Birthdays

How do you measure?

I’ve always loved the musical RENT. I saw the show on Broadway on a high school trip to New York. I remember feeling slightly scandalous because my mormon and catholic friends chose to see Phantom of the Opera instead. I sat in the dark theatre and trembled in my seat as social justice soared through air. These anthems taught me about Alphabet City, rent control, AIDS, and drag queens. The lessons stirred my heart and steered me towards sociology, social work, and the importance of advocacy.

Later that year our choir practiced Seasons of Love for months. At graduation, I proudly belted out the song wearing my bright blue robe, tassels brushing my face as my head bobbed along proudly to the now familiar tune.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?


Dylan celebrated another birthday this past weekend – another five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes of his life passed. And mine too, walking along side him.

Minutes filled with tears. Minutes blowing my nose. Minutes coughing up crud.

Minutes filled laughing.

Minutes of This is Us, and Chopped, and Gilmore Girls.

Minutes drinking beer. Minutes trying to figure out how to use a wine bottle opener.

Minutes giving up.

Minutes brushing my teeth.

Minutes whispering help.

Minutes of pitting cherries, chopping onions, planting tomatoes.

Minutes on Facetime and Instagram and Facebook.

Minutes staring at a computer, fingers typing, thoughts swirling.

Minutes at work.

Minutes frustrated that the trash isn’t taken out, and the dog peed on the carpet (holy hell, yes, again) and that your career isn’t unfolding as quickly as you thought it would.

Minutes on your knees, praying, making gratitude lists, blessing food and family and appreciating a peach.

Minutes trying something new.

How about when its 4:58 pm and you look at the clock at 4:58:01 and 4:58:15 and 4:58:42 and 4:59:01. Those slow, desperate minutes – those matter too.

Time goes so quickly.

And yet, try holding your breath for a full minute.

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I’ll wait.

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Stopping for that long is hard!

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my minutes – all the ones we have left – and what I want to do with them. How I want to use my time to serve others and dream bigger and dip my toes into uncharted territory.

Because when you lose someone at an early age, you’re always wondering how many minutes will I have left? And what about all the minutes of people I love? 

I turn 30 in 4 months. That’s 175, 200 minutes.

I’ll be filling time with:

Minutes reading books.

Minutes worrying about my husband, my mom, my brother, my grandma. They’ll sit and say like Anne Lamott – “quit getting your help all over me”

Minutes on airplanes.

Minutes abroad.

Minutes at work.

Minutes frustrated at the dog, at the dishes, at cooking dinner yet again.

Minutes swapping kisses.

Minutes learning to drive stick shift.

Minutes chasing dreams.

Minutes singing karaoke.

Minutes baking bread.

Minutes with tears, I’m sure, and minutes looking for beautiful things.


This past May I was invited back to high school graduation to sing with my choir because my teacher was retiring. She’d spent over twenty five years teaching kids to sing their hearts out at graduation. While waiting in the hallway in the basement of the stadium the band director organizing the event waved his hands to get us to quiet down.

“After they sing Seasons of Love it will be your turn to file out. And yes, we still sing that god-awful song.”

I chuckled to myself, because you see, some beautiful minutes last forever.

 

 

 

 

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Growing Joy

It has been a few weeks. I haven’t been writing.  The end of May is approaching and I’ve been swirling between the weekly grind, remembering birthdays, softball games, late night dinners, and ukulele lessons. We are filling up our days and nights. When I lift my head I inhale a smile and think, “We did it. We are living again.”

This weekend we focused on our backyard. The sunshines strong rays threatened my sensitive skin and ants bit my legs. From under our deck we dragged outdoor furniture into the light. Didn’t we just put this stuff away? How did six months of hibernation pass so quickly?

Filthy, mucky water sat stinking and stagnant, pooling on the tarp covering my two-seater lounge chair.  While meant to protect our seasonal seats, the synthetic material wasn’t able to do its job. Instead the water soaked through, warping wood, causing paint to fleck, and chip. The original surface exposed.

Got out the hose. Found a sponge and some soap and changed my shoes to sandals.  Washed off the muck. More paint chips fell to the lawn growing at my feet. Clean water kissed my toes.

Our attention shifted towards our garden plot, four bags of dirt anxiously waiting for something to grow on its center. Poured fertilizer, placed water lines, tucked seeds in rows with potential one inch under the ground. Sweat poured off our faces and into the dirt. We rubbed each other’s backs and sat down to rest. Grass tickled my legs and held me close – grounded me as my skin graced the Earth.

She whispered, “See, I’ve got you. Look how far you’ve come”

Two years ago, the summer after Dad died, we would go to my mom’s house and sit in her backyard. We’d lay in the grass and feel Mother Earth, and squint as the sun glinted off our tears mingling with dirt on our cheeks. Many, many days laying in grass because nothing else seemed manageable.

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I can’t believe how far we’ve come.

Dad’s 61st birthday was two weeks ago.  It felt awful and funny and sad. I posted this on Instagram.

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This birthday felt like under the surface, seeds planted long ago were growing.

Seeds of joy. God planted them in our darkness – tiny little buttons composed of Dad’s memories and life and love for us – organic materials.

They told me this would happen.

That grief would soften to joy.

I didn’t believe them.

Yet, if someone told me flowers were growing under all that dirt in my back yard and I’d never seen blossoms before, I probably wouldn’t believe them either.

It’s true.

Under all that dirt. Washing off muck, and flecks of paint that cover the pain, we are still here. Our original selves.

Without him.

Growing joy.

A beautiful thing.

 

 

 

January Favorite Things

Hooray! I can put up my new calendar today! Never mind that I ordered it in November when Shutterfly was offering a deal for free ones. I love turning the page on a calendar and I like New Year’s Day. While I struggle with changes outside of my control, a new year feels fresh, hopeful, and promising. I get to start over on my attempt to read 20,000 pages in a year and I can dabble in my resolutions like writing a draft of that book inside my head and learning to play the ukulele that I was gifted for Christmas. If you know anyone who teaches this beautiful instrument let me know – so far I’ve got one chord under my belt.

Here are some of my other favorite things this month. Happy New Year! May 2018 bring beautiful things your way.

1. The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George

I read this book over the holidays. Compassionate to grief and a clever application of how books soothe the soul. I highly recommend it to anyone who delights in the power of story.

2. PG tips Premium Black Tea

I’m turning over a new leaf and trying to cut my vanilla latte habit. This is going to be hard – maybe you can help hold me accountable. I’m switching to tea instead. I’ve been told this is the best there is. Hoping this turns into a new favorite thing.

3. Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday is coming up! I like having a birthday that closely follows Christmas. It gives me something to look forward to after the post-holiday let down. Not sure how I’ll celebrate, but I rest in gratitude for another year around the sun.

Oh, thank you for asking! What’s on my birthday list? Here’s a few ideas.

Rabbit Original Lever Corkscrew , Ukulele for Beginners: How to Play Ukulele in Easy-to-Follow Steps or most things from J.Crew

I also want someone to send me a box of wine from Wine Awesomeness. Because really, wine in the mail? How awesome.

4. T-Shirts with Dogs on Them

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I didn’t realize that I’ve sorta got a collection of t-shirts with dogs starting in my closet. My momma gave me this one for Christmas. I also like this one and hope to grow my odd collection.

5. Write it Out

New year – a new place to capture your beautiful thinking. If you want to start a journaling practice in the new year, I recommend these great tools.

Moleskine Classic Notebook and these pens with this coffee.

Shoot, I forgot I now drink tea. I recommend this tea.

Favorite Things – August

August is a big month at my house. My husband and my father-in-law celebrate their birthdays one day apart (well one day and 30 years apart) and the whole month turns into a celebration of Huey men. I’m excited to approach these milestones with them!

As I mix celebration with continued healing, I share this list of my favorite things.

Here are a few things that are worth a mention, a glance, or an impulse buy this month.

  1. The Story You Need to Tell: Writing to Heal from Trauma, Illness, or Loss by Sandra Marinella

I was given this beautiful book to review and I loved the way Sandra encourages writers of all experience levels to get their stories out and on a page. She walks you through various writing exercises, shares her personal story with cancer, and encourages readers that healing can be found by writing your truth. All sentiments I can get behind. I strongly recommend this book!

2. Essie nail polish

My days as Receptionist at the Natural Nail Care Clinic forever left an impression on me and my medicine cabinet. I am still loyal to Essie products developed for your natural nail. I am loving this new color that was part of the Spring 2017 season. Come on, make your fingers feel pretty!

3. Ansel Adams Artwork

We finally painted our room! Our new, fresh, green walls anxiously await some art work. I’m planning on hanging some work by Ansel Adams like the piece below. My dad loved this artist’s ability to capture nature and peace. Photography and memory – beautiful things.

4. Be Brave T Shirt

Living life authentically takes bravery, compassion, and self-love. I like this t-shirt because it reminds me to embrace all of these things. Wear your mantras. Why not? I promise the women’s styles are more flattering.

5. Sprinkles

Everything worth celebrating is worth celebrating with sprinkles. Let the month of birthdays begin!

PS. I tried searching for manly sprinkles – Amazon tells me this doesn’t exist.

“Grace always bats last.”

*Vulnerability alert – choosing to share my sticky emotions because they too have a place for beauty. Continue reading if you so desire.*

 

I am getting ready to celebrate my birthday this week. We went to a play with my mom and my brother on Friday evening. It was a lovely performance full of live music and dancing and emotion. Pure passion put on stage with a mixture of honesty, struggle, heart. Just what art should do for us. My dad was not with us, just as he won’t be with us for the rest of my life. And friends, it makes my heart ache.

We are getting closer to the year anniversary of his death, and they say that as you move through all of the monumental dates in the first year without your loved one, a weight can be lifted. I hope what they say is true.

I am taking time to honor the beautiful tears that come when you acknowledge loss, the waves of deep sadness that come right along side the desire to celebrate, to move on, to be cheerful.

I am scared to turn another year older without him.

And then, just today, I came across this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott and remembered that ‘oh yes, I am so very far from being alone.’ I’m cheating a little and sharing the words of another. Beautiful, beautiful words.

Anne Lamott writes,

When people we can’t live without die, everyone likes to quote John Donne, “Death be not proud.” Yeah yeah yeah, thank you for sharing. My father died of brain cancer when he was seven years younger than I am now. He was my closest person. I did not love it. My best friend died years ago, leaving behind an 18 month old daughter. She was my closest person. I did not love it, or agree to it, and just barely survived it.

My darling friend Ann Brebner passed away early Friday. (You were so incredibly generous to donate to the fund for her home-care. Your generosity has given me such huge abiding hope in Goodness and miracles. We were down to almost no money. She accidentally spent her life creating and directing plays, loving us crazily, laughing and listening to music, giving to charity, instead of investing.)

Maybe this passing seems less death-y, as she was 93. But believe me, she had done the dying part, the closing-up-shop part, the leaving-us part, just like everyone has to do. It’s death 101 for everyone here on the incarnational side of things: we do it with no owner’s manual (Death for Dummies?) , and at the end, alone. If I were God’s West Coast representative, I would have a different system in place, i.e. less mysterioso Ouija board enigma. More grok-able My grandson stood nearby her at church as she sometimes painstakingly got out of our car. He always called her Ann Brevner, one word. “Hi, Annbrevner!” I told him Friday night that she had passed, and his mouth dropped open. “AnnBREVNER died?” he asked. Then, “I wonder what that’s like? Dying?”

So I thought I would tell you what I know, because this thing, this aspect of reality, this weird scary aspect of life, can just wreck everything if you don’t figure out at some point that it is what makes life so profound, meaningful, rich, complex, wild. If you try to outrun this existential truth, with manic achievement and people-pleasing and exotic distractions, it begins to argue a wasted life. Everyone we love–and I am just going to add, in a whisper, even our children and nieces and nephews–will die. They will no longer be here, on this side of eternity. We Christians see death as just being a fairly significant change of address, but still, our most cherished people will no longer be here, to have and to hold, or reach by phone.

This can kind of ruin everything. When my son was little, he asked if we would die at the exact same moment. When I said, No, probably not, he wept, and then said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

Do you want to have instant meaning and incentive and almost heartbreaking appreciation in your life? Live, starting now–as if you have three months left. At some point, this will true. Tick tock.

But won’t death be scary? Annbrevner’s wasn’t. Just weird. Her death, like every passing I have witnessed, was beautiful, gentle, sometimes hard and confusing, and completely doable. At some point, for almost everyone, it is like being in labor. Especially if, like me, dilated 7 centimeters after 24 hours of labor, you realized you didn’t like children. But in both cases, birth and death, something beautiful is coming. Ram Dass said death would be like FINALLY getting to take off the too-small shoes we had been wearing our entire lives. Think of that. Getting to rub those sore arches and wiggle those baby toes, after all these year feeling cramped, like Chinese foot bound women, tiptoeing to minimize the pain.

But back to my grandson’s question, of what dying will be like, and why, I don’t think you need to be afraid:

So many people will surround you, your dearest family and friends, both the quick and the death–Ann’s father, who died fifty years ago was with her; her son who died last year was with her. And we were with her, encouraging and allowing her to be real, to share her deepest thoughts and and fears about what was happening to her, and how annoying liFe (and we) could be. The most important you can do if someone is dying? Show up; listen; nod.

And maybe even more important, we shared with each other our worries, memories, sorrow, impatience, and anxiety about the process, how much more, and much sooner, we could have done this or that. We showed up, we listened to each other, we told others how much we hated everything, and how much we loved each other, we listened some more, we nodded, and put the kettle on for tea.

We let each other complain and not know what we were doing. We tried to remember what we DID know: that the great cosmic Something had always been there before. That the Divine It had brought us and our beloved ones through ghastly loss, disappointment, and failure, against all odds. That crying and grieving heal us, cleanse us, baptize us, moisturize us, water the seeds hidden deep in the ground at our feet.

Our pastor came to anoint her the day before she died, not knowing if Ann’s home-going was an hour or a month away. Hospice was on hand to help with the pain. (If you know your person is dying, call Hospice. Once Hospice is on board, almost everything will sort itself out, I promise you–everything. Secret of life.

Every single person I have loved and lost had us around–their most beloved–and had Hospice, had the richest most astonishing love and sense of safety at the end. They had peace, like a river. Even if their death was sudden, Grace always bats last. They got to take off the tight shoes. They got their Get Out of Jail Free card.

Death? Be as proud as you want: bore me later, because Love is sovereign here. Life never ends. Joy comes in the morning. Glory hallelujah. And let it be so.

 

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Yes, even grief can be beautiful. And people who show up to wipe your tears and honor your loss are beautiful as well. Joy comes in the morning. The sun will still rise, God will still be present, we can still choose to get to living. After all, this thing called death is a part of it.

Psalms 34:18 is also beautiful too.

Crunchy Snow Steps

The days are long, but the weeks are short. That’s how the saying goes, right? The months are short too. Someone requested a coffee date recently, and as I looked at my calendar, I realized I would need to schedule out into February. FEBRUARY! January is flying by.

I have a January birthday, and I think it is one of the most sustaining things that helps me survive this month. Once that birthday passes though, I desire to whiz right by and move into late March. Please bring me those 55 degree days with blue skies and t-shirts. I tried to eat my lunch outside earlier this afternoon, and I froze. The sun may be out, but yes, it is still January. I am thankful that I am not drowning in snow right now like those on the East coast.

Oh wait, for those living in Colorado, we DID get one of those 55 degree days on Saturday. It was delightful. I wore patterned pants and a black t-shirt to my favorite brewery in Northern Colorado. I invited friends from many stages of life to come together and share a brew, laugh and soak up the rays as I celebrated another trip around the sun. This mismatched group of people who came to celebrate with me bring so much beauty to my life.

On Friday I got to eat at a new restaurant with my family- the foodie in me was delighted by the charming presentation that The Farmhouse at Jessup Farms delivers. This restaurant literally has a nook under the stairs that you are encouraged to sit at while you wait for your table. Cozy throw blankets and pillows are paired with wooden benches and beautifully lit brick walls that made me feel as if I was eating out of an extravagantly comfortable living room. Well done to the team that has created such an inviting and inspirational place to eat and experience community. I loved reminiscing about my year that just passed. This restaurant truly is a beautiful place.

Hard to believe last Monday was a holiday as well. I had the day off from work, and invited my mom to join me on an adventure up to the mountains. She had never been snowshoeing, and I am discovering this is one of my new favorite pass times. As we entered into Rocky Mountain National Park I started to doubt our excursion. Wind! So much wind was blowing snow across the winding roads. When I parked the car at the trailhead I was worried we may blow away – strong gusts threatened to trap me as my car door slammed shut with force. I may be a Colorado native, but I have a propensity to chicken out when weather sucks, or in this case blows. I bow out with the excuse of, “Hey, I can always go next weekend.” The chances of the weather improving in the next seven days are high.

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We got out of the car, and I shared a knowing glance with my mom from behind the trunk of my SUV. We weren’t going to give up after making the trek out there, not this time. We strapped on our snow shoes, buttoned up our coats, and started stomping our way through the beautifully crunchy snow.  I forget how absolutely refreshing it can be to be outdoors. These monstrous mountains are literally in my backyard, and I take them for granted as they blend into the scenery of my life.

We took step after step, sometimes losing our balance, other times laughing as we slid down small drifts, and made our way across the frozen mountain lake. I stood five steps ahead of my mom,  threw my face to the sky, and whispered a breath of thanks to the giver in the universe. Thanks that I get to live here, that I have the means to walk, thanks that I can spend time with my mom, to celebrate, and to most of all, keep taking steps.

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I’ve been mentally challenged this month, to give myself grace, compassion, patience, and love as I take steps while acclimating to my new job. For those of you who have been following along in January, you know I’ve been writing about my fears of isolation, and loss of previous relationship, and the great “what if this doesn’t bring fulfillment” question I give so much anxious energy to. I’m learning in these spaces of mountain air and festivity, that I need to work on me first and to allow all of these emotions to move through. Give myself the space and grace to keep taking steps. Even when you are crunching along, there are processes and people and air, beautiful mountain air, to support you.

 

All the Tricky Things

I’m a quote gal, what can I say? I came across this one this week, and thought dang Sylvia, you are spot on. “…Doing all the little tricky things it takes to grow up, step by step, into an anxious and unsettling world.” – Sylvia Plath

That is the process, isn’t it, of step-by-step explorations into who you want to be each day. You have to be brave enough to stand in the unsettledness, and accept with an open heart, maybe all this unsettledness is the only thing we can count on. One never is really arriving, but instead is dancing, prancing, grieving, smiling, aching, laughing, loving through each phase. I was talking to Dylan this week about that myth of arrival. I thought you would just, ya know, find a job, meet your co-workers, settle into your role for the next few years, and never imagined that maybe life would throw curve balls, or your friends would move, or your parents would sell your childhood home. That there would be beauty in loss, and the shedding of skin and the ability to stand as you are, letting go of what used to be.  You go through the natural transitions of growing up, coaxed through the programs and the academics, and are launched into the believing in yourself environment. That phase takes a hell of a lot of courage – especially in the fog of all of the fears that our society invites us to participate in.

I never imagined this process of blogging to be so vulnerable. There is something risky, I know, of being myself in cyber space. Of admitting challenges, or insecurities, or tiny victories along the way – oh my heart, you have been kind when you lay it all out there. To those I make uncomfortable, skip ahead to this blog post – “The One Where I Talk About “Friends” To those who can relate, thanks for reading. Let’s connect over coffee for I long to hear “me too.”

This week beauty surrounded me in the celebration of my dad. He had his birthday and invited us to play pool and ping pong and eat snacky junk food in a bar. Pub chips and nachos – yes, please. My brother came along and taught my 82 year old grandmother how to play pool. Both my brother and I were shocked she had never learned how to hit the cue ball across that felted green surface. Growing up, my brother and I spent countless hours playing pool in their muggy basement in Chicago while being “supervised” from my grandfather in the t.v. room above. How could she never have chalked up a stick in all those years?

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Nevertheless, we got to teach her how to play and avoid the eight ball, and break the “ladylike” paradigm to once again be blessed by the beauty of sharing life with the ones you love. Laughter too, so much laughter, as we held my dad across our laps for a photograph. These moments go by quickly, brief, little glimpses across the spectrum of life. Thanks for supporting me as I continue to do all of the little, tricky things.

Essie Nail Polish: Turquoise and Caicos

Biscotti: None

You know what I like? How when you try to load a new post on Word Press it makes robot words… beep booop beep