Nephew Noah

At Christmas, we noticed Noah was a little pale, but he’d just gotten over a cold and an ear infection, so it seemed normal enough. Just a few days after we came home from our Christmas holiday, I received a strange Facebook message from my brother-in-law’s sweet sister, saying she wished she were closer and could do more. Please give Lisa and Dave and Noah an extra hug from me, she wrote. How scary for their family.

I was afraid and confused. When I called my sister, she was in the back of an ambulance with her baby, two-year-old Noah, driving four hours from home, to Primary Children’s Medical Center.

“Noah has leukemia,” Lisa told me—so calmly.

I was immediately in tears, heartbroken and mystified.

Thankfully, the over-production of white blood cells leaves behind salt deposits which cause pain in the joints. So Noah’s first symptom was alarming–he wouldn’t stand up on Friday morning, Lisa took him right to the doctor. A blood test came back with a remarkably high white blood count, which the doctor suggested could be a post-viral issue, but he referred them to Dr. Hancock at the hospital to be sure. Lisa knew Dr. Hancock from high school, and she knew he was an oncologist.

So by the time she talked to me, most of her tears for the day had been shed. She’d cried while waiting for the lab results and cried again when Dr. Hancock confirmed that her baby boy had leukemia. When I spoke to her just after she and Noah had arrived at Primary Children’s, she comforted me. Try not to worry too much, she said. I think everything is going to be all right.

Although reeling from the news herself, Lisa was calm and level headed, and continued to be throughout their weekend stay at the hospital, and every time I’ve talked to her since. In just a matter of days, Lisa and Dave were flooded with a tidal wave of information about treatment protocols, risk factors, and care standards, and somehow stayed afloat. Now they wear purple latex gloves when they change Noah’s diapers to protect against prolonged exposure to the chemicals that are coursing through his body. It’s incredible to think how abruptly they’ve come to inhabit this new world. And although it’s unwelcome, they have acclimated with such grace.

If you cross their little Noah, he will still call you a dummy (we blame his older siblings for that), and he likes the iPad just as much as he always has, but now—suddenly—he’s a cancer patient, and beneath the peek-a-boo laughs and silly eyes he makes, chemicals are running through his little veins, destroying white blood cells to make him well again.

Noah has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and his prognosis is excellent. It’s been treated with great success in children for many years, and Lisa and Dave and the doctors are all very hopeful. He’s responded well to his first treatments, except that he hates taking his oral medicine. And Lisa and Dave are moving forward so gracefully, taking each hospital visit and treatment and new piece of information in stride. They are feeling loved and supported by so many people who care about them, and we keep praying like crazy that they’ll all be blessed as they experience this hard, hard thing.


New Year’s Resolutions

I love lists—the declaring of intentions, pencil to paper, and the triumphant crossing off of completed tasks. I’ve been known to write something I’ve already finished on my to-do list, just for the satisfaction of drawing a line through it. You’ve done it, too…right?

And I love beginnings—the fresh start of a new project, the first of every month, and that clean slate anything-is-possible feeling.

I don’t always make New Year’s Resolutions but this year, over the holidays, I really felt the pull. Despite dismal statistics about the percentage of people who keep their New Year’s Resolutions, and my own limited success with previous resolutions, I just can’t help myself. The temptation to create a pretty list all about a bright new year is just too much.

Maybe this is the year I’ll be on time more often, plan (and cook!) regular great meals, finish that novel, or carve out more time for creativity. Dreaming about it feels so good, and maybe I won’t have perfected any of it by December 31, 2013, but I sure like the idea of trying.

Image by Viktor Hertz


Image by Scott Samuelson, printed by Anise Press

The presents are under the Christmas tree. The neat stacks of crazy shapes and sizes wrapped in the cutest paper make me smile. I loved planning for these gifts, and I loved wrapping them. I love seeing them waiting in all their colorful glory, and I will love watching my family open them tomorrow.

I’m thinking about other gifts this morning, gifts like love, faith, hope. Sometimes I feel like those gifts have been given to me, but I don’t open them. I don’t access the power and peace in them. I resist the change they offer. I’m inspired by the idea of being a good and grateful receiver, and this year, I’m hoping to open and enjoy every gift I have received.

Image carved by Scott Samuelson, printed by Anise Press.


Thinking of Newtown

Like you, I’m shocked and saddened by Friday’s news. Heartsick, crying, and praying for the children, parents, teachers, and others whose hearts are broken.

My column on Design Mom runs on Mondays, and I knew I couldn’t write about what I’d originally planned. It seemed wrong to write about anything but Sandy Hook, and yet, when I tried to write about it, I felt totally inadequate. I looked at advice from experts about what to say to our children, but I am no expert, and my words fell short until I hit upon an idea I felt sure of.

When it came time to talk to our boys, I was thankful for the advice I’d read to keep it brief and honest. I cried a little, but I was mostly composed. I kept the conversation direct and brief. As expected, our older son had more questions that our younger son, and I answered his questions in private.

I wish they didn’t have to know. I wonder what they’ll think and say in the coming days.

It’s so, so sad.


Oh, Friends

This morning my dear friends Beth and Kerri came to help me work on a project at my house. We get together once a week (more or less) and help each other with pretty much any project. We cleverly refer to it as Project Group, and we provide physical labor and emotional support. We’ve done everything from tearing down backyard fences to painting bedrooms and bathrooms, to weeding flower beds and gardens, to cleaning out basements, sorting recipes, or just catching up on vacuuming and dishes.

Sometimes projects are more emotionally daunting than physically demanding, and it’s incredibly helpful to have two extra hearts stand by to steel your own. Sometimes projects are plain old hard work, and having four extra hands and a good conversation makes everything go faster. It’s genius, and you should totally start your own Project Group.

This morning, emotional help is what I needed most and after a few minutes of me saying, “Oh, and there’s this other thing that’s stressing me out,” and “Oh, I just don’t know what to do about this,” and “Oh, I’m really bummed about this, too,” Beth sat me down in a chair, grabbed some essential oil, and rubbed my feet.

She and Kerri listened, encouraged faith, reminded me I have some, and left me feeling a thousand times better than when they came. And not just because the top of my fridge had just been cleaned and my dishes done.

Tonight, I had such a good time and a good talk with sweet Meg, whose perspective on life and surety of self (plus her awesome skirt), further restored my focus. Our conversation, just by being interesting, wiped away the grime from my perspective like a good deep breath.

Oh, friends. Thank you.

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

We celebrated Thanksgiving with Justin’s family in St. George this year. So much to be thankful for, including: our always gracious hosts, Justin’s wonderful parents; Grandma Gee’s heirloom hand-painted, each depicts a different bird, gold-trimmed china; Jenni’s amazing rolls; Dandee’s darling place card boats (note to self: don’t fill with m&m’s next time); Jenni’s thoughtful and compassionate listening ear; a grumpy driveway whale; impersonating the Statue of liberty; learning and loving Pickle Ball;  watching the boys help decorate for Christmas, and Justin’s camera phone photos. Not pictured: Just Dancing (I love!), great weather, a rousing game of Steal the Flag with Fisher boys and our little family, a happy, inspiring lunch with friends, a late night episode or two of White Collar, and the amazing dessert Jenni brought.

Our family is our greatest blessing and we loved the chance to spend the weekend with them, and to give thanks for the many, many, many ways we’ve been blessed.

An Escape to the Narrows

So much of the fun I have in my life is thanks to my dear friend Beth, who is innately fun. It is her gift. I enjoy fun, but Beth exudes fun. I enjoy adventure…mostly…but Beth seeks it. Sometimes she invites me along. This year, for her birthday, she planned to hike the Narrows, the famed sandstone canyons carved by the Virgin River in Zion National Park.

I have heard people talk about the Narrows for years, and the danger of flash floods in the canyons made an especial impression on me. I wasn’t afraid to do the hike, because we were watching the weather carefully, but I definitely felt some nervous excitement about embarking on this kind of trip. (Also, could I keep up with these ladies who triathlon for fun?)

Somehow, in all the talk I’d heard about the Narrows, I missed the fact that we’d be hiking up a river. Like, there’s no trail. It’s just the river. And you walk into it, and then you walk up it. Cool.

An ongoing marvel was the gear we rented to make the trip sans hypothermia: fancy neoprene socks, in which your feet get wet but not cold (what?); big ugly hiking shoes with extra grippy soles; a shoulder-height wooden walking stick to steady yourself on the rocky riverbed; a pair of dry pants that keep you dry and therefore warm in the 45 degree river. It was an incredible sensation to be knee deep in water, to feel the pressure of the current against my legs, without any sensation of wet or cold against my skin. This gear was a constant source of wonder throughout the day.

At every turn we were struck by a variation of the rugged canyon–red sandstone, steep dark cliffs, angular boulders and rocks worn smooth by the water. There were a few yellow leaves left on the trees, a beautiful contrast to the colors of the rock around us. I’ve always had a thing for rocks. I collected them as a child, filled my pockets with them, and even begged to take handfuls of  smooth grey stones home from the car dealership parking lot once. I was denied.

If I could have, I’d have taken about a bazillion of the watermelon sized river stones home with me. Many were black, others sandy orange, deep red, striped, speckled, spotted. Rocks are naturally, and almost accidentally–when you think about all the forces that shape them–beautiful. Oh, so beautiful.

In yoga this fall, my teacher Elizabeth has been encouraging the practice of mindfulness. Toward the end of our day, I focused on being more aware, breathing in and breathing out,  paying closer attention to being in the canyon, in the river, on my legs that were carrying me step by step. I was surprised how quickly being mindful led to being grateful.

Happy birthday, Beth. Thanks for being born, and thanks for being fun.


I can’t help myself. I have a few more things to say: Thanks, thanks to my dear friend Teri Jo for being willing to come the very moment I asked her. Thanks to my sweet husband for sending me on my way with his support, and for having such a good time with our boys while I was gone–corndogs, movie theater, tent in the living room, cookies–the whole shebang. And thanks to the wonderful Fishers for keeping us safe and warm Friday night.

My Estimator, It’s Broken

We did it. The 30 Strangers reception a) happened and b) was a success. It’s such a gratifying thing to see the culmination of so much of Justin’s hard work curated in a gallery, and to be able to share an evening celebrating it with friends and family. I was honored to read a little something about motherhood again this year (last year’s essay here), and to be in the company of other great presenters. Read what beautifully, insightful, and hilarious things Courtney, Lisa, and Kacy had to say, and listen the song Cherie played for us (Track 6, Walk You Through the Night). I’m so grateful to these talented friends for sharing with us that night. Here’s what I read. Thanks for the photo, Brett Howell.

 I’m generally five or ten minutes late for life, not missing it altogether, but chronically behind schedule. It’s like I’ve been classically trained in the art of miscalculating what needs to happen before I leave the house, before I’m ready to go, before things are in order. You can imagine, I’m sure, that this has been a source of frustration for the people I’ve lived with all my life. All of these dear people have stood at the door, waited in the hall, or sat in the car while I frantically gather my things, finish my project, or put on my shoes.

A few years ago, in a flash of inspiration, I hit upon the problem: my estimator is broken. That’s it. When I told Justin, he nodded knowingly. Yes, yes it is. Somehow having a name for it made me feel a little better. I felt like I’d discovered one of those profound things you discover about yourself in your 30s. My estimator. It’s broken.

So I’ve been working on it, and I estimate I’m 30% better—wait, I just recalculated—I’m 10% better at estimating time than I was two years ago. At that rate, I’ll have punctuality perfected by the time I’m 54.

Being a mother has also challenged my ability to predict all kinds of things. No matter what shape my estimator had been in, I believe there are some things I would have gotten wrong. Like the number of times I’d have to ask if the toilet had been flushed and hands had been washed. The number of times one of our children would pee on the church lawn. That I would someday fully understand so many references to wookies, droids, super battle droids, General Grievous, and the true identity of Chancellor Palpatine. And overall, I did not expect that I would be a much better parent before I had children.

Several years ago when one of our sons was just two, we were making the transition from crib to big boy bed. My parents had lent us a mattress and box spring, and before we assembled the bed, we had one propped up on the other like a slide, and then a fort. It stayed that way for several days before we put sheets on and made the transition official (Side note: my transition-izer is also in need of repair).

During this time when the bed was in his room, but not assembled, he took a purple crayon to the box springs and colored away. He was a really well behaved little guy, and had never done something like this before, so I was truly surprised. I would have been less dismayed, I think, if the box spring had belonged to us, but it didn’t, and also, one doesn’t color on box springs. Influenced somewhat by my interpretation of a friend’s sternness with her children, I saw this as almost a pivotal moment in which I taught my son the difference between right and wrong. Social responsibility and good citizenship were at the top of my mind as I scolded him. I imagined serious implications—for his future, and possibly society—if I didn’t impress upon him the gravity of the situation. Crayon on the box springs.

This story stands out in my memory because I overreacted, and because it represents a way of thinking that reveals more flaws in my estimator. For a long time, I overestimated the value of scolding. I underestimated gentleness. I overestimated correction. I underestimated my children’s ability to grow without critique. I miscalculated that effective teaching is rooted in love and example, and I didn’t trust in the value of mistakes—my own and others’. I’ve learned that my being angry that the toilet hasn’t been flushed and the hands haven’t been washed does not increase the frequency of the toilet being flushed and the hands being washed. I’m learning that compassion for myself is key to being compassionate as a mother, and essential in teaching our children to be compassionate with each other. I’m learning to take my own deep breaths before I ask them to take theirs.

I’m recalibrating for more patience before the mean voice, more gentle reminders before the stern ones, more appreciation for their cleverness and creativity, more respect for the things that matter to them. I’m still looking to the future, but I’m thinking more often now about how precious our time together is. And now I’m estimating how long I have to love and hold and snuggle these boys, and of this I am sure: it’s not long enough.

Quite a Perfect Afternoon

My six-year-old and I looked at Blexbolex’s Seasons this afternoon, as I lay on the couch and he sat above me on the back of the couch. He rejected my invitation to snuggle in favor of “perching,” a new favorite activity. Our sliding glass door was open. Fresh autumn air wafted in. Did it really waft? Yes, I think it did.

Each page of the book has a single word and a really interesting illustration. The book cycles through spring, summer, winter and fall several times, highlighting–in so many of clever ways–the changes that seasons bring to life. It’s incredibly well done. For almost half of the book, M sounded out the words and I turned the pages. When he got tired of that, I read the words and turned the pages, and toward the end of the book, my eyes got heavy, and he ran off to play outside and I drifted off to a glorious afternoon nap.

When I woke up, the front door was open, too. I smelled autumn, and thought of the grapes ripening on our backyard vines. Some mornings now, from our porch, I can smell them, exactly like grape popsicles. Our boys were playing in the yard and I heard them laughing. How sweet to wake up to the sound of their laughter.


In other news…I couldn’t find Justin anywhere when I woke up, but I finally discovered him napping behind the couch, in a little hideout our boys slept in last night. So cute.

And yesterday, we FINALLY removed this 50-year-old blue toilet from our hallway bathroom! RIP, blue toilet.

30 Strangers Film, Exhibit & Reception

I love this little film Kale Fitch  made about Justin’s 30 Strangers project. Justin’s worked on this project for five years now, and for the past four years of the project, he’s been photographing mothers and daughters and raising money for our local women’s shelter, The Center for Women and Children in Crisis.

And so, for years, he’s been coming home with beautiful stories about the women who come to be photographed  and how, often, in the middle of a session, the mother will look at her daughter and start to cry, brought to realize the significance of their relationship or her overwhelming love for her daughter through having that relationship documented in photographs. I have loved hearing these stories–they represent so much–and I’m so grateful to Kale for creating this film.

The exhibit featuring each of the 30 Strangers is now on display at the Harold B. Lee Library’s Auditorium Gallery at BYU and we’re having a reception (technically, the show opened in September, so we’re not calling it an opening reception) on Thursday, October 4 from 6-9. Please come! At 7 pm we’ll have short readings on motherhood by me, C. Jane Kendrick, Lisa Clark, and Kacy Faulconer, plus a little music by Cherie Call. I’m so excited about gathering these women, and really honored to be reading with them.

The beautiful Kelly McCaleb (that hair!) and her daughter appear in the announcement below.

30 Strangers exhibit and reception

Justin’s review:

What: 30 Strangers exhibit, Artist’s Reception
When: Thursday, October 4, 2012, 6-9pm (Readings and music at 7:00)
Where: BYU Lee Library, Auditorium Gallery, 1st Floor
Why: Support the arts, duh
How: Easy