Friday, June 09, 2017

Another School Year Gone

Someone once told me that once your kids turn 12 everything time goes by like lightning. True. Ilene just finished her sophomore year, Hallie just finished her 7th grade year of junior high, and Nathan is just nearing one year as a missionary in the Dominican Republic.

Ilene ran track again this year. That girl is a runner to be sure. Sometimes at her track meets I think about the hours spent waiting at her kindergarten bus stop and how she'd run from tree to tree and say "Time me Mom!". Ummm ok, ready, set go! Then I would count out loud and she'd be in heaven when I'd say, wow only 12 seconds to run to the tree and back!
Utah State Track meet at BYU

Ready for her team's relay
Ilene waiting for the baton pass
Hallie had her fair share of fun as well this school year. She was in her school's musical plays, like Singing in the Rain.

And of course she had to play city league soccer again.

A cold April night for a soccer game.

My beautiful girls, they're growing up so fast.
April 2017, Mt. Timpanogos temple


And their mom is looking older as well.....but happy to see them grow and learn.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Grief was my Teacher

5129 puerto rico

I can remember the exact day my life bottomed out, the day I knew I would be a different person forever. June 17, 2014. It doesn't really matter what happened, maybe another day I'll share the details. Trauma is weird that way. You have to talk about it to heal from it, but not necessarily on the internet. ;)

I wandered a cemetery in Puerto Rico last summer. The kids were enamored with an old open grave, ooooo-ing at what could be the story behind it. 'I think I see bones! I think I see a ghost!' I laughed at their conversations. Once they had seen everything they had wanted to see, they wandered away and explored something else. But I found myself lingering, especially by this statue of a woman, hunched in grief, clutching a wreath; mourning a loss almost impossible to bear.

I knew how she felt.

I raised my camera and took several shots. It was hot and humid from a rainstorm moments earlier. My Tamron lens kept fogging up. We had to catch a plane home soon but for that moment everything was quiet. Just me and my camera. The cemetery was empty and my thoughts were full. I found another statue. A woman, head bowed in prayer, clutching her rosary in clasped hands. Age weighing heavily in the statue's face, weathered stains adding to her mournful look.

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Grief has exposed me to another dimension I didn't really know existed. Or rather it removed the blinders so I could finally turn my head and see it on my left and on my right. Grief over lost dreams. Grief over lost trust. Grief over lost certainty. Grief over loss of faith. Grief over what was hidden in plain sight. Grief over new realities. Grief over the past. Grief over the present. Grief at what might be in the future.  I feel odd at remembering my life before--how invisible grief was to me.

I remember a few months after everything changed for me being in the dentist's office. He told me I might need a root canal if the antibiotic he was prescribing me didn't work. I have always been deathly afraid of oral surgery, maybe because I've never had it so the unknown frightened me more than it should. But in that moment I wasn't afraid anymore. I knew what real pain was; this oral surgery would be nothing in comparison. I was stronger now, less afraid. I remember being surprised at my calmness. Grief had been my teacher. It taught me to not be afraid.

I would never go looking for grief. I'm not a masochist. But when it became my constant companion I learned to eventually welcome it. To sit with it. To stop shoving it away and pretending everything was okay. It's okay to not be okay. Grief wouldn't be my constant companion but she was a long time companion. She was the teacher I never wanted and never knew I needed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Please, No More Talk of Modesty

A year ago I sat in a laundromat in Antwerp, Belgium. Paul and I were trying to figure out the euro washing machines (nevermind that Paul speaks Dutch), but I’m a lazy person at heart so rather than try even 10 more seconds for him to figure it out, I asked the Hasidic Jewish woman next to me to just tell us what to do.  She was friendly and talkative. I’m friendly and talkative too and we ended up speaking about way more than laundry. She told me about her recent wedding, how her amazingly-tall husband saved her from a life of secular Judaism (born again Jew?) and how she had always suffered from seizures until she went to Jerusalem and prayed at the wall. Now they were completely gone. She sadly told me about her strained relationship with her mother now that she was orthodox. She even showed me videos of her friends’ Jewish weddings, explaining why everything was done the way it was.

Antwerp, Belgium, waiting for laundry

She told me about her conversion with such zeal. I was mesmerized. She used to show her hair, whereas now she kept it covered; she used to wear pants, whereas now she wore long skirts to her ankles and sleeves down to her wrists. She once dressed like I was dressed right then--jeans, sneakers, and ponytail hair.  The disparity in our clothing was very obvious, so I tried to speak to our commonalities. I told her that I too was a very religious woman. Had she heard of the Mormons? She never had. And she was not accepting the claim that we were both religious women of God. She kept protesting, in her thick French accent, waving her arms, that she was a very religious woman. I was not. This jeans-wearing woman did not make headway with her on that front.

091 belgium antwerp.jpg
Jewish quarter in Antwerp, Belgium
And you know what? It felt good. It felt so good, for the first time in well, forever, to be the Gentile Heathen. Moi, a Mormon woman who lives in Provo, which is like 90% Mormon and super conservative, to now be in the Jewish quarter of Antwerp, where I was now the minority. Maybe I’ve read one too many Chaim Potok novels but I’m pretty sure that classifies me as goyim. By the standards of this lovely Belgian, 23-year-old-newlywed woman, this 42-year-old-middle-aged woman was not dressed very “modestly”. The tables had turned. (An aside: this has to be the best conversation I've ever had while travelling, even better than talking to Sal in the fabric district in New York who tried to sell me some voile to make a top even though I said voile is sheer and all I do is push kids in strollers so where would I wear such a top, only to have him reply in what I swear was his best Andrew Dice Clay impersonation he reserved for tourists, 'hey lady it's how ya feel!')

Fast forward a year later. My 16-yr old daughter Ilene came home from church the other day a bit confused about what she heard about modesty in Relief Society. (The 16-17-yr old girls go to class with the women once a month.)

Modesty. Oh please, here we go again. If I never hear that word again used in context of how covered up a woman is it will be too soon. In the words of Ignayo Montoya, “You keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.” I don't think us Mormons have a clue as to what 'modest' means.

Ilene’s bottom line question was, “Mom what is the big deal with wearing a tank top?!” In short I said, “It is no big deal.” I reminded her of conversations we've had before-- that different articles of clothing are appropriate for different occasions. I don’t use the word modest to describe clothing, I use the word appropriate. We talk about this a lot. Ultimately she is in charge of her clothing. More importantly, never judge and objectify others based on their clothing either. The measuring stick I use to gauge my clothing choices is in no way a stick I use to beat others with.
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Ilene in Puerto Rico. Always curious, even about coconuts and driftwood

My old-lady swimsuit is pretty much a tank top and shorts and is very modest by Mormon standards. But what if I show up to church wearing that same swimsuit? On the beach I was way too covered up by most standards, and in church I’d be lookin’ quite out of place and very immodest.  

Paul and me, Big Island of Hawaii, 2013

My covered-up swimsuit at church is “immodest”, my jeans and sneakers were “immodest” to that Jewish woman in the laundry mat in Antwerp, and to be honest would also be 100 years ago walking in downtown Provo, among my own people. I can see the glaring stares now from those Mormon Pioneers, “That woman is wearing pants! You can see the shape of her legs!”  So if modesty changes for fashion, time, and occasion, then clearly it is not the correct word to use in describing hemlines and visible shoulders.

I don’t even remember having ‘modesty’ lessons growing up. I remember we all wore tank tops and short-shorts at church, school, or wherever. Just use common sense, sheesh! There were no arbitrary made up rules about covering your shoulders or wearing shorts to your knees. My mother-in-law even told me all the women wore sleeveless dresses to BYU dances in the 1960s. Not strapless, or spaghetti straps, just sleeveless. That would never be allowed now. When did this orthodox-ness seep into my own religion? What happened between the 1980s, when I grew up, and now when I’m raising teens? And why? Are my daughters holier, more pious than I was at their age if they choose to be more covered up than I ever was in 1990? Will they be more prepared to go to the temple than I was? Do they have greater access to God? No way Jose.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Israel
A few years ago a new rule came about in our stake--no more shorts at activities. I was Young Women president at the time and I told my young women, ‘Look you don’t have to like this rule, I don’t get it, but as a leader I do have to keep this rule. You can think what you want, but for now, let’s play along.’ I think that rule eventually faded away because I send my girls to church Wednesday nights with shorts and there’s never been a problem.
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Me, 1984 in San Bernardino mountains, California, clearly wearing short shorts.

So what does modest mean in my world today? I own a modest home. Or is it? Maybe in Utah County it is considered modest compared to the $700,000-dollar-5,000-square-foot homes going up just two miles away from me. But take my home and put it near my son in the Dominican Republic--who hasn’t had a hot shower in 9-months--or my mom’s childhood home in Mexico--and my home is downright ostentatious. Embarrassing actually for me to live like this when my son doesn’t even have drinkable water or a hot shower. (And for him it’s temporary.) What a privileged life I lead. There isn’t anything modest about my privileged American life. And that's what I told my daughter. That modesty is subjective, in houses and clothes. New subject please.

My own home sweet home

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Pork Tamales in Red Chile Sauce

My mom is the greatest tamale maker.  Ever. She taught me to make them when I was a teenager and together with my siblings, we would help her make them to sell as fundraisers for our various church youth camps every summer. And we'd eat them too. I don't know where my mother got her amazing heart because I would not do this for my kids. I'd tell them to go babysit and pull weeds. Thankfully, I learned a valuable skill that makes my tummy happy year after year.

Flashback to June 2011: Ilene, my Mom (Tina), and Me

June 2011: Teaching Ilene to make tamales

June 2011: My amazing mom Tina

To make tamales you  need three different components: the sauce, the masa (corn dough), and the meat. My mom often makes the sauce one day, the pork carnitas another day, and assembles them all in one day. I did everything in one day. I started at 8am and finished by 3pm. I did this alone but having a helper will mean you can make more or be done faster. I wasn't in the kitchen the entire time, but I did need to be at home an entire day, no running around on this day. You can easily double this recipe but for my small family this was enough for dinner, leftovers, and plenty to freeze for 3 more dinners.

This recipe will yield approximately 4-5 dozen tamales depending on how big you make them.

Red Chile Sauce 
Makes 7 cups. Use this for tamales and especially as an enchilada sauce. Easily doubles; freezes well.
California chiles, dried, 6 ounce package (photo below)
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
4 garlic cloves
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 quart of chicken broth, pork broth, and/or water

Boil the pork first (see below recipe) so that you can use the leftover broth in this recipe.

Using kitchen scissors, cut off the stems of the chile pods, split down the middle with your fingers, rinse off seeds and pull off the stringy veins. You don't have to pull of all the stringy veins, just do your best as that's where all the heat is located. If your hands are sensitive, wear gloves. I don't. But I did sneeze and cough a little from the peppery 'fumes'. Saute one onion in oil with cumin and oregano about 5 minutes, then add garlic cloves, the cleaned chiles, tomato sauce, then enough pork broth or chicken broth to cover by an inch. (I added all the pork broth leftover from boiling the pork, and still I needed to add a little more water to cover by about an inch.) Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer for 30 minutes. Let it cool for 30-45 minutes then puree in blender in 2-3 batches until smooth. Add salt to taste.

California chiles are not very spicy. 

Cleaned chiles: 'Fresh' dried chiles should feel malleable like fruit leather, not dry and crumbly.

Add just enough broth to cover by an inch.

You should get about 7 cups of thick sauce.

Pork Carnitas
yields 3 pounds
Pork shoulder, approximately 5 pounds.
2 onions (divided)
4 teaspoons cumin (divided)
2 teaspoon oregano (divided)
1 tablespoon kosher salt (use half if using regular table salt)
2 tablespoons oil

I used maybe a 1/3 of this giant roast!

Cut pork roast into 4-5 big chunks and cover with water in a dutch oven or large pot. Add one of the onions (just quarter the onion), 2 tsp cumin, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 tsp oregano. Bring to boil then lower to simmer for 2-3 hours, until it shreds easily. Shred meat. It's very fatty so don't be worried at how much you throw out. Strain the broth and save for sauce!

Saute the last onion in oil, 2-3 cloves garlic and 2 teaspoons cumin and 1 tsp oregano, 5 minutes in a skillet. Add meat and cook another 5-7 minutes, stirring until meat starts to brown. The meat is fatty so frying it gets rid of that greasy taste and browns it nicely. Taste and season with salt.

Fry the carnitas after boiled for added flavor.

Add just enough red chile sauce to the fried carnitas to moisten the meat, approximately 2-3 cups.

Masa Preparada* (Prepared corn dough)
Buy 6 pounds

If at all possible buy fresh prepared masa from a Latin American market. I buy mine from Rancho Market in Provo, Utah. I usually have to call a day in advance and order the dough but at Christmas they keep it out, ready to buy. Prepared masa is made from ground corn/hominy, pork lard, baking powder and salt. Your market may not add the baking powder, so you might have to add 1 tablespoon per 5 pounds. Make sure you taste it to see if there is enough salt. Mine was almost too salty so I was worried but it turned out fine. It just tastes like a raw torilla or raw cornbread at this point.

Lots of masa at the Mexican market!
You'll need approx. 6 pounds 

*If you can't buy already prepared masa, you'll have to buy powdered masa harina and follow the directions on the package to make your own dough with pork lard. For the love of all that's holy and decent, don't use shortening. Fresh pork lard from a butcher is best, but Manteca brand lard is also found on the shelf.

Pull masa from the fridge about 1-2 hours before you need it as it will be softer and easier to work with at room temperature. Or if like me you forget....adding the still-warm red chile sauce will warm it up fast. Which brings me the next step: you must flavor the masa with your sauce. This is what will set it apart from basic (meaning gross) tamales. Add just enough sauce, approximately 2-3 cups to moisten dough. You still want the dough thick, but more spreadable than before. Just add 1-2 cups of sauce, mix, and add more if needed. Use your hands, no spoon will mix the sauce into the very thick masa, so get dirty! Wash hands well unless you want them stained orange! Don't stress about adding the exact right amount of sauce. If you don't add enough, it's ok! Basically you want a nice orange-colored dough.

At this point you have sauced your meat and sauced your dough. You will have leftover sauce--it freezes well. I like to pour it over shredded rotisserie chicken for a fast taco dinner. Great for enchiladas as well.

Masa dough before adding red chile sauce.

Corn husks
Buy a one pound package of corn husks. You will not even use half of this package. It's nice to have extra so you can use the biggest ones and throw out the wimpy smaller ones.

Soak the entire package, in two large bowls, in warm water 30-60 minutes. Use something heavy to weigh them down because otherwise they just float. Remove from water, shake off excess, and get ready to assemble.

soak the corn husks

Finally you are ready to assemble! Using a spoon, spread a thin layer over the entire half of the best and biggest corn husks. Spread some pork in the middle, then fold into thirds over the meat, then in half. (Watch video.) It's ok if some are small and some are huge. I like having different sizes depending on how hungry I am. :) Stack upright in a 9x13 pan until ready to steam or freeze.

Flashback to 2011: If desired, you can add a slice of carrot and potato as well.

At this point, they are ready to steam. Place them upright, in a steamer basket (I use my pasta pot), fill the bottom of the pot with water but don't let the water touch the tamales! Bring to boil and lower to a simmer. Steam/simmer for 1 hour, checking pot towards the end so water doesn't run out. I have done this before and burned my pot! Turn off heat and let them sit for another 30-60 minutes in the pot. You could eat them now but like a cake, it's best to let them firm up a bit before eating them. (video below)

To freeze: Place raw tamales in large freezer bags and freeze upright so the filling won't spill out while they are freezing. Let thaw overnight in refrigerator and steam as directed above.
frozen tamales

To reheat one already-cooked tamal: Soak a paper towel or napkin in water, wrap around the cold tamale and microwave approx. 2 minutes. If you try to just microwave it without the steam of the paper towel you will dry it out. Don't do it!!!

Such a special meal at Christmas time!

I hope this inspires you to make your own! They are a labor of love but so tasty it's worth every hour of work and every dirty pot and pan. Buen provecho!

Monday, November 07, 2016

Trees and Faith and People

Nathan in Tree 2.jpg
Nathan the tree climber, 2004, age 6.
When my son Nathan was a toddler I told him that I was heading to the nursery to buy a tree for our yard. Up until now we had only installed a sprinkler system and some struggling hydroseed for our lawn. It was a sad little yard, hot and shadeless. When I came home from the nursery, Nathan took one look at that sapling of a tree and with disappointment exclaimed, “Mom I wanted the kind of tree you can climb!” Fair enough. I wanted shade and he wanted to climb. Neither of us would get what we wanted, at least not yet. It was going to be a while. Years in fact.

Spindly little Tulip tree. The wind later snapped it in half. :(

We moved by the time Nathan was eight so he never got to climb a tree in our yard nor did I enjoy any shade at that house, but I was determined to make both happen. In our new house, once again we had the arduous task of putting in a yard. And that meant planting more trees. We planted Ash trees, Flowering Pears, Aspens, Redbuds, and Maples. Ten years later I have my shade. And maybe Nathan is too big to climb trees now, but his little girl or boy will get to climb our 23 trees someday. They'll be large enough by then.
Birds feeding under my Patmore Ash

Thankfully I do have shade now. I need its refuge. This sun worshiper is getting too old to sit bare-faced in the hot backyard anymore without a bit of respite from the glaring sun. As I sit under my 10-year old trees, listening to the messages in the rustling leaves, watching the birds eat from the orange feeder, I think about my little son and his desire to climb a tree that couldn’t even bear his tiny body weight and how everything worth having in life takes as much time as growing a climb-able tree. Faith. Healthy relationships. Healing. Patience. Perspective. The messages in those fluttering leaves have taught me how God speaks to me--subtle but sure. Trees take years. So do people.

Orange tukips in Keukenhof, Netherlands

After ten years, some tree roots are large enough that they are visible through my lawn. I planted about 50 orange tulip bulbs a few weeks ago. As I dug holes all around my yard I kept running into the deeper but smaller, more spidery, tree roots. I did my best not to disturb them, to let them do their own thing, and to carefully plant the bulbs around the roots into our rocky Utah soil. Those thin little roots will get thicker and more stable year after year. They'll keep progressing and spreading, sending out more roots, like I am, even when, or especially when, growth seems to be negligible and even non-existent.

Nathan the graduate under our shady Maple.

Last week we hiked through Zion's, in Kolob Canyon, through a thin and narrow passage filled with brightly colored fall trees. As we hiked, a gust of wind came through quickly and I heard that familar movement of leaves. Paul stopped and said “I love that sound, the rush of wind through a narrow canyon.” He heard wind but I heard God, once again whispering to me through rustling leaves, that everything is going to be okay. He is aware of me. I matter. Be patient. Let my roots grow deeper. He has given me shade for now, and soon it will be time to climb.

Autumn leaves in Kolob Canyon


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