Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Great Van of Happiness

Do your kids fight? Yeah, I know. Mine don’t either. Especially in the car.

I calculated how much time I’ve spent in the van this last year just picking the kids up from two different schools (an hour wait time between schools) and taking them to their lessons. I’m not good with numbers, but I think the total was in the millions.

We spend a lot of time in that box.

My kids are good kids. They love each other. They help each other. They do secret acts of kindness for each other. But when it is time to get in the van they turn into flesh-eating piranhas. It is as if some seats in the van are made of solid gold and other seats are barbed wire. The back seat, especially. You would think by listening to the cries of distress and agony as they make their way to the back that they are on their way to the electric chair.   And my children, none of them being shrinking violets, will defend their right to sit in their desired seat with volcanic passion.

So yes, I admit it. We are car fighters. Thank you in advance for all the advice you are going to give me in response to this post. I welcome it with open arms. But I want to assure you that trying to stop the fighting is a short road to insanity.

Imagine being strapped into a box for an unknown amount of time with nothing to do and no power to escape. Meanwhile the person next to you is poking you in the eye or yelling in your ear or trying to steal your food.  I think in the adult world we would call this “a hostage situation.”  It should be no surprise that children don’t like it, either.

We have moments of happiness. We do. I think there was a time a couple weeks ago that we laughed.

Seriously, though, most of the time the kids find plenty to do. We listen to books on cd, we sing with granola bar microphones, and we play quiz games. I bring snacks, they draw, they write stories, and there is always a lot of reading going on (for those who can).

But the fighting escalates whenever they get in or get out of the van. And who can blame them? Because of the baby’s car seat they are left with one door to squeeze through. (Except for the Golden Child who gets to avoid all the commotion by nabbing the front seat.)

After weeks of the same, predictable fighting, I desperately wanted to turn our van time into something more positive. So I did what any mother who has problems would do: I made a chart. The idea was that the children would rotate seats every week.  The chart was beautiful and simple, and in a burst of optimism I decided to call the chart “The Great Van of Happiness.”

We’ve used The Great Van of Happiness for about a year now with mixed results. Here is my brief report.

It doesn’t matter if the chart says this: IMG_6715 Or this: IMG_6716

The children always feel like this:

But we still use it because it is the best thing we’ve got.

It is flawed, because everyone has to rotate to the back seat but not everyone gets to rotate to the very front “favorite child” seat because some are too young.

Fireworks also come out when people forget to check the Great Van of Happiness chart before they sit in their seats and then there is a great bottleneck of kids in the doorway of the van, some sitting, some half-standing and all of them snapping at each other.

“Well what does the Great Van of Happiness say?”

“I don’t know. You check it!”

“No, you check it!”

I’ll check it,” says Danny who is holding my iphone. “Siri, what does the Great Van of Happiness say?”

Siri answered back with what she found on the web for “What does the Gravy Van of Happy Nests say.”

But there is hope.

Once a week we pick up a little neighbor friend from middle school and bring her home.  I try to reserve shotgun for her, not only because she is our guest, but also to give her some distance from the rest of the wolves, that her life might be spared. (She is an only child.) Sometimes, when she is sitting next to me and the battle is raging behind us she asks me in a very grown-up tone if I am going to do anything about it. Being that she is an outsider, I am always interested in any input.

“Well, do you have any good ideas?” I ask her, very sincerely.

She didn’t at first. Every now and then she would glance in the back as if she were observing from the other side of a mirror in an insane asylum and giving me the play-by-play. “Did you know that ____ is undoing his seat belt? Did you know that _____ is biting ______? Did you know that _____ just threw ______’s ______ out the window?”

Towards the end of the year our little friend had had enough. Driving home, amid the normal and terrible sounds of choking, whining and attempted strangulation she asked, “Miss Chelsea (because that is how we address people here in the South), do you mind if I read?”

“Of course not. You don’t need to ask.” After all, when they are not torturing each other that is what Dyrengs do best. (Those over five years old, anyway.) I was assuming she was just going to read to herself. But she had no intention of doing that.  She opened up a book and cleared her throat.

“Chapter One,” she announced loudly.

Everyone went quiet.  You could have heard a Cheerio drop. It was as if someone had suddenly stuffed peanut butter in everyone’s mouth. And miraculously everyone stayed quiet the entire way home. Peace. Tranquility. Hope for the future. Once we arrived home I tried to refrain from kissing her little red head.

When we picked her up the next week she again read to everyone, plunging the van into another deep, meditative silence. The book was not particularly interesting (in fact it was a book on how to play video games, something that seems very odd to me) but there was something about the loud, constant cadence of her voice that mesmerized everyone. I had to keep checking everyone in my rear view mirror to make sure they weren’t in comas.

Who knew that adding a sixth child to the mix would calm things down? Unfortunately school is now finished, and the Great Van of Happiness will have to do with out our neighbor until next year. Or perhaps her mother will let us adopt her for the summer. Or I could pay her.

In the meantime there is not much I can do except keep reminding my kids that they are all important no matter what seat they have to sit in, and that no one in the Great Van of Happiness is mouse droppings. Sometimes we just have to bloom where we are planted. Even if it is in the very back seat.


Filed under Uncategorized

An Unintended Consequence

Long ago, in a land far away, Scott and I were the owners of a pest control business. The name of the company, if you must know, was Aardvark Aeration & Pest Control.


One freezing cold Saturday morning Scott woke me up early. He wanted me to help him test the brake lights on the trailer. He needed to make sure everything was running smoothly before spring began, and I was his lucky helper.

I was exceedingly unenthusiastic about this venture, especially when it meant sacrificing sleep and a nice warm bed. But I was a dutiful wife so I obliged. We put on our heavy coats, left our cozy apartment, and walked out into the frigid early morning air. The frosted grass crunched under our feet as we headed to the Datsun. Icicles hung from under the truck and entering the vehicle (which had no heating) was like shutting yourself in a freezer.  I shrank into my coat as I bounced along in the passenger seat trying to muster up a good attitude.

There was not a soul on the streets. All intelligent beings were still at home.

When we got to the storage units, Scott had to punch a code into a key pad so the mechanical arm would raise up and let us into the facility. Once we reached the unit where the trailer was stored, Scott hooked the trailer to the Datsun.

While Scott pushed the breaks and fiddled with the wiring inside the truck, I stood at my post behind the trailer on the frost-covered gravel.

Scott: Are they on?

Chelsea: No.

It was cold, standing there in my pajamas and coat, with my hands shoved in my pockets.

Scott: Are they on now?

Chelsea: No.

I started jumping up and down to create body heat.

Scott: How about now?

Chelsea: Nope.

By now my nostrils were starting to freeze together. I’m pretty sure that is final stage of hypothermia.

Scott: Are they on now?

Chelsea: No.

Finally the wires were connected and the lights came on. Hallelujah. We got in, slammed the doors and headed toward the exit of the storage unit facility. As we neared the exit, I noticed some words printed in cursive along the mechanical arm. Absent-mindedly I read them out loud:

“Thank you for the privilege of serving you.”

A smile broke out on my husband’s face. “Well, Chelsea,” Scott said, “I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for being willing to come out with me even though it is so early and cold. I really appreciate it.”

He reached for my hand.

It took my mind a couple seconds to realize what just happened. By some incredible accident I had unknowingly expressed appreciation for doing something I didn’t want to do, and it produced the most unexpected and pleasant response! His reaction was filled with gratitude, even though I hadn’t meant a word of what I said. It warmed up the whole morning and I felt that yes, indeed, it is a privilege to serve.

I still think of this experience all the time.

Small sacrifices.

Kind words.

The joy of being needed.

And the great privilege it is to serve the one you love.


Filed under Uncategorized

Cover Reveal

cenote cover final

I know. It looks beautiful.

And totally creepy.

Doesn’t that make you want to read it!?

Perhaps some of you who have been following my blog might not think this seems like the type of book I would write, but don’t worry. When you start reading it you’ll know it was written by me. Sure, it is about village set on the ruins of an ancient Mayan temple, and there is some strange sinister thing that is happening to all the men in the village, and yes, several characters suffer very inglorious and undignified deaths, but I can’t write much of anything without having it center around about kids and women and marriage and all that good stuff, too.  Suspenseful, yes. A little creepy, yes. A page turner? For sure. And funny? Of course.

Here are some FAQs:

How do you pronounce the title?

The title is pronounced “say-no-tay”

What is a cenote?

It is a naturally forming limestone well that exposes the aquaphor. They are all over in the Yucatan. The ancient Mayans used them for drinking water and to sacrifice virgins. Now-a-days they are very fun to swim in.

Did you have any say in what the cover was going to look like?

Surprisingly, yes. I gave my publisher several ideas and they totally grabbed one and ran with it. I think they did a great job! It is totally better than anything I imagined.

Whose arm is that?

You’ll have to read the book.

No, really, whose arm is that?

I’m not sure . . . I’ll have to ask the cover designer. Maybe it is hers.

What is your book about?

It is about a marriage, a village, and a secret that waits at the bottom of a pool of water.

When is the release date?

Nov 10

Where will I be able to buy it?

Not sure yet, but so far it will definitely be in the Cedar Fort catalog, Amazon and hopefully Deseret Book.

Thanks for taking a peek! I’ll give you more info, including how to pre-order your own copy, in the months to come!


Filed under Uncategorized

Five Favorite Poems

My eleven-year-old came home the other day telling me that her English teacher is starting a really boring unit. For the next few weeks they are going to be studying poetry. She said the word poetry in the same tone she says the words clean the bathroom.

And this is my child?

I, the lover of all types of poetry? I, collector of great books of poems? I, the woman who hosted wild, ruckus Poetry Nights with my friends for years when my daughters were wee babes?  This is my child?

I wanted to explain to her that poetry is how people put love and hate and fear and hope into words we can feel. I wanted her to understand that good poetry, really good poetry is like a secret code that you have to decipher, and the best poems have a last line that hits you straight in the heart. I wanted her to know that reading good poetry outloud is like having your mouth filled with chocolate.  Poetry is about passion, child! Passion!

But all I could muster up at the moment was a flabbergasted, “But poetry is so cool!”

My daughter shrugged. “If you say so.”

Okay, so it will take some time for me to convert her. In the meantime, April is National Poetry Month so let’s get the party started! Here are some of my favorite poems:

1. I Stop Writing the Poem by Tess Gallagher

I once told a very wise woman that I had a dream to write books but that I planned to dutifully wait until all my children were in school. She laughed at me and said that if I did that I would loose all my inspiration. She was right. Since then I have tried to weave my writing in with my mothering and wifer-ing and it has worked out better than I had hoped. There are plenty of times I have to stop writing to fold shirts. Or do laundry. Or listen. It is all part of what women do. But without those children tugging at our sleeves and asking questions, what would there be to write about?

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.


2. Master Speed by Robert Frost

I think about this poem when I think about the power of marriage.

Master Speed

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.


3. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

I read this poem when Facebook gets too much for me to handle.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


4. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Every poem by this woman is phenomenal. This one is my favorite.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.


5. Ode on Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth

This is just a bite of a much longer poem (but it is the best bite).  I taped this (and other poems) to the kitchen cupboard while my daughter Naomi had colic and memorized them while I held her and walked back and forth, back and forth. Can’t remember them now, though, so that is why I have to keep reading them…

Ode on Imitations of Immortality

 Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting 
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
From God, who is our home.


Thanks for reading. I feel much better now.cropped-vitamin-c-nicole2.jpg




Filed under Uncategorized, writing

Successful Church Choirs

Here are some thoughts I’ve had about directing church choir. We’ll start with the hardest thing first.

How to get people to come (Hint: it is not by bringing cookies)

This is probably the biggest hurtle for choir directors. After all, why should people come to your choir? It is not a required meeting. Only you and your pianist have to be there, and few are the souls kind enough to sit through three (or more) hours of meetings and cheerfully submit to a tedious choir rehearsal, too.  As the choir director you must recognize that you are not doing them a favor by directing the choir, they are doing you a favor by coming.  Do not waste their time. You must engage your choir at every moment.  And you must be prepared: have sharpened pencils ready for them. Have music for every member with a folder that they can write their name on. Know the music. Know where you want them to breathe, when to swell, when to diminish. If you show them you are dedicated and ready to work, they will come.

Another way to think of it is to imagine you are a sports team trying to recruit all-stars into your program. One blanket email out to the ward does nothing to bring people to choir. Zero. You need to create loyalty. A fan base. A following. You do this the old-fashioned way: by asking them individually if they will come. Calling them on the phone, sending a personal invitation through email telling them how much you need their help, and thanking them individually afterward.

How to keep their attention

More people will come to your choir if your rehearsal is fast-paced and there is some sense of urgency. I always have performance-driven choirs. That means we never rehearse just to rehearse: we have a date set to perform and it is only two weeks away. If you have too many rehearsals people will pick and choose which ones they attend and you’ll never have a full choir till the last rehearsal. You need to have one less rehearsal than you think you need. That way there will be a sense of urgency.

Time management

This is so important! I have seen so many directors that rehearse the sopranos for 10 minutes the rest of the choir sits there, vegetating. While you are rehearsing the sopranos, tell everyone else to hum their own part. Or have them sing the soprano line too, that way the sopranos can have more support. Tell the tenors, “watch your music while I rehearse these sopranos so by the time I get to you your part will be perfect” and hold them to it. And if you keep rehearsing a part and it isn’t working, send that section into a room by themselves with a capable musician to plunk out the notes so they don’t take time away from the rest of the choir.  Always try to make sure everyone is engaged, somehow.

Most importantly:  At least 85% of the time in rehearsal people should be singing, not listening to you talk They don’t want to hear you talk. They have been listening to people talk all day. They came to sing! So keep your comments and directions to 15% of the rehearsal time. Or less.  Also, never let your rehearsal go over an hour, because if you do they will never come back.

How to make them sound good

This takes a college degree. Seriously. People get their college degrees in choral conducting. It is a serious gig, folks. And people who do this know all the techniques to get people to sing as one: dynamics, diction, placement, diphthongs. Most of us don’t know all that stuff and never will. The average ward choir director can help the choir learn their notes and put in a few dynamics and that is about it. So what do you do if you know nothing about directing choirs? Be a leader. Decide how you want the song to sound and tell them what to do. You don’t have to know all the right musical jargon. A choir director who knows little about music but is a good leader is ten times better than a choir director who knows a lot about music and is not a good leader.

One common mistake I see a lot of choir directors make is that they ask their choir for advice. “What do you think we should do here?” “Do you guys want to do it this way or that way?” No. Stop. You decide what you want them to do. You are their leader. Being in a choir with a wishy-washy leader is like following a blind man through a desert. If you are prepared, and you know the song and what you want to do with it, than you will be able to lead with confidence.

Tone-deaf people

Because this is a church choir we don’t exclude anyone based on race, creed, sex or . . . tone deafness. If you have a tone-deaf person come to your choir do not spend a lot of time hashing through notes that they will never be able to match. That will waste the choir’s time and it may make that person feel embarrassed. Welcome tone-deaf people into the choir with open arms, and whenever you hear that low (or high) droning just be glad they are there and they have the heart and willingness to sing.

Last but not least!

Treat your accompanist like a king or queen that he/she is. You would be nowhere without them. Make sure they have the music in advance, make sure they know about the rehearsals. Praise them. Give them credit. And when it is all over make sure you thank them. They are your most loyal ally in this terrifying yet extremely rewarding calling.



Filed under Strange Mormon Customs, Uncategorized

Talking to a Child Who Does Not Want to Talk to You

Several years ago I was in a quaint, small-town bookstore. As I chatted with the sixties-something bookstore owner she noticed my three daughters. “Are those girls yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said proudly.

“Hmmm . . . ” she said, stroking her chin. “Come with me.” She beckoned me to an obscure corner of her store, and, glancing furtively at my girls, she leaned in close to my ear.  “Let me give you some advice,” she said in a low voice. “Someday, when your girls get older they will want nothing to do with you. They will not even want to talk to you.”

“No,” I reassured her, “Not my gir–”

“Listen closely,” she interrupted, “and I will tell you what to do when that happens.”

Then she whispered to me her secret. It was truly brilliant. I tucked her advice away in my mind so that I would be able to use it someday “when my daughters want nothing to do with me” (which of course will never happen). I will share her secret with you.

But first I am going to tell you another story.

I was that child once.

I was that child that didn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. My rebellion hit when I was in my second year of college; the year I fell in love with Trouble.

My parents were frightened for me. My brothers were disappointed in me. My sisters prayed for me. Everyone did all they could to persuade me and admonish me and warn me that I was dating Bagley Family Enemy #1, but I wouldn’t listen. Why? Because when you are 19, very few things matter more than a 6’4″ green-eyed boy who also happens to be an excellent kisser.

Around the time all of this was happening I went to Wal-Mart with my dad. Just before we checked out he grabbed a stuffed bear from the shelf.

“Why are you buying that?” I asked him.

My dad shrugged mysteriously. “Just in the mood.”

In the mood to buy stuffed animals? I thought. Dad, you are weird.  I eyed him suspiciously as he paid for his purchases and we left the store, the bear tucked under his arm.

“So . . . are you going to name him?” I asked as we walked to his truck, wondering what my mom was going to think that night when my dad cuddled up with his bear.

“Who?” he said.

“The bear,” I said. “What are you going to name him?”

“Oh, yes.” Thoughtful pause. “Him.”


“Yes. His name is Him.”

On that bewildering note my dad put the bear down in the backseat, drove me to my apartment and dropped me off.

A few weeks went by. Awesome weeks. Trouble and I went on long drives, we ate out a lot, we laughed a lot, we kissed . . . a lot.  All the while I knew I was creating quite a panic on the home front.  And as I desired to be with Trouble more and more, I visited home less and less. After all, why would I want to go home only to get reprimanded? Trouble made me happy. Trouble was all that mattered.  Me + Trouble = True Love.

Then, early one morning, I opened the apartment door to leave for my campus job. There on the doorstep sat a vaguely familiar stuffed animal.

It was Him.

Under his paw there was an envelope with my name on it.

I brought the bear inside the apartment, sat down and opened the letter. “Dear Chelsea,” it read. “This is a letter to Him. Since Him cannot read, I was hoping you could read it out loud to Him.”

Okay . . . I thought. My dad truly is the King of Weirdness. But, I sighed, if he took the time to bring this bear to my apartment in the middle of the night I decided to at lease humor him. I read the note (out loud, as directed) to the bear. It wasn’t anything ground breaking. Just a letter about life and working through tough decisions.

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was trying to do. A few days later there was another letter on the doorstep addressed to Him, presumably for me to read out loud.  Then letters started coming in the mail, too. It was happening so often that my roommates were getting thrills every time a “Him letter” showed up. And even though I stopped reading them out loud (too many ears in those apartments!) I secretly began to look forward to the letters because a.) my dad was a funny man who did unpredictable things, and  b.) I wasn’t as happy with Trouble as I wished I was.  Trouble was a good kisser . . . and that was about it.

My dad wrote to Him about everything: decision making, being wise, having an eternal perspective, and even techniques on how to get to sleep.  He drew diagrams and pictures so Him (who had a small brain) could understand.

I did finally break up with Trouble. And then we got back together. Then we broke up again.  Finally Trouble went on a mission, but it wasn’t until he came home two years later that I finally pounded the last nail in the coffin of our love. Believe me, Trouble is hard to shake off.

The letters to Him weren’t what saved me from getting into serious problems with this young man. But the letters to Him kept me connected with my dad in a unique and vital way. The fact that my dad took the time to make his messages creative told me that he loved me but did not want to offend me. And because his method was so strangely endearing I didn’t have the heart to get defensive about the advice I was getting. Each letter was a gentle reminder that I was loved and I was being prayed for, and most of all, that I was being trusted to make the right choice on my own.


Now, back to the bookstore owner who had me cornered in her store.

This is what she told me:

You will need a bag of mini marshmallows, some tooth picks and a little candle. Late at night (when people are most willing to share their deepest dreams and fears) invite one of your girls to the kitchen table. (You must only do this with one child at a time.) Light the candle. Turn off the lights. Stick the little marshmallows on the toothpicks. Roast your marshmallows. Because the candle is so small you will have to sit very close to each other. Because you are doing something edible she will not leave. And because you are doing something unpredictable she will know that you care. Then let her talk, and you listen.


I’ve already done this with two of my kids, with magical results. (I am starting this method early, as a preventative measure.)

It is our job as parents to remind, correct, discipline and warn. But it is worth remembering that kids may not always listen to words, but they always listen to love.


“If a man’s heart is rankling with discord and ill feeling toward you, you can’t win him to your way of thinking with all the logic in Christendom. Scolding parents and domineering bosses and husbands, and nagging wives ought to realize that people don’t want to change their minds. They can’t be forced or driven to agree with you or me. But they may possibly be led to if we are gentle and friendly, ever so gentle and ever so friendly.”   –Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People


Filed under Parenting, Uncategorized

Dear Utah

Dear Utah: We have your snow.


It arrived in the middle of the night and dusted our world in white gloriousness.


We will not be giving it back.


In fact, I think we will eat it.


Thank you for sharing.





1 bucket of snow

1 can evaporated milk

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 Comment

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Friends for Life

Sometimes I think that the friendships my children have right now are fleeting and won’t add up to much later on. But then I remember this:


Nicki and I, all dressed up for the 5th grade Thanksgiving play


This is Nicki Hunter, my best friend in middle school. I moved away from Jackson when I was 12 and we never saw each other again . . . . until last week.


Nicki and I, twenty-five years later

We knew of each other’s whereabouts, but we didn’t contact each other until the miracle of Facebook. As luck would have it, she and my mom now live in the same mountain town in Wyoming. So last week I stopped by to see her. All of our kids are about the same ages, including these two, who are just a few weeks apart.

When one makes a friend in childhood those ties can last a lifetime.  Thanks, Nicki, for being my friend for so long!

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How To Sing The National Anthem


The National Anthem and I have a long, bittersweet history. I have performed this song for firesides, basketball games, gymnastic meets, scouting events, baseball games, rodeos and horse races. I have sung before audiences of ten and ten thousand. In the 20 years that the Star Spangled Banner and I have been sharing the stage we have had our moments of great glory and complete humiliation.

If you are ever asked to sing this song in public, by yourself, I would warn you that the experience is not for the faint of heart. Here are some tips from an old anthem veteran:

2 weeks before you are scheduled to sing– Review all the lyrics as often as possible. Remember, this could be your MGM (moment of great magnificence), or it could be your MTMYSAYWTTYOSSW (moment that makes you so ashamed you want to throw yourself out a second story window).  Get to know the words intimately. Think of them when you go to sleep at night. Think of them in the morning. Walk around the grocery store whispering the anthem under your breath, just to make sure you can sing the words in any situation and any circumstance. Get those words so cemented in your mind that if someone asks you “Do you know what the time is?” you say, “the twilight’s last gleaming.”

1 week before—Find a place where you can sing at full throttle. Ideally where no one else can hear you. Closets are good. Bathrooms are even better. Most people know the Star Spangled Banner was originally a poem by Francis Scott Key while he was watching the Burning of Washington in 1814. (I say most people. I knew one woman who publicly credited Orson Scott Card for writing the National Anthem.) But did you know there are actually four verses to the National Anthem? We only sing the first and, ironically, it ends with a question mark. Which, when you are in the midst of preparing to perform the song, seems appropriate since one never knows what will happen during an a capella performance. Singing a capella is like rock climbing without ropes. No matter how skilled or how experienced you are there is still the possibility that you will fall to your death.

1 day before– You will probably wake up with a nagging feeling that something you fear is following you around. Oh yes. It is the National Anthem.  Keep singing the lyrics over and over, and make sure you get the “gleaming” before the “streaming” and not the other way around. Of course the most important notes are the first three: Oh-oh, say. Those are important because if you do not get the right pitch from the beginning you will not be singing a high E and the end, but something much worse, like a high M, and you might have to resort to some awful “trick” to cover up like pretend like you are crying. Which I have done before and is not very convincing.

5 hours before—Around this time you will become hypersensitive about your throat.  You will probably clear your throat obsessively and swallow at least 35 times per minute. This is normal. Never in your life will you be so worried or aware of the amount of mucus in the back of your throat. Drink water, but not cold water. Gargle if you have to. Nothing can sabotage your performance!

1 hour before– You will probably start feeling shaky. Don’t be surprised if you get a headache, break out in hives, or have sudden episodes of bonelessness. Just practice singing it again a couple times, just to be sure. It is a challenging song and too much practicing is not good for your voice, so don’t overdo it, but you can keep reviewing those first three notes: oh-oh say. oh-oh say. oh-oh-say. Like I said, those first three notes will determine whether or not you can inspire patriotism in hundreds of beating hearts or if you will have to grab your keys and make a quick exit.

30 minutes before–You arrive at the event. Usually by this point my throat is dry and my eyebrow is twitching like goldfish that has been flipped out on the counter. If that happens to you, just remember that the National Anthem is always the first thing on the program so soon you can get back to being normal again. You might look down and notice the words to the anthem are printed on the program. Now everyone, you realize, even the people who don’t know the anthem, will be able to follow along and will know exactly which words you mix up. Or forget. Like that one time that I performed at a horse race when I was seventeen. I couldn’t remember “whose broad stripes and bright stars” so I sang the only words that came to my mind: the rocket’s red glare. The only problem was it wasn’t time to sing “the rockets red glare.” But by then my mind had gone blank and I couldn’t remember any other line, so I sang “the rocket’s red glare” three more times until finally I got to the right place in the song and belted out AND THE ROCKETS RED GLARE! THE BOMBS BURSTING IN AIR! And I have never been so grateful for bombs before. So perhaps there is an Orson Scott Card version after all.

15 minutes before–Make sure you take note of you appearance before you walk up to the stage. Are you showing anything you shouldn’t? I only mention this because one time I sang in jeans for a rodeo and had my fly down the entire time.

10 minutes before–The event begins and the emcee is welcoming everyone. You are getting hot flashes, cold flashes and weird luke-warm flashes all at once. Your trembling hands have twisted, crushed, and mangled the program and now it is on the floor in about six hundred pieces. But all of that is okay, because singing the National Anthem is one of the hardest songs for amateur singers to pull off, and produces the same biological chemicals that course through the veins of a cowboy straddling the back of a bull before the gate opens. I have no scientific evidence to support this, of course, except that I can see the whites of your eyes, the beads of sweat on your forehead and your face has drained itself of all pigment. Don’t worry, you are going to be grrrreat!

5 minutes before–Then the color guard marches out. They are just boys. Boys who will never remember you . . . unless you mess up. Then they will remember you forever, and on the playground the next day, they will impersonate you with astonishing accuracy using the same sound effects usually reserved for barnyard animals. That is the trouble with singing in public. No matter how many good parts you have in your performance it is only the mistake that people notice. That is why it must be flawless. You cannot fail. Oh-oh-say. Oh-oh-say. Keep repeating it.

3 minutes before–The announcer now says “please rise for The Pledge of Allegiance.” Are you okay? You look green. But don’t think green. Think red, white and blue! Here, breathe into this paper bag. And save the bag, just in case you need to put it over your head if you forget the words. Remember, Oh-oh-say, oh-oh-say, oh-oh-say. . . .

1 minute before–The colors have been posted and the flag is in its proper place, looking regal and majestic. Meanwhile you have laryngitis, bronchitis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever all at once, plus the tingling sensation of an invisible noose tightening around your neck. Your stomach is lurching, your knees are trembling, and your heart is racing. Just don’t forget to have fun!

30 seconds before–PLEASE REMAIN STANDING FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, says the emcee, and you start looking around for a fire alarm to pull. But instead you need talk to yourself. Take a couple deep breaths. Tell yourself you are awesome. You are a champ. But don’t pump yourself up too much because, after all, pride cometh before the fall.

Your dainty high heels thunder like barbells as you walk to the microphone. Ka-boom, Ka-boom Ka-boom. Try, at least, look like you are a queen, even though inside you feel like slime. Hold the mic in your hand like a wine glass, not a like you are gripping a helicopter skid that has you dangling over a canyon. Repeat in your mind: Oh-oh-say. Oh-oh-say. Do you have the right pitch? Are you sure? Are you positive? Well, it is too late now, so if you don’t, just look like you have the right pitch.

10 seconds before–But now you are center stage and there are three hundred pairs of eyes looking at you, making you feel as exposed as a freshly peeled banana, and the audience is hungry. There is no turning back now.

This reminds me of last summer when I sang this song before a crowd of 10,000. Yes, I said that right, 10,000. I won’t tell you where because I am also going to let you in on the secret: it was prerecorded. All I had to do was walk out there and lip sync. Perhaps the program director had heard the “Rockets Red Glare” story and decided to take preventative measures. The day before the performance I was taken to a small radio station and ushered into a recording studio. I belted out the anthem several times, and they took the best take. The next evening before the performance I was spared the pre-performance jitters and nausea knowing that this time there was no way I could mess up the words. I went out there and pretended like I was singing my heart out. It was luxurious.

But today is not prerecorded. It is all you. A capella. What is the exact translation of a capella, you ask? It means “loss of dignity, friends, and self-respect if you fail” in Italian, I think. But don’t think about that. Smile graciously and look over your audience. Make it look easy. Force yourself to do this thing you fear.

2 seconds–There is one more thing I forgot to tell you.

The song is a battle in itself. You are in a war against your fears. Will you succumb? Will you retreat? Or will you stand firm before the firing cannons? Will your flag still be flying at the end? Remember that being able to sing is not for you, but it is for others. Performing is a gift. Broaden your smile. Use your eyes and your face and your posture to let the audience know that you are not afraid. You are about to set off some fireworks.

And now begin:

Oh-oh say can you seeee. (Good. You got the most difficult line down. Good start, check. Good pitch, check. Now what was the next word? Oh yes–)

By the dawn’s early light. 

What so proudly we hailed, 

At the twilight’s last gleaming. (You passed the second great hurtle. I said “first gleaming” once at a minor league baseball game when I was twenty-three. That will never happen again.)

Whose broad strips and bright stars

Thru the per-o-lous fight (I know it is actually per-i-lous, but no one sings it that way.)

O’er the ramparts we watched

Were so gallantly streaming. (Thank heavens, you made it through the gleaming vrs. streaming part. The rest is easy, as long as you breathe.)

And the rockets’ red glare! (My favorite part.)

The bombs bursting in air! 

Gave proof through the night (now comes the most important line, the line that makes this song what it is)

That our flag WAS STILL THERE!

Oh say does that star spangled baaa—nnneeer ye-et wa-aave (Almost done. Now the entire audience is bracing themselves for the next line. Will you make it? Will you burn and die?)

O’er the land of the FREEEEEEEEEE! (Hold this out as long as humanly possible)

and the hooooommme–

of the–


And, like our beautiful flag, you are still standing: battered, exhausted and–miraculously–victorious. Now thank the Lord you were able to have this experience to sing one of the greatest songs ever written.

Play ball.


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My Mother: A Study in Great Fashion

  I am fortunate to have a wonderful mother.

I am also fortunate to have a lot of photos of her wonderful clothes.

This is Patsy, newly married. My dad called her his “raven-haired beauty.”


Bridal Veil Falls

Funny how fashions come back . . . I actually think I saw this very outfit in the Lands End catalog last week.


One of my favorite photos of my parents:



My parents loved to travel and this photo was taken in Mexico. scan0102

My mom could make any skirt look good.


My mom told me some old lady called her after church and told her that “a mother of four children shouldn’t wear skirts that short.” This bothered my mom for days until my dad told her that was the way he liked it. 

She also had a thing for red nightgowns.



For me? Oh, thank you! More clothes!

I’ve been looking for this sweater in thrift shops for years:scan0046 (3)

Berries taste better when you look good. scan0293

My mother was a perfect hostess….


…and the perfect centerpiece to any picnic.


This little green number was in our costume cupboard for years. We were all a little afraid to put it on.


Vanessa, my mom told me she lent this to you. She says she wants it back.

How I love my mom who made whatever she put on look stunning.


My mother bore seven children, travelled the word many times, planted hundreds of trees and served four missions. And she did it all with grace, courage and excellent style.

Love you, Mom!



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