Archive for the ‘Backstory’ Category

My Father’s Perfect Lawn

Ever since I can remember, my dad has kept an amazing lawn.  This isn’t your typical “keep it mowed and free from weeds” lawn.  Oh no!  We’re talking about the most perfect lawn to where other people may have wondered if it was actually a fine green carpet spread out in front of our home.

I didn’t really notice how great the lawn was when I was a kid.  In our first house, we had a what seemed like a steep hill for a front yard.  The short, fine grass was reminiscent of a perfect buzz cut on a marine’s head.  Dense and close to the dirt made it easy for friends and me to roll from the top to the bottom until we were dizzy.  We would run around, play tag, and occasionally fall to our knees and inevitably leave a giant dent.

Every Saturday morning, my dad would pull out the lawn mower and draw it across the yard in perfect lines.  Next came the edger.  He slowly walked the perimeter making sure the whipping string caught every rogue blade that dared to go out of the lines.  When he was done, divots were gone, lawn was perfect again, and we were back to playing.


We moved to our next home when I was in fifth grade.  This front yard had only a slight incline.  In the back yard, there was a small space of grass next to the swimming pool we were so excited to have.  This only increased my father’s dedication to make the yard shine.  He brought out special fertilizers, shoveled manure twice a year, and even had custom curbing made to line all the flower beds.  The yard  shined a vibrant green and a lush feel under my bare feet.  My dad took such care that if a weed even thought about popping up, he was out there to uproot it.

When I asked to lay a Slip ‘n Slides across his grass, I think he gasped.  After a long lecture about how the excess water would kill the grass, he pointed to the pool and said, “That’s why we have that.”


It was in that house, my parents finally hired a gardener to help tend to the yard.  My dad’s genetic disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, made it more difficult for him to walk as he aged.  Why risk an unnecessary fall when rolling the mower?  He still took the painstaking care of all the additional maintenance, but took the additional help for the basic chore.

After I moved out, my parents moved to a golf course community.  And just like my dad’s other houses, his backyard rivaled the putting greens on the course. With time and grandchildren, he softened a bit.  There were many mini pools and even a Slip ‘n Slide across that stellar lawn.


When I finally purchased my own home,  I appreciated how difficult it was to maintain such a perfect lawn while balancing the needs of a growing family.  I begged Hubs for the exact same yard as my father created.  He told me the climates were different and we could never recreate the same grass.  He was right.  We never did.  Nothing in our yard ever looked anything like my father’s.

Last weekend, I returned to my hometown to visit my father for the last time.  His disease has finally taken over his body and he’s tired.  He was placed on hospice and is at peace with having only a short time left with us.  When I walked into the backyard I could see his health’s deterioration as clearly as I did on his gaunt face.  Yellowed patches and bare spot spread across his once vivacious lawn.  Tears ran down my face as I saw what had become of his perfect yard in the last few months.  The colors weren’t what I knew they could be.  Time passed.  Things changed.  It would never be same again.


My dad’s gorgeous lawns are one of the things I will always remember about him.  Those spectacular landscapes weren’t just grass.  They were always so much more.  They embodied his best lessons: always work hard, put all your effort into what’s important, and there’s nothing more precious than home.

I’m not sure what tomorrow will hold. I guess none of us ever do. We hope for the best. That we’ve nurtured our lawn, shown it all the care we have in our heart, and hope it will produce something beautiful. Something no one will ever forget no matter how far  they are. Or keep it an image they can always carry in their heart.  Like how a legacy should be.


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It’s come into my consciousness lately that we are expected to hide our heartbreaks.  This might seem contrary to popular belief with people airing their dirty laundry on Facebook or the musician who creates a best-selling album based on it.  I’m talking about something different.  A little more personal.  (Although the musician might say it’s the same thing.)  I mean the crushing pain from loss where you wonder if you can ever get up again but are to remain stoic on the outside.  It seems we’re shamed for giving love a chance and we curse ourselves to never speak the topic when it fails.  Even more, we are never to admit how much it hurt.  How much it changed us.  Detoured us from one path and started us down another, for better or worse.  Today, I’m breaking through that old idea to explain why we must change this perception and embrace our relationships.  Heartbreaks and all.

Aren't we all so good in the front row with our hands in our laps.

Aren’t we all so good in the front row with our hands in our laps?

My daughter entered 4th grade this year.  I’ve been especially dreading this grade because it marks the pivotal year where my best friend in the whole entire world turned against me and broke my heart.  I didn’t know to call it “heartbreak” at the time.  Instead I thought she was a monster who tormented me for pleasure.  I cried for the loss.  I seethed with anger for being so stupid.  I never admitted how bad it hurt to other people because I didn’t want to look like the fool; labeled the one who cared too much when she obviously cared nothing at all.  Even the other night this girl, now a grown woman, showed up in my dream.  (I haven’t spoken to her since about 4th grade.)  In my dream she said “I always thought you hated me” and I could only respond, “I do.”

I never said I was cool.

I never said I was cool.  Check me rockin’ the flower dress and pink bow.  (For the record, we were just friends for everyone who knew my date.)


Is it worse with boys?  I think it amplifies the stupid feeling factor.  I never questioned my 4th grade friend, whether our relationship was all a lie.  I knew we were friends at one time.  Even after it ended badly.  With boys (or girls if you swing that way), sexuality brings in an even more crippling silence.  Did he ever feel anything?  Was he only using me?  Was it ever real?

My smokin’ hot and super cool single lady friend fell in love.  The boy seemed to love her too.  He made promises.  Then he took them back.  It hurt.  She hurt.  She doubted herself for even giving love a chance.  She mentally punished herself for being stupid enough to believe him.  It was easy to see reality from my point of view.  I know she’s worth loving even though she didn’t believe it in the moment.  I wrote her, “You were great when you were honest, vulnerable, and raw.  When you opened yourself to love him.  You’ll be great again.”

She was brave to love.  We all have been if we’ve dipped our toe into that murky water.  We put ourselves out there to care for someone deeply without regard to how bad it could hurt when taken away.  We should be proud.   We shouldn’t be scared to share our heartbreak.  We might be daring with our trusted friends, but why stop there?  Why not admit it if the conversation comes up with acquaintances?  Instead of avoiding eye contact and pretending like our past didn’t really mean anything, we should tell people, “I really cared for someone and they broke my heart.”

Photo booths were always to be shared with someone meaningful.

Photo booths were always to be shared with someone meaningful.

A harder question is should we tell the heartbreaker?  Could we tell the originator about the pain we created?  (Because no side in a relationship is void of responsibility.)  I know I have a problem with this.  It’s a power problem.  I don’t want to feel like the chump all over again.  Maybe he/she has a wooden heart mounted where he/she notches each crushed soul.  My attempt to save face by never admitting the importance of the relationship does the exact opposite of my intention.  I’ve made myself a victim by being embarrassed about something I should be very proud.

We shouldn’t forget it’s their story too.  Maybe they gave up rights to it when they stopped calling, but can’t we be the bigger person?  Wouldn’t it be a great if we told people they meant a lot to us even if it didn’t work out?   Although I’m pretty sure I haven’t broken any hearts, if I did I would want to know.  Even explain it really did mean something special to me as well.  We both were impacted by the relationship we once shared.

Don’t think I’m keeping this purely in theory.  I’m taking action.  I’m telling past loves, where we lost touch or had a falling out, about how they helped me discover the person I am today.  Being honest about how much the person meant, even if I meant nothing to them.  I’m not going to search anyone down with some kind of heartbreak hit-list to scratch off one name at a time.  But if I ever run into my 4th grade friend and she asks if I hated her, I’ll let her know it was quite the opposite.  I loved her and she broke my heart.






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Choosing Today

Since I was young, I’ve wanted to be brave enough to color my hair some bright color.  The bleaching commitment was too much for me to make the leap.  What if I ruined my hair in the process and it all fell out?  Would it turn out as badly as the time I asked the lady to give me a style with the same length and she layered it all the way to my scalp?  The more time I waited, the more fear crept into my mind.  What would my job think?  Would people doubt my parenting ability?  And the worst fear of all, what is an almost forty-year old doing with that colored hair?

I’d made some meager attempts along the way.  In high school, I bought some temporary blue color.  I think it was made to tint grey.  A concept I really didn’t understand at the time and one now I’m way too familiar.  I’m not sure which old lady was actually using blue, but the point is the flaw in my thinking.  I slathered the stuff over my head like shampoo and washed it out a few minutes later hoping for awesome.  It mixed with my mousey brown to create some blah gray grossness.  I spent the rest of the night in the shower condensing the wash out time.

In college, I went a little more brave.  I choose a semi-permanent color.  My dorm-mate and I each picked a color for a wild time on a Saturday night.  She was going from blonde to brown, while I wanted a maroon-ish red.  We read the box, poured some drinks, and colored away.  After the first application I didn’t think it was bright enough under our fluorescent lights in the middle of the night.  So I did it again.  I ended up with some almost black color which did have the hint of purple in the sun.  It looked kinda cool, but completely washed me out into vampire like status.

I’d learned I couldn’t do it on my own.  I needed a professional to help me pick the right color and apply it the way it should.  Lucky for me, I found a terrific professional about ten years ago who has become a great friend.  The best part is she’ll tell me like it is.  If it’s going to look like crap, she won’t do it.  I finally had the perfect set-up.  So why couldn’t I pull the trigger?

When I’m with my bestie who has a bright color under black, we get stopped constantly with “I love your hair.”  I’ve been jealous for years watching her cycle through the rainbow.  So I made goals.  I’ll do it when I get an agent because when people ask “why did you do that to your hair” I’ll say “I got an agent Mo-Fo.  Shut it.”  Then when I realized I might want it sooner, I thought I’d do it when I reached a goal weight.  If people made a cringed face I’d proudly tell them how hard I worked to get to a particular size.

I started to ask myself why I was waiting.  Why did I need a justification to do something I wanted to do?  How silly was it to prepare my defense to a person I probably didn’t care about what they thought?  So I did it.  I pinned a bunch of hair looks to my friend and told her I was going for a bright red.  Under it I wanted purple peek-a-boos.  I showed up a week later and she delivered a most daring red and purple (for me).

I love it.  It’s bright, kinda different, and a little bit rock n’ roll.  The purple was too muted and will be corrected the next time.  Yes, the next time.  There’s been many opinions.  People have told me they love it and some have even said they hate it.  One person did what I feared the most.  She grimaced and said, “Why did you do this to your hair?”  I straightened my shoulders, grinned from ear to ear and said “I did it for me.”

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This breakthrough post comes at a difficult time for me.  Last year on this weekend, I was living it up at my annual writers’ conference.  I met amazing people, got excited for my writing project, I felt unstoppable.  Until I returned home.  Twenty minutes after I walked in the door and finally stopped gushing about the unbelievably good time I had in Portland, Hubs broke the news his mother committed suicide.

It’s hard to describe moments where your life turns upside down.  Luckily our minds shut away pain to avoid reliving its intensity.  I remember not being able to breathe.  Barely hearing as Hubs went through the events from the weekend and how he’d found out earlier in the morning when two detectives arrived at our home.  I replayed the day before I left for my trip when I worked out the details in my mother-in-law’s living room.  She was picking up my children from daycare in the early afternoon to spend the afternoon with them.  It was that thought that snapped my mind back to the present.  My children.

Hubs hadn’t told them.  They were squealing behind my closed bedroom door asking me if we were done so we could play together.  My heart cracked so deeply my chest physically hurt.  Hubs and I agreed to wait until morning to tell them.  We plastered on fake smiles and walked out to crush them with hugs.  Their happiness only hurt me more because I knew I was going to take it away in less than ten hours.  We put them to bed.  I called my bestie, my mom, and my sister and sobbed out the words.  They were all aware how difficult the previous year had been after my father-in-law died from his battle with COPD.

I didn’t sleep.  Neither did Hubs.  We laid in silence until we heard the kids wake up.  We knew it was time.  Telling your children someone they saw every day and loved deeply is dead is very difficult.  We’d done it the year before with their grandfather.  Having to explain suicide is something that makes you sick.  And for everyone who is about to be judgmental in asking why we had to tell the specifics, they’re not stupid.  They spent a lot of time with her.  They knew she was very healthy physically.  They knew she was mentally hurting.  They asked us how she died and we didn’t lie.

Mental illness was something my mother-in-law battled her entire life.  It’s no different from other diseases which have no cure.  You work every day to fight the infection and sometimes ask for medication to help.  It’s exhausting.  You need a reason to choose to fight every day.  My mother-in-law couldn’t fight anymore, which is something that haunts the living.

There are so many facets to this kind of story.  I’d never stop typing if I tried to explain all of them.  It’s the reason why a year later I still have not healed.  I didn’t go to the conference this year.  I haven’t been writing.  I chose to stay home with my family.  I cry almost every time I think of her.  I knew I would think of her often this weekend.

My mother-in-law used to talk about the amazing sunrises in Oregon when she was trying to convince us to move here.  “They’re so beautiful, it’s biblical,” she said.  She could appreciate such an innocent beauty even when her mind was edged with darkness.  It’s one of the things I appreciated about her.  It’s the thing I try to remember as I put myself back together.sky

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40 Takes Another!

Having a birthday at the year’s end was torture when I was in high school.  Everyone did everything before me.  They got a permit, tested for a driver’s license, and even held employment before I could.  I wished for time to pass so I could do the things they were able to do with age.  I wanted to be older.  Twenty-five years later it’s not so bad.  I get to sit back, be the youngest of the group, and watch everyone else turn 40 before I do.

With 40 looming, I’m happy to see the days slow to a crawl.  Facebook statuses remind me (almost daily) the number is approaching.  Each day someone I went to high school with is photographed at a party with a giant 40 on their face or carting around the dreaded “Old Fart” walker.  Dear God if anyone thinks of doing this for me, you can shut it down right now because I will kill you.

I’ve been able to ignore the impending doom because those birthdays didn’t hit close to home.  Those people are acquaintances I shared a classroom with when I was a teen.  Or maybe they were dear friends then that I’ve fallen out of touch.  It’s not “real” if I don’t know these 40 year old birthdays personally, is it?    Maybe I could’ve lived in that denial before, but that all changed a few weeks ago when my best friend from high school turned the big 4-0.


Time to start the old picture montage.

I faced the fact it was coming weeks before.  I knew I wanted to make Tara something special to mark our long-standing friendship more than the fact we are hitting an age milestone.  Cookies seemed like the best answer.  I went for a design that represented her.  Something girly, classic, and not too lavish.  They were fun to make because I got to remember the great things about her, not the birthday the cookies represented.


Tara didn’t grow up in the same school district like most who went to my high school.  In our freshman year, I knew her through mutual friends and it wasn’t until sophomore year where I had my first awesome interaction.  It came at my 15th birthday party.  She was quiet and timid while others mingled in comfortable conversation.  I don’t remember anything we might have talked about.  I don’t recall anything much about the party.  I only remember opening her present and finding the Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians cassette tape I’d been wanting forever.  (Forever being a couple weeks in teenage time.)

The special thing is the fact I’m sure she had no idea who they were.  (Most people didn’t.)  Tara was a die-hard country fan.  I’m not even sure how she knew I wanted it.  I remember her asking me if I liked it because she knew music was important to me.  I fell instantly in best friend love with her thoughtful gesture.

Prom 1991.  Wow.

Prom 1991. Wow.

In our high school experience she was responsible for my big hair, my attempts at make up, and reducing my self-loathing.  We became co-editors on our high school paper and I found someone who loved writing as much as I did.  We shared our insecurities and hopes for what would come after high school.  All this love while rockin’ our differences — She was crowned in the winter formal court, joined a debutante society, and listened to her mother’s opinion.

Do you see the size of my hair?

Do you see the size of my hair?

After high school, she packed up her life and moved halfway across the country for college.  We grew up in our own directions, matured through marriages and children, and have come out the other side with our friendship still intact although changed.  I’m still finding it hard to believe we can be this age.

Although I wasn’t there to celebrate, I’m sure Tara set an inspiring example by handling her 40th birthday with grace.  Big smiles and gracious thank yous accepting her fate stepping over the line to the era we regard as being our parents’ time.  More birthdays are coming and more friends will be labeled “Over the Hill” as each day passes.

I hope by the time my day arrives I learn something from these examples.  Maybe I’ll be a little more mature about it only being a number.  Maybe I won’t freak out when someone says to call the fire department when the candles are lit on the cake.  Or maybe I’ll be a little wiser about appreciating the four great decades and the fantastic set of people along the way that got me here.

My favorite high school saying.

My favorite high school saying.

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Shut In

I didn’t leave my house this weekend.  Correction, I left once to go to Walmart to pick up some groceries for dinner.  I only got to their parking lot  because then I discovered I didn’t have my wallet.  Hubs had it and he was gone for the night.  I skulked back home and told the kiddos we had to make do.

I baked.  I baked a lot.  There were iced cookies, Pinterest cookies, homemade pretzels, homemade pizzas, and even some fun treats for the kids.  I also finished my WIP edit, researched potential agents to query, made a spreadsheet for the querying process, and tuned up the old query letter.  While in the background was the constant hum from the washing machine getting through the weekend’s normal chores.

I’m not really sure what came over me this weekend.  I knew I had to get some baking done for clients, but I didn’t need to take on extra projects.  I’ve been struggling to find topics for the blog.  I don’t take your readership for granted.  I’m a bit embarrassed I’m writing about doing laundry.  The real question to this post is what inspired it all?



This is the view from my back porch.  Yes, that’s my crappy fence you see.  Ignore that and look at those incredible trees.  It’s the most amazing thing.  Every year the Oregon Fall season surprises me with vibrant colors and this amazing Ombre effect.

Spring brings green buds and lovely growth.  Summer serenades with rustling leaves while we sit at the patio.  And Fall brings that amazing color reminding me soon the leaves will fall.  In Winter the trees will be bare and lonely.  For some this would seem like the saddest time, but the change brings a great reward.  It’s the only time in the year we have a spectacular view across the valley.  It’s something I treasure everyday up until those green flecks start to blossom with new leaves.

The scene reminded me of all the changes life constantly throws.  The past couple months have brought many changes to my family and we are still sorting out what kind of family we are now.  There are sad days where I mourn the things I miss about the past.  I see those days like a bare tree with nothing to offer except the reminder of what was lost.

But then I look harder.  I see past the branches to the beautiful view laid out before me.  It includes chasing a dream to become a traditionally published author, baking fun cookies to make others happy, and hanging out for an entire weekend listening to two kids laugh their heads off.  Why go anywhere else when I have everything right here?

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Finding Home

A couple weeks ago I finally found this song I’d been searching two years for after hearing it on the radio somewhere.  Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  There was great excitement and merriment.  I purchased it immediately.  I’ve played it on a constant loop in naive bliss.  Unaware of the significance it would carry for me a short time later.

Last week a great tragedy rocked my life.  I lost someone who meant a great deal.  It cut so deep to my core I can’t share it without leaving myself raw.  Maybe one day, when I’m strong enough, I will.  Maybe on a day where I hope it helps someone else.

For now, this song represents it all.  The idea of eternal love.  The happiness in life.  The hope for peace to someone I loved. 

There couldn’t have been a more perfect song.

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