Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Here’s something you may or may not know about me. I buy about 90% of my clothes and my kids’ clothes at thrift stores. There are many reasons why my thrift-love is a deep deep part of my personality, here are just a few.

1. I’m cheap. And by that I mean I have a very difficult time spending large amounts of money. I get nervous, panicky and literally sick to my stomach when I feel like I’m spending too much. I was raised in a very frugal household and some of my siblings have told me they get similar anxiety attacks when faced with large financial decisions. And by large, I mean anything more than $15.

2. I suffer regularly from buyer’s remorse. Oh the stories my husband could tell you…. (Here's one about a quilt I bought, unbought then bought again, and here's one about the million-dollar chair that still haunts me). I rarely feel buyer’s remorse coming home from the thrift store. It’s hard to feel bad when you just bought several new outfits without crossing the dreaded $15 threshold.

3. To tell the truth, I get a serious, primal thrill out of the hunt. I love finding great buys and doing little self-congratulatory dances in the aisles when I snag cute, high quality clothes for a fraction of what I’d spend if I went to the mall. Here’s what I bought today.

Let me just clarify up front that never in a million years would I waltz into Baby Gap and buy a crazy-quilt skirt with a tag on it that says Dry Clean Only for my almost-2-year-old daughter (for heaven’s sake!). Nor would I bounce into Gymbouree to buy an embroidered WHITE blouse that may or may not see two full wearings before meeting its sticky grapey juicy end. But hey, if I can find both of them for $4 total, I’m a happy woman. I only feel bad that they didn’t have the skirt in my size because it’s that darling.

3. If you have rowdy boys and/or a husband who likes to go camping and/or a mother-in-law who feeds your babies black licorice without first tying around their necks one of those lead vests they use at the dentist’s office, you need to be able to look at your kids’ torn, hopelessly dirty or stained clothes and say “Oh well. Easy come easy go.”

4. My environmental conscience has been overactive lately (and his name is Ethan). I feel guilty about driving my car, about printing my syllabi on virgin paper, about remembering about my recycled grocery bags only when I’m already in the checkout line and I feel really, really guilty about the woolly mammoth parade of carbon footprints left on the earth by my family of six. But I feel okay about giving a second life to a perfectly good pair of jeans that someone else felt okay about giving away. I embrace the slogan they use at the Saver’s thrift store: “Once is not enough.” It reminds me of that obnoxious handbag display I encountered at Nordstrom’s recently—“What if one was not enough?” —except that the first slogan is about conservation and the other is all about corporate greed and the American lust to acquire more and more in an attempt to amass happiness through material things, so pretty much they have nothing in common except the word enough. And doesn’t a lot hinge on exactly how we define that word?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gabie's Jrnil

Today's post comes straight from "Gabie's Jrnil" where he writes gems every day far more poetic than anything I've managed to come up with in years of writerly effort. This one falls into the category of really useful instructions that should come in handy at recess or on that great big playground we call life.

(I've tried my best to recreate his original spelling and punctuation. You'll just have to imagine all the S's facing backwards).

Aprol 24t 2008

I aM God at swinGinG AnD THis is THe seCRet
STeP 1 tHinK oF A HAPPY thot
STeP 2 BLef in Your selF
STep 3 PAMP AT A Srtin Sped

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

a bear of very little brain

A genuine conversation I had with Gabie today while walking across campus to my office:

Gabie said, "I wish I had brought Panda with us."
"Why is that?" I answered.
"Because he would like to see your office."
"Hasn't he been up here before?"
"Once, a long time ago. But Panda has a very bad memory."
"Oh he does?"
"Yes. When he was just a baby, he had a small brain tumor removed and so now he has a bad memory."
"Oh dear. That's terrible."
"Plus, he has a very small brain. But he still makes a good pet because he's not afraid to take his baths in the washing machine."
"That's the best kind of pet there is."

Monday, April 21, 2008

mama don't take my Kodachrome away

We got home last night from a four-day camping trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park. This means, of course, that I will spend today washing smoky clothes, dumping sand out of shoes, catching up on emails from students who neglected to take the final exam (!), post-vacationing the car, transferring my trip notes into journal form, and posting something on my poor neglected blog. It appears that Nora will spend the day wandering around the house asking for her Dad because she doesn’t believe me each time I tell her that he has gone to work. She imagines—after being with her father 24/7 for the last few days—that he is now a permanent part of the air she breathes.

The thing about camping trips is that they produce extremes of highs and lows. There’s very little else I can think of to compare with the kind of polar opposites you get to experience while camping (with the possible exception of parenting in general).

Seeing the stars at night and watching a full moon rise up out of the red rock and float into the sky like a balloon that has slipped from a child’s grasp: this is a high.

Waking up after a wretched night spent looking at your watch every half hour and worrying about your children (who later report that they slept beautifully and never got cold, but you don’t know this yet) and wishing you had brought some kind of stocking cap because the top of your head is freezing and then realizing with dread that you have to use the bathroom, which means trading the semi-warmth of your pile of blankets for the frigid dawn air and taking that long long long walk to the only toilet on the other side of the campground: this is probably a low.

Another high: getting away from it all (the “it” being more like a “them” meaning the television, computers, ungraded essays, church callings, etc. etc.). I would sacrifice a good deal of comfort (and I do) to escape the clutches of these things. When we’re away from home, my kids seem capable of turning even the most simple things into fun. Never once did they complain that they were bored (a word I hear too often most days). Once we get far enough away from the passive forms of entertainment my kids are growing somewhat addicted to, a colony of harvester ants next to our campsite becomes the thrill of an hour or more.

Even within my own well-stocked, spacious, fully-plumbed kitchen, I hate cooking dinner. Put me in a tiny tent trailer with a howling wind outside and four loud, rowdy, hungry kids and limited water and pans that burn me for no good reason and I’ll soon remember why I hate camping and I’ll vow that whatever interval it is that allows a woman’s uterus to produce enough of that chemical that makes her forget the pain of childbirth and want another baby—I’m going to need at least twice as much before foolishly agreeing to another one of these trips. (Did I mention this was a low?)

But then I think it’s worth every bit of hassle to walk through the desert with my children, watching them play on the slickrock and marvel at the crazy rock formations and help each other up the steep spots and get excited about the lizards that dart across our path and the giant jackrabbits that spring out from beneath the juniper trees (Nora’s word of the week: bunny!). It’s worth every bit of personal annoyances to snap a photograph as cute as this one of Nora and Ethan.

Another low spot would be when I realized that I had left behind the baby carrier. One of the frustrating things about camping trips is that there are at least 50 essential items that if forgotten will cause grievous inconveniences (things like diapers, wipes, sunscreen, Gabie’s Panda, the matches, etc). Ken sees me stressing about all the little things and tries to convince me that we’ll just “make do” with what we’ve got. I disagree. How do you “make do” without children’s Benedryl when your highly allergic son gets bitten by mosquitoes and you’re many miles away from the nearest pharmacy? Anyway, the packing process takes at least a full day and even if I check and double check my list, I’m likely to forget something. Hopefully it’s not something essential. This trip, it was the baby carrier. Drat.

The corresponding high spot would be watching my broad-shouldered husband carry Nora nearly every inch of a four-mile hike without a hint of tiredness. Apparently, the only truly essential thing that must never be left home is the Dad.

On the way home (and by “way home” I mean the less-direct, scenic, and yes, longer route we took because Ken insists on never driving the same route twice) we stopped at the Anasazi Museum in Boulder Utah. The low point was wrestling with a toddler who was so sick of her carseat that inside the museum, she was climbing into all the exhibits, and on the outdoor path around the ruins, she was escaping into the sagebrush like a bunny! every chance she got. The high point, at least for me, was staring down into the foundations of little mud houses and pit dwellings and imagining what life must have been like 800 years ago for the people who inhabited this place. Were they happy? Did the women complain about the wind and the cramped quarters? Were their children in awe of the wildlife that filled their world? And why did they leave after only 70 years? Were they driven out by the harshness of the conditions? Was there hope of something better somewhere else? I doubt that even a culture as minimally attached to things and stuff as the Anasazi found it easy to move on without feeling a sense of displacement at the departure, a feeling that they'd left something essential behind. I don’t assume it has ever been easy to pick up a family and transfer one’s center of gravity from one place to another. It's hard enough for a few days. Imagine if you suspected you were never coming back.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Art, life, oranges

My friend Allysha (of bells on their toes) asked me to contribute a personal experience with art to her creative blog venture Just an Orange. Allysha is a lovely soul and just like me, she's always learning new things and looking for new ways to express herself creatively in between diaper changes and baking birthday cakes (with a considerable degree of handwashing in between). Someday soon we're going to start a writing critique group (just as soon as we get more than two founding members...)

Anyway, asking me to write about art is like asking a Baptist preacher to talk about the scriptures but I managed to keep it under control. If you're interested in reading about why I became a Humanities nerd and how I use art to make sense of my life, you can find the post at Allysha's site here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

high: hi

Hey, it's only Tuesday and I have already experienced what I think will be the high point of my week. Yesterday I got to meet (in person) the lovely Kathryn of Daring Young Mom. She met me on campus (living up to her title as it takes true Daring to brave the nightmare of finding a place to park at BYU--I can tell you her parking spot quest was not the high point of her week). We hung out for lunch in the Cougareat cafeteria with our kids and had a delightful (if too short) chat. Laylee is just as cute as she looks in her pictures and Magoo, who stayed with us at the table while his mom took his sister for an emergency pit stop, did his best to entertain us. I told him that my only rule is "No choking." He commenced a series of fakey little coughs and giggles to psych me out but I wasn't falling for it. Nora did her best to impress our new friends with that trick I taught her of mooching Doritoes from other people's plates and swiping pens from unsuspecting students. We're working on the wallets next.

Kathryn's was one of the first blogs I ever read and she has been very supportive of my writing from the very start. I'm honored that she would share a piece of her valuable Utah time with me. She's the kind of person I would have loved hanging out with in college--always funny and genuine and smart. Of course I would have had to have been about 10 years younger to have gone to college with her, but who's counting? She is indeed a daring YOUNG mom, but also the kind of person who obviously makes friends of all ages wherever she goes.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

just killing time till the other me shows up

We are discussing Sartre and Existentialism this week in my classes. It’s one of my favorite parts of the semester because I get to step up on my soapbox (or at least pace back and forth across the front of the classroom, ranting and waving my arms like a pumped-up coach at a championship basketball game) and wax philosophical about choices and responsibilities and how one’s existence precedes one’s essence. I tend to bring up things like chocolate chip cookies too, when the muse (or particularly depressing current events) speak to me. It’s not just my students who I think will benefit from a good dose of Sarte now and then. I need my semiannual refresher too. Every time I review my notes for the Existentialism lecture, I remember how much I believe that my essence (who I am) is shaped not by destiny or by circumstances beyond my control but by my own choices—the grand ones and, more importantly, the millions of small, seemingly insignificant ones.

“Man is nothing else but what he purposes,” Sartre says, “he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is nothing but the sum of his actions.” We can look at who we are, who we’ve become thus far in however many years of life (and for me, according to Dante, I am mid-way through life’s journey which is a sobering thought) and we can simply do the math to see how we got here. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that—like the adult plant which scientists say weighs exactly (down to the tiniest mole of matter) the same amount as the parts of soil and water and air that went into it—I am absolutely nothing but the sum of my actions. But I do think it would be faulty science to wish that instead of the sum of my actions I were the sum of my intentions or my desires or the awesome plans I have organized and mapped out for myself in the ultimate Franklin Planner that is my mind.

Here’s the line from Sartre that resonated most with me this week:
Many have but one resource to sustain them in their misery, to think that “Circumstances have been against me, I was worthy to be something better. I never found a lover worthy of me, I never had time to write great books. There remains within me a range of abilities, unused but perfectly viable – a worthiness which could never be inferred from the mere history of my actions.” But in reality…..in life a man commits himself, draws his own portrait, and there is nothing but that portrait. . . . dreams, expectations, and hopes serve to define a man only as deceptive dreams, abortive hopes, and expectations unfulfilled.
Picasso, Girl before a mirror
There are two Julies. There’s the Julie I want to be: the mother, the teacher, the person I believe I have the potential to be. And then there’s the Julie who actually inhabits my body. The real Julie. The essence of Julie. Sartre’s “self-portrait” of Julie. The sum-total-of-my-choices Julie. And to be honest, I like the former one (the potential Julie) lots better. Most days, I live in the world of the potential Julie. I escape into the imaginings of what she can do and might become and will accomplish. . . tomorrow. . . just as soon as I (the real Julie) recover from my current stressful thing or get out of this latest stretch of funky sadness or get these papers graded or finish reading this really really good book.

Trust me, the potential Julie is a wonder to behold. If you only knew her like I knew her, you’d understand why I prefer to hang out with her rather than my real self. The potential Julie homeschools her kids as I know I should be doing. She bakes the bread that I have bought all the ingredients for. She sits by her children while they practice the piano because I have convinced her that it’s the single best way to help them improve their technique. She reads her scriptures and prays like she means it (and never has doubts about the effectiveness of either). She actually reads every one of the books I check out for her at the library. She gets those writing projects done that I have started and then she bravely sends them off to agents and editors (and I have no doubt she will graciously share with me the untold wealth and personal validation that will come from their publication.) She knows how much I care about the environment, so she’ll follow through on those ideas I’ve come up with about making reusable grocery bags and helping Ethan start up a recycling club at his school and figuring out a way for our county to start recycling glass.

Naturally, the potential Julie has my same eyes and hair and is exactly my height (because it’s not like I’m living in a fantasy world here), but she is more slender, she jogs in the morning while I'm sleeping in, and she looks great in anything she wears, which by the way would never include sweatpants in public. (I know this because she tells my how ridiculous and frumpy my bum looks when I wear sweats to the grocery store. Have you no shame? she asks me. And I tell her it doesn’t matter because tomorrow, she’ll be the one taking over. And everything I’ve done is just a trial run, a Julie Beta, the clearly inferior and slightly embarrassing opening act who gets the audience ready for the lead performer to come onstage.)

So it’s Sartre who reminds me that there’s only one me that counts and it’s the real me. The me who makes the choices I make about what to wear and what to eat (and when to stop eating it) and what to think. It is me and only me who chooses to waste the time that I waste. And honestly, I’m not such a bad me. It’s just that I have to let go of the lie that I’m right on the verge of passing off the baton to this other person, this better version of myself who will relieve me of the burden of responsibility, sweep away all the consequences of my choices like a fairy godmother with a really amazing broom.

In so far as everything we contemplate and think does affect our behavior, the potential Julie does have an influence on the real me. But she is, at the most, merely a warped reflection in a mirror. What I see in her may be the very best of my own intentions (the sum of all my good thoughts as I am the sum of my actions). But she is not a fully-developed, 3-dimensional person. Once the mirror is put away or the lights are shut off, the reflection ceases to exist. I, on the other hand, can’t shut off my true self. As much as I want to escape into the future and imagine things becoming different from what they are, I am decidedly stuck with myself. I can’t fire me, divorce me or trade me in for a better model. I have potential to change (there’s always hope, and since according to Dante I’m only midway through life’s journey there’s still time). But any change has to come from a building up of choices. My essence is not already determined, like a scent or a flavoring that has been extracted and bottled up and corked. It’s more like that plant in the lab—an organic thing that lives and breathes and absorbs nutrients and grows new pieces of itself every day.