Wednesday, July 01, 2015

I need an errand faerie

< rant >
GAHHH ERRANDS. ERRANDS ARE MY LIIIIIIIIFE
< /rant >

Most of the time I don't mind running errands, but when there are lots of things to be done and little time to do them... well, my head pops clean off and bounces away from stress. So if you happen to encounter a disembodied Soozcat head rolling around today, do me a fave and stick it back on my body. Bonus points if you position it right side up.

Though it may be hard to tell which end's up.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

It's high time I shamelessly shilled my mail art project again.

And just in case you've forgotten what that is:


Imagine you could go on vacation to an imaginary place. What place would you choose? A location from a book, a movie, a TV series, a song, a poem, maybe a world you made up for an RPG? And what would you do while you were there?

Send me a postcard, either commercial or handmade, from this imaginary place. On the other side, write and tell me about the things you've been doing on your imaginary excursion. You can be as silly or as serious as you want. I'll put it up on the blog for the world to see.

(Try it! It's fun!)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Yay V!

See this cute (and smart) girl?

Her family came to Seattle this weekend to see her do this.

It was a large crowd, but I was persistent and eventually found her.

A rather blurry pic of V being presented. (It was the best I could do from up in the nosebleed section.)

Here's a better one.

Both of V's parents were here, PLUS both her grandmas, AND she received beautiful flowers and a necklace from her great-grandma. The day after commencement, everybody had a chance to get together, eat, tell family stories and celebrate V's achievement.

My sisters and V went to Pike Place Market and brought back a loverly bouquet of flowers. 'Cause they're thoughtful like that.

Also, Michele decided to take advantage of any downtime during the trip to Make Some Art. Here is what she made:

The Roxy triptych, inspired by our very own Roxy-cat.

Made with small canvases from Daiso, lots of origami and other found paper, scissors and Mod Podge galore.

Sadly, Roxy-cat really does like to drink from the Forbidden Fountain. She has been teaching us to put the lid down. Every. Single. Time.

Also, we went to The Crab Pot to bash some seafood.

It is a time-honored tradition, as we come from a long line of seafood-bashing people.

Here, my sister Wonder Woman demonstrates proper bashing stance.

OM NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM.

Alas, no leftovers came home for the Roxy-cat. We bashed that seafood but good.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Doctrine vs. culture

When I was in high school back in Provo, I had a fantastic piano teacher. She was a few years older than I, newly married, a brand new mom, adorable, talented and more than a little bit perfectionistic. One day when my mom came by to pick me up from my weekly lesson, she noticed Colleen* was looking very low and forlorn.

"What's wrong?" she asked, which was all that was needed to elicit a full confession. Colleen admitted woefully to my mother that she was feeling like a failure as a Mormon woman. She really wanted to make homemade bread for her husband, but her busy schedule was making it difficult for her to find time to bake bread from scratch.

Mom listened sympathetically. At last she said, "Colleen, honey. You're going to college full time, teaching piano lessons, running a household and taking care of a new baby. You don't have time to make homemade bread right now. If you feel bad, go to the best bakery in town, buy some really good bakery bread and feed it to your husband. At some other point in your life, you'll have the time to bake bread, but not now -- so don't worry about it. It's not that important."

I think about Colleen whenever I read blog entries and social media confessions where other Mormon women (and, to a lesser extent, Mormon men) fret that they aren't good Mormons because they don't fit into the "Mormon mold." They don't bake bread or home-can peaches or garden or sew or quilt or knit or create fancy cupcakes or keep up a Pinterest account or make the perfect funeral potatoes recipe. They're not even raising four-plus kids! OHNOES WHATEVER SHALL WE DOOOO.

Here's the thing: there's quite a bit of difference between Mormon doctrine -- the actual set of shared beliefs that form the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- and Mormon culture -- the set of traditions and behaviors particularly common to Mormons who live in the so-called "Mormon Corridor," running from southern Idaho to the Mexican state of Chihuahua. In many places where a plurality of Mormons live, Mormon doctrine and culture have become so intertwined that it can be difficult to determine which is which -- even if, like Colleen, you have been a member of the Church since you were eight years old. But I think it's important to extricate the one from the other, if only to be able to understand for yourself what is truly essential and what is optional.

My rule of thumb is to consider the elements of a true testimony. I have a testimony of the reality and goodness of God and the atonement of Jesus Christ, the power of prayer, the blessings that come from paying a full tithe, the truth found in the scriptures, the strength and power of modern revelation. I do not have a testimony of homemade bread, potluck dinners, glass grapes, uplifting mottoes stenciled on the wall, or green Jello salad with shredded carrots in it. Home crafts and home production are cultural, and as such they are fully optional; if you have the time and desire to learn how to do these things, or if you really enjoy them, go for it. If you're like my friend Fen who prefers to make chainmail, go for that instead (or as well). But for heaven's sake, don't beat yourself up over them, and don't get weirdly competitive about them. That way lies insanity.

Let's talk about some other cultural beliefs. I don't have a testimony of the three-hour church block; it didn't exist when I was a kid, and we'd all adapt just fine if it were done away with tomorrow. I don't believe for a moment that you have to be blonde and slim and descended from pioneer stock to be a "real Mormon woman"; I'm none of those things, and I'm as real a Mormon woman as you're likely to find. I don't believe you're a bad parent if your daughter doesn't earn an Honor Bee or your son isn't an Eagle Scout; both of these programs, while strongly encouraged in the Church, are optional. I also don't believe you're a bad person if you don't have lots of kids, or even any kids; in fact, come sit by me. Some women in the Church need to work outside the home, for a number of reasons including, but not limited to, their own mental health. Unmarried adult members are just as faithful as married ones. Nothing says the strength of your testimony is contingent upon being a returned missionary or a seminary graduate. There are no prohibitions on refined sugar, white flour or caffeine in the Word of Wisdom (on the other hand, there is an injunction against eating too much meat, which I'll admit I regularly fail to observe). For that matter, observing the Word of Wisdom is not the central tenet of a Gospel-centered life. And, for the love of all that's decent and holy, adult converts to the faith are not and never have been second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. This last cultural assumption is pernicious and makes me fighting mad; my father converted to the Church as an adult, and he had a stronger and more abiding testimony of the Gospel than the majority of people I know who were raised in the faith.

I know I've said this before elsewhere, but it's worth restating here: have you seen those "I'm a Mormon" ads the Church started running a few years ago? The ones that show a wide diversity of Mormons from every country, culture and walk of life? I'm convinced these ads were created not just for people who were curious about the Church, but for other Mormons -- as a clear indication that there is no such thing as a "Mormon mold," just a wide swath of human beings who have discovered that living in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the truths of the Restoration brings them a peace and happiness they can find nowhere else.

I realize this conflation of culture and doctrine isn't unique to Mormonism. It can be found in other churches, in philanthropic organizations, in political parties, in businesses, and pretty much any other group where the actual mission statement gets tangled up with common practices. And culture isn't inherently bad, either. It's just when culture becomes sclerotic, seemingly as set in stone as doctrine can be, that trouble starts creeping in. The ability to create and keep a flexible, adaptable culture around the bone structure of doctrine is what allows a group to experience healthy growth and allows for an influx of new ideas while still staying true to the group's integral nature.

And maybe, for the sake of everyone's health and happiness, it's important for us Mormons to chill out once in a while and remember not to sweat the small stuff. Remember that Mary Magdalene had a past, and that didn't matter to the Savior. Martha, for all her vaunted diligence in the home, never earned her Young Women medallion, and that didn't matter either. Consider the lilies of the field -- not a single one of them does crafts, yet even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

And in the end, the only kind of bread really essential to our lives is the bread of life.

*not her real name

Thursday, June 04, 2015

BUBBLES!

Apparently the young Captain Midnight was a dead ringer for this child.
However, his parents rarely dressed him like Little Lord Fauntleroy, which is probably just as well.
Yes, it's time again to get giddy over blowing bubbles like a little kid!

While doing an Epic Late-Night Grocery Run tonight, I noticed one of those majestic mondo bubble wands they have for sale this time of year. It cost less than a dollar. Thereafter followed one of those mental calculus moments: well, I could be evil and buy a chocolate bar that's bad for my blood sugar, or I could pick up one of these things instead and be goofily enchanted by blowing bubbles for some time to come.

It was a no-brainer.

Off to blow bubbles in the yard! (Doing it in the house scares Roxy.)

Monday, June 01, 2015

Roles

In church yesterday, we discussed (in part) aspects of the proclamation on the family, first released by the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1995. At the time this proclamation was released, it wasn't particularly controversial, but twenty years on, it has come more and more into conflict with the ever-changing values and mores of society.

One of the complaints commonly leveled against this proclamation is its supposed rigidity of gender roles for fathers and mothers. Critics complain that such roles are unequal, outmoded and probably impossible to achieve, and that they do not take into account the differing desires of individuals.

Let's take a brief look at the verbiage in question:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
Critics tend to vent their spleens on the "dads lead and make money, moms take care of the kids" section of this statement without bothering to read and synthesize what comes directly afterwards, to wit: parents are equal partners who help each other, individuals should adapt to their specific circumstances, and other family members should provide support as those circumstances warrant.

Interesting, isn't it, that critics refer to these differing male and female duties as "roles"? What exactly is a role, anyway, and does it mean only what critics want it to mean -- rigid and inflexible play-acting? Or could the word be interpreted a little differently?

As I've written before, I love the musical Wicked and have been lucky enough to see it produced numerous times on stage. One of the things I particularly look forward to seeing is the way the role of Elphaba is played by different actresses. Some things stay the same in every production: Elphaba always wears green makeup and a black witch hat, always sings the same songs and speaks the same lines. And yet, while staying within the bounds of that well-defined role, every actress manages to create her own very different version of Elphaba: one aloof and passionate, another bubbly and optimistic, a third shy and bookish, yet another bitter and angry. There's more than enough leeway to allow for almost infinite variations on a theme, depending on what each actress brings to the role and how she chooses to interpret it.

Something similar is happening in my own life. I bring my particular experiences, abilities, biases and problems to the "role" of wife, and they determine in large part how I choose to interpret that role on a daily basis. According to the proclamation, the ideal role for an adult woman in a family is motherhood: raising and nurturing her own children. But the proclamation also fully acknowledges that individual circumstances don't always make that role practical or even possible. My personal circumstances happen to include infertility, so I can't be a biological mother. I guess I could spend all my time beating myself up over it, or I could take heart from the phrase "circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation" and adapt. And that's what I've chosen to do. While we probably won't ever have biological children, for the last eight years Captain Midnight and I have been extremely fortunate to have a fantastic niece in our home, whom we love like a daughter.

Certainly I'm not alone. I could easily come up with a half-dozen examples of people who have adapted their roles to specific conditions. In the wake of my father's early death, my mother was thrown into a situation where she suddenly became both the family nurturer and the primary breadwinner. More than one sister in my ward has experienced similar double-duty roles after going through divorce. Some women long to be married and have children, but never get the chance to do so. Others go a little stir-crazy staying at home with the kids and have a real psychological need to hold an outside job. Occasionally circumstances make it more practical for Mom to work and Dad to stay home. In all cases, the response is not an inflexible "NO YOU HAVE A ROLE STICK TO THE ROLE DANGIT!!!1!!1!" but practical, supportive advice encouraging us to adapt, to interpret, and to find out what works best for our specific situations. God knows we don't always get to live under ideal circumstances; fortunately, they aren't necessary to carve out good, well-balanced and happy lives.

(Oh, and by the way? NOTHING in the proclamation spells out any of the other individual duties family members may hold. There's nothing that says men have to take out the garbage and mow the lawn and kill spiders, nothing that says women have to do the laundry and wash dishes and bake bread. The business of determining who does what chore in any particular household is left completely up to the members of that household to decide. I guess the proclamation doesn't define roles nearly as rigidly as people are led to believe.)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A tour around the neighborhood

It's been a while since we revisited my stomping grounds, and in the interim a couple of things have changed. So as twilight falls, let's take a look around, shall we?

The tree that was barely a sapling when we moved in has grown a bit.

(A little reminder of what it looked like back then. Aww, lookit the teeny Miss V!)

One of several lavender bushes in our neighbors' side yard, just starting to get little buds on it.

Hey, do you remember the mysterious property I called Sleeping Beauty's bower?

Well, it's still covered in brambles...

...all of which should produce some delicious blackberries later this summer. mmm blackberries.

But let's just say...

... a few things have changed.

Some company that buys land (as you might have surmised) bought the property and promptly tore the little house down.

I'm not sure what they plan on building there -- the sign says they're putting up three single-family dwellings, but our landlord says they're building a water storage vault. Maybe it's both. Either way it makes me feel a little sad, in that the mystery has dissipated into nothing.

Speaking of our landlord, he's been keeping pretty busy himself. Remember the duck pond?

Well, here's what it looks like now. Our landlord has been working on this new house off and on for the last several years, and it's nearly done.

Whoever our new neighbors end up being, they're going to be very close. They'll be sharing a driveway with us.

This should give you a bit of an idea how insane land prices are and how close they cram houses together around here. In this photo, taken from our front lawn, you can see four different houses cheek by jowl with each other.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: in the future nothing will say "old money" quite like a modest house on a half-acre of land. McMansions on postage-stamp lots will be a dime a dozen, but resisting the temptation to sell off sections of your property to developers will indicate not only your relative wealth, but your adherence to principle.

Oh yeah, and because there should always be a little mystery...

...another oddity of our neighborhood.

This is the inexplicable brick obelisk across the street from Sleeping Beauty's (former) bower. What's it for? Haven't the foggiest. There isn't a twin obelisk across the street, so I don't think it was ever meant to be the grand entrance to a new housing development. It has a hole up top that suggests a really overbuilt mailbox, but it's way off the ground and full of disintegrating wood splinters, suggesting that at one time a wooden pole ran through it. It could have been a chimney once, except there's no place for a firebox and no indication that it's hollow inside.

I just don't know what this thing is, frankly.

And you know, sometimes that's the way I like it.

Good evening, all!