This Time, Last Year

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On Friday, I’m leaving town. It’s not the best time for me to be gone because we run a retail shop and it’s almost Christmas.

And yet, it’s the best time for me to be gone because it’s almost Christmas. Dad died one year ago today, so I’m going to Colorado. It was Dad’s favorite place in the world and I’m hoping I can hold myself together until we get there.

For several weeks leading up to this day, I’ve been a falling apart and recovering in equal measure. On certain days, I wake up with dread and sit in a chair reassessing my entire life, and other days I’m peaceful and resigned. I’ve labeled it burnout, but I think it’s grief in disguise. Mostly, I’ve just been working hard to put one foot in front of the other with the hope that when this year anniversary has passed, I will be well. It’s true, I’m a bit raw.

So on a morning when I was feeling more sane than usual, I realized my need to be in a place that feels as close to Dad as possible. He loved the Rocky Mountains. During my childhood, we were all over the place: Aspen, Estes Park, Ouray, Ponderosa, Purgatory, and finally, Pagosa Springs. We settled in this small southwestern town and never left. For two weeks of each year, it’s our summer escape and haven. At one point in his life, when Dad was far from retirement and the reality of how Mom’s diabetes would make her dependent on living near a dialysis unit, he and my Uncle Bill bought a piece of land in Pagosa. They were going to build a big house so our families could spend more time in the mountains. It was on Antelope Drive, near a lake with a straight-shot view of the mountains. That’s what he loved – the view. He was particular about what condo we stayed in each summer, and when he finally found one that allowed him to sit on the patio with that view of the mountain, that’s the one we booked every year. Peregrine 7877

Mom started dialysis when she was 60, and the dream of spending the entire summer in Pagosa slowly faded away. Her life was different now – she had to be strapped to the dialysis machine three days a week in order to live. And Pagosa didn’t have a unit. So they sold the piece of land on Antelope Drive and waved it away with the realization that the dreams we have early in life don’t always intertwine with the way our life unfolds in the latter years. They found a dialysis unit in Cortez, Colorado and were content to give up the dream of being in the Rocky Mountains all summer. Instead, they drove three days a week over the mountains during our two-week stay in Pagosa. My parents were steady people, and they bounced back from adversity together. For ten years, dialysis was a part of our Colorado vacation, and they never grumbled, complained, or quit going.

Dad would start talking about Colorado in January, wondering what it looked like under a blanket of snow, proclaiming the obvious, “If we think it’s cold here, imagine what it feels like in Pagose.” (He had taken to dropping the a, thus giving it a little nickname). Around April, when the weather started to turn warm, he would let us know that it would only be a few months and we’d be in Pagose. And then, about a month before our late July departure he would talk about it every time we saw him, literally counting down the days and inventorying the food and cookware he and Mom were gathering to take – pancake mix, cereals, pasta, soda, griddle, skillet. He hated the cheap cookware in the condo.

When Mom’s neuropathy took her legs from her in early March of 2007, he shopped for and purchased a van with a lift and all the necessary handicap features, then proclaimed, “This will be perfect for Colorado.” She died in April and he sold the van. And then we went to Colorado that summer without her.

For seven summers he came to Colorado with us – or maybe we went with him. It always seemed like Colorado belonged to Dad. He continued to carry all the food and his cookware until the last couple of years when he only brought Diet Coke and pancake mix. He meant to  bring the griddle, but he kept forgetting it. He spent more time alone, staring at those mountains and doing more reminiscing about past trips. And then, last December 7, before he even started talking about the next Colorado trip, he died. It’s hard for me to add anything to what I say about his death. He just died. Suddenly. After rolling the neighbor’s trash cans to the side of their house and bringing in his newspaper. He fell over in his chair and died.

Colorado belongs to us now. We took our annual trip to Pagosa last July without Dad. It was heartbreaking, but also wonderful because for the first time I understood what tied him to these mountains and this place. All those summer weeks, the memories, the people and the traditions. And that air. Our trip this past summer came in the middle of a busy, stressful time for us and I needed that fresh, crisp, mountain air. I needed to breathe. I needed to see the absolute majesty and mystery of mountains and be reminded that I should be humbled by creation, and calmed by my insignificance. I need that again now.

We will return to Tulsa on December 13, and one month from that day we will move from our comfortable house in Shadow Mountain to the Rosedale house in northwest Tulsa. After twenty years in my childhood neighborhood, eleven years in this house, and countless memories of living within a half mile from parents, aunt and uncle, and cousins, we’ll pick up and move to the other side of the city. We’ve made choices – lifestyle and financial – that necessitate us giving up our home. Many of those choices were solidified last summer in Colorado. So I’m going back to say goodbye to Dad one last time, and to prepare for another farewell. As Kyle reminds me, we’re not moving across the country, just to the other side of town.

When one thing ends something new is beginning. Although I know this, endings and goodbyes always knock me to the ground. So I’m going to Colorado to breathe in the air, look at the mountains, and be reminded that there is something bigger than my small world. I’m going to allow myself to grieve again, and then I‘m going to stand back up and come home and pack our life in boxes for another ending, and a new beginning.

Socked in With Good Books and Sore Legs

We’ve hiked ourselves silly. Today, a cool rain began about 10:30 a.m. and is continuing, slow and steady. It started just as we were talking about where to hike today. My legs are begging for mercy so the rain is welcomed, at least for a while. I’ll start getting antsy in a few hours if we’re still stuck in the condo, but I’m gorging on good books while my legs recover. A few photos from our hikes:

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I always make sure I’m “overbooked” on vacation. The last thing I want to do is run out of books to read in a town with no bookstore. And yes, I have my iPad and have already downloaded two books to be safe. So, just in case you care to see the Colorado reading list, here ’tis:

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Finished this one on the drive here. Highly recommend.
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Reading now. So good.
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I wear the shoes and he is my friend’s cousin so I thought it deserved a read. Very inspiring.
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Buechner is always good for spiritual sustenance.

So now, I think I’ll bundle up, gather my books, and hobble to the patio where I will read to the background music of the rain.  Ah, vacation.

Yesterday’s Filtered Photos

I’ve decided to take most of my photos on this vacation with my iPhone and then filter the heck out of them.  And I have good reasons lousy excuses for this.

Lousy excuse #1: My Canon Rebel T2i with the all-purpose lens is very bulky and heavy to carry on hikes.

Lousy excuse #2: It’s easier to upload photos quickly when they are on my phone (my social network-adverse son is now groaning).

Louse excuse #3: Filters make photos look cooler.

While Lousy Excuse #3 may be true, using filters feels a little like cheating. I should be able to take breathtaking photos and proudly upload them with the “no filter” hashtag. But if the filters are there (and so many to choose from), I say use ’em. Someone took a lot of time and effort to create those filters. So I’ll take a few family portraits with the big camera that has settings which continually perplex me, but most of my pictures will be snapped on my phone, filtered, and then uploaded. I am certain I will regret this when I return home and can’t enlarge photos larger than a 5×7 size, but I’m living in the moment. And I love the look of the old Colorado photos from my childhood, so I’m trying a little replicating.

My first set of photos is from the Continental Divide North Trail hike. This is a beautiful trail that winds up from the Continental Divide to the Wolf Creek Ski Summit, and then on to parts unknown. We didn’t make it to the end of the trail to find those parts unknown because we discovered that when mountains are shrouded in clouds, rain is soon to follow. All the dry and smiling faces in these photos were soon soaked, but still smiling.

So I’m going to keep using my iPhone for photos for a few more days until it begins to sink in that I paid a whole lot more for the Rebel than the phone. Call it financial guilt, or maybe I’ll just tire of all the filters and the uploading. After all, it is vacation and I should probably leave technology behind. Said she. Yeah, right.

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Running Away to the Same Place

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I’m not much for ruts. I don’t like doing the same thing the same way over long periods of time, but I make an exception for this place.

Colorado.

I know, everyone in Oklahoma and Texas flocks to these mountains in the summer. It’s not like where we go is unique, but heck, we’re in a rut. And I’m so glad that we are. I haven’t always felt this way. There were quite a few years when I longed for something different. It felt like we were doing the same thing the same way and had been doing it for a long period of time. But this summer has been filled with changes and we’ve got new and different coming at us this fall, so I’m longing for the familiar. The same old thing sounds good to me. Despite all the dizzying newness that is about to come around the bend, there are some things still beneath my feet that haven’t changed. And I am learning to appreciate the large collection of stories that my family has accumulated around these trips. We circulate them every year while we are here and they make us laugh, cry, and miss those who are gone. And they continue to bind us tightly together, which we all need for mental and physical health.

My dad always loved this story (at my mother’s expense): We have always taken these vacations with family – grandparents, siblings, cousins. In 1970, we were all in a caravan and had made it to Colorado Springs when my mother realized she had left the suitcase with all my clothes on the bed in the guest room. My mother was an obsessive packer. She started at least a week early, shopping for the clothes, washing and ironing them, and then laying them on the bed and mandating that I not wear those “trip clothes.” And now, these carefully arranged outfits were still beautifully laid out in the suitcase back in Elk City, Oklahoma. And my mother cried. Then she apologized, hugged me, and took me to  J.C. Penney where she bought me exactly three outfits that were rotated for the two weeks while we were on vacation. The photo above proves that the clothing selection at the  Colorado Springs Penney’s was not geared for vacation mode, but rather for the start of a new school year. I looked sadly formal for our time in the mountains, but I was five years old and didn’t care. For decades, however, we got a lot of mileage out of this story. My mother laughed the hardest, especially when the story was accompanied by the photos. I was a sailor in the Rocky Mountains.

I’m glad we’re here. I’m thankful to share this vacation with the same people every year – the ones who know me best and love me anyway. I’m grateful to know that there are some things in Pagosa Springs that don’t change: the Liberty theater downtown still only plays the same single movie all week, with a matinee and evening showing. This week it’s Wolverine. Bummer. It rains most every evening, but it’s sunny most every morning. The County Fair is serious business and takes place the first week in August. The Malt Shoppe has been here for 30 years and the decor, furniture, and menu has remained exactly the same, which is good because it won’t do to come here and not have multiple caramel malts. You can still spot the hot weather exiles in the grocery store, stocking up on Oletha corn while the locals wind in between us, smiling kindly as they count down the days until the end of tourist season. And the mountains. They change colors with the sunrise and the sunset, but they are the same mountains that we have looked at for over 40 years. If everything else finally does change, the mountains will remain, which means I’ll keep coming back.

I love everything this vacation represents and every blessing it bestows on me at the end of each summer. It feels right to have run away to this same place. To do the same things. And I think I’ll stay here for a while.

The Vacation Breakdown

I’m here:

It’s a vacation, and I’m taking it. Finally.

My ability to shift into low gear is hampered by my brain’s inability to stop circling around tasks and projects like a ravenous dog. I create them because I’m deathly afraid of boredom, so for the first few days of this beautiful Colorado vacation I was still in busywork mode. On Day Four I dumped the vacation tasks and projects. I decided to read books, take walks, enjoy naps, and sit on our patio table and have conversations. These are good things, and while they don’t allow me to point to tangible accomplishments (although I can list for you the books I’ve completed, but I won’t) they just might be doing me some good.

I used to think that boredom was a sin, but now I view it as an art. If you can do it without having a nervous breakdown, you’re getting somewhere. I’m viewing my boredom as a good thing – a kind of vacation breakdown. There is a rhythm to our days: lazy mornings of nothing, hiking, nothing, dinner and an evening walk, nothing. Now that our vacation is halfway through, I’ve stopped dreading the “nothing” segments of our day. Am I welcoming them? Maybe. I’m in the midst of one right now, so I really shouldn’t drag out this blog post. I’m going to upload a few photos and hop off. I have something else that I need to be doing right now. Nothing.

As Old As We Feel

The girls and I walk every night, and two nights ago we were climbing a hill on our regular 35-minute route when we spotted an older man coming toward us. He was walking in the middle of the road, wearing an undershirt and jeans hiked up past his waist, and carrying a windbreaker. His gait was very uneven, and he was leaning so far to his right that it looked like he was in danger of toppling that direction.

“Am I going the wrong way?” he asked, and I heard Erin take in a breath.

“I don’t think so,” I said, assuming he was lost. I was about to ask him where he had come from and where he was going, but he spoke first.

“Well, all you girls seem to be going the other way,” he quipped. I wasn’t sure if that was a sense of humor, or dementia. We all began to worry. Erin thought he might have wandered off from wherever he was staying. It was time for us to make our turn anyway, so we eventually caught back up with him.

“Oh there you are,” he said. I decided to make small talk in order to find out if he was lost.

“Where are you from?” I asked the standard Colorado vacation question. My dad loves this question and is always thrilled when the answer is “Oklahoma.” So he would have been really excited to hear the man tell us that he was from Tulsa.  I’m terrible with names – asking them and remembering them. I did neither (of course one always precipitates the other), but here is what we learned about the man as we walked down the hill with him: he is at least 85 years old since he told us he had lived in Tulsa that long; is a WWII veteran; has degrees from Will Rogers High School, the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma University; and spends every summer here in the mountains. We also learned that he’s not as feeble as he looked. His condo was about a half mile away from where we were walking (farther than ours), and he met us coming from what Kyle and I refer to as Hell Hill.

I felt humbled all evening. Will I be walking the hills around Pagosa Springs when I’m 85 years old? I sure hope so. It won’t even matter to me if I have hearing aids in both ears, walk like Igor, and wear special shoes. As long as I can make it up the hill, keep my sense of humor, and make it back down again. By then, I might even have ditched the pepper spray and my fear of bears. This man looked anything but worried about wildlife or his body giving out on him. He was taking in the mountain air and continuing to live life with a smile on his face. I’m inspired.

How I Read on Vacation

I can’t take a trip without a book. Now that I have an IPad, I can carry multiple books in one device – although I still prefer packing heavy paperbacks in a book tote for long vacations and dragging them along for the ride. I’m panicky if I finish one and don’t have another at the ready. That almost happened today, when the need for books is even greater. Kyle left to go back to Tulsa and I need a little distraction – or maybe escape is a better word. We are having a great trip, but now someone is missing. Books help.

Here is my reading list for the trip:
Orphanology (finished)
Pillars of the Earth (in process)
Fields of the Fatherless (in process)

I only have one chapter left in Pillars of the Earth, and it’s so good that I’m flying through it. I’m halfway into Fields of the Fatherless and it’s a short book (unlike Pillars which is 970 pages), but it’s causing my worldview to expand in an amazing way which makes for a speedy read. So I’ve had to put the brakes on both of these. Why? Because it is Sunday and although I could easily have finished both of these books today, unfortunately the one bookstore in town, Moonlight Books, is closed. It was a panicky moment when I realized this. So I bought a Better Homes and Gardens to take down to the San Juan River where I sat and watched the girls swim. I copied a few recipes, snagged some decorating ideas (which will never come to fruition), and basically devoured it in under an hour, so as soon as we got back into town I headed for the book section of the City Market grocery store. The book section consists of one aisle that is mostly Harlan Coben, Nelson DeMille, John Sandford, Danielle Steel, Julie Garwood, some Amish love stories, and a couple of books about people that have traveled to heaven. Oh, and about a million teen supernatural romances (translation: vampire novels). In the midst of all these rejects, I found a book called Stay. It’s a dog book (another overdone genre), but I bought it anyway. I may not even read it since Moonlight is open tomorrow and I’m confident they will have a better selection. But I couldn’t take the chance. If I finished Pillars and Fields both, where would I be? Thumbing through my Better Homes and Gardens for the umpteenth time, or worse – actually cracking open the crossword puzzle book I bought for my dad at the grocery store? No, I need books. And I need stacks of them weighing down my book tote, like ladies-in-waiting.

So I’m racing through Pillars tonight, and finishing Fields in the morning, knowing that Stay is waiting for me – and better yet, Moonlight is open on Mondays.

Rocky Mountain High and a Little Bit of Real World

Here we are. Majestic mountains. Pine scent in the air. Night sky filled with stars. Wildlife and nature everywhere around us. We’re on vacation in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and Kyle and I are talking about work.

I’ve wrestled with this since the day we got here, but today I finally gave in and determined that we are not committing the unpardonable vacation sin. We sit on the back patio in the mornings with our coffee, looking out at Pagosa Peak, and talking about magazine content, budgets, marketing strategies, and fundraising. We also talk about our kids, plans for dinner, the beauty that surrounds us. and what life might look like in the future. But his job and my job seem to always work their way into our morning coffee and mid-morning walk. I felt guilty about this for the first few days, but now I don’t. There is something about getting away from the grind and settling into a a place where I am surrounded by the artistry of creation that ignites creative energy. Every year the Mia magazine staff takes a retreat in a beautiful setting and we talk about the upcoming year. If you don’t believe that getting away gets the brain firing in a creative way, you should see what we bring back – brainstormed ideas scribbled on stacks of large, white paper. Not all those ideas come to fruition (we LOVE an overabundance of ideas), but when we are away and taking a long deep breath, we seem to find new creative levels.

Kyle and I didn’t come here to brainstorm work ideas, but it seems that we are naturally inspired to think bigger, wider, and longer as we are away from the “real world.” Of course, it may be nothing more than a slight intoxication caused by the Rocky Mountain air. in which case I’d like to find a way to bottle it and take it back home. Any creative thoughts on how I can do that?

Picking Raspberries for Mom: Memories in the Mountains

My family has been coming to Pagosa Springs, Colorado for almost 35 years. I was 11 years old the first time we drove into town to look for resort property. Dad bought land to build a house here, thinking that he and Mom would retire in Colorado someday. Things didn’t work out that way, however. Mom is gone and my family is settled in Tulsa, so there is really no reason for him to move up here. Instead, every summer we make the drive to Pagosa Springs with the whole crew (there are seventeen of us now in the extended family) and for two weeks we enjoy not only the cool mountain air, but memories as well.

We went to Williams Lake today and walked over toward the dam to eat lunch. There were twelve of us – grandparents, kids, and grandkids. Four years ago we picked raspberries near the dam at the request of my mother, who was too weak to get out of the van. She waited while we picked handfuls of the sweet, wild fruit and then she proceeded to eat about half of them on the way back to the condo. It would be the last time she came with us, only we didn’t know it at the time. She died eight months later. We picked raspberries today and I ate one, acknowledging the irony that life is both unpredictable and predictable at the same time. Things will change with each year, but what will remain the same is our time here together. We come to make memories. The cool air is refreshing, the mountains are beautiful, the time away is relaxing, but all of that would have little meaning without the memories. Our family made a memory that day when we came to Williams Lake and picked raspberries for mother. It seems insignificant, but it was almost the last Colorado memory we made with her. We drove back to Tulsa two days later.

I’m learning to appreciate both what I can predict and what I cannot know. One gives me security, the other forces my faith to grow. I need both. I also need the cool mountain air because right now, it’s 106 in Tulsa. Escape from the Oklahoma heat does wonders for making good memories.

Back in Pagosa Springs: Bear Sighting

Well, we’re certainly not in China anymore. We’re not even in Tulsa. It’s good to be back in Pagosa Springs, which is our Colorado summer spot for escaping the oppressive Oklahoma heat. However, it’s a little warmer here than usual and guess who is coming down from the mountains.

I have no photo to prove it, but Kyle and I ran into a bear on our morning walk. Even if I had a camera, I’m not foolish enough to think this was a photo opportunity. No way. This one wasn’t a small black bear like we’ve seen on the roadsides in the past. This was a large, brown, male (he’s actually of the black bear variety, not a grizzly, but he was BIG, you see), and he was definitely foraging for food. We were coming down the hill having a wonderful conversation about what I don’t even remember now. Kyle’s words, “Look, a bear!” stopped my thought process and I froze. He was big – which I think I mentioned earlier – and was staring straight at us from the middle of the road. We were probably about 50 yards from him, but more importantly he was about 50 yards from us. “What do we do?” I asked my fearless husband, who replied, “I don’t know.”

The bear was still staring us down, so we began to back up slowly, then turned and walked the other direction. I had in my sights a house where a couple had just driven into their driveway. I was heading for their open front door. I could almost hear the bear’s heavy breathing behind us. Actually, that’s not true. It was Kyle. But before we made it to the house and introduced ourselves to our new friends, my husband, who I now regard as fearless, walked back toward the bear to see if he was gone. You might think this either foolish or brave, but it did save us from having to walk into the front door of the couple’s house and try to convince them we had seen a bear. The brown fella had moved on across the road and toward the golf course. In talking to several “townies,” here is what we have learned about bears in Pagosa Springs:

1)   This is a very bad summer for the big bears (heat drives them down from the mountains), so they’ve come to look for food.

2)   Bears are actually afraid of humans unless they are protecting cubs, so it’s possible he wouldn’t have attacked us.

3)   Bears are also very scent-oriented, so if we smelled anything like food, it’s possible he would have attacked us. This is why I am thankful I skipped the bacon and pancakes this morning and opted for the banana.

4)   Turning tail to run is really not the best idea; standing with your arms up and yelling is more likely to scare the bear away. Side note: I question that one since I think this kind of posturing looks more we’re saying: “bring it on bear, we can take ya.”

5)   Pepper spray works well and should be carried on hikes and walks. Upon reading the back of the spray label, we discovered that it works only within ten feet. I realize that a bear that big could run me down, but anyone who thinks I’m going to let a bear get within ten feet of me is crazy. Which is why I have put Kyle in charge of pepper spray – now that I know for sure he is fearless.