Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas with the Carings

We have a lovely and relaxing Christmas here in Madison. We tried to start some fun traditions, and succeeded at some while failing at others. I started to make an advent calendar, but only made it through December 15th with ideas, and then failed on like the third day and didn't do what was on the card. Oh well. 

We did make gingerbread cookies, went to some fantastic activities at the UU church including a fun service where the kids dressed up and acted out the nativity, sang in the choir at our ward Christmas program, ate traditional Finnish Christmas Eve dinner with our friends, visited Santa Claus at the mall, and decorated our tree with Christmas cards and homemade salt dough ornaments. The kids received a few gifts each from their grandparents and Aunt Devany, and it was plenty for them. Tim and I watched Christmas movies every night this week, from Love Actually to Mr. Krueger's Christmas. A winter storm blew in a few days before, and so it was a very white Christmas indeed. The nighttime walks through the snow were heavy with the smells and sights of the season. It was a beautiful few weeks.

All the presents were pretty much for him.

Atticus kept saying "this is the best Christmas EVER." Apparently his expectations were set very low.

I attempted to be crafty. They turned out OK, but never hardened and were really porous, and not worth mailing but they were intended for the grandparents and great-grandparents. Oh well, maybe next year!

Who needs expensive ornaments?

The stockings were hung on the... wall... with care.

Terrible Santa Claus, but it was SO nice that they didn't have a photographer and you could just take your own pictures (though we forgot our camera so we just have iPhone pics). Hilldale is the greatest mall ever -- very few chains, lots of local shops, super low-key and non-commercial.

Gingerbread houses at our awesome mall. 
It was a magical season.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

How PANTS restored my faith in Mormanity

As most of you have guessed, Tim and I have been attending our local LDS congregation more and more over the past month or so. We've made some really wonderful friends, and felt incredibly welcomed there, and so were naturally balancing our LDS church-going with a Unitarian service on Saturday, because we also really like the spirit we feel there. I still felt (and probably will feel again after the high of last weekend wears off) really conflicted about my testimony, and the Church in general, specifically with modern-day issues of gender equality and gay rights, and with glossed over historical facts that leave my stomach in knots. Every Sunday, I wake up and wonder if it's worth it. Worth it to get dressed, get my kids out the door at 8:30, bike the 1.5 miles to Church in the cold, sit through three occasionally frustrating meetings. I've had many doubts about doctrine, to the point I've been on the brink of submitting a resignation letter several times. Add that to my exasperation over how our families are treating us in the wake of our doubts, and it's enough to send anyone heading for the hills.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was reading on Stephanie Lauritzen's blog after a reader Jamie linked to it in a comment here. I read about her desire to practice some civil disobedience, to end the silence that Mormon feminists often partake of in their ward families, for fear of ostracism. I too had that fear for a long, long time, until recently really coming out in strong support of certain issues. I remember being a child and then a teen and having so many questions on things I was reading and learning, but no one to broach the topic with. It wasn't until I found like-minded individuals at BYU, and subsequently in the bloggernacle through FMH, Mormon Stories, and others, that I realized I was not the only one with these questions, and they didn't make me a bad person, or even a bad Mormon for having them. I yearned for more connection with these like-minded individuals, and Stephanie proposed a solution that resonated deeply with me: for one Sunday, December 16th, we'd all wear pants to Church! We'd find each other, if we happened to be in the same ward. If we were alone, we would sit in our pants knowing that hundreds of our fellow feminists would be wearing them at the same time, all over the US. We thought it was brilliant, and more and more women (and men!) joined the crusade.

Then the ugliness began, and wow, was it ever ugly. Our fellow Saints chastised us, berated us, called us to repentance, threatened to take away our temple recommends, even posted death threats ("feminists should all be round up and shot..." etc.) It reminded me of the time I received some pretty ridiculous emails in response to a letter to the editor I wrote at BYU, and then later an op-ed I wrote with Tim. The letter was about my discomfort with the Church's stance against Prop 8, and I was told that my temple recommend should be revoked and I shouldn't be allowed to be a student at BYU. The op-ed I wrote was co-wrote with Tim in our first year of marriage about equality in marriage, to which one email response was: "obviously, you two aren't married..."

And I could not help but think the entire time about Heavenly Father and Mother, slamming their faces on their desks as their daughters were once again subject to such perverted forms of male domination and patriarchy, and all in Their name, to boot. As backlash to the hatred (hahaha), moderate Mormons joined the event, realizing the reasons why feminists feel so alienated, if this is the kind of reception they get on a local level. And when it came to Sunday the 16th, thousands upon thousands of women wore pants, and even more wore purple in solidarity. At our ward, my visiting teacher was in pants, our choir director was in pants, and one woman I had never talked to but apparently is a feminist was in pants as well. And there was lots of purple, perhaps in solidarity or unintentional. I did not receive any weird looks or even sideways glances. I felt everything I had imagined I wouldn't: an outpouring of the Spirit and feelings of love and connection with my fellow Saints.

Tim and I were singing in the choir as a favor to our friend Jenny (who was wearing leggings? coincidence maybe?), and I could barely keep it together during some of the songs. When the primary children came up and sang "Stars were Gleaming" in English and Spanish, I could sense something, some kind of hope for the future. I saw these children, white and Hispanic but with little sense of their different race or ethnicity of legal status, and I could picture a brighter future in our Church, with real change.

After Sacrament Meeting, our bishop called us in his office to talk to us, and pretty much said: "we're glad you're here, I know you have doubts, but let me know if you'd like to talk sometime" and even wanted to hear more about our experiences at the UU church. Never judging, never questioning our motives or our faith, just having an open and honest discussion. The cherry on top of our already delicious Sundae (hahaha) was my Relief Society teacher opening with "I don't agree with most of these quotes in this lesson... so let's work through it together." If only more teachers were brave enough to declare that outright.

My conclusions from pants Sunday: if your friends are liberal and questioning the Church, you probably won't bring them back with saying any of these things, but give them an opportunity for civil disobedience and they will gladly return.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My first UUs

Before we moved to Madison, I had one experience with Unitarian Universalism. One of my very best high school friends, Alice, had two lovely UU parents. They were open-minded and kind and ate tabbouleh. Her mom, Janet, even kept her last name, which I had never even heard of back then and was a strange concept to me. And her dad worked for public television. They also hung their laundry on the line... and get this... opened their windows at night in the spring and fall to let in the cool air and then kept their curtains shut in the day to keep out the sun! And didn't use A/C! How weird, I used to think.

They lived in [what I thought was] a small home and rode their bikes places. They even recycled. They took their daughter and her friends camping and hiking in the mountains.

They were an anomaly in my high school life, and I loved them.

And I realized the other day... we have kind of become them. In the best way possible.

+ Byrd (no relation)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

9-Month Boogs

I was bored of saying the same thing about our perfect babe month after month, so here is Tallulah at 9 months according to her big brother. I asked the questions, he answered (I wish I had videotaped it, it was hilarious).

How old is Boogs?

1- "Three. No... the Guy's three. She's four." "Four what?" "Four Lulas."

What things do you like about Boogs?

1- She smiles.
2- She's my sister.
3- ... so don't make her hurt.
4- Making her laugh.

What is Boogs good at?

1- Soccer.
2- Drinking apple juice.
3- Making pizza.
4- Crawling.
5- Eating Caillou.

What's Lu's favorite food?

1- Peas.
2- Applesauce.
3- Her lips.

What names do you like to call Tallulah?

1- Baby Fern.
2- Get the flashlight.
3- Lula.
4- Sister Lu.
5- Apple juice (sounds like "toot")
6- Boogsa.

What are Lu's favorite toys?

1- Rolling pin.
2- Apple juice.
3- Binky.

What does Lula like to do?

1- Sleep.
2- Reach the iPad.
3- Stand up.
4- Go "up, down, up, down" (on her knees, she likes to bounce)
5- Sleep under the Christmas tree.
6- Take a bath.

What is Lula's favorite book?

1- I Go to the Hospital.
2- Clifford the Dog.
3- Colors book.

(he then proceeded to go pull his favorite books off the shelf and read them, thereby ending our interview).

He loves her. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Living is scary. It is scary because we love so, so, so deeply, and in doing so, we set ourselves for so much heartbreak.

I can understand why some not only cling fiercely to the (LDS) Church but lash out against those who question things or shake up the status quo. The thought of this life having no meaning... the thought that maybe we are just masses of carbon and cells and are simply advanced beings created out of complex evolutionary goodness. What the heck is this universe anyways?! Where does it end?? What if one day we get sucked into a black hole?! And then it's over, just like it began. With the loudest sound ever that you can't even hear because it's sucked into the vacuum of space.

That is freakishly scary. Yes. And that is why one hopes. One hopes that there is someone overseeing all this... someone whose knowledge is greater than our own. Someone in control in what seems like a ridiculously uncontrollable universe. We cling to this person... we cling to God. The idea of God provides great hope for the human race, and it's only natural. We fear the unknown. We don't want to be dead and die and it be over. We love our mothers, crave our children's tiny bodies snuggled up next to us, and hope to have a cup of tea and laugh with our dear friends for an eternity.

I am not trying to say God is made up. There are too many experiences that I can't chalk up to coincidence (like how Cecilia and I had our babies on the same day.... or how I lost my wallet a few weeks ago and searched forever, said a little prayer and it was in a spot I had already looked a million times... or how I found so much happiness and joy in my marriage to Tim, someone I never thought I'd marry). Sure you can argue with me about confirmation bias and the fact that a lot of people don't have babies on the same days as their best friends and some people don't find their wallets or have happy marriages. But I'm (fairly) firmly in the camp of gnosticism. Today, at least.

So, humanly enough, when a group threatens to disrupt all we hold dear, we get angry. When the status  quo is working for you, you fight against it being upended (see: The Civil War, for example). Fortunately, humanity progresses. And it's get better for everyone, even if it takes away the privilege of those who are white. or male. or wealthy. Some people benefit greatly from their participation in the (currently-situated) LDS Church, and they do not want to see change. But that doesn't mean change won't help us all progress.

So, before you throw yourself whole-heartedly into telling me how apostate/evil/rebellious/silly I am because I will be wearing pants to Church on Sunday, think about all your ancestors who thought that about: Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Margaret Sanger. And even... Joseph Smith. He was a radical in his day, and he paid for it with his life. Edmund Burke said: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing. Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not do sit by and do nothing." I'm not saying the fact women don't usually wear pants to Church is evil. I'm saying it's a small act towards a much bigger problem of gender inequality, which is one of the greatest evils of our day and age.

Edit: After I wrote this, I read over at FMH this post... Lisa says it more eloquently than me! (but in my defense, I was writing this as I attempt to learn statistics)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Grammy Visits/Thanksgiving

Sunday: Our first full day with Grammy in the house. We all went to the LDS Church in the morning and had a lovely time (I went to FUS with Atticus the night before while Cait and her mom shopped, for anyone tracking our church attendance). We had the lesson about "Teaching our Children the Gospel" from the Heber J. Grant manual, I made some pretty restrained comments and a lively discussion ensued. After church I went to the "New UU" class that we have been attending the last few weeks in preparation for becoming members and everyone else stayed home. We had a lovely chicken dinner in preparation for the Turkey dinner on Thursday, and then we all wallowed in a state of exhaustion until we all dropped off one by one to bed, and all slept soundly, except for Lula, who woke every 15 minutes. Atticus hit a record of 13 hours of uninterrupted sleep, so at least we can trust in a better future for Lula.

Monday: A day full of inside play and shopping for Grammy and Cait as the weather started to turn a little chilly. We lost one of Atticus's shoes so we had to buy him a new pair, and we found some sweet faux vintage high-tops at Stride Rite (which incidentally, is about the same price as the Target kid's shoes, and the saleswoman gave Atticus a train toy for his tracks AND sent him a card through the mail a few days later thanking him for his business. Buy local people! It's worth it!)**

Tuesday: Grammy took Lula in the morning while Atticus went to preschool so that I could get the house cleaned and our stuff ready to go to head up to the vacation home in the Dells which Grammy rented where we would be spending Thanksgiving. Cait cut out of class early so we could head up to the house a little early and we spent the rest of the afternoon settling in, having dinner at the clubhouse and deciding whether to go swimming that night or not. We decided to wait. Devin and Hillary (Cait's brother and sister-in-law) came late and we stayed up talking to them until we dropped off to sleep.

Wednesday: A day full of swimming, shopping and playing outside in beautiful weather. Atticus made friends with some other nearby kids and he and I played football with them for as long as they would let us. Atticus loves playing with bigger kids and was so sad when we had to leave. We had a sweet cookout over the fire in the backyard for dinner.

Thursday: In the morning, we took our kids swimming and Atticus tried unsuccessfully to make friends with a kid there by following him around for an hour. Thanksgiving dinner was incredible, with all of the Carroll classics. I'll let Cait gush about it later if she so pleases (edit by Cait: it was my first Thanksgiving with my mom cooking and WOW, did I miss it! We just polished off the leftovers and I already am making plans for Christmas dinner). We almost just ate at a buffet but then decided against it because Grammy is such an excellent cook. Turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, broccoli casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, rolls, pecan and pumpkin pies. Gluttony at its best.

(edit by Cait) Friday: We avoided the Black Friday crowds but did go to REI later that day. We bought Lula a snowsuit and myself and my mom both bought black down parkas (everything REI brand was 50% off, it was great!) Hillary and Devin bought some jackets as well, and Atticus picked out a pair of "spiders" Bogs (not Spiderman, but Atticus can't tell the difference).

Soccer, Bieber-style

It was SO windy, and the fire took a while to get started

Terrible picture, but I failed to get a decent one, and my mom deserves some photographic credit for the delicious dinner she prepared

Atticus and his "Lincoln Log" house 

** We bought them from Morgan's shoes in the Hilldale Mall -- highly recommend them! If anyone in Madison wants a $10 off the Stride Rite store, we have referrals for you :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Videos from new apartment

Check out some early videos from our new place.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Summer Afternoon

The summer here in Madison seemed to stretch on forever. Let's take one last look at it as winter finally comes on strong.

This is us having a barbecue with our new friend Cori

Cait's glowing orb of knowledge

It really was a great extended summer, but we are ready for winter now.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I want a place at the table, damnit

In Book of Mormon Girl, Joanna Brooks concludes her memoirs with a beautiful image that has stuck with me in the months since I read it: a large gathering of diverse people, chatting and sitting at a giant table. This is her dream for Mormonism. No one left out, no one made to feel like they can't contribute in their unique way.

My lovely and ever insightful sister Lauren had a wonderful conversation with me the other day, about how she wants us in the Church because she needs me to be and the Church at large needs us to be there to affect it for good in the direction of progress, not because I will surely wither away without it. And with her words, I could imagine a Mormon world where I could be a full and participating member. Though I struggle with issues in church history, I can chalk it up to the fallibility of man and the complexity of God's plan. Our short-sightedness leaves us vulnerable to misinterpretation, leading to doctrines that seem out of line with perhaps the truer principles of eternity. But right now, I can't be a full participant where my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are excluded and even disparaged, where women are a lesser other, where doctrinal creativity and intellectual inquiry are actively discouraged. Tim tried to make an honest and open attempt to reconcile some of his upset with the gender-exclusive language of the Book of Mormon and was essentially told he was becoming an enemy of the Church and his grandchildren will be damned. Really people?! He was changing pronouns. It's amazing how ingrained the patriarchal system of the Church truly is.

If the LDS church could be a little more open to others and a little more open to questions and innovation, I think I could be more satisfied with my experience in it. I find so many of the core doctrines to be stunningly beautiful, to be breathtaking in their depth and magnitude. I want, want so desperately to partake in this beauty. I look at my wondrous children and can't help but think my love for them is more than biology, it's more than hormones and evolution's way of propagating the species. Tallulah... I knew that girl. I knew her. Emerging from my womb she had such an essence, and I stared into those eyes and I knew her for a thousand years.

we meet at last, my darling
I struggle to convince myself it is a trick of the neurons firing in my grey matter that sparked these emotions. I want to have faith in eternal families, in temples, and in the atonement as our path back to our home in the heavens, wherever that may be. And I am trying. I am praying. I am searching. I am pondering.

But the negativity and the backlash has left me discouraged. Hopeless even, that I might not ever be able to find a place at the table with my fellow Saints. On the other hand, our fellow UUs are actively encouraging us to pursue a dual-religious-affiliation household. They are urging us to retain the doctrines of the LDS church if we so choose, to fuse them with our newfound principles and the community we have found with them. Why are Mormons so afraid of other churches? Are we threatened that they might have more truth than us, in some aspect, shape, or form? Why, if I question the Mormon church's exclusive claim to truth, am I all of a sudden a terrible person?

And so, every night, I utter the same thoughts, and end with: "please, God, wherever you both may be. Find me a place at the table, amen."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fertility Fiasco

Tim and I don't have a great track record with using birth control. Hormones make me weepy and crazy, I'm semi-allergie to condoms (and the lambskin ones are ridiculously expensive), and now my uterus has expelled not one, but TWO, IUDS. Before we were married, I tried to procure a diaphragm and called every pharmacy in 100 miles and though I had a prescription no one would even special order one. We even used these weird dissolving sheets that looked like Listerine strips for a while. Why won't they just approve that effing male birth control pill?!

We've even considered permanent sterilization for one of us, but life circumstances can change in an instant and I'm nervous about deciding something when we are so young. We think we are done having babies... maybe... but our baby is only 8 months old, so who knows how we will feel in two or three years. I didn't even think anyone would even sterilize a 25-yr-old, but my gynecologist said she would have no qualms about it because she "had three babies in three years during her residency" and she would "think verrrrry hard about having a third child." But she did tell me she would make me wait six months to think about it, to which I replied, "I'll be pregnant in six months if we don't figure something out." And while I'm pretty sure with the amount of breastfeeding we are doing I won't even start ovulating until Lu is a year or so, I am still so nervous about getting pregnant that I won't even risk it.

And I'm not trying here to complain about being fertile or garner any kind of sympathy. Most people would consider this a blessing. I have scores of friends who are not able to have children, and while sometimes I am slightly jealous, I can't even pretend to understand how emotionally draining it must be.  It is more a gripe I have with the structures of our institutions...

I'm frustrated with the fact that I'm a liberated, educated woman in the 21st century who can't for the life of her figure out a solution. I can do statistics and learn Arabic with the best of them, but I can't actually control my fertility. And that leaves me nervous every time I have sex to where I can't really enjoy it so we aren't actually really ever doing it. Come on third-wave feminist movement, give me something to work with here! I need something easy, reliable, and with no serious side effects. Yes, please, thank you.

(and don't suggest NFP, the idea of it is so great in my head and maybe it could even work, but I would probably think I was constantly pregnant and waste a lot of money on pregnancy tests)