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

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Family Fun and the 4th of July

My well-worn road atlas marked up by my dad from the 1st time
I drove to Colorado alone.
If I had to guess the number of times I've traveled from Utah to Colorado via I-80 through Wyoming I think it would be in the hundreds. I've been making the 600-mile trek to Colorado Springs since before I can remember. I made my most recent journey there from Utah  to spend the 4th of July holiday at my mom's. I was anxious to get to Colorado to see family and friends since it had already been 14 months since my last visit there. Pieces of my heart live in Colorado and after I've been gone too long they draw me back. It's definitely my second home--where I go to find the soothing my heart and soul sometimes needs and where I'm reminded of my history and my roots. It's my touchstone in life. It's 'home' to me even though I've never really lived there. 

Stopping for $.75 cones at Little America.
Gillian and my niece Regan came along on my summer road trip. This was our second road trip to Colorado together. I think we make a pretty good traveling team. Having travel partners always makes a long road trip better, and having these two in the car with me makes me especially happy. I love listening to their happy chatter and giggling. They remind me of summers and time spent traveling the roads of Colorado with my cousin Michelle. Just like Gillian and Regan we're also 9 months apart in age. Summer vacation time with Michelle was always special and something I still look forward to. I'm so glad Gillian and Regan are getting to create the same kind of special memories together. 

My brother Jon, sister-in-law Sam, and nephew Atticus were also visiting Colorado while I was there. I couldn't wait to see them! It had been a year since I'd last seen Jon and nearly three years since I'd seen all three of them together. Jon suffered a nearly fatal accident late last year and I've been longing to see and connect with him since. Gillian had also been anxious to see her favorite Uncle Jon again. We were both very happy girls when we finally got to hug Jon, Sam and Atticus and enjoy time with some of our favorite people!

We spent our first night in Erie at my sister Amy's. My nephew Mason was spending the holiday with friends, but the cousins went to visit him at his dad's Outback Steakhouse where he was just getting off work. They spent a few minutes talking and catching up before Mason headed off on his trip. Here's a picture from the last time we spent the 4th of July in Colorado. Can you believe how much our babies have grown up since then?
Mason, Hannah and Gillian - 2008.
Cousins 2015 - Regan, Mason, Hannah and Gillian.
Hannah made the trip from Erie to Colorado Springs with us to spend a couple of nights at grandma's. Gone are the days when the back seat was full of whiny, crying kids that made car trips to grandma's a dreaded undertaking. Now those same kids entertain themselves and me, laughing, talking and just enjoying their cousin time together making memories  they'll treasure for the rest of their lives. 
Off to grandma's - Regan, Gillian and Hannah.
We celebrated the 4th with a barbecue at my mom's followed by a walk through the foothills looking for the bear that had been seen near her house. We didn't see any bears, but we did learn what to do in case we ever do encounter one. Did you know you're supposed to talk softly to bears? I didn't. Since we didn't find any bears we headed up the hill to the Mt. St. Francis grounds in search of more adventure.
Regan showing off her gymnast moves.

We found mystery, adventure and lots of animal bones on the convent grounds of what used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. Uncle Jon was the ringleader with all of the kids enthusiastically joining him in studying the many animal bones they found in the dry canal bed that runs along the grounds. A summer storm with dark clouds rapidly moving in, the many old buildings, a graveyard, church bells tolling and religious symbols everywhere added to the ominous sense of mystery that afternoon. Gillian took most of the pictures below as she documented our bear hunt turned CSI outing.
The rest of the trip was spent visiting family, showing the girls the landmarks of Colorado Spings, telling old family stories and visiting the Fine Arts Center to see a Georgia O'Keefe exhibit. The girls drug out grandma's old scrap books and family photo albums. I loved listening to them ask questions about everything they were looking at, interested in learning about their family history. They stayed up late into the night talking and laughing. They even dug through the guest room closet and tried on some of the clothes they found there. Gillian fits perfectly in her Aunt Julie's old high school Prom dresses. Seeing her in them breaks my heart and makes me smile at the same time. 

Looking at old photo albums and grandma's high school scrapbooks.

I always like to look at the family pictures my mom keeps on her shelves.
Baby Gillian and Mason are in the black & white picture. Weren't they cute?

Only Jon can get away with flashing gang signs with mom looking at him adoringly.
Ice cream at Josh and John's.
Uncle Jon discussing the fine points of street art with the next generation.
Leaving their mark on cousin Diana's office window. 
Visiting my 2nd cousin, children's book author Dian Curtis Regan.
When I got to my mom's and took my bags to my room I saw this sign in the guest room waiting to be hung up. I didn't realize it when I set out on my trip to Colorado, but these are some of the many things I'd been needing. My heart had been yearning for home and this is why. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

School's Out for Summer!

Gillian's Mother's Day present to me.
Mother & infant by Gillian Chapman
Today was the last day of school for Gillian. When she started her sophomore year last fall I never imagined what a difficult, challenging, stressful school year it would be. We're both more than ready for a reprieve from the onslaught we've been under for the last several months. I don't think I've ever looked forward to the beginning of summer break more than I have this year. This morning I reveled in the pleasure of waking up on my own instead of to the loud, jarring sound of Gillian's alarm. Amazingly, she was almost always able to sleep through it for several seconds before I would finally yell at her to turn it off. And the snooze button...don't even get me started! I'm not a fan of the snooze button. Our mornings for the next three months are going to be much calmer and peaceful without the daily fight over alarms, snooze buttons and getting out of bed and out the door on time.

I would never want to repeat what we've dealt with these past several months, but if nothing else it's been a growing experience for both me and Gillian. I've had to come to terms with some things that were extremely painful and disappointing to me, and she's learned a lot about herself and is starting to learn new, better ways of coping. Somewhere several months back I read this great piece of advice, "Parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had." Those words really struck me and I've come back to them over and over when I've been struggling with acceptance and coping. 

Gillian - May 20, 2015
I've also leaned heavily on my mom for advice, support, a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes my mom can drive me a little crazy and make me frustrated, but there's nobody better when I'm at my wit's end and need some help gaining perspective. She's my safe place. She is the one person I could tell about my deepest fear as a mother.  She understood and validated the reasons for my fears, and reassured me that I should trust my mother's instinct about some of the symptoms I was seeing. But then she very clearly and firmly told me that I should never make parenting decisions from a place of fear. She agreed that I should do everything I could to advocate, fight for and get Gillian the help and resources she needed, but that I needed to do so in a rational, calm, deliberate and informed way. She also always reminds me what a smart, gifted, unique, creative, intelligent, talented, amazing person Gillian is, and she's right. 

One thing I've tried to continually remind myself of lately is that my function as a parent is to raise a happy, healthy, well-adjusted person who is able to lead a fulfilling life. What a fulfilling life looks for Gillian and the path she takes to get there is up to her. What I'm mostly struggling with right now is how to best help her find that path. Gillian is nearly an adult, and yet in many areas of her life she still needs considerable guidance. I want to give her freedom to make her own choices, even really bad ones, but I also want to help her see that some choices have far-reaching, unintended consequences that we can't always see at the time we make them. A good friend told me several months ago that parents should never deprive their children of the opportunity to pay the price for their own choices. The hard part is knowing if the price is affordable. At what point as parents do we step in and save them from themselves? 

Annoying alarms and not wanting to get out of bed were the least of the frustrations and problems we've faced over these last several months. But we did face them. It wasn't pretty and there was plenty of anger, resentment, sadness and misunderstanding. But for now it feels like we're in a pretty good place. Thankfully I have the resources to get Gillian the outside support and care she needs along with counseling for both of us. It seems like we made it through the eye of the storm and I'm cautiously optimistic about the next several months and next school year. Although, the chorus to the Taylor Swift song 'Out of the Woods' keeps playing repeatedly in my head like some kind of cautionary mantra. "Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out the woods? Are we out of the woods? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet? Are we in the clear yet, good." Play. Repeat. Over and over. 

I'm not quite sure I trust this current calm state of affairs. But for now, I've decided to accept, embrace and enjoy this break. I hope this summer is a time that we can both take a much needed reprieve from the storms of the last year and spend a lot of time laughing, loving, enjoying each other and most of all, healing. 
Me and my girl - Mother's Day 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Parenting Confessions

Parenting is the hardest job I've ever done. I started with such high hopes and optimistic ideals, as I suppose most parents do. Now, 16+ years in, I often wonder why on earth I ever thought I was capable of raising another human being. What was I thinking? Me? The person whose life is hardly an example of wisdom and good choices. Good intentions just don't cut it when it comes to parenting. Wisdom, patience, compassion, time, energy, selflessness, a supportive network--a good parent has all of these things in abundance, and I sometimes feel that I'm lacking almost all of them. 

The last several months have been challenging for me and my daughter. Many in my life know the details of much of what I've been dealing with, details that I won't share here on such a public forum. I'll just say it's been an incredibly stressful, worrisome, frustrating, maddening, scary, and often tension-filled several months. Our house has not been a happy home for much of the time. I've wanted to run away from home. A lot. I fantasize about no longer being a responsible, concerned parent. I question every decision I make, wondering if the boundaries I'm setting are helping or hurting the situation. I wonder if complete indifference is the answer. Maybe if I stopped showing that I cared so much about things that alarm me, the behavior would stop. But, the thing is, I'm afraid to stop caring. It seems unnatural to ignore the red flags, step away and let the cards fall where they may, hoping for the best. And yet, everything I do is met with indifference at best, and harmful rebelliousness at worst. 

It's easy to get caught up in hopelessness, despair and blame. I know I've made many, many bad parenting decisions and my daughter has faced horrible things in her young life that have affected her deeply. Some days I want a do-over. I want to rewind the clock and have the life I planned on, the one where I have a happy, stable, successful marriage, sharing parenting duties with a loving, supportive partner. Together we raise a happy, well-adjusted, caring person. 

The reality is much messier and the issues we're facing didn't emerge overnight. There is no easy, quick solution. I recognize that I'm not well-equipped to deal with this challenge. I'm too emotional, high-strung, reactive, impatient, demanding...the list goes on. I'm worn out by 12 years of going it mostly alone as a parent, juggling the demands of motherhood, full-time work and life's many other challenges. The last five years have especially kicked my ass, and I know my daughter has paid a high price for my struggles these past several years. 

A mother's love is fierce. Is it enough? Can just loving her and ignoring everything else be enough to steer her from the rocky path she's on? Can I just love it all away--all her struggles and pain? Am I trying too hard to control the outcome? Should I stop trying so hard? Can I love my way to being a better, stronger, more patient and wise parent? I don't know the answers. I can only keep trying in my very imperfect way, seeking help and answers where I can, hoping that eventually the good I've done as her mom, and my fierce, endless love for her will outweigh my many mistakes. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Battle Scars

Original sketch by Gillian Chapman
My daughter, who is a talented artist, has been practicing drawing nudes. She showed me some of her drawings the other day and told me that when her teenage peers see them they have one of four reactions. The most common is shock that she drew pictures of naked people! The second is to ask if she's into girls, because why else would she draw naked women? The third (from high school boys of course) is to say the females she drew have hot bodies. The last, and least common, is to actually look at the pictures as art and mention the skill involved in drawing a human body. We laughed together at the small-mindedness of people and talked about the many famous pieces of art that are nudes. We also talked about how the human body really is a beautiful thing to behold. It's also not an easy thing to draw, sculpt or paint well, so it's fun to see Gillian taking her skill to a new level as she attempts to master the art of nudes. 

Last night as I got out of the tub and ready for bed I studied myself in the mirror, thinking about our conversation. Our bodies really are an amazing thing. Most of the time I only look at mine from a critical point of view, constantly monitoring the incremental signs of aging, wear and tear, and the results of exercise, or lately, my lack of exercise. Living with a 16-year old mini version of myself is a constant reminder of how much my body has changed over the years. My daughter is in her prime as I'm slipping into middle age. Our bodies change as we age. Like it or not, they're physical manifestations of our life experiences and choices.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding changed my body dramatically. Any woman who has nursed a baby knows what I'm talking about! Sure, I could have restored some parts to their former glory with plastic surgery, but I love my body. I'm comfortable in my own skin, even if it is saggy in some spots now. I literally sacrificed my body for my daughter, and I'd do it again. It was a small price to pay for the gift of carrying her, feeding her and being a mom. 

The small scar on my lower back is new. It's still red and very visible, a bright reminder of the pain I experienced last year and the surgery I had to fix my damaged disc and nerve. I'm still working on regaining the strength and flexibility in my back. It's a gradual process, just like the gradual way my scar is lessening and fading. 

My legs. My poor legs. I used to love looking at the muscles in my legs, reminders of the hard work I'd done, the result of hours and hours of running and working out. Those muscles aren't what they used to be, especially in my right leg. It too shows the evidence of the challenges I faced last year. My calf muscle is shrunken and small. I don't know if it will ever again be symmetrical with my other leg. The nerve damage in it may be permanent. 

My left knee has faint scars around the kneecap, the result of knee scope surgery years ago. They remind me of the pain that was once so bad I could hardly walk or sleep without discomfort. The pain still bothers me when I run, but I've learned to manage it over the years. I decided I wouldn't let it be an excuse to stop me from doing the things I want to, like running.

My belly button has two small scars, reminders of the brief period in my life when I had a belly piercing. Yes, I once thought that was cool! I was on vacation in Brazil and it seemed like the perfect souvenir from an amazing trip. The belly button ring is long gone, but the happy memories of the experience remain. 

On my front, left torso is my tattoo with the Latin saying Hinc Ilae Lacrimae surrounded by daffodils. The words mean Hence These Tears. They are a literal representation of the pain, loss and tears I suffered after Julie's death--with me always just like the pain of her loss will be. 

And then there's my face, especially my eyes. When I look at my eyes in the mirror I see how drastically the challenges I've faced the last five years have aged me. My eyes reflect it all, every last bit of pain and suffering. Some days it's more obvious than others. I'm always a little shocked at how old I look around my eyes now. 

As I scrutinized myself last night I realized that although my body will never again be what it was when I was 16, 25 or even 40, I'm completely okay with my body and what it represents. When I look in the mirror I'm reminded of the many very hard things I've endured in my life. The marks and changes some of them have left on my body are like battle scars, reminders of things that have challenged me, changed me, and in most cases made me stronger. 

"Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real." 

~ Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking Back at 2014

As 2014 comes to an end I've been spending a lot of time reflecting on this past year--the good, the bad, the lessons learned, and the memories made. On Facebook my news feed is full of Year In Review slide shows. The slide shows have created some controversy since the one size fits all algorithm used by the programmers has dredged up painful memories for some. As for my year, summarizing the last 12 months in pictures only tells part of the story. If I had to use one word to describe this year, it would be painful. My year was full of pain, physically, emotionally and mentally, none of which is evident in the pictures I took to capture moments throughout the year. A picture can be worth a thousand words, but they rarely show the whole story or reveal the very human side of the person in the photo. It's like the popular photo series Humans of New York that I follow. The stories told by the people featured in the pictures are the most compelling part. While I won't be sharing my Facebook created Year in Review slide show and I don't have a super interesting story to go along with my photos, here is a glimpse of my year in pictures.

January - Mike and I celebrating my birthday at a Sundance party in Park City. We were smiling, but our year was already off to a rough start. 
Valentine's Day - Gillian and I with Grandma Christiansen. We didn't know it then, but this was the last time we would make our annual Valentine cookie delivery to her. Gillian was lucky to have her Great Grandma Chris in her life for 16 years.
May - Cousin time always makes me happy! With my cousin Michelle and my mom during my visit to Colorado.
June - Despite my best intentions, I didn't spend nearly enough time on my back patio this summer drinking Mojitos and laughing with friends. 
June - With my dad and siblings at grandma's funeral. This was the first time all four of us were together since Julie's funeral four years ago. 
Everyday things that make me laugh - Gillian's chore list. Despite my lack of instructions she figured out how to give the dog her medicine.
Oasis Summer Nights with Gillian - She didn't want to go, but humored me and spent an hour pretending to have fun. 
The canning bug hit me this summer. Homemade bread and butter pickles with cucumbers from my garden. 
August - Me with my Grandpa Christiansen on his 90th birthday
September - Canning salsa, my Labor Day weekend tradition
My two favorite volunteer partners - with Beesh and the adorable Miss Alice at the Suicide Survivors Walk in Ogden
The picture that pretty much sums up much of my year - me immobilized from back pain with my sweet Sophie by my side.
October - Gillian's 1st High School Dance, Ogden High School Homecoming 2014
Happy Day! Naked teeth after 15 months in braces. 
Thanksgiving - This year I missed being with family and was very sad and full of longing for the days of huge family Thanksgiving dinners. Luckily, I had good friends that welcomed Gillian and I into their home to share the day.
December - Gillian looking gorgeous alongside her date to the Winter Formal Dance
Me and My Girl
 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. With my back surgery complete and healing underway, soon I will be able to get back to my former levels of physical activity. 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.