Friday, February 21, 2014

Moving In

As we walked into our house for the first time we found this gorgeous and delicious Edible Arrangements bouquet from the Skousens on our doorstep with a note that said "Welcome Home. You are fruity." It was not only a lovely gesture, it was also really helpful to have fresh healthy food on the counter as we unpacked all day, without any other food in the house yet.

For many days, everywhere I looked were piles and piles and piles of.... stuff.

Lucy and Sophie's first day of school at Oak (Stone has afternoon kindergarten so he started later).

Sophie eating one of Hilary's amazing homemade taquitos. 

Sophie getting reacquainted with our creepy giant fish friend at Seascapes Pet Store

Stoney and I have lots of time together again, and the 70 degree weather entices us out to the parks almost every morning.
We've been here for two weeks tomorrow. Memorable moments:

-At the Church Children's activity on our first morning, before I had even seen Erik yet (I slept at a hotel with the kids; he in his car outside the 40-degree new house), I learned that several of Erik's friends had shown up early that morning to help him unload the truck. They had offered repeatedly and he had repeatedly told them no, he was going to hire some day laborers, he was fine, Saturday is a family day, stay home with your families, etc.... and they just ignored him and showed up anyway. KJ even brought his kids to help. It was more work than Erik had anticipated, and the five of them made quick work of this enormous task.

-Dropping off my kids at the church straight from the hotel, still not having seen Erik or the new house yet, I was stopped by DL in the parking lot... and asked if I would be a Sunday School teacher for the 13-14-year-olds for the year. They don't waste any time!! I laughed and loved feeling known and needed.

-As I arrived at the house to start unpacking the Himalayan-size mountain of boxes, Rachel showed up to take all our kids for the whole entire day. Hugs from Rachel and those sweet nephews made me feel like everything was going to be ok.

-As Rachel was rounding everyone up, B showed up with groceries, including homemade granola, and rolling up her sleeves to start unpacking the kitchen.

-Texts lighting up our phones constantly, "How can I help you?" "How are you doing?" "When can I take your kids?" "How are you feeling?"

-P saw my face and immediately asked "do you guys want to come over for Sunday dinner?" I might have been radiating just a touch of exhaustion. I answered, "normally I would hesitate for a minute, but I'm just going to say yes." She went all out and made an amazing meal, complete with gluten-free modifications for Erik. Yes, this is the P who just had her fifth baby.

-B texted me before Stone's first day of school and asked "do you and Stone want to come with me and Grant?" Yes we did. They picked us up (delayed slightly by KC stopping by with a "welcome back, we love you" sign and bouquet), brought flowers, and put their arms around us as we walked into Stone's new kindergarten class, introducing us to everyone along the way and showing Stone the ropes of the classroom. It was so very comforting. As I left I heard Stone walk up to a girl and say "Hi, I'm Stone, the new kid."

-H texted me repeatedly, asking if I was ok, how the kids were doing, what we needed. On our first day of school she arrived early with her girls, who threw their arms around my girls and led them, linked-armed, on a tour of the school and didn't leave their side all day. Lucy and Sophie went home with them after school, and when I showed up to pick them up, H sent me home with dinner.

-Several days later, at dinner time, everyone starving, I stopped unpacking to look into the fridge and see nothing there. Still hadn't made it to the grocery store. "I'll have to go out and get something for dinner, guys," I called exhaustedly, but before I could get to the closet for my coat, the doorbell rang. There was R, little ones in tow, standing on the dark front porch with dinner. They came in and stayed long enough to hug us all, walk through our disaster of a house, ooohing and ahhhing over what a great rental this is, ask us all about school and tell us how much they love us, warming our house with friendship.

It's now been several weeks since I wrote this - I'm so glad I wrote it down. There were so many other acts of kindness and love as we got settled, and even during some hard moments of transition we have felt known, loved and supported in this beautiful place. It's so good to be home.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

December 2013 in Pictures

December was full of packing, visits, singing, good-byes, hellos, tears, laughter, worry, joy, and overall just way too much emotion and too many tasks to write about. I am exhausted just thinking about it. I didn't take nearly as many pictures as I would have liked, but on the other hand I'm grateful that I thought to grab my camera at all.

Stone wears Batman something almost every day. That day he was eating with his Batman mask on, and I tried to get a picture but he took it off as soon as he saw me trying to steal a pic. Wouldn't put it back on. :(

Our family's new obsession: we finally let the older girls watch the movies, and Lindsay devoured the books. Now it is all they talk about.

Last Disneyland day with Grandpa and the cousins

A special good-bye party for Sophie with her friends - pedicures, dinner and ice cream sundaes

Yes, we did get out the Christmas decorations and buy a Christmas tree even as we packed up around it. For me it is always sad to pack up, so Christmas was very helpful to fill in some of the spaces with cheer.

Cousin day at home

We love having babies in the family

Lindsay's friends threw her a surprise goodbye party

The sunsets were incredible all month long - we always seemed to get great ones on our Sunday afternoon walks in our neighborhood

Last-minute Christmas recital at the piano teacher's home

Unbelievable San Clemente  sky

Last piano lesson. What a sweet, sweet lady

Up to NorCal for the weekend before Christmas - this is San Jose Christmas in the Park, our tradition with Scott, Rachel and the boys

Reunited at last!

Oh how we missed these cousins!

We played this hilarious game with our friends - Erik was supposed to sketch the Hunger Games with corn on the cob. Lindsay couldn't stop laughing

The giant gingerbread house at the Fremont Hotel in San Francisco - the last stop on the Christmas caroling trolley ride. Three trolleys filled with friends singing at the top of our lungs. And not cold this year! Usually our feet are numb by the end!

We drove home Christmas Eve to be met with 80 degree weather! AND... we had accidentally left the pool heater on so the entire pool was like a bath tub. We all threw on our suits and jumped in!

Opa's traditional Christmas Eve party

This is one of our favorite parts of Christmas - Past, Present and Future

Opa's beloved kitchen

Lining up for the traditional Christmas Conga line - "Christmas Christmas Christmas!!"

After our own family's presents, a Christmas dinner/breakfast with the extended family

And in the midst of all of this, every moment that the kids were at school... Erik and I were packing. How did we get so much stuff?? Really, six people need this much stuff?? (And that's not even furniture, or a whole U-Haul that already went to storage). Ugh. This makes us both want to sell it all again and take backpacks to Mongolia.

Saying good-bye to Vaughn again

Seeing the Lion King in LA!!

A Stanford families reunion at our house

The Clarkes are visiting from Amsterdam!!!

Our New Years Fondue feast

Avery and Lindsay had each become obsessed with the Lord of the Rings - they convinced us to let them stay up until midnight on New Years Eve doing Elf Shrinky Dinks (who can say no to that??)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in Hollywood

The star of Lady Galadriel

The elevator in the hotel in LA (the Clarkes getting ready to leave; us on our way up North). I wonder if Lucy is doing that chipmunk face on purpose

Last moments together by the pool in LA (80 degree weather persists into January) We spent every last minute with these dear friends, then continued on our way up I-5 and pulled into Mountain View at 1:00 am on January 4.

To illustrate how we feel to be back home, we made up a Christmas song together, which we sang to our friends upon arrival:

On the 12th day of Christmas, Los Altos gave to me...
  • Cardinals, Giants and 49ers
  • Peery Piano lessons
  • El Camino traffic
  • Friends from other countries
  • Old power lines
  • Thursday Farmers Markets
  • An old, expensive house
  • Rancho San Antonio
  • Top-rated schools
  • The ward Christmas party
  • And the best friends there ever could be.

Pants Post, Part 2

Ta-Da!!! That was me in December, wearing pants to my LDS services. Here's how it went down:

-I got dressed. I felt strong and scared at the same time.

-I had my daughter take this photo.

-My girls didn't have nice enough pants to wear to church, nor anything purple. And Erik didn't have a purple tie. But my whole family told me that I looked great. I don't think they saw it as a big deal, honestly, and wouldn't have known I was nervous (or understood why) if I hadn't told them I was. I wanted them to know that I do scary stuff too, as I require them to do (working out hurt feelings with a friend, going to new schools in new countries, performing on stage, etc.).

-I told my kids I was going to play Sara Bareilles' song "Brave" on the organ as prelude music. I do love to mildly embarrass them in public, so I think Lucy was genuinely scared I would do it. :) (Of course I didn't.)

-We went to church. It was my Sunday to play the organ at the very front of the congregation, and I arrived early to play prelude music as usual. Only a couple of people saw me walk in, and they didn't show any visible reaction. Once I was seated on the bench playing beautiful, calming music I only had one choice left to make: stay at the front for the entire service (seated, where no one would see what I was wearing on my bottom half), or walk down to sit in the congregation with my family in between hymns. This would draw all eyes to me multiple times during the meeting. Usually if the organist's family is sitting close to the front, he or she will slip down off the stand to sit with them in between; if they're far back, he or she will just stay up there to avoid the long walk. I secretly prayed Erik and the kids would be late so they'd have to sit in the back, but nope, they came in on time and snagged a bench right in the front. I went back and forth in my mind until the very last moment... and at the last moment I heard in my mind "I WANNA SEE YOU BE BRAVE!!!" and walked quietly and confidently from the organ down the stairs and to my family. I got up and down twice more during the service, drawing all eyes to those revolutionary yards of wool on my legs.

-After Sacrament meeting I walked from the chapel to my Sunday School room. I realize as I write this that I normally would have just written "after Sacrament Meeting was Sunday School." The fact that I thought to write "I walked from the chapel" highlights how emotionally charged the walk was. I was inconspicuous when seated; public and vulnerable as I walked. Anyway, I entered the room, and my sweet 10 year-old students said, "Hey, you're wearing pants!" I smiled and said "I sure am!" And that was that. I had thought about emailing their parents ahead of time, knowing that some of them are ultra-conservative and might have worried about what I would teach them, but my sister wisely advised me to only answer questions if they were posed to me, and to not make assumptions about what people were thinking or feeling. That proved to be the best approach for me, and I didn't tell the kids why I was wearing pants because they didn't ask. It was a non-issue for them (I love children!).

-After church I drove my daughter's group of 12-year-olds to an Assisted Living Center so our church youth group (ages 12-18) could sing Christmas carols to the elderly people living there. This was the part I had been most nervous about the night before, but by the time I'd been at church for 3 hours I was quite comfortable (physically and emotionally). I don't know what the teenagers, with their perceptions of social normal more fixed than children's, were thinking when they saw me. I don't know what the adults were thinking either. Some people did a noticeable double-take (totally understandable - I would have too), but no one was rude or even awkward around me. We sang beautiful Christmas songs. I played the piano. I made the rounds and spoke to people afterward.

And so there you have it. Several of my friends have told me privately that they want to wear pants but are too scared. Several of my friends have said they don't understand Pants to Church Sunday because they see women wear pants to church all the time. It depends where you live. It depends what your parents taught you. It depends how naturally sensitive you are to cultural norms. We attended church the following Sunday (not Pants to Church Sunday) in Los Altos, in the Bay Area, and as I walked in wearing a skirt, I noticed several women wearing dress pants very non-chalantly. That took the fear and anxiety right out of me, as I thought of pants as fabric and also pants as a symbol - each of us can only do what we feel in our hearts is right and makes sense for our lives. And each of us should do what we feel in our hearts is right and makes sense for our lives. 

It will be a lot less scary next time!

Some women who inspired me to be brave that week: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Lindsay Allebest.

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Sunday

Today I am neglecting the giant roll of bubble wrap and packing boxes, the pile of unwashed dishes in my sink, the stack of papers on my desk, and even the back-logged list of topics I've been wanting to blog about (Thanksgiving, Christmas plans, Moving, kids' lives, etc.)... and instead I am going to write a whole blog post about what I'm going to wear on Sunday.

What I am going to wear on Sunday, to my Mormon church services, for the first time in my life, is pants.

I don't know who reads my blog anymore, but to my friends on the outside of Mormon culture this will probably seem almost incomprehensibly trite. To you I would say, think of walking into a party in a tee shirt and everyone else is in cocktail dresses. Now add to that a time when people you love have drastically misunderstood something you've said and you feel alone and maligned. My friends on the inside of Mormon culture will know that in some ways this is similar to a Muslim woman eschewing her hijab, and may provoke feelings across the spectrum from admiration to confusion to disappointment to anger - even violent anger. Knowing that this public act will illicit strong emotional responses over which I have no control makes me want to throw up. I am not a timid person - I have delivered sermons to huge groups of people, dodged burning tires and flying stones in a Palestinian street protest, navigated foreign countries on my own and given birth without epidurals. I've even taught Middle School! But the thought of wearing fabric sewn around each individual leg instead of around the outside of both for three hours on a Sunday morning... in some ways this is the scariest thing I've ever done.

To pre-empt possible misunderstandings, the following are not reasons I've chosen to wear pants to church:

1. It's December! It's cold! (Nope. I am in Southern California. Sunny and and 75 degrees forecasted for Sunday. Though what if I lived in Salt Lake City? Or Minneapolis? Or Helsinki?)

2. I like pants better than dresses. (Nope. I like them the same.)

3. Because I think all women should wear pants to Church. (Nope. I think all women should wear exactly what they feel is best to church, without criticism or judgment from others, no matter what that is.)

4. I think pants, overall, fit the requirement of "Sunday best" better than dresses. (Nope. Nor do I think that dresses, overall, fit that requirement.)

5. I want to be a man. (Nope. I have had actual nightmares about having to sword-fight for honor, being shoved onto a football field as a linebacker and having hair grow out of my face.)

6. I think there are no differences between men and women. (Nope. Last I checked, all species of males and females are different from each other! I personally believe in a big, beautiful yin and yang of Male and Female in the Universe.)

7. I want the Priesthood. (Nope. While there may be some women wearing pants on Sunday who are campaigning to ordain LDS women to the Priesthood, there are some who are not. This is a meaty topic for another day, so for now, just know that these are separate issues.)

8. I work in the Nursery at church, crouching and sitting on the floor with 18-month-olds for two hours at Church. Have you ever tried to sit on the floor modestly while wearing a skirt? (Nope. But I have friends who do. It is not comfortable.)

9. I am currently an LDS missionary who rides a bike for miles every day. Have you ever tried to ride a bike wearing a skirt??? Of any length??? (Nope. I am not a bike missionary. But my sister and many of my of my friends were. Oh, the funny stories of flashed underwear!! And the not-funny stories of bike crashes caused by fabric in completely impractical and dangerous places.)

10. I have a lot of liberal friends who are also wearing pants and we're doing this together. (Nope. As far as I know I will be the only one in my chapel not wearing a dress, and in my Northern California ward I know of only one friend.)

Here is why I am wearing pants to church.

1. I question cultural norms that have their basis neither in Reason nor Scripture. Jesus Christ was constantly challenging social norms - think of all the times that He went out of his way to speak to women, Samaritans, publicans and prostitutes, and to heal on the Sabbath and eat bread without washing his hands, to name a few of many examples. He railed against the Pharisees for "building a hedge about the law," adding to God's laws and then clinging to those new rules to the point that they overshadowed the original ones. This created a culture of external behaviors "to be seen of men" rather than focus on personal relationship with deity; and of finger-pointing and judgment rather than love and acceptance of others.

There is no rational reason why a pair of nice slacks are not appropriate for women to wear to church. And not only is there no scriptural reason, there is in fact danger in "building a hedge" around the laws we already do have.

Here is the Church's official statement:

"Generally church members are encouraged to wear their best clothing as a sign of respect for the Savior, but we don’t counsel people beyond that." 

2. Wearing pants to church calls attention to the issue that women have individual and collective potential that is often not being realized in our current Church culture. Joseph Smith said to the first gathering of Relief Society sisters, "If you live up to your privileges, the angels can not be restrained from being your associates." I believe that there are many privileges that we are not living up to - not claiming as ours - that do not require any doctrinal changes. They simply require us calmly and confidently making our voices heard. Wearing pants is a way to peacefully draw attention to the fact that there are many rights women already have that we are not speaking up for - to hold the callings of Sunday School President or Ward Clerk or to hold our babies during their Priesthood blessings if we wish. The "Let Women Pray" campaign was a great example of this - there was no rational or doctrinal reason why a woman had never offered a prayer in General Conference, and women finally took it into their own hands to live up to that privilege.

3. In general I really dislike gender essentialism. The view that all men and all women are inherently a certain way, and thus they should have certain prescribed duties and feelings and life experiences feels limiting and emotionally unhealthy to me. I believe that each individual and each married couple is capable of listening to their own hearts and to the Spirit of the God in deciding how to live their lives, including who earns money, who washes dishes, and yes, what is worn to church.

4. In solidarity with the many people who feel marginalized and unwanted in our current church culture because they are different from the majority. Being uncomfortable walking into the church house in pants - feeling eyes staring at me and possibly judging me unfairly - gives me empathy for members or visitors to our church who may feel that they don't fit in. I love learning from people who are different from me. I believe with my whole heart that the Book of Mormon got it right in the verse "All are alike unto God." My heart sings when I read in the Bible that we are all part of the body of Christ - not only do we not all need to be alike, we are not even supposed to be alike. A body made of all ears would miss seeing and smelling and feeling and walking.

5. In respect for my heroes who challenged cultural norms in the past, winning women the right to vote, to own land, to claim inheritances, to win legal protection from abusers, to go to college, to practice the profession of their choosing, to receive equal pay for equal work, to play sports, to pray in Sacrament Meeting and to pray in General Conference, and yes, to wear pants, in public places and at school.

6. Because when I told my seven-year-old daughter, "some women are wearing pants to Church on Sunday," she said "I'm doing that," before she even asked if I was going to. When I told my twelve-year-old daughter, she looked up from her homework (a project on the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention - a topic she chose) she was matter of fact, "of course you have to do that, Mom." And my ten-year-old daughter, who HATES when I dance on the subway or speak in an accent or in any way draw attention to us in public, thoughtfully said, "There's no rule against it, right? Then all women should just be wearing whatever they feel is their Sunday best. It's just between each person and God, right?"

7. To be as brave as my sister, who wore pants last year and a few times since, and whose text informed me that it was Wear Pants to Church Day this Sunday.

8. I have been surprised by the amount of nervousness I feel to dress differently from the crowd. Women are judged so harshly based on what they wear! This alone is reason enough to push back. Wearing our best clothing is a legitimate way to show respect, but when I think of the Jesus of the New Testament and how much he condemned the Pharisees' obsession with outward appearance, I can't help but feel uneasy in my expensive clothes, high-heeled shoes making me appear taller than I really am, mascara to make my eyelashes blacker than they really are, lip gloss to make my lips shinier than they really are, curlers and straighteners to make my hair different from how it naturally is... even sometimes (yes, I'm going to admit this) Spanx to make myself look skinnier than I really am. This is out of control. Why are women buying into this culture telling us our natural selves aren't good enough? And in Heaven's name, why are we letting it into Church?? (And I can't help noticing that men do not do this to themselves. Generally speaking, if they go bald, they go bald. If they gain weight, they gain weight. They don't tweeze their eyebrows and they wear practical clothing without asking permission and without making apologies.) I'm not brave enough to go to church naturally-frizzy-haired and makeup-free yet, though I think Jesus, who loves the real me, would feel happy for me if I did.

I'll take photos on Sunday and post any questions or comments I get during Church. If you feel inclined to wear pants (or purple, the color of the Women's Suffrage Movement), imagine me holding your hand. And if you don't wear pants or purple but you see someone who is doing so, give her a smile. She might be doing the scariest thing of her life.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

October 2013

As I uploaded all these photos I realized how much fun stuff our family does, but also how lopsided a representation it is of a life to show only the photos of the highlights. If I would have taken pictures of the dish-washing and homework-trudging and tantrum-calming and patience-losing, it would be a more homely picture but a more accurate one. Let alone if I could have taken pictures of my mental landscape - my brain would not have been saying "cheese." But here is what I took photos of during October. There have been challenges, but there have also been many many happy moments! It's lovely for me to take a moment to gather and post them.

Back to School night: a sample of Sophie's work. She wrote about playing with her cousins in Utah.

Lucy cutting onions. She loves to cook and loves to be goofy (and I love her to do both of those).

Lindsay with Baby Cousin at his 1st birthday party at the pumpkin patch, and Great-grandpa (Opa).

Cousins driving tractors at the pumpkin patch

More cousin time

I remember Lindsay at this pumpkin patch when she was just a tiny little toddler

Best buddies Sophie and Stone, choreographing a song and dance in the garage!

The Kellers drove down(!!!!!) to stay with us and go to Disneyland. We were so happy. Every moment with them was so joyful, I still feel a glow when I think of it. We are so excited to be reunited with these guys.

Stone got chosen to do the Jedi Training Academy!!!!

Lucy begged for months to start playing the trumpet. It seems a little harder than she thought it would be, but that girl is persistent!!

Family party welcoming Jessica and Edgar from Holland - Aunt Maryorie made this awesome Rice Krispy Treat skull

Lucy always accepts her daddy's rock-climbing challenges in the pool

Cousins on the tramp

Cousins in the hot tub

Cousins at the Halloween party - wow, we had a lot of cousin time in October! Awesome!

Visiting Northern California for a long weekend - on the first day we went to our favorite Children's Museum in the world - the San Jose Discovery Museum. The kids and I were sad when we saw the sign that prohibited kids older than 4 from entering one of their favorite parts that they used to go to when they were little. I can't believe I don't have anyone young enough to go!

What do I love about this? Everything. English, Spanish and Vietnamese directions. Garbage, Recyclables and Compost recepticles. We love you, Bay Area!!

Our Ward Halloween Party dance


One of my favorite moments: showing up to the Smiths to pick up Lucy and Sophie, and Stone seeing 12-year-old Will mowing the lawn and saying "I want to help you!" And Will says "Ok, come on Stone!" This is the village I want to raise my kids with daily at school and play dates and weekly at church. It is home to us.

Look closely, because you'll never see Erik wearing anything like that ever again. :) The National Western Rodeo was in San Francisco, so our friends organized a big group of families the weekend we happened to be in town!! Everyone dressed up and whooped and hollered for the buckin' broncos and American-flag-unitard-clad acrobats (Sophie says she now knows what she wants to be when she grows up).
Does anyone else feel like once a year is way too often to scrape the guts our of pumpkins? We did this out of pure love for our children. I hate those stringy wet gobs of glop. But they love the tradition so much. Sweet kids. 

Fun Monday Family Night, music playing in the garage as we scraped and carved

The kids had a couple of days of school off, so we took them to San Diego for a family Staycation. Stone had been begging to go to Legoland since we moved down here, so this was the day!! 

Next day: San Diego Zoo Safari park!


And tiring.

Last activity: the Cheetah run!!

The beach on Coronado Island

Playing on the sand "dunes" - look at that joy.

Family mini-golf. The kids' ages is SO FUN - my parents call this "the sweet spot" in a family where they're old enough to be independent and do fun stuff together; young enough to not be fighting their parents yet. This spot is sweet indeed.

A visit to the Mormon Battalion

What an amazing presentation! Probably the best exhibit of its kind I've ever seen, anywhere.

Our ancestors traveled across the plains in wagons like this. I wonder if Sophie and Stone look like any of them.

The Natural History Museum in Balboa Park. Sophie LOVES dinosaurs

And Lindsay does not!!

My run this morning. I usually don't bring my phone with me, but I'm so glad I did this morning so I could capture this glorious sunrise over the hills. 

These hills have brought me peace and solace during our year here. I have missed the ferns and redwoods - they speak to my soul, but I'm also fond of these desert hills.

Next.... selling the house and finding somewhere to live in Los Altos! The kids are still excited....