Friday, July 24, 2015

I had big plans for today.

Sunday morning I got a great flash of inspiration about the post I should write for today—for Pioneer Day. I started drafting it in my head, then realized I needed more details.  I shot my friend an email. A couple of days later she shot me back a text—she's in town! We had the most blissful lunch yesterday talking about this amazing pioneer story she lived. I took copious notes. Made a recording. And realized it was way too big a story to whip out in one afternoon. Too much, in fact, for one blog post.

So I'm doing a serial. Starting as soon as she sends me her photos, I will post multiple episodes telling the saga of my favorite modern-day pioneer.

When I first heard the story myself, about 17 years ago, my jaw dropped. The world opened a little wider. The story has impacted me and lived with me ever since. It's a story of hope. Of sacrifice. Of optimism. Of hard work. Of letting the past inform the future. Of a pioneer. And it's still unfolding.

So hold tight, and stay tuned—it's coming. Just not today.
In the meantime, here are two favorite Pioneer Day posts from years past:

Plains, Trains and What Remains

O Pioneer...I'm Such A Wimp

Here's a link to a video, and a hashtag to broaden your celebration of all things Pioneer: #IAmAPioneer

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Missing Confession

Earlier this week, my friends at The Living Room aired a show called, “Confessions of Motherhood.” I was absent for this recording--and felt somewhat relieved I didn’t have to share my most embarrassing moment or deepest flaw on internet radio. I was perfectly happy to be traveling and painting instead.

Then a beloved friend texted me the following: “I’m listening to the most recent TLR podcast, and I am noticing that you didn’t confess anything. I haven’t finished it yet. But now I’m thinking that maybe you really are a perfect mother because I can’t think of anything you should confess either.”


Please allow me to put any such delusions to rest once and for all.

Here’s my official confession (although I’m somewhat horrified to put this in writing):

A couple of months ago I hosted my book group at our house. We read a wonderful YA novel, Signed, Skye Harper by Carol Lynch Williams and—miracle of miracles—the author was joining us in person! We could hardly believe our good fortune.

I spent a good chunk of the day cleaning the house, preparing raw food (one of our members has cancer and is on a special diet), and getting ready for the event.

Our family breeds Shelties (shetland sheepdogs) and the last puppy had just been sold, so there was some extra cleaning and mopping to do, as I put away the puppy crate, washed mountains of extra towels, and turned the laundry room back into a place where we actually wash and iron our clothes. 

When it came down to the final vacuum, I did every inch of the main floor—even the stairs and behind the couch—but when I suddenly glanced at the clock, time was running short. I looked at the dining room and thought, no one has eaten in here this week, and quickly ran the vacuum alongside—but not under—the big harvest table, then rewound the cord and put the vacuum away.

Guests arrived, people admired the display of food and the lovely antique dishes (my grandmother’s) we used for the occasion. The author was seated at the head of the dining room table, and was regaling us with stories of not cleaning her house, joking about how the neighbor kids thought they might catch a disease. I could hardly relate—I’d been cleaning for what seemed like the entire day.

Then about midway through the evening one young mother put her toddler down on the floor. He was exploring, crawling under the dining room table, then stopped, and sat still with some sort of treasure in his hand. His mother cooed, “Oh, what did you find?” just as he was about to put it in his mouth.

To my complete mortification, in his chubby little fist was a piece of puppy poo.
That’s right. The one spot I left unchecked and unvacuumed was the spot where, unbeknownst to me, the little puppy we sold that morning had chosen to relieve himself.

I slid back my chair, made a mad dash for the kitchen for tissue and towels, and apologized over and over again to this sweet mom.

But the damage was done. I doubt she’ll ever even set foot in my house again. At least not with her baby in tow. For all I know the entire book group has already made a secret pact to exclude me from future gatherings.

My friend who was texting me about being perfect doesn’t know this story...until now. Still listening to the podcast, she texted, “Ah. just heard that you weren’t there. I still think you’re perfect.”

So, CB—this one’s for you.
—Oh, and you’re welcome.

To underscore the fact that I don't judge you for any little imperfections at your house, check out this post. And in the comments, please share some of your most embarrassing moments so I don’t feel quite so terrible about myself.   :)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Our Story Rituals

In our most recent Living Room radio episode, called "Meaningful Rituals," I talk about a favorite ritual from my growing-up years: Storytelling.

When I was a little girl, my beloved grandmother told us a favorite bedtime story every time we slept over in their little duplex on Capitol Hill. I loved listening to her gentle voice tell us the old-fashioned tale "Cozette" so much that I asked for a tape recording for my 25th birthday. You can read more about that special story here.

Grandma also told us silly stories about our dad when he was growing up: how he got a baby chick for Easter and named it Hallelujah. How he put two kittens in the fridge, and a duck in the dryer, and rode a horse bareback. How he misbehaved. We LOVED this youngster image of our dad that only Grandma could share.

My grandpa always told us stories that would raise the hair on the back of your neck: How he and his friends spit on a horseshoe for good luck, then he tossed it over his shoulder and sent it crashing through the school window! How he had a part-time job playing the organ at the silent movie theater, and playing saxophone in a dance band. How great-grandpa Cort once shot a bear right between the eyes...and outsmarted a town official in order to get justice for a Japanese immigrant the man had swindled. Grandpa himself later spoke out against the Japanese internment camps during World War 2. 

My grandpa on my mom's side used to SING us his stories. He loved the Christopher Robin songs by A. A. Milne and delighted us over and over with his adorable boyish renditions. It was pure magic to hear him sing these timeless stories.

My mother told us stories of her own family: How she was raised by her grandmother, whom they affectionately called Marmee (like the character she was nicknamed fora strong young widow with four spirited daughters); How her youngest brother would spit out a now-famous string of the naughtiest words he could think of: P.O. Poop Out Stinker Bum!; how her father took them sailing on the Great Salt Lake, sang baritone solos in the Messiah, and had his own radio show; how her mother worked at an advertising agency in Los Angeles and how Grandpa called her his Happy Heart. And how her daddy would come home at night and entertain them at the dinner table by telling stories.

My father told us stories of his own childhood adventures -- ones I’m sure he never told his mother: How he and his friends found a dead body on the capitol grounds; How he found a leather pouch full of money under a tree and inadvertently interrupted an FBI stakeout; how he and his friends let the air out of the tires of a whole fleet of police cars parked at the capitol building one night; how an unstable kid named Ikey threatened to kill him; and how he discovered a hermit cave—and the hermit who lived there!   Dad also made up hilarious bedtime stories about spaceships and astronauts and what could go wrong in outer space. My dad's stories, more than any other, made me want to seek out and live adventures of my own, and write about them.
My husband is the King of Story. He writes screenplays, teaches screenwriting, produces and directs movies, creates webisodes, and exhausts every possible outlet for storytelling (as evidenced in his TedX talk, here). He reads wonderful books out loud to the family -- The Tale of Despereaux, Walk Two Moons, and Watership Down. Most recently we listened to The Boys in the Boat on tape, and he read to us aloud, "The Road" by Cormack McCarthy. He also makes up fabulous stories about our kids and their friends and their secret superpowers. He lives and breathes story.

And I've told a few stories of my own. One of my favorites became sort of an allegory on giving. Here is Jeremiah's Bedtime Story, called An Hundredfold

So you can see how the ritual of storytelling, begun by my grandparents, lives on in my life and the lives of our children. 

This post also appears on the FromTheLivingRoom website: Click here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What I Gained When I Lost

Our latest Living Room episode is called “What I Gained When I Lost.” I was absent for this recording session. (I gained a painting trip to Southern Utah with my Dad when I lost this chance to record with my Living Room friends!)

This idea of gaining from losing is powerful. Host Christie Gardiner says we become who we’re meant to be when we sacrifice something great...for something more important. The less-dramatic business term for this kind of gaining and losing is called “opportunity cost.”

Sometimes what I’ve lost (my opportunity cost) isn’t a conscious sacrifice, but my need to acknowledge the hand of a higher power at work in my life.

In all honesty, when I glibly said I gained a painting trip when I lost that chance to record our show, it’s true. Three glorious days in Snow Canyon. But there’s more. That painting trip was a consolation prize. What I lost first was my favorite tradition. A class I was teaching at UVU for the third year in a row, taking a dozen students to paint on location in Capitol Reef National Park, was unexpectedly cancelled at the last minute. I didn’t just lose a fabulous week encouraging students to learn and grow and create. I lost my entire summer’s income. And a trip I count on yearly to rejuvenate my art and my soul. (And yes, my dad was coming along this year—something I was really looking forward to!)

I have to admit I grumbled. I was frustrated that it was cancelled so late in the game, after I had already put in so much work, with no compensation. It felt like the university cared more about the numbers than the students’ educational experience, which was also frustrating.

But something happened during those three weeks (during which we would have been holding class all day every day) that I never could have predicted. A very close friend of mine who’s been battling cancer for years suddenly became gravely ill. She’d been living in Texas for a few months, and was flown to Utah for brain surgery.

Because I wasn’t teaching, I was able to visit her in the hospital, hug her and kiss her forehead and whisper encouraging words before she headed into surgery. I was able to see her as she recovered after surgery, and again when they resumed chemotherapy. Most important of all, I was led back to the hospital on a random Tuesday afternoon when she needed a visit. And when the cheyne-stokes breathing began, just minutes later, I was there. I was able to stay with her and hold her hand and literally breathe along with her until she took her final breath.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It is one of life’s most poignant and beautiful privileges to surround a loved one and help usher them on to the next sphere of life.

Losing a chance to teach a class and paint on location in a gorgeous national park was a heavy hit. But it doesn’t seem like much in comparison to what I gained.

Another version of this post appears here: The Living Room | Live Internet Talk Radio | Best Shows Podcasts

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Finding Balance in Nature

In our first episode of The Living Room podcast, titled "Self-Care and Preservation," I talked briefly about how hiking outdoors helped me rediscover my center and find joy during a serious bout of post-partum depression. I want to share how and why this helps me find balance in a chaotic world.

A couple of years ago I was invited to speak at the Story At Home Conference, in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was asked to address the topic of Balance, chiefly the way we balance our real-life and online activities. The assignment surprised me—in fact my husband laughed out loud when I told him my topic. I'm one of the most UN-balanced people I know, perpetually wobbling in pursuit of that ever-elusive ideal.

As I explored thoughts and research for my presentation, I hit a huge roadblock and was unable to finish writing my speech...until I forced myself outdoors for a breather.

Suddenly a whole world of ideas came to me rapidly, and the speech came together in my head, packaged like a gift from God. What I re-realized in that moment was my complete focus on the task at hand (writing the speech) was putting me out of balance with my body and soul. Once I got outdoors I was rebalanced, and I could think so much more clearly. All that banging my head against a proverbial wall became almost effortless in its completion. I determined that balance needs to cover not just online and off-line activites, but four areas of the self: Physical, Educational, Social/Emotional and Spiritual. 

What I learned, and continue to learn, is that when I'm on the trail I'm in perfect balance because I'm attending to all four areas of my self at once: Whether strolling along a riverbank or climbing a steep cliff, I'm physically active. I'm inhaling lungfuls of cedar. I'm stimulating my mind (perhaps I'm identifying wildflowers, spotting animal tracks, or plotting a trail on a map). If I take a friend or two, I'm socializing; if I choose to go alone, I'm contemplating. Even then I exchange smiles and hellos with a handful or strangers on the trail. And ALWAYS I'm communing with the heavens: As light sparkles in running water that gurgles over rocks in a stream, leaves dance in a gentle breeze, crickets chant in rhythm and hummingbirds drink the nectar of wildflowers, I feel at one with the circle of life, more in touch with the Creator of the universe. I am whole again.

This post also appears here: The Living Room | Live Internet Talk Radio | Best Shows Podcasts

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hi, Canyon! Did You Miss Me?

Did you miss feeling my perky steps grate into the gravel as they pushed up the trail?

Did you miss hearing my speechless gasps over your dramatic vistas?

Did you miss the way the rhythm of light cascading through trees makes me want to dance?

Did you miss the quiet, intense way I stop to investigate glorious details, up-close and personal?

What about sensing the way the perfect combination of colors sometimes moves me to tears?

Did you miss me, Canyon?
Well, I missed you!
You're one of the biggest parts of coming Home.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five Days in Paris: Day 2

After selecting a beautiful array of pastries from the bakery across the street, our top priority for the day was L'Orangerie, which is just outside the Louvre, in the west corner of the Tuilerie Gardens. It is well worth the price of admission—and a whole trip to Paris—just to spend a few minutes in Monet's Water Lily Vestibules. 

These giant oval-shaped rooms are covered on every wall with Monet's water lily murals—his gift to the people of France after World War I, a 13-year effort he considers his magnum opus. One can sit in the center of each room and be literally surrounded by the stillness and serenity of his garden images. It is breath-taking and sublime. Monet's objective was to create an area where one could experience total peace. And (if the noisy tourists will behave themselves) you will experience just that.

Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press via New York Times

"These landscapes of water and reflection have become an obsession for me," Monet wrote to a friend in 1909. "It is beyond my strength as an old man, and yet I want to render what I feel." Monet has magically succeeded, and given us all a legacy of peace.

Other Destinations we checked off the list:

Le Grande Palais
Petit Palais
Boat Ride on the Seine, Day 2

Then, after miles, and miles of walking, we had dinner at Cafe Constant. Astonishingly, we met a family there whom we had also met on the Tube in London. It was fun to visit with them and laugh at how similar our itineraries were. The food at Cafe Constant was amazing. Worth every euro. (And there were a lot of euros on the tab!)

Adieu, mon ami.