Pioneer Day - July 24

On July 24th, Mormons celebrate Pioneer Day. It is an important holiday for my church as well celebrate and remember the sacrifices of the people who came before us. Those thousands of individuals and families who left their homes- whether from persecution in Missouri, Illinois, or their homes in other countries to join the saints in Salt Lake- with a dream and a purpose: to live and worship freely and without fear. (sounds a little like the beginning of the history of the United States, doesn't it?)

I was born into a Mormon family, grew up as a Mormon and pretty much always able to be surrounded by Mormons until I got married and moved to the East Coast. On the West Coast, Mormons celebrate by wearing lots of clothing and parading around in the heat and when the children complain, they are told that the pioneers suffered for days on end the same way and it isn't meant to be 'fun'- we are meant to remember. But what we are meant to remember seems to be foolish in some regards as I grow up. Suffering for a few hours like our ancestors seems to me to not teach us the lesson that is most appropriate. Yes, we learned that they suffered and times were tough. We learned that they were persecuted and treated poorly for what they believed and how they lived.

But these lessons will fade because they are not the most important lesson we should be teaching to ourselves and the next generation. Yes, we will still revere and respect our ancestors and enjoy the stories of them... but life as we age/grow will teach us suffering. We will learn that times now are tough- even if the some of the challenges we face are different. Some of us will learn that our ancestors were not perfect and some even persecuted other innocent people. Some will learn that we still do it in some places where more qualified non-members are not given jobs because they are given to less qualified 'faithful'. (If anyone wonders why there are very few people in Utah that have a neutral opinion of the Mormon church that one example might cue you in.) While the lessons that we should learn and teach our children are the lessons of strength and bravery in the face of the unknown.... the faith to follow your convictions and your heart no matter where it leads you... the confidence in each individuals great worth and the courage to fight and continue in the face of great doubt or even when you realize that you have no choice... but to continue in happiness and faith. That is the lesson that we should be teaching and we need to know for ourselves. It is not an easy or superficial lesson- but it is the most important lesson that we can learn in this life.... and as a Mormon I am grateful to have the ancestry to look back on to remember and ponder these lessons. As a historian and a human, I have thousands of years of collective history to look over and learn from... and almost all roads lead back to these basic lessons.

So many Mormons these days celebrate their pioneer heritage with a few hours of suffering or playacting and the rest of the year with conformity and silence. They do not voice their doubts, fears or concerns about the church or church culture for fear of dishonoring their family and their ancestors (and in turn, their sacrifice.) In my opinion, our ancestor's sacrifice is dishonored by ignoring their example. The lessons that they have given us- sealed by their sweat, toil, tears, songs, and their entire lives and how they lived them... we waste and disregard them by not living up to them. So this special day, this pioneer's day, take a moment to remember the real reason we should celebrate and feel grateful for our heritage. Not that they suffered and died... but that they gave us lessons, examples, and their dreams and hopes to live on in us. Please let us not fail them! Be a modern day pioneer. Do not meekly submit to authority- even to the authority of the church when our ancestors took over a year in travel and struggle and tears to follow their dream and their beliefs and to try and make the world a better place by defying authority. Before you accept doctrines and belief, pray and fast and get revelation that it is right to do so. For I believe, that is what your ancestors would have you do.

PS: I am aware that these thoughts will be offensive to some, but our ancestors defied authority so that they could also practice a form of marriage that is considered unacceptable to many today (including Mormons). Before you decide that you are sure that Heavenly Father hates homosexuals, their families, and their children and they should not have rights because the church tells use that homosexuality is wrong, please pray and do not take that answer solely for granted simply because the church says so. People around the world are dying because they feel unaccepted and Mormons are too. Equal rights is something our ancestors wanted -to be able to live by their beliefs. Joseph Smith said that we respect others beliefs. Please.... this is a matter of life and death. Please think on it... Please.


What a Difference Photo-Shop Can Make....

So, I ran across a really freaky picture the other day online. It is a picture of two teenage scuba divers waving to someone while swimming in the depths of the ocean and right behind them is a huge shark- in comparison to them it is simply monstrous. First I felt a ripple of fear and then annoyance- first because I realized that I recognized the picture which is a beautiful picture:

Second, because while I could see the humor, it is definitely set to (at least subconsciously) help others continue to fear sharks in an irrational manner. Your first thought is that immediately after this picture was taken the shark sneaked up quietly and viciously attacked the teens, killed them, maybe ate them and then casually swam away. (maybe even smiling and using a toothpick to clean his teeth while leaving) The only other explanation I could think of was that the 'artist' was trying to make fun of the boys in the picture, or he was …. any ideas out there?

So I took a few minutes to look up the original photo above and to see what different people had done to 'change' it. Here are four examples I saw of the same picture with some humorous wording or drawing on it.

Even the 'light humor' ones sort of felt uncomfortable because even they seem to suggest that sharks in general or the great white shark specifically 'think' like us. So that when they kill us it is because they thought about it and decided to kill us- not that they became confused or even that we put ourselves at higher risk than we needed to. I realize that some people really believe this to be true- one website that was discussing saving sharks had a comment on a post that said “Why should we save sharks – isn't it like saving a convicted murderer so they can go out and do it again?” (I swear that is the verbatim quote) The illustrations added to the picture seemed to me to be a person either trying to make fun of his fear or trying to make the object of his fear look ridiculous and not worthy of respect. (I will admit that was my reaction and might not be the most consistent or correct reaction.)

But these next ones are just bad. They seem to have been developed as a form of humor- but not a benign sort of humor. The first picture is the one that sent me on this rant/discovery.

This humor whether intentionally or not puts all sharks at risk from us as they heighten our fear and help confirm our ignorance of them. Fear comes out of ignorance as well as biology. The more ignorant we are, the more we will fear and the more likely we are to try and dispel our fears -not through knowledge- but with violence and bloodshed.

And in some ways it is a lie. A beautiful picture of a swimming shark becomes something more. And the something rarely tends to be focused on the positive side.

Besides the first picture, I only found one that could be construed as still beautiful after modification were added- makes me want to see the movie :)

So maybe I do not understand all the good uses of photo-shop. I haven't seen very many pictures from photo-shop that have taught me anything although I have gotten a decent laugh from a few... It sometimes seems like photo-shop was developed so that individuals can unleash their prejudges, fear and anger on others. I know that photo-shop is only a tool- and tools do different things in the hands of different people. And I would love to see more good examples of photo-shoped pictures. It just seems when it comes to things we fear or find repulsive such as sharks, photo-shop is only used to perpetuate negative stereotypes and poor humor.

The original photograph is beautiful in my mind. It shows an animal that is its own being- it is not an animal that we control. It is an animal that follows the laws that Heavenly Father and evolution have set for it. It commands respect and is not tame- nor should it be. So many people love the 'tame cute' animals and fear those those don't fit that mold – by the way, for full disclosure I LOVE the 'tame cute' animals so much so that I am constantly having to remind myself that there is only so many I can own and still have room for my family... (unfortunately, I am only half kidding :) There seems to be a human trait to either 'tame' our fears or destroy them. C.S. Lewis even mentioned in his books that we Christians try to see Jesus Christ and the Father as 'tame' beings.... Any one have any ideas on how we as a race can change that? If we could answer that question, maybe we could find world peace....

So just to be a little hypocritical, I will end my post with a piece of photo-shop. But it is the first piece that on reflection... I think I have understood and feel like it said something sort of useful. :-D



The hole that Sarah Drew has left in my life has not been filled. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will. There are days where her face or voice flits briefly into my head, but before I can feel sad, it is gone. There are days like today where I seem to feel only her absence. It feels almost like I have been surrounded by space all day- a space that is constantly yearning for and missing her. I do not think that I have ever had a friend in my entire life who was so devoted, so caring, and just seemed to like me in every sense of the word. I still have two wonderful, beautiful and perfect friends with me, but in some sense, life has lost its savor since she passed on.

Bug misses her too. Trying to explain why he cannot see Gram Sarah now is hard and I am not sure that I have succeeded. I know I haven't succeeded in explaining how the afterlife -or the birth we call 'death' as one apostle put it- works. Part of that is that on some aspects I am not sure that I understand it myself. My religion is pretty clear about the idea that families that are sealed together in the temple can be together after the death of the family members. But it is a little vague on friends. When I die, will I be met by treasured friends? What about my friends who I feel are (in some ways) closer than family? Sarah is the only grandmother my son has ever known that has given him unconditional love, yet not a drop of her blood flows through his veins. Does the circumstances of her birth and my son's leave him in the hereafter without a family member that has meant so much to him... to me? And on a different note, does the circumstances of my birth leave me stuck with biological family that sometimes find it easier to cause pain in others rather than give love and acceptance?

These are all questions that I think I need to leave for Heavenly Father to answer in his own time. It is so hard to not know the answers right now, however. I think it is a sign of my struggling faith that I want a definitive answer NOW! I want to know that things will happen the way I want them to... clearly I am not interested in even attempting a 'thy will be done' in this situation. I want to know that I will spend time with Sarah again. That we will walk together and sit together and laugh and just enjoy each others company.

I need more faith. I need to remember her for all of her generosities, laughing, loyalty, and love. I need to remember that her love and confidence in me have helped me grow in so many ways. I am a better person for knowing her.


History of a Song: July - "Put Your Shoulder To the Wheel"

When the pioneers were crossing the country on their way toward the West Coast, most of the pioneers used various carts or other wheeled vehicles for their journey. The origin of the phrase “to put one's shoulder to the wheel” is a phrase that describes the work of leaning against the wheel of the vehicle that is stuck in mud out of a rut and using your physical strength to push the wheel ahead out of the hole, etc... Another way to describe this is “putting in a great effort in order to accomplish a formidable task”. The idea of a 'the shoulder to the wheel' is an ancient one and can be found in one of Aesop's proverbs called “The Tale of Hercules and the Waggoner”. The tale goes as follows...

A Waggoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the Waggoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong.

"O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress," quoth he. 

But Hercules appeared to him, and said:

"Tut, man, don't sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel."

The gods help them that help themselves

The author of these lyrics along with the music is Will Lamartine Thompson who was born on November 7, 1847 in East Liverpool, Ohio to a well off family. He began writing music while in his teens and he constantly took notes of any idea, verses, etc... that occurred to him throughout the day. He attended the Boston music school for a few years after reaching his majority and graduating from Mount Union College in Ohio. He then studied advanced music in Germany. He had always wanted to write music and so after many failed attempts at getting his songs published, he started his own publishing company. He wrote both secular and non secular music and he was known by his peers and neighbors as a quiet, good man. He was also known for his travels by horse and buggy from one small community to another throughout Ohio singing his songs to the individuals living there. He was also sometimes called the 'Bard of Ohio'. One of his hymns ( 'Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling' ) is believed to be the hymn that has been translated into the most languages.

He married Elizabeth Johnson and had one child – a son named William Leland Thompson. He was taking a tour of Europe with his family when he became ill and the entire family cut the trip short and returned home. He died a few weeks later on September 20, 1909 in New York City, New York and was buried in the Riverview Cemetery in East Liverpool, Ohio. By the end of his life, he had written and sold hundreds of songs and sheet music.

This is one of my favorite songs and my son has found a love for it as well. It is energetic and I sometimes use it as motivation for working when nothing else has really helped. Does this song mean anything to you? What images and emotions does it evoke in your mind?


Family - The Ties that Bind... and Strangle... and Mangle.....

Over the last few days, I have been watching a family feud erupt slowly over a friend's Facebook page.   Before the disagreement came on to Facebook, it had apparently been waged for years through heated discussions and family debate and spiteful anger.  In the week leading up to this blowout a 'texting war' broke out with the members of one faction angrily berating and shaming members of the opposition through text.  One person finally simply lost her composure and her hurt, angry brain vomit was splashed across her Facebook wall to be seen and digested by her seventy- odd friends.  And this is where I and her other friends entered the picture.

As I read the 'writing on the wall', I felt so much sorrow.  She was vague about who was causing her the problems (family) and what the disagreement was about, but it was clear that she felt hurt, not valued or appreciated, and that she felt that she wasn't being listened to or heard.  Then the fun began....

A few family members struck back and it became apparent that the 'texting war' was very nasty.  So many rude comments and all by name.  So while she spared her family by being very vague, she was not spared at all.  Some of the comments were:

1. Just a note:  I thought J and D were divorced.  That means that J is not part of the family anymore. "If D and J are divorced that means she is not part of the family anymore.  She can be your friend, but she is not family.”

2. You are acting like such a baby

3. yeah, trashing your family is such an ADULT thing to do

4. What you think of us doesn't count - you're family!

5. you have to be so melodramatic

6. I love you , but I can't believe you are causing all this trouble and putting this on a public forum.

7. why can't you be more Christ-like?

8. I like how N is a part of the family...when noone including J and A and D have anything good to say about him besides he gives us things. ;-) Thank goodness E and I are not a part of the drama anymore (that's my gift for eternity)... Heavenly Father looks out for us! I hope you guys can work things out civilly though. Good luck. ... I'm sure something will work out though. I know you just needed to vent so I'm not going to get into this. You guys are fam and You guys know how to work things out. Good Luck!

9. I am adult enough to stand up for things I do.  Obviously she is not with her childishness!  So any day she'd like to hash it out...I'm more than willing!"

10. "Yeah...because J said nothing derogatory about me.  And she didn't drop J, D or A's name in it.  I've had a talk with all of them that took it offensive.  But we're all over it by just considering the source.

(I left all the misspelling and language and just removed names above)

While the comments mentioned above were pretty severe, the comment that popped up over and over like a theme was 'You are making the family look bad'.  Leaving aside the fact that these people's comments made them look bad all by themselves, what really bothered me was the idea that she 'should not' have talked about the family outside the family.  That bothers me a great deal.

Less than a few decades ago (and still probably pretty common today), kids were told to not talk about family stuff that would make the collective whole look bad.  So if you were abused or molested by a family member, you couldn't talk about it.  If you did, the concern was that the family would look bad and that would be your fault.  That kind of flawed logic (someone does something bad, you say so, the bad thing is now your fault) strikes against the grain to me for a few reasons.

The first reason is that I find it appalling that the 'world' and people outside the family are given more power in the family.  Heavenly Father gave us families so that we would have tight groups of people who care for each other and will protect each other from the dangers of the outside world.  The family unit itself seems to me to be the most important unit of all. Yes, some families are broken and need mending- mine certainly is. But if a family sacrifices the happiness and security of one family member for the least embarrassment for the rest of the group, I think that is just plain wrong.

Another reason is that forces family members who are hurt to suffer in silence. Who else can you talk to if not your family....? (Is that why there are so many counselors around... because so many people cannot talk to family? ) Some individuals cannot 'suffer' in silence without literally cracking up. So not only would their happiness and comfort be sacrificed by the family, but also their mental well being/sanity. That seems like an unacceptable cost.

Now, please do not think that I am suggesting that families should not have secrets from the outside world. Many things that happen in the family should stay in the family. I do advocate however, that some things- even petty things- should be taken outside of the family if necessary for reasonable reasons. Those will vary between individuals and families and what they feel comfortable with. However, once something is out of the family, it is 'out' and spending your resources and times insulting other family members and arguing about whether it should be out or not is pretty silly. It is also more likely to make the problem worse and harder to resolve due to bitterness, etc.... Compromise will also become so much more difficult. If someone is wrong, it is a lot easier for them to change their mind if they can do it without too much loss of 'face'.

This battle ended as most people would have predicted by some of the comments above. The owner of the Facebook page became even more frustrated and tired of the comments and removed all of her family from her friends list- about twenty names. Neither side has changed their mind and both sides seem angry and bitter. I do not foresee an end to this rift soon... but since this family is Mormon, when they all die, they will have to live together. Might be pretty tough if no one is talking to each other :D

So, I will continue to work on my family difficulties. I will try to remember the thoughts that I have outlined above as I continue to make my family whole and happy. This argument was so sad on so many levels. But the worse part about it was the subject.

The family was arguing about Christmas presents.


Radiation and the Human Body

When I was in Washington state recently, I visited a museum that had a small section set up to talk about radiation.  I found it really interesting as I just haven't thought about it very much.  If I had, I think that I might have figured that I had a lower dose than the average individual.  After all, I live in a yurt, don't have running water and went at least five years without electricity- I only have one plug now so some have joked that I still don't have electricity.  I consider myself to, with few exceptions, be extremely healthy and until the last few years I ate really well- mostly organic, etc...  I used a radiation calendar at the museum and it estimated that my average was 362 millirems per year.  That didn't sound too bad except that the American average radiation exposure dose is 360 millirems....

It turns out that I have some risky behaviors that keep my radiation exposure at the average level.  It also seems that the world is more radioactive than I had ever imagined.  We live in a world filled with radiation- in the food we eat, in the water we drink... even in the air we breathe.  Half of an average person's exposure every year comes from natural sources.  The rest is all man made so to speak and can usually be separated into three separate categories; medical, commercial, and industrial.

Natural sources seem to be pretty much unavoidable.  The average person is exposed to 40 millirems of radiation from food and drink alone.  Drinking water (especially bottled water), bananas, carrots, red meat and beer are just a few examples of foods that emit radiation.  Any individual that breathes will get about 200 millirems of exposure from radon in the air.  Our bodies - these beautiful and unique temples that house our soul- carry approximately 240 millirems with us throughout our day.  So each of us is an organism that,  while needing to avoid exposure, actually gives off radiation and exposes those around us.  So one form of risky behavior that I engage in is sharing a bed with my husband. The radiation that we give off will give each of us a slightly higher radiation level than those who sleep alone. (Gives a new, positive perspective on being single, doesn't it?  : )

Out of the man made sources of radiation, medical testing really tops the list.  In the guise of caring for our bodies, we sometimes take a greater risk with them then we need to.  With the excuse of 'keeping up appearances' we get porcelain crowns on our teeth if they are needed. (For full disclosure, I have a crown and so I too, am "keeping up appearances".) So many medical tests these days use radioactive chemicals or machines to work. How many X-rays have you gotten in your lifetime? Do you have a pacemaker? When I was sick last year I spent so much time in radiology I am surprised that I don't glow (and on that subject.... maybe it's my husband who is at more risk by sleeping next to me! :D ) Ultrasounds, thyroid imaging and more are all big exposures.

Other ways that we expose would be through television, video game stations,  and computer usage.  If you are in any building with a smoke detector, use an airplane for travel, use luggage inspection at airports, or live within 50 miles of a coal burning electrical plant and/or.......... you are getting higher radiation exposure than those who do not.  Where you live in relation to altitude and sea level makes a difference as well.

Now, most doctors agree that radiation exposure causes cancer and that radiation exposure causes a weakened immune system. A research group studied the amounts of radiation in common medical procedures in 1980 and today – we get seven times more radiative exposure for diagnostic tests now than we did twenty years ago. A study that was just released in the last few days illustrates a disturbing trend in light of the former thought. The study looked at radiology trends for three years over five major healthcare markets. They found that one in ten adults under 64 years of age had in that period of time had a heart procedure/test involving radiation exposure. The biggest used test is called myocardial perfusion imaging (heart stress test) and it accounted for 74% of the procedures in this study. The next was heart cauterization and stents. I am sure that many of these tests were necessary. But I do question whether we are giving medicine and its disciples more leeway with our bodies than we should. Surely, many of these tests did not have benefits that outweighed the risks of the exposure. I wonder how to work on keeping my exposure low (and maybe even lower it) without serious compromise to my lifestyle. But I also wonder if I am being negligent to this great gift that Heavenly Father has given me by simply ignoring the problem through ignorance or even priorities. After all, if I don't care for myself.... who will? And reducing our levels will benefit our families and all those who surround us.

I encourage all who read this to click on the links I have added and see what your approximate radiation exposure is and think of ways you can maybe reduce it. See what you find out... you might be pleasantly surprised... and I might be jealous of your low score!

1. http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/calculate.html

2. http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/around-us/calculator.html

(The pie chart above is outdated, but I fell in love with it and I couldn't find a more modern, accurate one. I guess I have always loved pie charts....)