Friday, November 30, 2012

She crawls!

We promised a forthcoming crawling video back at the 8 months post... enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Happy Halloween Day!

As it was the first Halloween where Atticus really got into, we decided to go all out and borrow costumes from our friends and trick-or-treat in our Eagle Heights neighborhood. Atticus actually really wanted to be Super Why, but I did not have the capacity to make a costume nor the money to buy one. He made a very cute penguin, and once we picked up the costume from his friend Kylie, he was more than happy to wear it (though we thought it was his size, and turned out to be a 12-18 months....)

His school had a little parade, so this is all the photographic evidence we can provide of the occasion. Tallulah was a very cute kangaroo, and maybe there is a picture of her somewhere, on some camera. 

My favorite part of the evening was our Chinese neighbors exclaiming "Happy Halloween Day!" Language can be so funny.

This could also be seen as kind of a Halloween-y picture, so I included it here

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Myth of the Welfare Queen

Disclaimer: While I feel like I have a fairly good grasp of this topic, it's not terribly well-researched and the numbers are approximate based on several sources.

A long time ago, in a land called America, there lived a president named Ronald Reagan who reigned supreme. Everyone loved him, and he perpetuated myths of welfare dependency....

Conservatives have this long-standing belief that there are millions upon millions of Americans mooching off public coffers and stealing the money of the hard-earned tax-paying middle class.

Anyways, I think I read about 10% of Americans live below the poverty line ($21,000 abouts), most of them single mothers and children. 4.4 million Americans (approx.) are on "welfare," (that's like 1 in 75?) meaning monetary payments in the form of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). There are limits on how long you can be in the program, and the allowance is a pittance (I read on USA Today that the average allotment is something like $68 a month in Texas). Moreover, there are work requirements and you must be engaged in some kind of work activity if you can't find a job at least 30 hours a week like community service or education. If you have a child under 6, the requirements are less stringent. Now, I've never been on TANF, and I don't know how this is enforced but I know that you would have a caseworker who would make sure you were trying to find employment. Food stamps and Medicaid are more flexible, and you can be on those for longer periods of time. But they both have a work requirement as well, that varies state by state. I know when we were getting food stamps we didn't get any money for Tim because he was a full-time student, and we didn't get any money for me when I stopped working temporarily and was between jobs, even though I had a child under the age of 2. The average allotment for the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) is $150 a month. We get about that much for our family of four with an income of $2000 a month. It helps, but it's not like we are out buying caviar (yes, we did get more when we were making less money a month, but still it wasn't THAT much).

Anyways, back to the working requirements. Apparently, only 30% of those 4 million Americans receiving TANF are not working, and my guess is most of these are single mothers of very young children. And let me tell you, I don't believe the myth that mothers are having children just to stay on welfare because FREAK, KIDS ARE HARD. If I didn't want them, I certainly would not keep intentionally getting pregnant and birthing them for $100 a month, I can tell you that. I would freaking go work because being a mother of a baby is way harder than most jobs out there, I wager. Also, I found a study somewhere that said the number of children born to poor family was not statistically higher than the number born to non-poor families. A lot of it was skewed with education level, conservative states with less access to birth control, etc.

It comes to this: are poor people just lazy? Or are structural institutions to blame for poverty? I don't think people choose to be in poverty just like I didn't choose to be born to a family with an involved mother and father who made sure I succeeded and helped me out along the way to get me where I am today. That's not to say I didn't work hard either, but in reality, I didn't really. I had wonderful teachers, a free college education courtesy of my brain and my parents and Pell grants, I had every opportunity to succeed. But most people don't. They have absent parents and overcrowded schools and cheap daycares. They are subject to sexual and physical abuse. There is so, so much structural violence in the US that keeps poor people (especially minorities) poor. What we need to do is stop judging and blaming individuals and take a step back and examine our institutions, [mis]perceptions, and how we can fix things.

If you are really concerned about welfare payments, you should be looking at corporations. The US government spends twice as much in corporate welfare payments than individual welfare payments. AND if you're worried about welfare fraud, it's a pittance compared to the money lost due to white-collar crimes and corporate fraud that takes place every year, so you should really be attacking CEOs.

PS: It actually wasn't your conservative heroes who played a part in these stricter work requirements for welfare payments Good old Bill Clinton was actually the president that "reformed" welfare in the past few decades by introducing more stringent TANF to replace the previous AFDC system. It increased work requirements and cut the number of people on the program to half between 1996 until the recession in 2007 (however, some progressives blame Clinton for ending welfare and thus hurting many families since he did not foresee the recession of the past years, and many families that could use TANF funds now do not have access to them). But yeah, if you are into that kind of thing, thank Clinton for it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Movie Night

Alright everyone, Cait and I don't get out on too many dates, and we have photographic evidence of even fewer. So let's post about one of the few we do. Cait and I got some of her friends from school to come watch our kids so we could go see hunger games for free at the University a little while after it came out. We had a debate about whether or not we should leave Tallulah, and after some pressuring from me, we decided to leave her.

Only a little while after we got on the bus the sitters called to say that she wouldn't stop screaming. So after some more pressure from me to wait until we got to school, we called back and she was still crying. So one of the sitters stayed with Atticus (who was great the whole time) and the other drove Tallulah to us, and Tallulah promptly fell asleep as soon as they started driving. Cait went out to get her and I stayed in line for the movie.

We stayed at the movie until the violence started, and decided it wasn't for us. So we had a nice time waiting for the bus and talking about the place of violence in our lives (we both agreed that we would like to minimize it), we took the bus home and some nice foreign girls took our picture for us. And do you know how lucky you are? You get one with flash and one without.

Hot couple with a cute baby. You can't beat it. Also, this picture is great for showing how different my beard is in color to my hair. I know you all love when I talk about my beard in photo captions. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Don't hate on Twilight: A thought experiment

Alright, I'm going to dissent from the common stance of hating on Twilight for one blogpost even though I'm not sure if even I agree with what I say. But I enjoy exploring opposite points of view and this one is particularly interesting to me. This post applies only to the books, because I haven't seen any of the movies and am not as interested in talking about movies and talking about books. Also, this is repost from a comment I made on the feminist mormon housewives page, so there is a slim chance you have seen it before, but if you are so obsessed with us that you read every comment we make on Facebook, you probably wont mind reading anything we write twice.

I think one of the possible interpretations of Twilight might be that even narcissistic, excessively pessimistic people are real people too, with real emotions and feelings, who can do great things if they start believing in themselves. And that sometimes what they need to believe in themselves is another narcissistic, pessimistic person to come along, who, even though they still hate themselves, they believe in the other person.

Don't we all believe that about everyone? That everyone, deep down is a self-obsessed worrier and that one of the keys to joy in this life is to surround yourself with people who love you and see that this self-obsessed worrier isn't the real you, but who sees the potential for greatness within you.

Listen, I hate the characters in Twilight (and yes, I've read all the books). If I met them in real life, I would hate them. But that doesn't mean that there aren't real people like that out there, and that their feelings and experience are just as valid as my own. I also hate all the characters in Wuthering Heights, and yet it is still a great book (a reference that Meyers makes several times throughout the series).

Is it not possible that by showing the most extreme cases of emo self absorption, Meyers is making the argument that even the worst narcissism can be overcome when you stop thinking about yourself and start thinking instead about those you love and seeing yourself through their eyes?

We have this idea that everyone, and especially now, every woman should be fine completely on their own. That they don't need anyone else to be a happy and complete person. But maybe that is false, at least for some people. Yes, you can't be in a whole relationship unless you are a whole person, but Bella's relationship is totally screwed up until she begins to accept that she too is a person of worth, both within and outside of the relationship (which she does by understanding and then rejecting on some level Jacob's love for her.

I think maybe Bella's transformation to a strong, independent {SPOILER} vampire {END SPOILER} marks the true intention of these books. Yes, girls become obsessed with boys and boys, even when they are hundreds of years old become obsessed with girls, for no apparent reason. They become overly obsessed sometimes. We don't fault Romeo and Juliet for this obsession of youth, why should we do it with Twilight. Yes, of course Romeo and Juliet is better writing, but on this point, they seem completely similar. And rather than commit suicide, both of the people in the relationship attempt to meet the other where they are, and find some sort of compromise through a {SPOILER} terribly named baby. {END SPOILER}

Well, anyway, I think that is one interpretation. and once again, I"m not sure if even I believe it. But I challenge you to tell me why Twilight is fundamentally worse than Wuthering Heights (besides the writing, all you English majors, because maybe one definition of "good" writing is what moves people, and I would argue that Twilight has done that more than Wuthering Heights, even if her sentences aren't as beautifully constructed) If you have read this far, pat yourself on the back for considering the alternative viewpoint. I know I am patting myself on the back for writing it.

Or we should all just hate Twilight as much as Robert Pattinson apparently does:

Probably the latter.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Baseball game

We had a great time going to a Brewers game with the Political Science grad department in the waning days of summer. Baseball games are just a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Atticus really was into it until the last few innings, especially since he got some bobble heads at the gate. The one bobbly head that survived the bus ride home is still one of his favorite toys.

Lunch in the back of the bus.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Wild turkeys

They live in the woods behind our building and sometimes come out to play at our "park":

He wears underwear more now that he is fully potty-trained (HALLELUJAH!)
Atticus chases them back to the woods

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Boogs at 8 months

I don't know where that nickname came from, but it has kind of stuck. She is often referred to as "Boogs" "Boobs" and "Badoogs"... but usually she is just our Lu. Happy eight months of life, baby girl.

And she is still the most delightful child. Even while teething and with a cold. Happy as can be. She loves food and eats anything we put within reach. She loves her big brother and today she pushed a car around on a track and we were thoroughly impressed. She also can crawl backwards and sometimes forwards.

Having fun isn't hard when your parents have a library card...

Also, you can expect a crawling post real soon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Atheist potluck

More of everyone's favorite posts: Boring stuff we did 2 months ago. I can't decide whether to spread these out or to milk them for all they're worth (I almost typed "their worth" and didn't but you know what? "Their worth" would have worked just fine too). 

So, we went to a nice Atheist potluck. Free thinkers sure no how to cook. It was also bitterly cold, even on September 22, while today was 70 degrees. Wisconsin weather is very unpredictable. Atticus was entertained by dancing in front of a man's iPhone and then watching it... over... and over... and over again. Luckily skeptics don't have a lot of children so they are a novelty and everyone loves them.

And that's all I have to say about that.

I'm obviously proud in this picture. But is it of my child or my beard?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Faith Crisis: I will go, I will do *fist pump*

It's time for a little faith crisis update. Actually, it's not little, it's obnoxiously long. Sorry, I guess I should have made these more frequent, but they are infuriatingly hard to write.

When we came to Madison, we went to LDS Church the first Sunday here. The walk was longer than we would had thought it would be, it was hot (it wasn't supposed to be hot in Madison) and we lost Sophie, Lula's favorite toy. We got to Church late, caught the end of testimony and then went to unfamiliar classes with unfamiliar people (although we met plenty of nice people). We left disappointed. Our faith crisis had hit a height listening to the story of a CES couple that had left the church on our drive out to Madison. They just seemed like such nice people and their reasoning seemed so sound. Underwhelmed at our first LDS experience in Madison, we decided to try the Unitarian-Universalist church. We found the people just as friendly, if not more. The meeting was engaging, the nursery great and full-time, the building beautiful and the ideas of the sermon refreshingly in-line with what had come to be our core beliefs. It was also so much CLOSER.

We thus got in the habit of going to the First Unitarian Society (FUS) every Sunday. We still went to some Church gatherings and got to know some of the members of the ward better through these gatherings and as some families invited us into their homes for dinner. Still, we were so enamored with FUS (and how close it was), so we continued to go there. I (we) became more comfortable thinking of ourselves as inactive or post or whatever Mormons. I took Atticus to the last two hours of Church one Sunday, but that was it. While we certainly enjoyed FUS, it acted more as a stopgap for the hole left by not going to the LDS church than as a true faith home.

This went on until General Conference (so, something like two months). I had been planning on giving General Conference a pass this time around, in my effort to gain some space from and perspective on what my faith was when not supported by constant Church interaction (if it existed at all outside of that context). But an invitation from several friends and family to watch convinced me to change my mind. I spent the night before preparing my mind to be open and receive what knowledge or inspiration or whatever that I could get from the teachings of these familiar authority figures.

My feelings during conference vacillated along with the different sessions. I've rehashed those feelings in another post, so I'll leave that to you to read (again) if you like. I continued swinging back and forth between belief and disbelief, but we continued to stay away from Church (we made an attempt once, but a rough night before the 9AM meetings kept us away) and FUS began to feel more and more like a solid faith home for us. I still felt yearnings for a return to the faith of my youth, but I also knew that there were major moral difficulties impeding that return.

In the past week or so, I got to a better place about my internal wranglings with my LDS faith. I saw through some alternative online sources, examples of smart, informed people who were making being liberal Mormons work, and I wanted to be like them. More than that, I wanted to be an example for the people who have reached out to us about their own faith crises of someone who could make being a liberal Mormon work. I started thinking that maybe we just hadn't given the ward here a chance. We had made some really good friends in the ward, and we knew there were plenty of other people in the ward struggling with their faith too. I started reading the scriptures and praying (in the Mormon way...mostly). I felt like I could get to a place where I could take the good that I felt coming from the Church and push all the other upsetting things aside.

So, in this spirit, I decided to go to the 4:30 pm option for FUS on Saturday night to make room for us to go to LDS Church, which at 9-12 would prevent us from going to either the 9am or 11 am FUS meetings. Cait came with me to the 4:30 sermon and the delicious potluck afterwards. Whatever happens on our faith journey here in Madison, I don't really see a path that keeps us away from FUS. If you are having your own faith difficulties based on being a liberal in a conservative church, head to the closest UU church and spend some time with people in the same boat. You can thank us later. Anyway, we got things organized for a busy Sunday with LDS Church in the morning, FUS new member meetings (we are joining at the end of our 4-week orientation) at 1pm, home teachers at 4pm and maybe a Diwali festival at night at 7pm.
I put on my garments for the first time in a while, put on a white shirt, my suit and even my dress shoes (I wore my five fingers both times at church before) and biked off to church with Atticus. In the end Cait decided she wasn't up for it. We got to church in time for the Sacrament, which I haven't taken since we stopped in at a ward in Arkansas on our way to Wisconsin. It was gratifying to see Atticus sit still for the sacrament so nicely. He got restless and so I sent him out in foyer with the iPad while I sat where I could see him from the Chapel. Not forcing kids to sit through meetings that are often boring even for adults is one of the values that I would carry with me from FUS if I were to return to Church, not like we were any good at keeping our kids quiet during Sacrament before FUS.

Everything was going well until the meeting continued after the sacrament (so, for a total of like 8 minutes). The program was a primary program and I knew that was going to be a problem from the start. One of the two key difficulties that spurred my faith crisis, along with Prop 8, was the doubt I felt soon after Atticus's birth about bringing my kid up in a church that started from a young age to teach, as truth, principles that could only be proven true through personal inspiration. As one after another of the kids went up with unequivocal statements of belief in things way beyond their powers of understanding, I grew steadily more uncomfortable.

If anyone is reading this had any hand in organizing this program, or one like it, please try not to take offense, although I realize that this is probably impossible. This was a beautifully put together program, with all the kids nailing their parts, the music well sung, and with more than a few nods to the diversity of our ward with Spanish portions of the program. This program ran just like a church primary program is supposed to, and therein lies the problem for me.

The theme was "Choose the Right." I don't have any problem with choosing the right, of course, but when "the right" apparently consists solely of reading your scriptures, paying your tithing, going to church, saying your prayers and being obedient to your parents, with nary a mention of treating others with kindness, accepting differences or cleaning up the earth, "the right" seems to mean doing things to cement your Mormonism from as early a stage as possible.

There was a lot of discussion about baptism, and a rendition of "The Baptism Song" that talks about how the children want to be "clean as the earth after rain" in the eyes of God by being baptized and joining the LDS Church. I never want my 8-year-old son or daughter thinking that they are dirty in the eyes of God for fighting with their friend or telling a lie. That's patently absurd. The idea of baptism as working towards an eternal family always sounded so nice until I realized the threat implicit in this way of thinking: join the Church or you will be apart from your family forever in heaven.

Another section, and the worst for me, of the meeting was about examples of people who chose the right in scriptures. The four examples were Nephi, Moroni, Ammon and Abraham. These, for me, are the four most troubling scripture heroes. The highlights of each of these men's (in its own way problematic, of course) experiences is infused with violence. Does getting the scriptures back from evil men really justify beheading a drunk guy, no matter how bad a guy he seems to be, passed out on some back street? There are some people around today who behead people because they defile their scriptures. Not really heroes. Moroni had an entire group of anti-war protestors executed? No matter how politically motivated anti-war protestors are (Vietnam?), a mass execution is never the answer. Ammon's main highlight was bringing a huge pile of arms he had cut off to a man who he wanted to convert to the church. Abraham has been a huge figure in my faith crisis from very early on. Let's just say, if a voice in my head, or even angels or god visiting me in my tent, tells me to take my son up to a hill to execute him to prove my faith, I'm checking myself into the nearest mental hospital, not loading up the donkey. "I will go and do" with dozens of little hands pumping up in the air was definitely the low point for me.

Listen, I know that the LDS Church isn't trying to turn all the young children into blood-thirsty arm slicers who might try to sacrifice loved ones at random intervals. What they are trying to do is convince the young children to do whatever it takes to be a good Mormon, and resist any attempt to be swayed from this course with resistance akin to violence. I've seen this violent defense of the faith from people I care about, where keeping me and my kids in the church trumps any pretense of civility (if you're reading this and wonder if I'm referring to you, I'm not. Trust me). I've seen it in violent condemnations of all gay people as disgusting or inherently evil. I've seen it in the dismissal of any woman who questions their place in the church as a "whiny femi-nazi." I know that there are plenty of wise and discerning adults who are able to resist calls for loyalty over morality and still remain in the church, but the high-level reasoning and abstraction that such paradoxical thinking demands simply isn't present in 6-year-olds.

Contrast this with our experience the night before the FUS. After a sermon about how important it was not to let our own ideas of what is right or wrong affect how we treat every other person we come in contact with, on the difference between kind criticism and final judgement, there was a question and answer session with the minster, where people in the congregation shared their own experience and asked questions. And then we had a potluck that exceeded any Mormon potluck I've ever been to by far (no jello as far as the eye could see). During the service a youth choir sang some beautiful numbers (link is by another group) about what it meant to search for identity and truth in youth. It's easy to dismiss the words to these songs as lacking in substance, but like so many other things in the UU church, space is intentionally left for each individual to fill in with their own experience and spirituality.

It's that space that is so desperately lacking in the LDS church and it's that space that I want for my children as they try to discover who they are. I don't know who they're supposed to be, the primary teacher doesn't know who they are supposed to be and the prophet doesn't know who they are supposed to be.

Sunday was a major blow to my fledgling efforts to reclaim my LDS faith. I realized that even with the best of wards, and this one is great, there are some fundamental and universal aspects of the church that I find morally repugnant, no matte how sweetly they are presented. The thought I kept having while watching the program was this: there has to be some line drawn. There has to be a line that I draw about how far a church can go teaching things that I find morally objectionable as truth before I abandon it. There has to be an even stricter line about how much I allow that church to teach my children, and impel me to teach my children, absolute truth claims and invariable value systems which we admit can only be verified through personal interaction with the divine, starting at the "crib side."

I'm not sure exactly where those lines are, but I'm sure of this: Within whatever limits those lines could possibly be drawn for me, they were crossed long, long ago.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Unsanitary conditions

I was thinking the other morning when I was getting grossed out by a dirty countertop that we live an incredibly bizarre sanitary life. We have little interaction with real gross stuff. You do more when you are a parent, but we still have tissues to wipe our kids' noses with and disposable diapers to wrap up the poop and throw it away. We rarely are subjected to strong sensory experiences. I was thinking about the things I touch every day, and they are mostly plastic. When was the last time I dunked my hands into something slimy or laid naked in the grass? I even do a lot of kneading dough and bathing with my babies and playing outside, and I still often feel sensory deprived. I'm questioning my career path as well, locked inside my office doing research and writing for hours upon end, staring at a computer screen all. day. long. I know it makes Atticus incredibly grumpy when he watches too many episodes of Super Why! so I wonder how it will affect my life to be perpetually lacking in sensations. I also get from my mom an unusually keen sense of smell, so if my house smells musty or stale it really bothers me, but I don't like to use fake scented stuff. So, I'm trying to find ways to freshen up the house without hurting our lungs. Any suggestions?

I was thinking about ways to integrate sensory experiences into my every day life, and that of my children. I'm going to start walking outside more instead of taking the bus, cooking and baking more, playing with playdough and finger-painting and sewing. Listening to beautiful music. Yoga. Using essential oils in our baths and soaps (and playdough).

What do you do to utilize or thrill your senses?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Trying food

Alright, so I failed Nablopomo. Oh well. The election just threw me all off, because I was interested in a lot of the rehash in the news and on facebook. Moving on.

Tallulah has started eating food. Super exciting post right? But let's just stop and think about it for a minute. 8 months ago this child was receiving all her nutrition through a tube connected to her belly. And then she had a diet of nothing but milk secreted by her mother. Yes, secreted. And after less that 3/4 of a year, she can eat things that grow randomly out of the ground (she's been vegetarian so far) on a planet on where she didn't even exist a year and a half ago. That's insane. Sometimes, just because every other baby does the same thing at the same age, I think we lose perspective about just how miraculous the beginnings of human life are. Blows my mind.

So far, she is really into bread, broccoli and beans. We tried to start her out with asparagus, anchovies and artichokes, but that never took. First sentence true, second sentence not. Just like Atticus, she totally rejected baby foods and prefers partially regurgitated people food, but only if you don't give it to her on a spoon, which she has learned not to trust. That's our little sceptic.

Enjoy pictures and a video. Sorry, it's google video you can't see on iPads, but loading it to youtube and then to blogger just so you didn't have to get on your PC just to see our kid eating soup seemed too hard.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The News

So, Cait posted my "about us" section to the Feminist Mormon Housewives Facebook page and it got a lot of response and I think, also brought us some new readers. Welcome, I would like to consider myself a Feminist, a Mormon and Housewife, at least in some capacity. But you should know that most of the stuff we post here are rather boring and not nearly as funny as that post. Oh well. I'd like to tap into that new readership and our old readership and ask help with a moral dilemma. Don't worry, it's not that big of deal. But one thing about having a fundamental faith crisis is that it forces you to really reevaluate a lot of what you consider good and bad.

For a long time I have really been a news junkie. I love being "informed." By that I meant knowing more about what is going on in the world than anyone else. It isn't all about the competition of course. I've always felt there is intrinsic value in understanding better the world we live in. I still believe that gaining knowledge is a vital part of any good existence. Looking outside oneself adds a needed perspective. I'm just not convinced that reading the news is the way to do that.

As I've mentioned, I've been reading more Zen and Taoist teachings lately, and some of the writers that I've read have spoken out against the news, and their arguments have rang true to me. For the writer of The Tao of Pooh, reading the news is something that we do to keep ourselves busy, to convince ourselves that we are doing something valuable, when really we are just filling time.

One of the prime examples of that for me lately has been the election. I love reading about politics, the latest polls or the latest strategy shift. But how much of a better person am I for having read all these articles about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama and Ron Paul? I've known who I was voting for for 4 years, and although I had a short flirtation with Jon Huntsman, I've always known who I was voting for. Even if I hadn't been so sure about who I was voting for, I could have learned a lot more about the candidates reading the a few position paers than I could have watching a month of CNN. Lately I've been thinking about voting for Jill Stein, but I heard nothing about her in the news, but rather doing research about candidates on Wikipedia and other sites. In a few hours, all the time I spent trying to learn about who was going to win the election will be completely useless. The main point was to make myself feel good about my political opinoins by convincing myself that the person I wanted to win was going to win and to be better able to argue with anyone who disagreed with me.

What about reading about what is going on in Africa? Reading about conflict and violence has always seemed like a clear obligation. I live in a safe place where war does not threaten often, but that doesn't give me the right to be ignorant about the terrible things that are happening to other people far away. Another Zen writer that I have now forgotten said this was the worst kind of news. By allowing violence to enter into our lives, we become participants in that violence by getting some form of entertainment from it, which is all it really is if we don't do anything about the conflict. Sometimes I feel like we read about conflict and violence to convince ourselves that we're doing our moral part by being "aware." Wouldn't my time be better spent reading a book about some of the roots of different conflicts and what about how US policies are affecting that our how these diamonds that I'm buying are contributing to the conflict.

But at the same time, I hate being out of the loop on anything. I don't like feeling stupid when I don't know about some major world event that is going on. But maybe I can get "all the news I need from the weather report" and focus more on what is going on right in front of me instead of trying to accomplish the impossible task of being "informed" about what is "really going on" in the rest of the world.

Also, my favorite shirt is an NPR shirt that says "Get Smarter." I don't want to betray my favorite shirt.

Any thoughts or critiques? I realize this isn't that big a deal, but being at home with the kids gives me a lot of time to contemplate moral dillemas. Any other news junkies out there? Some news sources are obviously of more worth than others, any favorites? Anybody succesfully given up the news addiction? Let me know.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Today I wrote up a section of "About Us" information. I started out thinking it would be boring, but it turned out to be the funniest/most offensive thing I've written on the blog. So, check it out. It'll be a relief after the all too personal/serious post yesterday. And that's my blog post for the day.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Grandpa

I only have one Grandpa. No disrespect to my Grandpa Ron, but I've only met you 4 or 5 times, and only remember meeting you twice. Actually, a little disrespect, because you could at least of sent us a card or something. Anyway. My Grandpa Browning was an important part of my life from as early as I can remember. No place in the world is as saturated with memory for me as my grandparents' home. All the kids gathering together in the front room to watch the Disney Channel (back when you had to subscribe to it) on the TV next to the organ or, when we were older, in the basement to watch Snick, under the soft light of the fluorescent bulb tucked under the overhanging bookshelf. Family picnics in the backyard, with blankets spread out everywhere and volleyball and croquet afterwards. The stairs starting from the floor of the outdoor garage that lead nowhere but to the underside of the deck, but seem to lead to a land of mystery and wonder. It's amazing to me that almost everyone in the world has gone their whole lives without reaching down into the bottom corner of the front room closet door to get at the toys inside, or stood by my grandfather as he put more wood into the small fireplace that heated their self-built home for so many years. For me, having slept over at my grandparents home is an essential part of being human. That my grandparents built that home on their own, with no architect and no adherence to popular style infused the entire house with personality and identity. The bedroom doors slide into the walls!

Almost every photo credit in this post goes to my sister Charity

This, for me, is the greatest legacy of my grandfather. He was not a man of many words. I had no deep conversations with him and can't remember any advice that he gave me. But I will always be grateful that through the deepness of the good that defined his life, his home, created in true partnership with his wife, was the safest, most comforting environment that I have experienced anywhere on earth.

My Grandpa and My Dad playing checkers on the board that my Grandpa built in the house that he built

My childhood suffered some serious blows this year when most of the yard around my grandparents house, but not their house, was burned in a large forest fire. That fire took the trees we used to climb and that crazy, mysterious old clubhouse tucked up a few yards into the tree line.

My grandparents house in the one on the left side of the main road at the far right of this picture or to the left of the main road in the center, not sure which. Either way, it was close.

And then, yesterday, came the much more thorough blow of losing my only Grandpa. Lost from the world is one of the rarest breed of all, the man who can go his whole life without saying anything negative about anyone. My grandfather epitomized the quiet grace that I see to be as close to the ideal of humanity as it is possible to be. His partnership with my beloved Grandma was a true partnership based on love and appreciation for the foundational joys of life. His ways were simple and his means simpler still, but in days filled with quiet conversations with family, simple and wholesome food and Lawrence Welk and Little House on the Prairie, highlighted by constant trips to be present at important family events, he found a truly fulfilling life that sustained him until the end.

My one distinct memory of something my grandpa said (except the past few years when he asks me who I was again), came when I was getting my Eagle Scout award. I had just 18, and was dressed in a scout uniform that was too small and surrounded by family (and maybe a girlfriend and her family) on a pristine October General Conference afternoon. In presenting me the Eagle Scout medallion, my grandpa said something like this:

"We Brownings don't have a long list of famous people in our history. We are not well known in politics or business. We might not have anything that the world says we should be proud of. That does not stop me from being proud of what we have. We have a family that is close and a family that is good. As far as I know every member of the family for generations has belonged to the LDS Church and that makes us a faithful family. We can be proud of those things."

I know it is self-centered to say so (but there's no better place than a blog to say self-centered things) but my greatest sorrow with the passing of my grandfather is not that he has passed, it's that I have failed to live up to his legacy. His death is, of course, something to mourn, because I have lost a great person in my life. However, my trips to my grandparents' home have become much less frequent over the years and I'm unlikely to feel the immediate loss in substantial ways. My grandpa has been sick for a long time and I have been prepared his passing for years. No, my greater sorrow was one that I had not anticipated. Back in 2003 when my grandpa said those words that indicated the link between being Browning and Mormon, I couldn't imagine a time when I would be seen as a broken link in a long, sturdy chain.

Blessing Atticus

If I had a choice, I would wish that our family legacy wasn't tied up with belonging to a specific group or adherence to a specific faith, but it is useless to try to separate the spirit of the safety and love that I felt in my Grandparents home from the from the divine Spirit that they attempt to cultivate through adherence to the tenants of their faith. As I've retreated from full participation in the LDS Church and from many of beliefs I used to hold as incontrovertible, driven by a deep moral divide with many aspects of the Church, I've experienced the same difficulty, that of separating the good from the Mormon, in many aspects of my life.

The loss of my grandfather has struck me in the same fundamental way that my loss of faith has. Church used to be a place that I felt at home, no matter where the Church happened to be. My grandparents house used to be a place where I felt like a protected, comforted child no matter what age I was. Now, even if I go back to those places, while I'll still find people who love me and welcome me fully, they will never, ever be the same.