Friday, June 28, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 20


I got a little behind on my book reviews, so I logged in online to try to renew a couple of library books to give myself a bit more time to write.  Unfortunately, the system doesn't allow you to renew books that have already been requested by another patron and one of the books had, so I made the conscious decision to hold on to that book a couple of days past its due date.  In the mean time, a couple of other books I'd requested came in, so I ran into the library to pick them up.  As I was checking them out, the librarian who scanned my card, and whom I see on a frequent and regular basis, gasped in mock horror.

"Emily, I'm shocked.  You have an overdue book!  Has that ever happened before?!?!"

It's nice to have a reputation as a generally responsible patron of your local public library.

(And for the record, yes, it has happened before, though the total I've paid in library late fees in the almost 15 years I've lived in Spokane is well under $5.  Point of pride.)


Some friends had us over for an evening early this week and introduced us to a new game:

It's like Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, and Ticket to Ride all had a baby together and that baby played with some radioactive dice and developed gaming superpowers.  There are literally hundreds of little tokens or pieces and a dozen different aspects of the game to keep track of and you will feel so incredibly lost the first time through.  It will blow your mind.

And then you will be hooked.

Can't wait to play it again...


Through a rare confluence of events, I've had the opportunity to watch significantly more movies than usual over the past week.  Seven, to be exact.  I may even get around to writing up reviews for a few of them.  Of the five that weren't documentaries, two even passed the Bechdel test, though both of those just barely squeaked by.

Perhaps because I watched so many more films than I normally do in a short time period, this week it seemed far more apparent to me that in many (most?) films, male characters are the default, the norm, the automatic and assumed standard.  Female characters are often included as little more than "eye candy" or so the hero had someone to rescue.  And it really kind of pissed me off.

Sometimes being a feminist really gets in the way of enjoying mindless entertainment.  Sigh.


Several of my family members are very sensitive to certain fragrances, so I never wear perfume and I don't often have aromatic candles or incense in my home, but a couple of months ago, I purchased a plug-in warmer from Scentsy.  I placed it in my living room, next to the loveseat where it would be out of the way.  Or so I thought.

In the meantime, my four-year-old invented a fun new game to play in the living room.  It's called Start-By-The-Piano-And-Run-As-Fast-As-You-Can-So-When-You-Leap-On-To-The-Arm-Of-The-Loveseat-You-Have-Enough-Momentum-To-Flip-Yourself-Up-And-Over-And-Land-In-The-Middle.  An unfortunate side effect of the leaping and flipping part is wildly flailing legs that knock into plug-in warmers and splash hot wax all over the microfiber loveseat.

Google told me to scrape off the excess wax and then use a warm iron over a paper towel to soften and remove the rest.  It didn't work.  So I moved the end table to the affected side and tossed a blanket over the corner to hide the mess.  Maybe it'll look intentionally artsy?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Greatest Salesman in the World, Parts I and II

Og Mandino's two slim volumes, The Greatest Salesman in the World and The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story, include simple, occasionally profound, pieces of counsel, wrapped up in what was, for me, often off-putting affected rhetoric.

Og has an interesting back story.  First of all, "Og" - which struck me as an odd name - is actually a nickname for "Augustine".  His plans to attend college were dashed when his mother died of a massive heart attack when he was a teenager.  After flying bombers during World War II, he became an insurance salesman, eventually became an alcoholic, lost his job, his wife and child left him.  He hit rock bottom.

Then he discovered self-help books.  He devoured as many as he could find in libraries across the country, applying the principles and turning his life around.  Finally he decided to write his own book on success and motivation.  He became a best-selling author and successful motivational speaker, got remarried, had more children and life was good again.

Ok, there's a little snark there, but the "power of positive thinking" automatically induces just a bit of eye-rolling for me.  I'm happy that Mr. Mandino managed to get his life together and be happy and successful and I'm glad if the wisdom he gained from his experiences, written down and sold to millions across the globe over the past four and a half decades, has helped others.  But the parable-like framing - deliberately done to give the story a biblical or scriptural feel - comes across a bit affected to me.  And I was uncomfortable, but not surprised, when the Christian overtones showed up at the end of the first book.  I dislike the idea of using the Gospel to sell things and I dislike the idea of "selling" the Gospel, which is strongly implied towards the end when he meets with Saul of Tarsus and passes on his wisdom.

But then, in the preface of the second book, Mr. Mandino mentions that the co-founder of Amway International loved The Greatest Salesman in the World, and advised all of his distributors to buy the book and apply its principles, and I almost closed it up right then.  (Just so we're clear, I have a knee-jerk, deep-seated aversion to multi-level marketing firms - MLMs.  If you are part of one and it has been a good experience, bully for you.  But I have seen enough situations that have demonstrated their ability to encourage exploitative, unethical, and dishonest behavior that I steer clear.)

Now I was fairly convinced when I read Daniel Pink's To Sell Is Human (read my review here), that selling is something we all do, not something slimy to shy away from.  But that book included hard science and practical applications, real defined actions, rather than vague platitudes and trite proverbs.

It's not that I disagree with a lot of what Mr. Mandino wrote.  Much of what he says is true and even uplifting:
* "Never feel shame for trying and failing."
* "Obstacles are necessary for success."
* "I am a unique creature...I will capitalize on this difference for it is an asset to be promoted to the fullest."
* "To surpass the deeds of others is unimportant; to surpass my own deeds is all."
* "Love is my weapon to open the hearts of men, love is also my shield to repulse the arrows of hate and the spears of anger."

Even the stuff I agree with I have a hard time typing because of the pretentious tone.  Tell me that last one didn't make you throw up in your mouth a teensy bit.  But the same or a similar message comes from Glennon and I eat it up.  I'm having a hard time pinning down why, but I think the delivery has a lot to do with it.  Glennon comes across as honest and open.  These books, especially the first, come across as affected and contrived.

I will say that I liked the story of The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story better.  It was written twenty years after the first, and I think Mr. Mandino had changed a bit in the intervening years, perhaps recognizing some of the weaknesses of the first book and addressing them in the second.  For one thing, the protagonist actually does something, and it's something challenging at which he is not successful at first, so he has to learn and grow and apply new lessons to his actions.  Again, good, true, simple lessons, but they come across as less pretentious and more real this time:
* "I know how much you want to change the world for the better, my friend, but...what you wish can only be accomplished by changing one person at a time."
* "A smile remains the most inexpensive gift I can bestow on anyone."
* "Nothing is easier than faultfinding. No talent, no self-denial, no brains, no character are required to set up in the business of grumbling.  I no longer have time for that sorry pursuit."
* "There are two kinds of discontented in this world, the discontented that works and the discontented that wrings its hands.  the first gets what it wants and the second loses what it has."

The books are both short, you wouldn't be out more than a couple hours of your life if you read them straight through, so go ahead and glean what pearls of wisdom from them you can.  If they motivate you to step up and change your life, great.  If not, I'm sure there's another of the plethora of self-help books out there that will.


The Greatest Salesman in the World
by Og Mandino
ISBN: 9780553277579
Buy it from Amazon here: (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).

The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story
by Og Mandino
ISBN: 9780553276992
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperbackhardcover)
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, June 24, 2013

A Gathering of Sisters and Daughters in the Kingdom

Friday afternoon we drove down to Tri-Cities to visit my husband's sister and her family.  It just so happened that all adult women, young women, and girls ages 8 and up in the area's fourteen stakes were invited to a devotional fireside that evening, so I tagged along with my sister-in-law and my ten-year-old niece.

The speakers were Jean A. Stevens, the first counselor in the Primary general presidency; Bonnie L. Oscarson, the brand new Young Women general president; and Linda K. Burton, the general president of the Relief Society.  I don't know that I've ever attended another meeting where representatives from each of the three auxiliaries led by women spoke.  That doesn't even happen in General Conference!

Jean A. Stevens,
Sr. Stevens spoke first and talked about what we all have in common as sisters in the gospel.  She encouraged us to review our baptismal covenants daily, reading 2 Nephi 31:17-18 and Mosiah 18:8-10 to remind us how to get on and stay on the gospel path.  She also urged us to actively look for ways to fulfill those covenants every day, sharing stories about girls, young women, and women who were "bear[ing] one another's burdens" and "stand[ing] as witnesses of God" and "comfort[ing] those that stand in need of comfort."  She related a quote she heard from Elder Christensen: "Children of the light do not sit passively in the darkness.  They have the courage to stand up and stand out."  Sr. Stevens added "and reach out" to the end of that statement.  We need to take action to reach out and serve others, to keep our covenants.

Bonnie L. Oscarson,
Then President Oscarson stood up and told us how nervous she was; this is her first trip since being sustained at the beginning of April!  Since her call two months ago, she said she has been filled with love for all the young women of the Church and she prays every day that they will feel the love Heavenly Father has for them.  She spoke about her experiences as the temple matron of the Stockholm Sweden temple and her love for the temple, which she described as a symbol of Heavenly Father's love for all His children.  Sitting in a stake center right next to the Columbia River Temple in Tri-Cities, she advised those who were able, to set a regular time to attend the temple and commit to it.  Reading from the Doctrine and Covenants 109:22, she promised power to those who attend the temple and keep their covenants, and quoted President Packer who said, "temples are the very center of the spiritual strength of the Church".

Linda K. Burton,
Finally, President Burton took the stand and declared that "we are all in this together" and "we can do this together".  She shared stores of women in the scriptures who were covenant keepers, including the little maid of Naaman (2 Kings 5:3), Rebekah (Genesis 24:20), and Sariah (1 Nephi 5:8), as well as stories of modern women who have reached out to help others, or been blessed for their faithfulness.  She urged us to write our own stories down so they can provide support and comfort to those who come after us.  She emphasized that "we're here to bless each other, we're not here just for ourselves" and that we need to be daughters in His kingdom, with both feet and whole-heartedly.

Elder Risenmay, an area authority seventy, closed the meeting with a few comments based on Moses 5:1. As Adam and Eve labored together, so men and women should work together in the Church today to serve and build the kingdom.  Each of us, he stated, has the ability to become like our Heavenly Parents.

At the very end of the meeting, as we were getting ready to leave the incredibly crowded building and fight the traffic to get out of the incredibly crowded parking lot, the brother conducting held up a cell phone and announced that a pink cell phone had been found in the parking lot.  If anyone recognized it, they were to come up to the pulpit.

It was my sister-in-law's phone.

So we swam upstream through the hoards of people leaving the stake center to get to the front of the room and retrieve the phone and then, since we were already there, decided to try to shake hands with the three women who spoke.  Well, these women weren't shaking hands, they were hugging everyone within reach.  We had just barely a minute with each of them and exchanged a few words introducing ourselves and thanking them for their words before moving on to allow others to have their hug and minute, but of course, afterwards I thought of what I really would have liked to say to each of them.  So on the off chance they might stumble on this little blog some day, here's what I wish I'd said in the one minute I had with each of them:

Sr. Stevens
Thank you so much for accepting the assignment this past spring to be the first woman to ever pray in General Conference.  It may seem like such a small and insignificant thing, but "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass" (Alma 37:6) and it meant a great deal to many women, including me.  Thank you!
(P.S. That is a fabulous skirt you're wearing!)

President Oscarson
I'm a fairly new Young Women president in my ward and I feel the same love for my young women that you mentioned feeling for all the young women of the Church since your call.  We're praying for you and are so excited to see what you will bring to this calling.  Please use your influence to help the young women of the Church know it's okay to be different, even from other LDS young women, because there are so many good and righteous ways to live.  Thank you!  (And I think it's awesome that you went back to finish your college degree 35 years after you started it.  Good for you!)  

President Burton
Your two General Conference talks are helping the next generation of Relief Society sisters.  We used "Is Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ Written in Your Hearts?" as the framework for our Young Women lessons on the Atonement in March.  I've used the great counsel you gave in "First Observe, Then Serve" for several leadership training sessions, to teach my class presidencies how to minister to the young women in their stewardship.  Thank you! (Oh, and congratulations on grandchildren numbers 20 and 21, and the two more on the way!)

I'm grateful for these wonderful, faithful, strong women and their examples and words of counsel and guidance, and it was an absolute thrill to have the chance to actually meet them.  I so wish we had more opportunity to hear from them and learn from their wisdom and experience.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 19


Can I just say, yet again, that oral surgery is not my favorite pastime?  This past Wednesday I had another procedure, a necessary step towards getting my permanent fake teeth installed, that left my mouth sore and achy and bleeding, and just not at all comfy.
{Whine, whine, fuss, pout, and bother.}

I will say that I'm incredibly grateful for caring and competent dental professionals and for friends and family willing to help out.  And on the bright side, it looks like my new teeth will be in place before the end of the summer and I couldn't be more thrilled about that!


Photo credit: Brian Omura via flickr
On Tuesday evening, the youth went shooting for our mid-week activity.  It was originally planned for last month and was rained out at the last minute.  Thankfully, the weather cooperated this time.  After some firearms safety training, just about all of the youth, young men and young women, took the opportunity to fire both a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle.  Even though it's been a while since I've shot anything, I managed to hit one of the clay pigeons.  I was pretty proud of myself.


Remember back in May how it was unseasonably warm here in Spokane?  Well, now that it's nearing the end of June, it's unseasonably cold.

Screen capture from

23 degrees below average!  Granted, we need the rain in a big way, so it's hard to be too grouchy about that, but there's something disconcerting about sitting here typing away on my computer towards the end of June in a long-sleeved t-shirt with a big fluffy, hooded sweater over top of it.  And our Spokane Indians game Thursday night was rained out.  Bummer.


Ardis at Keepapitchinin shared another one of my great-grandmother's poems yesterday, and it might just be one of my new favorites.  Short, sweet and to the point, it captures one of the most difficult aspects of parenting:

Trial and Error
By Eva Willes Wangsgaard

Though it is hard to step aside
And let him take his turn,
Some truths run deep and must be tried
Before a child can learn.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dusting Off: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Haven't done a fiction book in a while, so here's a review from a few years back, originally published on Goodreads here, of a book that I really liked.  (Actually, I've liked just about everything I've read by Geraldine Brooks, including Year of Wonders, Nine Parts of Desire, and March.)


This fascinating book covers a wide swath of time periods, characters, and locales. The descriptions of the process of book conservation, including the different types of parchment and dyes and book binding, were incredibly detailed and interesting.

The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a sacred Jewish text, was more moving than I expected, from a talented Muslim girl enslaved in Seville in 1480, to the horror of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 and the vile anti-Semitism and book burning of Venice in 1609. I really enjoyed the section set in Vienna in 1894 since I lived in Vienna for a short time and actually knew several of the sites mentioned. 

Interspersed with these historical scenes were the narratives of the book's rescue and restoration in Sarajevo in 1996 during the tragedy of the war there, as well as the personal story of Hanna, the book expert who did the restoration. The sections flowed between time periods very smoothly with each small detail Hanna discovered illuminating another part of the incredible story of the haggadah and moving her own story forward as well.

As with her other books, I was impressed with the depth of detail and research that Ms. Brooks invested in her writing. I was almost sick at some of the descriptions of the tortures used during the Spanish Inquisition, but found myself in tears over one character's story of loss during the war in Sarajevo. She made each separate story not only come alive in itself, but sync together perfectly so that they all seemed a part of a single story as well.


People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
ISBN: 9780670018215
Buy it from Amazon here: (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).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review: The Gathering of Zion by Wallace Stegner

“The story of the Mormon Trail is a story of people, no better and no worse than other people, probably, but certainly as sternly tested as any, and with a right to their pride in the way they have borne the testing.”

General authorities and auxiliary presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including Sr. Bonnie D. Parkin, Elder Quentin L. Cook, and President Gordon B. Hinckley, have all quoted from Wallace Stegner’s The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. I figured if our leaders found this narrative of the Mormon westward migration worth using in their General Conference talks, it was probably a valuable book to read. And I wasn’t wrong.

President Hinckley described Mr. Stegner as “not a member of the Church but a contemporary at the University of Utah who later became professor of creative writing at Stanford and a Pulitzer Prize winner. He was a close observer and a careful student.” From his perspective as an appreciative outsider, Mr. Stegner compiles this story of our forebears’ journey from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake Valley. It spans the years from Joseph’s martyrdom in 1844 to the early 1860s, when the coming of the Transcontinental Railroad changed the face of westward travel and rendered wagon trains and handcart companies all but obsolete.

Stringing together what had been, for me, disparate stories of the pioneers, Mr. Stegner’s narrative explains the necessity of the Mormon Battalion – and most significantly, the money they were paid by the United States government for their service – to the survival of the Saints over the winter of 1846/1847 and to their travel to the Salt Lake Valley. He points out the “recklessly optimistic” attitude of some leaders and Saints that encouraged handcart companies to start on the Trail too late in the season, with carts made of green wood and lacking vital durable metal parts. But then he tempers that criticism with a recognition that “whatever may be said of their excessive zeal in the first place, they were neither indifferent not cowardly once they knew the handcart companies might be in distress.”

Throughout the book, Mr. Stegner uses the words of the pioneers themselves, from diaries, letters, personal statements, to remind us that they were real human beings. “Suffering, endurance, discipline, faith, brotherly and sisterly charity, the qualities so thoroughly celebrated by Mormon writers, were surely well distributed among them, but theirs also was a normal amount of human cussedness, vengefulness, masochism, backbiting, violence, ignorance, selfishness, and gullibility.” He notes somewhat wryly that “piety and ancestor worship are not the best foundation for the study of history…The pioneer Mormons were no more seven feet tall and of a heroic gentleness and a saintly purity than their Gentile enemies were.”

Despite this healthy dose of realism, he speaks highly of the Mormon pioneers. “They were the most systematic, organized, disciplined, and successful pioneers in our history…As communities on the march they proved extraordinarily adaptable.” While other emigrants gave little thought to those coming after them, “the first thought of the [Mormon] pioneer company was to note good campgrounds, wood, water, grass, to measure distances and set up mileposts. They and succeeding companies bent their backs to build bridges and dig down the steep approaches of fords. They made rafts and ferry boats and left them for the use of later companies…By the improvements they made in it, they earned the right to put their name on the trail they used.”

The Gathering of Zion is the story of our forebears, whether our literal ancestors or our spiritual progenitors, and one I am proud to claim. “The Mormon family and the beliefs that sanctify it are…sources of a profound sense of community, an almost smug satisfaction. These people belong to one another, to a place, to a faith.” Reading their story gives me hope that we can draw on their examples and achieve that sense of community and belonging in our own Zions today.


The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail
by Wallace Stegner
ISBN: 9780803292130
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"When friendships bring us closer to God" - Over at SpokaneFAVS

Another piece of mine has been published over on Spokane Faith & Values!  It's called "When friendships bring us closer to God" and you can check it out here.  It's a variation of this piece on visiting teaching I wrote on this blog, but after it posted, I though it would be a good interfaith piece, too, so I reworked it a little and sent it on in.

I'm so excited to be a contributing writer for Spokane Faith & Values and to learn about other faiths as well as share my own!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 18


Since Fathers' Day is this coming Sunday, I want to use my little corner of the web to honor a great man who also happens to be my dad, or as I've called him since I was a teenager: 


(snagged this from my dad's facebook page
since I don't seem to have any digital pics
of him - I'll have to remedy that...)
This time of year, lots of people say their dad was "the best", and I'm sure all these dads are wonderful guys, just as I'm sure that "best" is a completely subjective term in this case.  Then again, it's hard - if not impossible - to be objective about a person who has been such an essential part of making you who you are.  

I will say this: Frank Hutchison is one of my heroes.  He embodies so many qualities I admire and want to emulate.  He continually strives to improve himself and to do better today than he did yesterday.  He is a savvy and persistent problem-solver, able to look at a tricky situation from different perspectives and try various solutions until he finds one that works.  He believes that love is a verb and a choice, "something that we do," and it's the driving motivator in his life.

If I grow up to be half the person my father is, I'll be doing well.  Thanks for everything, Poppo.


One of the first signs of summer around here is Spokane Indians baseball!  Our family has gotten a "mini-season ticket package" (tickets to eight regular season games) for about a decade now.  It's a cherished annual tradition.  Wednesday night we went to the ball park for the Opening Social.  We ate free hot dogs, soda, and popcorn, and got to wander around the newly renovated concourse.  The players lined up on the field to introduce themselves - one juggled baseballs and another rapped in Japanese.  We cheered them on during the home run derby, and saw some old baseball friends.  The boys are so stoked for the season now, and truth be told, so am I!


My oldest earned his Arrow of Light (the highest award a Cub Scout can earn) and it was awarded in a nice little ceremony this week.  He even said a few words thanking his Webelos leaders for helping him get to where he is now (in between cracking jokes and being generally silly) and managed to put the pin in my shirt without drawing blood.  I'm proud of him!

You can see the blinding glare of the Arrow of Light stand behind
Will as his Cubmaster is getting ready to hand him his award.
(Thanks for taking the picture, Felicia!)
And here's the nifty bridge Will crossed to symbolize moving
on from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts with his Cubmaster on the
one side and his new Scout leader on the other.
(Thanks again, Felicia!)


I know not everybody loved the first Hobbit film, but I enjoyed it immensely.  Peter Jackson has created a rich and lively Middle-earth.  Now, I'll freely admit to being a bit concerned when I first heard they were making it into three films instead of two, but part one, "An Unexpected Journey", completely won me over and I can't wait for part two, "The Desolation of Smaug", to be released on December 13.  The first trailer came out this week:

Did you see that dragon?!?!?!?! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dusting Off: Aftershock by Robert B. Reich

Today I'm dusting off this review I wrote about two and a half years ago and published on Goodreads here (and to date it's garnered the highest number of "votes" of any of my Goodreads reviews, so yay me!).  Aftershock is a pretty short book with some grand ideas and Robert Reich can certainly be a polarizing figure, but I found his explanation of the Great Recession to be one of the most clear and understandable I've read.  


I need to do more thinking on this one before writing my review...some things need to percolate a bit...

ok, I'm back.

First, a little background. I've always considered myself comfortably conservative, socially, economically, politically. But in my old(er) age (32 and a half or so) when I'm being brutally honest with myself, I'm finding more and more merit in what would have horrified a younger me - a *gasp* more liberal worldview. I'm not really what anyone would call bleeding heart, but the conservative label doesn't really fit anymore either. The issues facing our country and our world today seem too complex to insist on a one-size-fits-all solution that fits neatly in a single party's platform.

That being said, I found myself being very persuaded by Mr. Reich's arguments regarding the inequitable distribution of wealth in our system today. He speaks of the "basic bargain" upon which a (healthy) economy is based. Simply put, workers are also consumers. Their earnings are used to buy the goods and services other workers produce. If their earnings are not sufficient to create enough demand to purchase the available supply of goods and services, the economy suffers. Mr. Reich points to both the Great Depression and the recession of 2008 as examples of this occurring.

Everyone seems to idolize Keynesian economics, but Keynes himself recognized two faults inherent in capitalism: "its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes." These are still the weaknesses in the system today.

Mr. Reich outlines three coping mechanisms that delayed the onset of economic trouble over the 80s and 90s once wages started to stagnate: people worked longer hours, more people (especially women) entered the work force, and finally people started borrowing against their homes and running up consumer debt. According to Mr. Reich, the downturn of the last few years occurred not because (or at least not only because) individuals got greedy and borrowed too much or were too stupid or short-sighted to understand the terms of their loans, but because they had run out of these release valves. The main problem is that, for the majority of Americans, their earnings had not kept up with their reasonable expectations for what they could afford as the economy grew. The basic bargain had been broken.

Before my conservative friends blow a gasket and start ranting about personal responsibility and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and making claims about how they did it all on their own without handouts or guarantees from the government (which, frankly, is bullhonky), let me clarify. Yes, individuals should be more concerned with their personal financial health than "keeping up with the Joneses" or maintaining appearances or purchasing luxuries that aren't truly needs. But more and more it's those "needs" that aren't affordable. Like a home in a decent neighborhood with good schools. Or a college education. Or access to quality health care. Or even the ability to save for retirement. It's human nature to compare yourself to others as a gauge of how you're doing and the conspicuous consumption of the very wealthy is, in some ways, driving this discontent. Not saying that it's "right" but that's how it is. A middle-class family today cannot maintain the same standard of living as a middle-class family of fifty years ago without at least one, if not all three, of the coping mechanisms described above.

This country used to be considered a place where someone - anyone - could work hard and make a better life for him- or herself and his/her children. Nowadays that is less and less true. The game seems rigged in favor of the "haves" at the expense of the "have-nots" and that engenders resentment and political discontent. Mr. Reich includes several thinly veiled swipes at the Tea Party or its close cousin which were rather exaggerated and egregious, but captured the frustration and anger that feeds the movement. The very wealthy do have greater access to politicians and policy makers. Besides the incredible amount of money tossed at candidates of both major parties during campaigns, many politicians move on to lucrative private sector jobs as lobbyists or consultants in these very fields they are supposed to regulate. Again, human nature rears its ugly head - you just don't bite the hand that feeds you, or that may feed you very well in the future.

Mr. Reich argues that we face both economic and political threats if these challenges are not overcome. "Unless America's middle class receives a fair share, it cannot consume nearly what the nation is capable of producing, at least without going deeply into debt...The inevitable result is slower economic growth and an economy increasingly susceptible to great booms and terrible busts." It should go without saying that this hurts everyone. Politically, we are in danger as well. "Widening inequality, coupled with a growing perception that big business and Wall Street are in cahoots with big government for the purpose of making the rich even richer, gives fodder to demagogues on the extreme right and the extreme left. They gain power by turning the public's economic anxieties into resentments against particular people and groups." Anyone who has listened to talk radio in the last few years can't really argue with that. Trust in the government in general and politicians in particular is at an all-time low and the more outrageous the statements that come from these talking heads, the higher their ratings climb.

I'm not ready to jump on board with all of Mr. Reich's proposed solutions - and I don't for a second think that there's actually the political will in Washington, D.C., to do anything remotely this extensive, despite his assurance that this agenda is "practical and doable." But I think that for the economy's sake, and for my future and my children's future, we need to take a hard look at the assumptions we have been holding. They need to be reevaluated in the light of who holds the power and the money and how that meshes with our beliefs in democracy and the opportunity for anyone to work to provide a better future.


Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future
ISBN: 9780307592811
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, audiobookebook)
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, June 11, 2013

Is That Real Danger or Just a Guy Who Needs to Pee?

Yesterday, for the second time in several months, my husband was accosted in a public place and accused of being a threat to children, simply because he's a man.

As a home health physical therapist, he's out and about all day long.  His car is his office.  A few months ago he parked in front of a vacant lot doing paperwork in between appointments when a woman knocked on his window.  She angrily informed him that she'd taken down his license plate number and was calling the police because a man sitting alone in his car was "suspicious".  He explained that he was a home health physical therapist, had an appointment down the street in a few minutes, and was just doing paperwork until then.

She insisted, "You can't be here.  There are kids in this neighborhood."

"Ma'am, this is a public street. I parked in front of a vacant lot so I wouldn't be in anyone's way.  And I'll be moving on in just a few minutes when it's time for my appointment."

She stayed by the car for several more minutes, continually threatening to call the police, until it was time for my husband to go to his next appointment.  He drove the two blocks to his patient's house and went in.

A few minutes later he looked out the window and this same woman was standing by his car, peeking in the windows.

My usually mild-mannered husband was now quite angry.  He excused himself to the patient and went outside.  "Ma'am, you are way out of line.  Step away from my car now, or I will be the one calling the police and reporting an attempted car theft and continued harassment from you.  And you'd better believe I will press charges."  She backed off pretty quickly.

Yesterday he stopped to use the restroom at a public park, as his car/office doesn't come equipped with bathroom facilities.  There were four moms there chatting while their kids played on the playground.  As he was walking directly to the bathroom, one of the moms intercepted him and told him that as a man without children with him, he shouldn't be there. "Why would a man come to a park without kids?" she asked aggressively and rhetorically.  He pointed to the bathrooms that she was blocking him from reaching, "To use the public restrooms, maybe?"  She huffed a bit and stepped aside, but stood there, hands on hips, watching him until he got back in his car and left.

Now, I completely agree that it’s important for people, especially women, to be aware of their surroundings and feel comfortable speaking up or questioning people who seem to be out of place. And I completely agree that our society and culture encourages women to be “nice” and “not offend” and that that hamstrings and endangers women in many, many ways.

But we are learning to be afraid of the wrong things, almost to the point of paranoia. If we become used to thinking that everything is scary, it's far easier to miss the truly dangerous situations. There’s a middle ground between constantly being suspicious of everything that’s even a little out of the ordinary and ignoring our intuition when it warns us of a real threat.   And there's a very real difference between actions that just make us feel safer or think we're safer and actions that actually make us safer.

In Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear (read my goodreads review here) the author discusses this very phenomenon.  Anxiety or worry is not the same thing as fear.  We are becoming a society that misidentifies one as the other and that confusion is making us less safe.  We need to hone our intuition so it becomes more accurate and useful in keeping us out of danger, rather than indiscriminately identifying anything "different" as "bad" and "potentially harmful".

Similarly, in Free-Range Kids (which I recently reviewed here), Lenore Skenazy affirms 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."  If we teach our children by example to be distrustful of every adult male in a public place, we are doing them a disservice.  We may think we are keeping them safe; in actuality, we are crippling them from being able to function in the real world.

I know people come from vastly different backgrounds and may, based on their past experiences, have very legitimate reasons to be suspicious of others, and men in particular.  And I, too, have walked up to people I didn’t know who were sitting in cars parked on my street, and asked what they were doing. I have also started conversations with people at parks and in other public places for the explicit purpose of determining why they were there and if they were a threat, so I completely understand why these women spoke up.  I very well may have, too.  I'm not at all bashing their instinct to make an initial contact so they can better assess the actual risk posed.  Their methods and direct accusations, however, were completely uncalled for.

Because I identify as a feminist, I've been accused of hating men by people who don't really understand what feminism is.  So I'd like to go on record here.  Feminism is about believing that men and women should be treated as individuals, not as stereotypes of their sex.  It's about supporting a person's right - whether woman or man - to speak up and be heard.  And it's recognizing that judging a person based solely on their gender is wrong.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Visiting Teaching

One of my favorite programs in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is visiting teaching.  Each willing adult woman is paired with another woman and together they are given a list of three or four (or sometimes more) other women in the ward (Mormon-speak for a local congregation) to visit, serve, and care for.  This often includes a monthly visit to discuss a gospel message, but can also manifest as swapping babysitting, meeting up for lunch, bringing over freezer meals after a birth or during an illness, or just having a familiar face to greet in the halls at church.

And done right, it is the essence of the gospel of Christ.

It's all about getting to know each other, making connections, serving, and loving each other.  Even if you are brand new in an area, you have immediate friends, people you can call on for help moving in or directions to the nearest grocery store or dry cleaner.  It crosses socio-economic and generational lines.  It forces us out of our comfort zones to get to know people we otherwise would probably never extend ourselves to.  I have visit taught, or been visit taught by, women who were decades older than me, those from completely different backgrounds including some from other countries.  Some of my dearest friends have come from visiting teaching and some of my greatest lessons have come from those I met through this program.

As a young adult, when I came home from college over the summers I would beg my Relief Society president for a visiting teaching assignment, even though I was only available for a few months.  One summer, I was asked to be C's companion on her visiting teaching route.  C was a single, middle-aged woman who had lost her left leg from the knee down and was on crutches, and was always unfailingly cheerful and optimistic.  Among others, we visited K, a woman who had found the courage to divorce her abusive husband and raise her two boys on her own with very little schooling and a minimum-wage job in the D.C. area.  They were both good, strong women doing their best with the cards life had dealt them.  From them I learned that you don't have to fit the "ideal" mold to be a valuable and righteous daughter of God.

M started as a "letter only" visiting teaching assignment, someone who was not in a position to receive personal visits at the time, but was open to getting something in the mail.  I wrote her a brief cheery note including a gospel message every month for years before meeting her face-to-face by chance at a book club.  We started visiting in person shortly after that, letting our kids of similar ages play together and just getting to know each other better.  She has become a dear, dear friend; I even got to visit her when she moved to Ohio a few years later.  From her example, I learned to graciously take life at its own pace because there is a time and a season for everything.

When my Relief Society president asked me to start visiting F, I was nervous.  F is Deaf and while I'd taken seven semesters of ASL in college, I hadn't really signed in at least a dozen years.  I was rusty to say the least.  But I took a deep breath and texted her one day, inviting her to a Relief Society activity.  To my surprise, she texted right back and said she'd come.  The evening of the activity came, and I picked her up at her house.  She was pleasantly surprised that I knew Sign - even if I was reeeeally slow - and her gregarious manner quickly put me at ease.  She was always happy, with a smile and a hug for everyone.  She started attending church regularly, and every week I would attempt to interpret for her.  Gradually, I started feeling a little more confident as she patiently taught me, gently teasing me about my frequent mistakes, encouraging me not to take myself so seriously.  Almost a year and a half after I met her, she recently moved to the other side of town, and now when I'm at church without her I feel almost like I've lost a limb.  She taught me not only better Sign, but perseverance and the power of a smile and a hug.

I already mentioned Sammy on Friday.  I started visiting her only last summer, and in just a year came to love her so much.  On our first visit, she told us how glad she was to have two "young" visiting teachers: "I told [the Relief Society president], 'You keep giving me all these old women.  And they're great, but if I need help they can't help me.  I need some young ones!'  And here you are!"  During one of our last conversations, I asked how we could help and she thought for a minute.  "I could always use some cookies," she said, so we showed up on her doorstep with a plateful.   She was a great example of saying what you mean with love and letting your needs be known.

These are only a few of the women whose lives have touched mine specifically because of visiting teaching.  I could talk about A or R or J or E or frankly dozens of other women who have been companions of mine, or my visiting teachers, or people I visit-taught.  Something about opening our homes and our hearts to each other, allowing ourselves to become just a smidge more vulnerable, breaks down barriers and allows connections to be made, even between people who seem to have little in common.  We remember that we are all sisters, all daughters of Heavenly Parents, all struggling with the challenges life brings, and that we can bear one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and just be friends, and in the process lift each other.

That's what visiting teaching is all about.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Friday Four, Part 17


The flower beds in front of our house have never looked great, but I kind of got to the point where I just ignored them as I walked by every day.  Apparently, my husband got tired of how lousy they looked because, over the last couple of days, he did this:

We'll need to seed the dirt outside of the brick edging and get
some grass growing there, but it's such a vast improvement...

Complete with soaker hoses around the roses and everything.  Much, much better.  The next project is the flower beds on the other side of the house.  It must be summer time!


We have a little space in the backyard that we turned into an herb garden a few years ago.  Every spring the chives, rosemary, sage, and rhubarb come back in reasonable amounts, and I have to replant basil.  The oregano, however, has completely taken over.

You can see the broad-leafed rhubarb on the left and the purple flowers in front
are the chives.  The tall greenery in the back is the sage. And if you look closely
in the back right corner, there's a little sprig of rosemary tenaciously holding its
ground.  Pretty much everything else that's green is oregano.
I had no idea oregano was a ground cover...  I have a dehydrator so I'm pretty sure I literally have a lifetime supply here.  Seriously, though, this is the hardest thing for me in gardening.  Thinning out perfectly good plants and just pitching them seems so wasteful, so because I'm incapable of doing that, instead they go craaaay-zeeee.  Anybody want a starter for their own ground-cover oregano?


Yesterday was my last afternoon volunteering at my boys' elementary school for this year.  I enjoy making connections with other kids and getting to know the staff, and it's gratifying to feel like I'm doing something concrete to help the teachers who help my kids so much.  (Though I'm seriously considering drawing the line at sharpening pencils.  Do you have any idea how many pencils a classroom of 1st graders can go through?  By the end of that little project I was ready to break every single one of those newly re-sharpened pencils in two, but then I would have had to sharpen more, so I refrained.)  And yesterday I even got some yummy chocolate chip cookies (that I'm not sharing) with a sweet note from the boys' teachers.  Win-win-win.


Tuesday morning I baked chocolate cookies with peanut butter chips and asked Evan to draw a pretty picture for our friend Sammy.  He decided to draw a bunch of flowers in her favorite color, but since he didn't know what her favorite color was, he drew lots of flowers in all different colors to make sure he got at least one in the right shade.  Around mid-day we drove over to visit her, cookies and pretty picture in hand.  We only stayed for a few minutes - fifteen tops - because she was tired and even the best and most welcome of visitors can be draining.  We sat by her hospital bed, set up in the living room, and chatted about our family's upcoming camping trip, about the hummingbirds we saw around the feeders outside her window, about her favorite color (it's blue, so Evan had it covered).

Wednesday night, she passed away.  Sammy was a dear soul, friendly and feisty, generous, with a great sense of humor and optimism, always ready with a story and a plate of goodies.  It's been just barely a year now since I got the opportunity to get to know her better and I'll always be so grateful for that chance.  My life is richer for having known her.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Interfaith Coffee - er, Cocoa? - Talk

What do you get when you combine amazing stickily delicious pecan caramel rolls and yummy hot chocolate with a thoughtful interfaith discussion about how spirituality affects all kinds of relationships?

Spokane Faith & Values Coffee Talk, that's what.

This past Saturday morning I attended my first SpokaneFAVS Coffee Talk, hosted at Morning Sun Bakery. Panelists Amy Rice, Eric Blauer, Eli Sowry, and Rev. Jim CastroLang each presented their thoughts regarding spirituality and relationships and then the floor was opened for comments and questions from those who attended.  Over the course of an hour and a half, a wide range of relationships was covered; some discussion focused on the marriage relationship, some on celibacy or on friendships, some on how to deal with damaged relationships, or the relationship with self.

As I didn't start taking notes until halfway through and even then I got so caught up in listening that I neglected noting who said what, my report here will be less than complete.  Please forgive the lack of attribution, as I muse on some of the thoughts that were shared.

One panelist - or was it an audience member? - noted that the Right/Wrong dichotomy is destructive to relationships, particularly when "I'm right" means "You must be wrong."  While this is the case in pretty much any relationship, it's especially evident in many interfaith interactions that go bad.  If we focus on who's "right" and insist that that title can only go to one person, it's easy for a friendly conversation to turn into a defensive argument and to alienate others.  Of course, this doesn't require us to back down from our position or to acquiesce to those with whom we disagree, but it does require a degree of humility to accept that our view may not be the only "right" one.  And it requires a willingness to listen for the sole purpose of understanding the other person.  As a panelist said, "don't hide who you are, but don't be a jerk about it."

At another point, talking about authenticity in relationships, a panelist mentioned the shallow and ill-mannered phenomenon of befriending someone solely in the hopes of converting them.  Rather than getting to know you as an individual of value and worth regardless of your belief system, they try to "friendship you into the Kingdom."  I'm afraid that Mormons, as members of a missionary faith, are sometimes very susceptible to this temptation, though of course not uniquely so and perhaps not even intentionally.  I've witnessed several occasions - and heard of more - when people have been befriended by LDS neighbors or co-workers just long enough for said neighbors or co-workers to discover that these new faces are happy with their own faith and uninterested in getting "dunked" and joining the Church.  It becomes obvious shortly thereafter that there was an agenda attached to the acquaintance and without the possibility of a notch in the baptism belt, the relationship holds no more interest for the conversion-minded.  This is absolutely heart-breaking to me and so counter to how I understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.  True, authentic, real friendships don't come with agendas or strings attached or conversion conditions.

The bottom line for me in the whole discussion was this gem offered by a panelist toward the end of our time together: "Relationships mean becoming vulnerable.  When we're vulnerable to others, we become vulnerable to God, too."  As I've noted before, vulnerability is scary.  It opens up not only the possibility of making connections, but the possibility of being hurt as well.  But that's what I think we should all be reaching for.  Namaste, a common greeting among both Hindus and Buddhists in India, can be translated to mean "The God in me greets the God in you."  As we open ourselves to other children of God, to listen and learn from them, we make ourselves more open to God as well.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Dusting Off: History in the Making by Kyle Ward

Here's the second in my "Dusting Off" series.  History in the Making is one of those books that you just can't get out of your head.  I have thought about its lessons literally dozens of times since I first read it in 2010.  Professor Ward used history textbooks to making his point about how the telling of historical events changes of time, but what he demonstrates applies much more broadly, to media perspectives on current events, to social media, to personal memories.  It reminds me to be humble, because there's always more to the story or issue than I can see in a single glance.


“Textbooks should be written 'warts and all'”

What does a history professor with way too much time on his hands do? If you're Mr. Ward, you compile a fascinating survey of how the telling of American history has changed over the past two hundred years. For each of 50 historical topics he has culled a half dozen or so excerpts from hundreds of history textbooks that demonstrate how both the general perception and specific interpretation of events has altered. Aside from a brief introduction on each topic and a sentence or two before each excerpt pointing out the particular value of that passage, Mr. Ward allows the period texts to speak for themselves.

Mr. Ward approaches the project chronologically starting with “Native American Relations with the New Settlers” and ending with “The Reagan Revolution” - anything more recent, he says, hasn't had enough time to demonstrate any significant shifts in texts. The most obvious changes have to do with racist language and overtones, for example, from the 1844 text describing Native Americans as stereotypical and homogeneous “noble savages” to the 1986 text recognizing and respectfully distinguishing between the large number of distinct Native cultures. But I often found the subtle differences more interesting, especially when you could see how current events colored the description of the past. For example, the explanations of the Marshall Plan, where the United States provided supplies and money to help Europe rebuild after World War II, were shaded heavily by anti-Communist fears during the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s. Later texts, after the Cold War had ended, described the Plan in a much more neutral voice.

A topic near and dear to my heart, “The Mormons,” also demonstrated society's growing tolerance for differences. In 1866, we were “a strange sect” which “caus[ed] some disturbance in Illinois.” The text mentions “the absurdity of the religious pretenses,” and “the gross and immoral practice of polygamy” and identifies Brigham Young as “prophet, priest and king.” By 1944, it was acknowledged that “hostile neighbors” had “pushed [Mormons] from place to place” and that “by hard labor and efficient management, the Mormons in Utah made that desert blossom like a rose.” Later texts from 1966 and 1995 were generally even more positive, a trend I certainly hope continues.

History textbooks often have the unenviable task of distilling the myriad possible explanations of an event into a single narrative. Frequently, the causes those narratives pinpoint vary over time. Take the chapter on “Causes of the Stock Market Crash.” In 1933, they blamed return to the gold standard. By 1944, it was all Herbert Hoover's fault. Thirty years later, the picture gets more complex, identifying buying stocks on margin and a housing bubble as factors. Finally, in 1999, they detail how rampant speculation led first to the stock market crash and then the failure of banks, and end by acknowledging that the causes of the Great Depression are still up for debate.

Very few topics remained consistently told over the two hundred years. One of those exceptions is Abraham Lincoln. The image of a self-made man who came from a poor background, educated himself and rose to the stature of President was presented in textbooks as early as 1866 and is largely the same image presented in classrooms right now. Other topics are intriguing for how they have all but disappeared in modern American history textbooks. The settlement at New Sweden, the Caroline Affair, and the Dakota Conflict of 1862 all featured heavily in textbooks up until the 1910s or so. They don't even earn a mention in most history textbooks today.

Oddly, the lessons I took away from this book you won't find spelled out on the printed page. First of all, be skeptical. Don't accept what you read online or in newspapers today as the 100% accurate version of events. Perspectives can change so drastically that it's practically guaranteed that any analysis you read this morning will be strikingly different in as little as 5 or 10 years.

Secondly, everybody has an opinion. Even with honest intentions and best efforts to write an objective and balanced account, any single explanation will be incomplete. The only hope we have to start getting at the “real” story (understood through the prism of our own perspective, opinions, and experience, of course) is to gather information from multiple sources with varying viewpoints and then leave our minds open to accumulate and assimilate new data as it comes.

History in the Making: An Absorbing Look at How American History Has Changed in the Telling over the Last 200 Years
by Kyle Ward
ISBN: 9781615554850
Buy it from Amazon here: (ebook, hardcover, paperback)
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here),