Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pumpkin Crumble Cake

Cooking lots and lots of delicious food is a new passion of mine. My best mate is a super complimentary, honest, and always grateful consumer of my cooking efforts, which continues to fuel this new passion like oil on fire.

I considered starting a new blog or wiki with recipes, but this one will do just fine. If you try out a recipe and would like to leave feedback or suggestions, PLEASE comment.

I've been craving a new pumpkin dessert for a couple weeks. The original recipe for this delicious dessert was from my mom's recipe collection and was called Pumpkin Squares. I renamed the yummy dessert, added a little flour to the topping, but kept everything else in the recipe exactly the same.

Pumpkin Crumble Cake

1 pkg. yellow cake mix (less 1 cup to use later)
½ cup butter, melted
1 egg

Mix together and press in a 9 X 13 inch cake pan. It will be like a cake batter.

1 large can pumpkin
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
¾ cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 can evaporated milk

Mix with an egg beater and pour over the bottom layer.


1 cup reserved cake mix
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon

Blend topping with fork as in a pie crust. Sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve with whipped cream.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

late night trains

thunderous screeching
blue sparks
oil and grit
exhaled crushing

weeds blown wide in the dust
blurred landscapes
parallel rails
constantly coupling
never touching
warehouses and dreams slip by

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Communication, Cooperation, and Choices

My good friend Mike Harman has been coming into my class every Wednesday morning for 45 minutes and teaching my students lessons on "Communication, Cooperation, and Choices."

I've always wanted to see the teaching model where students are given rather difficult tasks they can work on together and then led through some guided reflection on what happened. Mike's doing it masterfully and it really does build the community in the class.

I particularly like how he identified those three C's as the main topics that we learn about each week. This past Wednesday the students were divided into groups of five. Each group had to stand on one side of a 3 by 6 foot piece of butcher paper (their magic carpets). The challenge was to get across the gym floor without anyone getting off the paper and without ripping it. Great challenge, great set-up, and great discussion after they all finished.

Even though I have the books that Mike gets these lessons from, and even though I've always thought it would be cool to try out, I'm going to have enough confidence and ideas to really do it with my class next year, if Mike isn't able to come back.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Telling True Stories

When I relinquished custody of my three daughters last May, my mom tried to help ease the pain of that by telling this story: I was a great mom to my three adopted daughters for the four years I was living with them. I helped them learn American culture and loved them well for those four years. But now, because I was giving up physical custody, the story went, I could just be their great friend, like a super supportive aunt. I could be someone off on the side, who still loves them, but can't really be their mom anymore. Well. There was some comfort in that story. And maybe believing that story some is how I managed to not collapse when I actually moved out, it was how I survived the summer.

But it's not true. At all. Being someone's mom doesn't just change into being a nice person on the side. My feelings for them and their feelings for me, at the base of everything, are still all about mother-child love bonds. And telling a more true story, while super painful, is what all four of us need. We love each other fiercely and need those true and loving feelings to be welcomed back into our bruised hearts. There is real, and sometimes overwhelming pain in acknowledging that I'm separated from the beautiful people who are still my children. It aches the most when I come home to my empty apartment after dropping them off at their empty house. But there's also this joyful truth: they are still my children and I am still their mom. A different way of being a mom? Sure. Sure. But people get divorced all the time, and we just figure out how to still be the best parents we can for our children who deserve no less.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fall Gratitudes

1. peaches
2. fresh corn
3. my handful of good, true, close friends
4. cousins
5. live jazz music
6. street festivals
7. toys
8. books
9. students
10. prime numbers
11. chocolate
12. strawberries
13. mountains
14. yogurt
15. my three loving daughters
16. US divorce laws
17. perfect temperatures
18. my apartment
19. my siblings
20. my parents
21. the internet
22. faith
23. grace
24. coffee
25. toothpaste
26. cold, clean water
27. clean clothes to wear
28. waffles
29. movies
30. multi player online video games
31. new hair cut
32. poetry
33. trains
34. boys and men in general
35. avocados
36. nice and funny co-workers
37. iphone
38. freedom
39. sunsets
40. hot baths
41. dumb jokes
42. beer
43. text messaging
44. imagination
45. girls and women in general
46. toe nail clippers
47. microwave oven
48. lotion
49. square numbers
50. self-awareness

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Hour I First Believed

Dear Wally,

On April 14 2008, in the afterword of your latest novel you wrote, "Having affixed its last period to its final sentence, I now release it to my readers and invite them to find in it whatever they want or need to find."

Thank you for this story.  I'm glad I found it.  I have always been a very voracious reader, but for the past ten months I haven't been able to sit still enough to read much.  Stress and sadness and fear and adrenaline made my mind too jittery.  But Caelum Quirk, that flawed and fabulous character, reeled me into his life and held me there for 700 pages.  

"Books teach us how to live our lives."  Indeed.  That's a quote from a conference I once attended for teachers who believe in books.  And so what have I learned from this story?  To look for and to honor the dignity in each student, in each human.  To trust that the view from above makes this messy labyrinth less ugly and more holy.   To remember that hope and love are not only stronger and more powerful than hate and fear, they also require far more courage.  

A story this good was exactly the medicine I needed to restore my reading habit.  Thank you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fields of Sunflowers

I hiked and biked to the top of Deseret Peak in the mountains west of Salt Lake City this morning. The main road up to the trail is closed so the whole thing was about 11 miles round trip. I biked about three of that and hiked the rest.

I've been making a big transition in the last few weeks. I'm living alone in a one bedroom apartment. I get to see my three daughters sometimes, but not regularly. I'm not sure of the exact day, but I believe I am "officially" divorced now. I really miss my family. There were deep and serious enough issues with my ex that I don't feel much loss there, but we did our best to love each other and now I am 100 percent on my own. Our poor efforts at love were at least something. And my girls, I miss them like crazy. I definitely get sad and a little depressed sometimes and yesterday I was fighting those serpents extra hard.

Hiking is my very reliable way to find both literal and spiritual sunshine. Yes, I am one of *those* crazy women who talks straight to god and believe that he talks right back. So on the trail today I'm whining about not being loved. And then I start noticing some things. Like the scent of the dry pine needles when they are getting smooshed into the spongy, snowy ground. And in the open fields there were these little white butterflies that kept on firecracking up out of the ground as I walked by. They made each open meadow feel like being inside of a well-shaken butterfly snow globe.

And the sunflowers.

I have a good friend whose family has land in Kentucky and I told him once that it'd be cool if he planted me a whole field of sunflowers. Well, right there on the mountainside today, god gave me not just one, but seven, SEVEN, fields of glorious, bright yellow sunflowers. Just blaring their sunflower selves into new shades of van gough brilliance.

And if that mountain and my body's ability to enjoy it so well isn't love, well, what the fuck is? God started laughing when I finally noticed those fields of sunflowers. He was all, "not loved????!! darlin, your capillaries are filling each cell of your body with delicious mountain oxygen and you are looking straight at your very own sunflower fantasy/dream made real, and okay, yes, you can't see past the next bend in the trail. true. but stop straining to look so far ahead and look at what's right in front of you, and all around you, and even right inside you."

Sigh. Deep breath. My gratitude list today is far longer than usual and those tears today---both times---all joy, all love, all grace.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Gratitude List

Big huge life change comin up next weekend. My almost ex is moving back into our house to be the sole physical guardian of our 3 daughters and I'm moving to my parents to recover for a few weeks. Given a whole lot of things that cannot change, this is the arrangement that is going to be best for my girls, which is all I've ever wanted out of this mess. So, on the one hand, this is good news. But it's really sad and I get angry about it too--not really at a particular person anymore---just at the whole situation.

But life goes on and there are plenty of things to look forward to and still be grateful for.

1. my life is like a brand new canvass
2. i get to enjoy a few weeks in the snug, protective shelter of the Donkey Ranch
3. time and freedom to climb and camp all summer
4. my girls will become more independent
5. the awful fight of this divorce is over and we all have peaceful hearts again
6. i'll be roommates with my baby bro for a few weeks
7. time to read and write more
8. a lot less yard work, house work, laundry, and grocery shopping
9. i'll have a lot of empathy and common ground with all those child-support payin dads out there
10. the love my girls and i feel for each other might be in some ways stronger when it keeps us connected even though we're no longer together.

Truth is, this is very painful and sad. Truth is, I'll be okay.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Keeping Me

I hesitate to ever say or write much until it's absolutely finished and the divorce papers are signed by a judge, but we are working together in good faith and good love right now to give our girls the best of both of us. Unfortunately for me, to get to this good place, I'm not going to be with them every day anymore. Good for them, sad for me.

One little pearl I've tried hard during the last few weeks to give them is a few lines of poetry. I don't even remember where I first saw this gem, but it has become our little bit of love that they will have in their hearts even when I'm not around.

Mama says be good,
Mama says be kind,
Mama says the rain will come,
Yet still the sun will shine.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Things that make me say, "hmmmmmmm"

Well. Perhaps the end of this very sad and very painful road is near. Perhaps...

I am trying hard to detach from the outcome and stay clear about my commitments. I will always stay involved in my daughters' lives. I want them to be welcome and free to visit me often. I actually think it's best for them to be living with me in my home, but either way is okay. Deep breath.

Dear Universe, I love the trees in my backyard and I love the sense of humor of my two youngest children and I love the care and constant sustenance I get from many good friends.

My students did really well on their year-end tests this week and during a normal school year this would mean I'd be dancing around like a mad woman celebrating. But it is not a normal year. And my very own three children are feeling all kinds of sorrow and fear. Yes, the end to this huge mess seems very near, but it will still be a while before I can sleep peacefully.

I do predict, however, that by mid-summer I will be blogging about books and teaching and writing again.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Kitten love. What a great way to chill on the weekends when I'm home alone. This baby is feisty and I'm trying to teach him not to scratch.

Is is, I know, a pretty extreme and awful divorce situation, particularly given all the horrendous things that have been said to my three girls. Imagine them standing alone in a hailstorm of guilt and shame. But there is this amazing truth at the bottom of all my peaceful joy: god's love is an absolute constant and as long as our response to all of our pain and suffering is to stay near god, we aren't ever alone, we can't be defeated. In our weakness we are made strong. What I love most about how this has ended up working for me is that I'm made strong through the love and laughter of many excellent friends. I'm given peace through a blind trust in the power of love to heal broken hearts and to bridge huge canyons of difference.

Yeh, one day at a time, of course. How else would we want our days delivered? One delicious, simple, wonderful day at a time is perfect.

Friday, April 24, 2009

I *am* the Momma

In case this ends up in official court records I just want to be clear, I am doing everything possible to prevent my youngest daughter from ever being incarcerated. I love her to pieces, do my best every single day to teach her to make thoughtful choices, and I give her lots of very powerful little lectures about her future. But, if you've ever met my youngest child you also understand why it's good that I've already dealt with the possibility that she might not follow all of her momma's excellent advice.

Here's the thing, my one source of comfort in the midst of some awful storms: Despite the strong and prolonged efforts by ex and his family to convince my daughters that I am basically "a stranger", that I'm basically nothing important or real in their lives---despite all this and despite their predictably torn responses to it, I still know one thing. Regardless of how all this immediate stuff gets sorted out, deep deep down in my heart I KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that the first time my baby is in jail, it is *ME* she's gonna call first. "Mom---I can't call uncle," she'll say through her choking sobs. And I'll respond, "I know baby, I know. I'm on my way."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Break

I had the entire week of Spring Break on my own, in my house. Here are a few things I do just cuz I *can* when I'm alone in the house: drink milk from the carton, walk around the house in my bra and panties all morning, eat ice cream for dinner and eat breakfast cereal for lunch. I still made my bed every day, kept the house very clean, and took a shower each morning. I had one day there when I didn't feel like getting out of bed, but that storm blew over and I mostly enjoyed the down time.

Back to school tomorrow--with full energy and fuel to go six more weeks.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Finding the Funny

Gotta dig deeper to find the funny in all the emotions and drama these days, but it's what keeps my head above water.

Easter used remarkably accurate spelling in the rant she wrote about me. "WITCH" was spelled correctly every time.

Clara used a line that sounded like an echo of me in texting her friend regarding how she'd respond if that boy used our house key to sneak in at night: "i haz weapons"

That boy was scared enough of me when I answered Clara's phone to return said house key to my hand within 5 minutes of speaking with him. And he was also scared enough to refuse to show me his driver's license.

Easter instant messaged Lisa and said, "you cannot put this on twitr," about their secret escapade hanging out at West High. (which was how they got caught)

None of them have said these words out loud yet, but I've got my spirit and emotions steeled and ready for "YOU'RE NOT MY MOM!!!!!" Shrug. Okay. Now get your homework and chores done my darlins.

Clara got a very fitting introduction to my crazy friend Rebecca in the office at Washington. They had a heated exchange of words that involved Rebecca mocking a little and Clara raging a little.

I made "Quotes of the Week" for the first time evah, and, okay fine, the pleasure of this was extra sweet cuz my sister didn't make it this week:

When provoked, I'm strong enough to smash my bathroom door all the way through the door frame. And to also make the plastic light cover fall off the ceiling. And both of these things are quite easily fixed.

The girls were the first to joke about how many body guards I need to take when I taxi them to Sudanese Church choir practice.

Don't worry too much. We're still all doing fine. What doesn't kill us just makes us stronger. Just keep all those prayers a-comin.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

On Our Own

Since January 1, 2009, I've had my 3 adopted daughters mostly on my own. Yes, we were living with my parents for several weeks, but my mom and dad were supportive grandparents and let me still be the parent. Because of courts and custody and all that jazz this situation could change, but I predict I'm going to continue to have a life I never imagined myself having at 33, I'm a single mom to 3 adolescent daughters.

The emotional climate of our home is much better than it was a few months ago, but I do find myself flailing about, grasping for answers to basic questions, like what are our Dating Rules?? How do I respond to disrespectful arguing?? What are reasonable limits on cell phones?? on computer time?? on tv and video games?? What afternoon and evening routines and habits are essential??

As I sort through all this new found parenting territory I want two things to guide my choices: love and faith.

A new gratitude: all those painful years of piano lessons. (thanks mom!!) I was playing hymns yesterday at my friend's house and I so LOVE mormon hymns.....there's nothing quite so relaxing and soul nourishing for me than playing them on a piano. I've been searching and Craig's List for a used piano all morning.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A List

Some ways I've survived (and even thrived) while in the middle of a stressful divorce:

1. The eliptical machine at the South Davis Rec Center. I'm doing other things now, like basketball practice and running, but there was a good 3 month stretch when I was on that machine 40 minutes a day, five days a week.
2. Friends. I have been graciously encircled by a cadre of wonderful women. It's been easier to keep close friends as I've made the hard choices that have brought me closer to being my true, good self.
3. A decent lawyer. Yeh, they cost money, but having a lawyer that I have a lot of confidence in removes lots of immediate stress because I'm sure it's important and good for the long term.
4. Laughter. Funny movies, funny friends, funny websites, funny tv. It is not just a distraction; laughing a lot at all sorts of crazy stuff helps me remember to laugh at myself and that is what helps me keep everything in perspective.
5. Faith.
6. A good therapist. Mine said I'm doing remarkably well, all things considered, and didn't even schedule a follow-up or next visit. But it was still good to hear some professional validation of things I'd been sorting through for several months.
7. Family. I stay connected to all of my siblings on the internet and phone and we are very close. My parents provided the well sheltered harbor we (my girls and I) needed for several of the roughest weeks.
8. A savings account. It's gone now, but was definitely nice to have when this all started.
9. Learning new things. Learning to prep the walls of a room before painting it was lots of fun. Next? I want to learn to ride a motorcycle, shoot a handgun, and change the oil in my car.
10. Trust. I have a lot of trust right now in my daughters and in their ability to weather the immediate storm. I also have lots of trust in God and his ridiculously mysterious hands, always holding us, but never letting us see that far ahead.

I'm not really out of the woods yet, but this whole journey has followed the last couple of seasons closely and in many, many ways if feels just like spring. I feel hopeful and renewed.

Monday, March 09, 2009

In Like a Lion

Big, cold blizzard here in SLC today. ROAR. Roarrrr.

Today's Gratitudes:
March snow doesn't stick to the roads.
I got in and out of the DMV to replace my stolen driver's license in less than 10 minutes today.
Easter has this gorgeous light of responsible big-sisterly love that comes out bright around Lydia, who is in town for two weeks.
Car is working fine.
Heater in house is working fine.
My phone and ipod were in the pocket of my hoodie and not in my purse
My homegirlz
Healthy children and healthy self.
Peaceful home.
Credit card companies pay for fraudulent (stolen card) charges.
Nobody asked me why I was so thoughtless and turned my back on my purse while bagging my groceries.
Good class of sixth graders.
Get to gradually start teaching my sixth graders again as student teacher is winding down his stint.
Great equipment at the South Davis Rec Center
Zumba dance class.
Big TBR pile of books waiting for me to start up that old reading habit again.
Lydia remembered me and ran and hugged me on sight Sunday.
Excellent student teacher.
Harriet tells me about all her boyfriends.
Spring Break is in less than a month.
And I still have some amazingly sweet gifts sent straight from above: faith, hope, patience, and peace.

O thing that consoles, how clumsily I thank you.

It has been a rather stressful couple of days, but when I'm quiet enough, I hear god laughing and that wise laughter makes a blissfully calm soundtrack for my life...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

a poem by me

a desert mud frog

buried under the dry desert ground
baked hard
one heartbeat per minute
deathly still

dormant senses
no self
all is quiet
all is still

rain pummels the ground
splashes up and falls

the cool water seeps down
between the crevices
into my skin
into my veins

jolted into aliveness
gorged on water
squirming in the mud

devouring colors
through my permeable skin
through my membrane ears
through my fast beating heart


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bird, Lake, Moon by Kevin Henkes

Twelve-year-old Mitch was recently informed by his parents that they are getting divorced. Spencer is visiting the lake for the first time with his family since his brother drowned there when Spencer was two. Both boys have complicated internal struggles and their friendship develops slowly.

The pace of the book is slow compared to lots of my students' favorite series, but there is lots of mystery and tension and the two main characters work through problems that I'm sure are overwhelming and scary and huge to children.

Of course the timing for me reading this book was rather serendipitous. From my current perspective I appreciated how the story dealt with the very real and legitimate issues that these boys face, and although many of these issues are related to the adults in their lives, the adults' problems are not the focus but are also not over simplified. The parents aren't portrayed as anything but real humans with complicated lives of their own. Yeh, I guess I'm oversensitive to these issues, but still appreciated the care Henkes took with his story and characters. Yes, divorce is really hard on kids, but they can get through those initial weeks and months and be okay.

What I predict kids will like: real kids dealing with very real problems.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lagoon, by Easter Simbe

We were at my Nana's house. We were watching a movie. My aunts were watching the movie too. Then they saw a newspaper that had Lagoon on it. They thought it might be fun to go there, but my mom said, "No, I do not like that place." Then she said, "I don't care if you want to go but I'm not going. Lisa can take you guys." Lisa is my aunty.

The next day came by. It was the day I saw scary rides and good food. I had goose bumps! We went on the roller coaster. We only had time for that one ride. After, we went home. No, just playing. We went on many rides but I don't want to list them. No, Okay I changed my mind. I went on the roller coaster, the Pheonix, the swings, and the animal ride. It was so fun. I loved Lagoon. The End. Written By: Easter Simbe

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Life on the Donkey Ranch

My three daughters and I have crash landed for a while at my parents' house, which is lovingly referred to as "The Donkey Ranch". Heber and Brigham are two miniature jack-asses which help fill my parents' empty nest and enhance the fantasy that they are living on a rural farm. Our family moved into this house when I was 13 and even though lots has changed, there are still lots of things that are still the same. One of my most effective strategies for getting through some of the hard emotional stuff I've been processing has been through humor. Here are some of the best things about living on The Donkey Ranch:

  • home cookin: i've been showing mom how to find recipes online, she's been teaching me all the important skills i refused to learn as a willful teenager. together we're keeping everyone very well fed.
  • the commute: okay, fine, it mostly sucks, but that 50 extra minutes each day of time together with my girls is very good bonding time. (when they're awake enough to talk)
  • missing pieces: there is no better place for me to scavenge for some of those missing pieces of my shattered identity than here, where i can dig around in my roots and sit quietly listening for the voices of some of my most helpful ghosts. a bit schizo? yeh, i know, but still helpful.
  • sunsets: when the sun dips into the Great Salt Lake you can see it from here and it paints the sky a warm mixture of peach, purple, and pink. softly brilliant.
  • marble counters, wood floors, one real and one gas fireplace, and a convection oven: lots of luxuries here that are just fun to relish.
  • Nana and Grandpa Jim: i'm wise enough these days to know deep down in my bones that nobody is around forever and the way my dad teases and the way my mom nurtures are memories i want my girls and me to have burned into us forever.
  • my monk cell: what i call my youngest brother's room that i'm sleeping in. unfinished and freezing, just down the hall from my girls but quite private. i'm actually loving it. it's a perfect place to meditate, pray, and dig.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

lucky joyful birthday find

honestly, i'm a fairly simple gal. don't need much more than this to make my whole day:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Prayer Candles and Gratitude Stones

In the garden that I am imagining it is late spring. A warm breeze is rustling the new green leaves of several huge trees and I am kneeling on the ground, laying down some stones and lighting some candles.

Gratitude Stones: a built-in substitute in the form of my student teacher, a supportive boss, a safe harbor basement home to stay in, an abundance of faith, a car that's in good condition and all paid off, a nice bed, healthy children, Reverend Robin, clean water, my own physical health, supportive friends and family, a secure good job that I also happen to love, clarity about who I am and what I have to do, a class of students I can be away from for a couple days without too many worries, Easter's humor, Clara's strength, Harriet's innocence, my parents' graciousness and love, a gym I adore, and the whole tangled web of experiences that have brought me to exactly where I'm at.

Prayer Candles: grant me patience, understanding, and hope; give my loved ones strength, peace, and health, and keep us all tucked securely under your wings of redeeming love.

Yes, it's true. What doesn't kill us can make us stronger---stronger and wiser and more gentle. Stronger and more patient and more kind. Stronger and more faithful and more closely attuned to god's whispers. Stronger and more pliant and more full of forgiveness and hope.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Lou, the sixteen-year-old narrator of this book is a typical teen boy. He's a bit shy and introverted but gets along okay socially. The entire student body of Mica High School is turned upside down when a new student who has named herself Stargirl shows up on the first day of school. This odd, formerly home-schooled girl plays the ukulele, wears long pioneer dresses, and she seems to not care a single whit what other people think of her or of her whacky style and personality.

Lou is smitten and the two gradually develop a romantic relationship. The rest of the students at Mica start out bewildered of Stargirl, they soon develop a fair weather form of admiration and raise her up to super-star popularity. But quite suddenly the rest of the students turn on her for some of the same qualities they so admired, her non-comformity and passionate compassion.

Lou's dilema in all of this is captured by a single question: "Whose affection do you value more, hers or others?" This isn't an easy struggle for Lou. He isn't as able ignore the cold stares of his classmates and he begs Stargirl to change, to become more normal.

There were several things I liked about this book. High school group dyanamics were represented very realistically and all those new and dizzying feelings of first love were also captured through Lou's descriptions and narration. My only criticism was that Stargirl's character was a bit over-the-top. Overdone. But for middle schoolers working through identity issues, I'm sure she is a perfect hero.