Category Archives: Religion

Exploring Cultures: The Indian Caste System

Abandoning my original planned topic, I feel compelled to refer you to this blog post about the Indian caste system.

Why?  Because I find it fascinating.  And because I couldn’t imagine our children being born into a system in which they would have absolutely no chance to become anything other than the most lowly members of their culture.

Just last night, I prepared a huge Indian feast for our family and Kate, our visiting teenage neighbor/friend who will be here with us from Montana for the summer.  This was Kate’s first Indian meal.  Her first taste of curries and dal and khorma and spicy paratha.  I dressed myself in scarves, toe ring, anklets, etc. to “play the part” of an Indian hostess, and Ellie helped out by retrieving red stick-on dots for us to wear on our foreheads–the stickers we used to label prices on garage sale items last year.

I was careful to look up the “red dot” before dinner, so I could explain to the family about its purpose and intent.  We weren’t making fun.  I made that clear to our children.  We were learning about one of the many other cultures we’re gladly being exposed to since our move to the SF Bay area.  Call it a cultural immersion lesson.

This morning, while preparing to write a post, I found this article about the Indian caste system–a system of delineating citizens into predetermined groups, ranging from priests to “untouchables.”

The thing I don’t understand about the Indian caste system is the idea that a person is born into a certain caste because of the degree to which he or she obeyed the laws of the dharma (righteous living) in his/her previous life.  At the same time, caste membership (probably not the right word, here) is passed down from one generation to the next.  So, if I understand correctly, an Untouchable woman–Untouchable being the lowest segment of the population, so low in fact, that it isn’t actually even considered part of the caste system– could spend her entire life being as pious as the greatest of saints, and still her child would be born an Untouchable–worthy only of growing up to become an agricultural field worker,  a toilet cleaner or dead animal retriever.  Perhaps, however, her spirit would be reincarnated into a higher group.

I’m hoping someone who knows far more about this system than I, will happen upon this post and shed some light for us all.

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Filed under cultures, family, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Religion

Hello, My Long Lost Friend

What better way to start a Sunday morning, than with a warm cup of coffee, peach pie left over from last night’s dinner party, and a return to a long-lost companion…this blog.

What has kept me at bay all these months, you ask?  Life, I suppose.

As you may recall, my family and I underwent a HUGE transition a few months ago–we moved from small town Montana to the San Francisco Bay area on January first of this year.  The ensuring four + months have been full of new school transitions for our three kids (now ages 3, 5 and 7), establishing new friendships, finding a new church to attend, frantically exploring the millions of things to do around here, hosting visitors, working at the co-op preschool our boys attend, getting our youngest started with a new speech therapist, researching grad school options for myself, getting a new puppy and, oh yes, finishing my latest manuscript.

In short, life in the Hull household is the same as always.

Now that spring has finally sprung around here (it was apparently a much rainier spring than normal in these parts) we are enjoying the warmth of the sun, the multi-color floral blooms in our rental house back yard, our frequent visits to the beach, and family life in a new setting.

And now, some photos for you to enjoy:
( I promise, I’ll be back soon…)

See the Pacific Ocean for the First Time

Nursing Mermaid in Ghiradelli Square

Flamingos at San Francisco Zoo

Sand sculpture Buddha

Ano Nuevo State Park

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Filed under breastfeeding, family, friendship, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Living, Religion, travelling with kids, Writing and Publishing

Teaching Cultural Diversity to Our Children

It’s not our kids’ fault that they are culturally anemic.  Of all the nurturing, growth-enhancing, robustness-encouraging assets Montana boasts, wide reaching cultural diversity isn’t one of them.  I am not discounting the important presence of native tribes like the Crow, Sioux, Kootenai and Blackfeet and others, by the way…I’m part Seminal Indian, after all.  But when it comes to widespread, international culture, Montana falls flat.

That is one of the main reasons Andrew and I took advantage of the opportunity to come to the San Francisco Bay area:  so our kids could come to understand a little more about the great big world out there.

In the past five weeks, I have eves-dropped in on conversations spoken in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, Italian, Spanish, French, Punjabi, and Flemish (does it really count as eves-dropping if you can’t understand what they’re saying?)  We have walked the open markets in Chinatown and ogled at decapitated fish heads, fresh-caught eels, duck, chicken and pig carcasses where our kids’ impending “yuck” declarations were preempted with explanations from dear old mom and dad about how different people around the world eat different foods than us.

This past Friday, our daughter’s elementary school (where she is easily apart of the minority race) held a Multicultural Potluck Dinner.  First through fifth graders and their families were welcomed to come in traditional regalia, and bring a traditional food item to represent their culture.  (We brought ground bison meatballs, assuming folks down here wouldn’t get too excited about sampling Rocky Mountain Oysters.)

At the conclusion of the meal during which we sampled Indian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Peruvian and Spanish fare there was a talent show–started off by an amazing belly dancing performance by an elementary teacher from a neighboring school.  A group of Korean children performed several traditional songs, children of Polynesian background shared a couple of hula dance routines and a fashion show was held to  highlight the beautiful costumes worn by so many.  (I had suggested we dress our three kids up like a bull, a horse and a cowgirl, respectively, and act out a rodeo roping event…but we opted to just wear our cowboy boots and call it good.)

Yesterday, while leaving church, our eldest noticed a sign outside the building which was written in Spanish.

“What does that say, Mom?”
“Oh, it’s written in Spanish, honey.  It explains where the Spanish language church service is and that there is also care for children during the service.”
“You mean, people who speak Spanish come to this church?”
“Yes, there’s a whole service for those who speak Spanish as their primary language.”
“Well, shouldn’t they be living in Spain, if they speak Spanish?”

A long conversation ensued about how people can live almost anywhere they want around the world, no matter what language they speak…and that the San Francisco area is a perfect example of that.

Andrew and I were beginning to wonder when our kids would notice the cultural diversity around them…perhaps now it will start to sink in.

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Filed under family, Kids, Living, Religion

All I Want For Christmas…Helping Kids Understand the True Meaning of Christmas

Initial disclaimer:  I don’t claim to know the extent of the true meaning of Christmas.  What I do know is that it has a lot to do with love, hope, grace, trust, an ultimate gift and yes, even receiving.

Yesterday, while going through the motions of final school pick-ups for our kids before the Christmas break and–more significantly–our approaching move away from Montana, one of our middle son’s preschool teachers pulled me aside to share with me the particulars of a conversation she had with him that morning.

“He is so unique,” she started.  (Automatic Paranoid Parental interpretation: “He’s a trouble maker.  He’s difficult.”)
She continued:  “I love talking with him!  He has such interesting things to say…and the expression on his face…just like this,”  (she modeled a head cocked to the side, thoughtful expression, eyebrows furrowed, lids blinking)

“He told me his dad is coming home from a trip today and that the art projects Landon has been making here in class are all for his dad.  That his dad’s return from traveling is the gift in and of itself–that he doesn’t even want his dad to bring him a toy.”

It is better to give than to receive.

Of course, less than a week ago, I also overheard this same cherubic boy under the tree counting presents, followed by the exclamation, “Hey! Gabe has five presents under here and I only have four!  That’s no fair!”  Anxious to jump in and teach a timely lesson, I inserted into the conversation, “We are not going to start counting presents!  It doesn’t matter how many gifts are under that tree!  You need to be thankful for whatever you receive for Christmas!” (insert a huff and a sigh)

Last week, our rector at church–winding up for the big Christmas sermon that, I imagine, many clergy quite nearly loathe for the weighty responsibility it carries–presented us with an interesting take on Christmas gift giving.

“I like to give gifts,” he proclaimed.  “But I’m not very good at receiving gifts.”

A lofty personality trait, for sure.

But, no–that’s not the point he was getting at.  Fr. Clark is the first person to proclaim his humility on any given day, and being a poor recipient of gifts is a trait that, truthfully, I think many of us can relate to.

When a friend or neighbor offers you a hand with something, how often do you hear yourself responding, “Thanks anyway, but I’m fine.  I can handle it,” ?

It is sometimes difficult to humble ourselves enough to accept the help of others.

Think about this from a toddler’s perspective:  with so much desire for independence and drive to carve out a place for himself in the world, simple tasks like putting on shoes and brushing teeth have the potential to make a nightmare out of a morning–all because one little stubborn being refuses to accept the willing help of his or her parent.

It is better to give than to receive?

Fr. Clark’s message last week in church was all about receiving–receiving the gift of Christmas each and every day.  His focus, of course, was on receiving the kind of love wrapped up in sending His Son to us to save the world.  Now that is lofty.

But what about us on a more microscopic level?  Are we to go around everyday feeling thankful for God’s love and salvation through Christ?  If you are Christian, the obvious answer is, “of course.” But like Fr. Clark, many of us have a hard time doing this on a regular basis.  Many of us forget on a regular basis that that’s something we ought to strive for.

Down another level:  if we can’t go through our days being thankful recipients of The Greatest Gift Ever, can we at least try to be good recipients of everyday gifts?  Of friends’ and neighbors’ offers of help?  As parents can we accept the gift of our childrens’ independence…trusting that that is, in fact, what will drive them toward becoming sentient beings and functional adults…rather than always trying to be the “giver” of help and expediency?  Can we receive actual wrapped gifts with openness and appreciation no matter what lies within that odd-shaped package of shiny paper tied with a bow (instead of criticising the gift-giver’s intentions or taste–I still recall a friend’s description of a snowman statuette which her sister-in-law had given her for Christmas…’it’s like a Thalidomide snowman…look at those weird little stick arms!’)?

Side note: Dad,  we actually do appreciate the shower heads you gave us last year!

The giving of Christmas gifts is inspired by a whole lot of things before tv advertising and corporate marketing come into play:  The Three Kings’ gifts to the baby Jesus,  St. Nicholas’ gifts to the poor…God’s gift to us all embodied in His Son…

The importance of receiving of gifts is inspired by an even higher source.

Blessings to you, dear readers, during this season of giving and receiving.  May you give whole heartedly and receive openly and accepting.  May you teach your children to do the same.

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Filed under family, From One Mother to Another, holidays, Kids, Living, Religion

IVF, Sextuplets, Rampant Opinions

Surprise, surprise…even the UK deals with fertility issues in the media like we do.

Check out this story about sextuplets (reportedly conceived withoutthe aid of IVF) born at 28 weeks in a Belfast, Ireland, hospital.

And, for a great sense of the debate going on in the UK about IVF, check out this“round up” of opinions expressed through blogs and on-line communities.

I am thankful to never have had the need/desire to engage in the whole IVF process.  If you’ve read my book you’ll know that for Andrew and I, our story was quite the opposite.  I’ve had several friends go through IVF for their desperately-wanted children and, having watched the physical and emotional rollercoaster that accompanies such a process, and I sure can understand the basis for the debate on a number of levels.

First of all, I have to say, as a part of my own belief system,  I think there is a greater plan out there–call it God’s Will, the force of the Universe, the alignment of the Cosmos…however you wish to label it.  In my belief system, things happen (and sometimes don’t happen) for a reason…but that reason can sometimes be impossible to understand when in the thick of things.

For example:  could it be possible that some couples are unable to conceive their own biological child because the Cosmos–God–Allah–whatever–recognizes the need for parentless children to be adopted?  Or does the delay of children entering a family allow for other unresolved issues to be addressed first?  Is it possible that heartbreak, devastation and remorse in one chapter of a person’s life ultimately builds strength, perseverance and wisdom…better preparing them for the joy, success, and triumph that will come in another phase of life?

Thus defines the slippery slope of medically-aided conception:  how does one determine which scenarios represent a person/couple/family who are going against the grain of destiny, and which child-seeking people are going through that very same process because they were meant to?  Can we argue that the science of IVF is a God-given knowledge base that was meant to be integrated into humanity’s perpetuity?  Or is it the final example of “playing God” that just can’t be acceted/tolerated?

I don’t pretend to know the answers to these questions.  I am not cavelier about the ease my husband and I had in conceiving our three children.  Nor am I insensitive to those couples/individuals who struggle for years to conceive just one child.  Ijust know there continues to be a huge, world-wide debate about these issues.

What are your thoughts/opinions/experiences?

 

*thanks to milkuk for bringing these articles to light through her tweets at twitter.com/milkuk

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Filed under Childbirth Issues, family, From One Mother to Another, General Health, Kids, Living, Mommy and Motherhood, pregnancy, prenatal health, Religion

Shomer Tells All on This American Life

Do you all love This American Life with Chicago Public Radio’s Ira Glass as much as me?

Rhetorical questions aside, I think TAL is a fabulous bit of journalistic story telling and am always thrilled when my weekend schedule serendipitously plants me in the car, all alone, on a Saturday at noon.

Today, while driving home from a public film showing of Orgasmic Birth at the Bozeman Public Library, I caught the last story of This American Life–a short story read by author Shalom Auslander, from his book Beware of God.

The story caught my attention immediately.  It is about a teenage Jewish boy who, having attended Yeshiva school for many years, lands a job as a Shomer, a “watcher” of dead Jewish bodies between the time of death and burial a day or two later.

The story is touching, hilarious and surprising.  (Who’d think a dope-smoking, former Yeshiva student would maintain such a job–at $85/night–for the promary purpose of saving up enough money to buy a 1982 Ford Mustang?)

The story, too, caught my attention as the issue of deploying a shomer to watch over the body of the deceased appears in my forth coming book A Heroic Survival, An Abysmal Truth:  The Story of Dallon Whittaker.

A Christian myself, while researching for my book, I found the idea absolutely fascinating:  having a same-faith person watch over a loved one’s dead body, for the primary purpose of easing the process of departure for the deceased person’s soul.

If you didn’t have a chance to catch the This American Life episode that feature’s Auslander reading his story, you can find it here.

Better yet, go on out and buy Auslander’s book, and read the story (along with a host of other short stories) yourself.

http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=283

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Filed under Living, Religion, Writing and Publishing

Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer’s Conference–Post #1

I arrived in Phoenix late last night.  I haven’t even left the hotel room yet.  The conference begins today at noon.  It has already been an interesting trip.

On my first air flight leg, I sat next to the head pastor of Journey Church, an evangelical church in Bozeman that seems to be growing in leaps and bounds.  Interesting to talk with and passionate about his life’s work, Brian Hopkins happens to work closely with one of my recent Lamaze Class students and, thus, our “small world” experience began.

Over the course of a fifty-minute flight, I discovered that Brian and his wife are in the process of adopting three children from Ethiopia–in addition to their four lovely children already at home.  Not only is this family’s heart in Africa for the sake of these orphaned children, but for the well water project Brian, and the church he leads as a whole, are spearheading on behalf of a school that teaches “the poorest of the poor” children in the same town from which he and his wife hope to adopt.  (The school’s location was formerly a leper colony.)

Wow.  Talk about inspirational.

Not only that, but Brian is a part of a leadership think tank in Bozeman with the CEO of my husband’s company–Greg Gianforte of RightNow Technologies. I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of heavenly forces were behind that “chance” meeting.

If that whole experience wasn’t enough, the second leg of my journey was equally interesting.

Having switched seats with a man in order for he and his wife to be together on the flight, I ended up next to a curious older gentleman who spoke in a thick, mixed European accent (mostly in a whisper, which was quite difficult to discern over the jet engine noise).  The man, whom I’ll call “Frank,” proceeded to share with me what seemed to be an enormous amount of his own personal story:

Born and raised in Paris, and having lived in Germany and Africa as well, this friendly stranger told me of his two grown children (a world-renowned surgeon son and a musician/composer daughter) as well as his five-year-old piano-playing savant niece.

He also shared with me:  his apprenticeship in Paris under some famous ladies handbags designer, his move to America at age eighteen upon which he began designing women’s purses and handbags under his own name, his dabbling in real estate that has afforded he and his wife “beautiful homes” all over the world, and his occasional TV commercial acting career (he pulled his Screen Actors Guild membership card out of his wallet to show me, and offered juicy tidbits of his previous work with Mr. T).

This loquacious senior who smelled like pleasant aftershave and frequently patted my arm while leaning in to whisper another element of his two-hour testimony invited me to coffee sometime during my stay in Phoenix (but assured me he wasn’t trying to “pick me up”).

By the end of that flight, I had learned how my row companion had placed his son in the corner for eighteen hours once, after the then-boy had criticized his mother’s cooking and thrown his plate on the floor…I made mental note of this man’s proclamation that, “when you are bullshitting other people, you’re really bullshitting yourself,” and I helped him get situated as he pulled four Pyrex containers from his briefcase and proceeded to eat an entirely home-cooked meal no less than fifteen minutes before landing.

(I also met, across the isle, the man who designs and builds resort golf courses across the country–including the one my parents own a home within, down here in Tucson.)

Lastly, on my way to the hotel, I was picked up by a cab driver who happened to be a former Lehman Brothers Global 500 stockbroker who gave me a fifteen minute overview of the demise of the stock market and global economy, and ultimately recommended investing in gold–his prediction being that in the not-so-distant future, gold will rise to $2-4,000/ounce as the the dollar goes down the drain.

Oh.  And did I mention that I saw Air Force One on the tarmac at the airport?  Y’all know Obama is here today to unveil his mortgage industry rescue plan, right?

Sitting here this morning, I’m not sure which of these characters who recently crossed my path last night ought to become a main character for my next book but, I can tell you one thing:  last night’s destined, or happen chance meetings have provided me with enough fodder for half a career’s worth of writing!

More on the conference later today…

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