Dec 28, 2013

Update on our Attached Greenhouse (we are excited.)

So, the funny thing is, when we got that notice from the city I talked about a couple of greenhouse posts ago, I knew it had to have come from someone in the neighborhood/area who read this blog. Because somehow, the city had gotten word that we were building a "greenhouse," only they were told it was going to be a freestanding greenhouse. Since Jeff & I don't generally talk a whole lot about our plans with people, the only real place I could think that someone would know we were building one would be if they read this blog. So I know now that people in this city, people I know, read this. Thus, being more careful about posts, being more aware of peoples' privacy.

I have worried that people will think this is going to be an ugly monstrosity. I don't blame them because, hey. Look at our place! So many weeds. WE used strawbales to insulate our walls last winter, and then Jeff pulled them away from the walls & then never found time to go put them in the horse shed thingie. My kids scatter stuff everywhere. Just like they do inside. And it's harder to remember to ask them to tidy up in the backyard because I don't see it all that often, to be honest. And it doesn't help that all the garbage blows over from the highschool. I have dealt with that by paying my kids to pick it up, a penny a piece, and generally we've been able to keep the area looking OKish, but. You know. Our place is currently kind of the neighborhood disaster. I have goals about changing that this next spring, but who knows if they can happen depending on finances, how well the new baby fares etc.

Anyway, I can see how someone who is familiar with our place might be like, "a greenhouse? Right. It's going to look cobbled together and terrible."

Well, and it's funny because our friend Dave thought the same thing, when we were initially describing our plans to him. Though he didn't tell us this until a couple days ago when Jeff showed him the progress we've made. He gave us a compliment that was also a bit of a dig--"Wow. It actually looks good! From the way you guys were describing it, I was thinking it'd be kind of trashy looking." (Not offended, Dave. It made Jeff laugh. But only because we know you love us!!)

The thing is, when we do stuff, we want to do it right. For Jeff, that means planning meticulously, gathering the precise measurements, the exact pieces, and then (for me) an important thing is finding a period of time when we can work on it until it's finished. I hate half-done projects. They are usually messy, obstructive to routine and space, and not very nice to look at. So... yeah. When we do stuff, and slowly, little by little, we'll do stuff, people will hopefully get an idea of us as a family that really does want their place to look nice, and be a credit to the neighborhood.

Having said all that. Here's where we're at now for the outside (about 3/4 done with plywood, window framing, etc):

We're going to have to leave it plywood until spring, when we'll put insulation and cement board on the outside. Also we'll be mortaring the cinderblock then; right now it's just stacked.

We'll be painting the cement board probably the same color as the rest of the house, with another complimentary for windowframes etc. I'm trying to decide if we do the other color in white, kind of like the rest of the house, or if we go a darker grey to make a nice, pretty contrast. And I'm planning on hanging flower basket planters all along the beams, and planting some red flowers in each. That combination of grey and red is just very pretty. I've seen it done before.

We also plan on taking some of those white flagstones our friends the builders of our house put in a long winding path throughout the yard, and repurposing them to create a path along the house, along the periphery of the greenhouse, and then out to a white flagstone patio/barbecue pit. We're also planning on coldframes along the south (so the path would go around those, too). Overall, I'm pretty certain it will end up looking very nice. Which actually is quite important to me :)

Here's where we're at for the inside:

I am kind of swooning over the amount of space. Our plan for the south side is 4X4 square foot garden beds up against the window side, for sun and warm loving plants such as tomatoes, squashes, peppers and herbs. I plan on hanging strawberry pots/baskets on the inside from every post as well... lots. I love strawberries and want to grow a wide variety.
There will be a path of dark flagstones or pavers (which we will have to buy) for along the house-side wall, so we can walk and have access to everything. We plan on setting it all on sand (with landscape fabric underneath to prevent weeds growing up through, though we don't have many weeds inside anyway because it's graded gravel.) I plan on growing nice mosses in between the flagstones/pavers. It should be quite beautiful. Then as we wrap around toward the east (that corner there you see) we'll probably change to either trees planted in the ground or trees aboveground in giant pots, plus lots of multi-level pots, on stands or hanging, containing bush-berries and fruits or other edible plants that like a great deal of sun. Then as we come around to the east, where there's still good sun but not as much, and it won't be as warm, we'll have a few more square-foot beds with the colder winter vegetables. Then in the very north corner (jeff hasn't built yet) we have a pair of French doors off of the house that open into the greenhouse. We're planning on making that area a sort of indoor solarium/patio, with nice wicker chairs or cast-iron chairs or something more solarium-like, and probably a fountain and a little pot-pool with some stones and maybe a few fishes.

And possibly on that wall of the house, we'll hang one of those pallet-gardens, or a couple, with shade-loving plants like ferns, etc.

Underneath will be more of the dark flagstone pavers on sand, with mosses or elfin thyme growing between the cracks.

In a word, when we get done, it will be wonderful.

SO, back to right now: we've almost got it all enclosed. Jeff is also working on making it airtight--closing in the space between wall and rafter, etc. It's still pretty drafty; we haven't insulated, there are places for the air to get in quite easily, and we haven't even closed off the entire thing yet--the north side's just an open frame, and Jeff hung a tarp to close off the enclosed space to give himself a warm area to work in during the day. But guess what? Even with just that, the nighttime temperatures inside the greenhouse have measured 20 degrees higher than outside temperatures. And during the day:

It's already warmer outside in the greenhouse than it is inside our house!

Think of how it'll be once we get it all enclosed, insulated, caulked if we need to. We may actually need to vent heat inside the house during the day to make sure things don't get too hot for the plants.

Jeff and I have a plan, too, to keep things warm at night (though hopefully it'll be less of a problem than we currently anticipate)--we're going to create curtains of insulation that can drop down over the windows once the temperature inside the greenhouse gets too low. Jeff loves smart-home techology; he'd like to set it up to work automatically with thermometers that gauge temperature, so that when the air at night starts to get below a certain temp, these thick, insulation curtains slide down over the windows and in the morning, when the sensors pick up that the outside temperature is warm enough, they can slide back up. And we can get our sun and warmth at night, too, so we can grow things like...

tomatoes. the holy grail of vegetables. Which I have never been able to make work to well here in an outside garden, even during the summer. The season is just too short.

Well actually, honestly Eggplants are the holy grail. I couldn't even get those to grow in Utah.

It's possible we can use the same system of heated water tubing that warms our concrete floor inside the house, to heat the garden beds as well. Run several loops of the hosing under the bed, keep the soil warm at night. There are lots of options. I want vines of tomatoes swinging from my ceilings year round. Did you know they get really long if they can grow all the time? And they keep producing, too.

It will be amazing. It's Jeff's & my christmas present to each other this year... he's been building all christmas break and I think he's really enjoying it a lot. I'm enjoying seeing it go up, and seeing our dream become a reality.

Dec 18, 2013

Sort of a part V-- Grateful Reflections in the aftermath of life explosions.

SO I've posted some difficult stuff lately. About struggles with my family, and ward, and bishops. Now that I've got all that out of the way, I want to fall back and enumerate some truly great things people have done for me and been for me. Nobody's perfect--like Oaks said, we're all imperfect appliances. But (as I've stated before) I have a truly great family, and my ward and also my bishop at the time of Paul, were/are also truly great people. I think they're due for some praise and gratefulness.

I'm going to number this just because it makes me think better sometimes to number things.

1) My Dad. Who I've talked about struggling with. Some wonderful things about him (other than what I've already said about him being brilliant, creative, funny, and someone who really loves me) is also an amazing piano player. One thing I always cherish with him is time when he plays the piano and I can sing. Want to know how I found my voice? (and it's a pretty belty voice... and has been since I was probably a 7-th grader). It's because I could sing freely while my Dad played because i know he loved me and our time together was special. While my dad's love language isn't the same as mine, he does do a lot of things to show people he loves them. He serves people, quietly, with no expectation of praise or returned favors. He also never, ever says things vindictively about others. He doesn't gossip. And if he has a problem with someone, he can still appreciate their good points.

2) My Mom. I've written poems about her. She is a person I'd love to be like. I like to call her a rennaisance woman. She can do anything creative. She throws herself into projects and is talented at just about everything she tries hard at. She is a woman (like I've said before) with a big heart and no chip on her shoulder--she'll come and clean poodle poo off your floor if you're wheelchair-bound and your six elderly poodles need cleaning up after. She is loyal. She is always on the lookout for the underdog, or for people who are lonely or are maybe in need of more help than others realize, and she does all she can to help. She helped nurse my great grandmother through the last stages of her life, even though it was not easy. She works really, really hard to make sure another of my grandmas, who is currently struggling a lot, is as happy as possible, and she takes the difficulties she faces silently, without returning hurt for hurt or feeling a need to defensively gossip. She is an inspiration to me that way. I wish I had her bravery to serve people without apology. She also is a master-organizer. She organized and put together and ran all the big events for my high school choir for years, and was willing to do even the hard jobs nobody else wanted to do, like chastise kids on Europe trips for buying stuff they shouldn't :) My mom is a rock star and she doesn't get a whole lot of recognition, except from those who love her and know her well enough to know who she is.

3) My sisters and brother. They are hilarious and brilliant and when I'm with them, I feel like I'm a member of some cool tribe. We have a sense of humor (my grandmother curtis's sense of humor) that is just its own flavor. Aaaand we do great things together. My siblings are very talented at a lot of things and they choose very interesting things to do in life and aren't afraid to dream big, or be themselves. Sometimes this has earned them some eyebrow raises or even disapproval--watching them do what they do and be what they are anyway, and still have very strong testimonies they wouldn't give up for any reason, or person, makes me feel grounded in my own love of the gospel of Christ.

4) Bishops and ward members. Specifically at the time I've been outlining lately--when all went down with Paul.
Despite my struggles with the bishop (which were because of all the circumstances already related... everything so messed up and stressful) I have a lot of admiration for this person. I know him still, and have gotten to know him better over the years. We have some association because of common interest groups, online and in other ways. He is a very good person. He's had trauma of his own. He is very loving and giving and really, a very sensitive person overall. Who was thrown into a very difficult situation. The last interaction I had with him, he actually came to my home (some ward members were over and we'd just cleaned it, ready to move me to my new apartment.) He handed me a book--the compilation from the Women's Conference that had just ended. And he said, 'I feel like I haven't been the best bishop to you.' and I could see how much he wished things had worked out better. I do, too. He is a good man. And I know we both learned a lot from our time together.

Ward members: People were so kind to me. One person brought me by some Christmas pretzel chocolates right when I needed reassurance. People still involved me in baby showers and such. My home teachers, one of the experiences with them that was quite hilarious was when a big media van pulled up in front of my house, and one couple distracted them while I sneaked out the back & headed over to the other couple's house. It was a bit double o seven ish. To be able to laugh at something so stressful was a relief. We even turned the TV on to see the news to see if they were still trying to film my house. People let me visit teach them. One relief society, the teacher dispensed with the lesson (right after story broke) and said she thought we should just sing hymns the whole time. I felt that was for me. The sister sitting next to me told me what a beautiful voice she thought I had. I needed to hear that. I will always be grateful for my relief society president who came over and mopped my floor, and then took walks with me, both of us hauling our baby strollers. I appreciate them and a couple who lived next to them, who invited me over occasionally to talk to me and laugh with me.

And on top of that, I now appreciate all the people who have written me to express how they wanted to help, even though they weren't sure how, but that they were thinking of me. I know that made a difference. Maybe one plus in having my story all over the place was I had a whole bunch of people praying for me.

One sunday, I was informed that the entire provo police department was fasting for me.

So.... I guess what I'm saying is, difficulty is difficulty. We go through crap. People aren't perfect. But they are still wonderful. Even people who make things hard are wonderful. I'm sure I've accidentally (or maybe on purpose, I don't know) made things hard for others. I hope they can forgive me, and I hope that whatever harm I've done, can be healed eventually. I'm grateful for healing. I'm grateful for people.

I'm grateful for my voice teacher, who became my friend and who gave me blessings. And who taught me to find my voice again, and who has continued to be a wonderful friend forever.

I'm grateful to the people who watched Loli with such love and care, and who weren't awkward about it at all, who I felt were my friends.

I'm grateful for psych professors who didn't condescend to me or mention anything, even though I'm sure they knew who I was and what I was going through.

I'm grateful to a guy I dated (between Paul and Jeff) who helped me realize I was a desirable person to date, and a fun person to be around, and who helped me gain the courage I needed to date my husband when that happened.

I'm grateful for random ward members (especially ones who cooked lots of Indian food and gifted me with a homemade-cool ball thingie) (and later moved here where I can be their friends now still) who took Loli when I needed to go to the temple or some other appointment.

I'm grateful to teachers and classmates who expressed concern.

I'm grateful to the people at my work, and my boss, who put up with me not always being the greatest employee, and who moved me (illegally, using work vans) into my new apartment, on work hours. Because they wanted to make sure I was OK. They made me feel very loved and supported.

I'm grateful to my (now cousin-in-law,) who convinced me it wasn't selfish or inappropriate of me to try attending the singles' ward, where I met my wonderful husband.

I'm grateful to lawyers and therapists who worked with me, I suspect, partly pro-bono.

I'm grateful to a bishop who advocated for me, even though I wasn't supposed to be attending the singles' ward, and whose grin kind of split his face open when he attended Jeff's and my post-sealing luncheon.

I'm grateful for whoever anonymously donated 1000 as a "scholarship" for me one semester, and enabled me, along with some help from my grandparents as well, to buy a vehicle to replace the one that had so many bad memories, and also not very good gas mileage, and was safer to drive.

I'm grateful to a former YW leader for her show of support and help.

I'm grateful for Elder Groberg too, who I am sure prayed for me. And who, I'm sure, wanted me to make the right choices.

I know I've missed lots and lots of you. Sorry about that. It's like numbering grains of sand. I know you're there. I'm grateful for the warmth and support I stood on, and continue to stand on.

I'm just grateful, is all, and Merry Christmas to everybody. Love you all.

Parts 1-5 of this post:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Dec 16, 2013

My Struggles With Priesthood Leaders and Mormon People Part IV

OK. I realized, reading all the comments and such, that I need to go ahead and finish this today. I just feel so self indulgent writing about it all and thought I should save it for another time & not expect people to spend hours today reading about me. But I think it's important. This is a thing that involves more than me, it involves my family, friends, a community, because of how publicized everything was and because of how hard it was on everyone who knew me and also Paul (who grew up in my stake.)

So Paul has moved on. He served 4 years, and married again, and had kids. From all I know, he's doing OK. And I'm glad. He wrote a letter during the cancellation of sealing process about how he was glad I'd found someone worthy to marry. He talked about how he knew I was a good person and was moving on and it was OK with him. I am grateful he did that, because I've heard of many circumstances where someone doesn't react that way. Clearly, the part of Paul that is Good really is there, and exists, and hopefully he is living a better, more peaceful, less addiction-burdened life and getting help for his struggles. Because I do love him, he was somebody very important to me and the father of my oldest child (who is, actually, in personality a lot like him.) (The guy I married before things went crazy.)

When I talked to the bishop, it was at a temple recommend interiview. I decided, with a lot of prayer, to approach it differently this time. Instead of saying, I have a problem. I really hate bishops (which didn't get very far with the bishop in Provo... perhaps understandably) I downloaded and printed the article (yeah. I'm already crying)Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse, by Richard G Scott. I read it a few times, then went through and underlined a couple of sentences in the talk. And when I went to see the bishop to renew my recommend, I just told him, I'm really struggling. And it's not because I don't like the church, and it's not because I don't have a testimony. And I handed him that talk and said that the sentences I'd underlined applied to me. He took it and kind of looked across at me and said, "Sarah, I think this is important. You'd better come back and see me. I'll read it, thank you for the article."

So a week passed. I was in a play in town. The Man of LaMancha. I was playing Aldonza and it was a tough experience for me because, in this town, everyone's in the ward, the stake etc. And here I was doing something also vulnerable for me (singing in front of people, and having to say an almost-bad word! They toned it down, but they left one word in. And I was so worried about what people would think of me.) I had my picture in the paper again. I think it triggered something.

That first experience by the river was the first "anxiety episdoe" or "breakdown" I'd had. I had another one the next week, after the play was done. I called up the bishop on the phone. I wasn't very coherent. Mostly crying. & feeling really stupid about it. But he had me come in and see him. And I sat there, across the desk from him, and told him everything that had happened to me. I hadn't told anyone the whole story except, I told part of it to the singles' ward bishop (kinda had to, to have him feel OK about me attending the ward) and I told Jeff of course. But I hadn't told any other bishop or person. Except when people would ask about Jeff's and my time married, and look at me funny because Loli's older, then I'd say something like, I was married before, it was difficult, he ended up in jail.

Anwyay, telling the whole story was cathartic. And strange. And immediately I realized I'd chosen the right person to talk to, because my bishop didn't overreact, and he didn't act all bothered and uncomfortable to see me be pretty emotional, and he was able to express how terrible it was (it was) without making me feel like a terrible person for piling it on him.

he also knew that he needed to keep helping me. I felt pretty abandoned by my first bishop. This bishop un-abandoned me. He met with me weekly, and occasionally we messaged on facebook. when I had further anxiety episodes, he talked to me without acting all weird about it. A person going through an episode of intense anxiety or depression is not fun to talk to--he was patient with me.

I realized pretty soon how much I loved this person. My bishop. And being able to trust him and talk about stuff I'd always been really afraid to talk about was helping. My biggest worry was not feeling stuff. I couldn't "turn on" my feelings anymore, because they had been kind of shocked or killed, it felt like, into nonexistence, except when they'd rise up in these geysers of catastrophe--anxiety or not-able-to-get-out-of-bed level depression. But as I talked to this bishop, and as we grew closer, I began to feel again. It frightened me, how I couldn't feel much for my husband or kids sometimes. I'd have brief, wonderful moments where love would well up inside and I'd feel it, but mostly I felt blank and tired. I was starting to be able to feel love for my husband and kids, little by little, kind of like ice cracking maybe. Ice Princesses are that way for a reason. I mean, before, I went through the motions--hugging little bodies, Hugging husband, asking how his day went, etc, but mostly I felt so blank. And I was unable to engage in conflict because it was too frightening to me. My relationship with Jeff was more like that of a kind parent and daughter, somewhat. I didn't meet him on his terms or challenge him, and I constantly felt like I was a dissappointment to him. Which is really sad because it wasn't true.

Bishop and I started talking about my childhood experiences and how they've fed into this. I talked about some things I've never been able to even fully realize in my head because they were too threatnening, like, what if I'm a bad person. What if I kind of brought on what happened to me. What if all those people who judged me were actually right. But in talking about childhood experiences (and he began sharing some of his, too) we quickly realized (bishop and I) that we have a whole lot in common. It was almost eerie. We began to feel related.

I was really kind of weirded out by this. I said a lot of prayers, because you're not supposed to get too innapropriately close to a bishop. I was starting to feel like he was my Dad. Which, if you're a psych major, which I was, brings up a whole slew concerns. But I prayed and got an answer, just like every other answer in my life, that I was supposed to trust it and let it happen. I was supposed to let this bishop help me, and talk to me, and be my Dad.

I have a great Dad. But he's in California. And he struggles with vulnerability. When everything happened with Paul, he couldn't talk about it to me. Or anyone, not even mom. He still doesn't talk about it. I had a bishop who didn't want to talk to me, and a Dad who couldn't.

When Jeff and I moved up here to where we live, we did so because the house and land were perfect. Exactly what we wanted. But I think Heavenly Father put us in this ward on purpose. I was supposed to meet this one family. I was supposed to let this one bishop become my Dad. And he has. It's kind of a miracle. I've cried with him, and talked to him, and become really good friends with him and trust him and am glad to have him. He's told his family that we're a part of the family. I love all of them. Even before I got to know Bishop/Dad, I had some random experiences going on walks with his wife and was drawn to her in a way I'm not usually drawn to people. And two of the daughters were the first people who came up to me and made friends after we moved in. There's something about those two girls, and me, that I felt like kind of clicked weirdly. We have the same kind of akwardnesses, the same kind of interests, and enjoy the same types of conversation... we all answer too many questions during sunday lessons....

yeah it was all getting a little bit strange. To the point where we were trying to figure out how we were related. Not *if* but *how.*

Dad started talking about this one ancestor of his. It came up because of the book I wrote (Lightning Tree) and the experience of my main character, who lost her family and then had her possessions taken and distributed. He had an ancestor this happened to, as an aftermath of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I was pretty interested in this. So he gave me some manuscripts to look over, and some books to study and I learned all about Olive Olivia Coombs and her tragedy. I was getting more and more intrigued about this person, partly because I was working on a sequel for Lightning Tree and her incident happened in the exact year i'd chosen, in a place I'd planned on having my character be at some point during the story. I asked him if he'd mind if I included her story in my book. He said he thought that would be all right with him.

I studied the story more in-depth, to get details and history right. I looked everywhere online and found some additional accounts that Dad/bishop didn't have, and passed them on to him. This is a really rare line to be related to, and so not a lot of stuff had been written about this ancestor. Dad said that he knew of only four descendants today with connection to the family. He'd been in correspondence with a man who was trying to do research about this, and the man had only found four other people with information to add.

I was starting to really bond with Olive and her children, Emily, Bella, Ella and Olive. Bella, the second oldest, was the one related to Dad--his great, great grandmother. (or great grandmother can't remember how many greats). I was feeling a whole lot for them--I felt connected to them.

One evening, we were talking about something. Dad brought up a hymn in the hymnbook that he said he found special, "As the Dew From Heaven Distilling." My ancestor, Theodore Curtis, wrote that hymn. I didn't tell him that, I just asked him, "why do you find that one special?" And he said it was because he had family connected to it--one of his ancestors had written it.

Theodore Curtis is both our ancestors. And even more amazing. Olivia Coombs, who I'd been reading about? She was Olivia Curtis Coombs. My great, great, great something aunt. This woman I'd been reading about this whole time. I was related to her. I later found out that one of the four people this man had been corresponding with, trying to get information about the Coombs incident, was my own Grandmother, Patricia Curtis. It was pretty amazing, and emotional for me. And I understood the counter-intuitive answers to prayer I'd gotten. This bishop, and this family, were my family. There is something special about being a Curtis. I've written about that before. There aren't very many of us around.

My journey with Bishop (and Dad) has done a lot of miraculous things for me. And for him. I didn't know that, at the time I'd given him a jab about his scary bishop tie, he was going through one of the worst times of his life. Lots of stuff was going on, and he was pretty stressed out. Knowing each other, finding a new relative, being friends and most of all, allowing him to help me, has helped him, too. Kind of like how it is in a family.

So thinking back on bishop experiences before, particularly the difficult time when all that happened with Paul, I feel kind of like Heavenly Father has slowly been inching me in the direction of St. Anthony all of my life. I have family here, and He knew it. And He wants me to heal, and so he brought me here where I could. Where I could be "un-abandoned." And let me tell you, if you want to be un-abandoned, someone like my bishop right now is the perfect person to do it. As my relationship with priesthood authority in my life has improved that way, it's improved other ways. Dad's a good example in how to exercise priesthood. He's taught me about asking for blessings. He's taught me to lean on Jeff and not feel guilty for not being independent, but that spouses are for that--leaning on each other. He's helped me step up and be a wife, which Jeff has needed me to be for a long time. I can talk to this family of mine about kid issues and parenting issues and realize, I'm not a bad mom, only a stressed one sometimes. And I've been able to feel more and more for my family as a result.

Priesthood is an important influence in our lives. I think that Heavenly Father blessed me for not giving up. Not all bishops are going to be the ones I (or others) identify with or understand or can communicate easily with, and because I went through something so difficult, it was very hard for me to deal with that. But the thing we don't do is give up and leave, because someday, somewhere, Heavenly Father will come through and help you find peace. If you keep working at it, you'll find it.

I am still pretty vulnerable and scared and worried. Especially when I feel like people judge me or talk about me (which probably they do a lot less than I worry about.) Having your stuff in the papers and having good people believe things about you that aren't true, is a hard thing to get over. But I recently read a quote from Elder Packer (which surprised me. Who knew Elder Packer went through something like this?):

"A few years ago I indulged on one occasion in some introspection and found there were reasons why I didn’t like myself very well. Foremost among them was the fact that I was suspicious of everyone. When I met someone, I had in mind this thought: “What’s his motive? What’s he going to try to do?” This came about because I had been badly manipulated, abused by someone I trusted. Cynicism and bitterness were growing within. I determined to change and made a decision that I would trust everyone. I have tried to follow that role since. If someone is not worthy of trust, it is his responsibility to show it—not mine to find it out."

-Elder Boyd K. Packer, 1977

Here's the link if you want to read the rest of it.

And so step one, for me, was talking about writing in young women. And step 2 (admittedly a pretty giant step) was writing this blog, which I know is read by not only old friends, writing friends, and family, but people in my ward and stake. Ward and stake, I want to get to know you. I'm pretty awkward in person at first sometimes, but I'll keep trying if you keep forgiving me for awkwardness. I really do love people and want to trust them.

Thank you for reading this, everyone who has. I know I'm not the only one who struggles with this stuff. I hope people who read this, who might be on the edge of giving up like I was, can keep going until something great happens. Or maybe if you want, come talk to me. Or give another bishop a chance. As Elder Oaks says, "you don't stop believing in the power of electricity because of a faulty electrical appliance." We are all faulty electrical appliances, but I think we're all mostly trying our best.

About six or so months after that initial meeting with my bishop, and after getting to know him and knowing he loves me and thinks of me like family, and knowing I feel the same, feeling the security of all that, I was called as Young Women president in my ward. I know, I KNOW I could never do this calling without that support, and without healing enough to also accept support from my husband, and also being capable of resolving other stressful issues, with my kids, with the complications of trying to be a leader and not blame myself when things aren't always easy. It's meant I've had to give up the two support groups I was going to *instead* of my ward--a writing group and a homeschooling group. Heavenly Father's working hard on turning my heart back to trusting the people I should trust.

I guess Heavenly Father really does know what he's doing. And I hope someday I can say I'm stronger for this whole experience.

Parts 1-5 of this post:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

My Struggles With Priesthood Leaders and Mormon People Part III

Things with the bishop got hard when I decided the right answer was to divorce Paul. At the time, I was attending the temple as often as I could (baby needing to be watched, etc.) I didn't have a whole lot of emotional support from the bishop (for whatever reason) and the fact that he seemed so wrapped up in Paul, and that the previous bishop never talked to me at all while my husband was going to him about severe depression (and possibly about pornography, I'm not sure if he ever confessed to that bishop or not) made me realize that in the spiritual scheme of things, it was me and Heavenly Father. Against the world, it seemed to me. My parents had found out and their reaction was the predictable one: get. away. now. Do not reconcile. Do not give him a second chance. He tried to kill you. My bishop was saying, don't listen to your mom, she's being protective and stressed, marriage is an eternal thing and your decision has to be based on spiritual confirmation. And Elder Groberg (our area 70 at the time... the guy who made that movie the Other Side of Heaven) gave the stake president a call and said I needed to "remember how serious eternal marriage is."

yeah, thanks guys. Really helpful... I never considered how serious eternal marriage is.

(sorry. bitterness=some remnants of sarcasm).

I felt like my priesthood leaders were talking at me, not to me. About me, not with me. I didn't feel supported, I felt observed, and like they were trying to guide me to a decision they'd already decided was the right one--that I stay with Paul. Which, at the time, was my full intention. I even told Paul, "if you can get clean of pornography, we can start dating again about 6 months after that. We can re-court, re-date, and get our relationship back on its feet." At the time, that was my plan.

And then one day I went to the temple, and got a different answer.

And then, I told my bishop, and he reacted in anger. He told me to pray again. That's when I lost trust in my bishop. I got a very clear, spiritual prompting that i needed to divorce Paul, not just for my own sake but for Loli's. That Paul's time with us needed to be over, and it was partly also for his benefit--he was not ready to be a husband and father. He was too broken. Being burdened by us would make it impossible for him to recover.

I had to ignore the counsel of my bishop and go with personal revelation.

I still feel a whole lot of cognitive, and spiritual pain, and confusion, and dissonance, about that decision. Aren't prieshtood leaders supposed to lead you right? Don't they know what you're supposed to do? Why did this bishop hate me so much? Why did he think of me as someone who didn't need help, and why did he sometimes treat me like *I* was the person who had caused all this? It seemed he did, at times. Like I was the one who had done something wrong. He avoided me, and was pretty cool/distanced when we talked, and didn't want to hear about how stressed I was.

Things with the ward went downhill, too. Someone reported me to child protective services. Who knows why. They came in, looked around, and never came back. Thank goodness. My home teachers were supportive (they and their wives came over periodically), but guarded. But as supportive as anyone could be. People watched loli when I needed it. ONe family took on childcare (the first I ever had for Loli) and it was a good, gentle experience to transition me to what I'd have to do for the next two years--let someone else be mom to my baby.

But it was hard. And when I decided to pursue divorce and termination of parental rights--both things I felt strong spiritual confirmations I needed to do-- bishop was basically done with me. He got angry enough to throw a book down on the desk and say "we're done here."

I plugged away on my own. A friend at work suggested a lawyer--her Dad was a district court judge in Central Utah and had heard about my case and suggested an attorney he knew would be able to make sure Loli and I were safe from Paul. It worked out.

But it ruined me for bishops.

I moved away into another ward. An incident there didn't help--I was working in the nursery, and an older girl was coming in to volunteer. Young women age. I asked the Primary president what I should do--shouldn't she be going to Young Women? And the primary president informed me that the girl had been kicked out of her school for sexually assaulting another student. This girl was in the *nursery*. What do you do in that situation? Hesitantly, I approached my bishop about it. His response was to get very angry that the Primary President would tell me such a thing. And the next month, this weird guy who'd been kind of following me around in the halls, who had a wife and three kids, approached me at Stake Conference and told me his wife had left him.

Why are you telling me? I didn't ask the question. Instead I said, "have you talked to the bishop about it?"

He said, "no. Do you think I should?"

My response was to walk away. And out of the ward. That's when I switched to the singles' ward, where I met Jeff. that bishop was wonderful, but I didn't trust him. And the stake president found out I was going and said it was against church policy because I had a child. The one thing that stopped me from being put out of that ward was the fact that Jeff and I were "almost engaged" and so the stake president softened and let me stay. And it was through him and that bishop that my request for a sealing cancellation was processed. So they were nice men. Probably good priesthood holders. But I never felt like they were on my side. They were worried about the influence I'd have on all the pure, single young men and women in that ward. Because of what I'd gone through, I was a liability. That's what I felt my leaders were telling me.

New ward, new bishop. I was in the relief society presidency this time, in the ward above the Stadium where Truman Madsen taught Sunday School, Susan Easton Black was YW president, and Charlotte England was a relief society worker. Wonderful, huge ward. 101% activity because even the non-member in the neighborhood (she was catholic) attended regularly. Huge relief society--90 or so women, about a third of them home-bound because of age.

That bishop was young, and he didn't listen to the relief society president. He once asked me for some input about a certain tragic situation in the ward (instead of the Relief Society president). I felt weird that he would circumvent her and talk to me, but I told him what I thought might help, and he sounded upset and hung up on me.

I think at that point I was done with bishops, and wards. For the next 6 years, I just kept to myself. I disliked bishops at this point. Sometimes I'd see them up on the stand and this hurt would just well up inside me. I tried again, just before we left Provo--I went to our bishop, because his wife was my friend, sort of. She was the YW president while I was beehive advisor. But he just told me that my feelings toward preisthood leaders were uncharitable and I needed to learn to be charitable.

We moved to Rexburg. That bishop was the militaristic, controlling type. I hated him on sight, even though I'm not that kind of person. I don't hate people. I felt so much anger when I was around him, I think my hands literally shook. I tried, hard to overcome those feelings. I knew he was a fly-fisherman, and i wanted to learn how and also learn how to tie flies. I was going to try to take a class at BYU-I but it didn't work out. But when he signed my endorsement and asked what I was taking and I told him, he said, "I have all the equipment. Don't go out and buy stuff. Just come by and I'll help you out." I was glad... this was an opportunity to get to know him and maybe not hate him so much. So one day I called him and asked, "do you know of any place that give lessons in fly fishing and fly tying?" And he practically hung up on me. I don't know if he was busy, or what.

And then I moved to where I am now. You know, completely messed up at this point. I actively disliked the bishop as soon as I saw him. I remember trying, a little. At the Trunk or Treat a couple months after we moved in, he was standing with his wife in front of his trunk. He was wearing a tie with something halloween-y on it. I remember walking up to her (I was sort of friends with her) and saying hi, then looking up at him and saying, "and what are you supposed to be? A scary bishop?" I don't think it came out sounding like a joke.

I remember being called in as a ward choir director and just feeling really, really uncomfortable in that room with him, but also feeling something else... this desperate desire to not feel that way. To connect and be like, "you're OK, right? You're nice? I need help." But I just couldn't get the words out.

Then one day it all blew up inside me. I was trying to be set apart for my calling as Relief Society teacher. I'd actually not even been set apart yet as Ward Choir director because I didn't want to be going around asking to be, like I was asking for unwanted attention from priesthood leaders. But this was different. I *needed* to be set apart. This was the calling I'd had when I was married to Paul. I needed help.

I went to the bishop and asked if I could be set apart. His immediate reply was "talk to Brother (second counselor)." And turned away. I know him well enough now to know he didn't mean it as a rejection, but I felt rejected, and like I'd been attention seeking.

After church I waited. I knew the second counselor was setting someone apart, so I waited outside the room. One of the ward members, the second counselor, and a woman walked out. They were in a hurry, walking past me. I said "Hey... I need to get set apart." And the man (not the second counselor's) response was to turn to me and say, kind of angrily "go get Jeff."

I'd sent Jeff home with the kids. I'd assumed there'd be someone there to help out. Clearly, this guy didn't want to. Clearly, the thought of placing his hands upon my head was repugnant. Clearly, I was asking too much. Clearly...

I seriously almost screamed at him, across the foyer.

Instead I walked out, walked to the river, sat for hours, and thought about how it would be nice not to be alive.

Eventually I went home to an upset husband, upset baby, upset kids. When mom's gone a long time with no explanation, life falls apart. And that's how I knew I needed help. There was no other way for it. I needed to brave the bishop gauntlet again.

And that's it for now. What comes next is painful, and wonderful and hard. But I'm not up for writing about it right now, so. Sorry to leave you on that sad note, folks.

I have had so many people I know talk about their distrust of priesthood leaders because of pain they go through. I guess, reading this, a lot of you will identify. I want all of you to know that it can get better. Ok, that's a better note to leave this on.

off to make some lunch for the kids.

Parts 1-5 of this post:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

My Struggles With Priesthood Leaders and Mormon People Part II

So, some things. Those articles are people speculating on my life & what happened, and used a lot of statements from the police department, who had Paul's statement as their primary source. Also from others, probably, but I don't want to speculate on that. Two things that were very hard about it was 1) it was a lie that I didn't support Paul's lifestyle. I probably wouldn't have supported it if I'd actually known about it, but I didn't know about it. He didn't give me a chance to support or not support him. He just tried to kill me. His statement that he wanted to kill me because I wouldn't let him look at porn, or because he wanted a divorce and I wouldn't let him, were *lies.* But I didn't talk to anyone about that because it was none of their freaking business. But it felt awful to have so many people say things about how I must be frigid, or unnattractive, or a prude, when really the battle I was facing at the time was a husband who hid everything from me, and didn't tell me why he was acting crazy & like he hated me.

The second thing is that people believe what they read in newspapers.

The sad thing is, I would have been OK with depression, porn addiction (not OK, but supportive and wanting to make sure he knew I loved him and was glad he was *finally* sharing with me.) I wasn't what people were making me out to be, and Paul wasn't either. People sympathised with him.

Including my bishop.

Paul and I had started counseling with a bishop about a month before. Paul was upset, uncooperative, and just disgusted and angry. He was mad because when I finally went to the bishop, the bishop accidentally let slip that he'd been counseling extensively with Paul, and that Paul had been seeing a counselor at school as well, and was taking depression medication. Thigns I didn't know. I was upset and confused as to why he wouldn't tell me about those things, of course. When I asked him, after speaking with the bishop, his reaction was violent anger that the bishop would tell me, that it wasn't my business, and that he didn't trust the bishop now and refused to see him with me.

We got a new bishop shortly after. I'm not sure what the previous bishop had told him about what was going on between us, but the first time he saw us it was in our home, and Paul just sat there, angry, quiet, refusing to speak or answer any question. I got frustrated. I remember gesticulating (probably wildly) and exclaiming "See! I don't know what to do! This is the way it is right now!"

And immediately the bishop turned to me and said (in a very stern/angry tone) "you will not talk that way in these sessions."

So I shut up.

And Paul left a week later.

And a piece of me (the angry piece, who was feeling so betrayed by the fact that my husband had kept things from me, didn't trust me, and that the bishop he was counseling with for months hadn't seen fit to include me, and the new bishop obviously thought *I* was what was wrong with our marriage) felt a bit vindicated. In the middle of all the shock and not knowing what to do.

When Paul came back and confessed, the bishop spent a lot of time with him. He had people in the ward sit with him around the clock because he was worried about what Paul might do to himself. And to keep him from "temptation" looking at porn. I was staying in the bishop's basement at the time. It was a little wierd, yeah. But at that point I was kind of operating on a combination of shock and autopilot and I knew I *couldn't* stay with Paul at our apartment... I felt instinctively that it wasn't the right option, that I needed to stay away.

Problem was, it was an awkward situation. I was staying in the basement of my bishop's house, and his wife and kids were there all the time (age 11 on down, kind of like my family right now) and I was completely out of my mind. Not like, doing bad stuff. LIke, scary-blank. Frozen, and stressed out. Trying to manage even small things like getting my baby to eat, exhausted me. I couldn't handle anything. My post the other day about poor judgment? Yeah, I had poor judgment. And it probably wasn't fun to be around. I think I ate about 20 pumpkin cookies one day, that my wonderful bishop's wife had made. OK, she said it was OK to have some, but she didn't mean eat 20. It was like... I was a heat-seeking missile for comfort, or something. I remember trying to make a sandwich, struggling to cut a slice off a tomato with a butterknife, and the bishop watching me for a second, then getting a serated knife out of the drawer and handing it to me silently.

The thing is, the bishop talked to me on occasion. I probably also wasn't fun to talk to. Is someone in a half-catatonic state fun or productive to talk to? You can ask my current bishop, my Ida-Dad that question, and he'd have some pretty honest answers probably.

But I needed so much more. I was frightened, and numb, and I didn't know what to do. My milk dried up and Loli was refusing to eat solids. She went on formula and was struggling with constipation. She was losing weight. I was walking around work and school like a zombie. I was not acting normal. I was getting the grades, and doing the work, but I was probably really weird to people. And it didn't help that my face was in newspapers and I'd hear whispers behind me in class about "is she that girl?" Finally one person came and sat next to me and said, basically, "I'm sorry what you're going through. That sucks." She and I became kind of buds in that class. Because she talked to me, not about me. But most people talked about me.

Bishop didn't know what to do with me, I think. And he was soooo stressed out, trying to figure out how to help Paul. It didn't help that *he* was also being hounded by press, quoted in newspapers, and also being contacted by Church Headquarters about what he should or shouldn't be doing, should or should not be saying... it was a giant, complicated mess. I couldn't talk much out of respect for Paul and the disciplinary process he was going through in church. I don't know how many people are aware of this but those disciplinary things are kept extremely confidential. Nobody's supposed to talk about it, even if *they're* the one going though it. In Mormon culture it's considered sacred. I know leaders fast before. And I know that Jeff has been in them as ward clerk, but he has never told me even when one was happening... I just kinda knew because of when he was gone.

Anyway. I remember clinging to bishop like a lifeline a bit. I wasn't talking to my parents yet. I couldn't. I knew what their reaction would be and I needed some spiritual grounding first. But bishop didn't seem all that willing to talk to me. Probably it was combination of stress, me being in his home, and him struggling for whatever reason in dealing with Paul. I have a feeling Paul lied a lot to him, even in the aftermath of confession. He lied about some things right off the bat, with the police, he probably lied more. And he's a convincing lier, not in the least because he's actually, part of him, a really good person. I wouldn't call him evil, I'd call him mentally ill.

Bishop would avoid me, go places and read instead of talking to me for 15 or so minutes when he got home. And I would sit in the living room and rock my baby, trying to nurse under a blanket but getting nowhere except extremely stressed out.

The stake president eventually told him I should not be staying with them. That I needed to go back to the apartment with Paul. I said I didn't feel safe. The stake president's response was that I needed to go to a Women's shelter if I didn't feel safe.

That made me feel very, very, very alone. Is that where I was? I had no friends, nobody I could count on, and so in the midst of my crisis, the place I belonged, with my baby, was a women's shelter. A crisis center for women and children with no support.

It was just after that when Paul confessed to the worse stuff--trying to kill me--and the police came and picked him up, so the problem was solved anyway. I moved back into our apartment. I talked to the bishop weekly. He'd say, "how are things going." I'd say "fine." I can't even really remember how those conversations went, I just remember not feeling like I could really tell him how I was feeling, which was scared and completely stressed out. He praised me for being so strong.

Ward members who I didn't know too well before all this happened rallied around me and helped. They were nice, but I didn't know what they were thinking. One ward member I became closer to, and had some close talks with. And then, one day when I was talking to her about how worried I was about Loli--how she wasn't eating, and was making herself throw up what she did eat--she (this really nice, really Christlike person) gave me a look and said "I wonder where she learned that."

Yeah, I have never in my life had an eating disorder. But I was getting skinny. I was stressed. And I learned, in that moment (and in other moments, but I don't need to run off a list of grievances) that even the nicest people in the world, when bombarded with a message about a person, will start to believe that message. Sometimes people have to believe a certain message because believing the truth is too threatening. If I didn't do something to cause this, then couldn't it happen to anyone? Couldn't it happen to them?

Well, yeah. It could. It happened to me.

I think this has to be a 3-part post.

Parts 1-5 of this post:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

My Struggles With Priesthood Leaders and Mormon People Part I

I didn't used to write such a high volume very personal posts. The reason I am lately is, I think, because I'm finally addressing issues and they just spill out over me and right now, I need to write about them.

Yesterday the YW leaders were asked to talk about a talent they have & how it blesses the lives of others. I was going over in my head all the things I could possibly talk about--I was going to bring a guitar. I was going to bring MayMay, with her new hairstyle. & then I realized I was being a cop-out. One of the things I'm struggling with, working really hard on, is getting to know and trust my ward. I had a very difficult experience about 11 years ago, and it wasn't my ward's fault necessarily. It was a lot of things coming together in one spectacular and unusual explosion. But I've never worked through those feelings I have as a result--lack of trust about ward members, lack of trust for priesthood holders.

Yesterday, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and talk about something that means a whole lot to me & is related to some struggles I have as well. I didn't take the "Safe" route, I took the "real" route, in front of the Young Women, and the leaders I work with. And I was pretty weepy all day, up until the sharing, and pretty weepy afterward. Part of that might be pregnancy hormones. But I've realized, lately. I cry when I feel really vulnerable. I'm not a crier. Jeff says he can count the number of times I've cried in front of him on one hand. Or could, until about a year ago. Now we're probably talking fingers and toes.

I feel, in the aftermath (and this is a post that's been coming for a while, probably) a need to talk about what I went through eleven years ago with my ward, with my priesthood leaders.

OK, so lately especially, I have been feeling pretty worried about this blog. Why do I write here. Why do I post here? And then, after that, why do I tweet these posts? My biggest fear is that I'm doing it just to get attention.

But then I thought about that. And I realized, if it was attention I really wanted, I have much better ways of getting attention. Over the years I've had people from talk shows call (and even offer to pay) me to talk about what happened to me. The idea makes me sick. And if I wanted I could probably write a book about my experiences and I'd probably sell a whole lot more copies of that than any book I ever have or ever will write. I got plenty of attention--more than any girl could ever want or ask for--when the press was hounding me and following me and calling me every five minutes on the phone for days after Paul confessed, and then periodically kept showing up on my doorstep for months. I never spoke to them. Well, I accidentally spoke to them twice when I was caught off guard... like a sentence each time. And they would follow me into the courtroom when I went to testify, and lean back over the bench and ask if I had a statement, and when I said no, they'd take a picutre of my face and put it in the Daily Universe.

Maybe part of the reason I'm writing about this now is I feel like my privacy was violated and my life was taken and portrayed without my control, and I felt really powerless and awful about it, and people assumed things about me (not just a few people, a whole university full, a whole town full, a whole state full) and I feel a bit like taking that stuff back into my hands and feeling in control again.

Maybe it's because I just need to write this out, and writing to myself, vs writing to an audience (a small, intimate audience, of people that mostly I know and maybe only a few random strangers) makes all the difference as to how I'm able to write. With more clarity, and more purpose. I don't know.

So while I'm at it, I'm going to put a bunch of links here. So people who read this can understand. This is what I went through, 11 years ago.







People are probably like, um, Sarah. You just totally re-did what all those stupid papers did to you. But the thing is, I don't think people, or even me, can understand the scope of what it's like unless they know. I mean, to have your personal life blasted all over the newspapers, the internet, the TV. Fox News is one of those who conned me into a 1-sentence comment, on the phone. And it's likely that even went as far as Idaho, where I live now, but luckily here, nobody really remembers my story. Me talking about it, that's me. Right now I'm talking about how it felt, to have all this happen.

Parts 1-5 of this post:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Dec 7, 2013

Stress & Judgment

Before I begin this post I'm going to just say that I've recently become aware that some of the members of my ward/stake read this blog. That has never happened to me before; for eight years this has been a blog that has had few visitors, and almost none that I knew in real life. My family, for instance, never read my blog for the first five or so years I wrote it. So I got used to using this as a space to air feelings, to explore them without worrying about others' judgment or concern. Now that I *know* people read this blog, I'm still going to do this, but I'll be working hard on making sure I don't write too much about people around me, stuff around me, and if I do, that it can't be misinterpreted as directed at someone in particular. I had a sad incident like that this week :/ I never want people to feel that I use this space as a way to be vindictive or to spread stuff around. I'm not that kind of person.

OK. Disclaimer over with.

Today I drove 40 minutes to get groceries. Chumba and Loli were with me. We got through one store all right, then the second. Then when I tried to start our little Honda Civic, I realized I'd killed the battery, because I'd left the headlights on the whole time we were in the store.

I hate moments like that. You're sitting there, forehead resting on the steering wheel, trunk full of groceries, 40 minutes from home. & you know the next move is to step out of the car in the driving snow and ask the guys who just pulled up in their giant pickup who don't speak a lot of English if they can help you jumpstart your car. I'm pretty independent. And I hate talking to strangers. And in stressful circumstances, I tend to make poor, impulsive choices. Either that or I shut down entirely and don't even realize I'm making choices... exceedingly poor ones.

I have gotten into these states at times where I'm so completely stressed out, it's like I'm in another world. My physical body may be in this one, but the world's just sort of blurring by and I'm just shut inside my own fear/worries/or even blankness, because that's what happens when things get really bad--it's like I'm a brain who thinks, but not a body who feels or really exists in the real world. Do you know what I'm talking about?

I had a flashback today as I was driving home--thinking of the time just after everything happened with my first husband. Loli was about a year old, and I was 22. My life at that time was go to work, go to church, pick up kid, try to make stuff happen at home. I was, I think for about six months, a body-less brain. My movements were sluggish and clumsy. I broke stuff. I forgot stuff. I made stupid mistakes, like the time I drove the dodge pointiac up to Squaw Peak (the lookout over Provo) because that's where my car wanted to go and there were hymns playing and they were making me feel good and I just wanted to see the sunset and the city from above but I didn't notice the oil was completely empty and I didn't even notice how badly the engine was smoking until somebody in the same parking lot up at Squaw Peak came and banged on my window and told me I broke my car.

That resulted in some serious, long-lasting damage to a vehicle I couldn't do without. It cost several hundreds of dollars to fix, and later, continue to fix.

There was the time I was going to therapy and after I sat for an hour on that couch, watching Loli and kind of talking and sort of listening but not feeling, I walked back out to my car with the baby carrier over my arm (Loli was too big for it, she needed a real carseat, but I wasn't aware of details like that at the time) and then stared through the driver's-side window at the keys hanging from the ignition.

All doors locked. Windows closed.

I was already in a state of blankness. I didn't feel. I just walked myself back into that office, knocked on the door (she was with another client) and said, "I locked my keys in my car." As if she was supposed to tell me what to do.

She kind of stared back at me for a minute. Like, you're an adult. Why are you asking me?

"Well, honey, you can try calling the police. Use the phone right there." She gave a kindly nod in the direction of the phone on the desk in the lobby.

I did. The dispatcher asked if my child was *in* the car, I said no. The dispatcher informed me that what I needed was a tow truck.

I thumbed through the phone book. It took me a while to find where I'd find a tow truck. I didn't bother to compare prices--too much thinking. The first guy I called came and opened my door, handed me my keys and then asked for 45 dollars. I remember driving home in the snow in a state of numbness, feeling utterly useless and helpless.

I drive really poorly when I'm under a lot of stress. Paul drove us everywhere when we were married. When he fell out of the picture it was back to me again. I'd never really driven in congested traffic; where I grew up and learned how to drive was mostly rural roads. NOt a lot of stop-and-go-city-driving.

I remember feeling petrified. That was a feeling I felt, in spite of brain-disconnectedness. I remember being honked at a lot. I remember driving into intersections to take a left turn & then panicking because I wasn't sure when I was supposed to turn, and being flipped off.

It is really hard to walk around with your brain disconnected. It was even harder to drive.

Just this last year, something really stressful happened. Immediately afterward I was driving in town at about 9:00 at night. I was completely dead to the world. I was not thinking or feeling. I was completely doped up on whatever fight-or-flight stress hormones turn you into a zombie who is just doing things out of habit, and not doing them very emphatically or intentionally. I didn't realize until a cop pulled me over (and it took me a while to notice the cop, too) that i'd been driving 20 mph in a 45 mph zone, and I'd run two stops. One of them a stoplight.

Stress, guys. It's serious business. I was basically driving under the heavy influence of the drugs of my own hormones.

It's tough, being in that state. I guess one would call it fight-or-flight. I never went to war, but I can understand how people come home so troubled.

The thing is, after going through some recovery, I can now identify when I am feeling that way, and *not* drive. (Or more often, stop driving because when I realize I'm driving badly I'm already driving.) Sometimes, with that awareness I have now, I can force myself out of my brain stem and back into the real world until I get somewhere.

I wonder. How many people that we see walking around making poor decisions are doing so because of their state of extreme stress?

It makes me wonder about the poor, specifically. People call them lazy. They say stuff about them not being willing to work, or not being intelligent, or not having ambition. The thing is, in an extreme state of stress, you're not thinking very much at all. You're just... there. Sort of.

And Maslow's Hierarchy of needs theory thing points out that, when we're missing the basics (safety, security) we turn to the basics as well--food, shelter. We just don't think. We react with our brainstems.

I think, when one gets into that stressed-out-state, sometimes the world seems to narrow and become cold and accusing. YOu're trying... or, not really trying, you're existing. And people are upset at you for existing, because you're making life inconvenient for them, or annoying them, with your poor choices.

Know what the answer has been for me?


Some kind attention or piece of service.

I can't tell you how much it helped to have a friend come over that one day, just after Paul had run off, and mop my kitchen floor, while I sat, staring blankly at her, sitting in a kitchen chair, not even thinking "I ought to get up and help her. I ought to clean something. Here she is, just cleaning my floor, and here I am doing nothing." Thoughts like that just don't cross your mind in that state. But she didn't mind, or accuse, or judge me at all. She cleaned my floor and then was my friend. And with the warmth of that friendship, I was able to get a bit of inertia going and try to take my life back in my hands. I called people. I made sure my baby was OK.

I guess the real message of this kind of rambling post is, don't judge-- serve. Always. You never know what sort of burden somebody is operating under. If you see they're struggling to do something, the thing to do is step in and help. Not make life harder by accusing, punishing, or talking about their ineffectiveness to others.

I think that, if we're living full lives, we're all under stress. Every single one of us. I doubt that the guy who cut you off in the road really meant it as a personal slight--he's just under some stress. In most cases, he didn't mean to do it. Does leaning on your horn help? Does it do something for you to get angry about it? Because if not, I have a better idea--maybe think about the times in your life you wished someone had sympathized with you instead of judged you (we've all had those times) and allow your heart to soften. Allow yourself to realize that person is someone just like you. And give them an opportunity to be loved and forgiven by you.

I was really grateful to the guys who helped me jumpstart my car today. Without them, my day would have turned out pretty miserable. I hope we are all ready with jumper-cables to restart people's hearts and feelings, to reach out to them in times of stress and bring them back to the reality of a world full of goodness, kindness, and warmth.

Dec 5, 2013

Essentials for Ethiopian cooking (in America)

A friend of mine (and reader and commenter on this blog) suggested I write a post (to go along with my post about how to make Niter Kibbeh) about what you need to have on hand for Ethiopian cooking. I am also going to give a simple runthrough on how to make Doro Wat (a favorite dish of Ethiopians) and easy, americanized injera, and the more authentic, lengthy, but stil-not-hard version of injera as well.

So, what you should have lying around if you want to cook Ethiopian food:

1) red onions. Lots of them. Like, a dozen. I'm not kidding.
2) fresh ginger
3) fresh garlic
4) Berebere Spice. You can get this at an african market (if you have one locally) or you can buy it on for a very reasonable price.
5) Paprika. Large quantities, not those tiny spice jars. We buy bulk at Winco--it's just fine.
6) Garam Masala spice. OK, this is my shortcut. They *say* to use things like cinnamom, cardamom, tumreric etc but all those spices exist in Garam Masala and I've found if I use a corresponding amount of Garam Masala to cover the amounts of all these separate spices listed in many authentic recipes, it works pretty well.
7) ground Cardamom. In some recipes this is called by the ethiopian name "Korerima."
8) oil, or if you're really doing it right, Niter Kibbeh. Which you can easily make. It's not hard, it just takes time to melt on the stove.
9) if you can, you should have teff flour. If you want you can get the teff grain (find in any grocery store with the specialized flours) and use a coffee grinder or blender or flour mill to grind it to flour. But if you don't have teff flour, substitute buckwheat flour.

Doro Wat (chicken stew):

8 red onions, diced up tiny. I use a food processor.
1 cup Niter Kibbeh.

Simmer these together until the onions are nice and soft. Add:

1/2 cup berebere (you can vary the amount if you are serving people who aren't used to spicy foods. I'd start with maybe 1/4 cup or even 1/8 cup if you're really worried, and move up from there.)
1/4 cup paprika

Stir in & let these spices cook with the onions for a couple of minutes.

add: 2-3 cups water (so onions don't stick as they continue to cook down & soften)
a couple tablespoons of Garam Masala
a tablespoon of Cardamom

and 1 whole chicken (gutted and cleaned of course). I found that putting the whole chicken in the pot to simmer with the berebere-onion stew gives the dish a much rounder, better flavor. Having the marrow leach into the stew from the bones, etc.

Usually after letting it simmer for an hour or so i'll take the chicken out and divest the bones of meat, make sure it's torn into small, cooked chunks and put the meat back into the stew to cook until it's dinner time. I like to let this dish cook several hours. the longer, the better--the more the spices and onions and chicken and everything all seem to combine and be perfect.

Easy (quick) Injera:

3 cups self-rising flour (if you don't have it, you can make it with 3 cups flour, 1 Tb baking powder and 1/2 Tb salt.)
1 cup teff flour (or buckwheat flour, or whole wheat flour)
1 cup corn flour (I've used Masa flour, the stuff you make corn tortillas out of.)
1 2-liter bottle of Club soda.

mix dry ingredients together, then add a little bit of club soda until the flour mix turns into a paste. Then add more and more club soda carefully in icrements (so you don't get lumps) until you have batter the consistency of thin pancake batter.

Get a frying pan (any size) and pour a little bit of oil in the bottom. Take a cloth and wipe the oil all over so it's in a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Pour 1/4-1/3 cup of the batter in the pan, pick the pan up and move it from side to side until the batter spreads out and is thin (maybe 1/8 inch on the bottom of the pan). Set the pan on the burner at medium heat and cook it for 1 minute, or until bubbles are showing in the middle. Then take a saucepan cover and put it over the dough circle, tightly so the injera can steam. Cook this for two more minutes.

You don't turn over injera, you just take it off the pan with 1 side cooked and 1 side steamed, and stack it on a plate, putting a cloth over the stack so that the injeras can steam further and grow soft and stretchy like we like them.

More Authentic Injera:

3/4 cup water, room temp. (70 degrees)
1/2 cup teff flour
A pinch active yeast (about 1/8 tsp)

Day 1: mix those in a glass jar. do not use metal implements to stir as it will kill the starter. cover it loosely (I usually just take a cloth, put it over the jar, then set a jar ring on top to keep it from falling off) and put it in a neglected corner of your kitchen.

Day 3: stir starter (with something not-metal) and add 1/3 cup teff flour and 1/2 cup water.

Day 5: repeat the above.

on day 5, you can use the starter, but you won't have any leftover for a continuous starter process; you'll use it up. If you want some leftover, continue and do the same thing on day 7.

on the day you use the starter, allow it to settle for at least 4 hours after stirring/feeding, before you use it to cook. Then the recipe goes:

2 cups teff starter
2 cups self-rising flour
room-temp water.

Stir these together, adding the water carefully so the dough doesn't form lumps, until it's about thin-pancake batter consistency. You need to let this sit for a further four hours at least before you cook it.

Follow the same instructions as above, in the easy recipe, to cook it.

And that, my friends, is how we make Ethiopian food. But don't forget hardboiled eggs. Lots and lots of hardboiled eggs to go with the Doro Wat & Injera make it an extra delicious experience.

AND. if you want to try some more recipes (Which I haven't done yet... too chicken or too busy or too something I guess) go here: .

That is also where I've found the best prices for Ethiopian spices. And that includes the African Markets I've been to, though if you live in a big, diverse city you might be able to find better deals than are available to me.