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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


14 years ago this week I happily signed a thick stack of paperwork making me the proud owner of my current home. I remember clearly the first time I saw my house. After months of looking, two offers that had fallen through, and the end of a 6-month lease looming on the horizon, I was discouraged and worried about finding a place that met my criteria and timeline. 

6 1/2  months earlier I'd finally found the courage to walk out on an unhealthy, unhappy marriage. Soon after, I signed a 6-month lease on a small apartment in the basement of a house. Wracked with guilt about the major upheaval and turmoil I was causing in my 4-year old daughter's life, I was determined to find a new home for us to live in by the time my lease was up. My criteria was pretty narrow. I had a limited price range and needed to remain close to my former home and ex-husband, as we would be sharing joint physical custody of Gillian. My ever-patient realtor spent months looking at houses with me. He always took my calls when I would bother him with a request to see yet another house on the market. He would sometimes tell me "You don't want that house. It isn't what you're looking for." Still, he would show it to me. And then I would agree with him and the search would continue. I'm not sure how he tolerated me as a client! 

Time was running out and I was feeling a little desperate. One Sunday I was driving around the neighborhood where I wanted to live and turned onto a street I didn't remember going down before. I spotted a For Sale sign and stopped to grab a flyer. This was my house! Everything about it was perfect. Except the price. I couldn't afford it. I remember driving away wanting so much to live on that street - in that house - and feeling so sad that it was just out of my reach. Several weeks later my realtor called. He said he'd found the perfect house for me and the price was about to drop. A lot--down into the upper end of my price range. He'd set up an appointment for me to see it and said I should be ready to make an offer if I wanted it. Then he sent me the listing information for it. It was my house! 

Yes. The house was perfect. It was just what I wanted. Somehow, every little thing worked out. There were plenty of bumps in the road, and yet, in the end, here I am. To this day I marvel at how it all somehow worked out so perfectly. Six months after doing the unimaginable, I'd managed to find and purchase a home for me and my daughter. Finding a home for the two of us mattered so much to me. I wanted a permanent place for her, not an apartment or a series of rental homes. I wanted to give her roots, and hopefully, some sense of security. I don't know if I succeeded. I hope in some small way I did. 
Gillian, back in the days when she would put on impromptu
concerts while unloading the dishwasher.
When I was first handed the keys to my home I had no idea what the next 14 years would bring. Things haven't turned out even close to the way I imagined they might back then. There have been plenty of sad, unhappy moments under this roof. Mostly though, this has been a place of happiness, healing and peace for me. I moved into this home as a newly divorced single mom, more than a little scared about taking on such a big responsibility alone. I've grown up in this house, and discovered that I'm stronger and more capable than I ever imagined I was back then. Many happy memories and cherished moments with loved ones have happened here. 

There was a time when I couldn't imagine my future anywhere but here. My world has opened up now. I doubt that I'll grow old living in this house. Right now, I have no idea where I'll be living or what I'll be doing in 14 years, which is just fine. For now, I'm content knowing long, sunny summer days and warm nights are on the horizon. I'm happy here and now and looking forward to what the future may bring. Whenever I sit on my back patio gazing east at the mountains that are so close they seem like part of my back yard, I say a silent little thank you to the universe for making my long ago dream come true. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Julie, Do You Love Me?

There's an old song from 1970 called "Julie, Do You Love Me." I've found myself humming it a lot this week, singing the words from the chorus to myself. "Julie, Julie, Julie, do ya love me? Julie, Julie, Julie do ya care?" I remember singing those words to Julie throughout her life, usually in a teasing way as I tried to coax a laugh or a smile out of her when she was in one of her moods. I probably picked it up from my mom, as I can remember her singing the same song to Julie when we were young. 

It's not that any of us doubted if Julie loved us. She was so good at showing her love for people. It was her pain, hopelessness and despair that she had a hard time letting others see. Those of us who loved her knew it was there, of course. We just didn't realize how big and overwhelming it had become for her. Now we know. We'll never forget. 

She's been gone seven years now. Today is her birthday and my heart hurts. I miss her horribly. I'll call my mom, and my sister Amy, and we'll laugh and cry and reminisce. I'll think about all the moments we shared together and wish there had been more time with her. That song will keep playing on auto-repeat in my head. "Julie, Julie, Julie do ya love me? Julie, Julie, Julie, do ya care?"

After she died there was a time when I wondered how she could ever be so cruel to those of us she loved. I took it so personally when she chose to leave us. I questioned her love for me. I don't doubt her love anymore. I'll never know exactly why Julie chose to end her life. What I do know is that it wasn't an intentional act of cruelty towards those of us she loved. I know she loved me just as much as I loved her.

I basked in the light of my sister's love for me. She brought a kind of joy, love, silliness and laughter into my life that made me long to be near her when too much time away from her had passed. I'll carry that longing to have her near me again forever. 

Happy birthday sis. I love you. 

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