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Welcome to Utah

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

Take this…

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

Or this…

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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…

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American flags lining the streets for every patriotic holiday.

And one of my all-time favorites…

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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. 

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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!” 
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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…

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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.

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A Gradual Goodbye

I realize my blog can sometimes carry themes — depending on what I’m experiencing in life.

Loss is the theme for my recent blogs because that is what is consuming my life right now.

Of course you know, my mom died suddenly in March. And while the grief is profound, it is eased by knowing she was ready to go, and that I’ll see her again someday.

A lot of my time since her death has been spent cleaning her house and getting it ready to sell.

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It’s been exhausting and sometimes sad, but also it has been tender, therapeutic, memorable, and sweet.

As I’ve stood in each room  of that house– steaming off wallpaper or cleaning out cupboards, I’ve been swept up in a lifetime of memories.

There is a memory in every corner of that house.

It’s hard for me to believe that Doug lived in 18 different homes before graduating from high school.

I lived in the same home until I went to college and I’ve been returning to that home ever since.

Standing in the small upstairs bedroom, I remembered being in first grade and learning to read. I thought of the thrill I felt running upstairs to sit in my bedroom with a new stack of books.

I remembered going to the public library with my mom every week and gathering armloads of books and hauling them upstairs to that bedroom.

That reminded me of returning mom’s last library book just after she died.  I knew I had to get it back to the library as soon as possible! She never, ever had an overdue book.

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Cleaning out her kitchen cupboards, I thought about her love of dishes. She had her own wedding china, a great grandmother’s china, and various sets of dishes she had purchased over the years.

I remembered the “club” meetings she had with her high school friends and how she pulled out the china for some of those dinners. Then, I remembered that for one Easter, she had a brown bag picnic lunch in the house and moved all the furniture back and put quilts on the floor. I tried to imagine her 12 lady friends sitting in circles on the floor enjoying their brown bag Easter picnic.

In the kitchen, I remembered Mom’s reaction when she found a Playboy magazine in one of my brother’s dresser drawers. Oh, that was a classic Mom Moment. You can check out that story here.

While sorting through her Christmas decorations on the patio, I looked around at her sprawling back yard and remembered how many parties I held back there over the years.

I could hear her saying, “You always begged me to host your friends’ last-night-of-school parties in the backyard, and you swore you’d only have about six friends coming. And, every year, the whole school showed up!”

It’s true. I couldn’t help myself. I invited every friend I had every year. It was the perfect backyard for big parties!

That house was my mom’s “corner of the world.” She always said she just loved sitting on the porch watching the world go by.

She was a homebody if there ever was a homebody and she never understood what she called my “go-go-do-do” ways.

Nate Berkus said, “Your home should tell the story of who you are, and be a collection of what you love.”

My mom lived by those words.

Her house was a collection of everything she loved –cherished notes, her life story in a scrapbook, stories, family memorabilia, photos, photos and more photos,  flowers, and plants, books, books and more books; and more thread than I’ve ever seen in my life for her embroidery projects. She loved decorating for every holiday, especially Christmas.  I think I counted five Christmas trees!

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She had some of her favorite quotes in places where she could see them regularly.

One of her favorite quotes that has become one of my favorites was a quote from Ezra Taft Benson:
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More than anything else, cleaning out her house has been like a gradual, tender goodbye.

I have felt wrapped up in her “corner of the world” for the past couple months — folding her quilts, steaming her wedding dress, discovering the baby quilts she made for her future great grand babies, dusting off her dishes and boxing up her china, sorting out her Christmas tree ornaments and collecting her mail.

It’s been like a slow goodbye and while it’s been tiring, it’s been kind of a sweet melancholy, a last chance to feel her around me through her perfectly personal home, and all of her belongings.

The more I take out of her house, the more I realize she is gone.

And, while I don’t enjoy the goodbye, I certainly savor the way that cleaning out her house has kept her here for just a little bit longer…

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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And, it truly was.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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

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What I Know For Sure

My daughter Annie wrote a blog about what she knows for sure.

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She was inspired by Oprah’s book “What I Know For Sure.”

And, the inspiration continues because Annie’s blog inspired me.

I loved Annie’s honesty when she wrote, “What I know for sure is that I need more time to figure out what I know for sure!”

Don’t we all?

She’s dedicated to figuring it out and sharing what she knows for sure in her health coaching blog.

So, she got me thinking today while I’m at the beach…What do I know for sure about the beach?

So, here it is…

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And one more thing I know for sure about the beach…

I’m never ready when it’s time to go home…

What do you know for sure about the beach?

 

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Old Letters, Old Selves

For the last couple months, I’ve been working on a writing project with my friend, Lisa, that involves perusing our old journals and reading old letters we wrote to each other.

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Lisa and I started writing to each other after we spent a summer working together on Capitol Hill in 1979. And, surprisingly, we both kept most of those letters.

We’re not sure why we stopped writing letters except that the letters seemed to slow after the advent of email.

As we have shared portions of our letters with each other, we have laughed, rolled our eyes, blushed, and marveled at who we were and what we shared with each other.

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In some ways, these journals and letters feel too personal and a little incriminating. They run the gamut from the silly and emotional to the cerebral and the eerily prophetic. And, it’s all there — the very real facts about who we were and what was happening in our lives.

They do not capture the glossy, social media versions of our lives, but the real stuff in our hearts and heads — everything from religion and politics to dating, marriage, family problems and everything in between.

Tucked in one of my old journals was an article I saved on letter writing from a 1981 Time magazine by Roger Rosenblatt.

“”Why write letters?” he asked. “To create at least a few moments in life where thought and deed are amaranthine, and will not be fudged or withdrawn like spoken language with ‘I said no such thing’ or ‘I didn’t mean it that way.’ You meant it all right. And that way. “

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I had to look up the word amaranthine.

It means immortal, unfading, of undying quality. And yes, those old letters of ours are amaranthine, definitely immortal. They’ve boomeranged back to remind us of exactly who we were in our 20s and 30s.

They are proof that — yeah, we meant what we said and we meant it that way.

I have wondered and asked Lisa and my family about whether I should blot out some parts of my journals or tear out a few sections.

Annie said, “Then we will wonder what secrets you didn’t want us to know.”

There aren’t really any secrets — just my life so crystal clear, and me, so flawed, human, and real.

In a world full of posed selfies, perfectionist bloggers, and carefully crafted optics, these journals and letters make me feel unusually vulnerable. They aren’t the pretty version of my life that capture some smooth, buttery arc, they are my unedited life with all my disappointments, angst, worry, analysis, second-guessing, complaining, and wonderings; and also joy — lots of pure fun, learning, new experiences, and just plain joy.

In the end, for now, I’m keeping all of it. My poor daughters will have to decide what to do with the volumes of journals and the stacks of letters. But, one thing is sure: they will know the real me for good or bad.

If you’ve kept old letters or journals, take some time to dig them out and read them.

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It will introduce you to your old self, but it will also remind you of your old life and the many wonderful people who were part of it. You will be reminded of your worries and fears, but if you keep reading, you’ll see things usually got better. Things generally worked out.

I believe the words of one of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, who said, “I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not…We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”

Yes, there is no going back and rewriting or reshaping all those old letters and journals to make me appear to be someone better, smarter, wiser or more mature. But there is great value in being on nodding terms with the person I used to be.

It’s helped me remember things I thought I’d never forget and reminded me of who I was. When we remember who we were,  how we felt, what we thought and believed, we can be reminded of who we are now and who we’ve become.

 

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Mom Stories

I’ve been texting my brother this morning about some Christmas returns that we need to make.

Then I told him I have a new computer and wondered if he wanted my old one.

“Yes!” he texted, “if mom doesn’t give it away first like she did the last computer you gave me.”

I forgot about that.

I gave him a computer a few years ago and mom saw it in her house and gave it away to someone else.

She’s been known to give away some pretty big things.

Several years ago, she really wanted a dog.

My aunt and uncle had a shitzu that she adored. She decided she had to have one. “They’re such cute little things,” she said. So she asked my aunt and uncle if she could have one of their puppies next time their dog had a litter.

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She was so excited about getting one of those cute little puppies. She waited for it to be born, debated names for it, and counted down the days until she could welcome the furry little pup into her home.

When the day finally arrived, she quickly developed pet buyer’s remorse. It was too much work, needed potty training, and so much attention.

She didn’t have the patience to for it, so she abruptly gave it away.

My sister’s friend wanted a dog so that was the perfect solution. She packed up the dog and all its belongings and off she went to hand it off to someone else.

“I’ve never been so relieved in my life, ” she said, “I can’t have a pet. They are too much work and a pain in the neck. Remind me next time I say I want a pet that I really don’t.”

A cat showed up at her house a couple years later and took up residence there. She tried not to feed it and make it feel at home so that it would return to its owner, but it never left.

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So, she started to feed it and care for it and finally decided to adopt it.

“Mom, remember you don’t want a pet. You asked me to remind you that you can’t have pets. They are too much work.”

“I know but this cat is different. It’s here all the time anyway. I might as well take care of it.”

Then, one day she got tired of it.

In fact, I had proof of her pet meltdown on my voice recorder.

She didn’t realize she was still being recorded after she left me the message to call her back, so I heard quite a rant about her “damn cat.”

“Oh, you little beast,” she screamed. “Stop wrapping yourself around my ankles every time I turn around.  Oh, stop it! You’re driving me crazy! I can’t go anywhere without you following me and thinking you can just wrap your furry little self around me every five minutes!”

Knowing her track record with pets, I knew the cat was on its way out.

When I called her back, she said, “I couldn’t stand that cat for one more minute. So, last night I called Becky (my pet-loving cousin) and told her I was bringing it over to her house. It was late, and I was in my nightgown but I couldn’t even wait until morning. I just scooped up that little beast and drove it over to Becky’s and said, ‘here! It’s yours now.”

“I’ve never been so relieved in my life,” she said.

(Except when you gave away the dog, I thought, but did not say.)

A few weeks later, mom’s neighbor came over to her house and said, “I haven’t seen my cat for a few weeks. She used to hang around here a lot. Have you seen her?”

Ah oh.

Yes, she gave away the neighbor’s cat.

We have devised a plan for the computer. I will label it with my brother’s name and he will not leave it anywhere in her house where she can see it because you never know what she’ll decide to give away.

 

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Untimely/Timely Goodbyes

It’s Christmas and the last thing anyone wants at Christmas time is a sad farewell to a friend.

On the other hand, when the hallmark of that friend’s life was a deep love of Jesus Christ, the very reason for Christmas, there is something sacred about her leaving this life at at this beautiful, celebratory season.

Dana Sue Kimball Israelsen died last Sunday at age 59 of lung cancer.

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She never smoked a day in her life and was never overly exposed to secondhand smoke.  Yet, two years ago, she was surprised by a lung cancer diagnosis. She miraculously beat it the first time, but it quickly returned “with a vengeance,” to use her words.

Her optimism in the face of a stage IV diagnosis was remarkable. She was sure she would survive it, but unexpectedly, after many chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she passed away last Sunday.

I knew Dana Sue when she lived in Washington, D.C. and we both worked on Capitol Hill, and then in the Reagan Administration in federal government jobs.

When I moved back to Utah, we lived only a couple miles from each other. And, when I heard about her cancer diagnosis, I reached out to her — knowing personally about the bewildering world of both the diagnosis and the treatment.

She had many questions, primarily about chemotherapy — what would it be like, how would she feel, what would her quality of life be like, tips for getting through it, etc. I wished I had better, more comforting answers for all her questions.

She went to her first chemo treatment armed with her usual sense of humor and threw a party for all the patients in the room with her.

As she explained the effects of the treatments — pain, uncontrollable night sweats, extreme hormone fluctuations, incredible anxiety, and more pain — I related to them all and sympathized with her. She joked that each session was like entering a torture chamber. I agreed and suggested she just count them down, rejoicing in each one being behind her.

I believed, like she did, that she would get better, bounce back, put cancer behind her, but in the end, it took her life.

She only had two requests for her funeral — 1) that it be short, and 2) that it be a celebration of her life. Her friends and family delivered on both requests, celebrating her life with one uplifting or hilarious story after another.

A friend told how Dana Sue once worked for Robert Redford and how her employment ended after she accidentally locked him in his barn.

A daughter told a story about when she was recovering from surgery and her mother went to retrieve her a pain pill. While walking down the stairs with a glass of water in one hand and her daughter’s post-surgery pain pill in the other, she stopped midway and forgot what she was doing and where she was headed with the pill, so, she popped it in her own mouth, assuming it must have been for her.

In this funeral, there was laughing, celebrating, and crying both tears of joy and sadness.

Dana’s best friend, Marianne, summarized her life by saying the one word that describes her life is “impact.”

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“Her life has been a series of impacts, large and small. She has not been one to sit on the sideline and watch. She has been the one right in the middle, thinking outside the box, problem-solving, making things better.”

The most notable comment made in her funeral by every speaker was that she lived a life devoted to Jesus Christ — always wanting to be found doing his will, his work.

Marianne said that while Dana Sue’s life looked charmed and perfect, it was far from it. She suffered just like everyone else, but as she searched for answers, she learned she could truly count on the Heavens.

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“She went to work. She did all she could to work out her challenges, but when she had done all she could, she turned to her Savior. That is where the tutoring began. That is when the time that she and her Savior spent together became her refuge, her safe spot, her resting place….She began to see glimpses of her purpose and the reasons for her challenges.”

Finally, Marianne quoted Dana Sue, who said, “I have learned that without hope you cannot fight this. Your doctors can give you facts, statistics, and calculated possibilities. But hope comes from within and it is a gift from above.”

“Hope is not denial, but the gift of hope blesses us with the state of mind to deal with the gap between what is and what can be. It can be life sustaining.”

She spoke of her love of God and Jesus Christ and said, “I know they they know me and know what my family needs. All these things will be for our ultimate good. My favorite saying is, ‘they will turn straw into gold as we look to them in all things.'”

So, in the end, Dana Sue’s Christmas season passing, while heartbreaking and sad, is sacred and beautiful, even joyful, as one of her daughters mentioned. For Christmas, her ultimate hope was realized — her straw was miraculously turned to gold as she ascended to where we all hope to go.

Thank you Dana Sue for the beautiful life you lived, for the inspiration you provided, and for the ultimate hope you expressed through your words and daily life — the hope that blesses us with the state of mind to deal with the gap between what is and what can be, which is the true purpose of Christ’s birth, and the pure essence of Christmas.