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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflections on 2015

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Love Wins

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015


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

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

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

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.