Seasonal Thoughts and Thanksgivings

The seasons collide in the fall.
Halloween gives way to Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving bumps up against Christmas.
I’m not done with you yet.
I need to hang on the last vestiges of 
fall and the Thanksgiving season
 before I am hurled into the rush and bustle 
of December and Christmas.
My son called early in October and asked us to come out and spend Thanksgiving with them in Utah. I took him up on the offer.  They have a new home we had not yet seen, so we were excited to spend the inaugural Thanksgiving with them making new memories in their new home.  
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Jim and I flew out to Salt Lake City, Utah, and my son Ryan picked us up at the airport.  We ran around town with him while he did Thanksgiving preparation errands, and he gave us a grand tour of his new neighborhood.  I so seldom get to spend alone time with my son, that I couldn’t help but comment how wonderful it was just to be driving around town with him while we chatted.  He always makes the best of times even better.

Fall is the perfect season to capture the beauty of my son and daughter-in-law’s new home.  A branch adorned with golden leaves formed a perfect frame for this classic craftsman style home. 

I love the neighborhood where my son and his wife now live.  On a small porch at the corner house down the street from them, two college age guys dressed in wool coats and wool caps were sitting in lawn chairs listening to classical music and smoking cigars as they played chess.  I said to my son, “I love where you live.  It seems so civilized.”

Jim and Ryan led the way as we walked past houses still adorned with fall decor and headed to our home away from home to spend a quiet evening together.  

Our airbnb, which was just a block and a half from my son’s home, was so nice.  We really enjoyed the experience of staying in this home and in this neighborhood.  I kept telling my husband I was ready to move.  I loved the area around Sugarhouse in Salt Lake City.  

This was just one of the cool houses between our house (home away from home) and son Ryan’s.  

The next morning Jim and I walked back to Ryan and Sheridan's house and the four of us and Sheridan’s two boys headed out for the mile and a half walk to get breakfast at the best bakery ever.  I had their steel cut oats with fruit.  Seldom does one rave about steel cut oats, but I raved about theirs.  Oh, and I had part of an orange cinnamon roll too.  I wasn’t going to pass that up.  I fear we would visit this place on  daily walks if we lived nearby.

There are shops all around the bakery.  Across the street is a wonderful bookstore called The King’s English.  We visited it on the day after Thanksgiving.  All of this makes the neighborhood a desired location for living a life where shopping, and restaurants, and grocery stores are just a short walk or bike ride away.
The door to our apartment...

leaves on the ground, they all became subjects for me to photograph.  On this beautiful fall day, I so loved the experience of walking around taking in the sights found in a neighborhood filled with architectural delights.  It was just what my soul needed.  
At home, fall had left us during a blistery and wet storm weeks before Thanksgiving.  I had not been able to revel in the glory of fall and give her a proper farewell at home, so these last days of November in Utah were a special blessing to me.

Thanksgiving Eve, Jim and I walked over to my son’s house to participate in food preparation (ok, I watched while they worked) and to await the arrival of Amy and Jewett whom were driving from Colorado, and the arrival of grandson Bridger whom was coming down from Logan, Utah, where he attends Utah State.  

The beauty of the day continued.  I wish I could have captured the full effect of the moon at dusk, but this photo does give you an idea of how beautiful the evening was as we headed into my favorite holiday of the year: Thanksgiving.
We were worried about the travelers as a huge wreck had closed down the highway, but daughter and her love arrived safe and sound at a much later time than anticipated.  Thank heavens for cell phones and Google maps.  Bridger also arrived safe and sound from his drive down from Logan.  I was struck by how thrilled we were when Bridger arrived.  Does everyone always shout with joy when he enters a room?  I think so.  He is such a special kid.
The bounty for the planned feast was plentiful. I was struck by the beauty of the preparation of the meal itself.  Part of Thanksgiving is the anticipation of what is about to transpire as family comes together.  There is so much work in preparing the feast for a family the size of ours.  I so appreciate all that Ryan and Sheridan did to make the occasion perfect.  Thank you, Ryan and Sheridan!

While my family is large, the gathering itself was a bit smaller this year.  Ryan’s two older children, Regan and Parker, are living and working in Montana where they will be attending college, so they did not come home for Thanksgiving.  Amy and Jewett came from Colorado, but Amy’s two children stayed home with their father and had Thanksgiving with their other grandmother, and Samantha and Jonathan and their two children had been in Paris, France, the week before Thanksgiving and they were flying home to Colorado on Thanksgiving Day.  As with most large families, we are scattered all over.  That is why being together whenever possible is so special.
Thanksgiving morning, the house had been transformed in order to accommodate the expected guests.  (Don’t you love Ryan and Sheridan’s home???)

The guests arrived, photos were taken,and soon we were ready to eat the scrumptious meal provided by our hosts.  Really, they out did themselves.  Everything was perfect!
Photos were taken,

Daughter Keicha with her daughter Gillian

Amy & Jewett

My girls on either side of me
Keicha, Sally, Amy

the turkey was taken from the oven and carved,

the lentil loaf prepared for and by Sheridan for the vegetarians in the group was also taken from the oven,

the food was placed on the beautiful tables, 

Holidays bring with them memories both happy and sad.  Often, we are reminded of those no longer with us.  Sheridan was my daughter Julie's dear friend, and it was at Julie's memorial service where my son Ryan met our lovely Sheridan.  Blessings come from loss.  I'm so grateful for the family that was created because of a lasting and long friendship between Julie and Sheridan.  Julie's ashes are on the mantle and the empty chair reminds us of the one we miss and wish were with us to share in this joyous day.  

The empty chair reminds me that Julie would not be in it even if she were with us.  She had way too much energy for that.  She would be cooking and cleaning and arranging, and laughing, and joking, and loving on her nieces and nephews.  I miss her arm on my shoulder as she would have stood beside me in a photo of me and my daughters, but her spirit is with us.  I rejoice that we as a family remain strong and together and so appreciative of fall days at the end of November when we gather together to give thanks for all of our many blessings.  
There was more!  
In the evening we followed the tradition started long ago by Sheridan's wonderful dad by playing a spirited and competitive game of bingo.  The prizes were both great and not so great.  That is part of the fun.  Bingo and Thanksgiving pie now go together in my mind. 

 I love this tradition of more guests arriving in the evening with pies and gifts.  Sheridan's sister and her family and her mom and dad and another couple whom are good friends came to the house to play bingo after their own Thanksgiving dinners.  There was barely room to move around.  Jim was schooled on how to be the Bingo game caller, and we ended the day by playing Bingo which led to much fun and a lot of laughter.  

The memories of Thanksgiving 2018 are stored away in that place were all that is wonderful about this holiday live.  I am so very blessed with such a dear and wonderful family.  My children are so supportive of me and of each other.  I do not take that gift of family unity lightly.  Our bonds are strong and our devotion to each other is firm.  That is one hope I have always had for myself and and my children:  that we would celebrate and embrace the uniqueness that each of us bring to our family bond and they would seek to always build and affirm that bond and devotion to each other.  I'm so very grateful that again I witnessed and partook in the fellowship of a family devoted to each other.    My heart is full.
Perhaps, Thanksgiving comes at the perfect time of year because just as fall leaves us, we are given the chance to embrace her beauty one last time as we gather to spend a day giving thanks while eating delicious food with those we love best.  

Thanksgiving 2018, I needed you to be just as you were.  Now, I can let November days give way to the hustle and bustle that comes in December.  

July Moments

July moments need to be captured before the month flies away.
We are past the midway point already.

July has had more drizzle than sizzle this year.
Despite the rain,
nothing could put a damper on the joy
 of being surrounded by some of my children and grandchildren
for the Fourth of July weekend.
I think back on the fall and the winter that we all have gone through.
Now, it is finally summer.
With school out of session, the children are able to take road trips to Grandma's house.

Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus got the prize for coming the longest distance.  They drove across country from Scranton, PA, to Colorado Springs, CO.  Keicha, with her precious cargo of my granddaughters Regan, Ryan's daughter,  and Gillian, Keicha's daughter,  made the trek across Wyoming from Ogden, UT to Colorado.

I was anxious to see Jonathan as I had not seen him since I left him last October after caring for him after his accident when he suffered trauma to his right brachial plexus. (Click to read about this.)
When I left him in October, he had no feeling in his right upper extremity and had no use of the arm or hand.  He had surgery in February on this injury, and then had a long period of not being able to use the arm while he recovered from surgery.  Now, he is back doing physical therapy with a therapist several times a week, and he reports that he does stretches and strength building exercises two hours every day.  He is slowly regaining use of the arm and the hand.  I must admit that I was overwhelmed with emotion when I first saw him and saw the progress he has made.  I know he has much therapy ahead, but he has made so much progress, and he works very hard at getting back whatever use he can.  His journey has been an arduous one, but it is one he has taken with courage and determination. I am grateful for all the support he has had on the journey.  His wife and his son have no doubt been his closest and staunchest cheerleaders as they are by his side each day.

On the Fourth of July, before our family barbecue, we showered Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus with a few gifts for the new home they just purchased in Scranton, PA, where Jonathan and Samantha live while they are teaching at Marywood University.  My granddaughter Gillian painted this amazing elephant for Jon and Sam's new home.  Didn't she do an amazing job?

The day was such an fun day.  I took few photos, which was probably just fine with my grandkids.  They always hate it when Grandma gets out her camera and becomes the paparazzi.  Less is more where they are concerned in the photo department.
Atticus & Regan
Hannah & Gillian
Lunch on Grandma & Grandpa's Deck
My niece Michelle was able to join us for the day.  It is always great to have her around.  She adds an extra measure of fun and humor.  She and Keicha go way back when it comes to celebrating the Fourth of July together
Celebrating the 4th of July
Cousins & best friends
Then and now

Keicha, Michelle, and Samantha
After dinner, the kids all decided to go looking for bears.  Of course, a change in activities signaled to my teenage granddaughters that they had to change their clothes from what they'd worn for dinner.

No bears were spotted as the adventurers explored the area around my house.  Keicha took lots of wonderful photos of their times climbing rocks, hiking, and exploring the area around the nearby old Woodman Sanatorium, a treatment center run by the Modern Woodmen during the first half of the last century for those suffering from tuberculosis.  After the exploration trip, they all came home with all sorts of stories about all they had seen and discovered.  I think they all had a memorable time.  (Hopefully, Keicha will do a blog post telling more about these adventures that I can share with you.)

Atticus came home tired and ready to spend time with his buddy Boston.  Boston was very happy about that.

The time together as a family was way too short, but we tried to make the most of time we had.  One day the girls and I went to the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center to the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit that is currently on display.

It is always a treat to see the work of Chihuly.  This piece is on permanent display at the Fine Arts Center.  No photos were allowed to be taken of the O'Keeffe exhibit.

We had a great day of viewing some wonderful art.  This was followed by eating lunch at one of my favorite Mexican food restaurants.  This isn't the best shot of Keicha. You all know she is quite lovely, but I like the effect I got by taking a panorama photo while sitting out on the patio at Jose Muldoons.  The photo is going on the blog.  (Sorry Keicha.)  Of course, while we ate,  I had to tell Grandma Sally's Jose Muldoons story.  Have you heard it?

One day, about 20 years ago or so, Grandma Sally took her sister to Jose Muldoons for lunch to celebrate her sister's wedding anniversary.  We decided to order margaritas with lunch since it was a special occasion.  We had a great lunch and a good time together.
Grandma Sally wrote a check to pay the bill.
Those were the days before debit cards.
The waiter took the check and the bill.
Soon, he came back and said,
"I'm sorry, but I won't be able to accept this check."
"What?"  said I.
"You said you took checks."
He said, "We do take checks, but we can't take this check."
He then politely handed me the check.
I'd signed the check: Sally Muldoon!
That is why you should never drink a margarita for lunch.
I did once, and when I went to leave, I thought I owned the place.
(Thankfully, I had enough cash to pay the bill that day.)  

After lunch, Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus met us for ice cream.  I couldn't get any of them to cooperate for a family photo, so this is what you get.  The image of all of us together enjoying ice cream on summer afternoon is one I will remember whenever I visit Josh & John's Ice Cream.  I have so many similar memories of other times we gathered here for ice cream from years gone by.  Do you have favorite places that hold special memories of times with family?

 We ended our day by doing a downtown walking tour of Colorado Springs.  This led us on another art tour as we viewed some graffiti in one of the alleyways.  Jon is giving us an interpretation of what the graffiti writers were saying in this photo below.  

That's my quirky and interesting family.  We go from the art museum to urban art painted on the sides of building and find interest in it all.  

I always wish all of my children and grandchildren could be together whenever we gather together, but in today's world, that is unrealistic.  

Moments in July spent with loved ones are treasures. 

 Moments are no small thing. 

Life is, after all, made up of a collection of  small moments.  

Gather those moments and hold them close to your heart.

Remembering My Second Mother

My former mother-in-law passed away last week.  She was nearly 89 years old.  I first met her when she was a young 41.  I was 21.  She became a role model for me.  More than that, she was a second mother.  I've not been an official member of her family for over thirty years, but our hearts were linked, so she continued to be a dear and important figure in my life.  I visited her when I could.  I loved her dearly.  This is my tribute to her.

Nearly fifty years ago I met her.
I don't even remember our first meeting.
It must have been not long after I met her son.
Was it when her son took me to his home where he lived with his parents after an early morning motorcycle ride or tennis game?
We worked nights together.
So, we would go on dates during the day.
Or, was it on a Sunday afternoon that I first went to the home of my former mother-in-law?
Time has taken the first memory of her away from me;
Time has preserved so many more memories.

Gloria Marie Christiansen was like a mother to me for a bit more than a decade and half.
The things she taught me remain forever in my heart and mind.

She was such a quiet, dignified lady.
Always proper,
she had a dry wit that would zing my mind and cause me laugh out loud.
When I first became a regular visitor to her home,
I felt so loud.
They were all so quiet.
She especially was soft spoken.
I am not quiet.
I am not soft spoken.
I am loud.
I doubt she, my former mother-in-law, ever raised her voice.
After my first born's birth, I told her that I could hear him crying louder 
than any of the other babies in the nursery. 
"Oh no, he will take after me,"
I thought.
She said, that it was normal to hear my child above all the other children.
She could always hear my baby's father's voice louder than any of the other kids on the block, she said.
Did we tune in to hear the voices and sounds of our own children over others?
Was this a mother's instinct?
I think she thought it was.

Later, she told me never to take up the side of your own child with another child's parent when the children were having disagreements.
"You never know what your own child did first," she told me.
That was wise advice.
I took it.
I followed it.
She followed this same advice when her son and I divorced.

In my mind, the image of her on the day her son and I were married 48 years ago is still very sharp.
We were engaged, but a wrench had been thrown in our plans for getting married when my former husband received orders to report to boot camp for the Army Reserves.
We knew the orders were coming, but didn't expect them so soon.
We went to talk to her about what to do.
Should we get married that day?
Should we  'elope' by walking across the street to the church to get married?
Could we find a church official to marry us on such short notice?
What time should we marry?
She just listened.
She didn't tell us what to do.
I see her sitting at the dining room table painting her nails as she talked with us.
Finally, she said,
" I wish I knew if we were going to have a wedding tonight or if I should start supper."
I guess that decided it.
We decided we would have a wedding.

The photo of so long ago is cracked and faded.
We all look so young.

Our quickly planned wedding was attended by just my mother-in-law and father-in-law,
and my sister-in-law and her husband.
I wore a quickly purchased dress.
My sister-in-law did my hair.
We walked across the street and were married.
We then all went out to dinner.

At our engagement dinner, she served liver.
I hated liver, but I ate it.
Actually, I could eat liver when she cooked it.

She taught me how to 
can fruit,
and make apricot syrup.

I think of some of her great recipes:
cracker pie,
potato salad,
a tuna casserole made with Bisquick.
I remember all those Sunday afternoons in the summer when we would eat homemade ice cream made from the abundance of raspberries that grew in the garden.

The summer I married her son, 
I had an apartment that my new husband never stayed in because he went off to boot camp.
I guess my mother-in-law thought I needed something to take up my time.
Not long after we were married, she delivered a basket of un-ironed, freshly washed shirts belonging to my husband to me.
I still smile at the memory.
I love that she did that.
Why should she iron them?
Now, that job was mine.

That summer, the summer of 1966 was a hot one.
I spent so many summer afternoons and evenings on the front steps of his parents' home that year.
His sister and I would eat the sour green apples that we covered in salt.
 The apples came from the tree in the backyard.
No doubt my mother-in-law had carefully picked a few good ones for us to eat as we talked with her late into the evening.
My sister-in-law was pregnant and craved green apples covered with salt.
Good times.

Those steps we sat on,
how many times did I sit on those steps with my mother-in-law and other family members and talk?
If we went over for a visit, she'd say, 
"Let's go outside where it's cooler."
Out we would go to sit on the steps and watch the happenings in the neighborhood.
We watched trees being planted,
children riding bikes,
folks walking to church meetings,
teenagers driving cars too fast,
and neighbors who were all a major part of her life.
She'd tell me stories about everyone on the block.
Not gossip, just good stories.
She told me stories of her life.
She was a great storyteller.
(Two of my grandchildren with their great grandparents on the front steps of their home. Parker is next to Grandma and Regan is on her lap.)

I also remember that she would sometimes go out for a walk.
She said she needed time to
"air out her brain."
I think of that statement so often when I walk and think about all I have to think about.

She 'adopted' the elderly neighbors next door who never had children.
She took care of them until they died.

She had a grace and wisdom about her that I've seldom known in others.
When I'd have a new baby, on the first visit to 'meet' the baby,
she'd bring gifts for the other children too.
I remember her bringing a lunch box filled with treats to my firstborn when she came to visit his new sister.  She didn't want him to feel left out.  He got his gift first.  

Her hands, her lovely hands, always carefully manicured by herself,
were busy, productive hands.
She crocheted many treasures.
She taught me to crochet, even though I never mastered it.
She taught me to quilt.
I never mastered that either.

Her home was always tidy as a pin.
Nothing was ever out of order.
The walls were adorned with keepsakes and photos of her family.
The couch would always have lovely pillows and crocheted throw blankets on it.
I'm sure she always made her bed.
She did have one little secret.
We would be at her house for dinner.  We'd eat.  Then it would be time to do the dishes.
That is when she would open the oven.
It would contain dirty dishes from earlier in the day.
I would always laugh.
I don't know if she ever had a dishwasher.
That is where I stash my dirty dishes.

My former mother-in-law was a wonderful grandmother.
I'm grateful my children had her in their lives.
She was a constant for them.
She loved to have them visit her.
She loved to make things special for them.
Sometimes, she would take my children to the movies.
First, they would go to her house to pop corn.
Then, they would get all of her old purses from the 'dress up' play box.
Then, they'd fill the purses with popcorn to eat at the movie.
It makes me smile to even write of those days.
She'd have them over for the day to learn a craft, bake cookies, or have a picnic.
There was a closet full of toys when the kids were younger.
There was a box of old clothes for playing dress up.
Each event that involved a grandchild or grandchild was a special event where she made little sandwiches, or had a special activity planned.
She made each child feel special.

My former mother-in-law, whom I always called "Mother,"
was the best mother-in-law anyone could ever have.
She never interfered in my life.
She was always kind and loving towards me.
She always showed me great respect and much love.

I joined the LDS (Mormon) Church just before I married into this woman's family.
I left the LDS (Mormon) Church while I was going through the divorce from her son.
She never showed or spoke judgement towards me.
She continued to show me the same love and acceptance she had always given me whenever I would go to visit her in the thirty plus years since I was a member of her family.

I will remember all those wonderful family gatherings I had at her home.
I will remember how we always went to Salt Lake City to shop when the men went deer hunting.
It was the big event of the year.
We called it Deer Shop.
She had started the tradition with her sister years ago.
It continues to this day, even though the guys no long go hunting.

I will remember many picnics,
river rafting trips,
camping trips,
fishing trips.
I will remember a woman who blessed my life beyond measure.

My Julie could have been her clone.
They looked so much alike.
Her prominent features are features I see in each of my own children.
This photo was taken of her with my girls just before Julie died.

Keicha, Grandma Chris, Julie, Amy

Her dry wit, her humor, her intelligence were gifts to all of us.
She could play by ear nearly instrument she picked up.
She wrote her school song many years ago.

Today, she was laid to rest.
Her funeral service was held in the exact same spot where I married her son 48 years ago.
All of my children were there.
Sadly, I could not make the trip due to other commitments.
As her dear husband remembers her,
and as others remember their dear mother, grandmother, aunt, great grandmother,
I too remember and honor her.

She was a
gracious woman.
She blessed my life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren in countless ways.
We all will miss her greatly.

Wrapping Up Christmas - Part III

My goal is to get this Christmas thing wrapped up before it is a month after Christmas.  I partly write these posts for family history.  I realize that the news is old, but writing blog posts become a repository for memories that I don't want to forget.  So, bear with me.  I'm nearly done with these Christmas posts.

This was an unusual trip to Utah for us.  Over the past fifteen years, we have always spent most of our time in Utah in Ogden where both daughter Keicha and son Ryan lived.  Now, Ryan is living in Bountiful which is between Salt Lake and Ogden.  This trip, we mostly stayed in Bountiful and did not make the twenty mile trip to Ogden but a few times.  This meant I didn't get to spend as much time with daughter Keicha and granddaughter Gillian as I would have liked, but we did get to have lunch a few times, and we went on quick shopping expedition so Keicha and Gillian could spend their Christmas money.

On that particular day, after a nice lunch with Keicha, I was able to also drive out with Keicha and Mike, Keicha's boyfriend, to see a project he has been working on for work.  As part of the responsibilities for his job, Mike is working on building a place where boys that are in treatment for addictions will learn woodworking.  (He works at a treatment facility as a counselor.)  These boys are using the skills they are learning to build an enormous skateboard ramp.  This ramp is connected to the wood shop and another shop where skateboard supplies are sold.  The boys in treatment work in the shop.  Mike is teaching these young men woodworking skills.  It is all quite impressive and a worthy endeavor.

 Another day, I had to make a lunch trip to one of my favorite lunch places, so I called my daughter and invited her to go along.  The draw of the restaurant:  Mormon muffins served with honey butter.  Yum.  It is sort of a tradition for Kiecha and me to go here for lunch when I am in town.  Attached to this lunch place is a fun shop where I once took my children shopping for Christmas ornaments when they were young.  I have many happy memories of this place over the years.  Here is my lovely daughter at our lunch.

The two of us...
Of course we could not go to lunch without getting muffins to go.

One day during our time in Utah, we went to Sheridan's shop in Salt Lake City.  I didn't take my camera that day, so I don't have any photographs.  I love to go shopping in my soon to be daughter-in-law's shop in the 9th and 9th area in SLC.  The name of her shop Hip and Humble more than aptly describes this great boutique.  If you live in the Salt Lake City area, you have three of these great boutiques to shop in.  There is a Hip and Humble in Salt Lake, one in Sandy, Utah, and one in Bountiful, Utah.  Sheridan is a partner with her sister in the ownership of these shops.  I'm proud of these two entrepreneurs.

As always, I can't go inside the shop without picking up a few things.  In fact, I bought that great looking scarf that I have on in the photo above at the Hip and Humble.  I also bought cute matching earrings.  And, I bought another great scarf.  It is an infinity scarf.  Sheridan, your shop is just too tempting!  I love your shop.  And, I bought a gift for my husband:  this cute picture to hang on the wall.  

While we were on our trip, my hubby really missed his big red dog.  This saying is a true saying when it comes to my husband and Boston.  His dog does own his heart.

 Jim and I combined family time in Utah with a bit of a vacation by spending three days in Salt Lake City at the downtown Marriott near the new City Creek Mall.  During out time in Salt Lake we continued to get together with family for fun activities like eating at special restaurants and going to the movies.  With the family, we saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Neither Jim nor I had seen the first movie in the series, nor had we read the books.  Surprisingly, we were captivated by the movie and quite enjoyed it. Then, the two of us saw Saving Mr. Banks.  We loved that movie.

Funny story:  On our way to see the movie early one evening, Jim and I walked past a restaurant we thought Ryan had told us about as being a place he wanted to go with us.  I sent a text that said, "Just walked past the Copper. Do you want to meet us there for dinner after we see the movie."  The reply, "Sure, we will drive down and get a table because it is hard to get a reservation.  Txt us when the movie is over."  So, when the movie was over we texted that we were on our way.  We walked a couple of blocks in the cold winter evening air to the Copper Canyon Restaurant that we had seen earlier.  The problem was that this particular restaurant was not crowded as Ryan said it would be, nor was Ryan anywhere to be found inside.  I called him.  He said the restaurant was right next door to the theater.  I said that was impossible.  We finally realized that Jim and I had gone to a different theater than Ryan thought we had, and I had not specified the name of the restaurant we had walked past in my text.  I just call it The Copper.  Talk about miscommunication.   That's what I get for shortening how many words I write in a text.   Number One Son soon drove over to where we were, picked us up, and took us the right restaurant which was the  Copper Onion.  Wow, what a neat place.  We had a wonderful "adult" dinner that night.

One day Jim and I spent the entire day just walking all over SLC shopping and enjoying a few special meals.  Our breakfast at Eva's Bakery and Cafe was outstanding.  Not only is the food delicious, but the ambiance is really special.

When we went inside for our leisurely breakfast, the weather outside was pretty awful.  It was cold and smoggy.  When we walked outside, I actually let out a bit of shout.  The sun was shining, and I saw something I had not seen in days:  our shadow.

We spent the rest of day exploring the mall.  We had our shoes shined at Nordstroms.

And, I bought my man a new hat.  It is a wool, water resistant cap made by Wigens. He had actually not brought a hat on our trip, and he needed one in the cold winter weather when we were out walking.  This cap even has earflaps.  So far, the cap has been worn daily as Jim take Boston on his walks.  He loves it.

A few days after Christmas, Number One Grandson, Parker, decided to go duck hunting.  His dad and I had to take his gear up to him so he good go hunting.  Yes, this kid is a true outdoorsman.  Dad is putting the rifle in Parker's Subaru.  Parker has his boots.  He is set to go.  Yes, the hunt was successful.

Before he headed out, father and son shared a quick conversation.

While we were in Utah, the flu virus that seemed to making its rounds around the nation did now pass us by.  The grandchildren were sick with terrible coughs.  I had just gotten over the same thing before our trip, and I had also just gotten over an ear infection, so I worried about getting sick again.  The air quality in Utah was poor.  This did not help matters for any of us.  Then, Jim got hit with a stomach virus that was especially nasty.  A few days later, on the night of the 30th, I also got the same stomach virus.  It was no fun.  I spent nearly all day of the last day of 2013 in bed in the hotel room very sick.  Later in the afternoon, on New Year's Eve Day, Ryan's children, Sheridan's boys, and Sheridan's niece and nephew came to the hotel where we were staying to go swimming.  I went down to watch the grandchildren romp and play in the water.  They all were having so much fun.  I couldn't help but begin to fill better just watching them all expend their great energy.  Soon, this old grandma was feeling better and smiling.

I did not want to miss the New Year's Eve party I had been looking forward to at Sheridan's sister's house.  By evening, I got dressed-up and off we went to ring out the old year.  I was not sorry to see the year go.  The party was great.  The food looked outstanding, but I wasn't quite ready to eat anything.  I enjoyed the party despite having been ill.  I especially enjoyed my visit with Sheridan's sister's mother-in-law. It was great to meet and get to know Ryan and Sheridan's friends.  Some of these friends had been Julie's friends in college.  It truly was wonderful to be at this party.

As I look back on this trip to Utah, I will remember the many moments Jim and I spent sitting at the island in Sheridan's kitchen watching my son cook us up many great meals.  I will remember drinking his special lattes that he made while we chatted and laughed.  I will remember the warmth of hospitality and family love that made this time a time to treasure.

I will remember the times with the family around the dinner table.  I will remember my son's seven day old turkey (which I did not eat.)  Did he ever really serve it?  I will remember that nothing, absolutely nothing,  is more special to me than time spent with my family.

We were gone from home a total of ten days.  We flew out of Salt Lake City to return home late in the day on January 1, but we never made it home, which is only forty miles from the airport in Denver, until January 2.  Our flight was delayed due to storms in Denver.  The flight itself took one hour and one minute, but between the delayed flight itself and the weather that had hit in Denver, we decided to spend the night at the hotel at the airport when we finally made it back to Colorado at nearly midnight.  

All in all, despite being sick, and being on the go nearly non-stop, our weeks long Christmas celebrations were really special this year.  I am just now catching up with life again.  We are moving into 2014 with full speed ahead.

Last Load Delivered

I wish I could report that we finally are settled in our new home.  There are times when I wonder if that will ever happen.  While the process of moving and settling is definitely not complete, I can report that we did complete last stage of our move.  It only took us four months to complete all the stages that we established to make our move a bit easier on us.  I can congratulate myself on only taking four months to move.  I might have left the things in our storage shed longer, but Jim reminded me that one month's rent on the storage shed would pay for a cleaning lady once a month.  That motivated me.  

Back in September, I wrote in my blog (read it here) that we had completed Stage One and Stage Two in preparation for our big move which was occur in October.  I reported that our first stage required that we "Sort through professional papers, books, notebooks, teaching materials and memorabilia from the classroom and our professions." Once we had completed this task, which took a lot of doing, we then went on to Stage Two:  Move the things we have left from the basement to a storage unit.  

Today, we hired a couple of guys to move all those boxes that has been stored in a storage unit for the past four months to our home.  These two very efficient, energetic guys seemed to move all these boxes from the storage unit, into a truck in no time at all.  They then drove to our new home, unloaded the truck, carried all the boxes to the basement, patiently waited for me to determine which box would remain in the family room and which box would go to our crawl space that we are using as a storage area, and then they moved each box to its appropriate place.  Youth is on their side.  All of this took no time at all.  

Just before the movers arrived, I snapped a photo of the new bookshelves we purchased to hold the books that were stored in the storage unit.  Was I naive when I thought these shelves would hold all the books we kept?  Yes, I think I was.  Either that, or I was forgetful.  I forgot I had all those books in the storage shed when I bought these shelves.  Oops, somehow, I forgot that even though we got rid of nearly 1,000 books all told, we also kept quite a few.  These books were in the storage shed.  I wonder how I forgot that.  Perhaps, it was wishful thinking.  Today, my son asked where we had all these books before the move.  My reply, "Mostly in boxes in the basement."  Before the move, we got rid of old books that were outdated and that we not longer were interested in keeping.  I think we will be culling once again.  

Here is the view of boxes of books as they begin to arrive from storage. 
I really don't think I can fit all the books from the boxes on these shelves.  What do you think?  This is a view of one end of the large family room in the basement.  Jim's desk in one corner of the room.  The bookshelves are by the desk.  

This is another view of  view of the opposite end of the family room.  We have our television in this area.  I am still trying to decide the best use of the space.  I am also trying to put odds and ends in place.  The couch and the old pink chair lived in our living room in the old house.  They have been relegated to the basement in this house.  The couch is still in excellent condition.  I just didn't want it in my living room anymore.  I will get this area decorated at some point, but in the meantime, it is the place where old furniture and odds and ends are being deposited.  The old green footstools do not match anything.  Old, and tattered, I decided to move them and will recover them soon I hope.
 Here is another view of this room.  It is large, very large.  One end is Jim's study.  That is his black recliner on the left of the photo and the bookshelves are on the other side.  I am standing by his desk to take the photo.  

At this angle, I am standing near the television looking toward Jim's desk.  Yesterday, I nearly had all the boxes out of this room.  Now, it is filled again.  

The Stuff I Could Not Throw Away

After reading the above mentioned blog which was posted on September 29, 2012, I was struck by several things.
  • I am amazed at how much stuff we have!  I thought we had gotten rid of so much.
  • I am looking through the same professional books and papers again!  I thought I had done a good job of getting rid of stuff in September.  I find I still cannot get rid of so many papers.  I have no idea why.  I've decided to save my professional books one more year.  If I haven't used them in one year, I promised myself I will donate them.  
  • I am struck by how much emotional attachment I have to things.  Somethings I just can't get rid of.  I found pillow cases embroidered by my grandmother.  They were turning yellow in a plastic container.  I decided the time is now.  Either I need to get rid of such things, or I should use them.  I decided they actually matched the duvet covers in the bedroom that the grandchildren use.  I will wash the pillowcases and put them on the twin beds in this room.  They will add a special touch.
  • I am also struck by how important my time in the classroom was to me.  I just can't seem to part with cards from students, memorabilia that the students gave me, lesson plan books, unit designs, rubrics, and curriculum guides still hold a place in my heart.  I know I will never use them again, but I can't throw them away.  Do other retired teachers feel this way?
  • Maybe I will have to hire a professional to help me get rid of all these papers.  
Just before we moved, I read a newspaper article about letting go of our 'stuff.'  I cut it out and put it on the refrigerator for reference.  I even saved the article!  I wonder where it is.  I remember that it said to save the stories about treasured items but get rid of the item itself.  I had such good intentions.  In the end, I just could not get rid of some things.  

At first, after I read the article, I decided I would not move the small table and chairs that my children used when they were growing up.  It sat in the kitchen next to the larger kitchen table when they were children.  It was the place where they sometimes ate their breakfast,  lunch, or a snack.  It was where they colored or played games.  When the children were grown, the small table and chairs went to the basement where it stayed until there was a family gathering.  Then, the chairs and table were toted upstairs for the grandchildren to use. 

I love this photo of the table.  Ok, really, I love the photo of Hannah using the table!  I just found it.  I would guess this was taken the day after a family Christmas party.  Hannah is enjoying one of those great cupcakes we used to always have for the kids.  Isn't she adorable?  Can you see why I could not give the table away?  It carries with it too many memories.

The photo below was snapped at a family Easter celebration.  Mason, Gillian, Hannah, and Atticus are all seated around the kids' table.  Julie, dressed in green, is leaning over the kitchen table.  This is just a quick snapshot of a family celebration, but now, at this date in time,  the photo captures a priceless memory of time gone by.  I notice the blanket no longer carried around by one of the grandchildren that is draped on my chair.  I notice Gillian is dressed in my apron and sitting on the pillow from my chair.  I see the cute little parkas the grandchildren wore flung on the hooks by the door.  

Now, the grandkids are grown up and the table is no longer needed.  
Mason and Gillian are teenagers.
They don't care about Easter baskets.
They would not fit in those chairs.
I have the stories.  
I have the photos.  

I kept the table.

It was in the last load delivered from the storage shed.  
It was placed in the crawl space.
I just could not get rid of it.

From One Shoebox to Another

A Review of the iPhone App Shoebox

Some background on the app:

In my last posting, I made reference to Shoebox and 1000 Memories.  One of my blogging friends,  Rosaria  from sixtyfivewhatnow asked me about the app I used to download the large family portrait I included in the blog post.

For those of you who may not know about Shoebox and 1000 Memories, I thought it would be fun to share what I have been doing with this app.   My daughter Keicha, who blogs at o-townramblings,  first told me about this app a few weeks ago.  This post will not give technical information about the app because I am not very good at giving technical information.  If you need technical information, go to  If that doesn't work for you,  just download the Shoebox app onto your iPhone, and I'm sure you will be walked through the process.  Thankfully, my daughter walked me through the process, and then, unfortunately,  I forgot it all.

The concept behind the idea of Shoebox and 1000 Memories is the brain child of Rudy Adler and Brett Huneycutt.  Their goal is to "turn the world's smartphones into tools to digitalize the estimated 1.8 trillion fading and yellowing snapshots that people have lying around in their attics, garages and picture albums..."  Isn't that an awesome idea?  I  didn't know anything about the creators of this app or the genius of their idea until after I had actually downloaded the app and started using it.  I then read about the app in yesterday's Denver Post.  (Click to read the article.)

I guess Mark Zuckerberg also thought this app was cool because now he and Facebook have joined forces with 1000 Memories in order to allow users to add the photos from their newly digitalized photos to their timelines on Facebook.  I haven't quite gotten that far yet.  None of my photos are on Facebook, but I hope to share them with family using that format soon.

Using the app:

I had the perfect opportunity to practice using this new app this past weekend when some of my cousins, an aunt, and I gathered at the home of an aunt who passed away a few years ago.  The home still contained many family mementos, and my cousin wanted us to come by and take what we might want so she could get the house ready to rent.

One of the treasures we found was this large framed portrait of my grandfather.  My aunt said she would like to take the portrait of her father home with her.  As we stood admiring the portrait some of us had never seen before, I suddenly remembered I had Shoebox on my phone.

A. French
Binghamton, NY
Since the portrait was framed and behind glass, with my aunt's permission, we took the portrait from the frame because I couldn't capture a good scan using my phone due to the glare from the glass.  The next problem to be solved involved trying to place the portrait on a table and get a good scan.  I saw an easel, so I put the portrait on the easel and then used the phone to scan the portrait.

We discovered my grandfather's handwriting on the back of the portrait.  He had recorded when and where the portrait was taken.  He also noted that it was taken in his uncle's studio by his uncle.  I was able to also scan this handwritten documentation using my smartphone with the Shoebox app.

As we went through dishes, glassware, and such, I discovered a shoebox full of old photos.  I took just a handful and scanned them.  Here is a sampling:

This photo was taken in my grandparent's backyard when my father came home from the service in January of 1946.  My father is holding me, and my brother is standing at his side.  I have a photo that is similar to this that includes my mother, but had never seen this particular photo.  I love this photo because it records the first time my father spent any time with me as an infant because he was drafted into the army on the day I was born.

This priceless treasure was taken the same day.  My father is shown in this photo with his two brothers who were also home on leave.  My Uncle Charles was a paratrooper, and my Uncle Bob was in the Marines.  As I understand it, Christmas was celebrated on the day the photos were taken because the family waited for the boys to come home before having Christmas.  My grandmother recorded the date on the back of the photo as January 20th, 1946.
My handsome father
his handsome brothers
This photo was bit of a challenge because it is in color.  I found that by placing the photo on a white paper, I could scan it more easily.  This photo was also taken in my grandparent's backyard, and it is of my brother.  I would guess he is about two years old.

This portrait of my mother sits in a frame in my office.  I did not remove the photo from the frame because I was experimenting.  As you can see, it is difficult to get the edges straight by holding the phone and scanning if one does not place the photo on a flat surface.  I can crop this using the app, but included it so you could see that some of the scanning takes some time and proper placement of the item being scanned.

I love this portrait of my beautiful mother.  She had this taken while my father was away in the army so he would have a picture of her to carry with him.  This same portrait was on a dresser in my parent's bedroom when I was child.  I remember studying it once when I must have been about five years old.  I was struck by my mother's great beauty.  I ran in the kitchen and looked at her and said, "Mama, did you know you were pretty?"
This photo of my sister and me was taken by a neighbor who was learning how to take portraits.  He posed us in front of his living room window after he positioned a hose on window.  He wanted to create a scene that appeared as if two children looking outdoors on a rainy day.  He entered a large portrait of this exact pose in a contest and won first prize.  For a number of years, this portrait of the two of us hung in the Fine Arts Center of Colorado Springs.

I was able to scan this from a 8 X 10 framed copy that I now have in my study by placing the photo on a flat surface and scanning it with my iPhone.
Sally and Carol
Finally, I am sharing the first scan I took using Shoebox.  This photo was one of the poses of my daughter Julie taken for her senior picture.  I love this photo of Julie because it captures her smile, her eyes, and her hair so well.

Not long after her death, I was reframing the photo and decided to trim the sides to fit it into the frame better.  I'd forgotten she had written on the back of it.  I was devastated to think I had destroyed part of the message she had written on the back.  With Shoebox, I was able to easily scan her handwritten message so it would be saved with her photo for others to see.  

She wrote:
This is one to show my hapiness & I would like for 
you to show it to me when I'm down to show me 
a smile lights the world.  Even though
you make me feel better just being around.

Yes, the photos are "often among the most prized, and least seen of people's possessions."  I love having a way to save and share these treasures in a format that also allow one to tell the story behind the pictures.  

Home Lives On In The Heart

There is a place that now only resides in my heart.  That place is the home where my family and I once lived in Leadville, Colorado.  When I think of a time where I was most happy as a young girl, I think of Leadville.  When I think of a place that greatly shaped me into the person I am today, I think of Leadville.

This past weekend, my sister who lives in California was here in Colorado for a visit.  She and her husband and my husband and I spent a few wonderful days together.  During that time, we drove to Leadville to revisit the place where we once lived.

Our father was transferred to Leadville with the D&RG Railroad to serve as the agent for that location just before I was a senior in high school.  My younger sister, shown with me in the photo above, was just starting kindergarten at the time.  We were both at different stages in life when we lived there, but we both think of the happy times and wonderful memories made in this special place.

Photo from Colorado History Directory

The house were we lived was actually an old depot for the railroad.  My mother and I think this is an old drawing of the place.  We think our house would have been the center section minus the second story of the building.  Others in the family may not agree with us, but my mother and I studied this sketch quite throughly and decided that is how the building was adapted.  We have no idea when this occurred.  Our house, a company house, had been occupied by others for quite some time before we lived there.  The house actually sat next to an unused portion of railroad tracks.  The depot where my father worked sat back on the property behind our house.  Behind the depot was a round house where the engines were repaired.

My father went in and gutted the place before we moved in and brought it up to his standards.  It was actually quite nice inside when he finished.  The main part of the house was heated with a Stokermatic coal furnace.  In other words, it was warm around the furnace, but not so warm the farther away you moved from it.  We would actually sit on top of it to get warm.  We would also dress in front of it on really cold mornings.  The back of the house, an addition that included the kitchen and bathroom, was heated by propane.

Everything is gone now: the house, the depot, the round house.  My sister and I walked the property last Friday trying to pinpoint where the house must have been.  It is impossible to know for certain.  As we walked, I said, "The coal shed must have been here.  Look at all the coal."  In truth, there was a lot of coal everywhere.

The house now sits in the middle of a lot outside of town serving as a storage shed.

Since the house is gone from its original site, we hope to connect to the place where it once stood.

We walked back to where we thought the depot might have been.  Suzanne said, "I think this is where Daddy's office was.  I am typing on his typewriter."  Sally said, "You are not the one who had to type your senior paper on that old thing."  The typewriter was an old upright.  I had typed a very messy looking senior paper on it.

We walked back to where the round house had been.  I really have little memory of this building.  Suzanne said she actually got to go in and watch the men work underneath the engine.

We find little to mark the place where we once lived and where our father once worked: just one weathered piece of a railroad tie and a spike.  "It's not a golden spike," I say as we look at it.  Only an old rusty bucket seemed to have left.  I pick it up to bring home.  "I might plant flowers in this," I say.

We work our way east on the old railroad yard to the objects that I know are really drawing my sister.  Three old abandoned cabooses sit on what remains of a set of tracks.  The caboose of the family heads to that magical railroad car that embodies so many of her childhood memories.

When she was in kindergarten, only going to school half a day, when the weather was bad, my father would have her picked up by the railroad crew on its way back to the depot if he couldn't pick her up.  Her tiny little figure, dressed in a red coat, the hood pulled up over her head, would climb aboard the caboose and ride home.

Once on the platform of railroad car, she struck a pose.  It is hard to see in this photo, but according to her, it was the pose that she saw in all the girlie posters that lined the inside of the caboose.

I soon joined her on the platform at the end of the train.  From there, I looked out at the mountains in the distance.  Mt. Elbert rose above my former high school and town.

I looked down at the tracks.  I was home.  I felt connected to my past, my roots, my history.  I remember who I am, and where I have been.  I am: a railroader's daughter,  mountain girl,  and a third generation Colorado native.  I once lived two miles high.  I identify with Molly Brown. It takes a lot to sink me.  

Spending Time With #1 Son

This summer, I've been able to spend some time with my #1 son.  I hesitate to call my oldest child and oldest son by the title of #1 Son because some may think that the title denotes favortism.  I assure you it does not.  For some reason, I've just referred to my eldest child as #1 over the years.

My oldest son lives in Utah, so that means we must travel in order to spend time together.  He is a banker who works very long hours during the workweek and commutes an hour each way to work every day.  Needless to say, he is very busy and does not get a lot of time off work.  I try to spend at least a week in Utah every summer and try to make at least one additional trip a year to spend time with him and his family and my daughter and her daughter.  

Ryan at Julie's Service
This year, Ryan made two trips to Colorado to visit.  This was a rare treat for me.  He was here for a few days at Christmas, and then he was here for a few days over the Memorial Day Weekend.  Ryan has been such a strength to me throughout the entire process of settling Julie's estate when it came to taking care of all the financial matters that occur after a death.  I don't know what I would have done without his financial wisdom and knowledge.   I've always valued his financial knowledge when I've turned to him for advice, but his fair and impartial ability to sort through many issues was truly priceless when I needed it in settling a difficult situation.

Ryan is a fun guy to be around.  He has a great sense of humor.  I love his take on life, people, and situations.  He has top notch social skills.  He makes friends easily and keeps them for a lifetime.  He likes to make people laugh and have a good time.

He also loves to cook.  On Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend, he got up and fixed breakfast for my husband and me.  Here he is in my apron.  I have others that aren't quite so feminine, but he grabbed the first one he saw before he began to fry up some bacon. 

Later that weekend, after he and I drove to Northern Colorado to stay with my daughters and a friend from Utah who would all be running the Boulder Boulder the next day, he made us some panzanella.  I was quite impressed and thought it was quite yummy, but then, I'm his mom.  

Ryan says cooking helps him relax after a hard day at the bank  Actually, he has always loved cooking.  I remember when he took cooking in junior high, he came home with all kinds of new recipes to try out on the family.

So, when I was in Utah in June, I had the opportunity to enjoy some more of his cooking.

Father's Day Barbecue

Ryan and Stephanie
Father's Day 2011
Ryan checks his email on his phone while others are serving themselves some scrumptious barbecued food he had prepared for a Father's Day celebration.  


We had grilled veggies and wonderful spare ribs that had been prepared using Ryan's special sauce.

Cousins, Regan and Gillian initially came to the celebration dressed as Dracula and bride.

Then, they changed outfits and came as bat woman and another wacky bride.  Regan has a belt made from her pajama bottoms and hat made from a cheering pom pom.  Note the make up they applied for this photo.  Don't you just love the RED lipstick?

They are being silly, but I think they will both be beauties someday.  Of course, I'm the grandmother, so I am a bit biased.  Actually, they are already quite beautiful in my eyes.

A shot of them being silly in the back yard.

Bridger has just made me the perfect smore in this photo.

Four of my grandchildren roast marshmallows around the fire pit on Ryan's wonderful back patio.

Summer Solstice Party

My oldest grandson, had a bunch of buddies over for a summer solstice party while I was in Utah.  After the party, he drove me back to my daughter's house a few miles away.  It seems very odd to think that my oldest grandchild will soon have his driver's license.  I was impressed with his driving ability while I was being chauffeured around.

While the kids ate hamburgers and fix-in's out on the patio, Ryan fixed me a perfect hamburger, just the way I like it.

While I was visiting with Ryan and his family, I had the opportunity to go shopping for a few supplies for an upcoming scout trip that he and Parker were taking later that week to the Moab area.  It was a biking, rafting, rock climbing excursion.  Ryan, who earned his Eagle Scout Badge as a young teenager, took some time off work to lead this trip for Parker's scout trip.  It was so great to see his excitement as he prepared for the trip.  It took me back to his days as a scout.  It brought back many happy memories and proud moments when I saw him inducted into the Order of the Arrow during a harrowing lightening, thunderstorm in the mountains of Idaho over 25 years ago.  I've always been proud of his achievement of reaching the rank of Eagle Scout.  It is great to see him now giving back to scouting as he takes his own son and others on scouting trips.  He is following in the footsteps of his paternal grandfather, another Eagle Scout, when he does this.

There are two special memories of Ryan that I  carry with me in my heart.  In both memories, he has the same look of absolute pride and sense of accomplishment.  One was the day he emerged from the workshop in the basement of his childhood home with the first completed birdhouse for his Eagle Scout project. He had constructed it on his own using a power saw.  Pride was written all over his face.  

I saw that same look of pride, accomplishment, and amazement when he emerged from the delivery room carrying his first-born son and my first grandson.  His eyes said, "Mom, look what I've produced!"  These memories, and the ones we continue to make whenever possible, are treasures that become more valuable as each year goes by.

Another One for The Books

I decided I'd be keeping Christmas this year.  A little over a year ago, a friend related to me how after the death of her sister when the girl was in high school, her mother never put up another Christmas tree.  She said that her mother's refusal to really celebrate Christmas after the tragic death of her daughter just before the holidays had impacted those who remain.  She continued to tell of how she wished her mother could let go of whatever was not allowing her to move forward because those who were left were not able to fully enjoy either the holiday or the mom they once knew.

Her story came back to me right after Julie's death.  I promised myself that I would try to be fully there for the children I had left.  I wanted to make sure I didn't miss out on making new holiday memories with my children and grandchildren.  I resolved that I would keep Christmas.  And, so I did.  It was harder than I ever thought possible to put the pain and loss behind me, and I know it was hard for my children also.  We did the best we could to enjoy each other, and to be honest with you, that is easy.  My children are a lot of fun.  I love being with them.

On Christmas morning, my husband and I got up at 5:30 so we could be at daughter Amy's house by 7:00. The house looked dark when we drove up.  "Really now, are they all still sleeping?" I asked my husband.  Yes, they were!  We had to bang on the door to get Amy to answer.  Even the kids were all still asleep; I guess those new jammies must have been really warm.  Soon Jon, wearing his lungi, emerged, ready to greet the day and wake the children.

One by one, wrapped up in warm blankets,  the grandchildren gathered around the tree.  It proved more difficult to rouse the adults.
Ryan checking out his new Kindle
while the kids dig into the pile of presents
Christmas morning chaos

Chaos almost seemed to take over at some point. Let's just say it was a typical Christmas morning around the tree.  There was a lot of paper, boxes, toys, and new treasures to be found.

The gifts that seemed to get the greatest approval, were those that Jon and Samantha brought with them from Bangladesh.  Each of the boys got at lungi! Soon, they were learning how to tie their new loungewear around the waist.

Mom and Ryan with new Kindles
Ryan and I gave each other Kindles.  That was a funny story.  I guess we were both on the same wave length this year.  I love my Kindle.  Thanks Ryan!

Mason and Bridger

There were many wonderful gifts under the tree, but the hits of the year were:  the lungi, the ukuleles, the brightly painted recorders from Bangladesh, and a harmonica.  Soon the house was filled with much music as all the kids tried to learn to play the new instruments.
D and Parker 
 D, Jon's friend from high school years and beyond, took a break from his job as an attorney, traveled from another state, and joined our family celebration this year.  He was pretty good on the ukulele.   As he serenaded us with "Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain," Parker sat at D's side trying to pick up some pointers.  Hey D, did they teach you those fancy ukulele playing skills at NYU?
Parker entertains the troops
Fruit basket from Aunt Suz
Thanks, again, Aunt Suzanne

As is our family tradition, we had brunch after opening the gifts.   Our wonderful breakfast feast included fresh pineapple from a gift basket from Aunt Suzanne, other fresh fruit, ham and a choice from several wonderful quiches prepared by son Ryan.  He traditionally serves up a great Christmas morning brunch each year in Utah.  We were happy that RyHop was in operation in Colorado this year.

Ryan prepares deviled eggs
Tasty and attractive dish

After brunch, he went to work on his Asian deviled eggs.  I can't tell you how he made them, but they were delicious.  He's a banker by day, but he also does a pretty awesome job of cooking up some pretty fancy dishes.  (Note how the eggs look so nice in dish that Amy hand painted.)

Amy's jello creation
It seemed we ate all day.  I can't even tell you what all was on the menu since I didn't have to do the cooking this year.  I know we had some yummy dishes.  One made by daughter-in-law Stephanie was a sweet potato and hot green chili dish that was really good.  Amy was quite proud of her green jello and insisted that I take a picture of her creation.

Hannah with new favorite blanket
with Stephanie in the background
The day was filled with laughter, eating, much music, and game playing.  Hannah snuggled in her new blanket.

Bridger practices on his ukulele

Stylish Regan
Regan modeled her new clothes.  When asked how she got such style, she said it has taken her a while, but now she is learning how to put together her look.  At nearly 13, she is already a beauty.

At some point, Grandma and Grandpa went back to the hotel to shower and get dressed for the day.  When we got back to the house, it was time for a Christmas afternoon walk to the pond so Parker, my outdoor enthusiast, could try out his new duck call whistle.

Sister and Brother
Amy and Ryan

Parker calling the ducks
Bridger and Atticus
Taking a break from skimming rocks across the water
Jason and Bridger
Christmas evening, there was more game playing.  Monopoly was played until someone suggested poker.  It turned out that the kids didn't know how to play and I, who had learned to play poker as child when my father taught me and cousins how to play using pennies, decided to join the fun. By then, Jason, Julie's boyfriend, had joined the family frivolity.  Soon, he was winning at poker.  I was losing from the very beginning.  Jason's poker skills were no match for the novice player Bridger.
In the end, Bridger wiped all of us out.

  We missed Keicha and Gillian and wish they could have joined us.  It was hard to even think of celebrating Christmas without Julie.  We knew we wanted to be together, and I'm grateful that Santa answered Regan's letter and made sure that this happened.

The letter reads:
Dear Santa,
     I have never written one of these but I just wanted to say thank you!  Every year you have gotten me what I asked for.  It is so nice.  I am writing you this year because it is a very hard year for my whole family.  It is hard because my Aunt Julie is gone.  It will be the first year without her.  We are going to Colorado because my Aunt Amy is having a hard time too, but you know what goes on in everyone's life in the world.  Thank you again, and I don't mind if you can't get the aqua lap top.  No matter what, you are still the best man in the world.   Regan

As the family reflects on Christmas 2010, I hope we treasure the time we had together as a family.  I hope we've learned to hold on to each other tightly and not take any one of us for granted.  I hope that we remember that time spent together as a family cannot ever be wasted time.  I hope we remember how important relationships are, and that we continue to value the ones we have.  I hope each individual will continue to heal, and that all fractured relationships will also be healed.  In the end, we are family.  We are resilient.  We try to accept each other as imperfect human beings with frailties.  We try to be there for each other.  We love each other deeply.
Ryan and two of his children
Parker and Regan

We included friends of Julie's and Jon's throughout the extended time of holiday celebration.   These friends have enriched our lives greatly and helped us shoulder the pain we have suffered over these past seven months.  Our celebrations were not the same without Julie.  We missed her laughter, her dancing to the music, and her unique personality.  We missed her competitive spirit in games.  We missed her caring nature.  She wasn't there to put her arm around my shoulder.  She wasn't there helping out in the kitchen.  She wasn't there cleaning up the Christmas mess and restoring order to our surroundings and lives.  She wasn't there playing games with the kids or building things with logos.  She wasn't there thriving in the middle of the family chaos.  She was there in our hearts, and there she will remain.  Christmas will always remind us of our loss, but it will also reminded us that she was a gift to us for 34 years.  We will continue to treasure her and each other as move forward into 2011 and the future.

Julie's First Christmas

Buster Brown Jr. - What a wonderful dog you were!

The kitchen floor is less clean these days, and the carpet no longer yields a canister full of hair after a vacuuming.  Without Buster, we are learning that he kept the area around the kitchen completely free of little crumbs that we now find must be swept up.  Yes, Buster, our beautiful golden retriever is no longer with us.  Above is a photo of Buster in his favorite spot: near the table and next to Jim.  He is no doubt waiting for a crumb from the cereal bowl to fall on the floor.

On June 1, 2010, three days after the death of my beloved daughter, Julie, Jim and I had to make the unexpected decision to put down our dog.  It all seemed surreal.  At the time, we could hardly believe what we were going through.

We knew Buster had not been himself, and he had been taken in to the vet quite a few times in the past six months, but somehow, his condition was never diagnosed.  It turns out that Buster had cancer in his lungs and in his heart.  One of the tumors in his heart burst while he was staying with Jim's daughter, Thia, in Colorado Springs.  Thia called with the news and said she was taking him to the vet.  Thankfully, they were able to diagnose his condition and give us the information we needed to make the decision that the right thing to do would be to put him down since there was nothing that could be done for him.  The vet was able to keep him alive until Jim and I could drive from the Boulder area, where we were in the midst of planning Julie's memorial service, to Colorado Springs to be by his side for his final moments.  In many ways, it was healing for me to be able to be there with him as he passed from this life to the next.  Jim and I both held and petted our beloved dog as he took his final breath of life.

Technically, Buster was my dog.  Jim gave him to me for Christmas in 1999.  He was a scrappy little puppy who immediately went to work chewing everything he could find.  I think Jim expected Buster to automatically be as perfectly behaved and wonderfully trained as Buster's predecessor Red had been.  Buster would require much training, especially since he had to cope with two  very different "parenting tactics."  I was the one who expected a very tightly controlled, well trained dog, while Jim preferred to indulge our spoiled pet.

Somehow even though Buster was a handful and a challenge at first, it became very evident early on that Buster was really Jim's dog and would become his best buddy.  I'm not sure if this photo is prophetic or not, but please note that Jim is only wearing one sock.  Do you think he had taken his sock off and Buster had grabbed it and begun his life long habit of chewing up and eating socks?

No matter what his bad habits were, like eating socks, kleenex, and chewing up the back deck so badly when he was a pup that we had to have my son Jon and his wife Samantha rebuild the deck, Buster won over the hearts of our family right from the very beginning.

Buster was born in October of 1999.  My two grandchildren, Mason and Gillian, had been born the previous October.  Buster became the childhood companion to the grandchildren when they were at Grandma Sally's house.  That is one reason why we wanted a golden retriever.  They are awesome with children.  We never had to worry about him being anything but gentle and loving around the children.

I remember when one of the grandchildren at about age two or three looked into his eyes after petting him and said, "He has real eyes."  I guess he seemed like a big stuffed animal, except that this fluffy pet was alive.


He loved the grandkids and would be so excited whenever they came to visit.  The photo above was taken just a year ago.  He still looked healthy and young as he played with Atticus.

After Jim retired, Buster became his constant companion.  Buster sat at Jim feet as Jim read the morning newspaper and patiently waited for the daily walks at the river walk.  They had a routine.  Buster knew that Jim would be faithful in feeding him in the exact amounts twice a day at the same time.  Buster's weight was managed carefully even though ours was not!  Buster could count on being groomed once a week on Sunday afternoons by Jim.  He also loved his monthly visits to the professional groomer.  Believe me, this dog was treated very well.  Some might say that he was very spoiled.  Spoiled or not, Buster was the most loving dog ever, and he loved his good and kind master very much.
Julie's dog, Phoenix, was one of Buster's playmates from puppy days.  Phoenix, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix was a rambunctious alpha dog.  It was always a wild time when the two of them were in the yard or in the house.  Many happy times were spent by all of us with these two beautiful dogs.   This photo of Buster and Phoenix surrounded by Hannah, Julie, Keicha and Mason was taken a year ago.
Buster's days were spent just being our loving companion.  He spent time with us on walks and trips to the mountains when we had the opportunity to get out of town.  Or, he loved to sun himself on the porch or the patio.  The yard was his domain.  That is another thing that has changed.  We now find the squirrels and the neighborhood cat have been daring to hang out in our yard.  Our guard is no longer on duty.  They feel free to run from tree to tree without being chased from our premises by our watchdog who only barked if something or someone got into the backyard.

The last few months of Buster's life were most spent with Thia and her family.  He stayed with them as we went to Europe and then during the time we were out of town dealing with the aftermath of Julie's sudden and unexpected death.  We are grateful that he was with family and children in his last days.  He loved being with the kids.  Rachel and Nicole could not have been better caregivers.  They upstaged their grandpa by brushing Buster each day when they returned from school.  I love this photo of these two beautiful girls in a beautiful setting with a beautiful dog.  Thanks, Nicki and Rachel for taking such good care of Buster!

The last family gathering that included Julie, Buster, and Phoenix, who now lives with Julie's friend Jason, was held during the Easter holiday of this year.  Little did any of us know how much our lives would change in just a few short weeks.  I am so grateful that we gathered on the front lawn to take that last family snapshot together.  
Julie is trying to get Phoenix to pose for the portrait.  Buster is paying attention to Julie.  Jim is surrounded by our wonderful family and his dog, as always, is near his side.  We all had a wonderful time that day.

 Our sad good-byes would come later.  As Buster passed from this life into the next, I whispered in his ear, "Go be with Julie."  I wasn't sure of my doctrine on my last words to our beloved dog, but later, I found a quote in a book I've been reading about the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer said, "Look, God created human beings and also animals, and I'm sure he also loves animals.  And I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth - genuinely loved each other - will remain together with God..."

Jim and I are at an end of an era.  The grandchildren are no longer babies.  We have transitioned fully into retirement.  Our loved companion is gone.  We have lost a beautiful daughter.  We do have many wonderful memories of all of our times together.  For that we are grateful.

Our formal, family portrait of the three of us was taken when we were all a bit younger!