Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter Wonderland

You guuuuuys! I finally understand what is meant by "winter wonderland." It's not just snow on the ground or trees. It's when the fog hangs low and temperatures are below freezing. When you wake up in the morning, look out of your wide window, and catch your breath. Voila!
AH-mazing. And then there's the view of this endless landscape when the frost has settled over everything. Think a basin with groves of white. I am lamenting this first picture a bit because it just doesn't capture the INSANE beauty of this pass which we go through on our way to church on Sundays:
Sheesh, is that intense or what? There's snow, yes. But the whiteness of the landscape is primarily due to the frost.
So you're driving along admiring one breathtaking white view after another when bam! You see this:
This should definitely be featured in somebody's photo shoot. And probably a movie about ethereal-looking sanctuaries in the middle of nowhere (Brad tried the door. It was open! And empty.)
I am not photographer, but even I can see the potential here.
I'm not sure how anyone could not be happy having beauty like this foisted on them everyday. Not even puppies and kittens can rival this kind of joyous awe.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On wearing pants: I come for you

*For those of you who are not LDS, a little background: In our faith it is the cultural norm for women to wear dresses or skirts to Sunday services. It is our belief that congregants should wear the best of what they own, and historically this has meant dresses and skirts for women and shirt and ties/suits for men. There is a movement to “silently” protest other cultural and political inequality issues within our church by wearing pants to services this Sunday. This movement has been received  with much vitriol and general misunderstanding by those who simply do not agree.*

A couple of weeks before I was supposed to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I was in the university library doing research when, on a whim, I decided to look up “Mormon” in the encyclopedia. It was simply out of curiosity for what I would find there (I had practically never heard of a Mormon before my encounter with it not too long before then). I also had a bit of roiling indecision as to how I felt about its polygamous past. And I knew Mormons had received quite a bit of persecution for this as well as other things especially in the early days. Essentially, I was looking for a way to bind myself to them through their past struggles. Empathy breeds loyalty quite often, after all.

So with an inquiring and somewhat fearful mind I read the entry under “Mormon.” I was met with most of what I expected, but one thing I did NOT: Blacks and the priesthood. I learned that prior to 1978, blacks were not allowed to hold the Priesthood. Simply because they were black. An anguished disbelief filled my soul in that moment. I shut the book, my eyes tearful, a painful pressure in my chest. What I had thought was the answer to my spiritual longing had turned out to be a farce--yet another example of human bigotry and hatefulness. 

I wrestled with this news. At first I was in disbelief. I asked Brad about it. Was it true? He had no answers at the time which satisfied my troubled heart. And believe me, I WANTED someone to give me an excuse. ANY excuse which I might find just acceptable enough to make the leap of faith.

How could something that seemed so beautiful have that kind of ugly stain on it? How could Mormons claim their prophets were inspired by God if these so-called prophets had historically treated those of differing skin color so unfairly? 

I’m not going to go into the details of my decision to join the Church anyway, or the years of unreconciled issues with some of the skeletons in the Church’s closet. Suffice it to say, I’ve come to terms with blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, gender issues, and nearly everything else that has given me pause because I have knocked, repeatedly, tearfully, on Heavenly Father’s door. 

My point here is that I struggled. I was hurt when I read that. Deeply. I couldn’t understand. I could not envision any explanation that would satisfy me (and I have heard a lot of explanations which I think are a load of poppycock but that seem to satisfy other people just fine).

And so now I’ve come full circle. Being on the other side, the side that’s at peace with how things are, looking at those on the outside of the window who have read their own encyclopedia under “Mormon” and don’t like what they see. Feeling alone. Confused. Frustrated with one explanation after another foisted on them which doesn’t satisfy. What’s worse, their struggle has been trivialized, attacked and met with swift judgment. What was once their quiet pleadings for understanding have now turned into frantic and public tears of strife. Some even concoct extravagant defensive plays, all in an effort to protect their tender hearts from human judgment, and many in an effort to return the hatefulness, tit for tat. An eye for an eye.

The general feminist stance on the role of women in the church doesn't resonate with me. And that’s all I’ll say about that. But I will say this about the people who do agree. I’ve read and heard their words. I know them. I’ve befriended them. 

And you know something? They, on the whole, are more thoughtful, more understanding, more introspective, slower to anger, slower to judge, more loving, more Christ-like than most of the “conventional” Mormons I have met. What’s more, these odd-balls, who seem always to interrupt the flow of Mormon culture, have inspired me in a way that has, over the years, built this great sieve of compassion within my mind through which my experience of humanity passes through. I am more like Christ because of them. The ones we so often consider controversial, too-sensitive, too malcontent, spiritually offensive even, have been my spiritual guides toward eternal perspective. 

I know one thing for sure about these souls, and more specifically about women who face struggles with reconciling gender equality. They are authentic. They aren’t making it up. And you know who else knows this? Christ. He suffered their pains just as they face them now, so He knows. Will we then, simply because we haven’t walked in their shoes, claim that their struggle is ill-founded? Will you tell Christ that too? He who bore that pain for and with them? Who bore your own pain as well?

It’s not about the pants. It is about the pants. To me, it doesn’t really matter what it’s about. These precious souls are suffering. I will wear pants for them because I love them. I will bear possible judgment for my actions because I love them. Maybe not a single sister in my current ward is struggling. But then again, maybe one is. And maybe she feels alone. She might even be too frightened to wear pants herself. Is my search for the one worth the likely possibility that people will draw the wrong conclusion about my participation in such a “protest”? 

I’ve seen a number of well-meaning but misguided responses to the pants movement. One, the argument that this “protest” is disrespectful to the sanctity of our Sunday meetings, sacrament specifically. My thoughts are that the Sacrament is about communing with Christ. What else can we bring to the sacrament table but those things with which we struggle? Yes, the intention may be two-fold. It is, for many, a call for attention to those things with which they struggle. And you know what? That’s okay. Because the Sacrament was instituted because of our imperfection. Do we not also call attention to ourselves when we don't take the sacrament because of our suffering that makes us feel too far removed from Christ's mercy? Well, I can tell you that those who feel ostracized for their sentiments on female equality in the church often do feel removed from His love, and especially from the love of others. I've seen their tears with my own eyes. And the bottom line is it's being brushed aside as "sinful" or "testimony damaging." Too many want to shut the conversation down because it threatens the fabric of their testimonies. The beauty inherent here is that we all, whether pants or skirt wearers, will be meeting at His table, petitioning whether quietly or openly to that same God. The right people will hear the real message. I hear. The humble and charitable will hear. But most importantly, He hears.

There are going to be many who have looked, are looking, and will look at those with pants with pity or even anger. Probably their meditations will be interrupted. Perhaps even their ability to perceive the Spirit. But the walk for everyone is a solitary one. What we choose to look at on our path is up to us. The more critical players in this are the ones who are hurting. And their pain is very very real. 

Don’t you just want to put your arms around them and tell them that you love them and that you understand what it’s like to struggle?

I do. So I'm going, with my pants-clad legs, for them. An embrace. They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. We, them, you, him, her, I. All are sick spiritually. Who is right concerning womens' roles in our church is not my concern, and I will not make an ultimate declaration about what is when it comes to gender and the Church. Ultimatums are dangerous. They stunt the growth of our souls and inhibit our journey toward becoming more like Him.

So I’m here, sisters, brothers. I've heard you with an open heart. You are not alone. I want to help you bear your struggles, and if wearing pants can be a balm of Gilead for you, I will wear them. I love you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

New blog... kind of.

I got quite a bit of attention from local news aggregates about my "A Rig is Down" entry and was invited to join a group of local bloggers on They told me I was welcome to move my whole blog there, but for now, I feel like I want to keep them separated, especially if I'd like to monetize a blog in the future. I think I'll keep the areavoices blog more writerly, and my blogger blog more personal. We shall see. Anyway, I posted my first original entry on area voices and you can find it here:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Meanderings and Pictures

It's been a while since I got all mommy-blog on this thing. Pictures have been few and far between, as is my style. But I've got a few to share and not necessarily in chronological order.
First up is my baby girl Keshet. Can I just say I'm not even a teensy bit jealous that her very first word is "Dad"? It's just soooooo cute to see her run for him, arms extended saying, "Da! Da! Da!" Now usually I am a stickler for first words, meaning I don't consider it speaking unless it's obvious they intend to speak it, not just hearing your kid gobbledy gook something and you being like "Oh my gosh! Did you hear him? He just said 'I love you' in Russian! Can you believe it! Our kid is a genius!" Or something like that. Anyway, her meaning is obvious, and it's also obvious where she picked it up; ALL the kids run to dad when he gets home saying "Dad! Dad!" Just warms my heart. My favorite time of day.
Keshet is so friggin cute and happens to be just as attached to Dad as she is to me which is nice after Iyov who hated Brad for years. She's everyone's baby in our family and is quite adored (and mauled by Iyov on occasion). Here's a video of her in the snow for the first time (By the way, this was the "pre-snow" show in which we got a few inches before the real stuff came a couple days later).

All the kids fell asleep on our way back from Culbertson, Montana where we happen to be trying to find a place to live. That's another story for another blog though. I will say that we drove down strange dirt roads and asked complete strangers in the middle of nowhere to point us in the direction of so-and-so's house who has a house up for rent. "Oh yeah, just go north and make a right after Big Ben curve. You'll see 'em on the right. Two houses."
Um, yeah, north. Big Ben. Got it.
We didn't end up getting middle-of-nowhere house, but it was an adventure I found humorous anyway. I always get a kick out of Brad's city-slicker reactions, and this did not disappoint. Furthermore, after living in LA county, it was so twilight zonish to think that there are places out here where you can get lost on dirt roads and there is no cell phone signal for miles. To think that Williston is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere is ludicrous after driving around eastern Montana. When we got back home I said, "Look Brad! It's Metropolis!"

K, so on to Halloween. If you're a facebooker you've already seen the pics, but I'm pasting them here anyway. We did Phineas & Ferb, which happens to be my favorite cartoon, possibly ever. My kids like it too but mostly because I dig it and I make them watch it if we're watching the tube together. Just in case you can't figure it out, Brad's Jeremy, who is Candace's boyfriend on the show. I'm Candace, who is Phineas and Ferb's older sister. Novan is Ferb, Iyov is Phineas, Beya is Isabella, and Keshet is Perry. I made Ferb's pants, Phineas' shirt, and Perry's costume. Perry is my favorite!
So here's Isabella, Ferb, and Phineas (Isn't P's hair awesome!?) on the left. And then on the right, just Phineas & Ferb... oh, and Roxy. She wanted to join our family because we had the most fun costumes in the place.

Where's Perry? This costume is so cute. She has a platypus tail too which is extra cute as she trounces around.

Beya has become a bit of an organizer lately. She thinks it's fun. She always wants to organize things and tries to get me to organize things as well (gee, wonder who she got THAT from?). Here she is organizing our bathroom toiletries under the sink.
And then of course there's the snow which was pretty exciting. I have been in reserved disbelief about the winter/snow here because there just wasn't any last year. And I read somewhere that western ND is rather arid. So when we woke up to this I can no longer be disappointed:

  We got fairly stuck in our driveway and I have to say that a major perk to having Brad employed at a CAT dealer is that, within the company housing where we live, someone always has a loader or something lying around to come dig us out.
Picture on the left: Iyov was in the middle of saying, "Look mom! My bike! It's buried!"

I have never liked driving in snowy/icy weather. It freaks me out, which is probably a good thing since it keeps me from driving like an idiot as compared to other people who, for some reason, think icy roads don't apply to their tires. Blows my mind really how so many people end up in the ditch. Anyway, the left picture is what the roads look like. They do plow quite a bit, but I find the packed snow easier to drive on than the plowed ones which are sheer ice.

And so that's what we've been doing. I love this place; I really do. I don't know why so many people are unhappy with it except that if you expect to be unhappy when you move somewhere, you are unhappy regardless of the circumstances. I live in less than a thousand square feet in an, at times, frozen wasteland, where the most exciting place is Walmart, but it is, by far, my favorite abode yet.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Bracing my hand on the tan velour upholstered back seat, I leaned around the driver’s seat in front of me to get a better look at the instrument panel. A green arrow blinked there, and as soon as I noticed it mom began to turn the car that direction. “What’s that green blinking arrow mean?” I asked her.  
“It tells people that I need to turn soon,” she replied.
I sat back, amazed. At five years old I took this to mean the car knew where mom was going before she or anyone else did. It told her where to go. This magic remodeled my perception of the possible, and a year or two went by before this misconception was corrected and I realized that cars didn’t run on magic, not even mom’s Honda.

Dad interrupted our Saturday morning breakfast with a sheepish grin on his face, a twinkle in his eye. “I bought you a car, Marie.”
“You didn’t, Bill!” Mom said in the high-pitched sigh she used when taken by surprise—although she very well knew he had. Buying cars on a whim was one of dad’s more endearing qualities. “What is it?”
“A Cadillac,” he said, relishing the word as if he’d just bought her a Ferrari.
We all piled out of the kitchen to appraise Dad’s new purchase. My first impression was that it was an old person’s car. In fact, I thought my grandma drove one just like it, only black. The spotless grey faux-velvet interior seemed to be too pristine for a family like ours, accustomed to dirt, grease, and bare feet engendered by our small farm. Upon test-driving the vehicle, my mom declared it was the smoothest ride she had ever experienced and dad grinned with now-relieved wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. I could tell he enjoyed pleasing her.
Several months later, while driving the Cadillac, mom bumped a minivan in front of her in a turning lane, cracking its license-plate casing and rear bumper. I watched from the passenger seat after the fender bender as a trembling heavy-set woman teetered from the van’s passenger door looking hysterical, tears streaming down her face at her near-death experience. A year of insurance company negotiations and legal litigation ensued from that day resulting in tens of thousands of dollars remunerated for emotional damage to the poor quaking woman. I found myself thinking of her often; I finally understood what exactly it was that lawyers did.

’64 Chevy Dump Truck
Mom painted the interior and reupholstered the old bench seat in teal faux leather. When the local high school put new basketball court flooring down, Dad acquired the discarded old flooring and used it to build new sides for the bed of the dump truck.
I learned to drive a stick shift in that truck at fifteen because I was often employed with the task of driving it through hay fields where we spent our summers picking up hay to store and sell during the winter. I came to enjoy the challenge of the difficult first gear while maneuvering the lumbering beast between rows of freshly spewed rectangles in the hay field. The trick was to go just the right speed. If you moved too fast, the people loading the bales onto the truck and trailer could not keep up. If you moved too slow, the truck would limp forward with a jerking motion that could endanger the people balancing on the back where the hay was being piled twenty feet in the air. Dad complimented me once on my skill with the manual transmission, and I realized I was good at something.

El Camino
Dad brought home a blue and white El Camino when I was sixteen. Apparently he’d always wanted one and he spoke about it like it was a rare sports car. Before I got a car of my own, I was relegated to driving the El Camino, which I hated. I wished it had tinted windows so no one would see me behind the wheel.  I had to baby the gearshift, and it had no air conditioning. Quite often it refused second gear, and I would yell at it, “You stupid, ugly piece of crap! Go into gear!” That never worked, but eventually I figured out that the less I hated driving it, the easier the shift to second. 

Chevy Van
I totaled my mom’s beloved Chevy van not long after I received my license. The empty horse trailer my mom and dad spent weeks restoring and refurbishing was a loss as well, but my friend and I emerged unscathed.
While I waited on the side of the road for my parents to arrive, I was both terrified and relieved. Relieved that they could come make sense of the tangled situation and consequently rescue me from the fruits of my fallibility. Terrified because of heavy shame. We weren’t wealthy. One erroneous moment equaled thousands which I would never be able to repay them. Afterward the van rested at one end of our expansive yard for at least a year, completely unusable, a constant reminder of momentary carelessness. 

Given my dad’s history, I wasn’t surprised when dad told me he had something to show me outside, and I spotted my first car parked on our gravel driveway. Thinking perhaps I’d scored something sporty like the time my dad surprised my older sister with a cute little red Geo coup, I was dismayed to find a rusted tan Mazda truck which was more like the time he surprised my older brother with an old orange Volkswagen Beetle—we still laughed about the maiden voyage of that car in which the battery fell out in the middle of the road.
The battery stayed in-tact, but the small worn four-cylinder balked at colder temperatures, often idling out at every stop on the way to school. Furthermore, when I got out of school at the end of the day, it coughed opaque clouds of black smoke I was told resulted from the slow oil leak Dad could never find. My parking spot was second-closest to the entrance to the school, so hordes of teens inhaled carcinogens while I inhaled a hefty dose of embarrassment.
Even though I worried constantly on my way home from work or school that the truck would break down in the middle of the highway, it never did. Its tired persistence took me over any terrain; it wasn’t nice enough to ever need washing; the gas mileage was exceptional; multiple people could fit in the bed; and the clutch and gearshift were a dream so I taught two of my friends how to drive a stick in that truck.

After a year of working during high school, I shopped for, picked out, and signed papers for a five-thousand dollar loan on my first real car: a sporty-looking, teal, Chevy Cavalier coup which I was never embarrassed to park two spots away from the school entrance. Since I made the car payments, it gave me a measure of independence because it was truly mine.
I fit all of my belongings in it when I went to college two years later, and I cried in it as I watched my mom drive away realizing that for the first time I was all alone.

“Oh. My. Gosh,” my roommate said. I knew she was talking about the silver Buick that just drove by us on our way back to our dorm. It was covered from bumper to bumper with yellow decals, and the exhaust was loud enough to be considered noise pollution. Heavy base rattled the exterior and tinted windows kept the driver a mystery.
“Ok, what kind of person actually thinks that’s cool?” I replied. “Really, what would possess you to do such a thing, let alone to such an ugly car? People are so stupid.”
I met my future husband a few months later and learned that the car belonged to him. A few months after we were married, my husband gave the Buick away to his car-less and bike-less friend who we often saw walking five miles from school into town for his grocery shopping.

Dodge & Mercury
We were a dual-income household with no children so I bought a 2000 Mercury Cougar sports car, and my husband bought a silver Dodge Ram on which he installed huge mud tires and a sound system. We moved to California for grad school, and I got pregnant; a sports car was silly and impractical. My husband adored his truck, but he declared one day, “It makes me sick to see all these people driving giant SUVs with nobody in them. But then I realize I’m being hypocritical driving around a V8 pickup with four-wheel drive.”
So we sold both to make way for responsibility.

El Camino Super Sport
A visit to my parents revealed that Dad had decided to expand his El Camino collection by purchasing an additional one with a bit more under the hood.  I sniggered when I saw it. “How are you going to buy an El Camino with a bigger engine and have it be an automatic, dad?” I joked. “That’s no fun.” I never drove it, and I only recall seeing Dad behind the wheel once or twice. It came to rest in the now-empty hay barn along with the rest of dad’s car and farm equipment collection.
The El Camino Super Sport suffered neglect after Dad was diagnosed with cancer. The interior began to mildew and the exterior had caked layers of dirt and dust. Knowing how much dad loved that car, my brother came home and spent several hours washing the interior and exterior and placed it back under the barn where it sat, untouched, until dad passed away.
After his passing, all three of my brothers wanted it, but nobody had a place to keep it. I wanted the powder blue El Camino. Mom truly needed the money however, so the six of us kids agreed she should sell them both. Dad was gone.

My mom bought a white Toyota Rav4 after most of us kids left home. She liked the idea of a mini-SUV: utilitarian but economical. I guess Dad must have liked her thinking because shortly before he died, he bought a burgundy one like hers only it was a manual with a stubborn first gear.  When I stayed with mom for a month after Dad’s death, I used his Rav4 for my errands. I learned to coax the gas pedal for a couple minutes after starting it because it had idling problems. I learned what the gearshift felt like under my skilled hand when it was properly aligned to put in first gear. It reminded me of a lifetime of manual transmissions and finicky fuel lines. I never got a chance to see dad drive it much before his death, but it reminded me of him most of all.

The new Toyota hybrid replaced my husband’s Dodge Ram in 2005. It was the first new car we ever bought. It was my first encounter with GPS. I rode to the hospital in it through driving rain to deliver my first child and brought him home in it. Another driver nearly totaled it while our whole family was in it and I was pregnant with our third child. It drove back and forth from California to North Carolina twice and countless places in between. My husband slept in it while he was looking for a job in North Dakota because we were trying to save money.
My husband told me recently, after we moved to oil-patch country, he’d like to put a bumper sticker on it that says, “Drill Baby, Drill.” I told him I was ok with that because people need their perceptions shifted once in a while, and furthermore, cars don’t last forever, so we ought to let it speak now.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Rig is Down

A shrill ring invades the quiet of our bedroom. Just barely on the edge of sleep, I hear one side of a mumbled conversation, and then my husband says to me, “A rig is down.” A fairly common phrase from him, I know what it means. An oil rig engine needs a part. Rigs can’t run without engines, and just one hour down costs tens of thousands of dollars.  Despite the seduction of sleep, he’ll go save the day like an oilfield superhero. I think of him like that at times like these.
I see oil rigs every day. Similar to the Eiffel tower, they are a massive construction of steel beams, cables, and our country’s flag fluttering at the top as if they represent something inherently American. Perhaps they do. After all, the oil rig has a reputation. The rig, whipping boy of environmentalists everywhere, has become something more than just a means to get oil; it embodies many things: greed, abuse, capitalism, rape of the earth, pillaging of natural resources, money, power, inequality, pollution.
But to some of us saving a rig is a big deal. Like saving Freddie-Mac. Or Lehman Brothers before its crash in ‘08. Or the auto industry. Like saving the California Grey whales in Barrow, Alaska in 1988. How ironic.
I’m no stranger to irony. When I drive by an oil rig at night, and the thing is lit up like some kind of heavenly beacon of hope, I inevitably measure the angles of my reasoning and find them incongruent. The uninvited feeling of pride I get when seeing a rig still hangs decidedly under ‘need to reconcile’ in the orderly convictions of my mind.
Many times I’ve examined the conflicted feelings whose origins belong to the oil rig. Aside from its sheer size, the oil rig is not so amazing in-and-of itself. However, the bright lights and heavenly luminescence only make the feeling that much stronger like dramatic music does for movies. Oil rigs are dirty and dangerous up-close.
I often wonder if I’m the only one that sees a rig this way, but I realize the irony has nothing to do with how others see a rig. The paradox lies with me, the avid proponent of clean energy and technology, who admonishes her children to never neglect the sanctity of life, even if such life resides in a caterpillar or housefly. “We respect the earth. We respect all God’s creations,” I tell them. My son stepped mercilessly on a beetle once, and I nearly lost it. How do I remain in awe of the oil rig yet stand so avidly on the side of my earthly home?
I suppose, in my mind, hope trumps the realities of oil. The hope inspired by a rig is bigger than anything the rig may mechanically do. The rig saved us: my husband, my children, and me. Even that wouldn’t be enough for me to revere the rig this way, but it didn’t just save us. The rig saved that dirt and grease-clad man in front of me at the post office whose hands bear the evidence of manual drudgery. He’s mailing his son a Transformer toy for his birthday because he can’t be there. He’s here, in North American Siberia to save his family.
The rig saved the guy and his daughter who slept in the church parking lot under some bushes while they looked for jobs to save the rest of their family back in Washington. It saved the man lugging his meager belongings in a backpack down the side of the road on his way to find the well-springs of hope promised by the rig. His rolled-up sleeping bag slaps the back of his legs as he walks, urging him onward toward his goal.
The artist from Arizona, who custom designed welded architecture, came here too. The housing bubble devoured his dream and his livelihood as if they never were. But the rig saved him and his family.
The rig saved the guy who lost his job—there are so many of those guys. Hundreds of thousands the rig has saved. Perhaps millions. The rig has the power to save every person that comes here.
So when a rig is down, we have to fix it. The rig has lives to save.