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Teaching Children Obedience and Other Great Mysteries

If there is one thing that gives me panic attacks it is reading parenting books.

Once I read one about raising sons. In it the author encouraged mothers to develop a Look. Some kind of glance, some sort of frown, some frigid, I-am-this-close-to-mailing-you-to-Australia facial expression that would strike instant repentance in the heart of even the most mischievous boy. I practiced The Look in the mirror until I scared myself, and then vowed to incorporate The Look into my parenting as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Recently I took my kids up to D.C. to see the sights with my sister. My husband had a business conference and could not join us, so it was I, the single mother, who felt the awesome responsibility of preserving her offspring from a myriad of metropolitan dangers.

I wasn’t worried about my three older daughters (a mistake, as you will soon see), since it was my two younger sons (ages 6 and 2) that were the main source of my anxiety.

The Look was a major part of my method.

First there were the metro trains. (Don’t get too close to the tracks–you’ll get electrocuted. Hurry on, hurry off–you don’t want to be left on the train by yourself! Don’t stick your hand out and touch the trains while they are moving, unless you want to look like a pirate for the rest of your life. STAY RIGHT HERE ON THIS LINE until I am done with this gosh-dang-it-ticket machine.)

And there were the streets. (Get off that ledge. Look both ways. Just because you can see the car doesn’t mean it can see you. Hold my hand. I’m serious, you have to hold it or your head will be smashed like a pumpkin.)

And there were the museums. (Stay by me. Don’t get separated. Don’t climb on the statue. Wash your hands. Don’t crawl under the bathroom stalls! Wash your hands again. Please.)

All the while The Look was heavily employed.

Then we went to the International Spy Museum, and while I was engrossed in Looking at my two younger sons, my phone buzzed. It was my 9-year-old daughter calling from a stranger’s cell phone, informing me that she had been lost . . . .for the last 45 minutes.  I eventually found her, teary and trembling, in the part of the museum called “Behind Enemy Lines.”

After that I hovered over everyone, slathering The Look over my children like poisoned peanut butter, and after three days of non-stop anxiety in Washington DC The Look had become my face. I felt like was trying to gather my children like a protective hen gathers her chicks, but to my children I seemed more like Cruella DeVil trying gather puppies. It is no wonder that when we got on the Metro my kids fanned out among the seats to be as far away from me as possible. At one point my six-year-old son turned to me and said, “Next time we come to D.C. I want it to just be me and DAD.”


Another Reason to Hate Little Dogs and Love Little Boys

A couple weeks after the Washington D.C. Naggathon, it was Sunday and time for church. It was a rare morning when my husband didn’t have early meetings and we were going to go to church together as a family in one car! Yippie!

Normally I leave for church 45 minutes early, even though the church is 15 minutes away. Why? Because it takes 15 minutes to get from the door of our house into the car. I’m not sure why, but everyone, myself included, has to go back and get something, and sometimes several somethings, before we are actually settled in the car. And what about the other 15 minutes, you say? I also have to allow 15 minutes for the ritual “dog escape” that happens Every. Sunday. Morning.

Inevitably, when the door of the house is opening and closing so many times in succession the dog will find an opportunity to escape and then we have to catch him. The dog was getting faster and faster and running further and further until this particular Sunday when I had not allowed for my extra 15 “dog escape” minutes, and on cue, the dog escaped. There was no time for this circus, so I told everyone to get in the car anyway, the dog will just have to face the consequences of running away: abandonment. No food. No water. No love. For five hours. Because that is how long Mormons are at church. (We tell people it is three, but that is a lie.)

But my son didn’t listen. “I’ll get him!” He shouted as he ran after the dog down the driveway. “No! Stop! Come back!” I called. I put my hands on my hips and gave him my most deadly Look but he was already gone, running across the street, up the hill and disappearing into the trees.

Now I had a runaway dog and a runaway son. Nothing obeys me!

Alas, we would have to take two cars after all. I took the rest of the kids to church, and left my husband to stay behind and find our son and dog.

Eventually my husband and son made it to church, and I silently noted that my son was wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I had ironed and put on him that morning.

When I got home and found the original set of church clothes, caked with mud, on top of the washing machine, I couldn’t suppress my smile and admiration for a son who is willing to chase down a runaway dog no matter what the distance or terrain. What determination. What tenacity! What a great sense of responsibility. With all of those great virtues, who cares about obedience?


We recently went to Kohls and found the perfect shirt for Danny: IMG_8400As you can see, he was totally excited about it.

But we ended up getting him a shirt that says “Nothing But Awesome,” which is more his style.

As for The Look, after much experimentation I have found it is not very effective, for, not long after I had started using The Look I found that my son developed his own Look, so that when I narrow my eyes and draw my lips into a tight line, his smile widens, his eyes sparkle, his cheeks get all rosy and, ever so slightly, one eyebrow lifts.

Do you know how hard it is to glare at someone who looks at you like that? Especially when he has golden eyes and long black eyelashes?

So now here I am typing this at the foot of my son’s bed. He is asleep now, and since one cannot disobey when they are asleep, it is most likely he will live for at least another 12 hours.

How do six-year-old boys ever make it to seven? To ten? To sixteen? But then, when I am around people who have sixteen-year-olds it makes me oh so grateful Danny is still little enough that when we are mad at each other I can pick him up and flip him upside down and hold him until he is laughing.

Perhaps I am making this too complicated. Maybe instead of giving The Look I need to focus on giving The Smile.

Luckily, tomorrow is a new day. Tonight I will review my parenting approach, amend it, refine it, rehearse it, pray over it, etc. Perhaps I will even spend some time in front of the mirror and practice my smile. And tomorrow I will try again.

And if you see happen to see a child running though the streets after a dog, please send him home. You can keep the dog.







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Chelsea Dyreng – Author Interview

My first author interview in Canadian. 😉


What are the odds that out of the two interviews I’ve conducted that both would include the word “milpa”? Read on to find out more about The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng – a Mesoamerican mystery filled with love, secrets and corn.

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Surprised By Joy

IMG_8551A couple days ago my two year old came in from the backyard beaming. “Look, Mom!” he said. “Look what I found!”

He showed me a daffodil that he had plucked from the yard. It was the first (and so far the only) daffodil in the yard, and he was over the moon about it.

We talked about the flower for a minute. We smelled it (I LOVE the smell of daffodils!) and we found a little vase for him to put it in.

“Can you draw a picture of me holding the daffodil, Mom?”


So I drew a picture of Levi holding the daffodil. When I was finished I let him look at it and he grinned from ear to ear.

When his older brother and sister came home from elementary school the first thing he wanted to do was to show them the daffodil. It was the first thing he mentioned to my middle school daughters, too, and also to Scott when he walked in the door. Levi’s excitement over this humble little flower was inextinguishable. It was pure Joy. It was as if it was the first time he had ever seen anything so lovely and exquisite.

But then I thought about it . . . it had been about five months since flowers had been growing in our yard, and it had been 12 months since the last daffodil. Since my son was almost three years old, that is a third of his life! He probably doesn’t even remember seeing a daffodil before.

Ironically, I planted that daffodil for him. Three years ago in the fall, before I even knew the gender of the baby in my belly, Naomi and I planted fifty daffodil bulbs around our yard. “These bulbs won’t come out until around the time the baby is born,” I told her. “It will be like a birthday present for the baby!”

Little did I know how much Joy it would later bring him!

I wish I had coined the phrase “Surprised by Joy,” but it was actually C.S. Lewis. It is the title of the book he wrote about his conversion to Christianity. Then later (after he wrote the book) he married a woman named Joy.

I guess you could say he had a thing for Joy.

I have been “Surprised by Joy” many times. As a child, Joy was like a constant river running through my life. As I got older, Joy became slightly less consistent and more elusive. Eventually Joy took a second place to Work and Worry. Which is fine, since Work and Worry have their purpose, too. But now that Joy is not a constant visitor she really does take me by surprise sometimes.

Like the time when I was about 35 and we went to the beach. I hadn’t really “played” in the ocean for a while, since it always seemed that I was too pregnant or too nursing or too tired . . .but on this day I commandeered the boogie board from my kids and went out on the waves by myself. I had so much fun I started laughing out loud. All by myself. Just me and Joy.

Joy visited me again last month when a friend challenged me to take a photo of nature every day and post it on Facebook. This challenge couldn’t have come at a more dismal, colorless time of year. Usually North Carolina is very busy with animals and plants, but not so much in January. I had to be creative to try to find interesting things to photograph and I was getting a little discouraged.

Then one day I was on my way to a friend’s house when I turned the corner saw the most amazing thing: thousands of birds swooping and swarming around a field. It was so unbelievable I stopped the car, got out, and stood in the middle of the road, my mouth hanging open like I was watching a flock of angels. I took a couple photos and then just stood in awe and watched the birds fly as one huge, chattering organism, curving and floating, twisting and cavorting through the air, then landing and carpeting the field, then taking up their wings and doing their shape-shifting all over again. birdsIt lasted only about five minutes and then they flew off into the forest. “Wait! Take me with you!” I yelled after them, running down the street. (Just kidding, I didn’t really do that.) But the experience really did raise my pulse for the rest of the day.

[I learned later that these birds are starlings, and what they are doing is called a “murmuring.”]

Like my son Levi, I wanted to tell others about this experience, and when I did they would always mention Hitchcock’s The Birds movie (which I watched when I was an impressionable little girl and was probably one of the first things that started to suck Joy out of my life). But I didn’t feel fearful or apprehensive at all when I watched this murmuring. I only felt filled with Joy.

I just love how Joy sneaks up on you like that.


“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger–something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus



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Religion, Faith and Violence

She was stay-at-home mom and a college graduate. She was devout in her religion, and is described in the newspaper as being very “religious” and “conservative.”

Words that could also describe me.

In many ways Tashfeen Malik and I had much in common.

One of the most, if not the most, disturbing things for me about Sept 11 attacks was that these were done by people who believed devoutly in God. So devoutly that they would do anything for Him, even the unspeakable.

The husband and wife who attacked a holiday party last week were similar. They embraced a radicalized faith that completely warped their sense of civility and humanity and drove them to do something undeniably evil.

And worse, they did it in the name of God.

As President Obama said on Sunday, terrorism “has evolved into a new phase” but that “we will overcome it.”

He listed off methods he planned on using to overcome it: Intelligence, airstrikes, gun control . . . and when I hear this I think about all the money it will cost, and I think of how pointless it will be.

Because you can’t fight this “new phase” of terrorism from the outside in. I know, because, as a devoutly religious person myself, I know how powerful faith can be.

You can make it harder for suspicious people to enter the country. You can drop bombs on their bunkers and cut off their sources of finance, you can send out your drones and your sophisticated weaponry, but you can’t fight ideas.

This is not a war of intelligence, it is a war of hearts.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article by Johnathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth entitled “Turning Swords into Plowshares: How to Defeat Religious Violence.”  I recommend it to all. In the article Sacks explains that the only way to defeat religious violence is with religious devotion.

He says, “We must raise a generation of young Jews, Christians, Muslims and others to know that it is not piety but sacrilege to kill in the name of the God of life, hate in the name of the God of love, wage war in the name of the God of peace, and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.”

Religion is powerful. Like government, it creates a social structure, laws and communities, but unlike government, it provides a spiritual identity, a purpose and a mission. Government may feed us, organize us, help us live our lives, but religion gives us the reason to live.  The words of a prophet will always have more power to create action among the masses than a president because a prophet’s message–even if it has been misinterpreted or twisted–transcends borders, oceans, walls and barriers.

Never underestimate the power to belong, the desire to make a difference or the need for purpose in a young person’s life. The government cannot grant this the way religion can.

Eboo Patel, a Muslim, said in his book Acts of Faith: “Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”

I find it mind-blowing how young these extremists recruit their henchmen . . . sometimes at eight years old. Are we doing the same on our side? Are we as thorough when it comes to giving children a religious belief that is cemented in love, compassion and respect for God and others?

One way we can do this is by teaching our children that first amendment rights are there to protect all religions and not just our own.

Sacks says, “We must put the same long-term planning into strengthening religious freedom as was put into the spread of religious extremism.”

I like what the president said in his call to Muslim leaders in his Sunday address. He said that Muslim leaders must “speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”

This could be said to every religion. No matter how “true” you think your religion is, you are not better than anyone else. No matter how “righteous” you think you are, that does not give you a right to inflict violence on innocent people. And before we are Muslims, Jews, Christians or Mormons we are children of God.  Children. Children who unfortunately fight and argue and act like we are better than each other.

A few years ago I sat next to a Muslim woman on a 2 1/2 hour flight. We talked the entire time. We talked about her home country, Iran. We talked about her husband, her kids, her education. I told to her about my kids and the book I was writing. We even talked about the conversation no-nos:  politics, religion and sex. I found I had more in common with her than with my Baptist neighbor. I marveled out loud at her dedication to modesty (I had considered myself pretty modest in my cap sleeves and knee-length skirt), and she in turn was impressed that I refused to drink coffee. I could not help admiring her for her faith, and I felt that she shared the same admiration for me.

Right now it is Christmas, and we are celebrating the birth of Christ. It is a time when we all should reflect inward on what we believe and why. What are our religious motives?  Do we feel that we are better than others? Do we feel like, since we have found our true religion, that God does not speak and inspire others to do good or that they are somehow unworthy to be treated with respect and protection?

“The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.

“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

“We ought always to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangely present themselves, and are so congenial to human nature, against our friends, neighbors, and brethren of the world, who choose to differ from us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religion is between us and our God. Their religion is between them and their God.”

–Joseph Smith





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Luckily, My Dad Taught Me To Syphon Gasoline

When I was young, my dad owned a gas station, car wash and fireworks store called The Red Barn.

scan0118 (2)(This was the only photo I can find of my dad in front of his business.)

I was probably 9 or 10 years old when I overheard my dad saying that someone had been syphoning gas out of the cars down at the station.

After several decades of serving customers my dad saw all kinds of little tricks that people used to try to cheat the system. Sometimes he would find fake coins in the coin box at the car wash, and once he even found a quarter that someone had drilled a hole in and hooked a wire to so that they could dip the quarter in the coin slot to “pay” for the car wash and then pull it back out. It must not have worked well because the wire jammed the coin machine, putting it out of order.  By the time my dad discovered the problem, the thief was long gone. When he dismantled the coin box and discovered the theif’s little “fishing pole” he was so impressed he mounted it on the wall in his office. My dad always had a lot of admiration for creative ways to make (or save) a buck.

But syphoning gas out of cars was not creative or cute; it was a serious problem. We had employees who lived down at the station and we couldn’t afford to have someone to stealing gas from them. I asked my dad what “syphoning” meant and he described to me every fascinating detail.  “You’ve got to be careful, though,” my dad warned, “Once I swallowed a mouthful of gas and I thought I was going to die!”

(Let’s make it clear that syphoning gas has the potential to cause your internal organs serious damage and as a rule is not recommended.)

Sadly, the identity of the mysterious Red Barn Syphoner was never revealed.


Twenty-nine years later I am pouring myself some cereal. My kids have already served themselves and vacated the premises, leaving behind cereal bowls scattered out on the table in various levels of completion. Some bowls are empty, some are still-half full.

And then there is this one bowl, filled to the very tippy-top rim with milk. I look at it and frown. There is so much milk that if I move it at all or lift it to pour it out, milk will spill all over the table.  I shake my head, disappointed at the waste, and trying to decide whether or not it is worth it to go find that child and drag it back to the table.

Then I look down at the bowl of dry cereal in my hand–in want of milk–and I remember my dad and the Red Barn Syphoner.

I take out a straw with a bendy top and put one side in the over-flowing bowl of milk, hold my bowl of cereal off the edge of the table, and situate the straw so that the end pointing to my cereal bowl is lower than the end that is in the milk. Then I bend down and gently suck the end of the straw. Like magic, the milk comes pouring out of the straw, just like a faucet. I happily wait while my bowl fills, and when I have all the milk I need I lift the straw out. I am so proud of myself that I poke my head out the door and yell to Scott who is in the yard, “Scott, I just syphoned milk in to my cereal bowl!”

“Great!” He says. “You should teach the kids!”

And I did.

Because you never know when the stuff you learn from your parents will come in handy.


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To The Person Who Gave Me This Cup


It was very hot that day, hottest day of the summer, and I was in as good a place as anyone to judge since I was in my jeans and a t-shirt mowing the lawn in the middle of the day, sweating like a racehorse. My lawn has no flat place so I am always either going up or going down. It is a hill-of-a-yard to mow, if you know what I mean.

When you walked up my driveway in your sunglasses and sundress I had the desire to quickly disappear into my house to powder my nose or change my shirt, but you were too close to for a graceful escape, and had I tried to run I would have only looked like a criminal guilty of something worse than just looking like a sweaty farmer.

Forgive me for my initial judgmental thoughts. I thought perhaps you were coming to tell me that my dog was in your yard or I was mowing during your party (you did look party-worthy with your breezy clothes and carrying that frosty cup). I cut the engine on the motor and wiped the sweat off my forehead and greeted you with as much refinement as I could muster. You said nothing, or at least, if you did, I don’t remember what it was, because you handed me the cup–the cold, cold cup–filled with water and little floating icebergs, and all thoughts vanished from my mind.  I couldn’t have been more happy if you had given me a jar of Nutella and a spoon. You turned and sauntered away as if rescuing neighbors on the verge of heat stroke was normal for you. I walked in slow circles around my lawn mower, sipping the water that was as cold and clear as an Alaskan cruise, before putting down the cup and pulling the cord to finish the job. Though I returned the cup to you later, filled with grape tomatoes from my garden, I’m sure it did not give you the satisfaction that it gave me.

To the person who left this in my garage:


My husband was out of town, my children were at lessons, my van was dead. You picked up my kids, brought them home, and with this contraption you cleaned the van’s battery, jump-started it, followed me to Auto Zone, waited while I got a new battery, and didn’t leave until my car started on its own.

Why don’t you wear a cape?

I promise I will bring it back to you, and I’ve already made muffins for you (but they got eaten) and then I made cupcakes (they got eaten, too; I live with wolves). But you are a health-nut so you probably wouldn’t have appreciated them anyway, which is okay, since I’ve never been widely known for my baking. So I wanted to do something for you that I am known for.

Thank you, kind sir.

To the person who left this on my piano bench:


It was a rehearsal, and I was the pianist for 30+ children. I have never been a pianist for a public group before.  I usually direct choirs, not accompany them. I was truly a fish out of water, but still enjoying myself since I am a fish that loves to try new things. I hit many wrong notes, but was doing surprisingly well when measured against my past. It was cold in the room, though, and playing piano when your fingers are cold is a lot like trying to speak Spanish when you’re eating ice cream. I rubbed my hands together. I sat on them. I put them under my arms. I thought to myself, next week I’ll bring gloves. Of course, I forgot.

At the following week’s rehearsal you dropped this in my lap. It was hot. It was a homemade rice bag, fresh out of the church microwave. It fit in my hand perfectly.

I love you.


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What Every Mother Needs


When I was a little girl I used to love to creep into my parent’s bedroom when my mother was busy and open up her lingerie drawer.

Inside were all kinds of beautiful, silky fabrics, but what was most wonderful was the smell. My mother would stash fancy soaps among her delicates and it made the contents of the drawer smell like whispering flowers. Then I would peek over the dresser at the mirrored tray that held the exquisitely shaped bottles filled with gold, pink, and amber-colored liquids. On the bottles were printed names like Sand & Sable, Youth-Dew, and Beautiful. I remember watching my mother dab a little perfume on her wrists, neck and behind her ears. I loved hugging my mother and getting a whiff of some blossomy, botanical scent. She always smelled fresh and flowery, like an angel holding a bouquet. Sometimes I would secretly squirt some on myself when she wasn’t looking, so that I could smell like her.

Fast forward twenty-five years. I am a mother of five, and my clothes are constantly covered in some sort of human slime. I spend my most of my time cleaning up after dogs and children, three of whom are male. Do I need to elaborate?

Sometimes I feel as if my day is just a series of cleaning up different varieties of poop. My room frequently smells like a recently changed diaper. My laundry room smells of mildewed rags, and my garage smells of the cat litter box. And then there is the van, a graveyard of dirty socks and half-eaten bananas. Much of my life as a mom is spent battling one odor after another.

I know I am not alone in this, since as mothers, we (meaning our clothes, our hair and our bodies) are literally the catch-all for every type of unmentionable fluid in a variety of viscosities.  Our bodies are loved, battered, climbed on, lunged at, and we are our children’s most favorite pillow, punching bag, pacifier, dish towel and jungle gym. Sometimes it feels like our bodies aren’t even our own. But such is our glorious plight: we are not frigid, far-off, oxygen-deprived planets. We are mini Mother Earths . . . giving, nourishing, replenishing, and also getting polluted upon by all the little inhabitants that depend on us for survival.

One day I went to help in the nursery at our church. I believe I was pregnant at the time. I was with two other women and we started talking about smells. Good smells, bad smells, intentional smells, cover-up smells. We discussed the scents of different types of gum and finally we concluded with the memories of our mothers’ perfume. Instantly I found myself as a seven-year-old again, opening my mother’s drawer and inhaling.

It was then that I realized I hadn’t worn perfume since college. I didn’t even own perfume. And for good reason. What was the point? After you have kids it seems like such an extravagance, and all for nothing. Who is going to smell you? Who is going to appreciate it? No one really cares. Your husband will love you no matter what you smell like . . . right?

I chewed on this thought for a couple days.

After thinking it through, I went to my husband and made a proclamation.

“I’m going to buy something completely frivolous,” I said.

“What is that?” He asked.

“I am going to buy a bottle of perfume,” I said. I let the thought soak for a moment. Then I added, “Expensive perfume.”

Interestingly, my announcement went unchallenged.

And I knew exactly what fragrance I wanted. I had breathed it in on a friend several years earlier and when I asked her what it was she said, “Poeme.” Could there be a more peaceful, blissful name?

So I went to the fragrance counter in a glittery department store and asked for a small . . . no . . . a medium sized bottle. The woman rang up the price. I gulped. I could buy a lot of things with the amount of money it cost. Several days worth of groceries. Four huge bags of dog food. Three boxes of diapers. I have always prided myself on being a practical person. Scott calls me his “low-maintenance beauty queen.” What was I doing, spending all of this money on something that had no purpose? How had I become so materialistic?

I swiped my card. The woman behind the counter put the golden perfume box in a glossy bag and included some free samples of cosmetics. I took the bag from the store, clutching it to my chest wondering if I had just exchanged the family farm for fool’s gold.

That was over two years ago.

I am on my second bottle now. I wear it almost every day. Sometimes I catch a whiff of it on my daughters, which makes me smile, and I have my own ways of knowing that my husband does not regret my purchase, which makes me smile even more. But mostly it is for me, to help me–as the cleaner of children and dogs and toilets and garages–to feel at the very least human, and at the very most a beautiful one.

Every mother needs something that makes her feel human. When your world is in constant chaos, when every day is just a repeat of the last, when you wonder if you have accomplished anything of worth, and when your efforts in civilizing the next generation are shredded like cheese in a grater, you need to have something within your control. You might not be able to control the wild little primates around you, but you can still lift yourself up to some level of refinement, with the hope that eventually the primates will evolve and follow your example.

For me, this means splurging on a bottle of perfume that is slightly more expensive than I can afford. But for you it might be different.  It could be as simple as a shower. Or a fluffy towel that is only yours. Or trimming your nails. Or getting a haircut. Or having time to run in the morning.  But you must have something, even if it is just making your bed in the morning, so that you can prove you are a lady and not a mountain man.  Because sooner or later in your day–it will happen, you know it will–all hell will break loose, and when that happens you can take a deep breath and say, “at least I made my bed this morning,” or “at least I exercised,” or “I know things are crazy right now, but I smell darn good.”

I have a good friend from college. We worked together during the summer at an outdoor camp. We rode horses, we climbed trees, we slept in tipis, we canoed, we dug latrines, we cleaned outhouses. We went days without showering, and we slept the whole summer under the stars. Now she has kids of her own. Once she called me out of the blue and we caught up on each other’s lives. “You’ll never believe this, Chelsea,” she said, “but now, I wear pearls.”

I can believe it.


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The Last Hurrah

School starts tomorrow. That means we are back to a schedule. Back to lessons. Back to hanging out in the dreaded Great Van of Happiness after school. But before the summer is all swallowed up in regimented learning, Scott and I wanted to take our kids on one last camping trip. A trip they would never forget. An adventure to end all other adventures. The mother of all excursions. Something . . . epic.

This is what we came up with.

Day One: Swim at Stone Mountain

There are a lot of waterfalls that come off of this huge mountain. Most of which have signs on them that say: “If you swim here you will probably die.” In fact, there is a special place in one of the parking lots labeled “Ambulance Parking Only.”  We went to one of the “safer” waterfalls. This one just had a sign that said “Danger, slippery rocks.” And yes, they were slippery. Wonderfully slippery!

IMG_7052IMG_7037 IMG_7057 IMG_7083IMG_7140 IMG_7147It was beautiful and magical.

It was the perfect place to stage a kiss. If you are into that sort of thing. IMG_7101(Well how do you think we got five kids?)

When we were done we grabbed our towels and drove across the border to our favorite campsite in Virginia. It was raining when we set up our camp, but no one gets wet who camps with Scott Dyreng. We spent a toasty night in our hammocks getting our rest because the next day we would be biking. Seventeen miles.


Day Two: Bike down the Virginia Creeper Trail

IMG_7194Welcome to Damascus, headquarters of one of the coolest bike trails in the country. They even have a shuttle service to get you up the mountain, because yes, all seventeen miles is downhill.

I count going down this trail as one of my top ten favorite experiences of the past decade. IMG_5779Golly Mister, that’s a lot of bikes.

We crossed about 20 bridges left over from when this trail was a railroad.
IMG_7153We saw wildlife, like these black snakes, sunning themselves.

And there were waterfalls all along the way.

This is Levi, chillin’ in his chariot.IMG_7170IMG_7171

We even brought our dog.IMG_7188

As you can see, my assassination attempts have failed. Not only does he live, but he is pampered.


Of course, we had a couple of crashes, and we documented each crash for posterity. Luckily all the crashes occurred in mud so they were all in slow motion.

We carried the evidence of our journey on our backs the rest of the day.

When we finished it was back to base camp for watermelon, Mountain House dinners, popcorn over the fire, and a good night sleep.

Day Three: Hike Grayson Highlands, VA

The next morning we got up, had a gigantic breakfast (including donuts brought by some morning visitors!) and headed out on the final leg of our epic trip. We were on the hunt for Grayson Highland’s famous wild ponies. IMG_5772

All along the path we found these: IMG_5774

And these: IMG_7204And these:IMG_0209

The hills were filled with berries and cows, but no ponies. So we split our group and sent scouts ahead to see if they could find them.

We knew the ponies would be discovered sooner or later.

IMG_7210 As the great optimist Scott Kelly says, “Where there is this much manure, there’s gotta be a pony!”

In the meantime we picked berries.


And did berry experiments. We made berry honey, mashed berry jam, and exploding berry and peanut butter sandwiches. Mmmm . . .to die for.

There was even time to take naps in the shade. IMG_5681

In the end we didn’t find the ponies. . . the ponies found us!

As you can see, they are pretty tame wild ponies (except for the one that bit Danny’s shoulder).

What do you do when you are surrounded by tame ponies?

You take pony selfies!

And then it was time to start heading back. Back to schedules, back to lessons, back to school.

IMG_5767We will miss you, Virginia. Until we meet again.

We drove back home Saturday night. By Sunday morning I already had a dream of our next adventure.

We went skydiving.

In the Bahamas.

Scotty, are you game?


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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 . . .



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Back When I Was Queen

Long ago, in a land far away, I was once a queen.


I come from a long line of queens, actually. My mother was a rodeo queen and Miss Malibu (don’t you just love the sound of that? Miss Malibuuuuu) and my aunt was BYU’s Homecoming Queen. My other aunts and sisters were all royalty of one sort or another, and my nieces are carrying on the tradition. My claim to fame was that I was Miss Ricks College.

Wait. You’ve never heard of Ricks College?

That is because they changed their name. Now it is BYU-Idaho. It is a lot bigger, and more glorious. And they don’t do pageants.

But that is okay, because I was also Idaho’s Jr. Miss.

Oh . . . you’ve never heard of that either?

That is because they don’t call it Jr. Miss anymore. It is “Distinguished Young Woman.”

Yes, it is sad to say, but although I was royal for two moments in my life it doesn’t even matter since both titles are now obsolete.  Not even my kids are impressed. In fact, they know very little about how amazing I used to be. Here is a recent example.

Me: (Singing Maria from West Side Story in the kitchen) Maria, I just met a girl named Maria…

Dan: Mom, please stop singing.

Me: Why not? Don’t you like this song?

Dan: I don’t like your voice.

Me: Oh. Am I a bad singer?

Dan: Yes.

Me: Danny, did you know that I am actually a very good singer? And that I used to sing in front of thousands of people? And when I was finished they would clap?

Dan: (with doubtful expression) Really?

Me: And people gave me awards!

Dan: (even more doubtful expression) Are you sure?

Me: Yes! Okay. What if I sang something else?

Dan: Please. No more Maria music.

Me: What would you like me to sing?

Dan: Radioactive.

Me: I’m wakin’ up to ash and dust, wipe my brow and sweat my rust . . . 

Dan: (plugging his ears in agony)

Me: Am I embarrassing you?

Dan: Yes. Maybe you should whistle instead.

Me: Okay. (whistling) Is that better?

Dan: MUCH.

So since my talents go unappreciated and my crown is in a box, I’ve decided to auction off my crown at my upcoming family reunion (it is a family auction to raise money for future family reunions).

Still, when I take it out of the box, I remember those big, shining moments on stage, singing into the hot lights, making my parents proud. Especially my dad.  When I became Homecoming Queen my dad bought a new suit just so he could walk me out on to the football field.

It drove my mom crazy when she and my father would watch me perform because my dad did not watch me, instead he turned around in his seat with a big smile on his face, preferring to watch the people behind him, while they watched me.

But times have changed. I found this illustration in a magazine when my girls were babies and it has hung in my kitchen ever since.


I love it because my children are my crown now.

And now, as my children get older and more proficient in their own talents,  it is me that is turning around in my seat, watching the audience watch my kids.

When I was a teenager my heart would beat like a hammer before performances. But now, as I watch my children perform my heart doesn’t just beat. It leaps out of my chest. It swells. It is painful and glorious at the same time.

I much prefer watching now.

I guess I could wear my crown when I do dishes or vacuum. Maybe I should wear it when I drive The Great Van of Happiness. I could wave at other drivers. Howdy, folks.

They say that every girl is a princess, so it stands to reason that every woman must be a queen. So how come no one ever says that?

Well I’m saying it. We are all queens. Queens of our homes. Queens to our husbands. Queens of our families. Queens of our lives.

So maybe at the auction I might just buy my crown back.

You’ll know if you drive up next to me and see me waving at you from my van.


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