Friday, May 31, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 16


Spokane is nicknamed "The Lilac City", and it makes sense since lilacs grow all over this area.  (If you've never been to the Lilac Gardens at Manito Park in May, you're missing out!)  Anyway, we have something of a lilac forest in back of our house.  They are beautiful and their fragrance pervades our yard when they're in bloom, but unfortunately the blooms don't last long.  Last week they were amazing; this week they're already a bit past their prime.  Here are two of the varieties we have:

Pretty, no?


Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency just released the second video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, Damsel in Distress, Part 2.  And it's fabulous.  Please note that Anita did put a trigger warning on this video because of the graphic depictions of violence in some of the video game clips she shows to demonstrate variations of the damsel in distress trope.

A few gems from the video:

"Given the reality of [the] larger cultural context, it goes without saying that it's dangerously irresponsible to be creating games in which players are encouraged and even required to perform violence against women in order to save them."

"Even though most of the games that we're talking about don't explicitly condone violence against women, nevertheless, they trivialize and exploit female suffering as a way to ratchet up the emotional or sexual stakes for the player."

"These 'failed hero' stories are really about the perceived loss of masculinity and then the quest to regain that masculinity primarily by exerting dominance and control through the performance of violence on others.  Consequently, violent revenge-based narratives repeated ad nauseum can also be harmful to men because they help to further limit the possible responses men are allowed to have when faced with death or tragedy.

"Women shouldn't be mere disposable objects or symbolic pawns in stories about men and their own struggles with patriarchal expectations and inadequacies."

Waiting with bated breath for the rest of the series to slowly, oh-so-slowly, be released!


Every once in a while I check a bunch of picture books out of the library.  This blog doesn't really focus on little kids' books, but I wanted to quickly share a delightful one I just read.  It's called Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen.

I wrote a brief review on Goodreads here.  I love that Mr. God created the dinosaurs, of which Mrs. God did not approve, and then Mrs. God created the myriad of colorful fish to fill the oceans.  And their relationship is just fun.  So, so cute!


Y'all are probably getting tired of these folk songs I keep posting from the Little House series, but I'm loving discovering all this music I didn't know before.  So here are just a couple more that the family sang while Pa fiddled on dark, winter evenings in By the Shores of Silver Lake (Chapter 22, "Happy Winter Days" to be specific).

"The Gypsy's Warning"

"Ye Banks and Braes of Bonny Doon"

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: Life, Depth, and the Art of Immersion by Andrew Bowen

In this brief ebook, Andrew Bowen outlines his process for immersing himself into other faiths, as he did with his year-long Project Conversion (which I mentioned here and about which he wrote a book, that I reviewed here).

Even though this book has much wider applications than interfaith understanding, it would definitely be helpful to read Project Conversion first, to provide context and perspective from Andrew's previous experiences.

That being said, the tone of Life, Depth and the Art of Immersion is very different from Project Conversion.  Project Conversion was more conversational and intimate, this one seems a bit more formal and distant.  Andrew still uses examples from his own life, as well as drawing from many different religious traditions, but in trying to make his advice broad enough to apply to many different immersion situations, it loses some of the detail that made Project Conversion so readable and engaging.  However, he states toward the beginning that Immersion has a great deal of "elasticity" in its application, so that's to be expected to some degree.

In short chapters, Andrew offers guidance on how to identify your goals and how to find a mentor to facilitate your immersion process.  He warns of the "shock" and "blunt force" that immersion can have on a person and cautions the initiates against being too hard on themselves for the inevitable stumbles and mistakes.  "The Art of Immersion is a gradual, often lengthy process," he reminds readers.  "Like exercise of the physical body, the beginning is always the most arduous, the most demanding, because we must align our body and will for the sake of a seemingly distant result.  In time however, and with patience and diligence, those results indeed come, and what was once viewed as a cumbersome and laborious chore now segues into a beloved lifestyle."

I was especially intrigued by his categorization of those looking for immersion into four types of "divers":  the Student, the Penitent, the Seeker, and the Adventurer.  Each pursues immersion for a different reason and by a different path, suited to their purpose.  I also appreciated Andrew's egalitarian use of male and female pronouns for both the mentors and the "divers".

Life, Depth, and the Art of Immersion is meant to be a personal, reflective experience.  Every chapter includes suggested exercises, and encouragement to meditate and journal your process throughout.  This book would be best read as a how-to once you already have an immersion project in mind.  I'll have to re-read it when I get to that point.

** Disclosure: I received a free copy of this ebook from Andrew Bowen.

Life, Depth and the Art of Immersion
by Andrew Bowen
Buy it from Amazon here: (ebook)
Look it up on Goodreads.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Play by Stuart Brown, MD

Dr. Brown takes playing very seriously:

"Play is a profound biological process."

"The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.

"Play is the vital essence of life.  It is what makes life lively."

"Play is like fertilizer for brain growth."

"Play is the purest expression of love."

With statements like that, Dr. Brown seems to imbue play with some sort of supernatural power that makes you smarter, happier, practically impervious to harm or error, and just all-around better.  Ok, I'm exaggerating just a bit, but how can you not decide you need more play in your life after assertions like that?

Dr. Brown lays out seven properties of play and a six-step process people go through when they play, as well as seven guidelines on how to incorporate play into your life.  He uses examples from the animal kingdom - otters, dogs, polar bears, even hippos and sea squirts - to show how pervasive play is, and how it can teach survival skills.  He highlights playful individuals as diverse as Bill Gates, Albert Einstein and Baz Luhrmann to show what play can accomplish.  He covers a lot of ground in this book.

But rather than giving you a rundown of everything Dr. Brown mentions, I want to ruminate on just one of his pithy points about play and my own related experiences.

"The opposite of play is not work--the opposite of play is depression."

Stay-at-home-motherhood is work.  It's a never-ending cycle of doing things that need to be done again and again and again: making meals, washing dishes, doing laundry, sweeping, wiping, scrubbing, vacuuming, sorting, and driving from point A to point B and back again.  Frankly, it can be plain and simple drudgery to be responsible for the care, safety and well-being of young'uns, drudgery that can suck the joy out of everyday if you allow it to.  When Dr. Brown warns that "our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility", I wearily nod my agreement.

But stay-at-home-motherhood also has opportunities for play built right in.  Dr. Brown mentions that playing with either pets or children "allows us to get past those same, self-censoring impulses that make it so difficult to allow ourselves to play" and, whaddaya know, being a SAHM generally comes along with children who are always ready to play.  Whether it's throwing a frisbee in the backyard or pulling out the classic Chutes and Ladders, opportunities for play abound if we avail ourselves of them.  For some moms (and dads) that comes naturally.  I am not one of those parents.  So I need to very intentionally and deliberately choose to play with my children.

With kids, even work can become play.  My youngest has a great time helping to wash dishes (and experimenting with the soap suds bubbles), and the older two have much more fun with their chores when they turn sorting laundry into a game of who-can-empty-their-basket-first-while-throwing-the-most-clothes-on-top-of-the-other.  This demonstrates Dr. Brown's assertion that "far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive...neither one can thrive without the other."  The work gets done more quickly, with a better attitude by all, if play is integrated into it.

In addition, according to Dr. Brown, play improves your work and vice versa.  "The quality that work and play have in common in creativity.  In both we are building our world, creating new relationships, neural connections, objects."  So I'm going to work on incorporating play into my work more frequently and see where it gets me both creatively and attitude-wise.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
by Stuart Brown, MD, with Christopher Vaughan
ISBN: 9781583333334
Buy it from 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, May 27, 2013

Yours Truly on SpokaneFAVS!

As promised last week, here is my inaugural post on SpokaneFAVS, "Ehrman's lecture a reminder that God can use flawed scriptures".

I thoroughly enjoyed both reading Misquoting Jesus and attending Professor Ehrman's lecture of the same title last Thursday evening at the Fox.  (As a side note, Professor Ehrman remarked that the Fox Theater was "the most gorgeous space I have ever spoken in."  He has good taste!)  In this piece I talk about the LDS understanding of Scripture as the word of God, coming through fallible human beings who, naturally, make mistakes sometimes.

So pop on over to SpokaneFAVS and let me know what you think of my very first post as a contributing writer!

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 15


Last Saturday we went to Carr's One of a Kind in the World Museum.  And it certainly is one of a kind!  Mr. Marvin Carr has spent his life collecting stuff he likes and the museum is a desultory mish-mash of whatever caught his eye at the time.  The museum is open very limited hours (just 1-3 on Saturdays and Sundays), so we called ahead to make sure we'd get there at the right time. Mr. Carr himself gave us the grand tour!  There's a car that Elvis owned; I sat my tush where Elvis's tush sat!  Exhibits like an impressive collection of gorgeous butterflies, a newspaper from 1799, a real 16-foot-tall stuffed giraffe, and a detailed model of a schooner made from 27,000 matchsticks, were interspersed with a myriad of stuffed squirrels on various vehicles (motorcycle, firetruck, horse, etc.), a random pile of women's shoes, and a life-size animatron of Hannibal Lecter.  It's...eclectic.

The kids each picked out their favorites.  Will liked the aforementioned schooner-made-of-matches.  Josh went back over and over again to the lion, taxidermied into a snarling leap.  Evan's favorite was the eight-foot-long model of a World War II destroyer.  I loved a huge, intricately carved door brought back from China by a US ambassador.  Gene says he most enjoyed just watching the kids discover new treasures around every corner.

If you have a free weekend afternoon in Spokane, it's worth the $8 (kids 8 and under are free) just for the entertainment factor.


Promotional photo courtesy of

The second season of Call the Midwife just finished airing in the US this past Sunday.  Set in the 1950s, the series follows the lives of several midwives based out of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent in the East End of London.  I started watching Call the Midwife to fill the void the end of Downton Abbey left in my life, and I think I've come to like it even better than Downton!

I get a kick out of the warning preceding each episode: "The following program contains mature content which may not be suitable for all audiences.  Viewer discretion is advised."  There are birth scenes, you see.  You don't actually see anyone's private parts, but they do manage some fairly realistic recreations of what births may have been like prior to widely available epidurals, when most births happened at home.  I suppose if you've never given birth or seen a birth or read about a birth, the yelling and bodily fluids might be upsetting, but there are lots of shows I think I'd slap that warning on before Call the Midwife.

It's a tear-jerker, though.  Lots of sniffles and happy moments, too.


In By the Shores of Silver Lake, our current bedtime reading, the Ingalls family has just learned that they'll be staying in the surveyors' huge, well-built, and well-stocked house over the winter, which is a great financial boon for them.  Pa gets out his fiddle, as he often does on winter evenings and Laura starts singing "Mary of the Wild Moor."  Here's a version I found by the inestimable Johnny Cash:

Pa decides that's far too glum a tune to be singing on a celebratory night, so he switches to "Paddle Your Own Canoe."  The boys loved this one!


I just got back from a lecture given by Dr. Bart Ehrman, the author of Misquoting Jesus which I reviewed here.  My big project for tomorrow is writing a blog post about his comments, linking them specifically to the LDS understanding of scripture.  I'm really excited, but a bit nervous, too, because it'll be my first post for Spokane Faith & Values as a contributing writer.  Of course, I'll let you know when it's published on the SpokaneFAVS site.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review: The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam

When I was in business school, one of the best courses I took was taught by a statistics professor, Dr. Elizabeth Murff, on how to present quantitative information effectively in visual formats.  Every class brought new, applicable knowledge and understanding as to how best to get my data-supported point across.  Dr. Murff was especially good at finding real world examples to illuminate her points, such as when she showed us the data on the Challenger explosion, how NASA should have known not to launch, and how the data could have been presented better to make that fact abundantly clear.

Dan Roam's The Back of the Napkin is along the same lines as Dr. Murff's eye-opening class, but with an even broader scope.  Rather than just showing quantitative data, Mr. Roam presents a method that can be used to present pretty much anything visually in a convincing way that assists with problem-solving. I'm sure you've heard the saying "a picture is worth a thousand words."  Well, Mr. Roam has a different take on the phrase: "These pictures serve as launching platforms from which ideas can grow, which is the whole point of problem solving.  We don't show an insight-inspiring picture because it saves a thousand words; we show it because it elicits the thousand words that make the greatest difference."  These pictures should start a conversation that will result in finding solutions.

I appreciate that he starts out with the "why" to present information visually, instead of jumping straight to the "how".  Visual presentation is effective for several reasons, he says, recounting a specific experience he'd had:
"First, simply by drawing it, I had clarified in my own mind a previously vague idea.  Second, I was able to create the picture almost instantly, without the need to rely on any technology other than paper and pen.  Third, I was able to share the picture with my audiences in an open way that invited comments and inspired discussion.  Finally, speaking directly from the picture meant I could focus on any topic without having to rely on notes, bullet points, or a written script.
"The lesson for me was clear.  We can use the simplicity and immediacy of pictures to discover and clarify our own ideas, and use those same pictures to clarify our ideas for other people, helping them discover something new for themselves along the way."
Mr. Roam describes the process of visual thinking in four steps: 1) look, 2) see, 3) imagine, and 4) show.  He then breaks it down further by explaining how each step brings us closer to an understanding of the topic being presented and how to most effectively utilize the brain's natural processes in communicating the necessary information.  

Of course, in keeping with this thesis, he presents a great deal of the information in this book visually and uses multiple concrete examples to walk the reader through the process of developing effective pictures.  Even complicated issues can be approached with this method, without the worry of over-simplification. "The real goal of visual thinking is to make the complex understandable by making it visible--not by making it simple."

Ultimately, he codifies all the different ways to present information into a single chart: The Visual Thinking Codex.  The Visual Thinking Codex is a framework that will get the reader started on drawing any problem that needs to be solved.  A few simple questions will guide you to the right type of picture and then show you options on how to proceed.  

(I had to smile when I read the sidebar entitled "The Great Pie Chart Fight," outlining the ongoing debate about whether or not pie charts are effective for conveying data.  Mr. Roam comes down on the side of those who think they have their place.  Dr. Murff is one of those who eschewed pie charts in favor of other, more easily discernible forms of data presentation.  Different strokes, I guess!)

And don't worry if you "can't draw"; Mr. Roam insists that these simple pictures are within anyone's abilities.  Besides, he assures the reader, "the spontaneity and roughness of hand-drawn pictures make them less intimidating and more inviting--and nothing makes an image (even a complex image) clearer than seeing it drawn out step-by-step."

In this short book, Mr. Roam teaches a new and powerful approach to both communication and problem-solving, well worth your time to look it over and try it out.

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam
ISBN: 9781591841999
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperbackebook)
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, May 22, 2013

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

(Cross-posted at Meridian Magazine)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of medical advances in the last half-century have been made possible by one woman, and most people, even in the medical field, have never heard of her. Today I’d like to introduce you to Henrietta Lacks, better known in the scientific world as HeLa.

In January 1951, Henrietta Lacks went to the doctor complaining of a “knot on my womb.” As a black woman, the only hospital nearby that would see her was Johns Hopkins Hospital twenty miles away from her home, so that’s where she had her husband drive her. After an exam and biopsy, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer and returned a week later to start radiation treatments. Unfortunately, the treatments were unsuccessful and Mrs. Lacks died on October 4, 1951 at the age of only thirty-one.

Ms. Skloot points out that, “many doctors of [this] era…often used patients from the public wards for research, usually without their knowledge” – patients like Mrs. Lacks. During her first treatment and unbeknownst to Mrs. Lacks, the physician took two small samples of her cervical tissue, one from the tumor and one from healthy tissue. Scientists had been trying to grow human cells in the lab for years and hadn’t had any success. Mrs. Lacks’ cancer cells were different. They continued to live long past the age at which other cells had died and, because of their malignancy, they reproduced at a faster rate than normal cells. Even though they were cancerous, they were similar enough to healthy cells that they could be useful for researchers. “They produced proteins and communicated with one another like normal cells, they divided and generated energy, they expressed genes and regulated them, and they were susceptible to infections, which made them an optimal tool for synthesizing and studying any number of things in culture, including bacteria, hormones, proteins, and especially viruses.”

As was normal at the time, the cells were identified with the first two letters of the patient’s first and last name, in this case HeLa. HeLa “was a workhorse: it was hardy, it was inexpensive, and it was everywhere.” Scientists were able to use HeLa to “develop methods for freezing cells without harming or changing them.” They also led to the standardization of the field, important for scientists to be able to replicate the experiments and discoveries of others. HeLa was one of the cell types used to discover the correct number of chromosomes in human DNA. Perhaps the most stunning of HeLa’s major accomplishments, however, was the polio vaccine. HeLa’s ability to reproduce so quickly, and its susceptibility to the polio virus, made it possible for Dr. Salk to perform the necessary neutralization tests required to make sure the vaccine was safe before it could be used in children.

Ms. Skloot’s writing is thorough and engaging. She weaves an understanding of the “benevolent deception” of medical practice at the time with the specter of the ethical violations that horrify us now, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. She traces the history of informed consent and the ethics of medical research including the Nuremberg Code, developed after the atrocities Nazi doctors committed on Jews came to light. She delves into the flirtation with eugenics that some scientists of the time engaged in, and its possible effects on the medical care that the poor and minorities received. As she learns more about the Lacks family, she investigates the disturbing and inhumane treatment of the mentally ill (one of Mrs. Lacks’ daughters, Elsie, was committed to the Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland where she died at age 15). She raises a multitude of modern ethical concerns highlighted by the experiences of the Lacks family, including commercialization of human biological materials, ownership of human tissue once removed from the person, patents, profits, and proprietary information. It’s very thought-provoking.

The history and science in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are fascinating, but Ms. Skloot adds a deft human touch by making this a personal story about Henrietta Lacks’ family as well, her husband and the five children she left behind when she died. Deborah, Mrs. Lacks’ youngest daughter, was barely two when her mother passed away. She became the driving force behind the family’s cooperation with Ms. Skloot. At first, she was very cautious and wary about allowing Ms. Skloot permission to access family records, having been exploited by others in the past claiming to want to help them uncover the truth about their mother’s cells. It took months for Ms. Skloot to earn her trust, and even then it was in very small increments and often one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back. While some of her relatives wanted to sue Johns Hopkins – and various other medical establishments which had profited from using HeLa cells – Deborah was more circumspect about it.
“I know my life could be better and I wish it was,” she told me. “When people hear about my mother cells they always say, ‘Oh y’all could be rich! Y’all gotta sue John Hopkin, y’all gotta do this and that.’ But I don’t want that.” She laughed. “Truth be told, I can’t get mad at science, because it help people live, and I’d be a mess without it. I’m a walking drugstore! I can’t say nuthin bad about science, but I won’t lie, I would like some health insurance so I don’t got to pay all that money every month for drugs my mother cells probably helped make.” 
There is a very real human cost behind every medical discovery, every surgical advance, every ground-breaking miracle drug. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks gives us a glimpse into one family’s compelling story.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot
ISBN: 9781400052172
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoveraudiobookpaperbackebook)
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, May 17, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 14


The most exciting thing that happened this week is that my friend Heidi visited us from New Zealand! She usually makes it back to the States once a year or so, and it's always good to see her.  I keep telling myself that someday I'll make it down there to visit her...maybe next year...

So it turned out really dark, and we're in the middle of laughing
about something...but I liked this picture best. :)


Last week we finally moved the (stinky, oh-so-stinky!) chicks out of my basement and into the chicken coop.  Hallelujah!  We blocked off a section of the coop to keep them safe from the bigger chickens and let them wander outside for the first time the other day under close supervision.
The baby chicks are teenagers now!

They are eating tons of food and growing exponentially.  They aren't quite old enough to lay yet, but they're getting there.  We're pretty sure that the chicks were mislabeled and we ended up with one Buff Orpington (the lightest one in the middle) and two New Hampshire Reds (the two light brown ones on the right) instead of the other way around.  They're always amusing to watch and the boys get such a kick out of them!


A friend got a free bouquet for signing up for a store credit card and the featured flower in the bouquet was a rather unusual blossom.

Trying to figure out what it was, our guesses ranged from a fake flower inspired by either a sea urchin or Dr. Seuss, to one grown from alien spores that arrived here during a meteor shower.  It turns out it's a real flower, very much from terra firma: a pincushion protea, native to South Africa and Zimbabwe.  Nature is infinitely creative.


We're in the middle of the fifth Little House book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, and I finally did something I've been thinking of doing since the very first book.  I started looking up the folk songs that Pa and others sing so the boys could hear what they sounded like.  Of course, there are tons of variations, but the one I looked up this morning was one that Pa sang while they traveled to their new homestead in the Dakota Territories and it's called "Uncle Sam's Farm."  I found a version of it on youtube, complete with fiddle accompaniment:

It really adds something to the story when you can hear the music they heard and sang and that made up such a part of their culture and daily lives.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dusting Off: Cheap by Ellen Ruppel Shell

With all the stories in the news about the tragic collapse of a Bangladesh clothing factory that cost upwards of 1100 people their lives, not to mention the fire in another clothing factory in Bangladesh that killed almost 120 people just last November, and two fires in Pakistani clothing factories in September that also killed hundreds, my mind has been turning to a book I read almost four years ago, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.  So I decided to unearth this old review I wrote initially on Goodreads in July 2009 and start a new intermittent series called "Dusting Off" where I feature books I read a while ago, but that have renewed relevance today.

We here in the United States are, for the most part, blissfully ignorant of how the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the disposable goods we purchase, are produced.  To put it bluntly, we are spoiled.  We consider it an inalienable right to go to the store and buy whatever we want, whenever we want it.  And our ignorance, coupled with our incessant demand for ever lower prices, is hurting people on the other side of the world.


After reading this book, I seriously may never buy anything again.

Ok, so that's not realistic, but I'm certainly more aware, almost paranoid, about the statement I'm making with each purchase. I'm a confirmed bargain shopper, but I don't want my search for a great deal to mean that workers in Mexico don't make a living wage or that Chinese migrant workers are standing in vats of toxic substances for 14 hours a day.

Shell captures the dilemma for many of us perfectly when she says, "Consumers are left to choose between discount retailers whose practices they find questionable and high-end stores whose prices they cannot afford ...'Voting with your feet' doesn't apply when your values are so completely out of line with your budget.”

According to the author, there is plenty of blame to go around for the lack of product quality, workers' protections, environmental concerns, and other marketplace woes. Manufacturers, retailers, governments, CEOs, suppliers, you name it — all shoulder part of the responsibility. And this wide-ranging book does not let consumers off the hook, either. We are complicit by our all-too-frequent lack of interest in questioning the origins of the items we buy due to our single-minded focus on low, low price.

The one criticism I have is that this book makes the problem seem too big to do anything about.  When I closed the book, I initially felt completely hopeless. It took the author, with her many contacts and considerably greater resources than I have, months (years?) to gather the information and interviews and data for this book.

Beyond the standard, almost trite suggestions, like avoiding big box stores, buying food locally, and looking for quality and craftsmanship at a good value rather than the lowest price possible, what do thoughtful consumers do? I wish Shell had taken the book one step further and offered more solutions for the average consumer who has already taken some of the basic steps she suggests.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture
by Ellen Ruppel Shell
ISBN: 9781594202155
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperbackaudiobook, 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).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is a geek's love letter to 1980s pop culture.  Set about thirty years in the future, the book paints a depressing picture of the state of the world.  "Ongoing energy crisis.  Catastrophic climate change.  Widespread famine, poverty, and disease.  Half a dozen wars..."  A mass exodus from rural areas has led to an influx into cities.  To "solve" the housing problem this created, mobile home parks started building up in towers several dozen mobile homes high, appropriately called "the stacks."  Wade, our protagonist, is an orphan who lives in the stacks in Oklahoma with his antagonistic and unpleasant aunt, avoiding her whenever possible and attending virtual school via OASIS (Ontologically Anthropomorphic Sensory Immersive Simulation).

OASIS is, well, everything.  It's an enormous multiplayer online game system, a virtual reality that reaches around the globe, a free library containing every book ever written, a daily escape from a dismal reality, and the source of James Halliday's great wealth.  James Halliday died with no heirs, leaving his fortune - and control of OASIS - as the grand prize in an Easter egg hunt of gigantic proportions outlined in a five-minute video broadcast after his death.

Wade takes on the challenge as do thousands, if not millions, of other egg hunters, or "gunters" for short.  They rewatch every Molly Ringwald film and Family Ties episode, master ancient video games like Joust and Adventure, memorize the lyrics to every Rush song - looking for clues to the elusive three keys Halliday dangled in front of them.  Years later, no one has had any success, until Wade stumbles on the solution to the first clue.  That's when the troubles begin.

Of course, there's the big bad corporate enemy Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who works against the individualistic spirit of the game by hiring gamers as pawns to collaborate and pass on their winnings to the company.  IOI and everyone who works for them is thoroughly despised by all true gunters, but they prove a formidable foe, determined to gain control of the all-powerful OASIS.  In the meantime, friendships are made virtually and IRL, romance blossoms, and geeks rejoice.

Mr. Cline stuffs so many classic sci-fi and fantasy favorites into this book that there's something for everyone: Voltron, Pern, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Mechagodzilla, Lord of the Rings, Firefly, Star Trek...the list goes on and on.  But he also grounds his characters in their current reality.  It's hard to make this point without giving away spoilers, but trust me: he comes down on the side of reality.  James Halliday provides this recorded advice: "I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world.  I didn't know how to connect with the people there.  I was afraid, for all of my life.  Right up until I knew it was ending.  That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it's also the only place where you can find true happiness.  Because reality is real."

A fun, quick read - I finished it in a single day - Ready Player One is a great nostalgic escape.

(In a charming bit of mocking geek self-awareness, Wil Wheaton - who played the precocious Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation and is mentioned in the book as a "geezer" who has been elected as the VP of the Oasis User Council for more than a decade - narrates the audiobook.  While I didn't listen to it, my husband did and said the narration couldn't have been more perfectly cast.)

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
ISBN: 9780307887436
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoveraudiobook, 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).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gatsby: "You're Worth the Whole Damn Bunch Put Together"

Baz Luhrmann is nothing if not polarizing.  People either love or hate his movies; there aren't many who are neutral on Strictly Ballroom, or Moulin Rouge, or Romeo + Juliet.  I'll admit that I'm squarely in the "love him!" camp (though I haven't seen Australia) and The Great Gatsby did nothing to change that opinion.

Many of the complaints I've read or heard about The Great Gatsby have revolved around Luhrmann's trademark over-the-top spectacle, the overwhelmingly aggressive visuals epitomized during Gatsby's lavish parties, complete with fireworks, confetti, dancers, and copious amounts of alcohol.  I'm sure there is some subject matter that would not do well with that approach, but Baz Luhrmann's treatment was perfect for the decadence, opulence, and hedonism of the idle rich that Fitzgerald criticized in his novel.  This was the Roaring Twenties, after all.  It was all about the flashy profusion of excess!

Other complaints center on the music in the soundtrack.  No, Jay-Z isn't what you'd call a period artist, but here again is where Baz Luhrmann's directorial genius shines through.  Where every other design detail is painstakingly contemporary and accurate to the period - all those gorgeous costumes! - he uses the music as the bridge for the audience to really get the feeling of the age.

Jazz music was the rebellious, exciting, emotionally powerful, subversive music of the day.  It was the soundtrack for speakeasies and illegal gambling establishments; it was the cutting edge of pop culture.  So a fusion of hip-hop, electronica, and R&B, with frequent nods to jazz roots, is the perfect compliment for today's ears.  Jay-Z, Fergie, and Jack White's contributions to the movie's soundtrack encapsulated the frenetic energy that Fitzgerald describes in the novel.  The ballads from Beyonce, Lana Del Ray and Florence & the Machine hit just the right hopeful, but despairing emotional chords.  The arrangements and instrumentalization pulled in the brass sounds and jazz rhythms from period music enough to give it a Twenties flavor while maintaining the familiar connection for modern audiences.  It was masterful.

For me, however, the acting was the most impressively executed aspect.  Leonardo DiCaprio was absolutely magnificent as the outwardly confident, inwardly insecure Gatsby.  "You look so cool," Daisy says to him, "You always look so cool."  And so far in the film, he has.  He projects a self-possessed composure that only slips when, just a scene or two later, he is taunted by her husband, Tom, into an explosion of rage.  He's a host of contradictions and layers, surrounded by hundreds, even thousands of people at his parties, but lonely and desperate for one true friend.  Having rewritten his own past, he insists that Daisy rewrite hers to deny she ever loved Tom.  His focused determination to win Daisy is the impetus for his wild success, but his obsession with her - and with protecting her from herself - costs him his life.

Joel Edgerton is deliciously vile as Tom - having a brazen affair under his wife's nose, but outraged at the thought she may have feelings for another man, moralizing about the "rise of the colored empire" and the supremacy of the Nordic peoples as he straightens the tie of his black manservant.  The ethereal Carey Mulligan embodies Daisy's vulnerability and regrets, but also nails her instincts for self-preservation.  I wish we'd seen more of Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher as George and Myrtle Wilson, but as the movie was already two and a half hours long, I can accept that something had to give.

Fitzgerald's novel is a tragedy.  It's a classic "how-not-to" story that utilizes unadmirable characters who make selfish, horrible decisions.  A cautionary tale about the tenuous nature of a house of cards built on lies and the perils of pinning your hopes on something or someone who is not worthy of them. A warning that all the money and gaudy opulence in the world can't or won't fill the emptiness of living without love.  Baz Luhrmann's film, with its fantastic spectacle, pitch-perfect musical score, and phenomenal acting captured that essence perfectly.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon has found her calling in life: to help others feel a little less alone.  She does this by sharing of herself freely, honestly, without holding anything back.  Her blog, Momastery, shows evidence after evidence of her easy way with words that drill down to what we all have in common at the core.  Carry On, Warrior contains more of her trademark shameless sharing--and I mean that as a high compliment.  In her words: "It's just my job to notice my emptiness and find graceful ways to live as a broken, unfilled human--and maybe to help myself and others feel a teeny bit better."

While a good chunk of Carry On, Warrior, is drawn from her previous blog posts (and I was happy to see some of my favorites made the cut), there's a great deal of new material, too.  And honestly, some of the book felt familiar, not necessarily because I'd read it before on the blog, but just because it rang so true with my own beliefs and personal experiences.

When Will was little, maybe three years old, we went downtown to Riverfront Park.  There was some kind of festival going on and they had a bouncy castle set up for the little ones.  This was a cool bouncy castle; it even had a slide on it!  The ramp to get up to the slide was way in the back and the door in the front was small so only little kids could get in.  Will climbed into the castle, so excited to go down that slide.  But when he got to the ramp in the back, he couldn't scale it.  He kept sliding back to the bottom over and over again.  I was watching through the mesh window, trying to be encouraging and give helpful suggestions, but the other kids kept passing by and Will just wasn't able to get to the top.

Finally, another little boy a year or two older than Will stopped and grabbed his hand.  He matched his pace to Will's and pulled and encouraged him all the way to the top and then let him go down the slide ahead of him.  It sounds like such a small thing, but I was struck by an overwhelming rush of gratitude--I still am--when someone helps one of my children.  And I think Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother feel the same way.  Glennon has learned the same lesson: "Maybe the simplest way to God is directly through the hearts of his children."  She counsels, "Be kinder than necessary."

Having recently read and reviewed Brene Brown's books on vulnerability and wholehearted living, Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, I could see many of the principles Dr. Brown outlined put to practice in Glennon's life and writing.  This, for example: "It has been said that the opposite of Love is Hate, or perhaps apathy.  Yet, I'm fairly certain that the opposite of Love is Fear.  I think the root of all evil is fear.  Love and Fear are opposing voices, opposing ways to live, opposing platforms on which to make daily decisions, view the world, and build a life."

Glennon is frank about her checkered past involving bulimia, drug use, alcoholism, and jail time.  She points out: "I've never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I've made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness, and my life-as-a-wild-goose-chase-to-find-the-unfindable."  While it's tempting sometimes to put on a mask of "Everything's great!", she also reminds us that "The people who were a little rough around the edges never offended Jesus.  The shiny perfect Pharisees did, though..."  Being real and authentic is what allows us to make connections with others.  Putting up false fronts, usually because of fear, only serves to separate us from each other.

Glennon also continually bangs the drum of inclusion.  With our language, with our actions, with our beliefs, we should always be trying to pull people together rather than to set up distancing us/them dichotomies.  "Fancy language tends to make in people feel more in and out people feel more out, and I don't think that's how words are best used.  Words are best used to describe specific feelings, ideas, and hearts as clearly as possible--to make the speaker and the listener, or the writer and the reader, feel less alone and more hopeful."  And for those of us who may be hesitant to invite others into our less-than-Martha-Stewart-perfect homes, she suggests: "Maybe hostessing is not really about the host, but the guest.  Maybe it's a sacred spiritual practice because every single person who crosses our doorsteps is a gift, is Jesus really.  And each guest has something to teach us if we're present enough to learn.  Maybe hospitality is not about my home, or my food, or my lack of stuff.  Maybe it's just about soaking people in."

Some of Glennon's statements of truth are aspirational.  For example, she says "I am confident because I believe that I am a child of God.  I am humble because I believe that everyone else is too."  And then she openly shares how un-confident and un-humble she sometimes is.  But she's aware and she's trying, and so am I.  I believe that I am a child of God; when I'm not confident, remembering that fact helps.  Self-worth, and the ability to stand up for one's self, also stems from this belief that we are children of God.  "As a child of God, I have the right to speak, to feel, to think, and to believe what I believe.  Those dreams in my heart, those ideas in my head, they are real and they have a divine origin, and so they are worth exploring.  Just because I am a child of God. And thankfully, there is nothing I can add to the title to make it more impressive.  There is also nothing I can do to lose that title."  Likewise, I believe that everyone else is a child of God, too; when I'm not being humble or kind, that thought serves as a wake-up call.

I love Glennon's honesty about parenthood.  "There is no prize for most composed...Stop making parenthood harder by pretending it's not hard."  Perhaps mothering comes naturally and easily to some; I'm not one of them.  There's really not much in me of the spontaneously selfless or nurturing qualities so lauded every Mothers' Day.  I find parenting to be really hard and I often feel like I'm not doing it well.  So it's very comforting to hear that others find it hard, too, and feel like they're not doing it well.  As Glennon says, "Life is hard - not because we are doing it wrong, just because it's hard."  But the corollary to that is "God is Forever Tries."  We always have the chance to simply try again to do a little better.  Glennon quotes Maya Angelou saying, "I did then what I knew how to do.  Now that I know better, I do better."

Most people want to feel happy and at peace.  That's not always easy to do.  Glennon steps in with some profound wisdom:
"I think one of the keys to happiness is accepting that I am never going to be perfectly happy.  Life is uncomfortable.  So I might as well get busy loving the people around me.  I'm going to stop trying so hard to decide whether they are the 'right people' for me and just take deep breaths and love my neighbors...I'm going to quit chasing happiness long enough to notice it smiling right at me."
At the core of finding peace and happiness is choosing to live with love, because the act of loving others changes us.
"We don't love people and animals because we will have them forever; we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, realer.  Loving people and animals makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways.  Even if animals and people leave, even if they die, they leave us better.  So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us and changes us.  And that's what we're here to do.  God sends us here to learn how to be better lovers, and to learn how to be loved, so we'll be prepared for heaven."
And as my great-grandmother Eva wrote:
If every man relieved the pain he saw,
We'd need no glory.  Heaven would be here.

Glennon's certainly doing her part to create more of heaven right here, right now, and bringing thousands of people along with her.

Carry On, Warrior
by Glennon Doyle Melton
Website: Momastery
ISBN: 9781451697247
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoveraudiobookebook)
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, May 10, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 13


The video at this link is an absolute gem for sci-fi aficionados, especially Trekkers.  I laughed the whole way through, and just about died when Leonard Nimoy bests Zachary Quinto in front of the golf clubhouse.  And if you don't recognize the little ditty that Leonard Nimoy sings to himself in his car, take a couple minutes to watch this video, so you can be scarred for life:


Earlier this week I overheard a conversation between my middle child and my youngest.  The older one was trying to get the younger one to do a job for him and the younger one was having none of that.
Josh: "Come on, Evan.  Just do it!"
Evan: "No.  I'm not doing it.  I'm SUPER not doing it!"

That's going to be my new catchphrase, I think.  Time to do the dishes?  I am SUPER not doing it!  The laundry needs to be washed?  I am SUPER not doing it!  Someone's got to walk the dog, water the garden, pick up the toys?  I am SUPER not doing it!


A couple of days ago I was listening to NPR in the car when they interviewed Peter Stefan, the funeral director who has custody of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev's body.  He was having difficulty finding a cemetery willing to bury the remains (a location was eventually found, though it's not being publicized), and his funeral home was being picketed by people protesting his efforts.  My sister wrote a masterful piece about it here using one of my great-grandmother's poems as the backbone:

If every man relieved the pain he saw,
We'd need no glory. Heaven would be here.
The dead find peace in their long night of sleep;
But children live, and life cuts sharp and deep.
-Eva Willes Wangsgaard, "Dust is Kind"


This past week has been abnormally warm in the Spokane area, like twenty-degrees-above-average, among-the-hottest-places-in-the-continental-United-States-which-is-really-weird-for-Washington warm.  I'm not complaining, but in these northern climes, it's hard to go from the 60s to the 80s overnight.  It's gloriously sunny, but we're roasting here!

Screen capture from

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

I hate it when people take statements out of context.  This happens all the time with political speeches and soundbites on the local news, so frequently that we pretty much expect it.  But it happens with scripture, too, and it can be incredibly counter-productive when beliefs and testimony are based on an incomplete and out-of-context understanding of scripture.  Not only does the context usually yield incredibly valuable insights that deepen and flesh out the meaning of the words, but it can sometimes completely change the meaning of the words that have been excised.

For example, John 5:39 is a popular verse to use when talking about the importance of studying the scriptures - I've heard it in countless lessons and talks, even in General Conference (recent examples are here and here).  After all, Jesus Himself is saying "Search the scriptures" because "they...testify of me", right?  But if you step back and look at what's happening, at what prompted Jesus to say that, you get a much different perspective.

At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover and, at the pool of Bethesda, heals a man who "had an infirmity thirty and eight years."  The leaders of the Jews confronted him with the assertion that he had broken the Sabbath by healing the man, and then were enraged by his response that "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."  To them, Jesus equating Himself with God the Father was blasphemy.

Jesus goes on to testify of His identity as well as the other witnesses they have that testify of who He is, including John the Baptist and the miracles that Jesus has performed.  Finally, he throws their vaunted knowledge of the scriptures, their smug self-assured self-righteousness, back in their faces, saying that their faith is misplaced.  If they really understood the scriptures, they would recognize Him as the Savior and Son of God.  "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life."  In other words, He's saying, "The scriptures that you set so much store by, that you know so well, will not save you.  Only I can do that.  And that's what the scriptures say, but you won't see it, you won't come to me, because you're viewing the scriptures as an end in themselves instead of as a tool to point you to me."

This verse was Jesus giving the smack-down to the Jewish elders for focusing too much on the written scriptures to the detriment of the living Savior in front of them.

See what I mean?

For another example, let's talk about Moroni 9:9.  This scripture is used in the Young Women Personal Progress program, lessons and General Conference talks about virtue because it defines "chastity and virtue" as "most dear and precious above all things."  Yes, absolutely, chastity and virtue are great.  No argument from me there.  But let's pull back a little and look at the context to see what else might be gleaned from this verse.

The prophet Mormon is writing a letter to his son Moroni and describing the unspeakably evil actions of his people, the Nephites.  They have been at war with the Lamanites for years, resulting in many deaths, and will no longer listen to Mormon's attempts to preach the gospel.  They have "harden[ed] their hearts," "lost their love one towards another and they thirst after blood and revenge continually."  Both sides in the war have taken men, women and children as prisoners and treated them inhumanely.  Specifically, Mormon states that the Nephites in the city of Moriantum have taken "the daughters of the Lamanites" as prisoners and "after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue--" they tortured and murdered them, afterwards eating the bodies.  He continues listing the depravities and perversions of the Nephites, illustrating how far they have fallen, until closing the letter by urging his son to "be faithful in Christ".

This passage describes, in graphic and gruesome detail, sexual violence and murder.  When Mormon says the Lamanite women were "depriv[ed]" of their "chastity and virtue," it's obvious from the context that the phrase is a euphemism for rape.  This verse has nothing to do with youth choosing to live a morally upright life and save intimacy for marriage.  It's about rape.  It's a commentary on the depths of the depravity of the Nephites who committed these crimes, not on the righteousness of abstinence.

We are using a scriptural passage that explicitly describes and condemns rape, torture, murder and cannibalism to teach our youth, specifically our young women, about the importance of sexual morality.

I take issue with the idea that anyone can deprive another person of virtue or chastity.  Chastity and virtue are personal decisions, internalized values for which the individual alone is accountable and responsible.  No one else's actions can deprive me of my chastity and virtue; only my own actions can do that.  When a victim is violated, s/he may lose innocence and trust.  Her/his physiological virginity may be taken from her/him, but there is no accompanying loss of chastity or virtue involved for the victim, only the perpetrator.  (See my recent post on Elizabeth Smart's talk at the Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum for more on this topic.)

There's another type of context to consider, too: historical context.  We have to make allowances for cultural bias, whether it was from the original writer, Mormon, or the translator, Joseph Smith, both of whom lived in times and societies that placed a high value - perhaps even "above all things" - on a woman's virginity.  We are all products of the time and society in which we live, no matter how hard we may try not to be or how blind we are to our own biases.  We need to be aware that the words on the page may not mean what we think they mean at first glance.  The meaning of words can change over time.  When this scriptural passage mentions "chastity and virtue", it's not talking about maintaining one's personal purity and high moral standards, which is almost always the way it's used when quoted or referenced today.

Reading this verse while using the modern definitions of "chastity and virtue," can lead to a faulty interpretation that implies that the actions of other people affect your personal righteousness and value and there's nothing you can do about it.  And that's an incredibly hurtful and inaccurate message to send, particularly to those one in six women who have been victims of sexual assault or abuse at some point in their lives.

Of course, I don't believe that those who quote this scripture in support of abstinence until marriage and fidelity after are deliberately equating being raped with a loss of virtue; I'm sure they would be horrified at the thought. They have simply fallen into the common trap of selectively using out-of-context scriptures, unfortunately sometimes to damaging effect.

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya:  "You keep using [those] word[s].  I do not think it means what you think it means."

Context is important.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: The Key Is Love by Marie Osmond

(Cross-posted on Meridian Magazine.)

With Mothers' Day coming up in a few days, I thought it a good time to share this book, written by a Mormon mother who has seen her share of struggles.

Marie Osmond’s life may seem glamorous from the outside, but she is just as human as the rest of us. She may have rubbed elbows with celebrities from Oprah to Elvis, but she has also dedicated her life to raising eight children, some to whom she gave birth and some she adopted. In The Key Is Love, Sr. Osmond shares with us some of the hard-won lessons she’s learned over her years as a mother, as well as the wisdom her mother passed on to her.

She has dealt with two divorces, the death by suicide of a son, substance abuse by some of her children, postpartum depression, and the host of other challenges that face a single, working mother. And she doesn’t shy away from those difficult topics in The Key Is Love. In some of the most moving and emotionally raw passages in the book, she describes her son Mike and the excruciating loss and pain she felt when he committed suicide. Her stated goal in reliving such painful memories and committing them to paper is the hope that “they will be read by any person considering suicide as a way to spare your family more grief or because of a false perception that everyone would be better off without you. There is nothing better about life without you.”

Sr. Osmond told about when her daughter Jessica came out to her as a lesbian and her decision to “[stand] by her as a mom who loves her unconditionally.” She goes on to say “As a Christian, my understanding of God is that we are each created as one of His own children…I love my daughter with the same fierce love that I have for my other children. I know this is how Heavenly Father loves us, no matter what circumstances we create for ourselves or have even been put into without choice.” I hope that other parents of gay children will follow her example and continue to love their children unconditionally.

I commiserated with her as she explained that “when you are a first-time mom, I think you want to believe that there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way to take care of a child’s needs, until you gradually begin to understand how unpredictable being a parent can be.” I remember that time! While I was pregnant with my first, I read every parenting book I could find, determined to get the “right” way to parent all figured out before he was born. Three children and more than a decade later, I’m much more humble and willing to admit how very little I truly have figured out.

Sr. Osmond is so frank and open about the faults she perceives in herself. She frequently mentions what she would do differently, if she had certain situations to do over. She also, however, comes to the conclusion that she was doing the best she could at the time, and refuses to condemn herself for her mistakes or imperfections. She urges readers to listen to their “intuition, the whisperings of the spirit.” Rather than expecting God to “fix” our problems, she says, “God can give us the promptings and direction, but then we have to listen and be proactive in fixing it for ourselves.” She also counsels us, women especially, to find a quiet, private space and “time to refill the well so that we have more to give to others.”

The Osmond family photos included in every chapter are charming, as are the many family anecdotes Sr. Osmond shares. The love she feels for her family – her parents, siblings, and children – radiates off each page. As her mom, “Mother Osmond” wrote in her prolific journals, “Let’s all love each other. Love is the power that unlocks the door to everything. Love is the key.”

The Key Is Love: My Mother's Wisdom, A Daughter's Gratitude
by Marie Osmond with Marcia Wilkie
ISBN: 9780451240316
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverebook)
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"That's What We Should Be Doing": Elizabeth Smart and the Intrinsic Value of a Person

Elizabeth Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum held last week, sharing the story of her kidnapping ten years ago.  As I'm sure you all know, she was abducted from her family home at knifepoint in the middle of the night, held for nine months, and raped almost daily by her captor. (Here's a link to the raw footage of her 12-minute-long speech.)

I admire Elizabeth Smart greatly. She has overcome the horrific period of her abuse, created a foundation to educate children and support victims of abuse, and has become a vocal activist for education and victim support. In her speech last week, she made some definitive statements that I think are important to highlight, underline, emphasize in any way possible.

One of the questions she is asked most frequently, she said, was "Why didn't you run?" While noting that no one should ask that question of another person because everyone's different and we don't know the circumstances of anyone else's situation, Elizabeth provides two answers for herself. First of all, she simply states, "I was scared. I was petrified." She continues, "I had been told every day while I was kidnapped, if you try to run away…we will kill you and if we don’t kill you, we will kill your family." Staying where she was, doing what her abductors told her to do, she felt she was protecting her family.

Here's her second answer, in her own words:
“I think it goes even beyond fear. For so many children, especially in sex trafficking, it’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feeling like “who would ever want me now? I’m worthless.” That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. 
"I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and wife who loved each other...that’s what I’d always been determined to follow, that when I got married then and only then would I engage in sex and so for that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy.  I understand so easily, all too well why someone wouldn’t run because of that alone. I mean, if you can imagine the most special thing being taken away from you and feeling like that, not that that was your only value in life, but something that devalued you, can you imagine turning around and going back into society where you’re no longer of value? Where you’re no longer as good as everybody else? 
"I remember in school one time I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence and she said, “Imagine you’re a stick of gum, and when you engage in sex that’s like getting chewed and if you do that lots of times you’re going to become an old piece of gum and who’s going to want you after that?” Well, that’s terrible, nobody should ever say that, but for me, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value, why would it even be worth screaming out, why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
I was fortunate enough to not get that chewed gum object lesson as a teenager. Nor the other ones I've heard about with licked cupcakes, manhandled donuts, bruised flowers, or nails pounded into a board. They are scare tactics, and no matter how well-intentioned, they are unequivocally wrong and damaging, not to mention the absolute antithesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Atonement.  No one should ever get the message that they are of no value because they have been victimized, that their worth was based on something outside of their control, or that they are beyond the reach of redemption.  Ever.

Elizabeth also spoke of how she survived those nine months of continuous abuse. She said she realized on that first day after she'd been raped, that her parents still loved her - that no matter what she had been through, they loved her and would want her back. And then she made this powerful statement of survival:
"Because of that realization, I was able to make the decision that no matter what I had to do, no matter how many personal goals, morals or standards I had to break, I would do it if it meant that I would survive, if it meant that one day I would be reunited with my parents again and that decision saw me through a lot."  
Because of that decision, Elizabeth did survive and was reunited with her family.  Survival was her ultimate goal.  While society has come a long way in how it views and treats victims of sexual abuse, damaging and antiquated ideas that "virginity" = "purity" = "virtue" echo every time someone asks "Why didn't she fight back?  Why didn't she scream?  Why didn't she run?  Was she asking for it?"  Elizabeth survived.  Surviving is not a sin, nor is anything she had to do in order to survive.  Her worth as a person - her virtue, her "morals [and] standards" - was not diminished by what others did to her, or forced her to do.

She closed her speech with a plea for education: "The best thing we can do is educate young people as young as we can reach them…If you’re given choices, if you’re given skills, if you’re given permission to fight back, to know that you are of value and to know that you don’t have to live your life that way. You don’t have to do what other people tell have value and you always will have value, nothing can change that."  "That," Elizabeth concluded, "is what we should be doing."  

Thank you, Elizabeth, for your courage and wisdom.  Your words will change how I talk to my children about sex and abuse, and about their own intrinsic value that nothing - and no one - can take away.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 12


Legendary country singer George Jones passed away earlier this week.  George Jones was not exactly a stellar character you want your kids to emulate, hard drinking, wild living and sometimes violent, but he was the quintessential country music star and his music influenced a generation or two of musicians across many genres.  Perhaps his most iconic song was the drippy, sentimental "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

RIP, Mr. Jones.


Wednesday evening, Gene picked up dinner for the family at his favorite restaurant in town.  Behold:

It's open from 11 to 7, and Gene was only driving by early in the morning yesterday,
so you get a picture of the closed up taco truck. 
The Fiesta Brava taco truck sits in a lot on the corner of Francis and Nevada.  Gene buys lunch there at least once a week and he's been raving about the food for months (he also likes being able to practice his Spanish with the owner, a friendly Mexican man named Robert).  So finally Gene brought home five different kinds of tacos for us to try.  I have to say the fish tacos were my favorite, hands down.  The boys like the chicken and beef ones, and the pork were really good, too.  The salsa verde had the best flavor.  And it was really affordable, too.  Less than $20 for more than a dozen really yummy tacos.


Gene and I love games.  Right after we moved to Spokane some friends introduced us to Sequence, then Huggermugger, Wise and Otherwise, and finally Bohnanza.  With each new game, we fell harder and harder. We were hooked!  Over the years we've gone in spurts where we'd have pretty regular game nights, invite a few other couples over, have some snacks, get to know each other and have some crazy fun.  We've slacked off with being social lately, but I want to get back into having regular game nights, so if you're in the Spokane area and have a free evening - and don't mind getting schooled - drop me a line!

Just a few of our current favorites...

I've been reading some pretty heavy stuff lately.  Dense non-fiction, serious/tragic/heart-wrenching stories, intense self-help.  And I need something light and easy.  Something that will either make me laugh or smile or just won't take up too much brain space.  Suggestions?