This would be a good place for something profound

Tomorrow we begin our forty-day electricity fast. I feel like there were several things I meant to do and write and plan for before this started, but today was busy with family and barbecuing and recovering from the CBC and shrugging when my mom couldn’t stop remarking on how large my 28-week belly looks.

I have printed off recipes and information for swimming lessons; I’ll probably go on Tom’s freelance laptop once a week for ten minutes to check our finances, since I don’t feel comfortable leaving them completely unwatched. I bought some candles and a drying rack and . . . oops, today we bought an electric pump to blow up the kiddie swimming pool because just looking at the handpump exhausted me. Guess I’ll be standing in the return line tomorrow. Funny how I can talk this up to the kids every day for a week and totally space that an electric air pump would take — duh — electricity.

I’m excited for this, though today I realized the only music I’ll hear between now and July 10th is whatever I catch on the radio in the car, and the hymns at church. It’s probably better that I don’t really know what to expect: perhaps it’ll be totally sublime with daily epiphanies; perhaps it’ll be intolerable. I plan to write something every day, but the question I want to answer  is one that I’ve wanted to adopt as a focal point for months now, but somehow have never found the time. (And it doesn’t have to do with living a “green” lifestyle.)

It comes from Elder Eyring: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?”

If you need me, please email Tom at tomjohnson1492 @ gmail dot com.

Rude awakening

Let me preface this by saying that rarely has my husband been so attractive to me. First he mopped the floors and washed the dishes after a long day of work and his (exhausting) weekly basketball game. Then he told me, after watching the kids for the first of three days, that whenever he has to do the dinner/bedtime thing all by himself, he realizes again how much I do.

Then, on the first full day of parenting the children, he took them camping. They got to the campground 15 minutes from our house in the early afternoon. They climbed willow trees, rode bikes, roasted marshmallows over an open fire that only claimed one wayward sock, ate Little Ceasar’s pizza, and were sound asleep by 7 pm.

I asked what he had planned for breakfast and he said they’d be home early.

This morning before I left, Tom and I were, uh, indisposed. Actually, he was amorous, and I was acquiescent despite my growing whale-like proportions for the aforementioned reasons (helping around the house really is sexy). Susan and Spot were playing legos in their room and Sally would be home from school at any moment. (It was her last day so she had an important hour-and-a-half of education before summer officially began).

Suddenly our locked door started rattling. Sally was home, and asking if Daddy was still asleep. (I had told her she would probably be home before he even woke up, and that I’d probably be gone by then). I said, “Yes he’s still asleep, go play with your sisters.”

She persisted. I insisted he was still asleep and she should go play with her sisters.

Finally she gave up and we were able to concentrate. Afterward, I asked her if she didn’t remember that talk we had a few months ago, about how if mommy and daddy’s door is locked, you don’t want to come in anyway. And she said,

“Well I knew you weren’t doing that.”

And how did she know that?

“Because you already have one.”

“One what”?

“A baby in your tummy.”


When I could speak again, I told her that we still love each other and that married people sometimes do that for no other reason.

Confession time, and a penance


I like Walmart, and I shop there regularly (it helps that we have a brand-new store, with un-sullen workers, so far). I know it’s the nadir of taste, style, social conscience, and seven other sins, but I am unashamed. And I really think that unless you’ve lived for a couple years in a third-world country where you have to go to five different stores for what you could get at Walmart, and it still isn’t what you really want, you don’t get to judge me. (Places like France are different. There, it’s a pleasure to walk from store to store. There, I would walk five miles uphill both ways for a shop that only sells pastries, because they’re worth it.)

Penance (not really; actually a pleasure, but pretend):

I like Sassy Scoops, a review website of local Utah places. Their mission is a great one, and their reviews of all different kinds of businesses, from restaurants to carpet cleaning to yoga studios, are informative, visually appealing, and usually pretty funny, too. Right now they’re spreading the word about buying local first and supporting Utah businesses by offering the chance to win $100 in gift cards to local businesses for posting about Sassy Scoops. I admit, I’d love to win the gift cards (it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they asked me to Guest Sassy with them sometime, either :P). But really, I think what they’re doing is great.

Some local businesses that I’ve been impressed with since moving back to Utah include:

Mi Ranchito. I love yummy, cheap Mexican food. Grampa took us to a new age Mexican place in Florida once and the food, while good, was just a little too healthy. You want some grease and salt with your beans, you know? Mi Ranchito is it.

San Gelato Cafe. I took my kids there during a girls night out sponsored by Sassy Scoops and the Casual Blogger Conference (which starts tonight! in Utah!). It was super-yummy and child-approved, and I’m sad we didn’t wait out the market a little longer and buy in Daybreak.

Memory Mixer. There are a lot of digital scrapbooking options out there. Memory mixer, created by Utah ladies, is the best (easiest, non-proprietary, flexible, affordable) that I’ve tried. I’ll be hosting a giveaway of their software after my electricity fast, if you can wait that long.

Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. It was a dark and stormy night. We love it. The end.

There are a bunch more, like the Back Alley Salon (a little bit ghetto, but way unpretentious!) in American Fork and my neighbor down the street who does hair in her basement. I’m in awe of women like Raw Melissa who does the personal chef thing and the doula thing. While businessy-type things often make me skittish, the whole local-person-you-meet-face-to-face-and-partner-with-to-grow-the-economy thing is conversely very appealing. Local businesses (especially house-cleaning-for-post-partum-mommy-outfits)! Contact me! Or not! Either way!

Kitchen Wisdom

Lately I’ve found myself teaching my oldest girl important life lessons, like how to make bread and how to  prepare a Mountain Dew with just the right amount of ice and a straw (for me), and how to clean the bathrooms — things I want her to know before the new baby comes so she can help keep things going around here. Sometimes I could learn from her: somehow she’s trained her two younger sisters to wait outside her door and ask “Can I come in please?” before entering her room. I told her that whatever she requires of them I could require of her, so to think that through carefully.

When she is enthusiastic about getting her chores done, she can pied piper those kids into racing to see who can finish first. All this without a single Love and Logic course. Is that just the prerogative of the first child? I remember my mom asking me to set a good example and to get my younger siblings to do things on Saturday mornings. Instead I hid in the bathroom and read (actually, that sounds really familiar, Sally).

But I still have some wisdom to impart, bit by bit as she’s old enough to handle it:

#1 Always check a new box or bag of groceries or household items carefully, so you don’t open the wrong end or ruin the zipper on the easy-reclosable opening. I demonstrate this for her on a regular basis, just for emphasis, because it’s tragic when you open a 2-pound bag of Twizzlers right UNDER the zipper.

#2 Always check your fountain drink before leaving a drive-through or gas station. There’s nothing worse than driving away with a slightly bitter soda that needed the syrup bag replaced. This one I haven’t been able to teach from my own actions; it’s one of those mistakes you only make once in life, so dire are the results. But when she got her Sprite from Costco last week, it was a teachable moment right there in the parking lot.

I do teach her important stuff, like the meaning of sex, or why we don’t drink alcohol (Hint: it’s not in the 10 Commandments, like she was trying to tell Susan), but sometimes, though she inherited a mean voice to rival my own (maybe THAT’s how she got the younger girls to keep out of her room), she seems to intuit how to do important things. (And I can’t tell you how I cringe whenever I hear that voice coming out of her mouth.)

Last night there was only a small section of pie left. Tom had already had some, and Spot hadn’t come downstairs for scripture time, or finished her dinner (which was a friendly peanut butter and jam sandwich, I might add). So I divided the rest between Sally, Susan, and myself. Spot started crying, the broken-heart crying, not the tantrum-crying (which is much easier to ignore). I held her in my lap and rubbed her back with one hand as I shoveled in pie with the other, telling her I was sorry she’d made the choice to not listen to scriptures and not eat her dinner.

Sally went to the cupboard, got a plate out, and cut off the larger half of her piece for Spot.

Maybe that’s why they welcome her like banshees every afternoon, and why Susan will hole up in her room late at night doing the reading lesson I futilely cajoled her about earlier. Even though it bugs me when people say their kids teach them so much, I’d like to have some of that mystique she weaves around them effortlessly, magically, but somehow I don’t think a mother is ever going to be as idol-worthy as a big sister.

I love to see the temple

I don’t know why this is slightly out of focus. I’d blame the camera, but it, like so much involving technology, is probably user-error. I thought about taping it again (or whatever the word is, memory-carding it?), but the first take is usually the best. I love how Spot says “sacred” in the last sentence. I don’t know. Maybe she needs a speech assessment. Her vocabulary is great for a three and a half year old, and I can understand her. Anyway, I’m happy to tag along to college and translate!

spot sings i love to see the temple from shannon johnson on Vimeo.

How I came to terms with motherhood

(today) (right this moment) (for now, anyway).

Since becoming a mother nine and a half years ago, I’ve been a working mom, a living-overseas mom, a going-to-school-and-working-a-bit mom, and a stay-at-home mom. It was funner and more-easily-rewarding to be any of those things than a stay-at-home mom. When I railed against “motherhood” in my not-finer moments, what I really meant was stay-at-home motherhood. I wrote stuff like Do you hate being a mother so much? and confessed my irrational rage at little girls digging into the brownies I was saving. (It’s never about the brownies.)

And then, slowly, things started to change. I noticed it first around the time that I switched from What About Mom? to Seagull Fountain and when Michelle included me in her mommyblogger thesis and analyzed how my posts had become less frustrated. Throughout it all, I believed that being a stay-at-home mom, if we could arrange our lives that way, was important to me, important to the vision I had of the kind of childhood my kids would have, the sort of homelife we would have as a family, taken as a complete whole.

But I didn’t realize how fully I had come to appreciate and enjoy the staying-at-home-ness until I read a Segullah post asking Wasn’t there supposed to be more to it than this? I remember thinking that exact same way, that no matter how fulfilling motherhood was supposed to be, I just wasn’t feeling it. And then — and then my kids started getting older and more interesting, I started writing this blog, we moved into a house where I started gardening and continued experimenting with cooking and baking. (I am not a Martha Steward type, but I like to eat, and when I eat, I like it to taste good.)

I started exploring things that previously seemed whacked beyond the beyond (natural childbirth, composting, seeing how cold we could set our thermostat and still be comfortable, homeschooling). The struggle to be a good mother (in my own eyes) got harder (it’s easy to know and fill all the needs of a newborn), and therefore more interesting.

And two things struck me. First, that what I feel, and what I fill my life with are up to me. It’s a free country. If I hated being a stay-at-home mom that much, I could just go get a job. I may have made some educational or career sacrifices along the way, but I could make up for them, and also — they must have made sense at the time. Meaning, there was a reason I did this, a reason it meant enough to me to choose it. I think of a nun in a convent — does she give up the cloistered life because it is boring and unfulfilling (can you imagine how boring an ascetic life would be without a deep conviction, a rich inner life and unshakeable purpose) or is that life the most fulfilling for her because it is her calling?(right then) (at that time in her life).

The other thing I’ve learned is this paradox. The hard thing when you first become a mother or first have another baby is that suddenly you feel you have no autonomy, no self. You can’t pee/shower/eat/sleep when you want to (especially if you breastfeed, and I mean that in a good way — breastfeeding is my absolute favorite thing about having a new baby: it ties you together metaphorically and literally). And whatever you do — you’re often too tired, drained, or otherwise exhausted to remember that you want to wallow in every moment of gorgeous babyness.

Becoming a mother is a complete surrendering of self to the baby’s needs. But. When you stay-at-home as your kids get older, you can do whatever you want. You set the schedule, you choose the food/environment/atmosphere/activities. You can read what you want, nap if you want, eat when you want, shower when you want, write what you want, plant what you want. You can plan something crazy like an electricity fast. You’re the boss.

And if you’re the boss, who do you blame if your life isn’t everything you thought it would be?


The take-the-pedals-off, lower-the-seat, and let-them-scoot method really works. Susan spent probably a total of thirty minutes, last fall and this spring, practicing balancing on her bike. This is her third run with the pedals back on. I love her oblivious pedaling away, knees all scrunched up, and Tom’s watchful scurrying behind her. Sometimes when I’m beyond frustrated with Tom as a husband (and with me as a wife), I am reconciled by him as a father. Which is probably why we had kids.

susan rides her bike from shannon johnson on Vimeo.

Honorable Mention: By name

When I started seminary in ninth grade, our teacher, a traditionalist, an earnest-but-uninspiring man, told us that the story of the Old Testament was about covenants and inheritance, about first sons and birthright and how the Lord’s chosen usually turned out not to be the first son anyway, because the first son sold his birthright or sinned it away or otherwise showed himself to be unworthy.

I wasn’t very interested. How could I be? I am not any kind of son, let alone a first or second or even twelfth. I’ve held that same distanced, valuable-as-a-historical/religious-record but not of much personal meaning to me in my daily life feeling for almost twenty years. Nothing I learned from a rather more-enlightening professor in college changed my mind about the Old Testament being primarily by men for men.

Then I started going to Sunday School for the first time in years. (I had been busy in other callings during that hour for most of my adult life.) And Tom started a new scripture study program in our home where he reads/skims until he finds a story, and then tells it to us, having Sally read a few important verses here and there. (He asks me if I want to do the preparatory reading some nights; so far I have been almost always passed out on the couch or still cleaning up dinner.)

But I started hearing the stories of the Old Testament. Tom is aware of his role as father to daughters exclusively, so maybe he has been emphasizing the female roles, but it turns out that the Old Testament is really all about women. About their spiritual and physical journey to become mothers. And about their role in nation-building, whether it’s Jael nailing Sisera or the judge and prophetess Deborah, or Delilah who Samson was an idiot to confide in, or the wise woman who saved her city from Joab’s wrath by offering him the head of Sheba (a traitor to King David) thrown over the wall of the city.

And don’t forget Eve (who the Mormon church revere as perhaps the wisest, bravest of them all), and Esther, and Rebekah, who went to the Lord herself about children, who conspired (it seems) with the Lord to bypass Esau for Jacob in the blessing from Isaac.

Some women in the Old Testament are never named, and yet their stories are as archetypal, as symbolic and pointing towards the coming and role of Christ as any of the revered patriarchs’ interactions with their sons. Mary, the mother of Jesus, wasn’t the first woman to know that her Son would be special, different, dedicated to God. What about Sarah, mother of Isaac, and Hannah, mother of Samuel?

What about Moses’s mother, mother of Moses? Actually we know her name, we just never talk about her by name. She was Yocheved — Jochebed in the KJV. Her story, to me, is as captivating, faith-affirming, electrifying as any, and yet we hardly give her a name and do little more than gloss over her story. We spend weeks agonizing in ecstasy over the obedience Abraham showed in his willingness to sacrifice his grown son, and yet mention in passing that, oh yeah, a mother in Israel had to send her infant son down the river. For the good of his people, for the mysterious ways of the Lord.

Perhaps this would all be old news to serious biblical scholars; I was appalled and delighted to realize I could have been calling Moses’s mother by her name all these years. And I wanted to explore her story. I submitted my first attempt to Rixa’s writing contest. You can read it here. I am unsatisfied by it, especially the ending. Someday I will try again. In the meantime, I’ll teach my daughters her name, and her story.

The Book of Jochebed

The Book of Jochebed*

When I was a little girl, I pestered my mother to read me the story of Sarah and Isaac one more time. I liked the idea of a mother wanting a baby so badly, of a father wanting a baby so badly, of a baby born to parents like that. Children like to think that they are the center of their parents’ existence, and in the story of Sarah and Isaac, the baby really is the center of the world.

The part where Sarah had to watch as her husband led her now-grown boy away from home, up the mountain, to answer God’s command wasn’t my favorite part. The older I got, the more I worried about that little mother, left at home, left to mourn, strong in faith and hopeful of the future, but deep down inside, despairing. Then the long climb, the obedient Isaac gathering stones for an altar, laying the sticks for fire on top. And then the relief, the blessed denouement of the Angel telling that the test was passed. And still, even with the happy ending, days of waiting for Sarah, before they got back, and she fell on Isaac to hold him. Isaac, who impatient as an active boy with a mothers’ caresses, held her back this time and absorbed her trembling.

I hoped the rest of God’s promises to Abraham would be fulfilled without my having anything to do with it. But I am the daughter of Levi, the granddaughter of Jacob and Leah. When I was old enough, I gave myself in marriage to Amram, my brother’s son. We were happy. Amram was a good man who honored his father’s heritage. Though we were slaves to the Egyptians, we were important to our people, and I was blessed with a daughter, Miriam, who has been my planner and my fixer, and a son, Aaron, who is quick of speech and a natural leader.

But the Egyptians were not happy with our growing numbers. They laid burdens on our backs but couldn’t ignore how strong those backs were. Pharaoh commissioned our midwives to destroy our male babies. Our midwives rebelled. Pharaoh decreed that all male children should be cast in the river. By this time I was older even than Sarah at the time of Isaac’s birth, and yet I found myself with child again, and feared.

It was made known to me that the son I carried would be a deliverer of our people, a savior, a type of the Messiah to come who would be our spiritual Savior, a way for us to escape our bondage. I fretted. How could this come to pass if Pharaoh’s law was enforced? How would I survive, with aching emptiness after carrying my baby, with milk for a child not slated to suckle?

I had my sweet baby for three months, hidden from Pharaoh’s watchers. Miriam suggested we build an ark of bulrushes, to carry the baby as we cast him in the Nile. We would time it to the Pharaoh’s daughter’s time in the river. We would have faith, hope in the future, praying no leak would spring or gust of wind blow up, praying God would soften her heart, keep and save my poor son, this boy who should, somehow, be our deliverer out of Egypt.

Still, deep inside, beyond the faith and hope and God, I despaired. The ark looked so small, so insecure, so easily buffeted by the waves. I couldn’t watch. Miriam hid in the rushes and saw the daughter of Pharaoh take my baby from the water, and call him Moses. Miriam waited until she was noticed and then offered to find a wet nurse for the baby that Pharaoh’s daughter wanted to adopt.

And so I was able to mother my baby while not being his mother. I lost the name of mother, the role I had seen for myself in his life from the moment I quickened, to save his life, to be what he needed, to have the chance to teach him who he really was.

I still didn’t see how he would be the deliverer. How God would keep his heart while in the court of the Pharaoh. But if God can make a mother not a mother to the world but still a mother to her child, God can do anything.

*There are several varying Jewish traditions about Yocheved, mother of Moses. This is based on the account in the KJV Old Testament and the wild imaginings of a fellow pregnant woman and mother.

Tell me there’s a record for that

Last night set a record for number of times getting up to pee. Where did all that liquid come from? I almost expected my eyeballs to be limp and slack in their sockets by morning.

I’ve also started having numb hands at night. Tara had pain with her numb hands (if I remember rightly) and they stayed numb for a long time, so she had to wear braces and get steroid injections in her wrists with her last pregnancy (again, if memory serves). I don’t have any pain and the feeling comes back within minutes, and it’s at least better (and more interesting) than volcanic heartburn, so I’ll take numb hands any day of the week and twice on Mother’s Day.

I have a new goal to not go to bed until the dishes and laundry are caught up. The rest of the chores can be put off to the weekend, but I love waking up to a kitchen empty of dirties; it’s so much easier to start stuffing my face with pancakes that way. Tom thinks my new laundry plan (which includes having each family member take up and put away clean clothes right after scriptures each night and bringing down all dirty clothes after their bath) is inefficient because it involves daily trips with the hamper and daily processing of two batches of laundry instead of a marathon of washing and drying on Saturday followed by a marathon of folding on Sunday night.

I pointed out that at various times in the past few years he has agreed to help out more around the house by doing either the laundry or the dishes. This translates into him getting his hands wet approximately twice a month (usually right after I have an emotional breakdown, which is certainly effective, but also quite exhausting). So I don’t think he should be criticizing any method that involves me doing the work.

And finally (I’m remembering why I don’t usually do random posts like this, since humorous tidbits aren’t my forte), Chrysanthemum went out of town, leaving me with no walking partner. I had such plans. To walk anyway, or to work in the yard, at least, which is good exercise because I need to move some dirt and filling the wheelbarrow halfway leaves me completely out of breath. But shockingly I have  been glued to this chair for the past two days. And even more surprisingly, I feel terrible. Why is it so hard to do what we know we should in order to feel good?