A Treasured Life

There are avid collectors and then there’s me. I’m a lazy, non-committed collector. My collections start with a bang and then fizzle in no time at all. Just as quickly as I become obsessed with something and scour thrift stores for treasures, I lose interest. I suppose that’s a good thing because a home can only hold so many treasures, or garbage depending on your viewpoint. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. The dumpster divers of the world may be on to something.

There are intentional collections and collections thrust upon you because one day you mentioned in passing you liked Tinker Bell. There are collections you start as a kid and others you inherit. My collection of all things Sleeping Beauty started with a wonderful memory of going to see the movie with my mom. My husband started collecting baseball cards as a kid, and for some reason, used nasty bottle caps. He still has the baseball cards, but I was able to convince him his treasured bottle caps were actually trash.

As a kid, I collected Monkee albums and spent hours listening to them with my best friend. When I grew up, I packed them away in a closet. I just recently dusted them off and bought a new record player so I could listen to memories. I also collected stickers, stamps, John Saul books, and magazine cutouts of Corey Hart, Rob Lowe, Ralph Macchio, and Corey Haim (what girl didn’t in the 80’s?).

As an adult, my collection of porcelain dolls was a way of reclaiming my childhood, but then I realized I wasn’t really into those creepy dolls and I packed them away. I couldn’t get rid of them. Probably because I’ve seen way too many horror movies where the doll tossed in the garbage ends up back in your bedroom staring at you while you sleep.

I became obsessed with finding valuable vintage cast iron skillets after I inherited my grandma’s. I loved watching her fry fish, a cigarette in one hand and a warm can of Pepsi in the other. It’s a part of her I can keep forever. So, the search for skillets were afoot. I found a bunch of them, none of value, and realized I would never use them because they were such a pain in the ass. One person’s “seasoned” is another person’s gross-out.

When we cleaned out my mother-in-law’s house after she moved into memory care, we discovered she became the owner of other family members’ collections when they passed away. We sorted through three generations’ worth of collections they treasured—souvenir spoons, postcards, dog-eared books, greeting cards, and trinkets. They held no monetary value but meant the world to them.

My husband has a collection of movie ticket stubs that started long before we met. They are memories of going to see movies with his best friend—his dad. His dad would ditch work for a few hours to run off to the movies together. He also has a collection of Blazer tickets from the games he went to with his dad. I just love that.

My prized collection is a handful of agates and seashells, each one a memento of a wonderful memory—our honeymoon to the Mexican Riviera, visits to the Oregon coast with the kids, our trip to Northern Ireland to visit my beautiful sister. They might as well be diamonds and rubies. That’s how much they mean to me.

Our house is full of collections and we war over wall space. We have artwork (not the fancy kind), movie and sports memorabilia, super hero collectables, thousands of movies, and priceless pieces of pottery made by our daughter. There’s more but I won’t bore you with the details.

There are collections I will have until the day I die—my grandma’s favorite china, family photos, King’s Crown dishes, and the aforementioned agates and sea shells.

I would like to apologize in advance to our daughters who will one day have to clean out our house. They will have their work cut out for them, that’s for sure. Girls, some things are worth money, so make sure to Google it before you toss it in the garbage. And before you chuck the agates and seashells, remember the fantastic days we spent together collecting them. Remember my treasured life.


The Betrayal

We sold your home. It feels like a betrayal. We filled boxes with thing you no longer need—things you’ve collected over the years, and ordinary things one needs to live an ordinary life—pots and pans, measuring cups, coffee cups, cleaning supplies, and the such. We wrote your name in your clothing like you were going to summer camp. Your shrinking world became a tiny studio apartment in a memory care unit. All the belongings that made your house your home are scattered like clues in a scavenger hunt. Strangers bought your lovingly-used items. Clues are tucked away in our closets and attics, or discarded all-together.

Sixty years of greeting cards, love letters, newspaper clippings, and memories that filled your home now fill a shoebox. It feels like a betrayal. We sorted through your life story and picked and chose what to keep and what to toss away. Who were we to decide their value? A birthday card loving signed by your husband didn’t make the cut because there were sixty more just like it. It could have been your favorite. We’ll never know.

We visit you in memory care and sneak out so you don’t try to follow us out the locked doors. It feels like a betrayal. You’re clutching your purse and have your jacket on. “This is a nice place to visit but I’m ready to go home,” you say. You want to go home to a house you no longer own and live a life you lost years ago. Even with family pictures on the wall and your favorite comforter on your bed, you know this isn’t your home.

Our visits are short. It feels like a betrayal. Time has no meaning—five minutes, five hours, it’s all the same. Our talk is small— meaningless words strung together to fill the empty space. You smile as you tell us about your adventurous day and you believe every word but we know it’s a story dementia whispered in your ear. We never let on we know the truth.

We return to our busy lives until our next visit. It feels like a betrayal. Before dementia whisked you away, you were ours. We heard your voice on the phone every day. “Hey, Hun. It’s just Mom.” Our phone doesn’t ring anymore.

Dementia wrapped us up in its betrayal—“Look what you’ve done to your sweet mother.” It tried to turn our love for you into something sinister as it led you into peril but our steadfast love keeps you safe. We will never betray you.

compassion · Family · older adults · personal growth

The Thief

Joan on her honeymoon

I am watching you wither away and there is nothing I can do but love you. Dementia is more powerful than I am. I’m just a human. It has the power to weave its way into the lives of anyone it wants. It doesn’t care how old you are, what kind of life you’ve lived, how much money you have, or how well-known you are.

It was clever. It snuck in like a thief but didn’t steal anything right away. It waited and watched. It wasn’t greedy at first. It took a little here and there so we wouldn’t notice—a misplaced item, a forgotten word, a memory. After it stole the little pieces, it wanted more. It took your short-term memory, your grandchildren’s names, and the way you understand and interact with the world. It will soon take the last of your independence, your children’s names, time and place, and who you used to be. You’ll forget about me and only know me as the kind woman who hugs you and tells you everyone is safe and sound when you can’t find the babies who grew up years ago. I wish I could put bars on our windows to keep the thief out.

You can’t count on dementia to be the same each day. It doesn’t like predictability, structure, or schedules. Sometimes it swirls you around until you don’t know up from down and other days, you’re just a regular old lady with a touch of forgetfulness who knows the name of the president and season. Every day is a surprise.

You tell me about your day and how busy you were—where you went, who you saw, and what they said. A stranger would believe you, but I know you spent your day traveling through time, and that busy day you had was decades ago. Time travel is exhausting and disorienting. No wonder you can’t always remember when and where you are.

You swear people break into your home and leave food in your fridge and cupboards. “Mom, why do you have eight boxes of granola bars and three family size bags of chips?” You look at me and say, “Oh, those aren’t mine. Those were here when I moved in.”  Cleaning out your fridge is a guessing game.

I ask to look in your purse to make sure you have your debit card. Your purse is full—a brush, three combs, one glove, pictures, old greeting cards, junk mail, and $10 in change. Your debit card isn’t there and I panic. It’s in your pocket. “Oh, I don’t know who put that there.” It’s the same answer you give me when I ask why a watch you haven’t worn in forty years is in your purse.

You are angrier than you used to be. You accuse your twin sister of going through your purse and stealing your money. She is the target of all your wrath. It’s as if a lifetime together has reached its breaking point and sibling rivalry is alive and well. You yell at her and strike out. Your words drip with anger. “Mumma always said you can’t be trusted. Daddy said to act right and come home right now!” You were sixteen when your father passed away.

Lately, is seems like your disease is on fast forward and we are losing you more quickly. I can’t keep up. I thought I’d be ready but I’m not. I look at your face and try to soak you in. I touch your soft silver hair. I wrap my arms around your shrinking body. I want to scoop you up and hold you forever. You are more than my mother-in-law. You are my mother and I am your daughter. You love me like I’ve always been yours, and you’ve always been mine. My heart will break when you don’t know who I am and how much I love you. I’ll never be ready.


The World of We

Mike and Jenny

I feel like I have loved you forever but I know 30 years is just a speck of time in a 13-billion-year-old universe. It’s insignificant compared to the millions of stars in the Milky Way or the light years between those brilliant stars and us. Our love affair is nothing compared to the billions of galaxies we’ll never see. Our life together is not insignificant to me. You are my favorite galaxy.

Our worlds collided and we made a new one together—bits and pieces of our old lives and who we used to be melded together to make something truly unique. The world of We; the universe of Us. There is no untangling the parts of this world. They are perfectly intertwined—two broken people pieced together and made whole. If by chance we were undone, we would never be who we were before the world of We. When we are returned to dust, it will not be our separate worn-out bodies. It will be a million particles of our shared life— memories, history, experience, and emotion. There is no tearing us asunder because there are parts of you in the nooks and crannies of my brain; you flow through my veins and arteries into my heart; you are in my bones, the strands of my hair, and the laugh lines around my eyes. You are wrapped around my spirit. I see you in my dreams and think of you while awake.

I cast a love-spell on you so you would love me forever. It was a magical mixture of butterfly wings that tickled my tummy on our first date, popcorn and licorice, the sound of your laughter, a drop of Oregon rain, and a movie ticket. I kissed you goodnight with my spell-stained lips and you were mine and I was yours—an enchantment made more powerful with time and 10,000 kisses.

Our perfectly imperfect love story is written with words dripping of honey and honesty—a story of how we saved each other and built a beautiful rollercoaster life together in the world of We. I will love you forever even when we are just stardust and memories in the universe of Us.


Memories of the Desert

California poppies—bright orange petals like sunshine, happiness, and everything wonderful in a sea of desert dirt and sagebrush. At dusk, they wrapped their petals tight like a hug before bed. Gold, orange, and fuchsia stretched across the sky. Beautiful memories of growing up in the Mojave Desert.

My dog, Alexis, and I chased jackrabbits in the expanse of desert in front of our boxy stucco house. The sagebrush and creosote scraped against my legs as I ran. We returned home thirsty, breathless, and exhausted, me more so than her. The only thing I caught were foxtails and burrs in my shoelaces. It took forever to pick them from her silver and black hair, but it was worth the adventure we shared. She wasn’t just a dog. She was my battle buddy and best friend.

My human best friend, Adrienne, and I walked across town to the library in the scorching heat every week. We spent hours searching the stacks and enjoying the air conditioning before the long walk home with an armful of books. We took a shortcut home—a vibrant oasis surrounded by brown apartment buildings and dead grass. I touched every green leaf and vivid petal in the nursery before slipping through a hole in the fence and walking the rest of the way home.

Adrienne and I watched old episodes of The Monkees on MTV. I remember thinking that the twenty years that passed between 1966 and 1986 was the equivalent of a hundred years. Adrienne was steadfast in her love of Davy Jones. I was in love with Micky Dolenz, then Mike Nesmith, then Peter Tork, and then back to Micky. Davy and Peter are gone and Micky and Mike are old men. They were in their forties when their show played on MTV. Now, I’m in the last year of my forties and MTV just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Oh, to be young again and think twenty years was the same as a hundred.

Adrienne and I became obsessed with The Monkees. We laid on her bedroom floor and listened to all their records more times than I could count. She still loves The Monkees. I secretly love them. I can’t tell you how excited I was when “Steppin’ Stone” was featured in The Queen’s Gambit last year. If we weren’t playing their records, we listened to Poison and wished we were as beautiful as Bret Michaels. My friend Michelle and I listened to Bon Jovi and Journey and ate all her mother’s Doritos. I’d go home and listen to Elton John, Billy Joel, Huey Lewis, Otis Redding, and Madonna. I wasn’t in love with Duran Duran like everyone else. Boy, did I have a major crush on Corey Hart and Corey Haim. And the lead singer of a-ha. And Val Kilmer and Patrick Dempsey. And of course, River Phoenix had my heart and I will love him forever.

MTV and VJs were part of our daily lives and we waited anxiously for world premier videos, none of which has ever been better than Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” We watched Live Aid and I recorded bands on my tape recorder. We didn’t have a VCR yet. After Live Aid, there was Farm Aid and U.S.A for Africa. I watched the “We Are the World” video a million times. Everyone but The Monkees was in that video—a veritable who’s who of recording artists from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Kenny Rogers still looked like Kenny Rogers.

I was 16 when we moved back to Oregon and left the desert and all my friends behind. I hated living in the desert, but I was devastated when I had to leave. Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” played on the radio every hour. A car ride that should have taken no more than two days took six— six days of staying at camp grounds and rest stops in the Fall of 1988. My only connection to Adrienne was handwritten letters we mailed back and forth. Of course, this was before texting, social media, and free long-distance calling plans. Each stack of letters is tied with a ribbon in a box of treasures underneath my bed. I read through them every once in a while,

In the Willamette Valley of Oregon, California poppies bloom every year and remind me of what I loved about growing up in the desert—the brilliant colors, my sweet dog, laughing with my friends, watching MTV videos, and riding my motorcycle with Adrienne on the back. I treasure those memories. Not every memory of living in the desert was wonderful, but that’s a story for another story.

personal growth

I’m Going Through Changes

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I only know the song “Changes” by Black Sabbath by watching the hilariously inappropriate animated series Big Mouth. It’s a show about a bunch of middle-school kids going through puberty—changes to their bodies and how they related to the world; overactive sex drives; hormone monsters; anxiety mosquitos; depression kitties; talking vaginas; and the such. There is nothing funnier than Maya Rudolph as Connie the Hormone Monstress. The show opens with a cover of “Changes.” I totally relate to the lyrics, “I’m going through changes.”

As part of my treatment plan for breast cancer, I take a tiny white pill every day that successfully launched me into early menopause. The type of cancer I had thrives on estrogen. So, no more estrogen. I have an Anti-Hormone Monstress. I’d like her much more if she was voiced by Maya Rudolph.

I was hoping for a few more years before I changed. They told me about the side effects—hot flashes, mood swings, joint pain, weight gain, etc. Here is what they didn’t tell me:

  • I sweat in places I didn’t know were possible doing absolutely nothing other than breathing. I look like a glistening crazed maniac with pools of sweat underneath my eyes.
  • You can measure my irritability on the Richter scale:
    • 1-2. I love you, but the sound of your chewing makes me want to impale my eardrums with the spoon you’re using to eat your cereal.
    • 3. Any words that leave your mouth will be met with complete distain and exasperation.
    • 4-5. If I could legally run you over with my shopping cart, I would. Consider yourself lucky I can only imagine lighting your face on fire with my sweaty eyes.
    • 5-6. I want to turn your cereal spoon into a shiv.
    • 6-7. My vocabulary consists of every conjugation of fuck, which I string together to strangle you with like piano wire. But that’s only if you’ve really pissed me off.
    • 7-10. We’ll just have to wait and see. There’s only so much my mood stabilizer can do.
  • Weight gain isn’t just a number. My perky fat rolls are now a droopy testament to cravings that alternate between greasy, sugary yumminess to greasy, crunchy happiness.
  • The switch to my brain is controlled by my eyelids. Before menopause, my brain would switch off the moment my eyes snapped shut. Now, closing my eyes zaps my brain to life and every single thought I have is electrified and replayed over and over.
  • My depression, anxiety, ADD, and menopause compete in cage fights for the title of Brain Fog Champion of the World.
  • My talking vagina can be one cranky bitch sometimes.
  • I spryly get off the couch only to walk like my 80-year-old mother-in-law across the living room.

I’m going through changes, but if it means no more cancer, I’m good with it. Ok, maybe not good, but I’m fine with trading in estrogen for another day with my family.


2020 – It’s OK Not to Be OK

I’m not going to lie, 2020 has been a rough one. Understatement of the century, am I right? I’m one of the fortunate ones seemingly untouched by the true horrors of COVID-19, but I’m not OK. I’m not fine, all right, a little right, or anywhere close to right.

I’m told by those smarter than myself that it’s OK not to be OK. That’s a relief for someone like me who needs permission to not have it all together.

Do I have countless blessings? Yes, but I’m not OK.

Am I full of gratitude? Yes, but I’m not OK.

Do I try to focus on the positive when I can? Yes, but I’m not OK.

And it’s OK for you not to be OK, too. We aren’t puzzles that can be easily solved if we fit the gratitude-shaped piece into the blessing border, and connect meditation and yoga with self-help books and mantras.

The pandemic has wrecked my mental health, not all at once, but by bits and pieces. Some days I feel like my sanity is tethered to me by a string of thread. I want to run away, but there is nowhere to go during a pandemic.

I have proven to be very resilient over the years, but this feels different because I don’t know how long the pandemic will last or how long I will have to be strong. Not knowing is the worst for me.

How does your not OK feel? This is how mine feels:

  • I’m stuck in the middle seat on a long flight with no leg room or elbow space. My seat doesn’t recline. I desperately want to jump out of my skin and tear the door off the plane mid-flight. I’m stuck in my chair and just have to be happy with my cup of ginger ale for a million more miles.
  • I’m walking a tight-rope made of a single piece of blue string not meant to hold a human, let alone one chock-full of Uber Eats and Grub Hub. I’ll fall into an abyss of nothingness with one quick snap.
  • I’m lost and can’t see where I’m going or where I’ve been. I don’t recognize any of the landmarks or signs that tell me I’m on the right path. I’m wandering, stumbling, and taking tiny steps with the hope I’ll soon be home.
  • A time bomb is counting down in my head, but I don’t know if I have 30 seconds or 30 years. I just know I will explode. It could be a little smoke and noise or it could leave a crater where my neighborhood used to be. Tick. Tick. Tick.
  • I can burst into flames just as easily as I can burst into tears.
  • I’m wearing a straight-jacket made of heavy wool that makes my skin itch and burn. I can’t move my arms to scratch my skin and it’s the only thing I want to do. My skin is screaming.
  • Black tentacles are wrapped around my internal organs and tighten every time I fight. My tummy bursts like a water balloon. Stomach acid floods my body and eats away my brain.
  • A tornado rips up all my fears and swirls them inside my mind so furiously chunks of gray matter are lobbed like grenades and all my happy little memories are leveled.
  • Everything matters and nothing matters.
  • I want to curl up under my work-from-home desk and shrink down to the size of a dust bunny and disappear into the heater vent where I don’t have to care about anything. I’ll run away with a lonely spider and we’ll cuddle in its web—just before it spins me into a cocoon and saves me for a midnight nibble.

I’m not OK, but I will be. I promise.


The Brightside of 2020

I think we can all agree 2020 is a total shit show. It’s tragically comical in its absurdity. Its devastation is heartbreaking. The uncertainty of the next three months is terrifying. We all hope and pray the nightmare ends on December 31, 2020. I’m not sure if time works that way, but I have to believe.

Despite the shit-ton of horribleness that is 2020, amazing things happened, too. A call for social justice; united voices saying the names of those who were lost at the hands and knees of police brutality; a call to the end of systemic racism; people coming together to protest and let the world know that black lives matter; compassionate police officers linking arms with peaceful protesters; action, not just words. Love perseveres.

During the current wildfires in my beautiful Oregon, people are coming together to offer refuge and support to those forced to evacuate and who lost everything. People responded immediately to help in any way they could. People are brave, resilient, and compassionate. We collectively grieve for what Oregon has lost and what continues to be at risk. I imagine this is the same for Washington and California right now. Love perseveres.

Creativity flourished: artwork demanding social justice; protest signs; spoken and written words of love and compassion; new ways to connect to one another; different ways to express creativity. In 2020, I wrote from my heart and shared my life showing all its heartbreak and triumph. The response were words of support. Love perseveres.

For me personally, 2020 gave me more time with my family. Because I now work from home, I have extra moments with my sister that I would not have otherwise. And every day with her is a gift because she is living on borrowed time. 2020, brought my eldest daughter home to live with us and my youngest daughter home for a long, lovely visit. My heart is full. Love perseveres.

2020 marks the 30th year of my incredible love affair with Mike. I will settle for nothing less than another thirty years with my one true love. Yes, love perseveres.

I hope you, too, can see the brightest parts of 2020.


We All Wear Masks

I wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep myself and others safe. Sure, I complain about the tropical heatwave under my mask, maskne, and foggy glasses. It’s a minor inconvenience. That’s it. It’s not a political statement. It’s the very least I can do.    

I don’t mind wearing a mask during the pandemic. When I wear it, I can be any one—someone more confident, funny, beautiful, worldly, sassy, brutally honest. I think I’m hiding from the world, but I’m always recognized. So much for that plan.

Wearing a mask isn’t new to me. I’ve been doing it my entire life. I was the girl who smiled with her eyes and laughed while I was broken inside, hiding a homelife that was anything but safe, loving, and stable. No matter how much I hurt inside, I smiled. My mask hid my secret. I wore this mask when I met my husband. I broke off little pieces at a time to give him just a glimpse of my real life. It felt wonderful when the mask finally fell away and he wasn’t horrified by what he saw. He sees everything. I’m not sure he wants to sometimes, but he put a ring on it.

I still wear a mask so people don’t see my depression or how hard it is for me to get out of bed sometimes and be amongst the living. I smile and say I’m fine. Or I will really lie and say I’m good when I’m anything but. I will hide behind a sunny disposition and laughter (except with my poor husband and kids). There are times I’m good. I just never know.

Let’s be honest, we all wear masks. Saying exactly what you’re thinking during a work meeting may not end well. I mean who doesn’t want to call someone a complete fucking idiot over Zoom. But instead, you smile and agree with their insane idea. Or when you lie to the cashier at the grocery store and say your day is going wonderfully even though you just got the results of your biopsy and you’re terrified; it took everything you had to get out of bed and you just want to curl up on the floor and cry at the check-out line; your marriage is hanging on by a thread and the next fight just may end it for good; you’re so stressed at work your hair is falling out; you worry how you’re going to buy your groceries next week; you’ve been holed-up with your kids during the pandemic and they are on your very last nerve; or you woke up in a shit mood and the sound of the cashier’s voice makes you want to jam your car keys into your eardrums. The list is endless.

Writing gives me the courage to take off my mask so you can see me—not just the person I want you to see. You see my ugly side. Writing let’s me be brave and honest. You may judge me, but maybe something I write may help you in some small way. It’s helping me.

P.S. Don’t be an asshole. Wear your mask or cloth face covering when you’re out and about, wash your hands, and follow physical-distancing guidelines. We’re all in this together.


Hope is a Gift

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

and never stops at all

Emily Dickinson

Hope has been the one constant in my life, even as a child. I may not have had a word for it, but I believed things would be better one day. I believed every hurt and fearful moment would pass, and I just needed to hang on a moment longer. So, I tightened my grip until it was safe to let go.

I’ve always had hope, it just looked and felt differently at different times in my life. As a child, hope saved me. It was the only thing I truly had. As a young adult struggling with depression, I had hope I would feel better again because hope carried me through much worse. As a young mother, I had hope my children would know how much they were loved because I had so much love to give. I had hope for their future and that they would grow into the people they were always meant to be. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had hope that no matter the outcome, I would be at peace because I was surrounded by those who loved me.

I’ve been gifted with hope. Even when I question everything in this world, my belief in hope is unwavering, not because I choose to see things differently, but because it has proven itself to be real in my life. I hope for the best, even though I know not everything will be as I hoped. I believe anyway. I have hope in the midst of despair and uncertainty, especially now. We must have hope for this world and our future. Otherwise, all is lost, and I refuse to belief that it ends this way. I refuse to live in a world without hope.

I have hope, even though our world may be different after the pandemic, we will continue to love, dream, and believe in our collective future. We were meant to be hopeful, and when we hope together, we fight for a better world. It gives us strength. It inspires us to create, persevere, believe in our abilities, and triumph.

Hope truly perches in our soul.