Thanksgiving 2021

This Thanksgiving I found myself a bit…well, “sad” sounds kind of pathetic, but there you go.

I remembered so many past Thanksgivings, when we’d go to one relative’s house or another, and the house would be full of babies and toddlers and teenagers and grown ups.

Slowly, over the years, that has changed.

Parents have passed away.

Siblings’ kids have grown up, gotten married, and started their own families, so it’s just gotten difficult to have so many people, and more in-law families for everyone to rotate through.

I think that is normal with time passing, but it still makes me ache a little bit. (Having some family members’ various comments in my head also doesn’t help. “You’re alone because of your choices” and “if you were nicer and stopped sharing your politics on Facebook more people would want to spend time with you” are the two common ones that pop up at random.)

I’ve adapted, though. Over the past decade or so, I’ve made the Thanksgiving meal for just my family, plus a significant other or two, four times. I’ve established our own traditions (pecan bars, Italian sodas, mac & cheese which would horrify my mom) and enjoyed the time with my kids.

But I never stopped missing the big Thanksgiving meals of my kids’ childhoods.

The last one with my side of the family was in 2016, at my mom’s house. It was the last time Haley had Thanksgiving with her last living grandparent. Also the last one I ate with Becky. Most of the grandkids were there, even the ones who live in Texas.  I got this photo of all of the littles, but not a big group picture. (I continually learn this lesson: Even though everyone will grumble, even though maybe you did a group photo last time, take a group photo THIS TIME too.)

Thanksgiving 2016 kids

The last one with Kendell’s side that included everyone was in 2009. I got some great photos that day of my kids and of Kendell with his parents (which is awesome because his dad died the next year) but not a group photo.

2013 was the first year I made the entire meal all on my own.

Thanksgiving 2013

2017 was the last year that Haley was home for Thanksgiving and thus the last year the six of us all ate together.

Thanksgiving 2017 with haley

2019 was a dismal year, because not only were we missing Nathan and Haley, it was the first Thanksgiving after my mom died and Kendell talked me into going to a restaurant. (Never again!)

Everyone’s 2020 Thanksgiving was a COVID holiday I suppose.

For 2021, I had just planned on it being at our house with my boys and some video-call time with Haley. But, a few days before the holiday, things shifted around and my sister-in-law, Cindy, invited us to come to her house. It wasn’t the entire Sorensen clan, and there weren’t any babies, but it was enough. A crowd. Food from many different kitchens. A guest (Nathan’s friend Abe who didn’t have another house to go to). Family members admiring each other’s cooking. A group photo! (YES, someone grumbled, but I chose to just thank that person for putting up with my photograph proclivities.)

Resized_20211125_155633 thanksgiving everyone 4x6

Who knows what next year will bring. I have made peace with our smaller festivities (and appreciate that when I make the whole meal I have all the leftovers!) so whatever it looks like, big or small, I will love it.

But I feel like I learned something this year.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I always say I love it the best because it’s only about food and hanging out with your family, which remains true. But it is also, I realized, more. It’s about recipes, both the ones you’ve made for the past two decades and a new one you tried just this year. It’s about passing them down, too: this year, Haley made her own rolls (which she modified into a vegan recipe successfully!), Cindy tried apple pie the way I like it (with cheddar cheese on top), and I brought the pecan bar tradition to Kendell’s family. It’s about textiles—the tablecloth and the hot pads and the towels. And dishes, inherited from my mom and from Kendell’s and some that I’ve bought myself that maybe one day, when I’m gone, someone else will cook with. The scent of cranberry and cinnamon, the cubes and cubes of butter, the hiss and steam and whisk of preparation.

It’s about missing those who aren’t there while simultaneously loving the time you get to spend with those who are. Watching your son laugh with a friend, your husband with his brother, your sisters-in-law at each other.

Life changes so much. Sometimes, at this phase, I feel like all the good changes of my life are in the past. But I also have to acknowledge that I have no idea how it will change again over the next twelve months. And if Thanksgiving is about being grateful, I think that tug and ache is part of gratitude. If you’ve lost people you loved the heartache means you were blessed enough to love them. I think when I was a kid, Thanksgiving was just about eating a meal with my sisters, parents, and grandparents. (I actually have only very vague memories of Thanksgiving before my late adolescence, which is odd, and literally not a single photo of one.) When I was a mom with growing kids it was about seeing them interact with their cousins, aunts & uncles, and grandparents and knowing that they were experiencing holidays they will someday remember fondly. (I hope.) Now that I am nearly an empty nester, it is about remembering, but I am learning it is also about savoring now. Who knows what the future will hold, so on Thanksgiving 2021, I just lived. I just felt what I felt, the missing-ness and the bitterness and the sadness over what has been damaged. The absolute joy of what exists right now. The deliciousness of food prepared with love, the compliments from others and the giving of them as well. The ghosts and the living.

And so Thanksgiving remains my favorite


I spent a good chunk of time yesterday making side dishes for today’s Easter meal. (It took me much longer than normal to put together a pasta salad and a frog eye salad and some dough for sweet rolls, because I’m so slow and cautious on my feet right now.) While I cooked, I thought about cooking for holiday meals. My sister texted me and asked for the berry cake recipe, my niece texted and asked for clarification on the berry cake (salted or unsalted butter?) It’s been since I was a teenager that I prepared a meal with someone else in the kitchen, and those texts or phone calls have become part of why I love prepping for holidays: shared recipes, asking for help, knowing we are all cooking at the same time if not in the same kitchen.

Easter 2004
Easter 2004 in my parents' front yard

When my kids were growing up, I loved Easter. We would all gather for a meal at my mom’s house in the afternoon. We always had ham and cheese potatoes, with a rotating cast of side dishes. If it was good weather we’d eat in the back yard. Then we’d have an Easter egg hunt. Those afternoons of being in the yard I loved as a kid, vibrant with spring flowers, listening to my kids and nieces and nephews run around and laugh and cheer…I loved them. The days, the people, the setting. 

Easter party 2005
the last babies, Kaleb and Ben, with my dad, Easter 2005

About 12 years ago, I was shopping at Williams Sonoma and came across a Mary Ann cake pan on clearance. As I have always been the provider of desserts at family parties, I was intrigued, a pan with fluted edges and a well in the top to fill with fruit. I snatched it up and made it for Easter that year (after making a practice cake that was kind of a disaster…the pan is SO tricky to get oiled correctly so the cake comes out without breaking) and everyone loved it, so that is what I brought to Easter dinners forevermore. (Well, and sugar cookies for the kids, and also sometimes my lemon cake as well.)

Mary ann cake
my Mary Ann cake from last year, on my mom's cake plate

All these years later, I still have that pan.

What I don’t have: my dad, my mom, my mom’s house. Little kids who love going to grandma’s house. That easy and uncomplicated relationship in my extended family. Even not knowing that it wasn’t easy and uncomplicated. In this time after both my parents are gone, these post-trump, end-of-pandemic times, we are all deeply fractured and have retreated to the safety of our own homes.

And here it is, Easter. A gorgeous Easter Sunday and my spring flowers are perfect blossoms. There won’t be any little kids today, running around searching for candy. The Easter baskets are sparse because adult kids don’t care and the teenager just wants clothes. We aren’t even having the raspberry cake from the Mary Ann pan, because the boys voted for a Skor cake instead.

Easter 13 the girls 4x6
all the girls, Easter 2013

But it makes me happy, still, to think of my sister and more than one of my nieces, who have procured Mary Ann cake pans of their own, serving them to their families.

And I will have most of my family with me today. We’ll eat—steak, pasta salad, brown rice—and laugh. We’ll take some pictures among the spring flowers, maybe with bare feet in the barely-green grass.

And the rest of my extended family will be eating, laughing, taking pictures at the same time. It’s not how it used to be, and there is some devastation in that. But hopefully the ways we have influenced each other in the past—cake pans and recipes, encouragement and advice—will continue on in the future.

Easter 2012
Kaleb and Nathan hunting for eggs, Easter 2012

Christmas in...March?

One of the post-holiday, survive-January traditions I’ve established is to scrap the previous December’s photos in the following January. (So…I scrapped December 2016’s Christmas stories in January of 2017.) But at the end of December 2017, my mom got really sick. And then through most of 2018, she was ill, in and out of different facilities, and she didn’t actually make it back home until October of 2018. Then she passed away in January of 2019, and the process of cleaning out her house and settling her estate (not to mention grief) took up much of that year.

Also Kendell had knee surgery in February 2018, and then he started working from home, and I had whooping cough in the middle of my marathon training, and somehow in all of that mess, scrapbooking just kind of fell by the wayside.

But it has always felt important to me to keep the Christmas stories scrapbooked. I’m not sure why Christmas feels so important to me, except for the fact that there are always great stories to go along with the holidays, and because it’s the time I feel strongly connected to both my own family and my own history, and because I wish I had more photos and stories from my childhood Christmases.

Or it might just be the fact that Christmas supplies are pretty fun to use.

Christmas in march

So even though it’s March and I didn’t do any scrapbooking at all in January (but I made several quilts and got acquainted with my new sewing machine), I’m going to use the next week (and, let’s be honest…maybe all the way into April) to scrapbook some stories and photos from 2018 and 2019.

If you’d like to join me, just for fun AND to relieve some of that COVID-19 stress, here’s a list of challenges:

  1. Write your journaling in the form of a letter.
  2. Scrap some photos you’ve had printed for more than 5 years.
  3. Use an alphabet stamp to create your title.
  4. Combine an old product and a new product on the same page.
  5. Use a non-Christmas-themed supply on a Christmas layout.
  6. Make a layout with FIVE or more puffy stickers, THREE or more washi taps, and TWO or more different patterned papers.
  7. Combine silver and gold on one layout.
  8. Make a double-page spread.
  9. Make a layout about yourself.
  10. Make a layout using non-traditional Christmas colors.

You can use all the challenges or some. You can make one layout or 27. You can even just print out your photos and put them in your photo album if you don’t make scrapbooks. You could finish up your December Daily or Journal Your Christmas or however else you document your holidays.

If you play along and want to share, use the hashtag #christmasinmarch2020 so it is all grouped together. I’ll be sharing here and on my Instagram, which is @amylsorensen. Hope you’ll join in!

Hearts Like Crazy Paving: Thoughts on a Quilt

Where do ideas come from?

In January I noticed that a lot of the quilters I follow on Instagram were participating in a “scrappy hearts quilt along.” (Click on the link to see the first post about the quilt along, which was hosted by Emily Dennis.)  All those images of cute, sweet, scrappy (mostly pink) patchwork made me think I haven’t ever made a quilt to put out for Valentine’s Day

For about five seconds I could imagine my own cute, sweet, scrappy, pink patchwork heart quilt.

Scrappy hearts qal ig snip

(a screen shot of the #scrappyheartsqal hashtag on Instagram to illustrate what I mean. SEE! Cute! Pink! Sweet!)

But then reality smacked me in the face. First off: I am still deep inside making my black and pink quilt. I don’t need another pink quilt. (To reality I said: that’s true! But I don’t have to make a pink one. I could make an aqua one. Or a purple one! All multicolor florals! All low volume! What about plaids?) Second: I get a little bit obsessive with scrappiness sometimes. Meaning, I’d start out intending to use my scraps, but then I’d think “I need something new” and then before I knew it I’d have made 27 trips to 5 different fabric stores and I’d have enough fabric to make six scrappy heart quilts, not just one, and I’d have spent enough to cover an airplane ticket to London. (To reality I said: that’s true! But…and I really didn’t have a comeback to that truth.) Third: Last fall I made three scrappy patchwork pumpkin hot pads with very similar design ideas (scrappy squares and a few half square triangles) and those things took me an entire month. If I were to make a Valentine’s Day quilt, I wanted something faster. (To reality I said: that’s true! But maybe with my new machine it would be faster?)

But reality’s biggest argument was this: I really don’t love Valentine’s Day. I’ve written about this many times so there is no need to rehash all the reasons, but I can sum it up like this: having not married a romantic man, I have zero hopes for romantic Valentine’s Day gestures, and even though he shows me he loves me in many other ways on many other days during our life together, my bitterness at wanting traditional romantic Valentine’s Day gestures anyway flares high in February. My bookshelves are a lovely romantic gesture (if you’ve read A Man Called Ove you know my reference) but sometimes a girl wants overly priced flowers or expensive jewelry—and it annoys me that I still have that want even while knowing it’s manufactured by rose sellers and jewelry stores and Hallmark commercials.

Valentine’s Day, then, sparks annoyance with myself and frustration with my husband (I mean, really…would it be that hard to just get me some damn flowers?) and then more annoyance at myself for being frustrated with my husband (because bookshelves) and then I also remember it isn’t about Valentine’s Day, really, but about unmet needs (on both sides) and just how hard marriage really is and then I’m sparked and frustrated and annoyed and sad and…yeah.

So to reality I thought that’s true! And then I thought I moved on.

But those cute, sweet, scrappy patchwork quilts still kept popping up in my IG feed.

And part of my brain must’ve continued working on it, because one morning I woke up with an idea.

What if I made a quilt that was representative of my relationship to Valentine’s Day? What might that look like?

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 7

(And, yes, I confess: one of my first ideas was just a whole-cloth quilt, black cotton and broken hearts stitched in black thread, but then I thought too bitter, Amy and besides, my almost-50-year-old eyes could never manage that.)

I made a list: angles. Sharp edges. Corners and lines almost lining up, but not quite. A tiny bit of sweetness—candy hearts and all the times I made pink heart sugar cookies with my kids—but not too much. One of my favorite Valentine’s Day conversations, when Kaleb was six or seven and his favorite color was purple, but he was worried it wasn’t a “boy color,” so he asked me if he could wear his purple shirt to school on Valentine’s Day because “on Valentine’s Day purple is a Valentine color, not a girl color” and then we talked about color and gender and personal choice and individuality (and he wore his purple shirt of course). So, purple. And, yes: pink, but mostly bright, cool, deep pinks. Black, of course. Maybe even a little bit of silver (there’s a story there, too, but it would take too long to tell it here). Flowers of some sort, but not overtly floral, to represent that resentful wish for flowers. I wanted it to be edgy and maybe just a little bit punk. A rebellious quilt.

But I also wanted to keep in mind my other little nudges from reality. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on this quilt, or cause a huge influx of new fabrics to enter my stash. And I didn’t want to spend months making it, either.

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 4

By now, with all the rethinking and pondering, it was almost February, but I decided: I’m going to try to make a…I’d already stopped thinking of it as a Valentine’s Day quilt. Instead it is a quilt that is a textile interpretation not only of my complicated feelings about Valentine’s Day but also, somehow, of marriage (we were married on February 13 so the two days are tied together anyway), and of the contrast of what society—movies and romance novels and TV shows and social media posts—tells us what love is supposed to be like and what the reality of love really is. Also me right now and me thirty years ago and me loving my husband and my kids but also those memories of other, younger, wilder loves I still carry with me. Cotton and softness both, unpredictable lines but some sort of structure anyway.

Am I thinking too much? Am I being dramatic? Reading too much into a quilt? Or just…silly?

I don’t know.

My life hasn’t followed a pattern. It hasn’t lined itself up in neat columns and rows. It hasn’t been sweet, always. There is a part of me that feels I have never been loved or seen for who I am, truly—and maybe everyone on this wide world feels that way, too, I don’t know. Has it been bad? No. But I can’t pretend it has been all sweetness and light, either.

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 1

Where do ideas come from?

Can making a quilt be cathartic?

Can pieces of fabric cut and then made into something different mean something other than just another quilt someone might cover themselves with?

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 8

One afternoon when I was quilting this quilt—I do all of the piecing in my craft room, but my desk isn’t big enough for the actual quilting and so I do that at the kitchen table—Kendell walked down the hall and said “I had a great idea! Why don’t you start selling your quilts?”

He said this in an encouraging way, full of certainty that someone would want to buy something I made. I tried to explain to him the realities of selling items like quilts, how I’d have to have an Etsy shop or develop a website, and how probably only people with name recognition sell their quilts, and I didn’t even go down the rabbit hole of how much a quilt actually costs to make. He would not be deterred, though. He was certain I could sell my quilts, starting with that one, with this one I’d been working on all month.

(All of those thoughts and the creative(?) process that brought me to this idea were in my head, and in my notebook, not in our conversations so he has no idea about this quilt’s meaning, just what it looks like.)

And then I laughed a little caustic laugh and I said “listen! This quilt is a representation of my interpretation of modern love as it is influenced by consumerism! No one will want to buy it!”

And he said “you should have more belief in yourself and besides, that’s a weird thing to say about a quilt” and then he wandered back down the hall.

And then I laughed for real because that is it in a conversation, a summary of what led me to make this in the first place, of how it is to be married to someone for 28 years and have the history of unimaginable anger and unspeakable love stored in your body, of all the ways we try to see each other’s way of seeing but almost never do because we are two different people. All the times I have been shattered and then put myself back together and he has, also, and how for us it hasn’t been smooth or perfect or light but work. And how I don’t know if that is really how all marriages are, despite the Hallmark ads and the husbands buying roses at Costco. Maybe that, really, is why I can never love Valentine’s Day, because I am unable to pretend, even for just February 14th, that marriage is represented by cheesy conversation hearts and velvet boxes of chocolates.

I can’t pretend.

Hearts like crazy pavement quilt 5

For me, for us, it has been angles. Lines of communication almost matching up, but not quite. Stitching ourselves back together and trying again. Starting at entirely different points but sometimes, sometimes, crossing anyway. Meeting up, moving together. Clashing, figuring it out. Laughing at ourselves, sometimes. Bitterness, sweetness. History and tomorrow, bound up in acid pink.

That is why I couldn’t make the cute, scrappy quilt.

That is what I tried to put into this quilt.

(PS: I sat down to write this blog post thinking I would write a short introduction and then a tutorial. Obviously that got away from me. Tutorial next post/tomorrow.)

Tutorial: How to Make a Quilted Hot Pad

Ten years ago, I was in a fabric store falling in love with a line of Mary Englebreit Christmas fabric. I made a quilt with it (the only quilt I’ve ever made with pre-cut fabrics) but I wanted to also give it to some people I loved. So I asked one of the salesclerks at the store what I could make other than an entire quilt to give to someone.

She suggested I make some hot pads, and I loved that idea, so I bought some yardage, too, and she gave me a pattern idea (a modified log cabin). I started working on them the second I got home that day. Except, Haley came home from school sick with the stomach flu, so I set up a little table in the hall and started cutting, taking breaks to be with her in the bathroom.

(Oh those years when no holiday could pass without at least one of my kids getting the stomach flu, and often more than one.)

In my memory I made 25 or so hot pads that November (I didn’t actually finish the quilt until the next December), but when I stop to think about it, I’m not sure. I know I gave one to my mom and my mother-in-law; when Beth passed away she had hers in a drawer and Kendell had me bring it home with the other stuff we inherited from her. I’m not sure what happened to my mom’s (maybe one of my nieces has it?) but I don’t know…did I really make a lot of them? Or just a few?

At any rate, that was my start of making hot pads. I have loved making them ever since. They are actually an integral part of my kitchen cleaning process, as I use them to set wet, hand-washed dishes on to dry. The ones I make now are much larger than those first ones I made, and I love the little pop of color and hominess they add to my kitchen.

Also, I love making them because they come together quickly; you can easily make one in just a couple of hours. And your options for making hot pads are only limited by your imagination and your piecing skills!

To make one, you need:

  • A pattern for the top block. It can be as hard or as easy as you like. I’ve made improve blocks, lob cabins, stars, patch work, squares with fussy-cut holiday fabrics, whatever.
  • A piece of fabric for the back. A fat quarter is great for this! This should be about 4" larger than your finished block if you want to self bind, or 2" longer if you’re making a separate binding.
  • A piece of cotton batting that is about 2" larger than your finished top block. (A thin batting is perfect here.) (This is a great use for your batting scraps!)
  • A piece of Insulbrite batting that is about 2" larger than your finished top block. Insulbrite is an insulated batting; it is what makes this a hot pad because it protects your counter from heat. They used to sell it at Joann but I haven’t found it there all year. So finally I just ordered a huge piece from
  • A piece of fabric for the binding if you choose to make a separate binding. The size of this depends on how big your finished hot pad will be and how wide you like to cut your binding.

Here are the basic steps; for more details see THIS blog post.

  1. Make the top block.
  2. Make a quilt sandwich: the backing fabric face down, then the Insulbrite, then the cotton batting. Smooth out the top square on the top.
  3. Iron once more to smooth out any crinkles.
  4. Pin and then quilt as you like.
  5. Square up. If you are going to use binding strips, you just cut through all four layers. If you’re going to do a self binding, trim the top three layers so they are square, and THEN square up the backing. (This can get tricky. Be careful to NOT cut the backing! Fold it underneath the square as you trim.)
  6. Wash and dry.

Two years ago, I made another round of hot pads at Christmas. This time I made thirty of them, for nieces and sisters and friends. I made one for my mom but that was the December she got sick so I don’t know if she ever used it. I had a few people who said, “ummm, thanks for this quilted…little square?” so now when I give them as gifts I include a little card I had printed that explains what it is and how to use it. (YOU CAN’T PUT INSULBRITE IN THE MICROWAVE! Very important!)

Some notes on binding:

I go back and forth on making a traditional binding (there are several ways to do this, but I make mine like THIS) or doing a self binding (like THIS), which means binding the quilt with the quilt backing. Self binding is easier, but you have to pay attention to how you quilt the hot pad because the ending of the quilting won’t be covered. Regular binding takes longer, but it’s also more durable and it’s fun to add another fabric into the mix. I’ve improved my binding skills a lot by binding hot pads, so that’s great, but depending on how small the pad is, it can get frustrating to bind traditionally because that last step when you join the ends in a diagonal seem is HARD to do with a tiny piece. (I almost ALWAYS self-bind anything smaller than 9", unless, like the one I made over the weekend as a gift, I accidentally cut the backing fabric on step 5.

I have several Christmas hot pads, but I still made another one this year. Christmas tree hotpad front
(I like having a Christmas-themed craft I work on during December.) I love the two fabric lines I used, Swell Christmas and Sweet Christmas. I think it is a fabric my mom would like, but I also like it, which is great because our tastes are really pretty different. It has a mod, 60’s feel and I confess, I love pink in Christmas designs. I used a the "Christmas Tree" block pattern from The Sewing Loft to make the tree, except I modified it because I wanted a rectangle instead of a square. Modifying it pushed me a little bit and I had to recut the plaid part of the tree THREE times, which left me short on the striped fabric on the top triangle, so then I had to piece it, and I’m a little bit bitter about it. (I even went back into the fabric store to get more of the stripe but they were out. Sadness.) I used washi tape to mark the lines for quilting, which I think I need to write a separate blog post about.

Christmas tree hotpad back

I quilted with droopy curvy lines inside the tree (sort-of like Christmas tree lights?), an outline of the tree, and then the background is a double line set at a 30 degree angle. I wish I would've outlined the tree twice before sewing the background lines, but: onward and upward!

This has been an emotionally difficult December so far, but my two quilting projects have nurtured me through so far. Plus it just makes me happy to see this on my counter!

Thankful 13 10k Race Recap

I’ve wanted to run a race on Thanksgiving for a long time, but it’s never felt like I could do it. Not the race itself, but working it in with the busyness of Thanksgiving morning, especially the past few years when I’ve made the whole meal on my own.

This year, though, since we were going out to eat, I decided to run the Thankful 13 race in Lehi, Utah. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, partly because I ran another race done by the same company a few years ago and I LOVE the shirt from that race. (It was a Halloween race so I can really only wear it in September and October without looking weird, but it’s perfect: exactly the right fit and thumb holes!) They added a 10k option this year, which is perfect for me right now, as I’ve been concentrating on building my base and consistency (and improving my form and cadence) over adding mileage. Plus it took us awhile to decide for certain what we were doing for Thanksgiving, so I didn’t have enough time to train properly for a half.

10k it is!

My friend Wendy was going to walk the 10k with another friend coming from Salt Lake, so we drove together. I almost never go to races with a friend so this was so nice for me. We were a little worried about the forecasted snow but it was just barely starting to swirl when we got to the parking lot, so I left the hat I’d brought and the warmer gloves in her car.

Thankful 13 friends

One way to judge a race: are there enough porta potties at the start? There were roughly 50 and no bathroom line so I took that as a good sign! Wendy and I timed it pretty well, so we just parked, walked over to the bathroom, met up with her friend for a picture, and then they were calling for the 10k racers to gather at the starting line.

The race started right on time (another indication of a well-run race). It had started snowing for real—not thick snow, but a consistent flutter fall of pretty white flakes. The bridges we had to cross were pretty slippery, and then the course went onto the Thanksgiving Point golf course. The path there is stamped concrete and holy cow it was slippery. As a fall is one of my biggest fears whenever I go running, I ran as much of this part on the snowy grass instead of the paved path as I could.

Thankful 13 slippery 4x6

After the golf course, there is an out-and-back section on the Jordan River pathway. I’ve run this path a lot of times (I used to go and run there while Kendell was taking tests at the MATC building when he was working on his degree) and I thought about several memories I have at that section. Most strong is the day Becky called me because she was having an anxiety attack on the freeway and I stopped running to talk to her until she was OK. That feeling is that spot of the trail, which is a weird thing I can’t entirely explain.

On the –back part I passed Wendy going the other way and it was fun to wave! A little bit later, the trail merged with the 5k runners and HOLY COW. I did not like this. It was annoying to be in the middle of a 10k and all of a sudden feel like you were in the first mile, dodging and swerving in a crowd of other runners. Plus there were a lot of kids and they don’t really know race etiquette (like, don’t stop in the middle of the path to wait for your friend) and they were dropping stuff and everyone was forming clumps of people who were hard to get around. I had to remind myself at this point that everyone was there to have fun and it wasn’t like I was going to win, so if I had to slow down a bit it would be OK.

I was still glad when the 5k peeled off though.

Thankful 13 scenery 6x8

(This was a tiny loop off the main trail just before the 5k and 10k merged. Literally not one person around me, swoon. But only for, like, 30 seconds.)

I am still doing walking breaks. (I think that with my knee condition I will probably always do walking breaks now. Part of me feels some sort of embarrassment about this. Part of me doesn’t care because as long as I can keep running I’m good.) When I stopped at about 4.5 miles, the woman who was about 15 feet in front of me also stopped to walk. Then I heard a man behind me who said “don’t stop sweetie! You’re doing great, you’ve got this!” and I said “Oh, thanks! I’ll start running again in two minutes!” and then the man who said that passed me and I realized it was the other woman’s husband and he was talking to her.

HA! I giggled for a bit about this!

Thankful 13 race photo 1

Another nice thing about this race: you can download the race photos for FREE if you just want social media sized files, and for $1.99 for printable sizes. It's pretty rare I actually get a good race photo anyway (I'm still sad about the race photos from my last marathon), but it irks me to have to drop another $50 for the race photos. Not that I don't value photographers, I know their work is difficult, but I think the RACE should pay them. Two bucks is reasonable! I'd even go up to ten! Anyway, the first photo spot was in the mixed-with-5k-mess and I was behind a big group, but for this last one no one was really around me AND I spotted the photographer with enough time to wave!

I texted Kendell so he would know I was getting close and started running again. And I had to laugh at my body at that point. The longest training run I’d done was about four and a half miles, so when I started running again at 4.5 miles, I swear my legs complained. They resisted moving again. They were like…ummmm, what are we doing? It’s stopping time! But I persevered and finished. Kendell was at the finish line and I have to say: I’m always so glad to see him there. Not just because he takes some awesome photos but because it is so good to see a friendly, supportive face in the crowd. He thought I was wearing something different so he didn’t recognize me at first; I finally caught his eye by waving at him.

Thankful 13 finish 4x6

The snow fell the whole time I was running but it never got so thick that it felt dangerous. I started regretting my second layer about five minutes in to the race but left it on until about two miles in. (I really hate running with something tied around my waist.) Since there was just snow but no wind, it was just perfect running conditions. I’m glad I ran it, but I do have one complaint: the shirt! I got a large because that’s the size of my Halloween race shirt I love…and it is way too small. Still has thumb holes but it’s way too tight on my chest (which is hilarious if you know me!), so maybe I’ll have to try it again next year.

A Different Sort of Thanksgiving Eve

As I’ve firmly established on my blog by writing about it more than once, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Here’s why:

  1. Making the meal. It’s not only about the process itself, but about the traditional things I make just on Thanksgiving and the way they connect me to people who are gone or just not with us right now. I make a cranberry jello my father-in-law loved and I try to make stuffing as good as my mother-in-law’s was. (I’m not successful very often at that. I’m afraid of it being too soggy so it ends up too dry almost every time.) The dinner rolls I make are from a recipe that my mom taught me when I was 12 or 13; even though I learned how to make them from my mom, they make me feel connected to my grandma Florence. _MG_8353 heart tarts 4x6
    Apple pie is the dish that connects me to my mom the strongest. I make it almost exactly like she did, except I use butter instead of Crisco in the crust (I’m not sure she ever got over that) and I add brown sugar and more spices to the filling. OK, maybe it’s different, but still: it connects me to her. While I am cooking the ghosts gather, saying hello, giving advice. And not just ghosts, but memories: my kids’ baby Thanksgivings, the years one child or another decided to help me, Haley making the rolls with me for many years. Nathan’s first Thanksgiving when he was only 6 days old and Jake had an ear infection and Haley was just be-bopping around in her purple spinny velour dress and gold curls—that year I didn’t bake anything, just showed up and let everyone else take care of me. The first time I made apple pie and I was so anxious it wouldn’t turn out. Memories and ghosts, sugar and flour and nutmeg and berries.
  2. No gifts are involved. Even though there have been gifts some years, like the year my mom surprised us all with aprons she’d made, or the year Becky gave us appliqued tea towels. But usually, the stress of all other holidays—finding the perfect birthday gift, stuffing the Easter baskets, figuring out that one magical Christmas surprise—is gone. It’s just family and food. Family thanksgiving 2013 8x8
  3. We had a few rough years when we were first married, negotiating when we’d go with each side, but usually it all worked out OK. It was a different feeling but I loved eating with Kendell’s side of the family as much as my own. Babies came, people got married, sometimes there were extra friends. Many years felt crowded with so many people, and it was loud and hot and happy.

But this year—this year. My mom is literally a ghost. Haley is in Colorado; she’s traveling to Utah in December but didn’t feel like she could swing two trips that close, and plus, it’s hard to get holidays off when you work in the medical field. Nathan is in Monterey. Becky’s at a soccer tournament with Ben, Suzette is eating with her husband’s family, Cindy is swamped with school and so her daughters are cooking for her. This year, it’s just me and Kendell, Jake and Kaleb.

I would’ve still cooked.

Except one day last week, Kendell found me crying in the kitchen. It was just a random Tuesday morning and I’d made a pumpkin protein shake and I started crying. Because everything is over, really. No big family meals anymore, but everyone else off with their adult kids and grandkids. I can’t go to my mom’s house anymore, or my mother-in-laws. I can’t bake pumpkin bread just because my father-in-law liked it. I can’t sit at the kitchen table in the kitchen I grew up in, with two extra leaves and still not bit enough for everyone, with my dad telling off-color jokes.

_MG_3383 edit 4x6 sue and daughters

Four is such a small number when it comes to Thanksgiving.

So he saw me crying and he suggested that we just go to a restaurant this year.

Maybe next year it will somehow be different. Or maybe I will just be able to deal with everything without crying into my pumpkin protein. Who knows.

This year, it’s Thanksgiving eve and I’m not cooking. No yeasty smells are wafting in my kitchen. I’m sad about not cooking, but at the same time it is a relief. Because I know if I was cooking tonight, I would be grieving again. (I’m crying now, just writing this.) I would feel engulfed in conflict, telling myself to be grateful that I still get to spend Thanksgiving with Jake and Kaleb but also still feeling it, too, the gap of those who are gone. _MG_3360 edit 4x6 4kids thanksgiving 2008
And it’s not because of the effort—if just one kid said “Mom, I really want you to cook” then I would’ve cooked. But they don’t really care. Jake even said “Mom, it’s not only about what we eat. Mostly it is about spending time together.” And he is right, even if I am missing all the other people I’m not spending time with.

I will still bake pies. Probably I will make some homemade bread, too.

But this year, I am letting it go. I don’t want to pretend that everything is normal. It is different, so I am going to let it be different.

I’m not forgetting the traditions, the singing occasionally interrupted by a little dancing in the kitchen while I cook, the welcoming of ghosts.

IMG_2144 family edit 4x6

I’m just taking a deep breath and remembering, yes, but also just being present with what is.

Maybe I will always miss those big Thanksgivings. Maybe I will eventually host my own. Maybe something I can’t even imagine will happen. For 2019, I am hurting, I am sad, I am missing people, but I am also grateful for the people I do have.

I will be OK.

Winter 2018-2019: Recap, Part One, or My Belated Thoughts on Christmas

Yesterday it snowed here in Utah. I’m guessing this will probably be our last snow in the valley (although, sometimes we get surprise snow storms as late as May, so who knows), and already it felt like a spring snow, not a winter one. I walked outside to feel the cold air. The still-naked trees bent a little with the weight, and with every breath or step I took, a little flurry would fall down. I felt like my trees were throwing snowballs at them. (I know I might sound nutty but I don’t care: I love my trees. They know I love them and they each have a different spirit.)

Spring is coming.

I’m itching for warmer days, when I can come home from a morning run, make a protein shake, and then work in my yard. Weeding and pruning and planting some new flowers, greeting the perennials as they take turns blooming. I’m looking forward to bright yellow daffodils and that bright, happy fragrance of hyacinth flowers.

But before spring happens, I want to look back and record this winter. It was an important one in my life history and I don’t want to forget the details. Because of all that’s happened in the past three months, I haven’t had much blogging time. But I’m going to make time over the next few days to write about the last three months of winter.

First off, Christmas. This Christmas was so different from any Christmas we’ve had before. Partly this is because I was having a dark spell with my depression. Partly it was because of how my family is changing. Haley stayed in Colorado because of work and travel expenses, and her greatest need was help paying for her med school applications. I made a Christmas quilt for her (because she wasn’t putting up a tree and I thought it would be nice to have something Christmasy in their apartment…but that backfired because I didn’t get it done fast enough), and sent some other things, but her gift was money. Nathan was leaving for basic training the week after Christmas, so he didn’t need anything. So mostly I shopped for Jake and Kaleb. It took almost no time at all to wrap gifts this year, and Christmas morning was so low-key, as no one woke up until 11:00.

In early December, on the night we put up the tree, I got in an argument with Kendell. (Glad this happened after the tree was up and we had a fun time with the five of us together decorating it.) He had been teasing me about how there were too many ornaments to fit on the tree. And I didn’t even mention the other box of ornaments I hadn’t even brought out. This lit a spark in me (because really…almost no argument in a marriage is ever only REALLY about the argument’s topic) because of what the ornaments represented. Not just the Santas and stockings and bears and angels and snowflakes themselves, but tradition, and time, and a last little bit of myself as a young mother. So once we got to a spot where there was really no point in talking anymore, I went for a drive in the mountains. I stood outside and looked at the stars and the cliffs against the midnight-dark sky and I cried and then I processed. Why was that little bit of teasing so intensely painful? What did it mean?

When Haley was a baby, I bought an ornament at a craft fair, a little ceramic tennis shoe with her name painted on it, and thus I started the tradition of giving my kids an ornament every Christmas. I did this because my Christmas tree was so bare. I had made some quilted balls when we were first married, and I had some bells and a few other little things, but my tree had almost nothing on it. I bought that little shoe thinking of our future Christmases together, and how each year we’d add more, and then my tree wouldn’t be naked. It would be full of memories. But I also started it so that when my kids grew up and had their own trees, they could start with memories from their childhood Christmases and then go from there. My intention was always to give them their ornaments when they were ready for them.

A few years ago, I realized something: as each kid became an adult and took their ornaments, my tree would be bare again. So, I started watching for ornaments for myself as well. Mostly angels. And as more years passed, and each year at least four (but usually five or six) more ornaments were added, the tree did start getting crowded.

So here we are, twenty-something years later, and my kids are adults but they’re not ready for their ornaments yet. (Which is 100% totally fine, no guilt-trip intended.) And the tradition I started so long ago stopped making sense. Kaleb really didn’t care. Nathan didn’t care. Jake didn’t care. It just wasn’t a big deal to them.

So in December 2018, I bought exactly zero new ornaments.

And the modifying of traditions didn’t stop there. I also gave up on Christmas Eve pajamas. And sibling gifts on Christmas Eve. I didn’t decorate the banister in my kitchen and I got out only about half of my decorations. And while there was sadness in this transitional Christmas, there was also a sense of…relief, maybe. Christmas and all it entails has been one of my favorite parts of being a mom. I did as much as I could to make it magical for my kids and I loved doing it. But it is also stressful. Because let’s face it: I am not a magical person. Santa has bajillions of elves and magic to help him. I just have me. And I think for the last couple of Christmases, I was continuing to make the magic because I felt I needed to, not necessarily because my kids needed it. They still need (and Kaleb, as the youngest, still deserves) a happy Christmas morning. But it is OK to be in this place, when things are changing. It is OK to adjust traditions and take some away and add some new ones. And I am grateful I was able to process enough to see my way through.

My Hope for 2018

We are not big on New Year’s Eve in my family. Many years I’ve been the only one awake; some years, as my kids got older, I was awake waiting for them to get home from their festivities. This year, Nathan was at a party with his girlfriend, so it was just Kaleb, me, and Kendell at home (a precursor to this year, I think, as Nathan will be graduating this spring and then moving on to as-yet-to-be-determined adventures). We drank blood-orange bubbly out of my grandma’s purple cups and hugged each other and then Kaleb went back downstairs (as he’s in that grumpy-adolescent phase of life and was annoyed that we didn’t have a party to go to).

In a bit I’m going to make myself a cup of hot chocolate, sit in the front room by the little tree, and read (Future Home of the Living God) while I wait for Nathan to get home.

But I wanted to write down some feelings I’m having right now.

There are many things that surprised me about 2017. I didn’t think I’d actually find myself in Hawaii, snorkeling with bottle-nose dolphins, but I did. I didn’t think I’d find myself in an ugly depression, but I did (and I am climbing out). Last January 1st, I had no idea that in a few months, I would stand in a bookstore reading a part of an essay that I wrote and had published, nor did I know how simultaneously scary and thrilling that experience would be. I didn’t know I would strain both popliteus muscles by running, terrified, across three miles of beach searching for Kaleb (thank God Nathan managed to run faster than me and find him). I didn’t imagine hiking Bryce Canyon in a rainstorm or the trails on Santa Cruz Islands. The possibility of returning to New York City seemed remote at best.

2017 held some really, really great moments. I have learned quite a bit about myself, especially in my role as the mother to emerging adults. I’ve read a lot of books (but not as many as I wanted to read), I’ve made quite a few scrapbook layouts and baby quilts; I ran and hiked (but not as often as I wanted).

And all year, I was holding my breath.

Because so many medical things have happened over the past few years. Scary, life-threatening things. And I have lost my belief that they won’t just keep on happening to my family. So, all year, I have held my breath, I have worried, I have woken in the night beset by fear: what would happen next?

But, aside from that depression, and quite a few dermatology appoints for all three boys (Accutane for Nathan and wart treatments for Jake and Kaleb), and Nathan’s hernia surgery this summer, 2017 was a good year for us. Kendell had no heart emergencies and I didn’t sprain my ankle once, let alone twice like in 2016. No one needed stitches or a cast or even, I don’t think, antibiotics.

I am writing that in a whisper; I want to acknowledge the blessing of it but not draw too much attention to it, either, so as to keep the dangerous eye of the Fates away from us.

I’m certain that 2018 will also bring experiences I cannot, tonight, imagine or predict. I hope there is more running, more hiking, more time spent with my husband and kids. More time spent developing and strengthening relationships with my mom, sisters, and friends. I hope my mental health (and Jake’s) continues to improve. I hope I have a productive year: finish the half-made quilts lying about, tell lots of stories, write (and submit) more. I’m tentatively planning on running a marathon this summer, and hopefully some halves, too. I cannot let another summer go by without hiking Timp, and I’d like to do Lone Peak as well.

But more than anything, what I hope 2018 brings us is simply this: good health. Come what may, vacations and graduations and kids moving back in and kids moving out and celebrations and average, normal days...just health. I have been reminded all over again, these last three weeks when my mom has been in the hospital, how tenuous our lives are. There are so many things that can happen or go wrong; I dare not forget that the cliché is true, if we don’t have our health we have nothing. No more long days spent in hospitals, no more healing from surgery or watching the progress of healing incisions.

I am taking a deep breath and feeling brave by throwing this out to the universe, but there it is: what I really want this year is for everyone to be healthy and safe.

Thoughts on Christmas: How I Did (and Didn't) Fulfill my December Goals

Last winter was one of my life’s hardest seasons. One of my kids was struggling with some big issues, and the fact that he was hurting so much and yet wouldn’t let me help him was the straw that crumpled this camel’s back. There has been a lot of drama and difficulty over the past two years or so, and it finally all caught up with me. I slid right into a fairly deep stretch of depression.

I think of it now as my Narnia Winter: always cold, dark, and colorless winter without Christmas.

I mean, we celebrated Christmas last year. But my heart was not in it. I didn’t light candles and I didn’t listen to a single Christmas song. I just went through the motions and put together a Christmas because I knew how to do it, but the joy was gone. I’m not sure my kids noticed or knew any of this—I actually really hope they didn’t—but for me it was a Christmas without light.

So when December started approaching again (even though I really, really didn’t want it to) I knew I would have to work on my mood so that didn’t happen again. I needed to light candles and listen to Christmas music, to sit in front of the tree and just look at it, to thumb through memories of past Christmases. To seek out the spirit of Christmas.

Two things happened that helped me do this. The first was my epiphany at the mall, which I wrote about yesterday. The second was finding, one day at my mom’s house, the Christmas stocking I used when I was a kid. When Kendell and I got married, his mom gave us his childhood stocking, and I’ve always hung it up somewhere as a decoration. But I thought mine was long gone. So when I found it in my mom’s basement, it felt like a gift from Father Christmas himself. A little piece from my past, a little bit of the child I used to be to tie to the person I am now.

My attempts at fashioning a new kind of Christmas weren’t perfect. But I think it was a good start. Whenever someone asked me what I wanted for Christmas, my response was this: to not have a BUA (big ugly argument) with anyone and for no one to need stitches, catch the stomach flu, or have a fever. I wanted there to be no floods and no incidents of me almost setting my house on fire. I wanted it to snow. And I wanted no one to be in the hospital or recuperating from a major surgery.

I got most of those things. December was BUA free, there were no fevers and none of us threw up once, and while Nathan did sprain his ankle at the beginning of the month, he was off of his crutches before Christmas. We preemptively avoided a kitchen flood by replacing our ailing dishwasher (although: who wants to pay for a new dishwasher in the middle of paying for all the Christmas gifts?) and I might’ve grown just a little bit obsessive about checking that the stove really is turned off.

On Christmas Eve, it snowed. This felt like a Christmas miracle, as it has been so dry here in Utah. I literally laughed out loud when I walked out in the evening and saw it was snowing.

So I almost got everything I wanted for Christmas. Except for that last bit. My mom went in to the hospital on December 9 with pain from diverticulitis, and she is still there. I’m lucky in that she’s at a hospital that is less than a mile from my house, so I’ve been able to spend time with her there. But her illness did make it harder for me to achieve the goals I set for myself that afternoon at the mall (but…only in ways that likely don’t matter much).

But I am also happy that I can say this wasn’t a Narnian Winter. Here is what I did to find the joy and magic this December:

  • Made things. I actually started this project during the week after Thanksgiving, thinking it would only take me a few days to finish. And maybe it would have, but as many of my sewing adventures do, the project spun out of control. More details later, because it deserves its own post. But I will say that my ten days (or so) of working with Christmas fabrics, hearing the thrum of my machine, watching my overly-ambitious imagined projects turn into a reality…it really was a lifesaver. The sewing gave me a sense of peace that I carried with me during the scary days of my mom’s hospitalization.
  • Watched for the good moments. Like the night Nathan got home from work late and he stayed up even later, helping me frost sugar cookies and talking to me. The morning I had a very grown up discussion with Kaleb and he responded better than I could imagine. An afternoon spent wrapping gifts in my bedroom while I watched five episodes of Call the Midwife and Kendell worked on his laptop and we were able to be together in a peaceful space. Even in the hospital: laughing with one of Mom’s surgeons, talking with one of the ER nurses late into the night (one of the nurses who helped when Kendell was also in the ICU), holding my mother’s hand. Actually, the fact that I could help her felt like goodness, even though of course I wish she wasn’t there.
  • Spent time with old friends. In fact, I had a lunch wherein one old friend was reunited with another old friend and it was magical and sweet and full of laughter and does, in fact, also demand its own blog post.
  • Changed some traditions. Specifically: I only bought new Christmas books for myself and Haley, as I’m tired of hoping that a book at Christmas will turn Jake, Nathan, and Kaleb into readers again. Maybe one day my boys will remember that they used to love reading, maybe they won’t, but buying them books they only shake their heads at is pointless. I usually put underwear in the stockings but this year I just never got around to buying any, and, when I realized I hadn’t, I decided that rather than stressing about it I just wouldn’t buy underwear. Lastly, I ended the tradition of Christmas-eve PJs. I know: that’s almost sacrilegious! But no one was very excited about them last year, and sometimes the buying of pajamas has actually sparked a BUA with Kendell (who doesn’t really believe in pajamas). So, instead, I had my friend Chris’s husband, who owns a printing shop, print us some Christmas t-shirts. All six of us! I loved this new take on an old tradition and am already planning how next year’s t-shirt will look. And, I confess: imagining 20 years into the future, when we have two decades’ worth of Christmas t-shirts and I can make a Christmas-t-shirt quilt!
  • Made all the kids and Kendell a new calendar. I did this one year for Kendell, and Haley loved it so much that the next year I made one for her too. Then last year the place where I have them printed made a mistake and printed two extra, so I gave one to Nathan and Jake. And then Kaleb was sad he didn’t get one! So this year, calendars for everyone. I was able to find twelve awesome pics for the kids’ calendars—I just try to have a variety of different family members and have them sort-of relate to each month if they can, my only self-imposed rule being that the pics have to come from the previous year. For Kendell’s calendar, I used photos from the three vacations we took together this year (Hawaii, our little get-away in southern California this summer, and our autumn trip to New York City). The opening of the calendars was my favorite moment on Christmas morning, as everyone looked through the photos and laughed, commented, pointed out something they’d forgotten, or noted how much they’d changed.
  • Pulled off some surprises. The things I was most excited for my family to open: Kendell’s new pillows, Haley’s Dr. Martens, Jake’s beard trimmer thing, Nathan’s jacket (the one from the Gap!), and almost all of Kaleb’s gifts (but specifically, the white Hydroflask water bottle, “just like Aunt Cindy’s,” which he’s been wanting since the fall, and the spike ball set, and his own grown-up knife…he might not believe in Santa anymore, but he still is easy to surprise). After we’d opened all of the gifts on Christmas morning, Jake said “Mom, now that everyone knows about Santa, you probably feel happier on Christmas because you get the credit for getting the awesome gifts, instead of Santa Claus” and while I’m really not in it for the credit, there really is something so good about seeing them be surprised.

What I didn’t manage this year: an outdoor adventure (I want to steal one of my running friends’ idea and go running in the dark next December, along a route that has a lot of houses with lights) and an experience just for me (but the Nutcracker will be there next year). And, you know. My mom’s illness might’ve made these things harder to accomplish. But I had a moment with her, a few days after Christmas, that was so powerfully spiritual and such a strong reminder to me of Christ’s love that I don’t even care. I will have plenty more Christmases to get all of the details right, and I found that with purpose and a plan, I could avoid Jadis the White Witch altogether.