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.

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Listening For Your Anything

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me―
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

―Shel Silverstein, from Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of two books from my childhood that I still have. I remember dramatically begging my parents for it at a 2nd grade book fair, and being completely devastated when they said No.  But just like magic, it appeared on Christmas morning and inside the front cover it reads:
“To Sarah
With all our Love
From Mom and Dad
Christmas 1986
May you always keep your dreams!”

As 7-year-olds, our dreams may have been as simple as a book of poetry from a book fair, but as we get older we don’t do as good of a job listening to our dreams. School loans and full time jobs and mortgage payments start to create more noise in our lives.

The (joyful) tasks of raising kids and making dinners and doing laundry become the soundtrack for our days and we hum along to the noisiness of being busy. Sometimes plans are derailed by illness or tragedies out of our control and the SHOULDN’TS and MUSTN’TS join in the chorus.  Beeps and tweets and rings keep time.  Our focus shifts from one thing to another and we’re just trying to keep up each day.  We check our phones from when we wake up in the morning until we lay down at night.  And still the noise grows.

But what if we STOP for a moment.

Just for a few minutes or even a few seconds. We shush the IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS and become quiet enough for that little voice inside of us to speak.  It has been waiting for just this chance and it may barely be a whisper to start, but it speaks of the ANYTHING.  Trust me, sometimes that voice is too close to the realest part of you that it is shit-your-pants scary to hear what it has to say, but all it needs is for you to listen.  The simple act of listening makes it stronger.

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The MUSTN’TS, the DON’TS, the SHOULDN’TS, the IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS and the NEVER HAVES are boisterous and noisy and demanding and a lot of times are all that we can hear.

But the ANYTHING…? It may be quiet and scary, but it might just be what you need to hear today.

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.

The 3 Little Hipsters Bring You Inspiring Blogs To Check Out This Weekend

This week my favorite 3 Little Hipsters are bringing inspiration from some favorite blogs.  I think what I like most about these lovely blogging ladies is the way their voices shine through their words.  They each have an authenticity in their writing that is easy to connect to, and they seem like people you could easily sit down with and have a cup of coffee and chat.

image[2]So Many Places – Kim decided a few years ago that she wasn’t living her life the way she wanted.  She wasn’t doing the work that was true to her self, so instead of just talking about it like most of us do – she actually did something.  She and her husband saved money and worked hard toward quitting their secure jobs to travel, write, and live their lives differently.  Her blog has been a huge inspiration for me, and she is one of the few people in blogland I have iPhone 616actually met in person (I did feel a little bit like a weirdo-stalker, but she was really gracious).  This post was a one that helped me propel myself off the couch and onto the computer to start my own blog.

imageThe Frugal Girl – This may be the blog I have followed for the longest time.  Kristen’s life is very different than mine.  I am a Childless Working Woman and she is a Homechooling Christian Mom, but her voice and her message are so clear, those differences don’t matter.  I appreciate her thoughtful approach to life and her message that you can be content with whatever you have right now.  She has some great thoughts about food waste, and unabashedly shares pictures of whatever food she’s wasted each week (she’s brave!).

image[1]Rowdy Kittens –I found this blog when I started getting interested in tiny houses, and Tammy sucked me in with her writing style and photography.   She writes about living simple in her tiny house, happiness, and downsizing, and has published a few books on those topics as well.  I’m currently participating in Tammy’s Everyday Magic course about photography.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Anybody have blogs they are particularly fond of or bring them inspiration?

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

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.