Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bryce Shelley

Bryce Shelley came to visit yesterday. He was driving around with his two daughters and they wanted to see where he grew up. Everything has changed so much in this area that it is hard to recognize. Somehow, my parents house has not changed much and so he picked my family to show his daughters how his youth had been spent. He came back today to party with all of the Barlow clan and the rest of the neighborhood. His daughters made new friends and didn't want to leave. While he was trying to get them to leave, I explained to his wife that he was the only kid who ever came trick-or-treating to our house. He would always call before hand to make sure the dog was safely contained and then he would come. He would get a haul of candy because my dad always got king size Snickers bars or something like that and Bryce could take as many as he wanted. He had his daughters to the door at that point and he said that he thought all the other kids were stupid for not coming to our house.

I said, "You know, my dad still gets king size candy bars every year and no one comes since you are grown up. Maybe you could bring your daughters. There isn't even a dog to lock up now."

He asked his daughters if they wanted to come trick-or-treating to our house and they said they did and then they were okay with leaving.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

English, My second First Language

Art history revolutionized my world. I was a visual learner before that class but during it, I learned formal rules for visual communication that resonated with every part of who I was. It was always easier for me to understand pictures than words. Art history both fed and validated that style of learning. Symbolism, which had never made any sense in literature, started making a lot of sense when I started studying Van Eyck. Every object, every color is symbolic of something. It was like learning a new alphabet and a new language.

Later, when I wasn't able to comprehend anything that I read after getting hit in the head, I kept trying to read any way. After six months of trying, I finally started comprehending some of the imagery being described and I was able to hold on to that. I re-learned to read by translating words to pictures and I wrote by translating pictures to words. Clearly not the best approach imaginable, but it was the best available to me at the time.

I am not sad that I learned to use imagery. The scriptures are brimming with it and most people miss that aspect of them. For the longest time, that is all I have been able to understand. It is really wonderful having language too. This hit me last weekend when I went to help with dishes and clean-up after a funeral dinner. I got there a bit early and the family was still eating and talking and looking at pictures. I used to go nuts in those circumstances where one cannot lift a finger to clean up because it will rush the family, but I really just want to start putting everything away and then go home. This time was different. There were women in the kitchen chatting with each other and I looked around at them, Jenny Vezzanni, Laurie Atkinson, and Eva Smith, and I joined in the chatter and felt embraced by it. I thought to myself, "What could be better than talking with these women right now?" I don't even remember what we said, but I enjoyed every second of our discussions. I can't think of a single picture that could have topped it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dog Days (nights actually) of Dreaming

There is a dog in my dreams these days. There are other changes too. My dreams are now full of sounds and dialogue. They are very chattery. I asked Laura about this. She says that it's normal to have lots of dialogue and sound in dreams. It doesn't feel normal, but I guess if it's normal then that's good.

The dog turned up in the first dream I had where there was sound. I was in my bed, and the dog was under the bed growling. I was scared at first, but then it whimpered a little and I realized it was just scared and trying to protect me. It was such a realistic dream that I started wondering how a dog got into my house and what it was scared of. Then I started getting scared because maybe someone else was in my house. I wondered if a door was open somewhere and that was how the dog got in my house. I tried to get up to check the doors and I couldn't move and that was when I realized I was dreaming. I made myself wake up to get out of that dream but I didn't really wake up because I heard the dog growling and whimpering again and I tried to move again, but still couldn't. I really woke up that time and checked under my bed to make sure that a dog wasn't there. I checked the doors and they were all closed and locked and so I went back to sleep.

This is a picture of my teddy bear. I have had it since I was two. I took it to graduate school with me and it would hang out on the radiator or in a chair in my little studio apartment. One time my dad was on a business trip to Binghamton that lasted two weeks and he drove up and spent the weekend with me in Rochester. He reached my apartment before I did and when I got home, he had done the dishes, ordered pizza, and made my bed. He had put the bear on my pillow and so that's where I have kept it ever since.

When Laura and I left Rochester, I shipped the bear to my parents along with my clothes and other light weight items, dropped off whatever else I could fit in my car in Aunt Pat's basement in Mississippi, picked up 5 year old Dru who had not seen me since he was a baby, and then the three of us drove 30 hours straight to Arizona. We stopped there because it was so hot I was not scared of Dru getting out and running off. We stayed in Marie's double wide trailer for a couple of days and then we drove the rest of the way to Utah.

When we got there, I couldn't find some of the things I had shipped, including the bear. I didn't know what happened to it and I was scared it had found its way to Goodwill. This last Christmas, it was in the toy box at my parent's house. I am not sure if its appearance was correlated with my parents cleaning the garage, but there it was. I kept it out of the clutches of sticky children through the holidays (there were better toys anyway) and brought it home.

It made an appearance in my dreams recently too. It went like this: I walked into my bedroom and there was my bear on the floor. It's head, left arm and bib had been severed from the rest of the torso and the stuffing hanging out was covered in drool. I took a breath and thought "It's only a teddy bear, it's okay." And then I realized that the dog had gotten to it and had mangled it. However, I was not angry with the dog, just sad.

I have yet to see the dog that is in my dreams. I have only heard it and seen the results of its actions. After many years of growing up with dogs, I don't really want one, but it seems that I have one anyway even if it is just in my dreams.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I have been mulling over stories the past few day. I used to not understand the power of the written or spoken word, and that wasn't because I hadn't thought about it. I knew that the printing press changed everything and that wars were fought over the Bible, but I didn't understand why. I am a little slow, but I think I am figuring it out at last.

I guess it started with the realization that Mormons are perhaps slightly paranoid and then trying to figure out the source of the paranoia. As I dredged through my own memories, I could think of several small instances when people responded negatively to my religion. Teasing, distance, and concern for my soul have been the most common responses, but nothing to really bolster up a healthy need for paranoia. And then other memories came, not of my own experiences, but of stories that I have been told.

Of course the one I heard most as a child was about William Walton Burton walking six miles to see Rachel Fielding and then being so shy he merely asked for a glass of water and walked six miles home. And then when he finally got up the nerve to propose to her, she said he had to marry her older sister too and then when the youngest was old enough he married her too.
(César used to tell me "Sweetheart, you have some strange stories.") I guess that story was one about my ancestors that was considered appropriate for children.

Later I learned about a white haired (some number of greats) grandfather coming out with a white flag, being shot anyway, and then hacked to pieces with corn knives and thrown down a well during the Haun's Mill massacre. Ancestors in the Martin and Willy Handcart companies froze in the mountains because they left for Utah too late in the summer. Widowed relatives nearly starved to death even after making it to Utah.

Every Mormon descended from pioneer ancestors has stories like that, but I started wondering why that should cause paranoia. It was a long time ago that those things happened. But then from another perspective it was not so long ago really. After all, there are still people alive today who knew some of the pioneers those things happened to. They heard the stories first hand and they tell them the same way they heard them. Some of the stories are written down, but reading them isn't the same as hearing grandparents tell it just the way they were told, by the ones who survived.

There are happier stories too. Like when the pioneers were starving and a flock of quail landed there in front of them and the birds didn't even try to escape as they became a winter time feast. Hundreds of letters telling the story were recently displayed in SLC along with feathers from the quail.

Then I started thinking about the Middle East, the unending wars, and I bet the people there have stories too.

And then two of the loveliest, kindest people that I ever worked with, who refused to speak to each other because one was Pakistani and the other Indian. I bet they have stories too.

I have been thinking about stories a lot for the past few days. There is a lot of power in stories, especially when they are told to us. They tie people together like links in a chain that extends through time and travels great distance.

World War II was always a confusing and strange thing to me until it got explained to me with stories. The first stories I heard were the ones about concentration camps. For the longest time I had the strange idea that the war was fought because of the concentration camps, which seemed like even worse places when I realized that they weren't the cause of the fighting. Other parts started coming alive when I saw Grandpa's war medal and asked him what it was. I was shocked when he, the most mild-mannered and quiet of men, started telling me about parachuting out of a plane, escaping the occupied Netherlands through the Dutch underground, and running for his life from men shooting at him with machine guns. Hearing from my grandpa that he had ever been shot at ever, let alone with machine guns, seemed almost surreal. And then the war in the Pacific came to life when I found the name of my Great Uncle, Arno Kerske on the list of people rescued from the Cabanatuan prison camp after surviving the Bataan death march. He hadn't written the story down, but other survivors had. Their stories became especially real as I found some of his medical records and realized that the stories told of him getting beaten until his kidneys came loose were true since kidney failure ultimately resulted in his death. World War II is very real to me.

I have been wondering about stories and their place in a politically correct society. Is it okay to talk about people getting hacked up with corn knives? Probably not, as it makes people feel paranoid. But on the flip side, there is compassion. It seemed that President Hinckley tried to push Mormons in the direction of compassion rather than paranoia as he emphasized the importance of pioneer history. President Monson certainly does that. He is a master story teller and a tremendously compassionate person. Every time he tells a story, it is to move people towards compassion.

Last night, I went to Relief Society Meeting. We have a new RS presidency and the members of it are practical people. The topic of the meeting was choosing books for children. Poverty and illiteracy are high in Merced and children don't get read to very much in a lot of families. A principal from one of the elementary schools talked about good books for children and where to find them and then she gave away books to the people who attended. My favorite part of the meeting was when it was mentioned that President David O. McKay, the prophet, referred to the great masters of literature as minor prophets. He didn't explain why he called them that, but when one considers the power of stories, I think that it becomes clear.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sweet and Spongy success

There are two family heirlooms passed among the women on my mother’s side of the family. The first is a mole on the left breast and the second is the making of biscuits and bread. They are a part of all of the women in my immediate family, my Aunt Pat and my Grandma too. I love both heirlooms.

A little over a decade ago, a doctor (while giving me a breast exam) freaked out about my left breast mole because it looked like a malignant melanoma. The mole got removed and replaced by a two-inch scar skirted with suture marks. Although the biopsy of it showed that it was precancerous, I have since missed that mole. But at least I could still make bread.

This last year, it became clear that I have celiac disease or something very similar to that, (which incidentally is a trait shared by some of the women on my dad’s side of the family) and so bread seemed to be out too. Of course I could eat the (as my mom calls it) icky stuff that they call gluten free bread at the grocery store, but it is only marginally better than no bread at all.

I should have mentioned that stubbornness is a third trait among the women of both sides of my family and when all else fails, stubbornness gets us through. (I know that it’s supposed to be “Charity never faileth”, but sometimes charity and stubbornness are one and the same.) So I embarked on a quest to make good bread with as simple a recipe as possible.

The bread my mom taught me to make had fresh ground wheat flour, salt, oil (or applesauce as a substitute), warm water, yeast, and a little sugar. They were all mixed by eye and texture and taste. No measuring spoons used, no recipe, only a knowledge of what each ingredient did, an idea of relative amounts, and what the end result should be like. I wanted to find a gluten-free bread that approximated the same flavor, texture and approach to baking bread and so I tried the internet. There weren’t any I could find there. So I started searching for a recipe in my own kitchen.

I tried many flours and here is a list of their properties in my hands:
Rice- Grainy, not soluble in water
Sorghum- Sweet, very heavy
Amaranth- Great texture, very soluble, smells and tastes like a gerbil cage
Millet- A little heavy, very dry
Oat- Very moist, but light

Initially, I tried using potato starch or corn starch with some of the flours listed above, but they made the bread cakey and starchy. I tried sweet potato starch, which comes out a bit drier and it was better but still not like real bread.

After trying a variety of combinations that I won’t go into, I combined oat and millet flour and it turned out very well. This is basically what I did:

About 1 ½ cups of warm water. (Use ½ cup with a little sugar to start the yeast.)
1 ½ teaspoons of Red Star active dry yeast (use double if compressed yeast)
About 1 teaspoon of salt
About 4 Tablespoons of applesauce (gluten free baking is high calorie already so I am
trying to cut out as much oil as I can and applesauce seems to work just as well)
1 cup of hulled millet ground to powder (I use a Vita-mix)
1 ½ cups of McCann’s Irish Steel Cut Oats ground to powder.
2 Tablespoons of xanthan gum.

Get the yeast started in a small bowl or a glass. Put the remaining 1 cup of water in the mixing bowl and add the salt and applesauce. Grind flours and add them. At this point the yeast should be going so add it too and then mix. At this point, the bread dough should be the consistency of a thick cake batter. Then add the xanthan gum and mix until everything is smooth. After the xanthan gum is added, the consistency should be a soft and sticky dough that sometimes releases from the mixing bowl, but not as well as kneaded wheat bread dough. Gather it up and put it in a greased pan. Arrange the dough into a loaf shape with a spatula or your hand and then wet your hand and smooth the top so that the loaf comes out pretty. Let the loaf rise* until it has grown to a little more than double its original size (This recipe makes a moist bread and so if it rises a bit extra it seems more normal.) Bake at 350º F for about an hour.

This makes good bread. I may fiddle with the recipe a bit more and I think that there is room for improvement, but this is the best bread I have eaten in a while. It makes me feel close to my mom and grandma when I make it.

*The way I let my bread dough rise is to put a pan of water in the oven and heat the oven up just until it is warm (~130º F) and then shut it off. Then when the loaf is made, I put it in the oven. After the loaf is done rising, I turn the oven to 350º and cook the bread.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All in a Night's Sleep

Okay, so I don't usually do New Year's Resolutions, and this isn't exactly in honor of a new year, but I have one. It results from my new found ability to sleep straight though the night and to wake up well rested. Sound sleep is the best thing ever. It is easy to wake up at appropriate times like 6 or 7 rather than 2 0r 3. I feel good when I wake up. It has been a lot of years since I have felt so good in the morning.

I think that having morning back as a functional time of day brings with it responsibility so I am trying to structure my mornings in productive ways. In addition to my usual routine of getting dressed, getting rid of bed head, applying mascara and eating breakfast, I added a few things. I read the Book of Mormon before I got out of bed. I read about caterpillar stocks after getting out of bed and I prepared a healthy lunch of bite size peppers, carrot sticks, hummus, string cheese, and cherry tomatoes. Today was day #1 of my new resolution. I am trying to add a bit more structure each day. Tomorrow, I think I'll add some yoga.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I want an investing pal. I am learning about the stock market and it is making some sense.
Laura would be good because she knows hot high-end brands that people love, but anyone else would be great too. It's a good time to get in.


Friday, January 1, 2010


There are some days not meant to be celebrated, at least by me. For example, my birthday is practically guaranteed to bring with if a disaster of one sort or another. When I was in school, it was failed final exams, getting my period early and other minor disasters. As I have matured, so have the problems. More recently, my birthday has been accented by collapsed ceilings and flooded labs, grant deadlines, and being double booked for important events by people who have told me the wrong dates. Last time it was a threat of not being tenured unless I accepted more committee work, "Oh, and here is the committee we'd like you to serve on". That evening, I got uninvited from the trip to Fresno I had been asked to come along for with the promise we'd meet up for dinner anyway. Dinner plans were canceled at 9:00 PM and then a long standing friendship canceled the next day. Considering my track record though, it could have been worse. I guess I should be happy to have recognition of my birthday, but I could honestly do without. I do not seek negative attention like some neglected child. I am fine having a quiet, uneventful birthday. In fact I'd prefer it that way. Since that doesn't seem to be in the cards though, I always try to at least spend it with friends so that I can have some moral support. Although my plan must have become obvious since even that didn't even work out this last time.

New Year's is worse..... We used to have huge parties. We'd have 50 or so people over for homemade pizza and doughnuts. We'd watch movies and play games and jump on the trampoline while listening to music and it was great. The demise of our celebrations began the year that Laura ended up in the hospital. Though she had been in to the doctor earlier in the day for some large penicillin injections, she was found around midnight curled in a little ball, burning with fever under a blanket. She was hospitalized for a week and on an IV at home for a couple of months. On subsequent New Years Eves, my mom went into the E.R., then Tom, then my mom again and the holiday spirit kind of got wrung out of us.

We were all together this year for the first time in a long time (except for Michael) so we celebrated. Hilary played with her bluegrass band for the last time before she and Carl move to Tennessee for nursing school. We watched Kung Fu Panda with the children until midnight and then lit off fireworks and went to bed. It seemed best to not invite disaster by doing anything too boisterous and it seemed like we got by okay. Then Carl called with the news that Hilary's dad died last night. Her mom had a late night nursing shift and so no one was with him and no one knows how he died yet. His death is sort of doubly bad in my family because Hilary's dad is also Keriann's uncle. (Barlow boys like Karchner girls.)

We had promised the little girls a cousin/aunt/mom trip to see The Princess and the Frog, and they still wanted to go. If there is anything that keeps adults going through sad times, it is little children. But when we got to the theatre, somehow the times were messed up and the movie wasn't showing. We went to another theatre and it was sold out. That was probably okay though, because half of the girls and one boy were at home vomiting from a variety of illnesses (each child has something different).

Laura is moving into an apartment in Provo today since her car was totalled in a head on collision and we hope that the move goes well.

I got my hair cut by Pat yesterday morning and we discussed our ways of celebrating the coming evening. He wanted something low key, and I just wanted to get through safely. He said I should just keep my fingers crossed until midnight, hoping that nothing bad would happen. It seems like that isn't quite long enough.