Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Feat #23: Closing one Book, Starting a New One

The title of this post represents an act of faith. I refuse to be discouraged by the obstacles I've encountered in my path since I started my 50 physical feats project--a project I am still committed to even though it is no longer the year I turned 50 and actually about to be the year I turn 52 (gulp!).

On my list of physical feats I've imagined writing about, I was going to include having a colonoscopy, which is expected by physicians once a person turns 50.

But something more challenging than a colonoscopy came along for this surgery virgin: having my gallbladder out. So I'm going to claim that as #23. It's been just over two weeks since I went under the knife, and my recovery has gone well!

Here are some things I'd like to remember about the experience before I close the book on the whole adventure:

  • When all was said and done, I handled the idea of being unconscious while someone was mucking around on the insides of me pretty well. My strategy was to not think about it too much. Roger asked if I wanted to see a video of the procedure ahead of time. I opted out. Maybe some day.

  • My big-hearted 15-year-old son showed me his big heart over and over.

    The night before the surgery, I discovered that, on his own, Jack had watched a video of the procedure and, as he described it with uncanny recall, he assured me that it was pretty straightforward and would not be so tough.

    The day of surgery, Roger and I got home just before school got out. After getting me settled upstairs in bed, Roger ran to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. Since the car was gone, Jack didn't know I was there when he got home. Then Roger called to ask a question, and both Jack and I answered the phone. As soon as we hung up, Jack ran upstairs to check on me.

    Whoever is concerned about the next generation being too self-involved and irresponsible has not met Jack.

  • Serendipity was a constant companion.

    My doctor recommended a surgery practice. When I called them to make an appointment, I had no idea which surgeon to ask for and said as much. They made me an appointment with Dr. Peterson. I immediately texted my friend, who is married to an anesthesiologist. Has he heard of Dr. Peterson? Why yes, he worked with him just that day. Thumbs up, she texted back.

    Then I met Dr. Peterson for a consultation. I told myself that if he was at all condescending or dismissive (I have issues), I would seek a second consultation. If I had a good experience at our meeting, I'd stick with him. I liked him. He laughed and told me it was smart to ask if I could have the colonoscopy I need done at the same time, even though it wasn't an option. Anyone who can honor wishful thinking like that gets my vote.

    A few days before surgery, I went to a lab to have blood drawn for tests. The woman who drew my blood read my form and said, "Dr. Peterson? He took my gallbladder out!" She was very happy with him and gave me some personal tips about going through it all.

    It turned out that I was able to request my anesthesiologist friend. I saw him a week before and he told me all about the cocktail he'd be mixing up for me and what I could expect. But more than that, it was a great comfort to have a familiar voice in my ear as I went under.

    When I came to afterward, I looked up and saw a familiar face. My recovery nurse turned out to be an acquaintance from my town! She took good care of me, and any sense of vulnerability I had melted away.

  • Hearing what the doctor said afterward about the state of my gallbladder ("It was ugly!") was vindication--proof that I'm not a whiner.

    The only reason I had the surgery was that I had finally mentioned to my doctor at my annual exam that sometimes I have this pain. Like, for years. As I described it to her, she ordered an immediate ultrasound. Why was I so slow in taking it to her? I don't know. I guess I didn't want to be a whiner. Way to get in my own way!

There were a few things I didn't quite anticipate even though I knew a lot going in. For example, it was much harder than I expected to pull my brain out of it all, and my 51-year-old belly skin was awfully stretched out afterward. But my brain and my skin are both getting back to normal.

And tomorrow I will open to the fresh and hopeful pages of a new year!

(Although I've got that colonoscopy coming up in a few weeks . . . )

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Itch

Two separate conversations I had today:

I talked with Tina about how when Jack graduates in about two and a half years (!), I'm going to shift back into full-time work. Having two part-time jobs has been great so I can be home in the afternoons when school gets out, but I can tell I'm heading toward making a change. One of my hopes? That I will find a job that requires me to travel (and, okay, pays for it).

I have this persistent itch that I just can't quite scratch enough.

Not five minutes later, I ran into Merlene. She grabbed me and proclaimed, "You travel more than anyone else I know!" And then she confessed that she prefers to stay home. Maybe that colors her perspective.

Because, really. I haven't scratched the itch nearly enough. Not even close.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Utah Lake, December 2014

I started reading The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coehlo, a novel about a man searching for his path on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, on the way to my cousin Peter's memorial service early this fall. I set it aside after that, then finished it on my way home from my Uncle Chuck's memorial service a couple of weeks ago.

For many years, I believe I was searching for ways to disconnect. I found caring can be too painful. Living on autopilot seemed like a good way to numb the pain. The problem with skimming the surface, though, is that it sucked the soul out of everything. And life stretched endlessly on before me.

So I started searching for ways to connect. To be real. To dive beneath the surface. To care. It's hard, but living on autopilot was worse.


I drove out to Utah Lake a few days ago. It had recently been unusually calm, a good destination to make a pilgrimage to reflect.

Bright and early this morning, I'm going to have my very first surgery. I'm getting my gallbladder removed. It's totally routine, but not for me. I have every confidence that it will all go smoothly, but, you know, things can happen.

So I want to put here that I've had more success lately figuring out my path.

And though I'm sure I'm going to come through my morphine haze just fine, I thought I'd make a few requests. I have a feeling they'll still be valid when I die a nutty old woman.

Take some of my ashes to a place I loved. Take some of my ashes to a place I've never been but would have loved if I had. And at my memorial service, please sing "For the Beauty of the Earth." Joyfully, like it's meant to be sung.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sailing Away

Once again, I'm remembering a loved one. My wonderful Uncle Chuck (aka Charles, Jr., aka Charlie and aka my mom's brother) passed away earlier today, peacefully in his sleep after a long and difficult struggle. I thought I'd share excerpts of my last letter to him here.

Dear Uncle Chuck,

Since you are one of my favorite uncles, I want to be sure you know a few things. Especially the fact that you are one of my favorite uncles.

Throughout the years, I've been shaped by the way you have embraced life and the way you have embraced the people you love. Always Pratt Island would come alive when you showed up, so full of humor and light. 

Uncle Chuck, cousin Tracey, cousin Sandy, and sister Linda

I loved the way you openly adored your daughters. It seemed like such a simple and true thing for you.

Uncle Chuck and his three beautiful daughters

I loved that you and Sigrid and Lani were able to come to our wedding even though it was almost all the way across the country, and things were a little rough in 1990, and we had given exceptionally short notice as we were only engaged for eight weeks. That wedding weekend, and especially our reception at Sundance, would not have been the same without you. It meant so much to me that you were there! I still remember your gift shop discoveries and how you reveled in the idea of a partying at such a beautiful mountain ski resort. You confirmed we had chosen just the right spot to celebrate our major milestone.

I loved that you went out of your way on your big western adventure to see me and Roger and our new baby Jack. We still have the silver rattle you brought him, and we still hold the most awesome memory of you dropping your pants in our front room to show us the magnet contraption that was helping you cope with your sore knee on the long drive!

I loved that you pulled strings to get Jack out sailing on Long Island Sound when we were in town a few summers ago. A picture of Jack jumping off Friendship has been the banner photo on my Facebook page for years now, and I think I'm going to keep it that way for a long time. What a treat to be able to introduce Jack to such an important part of my childhood!

Thanks for being my wonderful uncle. Damn it, I really wish I was there to give you a big hug in person.  

All of the love in the world from one of your favorite nieces :). 


Friday, October 17, 2014

At 95

I went to a presentation at noon today by an old friend, author Julie Berry. She has a fun new novel out, The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (see entertaining trailer below).

After the presentation was over, I noticed Judge Monroe and Shirley Paxman, both 95 years old, sitting near the front. I've known them for years! Not only did they often come to events at our bookshop, Judge Paxman was one of my college professors.

I had to go over and talk to them. We walked out of the auditorium together, they with their walking sticks, me with my delight at seeing them still so curious and engaged with the community.

After reminding Judge Paxman that I had taken a course in criminal justice from him more than 30 years ago (he was in his 60s then!), I told him how pivotal taking that class had been for me. I had been thinking I'd like to go into the field to help people caught up in the criminal justice system to work their way out.

But taking that class made me realize just how naive I was. "I'd have believed anything they told me," I said. And then I happily reported to him that after many years of pursuing other goals, I was now working at the county jail, helping people caught up in the criminal justice system to work their way out.

I am less naive now. Imagine how wide open my eyes will be if I make it to 95. Especially if I stay as curious and engaged as the Paxmans have.

Also, I'm curious if anyone in Julie's new book ends up in jail. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Making a Statement

This morning I woke up to two pieces of news:

(1) The US Supreme Court has held up multiple lower court rulings that struck down state laws against same-sex marriage.

And (2) a good hearted young man--whom I first met when he was a TA in our high school library the year I worked there, who came out as a gay man a few years ago, and who suffered debilitating depression--took his own life a few nights ago.

Here is my vote and my prayer: that we can ALL figure out a way forward in love, not fear. In our society, we talk so much about freedom, including freedom of conscience, and our right to pursue our individual journeys through life. Let's mean it all around.

Because that statement is deliberately ambiguous (I truly do mean all), I also feel a need to be clear about a couple of things in case anyone wonders where I personally stand:

(1) A dozen years ago, I voted against the Utah constitutional amendment that was at issue in one of the cases that went to the Supreme Court. I would vote against it again today. I am celebrating today's decision.

And (2) I am ever hopeful that the increased funding for research and coverage for mental health care mandated by the ACA will make a huge difference for many individuals and families, and ultimately for society as a whole - I meet far too many people, for example, who end up being funneled through the criminal justice system because we haven't yet figured out a better way. We need to for the sake of our humanity.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Last Chapter

Peter with Ally and Ajax on Fearless, Lake Geneva 2014

I learned yesterday that my cousin Peter passed away. Second cousin, technically, but his mother Jean was like an aunt to me. No one knows, yet, exactly what happened. Some hikers found him sitting beside a trail near Telluride, his pack still on his back. Likely it was peaceful for him. Maybe he didn't even know what was happening. It is comforting to think he was doing something he loved in a place he loved.

I'm always interested in learning what goes on in people's heads. Understanding what moves them, how they perceive the world. Peter, though, especially intrigued me. I saw him nearly every summer at the lake, but he was a mystery. He was ten years older than me and ran with the elusive pack of cousins that were the first in our generation. I was in the tag along group, hoping, maybe, to get a chance to water ski when everyone else was through or to get invited for late night swims.

The summer I turned 12, I started spending more time at his family's cottage when Jean's best friend's daughters started coming to the lake. We stayed up late at night playing Spades and Trivial Pursuit. Peter would never give up trying to answer the trivia questions, even if it took him half an hour to comb his brain. Somehow, the answer would always be in there! Mostly, though, he was off playing tennis or golf, and I was not part of that circle. His college years stretched into decades as he pursued graduate studies in anything that caught his interest. He traveled the world. He was a voracious reader.

So I knew about him, but I didn't really know him. I wish I'd tried harder. Instead I filled in the gaps with my imagination.

When we were all grown up, I'd sometimes be invited to his cottage for dinner. He'd sit at the head of the table while people buzzed around him, getting the meal set out or cleaning up afterward. He seemed oblivious to the activity. Was it what he expected of everyone? Or did he just let things happen? Other times, he'd track down Ally, a friend's daughter who was like his own, at our cottage to let her know he'd made her grilled cheese or hot dogs for lunch. As much as he loved surrounding himself with people, he also liked to disappear. He was notorious for being difficult to track down.

A few years ago, I caught him alone and asked him about a trek he'd taken in northern India around the time his mother died. We talked about spiritual journeys and how intangible they are, and we bonded over our mutual rejection of dogmatism. I was left hungry for more. What were his questions? Did he ever find answers? Was he driven by restlessness or curiosity? Or maybe both? Or maybe neither?

This summer I watched Peter as we listened to another cousin's son play the trumpet with a jazz quintet. We were in an old clubhouse that probably hadn't changed much in our lifetime. It felt timeless. I tried to read him, but couldn't really. He looked serious. Sad? Or was he just reveling in the music? Or maybe both? Or maybe neither?

It struck me in that moment that he seemed to move through life as though he were a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Later he told me when I asked what he remembered about my Grandpa Stuart, who died when I was six and Peter was 16.  Someone else I wish I'd known. "I admired him," he said and described him as soft spoken, intellectual, and curious about the world. He credited Grandpa's extensive slide shows for sparking his interest in traveling to far flung places.

I thought I'd have time to find out more about what was in Peter's head. Next summer, or the next. But the last chapter of his novel has ended, and as far as I know all the words I wanted to read died with him.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Feat #22: Over the Interstate and Through the West Fields

Please forgive me. I am still on a honeymoon with my new bike.

Sometimes on Sundays, I head to work at the jail to meet with inmates who have jobs they go to during the rest of the week. Today I decided to ride my bike there. It's only about 12 miles round trip.

A bit of a Sabbath meditation.

Except for about a third of the way there when I realized I'd forgotten my ID badge (Roger rescued me by bringing it). And then about two thirds of the way there when I bounced over some railroad tracks and my chain came off and jammed between the sprocket and the guard (a nice couple in a pickup truck stopped to help and gave me a few napkins to get the grease off my hands).

There isn't a bike rack near the entrance, so I improvised. I know a bike locked up to sign post can be stolen. But I also know the place is monitored by a surveillance system. And it's full of people with authority to make an arrest. I figured I'd risk it.

My bike and I both made it home. We're a good match. I think we'll be very happy together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On a Roll

Today's bicycling adventure involved checking on the progress of the new reservoir Springville city is building near the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon (beach! swimming! next summer! a mile from my house!). I decided to take the long way around through Mapleton, enjoying our unseasonably low 70-ish degree weather.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Il Postino

As I considered a post office run late this afternoon, I realized I had just enough time to get there by bike. I put on my matching sunglasses, wrapped the packages in plastic bags because it looked a bit like rain, put them in my basket, and headed off.

I arrived at the post office with time to spare because it was downhill and today it was also downwind! Of course, that meant the ride back was uphill and upwind.

The hair looks a little wacky, but I made it home intact!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Into the Desert of Mortification and Reward

Choosing to read last night paid off because I came across this delicious quote from Voss, set in 19th century Australia, written by Patrick White in the 1950s, and which I've got to finish by a book club meeting on Thursday.

Few people of attainments take easily to a plan of self-improvement. Some discover very early their perfection cannot endure the insult. Others find their intellectual pleasure lies in the theory, not the practice. Only a few stubborn ones will blunder on, painfully, out of the luxuriant world of their pretensions into the desert of mortification and reward.

Good timing for this college writing instructor who will be back in the classroom tomorrow, facing a new group of students who will be critiquing my performance.

I confess that I am still slightly reeling from one particular student's audacity in his final reflective essay last April after he was especially challenging in the classroom all semester. I am feeling slightly vulnerable. But I am trying to endure the insult, put theory for improving my performance into practice, and be willing to blunder on.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I could write about one of the million things that is always running around in my brain, but there's an awesome storm tonight. I'm sitting in the living room with some windows wide open, and I'd rather curl up with a book and listen to the thunder and rain.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Birthday Present Came

Which was actually unexpected. A few days ago, the bike shop called to say it was lost in shipment and they had no idea when it would come. But then last night they called to say it was here and all assembled and ready to pick up! So we went to get it this morning (after stopping for waffles).

Maybe next year I'll get a proper bike rack.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lucky, Lucky, Lucky

I've been restless the last few days.

So when I left work this afternoon to meet Jack after school and discovered a text message from him that he was heading to a friend's house, I was all of a sudden free.

And then I realized that I had a book I need to read in my bag, so if I went somewhere besides home, I could still get something done.

And then I realized that because Roger needed the car to go to Salt Lake for some meetings today and I was driving the Jeep, I was not only free but roofless. And the sky was blue as blue.

So I headed west to Lincoln Beach feeling lucky.

When I got there a couple of guys by the boat ramp asked if I had jumper cables. I did and we got their truck started again. Lucky.

Before settling in to read my book, I called Roger to check in. He was heading home from Salt Lake and told me about the storm he'd driven through and which was heading my way. I looked north and saw this. It was going to take me half an hour to get home. Without a roof. I took my chances and read a chapter first. Home before the rain reached me. Lucky.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Maybe I Really Can Do It

This morning a neighbor told me about the time she found what they thought was a tarantula on their driveway. They put it in a jar and took it to a biology professor friend for confirmation. It was a tarantula. In our neighborhood.

But all I could think about was how I had learned the word for spider in Spanish just last night. And I was so excited that I could remember it.

Una araña. Sí puedo.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ein Wettbewerb or Un Concurso

Jack has randomly decided to take German this year. Well, maybe not totally randomly. Many of his friends are also taking German. And when he was little he always made me play the German version of the Bob the Builder theme song when we visited the show's website. And whenever we talk about going to Europe someday, the city he wants most to visit is Berlin. So not totally randomly.

I want to learn Spanish. I've studied it in fits and starts over the years without much progress. Now that Jack only has three years of school left, and less than three years until he turns an independent 18, I'm more determined than ever to learn. I want to be prepared for the next phase of my life, and I think that knowing some Spanish could open up some valuable opportunities for me.

So in honor of Jack's first day of German class, I set up a Duolingo account and have already earned three "lingots" (the program's virtual currency) by practicing Spanish words and phrases. I know at some point, I will have to find real people to converse with, but this is at least a place to start.

And it's free.

And it's competitive. I can link up with friends who have accounts and compete to see who earns the most lingots. I'm going to see if Jack wants to set up an account to practice his German.

Anyone else want in? Click here to see what languages they have courses for. Then sign up and come find me there! I could use the pressure.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pencils (More Than You Think)

Last night I told Jack that I would pick up some school supplies for him after my fall orientation meetings on campus today, but I needed a list. Tenth grade starts tomorrow.

He owned it. Went through the things he already had and put together a detailed list. 

Pencils (more than you think)
Erasable pens (like 4+)
Paper (college ruled)
Spare 1" binder, maybe 2 (because then, he explained as we went over the list, he could have one for A days and one for B days)
And so on.

I'm taking this as a good sign that he's gearing up to own tenth grade in its entirety.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Feat #21: Eyes Wide Open

I faced down a demon with this one.

I used to swim with goggles (to protect my contact lenses) across the Spanish Oaks reservoir until one day something totally freaked me out. You can read that story here: What Lies Beneath.

Jack and his friend Rex at the reservoir, circa 2007
Since then, instead of really swimming across, I do a leisurely breast stroke without putting my face in the water or I just do 10 or 12 freestyle strokes at a time with my eyes closed before getting too far off course.

Frankly, it's ridiculous.

So for this feat I swam a nice, hard, steady freestyle across the reservoir and back, with goggles, eyes wide open. All I saw was green murky depth. Not a single dead body. It felt good.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Feat #20: The Approach

A couple of weeks ago, I watched my 81-year-old uncle dive off the diving board, classic springboard approach and all.

I thought, "I hope I can still do that when I'm 81!"

Then I realized that, now at 51, I couldn't remember the last time I dove off the diving board using an approach. If I dive off the board at all, I just stand at the end and dive. Usually, though, I just dive off the pier.

I thought, "If I want to be doing it at 81, I'd better start doing it again now."

So I did. And I made Jack witness it with a recording:

Yeah, I need to work a little on my form. Keep those feet together. I'll be practicing over the next 30 years.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Feat #19: Tradition

I don't know how many years ago--maybe ten?--Dad and I started a new summer lake tradition that I love. I take the shore path about three miles to Black Point, and he takes the sailboat. We meet at the pier there, then sail back home.

We did it today. Perfect wind and weather for it! And, it was my birthday. Can't think of many things I'd rather do to celebrate.

Normally, I wouldn't count this as a physical feat, but I accidentally gave Dad the estimated time it would take for me to run, not walk to our meeting place. I haven't actually run at all since last fall because I'm nursing my right knee, which has bothered me off and on since I slipped on our stairs and smacked it on the tile floor in our front hall.

He'd have been fine tacking back and forth in the boat while I walked, but I didn't want him to wait too long for me. So I decided to run intervals on the parts of the path that were grassy or smooth pavement or packed dirt and walk on the parts of the path that had more challenging footing, like uneven flagstones or lots of loose gravel. I figure I ran at least half of the distance.

Not bad for this particular 51-year-old.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Synchronicity

I texted Jack, who was up at the cottage. "It is wild and windy and not too hot here on the point! Bright blue sky and big fluffy clouds! Wander down and breathe the fresh air!"

Back to my book. The author was writing about Israel.

You stand on the high hills and look out at a thunderstorm rolling in from the Mediterranean. The depth-less blue sky becomes a steel gray, rain and hail lash down on you and you struggle to hold your footing in the violent wind. Rivers arise out of nowhere and rush in the canyons below you, sweeping away everything in their path.

The next moment our own sky turned to a steel gray. My sister Maryann said, "Look!" and we watched the sudden squall across the lake, headed right toward us. We quickly packed up our stuff and I yelled to Dad who was fixing something on the sailboat. He turned, saw, grabbed his tools and jumped off the boat.

Maryann and I couldn't run up the hill fast enough to escape the rain, but cousin Jody was waiting at her front porch to open the door for us. Dad took cover down on the point in the lee of a shed to keep an eye on the boat, which wasn't tied down to the hoist.

Ten minutes later, the rain stopped and we walked the rest of the way up the hill to our own cottage to change into dry clothes. By the time we got there the sun was shining again.

Back again to my book to pick up where I left off.

Ten minutes later the storm is gone but the world is covered in a glistening dew. The olive and lemon trees glow under the sun and the red earth under your feet throws off the smell of rosemary. God is here, you think. His glory and grace just appeared with might and fire.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Summer Hours

I am about to have an extra crazy month. House guests, conference, annual pilgrimage to the lake, parties, work. So I may or may not post anything until the middle of August. It is summer after all.

In the mean time, here are a couple of useful things I learned today:

If a person hits the emergency button on his cell phone and calls 911 without meaning to, then hangs up as soon as he discovers what he did, they will call him to find out if he either (A) meant to call and accidentally hung up or (B) accidentally called and meant to hang up.

If a person happens to get oil on his shorts while he and his friends are taking apart the old broken lawn mower, just spray some degreaser from the auto supply store on the stain and then throw the shorts in the wash.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Into the Wild

My friend Shelley is a stay-at-home mom with four children under six, including her youngest who spent the first 8 1/2 months of her life in the NICU and who continues to need lots of ongoing medical attention.

Shelley also has the soul of an adventurer. It can be tough for an adventurer to be so utterly grounded, no matter how much she loves her children.

The other day, as she sat with her baby in the hospital, waiting for her to wake up from her 37th trip to the OR, she wrote on her blog about tapping into her reserve of memories of past adventures across the globe to sustain her, but still wishing she could enjoy the exhilaration of, say, driving through the desert in a jeep.

I thought, "Hey, I have a jeep!" and "Hey, I know a place nearby that feels exotic and worlds away!" So I secretly made arrangements with her husband and then whisked her away into the wild for an hour or two to feed her adventurer soul.

Monday, July 07, 2014


I'm still processing the morning I spent with a 90-year-old neighbor and friend yesterday. I called to check on her about 9:00 and discovered that her shoulder was giving her tremendous pain and she was unable to get out of bed. So I went over to see what I could do.

It took a few hours to track down someone who knew where her pain pills were stashed, and during those hours we talked. As long as she did not move her shoulder, she was sort of okay, but the slightest movement caused her great agony.

While we talked, I fed her a piece of cinnamon raisin toast and some cherries that a neighbor had brought over from her tree. I told her that she was like Cleopatra, reclined in her bed, being fed grapes. I helped her take the dozen or so pills in her Sunday a.m. pill box, hoping that one of them might be a pain pill (none of them were).

Over and over, she said she knew the time had come to move to a care center. She was distraught at the thought of leaving the home she'd lived in and loved for so much of her adult life, but she'd begun to accept that she couldn't live alone anymore. I could tell she was trying to get used to the idea, to convince herself, with every repetition.

I remembered other visits, when she'd talked over and over about a friend who'd finally resigned herself to using a wheelchair and about another friend who'd decided she had to give up driving after living a fiercely independent life. I wonder if she'd been subconsciously processing through her friends' experiences the decision she knew deep down she was getting closer to having to make.

It will be okay. She's got a place to go where she'll be taken good care of. She'll be closer to family. And she's a spirited gal.

But still, my heart is broken for her.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Can We Go Back in Time Just a Little?

Technically this picture of Dr. Who was taken yesterday, Jack all spiffed up with the tweed jacket he found at a thrift store for five bucks and a bow tie he borrowed from Dad. But it's the same guy who drove us home from church today in our five-speed TARDIS-er, Jeep.

Saturday, July 05, 2014


We pulled into a gas station for a bit of respite from construction traffic in Chilpancingo as we drove south from Mexico City a few weeks ago. While I paid for our snacks, I watched Jack crouch down by the floor-to-ceiling windows that spanned the front of the little store, his back to me.


My niece explained to her eight-year-old son that an important promise he would make to God as he was baptized early this morning is to mourn with those who mourn and to comfort those who need comfort. He was surrounded by hearts full of love and prayers for him as his father gently held him and he worked through the challenge of putting his head under the water. It was especially hard for him, but he wanted to do it and he did.

This past week on Facebook, my dear cousin plead with both the heart of a mother and the heart of a newly converted Jew for the world to pay attention to the news of the Israeli teens who were kidnapped as they walked home from school in the West Bank and murdered. At the same time, a heartrending exchange unfolded on my feed between a friend from East Jerusalem, who was pleading for people to remember their humanity, and her friend--I think a sister--who was struggling to hear her through so many mothers' tears shed when news broke of an Arab teen found burned to death.

Roger and I talked the other day about the recent influx of Central American children crossing the southern border into the U.S. He speculated about the radical transformation that could occur in the hearts of our communities if the impossible were to happen and we openly invited 50,000 families to say to the children, "Come, you have a place here with us in our homes." Impossible because we think that if we allowed it, only more would come. We have the right, we tell ourselves, to protect our way of life.

I recently heard John Shelby Spong, a Biblical scholar who is dismissed as a heretic by many Christians, speak what my soul recognizes as truth. "We need some process," he said, "That will expand our humanity beyond the barriers that we have erected in our need for security . . . [They] have made it possible for us to get to the top of the food chain, but at this moment the barriers that we have created as our defense system in our struggle to survive have begun to kill our humanity."


I couldn't figure out what Jack was doing, crouched there by the windows, until he stood up and turned, and I saw he was gently cupping a huge insect in his hands. How long had it been banging its wings against the glass unnoticed? He carefully carried it outside and released it into a pot of flowers blooming by the door.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Endowed by Its Creator

Drove down to the edge of Utah Lake tonight just in time to catch the spectacularly blood-orange sun drop behind the purple mountain.

Nature's fireworks.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Good Job!

Jack passed the written test for his driving learner permit today. What I especially love about this photo is that he is smiling a genuine smile, not an I'm-just-smiling-because-my-parents-are-taking-a-picture-of-me-and-they-told-me-to-smile smile.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Downtown Mexico City, June 2014.
One of the best street performers I've ever seen. He totally earned whatever money Jack pulled out of his pocket and gave him.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

This Way the Adventure Never Ends

Here's to days like today when I wistfully finish a book I started reading on vacation, then dragged out as long as I could so I could pretend for a little bit each day that I was still on vacation . . .

And a dear friend surprises me with the gift of a new book that I can't wait to begin.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Feat #18: Pacific!

This likely won't be the last swimming post of my 50 physical feats project. Because, well, swimming.

I'm not sure the photo quite does this feat justice because it was hard to capture the size and power of the waves. The little dots are Jack's head and my head. We negotiated the post-storm surf several times during our stay in Acapulco to enjoy the relative calm beyond.

It's not hard to get out past the breakers because you can dive through them. Getting back to dry land, though, is tricky. While we did get better at timing our exits, I can't say I always managed the strong undertow gracefully. Or that I didn't end up with lots of sand in my suit.

But I will say that after the last of my dips in the Pacific, I caught the eye of the young lifeguard, and I'm pretty sure the admiring nod he gave me was for my middle-aged bravery.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Feat #17: Lives in My Hands

From time to time, I take elderly neighbors who have given up driving to places they need to go. Grounding themselves is the right thing to do, but it's hard for them to lose their independence. I know it will be hard for me one day, and I hope I manage that transition gracefully.

In the meantime, I love having the chance to push my driving skills beyond the norm. And what better place to do it than Mexico City with a cute little rented stick shift? It may not be the worst city in the world to drive in, but it definitely ranks up there.

I won't lie; there were a few crazy moments. But just like my school French surfaced every time I tried to speak Spanish, the instincts I developed young in Boston were right there when I needed them.

Adorable Fiat parked by Maryann's Coyoacan apartment, all packed up for a road trip!
Don't let her relatively quiet street fool you!
Returning the car without a scratch on it :)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Feat #16: Rest Stop

Almost every time we went on a road trip as a family while I was growing up, Dad would make a point of finding some where along the route to get us in the water. I remember community swimming pools, cold mountain lakes, rivers, ponds, oceans. Pretty much any body of water would do.

And as a kid, I loved it! My hair was long and straight, and changing in and out of a suit was a breeze. Then I became a grownup, I needed things like privacy and a hair dryer, and I married someone who will swim but who rarely actually thinks of swimming. Now I have a son, and I want him to know the pleasure of stopping in the middle of a road trip on a hot day for a refreshing dip.

I've long wanted to check out Sand Hallow reservoir with red rocks to dive from just off I-15 near Hurricane, Utah, and we decided to stop there on the way home from Las Vegas last week. We drove the winding road all the way to the entrance of the state park and discovered a big sign that read "Warning: Swimmer's Itch." So not worth the risk. Hopes dashed.

But we'd passed a sign for Quail Creek reservoir on the way, so we stopped to check it out on the way back to the highway. Not, perhaps, as stunning a setting, but the water was cool and free of swimmer's itch. Ah!

Quail Creek Reservoir, June 2014
(And my hair even looked decent after air drying! A benefit of growing wirier hair as I age, I think.)

Friday, June 27, 2014


We've been experiencing quite a bit of seismic activity in our faith community the past few weeks--the kind we have experienced about every 20 years during my lifetime, but which has been amplified this time around through social media as events have unfolded.

Shortly after I heard the news of pending disciplinary action against several members who have been vocal advocates of change in the church, including a woman who leads a group seeking female ordination, I visited one of Diego Rivera's famous murals which depicts figures in Mexican history. The image of Catholic nun Juana Inés de la Cruz happened to catch my eye.

According to the key at the museum, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was "the most famous poet in New Spain" in the 1600s. "In a sense she was the forerunner in the struggle for equality of women. In her exquisite poetry she defended women's rights to education and culture and to freely express their innermost feelings, a standard unheard and unacceptable at that time (emphasis mine)."

Reading that was a poignant and painful and hopeful reminder both of how far we have come and how far we have to go. I know I struggle daily with how and when and where to use my voice in many areas.

Today this is what I want to say.

For as long as I can remember, I have known women who have felt diminished, for one reason or another, in the patriarchal church. Sometimes it has been me. The challenges that this imbalance between masculine and feminine energy present and the sincere desire some women feel to engage more fully and deeply in the spiritual life of the community are not new and not so mysterious.

What I yearn for on behalf of so many is a genuine attempt to understand their experiences instead of a reflexive dismissal, even when they don't express them in orthodox ways or if the ideas they put forward for change aren't going to fly. I yearn for the respect of real dialogue and unambiguous answers.

It can be pretty tough expressing innermost feelings. A "we hear you" helps.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Feat #15: Yeah, But Here's My Grammie Doing It, Too

Me at 50, Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, 2014
Grammie in her 70s, Chichen Itza, circa 1985

Grammie and I both made it to the top, and, perhaps more importantly, made it back down again. Hope I'm still climbing pyramids in 25 years!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How My Universe Works

On our way home from Mexico City last week, we stopped for a night in Las Vegas. As soon as we checked into our hotel, Jack and I headed for a swim, which is a great antidote for a day spent in taxis and airports and on airplanes.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of 19-year-old Vito, who started up what turned out to be a lengthy conversation with me in the pool. He was born in Milan, but is lately from Australia. In town for a tech convention.

As we talked, I was trying to remember my short visit to Milan when I was 17. The Last Supper. A transportation strike. And some building with arched glass ceilings, but I couldn't place it.

No kidding, the very next day, a friend traveling in Italy posted this photo of the train station there. Mystery solved.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

No Words

It can be challenging to travel in another country when you don't speak the language. Not just because logistics are more complicated, but because it can make you feel so isolated. Our trip to Mexico was Jack's first experience with this, and even though my sister speaks Spanish and could translate for us when we were all together, it was a bit jarring for him.

So I especially loved it whenever we made a human connection without language.

The kind man in the metro, for example, who helped Jack through a turnstile when it didn't work on the first try. The security guard who helped us figure out the keys to get into Maryann's apartment while she was at work. The guard at a museum who graciously lent me the pen in his shirt pocket when I desperately wanted to make some notes but hadn't taken my bag in with me. The energy of the crowd in the restaurant when we watched Mexico hold its own against Brazil in a World Cup game.

And the sandy little girl we met on the beach in Pie de la Cuesta. She struck up a conversation with Maryann in Spanish, but drew us in, too, with a song and a smile.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sí, Pero No

Maryann in San Angel, Mexico City, 2014
Jack and I had a wonderful time with my sister in Mexico City and Acapulco! Maryann has been living in Coyoacan since January, so she had some good tips for us. One discussion we had about how to gracefully handle vendors who are eager to make a sale was especially helpful.

"No, gracias" ended up being our go-to response, but Maryann explained that many people in Mexico will actually say "sí, pero no" - yes, but no - to get around giving a flat out "no."

I like that it's a way of acknowledging that you hear people before turning them down.

And, hehehe, it's now my go-to response to Jack, when he makes requests like, "Can I have that $20 bill in your wallet?"

Nice try. Sí, pero no.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


I'm not leaving town yet, but I'm going to start my blogging hiatus today because I have a lot to do before I go. Will be back to my goal of daily posts in a few weeks!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

In Threes

Jack is on his third phone in about a month. He lost his, then he took over my old phone and it got soaked on a water ride at Lagoon last week. Roger took him today to get a new one. Lucky boy ended up with a reasonably priced smart phone that he can also use to replace the iPod he accidentally dropped in the toilet a few weeks ago. (And, boom, Roger even renegotiated our contract so our monthly bill will actually go down five dollars a month.)

But here's the important part of the story.

We first got Jack a phone when he started seventh grade, mostly so that we could connect while he was walking home from school and I was driving home from work in the afternoons. For nearly three years Jack kept very careful track of his phone. 

Sometimes, we told him, things just happen. And happen. And happen.

Monday, June 02, 2014

A Pull on my Soul

Thinking about an upcoming trip to Mexico. I can't quite express how much I am looking forward to immersing myself in the place where I discovered the depth of my wanderlust at 16.

What is it that I love about traveling far from home? I think it's that I am not myself and I am more myself all at the same time.

And, when it's someplace like Mexico, palm trees.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Think Global, Shop Local

Okay, so this isn't exactly what the people who coined that expression had in mind, but found at our neighborhood grocery store:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Shifting the Discussion

Intense talk continues online about sexual assault and rape. All week it's been making me think about an incident that happened to me in college. It is not one that I counted on my fingers and posted about about the other day, but it was, perhaps, one of the most dramatic times I realized that I was at someone else's mercy simply because he was stronger than me.

He was tickling me. We were in a room full of people who were laughing. I was laughing, too. Then something shifted. I don't know if the shift was just in my mind, or if it was also in his. He had me pinned to the floor. He was intent. I couldn't breathe. I started to panic. It wasn't funny anymore. I didn't want to laugh, but I couldn't stop because I couldn't breathe.

I knew he couldn't read my mind. I knew I couldn't expect him to.

I needed him to anyway.

What if we understood more about listening? Not just to words, especially if people can't or won't speak them. But listening to other forms of communication. Body language. Facial expressions. Even silence. Or the subtle change in the way someone laughs.

I think about that experience, how trapped I felt, every time I realize that I'm holding my son against his will when he is upset. As a mother, I so want to believe that if my arms are around him, he will be able to pull back from the edge of whatever abyss he is standing on. That might work with another child, but it is not what he needs from me. It's a lesson he's had to teach me more than once.

What if we learned to honor what we hear, to respect another's humanity when it is not what we want to hear? Especially when we are the one with the upper hand? Or the desperate desire?

Could we make the change we need in this world?

Friday, May 30, 2014

The End of an Era

Our last time through the four-way stop on the way to drop Jack off at the junior high this morning. And almost the last time ever through the four-way stop. By Monday, the city will be closing it off and turning the intersection into a roundabout, aka a rotary.

Oh, yeah, and school's out. Jack's done with junior high forever (in fact, the junior high itself is done forever). He's in the backyard with his friends right now. They're all burning their homework in our fire pit, aka the celestial cauldron. Sorry, neighbors. It'll be over soon.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


I went for a walk in the fading light of day. Got home after dark.

I walked by the homes of people who have lived here longer than us (20 years!), and I walked by homes that have changed hands since we moved in, sometimes multiple times.

So many stories in all of the houses. Next door a new engagement. On the next street a wedding coming up tomorrow. Posters in the windows announcing the graduating seniors who live inside. Babies born, gardens grown, sudden deaths, slow deaths. Broken marriages, second marriages, third marriages, coming outs. Business startups, jobs lost, books published, prison terms, church missions, college degrees, retirements, camping trips. Cancer, infertility, heart attacks, depression, stolen trucks. More than one Olympic hopeful.

So much life packed into just a few blocks. I haven't even scratched the surface. I'm exhilarated and worn out thinking about it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Progressing Along Nicely

A few updates on one of my very favorite people:
  • Jack finishes ninth grade in two days. 
  • He just showed me his current grades online and it looks like he's made honor roll this term.
  • He shaved for the first time two days ago. (Why didn't I get a picture?!)
  • Now that he is 15 he can get a learners permit, but he still has some studying he has to do before he takes the written test for it.
  • In just over a week, he'll get to use his passport for the first time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Two Hands

It is good that we are currently having a widespread conversation (well, at least a tweeting back and forth) about rape and sexual assault. But I've been truly disturbed by certain elements of the pushback I've seen as people have voiced their experiences, trying to help others understand aspects of culture that fly in the face of what we otherwise proclaim to be obvious: that people shouldn't rape or otherwise sexually assault other people.

I want to add my voice. The following is an excerpt from a post I wrote in 2011.

I have personally never considered myself a victim of abuse, but it astounds me that when I think back over my own life, I need at least two hands to count the number of times boys and men--unequivocally uninvited--have crossed darn inappropriate lines with me, including three that actually broke laws currently on the books. Two hands! That's not okay!

We need to work harder to make the world a safer place. 

Monday, May 26, 2014


Dad sent me this picture from today's Memorial Day activities in my Massachusetts home town. My memories of the town Minutemen run deep. I am right there with them, listening to the fife and drum corps, breathing in the wooded air.

It seems like I should write something about Memorial Day today.

All I can think of to say is that as human beings across the globe we need to figure out ways to stop killing one another. Maybe one way to do that is to remember the people who die on the other sides of whatever conflicts we are involved in, not just the people who die on our own side. Especially, but not only, the innocents.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Table at the Place

Yesterday's trip to Spring City yielded another happy treat. I may have met the man who made the table I used in the Louisa May Alcott picture book exhibition I put together for the Springville Museum of Art a few years ago. I needed a table to hold copies of the picture book to serve as gallery guides. The museum turned up a beautiful Shaker table that was made by someone from Spring City. That was the only clue I had.

Then yesterday I walked into Jock Jones' workshop where he handcrafts Windsor chairs and Shaker tables. I told him the story of my show at the museum and how perfect the table was--not just aesthetically, but also because the Shakers lived in the same area as the Alcotts, influenced Bronson Alcott's vision of utopian communities, and therefore influenced many of Louisa May Alcott's life experiences.

I suppose there's a chance it wasn't his table. But he was so friendly and his neatly organized workshop was such a treat to see, I'd like to think it was.

PS: That is not my finger in the way of the camera at the top of the shot. That is a fierce looking storm cloud rolling through.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

An Imagined Life

We went on an off-the-beaten-path adventure to Spring City today for its annual Heritage Day celebration. At the end of our visit, we stopped in to see this cottage, which is for sale.

It's the old 1893 Chester Schoolhouse that someone moved stone by stone about three miles to this site. A large open space on the main floor with the original wood floors, tall windows, and classic old metal French doors that could make a person believe Monet would be dropping by for a visit any moment. A couple of surprisingly spacious bedrooms are tucked under the eaves on the second floor. Room for all three of us.

After touring it, we headed home. Before we even reached Fairview, I'd planned out our entire life in Spring City. In that cottage. Roger would work at Snow College in nearby Ephraim, and I'd teach a class or two there. We'd open up a shop selling something we love in one of the charming empty spaces on Main Street (and on the internet so we could actually make some money). Jack would be a day student at Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, where Ansel Adams sent his children once, joining 300 students from 40 different countries and 25 different US states. I'd have breakfast or lunch (or both) every day at Das Cafe, lapping up creative energy from local artists and artisans. We'd buy fresh eggs from a local farmer. Or maybe we'd even have chickens ourselves.

Yeah, I can imagine it all.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Night and Day

Today was one of those days when I got pulled deeper and deeper into the dark side of humanity. I'll be honest. I've spent the last half dozen years or so being stripped of illusions on pretty much every front. While I haven't lost my natural inclination to find silver linings in just about anything, I have become depressingly capable of cynicism.

But then Roger came home.

I put on a skirt and sandals, we went out on the town in our Jeep, and I was reminded over and over how much good there is in the world to love.

Joining with friends, who were celebrating their son's wedding under streamers of tulle and fairy lights.

Calling Jack afterward to see if he'd like to go with us to dinner and hearing him answer "yes" without hesitation despite being deeply entrenched in his teenage years.

Eating perfectly cooked veggies and noodles at the Chinese restaurant next door to our old bookstore and catching up with our old friends who own it.

Taking a seriously random gift--old catalog cards for French special collection titles from Roger's work--to a friend who is always bursting with creativity and who knew immediately what she was going to use them for. Getting a tour of the glamper she's been fixing up in the backyard for her four little girls with bright paint, charming fabrics, and even a chandelier!

Dropping Jack off for an end-of-school-year party and hearing his friends call his name when they saw him, thrilled he had come.

Coming home, pouring an icy glass of blood orange San Pellegrino that the boys gave me for Mother's Day, and curling up with a Julia Glass novel that we're reading for book club this month.

I met her once. Julia. I still believe she and I would make good friends. Maybe I'm not as disillusioned as I thought.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Life Changes

So the last book Jack and I read together involved a little more romance than we'd ever encountered before. Slightly awkward. For him at least.

Now I can't help chuckling at the fact that one of the main characters in the book we're currently reading just got her first period (which was, in defense of the book, plot driven - she had come from a scientifically modified civilization that had eradicated menstruation, and her body was just responding to being in cast out into the real world).

The Education of Jack continues . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

He's Bad

A month or so ago, I overheard music coming from Jack's iPod and discovered that he had discovered Michael Jackson.

The whole thing was a bit of a mystery, which was solved tonight at Jack's final junior high band concert.

What is no mystery is that the awesome music programs he's participated in the past few years are one of the reasons junior high was actually pretty okay.

Like who wouldn't love a band teacher who takes off his suit coat and moon walks in front of a live audience?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Around and Around

I once had a customer say to me when her unemployment benefits ran out, “Oh, well, my vacation is over and now I must go find a job."

Because there are people who milk our safety net, does that mean I think the system shouldn’t exist?

No, I don’t.

Of course, we should always seek ways to make the bureaucracy more effective and cost efficient. And we should never lose sight of helping people stand on their own feet whenever possible. But in far more cases than not, the safety net meets real needs--needs that often exist because capitalism has some pretty sharp edges. It’s nice to think that only the people who take the risks with their capital are the ones who will suffer if they miscalculate. But they aren’t.

I once went in to my job at a computer software company an hour late because I had a doctor’s appointment and discovered that my boss and my entire staff of six had been laid off while I was gone.

Because there are companies that fail to plan perfectly and use layoffs as a management tool to make their short-term bottom lines look better to shareholders, do I think we should prevent them from ever laying anyone off?

No, I don’t.

Companies need flexibility to cut their operating costs in order to stay in the game. 

I once saw a company that had been in my family for two generations permanently shut down during a recession due in part to union demands that were entrenched and inflexible.

Because unions sometimes fight for a level of worker benefits and protections that ultimately compromise an entire enterprise, do I think we should abolish them?

No, I don’t.

Can you imagine a society in which the right to organize and stand up to tyranny--whether public or private--didn’t exist? It’s not hard. There are plenty of examples.

I once got called into my new boss’s office the day after my old boss and my entire staff had been laid off. She was looking for assurance that I would still be able to meet all of the deadlines the following month. My job was on the line. At first I gave it a shot, but I recognized very quickly that it would break me. I was blessed to have resources that enabled me to walk away. Many people don’t have that luxury. Many people end up broken.

What do I make of all this?

The public sector has strengths and flaws. The private sector has strengths and flaws. Any organization that exists for any reason has strengths and flaws. Every single individual has strengths and flaws.

What we need to do when we problem solve is to find that balancing point at which strengths are relatively maximized and flaws are relatively minimized. But that requires real discourse in which everyone acknowledges not just the strengths but also the weaknesses of their proposed solutions, their ideologies, and the people and organizations they represent.

We could kick some serious problems in the butt if we did that.

Monday, May 19, 2014


Summer 2012

A lake, a raft, a couple of boys with their fishing poles, a sunset. That's about all a person needs to have a good view of the world.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Making Life Easier

Tomorrow morning at an interagency meeting, I have the privilege of unveiling a tool that I hope will be useful for people when they are released from our county jail. I got the green light to work on it a couple of months ago and have been working on it a little bit here and there ever since.

What is it? A website specifically designed to provide information to help people transition back into our community: Utah County Reentry Resource.

It's actually a tool I wanted to create for my own use on the job as I teach classes and meet with inmates. I had developed an unwieldy collection of notes, brochures, and bookmarks for links to information and resources and wanted to be able to access information in a more efficient way.

Then I thought, why not make it available to anyone else it might help?

I use the site every day at work. It's not quite done. Even when it is, I'll continue to tweek it as I use it. And hopefully other people will use it and provide additional suggestions for tweeks.

It sure has made my life easier. I hope it helps make other peoples' lives easier, too.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Jack has been celebrating his 15th birthday ever since he woke up this morning. A rolling party all day long with various friends coming and going. That worked out well, since due to indecisiveness, we failed to plan anything ahead of time.

I'm not sure Jack's all that interested in getting older. He's quite content living this stage of his life. He seemed relieved the other day when I told him that even at my age, I don't think of myself as grown up.

PS: Roger will just have to celebrate his 51st birthday another day. And how cool is it that this year Jack is 15, and Roger is 51?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why We Live Here

Jack's got a whole gang of energetic kids playing night games in the back yard. I can hear them through the wide open window in my bedroom.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Matter of Perspective

I spent a good part of the last two days in a homeless outreach training class at a police station in Salt Lake City. It was really valuable, especially listening to presentations by many of the service providers in downtown Salt Lake.

Every time I am in interagency meetings like this, I experience a mixture of hope for what's possible and a sense of devastation for what actually is.

The shelter in downtown Salt Lake, for example, typically houses more than 700 people a night. More than 700 people they let in, then send out for a few hours in the morning so the place can be cleaned, then again they fill up the next night. Their policy is that if they can squeeze another mat on the floor without breaking fire code, they won't turn a person away. Sometimes the population in the shelter swells to over 1,000.

Every night they are dealing with numbers comparable to the number of people we house in our county jail.

The book I had with me to read during breaks was I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, the outspoken and courageous Pakistani girl who was shot on her way home from school a few years ago. Ironically, the chapters I read yesterday and today describe the mass exodus her family was a part of when the Pakistani military attempted to drive the Taliban out of the Swat Valley where they lived and the horrible flooding they experienced after people returned to their homes in 2009.

The number of people who were displaced during the violent conflict was two million, nearly four times the number of people who live in our entire county.

The number of people who were affected by the flooding, which washed away entire villages and drowned around 2,000, was 14 million. That is more people, Malala says she has heard, than the number of people affected by "the Asian tsunami, [Pakistan's] 2005 earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake combined."

It sure puts what we're up against, which is a huge and ongoing challenge, into some perspective.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

All That Jazz

Went to Jack's very first jazz band concert tonight. They played six numbers, but this is the one I have to post here because Jack solos twice and he does an awesome job (while looking awesome in his black shirt, black suit, and purple tie).

And here's a post concert pic with Grandma (left) and our 90-year-old neighbor Jackie (right) who was thrilled to dress up and go out for a night on the town with us. Her husband played the trumpet with a jazz band for many years. She danced in her seat during the concert and was giddy all the way home.

Not pictured here: Jackie's fabulous gold shoes.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Digging It

I never know what might come up in conversation with an inmate when I'm doing a pre-release interview with them.

Today I was talking to a guy about finding work in the construction industry--which, by the way, is doing so well around here that contractors are concerned about finding enough employees to help with the projects they've got lined up. He mentioned his range of skills, including operating heavy equipment.

I told him that I've long wanted to take the heavy equipment class at the college where I teach. He thought that was just awesome and started giving me all sorts of tips, like how to coordinate excavation with dump trucks for maximum efficiency.

"It's expensive," he said, "To keep a dump truck waiting."

Monday, May 12, 2014


When we were renovating our building for our bookstore, we had to hire an architect to draw up plans to meet building code requirements. At one point he told us that we'd need a mirror for the bathroom above the sink. We told him we were all set, because we'd already found this fabulous mirror at the Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake.

The artist who made it called it "Peeping Toms." Every bookstore needs cats, right? 

The architect just stared at us. "Why would you spend more money on a mirror than you need to? You could have met code with something really inexpensive," he said.

We stared back at him. "Why did you become an architect if you have so little imagination?" we thought to ourselves.

Sure, it wasn't practical.

Practical can be overrated. Especially if it sucks the life right out of us.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


I've been under the weather this week, and last night I gave up on any pretense of being productive to watch three very different movies back to back (At Middleton, The Italian Key, and Jackie). After I watched them, I realized that they were all in their own ways about daughters searching for their mothers and about mothers searching for themselves. A synchronistic theme heading into Mother's Day.

Becoming a mother, being a mother, and being mothered can be really complicated. That means Mother's Day can be really complicated.

For example, I was just so glad on the Mother's Day right before Jack was born that it would be the last time I'd be asked to stand during a church service to be honored as a mother when I was not actually a mother. At 18, I suppose it was nice to be recognized as a potential mother, but when I was 35 and still not a mother, it was fairly excruciating.

I'm quite content to keep Mother's Day a simple personal affair rather than a overwrought community affair. Like getting an extra big hug from my son when I wake up. Like having a lovely conversation with my mom on the phone. Like sharing brownies and ice cream with my mother-in-law at a family get together.

Like today.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Stealing a post I wrote in 2007 to meet my goal for the day because it reflects exactly how I feel at the moment. And pretty much always.


Within the last 24 hours, I've read two amazingly similar ideas in two dramatically different books.

From Fahrenheit 451, written in 1950 and which I'm reading for a book club discussion later this week:

"If only they could have taken her mind along to the dry cleaner's and emptied the pockets and steamed and cleansed it and reblocked it and brought it back in the morning."

From Peter Pan and Wendy, written in 1940 and which Jack and I are reading aloud:

"It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered through the day."

I can certainly see the appeal. I've got a lot of stuff crammed into my head, and it would be fabulous if someone could go in there and organize it all for me!