Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remember when I cooked?

I used to blog about food all the time. I don't know why I don't do that anymore. Maybe because it's usually not that exciting.

I did invent a little thing tonight that was a big hit, even with our friend who happened to be stopping by at dinnertime. So I thought I would write it down here and maybe try to make it again sometime. Things were a little wild and I didn't get a picture. Sorry about that.

Spicy Chicken Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Fennel

1 onion, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 medium waxy potatoes (red or Yukon gold), peeled and diced
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1-2 tbsp. of your favorite flavorful hot sauce - we like Cholula or Tapatio
salt and pepper
1 can chicken broth
1 c. frozen peas
sour cream

Layer all the vegetables and chicken in a large slow cooker. Mix chicken broth, hot sauce, and salt and pepper, and pour over the top. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Break up chicken with a wooden spoon, add peas, and stir everything together.

Serve as a stew, with sour cream to temper the spice and good tortillas or bread on the side. Cilantro would also be great as a garnish. Wish I'd thought of that earlier tonight, but there are leftovers to be had tomorrow ...


Got the picture on the leftovers. With cilantro. Lots of it. Booya!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Four on the floor

I have four kids in school as of today. Officially.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Getaway, part 2

When we first walked into the basilica of Notre Dame de Montreal it took a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Once you realize what you're looking at, you still can't take it in. Neither could my rickety little point-and-shoot camera, so here's a professional image that gives you the idea.

But I don't know if the feeling of it can be captured in any photo. You feel like those enormous gothic arches actually open up to a miraculously luminous night sky. You can't quite tell whether you're indoors or out. It's such a beautiful and appropriate way for a building to give tribute to the God of Heaven. At the same time, the intricate decorative work is a gorgeous testament to human efforts and human faith.

This is the photo I took. It's too dark. I would need a tripod and an empty church and a long exposure, I guess. 

Once you adjust, the light is beautiful, all filtering in through stained glass windows at the sides and the rose windows in the top of the arches.

Rose windows with saints and fleurs de lis, as well as stars and other symbols.

Our cute tour guide, Adrienne, came from the northern part of Quebec. She studies art and architecture history at the University of Quebec at Montreal. She was fabulous. She got us all seated in the oaken pews, decorated with carved busts of the Virgin Mary and the twelve apostles, and started in on a quick summary of the history of Montreal and of the basilica.

An apostle.

It turns out the basilica as we see it is a remodel. The original was completed in an English Gothic style, with large stained glass windows behind the altar. The sun through them in the mornings blinded the congregation. The remodel was an enormous undertaking that involved adding rose windows in the ceiling, stained glass on the side walls, and the intricate and beautiful sculptures that are now behind the altar. 

Many of the side windows show scenes from the history of the city. Adrienne said that's fairly unusual. This one depicts Jeanne Mance, a pioneer nurse.

The topmost part of the altarpiece is a depiction of Christ crowning His mother with a crown of glory. Her robe is inset with real sapphires and emeralds. I found it incredibly beautiful and moving, seeing Mary not in her usual beatific pose or holding an infant, but in the ultimate interaction with her exalted son, being recognized for her vital role and her righteous life. None of my pictures of this were very good. You should look on the church's web site, above, and one of the pictures on the main page shows it quite well.

There's a pulpit at the left that was built to help everyone hear the sermons before the advent of electronic amplification. It's very ornate and beautiful with statues carved in yellow pine. 

I particularly liked these two prophets - Ezekiel and "Jeremie," or Jeremiah, as we know him.Also the sign - please don't touch!

Looking up at the pulpit

Adrienne told us that Vatican II required all masses to be conducted from the front of the cathedral, so after that the pulpit was not used. And now, with microphones and speakers, it is not so much needed. Still beautiful, though.

Next we went into the secondary chapel, located behind the main altar. It's kind of two churches in one! This presented a stunning contrast to the main basilica in so many ways. Instead of the deep blue of the night sky, this room glowed golden. Every surface in it is yellow pine or black walnut. Immediately your eye is drawn to the enormous brass relief sculpture behind the altar.

See the Trinity at the top? Sun, dove, and human face. The arches represent the human journey through life toward God. You can see Adrienne at the lower right explaining it all!

This chapel was burned by an arsonist in the late 1970s and then rebuilt. The priests made an interesting choice in its new design. Some parts of it replicate the 19th-century style, but the ceiling, walls, and altar piece are very much of the late 20th century. They wanted to acknowledge the history of the place, without building a "fake, old" church, in Adrienne's words. I really like the mixture. And I love the honesty.

Danish Modern walls, French Gothic balconies.

When the chapel was burned, there was one piece of luck, or maybe a blessing. Two pieces of the original stained glass windows from the original design of the basilica were found sandwiched between walls. These required some repair but again, this was completed in a way that does not attempt to deceive at all. The replaced pieces are easy to distinguish.

The salvaged windows remain in their original frames. They depict Louis IX of France, who built a shrine to the crown of thorns that became the inspiration for the basilica in Montreal (thus the thorns in his hands), and St. Peter holding the keys to heaven.

Next we headed upstairs to the balconies. Here we got a close-up view of the decorative painting,as well as the amazing stained glass windows. There are also a lot of modern electronics up there for the big sound-and-light show they do in the cathedral. That would be a lot of fun to see, I imagine.

Dr. G in the balcony, with amazing, colorful decorative painting and gold leaf work.

I loved seeing so many women depicted in the stained glass. Of course, lots of men were there, too. But I kind of mostly took pictures of the women.

Mary, flanked by cherubs and crimson-winged angels

St. Therese, patron saint of musicians - located beneath the magnificent organ. Her angels have blue wings.

The life of Jeanne d'Arc in three panels ... and a lady on our tour who apologized to me afterward for getting in my picture. She was very nice.

Mary as a child with her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. 

Closer up of St. Anne. I really like her. C'mon, it's Jesus' grandma! That's rad! 

Unfortunately I have forgotten who's depicted in this window. I'm so sorry. It's lovely.

The Virgin Mary. Stunning. I love the way the radiance of her halo is expressed in the glass. Also, all these side windows actually open, which I understand is not the usual M.O. Pretty neat.

I also really enjoyed the 19th-century decorative painting on the ceiling and walls of the balconies. There is some damage from water that entered the basilica during and after massive ice storms. They are raising funds for restoration.

The final stop on our tour was the organ. It's pretty massive, with about 7000 pipes in all, some located in rooms we were not able to see. I wish we could have stayed around to hear it played.

I'm a Mormon girl. I appreciate an impressive church pipe organ!

This post was enormous, I know. But it was one of my favorite parts of my trip, and I wanted to be able to share it! It's definitely worth going to see in person if you can. 

As we toured the basilica, I thought so much of my dearly loved Catholic friends, and my Mormon feminist friends who yearn for expressions of the divine feminine, and the more-than-impressive pioneer women of Quebec and those in my own history who have given so much to preserve faith and culture and education. They are very much tied together. Notre Dame de Montreal was a privilege to be able to see.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Getaway, part 1

I can count on one hand the times G and I have left our kids overnight.

Once when S was a baby, we went all the way to beautiful Provo for an adoption conference. That was for one night.

Once when we were both at UC Merced, we needed to go to Yosemite at the same time for work.

Once we came to Montana to look for a house.

Once (last week) we went to Montreal for a few glorious days, just to be together and have fun.

Guess which trip was my favorite?

Here's a brief rundown:

Sunday morning, G flew from Bozeman to Montreal to attend a geochemistry conference. He gave his paper Tuesday afternoon. I'm sure it was brilliant.

While he was presenting, I was driving down I-15 with four kids in the van and four bikes strapped on or stuffed in in various ways. The wind blew hard and it was slightly scary. I am still amazed that we didn't lose any bikes along the way.

After a quick stop for lunch in Idaho Falls and getting to hug and say hi to my awesome friend Susanne, I dropped off my littler kids with my sister M1 in Ogden. (I love Ogden, and my sister has the most adorable, cozy, homey house in a gorgeous neighborhood!)  Although I'd worried a little bit about how K and Z would do, they seemed to settle in well and I took the older two boys down to my parents' house in Murray in time for dinner - fabulous pizza made by my mom. I still have to get her crust recipe. Best ever.

The next morning, my dear wonderful mother took me to the airport at an ungodly hour and I got on a plane. I flew to Dallas and got stuck there for a while, but was rerouted on a direct flight to Montreal and got there only half an hour later than planned. I used my airport time and flying time for some fiction writing I have been working on, so it felt productive and good. By the time I took the 747 Express Bus into town and dropped my things off in our great bargain of a sweet little old hotel, the Hotel St.-Denis, we had time for a late dinner.

The hotel desk clerk steered us to Le Saint-Bock, a pub up the street. Turns out, lucky for us, Rue St.-Denis is a dining hub of sorts (with lots of bars and partying as a side benefit). We ate salad with goat cheese, caramelized onions and a beer-honey vinaigrette, and pizza with chicken, pesto and blue cheese. I wouldn't have thought of putting pesto and blue cheese together - holy strong flavors, Batman! - but it was tasty and satisfying. I could see how it was definitely meant to go with beer, as that is what the Saint-Bock is really all about, but we did not partake. The place was crowded and hot for those not used to humidity, but the service was good and the atmosphere was kind of exciting.

So my Day 1 in Montreal was really just a plane, a bus, and dinner, but you know, not bad!

I told Dr. G I had two goals for my two full days in the city: to see old churches, and to eat some really great food. Thursday morning we dived right in with an amazing breakfast at La Brioche Lyonnaise. I had a divine ratatouille with a runny egg and fruit and some toasted baguette slices on the side. Glenny had crepes with lemon and sugar. We shared an amazing hot chocolate. It is hard to say what I found so great about this place. The food was simple but perfect. The environment was so delightful, so not-of-this-continent - exposed brick walls, an outdoor dining area, a garden room with a glass ceiling, a case of amazing-looking pastries and chocolates. Great service, of course. It was the perfect hello to my first day in Montreal.

We ambled around for a little while, taking in the experience of walking around in a busy, lively city and checking out the St. Lawrence river adjacent to the oldest part of Montreal, then landed at Notre Dame de Montreal.

That's me in the plaza.

After some debate, we purchased tickets for a guided tour so that we would be able to go up into the balconies and other parts of the basilica that are not open to the general public. It was a great choice. Tomorrow I'll pick up with the highlights of the tour.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Curriculum vitae, with tears

This article made me cry. Funny because I don't think it's meant as a tear-jerker. But for me, as I think it is for many women, work-family balance is a complicated and highly emotional topic.

The first part of my career, I wished away. I worked at a magazine on its last legs, which was emotionally difficult but actually offered me some amazing opportunities. As workers were laid off, I took on more responsibilities and ended up in charge of the whole shebang when I was only 23. So by the time we shut the doors for good, I knew not only how to write and edit the content as I was originally hired to do, but how to do the editorial budget and calendar, work with freelancers, supervise a team of editors, lay out pages in Quark XPress, and get a magazine to print.

And I was crying all the time because I wanted to be a mom. I'd been married since I was 19 and trying to get pregnant since I was 20. Yes, that might have been crazy, and I might have been partway lucky that it didn't happen. But it broke my heart.

After the magazine closed, I worked for a small software maker, subsidiary to an international mega-company. We made software for analyzing financial markets. It was used a lot by day-traders - remember that phenomenon from the late '90s? This was my entry into public relations, and I learned how to craft and distribute press releases, contact editors and reporters, plan and execute trade show displays. 

I found it mostly pretty meaningless, selling computer tools to help rich people get richer. I found some redemption doing customer profiles, getting to know individuals who found freedom and flexibility as traders that they had wanted in prior lives as nurses or truck drivers. I found a connection with my grandpa, who passed away that year. What I loved about my work as a PR person was the same thing he loved about his work as a newspaper reporter - getting to know people and their stories and helping to communicate that meaning. 

But really, I was focused on infertility treatments, then putting together an adoption file. I felt like I'd been in a long, dark tunnel, but at last the end was in sight. I was pretty sure the great quest of my life was motherhood, and there I'd find my true fulfillment.

The summer after I turned 25, my husband finished his Master's degree and we moved out of state. I quit my job without shedding a tear. Two months later, we adopted our first son. This was it: all my dreams had come true. I was a stay-at-home mom. We moved back to Utah, and I maintained some freelance work for my last employer, and for a while I went in and worked in the office one day a week. My son stayed with my mom every Friday. 

Almost in a whirlwind, our second adoption happened only 21 months after the first. We didn't think it would happen quite so fast, but it was all welcome. I did the gross parts of the job and the fun parts of the job. I stopped freelancing. And don't let this fact get lost: I loved my little boys. Crazy love. Silly love. Spoil them rotten love.

About six months after that is when things got crazy. I've talked about it before. I had a crawler and a two-year-old. It was winter. We had sickness and behavior issues. I think I got depressed. We went to a psychiatrist, me and the two cute baby boys. I cried. Because I was a mom, and it was so hard.

The psychiatrist perceived pretty quickly that I had not adjusted really well from being a professional woman to being a primary caregiver for small people. His main recommendation was that I find two or three hours a week to be away from my kids. (He entirely missed the fact that my oldest son had ADHD and several other complicated issues, but the kid was only two, and nobody diagnosed those things that early in those days.)

I stayed with those guys all the time, with the exception of those few hours here and there, until they were three and five. That's when I went to work for the university where Dr. G. was getting his Ph.D. I was conflicted about going to work, but it was a financial necessity, and when I prayed about it I knew it was the right choice. I knew my boys would be fine and I knew that we needed to get stabilized and ready for the kids we hadn't found yet.

And I loved my job. It was like my whole job was writing the customer profiles. I got to talk to interesting people all the time, about interesting things - physics and digital libraries and water systems. I was helping establish something new - the university officially opened about a year after I started work. It was a PR dream. Everybody wanted our story. We were gatekeepers rather than street hawkers. And I felt like I was doing work that meant something. Higher education was something I wouldn't have minded selling door-to-door if I'd had to, especially for the historically underserved populations for which the school was being built.

I had one run-in, exactly one, that first year, with a non-supportive work environment. My husband was out of town for a prestigious summer research internship that would advance his progress toward his doctorate. Accordingly, I left work at a reasonable hour to pick my boys up from daycare. The vice chancellor - my boss's boss - heard my heels click down the hallway and called out, "Somebody tell that girl what kind of hours we work around here."

I poked my head into his office and said, "They don't serve dinner at daycare."

That was the end of that. The guy retired later the same year. I don't think anybody really missed him.

I didn't have this blog yet when that happened. Still, it's taken me eight years to write about it. That's curious. I think there is a stigma attached to talking about clashes like that. Mostly I prided myself on being able to get all the work required of me finished in the limited amount of time I had for work. Truth: I worked like a superstar. And I still cooked and shopped, read the bedtime stories, cleaned the bathrooms. Dr. G. picked up some laundry duties (I still did lots - there was plenty to go around) and often picked up the kids after work.

Two years after I started work there, we became foster parents. What an insane thing to do for a working mother and a grad-student father! Longtime readers of this blog know the story. Z joined us as a newborn in November 2006. K came home at the end of the following June, when he was almost 3. 

Now, I know I chose to become a foster parent. If I'd cared more about my career, or maybe if I'd understood how all-consuming the foster system was going to be, or both, I could have chosen differently. And I generally try not to whine too much about having needed to give up my job. My employers tried to be supportive. There was not a clear path to follow, for them or for me.

It is pretty unusual for a working mother to have more than two kids. When we hit three, people in my workplace raised their eyebrows. When the fourth joined us - I don't really remember. I was too stressed out to care what anybody thought, I guess. I knew at that point I'd bitten off more than I could chew. There was simply nothing to do except keep chewing.

But if I hadn't chosen to become a foster parent, something else could have happened that would have made it nearly impossible to continue having a full-time job. It doesn't necessarily matter how the parenthood happens. I could have unexpectedly become pregnant with twins with special needs, for example. The demands and stresses on me would have been similar. At least there would have been a clear procedure for maternity leave, but the system likely still would have been inadequate to keep me on the same career path.

The sheer number of appointments was overwhelming. Social worker visits and birth family visits and WIC and attorney meetings and doctors' appointments and court dates; receipts and reports and classes. Imagine this with four children total, ages 1, 3, 5 and 7, and two very busy professional parents. We had a lot of chaos and a lot of drama. 

Nobody talks about how much more complicated it is if you are a working mother whose children are in any way non-typical. In my experience you may find lightning coming out of your ears at all times and start getting kinda mean. 

I hung on for more than a year. I tried to make adjustments. My employer worked with me to change my schedule (and paycheck) so that I could work 30-hour weeks for the whole last summer I was there. I took the kids on vacation by myself so that G could have some focused time to try to progress on his dissertation. We could not find the balance. After a lot of soul-searching, we made the leap: I resigned in August 2008. 

When I left this job, I cried.

For most of the time since then, I've maintained connections with my old office and written at least one story a month for the university web site or e-newsletters. Still, I miss my professional life a lot. I believe I chose correctly when I quit (the first time in 1999 and the second time in 2008) to focus on my kids and be the primary parent. But it's always on my mind - the wonderful job I had, and what I'm going to do next. 

This week, I decided not to apply for a PR job for the regional energy company. I just didn't feel excited about it. While there could be some great opportunities to talk about green energy, I felt like it also had the potential to be almost as meaningless for me as trying to promote stock market software. Maybe worse. We have some tough-to-win energy situations in Montana - a huge power line that could interfere with ag lands and wild lands but promote development of wind energy in the state, for example. If I were to go back to work, I would want to back to my old job. One of my former co-workers just did - she's single and childless. For me that's impossible. We have a two-head problem of the first order. We live in another state now, and Dr. G pretty much has his dream job. There's no going back for me. And I am pretty stinkin' happy with just about every aspect of my life. I would be a dummy to complain.

My husband spoke on the phone yesterday with an important colleague, an accomplished woman professor who was wonderful and understanding about his efforts to parent equitably and support my career. Her teenage daughter has been experiencing very serious mental and emotional issues. The parents, both professors in a small town, have moved 2+ hours away from their jobs to a major urban area in order to be near high-quality mental health services for their daughter. They're commuting. I don't know how they are managing this. I wonder how long they will be able to keep it up. Talk about sacrifices. But like Anne-Marie Slaughter's colleague told her, sometimes there really is no choice. If you didn't put your family first in these situations you'd be some kind of evil robot.

Love is important. Our partners and our kids are important. I will speak the feminist blasphemy and say sometimes they are more important than our dreams and our accomplishments. I believe that all the way. But the sacrifices we make for those things take a toll on us, too. And the system absolutely could and really must serve us better to reduce those costs.

For now, my path is not so different from what Prof. Slaughter describes in The Atlantic. My plan right now (it feels good to have a plan) is to use my time to write and pump up my freelance business until January 2014. Then my husband will have been in his faculty job for five years so that I can become a student at any Montana university at half-tuition, and I'll get a Master's degree before my oldest son finishes high school, when I'm almost 43. Then I can do instructor work, or get a higher-level communications-type job, or go on for a Ph.D. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I'll have 20 years or more of good career time to figure it out. I have to thank Anne-Marie Slaughter for pointing that out, because it really is encouraging.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Last days

As we approach the end of the school year I have been aware that I'm living in some pretty precious days. My little daughter will be in kindergarten in the fall. While I've never been a mom who cries sending her babies off to school, this time it's a little different. She's the youngest. She's the only daughter. She's herself. And we have had a lot of wonderful time together.

With my boys, things were different, for different reasons. S's preschool year was difficult because we were new to California, we were struggling financially, and his ADHD was not yet diagnosed. When A was in preschool, I was busy working full time. K's preschool years involved not just that full-time job but also the juggling of fost-adopt troubles and trials. I never really got to just hang out with any of them. I did the very best I could and I don't want to dwell on what we didn't have.

But with Z I have gotten so much great time. I'm a stay-at-home mom with some minimal freelance work going on. She goes to preschool two hours a day, four days a week. We go to the YMCA. We do the grocery shopping. I help chaperone her school's field trips. We take hikes or walks, or kidnap Dr. G to go out to lunch. We take mental health days to curl up on the couch and watch movies.

Today we went to the mothers' luncheon at her preschool. She sang a lot of cute songs about mommies, and my heart felt a little too big for my chest. We made a silly hat from tissue paper and decorated it with ribbon and cutout paper flowers. We chatted with our friends and ate lunch and cake.

I'm so grateful for these days. I'm so grateful for my girl.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Today I am having a little rebellion. I skipped the gym and did not take a shower. I bought a bag of pop chips and I'm eating lunch in the rec room, something I don't allow the kids to do. You might be surprised, in a life like mine, how much a tiny, ridiculous flouting of the rules can lift your spirits. Especially on a day when the temperature has suddenly dropped 25 degrees and the wind will eat you alive. (I have still been productive in non-typical ways. I did the grocery shopping and some writing. Just so you don't think I'm being a couch potato.)

Anyway I still had to do the preschool pickup and dropoff. I looked a little messy. My favorite crocheted beanie (super simple, super soft variegated purple baby alpaca wool) was sitting by the door from the last time I walked the dog at night, as were my silly large dollar-store sunglasses. I grabbed both.

It's so movie-star, right?

Bonus: our dentist, who is also our friend from church and has a son who goes to preschool with Z (it's a small town; if you have a friend you pretty much see them everywhere) looked kind of bewildered when I said hi. On the way out he apologized profusely for failing to recognize me. I told him, "That's the whole point!"

I am so paparazzi-proof!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


I wrote this post last night and scheduled it to publish today, but it disappeared. I don't get it. Apparently the sophisticated stuff on Blogger (eye roll) is too much for me to handle. Anyway I think I can write it a little better today, so here goes.

It starts with a funny story told on myself.

Monday I went to pick Z up from preschool. It had rained in the morning, or maybe snowed a bit, leaving the parking lot a little muddy. One good mucky spot was right outside where I parked my glorious, dented-up, Obama-stickered Honda minivan. Shush, it is paid for and works great.

On the way in, I stepped in the mud, unaware. I wiped my feet and vowed not to make the same mistake twice.

So, back to the car with my little person, I executed a graceful leap over the muddy spot. If you know me at all you should already be laughing. Wait, there's more.

I launched myself directly into the door frame. The contact point was the middle of the top of my forehead. It smarted. I might have seen a few stars. I couldn't stop the tears, but I did manage to get in and close the van door for some privacy and then laugh and cry at the same time. Z was a little perplexed but someday she will have PMS, too, and understand how it makes you klutzy and emotional. I wonder if she will remember her silly mama.

I make all kinds of mistakes lately. Things that make me feel dumb, things that make me sorry. That is just a particularly amusing example.

I think it's probably normal, as you become older and more experienced, to be more honest about your own shortcomings. It makes me less likely to judge others. Sometimes it makes me able to try harder to overcome things that challenge me, things like being patient when someone is sick or injured and my selfish plans are derailed.

But I do still like myself. I can laugh at myself, as we see in the story above. I can see the good in myself. Truly. This is a kind of balance I will probably never achieve in my physical body.

So, no more leaping.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


I was combing my daughter's hair tonight before bed.

"Do you ever wish you were me?" she asked. "So you could do really good hairstyles?"

She'd styled her own shiny, straight brown hair today: asymmetrical pigtails on the sides with the back hanging loose, just past her shoulders. She's excited that it's finally getting long after her self-inflicted pixie in October 2010. She's way into hair. She does darned good work for a five-year-old.

I had to laugh at her question. She was unfazed.

"What if I were your mom?" she followed up.

"Then," I said, "I guess I would have really great hair, all the time."

She nodded, satisfied.

I admire her confidence. I wish I felt so sure of something. I'd take just about anything.

But humility is a virtue, right? Life seems to be cultivating that one in me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dream delights

Last night I dreamed that my family and I moved into a new home. It had a funny layout and lots of quirks, like dryer hose snaking all over the ceiling in a room adjacent to the living area, but I discovered a greenhouse where the previous owner had started dozens and dozens of seedlings, chard and strawberries and squash and more, and they were all thriving. I was so excited they were now mine, so thrilled to see something green and growing and promising a delicious future.

I wish this were real - except for the moving part. I am so excited to garden this summer. I am ready to see green. I would also love it if this offered some deeper meaning about unexpected blessings and opportunities.

At breakfast this morning, 7-year-old K told me he dreamed he visited Martin Luther King, Jr., at his home. It turned out MLK was a bodybuilder with all kinds of great equipment. "I used it and I got buff!" my sweet, scrawny little guy exclaimed.

This is the kid who colors his leprechauns with brown skin every year at St. Patrick's Day. He loves who he is. He is a proud little black man! May he be strong like Dr. King!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


I'm responding here to FMH founder Lisa's great response to the Samantha Brick brouhaha. Gotta love the Internet.

Lisa suggests that more women need to own and speak and write about their positive attributes and accomplishments. It's hard. It wasn't always hard for me. I used to be a lot more confident than I am now. When I started this blog it wasn't as hard. Then life got more real. More kids and more problems and fewer professional accomplishments piling up.

Because life is real and imperfect I feel less comfortable speaking about positives. I feel like there are too many threads to tug, too many ways to deconstruct anything I may have to brag about. And that is difficult to open myself up to.

So here is my fray-check: I don't pretend I'm perfect.

And the fray-check on the other side of the fabric: I truly don't think that any gifts or accomplishments make me any better than anyone else.

There. Now nobody can unravel the good things I am about to say.

  • I flipped off the world and married the person I loved most when I was only nineteen, and a lot of people thought it was a dumb thing to do. Now we have spent as many years together as I lived before I married him, so, to quote a jazz standard, who's got the last laugh now?
  • I got a good education (three years of college as a married student) and got creative about how to apply it, and I've had a good career so far writing and editing for science and higher education.
  • I faced down infertility and won, not because I ever became pregnant (I didn't) but because I came out stronger.
  • I was brave enough to open my heart to four children who needed a family, two from the foster care system. This still requires my courage and strength every day.
  • I helped open a new university in Merced, California, in 2005. I did my part and it was crazy and hard and tremendously fulfilling.
  • I am a good partner in my marriage. I am supportive of the things my husband wants to do and I think I pull my weight in every way I can.
  • I stand up for my kids. My kids are members of racial and ethnic minorities and have some challenges. I am on their side.
  • I learned how to speak effectively on television at the drop of a hat, and I put that skill to work in a crisis situation at my job.
  • Speaking of speaking, I can put together a pretty rad church talk or lesson, and I like doing it. This is something where I feel it's appropriate to give credit to the Holy Ghost, though.
  • I have 10,000 words of a novel, or maybe a series. You start somewhere.
  • I can sing. I love to do it. I can express feelings through song. I can sing jazz, pop, folk, classical. People enjoy it.
  • I can cook. I was well taught and I have been willing to explore on my own. Ain't nobody starving at my house.
  • I work out pretty regularly and I like my body OK. I have fabulously strong legs. And one benefit of infertility is slightly less sagging than I might otherwise be experiencing. So, that's nice.
  • I have good taste in fashion and home decor and an individual style that I don't see in other people's wardrobes or houses.
  • I am a good crocheter, largely self-taught. It's good medicine for when I'm feeling crotchety.
  • I recycle and buy local and drive an older minivan that gets good gas mileage.
  • I make nice holidays for my family, without getting crazy.
  • I can accept people the way they are. This is something that took me a long time to learn and still takes some effort to accomplish sometimes. But I know what it means and I know how to do it. 
  • I know how to tune in to spiritual things. I have found what works for me. I know it's not going to happen for me all the time, and I accept that, but I stay open to it. I sincerely wish this for everyone.
  • I know what it means to be really sorry. To know I was wrong and need to truly express regret for my words or actions. To humble myself. This is the weirdest thing ever to brag about. But it was hard-won for me. A big step. And I think I deserve a little bit of credit for it.
  • I don't mind being different from others, politically or philosophically or religiously. I am learning that I don't need to be afraid to speak my mind. It never turns out to be as scary as I thought.
  • I have learned how to prioritize what I choose to believe and obey. I don't follow blindly. I don't choose to burden myself with a lot of guilt. I know I need to do my best and de-stress the rest. I've blogged about this a little bit before. It's another biggie for me.
Now is when I force myself to end the blog post without qualifying or taking the wind out of any of the above. I just let the brags stand.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


My hair and I are having a moment. It's a good moment. That hasn't happened for a while.

You might remember that I can always think of something I'd rather do than fuss with my hair. Blow dryers are hot. Curling makes my arms tired. Professional styling services are expensive. My hair naturally bends in funny directions. I am going gray. I'm uncoordinated and generally don't care that much.

Good news, though. I have found a friend who does a lovely job on color. Right now we have a light-to-medium chestnut brown thing going on with some coppery highlights. Next month we go for bolder blond ombre highlights, which will be fun for summer, and low-maintenance which is very important for me. My friend does a nice job keeping my now-long layers in line and cutting long, sideswept bangs so at least I have something going on that points your attention away from my enormous cheeks. Bonus, I can bring Z along to her house to play with her kids while I get prettied up.

The length - now a good few inches below my shoulders - means my hair goes wavy instead of bending weird and flipping funny. That's good. Wavy is the Thing now, you know. So I have good color, a good cut, and the Thing.

I let my hair air dry without combing it. Then smooth on a little of this stuff - Sally Hershberger Wreck & Roll Texturizing Cream. Just a dot, maybe the size of a Cheerio or smaller. I rub it all over my hands and then just run my hands over my hair. It smells like roses, calms frizz and makes waves that look like I've spent the day at the beach. Good stuff.

If the waves need more help curling up - you know, if it's a dry day or whatever, which is almost always in Montana, I use a wave enhancing spray and then scrunch. Sometimes even with a blow dryer on low heat. KMS makes a nice spray, linked above. A cheaper alternative, still good, is this wave-enhancing spray from Garnier Fructis. I also have some Aussie Sprunch Spray for stubborn spots in my hair, but beware, it will take you right back to the days of spiral perms and the bangs style known as The Claw. Yes indeed, crunchy hair. Use sparingly, right.

For days when I do actually feel like doing my hair, I was lucky recently to get an InStyler as a gift from my friend Victoria. It's stinkin' cool. Sometimes I use it on my whole head for a really polished look (all right, that's almost never - when do I need to be polished these days?) but more often I just use it to straighten my bangs and make them go the way I want, to imitate an Emma Stone look with sleek bangs and waves in the rest of my hair. I love it that that's a really current look with absolutely minimal effort.

So, yay for me and my hair moment. It's all in the waves.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I have been a little in the dumps, no lie. The end of winter is tough around here. Spring is a tease. But eventually it can't resist and then it's like fun comes back into the world.

I'm going to follow Ms. Marta's lead and do a purposeful, positive post. Marta wrote about things she's looking forward to. Here are mine.

  • Staying home all weekend this weekend, making yummy food, spreading out the Legos on the floor, coloring, chilling, listening.
  • Visiting my family in Utah for Easter. I haven't seen them since October. That's a long time. I miss them. I will be meeting my new nephew, who so far seems to have the largest eyes of any human ever before seen. Super cute.
  • My birthday, sort of? Turning 38 next month. I don't know, I'm pretty ambivalent about pushing 40. But I do like birthdays and parties, so, what the heck.
  • Getting my oldest son's school situation sorted out. I think they finally get it. Tomorrow we start some stuff that I asked for a year ago when I signed him up to go back to public school. Here we go.
  • Gardening. We are not going on any really long trips this summer, so I am determined to make it good!
  • Summer vacation to Utah, then off to Montreal for a few days with just Dr. G and me (thanks to my gracious parents) and then back to Utah for massive family reunioning. I'll be seeing people I haven't seen in years and I am so excited and happy about that.
  • Possibly getting up to Glacier National Park for a few days in August. We've been in Montana all this time and haven't gone up there yet. That's disgraceful, and we have to fix it!
  • My little chica starting kindergarten this fall. Life is about to change.

Friday, March 23, 2012


My witness is that this is not OK.

I've been perilously near losing someone dear to me in an all-too-similar story. It's not all right that we make our young people feel this way. I believe we need to do better.

Men are that they might have joy. Gay men (and women) too. God wants you to live and be happy. Grab a tissue before you click "play" on this video.

If you would like to learn more, I really recommend Carol Lynn Pearson's book No More Goodbyes as a starting point.

If you would like to start talking to your kids about what it means to be gay and protecting them against the forces - internal and external - that take down a lot of young, gay Mormons, you could maybe start here. (It's been a few years since I wrote that FHE plan and some of my thoughts have changed but I still think it's a good beginning framework for most Mormon families.)

If you need a safe person to talk to about being gay or a member of your family being gay (or lesbian or transgendered or fill-in-the-blank) I would like to be that person for you if I can. Or for someone you know. Especially if you're Mormon and trying to navigate all of that. I am not a professional or really an expert but I am quite sure I can listen and love and not judge, and I think that sometimes that's what some people need the most. I have given this a lot of thought and I feel like it is what I can do right now to start to heal some wounds I've caused in the past.

Thanks to my friend Veronica for the song, and Reese Dixon for the news link. Thanks to my new friend Lorian for helping me see the importance of my witness. And thanks to my brothers for surviving, being brave and strong, and helping me learn.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


In the Bad Bad Dark Dark Winter of Sickness and Depression, which is my name for December 2001 - March 2002, my toddler got kicked out of the daycare at the gym for hitting. It was my only respite from mothering a difficult toddler and a perpetually sick infant (he had ear issues) and I thought I might die. We went to a child psychiatrist. He watched us interact. I did a lot of crying. One outburst I particularly remember bawling out was, "I can't even read a book for half an hour!" I was 27. Having a hard time accepting that my life was sort of not mine anymore.

After a few sessions he told me he thought my toddler was basically normal (HA! Shows what he knew) and that I was depressed (well, he got that right; I think it was SAD because March rolled around and I suddenly, magically felt better). Then he said something to me that I've never forgotten:

"Does anyone at your church know you're in this kind of pain?"

The answer was, of course, no. For church we put on our perfect clothes and our perfect hair and makeup and our perfect smiles. When we have problems, and we all do, we do not tell. This is the code.

I still do not take all my issues to church. For one thing, I am more aware than ever before that everybody has their own issues. Many people have a lot more than I do to deal with. I am not really well equipped to offer a lot to others right now, and I am not expecting a lot of help. After all, everything I've got, I signed up for. Literally. That's something fun only adoptive parents can say.

But I do not pretend to be perfect anymore.

I have a special needs kid whose issues are almost invisible and really, really hard to define and treat. I am doing everything I feel like I can do to help, and it's never enough. It's never going to be fixed. It affects everything. Absolutely everything. I feel the loss of the normal family life I looked forward to in my younger years. I mourn for that a lot. I struggle with the fact, and it is a fact, that if I had been able to gestate and give birth to this child, the issues would probably not be there. Or maybe his issues would just be different. They would almost certainly be less. I try really hard to accept it, and some days I do all right. Other days I am frustrated and embarrassed and angry and I feel like giving up. Some days I think if I could exchange this child I might do it. It is hard, really hard. I am hurting from it today.

And today I am telling. At least this one little thing. So if someone wants to know what kind of pain I am in, they can know. It's a rough one, today.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The trendy meme

I waited for days to see a version of this thing about being a freelance writer. I didn't see one. So I made one. It's really kind of about being a freelance writer who is also an at-home parent. Wahoo, fun!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chieko on Christ

Chieko Okazaki was a leader in the Relief Society, which is the women's organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She died in 2011. These are her words on Jesus Christ:

 "We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. Its our faith that he experienced everything - absolutely everything. Sometimes we dont think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we dont experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism. 

"Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, 'And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.' (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet, empty apartment, where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He's been there. He's been lower than all that. 

"He's not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people dont need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He's not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief." 
- Chieko Okazaki

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Montana love, January edition

So I did a little  Things I Will Miss post before I left California, and I did a Reasons I Love My New Home post after we'd been here a while. More surprising may be that I am still pretty happy here in the dead of winter.

I love ...

  • Sunshine on fresh snow
  • Clear air
  • Footprints
  • Gas fireplaces (all fireplaces actually)
  • Wool socks
  • BOGS
  • Starry sky
  • Rosy-cheeked, red-nosed little kids
  • Flannel sheets
  • Cautious drivers
  • Cozy crocheted hats
  • White Christmas
  • Sledding
  • Silvery-looking snowy pines on the mountainsides
  • Hot cocoa
  • Herbal tea
  • Bad-weather camaraderie and community spirit
  • 45 degrees and you feel like abandoning your jacket
  • The walk and driveway all shoveled 
  • The cry of one bird in winter silence
I will alert you now, there will be no post similar to this one in April or May when it is still snowing.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 in Review

Lucy answered these questions. I thought it would be a useful exercise for me. I'm not really sad to leave 2011 behind. But this helped me remember some good things and brought to light some things I can really learn from. So that's good.

1.  What did you do in 2011 that you've never done before? 
Was admitted to a hospital. Went to Legoland. 

Took the dog with us on a major vacation. Worked through some major woes in the marriage. Sent my youngest child to preschool and had a couple of hours off in the middle of each day. 

Went camping without my husband, with the kids - twice (crazy).

Mothered a middle-schooler. 

Bought a refrigerator. Planned a ward Christmas party.

2.  Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions and will you make more for next year? 
The only resolution I made was to do my best and let the rest go. I think I did all right, especially considering the stressors that came up this year. I feel significantly less stressed and worried than I did at the end of 2010.

3.  Did anyone close to you give birth? 
Lots of friends and acquaintances had new babies, but no one I would call super close - no sisters, in-laws or besties. For me this is a mercy. We'll just leave that there for now.

4.  Did anyone close to you die?  
No, but I probably went to more funerals than I ever have before, because of my calling in Relief Society. 

And I began to consider that some people I love very dearly may not be with us forever, after all. I tried to spend a little more time with them - not easy because of distance, but I did try. I hope when they go I will not look back with regret. And I hope it's not soon.

5.  What countries did you visit? 
Just my own. Montana, Utah, Idaho, Nevada and California were my entire range for the year. Why mess with the best?

6.  What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011? 
A decent cell phone. I keep putting this off, because the expense is daunting. But my three-year-old pay-as-you-go phone, whose service provider does not exist in Montana, is becoming a significant problem.

7.  What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory and why?   
August 21, 2011. My husband turned 40 and my oldest son was ordained a deacon.

8.  What was your biggest personal achievement of the year?  
Coming to the decision that I am no longer doing things because I am told to or because I am supposed to or expected to. I am only doing things that I feel in my heart are right, things that really uplift me and my family. 37 is kind of old to turn the lights on for this. Better late than never. And while it may not change the appearance of my life a lot, it changes my inner landscape completely.

9.  What was your biggest failure?  
Continued inconsistency with the things I know are most important - spiritual practice, kindness to others, physical fitness and dietary discipline.

10.  Did you suffer injury or illness?  
Kidney stone at the end of January; I had surgery to remove it. Quit colas in hopes of avoiding recurrence, and so far, so good. Massive cold and ear infection while in California in July. Ever had a grapefruit in your ear? Me neither, but I thought I did. G had a hernia repaired and was also quite sick while we were away. A had pneumonia.

11.  What was the best thing you bought?  
BOGS boots. Warm, waterproof and cute. I live in a cold place, and warm feet make all the difference.

12.  Whose behavior merited celebration?  

Mine and Dr. G's. Not that we were perfect. We disagreed and agonized and argued and misunderstood and talked and cried more this year than we ever have before. But what I will celebrate is that we are still here, together. We are stronger than we have ever been. We understand our vulnerabilities and our strengths better than before. If we can get through the poo-swamp that was 2011, we can do anything.

13.  Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?    
Too close to home. This mommy gig is no picnic. I am in no way ready for the teenage years.

14.  Where did most of your money go?  
The really most went to our mortgage. After that, probably medical and therapy expenses.

15.  What did you get really, really, really excited about?  
Going to California for a whole month to hang out with Sally and see old friends and go to the beach. 

It turns out it was maybe a little too long, and much, much more expensive than we planned, but still, we're glad we went.

16.  What song will always remind you of 2011?  
"Someone Like You," by Adele, for all the times I listened to it and bawled. Its peak of popularity came at an emotionally inconvenient time for me.

17.   Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? 
b) thinner or fatter? 
c) richer or poorer?  
a) It's never that simple. Wiser, more peaceful, more realistic. b) Despite my intentions, same. At least my clothes fit. c) Thanks to therapy and surgery, poorer. But not without prospects for improvement.

18.  What do you wish you'd done more of?  
Family fun days and time outside. Creative writing. Gardening.

19.  What do you wish you'd done less of?  

Facebook games. OCD list-making. Staying up too late. Making up crazy stuff in my head. Spending money on things that don't really help. Wishing for a life that I don't have.

20.  Did you fall in love in 2011?  

Maybe with wool socks. Or Pinterest. Not meaning to make light of the question, but really, I have been married for 18 years and have four children. I love all these crazies a lot already. If I fall any further I will be lost. 

Here is one I am really in love with. When my older two were his age I thought they were big and gangly and sort of  losing their little-kid cuteness. Not my K. He is always pinch-the-cheeks cute to me.

21.  What was your favorite TV program? 

Dr. Who. I also discovered a show where Elvis Costello interviews musicians and other celebrities about music, and it's pretty much brilliant.

22.  Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?  

Thankfully free from hate. There is a neighborhood bully who I kind of wish would move away or something, but he's left off bothering my children and I don't feel like I hate him. Poor kid.

23.  What was the best book you read?  

24.  What was your greatest musical discovery?  

I think I'm too old for discoveries. I like my tried and true favorites. Except, like everyone else in any English-speaking country, I became obsessed with Adele.

25.  What did you want and get?  

The refrigerator. The month in California. The quilt from my mother-in-law (fabulous!) 

A flat-screen TV (wonderful surprise from my parents). Steady writing and editing work. Some nifty vintage stuff for my living room, especially the fabulous turquoise-and-gold lamp with the inverted drum shade. Totally '50s and in pristine condition. Thanks, Dr. G!

26.  What did you want and not get? 

Perfect health. I know, it's a lot to ask, and I should be grateful for what we have. But I'm a little weary of all our minor complaints. And now that I have said that I feel like a jerk. While I am at it, I also want my kitchen remodeled. Magically, and for free.

27.  What was your favorite film of this year?   

Hm. Crazy Stupid Love was a really fun girls' night out. Harry Potter 7.2 was pretty satisfying. But The Muppets takes the cake. (Also, I don't really feel like I see films. I just go to the movies like most other Americans.)

28.  What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?  

Cared for a kid with pneumonia while my husband traveled out of town. I turned 37. It was pretty much a  stinker of a birthday. But G made it up to me when he came home with an amazing dinner out at the place that has become my absolute favorite restaurant in town, the Uptown Cafe. I had scallops. Love me some scallops.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? 

I'm thinking maybe a punching bag. 

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept for 2011? 

Trying a Little Harder Than I Sometimes Have in the Past. Often With Scarves and Boots.

31. What kept you sane? 

Kept? Sane? Two faulty presumptions there already. Really, probably the support of a few key friends. Also, chocolate, and alternating doses of Vitamin Water and SoBe Lifewater (the kinds with caffeine in them, because I had to quit colas, as I mentioned above). And the occasional triumphant feeling of posting something really clever on Facebook.