Monday, October 12, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife #3 - Maryann

When Maryann, our third (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake, found out her first child was a boy she and her husband Matt, a South Jordan Police Lieutenant, chose the name Max and began to dream about everything he would do and become. 

Then at 30 weeks pregnant there was an accident, followed by a medical misdiagnosis, and as result Max was born 10 weeks early and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Parenthood has a steep learning curve for any new mother, but for Maryann there has been the added dimension of learning to accommodate her son's disabilities, as well as the financial strain of keeping up with compounding medical bills, surgeries, and equipment needs. 

But if you're tempted to feel sorry for Maryann, let me stop you right there. 

Max suffers impaired motor function and limited cognitive abilities, but has the confidence of an Olympic athlete and optimism of a daily lottery winner. Once, when asked by Santa Clause what he wanted for Christmas, he responded from the confinement of his wheelchair that he would like a pogo stick.  On another occasion, he saw a boy at the park riding a ripstick and begged for a turn. Maryann hoisted him onto it for a brief moment and then as she sat him back down heard him say, "Well, I'm pretty much an expert now." 

Between working two jobs as a dental hygienist and the demands of caring for her two other children, Maryann always makes it a priority to give Max a fulfilling and joyful life - Arranging for him to play wheelchair baseball or give pep talks to his high school football team. Phone calls from his favorite Disney characters. The chance to serve as a student body officer, meet his college football heroes, and a surprise visit at home by a player for his favorite team, the LA Kings. 

When quarantine hit and Max wasn't able to get the social interaction he craves, Maryann set up an Instagram account for him, where he posted daily videos of himself delivering motivational speeches and performing random acts of kindness (do yourself a favor and visit @maxbrown070). 

When you have a child with cerebral palsy, simple tasks we take for granted can become overwhelming obstacles, but Maryann is upbeat and uncomplaining - Not because life has been easy, but because of a conscious decision she made when Max was young. 

For years after he was born, she fought legal battles over the medical errors that led to his condition. One day, a nurse told her that in her opinion, what had happened to Max "can only be classified as a fluke." 

Maryann says that in that moment, the only thing she knew for sure was that her son was not a fluke. No child is a fluke. She knew that Max was exactly who he was supposed to be, and that even with all of his challenges she wouldn't trade him for anything. Then and there, she decided to transfer all the energy she had exerted seeking justice for him into accepting and loving him exactly the way he is. 

The result has been a life that is sometimes difficult but always punctuated with moments of overwhelming joy, achievement and love. 

This is how we do it here. 

Would you like to nominate an inspiring Utah woman for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? 
Please message me on Facebook

Monday, October 5, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife #2 - Debbie

I met Debbie at her house as she was wrapping up class for the day. She's a kindergarten teacher, instructing now entirely online, and I wanted to interview her about what it's like to be an educator during the pandemic. 

She answered the door with an apology.

"I'm sorry," she said as she opened it. "I really should have cancelled. I feel bad you came." 

She told me that her circumstances had recently changed, and that within the week she would no longer be teaching her class. We cancelled the interview, but she invited me into her home anyway, and we ended up visiting for an hour and a half. 

When I returned home, I went through my list of nominees for this series, trying to decide who would take her place.  The more I thought about my conversation with Debbie however, the more evident it became that as impressive as it is to adapt to teaching in a Covid environment, it was possibly the least impressive thing about her.

I'm honored to feature Debbie as our second (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake City.  

Debbie is, foremost, a survivor. At 16, while crossing the street near her high school, she was hit by a car and thrown 30 feet before landing on her head. Her recovery was miraculous and from that moment, overcoming became a theme in her life. 

Her accomplishments - A college education, teaching career, strong marriage, and two kind, creative (bilingual!) children - are impressive by any standard. But when you consider what she has overcome to achieve them, they are extraordinary. 

For the past ten years Debbie has battled bipolar disorder and psychosis. Her challenges have included hospitalization, relapses and continuous rounds of medical trial and error. But even in moments that test her to the limit, she has never given up. And by continuing to walk such a difficult path, she is paving a way for others who struggle as well. 

Debbie rejects the stigma of mental illness, and speaks openly and honestly about her diagnosis. Her friends tell me that she has increased their empathy for those who suffer, and helped them not feel alone in their own challenges.

She understands darkness, but is also adept at seeking light. Debbie invents games and dresses up guinea pigs in costume for her kindergarten students. On weekends she can be found mountain biking with friends or exploring hiking trails with her children. She is an avid reader, the first to offer to watch neighborhood kids when someone is in a bind, and the kind of mom who signs up for bubble runs and camps out on the trampoline.  

In stark contrast to the Real Housewives, there is nothing about Debbie that is edited, filtered or extravagant. When she invites you into her home, it's not in hopes that you will be impressed by it or by her, but rather an opportunity to make you feel welcomed and understood. She puts you at ease by highlighting what others would leave on the cutting room floor. 

The trailer to Real Housewives of Salt Lake City tells you that "perfection is attainable," but don't worry. Women like Debbie will reassure you that's it's a myth. 

This is how we do it here. 

Would you like to nominate an inspiring Utah woman for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? 
Please message me on Facebook

Monday, September 28, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife #1 - Krista

Krista, our first (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake City, is a mother of four, a high school basketball coach, and a hero. 

Actually, her story is the story of three heroes. 

The first is her father, Mike. In 1970, at age 19, Mike was drafted to serve in Vietnam. Krista describes this as the most terrifying year of his life, but knew nothing about it growing up because, like so many who experienced the horrors of Vietnam, he never spoke of it. 

Until one evening, when Krista was grown with young children of her own.  He mentioned a Vietnam documentary he had seen on TV, so she cautiously began asking him questions. For the first time in her life he began to speak of small details, including a platoon mate named Stretch. Stretch is the third hero in this story.

Nicknamed for his height, Stretch was Mike's closest comrade. His signature look was a white tank top, and he gave one to Mike so the two of them could match. Mike said that their friendship is what got him through the atrocities of war, and that he had thought of Stretch every day since.  In 1971, Stretch's patrol came under attack and he was shot. He returned home, was awarded the Purple Heart, and the two lost contact. 

Until 45 years later, when Krista had an idea. 

Knowing what it would mean to her father, she became determined to find him. All she knew was that his nickname was Stretch, that he was drafted from West Virgina, and his last name was McMillan. Or maybe MacMillan. Or McMullan? Macmullan perhaps?  It was a daunting task to say the least but Krista, a strong, intelligent, athletic mother of four, is not one who is easily deterred. 

She began by writing a letter to every McMillan in the West Virginia phone book - 96 to be exact.

Several recipients responded to express their support, but none resulted in a match. She pushed forward, submitting record requests to the VA, contacting local West Virginia news outlets, and creating a Facebook page that resulted in hundreds of leads. Every little spare moment she had between caring for her young children, Krista spent making her way through lists of responses. None of them panned out. 

Until one morning, four months after the search began. She was at the bus stop after dropping off her daughters for school when her phone indicated a Facebook friend request. Accustomed at that point to dead ends and false hope, she said it took a few minutes for her mind to register who it was. 


"I had no doubt," she said. "All I had ever seen were 45-year old pictures of him, but those were the eyes. I had spent every waking moment looking for those eyes, and there they were." 

Overcome with emotion, she drove to her father's house, teaching her two-year old along the way to say, "Grandpa, we found Stretch!" And from the moment he did, life has not been the same. 

The two comrades began messaging, then speaking on the phone, until they were talking every day. Krista accompanied her dad to Stretch's home in Ohio for a reunion, where they two embraced, reminisced, and once again donned matching white tank tops.

For years they continued to speak daily, until Stretch passed away from complications of Agent Orange exposure. 

But the impact of their reunion endures. Mike speaks openly now about his experience in Vietnam. Krista and her children talk often of their "Uncle Stretch," display his picture in their home, and last Veterans Day, her daughter requested to honor him at a her middle school Veterans Day assembly. 

I have heard some of the “Real Housewives” referred to as #goalgetters, a term trending on social media. Most often, it's in reference to either achieving a certain body aesthetic, income, or number of followers on social media. 

Krista is a (Real) goal getter. Whether raising her children, coaching her basketball team or orchestrating such a life-changing discovery, she is selflessly motivated and fiercely determined. 

This is how we do it here. 

Do you know someone you would like to nominate for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? Please message me on Facebook

Friday, September 18, 2020

(Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake

Last week I was making dinner when my phone lit up with a slew of texts. Sure enough, in 2020 fashion, there was breaking news. 

But this wasn't about the pandemic or riots or election. It was my girlfriends urgently alerting me that Bravo had just released the first trailer for Real Housewives of Salt Lake City. 

I confess I abandoned my cutting board and couldn't view it fast enough. It's not that I'm a fan of the series - I've actually never watched - but I reside in Salt Lake and therefore feel personally invested. Since this newest addition to the franchise was announced, I've been part of an ongoing group text, speculating over who would make the cast. Utah is famously the birthplace of influencer culture, so our list of prospects was a mile long. 

To my surprise, not one of our picks made the final list. And if you haven't seen the trailer, let me spare you. It's a one-minute-thirty-second montage that includes cat fights, selfies, strippers, pole dancing, drunken arguments and door slamming, all interjected with pronouncements like, "Hashtag blessed!" and "Perfection is attainable."  

The real what? Of where now? 

One of them also says that "good Mormons don't have sex." Has she not seen the number of children lining the pews of our congregations?

After watching I contributed a few sarcastic remarks to the chain and went back to making dinner, but my mind wouldn't let it go. 

It's not that I don't understand the appeal of a show like this. We’re talking about Bravo, not C-Span. I totally get that people enjoy watching things that are campy and escapist, and that a program about housewives who put in an honest days work at a dental office or nail a PTA fundraiser wouldn't stand a chance. 

These women are certainly entitled to represent themselves however they choose. But if a viewer’s only perception of Utah comes from watching Real Housewives or heaven forbid Sister Wives, we have ourselves a real PR problem. 

When I lived on the east coast, I was so surprised by the number of people who could barely identify Utah on a map, let alone had ever visited. Many had a warped perception of our culture. 

This is why I was bothered when, at the end of the trailer, the words "Salt Lake City" flashed across the screen as a woman could be heard saying, "This is how we do it here." 

I am here, and that's not at all how we do it. 

Honestly, one of most impressive things about Salt Lake City are the women. I'm continually amazed by the high density of industrious, educated, talented women who run homes, business, and rally together for charitable causes. In my neighborhood alone are women who work as mothers, nurses, teachers, attorneys, school principals, pharmacists and published authors. Women who have pressed on in the face of death, divorce and deployment, and still make time to contribute to their neighbors and community. Women who, as Beyonce would say, "are strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business." 

Women who make it hard to swallow a depiction of housewives as superficial, materialistic competitors of one another. 

So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands, and assemble a more fitting cast. Every week until the show premieres I will be seeking out and posting a “cast bio” of a (real) real housewife of Salt Lake City. Women who don’t have television contracts, thousands of Instagram followers or coats made from swan feathers (see trailer), but are deserving of the spotlight and representative the Salt Lake City I love. 

If you know of any, please share the good and let me know! This is how we do it here. 

Do you know someone you would like to nominate for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? Please message me on Facebook

Sunday, May 31, 2020

White Balloon

When my mom dropped me off at school one morning my sophomore year in high school, we could never have predicted that hours later, a police officer would be escorting me back to the car.

I'm telling this story in an attempt to understand what I have witnessed this week. I realize that no matter how much I write, question or attempt to empathize, I will never be able to fully understand what racism means because I will never experience it firsthand. I have never been judged for the color of my skin or a victim of discrimination and therefore have no way of feeling or defining it. But I also don't believe that should stop me from trying so here I am, trying.

The first time I remember being confronted with the concept was age 15, which I understand is a significant entitlement itself. It began as a good day. I had been nominated to attend an off-site leadership conference with about 100 other students from my school, and I was excited. We loaded a bus and were taken to community center in town.

After arriving and gathering for a keynote speaker, we were divided into smaller groups for breakout sessions. I remember being separated from my friends, and placed as the only underclassman in my group. For our first activity we were taken into a room and seated in a circle, where the presenting teacher pulled out a colorful bag of deflated balloons and handed one to each of us.

He then explained that this was an exercise in public speaking, and that we were to each take turns standing and making a case to the group of why our color balloon was the best. I looked down at mine. It was white, and I felt defeated. White, seriously? Why couldn't I get ocean blue or sunshine yellow or heart red. What even is white? All that came to mind was toilet paper.

As the others began taking turns and I knew that toilet paper wasn't going to cut it, I racked my brain for ideas and finally came up with a wedding dress. Wedding dresses were white. I specifically imagined the wedding dress of my sister, who had been married just a few months before.

When it was my turn, I stood, conjured an image of the dress in my mind, and awkwardly made my case. "Hi, I'm Katie. Um, I have white. White is the best color,'s like, clean and pure and can be really beautiful."

And that was that. We shuffled through a few more sessions, ate our boxed lunches and were bused back to school in time to attend our final two classes. Shortly before the end of the day, my teacher approached and said I had been asked to pack my things and report to the front office.

If I was confused when I arrived, I was even more confused when I was escorted into the principal's office, and downright shocked when I walked in to see a police officer waiting for me. Honestly, my first thought was that someone in my family had died and they were there to deliver the news. My hands started shaking as I sat in the chair.

The principal reassured me that I wasn't in trouble, but said there had been an "incident" at the conference that day. Incident? I looked around, certain they had called up the wrong person.

He went on to explain that someone in my breakout group had interpreted the description of my balloon as racially motivated (say what), and that by the time we returned to campus a plan had been hatched to rough me up on the way home from school. Another student had overheard and reported it to a teacher, prompting the administration to contact authorities.

I was gobsmacked. My mom was called to pick me up, and when she arrived the officer escorted me to her car. I stayed home the next day, too scared to attend, and for a long time after that my heart pounded when I passed students in the hallway, wondering if they had been part of the plan to hurt me.

That experience would become a defining moment in my understanding of racism. What was initially a feeling of defensiveness eventually gave way to an awareness that perspective is not just about what we see, but where we're seeing it from.

All I could see that day was a balloon. But another person, from where they sat, could see race; and a host of other things I couldn't see. They may have seen memories of hate they had felt or slurs they had heard; opportunities denied, privileges rebuffed or the pain of those who had gone before them. And when they saw it it hurt them so badly that they wanted to hurt me. And for that, I am so sorry.

Last night, I watched the riots from the perspective of my living room, and not from inside them. I saw the pain and pressure explode like an overinflated balloon. And while I can't defend the looting or burning down of local businesses, I also believe that these things happen for a reason. As much as I detest the violence, I also desperately want to understand where it's coming from. What do they see that I don't see? What have they felt that I can't feel?

"I think America must see that riots don't develop out of thin air...But in the final analysis a riot is a language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?" (Martin Luther King, 1967)

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Best

Winter in Virginia in 2013 was brutal.

The snowfall was constant that year. We had so much of it, in fact, that school was cancelled a record eleven times. I had four kids under eight and was living in a fixer upper with insufficient insulation and no garage. When I look back on that winter I can only remember doing two things - hiding in a hot bath in the middle of the day, or debating whether getting the kids out of house was worth the misery of scraping the car.

What got me through was dreaming about spring break. Spring break, I decided, would be our happily ever after. When it was spring break, the sun would shine and the sight of cherry blossoms would welcome us outdoors. I envisioned leaving the house without chipping ice off the car or zipping everyone into layers, driving with the windows down, and picnicking by the monuments.

And it finally did arrive, on a Monday in late April, along with five inches of snow. On Tuesday, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection which by Wednesday reached my stomach, and knocked me out for the rest of the week. By Wednesday afternoon the house was a category 5 disaster. I think it actually smelled, although my sense of smell was gone, so that is pure speculation. To add to the fun, we lost the remote, cutting off access to the TV and leaving the kids to work out for themselves whose turn it was to use our one iPod Touch. Think Hunger Games, minus the hunger part, as they had also managed to gain unfettered access to the Costco stash of goldfish.

As I spent the week in bed, I now dreamed about Easter. 

On Easter, the disappointment of the week would be behind us. By Easter, the antibiotics would take effect, and my energy would return. On Easter, the house would be restored to order, and so would the kids. I envisioned scrubbing them clean, dressing them up, and watching them discover their basket treasures. They would delight in their egg hunt and forget all the times during the week I neglected or lost my patience with them.  Easter would make everything better. 

And then I thought, isn't that true?

In my journal that Sunday in 2013, I wrote -

"This Easter morning, more than most, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for my Savior. The laments of my week were so trivial, but I know that even they were included in His sacrifice. He is the answer to every disappointment, and the source of every happiness. I imagined His resurrection today, and compensation for all my failed expectations, and I was genuinely happy."

I'm very aware, looking back, of how inconsequential my troubles were that week, but the lesson remains. I had high expectations but don't we all, in life. We want to be healthy and happy. We want great relationships and perfect children and jobs and homes that turn out the way we envision.

But the older we get the more acquainted we become with disappointment. Our bodies don't always do what we want them to. People get sick, and pass on. We're confronted with pain and loss and betrayal and children that don't arrive or turn out the way we hoped. Economies fall and jobs are lost and pandemics bulldoze our normal.

And somehow the answer to all of this, is Easter.  In whatever tunnel I find myself, no matter how small or vast and regardless of how I got into it, I know that when I can't see light at the end, it can always be found shining from the empty tomb.

(Real) Real Housewife #3 - Maryann

When Maryann, our third (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake , found out her first child was a boy she and her husband Matt, a South Jordan Po...