Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reasons to Try Living Somewhere Else

Okay, this post is really for Summer, who is making the big grad school decision along with her family. But I thought I'd go ahead and share with everyone. Maybe others can add to my list (or give me a reality check as the case may be).

1. You can stop referring to everywhere outside Utah, Arizona and Idaho as "the mission field." It's just a place where people live. Perhaps this is just a pet peeve of mine, but why is Utah not part of the mission field? Shouldn't people there do missionary work too? Anyway, you will learn firsthand that being outside areas of high LDS concentration is nothing like being on a mission. And you can get over the impression that Utah is Zion, or anything like unto it. Living somewhere else just broadens your perspective on the world.

2. All the apostles do it. Okay, of the fifteen men currently in the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, only twelve have spent significant non-mission time outside Utah. But 80% isn't bad. And they all seem to have survived and perhaps even been enriched by it. So the chances that your husband will become an apostle are much better if you leave Utah than if you stay. =) you need another reason?

3. There are more thrift stores than just Deseret Industries, and they're not nearly as picked over. Great cheap stuff (good for grad students). People also tend to give great stuff away because unlike Provo, not quite everyone is completely financially destitute.

4. Develop social skills. You learn to make friends other ways than church, and you make new friends who you haven't known since Junior High. It's pretty great.

5. Meaningful choice and a nice helping of courage. You can always go back to Utah. But when you do, it will be because you made an informed decision, not because you're afraid to try anything else.

6. You might just like it. In fact, you might discover an area of the country where you'd like to stay. You might find somewhere you prefer to Utah, or you might decide to try out another new location.

7. If you or your husband ever wants a job in a different part of the country, the potential employer is much more likely to believe you when you claim that you're willing to move there. Mormons everywhere are notorious for quitting and moving back to Utah at the earliest possible convenience. Going to school somewhere else might give some credibility to your assertion that you're willing to live anywhere.

8. Opportunities to serve. Most other places in the country have smaller wards and even branches. They need people to help, so it's very easy to get involved and feel like you're making a genuine contribution. Church becomes more about what you can give rather than just what you can get.

9. Learn to appreciate temples more. Everyone who thinks a twenty minute drive to the temple is far should be required to make at least one all-day temple trip in their lifetime. No, not staying there all day, driving there for half the day, staying for one session, then driving back home for half the day. You'll never take for granted again the fact that most people in Utah can see one or two temples from their front door. Here, we're lucky to see a temple once a month. It may sound like a disadvantage, but I do think it makes you view the temple in a whole different light.

10. There's less competition at grad schools other than BYU. It's true that Mormons tend to be crazy motivated. They all feel intense pressure to keep up and be amazing, and it makes them into what we call "gunner" students. They're not usually fun classmates. In fact, they're often mean. It's actually kind of nice when your classmates aren't all trying to support families or be Mr. Amazing. They also don't have the advantage of a stay-at-home wife supporting them. You also get the bonus that a lot of them go out drinking quite often, so their study productivity is down (significantly). That makes a great environment to compete in. Taking a mental break once a week is also very good for studying stamina. The Sabbath is amazing!

11. Diversity. Meet people who look at the world differently from you. Learn to tolerate them, and see how nice it is to have them tolerate you. You can even become friends. It's often refreshing to live in a place where everyone isn't trying to be exactly the same, even if many of them are working toward the same goals. People also have much different backgrounds, which is fascinating and enriching. You can learn about other ways of looking and life and it will irrevocably change the way you look at life.

12. Good food. Along with all that diversity come restaurants with great things to eat.

13. Enrich the world! As James' uncle likes to say: Mormons are like cow pies. If you pile them all together, they stink. If you spread them out, they turn everything green.

14. Now is the perfect time. If you hate it and feel that the only place you could possibly raise your family is in Utah, you'll get back there before your kids are old enough to be messed up by their experience elsewhere. They probably won't be in school yet, and they'll be too young to really be scarred by the experience. This is a perfect time to move your family around, try new things and have adventures before there are a lot of roots to pull out (for your children anyway; root pulling in your own life is probably not a bad thing).

15. Freedom to be who you want. When you move to a completely different place, you can be whoever you want to be. No one has any set notion of who or what you are, so you can define yourself however you like. Stupid, but effective example: James grew a beard when we moved here, and no one has any idea that he really never had it before. For our Madison friends, it's part of James (or was until he shaved it off last month), even though it was really just something new he wanted to try. It's an opportunity to reinvent yourself, try new things, or just get out of everyone's old ideas of what you are.

16. See a different place. There are so many fun things to do when you move to a new area of the country. Think of all the wonderful things you can explore. You'll find great places to visit, wherever you end up.

17. BYU is everywhere. If you think you'll miss Provo too much, don't worry! There are BYU grads everywhere, especially wherever there's a grad school. You can all get together and reminisce about how great the food at the Canon Center was, or whatever it is you BYU people do. Many still get together often and talk about how much they miss Utah and how they can't wait to get back. While I don't think this approach is optimal, you really don't have to leave it behind all that much.

18. Technology. Living far from "home" has never been better! Webcams are wonderful, skype is free, blogs are amazing, email is convenient and cell phones are affordable. You can very easily stay in touch with everyone you love at minimal cost. Your parents can even still read stories to your children, if they'll sit still for it.

19. Share the Joy! For all of my ranting about the whole "mission field" label, it is much easier to do missionary work if you know people who aren't LDS, and that's much easier when more people aren't than are. So, in the end you will have more opportunities to share the Gospel. And that's a good thing.

20. Learn that a good Relief Society lesson has basically nothing to do with the centerpiece. My mother is still horrified that we don't even use centerpieces here in Wisconsin. They didn't use them in Virginia either. Leaving Utah is a great way to learn how to simplify and shed glorified traditions that aren't really doctrine and don't necessarily serve any essential function.

21. Personal growth. It's hard. I'm not going to lie to you. And sometimes, especially in the beginning, it's lonely. But life isn't always blissful, even if you do live in Utah. However, you DO learn a lot about yourself and about the world. It's worth it.

22. Community building. You will be able to enrich whatever place you end up more by having lived outside it than you can with limited perspective.

23. Better travel. You will establish networks with people throughout the country (grad students end up everywhere). Then, when you want to go on vacation later, you know someone in all those places and you can stay with them for free.

I'm amazed how many of these are spiritually based. I didn't anticipate that. I'm sure it would be easy to come up with an equally long list of reasons to stay where you are, but I think these are worth considering at least. It's scary sometimes, but more often it's wonderful. So come on out to "the mission field!" Whether you head right back to Zion or not, you'll be glad you at least came and tried it out.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A New Discovery

Am I the only one who didn't know that you could buy bread in a can??? I was so surprised that I read the instructions to be certain it really is what it seems. Confirmed, bread in a can. It's near the pork and beans, if you want to try some for yourself (I was not so adventuresome).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter Thoughts

Several years ago, I spent Easter as a missionary in Italy. It was a unique experience. I thought it was neat that everyone left church with palm leaves the Sunday before (not something that really happens in Utah, where I grew up). On Good Friday, the town had what I can only call a funeral for Jesus. There was a huge, solemn procession behind a giant crucifix. It was all very depressing. As someone whose job it was to preach the good news of salvation through Christ, I found it far too sad. I wanted to shout to all of those people, "He lives! Yes, he died, but that isn't the point! The point is that he was resurrected, and so will we be. The point is that even though everyone dies physically, and more important, spiritually, we will all be able to live again thanks to what Christ did." That's what Easter is supposed to be about! It seemed that in focusing on the cross, the people of Italy (or at least the people in that procession) were forgetting the empty tomb and the joy it represents. I truly felt like Alma. But, like Alma, I had to be content with my calling, which was to something different from shouting at crowds engaged in deeply help religious rituals.

In Italy there always seem to be church bells ringing. But, at Easter, the bells don't ring from Good Friday until Easter Sunday morning. I think it's an interesting symbolism.

The other thing I remember about my Easter in Italy is that the Sunday School teacher had challenged the members of his class to watch the sunrise and think about the sun rising that resurrection morning. It made me think about the symbolism of the Light of Christ in a whole different way. His resurrection brought hope to the world as the sun brings light after a dark night. I have always enjoyed the symbols of Christ relating to light, from the star telling the Nephites that their faith was not in vain and they would not be killed in the morning, to the sun that is closest to the earth during the darkest, coldest months of the year, to the darkness that surrounded the people when the Savior died and was no longer on the earth.

For me Spring is always very symbolic, and I like that Easter happens in the Spring. Winter can seem so long, dark and lifeless. But new life always comes. Similarly, the Savior brings renewal into our lives, creating a spiritual spring whenever we repent and turn to Him. Whether the winters in our lives are created by sin or just the adversity that finds everyone eventually, we can know that Spring will come. And even on the darkest, coldest days, we can look forward to the sunrise of the Savior's return. Sometimes it snows even after spring has arrived, but we know that a mere storm will not hold back the inevitable rejuvenation of spring, which will be followed by summer, full of warmth and life. This same hope comes from discovering the gospel, repenting, and welcoming the Savior into our lives.
This Easter, as I lay in bed unable to sleep, I watched the day dawning outside my windows, and was grateful for the Light of Christ in my life and the hope that it brings.

The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Lo Zion's standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day
Majestic rises on the world.

Nifty Thrifty

Many months ago, when I was newly pregnant, James and I went to the local thrift store (St. Vincent DePaul) looking for something to use as a microwave stand. We found a fabulous little cupboard that nicely supplements the limited storage space in our kitchen. Best of all, for only $15, we were finally able to take the microwave off the fridge and put it at a much handier level. While we were at good old St. Vinny's, I noticed that they had a wide selection of chairs, including some rocking chairs that looked promising for new parents on a budget. But, I wasn't buying baby stuff yet, so I made a mental note and went home with my cupboard.

Eventually, the time came to start thinking about new furniture, and we stopped by St. Vincent's again to scope out the chairs. No luck. There were only a few extremely rickety rocking chairs that just wouldn't work. Even though they only cost $25-40, I just couldn't bring myself to commit to one of them. Never fear, thrift store inventories are always changing. We went back, several times; it's on the way to a lot of things. And while we did find several great games for $2 or less (Uno and Battleship are among the latest acquisitions), we never found a chair we were excited about.

I started to worry that we wouldn't find anything before the baby makes her appearance. I have been diligently searching Craig's list as well, but there are no rocking chairs and gliders usually run about $100 (more than I wanted to spend). What's more, even gliders are few and far between. I began to think we would need to bite the bullet and pay retail (which we basically don't do for furniture, cheapskates that we are). And I really wasn't looking forward to buying a brand new rocker at this already expensive time in our lives.

Then, today, we had a little time and stopped by St. Vincent's on our way to the grocery store. I figured my baby luck was spent for the day, as I'd already picked up a free Boppy, a bunch of clothes, some books and a sling from a generous friend this morning. But no! While it looked hopeless at first glance, no rocking chairs at all, we found a promising glider tucked away at the end of the last row. It was buried underneath its ottoman and another item, but the price tag said $18. Now that's worth at least sitting in to try it out! Though, at $18, there must be something wrong with it. Nope, perfection. In fact, it worked better than the $34 glider down the row that didn't even have an ottoman. Okay, it didn't look quite as nice as the more expensive one, but I want to rock my baby in it, not look at it. And the ottoman had an $18 price tag too, so it might have turned out to be a little more in the end. But I could handle $36! And I don't think it looks half bad....

James went to get the salesman and put it on hold so we could find a truck and come back. It turns out the ottoman was included in the price of the chair. But, that's not even the best part. They were having a buy-one-get-one sale on chairs. So we got to pick out another! And we found this gem, which even matches the couches we didn't pay for:
James has already taken a liking to the free chair. Notice, he's also modeling the new Teevas he got this week, because his old ones disappeared. They were a bargain too, but not as cheap as the chairs! Two chairs, for less than $20. I just had to share the joy!

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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pregnancy Fitness: What I wish I'd know thirty weeks ago...

I have always enjoyed being in shape. I'm not always in very good physical shape, but I try to exercise somewhat regularly. I've certainly noticed that it makes me feel better. Last year, however, was not a good year for exercise. I spent the summer driving around the country (19 states, and one stretch with 10 different beds over the course of 12 nights) and studying for the bar exam. This was not conducive to regular exercise. In fact, when we finally arrived at our new home in Madison, I was physically, mentally, emotionally and in all other ways exhausted with no energy for something like exercise.

Nevertheless, I figured I would soon get back on the wagon. Unemployment is so well-adapted for things like fitness programs. I started looking at local gyms (too expensive, I was still unemployed after all), looked into the YMCA, and walked around town as much as possible. Then, I found out I was pregnant. Being a first-time pregnant person, I was somewhat paranoid about what things I can and cannot do (and especially eat). After all, I want to be a responsible parent, right?

Unfortunately, the nebulous advice I always got on exercise was "up until 20 weeks you can do whatever you were doing before you got pregnant." What? This guidance was so uninformative you'd think a lawyer came up with it. What about people who are normally in pretty good physical shape but have recently fallen off the exercise wagon entirely and would really like to get back on before nine more months go by? "Up until 20 weeks you can do whatever you were doing before you got pregnant." Thanks.

Now it's true that between taking the Bar and moving to Wisconsin I went on a 20+ mile hike for two days, but that was more a demonstration of my newly developed physical limitations than any great abilities. So...once pregnant I kept up with the walking. And I did walk, quite a bit. But let's remember that I live in Wisconsin, where winter is no laughing matter. Fortunately, the weather remained beautiful and I definitely wore short sleeves and sandals on Election Day when I walked to my polling place. But by the end of November it was downright cold. And yes, it really does get WAY too cold to go outside if you don't have to. There was also the added ice component, which made walking outside fairly out of the question.

Of course, I was still unemployed for all intents and purposes, so the gym wasn't going to happen. Someone did suggest that I go to the mall, where apparently the doors open early to let people walk the corridors before the shoppers crowd them out. But was I really going to get up at 7am in the freezing cold to go mall-walking with hoards of nice old ladies? Apparently not.

Finally, in January, I decided that enough was enough. I got on my wonderful local library's website and found myself a pregnancy workout DVD. Okay, I found several. And, being indecisive, I basically got them all. Now, without even leaving the comfort of my apartment, I could exercise! And best of all, I knew it was safe because it they were pregnancy workouts! I started slow and small, but quickly found that the workouts weren't that physically taxing. I was amazed at all of the things I could do, all sorts of movements that I'd have wondered about as a paranoid first-time pregnant woman. There are a lot of exercises that help you prepare for labor and delivery, which is very assuring for someone as afraid of pain as I am (I think the anticipation is probably worse than the pain itself, in my case). Now I feel like I might survive it. Best of all, I both feel and sleep better. Who'd have thought the second half of my pregnancy would be the first time in my life I'd actually be able to do those dreadful tricep dips I've always avoided like the plague? But I really like working out, and I think it has kept me sane over the past ten weeks. Endorphins are great! Now if only I can make it through eight more weeks of being pregnant.

So, for anyone who is thinking of becoming pregnant, I recommend getting in shape now, before you get told not to try anything new. And for anyone who is pregnant, go ahead an start doing something. It will make you much happier when that day arrives that climbing four or five stairs leaves you winded like you just ran a mile. Then you really can, in good conscience, tell yourself that at least you did a hundred squats this morning and blame the baby for hogging all the space that is supposed to belong to your diaphragm.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Do you ever feel like you're being watched? Closely?

I thinks it's interesting how Google gives you advertisements that are supposed to be tailored to you. When I'm emailing people about Community Gardening, I get ads for gardening supplies. Whenever I mention my baby, I get diapers, bottles and formula ads. For the longest time, Facebook knew I was a female in my late twenties and annoyed me with skads of pictures of everyone's bare midriffs with an assurance that mine could be just as flat. I'm not sure how Facebook figured out that I was pregnant, but it has saved me from the semi-clad models of the advertising world. Now I get pictures of stretch marks and products that will get rid of them.

Today, however, things got a little closer and even less comfortable. I was reading an email about General Conference-related activities and my Gmail popped up with this lovely little banner ad:
"Mormon Underwear - - See our Mormon Underwear Great deals go fast!"


I guess the ploy worked because my curiosity was far too piqued not to click on the link. It turned out to be rather innocuous and not at all what it appeared. Mostly I just laughed at the randomness. But still, I'm beginning to feel like those "helpful" folks at Google may have crossed the line into over-invasion of my private interests. I guess I need to come to terms with it. After all, every time I email anyone about anything personal, everyone at Gmail can know about it too. Maybe I'll go back to snail mail....or not. I'll probably just keep pretending like I have some sort of privacy. Ignorance is bliss, right (even if it is willfully feigned)?