Friday, February 28, 2014

Don't Pin Me Down

Roger brought home pizza for dinner. I asked for one with all the veggies.

We started the researched argument project at school this week. My students will be working on it for the balance of the semester. They will be required to defend whatever answer they come up with to their research question, and that will require taking a position.

As I work with my students, I always try to remember this: I was basically a junior in college before I realized I owned an opinion about something--that I do prefer certain toppings on my pizza.

See it was always easier to go along to get along. I was a middle child. I had an opinionated older brother who always thought he was right. My dad's first reaction to any idea I expressed was usually contrary. I never thought I knew enough about any subject to sort out the complexities, especially when I could see merit in so many different points of view.

And, frankly, I came of age in the 70s. It was hard to pick clothes or figure out which songs I liked on the radio when disco came along and classic rock turned acid. The truth was, I thought most of the clothes during that era were ugly and ill fitting and I didn't really like the music. But I didn't know that at the time.

It's funny. I know more now, which means I realize I hardly know enough. Certainty makes me squirm, and yet I have more conviction about some things than I've ever had.

Mostly I like to stay open. And, yeah, I'll eat pepperoni on my pizza even though I don't really like it.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Bomb

This is my friend Judy. She hosted our book club meeting tonight. We read The Moons of Jupiter, a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. In one of the stories, "Labor Day Dinner," one of the characters brings a dessert called a raspberry bomb to the party.

This is my friend Judy cutting into the raspberry bomb she made for us. It involved many layers, she said. Cake and ice cream and brownies and raspberry jam and chocolate and berries and I'm sure I'm missing something. I wish that the picture accurately portrayed the sheer scale of the raspberry bomb. We estimated it weighed at least 20 pounds. It took several tries with the largest knives she had just to cut into it. Needless to say, the raspberry bomb will be going down in book club history.

This is my friend Judy. She's the bomb, too.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Getting It Done

I was in a meeting with two of my superiors this afternoon and got a green light for a project I've been dreaming up. What a difference it makes when the decision makers are in the room. Booyah!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

All Are Alike

I bought extra tickets for the play I went to see tonight, thinking I'd get a group together. I Am Jane. The story of Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a woman of color who joined the Mormons in the early days before the pioneers crossed the plains. Everyone who thought they might use the extra tickets I bought couldn't go.

It is just as well.

It's an important play that I hope many people see. But even though it was, in the end, meant to be faith affirming after looking squarely at impossibly hard things, and even though I've long since known the basic story, I was so angry by the end of it I could barely breathe. I could barely breathe all the way home.

It was good I was alone.

God forgive us for all of the unjust things we have done and continue to do in his name.

Monday, February 24, 2014


A few months ago, my friend Laura, who is a member of the English faculty at UVU, was a guest presenter at our Springville Library "So You Want To Read" series. While I was preparing for that evening, I came across a short video interview she did in 2012.

At one point in the interview, she confesses she used to think that poetry could save the world. Not really, she knows, but she did ask a class once, "Wouldn't it be great if before we sent any troops to a foreign country for battle, those troops had to study the language for two years and read all of the great contemporary writers from the culture?"

One of her students, actually a veteran, vehemently objected, "That wouldn't work!"

"Why not?" she asked.

"No one would fight!"


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Beautiful Life

Some Sunday afternoons, I go in to work to meet with inmates who have jobs and take classes during the week. The last thing I did before I left my office was message one who had been having a real tough couple of days. "Sending positive thoughts," I wrote.

Then, as I walked down the long, long main hall to the exit, I passed by a sergeant's station and heard a song playing.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that's amore!

I stopped and smiled at the sergeant, and then as I continued to walk, he turned the volume way up. Music filled the air, transforming the whole place. My heart suddenly felt light!

When you dance down the street with a cloud at your feet, you're in love 

And then I walked out the door to this.

Bells will ring ting-a-ling-a-ling ting-a-ling-a-ling and you'll sing, "Vita Bella"

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Making a Plan

I put together a very simple worksheet that I give to inmates at the jail to help them plan for their release.

One side has a list of general categories for them to think about and space to write down things they need to do. The other side provides slots for them to put their to do list into a basic time frame, with a heavy emphasis on the first 48 hours, because how they spend that time can make or break them. There are also slots for things they need to do, but not straightaway. That, hopefully, can help them feel a little less intimidated by it all.

Some of the inmates are going back home, and just need to figure out how to find a job. Many, though, face rebuilding major parts of their lives from scratch. I am always relieved when I hear that they will be picked up by someone supportive. Or that they have a place to stay even if it's temporary. Or that they have a bit of money saved up. Each of those things can make a huge difference.

Imagine, though, having only the clothes you were wearing at the time of your arrest, no money, only your jail release paper for ID, and having no place to go and no one to call (except maybe your old drug dealer) when the transport van drops you off downtown, late in the afternoon when everything is closing up. Or worse, on a Sunday.

Then figure out all this:

  • Housing
  • Food 
  • Clothing
  • Transportation
  • Identification
  • Court orders/probation
  • Sobriety
  • Health/medication
  • Work
  • School
  • Debt
  • Relationships
  • Other

Overwhelmed yet?

Friday, February 21, 2014


syn·the·sisnoun \ˈsin(t)-thə-səs\ : something that is made by combining different things (such as ideas, styles, etc.)

My college writing students are finishing up what is called a synthesis paper, in which they are required to put multiple sources in conversation with one another, exposing not only their disagreements but, hopefully, discovering common ground and creating new insight.

Believe it or not, I'm actually excited to read what they come up with.

Last semester as I was giving this assignment to my class, I suddenly flashed back to a test in one of my high school English classes, and had a major brain wave about an alternate way for them to do the paper. I stopped (mid-sentence, I'm sure, as I'm inclined to do) and described it.

It was in Mr. Buswick's 20th Century Drama class. Over the course of the semester we read maybe 20 plays, all by different playwrights. For our final exam, he had us pick three playwrights and write a dialogue in which they argue about the purpose of theater. I remember one student wrote something exceedingly humorous (he was in the drama club, so he had skills) and Mr. Buswick staged a reading of it for the class. Loved it!

So, I told my students, instead of writing a standard, dry, thesis-driven essay (which usually turns into a summary of each source and a weak conclusion tying them together rather than an actual synthesis of ideas), they had the option of writing a dialogue among the sources instead--an actual conversation. They could be as creative as they wanted as long as their characters dug into some substance.

Five students took me up on it, including one of my truly struggling students. He absolutely glowed when he told me what he'd done, and it may have been the only paper he turned in on time all semester.

The crazy part of the story is this: The morning after Mr. Buswick made an appearance in my head to plant the idea, a picture of him showed up in my Facebook feed. And not just any picture. It was a picture that had been posted by a friend three years prior. And not just any friend. A friend who had been dead for two years.


I suddenly became obsessed with finding Mr. Buswick. Had he died himself? I wondered. Was he now traveling the globe in spirit form, inspiring his old students everywhere? I googled to see if I could track him down.

I found, thankfully, not an obituary, but rather an email address at a college where he teaches classes about the value of the humanities in the cold, hard, logical world of business. I emailed him to thank him for inspiring me. He emailed me back, pleased to know he made a difference. We exchanged a few ideas about our work. Synthesis.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Better Than Okay

Roger, Jack, and I spent the afternoon in the junior high school gym meeting with all of Jack's teachers for parent teacher conferences. I have mentioned this at other times and other places, but thought I would put it in the record here that I am so impressed with all of them.

They know Jack, they love the subjects they teach, they are very pleasant and professional. As we left I asked Jack if they are the same way in the classroom and he said yes.

When Jack was younger, I used to come up with schemes to get him out of school during his junior high years. Let's buy an RV and homeschool on the road! Or let's get one of those round-the-world airline tickets and give him some global perspective! Or let's buy a boat and navigate the intercoastal waterways! Surely the internet will provide everything we need!

When it became evident that Jack would be an only child, those dreams fell by the wayside. Can you imagine how tortuous it would be to have to put up with your parents that long without siblings for respite?

But it turns out that junior high has actually been okay for Jack. Great teachers, good friends, playing saxophone with the band and singing in the choir.

It's actually been better than okay.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Discovering Privilege

Yesterday morning as I drove Jack to school, we had the car radio tuned to a talk show. The conversation was focused on the recent, mixed-message verdict in the Michael Dunn (aka "Loud Music") trial. A man called in, and with deep emotion, he talked about how he feels compelled to tell his 14-year-old black son not to wear his hood when they go into the city, fearing for his safety.

I looked over at the passenger seat. My son, 14 years old and in a hoodie, was listening to the man and looking at me with eyes wide.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Little Romance

Jack and I recently started reading a new book together. It's mostly a fabulous adventure story that has us totally sucked in, but there is a bit of, um, romance in it. Long stares into each others' eyes. That sort of thing.

"Well?" I think. Some of our best conversations are sparked when we read together. We'll see what comes of it. I am ever hopeful!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Eventually They Realize

Late last night when I should have been sleeping, I took one of those quizzes that gets passed around online telling you what famous person you are like. This one was a Downton Abbey quiz. According to the deeply probing questions, I am most like Lady Edith.

This was part of the description: "You don't mind if you're not the first person on anyone's list, because you're just fine by yourself and you know that eventually they will realize you are more than you appear to be."

Funnily enough, that's (mostly) true. And I can pin point exactly when I realized it: my last semester in college.

My friend Becky and I had just returned from a semester in Washington, D.C., and roomed together in an apartment complex where we didn't know anyone else. Becky (who is now a city mayor!), was a go-getter. Our very first Fast Sunday at church, for example, she made a point of getting up and introducing herself during testimony meeting.

She's beautiful and she's got a lot on the ball. I was envious of her ability to put herself out there.

It dawned on me, though, that I may not make a splash, but I do tend to sneak up on people slowly. I'm not flashy. I'm not the kind of person people gravitate to socially or invite out a lot. I'm not a beautiful person (in the high school cliquey kind of way, or in the "hot" factor on Rate My Professor kind of way, or, for that matter, in a Lady Mary or Lady Sybil kind of way).

But I'm real. And I think about lots of different things. And I care about people. And I love to laugh. And I believe those who know me ultimately appreciate me for it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Tactile World

I made a point of folding laundry and hand washing some sweaters while I listened to an On Being interview with artist Ann Hamilton--who often uses textiles in her work--because I find that it's altogether too easy for me to disconnect from the physical world. Especially during the winter, I disproportionately live in my head.

It's not only detrimental to my physical health, it's also hard on my emotional and spiritual health.

Unless, for some reason rooted deeply in my soul, water is involved (I like doing dishes!), necessary tasks that require working with my hands tend to feel like a burden, an irritation. One of my goals in life is to fundamentally shift my perspective, to not just stop gritting my teeth through those tasks, but to find transcendence.

When my friend Shelley went immediately from finishing a masters degree in art history to having twin daughters, I remember her talking about how satisfying it was to suddenly be immersed in a tactile world after living in such a cerebral one. (Now, by the way, with four children under the age of five, she works to maintain her sanity by dipping herself back into the cerebral world whenever she has the chance.)

Tactile immersion probably isn't the answer for me with everything else I have going on. But making a consistent, conscious effort to dip in might help. (And I'm sort of liking the mental image that creates. Because water.)

So I folded the laundry, then washed the sweaters in the sink. As I laid them out on towels, trying to arrange the stubborn things into their proper shapes, I stopped to breathe through my annoyance.

This will take practice.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


I stayed up very late last night, listening to the soft southern accents of Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Ann read the memoir they wrote together about traveling through places like Greece and France. I am mesmerized by the striking and meaningful coincidences they experience and the details they notice in the places they visit, threading together insights that help guide them through key life transitions.

The feeling of their writing stuck with me as Roger, Dad, Jack and I drove up to Salt Lake to visit the Natural History Museum of Utah this afternoon. What will I see that will make me think? I experience lots of coincidences, but will I experience any that are full of meaning?

As we walked up the front steps, I said to Dad, "I'm usually more interested in the design of the building than the items on display in a museum." I flashed back to other memorable museums I'd visited, including the Musée Rodin in Paris during the summer of 1982. I was entranced by the setting, an 18th century hotel and gardens where Rodin had set up a studio. When my sister and I were in Paris the summer before last, I wanted to revisit the museum. I was sorely disappointed to find all of his major sculptures that had been beautifully displayed in the old hotel instead crammed into a small, ugly modern annex.

No sooner had we bought our tickets today, then we ran into a guide in search of an audience for an architectural tour. We opted out of the full-hour tour, but since he had no other takers, he offered to give us a 10-minute overview of the structure. The museum is designed to echo the natural world it represents. Walls create canyons, suspended walkways are sandstone bridges. Floor to ceiling expanses of windows are carefully situated to frame the views the exhibits explain. It is seismically sound. It is gold-level LEEDS certified. It did not disappoint.

As we moved through the exhibits, I tried to commit myself to a level of awareness inspired by Sue and Ann's writing. Thing is, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and items in museums. Sensory overload. Most of it I'd rather take into my brain by curling up with a book.

So, details. I studied the text panels and as many artifacts as I could handle. I learned about our our fault lines and how this corner of our world evolved over billions of years. I learned about species and ecosystems and archeological digs. I laughed when I saw that every stuffed rodent in a glass case had been carefully shaped into a superhero flying position, front paws stretched forward, legs and tail straight out behind them. I reveled in the neat rows of carefully restored moccasins made out of animal skins. I mused about the photographed diorama backdrop of otherwise pristine wilderness that included a pickup truck parked on a road cut into the side of a mountain. I didn't, however, take advantage of the buttons one could push to catch a whiff of a dinosaur's slaughtered dinner or its fetid forest habitat.

At one point, I realized I was looking at much of it through the lens of the recent Ham/Nye debate about creationism and evolution. With all of this evidence, I wondered, how on earth can someone believe that the world was created in seven literal days or that it (and the humans who inhabit it) have been around less than 7,000 years?

Good, I thought as we left the museum. I was engaged. I was aware. I made connections. But what I hadn't experienced was the kind of striking coincidence full of meaning that seems to be routine for Sue and Ann.

At least not until we were back in the car.

During the drive home, I read from a collection of essays I'd downloaded to my phone. I finished up one, then turned the page to the next one, which was written by Dr. William Bradshaw. He happens to teach--of all things--evolutionary biology at BYU. Then at one point in the essay, he wrote about the time he publicly decried BYU's decision to censor several of Rodin's sculptures, including The Kiss, when they hosted an exhibition of his work in 1997.

Now that should qualify as a striking coincidence. Except I'm not sure what it is meant to reveal to me, what insight I should glean. Then I remembered that it often took Sue and Ann months, even years, to figure out the meaning of the coincidences they experienced.

I will have to be patient and let the mystery unfold naturally. Hopefully, though, it will happen within a Genesis rather than Darwinian time frame. I'm not that patient.

A selfie with Rodin's The Kiss, Paris, Summer 2012

Friday, February 14, 2014


Nearly every day a book comes into my life that I want to read--or listen to as it happened today. Late this afternoon, a friend knocked on my door and dropped off the audiobook she's just finished, thinking I'd be interested in it as well.

Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter Anne Kidd Taylor.

"Oh, yes please," I said, and almost immediately put the first disk in my laptop to start listening.

I've enjoyed other books by Sue Monk Kidd. In both her fiction and memoir writing, she is a seeker of the feminine divine. Over the past few years, and in part through her writing, I've discovered that I am, too.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It took a good while this morning to get going after feeling so lousy yesterday, but by 11:45 I was out the door and by 1:00 I was in the classroom doing my song and dance.

After dinner and a library board meeting, I headed into work at the jail to meet with a couple of people who are getting released tomorrow, and while we were chatting, the first one said, "You are energetic tonight!" And I laughed when I realized just how much better I was feeling.

Crazy what a little fever does to my outlook on life!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Sick day today. I'll be okay. But I have nothing to say.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


From time to time, when I am using a restroom at either of my places of employment--one a state facility, one a county--I think about how I am thankful for taxpayer-funded disposable seat covers.

I'm convinced that money spent on seat covers saves money. And not just because happier employees are likely more productive employees. If someone conducted a study (and maybe someone has?), I believe we'd prove that seat covers help keep restrooms cleaner, thereby reducing the expenses involved in cleaning them.

Regardless, thank you, Utah taxpayers.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Little Adventure

One of my very favorite things is to step out of the routine of daily life and go on an adventure. Today I had a little one.

After I got home from work and Jack got home from school, I drove to the train station in Provo, hopped on Frontrunner, our commuter rail, and headed to Salt Lake City to meet my dad, who had driven up in his little rented Fiat earlier in the day. Taking a train to the city is far more exciting than taking the interstate. I don't think I'm alone in feeling that way.

After I got off the train, I walked a few blocks to where my dad was parked and we drove to 15th and 15th, one of my favorite corners of the city, to have dinner at Fresco. I ordered agnolotti. Which was delicious. Also exotic enough that I had to google it on my phone to figure out what it was.

After dinner, we went to a reading at The King's English, a beloved bookshop. Melissa Dalton-Bradford, author of a memoir called Global Mom, spoke about her family's joyful and challenging experiences living abroad and how everything changed when their oldest son died in a tragic accident at 18. I was already looking forward to reading her book. Now that I've heard part of her story first hand, it is a top priority.

And another chance to step out of the routine of daily life and go on a little adventure.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Lucky in Love

When we got out of the car to go into church this morning, I said to Jack that I hoped we would hear about love today. It's a message that gets lost so easily.

Boom. All three talks and a congregational hymn that emphasized love.

Can't ask for more than that.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Poster Child

The other day, I wrote about some pending Utah legislation (see post here). Since then, I've had a great e-mail exchange with the sponsor of the bill, which is designed to protect people who call for help when they think a friend is overdosing.

I have a deeper respect now for the gap between the English we can all understand and legislative language. The sponsor assures me that the bill actually will provide good samaritans with immunity from arrest for drug possession and use--not just special consideration in court after being arrested.

"I agree that the language does sound as though a person could be prosecuted and then claim an affirmative defense," she wrote, kindly making me feel better about my misunderstanding. "Legal language frequently baffles me when I, as a longtime high school English teacher, would have written it in a more clear and simple way."

So it sounds like the legislation does have real potential to make a big difference after all. We truly need it. Utah apparently has the "eighth highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States." Not okay. I am looking forward to spreading the word. It's already passed unanimously in the House; I can't imagine it won't pass in the Senate. Then the law will be go into effect as soon as the governor signs it.

And I am looking forward to the followup discussion I will have with my university students next week about digging deep enough to get to the bottom of something. I will humbly hold myself up as a poster child.

Friday, February 07, 2014

A Night Away

Roger and I are taking advantage of Gramps tonight. He's going to hang out with Jack at home, and we are going to head off on an adventure. It will be an urban adventure as we are combining it with a work project for Roger that involves visiting independent and used bookstores in Salt Lake City. It's a rough life, I know.

Back tomorrow!

Thursday, February 06, 2014


I've got my English class reading and watching sources that explore the relationship between our environment and the choices we make. It's always nice when an object lesson presents itself.

The last few class periods, we had construction workers right outside our classroom window. Last week, they were using a jackhammer to break up the sidewalk, but apparently it wasn't enough. On Tuesday they brought in a digger and banged the excavator bucket against the cement. It was louder than the jackhammer, but it still seemed futile. Something eventually worked, though. Today we watched the digger haul away a great mass that had been buried in the earth. We also watched the digger inadvertently slide sideways down the grassy hill and stop when it hit a tree. We wondered if the driver knew he had an audience.

We couldn't help but be distracted. Or could we?

Wednesday, February 05, 2014


I did go today to Sergeant Cory Wride's funeral. It slowly dawned on me that I had met him once. I believe he was in charge of my background check when I got hired by the sheriff's office a few years ago. I remember that he was friendly and kind and set me at ease about the process.

The event was overwhelming on many levels, not the least of which was the sheer number of law enforcement officers from all over the state and beyond who were there to honor a brother.

But two small things stood out to me in particular. Small, but deeply significant.

First, the story a deputy shared about his discovery that after transporting the perpetrator in a particularly difficult domestic violence case to jail, Sergeant Wride had quietly gone back to the house where the arrest took place with bags full of groceries to stock up the family's bare kitchen. Seeing. Serving.

Second, as the bagpiper led the recessional after the service, the cord and tassel on his bagpipes swung back and forth in rhythm to the music and his steps. We could hear the music long after they left. Tradition. Comfort.

In death, we can remember to live.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Nightmare Within a Nightmare

It's been a long, long time since I've had one of those nightmares that I'm registered for a class I don't know about, then discover it the day of the final exam.

Well, the other night I had one again, but with an insidious twist. Per usual, I didn't discover I was registered for a class until the day of the final exam. Then I found out that I had actually been attending all semester without realizing it.

What? What does that mean?!

Monday, February 03, 2014


A friend of mine just went to Paris this past week and that, of course, reminded me of Paris.

The summer before last, I went to Paris with my sister.

Since I am no longer accumulating too many things in life, I only want to buy truly useful souvenirs. I had recently lost my watch and needed a new one for the trip and for both of my jobs, where I must keep careful track of time but am often without a reliable clock or cell phone. Paris would be a fabulous place to buy a new watch!

On our first day there, we wanted to stay up until night time to beat jet lag. So we walked and walked and walked to stay awake. It was rainy, but we didn't let that deter us. We just ducked inside where it was dry anytime something piqued our interest. Cafés, museum shops, the Ferris Wheel in the Jardins des Tuileries, old churches.

And the Swatch store on the Champs Elysées, where I bought this beauty. Classic and understated. Not crazy expensive. It suits me parfaitement. I wear it tous les jours et je pense à Paris.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Setting Things Right

When I was 17, my elderly neighbor had surgery and hired me to help out each morning for a month or so while she convalesced. So every morning I went over to her house to put everything in order for the day.

I gathered up all of the dishes from around the house, washed them and straightened the kitchen. I emptied her husband's ashtrays and picked up newspapers and dirty socks. I wiped the bathroom sink down, made beds and checked on the levels of essential supplies in the cupboards and fridge.

Actually it was a very satisfying job.

Why isn't it like that when I'm cleaning up my own mess?

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Let's Not

I didn't know the Utah County Sheriff's deputy who was killed in the line of duty a few days ago, but I'm thinking about going to his funeral this week. I'd like to show my support for his family and his fellow law enforcement officers.

Jack and I were talking about this tragedy as the news unfolded. The officer had stopped to help someone by the side of the road and they shot him.

"When this kind of thing happens," I told Jack, "No matter how rare it is, it has a chilling effect on our society. We lose trust in the goodness of others. Of course, we have to have our wits about us, but we can't stop helping people when they are in need."

What I didn't tell Jack was just how little trust we have in one another these days. How often we assume the worst of people. We don't have much more to lose.

Fear and suspicion will destroy us if we let it. Please, let's not.