Monday, July 30, 2012

Summer Memories Are Being Made

A pair of black shorts and a red t-shirt were found under my footstool in my study, these forgotten clothing items will be mailed tomorrow. The beds all need clean bedding.  The pile of dirty towels have been laundered (thanks to my dear husband) and await folding and putting away.  The wall boards need a good wiping down. The dirty footprints have been scrubbed from the tub. The few days with three of the grandchildren are over.  Today, unmotivated, I sit, very much at peace with the world, and reflect on the great memories that were made in the past week.

Blackened bottoms of the feet and of the hands are common at my house when the grandchildren are here.  When they were younger, in self-defense, I put a tub of warm water, a bar of soap, and a towel at the back door so they could wash their feet and hands before entering the house.  I am not a clean freak.  I gave that up when I had five kids, but the black feet from trampoline jumping were leaving black marks everywhere.  I fought back with soap and water.  Summer at Grandma Sally's house means that much time will be spent jumping on the trampoline, and the trampoline gets the jumper dirty no matter what we do to the trampoline itself.  I wouldn't have our memories any other way.  Sometimes having fun means making a mess, and that is ok in my book.

Hannah and Mason came and spent a few days with me over last weekend.  Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling well on Saturday, so Grandpa Jim took them swimming.  By the evening, I was feeling well enough to go to our favorite Mexican food restaurant and then take Boston for a walk at the River Walk.  Mason and Hannah had their first experience of walking Boston.  He did great with them, and they did well with him.  Walking Buster at the River Walk had always been one of Mason's favorite things to do since he was just a small child, so he was really looking forward to walking our new pup Boston.

On Sunday, Hannah was a bit impatient waiting for Atticus to arrive.  She and Mason had thought he would be here when they arrived on Friday evening.  Atticus had been staying with his other grandmother in Colorado Springs since his parents returned to Boston the week before.  He did not arrive at our house until Sunday.  Hannah and Atticus are just a month apart in age, so they always look forward to being together.  Meanwhile, as she waited, Hannah read the Sunday comics while sitting in Grandma Sally's chair in the "newspaper room."  Our front living room, seldom used except for Saturday and Sunday morning newspaper reading, was dubbed by that name when the grandkids were little.  We found a note written by one child to the other, "Meet me in the newspaper room."  The name stuck.  

Once Atticus arrived, I decided we need to go on a picnic.  Veggie chicken nuggets, fried chicken, potato salad, chips, cantaloupe, and Oreos were packed in the cooler and off we went to the mountains.  Everyone was in great spirits as we piled into the car and took off.  Boston was especially thrilled!

Lake San Isabelle was our destination.  A favorite spot of mine because of its beauty and easy access from our house, I knew the kids would have fun playing in the mountain stream that flows into the lake.  We all looked forward to going someplace cooler.  It was 99 degrees in Pueblo when we left, and it was 77 degrees at Lake San Isabelle when we arrived there about 30 minutes after leaving home.  The cool, mountain air felt great.  

After eating, with Grandpa Jim leading the way, the kids grabbed their towels and headed out to find a place to play in the water.

They found the 'perfect spot' which was really just the first spot they came to where there was easy access to the water.  They quickly scampered across the stream to set up a place in the sun.

Boston loved the water.  No surprise there.

Atticus poses in the middle of the cool Colorado mountain stream.  

Posing for Grandma Sally...

Since Boston kept drinking the mountain stream water, Grandpa Jim took him back up to the picnic site to work with him on some new training he was doing.  We didn't want Boston to get sick since we had just nursed him through a severe bacterial episode that required two visits to the vet.  One visit was overnight.

I sat on the side of the stream and recalled many, many happy days in childhood when I played with my many cousins in the most wonderful mountain stream ever at our favorite camping spot that we called "The Green Spot."  Green it was, and the stream was always perfect for wading and for building dams to create 'swimming pools.'  As I sat watching the kids play lost in my own memories, I started to get nervous.  What if a bear came along?  We had been warned by our next door neighbors, and the warning was confirmed by the ranger, that there were bears up at San Isabelle Lake camping areas.  Our neighbors had just returned from camping at the same place we were heading and had seen bear, right at their camping site, several times.

I decided to go find Jim and take the dog from him so I would have a dog with me to warn me of bears. The kids decided they were done playing in the water.  They said it was full of parasites.  They could see them they said, so off we went to find Grandpa.

We found him standing up on the road and surrounded by people.  They were all looking down the mountainside at something that held their interest.  As we got closer, I saw many in the group seemed to  be taking photos with cameras and cell phones.  I knew they had to have seen a bear.  Sure enough, that is exactly what they were all staring at.

It turns out that Jim was concentrating on Boston's training, and I guess Boston was concentrating on Jim (for once) when a crowd of people started shouting at Jim that there was a bear by him.  Jim said it was about 20 yards away from where he was working with Boston at a campsite.  So much for Boston warning us if a bear was around!  

The kids were very excited and wanted to see if they could see the bear.  We ventured down the hill a bit, and sure enough, there he was.  Unfortunately, I had not brought a good camera with me on the picnic.  All I had was my point and shoot that the kids reminded me I had sat on and broken when were up at San Isabel Lake a few years ago.  They are right.  I did sit on it.  It was fixed and still takes pictures, but not very good ones.  

The bear is just to the left of center.  He is the dark black spot.  Really, it is a bear.  Trust me on this.  

Here is another shot of the bear.  He is near the picnic tables near the center of the photo.  I did not get a good shot.  He wouldn't stand still, and I wasn't going down there to get a better shot.  Jim said he had been working with Buster near the red pump.  The bear was up near the trees at the front of the photo when he saw him.  He measured by estimating a football field and was quite sure the bear was only 20 yards away.  

All in all it was pretty exciting.  I caught this great photo of the kids looking at the bear. The experience provided a great Facebook status update.  Then, I worried the parents would never let Grandma Sally take their children on a picnic again.  Son Jon said, "Damn spoiled kids.  I've been in hiking and camping in the woods for 34 years and never seen a bear."  Guess what, neither have I.  This was a first for me too!  

It all makes for wonderful memories and some great stories in years to come.  I can just hear the grandkids as they meet for reunions in years to come, "Do you remember when we saw a bear when we went on a picnic with Grandma?"  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Moving from Mourning to Joy

Committing to the Journey
Pressing On

Commit to the journey, long or short, that leads back to living life.

This sentence found on page 57 of the book, Through a Season of Grief, published by GriefShare may or may not have spoken to me when I first read it.  Placed at the beginning of the book, under the title Healthy Grieving:  Step Five, I am sure that as I read this statement, I assented to it intellectually.  I doubt that I was unable to process it fully emotionally.  I think I must have appreciated reading it because at the time, early in my reading of this wonderful book full of devotions for those in grief, I needed to believe that I would someday be able to go back to living life.  I needed to know that while the grief journey may be long, it would take me to a place of healing, hope, and health.

Along the way on this journey, I have learned some simple truths.  I learned that I must accept that I was on a journey.  As with all journeys in life, I had to accept that I would not know what lay ahead of me as I made my way down the path of recovery after a terrible loss.  I did not know the hills I would face, nor would I know how difficult the valleys could be.  Thankfully, long ago in my life, I had come to believe that life is best lived one day at a time.  I did not know that on this grief journey that I suddenly found myself on, I would at times only be able to live moment to moment.

How does one press on with such a journey the newly bereaved may ask?  I only can answer this question by thinking about my own journey and noting those things that have most helped me press on.

The Need to Memorialize a Life

In my first journal entry after my daughter's death, I wrote about a beautiful wreath that had been sent by her employers.  I wrote how the color choices gave me such comfort because they were beautiful and bright, just like Julie.  Orange roses were in the arrangement.  I wrote, What could be a better choice for Julie?  The orange roses were surrounded by red gerbera daises with yellow lilies to balance the reds and oranges.  I also wrote, I've tried to make sense of why the hints of Amy's wedding bouquet in this arrangement seem oddly sensible, appropriate, and right in the irony of being selected as a floral tribute to Julie at her death.  The wild profusion of asparagus fern and the several shades of purple delphiniums intertwined with a touch of ivy seem so right in the ability to comfort me because Julie and Amy are so intertwined, so bonded, so close, why wouldn't I link these flowers with both of them for the rest of my life?
Julie on Amy's lap
Being silly at Mom's house

I then went on to write how Jon, my youngest son, would be coming to my home in a few days to begin work on the Julie Christiansen Memorial Garden he wanted to build.  I began plans for the flowers I wanted in the garden.  I also spoke of wanting some sort of structure.  I wrote, I will bring beauty out of this loss.

More than needing to plant a garden, I now know that I needed to memorialize my daughter's life.  I want her remembered as a beautiful, bright, vibrant, loving, funny, gifted individual because that summarizes the essence of Julie to me.  She would want me to remember her alive.  She would not want me to stop living because of her death.

In small ways, I try to memorialize her life.  I did begin the garden.  Jon did most of the work on getting it started by building a small patio.  We planted a tree, a Newport plum because it blooms near the date of both her birth and her death.  The purple leaves remind me of her.  I hoped that the garden would have a sense of permanence to it.  I hoped it would be healing to my children and grandchildren as they visited my home.

At the time of Julie's death, I could not foresee that in just a few short years we would decide to sell this home and move.  I could not foresee that my health would suffer, and I would be limited on my ability to plant the garden I wished to plant.  I could not foresee that draught would hit our area this year and that we would have over a week straight of days over 100 degrees.  Twice, during that week, temperatures would reach 113 in our backyard.  These conditions are not conducive to growing the garden I envisioned.

In May, I purchased a kinetic wind sculpture for Julie's garden.  It arrived on July 5, just in time for Jonathan to erect it while he was home for a short visit from his home in Boston.  On July 6, he and his wife Samantha, who has helped Jon with so many projects that he has completed in beautifying my yard, and their son Atticus visited and erected the wind sculpture that I bought as a memorial to Julie.  We may be leaving the garden behind, but the sculpture can go with us.  

Jon and Sam read the directions

This part is engraved with
"Into the freedom of the wind and the sun we let you go."
In memory of
Julie Ann Christiansen

Atticus with new sculpture

Jon and Atticus

Jon and Sally
We took a few minutes to reflect and visit on the patio that Jon built.

Jon on the patio he built
As this photo indicates, we have had a long, hot, dry summer in our area.  Not only did I choose not to plant the garden because we are trying to sell the house, but those flowers that were planted are struggling to survive no matter how much water I give them.  The beds in front of the garden were filled with annuals that I placed out early.  They promptly died due to heat and bugs.  I have never had a hard time growing a lush annual bed in this area.    The clematis is usually full of blossoms this time of year, and the delphiniums that now struggle to live are usually blooming in late June and early July.  It has been a rough year for flowers in Southern Colorado.

This also could be a metaphor for the grief journey.  At times, the journey is dry and does not produce much beauty.  During these times, one must hang on to hope.  I have no doubt that those flowers that bloomed in beauty last year, will do so again with the right conditions.
Mom & Son time 

 Living Life

There are few things in this life that bring me greater joy than my children and grandchildren.  My life is dedicated to the four children I have who remain and to the seven grandchildren that I have.  They are what motivate me to keep on living life as fully as I can.  I do not want to be stuck in grief.  I do not want to miss out on watching them grow and enjoy life.  I want to see all of us heal and live lives full of meaning and joy.  That is one of the great motivators along the grief journey.

Three days after Julie died, we lost our beloved Buster.  I could not even believe it when we suddenly had to put down our dear golden retriever just days after losing a child.  Last fall, we got Boston, our new golden retriever pup.  Atticus had never met Boston before.  The day we erected the wind structure was the first day that the two of them were able to play and bond.  Atticus immediately went to work trying to train Boston.  This is no easy feat.  Boston responded with great obedience.  I think he really wanted to make sure he could count on Atticus to be his great buddy.  I was actually quite amazed at how well Boston, our problem child who has challenged us so greatly in his training, took to Atticus and immediately began to follow his commands.
Atticus rewards Boston for bringing him the ball

Playing soccer together

I think these two will be great friends over the years.

Add caption
I've read in some of the grief books that one should get a pet after the loss of a loved one.  I think this is good advice.  I know that as I look at this beautiful photo of my youngest grandchild and our new pup, I feel great joy.  Moments such as these are what I call spots of grace.  I am flooded with peace at such times.  The soul learns to rejoice and give thanks for such a grace that has allowed me to heal and again live with a heart full of joy.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some of Us Do Get to Live Our Dreams

Living the Dream

How many of us would be able to say that we are living our dreams?  
How many of us would be bold enough to state publicly that we were living our dreams even if we believed we were?
Do we just wake up one day and realize that we have finally reached the dream we had for our lives?

Does self-acualization take planning?
Does it take determination?
Does it take hard work?

Trista in competition.

I've been thinking about these questions ever since reading the article that was published in today's newspaper about my step-daughter, Trista Wessely Francis.
Seeing Trista recognized in print made us very happy because she deserves to be admired for all that she has accomplished as an athlete.  
I must say she has made her daddy very proud.  
This girl has always made me happy because of her spunk, and let me tell you, it takes a lot of spunk to do all that she has done.  
I don't want to quote the entire article, I will just give you the link below, and hope you will read about her.
Here are the beginning lines from the article that was so well written by Jeff Letoffsky.  Thank you, Jeff for doing such a great job with your writing on this newspaper article!

As a self-made, world-renowned triathlete and coach, Francis, 41, has reached the pinnacle of her sport and understands where she's come from and where she's going.

  "I feel so blessed. I live the dream every day," said Francis, who lives in Highlands Ranch in Denver. "I get to work with amazing athletes whether they are getting off the couch wanting to get healthier or somebody striving to be an Olympic champion."
Trista, a certified and licensed athletic trainer, got her BS degree in sports medicine at BYU.  She married soon after graduation and began a family.  Once her children where in school, she began running again.  She started running as a child with her father.  Not one to shirk a challenge, she decided to do what it took to become a triathlete.  That meant she had to learn to swim.  Before long, because of her hard work and determination, she was being recognized when she competed.  Then, she started coaching others and started her own company.  And then, she became a member of the Timex Multisport Team, 2009-2012.  
She didn't just dream the dream and wake up one day to see that dream actualized.  It took a lot of training, a lot of early morning workouts; it took focus, and it took even coming back from injuries.   Like her father, she is one to work very hard at whatever she does.  I think she got that work ethic from him.

A few years ago, Trista and her dad went to Upstate New York for a competition. 
Can you tell how proud he is of her? 
Train your mind
Train your heart
Train your body
Jim wearing a shirt from Trista's company
iTz Multisport Endurance Coaching, LLC.
I love this photo that Trista's dad caught of her just before the swim portion of the race near Ithaca.
Trista is in the center of the photo.  She has on long sleeves and is wearing a look that says, "I am focused."

The rewards come after the hard work
Here is another photo of a very proud papa.
Jim is watching Trista compete in 2011 Special Triathlon World Championships in China via the web.
She ran where we all watched Olympic runners run in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.
I remember he just kept saying, "I'll be."
I'm not sure he could even believe it all.

Jim is proud of Trista for many things.
If the truth be told, he most proud of her as a wife and mother.
She has a truly awesome husband.  We love Greg like a son.
She has three active, sweet, accomplished, and very beautiful daughters.
In this recently taken photo, you see the Francis family on a hike in the mountains near their cabin near Frisco, Colorado.  
They have all reached a pinnacle of success on this hike.  I bet they weren't even winded.

To Trista, I say,
You go girl.
You keep on climbing.
You keep on going after your dreams.
You have a family who loves and supports you.
Life may not always be lived on the mountaintops, but I have no doubt that you will also conquer any valley into which you may enter.

Trista,  Daphnie, Demi, Darby, Greg
Summer 2012
I am proud of you.
I love you.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Crazy Busy Summer So Far

Summer ~ Fun Times With Family

Summer Kickoff

Technically, it wasn't yet summer when we began our summer kickoff of time with family by meeting my sister and her husband in Santa Fe, New Mexico over Memorial Day Weekend.  Suzanne and John traveled from San Diego to explore new territory to them with us.  We spent most of the time relaxing and catching up with each other, but we managed to eat a lot of wonderful meals, and we of course we did some shopping.  All in all, it was just a great time of being together.

Sunset Viewing
via the rooftop of the La Fonda

20th Anniversary

After spending several days at the wonderful La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, I was surprised when my husband booked us a room at another wonderful hotel a few weeks later.  He chose the Brown Palace in Denver as the site where we would celebrate our 20th anniversary.  He managed, as he always seems to do, to get us an absolutely amazing room.  We were greeted with complimentary champagne as we checked in.  
Here's to many more years to come.

Father's Day

A week later, it was Father's Day.  We invited all of Jim's children and grandchildren down to our house to celebrate.  It is always great to have our home filled with children.
Daddy and Daughters
Trista & Thia with Jim
Jim with all three of his daughters
and all but one of his grandchildren

4th of July

Before we knew it, the 4th of July was already here.  Does that mean the summer is half way over?  I hope not.  I am enjoying all the good this summer has brought way too much to have it half over.  The heat has been horrendous, but time spent with family and with my hubby has been priceless.  

My two sons made the trek to Colorado for this year's 4th of July celebrations.  We missed not having Keicha here in Colorado for the holiday, but it was great to have the boys with us as we all celebrated at Amy's house in Erie, Colorado.  We actually began the celebrations on July 3rd because that is when everyone rolled into town.

Jon, Samantha, and Atticus all came from Boston, while Ryan and his new friend, and our longtime family friend, Sheridan, came in from Utah with their Brady Bunch crew of five children.  The brave souls made the trip across Wyoming in a motor home.  Ryan brought his three children, and Sheridan brought her two boys.  I hear the trip was a blast.

The first order of business was to set up tents so the kids would have a place to sleep.  It was threatening rain as Samantha and Jon joined Sheridan and Ryan at setting up a tent.  Grandsons, led by Parker set up the second tent.  I should have timed them.  Eagle scout Ryan vs. Parker who is currently working on his Eagle badge.  I wonder who would have won. 

 Regan lends a helping hand by driving in a stake with a croquet mallet
Hannah watches all the activity

Jon wonders what kind of bird he is observing.
Ryan sends Parker for a bird book that he has in the motor home.
"How is this supposed to help?  This is Birds of Utah."

Amy set out snacks for us all to eat before dinner.

There was furry of activity as the cousins, ecstatic to see each other again, set up the croquet set, and put out the corn hole game.  Playing these games kept everyone busy until dinner.

We opted out of going to the Erie fireworks display which was held at the golf course.  It seemed like too big a hassle to eat and get everyone over there in time for the display.  Besides, it was determined that the best place to watch the show would be on top of the motor home parked in front of Amy's.  

Jon helps Mason up to the top of the RV.
Next comes Bridger.
So on, and so forth until all eight kids are on top of the RV.  
They decided it was dirty up there.
It wasn't very comfortable either.
Plus, they weren't sure they would be able to see the fireworks from there after all.
One, by one, they all came down safely.  Thank heavens.

That is what every kid waits for on the 4th of July.
That is when the fireworks begin!

This year was a bit odd.  There were fireworks bans throughout the State of Colorado for obvious reasons.  So, what do kids do when the sun goes down when they can't shoot off their own fireworks, and the town's fireworks show is late starting?  Why, they play kick the can of course!

Grandma Sally had to go out and show them how to play because they had it all wrong.  Then Jon, modeled how to play by being It.  Unfortunately, he was It all night long.  Those kids seem to run faster than he does.  

All in all, it was a fabulous night.  We laughed, and talked, and watched the kids play.  What can be better than that?

The next day, the actual 4th of July, we all went to Boulder to see what was happening on Pearl Street.  No, we weren't trying to be the entertainment, but I guess we probably were.  
The kids are holding son Ryan up.

 The kids played in the water on Pearl Street to cool off.
Hannah getting cool while wearing her festive headpiece.

After spending a little time on Pearl Street in Boulder, some of the adults and all of the kids went to Grandma Sally's hotel to swim in the pool.  There are no photos of that activity because Grandma Sally was back at Amy's fixing dinner.  Pulled pork sandwiches, a mountain of potato salad, and grilled corn on the cob was on the menu for those who are not vegetarians.  Those who are vegetarians, had veggie burgers, veggie dogs.  Veggie corn dogs seemed to be enjoyed by all the kids whether they were vegetarians or not.

We all only had a few days together, but it was a very special, fun time.  Grandma Sally and Grandpa Jim headed back home on the morning of the 5th.  Jon, Sam, and Atticus headed to Colorado Springs to spend time with Sam's mom.  Ryan and Sheridan, being the brave souls that they are, or as Jim said in need of a mental evaluation, took off to Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Granby in the motor home with seven kids in tow.  They added Amy's two kids to the mix of their five.  I spoke with them tonight; it has been raining, but somehow they managed to bed down all nine of them for the night last night in RV.  Tonight they plan on having the boys sleep in the tents.  They say they are having a ball.  

On Saturday, Ryan and crew head back to Utah.  On Sunday, Jon and Sam will take their Atticus and Amy's two children to Utah to spend a few days.  There, they will have more cousin time while they visit their Grandpa Barry and their great-grandparents.  

The best part of summer is when family gets together.  We have been blessed to be able to spend some wonderful time this summer with family.