Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Checkerboard Table

I don’t often get inspiration from bars.

This idea came from a bar in Wyoming that my mother took me to. (We don’t drink, by the way. We were there for the food. More specifically, the peanut butter pie.)

We ate at big varnished tables, painted with checkerboards.

It has been three years now, but ever since that day I knew that my humble kitchen table had a destiny to fulfill.

And now the time had come.

First we stripped and sanded the table.


This is my lovely assistant, Olivia. She is good with math and precision, so I had her draw the lines.


I am good with paint brushes so I colored it in.



Jellybean the cat, who insisted on jumping on the table every chance she got, was eventually banished from the garage.


Olivia administered the first coat of stain.


I was a little nervous about how it would all turn out in the end. I was worried that it didn’t look perfect. “Of course it doesn’t,” said Olivia. “It looks rustic.” Come to think of it, bar tables in Wyoming are generally pretty rustic.


After five coats of stain and four coats of polyurethane and 48 hours of drying time, I had the table I had dreamed of.
And now we were ready to play!






The game, as intense as it seems in the photos, was never finished. Too many of the playing pieces disappeared.

Thanks to my mom for the inspiration and Olivia for the hard work. I envision many happy games and meals and conversations around my new table. Now I just need that recipe for peanut butter pie . . .



Filed under Uncategorized

The Method To Our Madness

This is our secret weapon.


It is the only way anything gets done in our house.


It is in the kitchen, by the breakfast table, so it gets seen constantly.IMG_6727

And it provides the perfect place to put assignments,IMG_6737

reminders, IMG_6672


and encouragement.


If you do not have one of these go get one. Now. Run. (Buy a pack of colored chalk while you are at it.)IMG_4926

Never underestimate the power of a good chalkboard in the right place.


Filed under Parenting

My Top Ten Favorite Biographies

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What made this book excellent for me was not that Louis Zamperini survived through what seemed like a conveyer belt of continuous suffering, but his unexpected Miracle in the last chapter. Sadly, the movie adaptation only dealt with the suffering and ended with a strange, artificial climax of Zamperini lifting a railroad tie above his head. The Great Miracle–the the reason the book filled me with wonder and hope as I closed the last page and held it to my beating heart–was omitted. That is why the movie was a disappointment and the book was absolutely brilliant. If you saw the hopeless movie don’t let that stop you from reading the book . . . which is full of Hope.

2. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

mandelaI decided to read this book when I learned that my mom was going to serve a mission in South Africa, almost a decade ago, and I still remember what a great impression Mandela’s story left on me. Apartheid in South Africa was a world of which I was completely ignorant, and I was grateful to learn more about him, his country, and his hopeful persistence. I wrote this quote down to remember: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

3. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough


When the Wright Brothers came to North Carolina with their wood, muslin and dreams, the people of Kitty Hawk first thought the brothers were just a couple of “poor nuts.” When they weren’t working on their flying machine they stood on the beach, their arms outstretched, mimicking the wing movements of birds.  In the end the Ohio boys won the respect of the Outer Banks natives who said that Wilbur and Orville were “two of the workingest boys; they had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.” For these two brothers, flying was not an impossibility, but merely a puzzle to be solved.  Although neither married, they were devoted family men, and they never worked or flew on Sundays, making even large crowds wait until Monday. They were never haughty or belittling to other inventors of the time that had failed before them. This is not the first biography I’ve read on these two men, and it won’t be the last.

4. Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt
black elk

By the late 1880’s, it was clear to Native Americans, who were being squeezed into reservations, that success in defending themselves against the waves of white men was all but hopeless. But in 1890, one last united effort to reclaim their lands and dignity was kindled by a mystical dance called the “ghost dance.” The purpose of this dance was to plead to their ancestors for help and to summon them fight against the white men. The story of the Ghost Dance movement is described by Black Elk, a healer and a survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre, and dictated by him through an interpreter to John G. Neihardt.  This book was recommended to me as a teenager by a Native American friend (Thanks, Dan) to help me understand the Native American way of shaman and visions, and the great faith they had in their ancestors.

5. Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel


I thought that I knew something about Galileo before I read this book, but I found out after reading this that I knew as much about Galileo as the Catholics at that time knew about the universe. (Very little.) This is a book of correspondence between Galileo and his devoted and loving daughter, Maria Celeste. Few, if any of Galileo’s letters to her survive (she was a nun, so many of her personal belongings were destroyed), but he carefully saved many of hers. Through these letters we learn how she patiently supports her father as he tries in vain to convince the world that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe. She continues to minister to him, through letters, as he enters and undergoes the trial of his life. Notwithstanding his perilous position as potential heretic, Galileo always had great respect for the religious beliefs of his church and wanted to show others that Catholics were not being ignorant or stupid, but steadfast.  Although Galileo was at odds with the church, but he was never at odds with his Maker. As Sobel wrote, Galileo felt that “To imagine an infinite universe was merely to grant almighty God His proper due.”

6. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder


From this book I learned about the power that one determined physician can have when he uses his talents to serve the poorest people on the earth. It is also a book that makes you extremely uncomfortable, because your conscience jabs you and whispers things like “what more can you do for those that are suffering?”   As Tracy Kidder, Dr. Paul Farmer’s biographer said  “ . . . I can imagine Farmer saying he doesn’t care if no one else is willing to follow their example. He’s still going to make these hikes, he’d insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you’re saying that their lives matter less than some others’, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”

7. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrandimages

When you get tired of reading biographies about people, read this biography (zoography?) about a horse.  This read was excellent. Hillenbrand is not only a thorough biographer but also a great storyteller. And, incidentally, the Seabiscuit movie, unlike Unbroken, is wonderful. 

8. Endurance by Alfred Lansingendurance

The odds were against Shackleton and his crew from the beginning. The odds usually are when you are planning an expedition to Antarctica, and this triumphant story was all but hidden from the world’s headlines since most of the attention was on the Great War in Europe.  Only later did Shackleton’s amazing adventure story get the attention it deserved. I’ve read this book twice and loved it both times. My favorite part is when they cross the open ocean to South Georgia in a small lifeboat, relying on a sextant and the stars. Soooo exciting.

9. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman


This honest biography of Joseph Smith depicts his successes, his failures, and the parts of his history most church historians like to skip, like his role in early polygamy. I enjoyed this open and candid perspective written by a firm believer in the faith, who demonstrates that we do not need to be ashamed of the history of the Prophet, and that only by understanding history as it really was that we can gain insights into Joseph’s character, purpose and his vision for the eternal destinies of his people.

10. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzaimalala

The Moonlight Bookreader’s Guild (the book club I am a part of) read this when it first came out and we loved every word. There is something about the courage of a young girl that sparks a fire in the hearts of older women. We either hope we could be as gracefully brave or we pray our daughters can. The earth can never have enough Malalas.

Other biographies I want to read:

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario


Filed under writing

When I Grow Up

I just got back from vacation out West where I met with a lot of very, very old people.


My father’s siblings and their spouses

First I met the mule man. His name is Lew. My mom wanted me and my kids to meet him since he had mules, and she thought my kids would like to come and feed them. Not my first idea of a good time, but I always do what my mother says.

We found Lew out back by the barn. I am pretty sure he was close to 800 years old. He had three mules tied up to a fence by the corral. He taught my kids how to hold their hands flat as they fed alfalfa pellets to the mules. Once they had mastered that skill he said, “I’ll teach you anther way to feed the mule, and if you can feed him like this I’ll go into the house and give you a dollar.” Then he took an alfalfa pellet, put it in his mouth, bent over, and to the horror of my children, he let the mule take the pellet from his lips.

After wiping a smile (and mule spit) from his mouth, the ancient man slung a saddle up on the mule, slung up Naomi, and then slung up Dan as easily as if they were all made of paper mache. He led the mule around in a few circles. Then Danny wanted to be in front, so Lew taught them how to switch places. He told Naomi to stand up on top of the saddle–yes, on top–and had Danny to crawl through her legs as she slid behind Danny’s back and viola! Like magic Danny was in the front. I wish you could have seen the pride shining in my children’s eyes at acquiring this novel, new skill. I could read Naomi’s mind: Now THIS is a TALENT!

After that he lifted Danny off the mule but told Naomi she could slide off the back of the mule’s rump, “but don’t ever do it on any other horse or mule unless you want to get your head kicked off.” As he was putting the saddle way he said to me, “Did you know that I have five daughters and each of them can ride a bucking horse and shoot, skin and clean their own elk. But my greatest regret is that not one of them can play the piano.” Before Naomi could say, Hey, that is not so bad! My mom piped up and said, “These girls can play piano! And they can sing for you. RIGHT NOW!”

So, since I always do what my mom tells me, we did. In Lew’s tack shed. Surrounded by saddles and ropes he made himself, while he sat misty-eyed on an old pick up truck seat. To our delight, he reciprocated by reciting a cowboy poem from memory. When it was time to go back to my Mom’s, Lew looked at my two-year-old and said, “Since you didn’t get to ride the mule I’ll take you on the four wheeler.” And then he drove my Levi back to the house, making sure they crossed under every single sprinkler a long the way. I may have had my doubts about the mule man when we arrived, but by the time we left I was his biggest fan.

Next I went to a family reunion, where I saw my Uncle John whom I have not seen for years. He engaged me in conversation in which he asked me all about my life. Then he called my children to him, looked them steadily in the eye and said, “Your grandfather had a beautiful voice, just like you. Did you know that? I knew your grandfather very well. He was a wonderful man. I know because he was a good friend of mine. And it is important that you to know how wonderful he was.”  I tell my kids every day how great my dad was, but like a lot of things, it doesn’t sink in until they can hear it from someone else. This was truly a great gift from my uncle, and one I will always be grateful for.

Finally, I attended the 90th birthday party of one of my favorite people in the world: my grandmother. Actually, she is not my grandmother. She is Scott’s grandmother, but I claim her whole heartedly. She is extremely intelligent, talented and has read almost every book ever written. When she talks to you she makes you feel like you are her absolute favorite grandchild, and that you possess talents that no one else has, and that your talents can make a difference in people’s lives and will change the world. And because she is who she is, you believe her. If you met her you would claim her as your grandmother, too.

All of these encounters make me wonder if I am cut out to be a good old person.

What kind of old lady will I be?  Will I be the old lady that complains about everything and tells the younger generation to take their shoes off and get out of my flowers or don’t touch my breakable things and eat your vegetables? Or will I have something wiser to say like “I remember your grandfather and he was a good singer and a good friend” or “you, my dear, have talents that will change the world” or “let me show you how to switch places on a mule.”

On the Forth of July I entered a 5K race. So did my husband, many of my in-laws and most of my kids and nieces and nephews. My athletic in-laws and competitive husband took off, leaving me behind with the smell their burned rubber, and I was on my own to pad my way amongst strangers down the streets of Manti. Before long footsteps came from behind and I looked to see my nephew, Max.


There was no way I was going to be beaten by an 8-year-old. Especially one who is related to me. I broke away from him for a while, but a half mile later I heard those shoes coming up behind me again. So I let him keep pace with me, and we talked about the weather, the pros of stretching before a race, and how often he practiced running. Throughout all this I always made sure I was slightly ahead of him at all times. When there was a mile left he was still on my tail. (Inconceivable!) I debated what I should do. Should I pick up my pace and leave him behind?  After all, I do have a 28-minute personal best that I needed either meet or surpass. Besides that, if I came in too late I knew I would have to prepare a good verbal comeback for my husband when he asks if I stopped to pick flowers.

“How you doing, Max?”


“Are you feeling good?”


He looked good. His pace was good. He wasn’t limping, he wasn’t complaining. I measured up the situation, calculated the risks.

Then I asked,”You want to sprint the last part with me?”


“Are you sure you can do it?”

“I’m sure.”

So as we rounded the corner to the finish line, we sprinted. I still could have left him and crossed first, but we ran side by side until right before the finish line when I pulled back and let him cross first.

Now he can say he can beat his aunt.

It is a start, I guess. Luckily, I am only 37. I have a lot of years still to learn how those 80 and 90 year olds do it. But hopefully, when I grow up and become an old lady, I will be a good one.


By the way, my enchanting niece who also happens to be Idaho’s Miss Outstanding Teen, is doing a project called Bridging Generations. You should check it out. #BridgingGenerations


Filed under Family Fun, Family History, generations, old folks