Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 - A Reflection

2017
A year I won’t soon forget.
2107
A year that in many ways, I’d just as soon forget.

 2017
A year captured in photos and in my journal. 


January


We share a footstool.
We share a life.

One cold evening in January, as my husband and I sat side by side, I snapped a photo of our feet as we shared a footstool together.  He is, as is typical, wearing a pair of his unique socks.  I love this side of his personality: he wears interesting and cool socks.  I am barefoot, but my nails are done in a shade that I wore most of the year: most likely Senorita Rosalita by OPI.  

Perhaps, in many ways, this is my favorite photo of the two of us for the year.  It captures much of our unique and very different personalities.  It gives a glimpse into our tendency to sit side by side sharing a space as we share our lives, and it represents the deep comfort that comes to me as we share not just our home and hearth, but how we share our lives in a mostly peaceful and contented state.  Evenings spent side by side, find us reading, recapping the days news developments, or I might write in my journal while Jim watches some movies, or t.v. programs on his iPad. This to me is true bliss.  

I began a teaching job in January.  I worked five days and became very sick on the third day.  I resigned on the fifth day.  The rest of the month I was sicker than I had been in years with a virus that ended up giving me bronchitis that seemed to hang on forever.  

In January, on my son’s birthday, I learned that he and his wife were expecting a new baby, a boy.  It was the great surprise, and the great blessing of the year.  

February


We planned a get-away in February for a combined Valentine’s Day and birthday celebration for me, but bronchitis hung on, and I was not well enough to leave home.  Needing a bit of cheer and some flowers to brighten my days, I bought some miniature violets to add to an arrangement on the living room coffee table.  Flowers bring hope of spring in the midst of winter.  

I’ve learned I can’t live without flowers in my environment.  

Jim took me out for a special Valentine’s Day lunch at the Cliff House in Manitou where I saw crocus blooming in the garden as we walked in for lunch.  I couldn’t believe how much joy I felt upon seeing the early indicator of spring.  Later in the month my daughter Amy and her daughter made the journey to my house so we could celebrate our birthdays together.

March

The weather improved.  My health improved.  I was able to get out of the house and exercise.  I’m so grateful for the beautiful place where I live.  Our home is only fifteen minutes from major shopping areas, but when I am in the neighborhood, I am surround by amazing rock formations, trees, and views of the mountains.  Some of my happiest times are spent walking with Jim and Boston in our ‘hood.


My journal records the work I was doing in becoming “unstuck.”  As I have progressed through the grief journey I have been for the past seven years, at each stage of the journey, there have been times when I felt that I was getting stuck in one or another area of grief.  Working with a therapist has helped me greatly as I have mentally, spiritually, and emotionally processed the death of my daughter Julie.  

I clearly remember a day in March when these words words that Julie had left on sticky note on her desk came back to me: 


Live Well!

As I have struggled to become unstuck, these words spoke to me so often in 2017.  The words spoke to me as I continued to fight through the effects of living with autoimmune diseases that have brought changes to my health, my appearance, and my ability to function fully.

Words can become touchstones in my journey through a year dotted with political unrest and division, broken relationships, compromised health, and the effects of an aging body.

I often write quotes or scriptures on 3 X 5 cards that I keep next to my reading chair.  I pick these cards up and re-read them when I am feeling anxious, overwhelmed, sad, or in need of wisdom.

Not long after Julie passed away, I wrote these words from I Peter 5:10 on a slip of paper and placed the note on my refrigerator.  These words are a daily reminder on how God through Christ continues to restore me, make me strong, firm, and steadfast.


March was a hard month where I saw so much division in relationships.  I personally experienced great loss of a relationship which I value greatly and hope to see restored.  

Psalm 42,  a Psalm my pastor preached on in March, spoke so deeply to me.

From my journal:  “Mark says we are not to ruminate about our problems.  We are to talk to God about them.”  I began to ponder how I ruminate.  I  have sought to turn my focus on God, talking to Him about my problems.  My roommate from college, wrote a poem based on Psalm 42.  She wrote:

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
Why this unrest within me?
Hope thou in God, for I will give praise
For His answer, whatever it be.
The Psalms & Ecclesiastes in  Poetry
by Elizabeth Cary Bishop
Published by Gospel Folio Press

April

April, what a glorious month.  April brought me the best gift of the year.  My eighth grandchild Leon Roberts Christiansen was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to my son Jonathan and his wife Samantha.  He was also welcomed home by my grandson, and Leon’s big brother, Atticus.  This is a photo of this precious child after his first bath.  


In April, Jim and I took a trip to New Orleans.  We needed to get away.  What an escape this wonderful trip was for both of us.  We stayed in a wonderful B & B called Ashtons.  Our room was spectacular.  So was the food, the ambiance, and the company of others staying there.  The flowers on the fireplace in our room were the perfect touch.  


The B&B has the most amazing porch.  We, two who love to porch sit, spent a lot of time on this fabulous porch.  Jim took my portrait.  One is me before I was ready for the portrait.  The other is the official portrait.

May

My two October babies, the grandchildren born 36 hours apart in 1998 graduated from high school this year.  I flew to Utah to spend time with daughter Keicha and to celebrate Gillian’s graduation.  Her mother gave her a nice party after graduation.  Here is the beautiful Gillian with her mom and dad.  


A few days after Gillian’s graduation, Gillian, Keicha, and I flew to Colorado for Mason’s graduation.  Here is a photo of my very happy daughter Amy with her handsome son, Mason.  


June

In June, Jim and celebrated twenty-five years of marriage with a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a long weekend touring both Santa Fe and Taos.  I snapped a selfie of us as we headed out of town on our anniversary trip.  


As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than your destination.

I have been very, very blessed to have this man, the love of my life, as my constant, steadfast, supportive, loving, and most caring companion on the journey we began twenty-five years ago.  We are hoping for another twenty-five years together!

July

In July, the other great event of the year took place.  My son Jonathan and his wife Samantha returned home to Colorado.  Samantha was hired to teach history in a tenure-track position at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  We are so excited to have these two and their two sons back home in Colorado.  Jon won’t officially move here until this coming spring as he finishes up his PhD in Scranton, PA.  

A mini-family reunion was held to meet new grandson Leon and to welcome Jon, Sam, Atticus, and Leon to Colorado.

A mini-family reunion


Atticus, Samantha, Leon, and Jonathan

August

A few years ago, Jim and I built a small patio in our front yard.  This has become my favorite spot to spend summer evenings.  We sit and rest there after our summer evening walks, or sometimes we even head here to eat a light supper.



In August, the eclipse was experienced and viewed from this patio.  I was fascinated by the designs cast on the stones by the shadows made by the sun and and the moon.



During much of late spring and all through the summer, I experienced the unpleasant and unwanted effects of high levels of inflammation in my body due to the inflammatory condition which I have developed that has caused me to lose much of my hair.  I was in pain throughout my body, tired, and felt generally unwell.  I went on the medication Plaquenil.  It brought down the high levels of inflammation and it even helped with the pain I had in my hips and shoulders.  However, the side effects of intolerance to heat, to the sun, severe gastric problems, and drastic drops in insulin levels caused me to stop taking the drug.  I now am not treating my auto-immune condition with any medication and am doing well.  I find that I have times when I have flares, and then I have times when my system is “quiet” and I seem to be in remission.  I’m learning to live with and cope with having a chronic health condition.  I’m learning to take the good with the bad and hope for the best.  

September

We made the second trip of the year to Grand Junction to see my 101 year old mother in September.  She is still doing remarkably well.  



October

Jim and I traveled to Chicago in October to celebrate his birthday. This was our first trip to Chicago, but I doubt it will be our last.  We loved our time in Chicago! Even though it was his birthday trip, Jim surprised me by getting us a room on the top floor of the Thompson Hotel.  We had a view of Lake Michigan and of the shopping and restaurant area that was located right outside the door of the hotel.  In the nearly weeklong time we were there, we spent our time eating, walking the Magnificent Mile, exploring the many museums in Chicago, shopping, and because my son Ryan was in town for business on the last evening we were there, we even go to have dinner and spend some time with him.  We also were able to get tickets to see Hamilton.  


November

Thanksgiving Break meant that son Jonathan and his son Atticus were able to take a break from their academic studies and come to Colorado for a reunion with the Jon's wife and baby.  We also were able to spend time together as a family.  I can’t wait until the academic year is over and Jon and Atticus move here permanently.  


For Thanksgiving, Jim and I traveled to Northern Colorado to spend the weekend with daughter Amy and Jewett in their brand-new home.  This mom is so happy to see her daughter happy.  This year has brought so many blessings to our family, and this happy relationship between Amy and Jewett is one of the great blessings of the year.  It was also great to see my grandchildren Mason and Hannah.  


December

Right after Thanksgiving, I noticed that the overachievers around town already had their homes brightly lit and decorated inside and out for Christmas.  I began early with a bit of decorating, and then decided to cut the decorating I normally do in half.  I only set out Christmas decorations in the upstairs part of the house.  I also took the time to ponder what activities would bring me the most joy and the least amount of stress as we went into the hectic holiday season.

From a  December 12 entry in my journal:  

4:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.  The light is fading, but the glow of the afternoon fellowship brightens my heart while my body sinks into my cushy chintz chair.  The light on the page comes from the Christmas tree next to me. So often I long for friendship, fellowship, and yet seldom do I provide the hospitality that fosters such connection.

These moments of contentment need to be captured.  Snapshots of my surroundings are sent to my memory bank, yet while I love my comfortable home, it is when it is filled with others that I have the most joy.  

...The ladies (ladies from my Bible study group), six of them came at 11:00.  They left a bit after 3:00...Everyone made themselves at home, they were at ease, and open.  

...As the ladies left we talked about how this is such a busy time of year, but it is nice to set aside time for fellowship, for connection with others...It truly was a day when we focused on being present rather than on giving presents.  (I took no photos that day.  It is good sometimes to just connect and not record by taking photos!)

So much of December was like that for me.  It was a time when I tried to be present with myself and with others.  There were many gatherings.  One with my high school friends.  Another with the couples from the neighborhood.  Then there was a smaller gathering at the home of a neighbor.  Our writing group, which had not met through all of 2017 met for lunch at the home of one of the ladies.  All in all, the month did bring me a great deal of joy and little stress.  




In December, I tried to focus on that which means the most to me:  my faith, my family, and my friendships.  I am richly blessed in each of those areas.  


Jim and I spent Christmas Eve with his daughters and their families.  We then had a quiet Christmas Day at home alone when our plans to drive to Erie, Colorado, to be with daughter Amy had to change when she woke up terribly ill.  While we were disappointed not to spend time with Amy, we made the most of day and went to a movie.  We saw The Darkest Hour.  

We did get one Christmas photo taken when we went to view the light and decorations at the Broadmoor Hotel on the Friday before Christmas.  


The year 2017 had its challenges, but as I reflect upon the year now gone forever, I am filled with gratitude for all of the goodness that another year brought into my life.  



Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Deciduous




Deciduous*
(dih-sij-oo-uh s)

adjective

  1. shedding the leaves annually, as certain trees and shrubs
  2. falling off or shed at a particular season, stage of growth, etc. as leaves, horns, or teeth
  3. no permanent; transitory


Deciduous, this word of the day from dictionary.com popped up my inbox on the first day of autumn.  The word, one learned in biology when students are introduced to the classification system, was certainly not a new one to me, yet the word took hold in my brain as if it were a negative concept with which I did not wish to consider.  

The word deciduous on the surface was certainly an appropriate word given the season.  As an adjective, it describes well what happens in fall:  deciduous trees and shrubs shed leaves.

That “word of the day” from the first day of autumn would not leave me alone.  Soon I was beginning to feel like a professor had assigned me this word as topic for a writing exercise.  Instead of sitting down and writing,  I let other tasks and interests shove the writing chore to the side.  I began to feel as if I had this large and long neglected writing assignment hanging over my head for weeks upon weeks.  

We are now well into autumn.  I am just now writing about that which I have been thinking for weeks. 
**********

There is possibly no season more glorious than autumn. At the beginning of the season, the word deciduous evokes an entirely different response than it does at towards the end of season. 
In Colorado during the first days of autumn the newspapers will often have a headline that reads, There Is Gold in Those Hills.  


Maroon Bells
Near Aspen, Colorado
Fall 2015
Photographers head to the hills seeking a different golden reward than those long ago  prospectors who first settled in Colorado sought.  On those weekend when the leaves are at their peak in color, the mountain highways turn into urban like traffic jams.  Such ephemeral beauty is short lived.  

Nature dictates that each leaf on each deciduous tree will change from green to gold, red, or orange.  The aspen tree, robed in brilliant gold in the mountains of Colorado, demands our attention even as she knows she dare not boast of her fugacious attire because in no time, her frock has fallen to the ground.



The shedding of each leaf only adds to the beauty that a clump of deciduous trees creates.


*********
I ponder the fleeting beauty that the first days of autumn brings.
Perhaps it is my age that causes me to think, “all of this will be over in a heartbeat."
When one reaches the autumn of life, the change that autumn brings brings new meaning.
One cannot help but draw an analogy of the evanescent aspect of the season of autumn to one’s own life when reaches the eighth decade of living.

In autumn memories of spring when one wore frocks of green are beginning to fade.  One looks about and sees others around them also robed in glorious colors and says to oneself, “I think I love the autumn of my life best of all.”  There seems to be even more vibrancy in this season. One almost forgets that such days are fleeting, temporary, transitory.  

One becomes most aware of the deeper meanings of deciduous in autumn.  

The outward appearance of deciduous trees may appear different in each season, 
but a deciduous tree is always 
deciduous.
Spring,
summer,
autumn, 
and 
winter, 
a deciduous tree remains deciduous.  
Only its appearance changes.

*****************
The transition to these later days of the autumn of my life have been days when I’ve found myself shedding much of what I thought defined myself and my life. 

*****************
At the end of this past summer, I received an email  from a person I did not know asking me if I would be interested in working as a mentor/coach for both inservice and preservice teachers participating in training that would be funded by  a grant which had been awarded to the  University in the town where I live.  The person who sent the email introduced herself,  told me a bit about the position, and stated that I had been recommended for the position by several of her colleagues at the University.  All of these professors whom had recommended me were dear personal and professional friends of mine.  I wrote back and asked if we could meet to discuss the specifics of the position:  time expectations, responsibilities, the wage, etc.

A few days later I had the opportunity to meet the one whom had sought me out for the position.  She was joined by the principal investigator for the grant project for which I was being recruited.  Immediately, I was drawn to the scope of the work that would take place because the University had been awarded this grant.  I was drawn to the tasks I would be assigned.  The work I would do would be exactly what I once loved best to do:  working with teachers involved in teaching English as A Second Language.  I was drawn to the two intelligent and personable women with whom I was meeting and with whom I would work.  I wanted to work with them.  I wanted to do the work,  but I knew I needed to fully understand the scope of the position before I let my emotions say, “YES.”

They said the position was for twenty (20) hours a week, or a half- FTE (full-time equivalency).  I have worked at the University level enough to know that 20 hours would really mean that I would put in no fewer than thirty hours a week.  I also knew that I would have to develop lesson plans and a schedule that would work for myself and those I would be teaching, coaching, and mentoring.  As I sipped my Starbucks drink, and spoke with these wonderful professionals, I kept telling myself to not jump in with both feet.  I reminded myself not to forget that I was no longer in the summer of life.  

I left the meeting excited about the opportunity, so excited.  I tried to ignore the reality of the scope of the position.  I reminded myself that they even offered me ten (10) hours a week if that would work best for me.  

As I left the Starbucks where I had learned the specifics of a possible new opportunity,  the skies over the mountains turned black.  I watched heavy storm clouds begin to blow into the valley where I live.  Soon, a thick veil of rain and hail hid the clouds that had descended down the mountainside and into the valley.  I knew better that to drive into that storm.  I knew better than to even begin to enter the mouth of the valley because soon the road that led to my home would become a raging river.  I drove to the top of a bluff and sought shelter in a REI store.

As I shopped, I kept weighing the benefits of taking this job, all the time knowing I didn’t really want to work that many hours.  Yet, I wanted to feel productive again.  I wanted and needed professional and personal exchanges.  I missed that part of my life.  Deep in thought, I wondered through the store while the storm raged outside.  Hail was pounding the roof.  Then I heard, “Hi Sally.”  I turned to see Leanna standing there.  Leanna was one of my daughter Julie’s best friends from high school.  She has been such a faithful friend to our family since we lost Julie seven years ago.  “What are you doing these days?” she asked.

I spilled out my story about the job offer.  I told her how conflicted I was.  “Twenty hours are a lot of hours,” she said.  She even added that she was working that many hours in a demanding job and it was a lot.  I knew she was right.  I knew she had given me the answer I needed to hear.  

I told her how Julie used to ask, “Mom, when are you really going to retire?”  Julie wanted me to retire and enjoy life.  It was as if Julie had sent Leanna to me.  Leanna said, “I’m running the biggest race of my life tomorrow.  Julie has been on my mind.  I think of her everyday when I run.  She is the one who got me into running again.  I think she put you in my path today as I worry about the weather and the run.”  I think we both had tears in our eyes as we hugged and went our separate ways.  I know I did.  Those chance meetings can be just what we need somedays.  


***********
I had such great clarity after I talked to Leanna.  All she had to say was, “Twenty hours is a lot.”  She is thirty years younger than I and in fantastic shape, yet she knows the toll that must be paid when one works twenty hours on a professional job  that requites a great deal of preparation and emotional and physical strength.  At this time in life, in this season, I did not wish to pay the price that I would have to pay to do a job I once loved and still greatly missed.
I was able to let that which no longer fit in this season of my life fall away.  

***********

I’ve been doing a lot of sorting these days.  I've sorted through that which no longer fits for where I now am in life.  I have let much that I once treasured, but which I no longer have to hang on to,  fall away.  I am remembering with great joy those golden days that were before these days that signal that autumn has reached the midway point, but those days no longer define me nor do they constrict the days I now live.

**********

Most of the leaves have now fallen from the trees near my home.  Some were hit with frost and snow early in the season, and so those trees, the beautiful maple trees outside my window,  did not wear on their usual showy red colors for long.  

The oak leaves have fallen and are now dry and brittle.  I see heaps of dry, crumbling brown leaves in the gutters of the street.  The wind catches them and blows them under bushes, or under porches.  It seems those gloriously colored leaves have been forgotten and reached a rather ignominious end.  

The shedding of that which is no longer needed by the tree in autumn does not attenuate the value of the tree or of the leaves which have been shed.  A deciduous tree sheds its leaves because that is what deciduous trees do.  As one ages, one also begins to shed that which no longer fits in the season of life where one now resides.  

The brittle, dry leaves are not useless.  They have a purpose.  They serve as mulch.  They protect the roots on the trees and other plants during winter.  They release nutrients back into the earth.  Nothing is lost.  These leaves are important for the life and growth of the tree even as they are shed and seem to be cast aside.

I’m learning that as I let that which is no longer needed to fall away, I too feel as if the roots at the core of my life feel protected, insulated, and nurtured.  I am honoring the season of life where I now live by recognizing the need for times when I need rest and restoration.  I have been trying to do that which feeds my soul and soothes my body as autumn comes to an end.  

It is good to recognize the seasons of life and embrace the lessons that each season brings.  Seasons are not permanent states.  All of nature changes with the seasons.  Seasons are transitory.  What was true of one’s life in one season is no longer true in another.  One cannot grow if one hangs on to that which identified a season that has now passed.  A deciduous tree cannot insist in fall to wear only green, nor can the leaves refuse to fall.  A deciduous tree is beautiful in any season.  A deciduous tree honors the seasons by changing as the season dictates.

There is great comfort in living in this season where I am able to allow that which is no longer needed to fall away.  


Postscript:  
*Sometimes a word study evolves into a written piece.  I think about the meaning of a certain word.  I look at the synonyms and antonyms.  I keep lists of words that work with the word I have have been pondering.  English teachers play these crazy games with words for entertainment.  (I even like to diagram sentences.)  This post was written using words that were a part of my word study for the word deciduous.  It also is a post that sums up what has been going on in my life recently.  I’ve been sorting through that which is important in my life and allowing that which is no longer important to fall away.