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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Grandpa

This started out as light-hearted post filled with details about how I said farewell to 2016 and ushered in the first weeks of 2017. That's what my mind intended to write about, however, my heart had other ideas. 
Photo credit: Barry Christiansen
Both my mind and heart are still trying to sort through my emotions around the recent death of my grandpa, Charles Christiansen. He died on December 28 at age 92. I was fortunate to be able to spend several hours with him during the last four days of his life. As I sat next to grandpa as he slept in his recliner, and then the hospital bed that was brought into his living room, I reflected back on the memories of time spent in that house with him and my grandma. For all of my 46 years grandpa has been a constant in my life, always just a short drive away from wherever I've lived. When I was born my parents lived in a basement apartment just a block from my grandparent's house. For the last 19 years I've lived a quick five minute drive away from grandma and grandpa's house. 
Me and my brother Ryan on grandma and grandpa's laps.
Life without Grandpa Chris, the name he was affectionately called by all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is going to be different. His presence, along with his home, has always been a touchstone in my life. Both grandma and grandpa Chris represented comfort, acceptance and security in my life. Their home was my safe haven, a peaceful place I always knew was there for me to take shelter in when the storms of life overwhelmed me. 

On many of the Sundays during my childhood my family would visit grandma and grandpa. Their backyard, always beautiful and perfectly cared for by grandpa, was where we would often gather for family parties, birthday celebrations or just to eat a bowl of grandpa's homemade ice cream on hot summer nights. I remember rolling down the slightly sloped hill in the yard with my brother and cousins, racing each other to the bottom. During the years grandpa and his sons ran their river guide business, Mountain River Guides, we would spend hours in the backyard jumping on the big pontoon boats like a trampoline while all of the river trip supplies were being inventoried and loaded. There were countless Easter egg hunts held in that yard. I was even married to my first husband there. It was rare to visit grandpa without taking a stroll with him outside to see his garden and to pick a supply of whatever was growing at the time to take him and enjoy. 

Grandpa wasn't an overly affectionate man, yet I never once doubted his complete, unconditional love for me. He took his responsibility as a grandparent seriously, and always made sure his grandchildren were taken care of. After my parents divorced, grandpa was there to help in any way he could. One summer he drove all five of us kids from Utah to our mom's home in Colorado. He bravely made the nearly 600-mile journey with five rambunctious children and a camp trailer in tow, stopping along the way to visit my maternal grandma in Grand Junction, CO to spend the night. I vividly remember stopping at the Continental Divide on I-70 and grandpa taking a picture of all of us in front of the sign marking the location. Grandpa was always interesting to talk to, and even on that trip as a teenager I remember being entertained by his running commentary about the places and landmarks we passed through.

Grandpa had an inquisitive mind and was always curious about how things worked. Even two days before he died, with a mind foggy from pain and heavy medication, he was asking questions, curious to know what the SMS indicator on his iPhone meant. I didn't know and had to look it up! The next day I told him that it meant Single Message Service. He looked at me blankly and I knew my answer didn't satisfy him. So I explained that it was an abbreviation for a type of communication service. I compared it to Morse Code language, explaining SMS was just another type of communication language. That answer seemed to satisfy his mind. 

He loved action and things that flew. As a young man just out of the Navy after WWII, he obtained his private pilot license. He never lost his fascination for things that flew. 
Grandpa on his 90th birthday, playing with his remote control plane.
After grandpa died many of my friends left me messages of love and sympathy on Facebook. One friend said it best, commenting that grandparents are like soul food. That's a good description of what Grandpa Chris was for me. His presence in my life was soul-soothing. I loved knowing that he was always there with an easy smile and his joyful laugh that remained youthful until the very end of his life. Three days before he died he laughingly teased me about serving him a slightly burnt piece of toast with his favorite raspberry jam. 

On the night I said my final goodbye to grandpa I left his home filled with sadness, but also a deep sense of gratitude. I had the privilege of being able to help care for grandpa during his final hours. I was in some small way able to give back to him the kind of pure love and caring he had always shown me. My goodbye to him was said with no regrets. I knew that he knew I loved him and how much he meant to me. His love for me was just as certain, and is something I will always cherish and carry close to my heart for the rest of my life. 
Grandma and Grandpa on their front steps with great-grandkids.
Grandpa with great-grandchildren Kash and Gillian.
Grandpa reading the Christmas story to the family on Christmas Eve.
Grandpa on his 80th birthday with his great-grandchildren.
Gillian and her great grandpa.
Gillian trick-or-treating at great grandpa's.
Me with my grandparents.
Grandpa and Grandpa with great-grandson Atticus.
Grandma and Grandpa with my brother Jon.
Grandpa visiting the traveling WWII memorial.
Photo credit: Barry Christiansen
Treasured time with grandpa - June 2015
Military honors for grandpa from the local V.F.W. Post
Photo credit: Gillian Chapman 
Photo credit: Gillian Chapman
Charles William Christiansen
August 27, 1924 - December 28, 2016
Photo credit: Gillian Chapman

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Memories of 2016

This year I didn't get Christmas cards sent out and I've never been one to send Christmas letters. I've also severely neglected blogging this year, not because I've had nothing to write about, just because I spent the year enjoying life and trying as much as possible to live in the moment. Here's a look back at 2016 and some of its memorable moments. 

2016 was full of celebrating many milestones with family, starting with 
my niece Regan's 18th birthday. 
Gillian and I continued our tradition of making Valentine cookies together.
Gillian attended and voted in her first presidential election caucus.

Later in the year she proudly supported the first female presidential candidate
when voting for the first time. 

In May, Gillian survived her 1st (and hopefully only) car 
accident, totaling her car. Luckily she wasn't hurt. 
Gillian's Senior Prom
With my mom and grandma, Alberta French, on her 100th birthday.
Three generations of my family dance around the large globe willow tree in my grandma's backyard
as the sun set on the evening of her 100th birthday party. What a gift it was to be able to gather
once again under that tree, the place where countless family pictures have been taken,
and where so many happy moments have been shared. 
Grandma's 100th birthday bash in her backyard 
was a weekend full of family, fun, memories and celebration. 
These cousins live in three different states and don't see each other much.
They loved their time together in Colorado to celebrate their great-grandma's birthday.
Kelly and I celebrated one year together while enjoying a relaxing
week with friends in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. 

Utes tailgate parties and football games are always a good time. 
Gillian started her senior year of high school. 
Gillian and her boyfriend at the Ogden High vs. Ben Lomond Iron Horse football game.
Gillian turned 18 in October. I'm not sure where the time goes. I've cherished our
 time together this year,  and am enjoying watching her grow into a talented, mature, 
hard-working, smart, independent young woman.
It's been a year filled with treasured family time. This is me with
my nephew Bridger and my 92-year old grandpa in September.

Me, back in a bike saddle after a 10+ year hiatus, enjoying a gorgeous
fall weekend with Kelly in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Thanksgiving with my mom and sister in Utah, a rare occasion.
Our last Thanksgiving together in Utah was over 2 decades ago.

This year was filled with many treasured moments and memories. Thank you to all of my friends and family who were there to share those moments with me and helped make them special. I'm sending much love and happy holiday wishes to each of you.

Monday, November 14, 2016


When Gillian was very young we discovered she was missing many of her teeth. The medical term for this condition is Oligodontia, which means a person is missing more than 6 teeth, excluding wisdom teeth. My first clue should have been when she was a baby and started getting her teeth, which ironically enough, she did at a relatively young age. I proudly recorded each new tooth in her baby book. Before too long the teeth coming in didn't at all match the neat, orderly tooth diagram in the baby book. I didn't give this much thought, instead chalking it up to me being confused about which teeth were coming in. Oh, to be that naive again! 

Gillian - age 8, before getting her 1st braces on.
Not too many years later I knew there was a problem, although I still didn't fully understand the magnitude of it. At eight years old Gillian had her first set of braces put on. Over the next 10 years she would be in and out of braces three times and undergo some very painful dental procedures. The ten years of orthodontics were in preparation for a time in what used to seem like the distant future when she would be able to have permanent tooth implants put in. Nothing permanent could be done until she was completely done growing, which we guessed would be around age 18. 

She's been patient and brave through it all. It hasn't been easy for her. Young kids don't like to be different from their peers. Having to wear retainers with false teeth glued onto them for all of her childhood was a difficult thing for her to endure. Today, after years of consultations, waiting, prep, adjustments, and some difficult decisions, she was finally able to start the process of getting permanent teeth placed in her mouth. From there we went directly to the oral surgeon's office. It was an emotional day for both of us. For her there was the anxiety and fear of the unknown. For me, it was the anxiety I'm sure every parent feels when leaving their child in the hands of a doctor, however skilled, to administer anaesthesia and operate on their child. 

I'm happy to report the surgery went well. She had seven titanium posts placed in her jawbone. As of today she has 16 teeth. Most adults have 32 permanent teeth, including their wisdom teeth. If all goes according to plan, in three months she'll have permanent crowns put in place by her dentist, bringing her total number of teeth to 23. As I waited with her in the recovery room one of the nurses handed me the five baby teeth that were removed today. I wonder if I'm supposed to make sure the tooth fairy pays a visit tonight, even if the teeth she lost should have fallen out 12 years ago?

Gillian has come so far in the last ten years. The happy, smiling little girl in the picture above is now an independent young woman. She's gone from being completely dependent on me to manage her care to taking a primary role in making decisions with her team of providers. She's learned to be an informed patient who asks intelligent questions and advocates for herself. Her case isn't a simple one. It's required years of communication and coordination between her dentist, orthodontist and oral surgeon (all of whom have shown an amazing level of care and dedication to her treatment over the years). 
I snapped this picture after Gillian was home and resting with Lucy making sure she wasn't left alone. Today it was nice to have simply be my little girl again, and I relished every moment of being able to take care of her.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October Fun in the Sun

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn't it?" ~ Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery 

My baby turned 18 this year! I can hardly believe how quickly the years flew by. She requested a low-key celebration instead of a party. Kelly and I joined Gillian and her boyfriend, and her dad and step-mom for dinner together. She was showered with lots of love and presents to celebrate her special day, including a dragonfly charm necklace, her first piece of jewelry from Tiffany and Co. Her dad and I wanted to give her a special keepsake for this milestone birthday. Several years ago Gillian gave me a dragonfly necklace as a souvenir gift from a trip she took to Alaska. I hope she'll treasure her necklace as much as I do mine. The Japanese believe dragonflies are symbols of success, victory, happiness, strength and courage. As Gillian enters adulthood, I hope she creates a life for herself that will have plenty of all of those things.
The birthday girl cutting her cake.
A special gift for a special girl.
Me and my girl. 
Over the Columbus Day holiday weekend, Kelly and I were able to get away to Sun Valley, Idaho. Even though it's a short 250 miles from Ogden, I'd never been there before. Have I ever been missing out! It was gorgeous! I think we picked the perfect weekend to be there. The aspens were still full of golden leaves and the weather was warm, clear and sunny. Even though there were lots of people in nearby Ketchum for the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival, it was still a very relaxing, calm and quiet weekend. 

On our first full day there we headed out for an 18-mile bike ride. It was my first time riding any distance longer than a mile or two in over a decade! It was fun to be back in the saddle and riding again. The next day we watched the Trailing of the Sheep parade down Main Street in Ketchum as 1,500 sheep were moved to their winter pastures. After that we did a short hike. On Monday we did another bike ride. I was still pretty sore from our earlier ride, so we took a short route into Ketchum and then back to our condo with a detour through the Sun Valley resort property. Our evenings were spent at the historic Pioneer Saloon. Kelly has been going to Sun Valley for most of his adult life, and even spent a short time living there. I now know why he loves it there. I loved being able to share one of his favorite places with him while we soaked up some of the last warm, sunny days of fall. 

Just like Anne of Green Gables, I'm so glad we live in a world where there are Octobers. As the days grow shorter and the cold air of winter starts moving in, I'm holding onto the memories of those relaxing days spent enjoying the beautiful outdoors in the warm fall sunshine. 
Playing tourist with Hope.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mexico Memories

The signs of summer drawing to a close are everywhere. School is back in session, my tan is fading, Labor Day is less than a week away, and it's already been a month since my summer vacation! It's never too late to share some vacation photos and memories though, is it? 

Kelly and I spent the last week of July in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico, which is a beach resort town north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was a much-needed getaway for both of us and the perfect vacation, full of lots of R&R and long, lazy days spent poolside in the sun.

When we departed I had only a vague idea about where exactly we'd be staying and almost no details about our accommodations. Early summer is very busy for me at work, so in the weeks and months leading up to our trip I was too focused on my numerous looming deadlines to even ask for details about our plans. These three things pretty well sum up most of what I knew: 
  • Vacation 
  • Mexico 
  • House by the beach  
I was more than pleasantly surprised when we arrived! This is where we spent a week together with three other couples we know. 

The back of the house. 
Poolside - not a bad view!
The first half of this year was busy, stressful and oftentimes overwhelming for both of us, and June was an extremely full and intense month. We were both in serious need of some time away to relax and recharge. As soon as we arrived and walked outside to look at the ocean, I felt all of the stress and pressure of the previous 7 months slip away. 
Yes, this was as serene and relaxing as it looks.
The perfect spot for reading, relaxing or napping.
We spent most of our days doing a whole lot of nothing, which was great. Mornings consisted mostly of drinking coffee, reading, walks on the beach, swimming, lounging by the pool and watching the ocean, surfers, and others enjoying the beach and water. The resident caretakers made us delicious fresh ceviche, salsa, and guacamole that we snacked on every day. Most afternoons brought rain and thunderstorms, which we liked to watch roll in over the ocean and listen to from the open doors and windows as we took shelter inside. Although, one day we did get caught in a major tropical downpour riding bikes back from an outing for gelato. I consumed lots of gelato on the trip, but at least we rode bikes to and from the gelato shop to help burn off some of the calories! And, of course there was plenty of cold Pacifico on hand, which I consider a beachside vacation necessity! 
A favorite spot for morning coffee and evening sunset watching. 
Sunset view from poolside.
All in all, it was a perfect vacation. We were able to relax and enjoy each other and our time together with very few interruptions or distractions. Wi-fi reception at the house was spotty, which made me think about how much of an intrusion being constantly connected to and focused on electronics can be to really connecting with those we love. It was a good reminder to make a conscious effort to unplug and focus on being more fully present in my daily life back home. I think that's what vacations are best for - disconnecting from daily distractions and reconnecting with ourselves, our lives, and the people and things that fill up our hearts and make us happy and content. 
Taken on July 25, 2016, a year from the day we first met.