Doing Hard Things (Bernie, Brandy, and Paige)

This last episode (Episode 7, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”) of Seeking Sister Wife was honestly very hard for me to watch. This difficulty had nothing to do with the quality of the filming or of the editing. It had to do with the raw truth of the matter: polygamy can be very difficult at times. And this episode, more than any of the previous episodes, highlighted many of the difficult things about it. Part of the reason it was hard to watch was that it showed the difficulties even well-adjusted, loving plural families (or potentially plural families) can experience.

We saw the very tense and awkward moments when Vanessa’s sisters were visiting in Los Angeles. Dimitri puts it so succinctly when he says that people are going to fall off, meaning relationships will be severed one way or another. It is a sad, painful, and unnecessary reality. We even got a glimpse into the struggles of (arguably) the most functional of plural families, the Alldredges, when Sharis tells about how she sometimes misses Jeff on nights he is not with her.

What’s more, it’s not just theoretical, or televised “plural families” that can have difficulties; it is my family. Watching this episode was difficult partly because it brought back memories of our own difficulties trying to live as polygamists in a society that largely frowns upon that. Fortunately, we have overcome most of those difficulties, both with others and with ourselves (but we’re not perfect yet), and things are so much better and smoother than they were in the beginning. There is so much to talk about in this episode that it is almost overwhelming.

As a plural husband, Paige McGee’s melt down was so hard to watch. I can tell that Bernie has a genuine, deep, and abiding affection for his wife. He is hurt when she is hurt. He is concerned for her welfare, for her physical and emotional well being. A person’s own emotions are difficult enough to manage. Handling other people’s emotions requires an added measure of patience and control.

I’ve talked about Paige’s issues with jealousy here and here already, so I won’t address it again – there’s not much more to say. Jealousy is natural and jealousy can serve a positive function, but jealousy also needs to be checked before it turns into envy. All that aside, I feel for Paige in this episode. When it comes to changes in plural marriage, the first wife has got some of the biggest adjustments to make. To be sure, everyone involved has to make some pretty huge changes when a new wife is added to the family. Of course, the biggest changes to any family come with the addition of the first two wives.

It is arguable that the biggest and most difficult changes accompany the marriage of the first wife. This is when the family is first forming, and therefore is experiencing the most dramatic changes. Consequently, this can also be the most difficult time for a family. I am speaking in general terms here, but the risk of divorce is highest during the first few years of marriage. There are so many adjustments that need to be made! And so many different types of adjustments – mental, physical, financial, logistical, etc. The stress can be crushing. But commitment pays off, hang in there, and give it some time and effort. Things get better with every passing year, and just because marriage is sometimes hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it!

Of course, adding the second wife is a huge adjustment for everyone too. The new wife has to adjust to being married (just as the first wife did), and adjust to the rest of the family and the first wife as well. The first wife has to adjust to her changing schedule both with her husband and also new interactions with the second wife. The children will certainly have adjustments to make, and the husband will obviously have a large additional load on his shoulders as well.

I don’t know the McGees personally (but I’d like to; they seem like very nice people) but my guess is that the mixture of emotions Paige was feeling have a lot of basis in a fear of the unknown. This fear is largely informed by our culture, which includes our family, friends, churches, laws, and a multitude of other factors. As I recall, Paige talks about her family playing the role of devil on her shoulder in the first episode – whispering doubts and encouraging envy. We saw some of the same with Vanessa Cobbs in this episode too.

Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, the fear, the jealousy, the envy, the uncertainty, and the negative responses are all real, but none of these things are sufficient reasons to give up. They are all obstacles to overcome, and, much to Paige’s credit, she pulled thru in the end! She is not even the one who asked Bernie to come back – that was TLC (and I think that was a bad move and poor form on their part). Regardless, it looks like things turned out anyway. It would have been an absolute tragedy if the date had not gone thru.

I feel for Paige and the difficult emotions she is dealing with in this episode. I feel for Bernie and his loving concern for Paige. And I feel for Brandy too! What thoughts must be going thru her head as she is waiting out in the car alone while Bernie gets called back in to console Paige? She seems to handle it well tho.

Paige knows what she wants, even if it is hard, and I admire her for that! Hard things that are worth it. We could easily make a list of a hundred things that fit this description (some harder than others) – things that you want and are willing to work and sacrifice for: Marriage, child birth, raising children, going to school, training for a marathon, quitting smoking, changing your life for the better, cleaning your room, getting up in the morning, going to work, going to church, etc. You get the idea.

There is pain and emotion connected to all of these things. That is real, and that is something that has to be dealt with if you want to accomplish anything useful or good in this world. Just because these things are hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Just because they make you cry sometimes doesn’t mean you should give up. It is an uphill battle. Be patient with yourself and others. Things take time, and there will be setbacks. Get back on that horse and keep riding!

Happiness

“If they’re happy with her and they make her happy, then I’m happy.”  Bree 33:30 Season 2 Episode 6

This. This exactly.  So.many.times, this is the type of response I have wanted, but it has not been something that has been expressed upon disclosure by people whom I have had relationships with the longest. Rather, there has been outrage, upset, and hateful words and deeds.  There are literally 5 people, who are close family or long-time friends, whom I have disclosed to in real life that did not express some form of hateful judgment, or have their spouses want them to limit contact with me.

Why?  Why do people insist that others stay in a prescribed box, and not allow them to act according to the dictates of their own conscience?  Why wouldn’t they give latitude for grown adults to make their own decisions and live their lives as they see fit?

Surely, it can’t be that they think they are the only ones going to Heaven?  Because I don’t think that all that many actually are; regardless of whose signatures are on that piece of paper carried in their wallet or purse.  A thorough, actual review of the Bible never condemns polygamy as these non-scripture reading folk seem to be blissfully unaware.  They prefer to avoid the scriptures in lieu of pastors, preachers, and others dictating to them what they should believe rather than the actual Word of God.

I can only assume that those who react the most vehemently are either somehow dependent on what I do for them in order to be okay with their own lives, or else they are people who insist that everyone have the same belief system that they do.

Both points of view are frankly dangerous. They are the basis for either being unwilling to live one’s own life, or they are the basis for extremists to enact violence against others – as has happened through ages past. This is a possibility that we are very sensitive to, and there is generational sensitivity to this.  Sadly, many other polygamists I know have been the subject of persecution, discrimination, and various forms of abuse and even violence.  Not just at the hands of individuals, but also at the hands of religious and civil authorities as well (for example, the cases of Short Creek in 1953 and the 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch.

Because of the history of and possibility for violence, I am all the more grateful, for those few who have expressed that they simply wanted me to be happy.  They are like beams of light on a dreary day.  They have created a small net of safety in the face of uncertainty, and I consider them true friends.  Their friendship is as precious as gold, and likewise untarnishable.

Gold

The World is Upside Down

If buttercups buzzed after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches in the sea,
If ponies rode men, and the grass ate the cow,
If cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If mamas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown,
If summer were spring and the other way ’round,
Then all the world would be upside down.

world upside down

I am amazed sometimes by the world I live in. Things are changing at such an alarming and accelerating rate, and it seems like things have just gone absolutely mad at times. The whole world does indeed seems upside-down, and here is the latest:

This legislative session, the Utah State legislature has just declared that adultery, sodomy, and fornication are no longer crimes. The justification given for this change is that these laws aren’t enforced anyway. Fair enough, but this is the very same thing they say about plural marriage, “We don’t enforce it.” However, in the case of plural marriage they go on to say, “But we just want to keep holding it over your heads.” The whole situation is crazy! These are the descendants of polygamists who settled the desert lands of Utah. They would happily throw their grandparents and great-grandparents in prison, while turning a blind eye to actual crimes. It is a sad state of affairs indeed, but I don’t want to get too much into the hypocrisy and lies surrounding the position taken by the state (that would take a separate post). I just want to highlight the absolute turn about of things!

When I heard about the startling change, I was immediately reminded of a passage from the book, Key to the Science of Theology, by Parley Pratt (one of the first apostles in the Mormon Church). Check it out.

Where is the nation called “Christian,” that does not uphold or permit prostitution, fornication and adultery with all their debasing, demoralizing, degenerating and corroding effects, with all their tendencies to disease and crime, to operate unchecked, and to leaven and corrode all classes of society?

Where is the “Christian nation” that does not prohibit the law of God, as given to Abraham and the ancients in relation to marriage?

Where is the “Christian nation” that punishes the crime of adultery and fornication with death, or other heavy penalties?

Where are the institutions which would protect, encourage, and honour the patriarch Jacob, with his four wives and their children?

Where is the community who would feel themselves honoured in associating with such a family—although, all corrupt practices would be frowned down, and all persons discountenanced, who, under the name of gentility, nobility, or royalty, glory in their conquests and victories over the principles and practices of virtue and innocence?

Echo answers, Where?—unless we look to the far off mountains and distant vales of Deseret, a land peopled by the Latter-day Saints, and governed by the law of God, the keys of the eternal Priesthood, and organized in the New and Everlasting Covenant.

Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, Chapter 17

Oh how the tables have turned! They have flipped a full 180 degrees. Things could not be more upside down. Parley must be turning in his grave!

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! – Isaiah 5:20

Common Law Marriage in Georgia (or: Are the Snowdens Married? – Season II)

There are still questions about the validity of the Snowdens’ marriage.  I suppose this will probably come up every single season they are on the show.  So, I guess I’ll just plan on writing a blog post every single season about it (or not).

Lets talk about common law marriage in the Peach State since that is where they were living.  Of course they moved to California, so I’ll mention that as well, but first a little background.  GAA common law marriage is simply a marriage which is not officially documented by the state.  It is also often the case that common law marriages are not accompanied by any sort of ceremony (that is to say, a documented ceremony – by a church for example).  This of course does not mean that the people involved are not married.  It merely means that the state has not entered their union into the state’s archives.  Also of note is the fact that common law marriage is not the same thing as, “living together”, or even as, “living together for a long time (7 years or whatever)”.

If its not the same, then what is the difference? What is the main difference  between, “living together” and being married (whether documented or common law)?  Please don’t say, “a piece of paper”; you’ll make me both sad and nauseous at the same time.

I hope everyone would agree (at least everyone who is married, and therefore knows the difference) that the main difference is the commitment to the relationship.  hand heartThe main difference, and the thing that makes marriage different from “shacking up” (and better too), is the commitment to the other person and to the relationship.  This difference, this thing, this commitment, is something that the state cannot create nor control, and yet it is the key ingredient, the main ingredient, and is in fact the very core of the matter.  You could even say it was the heart of the matter.

How is this commitment demonstrated in the eyes of the law?  The requirements are essentially the same for both documented and common law marriages.  They are something like this:

  1. The parties must be eligible (age requirements, not too closely related, mentally sound, etc.).
  2. Both parties must be freely willing to enter this agreement i.e. they agree to be married.
  3. The parties present themselves to their acquaintances as married.
  4. They live to live together as man and wife.
  5. Must consummate the agreement.

There are several states which have laws explicitly recognizing common law marriage.  The details of the qualifications vary from state to state, but here they are: Colorado, District of Columbia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (Utah has some interesting things to say about common law marriage and polygamy by the way – there’s another post there someday).

However, there is a snag in all of this given that, officially, common law marriage was “abolished” in the state of Georgia in 1997 – but it isn’t remotely so simple.  In the year 2010, the Supreme Court of Georgia actually decided to recognize a common law marriage anyway.  The link to the court’s decision is here if you are interested in the entire thing, but I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

The parties involved were Debbie Jean Ault and James A. Norman.  In 1986, Mr. Norman was newly divorced from his previous wife.  Three years later (1989), Ms. Ault began living in the same home as Mr. Norman (in Alabama), sharing a bedroom, and doing housework. They would both tell people that the other was their spouse, Mr. Norman had sexual relations only with Ms. Ault, and Ms. Ault would often call herself Mrs. Norman.  And, while they never actually had a marriage ceremony of any kind, Mr Norman would repeatedly tell Ms. Ault that, “in God’s eyes, you are my wife.”

A few years later (1998) they moved to the neighboring state, Georgia – together, of course.  By this time Georgia had abolished common law marriages; they were a thing of the past!  There they managed to live happily (or not) until 2008 when he filed a law suit against her demanding she pay him damages (for who knows what).  She responded that she would need money to do that, and that she didn’t want to be withgavel him any more.  So, she simply countered by filing for divorce, alimony, and an equitable division of assets. Ouch.

He said she couldn’t do that because, 1) they were never married to begin with and, 2) Georgia doesn’t recognize common law marriages.  The Supreme court of Georgia did not agree with Mr. Norman on either count.  Ms. Ault was awarded $54,000 as lump sum alimony.

Why did this happen?  Judges are usually very clever, and they will try to make decisions as narrowly as possible, so as to affect as little of the existing framework of laws as possible.  For them, the fact that Georgia had abolished common law marriage was inconsequential.  They did not even need to address this issue.  Rather, they looked to the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 1) which says that all the states must respect “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.”

Since the Normans lived together as man and wife in Alabama, and Alabama allowed common law marriages at the time (even tho their marriage was never recognized by Alabama), then it follows that the state of Georgia should honor the marital status which the Normans attained while living there. Tada!

Another obvious exception would be the case of couples who contracted a common law marriage in the state of Georgia prior to 1997.  These relationships would all be recognized as valid marriages if there were ever a similar challenge brought before the court.

Despite abolishing common law marriage, Georgia officially accepts them from other states, and accepts them in their own state prior to 1997.  So, what does this mean for a Georgia couple in 2019, that want to have a common law marriage?  It means that their marriage will also be accepted in Georgia, and it means the same thing in California, and in every other state in the union.justice

How could it be otherwise?  How could they have have equal treatment under the law otherwise? Equal treatment is protected by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the equal protection clause). There is no way the state could defensibly accept a common law marriage (along with granting all the privileges that accompany that condition) entered into on the 31st of December 1996, and deny one entered into on the 1st of January 1997.  You cannot give different treatment to people who are similarly situated.  The Georgia law would amount to discrimination based upon age.

The current law essentially says, if you were born in the 80s or later, you cannot contract a common law marriage, even tho your parents did, and your older siblings (who were born in the 70s) did.  It is ludicrous to think that the state can abridge a fundamental right at all, and marriage is absolutely a fundamental right – which means it resides with the people and not the government.  There is no logical way around it. If it were challenged, the law abolishing common law marriage it would obviously fail.  The only reason it is still on the books is because it hasn’t been challenged.

Common law marriage is at the very heart of the idea of marriage.  Marriage is a contract; an agreement entered into by a man and a woman for the purpose of creating a family and propagating the species.  The very core of the matter is: who decides that two people can marry?  The people themselves, or the state?  You can’t get rid of common law marriage by any legislation without also getting rid of marriage itself (and this would only happen in a totalitarian, Orwellian nightmare of a world).  It is the foundation upon which all real marriages are built.

The piece of paper – the government documentation – is only a wrapper placed around the core.  All documented marriages are also fundamentally common law marriages at their center ( I say “all” in the sense that the vast majority of them are – there are always a few exceptions, but this is beyond this post.  maybe next season, haha.).  The center is a man and woman casting their lot together, promising to stay that way, and beginning a family.

For the sake of illustration, let me make a comparison to another fundamental right: life.  For most people in the U.S., when they were born they (actually, their parents) were issued a birth certificate by the state in which they were born.  What if the State of Georgia made a law saying they were no longer going to recognize births in the state?  I know this sounds ridiculous, but stay with me.  The new law said that there would no longer be state issued birth certificates.  Would this mean that a baby born in Georgia, after the passing of this law, was not really born, or not really alive because they didn’t have official recognition from the state (or from the church for that matter)?  Of course not!  That would be crazy, right?  The child would be born regardless of what the state said (or didn’t say) about it.  Furthermore, that child would have all the rights that any other natural born citizen would have.

It is true that not having a birth certificate can make life more difficult when it comes to legal matters (and I personally know of some people who have experienced this), but that is a separate issue entirely.

If Georgia stopped issuing birth certificates, it wouldn’t stop people from being born. The state has no say about that.  May it ever be so!  Similarly, the state has no say about marriages.  They may decide not to issue papers, but it would have no effect whatsoever on whether the person was born, or whether a man and woman were married.

Sexting Bernie & Equality

I know this post is an episode behind, but I’ve got to get down some of my thoughts about it before I move on.

I think the whole thing was blown entirely out of proportion. All the previews built up this impression that Bernie was acting in a wildly inappropriate way, but when it actually aired it was seen that it was all just a load of hot air. From what I saw, Bernie is essentially innocent. He didn’t initiate the sexting at all, and Paige herself says Bernie is the one that put an end to it when the woman started to get explicit. I don’t see what is the problem here. It seems like Paige should be proud of her man for that, rather than chastising him for what the other woman sent to him without any solicitation on his part (by this I mean without solicitation for the sexually explicit messages). It is amazing really, and a bit strange.

I also feel like I need to give some props to Bernie here. From what was shown, I would say he handled things very well. He stopped the potentially inappropriate text conversation, and he handled his wife, and her complaints, in a very gracious manner. He ended up apologizing for nothing (he says at first that he didn’t think he had crossed a line – and he is right) in order to protect his relationship – and hey, sometimes you might have to do that. But I’m not sure that apologizing for non-offenses every time they arise is going to be a sustainable long-term solution to the problem.

It seems to all come down to Paige’s well-developed (and dare I say, overdeveloped) sense of jealousy. This is definitely a large hurdle for the McGees and a challenge she has to personally deal with. Jealousy over a husband’s time, affection, and resources is an expected (tho not required!) emotion that has to be dealt with by most plural families, but Paige’s worries go even farther. She thinks she will also be jealous about her children’s time and affection for the new wife (this is in the first episode). I wonder if she will feel even more jealousy when the dogs end up liking the new wife as well?

Paige Doesn't know.png

OK, joking aside, these are serious matters to deal with, and while I was disappointed to see Bernie chided for things he should have been praised for, I do have to give some credit to Paige as well. She admits that she doesn’t know what can and cannot be said between a husband and a potential plural wife (she just knows how it made her feel). I think that’s a fair thing for her to say, and here is my fair response:

The wives should be on equal terms, and with equal privileges. The second wife (and her relationship to their husband – or potential relationship) should not be subject to any restrictions that the first wife and her relationship are not (or were not) also under. Especially if those restrictions are placed on the new wife by the first wife – those are dangerous waters to be treading in. If it was fine for the first wife, it is fine for the second. End of story.

Paige says that when she and Bernie were courting they had, “free discussions” but now that he is married that is not allowed any more. I say bologna. She asks him about holding hands, kisses good night, etc.? One possible response to this question is: Did she and Bernie hold hands, kiss good night, talk about sex, etc.? My guess is that the answer is likely “yes” on all counts – she probably asks this question because she was remembering her own behaviors when she was courting. Not that these things are required for a relationship to progress, but they are normal, healthy, and acceptable behaviors. She says it is about Bernie “respecting” her and their relationship, but I see it much more as disrespect and devaluation, on her part, towards the potential second wife in not allowing her the same privileges she enjoyed – and this would be a very unhealthy way to start a relationship.

I guess another way of saying this is that Paige should not be berating Bernie ex post facto. Their agreement was no sexual intimacy before commitment (a.k.a. marriage), which is an excellent rule to abide by. Bernie did not break this rule, and is therefore innocent. He did not even violate the spirit of this rule. “This is borderline cheating,” she says, but I say it is nothing of the sort; furthermore, the line should not be moved after the fact.

Is it cheating or isn’t it? When it comes to laws and rules, it is not right to hold someone hostage with a fuzzy, ill-defined, gray area that may change in shape or scope with the whims of emotion. It reminds me of the very good rule the Snowdens laid down in the first episode of this season. Ashley told Dimitri that he was allowed to think Vanessa is beautiful, and he was allowed to tell her she was beautiful, but he just wasn’t allowed to act on it.

cant act.png

Something else to consider is the situation the potential second wife finds herself in. She wants to gain the attention/attraction/affection of a man who already has a wife, and who is (presumably) already having sex. Hopefully, it’s no secret that one of the things women bring to a relationship is sex-appeal. Certainly this is not all they bring, but it is a significant part of what they bring, and this is every bit as true in monogamy as it is in polygamy. It is nothing to criticize, or belittle, and it is not strange or creepy. It just needs to be understood as the proper and biological reality of the situation. However, this fact may lead her to believe that she is at a disadvantage, since her potential man is already having sex. As a result, she may feel like she needs to assure him that she will also be sexually pleasing. This is a good and natural desire, and concern, for a woman to have – to want to please her future spouse (and good men are concerned about pleasing their spouse(s) as well).

While I can understand this point of view, I will say to any potential sister wife:

YOU SINCERELY DO NOT NEED TO WORRY ABOUT THIS.

That is all I will say for now (but more on this later).

I could understand limiting things in a second courtship if it was a mistake in the first courtship (like Dimitri drawing a line for Vanessa on their first Date). Beyond this, if it is not sinful, or prohibited by some agreement between spouses, then there should be no attempt to make the parties feel guilty over it. And yet, the emotions here can be so raw and dangerous, that everyone needs to tread cautiously.

My serious advice to potential plural husbands, in this area, is that you should be open about the relationship, but not open about the affection/intimacy. In other words, keep it private between you and the new, or potential, wife; especially when the relationship is so new. Doing otherwise probably won’t be good for anyone.

My serious advice to current wives is: Don’t be going thru his accounts! This (Paige snooping thru Bernie’s messages) actually seems like a much bigger breach of trust to me, than Bernie’s handling of the sexting. Just as I was typing this I recollected that Charlotte, when I was courting Melissa, told me that she knew my email password, but that she wanted me to change it, and that she had decided not to go snooping into correspondence between us. What an amazing woman she is!

Unfortunately, my brother isn’t a polygamist.

When we began telling people we were polygamists, we told them in the wrong order.  We should have told my parents last, rather than first; as it turns out, my father has a big mouth, and couldn’t respect my simple request to allow me to tell people my news myself.  I asked him not to tell anyone for a month, and he promised me that month, and yet within 48 hours he had called both my bishop and his own bishop, confided in his friends and employees, and saddest of all, had announced my news to my brother, whom I really wanted to tell personally.

To his credit, he did call me afterwards and insist, “You should tell your brother your news.”  When I asked him why he was going out of his way to suggest that, he would only repeat himself.

So, I called my brother on the phone.  He was on a road trip with his wife, driving across the desert with spotty cell service.  Between me wondering what my dad had already told him and the phone call frequently getting dropped, the conversation took place in less-than-ideal circumstances.

After I finished telling him, my brother’s immediate response was the following: “What’s going on?  What do you need?  Do you need money?  Do you need help getting out?  Tell me what you need from me; tell me how to react, and I will.”

I answered that I didn’t need money, I didn’t want out of the situation, that all I wanted was his acceptance.  After he was convinced that I was safe, that I was being taken care, and that I was content, he stated his intention to be supportive.

And he has been.

This experience was what I thought of when I saw S2E4 (“Unforeseen Circumstances”) of Seeking Sister Wife.  Sophie Winder has a conversation with her brother about her polygamy, and he says he doesn’t understand it and doesn’t agree with it.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 10.06.54.png

Sophie says it sucks that her brother disagrees with polygamy.

However, she also says, “Unfortunately, he hasn’t chosen to live this lifestyle.”

Screenshot 2019-02-23 12.34.24.png

This is where Sophie and I differ.

I honestly don’t care whether my brother is a polygamist or not.  I also don’t care whether my friends are polygamists or not.  Naturally, if someone is a polygamist, that’s something unusual we have in common, which makes a friendship more likely.  But all I need from a brother or a friend is for them to be a supportive person in my life as a whole; I don’t need them to live exactly as I do.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 10.13.30.png

I’m friends with plenty of monogamists, and I don’t think it’s “unfortunate” that they haven’t chosen to live polygamy.  I still consider them to be “there for me.”

I definitely don’t think everyone should live polygamy.  Among other reasons, polygamy is extremely difficult.  In fact, Sophie’s brother cites that as a reason for not being interested in it.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 10.11.16.png

After the episode aired, Sophie published a post on the Winder family blog called “Live and Let Live.”  You can read it here.  You can also read Joshua’s thoughts on the same conversation here.

Screenshot 2019-02-26 10.13.16.png

Mama Donna (and Other Relatives)

Q:  You want to know what problem with polygamy is?

A:  Multiple Mother-in-Laws.

OK, joking aside (and I’m only partially joking), I feel the need to say a few words about the Snowdens’ most recent interaction with Ashley’s mother, Donna.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the Snowdens are doing great this time around!  But I did find something very disconcerting about the most recent episode of Seeking Sister Wife.

Let me also say, I am very happy that Dimitri’s surprise turned out so well.  It was a bold move for Dimitri, and, after all the extreme discomfort, Mama Donna was ultimately very graceful.  It was a gratifying moment, and a lot of the credit for this had to do with Vanessa’s heartfelt and touching words – she is a gem.  I think she won Mama Donna over.  I also have to give some applause to TLC and the producers of Seeking Sister Wife.  They are the masters of suspense and of the awkward situation.  The awkwardness was so thick it was palpable.  I’m sure there was so much editing and splicing in this scene, but it was entertaining nevertheless.

Alright, here is the issue I wanted to address: At 20 minutes and 24 seconds into the episode Dimitri says,

“If Mama Donna is not on board with Vanessa, you know, this could be the end of our relationship with Vanessa.”

the end of vanessa

As I mentioned earlier, I am very glad that things worked out for them, and I hope that this is not really what Dimitri meant to say; because, it is completely wrong to involve your parents, or your in-laws, in your marriage to the point of giving them veto power.  Yes, parents need to be respected and indeed honored, but they are also supposed to be left behind.

Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

They are supposed to be left behind in many ways.  They are no longer supposed to be relied upon for financial or emotional support.  And, while they may be consulted for advice, they are no longer to have any authority to make decisions for your life.  Adults, and especially married people, must live their own lives, be responsible for their own decisions, and responsible for their own support, independent of their parents and other relatives.  There is no closer relationship, and no bond tighter, than the one you have with your spouse(s).

This can be a very difficult thing for some people to do – difficult for both the parents and the children!  I remember making announcements to our own extended family members when we had become polygamous.  I had to remind so many of them that they could not make decisions for us, and to stop trying, and to stop fretting about it.  After all, it would not affect them any more than they allowed it to.

I liked so much what Sophie Winder had to say on this subject a little earlier in the episode when she was talking to her brother,

Sophie Tells it

“I feel like I’m living this lifestyle with Tami and Colton because I was called to it.  My marriage with Tami and Colton is what we build up, not what your opinion of it is.”

She goes on to say,

“The fact that my brother doesn’t necessarily agree with this lifestyle, you know, kind of sucks, but I firmly believe in my lifestyle, and I don’t feel like there’s any need to apologize, and so I’m going to choose what feels right for my life.”

Preach it Sophie!

Dimitri & Vanessa

My, my, my how things have changed with the Snowdens!  And much for the better, I think.  I love that they are giving it another chance despite what happened between Dimitri and Joselyn last season (and then what happened afterwards, when Joselyn was thrown under the bus).  There is forgiveness and a chance for redemption here, and I like that.  It is amazing actually, and really gratifying to see – so big kudos to them.  They are making me proud this season!

Dimitri seems to have his head in the right place this time (and all his other body parts are in the right place too); and no wonder, with the seemingly constant reminders from both Ashley and the producer.  I both laugh and cringe every time Dimitri is reminded of his poor behavior last season, but he seems to be handling the humiliation gracefully, and with the proper attitude.

I think he has realized that you can’t respect people and treat them as objects at the same time.  He respects Vanessa too much to sleep with her before there is a real commitment (a.k.a. marriage).

Dont cross this line

Remember that, ladies!  If you meet a man who wants to sleep with you, without being willing to marry you first, then just move on.  He doesn’t care about you.  He’s just using you.  He isn’t worth your time, and you are worth much more than that! 

I think Dimitri has realized that there is too much at stake, too much on the line, and that Vanessa is worth waiting for!  I thought it was funny at the restaurant, when Dimitri wouldn’t even touch her, and was drawing an imaginary line between them.  Some may have seen that as a little extreme (even Vanessa poked a little fun at it), but that is the way repentance works.  I know the Snowden’s are not Christian, but the concepts of repentance and forgiveness are universal.  Dimitri’s behavior with Vanessa reminds me of Jesus’ sayings about cutting off your hand if it offends you.  What would have been acceptable before, may need to be denied for the sake of avoiding temptation.

As for that Vanessa, wow, she is indeed a prize!  From everything we have seen of her, she is a priceless gem!  I do not think the Snowdens could possibly find a more perfect woman for their family.  She is thoughtful, bold, honest, caring, cautious, mature, loving, good with children, willing, devoted, and absolutely beautiful to boot. Vanessa is such a catch that it is incredible she hasn’t been scooped up and married by someone else long ago.

She has said repeatedly that she doesn’t want to mess things up, and she has been doing everything right.  She’s an amazing woman and she’s got everything you would want in a wife or a sisterwife.  I think they have hit the jackpot with her, and I am so impressed.  They had better not mess it up.  She’s a keeper!

The Winder Family Comes Out of Hiding! or Hidden Wife, Hidden Life.

The second episode of Season 2 of Seeking Sister Wife is by far my favorite episode to date!  There are so many funny moments! I just laughed out loud on more than one occasion.  One was the very awkward conversation that Bernie has with his son John.  Oh man, you just can’t make that stuff up!  The confusion on John’s face was just priceless.  Bernie, from one father to another, I think you handled it well.

Another time that got me laughing was actually in the preview for the next episode where Vanessa provocatively orders a piece of red meat on her first date with Dimitri.  This, of course, was after she learned that the Snowdens are essentially pescatarian, as a matter of family policy.  But she likes her steaks and cheeseburgers!  Such a funny situation, and very bold of Vanessa.  I know it sparked some interesting conversations in my house, and I am sure there will be more to come.

Perhaps the funniest moment, however, was the public debut of the Winder family.  The situation was just too comical for words, and probably more funny for me because I know, first hand, the courage it took to do something like that!  And yet, despite all the emotional buildup and bravery, there was no one to appreciate it but some ducks.  It’s just too funny!  It reminds me of that old saying about sounds and falling trees in the forest.  You know the one: if a polygamous family comes out in the open together, but no one is there to see it…?

winders at park

Baby steps, baby steps.

In all seriousness, I think divulging themselves to the ducks is an admirable first step!  It means they have personally, and fully, embraced the reality of their own family, and are ready to take the next step, and that can be one of the hardest things to do.  Honestly, this may have been the best way to do it.  If they could go together, as a family (and those are not the same things), to an empty park (but where the possibility of being seen is a reality – where the sense and prospect of danger are real) a dozen times before actually going out where people would be guaranteed to see them, they would already have gone a long way towards conquering their personal fears.  And of course, they have gone quite a bit farther than that now.  What with being on national TV and all.

I remember, with a twinge of PTSD, our own efforts to announce the change in our family when we became plural.  The fear and uncertainty were so intense at times!!  And the losses were bitter and painful!!  But it has all been worth it.

There was fear of the repercussions from so many angles!  And it is the same for most, if not all other polygamous families.  We faced social, familial, and religious shunning wondering what our neighbors, friends, coworkers, family, and fellow church members would say, or how they would treat us and our children.  We were especially keen to the possible social consequences for our children – the decisions were horrible!  There were also financial fears, and legal fears.  We could go to jail, I could lose my job.  Every. Single. Thing. that we had worked so hard to gain and build – our family, our home, my career, our children, our friendships, and our very reputations –  was literally at stake.  It could all so easily come tumbling down into a broken pile of smoldering garbage.  Everything could be lost, and there was literally no earthly help or community that we could fall back on for support (however, we have built or received all of that community and support structure since).  It seemed sometimes that it was us against the entire world (and us against ourselves at other times).  Prayer was almost as common to me as breathing.  I look back on those days with wonder, and almost awe, that we survived at all, and I thank God that he walked us thru that fiery furnace.  Yes, the refining was intense, and our fears were not at all misplaced; yet, we were also given peace and courage sufficient to meet our fears, face them, and overcome them.  It was an amazing roller-coaster ride!

Scariest-Roller-Coasters-in-the-world

We had letters written to us by family members accusing us of adultery and other sorts of gross wickedness.  Similar letters were sent out to other family members, warning them of our dangerous influences.  We had death threats against us, the police were called to investigate us, ecclesiastical leaders were called to discipline us, and child protective services were called (DCFS) to remove our children.  But nothing came of any of these attacks.  There was no weapon forged against us that prevailed.

Melissa’s children were even kidnapped by her parents for a short time.  They were going to send her kids up to Washington State to live with their deadbeat father who is generally unstable, has lived in dozens of locations, is a known drug addict, owes 6 figures in child support, has been physically abusive, has multiple arrests, is into prostitutes, and has been married to 6 different women!  Can someone please explain how that is better than a man being financially stable, providing for his children (in both emotional and financial ways) but being married and maintaining a healthy relationship with 2 women!?  It’s crazy!  Literally crazy! Eventually, they relented and changed their actions when they realized that they were the felons (kidnapping) and not us (polygamy was alegal in Utah at the time of the kidnapping – thank you Judge Waddoups!).

We were openly uninvited to family parties.  I had family members that I hadn’t talked to in years, go out of their way to reach out to let me know that they disapproved of my life.  We were all excommunicated from the church that we had been born and raised in.  But when we kept on attending as non-members, my daughter was abused by her Sunday School teacher, and the church gave us legal notice that we were unwelcome in the most profound way possible.  We were not even allowed to set foot on any church property anywhere in the world!  The McGee family sadly describes a similar experience with their Synagogue (I’ll have a future post on this topic).

We literally had former friends place curses (in the name of the Lord – of course) upon us and our family.  I’m not making this stuff up.  I couldn’t.  I can hardly believe it now.

I used to ride a van pool to work.  It was convenient because the van would meet at a parking lot just one block from my house.  Rain or shine I would always walk in between my house and the van pool.  After we became plural, I remember being so grateful for the change in daylight savings time – just so I could walk home in the dark and not have to see my neighbors.

I thought about the 6th lecture on faith many times during those days.  Especially verses 5-8.

For a man to lay down his all, his character and reputation, his honor and applause, his good name among men, his houses, his lands, his brothers and sisters, his wife and children, and even his own life also, counting all things but filth and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, requires more than mere belief, or supposition that he is doing the will of God, but actual knowledge: realizing, that when these sufferings are ended he will enter into eternal rest; and be a partaker of the glory of God.
– LoF 6:5

I remember having Jesus’ parable of the man building a tower brought to my mind so many times!  Those words were a steady a source of strength and inspiration for me.

At some point, everyone needs to live an authentic life – in my opinion.  The potential dangers and discomforts of the many forms of persecution are eventually outweighed by the desire to simply live rightly and face the consequences – whatever they may be.  Sophie Winder expresses this in the first episode when she talks about not having to be the hidden wife anymore, and Tami mentions it in the second episode when they are planning their outing to the park for Sadie’s Birthday party.  There comes a point when you are ready to just be done hiding.  There is no need to act rashly or foolishly, but when the time is right you’ll know it.  Hopefully, you will then have the courage to carry it out and see it thru to the end.

Despite all the hardships we endured, there have still been some good and true friends who have stuck by us while the false have fallen away.  Also, there have been plenty of new friends, a thousand times better than the old ones.  Some family members too, from the beginning, have maintained and reaffirmed their love and support of us, and that has been wonderful.  There are even some family members, originally antagonistic, who have now come around in some ways, and our relationships are healing.

Things have calmed down significantly for us since then.  The roller-coaster ride has slowed and transitioned from almost constant nausea to almost constant enjoyment.  There are still ups and downs, but we are enjoying the view and the thrill of the ride much more now, and we’ve loosened up our grip on the safety bar – now that our fear of certain and sudden death has subsided.  Even so, it has taken us years to fully come out into the public eye.  Starting this blog has been another step for us, and I’m so glad Charlotte did it.

elephant

We told our friends and family one by one.  Maybe there was a better way, but at the time it seemed like the most manageable way to handle all the upset and emotion.  Like eating an elephant one bite at a time.  And I suppose we are still not finished.  When Melissa and I were married we had no public celebration, but we are finally getting around to doing it this summer!  Let us know if you want an invitation.

 

Thoughts on Seeking Sister Wife, season 2, episode 1: “It’s Time to Start Seeking Again!”

I’m excited that the next season of Seeking Sister Wife has premiered!  I was pretty surprised to learn that the Brineys weren’t going to be on this season.  I knew April was living in Utah again but I assumed that her leaving Oregon would end up being nice juicy gossip for the TV show to capitalize on.  Well, despite the Brineys not being on it looks like the show will have no shortage of interesting material.

I don’t have cable TV so on Sunday night I was trying to figure out how to watch.  Luckily Amazon video has it, altho Season 2 costs a lot more than Season 1 did.  I guess that’s how it goes when a show is more established.  Either that or it’s the 13 episodes we’re expecting versus the 7 episodes we got in Season 1.

This season has our familiar Snowdens and Alldredges and we also get to meet the McGees and the Winders.  I don’t personally know the Snowdens or the McGees at all.  I know the Winders from Facebook but we’ve never met in person.  I personally know the Alldredges as well as the Brineys.  Last season I thought knowing both those families would be an advantage when it came to writing my blog, but as it turned out, I always felt the need to censor myself for the sake of our friendships.  In fact, one time when Joshua wrote his opinion about a Briney situation, he ended up writing a follow-up apology post for the sake of his friendship with Drew.

This episode had plenty of interesting things to talk about.  I made 4 pages of notes while watching, and I only had time to turn a fraction of them into a blog post before the next episode aired.  Here are some of the thoughts I had about it while watching.

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The McGees call themselves “Hebrew” or “Messianic.”

screenshot 2019-01-28 17.21.27
“We basically believe the Bible cover to cover.” – Bernie McGee

I find this interesting because we are somewhat in that category as well.  We are a unique blend of Messianic and Mormonism so I’ve taken to calling us “Messianic Mormons.”  We believe the Bible cover to cover, as Bernie McGee says they do, but we also believe the Mormon scriptures cover to cover.

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How sad that the McGees’ house burned!

screenshot 2019-01-28 18.12.40

We once had a house fire, altho not nearly as devastating.  Ours was 100% my fault.  I left a batch of beef bones boiling on the stove while we went camping for several days!  Obviously the water boiled away long before our return, and the bones smoldered, causing what’s called a “protein fire.”  The professional from the disaster clean up company had been doing his job for decades and told me it was the worst protein fire he’d ever cleaned up after.

We came back from our camping trip and walked in the house and it smelled like a thousand burnt dinners.  I realized immediately what had happened and I ran over to the stove, carried the pot outside, and set it down on the cement pad in the backyard.  I removed the lid and what was left of the bones burst into flames!  The lid had fit so tightly on the pot that no oxygen was able to access the bones.  If we had been less fortunate, very likely our house could have burned to the ground while we were out of phone service.  I have always said my guardian angel was sitting on the lid, keeping it tight-fitting enough to keep any air from accessing the smoldering bones.

Some of the cleanup included cleaning everything (and I mean every single book and toy and other items), replacing the countertops, repainting the entire house, “ozoning” all of our clothes and every room, and replacing items that were too close to the stove or stubbornly refused to give up their stench.

I can scarcely begin to describe the smell that permeated our home and everything in it.  I used to hate the smell of smoke.  I would avoid campfire smoke, and the minute we arrived home from a camping trip, I kept everyone from relaxing on couches or beds (because they would contaminate them) and instead they had to strip down in the laundry room (without their clothes even being dropped on the carpet) and get right in the bath or shower.  But the smell of our protein fire was so much worse (not just stronger but much more terrible) that, I kid you not, campfire smoke now smells pleasant to me.

Not only did the protein fire smell awful, but it permeated everything like you wouldn’t believe.  When we got home, we were in the house for half an hour with the doors and windows open and fans turned on, imagining that the house would air out and the smell would eventually dissipate, but instead the smell only grew stronger in our nostrils.  We realized we couldn’t sleep there that night and we arranged to go to my parents’ house for the night.

When we arrived at my parents’ house, we learned that simply from being in the smelly house for a short while, we had picked up the offensive smell.  I had brought some unworn clothes from our closets, planning to launder them in my parents’ washing machine before wearing them, but the smell traveled from the laundry room up to the kitchen and I was asked to move the clothes outside until washing.

The smell that got transferred from our contaminated bodies to our car during the hour-long drive took weeks to disappear.  A rubber ball that had marinated in the fumes ended up getting taken to my parents’ house by one of our children.  It was kicked around my parents’ backyard for a year, never losing its disgusting odor, before someone gave up on it and finally threw it away.

The experience was educational and in many ways it could have been worse.  When we first bought the house, we had opted for a $10,000 deductible on our homeowners’ insurance, mostly out of habit, since we had liability-only car insurance and high-deductible health insurance.  Some time later, my parents’ bedroom ceiling caved in due to unseen water damage, and I realized that even tho we might use doctors and car insurance less than the average person, our chance of needing to make a homeowner’s insurance claim was not lower than average, and when the time came that we needed to use it, we would be sorry about having such a high deductible.  So, we called the insurance company and lowered our deductible to $1,000.  Not long afterwards, the protein fire happened, and the cleanup required 2 weeks’ professional help, hotel stays, and replacing personal items.  I don’t remember what the total bill was, but it was probably close to $10,000.  Luckily we were only responsible for the first $1000.

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I don’t think Paige is emotionally ready for the challenge of plural marriage.  I wish I had time to elaborate, but Joshua already wrote a post about it called “Polygamy’s Jealousies and the McGees”.

Screenshot 2019-01-26 00.23.37.png

However, I am quite impressed that she is willing to live in a camper while looking for a sisterwife, for the benefit of being flexible enough to move if that’s what the potential wife wants.  In the cases of polygamy I have seen, the new wife joins the family and in doing so chooses to join the family culture and whatever setup the family has.  When Enoch Foster married Lydia (a little of their courtship was shown on Three Wives, One Husband), she got to become a part of an amazing family with organization and resources that had been in the process of being set up for 2 decades.  In her case I could see the real benefits of being the 3rd wife!  I’ve never heard of an established family being willing to join the new wife, rather than the other way around.  That part of this episode was pretty interesting to me.

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I loved hearing the story of Paige’s conversion to polygamy.  I want conversions to come from something inside or from God, not from another person using logic or scriptures to convince us.

Paige McGee's conversion
“One day I was just reading some verses in scriptures that talked about a man having multiple wives, and something just touched me, and I knew that was something we were being called to do: to live a polygamist lifestyle.” – Paige McGee

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The McGee boys are extremely charming.  I love the conversation they have where younger brother Kyle says he’s looking forward to having another mom, and older brother John tries to figure out what that role is called.

Kyle and John discuss having another mom
“I don’t know what I would… What would that class — that role be called? Like a… a mom… I don’t know what that would be called.” – John McGee

Hey, boys, how about the word maunt?

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Very often we hear about wives’ jealousy over their husbands.  Much less talked about is the jealousy over their children.  Paige McGee says it could possibly be hard for her to see her sons develop that relationship with her sisterwife.

Paige McGee discusses watching her sons get close to another mother
“Watching my children get close to another woman in a motherly way could possibly be very hard for me to do.” – Paige McGee

In a country where so many children are raised by only one parent, I think it’s beautiful and extraordinary for a child to actually have more than two parental figures that love them and are invested in them and help raise them.  I believe this has the potential to be a powerful advantage in the children’s lives.  I would hope any jealousy over that issue wouldn’t keep a wife from pursuing polygamy.  Moms ideally do what’s best for their children, consistently, whether they enjoy it or not.

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Vanessa’s molar pregnancy is mentioned.  I wrote about it in this post, which includes ultrasound images and details about Vanessa’s experience.  If you’re interested in what happened, go ahead and read it over there.

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The Alldredges discuss their “dream” home and the lodge they’re finishing.

Screenshot 2019-01-28 18.20.40.png

They ideally want each wife to have their own bedroom wing (to “provide for some privacy”) but to share the main living spaces.

Screenshot 2019-01-28 18.21.03.png

This is one example of many possible housing situations.  The Winders have another housing situation of living in completely different towns.  Our current house has separate living spaces but they’re connected on the inside, so family members can freely move about and be where they want to be, but the wives still get to be queens of their own castles.  Personally, I prefer this and so do Melissa and Joshua.  (We lived in different counties for 5 years before moving in together last year.)  Joshua discusses housing arrangements in this post about the Brineys’ living situation in Season 1.

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The Winders call themselves “Independent Mormon Fundamentalists.”

screenshot 2019-01-28 18.42.09

We don’t entirely fit into that category (for several reasons, but partly because of the whole “Messianic” thing mentioned above), but we have enough in common with Independent Mormon Fundamentalists (IMFs) to have some close friendships with people who consider themselves IMFs.  “Mormon Fundamentalists” describes the belief system and “Independent” simply means they’re not a member of any organized group.

I find Colton’s story interesting — I’m paraphrasing but he basically said that since the early LDS Church believed in polygamy, it didn’t make sense to change that belief, so he had to either give up on the Church or really embrace the fundamentals. Colton goes into more detail about the different flavors of Mormonism and his family’s beliefs on the Winder family blog in this post and this post, the second of which includes some nice Winder family photos (including Colton with a beard).

Tami believed in plural marriage before marrying Colton
“Living plural marriage was something that I wanted to do, but … if I’m being honest, it was something I didn’t think would happen until we died and went to heaven.” – Tami Winder

Tami’s story is interesting as well, how she believed in plural marriage but thought it was something she wouldn’t get to practice until heaven.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a story of a couple who found out after marriage that they both believed in polygamy, were pleasantly surprised, and then started living it.

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In the episode, as Colton’s second wife Sophie approaches, Colton says to his daughter Sadie, “Is that Aunt Sophie?”

Aunt Sophie
Colton Winder asks his daughter Sadie, “Is that Aunt Sophie?”

The title “Aunt” is also what the Alldredge children use when addressing their “other mother”.  I don’t think the title aunt or mom fits when referring to your mom’s sisterwife.  There is definitely a word missing from the vocabulary of the polygamy world.  My best idea is the word “maunt” — a cross between “mom” and “aunt.”

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The Snowdens have a conversation about what happened “last time.”  Joshua wrote a post about it.

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There were many other things I wanted to comment on, such as Vanessa propping her phone up to take a family photo, even tho they were surrounded by professional cameramen.  And the charming comment Tami Winder gave about how she was initially attracted to Colton for “his looks, obviously.”  And the sad fact that our friends the Alldredges ditched us and moved to South Dakota.  :’-(  And Bernie’s overly optimistic statement that he doesn’t want to see hurt in his wife’s eyes again.  And how I love that Ashley Snowden was nursing uncovered and then was wearing her baby on her back.  I was also planning to give some observations about the obvious video editing that ended up making things awkward and unrealistic.

Well, I only had time to write up about a tenth of what I planned to.  Such is life, but I want to move on to the next episode, so I’m going to go ahead and publish this post, incomplete as it is.  See you in the next one.

Out of interest, here is the total amount of screentime each family had in this first episode (not counting the teasers like “Coming Up”).

Snowdens: 3 segments totaling 10 minutes, 43 seconds

Winders (2 segments): 10 minutes, 2 seconds

Alldredges (2 segments): 9 minutes, 36 seconds

McGees (2 segments): 7 minutes, 27 seconds

plus 4 minutes, 45 seconds of “Last season on,” “Coming Up,” and “And Later,” and the closing credits after the last scene faded out to total 42 minutes, 33 seconds in the episode.

What did you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave your comments below.