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Homemaking and Housekeeping

"Your dad does dishes?" my friends would often ask when they came to my house and saw my dad at work in the kitchen.

"Your dad doesn't?" I would reply with surpise.

I'm grateful that growing up I learned that homemaking and housekeeping are collective efforts. They aren't meant to be relegated to the girls or left to the mother to control. My only sibling is a younger sister, so I don't know how things would have been different if there were sons. Perhaps the chores would have been divided differently or something, but I know everyone would have been expected to contribute.

There are no innate female superpowers that make all women instantly amazing at these things. As with most skills, they have to be learned, taught, and cultivated. There were certain aspects I grabbed onto quickly and easily, but others took a lot of patience.

Cooking is something I had to really work at it. I didn't have much interest in it for a long time. Somehow I got cultural messages that women were "supposed to" cook and make meals for their family and that was their primary purpose in life. It wasn't 'til I lived on my own and realized that in fact cooking was a way to provide for myself, an art form to creatively practice, and a great thing to share with people I loved, that I took to it. It's somewhat true that third wave feminists have been too reactionary in the area of homemaking - going from doing everything to nothing. I'm happy to see more women reclaiming that space and men picking it up because they want to, not because they are supposed to (or supposed to not).

My now husband had a similar awakening when we were dating, and we have been learning and mastering cooking together since. It has been wonderful for our relationship, particularly when we get to host others. Even now, when new friends see us working together in the kitchen, they're like "I like the team effort. Is this normal?" Honestly we can barely make a meal without each other!

I must confess I agreed to go on a blind date once simply because the guy had been to "chef school." His mother had sent him and his brothers to cooking classes as teenagers. She wanted to be sure they would be husbands who cooked for their wives. That idea was quite attractive.

When I was single I enjoyed making meals with friends, preparing for parties with roommates, etc. It doesn't have to be a solitary investment until you find a partner.


I've never understood the whole "men watch sports while women cook" at family gatherings. It bugs me to no end. My favorite part of family holidays is that my whole family - mom, dad, my sister and our husbands, all get in the kitchen together. The preparation is so fun and bonds us together. Too often, men "helping around the house" is about men assisting women in their "role" as the keeper of the domestic sphere. It's so much more enjoyable when it's a truly people working together.
 
It's also important to remember to be flexible with these things. Different points in life will require that one partner do more housework than the other. The idea is not to be perfectly equal - please don't ever make a chore chart for your spouse! - but to communicate and help each other. Just recently I realized that I had almost unconsciously picked up a majority of the housework, primarily b/c we weren't communicating. There were deeper reasons for this, that required some long conversations and changes on both of our parts. At least temporarily, it means we've restructured our budget to allow someone to clean our house every 2 weeks. I put dinner in the crock pot one day a week and he makes breakfast (and brings it to me in bed!) every Saturday. The rest of the time it's a shared effort. We feel much more in sync when we are both tending to our home life.

All this to say, homemaking and housekeeping are collective efforts whether you are single or married - and they are not a "woman's job". They are skills that can enhance your life if you let them, instead of considering them a burden.

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"Updated" NIV

When the TNIV (Today's New International Version) of the Bible first came out, I bought it upon the recommendation of a friend. He chose the translation for its readability, translation, and gender neutral language. I can't tell you how beautiful and freeing it was to read "brothers AND sisters"; "humankind" instead of "mankind." Finally, here was a good translation that included women and brought everyone together. (More on the TNIV at CBE.)

I was very disappointed when they pulled the TNIV out of print. The Committee on Bible Translation announced they would be retooling the NIV. My first thought was skepticism about the decision. I figured, as some reports suggested, that the CBT were caving to critics who didn't like the gender neutral language. But I was cautioned to reserve judgment until it came out.

The latest NIV was released recently and I am saddened by it. While it does, on occasion, still employ the terms "brothers and sisters", it also says "mankind". It's actually quite confusing. Turn to Genesis, and God says, "let us make mankind in our image." Turn to Acts and Paul says, "There we found some brothers and sisters." (The entire updated NIV is available and searchable on Bible Gateway.)

According to the CBT website, the committee itself is supposed to be comprised "of leading evangelical Bible scholars drawn from various denominations and from some of the finest academic institutions in the world." It is not, by any means, a diverse committee. There are 12 white men, one Indian man, and two white women (one of whom is the secretary). Out of the entire English-speaking world, the CBT is comprised of mostly Americans, a few British men, and one from India.  

The translator notes do not adequately explain their decision to change gender neutral language. Their first aim is to reflect "changes in English." Which, obviously, referring to humanity as "mankind" does not. According to my husband the English teacher, the Modern Language Association says "mankind" is no longer grammatically correct. Using "he" as a stand alone pronoun (instead of he/she or them) is also unacceptable. If anything, this goes backwards as far as the MLA is concerned.


The translator notes also state:

For this revision to the NIV, particular attention has been paid to external feedback in the area of gender language. As stated in the September 1, 2009, announcement regarding the planned update, every single change introduced into the committee’s last major revision (the TNIV) relating to inclusive language for humanity was reconsidered. Some were preserved, some were abolished in favor of the 1984 rendering and many were reworded in a third, still different way.
 In some cases, one could argue, the translation seems to favor more egalitarian understandings. In a recent USA Today article about the new NIV, the author quotes a complementarian seminary professor:


Denny Burk, a professor of New Testament at Boyce College, a Southern Baptist school in Louisville, has complained about one change in 1 Timothy 2:12. That verse from a New Testament letter from the Apostle Paul, used to read, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man." Now it says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man."
The change from "have authority" to "assume authority" is huge, Burk argues. He believes that God gave men and women different jobs — and that women can't be pastors. Burk says the new Bible sides with his opponents.
 So I'm confused overall and a little dismayed. I'm glad to have the TNIV and that a few other reliable gender-neutral translations exist. Above all, I know God's Word speaks above human voices. So where people try to subjugate or leave out, God will include with love and justice.

See other articles from various perspectives on the issue of gender neutral language in Bible translations at Bible Researcher.

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I Don't Understand

Our pastor is a kind man who grew up in Sierra Leone. Tonight he recounted with grief the reaction of the Anglican church in England to women bishops. "Women bishops? They have a problem with this? With women preaching the Word of God? I just don't understand. I don't understand."

Well, I don't understand either why so many people oppose women preachers. Of all the things to be concerned about in the Church, why is it such a big issue?

In our small group tonight we discussed the broader meanings of the phrase "Thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer. I noted that sometimes God's will can seem counter-cultural, even in your own church.

I gave the example of one church I attended, in which I discovered I had pastoral gifts. The trouble was, there were no female ministers in my church and the majority of the leadership believed women should not be on pastoral staff. I did not particularly feel called into the ministry, but I did want to nurture these gifts and see where they would lead. But if I had been called to be a pastor, I would have had to leave the church in order to lead.

The host tonight asked me how this felt. I said it was confusing. And after further reflection, I feel a bit betrayed. It was like some of the staff were patting me on the head, saying good for you, just don't get out of line. The host added that if in a similar situation he would feel oppressed. And I did.

It's hard to be honest about the deep ramifications of something like this, particularly when I have fond memories of this church and mean no ill will toward the staff. But I have to be honest in order to continue to heal.

I wanted to cry almost tonight, being in a room full of people who truly believe all people are capable and made in God's image. And when called, people should do God's will as preachers/pastors/bishops. Men and women.

So much energy the Church wastes on keeping people in their "proper" place! If all the sermons I've heard about what it means to be a "godly" (read: submissive, teach only other women, primarily wife/mother) woman had been spent on love and grace and justice, we'd be in a much better situation as a Church.

One woman tonight suggested that perhaps we had an impact at that church that we don't even know about. Maybe we were a pebble that created a ripple. And I believe we might have been. I'd rather be a boulder that smashes hierarchy. But I'll settle for the pebble, gently spurring a collective examination.

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On Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll is pastor of a big church, famous for saying things like Jesus wasn't wimpy, it's only worth serving a God who can kick some ass, and men should just be men and fight each other in cages. I'm paraphrasing (although not much), but he's said lots of things that get my blood boiling and make me want to scream. How do I react?

The trouble with statements like those Driscoll makes are that they are meant to get people riled up. They are meant to make people write angry comments on his articles or make people chant "hell yeah!" in favor of machismo ruling in God's name.

I have been challenged of late to reach out to brothers and sisters in an effort to understand views that are different than mine. If I stumble on a blog or run into someone from my past who believes very differently than I do about gender, equality, and the Bible's teachings on each, I want to see why they believe what they do rather than engage a heated argument. Usually that involves taking several deep breaths, some prayer, and some reminders from my husband that God defines us--not Christian fads that are simply reinventions of patriarchal dominance in a hip, trendy package--before I can proceed.

As one friend, from whom I hold diametrically opposing views on women and submission, put it, "It is not for us to convince each other; that is the Spirit's work." I can spout off Scripture and science and behavioral studies and cultural critiques all day long, but I have to trust the Spirit to work for the liberation of His people first and foremost.

Don't get me wrong, I do think there is a time and place to channel righteous anger into articulating a heartfelt response to such assaults on women and men as posed by Driscoll. But my struggle right now is to pursue peace, and I believe part of pursuing peace is pursuing understanding, even when I can't for the life of me understand why someone could say "fat lazy men" (read: not athletic or violent) are the root cause of all the problems in the world.

But then I start to understand. I read this interview on Relevant Magazine a few months ago with Mark Driscoll, in which he was asked if he regretted any of his statements. He responded:

If I could hit control-alt-delete and go back and do like they used to in Men in Black and just hit a button to make certain people forget certain things, that would be awesome. My hope, my prayer, my goal is to do better, by God’s grace, to learn, to grow, to be sanctified and mature—to be less shock-jock and more Jesus-centered. I’m turning 40 this fall, so I can’t get away with, “Oh, he’s young.” I’ve got five kids, I’m not young anymore, I’m a tired old man. But I’m hoping God gives me enough years, maybe 30, 40 more years of service, that when it’s all said and done, I will have had enough time to correct some mistakes I’ve made and learn how to more clearly articulate some things I believe. So I’m trying to learn as I go.
The bottom line is, I generally conclude that people like Driscoll are deeply hurting. That does not explain away his statements or his approaches. But enforcement of this sort of hyper-masculinity often covers up severe struggle with gender identity. (I would argue gender identity is a struggle for all, but that's another post.) I would also assume, given some of what I've read by him, that he has a heart for female abuse victims and in an effort to curb domestic violence and protect women, he has a scarily reactionary approach. 

So right now I pray for peace, pray that God would soften Driscoll's heart and use his pastoral position to truly minister to people he wants to help. And I pray that our lives are examples of how men and women following God instead of trying to be cage fighters and protected creatures can be an answer to all the things he's afraid of.

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Ephesians and Egalitarianism

While we talk openly on this blog about our egalitarian views, after reading the question posed on Lauran's last post, I realized we may not yet have articulated the Biblical basis for our belief that men and women are equal partners in God's kingdom. I thought it might be useful to spell it out a little more clearly in case anyone was curious.

Let me make some disclaimers. First, I am not a Bible scholar. I don't speak Greek or Hebrew, nor do I think it is necessary to be a Biblical scholar in order to intelligently engage with Scripture. If you would like more scholarly approaches to Biblical egalitarianism, you should check out Christians for Biblical Equality. They have many sources, ranging from scholarly to more ordinary commentaries about what the Bible says about equality between men and women. Second, I am not interested in portraying the views of those who disagree with me as non-Biblical, rather they just do not fit with my interpretation of Scripture. I am sure if you are reading this and find yourself disagreeing with what I say that you feel just as strongly that God has revealed truth to you as I feel God has revealed it to me. I am open to your viewpoints as long as they are expressed in a respectful way, which leads me to Ephesians.

Most of the big arguments against egalitarianism draw heavily from Ephesians 5:23-24: "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." This verse on its own, out of context, seems to deny emphatically the idea that men and women (specifically husbands and wives) are equals, but the book of Ephesians is actually one of my favorite books when it comes to discussions about Biblical equality.

God has gifted me as a teacher, specifically an English teacher, so one of the talents I bring to the table here is my ability to read and analyze a text carefully (in English). Unfortunately, when it comes to studying the Bible, we treat it unlike just about every other text we read for what seem to me like some fairly arbitrary reasons, like limiting our study to a specific verse or chapter or section of a chapter. All of these are late additions to the Bible, which in my opinion have done great damage to our interpretation of it. Now instead of approaching Ephesians 5:23-24 in an isolated context, I would rather speak to the book as a whole first because I believe it sheds important light on specific passages. These are not isolated verses, rather they are part of a greater context.

If I could summarize the entire book of Ephesians in brief, I would say that Paul is trying to tell the mostly Greek church at Ephesus not to think of themselves as different or inferior to Jewish believers because of their Gentile heritage. Christ is the Head of us all, and we are all equal inheritors of his grace and authority. Because of this amazing privilege, we should act accordingly, not living according to the ways of the world or falling prey to sin. Furthermore, we are to treat each other with respect, love, and mutual submission. In Chapter 5, Paul examines three important traditionally power-based relationships and applies this teaching to these specific contexts. He finally ends with some words of encouragement, urging us to fight lies and evil with truth, faith, and Scripture. I know this is a very rough synopsis, but I think it is a fair one for capturing the overall message of the book in a short amount of space.

I think it is worth noting how often Paul notes that Christ is Head. Even a cursory reading of the first few chapters will highlight this aspect of the text. As I would tell my English classes, if it keeps being repeated, he must want us to remember it. It is also worth noting that as always, Paul's focus seems to be on the grace of Christ which allows all of us, Greek or Jew, male or female, slave or free, sinner or saint, to be one in Christ. Notice also the strong emphasis on unity within the body, another of Paul's favorite themes in the Epistles. By the time we get to chapter 5, one thing is abundantly clear: Christ is our Head. We are his body. Together we are one, regardless of our statuses in society or our personal histories.

Many people when focusing on the end of chapter 5, verse 22 and following, forget about 5:21 just before it, where Paul urges all believers: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." This is a general instruction to all believers, meaning no one is exempt. We are all to practice mutual submission, which seems a logical idea given all that Paul has previously stated about Christ being our Head and we being equals in the body of Christ. As equals, it only makes sense that we treat each other with respect and submit to each other in love. I trust I have not said anything controversial here.

The rest of the passage seems to apply this idea of mutual submission to three very specific relationships that would have been of great importance to Paul and his contemporaries and functioned in the society of his day as basic power-based relationships, where one person has authority over the other. The three relationships he focuses on are the husband-wife, parent-child, and master-servant (or slave) dynamics. In his time, the first person listed in these relationships would have been seen as the authority in the relationship. Therefore, he is not rattling any feathers when he tells wives, children, and slaves to obey their husbands, parents, and masters. It is only in a modern context that these verses might be seen as controversial or problematic.

That being said, where Paul does seem to challenge the status quo is in his instructions to husbands, parents, and masters. I won't worry about the latter two although the instructions are similar in spirit to those he gives husbands: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [...]" (5:25). He goes on to elaborate telling husbands twice to love their wives as much as they love themselves... in other words, as equals. I think the logic I am following here is clear. If a husband loves his wife like himself, he loves equally to himself. This is one of the most controversial instructions Paul gives in the entire letter. He is basically telling husbands that even though in their worldly cultures (which he has already should not supersede our Christian lives) they are seen as superior to women, that they should treat their wives as equals.

Furthermore, he tells us to love our wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church. Christ paints a perfect picture of submission, one Paul refers to quite beautifully in Philippians 2, written about the same time as Ephesians: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." Paul clearly states here that Christ's love is submissive. Christ had all the authority of God, but out of love, he gave up claim to all his power and authority, which is infinitely more than my cultural power as a white male. He submitted to the authority of earthly rulers like Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate. He served those who were considered to be the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor, and the worst of sinners. Paul says that is how husbands are to love their wives. This is the most controversial thing he says in the entire book.

To wrap it up and put it into a more contemporary context, I, as a husband, have been granted a position of power and authority in my marriage because of the patriarchal culture I live in, not as much power as the patriarchal Ephesian culture, but power nonetheless. My position of power is constantly reinforced by sexist stereotypes that infiltrate every aspect of society, even (perhaps especially) the church, which takes the whole "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" things to whole new heights as though the Bible invented this absurd concept. My society seeks to divide me from others by my gender, class, race, and a whole number of other factors. God gives me two very clear instructions in Ephesians that contradict this worldly teaching. First, we are all one in Christ, and he is our head. (In Galatians, another letter Paul wrote while in prison, he says, "There is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free.") I must resist the forces that seek to divide me by emphasizing how different I am from everyone else, like perhaps that I am from a different planet, say Mars for example. Second, I must submit out of love to everyone, this is especially true for me given my cultural privilege as a male. Like Jesus, I must make myself nothing, denying my power and privilege out of love for others, especially my wife, who in a patriarchal culture is not treated equally to me. In other words, I must treat her as more worthy than me by loving her sacrificially as Christ loved the church.

Nothing about this implies to me that I am supposed to be in charge of my wife, but because God has commanded her to submit to me also, neither one of us should become a tyrant. Both of us are to love, respect, and submit to each other as we are to love, respect, and submit to all of those united in Christ's love. This seems fairly straightforward to me. What does not make sense to me is how this endorses traditional patriarchy. Rather, it recognizes its existence and proposes a radical alternative, a society based on unity and mutually submissive love, regardless or class, race, age, or gender. That is why I love Ephesians. It is one of the most radically counter-cultural statements of equality and unity in the Bible.

While we often fail, my wife and I try to center our marriage around Christ, around love, around unity, and around mutual submission. If I am to be a leader in any way, it is simply this. I should be the first to sacrifice myself -- my agenda, my will, my prejudices -- because I am the one most in danger of becoming a tyrant, self-centered and authoritative, simply because my culture says I should be. Thank God for continuing to liberate me from myself and empowering me to love my wife like God loves me.

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Why I'm a Ms.

Sometime during undergrad I got really turned off to being identified as Miss and decided to go by Ms. Particularly when I started teaching Ms. was more amenable. Now I'm married and technically a Mrs., but I still go by Ms.

Why?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I've been filling out tons of forms. They all request you to tick "Miss", "Ms." or "Mrs." as a female. Men tick "Mr." and are done with it. When I can, of course, I tick "Dr." I choose "Ms." but in some cases that still implies I am divorced, which is not the case.

So I could quote Gloria Steinem or give an etymology lesson (btw, "Mrs." comes from a word that denoted ownership of the woman by her husband... gross), but that's not really what this is about.

I'm married. I made the choice to take the legal step(s) involved (even though it is primarily a spiritual covenant). I don't have a reason to hide my marital status, nor do I ever want to. And I'll admit that when we first got married I was excited to be called "Mrs."

But my name is so important to me. That's why we both hyphenated. I didn't have to drop my name to show I was married, and neither did he. One brand new, awesome name, combining the two. So why wouldn't I obsess over my title?

There are so many things that reflect the inequity of the choices men and women have. So when I have this great choice to adopt a title simply identifying me as a woman (not a married vs. single woman) I'll take it. The world is not set up to openly assist women and men in declaring themselves as they sit fit, so in this instance it's really important to me.

As an aside, though my husband has been "Mr." the whole time (single and married), you know the trials we went through trying to change his name. And now, many forms ask for a maiden name, suggesting only women change theirs. He crosses it out and puts "former" or "other" names.

Being called Ms. doesn't make me less married. It simply reflects my desire for equality in the world, a desire to identify as a partner not as one belonging to someone else. It's not a statement of independence, but of interdependence.

So it all means something. Every little bit.

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Last Trip to Bay City

We have been all over this summer since moving out of our house: Vancouver, Portland, various parts of Arizona, Vegas, and Pensacola. We decided to spend our last two weeks in the country with family, so this week we went down to Bay City to see my family.


Bay City is a classic small town that really meets most of the assumptions people have of small town life. You always run into someone you know. There is never anything to do. Everyone knows the latest gossip. Mole hills qualify as mountains. Everyone seems to think it is a great place to grow up, but no one wants to stay after they graduate. Then mysteriously half of us end up living there again as adults.

I loved seeing my family this week. My parents are so great, and I love spending time with them even if I have to go to Bay City to do it. We also got to see my sister for a few days, and my brother and his girlfriend came down yesterday. On Saturday, my parents hosted a barbecue and invited some of our close family friends to see us off before we leave for London.

Bay City was my home for about 20 years, so the strangest part of visiting there is how foreign it feels to me. In many ways it triggers happy childhood memories, but mostly it just reminds me of how different I am now and how Bay City hasn't changed (despite the new Chili's and Super Wal-Mart). It is so odd to know that in all our travels, I felt more comfortable in Vancouver than anywhere we went in the US. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoyed seeing our friends and family, but culturally, I felt like I had more in common with Canadians than with the people I grew up with. I better shut up now before my Texas citizenship gets revoked, but Texas does have one really good thing going for it... there are a lot of people here that we really love, and we are going to miss you all so much.

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Breastfeeding

I'm writing this post as part of the Breastfeeding Blog Carnival hosted by The Leaky B@@b. It's World Breastfeeding Week and the carnival theme is "Perspectives: Breastfeeding from Every Angle." So as a feminist with no plans for children in the near future, here's my perspective.

"How many of you are uncomfortable around a woman breastfeeding in public?" I asked my Intro. to Women's Studies class. Over half raised their hands.

"How many of you are uncomfortable around a woman in a bikini?" Only a few hands.

"Well, get over yourselves and let the woman feed her child," I told them, in my signature professorial tone.

The thing is, so long as women are in a situation where they can be sexualized, and they meet certain cultural expectations of beauty (i.e. they are skinny enough to look "good" in a bikini... which is ridiculous in my book, b/c I'm a size 12 and think I look great in a swimsuit, but I digress), we can accept it. Expose cleavage in a plunging neckline and it's great b/c people have the opportunity to ogle. But expose a little breast during nursing and people get grossed out, uncomfortable, or just plain weird.

Historically speaking, women have, of course, always breastfed. In the U.S. in the mid-1900s with the rise of child psychologists and baby boomer moms being encouraged to stay in the domestic sphere, formula was the only way to go. This was the age when women were told how to be mothers by male psychologists and taught to use technology for all their domestic duties by men. Breastfeeding was considered unhealthy and would cause psychological problems for the baby. By the time I was born in 1980 "breast is best" became popular again and women were fighting to explain to their mothers why they wanted to nurse, not feed their newborn with a bottle as they had been as infants. In other words, it's a cyclical debate.

The "Mommy Wars" that pit stay-at-home moms against professional moms extends to breastfeeding as well. People are pretty judgmental about those who don't do what they do/would do in general and nursing is no exception. I always want to say, "do you know that woman's story?" There's probably a good reason why she made the decision she did about it, so lay off.

I do feel that encouraging women to go into hiding to nurse, or to unreasonably cover-up is a way to push women into isolation. If a mother is most comfortable that way and/or enjoys the time alone with her baby, then ok. But pushing her to stay home or giving her looks that make her retreat to a back bedroom is uncalled for. She's more than a milk machine, she's a person with a full life who is most likely struggling to integrate herself and her baby into the world. So cheers to those who don't let themselves be pushed back.

I was fortunate to work in an office that encouraged work/life balance and extolled motherhood so I've seen firsthand how breastfeeding can work for professional women. I got used to breast pumps lying around the office and not being weird about knowing where to look when I talked to a colleague who was pumping. We also offered our office as a lactation room, so women on campus could come by and have some privacy and a sympathetic space to pump.

All that said, I confess I tire of women who act as though breastfeeding is the most important act on the planet. Just b/c I don't have a baby to feed at my breast doesn't make my life insignificant. I am most comfortable around women who proceed with it as though it's a natural, normal thing.

People much smarter than me have written on this topic from a feminist perspective. Here's just a few:

* An article at ProMoM, Inc. that argues "breastfeeding empowers women and contributes to gender equality." Hear, hear!
* "Judy Hopkinson: Passion to end world hunger becomes commitment to breastfeeding moms, infants"
* The National Organization of Women's "Open Letter to the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary"

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Bullhead City/Laughlin

Eric's grandparents picked us up Saturday morning and we made the 1.5 hour trek through the desert to Bullhead City, AZ. Bullhead City feels like Midland with a casino. It greeted us with 118 degree temps! Since Eric's uncle is the host at one of the casinos, we had the opportunity for free stuff. We ate with Grandma in the restaurant and then saw Toy Story 3D.

Sunday we accompanied each grandparent on their favorite activity. For Grandpa, that's eating breakfast at Black Bear. He's a quiet man but spoke up then, telling us stories about his days in the air force and playing minor league baseball. Grandma had told us the night before about growing up in a toy shop, which has to be the most magical childhood.

Photo Credit: My Photo Blog

Bingo deserves its own post, but in case we don't get around to that, here are the highlights. My nearest encounter was previously auto bingo played as a child on long road trips. Bingo in a Laughlin casino is no joke. First you purchase a dobber (ink), then go to a window like in the movies to buy your cards and maybe a cash ball. Seating choice is key - that is if the 200 or so aren't already filled. Then it's full speed ahead, with crazy kites and 3 stamps and cover alls that totally stressed me out. Grandma is a pro - she does 18 cards at once. People curse when they don't win and cast disparaging looks your way if you talk. Eric's uncle has incredible stories of people yelling at him, complaining about the most minor details, and on occasion threatening violence. For bingo. After the 1:00 session we refueled with some food from the snack bar then had to get back upstairs to get there early for the 3:00 session (even though we had already saved our seats). Like I said, this is no joke.

Monday the grandparents took us to Oatman, a mining ghost town on the old Route 66. The main attraction now is the wild (very tame) burros that roam the street. It's mainly a short stretch of shops and a few places to eat. The Oatman Hotel (where Clark Gable allegedly stayed for part of his honeymoon) is now a bar. We were there in time for the gunfight - a silly but entertaining little show by two men in western outfits. Upon leaving, one of the burros stuck its head in the car hoping for a carrot. Sorry burro. Grandpa made his famous chicken fried steak that night and two of Eric's uncles and their families came over.

Oatman

I never would have guessed that marrying my husband would take me to Laughlin, Nevada. I guess you really never know where life will take you.

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Las Vegas

Since I'm behind on the travel posts I'm going to make them shorter and more boring. Which means you don't have to read them. If you don't want to.

I have determined that Vegas is like an amusement park for grown-ups. I had a lot of fun there, but I got over the Strip pretty quickly - the crowds, the heat, the excess, the distribution of explicit material, etc. All in all we had a great time, especially since it was the celebration of our second anniversary. And, I am a firm believer in never booking anything until you've truly shopped around for a deal... Such was the case in Vegas, of course, which landed us 3 nights and 2 show tickets at the Mirage for a savings of a few hundred dollars.

The day we arrived we went straight to the pool at the Mirage, which is like a giant oasis (and great for people watching). For dinner we went to a Brazilian steakhouse, something we've always wanted to do. I thought the "parade of meats" was tasty.


Thursday we decided to walk most of the strip - from the Mirage all the way to MGM. We had several BOGO coupons so we spent the day walking in and out of casinos and snacking on pretzels, ice cream, etc. We won no money in the Venetian casino, marveled at the Bellagio ceiling and conservatory (in an incredible spring them with giant insects and plants), posed in front of the Paris hotel's Eiffel tower, counted colors in the M&Ms store, visited the white tigers in the MGM, and admired the NYC skyline facade of New York New York. Thankfully there's a tram that took us back close to the Mirage, b/c we had walked a long way. Then it was back to the pool.

For dinner we ate at Japonais in the hotel, for delicious sushi and lobster spring rolls (prefixe lounge menus save lots of money!). The extravagance of Vegas was present in our meal, as I had an actual orchid flower in my martini and gold flecks on our chocolate cake. Ridiculous but kind of awesome.

And the Beatles LOVE Cirque de Soleil was so fantastic. It's hard to describe how great it was, b/c it was sensory overload in the best possible way. For example, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" had a trapeze artist swinging around beneath diamond shaped lights. So creative.

Friday we took it easy, spending time at the pool and relaxing a lot. We spent the last of our gambling budget (a combined total of $40) at the Mirage slots. An older gentleman who was pretty bored put in $10 so we would stay and talk to him. We also visited the Secret Garden at the hotel where they have dolphin, white tiger, and white lion habitats. Throughout the trip we prided ourselves on being fairly frugal and not getting led astray by the schemes of Vegas to get our money. However, we got duped by the happy hour that told us appetizers were half price. We thought that meant half price off the listed price, but no. So we spent $10 for 3 lobster tacos and so on. Yikes. We ended the night with the Bellagio fountains and the Mirage volcano.

And that was Vegas, baby.

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Pinetop

I have family in Phoenix who, after 13 years, grew tired of the heat and purchased a weekend cabin in the mountatins of Pinetop, AZ. Being partial to the particular beauty of the saguaro desert, I quite enjoyed the four hour drive up there. The cabin is an A-frame with 2 bedrooms plus a loft (where E and I slept), a front porch, a picnic table, and most importantly, hammocks. The air was breezy and clear, perfect for the holiday weekend.

Friday after the drive we headed to Movie Gallery, a rental place going out of business and thus selling off its DVDs. In typical style, we spent forever combing through to see if any of the $4 movies were worth purchasing. I got tired and sat down. Now I know how my boy cousin felt as a kid, shopping for endless hours with the lot of us girls. There's a little store called Eddie's that sells smoked meats that are TDF. We picked up some pork chops to grill and I made stuffed mushrooms.

Saturday after bacon from Eddie's we went to an arts and crafts fair, where local artists sell their creations. E's favorite part was the food booths that had tastings available. I bought some coffee mint handmade soap and a leaf pendant. The real cottonwood leaf was soaked in brine then fired with a small torch to color it deep copper and red and purple. I love it. We dropped off E (who thought the hammock and a book was the best idea) and went to another (smaller) art fair. That evening we played Skip-bo and watched a movie, enjoying the peaceful setting.


Sunday was our lazy day... We stayed in our pajamas and traded off in the hammocks. Oh, and I lost several games of horseshoes. I got a ringer though - on a nearby tree. If I have to throw things or catch things it often ends in disaster. That was the Fourth, so in the evening we took a picnic to the Apache reservation (the bordering land is all Apache owned) to watch a fireworks show. It was a bit odd, celebrating "American independence" on land that reminded me so compellingly of how tragically Native Americans have fared throughout our history. Not sure how to feel about all that still. But the fireworks were nice and it was cold - like, my toes froze cold.

Monday I convinced my familia to get some sort of exercise. I said "hike" and they said "nope" so we settled for a nice walk around the nature center. Walks outside in nice weather and nature are quite possibly my favorite thing.

So that was Pinetop. A lot of pleasantness all around.

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Portland - Thursday

It's important when your flight leaves in the middle of the day not to let the whole day be full of packing and doing nothing, I think. So I packed the night before I left OR (mostly) so as to enjoy the day.

We took the Portland Aerial tram, a quick $4 round trip up to OHSU and back down the mountain. It's a great view of downtown and the river. It's also supposed to be a good view of Mt. Hood and other surrounding mountains on a clear day. This was not a clear day. I don't think Portland has a ton of clear days so finding the right one might be tricky.

A was in critical need of a latte so we stopped in at World Cup (appropriately named at this time). I'm still not a coffee drinker but I tried a sip of hers and it was alright. I got chai. It's funny how baristas at independent coffee shops everywhere kind of look and act the same. I should do an anthropological study on this.

We employed the use of Verizon GPS to get us to the Pittock Mansion and it was a serious fail with a serendipitous twist. You know that episode of The Office where Michael follows the GPS instructions and ends up in a lake? Ours wasn't that bad, but it did take us on a seriously roundabout way up a road to nowhere. The fortuitous part of the story is that A has always wanted to drive through this neighborhood but didn't know how to get back there. Enter misguided GPS. Houses built on hills always amaze me so I loved the drive too.

As usual, my imagination went crazy inside the mansion. I imagined myself living there in the late 1800s, having made my fortune in the newspaper business. I have always, always loved visiting old homes (which may be part of why I lived in one the last 2 years). The grounds were beautiful too, of course. Since Lady Pittock is credited with starting the Portland Rose Festival, the gardens were appropriately adorned with the city's beloved flower.

So I dragged my bags to the MAX and headed to the airport. I hopped a plane to Phoenix, where I met Eric in the terminal. I sat next to a guy on the plane who was flying in to propose to his girlfriend. He was nervous. Also, I went from 60 degree weather to 110 degree weather (I landed at 8:30 pm). Good thing we headed to the mountains the next day.

Photo Credit: Oregon Live

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Portland - Wednesday

One of my favorite things to do in new cities (and often in my own) is to walk and wander. On gorgeous days it’s hard not to be outside. We took a stroll down 23rd Avenue, a trendy district with tons of shops and restaurants. You get such a flavor of each neighborhood just walking through.

We took the MAX to downtown, stepping off into the beautiful Farmer’s Market. I think farmer’s markets are so beautiful, so much color. Determined to visit the “lunch carts”, we meandered in a low blood sugar stupor toward Alder St.  This square probably has a name, but everyone seems to refer to it as simply the lunch carts. It’s a virtual smorgasbord of international food, one truck next to the other. Abby’s favorite is Zena’s Bosnian food. We sampled Bosnian pitas (somewhere between spanikopita and pot pie) and meatballs with yogurt and red sauce. Once again, delicious.


Photo Credit: Food Carts Portland

Everyone in Portland seems to give directions by blocks – “Go four blocks down then three to the right.” These directions are sometimes helpful but often easily misinterpreted. That’s what happened to us and we ended up on somewhat of a wild goose chase in search of the Chinese Gardens. But we did find them, and they are gorgeous. A small party rehearsed a wedding ceremony in the gazebo. The ring bearer informed us that in an effort not to drop the precious rings into the pond, she intended to construct a floatie  pillow with a waterproof box.

We had the loveliest tea party – the stuff some little girl dreams are made of. I chose Tea Flowers and Abby had Eight Treasures. They came in tiny pots with the tea floating loosely. We also had almond cookies and coconut macaroons, all while sitting in tiny stools at a tiny table, surrounded by such beauty. The highlight of the gardens for me was a 100 year old bonsai tree. It was completely aged and matured but no more than 2 feet tall. Crazy.

Photo Credit: Lan Su Chinese Garden

For dinner we made omelets and sweet potato fries. Abby and I don’t have the best track record for cooking (perhaps our most famous mishap was substituting water for oil in a cake mix for Carrie’s surprise 17th birthday party). But we have done our best to learn and with a few blunders, we made an excellent meal. We crawled out her window onto the fire escape where we talked and ate and laughed and watch the sun go down over the Portland skyline and Mt. Hood. That’s something I’ll never forget.

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Portland - Tuesday

Tuesday shall be known as the Day of Awesomeness, because it was basically the perfect day. (Only thing missing was Carrie, our other bff, who would have completed the trifecta.) We started the day (meaning, around 11:00 am) waiting in line at Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland haunt that ALWAYS has a line even though its open 21 hours a day. I got a raspberry-filled powdered sugar (and ended up with a solid snowy layer of sugar ALL over my clothes) and a ODB (which I won't spell out b/c my grandfather reads my blog :), a chocolate cake doughnut topped with Oreos and peanut butter. (Photo Credit: Life Is a Roadtrip)

Then we drove out to Ecola State Park/Cannon Beach. We picnicked at the top of a cliff overlooking the sea, with the clearest sky you could possibly imagine. Then we braved a 1 mile hike for "experienced" hikers. (Abby said if by "experienced" they meant "possessing an inflated sense of ability" then that fit us just fine. :) It was beyond gorgeous; a steep uphill climb through the magical forest, then a relatively flat path over redwood roots and tiny waterfalls, then switchbacks down to a secluded beach. Crescent Beach is only accessible by this path. We stuck our toes in the water but it was freezing, so we just sat in the sand admiring it all.

Photo Credit: IronRodArt's Flicker Stream

We both turn 30 this year and won't see each other before then, so we went out for a special dinner Monday night. We found Vino Paradiso, a wine bar with a great dinner menu. We chose their tasting menu (3 courses for $25) and added the wine pairing (2 glasses of wine and a cocktail). Not my normal budget but we only turn 30 once! You know a meal is going to be good when you are freaking out about the olive oil the bread is dipped in. I had some sort of garlic/shrimp pastry topped with fancy lettuce to start, then handmade pasta with local mushrooms and a sauce that I'm sure I could never duplicate. I may never recover from the chocolate mousse, which came in second only to what I had in Belgium.

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Portland - Monday

After a lazy morning, we went to Hawthorne Street for lunch. Portland is kind of like a giant Montrose, and Hawthorne reminds me a bit of downtown Heights. We found Bread and Ink Cafe and partook of the Farmer's Market sandwich and the Bacon Provolone Basil Sandwich, with side salad and fries complete with homemade catsup. Eric and I often order two different things so we can try more in a restaurant. Abby and I have a similar groove - we eat half then switch plates.

Photo credit: Portland Guide

Abby had to go to work for the afternoon so that left me to wander about. I bought some perfume oils at Escential Lotion and Oils. These are vegetable based, no alcohol, mixed with essential oils. I have a chemical sensitivity so I have to be careful about these things, but regular perfume just smells like chemical to me and I don't like it. Eric also hates the smell of perfume. But we can both agree on EO. I chose a white patchouli blend - different from regular patchouli because it's much lighter and more sweet. 
Then I just wandered. I sat at a coffee shop and read a book - for fun. I can't remember the last time that's happened. It was glorious to go to a coffee shop and not work. I caught a bus downtown in hopes of going to the art museum and/or history museum, but they were both closed b/c it was Monday. But I enjoyed sitting on a bench in the Park Blocks of downtown. 

I also sat in Pioneer Courthouse Square, "Portland's Living Room", a city park that's great for people watching. The strap on my shirt broke so I went into Macy's where a nice lady helped me pin it back on. I thought I was taking the Portland Street Car but ended up on the MAX (light rail), crossing the river waaay out of my way. It was alright b/c I enjoyed looking out the window and talking to people. 


I finally made my way to Powell's Books, the largest independent book store in the U.S. It covers an entire block and it's several stories. For bookophiles like myself it's more than amazing.  

I met up with Abby and we were starving. We fell into one of those "we're too hungry to think about where to go but we want to go somewhere good" traps. That led us to a raw vegan cafe inside a yoga studio where they served zucchini noodles. Can we just call it shredded zucchini? They are not noodles! Thankfully we found a cafe across the street that saved us - Sweet Masterpiece Chocolate and Coffee Bar. I feasted on quiche and Washington wine. It was a Riesling from a nearby vineyard I can't remember, but it was delicious.

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Portland - Sunday

One advantage of knowing people all over the place is getting to visit so many amazing places and not having to pay for lodging. It's grand.

Portland is the first stop on my summer travel journey, I'm visiting a friend I've known for 20 years while Eric visits a good friend in Vancouver. I arrived Sunday afternoon. After a very stressful week of moving, visa drama, and shipping frenzies, I woke up at 4 am to catch a flight up here. Several naps on the plane and some caffeine later and I was functional enough.


Sunday we went to Deshutes Brewery in the Pearl District for dinner and a flight of beer. They have an amazing warm pretzel with a cheese/mustard sauce that was TDF. Our main course was the Sweet and Spicy Mac and Cheese. I'm a sucker for gastropub! The flight was 6 small glasses of different beer so I got to try several different kinds. I seldom drink beer, but I really enjoy a good quality, brewed-with-love pint (or half pint) now and then. I'm really grossed out by Miller Lite, etc. that gets processed and pasteurized until it's not even worth it. But Deshutes beer is awesome.

Then we visited Washington Park to see the rose garden and the arboretum. The views cannot be beat - you can see all of the city and Mt. Hood. And I came at a good time to see the roses in full bloom, what seemed like acres of them. I should also mention that the weather has been perfect. It doesn't hurt.









Photo Credit: blisstree.com

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Leaving Los 'Trose

We discovered that our resident mouse had eaten at least a dozen roach traps, scattering the contents underneath all our furniture. We were horrified to FINALLY find his entry point – having thought we’d sealed every possible opening. But no, he/she went up through the pier and beam foundation, and chewed a hole trough the floor and carpet large enough to enter and exit.

The upstairs neighbor’s window a/c unit leaked a giant brown spot onto our living room wall, ruining our curtain. Thankfully we moved the couch and painting out of the way in time.

And the mold/mildew/dust and probably some out of code chemicals finally caught up to poor Eric, who sneezed non-stop during the packing process.

But we’re still going to miss it, desperately.

Choosing the house we selected as our first was significant for us. It was full of character and problematic enough to offer surmountable challenges. It was in a pedestrian neighborhood full of life that encouraged us to ditch our cars and bike or walk as much as possible. And it was in the middle of an area experiencing quite the identity crisis, trying to preserve the old and welcome the new, all while investing in diversity.

So thanks, Hyphen House numero uno, you were good to us.

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Last Sunday

Today we said a reluctant goodbye to our church family. This community has been so important to us the last 9 months and has helped us grow and heal in ways we did not expect.

I could go on and on, but there are a a few things I want to share. When we finally decided to land at RUMC at the end of our church tour, it was in large part because it met some significant criteria. 1) Women were welcome as equal pastoral leaders; 2) The majority of the congregants were not white; 3) The style/theology/music/teaching were something we could both wholeheartedly agree on. This is by no means a perfect place, but it was perfect of us in this season.

When we first visited RUMC last summer, the pastor, a wonderful woman whose sermon made me cry, was preparing for a new position at a different church. I was really bummed b/c I really connected with her, but Rev. G., who took her place, has been amazing. One great thing about the Methodist church in general is that it's really hard for the church to become all about the senior pastor, b/c that position rotates. There is a lot of focus on lay involvement and leadership.

Anyway, Rev. G. has been a great example of humility, grace, and gifted speaking. My favorite sermon he gave recounted his childhood experience as the son of agricultural workers. He recalled attending church as a child where women were expected to stay in their "place." Even as a child, he could not understand why these church men, who received such racist treatment at their jobs, turned around to extend sexist treatment to the women in their community. He went on to highlight the reasons why women and men should serve and lead together, and how God has entrusted all with gifts.

What's perhaps most amazing to me is that this is really normal in our church. In other words, it's not weird for the associate minister and pastoral intern to both be women. It's not weird for women (myself included) to serve communion or read Scripture or speak. It's not weird for the ten or so members who have been there 40 years, both black and white, to be truly good friends. In fact, all this is easy. No one has to explain it. No one has to say, "let's be intentional about including everyone and making sure both women and men are leading." It just is. If you're there, you're a part. Everyone gets an equal seat at the table, because it's God's table.

The other major way God used RUMC has been to expose our prejudices. One pitfall of educated white folks is that we like to assume we've learned not to be racist on some level. Or we think, "I'm not prejudiced like that person, I'm way better than that." But if I'm being really candid, probably each Sunday served to show me some ridiculous prejudice I hold. Like I would be surprised to hear an African American woman had a certain job. As much as it pains me to admit it, it's the truth. I want to be as unassuming as RUMC is.

I felt like God met me there, like the Spirit was ministering to me on multiple levels all the time. I believe I heard God's voice in both words and action. As Eric said, this church gives us hope. Hope for our own spiritual lives, hope for unity among all Christians, and hope for the world.

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Celebrating Life

This week has been quite poignant for me. My moving preparations are not the only thing going on in the world, it seems. Today was the anniversary of the death of a good friend from college and a best friend's mom. Sunday we hosted a party to celebrate a six month old miracle baby.

D was one of those people who lit up a room, made people feel really comfortable, and drove girls crazy. I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with him. His death 5 years ago came as a great shock to everyone. His friend gave the eulogy and beautifully recounted the toast D gave at his wedding. D told the bride he was mad she took his friend, but there was no one else he'd rather lose him to. The eulogist said he was mad God took his friend, but there was no one else he'd rather lose him to. I'll always remember that.

J's death was only a year ago, and therefore a lot fresher. It was also a big shock, not that you can ever truly prepare for death. Her daughter and I have been close for a long time, and we've spent the last year trying to process that loss. It affects everything, really. Those deep questions about why her life ended and how we are to respond might nag me forever. I'm just looking for the beautiful things. To quote the eulogy at J's funeral: "She taught us to be lavish in our love and to create our own beauty. To tell people what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear. To trust God. To serve. To give. To empower others with whatever we have been given. To see the best in people. To see the world for the brilliant, vibrant, and radiant place that it is."

C was born a few days after Christmas with a hole in her heart. This month she was "supposed" to have surgery, but her heart is fine and she's growing and vibrant. On Sunday, Eric and I became her godparents, along with her four sisters. We underestimated how much that would mean, and have been very moved by the whole family's expressions. It means we care about these five little lives so much we would raise them if we need to, and we'll invest in their spiritual welfare now alongside their parents as they grow up.


So I think life, in all its forms, is a miracle. Some lives on earth end early and some lives extend when they aren't expected to. I don't know why. But God is the author of Life so I can't help but acknowledge its beauty.

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Salt Lake City Breakfast

I spent a large part of my childhood in a tiny town in Wyoming, three hours away from civilization. The nearest city was Salt Lake - where we drove to visit the doctor, to buy food, and to shop. I told you we lived in the middle of nowhere. OK, our town did have a doctor and a grocery store. But my eye doctor specialist, my sister's gluten free food, and the only malls worth going to were not anywhere close to us.

Because the only place to buy clothing in our town was the general store (which also sold saddles, kitchen stuff, fabric, and other sundries - I know it sounds fake but it's true), we traveled to the mecca that is SLC to purchase our wardrobes. We made a weekend of it a few times a year.

On one particular trip my dad wasn't with us for some reason, which left us girls loose to shop til we dropped. You may think you can shop til you drop, but my Mom is a force to be reckoned with. Anyway, we always picked a hotel with a microwave so we could have popcorn, and M&Ms were a staple road trip snack. One morning we overslept and missed the continental breakfast. Rather than spend money on the most important meal of the day, we ate popcorn and "M's" for our morning meal, still wearing our pajamas and lounging in bed. To this day, it's one of my favorite childhood memories.

Last week I had the good fortune of taking a mother-daughter trip with my mom and sister. We stayed in a bed and breakfast, bummed around, and, of course, shopped. We literally closed down the outlet mall. In your mind, 2:00 pm might not be a "late" start when the stores close at  9:00, but we used every minute of those 7 hours. Seriously, if you need a bargain, my mom will find it.

It would of course be trite to say that things are different between daughters and mothers when the daughters grow up. We're both married now, have finished school, have careers and lives. Those few days together reminded me how much I loved my childhood and how grateful I am to keep the connection I have with my mom and sister now, even though I've changed so much and our lives are busy.

My favorite part of the trip was piling into bed, watching a movie in our pajamas, and eating popcorn and M&Ms.

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Transatlantic Transition

Moving to England is a big deal.

I say that like it should be obvious, but actually to us it's not. We started the process of moving to Europe last summer when we visited, and spent the following year looking for jobs, etc. So we've been used to the idea for some time now.

Last night we told the woman who teaches our pilates class about our upcoming plans and she freaked out, along with everyone in the room. Like, it was the most amazing thing she'd ever heard. Even at the dentist today they couldn't understand how I was holding it together.

The truth is I'm not holding it together all that well.

Our friends who teach at the school we'll be working at said they had flashbacks to the summer before they left, with all the preparations and visits and goodbyes. They said they didn't envy us right now.

It's not the massive to do list - although that keeps me distracted from other overwhelming emotions. It's the emotional process of leaving, and trying to leave well.

I adore our first house together (even though the current leak in the living room and mouse in the kitchen are making it easier for me to go) and get sad when I think of leaving it. It represents so much. The kind of home we created together, with lots of people in and out, our decorating styles combining, and sense of nostalgia growing for each item, all the work we put into it.

And I can't help but feeling like I'm disappointing someone all the time. It's impossible to schedule enough time with everyone, and to prioritize. Also, I get that folks are going to miss us, but it's easy to feel like I'm doing my friends and family a major disservice by moving to another country. No one has come out and said that, of course. But I think about all I'm going to miss and I feel somewhat ashamed for following this dream. Crazy, right?

I guess it's better not to pretend it's no big deal, but also unwise to let it be everything. I've always been a big picture kind of girl, so I need to get back to thinking that way about our transatlantic relocation.

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Why I Tell My Husband Everything

"I can't tell him that or he'll think I'm this."

"I can't just say that to her, she'll take it the wrong way."

These are oft-used lines in TV shows and movies that really bug me. I get so frustrated that an entire 30 minute sitcom can be filled with people talking to everyone except the person they need to talk to. Portrayals of married couples are the worst. I guess I've been watching too much hulu.com, b/c this has been on my mind lately.

It took us probably 8 months into our dating relationship before we were completely comfortable telling each other everything. I've mentioned before how we try to talk through every issue, large and small. But it took us a while to get into that rhythm. Once we had painful conflict that stemmed from withholding information and feelings, to the point we almost ended our relationship. From then on we got a lot better at sharing everything.

I tell Eric the most banal details of my day, and he recounts the smallest anecdotes of his routine. That leads to talking about people and life and ideals and deep things that don't seem connected to any of it. I share what I'm frustrated about, what I'm afraid of, what I don't understand about him or our marriage. He asks questions and asks for assurance and indicates disappointment. Often, whatever it is that feels so big in my head feels a lot smaller when I talk to him about it.

It's a tricky balance. I want to own my feelings, which sometimes means I have to process them internally first, and that can be frustrating for my partner. Sometimes I just want to be quiet. We're still developing a way to effectively non-verbally communicate: "I love you but I need to be silent and figure this out. It's not about you. And if it is I still love you." A wink doesn't quite do the trick. And then there's pushing through the selfish temptation to assume I get to keep things to myself and not let him in.

What frees us to share everything, I guess, is a basis of trust and unconditional love. Even the times we can't stand how the other isn't meeting our expectations or we grapple with what it means to really be one, we know our love is bigger than it. That's why we can dig through it. Even when doubt the other's trustworthiness (or our own), we cling to the foundation of trust.

So a Friends episode might be 5 minutes long if Monica and Chandler went straight to each other and actually communicated their issues and feelings, but boy would their marriage be more healthy!

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Sooo Much to Do

Last Saturday I awoke in the middle of the night after a dream that I forgot something really important for England... like a visa application or something. So on the way to the lake to meet Eric's family Sunday we made a list of stuff we need to accomplish this month. It covers 2.5 pages of a legal pad, and we add to it frequently.

Here's a sample of what we've done this week:

*Got biometric scan for E
*Fed-ex overnighted visa paperwork
*Purged all our clothes
*Donated clothes
*Purged books
*Sold books ($57 at Half Priced Books!)
*Got neighborhood permission for a yard sale
*Bought plane tickets for our summer vacation (which took FOREVER but hours of internet searching shaved hundreds of dollars off the price)
*Contacted multiple people at our new school for lots of different reasons

We've also done lots of fun things, too, as we are attempting to visit the few places left on our "Houston list" and spend lots of time with friends and family. For a good dose of irony, my sister (whom I've lived apart from for about 4 years) moved ten minutes away from me. I'm trying to see her as much as possible. I've gotten my first twinges of "wow, I'm not going to live here much longer" and "I'm really going to miss my family" this week. It's a cross between a lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach.

My response to all this is a lot of deep breaths.

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Thoughts on Lost

Well, by now everyone has given their take on the Lost finale. I personally thought it was superb and expected nothing less from what I think is the best show in television history. I am also glad it didn't answer every question. I think it would have been much less interesting if it had. Certainly there were plot lines the producers simply dropped, but I think for most of the characters, there was closure. If you haven't watched the finale yet, you should probably stop reading here because there will be plenty of spoilers to follow.

For me the biggest surprise of the finale was how much I related to Ben. So instead of talking about the show in general, I want to focus on him and how I feel more of a connection to him than the other characters (even if I like the others better). Ben has always been one of the most intriguing characters on the show, but the writers took him to a new level last season. We saw him at his darkest moment (murdering Locke), taking responsibility for his actions (his judgment at the Temple), and questioning himself and his faith. His most harrowing moment for me was in the finale of last season when he killed Jacob. The conversation between the two of them resonated with me (more on that later). This season, Ben's flash sideways episode was one of the most satisfying. We saw him redeem himself and resist the temptation to become powerful again, yet by the end of the season, we were still unsure of what "side" he was on. While I was never convinced he would help the Man in Black, I was surprised at how easily he murdered Widmore (showing his vengeful nature had not yet been conquered). His conclusion, however, was beautiful, becoming Hurley's second in command, sitting outside the church as the others gathered to move on. I found all this really compelling given my own spiritual journey.

Ben's spiritual journey is not too different from mine although I never lied or manipulated like that, and I certainly never killed anyone. Ben is isolated and insecure. His relationship with his father is horrible due to his father's distance and abusiveness. He is looking for a reason to be special, and he finds it with the Others. Looking back on the show from the perspective of the finale, the Others seem to be a sort of religious order dedicated to serving Jacob and protecting the Island. They don't know why. They have never even seen Jacob, yet they follow this list of rules and are very selective about whom they choose to join them. In my own journey, they seem to represent the legalistic side of Christianity. They blindly follow rules that have no real purpose, and they exclude others. I can understand why Ben is seduced by this lifestyle. It offers him a place to belong and to be special. Furthermore, it offers him an opportunity to be in control given how out of control his life has been (with the loss of his mother, the abuse of his alcoholic father, and his isolated life on this strange island).

Legalism certainly is seductive. It allows us to think we are special and allows us to exert power and judgment over others in order to reinforce the idea that we are special, even superior to others. I certainly spent a long time thinking I was special because I was so much better than others. I followed the rules. I manipulated others into following my interpretation of the rules. While I never sunk to the depths Ben did, many do. Had I been given the kind of authority he had, I don't think it would have been to unlikely that I may have been capable of the kind of actions he was. Certainly, it happens to many people in power (especially in the church where that power takes on a sense of divine authority). However, deep down this legalism cannot offer real security. We are all human and bound to make mistakes. No one follows the rules perfectly, and we are always afraid someone better and more special will come along and replace us. For Ben, this person is Locke, someone else who is chosen, who seems in fact to be favored even more by the Island (or in the spiritual sense, God). Ben becomes jealous and wants to eliminate this threat, which he eventually does. I can recall that same jealousy when someone seemed more "spiritual" or more "gifted" than me. It eats you up inside as it does to Ben. Legalism is ultimately a very self-centered religion, one that demands that I be special, that I be superior, but because it is so self-centered, it is ultimately very hollow and consuming.

Ben becomes so consumed with his mission (to be the most special forever), that he sacrifices his "daughter," the person he loves most. For this, he feels he must be judged, another unfortunate aspect of legalism. It is interesting that the one who judges him is the Man in Black (in many ways an allegory for Satan, whom the Bible refers to as the Accuser). The judge then deceives Ben into following his lead, but really Ben has already been following him all along. Ben never spoke to Jacob. Instead, he followed a set of rules, for fear he would be judged not special, not fit to lead. When he finally confronts Jacob face to face, he questions, "What about me?" This is the ultimate question in any self-centered lifestyle like legalism. Jacob's response sounds very close to God's response to Job's similar question: "What about you?" In other words, it's not about you. Ben's entire mission in life is shattered by that question, and I can relate. In my most legalistic days, the book of Job was a source of great frustration. How could God be so dismissive of such a faithful servant? What I later came to understand was God's response is meant to rescue us from the destructive cycle of selfishness because he truly loves us, not because he doesn't think we are special. However, we can never understand how truly loved and special we are until we stop obsessing over it, until we "let go" of our own self-loathing and insecurity.

Ben doesn't understand this, so he angrily stabs Jacob. I have been there. I have blamed God for all my problems. I have lashed out at him in total anger. Like Ben, I was blind to the fact that God was not the source of my problems, rather it was my own misunderstanding of God and Christianity. Ben finally begins to realize this after Jacob's death because ironically, he is now free from the legalism he created for himself. Maybe we all have to have a moment where we "murder" the god of legalism in order to see the true God. I almost walked away from the Church altogether. In that moment of abandoning what I had known, God stepped in and showed me a better way.

That way is illustrated for Ben in the final season, first through Ilana, who forgives him for killing Jacob, the man most important to her. Forgiveness, not perfection, is the true key to Christianity. It is at this moment that Ben decides to follow (for the first time because he was always the leader in his selfish legalistic religion), much like me, always seeing myself as better than everyone, refusing to submit to the leadership of others. In his flash sideways, Ben is given the opportunity to redo his past mistakes. He is able to sacrifice his own benefits for the love of Alex. I found this to be one of the most touching moments in the entire series. Even the most desperate and evil of characters has a chance to find redemption. Isn't that what Christians claim to believe, even though legalism refuses to acknowledge it?

Even in this new state of grace, Ben stumbles. He is tempted to return to his old ways, leaving the group with Richard so that they can blow up the plane, making it impossible for anyone to leave the Island. He even kills Widmore, the man who is responsible for Alex's death. We see that Ben does not instantly become a perfect or even that much better of a person. I can say the same for myself. Just because I have been rescued from legalism doesn't mean I don't have relapses or that I am really a much better person than before. It takes time to heal from those wounds and grow into a loving person. That is why Ben's ending is so perfect.

Ben stands there beside Hurley as he is anointed the next "Protector" of the Island (like Jacob, a God figure). He can now accept his place and agrees to help Hurley. Hurley fears he does not know all the rules, and Ben says to him that Jacob's way with the rules is the old way, and that Hurley has a chance to start a new way in which he just loves people and takes care of them. Ben's recognition of this crucial truth is his final turning point, when we know he is going to be okay. Now he has a second chance to lead people in a new "religion" based on love, rather than rules, just like Christianity is supposed to be. This has been my own spiritual journey, moving from serving a god of rules (myself ultimately) to a God of love.

In the end, Ben cannot join the others in the Church. He tells Hurley that he has some more stuff to work through, and Hurley reassures him that he has done well as his assistant. What comforting words, exactly what Ben needs to hear so that he too can eventually find forgiveness for his past sins. I feel like I am in a similar place, working through my past brokenness on the road to complete renewal. I am not there yet, so I can sit with Ben outside the gates of Heaven, seeking to be renewed by love.

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Day of Silence

Well, by day, I mean about 4 hours. But it felt long.

This week I spent a "day" of prayer at the Ruah Spirituality Center, part of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Villa de Matel convent in Houston. They have facilities for overnight, but the director recommended I start with a day since I was nervous about being in silence for that long.

I arrived at 10 and met a spiritual director who first showed me around. Then we talked for 20 minutes or so. She inquired as to what brought me there and then gave me some guidance as to how to approach the day. The main thing is it's a completely silent experience... so you don't talk to anyone even if you see people. The grounds are beautiful, and the floor where the Center is has several rooms set aside for prayer. They give even day retreaters their own dorm room, which was nice b/c I left my stuff and returned periodically, and took a quick nap at one point.

I started by sitting in the roof garden doing nothing, just sitting, observing. It took only a few minutes before I was crying grateful tears that also reflected how much inside I knew needed to come out. Then I spent about an hour journaling, returned to my room for a few minutes, and went to lunch. Eating lunch in silence with other people is strange. There were only a few other retreaters, all there for the same reason so I didn't feel rude, but it was weird. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the grounds, sitting on the balcony, visiting different rooms, praying in the chapel, enjoying being quiet and being so aware of God's presence. I really enjoyed the Kairos art room, where there were tons of art supplies and I could express my prayers creatively.


I've heard several people who've done retreats like this say that it takes them a whole day (or more) to really get quiet enough to get to the deep stuff. I can see that now. My intention for the day was to process grad school and pray about the next step. I felt complete in that. But I sort of felt I dealt with the "obvious" stuff, and while deep stuff (some of it surprising) did appear, it was still stuff near the surface. In other words, I see the value of some long, intentional silence.

The spiritual director suggested times of concentrated prayer intermixed with walks, observing nature, etc. (which she emphasized was prayer as well). She encouraged me to reflect on greatest challenges, joys, and wounds throughout grad school. To confront any anxieties I had about England and to ask God how I could be used there. And finally to ask God what could be done interiorally in me. That guidance resonated with me and although my mind wandered quite a bit, I was able to stay pretty focused and really soak in the silence. 

It was a beautiful experience and I recommend it to everyone. I've known about this place for a few years but was either nervous about going or didn't make it a priority and wish I had. Cost is by donation. I'm really grateful.

"Let us be silent that we may hear the Whisper of God." - Emerson

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The Art of Compromise

L: After school is out, will you stop going to bed freakishly early?

E: Will you stop sleeping freakishly late?

L: I'll get up at 9 if you stay up til 11. Midnight on weekends.

E: Deal.

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Comma Ph.D.

It's official. My doctorate has been conferred, my dissertation is in copyright and I never have to get another degree ever again. Ever.

Here it is by numbers...

Years in the doctoral program: 7
Most books checked out from the library at once: 81
Largest fine for library books: $200
Archives visited: at least 12
States traveled to for research: 6
States traveled to for conferences: 7
Grants/scholarships: 9
Courses taught: 15
Jobs held: 4
Dissertation page length: 286
Books read: Hundreds
Publications: 3
Presentations: 9 or more
Times I wanted to quit: A lot
Times I wanted to persevere: More

I'm still getting used to the fact that it's over. But it is!

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bell hooks on Education

bell hooks is one of my favorite feminist theorists. Her thoughts on education sum up my experience pretty well:

"To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin." (hooks, Teaching to Transgress, 1994: 13)

"I entered the classroom with the conviction that it was crucial for me and every other student to be an active participant, not a passive consumer...education as the practice of freedom.... education that connects the will to know with the will to become. Learning is a place where paradise can be created."
(bell hooks)


"Feminist education — the feminist classroom — is and should be a place where there is a sense of struggle, where there is visible acknowledgment of the union of theory and practice, where we work together as teachers and students to overcome the estrangement and alienation that have become so much the norm in the contemporary university."
(bell hooks)

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What To Blog

Sometimes I don't blog because I can't think of much to say or don't have much going on.

Sometimes (like now) I have so much to say and so much going on that it's hard to know where to start.

Here's some of what's whirling around in my head/life:

*Finishing my Ph.D. (Really? After ALL these years?)
*Moving to England (Also... Really? In 3 months I'll be an expat. Crazy.)
*Immigration (Today I'm loving "Los Suns")
*The "Ideal" Body (Great presentations from my Women's Studies students)
*Motherhood and Feminism (Not because I'm pregnant. Because I'm not.)
*Peaceful, Constructive Dialogue (Inspired by some recent and experiences and the Sojourners "Covenant for Civility")
*Upcoming Writing Projects (I'll actually get to write something besides dissertation!)
*Ending Human Trafficking (Please sign International Justice Mission's petition to President Obama here)
*Church (I'm feeling so blessed at our church. We'll be sad to leave.)
*Summer Travel (I've got four trips planned. Hooray!)
*Lectio Divina (Re: a chapter my small group read and is now practicing from Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton)

Basically I'm just in awe of life and God at the moment. I am also exhausted. I think my body, heart, and mind are trying to decompress from a really crazy semester while digesting the reality of the next chapter all at once. I'm trying to give myself a lot of grace and just soak it in.

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Two Things I Love Around My Home

1.) Magazine Rack



I bought this at Ikea several years ago and still love it. My last apartment was tiny so anything we could put on the walls was a storage solution. In this house, we have huge white walls (that we couldn't paint) so it helps fill in some of the blankness.

At Christmas, we take off the magazines and decorate it like a Christmas tree. We use silver garland and white ornaments, and either a tin foil star or a Santa hat on the top.

Magazines of choice: Relevant, Change, Travel and Leisure, Cooking Light, ESPN, Mutuality, and Priscilla Papers.

2.) Window


This is not a good picture, but a few of the doors have these windows above them. They no longer open but they used to be used for ventilation. They have a lever (painted shut) that would open them b/c they are so high. I really wish they still opened!

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Birthday Unicorns

When I walked in the door to school today, I was a little nervous. A sophomore student who is friends with some of my students/fans held the door open for me and proceeded to follow me up the stairs with a strange grin on her face. She "casually" wished me a happy birthday, which made me a little more nervous. I knew this group of girls was planning something for my birthday, but now I was a little worried about how far they might take those plans.

Being one of only a few young male teachers at an all-girls school is as close as I will ever come to being a celebrity. This year, a particular group of sophomore girls, who have dubbed themselves my "BFFs/Besties," have more or less become my own three-person fan-club. For Christmas, they made me a big pink unicorn at Build-a-Bear, which they named Mr. Rochester, after the love-interest/total creep in Jane Eyre, their summer reading assignment for my class. There is a story behind the unicorn, but more on that later.

I should have known they were going to try and top themselves after last week. One of them made sure everyday to let me know they were getting me a present. I should have known, but I didn't get too nervous until I saw their friend waiting for me by the door. I immediately started considering worst-case scenarios: a banner stretching across the hall, a surprise party in my room, confetti all over the floors, a hallway of students breaking out into song. My students rarely celebrate quietly; already this year a different class kidnapped one of my classroom mascots and held it for ransom in the school's rotunda until I sang the Barney song after school in the middle of a crowd of 9th and 10th graders. Last year, my journalism students took a picture of me next to a cardboard cutout of Zac Efron from High School Musical 3, saved it as my desktop wallpaper, and projected it onto the screen in my classroom with the message: "Mr. KH, Prom '99!"

As I walked up the stairway and rounded the corner, I braced myself. No one broke out into song, no one threw confetti, so at least my worst case scenario hadn't come true. The BFFs were waiting at my door. They had stuck Post-it notes to my door saying, "Look Inside Bestie." I opened the door as they anxiously waited for me to find their surprise. Tied to my chair were two foil balloons, one a standard sized birthday balloon, the other... a giant-sized unicorn head balloon - not my worst-case scenario, but hilarious and over-the-top nonetheless.
I suppose I should explain the unicorn thing. When I started teaching English, I decided that when I had to teach grammar and writing, I would use funny examples that would keep the students interested. Because I teach at an all-girls school, I thought it might be funny to write a bunch of bizarre sentences about evil unicorns for the first grammar lesson I did. For example, on a lesson about passive voice I wrote, "Unicorns are hunted for their silky fur," nothing that is going to win any comedy awards, but at least it is better than the boring Dick and Jane kind of stuff they are used to. The unicorns were a hit, so it just got worse from there, including ridiculous pictures to go along with the grammar Powerpoints and even more ridiculous examples. I also have a collection of classroom mascots, mostly cheap toys that family members and students have given me over the years. For some reason at my first school, the students started giving me all these Happy Meal toys and the collection has grown. Each year it seems like I throw some out, but it keeps growing to the point that I can't fit them on top of my file cabinet anymore. Now, thanks to the unicorn examples, I have a growing unicorn contingent among the other mascots.

I always wondered how teachers developed these weird quirks, and now I am the unicorn guy. What a legacy! I have found that it is almost always the stupid things like these that students remember most about their teachers. My sophomores won't remember that I taught them how to write research papers, literary analyses, or poetry explications, but they will all remember the unicorns.

So here's to birthdays and unicorns, and birthday unicorns. I never dreamed of being that English teacher with a strange unicorn obsession, but what can I say? My life has gone beyond even my wildest dreams.

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