That one time we went to NYC and FAILED.

So.

With seven in our family, we eat a lot.

Therefore, it is necessary to buy a lot of food.

Once a year, we go to a restaurant supply store in New York City and buy oatmeal, flour, sugar, rice, beans, etc. in 50 -100 pound bags–because they have the best price on these things, they don’t make you pay for a membership, and the store carries delightful surprises we can’t pass up, like bulk sesame seed (hello, homemade tahini!), insanely beautiful 2 gallon jars of kalamata olives, and powdered hollandaise sauce mix by the half gallon (which is probably terrible for you, but dang delicious over ham and eggs on an english muffin).

Anyway.

We’ve been shamefully late on doing it this year, but we finally put aside a Saturday and made the drive.

Our phone map app died 20 minutes before we got there in the middle of  icky NYC traffic. The qualifier icky goes without saying, doesn’t it?

We desperately navigated the rest of the way old school style, using maps that did not  indicate which streets were one way.  Three children were distraught because they needed to pee. We got to the store five minutes before their 1 pm closing, and while they took enough pity on us to let us use the bathroom, they flat out refused to sell us the three hundred pounds of beans and dry carbs we had come for.

We piled back in the car and went down to a gas station to refuel and let out the last child whose bladder hit capacity only after we pulled away from the restaurant supply store. At the gas station, the man in front of me spent ten minutes trying to explain to the  cashier that the tire air hose was broken outside. The cashier had a sketchy grasp of English and and even sketchier lack of caring. I asked for the bathroom key, and he informed me that “toilet exploded.”

Back on the road, we realized we were all hungry. So we stopped at a grocery store boasting a Greek food aisle and bought muffins, bananas, and an array of other things to grind into the newly vacuumed van carpet. The store also boasted a bathroom, through the back, down the stairs, in the darkest corner of the basement storeroom. If I could buy larger bladders for the children, I would.

Well, says I, we’ve come all the way to New York City. Surely we should do something interesting here before we leave?

Yes, says husband, let’s go to the High Line Park! My colleague from New York City says it’s THE thing to see out here.

So we pick up McDonald’s wifi and learn that High Line Park is a mere 6 miles from where we are. And it would almost be faster to walk.

55 minutes of purgatory New York City traffic later, we  (astonishingly) find a (maybe free, maybe legal?) open parking space. Whether or not it was actually legal, there was no parking meter, and we didn’t get a ticket. This is our primary triumph in this journey.

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We ascend the steps and find ourselves on an elevated walkway packed with tourists from all over the world, walking up and down this elevated strip of history, through high end apartment buildings and over circles of hell  New York streets packed with cars.

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I had envisioned playgrounds and grass planted over the raised rails. While there were patches of grass, they were studded with polite signs to please keep off. Because, just like chickens, too many humans will destroy a nice patch of lawn.

 

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Once again, the offspring had to pee, so husband was obliged to go buy fried asparagus in order to gain access to a toilet. While we waited for him (and bladder-needing child), Jane the Austen and I counted how many Francophones, British Accents, and Russian Speakers we could overhear in a five minute period, how many torn skinny jeans we could spot in five minutes, how many heads of pink hair we could catch in five minutes.

Outside of cheap oatmeal, my favorite thing about “The City” is people watching.

The asparagus, like New York City, sounds exciting in theory, but was ultimately kinda disappointing, and not half as fresh as I thought it would be. But maybe overpriced, overdone vegetables and cities are an acquired taste that I have yet to develop.

On the way back, we encountered a gentleman who had a nice hippie public art project, where the general public was invited to pain masterpieces on 3X3 pieces of cardboard, which he added to an ever growing display.

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Some people are appallingly talented. (OK, this is also something that is fun about New York).

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And that is the story of our futile journey for oatmeal.

The End.

In Which “Naked for 5 Hours at the DMV” is More Than Just a Bad Dream

So today* I went  to the DMV because my pacific northwest driver’s licence had to be unreasonable and expire.

Husband the Man scheduled the day off his Fancypants duties so that he could take care of the children. And play with power tools. Husband the man is a talented woodworker.

Anyway, I took Lucy the Maude, because she, like the four before her, finds artificial nipples an insult to her intelligence and discerning taste. Ergo, until she has more than breastmilk in her diet, she is literally attached. To me.

We got to the DMV, and I was instructed to get into the “green” line. I was pleasantly shocked to see that it was the only line in the place that wasn’t a million people long. Lucy and I got in line, and Lucy, having inherited my sense of humor, proceeded to projectile vomit all over herself, just to make things more interesting, and to complicate the simplicity of a short line.

The vomit was acidic and Lucy was soaked, but smiling and cooing amicably. Like I said, the infant has a sense of humor. I let three people go ahead of me while I stripped her down. Since she’s a freakishly neat baby (normally) I had no backup clothes for her, but fortunately she missed dousing her baby blanket. So she got so arrive at the DMV window naked and swaddled and happily sociable. The DMV worker was much amused.

“You lucky duck,” says he to Lucy, “I wish I could wander around with my shirt off, too.”

Lucy the Maude thought he was hilarious.

I followed DMV man’s instructions, took a number, photographed myself at a self-service driver’s license photo area, and settled in for a multi hour wait. The glory of the DMV is that it’s one of the most diverse places in the wilds of urban Connecticut besides my church. My local church congregation is gloriously diverse.

Like my church, the DMV does not discriminate who it brings in. Everybody welcome! Unlike my church, the DMV legally compels people through its doors. My church, blessedly, does not.

Anyway, as I was sitting there, I got to watch all the people, and speak to several. Even in the age of smartphones, some people are sociable and interesting enough to converse with strangers. Their stories are delightful.

I also got a big hug from a Congolese friend from my church. It was refreshing to break up bureaucratic monotony with an unexpected occasion to practice one’s French.

The lady sitting next to me watched this interchange, and when he left, asked me about him. I explained we went to the same church. She inquired which church. I told her. An eyebrow raised.

“Did he go to your church before he came here?”

I told her I didn’t know, but I think he did.

There is still a stereotype sticking to us that Mormons are generally middle class white Utahns. While there are lots of those, they’re not the majority, not by a long shot.

It should be noted that I, a mostly-white, sorta**-middle class Mormon, have never really lived in Utah. Idaho for college, but never Utah. But I digress.

Over one hundred dollars and five hours of infant toga baby blanket wearing later, Lucy the Maude and I escaped the DMV with a new state license.

My goal is to never return to that circle of Dante’s inferno for the rest of my sojourn in the wilds of urban Connecticut.

The End

 

*Yes, by today,  I mean a while ago, because these things are scheduled in advance.

**Especially culturally. You can take the girl out of the middle class, but it’s much harder to take the middle class out of the girl. If I am very wealthy one day, I will probably still never buy a 4 or 5 figure piece of clothing. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever worn a three figure piece of clothing, outside of my homemade wedding dress. My sartorial needs are paltry next to other’s food or human rights needs. If I am destitute one day, I will probably still never, ever wear leopard print spandex. In all fairness, leopard print spandex plagues all classes, but it afflicts the impoverished most of all.

Post General Conference Recap Part I:the weekend

It was a glorious conference.

Saturday:

Children and I went on a cleaning blitz, while husband went on a finish- the -take- home -midterm blitz prior to conference.

We watched the first session, with some scrambling during choir breaks to finish making glorious ham and cheese brioche pockets.

Neighbor children come to house. They like to hang out. We like them. They think conference is boring, and promised to come back later.

Post conference, we get to sit down with one neighbor kid’s mother. We like to meet neighbor kids’ parents. Some parents are elusive. This one is not. She’s a lovely woman. She also tells us about the parental challenges of some other kids who frequent our house.

This is not our first experience with parentally challenged children.* A few  years ago this conference weekend, when we heard this talk, we both struck with a sense of destiny. From that time forward,our house has become a magnet for parentally challenged kids. It was like Elder Scott was blessing/ cursing/ calling us personally. I love it and wouldn’t change it for the world, even though it stresses the string beans out of me sometimes.

We missed the second session due to social calls from growan up neighbors. Yes, I know I should have just invited them, but it was our first time meeting them, and establishing rapport via full attention was the order of the moment. Husband left to priesthood session, and I walked our neighbor kids home because it was getting dark. Coming back, I find one more kid, begging for just a little more time with us. And, knowing what I know about his parental challenges, I couldn’t say no.

We boiled some corn starch wallpaper glue and I helped Clive the Staples plus neighbor kid do a long anticipated map project. Neighbor kid said our house was so educational, we didn’t need TV.

That’s only partly true, neighbor kid. Sometimes Studio C is my deus ex machina. Just saying.

Sunday:

We made cinnamon rolls and brought them to a glorious brunch at church, followed by the morning session. The kids were surprisingly contained through most of it.

We lingered at the church because husband had to help with some priesthood ministering (I love this about him) but left when Lucy the Maude pooped her last diaper.

We caught the last session at home, and one neighbor kid came and sat through most of it with us. Jane the Austen knitted a roof for her newest fairy house. Toddler dozed on husband. Mr the Rogers and Clive the Staples doodled. Neighbor kid played with a fidget toy. I geeked out over text with jail chaplain friend over how great the talks were. Live texting with her during conference is a million times better than live social media-ing during conference, which I only tried once. Not worth it, kids.

 

This is the skeleton of the weekend. The flesh and blood and guts were in those 8 hours of lovely talks from prophets of God. I’m glad I have six months to study it all.
The end.

*Parentally Challenged: children who have been in foster care, are in foster care, or maybe should be in foster care.

 

**

The Story of Our House

Once upon a time, husband  and I sat down and said to each other,

By gum, husband is in a stable, comfortable job in a family friendly town with a low cost of living…why not  make things interesting and move across the country to a place we’ve never been, go back to grad school to qualify for a less comfortable job, buy a fixer-upper house, and have another baby?

OK, that’s not entirely how the conversation went, but that’s the summary of how things happened.

We’d been praying about and planning on graduate school for several years. about 9 years, in fact; the whole of our marriage. And until this time, the divine answer was always “not yet.”

There are many reasons why, but the biggest I can think of is we had some friendships that needed to happen in our last hometown in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. To leave a place feeling tranformed by it, and feeling you’ve also transformed it, is a good feeling. We’re meant to learn and grow from each other, and that is precisely what happened in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.

Anyhow.

We moved to the wilds of urban Connecticut where the taxes and therefore rent are formidably high, and found ourselves searching  for the unfindable: a house close to Fancypants University with a reasonable (!) rent or mortgage, and a neighborhood wherein we were unlikely to be shot.

We had a friend write to us about this house. He had tried to buy it in the past, and was unsuccessful (we found out why the hard way). He said he thought of us when he walked through the house (reasonable enough, as the dining room ceiling was falling off, the kitchen was full of grimy liquor bottles, and the basement was full of suspiciously stolen-looking tires, the attic had a septegenarian squatter living in it). Friend thought it might be a good house for us. It’s  a fixer upper, but we’re handy, right?

So we found a realtor and embarked on a four month headache. In the end, we got the home, for a very good price. We bought it with a squatter in it, and between the friend’s genius diplomacy, our feeding the squatter homemade cookies, gently pointing out the fact that I was 38 weeks pregnant with our fifth child, and a little baldfaced shameless bribery, we were able to help him move on to other accommodations on amicable terms. Yes, he did promise three times to come back and burn down the house if the check bounced, but he was quite amicable about it.

He had a lady friend who got drunk on Everclear on our front porch the night we moved in.

We got the anonymous gift of lit fireworks thrown in through our open window the day we were moving in.

And we couldn’t be happier with the place. Our neighbors (all those we know so far) are pleasant, friendly, and have excellent senses of humor (whoever lit the fireworks notwithstanding).

Life, especially life on the border between a posh community and a starkly impoverished community, requires an excellent sense of humor. We have enjoyed the community, and, so far, have not been shot.

The house is slowly transforming, as time and money allow. Lucy the Maude was born 12 days after we moved in. It is good to be home.

 

Stay-at-Home/Working Mother Symbiosis

I could start by saying that my (our) choice for me to be a stay at home mother is one of the most important we have made. (It is).

I could also start by saying that I think that staying at home is more than just a sign of our privilege and affluence; that we would have to be pretty darn destitute, and would cut lots of other things before we seriously entertained my entering the workforce as a solution. (Also true).

I could tell you how important time with mother, especially in a child’s early life is. (Spoiler: it’s really, really important).

But really, what I want to talk about now is the fact that I am grateful for working mothers. While we all feel compelled to defend or champion our lifestyles, it’s very freeing to take a step back, take a deep breath, and realize that stay at home mommery and working mommery don’t need to be at war with each other. In fact, they can be symbiotic institutions.

Aren’t we meant to help each other?

If all our strengths and virtues and vulnerabilities and liabilities were the same, caring for one another would be a difficult task indeed.

So. Symbiosis. Mutually beneficial relationship.

Once upon a time, one of my dearest friends was (still is) a jail chaplain at the county jail. I met her through a neighbor who was incarcerated. We were both deeply invested in helping this neighbor and her little daughter, and through this mutual concern, a life altering friendship grew.

Here’s what else we had in common: we both had children and we both were pregnant.

My time with my babies and toddlers is special and sacred. I am where God needs me to be. It breaks my heart to think of spending 40 hours a week away from my little ones.

But.

My jail chaplain’s time in the county jail was special and sacred. She was where God needed her to be. It breaks my heart to think of what would have become of my neighbor, me, and my future foster daughter if she hadn’t been where she was to counsel and minister. She has since returned to stay at home with her kids, because she felt that that’s where God wants her. I believe her when she says this, and I also believe that her working in the jail when we all needed her was also divinely appointed.

Is being a stay at home Mom important to me? Oh yes. But I am indebted to this woman who did not stay at home. The same goes for my foster daughter’s social worker, my children’s phenomenal pediatrician, for a string of gifted music teachers who have coached our children, and countless other women who have supported my family with their work outside the home.

Recently, another mother I love and admire had a child suspended from school for a week. She could not take off work, but me? My work is at home. The primary point of my main occupation is “being there for people.” The vast majority of the time “people” means my husband and children, but I also consider it a part of my calling and vocation to be available for these exact circumstances–for the boy whose mother can’t take off work for a week, for the Grandma dealing with the emergency foster placement of her grandchildren, for the neighbor child whose parent relapsed. I am here for them. That is part of my job.

I need working women, working mothers. And they need me. I could write a whole other blog post on why I think staying at home is important and best for my children and best for me, and why I think society has harmed itself, and women in particular, by devaluing stay at home motherhood (I probably will), but really, above and beyond that, I’d just like to acknowledge that we need each other. That we’re put on this earth and in our particular circumstances to lift each other. And I’m  grateful, so very grateful, for what I’ve been given and what I can give.

The End.

 

Why Consent is Not Enough

With widely publicized accounts of date rape and sexual assault, discussions about consent are big these days.

The Thames Valley Police even made a video explaining consent in what is possibly the simplest and most comprehensive way ever. It’s just like tea party etiquette!

While this is all good (and true and important) the fact that it’s a thing at all is depressing.

Why?

Because sex is actually, really, much more important than tea.

And having sex is really, actually, a much bigger deal than having tea with someone.

If the importance of sex was a generally understood thing, if our collective time and energy and money went more to understanding virtue than it did to a billion dollar pornography industry, we wouldn’t be in a crisis of consent.

Any man or woman who understands and values chastity does not “accidentally” rape his or her date.

Any man or woman who understands and values dignity, temperance, candor, and honor will be able to both set healthy boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.

But all of those things are preachy outdated and old fashioned. I am forcing my morality on you. Who am I to say what’s right and wrong? We get to pick our own values, even if that means being so casual about sex that all the sudden we have a spawning population of people who don’t understand consent. Ok, nevermind, we have one value: Consent. Because we still understand that rape is bad.

Consent, consent, CONSENT.

CONSENT IS EVERYTHING. So if both parties are consenting, it’s OK ,right?

Right?

No. Consent is not enough to make sex OK.

Consent is not enough when an abused and insecure 18 year old signs a contract for a porn film where violent degrading things are done to her for the entertainment of millions, a video that brings her pain and shame, and regret and people who “recognize” her for years to come. Her consent is not enough to make that sex OK.

Consent is not enough when a starving mother is offering up herself as a prostitute to feed her kids. Her consent is not enough to make that sex OK.

Consent is not enough when someone in a position of authority  (like, maybe, a teacher) has sex with someone subordinate to them. Or, you know, fourteen years old. Her consent does not make that sex OK. Regardless of what judges or academics say about sex with consenting minors.

Consent is not enough for any man and woman, to come together in this sacred way, and to play biological Russian Roulette*** that may create a child that they are not willing, ready, or able to care for, a child for whom they are not willing to provide a united mother and father, a child that they may literally sacrifice on the alter of their entitlement to do whatever they want–their consent is not enough to make that sex OK.

It’s not. There’s something more needed, and that something is Honor.

As a noun, Honor means “high respect, esteem, privilege.”

As a verb, honor means, “to regard with great respect.”

Noun application:

When we all see sex as an honor, a privilege, something that is of great value, not something you do with someone to be pleasant or sociable or because they paid for the date, guess what? Consent becomes a non-issue.

Verb Application:

When we learn to deeply honor, or regard with great respect, sex–it becomes something that we won’t do, and won’t even feel pressured or tempted* to do, with someone who isn’t our everything. In fact, when we honor sex to the point that it’s sacred to us, we may only have sex with one person over the course of a lifetime. We may end up only having sex with a person with whom we are willing and able to partner as mother and father to all children who deliberately (or not deliberately) come our way. When we honor sex, the sex we have is honorable, and in this mutually held honor, consent becomes a non-issue. We honor one another and the act of sex enough that it’s not happening when the both of us are not happening. When the honor is really and fully there, we don’t have to have lengthy explanations about the do’s and don’ts of serving tea–the do’s and don’ts of sex, to those who have a mature honor for sex, the “nuances” of consent are patently self-evident.

So. We can sit back and point out all the hypocrisies and shortcomings of the stuffy past societies that honored sex and valued chastity–“they were a buncha hypocrites! Look at the marital rape and the rape culture and the sexist double standard and this bad thing and that other bad thing!”

Oooor….maybe, just maybe, we can look at what happens when we combine the values we forgot about in the sexual revolutions of the 20th century (chastity, temperence, honor), with the values trendy now (compassion**, free will, inclusiveness). What kind of tomorrow would we have?

It would be a beautiful tomorrow. It could even be a tomorrow in which most people not only understood consent, but bigger things. Better things. Honorable, happy making, trauma mitigating, disease-eradicating things.

The End

*Yes, it’s possible, even in a highly sexualized world as a sexual being with sexy, sexy feelings. It’s possible.

**If we’re actually more compassionate…but that’s a discussion for another day)

***I don’t care if you were “safe,” or “fixed.” You’ve stacked the odds against conception, but you’re still gambling with the body of a possible Child. Your possible Child. If you 100% can’t handle a baby, there’s only one 100% solution, excepting in rare (1 in all of ever) cases of immaculate conception. And God gets consent before blessing the abstinent with children.

Sprained

I am typing this from my bed, which I have hardly left all day, because I’m uncoordinated on crutches and my foot is in massive pain.* It feels abominably lazy, so I have to list off all the things I’ve done to comfort myself. I have nursed the baby, provided cooking advice to the children, prayed, and read a number of books to accommodating audiences. I am willing the cells in my foot to quickly mend all damaged tissue. By sheer force of will, this must be better quickly…we’ve got a Seder to go to at Fancypants University next week. Unfortunately, I sprained my foot.

The story is embarrassing. Husband volunteered to take all the children to buy groceries (and pick up a really sweet Craigslist deal to replace the rapidly deteriorating flooring in our kitchen) and I, in my giddiness at having an empty house all to myself, went into CLEANING BEAST MODE, with a plan to clean and write and clean and write until my house was immaculate at my novel was perfect.

So I was sprinting through the house, and with all the grace that nature has gifted me, I smacked my foot into a lovely pillar between the dining room and living room.

It only hurt slightly, but enough that I sat down and wrote for a while. Then went back to CLEANING BEAST MODE,  ignoring the pain. Until the pain became not-ignorable, about 8 o’clock that night. By 9, I couldn’t move my toes.

By 9:30, I feel like this:

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By 10, a nurse was telling me to go get it x rayed, and no, it couldn’t wait until tomorrow.

So I go to the ER at 11 pm, where my fellow hospital patients are an unconscious man bleeding from a bandaged head wound, and a barefooted, t-shirted, handcuffed man railing about police violence and hollering colorful epithets at the five security guards accompanying him on his hospital bed travels.

I’m feeling silly being here. There are so many more people who need so much more attention than I do.

But here I am, and when they look at my foot, they tell me I should be here. I still feel silly. Shoulda stayed home with ice.

Jane the Austen’s violin teacher also happens to be in the ER, accompanying a sick relative. She sees me (though I do not see her; did she catch me spying on the crazy people?) and sends me a text. We have a lovely text conversation in between paperwork and wheeling to and from X-Rays. (I don’t feel polite texting while people are doing stuff for me, even if they’re not talking to me). She offers me a ride home, which is lovely because husband is at home with our five sleeping babies.

Jane the Austen’s violin a lovely, lovely woman, one of those people that radiates goodness and puts one in a perpetual state of awe by the breadth and depth of her pedagogical  and humanitarian and artistic talents. She helps me up the steps to my house, and dear husband makes me eggs, because it is past midnight and I am hungry and he is compassionate.

In the morning, Jane the Austen and Jack the Stewart make crepes and bring them to my room, so we can have breakfast as a family:

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They sit on my bed and I read them stories. When Clive the Staples discovers my crutches, all bets for a tranquil morning are off:

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But that’s OK. I’ve always known that he had a destiny in the circus arts.

Somehow or other, the seven of us ended up having a lunch of peanut butter and apples in my room while Husband the Man read Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians to us all.

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Jane the Austen half-listened, half-penned the next great American Novel. Also, note Lucy the Maude’s fist photobombing. All my favorite people are right here.

Later, the children brought me a leaning tower of banana bread with cream cheese frosting. Because when the children are in charge of the food, they will make whatever they darn well please! (It was delicious.)

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We lay in my bed like a bunch of lazy fools, eating banana bread and watching enthusiastic homesteaders tell us about how to keep chickens. Why are we researching chickens? We’re homeschooling millennials. Chickens are our destiny.

It was a glorious afternoon. Husband the Man took Lucy the Maude and Mr. the Rogers home teaching, and Katherine the great fell asleep on me while we did our Chicken Youtube research.

When the rest of the family came home, husband piggybacked my sprained-foot self down the stairs and we curled up around the fireplace as we burned up the dried out Christmas tree.

Yes, the Christmas Tree. Yes, it’s March.

Our family seems so small when we’re all cuddled up together.

Conclusion: Having a sprained foot is not that bad when you have a family like mine.

Second conclusion: Seven in the family is not too large. Not by a long shot.

The End.

*Due to the fact that I write and schedule these things ahead of time, I’m hoping that by the time this posts, this injury will be a thing of the past.