Scenes from Utah

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, my kids and I traveled to Utah early in September, and we had a fabulous time. The trip reminded me for the second time this year (the first was our visit to Joshua Tree National Park this past spring) how much I love the western United States and how much I love the desert especially. Next time I travel west, I hope to visit some or all of the five National Parks in Utah. I’ve been to Arches, but it bears a return trip, especially now that I’ve read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey.

But even staying in and near Salt Lake City, we had a blast. Some photos from our adventures, curated to remove anything unpleasant—like my son’s epic nosebleed and almost-very-bad head wound—because that’s what blogs are for:

Tracy Aviary, Salt Lake City:

Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship, Midway, Utah:

Salt Lake City Public Library:

Around Salt Lake City:


Minimalist Packing

Earlier this month, I went to Utah with my kids. It was our first trip back to Utah since we moved away more than six years ago, and it was my first trip by airplane on my own with my kids. Without my spouse to lug things, I decided it was time to practice minimalist packing.

Here’s what I packed (including what I wore on the airplane):


One dress, one hooded sweatshirt, one pair linen pants, one sun shirt, one skirt, one tank top, two t-shirts.

Not pictured: undergarments, socks, one set of pajamas, footwear (one pair walking shoes, one pair sandals), and one swimsuit.

Also not pictured: the shorts I forgot to pack.

I realized I’d left the shorts in Massachusetts almost as soon as we stepped through the door of our rental apartment at crazy o’clock PM after enduring a lightning strike to our airplane and a ridiculously long wait at the rental car counter with my daughter at my elbow saying, “Mommy, I think I might throw up.” There was only one couple in front of us at the counter, but they appeared to have never rented a car before. (“Should we get the extra insurance coverage, Bill?” “I don’t know, Edna. What do you think?” “Well, I’m not sure. We should have him explain the options again.” Me: “NO, you don’t want the extra coverage! It’s a racket! Just take the keys and get out so I can get my car and get outside before my kid tosses her cookies!”)

At any rate, I was in a bit of a state by the time I realized that I had no shorts. I texted my spouse in a panic, and he reminded me that if I really needed a pair, I could probably find a store in Salt Lake City that sells shorts.

But it turned out I didn’t need the shorts. Nor did I need the dress, the swimsuit, or the sandals. I walked all over Salt Lake City and even hiked in Little Cottonwood Canyon in my skirt, which was a first for me and something I would never, ever do in New England because ticks. But in Utah, it was fabulous! Highly recommended.

We did laundry once in the middle of our week-long trip, which, with the 97-degree heat, probably made it less unpleasant for our friends to hug us during the second half of the trip. Without a washer in our rental, things might have been a little more complicated, but as it was my exercise in minimalist packing was a complete success.

Maybe next time I can even get by without checking a bag.


Book Review: When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka

When the Emperor Was Divine
When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Emperor Was Divine follows an American family of Japanese descent from their home in Berkeley, California, to the Topaz internment camp near Delta, Utah, and back again three-and-a-half years later after World War II has ended. Read More

Look, Kids! Missionaries!

We were in the car outside the library, just about to pull away from the curb, when I noticed some movement in the rearview mirror. Walking towards the car were two clean-cut young men, black backpacks, white button-front shirts, little black name tags.

I gasped.

Two Missionaries of .

I don’t know these guys, but their picture is in the public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Missionaries!” I yelled. “Look kids! LDS missionaries!” The children looked at me confused.

Flustered, I briefly considered turning off the car, unfastening my seat belt and hailing the unsuspecting young men, but they were already walking past my car and as excited as I am to see missionaries, I’m not prepared to chase them down the street. Instead, I smiled widely, waved like a maniac, and shouted “Hi!” at them through the open car window.

They very politely smiled and waved back without pausing in their travel down the sidewalk, probably wondering if everyone in this town is so friendly or if they’d just encountered a crazy woman.

Seriously, though, I have been just aching to talk with some missionaries.

I’ve always enjoyed talking with LDS missionaries. They’re so friendly and so enthusiastic about talking about theology and so sane relative to a lot of the other people who come to my door peddling religion or telecommunications services.

The fact that I’ve been feeling homesick for Utah only heightens my desire to talk with missionaries. I was hoping I’d see some in Washington, DC. I don’t know why I thought they’d be there, I just had an image in my mind of missionaries on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I imagined going up and saying something like, “Hi! How’s it going? Where are you from? How long have you been here? I lived in Utah for three years!” I fully expected the conversation to peter out from there, but I was ready, nonetheless. Of course, I didn’t see any missionaries when I was expecting them. They had to sneak up on me when I was in no position to accost them with my inane questions and rather desperate desire for connection.

While I missed my chance today, knowing that there are at least two missionaries right here in my town gives me hope that, if the kids and I continue walking around our little city like we usually do, I’ll have an opportunity to talk with them again.

Or maybe they’ll come to my door. I can only hope. Just in case, I’ll make sure I’m wearing something besides the ratty tank top and “lounge pants” I wear to bed and around the house on days we’re not planning to go out.

Hey! If I do see them, maybe they’ll let me interview them for my blog!

Weirdos Unite!

Hubble telescope picture of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

With all of this out there, does it make sense to focus on our differences? (Image via Wikipedia)

Last night, my husband came home from a day-long work event with a story.

He and his colleagues were eating lunch together, when one of his colleagues at the end of the table—I’ll call him Tony—revealed that he had seven children.

“Oh, my GOD!” came the chorus from the table.

“Oh, but you don’t even know the half of it!” said one of his colleagues amid the laughter and ribbing.

At this Tony excused himself and left the table, unwilling to have his life choices judged by a group of hyenas.

Not only does Tony have seven children, he and his wife homeschool. *GASP*

Amid the titter of agreement that Tony was, simply, insane, the guy next to my husband nudged him.

“Hey, don’t you homeschool?”

“Yes,” my husband replied, “yes we do.”

We know Tony and his wife through the homeschooling community. We know Tony and his family to be generous and kind. When he found out we didn’t have a GPS, he gave us one of theirs. They have different politics than we do and I, frankly, feel a little ill when I think about the level of chaos they must deal with on a daily basis with that many humans living in one house (I can’t even wrangle two kids into the car without totally losing my mind), but their choices aren’t who they are. Their choices reflect their values, but you can’t necessarily assume what those values are just by looking at their choices.

This is perhaps one of the best lessons I learned living in Utah. As homeschooling homebirthers, our paths intersect with both very “conservative” and very “liberal” families. In Utah, we also had the privilege of knowing people with quite large families, many of whom birthed at home and/or schooled at home. Some of them were conservative, some were liberal, most were Mormon, but then so was most of the general population there, regardless of family size.

Another of the things I learned (re-learned, over and over and over) in Utah is that political and religious affiliations often just serve as smoke screens for what people really value. Someone says, “I’m Mormon” or “I’m Unitarian Universalist” or “I’m conservative” or “I’m crunchy” and people make assumptions about that person’s values based on whatever stereotypes they hold about those labels. But you can be a Mormon who believes in legalizing gay marriage and you can be a Unitarian Universalist who believes in small government. You can keep chickens in your backyard and cloth diapers on your kids and make your own deodorant and vote any way you want to.

I find that the same thing happens when I say I homeschool or, apparently, when someone says he has seven kids. People make assumptions about our values based on our actions. But if we can sit down and have a conversation about our choices and why we’ve made them, we find that our values aren’t binary. They are much more nuanced than that, and if we can get past the assumptions and the defensiveness and the (sometimes) evangelism and really connect on the level of feelings and needs (oops, there’s the “crunchy” again), I find that we’re more similar than we are different, regardless of our choices.

If we focus on our differences, those differences seem too big to surmount. But when we focus on our similarities, the differences seem smaller and smaller.

The ray of light for my husband as he willingly served as the face of homeschooling at lunch yesterday was when one coworker asked, “How do you teach your kids something that you don’t know?”

This was a real question that came from curiosity and actual interest rather than the assumption that my husband was a weirdo.

My husband came away from the conversation feeling good that he had made a real connection with one person about homeschooling and that he had taken some of the heat away from Tony.

I told him, though, that if he really wanted to take the scrutiny off of Tony, he should have told them about our homebirth.

The Introvert Playdate

Today I planned yet another introvert-unfriendly outing for my introverted self and my two introverted children.

We were supposed to meet a houseful of strangers (fellow UU homeschoolers; you don’t get much stranger than that. (Actually, that’s not true. There are a lot of people stranger than that. Like people who like processed cheese or people who use both feet to drive cars with automatic transmissions.)) for snacks and chatting this afternoon.

My son fell asleep about five minutes before we’d planned to leave.

I’ve been dragging this poor kid out at naptime for his whole life, so this time I lay my son on his little bed to let his nap run its course.

While he slept, I broke the news to my daughter that we might not be able to go to the playdate today. She’d been looking forward to it because it was going to be chock-full of girls. For some reason, all of our outings have consisted primarily of boys. As my daughter says, one or two boys is okay. But more than that are just too loud.

Her reply to the news surprised me.

“Well, Mom,” she said, “I’d rather just not go. I’m really enjoying this sticker book. And we’ve been meeting a lot of new people this week. It’s not good to meet too many new people too quickly.”

We ended up agreeing that if her brother woke up by 2:30, we’d still go, but if he slept past 2:30, we’d stay home. In the meantime, she and I would read silently, our very favorite way to pass the time.

He woke up at 2:23.

So, we got our rain jackets on, climbed into the car, and dodged minor flooding as we drove to our destination. As we walked into the house, we determined two things: 1) all attendees were female except for the golden retriever and my son, and 2) despite my daughter’s assertion to the contrary, seven little girls can be every bit as noisy as seven little boys.

The girls invited my daughter into the fold immediately while my son and I retired to the mom room to play on the floor with the toy trains while the grownups chatted above our heads. Periodically I would add something about Utah to the conversation, despite the fact that every time I say something about Utah, the conversation stops. Even as I open my mouth to speak, I say, “Stop! Don’t say anything about Utah!” But I worry it would be weirder if I just sat there in silence the whole time. Then I let myself talk and discover yet again that no, silence would not be weirder.

At any rate, I was somewhat relieved when my son grew tired of the trains and wanted to follow the trail of dress-up clothes upstairs to see what his sister and the other seven girls were doing.

We found my daughter on the floor with a dollhouse, talking to herself while placing a tiny and very odd looking cat-type creature into an equally tiny blender.

“Mom,” she said when she saw me, “I’ve not had any fun at all.”

The other girls stopped talking.

“Oh?” I asked. “Well, even if you feel that way, it’s not really polite to say so.”

“That’s okay,” one of the girls said, apparently prompting my daughter to reiterate her original statement.

“I’ve had no fun at all, Mom,” my daughter repeated.

“Well, maybe if you played with the other girls you’d have more fun?” I suggested.

Another girl addressed my daughter.

“We’ve invited you to play again and again, and you’re welcome to join us any time you want to. We’re playing a game where we’re humans who turn into mythical creatures.”

“Or you don’t have to be a mythical creature,” another girl corrected. “You could just be a very powerful human or something like that.”

My daughter, looked up at one speaker and then the other. Then she turned back to the dollhouse as the other girls resumed their noisy transformations into mythical creatures and powerful humans.

I think maybe I should re-think our plans for tomorrow.

Why Put a New Address on That Same Old Loneliness?

jeans for men

Image via Wikipedia

On the way up to Maine this weekend (my first time in Maine), I was feeling intractably out-of-place, sort of fundamentally alienated, when we came upon Portland. It seemed like a cute little city. I looked up the population in our road atlas.

“Just over 62,000,” I reported to my husband. “That might be a nice-sized city for us. Maybe we should live there next.”

I’ve always moved from place to place. As a child, I didn’t have a say in it. As an adult, I have more of a say (except maybe for this last time when circumstances pretty much gave us the boot out of Utah), but I keep trying on new places like I’m shopping for a pair of jeans. I try one pair after another, looking for one that fits or at least that feels right on me. Even when I find some that seem to fit, they inevitably stretch or I lose or gain a couple of pounds or have a baby and change shape in some subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) way, and I find myself questing again.

When I was a kid, my mom used to buy the Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit jeans. She’d put them on wet and wear them around the house until they shrunk to her particular shape. Looking online as an adult, I find articles that suggest that, with a little time, these jeans can be the best-fitting jeans of one’s life.

This seems like a reasonable idea, but I’m still hesitant. It’s quite a commitment, wearing wet jeans all day, dyeing anything I sit on (or anything that sits on me) indigo blue. And what if I put in all of this effort and they still don’t fit? I’m back to square one plus I’ve had all of that extra discomfort and wasted time. Although according to what I’ve read, I could just wet them and wear them again until they feel right.

I have a great deal of trepidation and longing around finding a place where I fit in (we’re back to talking about geographical locations again, in case you hadn’t caught up yet). I’ve known for years that this moving around habit I have is just a distraction and that this sense of alienation isn’t dependent on geographical location. Perhaps my perseverance is misplaced and rather than continuing to try new places, I should just give one place a try for a long-ish time. But it feels like such a risk to stay in one spot and wait for the fit to come with time. What if it never feels right? When do I decide to cut my losses and get out?

Driving across Nebraska, I looked out the window and saw houses in what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of nowhere, there were people. I was perplexed by the idea that there are people who call this place home. Maybe they were born here, or maybe they’ve moved from somewhere else, but for whatever reason, they’ve thrown their lot in with Nebraska.

I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a place I’m from, and while it feels dangerous to put down stakes, you’ve got to die somewhere, right? Why not Nebraska, or Ohio or Massachusetts or Nova Scotia or Alaska? Or Bhutan or Fiji or Russia?

In Maine we saw friends we’ve not seen since we moved from California and met their friends and family for the first time. I’m sure I was a real treat to be around in this existential funk. At least I didn’t drink too much. Instead, I did my best to just let myself feel uncomfortable. I noticed the beauty of the water, the smell of the sea on the breeze, and the little frogs that I hope I didn’t smash as they hopped across the road in the glare of my headlights. I noticed these things and did my best to let them be foreign and to let myself be foreign among them.

It was a nice trip.

On the way home, just as we crossed into Massachusetts, a song by Magnolia Electric Company/Songs:Ohia came on and asked, “Why put a new address on that same old loneliness?”

Good question.

I can’t outrun it, so I might as well just hang out. Maybe it will be gone once my jeans dry. If I can wait that long.

Six States and Counting

Prominent roads and cities in Massachusetts.

Image via Wikipedia

Today I got my Massachusetts driver’s license. From the time I began driving until today, I’ve had licenses in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, California, Utah, and Massachusetts.

I’ve visited DMVs, BMVs, and RMVs.

I’ve waited for hours and hours (California) to get my license and registration, and I’ve not waited at all (Utah and Massachusetts).

I’ve been spoken to rudely by the staff (California and Ohio), and I’ve been treated very kindly and in an extremely friendly and attentive manner (Utah and Massachusetts).

I’ve taken written tests in five states (Massachusetts didn’t require one), eye tests in all six, and a road test in one.

I’ve registered to vote at the motor vehicle registry in five states (consecutively, not concurrently) and with three different parties (if you consider “unaffiliated” a party).

Of these six states, my favorite places to get a license are Utah and Massachusetts. Both have their quirks. Utah made sure I knew how long military personal with Utah residency could maintain their Utah driver’s license after they’ve left the service. Massachusetts doesn’t have proof-of-insurance cards (and doesn’t require insurance to get a driver’s license), and I had to get my insurance company to send a stamped registration form to get my plates. But both the Salt Lake City DMV and the Worcester RMV branches were very friendly and accommodating.

I don’t know why exactly, but I’m very nervous when dealing with government agencies. I’ve not done my own taxes since 1998 (I’ve had them done, they’ve just not been done by me), simply because I get way too anxious that I’m going to inadvertently fill out something incorrectly.

I’d done tons of research about the license and registration process in Massachusetts before my husband and I left the kids with my mom and went to the office today. Still, I had pit stains before we even walked into the building because I was so nervous I was sweating more than usual.

Luckily, the wait was not the two hours plus as I’d been led to expect. In fact, we didn’t even have a chance to sit down before our numbers were called.

Luckily, too, the woman who helped us was extraordinarily friendly. The other agents kept coming to her for help with their customers, too, which delayed us a bit, but after our nonexistent wait time, we felt like we were way ahead of schedule. In addition, it was quite pleasant to see such a collaborative spirit among the agents there.

In California, the staff seemed to talk with each other a lot, but it seemed to be more of an “agents versus customers” brand of collaboration than it was a “let’s try to put our heads together and figure out a complicated issue” kind of collaboration. (Not to bad-mouth California. The branch we were at was ridiculously busy, with lines out the door even for those with appointments who were just trying to check in at their assigned appointment times. With as overworked as the staff were, I can see how they might develop an adversarial attitude. And there was one agent there who was very helpful and friendly to us. Well, to my husband. I got the agent who talked loudly and unflatteringly to another agent about me while I was standing right there at the counter).

Long story short, I was surprised to find that I actively enjoyed my RMV experience this afternoon, and I made a point of telling the agent just how much I appreciated her friendliness. What’s even more surprising is that I enjoyed it even though I left there more than $300 lighter than when I went in.

I hope it’s at least several years before I need to add a seventh state to the list. If I do get a seventh, I wonder where it will be…

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’; Keep Them Boxes Movin’

The title of this post is a reference to the theme song of the television show Rawhide. I’m not sure I ever saw the show myself, but my parents sang the song quite often when I was a kid, mostly when they were trying to get all three of us kids out the door.

I just thought of the song when I went to put a title on this post about moving in.

Which we did on Monday.

The day went much more smoothly than I would ever have dared imagine. I enjoyed a very pleasant walk by myself from the hotel to our new house a little after 7am. I’d just measured and cut the shelf liner for the first shelf when I heard the rumble of the moving truck outside. I stashed the rest of the shelf liner and supplies and met the movers at the door. After showing them around the house and naming the rooms for them (dining room, tv room, toy room, girl’s bedroom, office, etc), we all got to work. I avoided heavy lifting and instead got to cross off numbers on the inventory sheet as items came off the truck and tell the guys where to put things in the house.

Soon after we began, the neighbors brought over some sodas and a bowl of apple slices. They tried to get me to let them bring a chair over for me, but I insisted I preferred to stand. I cannot stand the idea of sitting in the shade while the poor movers are lugging all of my worldly possessions (way more than I actually need, by the way) into my home in the hot sun. I still feel like a slacker just standing there, but I feel like less of one standing than I would sitting.

I like chatting with movers. These guys were local, but they’d done a fair amount of traveling in the past. Movers and other military “brats” generally share my broad knowledge of the United States, and it’s interesting to get different perspectives on the places I know. For example, the one guy talked about how great the food was in Utah.

“Really?” I asked, incredulous. “So, you like fry sauce?”

Turns out he went to—and liked—a couple of steakhouses in Salt Lake City. I can agree that there are some good steaks to be had in Salt Lake, but I wouldn’t say I was ever really impressed with the food we had while living in Utah. It was clear, though, that he’d not been there since before the Olympics. He talked about how unnatural it was to eat a steak and not be able to wash it down with a beer, a reflection of the even more restrictive liquor laws in Utah before the Olympics came through in 2002. To be honest, I don’t find the current alcohol laws in Utah to be that much different from the laws in Massachusetts. We still have to go to a special store to buy even beer. There are just more of those stores around than in Utah, they’re not run by the state, and they have wine and beer tastings pretty much constantly.

At any rate, this is some of the kind of stuff I talked about with the movers before my husband and the kids arrived with the car and the rest of our possessions from the hotel room.

I handed the clipboard with the inventory sheet to my husband and went back in the house to cut the rest of the shelf liner out before the kitchen cupboards became entirely boxed in. When I got back out to the driveway, my son was riding his tricycle around the garage, my daughter was sitting on a chair crossing off numbers on the inventory sheet, and my husband was supervising the children and directing the placement of items.

By 12:30, the movers were done and on their way.

I spent the afternoon unpacking “just one more box” until it was 5:00, and we’d missed lunch. We went out for burgers and hot dogs (ketchup and fries are vegetables, right?), then came back home to do a few more hours of work to get the bedrooms in shape to sleep.

Then we all passed out, exhausted, with the night sounds coming in through the windows and the ceiling fans keeping us cool.

I woke up stiff and sore the next morning (probably should have accepted that chair), but I worked out most of the kinks with some yoga, then got to work again.

As much of a pain as moving is, there is something quite satisfying about unpacking boxes and breaking them down, and flattening and rolling packing paper.

And while this wasn’t the way I’d anticipated starting off the year following my Happiness Project, it seems appropriate to start the new year with a new home in a new place.

I just hope we get to stick around for a few years now. I really like our house, and I’m not in the mood to move again anytime soon.

Calling All Blogging Mamas!

I know that a number of my readers are current or former (or future!) nursing moms, so I thought I’d post about this here and invite you to participate in the Blog Carnival for the Salt Lake City Breastfeeding Cafe.

The Breastfeeding Cafe in Salt Lake City is an annual event by the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition to normalize breastfeeding and to bring public awareness to the issues facing nursing families. It takes place during the first two weeks of August at the Main branch of the Salt Lake Public Library.

The Blog Carnival will run from July 18th until the cafe begins. Each day there’s a new topic relating to the theme of this year’s cafe, “Mothers See, Mothers Do! In Public, In Pictures, and Online, too!”

You don’t live in Salt Lake City? No worries! Neither do I anymore!

You don’t have to live in Salt Lake City to participate in the Blog Carnival, and you don’t have to be nursing a child right now, either. You just need to check out the topics and, if one or more of them resonates with you, post about it on your blog on the designated day.

But if you are in the Salt Lake City area, I highly recommend checking out the cafe in person to see all of the awesome activities they have planned this year. I was fortunate enough to get to volunteer with the cafe for three years, and to be close friends with cafe organizers for each of those years (and this year, too!). I’m sad to be missing the cafe this year, but I’m excited that I can still participate via the Blog Carnival!

You can see the list of dates and topics for the carnival at the Breastfeeding Cafe blog (click any of the text links in this post to visit the site. For your convenience, I put six in this post). If you want to participate, contact Claire at the email address in the carnival post, send the link(s) to your post(s) to Claire in advance, and have your posts up by noon on the designated date for that topic. Claire will provide html for headers and footers for your blog posts (don’t let that scare you away if you don’t know html…it’s really easy to do. You just copy and paste!).

I’m not sure how many topics I’m going to post for, but you can expect to see at least a couple of posts about breastfeeding on my blog during the carnival. I hope to see some on your blogs, too! This is a great way to get to know other bloggers, to support one another, and to celebrate and normalize nursing!