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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye to 2011

It’s hard to believe it’s already the last day of December.  The last week has been filled with plenty of downtime, family and friends, which has been a nice change of pace.  The kids have been out of school for the holiday break and I’ve taken several days off work.  
Stockings all hung by the mantel with care.
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Christmas Day was relaxed and mellow.  I loved having Mike and Isaac here to spend the morning with Gills and I.  I enjoy Christmas more when it’s shared with others.  Even though the kids are teenagers, they’re still kids at heart and love being surprised.  It was fun watching them open their presents and play with their toys.  Yes, they had toys.  Mike made sure there were plenty of fun games and gadgets in their stockings. Isaac was a trooper, since he hadn’t even been to bed when we called him at 7 a.m. on Christmas morning to let him know it was time to come open presents.  He’d spent Christmas Eve with his friends celebrating in the traditional Hispanic way, with a big meal and celebration that started at midnight.  

Isaac trying to figure out how a gravity stick works.
Surprise!  An iPad for Gillian.

Isaac's gift to me.
Mike's favorite gift--a thank you card from Isaac. 

After opening presents, Mike’s grandma joined us for a big breakfast cooked by Mike, including waffles made with his new Belgian waffle maker.  After cleaning up (which is never a small task when Mike cooks!) it was time to get ready for our next meal.  We had a nice Christmas dinner with my stepmom and dad at their house.  Then it was off to work for Mike, and Gillian went to spend time with her dad, sisters and brother.  I enjoyed having a few hours alone to relax, read and not have to eat!  
Ugg slippers for G.
Enjoying waffles, eggs and potatoes for breakfast.
Mike spoiled me this year in the present department, even taking on the daunting task of picking out a purse for me.  He had some help from some female co-workers and some of the girls from the shelter where he works.  Despite their best efforts at guessing what I’d like, I decided I’d rather have a different pattern.  The day after Christmas we headed to Park City so I could exchange my purse.  Lucky for me, when we walked into the store there was a great sale on almost everything in the store! I found a purse I loved (It was the one Mike had originally picked out for me, only to be talked out of it by his female shopping assistants), and even got a wallet and cosmetic bag to match.

My new purse and wallet.
Then it was off to dinner with Mike and an old friend of his. I’m pretty sure I made both of them look better that night because of my smashing new accessory!  Mike and B have known each other for over 15 years.  He’s one of a group of four friends that were roommates and spent much of their early twenties together. It’s fun being with Mike and his friends, as they have many great stories of their crazy youthful exploits and shared memories. I enjoy seeing the friendships and bonds he’s formed with people that for him are like family (lifers, as he calls them).  Great friends are rare treasures, and I think it speaks volumes about his character that he has many friends that he’s kept in his life for so long.  In a not so unusual twist, given that Mike and I have lived in the same town for nearly our entire lives, B and I also have a connection.  We went to elementary school together for a couple of years.  It was fun to reconnect with him for the first time last year after not seeing him since the fifth grade.  
Yesterday, I was spoiled even more, first because Mike and I had another day off together.  Two in one week!   We went to breakfast, then went to get pedicures, which is one of our favorite guilty pleasures.  My toes now match my purse, which any girly-girl like me will appreciate.  
Last night I spent several hours with my stepsister and her husband, who are visiting from Minnesota along with their three little ones.  It was fun to spend time with them as we only see each other every 18 months or so.  In another case of shared friends, Mike has known my stepsister almost as long as I have.  We only discovered this last year, through Facebook of course!  It was a funny conversation.  I asked him how on earth he knew T.  He told me they’d been friends for years, and wondered how I knew her.  He was shocked to find out she’s my stepsister.  They even met at the same coffee shop where Mike and I first met.  
I like to compare living in Ogden to the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except in Ogden it’s more like two or three degrees before everyone is linked back to the same mutual connection.  Sometimes I wonder if Mike and I crossed paths before.  It’s very likely, given that we’ve lived fifteen miles or less away from each other for years, and frequented many of the same places.  
All together, it’s been a very enjoyable, relaxing week.  I’ve loved having time to spend with family, friends and loved ones.  It’s a been a great way to end the year.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

We've Come a Long Way Baby, or Have We?

Last night Mike got in a fight with a man who was being disrespectful towards me.  My immediate reaction was anger and annoyance.  Mike bartends part-time  at a popular local bar to make ends meet, since the job he really wants to make a career of doesn't pay even close to a living wage.  Why being a bartender pays so much more than counseling, mentoring and protecting abused and neglected children in a Juvenile Justice Services shelter is a topic for another blog post!  Losing his job at the bar would be financially devastating, and I was worried that him getting in an altercation with a patron would cause him to lose his job.  I was also annoyed at what I judged to be a ridiculous display of male ego and pride.

Here's what happened.

Mike was working what was supposed to be a two hour shift.  I'd picked him up from his other job and took him over to the bar.  Since it was Christmas evening and my daughter was with her dad, I came in to sit at the bar while he worked.  I do this most Friday evenings when he works, as sometimes it's my only chance to see him for a couple of hours as our jobs frequently have us working completely opposite shifts.   I know many of the regulars there, and pretty much everyone who works there or frequents the place on even a semi-regular basis knows that Mike and I have been a couple for well over a year and a half.

I was sitting at the far end of the bar minding my own business and watching Mike work, half listening to the chatter of the man next to me when I heard the scuffle break out down by one of the tables.  I stood up to see if Mike was helping bring things under control.  I saw him in the middle of things, but didn't realize he was one of the participants!

Just before the altercation, a guy Mike knows had come over to talk to me and wish me a Merry Christmas.  He went back to the table of people he was with, and one of the men at his table started talking about and gesturing towards me.  Mike was watching all this and could hear and see that he was saying things about my body.  Apparently this went on for a while.  The guy is a regular and fully aware that Mike and I are a couple.  Finally, Mike went over to him and asked him to stop.  He asked him more than once.  I don't know exactly what words were said, but basically Mike told him it wasn't cool to sit there and say crude things about my ass, especially with Mike right there knowing he was saying it.  The guy didn't back down.  Words continued to be exchanged, things escalated and then exploded.

All of it left me angry, frustrated, annoyed and contemplating respect, boundaries and the many ways, both subtle and overt, that men disrespect women.  This isn't the 19th century, I'm not Scarlett O'Hara and I don't need men fighting to defend my honor, thank you very much!  But then I wonder how far we've really progressed since the 19th century? Despite all the women's rights that have been gained, and equality between the sexes, women continue to be treated in very demeaning and sexist ways.  As I asked Mike last night, is he going to start fighting every guy that makes crude, suggestive remarks about my ass as I walk by, because he'll be very busy.  I don't say that arrogantly.  It's just the way it is.  I feel the leers as I walk by men. I hear the not so quiet comments. I can feel their eyes undressing me.  It's creepy and disrespectful.  Just because things aren't said directly to my face doesn't mean I don't know they're being said.  Should I turn around and start calling out every man that says something about my body?  What about when I don't actually hear it, but I can sense it because of the way they look at me, and the crude laughter after a remark exchanged between buddies?  How should women react to those situations?  I have no problem putting a man in his place when he insults me directly or says something that makes me uncomfortable.  It's the gray areas I struggle with.  The muttered remarks, the leers, the creepy looks.

It all makes me think about the Slut Walk movement.  Although I don't disagree with their message, the way they promote their message does make me a little uncomfortable.  The thing is, I don't dress provocatively or suggestively.  Any woman, myself included, should be able to wear what they want, whether it's a skirt and high heels, or jeggings, boots and a loose sweater as I was last night, and not be treated as if they're just a potential piece of ass.  I understand that I'm attractive and fit, and I also understand the power of my sexuality.  What I don't understand is why simply because I happen to have a body men admire, that entitles them to say things about me they wouldn't want said about their mother, sister or daughter.  I don't "put it out there" as they say.  Why then do men think they can talk about me, or any woman, as if we exist simply as sexual objects?  It's extremely insulting.  There's a way to admire a woman, and even compliment her about how she looks without being demeaning.  Many men either don't understand how to do this or just don't care.

Neither do I understand why a woman alone in a bar is seen as an invitation to ignore all social norms and boundaries.  I get that alcohol lowers inhibitions and that certain assumptions, like it or not, will be made simply because of the environment.  However, plenty of stone cold sober men make very presumptuous assumptions simply because I'm a female sitting alone at a bar.  It's annoying to me that I have to studiously avoid making eye contact or even smiling at men for fear it will be taken as an open invitation by them.  I'm there simply trying to spend a few stolen moments with the man I love, catching up on each other's day in between him serving drinks to people.  I shouldn't feel like I need to wear a sign on my back stating that so I can be left in peace.

So what is the point of my rant today?  I guess I'm okay after all with what Mike did last night.  That guy has leered at me for a long time.  I've sensed it, and Mike's observed it for months. He's blatantly disrespected me, Mike and our relationship.  It isn't okay.  Women are more than sexual objects that exist for men's pleasure.  We deserve to walk around and sit in public places free from harassment, verbal or otherwise.  This isn't too much to ask.  Men need to show more respect.  If they don't, maybe some of them do need to be shoved up against a wall once in a while in order to get the message.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What I Really Want for Christmas


It might seem weird that I’m writing this to you since you’re gone and there’s no possible way for you to read it, but it makes me feel better to address my thoughts to you today.  It’s the holidays, so of course I’m sentimental and can’t help but think about you.  You hated the holidays because they reminded you of everything you wanted but didn’t have.  A family. Someone to love and cherish you.  A life partner by your side.  For me it’s different.  I have Gillian, so luckily I’m never completely alone.  The thing I’m struggling with this year is the question about what I want for Christmas.  I know when people ask they don’t realize it’s a painful question.  They just want to give me something meaningful and thoughtful.  How do I kindly tell them that it’s not possible for anyone to give me what I truly want?

I got the best Christmas present of my life two years ago.  Even then I cherished it.  Remember that year?  It was a tough one for you with lots of personal struggles and life decisions weighing on you, and you were absolutely dreading the holidays.  We were both going to be pretty much alone for Christmas and spent a lot of time talking about how to handle it.  Should we just pretend Christmas wasn’t happening?  Go somewhere far away together and enjoy ourselves on a sunny beach with cute cabana boys bringing us fruity tropical drinks?  Show up to all the family-centric gatherings alone and try not to notice that we’re the only single ones there?  None of the options were that feasible for me because Gillian would be with me for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning that year.

Not too long before Christmas, you called and surprised me with the announcement that you’d decided to come spend Christmas at my house.  It was the perfect solution!  Suddenly, I couldn’t wait for Christmas.  I did some last minute shopping for you so you’d have some gifts to open on Christmas morning.  Shopping for you was fun.  I was as excited about seeing you open your gifts on Christmas morning as I was about seeing Gillian open hers.    

You flew in late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.  I’ll never forget picking you up at the airport that day.  Ever the efficient traveler, you told me to pick you up curbside at passenger pick-up.  As Gillian and I approached the curb we saw you, standing in your stylish tailored coat, jeans, high heel boots and a red Santa hat!  You were grinning from ear to ear, completely pleased with yourself.  You were silly, happy, and giggling as you got in the car.  We were all giddy with excitement.  I don’t know if you realized what an absolute gift you were to me that year.   You showed up like the perfect, last-minute present, bringing your  delightful smile and contagious energy to all your friends and family in Utah.

We went from the airport directly to the Christiansen family Christmas Eve party.  Everyone was so happy and surprised to see you.  Julie, did you feel how much we all loved and adored you?  Did you understand the happiness YOU, just your presence, brought to people? I hope so.

The next morning the three of us opened presents at my house.  Gillian loved having you all to herself I think.  I loved watching the two of you together that morning.  You were always so good with all of your nieces and nephews.  You understood and genuinely liked  all of them as the unique individuals they are.   It was a fun, relaxed morning.  We had breakfast burritos and played Milles Bourne in our pajamas for a long time.  It was fun teaching Gillian the game we’d played so often as children.  You had to do the teaching, as I’d pretty much forgotten how to play and kept messing up.  

You were here for several days so we got to spend a lot of time together, which was nice.  We went to Salt Lake to meet some of your old friends, spent a great afternoon at Snow Basin with the family, and just enjoyed hanging out together.  We had many heart-to-heart talks that week, as you were struggling with several major life decisions then, not sure which path to take.  I gave you that book “Settling For Mr. Good Enough”  trying to convince you not to disregard the Mr. Good Enough right in front of you in an elusive quest for Mr. Perfect.  You weren’t buying it.   A couple of months later you told me the book had come in handy.  As a security device.  You’d wedged it in the track of your sliding glass door to help keep out intruders.  Someday you’d read it you promised me.  It was still in your sliding glass door when I went to clean out your apartment after you died.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I didn’t take it, but I did take the things I’d so carefully chosen as gifts for you only a few months before.

Now, two years later, when I go to use one of the things I gave you (especially the As Seen On TV Open Anything blade/scissor combo.  You laughed when you opened it, then subsequently called me every time you used it to tell me how useful it was.) I think about that week.  Were our heart-to-heart talks really as honest as heartfelt as I thought they were?  What weren’t you telling me?  Were all the questions about what to do with your life just a cover up for the real issues you were struggling with?  Were you then struggling with life, period, trying to find the will to live?  Was that trip about goodbyes to friends and family you hadn’t seen for a long time?  It’s hard not to wonder and question.  It hurts me to think of the deep pain you were keeping from me.  I feel guilt that I was so caught up in my happiness of having you here,  I failed to see any pain behind those beautiful blue eyes of yours.

Of course questioning and second guessing gets me nowhere.  I’ll never have all the answers I want.  Instead I try, I really do, to focus on the memories, and be grateful for the happy times--the fact that you blessed your family and friends with 34 years of wonderful you.  Sometimes though, it just isn’t enough.  When I put up the candle wrapped with the quote “There are some who bring a light so great to the world that even after they have gone, the light remains” I cry bitter, sorrowful tears.  I don’t want a candle with a touching saying next to your picture.  I want you.  

Julie - Christmas 1976
Christiansen Kids - Christmas 1979

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Little Moments 2011

Every year I have good intentions about writing a Christmas letter full of highlights and news about my year.  Every year I end up not doing it.  Mostly because I live a pretty routine life, which is just fine with me, but not really very noteworthy.  That doesn't mean there aren't many occasions, both everyday and some more special, that aren't memorable to me.  One thing I enjoy every holiday season is making a photo book for my daughter with pictures from throughout the year.  Going through the year's pictures reminds me of many happy times -- the many small moments that make up my life.  So, in that spirit here's a photo summary of some of my year's memorable moments, both big and small. 

New puppy!  Lucy's first day home.
Hazlenut lattes with friends at Grounds for Coffee.
My favorite breakfast made by Mike.
 My street early on a snowy morning.
A beautiful end to a day.
Little Lucy meeting the morning coffee crew.
Sunshine in Las Vegas for my birthday.
First sign of spring in my yard.
Junior League Casino Night with my girls.
Lucy and the first daffodils of spring.
Finish line at the Ogden 1/2 Marathon with my dad and sis.
One year without Julie.
First fire of the summer.
Dinner date with Mike on a summer evening.
Gillian and Lucy.
Kiss Me Dirty race.
Practicing my golf swing.
USU ladies football clinic.
Falling in love with sweet Sophie.
Baking with Gillian.
U2 Concert.
My essential to-do list according to Mike.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Taking Only My Memories

Change is hard for me, and there sure has been a lot of change in my life the last year and a half. I know, I know. The only thing constant is change, right? Sometimes though, I wish things could stay just as they are.  Maybe it isn't really change that I struggle with. I guess I'm mostly bothered by change that impacts me emotionally, but that I'm powerless to control. 

Today while reading my mom's blog, New Beginnings are Full of Both Hope & Sadnessher words really hit home. I've been excited for Amy's move, focusing only on the positive side of her new beginning and hopeful about her having a fresh start in a new place. It hadn't occurred to me that the next time I visit her it will be in a different place. Her house holds many happy memories for me. It's hard to imagine not going there again. 

Colorado has always been my second home, and my sister's homes were as familiar and comfortable to me as my own. I've already said goodbye to Julie's place, closing the door on adding to my memory bank of occasions and happy times spent there. I'll probably never again go to Proto's, our favorite spot to grab a drink or a quick bite to eat. It was just around the corner from Julie's apartment. For a while the three of us were very familiar faces there, and we raised our glasses together for more than one of my birthday toasts at their bar.

Gone too are the times spent lounging poolside or in the hot tub at her apartment pool complex. We relaxed there in the freezing cold of winter, and after finishing our first half marathon together.  Other times, we spent long, lazy summer afternoons sunning ourselves, dozing and laughing, just enjoying being together. 
The three of us at Proto's - 2009
My friend Aimee, me, and Amy celebrating my 40th at Proto's
Amy's house, a straight shot across the highway and only 15 minutes away from where Julie's was, is even more full of memories. Having driven from my house to hers more times than I can count over the last ten or so years, I know almost exactly how long it takes from my driveway to hers, including two short pit stops.

My niece Hannah was born not too long after Amy moved to Erie.  I stayed there for almost a week, waiting impatiently for Hannah's arrival.  My mom and I walked around the neighborhood numerous times with a very pregnant Amy, hoping to bring on her labor.  In her kitchen, I prepared a shot of cod liver oil that Amy bravely drank in another failed attempt at jumpstarting labor.  I can still picture Amy sitting on her couch in the lotus position, while my mom and I left her alone for some quiet time to focus on inducing labor.  We laughingly left her house, teasing her to hum the mantra "open, open, open" and to visualize giving birth.  She didn't think we were funny.   I did get to see Hannah's birth, and remember vividly her first hours at home, with her dad snuggling on the couch with her cradled in his arms.

Nearly every spring and summer, Gillian and I would spend some time at Amy's.  Our kids have spent many nights together in her basement, laughing and giggling, finally falling asleep on the blowup mattress or in a fort they built.  Together Amy and I have played the Easter Bunny, filling Easter baskets late at night for the kids to find in the morning.  We've celebrated the 4th of July there, birthdays, Fall Break, Christmas and New Year's.  After my divorce I went there for the Christmas holidays, seeking refuge and comfort, and found it, laughing and talking with my sisters together at Amy's.  The three of us used to lie in Amy's big king-size bed together and watch t.v.  Amy's husband would come home from work late at night, finding us there, usually giggling, and roll his eyes that we'd taken over his bed.
Amy in her kitchen showing off her 4th of July blueberry pie.
Julie & Amy belting out tunes in Amy's living room , with candlesticks as microphones.
Many of the happiest moments of my life, and some of the saddest, have happened at Amy's yellow house on Woodson Drive.  I've run through her neighborhood, happy, carefree, content, soaking up the view of the Flatirons in the distance.  I've also run through it full of sadness, with tears flowing freely, sobbing, in the early days after Julie's death.  Her back deck is a favorite gathering spot in the summer, and we've all spent many pleasant summer evenings together there.  It's also where I sat and wailed, screaming, demanding, insisting "I need to see my sister! Now! I'm not waiting any longer!" three days after her death, when I was told I had to wait one more day to see her body. In every single room, behind every door in her house there are memories--some bad, most of them good. Some of the most formative times and events of our lives happened while she lived there.  Our kids have gone from being babies and pre-schoolers to pre-teens and teenagers.  We've both gone from being married to being single and having to learn how to make a new life on our own.  

There's a song called The House That Built Me that makes me think of how I feel about this move.  It starts out "You know they say you can't go home again".  It's true.  You can't go home again, and Amy's house isn't even my home.  But, it is home to some of my most precious memories.  It's knowing that I can't go back there and revisit the memories that makes me wistful.  Knowing I'll have them in my mind doesn't seem like enough.  I want to be able to see, touch and feel the place where the memories were made, like a touchstone for my life.

When Amy walks out the door of 447 Woodson for the last time, I understand how hard it will be for her.  It's going to be hard for me too. Along with many others, I'll be holding her in my heart on that day, and looking forward to making new happy memories together in her new home.

Click here to listen to The House That Built Me.
Me & Gillian - ringing in the New Year at Amy's
Easter at Amy's - 2007
Julie's birthday at Amy's - Easter 2007
Hannah, Gillian & Atticus shucking corn on Amy's back porch
Family in Amy's front yard - Summer 2011