"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy 38th Birthday Julie


You were my first conscious thought today, on my mind before I even opened my eyes. Today you would have been 38. It’s the fourth year your birthday will be celebrated without you. I’m still not sure how to do that. It used to be easy, just a matter of picking up the phone and calling to let you know how much I love you and how happy I was to celebrate the day you were born. Now I write you letters that are impossible to send, messages that will never be answered.

Birthdays are so hard, not just yours but mine too. Four years ago I didn’t imagine that every year my birthday would be another reminder of my loss. That’s what birthdays are though, markers of the passage of time. They measure the years of our lives. Your birthday is a reminder of how abruptly your life ended-over much too soon-leaving so many of us behind facing decades of celebrating your birthday without the guest of honor.

I wonder what you would be like at 38? How would you have aged? Would you look any different? You’re frozen in time at 34, forever young. I watch your friends grow older, always thinking of you as they carry on with their lives. When I look at the pictures of their life’s moments both big and small I can’t help but wonder if you would be doing the same things they are now. Would you be married? Would you have kids? Would you have the same job? Where would you be living? More than anything I wonder if you would be happy.

Later this year many of your friends will gather at your 20-year high school reunion. I know seeing those pictures of all of them together will be painful for me. You should be there, celebrating and reminiscing beside them and cutting it up on the dance floor like you did at your 10-year reunion. Instead, you’ll be one of the “classmates who are no longer with us” that will be recognized and remembered.

Everyone tells me I shouldn’t be sad today. Instead, I should remember all the good times and celebrate the years I had with you. I do that on lots of other days. I look at your pictures and laugh and remember. On other days I’m okay, I don’t ask why, I don’t hurt, or mourn, and I’m not angry. I’m a poster child for how to accept the unacceptable, but not today. Today I’ll look at your pictures and cry. I’ll gaze at your beautiful blue eyes, your curly hair, your smile, and I’ll miss all those things about you and so much more. Today I’ll just be missing you, my little sister.

Happy Birthday Jules. I love you forever.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spring Has Sprung

The last two weeks have been full of home improvement projects around here. Maybe it's because I'm in a spring cleaning mood, wanting my house looking fresh and light after a dark winter. It's also because I realized the many projects I intended to get done over the winter still weren't finished and soon I'd be wanting to focus my time outside rather than inside. 

Mike had promised to help me with many of my "honey-do's" and told me to make him a list and put it on the fridge. The list went up, and nothing got checked off. He was much too busy running the bar and finishing a construction project. My patience wore thin and my nagging increased. Finally, he outsourced some of the items on the list, hiring someone to come in and finish painting my basement. I'm just as responsible for that job remaining unfinished for so long. I'm embarrassed to admit it's needed painting for  7 - 8 years now! I walk through that room every single day of my life, but because I don't use it for much of anything I didn't feel a great sense of urgency to finish it. It's an awkward space with doors on every wall but one, with a support beam in front of the only wall without a door. This makes furniture placement difficult. Mainly we use it for the three dog kennels and the  treadmill collecting dust in the corner. 

I decided to make better use of the space by turning it into a workout room, which prompted me to want it finished. I also moved my desk into the room, putting it in the open instead of in my mostly unused basement office room. Now that I use a laptop my old PC sat on the desk, taking up space and rarely used. The PC is gone now, and the desk is out where it can be used again to hold office supplies and the printer. Now the room is a combo office/workout space/pet room with three dogs AND a tortoise residing there. I'm not sure if the pets appreciate the freshly painted walls and trim, but I sure do! 

Next on the list was my main bathroom. It all started with changing out the light fixture, which was an awful bar light with exposed, round decorative bulbs. I've loathed it since I moved in 11 years ago. However, replacing it wasn't simple, as it required moving the electrical junction box so a new light could be centered above the mirror. That in turn would require patching up the hole it would leave in the wall. I finally got Mike to take on the project which turned into patching the hole along with several chipped areas on my 70+ year old lathe and plaster walls. This of course would require re-painting the room. I was ready for a new paint color anyway, as I was tired of the very dark green walls and wanted something lighter and less dated looking. 

Once the bathroom was painted I decided I wanted a shade on the window to filter the harsh winter light that comes in during the late afternoon. I searched online for the kind of shade I wanted in the fabric I wanted. In order to get one in the correct size I would have to custom order a shade, which would cost much more than I cared to spend. So, I turned to Pinterest, the do-it-yourselfer's best friend. I'd seen a roman shade made out of plain old plastic horizontal blinds. After a little trial and error, here's the finished product. I'm very happy with how it turned out and I'm only into it $30! 

Of course, the new paint and blinds made me want to do something about the tile around my bathtub. The decorative tiles just aren't my style. The tile is in very good condition though, and I don't want to spend the money to replace it right now. One day it occurred to me that I could probably paint the tile. Pinterest to the rescue again! I researched and found that using the right technique they could be painted. I decided I'd paint all the trim around the edge black and also paint the accent tiles black. This should still fit my vintage 1940's house and it will also add to my new neutral color scheme with black and white accents. I'll let you know how that project turns out as I haven't tackled it yet. I do have all the supplies and might start on it today. In case you're wondering why I have a mouse trap on my soap, I use it to stop my Labrador Sophie from eating the soap. It only took being snapped by it once to condition her to stay away. It's not set, but she doesn't know that.
Time is running out to finish my indoor projects. My yard is beckoning and my head is full of projects I want to accomplish in it this spring and summer, including relocating my square foot garden box, repainting my shed, painting my arbor gate, and building a compost bin. I also have quite a bit of spring clean up to do. For now, I'm enjoying my spring flowers that are in bloom, bringing  with them dreams of the warmer, sunnier days to come.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Time or Money?

 Today I read this post on a financial blog I follow called Get Rich Slowly. It talks about work/life balance and the trade-offs of working long hours to make a larger salary. I've spent an awful lot of time thinking about this lately wondering how much money I really need to be content with my life and what I have. Which do I value more - time or money?

That's an easy one for me to answer. I'll take time over money. Of course we all need a certain amount of money to live, and not having enough definitely sucks! But I refuse to be a slave to making money. My mantra has always been "You have to work, to eat, to live." But I definitely don't live to work. My work is a means to an end, which is living my life. I agree with the author that money is just a tool to get us the things we want in life. The trick, or really the challenge, because I think it is a challenge for most people, is learning how to effectively use the tool. 

I've always been pretty good at managing my money and spending conservatively, but last year I was starting to feel pretty stressed about money. I make a decent income, but I will definitely never get rich working where I am and I've always had to carefully budget my money. I'm pretty proud of the fact that I've been able to support myself and my daughter for the last 11 years, including buying a house, with just my salary. We've even been able to go on vacations and enjoy plenty of other fun, frivolous things. But somehow over the last several years I had started to be less vigilant about making and sticking to a budget. Sure, I had one. Sort of. In my head. 

I knew what I had to do and knew how to do it. I needed to put a budget on paper and I needed to follow it. Easy, right? I'm embarrassed to admit how many years it had been since I had an actual, real, tangible written budget. I work at a credit union! We preach budgets. I oversee finding staff to provide or assist with financial literacy training related activities in schools. I have pages about budgeting and debt reduction bookmarked on my computer at work! I know exactly how it's done. And yet, I wasn't doing it, at least not 100%.

I spent most of 2013 half-heartedly creating and tracking my spending on budgets I made in Excel. It never lasted more than a month at a time. I knew I needed a different system. According to my spreadsheets everything should be fine, but I was still feeling pretty stretched most months. So I looked around for a system that would work. After hours of looking at different methods and systems I decided to commit to Dave Ramsey's money management techniques. What he teaches makes so much sense to me. He's all about being debt free. His plan is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy. 

I created a new budget, and I also created a spending plan so I know exactly what I'm paying out of each paycheck. The thing that helps me the most is using cash with specific amounts for different spending categories in designated envelopes. When it's gone, it's gone. No cheating allowed. If I spend all my grocery cash from one paycheck and need more groceries I can't take cash out of another budget envelope to pay for groceries. Being aware, and knowing I have to pay with the cash I have in my envelope vs. paying with a debit card has made me a committed menu planner and frugal grocery shopper. Spending with cold, hard cash instead of using a card makes a huge psychological difference. It's much harder to spend real money!

The plan is working so far. I've paid off some debts much sooner than I ever thought I would by being very disciplined and focused about my spending. Sometimes it's tedious keeping track of everything in such a detailed way. Occasionally I'm really tempted to take money out of my grocery envelope to pay for a latte when my latte allowance envelope is empty. So far I've only fallen off the wagon once, taking liquor store envelope cash and using it for a chai latte. Liquor. Coffee. Same difference.They're both unnecessary vices, right? At least that's how I justified it to myself. 

I keep reminding myself my short-term sacrifices will be worth it in the long term. Money isn't what I live for. I want my money to work for me so I can enjoy life doing what I want, like traveling more and spending leisure time with the people I love.

What's more important to you? Time or money? Why?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Next Door Neighbors

My next door neighbor died last week. It was a sad day for me, our neighborhood and our community. Dr. Farr was known and loved by hundreds, if not thousands. He practiced as an obstetrician in town for over 40 years. In fact, he delivered some of my siblings. I forget why he didn't deliver me. I think I was too quick for him and he didn't make it to the hospital soon enough. My mom will have to correct me if I'm wrong. 

Our houses are extremely close with only about 15 feet between our side yards. My kitchen window looks directly into theirs, giving me an odd, voyeuristic and intimate view into their life over the years. Their house sits lower than mine, so they can't see into my kitchen from theirs. When I moved in 11 years ago I was leery of having neighbors quite so close. I felt that I was somehow violating their privacy if I even looked their direction when they were in the kitchen. Those fears where soon put to rest when their oldest son, Ricky, waved to me from their kitchen. Ricky is mentally handicapped, so although he's in his late 50's, he functions at a much younger level.

I'll never forget the advice of the woman I bought the house from. She explained to me that Ricky was a talker. He'll talk for hours without any break in a conversation that allows one to say goodbye and walk away. She told me I'd have to learn to just walk away and go in the house when I'd had enough, and promised that he wouldn't be offended. She was right. At first it was a bit of an annoyance, but I quickly learned to appreciate his chatter and company as he followed me around as I worked outside. He's also good for helping lift and carry things that are too heavy for me or need two people to manage. 

Mrs. Farr died about two years ago. She was an incredibly sweet woman who loved to talk and visit. Between her and her husband, I couldn't have asked for better neighbors. On one of my first visits to their house to drop off some holiday treats she brought up my view into their kitchen. I'd always wondered why they didn't have curtains on that window. Their visibility to me didn't bother her one bit. In fact, she told me that the daffodils under their window were planted specifically for the pleasure of one of the previous occupants of my house, as they were a favorite flower of hers. She told me how she watched out for the woman who lived there just before me. She'd lost her husband and a daughter in a horrific car accident and was severely hurt herself. In the months following the accident, Mrs. Farr was very concerned about her. She asked her to get up every morning and turn the light on in her kitchen to signal she was okay. If there was no light, Mrs. Farr knew to come over and help. 

My Lucy and the daffodils under the Farr's window.

I often marveled at the patience and dedication they both showed to their son. Every weekday morning Dr. Farr made him a hot breakfast before Ricky headed off to his job, usually pancakes or french toast and eggs . Saturdays were their days together, which they spent doing yard work and other chores. Up until last fall, Dr. Farr, who was in his mid-eighties, was outside doing his own fall clean-up and keeping his immaculate yard in tip-top shape. 

Watching the routine and rhythms of their daily lives over the years was a pleasure. The predictability of their life brought me comfort. Breakfast was always at the same time. Dr. Farr was often baking and Mrs. Farr talked on the phone a lot, always the social butterfly. On Sundays I'd often hear the scrape of their back door as Dr. Farr came out to the patio to grill something for dinner. In the late fall their window awnings would come down, signaling that winter would soon be upon us. Every spring they went back up, as much a sign of the coming spring as the crocus blooming. Each May their patio filled up with potted annuals, which they would take up to their summer home as soon as the danger of frost was gone. At our annual July 24 street party there was always Dr. Farr's homemade raspberry ice cream for dessert. In the fall he would show up at my side door with a bag of peaches he'd bought from a roadside fruit stand. At Christmastime he would bring over some of his homemade chocolate chip cookies. 

When I stopped seeing Dr. Farr in the kitchen each morning and noticed his daughter and granddaughter at the house every day I knew something was wrong. Within a short time, there were strangers in their kitchen making Ricky's breakfast, home health care aides who were there 24 hours a day. When the light in their main level office was on in the evenings and the middle of the night, I knew Dr. Farr's office had become his bedroom so he would no longer have to take the steep stairs up to his bedroom. The same thing had happened during Mrs. Farr's last weeks when she was on hospice care. All of the signs were there. Something was seriously wrong. My suspicions were confirmed when I ran into their daughter at the grocery store and learned Dr. Farr was suffering from a rapidly advancing form of Parkinson's Disease. I only glimpsed him a few times after that, stooped over at the table and barely able to eat. Ricky was often in the kitchen alone wandering like a lost soul. His breakfasts were solemn affairs now and he often ate alone. It made my heart break. When all of their adult children and grand kids showed up, I knew the end was very close and I watched every morning for signs that Dr. Farr had died. 

Now the house sits empty and still most of the time. When I look into their window I see only darkness. All of their family have returned to their homes. Ricky has moved into his sister's home a few blocks away. He'll be back every week for a while to take the garbages out in the neighborhood, a job he insisted on doing for neighbors around us for several blocks. The house will be sold soon. I'll have to learn to remember when it's garbage day and get my containers to the street. Eventually I'll have new neighbors. I wonder what they'll be like. Will they put curtains up? Will they fit in with our street where we all know just enough of each other's business to know when something isn't right? Will they understand what big shoes they have to fill? For now I'm waiting and hoping for the best.

The view from my kitchen window into the Farr's backyard.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sharing on StoryCorps

Last fall Mike was contacted by a freelance reporter who was working in partnership with NPR's StoryCorps on a storytelling project for Atlantic Philanthropies. The project would tell stories in several areas of human rights, including deportation and the effect on children of immigrants living in the U.S. During their research for stories to  illustrate the issues they came across some newspaper articles that had been written about Isaac and Mike.

A few weeks later a team of two reporters came to town to interview the two of them. They recorded over two hours of interviews that would be edited and used in the final video. Several weeks after that, Harvey Wang, a photographer/videographer from New York came to Ogden to record video footage. 

Over two days he followed Mike and Isaac around, taking video of them doing a variety of everyday activities. On his last day here he came over for breakfast which was when we discovered he's a very talented photographer and filmmaker with an impressive portfolio of work. He's even won Emmy's! Who knew? Definitely not us, we just knew he was working on the project as a freelancer. 

We introduced him to O-town and its charms, and he kept us entertained with stories about his different projects. He even joined us for Salon Sunday with our group of friends from Foley's MMA Training Center. The group includes some MMA fighters, not the kind of guys you'd expect to find hanging out, drinking beer, and getting salon treatments. Salon Sundays aren't complete until we've had our nostrils waxed. I know, it sounds weird and painful, but don't knock it until you've tried it. After some cajoling, we convinced Harvey to give it a try. Yep, that was one of the Ogden highlights we had to share with the Emmy award winning artist from New York!

After he left we waited, and waited, to see the finished product. Around Christmastime a package arrived with CD's of Mike and Issac's complete interview, a thank you note and some pictures from Harvey. Still no finished project though.

Yesterday, curious and wondering why on earth we hadn't heard anything, I did some searching. Within minutes I found the video on the Atlantic Philanthropies website. As far as I can tell the entire project, which is being produced by a not-for-profit production company called LongHaul, isn't complete yet. But the video is. I think it's great! You can watch it here. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Pain and Purpose

Last night at this time I was sitting in bed in excruciating pain with an ice pack on my lower back. Tonight I'm sitting in bed amazed at the difference 24 hours and a chiropractic treatment can make. Until today I'd never been to a chiropractor and was somewhat skeptical about the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment. That all changed today. I'm a believer.

My back has been bothering me off and on for the last two weeks. I think I may have tweaked it while running two weeks ago when I slipped slightly on a patch of ice. Somehow I must have aggravated it Saturday. How or when I did it is a mystery to me. All I know is yesterday I woke up with severe lower back pain on one side and as the day wore on I couldn't move without horrible pain. Even bending over to pick up the laundry basket was too painful to bear! Muscle relaxants didn't help.

This morning I was desperate for relief and hoped a chiropractor could help. Thanks to my Facebook friends I received many referrals for practitioners in the area. I chose one and was able to get in late this afternoon. He confirmed what I suspected. I'd tweaked a joint in my lower right back/hip area and had quite a bit of inflammation around it. After less than 20 minutes of treatment I walked out feeling noticeably better. The pain has continued to lessen throughout this evening and I can even bend down to pick things up and go up and down stairs without horrible pain. I'm feeling so much better and hopeful that things will continue to improve tomorrow.
Partying in Park City.                         Photo by Steve Conlin
Life in other areas has remained busy as always. At the end of January I celebrated my 44th birthday with friends in Park City. We went to a Sundance party hosted by local friends who own an Ogden distillery. We were out until 3 a.m.The next morning I remembered I was 44 and far too old for such late nights of drinking and celebrating followed by Del Taco food at 2:30 a.m.! 
Touring ice castles on my birthday with our friends Barrett & Katie.
Last week we celebrated Isaac's 20th birthday. Where does the time go? It seems like we just barely celebrated his 18th birthday! Mike made a delicious dinner of Chicken Fettuccine followed by a Tres Leches birthday cake. 
Isaac's 20th Birthday 
Silent Auction prep
Two nights later we went to the annual Share Your Heart fundraising dinner for the Family Counseling Center of Northern Utah (FCS). I was asked to join their board of trustees around this time last year. It wasn't too long after that they asked me to co-chair the fundraiser. Somehow I always seem to end up helping with fundraisers, especially with organizing silent auctions. Luckily, there was a great committee working with me and my co-chair is a woman I trust, respect and work well with. We've worked together for several years on Junior League fundraisers so I knew she was experienced and capable. 

Despite the stress and late nights the two days before the event I felt (and still do) humbled and grateful to be helping raise funds for something I believe in so passionately. FCS provides low-cost mental health counseling to uninsured people in my community. Their services are desperately needed and their number of clients continues to grow. So many people suffer with depression and other mental health issues because they don't know help is available, or they think they can't afford to get help. 

In the past few years I've learned so much about the lack of affordable mental health services for people and the tremendous need for such services. Helping to educate the public about and support low-cost mental health services is as important to me as suicide prevention education. The two go hand-in-hand. So many suicides could be prevented if more people had access to affordable mental health services. Helping facilitate and support this in whatever way I can is something very, very personal to me. As tedious as the tasks involved with organizing a fundraiser are, I'm happy to know the money we raised will be used to help people who may not otherwise be helped. I'll be forever grateful to my friend (and fundraiser co-chair) for recognizing that this was a cause I would be committed to, and recommending me for a place on the FCS board. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


This post was going to be about money, goals and paying off debt but that topic will have to wait for another day. My mind has been preoccupied and unsettled all week, my heart heavy and sad so I'll instead write about what's on my mind. 

Last week there were two murder-suicides in Utah, one in a community close to where I live. In both instances young children were killed by their parents before they took their own lives, which is an added dimension of horror to an already horrific situation. All of the victims are strangers to me, although one of them was a friend to many people I know. Still, my heart is heavy and sad for these strangers, for the beautiful lives lost, and the grief and despair I know so many of their friends and family are now experiencing and will live with forever. 

There was a time in my life when such news would have given me only momentary pause. I would have thought how sad it was for their families, but then would have quickly forgotten all about it and carried on with my life. Now such news causes an instant, visceral reaction in me, triggering memories and thoughts that take me back to the darkest days of my life. Not only my mind, but my body remembers what such devastating news and grief feels like, triggering what can best be described as a post-traumatic stress reaction. 

Now, every suicide I hear about is personal to me. I grieve for the person that was in such emotional pain that they felt the only way to escape it was to end their life. I feel deep regret that the epidemic of suicide is continuing, that people still don't seem to be hearing the message of hope and that so many survivors are sharing. My heart aches for their families and friends, knowing how profoundly their lives will be affected. I cry for them, for me, and for my sweet sister Julie. My mind remembers things that most of the time are buried so deeply that they seem forgotten. I remember the phone call from my sister telling me she knew something was horribly wrong. I remember being told our worst nightmare was true, where I was and how time seemed to stop, the world as I knew it shifting and falling away. I remember calling my dad to break the news, the exact words I said, his scream and feeling his anguish from clear across the country. Every heartbreaking moment of the first days, weeks and months after Julie's death comes back to me. 

I want to reach out to the survivors, the newest members of our awful club and tell them I understand. There will be questions they'll never have the answers to, but hopefully they'll be able to make peace with those unknowns. I want to let them know that even though they don't think they can survive this, they can. Their broken hearts can heal. Joy will eventually return to their lives. 

All of these thoughts and memories remind me that grieving is a circular process. It never really ends, but is does change and soften. Anger turns to compassion and understanding. Denial and avoidance turns to acceptance. There will always be grief and sadness for the lives cut short, the dreams unrealized, and the beloved individuals who will no longer share their gifts with the world. I'm reminded of how far I've come and how much I've healed, that I'm a survivor in the truest sense of the word. I've come to truly appreciate and cherish moments like I had yesterday while I was running. Julie was there in my mind the entire time. Yes, my thoughts of her made me sad and filled with regret that she'll never run beside me again. But I refused to give in to the sadness. I kept on determined, putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward, happy to be alive.