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The Secret Truths about Being a Librarian

My sister Becky and I were talking a few days ago about my job. She wondered if I ever just wander the library stacks, picking out books at random, just because I’m just there, all the time, at the library​.

And here is the truth about being a librarian: You lose some of the magic of libraries when you work at one.

Feb 2020 book stack

Not all of it. I still sometimes have to pinch myself when I realize: I WORK AT A LIBRARY! I get to order books and take care of books and help people find books and talk to people about books.

Being a librarian is, I've decided, a calling more than it is a job. And many librarians are kindred spirits.

But when you love books and then you become a librarian, even though you gain many things, you lose some things, too.

When books are your job, it becomes impossible to separate reading from your work. (Because librarianship is a calling, remember?) Even when you just want to read a book, there is a part of you thinking about that book’s place in the library. Who might you recommend it to? What book list would you put it on? How could you tell more readers about it?

When you work in a library you can't smell the library smell anymore. 

And because I have a to-be-read list that is unimaginably long, I never wander the stacks just looking to see what I might find. I no longer read books serendipitously.

Sometimes, if it's slow at a reference desk and I'm at the end of my librarian patience, I might wander over to the stacks, pull out a book I love, and then read a few pages.

But a TBR this long isn't going to make itself. (Nor are any of the one million tasks librarians do going to do themselves.)

Here's another thing, though. When you work at a library, you see so many books. You discover books while you’re working on your collection. You read book reviews and book websites so you can stay on top of what people are reading. You learn as much as you can about as many different kinds of books as possible, because there’s no way to read every book (nor do I want to), but you do want to help every patron find the book they need or the one they will love.

So all that reading about and researching books? Means as a librarian (a person who already loves books and reading) you fall in love with so many books. And I don’t know if this is true of all librarians, but for me, I want to take them all home. (Even though I know I cannot possibly read everything I want to read.)

I got my current library card in July of 1992 and since then I've checked out almost 8500 items.

I REALLY wish I would've noticed how many I'd checked out when I started working here in 2008, but I bet that two-thirds of those check outs have happened in the past twelve years. Maybe even three-fourths.

Of course, not all of those items are books. I check out a lot of movies and CDs, too. But it’s mostly books.

But here’s another truth about being a librarian: sometimes I get tired.

Really, “frustrated” or “annoyed” might be better words. In some ways it is sort of a stressor: knowing what all of the new and hot books are, and the feeling of wanting to read them (again, not all of them, because I still have my own tastes) and join in on the online/social media conversations. So I bring home more and more books, or my hold list grows longer and longer, and I read two or three books a month and then take the rest back.

(And that’s not even considering the books I buy!)

It is illogical, bringing books I never finish back and forth from the library. Just because I love them. Just because I want to read them. Just because everyone else is reading and talking about them and I want to be included in that conversation.

Dark tower 1
Last week, I was talking to Nathan, who is wanting to read more. I gave him some recommendations and then he asked me about The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.

“I read the first three books in that series and loved them,” I texted him. “But I didn’t finish them.”

My dad and I read the first three books together. I mean…we had our own copies (I think I still have mine), but we read them at the same time and would talk about them. He was delighted by the series and his enthusiasm made reading them even better. He especially liked the lobstrosities and sometimes he’d just say “ded a chek?” to me out of the blue.

After the third book in the series, The Wastelands, King took a break from the series. This break coincided with my wedding, working on my degree, and becoming a mom. My dad picked up the fourth book but I didn’t—I felt like I wanted to read other things then. (OH how I wish I had just read those with him, too.)

I told Nathan that at this point, I haven’t finished the series because it makes me sad to read them without my dad. His response?

“Maybe you can read them with me this go around.”

(He is a good kid.)

Dark tower 3The next day, I put all of the books I had checked out, except two, onto my TBR list (I keep mine on an app called Libib) and then returned them. I suspended all of my book holds (I have 43 on my list, shhhh, don’t judge) and gave myself stern instruction to not add any more. (I have since added more…but only three.)

I set myself a goal: when I finish the two books I am reading right now, I’m going to read The Dark Tower series. I’m going to clean out the cupboard where I think my copies of the first three books are, and buy the rest, and then read them. And talk to Nathan about reading them.

I’ll still pay attention to new releases and hot books and what everyone else on bookstagram is reading.

But I really want to take control back in some way. To not have my reading controlled by what comes on hold for me, or what everyone else is talking about.

Books are about story, of course. About going somewhere in your imagination, about becoming friends with created beings. But they are also about relationships. With the story and the characters, yes, but also with the other people who read them. And they are about making connections with yourself, too—understanding something, or sometimes just something as pleasant as a sentence that makes you feel less invisible in this world.

I want to reconnect, somehow, to that primal love of reading I had when I was reading The Dark Tower series with my dad. Before I learned about literary theory and critical thinking and textual evaluation. I want to be able to read outside of being a librarian, but just as myself.

Reading them with Nathan seems like just the thing.

Dark tower 2

Book Review: Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

It’s been a really long time since I stayed up until the wee morning hours finishing a book.

Like…I don’t even remember. All the Light We Cannot See maybe.

This 40-something woman values her sleep.

But I’ve recently hit a spate of frustrating reading. Books I really want to read but then they don’t grab me. Then I finally found two that did pull me in…but they are both really heavy so I can’t stay inside them for hours at a time.

(This 40-something woman also values her mental health.)

At work on Friday I read a review of a young adult novel and I thought “that sounds good, wonder if we have it?” and we did, and it was on the new book shelf.

So I grabbed it and checked it out and read a few pages at the long stoplight on my drive home and I was hooked. We went on a date Friday night (we saw Trevor Noah’s live show) and Saturday was busy with Saturday stuff, so I didn’t really dive into it until about 9:30, when Kendell fell asleep. I tucked him in and thought “I’ll just read for an hour before I go to bed” and then at 1:45 in the morning I finished it and then went to sleep.

The book? Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli.

Break the fallIt’s a YA gymnastics novel about best friends Audrey and Emma, who are elite gymnasts. The novel opens with the Olympic trials, which Audrey has barely made it to because of a back injury. She’s holding herself together with tape and cortisone and grit, right on the cusp, unsure if she’ll make it or not—nothing is guaranteed, but Emma is pretty much a shoe-in.

It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Audrey makes the Olympic team, because that is the story, her experiences navigating the month leading up to the Olympics and the Olympic competition itself.

You’d think that considering I stayed up till almost two to finish this, I would do nothing but gush. Have to warn you: the writing here is fine, but isn’t amazing. There are dangling and misplaced modifiers everywhere, and more than once (more than ten times at least) the bars are called some variation of “cylindrical fiberglass” which is totally unnecessary. It feels like there is an entire missing chapter that would make Audrey’s transition between resistance and acceptance of some pretty big changes more understandable, especially as the changes have a huge impact on her Olympics. Plus she has a slight re-injury of her back that must result in a second cortisone shot, but it’s missing from the story. It deals with sexual assault, consent and personal choice, failure, success, betrayal, teenage friendship—lots of big topics!—but manages to stay on the fluffy side.

But I got attached to the characters in about .5 seconds. Is this because I was a gymnast too? I don't think that's only it. They come to life on the page. I especially enjoyed Audrey's budding romantic relationship. 

Also, though: it was just really enjoyable. It pulled me in and I did not want to put it down, even with my objections. In fact, when I finished it and clunked it down on the floor next to my bed I said “Wow! That was really, really fun.”

I’ve been thinking about that response ever since. Deep down I have a pretty endurable thread of guilt over reading. It comes from a lot of different places, my husband’s lack of understanding people wanting to read; all those LDS exhortations to read “only the best books” (which gets translated way too often into the idea that if you’re not reading scriptures or books written by an Important Old White Man you’re not reading the best books); a comment a woman I worked with made to me when I was pregnant with Haley (“You know that once you have your baby you should never spend time reading, just taking care of her”). There’s always the feeling, when I sit down to read, that I should instead be doing something “productive” with my time.

(This makes me appreciate even more the fact that there were so many long weekends when my mom would just leave me alone as a kid and teenager, and I would literally just read. I didn’t feel guilty then.)

So I try to justify my reading time by reading Important Literature. (Add the posh accent in your mind.) I mean…I like reading more literary books anyway. I love a book with beautiful writing and complex plotting, something that makes me think and forces me to challenge my established thought patterns.

But really….does it always have to be serious and complicated and though-provoking?

Can’t it just sometimes be fun?

Of course, all of this is built into everything else that is complicated about being an adult, but really. I’m not just 40-something. I’m rapidly approaching fifty. And if the past decade has taught me anything, it is this: people die. Life is short. I’m almost half a century old—isn’t that old enough to let go of pointless guilt?

I feed my family. I go to work to support them. I clean the house and do the laundry and scrub the freaking toilets. Am I the world’s best mom or wife? Nope. But I take care of my peeps. So why this irrational tug every time I sit down to read?

I’ll let my current favorite meme be my answer (forgive the language but...this is such a tidy summary of how I feel about almost everything right now):


And, whoops. Sorry about that tangent. Back to the book: Break the Fall is a fun, fast read about Olympic-level gymnastics. Emphasis on fun. I’m glad I stayed up late reading it!

Hearts Like Crazy Paving Quilt Tutorial

Hearts Like Crazy Paving Instructions

Hearts like crazy paving finished


hearts and inner borders: I bought 11 assorted fat quarters in purples and pinks. Some of these are Moda solids but most are subtle patterns that read as solids. I used two more purple scraps and three pink scraps from my stash; these were less than 5” wide and in one case (the pink flowers) I literally only had 2” to use. I used four pieces of black fabrics also from my stash. I had quite a bit of leftover fabrics, but since I only bought fat quarters it wasn’t too much. (I think I am going to save these scraps and make a baby quilt—one that isn’t an angsty statement about modern love, mind you—but it will definitely have to be for a mom who loves purple too.)

color theory note: I tried to only use cool pinks and purples, but when I started pairing fabrics up, it felt like there needed to also be a few warm ones. Since I don’t love warm or plummy purples, I threw in a couple of warm-ish pinks.

Hearts like crazy paving cut strips
I tried to group the like colors together as I cut, which makes making contrast easier. Also, here is a first introduction to my messy crafty space. It's small so it gets crowded.

outer border (the black with wavy lines): I bought two yards because I wanted the stripes to run vertically and I didn’t want a seam on the long borders. This means I cut the strips for the borders on the long side (parallel to the selvage) of the fabric. (This is called the straight grainline.) It also means I have a ton left over! (I was OK with this because I like the fabric enough to use it for other projects and because I bought the end of the bolt and so got it at a better price—I think it was only $6.50 a yard.) I prefer doing borders this way when I can, even without stripes, because when you cut the fabric strips lengthwise there is less stretch and it makes squaring up the quilt much easier. If you cut the strips along the width of the fabric (crosswise grainline) instead, you need 5/8 of a yard.

white background: If you cut *exactly* right without any mistakes, you need exactly 35” (there will be some leftover smaller scraps), so one yard will work if you never mess up. I always buy extra just in case; so 1 1/6 yards might be safer. I loved this white tonal floral (It is from the Sugarcreek line by Corey Yoder) so I bought 1 1/2 yards.

batting: I used a white cotton batting from my stash…not sure what brand. (I have a few more large-ish chunks of batting and once those are used up I’m going to invest in some Quilter’s Dream batting instead, as my Joann has stopped carrying—or is just always out of—the Warm and White batting which I like. I don’t love what they carry now.)

quilt backing: My finished quilt is 53”x62”. I used a big chunk of minky (this one came from Joann) plus some cuts from the two yards of “Magic Carpet” by Bernatex I bought at a new fabric store I found a few weeks ago. When I make pieced backings I don’t do a ton of measuring, I just lay the fabrics out and then cut and piece as it feels like it would fit. Sometimes this means I cut things wrong and have to add an extra strip here and there…but this one turned out just about right. (I have a fairly wide scrap of the minky left that will also be perfect for a baby quilt. Or two.)

Hearts like crazy paving quilt back
I also tend to take quilt pictures in my front room. Also a small space so getting a straight-on pic is hard. But the light is better.


assorted colors:
cut three or four angled strips on the crosswise grainline (so if you’re cutting fat quarters, these will be 18” long). I stacked three colors together for this part. The angles are not exact but random. Make some of the strips wide and some narrower, with the narrowest edge at least 1” wide. I LOVED this cutting process as it was fast and sort of…freeing, I guess, to not worry about exact straightness.

black scraps:
I wanted the black to not overtake the colors, but just be an accent, so I cut all of the black strips in fairly thin widths. I also put in some of the border fabric, and I cut those strips straight (no angles). A few straight strips helped to balance things out a bit.

background fabric:
2 18.5”x18.5” squares
4 6.5”x6.5” squares
2 2.5”x35”-ish strips
2 2.5”x width of fabric strips
16 1.25x1.25” and 8 2.25x2.25” squares (cut from scraps, see step 8 in assembly)
8  5.5x1.25” strips (cut from scraps)
8 7.5x1.25” strips (cut from scraps)

outer border:
2 3x52” strips (seam as necessary)
2 3x65” strips (seam as necessary)


  1. Chain piece colored strips together, alternating colors and angles to create a scrappy mix. I pieced them first into pairs, then I added a third strip to about half of the pairs, then pieced a two-part piece with a three-part piece. Then I laid the strips out on the floor to see if I needed to add more. This is improve piecing, so just have fun with this step. You will make TWO pieces that are 18”x43” (or so…it’s OK if it’s longer). End with a fairly wide piece on the top and bottom to give yourself room for straightening. It’s OK if you have leftover strips as you’ll use them in the border.
    Hearts like crazy paving making the strip
    As you improv piece the two strips, keep in mind the seam allowance. I added five or six more strips after this point! Also, make sure to alternate some fat ends with small ends, or the long strip will curve too much and you'll have to trim it much narrower.
  2. Iron the seams. I ironed mine open because there is so much dark/light going on and I didn’t want the dark undersides to show through on the light fabrics. I would be faster to iron them all to one side, it’s up to you.
  3. Straighten the pieces. Due to the nature of the angles, the two pieces of the heart will not be straight yet. Fold each piece in half and straighten to 17x40.
    Hearts like crazy paving trimming straight
    One strip, folded in half just before trimming.
  4. Make the two heart pieces. Draw a diagonal line on the back side of the two large background squares. Pin one to the bottom left side of one strip. Sew along the diagonal line, then cut 1/4” away from the sewn line.
    Hearts like crazy paving making the heart
    It helps if you pin not just along the diagonal line, but on the straight edges too, especially with the larger pieces.

    Repeat with second strip, except sew the triangle on the right side. Repeat this process with the smaller squares, one on each side of the top of each strip. If this is confusing, refer to THIS AWESOME TUTORIAL on Amy Smart’s blog, it walks you through step by step.
  5. Press the seams away from the white (toward the colored strips).
  6. Line up the points of the heart and sew both sides together.
    Hearts like crazy paving two halves of the heart
    Just before sewing the heart together.
  7. Using the white 2.5” strips, sew a border around the heart. Sew the LONG (left and ride) borders on first, and then the short (top and bottom) borders, so you don’t have to piece any strips. (BORDER NOTE: I know many quilters cut the border strips exactly the size of the piece they are sewing the border to. I don’t do it this way. Instead, I cut the border pieces about 1” longer than the piece I am bordering, sew the strips on, and the square off the ends. This is less frustrating to me, but use whichever method works best for you.)
  8. Make the four small hearts—more improve piecing. When you cut off the big triangles in step 4, you were left with two triangles formed out of strips. Use these to create 8 pieces that are 2.5x5 inches. Don’t be afraid to cut more angles—have fun! Use these 8 pieces to create four smaller hearts, using the same method from step 4. Use the two leftover white triangles as necessary to make the background and borders of the smaller hearts. These should finish at 7.5” square.
    Hearts like crazy paving finished small hearts
    I think these little hearts are adorable
  9. Make the large border strips. You guessed it: even more improve piecing. Use whatever leftover strips you have, along with the scraps from the hearts. My favorite were the tiny little pieces of crazy pieced triangles left over from the smaller hearts. Piece four border strips, two that are as tall as the large bordered heart, two that are as wide. These are 7.5” wide.
    Hearts like crazy paving adding borders
    Hey! Another view of my mess! Cord from the iron. Big paper trimmer under my tall desk. That paper bag has a bunch of Skirt Sports skirts I am going to try to resell. Garbage can and paper recycling can. I work well in chaos.

  10. Sew the top and bottom borders to the heart.
  11. Sew the left and right borders with the cornerstones (the small hearts) at each corner. OK, here’s where things get real. The traditional way to add cornerstones is to measure the height of the quilt (WITHOUT the top and bottom border), add the seam allowance, then cut the left and right borders to that length. Sew on the cornerstones, then sew that strip to the left and right sides. I have NEVER managed to make this work correctly. The corners just never match up perfectly. So here’s how I add cornerstones. First, I make the left and right borders about 1-2” longer than the left/right sides. Sew the top cornerstone to the top of the left border strip. Line up the corners and then sew the strip to the left side, but stop about two inches away from the bottom corner. Pin the rest of the way, and then trim the leftover bit so it is one seam length longer than the corner. (I used 1/4” seams on this quilt.) Unpin, sew the second cornerstone to what is now the bottom of the border, then match up the corners and finish sewing it down the length. Repeat on the right side. I know…this is clunky. But it works best for me, and, again: use your favorite method.
  12. Sew the outer border on, starting with the top and bottom and finishing with the left and right. Iron the quilt top on both sides and clean up any stray threads.
    Hearts like crazy paving finished top
    Finished top!
  13. Sandwich, quilt, and bind.

For the quilting, I used an idea I found in the book Quilting Modern.  (I used this idea even though the title of that book is annoying. Modern is an adjective, not an adverb, so it should be titled Modern Quilting or Quilting Modernly, which admittedly is awkward but grammatically correct. Quilting in the Modern Way would be OK, although clunky. Quilting Modern is not. Unless there is a thing that is called a “modern” and you’re quilting it. End of rant.) It is called “shattered.”

Hearts like crazy paving more quilting
When I first started quilting this, I marked the lines with painter's tape. Then I got frustrated with how long that was taking so I just freeformed. Are the lines *exactly* straight? No. But straight enough, which works for this style.

This took a while and it has lots of starts and stops, but the random angles felt like they fit the best with this quilt’s aesthetic. I also echo quilted white lines around the heart. (I love echo quilting!)

Hearts like crazy paving quilting close up
Another view of the quilting, this time from the back. The pink lines make me happy.

Things I learned from this quilt:
(because I think you can learn something from every quilt you make)

  • I wish I would’ve made the strips 22” instead of 18”, so the heart wasn’t quite so angular. I cut them on the straight grainline because I was worried that with the random angles, the extra stretch that comes from cutting on the weft would be problematic. The black strips, though, are cut on the weft, and they are narrow, but it was still fine.
  • I also wish I would’ve made the border less balanced. The busiest parts are squares and they are roughly balanced on the four middle points. I didn’t want that much symmetry but didn’t notice until it was already sewed together.
  • Angles and improv piecing are really fun. It’s freeing to just see different pieces coming together in random ways. Some of my favorite parts of this quilt are the TINY little slivers of fabric that you can barely see.
  • Sewing angled pieces together makes WAY more lint that pieces cut on a straight line. I cleaned out my feed dogs about 37 times.
  • I’m getting better at accurate quarter-inch seams, which was one of my goals for this quilt.
  • I’m NOT happy with how my new machine cuts the bobbin thread. I mean, it was really fast to just push the “cut” button but because the bobbin threat cut is really short, they all got tangled up on the back. Not sure how to resolve that other than cutting it with the thread cutter instead.
  • Despite reading about it and following all the tips—use a wider seam allowance, sew with your walking foot, pin like crazy—I still am struggling to get the combination of minky+cotton to be pucker-free. (You can see on the pic of the backing that the cotton has ripples. I’m not sure what else to do! However, I only ended up with two small puckered spots on the back when I finished quilting, so that is OK.
  • I think I am now ready to make a quilt that uses some of the many little strips of scraps I have from other quilts. Stay tuned!

Honestly, I’m not sure anyone would want to replicate this quilt, and that is just fine. But I’m hoping you find some little helpful nugget in this tutorial to use in your own quilting.

Hearts like crazy paving finished with binding

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.)

Winter Running

Somehow we’ve developed a President’s Day tradition: we eat a local Chinese lunch buffet with Kaleb. We’ve done this for five years now; sometimes other kids have gone with us but it’s always Kaleb. He doesn’t eat anything but the fried rice and this Asian-flavored chicken wings, but he loves going there.

The older I get, though, the less I enjoy a buffet. I don’t love overeating and I actually can’t eat as much anymore.

So I definitely needed to exercise yesterday.

When we can make it work, Kendell and I like to go out to exercise together. Because of his hip replacements, he can’t run much, but we start on the trail together. We go to a local river parkway, which is a paved trail running right next to a river along the bottom of a canyon. (It’s one of my favorite things about living where we do.) We choose a time and start our watches, and then I run and he walks/jogs. We both go up for the same amount of time and then turn around, so we usually get back to the parking lot at the same time.

Yesterday when we were dressed and ready to go, we looked outside and realized: holy cow, it’s windy. Then we looked at the temp and realized: it’s also cold.

We looked at each other.

Kendell teased, “remember, you don’t like wind? Remember Loch Lake?”

“Well, there’s a difference between four hours in a blizzard and 45 minutes in wind,” I shot back.

(He thinks he’s funny.)

We drove to the trailhead anyway, Kendell pointing out along the way how the flags were all flying straight in the wind. I told him we’d be fine.

(I told myself I would be fine.)

I realized something. Two years ago, before we started hiking in the winter, given those conditions we would’ve just stayed home.

Only over the last few years have I learned that exercising in the cold is a thing you can do. Before that I was definitely a fair-weather friend of running. I’d do most of my winter workouts inside, grudgingly, or, you know: skip exercising for most of the winter, and then have to catch up all spring to get back my fitness levels.

I still exercise less than I should during the winter. Some of that is due to the inversions we get, as I’m unwilling to expose my lungs to deep breathing when the air pollution is high.

Some of it is that, now I know I can exercise outside in the cold, I really, really don’t want to run on the treadmill.

But I definitely go out way more than I used to. Like yesterday. Partly it’s because I figured out this amazing truth: they make clothes for winter workouts!  I dressed just warmly enough: wool long sleeve and headband, warm-ish tights with a skirt on top. It was chilly when we got out of the car, but that’s the other lesson I’ve learned about winter exercsiding. Once you start moving, you get warm quickly. It’s actually surprising how cold it has to be for you to feel really cold—for me, as long as I’m moving I’m warm unless it’s in the teens or colder.

Unless it’s windy.

Wind makes it feel so much colder.

But one other thing I’ve learned, after twenty years of running on this trail, is where the wind is strongest. So we started at a less-windy trailhead (there are several places to park along the trail) and went up higher into the canyon, and the wind was just a breeze up there.

In fact, my run was gorgeous. I was comfortable and felt strong and the blister I’ve been nursing felt OK.

Of course, as soon as I finished my run and started stretching, I started shivering and I required a long, hot bath to warm up again. (So sad.)

View while I stretched winter running

But I just wanted to toss it out into the universe for anyone else who isn’t sure: winter running is not only possible, it is lovely. You don’t overheat. You don’t get salty. You don’t start feeling dehydrated. It is a sere beauty you run through, quiet and calm sometimes, windy others. If there is water it runs blacker in the winter, a quicksilver, silent companion. If you happen to have a snowstorm begin while you’re out there, don’t panic. Running in snow is lovely, too, the flakes tapping your shoulders and hands and nose in friendly hellos.

To get out into the winter takes the right gear, knowledge of the area, and just this belief: believing you can makes you know you can.

(Which must be a truth that is applicable to many of life’s situations.)

"Mormon" as a Verb

“Have I left the church?”

This is a question I find myself asking myself a lot lately.

Maybe the fact that I haven’t been to church for over a year is the answer, but it really isn’t that simple.

“Have I left the church?” leads me to a different question: “What would it take for me to start going to church again?”

“But, Amy!” a few people have chided, “It is changing. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Yes. I do want the church to change. I am glad for the changes. But they are all too late for me.

Women able to witness baptisms? Fantastic, except all of my kids are already baptized. I’m happy for all the women who get to have this experience with their children—but I never will.

The changes to the wording in the temple? Great, if you didn’t already experience the old wording. If you didn’t already say it out loud, in your own voice, even if inside your head you were screaming “NO! This isn’t right.” Changing it now doesn’t take away all the years I questioned my responses, wondered what was wrong with me, squelched my own questioning nature in an effort to be “good.” Even my own mother—when, after I went through the temple for the first time, a friend asked me what I thought, and I said “I think it was weird and surreal and I’m afraid to go back”—even my own mom was so conditioned that the temple is glorious and amazing and perfect that she said “Amy, you shouldn’t say things like that.”

No one has to wait for a year to be sealed in the temple if they have a civil ceremony. I am so glad they made this change—but it doesn’t let me go back in time so I can have a civil ceremony where my dad, sisters, best friend Chris, one surviving grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins can see my wedding. It doesn’t dissolve the ache I have for that one basic fact—my own dad wasn’t allowed to come to my wedding.

The subtle changes to the Exclusion Policy? They don’t change the fact that it never should’ve existed in the first place. Nor help me understand how people twisted into such verbal gymnastics to show that they agreed with it, and then when it was changed, agreed with the changes. Most importantly, it doesn’t unhurt any of the people it hurt, especially (for me) my daughter.

Then there is the “using the word Mormon is a victory for Satan” charge. And the time, effort, and shaming that went into trying to disassociate the church from the word “Mormon.” You know, when things like Australia burning and California burning and kids in cages at the U.S. border and animal extinction and earthquakes and poverty all sorts of disasters that affect human life (that I believe Christ wants us to help with) are happening—we’re using emotional energy (not to mention the cost of marketing and changing everything so that the word Mormon is less visible) on a word?

What if everything changed? What if women were given the priesthood and we could bless our own children with our own voices and anointed hands? (Or what if we could even just stand and hold the baby in the blessing circle?) What if the markers of acceptance didn’t matter—what if people could wear as many earrings as they wanted without shame, what if a tattoo was seen as art and personal choice rather than body defilement, what if everyone could be accepted, the beer drinkers and the women in flip flops? Teenage boys in blue plaid button ups? What if the church said “Joseph Smith was a man who made mistakes, especially about polygamy"? What if the sealing practices weren’t painful to all but those with perfect families not impacted by divorce or death? What if the church stopped covering up sexual abuse? What if, despite prophetic declarations, the prophets could say "we made a mistake and are sorry about the pain it caused"?

What if all of the changes I so desperately wish could be made were made?

Mostly, it would still be too late. I will never bless my own sick child. I will never get back the experience of really being sealed to my dad.

When I start asking my question—have I left the church?—I start thinking about a realization I had a couple of years ago. I went for a girls’ weekend away with my friends Jamie and Wendy. They are friends I met through church, but not church friends. (People who can still see you as a friend once you stop going to church are few; Wendy and Jamie are two of mine. The Mcallisters. My friend Julie. Everyone else I was friends with because of church is no longer are involved in my life, because our friendship—and this is mutual, I’m not placing blame—was based not on real, actual friendship but on going to church together.) That weekend at a cabin in southern Utah was lovely; we hiked and ate and relaxed and laughed together.

But it was my first time doing something with them that wasn’t a church activity (strange as that sounds), and it made me realize something. Wendy and Jamie are Mormons. They mormon all the time. Hiking, eating, laughing, relaxing: all of it was focused on the practices and beliefs of an LDS person. For me, this highlighted my own connection to my religion, because I don’t mormon all the time. (I didn't.)

That weekend was when I really started to understand how I was wearing the church, but it wasn’t my skin.

It was a performance, a thing I did because I thought I had to. To be loved, to be accepted, to be good enough.

I wrote once about the church being a dress I pulled over my naked—my true—self. And how it had chafed me.

Since that time, I have not changed. I mean—I have changed, in many ways. But what hasn't changed, what has propelled me to make the other changes, is the desire to be loved or accepted for who I am. To feel like I am enough. Not because I don't want to continue to work, to improve, to be a better person. I do. But, for me where I am, here in my late forties, an orphan, almost an empty nester: at this point in my life, I am done pretending. I am done acting. I am done with needless bloody wounds. If my true self isn't good enough, that's not going to change. So I am embracing (or, learning to embrace) who and what my true self is.

As see it, not as an old white male church leader thinks I should be.

Not going to church for over a year, turning the mountains into my chapel, energy drinks and trail mix into my sacrament: these are some of the methods I’ve used to help myself take off the dress. The chafing has started to heal.

But there will always be scars, and what I mean by that wrought metaphor is that while I am not going to church right now, and I am deeply concerned, hurt, and bothered by many things in the church, it is also a part of who I am. It is long, deep scars on my true self, but there is also beauty in it, too. Memories of friendships and activities I did with my kids; even though they are complicated by doubt and frustration, the memories of their sacred days are valuable to me still.

Have I left the church?

In a sense, I can’t. I can’t because the church can’t leave me.

Will I ever go back to church? I am not sure, but maybe this is only because I am afraid to say “no.” Maybe because I am not ready to draw a line in the sand. Maybe because I don’t ever have to draw the line, because despite the chafing and the bloody dress and all that heartache, anger, doubt, despite it all there is still a hope in me.

A hope that I could take my authentic, scarred, naked, real self to church and be accepted.

If that could happen, I might go back.

Currently: The Almost-Late-Winter Edition

I haven’t done one of these for a long time, but Britt inspired me. Catching up with what’s going on in my world:

Hoping: that Haley will get into med school (she had an interview in Erie, PA last week). That I get a spot in the NYC marathon (through the lottery as I’m not fast enough to qualify via speed). That Nathan’s shin splints can stop bothering him.

Watching: Ehhhh. There are several TV shows that Kendell and I watch together, but nothing I really, really love (like I used to love E.R., Ally McBeal, Grey’s Anatomy, The News Room). It’s mostly just something we do together. The new Star Trek mini-series, Picard, is pretty good though. I like the Chicago shows (Fire and Med) and SVU; we’re still watching both The Walking Dead series, but I have to take it in small doses. And we just picked up a new one that I might really like, Tommy.

Reading: The Kingdom of Little Wounds by Susann Cokal in print (a fairy tale about syphilis); The Priory of the Orange Tree in e-book form (I’ve now checked it out 7 times…it is HUGE and I can’t read very long on my cell phone because my eyes start to hurt); The Library of Lost and Found in audio while I’m quilting.

Making: so close to finishing my heart quilt (hopefully today!) and then I’m finally going to bind the quilt I made for Jake in September. A Valentine’s Day/anniversary gift with photos.

Exercising: Running, 3-4 miles each time as I try to solidify my base. Hiking, at least once a week unless the avalanche danger is high (which it has been a LOT this winter) or the prospect of deep mud is highly probable. Ballet barre class, which has been so good for me. It is helping with my knee flexibility and the leg strengthening also makes my knees feel better. (It does shake my confidence a little when I see my body in the mirror but I am trying to deal with it.)

Listening to: Lewis Capaldi (Nathan introduced me to him), Vampire Weekend, Death Cab for Cutie. When I got my new phone all of my playlists got lost (because yes, I actually buy music, copy it into my phone, and listen that way, rather than Spotify or other music services. I like owning my music) and I haven’t remade them yet, aside from one running list, so I’ve done a lot of listening to random music. Some songs I’ve rediscovered this way: “Love Game” by Lady Gaga, “I Smell Winter” by The Housemartins, “Broke Window” by Gary Jules, “Little Lion Man” by Mumford & Sons. I also love the new Green Day song “Oh Yeah!” and “Gloria” by The Lumineers.

Taking: I went back on my anti-depressant in January, so that, a Naproxen, liquid turmeric, protein collagen, biotin, chondroitin, Jolessa, and my thyroid med every day. I’m not sure when I started being a pharmaceutical junkie…

Looking forward to: spring. Seriously…this winter has drained me. In theory I love winter, but what I really love specifically is cold, snowy winter. Dry brown ones, or even dreary rainy ones, are soul-sucking to me. This winter it seems like every city around us has had big snow storms but they’ve all missed Orem. And the air pollution! Uggg. I’m so excited for spring. For color to come back and the air to be fresh and to see green again.

Loving: My Rae Dunn mugs (I have “Feminist,” “Mamacita,” and “Amy”—in case I forget my name?—and Kendell has “Papa Bear”). Having Grandma Amy’s sewing machine in my front room. My new Bernina. Texts from the kids—always. Alex & Ani bracelets. A little bit of weight loss. Kaleb's current sense of humor, which is getting a little bit spicier and also unique to him. Like, one day last week he told Kendell "You know what I'm trying to figure out? How is there bacon in the freezer that hasn't been eaten?" HA

Stretching: almost every day. I love stretching. I love that we've had a few bluebird days and I guess the lack of snow in my yard has one benefit: I can drag out my yoga mat and stretch outside like I did on Saturday. Happy sigh!

Currently stretching

What’s happening in your world right now?

Thoughts from a Shadow Dancer

A memory I thought of this morning:

In the 90s, there was a short story magazine called Story. It was a beautiful publication, bound like a paperback rather than a magazine, with heavy cardstock covers and thick paper. I’m not sure how I found it, but once I did, I subscribed to it and when it came in the mail I would read the whole thing. This was during the years when I was a newlywed and then when we were building our house.

In one issue, the first one that came to my mailbox at our new house, there was an advertisement: Story was having a contest. You could submit your work and if you won, your story would be published.

I wanted to have a story published in that literary magazine. I wanted a copy of it, with my name in the table of contents and my words printed on that thick paper.

And at that point, I was always writing stories, so I finished and polished the one I thought was best, printed it, and got it ready to mail.

But that’s not really the memory. Honestly, I’m not even sure what story I sent in. The memory that surfaced is different, and more painful.

There was a five dollar submission fee to enter the contest. Five dollars is not a big deal, but right then—when we’d put literally every single penny of our savings into our house—it felt like a big deal.

More than that, though, was that I didn’t want to write a check for $5 because I didn’t want to have to explain it to Kendell.

I literally never talked to him about my writing aspirations. Just the thought of it made me blush. (Literally…not the sexy blush, the ugly one.)  Writing—the act itself, as well as the idea that I might think I could be successful at it—has always felt a little bit…shameful to me. Like it’s a cute aspiration a child might have, but not a grown up in the adult world. I didn’t want to tell my mom about it either, or my friends; it isn’t only true in my marriage, but everywhere. “I want to be a writer” is both my deepest, longest desire and the one that embarrasses me the most.

So I didn’t want to tell my husband what I was doing. Part of me imagined my story winning and then showing it to him as a surprise. Part of me imagined my story not winning, and if he knew I’d submitted it I’d have to tell him it didn’t win, and how awful would that be? If I didn’t tell anyone, I could avoid the embarrassment altogether.

So I drove to the grocery store and used cash to buy a money order.

And that is the memory I came to this morning, after my sister-in-law shared this article on her Facebook page: sitting in the car (we had a Honda Accord then and it was my favorite car we ever owned) in the Macey’s parking lot, putting my submission together, full of hope and also of embarrassment and not able to put into words then how much hurt was involved in that hoping. I licked the manila envelope, fastened the clasp, and drove to the post office, trying not to cry.

Why that memory this morning? Because of something from that article. It’s about how women in their 50s should do something new or big, something life-changing. It divides women of this “certain age” into three categories: the retirement pushers, the I’m-just-a-moms, and the shadow dancers. I am a shadow dancer:

In their 20’s, these women labeled their dreams as foolish, and chose related (but sensible) careers, instead. (I chose Marketing Manager over author at 20. Just in case I wasn’t Hemingway….) The shadow dancer’s dream has never died; but a little bit of her soul has, every day.

Because, of course my story didn’t win the contest. Of course it didn’t; I was young and full of dreams and ambition but not much skill or knowledge. Since it was a contest, I didn’t even get a rejection letter. Just waning hope at the mailbox. (That is much, much worse than a rejection letter.)

During those years, before I had kids, I wrote a lot. I read Writer’s Digest and I submitted a ton of things. I had one poem accepted in The Daily Universe, BYU’s student paper (even though I wasn’t a student there yet), but that was it for success. Then I had Haley, and I started working on my undergrad degree, and I had professors tell me things like “I’ll be lucky if I find one real writer in my entire career as a professor” and “don’t get your hopes up about being a writer because most of you won’t succeed.” I read over and over, in different spaces and approaches, that success as a writer is basically impossible.

So I did exactly what that article describes: I chose more sensible things. I didn’t keep pushing and get a PhD like I had originally wanted. Instead, I taught high school English and then I became a librarian.

That dream didn’t go away. I’ve blogged, I’ve written for scrapbook magazines. I had an essay published in an anthology and a few in some LDS publications.

But life just chipped away at that thing I had in my early twenties, the absolute belief (even if it was tinged with embarrassment) that if I tried hard enough, I would be a writer.

And let’s be honest: I haven’t tried hard enough.

I let the shame overwhelm the belief.

I let sensible take the place of ambitious.

And I just carried it around.

I never stopped wanting to be a writer. I never stopped filling up with envy when I went to a book reading or signing or I met a writer in any form. I never stopped reading and thinking “I want to do what this person does.”

But I didn’t do it.

I made a life with my children and it has been a good life. I love them. I am grateful I got to be a mom and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. I’m grateful for the years I got to be a stay-at-home mom, short as they were. I get to work at a place that I love and I get to use the knowledge I gained from my degrees to help people.

But, here’s another truth: the shame is still here. The embarrassment. How dare I still carry around this dream? How could I think that I would be successful at writing, when so many others have tried and failed? There is also shame at not trying, too. And at the fact that maybe I am selfish for even my sensible choices, because it’s not like I’ve achieved any sort of financial success by working part time at the library.

But I also am not that girl in the Accord in the grocery store parking lot. I can at least find the words to describe what I am feeling. I have more to say than I could that day in my car, because of what life has brought me, good and bad.

I want to do what that article describes. Take a big, bold step. Reclaim that glittering, positive hope I used to have. I don’t want to be held back anymore by shame and embarrassment.

I just don’t know how to take the step, because even as I consider it—and I have been seriously considering it, the next step which would be getting an MFA—I am again filled up with worry. All these years I’ve worked as a teacher and then a librarian, I haven’t really been contributing much to my family, at least not monetarily. And now I want to use more money to get a degree that has a teeny, tiny silver of the possibility of success?

It feels selfish.

And that feels shameful.

The shame makes me go back to the sensible. Maybe instead of an MFA I should get a Library Science master’s. Or do something different. Law school? High school councilor? A total change—nursing? Hospital chaplain?

I could do those. I could choose something that makes more money.

I could stay where I am and change nothing.

But the tug is still there—the one that has tugged me since tenth grade, when, in my honors English class, another girl shared a poem she had written. She didn’t seem embarrassed. She read it in front of the whole class. And I thought—wait. We can do that? Not write, I was already writing. But share. Without shame.

That would be big. It would be bold to say “I am still worth pursuing what I have always wanted to do.” Because I only get one life, and I have this life right now, and that is it. I have years left, but not as many.

I want to be ready, and maybe that wanting is the thing that will make me actually be ready?

I want to give myself permission.

on Baking

Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.   ~Helen Keller

Here is how it happened: We were traveling with friends last March and stayed at a hotel on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. I went out for a run on the beach and then I stopped in the little breakfast area for a quick OJ and maybe some toast, and I spotted it:

cinnamon raisin bread.

No one in my family likes this, so I haven’t eaten it in years. But I stood there in that hotel lobby, my skin sticky with two kinds of salt and the moisture from the Atlantic, and I ate two slices, toasted, with butter. The soft sweetness the raisins give counteracted by the kick of the cinnamon, and then the hot salt of the butter, all of it crisp and satisfying.

(I don’t understand not loving cinnamon raisin toast.)

Since that moment, I've brought that deliciousness back into my life. I found a source and I decided: I can buy cinnamon raisin bread. Even if I’m the only one who eats it. Do I always finish the loaf before it gets stale? Well…I confess, yes, usually I do. My kids and husband say “that’s gross!” but I don’t care—it makes me happy. It’s delicious to me, and maybe even more importantly, it connects me to the person I used to be before all of this adult nonsense started, when I could eat some toast and read my book on the patio in our backyard and I didn’t feel guilty over not doing something productive or worried about carbs, when my starting up at the mountains was because I was imagining something lovely, not something dangerous or destructive that might happen to my kids.

I had cinnamon raisin toast and it was a little spark of happiness.

Then my source dried up.

So on Sunday, I decided to make my own cinnamon raisin bread. I know how to make bread, and while I don’t do it often my husband and kids do love a nice soft white loaf, so I made two, one plain and one just for me.

Cinnamon raisin bread

Baking bread is a deeply sensory experience. That scent of rising yeast itself is nostalgic and comforting all at once, but when I opened the cinnamon and nutmeg to sprinkle on my loaf, now there was also the hint of Christmas eves and Thanksgiving eves, late nights up baking, but also chocolate chip cookies (I put a dash of cinnamon in mine) and peach crisp in the summer and apple crisp in September.

There is a secret to baking with raisins. It must be a secret because not many recipes that call for raisins have this step. My mom taught it to me when I was young: you have to soak the raisins in hot water, and then let them sit on something absorbent so they are damp but not dripping. So a half hour before the dough was finished rising, I put my raisins in a glass Pyrex, covered them with water, and put them in the microwave for a couple of minutes. When I opened the door, the hot, raisiny steam flowed out, and instantly, instantly I was back in the kitchen with my mother.

How old was I? Five or six, maybe seven. We were baking oatmeal raisin cookies together and I was helping because no one else was home. The kitchen was still its original orange 1970s self, linoleum floor and leatherette countertops, and I don’t, anymore, remember the exact steps of that recipe, but I remember that: the waft of scent as she poured the soaked raisins onto a clean kitchen towel. And her voice telling me that any time you put raisins into something you’re baking, you soak them like this, so then they won’t dry out what you are baking, but be juicy and more flavorful.

I ate the first cookie, hot from the oven, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, the oats just barely crisp, the cookie soft, the raisins plump.

And then there I was, crying in my own adult kitchen. Wishing to be back there, where I felt safe and happy and loved and I didn’t even know that I was carefree, but I was. When I didn’t know how complicated the world was, or even just my own little family, or my relationship with my mom. When the happiness was simple: learning how to do something, and then eating the results of your knowledge.

Plus, just having my mom with me.

And then—it isn’t just that she’s gone. It’s that you can’t hold on to time, except by memory. Because I also thought about the late December afternoon I baked cookies with Haley when she was two, three days after Christmas. I was hugely pregnant with Jake but it was just me and her, baking cookies together. She poured in the flour because that was her favorite part, and when they were baked we sat on the rug on the floor with our backs against the cupboards and ate some cookies, and she had a smear of chocolate on her cheek that stayed there until I bathed her that night. Days later, when I came home from the hospital with Jake, there were still some cookies left, and I ate one and cried my heart out, because I loved this new baby but I already missed those days of just Haley and me. I wasn’t just crying and holding a newborn and eating a slightly-stale cookie; that cookie itself was what I felt, the confusion and love and ache and happiness and sadness and fear and joy.

Just one of so many memories connected to time in the kitchen.

For me, it’s never just a chocolate chip cookie, a loaf of bread, a cinnamon roll. A slice of cake. Baking is about sugar and eggs, butter and vanilla. Sometimes nuts, sometimes raisins, sometimes blueberries or lemon or pumpkin. It is about the delicious thing you get to eat at the end of the process.

But it is also memory. It is also connection. It is always the ghosts gathering around me, the people who are gone, the versions of myself I used to be but can never be again. It is, yes, about sweetness and sugar, but there is always salt there, too.

This morning, I had cinnamon raisin toast for breakfast, sliced from the first loaf I’d made for myself. I didn’t worry about carbs and sugar content. I just sat at my kitchen counter. I slathered butter on the hot bread. I remembered my mom, I remembered myself. My kids laughing in the kitchen with me while we frosted sugar cookies during a snow storm. The birthday cakes (and birthday pies, fruit pizza, cheesecakes, lemon bars), the bread, the pizza dough. I remembered the kitchen in the house I grew up in, and my grandma’s tiny kitchen filled with cigarette smoke and the scent of coffee where she made me toast in the morning. All gone, in one way or another.

But I am still here and I will savor every bite.