What’s up with "Being Nice vs. Being Kind"?

I wrote this post about the difference between being nice versus being kind back in January.  It was something that had been on my mind for months, actually years, about the colossal difference between those two synonyms.  It must have really resonated with people because every time I check my stats that particular post has more and more page views.  It is my second most viewed post with almost 500 hits.  That’s huge for my tiny little blog.  So I’m suffering a total mind loss over where it is being shared.  Unfortunately blogger isn’t that great with letting you know where exactly page views are coming from.  So, if you have shared this post, linked to this post, will you let me know?  I’d just like to know what the larger reaction to it is.

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Book Review – Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Belong to MeBelong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos is a charming book about friendship, secrets, and what it means to be family.  It is narrated by three characters: Cornelia, a former city-girl settling down in the suburbs with her doctor husband; Piper, the Queen Bee of the suburbs and Cornelia’s across the street neighbor; and Dev, a 13 year old boy who is the son of Cornelia’s first friend in town, Lake.

Cornelia moves to a suburb of Philadelphia after a decade or so in New York City ready to settle down and have a family.  Her husband, Teo, is a doctor who she has known since childhood.  Piper is a materialistic, judgmental, status-driven, keeping up appearances at all costs, housewife in Cornelia’s new middle upper-class neighborhood.  At first Piper is icy toward Cornelia – criticizing her dead Mums on the front porch, suggesting ways to landscape, and telling Cornelia she can’t sit in the front seat of her car because she is so small the airbag would hurt her were it to deploy.  Cornelia takes this amazingly in stride and begins to build a friendship with Piper.

I wanted to dislike Piper until I saw her relationship with her best friend Elizabeth. They’ve raised their children together, go on vacations together, and Elizabeth is the only who can see through Piper’s icy facade.  Elizabeth is dying of cancer and the news that it’s terminal hits Piper hard.  She neglects her marriage to take care of Elizabeth, her children, and Elizabeth’s husband, Tom.  It’s by observing Piper’s friendship with Elizabeth that the reader, and Cornelia, gets to see the human side of Piper.

Cornelia’s first friend in town is also a newcomer herself, Lake, and a waitress at a local Italian restaurant.  Lake moved her and her son, Deveraux (“Dev”), to Pennsylvania from California after testing proved how truly exceptional Dev is.  Lake is unusually guarded and Cornelia can’t figure out why.

I really, really enjoyed this book.  It was one that took me a week to read (I usually read a book in 3 days or so) because I wanted to savor every last bit. de los Santos’ writing is beautiful.  I knew exactly who was narrating each chapter without looking because Cornelia, Piper, and Dev all had very distinct voices.  I surprised myself by ending up like Piper’s chapters a lot more than Cornelia’s, when she is the protagonist of the story.  I felt like Cornelia’s life and marriage was almost “too perfect.”  Teo is a doctor, he’s incredibly good looking, and he is very nice.  The only flaw in Cornelia’s life was that she was desperate to become a mother and that hadn’t happened yet for her.  She was also incredibly gracious to keep giving Piper chance after chance when she didn’t deserve it.

Piper’s character was the most developed.  We learn she is ashamed of her past and where she came from which fuels her incessant need to keep up appearances and be at the top of her social circle.  I loved the chapters with her and Elizabeth.  Every woman wants a real female friendship that is honest and tender.  By the end Piper isn’t the “Queen Bee” anymore, but is a person who is more true to herself.

Dev’s chapters were very intellectual and thinky and it took me a while to figure out where he belonged in the book.  His and Lake’s relationships are fraught with secrets that are revealed toward the end.  Dev is a very smart kid and knows that Lake is up to something and he figures it out before anyone else does.  I don’t know how Dev comes to forgive Lake because I’m still angry with her a month after reading the book (which proves I become too emotionally involved with fictional characters). de los Santos does a great way of tying up and tying together all the characters’ stories by the end.

All in all, this was a lovely book.  One I would recommend and read again.  It made me want to read all of de los Santos’ books.  I definitely like her style.

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Rock Center on NBC: Mormons in America

On Thursday, August 23, 2012, NBC’s news program, anchored by Brian Williams, featured an entire hour on “Mormons in America.”  Knowing that two of my friends, Joanna Brooks and Mitch Mayne, were going to be interviewed I was very excited to watch it.  However, I approached it with a lot of apprehension because you just never know how the media is going to examine your faith.  If you didn’t get a chance to see it, here are the five segments of the show.

I came away from the program delightfully surprised.  I was a teenager when then-President of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, was interviewed by Mike Wallace.  It felt like as Mormons we all held our collective breath.  President Hinckley came off as warm, funny, genuine, sweet, and he made all of us proud.  But because we Mormons, as a collective group, are so used to being criticized (I’ve read it all, we’re a cult, not-Christian, devil worshipers, robots, etc.), we all get a little uptight when we’re put in the media spotlight.  And boy, are we ever in the media spotlight right now as Mitt Romney is about to accept the Republican party’s nomination for President, and become the first Mormon ever to be nominee for a major political party.  Phew, it’s kind of nerve-wracking for us American Mormons who only make up 2% of the country’s population.
So, I thought I’d dissect this piece done by Rock Center and tell you what I liked and what I didn’t like.  Saying that, I have to say that the positives far outweigh the negatives and I felt like the producers and Brian  Williams did an amazingly balanced piece.
What I did like

-Finding out the man who started Jet Blue is a Mormon.  I never realized that and they are by far my favorite airline.  The entire first piece made Mormons seem very successful, hard-working, showed how serving a mission prepares us to be hard workers, and pointed out that we pay for our missions ourselves.
-Section two presented church history (while not accurately) with a fair shake.  It did not make us Mormons seem like big weirdos, instead it pointed out that every religion has it’s fantastical stories, thereby normalizing us.
-Polygamy was basically glossed over and the church historian, Elder Steven Snow, made it a point to say the church stopped practicing polygamy after a revelation received by then prophet, Wilford Woodruff, in 1890, just in case anyone out there still believes that main stream Mormons practice plural marriage.   They could have gotten into some heavy Mormon history that isn’t very flattering (Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage without the consent and knowledge of his wife Emma, anyone?)  Instead, the program spent barely a minute on it and let a church authority explain it instead of someone very anti-Mormon, which they could have done.
-The talked about the priesthood ban for African Americans prior to 1978, but then asked an African American man how he felt about it.  Again, kudos for going to the person who would know his experience best.
-I loved the third section, which featured modern Mormon families.  I loved how the bi-racial family was presented as funny, normal, nice, and really good parents.  When asked if the father, who is African American, ever experienced discrimination in the church, he said never.  (Oh, how I wish the same could be said for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the Gospel).  The family talked about their standards, like the Word of Wisdom, without seeming preachy or judgmental.  They talked about their garments, and even made a joke about them, “Magic underwear,” which made them seem down to earth.
-Featuring my friends Joanna Brooks and Mitch Mayne were big thrills for me.  I liked how with Joanna they addressed Mormon feminism, without making it seem like all Mormon women feel the same way. However, knowing Joanna I know she had a lot of great things to say and what they showed was highly edited.  Mitch Mayne is someone I look up to a lot.  He has the most beautiful testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and shows more courage and dignity on a daily basis than most people get to show in a lifetime.  He is Executive Secretary in his ward and is out-spoken on what it means to be both gay and Mormon.  As my brother said on Facebook (I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting), “Mitch Mayne is a class act and more courageous than I could ever imagine being.  Every ward needs a Mitch Mayne.”  I agree.  
-I loved how the third segment, by featuring Joanna and Mitch, showed that Mormons are not a homogeneous group and there is a diversity of thought among us. It showed that we’re not some cult where every one dresses, acts, thinks, behaves, and says the same things.  We’re all individuals and we have individual experiences.  
-I liked how Abby Huntsman shared her experience on marrying a non-Mormon and having her Bishop tell her that if she married him that she would not be blessed.  This is her true experience and it highlights the pain that those of us in part-member families often experience.  I could write a whole post alone and how hurtful it can be not to have your whole family included in your religion ceremonies, but I won’t delve into that now.  She was able to share her experience without seeming hateful or bitter.  I didn’t like how they called her a “former Mormon” because until she has her records removed from the church, she is still a member.  My mother was inactive for 26 years, but was still a member that entire time.
-I love, Loved, LOVED the fourth section on the Welfare Department and all that it does to help members and non-members alike.  I wish they had also visited the Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake and had shown all the projects that go on there and how far-reaching church aid and humanitarian efforts are.  I didn’t even start realizing the extent of the charitable arm of the church until I started working in the same buildings as the Bishop’s Storehouse, LDS Employment Services, and Deseret Industries.  They left out my department of Welfare services which provides clinical counseling to members and non-members, pregnancy counseling and adoption services, but I can live with that.
-I thought it was odd they ended with a gay former-Mormon now starring in Broadway’s musical, “The Book of Mormon” but can understand why since it has been such a popular musical and won several Tony awards. What I did like about that segment?  They showed a former Mormon who had very positive things to say about his former church.  He teared up when talking about his mission experience and obviously has very fond memories of his time in the mission field.  He talked about his parents being missionaries and how they love and accept him even though he has left the fold.  I mean, if they wanted to feature some really bitter, hateful, anti-Mormon ex-Mormons they could have found them easily. They didn’t and the ending piece was very positive.

What I didn’t like

-The entire first section about successful Mormons was completely devoid of any females.  What about Sherry Dew who is CEO of Deseret Book?  There are plenty of successful females in the Mormon church, but they were not featured.  Also, it only showed footage of male Mormon missionaries.  Many, many Mormon females serve missions which prepare them to be leaders and successful once they are home.  They presented the Mormon experience as a uniquely “male” one while leaving out completely what the female Mormon experience is like.
-In the second section, the church history was a little “off.”  The church didn’t start when the angel Moroni came to Joseph Smith and told him where a set of golden plates were buried which would become The Book of Mormon, another book of our Scriptures (Mormons also believe in and read the Old and New Testaments). Although Mormons do believe that this did occur, the church started when a 14 year old Joseph Smith went into a grove a trees on his family farm and prayed about which church to join.  During this time of American history the country was on religious fire and tent revivals were very common.  Smith wanted to know which of these churches was most accurate after reading James 1:5:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, 
that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not;
and it shall be given him.

Mormons believe at this time God, the Father, and his son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Smith and told him not to join any of the churches.  It would be a few more years before Smith was visited by the angel Moroni.
– I could have done without the shot of the temple garments.  I don’t think the producers realized how offensive that would be to devout Mormons.  We regard our garments as sacred and as a symbol of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  However, I’ve seen that picture before on the internet (just google Mormon and garments and you can see a lot of pictures, even temple clothing).  So, maybe they didn’t realize it was such a big deal when anyone has access to what they look like online.  The probably should have checked with someone before showing them.
-They  made it seem like all Mormons don’t drink caffeine because Sister Jackson said she didn’t.  Most Mormons I know drink their caffeine in soft drink form (never coffee) and it’s only the incredibly devout who don’t.  No one has taken my temple recommend away yet for drinking Mnt Dew on a regular basis.
-I wish they would have showed more of Joanna Brooks and Mitch Mayne because they both have a lot of great things to say, but that’s only because I love them both so much.  
-They shouldn’t have asked Abby Huntsman all the questions they did.  Some of those questions would have better served the program by asking a General Authority, or even better yet, former General Relief Society President, Julie B. Beck, those questions.  However, she did the best she could with what she knew and it kind of made sense they’d want to interview the daughter of a former Presidential candidate. 
***
I was literally on a high after watching Rock Center, feeling incredibly proud of the way my faith was portrayed.  Which is why I was shocked, shocked, to log on to Facebook afterwards and see so many of my Mormon friends criticizing it.  Really?  Yeah, there were so good points and a few uncomfortable ones, but overwhelmingly it was positive.  More positive than I expected.  I would write what I think but Scott D. Pierce already wrote something for the Salt Lake Tribune that says virtually everything I want to say.  You can access that here.  My favorite part of what he said was this: 
Of course, there has been some negative reaction to the hour.  No surprise here.  Because an attempt to do actual journalism about the church  means talking to at least a few people who aren’t big fans.  But, in some quarters, anything that’s not glowing praise is viewed as an unwarranted attack. Calm down. It wasn’t.

I find the persecution complex among some Mormons to be so tiring.  I get it, our ancestors were driven away from their homes, some were killed, they had to cross the plains, the Missouri Governor issued an extermination order for Mormons, the government forced us to give up polygamy, they martyred our prophet, and other really bad things.  But this isn’t the 19th century anymore and Rock Center’s program wasn’t Haun’s Mill.  And I find it also annoying when anything that is said about the church isn’t 100% dripping with the utmost admiration for the organization, people call it an attack, even if what is said is true.  Stop it.  Victimhood looks good on no one.  And furthermore, you’re the ones who make Mormons look bad, not whoever is saying whatever you don’t think isn’t flowering and complimentary enough about the church.  
Another thing that also does not speak well of us, when we’re so desperately trying to prove that we are Christian, are those Mormons who have been sending hate mail to people like Abby Huntsman and Joanna Brooks.  For someone who left the church after a hurtful experience with her Bishop, sending Huntsman a hateful e-mail is not going to make her change her mind and suddenly come back to church.  If they’re trying to prove they’re better than her, well they failed.  Love and fellowship is what brings people back to the church; not hate and disdain.  Also, people tweeted that Joanna Brooks should be excommunicated for talking about female ordination.  What the what?  This is something Christian women have wrestled with for 2,000 years, her giving a voice to it (when she made it clear that only *some* Mormon feminists feel this way and she has not personally struggled with women not being ordained) does not mean she should be forced to leave the church.  And who are you to have the audacity to suggest someone be excommunicated, Mr./Ms. Hate Tweeter?  Calling out your sister in the Gospel in that way is just about the least Christ-like reaction you could have.  You can read Joanna’s reaction here.  I also read some comments online at NBC’s website by members disavowing Mitch Mayne and saying that gay people cannot hold positions of authority in the church.  Well, I’m here to rock your world because, as I said above, Mitch is the Executive Secretary in his ward. His bishop specifically asked him to serve in that function to help more gay members, disaffected by Prop 8 since he does live in California, to feel more welcome in church.  You can find Mitch’s amazing, beautiful, spiritual blog here.  
I feel that Rock Center’s piece was fair and over-whelming positive, when it could have gone in a whole other direction.  If the goal was to humanize and normalize Mormons, it succeeded.  Mormons came off as intelligent, successful, charitable, diverse, and just plain old regular folk.  And Mitt Romney should be thanking them for the great PR job they did for him, especially when Brian Williams asked Harry Smith asked if he could see Romney as a Bishop, helping and leading his congregation and he said yes, well anyone planning on voting for Romney should see that as a win.  I’ve heard from several of my non-Mormon friends who have said that Rock Center was so positive that Mitt should just show it on the election trail.  If you want Mitt to win, why are you complaining?

13 years

Thirteen years ago today the hubs and I were married.  A lot has happened in those years.  We were just talking the other night about how swiftly the years have gone and how it does not seem like we had our first date 14 years ago and then married a year later.  I blame it on the old adage that time flies when you’re having fun.

I would write a big long gushy post, but I already accomplished that with this post.  Anything I said now would just be a repeat.

Recently we were watching, “Storytellers” with Jason Mraz and he debuted a new song from his new album.  It really spoke to the hubs and I and we have made it our new song.  It’s called, “I won’t give up” and here are the lyrics.

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
Well, there’s so much they hold.
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?
Well, I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
And when you’re needing your space
To do some navigating
I’ll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find
‘Cause even the stars they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We’ve got a lot to learn
God knows we’re worth it
No, I won’t give up
I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not
And who I am
I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
Still looking up.
I won’t give up on us
God knows I’m tough enough 
We’ve got a lot to learn 
God knows we’re worth it 
I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up
We’ve come a long way baby.  
From this
To this (recent-ish picture)
Happy Anniversary, Casey!  I love you so much!

Book Review – Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

ZeitounZeitoun by Dave Eggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers is a true story account of one family’s experience and devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun lived and worked in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit.  Abdulrahman (known as Zeitoun) is a Syrian immigrant and the Zeitouns are practicing Muslims.  The Zeitouns have weathered many hurricanes during their time in New Orleans and at first the family is not concerned about the storm.  After repeated warnings, Kathy evacuates to Baton Rouge with their four children while Zeitoun insists on staying behind to take care of their painting/contracting business and rental properties.  Zeitoun weathers the storm and the eventual breaching of levees and flooding of the city.  Zeitoun bought a used canoe years ago and is now able to put it to good use by helping some of his neighbors and abandoned dogs.  After a few days with fewer people to help and the city becoming increasingly polluted and dangerous, Zeitoun beings to plan to leave and join Kathy and the kids in Phoenix (where she eventually ended up).  That is, until Zeitoun is arrested in his own home for looting and is put in prison for 23 days without being given access to his Constitutional right of one phone call.  They won’t even tell him what the charges are against him, but he does have a few guards tell him that he’s Taliban, or a terrorist.

For the most part I very much enjoyed this book.  It is a fast read and I read it within three days.  I read the first 100 pages within a couple of hours.  I enjoyed reading about Zeitoun’s early life in Syria and how he came to live in America.  I also enjoyed reading about Kathy’s history of growing up in a large Christian family and eventually converting to Islam.  Kathy’s journey to conversion helped me understand the Muslim religion in a ways I had not thought about before.

I liked how this novel focused both on Zeitoun’s experience in the city and also in jail juxtaposed against Kathy’s experience fleeing the storm, keeping connected with and worrying about her husband, and the absolute torment she went through when she hadn’t heard from him in two weeks and feared that he was dead.

Mostly I was outraged reading this book.  Knowing that a jail was built within a couple of days of the storm when all of that man power and resources could have been used to rescue people trapped in their attics, under freeway passes, and at the Superdome made me sick.  The jailees had access to toilets and food but not those trapped in the Superdome?  Where were the priorities of those in charge?  I was also outraged that a man could be arrested for and jailed for 23 days without any proof of a crime being committed (he was on his own property when he was arrested!) and denied a phone call or medical attention.  And he was lucky because others who were falsely accused were jailed for months by FEMA.  Heck of a job, Brownie?  I think not.  You think that can’t happen to you as a citizen of the United States, but oh yes, it can.  Reading this book brought me back to the outrage I experienced seven years ago watching all these tragedies, travesties, and injustices happening in the United States of America in the 21st Century because of incompetent government officials and agencies.

The only thing I disliked about the book was all of the descriptions in chapters of Zeitoun’s hero brother that really had nothing to do with the story.  I kept skipping over them because they were boring. I wanted to get back to the action of the book.

Eggers wrote about the Zeitoun family in a book called Voices from the Storm, but felt that their story was so compelling that it deserved an entire book.  The book ends in 2008 with an update on how the family is doing now, but a lot can change in four years.  Once lauded as a Katrina hero, Zeitoun is now anything but.  He is currently in jail for domestic assault against is now ex-wife Kathy and just recently he has been accused of trying to solicit someone to kill Kathy, her new boyfriend, and her son from her first marriage.  Finding this out just a few days after finishing this book really put a damper on the hope I held for the Zeitoun family and their future.  At the end of Zeitoun Kathy talks about Zeitoun becoming increasingly more religious and fanatic and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  What he went through in those 23 days of jail after Katrina has irreparably harmed his mental state and his family forever.

The story of the Zeitoun family is about one of the country’s greatest tragedy’s and failings, which in my opinion, lead to a very tragic end to a once stable and happy family.

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Book Review – The Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks

I read this in February but in honor of my friend Joanna being on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on August, 9, 2012, I thought I’d post this review somewhere other than on Goodreads.

The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American FaithThe Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith by Joanna Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brooks’s memoir of growing up as a Mormon girl in the orange groves of Southern California is one of the most personal memoirs I’ve ever read.  As a Mormon girl myself, there was much in this book I could identify with.  Not growing up in a particularly religious home where Mormonism was worn as a badge proud upon our chests, I couldn’t really relate to how Brooks describes her devout childhood.  However, Brooks description of her time at BYU and her faith transitions after that is something that is very close to my heart.

It felt like my heart was weeping while I read the last few chapters of this book as Brooks describes what it is like to be a liberal/feminist in a very conservative church.  While she was at BYU people would leave alcohol on her doorstep because she opposed the Gulf War.  They’re reasoning was that opposing the war was already an act of apostasy, so why not take it the whole way?  This is a mentality that I’ve never understood.  Just because we have political differences, does not mean I’m any less a member of this church.  Brooks describes how hard Prop 8 was on her, being both Mormon and a Californian, and this is something I could perfectly relate to.  How do you rectify your God given feelings of love and acceptance for all of God’s children with direct mandates from your church?  I related to Brooks’s struggle, and her last chapter gave me a lot of hope.  I refuse to give up, and so has she.

Brooks was at BYU the same time my sister was there, and they were actually friends and involved in the feminist group on campus.  Because my sister has such a fondness for Brooks, and because I’ve gotten to know her through online interactions with her blog, “Ask Mormon Girl,” and we’re Facebook friends, I regarded this novel with much more warmth than I would have reading a total stranger’s memoir.  Basically, I’m saying I’m already biased for Brooks, so it’s not a surprise I would love her book and give it a good review.  Ignore my bias, and know that it really is a wonderful, brave book.  Brooks has a lot of chutzpah living her live to publicly when Mormonism and questions about the church are on the forefront of so many minds right now.

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