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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Class of '94

The Pueblo East High School Class of 1994 is reuniting this weekend for their 20-year high school reunion. They’ll laugh, reminisce, cry, celebrate and marvel at the fact that 20 years has flown by so quickly. They’ll tell stories of youthful adventures and indiscretions, parties, class pranks, young love and heartbreak, and wonder how they ever survived some of the stupid things they did. They’ll try to reconcile their still young-at-heart mental state with their 38-year bodies and the big 4-0 looming in their futures. They’ll share pictures of their children, talk about their careers and families, and take stock of where their lives are now compared to where they thought they would be back in 1994 as they looked forward to the future. They’ll also remember the classmates who aren’t there with them that left this life far too young. My sister Julie is among those who will be remembered. On Saturday morning at 8:08 a.m. many of her classmates will gather for the Pueblo East Class of ’94 808 run, a 5k run organized by some of Julie’s friends in her honor.

I’ve thought so much about Julie this week. Partly because her friends, as loyal to her in death as they were in life, have so generously included our family in their plans and shared their memories and thoughts of her with us. I know this is a hard time for them too. Julie was part of a tight-knit group of friends who have remained closely connected over the last 20 years. Her loss is felt very deeply by all of them. This milestone in their lives is a vivid reminder to all of us of how much life Julie had left to live. I’ve long since resolved my anger toward Julie for taking her life. I no longer feel mad and resentful about what she took from all of us. I do, however, still feel incredibly cheated sometimes—cheated out of a future with my sister in my life and the opportunity to celebrate her life’s milestones and achievements with her. When she took her life she also took the promise of her future with her. As I watch her friends raise families, have careers and enjoy their lives I’m reminded of so much that will never be.

For Julie’s fellow Eagles: Tomorrow morning when you run along the familiar streets of your youth I want every one of you to know how special you were in her life. During one of our last times together the two of us went for a run through Pueblo. We talked about her move there, her time in high school and her friends. I was struck then by how meaningful those relationships were to her. I didn’t understand how truly lucky she was to have such special friends in her life until after her death when so many of your showed such love and concern for my entire family. Now I understand why she felt so lucky to have all of you in her life.

I imagine that at some point this weekend Footloose will be played for Julie. I hope everyone dances with abandon just as Julie would have done if she were there. My hope is that more than anything this weekend is a celebration of life and friendship. Tomorrow when you run for Julie, run with a smile and the knowledge that she cherished her friendship and connections to each of you. Tragically, when it mattered most her illness didn’t allow her mind to remember how dearly she was loved by so many. All that love wasn’t enough to save her. But as true friends do, you have all remained loyal. That you continue to show your love for her in so many ways means so much to me. Her death left me the gift of your friendship, and that’s a gift I will always treasure.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Leaving the Nest

Spending time with my girl - July 2014
Last week I had a preview of what it must feel like to be an empty nester and I'm not sure I like it. Gillian left earlier this month for a 10-day vacation. Her dad and stepmom, brave souls that they are, took her and three of her friends on a road trip to California. Gillian wanted to spend some time on the beach near the ocean this summer. Living in a land-locked state, that's kind of a tall order. Being the determined, focused planner that she is (hmmm...I wonder where she gets that from?) she decided many months ago that her and her friends were going to California and hitting the beach this summer. The fact that they're all 15, unemployed and don't have driver's licenses didn't even give her pause. 

It didn't take much twisting of the finger her dad is wrapped around before the trip was a go. Itineraries were planned, reservations made and money saved. Each girl had to contribute $200 towards the cost of renting a house for the week. Gillian, a girl after my own heart, carefully planned and saved and came up with the $200 plus spending money for the trip. I was impressed with her single-minded determination and discipline over the next several months as she saved the money needed for her trip. 

The long-awaited departure day finally arrived. I said goodbye with a sigh of relief. Ten days of freedom! My workdays would be free from numerous text messages with urgent requests demanding immediate attention.  No more interruptions asking about rides to the mall, permission to have a sleepover, or go to a party or a friend's house. I was looking forward to a break from the demands of parenting a teenager during the summer while working full-time. Anyone who has done it before knows what I'm talking about. 

I'm used to being away from my daughter for extended periods of time. I've had a 50/50 joint custody arrangement with her dad since she was 4 years old. She lives away from me every other week. I've long since gotten over any anxiety and sadness about not having her with me every day. I've learned to go with the rhythm of one week on, one week off of parenting. Still, I always sleep better and feel much more settled and content on the nights she's asleep in the room next to mine. 

It was a long ten days. I missed our frequent interactions. Even when she isn't with me, we have a lot of back and forth communication and frequent contact. During her vacation I tried not to bug her and barrage her with constant messages. We texted back and forth every day or two while she was gone. She was sweet and sent me pictures and videos. This one especially touched my heart.
Her message was simple, "Look who it is." I love Olivia Newton-John and the two of us have spent many happy times dancing and singing our hearts out in the kitchen to songs from Grease. 

When she finally made it home I couldn't believe how much she had changed! She was tan and happy and beautiful. She seemed more mature. I loved hearing her tell me about her trip. As we sat at the dinner table, just the two of us, I realized how precious that moment was and how fleeting our time together over the next few years is going to be. My mind flashed to the future and I realized this was probably how I'll feel when she comes home from college for visits in the not so distant future. I saw myself waiting, hungrily, for her next visit, basking in the unique glow of her youthful energy, beauty, excitement and stories of discovery. I saw her as the adult person she is rapidly becoming, a person with a life that is becoming more separate from mine. It struck me that my nest would be empty much sooner than I realized. 

Sometimes as our babies grow, demanding and squawking for their needs to be met NOW, the nest can feel so crowded and suffocating. The day they spread their wings and fly away seems as if it will never come. And then, it does, and the void they leave is huge, much bigger than the actual physical space they took up. I realized I'm not quite ready for that empty nest. I'm good with some brief, experimental flights away and then back, but I'm not ready for that final flight away, not for a while. 
The girls on the beach.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Summer So Far

How does so much time get away from me? I've had great intentions of chronicling my summer activities but haven't done a good job of that, obviously. To catch things up, here's a recap of this summer so far. 

May was busy as always with end of school year activities, getting my  new raised garden bed that Mike built me planted, potting flowers, a visit from my mom and a visit to Colorado over Memorial Day. 
Gillian won 2nd place in the District Festival of the Arts
She also had her first broken bone--a broken wrist from falling off a long board
Mom said she would help me with my gardening. This is how she helped. 
She did  at least dig out some vinca vine and made sure I captured it on camera.
Upper right - my garden just after planting in May.
Lower left - my garden today. Our tortoise loves having garden fresh lettuce.
My dogs ignore my posted warning. Luckily, I haven't had a similar problem with sailors.
Lunch at a former Colorado Springs school building now called the Principal's Office
with my cousin Michelle and my mom.
Another one from the Principal's Office. 
May was over before I knew it and June has turned out to be as full as May. In mid-June Mike, Gillian and I traveled to Boulder, Utah for the weekend to attend my older brother's wedding. It deserves an entire blog post, but for now I'll say it was the best wedding I've ever been to. It was the perfect mix of sophisticated, casual, country and lots of fun! Here are a some pictures.
In between work, traveling, yard work and the many activities that happen all summer long I have managed to set aside some time for relaxing on my back patio sipping Mojitos with friends. I have a handy supply of mint growing in the planter boxes that Mike made for me. I do love summer evenings on my patio! 
Lucy enjoying the summer sunshine.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Grandma

I've been absent from the blogosphere for so long that I may have lost all of my followers. If not, I'm finally able to spend some time catching up on every one's lives and put down some words about what has been going on in my world. Summer has been busy so far with both work and play. I'll recap the last month and a half in a separate post.

Me with grandma & grandpa - 2008
The past few weeks have been a time of mourning and saying goodbye to my grandma, or Grandma Chris as most of us grand kids have always called her. Grandma Chris is my dad's mother, Gloria Marie Christiansen. The family said goodbye to grandma on Tuesday at her funeral following her death a week ago.

Grandma's death wasn't unexpected. She became ill several weeks ago and was put on home hospice care. When I first found this out I felt a little panicked. I knew I'd have to face her death sooner rather than later, but when I was actually confronted with it I didn't feel at all prepared. My dad, aunts, grandpa and uncles were all taking turns being with her 24/7. None of us expected her to last more than a week. Emotions were high on my first visit  after she was put on hospice. I walked into the house not knowing what to expect. I was scared. What would I say? How would she look? How on earth was I supposed to say goodbye? I sat next to her bed, holding her hand while tears streamed down my face, barely able to talk. Seeing my grandpa so sad made it even harder. When I left I was thankful for the chance to see and talk to my sweet grandma, but I was also completely grief-stricken at the thought of her no longer being a part of my life. 

For the next several days and nights I waited, expecting a call at anytime telling me that she was gone. The call never came. I sent my dad frequent texts asking for updates. I probably drove him crazy with my constant need for information. I was going to be going out of town for a few days, so I visited again before leaving town. Things were much better on that visit. Grandma was frail, but she was talking. We visited about everyday things--talking about my grandpa's garden, the weather, what I was up to in my life, just regular stuff. Not a single tear was shed. It felt like so many other past visits to grandma and grandpa's. My dad, grandpa, aunts and uncles were just down the hall, gathered in the living room laughing and sharing stories, teasing each other like they always have. I stayed for over an hour just soaking it all in, enjoying every moment. I left town feeling very at peace. Things were just as they should be. Grandma was home, in her own bed with her husband and children there with her. She was being cared for in the most tender, loving, gracious, way possible. 

Heading into her third week of hospice care when I returned from my trip, amazingly, not much had changed. I was lucky enough to get one more visit with grandma, spending a couple of hours with her and grandpa so my dad and aunt could have a break. Did my dad  know how much I needed more time with her? What a gift that time was. Those are treasured hours for me, very precious memories. Grandma and I talked about so many things. She was happy and smiling, even kind of silly. Grandpa and I watched Gunsmoke in between checking on grandma. I smile just thinking of that night. I'll be forever thankful for that time with her. 

Grandma died the next night. I was able to say one last goodbye during her last hour. I said my goodbye with absolutely no regrets. She knew how much she meant to me--how deeply I loved her--and I know how much she loved me. I was lucky enough to have her in my life for 44 years. I am so grateful for the beautiful, dignified death she had. My sadness and grief is softened by knowing how well she was loved at the end. I'm in awe of the way my dad and his siblings took care of grandma non-stop for over three weeks. I witnessed absolute devotion as my grandpa took tender, loving care of his wife of 70 years. Her death proved to me you really do get back what you put out into the world. Grandma died as she deserved to, with all the love she had spent her life giving others being returned to her ten-fold. 
Gillian with her great-grandma 
Keicha Marie, Gloria Marie and Gillian Marie
Valentine's Day 2013

Sunday, May 4, 2014

C-SPAN Cities Tour Featuring Ogden

Ogden was abuzz with excitement last month after being selected to be featured on the C-SPAN cities tour. Ogden tends to get a bad rap in Utah. It's long been known as a rough town, blue collar and full of Gentiles. It's not unusual to hear it referred to as Dogden, a reference to the awful smell that sometimes permeates the city when the local dog food factory is in production mode. Only the locals speak the shorthand of saying "It's a dog food day" while wrinkling up our noses and then continuing on with our lives. It's a small price to pay for living in such a beautiful town. 

Anyway, I digress. Ogden IS a unique city and people who live here love to talk about our town. Personally, I don't mind others thinking it's an undesirable place to visit or live. I like the small town personality, low cost of living and beautiful surroundings and definitely don't want Ogden to turn into another trendy, resort-like town. We had a chance to brag about our city and show off its many unique features during the week C-SPAN was here. They even paid a visit to our Junior League of Ogden Oasis Community Garden where we had the chance to share our vision and progress on our inner-city oasis. 

Mike, Gillian and I at the 25th St. Harvest Moon Fest 
The footage from the tour is airing this weekend and can be found online here. http://series.c-span.org/LocalContent/Ogden/http://series.c-span.org/LocalContent/Ogden. It's full of interesting stories about many local landmarks and unique history. I'm one of Ogden's biggest cheerleaders and am more than proud of how our little city and its many charms shine in the videos. If you take the time to watch some, or all, of the videos, I suggest starting with the one titled "25th Street Confidential: Drama, Decadence, and Dissipation along Ogden's Rowdiest Road.

Me and Gillian behind Union Station
Photo by Cat Palmer, used with permission
It will give you a glimpse into a street that plays a large part in my life, one that I visit several times a week. I never tire of its charms. The view looking west down the street to Union Station is one of my favorites, not only because of its beauty but also because I have sentimental and fond memories of Union Station. I come from a family of railroaders and love everything about train travel and railroad history. In fact, my great-great grandfather helped paint Union Station (I think it was the second station which was re-built after the first one burned). When I was very young we used to catch the train there to go visit my grandparents in Grand Junction, CO. I remember sitting on the long wooden benches, holding a sack lunch, bursting with excitement about our journey. My brother and I once even rode unaccompanied from Ogden to Grand Junction when we were around 7 and 9 years old. I asked my mom how on earth she dared put two young children alone on a train for a 7-hour journey. She reminded me that everyone working on the train knew who we were and looked out for us. My grandpa was the station master in Grand Junction and they would have had to answer to him if anything happened to us! The picture below was taken a few years ago on some tracks behind Union Station and perfectly captures the happiness I feel every time I hear a train speed by. Sometimes from my house five miles to the east I can hear the train whistles blow. They always remind me of my grandpa and make me feel a little wistful and nostalgic. 
May 2012
Notice the picture at the top of the page in the link above. The shot is looking east to the mountains that are ever-present in my life. I live in the foothills just a few blocks below them. Every day as I drive up the hill towards home I look at those mountains. It's a sight that symbolizes home to me.

The storefront of what is now the Lighthouse Lounge. 
And then there's 25th Street. It's where we go to eat and drink and socialize. I never miss the street festivals there. Twice, I've crossed the finish line at the end of the Ogden 1/2 marathon at the intersection of 25th Street and Grant Avenue. The building right next to the alley leading to the notorious Electric Alley is where my hairdresser's building is. I can't count the times I've walked through that alley, but it has to be in the hundreds. Mike's bar, the Lighthouse Lounge, is on the far west end of 25th Street, very close to Union Station. The upstairs rooms used to house high-end working girls. The rooms they used even had bathrooms! Supposedly one was murdered there during the 40's. The main level has been a bar for several decades and there are plenty of good stories about the place, which old-timers love to stop in and tell. The last bar there before the Lighthouse moved in was a motorcycle bar where the local Sundowners often gathered. Just last night we learned that in the 70's a drunken man once fell to his death from a balcony above the back door. In the basement there's a hidden panel with a small storage area that was used to hide liquor during Prohibition when there was an illegal speakeasy there. If only those walls could talk. 

I could go on and on about O-town's charms, but I'll let you watch the videos and discover them for yourself. Enjoy! 
The present day Lighthouse Lounge
The Lighthouse Lounge sign is a well-known Ogden icon and is designated as a historic sign.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Family Ties

A few weeks ago I received the unwelcome news that my brother and his wife were ending their marriage. I was shocked, saddened and disappointed. I had always admired them as a couple that had a good marriage and figured they were solid. It just goes to show you never really know what goes on inside a marriage and how deceiving outside appearances can be. 

I was the first of my siblings to divorce. It was traumatic and painful for all involved and caused a deep rift in some family relationships. Sides were taken. Angry accusations were made. Names were called. Judgements were made. Insults were hurled. And all of those things were directed at me. I felt like a pariah in my own family. It's taken me years to get over the pain it caused and to forgive the vitriol that was directed at me. 

Never one to learn a lesson easily, I've married and divorced twice since then. I spent decades feeling lesser than my siblings as I had one failed marriage after another. My siblings on the other hand, stayed married. That's all changed now. Over the last four years all three of my surviving siblings have ended their marriages. As families go, ours has an absolutely dismal track record in the marriage department. I don't think it's a coincidence that these break-ups have happened in the four years since Julie died. I never imagined that the last time we would all be together as the family I'd known for the previous 15+ years would be the week after she died. Her death shattered our family in so many ways, three marriages among them it seems. Not only have I spent the last four years grieving my sister's death, I've also spent part of those years grieving the end of marriages and some family relationships.

Probably because of my vast experience in the marriage and divorce department I choose to have a very broad definition of family. Once someone becomes a member of my family I consider that relationship permanent. For me a family isn't formed only by marriages and births. It's also created by years of shared experiences and the memories made. Families share so much-- births and deaths, laughter, joy and celebration, disagreements and forgiveness, sadness and loss. I find it impossible to act as if all that no longer matters and that the bonds that were formed over many years somehow mean less because a marriage ends. 

I've suffered enough loss in my life. I don't want anymore. Losing family is too hard. Instead, I decided long ago to keep my heart open and do my best to accept the change that happens when marriages end and to try my best to maintain positive relationships with everyone. My former stepchildren aren't that in my heart. I care about them just the same as I always did. The label of former just makes it easier for society to understand our family dynamic. I've known my sibling's spouses since they were 16 and 17 years old. We grew up together. Our relationships span decades. We've shared too much to discard our relationships, at least as far as I'm concerned. My sisters and brother-in-laws will always be that to me, regardless of who they happen to be married to, or not. They will always be Gillian's aunts and uncles and the parents of my nieces and nephews. Their new partners, if and when they come, will be welcomed into my life and family. 

As the saying goes, the only constant in life is change. Relationships end. People get divorced. The definition of divorce is: the ending of a marriage by a legal process; a complete separation between two things. That's a pretty simple definition. Nowhere does it mention taking sides, placing blame or severing family ties. Divorce is the ending of a marriage. It's between two people. That's it. People divorce each other. Sides don't have to be taken. But most of all, family relationships don't have to be severed. 

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.