Milestones and Proud Mamas

Today my daughter, Sara, graduates from college.
This milestone brings to mind so many memories…


  • When I took her to orientation day at preschool to meet her teacher and classmates, she walked away from me to interact with the other children. She kept looking back at me, surely needing reassurance that I was still there. Then she walked up to me and said, “Mom, it’s time for you to go home now!” I pointed out that parents had to stay. “Why? I’m fine. Just go home and pick me up later.” I told her I couldn’t leave, but I tried to fade out of her sight to help her enjoy her independence. So much for her needing my reassurance.
  • After her first day of kindergarten, I met her at the bus stop, and asked about her day. “It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be,” she said. “I thought I would just sit at a desk and learn, but all we did was play!”
  • When we went to New York City for the first time, Sara was about six years old, and took on the job of calling all our cabs. We couldn’t believe this little blonde child standing on the corner of those busy streets waving down cabs and directing us around the city.
  • When she was in elementary school, she used to slip notes under my bedroom door or put them on my pillow that said, “Mom, this is my schedule for the week.” She had detailed weekly agendas with all her activities and plans neatly written on notebook paper.
  • When she was 10, we sent her to Utah to stay with her grandparents. She sat down and planned out her entire itinerary. She planned to go to the northern end of the state to the small town of Syracuse first to be with Doug’s family, then she would go to my hometown of Springville about two hours away to be with my family. “How will you get from one place to another?” We asked. “I’ll call a cab,” she said. We had to teach her about the small towns of Utah and the lack of available cabs on the rural roads. But, she developed an alternative plan, stoically got on the plane without hesitation, and took off for her first journey alone. Annie and I stood at the gate and cried, amazed at her confidence and poise.
  • We went with Doug’s sister’s family and his parents on a Disney Cruise when Sara was about 11. When we got home, I put all our photos in a scrapbook and asked everyone to write their favorite part of the trip to put in the book.  Sara wrote, “My favorite part of the trip was having my own room key and being able to go all over the ship with my cousins.”
  • When I dropped her off at her college dorm for the first time, I wondered if she might get a little emotional. True to form, she hopped out of the car and off she went. We’d spent several days together before that so there was no need for a big goodbye. I watched her walk into the dorm and felt torn between wanting to sob that my baby girl would be living thousands of miles away from me and feeling overjoyed that she was so well-prepared for her new college life.

I’ve watched her apply these strokes of independence to her life as a college student — detailed day planners and calendars, keys to her own apartment and her own car, sitting at a desk learning, organizing a study abroad to London and traveling throughout Europe. Just like she led us around New York City, she escorted us around the streets and the underground of London. She’s boarded planes, buses, trains, subways, boats, and bikes, and loved every minute of it. She’s made lifelong friends, had her heart and mind stretched in every way, and received an education far beyond what shows up on her diploma.

Now, today, I get to watch her in her blue cap and gown as she marches into the commencement exercises at the Marriott Center with all that knowledge, experience, growth, maturity, and beauty under that cap. And, I get to say, “That’s my girl — the smart, striking blonde in the high heels wearing that pink lipstick. Yeah, that one, she’s mine.”

These milestones are more for the parents than the students anyway, right?

We need our moments to marvel, and say, “See that one, she’s mine!”


Congratulations Sara!



Ready for a Sweet Weekend



Imagine spending eight to 10 hours of this beautiful spring weekend parked on the couch listening to about 30 religious speeches.




That’s how millions of Mormons will be spending this April weekend – glued to the television, listening to the radio or taking advantage of satellite and Internet broadcasts from Salt Lake City where more than 100,000 people will be watching it live.







View of Conference Center spire taken from sou...
View of Conference Center spire taken from south of the Center on North Temple St., Salt Lake City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We call this General Conference. And, we’ve been doing this twice a year since 1831 – every October and every April for all those years.








It’s a Mormon ritual and we love it. We happily, even excitedly, tune in to be taught and uplifted by the leaders of our church.




While growing up in Utah, I remember listening to General Conference on the car radio or watching it on our local CBS News affiliate station.




It sounds like drudgery, doesn’t it? Listening to one speaker after another for hours on end during two of the most beautiful weekends of the year?




Typically, the first weekends of October and April are beautiful, and most people want to be outside enjoying the weather.




Not us Mormons.




No, we turn on our televisions, set the DVR in case we miss something, pull out journals, pens and paper for serious note taking, settle in for each two-hour session, and soak it up like other people who are outside soaking up the bright spring sun.




It’s crazy, isn’t it? But, General Conference is a staple in our religious culture.




Silly fools that we are, we live for it. I think we spiritually thirst for it like nomads thirsty for water in the desert.




But, why, what do we get out of it?




For starters, spiritual sustenance and manna, hope, courage, strength, faith, knowledge, revelation, wisdom, peace, comfort, insight, love, compassion, understanding, a sense of belonging and well-being, and motivation.




What I like most is the feeling that pours into our homes as we watch it.  I imagine it’s how an infant feels while being cradled by a loving parent singing a soft, melodic lullaby – safe, protected, and nurtured.




So, while it sounds crazy, we love conference weekends. It’s like church, but better because we can wear pajamas if we want.




Although I rarely do because my Great Aunt Anna would scold me good for being so slovenly during Conference. She sat up straight in her old rocking chair, dressed in her finest Sunday clothing and didn’t miss a word that was spoken. She loved and reverenced those prophets and apostles so much that she wouldn’t even consider not wearing her finest clothes around them, even if they were just on TV.




While I won’t be dressed in my finest clothes, I will be taking in every word, just like my sweet Aunt Anna. And you know what? I’ll be sad when it’s over. When the Tabernacle Choir sings the last hymn and the closing prayer is said on Sunday evening, I’ll feel like it all went by too fast, and I’ll want to run around my house and gather up all the sweetness that distilled on my home over the weekend and savor it until October when I can experience it all over again.








My Mom, the Bootlegger

Moonshine still in Forbidden Caverns
Moonshine still in Forbidden Caverns (Photo credit: Kajvin)

Last week before my mom flew home to Utah after spending nearly two weeks visiting me in Virginia, my brother called her and said, “Hey, before you come home, I want you to track me down some of that Virginia moonshine whiskey I’ve been learning about on TV.”

“What moonshine whiskey?” she wanted to know.

He explained that it was a hooch made in Virginia and sold in Mason jars.

“Do you want me to end up in jail?” she asked. “They’d confiscate that at the airport and send me to jail. Then, you’d see my face all over the news. I don’t think I’ll be bringing any whiskey home.”

Since he struck out with Mom, he asked my sister to track down a bottle for him.

She ignored the request and shook her head, and rolled her eyes like we do when our brothers do something we think is absurd. (Keep in mind this is the same sister who sent me a placard that said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your brother!”)

Trust Kelly to know all about moonshine whiskey and to find a docudrama on the Discovery Channel that tells stories about people who produce moonshine.

These people brew their own shine – often in the woods near their homes using camouflaged equipment, according to the Discovery Channel website.

When Mom got home, she went into her basement, dug out a Mason jar, poured straight vinegar into it, sealed the lid nice and tight, and asked my other brother to take it to Kelly and say she brought it with her from Virginia.

English: Loco diesel in mason jar
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Kelly saw the Mason jar full of brownish-gold liquid, his face lit up like when he was a kid and Santa brought him a BB gun on Christmas morning.

He couldn’t believe his good fortune. I can just imagine him thinking, “Most moms bring home little shot glasses as souvenirs, not my mom! She brings the whole bottle of whiskey!”

He called Mom immediately, “Where did you find it? How did you get it through airport security?”

The lies began spewing out of her so naturally that it made her a little nervous.

He said, “Boy, when I opened it up to take a whiff, it threw be back a little. That stuff’s potent.”

“I took a little swig just to see what it’s like. Boy, it’s got quite a bite! I still can’t believe you tracked it down and brought it home!”

“Oh, you know me!” Mom lied. “If my kids want something, I do my best to get it for them.”

“What if you had gotten caught?” he asked.

“Well, then I’d probably be sitting up at the point of the mountain,” she said, referring to the prison, “and you’d have to tell everybody I was a bootlegger, I guess.”

You know that story about lies don’t you? How you can never lie just once because to support the first lie, you have to tell another one, and then another one, until you are nearly a perpetual, pathological liar?

My mom found herself in that dangerous lying cycle, but she was having so much fun, she couldn’t stop.

“It’s terrible, isn’t it? But, I never imagined he’d think it was the real thing. So when he did, I just had to go with it. I couldn’t believe how easily all those lies spilled out of me.”

The next day when she talked to Kelly, he said, he’d hid the bottle at the back of the fridge so that nobody in his family would find it. He had him some special, illegal whiskey, and by golly, he was going to protect that stuff.

His wife asked Mom where she really got it. “It’s straight vinegar,” she confessed, “but don’t tell him. I’m having too much fun dragging this out.”

“Oh, believe me, I won’t!” his wife said, relishing the fun of it all.

“How am I going to get out of this?” Mom asked. “I can’t believe how I just piled one lie on top of another, and now I can’t bring myself to tell him the truth. I guess I’ll wait until April Fools Day now, but he’ll be so disappointed with the truth.”

I giggle every time I think of him appreciating and protecting his little mountain dew souvenir from Virginia.

I really can’t believe he didn’t know it was vinegar! I hate everything about vinegar. I can smell it from across the county, I think. Yet, he smelled it and tasted it, and still thought it was potent moonshine whiskey with a bite? Oh, my.

Moonshine whiskey must be some awful tasting, smelling stuff if it’s at all like vinegar.

For any of you who know my brother, Kelly, don’t spoil the fun by telling him what’s really in that Mason jar tucked into the back of his fridge. His reaction is sure to be priceless.

And can you imagine this sweet lady traipsing through the Virginia hills looking for moonshine?


Oh, brother…


The Mormon Moment

The most commonly asked question in Washington, D.C. is, “Where are you from?”

photo from city-data.com

When I say I’m from Utah, the natural follow-up question is, “Are you Mormon?”

When I say yes, I feel a yellow sticky note coming directly toward my forehead – bam, you’re one of those!

I’m never sure what’s written on that sticky note but based on the questions I’ve been asked and the news articles I’ve read, I can make some pretty good guesses.

A saleslady recently asked me about one of my purchases, wondering if it was for a special occasion.  I told her it was for my upcoming trip to Utah.

Utah photo from life123.com

Then the question, “Are you Mormon?”

“Yes, I’m Mormon,” I said.

“Oh, I love Mormons,” she said.  “My best friend in the world is a Mormon.  We used to live in Arizona and met so many Mormons.  They’re such happy, positive people.

Then the saleslady next to her said, “Mormons are polygamists right?”


That would be a big, fat no.

“But aren’t all those polygamists on TV Mormon?” she asked.

“No, they absolutely are not Mormon,” I said

So if you watch “Big Love” or “Sister Wives” or associate any polygamist groups with my church, stop it. Right now.

Polygamy is illegal.

And, we are law-abiding people.

I get this misunderstanding because the church allowed polygamy in the early days of the church and the media love to dredge it up.

In Newsweek’s article on “The Mormon Moment,” they ran pictures of polygamists with their story leading readers to believe they are associated with the LDS church.

They are not.

Polygamy is not approved or practiced by members of the church today and hasn’t been for over 100 years.

There are groups that claim to be associated with the church or at least claim to have the same origins, and some of them practice polygamy.  We do not recognize, protect, or affiliate with any of them in any way.

I like what Gary Lawrence, a pollster in California, wrote in his book, “How Americans View Mormonism.”  He said, “We do not hold Roman Catholics responsible for those who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, and we are not responsible for those who broke away from ours.”

There is talk about polygamy being okay in Mormon heaven.

First, it’s important to note we don’t go to a different heaven.  God doesn’t stand at the pearly gates and sort us out by religious affiliations.

Johan Henry photo called "The Pearly Gates"

Second, if I get to heaven and find out I have to be a second or third wife to Doug or anybody else I’ll blog about it straight from my MacBook Pro. (It wouldn’t be heaven if I didn’t have one.)

I’ll bob and weave my way up through the line of people waiting to talk to God, and the first question I’ll ask will be about polygamy.

Believe me, I will ask about polygamy.

In one of my writing classes I shared chapters of a memoir I’ve been writing about growing up in a mostly Mormon town in an unconventional Mormon family.

There was drinking in my family, you know, as in forbidden alcohol.

Shocking, I know, but true.

One of the rules was that while the class discussed our writing, we had to remain silent, just taking notes on the feedback from other students.

“These things don’t happen in Utah,” one woman said.  “Maybe her family didn’t know the rule against drinking,” another one said.  “How could they not know?  Everyone in Utah knows that you can’t drink!”

Finally, someone broke the rules and said, “Let’s ask the only Mormon in the room.”

“I thought if you lived in Utah you couldn’t drink, so how could your family drink?” someone asked.

There are more than two-and-a-half million people in Utah.  Just over half of them are Mormons.  And of that group, not all of them are walk-the-line, churchgoing, and church-loving members.  And like all people, Mormons have choices.   Not all of those choices line up with church doctrine.

“I have a question,” one classmate said.  “Why do Mormons carry dirty Bibles? I mean can’t they afford new ones?”

Now there’s one I haven’t been asked before.  “What do you mean dirty Bibles?” I asked.

“Well, it’s like they’re all worn out.  They have writing in them and sometimes the pages are falling out, and they are never crisp and clean like most Bibles.”

Dirty Bibles?

“I guess that’s because we use them,” I said. “We read and study them.  When we learn something new or want to cross reference one scripture with another, we write notes in the margins.  We don’t leave them on our coffee tables like family heirlooms.  I guess that’s why they look dirty.”

Over the years, I’ve read countless articles analyzing everything from the church’s wealth to the existence of a Mormon Mafia. I’ve been questioned about polygamy, and repeatedly asked about my Sabbath Day observance. But I never imagined I would watch a fresh-faced LDS missionary sing about my religion on the Tony Awards while everyone in the audience laughed.

Are we that funny or that peculiar?  My life seems pretty close to the kind of lives my non-Mormon friends live.  There are exceptions, of course, like my three-hours of church meetings on Sunday, my dog-eared scriptures, my teetotaler ways, the 10 percent of our income we give to the church to help build new churches and temples, and to help provide humanitarian relief to about 170 countries around the world.

But overall, I feel pretty normal.

The Mormon faith can’t be that weird if people keep joining the church, right?  In 181 years since the church began, our numbers have never decreased. We started out with six members, and today there are about 14 million.

Maybe all 14 million of us are brainwashed but I’m a reasonably intelligent woman and I honestly don’t think that’s the case.

And, I can’t deny that being a Mormon makes me a better person.

I’m sure every religion seems weird to somebody.

Am I going too far to say that it seems a little weird to smear ashes on your forehead and leave them there all day?

Yes, on the surface that seems a little weird, but I respect my Catholic friends that do it because it’s meaningful to them.

Every religion has something that appears different or weird.  I’m sure people thought Noah was pretty weird when he went around warning people about a flood that would cover the entire earth.

In Lawrence’s book he asked, “Why don’t people know beans about us? Because we members have not told them in words they understand.”

He recommends we cut the jargon when sharing what we believe.

Whether it’s semantics or substance, we obviously need to do a better job of showing who we are and what we believe.

So maybe we will always have to deal with the yellow sticky notes that get stuck on our foreheads, and just stay amused by the flurry of media that can never stop trying to figure us out.

But in the meantime, maybe we need to come up with a new Mormon vocabulary to help us clearly explain ourselves to a curious world. Or maybe there’s another Broadway musical that needs to be written.