They Lost It All

Today, I’m asking you to consider helping out a family who lost everything to a house fire just a few nights ago.
It was 1:00 in the morning when the fire department was called.
Everyone is OK physically. They are still investigating the cause.
Jen and Matthew are exceptional people with three year old twin boys. They built this house themselves on special piece of wooded property in south Eugene. Mathew’s mother has a sweet little house on the property and his sister’s family built on the property as well.
Through a mutual friend I was introduced to them and asked to keep their twin boys once a week.
The boys and I would adventure in the garden, hang with the goats and chickens, pick blackberries on their magical piece of land. Before nap time, they’d picked one of the many books from their library to snuggled up and read.
These boys made me laugh and kept me on the go. I wrote of them on a blog post, September 4, 2020. Jen and Mathew, I’ll say it again, are damn good people.


This is what Jen’s boss has to say about her:
“Dear Friends, last night Jen Jackson, a dear friend and long-time Sponsors employee, lost the home she and her partner Matthew built, to a fire that destroyed everything. It is tragic and ironic. Ironic in the sense that Jen is the first person to help others out in times of crisis. She is one of the hardest working and most caring people I have ever met. Fortunately, she and Matthew and Sammy and Eli were physically unscathed. However, they have lost all of their possessions and their home, not to mention the trauma of this event that will be with them forever. I would strongly encourage you to consider making a donation to their Go Fund Me page (see below). I know if the shoe were on the other foot, Jen would be the first to step up and help out.”

Go Fund Me for Jen and Matthew

Sammy and Eli

Van envy and other highlights

There were many highlights from my weekend stay at my writing coach’s house. It started with Ingrid, my coach, and I walking a couple of blocks from her house for an excellent meal (seafood for this landlocked Montanan) and visit. Then a hot tub before bed.
She really wanted me to meet one of her other writing clients from another group. Saturday we meet Ruth for coffee. Yep, it was immediate sisterhood. Ruth is maybe a couple of years older than me. Shares her time between Seattle and Taos, traveling in her van. The layout of her van is pretty much like mine. She has it all set up complete with twinkle lights and hand sewn curtains that attach with velco. That’s exactly what I want to do. It was such an inspiration. I hope to use some of my winter, making curtains and a platform for my bed.
I hope some of my friends get a chance to meet Ruth. She’d like to come visit in Missoula. For now, I’d like to recommend her online game that is very soothing. I downloaded it onto my ipad and gave it a whirl. CanCan, a game of color and creation, where everyone is an artist.
The rest of Saturday afternoon, I got to cook jambalaya for our memoir writing group that evening. Ingrid and her husband had granted me their downstairs apartment for the weekend where I made myself right at home. Late afternoon, Ingrid, her husband, John, and I got a walk to the Pudget Sound in. John is just as personable and laid back as Ingrid. I loved being with them. John joined us for the jambalaya then left us five women writers to our giggles and stories.
Sunday a quick stop at the Ballard goodwill where I scored. Made it to Olympia just in time for dinner at Taj’s. Wow, does she have a nice set up right on the Sound. I felt like I was at summer camp. She and her roommate cooked a meal to die for, salmon and all fresh veggies and salad. Lovely young women and good conversation.
The past two nights, I stayed at The Tradewinds in Rockaway Beach. I’d recommend it, right on the ocean, with a kitchen and quiet. Just ask for Neil at the front desk. Really I rested, took a walk on the beach, not much else, a little writing. I’ve got a low energy thing happening, tired when I wake up.
Before I make my way to Eugene for a few night stay today, I’m meeting some friends from Missoula, former co-workers from the Good Food Store, who are just up the road. We’ll get a walk on the beach in. I’m excited to see them.
Thanks for reading.

Nice curtains!
Ruth calls this her sunken living room! Oh I like the carpet too.

Chapter One, draft

— I am 3/4 of the way, in writing my memoir. Summer hasn’t allowed for much writing time. But I’m carving out time for my writing again, with plans to spend a weekend with my writing teacher and fellow memoir writers the first of October.
Here goes, a sample. Keep in mind it’s a draft and unedited by an editor.

Chapter One

I kept a steady face while squeezing my clenched hands together under the café table as I struggled to hear the blow of my daughter’s words. “I don’t see any hope for you and me in this lifetime.”  I searched her eyes for some recognition of a mother daughter connection, of love, but I could only see a cold blue hardness. My blond haired, blue eyed baby now 31 years old stood taller than me and beautiful. I wanted to reach for her hand and ask for forgiveness, but I kept hitting the invisible wall she had built between the two of us. 

Just 30 minutes earlier I was driving to the coffee shop trying to keep my anxiety at bay. We had decided to meet to discuss me keeping my two-year old twin grandchildren. She needed care for a certain day, but she had some rules she needed to stress. Looking out at the mountains that surround Missoula was usually settling to me. I wanted to be hopeful. All I could think of were the mistakes I had made as a mother. Times that trust had been broken, the times my past traumas caused me to give into my anger and act in ways I would later be ashamed of.  

At the same time, I knew I was a wonderful grandmother and wanted desperately to stay in my grandkid’s life. I’m a kid person, ran my own childcare for seven years. Plus, my grandkids were particularly cute, smart and fun. The days I knew I would spend time with them, felt like Christmas morning. I could hold them, feed them, watch their innocence while witnessing their personalities form from infant hood. My grandson, born first, had a wisdom about him while my granddaughter who arrived just minutes later exuded sweetness. About twice a week, I had been asked to help out. Come spend time helping at nap time, tidying up, taking them for a stroll or just holding them or changing a diaper. It was what I lived for, but I was careful never to just stop by. Now and then, I did ask if I could come by, bring a meal, a snack and help, but I made sure to keep those requests at a minimum. My daughter had boundaries, I so wanted to respect them, rebuild trust between us. She asked me to come along to help shuffle the babies and all their gear for their first doctor’s appointment and a few others that followed. In the months after they were born, I might be asked to come along for the same purpose to grocery shop. One such occasion, at the store, I was holding my granddaughter. I walked over to the essential oils to sample some smells. 

“Mom, what are you doing?” my daughter yelled at me. “Don’t you know that some essential oils can cause seizures in babies?” Her rebut crushed me. I didn’t know. I was glad to know now. My intent had not been to harm my granddaughter. 

Wide eyed, I slunk away from the display, following behind my daughter the rest of the shopping trip, careful not to stray. 

When my grandchildren were a couple of months old, my daughter asked if I could stay the night. Her partner had to go out of town for work. I was so excited, a sleep over with my daughter and grandchildren. I’d cook dinner, do laundry, whatever was needed. My daughter and I had even planned to watch a movie together once the twins were down for the night. I spent the afternoon cooking as I counted the minutes until I could head to her house. At 6 PM I arrived at her door with her favorite meal, cheese grits, a salad and pork tenderloin along with groceries for a breakfast spread. Our evening was magical as we ate and played with the babies. Once they were asleep, we settled together on the couch to watch Boyhood, a movie we both had been wanting to see. Snuggling up to watch a movie or show together was always something we both enjoyed, and I took it as a sign that our relationship was healing. Finally, at 10PM it was time for bed. “Hey mom” she said, “I want the babies to sooth themselves back to sleep. Please don’t go in and pick them up unless they cry for at least 10 minutes. And don’t give them any medicine or natural remedies without asking me first.” She had a baby monitor in her room so she could keep an eye on them. I settled onto my makeshift bed on the couch, determined to follow her directives. But in the middle of the night, I was awakened to my granddaughter’s cries.  My granddaughter was not soothing herself back to sleep. Oh, I wanted my daughter to finally get a good night’s rest. She was doubly exhausted from the surgery of a C section, no sleep and constant care of the babies. I sat up on the couch feeling the pull of my crying granddaughter. How long had it been since she had been crying, was my daughter awake? Every maternal string in my body was being pulled. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I went to my granddaughter’s crib and picked her up. She was hurting from new teeth pushing their way in. Without thinking, I reached for the homeopathic teething gel and rubbed some on her gums. The door almost immediately swung open. “Didn’t I tell you do not give them anything without asking” my daughter scolded. Suddenly all the magic of the night was gone. She had and I had failed. I was sick to my stomach that I had not been more mindful of her wish. 

I pulled up to the coffee shop breathing through my anxiety.

Just a few days before I was at my daughter’s house helping with mealtime and bedtime. I asked what day they needed me. “Tuesdays” she replied. “But we have some rules we need to make sure you can follow.” That familiar pit in my stomach, almost close to nausea feeling caused me to look away. My face dropped when she said, “I had told you before not to take the kids for a walk further than a couple of blocks without checking with me first and you did anyway, back in February when you took them to the Shack to eat.” For a minute my mind was blank. Then I remembered, yes six months earlier, it was an unusually nice day for that time of year. I was taking care of my grandchildren, we ventured out for a walk to a restaurant as there wasn’t much food in the house. They enjoyed their double stroller ride and the attention of wait staff and others at the restaurant. Being a professional childcare provider, I was used to parents leaving their children in my care, taking them on walks, going to the park and more. They trusted me. I was always vigilant in assuring the children on my watch were safe. That vigilance was even stronger with my own grandchildren.  

Once again, I felt shame for my actions. Any good I was doing was being cancelled out.

I had taken grandma liberties knowing I would jump in front of a train for my grandkids. With that knowledge we had ventured out without even considering that my daughter was sensitive to my actions. While I trusted my protective knowledge, she did not. And she had reason not to. 

During my daughter’s teen years, I had been reeling from pain of the discovered infidelities and other secrets of my husband, her stepdad. I turned to alcohol to numb the pain.  I profoundly lost myself during her crucial teen years. A few marked times, my daughter witnessed me as an angry alcoholic.

 By the time I got home that night after helping get the twins to bed, I was so upset and distraught I was beside myself. I had walked on eggshells for the past two years, tried everything I could to prove to her that I was trustworthy, that I loved her and would do anything for her and my grandbabies. It was beyond painful that we continued to have such conflict in our relationship.  More often than not, when I left my daughter’s house I felt like a monster unless she needed me then I was her doormat. I wished she could see that I was not the person I was when I was married to her stepdad. I could feel she wished me out of her life. 

I knew I was done with this abusive pattern and needed a change. Heartbroken and defeated, I pulled out my laptop and pounded out an email which I re read several times before sending. It was half question, half plea. 

“I wasn’t sure where you are on whether or not to go to counseling together. My concern is that you really aren’t comfortable with me keeping the twins. I know our relationship has not been an easy one. Also, know that your life is quite full. Taking the time to go to counseling with your mother may not be a priority. It’s important to fill your life with loving relationships. If our relationship is not serving you, I am willing to step away if that is what you would like. 

Let me know your thoughts.

I’d love to get to a place where at least you feel safe and some ease with our relationship. Mama”

Her reply was just another reprimand and it stung. “Mom, I’ve had some time to think about counseling, and it’s not something I want to do. You and I have talked about the important rules that we have for anyone watching our kids, I’m not sure that going to counseling will do much. I felt good about the conversation you and I had and could tell that you took the rules seriously. Are you feeling like they are ones you can go by?”

It was after that we had arranged to meet. It was my idea. I hoped that we could talk things out and clear the air. 

As I parked my car at the coffee shop, I spotted my daughter waiting at the door. She smiled and waved. I felt a twinge of hope, maybe we could work things out. My thoughts jumped back to just before I knew she was pregnant, when she was working as a preschool teacher. She asked if I’d like to come volunteer and help in the classroom. I jumped at the chance and went off to get my background check. I spent every day of the next week immersing myself in the world of three-year children, singing songs, reading, serving meals, cleaning and getting all the little ones settled for naptime. During naptime my daughter and I would talk, whispering and laughing about all the cute things the children did. It had been 15 years since I had run my own childcare. I was in heaven. While we worked alongside each other she remarked, “I forgot how good you are at this.” It meant the world that she recognized this. During her elementary and middle school years, I ran an at home childcare, Frankie’s House. One of my many goals in having a childcare was to have my own child at home, while providing an as close to home feeling childcare for other children. My daughter had grown up witnessing me provide care, create fun and educational activities in a safe environment for the children who came to our house. Taking care of these children while being at home with my own child was one of the happiest times in my life. 

One afternoon, once off work from her pre-school job, my daughter texted asking me to come over. She said she wasn’t feeling well. As I headed over, I got a text saying, “where are you, hurry.” Now I was worried and sped up just a bit.  She was standing in the doorway when I got there looking quite well and smiling from ear to ear. She reached out and hugged me “You are going to be a grandma” she said. We held each other while I cried for the possibility of being a grandmother and the possibility that my daughter and I might heal our bruised relationship. 

We ordered coffee drinks, making small talk while we waited. She suggested we sit outside for privacy. As soon we were settled, she launched into it, “do you think you can follow our rules?” As always, I felt I had been punched in the gut. I had to bite the inside of my lip to keep from showing my hurt. I locked my eyes on her and steadied myself. “Yes”, I replied. I took a deep breath summoning all the courage I could muster and asked, “In return will you let me know when you are not feeling comfortable or you feel I am not following rules, as it comes up and not wait to talk to me about it?” She nodded, yes. Now that we were talking openly, I was determined to push forward. I could feel the sweat beads forming, I wasn’t sure if it was the 90-degree August heat or my nerves. I took another deep breath and went for it, asking one more time, “Are you interested in going to counseling together so that we can heal our trust issues?” I was feeling exhausted from the pain of our disconnect.  I was tired of feeling unappreciated and wanted a real change and that meant addressing another painful accusation. Ever since her teen years, my daughter had tried to diagnosis me. Certainly, when you see your mother as an angry alcoholic, you want to label it in order to understand it. At one point she entertained that I might be bipolar. Her latest diagnosis earlier in the year felt cruel and demeaning and I wanted her to know it wasn’t OK. She had asked me if I ever considered that I might have borderline personality disorder. I asked my therapist and close friends if they felt this was true. I got a clear no from all parties. My daughter and I had never discussed this again. I was never given the opportunity to let her know that was I not borderline.  I pushed further and said, “I’d also like to follow up with the question you presented to me earlier this year, whether or not I feel I might have borderline personality disorder. That was upsetting and needs to be talked about.”  I could see her demeanor change and her body stiffen.  “No, and I will not apologize for that” she said. Her words felt like a slap across the face. That’s when she delivered her knock out blow, “I do not see any hope for you and me in this lifetime.”  I sat for a bit, shocked, saddened and broken hearted. For twenty years, I had tried and failed to mend our broken relationship. 

Yet, I wanted to make sure my grandchildren would be taken care of, I wanted to stay in their life, but I didn’t want this painful pattern of allowing my daughter to keep punishing me for past mistakes to continue. After a couple of minutes of silence, I found my words, “do you have someone else who can keep the twins on the days you need?” I hoped that would snap her back to the present. I hoped that would soften her and get us back on track with our conversation. It was the whole reason we had come to talk. I’d do anything for my grandchildren and my daughter. I wanted this to work. Maybe if I gave her an out, if she didn’t really feel comfortable with me watching the twins, we might avoid more conflict and I could remain in their lives. Without hesitation, she answered, “I do.” With that she gathered her things and rode away on her bicycle. 

Remembering

9/11 comes along and stories of remembrance are on the news, NPR, social media. As I’m sure with the day Kennedy was assassinated, many remember where they were when they heard the news. I remember exactly where I was, turned on the TV and remain glued to it for the remainder of the day.

Everyday is filled with loss, extraordinary loss but we don’t always witness it. 9/11 was in our face, televised. Our nation grieved together and still does. Many now suffer from PTSD, loss of limb, toxic poisoning, the list goes on.

Just this morning as I’m pulling out of the grocery store parking lot. I hear the voice of a young boy on NPR, it must have originally broadcast a few years ago. He, with all the confidence in the world, declares he can feel the warmth of his grandmother who was killed on 9/11 even though he only knew her the first 11 months of his life.

I pulled my car over to wail. To wail for all the loss. And praying that my grandchildren can still feel my warmth even though I only knew them the first two and half years of their life. I pray to anyone who will listen that my daughter feels my love for her in spite of how she feels about me. I pray that this world gets some healing in so many areas.

Fall is My Favorite Season

Fall can’t get here soon enough. Aside from it being my favorite season, it will be the end of summer travelers, the heat and smoke and my schedule will settle down.

Missoula has been run over with people from all over the place, making for increased traffic, prices and more unattractiveness. We had one of those stupid (yea that’s my opinion) party vehicles that people pedal while drinking. It went up and down our main street at five mph, people yelling like a bunch of newly released convicts, attractive!


The river was packed and littered. The cost of hotels tripled. Locals can’t afford increased rents much less buy a home in this most unfair market. I haven’t floated the river this summer.

My schedule has been full with pet/house sitting, doing some childcare and cleaning Airbnbs. It’s been good for my pocketbook but my soul could use a little down time.


Come fall I’ll get my van set up for camping, find a body of water and get to camping.
And get back on track with writing which has taken a back seat in the midst of busyness.

Thanks for reading.

Conversations We Need to Have

A few weeks ago, I was helping out at a fund raising garage sale for a BIPOC organization. Kenya and I struck up a conversation. Somehow it came up that I grew up in Mississippi. She exclaimed that her grandmother was from there.
“We are probably cousins.” she giggled. I giggled right along with her. Kenya is black. I’d love to be her cousin.

I shared with her some of the unpleasant, that’s putting it lightly, actions of my family. Actions I grew up with and ones I learned about from researching my ancestry.

“Hey, these are conversations we need to have in order to heal, learn do things differently.” she said. I couldn’t agree more. She came over the next week to do some digging on ancestry, showing me where her family lived in Mississippi. We found some slave stories, one being from a great, great grandmother of hers. We could have used a few more hours. Her dad is creating a podcast, about when you woke. Kenya will be interviewing me. Don’t know when it will go live. You’ll be the first to know.

On this 4th of July, let us not forget the words of Fredrick Douglass in his famous speech:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

Descendants of Fredrick Douglass read his speech


And Maurice Carlos Ruffin on Being a Patriotic Black Southerner
I love Maurice Carlos Ruffin. On twitter, he is such a light, giving positive words to fellow writers.

Stay safe. Thanks for reading.

Hey, Lighten Up Francis

Copywork – copying down what others have written to develop writing skills, an age old method of learning.
I once heard an NPR interview with a writer (embarrassed to say I can’t remember his name) who practiced copywork everyday for a year. I’ve done it some and can feel my brain shifting in a good way.
I’ll share my copywork for today from Anne Lamott’s, Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life. This passage I think has something for everyone in it.

“So after I’ve completely exhausted myself thinking about the people I most resent in the world, and my more arresting financial problems, and, of course, the orthodontia, I remember to pick up the one-inch picture frame and to figure out a one-inch piece of my story to tell, one small scene, one memory, one exchange. I also remember a story that I know I’ve told elsewhere but that over and over helps me to get a grip: thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

     I tell this story again because it usually makes a dent in the tremendous sense of being overwhelmed that my students experience. Sometimes it actually gives them hope, and hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate. Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously. So here is another story I tell often.

     In the Bill Murray movies Stripes, in which he joins the army, there is a scene that takes place the first night of boot camp, where Murray’s platoon is assembled in the barracks. They are supposed to be getting to know their sergeant, played by Warren Oates, and one another. So each man takes a few moments to say a few things about who his is and where he is from. Finally it is the turn of this incredibly intense, angry guy named Francis. “My name is Francis,” he says. “No one calls me Francis­­­—anyone here calls me Francis and I’ll kill them. And another thing. I don’t like to be touched. Anyone here ever tries to touch me, I’ll kill them,” at which point Warren Oates jumps in and says, “Hey—lightened up, Francis.”

     This is not a bad line to have taped to the wall of your office. 

     Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is write a description of the river at sunrise, or the young child swimming in the pool at the club, or the first time the man sees the woman he will marry. That is all we are going to do for now. We are just going to take it bird by bird. But we are going to finish this one short assignment.” Anne Lamott

Thank you Anonymous for the gift! And thanks all for reading.

Choices

I change the subject hastily when she asked, “Where’s you daughter? How is your daughter?”

“Good”, I reply, “How’s your son? What have you been up to?”

I choose to focus on how good it is to see this lovely woman I haven’t seen in such a long time.

This is how it goes when you haven’t seen someone who knew you 20 years ago and it’s been that long since you’ve seen them. I don’t really know how my daughter is, it’s been five years since I’ve spoken with her. 

I’m surrounded by people who love me. A dear friend is hosting a gathering in her backyard to celebrate me on my day of birth and that’s what I choose to focus on. 

My brother calls to wish me a happy birthday while mentioning my sister was there visiting not too long ago. He and my two older sisters were all together. I haven’t seen or heard from either sister in a couple of years.

I choose to focus on the fact that he called to wish me a happy birthday. 

I run into another woman I haven’t seen in twenty years. She is proud to be a grandmother now and I am happy for you. She asks how many grandkids I have. She knows my daughter had children. “Two, they are twins” and quickly change the subject. I cared for this woman’s daughter when I had a childcare. We used to gather, with our husbands and our daughters. Where would I begin to tell her I don’t see my daughter anymore, that I miss her and my grandchildren everyday?

I choose to focus on the fact that I am recognized as a mother and a grandmother and this is someone I created good memories with. 

This morning, I choose to honor my sadness. I will give it what it asks of me, to allow the tears, to trust it will pass as all feelings do. 

Then I will choose to go visit a friend.

Re-write your story

This woman walks the talk and I am lucky to have her as a writing coach. She keeps me on track, keeps it real and pushes me forward with a gentle firmness.

“On the verge of self-imploding after a one-two punch of breast cancer and blindness, Ingrid Ricks, NYT bestselling author and mother of two, realized she had a choice: let fear and self-loathing swallow her whole, or give her inner demons the boot and rewrite the soul-destroying stories she was telling herself.”

Tuesday, June 15th, 8:00-9:00 PST AM, she will be sharing how she transformed her life and changed the stories she was telling herself. You will learn steps she uses to keep the negative voices at bay. It’s free and sure to be enlightening.

Register here: Rewriting The Stories We Tell Ourselves



Mental Health Awareness

The last day of May marks the end of National Mental Health Awareness month. May awareness not stop here.

I did happen upon an enlightening show and podcast this month.

In the series, The Me You Can’t See, Oprah Winfrey brings stories to the screen that attempt to bring truth, understanding and compassion to those suffering. The things we don’t see or understand scare us. It’s in story that we can heal, listen and find compassion.

As I watched, it brought to mind my most unfavorite word, crazy. It’s limiting. It does not take into account what may have happened to someone. Calling someone crazy is dismissive, only adding to the stigma of mental illness. It is used as a defensive mechanism to shut someone up. Instead of calling someone crazy or saying what is wrong with you, ask what happened. Then listen.

*In Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, she speaks with writer Ashley C. Ford about her new memoir, Somebody’s Daughter, and how it is written for everyone who walks into a bookstore and feels like they can’t find a book about themselves and there are a lot of us looking for that. They talk about the writing process, the truth-telling process, and how connecting the two can be liberating not only to us, but also to others. It is not just a story about her life, it is a story about life and what connects us to show us that we are not alone–and that we are braver than we know.
Ashley makes the point that there are not heroes and no villains in her story. I aim to make that apparent in my memoir. We are all flawed, most of us have had something happen to us and we all deserve grace.

*Thanks Lola for the recommendation

Thanks for reading. See you in June.