Painting, Halloween, and Bears, Oh My!

I just finished painting the dining room a creamy white or as the card says, ‘courtyard tan.’ I really wanted to paint it a dramatic dark, dark teal, but Dustin vetoed that idea quickly. So, cream. We’ll see. 
It felt good to finish something. I’ve really struggled lately with the nature of my position as a housewife. My work is just never, ever done. Painting a wall did a lot to remedy that.

Remember last October I posted this picture on this blog:

Well, here’s this October:

Can you believe that? So much more happens in the life of a child in one year than in adult lives, don’t you think? I mean, Blake was barely a bean, and now, look at him!

Also, Halloween and bears. So, on Halloween Dustin was out-of-town and the afternoon just dragged into eternity for my excited 5 and 3-year-old. I mean, percentage-wise, those 6 hours between school and trick-or-treating. Well, they are just so long. Finally, (finally!), we were putting on costumes – giraffe heads, and jaguar ears and whiskers and LOTS of lip gloss because, well, because we can, and fifteen more minutes of waiting seemed completely unbearable now that my little animals were all dressed up. I heard neighbors calling to each other out in the cul-de-sac, so I sent Claire and Avery out to wait with them (we were planning to go with them anyway). Out they went with breezes of excitement swirling all around their fresh little faces.

I mean, I’m sure the bears felt them coming from all that excitement.

Yes, bears! (Probably these very same bears who were in our trash the day before:)

I proceeded to gather last-minute items and dress Blake as a monkey. Then, I hear a shout, and I feel the breeze of excitement rush into the front door in an explosive burst of WINDY excited fear.

“Mom! There’s a bear!” Claire exclaimed.

I poke my head out and hear the neighbor shout:

“Sally! The mama bear and her cubs are going up Margaret’s driveway!”

I turn my head and in the dusky light see that big mama bear and her rowdy cubs lumbering up my next-door neighbor’s driveway. The very neighbor that I was meeting up with to trick-or-treat at that exact time. 6:30.

I shut the front door with force simultaneously realizing that I had literally just sent my children out to 
the bears.

Just breathe, right?

After some phone discussions and waiting and watching, we decided to venture out as planned in our very large trick-or-treating group. I waited at the front of Margaret’s (do you recognize her name? she just had BEARS in her driveway) front stairs with Blake in his stroller. The girls went inside.

The breezy excitement encompassed the adults as well. Only it was very tinted with a jumpy fear, so when another neighbor trudged up the drive to trick-or-treat, I sensed before I saw:

The MAMA bear is back. She is coming down the driveway of Margaret’s neighbor straight toward me and baby Blake!

What have I done?! My baby and I are right in her path! So, I grabbed Blake’s car seat and ditched the stroller and we went inside, too.

How was trick-or-treating for you?

P.S. We did go trick-or-treating after all, but when we left the group a little early because our kiddos are the youngest, well, that walk back to our house. .  . It was a little more spooky than a  normal Halloween if you know what I mean.


Chocolate Chips and Miniature Marshmallows

The other day I watched Hitch. You know, with Eva Mendes and Will Smith. About 2/3 of the way through the movie, Eva Mendes’ character is alone in her apartment. She is feeling sorry for herself after she blew it with such an amazing guy, so what does she do? She curls up on a chair to watch a chick flick with her favorite treat.

Spray whipped cream.

That’s right. She isn’t binge drinking. She isn’t downing a panful of brownies. She is spraying whipped cream into her mouth between scenes of the movie looking utterly miserable. It caused me to wonder. Was that really her favorite treat? Or, was the miserable aspect of her evening forcing her to find whatever she had on hand which happened to be whipped cream?

These are the things I think about.

You’re welcome.

When I am finally alone, during school maybe. Or maybe when I can hide for a few minutes at one end of the house before the girls catch up with me, I sometimes sneak treats, too. This also goes for feeling miserable. I sneak treats then also. Only I don’t choose whipped cream. I usually choose miniature marshmallows and chocolate chips. Dustin still wonders why I don't just buy M&M's, but you know, I can buy chocolate chips under the guise of someday maybe making cookies. I even serve them to myself in a measuring cup to keep up the facade of baking. You get it, right?

What about you? What’s your secret treat? The one you don’t want to share. The one that you don’t offer to guests because it’s not meant to be a stand-alone snack?

Come on. You know you want to tell us.


It Turns Out Flowers DO Grow in Colorado . . . .

Hello again. I’m back after a 4-month hiatus. It was unplanned except that I had a third baby (his name is Blake) and got lost in the depths of his squishiness. See:

In August, the girls and I picked sunflowers along the roadside.

Blake rested peacefully in his car seat while we gathered handfuls of the goldenrod-colored flowers. The afternoon sunlight glowed off the faces of my children. Claire and Avery were disappointed to find that those beady, black ants liked the flowers as much as they do. They have quite the insect aversion right now. Still, they both had fistfuls of daisy-sized sunflowers by the time we moved on.
All summer throughout the Springs, I noticed sunflowers along the roads, and I remembered my April declaration that there were still no flowers here in Colorado. I wasn’t sure if I would see any at all, and I was most definitely not sure if I would create any roots that would compare even to the non-existent flowers.

Then, I noticed some large purple bushes pretty much everywhere. It turns out that the deer don’t eat the yellow or purple flowers, so they survive. The deer gobble up everything even things they technically aren’t supposed to like at all, like tulips. So, even though I think having deer right outside my windows is pretty awesome, when the green leaves FINALLY started growing in June, I am not ashamed to say that when I saw a deer eating them, I went and threw rocks ‘near’ the deer just to let it know – “These are MY leaves. Go back to the mountains for you OWN leaves.” Then I remembered that I live in the mountains and the deer were here first. SO. 

 Flowers are here in Colorado after all. And, even though I spent the weekend in Seattle realizing even more strongly how I miss it, maybe, just maybe I will blossom here in Colorado as well.

What do you do when you're homesick?


From the Front Lines: What to Write, What to Say

One way to be on the front lines with someone is to tell them.

Tell them you feel sorrow at their grief.

I learned that this is helpful because of how I felt when people left notes of encouragement and support on our Caring Bridge blog or when someone handed me a handwritten note or when someone said just the right words; however, when someone we know is struggling with a trial, it can be difficult to know what to say. Sometimes it feels so difficult that we say nothing at all for fear of saying something offensive or trite. After having struggled in a more public way with Claire’s illness and having many, many people write or say wonderful things, I’d like to share some ideas with you on what you can write or say to someone you love who is even now walking a difficult path. I offer my suggestion in bold, and then exact examples of words people wrote to our family.

Express your own faith in prayer, in God, in Christ:

1.       “My heart is aching for you right now, but I know that prayers are helping and that you are not alone in this battle. God does heal and He does make miracles happen.”
2.       “We love you and have so much faith in Christ and in Claire's recovery.”
3.       “I know that we learn from these challenges and gain strength we never knew we had, often after we pass through the most difficult part. I know the Lord will be there for you during the difficult days ahead.”
4.       “We fasted and prayed for your family today and I felt a peace in my heart for you.”
5.       “If this is what Heavenly Father wants you to be doing right now, then He will be sure to hold your hand through all of this.”

Express confidence in their faith and ability to overcome:

1.       “It is amazing to see such a strong spirit in Claire. I know I would not be that happy.”
2.       “My prayers are with you! Claire is one of those special little ones in this world. She's strong, happy and beautiful and we will all learn by watching the healing power of the priesthood and the hand of the Lord to heal her.”
3.       “It is so hard to know why our children have afflictions come upon them and it's heartbreaking to see them suffering. It's comforting to know that there is a reason and a purpose grander than we can understand to all of this. One day you will understand why but in the meantime you are doing all the right things. The Lord will not leave you in your time of need!
4.       “Thanks for sharing your testimony and all the insights you are receiving. Your faith strengthens mine.” 
5.       “You can do this!”

Offer help:

1.       “We stand at the ready for anything you may need!  Babysitting?  It's what I do best :)”
2.       “Please know we are here for you in any way you may need.”

Offer a quote that comforts you:

1.       “Sometimes God calms the storm... Sometimes, He lets the storm rage and calms the child.” 
2.       “There are those among you who, although young, have already suffered a full measure of grief and sorrow. My heart is filled with compassion and love for you . . . Though it may seem that you are alone, angels attend you. Though you may feel that no one can understand the depth of your despair, our Savior, Jesus Christ, understands. He suffered more than we can possibly imagine, and He did it for us; He did it for you. You are not alone.” – President Uchtdorf
3.       “Today is ours to live, but His to control . . .”

Write to them the words you are using in your prayers for them:

1.       “We are also praying for your parents and other family members that they will have the health, strength and courage they need to help you get better.”
2.        “We will be thinking of you all through this difficult time and pray that you will feel peace and know that Heavenly Father is in control.”
3.       “May our Heavenly Father continue to hold your family in His arms and may you continue to feel the angels around your own little angel as she progresses with her treatment and all else that might be required of her.”

Express your own sadness that they are struggling:

1.       “We are stunned by your news but totally inspired by your response, your faith and your courage. You are in our prayers and thoughts.”
2.       “The news is quite heartbreaking, but I'm glad to hear that the prognosis is promising. She has loving, strong parents too!
3.       “This news made my heart hurt and I am so sorry for this to have happened to your sweet family!  Know that our prayers and thoughts will be with your family.  We love you guys.”  

Tell them you are praying for them:

1.       “We LOVE you guys.  Our kids are making Claire a permanent part of our daily prayers.  We'll be joining in the fast this weekend as well.”
2.       “We are thinking of you and praying for your comfort and strength.
3.       “We are praying for you daily.  Every time we mention Claire, my little girl is sure to say "Claire is sick...pray".  I'm sure the faith of these little children, Claire included, will be the driving force to recovery.”

Tell them you are sharing in the challenge:

1.       “If I could possibly take this challenge away from you and endure it myself, I would.  But since that is not how it is supposed to be, we will all endure this together.”  
2.       “Look around and know you are adored and appreciated.  We are all with you.”
3.       “I wish I could hug you right now and give you a little break. I hope you know that we care enough to hear when things are not so great. Thanks for posting.”

Even now, months away from Claire’s complete recovery, these words mean something deep to me. I treasure them and am so glad that the people who wrote them had the courage to share them with me. I learned from these very supportive friends, family members, and in some cases, strangers.

Caring words written or said in love are medicine for the injured soul.


Happy Mother's Day!

                                              Me 8 1/2 months pregnant on Mother's Day 2013
Last weekend we visited my parents in Denver. The girls were thrilled that we spent the night, played at the park, and had Grandma and Grandpa all to ourselves. They were so happy to be there that when I announced our plans to leave the next morning, they were quite distraught.

Until I told them Grandma would send them off with a small bag of miniature marshmallows. Things were okay then.

Even so, as my mom waved good-bye to us from the front porch just as her parents used to wave to me as we pulled away from the haven that was their home, Claire was concerned for me. On this particular trip she had really internalized that Grandma and Grandpa were my own mom and dad. She then wanted to talk about Daddy’s mom and dad – Gangy and Pop Pop. It seemed to be on her mind throughout our little stay. So, as Grandma waved and Claire thoughtfully munched on her marshmallows, she said:


“Yes, Claire?”

“I miss Grandma.”

“I know, Babe. We’ll be back to visit. We’ll see Grandma and Grandpa soon.”




“Don’t you miss Grandma and Grandpa? Don’t you miss your mom and dad?”

And, then it clicked in my mind. However shallowly or deeply, Claire had realized that I, like her, used to live with my mom and dad. Now, I don’t. Don’t I miss them, she wondered.

Her question to me stung because even if it was on a very basic level, I think she knew that someday she won’t live with us. She’s talked about it several times since that drive, and I know she’s processing this somewhat distressing piece of truth – children don’t live with their parents forever.

At least not in this life.

I have also been processing this truth – what it means for me as a mother myself now, what it meant for my own mom, and what it meant for my mother-in-law. What it means to any mother who has already or will one day say goodbye to living with her child.

In this week before mother’s day, I have read many essays and thoughts and posts on the topic of mother’s day. Many feel guilt that they are not now doing or have not done enough. Others are overcome with joy at being celebrated for work that often goes unnoticed. Some feel sadness or even deep despair that they are not yet a mother. Some say they’ve never felt that mother’s day was about them, that it is about their own mother. Whatever your thoughts on mother’s day, mine have never been complicated – even struggling with infertility, I don’t think I felt more or less valued on this day celebrating the mothering, nurturing women in my life. I do feel a very strong emotion now, though. On this particular mother’s day.


My little girls still live with me. I get to see them every day and participate in and witness their lives simply because I’m their mother. That alone might be worth the infertility struggles, the pregnancy battles and scars, and the frustrating moments of parenthood.

I still have many years to live with these children. Side-by-side. And, to me, that’s something to celebrate.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who care for others in this sometimes confusing, frustrating, wonderful life. May you find something or someone to celebrate today.


Thank You!

Wow! That was fun! Thank you for humoring the crazy-eyed girl. I absolutely loved getting to know you over the past week. For some reason that Dustin finds very strange, I feel better knowing what you like to eat on road trips.

I didn’t always know Dustin found this stalkerish habit of mine strange. I found out maybe eight years ago. It was on a 2-hour ride in the cab of a tow truck with a stranger. I spent the entire ride getting to know our driver. I found that he was unhappily married with several children, but that he could see no way out. Dustin couldn’t understand why I would want to know anything about the tow-truck driver whom we would never see again. I could see his point after he logically explained the strangeness to me, so . . . .

Thank you again for humoring me.

If you didn’t join in the fun this time, there’s still time. ;) Or you can gear yourself up for next time because there will be a next time.


I Want to Know You

 These might have been the crazy eyes Celeste saw all those years ago, but to be fair, who wouldn't have crazy, excited eyes after a fourteen-hour day          walking the streets of New York AND then they found M&M World right at that moment? 

Once upon a time, I was a new girl in a new place. I watched the other women in my church congregation for signs of friendship, and I found lots of signs and lots of wonderful, warm friendships.

But, there was one girl who eluded me.

I think it was because she already had two small children of her own, so she wasn’t really making friends with people who had no children at all. Or, maybe it was just me. How could I approach her and what should I talk to her about? I didn’t know the first thing about her life. I was not a mother. When I saw her at church functions, she had her hands full with her young family.

So, one day, she and I ended up at the same baby shower. The shower was at one of those small, old houses with cramped living rooms. At last, she did not have her children with her; however, I was dressed up as a Greek Goddess for Halloween – I might have been the only one who listened to “costumes optional” for this October baby shower. Because of this, I watched her from a distance as she chatted with others, and then as we both crossed the small room at the same time, I impulsively stopped her with her plateful of party food. Probably she was even eating some of it.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hello,” she answered good-naturedly.

I had not previously thought of something to say, so I just said the first thing that popped in my head:

“I want to know you.”

Thankfully, she laughed, rolled with it, and became one of my best friends. I spent many lovely afternoons in her kitchen getting to know her over the next year. I would ask her about her growing up years, her popularity in high school, her philosophy on life - all the things that made her who she is today. She would perform domestic tasks, and I would watch, occasionally helping with her children. Most often, I was there during her precious nap times, but she never once kicked me out.

I loved her then. I love her now.

I was thinking about this because I want to know you, too.

You who stop in to read this blog now and then.

I want to know you, but I don’t really know how to ask. I don’t know how to find out who you are. So, because it seemed to work out so well with my wonderful friend, Celeste, I will do the same with you.

Pretend we have bumped into each other at a crowded party. You were going to just slip past so you could eat your scrumptious cream puffs and artichoke and spinach dip, but there is a strange girl who won’t get out of your way, so you look up. She is wearing an interesting dress, and she has intense, crazy eyes that won’t look away. She says in stalker-like fashion:

“I want to know you.”

With the grace of my friend Celeste, you laugh and say:

“Okay, I’m game.”

And now, you will answer one or all of the following questions because that’s the kind of person you are:

What is your nickname? Who gave it to you?

What is your favorite thing to eat on a road trip?

Speaking of, if you could travel anywhere, with anyone . . . .?

How long have you been friends with your best friend?

You’re at Wendy’s. You order?

And, be prepared for more crazy questions coming your way sometime in the future because that’s the kind of person I am. Just ask Celeste. ;)



A Love Letter to a City

    Our backyard apple tree blooming last April in Seattle.

Yesterday it rained in Colorado Springs. Not the momentous release of a thunder storm, but more of a slow leak from the burdened sky, the rain drops inches between each other. Even so, it felt reminiscent of the Seattle drizzle I enjoyed or endured, depending on your take, for several years.

I loved it all along – the Northwest gray skies that made all the other colors of the world more pungent in their display. Last May or June, when we were just weeks away from saying goodbye to that wonderful city, I wrote Seattle a love letter. Today, when I’m missing it so much, I will share it here:

Dearest Seattle,

I’m in love with you.

I guess you already knew that since I’ve explored every inch of you and fawned over your unique beauty for five years now. I almost wish it wasn’t true because it has to end now. We’ve both known all along that this couldn’t get serious, although, it does seem highly inappropriate to say goodbye while the spring sun coaxes the blossoms from their budding cocoons.

It’s like I’m one of your many beautiful trees – my roots sink far beneath the very streets and paths that I’ve driven and walked and run these last five years. My roots twist and turn as they search for the right nourishment for this particular tree – around Greenlake, to THE gelato shop, under the Woodland Park Zoo, through the duck pond, and even to the hospital. Your fertile soil has always provided whatever my sometimes thirsting roots have needed - even when what I needed was quite painful. Your steady nurturing has helped me grow immeasurably into a more comfortable, quiet tree. I’m at peace with myself largely because of you and the time we spent together.

So, I’ve made a decision. Pulling my tender, yet firm, roots from this wonderful city is too agonizing to even consider. It’s too weed-like and common. I don’t think I’ll be able to get them out without damaging the gnarled, stubborn things, so if it’s all the same to you, I’ve decided to leave them here.

You see, I want to avoid making a large hole where I once was. I realize that means you can’t fill that space with someone else, but, selfishly, that’s exactly my desire.

Please don’t replace me.

I don’t know when I’ll be back. I don’t know if I’ll be back. It seems very unlikely, but, in my dreams, I’d like to imagine myself back in your realm - directly over the city roots that so painfully and comfortably and imperceptibly grew.

And, that’s the end. Of the letter, I mean. I remembered the letter yesterday when a completely different sky squeezed a few drops of nourishment out maybe just for me. I remembered, and I thought about what kind of roots I might have beginning here in my new home. They feel very small if there are any at all. I would claim that they are as insignificant as a mountain flower - small, delicate roots pushing their way through the dry desert, yet robust mountain soil. But, I have not yet seen any flowers here. Spring is a long time in coming. But, sometimes the things that take the longest end up being the most beautiful.

                     The 'swing' tree. Also in our backyard last April.


Claire is Five

Every so often my friends post messages on Facebook to their children. Almost always it is to wish them a happy birthday. Usually they also express gratitude for the miraculous life-change of becoming a mother. Often, the phrases include “thank you for making me a mother,” “these last X years have been amazing,” and “the day you were born was one of the happiest days of my life.”

Well, five years ago today, Claire made me a mother. And, truthfully, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Having said that, the five years we’ve spent as mother and daughter since that rainy April morning . . .  Well, they seem too loaded to simply say how happy I am to be her mother.
I don’t think I can frame my love for Claire in such a simple, happy way.

Every bit of Claire’s life, and my own subsequent “changes for the better,” has been extremely hard-won. From her conception to potty-training to keeping her alive, every “change for the better” has been a huge undertaking – the results of which are not yet seen.

For example:


Becoming a mother is normally pretty central to an LDS girl’s plan for her life, and for close to five years, that life plan just wouldn’t come for me. And, whether it is because my own body is stubborn, or because a reluctant, stubborn, sweet girl just wasn’t ready to make her appearance here on earth, those five years felt long and difficult on my end. I said many begging, pleading, questioning prayers during those years; however, if Claire was hesitant, she wasn’t alone in her feelings. I definitely had reluctance of my own when pursuing motherhood. Honestly, I wondered if it was really worth the effort. While women all around me were getting pregnant right on cue then complaining about sleepless nights and challenging toddlers, I was undergoing invasive procedures, having embarrassing monthly exams, and taking drugs that made me feel like throwing up.

All this with no baby in sight.

After undergoing fertility treatment for two-and-a-half years, I had my own ‘come to Jesus’ moment and felt peace with the Lord’s plan for me. I didn’t know what it would be, but I finally decided to trust that a childless life would be happy.

Less than a month later, I discovered I was pregnant with Claire. It was a long wait, but once I accepted that Claire wasn’t guaranteed to be mine, suddenly she was. She was worth the wait. She was worth the lesson learned.


Parts of Claire’s newborn weeks were rocky and challenging, but it was almost all because I didn’t yet know how to be a mother. She was a dream-come-true. I was completely smitten with her silky shock of black hair, her small body curved against my chest, and her ‘baracuda’-style of nursing.

She was my everything.

Until signs of Leukemia brought Claire’s babyhood to an abrupt end just before her second birthday.

She was still my everything, but my feelings on motherhood and my own daughter were much harder to discern and even to believe.


Claire was ultimately diagnosed with Leukemia 3 months after her second birthday. The range of mother-like emotions I went through during her first six months of treatment was pretty much at the ‘SAVE MY BABY!’ level. It was really the following two years of maintenance where I felt my easy-come love for her meet with resistance.

She was turning three. Maybe that’s it.

We had to potty-train. That could definitely be it.

She was on personality-altering and mood-changing steroids. Maybe that’s it.

She was in pain for two weeks out of every four. I know that I can be a challenge to live with when I’m not feeling well. So, maybe that’s it.

But, often love took a backseat to the duty of consistent clinic visits and hospital stays and medicine schedules.

I hate to even think about it.

Even though we have been finished with her treatment for six months now, I am still processing the effect of her illness on our mother-daughter relationship. Maybe I can write my way to an understanding sometime in the future. Until then, I do feel much gratitude on her birthday, and the gratitude I feel is most definitely for her.

By having my sweet, intelligent, silly, stubborn, giggly, beautiful, spirited, imaginative Claire, the Lord teaches me on a daily basis. He teaches me with the very words I use to reprimand, discipline, explain, encourage, and show my love to Claire. My poor Claire could very well be mine – frustrations and all - because she needs to hear from her mother the exact same things her mother needs to hear from her Heavenly Father.

She and I – we’re in this together.

She challenges me to be better than I think I can be. She constantly asks through her actions if I will still love her no matter what. She watches carefully for my sometimes less-than stellar reactions, and she lets me have another go at it when I fail. Because Claire is mine for a reason, and she refuses to let me settle for less than an eternity with her.

So, dear Claire, I commit to an eternity of perfecting myself with you. I will do everything in my power to make sure it is so.

Happy 5th birthday, my firstborn, my challenge, my Survivor. I love you forever and always.


From the Front Lines Series:

Gifts from the Heart – What to Give to Someone on the Front Lines

In a previous post, I listed some suggestions on mourning with those that mourn. One of the recommendations was to give a gift. If gift-giving isn’t your forte but you’d like to try it out, here are a few ideas to help you get started:

1.       Starbuck’s Hot Chocolate – Obviously, this particular gift is a little too specific to my own taste. Not everyone would appreciate hot chocolate, but the point is to give them anything you know they like however small it may seem. They will then know you were thinking about them and that you recognize that they need comforting. This is affirming when someone feels like they should have it together by now and that their grief should be over.

2.       Rice Krispy Treats – I mentioned in the same post that it meant a lot to me when a friend dropped by unexpectedly with a pan of rice krispy treats. She was already making a batch for her family and simply doubled it. The lesson here is to give your friend anything that’s easy for you. Even if it turns out to be something they don’t eat or never read or give to goodwill a year later, they will feel loved and cared for. (For the record, we did eat those rice krispy treats. J)

3.       Belated Flowers – Sometime ago, a woman in my ward lost her 3-month-old baby. It was devastating news; however, the rest of the world, ward included, moved on within a short time. It sounds crass to say so, but when it isn’t your grief it can be easy to forget the intense feelings of loss. The relief society president in this ward reminded us when the month mark of this woman’s loss was upon us that even though all seemed right in our world, this woman’s world would never be the same again. She encouraged us to remember her loss in some way if we felt so inclined.

I felt inclined.

I gave her flowers with a note letting her know that I had not forgotten her loss. She may not have liked the flowers, but I know firsthand that it is extremely comforting to know that someone else realizes that you are still in pain, that they remember your loss or hardship. It was always a little disheartening when someone I thought should know more about Claire’s treatment, had no idea that she was still undergoing chemotherapy, that they somehow thought our life was back to normal when ‘normal’ was more than a year away.

4.       Dinners – We received many thoughtful, special dinners from ward members and neighbors. We felt loved from the gesture, but it was even was more than that. On difficult days, it was nice that we didn’t have to think of what to eat for dinner. This incorporates so much really. It cuts down on time spent grocery shopping, cooking and preparing food, and even meal clean up. My specific suggestion here is to provide all the food in containers that you don’t expect to receive back. Having to return dishes can feel ten times more stressful when you are dealing with other life difficulties.

5.       A Listening Ear – One friend called me every few days during the first six, difficult months of Claire’s treatment. I don’t think I ever reciprocated. In fact, it took me several months to realize that she was calling me to check in. I didn’t recognize it as a friend reaching out in concern and love, but I always had something heavy on my chest that she listened to without comment or judgment.

6.       Your Physical Presence - It sounds so simple, but it can be difficult to be with someone who mourns. We who are suffering know that. We appreciate it that much more when you try. It can be challenging to be with your friend because you don’t fully understand their pain. Unless we have been through something similar, how can we possibly understand our friend’s pain? Mourners don’t always need understanding. Having a friend with us can be enough. It can also be draining, so use your judgment.

And because our particular challenge revolved around a very young child, I’ve added a handful of things that you could give to a child who is chronically ill or struggling for whatever reason:

1.       Window Crayons – I am going to get specific about the ‘crayon’ part of this. Don’t get the markers or paints. The crayons are awesome and work wonders when you are in the hospital for a week with a window right next to your bed. They can be easily removed with a wipe, which it turns out the child will love to do on her own.

2.       Nail Polish – Obviously this is for a girl. It will make her feel pretty and it’s something to do.

3.       Crayons or Markers with Coloring Book or Sketch Pad  – Any brand or amount will do. For some reason kids think new crayons and markers are amazing even if they already have a box-full.

4.       Stickers – Do they have a favorite character, shape, or color? Go for it!

5.       Bead or art kit – If the child is in the hospital, there are some seriously LONG hours to pass, and if the child is at home, they probably don’t have a lot of energy, so creative activities that don’t take a lot of energy are a wonderful reprieve from the monotonous hours.

6.       Age-appropriate books – Again, LONG hours to pass.

Claire pretty much received all of the above plus other thoughtful gifts. The above turned out to be the most helpful for our specific situation, but children love to open anything that is wrapped so use your imagination.

What is something you've received that lifted your spirits when you were down? 

Also, in case you missed the other Front Lines posts, you can find them here, here, and here.


An Unspoken Prayer: Evolution of a Friendship

Tenley and me at the cherry blossoms last year - 4 years into a lifelong friendship.

Why is Kathy holding that baby? I think to myself as I see my slight, blonde friend swaying back and forth with a baby I’ve never before seen.

“What’s with the baby?” I prod as I come up beside her.

“Oh, hi,” Kathy shrugs, “Tenley is giving a talk today and she asked me to hold Troy.” She nods down at the baby boy in her arms. He looks to be about 3 or 4 months old.

Who is this poser Tenley? Why would she ask my friend Kathy for help? I’m the one with a baby, not Kathy. I feel a prick of jealousy, but I don’t want to let on that I have no idea who Kathy’s talking about. She obviously thinks I know this Tenley.

A few weeks later, at a church gathering, I see Tenley sitting at one of the concrete picnic tables with her husband and baby boy. People are milling around but no one has snagged the seat next to Tenley and her family. I whisper to Dustin, “We should go say hi to that new couple.” We are quick to welcome new comers, so Dustin doesn’t think this is out-of-the-ordinary. I am, however, partly fueled by the desire to know whomever Kathy knows. I don’t want to be left out in case she’s moving on to new friendships. After a slightly awkward introduction, we move away politely.

Months later, it seems that I haven’t seen Tenley at church, or elsewhere for that matter, so when she calls me, I am surprised.

“Hi Sally. This is Tenley.”

I haven’t forgotten her unusual name, so at least I don’t embarrass myself by asking, “Who?” Instead I talk with her like we’re friends. After we exchange the normal niceties, she asks if I know anyone who would like to do a babysitting exchange with her. She’s an apartment manager, as am I, and needs a babysitter for a couple of hours a week to complete her management tasks.

Why does this girl even care? The job is lame. It’s not like it has to be done well, I think. Then I surprise myself when I hear something else coming out of my mouth: “I would love to do a babysitting exchange with you! I could use a few hours a week to take care of our apartment building as well.”

I can feel the look on my face questioning my words. After all, my face knows better. I don’t like babysitting. The only child I love is my own.

The babysitting exchange is born. Tenley drops 6-month-old Troy at my apartment on Tuesday mornings for 2 hours, and I pick and choose between various mornings, afternoons, and sometimes I opt for a date night babysitting trade instead. Usually it’s pretty easy besides the fact that Troy never will hold his own bottle so sometimes I have to juggle feeding Troy a bottle and nursing Claire. Other than that Claire and Troy enjoy watching each other and over time, they begin to play.

Because the kids like each other well enough, and because we have something in common (apartment managing) we decide to try a play date where we all hang out for a morning. I’ve never really hosted a play date and the only one I’ve ever been to, the mom served us all a gourmet lunch. I’m not sure what protocol is so I decide I should serve lunch, too. I open a can of soup and then try to make lunch seem a little more gourmet by broiling the ham and cheese sandwiches. Tenley only eats about half of the lunch and leaves early because Troy is fussy. I figure we should just stick to the babysitting exchange. We don’t really need to be friends. The set-up we have works. Why force more?

Before long, we’re hanging out every week. Then Tenley asks all of us to come to dinner. Then we ask their family to come to dinner.

Suddenly I realize that Tenley has become my best friend.

Later, Tenley says something in passing that makes me wonder if something is wrong. I don’t get the chance to ask her about it. It stews in the back of my mind. I can tell by the way she mentioned it that she doesn’t actually want to talk about it, but I can’t stop thinking about her. I should have at least asked her if she wanted to talk about whatever is bothering her.

I'm picking Claire up from an afternoon at Tenley’s. I’m 8 or 9 weeks pregnant with Avery (baby number 2) and feeling nauseous. I think I’ll just dash in to get Claire then hurry home to make dinner. My morning (day) sickness begs to be fed often and dinner time is no exception. When I get down on the floor to pick up Claire’s various socks, shoes, and stuffed animals, I remember that I should tell Tenley that we can talk about whatever is bothering her any time, so I do. She resists, but I push just a little, and then we really talk. I talk through the nausea because all that matters is that Tenley needs me. I have the thought that this moment in our friendship is probably one of the reasons I introduced myself at the party and then said yes to babysitting her baby.

Even if it was just so we can have this important conversation today, it is enough.

A little over a year and dozens of playdates later, my beautiful Claire is diagnosed with Leukemia. My world shatters and amongst the pieces I find wonderful friends. Tenley and her family are the first visitors to the hospital. She immediately seems to have a great respect for Claire’s new immunity problems. I know she won’t visit if she or Troy has the sniffles or a scratchy throat. I trust her. She calls me every couple of days just to check in. She seems to understand when I shut down socially.  

One day when we can’t go anywhere because of Claire’s compromised immune system, Tenley and Troy give us a ‘heart attack.’ We watch them through the large living room windows. They tape colored, paper hearts all over the window. Some are covered with obvious Troy scribbles. Some have happy writing from Tenley. Still others have photos of Claire and Troy from our camping trip earlier in the summer. I ache to be helping them heart attack someone else. I wish fervently that we didn’t need it, but try to enjoy it just the same.

Later, when Claire has to be hospitalized, I arrive home from the hospital to take the night shift at home with Avery. I get home late and exhausted. I eat a dark, lonely dinner. Less than half an hour later, there is a soft knock at the door. It’s Tenley. She’s holding two cups of Starbuck’s hot chocolate. With the liquidy chocolate, she offers her company and a listening ear if I need one. I accept them all gratefully.

Now, a couple of years from that moment of crisis, I think back to the beginning of a friendship. I think of the playdates, the babysitting, the shared meals and outings. I think of my fatigued heart with blood continuing to pulse painfully even though I would much rather be dead. And, I think of the relief a friend can bring. I assume Tenley thinks I was an answer to her prayer when she moved to Seattle with a newborn and some challenges of her own, but I know better.

Tenley was the answer to a prayer I had not yet prayed.


A Year in Words and Photos: Unicorns and Snow Angels

A little report on our favorite February activity this year:


Snow fell softly all night long, deceiving those of us who thought driving in it would be peaceful. Despite the blizzardy drive home Wednesday night, by morning, the world did indeed look peaceful – enveloped in a cocoon of white fluff. 

Our opportunity to go sledding was finally upon us. Luckily, I had purchased the bright pink and purple snowsuits from the local thrift store only a week before with sledding on my mind. And, even more luckily, Dustin had thought to spend Christmas gift money on two shiny new sledding disks weeks ahead of time. Thank you, Great-grandma Bluhm!

Outfitted in almost all the proper snow gear, we crunched out onto the fresh expanse of powdery snow. Because of the wind chill, I predicted the girls would last 20 minutes at the most. But, after trudging to the top of the park hill to glide down again and again, an hour-and-a-half later we had our first tears from cold fingers. Apparently we need more appropriate gloves or mittens if we want to last any longer, but the snow suits and the snow boots the girls had already been wearing as regular footwear for months definitely made for a more enjoyable snow experience.  

Unicorn hats, silly grins, thrilling speed, whispery snow angels and a mound of a snowman thrown in for good measure, at last we succumbed to the cold and headed home for hot chocolate in our newly-acquired unicorn mugs.

And to think that last February we were here.


Thoughts on Death While Eating a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger at Wendy’s

A week ago, I had the distinct impression that I am going to die soon.

To clarify, Mormons use the word ‘impression’ lightly sometimes, and I believe I’m using it lightly here. At least, I hope I’m using it lightly. I mean, I am pregnant, which we all know can lead to irrational thoughts, and I’m hormonal, which leads to emotional outbursts. This all leads us to the moment when I was sitting across from my beautiful girls at Wendy’s, of all places, and I started sobbing.

Well, sobbing could be a strong word. I was quietly weeping. Tears were blurring my vision and a lump filled my throat to capacity as I tried to memorize every detail of my girls’ beings:

First, Claire: Her large, increasingly dark eyes. Her paint-chipped fingernails – a different color on each nail. Her long, silky hair pulled back into two amateur French braids.

Then, Avery: Her almond-shaped brown eyes with long, curly eye lashes. Her small face that somehow is still the full-face of a toddler. Her unruly curls slipping out of her pigtails to frame that face just so.

And, I cried some more. All this while Claire and Avery licked the last bits of chocolate frosty from their spoons.

Recently, it became clear to me for the first time that if a family is separated by death that it isn’t only the people who are left behind who mourn. Before the girls were born, Dustin and I would occasionally discuss what the other would do if one of us died. I always insisted that I wanted to die first. No way was I getting left behind on earth to finish out the rest of this life without him. I now believe with all my heart that those who pass on miss us just as intensely. Especially if that death was premature. And, the thought of being separated from my children for the rest of their lives . . . Well, it paralyzes me and causes me to sob in Wendy’s.

Nowadays, if Dustin and I talk about dying and what to do about it, I apologize to him beforehand and reiterate how strongly I love him, but he will just have to go first. I simply cannot leave my children without a mother.

I won’t.

This finds us back at the beginning of this babbling post. Last week I had a powerful thought that I could die at any time. (I guess that’s just a fact anyway.) Today, I shared the thought with Dustin. He laughed at first and then asked me to stop talking about it. But, I couldn’t let it go. I told him that if I do die that I’m going to haunt him. I’m not giving up without a fight. I’ll need him to get married fairly quickly to a woman who will love my children. A woman who will love him. How does one replace oneself? I almost wish I could hold try-outs now. Hmmmmm.

So, now you know what the pregnant woman eating a frosty at Wendy’s is really thinking about.

You’re welcome.


The Ten-Week Grudge

    April Fool's Day 2008 - The day before the grudge began

Once, I was mad at Dustin for 10 weeks straight.

Ten. Weeks.

Luckily, the day before the 10 weeks began was just about perfect.

It was April Fool’s Day 2008. Dustin and I spent a lovely afternoon on the campus at University of Washington. We were there to admire the famed cherry blossoms. This became a tradition ever after. Each spring we caravanned to campus with various friends to view the beauty of God’s creations. Thirty, one-hundred-year-old cherry trees line a grassy walkway. If you stand atop the staircase above them you can capture a breathtaking photo of the massive trees frothed in all their blossoming glory.

We did this. In the photo, my very pregnant face is the first indication that Claire would be arriving sooner than later; however, when I look at the picture now I think of the powerful onslaught of hormones that were about to be released with our first baby the next morning. That day, in that photo, I loved Dustin madly, and could never think of being angry at him for longer than an hour. Less than 24 hours later, through an all-night labor and 3 hours of pushing, I was livid. I remained so for two and half months.

Suddenly Dustin could do no right. He was exhausted after Claire’s birth. He was exhausted. He said, “I was standing next to you all night, Sal. At least you got to lie down.” Then, we got home, and he didn’t know how to change a diaper, and he thought I should nurse Claire every time she cried. Can you believe he voiced an opinion on when to feed the baby? Also, during any night waking, he was useless and fuzzy, fumbling fingered. You know what I mean.

So I was mad. But, that’s not all. I just felt mean toward him. I didn’t really like feeling that way, but I couldn’t seem to make it go away. It was like there wasn’t room enough in my heart for the new, encompassing love I felt for Claire and the comfortable love I had for Dustin. I had to make a choice.

I chose Claire.

Oh, how I loved Claire. Claire had made me a mother! A mother! Something that only a short time before had seemed mountains away. I held her close, rocking her in my mahogany rocking chair. I pompously loved her more than any other mother could love her newborn child. My hormone-laced tears would flow freely when certain thoughts crept in. For instance, the fact that she would someday be bigger than a newborn had me in convulsions. I had pitying thoughts toward other women who actually chose to never have children. Who would do that? I thought as Claire and I rocked in our pretentious chariot. I vowed to treasure every. single. moment. I had heard too many older mothers vocally long for the younger days of their children. I would not be one of those mothers. I would value these days even if it killed something else entirely. Possibly even my love for my youthful husband.

Nevertheless, as big and encompassing as this fresh-skinned love for my child was, I missed loving Dustin. I missed feeling tingly with love for him. I missed our late night movies and bowls of ice cream. I missed wishing he would come home early from school. In effect, I was longing for days of yore with my husband just as those older mothers long for a visit to their grown children’s childhood. All they really want to do is hold those small children again and tell them, “I love you even though you spilled an entire gallon of milk on the carpet and it smelled for 8 years until we could afford to replace it.” But, they can’t because the adult children laugh it off now and can’t even remember the incident. So the mothers remain tortured in their longing for resolution to their long-ago outrage.

So, ten weeks into being a mother, I was lounging placidly in our living room as the gray, Northwest sunshine poured in through the windows. I was thoroughly enjoying the delightful rolls of babyhood and patting myself on the back for doing it with such gusto. At this precise moment, I had a thought about my husband who was sitting at the kitchen table:

“He’s going to get older, too.”

Hmmm. What was that?

“Right now, Dustin is young, but someday he will be old and you will be nostalgic for your youthful love just as you will yearn for your babies. Enjoy his moments of youth, too.”

My universe was silent as the powerfully gentle thought crushed through the hormones glazed across my usual forgiving nature. Then, panic bubbled out from inside my heart. I was missing something. I had a front-row seat to Dustin’s first days of fatherhood and I was ignoring it. I was shoving it to the side to make room for my own swollen ego.

I turned my head, just slightly, to see my husband working studiously over his books and laptop. Less than a year into graduate school, a new baby and a hormonally unstable stay-at-home wife weighed on his sloped shoulders. Swallowing the sour milk taste of mother pride, I set Claire in her swing. Slowly. I glided the few steps from the living room to the table. Dustin didn’t even look up. In the past, he recognized my closeness unconsciously and relaxed his tense shoulders for the certain shoulder rub. But, not now. He must be used to not being touched. I reached out to massage his right shoulder. Then I grabbed the left. He started. Just a bit.


He looked up at me, maybe warily, maybe hopefully.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

His face showed relief and fatigue at the same time, “You don’t need to be sorry.”

“But, I am. And . . .”

Again, he looked up.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, Sal,” he squeezed my hand on his shoulder.

Then, Claire gurgled. Dustin understood the conversation was over and turned back to his work, but I restrained myself. Instead of rushing to be a part of her babyhood moment, I massaged the youth back into my husband’s shoulders until they were no longer sloped. I silently renewed my vow to cherish each moment, but this time I was thinking of my time with Dustin. Only then, did I go to Claire who was happily sucking her fingers.

She hadn’t missed me at all.

    University of Washington campus, April 2012 - 4 years after the ten-week grudge