Corndogs and Cavemen (or how to be a “clean” eater)

 

 

There is a running joke in my family about how many corn dogs I ate when pregnant with my first child who is now 5 years old. The image of the Town Pump convenience store marquee reading, “Corn Dogs: 2 for $1” now haunts my dreams. But at the time, it literally made my mouth water as I whipped my car around, dashed into the gas station and had double corn dog dinner for 1 alone in my car sometimes more than once a week.

 

Doesn’t sound that evil right? Except I kept doing it, giving in to my cravings’ every whim even when I had gained 60 pounds during my pregnancy! Could I blame it all on the corn dogs? Maybe not entirely but they had a great role along with my diet as a whole. Late in my pregnancy I had a corn dog from the concession stand at a football game and that night I honestly thought I was going into labor. Instead, I was just reaping the not so beneficial benefits of what that measly corndog did to my digestion! That very well may have been the last corn dog I ate…ever. Now, the running corn dog joke isn’t so much a knee slapper as it is a painful reminder. Let’s break down the basics of a corn dog.

 

First: The stick, harmless and zero calories per serving (as long as you don’t eat it)…not the culprit!

 

Second: the meat. What kind of animal produced this meat? It’s most likely the unsavory scraps from an array of stock anywhere from chicken, turkey, hog and cattle…all together. I mean they all lived together on the farm, yeah? Why not stick em in the sausage press together too?! Bleached, rinsed, dyed, salted, mixed meat.

 

Third: The cornbread. Don’t start counting this as your vegetable serving. Most likely there is no corn in your average corn dog. More-so, a batter made of white flour, white sugar and oil, with some yellow dye and artificial corn flavoring.

 

Fourth: The deep fat fry. A deep, sizzling, bubbling bath of hot Canola Oil.

Enough. I have said enough.

 

Now, how much of the former do YOU want to put in your body. Yes, it all tasted delicious when you put it all together. But like the animals that made up the meat, together doesn’t always mean better! On their own, these ingredients are lacking in nutrients, packed with fat and sugar, OVERLOADED with sodium and preservatives, and drugging your brain to tell you that it’s good and you want more. When really your body is crying out, “I AM GETTING NOTHING FROM THIS GARBAGE! FEED ME REAL FOOD!” But all your appetite hears is, “MORE CORNDOGS!”

 

Slowly but surely I have made more and more healthy decisions about how I was fueling my body. It started with weaning some very commonly known naughty foods from my diet, straying away from ‘fast food’, buying less processed food from the store and eating more from our garden. The real eye opener for me was when I really started to learn about what is IN food and what our bodies NEED from food and how to find REAL FOODS that are friendly to our bodies. This was a gradual process for me as I learned, practiced, made some mistakes and learned and practiced some more! If I were to do it again, I would have cold-turkey cut myself off from all the over processed garbage out there. Completely weaned myself overnight from the toxins, fats, sugars, rubbish in the country’s “food” that does nothing but enable me to become slave to the artificial nonsense we all eat! But that is knowing what I know now and wishing I could fast track the process.

 

Here is my rule of thumb:

 

Would a caveman eat it?

 

This means, could you hypothetically hunt, garden, scavenge or gather this food to feed your family?

 

AND if you did not have unlimited supply of food, how would you ration it to give you the most energy and last the entire day? Answer: Frequent small meals. Frequent small meals. Frequent small meals. There is such wisdom and truth in this concept. Embrace it.

 

Protein: Lean meats, the less processed the better. I live on a cattle ranch and yes we do have our meat processed. You must if you don’t want it to spoil. Meat is not cheap. That’s why meat processing is a thing; people want to be able to store their meat and feed their families. With that said, the cheaper the meat is (2 for $1 corn dogs, 5 for $5 packages of Lunchmeat, etc) the more processed it is and the less meat you are actually eating. GO to the deli or the butcher, read the labels on your meat. Be smart. Support your local butcher shop and in turn you are supporting local ranchers, boosting local economy AND your health. BOOM! Two birds, one stone. That’s how the caveman ate his white meat.

 

Carbohydrates: Shouldn’t “carb” be considered a four letter word? To most the country it is! To the extent that “Gluten-Free” has become the “he-who-should-not-be-named” when referring to the evil Voldemort that is wheat, flour, gluten….CARBS. Except, minor detail, carbohydrates do not always come from grain and they are not all bad! Processed, bleached, refined grains are not digested the way the original grain was meant to be digested. Simple truth. It’s science people. Also, if you still can’t handle the Gluten, get your carbs from fruit, vegetables, potatoes, lentils, whole grains. The caveman ate grains that he farmed himself, vegetables, fruits as well. That or he sent his berry picking kids into the wilderness to gather it for their breakfast.

 

Healthy Fats: Eating fat does not make you fat. Eating bad fat makes you NOT burn off your own fat reserves but eating good fats like those in nuts, avocado, seeds…stuff the caveman would gather in the brush…helps your body by getting the proper biological necessity of fat for healthy brain function AND takes the excess fats out of your system with it. Not to mention, helps your fish not stick to the pan when you are cooking it. Just saying.

 

So if you want to eat “clean” look for foods with very few (and I mean VERY few) ingredients. The closer to nature, the cleaner it is.

 

Learn how to make things yourself! I couldn’t find a yogurt I loved without all the added nonsense…So I learned how to make it at home! Delicious and I know EXACTLY what’s in it! Same with bread! Shopping can be very frustrating when trying to eat clean so simplify it for yourself. Less packaged foods means less packages to read. Remember, CAVEMAN! He couldn’t read so you shouldn’t have to either!

 

Buy in bulk for fruits and veggies. Eat a lot of them so you don’t have to throw it out when it goes bad! Costco is life.

 

Buy local farmers market food! Buy a lot and freeze or can!

 

Plant a garden! Look up square foot gardening, or container gardening if you don’t have space for a full garden. Get an indoor plant light if you live in Narnia (Always winter, can’t rottotill the tundra) like I do. If Matt Damon can plant potatoes on Mars, you have no reason not to plant something. Even if it’s live basil from the produce aisle that just sits in your window and you water it long enough to eat it. Plants are our friends and our food.

 

Most of all, TRY NEW THINGS! If the idea of eating healthy food turns up your nose, grow up you picky little baby! You have a car right? Or know someone who does that gives you rides places…Well you wouldn’t put gas in a diesel engine, or diesel in a gas engine so don’t put the wrong kind of fuel in your own machine, your BODY! Show yourself more respect than you would your car. The wrong fuel in the wrong machine, even if it’s a GREAT machine, a HOT machine, a TIGHT little Sports car with racing stripes or a BEAST of a monster truck and straight pipes…it could blow up! Fuel a pregnant (or not pregnant) lady with corndogs, she will blow up! True story. Be nice to your body. If you want to look good in a loin cloth like Cro-Magnon man, and throw boulders around like no big deal, eat like he did!

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National Guitar Day?

My artistic, beautiful, exuberant mother informed myself and City Mouse that today is National Guitar Day. However accurate that is or not, she decided Country-City Mice needed to do something to celebrate.

Flashback to 1994:

The house on Wasuki street was empty. No more couches, dining room table, television, even my mom’s favorite painting of a little cottage in the Swiss mountainside no long hung in its regular spot. But I do remember sitting in the empty living room after watching my mom pull a large,oblong, cardboard box from an obscure closet shelf…the last thing in our house that had yet to be loaded into the moving truck. And for good reason, today was my 6th birthday as well as the day we would leave our Colorado home for the Bitterroot Valley of Montana.

I opened my birthday present. And my heart opened a chamber of love for the guitar on that day that I turned 6 years old that would last every day following!

I didn’t know how to play it of course but I didn’t let that stop me. At the KOA campground we stopped in for the night, I sat under a pine tree next to the walking trail, left out my cardboard box the guitar came in and I begun singing as I strummed open chords on a toy acoustic guitar that surely wasn’t in tune. But I sang my heart out. The words I sang I made up as I went. The topic of which I am unsure but the feeling I felt as passersby listened on, like an older couple with a grey miniture snauzer on it’s leash, was a feeling of refreshment, joy, freedom. I felt capable of marvelous things. AND I made a solid 35 cents in random small coins that passing fellow campers dropped in my cardboard box.

On to the wretched years of Junior High:

I was in 8th grade and I had a vision of my self. I even sketched it in ammeter cartoon style as a pixie-haired rock star with metallic pink pants and an electric guitar. My loving, guiding, supporting older sister City-Mouse handed down her classical acoustic guitar along with a few simple chords and picking patterns. I literally played that guitar until I winced at the slightest touch of my fingers, even shampooing my choppy short hair was painful. But soon my fingers grew callused and my eagerness to practice grew even more.

I tried songs by John Bon-Jovi, Allison Krauss, Jimmy Eat World..but no matter what I did I simply could NOT make my music sound the way theirs did on the radio. I would try and try and try until I was in tears. I finally gave up. I wouldn’t waste another second being something I was not. I was no Bon Jovi. I took what little knowledge I had of music and guitar and I quit. I quit trying to sound like them. I began writing my own songs.

Flashforward to 2007:

I was nineteen years old home for the summer from college and excited to join my mom and younger siblings for a Fourth of July trip to Cour de ‘Laine. We walked the docks near the lake, buzzing with vendors selling trinkets to face paint, balloons, even cars. My mom left us for a few minutes in a scurry back to where she had parked the mini van. I stood, stumped alongside my siblings as we waited. She came back with my large black guitar case. The spoils of my summer job, a $350 Alvarez eletrci-acoustic guitar. Named, Blaze, after the man who sold it to me at Music Villa in Bozeman, MT. I rolled my eyes as my mom pointed to an open spot on the sidewalk and nudged the guitar into my arms. So many people walking around, all anticaipating the firework show planned for that evening. Not as fearless as I had been at the KOA when I was six, I reluctantly began to play and sing, trying to avoid eye contact with any of the many strangers as they walked by, even stopped to listen. I played songs I had written as well as some covers I had finally mastered by taking guitar classes as a college Freshman. Before I knew it a boy my age with an african drum sat down next to me and hit rhythmically along with every song I played! I wasn’t even paying attention to the money accumulating in my guitar case. I wasn’t even AWARE my mother had laid it out to collect! This time there was more than .35 cents worth in coins you couldn’t use on the campsite laundromat. I blushed and kept on performing. Next time I looked down the case was empty. The money was gone. I still had an audience, among whom were my three younger siblings and my mom grinning as they ate hot fresh pizza from a street vendor down the block. I wasn’t upset to have unknowingly paid for dinner, but at least they could have brought me a slice!

Today, February 2016:

My 5 year old son just lost his first tooth. The tooth fairy left a large pile of coins (I’m sure a reward for his reluctant yet consistent care he took in practicing good oral hygiene) of which he decided to spend on a $1.50 Harmonica. He practiced all night with his uncle, an extremely talented guitarist who accompanied him in preparation for last week’s open mic night at the local coffee shop. As we watched him, I could remember myself at a similar age fearlessly playing music for strangers on an instrument I had only picked up the day before. I was so proud of him as I could see a look on his face that resembled a feeling of refreshment, joy, and freedom. He felt capable of marvelous things.

 

Nice Girl Project

I would like to bring attention to a topic that has been heavy on my mind recently and even more so now that all the kiddies are bopping back to school. I would like to contribute some sort of project to bring awareness to the importance of being a life long “nice girl” I haven’t quite decided how or what or when this is going to happen, nor have I found a proper venue to propel this forward. but I’d like to start with a brief background of where I’m coming from. It started by posing this brief question:

I’m working on a project and need your opinions. Men, women, boys and girls: how would you teach your daughter (sister,wife,friend,etc) to be a ‘nice’ girl? Specifically in regards to her interactions with other girls. I see a lot of bullying and I’m working on an article to address it. Thanks for your input!
 
And here are a few of the astounding a answers I received (feel free to comment or email me your own input!)
 
“If you teach your children about how the Savior treated people and teach them to implement this in their lives you cant go wrong. I know this is easier said than done but, I know it is doable. They will also watch the example you set at parents. Be kind, never gossip or trash talk another. Treat people with kindness and respect, even if they don’t necessarily deserve it. It is very hard in today’s society to teach especially girls/young women to have good self esteem. I don’t believe that girls that bully/verbally abuse others have a good sense of self-worth. If they did they wouldn’t bully.” JT June 24 2013
 
“My Mom used to say, “Consider” the Source. A hard concept for a young person to understand but maybe true.” PM Jun 24 2013
 
“i honestly think most times this behavior comes directly from parents, also have noticed with a lot of kids they would rather bully and criticize another for their accomplishmentsrather than b working to improve themselves” CW Jun 24 2013
 
 
There are sooooo many more wonderful words of wisdom that could shed light on this subject. How can we implement them into our lives and TEACH others ( especially girls) by example to be a force of good? Rather than put others down to gain acceptance of the cool crowd?
 
My goal is to put the mean girl fad to rest. She is soooo last season and the Nice girl is the new “it” girl! As it should be! 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’m currenly iDoing a giveaway…first giveaway ever! Woot woot! And it’s a sad, small attempt to kick off my project. Here’s the low down: I have some clothing items to give away to a deserving (hard working, honest, humble, NICE to others) girl. The sizes are a size six shoe, xs-small skirt and pants, and xs top. (Probably middle school aged) I could sell these items easily but I would like to ANONOMOUSLY gift them to a deserving young lady who may be financially strapped (but more importantly id like to focus on genuine acts of kindness…this is to focus on a deserving nice girl more than a charity) and could use a confidence boost this school year Please private message me your nominations and include a convincing reason why your girl deserves this special treat! Email me: haelimae.allen@gmail.com

Cheadle Hall

I love where I live as it is. Just the right balance of flat and hills, beautiful skyline, green grass, fresh water, northern lights even! Aesthetically appealing aside, I have an amazing lifestyle I have been blessed to become a part of. People have asked me in the past questions like, “Don’t you go crazy out there all day?” or “Aren’t you bored?” My answer, Not At All! I have 2,000 acres to explore, in-laws who I get along with swimmingly, and every day is different! Sure, the ‘simple life’ by no means is simple. Ranch life keeps you on your toes, and devotes all your efforts. But, There is always something to do on the ranch, family to spend time with, and when we feel like getting out…we have an incredible time and (believe it or not other people live out here in the sticks) neighbors! Our ‘community’ out here is a broad radius of about 30 miles consisting of families young and old, some of which have been in the area for several, several years! And they have all been each others out-of-town social life for generations. Which brings me to my topic, Cheadle Hall.

Cheadle hall is a community gathering place just a mile from our ranch directly off the highway. It was an old army barracks in the 1940s that was actually taken down and moved to where it stands now, and reassembled! For years it was a dance hall, community hall, craft club, school etc. In the last 15 to 20 years activity has slowed as the generation who grew up going to functions there as children have been growing older and many folks have moved away or just otherwise dwindled in interest. It’s become an occasional place for memorial services and monthly volunteer fire fighter meetings.

A few months ago a meeting was held by the caretakers (a couple who have lived next door to Cheadle Hall since the 1970s) and a few other of the more active Cheadle Hall board members. They inquired of us “younger folks” if we would be interested in keeping Cheadle alive, or boarding her up for good. This is where my husband, in-laws, and a few close neighbor friends stepped in. We didn’t want to see this building that has such historical and sentimental meaning to the area simply go to waste. One of the issues was the cost of electricity. A minimum monthly payment of $40 is charged merely to keep it plugged in, regardless whether a switch is ever flicked or not. Membership fees were discussed, fundraisers where discussed, but what it came down to is that we simply needed to relight the fire and get the area excited for Cheadle activities and get-togethers again!

We did just that. Myself, and my family and a few neighbors planned a summer kick-off party. All it took was a cleaning crew, a newsletter, some flyers, a good connection to the local paper and by the time the party night rolled around we had the Hall filled with neighbors and friends and good food! Kids were running around indoors and out having the time of their lives and everyone was full of smiles. The party consisted of a potluck, music and dancing! Myself, my husband and his sister, along with some local musicians who are close friends of ours provided a variety of music to sing along, sit back and listen, or even get up and dance! One of our buddies who came to play music is also a reporter for the local paper and wrote up an incredible article about the history of Cheadle hall and an account of our kick off party! The event was free admission but we collected $150 in donations! Plenty to keep the Hall running for the next several months! I would say with that kind of turnout, and the happy reactions from those who attended, (and even those who couldn’t attend but contributed otherwise) that our goals to stir up some communal excitement were reached! I has several folks thank us for putting the party on and asked when the next shindig would be!

I just adore the sense of fellowship out here on the ranch and its surrounding areas. It’s so different from that which is within city limits. So when people ask, “Don’t you go crazy out on the ranch?” my answer is, “I would be crazy not to live here!” and when they ask if I ever get bored, I tell them, “Bored of what? We work hard, and party harder!” I adore the ranch life, and adore the ranching community. There are millions of wonderful places to live in the world I am sure, but I choose here. It’s where my true happiness is found and I wouldn’t change one thing about it!

This is not a typical “country mouse” blog post. But I feel very passionate about what I’m going to share. It’s a topic that has been hot on my mind and I must expound on it as I believe it is something applicable to many, near and far, if not all.

The word “need” has been thrown around a lot lately. Mostly as a way, I think, to urge those teetering back into the arms of fellowship at church. I first heard it from our stake president,”tell him I NEED him here” and then from my relief society presidency, “remind them how much we NEED them!” Which is all well and good. But I want to express what we all truly “need” from those who supposedly aren’t the ones teetering, or lost, or slipping away. Those who supposedly are the ones in need.

Clicke here for audio: “Need”

We all need to practice what we preach and focus on rescue, on missionary work, and strengthening our families as a byproduct. Revolving our social spheres on Sunday for three hours rather than spreading the gospel by word and deed the other six days in the week is why our investigators and newly baptized members don’t stay or don’t come at all to church. Someone, anyone, everyone should introduce themselves and befriend anyone visiting church for the first time or attending an activity. I have personally had intense spiritual promptings and miracles that lead and inspired me to invite individuals to church or an activity. And at times an even greater miracle that they actually come! I can’t tell you how frustrating it was to hear whispers about “who is that with haeli” while having to drag people by their arm in order for ME to introduce THEM! It’s a huge concern and I really feel like people are just unaware of the impact NEEDED by their actions. Fellowshipping isn’t just about making new families that move in feel welcome…or just saying hi and shaking a visitors hand on Sunday. It’s during the week that builds those individuals up and encourages them to come back and makes them feel like an asset rather than merely increasing population on Sundays. If we invested our efforts in bringing in the lords sheep rather than gossiping or griping about our leaders or our youth or each other…can you imagine how we could bless the lives of those in our midst? That is what I mean when I say Sunday is not my social hour or a Day to dress nice as I’m in Grubbs on the ranch all day during the week! It’s a day to grow so I can be an extension of The Lords work and a vessel through which his gospel can reach all I come in contact with. Never for my own benefit but for theirs. I do feel very blessed however although the work is never easy and more often then not heart wrenching, but it helps me be a better wife and better mother when I am in tune enough to share the gospel. I compel you to truly seek opportunities to serve and to teach. as women especially we hold special and unique abilities and duties as wives mothers sisters and daughters to do that work and teach our families to follow suit.

Xoxo-CountryMouse

Ps…my bestie from texie posted this on her blog almost simultaneously as I posted this. Please follow her missionary example! You never know the impact you can make. If nothing else, learn from the thoughts she shares on being “more diligent and concerned at home”

Country Mouse Goes to a City Wedding

Want to know the recipe for a crazy adventure? One scoop love struck Montana-grown bride to be, two scoops very pregnant home-body little sister, one April wedding in Manhattan, blend it all up with a fun-loving, party animal Hispanic family-of-the-groom and you’ve got your self one eventful weekend! But that’s not all…

It started around Christmas when my older sister, City Mouse called to tell me the most romantic engagement story. Which I’m not sure if I should tell here or save for another Country Mouse-City Mouse blog topic showdown…I will just say, I was in the tractor feeding cows with my husband when she called from her new fiancé’s family’s home in Connecticut after a day in a Christmas adorned time square to tell me she was going to marry Hot Sauce, her spicy, Hispanic, geek chic, funny, intelligent boyfriend! I squealed! Literally. My husband jumped in his tractor seat.

The months and wedding planning flew by and soon we found ourselves coming down to it. The wedding was to be in the Manhattan Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was thrilled to be able to go but had one hang up. My 1 and 1/2 year old wild little cowboy I would have to leave behind. And he was at a very delicate and clingy stage but it had to be done. The visual of a 6 and 1/2 month pregnant me, several bags of luggage, most likely wearing heels, trying to wrangle my little wrangler toddler boy through an airport, let alone manhattan, most truthfully and literally gave me night terrors.

So I went alone, leaving my son with his dad. And I boarded the plane from Billings. Not gonna lie, I got several looks flying in the physical state I was in. I may have only been 6 1/2 months along due to a genetically short torso, I tend to look full term by about 5 months! But I made it. Even though the flight attendants may have looked at me with apprehension. I landed at JFK and found my mom there waiting. Her flight had landed shortly before mine. She and I would be the only family able make the long trip to NYC but we were wide open for adventure.

We spent the next day taking on the big city ourselves. My sister was solidifying last minute wedding plans so we braved the shuttle, train, taxi, and subway, whatever it took to get us in and out, underneath and around Manhattan. It was thrilling seeing places I had only read about or seen in movies. Grand Central Station for one. Not at all like anything I have ever experienced…the biggest train station I had ever been to prior to that was more like a grey hound bus station. My mother and I spent the entire day stumbling through a lost, but eager and excited stupor to visit places like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Manhattan Apple Store, 5th Avenue Saks (I didn’t dare go in…as I doubt I fit the dress code just to window shop there let alone afford anything), the Plaza Hotel(where I was starstruck just know Marilyn Monroe had been in the same Building, let alone lobby, maybe even bathroom! Once upon a time) and of course Central Park. We had vendor hotdogs, got my portrait drawn by a street artist and ate the BEST gyro I have eaten in my life! We walked through a fraction of a corner of Central Park and shopped four…yes FOUR different H&M stores within only a handful of blocks. Sadly I couldn’t find children’s or maternity in any of them but later put together that most manhattan shoppers aren’t shopping for stretchy pants, nursing tops or hauling their kiddos around in that part of the city. But FOUR H&Ms! I was in heaven! Because the nearest H&M store to me back home is a 9 hour drive away!

When the day of the wedding rolled around, my mom and I got dressed early that morning knowing we wouldn’t be back to the hotel until after the day’s and night’s festivities. We were all dolled up, me in my all white top and skirt (which I hunted and hunted and hunted for and miraculously still fit 6 weeks after I bought it in time for the wedding…a lot can change in that amount of time when you have a bun in the oven!) I had a yellow sash that my sister sewed and cute yellow sandals to match. I hairsprayed my curls into stiff but efficient ringlets and crossed my fingers that the humidity would be kind. My mom and I waited in the lobby for the groom’s mother and sister to pick us up as it would be faster to carpool with them, and less hectic and dirty (in all white) than taking the train.

They picked us up and we were happily joking and laughing on our way to see our two widdle wuv birds wed in the Manhattan Temple.

And then the hood began to ooze smoke out of its clentched jaw.
And then the car started making odd noises.
And then the car slowly erched to a hault.
And we were stuck.
Cars honking,speeding past, flipping the bird.
We were stuck in the middle of the freeway.
In the Bronx.
On the way to my sisters wedding.

All I could think is, “if we were in montana some nice old rancher would stop to help us!” But here, with my uncultured white girl, agricultural country girl, terrified of the unknown big city, little simple mind was praying “nobody stop. Nobody stop. Nobody stop” but then a car pulled up and two big Hispanic guys came up. My sister’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law to be rattling in Spanish to these guys. I of course had no clue what was going on, my archived high school and college Spanish language knowledge flew right out the window. But I soon saw they were there to help. They couldn’t do much but soon the police were there telling us we could be in the middle of the road. Duh. As if we wanted to be there. They finally got the car off the road and the cops were still telling us, “you can’t be here.” I figured, “oh sure, we will just hitch hike. All dressed up for a wedding. I am sure some nice friendly gangsters will gladly drive us into downtown manhattan. Or we will just get mugged.”

So the tow truck came. Told us to get back in the car. And the tow truck towed us. INSIDE the car and dropped us off at a sketchy little gas station in the Bronx. We waited another hour and the grooms father and brother finally made it through lunch hour traffic to pick us up.

Despite all the anxiety, more on my part being a very wary, hormonal, pregnant country girl, we made it to manhattan and boy if I have never been more happy to see the gleaming gold on Angel Moroni that adorns the top steeple of the temple. Once inside, the business and hustle of Manhattan outside felt like earths, and moons, and planets away from us. It was quiet and reverent and sanctuary inside. I was able to sit with friends and family to see my lovely sister (emotional but relieved as they had postponed the wedding 2 hours so we could be there…) and her perfect match be sealed for all time and all eternity. It was wonderful.

Following the ceremony we went out into the city and walked though Central Park for pictures of all us sisters and brothers and brides maids, with the bride and groom. The newly weds split a heart shaped pretzel from the street vendors, stopped to give Our respects to the strawberry fields memorial, and rode back to the temple in a bike pulled carriage. Ate some messy but delicious street vendor gyros and on to the reception!
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I had no idea what I was in for when we pulled up to the church. But we were instantly greeted by caterers offering us coconut shrimp, chicken skewers, won tons, and all kinds of delicious appetizers. We went into the reception area glowing with colorful paper lanterns, and 1,000 paper cranes my sister folded herself in rainbow colors! I had never seen a church gym transformed into such a party scene. We had an incredible dinner, and were just about to eat cake when we heard music playing. Then in through the door comes a full, live mariachi band! What?!

There was dancing, dancing, and more dancing! Much of the dancing being done by my sister’s close Montana and Utah friends who had been able to attend! It was hilarious and wonderful to see a little group of white folks boogying right along side the crowds of hispanic family and friends. The band paused to toast a lively, “Viva Mexico!” Only to be stunned with silence from the crowd. The Mariachi whispered over his shoulder to the groom, “where are you guys from?” Then corrected himself with an sounding, “Viva Honduras!” And the wedding party roared with cheers!

For a pregnant, apprehensive, home sick mama missing her baby and home back at the ranch…I had quite an adventure I will never forget. It was incredible to not only attend such an event full of music, food, and most of all love, but to see that was a big part of the new life my sister was marrying into. It was wonderful. My unborn baby even got excited by the party food and mariachi music. To this day, now 8 months old, she goes crazy over Mexican food and salsa music!

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City Mouse Goes to a Country Wedding

I always have to laugh at how we define big towns vs. small towns. One person’s Salt Lake City is another person’s Salt Lake Traffic Light. (I was informed of this by a friend from Tokyo who was very disappointed when his airplane to SLC touched down in “the middle of the countryside.”)

That said, the following story takes place in the largest city in the state of Montana. Billings is a bustling metropolis of 100,000 people built on the industry of cattle shipping. So, you know. Town. They even have an Olive Garden, so for all the country mice gathered there for a wedding a couple years back it was bound to be one heck of a hoedown. For City Mouse big sister, it was an adventure into the untamed wilds of the West!

I was living in Provo, Utah when I found out that my little sister was getting married to her handsome cowboy beau in the summer of 2009. My chances to go back home to Montana were too few and far between so I was happy to hear that she was planning to hold the wedding at the Billings, Montana LDS (Mormon) temple. Mormon weddings often take place in our temples, where we believe that we can perform sealing ordinances that bind families together not just for this life but after death as well. Because it’s a religious ordinance it’s not like the stereotypical wedding in a chapel with bridesmaids and photographers and lots of guests. It’s a private ceremony with typically only a few friends and relatives and is very simple. Because of this, most of the festivity parts of the wedding center around the photographs on the temple grounds and then, of course, the reception.

With all of this in mind, I excitedly planned my trip to Montana. I commute by bike and haven’t owned a car in years so long trips mean I get to rent a car and renting a car usually means one very important thing: new fancy stereo system. It’s very exciting for the first couple hours.

I had my iPod connected and was rocketing down I-15 in my shiny little blue rental car. I had all of my favorite music playing as loudly as I could as I sailed through the landscape of northern Utah and into Idaho. Right south of Pocatello, the landscape starts getting all scrubby and surreal, like you’re slowly driving onto Mars. It’s that landscape where they film action movies now to make you think they’re in Afghanistan. The rocks grow into spiky, bizarre shapes and textures and the trees can’t decide whether they’re trees or short, angry animals. Listening to my wacky eclectic music as I looked out on this landscape got more and more disjointed. I have a lot of world music in my collection – I especially love African, Arabic and Spanish music – and I’m pretty sure these songs were written without the inspiration of the sagebrush of the American West. I started thinking how funny it was that these same landscapes had been seen by so many different people who had sung such different songs. This used to all be Shoshone country, but I’m sure they weren’t the first ones to move through the valleys on their way from summer to winter camps. What were the songs they sang as they journeyed through? The early white settlers who came to these areas were probably first Mountain Men, maybe French, and later the Mormons and then the homesteaders and cattle ranchers spreading out across the American West. They would have all sung their own songs. I turned off my African jams and drove in silence for a while.

I drove up highway 20, leaving the flat, quiet plains of Southeast Idaho and climbing up into the Yellowstone area. The geothermal forces rolling beneath the road spun me northward up the narrow Gallatin river valley and into Bozeman, Montana, where I’d lived for five great years getting my undergraduate degree. I was happy to see the familiar foothills leading up to the Bridger mountains, and more songs came back to mind. I turned on the FM radio and let it scan around through stations as it scanned through my memories, from classic rock to country to NPR, and I happily re-lived the times of my life that those sounds had defined. But it was the good old wacky independent college station that served up the happiest tunes of the trip: I tuned to it just in time to hear the first chords of a familiar song. And this time the song reminded me of where I was going and who I was going to see, and I broke out into a giant grin as I sailed over Bozeman pass into Livingston.

“I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin’ me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I’m a hopin’ for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama any way you feel
Hey mama rock me,”

The summer that my little sister had worked as a camp counselor in North Carolina she left with a a guitar and came back with a guitar full of songs. This was one that she would always sing – an Old Crow Medicine Show song that she’d sung with her campers night after night. And she and I had lived together for just a few months in Missoula before I’d left for grad school and of all her songs, this was one of the ones that I loved to hear her sing the most. Let me tell you about Country Mouse, that little mama knows how to rock you.

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When I finally got to Billings I was tired and stiff, but getting to see the family and the family-to-be made the long drive worthwhile. I got busy with my mom and my sisters helping to set everything up for the big day. My sister had plenty of need to catch up on her sleep but she was there in the gym of the nearby church building with us, directing us on how to set up for the reception. I was touched with what she’d done with her time, creativity and limited resources. I know a lot of brides-to-be get hung up on spending money they don’t have to make a party memorable for all the wrong reasons. But Country Mouse was a classy girl who didn’t complain for a second that she didn’t have a party planner and a team of professionals to roll out the rented linens and the miles of twinkle lights and tulle that too many people deem necessary for a wedding. She had some adorable orange gerbera daisies, some teal ribbon and some sticks she’d gathered from the ranch and we turned them into adorable centerpieces in a warm, inviting room.

P8290018The next morning came too soon. I put on the “brown dress of destiny,” the polka-dotted brown shirt dress that I knew was meant to be as soon as I’d seen it there on the 75% off rack in exactly my size and exactly my sister’s wedding colors. I joined my mom, sisters, little brother and our grandmother outside the temple after the sealing ceremony as we waited for the bride and groom to emerge.

When I saw my little sister, my rockin’ mama, come out of the temple the first thing I noticed was her radiant smile. She was happy. I know we like to say that brides are beautiful, elegant, memorable, and she was all of those, but more important than how she looked was how she was. I saw her hand in hand with her cowboy man and I knew she’d made the best possible choice she could have. Most importantly, she knew that. She was confident that this was a good man, a good match for her, and being with him forever filled her with complete, comprehensive joy.

She was in a re-tailored version of our mother’s wedding dress, and the lace around the neck and sleeves lay perfectly. As she smiled for a nearby camera, though, she winked conspiratorially and lifted up the hem of her dress to reveal ornate teal cowboy boots. This classy lady was not keeping the cowgirl completely under wraps.P8290060

It was a clear, beautiful day. It was a small but happy group that had gathered. It was really touching to me to see a thread in my life continuing forward. I have these little threads that start and I never know whether they’re going to end up somewhere and then years later I come back and find them again. This time it was about this place – we had come as a group of teenage girls from my church group on a summer trip through Billings and had stopped to see the temple grounds that had recently been purchased, before any building began. Later, as a freshman in college in Bozeman, I made the two-hour drive with my friends to see the temple dedication and felt a special connection to this place even though it was far from my hometown and wouldn’t be the temple that my family visited regularly. And now to find myself back here with my little sister and the love of her life on a lovely August day was really touching, and really heartening to me. I looked up over the rimrocks – the rocky outcropping that frames Billings and sets it off from the endless plains that stretch into forever beyond it. The sky was bright and criss-crossed with contrails that looked like lonely cattle paths that centuries of animals and their keepers had followed as they plodded on, not realizing they had walked off the prairie, over the edge of the horizon and right off into the sky.

I looked back to my radiant sister, surrounded by the friends and family that loved her, and felt privileged to be here, even though I felt like the strange wanderer roaming through the town and these were the kindly homesteaders letting me stay a few nights in their hospitality.

After the wedding, we headed over to the chapel for the reception and a hearty lunch, and were joined in the parking lot by a herd of antelope. You can make the Billings-is-a-city argument, but antelope do not attend city weddings, my friends! I’m pretty sure they were trying to sneak in and get in on the cake.

And my sister being my sister and my brother-in-law being my brother-in-law, there was music. There was musical music for as long as everyone could sing. There were acoustic guitars and harmonies and breathtakingly beautiful melodies. Country Mouse and Mr. Mouse wowed us with acoustic duos of old Gospel songs, and it’s not just any wedding where the newlyweds outshine anyone you could have hired as musical talent.

We waved goodbye to the couple as they drove off into that prairie-horizon and we got to work getting everyone packed up and safely on their way. And we had songs humming under our breath and strumming in our hearts for days to follow.

Rewind

Last night I got on the subway to go visiting teaching. It was only three stops away, on the line I always ride, and so I didn’t have to be on edge, constantly watching the stops like I do if I’m going somewhere unfamiliar.

So I had the luxury of losing myself listening to a podcast. There are quite a few that I enjoy, some of my favorites being This American LifeHardcore HistoryFreakonomics and of course A Prairie Home Companion. Listening to Garrison Keillor’s soothing baritone voice is nice anywhere; doing it with headphones so you walk around in public chuckling under your breath is priceless. Doing this in China where a bunch of strangers are going to be staring at the only white girl on the subway no matter what just adds to the delicious incongruity of it all.

I listened to Garrison tell about another exploit from Darlene at the Chatterbox Café as I watched the subway stations tick by. But I let my thoughts drift a little as I looked around the inside of the subway car and started reading ads and posters. I was snapped out of my reverie and realized that I hadn’t been listening clearly to the last few sentences of the story. I pulled my iPod out of my pocket and swiped the screen awake. There’s a handy button on the podcast app that lets you go back 10 seconds; I pushed it three times. I started listening and, yes, this was around where I stopped paying attention.

Just as I was thinking this, the subway was nearing a station and slowing down. I tried to catch one of the moving signs outside to double-check that I knew which station we were at. It should be Shanghai Science and Technology Musuem, I thought, since we had already passed Century Park. But then, in the non-verbal weird logic part of my thoughts, I was remembering the skip-back-10-seconds button and was puzzled for a moment about whether or not I had skipped back to before Century Park. Yes – that’s probably right. I skipped back three times so that probably put me right before we had stopped at Century Park so we must be there again.

It only lasted for the briefest flash. As soon as I was able to articulate the thought to myself I realized how totally ridiculous it was. I had to give myself a condescending little comment – “the podcast button does not have an effect on real time or the movement of the subway, genius.”

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I’ll leave you with a little video I took while waiting to cross the street outside the subway station. Asia’s big on skyscrapers that turn into light shows at night.

Spinning Straw into Gold

Click here for audio: Spinning Straw Into Gold

My husband is a Jack of all trades in a sense. He is a rancher, an auctioneer, a musician, hay broker, and trucker.Just to name a few! Last summer he pulled together his ranching knowledge and love for trucking when he found the opportunity to truck several hundred tons of hay and straw and sell to a large feedlot in dire need of feed. That opportunity opened several doors and he soon found himself with more hay hauls than one can count! The reason being…drought. Statewide we didn’t see the greatest hay crop last summer due to low precipitation all winter and spring. Forest fires were popping up left and right. Roundup, a town an hours drive southeast of us suffered terrible flooding two years ago, and then with a flip of a switch suffered horrible fires last summer. This found ranchers all over in a bind and hay prices were through the roof. Luckily my husband got in there and got a good deal on the stuff and found himself pretty busy loading his hay trailer to haul all over the state. He did this well into the fall, even winter, in time for ranchers to stockpile their hay for the snowy season.
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Before the grass has even proudly shown its green face, my husband is already revving his hay train engine ready to rock and roll. Knowing that several ranchers don’t have their usual 2 year old hay crop as a cushion this year due to last years drought, I have a sneaking suspicion he will be a busy, hay hauling, son of a bumble bee once again this summer!

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All this brings up the memory of last years drought. And reminded me of my first ever jab at “cowboy poetry” which is kind of a big deal around these parts. Our very own town holds an annual cowboy poetry festival every summer. These poets are hard core. I would never dare compete against them. But I like to challenge myself every once and again.

“Drought”

We pardoned at the River Styx

And fought in dire righteousness

For something much more

Tangible than gold

We held our hats and gripped the reins

Our horses restless in their manes

As the fiery serpent flicked

His fork-ed tongue

The dust brought in the scent of drought

The cattle moaning in their doubt

That spring would rescue

All their hungry fears

The warm wind bearing the bouquet

Of slightly musty two-year hay

That just may be the

Answer to a prayer

The serpent bruised the horses’ heels

But crushed its head beneath the wheels

Of God’s redeeming

Chariot of gold

—-

Xoxo- Country Mouse

Spanish Ward

Last summer, after I was married, we lived for a few months with my in-laws in Connecticut. Now, I’d been a bit of a City Mouse before. I’d lived in a couple areas in and around Tokyo, I’d lived in a city of 400,000 in Taiwan, and I’d lived for 4 years in Provo, Utah, which my Montana friends referred to as “the city” and my California friends referred to as “a small town.” But this was my first time experiencing the city life of the US East Coast, and I was loving it.

My in-laws live in the little tail of Connecticut, about 30 miles from the heart of New York City. The first thing I was surprised by was how close everything there seems. You get in the car and six miles later you’re in New York and if you’re not careful and you miss your highway exit you end up in New Jersey and it’s not even lunch time. Public transportation there is amazing (if a bit pricey) and you feel like the Indiana Jones of the urban jungle as you hop on a commuter train to Grand Central Station, swing your way over to a subway stop, and adventure your way all over the five boroughs of New York City. My husband and I trekked around Chinatown and Little Italy, funky art museums and music festivals in Brooklyn, and to every major museum in Manhattan. I even made him take me to the Uniqlo flagship store once I found out it existed. It’s one of my favorite clothing companies – I like to call it the Japanese Gap. And finding out there was one in America was almost as exciting as finding out it was right next to the original Macy’s. Like, you know, the giant department store that spawned all those parades that you imagine as being the world’s largest repository of funky silk scarves and pretentious rich-lady hats. Turns out husbands aren’t nearly excited about Japanese flagship stores or Macy’s locations, no matter how historic they are, but the beauty of it all is that after you bore them to death in one part of town you just hop on a subway and zip them off to another.

But the other interesting thing I observed living on the East Coast was how it was all so close, but it was fragmented into tiny little worlds. It’s like they were overlapping each other, all kind of existing in the same space. Inside each little world life for the people was extremely unique and distinct from the others. I’ve seen this before as a hallmark of the American experience but nowhere had I seen it so clearly as during those few months on the East Coast.

In the West, we’ve got plenty of room for things. And we see an array of people and societies but they’re all a bit more geographically distinct. I guess I really developed a mindset like this coming from a place where the most distinct ethnic groups were the “whites” and the “Indians,” but where their spheres were largely divided along actual borders and announced with signs. I wasn’t used to the neighborhood you lived in determining who you were, where your ancestors were from or what language you spoke. And I definitely wasn’t used to the expectations that changed as you crossed these subtle lines.

My in-laws attend a Spanish ward. In the LDS church, congregations are usually determined geographically, and living within a certain set of boundaries determines where and when and with whom you’ll attend church. But sometimes, based on the needs of certain areas, congregations (which are called wards or branches) are provided for speakers of different languages. Here in China, we attend an English-speaking ward. There were English and Portuguese wards where I lived in Japan. And all over the United States you’ll find wards and branches for speakers of Non-English languages. My husband served as a missionary in Dallas, Texas, in the Chinese branch, teaching Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants and students in their native language. It’s a really neat thing, I think, to see the diversity of backgrounds and lifestyles among church members, especially to those whose understanding of what Mormons are like may be based on stereotypes or their own experience with people in a certain socio-economic group.

And Spanish wards are something else. All the things I’d grown up with as a Mormon in the Western United States were still there. There was still a bishop and his counselors, still a women’s organization, a youth organization, still talks given every Sunday by three or four of the ward members on topics like charity or forgiveness or the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And there was still a feeling of love and acceptance even for the newcomers. In fact, you walk in the door of a Spanish ward and you feel like everyone’s long-lost cousin. Ladies who’ve never met you are kissing and hugging you, latching on to your arm and telling you what a lovely princess you are. But then there are the ways in which the Spanish ward is different from the English wards you grew up in, and they can be an absolute riot.

One of the things that stands out to me about my couple months in the Spanish ward is how many parties there were. Now granted, we were there during a particularly festive time of year – just as students were graduating and people were getting married. We kicked it all off with our own wedding. We had told my mother-in-law that we didn’t have a lot of money to spend so after the temple ceremony we just wanted to have maybe some punch, maybe a casual get-together for our friends. Erick said “a stereo and a bag of chips. Really, what else do you need?” But she looked at us with the “seriously, guys, come on” look. She said. “We are Spanish. It’s a wedding. We dance. We eat.”

And oh man, was that true. We danced. And we ATE. And we DANCED. And my mother-in-law hired a surprise mariachi band. They were in the middle of one of the old songs that everyone in the extended family knew and the mariachi singer shouted “¡Viva México!” Then everyone in the family glared and he leaned over to my father-in-law and asked “Where are you guys from?”

“Honduras.”

“¡Viva Honduras!”

And I thought the wedding was easily the biggest party of the year, but that was only one weekend. In the weeks that followed we had quinceañera parties, graduation parties, Relief Society parties. And my personal favorite was the ward Mothers’ Day party.

All the Mothers’ Days at church that I could remember growing up consisted of all the speakers that day talking about Moms, and all the Moms in the congregation getting a rose or a carnation. Then individual families went home and had dinners or spoil-mom days. I wasn’t aware that people had parties, or that those parties, like every other party every weekend, consisted of really huge meals and then a really huge dance. It was super fancy – the church gym was all decorated and set up with round tables and tablecloths and the men and the boys were the waiters. And then there was lots of loud Spanish music and my mother-in-law and all her lady friends had to get up and get down. It was so much fun and such a memorable party – it’s no surprise to me that Hispanic communities remain so tightly knit, even several generations after immigrating to the US.

And I easily felt a part of this new community. I really felt that I was genuinely appreciated and accepted. But it’s such a funny thing seeing how little worlds like this interact. And it’s interesting to see where the fracture lines still lie. The Spanish ward is part of a larger organization – a stake – made up of the other wards and congregations in the area. All of the other wards are English-speaking, and it just happens to be one of the most affluent areas in the country, so most of the “white” families that my in-laws and their friends interact with are very wealthy and very well-off. In fact, for most people, it’s easy to assume that all white people are rich, are Republicans, and hire people to clean their houses and trim their hedges. That is what they see in the “white” world around them. And it’s hard to understand the huge, complex realities of American society with such a limited snapshot.

And that’s all I really got too – snapshots of all these other little worlds. In my in-laws’ apartment building just about everyone is Hispanic. There’s a “Tabernaculo Real” around the corner which is where the Spanish Pentecostals meet on Sunday, another little world that overlaps with our own. Then down the street is a Haitian church. The local medical clinic had signs up in Haitian Creole which I realized I could read because it looks like French as sounded out by a child or a foreigner. If you go down a block the other way, there’s a huge Catholic church and a school where the services are in Polish. The Polish and the Italians are the “white” people here, and they built a lot of the houses on this side of town, though their demographic is moving out little by little each year.

Walking down the street to the train station, under the freeway into downtown, a white girl will start to feel like the odd one out, however Spanish her last name is, as a lot of the people she passes are black. I even had a funny moment as I took a long walk to get my hair and nails done one day. I’m definitely in the minority out in the “commuter towns” as being one of the people who doesn’t drive everywhere. I walked up to the west end of town to get my nails fixed by the Chinese ladies who had done them for my wedding and I had passed a hair salon on my way up. Realizing I really needed a trim, I decided to stop there on my way back home. An hour or so and one Dunkin’ donut later (it’s a long walk out to the Chinese ladies’ salon!) I stopped in the little hair salon, opening the door and looking around.

There wasn’t a desk with a receptionist and though there were a couple of chairs, only one was occupied by a customer and a stylist. The stylist was a middle-aged black lady; her customer was an older black lady getting a complicated dye job.

“Can I help you?” the stylist asked, looking me over and clearly wondering what on earth I was doing in this part of town.

“I was just wondering if you had any slots today to do a trim.”

“Do I look like I have time?” She continued whatever process the foil and bottles entailed.

“Do you have any free openings later?” I asked.

“I’ll be done with this one in a couple hours,” she answered.

“Ok – I’ll just come back,” I said, trying to sound pleasant and closing the door.

I didn’t go back. I still wonder if that was the best choice. I certainly didn’t feel like she knew what to do with me and wondered if it was just in everyone’s own interest to stay on our own sides of town. I’d grown up believing there were no differences between any of us, and was still a little bewildered that maybe there were certain businesses in certain parts of town that certain people just didn’t go to. I imagined the older lady getting her hair done would probably have felt just as uncomfortable walking into a nice upscale salon in Greenwich full of white ladies and gay men with spikey hair as I had felt upon realizing that maybe I wasn’t the average customer on that side of town. I was sad about it, in a way, because it really shouldn’t make any difference apart from whether or not the stylist knows how to manage different textures of hair. But it does, and though we as a nation think of ourselves as a melting pot we’re still, in a large way, more of a big chunky stew.

And the big challenge of our age is to learn how to deal with that.