Bye Bye 2015

Woah, 2015 has been quite a year of change and transformation. Pretty much ready for it to end when the clock strikes midnight tonight! We’re celebrating this moment and looking ahead.

I’ve done quite a bit of reflecting over the past month, and there have been lots of experiences had and lessons learned in 2015. I started the year having just signed with a literary agent and with big writerly aspirations, but I found all of that went by the wayside as 2015 ended up being a year focused on family and those I love most.

This was a year of high-highs and low-lows, not a lot in between! Here’s my year, counted out, but not in any particular order (which will probably bug the engineer in the family), but I think he’ll get over it!

365 = days of being blessed with an amazing family and group of friends. We couldn’t have made it through this year without each and every one of you. There have been countless days over the past four months where I broke down in tears, overwhelmed with the love and support from friends and family.

I hear often how scary this world is, but I have to disagree. Love is here. We felt and saw it every day from people constantly, those we know and even total strangers. It  was life changing and unbelievable. I have so much faith in humanity, and for that I’m thankful.

1 = High school Graduation – as Student Body Pres, Haley got to graduate first and give a speech. She’s such a rock star – her confidence and all around amazingness blow me away on a daily basis.

haley grad2 = Care flights from Elko to Renown in Reno. Lesson learned – if you live in a rural area, care flight insurance is a MUST have. Trust me on this. If you don’t have it, get it!

3 = days skiing. Best part is that two of them were with our nephews Will and Joe who, as So-Cal boys, don’t ski much, so they loved it.

IMG_30864 = quilts completed! Two of them were baby quilts but my favorite is a mandala I made using glue and tulle to hold it all together.

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4 = perfect days camping at the Mary’s River in O’Neill basin right before Gary got sick.

IMG_27275 = the number of posts on this blog, most at the beginning of 2015. I obviously started the year with a resolution to blog more but that one clearly didn’t stick.

6 = number of points on Garet’s bull elk that he took out of area 7 this fall. This was a major accomplishment that he did on his own with two dear friends and without his dad. We were both so proud of him. He’s grown into such an amazing young man.

Thankfully, NDOW accepted Gary’s returned elk tag and gave him back all of his points and even his tag fees which was pretty awesome. Hopefully, they can go on another elk hunt together in the next few years!

IMG_30367 = amazing days spent in Siesta Key, Florida with our dear friends, Scott & Leslie Preston, for their son’s wedding last April. Best part of Florida beaches is the sand doesn’t get hot! Who knew? No leaping and dashing across the sand from the towel to the water to avoid scorching 3rd degree burns on the soles of your feet! Or your head…

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45 = days in the trauma ICU unit at Renown. The nurses there are some of the most amazing, generous, giving people on the planet. And I thought teaching high school was stressful?

38 = days on the Med-Surg floor at Renown. If I never eat hospital cafeteria food again, I’ll be perfectly okay!

26 = total # of surgeries Gary underwent. He had colon resection surgery in July following a nasty bout with diverticulitis, a disease I’d never heard much about, but now it seems like every other person I talk to either has it or has a family member with it. It’s so related to stress. We’ve both had major overhauls in our outlooks on life. Is what we consider upsetting or stressful really worthy of losing our health or our lives? Uh, nope! It’s not.

The rest of the 25 surgeries were a result of the initial surgery failing and leaking into his gut for several weeks. Apparently Gary has a super high tolerance for pain because he didn’t know it had failed, he just didn’t feel very good. By the time we got to Renown in late August he was completely septic, his kidneys were failing, and he was on a vent for several weeks. He had to undergo multiple surgeries to repair the damage and clean out the infection. Then, the last twelve or so were trying to get the wound in his gut closed.

His positive attitude and strength of will to survive blew me away on a daily basis. For one surgery (somewhere early on) he was still on the vent. When they took him off the vent machine in the ICU and rolled him to pre-op, a nurse had to pump this big bag thing to help him breathe. When he left for the operating room, he took the pump thing from the nurse and was pumping it himself. I didn’t think much of it until all the nurses and docs were amazed. They’d never seen that before. When he did that, they said they knew he’d make it.

21 = awesome years since I walked down the aisle with Gary in 1994. And thanks to the amazing docs and staff at Renown, we’ll have many more years together.

Yay - finally free from the hospital!!!!
Yay – finally free from the hospital, where we celebrated our 21st anniversary!!!!

59 = TOTAL # of students this year!! Woo hoo! After trying for four years, Amber O’Rayeh and I finally got a job share contract approved, so I only have three classes and for whatever reason, they’re the smallest classes I’ve ever had! I work two days one week and three days the next – it’s LOVELY and such a blessing this Fall with Gary being in the hospital for three months. Despite being part-time, I’ve taken more time off this year than I ever have before which has been rough, but those 59 students are some of the very best high school students I’ve ever had the privilege of teaching. I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids this year.

183 = number of views on my “No More Shoulding on Myself” post that I wrote just before Gary got released from the hospital. Apparently I’m not the only one who “shoulds” on herself.

I’ve decided to have a “Joy Filter” for 2016. Before anything goes on my “to do” list, it’s getting filtered. If it brings me JOY – true, soul soaring joy – I’m all in. If not? Piss on it. It’s not happening.

Well, I’m sure I’ll still be doing laundry but I’m going to try to bring mindfulness and joy to even those chores. Life is too short to live any other way.

2016 is going to start at:

0 = number of kids we’ll have living at home. We’ll officially be empty-nesters. We weren’t this fall since Garet took the semester off for the elk hunts (and what a blessing it was he was home taking care of the dogs and winterizing the house).

Living without any kiddos at home is gonna be a change but this whole past year has been about change. We can take it.

Countless = number of blessings we have in our life.

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No More “Shoulding” on Myself

A sunset over I-80 - moments like this have made the 330 mile commute a gift rather than a chore (and yes, mom and dad, I know I probably shouldn't have been taking pics while driving!) :)
A sunset over I-80 - moments like this have made the 330 mile commute a gift rather than a chore (and yes, mom and dad, I know I probably shouldn't have been taking pics while driving!) :)
A sunset over I-80 – moments like this have made the 330 mile commute a gift rather than a chore (and yes, I know I probably shouldn’t have been taking pics while driving, but it was pretty!)

The past few months have been some of the most difficult of my life.

Since July 15, my husband has spent a grand total of 92 days in the hospital and undergone 26 surgeries to repair damage from an episode of diverticulitis. He’s still in the hospital, but the surgery cycle is over. His abdomen is healing and his wound from all of the abdominal washout procedures is finally closed.

I’ve spent most of those days with him except when I left to drive five hours home to take care of the house and teach.

Never in a million years would I have thought that teaching high school students would be such a welcome “break” from anything, but I’ve learned that hospitals, especially ICU units, are stressful places.

Nor did I ever dream that we would be spending these months in the hospital at all. My husband went from hiking with me one day, to the hospital two days later, and fighting for his life six weeks after that.

We had plans for this fall! Big plans!

Our youngest child was leaving the nest for college, and I had finally managed to secure a part-time teaching position.

We looked forward to more time together. I looked forward to having time to devote to writing with lessened work and parenting demands. I also had lists of goals I wanted to accomplish for my teen writing website, http://www.whereteenswrite.com.

My husband had a business to run, and he’d also drawn a bull elk tag – a BIG deal in our state.

Then, he landed in a hospital bed, and I landed in a hospital chair (which doubled as a bed some nights). Okay, it’ll only be a few days, I thought. We can handle this. Life will get back to normal shortly.

But then the days stretched into weeks, and he still wasn’t getting better.

I sat in the chair while he slept, “shoulding” on myself. Everyday, I had my bag of “stuff to do” next to my chair. Between making sure he was comfortable and all of the doctor visits and surgeries, I had a novel to revise, a website to keep updated, a journal to write in, and medical bills to sort.

I couldn’t do any of it. I couldn’t even read a book. This is not normal for me. I’m always doing something.

The most I could manage was to play solitaire on my phone while he slept, thinking the entire time that I “should be __________.”

It made me feel worse, this constant “shoulding” on myself. I’d argue in my head in the manner that I think most people are familiar (but that if anyone could actually hear us, we’d all be considered worthy of a mental illness diagnosis).

“You’re just sitting here. You should be writing something. Why are you being so lazy.?” I’d yell at myself.

“Hush,” I’d answer back (to myself). “The only thing I should be doing is supporting my husband. Life’s on hold right now. Deal with it.”

“But, you should be doing something.”

“Shut UP!! I can’t focus in here with all the beeping and activity.” Then, I’d feel guilty, sad, and upset, so I’d start another game of solitaire.

The weeks then stretched into months. The surgeries continued, as did the “shoulding.”

It took almost three months from the beginning of this saga for me to realize that I have all the time in the world and the only thing that “shoulding” on myself was doing was making me feel like shit.

Why, with all that was happening in my life, was I working so hard at making myself more miserable?

It made zero sense when I looked at it that way, and guess what, within days of making a conscious effort to completely eradicate the word “should” (and “need to”) from my life, I finally feel like writing.

I’ve learned that, for me, “shoulding” zaps the joy out of any activity.

My big epiphany is that the intentions behind my actions have a huge impact on how I feel about any given situation or activity in any moment. I’ve learned that I’d much rather  approach my life from a place of joy, rather than obligation, even in the midst of a really difficult time.

Even when I’d come home and have to clean the toilet, I tried to eradicate “should.” If I had to do it, “should” do it, it feels yucky. Eeewh, who wants to do that? But if I do it so the bathroom is sparkly and shiny and smells good, it’s easier, not near the chore.

This isn’t easy by any means, and have I completely turned every moment into a more positive one? Absolutely not – I’ve definitely had my meltdown moments on this journey – but giving it a shot beats getting smothered under a big stinky pile of “should” every day.

Fall & Winter Descend

Oct. 15, 2013

When I meet people who are not from Nevada and I tell them I am from Nevada, they will often ask how I deal with the heat in Las Vegas. Like many native Nevadans, I end up explaining that Las Vegas is in the very southern tip of the state, and there are thousands of square miles north of Las Vegas. Really. Not everyone from Nevada is from Vegas.

The Nevada I call home is high desert. We have four seasons here with snow every winter.

I live at 5000 ft. at the base of the Ruby Mountains in the northeast corner of the state. These are the mountains that the Hastings cutoff skirted. Rather than following the California trail along the Humboldt River to the north, the Donner party went around the south and inadvertently added several hundred miles to their journey. Bad idea.

I took these pictures from my front yard over the past month as the changing colors slowly descended the slopes. I’ve always enjoyed watching, so this year, I decided to record it.

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The Rubies in August (with my son getting ready for his fall archery hunt).
Sept. 23, 2013
Sept. 23, 2013 – the top of the canyons are brushed with yellow patches as the leaves begin to change color.
October 7, 2013
October 7, 2013 – Two weeks later, the trees have almost completely changed their colors.
October 10, 2013
October 10, 2013 – the first dusting of snow on the peaks. Ruby Dome, to the right of the pyramid peak, is the tallest point in the mountain range with an elevation of 11,388.
Oct. 15, 2013
October 15, 2013 – The leaves are dropping and the mountain tops are whiter.
Oct. 19, 2013
October 19, 2013
Oct. 29
Oct. 29 – Winter arrives. We woke to heavy wet snow.
Oct. 29, 2013
Oct. 29 – The weather here can make a person crazy. Blizzard at 7:00 am…beautiful sun shining on the snowy mountains at 5:05 pm of the same day.
Oct. 29 2013
Oct. 29 – the same day, 20 min. later, clouds are moving in again across the mountains. Winter is here, and the leaves are gone.

Happy Halloween!

I’ll Keep my Laptop, Thank You

Yesterday, a friend tweeted this article on The Guardian, “Unthinkable? Bring Back Typewriters.” While the author makes some great points about how using a typewriter slows the writer down, thereby making writers more intentional about word choices, and how typewriters remove the distracting allure of the internet, I’d have to say, “hell no!!” I’ll keep my laptop thank you very much.

In fact, I wonder if the author ever had to actually type something that mattered on a typewriter, like a research paper or even an important letter. If so, I think the nostalgia for the click of the keys would quickly wear off.

I still have my antique ribbon typewriter. It has lived buried in the back of my daughter’s closet for years. When I was seven or eight years old, my Dad brought it home for me to write my stories on. It made me official. I was a writer.

I never use it, but I’ve lugged the thing with me for my entire life. It weighs around 50 lbs. and represents my youthful attempts at writing, my dreams to become a writer someday.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.
My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

I actually don’t remember writing that much on it. I remember spending more time trying to get it to work so I could write. The ribbon would come unwound, little mechanical metal pieces would get stuck. I remember jamming more than one butter knife in to get it going again.

You also have to hit the keys hard to get them to work. Fingers don’t fly over these old keyboards. Nope, typing a sentence gives the fingers a pretty good workout. One letter at a time.

If you hit more than one key at a time, the little letter bars fly up at the same time and stick to each other, creating a mess and nothing gets typed. It’s the equivalent of your computer screen freezing, but in this case all you have to do is reach a hand in and unstick everything. There are definitely days that I wish I could do that with my laptop.

All the keys stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.
All the striker bars stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

Typing is a sensory experience unlike writing on a computer. There is the sound of the letter striker bars (or whatever they’re called) hitting the paper and the carriage. You have to watch where you are because at the end of each line, the typewriter doesn’t automatically “wrap” around. As the typist, you have to reach up and move the carriage back to the left margin. It’s labor intensive. Mistakes cannot be fixed.

The letters are also quirky, with each typewriter having its own “fingerprint.”

The Letters
The Letters

I loved reading mysteries as a kid (and still do), and I remember typewriters often providing clues. Detectives would study typewriter fonts with the forensic intensity that today’s CSI investigators go after DNA evidence.

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No MS Word conformity here. My typewriter has a definite style. The “e’s” are all red. For some reason it dropped down a half a line halfway through the word “kind.” If I had committed a crime and left a clue on my typewriter, I’d definitely be caught.

Perhaps it would be good to create clues for a mystery on this, but I think that’s about it. I won’t be cranking out any stories on this old thing, but I also don’t think I’ll get rid of it. It’s comforting to know that even though I haven’t used it since the early 1980’s, I still can. My computer would never work like that. I could not shove it in a kid’s closet, have kids sit on it during games of hide and seek, leave it there for 20+ years, pull it out one day, write something on it and then print it to paper like I did with my typewriter this morning.

I have no idea whatever happened to any of the stories I wrote, or even if I ever finished a whole story on it due to all of the issues with actually using it. Even so, when I think of my typewriter, I think of my 8 year old self imagining stories, and for that alone, I’ll hang on to it. It reminds me that yes, I am a writer.

What’s the story behind this trailer trash?

Last weekend, on yet another road trip across the lovely state of Nevada, we saw one of the more interesting sites I’ve seen in the desert.  It was a fence (maybe), but not just any fence, a fence made out of old single wide trailers and dying RV’s, literal trailer trash.  There is a story behind this fence, though I’m not sure what it is.

If fences are built to either keep unwanted people or animals out, or if they’re built to keep wanted animals or people in, what, exactly, is the purpose of this one?

Or is it not a fence at all? Did somebody just decide to line up their old trailers to keep their trailer trash orderly?  It’s not really surrounding anything, functioning as a fence might, so is it even a fence? I’m not sure.

When we first saw it, my husband and I started laughing and I asked him stop to photograph it.  He kept saying, “What? Stop? Why?” By the time he understood that I wasn’t kidding, we were too far past it to photograph, so we had to stop on our way home.

I’ve been thinking about this fence all week.  Generally a fence is built serve some sort of purpose. If you’d like to read a funny tale about gates and fences, check out the short fable titled “The Vigilant Rabbit” in David Sedaris’ compilation of modern tales, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.  The entire book is funny and entertaining, but in this particular tale, the gate represents power and the gate keeper’s ability to control the movements of the other forest animals.  The problem occurs when the power hungry rabbit forgets to build the fence around the gate, and the gate does nothing to keep out the riff-raff.  This trailer fence reminded me of the gate in the David Sedaris story, a valiant attempt to serve some sort of purpose but one that doesn’t make it, by a long shot.

Visually, this fence is fascinating too as it sort of meanders across the mountain’s base.  Perhaps its actually a giant sculpture.  I’ve been considering what this would look like in a quilt.  But I’d have to figure out the story behind the fence for that quilt.  I wonder how could I tell it through fabric?

One happy, or possibly annoying, result of writing or any creative endeavor for that matter is continually thinking about stories and possibilities. What is the story here? Any ideas?

Tree Trash

My Daughter’s “Trashless” Dream Tree

Despite the fact that my fourteen year old daughter never stepped a foot out of the truck to participate in our annual tree hunt this year as it was “way too cold,” she still managed to give us quite a few instructions on the size and shape of the tree we should get.  It needed to be tall and narrow, not “bushy.”  Living in Northern Nevada, we get pinion pines and finding a tall narrow one can be harder said than done, but we managed.  She approved of our find and then asked if she could please be in charge of the Christmas decorations this year. “Really,” I said.  “Why?”

“Because last year it looked like Santa puked Christmas all over the house, and this year, I want it to look pretty,” she replied.  Hmmm, Santa puke? She followed this with, “Why can’t we have a pretty tree with ornaments that match? Do you have to cover it with all your ‘tree trash’?”

Yep, tree trash.  That’s what my kids call the treasured ornaments and decorations that they spent countless hours creating.  The tongue depressor reindeer, the glitter and glue angels, the red and green chains to count down the days until Christmas, it has all been reduced to “tree trash,” and much to their dismay, I saved it all. Every single bit of it. They’re my favorite decorations, but apparently their dad and I are the only ones in this family who consider them decorations and not . . . trash.

Which begs the question, what is a holiday decoration? A box of fancy matchy bulbs from a store or a pile of faded construction paper, glitter and glue? My teenagers would choose the former; I’ll take the latter every time, but what are they decorating for?  I would say that at fourteen and sixteen, they’re still overly concerned with appearances, and they don’t really want all their friends to see the lovely ornaments they made in preschool despite the fact that most of their friends made the same exact things they did.  They’ll figure it out someday.

We spent one evening this week dragging out all the holiday decorations, but a full two-thirds of them went back into the garage as I decided to go ahead and let my daughter be in charge of the decorating.  I’ve always thought of myself as something of a minimalist in that I don’t like clutter, but when it came to decorating this season, she put me to shame.

She surveyed every decoration and decided what could come out and what had to stay put.  I did insist on most of the handmade ornaments for the tree, but none of the handmade pictures, cards, or large creations made the cut unless they went in my bedroom.  She informed me I could decorate my bedroom however I wanted it, and since my husband and I are the only people who like all that stuff anyway we could put it in there with us.  “That’s awfully generous of you,” I said.  She didn’t answer.  Sadly, her brother agreed with her.

I have to say that she did an impressive job, and now I know I have prepared her to handle the Christmas decorating responsibilities as an adult.  It was also a good compromise.  I have enough tree trash to make me happy, and she doesn’t feel like Santa puked on us . . .  though I do miss the reindeer one of them made out of a hanger and pantyhose that I usually hang on the door to the office.  I might just have to sneak that one in.

Fly Season

Every fall, fly season opens.  Unlike hunting season or the holiday season, it is not a season I look forward to.  The nasty pests congregate in groups,  slow, disgusting and fat, and then they magically multiply.  How do they get into my home in such droves?  I have screens on all the windows; I don’t leave the doors open all day.  I clean my house, and I do not live next to the dump like the Ewell’s in To Kill a Mockingbird.  I can only imagine poor Mayella’s fly problem.

Last week, I left a spoon on the counter that I had been using to stir some soup on the stove.  When my husband went into the kitchen, no less than six flies were on that spoon.  Eeeeewwwwhhh!    Even he was disgusted.

This is a problem that happens every fall.  Starting around the beginning of September through the first or second week of October, the flies come in.  At no other time of year do they behave like this.

Several years ago, my son went on a fishing trip with my Dad.  For the trip, my son used my husband’s fishing creel to store his daily catch.   Each evening, they would take their catch and clean it, except for one lone fish.  Somehow my son, who was around ten at the time, didn’t reach all the way to the bottom of his creel to collect all the fish on the last day of the trip.  Instead, he packed to go and shoved his fish filled creel into his duffle bag, with his clothes.  When he got home, he unpacked and set the creel, with the now rotting fish inside, onto a shelf in the garage.  When I started his laundry, his clothes smelled especially fishy, but I just figured it was because he was ten and had been wiping his fishy hands on them all weekend.  I washed them in hot water.  Problem solved, or so I thought until something began to smell in the garage.

This was the middle of July, and the stench kept getting worse.  Finally, we had a family “search the garage for the stink” party.  Lucky me, I was the one to find the creel.  I opened it up and peeked in only to be assaulted by a sight from a horror movie and an even worse stench.  Flies had found the fish before I did, and maggots covered it; they crawled up the sides of the creel, in and out of the half rotted trout.

I, of course, did what any self-respecting woman would do:  screamed, threw the creel on the ground, and ran.  Then, I got to be a mean mom and make my son go take care of it.  This only entailed picking it up with a shovel and depositing it into the garbage as we decided that we would rather get another creel than try to clean that one out.  (I guess that makes us typical Americans living in a consumable society, but that’s another post.)  I wasn’t touching the maggots filled creel regardless of how wasteful throwing it away was.

That’s the only time in my life I’ve seen maggots up close and personal.  For that I am thankful, but that leads to the question of all the flies.  Maggots are fly babies.  If I never see the babies, where do the adults come from?  In truth, I’m not sure I want to know the answer to that question.  I do know, that this is the only time that I can’t wait for really cold weather to get here, decimate the fly population, and put a solid end to fly season.