Oh the people you meet

While at Powell’s City of Books the other day, I picked up a sweet little red hardbound copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I started it on my flight from Portland to Salt Lake, in which I sat by a couple of polite young lovebirds who, for all they knew, were the only two people on the plane and knew there would be no worry about forced conversation. I didn’t get very far into the book (it’s a short flight when you’re flying direct), but I got to the part where Anne talks about what to write. It’s late and I’m too tired to try to yank childhood memories from the best kept secrets of my brain – best kept from me, that is. But before I forget these too, I wanted to record a few simple moments of my time in Portland.

*Conversation with the dark-haired parking attendant searching for his reading glasses so he could see. “I’m always looking for them.” “That’s why I try to keep mine on top of my head.” “You should get these at ? (I forgot already). Only a dollar. Much better than the $15 ones at ?(I forgot that too). I buy a whole bunch and keep them at every chair and table.”

Palace Cakes
*Walking up Yamhill I towards Powell’s City of Books on Burnside, what something caught my eye through the picture windows. I pressed my face up against the glass to peer in. I could see a tiny kitchen to the left, modest display shelves in the middle, and a handful of small tables and chairs to the right. I moved closer, careful not to smudge the glass, trying to see what creations were taking place in the kitchen. It was a bakery. Two women, clearly the forces behind the creations, bustled about the place. One took notice of me and cheerfully waved me in. I opened the door and was immediately overcome by the sweet fragrance of cinnamon and spice. A lovely, rugged arrangement of quince (I’ve never seen quince before, I just knew what it was) sat at the foot of a pretty glass cake plate. A number of cakes graced the display cases, but one in particular beckoned to my attention. Deep muted orange, topped with a sugar glaze. Sweet potato cake. I spoke with the proprietors for a few minutes, lingering to breathe in the evidence of another cake in the oven. They just opened in September. One of them used to be a caterer. They dreamed of opening a cake shop. Here they were.

“I’ll have a slice of the sweet potato cake.”

“Shall I wrap it for you?”

“Yes, please.”

Palace Cakes. A little slice of heaven.

I wished them much success and slowly (for I wanted it to last) made my way towards the door.

You should go.

*Further on, as I was walking toward the lovely cathedral, a man approached. He seemed fairly well dressed, but swaggered a big too wide on the city sidewalk. Unsure what to make of him (must I make anything of him at all?), I looked up to smile and acknowledge his presence. He looked right into my eyes and before I could even say hello, slowly, loudly, and enthusiastically burst out, “You have a GREAT day!” I think he meant it! “You have a great day, too!” I replied. And we went our separate ways.

Sweet woman in Powell’s. I asked her where I could sit and charge my iPhone for a few minutes while I decided what I needed to read. She directed me to a wooden bench by one of the entrance windows. I asked her what she had been reading that she could not put down. She showed me. We talked about books as if I were her only customer. She introduced me to a couple of new authors. And gave me a 10% coupon, which I forgot to use when I narrowed my selection of used books to two.

I must sleep. More tomorrow.

Remember me?

That girl who can’t quite find the right words for either the hard things or the glimpses of heaven this past year has brought, but who comes back and dusts off the keys of her computer keyboard in order to tell a few stories and meet the challenge of yet another NABLOPOMO?

That’s me. I’m in Portland at the moment but I wanted to share three little stories to get this party started.

Aiden is 6. I met him for the first time last night. He came with his family over to my brother’s house to trick or treat with my nephew. The kids went out trick or treating. I sort of hung back and let these longtime like-family friends spend some time together while I tried to get an idea of how Halloween was going with my family at home. When Aiden came back, the older kids went back out for more trick or treating and Aiden dumped his candy out on the carpet to see his spoils. My SIL happened to see him pick up a mini Baby Ruth and happened to mention to the adults in the room that it was her favorite and that she and shared the same favorite Halloween candy. A couple of minutes later Aiden handed the tiny Baby Ruth bar to Heather. Then searched through his loot to find another, which he quietly came over to hand to me. He was paying attention. Paying attention is an attribute far to scarce these days. Paying attention to someone else’s wants and needs, even rarer.

A good 45 minutes later, I looked down to see Aiden at my side, hand extended. With another miniature Baby Ruth.

Oh my heart, Aiden. What a sweet child. Hang on to that goodness in you. Don’t let the world knock it about.

Jakes 1852
Today was my day. My brother, Keith, and SIL, Heather, and his family were all about me. What did I want to do during my brief stay in Portland? We had decided to go to some great biscuit joint for lunch when this landlocked girl remembered how close we were to the ocean. Seafood. I must eat Seafood. Well, seafood is not exactly vegetarian. But my brother is. He paid no mind to that. Seafood it was. Jake’s, in fact. Established in 1892. He – my brother, not Jake, who I assume is long gone by now – paid no mind as he looked over the token vegetarian and gluten free menu. Nor did he complain as he settled on hummus while my SIL and I shared Oregon bacon-wrapped crab-stuffed jumbo prawns, Horseradish Crusted Wild Coho Salmon (running unusually late this year) from the Quinault River, and Dungeness Crab and Oregon Bay Shrimp Cakes served with jalapeno-ginger aioli (from Warrenton, Oregon).

It was truly an unselfish act. He has been the vision of thoughtfulness since the moment he picked me up at the Portland Airport yesterday morning at 9am with homemade pumpkin scones and a fresh Honey Crisp apple. I cannot tell you how it feels to be treated with deference and thoughtfulness. Only that it warms and lingers in my heart.

That was more about what I wanted to eat, not what I wanted to do. When it came to what to do, for some reason bridges were on my mind. And so we did bridges. I figured we would maybe drive somewhere from which we could see some of the wonderful bridges that span across the Willamette River. Instead we parked the car just north of the Hawthorne bridge on the east side and walked up a ways before crossing the Morrison bridge. Then we walked back down the west side before crossing the Hawthorne bridge. We were all the way across the Hawthorne bridge when we heard the warning that the bridge – it is a drawbridge – was being raised. We hustled back over to the middle to watch the ballasts come down and the bridge go up so a small (but apparently not small enough) could pass. And then we watched as the ballasts went back up, lowering the bridge back down again. And then walked back across the bridge and down to our car.

As we walked toward the car I found out that Heather, who is still recovering from a partially torn ACL, also has a bunion and a neuroma in her foot. She gimped back to the car, without complaint. Sacrificing her comfort to make sure I made the best of my time here in Portland.

Another unselfish act, offered without complaint. This sweet family has made it their pleasure to please me this weekend. They found joy in my joy over my first falafel, first cheese grits, first tram ride, first drawbridge experience. I cannot express my thanks. I can only remember the love I have felt and look for an opportunity to pay it forward.

2013 – year in review

1525415_10152520083083065_1927935255_nFarewell 2013

Wow. My first thought looking back is that 2013 is the year that tried to chew me up big time. But I bit back, chewed on it for awhile, chewed it up and spit the bitter parts right back out. When I savor what’s left, these are some of the top notes:

luke and emily
Our first wedding. I never once looked at it as losing a son. I gained a beautiful, gentle, kind-hearted, hard-working daughter. Welcoming Emily into our family is a pleasure and a joy.

#Ihatecancer. I won’t pretend I’m not mad as h377 or that this isn’t one of the most bitter parts of 2013. But if I am to be honest I must also say that the courageous battles my mother-in-law, my mother, several friends, and now my mother again have waged/are waging against this brutal disease have left me gut-punched also by tenderness, love, faith and peace. And it has not tarnished – it will not tarnish – my hope. Now as I look deeper, I realize some of my most sacred moments have occurred as I have been witness to some of the darkest moments of this war. Still chewing on that.

Closing the store is the brave thing to do. (Name that film!) I did something wild and crazy this year and walked away from something I knew well. Something comfortable and secure. From people I loved and who loved me right back. And took up, of all things, rocket science. Aerodynamics. Physics. Managerial Accounting. You name it. The girl who is afraid of flying stretched out her wings and reached for the sky. Yes – I still have much to learn. But I have made new friends, learned so much, and discovered what can happen when you dare to dream.

fam damily
Returned to the sea. One of the best things we did this year was rent a bright red brand new minivan, pile in all the kids, and head to the Northwest. It was the best of times. I need to stick my toes in the sand and let the wind whip salt-water spray across my face more often.

Salt Lake Comic Con. I got a golden ticket. Braved the crowd. Went with a new friend from my new job. And had the time of my life. Geeks are some of the friendliest people on the planet and my favorite part was chatting up strangers from Frontrunner to Trax to Comic Con and right back home again. Oh, and Q. And Barclay. And a Wookiee.

crows on tress
Provo River Trail.
Trees – from bursting with blossoms, to casting dappled shade on green grass, to dropping brilliant reds and yellows for me feet to crunch crunch crunch, to stark black branches against bare sky.
The constant, reassuring presence of Mt. Timpanogos.
Violent storm.
Peaceful, calming, quiet blankets of snow.

It does not get any better than that.

The entire year was made brighter and better by the love, laughter, and living life to the fullest with family and friends. Love and hugs to each and every one of you!

Welcome 2014. Bring it!

Christmas Makers Market

Here’s more Stuff. Zack. Does.

dreamcatchersChristmas Makers Market
Friday, December 13, 5-9pm
Saturday, December 14, 10am-3pm
The Startup Building
560 South 100 West, Provo


The dream catchers are 100% handmade. The leather is from a local Utah deer. I processed and tanned the hide over the course of a month. The string is made of deer sinew that was dried and pounded and then pieced into one continuous strand. I carved the beads in the center from bone; the other beads are carved from pine and balsa wood. The hoop is crafted from willows growing along the Provo River. The feathers are from my mom’s chickens.

My first job(s), or, I owe my soul to the company store

Not really. But this song my father used to play came to mind as I was thinking about this post.

Last night as I was negotiating snow and ice to enter the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU campus I passed a girl shoveling snow on the steps of one of the lower entries. I offered a few encouraging words and recalled how over 30 years ago I found myself applying for a job at BYU as an “on-call snow remover.” When I went in for the interview I was told, “We’ve never hired a girl for this position before.” I shrugged and explained that I was a hard worker and I actually enjoyed shoveling snow (which was a little naive of me, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest I could probably count on one hand the times I had shoveled snow. I had more experience shoveling manure). Having worked along side men and boys my entire life, it never even occurred to me that shoveling snow was a “boys’ job.”

I got the job and was pretty excited when I got the first call at some unearthly hour in the morning. This was long before snow blowers and four wheelers with snow plows on them and clearing the walks at BYU campus was an enormous task. Here’s the thing. It was clear from what I saw last night that even with the toys and the tools, removing snow from BYU campus is still a lot of hard work!

The work was fun, but not steady, and a couple of months later I broke my ankle running in the snow and realized it was time to look for something else to help me put myself through school.

The next job I applied for was as a custodian at the Harris Fine Arts Center (now you see why that brief moment last night brought the memories pouring in). At 4:00 in the morning. I was a freshman adjusting to managing school work and a social life for the very first time and also living in the dorms, which are not so conducive to sleep or study. I meant to go to bed at 9:00pm so I could wake up at 3:30am, but it didn’t always happen. Still, I enjoyed the work (the people at the Harris Fine Arts Center are civilized!) and I enjoyed my coworkers (I have a history of enjoying my coworkers) and I also learned you can sweep while sleepwalking, because one time–fortunately only once–I found myself with the broom to the wall of a room I had no recollection of sweeping across.

Eventually I decided to look for something with more suitable hours. I applied at the BYU Bookstore. Along with over 35 other applicants for one position. I still remember that interview with my eventual supervisor, whose name was Afton. Do you know what landed me that job? My first job. Five plus summers as a teenager working 40 hours a week hoeing weeks in bean and mint fields under the hot sun. Afton was more interested in that job than the additional years I’d spent working nearly full-time at a local pizza parlor, at times during the same summers I was working out in the fields. She looked me in the eye and told me how the years I’d spend doing that job told her I knew how to work. She gave me a shot, and I ran with it.

I worked at the BYU Bookstore until I graduated from BYU, taking an 18-month hiatus to serve a mission in France and Belgium for my church. I started out in gift wrap, which, if you knew me, might amuse you. I am a careless gift wrapper now, but at the time, I could fold and tuck corners in with precision and I was not sloppy with the tape. Eventually I was cashier, or checker as we were called then, before I made my way down to the sports department, where I remained. Have you ever purchased a BYU t-shirt or hoodie in one of those nice little shops during a football game at the stadium? I was in charge of organizing and running those back in the day we inventoried and packed up the BYU gear by hand and brought it to the stadium in big cardboard boxes and had to figure the tax into the cost and ring everything up, add totals and count change back by hand. Those were the days.

Ashton was right. You learn something from every job. And you take that something with you to your next job, where you can learn something more. And your next job. And your next job. And you can take those things that you learn and build on them your entire life.

For that and for all my jobs, I am immensely grateful.

Let us eat pie


Down to the wire tonight as I spent the entire day prepping for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving 2.0. Zack helped me with the pies and snagged this photo while I was quickly dotting the pecan pie with butter. I realized today that aside from adding Carina’s coconut cream pie to my repertoire a few years ago and finally last year discovering the value of a good brine, I’m generally content with the same recipes I’ve been using for years. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? This year I followed my friend Cafe Johnsonia’s advice and made a lovely turkey stock with which to make my stuffing and gravy for tomorrow. My entire house smelled SOOOOO good today while it simmered.

My new daughter-in-law, Emily, wanted to come learn to make pies today, but needed to study. So I promised her we would get together between Christmas and New Year’s and bake some pies. I want to try this Caramel Apple Pie I found in an ad for Organic Valley toward the end of this month’s Real Simple magazine. I think caramel is an addition to apple I can live with. And I think my dad, who was known for his love of pie, would have loved it.

As a side note: the other pie pictured here is my friend Sue Ostler’s Perfect Apple Pie. It is indeed perfect. It’s just been the past few years I have come to love apple pie. I think I was distracted growing up amidst all the berries and cherries. We lost Sue to breast cancer several years ago and I love carrying on her legacy by baking some of her best pies (see also, frozen cherry pie). While I was thinking of Sue it reminded me that Emily’s mother is also named Sue Ostler. I look forward to sharing some of Sue’s recipes with Emily. I think she’ll appreciate from whence they came.

Thanks again for sticking with me through Nablopomo this year. If I could, I’d invite each one of you to my house so we could sit down over a slice of pie and visit in person.

Happy Holidays!

When dreams come true

Well over twenty years ago when I started visiting my inlaws in The Basin, I recall having a strange dream. In it I heard my father-in-law and my mother-in-law discussing a cat. I’m near-deathly allergic to cats and there had been some discussion about putting the cat out when I came to stay (which is funny, really, because I’m not so much allergic to cats as to their dander, and their dander is on everything and remains long after one puts the cat out). In my dream I heard my mother-in-law tell my father-in-law that it when it came down to who got to stay it was simple:


Or the cat.

And my father-in-law replied,

“The cat.”

We all laughed about it then. And for years there was no cat inside the house. And I totally forgot about my silly dream.

Until I was so sick yesterday from the “new” cat. I’m not sure when this one showed up or from where. I just know it had been injured and the vet told my father-in-law to simply say goodbye. And the vet was wrong because the cat and it’s highly potent dander is just fine.

After I came home last night and washed any traces of dander out of my hair and from my skin and put on some clean pajamas and came to love breathing all over again I remembered the dream.

And my father-in-law’s response.

“The cat.”

Disclaimer: The above post, while true, is written complete tongue in cheek. Of course my inlaws are welcome to keep a cat if they want one. I have cats. And sometimes they sneak in. And if you gave some of my kids a choice (me or the cat), they might very well choose the cat as well. It’s all good. I just got a good giggle when I remembered my dream from forever ago. Now, if you want to know how I really feel–all kidding aside–hop on over to Segullah, where I waxed a little serious today.

Over the river and through the fog…I mean woods

This is a tale of the first Thanksgiving in ages when ALL the children came. And their spouses. And their children. And a few of their children’s children. The number varied, but we were right around 50, and when you count the guests that popped in and out, a good 60 or so dropped in.

This is only the driveway. There were cars along the street in front of the house, too. And since part of the family lives across the street, the cars don’t even begin to indicate how many people came.

the line outside

the human line

the line

the line inside

There were two brief moments of panic. One when my MIL said there was only one pumpkin pie, but that she had two frozen pumpkin pies she would bake. One homemade pumpkin pie does not go far amongst 50 plus. I offered to make pumpkin pies, even though I was in the middle of key lime and sour cream lemon. She said no. I began to convince myself that I could wait till I make pies on Saturday for a slice of homemade pumpkin. But then another SIL called and said she was baking pumpkin pies, so order was restored to my universe.

The second moment of panic was when I saw someone break out store-bought rolls. Not homemade and not even bakery (think Sally’s) bought rolls, but store-bought rolls. When I got to the food table and picked up my paper plate, my eyes fell on this feast and I could breathe again.


We gather and dine in the hogan my FIL built onto their house. It serves as a family room. The Rowleys certainly know how to put the “family” in family room.
photo courtesy of Zack Rowley


the right insides

Not pictured: The main table. It’s an eight-sided table my FIL built in the early years. The eight sides correspond with the 8 sides of the hogan. They match, you see? That table was full, too. All in all, it was cozy and a good crowd. We are blessed and for that I am most grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

p.s. Remind me tomorrow to tell you tomorrow about the dream I had about a cat decades ago and how it came true this trip.

You CAN fight city hall


Last fall while my mother and my mother-in-law were both undergoing cancer treatments and I was working like crazy at my former company to integrate acquired accounts after the partial buy-out of another company, things fell apart at home. I was relieved that most of my bills were paid online because the last thing I was thinking about was the incoming mail, most of which is junk. So it wasn’t until three days after the deadline to appeal that I took a minute to look at my property taxes and realized that the county had assessed some $25,000 of “improvements” onto the value of my home and that my taxes went up over 33%. While I wish we had been able to afford $25,000 of improvements on our aging home, the tax increase hit us hard and completely ate up the savings we’d just established on our mortgage after a refi just months before. It hit us doubly hard when I realized that the automatic payments I had set up through my bank were not adequate, which I didn’t realize until we were assessed a whole mess of late fees because instead of at least making partial payments towards our mortgage with the inadequate payments, the mortgage company just kept shuffling our mortgage payments into a separate fund for “undetermined funds.” Whatever.

I tried to appeal anyway was was met with a goose chase and no sympathy from the county assessors office. I thought about all the people who are arbitrarily hit with similarly unjustified tax increases but don’t know how to fight back. I thought how the government should have to justify such unjustified tax increases rather than putting the burden of proof on the homeowner. And I contacted my state senator, who, though we no longer see eye to eye politically, has always been respectful and responsive. She gave me an email of a VIP at the county and I emailed him. No response. I emailed him again. No response. I emailed him a third time. No response.

Figuring I just had to hold my peace until I could fight city hall, or, as it were, the county assessor, I coughed up the hundreds of extra dollars and waited until this fall. At which time I contacted a friend of mine who is in the know about these things and had her do some comps for me. And I took my appeal to the county. I noticed upon second look that an adjustment had been made, so the VIP must have at least received and acted upon my emails even though he never bothered to respond. But the adjustment was not entirely adequate and I figured the county had robbed me of a good $400+ last year, so I did not want to give them another extra penny.

The significance of the county’s response, another adjustment lowering my property value to the amount determined by the comps, wasn’t fully realized until I got an escrow account disclosure statement yesterday. I knew property taxes were going up this year anyway, but I still figured my mortgage should go down. Yet I failed to anticipate there would be a surplus this year already once my taxes were paid this month and that my mortgage company would be sending me a reimbursement check.

Oh happy day. The timing couldn’t be better, as December hits us hard and we generally only recover in time to be hit hard again come April 15th.

And this is why you can, and you should, fight city hall. Or at least the county assessor.

working lunch

Some of the old gang gathered for lunch today. My former boss, a former coworker who is now a current coworker in my new job, and another of our former coworkers. The one who made it big. Back in the day we were in at the beginning of something unusual and special. Transitioning a 100-year-old company into the digital age. (Oddly enough, at the same time I–a 17-year SAHM–was transitioning into the digital age.) Aside from my boss, who started at the company right out of high school and is now the brains and the heart of the business as well as a top-level executive too humble to accept a title along with her responsibilities, the rest of us came on as temps.

I was in the second training group, and I almost quit, on principle, during the first week of training. But a voice in my heart, the same voice that told me to apply to the rather vague help-wanted ad in the first place, told me to stop mid sentence. Within just a couple of months of getting hired, our temp jobs turned more permanent and one by one the three of us coworkers became supervisors. The other two, along with most of our crew, were college-age kids. I know they saw me as the old lady, but one of the secrets of growing older is that you are merely the sum of all the ages you used to be. So from my point of view I was just another kid.

All the players in this story are private and would prefer their names be kept out of it, and I’m not inclined to make up pseudonyms, so let’s just say the first one of the group to become a supervisor and I did not see eye to eye. In fact, we bumped heads, locked antlers, what have you. We did not even pretend to like each other. As my supervisor, he critiqued my work one day. The next day, I went back to him and successfully argued every point of the four points he questioned. Our respect for one another grew. Looking back, I believe one of the reasons we were so successful at what we did is because the culture created in our budding department encouraged this kind of give and take. It can be a little awkward at first, but it helps you grow.

I was made supervisor in the next round. I hadn’t been there but four months. Within a couple of weeks of being made supervisor, with a total of four responsibilities on the list of my new job responsibilities, the company moved an entire department’s work to our office. And we grew some more. Our other friend, the one with whom I again work only for a different company, became a supervisor shortly after. We worked hard. Worked hard to build a new department and worked hard to build bridges with other teams within the company who’d once seen themselves as adversaries. To this day, those are some of the people I miss the most at that company, even though I’ve never met any of them face-to-face.

The four of us–our boss and the three of us supervisors–became good friends. Like family. For me at least, that feeling of family extended to a good number of our coworkers. I drove one of the girls to the hospital when her husband was injured in an industrial accident. I drove a few people home when they were sick or without a ride. I drove another kid home when he was just having a really bad no good awful day. But the bond was closest among us four.

Most of the students moved on to bigger and better things once they graduated. I already had my degree, but like what I was doing, loved the people I was doing it with, and liked the way the flexibility my job allowed let me maintain my family as my first priority. Almost every year the one who made it big (I’d love to tell you how big, but then he’d have to kill me–I’m only mostly kidding about that) comes “home” for the holidays and we meet for lunch. We meet at the Olive Garden. Which is funny, really. He travels all over the world and Italy is his second favorite place. So he knows better, but picks it anyway.

Almost every time he says that of all the places he’s worked, he loves our team the best. It was the best of times. Today we finally articulated for the first time just how special it was. It never made headlines. The company didn’t go public. We didn’t get paid the big bucks. But it was special and amazing and wonderful nonetheless. I credit my boss mostly, for not micromanaging and for giving us the space and the autonomy to discover and develop our respective talents. It made us better individuals and it made us a better team.