For Chelsea, Wherever I May Find Her

The faded, scalloped-edge photo shows two smiling teens in satin gowns the color of Easter eggs, identical bouffant hair flipped at the ends, and frosted pink smiles lighting up their bright young faces. It was 1969 and they are on their way to their Senior Prom. The young women are our mothers.

I remember when Chelsea was born. I was very little still, but I retain the sense of excitement knowing she was coming; the memory is peppered with sand, sunlight, the smell of eucalyptus, and chiming clock tower bells. Our families were more than just friends. Our parents grew up together, and as young adults, newly married and still very young, they still played a lot themselves. There were volleyball games at the college, there were softball games at the park, and the babies were brought along for everything.

My legs were too small to manage my own swing, but sitting on the edge of the sand-court where the volleyball nets were strung, her mom placed her carefully in my lap. Her cheeks were round and pink, and she didn’t do much yet. The edges of that memory fade, but it’s tinged with blue cornflowers on white cotton.

Martin’s Beach doesn’t exist anymore. The coastal land where we spent every weekend and some entire weeks as children has been sold off and developed and the wild cliffs are no more. But when we were children…

Our dads loved to fish. Fly fish, surf fish, creek fish, river fish, boat fish, lake fish… made no difference. But surf fishing was a favorite. We lived near the stretch of rugged northern California coast just south of San Francisco, and with our brothers and sisters who came later, we grew up on those beaches.

The sand was coarse and variegated, made of crushed shell and beach glass, and after a day of walking the moon-shaped shore, looking for broken bits of shell crushed by the harsh surf, your feet would be polished and raw. The undertow was strong, and the drop off was steep- we grew up with the warnings of our mothers in our ears about never turning our backs on the ocean. Giant fog banks would roll in, and we learned young you can get burnt in the fog almost as badly as in the bright sun.

Strangers mistook us for sisters- our sandy blonde hair curled in the cold beach mist the same way, and our hazel eyes were peppered with identical golden flecks. Our cheeks would get pink in the cold, and we shared a penchant for drawing, pondering, and spending time thinking, sometimes perplexing our respective moms.

As we grew up, our orbits drifted in and out of each others spheres, but there was always a recognition of our shared origins, of a perspective formed in the same place, of similar ingredients: in small boats on early morning lakes, on the rocky banks of Deep Creek while our dads cast flies, on the craggy cliffs of the cold California coast, in roaming in the oregano-scented foothills looking for frogs in late May, or in waiting our turn for the best swing in the world. We were forged from the same materials, even as we expressed them in ways unique. As young women, we found each other again, and the foundation was entirely intact for our own natural friendship to grow outside of our parents influence, and we fed each other from our respective wells.

Through dating disasters, art projects, human projects, casting projects, cooking projects… through dancing by the river, scaring ourselves because we hiked too far, crocheting around a fire, tossing memories in other fires… Through love and heartbreak, and marriage and divorce and through the creation of lives with all we had each been given, there is an abiding love for one another.

Now, looking back with the perspective of a few decades, I find myself as enchanted and grateful for the beauty that is Chelsea as I was in that very first memory of her rose-kissed cheeks and her cornflower-cotton dress.

My life is not only emotionally enriched by having an anchor of shared experience, but anywhere I turn, I have pieces of her— of her light and of her quirky, precious beauty. My son drinks from a cup she made him with a wonderfully odd anteater, which delights him to no end. My daughter has a tea set that was made for her on Chelsea’s wheel, before she was even born. Another child has a bowl with hummingbirds perched upon the edge. There are blockprints, and pencil drawings, and photographs that are as much a part of my home as my own footsteps, and they are gifts, little pieces of Chelsea.

Life has taken us literally continents apart, more than once, and again today, while she’s celebrating a personal milestone, I find myself 3000 miles away. I wish more than anything I could be there with her, and with her other sisters, both blood and otherwise, to romp with joy and dance under the moon and drink in the beauty of her life.

Tonight, with my heart full of love, I will put on Sugar Magnolia, and dance in my chilly February yard with my children and my dog. I will toast my divinely beautiful friend, who is the closest thing I have ever had to a sister.

I cannot wait to see what brave and beautiful things you hold for the world, and what unexpected magic awaits you for your next act. Thank you for sharing yourself with me.

I love you, my dear.



Not So Grumpy

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 9.14.18 AM.pngI’m grumpy.

The mud. So help me, the mud. Virginia soil is all red clay, and endless soggy days of rain following a snowy January and February, have made the ground into a great, sucking quagmire. Add in five kids and a giant, dumb puppy-dog, and it’s a disgusting, messy recipe for me to lose it.

Late February always finds me missing California with an aching in my heart. I know back home, it’s poppy season, the daffodils are up, the rosemary is blooming and the apricot trees are starting to bud. It’s hard to believe I left California 14 years ago, but I still keep time by what would be blooming in my peninsula yard.

I don’t actually want to live back in California, with the astronomical housing situation and the water rationing and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad commutes. But I miss the idealized version in my memory.

I miss the way the breeze picks up each afternoon around 2:00, no matter how hot the day. I miss the lovely, thick blankets of fog rolling over the mountains that divide the Bay from the Pacific ocean. I miss the Redwood trees as big around as my living room, and their lovely furry bark that is impervious to fire (did you know that?). I miss the smell of night-blooming flowers and jasmine that are everywhere. I miss six-foot redwood fences that give you privacy in your backyard, no matter how close your neighbors are. I miss the smell of the ocean, and the sound of crashing waves. I miss the taste of salt on my lips, and the wind whipping my hair around as I drive down Hwy 1 south of San Fransisco.

I wrote that eleven years ago. Today, I’d add:

I miss my family living right around the corner, and being able to drop in any time, day or night. I miss being able to attend my nephew’s baseball games. I miss hanging out with my brothers and cousins, doing nothing important at all. I miss meeting up for pizza with all my assorted parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, to celebrate something- or nothing at all.

Hmmm…I used to miss things. Now I miss people.

Which tells me I need to pay more attention to the people in my life today, and less attention to the mud mucking my floors and pooling in my yard.

Maybe I’m not so grumpy anymore.

Nana and Tata

We were in Kindergarten when we met. Our backyards almost touched, kittycorner. My parents raised chickens, and her grandparents raised cockatiels in a backyard aviary. I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, and I spent the next five years trying to grow my hair as long and hers. It’s amazing how accurate the impressions of childhood can be…

We grew up together, drifting in and out of each other’s orbits, sometimes drawing in tight, other times facing other directions, but our doors were always open, and our families loved their extra daughters as much as they loved each of us.

She and her just-barely younger sister lived with their grandparents, and it was in the dim, delicious-smelling kitchen of Nana that I really learned to cook.  Nana always had a pot of beans simmering on the stove, and if we were lucky, she’d make homemade tortillas from scratch. She always called me mija, and was just as likely to chastise me as my own mother if I stepped out of line. During middle and high school, I think I slept as many nights at their home as I did at mine.

Nana loved her girls to the ends of the world and back, and she kept close tabs on us. She would indulge us in harmless things, and yell in Spanish when we ordered yet another pizza near midnight. We spent hours at the tiny table pushed against the kitchen wall, summer-time legs sticking to the flowered vinyl of the chairs, trying to stifle girlish laughter because Tata was asleep in his big chair in the living room, drapes pulled to shield the room from the late afternoon California sun.

Tata was a big man, and while he didn’t say much, when he spoke, you stopped and you listened. He loved Nana, and as long as we didn’t make her mad, he remained still. If he cracked is eye at you, you were in trouble. He worked hard, early hours, and was often home by afternoon. He would do anything for his girls- including driving us around in the middle of the night because Nana caught us sneaking out to go toilet paper a house, and they cared more that we were safe, even if we insisted on being stupid. That was a meta-theme for our teenage years.

I loved them so much.

I was leaving church the Sunday I got the call that Nana had died. Our lives had diverged years before, mine to Washington, my friends to Arizona and then back to California again, but the bond was never broken. Standing in the parking lot, my chest heaved as the waves of loss rolled over me. I sat in the car for a long time before I drove home that day.

Yesterday, I received word that Tata, who had gone in for a minor concern, had instead decided it was time to go meet Nana. My eyes welled with tears, and it was bittersweet, because I know how much he missed her. I hope she was there waiting for him.

My kids have grown up hearing stories about Nana and Tata- Jeffrey knows certain recipes are from my childhood, and sometimes when I am telling a tale, he will interrupt me, asking “Is this about your California Nana, or about my Washington Nana?” He knows when he gets a bird-brained teenage idea, he’s safer coming to me than he ever will be sneaking out.

Nana and Tata are part of the weft and weave of my life, and I don’t know if they ever knew how much they meant to me, or how much I loved them; I hope so.

Family means so much more than just the people to whom we share bloodlines. Nana and Tata probably never imagined the little girl they welcomed into their home nearly four decades ago would be changed by them, and would be sharing their stories and influence with her own children. I am indebted and grateful with all of my heart that I was privileged to be their mija.

Recipe: Tamales

IMG_5798A couple times a year, I get out the steamer and the cornhusks, and make a batch of tamales. I’d like to say I do it at the same time, but no…it’s pretty much whenever I get a hankering for home. There’s nothing like a good, fresh, homemade tamale. They’re a labor of love, really— you can’t throw tamales together on a whim, but they’re also not rocket science— anyone can make them with the right ingredients and a bit of time.

There are some ingredients that might be unfamiliar to some cooks. You will need cornhusks, chiles, and masa flour. While you might find the ingredients at a well-stocked supermarket, you’ll probably find fresher things at your local international market. I do almost half our shopping now at the international market- I can get Latin ingredients, kimchee and bibimbap, the fixings for Phò and Indian paneer all in one place. And, the meat and produce are *always* fresh and much cheaper than at the mega-mart. Don’t be intimidated if you cant read all the labels- ask.

(Pro-tip: If you need gluten-free flour, buy the ingredients to make your own mix at the Asian market! I can make almost 20 pounds of gluten-free flour mix for less than $20 by buying the ingredients from the Japanese and east Indian aisles.)

Recipe: Tamales


  • 2-2 1/2 pounds pork roast, cooked until very tender. A crock pot works great.
  • 3 dried pasilla chiles
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • anchiote paste (a reddish-orange spice without much flavor, used as color in latin foods- and in cheddar cheese, actually!)

In a sauce pan, break up the dried pasilla chiles in the oil, discarding the stems. Sauté until chiles are soft and fragrant, about five minutes. In a blender, puree the sautéd chiles and chicken broth. Set aside.

In a bowl, break apart and shred the pork roast. Add the pureed chilie/broth mixture, salt, pepper and sesame seeds. Combine well. If you want the color to be the more traditional red-orange, add a teaspoon of anchiote paste. Set aside.

Before you make the masa, get the cornhusks soaking. They’re brittle when dry, but after a soak in very hot water, they will be soft and pliable. You can use a large pot, bowl, or do what I do, and just fill the clean sink with hot water. Let them soak until soft, usually about the time it takes to make the masa.

Masa flour is made for tamales. It’s finely ground cornflour which has been treated with lime- regular cornmeal or corn flour will not work. 

  • 4 cups masa flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 2/3 cups chicken broth or water
  • 1 1/3 cups lard or solid shortening (yes, you have to)

In a large bowl, mix masa, baking powder and salt. Add broth or water and mix throughly to make a soft, moist dough (hands work well for this). In your mixer with the whip attachment, beat lard until light and fluffy. Add the masa mixture and continue to beat until well incorporated and the mixture is uniform and slightly sticky.


Gather your prepared ingredients- masa, filling and soaked, drained cornhusks.

Spread the masa evenly over 2/3 of each cornhusk. You can do this with a spatula, your hands, or using a tortilla press. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but an even layer will help in steaming better finished tamales.

Add about a tablespoon of the meat mixture to the center of the masa. Close the husk, bringing the sides together, rolling, and then folding up the bottom. It’s okay for the top to remain open, but squeeze the masa to enclose the meat, even if left open.

Continue using all husks, masa and filling.

Arrange tamales in a steamer over simmering water, open ends up. Don’t squish them- it may take more than one batch to steam them all. Cover with a damp cotton dishcloth and then with a lid. Steam about one hour. They’re ready when you can peel the husk away and the masa is firm and holds it’s shape.


Enjoy them right from the steamer. We love them fresh and plain, but they’re great as part of a meal with your favorite sauce and some cheese sprinkled on top, too.

Book Tour Wrap-Up

IMG_5942So I spent part of January in Utah on a book tour. A few times I mentioned there was a book coming out, but I didn’t make a big deal out of it- but it turns out it’s something I’m actually really proud to have been a part of. The finished book is a lovely compilation of essays compiled and edited by myself and Emily Jensen, and is the culmination of more than a year of work.

Emily and I spent the better part of a week visiting bookstores along the Wasatch Front, visiting with our local contributing writers, and sharing the stage with interesting and compelling people. It was exhilarating and exciting and so much fun- and I learned a lot.

This is the seventh book in the “I Speak for Myself” series, focusing on delivering narrative collections of inspiring, thoughtful essays with focus and rich diversity. Emily and I are so proud to have been asked to edit the volume on Mormons.

The book is A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern Day Zion. Janan Graham-Russell wrote a beautiful forward for us, and among the many contributors are Neylan McBaine, Courtney Kendrick, Patrick Mason, Kailani Tonga, Josh Weed, Kate Kelly, Michael Austin, Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, Adam Miller, Julie Smith… It was truly an honor to work with so many amazing writers.


We owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who came out to see us, to talk with us, to join us in the conversations about the books, and about the changing landscape of Zion and what it means to each of us. Special thanks are due to The King’s English Book Shop, Writ & Vision Rare Books & Fine Art, and Benchmark Books, for holding such lovely events and welcoming us so warmly.


This picture makes me ridiculously happy- This was taken at Writ & Vision, after a packed house came to hear us speak with Patrick Mason, about his stellar new book, Planted, and every one of these beautiful faces is like family to me.

Jana Reiss interviewed Emily and I one afternoon at the delicious cafe Gourmandise in Salt Lake City, and was beautifully generous in her write up:

These essays were like a balm to my soul, in which some of our religion’s best thinkers muse on the capacious notion of “Zion” and decide that it’s bigger than we give it credit for when we are so quickly judging one another.

This book is like the most thoughtful testimony meeting you’ve ever attended. Essays by Adam Miller, Kathyn LynardPatrick MasonJoanna BrooksMelissa Inouye . . . a fantastic cartoon from Scott Hales . . . There are feminists of several different stripes (including moderate Neylan McBaine and radical Kate Kelly, and an interesting piece from biblical scholar Julie Smith who uses three archetypes from the Book of Mormon to describe the tensions among different kinds of LDS women today) . . . There are BYU professors like Camille Fronk OlsonIgnacio Garcia, and George Handley. (See the book’s website for a complete list of contributors.)

In short, it’s a feast of Mormon testimonies from very different people who have one thing in common: a commitment to Zion.

You can read the entire review here.

I wrapped up the week by slipping on some ice and tearing a tendon in my knee, which I absolutely do not recommend.


I think next time I’m involved in either editing or writing another book, I will be a little less shameless about promoting. It sure was a lot of fun, and the end of a long road and a lot of hard work. Once again, I am so pleased to have been a part of it!



I spent the day in silence.

Today was the first day my kids had school since January 20th. That’s twelve days, for anyone counting. Twelve snow days, only about half of which had actual snow, but during which my house was inundated with the constantly shedding clothing that come with three-to-five children, their coats, mittens, boots and the muddy paws of a giant dog who discovered he loves snow.

It’s been melting for days, and while there are piles of gritty grey road snow on the edges of the road, the yard and walkways are soggy, sodden messes. There is mud everywhere.

Children deposited at their respective schools, I put the dog in the pokey and started the process of digging out. There is something soothing about a silent house with only the ticking of the cuckoo clock and the churning washing machine keeping me company.

No music, no tv, no video games in the background, and not even the dog underfoot, I carefully went about the task of sorting the coats, boots, and scarves. The warm laundry slowly piled up on my bed, and I didn’t hurry as I vacuumed the corners of the stairs and under the entry way table. While I like a clean house as much as the next person, I long ago gave up any notion of perfection. Good enough is good enough for me. It keeps me sane.

I love the way the cherry floors gleam when they’re clean— but I also love the way the pile of backpacks and books, lunch boxes and dog toys and stray bits of melting, muddy snow, show people really live here. This isn’t a showplace. It’s a home.

My clean floors and quiet lasted about an hour, before the first kid arrived home. It was a nice hour. But so are the ones that follow…