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.


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