School Stress

My 10 year old daughter moved to a new school this year. She has a great teacher and she claims to be much happier at her new school. She finally feels like she fits in and she loves all of the projects they do. The problem is, school is stressing her out. Another problem is that her school is stressing me out.

In retrospect, it is obvious to me that Amelia needed a change last year. If your child is reading a couple books a day during school hours, something is wrong. Kids need to be challenged. If there is no challenge, changes must be made. On the other hand, if a child has so many challenges at school that she doesn’t have time left for other activities, or if she has little time for being a 10 yr old, something might be wrong there too.

It is tricky to be the parent of someone who has the option of being challenged too much or too little, but no obvious third option. I’m not the teacher; I can’t adjust the homework load. I can’t make the curriculum just a bit easier for her. I can help her to streamline her life, I can try to help her see that she doesn’t have time to do everything demanded at school, retake her science test until she gets a perfect score, swim every afternoon, go to chess club once a week, go to Activity Days (a bi-weekly church group for girls), enter the Reflections contest (PTA arts program), and study for the spelling bee, etc.

The problem is it makes me sad to encourage her to scale back on the non-school activities that are also an important and enjoyable part of her life (and let me be honest: our life. I am mourning the loss of time to study spelling, because it was something I really enjoyed doing with my daughter). For example, dropping swimming would save the most time, but after her fight to make the swim team, I would hate to see her leave just when she is reaping the rewards of her hard work.

Because of the stress that her homework assignments put on our family, I am often tempted to encourage her to go back to her old school. It can’t be worth it! I say. But despite the stress she evidences and the anxiety I feel, how can I send her back when she says she is happier at her new school and wouldn’t go back for the world?

Be of good cheer? or Mourn with those who mourn?

“Be of good cheer” or “Mourn with those who mourn” or both? Doubtless I’m a peddler of false dichotomies . . .

This week I visited a neighbor at a local care facility.  She had a stroke.  Strokes are no fun.  Recovering from a stroke is a lot of hard, painful work.  My neighbor mentioned that she wouldn’t wish this experience on a worst enemy.  I believe her.  But I responded with as many sunny things to say as I could think of.  “Oh, this is such a nice facility–brand new–you are so lucky! “Oh, it sounds like you have a great physical therapist!”  “You have wonderful daughters, don’t you?”

Suddenly, I remembered the Barbara Ehrenreich interview I had listened to on NPR that morning.  She talked about her experience with breast cancer. As Ehrenreich tried to talk about her suffering with friends and acquaintances she found they all told her to look on the bright side. One person said she should consider the cancer experience “a gift.”  She found these reactions incredibly frustrating.  She wanted (needed?) others to acknowledge how scary her cancer was, how terrible it was that this was happening to her, and to agree with her about the barbarity of the treatments.  Instead she got saccharine chin-up exercises.

Ehrenreich is highly secular.  But my religious beliefs counsel sharing suffering with others as well.  A Book of Mormon prophet named Alma asks his people if they are ready to enter the fold of God and be called his people.  He further asks if they are “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things” (Mosiah 18:9)  He suggests that if they are ready to do these things (in addition to a few others), they are ready for baptism.

As a Christian, I want to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who need comfort.  If I visit a sick person, a friend who has just divorced, or an unemployed relative, and offer nothing but happy-think, am I failing at the empathy the Gospel demands?  Am I failing the requirements of friendship?  Am I failing as a sister?

Perhaps the answer is situational.  Sometimes you need someone to listen to your tale of woe.  Other times you need someone who cares about you enough to tell you to stop wallowing.  What do you think?

One of the callers on the radio program pointed out that while both Ehrenreich and a cancer victim who embraced happy-think might have recovered, the other victim is now enjoying life while Ehrenreich is still angry.  If happy-think ultimately leaves someone better off (happier or more productive or better able to move on with life), is it always best to be the friend that encourages happy-think or does compassion sometimes demand otherwise?

Let’s table the friend conundrum.  Is being sad and angry okay?  Should we always be trying to get ourselves to a happier, more cheery mindset?  Is it appropriate and proper to acknowledge that suffering hurts, that some things just suck?  Christ teaches us in the New Testament that “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  To “be of good cheer” is a common scriptural imperative.  Christ says it to his disciples on the stormy sea.  Paul is counseled thus on his way to Rome.  Some of the most beautiful cheer imperatives are found in the Doctrine and Covenants [LDS Scripture]:

Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.  D&C 68:6

Ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along.  D&C 78:18
Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.  D&C 123:17

These verses seem to suggest that faith brings cheer. Doubtless that is so. But is there room there for the experience of suffering? How does it work?

Local Newspaper Subscription?

Do you subscribe to your local newspaper?  I have not in many years, but I think it may be time to start.  Recently, we went to pick up a babysitter, and her father asked whether we were going to see the big game.  We asked, “What game?”  Pdad and I understood his reply to mean that the game was BYU v. Utah (a very big game–but we learned the next day that it was actually BYU v. USU–not nearly as big).  We marveled that it could be the day of the big game without any sliver of awareness from either of us.  It was disturbing.  Not because we are missing out on community sports–we are accustomed to this and are comfortable with it.  However, being unaware of when the big game was to be played seemed to be the classic canary in a coal mine warning experience.  Can someone who is unaware of when the big game is to be played be well prepared to vote in local elections?  Is someone unaware of tomorrow’s likely weather getting the information useful to her life?

Benefits of Subscribing to the Newspaper: Voting is so important (excuse the earnestness, but I wrote my dissertation on what it means to be an excellent citizen, and I can’t help it!).  However, only informed voting is worth the effort.  In the weeks preceding the election I can cram, trying to get as much information as possible from campaign blogs and websites, but undoubtedly the clearest and best answer to whether the incumbents need to be thrown out or thanked and returned arises from following local events more frequently than once every year or two.

And that is where I have fallen down.  I can talk about Afghanistan, health care, the public option and the deficit.  I know the situations of Somalia, Iran, and Pakistan, but I am much fuzzier as to the fiscal health of the city or the intentions of my city council members.

And it isn’t just that.  It is a personal, daily life benefit as well.  It isn’t just my citizen quotient that the newspaper would help.  Newspapers are useful, aren’t they?  When a friend became a fan of the local health department on Facebook, I discovered that the H1N1 vaccine was already available in my area.  Would I have known that had I read the paper?  And when I saw a block-long line for the vaccine, I eagerly turned to the lcoal newspaper’s website that evening, hoping that they had snapped that surprising picture.  They had.  The New York Times helps me understand why it is important for me to get the vaccine.  The local paper lets me know when it will be possible.

Problems with receiving the newspaper:

1) Mess and disorganization.  My children will unfold it.  They will scatter it.  I won’t stay on top of recycling.  Old newspaper will build up and clutter the house.

2) I already spend too much internet time reading news.  Whatever time I can carve out for newspaper reading is time I do not yet see I have.  Newspaper reading time could squeeze out more important priorities.

Your thoughts?  Do you get the newspaper: Yes/No?  Why?  What do you do about the mess and lack of time issues? Do you see other advantages and disadvantages to newspaper subscription than the ones I mentioned?

H1N1 Vaccine–Hard to Get!

The line for the H1N1 Vaccine at the Health Department wrapped around the block this morning.  I was stunned.  They started administering the vaccine at 9, and we got there by 10.  I wanted to get my kids vaccinated, but we had to leave because we hadn’t dressed warmly enough to spend an hour or more (probably a lot more!) in the cold!  I hope to go back tomorrow or later day, but given the line I saw, I suspect they will have run out of vaccine again by then.  I wonder which is riskier: waiting in that huge crowd of people with so many young children or not getting the vaccine?

Daily Herald Photo--Line for Vaccine in front of Health Department

Daily Herald Photo--Line for Vaccine in front of Health Department

Given my recent interest in pandemics, I have become convinced of the importance of vaccines.  I have been dismayed to see so much Facebook chatter about people afraid of and avoiding the vaccine.  It is true that H1N1 is often mild.  It is true that people with pre-existing medical conditions are often the ones who get in trouble.  But it has also killed otherwise healthy people.  However mild, it is a pandemic and most of us will be exposed.  Getting the vaccine can help us stop the spread, it’s that simple.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m ready to wait in that block long line . . .

Updated to Add:

Don’t miss this really helpful info about the vaccine:

Where is your computer? Why?

Computers on table

I know that many have counseled putting the computer(s) in a common area of the house or even a high traffic area. Pornography is truly a scourge. It’s obvious that the information children might share over the internet needs monitoring.

On the other hand, Pdad works at home and has his office in an isolated corner of the basement so that I don’t have a painful, always-shushing-my-children kind of life. He is on the telephone most of the day and the tones of little voices–raised either in happy play or in sibling ire–just do not provide a good background for his important business calls. Also, he travels, spending many nights in hotels. Realistically speaking, if his resolve to avoid pornography depends on a fear of family members walking by, he’s in big trouble, because usually there won’t be a family member walking by. It isn’t possible to un-isolate his computer unless we are prepared to move back to company headquarters.

So–no-brainer right? If we can’t move Pdad’s computer, we can’t. But what about the kids’ computer? Children are still developing their judgment. They need to be monitored. We handled this for a while by having one computer with the internet (use for children by permission only) and one for homework. But what made sense in theory didn’t work in practice. How do we look up words? At How do we check which books are in at the library? On their internet site. How do we research which new books we want? At Amazon. How does Amelia find images of the Sphinx for her big school project? With Google.

So for a while now, the kids have had relatively unfettered access to an internet-enabled computer in the family room. The problem: our family room is a very public part of our house. It is where all the toys are. It can be very difficult to focus on your homework when smaller monkeys are whooping and hollering and having fun, or even targeting you for distraction.  Because of Amelia’s motor issues, she must type all her homework on the computer. How do I get her the quiet she needs while also having her computer in an area where it can be monitored?

Again,  where is your computer and why?

Mouth Sores

Cold Sore Report Day 8.  This week I attended PTA meeting and a church social, taught Sunday School and hosted an extended family dinner, all with a huge unsightly (and painful!) lesion.  Bravery.  I managed to avoid commenting on it at those venues, so I am now taking out that pent up desire on my blog readers.  The Mayo Clinic claims these last 7-10 days.  From the looks of things today, this one may take longer than 10 to heal.

Fun fact: People with cold sores do not need to throw away their lip balm or lipstick.  According to the Lawrence Gibson of the Mayo Clinic, after having just one episode of cold sores, the virus “lies dormant in the nerve cells in your skin.”  The bad news is, once you get the virus, you have it for the rest of your life.  The good news is, since you are already infected, “you can’t reinfect yourself with your own lipstick or lip balm.”  Just don’t share with anyone else!

Canker Sore: In other news, I recently took Duncan for an emergency visit to the dentist.  He had a white patch on his gumline that was really hurting.  I felt foolish for the visit when they identified the patch as a canker sore.  Apparently, if a white patch is close to the teeth it could be an abcessed tooth (which would be a big deal), but if it is closer to the top of the gum it is a canker sore.  Canker sores are not a big deal, but they feel like a big deal!  I did not know that you could get canker sores on the gum area, I thought they were always limited to the cheek or tongue.  Nope.  Anyway, Zilactin and a little sympathetic attention from the hygienist appeared to cure Duncan of everything that ailed him.  He hasn’t complained about the sore since.


CommentLuv is  now enabled on my site.  I don’t like the name, but I do like the idea.  According to the WordPress plugin directory: “This plugin will visit the site of the comment author while they type their comment and retrieve a selection of their last blog posts, tweets or digg submissions which they can choose one from to include at the bottom of their comment when they click submit.”

I have long admired the blogroll at Visual Anarchy.  Not only does it show the blogs Lis likes, it also shows the title (with a link!) to the most recent post at each blog.  I don’t know if this sort of thing is available for WordPress (she’s on Blogger) and my links are less visible anyway because you have to click the link button on the homepage.  So, hopefully CommentLuv will help generate the same sort of community feeling–at least for the commenters who have blogs.

I’d love for you to try it (and let’s be honest here, I’m always hoping for comments) and let me know how it works for you.

Bistro Salad and Mustard-Thyme Vinaigrette

Bistro Salad with Boursin toast and Mustard Thyme Vinaigrette

The secret is the Mustard-Thyme Vinaigrette. It is so flavorful. Let me put it this way: I will never be without homegrown thyme again. Further, when whole grain mustard went on sale I bought eight bottles.

From the America’s Test Kitchen The Best 30-Minute Recipe

3 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
1 shallot, peeled
1 small garlic clove, peeled [I always use 2 medium size cloves]
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Salt and ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Process vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in blender [I use my food processor] until shallot and garlic are finely chopped, about 15 seconds. With blender running, add oil and continue to process until smooth and emulsified, about 15 seconds.

If there is a second secret to Bistro salad, it is the Boursin toast. Boursin is a soft spreadable cheese. The cheese parries the zing of the vinaigrette and adds its own garlic-herbiness to the mix. It is scrumptious. Do yourself a favor and do not read the nutrition facts. Also, note that Costco sells Boursin in three packs which makes it slightly less spendy.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees and cut a good baguette into thick slices (so that they’ll be soft on the inside and crunchy outside). Bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet for about ten minutes. Drizzle the tops with olive oil and then spread with Boursin.

Bacon & Eggs: You need 8 thick cut slices of bacon. Fry it crispy and cut into pieces. Toss with 8 ounces of mesclun (spring mix style lettuce) and 1/2 cup (ONLY HALF THE RECIPE) of the vinaigrette. The Best 30-Minute Recipe tops the salad with a fried egg. Although that presentation is more dramatic, I prefer just to go with hard boiled.

Assembly: Divide the mesclun/bacon mixture between 4 bowls. Arrange a sliced egg (fried or hard boiled) on top of each. Serve with the Boursin toast.

Yield: 4

Greens w/ a side of clogged artery


I was craving something healthy.  I’d spent the past few days silently snitching bits of  birthday chocolate all day long.  I can easily go a few days on cold cereal, yogurt, and chocolate, but then I wake up:  What am I doing to my body?! Today was one of those waking days.  So, despite it already being 6 p.m., and despite an evening of single-parenting ahead of me (attn ax-murderers: Pdad’s flight should land within the hour)  I decided I HAD to make real food or perish.

It went surprisingly well.  Duncan played sweetly with Kate.  (Do you hear the choir of angels singing?  I hope so, because it was a miracle).  Amelia worked on her homework.  I cooked.  I made bistro salad–the number one best way to consume lettuce.  It was past kid bedtime before we all finally sat down at the table.  They hadn’t killed each other and I’d managed to keep them from spoiling their dinner or having hypoglycemic meltdowns with some carefully timed snacks.  It was a good moment.

I said the blessing on the food.  With great sincerity, I thanked Heavenly Father that we could sit down together and eat “real,” “healthy” food.  I finished the blessing and picked up my fork.  Amelia looked at me quizzically:  “Why did you say that about healthy food in the prayer?  Is Boursin cheese healthy?”

She got me!

For the uninitiated: Bistro Salad is mesclun mix coated generously with a thyme-mustard vinaigrette–plenty of oil, topped by bacon and eggs, and with a side of Boursin toasts.  Healthy?  On balance, probably not.  Delicious: Oh yeah!

Question: If one only enjoys vegetables prepared in artery-clogging ways, is it still better to eat vegetables than not to eat vegetables?

My Favorite Scripture

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
–Matthew 25:35-40
This scripture offers a demanding way of seeing the world, a demanding way of living.  But in addition to being demanding, it is also amazing.  Because if every deed gives us an opportunity to minister to our master . . . well, that is an amazing opportunity indeed.
This scripture was quoted at least twice over the past two days of LDS General Conference (twice a year we gather to be taught by our prophet and the twelve apostles).  I was thrilled to hear this scripture from pulpit and prophet because it has long been my favorite.   I wish I could say that it is my favorite scripture because it is how I live my life, but that isn’t right.  It is my favorite scripture because it is a picture of how I would like to live and who I would like to become.
Another thing discussed during General Conference was the importance of love.  I know that I need to work on love, because “perfect love casteth out  fear” (1 John 4:18).  It is my fear (occasioned by my lack of love?) that makes it difficult for me to reach out to the stranger, the prisoner, and the homeless person.  But I am not dead yet.
The final theme of General Conference that has impressed me thus far was the emphasis on the Holy Ghost and Personal Revelation.  It is discouraging to wake from stupor and to hear someone talk about something that you have known, have done, have lived, and then have somehow forgotten (a lot or a little) and neglected.  I remember the wonderful epistemology class I took from Chauncey Riddle as a freshman at BYU.   He emphasized the importance of personal revelation as an avenue to knowledge, and the unique place it holds in our faith.  We believe in a personal God, a God who hears our prayers and responds.  A God who guides.  I know that he does.  So why do I forget to ask?