Ringing in the New Year with my Aunt Kaki

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I love the beginning of the year. There’s the newness and hopefulness of all the good intentions, goals and aspirations. You can see your life spread out in front of you, full of possibility. It’s a marker in time that reminds us to look backwards and reflect on the past, what went well and what maybe didn’t.

In 2001, I started a habit of writing an end-of-year summary about my past year. The habit started after my sister told me how our great-aunt, Kaki, did the same thing every year. We have a stack of Kaki’s writing, spanning from the year she got married in 1936 until the year she died in 1988.

I try to set aside a little time around the New Year to sit down and browse through them. It’s so comforting to have this piece of her. I can see what her life was like, long before I knew her, and it’s all in her own voice. I know some of the people she writes about, but most I never met. Her husband, Horace, died before I was born, but I feel close to them, and get a glimpse of what our family was like then.

photo 2It spans from the excitement of the first few years of their marriage, to the heartbreak of losing babies, and Horace’s time in the military during World War II. She details the many community, church and civic involvements she had, her travels, and family events. My sisters and I make appearances in later years. Like a little kid, I love flipping to 1979 and re-reading what she says about when I was born, the Christmases she spent with us and other events that included her great-nieces.

I like reading it from my perspective now as an adult compared to how I saw her when I was younger and remember her now. I can appreciate how involved she was in service to her community, and seeing that dedication is such an inspiration for me. That is why I like to read through these pages each year. When I read the stories of her life, I’m reminded of how I’m writing my own right now.

So I write about this past year and we all look ahead to the next, I try to remember how many stories have been written before us and how many stories will be written after us.  There are stories of hope and inspiration, of loss and sadness, of family and gratitude.  They are all splendid in their own right, but our own story – that is one we get to create.

without kray

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Thanksgiving Resolution

iPhone 009I’ve officially declared Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday.  You get to eat good food and hang out with your family and focus on what you’re grateful for.  I mean, what’s not to love about that?   I was able to spend my Thanksgiving doing just those things and it was great.

Like a lot of families, we go around before dinner and say what we are thankful for and this is what I shared this year:

“There are a lot of things I’m thankful for, but when I think about what I am most grateful for, it’s the people around me.  You always hear the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, which is true…but I think that you also need a  village to sustain us as adults too.  I’m so thankful for the group of people around me that have seen me at my worst but still believe in my best.  It’s been a rough year for a lot of us, but through the loss and the struggle, we’ve had our village.  We’ve had each other, and for that my heart is completely overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Maybe instead of a New Year’s resolution, I’ll make a Thanksgiving resolution instead.  Through the upcoming year, I resolve to pause for quiet moments and express gratitude for that which sustains me.  It shouldn’t be hard, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Birthday Gifts

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Yesterday was my birthday and a lot of birthdays are focused on the giving of gifts.  I wanted to focus on the gifts that I am most grateful for this year and here is a list of 35, one for each year I’ve been here on this planet.

1.  My health. As trite as it sounds, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I regularly take it for granted, but have daily reminders of what it looks like to have it taken away, either gradually or suddenly.

iPhone 1452.  My husband. He helps me be who I need to and want to be. He laughs at my jokes, corrects my grammar, loves me fiercely. He is my rock, and my companion to walk this adventure of a life with.

3.  The people who have been here before me. Generations of parents, grandparents, great great great grandparents. There is a layering of lives and decisions and acheivements that my life now rests on. They are woven into my DNA and my story.

iPhone 1374.  My Mom. There’s no one quite like her, and there’s nothing quite like the unconditional love she has for her family. I’m so grateful for the things that she has taught me and that the universe gave me her for a guiding light.

5.  I’m thankful for her teaching me how to sew. It has been a skill that has stayed with me through the years and served me well. It’s a creative outlet and a way we connect.

6.  My Dad. He’s wickedly smart and funny, with a good dose of quirkiness thrown in there as well. He’s always learning something new and excelling at whatever he tries. I love him dearly and genuinely like him as a person and a friend.

7.  The example of love and marriage that the great couples in my life have shown me. Their example of steadfast love and longevity are the building blocks and inspiration for my own marriage.

8.  My sister, Katie. She is my other half, the best big sister a girl could wish for. I can bet 90% of the time, that whatever I am thinking, she is thinking the same thing. We finish each others…sandwiches.

iPhone 6999.  My sister, Martha.   She is a force to be reckoned with, from her smarts to her razor sharp humor, to her mad party planning skills. I have always looked up to her authenticity and confidence in her true self. This woman can move mountains.

10.  My sister, Laura. The baby of the family, she has been the fireball to our lives. I am constantly inspired by the way she loves and experiences life, boldly taking on the world, she is not afraid of anything. She is always there when I need her most.

11. I’m forever grateful for phone conversations in the car on my way to work. It is not rare, that by the time I get to work, I am laughing to the point of tears and have to compose myself before venturing in to get my day started. These conversations nourish me.

12.  The breath-taking sunrises that greet me on the mornings I get up early enough to see them.iPhone 565

13.  The lottery of my birth. In no way did I deserve the place, the time, the family or the circumstances of my life, but it is undeniably a gift.

iPhone 08514.  The entire Kray family. They have welcomed me in, supported my crazy ideas, and celebrated big milestones throughout the years. I love watching my niece and nephews grow up and miss being so far away from all of them.

15.  I’m forever grateful and indebted to the role models of strong women I have in my life. The tough women who have gone before me, fighting battles for all of us and creating the world of opportunity we live in now as women.

16.  The reflective, and soul-feeding practices of yoga, writing, meditation, and photography that help me slow down, appreciate the present, and look differently at myself and the world around me.

17.  My aunts and uncles. This is a unique person to have in your life as you grow up. They straddle the line between the authority and comfort of our parents, and the fun freedom they have precisely because they aren’t our parents. All the aunts and uncles in my life have taught me how to be an auntie, a role that I get so much joy out of now.

iPhone 49918.  The gift of Brayden. As the 1st grandchild in the family, he taught our family a whole new kind of love, and he continues to bring joy in all of our lives. He is kind, and curious, and I melt when he hugs his brother or cousins with such love. His enthusiasm is contagious.

iPhone 22819.  The gift of Brynne. Yesterday she told us how when her mom is a grandma, she will be her mom’s age, and she’ll have a daughter who is her age, “and then it just keeps going and going.” She is wise and caring, and she makes my heart smile.

20.  The gift of Barrett. His handsome smile hides a quick wit and mischief. He’s tough. He’s hilarious. His his little hoarse voice is about the cutest thing I’ve ever heard.

iPhone 66221.  The gift of Everett. He is a trooper through and through. I love watching him grow and learn and change every day. A hard day gets instantly better when I see his tiny little cherub mouth smile.

22.  Public education. When I visited Uganda, there were kids that wanted to go to school but couldn’t afford it, and I had never realized what a gift free public education was. Say what you will about the current state of our schools, but I’m so grateful it is there and the education I received.

23.  The opportunity of higher education. Going to college helped me shape my ideas about the world, it taught me how to think and provided me with even more opportunity in life. I didn’t earn this gift, but I will forever be appreciative.

24.  A job and a profession that lets me contribute to people’s lives. Work that is fulfilling. I’m honored by the trust and confidence that people put in me.   It has been a wonderful way to make my living.

Nina n Us-00125.  My mother in law. She has given me an example of strength and resilience and generosity. She has always treated me like a daughter and I’m forever thankful that she raised the kind of guy that I wanted to marry.

26.  The gift of struggle. Nobody guaranteed us that there wouldn’t be hard times. Loss is the price we pay for living and loving. Hardship is the great teacher of our lives. It brings perspective and change, and if we can make it through, we can sometimes see the gifts it brings.

27.  The gift of nature. I can go up into the mountains whenever I want to connect with the natural world. It reminds us of the older, bigger world out there with all its mysteries and beauty and that we are a small part of the picture.IMG_1871

28.  Being able to turn on a faucet and get cold, clean water. Such a basic thing, but such an awesome gift that is by no means accessible to everyone in the world.

29.  The big, beautiful world out there, where exotic destinations are within a day’s travel and they’re all out there just waiting to be explored.

30.  The gift of friendships past. They leave the imprint of memories and will always be a part of you.

iPhone 57931.  The gift of friendships present. We’ve been lucky enough to be in an amazing community and found kind, generous, inspiring people to call friends.

32.  The gifts of friendships far. The people that you can go years without seeing in person, but are able to pick up wherever you left off. The lack of proximity has no effect on the closeness of these bonds.

33.  Dreams, hope, optimism. Because if you carry these gifts, the future always looks splendid.

213-00134.  Quiet weekend mornings that stretch into the afternoon with a mug of coffee, lazy conversations, and the down-time I always need.

35.  And finally, the gift of another year, another day, another hour. The universe needs me here another day and that is the greatest gift we all have this very moment.

A Dad and a Bike

IMG_1681One thing you have to understand first about my Dad is that he’s a serial hobbyist, and he’s got some serious focus when it comes to his hobbies.  Whatever the particular hobby du jour, he pours his energy, time, and money into it fully.  To him, there is no such thing as “dabbling” in something.  He goes all in.

 

Over the years, there have been deep excursions into golfing, electric cars, fly fishing, remote controlled planes and helicopters, and now the current obsession of cycling.  He will spend hours on the internet, watching YouTube videos, visiting specialty shops, devouring all the information he can get about a particular topic.  I’m not sure when the current obsession with cycling started, because he gets so into it and you forget that he hasn’t been doing this his whole life.

IMG_1838So it came as little surprise when he signed up for one of the hardest bike tours in the country, Ride the Rockies.  This year, the route took riders 471 miles in 6 days, over mountain passes at more than 11,000 feet in elevation.  The total cumulative elevation gain in the 6 days was over 28,000 feet!  This is not for the weak-at-heart.

 

He had been training like crazy, logging over 2700 miles since February.  We had the honor of seeing him in action a few days this week, driving along the route to cheer him on and spend some time with him after finishing the day.  There’s just something about seeing thousands of people out there challenging themselves, pushing for something that you know they’ve worked their butts off for.   The air was permeated with the sense that big things are possible.

IMG_1768The first day from Boulder to Winter Park was one for the history books.  He went through wind, rain, hail, lightning, and snow to make it to the top of Berthoud Pass before the course was shut down for safety reasons.   We finally spotted him on his final climb up to the top of the pass, and we held up our homemade signs that read “Go Kirk” and IMG_1834“You are a Rockstar” and rang our cowbell, cheering him on.  There wasn’t a bit of him that wasn’t wet, and his teeth were chattering in the 35 degree temperatures.  We were able to offer him a granola bar, a dry jacket and eventually a ride down the other side of the pass after they closed the course.

 

IMG_1869The rest of the ride had vastly better weather, but continued to be difficult, challenging him with long days and lots of climbing.  Seeing him ride through this week and hearing his stories from each particular day were nothing short of inspiring.  I know there were times he wanted to give up, times when he would barely make sense on the phone with me, and times he was moved to tears with pride.

IMG_1872In this life, passionate people stir us to pursue our own passions.  It doesn’t really matter what you’re passionate about…It could be golf, or fly-fishing, or cycling, but you have to find something to pour your heart into.  Thanks Dad, for inspiring all of us around you.  I’ll keep pushing, keep pedaling, think big circles, and keep moving forward. golden finish

The Krayporation

Meeting

 

A while ago, Marc and I were having a dreaded “financial meeting” where we try to find some semblance of a budget, see how we’re doing, and how we’re saving (or not), what changes we need to make, etc.  We don’t do this nearly as often as it would be helpful, mostly because it leads to arguments “differences of opinion.”

During one particular meeting we started joking that we need to run these like a structured business meeting with agendas, old/new business, and ideas to be tabled.  Then we got to talking about how to run a family (big or small) like a corporation.  I mean running a family is a complex managerial structure with so many different skills needed.

Another “difference of opinion” gained speed when we decided on job titles for our corporation.  I, naturally, was jockeying for the CEO position and wanted him to be COO.  I could make the decisions (the trash needs to be taken out) and he was in charge of executing those orders (taking out said trash).  Not sure why that proposal was immediately vetoed…

So, like any good corporation, we immediately restructured our organizational chart and came up with our own titles.  Let’s use the term chart loosely, since there is just two of us, at least until we start getting more employees or investors.

Introducing our new corporate job titles…

Sarah, our CBPO – Chief Big Picture Officer:  This position is designed to manage the overall state of the corporation.  She has lots of ideas, makes sure we save for retirement and future expenses, plans menus.  On Sundays, she has the foresight to see what Friday will look smell like if the laundry doesn’t get done.   One of her most important jobs that ABSOLUTELY nobody else in the corporation can do is cleaning up dog barf.

Marcus, our CNGO – Chief Nitty Gritty Officer:  This position is designed for managing a lot of the operating details.  He runs the Accounts Payable department, making sure the bills are paid and the lights stay on.  He is also in charge of grounds-keeping crew, the marketing department, and runs the Social events calendar.  He also takes the trash out.

Lessons from Loss

Nick & Brayden

Last Monday would have been my brother-in-law’s 34th birthday.  The day before, my sister followed the voice in her heart telling her to travel to Scotland for the summer and she took off on a brave adventure with the two boys and our Mom.   Saying goodbye to them for the next few months (I hope to meet up with them in July for a few weeks) and then thinking about Nick’s birthday has naturally put me in a reflective mood this week and I have been looking back over the past 6 months to see how losing him has shaped our new lives and affected us all.

Lesson #1:  Any sense of true control we have over our lives is an illusion

It’s a necessary part of our human nature to plan and steer our lives down the path we want.  If we didn’t have that drive, where would the fulfillment in hard work and creating things be?  It’s important to dream and work toward something meaningful, but there is still an undeniable fact that we are all one phone call away, one instant of distraction that could send our lives on a trajectory nothing like we planned or wanted.

Give ThanksWe all know this on an intellectual level.  I mean, in my job, I’ve even had to be the person making that phone call to deliver bad news.    I had to tell someone just yesterday about a new tumor in her lung that is likely cancer.   But I’ve never had to really wrap my mind and heart around this profound thought until 6 months ago.  When you truly come face to face with this…man, it can rock your world.

Sometimes I marvel at how amazing humans are and sometimes I marvel at how dumb we can be.  We can watch Dead Poet’s Society a hundred times, and never really get the message to Carpe diem.  We can intellectually understand this concept, but only experience teaches us the lessons we so dearly need.  No one is immune to loss or tragedy, it is universal.  Sometimes the life you lead is just plain luck.

So I’m taking this thought, and I’m holding it uncomfortably close to my heart.  I can’t afford to forget this feeling, this lesson.  And it inspires me to be a better person and fit more joy into my life.  I don’t need to fear that lack of control, I just need to practice the gratitude of what I have right now.

The luck that is life right now, it’s an obligation to keep dreaming and keep working hard, to keep connecting with and helping others, and to keep moving toward the next adventure.