About Me, Change, Memoir

Finding a Life Plan

For the last several months, I have had an ongoing debate about this blog…

Should I keep writing or give it up?

I blog for purely selfish reasons — writing helps me figure out what I’m thinking and feeling.

That’s it.

No product to promote, no message to shout or cause to advance.

I just like to write.

The most common comment I receive about my blog posts is, “You always write what I’m thinking!” Knowing my posts resonate with others motivates me to keep writing.

Lately, however, I’ve wondered because I seem to be thinking about different kinds of things — things that indicate a new stage of life, so I’m not sure whether they still resonate.

Here is a partial list:

  • Funerals. I’ve attended a lot of them lately, mostly parents of friends. That says something, doesn’t it?
  • Making new friends, keeping up with old ones.
  • Missing my mom every single day.
  • Parenting adult children — How do you do that? What is my role now? How do you know when to stand back and when to jump in?
  • Planning a high school class reunion when for the first time, my brother’s name is on the “deceased” list of classmates.
  • What it’s like to retire or semi-retire or whatever we call what we’re doing.
  • How strange it feels not to have a template for what’s next in life.
  • Living in the belly of the beast in terms of religion.
  • Selling our home on the Outer Banks, our last toehold on the east coast.
  • Going on a church mission — when is the right time to do that? And, how do people just up and leave their homes and lives for two years?

And, that’s probably not everything.

Are these relatable topics?

Maybe the crux of this dilemma is not in the specifics of what I’m wondering about, but the overarching theme that I’m in a new phase of life, and I don’t have anything figured out.

Ironically, at this stage of my life, I have less figured out than ever before.

As I write this, I think of Norman Thayer in the movie, “On Golden Pond.” (I realize that’s an early 1980s reference that may be lost on some.)

When the movie came out, I laughed at Norman, who at 80-years-old, perused the want-ads, hoping to find a “career opportunity.” (I do that!)

I understand now that he didn’t really want a job, he just wanted to feel relevant and have a well-defined daily routine and path because he was in a new stage of life, one that frightened him in some ways.

I’m not 80 and I’m not lost like poor Norman, but I get the larger point of him trying to figure out his life when everything seemed to be new and different.

Now, the point of this blog is not to have my friends tell me I’m relevant, well-qualified for a job or to solicit comments about my capabilities. It’s just to point out that new phases of life bring new questions and challenges.

Does anybody else want an accurate GPS for life that says turn right, go three miles, turn left, make a U-turn or even “rerouting?”

If only Siri or Alexa could help us with that!

In all stages of life, there are unanswered questions and we have no choice but to walk by faith, believing that the answer is just around the corner or that the path is about to appear — if not the entire road, at least the next step.

When you’re traveling in the ruts, you want the freedom to move out of them.

When the ruts are gone — like Norman Thayer’s — you might not want the old ones back, but you want new ones to reappear because having your feet on a path toward your envisioned destination brings peace, security, hope, and excitement.

In the end, maybe all the things I think about are the same things everybody else thinks about (with some variations on the theme)– change, what’s next? Where are the ruts in the road? Where is this unseen road taking me?

Maybe, no matter what stage of life we’re in, we never really have it figured out.

I guess it comes down to that elusive concept of faith.

We have to believe we’re on a good path, leading to a beautiful place — even when, from where we stand, we can’t see the path, where it’s going or where we’ll end up.

So, maybe you don’t miss your mom every day and you don’t wonder about how to be a good parent to adult children or how to retire well or any of my other concerns. But, I’m sure you have some questions you’re asking about your future and your path.

Am I right?

And, maybe I just keep blogging because even if nobody else learns something, I do.

Advice, Memoir, Relationships

The Gratitude Letter

To many of my friends and family, my husband Doug is known as Mr. Happy.

He has a degree from University of Pennsylvania in Applied Positive Psychology.

 

Image 11-3-18 at 10.10 PM

He has fun finding new ways to apply the principles of positive psychology in his consulting work and even in our family.

Since it’s November, the month we celebrate gratitude, it’s the perfect time to share an experience I had with a positive psychology “intervention” called The Gratitude Letter.

thank-you-515514_1920Basically, you choose someone who has made a positive difference in your life and you write him or her a letter explaining a specific thing they did that made a difference and how it affected you. Then, you visit that person, read them the letter, and give them the letter before you leave.

I chose to write my letter to my brother, Kelly, who had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer and given only weeks to live.

kelly & cambree

I confess it was a little awkward. I explained the rules of the game and made him sit quietly and listen to me while I read the letter aloud to him.

Let’s just say sitting quietly and listening wasn’t his greatest strength in life… but he did it. He gave me a few minutes of his complete, undivided attention.

In the letter, I wrote about our mutual dislike for each other as teenagers. My mother said that during those years, “the tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife.”

I remember that tension well. So did he.

After high school graduation, he went off for a job in Wyoming and I went off to college.

architecture-3124331_1920One day, I went to the mailbox in my college dorm and found a letter from him.

I stared at the envelope for the longest time trying to imagine what he would write in a letter to me.

I took it to my room, opened it carefully with equal doses of curiosity and wariness.

I was shocked to read a very kind, warm letter from him. He said he loved me and missed me. He asked me how I liked college. He told me about his job, his life, his friends.

Did you catch that part where he said he loved me and missed me?

I just sat on my bed and cried. I couldn’t believe that after all those years of barely speaking to each other, he took the time to write me a letter and to tell me he loved and missed me.

The next time we were both home for the weekend, he drove me to Terry’s Drive-in on Main Street of our hometown and bought me a Coke, took me for a ride, and wanted to know everything about my life.

That letter and the Coke run to Terry’s changed everything between us. It was like all the years of anger just slipped gently away and we became best friends like we were before junior high and high school transformed us into uptight angsty teenagers.

I told him I was grateful he had the courage to write me that letter and for all the healing that took place after that.

He smiled and said he had forgotten about writing me the letter. He couldn’t remember what initiated the change in our relationship.

To me, it was crystal clear. He initiated the change and I was forever grateful.

He said, “If you had a tear reading the letter, I can only imagine the tears I had writing it.”

It was a sweet moment and I was glad I did it.

I’m especially glad now since he died a few days later.

IMG_E5603

In this month of Thanksgiving, who could you thank?

Give it some thought and make it a goal to write, deliver and read a gratitude letter to someone who made a difference in your life.

It might surprise you what a difference it will make in your life now.

I’d love to know how it goes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community, Memoir

Mourning the loss of local newspapers

I have a new cause.

I want to revive small town newspapers.

announcement-3509489_1920

I know that’s beyond my capacity, and that hometown papers are quaint relics now,  but I wish I could wave a magic wand (or hit an old typewriter key) and restore them in all the small towns across America.

The demise of these papers has left a void that large newspapers (also sadly failing) and social media can’t fill.

Social media doesn’t create or sustain a sense of community like a town newspaper.

Scrolling through a Facebook feed and seeing an occasional, brief newsy post does not come close to holding a newspaper in your hands and reading about everything happening in town.

Now, keep in mind, I majored in journalism back in journalism’s heydays, right after Nixon and Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein. Back then, strong, robust, independent newspapers were the norm.

richard-nixon-2821315_1920

Every town had its own newspaper. Seems quaint now — like back in the “olden days.”

If you can imagine it, we even learned about things like “objectivity” in journalism classes.

It was drilled into our heads that reporters should tell both sides of a story.

We learned the difference between news stories and opinion pieces.

Yes, it was a different world then.

While a student, I spent a summer as the editor of The Springville Herald, my hometown newspaper. Then, I became the editor of the university’s student newspaper — The Utah Statesman.  

IMG_7466
Yes, that’s Geraldo Rivera back in the 70s, teaching us about journalism as the institution of social change.

IMG_7482
This is how The Statesman looked back in the 70s. 

I loved the newspaper world — all of it.  I loved the concept of gathering news, trying to present it fairly, and making the university or the town seem smaller, more intimate, more unified by keeping people informed about what was going on where they lived and worked.

typewriter-1227357_1920

After college, I worked in the press department for U.S. Senator Jake Garn from Utah. One of my favorite parts of the job was traveling around the State of Utah, visiting small-town newspaper editors. It gave me a sense of not just what was happening, but what mattered to people in different parts of the state.

It was always abundantly clear by these visits and by reading the different papers that what people cared about in Beaver, Utah was different than what mattered to people in Tremonton. Each different newspaper captured the essence of its people, its geography,  challenges, and unique personality.

After I quit working on the Hill, my mom always gifted me an annual subscription to The Springville Herald. I loved when it showed up in my mailbox.

I loved knowing about everything happening in my hometown —  who was celebrating a first birthday, who was getting married, the issues before the town council, who won the local golf tournament or football championship, which couples were celebrating big anniversaries, and who was running for office.

IMG_7697
This is a photo from The Springville Herald of the football team — Snow Dairy — that my dad sponsored and coached. My dad is in the upper left corner. My brother, Kelly, is #62 in front of him.

Since my mom passed away a few months ago, I keep running into old family friends who didn’t know she died. They all say, “I miss The Springville Herald. That paper always kept me updated on things like that.”

I miss The Springville Herald too — and all the other newspapers that have folded. I miss the local flair, the feature stories that capture the flavor of a town and its people.

When I worked at The Springville Herald, I wrote a feature story about a local character named Ivan Tryfonas. I called him “the town crier” because he roamed the town keeping everyone informed about what was happening.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 6.05.22 PM

“At a glance,” I wrote, “Ivan looks as though he could fill a doorway with ease and take on the biggest of athletes without hassle. But, Ivan uses his strength to work for the betterment of the community.”

His size and omnipresence on Main Street often made him an intimidating figure in town. But, the article personalized him, and helped people see the gentle side of someone they may have feared.

I heard he couldn’t stop smiling after that article was published. He died five years later of a heart attack. I’m glad I captured his one-of-a-kind presence in our hometown.

Personalizing a man like Ivan is just one of the benefits of a local newspaper. I always liked reading about the new businesses, art exhibits, and plays in town. All of that often seems to go unnoticed now. A banner across Main Street hardly does the same thing as the full story and photos in a newspaper.

Some towns have tried to make up for the loss of newspapers by putting a few local stories in a newsletter that’s tucked in with the city bill. But, that hardly serves the same purpose, and is of no worth at all to those who pay their bills online.

When we first moved to Herndon, Virginia, there were at least three newspapers — The Observer, The Connection and the Times. They made our town tucked into the sprawling Washington, D.C. suburbs seem homey and unified. It gave us a separate identity from the broader D.C. metro area. But, one by one, they all went out of business.

You can still get a taste of the value of old newspapers, by visiting newspapers.com.

You’ll be surprised at the gems you can find there. (It is primarily a genealogy site.)

I found the actual story about Ivan and a lot of stories about my family — including a story about my parents’ wedding that described my mother’s dress in great detail and even listed everyone in her wedding party. These are priceless gems.

IMG_0325.jpg

Yes, I’m mourning the loss of newspapers.

I know it’s unrealistic to hope for a revival of  small town newspapers, but an old journalism student from the 70s can hope and reminisce, right?

Anybody with me on this?

 

Family, Home, Memoir

Welcome to Utah

Since moving to Utah, we have noticed a few things that are uniquely Utah.

Take this…

IMG_0107
Just a mountain lion in the back of someone’s truck. I’m guessing a taxidermy craft project…

Or this…

fullsizeoutput_1122
This is an invitation to the our church’s summer activities for women. Yep, hand-delivered to my porch because nearly everyone in my neighborhood is Mormon.

And this…

IMG_0083
American flags lining the streets for every patriotic holiday.

And one of my all-time favorites…

IMG_4163
This sweet lady rode her scooter to Swig for a soda on a 112 degree day in St. George. Utah is the Soda Capital of the Universe.

I am slowly getting educated on the soda culture in Utah.

I’ve seriously never seen anything like it –places like Swig,  Sodalicious and Fiiz everywhere. These are small soda shops (sometimes nothing more than a small shack) with drive-thru windows that sell sodas with flavor shots.

Seriously, I’ve seen cars lined up there at 8 in the morning. And, it’s not as simple as ordering a Diet Coke at McDonald’s.

And each shop has its own lingo. Try saying, “I’ll have a 32-ounce Big Al with extra ice” or “Give me an 16-ounce Endless Summer please.”

What you’ll be ordering with the Big Al is a Diet Coke with a shot of coconut and lime. An Endless Summer is Mountain Dew, Powerade with a shot of coconut.

Yes, Utah is Soda Land. 

IMG_4161
Oh, and this cute lady rode up a pretty steep hill, waited in the line at the window on her scooter, secured her drink in her lap, and then drove back down the hill and into her rehab center. (Yes, we followed her!) Then, she sat under a tree and enjoyed her drink in the shade. I told her she was my hero of the day. She said, “Hey, I can’t drive so I take my scooter and go to Swig every day!”

IMG_9175
My daughter Annie (right) even worked at Sodalicious, but since I didn’t know how to order, I rarely went there. Trust me, I’m learning…

And finally, there’s this…

IMG_0063

 

IMG_8086

IMG_7913

The scenery is so different from one end of the state to the other. We can see lush green mountains on one end of the state and red rock canyons on the other. And, it’s all uniquely beautiful.

Welcome to Utah.

Change, Family, Memoir

Goodbye to the Mom of All Moms

Some blogs are easy to write and some blogs are hard.

Today’s blog is the hardest one I’ve ever had to write.

I’ve started it about 10 times.

The thing is, my mom died.

mama

At 82 years old, she just didn’t feel well, had a weak pulse, went to the ER, and died.

Doug and I were vacationing with friends at the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

My mom and several other family members were in southern Utah to help my sister, Sallie, move to a new home for a new job. 

At the end of the day, I called to see how the day went.

Sallie said, “Well, we’re actually in the ER with mom and the doctors said things are going south fast.”

“What?”

“What is even wrong?”

She said they didn’t have a diagnosis, but eight doctors were in her hospital room trying to figure it out.

I quickly made plans to get back to Utah as soon as possible.

This involved getting off Hatteras Island, a remote strip of land in the middle of the ocean, and to an airport where there are no direct flights to Utah.

IMG_8918

I got to the hospital the next day — in time for a doctor to ask me for a copy of her living will and for me to tell her goodbye.

She was calm, serene and fearless as she told me she was 100 percent ready to go.

No regrets. No unfinished business. No questions about anything other than, “Are you okay with this?”

My head nodded yes while every emotion in me vigorously shouted, “No!”

That was on a Monday afternoon.

On the following Thursday, she took her last breath.

I was surprised at the word that came out of my mouth after she died.

“Congratulations,” I whispered as I kissed her cheek for the last time.

And that’s really how I felt — like she’d given life everything — left it all on the field to use sports vernacular.

There was nothing morbid or morose about it. 

In fact, the few days with her in the hospital were sweet, tender, and sacred. We talked about how lucky we were to have her as a mom.

She was the mom of all moms — loving, smart, tough, fun, hilarious, just the whole package. We couldn’t ask for more. She was everything.

As we shared stories about her life — her sayings and crazy antics — sometimes we couldn’t stop laughing.

Oh, there were tears — plenty of them because we wondered how we will live without her, but there also was so much joy because we knew she was ready.

She knew where she was going and she was looking forward to it.

She couldn’t wait to see her husband again and the son she lost when he was an infant.

She was tired of the world and she didn’t like that her body wasn’t cooperating with her anymore.

And don’t even get her started on Donald Trump.

The doctors probably still regret that while testing her mental acuity, they asked her if she knew who was President of the United States.

For months, she warned us that she thought she would die soon. We just didn’t believe her.

She told my brother he needed to go into her basement and find her funeral insurance policy.

She told her friend at the church library to get her own library key because she didn’t think she’d be back the next week.

She told her walking partner she didn’t think she’d live after my sister moved.

I think she really saw it coming. We just didn’t want to believe her.

On the day she died, I posted a picture of her on Facebook and said, “It was the honor of my life to be her daughter.”

mom kiss

And, it truly was.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I hope every heavenly reunion is even sweeter than you imagined.