Plowing Through

I knew I had a pre-existing condition with change. An adverse reaction to it. I once replaced my hairdryer and the on/off button and speed buttons were opposite my old model. It nearly did me in. Then there was the time I got a new purse after nine years. Tailspin. Let's not talk about the time I got a new makeup bag and it was 1/4" shorter than my longest powder brush. Tremors.

Yet when I read this Gordon B. Hinckley passage last February I got all excited about moving:

(referring to the Mormon Exodus which began in 1847)

"I stand in reverent respect for Brigham Young. He saw the Salt Lake Valley in vision long before he saw it with his natural eyes. Otherwise I doubt he would have stopped here. There were greener lands in California and Oregon. There was deeper and richer soil elsewhere. There were great fields of timber in other places, much more water, and climates more equable and pleasant.

"There were mountain streams here, it is true, but none of them was very large. The soil was totally untried. No plow had ever broken its hard-baked surface. I marvel, I simply marvel, that President Young would lead a large company...to a place where there had never been a sowing and a harvest."

The gift of being an earth-breaker! I was lucky enough to be the first occupant of a plot of land; my future home was being built on the blank slate I dreamed of doodling on from the moment I saw it.

Then we moved. With the move came a new smart thermostat, water softener, humidifier, grill, microwave, range, oven, steam oven, ice maker, garage key pad, shower faucet, cable provider, and dishwasher. And sunglasses! I short circuited numerous times and Ari can testify I went on an anti-German rant that lasted an entire dinner meal. (My Miele oven was too small for my pizza pan. Don't mess with my homemade BBQ chicken pizza. And the German microwave is too short for a standard baby bottle. Clearly Europeans in general don't care about babies or family-sized dinners.) Greg endured my rant because he's infatuated with our filtered German ice cubes that look like little footballs; nothing pleases Greg more than frigid water. In fact, every night he walks in from his commute and drinks a glass of cold water. Then he sighs and says, "Man, who could ever live without cold water? I want to write an ode to cold water." And I roll my eyes because I drink tepid water all day and his water stings my gums and makes me think I'll be booking a gum graft in the next few years. So we're not dessert compatible OR water compatible. Super.

Six weeks after le move I was on edge. Night after night I had delved into carefully selected reading material from an 11" stack of user manuals, none of which caused sweet dreams. Then Greg bought our new van for a smoking deal on his way to work, two weeks ahead of schedule. More manuals! More not having a clue why my bluetooth was syncing but the rear entertainment wasn't silencing! More searching at the bottom of my Mary Poppins purse until I remembered I had keyless ignition! That night as we walked up to the community mailbox (which I am still getting used to) I said something like, "Honey, if we buy one more thing I don't know how to use I'm going to have a nervous breakdown." He understood the words that were coming out of my mouth and the shopping moratorium began.

Greg took a turn digesting manuals and I found something in my nightly reading that retracted my claws.

Ether 2:5-6

5 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded them that they should go forth into the wilderness (the fringe of Draper), yea, into that quarter where there never had man been (a vacant lot, no existing home). And it came to pass that the Lord did go before them...and gave directions whither they should travel (paved the way, controlled the calendar, caused us to move at exactly the right time for all parties involved).

6 And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness (we left a life we loved, drove up a mountain, and plunked our things down in unfamiliar territory)...being directed continually by the hand of the Lord (reminder reminder reminder).

I needed the reminder. Oh, that Book of Mormon is more than magic. How does the verse I need always show up when I need it, no matter where I'm at in life or the book itself? This is the scriptural equivalent of IF THE LORD BROUGHT YOU TO IT, HE WILL BRING YOU THROUGH IT. Everything has changed, but one thing is the same: God is still my guide and He is unchanging, constant, and perfect. Change is how the Lord brings about his purposes. Change isn't a wrench in the plans; change IS the plan! German appliances are possibly not the plan.

Brigham Young saw the Salt Lake Valley in vision before he saw it in person. I similarly saw a glimpse of my life here, in this spot where there had never been a plow, a planted seed, or a house. We bought and broke this ground in good faith. I told myself it would take a full year here to reap a harvest, but I believed I'd seen the coming harvests. On Sunday I discovered an early crop, an unexpected bushel of goodness. I don't have to suffer a year of famine! This is a good place, and I've barely scratched the surface.


Speaking of plows, our landscaping is almost done (shout out to my evil twin and only brother, Matt the Landscape Architect Who Went Rogue, for designing a smart and beautiful yard for us) and TODAY they planted all our trees and shrubs. Being a Highly Sensitive Person, I picked symbolic things to plant. Like three weeping white spruce trees planted in a cluster to represent our three kids, who I hope will only grow closer as time goes by. I picked a skinny oak tree strictly because it had a lone acorn hanging on its top branch at the nursery. Acorns get me every time. All the feels of new beginnings, hope, and potential. Greg said he knew the second I saw that acorn we were buying the tree. He told our landscaper, "She's getting that tree. Acorns tie her to her childhood or something." Yes, my happy childhood in Missouri where my sisters and I smashed up rocks and put the dust in tiny acorn cap bowls.

Photo of a book cover given to me by Frenchie. She binds aesthetically pleasing book covers and lined paper into really chic notebooks. She knew I had to have it since "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me" is one of my favorite hymns. The book is written by Colonel Robert L. Scott and I'm obviously framing the cover once my notebook is used up. Basically everything in my house is from a dear friend.


Nauvoo Bells


Excerpt from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Peace Like a River CD booklet, page 1:

Peace Like a River begins with the tolling of the Nauvoo bell-itself a symbol of hope and constancy amid change-which originally graced the Mormon temple on the Mississippi. Mormon pioneers brought this memory of their former home across the plains to their new home in the Rockies, where today it faithfully chimes the hour on Temple Square.

I knew The Chateau would be quiet, so I searched high and low for a Nauvoo bell to haul with me. I found two! I had just enough length of my kitchen wallpaper scraps to showcase a full illustrated medallion; seeing it framed in my new kitchen really does make me feel like I'm home. I also took the hardware from my Peterson Woodworks built-ins; they wink at me from the dining room every night during dinner. Ding dong. Constancy matters.


Carry On

I have unpacked the city of boxes. Mom encouraged me to not put anything away that wasn’t clean. Weeks ago she donned her rubber gloves and washed the insides and undersides of all my new cupboards and drawers. She wiped down my spices and canned food. She scrubbed the rubber feet of my food processor and blender so they wouldn’t stick to the new shelves.

I hung apron hooks on the cleat in the pantry. I honored my mother by washing all of my aprons. Together. Whoops. Six sets of sashes whipped themselves into a wad that tested even my untangling limits. I sat on a folding chair in my new laundry room, tugging and pulling, thinking about the people who gave me my aprons. Aunt Lynne gave me the lightweight vinyl Tuscan scene from El Rancho and the Caffè Florian from Venice. Funny, because Marlena de Blasi wrote 1000 Days in Tuscany and 1000 Days in Venice and my aunt is the one who introduced me to the books. Michelle made me the brown butterfly flirty knock-off. Heater sewed the green botanical with the giant gold button at the neck. Keri’s Paris print was stuffed in my arms with a going-away hug. There is also a thick, red-striped, Calphalon version long enough for a butcher to wear: Greg’s man apron.

Moving was crazy. Moving took everything I had and whipped it into an emotional wad. The boxes are gone, yes, but it will take months to untangle the move. I’m working on bit by bit after the boys are asleep (because Aurora the Apple That Fell Next to Her Mother’s Trunk never goes to bed). Memories are woven into everything.

Like lavender. Up here there is one thing deer won’t eat: lavender. It’s in every yard. It reminds me of Frenchie all day long. Bursts of purple for days but no olive-skinned brunette digging near them.

Or seeing Amy’s car, but it’s not Amy and it doesn’t pull over and linger for a gas-guzzling chat.

Or hearing neighborhood kids without being able to decipher who they are. I knew every voice before.

I unwrapped my glass citrus juicer. I used it to juice three limes for a recipe Greg didn’t particularly enjoy (too many red onions). Lime halves were left on the counter and they reminded me of the market where I buy my Thai groceries. The clerk at Vinh Long wets her finger on the open end of a lime half and uses that finger to pry the next plastic grocery bag open. Lime halves mean heavy cans of coconut milk (it’s the worst can to drop on your foot), tubs of curry paste, and bumpy galangal root.

The Powells opened our eyes to pumpkin curry and all these years later Michelle left Kneaders with an éclair because she felt like I needed something...and ended up babysitting my boys during our final walkthrough.

Pumpkin curry reminds me of the night Kamden and Tyler announced they were adopting. Joyous carpool talk ending with mango Hi-chews.

We ate so much curry with Kenon and Scott, who were responsible for my first belly laugh after the failed IVF. It was in Scott’s new truck and we had just gotten drive-thru Chick-fil-a peppermint shakes. Hard times demand laughter; they are my funny people.

Mary Gifford, the Graceful mother, taught me the secret to legit sticky rice. Sticky rice is the sidekick to all Thai superheroes. I just hugged her near the specialty breads at Costco; she hasn’t aged a day since we lived in a dump at BYU.

Over bowls of curry I first began to know the Hoffmans, the sweet one and the salty one.

I’m looking in happy eyes across so many dinner tables; I'm relishing old friendships.

You can imagine how my brain runneth over if simply juicing limes creates this kind of mental chain. I am tethered to everything. One million things under this new roof x eight memories per object = a lot of reflecting, smiling, and gratitude.

I’m in my place, a bit displaced, but not out of place. Things really are good here. I'm surrounded by niceness and new vistas. I haven’t put on my Becca scarf and curled up in the fetal position with the ward Shutterfly book yet, so that’s a plus. Perhaps that day is coming, but until then, I’m thankful I’m hurting a bit. It means I left something good. It means I left something real.

There is one suitcase I refuse to unpack. My fingers have indented the handle and the zipper never sticks. The leather is soft and forgiving. Colorful, pasted-on destination stamps hint at past holidays. Ironically, the carry-on helping me carry on in this new life is my old baggage.


Photo lyric from the hymn "Carry On" by Ruth May Fox (which was called "Firm as the Mountains Around Us" in the 1975 hymnal and used four full pages of book real estate).

Vintage green carry-on gifted to me by Blue-eyed Becca, Christmas 2015. (It should have been our last Christmas in American Fork, but our builder had different plans.) She laminated the hymn "Carry On" for the tag and her card said "Keep calm and carry on!" Choristers forever! It smells like grandma's house in a good way, and the little mirror is still affixed inside.

I only lost one thing in the move: my sunglasses. My tortoise shell anthropologie sunglasses purchased in Chicago. They felt invisible, didn't pinch my skull, and blocked sideways sun. Sadness.



I bought a Time magazine a couple of years ago about the man-made wonders of the world. It was a noteworthy purchase not only for its content but for the mere fact I saw it at Winco and had cash to pay for it. (I don’t carry cash. Ever. You hear that, attackers? Pounce on someone else! All you’ll get from my purse is two size 4 diapers, 16 lipsticks, and an old-fashioned checkbook.)

One of the things I learned from my $13.99 purchase was the Taj Mahal, despite its architectural ranking on the list of things sublime, wasn’t much of a building challenge. Yes, the emperor of India built a whole town to house the twenty thousand men needed to build his wife’s tomb, but the construction was a no-brainer.

By the time the Taj Mahal was completed in the 1640s, the principles for fashioning a dome were well understood. Two centuries earlier, however, when the terra-cotta topper of Florence’s iconic landmark was under way, dome building was a giant question mark.

The dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, simply referred to as il Duomo, was the crowning achievement of a cathedral begun in 1296. Construction spanned the Black Death of 1348. By the time 1418 rolled around, an architectural design competition announced THERE ARE NO STUPID IDEAS because no one knew how to build a dome on top of a functioning church. Brunelleschi solved the riddle and became the hero of all Florence. He used no flying buttresses or freestanding scaffolding, and left no notes, sketches, or journals. A goldsmith by trade, he was somehow equal to the task of an architect ahead of his time. He was inspired. To this day, experts can’t fathom how he did what he did without laser levels, modern mathematics, or elite software. His dome, finished in 1469, was “the creative explosion that ignited the Renaissance” as one writer put it. It remains the largest masonry dome in the world. He paved the way for all the other domes waiting to be built on earth.

In other words, the Taj Mahal is because of the Duomo.

They have much in common: both required insane amounts of manual labor, sacrifice, white marble, and time. They both still stand.

There was a full Corn Moon last night, extra yellow as it rose through the smoke of the Weber Canyon fires. I looked at it from the deck of our new house, which we call "The Chateau" but it’s a Taj Mahal of sorts. Oh, this house. This grand feat. It is beautiful by day and by night. I love my hex tile. I love an entire drawer dedicated to Tupperware. I love the wallpaper. But it hasn’t solved any equations yet. It hasn’t endeared itself to me like my Duomo did.

My Duomo on 680 West. That starter structure sat with a hole to the sky for years, all the while God whispered a dome was possible. We worked relentlessly with protractors and hammers. I measured the stars and Greg learned to trowel. Eventually RE earned credits in Construction 101 with her own prayers and fasting. God promised us there would be a dome, and while the math and the hoisting almost killed us we came out on top. Together we learned what God wanted us to know; we built a dome on that house. It became a holy place. It belongs on postcards and in history books. That house triumphed doubt and stands as a witness of endurance, completion, and the validity of godly promises. RE, my cathedral. Archer, my dome. Everett, my courtyard, gift shop, and extra parking lot.

Today we signed the Duomo over to a new family. In my former living room we handed over keys, garage door openers, knowhow, and tidbits. I told them to make sure they crack the window open in spring so the creek's burbling runoff can lull them to sleep. A few months later the scent of Russian olives will soothe them to slumber. I told them to fold laundry upstairs on the bed so they could watch their kids swinging under the tree house down below. I told them to slide on the frozen pond, to love the ward, and to make the house their own (starting with repainting my pumpkin orange half bath). I hoped the house would be as good to them as it was to us. Above all, I promised them it was a House of Miracles.

I looked out the kitchen window at my pear tree and bid the reveries of hand washing farewell; I’ll have to come up with my great ideas someplace else. I also spied the Moroccan birdfeeder RE gave me for Mother’s Day; I hurried and borrowed the Draney’s ladder to rescue it.

RE and I attempted one last bike adventure but her bike had a flat and a loose brake cable. Plan B was a drive to Smart Cookie. We binged on triple chocolate fudge while we sat on the curb listening to the movie theater’s fountain. I still wasn’t ready to call it quits, so we drove back to our house while I decided what I wanted to do for my last act of living on 680 West. I knew. We ran across the street and knocked on Frenchie’s door to give her one last hug. Fitting, since Frenchie in a beret (with toddler Abby, infant Hannah, and tall Matt) delivering Christmas cheer at my doorstep is one of my first neighbor memories of 680 West. How I’ll miss walking up the hill to her black door and black rails. She painted the rails at midnight in her pajamas many years ago. I know because I was on a midnight stroll and saw her do it. That’s when I knew we were kindred spirits.

I talked for too long and walked away. I couldn’t look back. After reversing my car out of the driveway, I took a last look at my house numbers and shifted gears. My plum tree got smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror. I pressed forward up the serpentine roads until I reached my yard-less, gleaming, still-so-new Taj Mahal.

Inside my sanctuary I checked on my jewels; the precious Duomo acquisitions I wrapped, cradled, and transplanted here. One was sleeping in the crib with his diaper bum in the air, one was being a ninja, and one was laughing at the counter with her beautiful smile and cracked iPhone. This house is built like the old. More of the same stunning marble, just a different shape in a different land.

I am thankful for the difficult and rewarding “dome building” epoch in my life. It taught me that I can build anything with God, even if I’m just a goldsmith with no formal training. I am nothing on my own, but I eventually learned embracing the adversity under your own roof and seeking solutions through heavenly collaboration is how masterpieces, monuments, and even world wonders are brought to pass.


The Duomo and the Taj Mahal both feature herringbone brick. I am, and always have been, gaga for herringbone brick. So cottage! So fairy tale! So welcoming! The Chateau’s original plans had a herringbone brick walkway up to the front door. Then a builder told us it would cause death by slipping, so Greg was the murderer of love and killed my dream. The week before our wood floors were nailed down, Brooke White showed an Instagram video of her…wait for it…herringbone brick tile kitchen floor. SHAZAM! We bought less wood and had a herringbone brick tile floor laid in the entry way. A nod to my past and my present in my favorite pattern.

Photo of a postcard my Firenze-loving aunt mailed from one of her gilding classes. Acquarello di M. Fasciano.

Photo lyric from the song “Betty Crocker” by Melody Federer. (Wendy, I owe you many donuts for this gift. It will forever be the theme song for our move. I'm glad you get to be in both of my dreams.)

p.s.s.s. Frenchie's husband told me Florence is his favorite city in the world. Maybe I should tell him he's staring at it from his living room window.



Once upon a time there was a girl who hated taking risks and therefore cried when her husband put down a non-refundable $3500 deposit on a starter home. She and her husband were still students. Life was up in the air, yet they moved into the little house on 680 West with only two GMC Sierra truckloads. They had no furniture other than a queen bed, a borrowed dresser, and some free blue calico couches with ruffles on the bottom. They had no trials, no kids, no pets, no cell phones, one landline, and one modemless computer available for word processing. They referred to their exit as “The Harts Exit” because not a lot of people knew where American Fork was. Across the street from their new home was a huge field of horses. You could see the stars well. Their street was brand new and everyone was in the same new boat. It was dusty; there was not one tree, patch of grass, or foot of curbing organizing bulbs and bushes. It was a spartan and brown beginning.

The girl graduated and worked for her husband at his vacuum store. He graduated. They had a baby girl and the girl turned into a mom. She stayed home from the workplace evermore and began to till the ground around her instead of earning paychecks. She began seeing where she lived. Spider webs stretched between houses; sticky little strands of book clubs, dance classes, and playgroups. There were people that would walk around the loop together with strollers. Once she saw a neighbor deliver a homemade cherry-fabric dress to another neighbor.

Fences went up but the street only got friendlier. Every week or two there was a sod-laying party that ended with dirty, sweaty faces lingering behind and getting to know the other dirty, sweaty faces. Spindle trees were staked, miniature shrubs were spaced. Cars started changing from Honda Civics to minivans.

Landscaping ended; everything planted just needed time to grow. MBAs, new jobs, paint swatch picking. Roots deepened. Park days, backyard picnics in the new shade puddles, inflatable waterslides, Reading Rewards, running groups. Workout partners, toll painting, wood crafts, decorating. Part of the horse field yielded to a Target.

Then the lush Zion years, when an after-dinner stroll around the block took 2 ½ hours because you had to stop at every driveway to visit. Adults unwound while numberless kids morphed like an amoeba in the background, kicking balls and doing handstands while hooting and hollering the way barefoot kids past bedtime do. Basketball hoops. Neighbor coaches for itty bitty sports like tee ball and soccer. There was always a friend to walk to the cemetery and back in the dark with.

Community. Sharing ladders, wheelbarrows, fertilizer spreaders, and expertise. Annual cookie exchanges, Pioneer Day parties, dunk tanks. Things were getting so lush that pruning happened. Giants transplanted to places they needed to go. They left big holes but the holes were filled with variety and beauty and kindness. Cars overflowed to the street because babies were now dating or getting their own degrees. Once the moms taught the kids, now the kids were teaching the moms. Rises and falls, births and deaths, thicks and thins. Her cycles swirled and swished with others. She was changing.

The golden era of Flour Girls and Dough Boys’ peanut butter ganache brownies. DIY projects, bug catching, swim lessons, and birthday parties glittered. Her sewing machine hummed, her wheat grinder buzzed. She was herself with no facade, past the polite beginnings and unafraid to be a morning hater with an imperfect life. The tradition of monthly card making began, where she rounded life’s corners, cropped and matted relationships worth keeping, and saved her scraps. Tupperware cups with straws, hallowed ground, her sisterhood of the traveling pants.

There were the years the little house ached for a baby shower and a diaper cake, but the neighbors compensated by putting on their capes and landing when necessary. They leaned over fences, ate at tables, peeled and canned tomatoes, and pitted plums. They extracted every ounce of good that could be salvaged, lined her cellar with jars, and stood by for the coming winters.

One winter hammered and howled. She hid inside the darkness of the blankest calendar she’d ever owned. The street covered her porch with love before bubble wrapping the house. Then it held hands, formed a circle, and Care Bear stared her house until the ice melted. Seasons passed, and when an ultrasound showed a flickering heartbeat there was such unified rejoicing and leaping that the earth tilted off its axis. The following baby shower was visible from outer space.

Crucibles for all were survived over the years. The network of survivors fused into one great heart and a greater body capable of sharing pain and multiplying joy until one day she turned onto the street in her car full of car seats and saw a wide welcome, with room for anyone, lined with waving trees that had reached out touched each other. She passed blossoms and bumblebees and hissing sprinklers. She knew the floor plans and the souls behind all those closed doors; there is little mystery when you’ve spent a generation somewhere. As she parked in the driveway, because her old spot is full of boxes, she realized 18 years ago her husband put a down payment on a third of an acre smack dab in the middle of Eden.

Here is the spot where she saw the face and hands of God, here is where she was beautified and replenished, here is where she will progress from.

p.s. While my neighbors began on 680 West, I am blessed to have many neighbors that don’t live *exactly* on my street. If you’re my neighbor, you know it and you know I love you. And to the neighbors who contributed to my Book of Life a.k.a. the best gift I’ve ever been given, THANK YOU. I was up until 3 in the morning after reading it because my cup (and eyes) were running over.


Photo quote originally heard from Charles Funke, whose yard is Temple Square 2.0 and whose life proves he’s likely one of the Three Nephites. The best way to make things grow is to be there, to try. Oh, the footprints that have stepped on my lawn, my carpet, and my heart. This is why it hurts to leave; I’m tangled in a very intense plexus that has grown over the years. This is also why I have to start stepping at the new place; I can’t leave my happiness and growth up to chance.

Photo of a 2014 installation by Gabriel Dawe at BYU Museum of Art called "Plexus no. 29", my favorite thing I've ever seen at BYU MOA, including the Bloch exhibit! Eighty miles of thread hand sewn with a 15-foot needle to portray the physical presence of light and the need to "bring hidden things to light". Dawe said, "Just because one cannot physically see the organic functions of nature, does not necessarily mean they do not exist. Light wave lengths, for instance, are very real, even though the human eye cannot see the full spectrum of them." I would add that while you can't see the full spectrum of love between neighbors, it is very real and just as spellbinding.

[definition] PLEXUS: a complex structure containing an intricate network of intertwining parts; an interwoven combination of parts and elements in a system