Nachos and Green Tomato Salsa

canning jarsMy husband is getting ready to attend a play with friends. I am happy to stay home and putter, but he hesitates with keys in hand, looking around the kitchen with a concerned expression. “I may not be home in time for dinner.” One of the many perks of our empty nest is that occasionally I find myself blissfully alone. “I know. I will be fine.” He opens the fridge. “There may be some leftovers.” “I told you, I will figure something out.” He says, “You ate all the Wheat Chex last week.” Now I am annoyed. “Go! I will cook for myself.” He snorts and leaves. I go off and hermit around my workspace until hunger drives me back to the kitchen. I peer in the refrigerator, the freezer, the pantry, the refrigerator again.

My husband is truly gifted at cooking. I am not. This was established early in the relationship. On our first date he made a picnic lunch with teriyaki pheasant. A few dates later I burned a chicken concoction and we went out for pizza. In the first year of our marriage we attempted to trade off, but when my husband started graduate school, he took over. He said he wanted a “creative outlet.” We were both relieved.

It is hard to know what came first – my profound lack of aptitude or my subsequent lack of interest. One usually follows the other. For years I have sat on a stool at the edge of the kitchen island, watching my husband intently, trying to figure out the difference between us. We are both smart. We both love to eat. Perched there, eating scraps of food out of prep bowls, I have discovered clues. My brain thinks in geometric lines, taking apart and putting things back together in a linear process. If the points are not perfect in my quilt blocks, I remake them until they line up. I think: what is the most efficient way to go from point A to point B? What are the steps to achieve a specific result? My husband’s brain thinks like a lava lamp, organic, he perceives a million details at the same time. He chops and stirs and sautes this and roasts that. He senses temperature and color and somehow five dishes appear at the same time. If something doesn’t taste right he adapts the other ingredients to balance. He thinks: what flavors go together? What recipe fits the weather?  

Today I decide to make myself nachos. I find chips, pre-shredded cheese and an old piece of steak which I chop up and layer on the top. I turn on the broiler and can hear my husband’s voice in my head telling me not to burn them. In fact, why not use the microwave?

Our children grew up in a home where Dad was master of the kitchen, not just cooking, but preparing gourmet meals that people came to rave about. Dinner at our house was a culinary adventure and we loved entertaining as a family. I tried to feel that my contribution was bringing home the bacon rather than frying it up in a pan, but the referenced woman in the commercial could do both and look sexy. I worried that my lack of domestic proficiency diminished my value as a wife and mother. One Mother’s Day this was reinforced when the boys came home from Primary presenting a project they had made in class. It was constructed of two paper wheels held together by a brad. The top wheel had a window revealing tiny messages and pictures underneath. The title read: “My mother does many things for me!” and when the child turned the wheel, the captions below read “She bakes cookies!” “She makes dinner!” “She washes my clothes!” “ She meets me after school!” To which my little son gleefully confessed, “I told them that my mom doesn’t do any of those things!” My older son shook his head thoughtfully. “No, no she doesn’t.”  

I also faced incredulous clucking from other women assuring me of my “luck” in finding a man who would “help out” and cautioning that I had better “hang on to him” as if my inability to time an egg threatened our long term prospects. At first I would defensively explain that it all evened out, that he had a surly disposition and I cleaned the toilet. Eventually I just surrendered and shrugged. I had been judged by the dial-a-good-mother wheel and found wanting.

I don’t burn my nachos but they look boring so I dig through a pile of jars created from my husband’s new hobby, small batch canning. I find something green and chopped and open it. It smells like salsa. I taste it. The hacienda heavens open and choirs of mariachi angels sing. It is delicious. I dump it all over my nachos and devour them.

In his book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon shares that most parents love their children at birth, but must learn over time to accept them. He says that “love aspires to acceptance” and that most parenting happens in the grey area between what we try to change in those we love and what we choose to celebrate as it unfolds. I believe this applies to how we view ourselves as well. Learning when to develop and push ourselves and when to simply be ourselves is an ongoing challenge. There are so many bad habits I know I must fix – my selfishness, my dental hygiene, my matchstick temper. In comparison, I can shelve the less urgent deficiencies, ignore the lists of shoulds catalogued by others and even revel in the quirks that make me who I am. My children may appreciate a mother who can make sock monkeys dressed as literary characters just as much as a mother who knows that Honey Nut corn flakes and strawberry yogurt should not be used to bread chicken nuggets. In the words of the very wise Queen Elsa, I am going to let it go.

Later that night, when my husband comes home, he asks what I ate for dinner. I tell him nachos which actually required use of the oven. Then I say, “So that green stuff I found in the pantry? It is amazing. I ate the whole jar.” He lights up. “It is green tomato salsa. The neighbor brought us all these green tomatoes and I made up the recipe in order to use them.” I assure him that it was the best salsa I have ever tasted. And that I never take his gifts for granted. He wonders if he will be able to replicate the recipe again. I say, “I am sure you will come up with something.”

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Blessed Be the Mentors

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Saturday was a special day. It was the day Claudia Bushman was celebrated via the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Symposium. I was not able to attend, but I was able to sit in a seminar with Claudia and her husband, Richard, almost every day for six weeks, just a tiny bit earlier this summer through BYU’s Maxwell Institute. It was a deeply enriching experience, as I thought it might be.

Claudia added her wisdom and knowledge, her strong and honest voice, and her pleas to tell our own stories, as well as precious bits from her own. Once she shared the price of her gold wedding band ($5!). Another time she pinpointed a doctrine (magnifying your calling) that she perceived to be pernicious, with quite good, and quite funny reasons. My favorite (class) moment of all occurred after we discussed the significance of Eliza’s hymn, “O My Father.” Claudia quipped that we should all write poems about Heavenly Mother, because then they can become theology.

My favorite non-class moments were different. They were about the fact that I was in an intensive class, while caring for a (still nursing) infant in a state far away from where I live, and where my husband would be. 

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The Church is Pro-Choice

Note: this post mentions rape, incest, abortion, stillbirth, death of infants, etc. If those topics are going to be triggering, please honor your health and pass on reading.

A few months ago, we were discussing the need for modern-day prophets in Sunday School. One woman raised her hand and said that she was grateful for modern-day revelation because of issues like abortion. I fought my urge to exclaim, “Yes! Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!” because it would really derail the lesson, so I’m going to say it here.

Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!

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God Recognizes the Matriarchy

Last Sunday in Sunday School, we discussed the book of Judges. As a Mormon feminist, my normal instinct is to turn to the Deborah chapters and start chattering away on prophetesses and female judges. However, our teacher started with a different story that turned my world upside down. I’ll admit that I haven’t gotten very far in my Old Testament reading this year and I had never heard of the annunciation experience of Samson’s mother. This was an entirely new story to me!

I’ll give a short summary, but you can read it in full in Judges 13.

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Relief Society: Fight or Flight

A few weeks ago I sat in RS and realized it would be one of those lessons. You know, the kind that makes your skin crawl. A young mom who recently moved into our ward was asked to teach Elder Christoffereson’s talk “The Moral Force of Women.” It was clear she had no idea that this talk might be a landmine and I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I may start to cough uncontrollably and leave. I don’t think I can sit through this.” I’m fairly outspoken and generally not afraid to rock the boat. But here’s how disagreement usually plays out in RS: Sister A says x, Sister B says not x, and a wave of horror passes through the room because women, God bless us, do not like conflict—especially when a lace tablecloth is present. Then Sister C says, “I think we are all trying to say the same thing…” and cobbles together an idea that satisfies neither A nor B and shuts down any real discussion. Pleasantness restored, honest dialogue? Not so much.

So I scooted to the edge of my seat and prepared to find sanctuary in the foyer. But I noticed who my back row buddies were and I stopped. In addition to my friend next to me, who has kids and works, there was my dear friend D who had fled from a Singles Ward because she often felt infantilized and undervalued there. Two thoughts entered by head: First, we belong in the trenches together; and second, I’m a coward and I suck. I decided to stay and be part of the resistance. D smiled at me and I smiled back and I started to sing in my head, “Will you join in our crusade who will be strong and stand with me” because I’m dorky like that and sometimes imaginary theme music comforts me.

The teacher put three quotes from Christofferson on the board and asked us to divide into groups to discuss and come up with insights to share with the group. I can’t tell you how much I hate that talk. I won’t post the quotes because I’d start rocking in a corner.  I vividly remember running errands that first Saturday in October and listening to conference via my iPhone. When his talk started I had just grabbed a Diet Coke and felt so paralyzed by his words that I could not drive but had to sit down and write my objections on the receipt, the only paper I had on me. Straw feminists! Fallacious arguments!  Gender reduction at its worst! It takes a lot to get me that riled up.

After five minutes the teacher asked for responses. I was afraid our back row band of feminists would be the only naysayers. I was wrong. A convert on the front row with a new baby told us she was returning to work that week and felt judged by the talk. And D raised her hand next, which she rarely does. She stood up and said, “I’m single and may never have kids. I don’t know if I even want kids. Does this make me less of a woman? I read talks like this and feel that is a poor yardstick of my eternal value.” D got teary and so did I. The sister next to her, an empty nester with 6 kids who loved the talk, took her hand. The low point for me was the teacher’s well meaning response to D, that the Lord would give her a husband and kids in the next life so we should all just be happy because in the end it’ll work out. I felt like the whole room collectively shook their heads at this drivel.

A woman on the front row also got emotional sharing how much she loved the talk. “I’m a stay at home mom with 7 kids and every time I leave my house I feel judged and invalidated for my choices. Christofferson’s words make me feel like what I do matters.” A few others chimed in that the talk was a balm to them as well.

I decided to weigh in on the list of feminine qualities written on the board: nurturing, intuitive, faith, empathy, virtuous, humble, etc. These are wonderful traits, but women hardly have the monopoly on them and to say so diminishes the women who’ve worked to develop them and sends a message to men that they belong to the ladies. Whenever I want to make a point that will be hard to shutdown I turn to my friend Jesus. Because every word in the “feminine” column can be applied to Him. Gender stereotypes break down with the man who said, “Oh how I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” Honestly, on my hardest mommy days it is the Savior who is my example of patience and nurturing.  And no one can argue with Jesus.

By the time class ended, most of the women had had their say. Some loved the talk. Some hated it. Many had never stopped to think how it made them feel. But it was a little miracle to me that such a divisive talk could have spurred so much honesty and compassion within my RS. There was lots of disagreement, but no contention. And I feel closer to the sisters in that room. The truth is we are not all saying the same thing, and we should never confuse consensus with connection.

When a lesson gets messy at church, do you:

A: find a baby to pinch and take out to the lobby

B. sit silently and play Angry Birds

C. stay and speak out when needed

D. other

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On My First Mother’s Day Weekend

On Saturday evening a loved friend met my babe for the first time. Perhaps because of this, the conversation turned to children, and whether she hopes to have one some day. The answer was yes: one. I told her the thing you say, that if she chooses to have a baby, and is able to have one, that she “will be a great parent.” I said this thing sincerely–completely, completely sincerely. She said the thing that I have never had anyone say. “Do you think you are a great parent?” For what felt like a long time, I could only pause. I could only be silent.

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