Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Thanksgiving Cooking Experiment

I have not a single photo from Thanksgiving this year. My mind was a bit preoccupied with the menu. If I can scavenge some photos from my family I will post them. In the meantime, if you want to check out our LOVELY Thanksgiving table take a look at my sister-in-law Michelle's post on her blog regarding all of her hard work.

My November had been filled to overflowing with school, school, school and applications for graduate school and the GRE and work that I had barely a moment to breathe. But I promised myself a whole day of cooking for Thanksgiving. Since my allergy-free diet, I don't eat wheat or gluten and that was going to put a big cramp in any major dining at the table since stuffing, rolls, pie and often the turkey have gluten in them. So, I was going to create an entire Thanksgiving meal that was gluten-free.

We didn't actually have our dinner until the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend so that gave me all day Thursday to cook and bake. It was a good thing too because I needed all that time.

The menu included:

Cranberry, almond, apple spinach salad
Ground turkey and mushroom stuffing (my riff on my Grandma J's classic stuffing)
Mashed red potatoes
Pumpkin pie with almond flour crust from The Gluten-free Almond Flour Cookbook

It was a little bit insane. Mostly because every recipe but the salad and the potatoes was brand-new for me. Eeek! What was I thinking? Not to mention, I started the whole shebang out with making my own chicken stock too--another first! I needed a great chicken stock as the base for my gravy and stuffing and I had frozen several chicken bones from past roasted chickens and I decided to turn them into a chicken stock. I cobbled together a chicken stock recipe by pulling bits and pieces from some of my favorite cooks and started simmering a huge stockpot on my tiny white oven. It made enough chicken stock not only for Thanksgiving recipes but I also froze several packages of it as well to use in later recipes.

The stock turned out great and smelled so good as it simmered on the stove. It totally put me in the mood for a day of cooking and baking. Good thing too because that mood was going to get stretched a bit thin. The turkey turned out well, the salad was good, the potatoes were a bit dry b/c I didn't mix them until right before dinner and I was kind of harried at that point. The gravy, stuffing, rolls and pie were each pretty time intensive and here's why:

Gravy: I made this very, very last right before dinner was served. What I didn't realize was that I would spend about a half an hour over the stove experimenting with the thickness and trying to get it just right. I was completely bushwhacked at this point so that is likely my memory could be elongating the time it took. The consistency turned out fine but I think to kick it up a notch next time, I will add a bit more seasoning and salt in the beginning so that it zings more.

Stuffing: The stuffing actually turned out much better than I imagined and was probably the biggest success of my adventure. For the bread base, I used a mix from Pamela's that was expensive but worth every penny in the end because the bread was good and spongey and soaked up the chicken stock and flavors from the mushrooms, turkey and seasoning very well.

Rolls: The rolls were good especially for my first real attempt at rolls from scratch and using a mixture of gluten-free flours that would have quelled me with fright a few months ago. I actually ended up making two batches of these though because I needed more than a single batch and didn't realize this until they came out of the oven. Also, the texture of the rolls is a bit more biscuit-like. They were not light, airy dinner rolls so while the taste was excellent, I would prefer to find a roll that more closely mimics my idea of a soft, fluffy dinner roll.

Pumpkin pie: This recipe needed the most finessing as my crust burned on my first attempt. I tried it again and this time, I cut the baking time in half, cooked the pumpkin mixture mostly on the stove and then covered the almond flour crust with aluminum foil when I put the two together and back in the oven. This time the pumpkin pie was much better. I still need some work on perfecting that almond flour crust but all in all it was an admirable pie for another first.

So, you can see why taking photos was the last thing on my mind with all that cooking. The problem is that I need to take photos of what I am cooking though too. It helps my memory of the event and it makes it more fun to blog about too. Maybe that can be one of resolutions for the new year? Take food photos!

I took all of my food over to my parents' house for Thanksgiving where my mother served 52 people--bless her heart! I had one cousin at dinner who is gluten-free as well so she got to enjoy my food too and of course, I put it out for everyone else to taste and try as well. Michelle put together a fabulous table that stretched out to incorporate all the adults and teenagers. The nearly 20 children had their own tables that she decorated as well out in the garage.
All in all it felt like a spectacular Thanksgiving with the best people, the best food and lots of thankful hearts.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Highlights from November 2009

Again, I'm doing a short recap of the events that marked my month as most of it seemed to pass in a blur. The photos help me clarify what stood out during this month.

B's birthday. What made this day such a big deal was the fact that the little tyke had been talking about his birthday for no less than six months. He was SO EXCITED. It could not be contained.

Cissy and I driving to SLC to see the Pioneer Woman at The King's English Bookshop. We were some of the last people to get in to hear her speak and this photo was my best attempt after aiming over the heads of the crowd.

PW got done speaking around 7:30PM and Cissy and I headed across the street for dinner. We had a numbered place in line and we knew we had a long wait ahead of us. So, we got to try out this darling little bistro called The Paris. Love the name and loved the food. They serve organic and locally raised fresh foods and it was delicious. We warmed ourselves with pumpkin butternut soup and I had The Paris Salad with red d'anjou pears, goat cheese, maple-glazed pecans and a honey vinaigrette. So yummy!

This is Pioneer Woman's sister-in-law Missy who she raves about often on her site. Missy spent her time taking photos of all of us and chatting. Also, as Cissy and I were freezing outside in the line, we ran into PW's mother-in-law and spent about a half an hour talking to her about Oklahoma, ranching life and the book tour. Both women were down to earth, relaxed and happy. It was great fun to spend some time with them.

It took us three hours to get to this fateful spot of finally meeting the Pioneer Woman. Bless her heart, can you imagine what it must of been like on her side of that desk? To spend a few minutes with women and have photo after photo taken and to sign book after book? It must have been exhausting. We were so excited to meet her though and happy we had waited. I'm so glad that Cissy wanted to go too. It made for a great night for both of us and I had so much fun with her.

This is after one of our regular Sunday dinners. I call this one "The Quorum." There was something about all of those white shirts standing together laughing and teasing each other with my two nephews joining in on the fun that just squeezed my heart. My brothers are good men and I see them modeling how to be good men and good fathers to my nephews and it gives me goosebumps. Love all these boys!

Maxwell and Jorgen who are both getting so tall that they are reminding me of my brothers at this same age.

My three older brothers: Rus, Adam holding baby Liv, and Ric. Love this trio.

Papa Bear relaxing after dinner. He taught all of us his rock solid values and core goodness. I love seeing my brothers emulate those gifts.

That is just a taste of some of what made up my November. It was a month to be thankful for many things and recording it here helps me be grateful once again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Halloween 2009

Halloween this year the weather was warm and gorgeous. Much like last year too. And with the extended time for daylight savings, we started trick or treating in the 5PM hour and still made it around most of the neighborhood before dark. That is much different than previous Halloweens where it is so freezing cold outside that we have to bundle the kids up in big jackets and then drive them around the neighborhood so they don't freeze in the pursuit of candy. I like the warm weather way so much more. Plus, it turns the neighborhood into one big circle of visiting as we run into each other and swap stories and have a chat. Sign me up for more Halloweens like this one, please!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

October 2009 Highlights

I've missed so many events the last few months. So many stories and memories that I want to remember. Here are some highlights from October 2009.

School Lunch
Cute Noah and Gaby asked me to be their visitor for lunch at school on the designated visitor day. I haven't been in a school lunch room in a really, really long time but I loved every second of hanging out with them. We saw many neighbors and friends and even cousins at lunch. Afterwards, we went to the school library with all 900 other visitors to play "Sardines" in the tiny school library that was chock full of delectable items for the book fair. We bought a few things at the book fair and I kissed everyone goodbye and went on my way. I love these kiddos!

Noah's smile cracks me up. Lunch was pizza and chocolate milk.

We found the cousins and got a photo.


My birthday this year was great. Meg and I spent the day cooking from a new cookbook she gave me and Katy and I went on a hike and then we came back to Meg's and watched an Austen movie while we gave each other foot massages. The next day we celebrated with the whole family at Sunday dinner at Ric and Tami's house.

Meggie just a few days away from delivery

Cassie and Katy on hand to celebrate

Me with baby girl

This was the chocolate cake that Meg and I made. Loved the marshmallow frosting. It was all gluten-free, made with almond flour and agave nectar. The best part was the family loved it and ate every last drop.

Baby Mac Birth

I posted my version of this story a couple of months ago. I have more photos of this event but per strict instruction, I am not allowed to post them. At one point in the birth Meg looked at me and said "These are not going on your blog!"

The one official photo shortly after we arrived a the hospital

Visit to Baby Cole and Family

We had the chance to make a quick day trip down to St. George to see Brock and Julie's new baby. It really was a quick drive with Dad's plan of leaving at 5:00AM. He drove while the rest of us slept and magically we arrived at their doorstep at 9:30AM. Then we spent the day with the family before driving home that night.

Cassie in the chair that everyone knows about who regularly drives to St. George.

Brock playing with Mason's new toy from Nana and Papa. Let's just say that Mason definitely has a buddy who liked his new toy.

Sweet baby Cole just a couple of weeks old. He was tiny! I was afraid I might break him. Luckily shortly after this trip he really caught on to the mama's milk idea and he chunked up to a delicious state of baby yumminess by the time he made his first trip to Nana's house.

Lunch for the whole crew. You can just see Mason's red shirt behind Julie as he climbed over the booth away from us. That boy does not sit still.

The Brock and Julie clan. Love our St. Georgians!

Sunday Afternoon

This was a Sunday afternoon when the kids most needed a chance to get outside and out of mama's hair so she and the new baby could rest. You can see that October was mild and beautiful, so we had ourselves a nice walk around the neighborhood.

Of course, the crowning point of the walk is to stop at the cousin's house and play for a little while. Which worked out great for me as it gave Cissy and me the chance to have a nice, leisurely chat.

And then back home to take this wee one off his mama's hands and hold and snuggle him for a blissful hour.

I had too many photos of Halloween to include them in this recap. Between birthday and new babies though, October was full of fun.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

C'est fini

Well, I did it. I submitted my application today and paid the fee. For better or worse I've done all I can do up to this moment to make this a reality and to change the course of my future. I hope it is enough.

The application date used to be January 15th, a much more sane date in my opinion. What a luxury to have all of Christmas break to finalize this process and dot every "i" and cross every "t." That date has passed by me the last four years and pinched me with a "Why are you not applying? or "When are you going to get in gear and go to graduate school?" and left me feeling a bit forlorn as I tried to determine exactly what my next step was going to be.

There is still more that needs to be done. I kept thinking once finals week was over and my application was turned in, my life would slow down. That is not to be though at least for another month or so. I am applying to two other schools, possibly taking the GRE again, finishing up some other loose ends for school, continuing my research for one of the MFT professors and then starting another semester of classes. Oh, yes, and continuing to work full-time.

Here is what has taken up my time the last few months when I wasn't at work:
  • statistics class (really turned out to be far less painful than I anticipated--big blessing)
  • research methodology class (harder and more interesting than I thought it would be)
  • GRE preparation and studying
  • review of literature for an MFT professor
  • volunteering at the state mental hospital
  • application process: statement of intent, letters of recommendation, etc.

In all of that I have missed writing here. Missed it, missed it, missed it. Writing for me is like breathing: fundamental and foundational to my life. My only real concern about committing myself fully to this graduate school path was that somehow I was turning my back on my dream of being a writer. Yet, as I tried to pursue the creative writing path professionally, I kept feeling like I was missing something. I don't feel that way anymore. I feel like the path I am on will only enhance and inform my writing since what I've always loved writing about are people, feelings and relationships. I think my writing will benefit my studies and my studies will benefit my writing.

Also, I am surprised by how much I have been able to accomplish and do this last year and especially the last four months. It has been scary, hard, overwhelming but also fun, energizing, and exhilarating. In some ways it just feels right. A friend told me the other day that I looked "serene." Really? Me? I know that I have felt a solidity and a strength in my life that hasn't been there for a long, long time. I've spent a protracted period wandering in an emotional wilderness trying to figure out my life, my contribution in the world and my purpose. I'm not sure all of those questions have been answered but I certainly feel strongly that I am making steps in the right direction. Which makes me all squishy with tears and weeping as I think of how grateful I am for everyone that has helped me along the way.

And grateful that for now, it is finished. We will see what tomorrow brings.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joy & Gratitude

The older I get, the more I see a straight path where I want to go. If you’re going to hunt elephants, don’t get off the trail for a rabbit.-- T. Boone Pickens
I spent my undergraduate years in college with the firm belief that I needed to explore several majors before I came to a clear conclusion about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I plowed my way through English, art history, communications and then found humanities. What I loved about my humanities degree was that it did not force me to specialize in one field but allowed me to gain a breadth of knowledge in art, music, history, dance, architecture, English and languages. I was thirsty for beauty and that degree supplied me with many ways of looking at beauty.

While I'm happy with that decision, what I want now is one topic, one subject that I can pour my heart and soul into and not look back. One subject that I can dive into deeply and drink my fill. One specialization where I can hone my gifts so that I may utilize them well throughout my life.

I think I've found it.

I've had this niggling worry at the back of my mind since my first college years though that once I made a decision, I would be tied down, forced to work in one field, unable to explore other areas, hampered creatively and stifled by that decision. Now, I realize that fear was unfounded. As I have immersed myself in marriage and family therapy, I've found just the opposite: excitement, enthusiasm, greater creativity, motivation, inspiration and insight about this work that I want to do. I'm bearing many more burdens with this goal of mine and yet I'm not as emotionally taxed. I have far more on my plate but I'm making better use of my time. I have mountains of expectations and deadlines but I'm actually reaching them. All of this making for a journey that is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

I can't say enough about friends, mentors, advisors, teachers and family members who have helped me, blessed me, guided me in some way. From a kind neighbor/professor who edited my letter of intent just because she wanted to help me, to professors who have sat and discussed my professional goals with me, to loved ones who have prayed for me and to mentors who blew on the tiny embers of my dream and built a roaring fire of belief and confidence inside of me. I know it takes a village to raise a child but I'm coming to believe that it takes a village for a dream to reach fruition as well. What a great village!

I've ridden a roller coaster of emotions the last several weeks and hit some nose-bleed highs and some cavernous lows. And I'm having fun! I'm thinking it must be because now I'm out hunting elephants and I'm done getting sidetracked by rabbits.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Face Your Fears

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." ---Theodore Roosevelt

I'm out doing things. Be they right or wrong things, I'm working myself out of the habit of doing nothing when faced with fears, decisions, and issues.

Pray for me. Only 30 days left until my application for graduate school is due. I'm putting myself on the line. I'm risking it all. I'm hoping for the best.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Night of Spooks and Ghouls

It is Halloween! I wish a great night to all of you.

And yes, I did some deep breathing, got some sleep and have officially decided:

That to blog after 10:00PM is my version of drunk dialing. It was that bad, people.


Friday, October 30, 2009

Too-Stuffed Day

I head into a day like today deluding myself that I'm going to feel awesome when it is all over and I've checked off so many items on my to-do list. Then at the end of such a day the reality hits me like a brick: IT IS NOT TRUE.

So, I'm naming some of the feelings I am cycling through at the close of today: guilt, more guilt, greater guilt, stressed, tired, overwhelmed.

That completed to-do list is an ephemeral, pie-in-the-sky fantasy of a weak mind. Yet, I can't let go of its shiny promise and squeaky-clean virtue. And thus I set myself up for such a day as follows:

6:23AM Roll out of bed twenty minutes after alarm. Groggy.

Shower, breakfast, dress, hair, make-up, make bed, load dishwasher, pack lunch, dinner, snacks and water for the day, pack school bag, food bag, temple bag.

7:45AM Carry too-many bags to car and realize this is why my friend calls me "the bag lady."

7:55AM Get to oil change shop and am first in line just like I planned; Try to decide which of the many bags I take into the shop with me to keep occupied while waiting. Hope I can get out of there in under 40 minutes.

8:30AM Oil change, emissions inspection, headlight changed, back window washer part fixed; so elated at the fast timing and all the work done, that I pay the bill and leave the shop forgetting my school bag in the waiting room.

8:45AM Head to doctor's appointment in Alpine. Fill up the car with gas. Realize I'm missing my school bag. Call the oil change shop and have them hold on to it for me until I can get back to that part of town later in the day. Now all that schoolwork I was going to do while waiting at the doctor's office? Won't happen.

9:00AM Stop by chiropractor's office on way to doctor's appointment. They are both 20-30 minutes away from my house so I congratulate myself on dovetailing these two appointments. Plus, my back has really been hurting again.

9:15AM Sit in massage chair after adjustment and try to keep my moans of pleasure to a minimum as I spend ten delicious minutes in that particular heaven.

9:50AM Arrive at doctor's appointment 10 minutes early.

10:30AM Finally get my name called. They take my stats: blood pressure, pulse, temperature and my all-time favorite one: weight.

11:00AM Spend twenty minutes with doctor. Reminds me why I like her. She and I are on the same page philosophically about health. Love that. Read my favorite natural health magazine while waiting. (Would have done it anyway--school bag or no school bag. Just have a hard time admitting that beforehand).

11:45AM Stop at grocery store on way back to town because I'm completely out of toilet paper. Qualifies as emergency in my house.

12:05PM Pick up school bag at oil change shop. Not my most effective use of time that day.

12:30PM Stop at sister's house on my way back to work to drop off some meds I had picked up for her at the doctor's office. She has a house full of sick kids and a new baby. Spend two blissful minutes cuddling newborn.

1:00PM Land back at my desk at work. Feeling upbeat, energetic; Scarf down lunch.

1:15PM First inkling that something is not right in our little web division. One student programmer huffy, the other proposing solutions. Have to get a press release out and no time to sort through particulars.

1:59PM Leave last step on press release for assistant. Head to class. Late for the third time this week. I HATE walking into class late.

2:55PM Arrive back at desk with Halloween candy. Hoping to get everybody back on their feet and sort through the huffy brewing emotional slew from earlier.

3:15PM No time to sort. One problem with website, next problem, another problem, more problems. It is turning into one of those days where chunks of website are malfunctioning. We all move into emergency mode. Must get on top of the current rash of malfunctions.

4:30PM Between the four of us, major issues are resolved. Two students head home. The other--the one I will call Grumpy--appears in my office to unload his story of website woe. I spend the next hour cajoling, wheedling, comforting and putting him back together so he can put our website back together.

6:00PM Finally, peace and quiet for the first time.

6:02PM Time to sort my own emergency issues for the work day and handle most important items.

7:20PM Stop. Remember that I owed my part of a group project earlier that day. Hurry and wrap up my part and email it to my group. Scarf down dinner.

7:50PM Turn off the lights at work.

7:55PM Walk in to temple. Just in time to make the last session.

10:05PM Driving home. Awash in guilt. Too-busy day.

Did you learn anything from my day? My takeaway: Too-stuffed days leave me in a puddle of feelings which I must spend the next hour analyzing--thus messing up my need to go to bed so I can get up the next day and start another day all over again.

I need to relax.

I will put it on my list.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Baby Time

Sweet Baby Mac, just hours old, in my arms.

Last week I had the chance to attend the birth of my little nephew. Let's call him Baby Mac.

My sister asked me several months ago to be her birth partner or doula through this experience. I was thrilled with the chance to do so. I had talked to her over the phone through the labor of her 2nd child and I had been invited to be her birth partner on baby #3. Now, she was up to baby #4 and I was invited again.

Her hubby, of course, was present and active during the delivery as her number one support. I was there specifically to assist her as she was birthing unmedicated. I know there is a whole realm of discussion about natural childbirth or medicated childbirth. My view of the whole discussion comes down to "As long as mama and baby are healthy and well then it is a win-win situation whichever way you go." I respect every woman's choice for her own birth experience. That said, I definitely am fascinated by natural/unmedicated childbirth and I've been lucky enough to get to participate with my sister through her own experiences with this kind of childbirth.

What my job was during the birth was to have toolbox of ideas and techniques to help Meg through the birth. Her whole focus--obviously--was centered on baby and getting him here. My job was to do whatever I could to make her as comfortable and supported through that process. We had discussed her desires for the birth, any interventions, and the baby's aftercare. I was there to make sure that those wishes were carried out when Meg was occupied with the all-encompassing process of birthing baby. More importantly though, I was there to tune in to Meg. What did she need? What did she want? What part of her body ached? Was she tensing up? What words would encourage her? Were the lights down low? Was soothing music playing? Was she hot? Was she cold? Tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Did she need to move? Change positions? Get in the tub? Go to the bathroom? Go for a walk?

My focus was to anticipate her needs and carry them out.

Here are a few things that I did during the birth:
  • Foot massages--Meg really likes these and they help her whole body to calm down and relax.
  • Light touch massage--think of someone lightly tickling your back or arms. Makes me want to fall asleep usually.
  • Brushed my teeth & popped breath mints throughout time there because I kept leaning over and whispering in her ear or talking close to her face and I didn't want my possible bad breath to distract her focus.
  • Applied cold washcloths to her forehead and back of neck when she suddenly got really hot during part of her labor.
  • Wrapped her in blankets when her teeth chattered and she was shivering
  • Spoke encouraging words often
  • Walked with her
  • Vocalized with her
  • Helped back and forth to bathroom and in and out of the tub
  • Communicated with nurses and midwife for her
  • Suggested new positions for her try
  • Used acupressure to help her during harder contractions
  • Constantly offered her water to make sure she stayed hydrated
  • Made sure she ate yogurt, juice, crackers immediately after birth to help her blood sugar
  • When she hit the "I can't do this" moment, made sure that we got in different positions and moved and did anything we could to help her through that moment
Now looking over that list I know that it was a small contribution compared to the true work that Meg was doing. But certainly it was more than just holding her hand or standing helplessly by as she went through the birth alone. I hope it eased her way somewhat.

While Baby Mac's birth story is not my story to share, I did have a few thoughts and impressions from my own viewpoint of that day.

  • Childbirth is simply an astounding process. That a child can be breathing fluids one moment and air the next moment, that a woman's body can manage to expel an 8-pound human being out of tiny crevice in her own body, that no conscious thought went into the creation of a ten tiny fingers and toes, two functioning lungs, a full skeletal frame, two bright eyes, and a brain that is so delicate and magnificent at the same moment that we as humans haven't even begun to understand it---this is a breathtaking experience.
  • I like it when my normally mild sister gets a little feisty. Favorite feisty moment had to be when she was tired and beleaguered after a prolonged pushing phase and the nurse suggested a bit too sugar sweetly that Meg just pick a goal (like 15 minutes) and shoot for that goal. Meg's response: "I don't want a goal!" which could have been translated "And anyone who suggests such idiocy again can get a razor-sharp dagger and plunge it in her eye, thank you very much!" Don't mess with the mama bear in labor.
  • When my sister cries--either out of pain or joy--I cry too.
  • I suspect there is nothing quite as heroic and tender as watching a man hold his wife close as she endures the pangs of life-giving labor.
  • The unbridled relief that washes through the room when baby finally arrives and is pronounced whole and well and is delivered immediately to his mama's waiting arms. Those first, brief moments of mother-love are priceless.
I've spent the last week stealing over to Meg's house as often as possible to snuggle, cuddle, and just look at Baby Mac. Why are new babies so fascinating? Why can I can spend so much time just looking at him and memorizing his features and his toes and his eyes? Why is there nothing on earth quite as delicious as a new baby? The chubby cheeks, the soft skin, that new baby smell?

Each one is a miracle.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Waiting . . .

Just a brief rundown of life as I know it, right now.
  • Awesome birthday this weekend. Did a lot of cooking with my sister and went on a hike. Watched a Jane Austen movie and ate chocolate with friends. It was LOVELY.
  • Got a great cookbook and made a chocolate, gluten-free cake from it that everyone ate this weekend at family dinner.
  • Launched a new website at work and somehow survived.
  • Made an apple crisp that I ate for breakfast this morning too. Yummy.
  • Primary program in two weeks. Forty children must be on their marks right on time and sing angelically. I will remember to breathe after the program is over.
  • Didn't exercise a lick last week. Except for the hike. Got to get back on that bandwagon.
  • Studying. Studying. Studying.
And most important and very most exciting. Waiting for baby #4 to show up for my sister. I'm excited for her for this event and excited for another sweet new baby. My brother Brock and his wife, Julie, had sweet baby Cole Dallen last week, so with Meg's new arrival we will have two little cousins who are just a few weeks apart in age. I love watching these babies grow up together.
In the meantime, keep praying for Meg as we await the arrival of this new little munchkin. I'm excited she wants me in the delivery room and I'm thrilled to get to witness once again this miracle called birth.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Wonder

This event needs to be noted for posterity--or just for me. Miracles do occur, my friends and this is one of them.

I needed to make an early morning stats lab today and I had to be on campus before 8AM if I was going to make it.

So, I got up at 5AM, went to the gym, came home and showered, had breakfast, loaded the dishwasher, threw in a load of laundry, studied scriptures, then did the full hair and makeup routine, packed a bag with lunch and dinner and made it out the door by 7:30AM. I stopped for gas, got on campus, parked and made it to the lab at 7:50AM--a entire ten minutes before I was due.

And then I sat there, literally, stunned. Have I ever been on campus before 8AM in full hair and makeup, well-rested from a full night's sleep, having exercised and studied scriptures and with a bag packed with meals for a full day?

I do not think so. My usual state that early would have been groggy from lack of sleep or dressed haphazardly with hair pulled back in a ponytail and no makeup. I certainly would not have exercised and studied scriptures. And to arrive ten minutes early as well? The universe was smiling on me today.

Like I said, just wanted to note this for posterity sake.

Okay, and maybe acknowledge that every once in a while, I get it right. So right, that it seems aliens have inhabited my body.

Friday, September 25, 2009


I want to go to graduate school.

I work full-time. I have friends, family, church, and personal responsibilities (like all of you). This semester I've shaved off every unnecessary, extraneous time filler in my life and even seriously cut my social life. I have to clean my house, do laundry, make food and go shopping. For my health and sanity, I need enough sleep, some good food, exercise and scripture study. I've tried to plug every hole, fill every gap, cover every necessity. I have about three hours every evening where I have to cook dinner, do a cleaning job, meet with tutors, study, do research and prepare everything for the next day. On Saturdays I volunteer at the mental hospital, do errands, grocery shopping and menu planning, go to the temple, and study as many hours as possible.

Here are the five things that fill every single extra pocket of time in my life. These are the five things that tug at my brain every single day.

1. Apply for graduate school with letter of intent and letters of recommendation
2. Study for two classes
3. Prepare for the GRE
4. Do research for a professor
5. Volunteer

Each item is calculated, measured, packaged and slipped into one of the available slots in my life. I wish I could say not a moment is wasted. I wish I could say that I dominate my schedule. I wish I could say that. I'm doing the best I can. I'm doing better than I've ever done. I'm also staring down every weakness, giving up every bad habit, and sacrificing nearly every past pleasure to work towards this goal.

It feels hard. I don't want to do it all the time. I want to watch TV, visit more friends, cook more, travel, organize my recipe collection, undertake big projects for Christmas, sing in the stake Christmas program and a million other things.

But somewhere, somehow, for some reason, I really want this goal in my life. And I'm not even sure if after all of this work, I will reach it.

That's where I want to go though. And I must tell you that after several years of living in indecision and muddling through mediocrity, I would trade them for the toughness of this goal. Because whether yes or no at the end of this year, I hope to know deep inside that I gave it everything I had and then some.

It makes life feel worth living when you stand on your very tippy tiptoes, stretch out your arms and R E A C H.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Food Allergy or Intolerance? And Update on My Own Journey

Here is a great little primer from Oprah's website on food allergies in children and the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food intolerances are not life-threatening where as most food allergies are life-threatening. Thus the appropriate vigilance at schools and in our communities for children who suffer from food allergies.

Food intolerances cause discomfort and pain but do not threaten your life. I have food intolerances. I have called them food allergies in the past because I wasn't terribly clear on the distinction myself, but I vow to be more precise in my language from now on.

I haven't mentioned my food intolerances since May and June. I am still abiding by what I called "the allergy-free diet" and what I think would now be better named "the intolerance-free diet"--except that name doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Really, I just eat a lot of veggies, fruit, meat, some whole grains, nuts, seeds and lentils. And coconut flour, coconut milk and coconut ice cream. And almond flour chocolate chip cookies. Hmmm, coooookies. I'm suddenly hungry for cookies.

I experimented some this summer with my food intolerances. Okay, and by "some," I mean a whole lot. For most of the month of July (and a good chunk of August) I went back to my wheat-eating, dairy-eating, sugar-eating previous lifestyle. Initially, I was just going to challenge the elimination diet I had been on, but it turned into a bit of a free-for-all instead.

There is just some screw that turns in my brain when I start eating those foods and I don't know how to turn it off. It feels strong and powerful and it sets me on this physical roller coaster that takes weeks to turn around. And yet, when I'm on the roller coaster, I forget so quickly how much better I was feeling. It may not make sense or sound logical but it is a very visceral experience for me. And going off those foods feels a bit like getting over a drug addiction (at least I imagine!). When I'm in that vortex or on that wild roller coaster, I can't foresee my life without wheat, dairy, sugar. I can't imagine the sterile, pale existence that will be mine if I can't eat them every day. And yet, about three weeks after I've gone off all of them, my life feels calm and peaceful and my energy is good again and I don't have intense cravings all day long.

I'm not going to assume this will be my life forever. That's too hard to think about right now. But it is my life for now. And, surprising most of all, I'm loving it. Or at least, I seem to be enjoying the ride. As long as I just keep reminding myself where I end up when I go off this path.

Friday, September 18, 2009

You Had a Bad Day

Hormones. (Gentleman, now is the time to leave if this subject makes you cringe.) Once a month, I dive into this deep place where my thinking is made up of sharp angles, moral ambiguities and darkness.

Let's be real though. Sometimes it happens more than once a month. That's when it is tagged as "depression," but when it happens like clockwork every 28 to 30 days in sync with my cycle then it is known as PMS.

Whatever it is, it is a storm of darkness. My thinking starts going on warp speed, my emotions start to tumble all over the place, my perspective shrinks to just the next step in front of me. And life feels impossible. Utterly, completely impossible. I don't usually get crampy or bloated or even crave chocolate. I just get really, really emotional. Like every decision feels monumental. And every step feels like the next great failure in my life. And the world feels too, too big and I am far too small to carry the weight of it on my shoulders.

I first noticed it in college when I was in French class one day and I did so-so on a quiz. I burst into tears. Like the hiccuping, sobbing kind of crying that lasts for a few hours. It totally shocked me. When I stopped and did an inventory of my life, I realized that my life actually was going okay. And the quiz wasn't going to ruin my grade. And I would survive until the next day. But that's not how I was reacting. I was reacting like that little quiz was the difference between my life as an Oxford scholar or living homeless on the streets of Detroit with my drug-addled baby.

The next day I started my period and I made the connection.

I found without a doubt that one month later, I was cry-sobbing again over something as seemingly inconsequential as that French quiz. The crying was a clue because I don't generally get teary very easily. In fact in my nascent acting career, I used to wish I could cry on command like some of the other actresses around me who could summon a crying jag within seconds of entering a scene. If I had pursued my acting career, I would have always been the actress who could only produce tears with the aid of convenient eye drops.

Unless that acting day fell during my monthly storm of darkness. Then I could cry with the best of them.

It's funny to me that all these years later, I still have to remind myself that my intense emotional upheaval does not signal the end of the world as I know it. Or the beginning of the apocalypse. I have to talk myself through it. And I'm only barely beginning to believe myself during those dark days that there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is me in the shower the other morning talking myself down.

"I am a rotten piece of scum."
"No, you are not the world's biggest idiot."
"I wish I would die."
"No, you will not die."
"Will I ever wade out of this misery?"
"Someday. Hold on. It looks terrible right now, but in a few days the sunshine will return."
"Am I destined to be a failure?"
"You feel like it. You are even certain of it right now. Just wait a few days, believe me."

No matter the soothing words, no matter the love poured out on me, no matter the blinding reality of the sun outside my door, I live for three or four days as if the world has been plunged into ice cold darkness and goodness and light will never return.

And then I wake up one morning and life feels calm, doable, and possible. I get reacquainted with the world that I love, the food I like to cook, the people who I enjoy so much. I feel able to do my dishes, study for class, pass a test or complete a project at work. All of that when just the day before I was in such abject misery I was convinced things would never, ever change. It is my own little monthly miracle.

I don't mean to downplay the darkness. Or knock its gifts. There are gifts that come from that rare, unvarnished, raw truth-telling. It strips away all pretense and vanity and forces me to face ugliness that sometimes I would rather avoid. It gives me great empathy and patience when others feel down or low as well. For I've been there too where the darkness seems all-encompassing and the fog will not lift.

It reminds me that tomorrow the sun will shine and I may wake up with a new smile. I love waking up on those days.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Bit of Good News

Here's a pinpoint of light and good news on this day of days.

One of my more popular posts recently was The 18 Things I Wish I Had Known before I Went to College that was written to my little sister Cassie as she started her new life as a college student. Many of you had great thoughts to add to that list and it seemed to elicit lots of good memories of college life and how we would all be a bit wiser now if we went back to that experience.

Anyway, I submitted the piece a couple of weeks ago to BYU's campus newspaper, The Daily Universe (thanks for the nudges in that direction!) and what do you know, they accepted it.

I had to cut my word count by over half on the piece so the list is down to 11 things now and they are each short and sweet. I spend part of my work life cutting other people's word counts down so it always fun to be on the other side of that equation. When the editor first approached me about slashing the word count she was very gentle for you never know how an author will react to such a suggestion--we can be a defensive bunch! I cut it down by 600 words and then asked for her suggestions and she cut off another 400 words. I was really thrilled because she was a great editor and certainly had a talent and I benefitted from her skills.

The piece is published in today's edition of the paper. You can take a look at the links here:

For the full pdf version of the paper go here and scroll to page 3. This is what it looks like in newsprint.

For the online version, you can check it out here.
Thanks to my first and most loyal readership here. You feed my creativity and make this whole writing thing fun. And today just added to that fun.

Remembering that Day

We will never forget.

That day. Where we were. How our world changed on a bright September morning. How our nation gaped wide as dust filled the air of Manhattan streets, a fire burned in a Pennsyvlania field, and a Pentagon was broken.

Here is something small for your remembering today. This Newsweek article and video on the lives of children who were around ten years old on that infamous day and how this "Generation 9/11" is entering adulthood now. How will that day mark and change their adult lives?

That day feels so gigantic at times, so big in our collective pysche that words can't capture the nuances and complexities of pain that tore through the fabric of too many lives that day. Regardless if you were near or far to Ground Zero, the shockwaves from that day are still being absorbed.

My heart goes out to everyone who lost a mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend or loved one on that day. And for all the lives lost and damaged in the war on terror since then.

We will always remember.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Sometimes numbers seem a bit magical like today.

Happy 09/09/09!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

RECIPE: Lime Cilantro Brown Rice

I made this for our Labor Day Mexican fiesta yesterday and it turned out surprisingly well. This is my take on my mom's recipe for lime cilantro rice. We were recreating Cafe Rio salads for our holiday family party and this was the impetus for the recipe. I don't want to forget a good thing so here goes:

1 cup uncooked brown rice (I used 7/8 cup short grain brown rice and 1/8 cup aromatic whole grain brown rice)
2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 large or 2 smaller cloves of garlic
2 limes, juiced
1/3 to 1/2 head of cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

Put rice and chicken broth in a medium pot on the stove and bring to a boil while adding garlic, lime juice, cilantro and a bit of salt. Once the mixture has come to a boil, cover with a lid and turn to low for 45 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off burner and move pot to another burner. Leave covered and let sit for 20 minutes. Then uncover, salt to taste and serve.

Delicious served with lime chicken, black beans, chopped romaine lettuce, salsa and guacamole. Corn chips and hot, fresh tortillas are other possible options.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What's Cooking at Pear Tree Cottage

In my ideal world, menu plans always happen. In the real, nitty gritty of life they do not. Yet I'm learning for my survival and my sanity, they are becoming a must.

Usually when I go to the grocery store without a menu plan, I come home with key ingredients missing for certain recipes. Cooking then becomes a frustrating experience as I stand in front the fridge--often hungry and tired--wishing that something yummy would make an appearance if I just stand there long enough.

Early this year, when I started the allergy-free diet, the only way I survived those first weeks successfully was by setting up a six-week menu plan of dinners. It gave me some sense of relief that I could actually come up with meals that I could eat when it seemed like there were so many food items that caused me problems.

I guess after six weeks, I reverted to less planning and more intuition (or might I call it desperation?). This made for several weeks of hunger as a result of my poor planning and once again I was back in my routine of standing in front of the fridge and wishing something delicious would magically appear.

So, I'm back on the planning wagon again. I like to do a six-week menu planner of meals at once because then I only have to gather recipes and make decisions once every few weeks. Below I am listing the plan for this week.

Most of the recipes are linked and most of them come from some of my favorite food bloggers. Some of them are new and some are old favorites. The recipes are fast, healthy and delicious. Also, I have listed my modifications next to each recipe just for your information.

M-Veggie Tacos (modifications: brown rice tortillas, almond mozarella cheese, goat feta cheese)

T-Turkey and Macaroni (modifications: ground turkey instead of the hamburger, brown rice noodles)

W-Lentil Soup

Th-Honey Mustard Chicken Fingers (modifications: substitute part of the honey with agave nectar and bread the chicken with almond flour rather than crushed cornflakes; may also use an egg wash before breading the chicken)

F-Pan-Seared Salmon with Avocado Remoulade Sauce

S-Tuscan Baked Eggs (modifications: either goat cheese feta instead of parmesan cheese or shredded almond mozzarella)

I'd love to hear how you plan meals and prep your kitchen each week. I need all the insight I can get.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Planning My Life Away

I bought this planner a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to track my life. I used to be a Franklin fanatic but I found I was making too many modifications to the planner to make it work the way I wanted, so I quit using Franklin and moved everything online--calendars, to-do lists, etc. And that solution was very good for my work life where I sit at a desk all day, but it didn't work well for my home life where I am running errands and making shopping lists and adding to-do items on the go.

I don't want a planner that is big and cumbersome, just neat and small. I like to see a week at a glance so I can track appointments. I have a daily to-do list, shopping lists, meal plans, gift ideas and financial notes. I found that the digital world doesn't translate as well for my personal life because I am a notetaker and listmaker and I like to write. It helps me organize my brain to have my calendar and to-do lists laid out for me.

When I don't have a working planner, I still make copious notes and daily to-do lists and they end up strewn all over my house which causes me anxiety and wastes my time as I never seem to have all those to-do lists in one place.

I bought the Moleksine because it gave me a week-at-a-glance, was a nice compact size, and the pages are nice and thick and lovely to write on. And it seems for me like I am carrying a journal around rather than a planner. What amazes me is how utterly, completely happy I have been for the past several days since I purchased it. Its like a constant party in my pocketbook. I know where all invitations, appointments, to-do lists, goals, ideas, and future plans go! I think I open it about a hundred times a day and check my lists, write new items, plan future appointments, and essentially organize my head in blue ink right on the page in front of me.

It has brought calm and order and sanctuary to my life. And brings me no end of bliss and pleasure to boot. I would go so far as to say, I think I may have found a replacement for chocolate.

It is that good, my friends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

RECIPE: Mom's Corn Salsa

We had a little party at work the other day and I made up a batch of my mom's corn salsa to take to the party. It is such an easy, simple, yummy recipe that I thought I would share.

1 can shoepeg corn, drained
1 can black-eyed peas, drained
2-3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1-2 avocados, chunky
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup of Italian dressing

Prepare a few hours ahead to allow flavors to blend together. Refrigerate. Serve with big scoop Fritos or corn chips.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Making Meaning

When I first took my hiatus I was exhausted. Spent. Emotionally weak in the knees and ready for a break from life. What I wanted to do was spend some time hiking in the green gorgeousness that is my home state, float lazily in a mountaintop lake, clean my house, do some major reorganization in my storage room, and get on top of some paperwork.

Only some of that happened.

The hiking will take place next week. The floating--hmmmm---not sure when. (Anyone have a mountaintop lake they would like to suggest?) The organization and paperwork should be finished soon. And my house is clean.

What I jokingly also wanted was a complete personality transplant and a chance to entirely redo my life. Mostly I wanted to be refreshed and renewed. I do feel both of these things and for that I am so grateful. One feeling I have had strongly the last few days is that I have been given a beautiful life full of great riches like family and friends and education and opportunities and environment and talents. I feel thankful for so much goodness. It is nice to be reminded about all of this, especially on those days when I don't see them so clearly.

I missed writing and reading here. Several times the thought has occurred to me "I want to blog about that" only to remember that I said I was going to take a break and I better keep my word.

I've spent some time thinking about the direction of the blog, the stories I want to tell, the things I want to share. One of my passions has always been writing about people, our relationships, and the daily things that fill our lives with meaning and purpose. I hope to do more of that kind of writing in the future here.

I think I've always worried a bit that I'm not entertaining enough, witty enough or laugh-out-loud funny in my writing. My words bend to the thoughtful, reflective and introspective. I so enjoy teasing out the riddles, the issues, the details that I sometimes forget the sunshine and silliness. Luckily, I have great people surrounding me who remind me to come up for air once in a while and chortle through family dinner or giggle at some goofiness or titter at a funny tale. Which just reminds me that in all of my earnestness that laughter is a blessing to not leave behind.

So, here is to more writing, more blogging, my future semester and remembering to enjoy the ride. I love this quote by Mr. Thoreau, a rather thoughtful, introspective writer himself.

I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life . . . to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I'm back and ready to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life." You too?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Hiatus

To my gentle reader:

I am at a loss for words. Yes, I know a shock for many of you. Nevertheless a reality for now. Or maybe, more correctly, too many words seem to roll around in my head right now. Most of them tend to the melodramatic with a distinct hue of blue to their cast. Words that are probably meant more for the private musings of my journal rather than this forum.

For this reason and many others, I'm going to count August as a hiatus from my writing here. It is the final few weeks of summer, I'm on a break from school and I'm hoping to take this time to get a personality transplant and entirely redo my life. You know, small realistic goals like these have always been my forte.

If I don't attain either of those goals in the next few weeks, maybe it will be a time to sort, reflect and come back to the page refreshed and renewed.

Enjoy your August. I'll be doing the same.

Update: Goodness, I see that I didn't do such a spectacular job of reigning in the melodrama when I wrote this. Who wants to go quietly into the night when screaming your guts out is just . . . louder.

Despite this post's snarky attitude, I am looking forward to a few weeks break from my regular life and plan to come back in September reinvigorated and ready again to write and discuss with all of you. See you then!

Friday, July 31, 2009


A few years ago I came back from a big meeting at work energized, excited and enthused. Most days work was a struggle for me to stay interested and on task. But every time I came back from a meeting and from working with other people and tossing around ideas and thinking up a plan, I was enthused and energized. That day I started to wonder if maybe there was a job out there where I could get paid to just sit and talk to people. Where instead of business being my business, people were my business.

I think that day was the day I started seriously contemplating changing my career track. What it brought me to was additional schooling and going into therapy. I've been a bit tentative about that decision for several reasons. I've asked myself over and over again "Is this really what you want do? Is this really what you see yourself doing?" I've already played the nonchalant game of just pick a major and see where it takes you. I know that despite some outward appearance of career-focus, in the back of my mind I didn't plan on working in a career for very long because . . . you know, other things would happen like getting married and having kids and being a stay at home mom.

Cough. Choke. Sputter. Except that's not where life went for me.

So, here I am, in my thirties and still wondering what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. And now, I'm immersed in classes and doing research and wishing most days that somehow I had figured this all out before. And that instead of just dipping my toe into the possibility of changing my life, I could jump in with both feet. Could this dream become a reality for me?

Which is where the mental hospital comes in. (And no, it's not what you are thinking, thank you very much.)

I'm volunteering at a mental hospital right now for a class. They don't let the volunteers do anything really serious--mostly we get to help in the library, put together dances and game night, and sometimes help the patients with physical therapy. That's about the extent of it.

The funny thing is: I love it.

Volunteering is part of my grade for this class and I assumed it was going to be a chunk of my life that I would never get back and all for a good grade. But the first day of volunteering my entire perspective changed.

I was helping in the library and the librarian was explaining where everything was, how to check out media items and how things were categorized. In short order we had completed every task and I was a bit antsy. What else should I be doing? How else was I supposed to help? So, I asked her what she else she wanted us to do and what other tasks needed to be completed. She stopped whatever she was doing, looked me straight in the eye and said,

"What I really want you to do is observe the people and talk to them."

Cough. Choke. Sputter. Really?

My first thought was "Honey, I do that in my sleep. Now tell me what you really want me to do." After looking at this woman and realizing she was not kidding, I got a little bit giddy. You mean, I can volunteer here every week and that is what you want me to do is just talk to people? Umm, okay. I think I can handle that.

And thus I entered nirvana. A entirely blissful state where it occurred to me that if I can continue on this current career track, I might actually get my wish:

Someday I might actually have a job where I get to sit and talk to people. All day. Every day. About things that really matter.

Suddenly, I don't feel tentative about this career change at all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hairy Stories

Another jaunt into the photo archives. I seem to not have much to say lately or maybe it's that I'm currently under such a big deadline at work that I don't have time to form coherent thoughts other than "Did I edit that page?" and "How many ways can you say paper or newspaper in three pages of text?" to "What's the code for an en dash again?"

This was yet another photo that made me smile. I'm so grateful that Rus took the time to scan all these photos last winter or my midnight cacklings would be few and far between this summer. Each photo seems to elicit more memories and stories and just pure delight at "the good old days" as the tint on my glasses turns rosier and rosier with each viewing.

We are standing in front of the fireplace in Grandmother and Granddad's front room on 1510 Conant Avenue. You can plainly see it is the eighties by the clothing--Dad's tie and Mom's bow. I'm guessing Mom is about 31 years old in this photo and Dad is about 34 (gasp! Really? Six kids and early thirties? What happened to my life? I still feel that I'm barely out of puberty.) That would make Ric 10, Rus 9, Adam 7, me 6, Matt 4, and Meggie--well, she was the baby. A cute one too with all this blonde, curly hair and chubby cheeks.

In fact, I was curling that blonde hair when she was about two or three years old with a very hot curling iron and I distinctly remember telling her to "hold very still" when I was curling a spot close to her scalp and she didn't listen (those two years olds!) and she turned her head and that curling iron burned a long stripe across one of her sweet baby cheeks. I think I was scarred forever by the experience--I'm just glad she wasn't. I remember the adults saying things like "You have to be more careful" and "She's just a baby!" and "You could have really hurt her." (which didn't give me a complex at all) and I'm thinking "Then why did you let a 7 year old curl a 2 year old's hair?" (See that? Neat little trick where I lay the blame directly at someone else's feet rather than my own--it assuages the guilt.)

Another thing about this photo that sent me down memory lane was my hair--the side curls, the red ribbon and "The Spider" which was parlance in my young life for the hair experience that I endured rather often where my mom would pull my hair up into a high ponytail and then divide it into six or eight sections and then she would dampen and curl each section around her finger into a big fat sausage curl and bobby pin it to my head with an unholy strength that made each bobby pin dig a deep trench into my scalp. I would wear The Spider for a day or two and the next day she would pull it out and my hair would have these springy bouncy curls or she would brush it out in to soft waves. I always liked the next day after The Spider. I felt pretty. It was the only reason I would endure the terror of the bobby pin torture that I succumbed to with each installment of The Spider on my head.

A better shot of The Spider along with a more relaxed shot of the family. Dad was behind the camera on this one.

The Spider was only inducted on high and holy days such as Sunday, picture day at school, Christmas, family pictures, a visit from cousins or grandparents who lived far away, or a trek out to Elba and Grape Creek and a visit with the second cousins at Nana's birthday party at the old rock church. Yes, just every major photo event in my life.

Which explains why nearly every photo I see of myself during this time period, my hair is piled high atop my head and I have a particular twinge around my eyes that reminds me of the bobby pin headaches that always accompanied the induction of The Spider. What sweet relief was experienced when that first bobby pin was taken out the following day. And then the next bobby pin and then the next and then the next. And then the heavy hair was freed from the tight ponytail and floated around my shoulders in a cascade of rippling curls. I tell you, I could have done a Head and Shoulders shampoo commercial each time my hair came out because I would sit and flip it for hours and shake my head and feel gorgeous and powerful and invincible with my tresses of undulating beauty.

That effect lasted until I climbed the feed pile in the grainery, squirmed through yet another fort my brother's built in the haystack or crawled army style under the fence to the Jensen's pasture to see if we could get a rise out of the bull who grazed there. Yes, it was a fleeting moment of grace and beauty in my life and I owe it all to a mother's infinite time, patience, motivation and insistence.

Thanks, Mom. I owe you one--yet again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Preschool Cowboy

After posting my little essay yesterday, I just happened across this photo of my brother Matt standing in front of the exact spot I was describing in my writing.

First of all though, get a load of Matty. What a cutie. He must have been all of four or five years old in this photo. Between the seriously pointy cowboy hat, the full holster of guns and the rockin' sunglasses, you can see he was ready to wow the world. He always was a delicious little kid with his rosy chubby cheeks, his ready smile and his bright yellow hair. He was like his own little sunbeam.

So, not only is this one of my favorite photos of him, it also cracked me up to see the spot I had been writing about in Pull the Plug. At Matt's left elbow is the rock we hid behind and the fence at the back of the garden. The huge pile of tree branches in the photo is lying directly over the what was normally the pumpkin patch. Adam and I hid behind that rock as the perfect vantage point as we scoured the garden for our mother. That garden was huge and stretched all the way to the road at the front of the house. I spent hours and hours each summer weeding that garden and daydreaming about inventing some kind of tool that would magically and effortlessly pull weeds for me. What I didn't know was that magical tool was called "kids" and my parents had enough of them to make sure that garden stayed weed-free.

Funny thing is now that I have a place of my own, one of the things I want the most is a little spot of earth to plant a few seeds and grow a garden of my own. I don't think now that I would mind so much pulling a few weeds each day. Especially not when they bring back such sweet memories.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pull the Plug

This is a tiny essay that I wrote a few years ago. It is my memory of a late summer evening when I was a little girl and my mother had put my brother and me in the bathtub and then gone out to the garden. We went out searching for her and this is the moment stamped in my memory.

He taught me quiet stealth on a green-grass evening as we followed the brown, itchy clapboards on the back of the house towards the garden and our mother. At ages four and six, “Indians” was our favorite game. “We’re on the attack,” he told me. “Shhhh!” We crept noiselessly to the rock that would be our last cover before exposure to the road at the front of the house. I kept a sharp eye out for Fluffy our black cat who, ill-tempered and gouty, would use our legs as a substitute for her favorite scratching post. My brother pushed our expedition along soundlessly, scouting the terrain ahead. We reached the rock, squatting behind its relative safety as he scoped out the situation. It was several feet of open driveway to the fence line of the garden and, my best guess now is, it was a gap he just wasn’t ready to fill. He turned to me and without announcement pushed me into full view in the center of the driveway saying, “You’re younger; you ask Mom.” Startled I stood paralyzed waiting for a car to pass and reveal my shame. For out of the bathtub we had come to find our mother to get us a towel, and my brother hung back, naked, like the first man of the Bible he was named for—Adam.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Group Laughter

This is from a few weeks ago after Sunday dinner at Matt and Cissy's house. Most of the crew were watching the trailer for the movie Year One and getting a kick out of it. This is what makes them laugh and I can say that half the reason we all are cracking up is watching each other crack up. That and similar little sideline comments like the one that Rus inserted on my last post.
"I believe 'liminal space' is the whole area inside the outer crust of a key lime pie. I know, I'm good with words."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Time to Grow Up

How do you know when you've reached adulthood? How do you know when you finally grown up? In some ways, I'm sure that adulthood is a fluid event. Sometimes we assume adult responsibilities financially but not emotionally in our relationships with friends or spouses, or maybe we are grown up spiritually but we have a lot of growing up to do when it comes to our career focus.

It seems like marriage is an event that announces to the world that you are ready and willing to grow up and assume adult responsibilities. Even more than that I think that having children forces you to grow up because someone has to care for this child who is dependent on you for everything from food to clothing and shelter to every emotional need.

So, what about when you don't get married? That is something I have wondered about especially during the last few years. In some ways being single allows you to stay in a state of "post-adolescent dithering and self-absorption" and not join the rest of the world. When it is just you, you only have to worry about one person and one person's happiness each and every day. Selfishness is the name of the game. I'm not saying that all singles are like this, but I am saying that it is much, much easier when you are not saddled with a marriage and children to skip blithely through the world not attending to anyone's needs, wishes, hopes or dreams but your very own.

This is why I liked these two articles so much. The first titled "It's Time for Adults to Grow Up Even if They Are Not Married" is from a Mormon Times blogger named Beth Palmer and she actually riffs off an article from the Tomato Nation blog called "25 and Over." Both articles deal with what it means to grow up and what grown-up behavior is actually expected of anyone in the over 25 crowd. Things like writing thank you notes, being on time, and courtesy.

Ms. Palmer though poses some great questions when she asks:
The thing is, absent a marriage to force us out of our naturally self-centered state, how do we get there? Without entering into the institution that throughout history has served as the threshold of adulthood, how do we know when we need to start acting like we've crossed it?

I think why all of this matters to me is I've watched myself and others in my single state descend into this oblivious post-adolescent life of pre-nascent adulthood where we just coast. Okay, I just coast. Constantly coast. Things like forgetting gifts and thank you notes and not getting my own hotel room when I'm traveling and not thinking it is really important if I go to this wedding event or that baby shower because my mom or sister is going and they can share my love for me. Mostly it seems that being single lets you hide on the periphery in good and bad ways. The good ways are you can sleep on a friend's couch when traveling and sign your name with your mom's name on that baby gift and catch a ride with another carload on the ride to the family reunion because you are "only one more." So, you never have to absorb the full costs of your presence in this world. At least not as often as someone with a spouse and 2.3 kids and a mortgage. It is just easier to coast.

Thus the dithering in the liminal space before arriving at full-fledged adulthood.

Sometimes when you don't have a marital partner or little ankle-biters to push you in that direction, you have to start doing the pushing yourself.

Consider this my tender little shove in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Look at Hunger

This was an attempt I made at more lyrical, poetic writing. It is a look at hunger--mostly physical but certainly applies to spiritual, emotional hunger. Really, I had about three weeks where I was hungry all the time and I wasn't cooking great food and I was just kind of existing. Since I now have to make nearly everything I eat from scratch--no convenience foods--I sometimes just get exhausted from cooking and it is easier not to cook sometimes and just go hungry. This is something that came out of that struggle.

My hunger is a sharp thing. It sits in the pit of my stomach, at the back of my mind, in the tense light of each of my waking hours. Relentless, unbidden, persisting. Ever present.

I try to assuage its pangs with food. I feed the sharpness, I cool the hot thirst, I stop and acknowledge its presence.

My hunger does not leave.

It rakes my belly most days through the ticking of the clock and the white heat of a shining day. It accompanies me into the dark hours of night and snakes its way from the soft folds of my center up through my chest, behind my eyes, throughout my brain.




My muscles tense, my head aches, I seek comfort and solace away from this growling burden, this constant pull inside of me. I push it away hoping it will disappear.

It does not.

It slices neatly through my meager defenses, assaulting me through the thrum of my heart with words that batter me.

I am so hungry.

I am so hungry.

I am so hungry.

I must spend time, hours, days attending to its pressing need, its near-stifling presence, its overwhelming load.

Feed me. I am so hungry.

In morning, its sharpness is muted, softer in its approach. Exhausted from its pursuit, I unwisely ignore its gentle reminders and benign probings, glad for a break as I throw it a morsel here or a drink there. It roars to life again within hours rearing its tyrannical head as my day progresses, beating every other thought out of my consciousness.

I succumb to its violence, its heat, its oppression. I seek to soothe, to calm, to comfort through taste, texture, smells and colors. Sometimes it abates allowing these things to sate its appetite. Allowing me some peace and solace from its clawing, voracious need.

Those are the days I breathe with joy.

Other days I cannot contain it, approach it or help it.

Those are the days it seems my hunger may end up eating me.


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