Month: November 2016

A tree of knowledge

A tree of knowledge

I’ve been thinking lately about social media, the purpose of my blog, biology and sharing goodness. As I was contemplating what I wrote about yesterday, my mind went back to my birthday in 2006, when I first had the idea for this blog. It was my 

4 steps to simplifying

4 steps to simplifying

Two weeks ago I got to attend a presentation by Barbara of She came to our church building and presented during our Relief Society monthly meeting. She did a great job! What an impressive young mother! I loved her 4 steps to simplifying: Minimize. Digitize. 

4 essentials

4 essentials

When I was pondering Elder Perry’s talk “Let Him Do It with Simplicity” again this week, I had a thought: this is how we grow.

Let me explain.

There are patterns in nature that help us organize and simplify our lives.

When anything in nature grows, it begins from a small cell. That cell divides into two, and then those cells divide into four, then eight, and so on. In a human body, the cells which were once identical begin to differentiate and eventually grow into major organs and parts of the body: the spinal cord, the brain, the heart. Then the differentiation and complex specialization continues until the baby’s intrauterine growth is completely, and the child is born. The development doesn’t ever stop, though: we keep growing until we are adults, then aging, and then we die.

With all of that specialization, there are still those major organs upon which our body relies to survive. While we want our nails to look beautiful, it is probably a bigger priority to make sure we have food, sleep and exercise to keep our heart pumping and our brain functioning, right?

This pattern of development provides us a way to look at what we need to focus on in life, to simplify all the stuff that we are supposed to think about and do for our family. (This may seem like a strange application of biology, but it’s fascinating to me!)

First, look at the whole body. All that complexity is stored in one whole: you. My body reminds me that the most basic focus of life is who we are: we are children of God. Knowing this is step one. So that is the first thing we would want to help our children understand. Like the single cell is the most fundamental unit of creation, gaining this knowledge is the most fundamental place to begin.

Second, we consider our relationship to Christ and to the children of God around us. We look outside of ourselves to see others and we learn how God wants us to treat others. We learn that Heavenly Father loves each of his children, and so we need to treat others with the same kindness with which God treats us. We need to know that God will help us with everything we need to know on earth, including how to strengthen and create eternal families.

Third, after we know who we are, we can begin to learn the basics of survival and happiness within that context: we need to learn how to feed and clothe ourselves and provide shelter and fuel for ourselves. We need to know that God will help us learn how to take care of ourselves, and He will help provide what we cannot do for ourselves, because we are His children and because He loves us.

This process of our knowledge dividing and growing reminds me of the first part of development.

Once we know that and we have reached adulthood and are ready to form a family, we can marry. Two people, a man and a woman, married by proper authority, begin that family. This reminds me of the next step in development, in which the cells differentiate and begin together to form the different major parts of the body.

Interestingly, as a couple, we have to learn those same 3 steps over again. In this new setting, we are trying to treat that second person as a child of God and strengthening that eternal family unit. We have to learn to work together to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and fueled, relying on God.

Once we have a child, our family “body” has grown to three, and the pattern repeats. Now together we are responsible to teach that child, beginning again at teaching the child who they are, what their relationship is to God, Christ, and others, and then moving on to food, clothing, shelter and fuel, all in the context of their relationship to God. As we add children into a family, it reminds me of the specialization that takes place in the further development of the organs. That reminds me of the scripture in 1 Corinthians 12:14, which says, “For the body is not one member, but many.” And Paul goes on to describe how each body part is essential to the rest of the body.

All the knowledge we gain can essentially be divided up into those four categories of basic gospel knowledge and then food, clothing, shelter and fuel. (According to Elder Perry, you can also group gospel knowledge under fuel). After that, our learning just becomes more and more specialized, the more we learn and the greater experience we gain.

So with these categories from Thoreau and Perry, I have reorganized my “Teach ‘Em” tab. To find those posts that relate to some specific knowledge of teaching, such as teaching children music, look under one of the four tabs. You’ll find those pages that used to be in a very long list under the tab are now divided into one of the four categories: to take care of their body, to get dressed, to provide shelter, and to obtain fuel.

I hope that this reorganization helps me remember that when life gets overwhelming and just feels too complex, just go back to the basics: who we are, why we are here, and what is essential in the context of love and faith.

To read a far more inspiring article on nature and what is essential, read or watch “What Matters Most” by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. 

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so we are going to be making pies today. We will need the oven space to roast the turkey on Thursday, and besides, it’s going to be more fun that way. If Eliza will just let us help… Our favorite pumpkin pie 

Milk and toast

Milk and toast

Yesterday ended up being such a surprise, that I felt a follow-up post is in order. After posting about depression, I literally felt a little weight lift in my heart and some happiness take it’s place. I felt like smiling–in earnest. It was like a 

So what does it feel like to be depressed?

So what does it feel like to be depressed?

“Agony In the Garden” by Frans Schwartz is one of my favorite paintings of an angel attending the Savior during his atonement. You can view it online here. You can purchase this print from the BYU Museum of Art Store website.

Here is what feeling depressed feels like to me today:

I wanted to stay in bed and sleep until I could wake up and feel energetic and excited to meet the day.

But I got up at 5:30 am anyway to exercise with my husband.

I wanted to complain and cry and speak angrily or negatively.

But I said positive words and phrases aloud to encourage myself, my husband and my children.

I wanted to stop working, stop moving, to lay down, to sleep away the negative feelings, the heaviness in my head, body, and spirit.

But I kept pressing forward at every step as I prayed, studied my scriptures, ran for 30 minutes, made breakfast, had scriptures and prayers with the children, got children off to school, cleaned up the kitchen, showered, planned for the day, did some service, dragging myself through everything, hoping that it would feel easier.

I wanted to share how I’m feeling, so other women who suffer from depression know that they are not alone.

So I am.

Depression is an inner battle that is exhausting to fight. I fight it because it is part of my “package deal”–part of God’s personal plan for happiness for me. I fight it because it isn’t a curse, even though it feels like it sometimes. It is a challenge that comes with blessings of empathy for others and the strengthening of my will. It helps me learn to work against opposition. To press forward against what is hard.

But I don’t always press forward. Not everyday. Not all the time. It is hard. I am human. Sometimes I give in and stay in bed. Sometimes I cry. Often I cry. Sometimes I raise my voice at my family members or react harshly. Sometimes I feel too tired to be patient, to be gentle. Sometimes I say no. Sometimes I crawl into bed and wish I could go back home to heaven, to have my test be over.* Sometimes I come home from church or cancel commitments because it is too much to face people when I feel like sobbing. I don’t want to have to explain why. I just want to deal with it privately. I want to come out when I’m ready to smile, when I feel lighthearted again. Lately that doesn’t feel like very often.

I can keep going because I know that God is there. He has made me promises. I know God keeps His promises, even when they feel so far off. I know that Christ is there. I know that during his atonement, Christ suffered for me personally. He felt pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, isolation. So even though he doesn’t take this from me today, He will help me fight. And lighten my load.

You may not see angels around me, but I've got angels in my life helping me. Just as I finished writing this post, my cell phone rang. It was Rebecca, calling me from school just to say she loves me and to thank me for being there for her. Thank you, Rebecca, for illustrating what I mean by angels and tendermercies that help me make it through each day.
You may not see angels around me, but I’ve got angels in my life helping me. Just as I finished writing this post, my cell phone rang. It was Rebecca, calling me from school just to say she loves me and to thank me for being there for her. Thank you, Rebecca, for illustrating what I mean by angels and tendermercies that help me make it through each day.

And my husband is there. It is hard on him. And my family is there. It’s not easy for them either. I know they love me because they are patient with me and keep trying to help. They know it is hard.

So today I am praying for strength to keep going. I’ve made it this far. I’m praying to find a doctor who can help me find some medication that might help with the hormonal changes that fuel the depression. I’m praying for the strength to keep being able to do for my family what is my job: to plan the meals, to buy the groceries, to make the dinner. I’m praying for the courage to smile when I feel like frowning. I’m praying that at the end of the day to be able to write in my journal about the tendermercies that he gave me to help make it through my day, one hour at a time.

And I “opened the window:” I wrote about what it feels like to be depressed. And after posting this, I actually feel like smiling.

*And I’m not suicidal. I’m just describing my feelings. I know God loves me, that He is going to help me. I’ve dealt with this off and on for so long. I know it will get better.

On pumpkin pie and appearances

On pumpkin pie and appearances

Two weeks ago, we had an FHE lesson on personal appearance. I had wanted to open the lesson with a visual that my children (and I!) would remember. We had had pumpkin pie for Sunday dinner the day before, and this idea of using two 

Always remember him: mid-week reminders

Always remember him: mid-week reminders

I just watched this beautiful visual review of the Savior’s life with Elder Costa’s gentle narration. I loved the feeling I had as I watched and listened: that soft-heart, soul-stirring feeling that makes me want to be kinder and more faithful in how I look 

Learn by doing

Learn by doing

peacn pie by Sarah
Sarah made this beautiful pecan pie last Thanksgiving, and we all enjoyed it– both the look and the taste. How did she learn to make pie? By reading the recipe and trying it out, of course. It’s so simple! I agree with this article by Dr. Halverson, that we often learn much better by doing something than simply by listening or reading about it. (After all, we did come to earth to gain experience, and Heavenly Father is the best teacher of all….)

The following is a reprint of an article I read (and that was originally published) in the Deseret News on September 13, 2016, entitled “Taylor Halverson: Break the tradition of education by lectures and learn more by doing.”  I wanted to publish it here because I think the comparison he uses to foot binding is relevant to the limiting style of lecturing. I am reminded of one of Sarah’s first English classes at BYU. Instead of just listening to her professor and reading and writing about refugees, her professor had her find a service opportunity that would benefit local refugees, spend time regularly doing that serving, and then create a blog about her experiences. Perhaps more education we do can be “hands on.” I think the applications are endless. (Article reprinted with permission of the publisher and author.)

I love learning and love institutions of learning. I’ve spent the majority of my life in the pursuit of learning.

If I start with my preschool years and add up all the years I spent in school, including my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I was in school from the age of 4 until the age of 34 (minus the years of my mission and a year taken off between undergrad and graduate school, though those three years were intensive periods of learning in my life). So, my 40-plus years of life I’ve spent 27 of them in formal learning contexts. Now, let’s add to that number how many years I’ve worked in higher education after I completed my formal schooling: going on 10 years. So I have a grand total of 36 years as a formal learner or working in formal learning institutions.

Despite this love of learning, I have seen times when I’ve been in an institution of higher learning and it’s felt like a form of educational foot binding.

No, I don’t mean the type of foot binding practiced for a millennia in China. In Chinese foot binding, young girls had their feet tied so as to prevent further natural growth. Some group of Chinese believed that small feet on women looked beautiful. These individuals had enough influence to create a cultural institution that persisted for centuries, to the delight of the “cultured” and to the horrific pain and permanent debilitating of the women upon whom it was practiced.

So what do I mean by educational foot binding?

Let’s consider a few questions for a moment. If you had to describe a typical high school or college learning environment, what is it like? Who is doing the talking and the doing? The students or the teacher? Who is passively sitting and watching? How does the learning take place? By doing something or by reading and writing?

If your experience is like mine, you will have answered that the doing and learning is performed by the teachers, while the students remain in a passive state, the opposite of what “The Rules of Learning” recommend.

Now consider this: How does a child learn to walk? Do all children learn to walk at the same time? In the same way? Does any child require an instructor or an instructor’s manual to learn to walk? Or does a child learn by doing, by overcoming the fear of failure to try something, to learn from the experience, to learn from falling down and getting back up?

Let us return to high school and college education. How is it designed? For learners to learn by doing? Or do we first subject them to reading hundreds of pages of textbooks and listening to hundreds of hours of lecture from teachers and professors before the students are deemed capable to doing?

This, I suggest, is a form a foot binding.

We hobble our students, bind their ability to walk on their own when we tie them up with the traditions and modes of teaching and learning that have persisted for centuries without much critical reflection.

To be clear, I do not think that entire educational system is broken. Much of what occurs in formal educational settings is fabulous and commendable. But there are strong traditions and ways of teaching and learning that ultimately only serve to bind the feet of learners who could do far much more if we (as teachers) empowered them to do so.

Yes, I love reading and listening to experts. I believe that these forms of teaching and learning are extremely valuable and indispensable at times. However, for the sake of tradition and efficiency, too much of the educational system practices this form of foot binding, keeping the students from doing, from trying things out, from experiencing, from failing, from falling and getting back up. In some cases, students do not get to do their learning until after they have been certified with their diplomas that they are empowered to do so.

We should unleash the natural propensity for human learning by unbinding the metaphorical feet of learners from the shackles of bad pedagogy, the unthinking drive for educational efficiency, and the allure of pedagogical tradition.

Taylor Halverson (doctorates: Biblical studies; instructional technology) is a BYU teaching & learning consultant. His views are his own.

On building walls

On building walls

My friend recently asked online for a poem that I hadn’t heard before, as well as posting “Mending Wall.” I wanted to post both here for future reference. Building walls is one of those post-election topics we certainly be discussing. “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost Something