Friday, March 29, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 7


Today is the last day to enter my giveaway for a paperback copy of Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year by Andrew Bowen.  The giveaway ends at midnight!  It's really easy...just comment, like or friend...check out the rules here and get it done before it's too late!


One unexpected advantage of having a whole row of fake, removable teeth in front is that I cannot bite my fingernails.  (I actually can't bite anything with those front teeth, which means I've had to adjust my eating habits quite a bit and that's been annoying, but it's still Lent, so I'm focusing on the positive!)  It's a bad habit I've had since I was little, but as I am literally unable to gnaw on my nails currently, maybe I'll actually be able to break the nasty habit this time...


Several years ago, I had the opportunity to create an Easter program for our stake (for those not familiar with LDS terms, that's similar to a diocese - several local congregations together make up a stake), including conducting our stake choir.  In the process I discovered some amazing music that touched me and helped me feel the meaning of Easter more deeply.  The piece I keep coming back to this week is an arrangement of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" by Gilbert Martin.  Brings me to tears every time.  There are several renditions on youtube; here's one I enjoyed:

"Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all!"


So, have I mentioned that this is your last chance to get in on the drawing for your very own copy of Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year?  If you haven't already, go here and comment, or go here and like my brand new Facebook page for Build Enough Bookshelves and then go back to the giveaway post and comment, or click on the "Join this site" button on the right sidebar to become a Google Friend of Build Enough Bookshelves and then go back to the giveaway post and comment.  Or do all three and triple your chances of winning!  Right now, before you forget and miss out!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich

(Don't forget to go enter my giveaway for a copy of Andrew Bowen's Project Conversion!  If you haven't entered yet, you're running out of only have until midnight tomorrow!  Click here to find out how to enter.)

Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets is less a history of collective joy, as the subtitle states, than it is a history of the restriction, suppression and de-legitimization of collective joy.  It speaks to the increasing isolation many people across the globe, and particularly in the first world, experience.

Collective joy is a term, and an experience, that is fairly foreign to most of us today.  Dr. Ehrenreich describes ecstatic rituals, bacchanalias, festivities, and group dancing from cultures such as the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and various indigenous tribes around the world, including vestiges such as Carnival that survived until the Middle Ages.  In the past, these experiences bound groups together in expressions of community and commonality.  They provided opportunities for individuals to synchronize their goals and actions with the group, to reach a state of communion with the Divine, to escape from the sometimes almost unbearable stress of daily life.

Dr. Ehrenreich finds strong connections between social and religious hierarchy, especially those imposed by colonial imperialism or church structure, and the suppression of expressions of collective joy.  For example, in response to "dance manias" that took place in the late Middle Ages, interpreted now by some historians as a physiological response to the extreme psychological stress of poverty and the Plague, the Catholic Church attempted to crack down on such "unseemly" public displays.  "Nothing is more threatening to a hierarchical religion than the possibility of ordinary laypeople's finding their own way in to the presence of the gods."  Eventually, these festivities were banned piece by piece.  "The loss, to ordinary people, of so many recreations an festivities is incalculable; and we, who live in a culture almost devoid of opportunities either to 'lose ourselves' in communal festivities or to distinguish ourselves in any arena outside of work, are in no position to fathom it."

Interestingly, she also connects the repression of such collective festivities as "a by-product of the emergence of capitalism."  She explains further: "The middle classes had to learn to calculate, save and 'defer gratification'; the lower classes had to be transformed into a disciplined, factory-ready, working class--meaning far fewer holidays and the new necessity of showing up for work sober and on time, six days a week."  While peasants worked hard as well, of course, their work was generally seasonal.  "The new industrialism required ceaseless labor, all year round" and "there was money to be made from reliable, well-regulated human labor."

Dr. Ehrenreich discusses some modern events that include elements of this collective joy.  She mentions the fascist rallies of the 1930s, but points out that they were spectacles, rather than festivals, and were "designed by a small group of leaders for the edification of the many."  Instead of the participatory element so vital to the expression of collective joy, spectacles "offer an inherently more limited experience." Spectators "are not there to be seen, except as part of an inert mass."  Gatherings like "hippie rock festivals" (think Woodstock) are getting closer to the original experience of collective joy, and certainly served as a rejection of "mainstream mid-twentieth century culture [which] was deeply restrictive of physical motion in general."  As rock music became "the rallying point of an alternative culture utterly estranged from the dominant 'structures'", rock festivals recreated Carnival as an expression of that alternative, less restrictive culture.  She also draws some parallels with today's sports events and the carnival atmosphere that surrounds major games or competitions.

Mostly, Dr. Ehrenreich postulates, what has been lost with the opportunity to experience collective joy, is a sense of deep one-ness with others.  "In today's world, other people have become an obstacle to our individual pursuits."  Highlighting studies that show a decline in every kind of group activity, she notes that "intellectuals regularly issue thoughtful screeds on the missing glue in our society, the absence of strong bonds connecting us to those outside our families."  Perhaps, if we can find our way back to that collective joy, those bonds will start to form again.

Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy
by Barbara Erhenreich
ISBN: 9780805057232
Buy it from Amazon (hardcoverpaperbackaudiobook).
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: Swagger by Lisa Bloom

(First of all, don't forget to go enter my giveaway here for a copy of Project Conversion.  It's only open until midnight on Friday!  Secondly, a warm welcome to my Meridian readers whom I cunningly coerced into clicking over to read this review on my blog by cruelly omitting Numbers Six through Ten of Ms. Bloom's "Ten Rules for Raising Boys Right Now" from my review there.  If you'd like to scroll down past the first bit (most of which you'll have already read) that's fine, though there are a few variations, so it might not be a bad thing to just start at the top. You'll get to Rules Six through Ten eventually...)

Along the lines of her last book, Think, Ms. Bloom calls it like she sees it in Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness and Thug Culture. And boy, is how she sees it scary.

(**Trigger warning for explicit sexually violent lyrics in this paragraph** )
Ms. Bloom first lays the ground work by identifying four social and economic factors that disproportionately harm boys: the failing public education system, the struggling economy, "thug culture" including particularly music that glorifies violence, and mass incarceration. I'd read about public schools and the economy quite a bit, so much of those chapters was review for me. As someone who listens primarily to either country or classical music, the chapter on "thug culture" was quite a revelation. It includes quite a few lyrics from rap and hip-hop songs and, let me tell you, it was disturbing. After reading some Snoop Dogg, Allen Iverson, and Notorious B.I.G. lyrics I was appalled and grateful that my sons are thrilled to have recently discovered Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. There just doesn't seem to me to be any way to read those lyrics like "Man enough to pull a gun, be man enough to squeeze it" (Iverson) or "f&*# you with an umbrella and open it up while the $#!t's inside ya" (Eminem) other than as a glorification of murder, violence, and rape, not to mention the objectification of women. While I'm hesitant to tar the entire genre with this brush, I certainly didn't see any redeeming qualities in the image held up in these songs for kids to idolize.

I was also blown away by the chapter on our prison system. I had no idea just how large the "enormous surge" in the American prison population was or how disproportionately it affects men and particularly minorities. Over two million adults are incarcerated in the United States today, 93% are men. Another five million are on probation or parole. Those are absolutely insane numbers. With the "War on Drugs," drug addiction became a crime to be punished instead of an ailment to be helped. Four out of five - 80% - of drug arrests in 2005 were for possession. Only one in five was for actually selling drugs. And the life-long penalties after incarceration are stunning. In many states, after a felony conviction, voting rights are taken away, as is the ability to serve on a jury. Finding employment becomes increasingly difficult, federal educational assistance is denied so you can't go back to school, federal food stamps are not available, the military will not allow enlistment. With few options, recidivism rates are high, and the cycle continues into the next generation. And it costs taxpayers millions while our schools are desperately in need of funds to cover the basics. Just how is this logical??

Ms. Bloom's "Ten Rules for Raising Boys Right Now" actually made me feel pretty good about how we're doing in our family of three boys (ages 4, 7, and 10). We're right on track with many of these suggestions already, but they also provided food for thought on ways we can improve, too.

1. Lose the Swagger, Kid - Humility (as opposed to overconfidence) and modesty (as opposed to bragging) are important values that our children are not learning. "Your son is an important person, a child of God, with the spark of the divine animating him. But so is every other person on the planet--no more, no less."

2. Set College Expectations Early and Often - Ms. Bloom bangs this drum repeatedly. In spite of rising college costs, a college degree is still an absolute necessity for a middle-class lifestyle. Not only is life-time earning potential more than twice that of a high school graduate, but job security is greater with unemployment rates for college grads significantly lower that those for high school dropouts or high school grads.

3. Make Your Home a Reading Mecca - Preaching to the choir, here! Fluent reading is critical. Period. The National Endowment of the Arts concluded that "Reading correlates with almost every measure of positive personal and social behavior" according to an extensive study done.

4. Eliminate the Competition - The competition for reading time is TV, video games, anything with a screen, so cut back or completely eliminate it. After recounting numerous scientific studies and their findings regarding TV watching in particular, Ms. Bloom concludes "if we were child haters and wanted to come up with one magic device that would make them stupid, mean, narcissistic, fat, and sick, we would have invented the television and twenty-first-century programming and put them in every home, even in kids' bedrooms..."

5. Become Aware of the Data Pinging In and Out of Your Boy's Brain - "George Orwell's 1984 has arrived, just a few decades behind schedule. Only it's not big government that's watching us; it's corporate America." In order to help our sons navigate the enormous amount of messages that are thrown at them every day by peers, companies, the media, etc., we need to educate ourselves and know what those messages are! One pointed suggestion here was to insist that "a condition of his access to the Internet must always be your ability to watch him there."

6. Teach Your Boy to Be Ever-critical of All Media - Ms. Bloom provides 5 key questions (from the Center for Media Literacy) to teach your sons to ask about the media he sees, so he's less susceptible to its messages:
* Who created this message?
* What techniques are used to attract my attention?
* How might different people understand this message differently from me?
* What lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented in or omitted from this message?
* Why was this message sent?

7. Support His Teacher - Ideally, you and your child's teacher have the same goals and the same desire to help your child succeed. They are not the adversary! Undermining their authority with your child doesn't help anyone. We've been fortunate to mostly have great teachers for our children and I love the advice Ms. Bloom gives to "help your son succeed by teaching him strategies to behave well and do his work even if" he doesn't like his teacher, or he's not feeling well, or whatever...

8. Teach Him to Respect Girls and Women - Of course, we all want our children to show respect to everyone, but in this day and age there is no excuse for making demeaning, sexist, or rude comments about women, even as a "joke." Ms. Bloom advises moms to "demand respect for yourself." No more martyr routines. Teach your sons to cook, clean, do laundry and wash dishes. Encourage them to have friends of both genders so girls aren't "the other" and your children are comfortable interacting with both boys and girls. Point out harmful and disrespectful stereotypes. "Teach him that respect is active."

9. Make Community Service a Regular Part of Your Family Life - Include your children in the service you do. For example, I have a Meals on Wheels route I do every other week. My oldest two are in school at that time, but my four-year-old loves MoW days and the "grandmas and grandpas" love to see him helping. The others are excited to have a chance to help out this summer. "Make it a family affair."

10. Take Him Away - Brand new experiences broaden horizons and open minds. "Expose your boy to difference." Not all of us may have the resources that allowed Ms. Bloom to travel with her children all around the world, but we can look for historical sites, museums, natural wonders close to our homes and make it a point to visit them and expand our knowledge and our children's minds.

My only quibble with Swagger is that wholesale changes are needed in the public education system, the economy, the prison system and society in order to turn things around for the most vulnerable boys and I'm doubtful that the political will exists to make those changes. But perhaps that's just my cynical side coming out.

And, of course, most if not all of these suggestions would be effective in raising girls as well as boys.

Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness and Thug Culture
ISBN: 9781936467693
Buy it on Amazon (hardcover, paperbackebook, audiobook)
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Andrew Bowen Talks Project Conversion

I had the opportunity to ask Andrew Bowen, the originator of Project Conversion, some questions about his experience. Here are the answers as he sent them to me (with minor editing for continuity).  If you'd like to read a little background before jumping in to this interview, check out the website here, and my earlier blog posts here and here.  And don't forgot to sign up for my giveaway of a copy of Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year. (Rules for the giveaway are here.)

Build Enough Bookshelves: What tools and techniques were the most effective for you as you immersed yourself in each faith?
Andrew Bowen: My first and greatest asset was a mentor for each month. These individuals, who were practicing members of their faith, guided me through the dizzying array of information, customs, and beliefs native to each religion. Without their guiding hands, I would have never found my way. Other important tools included holy books, informative texts, visiting places of worship, and of course engaging other believers in various communities. For my purposes, although difficult and often disorienting, it helped to approach each religion with little or no preparation from the last. This dive produces maximum effect in removing my own bias and context, helping me take in a fresh view.

BEB: What did others do in the faiths you studied during your Project Conversion year that was most helpful for you in understanding their religion?
AB: Patience and encouragement. Project Conversion was an arduous path. Without the patience and grace of my adopted faith communities, I might not have come half as far.

BEB: What advice would you have for those on, say, an interfaith council who want to better understand other faiths without leaving their own behind?
AB: This process is not complicated. It's as simple as getting to know the person behind the faith without any ulterior motives. Spend some time among various groups of believers. My wife insists that she became a stronger Christian via lessons she gleaned from other faiths. Interfaith workers/leaders would be wise to seek out the perspectives of others.

BEB: What practices or beliefs did you find most universal across different faiths?
AB: It seems that all faith paths sought a form of connection with something or someone larger than themselves, an all-encompassing presence. Religions seem to have a passion for adding details to the mysteries of our lives, which at least make compelling stories. Morally speaking, I believe every faith tries (or attempted) to assuage the social struggles of their times. In this way, each was a reaction or even revolution against the status quo.

BEB: What would you do differently if you were to do this again? After that year, what others faiths would you include? Are there any months you'd like to do again?
AB: I'm not sure I would do anything differently, only because I spent much of the year fumbling along. I made many mistakes, most of which resulted in beautiful moments. I learned the art of letting go, of relinquishing all control, and allowing the experience free range in my life. To say I would do something differently would mean I would lose all those things. That said, I would have liked to spend time with some Native American traditions and lesser-known faiths.

BEB: Are there a few specific faiths that you would recommend to someone as an introduction to immersion or inter-faith understanding?
AB: I selected faiths that I either had little to no experience with or knowledge of, or faiths with which I harbored a negative past. Trials and challenges make us grow. I would recommend selecting a faith or tradition which challenges one personally, one that forces them into another point of view.

BEB: What were the most formidable barriers you ran into, both in general and in specific faiths?
AB: I often encountered episodes of exhaustion and doubt. The journey was long and intense, so each day was quite taxing, but I knew what was at stake. There were also the occasional objection from readers about a specific way I experience their faith or that I was conducting such a journey at all. Had Project Conversion been anything other than a personal intervention to cure my hatred of religion, then it would have buckled beneath that pressure.

BEB: What did you find most surprising over the course of your year?
AB: In no way did I expect to connect with so many different people on various levels. These were people I once hated, and now they are helping me? The community Project Conversion created and the common humanity we discovered between us is an enduring miracle. And of course, I never dreamed that I would actually succeed, yet here I am.

BEB: What practices and beliefs from your year of spiritual promiscuity have you continued in some variation?
AB: I've taken to meditation, usually by the local river or early in the morning. Scripture study is important as well as helping my family with their spiritual needs. Now I am looking back at the experience and developing a philosophy based on the year which I hope will help others.

BEB: Can you tell me more about your upcoming project, Life, Depth and the Art of Immersion?
AB: Life, Depth, and the Art of Immersion is about the techniques and philosophy which facilitated my year of immersion. I've broadened the scope and application of immersion to include any sort of intense dive into life, from serving one's community, facing long held bias or hatred, reconnecting with the divine, or healing rifts in one's family/relationship. The book is about finding pieces of ourselves in others and in experiences, and thus making a greater connection with all.


Many thanks to Andrew Bowen for taking the time to answer some questions, and for his dedication to increasing interfaith understanding and respect.  If you haven't gotten a copy of his book yet, go sign up for my giveaway here, and even if you aren't the lucky winner, go get yourself a copy!

Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year
by Andrew Bowen
ISBN: 9780615741598
Buy the paperback from Amazon here or the ebook for Kindle here.
Check it out on goodreads here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Project Conversion: MY FIRST. GIVEAWAY. EVER!!!!!!!!!

(Can you tell I'm so excited?!?!?!)

As you can read here, I followed Andrew Bowen during Project Conversion, his year-long journey of self-discovery and immersion in other religious faiths.

And as you can read here, I thoroughly enjoyed the book that Andrew wrote chronicling his life-changing experiences.

And now, Andrew has graciously provided a paperback copy of his book, Project Conversion: One Man, 12 Faiths, One Year, for a giveaway to one lucky reader!

So here are the rules (doesn't that sound so official?!?!?):

You can enter for a grand total of three (3) entries per person:

(a) Leave a comment on this post telling me about an object, practice, ritual, or event from another faith or religion that provokes "holy envy" in you.  For example, I've written on this blog about my "holy envy" experiences with Lent, Ramadan, the kosher dinner I attended... (Just one comment per person, please!)

(b) Like my brand new Facebook page for Build Enough Bookshelves and leave a comment here telling me you did.

(c) Become B.E.B.'s Google Friend by clicking the "join this site" button on the right sidebar (see the example below) and leave me a comment letting me know.

Other giveaway gobbledeegook:

This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 or older. Entries will be closed at midnight (Pacific Time) on Friday, March 29.  Any comments on this post after that time will not be included in the drawing.  The winner will be selected via random drawing, and will be announced in a blog post here and on the Build Enough Bookshelves Facebook page by the first week of April.  The winner will have 72 hours to email me with his or her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be selected. 

Let the commenting and liking commence!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 6


I'm sure similar comparisons have been made before, but the last few days have reminded me how much the weather in March has in common with my four-year-old.  You look out the window at the beautiful, sunshine-y scene and can almost feel the gorgeous spring warmth on your face, but when you step outside, it's absolutely frigid.  (Much like the bright smile on my innocent-looking, cherubic-faced youngest child's face hides a stubborn and mischievous streak a mile wide.)  And then two seconds later, the sun is gone and pea-sized hail is failing from the sky at such a rate that you're sure auto body shops are cheering and a record number of concussions will be reported today at hospital emergency rooms.  (Much like my adorable child can go from sweetest, most loving angel to fiendish, shrieking banshee as quickly as I can say, "Your half hour of screen time is over, hon!")  April is usually a bit more self-possessed.  And, if I recall correctly, five-year-olds are, too.  Here's hoping...


I can't count the number of days in the past couple of weeks that lunch for my children has consisted of a bowl of breakfast cereal.  Now, part of that is because of the surgery and the general lack of get-up-and-go that comes with the recovery process, but another part of that is a total creative block regarding the midday meal.  Most of the time it's just me and my youngest, and I certainly don't get any complaints from him when he gets to eat more Honey Nut Cheerios, but I do get twinges of mommy-guilt for not providing a balanced meal with more regularity.  Home-canned peaches or pears make appearances as side dishes.  Occasionally we have bread and jam, maybe leftovers if there are any... See what I mean?  I need a serious injection of lunch inspiration. (To complicate matters my youngest has dairy and soy allergies, and for lunch on weekends we need to work around my oldest's peanut allergy as well.)  I'm not too proud to beg.  Help?!?!


After hearing me go on and on about how much I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my husband finally gave in and started watching the series from the beginning.  We haven't viewed all the episodes together, but we watch a fair number while snuggled up on the couch after the kids have gone to bed, and we just finished the last episode of season two last night (and I cried again, even though it's like the tenth time I've seen it).  There are tons of great moments in the series, but what I want to share today is this fair use mash-up of Buffy and the Twilight movies that just makes me giggle every time I watch it.  Enjoy!


Haircuts just stymie me.  I've always worn my hair long, at least since that traumatic pixie/bowl cut in fourth grade (It's okay, Mom, I've forgiven you. Really.), and generally only get it cut when it grows to the point of getting in my way, or when you can tell from a distance that the hairs with split ends outnumber the ones without.  And that lack of attention to such things has now extended to my sons' hair.  Behold, Exhibit A:
This is my adorable middle son displaying his three bronze wrestling medals and an insanely curly mop of hair.  It was taken this past weekend, so it doesn't show the full extent of insanity the curls reached, but you can get an idea...
My oldest and youngest inherited straight hair, so even when it gets long it's fairly manageable, even if reminiscent of the Beatles in their shaggy phase.  My middle child, however, got his Papa Frank's thick, curly locks.  When it gets long, it has a mind of its own that says "Woo hoo!  Party time!!!"  And I never seem to notice until it's waaaaaaay past time for a haircut.  Every morning for the past two weeks I've taken one look at the incredible new avant garde hairstyle on which he and his pillow collaborated all night long and vowed to find the time to get him sheared.  And yesterday was finally the day!  His father took him to a local barber shop and he came home looking like this:
Why is it that kids always look at least two years older after a hair cut?
Now I have at least a couple of months before I have to think about it again...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Yes, I'm Still Lent-ing It (Weeks 4 & 5)

Yes, my Lent experiment is still ongoing, despite my recent silence on the topic.

The past couple of weeks have had their challenges, specifically, my oral surgery.  And my impatience with my recovery.  I have found myself frequently frustrated.  With my level of pain, with the slowness of the pain meds to kick in, and with my loopiness when they did.  With my inability to eat anything more solid than mashed potatoes or read anything more substantial than celebrity gossip columns.  (I tried to continue reading the psychological text on racial identity that I had started before the surgery, but when I realized that I'd been over a single page six times without retaining any of it, I had to put it down.  Again, incredibly frustrating.)  With my lack of patience with my children and with myself and my short, short fuse when I'm in pain.  With my ill-fitting flipper that I couldn't wear, leaving the five-tooth gap in my grin unfilled, so I didn't really want people to come visit.  (I try to think of that as a magnanimous gesture; I didn't want to frighten small children or startle the unsuspecting, but it was probably due more to my vanity.  The flipper has since been adjusted and fits fairly well, so I'm out and about in public now.)  I freely admit to having felt a bit isolated and sorry for myself.

I visited a friend today who had much more major (majorer?) surgery than I did, just a couple days before mine, and we talked a little about our frustrations with post-surgical limitations and pain.  Yes, we both know that the surgeries were a good thing, that they had to happen, that we'll heal and that it's all going to be so much better eventually, but that doesn't change the fact that it hurts right now.  And it doesn't change the fact that we're human and we're frustrated by the limitations of our human-ness.

But our human-ness isn't just a limitation; it's also expansive.  It manifests in the friends who texted or called or emailed or facebooked well wishes on my recovery, or asked about me at church when I was home recovering on Sunday, and those who picked up the slack for me in my calling and family responsibilities.

It's my mom clearing her schedule for two days to watch my youngest so my husband could be with me during surgery, to help when he had to go back to work, and to make me tapioca pudding and jello.

It's my husband making me laugh, overcoming my reluctance to display my I-took-a-hockey-puck-to-the-face smile, and reminding me not to take myself too seriously, while still validating my frustrations.

It's my four-year-old son who crawled up on my lap and said, "I wish you had your old teeth back, Mommy."  And my older two boys who gave me hugs and told me they loved me and they'd try to be quieter so I could rest.

It's me "drunk" texting on valium and fixating on the "no straws!" rule on the post-surgical instruction sheet, providing entertaining stories to be passed around my acquaintances.

It's reliving in a small way, and twenty years removed, one of the most vulnerable, frightening moments of my life and coming through it okay.

It's being able to say, "Yep, it sure sucks, doesn't it?" when someone else shares stories of their post-surgical pain and having that analogous, though not identical, experience be a point of connection that helps both of us know we're not as alone as we sometimes think we are.

And as far as my Lent project goes, that's a pretty positive thought, I think.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review (sort of): The World in Six Songs by Daniel J. Levitin

I'm going to keep the text of this review short and sweet because I really want to share with you some of the amazing music I discovered through this book.  Basically, Dr. Levitin divides all human music into six categories that meet six different goals or provide outlets for certain human needs or emotions.  Of course, there is some overlap between the categories, but they are: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, and love.  Dr. Levitin spends a great deal of time on the evolutionary aspects of human neurophysiology which is interesting, but occasionally left me a wee bit glassy-eyed.  He was at his best when sharing personal stories about how music had affected his life in each of the six paths.

This is definitely a book to read with your computer close by with a tab opened to youtube.  It provides so much more depth to the text when you can hear for yourself the aspects of the music Dr. Levitin describes.

India.Arie, "Video"

Ani DiFranco, "Minerva"

Willie Nelson, "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth"

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, "Ohio"

Rodney Crowell & Johnny Cash, "I Walk the Line Revisited"

Joni Mitchell, "A Case of You"

Alex de Grassi, "Prelude"

Mike Scott, "Bring 'Em All In"

Kraftwerk, "Autobahn"

Stan Getz, "Night and Day"

And this was just a tiny sample.  Go read the book yourself and let me know what music you discover!

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature
by Daniel J. Levitin
ISBN: 9780525950738
Buy it on Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Book Review: Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

Years ago, my first child was a little less than a year old and we were hitting a rough patch.  Every hour of every day was filled with thoughts of "Is this normal?  He's never done that before!  Is he supposed to do that?  What am I doing wrong?!?!" So I checked every parenting book I could find out of the library, which is generally how I deal with the unknown: I read a lot.  And I mean a lot.  Stacks and stacks of books.  And any of you with kids know there is no shortage of people lining up to write tomes on the best way to raise, sleep-train, feed, play with, teach, and potty-train children, many of which contradict each other, of course.  I slowly made my way through the mound and the books were all helpful to varying degrees.  Except one.

I honestly don't even remember its name.  Which is probably a good thing for its authors, otherwise I would be badmouthing it right here, right now.  The entire attitude of the book seemed to be "If you're not doing these exact things right now the way we say you should be doing them, your child is doomed to a life of second-rate musicality, never learning another language, constant depression and anxiety, an inability to ever make friends, and they'll probably grow up to be a murderous psychopath, too."  Ok, so maybe it wasn't quite that specific, but on every page the authors warned that if I didn't start doing this before my child was three months old, I'd missed the boat.  Or as soon as the baby rolled over I needed to start this particular game or it would be ten times harder for him to learn this vital skill.  After a couple of chapters of this (and remember, my child was already past many of these vital formative milestones) I closed the book and literally threw it across the room.  Since I had already irrevocably stunted his potential, according to these authors, there was absolutely no point in reading any further.  Ugh.  (Plenty of guilt comes with this job as is, I'm not going to voluntarily sign up for more!)  So when Ms. Skenazy described parenting experts in her introduction as a "breed [that] seems to exist only to tell us parents what we're doing wrong and why this will warp our kids forever," I could totally relate and appreciate how refreshingly different Ms. Skenazy's approach is.

I agree with Ms. Skenazy that "Mostly, the world is safe.  Mostly, people are good.  To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV.  A world where the weirdest, worst, least likely events are given the most play.  A world filled with worst-case scenarios, not the world we actually live in, which is factually, statistically, and, luckily for us, one of the safest periods for children in the history of the world."  And by extension, when we raise our children to be afraid of "the big, bad world" - that doesn't really exist - we are crippling them and their ability to function in the mostly safe, mostly good, real world.

Instead of teaching them outdated useless platitudes that just serve to help us feel better, we need to teach them skills that will actually help them be safer and more empowered.  For example, Ms. Skenazy declares, "'Don't talk to strangers' is one of the most useless pieces of advice ever foisted on us to foist on our children."  Rather, we need to "teach kids NEVER GO OFF WITH STRANGERS, even if those strangers say they have something nice to give you or need your help or were supposedly sent by Mom."  Of course, our children need to be able to talk to strangers!  Everyone is a stranger before you've met them!  Not being able to talk to strangers will greatly diminish our children's social skills and may even make our children less safe in certain situations if they cannot approach those who would be able to help them (like if they are lost, for instance).

Another important lesson: "Teach your children, including your teens, that they have a right to say NO to anyone who wants them to do anything they don't want to do (except homework)."  We all want our children to be obedient and respectful to authority figures, often (if we're being totally honest) because we feel that it reflects well on us as their parents, but there are those few authority figures who will take advantage of that ingrained obedience.  Our children need to know that if they are uncomfortable, they can say "No" and we will support them, and help them work through the situation.

A lot of the differences in parenting styles boil down to our perspective on what the ultimate goal is.  Again, I'm with Ms. Skenazy that "raising happy, responsible, independent young people is parenting's goal."  It seems, however, that the fear some parents experience is focused on a "hyperconsciousness" of any danger that might be lurking anywhere, and an opinion that "any risk is seen as too much risk," where the goal is to control the environment to the point where our children are always safe and happy, above all else.  But as Ms. Skenazy points out: "Control is a figment of our imagination.  Seeking it only makes us more anxious.  It certainly isn't required for good child rearing.  And to the extent that we do manage to solve all our children's problems--or keep those problems from ever even popping up--we are doing them a disservice...we are steering them away from the real source of confidence and independence, which comes from navigating the world and its surprises."  Our children are often far more competent than we give them credit for, and we need to find opportunities for them to recognize and realize their own abilities.

It's comforting to know that "there's a lot more leeway than we think when it comes to raising good kids...The whole Free-Range idea is that the twin notions of constant supervision and perfect parenting are not necessary...Our kids are not solely formed by our input, not will they be irreparably harmed by our bumbling oh-so-humanly along."  That's a sane parenting philosophy I can definitely get behind.

(As a side note, this book prompted a great discussion in our book club earlier this month.  If you're looking for a book that will get people sharing their opinions and experiences - and you have a group of people who can be respectful of different parenting approaches - this might be one to add to your book club list!)

Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry
by Lenore Skenazy
ISBN: 9780470471944
Free-Range Kids website
Buy it from Amazon (hardcoverpaperbackebookaudiobook).
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Birthday Celebrations

Last Monday was my birthday.  My 35th birthday, to be exact.  Which sounds so much older than 34.  I mean, at 35 you round up to 40 instead of down to 30.  And that's just trippy.  Anyway, March has always seemed to get awfully busy, so carving out some celebration time can be a little difficult.  However, with the date of my upcoming oral surgery looming ever closer and closer, I was determined to take the opportunity to eat in public for the last time in what might be several months.  A good friend offered to pick up my youngest from preschool, so I was free to meet up my mother and sister for several child-free hours out.

First, we went for pedicures.  I initially wanted to go with a bright green in honor of St. Patrick's Day, but after some hemming and hawing, I ended up with a mint green base coat and some sparkles on top.  (My sister thought it would be helpful while I was drugged up to have something flashy with which to amuse myself.)  It was lovely and relaxing and now I have happy, pretty toes. :)

There just so happened to be a DSW in the same shopping center as the nail salon, so we popped in for a few minutes.  And my sister (yes, it's always, always her fault - love you, sis!) tricked me into buying some really cute red wedges.  I've never really cared for wedges, but these are just adorable.  They were on the clearance rack for 40% off, and then with my $5-off-on-your-birthday savings they were only $20!  A total steal!

By then we were getting hungry, so we headed down Division to try out the lunch buffet at Taste of India.  I really enjoy ethnic food and it had been a while since I'd had good curry.  We were not disappointed!  They had fabulous curry, both chicken and lamb, as well as a mushroom matar, chicken tandoori, and several other dishes.  And naan, of course, and a garlic naan, and a fried naan that I ate waaaaaay too much of.  And a half dozen chutneys including a mint/jalapeno one that was so good, and an onion chutney, and raita (a cucumber yogurt sauce).  For dessert, there was a rice pudding and these soft donut-like dough balls, that I can't remember the name of, with a sweet honey sauce.  I had to be rolled out of there, I was so stuffed.

And sweet husband drove all the way to the other end of town to bring me a birthday dinner at one of my favorite restaurants!  Cafe Italiano opened up on the north side of Spokane a couple of years ago in a small store front that used to be a Papa John's.  They were originally called Greek Street (because the owner's family is actually from Greece) and since, as I mentioned above, I love ethnic food, I stopped by a month or two after they opened to try it out.  I fell in love immediately with their incredible spanakopita and the best gyros I'd had since my semester abroad in Europe.  And then I tried their pizza - bar-none, the absolute best I'd eaten in more than a decade in Spokane.  The owners were always unfailingly friendly and welcoming.  They struggled at the northside location for a while and decided to change their name to Cafe Italiano, which was the name of their original restaurant in Colville, Washington, and focus on more traditionally Italian foods.  Last fall they had the opportunity to move to the South Hill into a much larger location with better traffic flow and visibility, so they left me!  (And to make matters worse, the kitchen at the new location doesn't have room for the huge pizza oven, so even when I make the trek to the South Hill, they no longer have pizza on the menu!  Oh, the tragedy! [Note: they just announced on their facebook page that they have perfected their pizza recipe in the new oven and pizza will be returning to their menu!  Huzzah!!!]) My husband brought home chicken parmesan, pasta primavera, and seafood paella.  All three were a-maz-ing.  I really am thrilled for the Karatzas family that they are finding the success they so richly deserve, but I'm selfishly sad that Cafe Italiano is no longer my little neighborhood pizza place.  It's still totally worth going to, so if you ever find yourself on Spokane's South Hill, stop in and tell them Emily says hi!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable birthday.  Lots of good food, quality time with two of my favorite women in the whole wide world and my family, pretty toes, and new shoes.  I'll take it!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 5 (Or, Writing through the Drug-induced Haze)


Attending the 72nd Annual Kosher Dinner at Temple Beth Shalom (which I blogged about here) was my first exposure to the music of modern Jewish reggae/alt rock artist Matisyahu (sounds kind of like "modest yahoo").  And I'm hooked.  Listen to this:


I had my first "drunk" texting experience this week.  Having never consumed alcohol in my life (outside of cough medicine and vanilla extract [edited to add: and a one-time experiment with non-alcoholic wine, which, despite the adjective, apparently does contain some alcohol]), I never thought I'd ever be in a position to text while under the influence.  But apparently, my pre-op valium has much the same inhibition-lowering effect as alcohol.  Fortunately, it was a fairly benign message: "Valium is so cool.." and only sent to my sister and a very good friend.  My husband swears I was trying to "select all" as he confiscated my phone, but I have absolutely no recollection of that...


I'm glad that I had some wonderful multi-cultural culinary experiences at the Kosher Dinner, Taste of India, and Cafe Italiano early in the week, because since my oral surgery on Wednesday, my diet has consisted of tapioca pudding and raspberry jello (both made especially for me by my loving mommy), refried beans (have to get some protein in there somehow), chocolate ice cream, and ripe avocado.  Oh, and drugs: an anti-inflammatory steroid, an antibiotic, and painkillers.  Whee!!!


Speaking of the surgery, all went well.  It was not one of the more pleasant experiences of my life, and my mouth is still fairly swollen and painful, so the flipper (partial denture) isn't fitting quite right and I have a lovely five-teeth-wide gap in my smile.  The drugs make it a little harder than usual to think clearly and form coherent sentences, hence the shorter-than-normal post here that took me longer-than-normal to write up.  And now I'm going back to bed...

Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Challah, Brisket, and Knishes, Oh My!

When we first moved to Spokane almost 14 years ago now, we found an apartment on the South Hill, and liked the area so much that both our next apartment, and then the first house we bought, were all in the same general vicinity.  Several times a week on our way to church, or to the library, or to visit friends, we would drive past Temple Beth Shalom, a geometrically interesting building with a large cast iron menorah prominently displayed on the front.  And every March they hung a huge banner across the corner of the property inviting one and all to come to their annual Kosher Dinner.  Every year I'd make a comment about how I'd really like to attend some time, and every year something would come up and it would slip off my radar and the opportunity would pass by.

Until this year!

My sister Meredith, who recently attended her first meeting of the Spokane Interfaith Counsel, called me up the week before excited about discovering that a synagogue in town had an annual kosher dinner and asking if I'd like to go.  Yes, I would!  I jumped at the chance to make this more-than-a-decade-old intention a reality.  So she reserved our tickets online and this past Sunday afternoon, she, my mother, and I headed back to my old stomping grounds in that part of town for some yummy food and cultural entertainment.  We were enthusiastically greeted by members of the congregation, including Rabbi Michael Goldstein, and invited into the beautiful sanctuary (I loved the stained glass windows!) to enjoy some live music while we waited for our turn to eat.

The friendly ushers danced in the aisles as they directed us to our pew just in time to hear the last song by a group called Chutzpah.  The band was high-energy, jazzy, and the music was oh-so-Jewish; the clarinetist was particularly fun, and I was disappointed we only caught the tail end of their performance!  Rabbi Goldstein spoke briefly as they cleared the stage, welcoming the guests and explaining some of the rules of kosher food which their conservative congregation observes.  For example, based on scriptures in Leviticus, there is a complete separation between milk and meat, including separate cooking and eating utensils which are not even washed together, and a waiting period after consuming one before the other can be eaten.  Kosher meat is also butchered in a very specific way; Spokane doesn't have a supplier who can provide the thousand-plus pounds of kosher beef brisket Temple Beth Shalom requires for this annual dinner, so it was all shipped over from Seattle.  It was a great informative introduction.  He then introduced a group of a half dozen high schoolers who called themselves "Jew Kids on the Block" who took the stage for a four-song revue of "Jewish Music through the Decades" including "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" by Gershwin, "America" from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, "My Life" by Billy Joel, and a spunky piece by contemporary Jewish musician Matisyahu.  Right before we were ushered into the dining room, a three-woman group called "The Shabbos Shaynas" started their set of traditional Jewish Sabbath music.  Beautiful harmonies!

Despite a greeter's tongue-in-cheek admonition to eat "carrots before cake", the tantalizing apricot kuchen was already in place when we sat down, so dessert was the first thing gone!  A basket of challah bread with several different relishes was placed close by as well.  I tried pickled herring for the first time, and it wasn't nearly as dreadful as it sounds.  Really!

Our patient waiting was rewarded when the servers set a plate full of aromatic goodness in front of each of us.  Mediterranean spiced apples provided sweetness to balance the savory carrot tzimmes, the delicious potato knishes, and the to-die-for beef brisket.  Honestly, melt-in-your-mouth, never-had-it-so-good beef brisket.  (And cooked with a recipe that has been passed down for generations, for very good reasons.)  At one point during the dinner, my sister made a comment to me which I totally missed.  "I'm sorry, Dith, what did you say?  I was communing with my brisket."  I'm completely convinced now that holy envy can apply to religious culinary experiences, too.

In a brilliant marketing move, there was a bake sale between the dining room and the exit.  We picked up some more of that exquisite challah bread and a few potato knishes to take home to our menfolk.

I love learning about other faiths and cultures, and this Kosher Dinner was a great experience.  If you ever have the chance, I highly recommend going!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Book Review: Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman

It's always intriguing when you go looking online for some more information about a book you're reading and you find that three - yes, three - books have been written specifically to argue against the conclusions the first book reached.  They even mention this book by name in their titles!

Dr. Bart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  In his younger years, he identified as a born-again Christian who believed in biblical inerrancy, or the idea that the Bible is completely without error and as God intended it to be.  As Dr. Ehrman continued his religious studies, including reading various ancient Biblical transcripts in the original languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, he came to believe that "the Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book."  That's not to say that the Bible isn't inspired, that Jesus wasn't a real person, or that we should chuck the whole thing out.  He simply means that the Bible was written, preserved and compiled by dozens, or rather hundreds, of men - disciples, scribes, regular Church members, monks - who each had his own perspective and understanding.  Sometimes subconsciously and occasionally deliberately, this naturally affected the way they transcribed, translated, or selected from competing earlier manuscripts.  In fact, over 30,000 variations have been logged among various manuscripts and versions of the New Testament alone.

The book includes quite a bit of historical context for the reader.  It describes how the canon came to be compiled in its present form.  It provides an explanation of scribes and copyists; up until the mid-300s C.E., these duties were most often performed by amateurs.  Professional scribes didn't start working from early Christian texts until as long as three centuries after they'd been originally written.  Dr. Ehrman touches on the rich theological diversity of the second and third centuries after Christ: "the theological diversity was so extensive that groups calling themselves Christian adhered to beliefs and practices that most Christians today would insist were not Christian at all."  He also explores the effect that debates regarding the role of women in the church had on the biblical texts and how the opposition to Christianity from the contemporary pagan religions influenced them as well.  And he explains the myriad of ancient transcripts available for scholars to draw from today.

Dr. Ehrman provides an entry-level course in textual criticism for the layperson.  He uses example after example of passages that appear to be later insertions into the Biblical text and walks the reader through how scholars have come to that conclusion.  He highlights sections where earlier texts show a completely different meaning than later texts and describes the methods used to determine which is most likely the original intent.   At one point, he mentions that for the King James version that is so widely used, the translators frequently drew from Erasmus's edition, "which was based on a single twelfth-century manuscript that is one of the worst of the manuscripts that we now have available to us!"

I appreciate that while Dr. Ehrman vigorously defends the conclusions he has reached, he also emphasizes several times that "competent, well-meaning, highly intelligent scholars often come to opposite conclusions when looking at the same evidence."  Continuing on in this vein of giving the benefit of the doubt, he provides this perspective on the much-maligned scribes who inadvertently changed scripture: "They, like we, were trying to understand what the authors wrote while also trying to see how the words of the authors' texts might have significance for them, and how they might help them make sense of their own situations and their own lives."  That seems like a decent and charitable interpretation to me.

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why
by Bart D. Ehrman
ISBN: 9780060738174
Buy it from Amazon (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook).
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 4


I am so beyond excited about this:
Joss Whedon had a couple of weeks of downtime after filming wrapped for The Avengers.  So he called up some friends he'd worked with a time or two before, invited them over to his house, and filmed a new adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing.  Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof...and Shakespeare!  It doesn't open until June, but I can't wait!


I'll eventually get around to writing up a longer post (or several) on my book clubs (yes, that's plural - I regularly attend two and I'm on the email list for a third).  But since I'm writing this on a Thursday night having just gotten home from one, I have to say how much I look forward to and enjoy those two evenings every month.  The amount of time spent discussing the book varies from a few minutes to sometimes an hour or so, and the rest of the time is filled with fun and friends and good conversation and getting to know some great women better.  Thanks, ladies!

If you have the opportunity to join a book club in your area, I highly recommend giving it a shot.  Every group is different; some will do more cerebral literary discussions and some will end up being more of an excuse for a girls' night out.  And neither one of those is a bad thing!  It just depends on what you're looking for and finding a good fit.  If there isn't one around...consider getting a few friends together and starting one of your own.  Seriously, they are some of the highlights of my month.


For those of you who are my facebook friends, this isn't new news, but our cute, cuddly, purring-machine of a cat caught a rabbit the other day.  And then she ate the rabbit, a good portion of it that night and then most of the rest the next day.  All that's left in our window well where she was storing her kill is one of the rabbit's feet that she bats around like a toy, the fluffy tuft that was its tail, and a bloody rabbit skull.  It's a bit gruesome.

My boys, however, are inordinately proud of their cat and have suggested changing her name to Killer.
Evan tucking Scrimper in for her nap.
And another project I'm excited about:
Anita Sarkeesian just released the first in her series on "Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games." When she first announced this project on Kickstarter, opponents ignited a firestorm of incredibly vile, violent, threatening, sometimes pornographic internet harassment. I'm grateful that she stood up, exposed her harassers and their despicable posts, images, and messages, and continued on with her research. I'm really interested to see the rest!  (You can check out some of her earlier videos on her website Feminist Frequency, too.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Week Three of Lent: The Musical Version

This week I've been noticing the effect that music has on my moods.  I used to listen to music all the time, but with three boys, silence is often in short supply.  When they're all home I don't often want add to the din by playing music, and when they're at school, I generally just enjoy the quiet.  But there is some music that just makes me feel happy and I've been trying to listen to at least a little bit every day.  It's like a short cut to an improved outlook on the world...

I have kind of eclectic musical tastes, and if I tried to include a truly representative sample, this post would be really, really long.  (I'm sure that as soon as I hit "publish" I'll think of another dozen I should have put on here instead...)  So here are just a few songs I like; some are silly, some are spiritual, some are spunky, some are soothing, all make me smile.

Mary Chapin Carpenter "Why Walk When You Can Fly"

"The King of Love My Shepherd" (Mack Wilberg arrangement)

Rodney Atkins "Back Road"

"O Mio Babbino Caro" (This version is sung by the amazing Kiri te Kanawa.)

Chris Ledoux, "For Your Love"

"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (I recently discovered this version by Mumford & Sons and I'm in love!)

Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Put a Lid on It" (This just makes me want to dance!)

O.A.R. "Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes"

Sawyer Brown, "800 Pound Jesus" (Seriously, one of the more spiritually moving songs I know, and the video makes me cry every time, but it's a good cry.)

Handel's Water Music

What are some your go-to songs when you need a pick-me-up?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Blog Post as Therapy Or, I Remember...

Last week, I finally scheduled my oral surgery.  This is an accomplishment, dear readers.

It sounds like such a simple, little thing.  Just pick up the phone, dial the number, compare calendars and presto!  All done!  But it was mentally and emotionally taxing for me.  There were tears before the phone call was made and mint chocolate chip ice cream (with chocolate syrup) after.  You see, making that phone call required acknowledging the inevitability of the surgery (which I'd certainly done verbally multiple times, but putting it down on the calendar, committing to be in a certain place at a certain time for the express purpose of being operated upon is a whole nother level of acknowledgement).  The trauma from the initial car accident seems to have left some psychological scars that I never really dealt with and, frankly, were doing just fine staying buried until the prospect of this new surgery dredged them all up again.

Apparently, it's not normal to get teary-eyed and choked up every time one hears sirens.  Who knew?

While I'm grateful for anesthesia and sedation, I hate the idea of not having control over myself as well as not having any memory of what happens.  A residual aversion, perhaps, related to my concussion-induced lack of memories surrounding the now twenty-year-old event?  Last summer I had one tooth extracted and, boy, does my husband have some entertaining stories about his wife while she's under the influence...  (Don't go looking for video evidence, though; I told him that he was welcome to disseminate all the amusing anecdotes about my drug-induced hilarity he wanted, but the second a video camera came out we would have severe marital discord.  Wise man didn't test my resolve on that issue.)

I don't think I'm a particularly vain person, and I've used the gap from my one missing tooth (usually well concealed by the temporary flipper, also known as a "partial denture" - yes, I'm 34 years old and I wear dentures!) to humorous effect over the last few months.  But after this surgery I will be missing five teeth.  Five whole teeth.  That's a completely different tier of visual assault on the unsuspecting.  One missing tooth can be funny; five borders on ghastly.

That sounds really melodramatic, I know, and there is so much real tragedy in this world I feel quite selfish and short-sighted typing something like that.  But for me, even thinking about missing those five teeth takes me right back to the night of the car accident when those teeth were gone.

: : :Trigger warning: : :
car accident, traumatic injuries, emergency response
(This may get a bit gruesome.  Feel free to go look at some amusing pictures of cats
or watch some Bad Lip Reading videos instead of reading my therapeutic brain vomit.)

My memories of that day, and several days after, are fuzzy at best, brief flashes of sensory images.  My two brothers and I were on our way from my older brother's Eagle Court of Honor to a church dance, my younger brother's first one.  My older brother was driving, my younger brother was in the front passenger seat, and I was right behind him.  I still feel inexplicably guilty about ruining what should have been my older brother's most triumphant evening, and my younger brother's exciting rite-of-passage, not to mention his birthday, which was the next day.

I remember loud metal-on-metal screeching and crashing and a fantastic impact.

I remember it was a cold December evening, icy and chilly, but with absolutely no wind.

I remember after the impact, hearing my older brother calling my name in an increasingly panicked tone, and me wanting to respond but just not being able to.  And I remember hearing my younger brother telling us both it would be okay.

I remember flashing lights in my peripheral vision, but seeing absolutely nothing straight in front of me.

I remember a man's soft, Southern-accented voice, calling me "darlin'" and strong, gentle hands helping me out of the car.

I remember someone asking if I'd been wearing my seat belt and my indignant, if unintelligible, response that I *always* wore my seat belt.

I remember laying on a hospital gurney with my family around.  I couldn't see them, but I knew they were there.

I remember asking for my older brother, feeling him put his fingers in my hand, and grasping them, repeating over and over, "It's not your fault.  It's okay, it's not your fault."

I remember exploring my mouth with my tongue and feeling so confused.  My bruised brain just couldn't process where my teeth had gone.  I remember thrusting my tongue out through the gash in my chin where my bottom teeth had sliced completely through.  And I remember the frantic response by the people around me urging me to put my tongue back in my mouth.

I remember flinching violently and feeling like my insides were on fire when someone pushed lightly on my stomach.  That was the indication of my serious internal injuries that led to the abdominal surgery that saved my life.

I remember waking up groggy, seeing a crucifix hanging on the wall, and my mother sitting in a chair close by my hospital bed.  I asked her what happened and she told me there had been a car accident.  I later learned that I had asked her that question a dozen times or more, every time I woke up.

I remember having a slight cold in the days after the accident and every time I coughed feeling like my gut was going to come spilling out the stapled incision that dissected my abdomen, detouring around my belly button.  Clutching a pillow tightly to my stomach helped to keep me together and provided some relief.  Laughing was absolute torture.

I remember asking for a mirror and again and again being told no and thinking "Wow, I must look absolutely horrendous if they don't want me to see myself."  And when I finally did get to look in a mirror discovering it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared.

I remember not breaking down until I was home, a week or so after the accident.  My mouth felt cottony and slimy because I hadn't been able to brush my teeth in at least a week.  It was the first time I tried to use a water-pik.  My gums were still so raw that even on the lowest setting the stream of water set them bleeding and I collapsed on the bathroom floor wailing, or at least trying to wail, through my wired-shut jaw.  My mother joined me and we sobbed together for a while until our tears were totally spent.

So many things are a blur or I think perhaps I "remember" them because I was told about them later.  I know people came to see me in the hospital, but I only remember a couple of specific visitors.  I felt loved.  I know I received a priesthood blessing from my dad and our home teacher, a blessing that was fulfilled in every particular.  I know many people waited in the waiting room for hours, sent flowers, cards, balloons, positive thoughts and love my way.  A substitute teacher at the high school organized his entire Southern Baptist congregation - none of whom knew me - to fast and pray on my behalf.  My ward did, too.

I am blessed to be surrounded by people who love me and will take care of me, to have access to the medical and dental services that saved my life twenty years ago and will result in an incredibly fabulous (and expensive) smile by the time this process is over.  And I know I'm all right.  And I know I'll be all right.  Accepting that I'm not indestructible, that I'm not impervious to harm, and that sometimes trauma has lasting effects, is not the end of the world.  Vulnerability is scary - terrifying, really - but it's also humanizing.  And ultimately, it has a softening effect that makes us more pliable, more empathetic, more gentle with others.  That's why we're here, isn't it?