Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dear Mom, I've become a vegetarian.

Dear Mom,

So.  Vegetarianism.  Remember when I kind of tried that out a couple of years ago?  I can't remember if you were around for that. Anyway, I decided last week that I'm gonna take the plunge and commit to doing it.  It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and based on what I've read and what I believe, it just makes sense to me.  I actually think I might be trending vegan, but I don't know that I'm ready to jump into that full-tilt.

This probably isn't a surprise to you.  After all, I wash my hair with baking soda, live a somewhat minimalist lifestyle, sleep in a hammock, try to buy eco-friendly products, and want to live in a tiny house.

Here's what it comes down to for me.  I believe in God.  And I believe that God probably isn't too pleased with our approach to animals as food.  Because I believe he wants us to be good stewards.  And we're not. That's not to say I'm against eating animals, just that our current system of making that happen is kind of messed up (Did you know it takes 50 times as many resources to grow a pound of beef as a pound of plants? 50!) so I will make the decision not to participate in that system so far as I can.

I did accidentally order a beef taco at Taco Bell yesterday - all it said on the menu was "Cheesy potato taco," so I thought I was safe - but I didn't realize it was beef until I took I bite. I could have taken it in and exchanged it like a good vegetarian, but part of my whole rationale for being vegetarian is the wasteful aspect of the food system.  So, I ate the burrito because I figured if I took it in, they'd just throw it away, and that sort of negates the whole reason for doing it in the first place.  Ya know?

So. That's where I'm at.  And though I can no longer eat your chicken enchiladas - not that I have recently anyway... - family chip dip is still on the table.  Luckily.

Love you,

Greg

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Dear Mom, thanks.

Dear Mom,

I went to an acting workshop yesterday.  Well, it was really more of an acting lecture, but all the same, I enjoyed it.  The speaker took us through a visualization exercise that I found rather impactful given my current life situation.  It went something like this:

Picture yourself as a small child.  Back when you were young, and vulnerable and full of hope and youthful joy. This is your inner child. Now take yourself by the hand.  Look up and standing in front of you are your parents, smiling peacefully. And you say to them, "Mom, Dad, thank you for raising me the way you did.  Thank you for teaching me and guiding me and loving me.  And I forgive you for the mistakes you made.  They weren't your fault.  After all, you're a product of your own upbringing.  But now it's time for me to take over.  I can no longer live my life for you."  Your parents smile, and wave goodbye. You turn and start to walk away.  You keep walking until your parents are gone and it's just you and your inner child.  He looks up at you perhaps a tad confused or scared, but you lean down, gather him in your arms and say, "It's okay.  I've got you now.  You are safe, and I love you.  I'm here with you now, and I always will be."  Then you put that child into your heart.  Once inside, you flip on the lights and your heart is a place of light and warmth and creativity where you and your inner child can play and explore and create together.

Well, that about broke me. I had tears streaming down my face. I think that actually probably has more to do with my relationship with Dad than with you.  But maybe it doesn't.  I guess Dad just seems more...here?  Which sounds obvious, but I think you know what I mean.

Anyway, I guess what I want to say with all of this is...thanks. And I forgive you.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta go. This chubby cheeked little piece of heaven and I have some catching up to do.



Love you,

Greg

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Dear Mom, it's been a minute.

Dear Mom,

Remember when I had that crazy idea to write you letters to keep you updated on how my life was going, and then I only wrote one?  I remember that, too.

Well, I've been doing a lot of thinking recently and partly out of my own wish for yet another creative outlet, and partly at the encouragement of my roommate (You remember my friend Farrah, don't you?  We went to the roller derby together? She thought you and Dad would look like little gnome people for some reason...anyway, I ended up moving in with her.  It's a pretty great situation. You'd love her couches.), I want to start writing some more.  And my last letter to you was the last thing I published on my blog here, so I thought it might be fun to pick it back up again.  I don't think all of my blog posts will be specifically for you, but feel free to read them all anyway.

Anyway, I think I'm going to try being vegan for a minute.  But before that happens I want to use up all of the non-vegan food currently in my fridge/freezer (I'm also trying to be more conscious of food waste), so I'm gonna go have a nice, buttery chocolate chip cookie.  I'll have one for you, too.

Love you,

Greg

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dear Mom, I got this idea from a podcast.

Dear Mom,

I was listening to a podcast this week called Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids.  I don't think you would have been much of a podcast listener, but you sometimes surprised me, so I won't assume.  Anyway, one of the grownups read a series of letters she had written to a fictional friend who had died.  They were sweet, and funny, and tender, and sad.  And I thought, "I should do that!" And as with most of my brilliant ideas, I gave it a couple of days to see if it was really something I thought I should do.  I still like the idea, so I want to start writing you letters.

This is not some sad, pathetic attempt to stay connected to you.  I know you're gone and won't be coming back.  I'm pretty level-headed like that.  Besides, I have pictures, and memories, and that quilt you made me that never fails to receive compliments whenever I bring it out, and that one olive green Tupperware from the 70s that I am keeping until it literally disintegrates to help me stay connected to you. But I kind of like the idea that maybe I can just write to you and keep you updated on my life.  Plus I think this will be an interesting way for me to work through some things.  To get some thoughts down on paper, as it were, and grapple with this messy, complicated, exciting, stressful life that I seem to have ended up with.

Anyway, I'm meeting some friends to see some free Shakespeare, so I gotta go.

Love and miss you.  I'll write again soon.

Greg

Monday, April 6, 2015

What I learned when my mom died: Part 2

People, and I think Mormons in particular, respond to the news of death in two primary ways: service, and food.  Not necessarily in that order.  In the days following my mom's death, it became borderline comical how many people said to me and those in my family something along the lines of, "Let me know if there's anything at all I can do."  I almost kept a tally.  That isn't to say I didn't appreciate the sentiment - I very much did - it's just that everyone said it.

There are several articles making the rounds on the internet about what to say and not to say to someone who has lost a loved one.  "Let me know if I can help," is often on the "what not to say" list.  I didn't mind it so much.  It's people's way of processing sensitive, unexpected, devastating information and expressing solidarity with those closest to the center.  However, I do like the idea of rather than saying, "How can I help?" just finding a way to help.  It's true that someone grieving often doesn't know what they need, or have the energy to ask even if they do.  Also, I'm more willing than most to ask for help or call on those willing to do something, but there were plenty of moments when there wasn't anything to help with.  What I needed was my family and time to heal.

If you're thinking, "I'd like to help, but don't know how," let me let you in on a little secret.  The "how" doesn't matter.  Seriously.  Couldn't matter less.  Just do something.  A very dear friend of mine has some experience dealing with death in her family.  She's got it down to a science.  She happens to be single and between jobs, so she became our family's personal assistant for nearly two weeks.  She babysat, made sure we were drinking enough water, provided rides and distractions, kept us well-stocked on coca-cola, reminded us to nap and get priesthood blessings, prepared snack packs for between the funeral and the cemetery, brought french fries to the cemetery, organized boutonniere pinning, gathered whatever we left behind at the church, etc. etc. etc.  If you are able to be that person for someone else, you will be a god-send. If not, you can still help out.  Our situation was a little different because we had to wait a full two weeks before having a funeral because of the repatriation process.  Regardless, here are some other things that people did for me or my family that we found helpful or comforting:

My best friend brought over my favorite kind of chocolate milk.  Later she also made me my favorite comfort food (mac & cheese) for lunch.

My sister-in-law is training for the Boston Marathon and a friend of hers offered to watch her kids while she did the long runs in her training schedule.

My brother was planning on moving to a new apartment and some friends packed his apartment and moved it while we were dealing with viewings and funerals out of town.  That included an old piano that weighs about 1,000 pounds.

A friend of mine who is a very talented designer and florist made our boutonnieres using some of my mom's jewelry.

So many people brought food of one kind or another.  So.  Many.  People.  I'm not necessarily discouraging food.  If you're going to bring food, however, here's a tip - bring something healthy.  Grieving people are going to get plenty of treats.  Also, you cannot go wrong with homemade bread.  Unless those you're taking food to are weird gluten-intolerant people.  Also, most people bring dinner.  Breakfast is nice once in a while.  Lastly, bring food in disposable containers.  Don't make the mourners return your Tupperware.

My dad's neighbor was out buying fertilizer for his lawn and bought extra to do my dad's lawn.

A friend offered to go to a thrift store and buy a bunch of plates for us to go out into the mountains and break.  (We ended up not taking her up on the offer, but I think it was a fantastic offer.)

My family went to lunch at a favorite lunch spot and the owner paid for our meals.

A friend of mine came over just to sit with me.  That same friend took charge of moving my car on street cleaning days while I was out of town, and had my car cleaned while she was at it.

Another friend watched my sister's baby so we could all go out to dinner and a movie.  While watching the baby, she cleaned my sister's house and started some laundry.

Friends and neighbors of my parents opened their homes to our rather large extended family who had to travel for the funeral.

Various professionals - photographers, designers, massage therapists, hair stylists, nail artists, grief counselors, offered their services free of charge.  If you're in a position to offer some sort of professional service, that's a great way to contribute.

Along with standard flowers and cards, some of our favorite things we got were:  Tylenol PM, tissues (especially the kind with lotion), sleepytime tea, coloring books, babysitting services, massages, freezer meals, disposable plates/cups/utensils (especially forks), one-time-use freezer containers, coolers of assorted beverages.  You might also give garbage bags, diapers, airport rides, parking passes, oil changes, buddy passes, pet food if appropriate, and any number of other daily necessities.

As of the publishing date of this post, my mom passed away almost a month ago.  In the days following the return to "normal life" one of the most helpful things has been small check-ins and message of love or humor from friends.  A text, a picture, a phone call etc.  Don't forget about people.  Months later we're still figuring our our new normal and may need a shoulder or a friend to buy us ice cream.

Again, what you give, or how you help does not matter.  Use your imagination.

And a huge, and deeply heart-felt "Thank You!" to anyone who helped or offered to help in any way.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What I learned when my mom died: Part 1

My mom recently passed away in a fairly horrific car accident while traveling in New Zealand with my dad.  It has been an indescribable experience on so many levels and for so many reasons.  It has also been a learning experience.  The Mormon religion has some beliefs and teachings about life, death, and the afterlife that bring a measure of comfort and perspective during times of mourning, but it's still a difficult thing to deal with.  Everyone grieves in their own way, but here are some things I learned and experienced in the days and weeks following my mom's death.

1 - It's okay to feel sad.
And I don't mean sadness tempered by the Sweet Peace of The Gospel and the knowledge of Eternal Families, or sadness lightened by the Tender Mercies of Heaven.  I mean gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, deep-down, ugly cry sadness.  100% okay.  Do family ties last beyond the grave?  I believe they do.  Can the teachings of the gospel of Christ bring a measure of peace?  I believe they can.  Does God provide moments of mercy and comfort at a time like this?  I believe He does.  That doesn't mean you should feel less sad.  Don't let anyone tell you you should.  Death is an inherently sad thing.  In fact, the Earth trembled and the skies turned black when Christ died in the Bible.  If God can feel such visceral sadness, He wouldn't expect any more from you.  It's also okay to feel hurt, confused, angry, relieved etc. etc. etc.  You can't control what you feel.  Lean into it, and work through it.

2 - Let people help.
In this situation I found myself at the epicenter of a tragedy.  Countless people offered to help in any way they could.  Our natural reaction as humans, I think, and especially as Mormons is to say, "Oh, no, don't worry about me.  I don't want to put you out."  Just know that people offering to help is their way of processing grief and offering solidarity with you.  Let people feed you, tend your kids, do your laundry, take you to a movie, fill your gas tank, weed your garden, vacuum your house, help you move, do your dishes, iron your clothes, etc. etc. etc.  You're not putting them out.  They want to help.  They need to help.  And it's even okay to expect help, just be sure that you're gracious about it.  Expecting help is different than being entitled to help.

2b - Have distractions handy.
This is where you call on those people that are offering help (and as a sort of 2c, don't be afraid to ask for help, remember people need it as much as you do).  If you need a few minutes to get out of your head, send out the call.  People will provide movies, drives, coloring books, shopping excursions, walks, playdough, sudoku, puppies, lunch, theater tickets, sports tickets, books, magazines, toddlers, etc.

3 - You have every right to say no.
If you don't want to talk, or eat, or be around people, or participate in the funeral, or see them shut the casket, or give someone a hug, or go to bed, or ride with your crazy aunt Florence to the cemetery, or send out thank you cards, you don't have to.  Don't let anyone force you to do anything you don't want to.  You're going to process grief in your own way, and only you know how to do that best.

4 - You're going to cry.
A lot.  You already know this, but what you may not know is when or why you'll cry.  You may cry when you find out, and when you're initially letting those close to you know, and when you hug your loved ones.  In fact, you'll probably cry for a good portion of Day 1. As time passes you'll probably cry less.  The initial shock will wear off and acceptance will set in.  But then you'll smell someone else wearing your moms perfume, or you'll catch someone out of the corner of your eye that looks like your mom, or a friend - or even a stranger - will unexpectedly do something very thoughtful.  And. You.  Will.  Lose it.   Let it happen.  It's part of the healing process.

5 - You need to laugh.
Laughter is healing.  It lightens the mood and helps you to cope.  Whether that's joking about being orphans like the family who's parents were traveling with my parents and both also died in the crash, or simply enjoying a funny movie, or sharing amusing memories.  Find plenty of time to experience laughter and joy.

6 - Nature is healing.
Anecdotal and empirical evidence back this up.  Get outside.  Walk in a park, hike in the mountains, swim in the ocean, meditate under a tree, take a nap on the back lawn.  Find ways to connect with Mother Earth.  She'll take care of you.

7 - Day 2 is worse than Day 1.
Just a heads up.

8 - Grief is exhausting.
No one tells you this.  Everyone knows you're hurting and that this situation sucks.  No one tells you that you'll feel totally wiped out because you're crying all of the time, and your brain and heart have been on overdrive processing all of the information that comes with a death, and you're dealing with everyone expressing condolences and love, and you're trying to make sure everyone else in your family isn't completely falling apart.  It's okay to pop a couple of Tylenol PM and pass out.

Your situation is going to be different than mine was, but I think most of these things are fairly universal.  Hopefully they'll help you, or help someone else help you get through the first few days.  You're gonna be okay.  Have a good cry, then have a cookie, then give me a call and we'll cry and have a cookie together.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Primary Design

Dear Mommy-blogger Primary Choristers,

I know it's super hip right now to have your graphic designer husband turn meaningful quotes into works of art by putting each word in a different font and using a choral/mint-inspired color scheme, and involving chevrons at some point.  I get it (kind of).  But teaching kids music is not an appropriate place for that.

Of the kids in the primary that can actually read, only a small percentage - if any - are at a level where they can fluently read words that are each a different font and color.  (Heck, I can barely do that most of the time.)  Most of the children in your primary are just learning how to read.  They're going to have a tough enough time reading words that are in one plain black font.  Especially when they have to read those words in rhythm, and remember the tune to a song, and are looking at the words from the stand when you are 3-4 rows back in the congregation.

"Well, this will just help them become more fluent readers!"  You might say.  And while I may or may not agree with that, here's the thing:  Primary time shouldn't be used to help kids learn how to read.  That's why they go to school - where they are under the supervision of numerous professionals who are trained to teach them how to read.  Their time in primary should be used to learn about Christ and start building that testimony that you want them to rely on for the rest of their lives.  If you're spending time with reading practice, you're missing the boat.

My point is, do the kids a solid and make the text part of your flip-charts, or poster boards, or whatever visual aides you make, an easy-to-read black font.  Accompany it with great pictures that the kids who can't read can use as a cue, and save the "artwork" for your Pinterest board.

Thanks.