Trying to keep track

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We have a terribly bad habit in my extended family: we don’t really keep personal records. I have an aunt who is a professional genealogist, but she “married in” and is not related by blood. Beyond that, I don’t think any of us are really good record keepers (I took an informal survey of my family on Facebook and most of us admitted to “trying” and doing it in stops and starts but not with real consistency).

In some ways, it’s not our “fault” as this bad habit has been passed down from our ancestors (and, yes, the irony in that strikes me), according to my mother. For example, Elizabeth Caldwell, a grandmother of mine, who came to Utah with the Willie Handcart Company, wrote little to nothing of her experience. Meanwhile, her sister, Agnes (who is an aunt), was much more prolific and her stories have been told repeatedly in LDS general conferences, the movie 17 Miracles and elsewhere. Elizabeth was one of many who passed down bad habits.

I come by this weakness doubly cursed. My father’s family kept very few records and most of the little I know about my ancestry on that side comes from government records and the occasional story from a long lost cousin (who could share about my ancestors because his ancestors mentioned them in journals). My grandfather saw so little point in family history, he threw away boxes of it (a thought that still makes me want to throw up).

This lack of family record keeping makes me sad, especially as I try to get to know my ancestor better. I want my own children to know more than I do about who they are and where they came from and I want to know the angels who surround me better. I’m also a writer and I feel like if anyone is going to do a decent job of keeping a written record, it “should” be me, the writer.

More than any of that, though, I want to remember my own life better and keep better records of my children as they grow. I want my children and grandchildren to know who I was and how I became who I am.

I recently purchased a “one line a day” journal in an attempt to help me along. I’m finding that it’s helpful to have, although it definitely doesn’t automatically make a habit. Rather than doing it daily, I’m finding time every week or two and while I remember “big” things, I’m left with a lot of holes.

In fact, that’s bee the most disturbing thing to me: there are many days I don’t remember a single thing that happened and that those days I’m forgetting are just a week or two prior. There are literally huge blocks of my life which I have completely forgotten.

It’s a horrifying thought to me.

It also leaves me sad as a mom because that means that there are blocks of my child’s life I’m forgetting. There are things I want to remember, but can’t because there’s not space in my brain and I’m not writing them down.

I even have a journal for Little Miss because I wanted to keep track of “things” and I wanted her to know who she was as tiny human person. I write in it rarely and while I’d rather spend time with Little Miss than write in her journal, I know when I have time, I’m choosing to make other choices. I’m trying to let go of the mommy guilt on that one, but I’ll admit I sometimes feel like a bad mom because of it.

As I’ve been evaluating my own record keeping, I’m learning that I want to keep better records as much for me as for anyone else.

I’m trying to keep track of my life better. Photos, videos and journal writing – even one sentence journals – are some of the ways I’m trying to do that.

Maybe one day my great-grandkids won’t curse me the way I curse my great (great, great, great, great)-grandparents and perhaps I’ll be able to hold onto the fleeting moments a little better.

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Lessons from the Nativity

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Have I shared how much I love Christmas? I hate and despise winter with every bit of me but I love Christmas with equal intensity. It’s a magical time where I get to buy gifts for those I love (giving gifts is one of my love languages), spend time with family, follow traditions and rituals I love and turn my mind to Christ. Love is a big element of Christmastime.

This year as I’ve been preparing for Christmas, I have been impressed repeatedly by the story of the Nativity and what it has to teach us. I want to share a few of those with you.

Lesson from Mary

Mary shows us the ultimate humility of anyone except for perhaps Christ and more courage than anyone other than Eve when she says to Gabriel “Behold the handmaid of the Lord;…” Later, Mary travels with Joesph to Bethlehem. There, her baby is born in a stable, amongst animals, probably without the birth attendants of her choice (which likely her mother and sisters and the midwife who had cared for her in the beginning of her pregnancy). After childbirth, Mary received guests (the shepherds and probably others) to greet her newborn son. This was usually a time when women were somewhat isolated as they were “impure” (which is a really amazing study topic if you have some time and not associated with sinfulness like we may think), and here she was receiving guests! Now I’m not suggesting she was up on her feet, fixing meals or refreshments, but the grace Mary must have had to receive these strangers teaches me to be more generous with others in my life. Her humility to be the Mother of Christ, to bear the trials which came with that calling and welcome the worshipers who were sent at one of the most sensitive and vulnerable times of her life reminds me to be humble as my Heavenly Parents and Savior shape me into who They want me to be.

Mary also teaches me to be thoughtful, meditative and reflective. In possibly one of the most beautiful scriptures about spiritual experiences, we learn “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” By pondering, I create space for God to teach me more about experiences I’m given to help me grow.

Lessons from the midwives

I have to read between the lines a little here, but as a birth worker, I’m well familiar with the fact that Mary was probably attended to by midwives and gave birth in a stable or a home. Her sisters- and mother-in-law were probably there as well. It’s possible that they weren’t planning on attending to Mary who lived in Nazareth (about 70-80 miles away). It’s likely that Mary had been in Bethlehem a few weeks before her baby was born but the midwife there probably hadn’t had a lot of time getting to know Mary. This untold story teaches me to be willing to helping those in need, no matter what circumstance we find our lives cross paths or how much or little I was planning on being of aid. It also teaches me to be open to opportunities to serve whenever they come.

They also teach me that just as men witnessed the Christ child, so did women. That’s a powerful message of equality in a world which largely ignores or misunderstands the contributions of women to the work of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lessons from the shepherds and the wise men

Christ was actually likely born in the spring. This was “lambing season” when mother ewes were giving birth. This was (is) a very intense time of the year for shepherds. However, at the angels’ direction, the shepherds “came with haste” to find Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. I don’t know if they left their sheep all at once, or if they took turns, but they all left their livelihoods and something that was very important to them at a very critical time.

Similarly, the wise men left their livelihoods and lives and traveled a far distance to meet Jesus. Their journey was not short and was likely expensive. These stories teach me that following Christ is something worth giving up everything that’s seemingly important. This is a lesson repeated throughout the nativity (with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and Anna) but also throughout the scriptures as Christ calls apostles and disciples to follow Him.

The shepherds were also ordinary people. They weren’t Jewish religious leaders or important rulers. They were humble men without much to garner them an invitation to the most important event in all of history. Similarly, the wise men were foreigners, possibly even gentiles from Babylon, who would’ve been looked down upon by the Jews no matter their status in their own kingdom (where they were probably admired and respected). This teaches me that Christ doesn’t just want to speak to the leaders of the church or those who are deemed appropriate or worthy by “the world” (and that includes the body of the Church). Christ reveals himself to the mighty and the small, the poor and the wealthy, those who lead a church and those who never do “more” than show up to worship. Anyone who will hear the call to come to Him are welcome.

Lessons from Christ

Christ came to earth in the humblest of circumstances. He became an infant, tiny and helpless, descending physically to the lowest a human can be, utterly dependent on another for care. He became as we are in order to do the Father’s will. Like the shepherds and the wise men He gave up everything to come serve us. As He grew, He learned grace by grace, not all at once, just as we do. He became like us so that we can become like Him. He was willing to submit to all things, including the complete loss of autonomy and self-sufficiency, to follow God’s plan. The message couldn’t be clearer to me: following Christ means being willing to recognize our infant state and our complete and utter dependence on someone else (Him) for our salvation.

 

The nativity holds so many other lessons for me, too many to tell here. It’s a beautiful story with so much complexity and depth, with untold stories and silent lessons waiting to be discovered.

At this time of darkness, we celebrate the greatest Light of the world. He is the way, the truth and the light, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the Redeemer of Israel and the Savior of my soul. Christ came to earth a baby, as we all did, and became what we all hope one day to be. He shows the way and He enables our salvation as we come to Him and be perfected by his blood.

Merry Christmas. May the light of Christ shine on you at this season and always.

Image credit: the Mormon Channel and Simon Dewey.

Image credit: the Mormon Channel and Simon Dewey.

An insatiable desire to learn

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If you get to know me very well, you will learn two things about me: first, I am completely and entirely incapable of settling and, second, my favorite question – perhaps even my favorite word – is “Why?”

While these two character traits lead me to a life of constant discontentment (which can be a source of frustration and disappointment), they also drive in me an insatiable desire to learn.

When I begin to count up the things I have actively sought out to learn in the last year, the list grows dizzyingly long. My knowledge base has expanded significantly in the last year. Every time I come across something new, I find myself digging in to research more.

That’s one of the major joys about my childhood upbringing: I not only learned, I learned how to learn and I learned to love to learn. More than that, because I wasn’t forced into learning particular subjects (most the time), that love of learning was neither tarnished nor curtailed. It was allowed to expand to become insatiable.

This point was driven home to me in a really unexpected way recently. In a Facebook group I’m in, a mom posted, looking for recommendations for memorization aids for her kindergartner who was struggling with memorization. To “pass” kindergarten, the children (keep in mind these are 5 and 6 year olds) have to be able to read and to count to 100.

I wanted to scream. WHY are we attempting to force our children to memorize and WHY are we guilting parents into trying to force their children to meet these ridiculous standards?

We are killing the joy in learning. We are utterly destroying the fun, the drive and the desire in both children and their parents.

Children are born to learn. Humans are born to learn. We can’t improve on that desire by force nor harness and guide it through ridiculous, overreaching expectations. While there are exceptions (particularly in cases of learning disability), most children learn at a completely acceptable pace for them.

Of course, the methodology of allowing children to learn at their own pace doesn’t work in the factory system through which we put our children and it doesn’t work in a society in which control is the end-goal of education.

An insatiable desire to learn is dangerous for the people in power because well-educated citizens, especially those who won’t take the pat political answers, cannot become slaves. They are the ones who lead the rebellion.

I wish we could get rid of our modern public education system completely. Throw it out the window like the Prussian relic it is. In it’s place I wish that we would implement a system that would take advantage of the natural inclination of all humans to learn and craft it, guide it and grow it into an insatiable desire to learn.

Happy birthday, Little Monkey

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Today my Little Miss Monkey turns two. Holy smokes, where has the time gone?

Since this blog has officially crossed into “mommy blog” territory a time or two, I’m going to share a little bit about my little girl before sharing her birth story (which I have promised to a number of people for today’s post).

At two years old Monkey can identify the letter “O” and sometimes the letter “A”, can climb stairs – up and down – by herself, throws and catches a ball, tries to “play baseball” but can’t usually connect with a ball (her favorite “bat” is whatever’s handy but she connects most frequently with a spatula), draws tiny circles, identifies animals and their “sounds”, speaks short sentences, asks to sing favorite songs, dances adorably and gives the sweetest hugs and kisses ever. She loves her monkeys (a yellow monkey called Reeses and a sockmonkey called Sox… I know, we’re so creative), reading books with us, watching Daniel Tiger and Super Why!, recently discovered Teletubbies (oh no!), asks to call YiaYia, Bumpa and Mya and Granny and Papa and pretends to talk to them on the “phone”. She says “sheehar” (sweetheart) and “Aw, Honey”, “No thank you” and “Yes please”, talks to herself in the mirror and puts her “babies”, our cell phones and my purse down for naps (“Shhhh… is sleeping”).

Today, and for a while now, she is no longer a baby but a little girl.

Two years ago, she was a six pound, two ounce beautiful October 1st surprise.

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Addressing Essential Oil Safety

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I’ve been contemplating how to write this post for a while. I feel somewhat unqualified to address it because I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic of essential oils. However, as essential oils gain popularity and more and more people I know start using them, I feel like I need to speak up.

I love essential oils. I grew up with them. My mom started using them over 20 years ago and using them are part of my mentality.

As I’ve changed from a passive user (meaning that someone else has told me how to use them and what to use) to an active user, I’ve spent a lot of time researching them. I’ve learned a lot about the oils I grew up with and added new favorites. They are wonderful, powerful tools.

However, essential oils are not inert. They are powerful tools and need to be used with respect.

Lavender oil can increase prepubescent breast tissue. Peppermint oil can cause laryngeal spasms which can close a child’s airway. Clary sage can induce labor and cause miscarriage. Tea tree oil can cause nerve damage.

My purpose in sharing these oil dangers is not to scare anyone away from using oils, but to illustrate a point. Like all powerful tools, there are benefits and there are potential risks. The important thing is to be informed of these risks and how to minimize them.

There are essential oil companies on the market whose recommendation for use is unsafe.

Most oils should not be used “neat” (undiluted), taken internally, used at “normal” strength on children or “diluted” with water (come on, people… oil can’t be diluted with water; this is basic chemistry). If you react to them, it’s not your body detoxing. It’s you having a reaction to them and if you do not discontinue use, you should only continue with extreme caution.

Many of the essential oil sales reps are my friends and neighbors. I don’t blame them for not having proper information. It’s a corporate issue and it’s at least a little bit profit-driven.

If you use one drop of oil diluted in a teaspoon of carrier oil, you will use your oil more slowly than if you need six to ten drops of neat essential oil to cover the same area. The company is going to sell less.

I’m not saying to never use oils neat, to ingest them, to use them in a bath or on a child. We do all of those things at our house. But we research them, consider the risks and the benefits and make a decision based on those things.

Even still, we aren’t immune from negative reactions. Little Miss Monkey has a lavender allergy (I have a sensitivity) which made it difficult for her to breathe when we used it on her. That was VERY scary as a mom. I also recently discovered I have a thyme allergy. Thyme was/is a new oil to me and I had a very painful reaction to it. In both cases, we were using best practices and following safety guidelines. If we weren’t, both of our reactions could’ve been much, much worse.

If you are new to essential oils (or even if you’re a veteran user), I love the web site Learning About EOs and the Facebook page Using Essential Oils Safely.

I’ll begin the way I started – I love essential oils. They are wonderful, powerful tools. They have risks and it’s important to be aware of them. By doing so, we can use them for their incredible benefits in a safe way.

 

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An Open Letter to the LDS Church on Breastfeeding

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This letter was written on behalf of an acquaintance who was facing challenges from church leadership to her decision breastfeed “in public” at church (meaning that she did not excuse herself to the Mother’s Room). I spoke at length with her about the situation before I wrote my letter. Out of respect for her request that this situation not become public, I have held this letter for many months. Now, I feel comfortable sharing it.

Given that today is the first day of World Breastfeeding Week and a breastfeeding in church situation just came up again, I feel like now is an especially appropriate time to share this.

While it is addressed to the members and leaders of my faith, the same principles apply to members and leaders of all religious congregations and to members and leaders of the community at large.

Our Little Miss is now 22 months old and still breastfeeding. I still nurse her in public if she needs to. My hope is to encourage people everywhere to support women who breastfeed so that they and their babies can have the benefits of  breastfeeding until the physiologically normal age of weaning.

Dear members and leaders of the church,

I am an LDS mother. I have a beautiful almost-5-month old girl. From long before she was born, my husband and I have been making decisions with her best interests at heart. We have had long, intense conversations about the choices we are making.

It is important to us to give Monkey everything she needs to grow up healthy and strong and smart, with a conversion to the gospel and reliance on Heavenly Father.

One of those keys for us is breastfeeding her.

My husband and I have had long conversations about breastfeeding “in public”, which means anywhere from an intimate dinner with friends to during a trip to the mall. Somewhere between these two is attending church.

After those conversations, we have decided that not only is it appropriate for me to breastfeed M in church – in the chapel, during Sunday School or Relief Society (or during Young Women’s if I got called to serve our young sisters) – it is valuable to more than just M and me.

When Little Miss was born, breastfeeding was not easy for me. Like many modern women, I had not been exposed to it the way my grandmothers were. I had to learn how and I nearly gave up. I wish I had known someone in my ward who could help as my family is all far away. I wish I had grown up more exposed to breastfeeding (and since I am the oldest of four and my mother breastfed all of us, I was exposed to it some and it was still not enough). I wish that it had not been so foreign to me.

Ultimately though, when I breastfeed Monkey in public, my goal is not to offend. It is not to make a statement. It is not to educate others. It is simply to feed or comfort my baby.

When I do not “excuse myself” to another room, I do it not to throw my beliefs in someone else’s face. I do not wish to make others uncomfortable. I simply want to be a part of whatever else is happening or be blessed through participation in church and still do what is best for my baby.

We live in a world that is increasingly sexualized and our exposure to human bodies increases while our comfort level with our own bodies decreases. This is especially new of women and new mothers.

Like me, few women instinctively know how to breastfeed and there are many, many barriers to doing it. Unfortunately, one of these for LDS women is a culture that discourages us from any sort of familiarity with our own bodies. In an effort to stay “morally pure” we are not given the skills we need to be good mothers. This is tragic.

It has long-reaching consequences for the young men in the church as well. They are taught (as girls are as well), that “sex is bad, until you get married”. At the same time, they see semi-nude images almost everywhere they go.

For many, the taboo nature of a woman’s body in the LDS faith coupled with the sexualization of her in modern culture leads our young men to be curious. Some of them turn to parents or church leaders for answers while others, sadly, turn to friends and peers and the internet. This natural curiosity leads some of them down dark paths of addiction to pornography that takes excruciating work to overcome.

When leaders of the church ask women to cover up while breastfeeding their babies at church (or worse, go to another room), they reinforce these world-created narratives of a woman’s body and add barriers to something that is already not easy. They create secrecy or shame where there is none and they alienate women who often need the church interaction the very most.

Church leaders and other members would do woman an incredible service to every member of the church if they actively supported breastfeeding moms who care for their children (sometimes despite personal discomfort or inconvenience and public, cultural and familial disapproval) in the way their children most need. Sometimes this means uncovered at an unclothed breast.

A woman’s body is sacred and should be honored and respected, especially when it is being used to do exactly what our Heavenly Father purposed it to do: provide bodies for His spirit children and nourish and rear them.

Thank you so much for your support of us as breastfeeding mothers.

Lacey

P.S. This little package – a nursing cover – was delivered to an acquaintance of mine this week. It came from the Young Women of her ward. I am beyond horrified that this lesson is being taught to the Young Women by their leaders. Breasts, like nearly every part of the body, have both a utilitarian and a sexual purpose. This attitude creates shame, fear and unfamiliarity with breastfeeding. It should never, ever happen. Let’s work together to normalize breastfeeding, end the modesty debate and support mothers and babies everywhere!

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Pioneers and Patriots

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July is kind of a special month for me. It’s the home of my favorite holiday, Independence Day, and a month when I spend a lot of time thinking about my ancestors. In the LDS church, July 24 is Pioneer Day, when we celebrate the Mormon pioneers first entering the Salt Lake valley. In many ways, we see this coming to Utah as a last fresh start, a place to finally be able to freely practice our faith and a fulfillment of God’s promises to us. Pioneer day is a chance to remember our forefathers and foremothers who gave up so much to follow their faith and who gave us a legacy of fidelity, strength and courage.

As the church expands and we gain new converts who don’t have this genetic heritage (but who we maintain share this spiritual heritage), we also have an opportunity to recognize that they are pioneers as well.

Because of my unique situation – as the daughter of a convert and a lifelong Mormon with a long family history in the church – I get the best of both: a genetic heritage of strong faith within Mormonism and a chance to be a pioneer in my own right. However, the “lack” of traditional Mormon pioneers on my dad’s side doesn’t rob me from a legacy of faith. I have amazing ancestors who were incredibly faithful – ministers and “ordinary” members of various congregations who loved Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

I’m also blessed with another heritage, one of patriotism. I have family members who fought in the American Revolution, Civil War and both World Wars. My dad spent several years in the Navy. There is a long history of voting, advocacy on civic matters and causes and supporting and advancing freedom. Liberty is part of my DNA.

With these two holidays and two corresponding heritages, July always leaves me incredibly thankful for the inheritance I’ve been given and the abundance I have been blessed with. It’s also a really critical reminder to me that there is an expectation to “not drop the ball” and to preserve the family legacy.

As this month wraps up, I’ll soon be swept up again in life, but I carry with me the stories and strength of my foreparents. July is a chance to bring those stories forward so I can remember them and allow them to buoy me up for the rest of the year.

I walk within their footsteps and stand upon their shoulders – men and women who weren’t afraid of taking chances, fighting for dreams and chasing the wild frontiers. Their message echoes clearly to me: Be a patriot; be a pioneer; never give up; trust in God; don’t drop the ball. And so, as I do every year, I take their stories and I hold them in my heart and try to add to the legacy I received, hoping that in doing so I will pass on their strength to my children and also strengthen my ancestors who are waiting for me in the spirit world and who, though I cannot see them, are with me every day.

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