Saturday, December 18, 2010


When I was serving a mission for my church in The Netherlands I visited Palais Het Loo, a former palace of the Dutch royal family. The palace sits on acres and acres of forested land with elaborate gardens, stables, and palace rooms with displays of how the royal family lived. The possessions of the royal family were meticulously catalogued and displayed throughout the palace: dresses on dress stands, a silver handled brush, white gloves with satin buttons, a wooden rocking horse, and rows of automobiles. There were paintings and rich tapestries, elegant place settings at empty tables—the possessions of people who are no longer living.

I wonder how our possessions shape us. What our purchases tell about the kind of people we are and what we value.

I think about the few possession of my mother that I now own: a pair of Pyrex mixing bowls, a spatula, and the quiet book she made so we’d behave during church. I wonder where other things of hers went. What happened to the small silver jewelry box lined with red velvet that she let me use as a couch when I was duplicating the home of “The Borrowers” inside a shoebox for a book report? What about the homemade advent calendar that we used to count down the days until Christmas? The music she played on the piano? Her wedding ring that had been missing its diamond since I was a little girl? She had few valuable possessions, maybe none. We don’t mourn the loss of her things. We mourn her. We miss her and the experiences we could have if she were still here.

I think of the lives of people that pass through this earth forgotten and undocumented. I think of the Holocaust. Those images we’ve seen of roomfuls of shoes and eyeglasses that were kept while the lives of people who owned them were cast away, contemptuously. How many people live and die without the careful documentation of their existence, while we catalogue the hairbrushes and gloves and dresses and rocking horses of only the wealthy and important?

We all have possessions and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Humans have always had items they kept for useful purposes, emotional reasons, or for their aesthetic beauty. But let us also remember people and what shared experiences and relationships can give us. I believe that people are more important than things. Always.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving

". . . you can feel the rejuvenating effect that a good meal can bring on. The way it can make people kinder, funnier, more optimistic, and remind them it's not a mistake to go on living."

-- pg. 241, Suzanne Collins, "Mockingjay"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Another quote I love

"On the day I die, I want to have had dessert."
from Anne Lamott in the book "Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To astronauts and miners

Why is it that the news stories we remember, the one that shape us and our youth are mostly stories of sadness—of death, of destruction? For my parents, it was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For the high school students I sometimes teach it is the falling of two towers on a sunny day in September.
I still remember sitting on the hard carpeted floor of my elementary school, watching a TV strapped to a rolling cart. We’d all gathered in a common area, the place we called “the pod” to watch Christa McAuliffe become the first American teacher in space. We watched as the Challenger Shuttle took off and then exploded in the bluest sky I’ve ever seen. I don’t need a picture to remember what the explosion looked like: a trail of white that bulged at the top and then split in two directions. We’d watched the launch live and we sat there, staring at the screen until someone—a teacher—turned it off. We didn’t talk. We knew that they were gone—those people on board. They’d just been smiling at us.

They’d been waving.

My oldest daughter was only a year and half on September 11th. Although she’s seen footage and knows about what happened that day, she doesn’t understand it. It may shape the world she lives in and the policy and political decisions of her generation, but it’s not a day that’s hers.

I’m glad that the news story that marks her, that first affected her, the one where she began to see the world differently, was a day when 33 miners rose one by one after 69 days underground. I’m glad that hers is a story of hope. A triumph.

My 10-year old daughter watched all she could of the Chilean mine rescue. She called me asking me for updates on her way to and from school. She knew and understood that there were more than just miners down there, underground. That paramedics and rescue workers had gone down too. She had questions and she had empathy. She wanted to watch every moment, but there was homework to do, piano to practice, a room to clean.

“Let her watch,” I told my husband.

I sat next to her. We watched as the last miner climbed out of something that NASA helped to build. It looked remarkably similar to a space shuttle, like a small, wire rocket.

It rose out of the ground. I heard cheers and there were smiles. Then the door opened.

And there was waving.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I remember being at my Grandma's house listening to my sister backtalk. She'd never done it before, it wasn't something we did. I sat still and watched open-mouthed as my sister talked back to my mother. I was shocked, sitting on the olive green brocade couch, that she dared. My sister was reckless and brave. I wondered what would happen.

I didn't have to wait long. My mother marched her, or maybe pulled her into the bathroom where she washed her mouth out with a bar of soap. I followed and watched from the hallway. My sister was in trouble. Big trouble. My mom was a kind and gentle parent. I'd never seen her do anything like this. It did the trick, though. My sister emerged apologetic and sputtering.

I, however, was curious. How bad had the punishment been? What did soap taste like, exactly? I'd never thought to taste it. And maybe, most importantly, did I dare risk it myself? (Back talking, that is). It looked empowering. It could be useful. So I went into the bathroom and put my tongue, ever so barely, on the soap bar.

Nope. I knew then, that talking back would never be worth it.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Riding the White Horse Home

I’ve always loved books. And so, there are some of you who’ve requested that I list some of my favorite books. I’ll honor this request from time to time, but with this caveat: just because I love a book, doesn’t mean that you will. I like most books. I find something interesting and enlightening in almost everything I read. I seldom hate a book. But to love one, that is a trickier thing.

So here goes:

A book I LOVE:

“Riding the White Horse Home” by Teresa Jordan

I adore a good memoir. For me, there is none more haunting and beautiful than Teresa Jordan’s, “Riding the White Horse Home.” I can honestly say that this book changed everything for me. I read it in college as a part of a Western American Literature class. To this day, I can’t pick it up without a lump rising in my throat. I’m not sure why. It might not appeal to everyone. It hasn’t sold millions of copies or even, for that matter, received much recognition (which I believe it deserves), but I found it life-changing. If I were only allowed one book to read over and over again for the rest of my life, this would be it.

Teresa Jordan was raised on a ranch in Southeast Wyoming. I grew up on a dairy farm in Southeast Idaho. I knew some of the same things she did: “that it’s easier to be a rancher’s daughter than a rancher’s son (pg 36), that “I feared my grandfather, but I also loved him” (pg 22) and that “I had some direct connection to both the land and the events that transpired upon it” (pg 12). What I was still navigating was the way that our family’s way of life and the land I’d grown up on had shaped me and where I was going now that I was away from it, on my own. In the book, Jordan says that “less than 2 percent of Americans live on farms and ranches.” I was startled in college as I talked to my friends: their fathers were bankers and doctors and lawyers and salesman and computer programmers. I never met another farmer’s daughter. Most of my friends viewed my way of life as charming and quaint. Teresa Jordan knows it and tells it for what it is and was. I loved her honesty of it, her perspective:

Another excerpt:

My family left the land because for four generations we had yearned to leave. We had lived in a culture that taught us that a professional life is more respectable than one tied to the land. This attitude shaped the decisions my family made, and it continues to shape the larger political and economic decisions, made by educators and policymakers far removed from the land, that affect the few who still hold on.

My sadness over the loss of the homeplace is my dark side, my grief, but it is also the source of my deepest knowledge. Perhaps it is only through this experience of loss that I can value a sense of place, that I can question how thoughtlessly—even contemptuously—we are taught to cast it aside. (pg. 88)

At this time in my life (when I first read this book), I was at a crossroads. I was ready to divorce myself from the place and land and way of life that I’d loved, mostly because I did not believe that I could be the person I wanted to be if I held on to it too tightly. “Riding the White Horse Home” allowed me to both hold on and let go. It was more than that, though. It is so beautifully written, so rich in emotion. I loved everything about this book. Secretly, I wanted to be a writer. Up to this point I’d only read books by people so different than me: people with money, from cities, who’d traveled the world. Here was a book, printed, published, and in my hands by someone I could relate to: someone who wrote of the smell of her mother’s bread baking and of the steam that rises from afterbirth when a new calf is born. It gave me hope and a sense that maybe I, too, could write something that someone else would want to read. It was a great, great gift. But aside from that, it’s a beautiful book. A must read.

At least I think so.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Bucket List on You Tube

So after missing the below mentioned dramatic eruption of Old Faithful, I did went any modern American with Internet access would do: I went to You Tube and watched a closer and more impressive version of the geyser's explosion than the one I'd witnessed. And then it got me thinking. I could probably experience almost everything via You Tube. I don't like the term "bucket list" but that's what everybody calls it. So I thought about mine and what I haven't done that I still want to do.

Hmmm. I've never seen a firefly.
It is definitely high on my bucket list. Has been for ages. So I looked up "catching fireflies" on You Tube. Here's what I found:

Pretty cool, eh? Then it occurred to me: I could probably experience everything this way--except for someday having a pedicure and eating lobster. But other than that, I probably don't even need to leave my house. And you all know how much I really like to just stay home.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Still Old Faithful

It was a dark and stormy night

It was a frantic and crazy summer.

It really was.

One thing we did this summer was go to Yellowstone. We didn’t go to Yellowstone to go to Yellowstone. We went because it was the shortest way between where we live in Wyoming and where our kids had a track meet—in Bozeman, Montana. But we did decide that if we were there, we might as well see the sights.

I went to Yellowstone exactly once as kid. I was ten or eleven and it was one of only 2 vacations we ever took. Since my Dad was a dairy farmer, we had to be back home in time to milk the cows that night. Old Faithful was our last planned stop. We couldn’t wait for the next eruption, so when we pulled into the parking lot my Dad said, “Everybody run!” The famous geyser was already erupting over the heads of spectators huddled around it. We were still what seemed like miles away in the parking lot. We ran, but by the time we got there Old Faithful was drizzling. It was only slightly more impressive than an exploding can of Sprite.

These days Old Faithful is less faithful. They no longer post schedules of its eruption times and I hear that the geyser is smaller. Still. It’s Old Faithful. The one on people’s bucket list. So we stopped. We were walking towards the geyser when sure enough, I told my kids and my husband, “Run!” There was the familiar spray of water obstructed by the backs of people’s heads.

After it was over I heard a man tell his friend, “Seeing that--that's a once-in-a-life-time thing, man.”

Or in my case, two.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

My name is etched on the back of my mother's headstone.
It feels strange to have it there, staring back at me, the A in the middle capitalized like it's supposed to be.
What I hate more, though, is her name on the front. The fact that she is gone.
I miss her.
Today I miss that I am not there to cut lilacs from the lilac bush or arrange peonies in the tin cans my grandfather has saved for today. I miss that I'm not there, filling a bucket with water, carrying it to the gravesides of my grandmother, my great-aunt Donna, my Mom, and watering the pots of mums we bought in every color. I always put the white ones on my mother's grave, because she loved daisies. Dad takes a scrub brush and washes the bird droppings from the headstones. He starts with my mother's and then moves to his mother's and then down the row to relatives I don't know, the ones without flowers--without loved ones nearby enough to come and remember. He washes the big family marker that my kids like to climb on. We stare off into the distance at the mountains. We don't say much. No one does.

I know just how it will be there, at the cemetery, without me. What will be said and what unsaid. I know my mother is not there. That it's a long way to go and an impossible weekend to have gone. Still, though, I'm caught off guard today by the way my heart is tugged West--away from here. I'm caught off guard by the heaviness of the air here, how much missing hurts, and the tight lump rising in my throat.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Pre-Summer Reading

What I've read lately:

Living Dead Girl: Disturbing tale of a girl who was abducted by a sexual predator 5 years earlier while on a school field trip. This book was haunting, disturbing and unnerving. I thought about it for weeks. Its marketed as a YA book, but (and I never say this) I wouldn't want my teen reading it unless I knew they were and could discuss it with them. If you're interested in this one, read the descriptions and reviews on amazon so you know what you're getting into.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth: Krista Marino was the editor for this book and she talked about it at last year's Writing & Illustration for Young Readers Conference. I thought to myself: Oh, I'll never publish a book if that's what they're looking for. So maybe I won't, because I'd never write a book like this. Still, the opening scene/description about the ocean is beautifully written and it sort of pulled me through the book. I liked it, didn't love it, but liked it. It's a dystopian novel about a girl who longs for a world beyond The Forest of Hands and Teeth where the Unconsecrated (a sort of zombie world of former humans) feed on the living. It was a bit too hopeless for my liking, with the main character losing . . . well that would give it away. . . but it will probably make for a movie that my husband will like. Maybe there's hope in part 2. Maybe.

hold still: I LOVED this book. I thought it was beautifully written. It's about a girl trying to cope with her best friend's suicide. It's about her hanging on and letting go. Coping and crying. Moving on and mourning. I really did love it. I loved the writing. I loved that sometimes the chapters were only one line. They were just the length they needed to be. (Just learning that one thing from this book freed me as a writer). I'd love to write a book like this, or even something close. This is the author's debut novel and I think she's someone to watch.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Really, Wyoming, Really?

Because I do watch Saturday Night Live, I give you my own version of a segment I like to call: Really?!! Wyoming, Really??. Except that there is no Seth, or Amy, or Tina Fey, or even Jerry Seinfeld. It's just me. And my rant. I'd even upload a picture, but its late. (And depressing, did I mention depressing?) So Here You Go:

Is it because “Wyoming in Winter” sounds so alliterative that you have to be snowing, again. I mean, really?

Or was the color “spring green” just too much for your comfort zone pallet of brown, tans, and sagebrush? Was that it? Really?

Maybe the state highway budget for clearing and plowing roads still has a major surplus. Or perhaps, being the 2nd least densely populated state, you thought that no one would notice. Or care? Was that it, Wyoming? Really?

Or were you just playing a cruel trick on the bears who’ve already come out of hibernation? It could be that, since you’re the last state alphabetically, you’ve not yet received the memo that spring began on March 20th! I mean, really, Wyoming. Snow again? Really?!!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eye of the Beholder

Before we left Utah, I took my kids to the BYU Museum of Art. They were having an exhibit of work by Walter Wick, the photographer for the “I Spy” books. I thought they’d be fascinated. One was. My oldest daughter studied the photos and the displays carefully, looking at all the details and creativity. My younger daughter, however, kept looking down the other hallway. It had black walls and a pile of black garbage bags in a room at the end.
“Can we go down there?” she asked.

“Not now,” I said.

We had limited time. I’d learned, from experience, that tackling an entire gallery could be overwhelming. I wanted to stick to one exhibit.

We went back to Walter Wick.

My youngest daughter looked. She ran around. She needed to go to the bathroom.

The bathroom was outside the other exhibit. I saw her eyeing it, being drawn to it. Walking close enough to peer down the hallway and then walking away, to the bathroom. We left the bathroom. Her eyes skirted down the hallway. Again. To the garbage bags. She looked at me.

I nodded.

Off she ran. Down the hallway to piles of garbage bags and a huge canvas of colored balloons. There was a sculpture of plastic chairs and a roomful of packing peanuts that were blown by a fan into an impromtu dance.

She ran from room to room. Excited. Giddy.

I thought about her personality. Spontaneous. Energetic. Impatient. Brave.

My oldest was still with Walter Wick. She was quiet. Disciplined. Detailed.

Both daughters found the same thing: something that intrigued them. They were just in different rooms.

And me? I loved them both.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mr. Left

Yesterday, I was reading this article to my husband. It's about whether the person you are dating is Mr. Right.
"Isn't it too late for you to be reading that?" he asked.
Hmm. Probably.
"I don't think you're Mr. Right," I told him "You never listen."
"Huh?" he asked.
I read him Trait No. 1: He listens to you. I emphasized the words "genuine concern" and "consistently remembers." It suddenly occurred to me that he forgets a lot things that I don't. Mostly, the names of people at church who I think he should know by now.
"It's not that I'm Mr. Wrong for you," he said. "It's that I don't listen to anyone. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with my short attention span."
Hmmm. I moved on.
Trait No. 2: He connects with you easily
"I think our relationship takes work," I said after reading the section.
I read it to him.
"I don't," he says. "It's one thing I love about it. That whole part about being easy, natural, and effortless. It's that way for me. You're the one who stresses."
Maybe I do. I decided not to read the rest. At least not to him.
He wasn't listening anyway. My Mr. Right.
Or Left.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

More Quotes

"I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?"
Anne Frank, 19944

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Just a Quote

"Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, to discover what is already there."
-- Henry Miller, "Sexus"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More Mini Memoir

I announced to my parents that I'd picked up mission papers from my BYU bishop when we were at the hospital. My Mom sat in a chair, next to my Dad who was in a hospital gown and hooked up to IVs in his hospital bed. He'd just been diagnosed with cancer.

My parents were less than thrilled.

I wanted to go on a mission, but I began to think that it wasn't the best timing. I did not want to lose my father. I especially did not want to lose him while I was away. . . . on a mission. So I did what any good Mormon girl would do. I prayed.

I remember telling the Lord that I wanted to serve a mission, but not if my Dad was going to die while I was gone. In a rare stroke of confidence, I felt perfectly fine about leaving. My father, I believed, was going to be around for a long, long time. I felt it. I felt it strongly enough to go ahead with my plans for a mission. I don't think that ever before, or since, I've had such strong confidence in a decision that was based on nothing but prayer and maybe, faith. I can't imagine doing such a thing now.

My mother said it was harder to send a daughter than it was a son, but she hadn't sent a son. Not yet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Memoir, today

If I were to write my own memoir, I think that every day I'd write something different. Today, though, the first two paragraphs would go like this:

When I was eight years old I leaned against the glass windows at the Salt Lake International Airport. I watched my grandfather be wheeled out of an airplane on a stretcher. He was taken to LDS Hospital where all the doctors smoked. Six weeks later he died of cancer. He was still an LDS missionary.

The words “LDS Mission” and “cancer” were synonyms in my family. It seemed that one always sparked the other. Or visa versa.

Wow. That is so uplifting, I know you all want to read it. :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

God Bless the USA

I never thought I'd live in Utah. My husband always said that hell would have to freeze over before he'd ever willingly moved back to "happy valley--a place he'd hated as a freshman at BYU. (He transferred before he could ever become a sophomore). But move to Utah we did. To our surprise, we liked it. Loved it, even. We didn't want to leave.

I came to Wyoming with trepidation and uneasiness. There was no doubt that it was different. I had lots of worries. One thing I worried about was education. My kids had loved their school and their teachers. I couldn't imagine that the quality of education could compare to what we'd just left.

I met our neighbors on our second day here. I met their daughters. Two beautiful girls. One was returning to the University of Wyoming in a few days. She was a sophomore. And the other? She was leaving the next morning for college.

"And where are you going?" I asked her.

"M.I.T.," she said.

And then I remembered: this is not just Wyoming, it's America.

I haven't worried since.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just Finished

I just finished reading this book. The premise is that you can use writing and creativity to lose weight. I think this only works if you don't keep M&Ms next to your laptop. Or chocolate stashed in your writing room. Or in drawers all over the house.

In Stephen King's book "On Writing," he talks about how scared he was that he'd lose the ability to write if he got sober. For him, the writing and the getting wasted went together. He didn't think he could do one without the other. But he could. He did.

On Saturday, I went to a local coffee shop and wrote. And drank a huge mug of hot chocolate. There were no M&Ms involved.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

We Must Have Heroes

When I lived in Utah I did some freelancing for a local magazine. I was assigned to write a piece about the President of the University of Utah's wife, Suzan Young. I interviewed her at the President's house just off campus on The Avenues. Her life was fascinating and there was a lot of information that didn't make the article.

For one, her daughter has a pilot's license. This intrigued me.
"What made her want to do that?" I asked.
Turns out, that her grandmother had been a pilot. During the second world war she'd ferried bomber planes from where they were manufactured (in Texas) to the San Francisco Bay area where they were handed over to the military.

I thought about this for a long time. Growing up, in my small town, I saw women who were secretaries, teachers, nurses, dental assistants, and little else. I knew no women doctors, lawyers, writers, poets, or pilots. To become such a thing never occurred to me. I don't blame the women in my life. My mother and grandmothers were all smart, capable women who told me I could be and do anything I wanted to do. I never wanted to be a pilot, anyway.

But oh, how I long to fly.