Saturday, December 22, 2012

NOBODY had a fake tree

Back in the day, NOBODY had a fake tree—

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! Like I needed to tell YOU that. And I’m hoping that by the time you read this, I will have finally finished decorating my house...juuuuuust in time to take it all back down again. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that I only had to buy one extra piece of furniture this year to display my newly acquired baubles.

Of course, nothing I hang in my own home could even hope to compare to the magnificent garland and colored balls that for years graced the intersection of downtown Syracuse.

Like angels trumpeting in the season, this simple strand of greenery that draped from pole to pole was, to us kids, the shot heard ‘round the world. The Christmas Revolution had begun! And with it, heralded in silver bells, paper snowflakes and trips to Kings to buy another bottle of Blue Waltz perfume for my mother because somehow she kept accidentally spilling hers in the toilet. Silly Mom.

Back then we used to buy real trees—NOBODY had a fake tree. And if they did, they were smart enough not to admit it. We’d go to the tree lot and pick out the perfect pinion pine...even though “perfect” and “pinion pine” are about as compatible as kisses and burps.

We would haul it home and drag it through the house, leaving a trail of dead needles that would eventually make their way into the soles of our feet. But that hardly mattered, because THIS WAS CHRISTMAS AND THESE PINE NEEDLES WERE ABOUT BABY JESUS! And Baby Jesus made everything better. Still does.  

After that, things turned a little bit dark, as it involved hand saws, crooked tree trunks and scorching hot lightbulbs. Plus my dad. So basically a Molotov Cocktail. And every few years, my dad would actually saw through his arm. 

Which makes me laugh until I cry to remember, but that is WRONG, you guys. And heartless. So I’m very sorry. (clearing throat and wiping away mirthy tears)

Anyway, when the cursing subsided and the wounds were bandaged, we children would come out from under our beds and begin the tradition of decorating the tree. Our attention spans were short, and what started out as careful placement of two or three strands of icicles at a time, soon disintegrated into pom-pom wads thrown like fast balls so we could hurry up and get to the hot chocolate.

Christmas morning always dawned too early for my parents—I never understood why. We’d beg to be let out of our rooms, and were answered with the familiar refrain; “FIVE MORE MINUTES!” Eventually, we wore them down, and after Dad checked to see if Santa had been there, he called up the O.K. and we came like flying monkeys down the stairs.   

Out of thousands of presents over the years, a couple stand out;

    1. A miniature doll house “some assembly required” kit that unbeknownst to us was made up of male and female parts that had been frantically multiplying and replenishing while in storage, thus EXPLODED into a million tiny pieces when the box was opened. Which is how it ended up at the D.I. for someone else to “really appreciate”, and;

    1. A trip to Washington D.C. for my Senior year, that never “actually” transpired, because the ticket wasn’t “actually” purchased, because we didn’t “actually” have enough money. But it made for a really fun theoretical Christmas gift. 

Well, just like the Bible says, “It came to pass...” And it did. Present day thoughts and experiences—they came to pass. And although we’ve all heard the cliche, “It’s the thought that counts,” I’d like to take a little poetic license and suggest that rather, “It’s the memory that counts.”

Memories of cinnamon candy and homemade toast, and rooftop icicles that became tasty treats for the walk home from school. Holiday crafts and school programs, with every child wise to the fact that Batman smells and Robin lays eggs.

Christmas Village and Temple Square and traditional dinners of potatoes and peas eaten by candlelight. 

And finally, the family Bible on a bed of red velvet, with a piece of hollyberry to mark the story of Mary and Joseph and a manger filled with hay. 

I think that last one is my favorite. Because as I said earlier on, Baby Jesus made everything better, bless His heart...every memory, every experience, every trial and every family was better because of Him.

And whether or not the world believes it, we still are. May these words never fade into the distance, but rather take center stage daily in our homes: 

“GLORY TO GOD in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”



Saturday, December 8, 2012


Good times, these last hurrahs.

Our family recently travelled to Disneyland, so we could spend our life savings on churros. It was our second son’s “last hurrah” family vacation before he leaves for his LDS mission to Uganda. I KNOW, RIGHT? I didn’t know where it was, either. 

Now some of you may not understand what a “last hurrah” is. My oldest son, Ashton, started the tradition, calling every discarded curfew, late night Halo party, Crown Burger hoark-fest and reason to borrow and spend too much money, his “last hurrah”. As in;

“It’s my last hurrah, Mother...Father. Before I selflessly leave you and all that I hold dear, for TWO YEARS, to serve the Lord and bring souls unto Christ. These final, cherished memories and experiences...hurrahs, if you will...are all I ask before I bid you adieu. Please, do not begrudge me these fading, precious moments.”

  Ashton Bingham = Spin Doctor.

Anyway, second son has taken over where first son left off, and our lives are once again centered around last hurrahs. Which is how we ended up in California. 

We spent several days with princesses and wicked queens before braving the insanity that is L.A.’s freeway, so we could tour the backlot of Universal Studios.

And now, I will never again watch a television show, movie or even commercial without a hint of cynicism, because NOTHING was as I had perceived—not the streets, the campgrounds, the town squares—NOTHING!  IT’S ALL JUST A BIG, FAT LIE, YOU GUYS! 
And don’t get me started on the homes! What looks magnificent and grand on-screen? Well, turns out they’re only partial facades made to look stately with a special camera angle. ANOTHER WORMY APPLE LIE! 

So this got me to thinking about a recent trip my dad and I took, to visit my grandma in Clifton, Idaho. Every turn in the road had a tale to tell, and my dad would give me the history of each landmark—which always seemed to contain tragedy, mental illness and wiener pigs...(hand waving dismissal)—it’s hard to explain.

Anyway, we drove past a pretty, red brick farmhouse, and Dad told me that every new farmer to the area would drive his bride through the countryside, looking for property. The wives were enchanted by this home—noticed it was the biggest and best in the neighborhood and wanted the instant status that owning it would bring. Surprisingly, there would be a For Sale sign in the yard, and they felt this was divine intervention in their behalf.

Well, even though the home was desirable, seems the soil itself was not. In fact, it was barren, never providing a single harvest. And after a couple of years of fruitless reaping, hand wringing over unpaid bills and realizing the beautiful facade told nothing of the ugly reality, the bride would pack up her dishes and the sign would reappear in the front yard, awaiting yet another unsuspecting couple ready and willing to take a bite out of that wormy apple.

I think there are an awful lot of wormy apples out there.

Years ago, a well meaning woman told me that if I wanted my daughter to be a cheerleader, I would need to get her involved in dance, cheer, gymnastics AND hire a personal coach by the time she was three years old. That’s right, three. 

Never mind that tryouts weren’t for another decade. It was still imperative that we spend enormous amounts of time, effort and money, on a pretty little red brick farmhouse while my daughter’s soul turned rocky and barren because her entire self worth was tied up in how she looked holding a pair of pom-poms. 

Of course I have nothing against being a cheerleader—I was one, remember? And I could jump kick the heck out of a football game. But that wasn’t all I was. When the uniform came off, as it always does, my parents made sure my spirit was rich and fertile. They forced me to...I mean, I WILLINGLY served my neighbors, baked bread, read books and rode my bike. I was an artist, a babysitter, an entrepreneur and an honor student. And okay, sure, that last one may not have continued into my college years, but my point is this; 

Spending that much time and effort on a beautiful facade while what lies beneath shrivels and dies is a recipe for disaster. Which is why I never did get her a coach. Go ahead—call DCFS. 

It still remains to be seen whether or not she even tries out. But in the meantime, I take great pleasure in pointing her toward the piano and commanding her to practice, telling her to apologize to her brothers and making her clean the cat-poop out of the litter box. Because I’ll be darned if her soil isn’t as valuable as her farmhouse! 

And don’t worry—she’ll thank me one day. Bless her shiny, red heart.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


I'd like to join the Thanksgiving cacophony and wish you all a HAPPY HOLIDAY with this here article—don't say I never give you anything.

Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE! It didn’t used to be so—I mean sure, as a child I loved to sing about the great, big turkey down on Grandpa’s farm, but mostly it was just a blip on the radar screen between Happy Halloween and Merry Christmas.

Growing up we’d make the trek to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Cache Valley, which felt like an eternal pilgrimage. I’d try to fall asleep as soon as I could to dream away the miles. One year I nodded off in the hatchback of our crappy blue Toyota and woke up a couple of hours later, surprised to find we were still on the road. 

“We’re not there yet?” I rubbed my eyes and looked from window to window.

“Not quite. Can you figure out where we are?” My dad grinned from the front seat. Still groggy, I searched the landscape until slow illumination dawned. 

“Is that...hey...that’s this...WE’RE BACK HOME?” I accused. 

And sure enough, we were. We’d been snowed out of the canyon and forced to turn back.

Of course, we’d planned to gorge ourselves in Logan, thus we’d kept our cupboards sparingly stocked with cream of celery soup and Spam. So we parked in front of the only store open on Thanksgiving Day—Circle K—and each of us was allowed to create our very own festive meal. I chose yogurt and red licorice laces. 

Best. Day. Ever. 

That wasn’t the only time we were snowed out of the canyon. One year, we drove in a blizzard through Sardine in our spray-painted brown van, with tires so bald the back end whipped from side to side like a girl in a grass skirt. 

This sort of thing tended to make my dad a little bit anxious. And by “a little bit anxious,” I mean crazy eyes, pulling at his shirt collar, running his fingers through his hair and constantly rearranging himself in his seat. Then he rolled down his window to shout and gesture at each passing car, “TURN BACK! TURN BACK BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!  IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK—IT’S A DEATH TRAP! TURN BACK OR YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”

We didn’t all die, but probably other people did. I don’t know. I didn’t read the obituaries.

On the occasions we did arrive, there was a magnificent feast to behold! Homemade rolls and pies covered every surface, the finest china and polished silver graced white lace tablecloths, and the breezeway pantry was filled with chocolate turkeys, homemade penuche, and dollops of merengue and divinity. The day was spent in prayer, chatter and hours and hours of filling our bellies, letting it settle for a bit, then topping it off again with a swig of Pepsi and “just one more piece of caramel”. We drove home happy, grateful...and with the windows opened a smidge because we were all a little bit gassy.

The years passed, and before I knew it, over the river and through the woods morphed into half a block down the street, as my own parents became host and hostess. Then, they passed the torch to us. And suddenly, I became Queen of List Making. Which started me wondering—Is it all worth it? This exhaustive attention to detail for just one simple day?

Right about that time I read an article about a family celebrating Thanksgiving. And though I can’t remember the words that were written, the pictures painted more than a thousand words—people milling about in pajama pants and stained t-shirts, holding paper plates and plastic utensils, standing at the bar around aluminum pans filled with beans and wienies, then gathering around the television to watch football, before figuring out their game plan for hitting the stores at midnight.

The dumbing down of America.

Then I remembered what my Grandma Sybil used to say, “Poor people have poor ways.” Even as a child I knew this meant we become poor when our customs become has nothing to do with money.

And suddenly, there was clarity. The fresh flowers and pressed linens...the napkin rings and silver pitchers...the washed windows and scrubbed baseboards and nine eggs and six cubes of butter in every batch of rolls...those weren’t just exhausting “details”. They were gifts.

Gifts from pilgrims who found themselves alive and well in a new home and declared a celebration was in order. Gifts from pioneer ancestors who swept their dirt floors one last time before they were driven from their homes. Gifts from grandmothers who brought out the red velvet covered sterling and taught a child how to polish and shine each piece and from parents who demonstrated through word and action never to treat sacred things lightly. 

An abundance from God, Family and Country, wrapped up in culture and tied with tradition, which must never be replaced with pajama pants and paper plates.

Bless every one of their hearts, for they have filled my cup to overflowing. And as I lay me down to sleep, I give thanks that no matter how small my bank account, I will never, ever be poor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


(Here's to hoping the guy this is about doesn't read this—and just in case you think this is about you, it's not) 

       So my skirt fell off in church a little while ago. And when I say “fell off,” I’m not speaking of I tripped over the hem or it dipped a little bit below the waistline or anything benign like that. No, I’m talking about material in a puddle around my ankles, cool breezes blowing past my upper thighs and full on mooning of the primary children. 
When I was telling my husband about the incident, he asked the inevitable: “Were you wearing a slip?” And of course, the answer was no. 

Which means my mother would have been so ashamed.

See, all my years growing up, she wanted me to wear a slip—told me it was about decorum and modesty and that this is just what elegant women do. But being the equivalent of an adolescent hop-toad, those words of wisdom were lost on me. All I knew was that slips were only necessary if you were wearing a see-through skirt and your bum might show—which I never did. And in order to exercise my brainless autonomy, it was necessary to stage an open rebellion against “The Man”. Or “The Slip”. Either way, both establishment and both the enemy.

Fast forward to age forty-four—WHAT? YOU’RE FORTY FOUR? OH. MY. HECK. THERE IS NO WAY YOU’RE THAT OLD! YOU LOOK FANTASTIC!—stop it! You’re embarrassing me! Anyway, at forty four, I finally figured out why slips matter. Not willingly and with some innocence lost—I’m so sorry primary children—but now I’m a believer.

They say it is a “slothful and unwise servant” who must be compelled in all things. I think that’s Bible speak for “teenagers.” This is why parents have to get comfortable with the loving push and shove that comes with this line of work. I myself am eternally indebted to my mom and dad for emotionally manhandling me into coercion when it mattered.

Years ago I was dating a boy my parents weren’t particularly fond of. There was talk of “settling” and “ugly babies” and being “likely to dwell in your in-laws basement for eternity.” Talk like that. And when they nudged me in a different direction than him, I told them I had NO NEED FOR THAT SLIP, and knew exactly what I was doing. 

One night, I returned home, having spent the evening with him, and my dad was waiting up for me. This is never a good thing. He asked what my intentions were, and I flippantly told him I wasn’t sure, but “Geez, Dad, it’s not like I’m going to MARRY him!” 

In a very calm voice, my father said something along these lines: “My dear daughter, your mother and I are stewards over you. We believe that if you continue dating this young man, you will, in fact, marry him. And your life will be very unhappy and almost certainly end in divorce. What would you say if I told you, we want you to break off this relationship?”

Once again, an intelligent, mature response, “Well, I’d say you can’t tell me what to do. I’m 20 years old, Dad. (smug eye roll) I can make my own decisions.” 

He looked at me for a moment, then with quiet resolve said, “Then you will need to pack your bags tonight and move out of our home by tomorrow, because if you don’t respect your mother’s and my ability to receive inspiration and revelation in your behalf—to see something you are unable to see because you are too close to it—then we can’t have you living under our roof, and you’ll need to leave.”

Well, you have never in your life seen a girl backpedal as fast and furious as I did that night. I tripped and fell all over myself, trying to undo the damage I’d caused. Truth is, I had no intention of giving up ANYTHING for this dumb boy, but was too foggy to understand that I would eventually give up EVERYTHING for this dumb boy. 

And my father had never spoken to me like this—had never threatened me with something so serious, which is why I listened. I guess he’d been saving it for when it really mattered, knowing that one day, I’d be tip-toe dancing along a precipice and would need to be jolted out of complacency before it was too late.

Well, anyway, it worked. I chose a different path. Chose—Compelled. Whatever. Either way, the result was the same—A happy life, a happy marriage, and not an ugly child in the bunch. VICTORY! 

So in the end, a few things; first, save your weighty threats for when they count, else you run the risk of becoming white noise to your children. Second, parents are a lot like a slip, ready and willing to protect us from foolish choices, if we’ll only just put them to use. And third, as you’ve probably already noticed, I really do look FANTASTIC for forty-four...bless my photoshopped heart. ;)

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Sometimes I read my stuff and am sorely disappointed. I think it's because of a lack of swear words. I tried to remedy that a bit in this column. Still disappointed, though. I'll try to do better next time:

When I was growing up, we had a particularly horrid Halloween witch that scared the Bejebus out of all of us kids. Every night, she was returned to her place of honor in the middle of our kitchen table, where she sat grimacing and warty, waiting for the poor, unfortunate child who might have to return after hours for a glass of water. If we were dying of thirst, we came in the way we came out—a pillow held to our chest, singing, “I am a Child of God” and making direct eye contact with her cardboard expression, so she couldn’t come clawing after us when we turned our backs. 

Year after year, we brought her back out. Probably because we couldn’t really afford anything else. And also, because there WASN’T really anything else. Halloween was much simpler back then, friends. A few poster board pictures taped to a window, jack-o-lanterns on the porch and dum-dum suckers for trick-or-treaters. VOILA! Done.

We had exactly three costumes to choose from in our box—a clown, a witch and a giant pumpkin stuffed fat and full with crumpled up newspaper. This was back when a giant pumpkin was a novelty, because King’s only sold skeleton, ghost and witch ensembles, with plastic masks that had teeny holes for the eyes and a little slit for the mouth...which we used to stick our tongue through before putting it back on the shelf for some other unsuspecting kid to buy. But remember, this was back in the 70‘s and we were much less concerned with infectious diseases.

Now far as I know, I was the very first giant pumpkin at Syracuse Elementary, and I rocked that squash better than any girl had a right to. Until I had to go to the bathroom, and then things went south on account of there was this big safety pin holding the neck closed, keeping the newspaper stuffing corralled. Once the costume was dismantled, the reassembly was near impossible for a seven year old child, which is why I sat weeping in the stall for an hour before my teacher came to save me. 

She pulled me together just in time for the loudspeaker announcement we’d all been waiting for—”OKAY EVERYBODY, LINE UP! IT’S TIME FOR THE HALLOWEEN COSTUME PARADE!”

I can’t even begin to describe what this event meant to us. It was magical. Children and adults alike, lining the hallways and classrooms, applauding awards for “Most Beautiful,” and “Scariest!” Siblings shouting and waving en route, all of us guessing who was behind each yarn wig and Indian face painting. The hallways smelled of popcorn and the overwhelming anticipation of the evening’s activities just about dropped us to our scabby little knees, as it was all we could do not to clench our fists and give a primordial scream to the blue October sky that would soon turn dark and bewitching. 

Then some big fat bawl-tit complained that the district shouldn’t be observing a demonic holiday, and masks were hazardous to our health and no child deserves to be THAT happy, thus, let us do away with this ritual and replace it with, oh, I don’t know...nothing? 

So they did. And bawl-tit was happy.

Bawl-tit laid low for a few years, which allowed the BRILLIANT minds of Scott Denhalter, Ken Robbins and Seldon Young to write, direct and produce the scariest haunted house ever known to man—CALIGARI’S CLINIC! 

It was held at the Freeport Center, which used to be a naval base and POW camp. Long vacant, the warehouse smelled of desolation and misery—the perfect backdrop for a haunted insane asylum. Production included every member in the Syracuse 7th LDS ward, and drew crowds from hundreds of miles away. 

Visitors toured the facility, following guides like Dracula and Quasimodo, as they showed off the accomplishments of the infamous Dr. Caligari. Hags spit peeled grape loogies at unsuspecting guests while Pat Handrahan fed body parts into a meat grinder. When his own arm was wrenched into the blades, his squirting, bloody stump sprayed the audience, made even more horrifying because he really was missing an arm.

Dan Mildon sat in a corner while real tarantulas climbed all over his lifeless body. False ceilings gave way to hanging corpses, impaled women lined the hallways, dripping blood, and Stan Sims threw himself down the stairs, landing at the screaming feet of patrons who had nowhere to run or hide. 

Then, at the very end, after passing the deranged dentist and the moaning patients and real guillotine and rolling heads—when you had exited the warehouse and finally believed you were safe and sound, a witch vomited watery oatmeal out of an upper window, where it splatted onto your head. SO AWESOME!

Course, along came bawl-tit, and blah, blah, blah, “Inappropriate” “Gruesome”, and Caligari’s Clinic was shut down forever more. 

Well anyway, all of these memories combine in the witches cauldron of my mind, where just like the scaryashell kitchen decoration, I pull them out and set them in their place of honor. Warty, giant pumpkin, insane, costume parade recollections of ghosts of Halloweens past. And as I cackle down memory lane, I sometimes wish that I might revisit those days...

...if only to punch bawl-tit in the mouth.

Bless his fun-hatin’ heart.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


With today being Homecoming, and my son dismissing every ounce of advice given to him, this post is even more relevant;

Ah, Homecoming. My senior year. The colors were blue and silver, the theme was......apparently forgettable, and we were in charge of blowing up thousands of balloons with helium to decorate the school gym.

Eight hours later, we stumbled out into the light of day, inert gas tanks empty, dizzy from lack of oxygen and with just a touch of chipmunk still tainting our voices. But our work there was done, and it was magnificent! We drove away with blinding headaches, excited to ready ourselves for what was sure to be the end all-be all of our existence.

Turns out not so much.

Seems my date had fallen in love with another girl in the two week interim between asking me and actually attending the ball. She had no date, thus, was sitting home alone, weeping and forsaken, while I was lucky enough to double with her best friend who hated my guts and was charged with making sure the evening was a failure.

It was.  

I spent the majority of the night avoiding her searing pitchfork eyeballs, stifling yawns and praying the Exedrin would kick in before I had to stab at my skull with the little baby butter fork...not that I even knew it was a butter fork, because to my foggy brain, it just looked like a special little princess utensil that I should eat my steak with.

And I can’t recall how it all ended (open mouthed snoring on somebody’s shoulder), but the important thing was, according to the pictures, we were HAVING THE TIME OF OUR LIVES! 

Next dance, girl’s choice. A witch carried a pumpkin to his door, and asked him to carve yes or no and return it to me. The pressure of answering was just too much for the poor lad, so he didn’t. That’s right, you heard me—he DIDN’T. Just left the pumpkin rotting on his porch, while my feelings for him shriveled alongside. But I kept a brave face, asked another boy and acted as if all was well...that I hadn’t really expected that first boy to answer, and this was what I intended all along.

Skip over the next few dances, and we find ourselves at Senior Cotillion—where dreams come true! My mother made me the most beautiful gown, we dyed shoes to match and for the first time in my life, I went to the beautician to have my hair done. I was giddy thinking about my...I mean our...entrance into the Capitol Rotunda. 

So here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Late pick up, no reservations, lost in Salt Lake, dinner in a Bar and Grill, sheets of rain, hair ruined, makeup smeared, five minutes to dance, The End. And I don’t think I’ve forgiven him yet, because HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU NOT MAKE DINNER RESERVATIONS ON THE BIGGEST NIGHT OF YOUR LIFE? Criminy! Plus where was his mother? Surely she should have held onto those reins to make sure his horses stayed out of the ditch!

Well, now I am that mother. And believe you me, I have held onto those straps until my hands were bloody, and my mouth full of mud from being dragged through the streets. But eventually, you’re compelled to let go and just hope the damage is minimal.

A few years back, I was ticked off at my eldest as he took his perfect mother for granted. As the dance approached, I sat back and waited for him to mention his attire. He didn’t, so neither did I. Turns out he considered his black shirt a great background for a brown and green polka dot tie, neither of which matched her dress. Raised eyebrows followed them everywhere, and she kept her head low in shame. Not my fault. He should have apologized.

Last February, another son was asked to Preference. He answered yes, and plans were set in motion. “When is the dance?” I asked, repeatedly. “I can’t remember, but I’ll find out,” came his echoing reply. This went on for weeks until I finally insisted, “Listen, son, I need to get her corsage ordered before we leave for Disney World, so it’s not stressing me out. Now call somebody RIGHT NOW, and give me an exact date!” 

“Okay,” he got off the phone. “It’s next week.” 


And sure enough, it was. We taxied in just as the dance was coming to an end. He apologized with flowers, but still, he ruined everything. And once again, we see that the reins were jerked out of a vigilant mother’s hands.  

Anyway, as we revel in this Homecoming season, let’s remember a few things; first, if the pictures say you were having fun, then you were. Second, if the answer isn’t yes, you’d better say it with flowers. And last, I think we can all agree that boys really have no business being involved in dances, at least not until their frontal lobe is fully developed. 

Bless their buckin’ bronco hearts.

Friday, September 21, 2012


When I turned ten, my mother made me the most wonderful cake in the Universe—a pink frosted, rainbow sprinkled number 10 on tinfoil covered cardboard. I kept watch over it as we made preparations to go to the family cabin for the Labor Day weekend. 

When we arrived, I gingerly carried the dessert to the picnic table, then ducked behind the pine trees to wait while the extended family planned whatever “Lisa’s Birthday” surprise they had in mind. Laying in the hammock, I looked skyward and swung back and forth, imagining it all, most especially my startled, modest smile when I heard their cries of birthday cheer. 

About fifteen minutes later, I straightened my green turtle neck, tucked my hair behind my ears, then emerged with a flourish from the quaking aspens.

Not a soul turned their head.

Why you ask? Well, that would be because they were all gathered around the fire pit, BURPING UP RAINBOW SPRINKLES AND LICKING PINK FROSTING OFF THEIR PIGGY LITTLE FINGERS!

That’s right. Stinkin’ fools had eaten every last slice of my number ten cake, leaving me with nothing but an empty belly and shattered dreams.

I never got over it. Told the tale every chance I had and laid it on thick. Fast forward ten years, and I had just finished telling my boyfriend about my blighted childhood. A few days later, I arrived home late from work and was met by my parents telling me something was waiting for me in the kitchen. There, in the soft glow of candlelight, was Sterling, holding balloons and smiling behind a pink frosted, rainbow sprinkled number ten birthday cake. I melted right along with the wax and held my ring finger out for him to size.

A few months after the wedding, we spent our September birthdays together for the first time, and I felt the weight of the challenge, as he had already proven himself to be a superior gift giver. I spent weeks searching, listened for the most subtle hints, and eventually settled on a Batman mug (his favorite movie) and a cat. No, really—that’s what he wanted. (Also a surprise trip to Park City, but I wouldn’t tell him where we were going until we hit Provo and I still hadn’t seen any sort of exit sign, then I admitted my plans, and we backtracked for two hours, but it was okay, because we were in love.)

He gave me a flimsy nightgown.

A few months after that, we spent our first Christmas together. I saved my paychecks and gave him a camcorder because he had expressed interest in becoming a videographer. He gave me a car stereo for his truck. And a flimsy nightgown.

Then came our first Valentines Day together. I gave him love notes, his favorite CD and expensive cologne. He gave me a rice steamer. And a flimsy nightgown.

Easter? I left a trail of bunny paw prints from our bed to his basket, filled with goodies and gifts galore that I had stayed up all night putting together. He broke the Sabbath to pick up a potpourri burner at Shopko. And a flimsy nightgown.

As Mother’s Day rolled around, one thing had become crystal clear—the ten cake was a total fluke. Turns out he thought like a man and he bought like a man. And though his heart was earnest and his soul was sincere, we finally came to the very sensible, if unromantic, understanding called, “Gift Cards or Cash and No. More. Nightgowns.” We shook on it, and have never looked back.

Actually, that’s not true. On rare occasions, I have mentioned a touching gift a friend received, followed by a childish outburst that it seems like HER husband is more vested in their eternal love affair than MINE. This sends him into a guilt induced shopping frenzy, and thanks to Smith and Edwards, I end up unwrapping a machete, beef jerky and a neck warmer for when I go snowmobiling. 

Which I do never. 

Anyway, now we find ourselves half a lifetime past those first birthdays. Officially together longer than we were apart. Four beautiful children, trips to Bear Lake, peach pie from Maddox and holiday traditions...weekly date night, inside jokes, binging on Netflix and his strong, capable hand holding my smaller, wrinkly one every Sunday in church. The same hands that brought me roses in the hospital, put up tents in the backyard, built a business to provide for his family and covered a cardboard platter in strips of tinfoil to hold a rainbow sprinkled, pink frosted number 10 birthday cake for a girl with a blighted childhood memory.

And finally, I realize that the very best gifts aren’t diamonds or gold, or light blue Jaguars with big red bows in the driveway, but rather it seems the very best gifts are made out of...Sterling. 

Turns out he really is a superior gift giver. Bless his precious metal heart.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Is it too late to apologize?...

The first day of school brought with it many wonderful traditions, but one of my favorites was pulling up a pair of brand new, fresh elastic, white nylon knee highs. They were thin and tight and refused to puddle around my ankles those first few weeks of September. Even more exciting was the year that my mother nodded her head at the ZCMI sock sale when I held up a pair of orange and blue tie dyed toe socks.

They went with nothing. 

And I wore them with everything.

I had a peculiar sort of fashion sense back then. Thus, classy to me was black patent leather church shoes worn with a swimming suit and green flood pants. My mother tried to squelch me, but I was too clever for that, wrapping myself in a coat and hiding my shoes out in the milk box away from her prying, judgmental eyes. And sure, people questioned her parenting skills for miles around, once they caught sight of me. But she should have just been happy to know that her daughter had a very strong sense of misguided confidence. 

What others might call stubborn, I like to call determined. This kept my mother humble. One hot July afternoon, I decided I’d like some candy and since we were fresh out, I took matters into my own hands. Digging through the Halloween boxes, I found my witch costume, put it on, and while my mother was busy sewing, snuck out of the house to go trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhood. Everyone seemed absolutely tickled to see me. They were especially curious about whether or not my mother knew where I was? I lied and said yes, she knew. That she had, in fact, sent me out to get her some candy, and that York Peppermint Patties were her favorite.

Needless to say, after the phone stopped ringing, the Halloween box was put clear up out of my reach, and from that day forward things were never quite the same again. But Lisa became a household name and my legacy lived on for years to come, as I’d set a certain precedence of ingenuity and resolve. That’s the way I chose to see it anyway. I saw a lot of things the way I wanted to. 

For instance, in my mind’s eye, I was a beautiful, blond, long haired princess, much like Aurora laying on her canopied bed. The reality was more along the lines of shoulder length dirty dishwater mop with crooked bangs and a softball sized rat’s nest at the base of my neck. I nearly drove my poor mother insane, bawling and screaming when she tried to brush through it, earning me a rap on the head with the handle and a threat to cut it all off, if I didn’t get the snarls out. This brought even louder howls of “I WILL, MOTHER! I PROMISE!” But I didn’t. Because it hurt. Instead I just smoothed the longer strands over the wad of knots and never turned my back to her. 

My mother spent a lot of time talking about her hopes and dreams for me, all of them ending with her anticipation that I should be gifted with a child “JUST LIKE YOU!”  And I smiled at the prospect, because who wouldn’t want a child just like me? Turns out the answer is me. I probably wouldn’t want a child just like me. 

Enter my daughter. When she was about three years old and her nickname was Scream, I told the Lord I was receiving no joy from her, and He would need to fix that. 

He just walked away eating peanuts and chuckling to Himself. Or so I imagined. 

But He threw me a tender mercy and gave her long, blond, Princess Aurora hair, which seemed to appease me as I lived vicariously through her ringlets. Then a couple of years ago, somebody asked me why it was I took such pleasure in swirling and twirling her tresses, and I paused to think, then uttered these ludicrous words;

“Well, it seems like when I was a child, my mother never really wanted to spend any time on my hair. She just didn’t care. So now I do for my daughter what my mother never did for me.”

Yes, that’s right. I ACTUALLY SACRIFICED MY MOTHER on the altar of “I’m pretty sure it went down like that.” AND I’M A GROWN UP, PEOPLE! I should know better! Bless my foggy recollection heart. Which means if I am capable of such self deception, you should be scared to death of what your own children are likely to remember wrong about you! NONE OF US ARE SAFE!

Which brings me to my long over due apology: Mother, forgive me, for I led the world astray regarding your patience and long suffering. You were the wind beneath my wings, and the broom under my trick-or-treating fanny...and I am forever grateful that I was gifted with a mother JUST LIKE YOU!

Oh, and I’m very sorry that I ate your peppermint patty. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


If you see your name in this post, don't worry. It's not you. It's another (fill in the blank.)  ;)

A few years back, a group of young girls walked around the neighborhood with a yellow tablet, surveying and scoring the local children as they tallied who was “popliar” and who was not. My six year old daughter came home sobbing, as they had declared she was “not”. And I knew exactly how she felt, because my entire young life had been spent in pleading with the heavens that I could belong to that ephemeral group.

I recall sitting cross legged in the bed of the little pick-up truck, a couple of feet away from Cindy and Shannon. We were heading to a spook alley, then a video party in somebody’s basement.

They were popular. 

I was trying to be. 

It wasn’t going so well.

Junior high turned out to be a far cry from my elementary school glory days. In sixth grade, my boyfriend gave me his lunchtime orange every day, I never warmed the bench in P.E. Dodge Ball and pretty much I had set the school standard for artwork, on account of my mad coloring skills. 

I won Reflections contests, perfected the ideal tilt for penmanship and had cheated my way into straight A’s—not proud of that one, but it is what it is, people, and now it’s too late to prosecute. Anyway, I think it’s safe to say I was kind of a big deal, thus, so were my expectations for the future. 

Unfortunately, as I pushed open the front doors of North Davis Jr. High, some sort of black magic wind whipped me in the face and all at once, I tripped on an imaginary rock, my nose started to bleed and awkward conversation spilled like chunks of rancid milk from my mouth. When the clock struck 8:00 am, I was left with one glass slipper and the realization that I was now subject to the Girls from South Weber—and my, but they were a cruel master. 

Leap over 600+ days of social misery and pain, and there we are, 9th grade, sitting in the back of the truck. Shannon eyeballs me, leans into Cindy and whispers, “Why is Lisa here? I can’t stand her!” Cindy answers back, “I felt sorry for her.”

And I’m looking right at them.

Shannon realizes her voice has carried that very, very substantial two feet, and says to me, “Not you. Another Lisa.”

Oh, well, okay then. As long as it’s another Lisa. Man, I’d hate to be her. So glad I’m the other one.

You’ll be surprised to find out the evening was less than pleasant. Agonizing, really, as it was made crystal clear that I was unwelcome...even though I was the other Lisa. Seems I wouldn’t sanctify their cruddy decisions, which earned me the title: Goody Two Shoes. I called my mom from their home, under the guise of checking to see how long I could stay. We had a special code—it went something like this:

“Hi, Mom. Can I stay longer?”
“Do you want to come home?”
“Yes, I really do. Please?”
“Okay. You have to come home right now.” 
“MOM! Gosh! That’s not fair! Why can’t I stay longer?”
“We’re eating a big pile of candy and watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Love you.”

Then I hung up the phone, put on a petulant expression, and told them how mad I was that I had to go home, all the while beyond grateful that my mother didn’t need to be popular, too. 

Now, if this were a Disney episode, by the end of the hour, the mean girls would have had pig guts or something spilled on their heads, and I would have waltzed away in the arms of the cutest boy on campus, because he could see past my awkward facade and know that someday, I would be a world famous humor columnist for The Islander. But you and I both know that punishment and reward are seldom meted out in a timely matter. 

I’d like to say I now wish them all well, but I don’t really. I am yet to be perfected in this life, my friends. And that is why there is a lopsided grin plastered on my face whenever I see their pictures on Facebook with faux wood panelling and black velvet Elvis paintings in the background. Bless their big haired hearts.

Which leads us to the here and now, as we find ourselves, once again, about to embark on the Back to School journey. Whether you loathe it or love it, there are universal truths to bear in mind; seeds planted will eventually bear fruit, whether good or evil; parents, your days of popularity are long past—this is the time for you to be the bad guy; and lastly, if living well is the best revenge, having a column to name names is a close second. 

Worried? should be. (wink)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


A few more reasons I am so grateful there is no such thing as reincarnation.


I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, on account of I’ve been squeezing my tush and pointing my toes for weeks now, watching Olympic gymnastics. And yes, as a matter of fact, I was trained as a competitive tumbler back in the 70’s. Funny you should mention it. ‘Course, that was before I realized how much I loathed the nervous stomach and hyperventilation that accompanied competitions...which led me to pronounce I didn’t want to compete anymore,,,which led my coach to reply, “You either compete, or you quit,”...which leads to the rest of this story being told by my bat wing biceps and spongy abdomen. 

But it wasn’t just the stress of the tournaments—the other girls in my class were mean to me. It was either because they were jealous, or I was fingernails on a chalkboard—not sure which. But here, you decide: So like, when our coach said, “You need to have placed first, second or third at ONE of the county competitions in order to compete at State,” many girls lowered their heads in disappointment. But I raised my hand, feigned innocence and asked, “Teacher? What if I placed in ALL of the other competitions? Can I still go to State?” 


Yeah, I know. If I could go back in time, I’d slap my own face.

But it’s okay, because I made it up to them when I sliced my head open on a trampoline trick gone wrong. As the blood poured in rivulets down my temples, and I was led away to the emergency room, the whole class was paid in full. They earned it.

Those were some painful years. Excruciating, really. It was also around the time they pulled me out of my 5th grade class so that I could partake of the humiliation called, “Speech therapy.” Apparently, I was afflicted with a tongue thrust, and needed to be taught how to talk. Of course, everyone knew that only babies needed speech therapy. Babies and me. So I shamefully sat at the table with the toothless, drooling five year olds, and pretended I was just there to show them how it was done. 

When my friends asked me why they’d taken me out of class, I lied of course. I told them they needed my help with these youngsters and that I was kind of like a teachers aid. This was all well and good until at the end of my stint, the therapist accompanied me back to my classroom and called them to order: 


Aaaaannnnd there you go. She couldn’t possibly have known the collateral damage she’d just caused. 

I don’t recall much after that, and maybe it’s because Barbra Streisand had it right when she sang “what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.” I just know that the retainer I got about a week later didn’t help matters much. 

Later that spring, my teenaged aunt came to visit for a few days. The doorbell rang on a Friday night, and lo and behold, there were two cute 18 year old boys standing on the porch. Immediately I sensed they had come to see me. I was subtle, at first—laying across their laps, interrupting every conversation, showing them my wallet full of money that I had earned babysitting. But then I pulled out the big guns: I had just received a pink shirt with my astrological sign emblazoned on the front. As they sat on the couch, trying to flirt with Heather, I stood directly in front of them, pointed at my shirt and said, “I’M A VIRGO! That means I’m lovable, sensitive, frisky...” and continued on, reading the description covering my chest. 

They looked at me, then at each other, then stood in unison. One of them took me by the wrists, the other grabbed my feet, and they physically carried me out into the front yard, swung me back and forth a couple of times, and then let me fly through the air, as they ran inside and locked me out of the house.

My love for them grew cold. Crazy fools. They don’t know what they missed out on.

Well, anyway, looking back, I realize that in order to have our hearts blessed, we must first have them crushed. And sure, I’d rather have been a spectator than a participant in these episodes, but it seems traumatic lessons have incredible staying power. 

So learn from my mistakes—don’t lie, don’t annoy, and always squeeze your bum and point your toes. And for heaven’s sake, NEVER brag, or mean girls will smile while your head is bleeding. 

Those big jerks.

Class dismissed.