Saturday, August 28, 2010

First Day of School

Our first day of school this year was Tuesday, August 24th. Jacob started 5th grade in the CAS (Center for Accelerated Studies) program, so he has to leave early to catch the bus to his new school. Claire is in 3rd grade. It looks like it's going to be a good year.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Primary counselor: Why did Heavenly Father choose Joseph Smith when he was just 14 years old?
Claire: Because he had a fresh brain.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Church Talk, as Primary President, March 2010

We were given the topic “Nourish the Seed with Great Care” to speak on today. The title of my talk is “Seeds and Weeds”.


I love gardening. I like getting my hands dirty, clearing away the weeds, watching my little plants grow as things of beauty, enjoying the flowers and fragrances, harvesting the herbs to season my food, mint for my tea, and fruit to eat. I like taking my kitchen scraps and working it back into compost, so that instead of creating more waste, I am conserving nutrients and energy.

Last year, we couldn’t have a garden because we moved here in the middle of summer. That was hard on me. It wasn’t the harvest that I missed so much as the work and the connection to the earth and her subtly changing seasons. I did yard work, clearing rubble, mowing the lawn and trimming the little bushes that we hope one day will be a hedge, but without the same satisfaction. But yesterday, Clint and I worked together and started our compost bins. The work for our garden has begun.

One of the things I like best about gardening is the transience of it. You have to work to create order and beauty, but in the end, it will all die.

(We were told by a neighbor of the beautiful garden that used to be in our yard. And then it was asphalt. And now it’s tempermental grass and a rubble choked, goathead infested dirt plot with a truly ugly fence and an anemic little hedge.)

Gardening is a work with transient results, but it is not futile. If we garden long enough through a season, we will reap a harvest. If we use good practices over time, we can enrich the soil, establish strong trees and herbs and bulbs that will make a little corner of the earth more beautiful for a time, a beauty that may persist despite neglect and be revived by a new gardener in the future.

The best fruit harvested gardening is the change wrought within the gardener because of the work. In the work of cultivating life and beauty, we are given life and beauty.

(Growing up, my neighbors always had a beautiful garden. They taught me to pick cotton and dig for peanuts. Mrs. Walker swept off my bottom with a broom before I could enter the house. She died when she was 90. Mr. Walker kept on going, old and frail as he was, climbing on the roof to repair it and tilling out the garden. The year he couldn’t plant his garden was the year he died. He needed the work to live.)

I believe that living the gospel is much like caring for a garden. We choose to plant certain seeds, constantly try to rid ourselves of unwanted weeds, and work our whole lives, knowing that in the end, our work alone is insufficient. We will always be in debt to God for our hope of redemption just as we are indebted for the very earth we plunge our hands into. Our efforts, no matter how great, will never be enough to save ourselves. But we are transformed by our work, spiritual and physical, and that granted change gives us meaning in life and hope of redemption.


Enough of physical gardening. What are the spiritual seeds we plant that we want to nourish with great care?

The obvious first is the gospel, the very ideas we have embraced enough to be here today. Faith in God, in Christ. A belief that this church is directed by God, and that by being a part of the community it creates, that we will draw closer to God. These little seedings need constant tending.

Another set of spiritual seeds are the covenants we make. I firmly believe that inasmuch as we strive to live our covenants, we will be given strength and purpose. I don’t believe that I will ever, in my life, be able to live up to the covenants I’ve made. I will always fail in bearing another’s burden or consecrating all that I have to the church, but that by struggling to fulfil these covenants, I am approaching God. (Think of calculus—I am approaching what I need to become, the limit, although I will never reach it.) But I’ll be damned if I don’t try to live up to those covenants. My progress will be halted, I’ll be cut off from the fount of inspiration and cut off from the presence of God. The plants that spring from the seed of covenants are in my garden for life.

A last seed is a calling. These may be seeds that we only plant because we feel obligated to do so. We recognize the value of them, but do not particularly want to have this plant growing in our little garden. (Why would you plant okra if you hate the sliminess of it, even if that is one of the key ingredients to making gumbo so delicious?)

I never had aspirations to be a primary president. And I never thought I would be any good as a primary president if called. I had an image in my mind of what you might call the platonic ideal of a primary president. She would be kind and gracious. Sing well, make adorable crafts with the children, know all of their names and be overly sentimental about them and her calling. Cry whenever she bears her testimony about how much she loves each and every one of the children. Visit the homes and families of children who cannot come to church. And so on.

You can see that I had mixed feelings about the calling. And that is why I was so shocked when Bishop Worthen called me to be primary president here. But this seed I would never have chosen has started to grow in me. The more I work on cultivating it, the better I am able to serve. It surprises me all the time. I am more willing to talk to people in church I haven’t met. I am drawn to children’s faces and want to help them.

I had always held the attitude that the work I do at church should benefit the people who make the effort to come, whether I was teaching a class on Sunday or organizing an enrichment meeting, or planning a primary activity. If you come, it should be worth your time. If you don’t come, your loss. This calling, this little budding seed, is changing my attitude. Now I am concerned for my missing children. I want the best for them, I want to give them tools to realize their potential for good and happiness in this life. I found myself holding back tears at our last presidency meeting, as we talked about including a little child, not a member, who lives here in our ward. Some children have the deck stacked against them. It’s not fair. And to my surprise, in this position, I feel the call to help even the odds, to reach out and embrace these children. (And so, against expectation, I have grown to be sentimental, and I do love the children.


These seeds we plant, our covenants, our faith and hope, our aspirations and goals, do not exist in a vacuum. Our hearts are not clean little garden plots where we plant the one and only seed of the gospel. We are not planting these seeds in sterile soil where nothing else can grow. To skip briefly to another agricultural parable, consider the wheat and the tares. The righteous and the wicked who will be burned as stubble at the second coming of our Lord. The wheat, that’s good seed. That’s who we want to be. The tares, they’re just weeds.

Invasive weeds are plants that do not belong in a certain area. They are not native to the place they invade, and once they come, they destroy the equilibrium, the natural balance that had existed prior to their arrival. They first take hold in areas that have been disturbed, where the naturally occurring vegetation has been removed. Think of verge on either side of the road or construction zones where destructive weeds take hold. Then they spread.

What weeds are growing in the garden of your heart? What kudzu is dominating the thoughts of your mind? What invasive weeds have taken root in the fragile disturbed areas of your soul?

And remember that by clearing a little patch of ground to garden, you are disturbing the soil, creating an open invitation for opportunistic weeds. If you make changes in your life, even good ones, like trying to read the scriptures more or going to the temple, you are, by that very change, making your soul vulnerable, to pain, frustration and temptation. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, how hard it is to do the right thing.

Even if you aren’t making drastic changes, sometimes they come to you. Depression puts a person in a very fragile state that weeds of doubt, guilt, shame and anger thrive in. And they are incredibly difficult to uproot when you are so weak. When I had post partem depression, even praying and reading scriptures regularly could not ease my mind or clear the weeds from my thoughts.

I believe in the power of affirmations, the repeated phrase of what you hope to be true, of what you need to be true. This mantra got me through post-partum depression: I am gentle and loving and kind. I listen and speak softly. I am a good mother. I love my children.
At the time, I couldn’t believe any of those things. If I didn’t feel numb and emotionally dead, I felt unspeakable sorrow, or sudden flashes of fierce violent anger. I was beset by
negative, painful, self destructive thoughts, as unwanted and painful as the goatheads that litter the plot of dirt we hope to garden.
So I repeated my mantra, what I hoped could be true. Every conscious repetition was an act of cultivating my thoughts. When the critical, belittling voices in my head attack, I quietly breathe and counter them with what I choose to believe, halting the progress of the noxious weeds in my mind.

Sunday School lessons, for adults, are not to teach, but to remember, to be sure that we are all still growing the same variety of plants in our internal gardens.

So let us all work. Let us toil and till. Let us nurture our faith and community. Let us cling to our covenants and gain strength from them and delight in the blooms of un-sought-for callings.

Go to your gardens, go to the quiet spaces in your soul. Take stock of what is growing there. Cultivate and strengthen those seeds, those plants, whose fruit you want to harvest. Cull out the even encroaching weeds, so that you may be a sanctuary of order and beauty, that the fruits of your field may be an acceptable offering before God.


We went backpacking in the Southwest Desert area of Zion National Park over Easter weekend. The kids packed in their own gear about four miles to our campsite. We saw tadpoles, lizards, ground squirrels, and tons of petrified wood from the Chinle formation. Jacob sat on a catcus. Isaac learned to point at cacti and say "sharp", "hurt", "ow". Claire learned if you accidentally wet your pants, you don't have to go pee behind a bush. All in all, we had a great time.

There are more pictures on my facebook page.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Back to School

I finally heard back from the admissions office at BYU. I get to start taking classes this spring. I'm signed up for PHIL 350R Philosophy and Literature. Of course, only 3 other people have registered for it so far. I figure if it doesn't make, I'll try to add one of the writing classes that filled up before I got accepted.

I need to audit some Spanish classes too. At least half of the parents at my children's elementary school don't speak English, including one of my daughter's best friends. But there are no evening Spanish classes this term. I'll just have to wait until Isaac goes to preschool. With luck, he may start this fall.

My current, nebulous plan is to take one or two classes a semester, concentrating on philosophy and other humanities courses. Then when Isaac starts school, I can begin graduate work. I'm not completely sure what I want to do yet, but I know I want to be in the humanities field, and there's no better way to start thinking clearly and writing soundly than philosophy. It also helps that those were my strongest classes as an undergrad all those years ago.

So here I go. Wish me luck.

Monday, February 1, 2010

So am I an Obamite?

The following email disturbed me. Is it verifiable? (I especially like the confidentiality disclaimer at the end. Is that meant to add verisimilitude or scare me away from posting something like this? It clearly is not meant to stop the forwarding chain.)

I don’t doubt that there are many logistical problems on the ground in Haiti, some of them exacerbated by ideological differences. But the main purpose of this email seems to be not to point out problems so that they may be addressed and rectified. Rather it is using the human suffering of this terrible catastrophe to sow dissent and fling insults, to create and demonize enemies out of the flawed people who are struggling to help in this crisis.

It uses the word “Obamite” as a perjorative. From the text, an Obamite is a young, emotional worker with USAID, with no more apparent brains than a groupie, but yet is pursing a sinister, communist agenda. And the author equates the French and French speakers with worthless anti-Americans. (Although as a former French colony, Haiti will certainly have Creole and French speakers.)

The author complains about the UN wasting American taxpayers’ money for the last five years in Haiti, an assertion that is neither supported by any evidence nor shown to be relevant to the disaster relief effort.

Although not logically relevant to the ostensible purpose of the email, the jab against the UN is fully in keeping with the underlying agenda of this type of chain email; that is, to sow dissent and vilify the current administration. The entire missive is horribly opportunistic, using the worst disaster in the Western Hemisphere (according to Pres. Bush and Clinton in their appeal for donations) to malign the UN, USAID, the French, the Obama administration and anyone who doesn’t current feel in their guts that the above mentioned of evil.

How is this productive? How are any problems solved? How can there be any hope of solving the problems that face our country (because this email is about the political battle in our country, not Haiti) is each side is demonizing the other? Having made the other side out to be in league with the devil, no civil discourse, much less compromise, is possible. This type of poison that has completely permeated our politics is destroying our government.

And, as a final note, the email misspells Port-au-Prince and Port o Prince. But perhaps that was a deliberate Anglicization to avoid insulting Haiti.

-Rachel 2-1-10

FW: A Haiti Perspective From a Marine Rescuer
Mon, February 1, 2010 6:44:03 AM

View Contact


Subject: A Haiti Perspective From a Marine Rescuer
Date: Mon, 1 Feb 2010 06:55:46 -0600

Sent to me by Anne Kroeger, who knows these people.......pretty disheartening, but I'm not surprised.

Subject: A Haiti Perspective From a Marine Rescuer.
I served in the SOG (Special Operations Group) in Viet Nam with Brockhausen and Hebler, they have both been involved with various disaster relief programs for the last several years to include Hurricane Katrina. They have both always been straight shooters and known to call a spade a spade, as well as sometimes using very "colorful" language. So I have no doubts as to the truthfulness of what he's saying.

News back from Nick Brockhausen.

He and Dennis Hebler made it back somewhat safe and sound.

To All,

I just returned from Haiti with Hebler. We flew in at 3 AM Sunday to the scene of such incredible destruction on one side, and enormous ineptitude and criminal neglect on the other.

Port o Prince is in ruins. The rest of the country is fairly intact. Our team was a rescue team and we carried special equipment that locates people buried under the rubble. There are easily 200,000 dead, the city smells like a charnal house. The bloody UN was there for 5 years doing apparently nothing but wasting US Taxpayers money. The ones I ran into were either incompetents or outright anti American. Most are French or french speakers, worthless every damn one of them.

While 1800 rescuers were ready willing and able to leave the airport and go do our jobs, the UN and USAID ( another organization full of little OBamites and communists that openly speak against Americana) These two organizations exemplared their parochialism by:

USAID, when in control of all inbound flights, had food and water flights stacked up all
the way to Miami, yet allowed Geraldo Rivera, Anderson Cooper and a host of other left wing news puppies to land.

Pulled all the security off the rescue teams so that Bill Clinton and his wife could have the grand tour, whilst we sat unable to get to people trapped in the rubble.

Stacked enough food and water for the relief over at the side of the airfield then put a guard on it while we dehydrated and wouldn't release a drop of it to the rescuers.

No shower facilities to decontaminate after digging or moving corpses all day, except for the FEMA teams who brought their own shower and decon equipment, as well as air conditioned tents.No latrine facilities, less digging a hole; if you set up a shitter everyone was trying to use it.

I watched a 25 year old Obamite with the USAID shrieking hysterically, berate a full bird colonel in the air force, because he countermanded her orders, whilst trying to unscrew the air pattern. " You don't know what your president wants! The military isn't in charge here we are!"

If any of you are thinking of giving money to the Haitian relief, or to the UN don't waste your money. It will only go to further the goals of the French and the Liberal left.

If we are a fair and even society, why is it that only white couples are adopting Haitian orphans. Where the hell is that vocal minority that is always screaming about the injustice of American society.

Bad place, bad situation, but a perfect look at the new world order in action. New Orleans magnified a thousand times. Haiti doesn't need democracy, what Haiti needs is
Papa Doc. That's not just my opinion , that is what virtually every Haitian we talked with said. the French run the UN treat us the same as when we were a colony, at least Papa
Doc ran the country.

Oh, and as a last slap in the face the last four of us had to take US AIRWAY's home from Phoenix. They slapped me with a 590 dollar baggage charge for the four of us.

The girl at the counter was almost in tears because she couldn't give us a discount or she would lose her job. Pass that on to the flying public.



God Bless America and the U.S. Marine Corps

The Law Office of Burleigh J. Brewer, P.C.
4041 MacArthur Boulevard, Suite 350
Newport Beach, CA 92660
949.833.7824, Fax 949.833.3133



------ End of Forwarded Message

Thursday, January 14, 2010

My kids at church

Human Reproduction

My college age sister was stunned the other day looking through our kids’ How the Human Body Works book. She wasn’t expecting a chapter about genitalia and human reproduction.

We got it for Jacob when he was three. He loved the diagrams. The circulatory system, digestive track, respiration, nerves, muscles and especially the section about biomechanic parts like pacemakers and prosthetic limbs.

The human reproduction part is at the back of the book. We generally glossed over the mechanics and skipped straight to the stages of fetal development. The information was there, and we read through it, but not every time. After all, the immune system was much more compelling.

Almost three years ago, when Jacob was six and Claire four, we announced that they would be getting a new sibling.

They wanted to know how the baby got to be there. So we whipped out the Human Body book. We talked about ovulation, eggs traveling through fallopian tubes, meeting a sperm to form a blastocyst that develops into a zygote and implants on the uterine lining and continues to develop into an embryo and later a fetus. Then they wanted to know how the baby would get out. So we talked about the cervix, vaginal birth and c-sections.

So then Jacob asked the most pertinent question. “But how does the sperm get in there?’
“The father gives it to the mother.”
“Does it have to go in the same way the baby comes out?”
“How does that work?”

I looked at him. “Do you really want to know? I can tell you now, or if you don’t want to know right now, I will be happy to tell you later.”

Jacob thought about it. We’d already been talking and looking at pictures for the better part of an hour.

“I don’t think I need to know right now.”

And so we moved on.

In church a few weeks ago, the first counselor was teaching the children about the roles of mothers and fathers as defined by the Proclamation to the World: The Family. The whole conversation made me slightly uncomfortable. I cringed internally as the children made lists of gender defined responsibilities and characteristics. But I recognized that my misgivings were my own personal hang-ups, and there was no reason to interject my qualms into a perfectly fine sharing time lesson.

They were running out of things to list when one kid said, “Mothers give birth.”

“Yes,” the counselor acknowledged, “mothers do give birth to the babies.”

“Yeah,” Jacob interjected. “But fathers give sperm!”

Sitting in the back of the room, I smiled and felt better.


Coda: Evolution

Last week in church, that same counselor was teaching about families again, and how Adam and Eve were our first parents. Claire's hand flew up into the air.

"I'm just wondering how the story in Genesis matches up with the scientific evidence. I mean, were they monkeys or something like that?"

In the back of the room, I hid my face, muffling laughter.

"No, they were humans," she answered firmly, and then moved the discussion on.

Maybe we shouldn't watch Nova documentaries on Saturday night anymore.