A year goes by…. just like that… Happy birthday, Arlo!

Love. Minutes old.
More love. One year old.

 

I’ve measured time in many ways throughout my life – as a child it was measured in the “untils” as I didn’t have enough “pasts” to really matter……. how many days until my birthday, until summer, until Christmas, until I get new clothes/shoes/stuff and, well you get the picture.  As my life started accumulating more pasts, my time markers became milestones….graduating from high school, starting college, quitting college, finishing college, moving, moving back, getting married, having kids, getting divorced and so on.  Those are dates that are easy for me to remember because of their significance and dates that everything else seemed to be based around with befores and afters.   Lately, say in the last 12 years or so, monumental trips  have become markers for me…. Perú, Morocco, Patagonia, Bhutan, Nepal, the Camino, the Camino again and most recently, Ghana.  Those experiences help me keep track of life, when looking back, giving it a sense of order.  I may not remember all the travel dates exactly, but I do know the order, which makes it pretty easy to extrapolate an approximate date. Not that any of this really matters one bit to anyone but me, and only at the most inopportune times, such as in the middle of the night when I’m trying to piece together a life timeline for no reason other than insomnia,  but today it all seems very relevant.  One year ago, on this very day, I was given a new marker to the year 2017 – one that I’ll never have to extrapolate with events  to remember.

Arlo was born.  My daughter became a mama.  My son-in-law became a dad.  I became a grandma.  And all of this happened on MY first born’s birthday.  April 30, a date that was etched into my memory – a date that has become a double marker for my timeline of befores and afters.

My friends that came into “grandmahood” before me, had shared stories of a love like no other and told me with such certainty that everything would be forever changed when grandkids entered my life.  Of course I had no reason to doubt them, but it was like having someone tell you how incredible seeing the ocean was for the first time.   OK, I thought, my first time standing barefoot in the sand with sea spray in my face and water as far as I could see was memorable, but who’s to say what the introduction of a new generation into my family will really bring?  I’ve got a confession to all of those who went before me and fell head over heels in love the first time they laid eyes on their grandchild, I get it.  You were spot on and all of your predictions and words of love made perfect sense as I held my minutes old grandson for the first time.  That understanding has grown each and every day since, 365 to be exact.

A few years ago, my cousin’s daughter was pregnant with her first and had asked the question (possibly rhetorical) of, “Just how long is the umbilical cord anyway?”

I had no answer, simply because I didn’t know, but have thought a lot about that question ever since and have most likely included it on at least one previous Mother’s Day post.  So here’s my answer (once again):

It’s as long as it needs to be and will continue to grow as necessary.  Mine has extended to Chicago, LA and Ft. Collins, CO.  Of course physically it is no longer attached, but energetically, its connection remains strong, and much to my surprise, it has the capability of growing a new grand baby branch.  As a Mom and a Grandma, the tethering has continued.

Just one year ago… a very short year I must add, I was doing my own version of the in labor pacing – into and out of just about every retail store in downtown Fort Collins, buying much more than I should have but blaming it on nerves, excitement, and my daughter was in labor for Pete’s sake!  I found a miniature version of a stuffed dog that my own first born had been given when he was born (thank you, Aunt Robin) and had loved it clear down to an unrecognizable pile of pieced together patches that was missing both ears and a tail.  I bought it.  It seemed ominous.  It just happened to be the birthday of MY first born child as my baby was in labor with HER first born child.

Emery’s first words to me just moments after Arlo was born, were:

“Mom, we both gave birth to our first child on the same day… and they were both boys.”

I had held full composure until that moment….I hadn’t thought of Arlo being born on Thomas’s birthday as OUR shared experience, but rather, had looked at it as her son being born on her brother’s birthday.  Our thread of connection, which was already strong,  became even stronger than I could have ever imagined.  Right then, at that very moment, with her newborn in her arms,  she had everything she needed to begin to understand the depths of love that a mom has for her child.  As I looked at her,  a new mom holding her baby, my love for her expanded so much that I could physically feel it in my chest and I’ve got to think that because of what she was feeling for the first time as a mother to her child, her love for me did the same thing.  We were our own versions of the Grinch – hearts exploding with love.

For the past year, and as often as possible as we don’t live in the same state, I’ve watched my grandson grow from the tiny helpless newborn that I didn’t want to let go of, to a walking, communicating, personality-filled one year-old that I also don’t want to let go of.  I’m continually in awe and it’s not as if I’ve never  seen newborns turn into toddlers,  but watching my grandson has been different.  I get to roll around on the floor and play and be silly and make funny sounds that I forgot I even could,  while leaving the heavy lifting to his Mama and Daddy.  I earned this role and I’ve got to say, I’m loving it.

A year seems to go by faster and faster the older I get, and honestly, I never thought I’d type those words as I’ve heard them so often that frankly, I’m bored by them, but it’s true.  In the short span of 365 days, I’ve watched a helpless 7 pound, 7 ounce bundle of wonder turn into a walking, climbing, babbling, funny, curious toddler.  I’d say that’s a very productive use of time there, Arlo.  In comparison, I’ve logged a few more miles and have a few more wrinkles to show for my year.  I could have at least upped my Spanish game or learned how to crochet or something.  In comparison to your year, I’ve simply laid around.  There cannot be any other time in life where so much development and change happens outside of that first year.  What a joy to watch from the sidelines while not having to worry about schedules or feedings or planning ahead and bringing everything you MIGHT need in the diaper bag along with the everlasting wonder of will I ever get a good night’s sleep again?  I’m here for grandma duty and I’m here to play.  Can we wake him up now so we can play with him or can I just go look at him???

I’ve fallen head over heels in love with my one year-old role as grandma (or Laudie as I’m referred to) and am continually amazed by the impact that this little soul has had one my life.  Today, while trying to turn on the window unit air conditioner in my rented space in Boulder,  it took me a few moments to realize that I was using Arlo’s clunky baby phone (or is it a remote?), which wasn’t getting the air conditioner turned on.  Without hesitation or even surprise, I slipped the not an airconditioner remote into my purse, grabbed the correct remote, and turned on the air.  Later, while in a coffee shop, I pulled that same toy phone, or whatever it was,  out of my purse to answer my phone and wasn’t the least bit embarrassed when I realized that it was Arlo’s pretend phone and not my real phone.  Again, I have to emphasize the no embarrassment part.  I also had a pacifier and pretend car keys in my purse.  I suppose I put them there, but have no recollection.  At least I didn’t attempt to start my car with the big primary colored plastic keys.  There was a time, many years ago, when volunteering with the elderly in Perú, that I felt I was one Kleenex up the inside of my sleeve away from becoming one of them as I had begun to take on some of their behaviors (forgetting to zip up my pants, hugging and kissing far more than was appropriate and of course always having that tissue tucked up the sleeve, which I rarely used).  It’s possible that it is happening again.  This time, though, I feel like I’m one call on a Playskool phone call away from becoming a toddler.   I’m guessing I’ll be redirected by my daughter if it gets too out of hand.

A few nights ago, while trying to calm down an overly stimulated almost one year-old, I heard my daughter quietly singing the same song that I used to sing to her.  You are still my sunshine, Emery, and the sunshine that you and Miles have brought into my life with Arlo, shines brighter than I could have ever imagined.

What a year it’s been.  Happy first year of everything, Arlo, but mostly love.

 

 

 

 

 

And Christmas wasn’t ruined…

 

I have a strange perfectionist tendency that says if I do something once and have success with it,  then it has to be done the next time and every single time after that until the end of time. In this case, I’m talking about traditions, more specifically, Christmas traditions.  For starters, I’m a Virgo and this is simply what Virgos do, but I’m also from a family that holds onto traditions,  close and tightly and next to their hearts,  especially when it comes to Christmas.  At age 59, I know I’m in a very small minority of people who can say that they have spent every Christmas of their life with their entire family.  Every.  Single.  One.  My parents, my siblings, my sibling’s spouses, my own kids and now their significant others, all come together for a few days that holds the same kind of magic that it did when I was a small child.  We do Christmas well, and because of that I’ve always been a tiny bit afraid to make any changes to the many traditions that have made their way through the generations.

There was a point a few years ago when I realized that I was doing a whole lot of things simply because I had always done them, and while the end was accomplished, the process suffered while I trudged through tasks that I didn’t really enjoy.  Baking, cutting out and icing cookies was my first tradition to hit the dust, and lo and behold, Christmas was not ruined.  It almost pains me to admit it, but I do not enjoy baking  and whether Christmas cookies or birthday cakes, I fail miserably at the task, probably because I simply don’t enjoy it.  I will knit Christmas stockings with names and designs knitted right in and load up mantles with nature’s bounty until the cows come home, but I will leave the baking to someone else.  I’m throwing in the towel and the cookie sheets and am calling myself done.  And finally, I’m able to say that it’s OK.

Our family tradition of putting a hand-written poem on every one of our gifts that gives a hint as to the contents inside,  has made its way through 4 generations unscathed as well as our tradition of “pie presents,” which are small presents that are placed on everyone’s plate for Christmas dinner.  Both traditions remain strong, while evolving to suit the expanding and maturing crowd.  The poems have become every comic in the family’s moment of fame when it’s read (which is everyone, by the way) and the pie gifts have transformed into a pre-Christmas Yankee swap, with a whole lot of trying to out do the next guy taking place.  Both have survived the holiday cuts because it is something we all enjoy.  Baking for me, not so much.  Writing Christmas cards, which I sadly gave up a few years ago because of time constraints, has also been dropped and not picked up again… at least not yet.  And still,  Christmas was not ruined.

The traditions give us a growing history and are carried until they become cumbersome, then hopefully, we have the presence of mind to let them go.  Poems that started out with a couple of lines that my young children would scribble onto a sheet of paper have grown into witty works of art, many that I’ve saved over the years.  Give up the cookies, the cards and even the outdoor lights, if you will, but please oh please save the poems, my children.  You will be the carriers to the next generation.

While some traditions are held tight, and others are let go of, what really matters and what has become the biggest tradition of all isn’t wrapped up or baked or sent in the mail, but rather is the gift of a family coming together, once again,  for a few days of magic.  It’s the gift that is wrapped up in memories and continually given and received with open arms and hearts and topped with a hand written poem that speaks of love and family and Christmas magic.  THIS is the tradition that I have no doubt will be carried safely in the hearts to the generations to come.

Wish all my family and friends a very Merry Christmas!

Feeling just a little more grateful this Thanksgiving…

 

I’m finding my field of gratefulness stretched out just a little bit further than usual this Thanksgiving season, to the northern African country of Morocco, specifically.  As much as I like to think that I’m helping to better someones life when volunteering,  if only a few moments at a time, the reality is that the people who I am supposedly helping, whether that means teaching English to or simply being attentive and loving to a child at the orphanage, give me far more than I could ever give them and the gift of gratitude is the gift I take away.  The greatest gift of all.

There were so many reminders of gratitude during my stay in Rabat, but two in particular that I can’t seem to let go of.  The first one was during my trip to Fes.  I met a very interesting young man while on the train and had the opportunity to chat with him during the entire 3 hour journey.  He was 23 and from the country of Georgia, but was going to school in Rabat, working on his masters degree in Middle Eastern politics.  He spoke several languages fluently, but apologized for his poor French, hardly worthy of an apology to this barely bi-lingual person.   His stories were more like a history lesson to me and I was amazed by his knowledge of American history, which put my own knowledge to shame.  One of his stories that particularly touched me, was when he told me about his memories of 9/11.  He said he was in the 3rd grade and he remembers watching the videos of the planes going into the towers and how afraid his parents were, even for their own safety.  I certainly could understand the fear, yet at half a world away,  assumed they would feel more isolated and somewhat protected.  His response are words I will not soon forget.

“America was the last safe place in the world and now it wasn’t.  The whole world was afraid.”

I’m thankful that David happened to claim the seat right across from me on the train that morning, even though my first thoughts were hoping he wouldn’t be someone who would want to talk, as I wanted to sleep.  His words and his reminder that the world is far bigger than our U.S. borders, made a huge impact on me that I won’t soon forget.

The second  reminder I got was something that Mohamed told us during one of our first lessons on Moroccan culture.  He told us to never lose sight of the gift we have simply by the name of the country that is imprinted on our passport as it puts us ahead of most of the world.  Our passports are worth far more than we realize.  It is so easy to forget this, especially during a time of such political turmoil in our country.  It’s a difficult, timely and expensive process for a Moroccan to get a tourist visa for the United States and the chances of being chosen through the lottery system in place are slim.  I had a couple of women in my class that were perfecting their English in hopes of going to the United States to visit children and grandchildren who lived there.  I was so sad when Mohamed told me that their chances of visiting the United States were very slim, yet they continued to plug away at their English lessons, their energy fueled by such a tiny thread of hope.

So underneath my table of abundance this year at Thanksgiving will be the faces from Morocco – a girl at the orphanage reaching her hand out to me through the bars of her crib, a young man on a train who opened my eyes to a reality a world away from mine and to the dark blue booklet that I guard with my life when I travel outside of my country’s borders that says, “United States of America.”

Yesterday, while finishing up on my unpacking, I picked up one of my shirts and was drawn to its smell and couldn’t seem to figure out why it seemed so familiar. Then it hit me.  The orphanage.  I had gotten clean clothes from the laundry before I left Rabat and they must use the same soap that they use to launder the children’s clothes at the orphanage.  Now that I know, I find myself burying my face into a memory to insure that it won’t be lost.  I’m not quite ready to let go.   I know that as life goes on and memories start to fade a bit, a thread of connection to Morocco will remain and no doubt,  will present itself to me when I become too complacent with what I have.  But for now, with my Moroccan memory still vibrant and with its scent still in my clothes, I will go deeper on my list of what I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.  The stories, the people and a hand reaching out to me  to communicate as she had no words, for starters…

To all my friends and family, I am thankful, over and over again,  to have you in my life.

 

Returning to my roots with the keepers of the stories at my side…

A few weeks ago, my sister, Robin, and I were given the tremendous gift of getting to step back in time for a few days and with our parents as our guides, revisited the place where we spent our earliest days – Evergreen, Colorado.

Although our time there was relatively short,  one would assume that we had lived there for decades given the many stories Mom and Dad have shared with us throughout our lives.  Because of the many stories and the joy with which they have been shared,  I grew up knowing  how very important this little mountain town was in my parents lives.

They were young, very young, 20 and 25, with a baby on the way (Robin) and were actually on their way to Oregon, simply on a “Why not?  It sounds like a nice place to live…” when they stopped in Denver to see my Mom’s parents.  While there, Dad found out that to teach high school music in Oregon, he needed a master’s degree (something that would come later and in Missouri), so they decided to simply stay in Denver.  Besides, with a baby on the way, it would be nice to have family nearby.  I love thinking about those carefree 20 somethings with a baby on the way pointing their car and trailered belongings west, without really having much of a plan.  Somehow it gives the many wing and a prayer plans I’ve had a bit more weight.

There were no teaching jobs in Denver, but while interviewing, a call came through from the principal in Evergreen with the news that the high school music teacher had not renewed his contract and through the perfect timing of a synchronistic moment, my Dad had a job and their plans to continue their journey west to Oregon were shortened to the short 30 minute drive west from Denver to the scenic mountain town of Evergreen.

Robin and I have both heard the stories, countless times, of our time in Evergreen, but to get to hear them again, with the soil underfoot, was truly a gift.  Hearing about Dad coasting down the mountain from Evergreen to St. Anthony’s hospital in Denver, my Mom in labor with me, made a lot more sense as we recently made our way down from Evergreen to Denver  – an easy coast of a drive that was a necessary choice on that day, almost 60 years go to the date, as the gas tank was near empty (he made it with fumes to spare, I’m told…).

Although Robin and I had tried to find the house we lived in when we were in Colorado  last summer,  our interpretation of Mom and Dad’s directions had us on the wrong end of the town, but with their keen memories and navigational skills a few weeks ago, we drove right to the house.  Both of our initial reactions upon seeing the nice house that sat off the road on 5 acres was… “wait… I thought we were poor” ….  Yes, they reassured us… we were poor.  They said it looked like the house had been added on to and that while it looked nice on the outside, the inside had needed work… work that Dad chipped away at when he had the gift of both time and money.   The furnishings were sparse and although Mom had a wringer washing machine, she didn’t have a dryer, so after washing the clothes, diapers in particular with two under the age of two, she’d hang them out on the line, where they would freeze dry in the arid air.  She’d then bring them in and lay them throughout the house to thaw.  For some reason, I’ve always connected with pioneer women and have sworn that I must have lived during that period of time in a past life.  This explains it.  I did.

As we sat in the drive and looked directly at our past, hearing the stories from the ones that created them, that piece of my past, that I don’t remember, became real and I understood where my love for mountains was born.  Dad told us that when Mom was pregnant with me she told him that she was not going to come home from the hospital until we had a flushing toilet IN the house.  Yes, these adventure seeking parents of mine were using an outhouse, not to mention transporting their water in  50 gallon drums.  Dad worked tirelessly at digging the leeching well near the house in preparation for my arrival, using a pick axe, a shovel and his favorite tool, dynamite.  And lo and behold, Mom had the flush toilet she had requested upon her arrival home from the hospital with me.  Simple times, but not all that simple of a request.  Still, every mom just home from the hospital with a new born and a one year-old to greet her, deserves the luxury of indoor toilet… and one that flushes no less.  It sure beat any “congratulations on your new baby” flower arrangement Dad could have gotten her.

My Evergreen, Colorado roots

Out of the many stories I’ve heard over the years, and my hands down favorite, I heard for the first time last year.  Because we were surrounded by evergreen trees, Dad would simply go to the woods behind the house to select the Christmas tree, then would drag it down to the house.  I believe it was my first Christmas (and if it wasn’t, I’m taking artistic license here) that Mom questioned the tree he brought home, wondering if he could have found a tree that was just a little bit prettier.  So, on his way home from work the following day, the perfect tree came into view with the lights of his car.  He cut it down, put it in the car and as he was pulling away, his car lights gave him a better view of exactly where the tree he had just cut down had come from… the landscaping in the front yard of one of the summer vacation homes in the area.  When I asked him what he did when he discovered what he did,  he told me that he couldn’t exactly put it back, so simply covered the stump with snow and drove home.  Given that it was a summer vacation home,  he had several months before the missing tree would be noticed.  No doubt some of that guilt waned with Mom’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to the beautiful specimen of a tree that would grace our small living room that Christmas.

“Now THAT’s what I had in mind!  It’s the PERFECT tree!”

Dad had set the Christmas decor bar high on this one…

I’m not sure how long it was before he came clean on exactly where the tree had come from and am betting that the following Christmas, it was back to the scrappy juniper Christmas trees.  All of our Christmas trees in those early Colorado days were decorated with pine cones that Mom had spray painted gold.  It was only in later years that I understood the significance of Mom insisting on adding what we thought at the time were “the tacky gold spray-painted pine cones” to our then more lavishly decorated trees.  It was a nudge to the memory of where they began as a family, and although times were very tough, they were also very good.

I love hearing their  humble roots stories – two kids with two babies eeking out a living in the mountains of Evergreen, Colorado.  Funds were so tight that when a job offer in northern Missouri came in for far more money and an unlimited high school band budget, Dad had to say yes.  He has told me several times that when they drove out of town for the last time on their way to Missouri, he had hoped for a rainy, cloudy day or at least weather that was over cast enough so that he wouldn’t have to see the mountains in his rearview mirror.  It was sunny that day.   To this day, I think both Mom and Dad would agree that it felt like the mountains were waving goodbye to them as they left them in the rear view mirror.

What a gift it was to return to those Evergreen mountains just as they had left them so many years ago and better yet, to get to return with the keepers of the stories.  Although I was always a part of the stories,  I feel a real sense of their connection to me now.

something I still enjoy.. playing in the dirt…

 

Mom and Dad… who still have a bit of that Colorado spirit in them….

 

The screened-in porch I bought with the attached house…

I bought a condo in Frisco, Colorado instead of the book I went into the book store for last summer (reference “How’d I Get Here?” post) and as I’m sitting here on my screened in porch in Kansas, I realized that although I had never bought a house instead of a book,  the behavior is not new for me.  Actually, I bought the house I’m in now in Kansas because as soon as I stepped into the front room (yep, when your house was built in the 1930’s, that’s what you get to call the room at the front of the house…), my eyes were immediately drawn to the stone and windowed screened in porch that french doors in the living room led out to.  Literally, I bought a screened in porch that luckily for me, had a house attached to it.

Upon stepping into the front room and at first glance into the porch, I looked at my daughter, Emery, and it’s possible we both said it at the same time…

“You/I LIVE here!”

I have to add here that I wasn’t actively looking for a house at the time, as the house I was currently in was fine, but this house was in a very charming, treed neighborhood with a strong sense of history and appreciation for local merchants.   It was a neighborhood I had wanted to live in before I got married (in 1985), but hopes were set aside when it didn’t have the appeal to my then husband that it did for me.

How ironic that when I walked up the stairs of the condo in Frisco and saw it for the first time, Brooke said the same words to me, “You LIVE here!” yet I don’t recall making the connection… or maybe I did but didn’t dwell on it as I had already fast forwarded myself right out onto the deck and what I’d look like living there while I looked out at my view of Mt. Royal.  Both my daughter and my daughter in law seem to have an uncanny knack of of seeing me live in places that aren’t quite mine.

After Emery and I had both declared our intentions for the house, I told my real estate agent, Nina, that I wanted to buy it.  I’ve got to add that Nina and I have been friends for decades (over 4 to be accurate… geez we sound old…) and she knows me and knows that my default position leans more towards impulsive than methodical.  Obviously she thought looking at the rest of the house would be a wise idea before we started writing up a contract, which we did, both of us knowing full well that it mattered little what was behind that front room and screened in porch because short of dirt floors and plywood walls, I was going to make it work for the sake of the beautiful porch (the treed lot that the porch looked out onto was also a big plus for me).  After a relatively quick walk through, I told her once again that I wanted it and was ready to write up an offer.

“But it’s the first house you’ve looked at…you can’t just buy the first house you look at!”

“OK… then show me another one, THEN we’ll make an offer…”

And so she did. There was a house nearby for sale and as lovely as the garden was driving up to the front door,  I knew it wasn’t going to be the right house, regardless.  After a quick walk through the main level (I didn’t even bother to go upstairs), I told her Nina that I had seen enough and was ready to make and offer.

I had an extended trip to Peru coming up in a matter of weeks and fortunately Nina was able to convince the sellers to delay the closing until my return, a few months later.  The whole process from contract negotiations to the inspection went off without a hitch.  I truly believe, and experience has confirmed this for me, that when something IS meant to be things seem to fall into place nicely.  It’s when you’re met with obstacle after obstacle that I think the decision should be questioned.  Besides, I was meant to live in that house and sit on that porch.

About a month later, and from an internet cafe in Villa el Salvador, Peru, I sold the house I was currently living in (when I impulsively bought the screened in porch house).  So, while sitting at a computer in a dimly lit, hot, small room with a handful of teen-aged boys enjoying computer games, I muddled my way through the process of signing a contract, then faxing it and waiting for confirmation of receipt, with a very limited Spanish business vocabulary and a growing line of impatient school boys waiting their turn for the computer I was using.  Short of earning my pilot’s license,  graduating from college (finally) and birthing my three amazing children , I do believe that this was one of my prouder accomplishments, especially given that short of email and some photo and music storage, I really wasn’t all that computer savvy.

By the way, the house I sold to buy the screened in porch house, was the first and only house I looked at shortly after filing for divorce.  Maybe it was beginners luck (that continued?), but I knew right off that it was the right house for me.  My real estate agent at the time  did the same thing that Nina had done and showed me several similar houses, after my proclimation of wanting to buy the first one I saw because “you simply can’t but the first one!”  I ended up returning to the original house, as I knew I would,  made an offer and was signing contracts by the end of the day.   I’m just now realizing that there’s a pattern here and now understand why my sister wouldn’t let me go house hunting in the Adirondacks with her husband, John, “just to look…”

But when it’s right it’s right and you know it in your heart of hearts and your gut of guts.  Seriously, I’ve given more thought to a pair of jeans while sitting in the dressing room at the GAP, a situation that rarely seems to be spot on right or has me saying “you LIVE in these jeans!”

And in the time it took me to type this, I would still be deciding on the jeans.  I’ve bought houses in a shorter amount of time…

 

The porch that I bought and was lucky that a house was attached to it…