Sometimes being a sheep is not a bad thing. When I was in sixth grade our teacher had us write a letter to ourselves to be read in 6 years. I realized that I would be graduating from high school in six years and decided that maybe I should write about what I would be doing after graduation. I wrote—

Dear Me,

I will be attending Brigham Young University.



I am not sure why I wrote BYU. I didn’t know anyone who went there. My mother had attended the University of Utah for a short time, but no one else that I knew went to college.

My friends all decided to go to Utah State in Logan, Utah. I thought that was a great plan because I wanted to be with my friends. I started filling out that application. Baaaaa! I was definitely a follower.

Then just before applications were due, they changed their plans and were all applying to BYU! Yikes, this required more work!

I had never met with my assigned school counselor, Maree Rees, until I approached her because I needed a transcript. She was surprised and said that she never imagined that I would want to attend college, let alone BYU. I found out that she had been meeting with my wealthier, more intelligent friends all along. Hmmmm! I got the transcript.

The next stop was meeting with my Bishop. He too was surprised that I was planning to go to BYU. I hadn’t been too active in his ward. I went to church all of the time, but it was usually in another ward with a friend. Since my family didn’t attend church and none of my closest friends were in my ward, I just went to their young women activities and my ward on Sunday.

I would love to see the letter that he wrote for my application. I think it must have gone something like this—

Dear Admissions,

Please accept Vanalee to BYU. She comes from a dysfunctional family. Accepting her will be her salvation.



Surprise! I got accepted right away for fall semester. I had arranged housing and was ready to go. It was part of the plan because I met Rick there and as a bonus I discovered that I actually loved learning!

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Cookies #8minutememoir


IMG_5095-768x1024 (1)While we were living in Tokyo cupcakes were a very popular treat. Cupcake shops were popping up everywhere in the US, but not many in Tokyo. I loved cupcakes before they were cool. Kristina and Ruth always seemed to find a new spot to try cupcakes when I would visit from Japan. I worked with young women and many others in Tokyo to teach them the art of frosting and decorating cupcakes. It was a lot of fun.

I think cookies have taken over and I have always loved cookies, too. When I was young my mother’s method of home baked cookies was to buy the refrigerated dough from the grocery store and bake it. It was fun for us, but they were usually hard and dry.

Both of my grandmothers made cookies, but they each made just one kind. My dad’s mother baked oatmeal raisin with chopped maraschino cherries added in. She always had some of these in her deep freezer, but they were a rare treat. We loved these! My mother’s mother made frosted sugar cookies for Christmas and Easter. She kept them in a Tupperware container for weeks.

Susan and I asked for the oatmeal cookie recipe and tried to make them. It was sad when we realized she had left out a main ingredient and they failed miserably. I have grandma’s sugar cookie recipe and when I baked them they turned out like dry hockey pucks. I need to try and recreate them.

During our CES mission in Oklahoma City I baked cookies forever. I didn’t keep track until our last semester and I baked 1,205 cookies or cookie bars. That is a lot of cookies. I made a lot of other food, too.

Currently, my cookie favorite remains chocolate chip, but I like brookies, oatmeal chocolate chip and white chocolate chip with dried cranberries. You can find many of my favorites at Vanilla Carrots

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In My Bag- #8minutememoir


I haven’t taken time to write recently and I decided to look at the list of prompts for the Eight Minute Memoir. For some reason this topic is the one that stood out. I am not sure why anyone would be interested in the contents of my bag.

When I was young I watched a game show called “Let’s Make A Deal.” The thing that amazed me was a game where Monty Hall asked for women to produce random items from their handbag in return for money. Most of the woman had huge handbags and could produce just about anything he asked for. Who carries a hard boiled egg or a hammer in their handbag? As a child I really thought that those women always had those things with them rather than walking around the house before the show and filling those huge purses with every random thing they could find.

I don’t carry that kind of handbag. Here are the everyday contents of my bag followed by the things I add on Sunday:

Today I have-
My very old, red Kate Spade wallet
A pink and fuchsia striped Moleskine notebook
1 red Keller Williams pen (needs to be put back in the car)
1 black Staedtler triplus fineliner pen (my current favorite pen to write with)
Crumpled receipts from Walgreen’s, Kroger, James Avery, Dollar Tree, La Madeleine and
Chase Bank
Hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes
Grocery list from earlier today (I actually remembered to get everything on the list, but
forgot to put something on the list. I will have  to go back tomorrow)
Zippered Cath Kidston pouch (lipstick, lip gloss, bandaids, Neosporin, mirror and lotion)
5 wooden $1 coins to spend at On the Park Toys and Candy
Flip phone (ancient)

On Sunday I carry a larger purse and usually include-
1 or two clipboards filled with computer paper
extra pens
A flowered drawstring bag containing several varieties of gum and fruit flavored Mentos
My iPad
I share everything, but the iPad

I am wondering what the contents of my bag say about me- I like to write with a cool pen, shop too much, care a bit about how I look, don’t care much about talking on the phone and have a complete phobia about germs and bacteria. Ha!


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My Mom


Helen Carol Gren

I love this photo of my mother (I call it the floating head). She was such a beautiful woman. My mother worked her entire life most of it for the telephone company. She always had to. It was necessary for us to be able to live and eat. She made sure we had what we needed.

She loved bowling and partying. She knew how to sew well and was an excellent cook. She became even better when she retired and had money and the time to sew and cook what she wanted. The county newspaper did an article on her and her cooking skills.

I don’t remember ever having rules and I don’t remember ever getting into trouble or being disciplined. I miss her!


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Daily Tasks #8minutememoir

Things I like doing-
I like vacuuming, the room always looks visibly cleaner after I vacuum.
I like painting walls.
Loading the dishwasher

Things I don’t like to do—
Cleaning toilets
Unloading the dishwasher
Grocery shopping—I love it anytime that I can shop online and just pick it up or have it delivered
Cleaning the floor

Things I am neutral about—
Making the bed
Doing laundry
Polishing shoes

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My favorite toy


Chatty Cathy

The first toy  that came to mind was my Chatty Cathy doll. I am not sure when I got her, but she was a very popular item for Christmas that year. I got one and Susan did. too. Mine worked, Susan’s did not and the stores were all sold out. Her Chatty Cathy was exchanged for a Charming Chatty. Charming Chatting was cooler in some ways. Chatty Cathy had a string on the back of her neck that when pulled she would talk- “I love you! I’m hungry, I’m sleepy.” She had about 10 phrases that she could say. This was great in the very beginning, but became boring really fast. On the other hand, Susan’s Charming Chatty was a bit ugly and wore a sailor dress, but her coolness factor and what made her truly the superior doll were the little records that you inserted into her that allowed her to say so much more than Chatty Cathy. Plus, Charming Chatty had eye glasses. I think I actually liked her better than Susan did. I think she always felt bad that her Chatty Cathy didn’t work and she got the uglier doll. I am not sure why we just didn’t trade.

Charming Chatty

Charming Chatty


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Reading #8minute memoir


When I was in first grade our reading groups were named after birds, blue birds, red birds, yellow birds. The best readers were in the blue birds, then red, then yellow. I know I was not in the blue bird group. I think I was with the red birds. This bothered me a lot, but probably wasn’t surprising since I don’t really remember my parents reading to me or helping me learn the alphabet or my numbers before I started school. With each advancement to a new grade I became a better reader and loved reading more. I spent a lot of time at the public library and in the school library. By sixth grade, I was reading constantly and discovered I loved reading biographies. I read every biography in the Backman Elementary school library that year. I got to be a library assistant part of the day. My job was to reshelve the books that had been returned. It was an excellent way to discover new books.

As an adult, I have wondered why I loved reading so much and it’s because the books and stories opened a whole new world to me. They allowed me to escape from the not so pleasant parts of my life. And they gave me hope that my life could be different. It seems like every biography that I read was about a person who was able to become “someone” after a rough start in life.

I still love reading and my favorite book for a long time has been, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I read it every couple of years. Other favorites are “Things Fall Apart” and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” I also like to read books set in the Southern United States.

Lately, my favorite books to read are the scriptures.

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Mourning With Those Who Mourn #8minutememoir


I love how Heavenly Father puts us in the right place at the right time. Rick and I have been serving in the temple every Thursday. I have rarely been assigned to be in the dressing room on the first hour of my shift, it’s usually the last hour.

Not too long ago, I was standing near the door where patrons come in after they have finished their session. A woman came in and although I couldn’t see her face, I could tell that she had been crying. She approached the counter opposite me and I could see her tear stained face in the mirror. It was Ruth’s dear friend, Dixie. Her mother had passed away just weeks before. I softly spoke her name and she rushed into my arms and we hugged for what seemed like a very long time. She whispered to me that she felt her mother close as she attended the temple that morning and that she had had an “ugly” cry in the celestial room. As she sat there she wished that there was someone to give her a hug.

There are no coincidences. I loved that Heavenly Father knew that Dixie would need a hug. I love that He inspired my shift coordinator to assign me to the the exact spot that I needed to be to see her immediately when she came in. Most of all, I love that He allowed me to be there to give her the hug from heaven that she desired that morning.

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Halloween #8minute memoir


I don’t remember too many details about the Halloween’s when I was young. I remember only a few costumes that I wore. My Casper the friendly ghost costume was purchased at the Grand Central variety store and so was the little Dutch girl costume that came with bright yellow, yarn braids attached to the side of the mask. Later, in elementary school I was a Beatnik, a costume that was sewn by my grandmother. She made Susan and I matching sleeveless, short tunics. They were made out of fabric with a white background and large pink, purple and teal modish flowers. We wore our tunics over a black turtleneck shirt with black tights. We thought we were pretty cool. Author Jack Kerouac introduced the phrase “Beat Generation” in 1948, generalizing from his social circle to characterize the underground, anticonformist youth gathering in New York at that time. Elements of the beatnik included pseudo-intellectualism, drug use, and a cartoonish depiction of real-life people. Yikes!!!!! What was my mother thinking?????

We went trick or treating every year. I don’t remember ever going with friends or an adult. Susan and I were allowed to go out into the neighborhood alone. There was one house on our street that we were scared to death of. In those days, there was almost always a house like that on any street in the city. This house was older than the rest of the houses on the street and it was occupied by an older person, who liked to eat children, or so we had been told. The yard had a chainlink fence around it and all the hedges and plants were overgrown. Truly, a Boo Radley house. I would run whenever I had to pass it or walk on the other side of the street. On Halloween the porch light was on, a signal that they were giving out candy or luring kids in to eat them for dinner. I remember only going there once and thinking that the lady who answered the door was kind, not at all what I was expecting. Plus, she had candy.

As an adult Halloween has not ever been my favorite holiday. It involved figuring out and making costumes for my children. I was opposed to store bought costumes back then. I was always sewing through the night on Halloween Eve. Then always spending too much on candy. I took my children to just enough houses to get the amount of candy that I would let them eat that night. Then we would go home and they all sat at the table and traded candy and ate everything. Finally, I would make sure they had brushed their teeth really good and that was it. As they got older they went with friends and took pillow cases to hold their candy.


When Andrew was in 7th grade we worried about how much candy he was going to collect with his friends. Rick made a deal with him to pay him so much per pound. When he came home he weighed his candy and collected a fairly hefty sum. He and his friends had covered most of the town of Clayton, CA. (That has to be one of the creepiest clowns I have ever seen, John Hulme or David Neiman?)

Now as a grandmother I love seeing the costumes my grandchildren choose and love giving out candy and going trick or treating with them.

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The Aunts

When I was young I had two aunts in my life on a very regular basis. I saw them for sure every Tuesday night for dinner and every Saturday for shopping. Neither of the aunts were married and neither drove a car. Arvilla was my grandmother’s sister and Hilma was my grandmother’s aunt. So they we my great aunt and my great great aunt. Since I spent every Tuesday and Saturday with my grandma we also spent part of that time with them.

Hilma Ekstrand

Hilma Ekstrand

Hilma was very eccentric. In the 1960’s she stood out in her leopard prints and her big hats. She worked at Auerbach’s department store on the corner of State Street and Broadway in Salt Lake City. One of the perks of her working there was watching the Christmas parade from the store windows. Hilma’s day off was Tuesday and so she cooked. She would ride the bus up to Wainwright Bakery for roll dough and then shop at Buyrite Grocery for whatever she felt like cooking that night. Always, the best things for dinner were her rolls. Hilma was not a good cook. One night she decided to cook rabbit. I had heard the aunts and grandma talking about it in the kitchen so I refused to eat it. They told Susan it was chicken and she ate it. Later, when grandma told her it was rabbit she vomited all over me and the bed. I guess that’s what I deserved for not telling her she was eating a bunny, before she ate it.

Whenever, my dad told us to try a new food at home and we said we didn’t like it. He would say, “You’ve never tried it.” Our reply was always, “Yes, we have! We tried it at Hilma’s!” Amazingly, it worked every time.

We drank a lot of iced tea at Hilma’s we put at least two tablespoons of sugar in it and a lot of lemon juice. It was more like a little tea with our lemonade. (Disclaimer-No one in my family attended church when I was young and no one was teaching me about the Word of Wisdom). Hilma loved to garden and back then we thought her back yard was huge and amazing. She had a fish pond, lots of white wrought iron chairs and benches to sit on, and lots of paving stone paths to follow. She also had several pink flamingos way before they were cool. Susan and I loved playing back there during the summer months and dinner was always outside enhanced by the smell of citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes away.

At Christmas, because she was Swedish she always planned a smorgasbord. The dining room table was laden with cold cuts, deviled eggs, rolls, pickles, boiled shrimp and a variety of sweets. Mom and grandma always warned us away from anything but the sweets since Hilma kept this spread out all day long. That way she was prepared in case anyone dropped by with Christmas greetings and all the relatives did come. My favorite Christmas sweets then were the Mexican Wedding cookies coated in powdered sugar. They were messy, but yummy.

I heard that Hilma had a beau once. I’m not sure why she never married.

Arvilla Kathleen Brown

Arvilla Kathleen Brown

Arvilla lived with Hilma in my great grandparents house. Although the house had two bedrooms, they chose to sleep in twin beds in the same room for as long as I can remember. They both had quite a collection of dolls and stuffed animals that they arranged every morning and took off every night.

Arvilla worked as a librarian at West High School. She wore her long waved auburn hair back in tight bun. She was very stern. I both admired her and feared her. She believed that children should be seen and not heard. I adhered to that whenever I was at her house except when I was in the backyard. Susan and I spent as much time as we could outside. From time to time she would read us a new book. The one I have always remembered was, “Patty’s Moon.” It was about a girl and the crescent moon. Whenever Susan and I saw a crescent moon we would say, “Oh look! It’s Patty’s Moon!

Every Saturday we would drive up to the east side of Auerbach’s to pick Hilma up from work. Then we would go and get Arvilla at home. Grandma took them shopping every week and every week she bribed us with a Little Golden Book if we were good. You must understand that this was excessive shopping for two little children. We spent every Saturday morning shopping with grandma and every Saturday evening shopping with the aunts. We survived, had quite a collection of Golden Books and I don’t ever remember getting in trouble.

When I was ten and Susan was nine Arvilla decided to take us on a trip to Disneyland. We were part of a group tour that took the train. It was fun and we made some new friends. Arvilla is credited with bringing any culture and refinement I possess into my life. She took us to concerts, plays and the ballet. Each of these events usually involved a new dress made by my grandmother and lunch before or after the concert at a nice restaurant, usually the Hotel Utah.

The aunts were quirky and eccentric, but I think they loved us and we loved them.

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