Writing Retreat in Sayulita, PostScript

To the Wandering Writers who I now call friends, may we continue to wander, write about it and share our words with each other.

I returned home yesterday from a six day trip I signed up for with little information and a lot of impulsiveness and I’m so thankful I did. I was on my way home from my 50th high school reunion, breaking up my driving trip into two days instead of one, because I was only one month out from getting a knee replacement. Because I follow writers on social media, my feed is filled with anything and everything that has to do with writers and writing, including workshops, retreats, Zoom classes and sadly, sites that will give you the coveted information on how to write a book in a matter of days and get it published in even less time, at a cost that likely ends in a .99. I’ll humbly admit that, yes, I looked at the site with the same frame of mind that had me contemplating the purchase of a small bottle of oil that was “guaranteed to heal the pain of bone on bone joints.” I did not send money for the writing secret or the knee pain cure. I saw Jessica’s post while seated at the bar at a restaurant in Salina, Kansas (it feels less obvious to eat alone at a bar than at a table, eliminating the awkwardness of the hostess quickly removing one place setting before being seated). Halfway into a plate of gluten-free pasta and trying to enjoy a not very good glass of the house red, I saw the words “Sayulita, Mexico” and “memoir.” I was hooked with Sayulita, a place I had been to multiple times, but the hook was set when I saw “memoir.”

Writing is a solitary endeavor — a team of one, where the writer is the coach, the player, the audience and the cheerleader. While in the process of writing, whether a page or a chapter, there is no one but me to look over my shoulder and say “good work, strong metaphor, don’t go there and definitely not there, but I liked the circuitous route you took, or what all writers wait to hear themselves say, “stand up and dance, because you, my friend, just nailed it!” It’s difficult to be the cheerleader who says “keep writing, you’ve got this” when there are days when you can’t find the right words and everything reads like the voices of the adults in the Charlie Brown shows, “Mwa, Mwa, Mwa.” A writing group, I thought, as I entered my credit card numbers onto the form in-between bites of pasta, was exactly what I needed. A writing group would be able to tell me to keep the words, change the words or maybe write about something else entirely. Actually, short of the two writing workshops I have attended in person and five via Zoom, each only lasting a day or two, I had no idea what six days at a writing retreat would be like, but I did know Sayulita and that seemed like a good enough start.

Insecurities crept in, as they so often do when faced with something new — what if my writing is not good enough? My subject not tragic enough? What if don’t like the other women? Or worse, what if they don’t like me? What if I’m the oldest? The least creative? And finally, for the lightening round, what if no one cares about the pages I’ve written? I can’t speak for the entire group, but can confirm I heard several going through a similar zig zag of emotions.

As I was driving home the next day, my feelings swung from I can’t believe I signed up for a memoir workshop in Mexico, to I can’t wait. Fortunately, the “I can’t wait” stuck and I began preparing pages to share with Jessica Hill, the facilitator, and diving into the two books we would have discussions on while at the retreat. Jessica went above and beyond in preparing us for what to expect with two Zoom meetings to meet the group beforehand and two individual Zoom meetings to dive deeper into our goals and expectations with her.

Yesterday, we said our goodbyes to each other, with hugs and promises of staying in contact. Half the group left for earlier flights, while the remainder of us gathered in the seating area outside of the reception and played with the in-house kitten. We said our goodbyes again when we arrived at the airport in Puerta Vallarta, then again while some of us spotted each another in the long security line that snaked itself around what felt like half the airport. Then finally, yet again, when some of us found each other at our designated gates, where we exchanged our final final on the hugs and goodbyes. Hardly the Irish goodbye of sneaking out the backdoor without notice, we did the opposite and let it linger until we had to finally let go and line up at our respective gates for the flights that would take us home.

Mary, a brilliant writer who had us leaning in when she read, followed by uninhibited laughter at her uninhibited words, found me at gate 10, shortly before boarding and gave me a beautiful pair of silver earrings she bought for me. She told me she saw them and remembered I wore silver. It may have been the night you tucked in early, Mary, and didn’t hear all the pieces that were read that night, but “remembered I wore silver” was a line from one of the chapters I read, touching me even more. After all the hugs followed by more hugs, Mary’s gift to me was what brought on the tears. I let them fall down my cheeks, not really caring about the couple in front of me who was also going to Denver and appeared to be a lot more anxious about leaving than I was. The tears were the kind of tears I wanted to remember and save — tears of support, friendship, love and a connection with our words. Moments I’d be reminded of when hunched over my computer in the early morning hours, wearing a bathrobe with beautiful silver earrings dangling from my earlobes. Moments I will recall while wondering if what I’m typing is good or readable or enough.

Showing off one of my earrings from Mary. I think they’re magic.

I unexpectedly connected with 11 women, who I now call friends, on a level far deeper than I could have imagined possible in six short days and I did it near the place where I took my first trip after my divorce to an all girls surf camp with my sisters. It felt very cyclical in the timing as I thought back to the night eating dinner at the bar in Salina, Kansas. I was supposed to be at La Joya Resort, gathered with these women, sharing my work and being inspired by theirs, while recognizing the journey I had been on since finding my courage on a surf board so many years ago. And inspired I was. I heard words from memoir chapters that made me cry, both for the experience the writer went through and the tremendous bravery she had to share it. I held my new writing friends’ words like the precious gifts they were as I made my way back to my bungalow every night on the the cobble stone paths in the dark, the memory of their words mingling with the sounds of the ocean as I fell asleep. Mornings were spent workshopping various aspects of memoir writing and writing from prompts we shared or kept to ourselves. In the evenings, after afternoons of writing, we shared our words and our hearts in the process.

There were so many places to write and although it was a small resort, we all were able to find our spots and our privacy, whether in lounge chairs by the pool or on the beach, or on my little balcony with views of the ocean or in the lounge area of the dining room. At night, our proximity to the ocean became my sound machine, so loud the first night, coupled with the breeze from the ceiling fan, that I woke up in the middle of the night wondering where I was and if I should take cover given the roar of the waves. I’m a midwest and a mountain girl. The ocean sounds are a novelty, albeit one I embrace. Last night, while having a hard time falling asleep, I tried to replicate the sounds that had lulled me to sleep for the past several nights with an “ocean sounds” app. After 15 minutes it became annoying. It was not the same. One of my new “sisters in writing” (thank you, E. J. ) sent us all a recording she made of the ocean before we left. It was one more reminder for me. I hope the reminders will continue.

When 10 open-hearted women opened their notebooks or computers, and were willing to embrace their most vulnerable selves, magic happened. Beautiful, inspiring, magic. To those women who listened to my words, gently rubbed my back when they came out shaky and gave me the push and the inspiration to keep on writing when it felt uncomfortable and even painful, thank you from the bottom of my very full heart. To say the experience was life-changing sounds overly dramatic, but it truly did change my life, so I’ll go with the dramatic. The words I’m sharing have barely scratched the surface. We ended our time together with a bonfire on the beach where we burned our resistances. It was the perfect ending to new beginnings.

Our resistances, road blocks and fears, up in flames then gone.

Finally, to you, Jessica, who created and orchestrated these past 6 days so beautifully, I’m forever grateful. The alignment of the stars, Devine intervention, manifesting or perhaps a committee of all three, came together for me that night when your post made its way to my instagram account while eating pasta at a bar in Salina, Kansas. As my writing mentor, you’d likely tell me write stream of consciousness about my experience. And so I did. Thank you.


This isn’t my typical post, but it is the perfect 10 year anniversary gift to myself.

@TheKeepthings published my piece about my Papa, who was a life long collector of National Geographics. He bound and hand lettered hundreds of issues, including Volume One, Number One, into books. @TheKeepthings is a memoir project where people share stories of lost loved ones and the things they left behind. It’s filled with beautiful stories that I’d encourage everyone to read. I feel honored to be a part of this project.


10 Year Anniversary

Ten years ago next month, I started this blog.  Honestly, I can’t believe it’s been 10 years and I’ve kept it up.  Like a lot of my projects, it’s waxed and waned throughout the years, but it’s remained and I’m proud that over 152 posts later, I’m still at it.  I’ve been spending time the past few days rereading some of my earlier posts, with equal amounts of pride and embarrassment.  I have my favorites and others I wished had never been published, but they were and I won’t delete them (perhaps an edit or two) as they are as relevant and important as the ones that I hold dear.  There are some posts that still make me cry because I can remember how vulnerable and even broken I was when I wrote them and others that make me laugh or shake my head or cringe at how often I used adverbs, the bane of any writing teacher’s existence.  

So, what was the inspiration, the impetus, the drive or the idea that started this whole posting on a blog thing anyway?  Well, I’ll tell you and it wasn’t my idea.  It was my dear friend Susie’s,  who I’ve called my best friend since we were 15 years old, who came up with the idea.  I would write essays and send them to her periodically because I loved to write and loved to share what I had written even more.  She suggested I start a blog.  I thought she was crazy.  I told her I didn’t think anyone would want to read my essays and by putting them out there, it felt too much like bragging.  She told me I had one reader.  She would read them.  She added that having a blog would be a great way to store all of my writing.  Everything all in one place.  And so I took her idea and ran with it, well, not exactly ran, but walked fast, but with hesitancy.  My son, Grant, did the technical work and the design and I started writing.  I was in Frisco, Colorado when I started making posts and I wrote like a mad woman, finally with a place to put all of my words, although I became very picky about what I’d share, ( thankfully), only publishing my favorites. 

I remember sitting in what had become my writing chair, with beautiful views of Buffalo Mountain as my vista while I typed my thoughts into my new, not yet named, blog.  When I read my first few posts a few days ago, it took me right back to the time, the place, the view and even the chair I was sitting in. I finally had an outlet for the essays I had been writing for decades.  It was like an artist at long last procuring a studio with natural light pouring in through the windows.  I was beyond thrilled. I had a space, a platform and a view of the mountains to boot.  I certainly didn’t think that 10 years later and no longer living part time in the mountains of Frisco, Colorado, with a views so beautiful it seemed like they are just showing off, that I’d still be adding to the site that was started with so much reluctance and trepidation.  I still have the chair, but have added a desk to the mix where I sit and do most of my writing. The chair has become more of a contemplation station, a compliment to the desk.

Thank you to my dear friend, Susie, for believing in me and being my first reader and to my family who quickly followed suit. And to all of you who have read one or all (and I hope if it was just one that it wasn’t the one that makes me cringe on the reread), thank you.  It touches me deeply when I think of people I don’t even know taking time to read what I’ve written.  

In rereading so many of my posts, I’ve decided to recycle a few for the next month or two, or until I get tired of it. I’ll call it an anniversary gift to myself, posting my favorites – the ones that highlighted a time in my life that needed to be captured, not only in photographs, but also in words. 


Houston, Revisited

Leaving Key West

After my travel disaster story from last week, I felt like I needed a follow up of how it all ended. Yesterday, I made my way back to Denver from Key West — Key West to Houston to Denver. It was a much different experience from my last. After a few lucky breaks, I knew my good travel karma was back… and in spades. For starters, adding two days onto my trip meant changing my flights, resulting in an $80 credit because the flights on the day I chose to return home were cheaper. The new flights, the ones I frantically booked in the chaos of the Houston Airport a week ago, were cheaper but my connection in Houston was tighter than I like. Shortly before landing in Houston, the pilot gave us our arrival terminal. Not only was it the same as my departure for Denver, but it was only three gates away. My United app told me I would be able to make it in less than a minute. Then he announced that we’d be arriving 30 minutes early. Houston was looking better and better.

When I walked to my gate, two gates down from arrival, I recognized it because of the signage and the bar that was directly across from it. C32. It was the same gate I had slept in. Out of all the gates in the Houston Airport, there I was again. It felt eerily familiar, yet very different. The nearby bar, the one that people had been using to charge their phones and change travel plans was now filled with people eating and drinking and sporadically cheering or booing at the football game on the TV behind the bar. Normal bar activities. I found the chair I had spent the night in, which was not hard as it was directly in front of a sign with a dinosaur on it. There were many other chairs available, but given that United Airlines had already connected me nostalgically to the same gate, the chair felt like it was beckoning for me to give it another chance. I looked down at the floor in front of me, littered with bits of popcorn and a candy wrapper and was disgusted that I had laid down on it with only my thin jacket as a barrier for the upper half of my body. I was too exhausted to care much about hygiene that night and in desperate need of sleep, whether in a chair or on the dirty carpet on the floor. As I sat there remembering, the same airport custodian that had awakened me with his sweeping broom, came by with the same task at hand. I didn’t want to make eye contact, afraid he’d recognize me, but then realized there was no way he’d recognize me. He probably sweeps around thousands of people in a week, whether in chairs or on the floor.

Normal airport scene. The guy in the light blue cap is where I slept a week earlier. Right about where his suitcase sits…

I had enough time before my flight and was just steps from my gate so I went over to the bar and had a glass of wine and watched the beginning of the Chief’s game. I was pleased that everyone at the bar were cheering for my hometown team. The bartender told me it was a good thing I was traveling when I was as they were expecting ice in Houston the next day and sometimes that can lead to cancellations in Houston. I nodded without comment. I knew a lot about what ice does to Houston, Mister. Too much.

Passengers were making their way from gate to gate, not mad, not waiting for their turn with the gate agent, not on cell phones with the on hold song playing on so many phones that it was audible background noise. People weren’t one upping each other with how bad their travels had been and gate agents were not exasperated. It felt normal. Like airports usually feel. And so different from my last time in the Houston airport. There was something very full circle about returning to the same spot at the same gate and having a different experience and I was glad I got to revisit gate C32 while it was still so fresh in my memories. It felt like the Houston airport was apologizing to me and graciously, I accepted the apology.

On a side note, while googling the IAH to see if the terminal transportation had opened, I saw a link to “sleeping in the Houston Airport” so of course clicked on.
“The seating in this busy airport is disappointingly limited. If you can grab a seat or two, it will likely have armrests, making a comfortable sleep position nearly impossible. Overnight, you might be able to get away with pushing some seats together for makeshift beds. Your best bet is to seek out a quieter corner or nook and lie on the floor for some shuteye. Travelers recommend Terminal D the most often, but Terminal C is likely the next-best option. Bring an extra layer for warmth and cushion, especially for floor sleeping.”

It also went on to mention the chapel, in terminal C, which had pews that could be good make-shift beds. I remember passing the chapel as it was in the vicinity of where I was, but it didn’t dawn on me to sleep there. I also had to wonder how many people pack cushions in the carryon bag when they travel in anticipation of sleeping on the floor.

We left on time and arrived in Denver 30 minutes early. I checked my bag because my new ticket had me in the back of the plane and I doubted there would be overhead space available. Arriving early meant I’d make my airport shuttle and wouldn’t have to wait another hour if I missed it. When I got in the van, the shuttle driver told me the first stop would be me, in Boulder, then to Longmont for the 2 other passengers. Boulder is NEVER the first stop. I am usually the last person in the van to be dropped off. Everything that could have gone right, did, and then some. The long arm of time and distance that perspective offers, softens the edges of disasters and they are never as bad in the recounting as they were the moment they happened. Otherwise, I would have shared my story with the line up of people at the bar and the women seated next to me at the gate. But unless they were there and felt the frantic, angry, frustrated energy and tried to sleep in a chair or on the floor with the TSA announcements first in Spanish then in English all night long, it’s just another travel story told by yet another weary traveler.

I’m glad I’ve made my peace with you, Houston, and I felt your apology, but I still like Atlanta better when it comes to layovers.

Houston We’ve Got a Problem

All the good luck I’ve had traveling in the past several years caught up with me yesterday and bad luck evened the score in the short, but very long, span of 24 hours. I realized last night, while alternating between sleeping in a chair and sleeping on the floor, that when plans don’t go as you had assumed they would, it’s a lot easier to accept it, move on and just try to make the best of it, dismal as it may be. That revelation came to me at 10:00 p.m. at Gate C32 in the Houston Airport. Because of a series of unfortunate events that started with ice, my flight from Houston to Key West was cancelled, which is how I ended up going from the floor to the chair most of the night. A trio of women from Mississippi who were on their 2nd day of trying to get home from Brazil, a couple from El Salvador originally who were trying to get home to New Jersey and the kindness of strangers, offering up snacks when they heard I hadn’t eaten all day, were all slivers that made up the silver lining to a miserable night.

It all started out so perfectly. I had a 4:00 am pick up so was up by 3:30, but because I went to bed the night before at 7:30, and actually fell asleep, getting up that early wasn’t bad. Before heading out the door, I grabbed my large cashmere scarf, thinking it would be good on the plane, even though it would be excess baggage once I arrived in Key West. Little did I know at the time that that big blue scarf would become my blanket later that night as well as my MVP. It was my first flight since getting my new knee in September and I was anxious to put her through the paces of TSA and walking through airports with luggage in tow.

My flight from Denver to Houston got a late start because of de-icing so when I arrived in Houston, I had 30 minutes to get to my gate, which was on the opposite end of the airport. Houston usually has a transport system that gets you from one terminal to the next, but because of icy weather, it wasn’t in operation, leaving walking as the only option. I walked as fast as I could for 30 minutes, arriving at the gate with only minutes to spare, only to find out that the flight was delayed an hour. I hadn’t planned on it, but it was a good test for Rhoda (my new left knee) who passed with flying colors and no pain. I had my 12,000 steps in by noon. Not bad for a travel day. The one hour delay became two as our patient group of 30 passengers waited and kept a close eye on the FIDA (flight information display system).

After two hours, we finally got on the plane, anxious to finally be leaving and 4 1/2 hours later, we were still on the plane, that was starting to feel like a bus as it had only taxied from one gate to another. Our excitement was waning while we braced ourselves every time the pilot made an announcement that began with a hesitant “Folks…”. And would continue with “we are 14th or 11th or 9th in line for de-icing, which is the bad news, but the good news is the de-icing only takes about 15 minutes.” I’m not good at math in my head but 14 or 11 or 9 planes ahead of us at 15 minutes each, meant at least one movie on the inflight TV. I hadn’t had anything to eat except an orange and a bag of nuts and raisins, because I had been sitting on the plane for the past 4 1/2 hours, but could manage the hunger as I knew there would be a good meal waiting for me later that evening in Key West.

The pilot made the announcement that if there were any kids who wanted to come up and have a look inside the cockpit, it would be a good time given the wait. There were no children on our flight, just 30 adults and one toddler so after a short while, I thought, why not and wandered up to the cockpit. I was that kid and that kid got to do something she hadn’t done in over 40 years and that was to talk avionics with the pilot and co-pilot. I threw out some King Radio Avionics references to give myself some credibility (and to show off) and was surprised when they told me they knew what I was talking about, and what a good piece of equipment the KFC200 had been. I knew while I was talking to the pilot and co-pilot, I must have sounded like an old timer explaining the differences between a VW super beetle and its predecessor to a Tesla salesman. And yet I continued. We chatted for a while with me pointing to various instruments on the panel while they explained the instrument’s predecessor so I’d understand. The instrument panel looked surprisingly familiar, but bigger and with far more bells and whistles, but the familiar pleased me. If they had offered a plastic wings pin, I would have gladly accepted it and put them on my jacket. They didn’t.

After several more “folks, it’s going to be another 20 minutes and we’ll be cleared to take off for Key West,” came the dreaded “well, folks… (insert long hesitant pause), I hate to tell you this but…”. After waiting on the plane for 4 1/2 hours, our flight was cancelled for reasons that all began with ice. We were reassured that we’d be re-booked on the same flight the next day and the agent at the gate would be able to help us once we deplaned. It took us another hour of waiting before we deplaned due to gate availability. Needless to say, the 30 passengers, myself included, were not happy and began finding common ground with each other on whose travel day had been the worst. Our shared experiences brought us together as situations like this often do, as we shared our travel stories, each one getting progressively worse. My vote went to the young couple who entertained their toddler for the almost 5 hours. Give those parents an upgrade on their next flight or a round of martinis. They deserved both.

Once inside the airport, there was one gate agent and 30 people who needed to be rebooked. 30 angry and impatient people. We were told there would be no hotel vouchers because it was weather related. Most of the hotel rooms were either booked or impossible to get to due to ice-covered roads. I knew what that meant, but before settling into what would become my landing spot for the evening I went in search of food and a glass of wine as big as my head, only to discover that the restaurants and shops all closed promptly at 9:00. There was one exception, Panda Express, that had a line that was longer than the customer service line I had just left. Countertops at the bars were filled, but as I got closer I could see that the bars were closed and people were sitting there drinking bottles of water and charging while working on their phones or computers, probably in search of different flights. Most of the outgoing flights, had been cancelled and the airport was in a flurry of anxious, angry passengers looking for alternative plans. Gate agents were exhausted and ready for a break. I heard one tell a traveler who asked if her flight would get out the next day due to the ice. The passenger waited in the long line to ask that? I couldn’t blame the gate agent who answered, “I have no idea, ma’am. Maybe you could look out the window tomorrow and if the tarmac is shiny, it’s probably icy and you won’t get out.” Then she told the rest of the people in line that she had to leave because she needed a break. I get it. We all needed a break, but when I get the email from United asking “how did we do?” if I take the time to answer, I’ll have to say “Not so well.”

Sleep was difficult and came in brief spurts and when I finally did drift off, on the floor, on top of my coat because, well I needed some separation from the well-worn carpet, I was awakened by a custodial worker sweeping the carpet that several of us were slumbering on. It’s not a good way to be awakened… a broom close to your head sweeping crumbs and whatever else into the long handled dust bin. I know he was only doing his job and I was the one out of place, but it felt invasive to be awakened by a broom.

The airport at night, after all the anger had subsided, and people had found their landing spot for the night, and was eerily calm. There were no lines of anxious passengers waiting or people rushing by to their gates. It was just one big cavernous building with empty restaurants and shops and the only announcements over the loud speakers was a loop from TSA reminding you to not leave your bag unattended. First in Spanish, then in English, all night long. By morning, the lines, the noise, the anxiety were back and I felt rushed, even though I had 6 hours before my flight.

I should not know that this man is a snorer….

There was a shift in energy when people came to terms with their failed plans and instead of one upping each other on who had the worst travel day, there was the tiniest bit of “Kumbaya-ing” going on, or at least at my gate there was. The three women traveling home to Mississippi from Brazil offered up a spot for me next to them on the floor for me and apologized for not having an extra blanket they could lend me. When spending the night at the airport looked inevitable, they all bought travel blankets before the stores closed. They were smart. I was not. People were brushing their teeth in the water fountains and digging extra clothes out of their suitcases to add layers because it was very cold in the airport. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my bag because although I hadn’t planned on checking it, I ended up gate checking it in Denver because there was no more overhead space leaving me without an extra jacket and or my toothbrush. Not long into the evening, I knew who the snorers were and who fell asleep and stayed asleep for most of the night — details that felt far too intimate for a group of strangers whose only common thread was sharing the fate of cancelled flights.

I learned that boarding a plane doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to become airborne, my light blue cashmere scarf needs to always be in my bag, even when headed to tropical Key West as it not only provided warmth in a cold airport but became a security blanket on a night that was anything but secure, and when I loosened my grip on expectations, the outcome became easier. Oh and Houston? I learned last night that ice paralyzes your city and grounds your fleet of airplanes.

Traveling is often not for the faint of heart, but even after folding myself into a chair for moments of sleep off and on for 8 hours, and wearing the same clothes for more than 24 hours, and feeling so tired I could sleep anywhere (well, almost), I will still enthusiastically plan trips, book flights and pack my bags in anticipation of my next adventure. Years from now, I may not remember specific details about this trip, but I will remember my adventure in the Houston Airport and will likely be what I lead with when recounting this trip. When plans don’t go as anticipated, once the course is corrected there’s an unexpected side effect of a burst of gratitude that wouldn’t have otherwise been felt. This was my 5th trip to Key West but the first time I clapped when the wheels touched down. Finally.



Writing is hard. But not doing it is even harder for me. I’ve been spending the past several days going through writing notebooks, a project that coincided with the beginning of the new year. Cleaning, organizing, throwing out and re-stacking what is kept is food a Virgo’s soul, and if it falls on the beginning of a new year, it’s as good as an all you can eat buffet. There’s actually a name for being inspired by the new year, Mondays, new notebooks, the first page of a book etc. I don’t remember what it is called, but would have better luck recalling it on a Monday or the first day of the month. From desk drawers, large baskets and a trunk, I unearthed stacks upon stacks of journals, notebooks and file folders with hand written pages, typed pages, half filled pages and scraps of paper with words on them that made no sense. The scraps, I threw away. Filled journals, journals that I barely started, almost complete essays, starts on ideas to write about — so many starts, and notebooks from the many writing classes I’ve taken, are now in stacks that cover a big part of the floor in my small office. In looking at the notebooks, some with beautiful artwork on the front but the majority more utilitarian, I wondered, is this normal? Is it normal that the first item I gravitate towards in a books store or stationary store are the empty notebooks? Something I clearly don’t need but love to buy. Is it normal to want to start a fresh new notebook for every class or big idea I have because putting it into a slightly used notebook doesn’t seem fair to the new words — it feels like having to go to the flat tipped crayons with half the paper peeled off for a new project. I stepped away from the mess and went out to walk because walking is head clearing for me and it seemed to be a necessary step in my clearing out process.

While walking up towards the mountains that anchor the end of my street, I thought back to my beginnings on writing and why I picked up the pen in the first place. The random, but maybe not so random, thought about my sister, Robin’s imaginary friends came to mind. When she was 5 and I was 4, or maybe she was 4 and I was 3, she had 3 imaginary friends who lived in the window well at our home in Memphis, Missouri. They were her invisible friends, who she would tell secrets to and have conversations with, probably when she got tired of talking to me, or listening to me as the case may have been. I was jealous of the three girls so decided to join her in her imaginary fun and told her I could see them too. She let me play along but I’m sure she knew the girls couldn’t be real to me as they in her imagination, not mine. The girls names were Cathy, China and Jana. In my mind, I singled out China because she was the more exotic and interesting one whereas Cathy was bossy and Jana babyish. Apologies to your trio, Robin, if I’ve misidentified them. I thought a lot about those three girls while I approached the mountain path, wondering why Robin needed to create them in the first place. Again, apologies Robin for my conclusions here if they are far from the truth and I’m simply making stuff up. I started thinking about those window well girls and saw them as Robin’s diary. She confided in them, talked to them, and likely shared frustrations about her little sister with them. They were the listeners to her 4 or 5 year old words. The keepers that she entrusted with her secrets. All things that would have been entries in a diary if she had had a diary and knew how to write. That diary would come, in 4th grade as a Christmas gift one year. I didn’t get a diary with a tiny gold lock on the front and key that dangled from the lock. I got a watch. A Cinderella watch. I loved the watch (it was stolen off my desk a few weeks later after taking it off for recess), but I would have loved the diary even more. I was jealous that she had a place to write down her thoughts and lock them up when she was done. Since I didn’t have a diary, I did the next best thing and broke into her’s one day out of curiosity. A pulled apart bobby pin and a bit of patience and I was in. I found pages of disappointing recollections of the day such as who she played with at recess, Peggy’s new outfit and the grade she got on a spelling test. My enthusiasm for the red diary waned until sandwiched in-between the mundane I found the gold. In between sentences of day to day events I found the sentence “I like …..” (name withheld to protect what remains of Robin’s privacy). Bingo. That was all I needed to know that my life was not complete without a diary. The thought of writing my thoughts onto the pages of my Big Chief tablet instead of squeezing my words onto the small pages of the diary, never occurred to me. There was just something about that small book with the lock on the front and the tiny key that felt inspiring and magical. Diaries were a place to store all those thoughts and feelings that you weren’t ready to tell anyone else but wanted to get out. Several years later, Dad gave me a small diary with an embossed leather cover. It. didn’t have a key but didn’t need one. It was beautiful in its non-keyed cover and looked old and exotic to me. He had brought it back from Italy when he was in the war and found it, probably when going through boxes of old treasures. I’m not sure why he bought it in the first place, maybe a gift for someone that he forgot to give it to or he just thought it was pretty. I loved it and because it was so precious, I was afraid to write in it because I didn’t want to mess it up with scratched out words and ink smears. I kept it empty until 9th grade, when I started filling the pages with poetry. It was my first in a long line of emotion-keeping vessels.

If I had to give my writing a name, I’d say “friend.” It’s my other person in the room, my roommate, my person sitting next to me that I can nudge and say “did you see that/hear that/feel that?” It’s my container for my memories, my thoughts and my emotions because juggling them around in my brain becomes difficult after a while. It’s my filing system, my keepsake box and my creative outlet.

I’ve lived by myself for the past 15 years and putting pen to journal or fingers to keyboard is my communication to others, but mostly to myself. When I go back and read pieces I wrote 20 years ago or last week, one of two things can happen. I cringe with embarrassment and want to delete or throw it away, but I never do because even though the words may be awful, the feelings still reverberate when I reread them later, terrible as they may be. Or, I’m brought to tears. Not because the words are beautiful, but because they take me back to the exact time and place I was in when I wrote them. It’s like thumbing through a photo album of emotions —the good, the bad and the blurry. All those emotions that I needed to put somewhere because leaving them inside didn’t feel right.

When I got back to my house and my messy stacks of journals and notebooks, I realized that journals may not be what other people covet, but they probably have other items that hold their emotions and memories. Those stacks of dog-eared paged notebooks are my friends. They’ve seen the best of me and the worst of me. Their pages are the essence of who I am. They are me in every sentence, paragraph and page. I’ve lost myself in those pages and if I’m lucky, I’ve found myself too. Behind my desk I have a string attached to the wall that looks like a clothesline with tiny clothes pins where I attach phrases that mean something to me —they are my inspiration as I sit at my desk and type or write in one of my many notebooks. They make me realize that my process of putting words onto the page is a necessary part of my process. Although the completion of words on a page gives me great satisfaction, the real gold for me is in the process of retrieving those words from experiences and organizing them onto the page. It’s the process for me, not the end result, at least not yet. When people hear I write, their first question is often “where can I find your book?” To which I say, I’ve not published a book, yet, which pretty much ends the talk of writing. Full stop. To me, it feels similar to telling someone you run every day and having them ask when you’re going to be in the Olympics because if you run every day, you’ve got to be good. Publishing a book is a goal for me, and a lofty one at that, but before I start eyeing the prize of a book in print, I’ve got to honor the process of getting there and for me, the rewards are in the process.

Every day I look at my pinned words above my desk and every day I have a new favorite. Today’s is “Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” Bruce Cockburn.

I kick with my words and find glimpses of daylight then nightfalls and I start all over again. (Me)

Thanks for reading. Again.

Evolving Christmases that still Sparkle

It wasn’t that long ago, at this time of year, a week before Christmas, I’d be deep into making check marks on lists and when I forgot my list, I’d make more lists. It was the one time of year that I welcomed chaos and felt like a well-oiled machine as I moved from one task to the next in anticipation of the magical few days that lay ahead. Since 1986, because I was the only one in the family with a child, an 8 month-old baby specifically, Mom said I needed to have Christmas at my house to make my life easier. I gladly accepted, relieved that I wouldn’t have to haul baby Thomas and the large pile of equipment that would accompany him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mom was handing over the role of hostess to me, a role I would hold for the next 32 years. Had I known what the passing of the gavel would mean to me over the next three decades, I would have been more gracious in my acceptance. Then again, maybe she didn’t realize it at the time that she was forever surrendering her role of hostess, although secretly, I think she was happy to pass it on and finally become the guest that got to relax, hold the baby and compliment the hostess.

I embraced the role — the schedule, the food (thank goodness for sister help on that one…), the decorating and the multiple trips to the store, the airport, the liquor store and the shopping mall, usually with babies, toddlers or children in tow. It exhausted me and energized me at the same time and I wouldn’t have changed or delegated one task or responsibility.

Our family did our big celebration and all of the present unwrapping on Christmas Eve. We changed this from Christmas Day when my kids brought home girlfriends and boyfriends that eventually became a part of our family and had other family traditions to take part in. With my kids no longer anticipating what Santa would bring them, it didn’t really matter if we opened our gifts on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve. Traditions are added, usually very organically without even knowing it and they are also let go of because they are outgrown. Arranging hand decorated cookies and carrots for the reindeer on a special plate for Santa that was only used on Christmas Eve was a part of our Christmas Eve ritual, then one year it didn’t happen. It just stopped and no one mentioned the tradition that became a bookend to starting the bedtime routine in anticipation of Santa’s arrival.

As the kids left home for college, the date for our family Thanksgiving also changed from the 3rd Thursday of the month to the 3rd Saturday. This was also a tradition that evolved after my kids began to have obligations at their boyfriend or girlfriend’s homes for the holiday. I decided that eating two meals on the actual day of Thanksgiving was a terrible idea and not fair for the hostess that got round two. My son Grant began referring to it as “Fakesgiving,” fake in the date, but traditional in every other aspect. Thanksgiving, or Fakesgiving, was also a holiday that both my Mom and my Mother-in-law graciously handed the hostessing duties to me not long after I inherited Christmas. I happily accepted and also realized that although I don’t consider myself to be a control freak, it appears that on Thanksgiving, I am. I like a specific way of preparing the turkey and its sides and prefer waiting until dark before sitting down to the meal. Tables simply look better under the glow of candles.

These are the times I look on with deep fondness and nostalgia. They are also the times that were sacrificed when I moved to Boulder and was no longer was the place where everyone gathered — the headquarters. Not everyone came back for Thanksgiving but they did for Christmas and until 2020, when none of us traveled and a lot of Christmas took place over FaceTime, my children and their partners, my siblings and my parents had all been together for the holiday and up until 2018, it was at my house. I knew I wouldn’t always be the hostess and my house the headquarters but couldn’t possibly anticipate what that would feel like until 2018, when we celebrated our first Christmas at Mom and Dad’s retirement center in one of the rooms they offer for gatherings. I was still living in Kansas City, but my sister, in anticipation of my move and my loss of the role of hostess, thought it would be a good idea to ease into our new reality gradually, suggesting that we celebrate at Mom and Dad’s place the Christmas before my move. It would be one less obstacle to maneuver in what would be a trying year of firsts after my move. She was right and although at the time I didn’t think so, a year later, when I was living in Boulder, I was grateful for one less new tradition to experience when everything at that point was new to me. We brought the food, the wine and the laughter and had a great time as we were all together and that’s all that mattered, or so I kept telling myself, but it was hard. It was hard not having it be in my house with candles lit, greenery hung and lights twinkling. It was easier and far more practical given that Mom and Dad lived 40 minutes away and no longer drove at night, which meant someone would have to put down the wine glass early on in the evening to be available to take them home. I knew that in my head, but in my heart I missed sitting in my living room with chairs pulled out of the dining room and squeezed into any place there was room. I can take myself back to a specific moment, right down to the smell of our traditional Christmas Eve meal of lasagne still lingering in the air, and random notes of Celine Dion periodically audible over the sounds of conversation taking place, punctuated with laughter. I’m sitting on the couch with a sister on one side of me and one of my kids on the other, taking turns leaning into them and absorbing the moment. The love in the air so thick that nothing else really mattered. It was my favorite night of the year.

The chaos of Christmas. The noise. The laughter. The traditions. The taking turns reading the poem on the gift that the giver would attach — a tradition that started with my Grandpa and has been happily carried on throughout the generations. It started with my Grandpa as a few lines that would give a hint as to what the gift was but has evolved throughout the years. When my kids first started writing poems, they were in grade school and by the time they were in high school and college, some of the poems were several stanzas long and the delivery often topped the contents of what was under the wrapping paper. That, along with the “pie gifts” are traditions that have held strong for four generations in my family. The pie gift originated with my Grandma (wife of the one who started the poem tradition) who would select small gifts for everyone at the Christmas dining table and wrap them in white tissue with a long ribbon that reached each individual plate. We’d all pull our ribbons to collect the gift and would unwrap them before the meal began. That tradition evolved into drawing names for the gifts so the hostess (me) wouldn’t have to buy over a dozen small gifts. Over the years, poems were added to the pie gifts, something that new members to the family either embraced or dreaded. I remember watching my father-in-law, usually a very soft spoken man and more of an observer than a participant, beam with pride when his two page, very eloquently written poem, was being read. I think it became his favorite part of our Christmas celebration. We still do the gift exchange although it has evolved into a Yankee swap stealing game, and a few have given up on the poem writing.

Christmas has changed because life has changed. We have been blessed in my family of birth to still have our original six, so the grief in feeling the loss I’m experiencing in the natural evolution of change, pales compared to the loss that most of my peers have experienced at this phase of life.

Just as my mom did over almost 40 years ago, I have begun the process of handing over my role as hostess, although not completely. Last night I hosted my Boulder family for dinner and our Christmas celebration. It was wonderful, and thoughtful and shimmering in the glow of candlelight and Christmas lights. There wasn’t the amount of chaos we had had the previous two years because my son and his wife and their two young daughters now live in Portland. Their absence and was felt, especially knowing they won’t be back to Kansas City this Christmas. Thankfully, my other son, and his wife, who I haven’t seen since August, will be. I’m learning, still, at age 68, to be grateful for what is present and not what’s missing, but I’m human and a mom and it’s the season of Christmas, which makes all the emotions feel like they’re written in bold font.

In the midst of watching my 6 year-old grandson and 4 year-old granddaughter open their gifts, I was able to pause and absorb the moment while feeling the familiar thread that began over 35 years ago — the strong thread of love, whether it’s sixteen or more people seated at two dining tables and gathering in the living room afterwards, the first to the room getting dibs on the comfortable furniture, or five people at the table with a seat for everyone in the living room. It’s the same pull of love that was still present in the room last night long after the gifts had been opened and the hugs and goodbyes exchanged. Celine Dion was still providing background music because oh I do love you at Christmas, Celine, and the wax was still soft from the candles that my granddaughter, Muna, was chomping at the bit to blow out most of the night because blowing out candles to her means making a wish. I’m guessing she is still wishing for a unicorn to ride to school. Keep blowing out those candles, Muna and I’ll keep lighting them for you.

Change is hard, no matter how it’s presented, even wrapped up in Christmas paper with a poem attached. Last night I decided to set the mourning aside for what had been and what I missed and the beautiful chaos that permeated my life every day for at least 2 weeks a year, and embrace what was, because at that very moment, it was all that mattered. As I reached down to get a ribbon from under the coffee table that had been missed in the clean up, I couldn’t help but notice the sparkle of my new sequin-covered slipper socks that Muna gave me for Christmas. My feet are either barefoot or in well-loved shearling scuffs, so the iridescent sparkles on my feet looked unfamiliar and very fancy! Change. Embrace it. Adapt it. Keep walking around in it until it feels natural and comfortable. Wear the sequins instead of well worn slippers because I think my granddaughter wants me to be fancier. Next week some of my family will celebrate Christmas with Mom and Dad at the retirement home where they live. We won’t have lasagne, or people gathered in two different rooms at two different tables, both decorated in holiday plaids accented with votive candles and greenery and Celine won’t be singing in the background. What will be present will be the very familiar thread of love, still be encircling us we do our gift exchange, some with poems and others with excuses. It’s not the same, but neither are we. We’ve aged, we’ve moved, we’ve become parents, we’ve become grandparents and great grandparents and some of us have even gotten fancy and now wear sequined slippers and that’s what I’m choosing to embrace this Christmas. Change, but with the same energy that is still the first thing that is felt in the room….love.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas filled with love, new memories and maybe something fancy.

My new sparkly side.

Two of my many gifts this Christmas.

Cars and attachments.

My top odometer reading of any car I’ve owned. Seeing the 9’s turn into 100,000 isn’t near as fun on a digital monitor as it is on analog.

Final photo.

I have never cared much about cars —their make, their model or how many horses are under the hood. I only cared if it started. In my early driving years, my love went as deep as the thoughts I had when I put the key in the ignition, while quietly reciting the mantra, “please oh please oh please, start.” If it started, and I’d say the odds were about 70%, I loved the car. If it didn’t, I hated the car and would have to think where the nearest pay phone was so I could call Dad to bail me out, which he always did, without fail. If I was at home, it meant scrambling for a ride or going for my last ditch option of calling in sick. That was as far as my caring went for cars went. I didn’t have a car when I was in high school, but had friends that did and that worked out fine because I really didn’t like to drive and preferred being a passenger over being the driver. I don’t remember buying my first car, a VW beetle (1968), but the price tag of $400 comes to mind. This seems like it should have been something I would have remembered, but I don’t, proving my point of not caring much about cars.

The first car I do remember purchasing was in 1977 and I remember it because it was my first introduction to financing. It was a light blue ’74 super beetle, and yes, adding the “super” to the car’s title was significant. It meant it had a dashboard instead of a flat panel where the instruments were located. The back windshield was also larger and the car was two inches longer than a regular beetle – hardly enough to market the extended leg room. It was $1500 and I financed it for two years, with payments of $65.00 a month — an amount that gave me a pit in my stomach.

Dad took me to Olathe Ford to help me find a cheap, safe, used car that I could afford. That meant having to walk past the shiny new Fords with stickers in the windows to get to the not so shiny used cars that were parked a football field away. It was like walking through a department store with beautiful clothing and heading straight out the back door to stacks of old clothes at someone’s garage sale. One day, I thought, I’ll be able to stop and look at the new cars and maybe even buy one.

When we spotted the ’74 VW, I was thrilled. It was an OK color (light blue), wasn’t very expensive and was relatively new (three years old) and because it was a VW, it was familiar. I learned how to drive in our family’s 2nd car, a white 1964 VW so knew the ins and outs of the car along with the quirks, and with VWs, there were many. It looked perfect and I was ready to flag a salesman over but Dad told me not so fast. He thought he recognized the car as being the same car the vice principal at the high school where he was a guidance counselor had driven. I didn’t see the problem. If he knew the previous owner, all the better as he’d have more information as to how well the car had been taken care of and why he had traded it in. He agreed, but it wasn’t that simple. Because the vice principal of the school holds the disciplinarian role with the students, they often become the recipient of pranks during the weeks before senior graduation. I still didn’t see the problem but Dad thought it would be a good idea to stop by and have a chat with the vice principal, Dr. Burns, to get more information about the car. This was the beauty of growing up in a small town. To stop by someone’s house, without invitation or warning, to obtain details on the car he had traded in, was not considered odd or invasive in the least. And so we did just that. We left Olathe Ford and drove the short distance to Dr. Burn’s house. He confirmed that yes, the ’74 light blue VW had been his and he had taken meticulous care of it since buying it as a new car a few years earlier. However, the car had been lifted up by a group of seniors and returned to its parking spot upside down. When Dr. Burns found his car at the end of the day in the parking spot where he had left it, but upside down, he took it in stride and found a handful of strong boys to return it to its upright position. He said other than that, it was a good car. Somehow that story made the light blue VW even more desirable to me. It had an interesting history that I would be adding to, although I doubted it would become the subject of pranks under my ownership.

I had a lot of history with that car. I loaded her up with all the possessions I could squeeze into its small interior and moved across the country to Phoenix. One of the guys I worked with at King Radio had a luggage rack he said he’d be happy to donate to the cause, which I gladly accepted but only if he’d agree to attach it. I strapped boxes onto the precariously attached rack and realized several miles into my journey that it had been a terrible idea because it slowed my already slow speeds down to a top speed in the low 50’s. It also added a background noise of wind whistling through it the entire journey. The car was not turned upside down by students under my ownership, but I did have my share of adventures with her.

I owned that light blue ’74 VW for six years, four years after my final monthly payment. The last two years I owned it, I commuted daily to the University of Kansas, 45 minutes from my apartment. Because I dealt with car issues more than once during those two years, my fiancé worried about its reliability and safety and bought me a Subaru. The next week, I sold the VW to the first person who responded to the ad I put in the paper. He gave me $200 less than the $700 I was asking, but I was happy with the $500. I’ve never been good at negotiating. I did not consult a blue book for pricing but rather based my price of the car on the cost of the wedding dress I had chosen ($500) and added another $200 for a rehearsal dinner dress and shoes for both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. Later that day, I went to the bridal shop and put twenty five twenty dollar bills on the counter and walked out with my wedding dress. The rehearsal dinner dress and shoes for both, had to wait.

I still don’t care about cars, at least not much, but what I realize is that I develop strong attachments to the vehicles I own, maybe in part, because I don’t trade them in on a regular basis. We are usually together for at least four years, a long enough time to form bonds. Last week I traded in in my well-worn 2016 Rav 4 with 113,572 miles on it. I owned it for eight years, a personal record for me. I was at the dealership for a routine tire rotation when I purchased the new car. It was an impulse buy. For readers who haven’t read earlier blog posts, I once impulse bought a condo when I went into the bookstore in Frisco, Colorado to buy a book. I’m not good at making decisions but am good at impulse buys, which shortens the decision making process to something that doesn’t even feel like decision making. I started thinking about a new car in 2020 but was told by my brother, who is in the business, that it wasn’t a good time to buy as inventory was low. I assumed things hadn’t changed when I went in for routine maintenance and I saw a shiny, bright, white Rav 4 in the parking lot. I have to back up a bit here and share that while I was doing my physical therapy at Boulder Orthopedics, my view from my exercise bike on the 2nd floor, was the Boulder Toyota dealership. I watched new cars come in and go out for test drives. So maybe it wasn’t such an impulse buy. Maybe my intentions on a new car had been set while I was working on a full rotation on the pedals with my left leg. The day before Thanksgiving, I ended up driving home from the dealership in a new car and left my old car behind. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was someone on an exercise bike in the physical therapy room watching. I’m guessing not.

Before handing over the keys to my car, I told my salesman that I needed a minute to say my goodbyes. He understood, or at least he pretended to understand. I sat inside the car that I had just spent nine hours in the day before when I returned from Kansas City after celebrating my Mom’s birthday. I thought back to all of the trips I made in that car. It took me back and forth to Kansas City four times a year for the past four years, except for the one time I flew so I could see the new airport. Filled to capacity, she moved me from Leawood, Kansas to Boulder, Colorado and listened to me sigh and cry all the way to Salina, Kansas then, as if a switch had been turned on, finished the journey with hope and anticipation. A year later, I made the drive to South Egremont, Massachusetts by way of Kansas City because it was fall of 2020 and quarantining had kept me from my sisters. I missed them. I drove through eight states to get to Massachusetts, and with each state line crossed, the Covid protocol changed, from the span of full on masking outside while pumping gas, to mask shaming and denial that Covid was even a thing. She took me to countless trailheads in the Boulder area and my first hiking meet up group where I was reluctant to get out of the car, but eventually decided to put my insecurities aside and go for it — a decision I’m still grateful for. She helped me find my way around my new town, which wasn’t nearly as hard as I anticipated and got me back on the mountain roads that I had driven so often during my time in Frisco, Colorado but in the flat lands of Kansas, had lost my edge. I came home from the hospital with a new knee in her (with one of my sisters behind the wheel) and experienced the intense pain of getting in and out of her the first few weeks after surgery. I felt nostalgic and a little sad to tell her goodbye, knowing that several years from now I’ll be sitting in the car I had just bought with similar feelings of nostalgia. She’s a Toyota, not a Ford, but that day of walking past the new shiny cars with stickers in their windows some 46 years ago, did not go unnoticed.

My last car was never named, but I’m into naming things these days, which started with my new left knee. I named her Loretta. My 4 year-old granddaughter suggested Sparkles or Sprinkles or Cupcake and my 6 year-old grandson was pushing for Bud, but she looked like a Loretta to me. Loretta and Laurie… here we go. Let the road adventures begin.

Thanksgiving 2023

The “gang” less Ned, who is always the photographer.

Thankfulness. Today’s the day. I spend time every day with lists in a gratitude journal, but today is the day we get serious with those lists — the equivalent of getting out the yellow highlighter and saying it out loud. I was driving back to Boulder from Kansas City after celebrating my Mom’s 90th birthday, so had nine hours to ponder. My thankfulness list felt particularly long this year, even though it’s not been an easy year for me. As I mentally recapped my time in Kansas City with family, I wondered how many of my friends still have both of their parents? I could count them on one hand, minus the thumb and index finger. My sisters and brother and I arranged for a family dinner in the private dining room where Mom and Dad live. Mom chose a Thanksgiving dinner theme, which surprised me at first given all the choices, but when she explained why, it made sense. Our entire family has not been together for Thanksgiving since I was in college. Since my early 20’s, I always had at least one sibling living out of state and given that they always came home for Christmas, Thanksgiving became the holiday that was missed. I’m seeing the same pattern continue with 2/3 of my own children who live on the west coast. As I sat at that table celebrating Mom’s 90th, I thought about what an honor it is to be able to celebrate a parent entering their 9th decade. Four months earlier, I was in town lighting candles on a birthday cake and pouring glasses of champagne as we celebrated Dad’s 95th birthday. My family is truly blessed. Mom’s parents died in their mid 60’s and Dad’s in their late 70’s and early 80’s. They’ve created a new longevity thread in the family that I’m happy to weave my own life span into.

My knee. When thinking about it before surgery, gratitude certainly wouldn’t have been a word that I would have used. Instead, it was something I wanted to get through, passed, beyond and over with. I marked the day on the calendar when I’d be able to fly again and started making plans for when I’d get my life back, starting with my 50th class reunion at week 8. I didn’t give a thought to the lessons, the realizations and the gift that the process that began several months before the surgery, would bring. My doctor told me to get as healthy and strong as I could beforehand, and so I did. Anyone who knows me, knows that I will take a challenge to the inth degree, to prove something to myself more than anyone else. For three months, I directed my daily efforts on just that. Obsessed is a word that comes to mind, but the obsession paid off with a relatively easy and faster than expected, recovery. Since my surgery, my doctor has asked if it would be OK for him to give patients my name to call me before their upcoming knee replacement surgeries. I’m on my 3rd “patient consulting.” One more, and I’m going to have to send him a bill. Going through such a big physical and emotional process became far more than replacing an old knee with a new one. My new knee, which I named Rhoda, became the lens into parts of myself I hadn’t seen in a very long time and for some aspects, never. I was able to find my vulnerability, my strength, my compassion (for myself) and my words to document the process. My sisters came for the first week, a gift that I’ll always be grateful for, but once they left, I had a lot of time on my couch alone. My daughter would come by daily, but the nights were long, sleeping on my couch, still not ready to tackle the 18 steps to my bedroom. I would have never predicted it, but I have good memories of those evenings. I allowed myself to go deep and feel it all. I cried. I wrote. I planned and I made daily lists in my gratitude journal. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating my own retreat and it felt good. I also reconnected with a high school friend who was two weeks behind me on her knee replacement. It was such a gift to be able to message back and forth with someone who knew exactly what I was feeling, both physically and emotionally. And I healed. I had to cancel a volunteer trip to Tanzania and a sister trip around Colorado that had to be changed to a post op week of care for me. But I’m still calling it a journey of growth and one I’m so grateful to be on. If you saw me walk across a room or go down stairs now, you’d never know I had a knee replacement 2 1/2 months ago, but I know it because it still feels strange. Not painful, but strange.

Yesterday I joined my friends on a 4.5 mile hike that is relatively flat, although the first half of the hike is spent pacing precariously around large rocks. While walking the rocky path, being very mindful, I heard my doctor’s words “don’t fall, you’ll mess your knee up and I’ll have to go in and fix it, which you won’t like…” over and over again. In the beginning, I felt like a 90 year-old woman (no offense, Mom, maybe I should say 91…), in high heels, on ice, mindful of every step. After a short while, Dr. Bowman’s words faded and I felt like my old self again, weaving in and out of the rocks in search of the dirt. I was back. I was back with the group of friends who I first met when I came to Boulder. The friends who became my tribe and made me feel connected to the town where I had moved not knowing a soul short of my daughter, my son-in-law and my two year old grandson. The sky was Colorado blue, the weather was in the 60’s and I was weaving my way in and out of conversations with everyone in the group. I was back and although not with the strength yet to tackle hikes with much elevation, being back was enough. Thankfulness. It’s an adverb, it’s a noun and today it was a verb — walking towards the flatirons in Boulder, Colorado with a group of people who I feel connected to.

Later today, I’ll have Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter and her family. I’ll miss my west coast kids but it gives me peace to know that they also will spend some time today in gratitude for their family. As the hostess for Thanksgiving for my family of origin and my children for many years, I’d always stress the importance of the “thankfulness” part of the holiday, with the never changing menu coming in second. I tried many different approaches including 3 x 5 cards that everyone wrote what they were thankful for on the cards then the cards were placed in the center of the table and read throughout the meal. No names were on the cards so we also had to guess who wrote them. We’re family. That part was easy. In all the things that were sold, given away or thrown away before my move to Boulder, somehow those cards made the journey. I found a stack of them the other day and will wrap up my thoughts on thankfulness by sharing:

I’m thankful that we’re all sitting at this table together.
I’m thankful for pumpkin pie.
I’m thankful for Grandma and Grandpa.
I’m thankful the Chiefs are playing later today.
I’m thankful for my health and every person at this table.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to do the dishes afterwards. (I’m still puzzled by that one, because no one got a pass on clean up…)
I’m thankful that Mom cooked such a nice meal. (I moved that one to the top of the stack).

Physical Therapy Peers

It helps to have a bit of a view….

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, at 9:30 am, I meet up with a group of friends. We’re not meeting for breakfast or coffee or anything that would require talking to each other. Instead, we meet at the Boulder Centre for Orthopedics. Actually, these people I’m speaking of have no idea they’ve become a part of my twice a week circle or that I’d refer to them as “friends.” It’s best that way. It started the first time I did PT on site – week 3 post op. I arrived 15 minutes early because I always arrive places 15 minutes early. I’ve still not gotten used to the fact that Boulder is a much smaller town than I’m used to and it never takes me as long as I anticipate to get from place to place. As I sat in the lobby area that held a dozen or so chairs and looked out onto the open area with exercise bikes, weights, portable steps and a reformer-like machine, I did what I always do. I people watched, which is what I call it as it doesn’t sound as rude as blatant staring. This time and place felt different from my usual “spying” because I could see that I had something in common with many people in the room, namely the ones in shorts who were exercising a new knee. Watching them, OK, spying on them, has given me the opportunity of seeing either what’s next for me in my knee journey, or taking pride in how far I’ve come when I see the new patients, still in their hospital issued, white, and terribly unattractive, support hose. If I’m close enough to see either the steri-strips or the vertical scar that runs the distance of the knee cap, I take note because we’re members of the same club.

On my first visit, I still had the stere-strips lined up over my incision and was using a cane. A month later, in the same lobby, I’m drawn to the patients that come in (in shorts) that are using a walker or a cane, also with the steri-strips evenly spaced down the long incision. I know the pain they are in and I know the fear they will experience when the compass-like measuring device comes out because I’ve been there and it wasn’t that long ago. They have become my measuring stick for how far I’ve come. It’s a necessary part of recovery because sometimes, especially on a bad day, it’s hard to remember those days of maneuvering up and down the two steps that connect my kitchen to my living room. It’s also important for me to see the patients whose knee scar is a faint line and who are doing high reps of deep squats. They are ahead of me. They are my goal.

I’m gathering information. I’m in detective mode.

A few days ago, while working on some balancing exercises with my therapist, Esther, she told me (nicely) that I needed to focus on what I was doing. I told her I agreed whole heartedly but was a bit distracted at the moment. A police officer with a shackled prisoner in an orange jump suit, were making their way to the other side of the room, passing just feet away from where we were working. I realized I was staring, full on, wide eyed and with my mouth dropped open. Esther didn’t seem to be as distracted as I was, which indicated to me she had seen this before. She stopped counting reps and explained.
“We get prisoners on occasion who need physical therapy. Usually on their hands. If a hand injury isn’t treated soon, mobility is lost.”
“How do they injure their hands,” I asked, wanting to dig into every detail of the strange and somewhat uncomfortable situation that was unfolding in front of me.“I don’t know… well, I have ideas about it… maybe from punching people?? But I can’t say for sure,” Esther answered.
The police officer and his prisoner moved to the back of the room where the prisoner sat down at a table and a therapist took her place on the opposite side. I couldn’t see what was going on, but assumed it was the hand therapy Esther had spoken of. Unfortunately, once I had completed the exercised, Esther, had me move to a different area to work and I lost my view of what was far more interesting than people limping in with canes or walkers on what I guessed were 3 week old, knees.

Yesterday, I saw a man walk into the physical therapy room with slow, measured steps. I was on the Exercycle, getting in my 30 minutes of warm up before my session when I saw him. He was wearing the hospital-issued white ted hose and was using a walker. I put him at 2 weeks out — long enough that he was driving (he was by himself) but not long enough that he could take the ted hose off. He looked like he was in pain and I knew exactly what that pain felt like. I wanted to shout out words of comfort to him, but also didn’t want to be creepy. Thankfully, someone beat me to it and casually told him as they walked past that it would get better. That person, also in shorts, with the long scar that ran vertically down his knee cap, had just finished a round of squats with his therapist. I’d put him at 2 months out. Ahead of me. I’m getting good at this.

I don’t know any of their names, nor do they know mine, but I am connected to this group because of the scars we share. I also know where they are in their journey. We all know, but it’s possible that the others aren’t as invested as I am with their spying followed by writing about it. I’ve been coming to this place for PT for a month, but it seems like a very long time ago that I was the new one in the room when I walked in for my first sesion. It was an assessment session, with no exercising, along with measuring my flexion and removing the stere-strips. That appointment opened my floodgates of emotional tears and an intimacy that my all business, not much fun therapist probably hadn’t expected. It was my last crying episode and now I spend my time trying to get Ingrid to engage with me rather than have her uncomfortably handing me a tissue. (Esther is her assistant and is much more talkative, but my sessions always begin with Ingrid.). On one of my first visits, I asked her when she thought we might have our first snow. Weather is always a good conversation starter (I’m from the midwest after all) and although I don’t care for small talk, I dove right in with my snow question. Her answer was brief and immediate.
“Depends on where you live. In the mountains, it will be sooner.”
I let it go and tried to redirect my attempts at conversation to something I thought might interest her more. I asked her if it’s hard if her patients don’t do the exercises or after a few weeks decide they don’t need to come any more. Bingo. I hit my target. For the first time, Ingrid was animated and began to share stories that confirmed my theory of the frustrations physical therapists face with some of their patients. That is what I now reach for when I’m tired of the silence as she massages my leg followed by the flexion measurement, which no longer has me bracing but instead, puts me in competitive mode as I want to beat my last measurement. For those who have gotten a knee replacement and are familiar with the measurement, I’m at 135, or about the same as my other knee. I’m thrilled. Today, I added another talking point – my Halloween costume. I described how I added my own “artificial knee” to a skeleton unitard, complete with a little stuffing to show some swelling. She loved it and insisted I get a picture of me in it and made me promise I would show it to Dr. Bowman at my next appointment, which happens to be in a few days. I figured he should get the credit, so added the tag. It could be a business booster for him.

Exaggerated size and puffed up to show swelling, but my new knee really does look like a bikini (I used my X-Ray for reference…). Card says: “Knee by: Dr. Bowman”

As I was leaving my last appointment, a very fit man came in wearing shorts, with the telltale line running down his left knee, visible, but faint. As he and his therapist were walking back to one of the rooms, I heard the therapist say,
“We always have to tell our Boulderites that a a rest day is not a bad thing. It’s important and necessary.”
I couldn’t hear his response, but assumed the therapist’s words were directed at him. I did a quick assessment of my own rehab and recovery situation, wondering if I would fall into the “typical Boulderite” category of one who is pushing their way too hard and too fast towards recovery. For one, I drove to my physical therapy appointment, and didn’t ride my bike or roller blade or skateboard or any number of ways people in my very fit town navigate their way from one place to another. No, I’m good. I do my daily walk(s), my exercises and hop on an exercise bike at the gym for 30 minutes several times a week. I also feel no guilt if I want to chuck it all and sit on my couch and watch old movies or reruns of Friends. Those days don’t happen often, but when they do, I get the ice and the pillows for elevation and embrace them, remembering the therapist’s words about rest days. I’m an obedient patient.