Monday, June 29, 2009

What's your favorite scripture?

Well folks, I feel like garbage tonight so I posted this question over on Facebook. Then it occurred to me that I would get a better response here. So, what is your favorite scripture or other piece of spiritual literature (song or poem)? Seriously. I need a list.

I came across this new video at and it was a nice pick me up. Hope you enjoy it too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Putting your Heart Before the Course

Hi friends. Life feels a little pointless today so I thought I'd solve that by blogging.

Here's a thought that's been rolling around my head for awhile now: a lot of Mormons struggle because they put the cart before the horse. Or, a lot of LDS people have internal struggles with their faith because they usually implement the action before they figure out their feelings about it.

Let me say right now, this isn't necessarily bad. I'm a big fan of the fake-it-till-you-make-it school of thought. My writing is a good example of that. I'm not a great writer, but I'm going to pretend like I am one until I figure out how to actually be one. That idea works for some church principles too. Like being a good parent. You may want to smack your kid every time they dump their snack out all over the pew and you may want to cuss when they break the DVD player for the second time that week but, since you want to be a good parent, you don't. You fake the more adult response until it is your first reaction.

I think spirituality doesn't always work this way though. You can't fake what is in your heart. Very few people can bear a testimony that they don't believe in and keep bearing it without getting bitter. Another example, you just won't keep making visiting teaching appointments if you don't understand and believe in the principle behind the program. People who do keeping trying to fake their spirituality get bitter and leave the Church.

So what's a believing (or wanting to believe) Mormon to do? Well, for me the answer has come in putting my heart before the course. For example, our stake president has recently asked every member to bring a family name to our stake temple day in the fall. My knee-jerk-happy-Mormon self nodded thoughtfully when I heard about this, but my heart screamed out, "No! You cannot make me do one more thing! I have enough to do!!" My husband and I talked and I calmed down. I decided that I am not going to do any name finding until I feel the need in my heart. Now, I do sustain my stake president and believe he receives revelation for me. I do think I should be doing this assignment at some point. BUT, I am going to work on my heart and my feelings about it before I work on the actual assignment.

(Of course, it also helps that my husband is interested in genealogy right now and working on finding some names and I will probably just grab one of his.)

I've done this before. Taken a deep breath and evaluated my feelings before jumping in to some Church assignment and I have to be honest: it felt good. I'm not advocating inactivity or anything like that, but I am saying it's okay to ask some questions about yourself and your relationship with God before doing something you aren't invested in. God wants us to gain a testimony before we try to bear it.

Well, now movie time is over and my kids are sure on my case! Thanks for indulging me, folks :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

But Not Unhappy Science Friday: Your Jeans vs. Your Genes

Hey folks! Just came across this story at, "Study: 'Depression Gene' Doesn't Predict the Blues."

According to a metastudy of recent genetic studies, the presence of the so-called depression gene (named 5-HTTLPR. What? That's hard to remember? Nah.) does not necessarily determine whether or not a person will have depression. Several studies a few years ago showed that people in high stress situations who were depressed also had this genetic combo. This correlation (I feel obligated to remind you all,"correlation is NOT causation") spurred some enterprising companies to offer testing for the gene. Which apparently lead some people who were carriers to decide to avoid getting married or having children--even though the tests are only supposed to help match patients with antidepressants--because they assumed their children were doomed.

The metastudy Time reported on says people have (surprise!) jumped to some spurious conclusions. Depression is complicated. Genes are complicated. The way the two interact is, um, complicated. How depression manifests itself is still as much about your jeans as it is about your genes. It's a lot about how you deal with your emotions, what kind of support system you have, what kind of environment you grew up in.

Which is one reason why I have hope for my kids. Because of our family tree they each have a 75-80% chance of developing depression and/or an anxiety disorder. That number has made me wonder on more than one occasion if I actually should be reproducing. But, hopefully, I'm working out some of the kinks in my life so that that probability will mean little to them. They'll have the tools they need to create a fulfilling life, even if they are depressed.

And there's always Jesus. He makes up for all our weaknesses. He even turns them into strengths. That makes me feel better too.

For your weekend viewing pleasure, here's a clip from the movie, Gattaca. Yep, I'm a geek and I loved this movie. Especially the alternate ending (Sorry there's no sound. Blame Youtube. Try humming soulfully. That'll get you in the mood!):

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Summer Reading Thingy Reviews

Well, I didn't make good on my goal to read less and write more. The bad news: my book is still without an ending. The good news: I read a bunch of great books! (My apologies to those of you who are on Goodreads. These reviews will look mighty familiar to you.)

1. River Secrets by Shannon Hale It was okay. Very disappointing portrayal of Enna. I did like Razo's spunk, though. If you have a young reader (maybe 5th or 6th grade) this would be a good bet for them.

2. Austenland by Shannon Hale I've never--really NEVER--been a Jane Austen fan so I'm pretty sure I wasn't the target audience for this book. Still, it was spot-on in it's depiction of the modern woman's obsession with the the P&P-type romance. (Well, if I'm being honest I did sort of like the completely Americanized version of Pride and Prejudice--but only because it was nothing like the book!)

3. Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George I remember enjoying the first book in this series, but this was, I don't know, bleh. It wasn't bad but it wasn't really good either. It failed to move me. Maybe because it is too similar to other young adult fantasy novels?

4. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George I probably didn't enjoy Dragon Flight because I read this one first and it was far superior. You can tell that George is writing about her passion in this book. I loved this Norwegian twist on the Cupid and Psyche myth. I would recommend this to teens and to adults who enjoy YA lit or mythology.

5. Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams Okay, so this one isn't fiction but I read it and I want to discuss it. I started this one for my ecobiography writing retreat and actually found it too intense to finish. Terry Tempest Williams' place in nature writing and Mormon writing compounded by the drama/transcendence of her mother's and grandmother's slow deaths overwhelmed me. I had to walk away from the book. I was glad that I picked it back up and I'm glad I bought it; there was so much to underline! A sample: "To acknowledge that which we cannot see, to give definition to that which we do not know, to create divine order out of chaos, is the religious dance" (196). Oh, there's also a fun story about a run-in her parents had with President Monson when he was in the Quorum of the Twelve. I totally recommend this book to anyone who likes memoirs or nature writing.

6. The Conversion of Jeff Williams I saved the best for last. This book blew me away. One of the best Mormon books out there. It manipulates the tension between LDS faithfulness and earnest questioning with such skill; this has got to be Thayer's best work. I loved this one so much I recommended it over at AMV and bought it for my dad for Father's Day. Everyone should read this book.

P.S. I've read 52 books this year and 22 of them have been Mormon/LDS titles. If I can get these titles so can you! They are definitely worth it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

At the Family History Expo

Interloper. That's what I am here. I'm not a hardcore genealogist; I'm a dabbling lifewriter who is managing to pick up a few good tips:

#1: If you are trying to put together some sort of family history book and you are not using a program like Rootsmagic or Legacy (which is actually the number 1 program out there) you are crazy. These programs have awesome organizing and customizing options. You can actually print a book according to YOUR specifications from your own computer, complete with pedigree charts, narratives, and indexes.

#2: If you are writing a personal history and having trouble organizing yourself there programs out there to help you too. One that is being marketed pretty strongly here is Personal Historian by the Rootsmagic folks. This one has a nifty feature that will integrate a cultural and historical time line into your personal time line so you can what movies came out, what were the hits on the radio and what was going in world politics. All these things serve not only as good contextual cues but also as memory cues. Personal Historian also has outlining and drafting tools to help people who don't consider themselves writers through the daunting writing process. Unfortunately, the program doesn't come with a personal editor--which is what I certainly need :) (There are other programs on the internet for free. I'm just telling you about this one because it's the one I've seen in action.)

#3 Don't go into your genealogy alone. There are a gazillion people out there who are doing the same stuff you are and they are probably better at it than you. You can find these people in family history centers, blogs (The Chart Chick does some interesting stuff and my friend Sarah is a passionate genealogist who is full of great info.), and even Twitter. Apparently that is the new place to get the most up-to-date genealogy information. Those genealogists may be older but they are definitely technologically hip!

#4 Genealogy heals. As a Mormon I've pretty much only ever thought about genealogy from a get-those-names-to-the-temple point of view, but everyone (Mormon or not, religious or not) keeps talking about how genealogy has soothed their spirits, healed their hearts, or centered them in the universe. It isn't just about filling in missing leaves on your tree or doing grave rubbings. There is an apparently indescribable yet palpable emotional/psychological value in knowing where you come from.

Almost makes me wonder why I don't do it. Almost.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When the Monkey Falls Out of the Tree: inside a psychiatrist's office

On the front of her brochure, my psychiatrist (yes, I actually got one. . . it was a complete fluke; I happened to call right after a patient canceled an appointment so the receptionist stuck me in that slot. Really. And no. The psychiatrist is not covered by my insurance. *Sigh*) was tall-ish and blond-ish and smiling. In living color, she was lanky and gray-haired and frighteningly skinny. She also had glasses that she had to frown to see through. And she had a lot of bookshelves with oversized books about pretty much everything.

I think I liked her. When I think about the $400 I dropped for the two hour intake exam, besides feeling nauseous, I thinkI really like her. Finding a new psychiatrist would tantamount to burning money at this point.

For simplicity's sake I think I'll refer to her as my Personal Female Freud, or the PFF, from here on out.

I was a little nervous going in. The kiddos had swim lessons today and that is always stressful. (Three cold, hungry children plus one mommy multiplied by a germy, slippery locker room equals a gazillion bemused/horrified on-lookers and a lifetime of embarrassment. Someone please remind me of that next summer when I'm signing up for swim lessons.) And we had to run to the library. And my visiting teachers also came today. And the sliding door of our Toyota Sienna got a massive scratch--you can see it from far away--in the rec center parking lot. I was pretty tired and stressed--and late!--by the time I reached my PFF's office.

I sat down on her cushy couch, checked the clock, and immediately began talking--rapid fire style. I quickly listed all the dates of my pregnancies and deliveries along with my medicines and dosages. When she asked for a family history I listed in all the people with mental health issues in generational order, complete with relation to me and treatments received. I began giving her examples of my symptoms (what I am like when I'm raging, what I'm like when I'm truly down, what are my panic attacks like, what types of intrusive thoughts I have and what happens when they get too loud) when she interrupted me.

I was startled. My therapist, who is more of a BFF than a PFF, rarely interrupts me, which is a major reason why I like her. I have a real need to be heard and understood and I don't always get that in my life. So when the PFF cut me off, I was little offended. But then I realized that a PFF is not a therapist. She's an MD. A doctor. A diagnoser and prescription writer. I slowed down and began giving condensed, yet honest, answers. My PFF wanted specific details and a few big picture clarifiers, but not my memoirs.

After a few more history questions, she began getting out her big books and a magnifying glass. The big books were full of such small print that she couldn't read them without one. She opened her Physician's Desk Reference, held her magnifying glass about half an arm's length away, and began reading aloud about my medication and pregnancy and lactation. Here are my notes (which, I feel obligated to point out, don't serve as a substitute for a trip to your own PFF. Seriously. Get your own!):

*Cymbalta is new. As in, only two years old. The previous generation drug, Cymbalta's mommy, was called Effexor. There isn't a ton of research on Cymbalta directly, but there are some conclusions you can draw based on research about the older drug.

*In pregnant rats and rabbits who took 7 to 15 times the human dose of Cymbalta, there were issues. Duh! You could give them 7 to 15 times the human dose of water and they'd have issues. You know, when you consider that animals are spiritual beings too, well, that's really sad that some of them are experimented on that way. I'm grateful to them. I also think I'll have to search out quite a few vermin in the next life and thank/apologize to them. (That last part was my conclusion. Not the PFF's. The Physician's Desk Reference doesn't talk about spirituality. Even though it's so big it will hang off the end of your knees when you put it in your lap and looks like it's the actually the Big Book of Everything.)

*In women who took Cymbalta while pregnant there were some correlated complications, especially for those who too them during the third trimester. The symptoms the newborns exhibited (like an increased startle reflex, difficulty regulating body temperature, and shallow/irregular breathing) were similar to those in adults who were having a serotonin overdose. No one knows if that's what is really going on with the babies, but there is something different about some of them. No long term effects were mentioned. Probably because the drug is too new to know.

Then the fun started. The PFF started running a battery of tests that I believe she called a mental status exam. She asked me common sense questions (What's today's date? Who's the President of the United States?) common knowledge questions (Who was the previous President? And the one before that? And the one before that? And the one before that--at which point I told her I hadn't been born yet, but I was willing to guess. So then she asked me, "What's the capital of Spain?") and some non-sensical questions (What does it mean when someone says, "Even monkeys can fall out of trees?"). Then she had me draw some pictures, copy some shapes and repeat back lists to her. Then came the toughest question I have ever answered: Count backwards from 100 by sevens. I started to sweat. "It won't take as long as you think," the PFF intoned. I began to calculate and fumbled and tittered and lost my place. I shook my head. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, furrowed my brow, counted on my fingers, and managed to get the answer right. Turns out the test, my PFF told me when I was done, was to test my concentration. Apparently a lot of people who have been treated for angry/anxious depression are actually ADD. My counting backwards skills proved I'm not that, but as the PFF pointed out, it sure "Looked like your performance anxiety got to you, huh?" Awesome.

As two hours wound down I was tired--it was draining to focus on my issues for that long--but good conclusions were drawn: in my case, particularly because of my perinatal depression, it's probably best to stay on an antidepressant with my next pregnancy. Cymbalta is not the best choice and it's worth trying to wean off it--slowly--and start a different drug near the end of the pregnancy (probably Prozac. Oy! I've never felt so cliche). Apparently there's some estrogen variant that is produced by the placenta that makes pregnant women feel good and we're hoping that will keep my mood adjusted for the bulk of the pregnancy. I'm supposed to call after a month on the reduced dose and we'll decide how fast to take it from there. If I get preggers before the Cymbalta is out of my system, that's okay. No need to cold turkey. It's only the third tri that appears to be a problem.

Walking out of the office, I felt good. we have a plan I can stick with. And the PFF is another supporting fixture in my life, which feels really good. After all, like I answered about the monkey falling out the tree, "Even when you're doing something that should be natural to you, that you should know how to do, you can still end up on your butt."

Oh, and the icing on the cake: one of my visiting teachers cleaned my house while I was at my appointment. The place was trashed when I left and gleaming when I came home. I cried a little. For real. The Visiting Teaching program is just one reason why I love my church.

Friday, June 5, 2009

One Week Out

Well, folks, it's one week until the Family History Expo and I'm starting to get excited. It's gonna be a headache trying to find someone to watch the kids but I think it will be worth the effort in the end. I'm planning on taking a couple classes on the computer programs that help folks write their personal histories. I've toyed around with the thought of creating some kind of software or how-to book for awhile so these classes will be helpful. There's also one on oral history preservation which I am interested in. After all, it's a lot easier to get people to talk about their lives than to write about them!

As an added bonus, a couple inspirational family history quotations:

"If you don't recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are. "
--- Madeleine L'Engle

"I promise that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations. Each of us is important to those who are near and dear to us and as our posterity reads of our life's experiences, they, too, will come to know and love us. And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted."
--- Spencer W. Kimball

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fun Summer Stuff

Hi friends!

So this summer I have a number of things I'm looking forward to, but there are two that I promised to blog about so here they are:

Normally I don't get excited about family history. It just seems like one more thing to do and just the thought of scouring the internet for all those names and dates makes my wrists ache. I really, really haven't caught the vision--except for when it comes to the lifewriting aspects family history. I firmly believe that every single person on the planet should create some sort of writing about their life. It will bless their children, it will bless their grandchildren, and the individuals will themselves be blessed by the act of writing. That's why I'm excited about the Colorado Family History Expo. Not only are they holding classes about how to use Google (that's for the old people), but they are also offering a number of classes about writing. My inner artist is looking forward to the down-to-earth info these types of events offer. Any of you readers living in Colorado should really consider coming. Or, if you live in Wyoming or in Salt Lake city they have options for you too!

I didn't participate in LDSPublisher's contest last summer and I regretted it. Thankfully, she's doing it again this year. I know a few of my readers are already heavily invested in LDS writing, but I also know more than a few of my readers think most LDS fiction is poorly written, soporific, romantic garbage. That is not true. There are a lot of quality LDS/Mormon fiction titles out there and this is a great opportunity to read some--and maybe even win something!
I've also vowed to read a little less this summer and write a little more (I've read 45 books already this year!)so I'm keeping my list modest.

Books on hold at the library: Lately I have only wanted to read books that have no bearing on real life. In keeping with that I've on the list for Shannon Hale's River Secrets and Austenland and Jessica Day George's Sun, Moon, Ice and Snow. I also want to borrow George's Dragon Slippers sequels from a friend.

Books coming through inter-library loan: The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Doug Thayer and Long After Dark by Robert Todd Petersen. I've been meaning to ILL that last one for a loooong time; it's award winning! I also requested Abinadi by H.B. Moore but because it's a new book the library would have to buy it and I won't know about that one for awhile. (If any of my friends want to buy this and lend it to me, I would love them forever! I'd even make them dessert!)

Other books: Dorian by Nephi Andersen is online in it's entirety for free. I'll probably start with this title. I also want to reread The Earthkeepers by Marilyn Brown. Oh, and I have a bunch of books from my dad's Mormon literature class at BYU--Under the Cottonwoods by Doug Thayer, Frost in the Orchard and The Rummage Sale by Donald Marshall, and an anthology called 22 Young Mormon Writers that was published in 1975.

I'm not sure I'll get to all these books but I know I'll enjoy the ones I do get to. How about the rest of you? If I promise to post on Dorian next week will you try to read it by then?

Happy Summer Reading!