Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 3)

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It feels like I’ve barely survived a natural disaster of calamitous proportions, seeking refuge from bitter winds, torrential rain, plummeting temperatures. My house a shelter, the last safe place. Although I’ve never been directly affected by hurricane winds and flooding or had my house crumble in front of me, I imagine those shattering situations to be better than what’s happening right now, regardless of how soft my couch feels, how lovely the vacations, or beautiful the view. All I’ve ever wanted is to go through life’s ups and downs with the person I love. I imagine we could get through anything, even a natural disaster, holding on to each other and our children but that is no longer the case for me.

It’s supposed to be us taking on the world, not us taking on us, as it’s been all too often in my life. The person who promised to hold my heart, and I his, changed his mind and got on the last flight out. I am left holding onto everything we built together – except his business but he credits only himself in that endeavor. I am ever grateful for the life we chose together and all that has been bestowed to me but I would trade it all to joyously raise my girls with the man I love and who truly loves me.

My parents were divorced. It was my dad who got full custody of my younger brother and me when I was almost five. The actual event was barely a drizzle raining down from Seattle skies. It wasn’t their divorce per se, but the constant drip of stress and smaller traumas that slowly poisoned my childhood, eighteen years summed up with one word.

For my generation, whose childhood spanned the 1970s and 80s, divorce is hardly remarkable. It happens so often; forty to fifty percent of couples break apart, a number that rose exponentially from less than twenty percent in the 1950s. Divorce is old news, hardly worth mentioning anymore. From the outside it’s just a light dusting of snow on the lowland hills, only a change in seasons – short-lived and life resumes once everyone is settled. “When are you going to move on, Janna, it’s over,” said one of my closest friends at the time, like I had food poisoning six months ago and keep making myself sick for attention. What? Although well-meaning, I’m sure, my friend’s comment speaks to our collective naivety of what it means to be forcefully extricated from the life you live, and imagined you’d live until your time here on earth is done. In the game of Life, you go back at least twenty spaces. I don’t have to choose my career path again, thankfully I took the college route, and I already have three pink pegs in my blue car, but I do have to go back too many spaces to be counted as a mere setback.

To say divorce is unremarkable negates the impact it has on one million kids per year whose parents try to start life over, ending their connection to each other and often times to their family. If it’s your parents, your kids, your life, it’s shattering. Many times, the parent who doesn’t have custody feels the immediate heartbreak most acutely, the children not quite aware of what’s happening and the parent with custody can briefly forget within the routines of parenting, respite from the ache. A lack of awareness is a blessing and a curse. In my case, it was my mom who was pushed out and then gave up on being a parent to look for solace in new bonds and a new life free of guilt and shame and loneliness. But in most cases at that time and now, it’s the dad who is kicked out of the tribe – first in moving away from the family and then by emotional bitterness setting him up for failure in holding the connection to his children. Ultimately it’s the child, millions of kids, it was me, and now my three girls who lose the most.

We all have the one thing we say we will NEVER do, ever. We will do whatever it takes to avoid this horrible thing we experienced as a child. We will bound to the top of snow-covered mountains or crawl through a waterless desert, navigate the greatest storm in a rowboat but we will never let this one thing happen. This was my thing – never, never, never will I get divorced and put my kids in a situation where they question the love of either of their parents, where they have to grow up faster than they are supposed to. “Really, God? This is where I am going? This path right here despite it all?” I look up into the gray clouds to ask these questions daily. I am incredulous. My only solace is that maybe within our one tragic-awful-catastrophic-heart-shattering-calamitous-no-way-never thing is where we ultimately find wisdom, acceptance of life and ourselves, grace. Even so, it doesn’t seem fair but who am I to argue? I have to concede that this life is my life and, yes, I must move on as best as I can.

When I was young I felt responsible to hold onto my dad, my only available parent, but I was just a kid. Our deepest need is to be attached, to belong. The only power I had was to sit quietly and wait for him to hold on to me until I couldn’t wait anymore, I had to grow up despite the conditions. This one gut-wrenching year when my own marriage fell apart gave me the gift to go back in time to parent myself through my dad’s three divorces and loss of his fourth wife from cancer, to give myself what I’d desperately needed as a kid – to be held onto by both parents. This time I did have the power to change the trajectory for my girls. I had the power to hold them close so they didn’t have to choose to hold on to their parents or to grow up – two essential imperatives hardwired from the beginning and should never be mutually exclusive. It was my responsibility to hold onto my girls, and despite every raw instinct to keep them safe from the person who was hurting me more than I thought possible, it was my responsibility to keep them connected to their dad. No one, not even me, can replace a parent.

 

 

Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 2)

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“Mommy? Where are you? Can I go outside?” I yell not knowing exactly where she is.

“Yes, Daddy is in the garage,” she yells back from my baby brother’s closet-like bedroom at the top of the stairs. “Make sure you tell him you’re out there.” I don’t stop for shoes or a coat and fly through the screen door holding Suzie by her black hair, eyes opening and closing as we go. Slam! The door’s springs stretch and contract behind me; our Doberman, Frieda with her taped up ears, is trapped inside, foiled again. She whines as she watches me run free. Outside is my favorite place. The sun makes me feel warm and safe on the inside. I skip over to my swingset I got for Christmas; I can feel the ends of my pigtails bounce on my ears to the rhythm of my steps. “You sit right here, Suzie. I’ll be right here on the swing. You watch me, okay?” Suzie sits in the grass and I sit on the swing’s white seat, hold on tight to the chains like my daddy told me, and start to pump my legs up and down, leaning back and then forward. The red and yellow striped poles blur as I go faster and higher into the puffy marshmallow clouds above me. I pump my legs straight and then bent as I lean my whole self back holding the chains as tight as I can, and then forward again. The swingset leans backward and forward with me, small mounds of dirt pop up with each sway of the swing until I’m going as high as the chains allow and then I pretend I’m flying, soaring between pink puffs of cotton candy until I’m dizzy. I hold my legs above the ground waiting for the swing to slow down to a gentle rock and I skid my feet to slow myself enough to jump off. I j-u-m-p and land in the worn grass. I grab Suzie to wander around the yard. What should we do next?

Our yard looks like a park, every shade of green and yellow in all the patches of grass, evergreen and maple trees, and the late-summer leaves, with a little white house dropped right into the middle like a cherry on top of pistachio ice cream. To my almost five-year-old self, the front of the house is a football field with a holly tree bigger than our house separating our yard from Benson Highway, where cars and trucks go by in streaks of color. Along each side of our little white house are fruit trees – apples, plums, cherries, and pears – perfect for climbing way up high or having a snack while admiring the view. I don’t know about any other kids or houses nearby because it seems to me, we live high on top of one of the white clouds I fly through when I’m on my swing.

I decide to find Daddy in the garage behind the house. I follow the rock path across the backyard to the little crumpled house overgrown with ivy and blackberries, where he works on his racing jeep and motorcycle. I walk carefully so I don’t step on a bee or a rock or a stick with my bare feet. Dandelions grow alongside the house and I stop to pick a bouquet – four bright yellow flowers and one wisp ready for my wish to come true. My nana likes to hold the sun-colored flowers under my chin and asks if I like butter. She says I do. The big door is open but I can’t see him in the sunlight flickering through the dirty window. “Daddy?”

“Yeah,” his deep voice grumbles from inside the engine of the navy blue jeep, his black, wavy hair hidden behind the propped-up hood. He likes it here. He comes to the garage when he’s not at work. I walk around and stand by his Levi’s so I can see what he’s looking at, but I can’t quite reach to see over the top.

“What are you doing?” I ask trying to get him to do something else, something with me.

“What?” he says buying some time. He flicks his cigarette and places it back between his lips, smoke drifts around him like a magical wall, translucent but I can’t bring myself to reach through it.

“What are you doing? I want to show you something,” I say again with more urgency.

“I’m busy right now, Janna,” he tells me still looking into the black hole with a tool in his hand, cigarette barely hanging on to its ashes. His hands are always dirty even though he tries to wash them. He has a scrubber but it doesn’t work very well. The jeep is his favorite, but I like it when he gives me rides on his motorcycle. He says that’s the only way I’d fall asleep when I was a baby. I really like to ride on the front, my hair whipping my face, going fast and then slowing down. My daddy can do anything, I think as I look all the way up to his shoulders.

“I have a bouquet for you,” I say handing him the buttery bouquet, but he doesn’t stop looking into the jeep.

“Go play,” he says. Suzie and I go back outside with the flowers. I hold up the wisp, make a wish, take a deep breath, and blow as hard as I can. All the seeds with their own small parachutes fly through the air to unknown destinations. I’m sure my wishes will come true.

We walk around to the front yard past the fruit trees to the holly tree. I sit next to the road and put my fingers on the pokey leaves, counting the cars going by, One…two…three…four. I remember I’m not supposed to go by the road, but I like to watch the cars and trucks go by. I’m not right next to the road like I was when I got in trouble last time. This makes me think I should do something else. I have an idea! I grab Suzie and I run as fast as I can to the sandbox my dad built for me in the shady part of the yard.

From inside my imaginary house in the sand, I can see the last rays of sun behind the garage where my dad is still bent over his jeep, the house, where my mom is busy with Jeffrey, in a full bright spotlight of the last of the afternoon sun; I can see my swingset, and even some of the fruit trees in the front yard. My toes squish into the cool sand and I scoop up big handfuls and let it sift through my fingers. Birds flit from one tree to the next calling out to each other in glee of the abundance of the season. I get a bucket to fill with water from the hose. The sound of the water as it hits the bucket, shhhhhhhhhh, makes me feel like I jumped into Nana and Papa’s swimming pool on a hot day; my daddy always there to catch me in the splash. I put my hand under the stream of cold water and lift the hose up so I can take a drink, water spraying all over my eyelashes and shorts and feet. I step through the mud and turn off the water spigot. The bucket, filled a little too much, is too heavy to pick up so I drag it back over to the sandbox, water sloshing out, watering the parched summer grass. I’m going to make mud pies for Suzie. It’s her birthday. I look up from the slopping bucket and spy big, juicy blackberries growing along the fence line; hundreds of them hanging off of spiky vines. The smell so sweet, mixed in with pine needles, over-ripened fruit fallen to the ground, and the dryness of the only couple months of the year with no rain. Those will be perfect! I’ll make a blackberry pie like Mommy and Grandma make. I get right to work picking (and eating) and picking for my pie plate. Once I have giant mound of berries, I start mashing and squishing and crushing them with my hands until they jiggle as one solid mass. I always choose blackberry pie for my birthday. I carefully take the pie to the base of the big tree with the giant leaves, the oven, and put the pie down to bake while I go back to playing in the sandy mud.

The sun is down and it’s getting dark. I get up and try to get the sand off. Uh Oh! Blackberry juice covers the entire front of my white t-shirt and daisy-printed shorts. I’m going to be in so much trouble, I think. The lights are on in the house; the quiet sounds of nighttime fill the air. I grab Suzie and walk carefully to the back door to see if I can safely make it inside to change my clothes before anyone notices. Frieda is at the door to greet me. I sneak in as quietly as I can but the door squeaks as always. I take off my shirt and shorts, and ball them up, blackberry stains hidden for now. I stuff them as far down in the hamper by the washing machine as I can get them and run upstairs to my bedroom as fast as I can, muddy footprints trail behind. My bed is really big and almost fills up the entire room; the dresser with my shirts and pajamas and pants folded neatly in the drawers is squeezed on the side. I made it! I take out one of my nightgowns to put it on and go to the mint-colored bathroom to wash my hands and face. I take out my pigtails to brush my hair and look in the mirror to inspect. Besides a few pieces of mud stuck in my light brown hair and my permanently purple hands, I look okay. I did it! I smile to myself, feeling proud. I pass my brother playing in his crib on my way downstairs to find Mommy. I hear her in the kitchen making dinner, the spoon scraping the bottom of the pot as she stirs. “What are you making?” I ask her hiding my fists behind me.

I don’t know my parent’s marriage is about to abruptly end or even what that meant. For the record, I don’t think they knew what it meant or where these decisions would take them either…

Please Hold On To Me: A Memoir (post 1)

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I have prepared for this year all my life, a primordial fate once hidden under a melting sheet of ice; now cracked, the rushing river underneath sweeps me off my feet and threatens all I once called mine.

I made it to another Friday; it’s 4:00 a.m. and as with every morning after waking up two hours before my alarm, I get up, splash water on my sunken eyes, swallow something for my throbbing head before stumbling downstairs to feed my dog and cat. Coffee is first; I add the filter, two tablespoons of ground Starbucks Verona and six cups of water. As I wait for the magic that is coffee, I check my email and Facebook to see if something has changed since 11:00 p.m. Black Friday sales are coming early but otherwise nothing. The coffee pot beeps and the sound of hot liquid pouring into my cup whispers to me that I can do this thing I have to do today, unbearable even one month ago, yesterday; any earlier would have killed me, but I feel mostly dead anyway, so maybe it doesn’t matter.

The only thing that matters is to save my girls from losing their childhood far too early, from losing their connection with their parents from divorce like I did. I sip my coffee at the kitchen table, vanilla cream and chocolate stirred in to cut the bitterness. It’s dark still, rain pelting the windows that look toward the Olympic Mountains in the distance, one of the only houses in the golf community with a view other than the course. My girls sleep for another couple hours before it’s time to get dressed for school, excited to say goodnight to their dad for the first time since we moved back to Washington State six months ago. Our one magical year living at the base of America’s first ski resort, Sun Valley, Idaho, turned into an avalanche sending all five of us careening down the mountain I spent the past seventeen years climbing.

Every morning since the end of August, I crawl out of a dark crevasse; the routine of getting my three girls to school is my only foothold to what had been my beautiful life. I am in shock – the I-have-to-choose-to-breathe-in-and-out kind of shock. At night I only fall asleep after reading Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart, with a hot water bottle on my chest, melting the ice crystals lodged in my heart, constricting even a breathe without conscious effort. My blood pressure is so low I should be passed out on the floor and I’ve lost twenty-five pounds, my weight less than my ten-year-old self. Every night, the same prayer, “Please help me. Please tell me what to do tomorrow,” and every morning I get up with a singular focus. There is no weighing of options, always just one thing I must do.

This evening I have to take my girls, the three people who mean more to me than my own life, to stay overnight with their dad for the first time since our lives collapsed from the weight of secrets and lies and madness. I thought living in the Rockies for a year, my husband’s fly-fishing dream, would be a magical year of togetherness, of connection, and outdoor adventures, but instead ended in complete devastation. The end of June, my husband disappeared from our driveway with the Uhaul hitched to the back of his pickup without us, excused by his travel schedule that kept him away most of the time during the past year – while we waited for him next to the river, on the trails, on the mountain. I never saw him again, at least the guy I thought I was married to. And now, tonight, I will drop my girls off by themselves, my worst nightmare based on my own childhood defined by divorce, with this person who became untethered living at 6,000 feet above sea level, that I don’t know anymore, and may as well have shot a bullet into the center of me and left me for dead.

Write Now

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The time is NOW.

I have a business degree and had a successful marketing career I loved in another lifetime, but through the twists and turns of life (i.e. three children, a specific life set up chosen by mutual commitment–also in another lifetime–and an internal gauge that doesn’t allow more than one setting at a time), I no longer crave the fast-paced, hand-shaking, yes-hustling, suit-wearing, jet-traveling, conference-room-brainstorming world of yesteryear.

The passion I pursue is storytelling layered with why people do the things they do, how the times we live in and people we live with shape us; what it means to be one person in this big world and one person in our own small world. The first story I need to tell is my own and it’s the story of how I lost my parents through divorce, heartache, and growing up. It feels like a giant dough ball I keep kneading and pulling apart and putting back together. I have been working that dough ball for quite some time, along with the little thing called learning to write. It feels important. 

I had a good childhood but a lot went wrong too and I used to blame all of it on my parent’s divorce when I was four-years-old. My absolute worst fear ambushed me when I went through my own traumatic divorce a couple years ago. Juxtaposing my adult experience with my childhood was terrifying and I will have to write that book when I no longer relive those few years.

Alas all is well now, I landed that highjacked plane, but I have learned some things from my child eyes, two decades of obsession with understanding human nature, and watching my three girls during our family upheaval. The story I can tell is how divorce was done in the 70s and 80s is no longer the same today. My generation was the first to experience divorce en mass, where over a million kids per year lost a parent, and maybe two by their other parent’s grief, pursuit of new love, or working three jobs. The divorce rate shot up to fifty percent by 1980. It was a crazy time. Governor Ronald Reagan signed the No Fault Divorce laws in California in 1969 (one month before I was born,) our country’s social and political structures made seismic shifts toward chaos, and yet many young people still wanted to believe the Leave It To Beaver pace of life would hold them. It didn’t, as many can attest.

I have read too many books about writing, purchased even more and I’ve been to many conferences and talks to teach myself how to write creatively. Turns out business writing isn’t so creative. I wish I could have just download the software since I already have enough school. Darn. Anyway, the time is NOW. I am starting this book and the above chart will mostly likely be the trajectory of my progress.

Let momentum be my kick in the…buns.

Positive to Positively Authentic

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As Americans we say things like, Be positive, Don’t complain, Pull yourself up from your bootstraps, Move on, Don’t let it bother you, Don’t worry, be happy, Count your blessings, not your problems; all of these, full of wisdom and the path to a happy life. At times in my life, I have been the poster child for “Everything is AWESOME!” I read Stephen Covey, Og Mandino, and Dale Carnegie, and listened to Zig Ziglar tapes (yes, I said tapes.) I was in sales and marketing, which put me squarely in the Positive Psychology camp or suffer by comparison. After all, You are what you think. With a smile, twinkly eye contact and a genuine interest in other people, a person could be very successful. Follow the 10 Easy Steps to a Happy Life; I’m sure I read it and wired it directly into my DNA.

This was in my early twenties and in my late twenties I realized, “Wait a minute, some things in life are just not okay, not happy and certainly not good.” Being positive all the time and denying reality started to seem a little foolish and might get a person taken for a ride. Cynicism seeped in. It’s so easy because there are many smart people who will jump on that wagon in a snap. It’s one of those deals where if everyone is cynical together,we feel pretty smart, in a class all our own (some would call this the Ego Mind.) “We see the REAL deal and no one is fooling us.” During this time I had a boss who was still in the Positive Stage and, wow, she was so annoying. She was repeating the earlier messages on a daily basis like I had never heard them before. Ugh!

At some point I moved on from the cheery-boss and just stopped caring. Positive. Negative. Whatever. I just let my thoughts roll. They generally liked to roll down hill. This is about the time Corporate America was revealing itself as a tad empty and also after September 11, 2001. Life needed to change and it certainly did with a move from New York back to Washington, no corporate job and a new (colicky) baby. Catapulted into suburbia, in a neighborhood of moms with babies in every home, life rocked into an easy balance between the good and, let’s just say, not so good. Moms bonded on the ‘challenges’ of said babies, but relished all the goodness these little people brought into our lives; no positive-negative decisions necessary.

Now in my forties with children/preteens, I have come full circle. I found that no one really cares if you are positive or negative, although people generally do not want to be around complainers. If you are one of those people, you may find yourself complaining to your dog or maybe on Facebook – and surely there will be those who sympathize for awhile, but gradually we learn people Like you better when you have something of value to say. Cynicism is everywhere. Cynicism is easy. Cynicism is worthless. What I have found is I am far happier when I dig in to find the beautiful, the kindness, the lessons and the love in life’s situations. Sometimes it’s really easy. I lived in the Rocky Mountains for a year where I hiked, skate skied, downhill skied, touched the river daily and was surrounded by people who did the same. Negativity? None whatsoever. It was easy to be grateful for literally everything in my life.

Then life took a hairpin turn catapulting me into the abyss. Suddenly finding the positive was no longer easy and the ugly followed me around like a Northwest cloud in November. Now what? I do know You are what you think, but this seemed insurmountable, like climbing Mt. Everest in a wind storm. Pretending Everything is AWESOME! was just plain ridiculous, yet I still have the DNA wiring that says to Look for the good, Pull myself up by my bootstraps, Move on, Forgive and forget is the only way to happiness, yada, yada, yada.

However, when faced with the absolute choice, balancing these two opposite views on life is the only answer and I call this Positive Authenticity; accepting and speaking your whole reality with deep recognition of our infinite blessings.

Positive Authenticity is understanding we all have both light and shadows within us. The balance of allowing others to know our challenges, humility, cracks in the armor, as well as communicating our resilience, courage, wisdom, and love of life. Mostly, it’s about knowing for sure we all have everything we need, we are whole and good and unique and the same. We are human.

 

The Love Experts

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The movie Frozen is my favorite. It just is. LOVE this movie. There are so many layers of truth in almost every scene – which is why it is the highest grossing animated film in history.

In scene after scene I saw myself as Anna from falling for the absolute wrong guy to going in after someone to my own detriment and even, struck in the heart and slowly freezing. Layers, many layers. My name is even quite close, don’t you think?

However, lately I have been thinking about the Love Experts, Christophe’s family, the rocks, the trolls. Actually, I think these are my people or at least who I aspire. Grounded and connected to this earth, to each other, this group of people do not concern themselves with the fancy people at The Castle or what they may be doing. Most would not call them “fun” or exciting, but instead honest, compassionate, and loving. They help those who, through a connection, find them where they are because they certainly don’t advertise their ability to play matchmaker or rid one of a frozen head and heart. They live simply in a quiet enclave in the forest and when strangers come, they remain rocks until they feel positive energy. These Love Experts have crystal necklaces but will never go to the Ball at The Castle; they would be excited to see you go though. They joke and laugh, are serious and loving and they probably bicker and roll over each other’s toes now and again. They are real, authentic and the masks that many at The Castle wear are nowhere to be found among the Love Experts.

Over the last few months I have been adding color, lots of color to our home; art (mostly kid’s), photographs, healing crystals, candles, flowers, quote cards, and even painting. I hear about parties or (certain) people doing fancy things with “ubèr-fancy” people. Anna would be so eager to go and meet as many people as possible and maybe even THE one. She might even be sad or jealous to not be on the guest list anymore. No, I am creating my enclave of love with my girls. Fancy anything doesn’t sound as good as snuggling in with my girls, our dog and cat, watching a movie, holding our new crystal rocks, with candles flickering… I trust that God will bring to me those who I should know in good time. Yep, I think I just might be a Love Expert…despite all evidence to the contrary! Ha!

Life at the Speed of Life

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This week I had two of my three girls home for Spring Break. Since they were tiny, we have always traveled to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch the end of ski season and the beginnings of spring in the Rocky Mountains. However, this year is the first year our family of five is a family of four and we are all feeling less like butterflies and more like a caterpillars ensconced in chrysalis. Staying home was a chance to do life at the speed of life.

My younger girls are what I call Pioneer Girls (my preteen is a pioneer-girl-in-training, I call her my book girl) because they like to get their hands dirty and would prefer anything that has to do with real life than the entertainment most kids would go for. We had a ball sewing blankets and pillows, baking, gardening, cleaning our house, bike rides to the park, play dates with friends, and a few movies thrown in for extra snuggling on the couch after sleeping in and hanging out in our PJs for at least half the day. It was balm to my soul. It was life at the speed of life for all of us.

This year has been one of the most difficult (okay, actually the MOST difficult) years of my life, but at the same time has been the most peaceful, filled with extraordinary ordinary moments that have changed my perspective on life forever. Instead of breakneck speed of shuttling three kids to, well, everywhere, traveling and keeping everyone in a family of five happy (not easy when one was hell bent on being unhappy), our lives have now become grounded in our tranquil home with candles, flowers, flute music, healing crystals and art, lots of art. Sometimes the activity schedule gets disregarded, school breaks are spent at home and our lives are now filled with color, kindness and love.

The vibration of life has changed dramatically. I am noticing all that is quiet and lovely. When you slow life down to quiet, your inner self can come out of your head and you notice all the people who are doing the same ordinary, beautiful things you are: taking their kids to school, going to work, the grocery store, walking their dog, planting flowers, reading the newspaper, helping their parents or grandparents, nursing a hurt knee or teaching a child how to ride a bike or fix a flat tire. You revel in small conversations with the woman at the check out counter or the veterinarian or the man helping you at Home Depot. Kind people living life at the speed of life, who go home to their families, make dinner, go through the mail, let down their shields in the only real place that any of us can; at home, our sanctuary.

Thanksgivings for a Beautiful Life

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Twenty-eight things I am grateful for:

1. My three sweet, kind, exuberant, beautiful daughters. My forever family…

2. My Village, my Tribe of moms, friends, mentors, guides and confidantes that have provided the safety net, for me and my girls, that I have relied on this past six months.

3. My family whom I have spent my whole life celebrating life’s most treasured days.

4. My home, filled with life memories, is my sanctuary of love, serenity and goodness.

5. My dog, Sage and cat, Apple, who follow me around the house just to be close and remind me that a heart connection to others, furry or not, is all that matters in life.

6. My camera for the thousands of photographs I have taken to keep every life experience fresh in my memory. This will be helpful when those memories are not as easy to come by…

7. Music that fills my soul with peacefulness and reminds me that we all feel the same emotions but come by them individually.

8. Beautiful, colorful art, especially of nature.

9. My body that has allowed me to do everything from ski down double black diamond runs, jump out of an airplane to carrying three beautiful babies for 9 months inside and another year in my arms.

10. The experiences of growing up in the Pacific Northwest, four years in the fast-paced NY Metro area to the serenity of the Rocky Mountains hiking, skiing and living in the original North American ski town.

11. Books, books, books, and my infinite curiosity to read as many as I can. Without question, books are the foundation of my life.

12. Facebook for reminding me that the Universe is both large and small, that I am not alone in the world and have many kindred spirits…

13. My life experiences that have given me courage, resilience, curiosity, compassion for myself and others, ambition, and most importantly, the ability to love and be loved.

14. All four of my grandparents who have and continue to teach me the meaning and purpose of life is not found outside home but instead, right in the middle of everyday life among family and friends.

15. The sounds of happy children playing.

16. Peaceful mornings spent with a cup of coffee (with cream and cocoa), a book and happy girls.

17. My new car complete with streaming music, although Taylor Swift gets way too much airtime.

18. To be a stay-at-home mom while my girls are little. I am equally grateful to have spent more than a decade in my career and for the opportunity to resume my career shortly.

19. The opportunity to go back to college for an MFA in Creative Writing.

20. That God has been by my side directing my path for my whole life. He has given me very clear signs (crystal of late) that it is time for a new direction.

21. My GIRLS! (I know that was number one but, oh my goodness how grateful I am!)

22. Traditions, whether birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Halloween. As a younger person I didn’t always want to follow the crowd but the older I get it becomes so clear how those traditions comfort and bind us together as one.

23. The abundance of opportunities, comforts, and love that I have in my life.

24. My soft, fluffy bed with six pillows, pillow top mattress and book light.

25. Flowers of all kinds in a garden, window box, vase or wild on a mountainside. In college I used to spend $25 a week on groceries that included a bouquet and magazine. I still love to come home and unwrap a beautiful bunch of flowers to set on my counter.

26. Bob, for giving me the time and space to figure out who I am and what my purpose in life was meant to be. Most of all, for giving me the life to which I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

27. My GIRLS!

28. My beautiful life.

We Belong Wherever We Are

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You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you. ~Frederick Buechner

My family has lived in Small Town, Idaho for one year. How do I summarize the experiences of each of us as a collective? It is impossible, even as just one part of the whole. What did I learn? What am I taking with me? What added to my spirit moving forward?

I belong. I understand this simple fact with a depth I hadn’t known before living at the base of the Rockies for one year with my husband and three girls. Like the branch of a Willow tree I have been bent in ways that cannot be straightened. I have been stretched, molded and shaped this year by the place, the seasons, the people who have come upon my path and most of all, by the four spirits who have been chosen to walk with me.  My family.

For several years, Bob and I contemplated moving to Sun Valley. I resisted because it scared me. I grew up in the vast strip-malled suburbs of an airport pass-through town and found the anonymity comforting. I could come and go without anyone noticing. I could spend days without anyone knowing where I was or even wondering for that matter. I could get in my car and drive to the water, mountains or to Seattle on a whim. What would I do in a small town where there is one road in and out, the same people at the grocery store, school, church and post office? Would they like me? What if they didn’t? That was the fear – what if the people that I saw everyday didn’t like me. What if I didn’t fit in? What if I didn’t belong?

It is hard to say what erased that fear once I put my feet in the Big Wood River, but it never materialized. Gone. I took one step at a time up the vast trails surrounding the Valley in nature, in beauty, in acceptance. The grasses, wildflowers and Aspens didn’t care how long I have lived here or whether or not I was staying. They whispered, Welcome.

As summer transformed into fall and then winter, my girls started school one mile from our house. Happy, curious children smiled and asked, “Do you want to play?” The teachers asked, “Can you help?” We became part of a wonderful church community. We asked, “How can we serve?” This is a ski town so naturally there are a lot of people that like the outdoors and having fun while they’re at it. I joined two women’s ski groups where I found many lovely ladies who asked, “Do you want to hike…ski…bike?”  Wow. All that is needed is to show up. Show up with an open heart, an open mind and a sense of adventure. You can choose to join the collective energy or not. I chose to belong.

Although we committed to one year, tough decisions needed to be made. In my youth the choices were 1) the hard road but opportunity for big pay off; or 2) the easy path with the promise of the status quo. Of course, I always chose the hard road or the hard road was chosen for me, not sure which one. It is in my DNA, the pioneer spirit. I think I have finally grown up because the answer did not speak to me. Both options are good but the criteria for choosing did not line up. After a childhood of not belonging—perception is everything—I finally felt connected to this Earth, to humanity here in Sun Valley, Idaho. This connectedness did not have anything to do with friends, acquaintances or groups that accepted me, but instead a deep understanding that I am a part of the collective consciousness. I am a part of my family and they are a part of me. We are connected like Aspen Groves growing along the rivers and streams that stem from the tops of mountains and the rain clouds overhead.

The call to return to our roots is stronger than I thought possible. We need to return to where we were planted among our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and ancestors. The mountains, the Aspens whispered to me this year. The strength and fortitude of nature showed me my purpose. I have been realigned to the sun and upon leaving will never be the same. Never again will I wish or search to belong. I have learned that I can just show up with an open heart and an open mind. God will do the rest. He told me on the hiking trails in the summer time and while soaring up the ski lift in the winter. Welcome.