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The past few days have been a whirlwind of new information about Susan Cox Powell’s case…with the police search in Ely, Nevada; the “Honk and Wave campaign” in Utah and Washington to raise awareness of Susan; and the confrontation between Cox and Powell families in Puyallup, Washington on Saturday.

Sunday night, news broke about Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, having “feelings” for Susan—his own daughter-in-law.  (Click here for the KUTV 2 news report, and here for an article by Isabelle Zehnder.)  I’ve been monitoring Facebook, Twitter, and other places online and have seen many comments on this issue by emotional and outraged people on both sides.

I wanted to explain WHY I personally decided to finally break my silence and talk about these new allegations against Steve Powell. 

Josh and Susan Powell moved to Utah 7 years ago and we became friends immediately.  Susan and I became particularly close, and were together several times a week.  We spent hours upon hours talking, laughing, and sharing many things.

susan and kiirsi scrapped

When I had known Susan a few months, she began talking to me about why it is that she and Josh decided to move to Utah.  There were several factors, she originally said…a better job…a new start…a chance to get to know Josh’s sister Jennifer Graves, and Josh’s mother, Teri Powell, better.  Then one day she told me that a very big part of the reason she and Josh moved to Utah was to get away from Josh’s father, Steve Powell. 

I was very surprised by this.  Yes, I knew many people didn’t like or get along with their in-laws.  But when Susan talked about Steve Powell, she expressed extreme disgust and even feelings approaching hatred. 

Then she told me WHY she felt this way.  She said that early in her marriage to Josh, when they were still newlyweds, they wanted to save money to get their own apartment.  So they moved in for a short time with Steve Powell.

At the time, there wasn’t an extra bedroom for them.  So they converted a dining room into their bedroom and hung a curtain over the opening for privacy.  Shortly after moving in, Susan began to feel very strange around Steve Powell.  She said that she felt like her father-in-law was looking at her inappropriately—and once she even caught him trying to watch her get dressed one day.

She tried to give her new father-in-law the benefit of the doubt, but the weird feelings and things continued, and one day it culminated in a very inappropriate episode where Steve Powell tried to kiss her.  This was not a “family” kiss.  This was a romantic kiss. 

Susan was so creeped out, disgusted and horrified that she told Josh “That’s it, we’re moving out.  NOW.”  And soon after that, they did. 

I was, of course, shocked, horrified and disgusted to hear about this.  “That’s not all,” Susan said.  “There’s more.”  She told me that after living in Utah a couple of years, one day she received a package in the mail.  Steve Powell had sent Susan several pictures of Susan’s favorite actor. 

At first, Susan thought this was actually a nice gesture on the part of Steve Powell.  She wondered if he had changed, and maybe become a kinder person.  Then she saw what was sitting in the middle of the stack of pictures: several pictures of naked men.

She was horrified, sickened, full of revulsion.  She threw the pictures away immediately and it re-affirmed more than ever her feelings about Steve Powell, her father-in-law.  She told Josh on many occasions, even in the presence of my husband John and myself: “Your father is NEVER allowed to step foot in our house here in Utah.  If he comes to visit you here, you can go see him in his hotel.  He WILL NOT defile our house by his presence here.”

She also told me several times that she did not feel comfortable around Steve, and she did not want her little boys, Charlie and Braden, to ever be alone with him.  She did not enjoy visiting Steve Powell when she and Josh went to Washington to visit family, but she endured it when she had to because she wanted Josh to be able to visit his family.

So, the question on anyone’s mind who has taken the time to read all this is: why now?  Why did you not come forward with this in the very beginning? 

It is a good question, and here is my answer: I told all of this to the police from the very first week of the investigation.  In fact, an early blog entry I wrote said this in response to attacks by critics: “You don’t know all the details here.  There are many, many details of Susan’s background/relationship with Josh/etc. that have NOT been made public.” 

So why make them public now?  From the beginning of this case, Susan’s father, Chuck Cox, personally asked me and everyone else to please not point fingers at Josh Powell.  He wanted us to focus on FINDING SUSAN and not accusations or blame.  Through the past 20 months, things have changed a little bit as more and more information has come out.  But one thing has stayed the same: Chuck still has asked us to focus completely on finding Susan.  The only thing he has accused Josh of in Susan’s disappearance is not cooperating with police.  I have done the same.  Josh was my friend, too.  I have never said he is “guilty” or that he “made Susan disappear” or anything like that.  I have only said, “Josh, if you are innocent, PLEASE TALK TO POLICE and clear your name!”  I told Josh this personally, to his face, for the last time in February 2010 before he cut off all contact with me and my family.

Meanwhile, Josh and Steve Powell have used their website, SusanPowell.org, as a forum to slander, abuse, attack and demean not only Susan but Chuck and Judy Cox, Josh’s own sister Jennifer Graves, the LDS church Susan loved and belonged to, and many other people who love and care about Susan.  Still, in the face of all this, Chuck Cox has still told us: “Focus on finding Susan.”  He has consistently taken the higher road and refused to stoop to the level of Josh and Steve Powell. 

Yet in recent weeks, the level of abuse against Susan by her own husband and father-in-law has escalated and reached new lows.  They say they have several volumes of Susan’s personal journals from when Susan was 8 years old all the way to age 20.  Steve Powell has gone on record on the national news, on the Today show and others, to say that he has personally read all 2,000 pages of Susan’s childhood journals and plans to transcribe them and post them online for the world to see.  He insists that Susan was “promiscuous” and “suicidal” and that these, her childhood and teenage journal writings, prove that she “ran off” with another man.

My feelings about the absolute immorality and depravity of such an act—reading a teenage girl’s journals and planning to publish them to the world without her permission or knowledge—are no secret.  It is one of the most filthy, evil, cruel violations I have ever witnessed.  And I will not stand by and see my dear friend’s privacy, honor, personal feelings, and life violated in this evil and debase way. 

So I’m speaking out.  I am not doing this for revenge.  I am not doing this to “get back at” Steve and Josh, or to “fling mud.”  I am doing it because Susan is not here to stand up for herself.  She is not here to take her personal, private journals out of the hands of such cruel people.  She would be horrified, sickened, and beyond furious that her privacy was being violated like this.  Steve Powell is the very last person on earth she would EVER want to lay a finger on her personal journals—let alone take the time to spend hundreds of hours reading every page and “transcribing” them.  It is wrong in every way.  It is immoral, and publishing them is illegal and against copyright law.  (If Susan is alive, as Steve and Josh claim, they are violating her legal right to copyright over her own private writings.)

I did not want to expose what Susan told me in deep confidence about her father-in-law.  But enough is enough.  Susan is missing.  She was ripped away from her children, her parents, her family, her life.  She has no say in what her so-called “family of marriage” is doing to her, her reputation, her children, and her possessions.  But I will speak up for her now and forever in not allowing this evil to go forward unchallenged.

Utter Depravity

When I was a child, I kept a journal infrequently.  I’d write a few sentences…nothing too exciting.  By the time I turned 12 I started writing more often, and my teenage years got even more frequent entries.

my journal cover               my journal inside cover

These journal entries are silly…fluffy…embarrassing…and hilarious to read now, looking back.  They’re full of crushes on boys; my hopes and fears; incidents from my daily life, both mundane and earth-shattering.  They also show some things I was truly sad about.  I wrote about them as I wanted, giving full sway to my feelings because, hey, these were totally private, right?  No one would EVER read them…unless I gave my kids permission to read them when they were old enough.

This seems like a basic truth, or right, that everyone on earth should have: their own right to privacy in their thoughts and feelings…their private thoughts, kept in a private journal, diary, or notebook, contained safely away from prying eyes, not something that anyone else should ever see unless the writer chooses to share.

My friend Susan Cox Powell kept many journals during her teenage years and beyond.  She filled volumes with her private thoughts, her private feelings.  Her hopes, her dreams…probably a lot of angst…teenage melodrama, fun, anger.  She felt free to vent her feelings and thoughts in those journals, secure in the knowledge that they were safe to her.  She may have at some future point chosen to share those journals with her sons, but she certainly never read even one page of those journals to her closest friends or even her family.

Now Susan is gone: missing, disappeared, snatched from her boys, her parents and sisters, her friends, her life.  She has been missing for 19 months without a trace.  Susan’s parents have nothing left of her but memories and photographs.  They don’t even have her sons—Susan’s husband Josh has denied them access to even visit their own grandsons. 

Who has Susan’s journals?  Is it her parents, who respected Susan’s right to privacy and never read her journals? 

NO.  Susan’s private journals—the diaries of a teen girl—are in the hands of the Josh and Steve Powell family. 

Do the Powells respect the privacy and sanctity of her journals?  Do they offer, out of the kindness of their hearts, to give these journals to the Cox family for safekeeping?  Do they keep them stored away safely, so her sons could read them someday and get to know their mother, who was ripped away from them?

NO.  The Powells READ Susan’s journals.  Her father-in-law, Steve Powell—a man who should be trying to find Susan, and who should be cooperating with the police, and urging his son, Josh Powell, to cooperate with police—has gone on national television, not once, but twice, most recently this morning on the NBC Today show—to announce to the world that he has not only READ all of Susan’s private teenage journals, but he is planning to publish them on a new website, starting this week.

What kind of a man does this?

What kind of a person not only violates the sacred privacy of a young girl by reading her thoughts…thoughts that she wrote down before she ever met Josh, his father, or anyone in his family…but also decides he’s going to publish her private thoughts to the entire world?

Susan is gone.  She was taken away from all she holds dear.  Her family and friends are heartbroken, and her sons are without their mother.  She is not here to be her own voice, to stand up in defense of her thoughts, her feelings, her past actions, her life. 

This is so wrong, on every level.  This is an act of total depravity.  And I hope the people of this country and this world will realize this and stand up for Susan, for truth, for justice.  Tell your friends and everyone you know in any way you can—in person, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter–that Susan Cox Powell is still missing, that she has been taken away from her sons, that her life is not the Powell’s to lay open and expose every detail of her teen years.  Those things are Susan’s alone to reveal, and she is not here to do it.  Stand up for Susan.  And please, pray for her, her sons Charlie and Braden, and the Cox family.  Truth WILL prevail.  Justice WILL be done.  And there is a loving God in heaven who will not stand by and watch these immoral, cruel acts to be perpetrated over and over on the innocent.

Sometime last week, my brother-in-law sent an e-mail around to our extended family (my parents, my siblings and their families) with some articles about health.  In the course of some e-mail conversation, the suggestion came up that we as a family do some type of “Biggest Loser” health challenge.

We all loved the idea and spent some time together on the 4th of July talking about it.  We came up with a basic plan and the competition began yesterday.

The challenge:

“To Increase health, fitness, stamina and happiness in each family member.” 

We’ve divided the 6 families into 2 teams, 3 families on each team, trying to make both teams equal with abilities.  (We decided to keep whole families together because we want to promote family unity, not pit husbands and wives and siblings against each other.)  Each family tallies their points and reports to a team captain their family’s daily total.

The competing teams keep their points secret from each other…so Team 1 doesn’t know the total points of Team 2, and vice versa.  This will be revealed in September.

The time frame:

Ongoing—but the first “checkpoint” will be in September at a Labor Day gathering.

The plan:

We’ve decided on a list of “tasks” we can do each day to eat better, exercise more, and improve our general health and fitness.  Each task is worth a certain amount of points.  I created a simple chart (example here) that each family member can fill out each day.  We tailored it to the needs of the youngest and oldest and to our personal values (including “outside time” for older people that don’t get out much, and “spiritual tasks” for those who are already pretty fit and want more of a spiritual challenge). 

chart image

Even those of us who don’t need to lose any weight can work harder on healthy eating, drinking more water, and getting to bed earlier. 

The Basic Tasks:

* Exercise 30 minutes (worth 5 points)
* Drink water (1 point per 8 ounces)
* Eat fruit/vegetables (1 point per serving or 5 points for 3 servings)
* Use portion control during meals (1 point per meal or 5 points for a whole day of good portion control each meal and healthy snacks)
* For adults, be in bed with lights off at 10pm (5 points).  Kids in bed by 8pm (5 points)
* 1 whole day with no sugar or junk food (5 points)

The Rewards:

Since money is tight for everyone, we decided that the losing team will give the winning team services: knitted items, photo shoots, baked goods, housecleaning, babysitting, and so on.

We haven’t decided yet what exactly will happen at the September checkpoint…we’re still figuring this out as we go. 

The Results:

Of course we don’t know yet what the results will be, but we hope they will be great: increased family unity and love; better health and fitness.  I’ll report on our ongoing progress.  One thing’s for sure—we are already seeing a lot of motivation to “beat the other team” and work hard to get healthy (it’s a lot easier to make a salad, have some fruit as a snack, or make yourself exercise even if you really don’t want to when you know your whole team is counting on you).  And it’s already a lot of fun!

Cinnamon Roll Biscuits

I’m trying harder to make a real breakfast every day instead of relying on cold cereal.  Today I wanted something to go with a healthy fruit smoothie so I looked in my favorite cookbook Joy of Cooking and decided to try “Pinwheel Biscuits.”

They were easy, relatively quick, and really good.  The kids loved them and John liked them quite a lot, too.

Here’s how to do it:

1.  Find any biscuit recipe you like, and make it following the directions up until the “rolling out” part (I suppose you could do this with storebought biscuit dough, too).

biscuit dough

2.  Roll it out to either a 10-inch square or a nice rectangle.  The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.

3.  Spread softened butter all over the dough and sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on top (the recipe called for just butter, brown sugar, walnuts, and raisins, but we modified it).  Roll the dough up as you do for cinnamon rolls.

biscuit dough rolled

4.  Cut with a sharp knife in pieces as for cinnamon rolls.  My recipe I used made about 12 pieces.  (I made my pieces about 1/2 inch thick or so).

5.  Place on baking sheet, cut side down, and bake according to temperature and time called for in your biscuit recipe.  (Mine used 450 F as a temperature and 10-12 minutes for baking. Also, I like to use parchment paper on my baking sheets so things won’t stick and the tray stays clean.)  Enjoy!

biscuit dough cinammon

This worked really well for the GF (gluten-free) dough I used, also.  It’s always great to find another recipe that my son likes!  I used 1 cup of a GF mix and 1 cup of millet flour…plus xanthan gum, of course!… (I’ve recently discovered millet flour and it is GREAT for cooking with, and tastes so good).  The dough was a bit too wet so I will cut back on the liquid next time.  Bran loved it.

Baby Bird Rescue

It’s been pouring rain here in Utah the past three days. Yesterday was no exception. As the kids and I were driving to a dance performance for the girls I saw some birds flying up from the road just ahead of us. I looked more closely and saw a very small bird, just hopping in the middle of the road and not flying. "What in the world?!" I said. "What is that tiny bird?" I stopped the car and we got out.

Lo and behold–the bird was a tiny baby House Finch, a fledgling, big enough to leave the nest but not capable of flying yet. It was SO CUTE. And we knew that he/she was right in the path of oncoming traffic and the next car that came along would kill him. I had learned a couple of years ago that the whole "don’t touch baby birds because their parents will smell humans and abandon them" thing is a MYTH. Birds don’t have a very good sense of smell–they rely mainly on sight and hearing. (See this excellent article and video for good instructions of what to do if you find a baby bird.)

I also knew that a bird with most of his "baby fluff" gone and his regular, "adult" feathers grown in had likely left the nest on purpose and just needed to be left alone…but out of the road, of course! We could hear his very worried parents in the tree nearby.

So I told Ciara to gently pick up the baby and carry him to the sidewalk. She bent down and cupped her hands around the baby, and he climbed right into her hands. The look on her face as she carried him to the sidewalk was one I’ll never forget. As she put the baby down carefully near the grass and away from the road, she said, "This is the best day of my life."

baby house finch

We were so glad we had come along right then because as Ciara was walking to the sidewalk to put him down, a car came along right where he’d been. The baby would’ve died if we were five minutes later leaving our house.

The kids went back later to check on him and make sure he wasn’t back in the road. There was no sign of him, and we hope that his parents (rather than a cat or something!) took him to a safe place where he can spend his next few weeks learning to find food on the ground and growing more feathers and developing his muscles until he can safely fly away.

Homemade Bird Feeders

Back in December, the kids and I made bird feeders.  It was very easy, very fast, and lots of fun! 

Here’s how we did it.

You will need:

2-liter soda bottles (1 per feeder)

dowels or sticks (I think our dowels were 3/8 inch size)

drill and drill bits

something to cut dowels or sticks with

a ruler to measure length of sticks/dowels

bird seed

funnel

wire strong enough for hanging a full bottle

a tree, post, or peg to hang the feeder from

feeder1

1.  Wash the soda bottle thoroughly and dry well.

2.  Decide which way the bottle will hang—right-side-up or upside-down.  (We did ours upside-down, but the next ones will be right-side-up.)  Drill 4 holes a couple of inches from the bottom.  Put two of them across from each other, and the other two on the opposite sides, a little above or below the first holes.  This is to make a cross-shaped set with two dowels poking out on 4 sides of the bottle.  (This makes 4 perches for birds, but if you just want 2 perches, drill 2 holes and just use one dowel.)

feeder2

3.  Measure and cut two 8 or 9-inch pieces of dowel and push them through the holes.  They should stick out 2-3 inches from the bottle.  If you make them too long, bigger birds like European Starlings (which are real pests for many people) will be able to perch and eat all your seeds in a day or less). 

4.  Drill 4 more holes 1-2 inches above each dowel hole.  This is where the birds will stick their beaks in to get seeds.  (We actually did 2 sets of feeder holes; one for smaller birds and one for taller birds.)

5.  Drill two smaller holes near the top of the bottle, across from each other.  These will hold your wire.

6.  Cut a long piece of wire and thread it through the small holes, bringing the ends up so it looks like a “U” shape. 

7.  Drill a small hole or two in the lid (or bottom of the bottle if making a right-side-up feeder).  This hole will help drain the moisture that collects inside the bottle.  (We didn’t do this for our first feeders and are regretting it, so that’s why our next ones will be right-side-up…drilling small holes in the bottom will be easier and drain better than drilling holes in the lid.)

8.  Unscrew the lid and fill with birdseed using the funnel.  Do this in an area that’s easy to clean (or even outside…ground-feeding birds like sparrows and quail will thank you for the spilled seed).  Some of the seeds will spill out the holes, but not much.  Screw the lid back on.

feeder4

9.  Take the feeder outside and hang from a branch or post.  (I’ve heard there are wall-mount things you can buy to mount it from your house, as well.)  You can either make a loop of wire and hang it on a nicely slanted branch, or if you only have straight branches, put the wire around a branch and twist the ends together several times.  Make sure the wire ends are tucked under the branch where bird feet won’t catch on them.

feeder5

feeder8

10.  Wait patiently.  It may take up to 2 weeks before the birds find out there’s a new restaurant in the neighborhood.  You might want to scatter some seeds on the ground around the feeder, and even small bits of bread crumbled up.  We waited one week before we got our first customer—a beautiful male house finch—and then were mobbed a few days later (on Christmas Day, no less!) with Black-Capped Chickadees, House Sparrows (ugh), Dark-Eyed Juncos (Oregon variety), and California Quail

Since then we’ve also been visited by lots of male and female House Finches, 2 Mountain Chickadees, a Northern Flicker, a pair of Eurasian Collared-Doves, various Mourning Doves, several Black-Billed Magpies, lots of European Starlings (though they can’t perch on the feeders), and one Spotted Towhee.

You may want to consider making some pine-cone feeders while you wait.  These are quite effective–the birds love them!  They’re very easy:

1.  Find some nice bristly pinecones

2.  Tie a sturdy string or thread around them

3.  Cover them in peanut butter

4.  Sprinkle bird seed all over the peanut butter.  Some people mix cornmeal into the peanut butter, too, so the birds can digest it better

5.  Hang from a branch and watch the birds enjoy their tasty treat.  (Warning: Starlings LOVE these things, so cross your fingers that they don’t discover it or the peanut butter will be gone in an hour.)  Chickadees adore this treat, and they’re so curious and friendly that they may let you eventually stand a few feet away and snap some pictures like these:

pb9   

Black-Capped Chickadee

pb5

Mountain Chickadee…notice the white stripe above his eyes

pb4jpg

Here you can see the stripe isn’t a complete circle

pb6

Snatching some peanut butter.  We named this guy “Mountain Dude.”

pb7

Chickadees are so much fun to watch…they’re quite the acrobats. The purple
ribbons are for my friend, missing mother Susan Cox Powell. 

pb3

My favorite picture: a beak full of peanut butter, while “Ginny,” a curious female house finch, watches from a few branches above

We look forward every day to seeing old favorites as well as new birds at our feeders.  It’s also a terrific nature project for the kids…they can observe and draw the birds from two feet away inside the house and learn the differences in genders, types of birds, and how they act and eat. 

The Great Backyard Bird Count

I’ve been into birdwatching (or “birding” as it is commonly called) for a little less than a year now, and this year the kids and I are participating in the GBBC—The Great Backyard Bird Count.

Basically, everyone in North America can count the birds wherever they go this long weekend (Friday through Monday)…whether it be on birding trips or hikes, or just on a trip to a local park or running errands to the grocery store.  Did you see 6 pigeons when you went to WalMart?  You can count that.  Were your kids playing at the park when a flock of 30 starlings flew by?  Check.  Did some adorable black-capped chickadees come visit your yard bird feeder this morning?  The GBBC people want to know. (Scientists use this information gathered every year to track bird trends, health and other things.)

Here’s the website with all the information you need to participate.  There’s also a section for kids with a birdsong quiz, puzzles, recipes for bird treats, and more.

We are having a blast watching the home page for the GBBC change constantly as it’s updated every 30 minutes or so with bird finds from across the country.  Yesterday morning, when it started, there were a few red dots marking submitted checklists in the west part of the U.S., with a large cluster of them on the East Coast.  Now the map is nearly full of red, with lots in Canada and Mexico, too.  We love to see the bird count and species count change.

You can also access lists for your state and even city.  We are following Utah (because we live here) and Wisconsin (my beautiful home state…I love that my hometown of Eagle River even had 1 checklist submitted! Thank you, unknown Eagle River birder).

Yesterday we watched our back and front yards for a while and counted 1 Black-Capped Chickadee, 1 Mountain Chickadee, 12 House Sparrows, 5 Starlings, 1 House Finch, 1 Dark-Eyed Junco (Oregon variety) and a Spotted Towhee.  The Spotted Towhee was a thrilling find…we’d never seen one before, let alone had one visit our yard!  They’re beautiful birds.  The kids decided they have the head of a Junco, the tail of a Magpie, and the stomach of a Robin. 

Spotted Towhee (from Wikipedia)

Last night we went out to the International Center, near the airport, and saw a Great-Horned Owl.  He was more awake than the last time we’d seen him and the kids were so excited to see him wide awake and looking at them.  We tried to get some pictures but our cameras aren’t the best:

gbbc4

Here’s the nest, which is a bundle of pine needles, sticks, and leaves, and the owl peering out of his nest

We also had a fun time feeding the ducks in a nearby pond, despite the bone-chilling wind.

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gbbc1

Nia thought it would be fun to pretend this bench was a bed

The kids were beyond excited to come home and enter their count on the GBBC checklists.  They loved the fact that we counted the only Great-Horned Owl and the only Killdeer (as of this morning) for Utah.

Note: In the half hour or so I’ve been composing this blog post, the national bird count has gone up by 4,000 birds.  We hope you’ll consider taking part in the fun!

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