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

Friday, April 8, 2016

Sunny Days Seem To Hurt the Most


Today would be your 40th birthday. You've been on my mind so much the last several days. You always are in April when the daffodils are in bloom. Reminders of you are everywhere in these early days of spring. It's weird, but I seem to miss you the most during the beautiful, sunny, warm days of early spring. 

The other day I heard Kenny Chesney's song Who You'd Be Today. Just as the songs says, I wonder so much about the person you'd be today. It's hard to imagine you at 40. You died so young with so many of your dreams unrealized. What would you be like today? Would you have chased your dreams and then settled down with a family? Remember how we used to talk about your future? What would you have named your babies?  

I remember the year I turned 40 and how happy I was to celebrate with you. We were both so young and carefree then, or at least it seemed that way. You must have been struggling much more than I realized. But still, you showed up to make my birthday special. That was so like you, always hiding your own pain while you made others smile. We made so many plans together during the early days of my 40th year - plans to grow old together. Remember how we promised each other we would never be alone because we would be two crotchety old ladies living together in our golden years? When we made that promise did you know you wouldn't make it to 40? 

Why is it that sunny days make me miss you so much? I feel so alive and happy on those days, especially the sun-filled days of early spring when the flowers are beginning to bloom. It's when I feel most alive that my heart fills with sadness and longing for you. Life is full of so many simple, beautiful pleasures, like the warm sun on your face after months of cold, dark winter days. You lost sight of all the good things that life could offer you. Your mind played tricks on you, focusing only on the dark, hopeless thoughts in your head. I wish I could have helped you through that last dark night of your life. If only I could have been there to remind you of the light and hope that morning and a new day would bring. 

I miss you. I wish you were here to celebrate your 40th birthday together with me. The sun is going to be shining and the daffodils are blooming in my yard. I'm having a party to celebrate your day, because even though you're gone your life still deserves to be celebrated. I love you forever Jules. Happy Birthday. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Asparagus and Love

The other night I had asparagus for dinner. As I stood at the sink rinsing and snapping the stalks before steaming them, my mind flashed back to an Easter dinner long ago and memories of my Grandpa French. Asparagus always reminds me of grandpa. He's been gone 14 years this month and I sure do miss him! Anyone who knew my grandpa knows what a gruff, abrupt manner he had. He could be very intimidating and was definitely someone who demanded and received respect from everyone. Lurking underneath that gruff exterior however, was a loving, generous man. Grandpa adored his kids and grand kids and was always willing to go to extraordinary lengths for those he loved. Which is where the asparagus comes in. 

A long ago Easter with my cousins in Grand Junction
For much of my childhood and even into my young adult years, my family would spend Easter with my grandparents at their home in Grand Junction, Colorado. I loved being there for Easter! I can still picture grandma's beautifully set dining table complete with a lace tablecloth, her best china and silver and her delicious potato salad. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Grandpa always sat at the head of the table and would bark out a quick order to quiet down when it was time to eat. First though, we all joined hands around the table while he said grace. It's been too many years since I've sat around that table and joined hands with my family. It's amazing how such a simple act can be so powerfully full of love and connection. 

Anyway, back to the year of the asparagus. I was in my early twenties and gathered at grandma and grandpa's with my husband, mom and assorted siblings. Early in the day grandpa was headed to the grocery store for a few things and asked me what vegetable I wanted for dinner. Without giving it much thought I said asparagus. Grandpa left and we continued with our morning. Much later grandpa returned home. He'd been gone quite a long time! He came into the kitchen and dropped a huge bunch of asparagus on the counter.  Apparently, it was still a little early in the season for asparagus and he'd gone to several stores searching for it. He eventually ended up driving into Fruita, the next town over, to find some. Because it was early in the season it was also expensive. He paid some outrageous amount per pound for it. When I asked for asparagus I did it without even thinking about its availability that time of year. I just thought it sounded good! I failed to realize that fulfilling my simple request was an act of love for grandpa. He was willing to drive however far was necessary and pay whatever price was asked in order to find what I had asked for. I remember feeling humbled and a little awed by the power of this one simple act. Grandpa wasn't one who was overly affectionate or expressive with his emotions. Mostly, he showed his love through actions. I realized then how enormous his love was for me and for all of his family. If needed, he would go to the ends of the earth to help his family. His was not a love to be taken lightly.

I was out of the country when grandpa died and didn't get to say goodbye to him. It remains one of my life's great regrets. I wish I could have been there to once again tell him thank you for the asparagus and for the many other ways he loved me throughout his life. Thankfully, I have many treasured reminders of his love for me. Grandpa was a great letter writer and I kept most of the letters he wrote me over the years. On my desk I keep a notepad of Denver & Rio Grand Railroad stationary. His business card hangs on my bulletin board next to my sister Julie's, daily reminders of two beloved people that I've lost. And I also have asparagus, one of my favorite springtime meals. I like to eat it lightly steamed, topped with butter, pepper and a whole lot of love and happy memories! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Dressing Up

Gillian went to her Junior Prom on Saturday. As she begrudgingly posed for the obligatory pictures before heading on her way I couldn't help but think about how quickly time passes. It wasn't too long ago that she was happily posing for pictures in her Easter finery, thrilled as only a toddler can be with her long purple dress and satin gloves. 

She still loves any excuse to get dressed up in fancy dresses. However, she no longer likes having to pose for pictures. Still, I did get her to let me snap a couple with the promise that one day she'll thank me for insisting on documenting the moment with a photograph. Despite her beautiful smile, she won't smile with her mouth open because of her braces. Some day...

She told me she didn't really care about going to Prom, but I'm glad she went. Her boyfriend is already graduated and couldn't take her because of school rules, so I didn't think she would be going. Her date, a friend since Kindergarten, unexpectedly asked her, and she said yes. I was actually quite proud at how skillfully she handled a potentially emotionally fraught situation. She treated both young men very respectfully while at the same time asserting her independence and freedom to do something she wanted to do, all while respecting both relationships that matter to her in different ways. There was zero drama, and anyone who knows teenagers knows there could have been! I know I couldn't have handled the same situation so maturely at her age. 

Here are some pictures from that day. It was was a full day of fun for the group of 24 friends that went together. During the day they all went to play paint ball, followed by group photos in their finery, dinner, the dance, and then going out for ice cream after. 
Doesn't Gillian look like a little kid in this picture?
I love the contrast of this vs. her all glammed up three hours later.
Because it's not real unless it's documented on Snapchat. 
Guess which hand is Gillian's? Yes. She's the 17-year old with the perfect manicure. 
When I asked her about it the next day she said she had fun but didn't really understand why everyone makes such a big deal out of Prom. I mentioned that not everyone lives the charmed life she does, so having the chance to get dressed up and have a fancy night out is really special to many. I laughingly reminded her that most high school juniors hadn't been to the black tie gala fundraiser for the local art center just the week before! I took her as my date that night to one of 'the events' in our town. It was a good night for us together, and a much needed one. 

Last year my talented young artist and fashionista saw the gold foil trimmed invitation to the art gala and breathlessly asked if WE would be going together to her "favorite event." Never mind that she'd never been. She absolutely COULD NOT WAIT  to attend her very first black tie art auction benefit. She planned her outfit months in advance and talked for weeks about how excited she was to go. Then crisis hit. The very day of the art auction last year we had some very serious behavior come to light and I had to make an extremely difficult parenting decision. A hard consequence was in order and I had to tell her she couldn't go with me. We both shed many tears that day. 

Thankfully, this year there were no tears, and Gilian finally got to go to the art auction. She gave her prom dress a practice run and I wore one of my favorite vintage gowns. We both love an excuse to wear a pretty dress! Like mother, like daughter. Most of all, it was a night for us to be together, a treasured opportunity that becomes increasingly rare as she gets older and is building her own life. 

Me and my girl. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Winter Update

It seems that lately all of my posts are catch up posts trying to recap weeks or months of activity. I'm following the lead of my blogging friend Jeannie from The Marmalade Gypsy and writing a check in post. Thanks Jeannie for the idea! 
The view from my front door 3 weeks ago

Surviving winter in Utah and some of the worst air in the country! For several days in a row during February my hometown of Ogden, Utah was ranked #5 in the country for the worst air quality. I love where I live except for during the winter. The air pollution here is intolerable and extremely unhealthy. It's the one thing that every year makes me seriously consider moving away, or at least figuring out a way to be somewhere other than here during the winter months.

Awaiting spring, sunshine and spending some serious time with my hands in the dirt. The snow started melting quickly this past week, contributing to my serious spring fever and the urge to spend some time outside doing yard work in the sunshine. 
A picture from our holiday vacation in San Diego

Enjoying every moment I can with this guy. The last 3 1/2 weeks were a whirlwind of celebrating my birthday, a quick overnight stay in Park City for a party during the Sundance Film festival, a raucous, loud and fun concert at Snow Basin Ski Resort by Andy Frasco and the UN, a fundraiser for Family Counseling Service of Northern Utah (I co-chaired the event and am glad to have it over!), the annual awards dinner for our Chamber of Commerce, a couple of Weber State University basketball games, the Banff Film Festival, and a photo exhibit party in Salt Lake two days ago. We always seem to have plenty going on! I'm having fun and thoroughly enjoying this new chapter in my life. 
Andy Frasco singing on the tabletop in Snow Basin's Cinnabar Lounge.
Maintaining connections with my girlfriends. One of my goals for this year is to be more deliberate about making time for my friendships. It's easy to let texting become a substitute for really connecting with friends. I love spending time talking and laughing with my girlfriends and am making an effort to schedule time together with them. We spent the Saturday before Valentine's Day together baking and decorating cookies. We had a great time and made some pretty amazing looking treats too!
Aimee's granddaughter was a quick study and decorated
an impressive number of cookies.
Tessa was a multi-tasking queen.
Tessa's creations, many of which were done with one hand!
Giving my time as the Vice President of the board of trustees for Family Counseling Service of Northern Utah. They're a local non-profit that offers low-cost mental health counseling services to under and uninsured individuals, along with mental health and life skills classes for local schools and other groups. I still support the Junior League of Ogden as a sustaining member. A few years ago I decided to cut back on the number of non-profit boards I was on so I could focus on volunteering for organizations that promote mental health and suicide awareness and prevention. 

Reading some good books lately. My mom recommended The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner, the 39th daughter of murdered polygamist Joel LeBaron. It's a fascinating book, although it was hard to read about the extreme poverty and abuse the author and her siblings lived with. I just started reading A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine school shooters. She gives a very honest portrayal of what it's like to live in the aftermath of a devastating tragedy and what the journey through complicated grief is like. She's an eloquent and inspirational voice for suicide prevention, mental health advocacy and brain health. 

Following the often frustrating progress of the Utah Legislature, which is nearing the end of its 2016 session. Hot topic bills I've followed with interest this session include a medical marijuana legalization proposal, environmental measures to help reduce air quality pollutants, and an expansion of groups protected from hate crimes. It's maddening to see the powerful LDS church issue public statements against many socially and environmentally progressive bills, effectively killing the legislation from moving forward. Being a liberal-minded, non-religious person in Utah isn't for the faint of heart! 

Wishing time would slow down a little. Gillian is already halfway through her junior year of high school. Next month she takes the ACT test. She's going to be graduated and going off to college before I know it. I often find myself wishing for a reset button on time. I'm acutely aware of the limited amount of time I have left with her and feel like I need a do-over on teaching her many essential life lessons. 
Gillian - the baby whisperer with Tessa's little one. 
Making cookies with the girls.
Planning my grandma's 100th birthday celebration in June. She'll turn 100 on May 29th this year. My cousin who lives in Texas is helping me plan a birthday bash for her. I'm looking forward to spending time with my cousins and other family members in Colorado celebrating her special day. 

Focusing on being positive, gratitude for everyday small pleasures, working on strengthening my relationship with my daughter, having fun, having more face-to-face connections with people I enjoy, and most of all, living for now and enjoying life and spending time with people I love. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflections on 2015

Another year in the books! As I reflected back on 2015 I re-read my year in review post about 2014 I was struck by my closing words. "As I look back at my year in pictures I'm struck by how much is missing. There are very few pictures of fun times, vacations, family get togethers and cherished moments with friends. This year has given me huge amounts of time when I could do very little but be still and think. I've realized that I didn't do enough living this year, I was simply surviving... I'm looking forward to 2015 which I'll welcome with a renewed focus on doing things that I know nurture my soul and bring me happiness." 

2015 was a tough year in many ways with many experiences I'm glad are in the past. Despite all the challenges, bumps in the road and heartache, I succeeded in doing what I was determined to in 2015 -- I lived! I survived the challenges by staying focused on doing things that nurtured by soul and made me happy. Here are some pictures showing highlights from my year. 
January 25: Birthday surprise - a gorgeous vintage dress from my dad.
Celebrating my bestie's graduation from college!
Treasured time with my grandpa.
Mother's Day with my girl.
 Marching in the Salt Lake Pride Parade
Girlfriends aka The Glitter Girls at a Willie Nelson concert
Utah State University Ladies Football Clinic with my co-workers - a summer tradition.
My already fun summer got even better after meeting KC at a country music festival
(in Tooele of all places)! A month later we were enjoying sunny San Diego together.
First Willie, then his son - Lukas Nelson concert with the girls.
Gillian. She really made me earn my parenting chops this year!
Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Love these two! Sharing our message of hope and healing.
Christiansen Family Thanksgiving
Christmas in San Diego
I spent some of the last days of this year oceanside in San Diego. This was the view from our balcony. I tried to take a few minutes every day I was there to look at the ocean and simply soak it all in--the sounds, the beauty, the vastness of the ocean, and all the twists and turns in my life that brought me to that day and that place. At the beginning of 2015 I never could have imagined the journey I would take this year. If I learned one thing this year it was to let go of things I can't control and just let life happen. When I'm able to do that good things come my way. Letting go--learning, living, loving. That's what I'll be focusing on for 2016. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Love Wins

Yesterday was one year since I had back surgery to repair a herniated disc. To celebrate I went for a run outside. Normally that would hardly be worth mentioning except a year ago I didn't know if I would run again, which is why I decided going for a run was the perfect way to mark the day's significance. As I ran I reflected on the last 12 months and the many changes in my life during that time. What a difference a year can make! It hasn't been an easy year. In fact, the first half of the year was one of the most challenging periods of my life. Somehow though, I survived. As much as I'm loathe to admit it, that old saying is true--what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. 

In April I wrote this post about me and my daughter: Parenting Confessions. Things were pretty bleak then, and they got much worse before they got better. As I re-read that post and the comments people left for me I noticed my mom's comment, "Love wins. That doesn't mean there won't be heartbreak, but in the end all that remains is love." She was right, as moms often are. There was plenty of heartbreak, sadness, anger and betrayal while Gillian struggled to find her bearings in the world and I fought to maintain control. Controlling another person is impossible, of course. If there's one big life lesson I really worked on this year, it was learning to accept that I can only control myself. That's an easy thing to understand intellectually, but for me, accepting it and learning to let go of things I have no control over was a real challenge. 

It took hours and hours in a therapist's office for me to learn to acknowledge my lack of control over others, including my teenage daughter. I also had to learn to trust my own judgement and set appropriate boundaries with people I care for. For a few months earlier this year it seemed like I was going backwards in my life. In order to move forward I first had to rid myself of hurtful, damaging relationships and set really firm rules of engagement with my daughter. After more than a year of stops and starts and hanging on by a very thin thread, I finally found the courage and strength to make the final break in a 4 1/2 year relationship that just wasn't working. That gave me the emotional energy and mental clarity to focus on the one relationship that really mattered--the one with my daughter. We also took a break for a while. Again with encouragement from my therapist, I accepted that it didn't mean I was a failure as a mother if I acknowledged we needed a break from living together. Gillian spent over four months living at her dad's. Making that decision caused me great pain, and I really doubted it was the right choice. I finally took a giant leap of faith and trusted the words of my therapist and my mom, who both said essentially the same thing, that love will prevail in the end. Which it did.  

The time we spent not living together was time well spent for both of us. We both needed time to heal and to forgive each other. We talked nearly every day and saw each other frequently. I learned to enjoy my daughter again as a person. I also thoroughly enjoyed my time alone! I stopped feeling guilty that I wasn't "mothering" 24/7 and simply enjoyed my freedom. I forgave myself. I had a great summer doing whatever I wanted, when I wanted, and didn't feel the least bit guilty about it. Instead of feeling sad and lonely about being single and going places alone, I embraced it. I was free! For the first time in years I felt truly happy and at peace with my life. 

I'm not sure exactly when things turned the corner, but life is really good right now. Gillian is doing excellent in school again, has a nice boyfriend, is enjoying the freedom of owning her first car, working, and making plans for college in the near future. As for me, I smile a lot these days. Once I learned to let go, accept things as they come and live my life for me, I found someone who makes my heart happy. Life is good. My mom was right. Love wins every time. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015


This morning my Facebook notifications popped up with a list of events that have happened on this day over the last several years. "Oh, yeah" I thought to myself.  "It's 8/08 today. Julie's day." As I scrolled through my memories a life milestone popped up. On this day six years ago I finished my first 1/2 marathon. What?! Until today, my mind hadn't connected the two dates. Today it finally clicked. I smiled and teared up a little thinking about the irony of it. I wonder if Julie picked that as the first race the three of us sisters would run together  because of the date? 

For those that don't know, Julie had a thing about the numbers 808. Many years ago, I think when she was in high school, she noticed that on a digital clock those numbers looked like the name BOB. Bob was her made up, mythical, perfect man. Some women talk about finding their prince or knight in shining armor. Julie talked about finding her Bob. It was a silly, inside joke, but one that became synonymous with Julie. Some people think finding pennies or other small coins in random places is a sign from people that have died letting them know they're okay and that they're sending a message of love. For everyone that knew and loved Julie those messages are in the numbers 808. Twice a day, there's a chance that I'll just happen to glance at a clock at exactly 8:08. When I do, I always think of Julie. Today she's everywhere. My mind is flooded with memories of her. I know I'm not alone. She'll be on the minds of many today. Maybe she's communicating with all of us or maybe it's just a made up sign in our heads that we use to comfort ourselves. It doesn't really matter. I'm just happy knowing today is her day--a day that her memory will be celebrated. This morning and later again tonight hundreds of people who were lucky enough to have Julie in their lives will look at the clock and we'll all be connected for a brief moment by her love. 
Team 8:08 - Race Against Suicide in Colorado Springs, September 2010

We did it! Georgetown to Idaho Springs 1/2 Marathon finish. August 8, 2009
Cooling off in the river the night before our race. We set the auto timer on my camera and
had to race across moss covered rocks in a rushing river to get to this spot.
It took about 10 tries to get this photo!
August 8, 2009 - At the start. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.
Julie - August 8, 2009