally eat.

Today is Adam's birthday.  For several years now I have made him Rice Crispie treats to take for his class.  I asked him the other day if we could please just send in a store-bought treat this year so I wouldn't have to handle all of that yumminess.  But this was really, really the only thing he wanted, so this morning I made them.  I had the stuff all over my fingers and I did not have a single little lick.  That makes me feel good about myself, and I don't often feel that way.  One of my diet books says that you need to give yourself credit for all of your little successes.  Dan and I thought that was kind of cute, so we have a habit now of saying to each other, "you deserve credit for that!"  It makes us laugh because it is such an awkward, unnatural-sounding thing to say, but at the same time it feels good to recognize those little choices.  I do think it makes sense to celebrate and acknowledge all of the small choice you make instead of waiting until you've lost 50 pounds to give yourself any praise.  I think a difficult lifestyle change is more sustainable if you recognize all of the little daily things that are going into it, like not licking your fingers when you are making a dessert.

One idea that has been helping me has been thinking of carbohydrates as alcohol, coffee, tea, or tobacco--something that I am absolutely prohibited from even having a tiny taste of.  Following the Word of Wisdom my whole life is now making this diet easier for me.  This is the first time I've had myself treat sugar as a completely off limits item, but that seems to be a lot more sustainable, in the long run, than having little bits of sugar and trying to not go too far.  If I think of myself as a recovering addict trying to stay sober, I can see that "one little bit" of my addictive substance is all it will take to get me back to a place where I'm no longer in control of myself.  Feeling in control of this aspect of my life gives me a great sense of success and well-being.

So I think this explains why I was not feeling bad about myself or lost or down in the dumps when Dan thought I was.  Take home message for me: if I can focus on one small positive change, and really work on it each day, and give myself credit for the efforts I'm making, it can help me feel good all around, in spite of the fact that there are many other changes I want to get to but can't yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Few More Stories

Today was the session of our Stake Conference in which the children accompany the adults.  Needless to say, I didn't get quite as much out of it as I did last night, but here are my two favorite stories, both told by President DeVries:

The first is the story of Joseph Stanford Smith and his wife, Arabella.  This is a story that has been told at least once in General Conference (April 1982, by Elder G. Homer Durham), and more recently by Elder Holland for a regional stake conference broadcast address delivered on September 12, 2010, at Brigham Young University ("Faith to Answer the Call").  The Smiths and their three young children were some of the first members of the church to take part in the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition to San Juan country in Southern Utah.  As part of their journey they had to cross the Colorado River gorge.  The Mormon explorers found a narrow slit in Glen Canyon, 2000 feet above the river, which they blasted wider with dynamite and then built a primitive, very steep road down to the river.  The road was so steep that to get a loaded wagon down it, a dozen or more men and boys would pull on ropes tied to the back of each wagon so that it wouldn't run over the team of horses trying to get it down from the cliffs.  Stanford Smith had been helping to get wagons down all day.  Finally, only his wagon was left at the top.  The rest of the group apparently forgot about him and went on ahead. Here I quote from Elder Holland:

"Deeply disturbed that he and his family seemed abandoned, Stanford moved his team, wagon, and family to the edge of the precipice. The team was placed in front and a third horse was hitched behind the wagon to the rear axle. The Smiths stood for a moment and looked down the treacherous hole. Stanford turned to his wife, Arabella, and said, 'I am afraid we can’t make it.'

She replied, 'But we’ve got to make it.'

He said, 'If we only had a few men to hold the wagon back, we might make it.'

Replied his wife, 'I’ll do the holding back.'

She laid a quilt on the ground, and there she placed her infant son in the care of her three-year-old, Roy, and five-year-old, Ada. 'Hold little brother ’til papa comes for you,' she said. Then positioning herself behind the wagon, Belle Smith grasped the reins of the horse hitched to the back of the rig. Stanford started the team down the hole. The wagon lurched downward. With the first jolt the rear horse fell. Sister Smith raced after him and the wagon, pulling on the lines with all her strength and courage. She soon fell too, and as she was dragged along with the horse, a jagged rock cut a cruel gash in her leg from heel to hip. That gallant woman, with clothes torn and a grievous wound, hung on to those lines with all her might and faith the full length of the incline all the way to the river’s edge.

On reaching the bottom and almost in disbelief at their accomplishment, Stanford immediately raced the 2,000 feet (607 m) back up to the top of the cliff, fearful for the welfare of the children. When he climbed over the rim, there he saw them literally unmoved from their position. Carrying the baby, with the other two children clinging to him and to each other, he led them down the rocky crack to their anxious mother below. In the distance they saw five men moving toward them carrying chains and ropes. Realizing the plight the Smiths were in, these men were coming to help. Stanford called out, 'Forget it, fellows. We managed fine. Belle here is all the help a fellow needs.(See David E. Miller, Hole-in-the-Rock: An Epic in the Colonization of the Great American West, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1959, pp. 101–18.)

The second story President DeVries told this morning was again related to his recent severe burns.  One of his doctors told him to point and flex his feet as many times as he could each day.  When President DeVries tried this the first time, he felt a deep stab of pain and started bleeding profusely.  He stopped, unsure if the doctor knew what he was talking about.  He did not trust him, and could not bring himself to continue the exercises.   Soon another doctor came to see him.  This doctor is President DeVries' close friend, and one of his counselors in the Stake Presidency.  He asked his friend about the exercises.  His friend agreed with the first doctor that this was vital for the proper healing of his feet and legs.  Because he trusted his friend, President DeVries started to do the exercises and continued them faithfully until they were no longer necessary.   

President DeVries tied these two stories into the theme of the conference, "Press Forward Saints."   He shared with us the scripture 2 Nephi 31:20

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

He said that because of his trust in his friend at the hospital, he had the perfect brightness of hope he needed to press forward in the agonizing exercises.  Sister Arabella Smith was steadfast, firm in purpose, unwavering in her determination to pull back on that rope so that her husband, the team, and the wagon could make it safely to the bottom of the cliff.

He asked us to think of these stories as we sang the closing hymn, asking the Lord to help us see one small step we can take to press forward now.  The step Dan and I took this afternoon was to get out the calendar and schedule together which days we will go to the temple for the last three months of the year.  That felt really good.

I want to be like Belle Smith.  I want to hang on for dear life to the people and principles that matter most, and I want my family and friends to be able to say that I was the help they needed.  I hope I won't forget that story.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good Stories

This weekend is our Stake Conference.  I really enjoyed the meeting tonight for the adults.  Here are some of my favorite stories that were told by the speakers:

Our Stake President, Rick DeVries, was severely burned on the lower legs and feet at the end of May.  This was our first conference with him since the accident.  He told us some of the details of how he was burned.  The doctors caring for him at the small local hospital where he was originally taken frankly admitted that they didn't have the expertise to properly care for his burns, and that he should be transferred to the UM Hospital Burn Unit.  He was so grateful for their humility and willingness to admit their limitations.  Shortly thereafter, a colleague whose son had been severely burned, called.  Although President DeVries was on a lot of heavy medication and cannot remember very much clearly from that time, he remembers clearly that this man told him to follow with exactness the instructions of his doctors and nurses so that he would not get an infection and so that he would have the best possible chance to heal.  President DeVries did that.  His recovery has been miraculous.  Not only is he walking without a limp, he is running again (the burns were on his feet and lower legs).  He doesn't even have to wear compression stockings.  He expressed his gratitude for the principle of obedience and how it can protect us.

He told us of one night after he was discharged from the hospital and was at home recovering.  He was sleeping in his hospital bed in the den.  It was the middle of the night and he spilled some kind of fluid all over himself.  He was in agony.  His pain was so severe that he couldn't move a muscle, couldn't raise his head, couldn't even call out.  He whispered a prayer to God, asking if He could hear him.  As he finished those words, the door to the den burst open and his wife Diana was there.  She had been awakened from a deep sleep at 2 a.m. with a sense of urgency and had come running to his aid.  He clung to her, sobbing.  He described her as an angel sent by God in answer to his one-sentence, whispered prayer, "can you hear me?"

Another story I loved was told by our brand new Temple Matron, Sister Pulsipher.  When their daughter Kristen was three years old, she had a beloved bean bag frog that she had received in Primary.  She slept with it every night.  One night it went missing.  Her dad took her on his lap and asked her if Heavenly Father knew where her frog was, and she said, "of course he does!"  Then they prayed for help to find the frog, and her father explained to her how God answers our prayers through thoughts, ideas, feelings, and that we also need to use our best abilities to solve the problem that we have prayed for help with.  They looked everywhere for that frog, with no success.  Then they called the rest of the family together, and an even more thorough search was conducted.  Still no bean bag frog.  Little Kristen went to bed heartbroken.  Her mother couldn't sleep.  She was worrying about her little daughter, wondering where that frog could be.  Wondering too, I imagine, how to make this experience with prayer turn out all right for her.  She finally fell asleep.  In the middle of the night she woke up with a very specific image in her mind of that bean bag frog.  She got a chair from the kitchen, dragged it into Kristen's room, got a box down from the top shelf of her closet, took off the lid, and there was the frog, inside the box, with a few other favorite toys.  The three-year-old, Kristen, is a mother herself now, and the family refers to that incident as the Parable of the Bean Bag Frog. 

President Pulsipher told a beautiful story that made me think of my mom.  A tiny, frail 84-year old woman named Ida came to the temple for the first time.  She was a convert of one year.  She had been hospitalized recently and had not expected to live.  While in the hospital she was given to know that her time on earth was not yet complete.  A woman in her ward (a soul sister of my mom, I believe) helped Ida with her genealogy and then took her to the temple to do the work for her parents and grandparents.  President Pulsipher said that Ida could not have weighed more than 90 pounds.  They made a special place by the altar for her wheelchair so that she could be sealed to her parents.  She told them that she had never expected in her life to feel the way she felt that day.  I thought of my mom the whole time he was telling this story.  Many, many times she has helped someone to find the names of their deceased family members and then helped them go to the temple to be sealed to them.  It is one of countless acts of nearly invisible service that she renders, but I know she is a favorite in heaven to so many people whose lives have been blessed by her diligent work on their behalf.  I was bursting with pride just thinking of my mom while listening to this story of Ida and the unnamed, unsung hero that made her trip to the temple possible.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Saying No

Today I quit my Thursday gig at the agency where I volunteer.  This was a big step for me, something I may not have done in the past.  Here's the story:

S.O.S. is going through some big changes as of October 1, due to new guidelines from their primary source of funding (the Feds?  I'm not sure, this is just a guess).  In the past, the doors to this agency were open M-F 10 to 6.  People in need of food could come in on Tuesdays, speak to a food counselor, and leave with some food, or a referral to get food elsewhere.  On the other four days of the week, people with housing problems could walk in and speak to a housing counselor.  As of October first, the agency can only facilitate walk-in counseling on Tuesdays for food.  Volunteers from the community who have completed the necessary 21 hours of training can work as food counselors on that day.  On the other days of the week, the door is locked, and people with housing needs must first call a phone number and speak with an intake counselor, who will give them an appointment to come back and speak with someone in person.

In the past, I believe, volunteers could work any day of the week doing either food or housing counseling with walk-ins.  As of October 1, volunteers can only work as greeters (receptionists) on M, W, Th, and F.  This is what I did last week.  Many people came to the door without appointments last week because they didn't know about the policy changes.  Some were looking for food, and had to be told to come back on a Tuesday (actually, before I found out about the hard and fast Tuesdays only rule, I was able to give food to a few hungry people, which made me happy.  Then I got busted and had to be more strict).  To those looking for help with housing I explained the new policy and gave them a card with the phone number on it that they had to call first (even though, secretly, the people who answer those phones are sitting at desks right upstairs).  I was only supposed to let someone in who had an appointment already (luckily, I also didn't know this right away, and I got to let a pregnant mommy in to use the bathroom :).

I was told during training that with a bachelor's degree I would be eligible to do the housing counseling that people without bachelor's degrees were no longer allowed to do, which is why I showed up last Thursday and again this week.  But the housing access coordinator I spoke with last week did not think I would be able to do that, although she promised to ask a higher power about my situation. 

I have been thinking all week about whether or not I still want to go in to the agency on Thursdays if I cannot do any counseling on those days.  I was leaning against going in.  Although it was nice to interact with the various people that showed up at the door last week, it was not a job that really needed to be done, since the door is locked and there is a sign on it explaining that they need to call the phone number first.  When there is no greeter working, things seem to work out just fine.  I do think it is nicer for someone to have a real person meet them at the door and explain the change, but at the same time, I am the mother of four little people and the wife of one tall person and there are many, many things that I could do with my Thursday mornings.  In the end I felt that, although volunteering on Thursdays as a greeter is a way of serving the community, I can do more important work for my own little family by using that time at home.

As I  mentioned in my last post, I am doing the depression group at the church for the next seven Tuesday mornings, but after that, I will be able to volunteer at S.O.S. for food day each week and do one-on-one counseling at that time.  In January I will take part in the 40 hours of training for volunteer crisis counselors at another local agency (Ozone House), and then I plan to work for them on my Thursday mornings. 

I had offered a ride this morning to my friend at S.O.S., an intern from Taiwan named C.C., so I went to see if they were going to let me do intake calls before making my final decision.  When I got in, the coordinator said there were no appointments until 12:30, and they would be in a meeting all morning, and left.  There was an intern in the greeter's office filing papers, one of the only tasks I had to do last week besides answering the door.  I felt awkward interrupting the meeting to speak with the coordinator about my situation, so I took on one last project.  Over a week ago a consumer accidentally left her binder and her bridge card (food stamps) at S.O.S.  When I asked about it last week, I was told to just keep it in the desk to see if she came to get it.  When I saw it still in the desk this morning, I decided to take action.  I opened the binder up to see if I could find any contact information.  I found an address on a prescription from a drug store, but no phone number.  I looked my mystery woman up online, and even called her pharmacy, but still no phone number.  So I took the binder out to my car and drove over to the address.  After knocking a few times on the door, a young woman answered.  It was my mystery woman's granddaughter, and she said her grandmother had been looking for her bridge card and didn't know where she'd left it.  Yay! Mission accomplished

I returned to S.O.S., pulled the coordinator out of her meeting, and let her know that I wouldn't be coming in on Thursdays any more unless I could do counseling.  She had spoken to her supervisor who told her that in spite of my bachelor's degree, they could not let me do phone intakes because they had to save those experiences for their interns.  So I said goodbye, and now I'm here at the library writing this post until it is time to pick up little Tater Tot from preschool.

I feel kind of uncomfortable with what I did today.  It seems a bit harsh, like when I told the graduate students at Eastern that I wouldn't be helping them with their TAT scoring any more.  But at the same time, I feel really good, because I made a decision about how I wanted to use my time, and then I acted on that decision in spite of the fact that I probably put out the person I had been helping.  In the past I would have been more likely to tell the people I was helping that I wasn't sure this was the best thing for me to be doing anymore and try to get them to tell me that I should stop and that they would be fine.  But people don't necessarily do that, and why should they?  They want what is best for them, and if I'm being super wishy-washy about it, why should they give me an easy out?  This time I did not ask for permission, I did not try to get them to give me an out, I just made my decision and let them know what it was.  In each case, the decision I made may have inconvenienced the people I was working with or made their lives a little harder (which is why it feels so uncomfortable to me), but it was the decision that felt best to me.  In each case, if I had continued on for fear of upsetting the other people, I would have felt angry and resentful about how I was using my time.  Now I feel free and happy.

Do you ever do things for other people at the expense of yourself and your little family because it seems too hard to say no to them?  Or have you found a good way of saying no even when it disappoints someone else?  How do you decide what you can do for others, and what you need to say no to?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Depression Group for Mormons, Day One

Yesterday I met at the church for Day One of a special 8-week depression group run by LDS Family Services for the women in our stake.  One of my heroes, Linda J., is leading the group (she works as a therapist for the church), and I am serving as the mentor for the group.  The mentor is someone who has been in group therapy before--a depressed person, not a therapist--that can make the experience a little easier for the other members of the group.  I was very tired in the morning, and had a hard time peeling myself out of bed to go to the church.  I was thinking that I haven't been feeling very depressed lately, and maybe attending this group for 8 weeks would not be the best use of my time.  But after 90 minutes with these women, who were so brave about sharing their private struggles with the rest of us, I felt my heart melted and full of love for each of them.  I also felt inspired to continue working on my own unhealthy thought patterns, and to better prepare myself for my next bout, which will no doubt come in due time.

One project I am really excited about is preparing a first aid kit to use when my mood is low.  It will be something tangible, maybe an actual box, or binder, with inspiring articles, quotes, pictures, et cetera, chosen by me to help me during dark times.  If you have anything like that, or any suggestions for things I might put in my first aid kit, please let me know.  I really appreciate LL's tip about the song she listens to every night before bed, "One Little Corner" by Jon Troast.  That is the kind of thing I'm looking for.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New "Lifestyle Change" (i.e. Diet)

If you have known me for a long time, you know that my weight has fluctuated quite a bit since my teenage days as a professional dancer.  And by fluctuate I mean going  up, up, up the ladder.  No one likes to be overweight, especially not former dancers who were, by training, obsessed with their appearance and constantly comparing their bodies to other bodies in an effort to stay at the top of the game.  Even back then I felt too big, and my body (in retrospect) was pretty much perfect back then.  I remember trying all kinds of fat-restricting diets in an constant effort to weigh as little as possible (without relying on cigarettes or eating disorders).  I also remember feeling like my eating was out of control, and worrying that if I ever stopped exercising 5-6 hours a day I wouldn't be able to eat like that any more.  I remember looking at people I considered "fat" (back then, "fat" meant "not emaciated") and promising myself that I would never, ever look like that.

I quit dancing after high school and promptly gained about 20 pounds.  I was not happy with that, but I still looked fine.  As a missionary in the Philippines, I lost those 20 pounds, probably due to a combination of stress and parasites.  Shortly after my mission, I married Dan and we moved to Michigan.  I got pregnant a few weeks later, and was soon puking my brains out.  But then the little guy was born, and I started nursing him.  Within a few months I had reached a new all time high weight, 20 pounds above my college weight.  That was the first time I really felt like I was "fat".  I had said I felt fat before, but this was different.  Now other people agreed with me.

Okay, blah, blah, blah, fast forward through three more babies, a weight gain of approximately 20 pounds per baby, and now nobody who sees me can imagine that I could have possibly been a professional dancer, unless it was in a ballet company for obese people.  Needless to say, this transformation over the past twenty years from perfect body to lumpy apple body has weighed heavily on me (ha ha).  More than once, someone looking at our wedding photos on the wall has actually asked if that is me with Dan (no, that is Dan's first wife, but I love her so much I like to keep a picture of her with my husband on display right here in my living room).

Recently, my weight has crept up to a new all time high.  One Saturday night a few weeks ago, I was complaining to Dan about this and expressing my sense of despair at ever being able to lose weight.  He mentioned, again, a book he's been reading online about this topic (Why We Get Fat and What to do About it by Gary Taubes), and I asked him to read me the relevant parts.  This is another book that pegs carbohydrates, not fats, and not even calories, as the real enemy to weight loss and maintenance. I actually buy this argument and was happy to hear it again.  For two and a half weeks now, I've been eating significantly fewer carbohydrates, and I'm losing weight. 

The most striking thing about this "lifestyle change", besides the weight loss, is that I don't feel hungry the way I used to, and I no longer feel sick to my stomach if I go more than an hour or two without food.  I can eat breakfast and then wait 4-5 hours without additional food and without feeling hungry or sick before eating again.  I also don't physically crave sugar when I don't eat any.  I think I'm an all-or-nothing girl when it comes to sugar.  If I have a little, it awakens a powerful monster inside that tears the earth apart to get more and more sugar.  If I have no sugar, I can just keep having no sugar, and my body doesn't feel like it needs it (although my brain wants it).

It doesn't hut that every time I get on the scale I weigh a little bit less--that is extremely motivating.  And it is getting easier to bend over and to get up and down from a seat or in and out of the car.  So, yay.  I am haunted by the knowledge that I may fall off this wagon and gain all my weight back and more, but for now I'm feeling stronger,  healthier, and slimmer.  And I feel like such a stud every time I don't eat sugar!!  Or fruit!  Or grains!  Or beans!  Or carrots, corn, potatoes, or peas!  And I also feel like a stud when I have a giant salad for lunch, or a bowl of roasted Brussels sprouts, or a spaghetti squash.  And I love that I get to eat yummy, yummy cheese.  Right now in the fridge I have Extra Sharp Cheddar, Jarlsberg, Queso Fresco, Smoked Gouda, Parmesan, Feta, shredded Mexican Blend, and Mozzarella. So if you're ever in the neighborhood looking for cheese, you know whose door to knock on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

First Real Day at S.O.S.

Yesterday I arrived at S.O.S. at 9 a.m. to start my first morning of real volunteering.  They were understaffed, so I was not able to shadow anyone as an actual counselor, so I tried to find other helpful things to do.  Until 10, everyone who could unpacked boxes of food onto the shelves in the basement, divided up the food equally into paper bags, carried the bags of food upstairs to the kitchen, transferred small frozen pizzas from the freezer in the basement to the freezer in the kitchen.  Then at 10, when food day officially starts, I got kicked out of the kitchen because there was plenty of help there, and sent to try to help with people coming in for food.  In case you are curious, one food bag yesterday contained the following: two cans of veggies, a peanut butter, a jelly, two packages of noodles, a box of mac, a box of baking mix, some fruit cups, and two cans of soup.  Each person that came in for food also got a flat of yogurt and some frozen pepperoni pizzas.  Also, in the entryway there were two tables piled high with fresh produce (farm fresh--still covered with dirt).  Anyone could take as much produce as they wanted. 

A person wanting food comes in the front door.  They are asked by the greeter to present an ID.  The greeter then uses the ID to look the person up in the database.  Then she fills out a half-slip of paper with the person's basic information on it, including how many times they have gotten food from S.O.S. this year (people are only allowed to get food four times a year).  She puts the half slip of paper in a pile and gives the ID back to the person.  Now the person waits in the waiting room until a food counselor calls their name.  There are three offices for food counselors to use.  When a food counselor is done with one "consumer" (this is what S.O.S. calls the people coming in for help--I think it is a somewhat awful term), he/ she gets the next half-slip of paper from the pile and calls that person's name.  They go into one of the three private offices and talk to the person about why they've come in, what other help they might need, et cetera.  When the food counselor is done with that person, he/she gives that person's food card to the helpers in the kitchen, who prepare that person's food.  Some people also need toiletries, diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, et cetera, so if we have any of those things on hand, we give them to those in need along with their food.  When the kitchen crew is ready, they call the person's name, and give them their food and now the person is done.

If you want the produce, you can just come in and get it, without showing ID or speaking with a food counselor.  If you want the other food, you must speak with a food counselor first.  After I get some more training, I will get to be one of the food counselors, but yesterday I just hung out in the lobby helping the greeter and talking to people and organizing the produce and trying to get people to take some of it.  Yesterday's produce delivery included lots of greens, some romaine, green tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, potatoes, onions, baby bok choy, basil, thyme, little dark purple hot peppers, butternut squash, acorn squash, apples.  Most of it was a hard sell.  People seemed intimidated by much of it, unsure how to prepare it.  I tried to talk them through it, but there were still very few takers for anything besides apples, peppers, and greens.

Two of the happiest parts of my morning: Two mothers came in asking for diapers.  They needed sizes 3 and 4.  We only had sizes 1 and 2, so they were told there was nothing for them.  I took them aside and told them we actually did have size 2 diapers, and did either of them think their baby could squeeze into that size.  One mother thought yes, so I went down and got her some diapers and wipes.  The other woman's child was 2 and needed size 4.  Hey, I thought, that is the size Naomi wears, and I've got some in the car.  I asked her if she would like the diapers and wipes from my diaper bag in the car and she said yes.  So I went out and got them and she gratefully accepted.  It felt so good to give someone something that they really needed.  I was so glad I had the diaper bag in the car--so often I forget it!  Another happy part of my morning was when I was leaving to go get Naomi from preschool.  I saw one of the people who had gotten food trying to load his 6 bags onto his bicycle.  He was a young college-aged man who was friends with one of the interns (they were surprised to see each other, but I think it was comforting to him to find her working there).  This was the first time he'd ever come in to get food.  I offered to load his food into my van and meet him at his house so he wouldn't have to try to carry it on his bike.  He accepted, and even offered to pay me for gas.  So after I picked up Naomi, we dropped the stuff off and then went home. 

I enjoyed my time at S.O.S. so much.  I got several people smiling or even laughing with my antics about the produce, and I got to help two or three older people fill out their paperwork because the letters were too small for them to see.  One of the oldest people I helped was an African American in her 70s, homeless, no teeth, and she kept calling me "Baby Girl."  She had a great sense of humor.  When we had to fill out her race on the card, we had a fun joke together about her choosing to be a Pacific Islander and then going "home" to Hawaii.  Tomorrow I go back for Day #2.  Tomorrow is not a food day, so I will tell you about what a non-food day is like.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Empathy Day

Yesterday was my 9 to 5 training at S.O.S. on using the Empathy Model in counseling.  In this model, empathy is the opposite of sympathy.  'Empathy', by this definition, focuses on the client, or 'consumer' as S.O.S. calls them (I can't bear this term), while 'sympathy' focuses on ourselves.  The risk with using 'sympathy' is taking everything the client says and relating it back to one of our own experiences, thus spending a great deal of the conversation talking about ourselves.  In 'empathy', we try to leave ourselves out of it, focusing the conversation entirely on what the client has to say and how they are feeling about things.  When the counselor speaks, it is to clarify what the client has been saying, not to interject her own take on things.

Our training materials list five steps that we should take when speaking with a client in order to properly follow the empathy model:

1) Listen (to verbal and nonverbal statements the client is making)
2) Ask clarifying questions (to help you fill in the gaps of a client's story; to make sure you are understanding them correctly)
3) Give positive strokes (point out things the client has already done to solve his or her problem; help the client see his or her strengths and successes)
4) Make value clarifications (suggest what you think is of greatest importance to the client, based on what he or she has told you)
5) Summarize what the client has said (recap the main points of their story, the feelings they've shared with you, what is important to them, to make sure that you have captured things accurately)

Yesterday there were ten of us in training, with three trainers (all 13 women).  We divided into two groups and spent most of the day with our small group practicing the empathy model.  I was very nervous to take a turn as a counselor, but it went well.  I told myself that instead of trying to follow the empathy model, I would just try to talk to my client (a fellow trainee) the way I normally would.  As it turns out, I used all five steps without consciously thinking about it, so yay.  One weakness I have is asking two or three questions at a time, and asking the questions a bit too abruptly (What do you think caused this v. I'm wondering what you think may have caused this).  Our small group finished the training an hour early, and our trainer said that we picked up on things faster than she's ever seen with previous groups. 

Our last activity before going home was sweet.  Each of us was given a piece of paper and a bunch of small stickers.  We were supposed to use two stickers per person to write the words we thought best described them.  Then we took turns presenting our papers and having our new friends come up and stick the words that they chose for us onto our papers.  In my group were two undergrads studying social work (volunteers) and two MSW students doing internships with S.O.S., plus the two trainers, one of whom is an S.O.S. staff member, and the other a long-time volunteer.

Our last training session is this Monday night.  The topic is Assertiveness.  Tuesday morning I will start shadowing.  I can shadow for as long as I want, and when I feel comfortable, I can start counseling while a more experienced person shadows me.  Once that person thinks I'm ready to go solo, I will be a real, live crisis counselor for S.O.S.

Capturing Susan Piver's "The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life"

The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life by Susan Piver, 2004

I picked this book up at the library because I'm interested in learning to ask better questions. The one hundred questions that Piver poses here (on Family; Friendships; Intimate Relationships; Work; Money; Creativity; Spiritual Life) did not appeal to me nearly as much, however, as what she said in her Introduction and Afterword.

Piver on living an Authentic Life:
-Your inner world (feelings, values, gifts, needs, spirituality, passions) matches your outer world (job, relationships, home, community).
-Three goals: 1) discover what you can offer to others 2) find and follow your unique path 3) maintain an ongoing, honest, reliable connection to your inner wisdom.
-Authentic living comes as a natural result of being present today, and focusing on the moment.
-It comes from an ongoing inner dialogue based on inquiry and a commitment to listen to the answers that arise.
-It is impossible to plan an authentic life It is only possible to be authentic and watch as your authentic life manifests around you. 
Piver on discovering our inner voice by asking questions:
-Piver's life has been driven by this thought:  Tell me what I should do with my life and I will give everything to it.  Who am I?  Why am I here?  What are my special gifts?  Often, the last place we look for answers to these questions is within.
-It is difficult to distinguish our own thoughts from the thoughts of others; we are profoundly disconnected from what is real, simple, and true for us.  Tapping into our own inner wisdom is difficult.  We long for it, yet we lack the ability to hear ourselves clearly.  When we try to tune in, often the first thing we encounter is others' voices, telling us what life should look like.  Most of us can't separate these voices from our own.  If we listen carefully and take the time to trace each voice back to its root, we can almost always identify the strands.
-We begin to tune into our real voice by asking questions.
-Asking a question can be a sacred act.  If we can simply ask, wonder, and become curious, an opening for an answer will be created.  Questioning is a spiritual practice.  We come into dialogue with God/ our true nature/ wisdom whenever we stop, look inside, and take the time and effort to really listen to ourselves.
-If our questions are a genuine inquiry, reliable answers will emerge.  Listening requires emptiness and receptivity.
-The only reliable way to cultivate presence (awareness, or the ability to observe our own minds) is through a regular contemplative practice, such as meditation, journaling, walking, yoga.  It doesn't matter which practice you choose, but you must set the intention to take time for contemplation and remain consistent with your chosen practice.  Having a daily contemplative practice is like permanently installing a satellite dish outside your house--our inner voice requires an unmoving target to receive its broadcasts.  Spiritual practice creates a steady, reliable way to receive our own wisdom.
-Ask yourself questions every day to keep fine-tuning your ear to the sound of your inner voice.  Come up with a personalized list of questions to help you stay connected with yourself.  Ask them in the morning to make sure your day is launched with consciousness.  Ask them in the evening to review, learn, and summarize what really happened that day. 
Piver's start of the day questions:
What do I need to say today?  To whom?
With whom do I need to connect today?
What would I like to see unfold in my life today?
What can I contribute today?  To whom?  To what?
What can I focus on today that will bring me closer to my authentic life? 
End of the day:
What did I leave unsaid today?
What did I allow myself to feel?  What didn't I allow myself to feel?
What did I love about myself today?  What did I not love about myself today?
What began to unfold in my life today?
What happened today for which I am grateful?
What happened today that wasn't in accord with my highest values?
What did I say, do, think, or feel today that brought me closer to my authentic life?

PG: If anything in here leaps out at you, perhaps you could comment on it, and I will try to respond.  Do you have any questions that you like to ask yourself?

Gratitude Weekend

An unpublished post, written on May 23, 2011:

This past Saturday I attended a women's conference at the church for the women in the stake (Ann Arbor, Ypsi, Saline, Chelsea, Adrian, Howell, Brighton).  The theme of the conference was strength in every season, symbolized by a tree.  The keynote speaker, Polly Mallory, gave an amazing talk that was very helpful for me to hear.  Then I attended a two-hour seminar on gratitude taught by my brother's new father-in-law, Bob Quinn.  The seminar was also excellent.  I learned so much during the conference.

It is always a bit of a disappointment to return home after an intellectual and/ or spiritual feast.  While I am listening to the speakers and participating in the discussions, I feel so full of hope and energy and excitement to apply what I'm learning to my life.  I want to hurry home and change the world!  Then I walk in the front door and there are the children and the laundry and the dishes and my poor husband who has been alone with the children, laundry and dishes for 6+ hours.  All of a sudden, I need a nap!  Then I'm sort of plunged right back in to the chaos and semi-darkness of my daily life.  The hope and light from the conference seem to vanish, a faint memory.  I almost feel worse now, facing the juxtaposition of my hopes and my reality.

But this does not need to be a sad post!  What can we do when we are filled with a desire to change, and then faced with the difficulties of our present reality?  The answer that comes immediately to mind is this: pick one small thing to start with.  The small thing that I did on Saturday after the conference was to apologize to Dan for hurting him the previous day, and this led to a long, good talk that brought us much closer together and inspired me with an even stronger desire to change.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Game of Life

Our most recent training session was called "The Game of Life."  For this we were asked to wait outside until our trainer and her helpers had set up the room for the game.  We were given two rules: 1) get through the four stations and 2) start with station #1 or #2.  Before we were let back into the room, Normea gave each of us a name tag to wear with three or four capital letters on it.  She had us line up outside, changing our order, ordering some people to face the wall and not talk, telling one girl not to touch anything or anyone.  She moved some of us closer to the door of the room, and we could not enter until she gave the word.  I was one of the first to be escorted into the room.  It was set up with four different tables, and an S.O.S. staff member was behind each table.  The first table I was taken to was Employment.  I was told that because of my race, I could own a chain of ethnic restaurants.  Next I was taken to Bank to get some money.  After quite a bit of run-around, I was given five dollars and taken to Housing.  The houses cost either 2 or 3 dollars.  I bought one for 2 dollars, and was then sent to Finish and Complaints.  There I showed proof of housing (a laminated picture of my house), and was given a letter stating that I was now eligible to enter the Resort for $1 and rest.  I had completed the game.  More on the game soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Becoming a Crisis Counselor

Instead of taking more classes and more tests and doing more research to prepare for graduate school, I now need focus on only one thing: getting experience working in human services.  This means volunteering at two local agencies.  The first agency, S.O.S., provides services to the homeless, and those in danger of becoming homeless.  To volunteer as a crisis counselor with them, I've been participating in their 21-hour training program.  The training consists of 4 three-hour meetings on weekday evenings, and one full Saturday.  I've done the training sessions called "Homelessness" "Crisis Counseling" and "Game of Life" and next I'll do "Empathy Day" and finally "Assertiveness."  There are about 20-40 people in training with me.  Some are interns (MSW students), some are volunteers like me (mostly hoping to get into MSW programs, also like me), and some are staff members at S.O.S.  Our trainer is a rather gruff black woman named Normea (nor MAY a).  She snaps at us if we don't follow the rules, but I'm pretty sure she is secretly a sweetie-pie.

What will I do at S.O.S. once I finish the training this coming Monday?  I will start out as a Food Counselor.  S.O.S. has a dilapidated old two story turn-of-the-century house in the historic district of Ypsilanti where anyone in the area can come on Tuesdays to pick up bags of food to feed their families.  Before getting their food bag, people are required to go into a little office with one of us counselors and help us fill out a few forms.  Each individual can only get food four times a year from S.O.S., so we keep a card on file with their name and when they last got their food bag so that we can check to see if they are still eligible.  If they need more food, we can write them a referral to a few local churches which also give out food.  One of the churches will give each individual food once every three months.  Another will give food once a month.  Another agency will give clothing and household items (pots and pans, brooms, etc.) to an individual in need once every three months.  We keep track of all the referrals we give so that we don't give them more often than the respective agencies are willing to provide.  A referral is just a form that we fill out and sign, which the person can take to the next place in order to get their food or household items.  I am not sure if these places accept walk-ins without referrals.  While we are filling out the forms, we are trying to find out how they are doing, what led them to needing food this month, if they currently have a place to live, if they are in a domestic violence situation, things like that. 

I will be volunteering at S.O.S. on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (while Naomi is at preschool) until January, when I will do the training at the second agency I want to work for, Ozone House.  When I complete their training, I hope to volunteer with each agency once a week.  Ozone House provides services to teens, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, which I think the volunteers man.  I really like the fact that instead of doing more and more esoteric things in my quest for a doctorate, I am now doing lots of practical, hands-on things, that are helpful to real live people today.  That makes me feel more confident that I have made the right choice.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Minor Change in Plans

A few weeks ago (Tuesday Sept. 6), I was sitting in my Experiemental Psychology class listening to our professor give a lecture about the field of psychology as a whole.  One of the things that he said really struck me.  He encouraged each of us who was interested in Psychology as a way to become a therapist to also look at degrees in Counseling and/ or Social Work.  He explained that those paths require virtually no research, are much faster, and are probably better suited for many people who want to work in Human Services.  I was aware of the things he was saying, but listening to him that morning struck me again as something I should carefully consider.  Two days later I met with the two psychology doctoral students that I've been working with to score the TAT stories.  They were talking about how their professor wanted them to spend even more time on school and less time on their outside lives.  They were complaining about their heavy load: preparing for prelims, teaching classes, grading papers, preparing three papers for publications, working on their own research, working on their professor's research, and taking classes.  As I listened to them talking I was taken back in time to the years between 2001 and 2005 when I was working on a Ph.D. in history at UM.  At that time, I was so overwhelmed with all that was expected of me in school that I couldn't imagine being able to complete all of my work without living as a hermit and devoting every waking moment to school.  And not sleeping very much, and drinking a lot of caffeine to stay awake.  This was the lifestyle of most of my cohort, but my lifestyle, with a husband and two children, church callings, a household to run, felt impossible to fit into that doctoral program.

I have been nervous and worried about trying to do a Ph.D. again, now with 4 children instead of 2, but I've also been trying to tell myself that it will be better the second time because I've chosen a field that I'm much more interested in and more prepared for.  But listening to Alex and Greg talk, it occurred to me that they were under no less stress and had no easier expectations than I had had in History.  Their life sounded like a nightmare for me, one that I've already spent several years living.

As I continued to ponder these two experiences, I began to ask myself why I was insisting on the Ph.D. track instead of the much easier and faster MSW degree.  I would probably be even more employable as a therapist with an MSW than with a Ph.D. because I would cost less.  And my MSW training would all be practical, professional training, as opposed to the Ph.D. with its strong emphasis on training "scientist-practitioners", in other words, people who conduct experiments and do research as a primary focus, with some clinical work on the side, mostly to enhance their efficacy as scientists and researchers.  I was willing to jump through the hoop of research, but that is not what I want to do with my career.

I came to see that the reason I was following the Ph.D. was because I had decided that I could not put the family into more debt.  Ph.D. programs offer full funding, plus a stipend, while MSW programs cost money.  And at the end, a Ph.D. will make more.  But when I took money out of the equation, my choice was startlingly clear.  I had virtually no desire to do a Ph.D.  Sunday night I took this problem to Dan to discuss the possibility of us going into more debt to pay for social work school.  He was fine with it!  The more I talked to him, the more comfortable I felt about taking out a loan to pay for school, something I've never had to do before.

The next morning, I realized that if were really going to change my plan and pursue an MSW instead of a Ph.D., I would not need the class I was currently enrolled in, or any other classes, for that matter.  When I got online to find out if I had missed the drop deadline, I was delighted to see that the deadline was that very day.  I called and got a full tuition refund.  Later I got a refund for my parking permit, I dropped out of the research project I had been working on (not relevant to social work school), I took back my library books about preparing for the GRE and the Psychology Subject Test (no GRE used in the admissions process for social work program).  I was shedding unnecessary stresses, costs, time commitments right and left.  It felt amazing to let all of those things that I was doing to prepare to apply to Ph.D. programs go.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes, M-22

Dan and I are in Traverse City, Michigan, on another 24-hour date.  My parents are visiting, and agreed to stay with the children so that we could have this little adventure together.  We left yesterday (Sunday) at noon.  Dan wanted to take a road we had never been on before, so we did not take the fastest route.  Looking at the map, we could see that on our new route we would be pretty close to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and decided to make a little detour to see it.  I have wanted to visit this park for many years, so it was exciting to be headed there unexpectedly.  Our first stop was four hours from home, in Frankfort, Michigan.  As you approach Frankfort on the M-115, you get the first glimpse of Lake Michigan.  This view is framed by a large archway over the highway. 

We were planning to turn right from  M-115 onto M-22 North, but I really wanted to see the lake up close, so we continued down the street we were on (Forest Avenue) to a tiny culdesac (Sac Street) with beach access.  Parking the car, we walked out onto the white sugar sand.  The sky was blue and the sun was shining; the beach was almost empty--just a few couples scattered here and there on benches in the sand.  Dead ahead was a long cement walkway out into the lake with a lighthouse at the end of it.  Lake Michigan is so big it looks like the ocean.  There are even waves.  We walked out to the lighthouse, which is boarded up and smells like pee, and walked back.  There were two port-a-potties on the beach that were leaning at crazy angles down toward the sand.  Their doors were hard to open because the sand was blocking them.  Dan had to use one, and we were afraid it would topple over on him, but luckily it didn't.  The neighborhood we were parked in was so pretty:  Tree-lined streets of beautiful Victorian homes.  It seemed like a little paradise on the beach.

We got back on M-22 and headed north.  Part of the highway goes right along the banks of Crystal Lake, which is lined with vacation homes, many with their own little boat dock.  The lake is huge, and from the look of the tidy, well-kept homes, it is a place that people love to live or vacation.  The next intriguing-looking place we passed was the Platte River, a large river with boats docked along it and a few canoe-rental shops nearby.

We decided that instead of cutting straight over to Traverse City on the 72, we would wind our way toward it on the 22, which goes up the west side of the Leelanau Penninsula and down the east side of it to our final destination.  We continued north a few miles and then left the 22 for the 109, which would take us through the Park.

We followed signs for the National Lakeshore's Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.5 mile loop with amazing views of the dunes and the lake.  When we paid to enter the park, we received a map of the drive with explanations of each of the 12 markers along the road.  Pierce Stocking was an outdoorsman who wanted to make some of the beauties of Michigan accessible to people of all ages and ability levels.  He created this drive in the 1960s and after he died is was bought by and incorporated into the park.  We got out of the car and walked to the scenic overlooks at several of the stops.  The most amazing overlook to me was the one perched on a giant dune overlooking Lake Michigan.  There were signs all along the cement path leading to the dune warning people that if they walked down the dune to the lakeshore, it would be very difficult for them to get back up and if they couldn't do it on their own, they would be charged a rescue fee by the park.  I didn't really understand these signs until we were on the viewing deck and could see the entire dune.  It was super steep, almost a vertical drop about 400 feet down to the lake.  We could see people at the bottom walking along the beach; they looked like tiny ants.  The way back for them was straight up this giant tower of sand.  We heard one of the women on the deck explaining that her son is super competitive, and he does this walk every year.  This year he is 50 and he told her it was really hard to get back up.  After seeing what they were up against, I had no desire whatsoever to make my way down there.

The weather forecast for today was rain all day (yes, it is raining as I write this), so we felt very appreciative for the time at the lake with perfect sunny weather and blue skies.  We finished our scenic drive and got back on the 109, which took us through the abandoned lakeside logging village of Glen Haven, which is being restored as a historic site by the park.  We next drove through the cute little tourist town of Glen Arbor, full of fun restaurants, art galleries, and bed and breakfasts.  A stretch of the road went right along the lake, at a place called Good Harbor Bay, and we saw many beautiful homes between us and the beach.  We crossed the Leelanau Penninsula on the M-204 to Suttons Bay (another cute tourist town), and then drove south on the M-22 into Traverse City.  It took us awhile to find our hotel (I hadn't bothered to bring directions, phone number, or address with me)--we finally called my mom and she gave us the address.  It was on the highway we had been driving up and down (M-31), but it was a lot farther than we had gone, thinking that we would be leaving town and getting farther away from it.  After checking in, we drove back up the highway toward Suttons Bay to eat at the Apache Trout Grill, a restaurant we had passed on our way into town with a completely packed parking lot.  We were starving, and the food was great.  We had fried calamari, Asian shrimp tacos with plenty of cilantro, an avocado egg roll, fried whitefish with a parmesean topping and garlic aoli, a salad of field greens, pesto, a drizzle of balsamic syrup, and an entire round of breaded, deep-fried goat cheese.  And chocolate fudge cake for dessert.

After that we sort of stumbled to our car, stumbled to our room, and collapsed on our beds.  Dan watched some football and I fell asleep.

These 24-hour dates are so fun!!!!!  I suggested the first one to Chicago in July, and it was Dan's idea to do another one just two months later.  Our new plan is to do one every other month (odd months).  In November we are taking the kids down to Ohio to stay with friends, while we enjoy Cleveland (or maybe Pittsburgh) on our own.  In January we want to go back to Florida to celebrate our anniversary and my birthday.  In March we might try something really close to home, like Toledo.  In May we are going to Norway for a week for Dan's 40th birthday.  We were figuring out last night that if we don't go on any dates between these 24-hour dates, all the money we will save on weekly babysitting, dinners, and movies, will make these longer dates a bargain.  We're saving money, really, we are.  We have something to look forward to all the time now.  It has been a huge boost to our marriage and our lives in general.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

24-Hour Date, Art Museums, Talent Development

Dan and I just had a lovely 24-hour date to Chicago.  We left on Sunday after church and returned late Monday night.  We spent the bulk of the day Monday in the Art Institute of Chicago, and it was heavenly.  I love art museums so much, but visiting one with the children is so not fun.  We just wandered around looking at all the beautiful, cool, thought-provoking things our hearts could desire, with no one complaining or trying to damage the art, no evil looks from the museum guards, no sounds of tortured animals coming from our giant, overloaded strollers.  Ahh.  

I see from the date of my last post that my promise to return to blogging after a short break for my brother's wedding back in May has gone unfulfilled.  We shall see if I can get back on the blogging train after a few months off.  Thank you to my beloved LL for her recent comment requesting that I start writing again.  I just finished a great book today, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, and it inspired me to return to my daily writing exercises.

The Art Institute's website allows a user to create their own gallery of favorite pieces from the museum and comment on them.  Yesterday I wasn't quite ready to return to the real world, and I spent several hours setting up my own online memento from our trip.  If you would like to see it, I believe this link will take you there. 

Here is my question of the day, inspired by the book I just read.  If someone told you that you could become extremely good at something just by putting a set number of hours of time into practicing it (say 10,000 hours), what thing or things would you choose to become extremely good at?  Write in and let me know! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Playing in the Street

Tonight after I made dinner, I went outside with the tater tots to play.  We ended up throwing the frisbee.  It was really fun.  I had to go inside and change from my clogs into my sneakers so that I could run faster to catch the disc.  I am not a fan of the heat, so the 50-degree weather with a light drizzle was just right for me.  I was blissfully happy out on the street throwing that frisbee back and forth with them.  We played for about an hour, and then came in to eat.  I didn't want to stop, ever.

Monday, May 16, 2011

James & Shauri Wedding: Movie Night

My very favorite part of the wedding festivities, besides watching the actual marriage ceremony, was Friday night at the movies.  Shauri had rented an older movie theater in downtown Newport, the kind with just one giant screening room full of velvet chairs, like your high school auditorium.  All of the wedding guests had been invited (ordered) to submit a homemade film for this night.  James begged the members of his family to do this, probably because he knew we wouldn't bother otherwise.  Shauri's sister-in-law, Amy, took all the video submissions and put them together in categories, with 4-6 movies to a category.  The categories were "Musicals", "Short Picture Featuring a Bride", "Short Picture Featuring a Groom", "Documentary--Short Subject", "International Picture", and "Mockumentary--Short Subject."  We would watch all the films in one category, and then break for live entertainment by various wedding guests, including my brother Mark singing a VeggieTales song with two of my tater tots, and some of James' oldest friends reading made-up entries from his diary (hilarious!).  I also loved the performance of Paul & Tamara Doughty who invited James and Shauri to come onstage and sit on stools.  Paul & Tamara stood behind Shauri and James, and as they sang a rather cheesy (but beautiful) love song, they simultaneous manipulated James & Shauri's limbs to make it look like they were acting out the words of the song.  Super funny for the audience--possibly quite awkward for the unsuspecting bride and groom. 

Some of my favorite films: my brother Mark told a joke that he had heard from James when they were in college.  It is one of my favorite jokes of all time, but it does not seem to make many other people laugh.  Although the film was not universally appreciated for its hilarity, I still got a big kick out of it.  My brother Nathan stole the show, I believe, when he came out on stage to sing one half of a duet from Les Miserables while the film version of himself sang the other part.  His film self was huge, and looking down on his live self.  It was very energetic and over the top, and I was bursting with pride.  It easily won for its category.  My mom made up the cutest, sweetest song ever, a history of our family set to the tune of "Gilligan's Island."  The film went between her singing the song with my dad, and pictures of our family over the years.  There was a really nice film submitted by James' friend John who is currently living in Australia.  He filmed himself in Sydney harbor with the opera house in the background and apologized for not making it to the wedding.  The title of his film was "Australia is a long way from Boston."  I also loved a film called "Boise Chamber of Commerce" by our friends the Hansens who we grew up with in Boise.  It was a little propaganda film trying to entice James and Shauri to settle in Boise, showing what an easy commute it is between Boise and Washington D.C. or between Boise and Baghdad.  It bragged about how many wonders of the world are located in Boise, including the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, et cetera.  Us Boiseans were laughing our heads off.  We loved it!

Following the final guest-submitted short film, we were treated to a slightly longer film made by Shauri.  The music for that film was two love songs written and performed by James.  The film had clips of different couples telling how they met and fell in love, and also talking about how we set up Shauri and James on their first blind date.  My mom and dad were in that film, and Dan and me, and my brother Mark and his wife Kamis.  My mom found out on camera that my dad had only joined the thespian club in high school so that he could spend more time with her (their first kiss was while rehearsing for a play).  She couldn't believe it!  It was adorable.  I did a lot of the talking in the clips of Dan and me (can you imagine?), and it was really funny to watch Dan's expression as he kept his mouth shut and let me go on and on.  Kamis made us laugh by listing off all of the significant dates in their courtship such as first date, first hand-hold, first kiss, etc.  She stopped partway through and explained that the only reason she knows all of these dates is that they are all divisible by five.  That really made us laugh. 

Basically we were just laughing so hard all night long that our cheeks were sore.  It felt so good to laugh that hard.  It was so easy and comfortable to sit there in the theater and watch those cute movies and live performances, all by people who love Shauri and James.

Idaho Boy goes to Harvard, Take 2

My dad wrote a nice long email today to correct many of the errors in my narrative of his life as a Harvard student.  I found the details of his story fascinating.  I give it to you in his words:

"My guidance counselor would have never suggested I consider an Ivy League school. He was more or less stunned I ended up there. The Dean of Freshmen at Harvard at the time was from Idaho. Every so often he would come to a few rural high schools in Idaho and try to find someone who would apply and who had a chance to be accepted. I do not know why he came to Meridian HS at the time as no one from Meridian had ever gone to Harvard. One Meridian student I knew who was two years older had gone to Columbia and as far as I know he was the only one who had gone to an Ivy League school until I went off to Harvard.

"It was announced over the intercom that a recruiter was here from Harvard and anyone interested could come down to the office and talk to him. I was the only student who showed up. He patiently explained to me how Harvard would pay me to come because my parents were so poor. I found this hard to grasp and he gave me an application. I filled out the application and then stopped because it asked me to write a 500 word essay. I was stymied by that.

"A few weeks later my Young Mens leader [a church group for teenage boys], a Stanford grad named Bob Woods, [who] would eventually become the dean of the business school at Memphis State and the Stake President of the Memphis Stake, found out from someone (possibly my mother) that I was "applying to Harvard." He had to come to my home to talk to me about it because I was not attending Young Mens [activities] and had not since I was about 13. He had a business partner who was a Yale grad and was trying to get a few Idaho kids to apply to Yale. Bob took me down to his office and I met this man. Yale did not require a 500 word essay and I filled out the application and sent it off.

"Your mother eventually found out from me that I had not sent in the Harvard application because of the essay. She got after me and I wrote an essay about the week I had spent on a psychiatric ward in California when I was visiting my sister who was a social worker there. Teresa helped me with the grammar and spelling so that it made sense (that was not how it was supposed to be) and I sent the application off just before the deadline.

"I actually was a good applicant (except for the essay part). I took the SATs and scored a 750 on the math portion and a 740 on the verbal portion. That actually put me in the highest one percent of college applicants who took these tests. Since I was from a rural HS and not a prep school and not even a school that had AP classes and had never even heard of the SATs before I took them, the admissions committee apparently rated me highly. I was also required to take at least 3 achievement tests. These were like AP tests and I had not had any AP classes. I got a 630 on the chemistry one (the equivalent of a 4 on the AP test), a 520 on the English one ( a 2 or 3 on the AP test), and a 790 on the US History one (a high 5). I was ranked 10th or 11th (out of 200) in our HS class academically. The one boy ahead of me went to the Naval Academy and the rest were all smart girls like your mom, who was co-valedictorian. My application also included my work history (I had an extensive one at that point). That was also unusual since I worked even during the school year.

"I never played HS baseball. I was a good basketball player but I stopped because I didn't like the coach.  I had some great teachers who really supported me and wrote great recommendations for me. I was a Harvard National Scholar which is the highest award they give to incoming freshmen .

"I have a couple more things to say about the Dean of Freshmen. They did not actually pay for my travel to Harvard but he did somehow find out that I was staying in the dorms over the holidays because I did not have the money to go home. He showed up at my door with round trip tickets to and from Idaho and took me to the airport. When we were freshmen proctors we were supposed to be on the lookout for people like me. Harvard had a fund to help them out.

"The scholarship was supposed to be enough so you did not have to work while at school. I couldn't deal with that and got jobs anyway. I had extra time because I did not play any sports at Harvard. They were all too big and fast.

"I had a huge amount of academic catching up to do. My education was more like that of a ghetto kid. I had to start at the beginning level of everything. I got As in the beginning science classes but I was lucky to get Bs in everything else. But with your mother watching over and encouraging me my last two years I was able to get As pretty much in everything and actually graduate Magna Cum Laude with highest honors in my department (History of Science). I had a great expository writing teacher as a freshman and she got me to the point I could write a B paper. Teresa, though, got me so I could write an A paper and a "Highest Honors" thesis, something I had to do for my department.

"Your mother, by the way, got a number of A pluses at Harvard. I had never heard of such a thing!

"One last thing--I wanted to major in Chemistry at Harvard but to my dismay I found I was too far behind in the sciences to compete a chemistry major in the required 4 years. I did have the satisfaction of performing so well in organic chemistry that my professors nominated me to be a special tutor in organic chemistry at the Harvard Bureau of Study Counsel. This was the best paying job I ever had at Harvard and I am sure helped me get into medical school."          

PG's commentary: Two super heroes stand out to me in this story.  First, the Dean of Freshmen at Harvard, an Idaho boy who came back to his home state to search for kids whose lives he could change by sending them to Cambridge for an education.  I love the image of him showing up on my dad's doorstep with round trip tickets home for Christmas.  And the second, but most important hero of this story: my mother.  Her hand in my father's many successes is, to me, a sweet and touching part of their love story.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Boston & Cambridge

Note to my Mom & Dad: Please feel free to correct the historical errors in what you are about to read.

My parents graduated from high school in rural Idaho.  They were both local superstars: my mom for her perfect grades, editorship of the school newspaper, and leading roles in most of the plays.  My dad was captain of the football team, a baseball and track star, and senior class president.  My dad went to the school guidance counselor for advice on selecting a college.  He had pretty good grades and standardized test scores, and loads of extra curricular activities and leadership experience.  The counselor suggested he apply to some Ivy League schools since they typically try to get students from every state, and the competition in Idaho was not that stiff.  So he applied to two schools: Harvard and Yale.  I'm not sure if he got into Yale, but Harvard offered him a full tuition scholarship.  His family was so poor, in fact, that Harvard paid for his room and board, books, and even the airplane tickets to get to school and back.

He spent one year at Harvard, and then served a mission for the church in France for two years.  He returned to Harvard, and over Christmas break that year, proposed to his high school sweetheart, my mom, who was in her senior year at BYU.  That next summer, after my mom graduated, they got married in Utah and then made their way back to Cambridge for my dad's third year of school.  They were Potato Newlyweds in Massachusetts! 

After finishing his bachelor's degree, my father stayed on at Harvard for four more years of medical school.  During this time my brother and I were born in Boston, and my mom completed a master's degree in Education, also at Harvard.  After medical school, our family moved to Connecticut for my dad to complete his medical training, where two more brothers were born.  His first job was in California (Bay Area), but he left a year later for a position in Idaho to be closer to his widowed mother.  My sister, therefore, the baby of the family, was born in Idaho.

Shauri & James' wedding this past weekend gave our family an excuse to visit Boston & Cambridge together.  I have only been back once since we moved, and the rest of my family hasn't been back ever. On Thursday the four oldest siblings got the family history tour of Cambridge, led by mom and dad.  Our tour began in Harvard Yard, where we rendezvoused with one of first freshmen that my parents mentored as dorm parents.  He is now a Pulitzer-prize winning writer and editor for the Boston Globe.  He walked with us over to Greenough Hall, where he first met me, a terrifying baby, and my mom and dad.  My parents had an apartment on the bottom floor of this building, and the freshmen lived on the three floors above them.  I remember this apartment.  We told some stories of when I saved my brother's life, more than once, while my father was supposedly watching us. 

The rest of the morning consisted of walking from place to place, seeing where my parents lived and worked and listening to stories from this period of their lives.  We saw my dad's freshman dorm, the church where I went to preschool, the building where my mom worked--which is now named after her old boss--the corner where she was mugged in broad daylight, the house they lived in as servants until my mother got knocked up and they were kindly dismissed (can't have a pregnant woman serving...). We saw the apartment building where my dad worked as a night watchman, and where they brought me home from the hospital after I was born.  I didn't realize that I had come home from the hospital to this place...I had thought they were already in Greenough House when I was born.  We saw the building where my dad lived his second year at Harvard, before he married my mom.  We couldn't go into any of the buildings, but it was still really fun to see where they had lived and to hear their stories.  It is amazing how magical a place can be when you know that your own family members lived and worked there.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Going to a Wedding

I will be on a blogging break this week as our family makes its way to Boston, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island, to celebrate the marriage of my brother James to my friend Shauri. 

Tomorrow we are driving to Rochester, New York, to see Dan's cousin Kevin and his family.  Tuesday we will take the kids to see the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah (Mormon church history sites) and then press on to Andover, Massachusetts, where we will spend a few hours with my dear college friend Kirsti and her family.  Late Tuesday night my parents arrive in Boston, and we will spend Wednesday doing things in the area with them.  My siblings will be trickling in Wednesday and Thursday, and about half the family, including Dan and two of the tater tots, will go to a Red Sox game in Fenway Park on Thursday afternoon.  Friday we sight see in Newport, ending the day with a dinner and screening of films made by the wedding guests and the bride and groom (mostly the bride, who is a film maker).   Saturday is the wedding in the morning and the reception in the evening, with a photo shoot on trolleys in our 1920s-era outfits in the afternoon.  Sunday we celebrate Mother's Day with a continental breakfast in the hotel and a long drive home to Michigan.  No cooking or dishes for me, woo hoo!

I hope you have a good week, and I look forward to writing more when I return.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Am I the only person that is bothered EVERY SINGLE TIME they read Goldilocks and the Three Bears?  First of all, why would anyone walk into another person's house?  I'm afraid to knock on a stranger's door, much less try the knob and let myself in.  Reflecting back on what I learned in abnormal psychology this semester, I'm concerned that Goldi could be on her way to a full-blown case of antisocial personality disorder.  Rules?  Societal conventions?  These things mean nothing to her.

Next.  If Papa Bear's bowl is the biggest, why is his porridge cold?  That makes no sense.  The porridge in the smallest bowl should cool off the fastest, then the medium bowl, and then the biggest bowl.  Papa's porridge, which is always depicted in a giant bowl, should be the hot one, Mama's medium-sized bowl should be just right, and Baby Bear's tiny bowl should be the cold one.

And does Goldilocks weigh that much more than Baby Bear?  I honestly can't imagine a human child being harder on a chair than a bear cub.  I sit on the small chairs at my children's preschool all the time, and I am quite a bit heavier than Goldilocks, and they have never broken, especially not all to pieces.

What do you think of Papa and Mama having separate beds, hmm?  I used to worry about that, but now that I'm not even sharing a room with my spouse, I guess I'd better accept the fact that if one spouse likes a rock hard mattress and the other prefers the sensation of being buried alive, having separate beds makes a lot of sense.  What does not make sense is that, in so many versions of this story, Baby Bear's bed is right there by Papa's and Mama's.  No wonder the little guy has no siblings.

Friday, April 29, 2011

So Happy!

I would just like to announce to the entire world that I got an A in my statistics class.  Yay!!!

We had our final exam yesterday, and I was late, and I took too much time and didn't finish the test.  I was in a very sad and grumpy mood about it, because I had been getting an A in the class, and I was pretty sure I would end up with a B because of that test.  But we got our final grade today, and mine was still an A, in spite of everything.  Now I feel so happy!

Monday at nine I have my first psychology class at the university, and then at eleven I go back to the community college to take my Abnormal Psychology final.  As soon as that is finished, we hit the road.  We are driving to Dan's cousin's house in upstate New York to spend the night, and then on to Boston Tuesday for my brother's wedding.  I am looking forward to spending a few days with my whole family touring the place of my birth, and then a few more days in Newport, Rhode Island, enjoying time with the wedding party.  I am not looking forward to sharing a hotel room with the Tater Tots for five nights, but that is what you get for producing offspring.

Did I mention that I got an A in statistics?


Warning: Before you go clicking away on the links in this post, keep in mind that you may be offended or disturbed by the content of many of these postcards, especially if you are my mother.

Are any of you familiar with PostSecret?  Frank Warren started this community art project in 2004, inviting every single human to make a 4 x 6 postcard, write a secret on it that they have never shared, and mail it to him in Germantown, Maryland.  Warren selects different cards each week  for the PostSecret website, and then every year or two, a new book of postcards is published.  He also tours the country displaying and speaking about the cards he has received. 

I had never heard of PostSecret until recently, when I stumbled upon one of the books at the library. My experience reading through the secrets in that book, and some more on the website, was distinctly uninspiring.  It was a lot like being alone with a bag of potato chips or a box of See's chocolates.  Just one more, just one more, just one more.  In the end you feel sick.  The secrets were not particularly nourishing (maybe the opposite, in fact), but it was hard to stop looking at them.  So I was surprised to read that Frank Warren sees this public, anonymous secret-sharing as uplifting and helpful to both the sharer and the audience. Warren says that it is good for people to read others' darkest secrets, and to realize they are not alone.     

So I'm trying to reconsider my initial reaction to the secrets. What secret would I write on such a postcard?  Would this activity be helpful to me in some way?  How is it helpful for other people to read these secrets?  I wonder if sharing a secret in this way is a bit like offering a prayer, especially for someone who may not believe in or pray to a god.  I keep a few secrets from people, but not from God.  Maybe believing in someone who already knows everything about me diminishes my need to share these things with the world on a postcard.  Or perhaps because I have such a great therapist, who I can share things with that I wouldn't tell normal people, I am already taking advantage of one of the main benefits of the postsecret project--getting the darn thing off your chest.   

Now, if I think of these postsecrets from the perspective of a future psychologist, they become a bit more interesting.  Many of these secrets are things so shameful to the person hiding them, she has never dared share them with anyone else.  As a study in what humans are most ashamed of, what a rich resource.  I wonder if any psychology students have asked to use Warren's collection for dissertation research?  Hmm... 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Read the comments for the Limitless post

The comments for my most recent post on the movie Limitless are particularly fascinating, and expand the post into so much more than what I originally wrote.  Even if you don't usually read comments, please do yourself a favor and read these.  Thank you so much to Suzanne, LL, Aunt Elaine, and Jacqueline/ Lybi for writing.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Warning: This post is one big, gigantic spoiler.

Dan and I went to see Limitless Friday night.  The premise of the movie (based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, which I have not yet read) is that a pill has been developed which allows you to access the entirety of your brain (as opposed to the 20% that we currently use).  Within 30 seconds of swallowing, you have a 4-digit IQ. 

The main character is given one pill by a friend of his to help him overcome his writer's block.  Prior to taking the pill, he is depressed.  His hair is long and scraggly, his personal hygiene sketchy at best.  He can't get himself to write even one sentence of the book his publisher has given him an advance for.  He spends a great deal of time drinking.  His girlfriend has just broken up with him, presumably because he is such a loser. Figuring he has nothing more to lose, our hero swallows the mysterious pill.  Within moments his eyes light up.  His countenance changes.  He heads home to work on his manuscript.  When he enters his apartment, he is able to see, for the first time, what a mess it is.  The first thing he does with his increased brain power is wash the dishes.  Once his entire apartment is clean and orderly, he sits down and writes.  He is in the zone, writing all day, and finishing a large chunk of the book he has been unable to work on for months.  He feels amazing. 

The next morning, when he wakes up, he is back to his same old self--depressed and dull.  He wants to feel alive, energized, and powerful again, so he gets himself a much bigger supply of the pills and starts taking them every day.  On the pill, with his brain operating at full capacity, he bathes, gets a haircut, starts exercising.  He finishes his book in four days.  He impresses people with his fascinating insights into basically everything, and makes lots of new friends.  Women can't resist him.  He gets back together with his girlfriend, who is intimidated by him for the first time in her life.  He finds no need to drink alcohol any more. 

He is able to recall, in perfect detail, everything he has ever seen, such as television programs, covers of books, etc.  For instance, he beats up a big group of thugs based on what his brain has learned watching random commercials and martial arts movies.  He becomes fluent in new languages by casually listening to a few tapes.  His senses are heightened.  He sees connections between things and pathways open up that were not visible to him before.   

I take a small handful of pills every night before bed that help with my depression.  Dan and I like to joke that they are my happy pills, and I pretend to be overcome by happiness and joy right after taking them.  They do not really function in this way of course, but I do think they help take the edge off of the worst of my symptoms.  More than an antidepressant, however, the pills in this movie reminded me of the influence of God in our lives. 

Here is a quote Dan found for me by Parley P. Pratt that I think is relevant to the discussion:

"The gift of the Holy Spirit...quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being."

And another, this one by Ezra Taft Benson:

"Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace."

I remember when I first heard that we are not using about 80% of our brain's capacity,  I assumed that potential would be unlocked in the eternities.  God, I imagine, is already operating at full capacity.  Perhaps his spirit helps us access regions of our brain that we cannot yet access by ourselves.

How do you imagine that you would be different if you had access to your entire brain's capacity?  Would your emotional state improve?  Would you stop procrastinating?  Would you wash the dishes and keep your house cleaner?  I don't know if having 100% brain power would be enough to overcome certain negative habits that plague me.  It seems like I already know many of the things I need to do, and what is missing is the part where I actually do those things.  Does that part come from our brains?  From our bodies?  From our spirit?  

Lots to think about, and I'd love to hear from you as well.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Group of Seven Fan Club

Once upon a time, I was searching for beautiful artwork.  I was looking specifically for trees, but the search turned up a lot of landscapes as well.  In addition to some amazing things by Van Gogh, Klimt, and other famous artists (famous enough that I had heard of them), I found a number of paintings that I really liked by artists I'd never heard of.  In particular, I found three different images of an evergreen that almost looked like they could be the same tree.  In order to further my art education, I try to look up artists whose work I like and read more about them.  When I did a search for the artists who painted the three similar trees, I read in a Wikipedia article that they worked together, and were part of a group of Canadian landscape painters active in the 1920s called the Group of Seven.  I wrote down the names of all the artists in the group (there were actually 10 by the end) and went back to to find paintings by each of them.  Guess what?  I liked everything I saw by them.  Hey, my new favorite painters!

In a fit of admiration, I put a bunch of their stuff on my wall on Facebook, and I wrote about them in a gratitude email to my family.  Not long after that, I received a book in the mail all about the Group of Seven, a special gift from my sister. As I was reading the book I thought, some day I want to take a road trip to northern Ontario (it borders Michigan, after all) and see the places these guys painted, and their original artwork in the various museums.     

Fast forward to about a week ago, when I started searching for art on  I found a landscape that looked very similar to some of the things I'd seen by the Group of Seven.  When I looked at the information on the artist, I saw that he lives in northern Ontario.  I ended up purchasing something from him, and he sent me an email.  I responded with a question: Are you familiar with the work of the Group of Seven?  Your things remind me of theirs. 

The artist, Brian Holden, wrote me back this great message:

"In answer to your question about being familiar with the Group of Seven...indeed I am. It would be a disservice to both them and yourself  to say I have not been influenced by their vision and ways of looking at landscape. I grew up as a child in the immediate area on Lake Superior made famous by Lawren Harris (Pic Island) and also depicted to a lesser degree by Franklin Carmichael and A.Y. Jackson.

"I would have to say my first visit to the McMichael Gallery in Toronto was where I really developed a sense of connection to their landscapes and perhaps subconsciously now these influences and color palettes emerge to some greater or lesser degree in my own work.

"The group visited Algoma region around Sault Ste. Marie more so as a collective, but as individuals several ventured a little more west along Superior towards Thunder Bay, Lawren Harris in particular to the area I grew up and know so well in my life.

"I have a bit of knowledge on the group and can also recommend places to view works and also spots where they actually painted if you are interested."

This email made my day!  We exchanged a few more messages, and in the end he gave me a great list of places to visit.  One of these days (hopefully this fall), I'm going to hit the road, a bona fide member of the Group of Seven fan club.