Degree of Difficulty


Years ago Greg had to attend a week-long Scout leader training camp called Wood Badge. He returned home in his head-to-toe BSA uniform with whisker glitter (can’t grow a beard), some new skills, and a carved walking stick with an aluminum 212 hanging from the tip. Greg in full scout gear makes me weak in the knees but I was so distracted by the 212 I couldn’t even fawn over him. I asked him what it meant.

212 is fairly common entrepreneurial training tactic but it was the first time either of us had heard it:

At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. Raising the temperature of water by one extra degree means the difference between something that is simply very hot and something that generates enough force to power a machine. It reminds us that seemingly small things can make tremendous differences. –Sam Parker




Festina lente is a classical adage and oxymoron meaning MAKE HASTE SLOWLY. The constructive intent of the phrase is that activities should be performed with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. If tasks are overly rushed, mistakes are made and good long-term results are not achieved.

Jean de la Fontaine alluded to the motto in his famous fable of "The Hare and the Tortoise" writing that the tortoise "with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly".

The emblem of a dolphin entwined around an anchor has been used since Roman times to illustrate the adage. -Wikipedia


Way back in December we signed the contract with our home builder and subsequently discovered we were pregnant the following day. The day we signed I was 211 degrees. The next day I was 212. FULL STEAM AHEAD. I think I made seven lists that day. Things to do before the baby arrived, things to buy, things to sell, things to replace, things to do to this house before we list it, etc. I packed all the non-essential kitchen items and books we didn’t need in less than a week. (And later had to dig out the Bundt pan. I now know Bundt pans are essential.)

Our builder said it would take five months from the pouring of the footings to build our house. Naturally, we took an August 3 due date, subtracted five months, and got March 3 as the absolute worst-case-scenario deadline for said footings. It was only December, after all, and the only thing that stood in our way was a simple building permit from the city of Draper. Our builder said a permit generally took four to six weeks but they had gotten them in as little as two. So we hastily applied for our permit mere days after le bebe was in utero. And then a semi transporting stumbling blocks, speed bumps, and stop signs crashed on our lot and all heck broke loose.

Lost emails, city meetings with witnesses that literally vanished from the records, dueling geologists, fraudulent stamps, notarized documents with no legal binding, invoice after invoice for round tables and reengineering we never intended to buy. January passed. February passed. March passed. Uh oh.

April passed. I registered RE at Lone Peak crossing my fingers we’d officially break ground soon. May passed. The “why is nothing happening” pressure exploded at Tepanyaki on my birthday over a plate of yakisoba; I cried like a helpless baby as Greg hurried to pay the tip and get me outdoors. We had plans. We had lists. We had so much cushion. And now we were going to have to stuff the baby in the laundry room and take two cars everywhere since we don't fit in one. I questioned the super certain good impression we had when we bought the lot. I doubted the crystal clear vision of our future notched in that mountainside. Were my senses wrong? Had the last six months been sign after heavenly sign we should abort mission? Or were they test after test to trust, endure, and conquer?

Greg assured me it was the latter. He said there was always resistance when building a temple and our home is our temple. He said failure wasn’t a sign to quit (which deep down I already knew after the whole IVF experience with Archer…good thing we didn’t quit after the first one failed). He reminded me anything worth getting usually takes great effort.

As I simmered down we agreed with odd chuckles and shoulder shrugs that despite the obstacles everything still felt right. How I could be at peace with my life in the blender was news to me but it was real. I felt I needed to back off with the steam machine and focus on my family, my callings, and helping someone different each day. About this time we sang a hymn at church with the lyric then wake up and do something more than dream of your mansion above. It was the second witness slap in the face I needed. (#choristerFTW) Excepting my chopstick showdown and a similar scene the day we found out we needed an 18’ foundation wall under the main corner of the house I’ve been as stoic and serene as a Durkovich gets.

Here it is mid-June, I’m having a baby in six weeks, there is still no hole in our dirt, we are still waiting for our building permit, 87% of my life is out of control and total chaos (I’m still in charge of laundry and meal planning), and I’m totally happy. You just can’t write stuff like this. Except I’m writing it. And it’s all true.

Despite seven months of intense effort to move forward I’m relieved I’ll be bringing baby home to 680 West. You wanna be where everybody knows your name. I think RE needs one last summer where everybody knows her name, too. Greg feels the drag has to do with who will buy our house; that the ducks aren’t in a row yet. I feel I have work yet to do in these parts. I also feel I have gems to glean from those still around me. There are reasons for the timing; there always are. We both believe it will make sense later but not now.

Somewhere along the way I ran out of steam, dropped a degree, threw my lists to the wind, ripped my calendar in half, and jumped into regular, average, non-amazing salt water to grab a seat on a rusty anchor. Every day since I’ve tried to high-five the dolphin next to me and enjoy what’s left of my free, but sluggish, ride.

The house will happen when it happens. In the meantime I'll keep living a very good life.


Photo of my gold foil to-do list. What? You don't have gilded lists? You must not love lists as much as I do.



Long ago, like back when I overplucked my eyebrows and had the “Rachel” haircut, I knew a woman named Margaret Wilcox. We attended the same church congregation, she was a quilter, and she was famous for her homemade breads. Beyond bread tutoring she had a lifetime of wisdom to pass on (as most old people do). This is the best thing, and I mean even better than her awesome potato bread recipe, I learned from her:

Margaret grew up poor, like most people her age, and lived in a one-room house with an outdoor kitchen enclosed on one end. By the time she was a young teen there was a newer kitchen and the old outdoor kitchen, the glorified shack offering privacy nonetheless, became her bedroom. It was difficult to sleep in wintertime because her afterthought dwellings were not as insulated as a real home. In other words she froze every night and hence became a quilter.

She recalled one particularly rough night of tossing and turning. Every restless movement unknowingly slid her covers downward. She awoke to the rooster coverless and numb; the last inch of her quilt was hanging on her big toe. She said her body told her she was paralyzed but her mind told her get to your big toe. It seemed impossible but ever so slowly she reached out her frosty fingers, snatched the quilt before it fell to the icy floor, and wrapped it tightly around her body with both hands.

Margaret then compared her quilt to a testimony.

You can accidentally (or purposely) lose it in dark but it will cling to the last, tiny piece of you as long as it has to. It will silently stand by while you suffer and try to live without it. It will hang on, as far from your heart as humanly possible, until you wake up and choose to grab it with both hands. Even if you are past feeling it’s still never too late to grab your quilt.

While my testimony is tightly tucked around my torso her metaphor extends to other arenas of life. In fact, my testimony may be the only thing safe and sound these days. I am a mess. My schedule, sleep, diet, emotions, time-management, stress-management…all hanging by a shred on my big toe. I wish I were little and not accountable for my own progress. I wish my parents could poke their heads in my room every night to check on me and pull my proverbial covers up while I sleep. Alas, I am now 40 years old. I’ve been repeatedly educated how to stay warm. If I’m cold it’s my own fault.

I’ve had the annoying little reminder IF IT IS TO BE, IT IS UP TO ME in my head for weeks now. I’ve also had these paraphrased remains of what I’m guessing was originally a Maxwell or Holland quote swimming around the ol’ noggin: In this age of "anything goes" the only control left is self-control.

Seriously. Married white female seeks lost self-control. Reward for clues to whereabouts.

In theory it’s easy. Just go to bed early, wake up early, eat healthy, study the stuff that matters, serve others, focus on the good. In practice it’s killing me. Was this how it felt to look at the brass serpent? Why is it so hard to do what I know will make me thrive? Why can I not pass Swiss Cake Rolls without opening the box in the store? Why can’t I go to bed before midnight? Why am I waking up at 8 when I used to work at 5:30 a.m.? Why can’t I tweak life's excel chart and crank up my efficiency 487%? Why am I still going to the store almost daily when I plan my menu two weeks at a time? Why did I stop lifting weights and stretching? Every other day I think I can handle it. The next day I wilt. Why am I bound and shackled by every poor decision I make? Oh, President Monson, you were right. Decisions determine destiny and here I sit a disgruntled destiny’s child. Wah Wah Waaaaaaahhhhh.

I’m not sure how much more my big toe can handle. It’s time for the rest of my body to pitch in and remove the dead weight of several hanging quilts. It’s time for my mind and muscles to kiss and make up. It’s time to stop postponing change until I’m not pregnant, or until the baby is six weeks old, or until we move, or until the twelfth of never. It’s time for a cozy comeback.


*I love the story of Enos in the Book of Mormon. I personally believe (but am happy to be wrong should I discover otherwise in the next life) it is the tale of a man who “grabbed his quilt” after many years of freezing (a.k.a. “wrestling” as he puts it). That little line about “the words which I had often heard my father speak sunk deep into my heart” makes me think he had latent learnings. I feel like Enos’ miraculous crossroad is included in the Book of Mormon to show it’s never too late to do the right thing, to be converted, or to have full happiness. I think it is a relief for anyone who struggles with doing what they know is right. I also think it’s a super hopeful story for parents who aren’t sure their kids are listening.

definition of latent: existing but not yet developed or manifest; hidden; concealed. Synonymns: dormant, untapped, unused, undiscovered, underlying, invisible, unseen, unfulfilled, potential.

Photo purchased from iStock.


May Day

May Day (May 1), 2016.

(knock knock)

Me: Frenchie!

(hands me a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley)

Mary: In France it is tradition to give muguet to someone you love on May Day, and I love you.

(I smell the muguet, feeling extra cool and European since I know now the translation for lily-of-the-valley. The same way I feel cool when I cook with fingerling potatoes instead of russets or when I shop at a "centre" instead of a "center." Frenchie is often kneeling in her yard tending the shady muguet bed. She does not wear gloves for gardening and her olive skin doesn’t need sunscreen. She is hardcore with French traditions and sometimes makes me sad I don’t do anything Yugoslavian for my family or neighbors. Maybe I could start giving people sheep and potatoes.)

I was on Cloud 9 the rest of the week every time I looked at my muguet in the bud vase on my desk. Now, I'll admit I typically assume Frenchie loves me because we’ve been friends forever and we don’t do mean things to each other. Yet there was something sublime in hearing the full phrase I LOVE YOU. Not LUV YA or XOXO or *heart emoji* but the drawn-out, unadulterated, life-validating trinity of I LOVE YOU.

My dad told me he never heard the words I LOVE YOU growing up. He did say the day he left for Vietnam his dad and stepmom said WE LOVE YOU, which is kind of close but not exactly what a scared boy needs to hear as he heads for war. In my opinion, my dad needed a father’s rib-cracking bear hug and a solid, undeniable I LOVE YOU to pack in his pocket as he left the continent. I’m not saying his dad didn’t love him; he mailed cooked lamb chops to Vietnam, after all, but there is power in the full phrase.

Greg is unusually stellar at telling me he loves me. He doesn’t text, send smoke signals, or write snail mail but he does call me at least twice a day to say I LOVE YOU. One of those times is around 4 pm when he’s driving to Wendy’s to get a late, colon-killing, dinner-spoiling lunch. I am not as good as he is because as we are falling asleep each night he often asks DO YOU LOVE ME? I say YES. He asks HOW MUCH? I say INFINITY PLUS SIX (a family number that means the highest value from zero possible) and drift to sleep. I should tell him the real deal more, though, because the muguet incident reminded me how nice love unfeigned feels.


I love that you happily work, happily serve, consistently deal with a mouth full of cankers, and are totally down for Meatless Mondays (only kidding, I’m just checking to see if you read this). I love you for always getting out of bed to fill my water bottle or turn the thermostat down because I’m tucked in with six pillows and can’t move. I love you when you wrestle Archer and sing like a bucktoothed rabbit to make RE laugh at the table. I love you no matter how many times you watch “I Am a Champion” or that Ronald Reagan thing on youtube. I love you for climbing the slippery, rainy pear tree in your Crocs and almost falling “Pollyanna Style” in an effort to hang my new birdfeeder.

I love you for never saying stuff like I wish you were more athletic or I wish you liked deviled eggs or I wish you were more of a morning person or I wish you were as good at Excel as I am or I wish you were something you’re not. I love you for being a simple person (you’re like an Oreck vacuum; simply built, easy to tune-up, no weighty frills) and for seeing life simply, too. Sometimes I wonder if we are living on the same planet but I do believe you when you tell me I’m making things unnecessarily difficult.

There was a silly student campaign that promoted bananas when I was in college. They claimed bananas were the perfect fruit because they came gift-wrapped, didn’t have to be washed, had plenty of natural sugar, and were even safe for babies to digest. I think I LOVE YOU is the banana-equivalent of words. It’s the perfect phrase because it’s free to say, it’s super sweet, you don’t have to embellish it, and anyone can digest it.



Running errands without a baby is like warping to the Level 8 dungeon in Nintendo’s original Super Mario Bros with fireballs and the star. You know, the star that lands on you and speeds up the music and makes you invincible. How easily I kill hammer-tossing dragons and how quickly I save princesses when I’m alone. This is one of the reasons I love my daughter. She routinely watches Archer after school to give me a power hour, or as I like to call it, HAMMERTIME!

Sometimes I use it to work out. Sometimes I take a quick nap with my door closed. Sometimes I shower and get ready for the day because I’m that pathetic of a non-morning person. Once I drove a mile away, parked, blasted my music, read a few articles on my phone’s reading list, and drove back home. Yesterday I only got a power 36 minutes but it still allowed me to hit the bank, buy sour cream, Baked Cheetos, and a pineapple at the grocery store, and pay my Kohl’s bill in person. Just knowing I get a small breather every afternoon is priceless.

Thank you, RE, for letting me escape long enough to find and hit the brick that grows the secret beanstalk up to Cloud Coin Bonus Land. Just a few seconds of jumping alone in fresh air earns me a free life to save for later. Thank you for the stash in my energy cache. I would be GAME OVER without you.


1UP = One up, or one extra life. Mario was one of three Nintendo games I ever loved, the other two being Jaws and Snake, Rattle and Roll. I never understood Zelda, Duck Hunt was for cheaters who put the gun on the TV screen (okay, maybe I speak from experience), and I've still never beat Jaws (even though I've seen Cristall kill him multiple times). I still love the theme song and the happy sound made from stomping on a mushroom. Images from the internet thanks to screenshotting old school gamers.


Sorry Not Sorry

I saw that friend of mine, he said

you look different somehow

I said

everybody's got to leave their darkness sometime

I said

I'm so happy that I can't stop crying

I'm laughing through my tears

-Sting, “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”


I’ve felt SORRY for being pregnant this time around. Inside I’m doing cartwheels, preparing to close a chapter, and writing heavenly thank you notes for my abundance…but I’m also very SORRY. I’m SORRY because I was a former poster child for infertility. I belonged to a club where we occassionally glowered and sneered at people who “got pregnant by accident” or “had no idea how it happened.” Come on, Bozos, you know how it happened. Spare us your fake surprise.

I had to inform my club I got pregnant by accident and had no idea how it happened. It’s always beneficial (and painfully eye-opening) to live both sides of the coin. It was a surprise and I know exactly how they feel about it. I’m SORRY.

Archer was a long-awaited, expensive, public miracle yet I’ve basically hunched over to hide this new baby bump. I feel like a traitor to my former comrades; I feel undeserving of an “extra free baby” when Archer already healed my wounds. I’ve almost forgotten what I used to feel like; I rub my scar but the knot doesn’t hurt.

What if I move and my new circle thinks I’m just a par-for-the-course, van-owning, appointment-forgetting, squishy mother of three who rants about lack of personal time and loss of hobbies? They won’t know about the 12-year war I survived, about the old circle who fasted and prayed and willed Archer here, or about the empty hole I babysat for 1/3 of my mortal existence. Which reminds me: what do I not know about those around me? Not everyone in a circle is open.

It’s often seemed like the right thing to do: to play down incoming joy so those lacking don’t feel even worse. I would never share a favorite pancake recipe with my dog groomer who has Celiac disease because that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Likewise, I shouldn’t gush about an excess baby when there are still people aching for a first. It’s the higher road of smile self-denial, right?


I believe censoring happiness or sweeping joy under the mat is no kind of do-gooding to those who feel BLUE; it’s just a disguise for ingratitude. It’s a great way to waste a blessing. It’s shunning the highs to forever feel low when the point of life is to feel them both. BLUE is a beast we all have to kill our own way with our own weapons. Sometimes BLUE is like a trick birthday candle that keeps lighting after you blow it out. I'M BAAA-AAACK! Anvil smash. SURPRISE! Gunshot. MISS ME? Dynamite.

Amy Harris, a girl I knew as a newlywed and later learned was the childhood best friend of my neighbor, is an opera-singing, hot-ham-and-mustard-in-foil, pixie-cut sprite who surrounds herself with good music. One day she shared this:

I was listening to a Mozart violin concerto on public radio this morning. At the end one of the DJs commented that something very special about Mozart is even in his darkest moments there is always a little smile in his music.

Steve Vawdrey shared this odd epitaph* he read about in the newspaper:


Am I happy? Do I know it? Does my face surely show it? Am I clapping my hands?

My friend Jonna sent a text with the emoji I call FAKE SMILE. In my mind it is the face of someone trapped in an awkward moment or frozen with embarrassment but trying to pass it off as a smile. When she sent it I thought I had ticked her off. I apologized but she told me she sent it as CHEESY SMILE. She was not upset. I guess there is a vast spectrum of emoji interpretation. She saw grin, I saw growl. I know, I know, my emoji glass is apparently half empty.

It is not enough to continue the walk with gritted teeth. We are told to "rejoice evermore” (1 Thes. 5:16). We are "that we might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25).

This is a line from one of my very favorite sermons ever. The author was speaking of the pioneers and how they had to keep walking and walking and walking. And then walk some more. Their personal journeys were smattered with difficulties yet they were expected to rejoice (cheesy smile) and not grit their teeth (fake smile.) Such similar faces. Such different feelings. The Lord’s plan is a happy one. Happiness doesn’t happen; happiness is a choice.

William Faulkner said,



I had to love life like that when I was heartbroken and holey. I didn't love life because I had everything I wanted; I loved life because I manually inserted a smile on life's blue sheet music. I faked it many, many times until I made it.

I don’t want to fake smile about this baby. I want to rejoice out loud in broad daylight with a multi-toothed smile. SORRY NOT SORRY. I have plenty of legitimate teeth-gritting hard stuff in my life. We all do. I wish everyone who wanted a baby had one fast, free, and easy. I wish life came without obstacles, however, my Obstacle (when it's big it gets a capital letter) was the greatest school of learning to date and my current cartwheels would be null and void without it. The final exam was accepting my happiness cannot depend on what anyone else says, does, or has. I think the converse rule also applies: my happiness cannot depend on what someone doesn't have. It's a truth I've forgotten these past few months.

I can't change the timing and fate of other people’s lives so being the baby martyr won't help anything. I can compassionately mourn with those that mourn without mourning my own happiness. Looking at joy "through a glass darkly" doesn't change the fact that joy is crisp, clear, not blue, and meant to be viewed in high definition.


*Any time I hear about gravestones I think of the beautiful American Fork Cemetery. I have taken pictures of it during every season. I love walking the uphill mile from my house until I reach the obelisk. If you stand next to it 30 minutes after the sun has set you will be surrounded by a continuous silhouette of mountains. And if you look to the right you’ll see the freshly scrubbed, always clean headstone marking J’s sister.

After I read Betty Spencer’s “The Early History of American Fork” I went to the cemetery to find the graves of Arza Adams and his family. He was one of the founders of dear old AF. The markers look like giant Mickey Mouse ears because they are half-buried grist mill stones. Stephen Chipman was the other founder and his historic mansion on Main Street is the current retail location for “The Glass Slipper” and “The Belle, Book, and Candle.” If I could just take the built-ins from the entry of that home I’d die a twice blessed happy woman!

Craig Roberts, who could easily pass as one of the nicest people in American Fork, said, “People aren’t afraid to die. They are afraid to live a life that doesn’t matter.” Which reminds me of Fran from Strictly Ballroom when she screams "Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias!" ("A life lived in fear is a life half lived!") to her dance partner, Scott Who Only Wears Wife Beaters. And speaking of people concerned about happiness in Spanish...check out the truck I parked next to at the bank. If piñatas can be happy surely people can be happy.

-quote about gritting teeth by Elaine S. Sorensen Marshall from her May 2, 2013 BYU Women's Conference address "A Pattern For a Joyful Life"

-through a glass darkly reference: 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul speaking about the power of charity (but I love the imagery of looking through an antique mirror or a dirty mirror that doesn't portray reality)

-SORRY card from the ever-thoughtful, thrift-scoring Frenchie