Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thank you, Spiunsuh

I'm relatively sure that my brother-in-law, Spencer, wasn't supposed to be born in this time period. In fact, I have a feeling that he is perhaps a reincarnation of Henry David Thoreau. The Wikipedia entry on Thoreau names him an American author, poet, philosopher, naturalist, and leading transcendentalist. One day, a Wiki on Spencer will probably say the same thing.

Spencer is a brilliant person. He shovels intelligent media into his mind the way he shovels pho noodles into his mouth. I can always turn to Spencer for a painful, witty, contemporary novel, or a mind-churning piece from public radio, or a life-altering museum exhibit, or a stunning film. He is clever and astute and knows exactly which music, books, or poems to share with someone. Whenever someone in the family opens a media gift from Spencer, there is a special eagerness; everyone knows that what he gives will fit their sensibilities like a pair of skinny jeans. And it's more than just knowing what people will like; he accurately anticipates reactions to all aspects of media. Once, Spencer lent me an anime series. There is an unexpected character death in that series, and it crushed me. Immediately after it happened, I called Spencer on the phone, bawling uncontrollably. "Oh, I'm so sorry," he said. "As I handed you the bag with the DVDs in it, I cringed, because I knew this would be really hard for you."

Spencer is a hilarious person. Nick and I love to quote funny movies and videos in our day to day lives, but no one makes Nick laugh harder than Spencer does. One of our favorite Spencerisms happened while we were driving for some errands. We were comparing notes on some new music, and then Spencer said,
"Oh, have you heard the new Kenny Winker album?"
Us: "No, who's that?"
Spencer: "You haven't heard, 'Don't listen to me, I'm a liar?"
Us: "No, is it good?"
Spencer: "Yeah, it goes, (singing) 'Don't listen to me, I'm a liar, don't listen to me I'm a big stupid butthead liar."

At this point, it kicked in that Kenny Winker was not real. That's the way Spencer is; his humor is like an unexpected $20 bill found in a pocket of everyday conversation. I have a knack for remembering exact quotes, and when we hang out with Spencer I feel it's my duty to be hyperaware, ready to commit any funny thing he says to memory. It is a horrible shame to forget a Spencer quote. I was super happy when last year for a Christmas gift, he wrote a fictional music review of Kenny Winker's new comeback album. Finally, we had a hard copy of his hilarity.

Yes, Spencer is fun and cool. He has interesting friends and experiences and conversations. But what really makes Spencer Peterson worthwhile is his supreme selflessness. You know how if you happened to have asked someone for a favor a little too frequently, then there is a certain hesitation, a certain weariness in their demeanor? Spencer never, ever has that weariness. Especially since having kids, we have been in positions where we've genuinely needed Spencer's help. For example, the holiday season we refer to as "Sickmas." Luke wasn't even 4 months old yet, and Nick, Luke and I all got horribly sick. We'd flown out from Utah, but we spent over half of our break down in the basement, not wanting to pass our germs to the rest of the family. Luke had never been sick before, and we didn't have any supplies to relieve his symptoms. I got extremely nauseous from the exhaustion of being sick and not sleeping. Nick's fever hovered around 103, and he couldn't go to the store. But Spencer was on break, and he had a car. As our week of sickness went on, he went to the store for us again, and again, and again. To get baby Tylenol, to get a nasal aspirator, to get saline spray, to fill prescriptions, to buy soup and saltines and tissues with lotion. He never complained. He never seemed put out. He continually asked us if we needed anything else, if he could get us anything else. I was astonished. I am hard pressed to think of any other time a person has served our little family so thoroughly.

Maybe Spencer doesn't remember how helpful he was to us during that difficult time. Maybe Spencer doesn't realize how much it means to us that he always plays with our kids so joyfully and tenderly. Maybe Spencer doesn't realize how much I feel like he is my real brother. But it's true.

There is a reason Luke laughs for joy every time he sees his Uncle Spencer; that's just the effect Spencer has. When Nick and I see him, we feel like laughing for joy, too.

Thank you, Papillon decotipafleurdecotifleude

There comes a point in every woman's life where she makes up her mind on beards. For me, that happened fairly young. I was between ages six and eight when I had a man named Eric Peterson for my Sunday school teacher at church. My own dad had never worn a beard, since he was in the Army. But Eric Peterson had a beard, and that put me firmly in the pro-beard camp. Why? Because he was so kind, gentle, and patient.

Like anything else, LDS sunday school for children is organized by age. For most of my time in Primary (Sunday School for ages 4-11), I was the only girl in my class. As a child, I was not shy, but I was definitely soft spoken. And since I had mostly sisters, the ways of boys were strange to me. I often felt intimidated and out of place--particularly because one certain boy was very rowdy and felt free to tease me. But at least from my perspective, Brother Peterson always calmed the class down, always included me, and always managed to get in some sort of gospel lesson.

Little did I know that one rowdy boy would grow up to be the love of my life, and little did I know that my kind, gentle Primary teacher would be my father-in-law.

Sometimes, people like to talk about what animal they would be. But for Eric, such a distinction couldn't be made. I think his loved ones would agree that Eric is not just one animal, but a whole ecosystem--specifically, a quintessential Virginia wetlands. His interests and characteristics could take up a Linnaean classification system, with phylums, orders, families, species. I'll try to collect a few choice specimens out of the biodiverse Eric Peterson wetland.

One genus of Eric's interests is definitely science. Since I got my degree in biology, we have connected about the beauty of organic chemistry, the wonders of evolution, and more. Eric is quite fastidious about making sure his progeny love science as well. Bill Nye the Science Guy is practically a member of the family. Some dads might just play catch with a 9 or 10-year-old son; Eric showed his son The Universe.

A phylum in Eric's wetland ecosystem of personality is his love of people. There may be a stereotype about women or moms tending to linger and chat after church, but Nick has always lovingly referred to his dad as a social butterfly. Growing up, he was very familiar with his dad's tendency to have extended, friendly talks with people in the lobby. I have seen this played out myself. Eric is capable of having a full, genial conversation with anyone, easily pole-vaulting over small talk into intriguing, personally relevant topics. This stems in large part from his complete, generous love of all people. I have never heard Eric speak ill of anyone. His heart is always full of forgiveness, full of mercy, full of humility. I don't think he harbors a single prejudice for any class of people on this planet. It doesn't matter if people live the same way he does religiously, or believe the same things he does politically. Every human being receives respect and kindness from Eric Peterson.

Branching out of the previous taxa is Eric's love of quality conversation. I'm not sure if he specifically knows that he loves to speak in interesting ways, but he must love it since he does it constantly. In the same way that wetlands are lush with the greenery of lily pads and vines, Eric's language is lush with allusions, puns, and analogies. Any talk with Eric yields a choice bit of wisdom, always delivered in a thoughtful tone and followed by a series of contemplative nods, as if he's already considering whether he could take a metaphor even further or stack a pun even higher. Nick has inherited many of his father's idiosyncratic sayings, and I know that Luke will pass them on even further.

Oh, there are so many other phylogenetic linkages in Eric's character. I could talk about what a stalwart and cheerful grandpappy he is, or how he balances watchcare with respect for agency in the lives of his teenagers. I would even love to talk about his inordinate fondness for berries. But just as I could not give a thorough summary of life in a wetland in the space of a blog entry, neither can I speak sufficiently of my dear father-in-law. But I can say this:  Overlaying the ecosystem of Eric is a natural, tranquil joy--much like the atmosphere at Huntley Meadows. I know that his peaceful nature comes from a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ and a lifetime of faithful obedience. And that is the trait I am most grateful he passed on to Nick.

Thank you, papillon-in-law.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thank you, How Learning Works

As part of my required reading to become a CAPPA certified childbirth educator, I have to read a book about how people learn. I've read a number of books on this subject before, when I was writing my Honors thesis at BYU, and it's a subject that interests me, particularly since I homeschool. While I've enjoyed all of How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Chapter 3 finally articulated some ideas about birth and breastfeeding that I've struggled to express.

Now, Chapter 3 isn't about babies--the entire book is actually geared toward college professors. Chapter 3 is about student motivation. But when you replace the word "student" with the word "mother," and the word "goal" or "outcome," etc with "natural birth," or "breastfeeding," there are some great insights. Non-italicized parenthetical statements are my own comments, bracketed words are where I have replaced a word from the book. This is not entire chapter, but relevant excerpts from it.

Motivation refers to the personal investment that an individual has in reaching a desired state or outcome...There are two important concepts that are central to understanding motivation: (1) the subjective value of [natural birth or breastfeeding] and (2) the expectancies, or the expectations for successful achievement of a [natural birth or breastfeeding]. 

Performance goals involve protecting a desired self-image and projecting a positive reputation and public persona (such as when women are subconsciously afraid of making noise, or acting primal, or having a bowel movement during labor; or when women feel self-conscious about breastfeeding in front of others). When guided by performance goals, mothers are concerned with normative standards (such as hospital policy or a certain weight percentile for their baby), and try to do what is necessary to demonstrate competance (ie, women who are subconsciously afraid that not doing what a doctor says will make them a bad mother).

When guided by learning goals, in contrast to performance goals, [mothers] try to gain competance and truly learn what a [birth experience] can teach them. Indeed, most research suggests that [mothers] who hold learning goals, as compared to those who hold performance goals, are more likely to use [birth preparation or breastfeeding] strategies that result in deeper understanding, to seek help when needed, to persist when faced with difficulty, and to seek out and feel comfortable with challenging [natural births or breastfeeding experiences]. 

[Mothers] may have other goals that conflict with [natural birth]. Work-avoidant goals, for example, involve the desire to finish [labor] as quickly as possible with as little effort as possible. [Mothers] guided primarily by work-avoidant goals may show little interest in [natural birth] and may appear alienated, discouraged, or disengaged. 

A [mother] will be more motivated to pursue the [birth] that has the highest value to her...[Mothers] are also motivated to pursue [births] that they believe they can successfully achieve. Conversely, if they do not expect to successfully achieve a [natural birth or breastfeeding relationship], they will not be motivated to engage in the behaviors necessary to achieve it. 

A [mother] holds positive [natural birth] expectancies when she thinks, "If I [stay healthy, take a birth class, and practice with my spouse, I will be able to achieve a natural birth]. In contrast, negative [natural birth] expectancies involve a belief that specific actions have no influence on a desired outcome. For example, a [mother] may think, "No matter how hard I work, I won't [be able to have a natural birth or breastfeed]. Efficacy expectancies are also essential. Efficacy expectancies represent the belief that one is capable of identifying, organizing, initiating, and executing a course of action that will bring about a [natural birth or successful breastfeeding relationship]. 

What determines a [mother's] expectation for success [with a natural birth or breastfeeding]? If a [woman or her mother or sister] has experienced success with a [natural birth or bfing] in the past, she is more likely to expect success with a [natural birth or bfing]. If [a woman or her mother or sister] has experienced failure [with natural birth or bfing] in the past, she is more likely to expect failure. 

When [mothers] successfully achieve a [natural birth or bfing relationship] and attribute their success to internal causes (for example, their own talents or abilities) or to controllable causes (for example, their own efforts or persistence), they are more likely to expect future success. 

When a mother fails to achieve a [natural birth or bfing], her motivation is likely to be low [for future births or babies] if she attributes her failure to lack of ability, especially if she sees her ability as fixed or not amenable to change. On the other hand, even in failure situations, motivation is likely to remain high if a [mother] explains her performance in terms of controllable and temporary causes, such as inadequate preparation, insufficient effort, or lack of relevant information. Under these circumstances, [mothers] can maintain the belief that they are capable of changing their behaviors to achieve a [natural birth or bfing relationship]. 

If [mothers] perceive the [hospital or pediatrician] environment to be supportive, (for example, "The [care provider] is approachable and several of my [birth attendants] seem willing to help me if I run into trouble"), motivation [for a natural birth or bfing] is likely to be enhanced. If [mothers] perceive the environment as unsupportive, (for example, "The [care provider] seems hostile"), it can threaten expectations for success and erode motivation. 

Thus, our framework for understanding motivation suggests that if a [natural birth or bfing] is valued and expectancies for success are positive and the environment is perceived to be supportive, motivation will be highest. However, if there is little value associated with [natural birth] or efficacy expectancies for success are negative or the environment is not perceived to be supportive, motivation is likely to be lower. 

When [mothers] care little about [natural birth or breastfeeding] and have little confidence in their abilities to achieve that goal, they tend to behave in a rejecting manner. This characterizes [mothers] in both supportive and unsupportive environments. These [mothers] are prone to disengage from learning situations and may experience apathy, general passivity, alienation, or even a sense of anger if, in the case of a supportive environment, support is perceived as coercive or pressuring. 

Depending on their perceptions of the environment, [mothers] who see value in [natural birth or bfing] and have confidence in their abilities manifest two forms of behavior. Those who perceive little or no support from the environment may be defiant. That is, because [natural birth or bfing] is important and they are confident in their abilities, they may take an "I will show you" or "I will prove you wrong" attitude. (This was definitely my own experience with learning to breastfeed. Fortunately, I encountered supportive environments as well as unsupportive ones, so I didn't have to get by on defiance alone). Those [mothers] who do perceive the environment to be supportive demonstrate the most motivated behavior. 

If [mothers] perceive the environment as unsupportive, even those who find value in [natural birth or breastfeeding] and have positive efficacy expectancies may fall short [of a natural birth or breastfeeding goals]. Indeed, when the environment is unsupportive, the best we can hope for is the defiant pattern of motivation. (This demonstrates the importance of birthing in a supportive environment with a care provider who has a low intervention and c-section rate. This also demonstrates the importance of finding a pediatrician who is truly pro-breastfeeding and who is educated about breastfeeding.)

Phew! That's an awful lot of slightly technical reading, I know. Forgive me. But I didn't force you to slog through it for nothing.

Here's the thing. In this country, if you want to avoid a c-section (whether first time or repeat), if you want to have a positive birth, if you want to breastfeed your baby, you absolutely have to be highly motivated. You can't just assume that you'll waltz in, get an epi and a crapload of Pit, and waltz out. You can't just assume that you can shove a paci in your baby's mouth and force them to cry alone in their bed at night in a seperate room and then have a successful breastfeeding relationship. If you want a natural or even a vaginal birth, if you want to breastfeed, you have to "engage in the behaviors necessary to achieve it," and that means research and persistence. Research in high-quality sources (read: not just your friends or your mom, not just the internet, and certainly not just the What to Expect series) (Oh, and not just in opinion-based parenting books that basically tell you to let your child cry until they vomit. There is no scientific study that promotes that for raising a happy, well-adjusted child).

So many women who have an induction or a c-section or who don't meet their breastfeeding goals are really resistant to the idea that maybe, just maybe, it didn't have to be that way. Many women get very defensive or take it as a personal affront if anyone suggests that maybe they had an unnecessarean or that maybe they could have kept breastfeeding. In the face of evidence to the contrary, a woman can insist that no, she is the true biological exception. She is truly the one whose body was broken. She truly has a pelvis too small to birth a baby. Her milk supply truly was insufficient! Her milk truly just dried up! It happened to her mother, after all, so that must make it...real.

I have great faith in evolution, God's brilliant mechanism for life on this planet. I can tell you the names of dozens of women that I know personally who all insist that they could not make enough/or good enough milk to nourish their baby. Yes, there is some small--and I mean very small, most estimates put it at around 1%--percentage of women who are physically incapable of nursing their baby (based on biology alone, not breast surgeries or medication incompatibilities). At The Farm, where the famous midwife Ina May Gaskin resides, the c-section rate has been as low as 1.46%. Just the fact that it's possible to have a c-section rate that low throws red paint all over the 33% c-section rate of this country. The percentage of biologically broken women should be so small that it's very rare to meet one.

I will go ahead and say it: Some of the women who think they couldn't make enough milk or that they really had to have a c-section or really needed an induction are wrong. Just plain wrong.

There could have been "inadequate preparation". There could have been "insufficient effort". But always, there is "lack of relevant information." Talking to these women, they are all convinced that they did more than enough/that they knew all there was to know.  They are resistant to the idea that their mothers have incorrect notions about birth or breastfeeding that have been perpetuated, inadvertently sabotaging their daughters. They are resistant to the idea that maybe their doctor was misleading or even wrong.

In The Boston Globe last year, obstetrician Adam Wolfberg wrote an article titled, "The C-section Boom." In it, he stated, "The truth is, an obstetrician can persuade almost any patient at any time that a caesarean is the best choice." He goes on to freely admit to manipulating a patient--a healthy, first-time mom with a slow but uncomplicated labor--into first being induced then getting a c-section for his own scheduling convenience. He freely admits that it was for no medical reason. Sure, he gave the mom some garbage reasons that she believed, but she was just one of thousands of unnecessareans of 2011.

I am not saying that I know everyone's business, or that I automatically assume all moms who had sections or inductions or all moms who use formula have been duped. There are women I really love and respect who have had inductions and c-sections, women who definitely knew their stuff and made a very loving, informed choice. But the reason I went to the trouble of typing up all of those book excerpts is that women underestimate the true power that their mental state and assumptions have over what the outcomes of their birth and breastfeeding will be. If for whatever reason, you expect to fail at progressing in labor or progressing in breastfeeding, then you will fail. 

If you think your body is broken--think again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thank you, Abby

Take a minute and just look at this picture.

Nothing cheers me up like this picture of my sister-in-law, Abby. There is quite the story behind it. You see, young Abby knew that it was school picture day. She had determined that this headscarf was the perfect thing to wear. Despite being told by her mother, her nanny, her teacher and the school photographer not to wear it, Abby persistently snuck it into her bag and refused to take it off. Thank heavens, because years later, this picture is an absolute gem. Just look at her self-satisfied little smile.

Abby is older now, and she has lost not a wit of her will. But she no longer spends it on keeping blue gingham sunflower kerchiefs on her head.

Abby spends her will on improving herself. Honestly, it is easy to be intimidated by Abby. Nick and I played Settlers of Catan with her a few months ago, just the three of us. She effortlessly crushed us under her thumb, even though we had played it many times before her, and even though she was not even in high school yet. In an intellectual sense, Abby already has so much to recommend her. But Abby never stagnates, and she never coasts. If you've ever read about bamboo, you'll know that it can grow over 3 feet in a day and still be a strong, vibrant, and versatile plant. That is Abby. She soaks up the resources around her--in school, in her music lessons, in her artistic pursuits--and shoots for the sun, growing stronger every inch of the way.

Abby spends her will on having and being fun. She bakes and banters. She laughs and inspires laughter. If anything is hip or funny, Abby knows about it. We love to be around her, and we're so grateful when she takes time out of her demanding life to be with us. Playing a game with Abby is always awesome. Seeing a play with her is always enriching. Bouncing ideas about culture, people, science, or anything off Abby is always invigorating. I am continually impressed at her bright, fiery insights.  The beautiful thing is that Abby doesn't just relate on a mature, adult level. Abby is just as skilled at relating to children and babies. On a recent visit, I asked Abby to watch Renée while I put Luke down for his nap--but then I accidentally fell asleep. An hour later, I awoke and immediately felt so bad--what if Renée had been super cranky? What if Abby was really stressed and annoyed at me? But I walked upstairs to find Renée peacefully asleep and Abby relaxed. Not at all phased, Abby had simply rocked a slightly fussy baby girl to sleep and successfully set her in the bed. Now that's an advanced skill!

Abby spends her will on achieving life balance. Sometimes, when people are as ambitious as Abby, they leave other things by the wayside--like friendship, or family, or spirituality. Not so with Abby. It may help to visualize her in a butterfly pavilion--one of those places where they keep dozens and dozens of butterflies, and as you walk through, they may land on you. Some people are too rushed when they go through the pavilion; they take a quick glance around, and then move on. Thus, no butterflies land on them. Abby is able to progress through at a stately pace, where she neither wastes time nor frightens the butterflies. She always makes time for her loved ones, and she never shirks church. Watching her, she truly seems to be a princess--serene, accomplished, beloved, and bedecked in butterflies.

And if she really wanted to, we all know she'd have the brass to wear her "babushka" (as the gingham headscarf has come to be called) to the royal ball. Bold, beautiful, brilliant Abby.

This is part of my series about my incredible in-laws. Read more about them here, here, and here. It will restore your faith in humanity. 

Monday, December 17, 2012


I had desperately hoped that since this latest mass shooting involved children, that gun advocates would have the decency to not run around saying more guns--guns in the hands of the victims--would have solved the problem. I had really hoped that, since I felt pretty sickened by all the talk of that nature after the movie theater shooting.

But it didn't even take six hours after the shooting for Facebook remarks to start clunking in. Remarks defending guns--or imploring people not to attack guns, since out of respect for the victims we shouldn't politicize the tragedy. When a friend made a remark about the availability of assault weapons, someone pro-gun immediately responded with,

"Stop using the term assault weapons... its terminology used to evoke emotional knee jerk responses."

Oh I get it, we shouldn't use the term "assault weapon" because people who dare to question the availability of guns are all just big, thoughtless, emotional saps. Because we shouldn't get emotional in the face of violence like this.

It didn't even take a week after the shooting--it only took a mere two days, in fact--for this:

"Appearing on Fox News Sunday, [Rep. Louie] Gohmert said of slain principal Dawn Hochsprung: “I wish to God she had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”

Wow, just what we need right now--talk of revenge and more gruesome imagery. Guess what, Rep. Gohmert?  Not everyone wants to meet violence with more violence. Not everyone wants to treat all schools as a war zone. Not everyone wants to be aggressive and offensive. Not everyone thinks guns are the answer. In fact, the last time I checked, it's unstable people who think guns are the answer that commit these mass shootings!

Rep. Gohmert, principals don't have to be consumed with bloodlust the way you are from here on out. Seriously, the answer is not loading up innocent, peace-loving people who have chosen to spend their entire career teaching children with the burden of violence. With the burden of guns. Are you seriously, seriously going to blame this tragedy on the fact that not everyone in our society is a paranoid warmonger?

When innocent people die at the hands of a murderer with a gun, it is not their fault. They didn't die because they were too stupid to have a gun--or because it's not legal for them to have a gun. Rep. Gohmert and others are basically blaming Principal Hochsprung for her own death. They're basically saying that she deserves what she got, since she didn't have a gun too.

There is such a thing as innocent death. Believe it or not, there are even people in the world who would rather die--or see others die--than commit violence. In the Book of Mormon, in Alma Chapter 14, there is an entire city that has been consumed with violence and wickedness. They are horrifyingly angry at the prophet Alma and his companion Amulek who come to that city. When they are angry, they respond with violence:

"8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.

9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.

10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.

11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

12 Now Amulek said unto Alma: Behold, perhaps they will burn us also.

13 And Alma said: Be it according to the will of the Lord."

Yes, there are people who would rather have themselves and innocents suffer than lower their spirits into the foul vat of violence and retribution. Jesus Christ was one of them. He had the power to stop  the violence that was happening to Him, but He didn't.

Who's to say that Dawn Hochsprung would have wanted to use the power to stop the murderer, even if she had it? Not you, Rep. Gohmert. Certainly not you.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thank you, Ina May

I have a confession to make. I have not yet read Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. Or Spiritual Midwifery. Or any other books by the incredible Ina May Gaskin, the most famous midwife in the world.

As a woman who is nothing short of obsessed with natural birth and breastfeeding, this is pretty strange. I feel uncomfortable when I think about it, like I'm attending a gala with a gorgeous dress, salon-perfect hair, stunning makeup, but no shoes. I'm just walking around barefoot with untidy toenails while everyone else has pedicures and stilettos.

Fortunately, I will finally be reading some books by Ina May for my CAPPA childbirth educator certification.  And fortunately, I got to see the lovely documentary Birth Story the weekend before last. I went with my full-term pregnant friend, and bounced joyful little Renée on my lap the whole time. Now that's what I call a girl's night out!

As I have reflected on the film, I can't help but think about what I, as an American mother, owe to Ina May. Her courage and hard work have inspired hundreds of thousands of women. If you trace the genealogy of people's decisions, she is the ultimate mother of thousands of midwifes, natural births, and even natural-friendly OB's. Though I still have so much to learn about her, Ina May's influence is the reason I had the resources to have two awesome natural births. To honor Ina May, and to celebrate Renée's five-month, I would like to finally share my second birth story. There are a lot of references to my first birth, because I think it's natural to compare when you've experienced something twice. And I've referred to some aspects of this birth story before, but obviously they have to be re-told in context. So, bear with me!

Renée's Birth Story

It all starts with anime. You see, I saw Kiki's Delivery Service for the first time the night before Luke was born. And it just so happens that Nick and I watched a few episodes of Death Note with some friends the night before Renée was born. Maybe this is an indicator of how much anime I watch, or maybe it means anime helps put me into labor. You choose.

No, actually, I think it all starts with relaxing. On the morning of Luke's birth, I remember getting dressed and looking in the mirror and thinking that I looked awesome. I was so pregnant, and I felt beautiful and confident and so happy.

On Thursday night (July 5), I was a little bit stressed. I felt perfectly fine, but I was tired. I was tired of making dinner around my huge belly. I was tired of lifting Luke into his carseat. I was tired of going to the grocery store. And boy was I tired of Braxton-Hicks! I didn't have any particular aches or pains--my strict discipline about prenatal exercise and my use of ensured that--but I was starting to feel a little bit put upon. I did my best to banish these feelings, and I was mostly successfu...mostly. When I read this message in my church magazine, I felt a physical change. I was laying in bed, trying to get in a little bit of scripture study while Nick brushed his teeth.  My whole body relaxed when I read those wise words about "being in the middle." Internally, I think I had been clasping a ticket to board the labor train when I wanted to, but I at last relaxed my grip and let the ticket flutter to the floor.  I finally realized that the labor train doesn't take tickets--it just comes when you're ready.                                                              

I read that article just before 11:00pm. Just after midnight, I awoke with my first hurty contractions. I was SO EXCITED. Because my labor with Luke was very fast for a first labor (around 8 1/2 hours), I had no idea how long my second labor would be; we had definitely read a lot about precipitous labors and what to do if we needed to birth at home or even on the side of the road! So, I woke Nick up. We gave my mom (who was a 2 hour drive away) a heads up. And we gave our nighttime Luke watch a heads up. The contractions were pretty uncomfortable, so I got in the tub to feel a little better...but then they kind of petered out. I didn't know if they would pick back up again or not, but in any event, I thought it best for us to go back to sleep.

I woke briefly around 4am and didn't really feel anything happening, so I thought that the contractions before must have been a false alarm. I felt pretty bummed, but fell back asleep. Then I woke up after 5am and quickly knew that nope, it wasn't a false alarm! The contractions were back in force. I woke Nick up again, and he spent some time talking me through and some time getting things ready. I hung out in the tub. I vocalized a little bit, and poured warm water over my tummy. But mostly, I had this spontaneous little mantra pop up that kept going through my mind with each contraction--down down, down is good, down down, down is good. For whatever reason, that became my main comfort for the next couple hours until we left for the hospital sometime before 8:00.

So, during this time at home, I already knew that the rhythm of this labor was different. Luke's labor was very fast and very intense the entire time. I needed Nick beside me every single minute. But while we were at home, I labored well by on my own while Nick got things ready and took care of Luke. I even was able to pin my hair back in a flattering way, which made me happy. That never could have happened during my first labor.

Luke woke up just before 7:00, I think. He was really cute and sweet and came to see me in the tub. Nick made us all some toast, and I drank OJ as well. When I attempted this in my first labor, I threw it all up, so I was pleased to be able to eat a little bit. Luke happily went off with a friend of ours to play until my mom came down to get him. And then, because we had a half hour drive to make and we weren't sure how long my labor would be, we decided to head on out to the hospital. I had to pause and vocalize a little for a contraction on the sidewalk in front of our apartments. It was already sunny and quite warm. I wondered if any of my neighbors would see me and smiled to myself. We both felt totally serene and joyful.

The drive was okay--it's really not that fun to be in the car when you're in labor. Sitting in labor is kind of THE WORST. And poor Nick obviously tries to drive smoothly, but I just feel aware of the tiniest swerves or bumps when I'm laboring. He talked me through contractions, just like he did in my first labor. I don't know how he does it, honestly. He just keeps up this constant stream of fascinating things for me to imagine and focus on during contractions. Seriously, he is the calmest, most pleasant labor support a woman could ever ask for. I LOVE HIM.

Both labors, I have spent a lot of time with my eyes closed. The best part about the drive is that every time I opened my eyes for a moment, I caught glimpses of green, ripe, Virginia valleys. Oh gosh the drive out to my midwives' hospital was so beautiful. Finally, though, it was over. We parked and started walking up to the hospital. Interestingly, it felt soothing for me to keep walking, but with very tiny steps, during contractions. During my first labor, I always wanted to pause during contractions. While we were walking between cars up to the building, this sixty-something, sinewy, bleach-blonde smoker-type Southern lady saw us and said, "You're havin' pains right now, aren't ya? Ohhhh Lordy." Indeed I was, so I didn't quite laugh, but it's an indicator of how much more relaxed this labor was that I not only found this encounter tremendously funny, but had the wherewithal to commit her exact remark to memory so I could laugh about it later.

We dodged all the people trying to give me a wheelchair--goodness, the LAST thing a laboring woman needs is a freaking CHAIR--and finally made it up to our own lil room with a view of the mountains. I liked that the hospital I was at didn't have triage, but I liked even more that I was able to brush off an IV and everything else so easily. I was cool with some intermittent monitoring, and it was nice that I could stand and sway and hold hands with Nick with the monitor on. At the hospital I was at with Luke, they wanted you to be sitting on the bed, blech. All was well with baby girl, of course. My midwife Kari arrived, and I was curious, so I got my dilation checked. I was surprised that I was at 5cm, only because I'd been at 4cm for a couple of weeks already. But I just thought, "Oh well, my body's doing something!" Dilation is far from the only thing that needs to happen in labor, so I just figured my contractions had been accomplishing something else. I happily got into the tub.

(So...this is where the chronology kind of ends. It seems like some women can give like a minute-by-minute account of their labor, but I am just not that aware of time when I'm in labor. I will tell things that happened, but I don't really know in what order they happened).

As I settled into the rhythm of the labor, I was extremely happy. I kept telling Nick over and over again, "I'm so happy. This is going so well. I am so happy." The pacing of the labor was so GREAT! Instead of being just super intense, riveting contractions the whole time, there would be like...some mild contractions, then slightly harder, then intense contractions for a while, then mild ones again. It was like this for my entire labor. I was absolutely amazed that labor could be like this--breaks between contractions? So awesome!

There were some breaks where I was talking and joking and laughing with Nick. I could hardly even believe that was happening. There was some time where we actually listened to the birth playlist we made and sang along together--that definitely never happened in my first labor. When contractions were mild, swaying or pouring water over my belly while in the tub was helpful. When they were a little harder, I would reach for Nick's hand and he knew that meant I needed some visuals. When contractions got intense, I would call out in whatever way felt best and rapidly squeeze Nick's hand which he knew meant "GivemesomethingtoimagineRIGHTNOW." And these are all general descriptions, of course--it's not all as cut and dried as this. In the moment of a contraction, you just do whatever feels right.

During my first labor, I vocalized the entire time because I felt...compelled to. I could not have stopped the sounds coming out of me even if I wanted to. This time, when I vocalized, I was acutely aware of how it was not just a mental coping technique, but a physical one as well. When you're freely vocalizing during labor, you just find the sound you want to make/the note you want to sing. Whenever I sang out, I could actually feel it resonating in my abdomen, creating counterpressure against the contraction and offering me significant relief. IT WAS SO COOL.

There was intermittent monitoring of baby girl's heartbeat, which was of course always perfect. My midwife came and went; personally, Nick is all I need during labor, so I don't really care how much the midwife is around. I spent a while kneeling on top of the bed, draped over a yoga ball, rocking back and forth. I drank lots of water and HonestAde. I ate graham crackers with peanut butter. I threw up several times in my first labor, so it was nice that I only threw up once during this one. When I got tired, I even laid down on the bed and rested for a short while till my contractions picked up again. It' just hard for me to convey how crazy that is to me in the context of my first labor.

Oh, here's a piece of advice--if you really rely on your husband to constantly be near you and talk to you during labor, DON'T PACK BARBECUE BEEF JERKY AS A SNACK FOR HIM. Oh my gosh, the smell of it was so repulsive to me in the moment. I made him brush his teeth but there was still a lingering scent that I just had to try and ignore.

I got dilation checked only one other time--around 1:00pm. I was at 7cm. Again, I shrugged off the possibility of feeling like "Oh, I'm only at _____cm!" There is just absolutely no point in stressing during labor. It will take as long as it takes, and relaxing is the only thing that could possibly make it go faster.

So there I was, laboring along. I had gotten out of the tub to get some more time standing and making use of gravity. I was near the bed. I'd been vocalizing, etc, but then there was a shift. I felt different. I felt...effort. My breathing changed. My posture changed. My stance widened. It was time to push.

At first I stayed beside the bed, making the sort of sounds you make doing heavy lifting or moving a couch out of the way. But Nick and my midwife encouraged me to climb up on the bed, so I did. The back of the bed was up, forming an L, and I kneeled upright, leaning against the back. (I actually pushed in that same posture with my first labor, but Nick was on the bed with me and I was leaning against him). Because I was on the bed by myself, after being in constant contact with Nick for hours and hours, I felt a small degree of loneliness/upset, but I couldn't really process it at the time because I was, you know, busy


I was better at pushing this time. I knew how to call out but still focus down. I was tired by this time, and I thought, I have to do it. If I want to be finished, I've just got to do it. I felt a bit out of breath and so I asked to take a couple hits of oxygen. I could hear Nick's amazement and my midwife's encouraging commentary, but I just had to do it. Right at the peak, I screamed a true, shrill, scream. And there she was! 4:21pm on July 6, Renée was born!

Now, if you've been paying attention, you'll notice that I didn't mention something important--my water never broke! With my first labor, it broke quite explosively while we were still at home, and I'm sure that contributed to how intensely I felt the contractions. I'm also sure that my water staying intact contributed to how mellow I felt this labor was. Renée wasn't born 100% in the caul, I'd say--I leaked a tiny bit of fluid at the end, and they didn't have to tear the sac or anything. But she came out with the bag of waters--it actually bulged out and came down right in front of her. Pushing with a mostly intact bag made pushing much better, and much faster--I apparently only truly pushed for 15 minutes, and recovery was radically faster as well.

Nick got to catch Renée, which was amazing. I maneuvered around to sit and take her on my bare chest. She was so beautiful and wet and noisy and soft and just felt like a part of me. She made the most glorious little sounds of consternation when she was trying to latch on and nurse--she already had personality! And at 9lb 3oz, 21inches, there was definitely enough of her to contain a personality. (Luke was 9lb 1oz, 20inches, so apparently I make big babies...)

I was feeling awesome and Renée was just a healthy, happy, nursing little gal, so we wiggled our way out of the hospital within 6 hours of her being born. It felt so right and was just such a relief to be in our own home, with her beside us in our own bed. And then Luke and my mom were able to meet her first thing in the morning! All in all, the labor and birth were so extremely awesome, and gave me an extremely awesome baby girl.

I love you, Renée. These have been 5 wonderful months!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thank you, Sebastian

In 2013, Nick and I will celebrate ten whole years of being in love and committed to each other. It was in 2003 that we started dating and knew we wanted to get married.

Ten years means that I have known Nick's youngest sibling, Sebastian, since he was the age Luke is now. I don't know if it's possible to convey how strange that is, but I will try to convey how dearly I love him.

When Sebastian was little, he was incredibly funny. My siblings and I have long held a theory that youngest siblings by necessity grow up as comedians so that older siblings will want to pay attention, and Sea-bass fits that to a tee. I would tell and re-tell stories of Bastian's hilarity to anyone who would listen; partly to make them laugh, but mostly so that I could remember. I didn't want to forget him singing "Harry Potter, are you really there?" at age five (with "Harry Potter" replacing the words "Heavenly Father" in a popular children's church song). I didn't want to forget him describing the anguish of a block tower being knocked over by a sibling as "It's like a knife in your throat!" at age six or seven. And I hope he doesn't mind me remembering that at age nine, when his mom tried to comfort him about a small wart on his foot by saying, "Don't worry, Bastian, it'll turn around," Bastian exclaimed, "Ew, it'll be inside out and bloody?!"

But Sebastian is getting older now. His wit is different; it's a wit born of intelligence, not just youth. Nick and I can do more than just joke or play with Bastian. We can talk about books and music--any boy who loves Jimmy Eat World is a friend of mine. We can ask his opinion on his sisters' well-being--his observations are unclouded and intriguing. We can watch things like Futurama and Home Movies together and laugh. And when Sebastian laughs, it's not just a ho-hum chuckle. He laughs like baking soda and vinegar, inexorably bubbling and overflowing onto everything and everyone around him. Watching comedy with Bastian makes it better, fresher, funnier.

Bastian may be a great younger brother, but I will say he is an unparalleled uncle. When we first brought Luke back to Virginia as a 3-month-old, I was happy when Bastian wanted to hold him. But he didn't just want to hold Luke once, as a matter of obligation or curiosity. He wanted to hold Luke again and again, and even devised this little comforting tune that he'd hum when Luke was fussy. The tune was quite charming, and sounded vaguely like video game music.

Sebastian was sweet to Luke as a baby, but he is truly a saint to Luke as a toddler. Literally every time we visit, Bastian follows Luke around endessly. He builds blocks with Luke. He plays cars with Luke. He throws balls with Luke. He monitors Luke's ceaseless search for kitties. I don't normally think of Luke as a handful, but in such a big, busy house, Luke is definitely a handful, constantly running from place to place. But Bastian is absolutely tireless. Every moment we're there, from sun-up to past sun-down, Bastian is an energetic, engaged uncle. Luke knows it, too; children can tell when people like to be with them. Luke knows it, and I am grateful for it. Sebastian may not see what he's doing as service, but I certainly do.When I see Bastian's love for my children, I feel like I'm gorging myself on a 7-layer dip of gratitude, pride, affection, amusement, happiness, love, admiration, and sheer relief.

Bastian and I are both the fifth children in a family. I know what it's like to have four older siblings. It's educational, but it can also be exhausting; there are so many expectations. It's true that sometimes Bastian is called down for being sassy. But I smile a private smile every time he rages against the age-hierarchy machine. I find it extremely impressive that Bastian has managed to hold his own in a household of such strong personalities. He will continue to mature, and the sass will turn into strength. Youthful stubbornness will turn into steadfastness. He will learn to be discerning with his determination.

He is on the cusp of so much growth and so much change. In a blink, Bastian will be dating. In a heartbeat, he will be serving a mission. In the space of a sunrise, Sebastian will be a father, chasing around his own toddler. And every step of the way, Luke will be watching--learning all there is to learn from his fun, faithful, fabulous Uncle Sea-bass.

This is the third in my series about my amazing in-laws. See my post about Clara, and my post about my mother-in-law

Monday, December 3, 2012

Please, young sexuality

Nick and I weathered a severe disappointment on Saturday night.

We really love Wes Anderson movies. He is a director that we've grown to love together since being married. The music, the strange colors and clothing, the uncomfortable mixture of silly and serious...we love everything about his style, and we've enjoyed every movie of his we've seen--yes, even the R-rated ones.

Moonrise Kingdom, which is PG-13, is the first Wes Anderson movie we've turned off in the middle. We waited for months and months to see it, and then...

I'll let out a big, big sigh now.

When it comes to media, Nick and I have particular things that are troublesome to us, as I've expressed before. We are Mormon, and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged by church leaders to be very careful and discerning with media choices. Some LDS people forbid all R-rated movies in their lives, and that is their choice, not the official church stance in the current edition of For the Strength of Youth.

Personally, Nick and I do watch rated-R movies, because we are fully aware that the rating system kind of doesn't make any sense. There are many, so many R-rated movies that are wholesome, beautiful, uplifiting. We are not of the "Well you wouldn't eat an ice cream sundae with a cockroach in it" or "A dad made brownies with poo in them after his daughters went to see an R-rated movie..." school of thought. For some movies, sure, those analogies are applicable. Like PG-13 Gentlemen Broncos, a thoroughly vulgar piece (and sadly created by an LDS writer/director). But many R-rated movies are more like a luscious peach with a bruise that you cut away before taking in the tastiness and health benefits.

We certainly don't watch just any R-rated film. We always look up why it's rated R. And there are some PG-13 movies that we avoid automatically. But occasionally, we forget that PG-13 movies are not all safe, and then we end up weirded out and bummed out, like we were on Saturday night.

Sexual content is one of the number one things that will make us stop a show--especially casual sexuality. We had no idea that there was any sexual content in Moonrise Kingdom. I think one of the top descriptors I'd heard of the film was "innocent." And I knew it was a love story about children, so I dunno, call me crazy for not checking the Parental Advisory on IMDB.

It was funny, because before any of the sexual scenes, I paused the movie and said to Nick, "I'm sorry, but I'm really preoccupied by the sexist visuals of this movie right now." I proceeded to detail my issues with the costumes of Sam and Suzy, the 12-year-old stars of the movie. Sam wore a very practical Scout uniform, with good outdoor shoes. Suzy wore a wretchedly salmon dress that barely covered her butt with knee-high socks and flimsy shoes. She was also heavily made-up. Wes Anderson always makes powerful statements with the visuals of his movie. I've remarked before that I like his movies because you know that every single thing on the screen is intentional. Of the Moonrise Kingdom visuals, I said to Nick, "I hate their costumes.  I really hate them. I feel really nauseous right now. Why does he get to be in this sturdy, practical outfit and she has to wear such a short skirt?"

I assured myself that Wes Anderson would probably validate the girl character by having her be smart or resourceful or something. Shortly thereafter was a scene where Sam and Suzy are confronted by hostile Scouts, and Suzy is the one that fights them. That scene didn't ease my nausea (I really did feel like throwing up. I don't say that just as a figure of speech). Making a girl in a short skirt fight doesn't validate her; it just sexualizes the violence.

So it was that we came to the sexual encounter of the movie with me already sick with unwitting anticipation. The characters in this movie were TWELVE YEARS OLD. Having an actress that young pose, dance, and have sexual interactions in her underwear is child pornography. It is! Just because an acclaimed director created the footage instead of some pervert in a basement does not change what it is. I have written about how young sexual exploitation of girls begins in this country. The average age of entry into prostitution for girls is thirteen. I'm sorry, but whether it's in a Wes Anderson movie or in the real world, sex and children should have nothing to do with each other. 

I really wish I could throw up now.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thanks again, Katie Robison

For those of you who were lucky enough to read Downburst within the past year, you're about to get even luckier. The brilliant, beautiful Katie Robison is working on a sequel.

I'll pause to give you time to scream, freak out, and squeal with joy.

For those of you who are lucky enough to read Downburst for the first time right now, you can do so with the knowledge that there is more coming! Seriously, I loved Downburst.  Coiled Snake promises to be just as thrilling, complex, and real. I have been honored--and I don't use that word lightly--to whet my appetite on some preview material. It is hard for me to believe that I actually know the talented wordsmith behind the story. 

But I do! So you all can join me in asking her questions and geekily bugging her for more information about her luscious literature! Here is my email interview of Katie Robison; it is relatively spoiler-free, so everyone can enjoy her wisdom. Oh, and at the end, there's info about a giveaway.

Family seems to be an important part of this book. What inspired that for you? Why do you think so much YA media excludes family and focuses only on romance or friendships?

I think many YA authors write out family members, especially parents, because it’s convenient. It’s much more difficult to send a teen on a fantastic adventure if his or her parents are in the picture. And, to be honest, most YA readers probably don’t want to read a book in which the protagonist’s parents play a large role. They’re looking for an escape from reality, not a reminder of it. Teens also tend to place a greater importance on their friends or romantic relationships than on their relationship with their family, and that’s reflected in the literature.

Speaking for myself, however, it wasn’t just that it was easier to isolate Kit in the first book; it was also necessary for her development as a character. In Downburst, she is very much focused on self-preservation and doing whatever it takes to stay alive. That meant I needed her to feel like she was on her own. That starts to change by the end of the book, however, and she makes some important sacrifices for the benefit of other people. In Coiled Snake, she continues to undergo that outward-looking process, and this coincides with her learning more about her family and feeling for the first time that she belongs to a community. That perspective will continue to grow toward an even larger, global picture in the final book.

I also wanted to bring family back into the story because, frankly, I think family is one of the most important gifts we have. As a teen, I didn’t always get along—or care to get along—with my family, but now I recognize how critical and formative those ties are. Even if you come from a completely dysfunctional family, acknowledging your origins, I believe, is vital for your development as a person.

Finally, family was important for this book because the native culture that provides the framework for Coiled Snake—the Maori people of New Zealand—places a huge emphasis on family. For them, family really is everything, and I wanted my work to reflect that. (It also has special significance for me, as the next question reveals.)

Kit is learning a lot of things about her family for the first time in this book. You yourself have Maori heritage. Did you grow up knowing much about that? Have you gone through any similar process of discovery about your ancestry?

I grew up knowing I had Maori ancestry, but not much more than that. As a result, I feel like I have gone through a similar process of discovery, though not nearly as dramatic! In fact, before I even began this project I wrote a short memoir/ non-fiction essay on learning about—or rather searching for—my Maori heritage. My mom and her family never shared much about their ancestry with us kids, partly because when they were living in New Zealand, the Maori culture had not experienced the revival it has now. Learning about that side of my heritage for my memoir project was a powerful experience for me, and after I had written and published the essay, my mom, my siblings, and I applied for formal membership in our Maori iwi or tribe, which was really exciting. Of course, as I’ve been writing this book, I’ve been doing even more research, which has been incredibly rewarding and fascinating.

Do you have any thoughts on how ancestry can impact people’s relationship to a physical place, like a house or a farm or a country?

I think having a strong sense of cultural belonging naturally leads to a love of country, particularly when that culture respects the land and even holds it sacred. For example, even though I’ve never been to New Zealand, I grew up feeling like I had a definite attachment to it. Whenever I get the chance to finally visit, I feel like it will be a very special experience.

On a closer level, I think family is what makes a place home. I miss my parents’ house a great deal and long to visit because I have personal history there and that’s where my family is.

Whimsical question: if people could actually windwalk, how do you think that would have impacted human history?

Hmmm. Well, the way I’ve told it, it wouldn’t have changed much because windwalkers have kept such a low profile. Ifeveryone could windwalk, however, we’d definitely live in a much cleaner, and perhaps less technological, world. We’d probably live closer to nature, and because we wouldn’t need cars or other forms of transportation, we may not have even had the Industrial Revolution. I don’t think we’d necessarily live in a more peaceful world, but we likely wouldn’t be worrying about nuclear weapons—just butt-kicking warriors who can ride the wind.

There’s a difference between becoming an adult legally and becoming an adult in truth. Kit is still young, but has had intense responsibilities and experiences thrust upon her. Does this force her to shed youthfulness and handle things like an adult, or does she approach things as a teenager still?

I think there are moments when Kit still acts like a teenager, but the experiences she’s been through (from losing her parents and taking care of her siblings as a child to witnessing and participating in terrible acts of violence) have really propelled her into adulthood. She may not always handle things in a mature or logical way—I think that does come with age—but she’s left the carefree stage of childhood far behind. As a result, she’s very introspective and guarded, though she’s gradually learning to open up and connect with other people.

While many U.S. teens live fairly safe and sheltered lives, there are definitely teenagers in the world today who are caught up in centuries-old conflicts, like Kit and the other teens in these books. Did you have any real world parallels in mind when writing?

There are definitely places on our globe where a person’s worldview is shaped by his or her family’s hatred toward another group of people simply because they belong to a particular nationality. However, because these conflicts are highly fraught, I don’t want to presume to offer a solution or present the situation in a reductive light. What I do hope is that each of us can take stock of our own lives and consider if we’re ever guilty of judging someone else because merely they belong to a certain demographic. The primary message I hope to communicate with Coiled Snake is that when you get to know a person you think you dislike, you may discover they’re a lot like you.

How has your LDS faith informed your creative choices with these books?

I think it’s helped me recognize and highlight the spirituality of native peoples and in turn add that texture to the world of the windwalkers. Because I take faith and religious worship seriously, I’ve made it a priority to honor that belief in others.

You chose to do homeschooling throughout high school, and were able to finish at a young age and pursue writing a novel then. What sort of long-term effect has that had on you as a writer?

I feel like it’s had an enormous effect. Discipline and self-motivation are two critical skills for being a writer, and those were abilities I developed early on by enrolling in a distance-learning high school. Because it didn’t take me all day to do schoolwork like it would at a public school, I also had lots of time to read. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of reading if you want to write. Reading allows you to develop a sense of how good writing should sound, and that’s something you can’t acquire any other way.

Also, like you mentioned, because I graduated when I was 16, I had some time on my hands before I went to college to practice writing. I took a creative writing class through a community outreach program, and out of that came my first novel—a fairy tale mash-up called Clarissa the Conscientious. Going through that process of writing and completing a book was huge because it confirmed first, that I could do it, second, that I enjoyed it, and third, that I wasn’t an absolutely terrible writer (though there was definitely room for improvement!). I didn’t write creatively very much during college, so when the opportunity arose again for me to start another project, having that initial experience was critical. It gave me the confidence I needed. Without it, I’m not sure I ever would have attempted Downburst.

And last, what have you enjoyed most about writing this series?

Crafting the world of windwalking has been extremely fun. I’m excited about Coiled Snake because readers will get to see and understand a lot more of that world than they did in Downburst when Kit was really an outsider (and unable to ask questions). I’ve also enjoyed the challenge of putting together a plausible and suspenseful storyline. It’s a lot of work but incredibly fulfilling when it all comes together.


To celebrate the sequel, I am doing a giveaway of Downburst! It can be in the format of your choosing--ebook or paperback. 

To enter, leave a comment on this entry. You will get extra entries if:
--You follow the blog
--You share the giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else (tell me in your comment if you've done this).
--You talk about Downburst on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else.

I will leave the giveaway open until Thursday, December 6. Start sharing! And more importantly, READ DOWNBURST! It is the perfect holiday gift for anyone who loves to read--man, woman, or teen! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank you, happy life

Dr. Seuss wrote a fun, interactive book called My Book About Me. I had a copy as a girl. Some of it was kind of work intensive to fill out, and so I never quite finished it. But I recently retrieved it from my parents' house, and today, on my 26th birthday, it pleases me to look back on my 10-year-old thoughts:

I still don't know how to rotate pictures in blogger. Forgive me. The point is, at age 10 I loved writing but thought I hated science. HA! I still blame Mrs. Caufield, my lame 5th grade science teacher, for that. I shake my fist in her general direction. 
Wonderful women that I am still in touch with. Both are mothers now, too!
Oh gosh, that was probably a conservative estimate. I've never been good at estimating. I have no idea how many books I've read by now...but I did just buy a hardback copy of Salamadastron a couple weeks ago! Finally!

This last picture is my personal favorite. It is...precious to me. And not because of my charming, youthful punctuation error. 

When I skimmed through this book a few months ago, after having not seen it for...a decade or more? I felt a serious jolt when I came to that page. Of course I've always loved writing, and I've always been aware of that love, but...I didn't know. I didn't know the extent to which I was, right now in my life, living my childhood dream. There it is, in my own hand. I wanted to grow up to be a mother/author--(Fabio voice) and not the other way around. 

What I desire to write changes from time to time--sometimes I have really focused on my picture books, sometimes I want to be serious about poetry, sometimes I've worked on a novel. Right now, I quite enjoy writing this blog, and so when I have time, that's where my attention goes. And my dream has expanded beyond just writing--I love to read and edit and help other people with writing. I love to write about birth, but I want to do more. So, I hope that one of the biggest accomplishments of my 26th year will be becoming a CAPPA-certified natural childbirth educator. I have all my books, my manual, and my training DVDs. I have created a schedule for when I want to complete each step of the certification. I am pretty much psyched out of my mind about it. 

But even though those things are sometimes easier to make small-talk about, they represent a fraction of my life and my focus. I am a mother. I am a wife. And I love it oh so much. I love teaching Luke and laughing with him. I love family cuddle time on our bed. I love to relish in the bright-eyed, chubby beauty of my baby girl. And I love my sweet, joyful husband, who never gets down about anything, who wishes me Happy Birthday probably hundreds of times on my birthday. 

Gosh it sounds trite to try to list it all out like that. Look, this is how I feel about my life: 

Earlier this year, sometime in my final weeks of pregnancy, I woke up. It was exceedingly early, with only the tiniest bit of light sneaking around the edge of the curtain. Luke had come to cuddle in the night, seeking his daddy's warmth in the air-conditioned chill. I laid there, pressed back to back with Nick. The symmetry of our arrangement in bed pleased me-- baby Mama Dada toddler. Baby girl kicked and wiggled a bit, to let me know that she was awake too. I laid there, with my heavy belly sunk into the memory foam, surrounded by my family, and I could not stop smiling. I was too happy for tears. I wanted to scream and shoot lasers out of my hands and blast through the roof of our apartment and rocket through the sky until I punched through the atmosphere, because surely my joy could not be contained on this planet. But to do any of those things would break the tender slumber of my husband and son, and would disrupt the antics of my enwombed baby girl. So, for the better part of an hour, until I fell back asleep, I grinned madly to the point of face-ache. 

Here's to 26 more years as happy as that.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thank you, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

If you aren't aware of the brony phenomenon, then it's time to get with it. If you're aware of the brony phenomenon and think it's weird/incomprehensible, then it's really time to get with it.
File:My little pony friendship is magic group shot r.png

I first heard about bronies from my younger brother Jacob, who is indeed a brony, or a young adult male fan of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I thought it was just a funny fad; I assumed that guys were watching the show to mock sickly, saccharine, and simplistic dialogue and plots. I love to mock things for that reason; that's why I went to see the first Twilight movie, and I certainly got a good laugh out of it.

Nick was wiser than me, however. Jacob's interest in the show made Nick curious, and a couple of months ago Nick turned it on for our family Saturday morning cartoon. I was extremely skeptical. I did laundry and only half-listened until I realized how much both Nick and Luke were laughing. Really laughing. Ever since that fateful morning, we have all been devoted fans.

I'm not surprised that the show is so witty and well-developed--it's primarily the brain child of Lauren Faust, who has helped garner Primetime Emmy nominations for both The Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and a Primetime Emmy win for Foster's. I never knew Powerpuff Girls very well, but I own both of the first two seasons of Foster's. While I was at BYU I eagerly awaited new episodes to stream. The best animated stories are appealing for both children and adults, and Faust is clearly aware of that.

If you have Netflix, I highly recommend hopping on and just starting from the beginning with MLP. As the bronies demonstrate, being a child is not required. In the mean time, here are some of the things I really love about this show.

Student Main Character: There are six primary ponies, but the foremost among them is Twilight Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle is a student. She's bookish. She has a huge nerdy library of reference books. She loves to research things. And she's not just like, a regular grade school student. She is essentially pursuing an advanced degree--a master's at least, maybe even a doctorate, at the most prestigious school in Equestria. She's so diligent and smart that she is the personal pupil of Princess Celestia (a unicorn pegasus). When I think about how much good it does little girls to see a main character like this--how much good it does little boys like my SON to see a female character like this--my heart explodes with joy *squelch! collapse!* (mega mega bonus points if you know what I'm referencing).

Diverse Female Personalities: It seems like in fictional works across the board that male characters outnumber female characters. There are some exceptions, but...not many. I think the basic idea is that it's okay for little girls/women to relate to a male character, but boys/men won't identify with a female character, so to have the broadest appeal, publishers and executives tend to go for the men. To me, it follows logically that since there are fewer females in fiction, there will also be fewer types of females and more stereotypes of females. It's exhilarating to watch such a popular show with six distinct female leads. But those are just the leads! There are so many different characters in this female dominated show, and they are all interesting and unique. And as bronies demonstrate, men can definitely relate to these little mares.

No Episode Formula: I conceive of the six main ponies as 20-somethings; they have homes, own land, run businesses, volunteer in the community, plan events. There's no static plot for the show. Every episode, they are involved in something different. The ponies all work and have useful skills and substantial responsibilities; the show doesn't just focus on them socializing or shopping or partying. Their social interactions are a part of their complete lives, not their entire lives.

Integrated Scientific Principles: Probably as often as you get a chocolate chip in a Nestle Tollhouse cookie, you get little bits of science in MLP. It's nothing overt, but that's the beauty of it. Simple things, like interactions with their environment, or experimental tactics with Twilight's magic studies. My favorite example is Season 1 Episode 10: "Swarm of the Century," where the ponies have to find a specific and creative solution to banish an invasive species--just like real scientists have to do all the time.

No easy solutions: The conflicts and the problems in the show are not easily solved. The ponies often try several different solutions before they're met with success. When it's an interpersonal conflict, the ponies offer real, sincere apologies to each other. I like Luke getting to see that. And sometimes, when there is a cameo-level character who's being difficult, the apologies don't work. There are characters who, at the end of the episode, are still jerks. They still persist in lying, or being offended, or being selfish, or being mean. The ponies just have to do their best to be pleasant and move on. I like Luke seeing those episodes, too. Because sometimes, people aren't nice. It isn't always going to work out just because you do the right thing or apologize when you've done the wrong thing.

Legitimization of Girliness: There's no denying that girly things sell. Whether they should and whether it's parents, little girls, or social pressures that cause those numbers is another thing. I don't necessarily hate all things girly, but they can obviously be superficial and damaging. In MLP, girly things like interest in fashion, baking, or cute little animals are all tied to skills and actions. Rarity the pony doesn't just look at fashion magazines--she owns a store and creates clothing and accessories. Pinkie Pie doesn't just lounge around watching The Food Network--she runs a bakery and is really talented. Fluttershy doesn't just ooo and aww at internet memes of cute puppies--she uses her own time and personal resources to care for little animals in need. MLP takes things that can sometimes be denigrated as fluffy and feminine and shows how work-intensive they really are and how much skill they require.

When I played with My Little Pony toys as a child, I had no idea that I would one day watch a fabulous new MLP show with my son--and my husband. Bronies unite!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thank you, Book of Mormon

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have read the Book of Mormon, and I know it is true.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading the Book of Mormon again. At this point in my life, I'm not sure how many times I have read it. I have been in the habit of studying the scriptures (whether it be the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants...) daily for probably eight years now. I do not miss a day. I love the word of God.

This time around, I felt overwhelmed by the painful beauty of the Book of Mormon. Painful because it is the story of true human societies, none of which are ever perfect. Painful because of wars, bloodshed, and anger. Painful because of cynicism, sign-seeking, and doubt.  The Book of Mormon draws images into your mind like medicine into a syringe. A single verse can illuminate a personal human struggle so vividly as to make you weep. The final chapters of the Book of Mormon were written by the prophet Mormon and his son, the prophet Moroni. As they write, their people are being destroyed by their enemies. Mormon writes,

"16 And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people, and I cried:  17 O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! 18 Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss. 19 O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen! 20 But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return." (Mormon 6:16-20)

But this is not the end. Like the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon is a testament of Jesus Christ. Despite everything he has suffered, despite all of the darkness Moroni has witnessed, he still testifies of the Savior. At the end of his life, when he is in hiding and in constant danger, Moroni is still able to write the words:

"30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing. 31 And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled. 32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God." (Moroni 10:30-32)

I am nearing the end of the Book of Mormon again, in my study with Nick. We have studied the scriptures together every day of our marriage. We are on chapter 6 of Third Nephi, which is the fifth to last book. 3 Nephi contains an account of some of the most chaos and violence in the Book of Mormon. The society is falling apart. Corrupt and cruel leadership abounds. Women and children suffer. I know the stories. I have read all of this before. But this time around, it just feels really intense to me, and I find myself anxiously longing for chapter 9. Chapter 9, where out of the darkness following the crucifiction, the voice of the Savior is heard:

"13 "Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? 14 Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me, ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. 15 Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. 22 Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved." (3 Nephi 9:13-14, 22)

I yearn to reach this part in the story. I yearn to read of Jesus Christ blessing the children. I yearn to see that the beauty of the Savior, the power of the Atonement, can overcome any pain.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Please, upinkuitous merchandise

Sliced mushrooms
Men's running shoes
Ziploc brand storage containers
Olive flavored chips
5-hour Energy
Eggland's Best Eggs

What do all of these things have in common? I'll give you a second to guess.

Okay, time's up. All of those things can be found adorned in pink. Pink like amoxicillin. Pink like little girls' clothing. Pink like Susan G. Komen breast cancer merchandise.

I've written about the Susan G. Komen organization once before on this blog, in their defense. But my feelings are far from (pink-lidded) Yoplait yogurt homogeny on this issue.

It's gotten out of control, okay? Breast-cancer awareness. We're all aware of breast cancer. There is no possible way to not be aware of breast cancer. But breast cancer is not the only thing afflicting women. It is far from the biggest killer of women. But it does endanger breasts. Heaven forbid.

As a society, we've come to the point where people almost worship breast cancer. Breast cancer research is a more worthy cause than feeding children in poverty, or protecting the environment, or, I don't know, researching other forms of cancer or other diseases.   Breast cancer just happens to involve both sex appeal and suffering, and so everybody really ought to be on board to find a cure. Especially men.

Breast cancer is apparently superior to other forms of cancer--hence my sister Amber (who endured and overcame Hodgkins lymphoma late in her childhood, and is subsequently at a higher risk for breast cancer) being told that she does not get a "Survivor" t-shirt at the Race for the Cure. I'm sorry, but if you have suffered through any form of cancer, you are due tremendous respect. I don't think breast cancer elitism from Komenites helps anyone.

I know I sound exasperated and maybe even rude. I'm sorry. Truly, truly I am not trying to show any disrespect for women and families who are going through the horrors of breast cancer. This isn't about them. They are strong, so incredibly strong. They are powerful and beautiful women.

This is about hundreds of companies and products trying to make a pink buck. This is about what I see as the trivialization of a dark, difficult disease by the Susan G. Komen organization. "Save the Tatas"? "Embrace your girls"? Do we care about the loss of women's lives, or just the loss of their breasts? Where is the big societal support for heart disease, which actually is the No. 1 killer of women (and men), which kills more women than all forms of cancer combined?

The poor American Heart Association. They have tried really hard to mimic Susan G. Komen's success with the whole symbolic color thing. But they chose red, a color of power and authority. Who wants to associate those things with women? Much better to go with pink, a color that evokes "Oh, I'm weak, save me!" (as my sister Amber put it). And unfortunately, heart disease involves what's inside women, when we all know that with women, it's what's on the outside that counts.

I understand wanting to raise money for research. But is the Komen organization really so strapped for cash that they should be forming partnerships with products like 5-hour Energy, which might contribute to cancer? I understand creating and selling things like bumper stickers, key chains, t-shirts, and wrist bands about breast cancer awareness.Those are all typical forums where people can show support for a cause. Breast cancer seems to be the only cause that has taken over literally every type of product on the shelves of America, and I'm just cynical enough to wonder about everyone's subconscious reasons for being so enthusiastic in their support.

I hope the money Susan G. Komen brings in makes a difference. I hope that they are able to find less toxic and less traumatic treatments for all forms of cancer, not just breast cancer. And I hope that as a nation, we develop enough compassion to fund all worthy causes with as much fervor as Komen currently commands.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Please, Google Street View

I really enjoy a variety of screen media. I love beautiful movies like The Fall, with breathtakingly vivid colors. I still remember the first time I saw any Planet Earth. It was the "Caves" episode on an HDTV. It gave me chills. Even the Avatar film was just really fun to look at, even though the visuals were all a pretty fiction.

But I am fully aware that looking is not living. Seeing is not experiencing. And sometimes I fear that in a world where we spend more and more time looking at screens instead of at things around us, people are beginning to forget that distinction.

There's a small part of me that thinks it's cool that Google Street View will soon be able to take you on a journey through the Grand Canyon. But the larger part of me feels kind of nauseous when I think about it. I guess I just fear that people will use it and then be jaded. They'll think "Well, that was cool." I'm afraid that using the GSV will inject a slow-acting poison into people's motivation to get out and see it for themselves.

I fear this for the Grand Canyon in particular because I was guilty of feeling jaded like that. In the US, you grow up seeing pictures and videos of the Grand Canyon all the time. I honestly never thought it looked that cool. I couldn't see what was so great about it or why it was a source of such irrepressible wonder. In March 2009, when Nick and I had a little trip to Arizona, I planned for us to drive by and spend oh, maybe an hour at the Grand Canyon. Just to see it, I thought. I mostly worked it into the trip out of some sort of American obligation.

Stepping up to the guardrail of this most massive rift in the earth, I was immediately and severely humbled. Let me tell you--nothing, absolutely nothing visual can capture the Grand Canyon. No matter how good the camera or how HD the screen or how extensive the documentary or how skilled the cinematography. You cannot even begin to imagine it. Please just forget any picture you have ever seen of it.

Nick and I had planned to spend one hour, but we ended up staying for three, because we simply could not pull ourselves away. We felt like the biggest idiots ever for planning so little time there. We took pictures out of reflex, but every time I clicked it was with a devastating awareness of the futility. I felt this exhausting sense of loss as we drove away and the land became normal desert fare once again.

We're so capable of making things pretty nowadays that other sensations have really taken a back seat. We think we can vicariously experience someone's trip by skimming through their Facebook pictures. We think that we can let someone experience the Grand Canyon by hiking through it with a GPS and a camera strapped to our heads.

Google Street View will not make your lips feel slightly swollen from the phenomenal hot wings you ate at a restaurant right outside Grand Canyon National Park.
Google Street View does not include the cold, arresting scent of pine and snow from the top of the South Rim in March.
Google Street View will not make you feel too warm from the desert sun, shed your jacket, then feel too cold when a lively breeze twists around you, put your jacket back on, and then break out in a light sweat from the exertion of clambering around the rocks.
Google Street View does not include the intense roughness of ancient ocean life, now rock, that covers almost every surface you climb over.
Google Street View will not make you constantly brush long hair out of your face, resulting in a ridiculously tangled mess.
Google Street View will not make nervous laughter bubble involuntarily up your throat as you try to find a safe way to climb back up to the parking lot.
Google Street View does not include sweaty palms and straining muscles as your husband boosts you up to a good handhold.
Google Street View does not include the echo of you and your husband's voices as you sing How Great Thou Art together while entwined on a secluded outcropping.
Google Street View also does not include warm lips and warm kisses in the cold shade of that same outcropping.

Oh my, I could go on and on. But I won't. And these are just sensations I remember from one exceedingly brief experience with the Grand Canyon. Just imagine what my mother, who hiked to the bottom, could tell you. Imagine what people who have returned to the canyon again and again could tell you.

The west is full of so much otherworldly beauty, and Nick and I spent a lot of time camping and enjoying it. But the visual beauty was just a fraction of the experience of camping. Looking back at pictures triggers memories like freezing fingers while shaking frost off our tent before folding it, or the eerie howling of coyotes in the Mojave. When you merely look at other people's pictures or videos, it triggers nothing.

Elder David A. Bednar says all this better than me: