Memorial Day to the Fourth of July ~ Part I

No blogging has been done since May!  I’ve had a lot going on, so today, I hope to catch up just a bit.

Just where DO I start?  It seems that so much has been going on in my world since the first of 2018 that I just have not had the time, the energy, or the inclination to blog about anything.

Mid-May to Memorial Day

In mid-May, I flew to Utah for to attend my grandson Bridger’s graduation from high school.  I had the most wonderful time celebrating him and his accomplishments and spending time with family.  

Bridger, the youngest child of my oldest child, my son Ryan, is one of those very special kids that has always brought joy to each person he meets.  Honestly, I’ve never met anyone who knows Bridger who doesn’t comment on what a special person he is.  His genuineness comes through in every conversation.  He’s an adventuresome kid with a great personality and good looks.  All of that only takes you so far.  Thankfully, he is also very smart and he is a hard worker who is self driven.  He plans on attending Utah State University in Logan, Utah, next year.  I’m very proud of him and can’t wait to see what the future will bring to him.
Grandma Sally with Bridger
Bridger on the big screen
Son Ryan with Bridger and Daughter-in-law Sheridan

I must admit that some tears were shed when Bridger graduated.  When he tried on his cap and gown, he gathered up his gorgeous curly long brown hair into a thick pony tail as he looked into the mirror  and contemplated how the cap would stay on that head of hair.  As he gathered up his long locks into that thick pony tail, I saw the nape of his neck and instantly saw the exact same looking curls as my daughter Julie had at her neckline.  I then saw a pony tail just like one she would make on hot summer days. Those unique similarities caused me to become overcome with emotions.  I sobbed.  I must admit that I hated bringing a sad reminder to such a time of joy, but that is how grief hits sometimes.  In the tears, I rejoiced that Bridger rocks that beautiful mane and knew that Julie would be so proud of his hair and would say that they were genetic twins when it came to hair.  

I thought of the photo I had of Julie holding Bridger right after he was born.  She was living in Salt Lake at the time with Sheridan and was attending the University of Utah.  Now, eighteen years later, Julie is no longer with us to celebrate this occasion, but Sheridan is now married to Bridger’s father and Sheridan is the one assisting him in his graduation dress rehearsal.  Sheridan met my son at Julie’s memorial service.  I will always be so grateful for the deep and treasured friendship that Julie had with Sheridan that resulted in Sheridan joining our family.

And then, there were more tears on graduation day.  Sheridan has loved Bridger so much and has so loved being his mom that she is really having a hard time with him graduating and going on to college.  Her great boys, Max and Henry, are also a bonus that this family gained when Ryan and Sheridan married.  Max, Henry, and Bridger are as tight as any brothers you will find.  Yes, the smile on Sheridan’s face is bright and beautiful, but her eyes had great big tears falling from them.  Mine did too.  There is a lot of joy and love in this celebratory photo.

There were other great family times that I was able to have while I was in Utah spending time with my daughter and son and their families.  Times like these are treasures.  

Son Ryan, Sally, daughter Keicha, and grandchildren Gillian
Bridger & Regan.

I stayed in my very first Airbnb when I went to Utah.  The place I found was in Layton, Utah, which is midway between where my son lives and my daughter lives.  I loved staying in a place that became like a home away from home where I could stay up as late as I wanted, or go to bed whenever I wanted.  When I got up in the morning, it was great to have a kitchen where I could fix breakfast and make some coffee.  Also, I loved having a comfy couch where I could read, visit, or rest after a hectic day with the family.  This won’t be the only time I use Airbnb.  

Memorial Day is always a difficult time for me and for my family because my daughter took her life on May 29, 2010, on the Friday before Memorial Day.  My children, and those whom love me most and are always the most supportive, know just how hard that weekend and the days surrounding May 29th are for me and family.  I received many texts and calls from my family and friends asking, “Are you ok?”  Or, “I love you.  I am thinking of you.”  I so appreciate the gestures of kindness, concern, empathy, and love.

Most years on Memorial Day I go to the cemetery to decorate the graves, or I try to do a special activity to honor Julie’s memory. This year, I decided not to do any commemorative activities, but instead, I decided to take the day as it came while practicing self-care.  

On the 26th, I took some time to record my thoughts.  I said I was raw.  My emotions were fragile.  I recorded how raw I looked and how raw I felt.  In the rawness, I also recorded how I was rejoicing because I learned more from the great loss of a daughter about love than I ever could have learned any other way.  

On that day, the 26th of May, I also rejoiced because I had yet another day and another summer to look forward to with hope and joy.  I took the day to begin planting a bit more in my impossible garden.  I had flowers to plant.  That always brings me joy.  In my devotions for that day, I was reminded that the Lord’s mercies are new each morning.  I reflected on beautiful scripture card that I keep on my desk.

I love this verse.  I am held by One whom will keep me from stumbling.  What comfort this assurance bring me.

On Memorial Day itself, May 28th this year, we had a picnic in our little village where we live.  The day was warm and sunny.  A neighbor and his wife graciously set up tables in their driveway and in the garage where all of us in our HOA community could visit while eating great picnic type food.  It marked the official start of summer.  I was more than ready to see the season arrive.

As I toured my yard trying to decide where to plant flowers I had to snap a photo of this poor little tree because in many ways, this poor little tree is a perfect representation of the kind of winter I had.  

I planted the tree, a more mature Alberta pine, last fall because I didn’t want to wait for a smaller one to grow.  I had planted a smaller Alberta pine four or five years ago, and it had never been nibbled on by deer.  I observed that mature Alberta pines were thriving all over the neighborhood.  I even saw this label at a local nursery: 
The label gives the name of the tree that I planted, and it states that it is good choice to buy because it is deer resistant.  

I guess the deer in my neighborhood can’t read.  Or, maybe they haven’t had access to the labels and lists that inform gardeners about “deer resistant” plants.  

Several factors figured into the demise of this tree.  We had a terribly dry winter.  The poor deer were starving, and they were thirsty.  My tree was most likely the tastiest looking tree in the neighborhood.  It had been well watered, and the needles must have looked tender and moist and appetizing.  My tree became a food sources for desperate animals.

Desperate creatures do desperate things.  I felt like that tree through most of the late winter and and early spring.  I felt events beyond my control, and people within my family of origin structure chipping away at me.  I felt attacked and stripped as others nibbled away at me when I found myself in a situation I did not create and was powerless to change.  Yep, that tree represented a lot of what I was experiencing this spring.

Quite honestly, during this time, I just didn’t feel like blogging.  I did a lot of journaling.  Writing always helps me when I am going through troubling experiences.  Writing in my journal helps me because by writing in my own personal journal I can record my thoughts, experiences, reactions, feelings, and emotions in a safe place.  Writing gives me a sounding board.  Writing also allows me to sort out all of those thoughts, feelings, and emotions that assail during times of loss, stress, joy, change, or tension.  Writing gives me a chance to reflect, to reconcile my emotions, and reflect upon what is going on in my life.  

Somehow, I got through the difficult month of May.  During the month of May, I also was able to celebrate the graduation of a dear grandson while also having the opportunity to spend time with children and grandchildren.  May brought time plant some flowers, and to spend more time out of doors rejoicing over the beauty found in my neighborhood.  This hillside is just around the corner from my home.  

Just a mile and a half from our home is a beautiful spot that was once a sanatorium.  It is now a retreat center, a nursing home, and the setting includes a cemetery and a church.  I love to walk on the grounds. Truly, I am grateful to live in this beautiful part of the world.  Spring, summer, and fall, I enjoy walking in the special places.  

On the very last day of May, I stopped for a late lunch after running errands and had a serendipitous meeting with a high school friend, her husband, and friend of theirs when they happened to eating lunch at the same Panera where I stopped.  We all lunched together, shared stories and laughter and marveled just how amazing life can be when we have chance meetings and are able to spend time together in rich conversation.

All in all, while the winter had been a rough one for me, and while May had certainly had its low points, it also mostly had some wonderful moments filled with love, family, friends, and milestones.  

More later.

Graduations and Grandbabies ~ Part I

Photos Tell A Story

 When my grandchildren see me coming camera in hand, most of them run and hide.  I admit it.  I am obsessed with documenting the times I've had with my children and grandchildren by taking photos.  Since the advent of the digital camera, I have literally amassed thousands of photos of my offspring. My photos are sent to my computer to an app created by Apple called Photos.  These same photos are also stored in iCloud.  One feature of the app Photo is called "Memories."  Photos are collected in the memories feature of Apple's Photo app by date and appear on my Apple products in the Photo app nearly daily.  I am always fascinated to see what photos may appear each day with the title "On This Day."

Today, it was a treat to see photos of the day twelve years ago when my youngest son Jonathan and his wife Samantha graduated from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS).  I've spent the remainder of the day thinking about these two and the incredible journey they have been on since the day they met.

The Backstory

Jonathan must have been seventeen, or maybe he was eighteen, when he started talking about Sam, this new girl he had met.  Then, one day, he announced that Sam was driving down to Pueblo where we lived from Colorado Springs to pick him up for a date.  Jon didn't have a car at the time.  I don't even know if he had a driver's license, but Sam obviously had both.  Jon was not attending high school; he'd dropped out.  He was in his phase of wear grungy clothes.  I was more than curious to meet this new girl in his life as Jon had never brought girlfriends around the house.  Did he ever even have a girlfriend before Sam?  I don't think so.

I think we were instructed by Jon to be cool with Sam and not ask too many questions of her because she was shy.  I think she died a thousand deaths when we answered the door because she had to do the dreaded meet the parents gig.  When the doorbell rang, it seems Jon ran to answer the door first because he just wanted to rush out the door without making introductions to save both of them from going through the formalities.  Of course, I wasn't having any of that.  I wanted to meet Sam.  Quick introductions were made at the door.  Sam was polite, and cute, and dressed very similarly to Jon.  I approved of her, but of course I would never say that to either one of them at the time.

As soon as Jon was out of the door, Sam turned and together they walked across the porch towards the driveway.  That is when I saw that they each had heavy chains hooked to their belt loops that were attached to a wallet in the back pocket of their jeans.  My husband and I turned and looked at each other when we saw the way they both had those chains on their jeans.  "Soul mates." I said with a smile.  "I think Jon found his soul mate."

The Academic Journey

It was a number of years after that day, that these two graduated from college.  They had already lived on their own but together in New York, Austin, Texas, and then returned to Colorado Springs to marry and begin college.  Soon after they were married, they also had a child, dear Atticus.

Atticus Roberts Christiansen

Those two had a lot going on in those years.  They were working to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and keep a car running.  Jonathan mostly rode his bike everywhere.  They also attended college and that meant they were constantly studying and writing papers.  They also showed themselves to be fantastic parents who spent a lot of time enjoying and nurturing their adorable and bright son.

Those years were not easy as they plugged away and worked hard and earned those college degrees.  It seems hard to imagine that is has been twelve years since the day when they met the goal they had set and accomplished that milestone of earning their bachelor degrees.

Jonathan and Samantha Christiansen
Graduation from UCCS
May 2005

Samantha graduated with highest honors and won a full-ride scholarship to work on her PhD at Northeastern University in Boston.  Jonathan was accepted to Boston College.  This meant that in the summer of 2006, we would proudly, but with sad hearts, send this little family of three off across the country to Boston.  Trips to see them and trips home to see us were not frequent, but at least we got to see each other as they continued their educational journey.

As part of the journey, Samantha was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Bangladesh.  She gave up this prestigious scholarship to take a scholarship that would give her enough money to take Jonathan and Atticus with her to Bangladesh.

Boston seemed so far away, but it suddenly it seemed quite close to home when this adventurous and hardworking family took off to the other side of the world to Bangladesh.  They would live and study there for a year and half.  Atticus attended a bilingual French school while they were there.  They kept us intrigued with all of the stories of the adventures they were experiencing.

Once Samantha was finished with her research for her PhD, they returned to Boston from Bangladesh and were able to return to the same apartment building where they had lived before.  Since Jon had finished his MA at Boston college before they left for Bangladesh, he went to work as a researcher studying the effects of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) grants in education.  He worked closely with researchers at MIT and Harvard.  Samantha returned to finish her PhD at Northeastern.  She also by this time had published a chapter in an edited volume about sixties movements.

Dr. Samantha Christiansen
Atticus and Jonathan Christiansen
Northeastern University, Boston, MA

In 2014, Samantha and Jonathan moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Samantha would begin her University career as a professor of history at Marywood University.  Jonathan was able to also gain employment at Marywood teaching sociology.  Their offices, like the two of them have been since they were teenagers, were side by side.

This past year has not been an easy one. Jonathan began working this past summer on his PhD in Binghamton, New York.  This has meant he has carried a full-load of teaching while also carrying a full load as a student.  He also drove an hour each way four days a week to get to and from  his classes in Binghamton. 

The journey these two began into the world of higher education has been a long one and a hard one.  It has also been exciting.  Today, as I looked at those photos of my son and his wife graduating from college twelve years ago, I just shook my head in wonder at all that has transpired since that day. 

Samantha & her mom Jonathan and his mom
Graduation from UCCS 2005

Jon and Sam were both mostly raised by single moms and those two moms could not have been prouder of their two kids on that graduation day.  Those same two moms have missed these two kids and their son terribly as they've traveled the world and accomplished so much. 

It has not always been an easy path that they have followed.  There has been a few rocks in their pathway, and quite a few twists and turns, but they have persevered and been successful in their academic, professional, and personal lives.

As a couple and as a family, Jonathan, Samantha, and Atticus are a pretty tight unit.  I think I was right the first time I met Samantha and saw her and Jonathan together.  They are soul mates.

As I said this past year has not been an easy one, but it has been so exciting because...

wait for it...

These two surprised us all with the most amazing news ever earlier this year. 

News I could not share at the time, but I can now. 

This couple has added to their family and presented me with my eighth grandchild!

 Leon Roberts Christiansen 

was born a week before the end of this semester on April 23, 2017.  

Leon Roberts Christiansen

Can you even believe how beautiful he is?  I know I might be biased, but I honestly don't think I've seen a more adorable baby in a long time.  Probably not since my last grandchild Atticus was born.  This grandma is over the moon.  I can't wait to see him!

True to form, Samantha gave birth to Leon on a Sunday night and returned to teach her classes at the end of the week.  Jonathan continued to teach and write papers for his program.  Thankfully, Grandma Rita flew out from Colorado to help these two with taking care of the new baby while she also kept meals cooked, dishes washed, laundry done, and got plenty of time to hold and love on this adorable baby. 

Atticus now fourteen is getting to know his new baby brother. 

 There is even more amazingly happy news.  

They are coming home to Colorado Springs to live! 

Samantha has been offered and has accepted a job as a tenure track professor at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs.  In August, she will begin working as a history professor in the department from which she graduated twelve years ago.  Jonathan will have to stay in Scranton another year to finish up his PhD, so this academic journey is not quite over for him.

Quite honestly, I am so thrilled with all of this good news that I can scarcely believe it.  Come August, I will finally get to hold this precious new family member in my arms while I welcome this family back home.  They will have come full circle since that graduation day twelve years ago.  I could not be prouder of them.

Milestones ~ Part One

Milestones ~ Those Rare and Precious Moments in Life

Rose Kennedy once said, "Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments." To me milestones are more than mere moments.  Milestones mark significant points of reference in life.  When one reaches these milestones, a celebration allows for those special moments associated with the milestone to occur.  Such moments are the treasured memories that we remember long after the event is over.

 The day a child is born marks the entry of the child into his or her journey into life.  This milestone brings significant change into the lives of the parents.  The grandparent sees the birth of a grandchild as milepost that signifies that the journey though life has progressed to middle age or beyond.

The child progresses from infancy to childhood to adolescence.  The grandparent watches in awe and disbelief as all those moments go through a myriad of  transitions during the first few decades of a grandchild's life.  The moments seem to roll along with a rate of speed much faster than the grandparent can believe. 

Suddenly the toys that were such fun for the grandchildren during those golden days of childhood are gathering dust in grandma's basement.  The grandchildren are no longer interested in dolls, stuffed animals, trucks, puzzles, coloring books, children's books, and trips to the zoo.  Pancakes made in the shape of Mickey Mouse are no longer requested after sleepovers at grandma's house.  In fact, sleepovers don't even take place.  The grandchild is too busy with sports, and friends, and events, and homework to have time for grandparents anymore.

Too soon, the grandchildren have skipped over the important stepping stones of leaving grade school, entering middle school, and then entering high school.  Too soon they have driver's licenses and are dressed for proms.  Too soon they become young adults and leave high school head out into the world where they must make their own way.  

Thankfully, milestones such as high school graduation are celebrated.  It gives the grandparent a chance to stop and take a deep breath before turning to face the new direction of the life journey the dearly beloved grandchild will take as he or she sallies forth into adulthood.  The Free Dictionary so aptly defines sallying forth as "a sally into the wide world beyond his home." The grandparent recognizes the pitfalls of so much that is in the world.  They know that the dearly loved grandchild is off on a venture with an uncertain outcome.

A Family Milestone:  Regan's Graduation

This past month, I attended my oldest granddaughter's graduation from high school.  My dear, sweet Regan, a beautiful granddaughter with whom I was never able to spend enough time marked that great milestone in her life:  high school graduation.

I flew from Colorado to Utah on Sunday, May 22.  My son Ryan, aka Regan's dad, picked me up at the air port.  In no time at all, I was in the middle of preparations for Regan's graduation party that would be attended by family.  Son Ryan loves to cook, so he jumped right into making a great celebratory meal.  Once he and wife Sheridan were in the kitchen, the entire family gathered in this family's favorite gathering place:  the kitchen.

Henry, Regan, Ryan, Sheridan, Parker, & Bridger
After an evening spent enjoying the company of family while eating great food, we were all off to bed.  I spent the night in borrowed pj's since my suitcase did not arrive from Colorado when I did.  (Note to self:  When you can fit into your oldest son's pajama bottoms, it is time for a diet.  Go on a diet!)

At one o'clock in the morning, I received a call from the airline telling me that my bag had arrived in Salt Lake from the trip it had taken to LA.  Did I wish to have driver wake me up when he arrived at the house with my bag, or should he leave it on the porch?  I said to leave it on the porch.

The next morning we were all off to Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, for Regan's graduation.  Her big day had finally arrived.

We were able to capture a quick family photo of Regan with her dad and with Sheridan and Sheridan's boys Henry and Max before we entered the ceremony.

Newly graduated, Regan was hugged by her very proud papa.  That girl has always held a great big special spot in her father's heart.  What a beauty she has become.  She is also one of the sweetest girl's ever.  Congratulations, Regan.

After graduation, we all went to lunch at an Ogden favorite, Rooster's.  Lunch was hosted by Regan's mom, Stephanie.  Regan is surrounded by beautiful women: her mom and her aunt Keicha.

Regan lovingly kissing her mom and thanking her for the party.

Regan with her mom Stephanie and her father Ryan.

Parker's Milestone: He publishes an article in a magazine.

While we were at the graduation party, I learned that grandson Parker, Regan's big brother, who just finished his second year at Utah State University, published his first magazine article in Outdoor Utah Adventure Guide 2016.  Parker, an outdoor enthusiast, who loves to hunt, fish, hike, and camp, is also studying to become a journalist.  His goal is to become a photo journalist.  He had landed a few gigs writing up coverage of lacrosse games for a lacrosse magazine during the last semester of school.  Then, he was able to write an article that was published in this travel magazine.   I am so proud of him!

The article, "The Canyon that Hides It All," is about Logan Canyon.  He did an excellent job writing about this beautiful canyon that is near Utah State where he goes to college and near Bear Lake where he spent so much of his childhood at a wonderful home right on the lake that once belonged to his paternal great-grandmother.  Parker is working in Bear Lake this summer.

This spunky, good natured, and good hearted young man, ended his second year of college by living in a campground in Logan Canyon.  He had a roommate situation that didn't work out at the very end of the semester.  It was too late in the semester to find alternative housing, and being the adventuresome young man that he is,  he lived in his car and in a campground for the last few weeks of school.  During the day, he spent many hours in the library studying.  His grades reflected his commitment to study and his hard work.  He tells me he is keeping a journal of all of his adventures.
Home Sweet Home
Parker with Regan's graduation flowers in front of his trusty Subaru.

Graduation from high school is a milestone that marks a juncture in life.  It is a turning point.

This grandmother has seen two grandchildren reach that milestone.  Next year two more will, God willing, also reach that rite of passage that marks the end of childhood and adolescence and marks the entry into adulthood.  I truly don't know where the time goes.

While I was in Utah, I was able to spend a bit of time with daughter Keicha also.  I was anxious to see her garden and some of the improvements on her home she has been making.  The rose bush I bought her to as a remembrance of Julie was in full bloom.

Easy Does It
Julie's memorial rose.

May can be a very difficult month for me.  
It was good to be with family marking milestones and building new memories.

I thought of how much Julie would have loved to see Regan become such a beautiful young woman.  
It really doesn't seem that long ago since Regan was a baby and Julie was feeding her a summertime supper at Great Grandma and Great Grandpa's house. 

During those milestone moments, such as graduations, I don't express my sorrow over Julie missing another important event in the lives her "true loves," her nieces and nephews.  

Sadly, I do experience a deep grief in the midst of joy, but the joy reminds me that we have much to celebrate in the accomplishments of the living.

Milestones are to be marked with joy, thanksgiving, gratitude and celebration.

I carry such hope for my grandchildren.
While they do sallie forth into ventures with unknown outcomes, they are only doing what all of us did as we moved into adulthood.

 I see great resilience in the two grandchildren whom have moved forward into adulthood.
For that I am grateful.
Resilience is such an important trait to cultivate.
I see their resilience in the way they approach life.
They demonstrate confidence, intelligence, good social skills, and determination.
They are hard workers.
They put others before themselves.


On Regan's graduation day, my heart is full of joy and anticipation for her as she steps forward to enter into the next phase of life.  

I see her kind and generous heart.
I know of her success in high school.
I know she is hard worker.
She has what it takes to realize her dreams.
She will take a gap year before starting college.
She will be teaching gymnastics to younger children in the gymnastics school where she once trained.
She will also be working in the family business:  Hip and Humble.


Julie left a message to us all.
It was found in her apartment.
I know this is her wish for Regan and for all of us:

I pray my grandchildren know that this is what I also want for them:  Live well.

You are greatly loved.
You are surrounded by family who loves you and will support you with love and encouragement when you need it.
You have a legacy of love to build on.
You are in my daily prayers.

What a joy it is to mark the milestones in the lives of those whom we love so deeply.
Congratulations, REGAN!

Summer Memories for 2014 ~ Part One

Summer began for me when we as a family all came together to celebrate the marriage of my oldest son Ryan and his beautiful bride Sheridan.  It was the family event of the year.  For me, it was a precious few days with my children and grandchildren.  Those times are so rare.  Those times are so treasured.

Grandsons were reunited.
There were times of fishing, hiking, and just hanging out like boys love to do.
Male bonding time is so important.
The family wedding gave four of my favorite boys time for that.
The other two favorite boys of mine, grandson Atticus, and son Jon,  were absent from this gathering,
but we would see them later in the summer.

In August, the noon time meal that I shared with just Parker and Mason in June has become a precious memory.
We talked about life.
I love when I can spend time talking to my grandsons.
I love that my grandsons sometimes want to spend time talking with me.

Of course the granddaughters were there too.
My regret is that I didn't get the camera out and take more photos of them.
The laughed and giggled,
sat in front of the fire and made smores.

They helped with wedding preparations.

Sometimes, I don't like to constantly be taking photos.
The grandchildren dread the camera coming out.
Later, I wish I had more photos.

My daughters also had a time of being together that included hiking, and getting dressed up for the big event.

Later in the summer, my youngest son and his son came out for a visit.
I had not seen them for two years.
That is way too long to go without a visit.

Jon and Atticus had not been seen our new home.
I must admit I was a bit nervous that they wouldn't like it.
Our old home had been such a great "grandma" kind of house.
This new place has a lot to offer.
What's not to like about the places where we walk in the evening?

 The surroundings are serene, and peaceful.
The views of the city are spectacular.
And then, there are the ubiquitous deer
that are so common to us, but a delight for others to see.

There was a large expanse of green grass where Jonathan could practice his handstand.

One day of their visit was spent at Water World.
Hannah and Atticus were able to spend the day exploring the many exciting parts of Water World with Jon.
Grandma Sally took no pictures, and mostly sat under a tree trying to stay cool.
She did venture into the water a few times.

We've had so much rain this summer, and it seemed to rain everyday while Jonathan and Atticus were here.  We ventured out for a hike with Grandpa Jim, but we only got a photo taken and then the rain came down.  No hiking was done.

So, off we went to Manitou.
The penny arcade is always a nice destination when it rains.
Jon said this was a game he loved to play when he was the age of Atticus.
Looks like he still likes to play it.

I asked my only left handed grandchild if he played skee ball with his left hand or his right.
He wasn't sure.
He tried using the left hand and then the right to toss the ball.
I guess he is ambidextrous when it comes to skee ball.

I don't know that Atticus has developed a taste for the mineral water we call Manitou water yet,
but he drinks it every summer.  It is part of the ritual that is a part of coming to Colorado.

Jon wanted to take us to a place we'd never been.
It is a place where 'stoners' and 'graffiti artists' once hung out.
Now it is a family destination.
I guess the place had changed a lot since Jon was last there;
he'd never seen so many families there before.
The graffiti remains.
He hiked up on the rocks and looked around before helping Atticus across the creek.

We had to hurry home because daughter/sister Amy was coming down for a short visit.
Time with Jon and Amy together is truly rare and precious.
It brings a big smile to my face.

Too soon, Jon and Atticus had to leave for home.
They had flown from back east, but they would drive home in our trusty Subaru.
This car will now be Jon's mode of transportation.
It has served Jim well for many years.

Now, we hope it will also serve Jon just as well in those Pennsylvania winters.

Before Jon and Atticus made the trip across the U.S.A., it was time with some photos with Boston and his buddy Atticus.

Boston really enjoyed his time with Atticus.
He didn't even bother to report to our bedroom at bedtime.
He went directly downstairs and slept with Atticus.
Yep, he jumped up and slept on the same bed.
(This is totally against the rules for Boston, but the rules were slackened while Atticus was here.)
He really misses his buddy.

This grandma is grateful for every minute she had this summer with her grandchildren.
Now, summertime memories are stored away for another year.
Soon, we all will be in our assigned places for fall.
Summer will be a memory,
a precious memory of time spent with those I love most.

For My Grandchildren

This is a letter to my grandchildren, or perhaps, it is a letter to myself.  I’m not so sure my grandchildren will ever even read these words I have to say.  The words in my heart must be expressed even if the ones for whom they are intended never read them.

My grandchildren, my dear grandchildren, you are on the cusp of life.  

The point of transition where all of you now stand is quite dramatic.  

There was a time a few years back, when together you climbed a fence to see what was on the other side.  With curiosity, together you all climbed higher to have a better view of what was beyond where you had been standing on your side of the fence.

Today, you are all four year older.
You are on the side of the fence that represents childhood.
You will quickly go over that fence between childhood and move into adulthood.

One of you has graduated from high school and is going off to college.  

Two of you are going to be getting your license to drive. 
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 I will have four of you in high school this year. 

I will have two of you in middle school.  

I look at this place where you all stand right now, this place where you will soon make the transition into the next stage of your growing up years, and recognize that those days when I was your grandma who took you on adventures to Lagoon, or to penny arcade, or out for an ice cream cone, or to the zoo are fading into the past. 

I must admit that I have tears in my eyes when I write these words.  I wish we would have had more times together.  You all lived far from me, so times together were not always easy to come-by.  Every single moment I have ever had with each one of you is a treasured memory in my heart.

These tears that are falling from my eyes are a grandma thing.  They are sort of like lipstick kisses, and grandma taking too many pictures of you.

The tears are there because I have loved and treasured my days with you as a grandmother.  I hope to have many more days with you all as you move into your futures.  As your grandmother, I also am taking this opportunity to speak to you about the lives I hope to see you live.

I have no doubt that you all will work hard and accomplish much.  You are a talented, intelligent, good hearted bunch of kids.  All of you have so much going for you.  I am very proud of that.  

Of course I want you to 
study hard,
read many good books,
learn those math equations,
turn in your homework,
get to class,
don't skip school, 
put on your seat belts in the car,
drive carefully,
stay away from drugs and alcohol,
make good friends,
respect your teachers,
make wise choices.

There is one more reason why I am writing this letter. 

There is a very important thing I don’t want you to neglect as you move on with your life: family.

We live in such a disconnected world these days.  It is easy to get busy living our own lives and forget about building those relationships that matter.  

Family matters.  

This summer, while most of us were at Ryan and Sheridan’s wedding, I was so thrilled to see how many good times you had with your cousins.  You hiked, fished, toasted marshmallows, played games, stayed up late, and talked, and laughed.  Times like these are more rare than I wish they were, but at least we have them now and again.

While we were together, I had the gift of having lunch with two of you.  We talked about divorce.  We talked about how hard it is for families who go through a divorce.  Divorce has touched our family more times than I wish it had, yet we have also seen new relationships bless our family after a divorce.

I never had to deal with the divorce of my parents.  For that I am grateful.  Even though I have not had to deal with what you are dealing with after your parents have divorced, I know one thing for sure, one must learn to forgive the failures of one’s parents and do one’s own part to make the relationship between the parent and the child a strong one.  Parents disappoint and hurt us.  It is a part of life.  We disappoint and hurt our parents.  That is why we have the opportunity to learn about forgiveness.  

As you move on into life, you have the opportunity to become mature adults and make your own way, but for now, all but one of you need the guidance and wisdom that comes from your mom and your dad.  

I left home at eighteen when I went off to college.  In those days, it was not easy to keep in touch with my parents.  Long distance phone calls were expensive and were only used for emergencies.  I wrote letters to my mom and dad.  I learned that from my father who always wrote letters to his mother until she died.  He was faithful to stay in touch with her on a weekly basis by writing long letters every week even though he was nearly seventy years old.  

As you know, my mom is nearly one hundred years old.  For nearly fifty years, I have made many car trips to see her.  She has never learned to drive and has not been to see me in my home over twelve years.  It has not always been easy for me to make these trips, but as a daughter who honors her mother for who she is in my life, I take the responsibility of making sure I see her as often as I can.

You are all just beginning the adventures you will have in your future.  As you move on into the next year, I am so excited for all of you.  I hope you have much success and a lot of fun discovering who you are and what you want out of life.  I hope you will stay in touch with me.  I love texts, phone calls, or video calls.  I am here.  Call me.  I’ll try not to bug you much, but I will check in once in a while with a text or a call.

More importantly, keep communication open with your mom and your dad.  They are the ones who love you more than any other person in this world.  They have made great sacrifices for you so you have the wonderful material things that you have had in this life.  They have worried over you and cried over you when you are hurting.  They still do this, and they will always continue to do worry over you while they allow you to spread your wings and fly into the future.  As you soar off into those teen years and adult years remember, becoming a responsible teenager/adult involves learning how to love and show honor and respect to your parents.  

Our family has had a lot of sadness in the past few years.  I hope if there is one truth that you all know for sure, it is this:
We are all here for you.
You have grandparents who adore and love you and would do anything to help you.
You have aunts and uncles who adore and love you and are there for you.
You have cousins who will be there after your grandparents, your moms, your dads, and your aunts and uncles are gone.
Your family will always be here for you.  
Each and every single one of you.

My life has been rich in friendship.  My life has given me many great relationships.  The most difficult, and yet the most treasured relationships in my life, have been within the family.  Our family is not perfect, but I hope you all remember that we are all here for you cheering you on as you move into this next chapter of your lives.  Make it a good one.  

I have great confidence in you abilities to make wise choices.  I also know that if and when you make a misstep, and we all do, you know that you have a team behind you cheering you on in your family.  

Text an uncle or an aunt or a cousin, or make a call to you mom or to your dad, or to you grandma and let them know you love them now and again.  We truly are all here for you.  If you need help, ask one of us for it.

Know that I pray for you, each of you, every day.  

I love you all beyond measure.

Grandma Sally


My cellphone rang this evening.
The screen on my smart phone told me the call was from my grandson Mason.
"Hi Mason."
"Hi Grandma.  You know how you said your were sending me some money for my birthday."
"Yes," I replied.

It turns out there wasn't any money in his birthday card.
"Let me check my checkbook," I said.
Sure enough.
There was a check made out to Gillian for her birthday money, 
but I had forgotten to write out Mason's check.

Oh how embarrassing!

His mother, my daughter, thought it was hilarious that I forgot to even write the check.
I guess I am losing it.
At least, I remembered it was his birthday.
I have five birthdays to remember in the span of a month.
Three birthdays in September and two in October

The story of my two October grandbabies...

One day fifteen years and nine months ago,
my daughter Amy called me with the wonderful news that she was going to be a mother.
I was so excited for her and for me.
I was thrilled at the prospects of having another grandchild.
However, with this wonderful news,
there was also a bit of an uneasy feeling in my heart.

My other daughter Keicha was trying to have a baby, but thus far, her attempts had been unsuccessful.
Just a month or so before Amy's happy phone call announcing that she was expecting,
Keicha had called in tears and told me she was trying in vitro fertilization one more time.
"If this attempt is unsuccessful, I'm not going through this again," she tearfully said.
Now, a month or six weeks later, Amy was pregnant.
"How will we tell Keicha?" I asked.

Still mulling over how to break the news of Amy's pregnancy to Keicha,
I answered a phone call from Keicha a few days later.
"Mom, I'm pregnant." was her happy news.
Only one egg was fertilized, but at least one egg was viable.
I let out a sigh of relief.
I then called Amy and told her she could call her sister with her happy news.
We had double happy news!

It was a bit of a scary few months in the first months of Keicha's pregnancy.
She was highly at risk of not seeing the pregnancy through.
Soon, it looked as if we would have two babies in October of 1998.

On October 4, 1998, my dear Mason Lloyd Hopfenspirger was born.
I was present at his birth, and even was blessed to witness it.
I was the very first person to see that boy.
That was a very special moment in my life.
Immediately, after his birth, there was a problem.
We were told he might not live through the night.
The next day, thank God,  all was well, and he looked like the healthiest baby in the nursery.
36 hours later, on October 6, 1998, my dear Gillian Marie Chapman was born.

Six weeks later, Keicha made the trip to Colorado from Utah for Thanksgiving so the cousins could meet for the first time.
Late at night, Keicha, Gillian, and Gillian's dad arrived.  I snapped a picture of the two girls showing off their new babies to each other.
I always laugh because each one only has eyes for her own child.

For the next photo, I had them both face the camera.

As you can see, I was one happy grandma with my arms full of two adorable grandbabies.

Over the years, these two cousins have had many photos taken together.
Aren't they cute?

Age five...

Mason hasn't always liked the attention and love that Gillian has shown him.
"It's embarrassing.  I don't want a picture!"

Gillian, Mason, Julie & Jason

There have been lots of fun times at Grandma Sally's jumping on the trampoline,

and dyeing Easter eggs.

This happens even now that they are teenagers and almost too cool to dye eggs.

Easter 2013

Easter candy tastes good at any age.

Hannah, Mason & Gillian
After the Easter egg hunt at Grandma's

They've gone from this
to this.

The table is getting a bit small.

This Easter, Mason showed Gillian some of his cooking talents.

All of my babies are growing up.
Gillian and Mason are standing side by side in this photo of all seven of my grandchildren.

Bridger, Parker, Regan, Jim holding Atticus, Sally holding Hannah, Gillian, Mason
It is time we had a new family portrait!

I know one thing these kids still love to do.
They love to go to the penny arcade in Manitou.
This past April, we made our trip to the arcade for fun times.

Gillian vamped it up in my sunglasses as Bat Woman.

Mason became the #1 Ice Cream Man.

They have outgrown the kiddie rides.
They are growing up way too fast.
Where has the time gone?

This year, I somehow managed to get both birthday cards in the mail for these two grandchildren who are so close in age, but I forgot to write out the check for Mason.  
I guess their old grandma is showing her age.

They are in ninth grade now.
The years have flown by so fast.
I hope they both always remember how much I love them and what a blessing they, and all of my grandchildren, have been to me.

Tonight, when I spoke to Mason, I asked, 
"When are you going to go get your driver's permit?"
His answer was a true sign of the times.
"As soon as the government is open again."

Come on congress.  I have two grandkids that you are impacting.
They want to get their driving permits.
They are now in ninth grade, the year that American civics is studied.
They aren't getting a very good lesson from you guys in congress.

I digress...
this post isn't a political commentary.
It is a a lesson in family history.

I will put a check in the mail tomorrow for Mason.
I hope he doesn't think that adults just can't be trusted these days.
I told him to look for a check from me in his card since I didn't make up to his house
 to celebrate his big day.
Oops, I forgot to put the check in the mail.
Please forgive me.
Gillian got her present.
Your's is on the way.

Gillian Marie & Mason Lloyd,
happy, happy birthday.
I love you.
Grandma Sally

Bittersweet Summer

Summer 2010 won't be over for a few days.  Officially, Fall 2010 begins on September 22.  Ever since Labor Day, my family and I have been expressing to each other how happy we will be to put this past summer behind us.  Certainly, our individual lives and the collective life of our family was changed in ways we never could have imagined on Memorial Day Weekend when my fourth child took her life at the age of 34.

As a family, we love to be together.  Each personality of each of my five children is unique.  Taught never to be afraid of individualism, it seems that my children have always majored in expressing that individualism in unique ways.  A well defined sense of self has always been articulated in intelligent, funny and sometimes overpowering ways whenever the family is together.  Let's put it this way, Thanksgivings are not boring at my house if everyone is home.  Political and religious views many times are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and my kids love a good argument.  I've often pitied the poor soul that had enough courage to marry into this family because it can't be easy to run with this tribe if one is faint of heart.

None of my children or grandchildren live near me.  The closest family lives about 120 miles from me.  We don't get together often enough.  In fact, in the past ten years, it takes a pretty major event to get everyone home at the same time.

When Julie passed away, the first thing on everyone's mind was getting the youngest member of the family home.  Jonathan and his wife and young son were all half way around the world away in Bangladesh.  It would be three long days before they were able to arrive in the Boulder, Colorado after making the long, sad journey home.  Our hearts were full of grief and happiness at the same time when we were finally able to all gather together safely at the home of my third child.  Her home officially became the headquarters for all events that followed and the hotel that housed the surviving siblings, their spouses and all seven of the grandchildren.
Looking Over the Back Fence
(I think there was a blind kitten who lived there)

Breakfast on The Back Deck

My grandchildren give me great hope for the future and fill my heart with gratitude and pride.  I hope that they will remember the time that they had together as a time of healing as well as a time of sorrow.

I know that for me, because I was surrounded by the strength of my children and the youth and beauty of my grandchildren, I will look back on the Summer of 2010 not just with grief and sorrow, but with a sense of bittersweet memories of time we all spent together loving each other, crying together, and trying to make sense of the tragic event which had just occurred to us and to our loved one who left us way too young and way too early.
My Beautiful Granddaughters
My Handsome Grandsons

This photograph has become a very special one to me as it captures the grandchildren gathered together playing a board game next to a table that is coved with the bright, colorful daisies that were the family flowers for Julie's services.  Life does go on for those who remain.  Families come together and celebrate just being together even in wake of unspeakable loss.