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My childhood was not what you would call “ideal”. My parents, after years of disagreements and fighting, divorced. I remember the morning I knew that my father was no longer going to live in our home. I woke up and walked into the living room, and the brand new tv was gone, and for some reason, I just knew that meant my dad had moved out.

At the time (I was around  6), divorce was still relatively rare. I felt so different. I hated it. It was almost shameful, the way I felt. Dirty. Like there was something wrong with me. After a while, my mom started to date, and ultimately, by the time I was about 11, ended up with a man who turned out to be one of the vilest human beings I have ever had to personally deal with. She never married him. They just lived together (another oddity in those days). And the funny thing was, they argued just as much as my parents had, even worse, but she stuck it out with him, more or less, for around 15 years.

So, home life was hell. I escaped that hell with the help of some friends.

Nancy Drew was my constant companion until 6th grade, when my reading teacher felt I was capable of more advanced writing. I thought for the longest time that I loved Nancy because I loved mysteries, but it turns out I loved Nancy because she was a strong, intelligent, independent young woman. She had a happy life despite losing her mother at an early age. She was a great example to me.

The Boxcar Children and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler were two friends I met by chance while roaming through the library at Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School. Again, there was an element of mystery in the stories, but the greatest attraction was the adventure the children in the stories experienced and the ingenuity they all displayed in providing for their needs. I read both of these books only once as a child (as opposed to others that I have read multiple times), but their stories stayed with me and influenced me throughout my childhood.

I don’t remember when I got Little Women. I think it was a “treat” I got to pick out when on an outing with my dad. I knew nothing of the story, I just liked the cover. This book was a friend that I turned to many, many times through the years. She was hard to read the first time. I had no cultural references to the book Pilgrim’s Progress spoken of at the beginning of the story, I didn’t even know that it was an actual book, and so I found that confusing, but I loved the March sisters with all of  their strengths and weaknesses, but mostly their desire to be good and do good.

My copy of Little Women went missing for many, many years. I don’t know how, and it was distressing for me. Every time my mother moved, I asked if she had come across my book. I had come to the conclusion that I would need to buy a new one, when my mother finally found mine in some long-ignored box.  I was 30 years old when we were reunited.

These friends, and many, many more “acquaintances”, provided an escape from the chaos in which I lived, but their impact has been of a far more enduring nature. I learned from these friends that my present need not  be prologue to a life of dysfunction. They gave me a vision of what a healthy family looked like, but most of all, they provided me with role models that taught me to rise above victimhood.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  ~Charles W. Eliot

Thank you, thank you, friends.


Holly and Gretchen


I’ve always loved this photo of Holly and Gretchen. If Holly hadn’t been early, they could have shared a birthday.

Holly was born on the morning of June 8 in a little military hospital at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, Texas. Hers was a pretty quick and simple birth. I think it was assisted by the fact that the labor and delivery nurses didn’t want to waste the labor room space on someone who was progressing as well as I was, so they used curtained room dividers to create a quiet, dark corner for me to labor in the hallway, of all places. Every once-in-a-while a nurse would poke her head through the curtains, observe conditions, and leave Rob and me to ourselves.

Other than the morning sickness the first three or so months, my pregnancy with Holly was pretty nice. I stayed relatively slim (I was back in my clothes the NEXT DAY!). I shared Holly’s acute sense of smell for nine months, which was a curiosity for me.

When Holly was six months old, I was called to be the Relief Society president. I felt so sad for myself. It seemed like I was always handing her off to someone so I could do my calling. Holly seemed to handle it well. She learned to roll with the punches at an early age.

Holly was extraordinarily observant as a baby. When she discovered her hands, she would stare at them for the longest time, turning them and looking at them from every angle. I think that is reflected in her artistic abilities. Her art has been very detailed from the time she was very little.

Holly was such a sweet, easy baby. But she had her stubborn side too. She just was very quiet about her stubbornness. Holly was always very earnest as well. She is very patient and has a great deal of self-discipline. I think all of those qualities combined to make her a very good missionary. And a very good person.


Gretchen was Rob’s mother. She was a complicated person, but I loved her and wanted to have a close relationship with her and for her to have a good relationship with her grandchildren. She and I went through a bit of a rough patch at one point, but after our difficulties were resolved, she understood my boundaries, and I can honestly say, our relationship was loving and respectful. Working things out was painful, but I have been spared the greater pain of unresolved issues.

Gretchen had a mother that was hard to live up to, so I think she underrated her own talent and gifts. She had a great eye and created a beautiful home. She had lovely prose and wrote beautiful letters to family and friends. She made truly outstanding reproduction cross-stitch samplers. Each of her children and grandchildren were the lucky recipients of her handiwork. She introduced me to British choral music and it changed my life. Literally.

Gretchen died too young. Despite having quit cigarette smoking years before, she developed lung cancer and passed away before her family was prepared to see her go. The progression of her illness left her childlike and pain-free. That was a blessing. My last days with her were a gift. I cooked for her and joked with her and helped her to bed at night. The day we took her to hospice was a warm and sunny early fall day. Rob drove the car and opened the windows and sunroof. He joked with her about it “messing her hair” (there wasn’t much) and she laughed. A genuine and guileless laugh.

I look forward to hearing that laugh again one day.




That is the view through the window in the kitchen door of the spare keys. That is not how you want to see them. You want to see them safely attached to the fence so that when you find yourself locked out, you can get back into the house.

I woke up this morning and, as usual, took the dog out to do his business. For some reason, I decided to pull on some sweats instead of going out in my pajamas. Smart. As I closed the door behind me, dog and dog treats in hand, I thought, “Did I unlock the door before closing it?”

Of course not.

Then the stream of consciousness:  I can’t believe it’s raining, Rob’s on a trip, I’m supposed to pick him up this evening, at least I have dog food for the dog, I have no phone, does Rob’s dad have a key?

Since I recently went around the house locking windows, I was sure that I was stuck, but I made the rounds anyway. As luck would have it, Holly’s bedroom window was unlocked. It’s one of the old windows in the house with multiple layers of window and screen, and I was sure that I would end up breaking at least the screen, but after several minutes of fiddling, I got it open and climbed on through. Wouldn’t you know, as I exited the house, after making sure that the door was UNLOCKED, the cleaning ladies arrived. Thursday! I forgot it was Thursday and that they would be coming and have a key! Thank goodness I had gotten dressed.

When I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant called Two Guys From Italy. Nowadays, waitresses wear white shirts and black slacks, but back then we wore clothing that could more readily be described as costumes than uniforms. Ours was a short,  bright-red, high-waisted skirt with a white peasant style blouse. It was made for the pleasure of lecherous, old men.

I went through a period of locking my keys in the car I drove (a Pinto!). I had gotten quite good at using coat hangers to unlock the door. One night, I got off work and made my way to the parking lot across the street. Sure enough, there were my keys, in the ignition and the driver’s door was locked. So I made my way back to the restaurant, found a hanger in the kitchen, unwound it and put just the right kinks in it to hook the car’s door lock and pull it up to unlock it.

So engrossed in my task was I, that I didn’t even notice the security guard who came to offer his help. I almost had the car unlocked when I finally saw him. In my car, reaching over to unlock my door.

Blonde moment.

Checking to see if ALL the doors are locked before employing  the hanger saves a lot of time, not to mention embarrassment.

Devil Dog

Yesterday was Rusty’s first day of Puppy School.

He peed three times.


During class.

He whined constantly.

And strained against the leash to get to the other dogs.

The other calm, well-behaved dogs.

I have a lot of homework.

We had Emma home visiting for a week. It was so nice to have her here. For about 4 years, until this last year when Emma went to Philmont then Provo, she was our only child at home. Caroline was married  and Holly was at BYU and then a mission. When Emma was little, I used to tell her that when Caroline and Holly were grown and gone, it would be just the two of us at home. Wouldn’t that be fun? She was not particularly enthused. I, on the other hand, looked forward to that day. I remember how fun it was when it was just Caroline and me at home and looked forward to that experience again with an older child. One that could appreciate the joys of Jane Austen films. (I tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate that one-on-one experience the best that I could with Holly by sending Caroline twice a week to Mother’s Day Out at the local Methodist church when Holly was about two years old. Holly would have none of it. She just wanted to go with Caroline.)

Emma got to be a companion for us in a way that we didn’t get to experience with Caroline and Holly. I’m glad we got that extended time together. We didn’t really do anything different than we did when she had her sisters here at home. It just felt different because there were no other demands for my attention. And Emma truly didn’t demand much herself. She was incredibly low-maintenance as a teen.

I have always thought it a good experience for young people to go away to school, to learn to manage their time and money, laundry and menus. And in the case of Emma, who wanted to go to cosmetology school instead of college, doing all of that with her older sister as her guide would be, I thought, a smoother transition since she would not get the benefit of a freshmen dorm segue to independent living. Provo has proven to be a more challenging move than I anticipated. I wish I could be there to make everything easy for her, but that would be defeating the purpose of going away to school.

In the animal world, parents literally chase their young away when it’s time for them to take charge of their lives. I’m glad we aren’t required to go to that extreme. Hopefully, if we’ve done our job as parents, our children want to leave and try new things and live new adventures. I’m so proud of Emma and the new life she is living. She has shown a lot of perseverance as she has faced unimagined challenges. I’m so impressed with the way she is intelligently questioning the world around her and coming to thoughtful, virtuous conclusions.

I used to tell people that I had my children young so that I would be young still when they left and it was just Rob and me. What fun we would have!

Well, we do have fun now. But  Emma leaving the nest has been harder than I thought it would be. For me.