Sunday dinner

Original art by Ruby Mateson

Like many in our neighborhood, we are in the habit of having our adult kids over for Sunday dinner. Nieces and nephews living in the area also have an open invitation, but they often have other plans. Sometimes we “adopt” in our kids’ friends (Lee) who live on the other side of the continent and who become like family to us. And then widen the circle to include a significant other (Ruby), who also becomes like family. And so it goes.

Sometimes it’s loud. Maybe even a little crazy. Sometimes, like on Kyle’s birthday, I spend the entire day cooking bolognese sauce and make two kinds of savory crepes. Sometimes I toss in that extra meatloaf I froze forever ago and wrap up some giant baked potatoes and we eat on paper plates. Sometimes we eat on Pfaltzgraff. Sometimes, like today, I dirty every pan I own in order to make part of it vegan and I feel like even with paper plates I”m doing dishes for days.

Whatever it is and whatever it looks like, it is done with love. I think my family is so used to it that essential ingredient goes unnoticed. But today when Lee texted me to let me know they were coming, he told me they were bringing a gift. I suspected it was a drawing Ruby had recently done that I told her I would like to buy. While that, too, was included (to share another time), I was surprised and touched by this perfect “What’s For Dinner? Love” piece.

They get me. It feels good to be gotten.

Mostly because it means they feel the love.

NaBloPoMo November 2016


Yesterday I learned (among other things) that power posing actually reduces cortisol and increases testosterone (which, you wouldn’t really think a woman needs, but we do), doing legs up the wall for 2-5 minutes at night over several months has been show to boost your immune system significantly, and mindfully thinking of just three things you are thankful for at the end of each day can improve your life in the following ways:

more optimistic, energetic, enthusiastic, determined, interested and joyful

better immune response, more sleep, more exercise, reduced stress, longevity

more organized, less cluttered environments, think more clearly, make more progress towards goals

less envious, higher resilience, less materialistic

I’ve heard some of this before, of course, but some of it was new and some of the specifics were surprising.

So here are a few things that made my happy this week:

The other day at work I was showing a couple of coworkers video the kids sent of James, who while he had been taking a few steps here and there, suddenly decided walking is a pretty great mode of getting from point A and point B and has just taken off. I was thinking how I hadn’t seen him for a few days and how fun it would be for him to visit me at work sometime.

Just a couple of hours later I recognized some voices I know and love and peeked around my cubicle to find Luke and Emily and this sweet boy! He cruised across my office floor and met my coworkers and went up and down the long stairs a couple of times and was just delightful. Their visit totally made my day!


Over the past few years I have started paying closer attention to light. I love the effects of natural light, particularly as the sun comes up and again when it is about to set. This week I coined a new term: sunsetshine. The sunsetshine on the Wasatch mountains is regularly stunning, particularly before or after a storm. The other day I (once again–I do this far too often) had to turn around on my way home and go back to try to capture the sunsetshine on the abandoned pumpkins I drive past twice a day.


Finally, so many things–the way the biting wind blew clean the air when winter teased us a little for the first time this season. The Obama/Joe memes trying to pull us out of our respective anger and fears and make us smile just a little. Puns. Puns always make me smile. An all-clear report–an answer to many prayers–from a friend’s biopsy we’ve been agonizing over. Kindnesses–a smile, an encouraging word, sincere appreciation. Simple kindnesses always get me right in the heart. Often they linger awhile, warming my soul.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Favorite recipes

for the worn splattered love of a favorite recipe

As oldest of six, I grew up helping everywhere, but especially in the kitchen.

Go-to cookbook: the beloved red plaid of Better Homes and Gardens. I recently inherited my mother’s worn copy, which is pretty amazing because I’ve already been through two. (Remember how they cut all the salt in everything in half in one edition and it was awful so in a later edition they gave you options: 1/4-1/2 tsp. salt? hint: never skimp on salt.)

My mom’s Better Homes and Garden Cookie page

I’m pretty sure the cookie section was the most worn in the whole book. Kind of like how the Dessert section of my oversized Mary Engelbreit recipe box is twice as big as the rest of the sections put together!

Mom’s ebelskivers recipe

True confession: despite all the times I helped my mom make these, I have never tried this recipe myself. But it was the only recipe in her hand readily available (I actually have two recipe tins of her handwritten recipes in a box somewhere, but still, nearly two years later, so many boxes.)

one of Grandma’s jello “salads”

I rarely make jello at all, but couldn’t pass up the treasure of a handful of my Grandma Jacobs’ handwritten jello salad recipes. They generally involved green or orange jello and Cool Whip (something I never buy–I always whip my own real cream) and crushed pineapple. My grandma’s jello salads are good comfort food.

One of my sons will randomly text me no matter where he is and ask for some recipe or another. I love it. I love how I don’t have to write it down. I can simply snap a photo of it on my phone and text it right back.

Some of my favorite recipes in no particular order are

My neighbor across the street (Lynda B)’s perfect crab cheese ball she shares with us during the holidays.

My long-moved-away friend Bev’s zucchini cake. Her carrot cake is might fine as well, although that recipe is from the kitchen of her mother-in-law, Vi, I believe.

My even longer-moved-away friend Alice’s chicken pot pie. Which is a little piece (or sometimes a large piece, depending how grieved you are) of comfort food heaven.

My almost famous (in that it does have somewhat of a reputation and my caterer friends whom I shared it with now share it as their own) sour cream lemon pie.

Conference crepes.

My dear-departed friend Sue’s frozen cherry pie. In fact despite all my decades pie baking, Sue is the one who helped me master a flaky crust, so I often think of her while baking pies.

My great great grandmother (although no one is entirely sure which one)’s steamed carrot pudding.

Well, there are a few more well-worn and well-loved recipes, but those are they that come to mind.

What’s your favorite recipe?

[Day 41 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016


An old scorecard of my mom’s photo credit Emily Rowley

I enjoy playing games!

When I was a kid someone–I’m pretty sure it was my dad–drilled holes in an slab of particle board topped with formica (or something) and made us a sturdy Aggravation game board. My family got a lot of mileage out of that industrial strength game board.

My mom also enjoyed Rack-O and Mille Bornes (which was a favorite of mine long before I learned to speak French). But her favorite was Yahtzee!

Yahtzee! (I’m pretty sure the exclamation point is mandatory) is cool because it’s so portable. At one point I meant to put a bag of dice and a score sheet (which is replicable on blank paper) in my 72-hour kit. (Along with 2 pigs for Pass the Pigs and a couple of jacks sets.)

In any case Mom loved playing and while I did play many a round with her and I work at not living with regrets, I do wish I’d have played a few more rounds with her.

Luke and Emily had an interest in playing games as well and inherited a number of her board games (which is where Emily came across the above), and have since collected a few of their own. Before James got so grown up as to be awake the whole time during their visits with us, we used to play Settlers of Catan and Pandemic. Pandemic is my favorite.

Someday James will be big enough to play games and I will let him win at Candy Land (hopefully more readily than I let my kids beat me, as I was awfully slow letting go of my competitive nature).

Speaking of winning, is it too soon to pat myself on the back for having made it just over halfway through November?! It’s been a few long years since I’ve been able to really put my mind to this daily write. It feels good! 🙂

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Family pictures reunion




That time when you misread the prompt and spend half an hour looking through old family reunion photos because you think you are writing about family reunions, not family photos.

So I’m just going to run with that here.

It wasn’t until I was a missionary that I first realized not everyone in the world grew up knowing their cousins and getting together with at least most of them (every year on my dad’s side, every few years on my mom’s side) regularly to hang out, catch up, play silly games, eat together, and just have a great time.

When I was a kid we would gather annually at Bear Lake for the Robert R. Rex Family Reunion. Bear Lake Monster. Sunburns. Sand in our toes and sometimes our teeth. Boating and waterskiing and just all around fun.

I remember one time as a teenager completely freaking out when they wanted me to take my baseball cap off so they could see my eyes in the family picture. I had beach hair decades before you paid good money to spray salt water in your hair and create beach hair on purpose and I was so embarrassed. The funny thing is, there were so many of us then (there are over 300 of us now–we’ve lost track of the count), it’s not like anyone would have recognized or noticed me. But to a vain teenage girl it was the worst thing ever and I was fit to be tied.

A few years ago we were looking back through old photos and I found the one from that reunion and I’m still embarrassed I threw such a big fit. But the memory also gives me perspective when my own teenagers are exasperating.

Another time for some reason we just decided to have it at my grandparents house in Randolph, pitching who knows how many tents throughout my grandparents yard for all the kids. I remember pulling an all-nighter playing monopoly by flashlight in a tent with my older cousins. I got beat. I hate getting beat.

One year it was my turn to plan the reunion and we held it at the Chalet on the banks of Deer Creek Reservoir. It’s a lot of work planning meals for the masses, but fortunately everyone is great about helping and it was one of my favorites.

The photos above are from just over three years ago when my NW cousins invited us to come to them at Whidbey Island. It was perfect. We rented a Chrysler Town & Country because we weren’t sure our old minivan could get us there without any trouble and it was probably the last time we’d be able to get our entire family in one vehicle with seatbelts. We stopped in Portland and house/dog-sitted for my brother Keith and his family who were not going to make it to the reunion, hit Cannon Beach and just reveled in the weirdness that is Portland and is as comfortable to me as a favorite sneaker. We had a fun time getting to know our brand new daughter-in-law and appreciated her patience getting to know our brand of crazy. It was really a perfect time and I’m so glad we all went!

[Day 40 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Life of pie

later you serve pie to the handful of teenagers who have gathered at your house and you are content
the most wonderful time of the year

Pie season is here. Not that you can’t have pie anytime, but this is when I find myself making quadruple batches of pie crust and remembering summers baking dozens of pies with my mom and my sister and our local youth for a pie booth at our town’s annual Scandinavian Festival, which is how I learned to make pie.

Typically we gather at my inlaws for Thanksgiving, where we pack 40-50 or so people into the log hogan my father-in-law , Keith, built on to their home to serve as a family room. My food assignment (along with sticking around to help my mother-in-law, Barbara while everyone else is over the river and through the woods and up the mountain to look at deer and elk) is always pies.

I grew up in a fruit pie family. Our staples were cherry, apple, berry, and mincemeat for my dad, as he was the only one who would eat it. The closest we got to cream pies is pumpkin, which more of a custard, really, but at least it’s topped with whipped cream.

Shane grew up in a cream pie family. One of his favorites is banana cream–the kind you make with jello pudding. Once I finally realized that until I learned to make cream pies my husband would not feel quite as thankful on Thanksgiving, I found a favorite recipe to make the pudding for banana cream pie from scratch, and have also added a heavenly coconut cream pie to my repertoire.

But the pie I’m most known for is my sour cream lemon pie. It’s a recipe I adapted and its balance of sweet and tangy seems to be a crowd pleaser.

In addition to making pies a couple of pies for actual Thanksgiving, I really hit the mat for Thanksgiving 2.0. This is the dinner I make primarily for the leftovers, but most importantly, so I can have my entire family gathered around my table without putting pressure on anyone taking turns with inlaws. I can usually find a weekend within a couple of weeks of Thanksgiving for which I spend an entire Saturday baking pies and doing prep and then put the whole feast together for friends and family on Sunday.

In particular, I loved having my mom and her parents at my Thanksgiving 2.0 table because they always raved about the cooking. Not that I need raving about the cooking, but if one must spend two days on her feet on a hard tile floor (and do two days’ worth of dishes), raving is appreciated.

(If you, like me, will be baking a lot of pies this season, here’s a hot time-saving tip from King Arthur Flour!)

NaBloPoMo November 2016


1024px-an_opened_pomegranatephoto credit Anton Croos

Most random prompt ever, but tis the season, so here goes. I don’t recall when I first heard of pomegranate, but I’m sure I didn’t actually taste it until I was at least in my 30s. I’m still learning how to peel pomegranate. I like–but can’t really afford–pomegranate juice. And a few weeks ago at Macey’s I was super excited to find the very seasonal pomegranate 7up that we became rather fond of at my house during the holidays and then which disappeared off of store shelves the last couple of years.

But what I really want to write about is all the other things I never tasted until my older years.

Lingonberry (ok, I’m probably not alone in this)
Herb and spices other than cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Ethnic food other than tacos, spaghetti, and lasagna.
Salsa, peppers–even red or green, or anything with a kick.
Cheese other than American (yes–I said it, but I know it’s not true cheese) and mild cheddar.

The past couple of decades have been quite the adventure for me as I discovered all the above and so much more.

Pomegranates may seem exotic, but some of the world photographers I enjoy following on Instagram have taught me that there are so many more fruits and vegetables of more shapes and sizes than I could ever imagine.

Although sometimes I’m disappointed, I have enjoyed discovering Thai, El Salvadorian, Indian and so many other kinds of foods. That sometimes I like it hot and sometimes when they ask me how hot I tell them I want tears running down my cheeks.

I make a mean curry.

Last year while traveling for work I discovered the beauty of cheese boards on which you can try various meats and cheeses and I try them everywhere I go. About a year ago I visited the Center Street Cheese Shop in Anaheim which pairs flavors (mustards, nuts, fruit) with cheeses to perfection. I recommend the water buffalo cheese. It was perfection.

So here’s to discovery, even in the later years. And not being afraid to try something new!

[Day 39 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016

our house in the middle of the street

saturday-morningsunrise from my street

When I as engaged, I was charged with finding us an apartment. There were plenty of apartments, of course; the tricky part was finding one we could afford. We ended up renting a tiny 1 bedroom 1 bath top floor of an old stucco house on an isolated corner of Columbia Lane. It was close to my BYU where I was finishing up school and close to my husband’s job at Best.

That house was our first introduction to what is known as the Grandview Hill. I guess it’s fitting this NW girl should end up in the NW corner of her town.

Despite us being in a situation where the only neighbors we got to know were the couples that rented the basement apartment, we liked the feel of the area. I remember driving through neighborhoods in the Grandview Hill and thinking, “I could live here someday.” Which was a stretch for someone who always wanted to get back to the farm.

In particular, I recall driving through a neighborhood a little further southwest of our apartment and watching a house go up. I watched the progress of the bay window in the back of the house and every time I drove past it I thought to myself, “I’ve always wanted a bay window.”

Eventually, as we were expecting our first child, we moved across town into my cousin’s basement apartment at the foot of one of the Wasatch mountains, where we lived until just after the birth of our second child.

By that time my husband had been employed as a school teacher and I ungainfully employed as a stay-at-home mom and I felt it was time to look into acquiring a mortgage.

When we first met with a bank, we were literally laughed at.

“You won’t want to live in what you can afford,” were the literal words.

I asked the guy to show us anyway, and there were three homes in all of Utah County we could have gotten a loan for.

By now you may have guessed it was not the brand new home with the bay windowed dining room. But we did drive right past that house to look at the one I already knew in my heart would be our first home. Because it was right around the corner and happened to be exactly one mile from the school where Shane was teaching.


The 1320 sq. ft. 2 BR home was definitely a fixer upper (the structure was initially a fruit-packing shed that had been build onto rather unconventionally a couple of times), but the price was right, Shane’s second job at the time (so he could afford school teaching) was installing sprinklers in the summer and remodeling houses nights and weekends during the school year, so we had a built-in handyman. And the neighborhood was perfect.

It was like coming home.

My favorite parts of that house were the light and spacious kitchen and dining area, which looked out from a big picture window to the green backyard, the deep oval bathtub in the tiny master bedroom, and the huge backyard, in which we built a sandbox that provided hours and hours of endless construction and entertainment for the kids (along with a few episodes of pinworm for the kids, because the neighborhood cats found it a nice playground as well).

But mostly it was about the neighbors. We felt at home–wanted and needed and loved–even before we moved in. We were surrounded by good people working hard to raise more good people in a place where it quickly became apparent even when people grew up and moved away from they longed to return. And some did. And so began the next generation.

Eventually we had four kids crammed into what was really one bedroom with a little side-room and it wasn’t until two of my brother-in-laws and one of their friends lived in a trailer in our driveway that I realized we might need more space. Shane’s 6′ 4″ little brother stood in the doorway of our home one day and it struck me that we might only have four kids, but those kids weren’t going to be little forever and we simply didn’t have room for four BIG kids.

Word on the street was that one of our neighbors a couple of houses up across the street was planning on selling his home. It was a gold brick split entry. I did not love gold brick. And I had no love lost on split entry. So I was not even interested in looking at that home. Until I heard the words “hardwood floors.” Yes. The upstairs bedrooms apparently had all hardwood floors under their carpet.

Split entry aside, this house 5 BR house was twice the size as our current home and was on a beautiful third-acre lot that had lots of potential. Fortunately, that year the bank had laughed out loud at us we were able to buy low and the market had grown steadily enough we could sell high and have enough equity for a decent down payment. So we jumped.


And that is how we moved literally across the street. I didn’t even have to unpack the drawers from our dressers, we just carried them over and slid them right back into their rightful slots.

What I love about this house is the plentiful storage (my first linen closet!), the shady back deck, having a real laundry room, and a dining room large enough room for a my large second-hand dining room table on which I can feed people.

Since then our kids have grow almost as tall as Shane’s little brother. They fill this house with their very tall friends. Our first grandson is now the same age as our youngest child when we moved in. Over the years we’ve watched neighbors come and go and sometimes come back again. They continue to be our people.

I love knowing that, for whatever reason, this was and is where we are supposed to be.

There’s no place like home.

NaBloPoMo November 2016


Still processing here (apologizing in advance). No real safe place to talk about it in between angry finger pointing in an ever increasing us vs. them world where everyone feels superior in their own sense of being right and extremes where either the sky is falling (perhaps it will) or that their wildest dreams will come true (they will be so disillusioned). So I’m back to trying to understand who and why, even though I feel powerless to do anything about it.

I may or may not have previously referenced Hillbilly Elegy, but what I’ve read about it has been nagging at me, because I am a part of the society that is standing by and doing nothing to help. In any case, these two articles (one which also references Hillbilly Elegy) struck me in different ways today.

One is here: What so many people don’t get about the US working class

And the other can be found here: The real bubble is rural America, where I found this to chew on:

“When you grow up in rural America, denying rights to people is an abstract concept.”

I guess this hit close to home because these are my people. I grew up in rural America. Where I knew no minorities, no marginalized people who needed defending (although in hindsight I’m sure there were silent women who needed defending, but I was too young, too naive to recognize it).

I know what changed me was having the opportunity to get an education and to serve as a missionary in culturally diverse countries where I learned to appreciate and love people of all cultures and religions. And where I first felt the sheer helplessness of watching a man physically abuse a woman in the name of his religion and I knew it was wrong. And I knew that while I was helpless then–still really a girl on a virtually deserted street with no phone to call 911 and no bystanders to rally to assistance (although it is likely at that time and place any effort to do so would have been in vain)–I wouldn’t always be. And I knew I would not be silent.

I know that while I do deal with sexism and unconscious bias, it is nothing next to what others endure every day and becoming aware of my privilege has been a journey accelerated simply by the opportunities I was born with and with which I could have easily been born without.

And so I continue to seek to understand.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

so many someones

Today’s prompt is to write about someone who is having a difficult time. Truth is, there are too many to name right now. I guess I’ll have to just jump right in the middle.

Wednesday a friend of mine voiced the fears of his half of his family–who are Hispanic–who are still reeling after being labeled rapist, murderers, and thieves. How do I respond to that kind of pain? The best I could do was to tell him how sorry I am for his pain and assure him that I will speak up and stand with and for them at every opportunity. Because I will. He replied and told me that meant a lot to him. Too many of our brothers and sisters keep looking around in disbelief at the heavy silence of no one speaking up for them.

Last night a friend of mine with two gay brothers and two young beautiful boys she adopted from another country posted the news about Republican support to build walls instead of bridges and is panicked about what kind of world she will be raising her children in. Again, what words are there for this? I tried to express hope that enough people want to get reelected again compassion and reason might prevail. And if not that so many of us would do all we could to stand up for compassion. But what if we are not enough?

Since Tuesday there are numerous reports in schools in my primarily Christian state about an increase in racist bullying of minorities. Hatespeech, graffiti, taunting. Where is the Christianity in this? Where is the humanity?

At the university where I work hateful and vulgar flyers attacking liberals were posted, which elicited a firm no-tolerance response from President Holland.

And at University of Pennsylvania a number of black freshman students were viciously added to a group account containing violent and racist images and messages.

So much hurt. So much fear. The result of unchallenged hate- and fear-mongering. I worry our collective voices are not enough to combat this.

Today a friend of mine posted this quote from Andrew Boyd:

Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.


[Day 38 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

NaBloPoMo November 2016