29 March 2007

my sister natasha and her husband mark are currently in the process of adopting three children from haiti. K, M, and R are beautiful children who have been in institutional care for most of their young lives. K currently lives in the Holt Fontana Village, where four or five children live in small cottages with caregivers rather than in a large institutional style orphanage. currently holt fontana provides for between 20 and 25 children, but they are planning on building additional cottages so they can care for more children.

after visiting haiti last year, tash and mark wanted to do something for the children at holt fontana--give them some kind of memory book so they would have pictures of their friends, the people who loved and cared for them, and where they are from when they move to the u.s. to live with their adoptive families. when they heard that holt fontana was planning on building new cottages and needed to raise the funds, tash and mark turned their memory book into a cookbook that could be sold to help raise money.

the kids from haiti cookbook is a pretty cookbook, full of pictures of these beautiful children. it's also full of great recipes collected from the children's adoptive families, people who work for holt fontana, and people involved in the scrapbooking industry. my sister's company (thus the scrapbook connection), QuicKutz, has donated all of the labor to assemble the cookbook. 100% of the profits from the sale of the book will be given to holt fontana for construction of additional cottages and to support children at risk (only cost of printing and shipping will be deducted from the sale price). the book costs $20. i've used it already and it has some great recipes in it. it would make a wonderful gift. and most of all the money its sale raises will go to a wonderful cause.

if you can help by buying a cookbook, please do. you can find information about the cookbook and how to order it on QuicKutz Kids from Haiti Cookbook website. click here for an order form. click here for basic information about life in haiti and the conditions children there face.

you can place an order by filling out and submitting the order form. or you can call QuicKutz at 1.801.376.5666. you can pay by either check or credit card. orders must be submitted by april 6.

if you know me and will see me in the next week, you can order through me. if you're having trouble with the links i provided and would like me to email you information directly, drop me an email at whilikers at hotmail dot com.

our world is so full of darkness. these children have had their taste of that darkness. but somehow they hold onto the hope and light that i believe we are each born with. please do whatever you can to help them. please share the link to this entry with whoever you think would be interested. thank you.

28 March 2007

just wanted to call your attention to that new link at the top of my sidebar. time to work a little change in my life. and while what i like may tell you a lot about who i am, i think what i do will tell you every bit as much (of course, those two things are often the same).

27 March 2007

a reflection on female beauty. in two parts.

being beautiful. growing up i thought i was ugly. i was very thin, with knobby knees and generally funny looking legs. my lips were very full and i hated my smile. my hair was first straight as a stick and blah in color and then, after puberty, thick and so wavy i didn't have any idea how to manage it. my face was long and seemed totally uninteresting. my only good point was that i was naturally thin, though that had the downside of meaning i was also naturally without much in the way of curves.

when i was 17, my conviction of my own ugliness cracked for the first time. i broke my arm, and in the emergency room they taped a fashion magazine around my arm as a splint. when the doctor cut it off, he told me i was lucky--the models like the one on the cover of that magazine usually had to inject their lips with collagen, but my lips were naturally full the way they wanted theirs to be. that doctor was simply trying to distract me from the pain of a broken bone. but his casual comment shed a whole new light on my own perception of myself. it had never occurred to me that one of my most hated features could actually be considered beautiful.

in spite of that momentary flash of insight, i was 22 or 23 before i ever thought of myself as attractive. and it took a couple more years to believe i was beautiful, and that only happened in moments. and it only happened after cutting all of my hair off, rejecting many beauty conventions (including wearing make up daily), and refusing to dress myself according to trends unless i liked them for themselves and unless i liked them on myself. i'm very comfortable with my appearance now. physically, i think that i am generally a plain woman who is sometimes pretty and occasionally beautiful. i know how to dress myself. i know how to use make up and i wear it when i feel like it. i love the silver that has been showing up in my dark brown hair for a long time now. most importantly, i've learned that my beauty comes from my mind and my soul and my laughter.

in large part, i have my mother to thank for both my childhood/teenage opinion of my own beauty (this is not a criticism of my mother) and for my current acceptance of my own body and beauty. my mother never stressed being "in style," though she likes pretty clothes and bought us pretty clothes. she was not tapped into trends and didn't shop for particular brands or in certain stores in order to ensure that we were dressed stylishly. she didn't interfere in our own particular tastes. and she herself aged with grace and beauty. i also have my father to thank, because he always made it abundantly clear that he found my mother beautiful and sexy--not in spite of, but because of her gorgeous grey hair and her curvy body which bore seven children. my parents' honesty about physical beauty and their lack of concern for the beauty myths promoted in our society made my own open attitude about beauty--both my own and others'--possible.

selling beauty. this morning, 'day to day' aired a story about dove's new 'pro-age' ad campaign. photos taken by annie liebowitz of women over 50 posing nude. no air-brushing. with the tagline "beauty has no age limit." the ads use a variety of women--mostly white, but a couple of african-americans and at least one who looks mediterranean. and all of them beautiful, though not all of them beautiful in necessarily conventional ways. some are immaculately toned and fit. others are not. all of them show the marks of age in one form or another--grey hair, wrinkles, age spots. and they are not professional models.

part of me is bothered by this. advertising and marketing can get under my skin. i recognize that the majority of the women in this campaign are toned in a way that the majority of american women are not, whether they are over 50 or not. and a photographer of annie liebowitz's caliber can capture beauty in a subject that many people would have a hard time seeing in the live subject. dove is still selling a myth of beauty in some ways. and that is deeply troubling.

but another part of me loves this campaign. i think it's wonderful that dove is not touching up the photos. and it's so very vital to send the message that age is not the enemy of beauty. that beauty is not about matching some platonic ideal of the female form and face. that one needn't tuck and lift and snip and squeeze in order to be beautiful. and the fact of the matter is that in american society, beauty is bought and sold. not just the products that we use to make ourselves beautiful, but the idea of beauty. more than anything else, it is magazines and television and films that provide us with our ideas of beauty. if dove can sell an idea of beauty that is more realistic than the idea sold on the runways of new york, london, and milan; if they can create an ideal that embraces age and experience rather than pre-pubescent blankness; if they can show a beauty that is real rather than imagined, i'm all for it.

25 March 2007

  • bug & shirt. last night i was sitting on the couch, directly under the picture that sheltered the spider i had warily been watching earlier in the afternoon. and i just knew that spider dropped into my shirt cause i felt something fall in and crawl down my spine. and then i felt it again. and even though JP checked and assured me there was no eight-legged monster in my shirt, i felt crawly things on my skin all night.
  • bug & shirt--reprise. ten minutes ago i was sitting on my bed minding my own business surfing the web when i felt something crawl down my neck. i immediately thought of my spider and decided i must be imagining things again. until i felt it crawling on my chest and brushed my chest and felt a bump. which fell into my shirt. when i went in after it, i found a little beetle crawling around. and i'm again feeling crawly things.
  • curses. so today, just as i was making a most eloquent point during sunday school, i swore. i said damn. although i wasn't exactly swearing--it was the hypothetical sower in my example who swore; i just reported his hypothetical reaction to a stone in his field. and then i realized what i had done and blushed while laughing about it. perhaps this will mitigate my asset-hood in the ward. but i doubt it, since the man next to me found it 'endearing.'

22 March 2007

tonight my mom brought on a blast of reminiscence. she's been gathering up some of my sister's old things and shipping them out to her in NY where jeni now lives with her husband and daughters. and as she was sorting, she found an old craft project that jeni and i had both done. we grew up painting plaster things--christmas ornaments, plaques, figurines. we loved going to the plaster shop that was a couple miles from our house. my mom would load us all up in our big old passenger van and we'd be off to wander through the shop, contemplating the difficult dilemma of which thing we wanted to paint this time. i remember this particular project. i must have been ten or eleven. and i just knew it was the finest bit of plaster painting i had ever done. and i remember secretly feeling sorry for jeni cause hers wasn't as beautiful as mine.

if there's any single object that could represent me and all of my hopes and dreams as a little girl--and a not so little girl--this is probably it. pink. and flowery. in a big poofy skirt. with a baby. and those books--the complete works of l.m. montgomery, purchased one at a time on my weekly excursions to the bookstore--were some of my favorite reading as a pre-teen and on through my first couple of years at byu. and of course i painted the object myself. because everyone knows that a good woman can make all kinds of things from scratch or craft in myriad ways.

those of you who know me now but didn't know me, say, twelve years ago are probably a little bit stunned. but it's the truth. i was the poster child of conservative mormon femininity. well, maybe with a couple of minor exceptions. i did love backpacking, after all. but that kind of fits in with pioneer trekking or something. and i was really into school and books (not just those by l.m. montgomery) and had a career path in mind. but everything, including the unfeminine backpacking and the career path, had a spin to it that pointed in one direction--wife and mother. at home, of course. i think the family i envisioned at that point in time was 8 kids. and a husband, of course. and i wasn't sure if i would finish my bachelor's or not.

obviously my life didn't work out the way i envisioned it when i packed my bags and moved to the Y at age 17. i now have far more education than i ever dreamed of. i'm more committed to a career than i would have found acceptable then. and almost every political or social opinion i have now--imagine the reverse and ascribe those positions to my 17-year-old self. gun control? hell no! (except i wouldn't have said "hell.") environmentalism? that's for fruity liberals. america fighting a war to "preserve freedom" and "promote democracy" in the middle-east? strike up the patriotic band!! feminism? that's a naughty word...

clearly i wasn't an entirely foreign being to who i am now. i valued education. i loved reading. i loved art and culture. i have always been a thinker, committed to examination and evaluation. i simply had not had much opportunity--or a reason--to examine the opinions that had been instilled in me by my parents and the other adults in my life. my platform in high school was that i was mormon and mormons believe "X."

i'm still a mormon. and i still believe most of what mormons believe, at least when we're talking about doctrinal beliefs. i've long since jettisoned much of the mormon cultural fluff that i accepted as a kid. and i have byu to thank for it. i went away to college knowing exactly what made me different from everyone around me. and what made me different was my mormonness. after two years of absolute fun (with occasional academic work) and a summer of dating a baptist, i found myself lost in all that mormonness swarming across byu's campus. and it forced me to examine my beliefs and make them my own. it wasn't a short process. but it helped me figure out what i think rather than what mormons think. and it taught me the value of ongoing re-examination. the person i am now would have probably chosen almost any university other than byu. but i wouldn't change it for the world. if i hadn't gone to the Y, i may have been a pink-flowery-clothing-wearing mother of eight by now.

20 March 2007

do you have strange verbal compulsions? or am i the only one? and i'm not talking about tourette's. (aside: if i had to be afflicted with a neurological disorder, i think i might choose tourette's. i could then swear with impunity.)

for a long time, i couldn't hiccup without saying "hiccup" immediately after the hiccup ended. i don't know why. it's totally bizarre and completely inexplicable from any logical or rational perspective. i don't do it as much anymore, but once in a while it pops out and then the people i'm with look at me like i've just done something wacky and i can't figure out why. because, you know--when you hiccup, you say hiccup. it's just what you do.

my favorite of my verbal habits has to do with pigs (but not mini ones). you all know that fantastic scene in the princess bride when wesley, the dread pirate roberts, lies completely incapacitated on a bed describing to prince humperdinck what it means to fight to the pain. and when that manly man the prince attempts to call his bluff, wesley replies, "it's possible . . . pig." it is impossible--literally impossible--for me to hear someone make the statement "it's possible" without thinking "pig." and i almost always utter that "pig" before i think about whether or not i should. so if i randomly call you "pig" someday, take a moment and think back over the conversation. and you'll know whether i'm actually calling you a pig, or whether i just can't control myself in response to some statement of possibility.

17 March 2007

here are a few of the beautiful things this week has brought me:

i love green flowers. when i was at virginia, i would often visit jefferson's gardens when i needed a little stress relief or just a quiet place to sit and soak up some beauty. in one of the gardens, all of the flowers are green. there's something magical about green flowers, something a bit mysterious. last week, RAF sent me home with these gorgeous green orchids that were growing rampantly in his yard in the shade of the most beautiful avocado trees i've seen.

my sisters helped provide some spots of beauty this week, too. they each sent a package. just something small. but i love getting packages in the mail, even when i know what's in them. and they sent lovely cards which made me miss them and wish i could live close to them, but which also made me happy that my sisters are my best friends. i don't know what i'd do without them, and i hope they know that.

and every day this week, i've left home and seen all of the new growth on my mom and dad's roses. i love that new growth on roses is red, as it is on some deciduous trees. it's almost counterintuitive to look at springtime plants and see the same shades of red that mark the coming of fall at the end of the year. and all of that red new growth on the roses promises abundant color and heady fragrance for the weeks and months ahead.

spring is almost here and the world is beautiful.

15 March 2007

we all know that 2+2=4. right?

generally, i don't disagree with basics of mathematics (except for the whole idea of imaginary numbers; and i don't disagree with it [i mean, it's good to have a square root of -1, right?]; i just find it a little bit odd). but i think that sometimes putting two and two together is not just four; sometimes it's four and something a little bit more than the sum of its parts.

so what am i talking about? the fact that people extrapolate from this little formula, usually learned very early, the aphorism that if you have the components of something, then you have the thing itself. the statement that 2+2=5 has become shorthand for not only a logical error, but also for dangerous forms of mind control. we all know, and must not forget, that 2+2 always equals four.

the problem is that sometimes the parts of something add up to more than their sum. i may have four sunflowers lying on a table in my house, waiting to be trimmed and put in a vase of water. and they are just four sunflowers. but when i see four sunflowers laying on a table in a van gogh painting, they're more than just four sunflowers. they're also a work of art.

this is particularly true, in my opinion, of poetry. tonight on my way home, i happened to catch garrison keillor's writer's almanac for the day. the five-minute mini-program consists of interesting tidbits of literary history, factoids about authors' lives, and a poem. tonight keillor read the poem "how to tell if you're a participant or a staff (a handy guide for day programs)" by david moreau. i listened as the narrator listed all the ways in which to discern whether you are staff or participant, all the while waiting for that something that would turn this rather mundane list of statements into the magic of poetry. because poetry has magic in it. all poetry. even poetry that i dislike. i'm sorry i can't explain it better than calling it magic, but i can't. and this poem--it didn't have it. sure, it calls attention to the difficulties of being in the position of needing assistance in daily living. it nicely illustrates some of the simple things that you and i take for granted every day. and achieving that is worthy of a literary effort. but there is nothing that this work does that demands it be poetry. it would have been as effective written in prose format. the only thing that makes it poetry is the fact that it's been broken into verse shape and labeled "poem." and poetry is not like 2+2=4. words written in verse form do not a poem make. poetry is always more than the sum of its parts.

12 March 2007

  • 1 BBC production of a favorite piece of classical literature (in this instance, the new jane eyre).
  • karma sufficient to find parking AND fritters
  • a plate of chilaquiles topped with fried egg and black beans and accompanied by watermelon agua fresca
  • a quiet afternoon of reading in comfort
  • delicious handmade flour tortillas served warm
  • homemade morning chocolat chaud with toasted challah for dipping
  • avocados, orchids, and sunshine in a beautiful yard
  • a visit to an abundantly stocked independent bookstore
  • exploring a significant portion of the l.a. basin
  • cajun--gumbo, hushpuppies, blackened catfish; superyum
  • coconut macadamia nut fudge ice cream cone
  • a walk down a pier at sunset over a glimmering twilight ocean
  • all accompanied by laughter and conversation in good company
it was perfect. after a weekend like that, monday is more than manageable and i feel like i can do most anything.

06 March 2007

in two parts.

and you're single because...
that's a statement, not just a question. and i hate it when people tell me why i'm single--almost as much as i hate it when they ask me why i'm single. i hate it every bit as much when i have to listen to someone tell men why they are single.

last sunday, a very well-intentioned member of my ward stood to share his testimony. and as part of that testimony he recounted his own experience as a single man. looking back, he apparently believes he remained single as long as he did because he loved his fast car. and after explaining that, he advised all the single men in our ward (which is a stake magnet ward for mid-singles [ages 31-45]) to stop spending all of their time and energy on acquiring and enjoying toys and to just get to it and get married. i hate hearing this. no matter who says it and no matter what position he (it's almost always a he; a he in a priesthood position usually, though not always) may hold. i think it is a gross misrepresentation of why mormon men remain single. i find it callous and uncompassionate. i think it rests on sexist assumptions about both men and women: that men do not have a deep need for emotional support and love, unlike women who live for such things and who are not driven by physical appetites; that they are motivated by physical drives and pleasure, not the higher emotions women feel; that they, not women, are responsible for getting themselves and the women of the church married; that they are lazy freeloaders who will take whatever you give them (whether we're talking food or sex) and never make a commitment unless forced to by depriving them of that for which they have an uncontrollable need. i could go on.

i will not assert that there are no men who are simply too comfortable in their single lives to make relationship commitments or who are more concerned with acquiring things than with building love and family. i'm sure they exist. but i emphatically reject the notion that this group of the male population is anything like a majority. i know quite a few men who either were or still are "older" (in mormon parlance, though that is not always very old in non-mormon terms) and single. and their still being single has nothing to do with their obsession with acquiring and enjoying toys, an innate tendency to freeload, or an unwillingness to commit. generally it has much more to do with the fact that they simply have not yet found a woman they can marry. and i should say that i reject every bit as firmly the argument that if someone would just try, they'd find someone to marry. i suppose that is true if the only objective is to participate in the sealing ordinance. it is not true if by "marry" you mean build a deeply intimate, loving, beautiful relationship with someone who is/can become your soul mate.

{i should thank my bishopric for immediately countering this man's problematic, albeit well-intentioned, comments about single men.}

but touching is like watered down sex...
last wednesday as i was stewing over how to build a bridge between two sections of my paper, i took a quick break from thinking wilkie collins and the moonstone and community, and instead read a couple of blogs. deborah, over at exponent II, sent me on to a beautiful and poignant conversation happening at segullah about being single and not being touched. i read the entry with its subsequent questions and the first two comments before i realized that if i kept going i would start crying and not be able to refocus on my paper. and i had to focus on my paper that day. which i did. i finished it and submitted it and it made me happy to do so. but that post has been hovering in my mind ever since.

not being touched is one of the things i hate the most about being single. this is obviously in some ways about sex. some people have the ridiculous and, in my opinion, incorrect idea that women have little if any need for sex. or if they do, it's just not comparable to a man's. well, i'm not a man so i can't say whether my needs are comparable to men's. but i can say that it's just not true to assert that women have no need for sex. i understand the law of chastity. and i think celibacy outside marriage is a good thing. but i don't think the absence of all sexual touch is a good thing.

but it would be a mistake to believe the longing for touch is entirely sexual. it's not. as the post at segullah and the responses to it illustrate so profoundly, it's also about being human. human beings are social creatures. and they are, in my experience, creatures that express their care and concern for each other physically. at this point in my life, the only person who touches me with any regularity is my mother. but i sometimes go days without seeing my mother in the evening, which is when she usually hugs and kisses me as she says goodnight.

i'm not sure why it is that i have so little touch in my life right now. i'm used to having physical contact with my friends and family. when my brother jared and i were in high school, we'd often lay on his bed and listen to music and talk. and we had this almost ritualized bedtime routine that always included a hug and saying 'i love you.' while i was at byu, i lived with my best friends. a few times a week, late at night randi would climb onto my upper bunk and we'd start talking and laughing. and after not too many minutes had gone by, marguerite would come in (it became something of a joke for her to kick the door open) and join us. three of us curled up on my little twin bed talking and laughing and simply being together. i miss that closeness. i've almost always had friends--both male and female--that i hugged goodbye after spending time together. i have little of any of that now.

i have to take the blame for some of it. i have isolated myself emotionally for much of the last three years. it's been a hard time. and i'm sure that my self-imposed isolation has led to the absence of physical contact between me and my friends here (who are wonderful). but i think part of this has to do with this idea that touch is about sex--especially touch between members of the opposite sex. and i hate that--the categorical assumption that all male-female contact (and for some people, all male-female relationships) is by definition sexual. being alone together, touching each other is not the catalyst to some sexual conflagration. it's just two people being people. i'm not trying to argue that there is no possibility of sexual interest or reactions--reactions that are sometimes not meant to be acted upon; i'm simply arguing that it's not exclusively sexual. it's also human. and very, very necessary.

{i want to say, for the record, that at this moment i am very happy. and i feel more peace with where i am in all aspects of my life than i have for a long time. this has not always been--and probably will not always be--the case. but i'm glad for the peace i have right now.}

04 March 2007

a few new treasures to add to a growing stockpile.

  • out loud. not many books move me to do so, but christie malry's own double entry did. it's an intelligent little novel (only about 180 pages) by b.s. johnson about a young man just making his way in the world when he stumbles upon his great idea which results in much mayhem and hilarity. at once scathingly disturbing and delightful, it's a fascinating treatment of not only society, but also the novel and literary art.
  • at shamelessly cheesy television. "the adventures of briscoe county, jr." to be exact. a silly but smart and entertaining TV western.
  • cuban style at felix's. on the orange circle in old town orange. try #19--arrozo cubana--a delicious blend of rice, saffron, chorizo, pork, chicken and other spices. and don't miss the tres leche cake--white cake soaked in cream and topped with whipped cream.
  • on indian at ambala dhaba. in artesia's little india (on pinoeer blvd.). the best indian i've eaten in california. the goat curry was delicious. and i was surprisingly happy with the eggplant dish we tried.
  • living with ambiguity. as expressed in Philippians 4:12, which reads: "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." i love this idea--that we must learn to live being both full--replete with the word of god--and hungry--longing for more of his word. the word of god being only one example of how we must find this balance. it seems we must find it in so many other ways. in loving other people perfectly while never being able to fully know them. in living in peace even as we are full of struggle. in still laughing with joy while weeping in sorrow. in my mind, this balance--this coexistence of unavoidable opposites--must be what christ experienced. which would explain why the verse following this exhortation reads: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
on wednesday this week i finished my paper. it took nearly two weeks of daily thought-grind, a perpetually sore backside, and enough grit to force myself through the almost daily feeling that i was reinventing the wheel everytime i sat down to work on it. but thanks to two-and-a-half dozen cans of diet dr. pepper and, more importantly, the encouragement and support of good friends (especially seymour, who forced me to take the occasional break for sustenance and put up with my apparently maddeningly noncommittal progress reports), i managed.

and you know what? it made me happy. and excited. as hard as it was to articulate all the thoughts about the moonstone that had been whirling around my mind for the last three months, it felt good to make the connections and build an argument and say something interesting and, i think, important about community.

you may have surmised by now that i'm going back to school. but i made the decision before i finished the paper. a while ago now, actually. a decision that i did not want to make a decision based on what would make it easier to get through the day; that i wanted to do what brings me fulfillment and happiness, not what is second best. a decision that while i may not always be able to control feeling discouraged or lonely or occasionally depressed, i can control my reactions to it. a decision to take the gifts i think i've been given and make something of them--including this opportunity i have to earn this degree.

i was surprisingly at peace throughout the writing process, in spite of the stress i felt. so much so that a friend commented a week and a half ago that i looked happier and more at peace than i had for a long time. the last few days the world has felt like a beautiful place and my life has felt light and full of opportunity. maybe because for the first time in a long time, it felt like i could manage all of the aspects of my life. maybe because i surprised myself by writing the paper by my self-imposed deadline. maybe because i'm simply letting myself be.