Just Curious

We were dropping Murphy off at Camp Barksalot for a weekend stay before taking off on a short trip. They took him back to play and I was settling the bill when a man walked in behind me and spoke to the groomer/ camp counselor.

“Hello,” he said. “I’m here to pick up Barack.”

I handed over the signed form and started to follow Matt out the door, but I was dragging my feet. I stopped to look at a shelf of merch and started poking through the discount leash selection.

Matt realized I wasn’t behind him and returned to my side. “Do we need another leash?”

“Oh…” I said, looking back toward the door that Murphy had disappeared through, “maybe? I mean, you never know.”

“I thought we needed to get on the road?” Matt asked.

“I know but…” I leaned in closer and whispered. “I want to see this dude’s dog.”

“Why?” Matt sort of whispered back.

“Because…” I looked to the counter to see if we had drawn the man’s attention. We hadn’t. “I want to see if the dog is black.”

Matt put his arm around me and pulled toward the door. “You know the dog is black,” he said. “Let’s go.”

I was still trying to see as the door closed and I got into the car.

Some Unwanted Advice from Your Great Aunt Rae

Dear Class of 2023,

I want to tell you something that I wish someone had told me when I was your age. You won’t listen. I wouldn’t have either. But I’m going to tell you anyway.

I know you have all been warned about the dangers of drinking alcohol when you are underage. You have been told that it is sinful, or bad for your brain and body, or that it isn’t what smart kids do. I heard all of those things, too. I drank anyway to rebel against those voices.

What I didn’t know – what I wish I had been prepared for – is once you reach the legal drinking age, you join the “now drinking is compulsory club.” You are now required to drink. It is required to celebrate. It is required to grieve. Alcohol is required to show that you are a fully-grown-ass adult who is living a full life. If prospective paramours see that you don’t drink on your dating profile, they will keep scrolling.

People drink at work. People drink at kids’ birthday parties and baby showers. People drink while they shop for groceries in some places. Meaning, there are some places where that is totally fine but also lots of clear boozie seltzers that you can put in your water bottle, and no one will notice you are getting a nice buzz in the cheese aisle before you head to your child’s soccer game while wearing your “Rosè All Day” t-shirt.

Your coworkers will shame you if you don’t come to happy hour. Your friends will forget to invite you on the Italy trip. No one will pass you a crack pipe and then, when you demure, ask, “What are you, a fucking Mormon?” They will do this with tequila.

We are obsessed with alcohol; it is inescapable. I’m not here to tell you “just say ‘no’.” All I want to tell you is that you can say no. In fact, in a culture this soaked in the stuff, saying “no” to alcohol might be the only way to truly rebel. It might just be the most punk rock thing you can do.

Taking a Stance

I know this is controversial, but I’ve been losing sleep over the SCOTUS lately and I want to share my concern. And, honestly, I think it is about time that I came out.

I am pro-life. I am also pro-choice. I’ll go one step further: I am pro-abortion. It is a life saving medical procedure and it needs to be available and safe for myriad reasons.

Wait, what did you say? I can’t be pro-life and pro-abortion? It isn’t possible? There is only one way to be pro-life and that is to be absolutely certain that life begins at conception and that everything that happens after that is up to fate/God/etc.?

I disagree. Here is a list of ways that one can be pro-life that has nothing to do with insisting that unsafe (did you know that it is still possible to die of childbirth, and – in the U.S. – the chances of this are significantly higher for POC?), unwanted (did you know that contraception is not fail-proof?), and unaffordable (did you know that many women who seek abortions are already mothers and struggling financially to provide for their families?) pregnancies are brought to term. Just off the top of my head:

1) Check with your state on the backlog of rape kits waiting to be tested. Are there a significant number? A few years ago, Utah had nearly 3,000 kits on backlog. But then we passed a bill that prioritized and funded testing and now all that DNA is in a database. Neat!

2) Don’t get NIMBY when someone wants to put a homeless shelter or clinic in your area. Homeless adults usually aren’t cute and cuddly, but they are alive (for now)!

3) Donate to and volunteer for causes that help vulnerable people. Food banks, diaper drives, school supply drives, mental health and addiction support… there are millions of ways you can help struggling families in your community and around the world.

4) Support and vote for political candidates who will push for affordable housing, affordable health care, affordable childcare, parental leave, and other life affirming actions that will help struggling families. Even if it means that you will have to pay more taxes!

5) Pay your taxes!

6) Donate to and support your local Planned Parenthood. They are the only health care option for millions of men and women in the U.S. They provide many services in addition to providing access to contraception, such as cancer screenings! Cancer is NOT pro-life!

7) Be pro-contraception! The abortion rate is at an all-time low right now (and so is teen pregnancy, btw). That is a good thing! And that is due to the increased availability of health care (Thanks Obama!) and contraception. Even if your religion teaches that contraception is sinful, you can still support the rights of others to access it! Contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies 90% of the time and can allow people to plan to have a family when they are ready and able. Insisting that contraception be hard to get or illegal because of your personal beliefs is basically insisting everyone on earth join YOUR religion and that is never going to happen. Find a new dream!

I think y’all get the point.

Are there women who have used abortion as birth control? I’m sure there are. And I’m not saying this is an easy issue. I think that anyone who has really thought about it has struggled with the implications. Which is why I want the decision to be up to the owner of the uterus. Not me. Or the state.

Once Roe is overturned (which is definitely going to happen, in case you hadn’t heard) the states will decide. Abortion will NOT go away; it will be legal in blue states and illegal in red states. Women with resources will still have choices. Women without resources will not. They will be the handmaids of the religious right in the U.S. of Gilead. Many will have unsafe illegal procedures and many will die. That is what happened for millennia and that is what will happen again.

Please. Be pro-life. Not just pro-birth.

Be Advised

I’m cropping to hide the license plate, but yes: that IS a minivan.

Thank You, Baby Kiln Gods!

I owe you one. I trust you to take it… you always do.

A Prayer to the Kiln Gods

Dearest Kiln Gods,

Oyez, oyez, oyez! I am a person having business before thou, oh honorable though oft merciless deities. I draw near to ask for thy attention, oh Wrathful Ones, to beg for thy protection, even as I know I am undeserving of thy charity.

I tremble before this alter to proclaim a sacrifice was made in thy honor, oh great Scary Beasties of the Furnace of Stoneware. It was not made intentionally, I do confess. But it was given and it’s destruction did make me wretched.

Please, please, oh Fiery Gods of Loam and Ash, I ask thou to accept this sacrifice to thy glory. And in doing, thus allow these other unworthy creations to pass through your domain unharmed and into the state of whole and completed items of crockery.

I am but a humble servant, grateful for the scraps of thy consideration, and yet I beg thou for the favor of this Holy Pantheon. If my wish is granted this day, I swear upon the life of Brent, who is my best pottery wheel, that I will not bother thou again… at least not before the holidays.

Signed, your unworthiest devotee,


The Gnome Wars of Little Bohemia

When I first moved to Salt Lake City in the mid nineties, it didn’t take me long to find my favorite neighborhood. My friends called it Little Bohemia and it was artsy and modern, and a bit run down. It’s where they had the old art house movie theatre and the best little coffee shop. It’s also where you could get a vegan burrito and shop for vibrators. (Those were separate shops, to be clear.) It had the best record store, where I discovered artists like Morrissey. Obviously, the Smiths were not a new band in 1995, but I grew up in a Mormon enclave that was still obsessed with Doris Day so it seemed pretty revolutionary to me.

Over the years, this neighborhood underwent a common transformation. The weird fun eventually became “cool,” and once it was cool the things that made it weird and fun could no longer afford the rent and moved away in search of a new hidden gem of neighborhoods. The great coffee shop and the art house movie theatre remained. So did the dildo store. But it also got a Starbucks and some bougie office spaces.

The city, in it’s infinite wisdom, decided that it could do it’s part to keep Little Bohemia weird, and threw some money that way. They put colorful bricks in the intersection in a concentric circle pattern and added some kinetic art installations. The community rejected the Starbucks in favor of the local place and that space was taken over by a gelato store. In short, the neighborhood retains some of the quirky weirdness it always had, but has a much more gentrified feel 25+ years after I moved to town.

In the latest chapter on the gentrification, the city has installed a roundabout. It’s is large and they did pop a few plants in the space, but left it rather bare. They did state that there would be an art installation, but that the intended aesthetic was “to be announced.” True to form, the Little Bohemians didn’t wait. And anyway, nature abhors a vacuum, right? (I read that somewhere and I think I know what it means.) They came out and began to fill the sparsely planted circle with garden gnomes.

Soon, the city, in its infinite wisdom, had a meeting about what weird thing they should give the weirdos to make them weirdly happy (but which might also look fun on a travel website or on Instagram) and announced that the sculpture to be installed on the roundabout would be…. a whale. Because where else in land locked Utah can you see a whale?

The Bohemians were displeased. I assume that would have happened no matter what they decided, but they seemed particularly incredulous. The gnomes began to protest over night.

The last time I drove by, the controversial scene had been removed, but I did manage to photo document some of the drama. I know it pales when compared to the other things we are dealing with in the world today, but I hope it provides a brief and welcome distraction.

There were also pro-whale messages.

Then the local businesses got in on the action…


This is what I get for ordering dog treats online. I’ve known a few guys who measure six inches this way… but seriously. Are we really worried about the pig’s feelings at this point?

Here’s to You, Birthday Blues

When I married into a Chinese family, I learned that the number four is very unlucky. I thought it was maybe just my in-laws, or maybe it was just a Cantonese thing, but it wasn’t. I learned this one day when I wrote a check (it was the 90s, we still did that back then) at my local Chinese restaurant (Chop Suey Louie’s) and the guy almost didn’t take it because it was check number 444. The problem is that the Chinese word for “four” is a homophone for the word for “death.” I wrote a death death death check.

I’ve been thinking about this because I just had my 44th birthday. My death death birthday. I feel like it’s a good excuse to have a midlife crisis. Because honestly, I don’t want to live beyond 88. That’s when I assume shit just goes to hell. (I reserve the right to change my mind when I am 87.)

My therapist asked me why I hate birthdays so much. She wondered if it was because so many women have such a hard time celebrating themselves or being the center of attention. I don’t like those things as a rule, either, but I don’t think that is it. I think it makes me confront my mortality. It makes me take stock of what I have, and – more to the point – have NOT, accomplished. It makes me scrutinize my skin and lament my sagging jawline.

No, that last one was a lie. I lament my jawline every morning; I don’t need a birthday.

Most of all, however, I hate the let down of birthdays. It is just like New Year’s Eve, except worse, because when the last midnight of December strikes and nothing really happens and you just have to pretend you got some magical satisfaction from closing a calendar year, you are all in it together. When your birthday arrives full of promise and cake shaped joy, it’s just you that has to celebrate the let down. You have to put on a show for everyone who showed up and pretend you wouldn’t rather be crying in a dark room while listening to cello music.

God I’m such a downer.

Since my therapist asked, I have been thinking about the reason I do this to myself every year. The fact that I have all this time to sit around and sulk over my jowls and all of the things I want to do but probably won’t have time to check off my list tells me I don’t have any real problems; I understand that. I’ve accomplished enough. I’ve traveled a bit, I made a lot of art, I’ve loved and been loved. I had a turn with a trim jawline and there are photos to prove it. My turn is over, but I had it! I’m good, I really am. I could focus on being grateful for that.

Meditating on the question, however, I did remember a story. A birthday story that started it all, setting me up for a lifetime of disappointing birthdays.

It was August, the end of summer in the year 1982, and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor was the #1 song in America. It was a Monday, my first day of kindergarten, and my fifth birthday. I hadn’t seen any of the Rocky movies, but I like to think that I was as pumped to go kick ass. Just in a painfully shy little girl kind of way.

The night before, my mom got my outfit ready and we talked about what school would be like. They probably had preschool back then, but I never went. This was going to be my first time being away from my mom for more than a few hours and I felt so grown up, I couldn’t believe it.

“And it’s going to be your birthday!” my mom was saying. “Kindergarten birthdays are the best because all the other kids will sing to you and make you a birthday card… and there will be snacks and games…” Suffice it to say there were big promises made. I. Could. Not. Wait.

Only it didn’t go down like that. First of all, I think I cried when my mom left me at school. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but I wasn’t happy about this freedom when it came to reality and I was watching my mom walk away. But, as directed, I took my spot on the strip masking tape on the carpet as class started and my teacher, Mrs. Robinson, called us to attention.

“Boys and girls,” she said, “welcome to my class! I’m so excited about all the things we are going to do this year! But that’s not the only reason today is a special day! Today is a very special day indeed for one of you in particular! Let’s all join together and say a very happy birthday to… JAY!”

If you were still hearing “Eye of the Tiger” in your head then maybe this is a good moment to end it with the sound of a record scratch.

I knew not to interrupt. I sat there quietly like the other kids, trying to figure out which one was Jay. Then we sang to him and later we made cards with crayons and construction paper, just like Mom said we would. It took some time to work up the courage and then find a moment where I could walk up to Mrs. Robinson when she wasn’t talking to the class or someone else.

“Mrs. Robinson,” I whispered, pulling on her pink polyester pant leg, “It’s my birthday, too!”

“Now, Rachel,” she said, leading me by the shoulder back to my tiny chair with the orange plastic seat atop shinny steel legs. “You don’t have to make up stories to get attention. We will celebrate your birthday when it comes.” Then she went back to passing out graham crackers and juice.

When I got home, Mom gave me a big hug and asked if everyone sang to me like she predicted. I told her about Jay and that Mrs. Robinson didn’t believe me it was my birthday. Then I went off to play with my sisters and the my presents while my mother made a phone call to the elementary school.

The next day, we were back in our seats on the masking taped rectangle on the carpet and Mrs. Robinson jumped in right away. “Boys and girls!” she began. “We made a mistake yesterday!” As if she and the entire room full of crayon eating thumb suckers were equally culpable. Then they sang and there were cards and more graham crackers. And I played along, pretending to be fine with it, pretending to accept Mrs. Robinson’s non-apology for having accused me of lying. But it wasn’t my birthday. My birthday was over. And even at five I couldn’t pretend otherwise.

You know the worst part? This was back when they would actually hold kids back when they were struggling and Jay ended up repeating kindergarten. So I never got a real kindergarten birthday, and that little dunce got two! I might as well have been born in the middle of the summer, making sure I never had a school birthday! (Those poor tragic dears.)

It’s a funny story, and maybe Mrs. Robinson did feel bad. Maybe in the 80s they taught you never to apologize to your students because that would hand them too much power and then you’d have an “inmates running the asylum” situation, which could get ugly. I bet they teach how to make a proper apology in school now, what with all that equity / safe space stuff we have these days.

And yet, it seems to have left me with some cognitive wiring that connects birthdays to disappointment and reluctance. I feel like I’ve spent 39 years trying to lower my expectations to avoid another let down. It doesn’t really work, though. A jawline always has further to sag. That’s the thing with gravity. It stalks it’s prey at night (and morning… and afternoon) and it’s watching us all… with they eye of the tiger.

PS how great would it have been if the #1 song that year was Mrs. Robinson? I would have to be ten years older and would basically be storing nuts and small wheels of cheese in my jowls by now… but that would have been comedy gold!

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

I’ve been absent, I apologize. I’ve been distracted. Life has been a bit nuttsy and I’ve been trying to keep my head above water; I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I have been making art, though. Lots and lots of pottery, knitting, quilting… but mostly pottery. Matt and I are getting married next month (that nuttsy life thing I mentioned earlier) and I decided to make mugs and bowls as wedding favors. So… that took a lot of time.

I made over a hundred. Not all were usable… I had some trouble finding the right glaze that would show the stamp. Plus I had a few that just didn’t turn out. This one, for instance…

Once I finished with favors I got really crazy and decided to make centerpieces. I thought about making small pots for succulents, which I did for a show a few years ago. They looked like this:

But then I started thinking about the logistics of this plan. We are getting married in a National Park five hours away. I’m already packing up a hundred bowls to transport. What is the plan here? Am I bringing all the pots and succulents already planted? Am I going to get there and then buy plants and a bag of dirt from Home Depot and spend the day before the wedding planting these? Also, how much is that going to cost, when each little succulent is five bucks or so and I need enough for twelve tables? And then what do I do with them? Take them to Vegas on our mini-moon?

I spent a lot of time noodling on it. For a minute I thought “fuck the centerpieces, who cares!” But then I saw this photo online:

HomArt Ceramic Succulent – Set of 4

And I decided to steal the idea! Because that’s the kind of artist I am. Here are a few of the ones I made.

Now making succulents is my new favorite thing! Which is great because I am so bad with plants I can’t even keep a cactus alive. Here is my plan. I’m going to force my friends to make a few of these at my hen party and then fire them and deliver them to their makers at the wedding as gifts… after I’m done using them as centerpieces, that is. Free labor and loving homes for the little dudes after? Um, hell yes. I don’t often feel this proud of myself but, damn. I’m a flipping genius.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve made a few other things as well. There’s also a wedding quilt which is coming together. Here are a few of the blocks I made.

This owl design is based on one of my favorite photos of Mr. Owlbertson that I took a few years ago.

To be honest, I hate quilting. I like fabric and I appreciate the artistry, but it makes my brain hurt. It’s basically just math but with bleeding.

I think I’ll stick with clay. That’s my happy place.

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