The Road to 2020

It’s the last day of the year––and the last day of the decade–– and like many of you, I find myself staring back down the road at the past ten years. I started this decade as a single mom of two tween girls, and pregnant with my son. I was broke, in so very many ways other than just financial. I lived in a tiny, 600-square-foot apartment, not far from my home now, but it feels like a lifetime ago. I was still searching for the truth of life in others back then, still looking beyond myself for what I needed. I was still plugged into the world of cable TV, materialism, the standard American diet, and what other people thought of me. It had no idea how to find more. I was surviving. That’s the best way I could put it. 

What I ate, who I chose to listen to, and who I spent my time with. What I found valuable, who I admired, and how I treated others. All of it wasmy very best back then. That isn’t an excuse––it’s merely a part of my story. I had so much to learn. Looking back over the chasm created this past 10 years gives so much perspective as to how I’ve changed. 

Growth rarely comes easily, and it’s been a rough decade. It was wonderful, too. I met my husband and we bought a big, beautiful house and poverty stopped being my reality. My mom’s health deteriorated and she died. My two oldest daughters went to college and have families of their own now. My two youngest children were born and are thriving. These past 10 years have been the fullest of my life. So much gained and lost that I often feel like an entirely different person. And yet, I’m not. The person who I was in 2010 is still in here, she has merely changed shape and substance based on the winds of change. I am not someone new. I have merely changed my focus to redirect my growth. 

When I look back at who I was then, I know that I was doing the best I could for my own level of consciousness. I was still asleep to so much about the world and us humans who think we know so much. But liars will always think everyone lies. Cheaters are going to think everyone is sleeping with their husbands, and thieves will always blame the one standing closest for stealing what they themselves misplaced. We all see the world through our own lens, created by the people who raised us and influence us, the life we’ve made for ourselves and the way we choose to walk through it. Maybe in another decade we’ll be lucky enough to look back and see our own growth. Or maybe we’ll still be standing in the ashes of what was, yelling “poor, little old me” in hopes someone feels sorry for us. Maybe if life is shitty enough, someone actually will take pity, for whatever that is worth. As for me, I’d rather live here and now.

Yet we live in difficult and divisive times that everyone wants to escape from here and now. We are at war with each other and ourselves and no one seems to know how to fix any of it. We’ve tried everything from yoga to juice cleanses to the keto diet in hopes of fixing the seemingly unfixable. It seems to me that most don’t even want to look behind the curtain to see what exactly needs to be fixed. We’d rather take a pill and get back to the bar. Or the internet. Or whatever vice we’ve chosen. We all have our own demons. It’s just a matter of how visible they are, or how socially acceptable, but we all have them.

Everyone one of us feels the sting and tasted the bitterness of this division and we all deal with it our own ways. We’ve all lost friends because of “politics,” which is really just saying what direction our own moral compasses and values are directed. We’ve all lost loved ones to death, disagreements, rumors or truths. Not a one of us has walked out of this decade unscathed, though we all like to think of our own pain as so special. But we are all victims of life, because loss itself is part of the human condition. We will all rise and fall. We will all get broken. We all have to get up each day and go on anyway.

Hopefully some of us will find a way to heal ourselves. Maybe some of us will even find ways to heal others at the same time. It remains to be seen what this mammal called human beings will end up doing with our big brains, our opposable thumbs, and all our technology and power.

Will we save the planet, or doom it? Will we use all the knowledge at our fingertips to evolve, or will we perish like all the other endangered species? Do we even realize we’re endangered?

We can use our gifts for good or for evil. It’s up to us–– as a race, as a society, and as individuals. 

The path is ours, whichever one we choose to take. We can look toward the future and see hope and possibility, or we can claim it will always be this way and use it as an excuse to eat and drink our lives away in a haze. We can use our energy to make a better world for the humans we’ve created, or we can cry over all we lost over while binging on the same recipes that continue to pass heart disease through the generations. 

We are one little set of finger prints, so we can’t change everything, but it does start with us. No one ever really wants to hear that and I’m sure I’ll get nasty messages in my inbox from people thinking I’m talking directly to them.They’ll scream that their high blood pressure is genetic, that they are doing all they can and I have no right to talk this way, and they’ll give excuses why they cheated on their wife for over a decade while demanding I tell them who blabbed.

 The truth is, this message is for all of you and none of you. It’s for whoever feels the call to listen and hear. 

The other truth is that I no longer have the energy to deal with all the drama. What you do to change the world––or don’t do––in the grand scale or your own path, that’s your business. Your excuses and reasoning will be your cross to bear and you will carry that weight. I have my own past and truths to walk through the world with. 

There came a tipping point in my life where I looked around and saw that it was no longer about me­­–– it’s about the whole. Maybe it was when my granddaughter was born and I saw how the seeds we plant in this life cast out further and further, and how our hands and our lives touch all of it. It doesn’t start with us and it won’t end with us, either. We are but links in the chain, mere visitors here, but this journey is ours to create while we last. We can waste it on rumors and bullshit, or we can go out and make it the best damn life we can. 

If I’m going to make the world a better place for the generations that come after, I can’t stop to address every yipping complaint. I can no longer care about what people think of me. I can only concentrate on my own truths, and what I’m doing to assure that this amazing, sparkling, painful, beautiful life we live as humans continues for my children, my granddaughter and her children. That is doesn’t stop with us.That we leave this place better than we found it. And I don’t think that’s about money, or how big or fancy our home is, or what college we go to. Or what kind of status our job brings.

I think it’s about how much we loved, and how much of that love was unconditional ––a word we throw around as easily as we cast off those who say something we didn’t want to hear. I think it’s about how we walk the one and only path we have, how we treated those we loved, and what we leave them when we pass.

Who will I be remembered as? What lessons, joys, sorrows, and truths will be left behind in my wake? Did I leave a big fat mess of lies and secrets to be unraveled like an unkempt skein of yarn, or did I live my life out loud so that only the lessons of my path are laid out like a Sunday dress, pressed and ready to be picked up and used? Did I love enough? Do they know it? Did I do all I could? 

I would love to say we all have time. But this decade has shown far too much loss for any of us to believe that the clock isn’t ticking.

For me, it’s time to close the door on what is left behind. It’s time to give it all we’ve got for the generations that come behind us, to clean up the mess in the here and now, starting with ourselves. 

My Transgender Daughter’s Real Name

Most of you know the story of our amazing daughter and how bravely she walks through the world being true to herself. You know how she uses her voice (and taught us about using ours) to make it safer for everyone to be their authentic selves. She has taught us about what is real and what actually matters.

She’s been telling us for about 9 months now that she wished she had a prettier name, and that grew into some anxiety this month with having a boy in her class named Lincoln.

This weekend she asked us to remind her about the other names we had chosen for her when she was in my belly. We had chosen Savannah as a girl name six years ago, but after that first ultrasound, we thought we wouldn’t need it. This is the kid that keeps us on our toes, though.

She spent the rest of this past weekend asking us to call her Savannah, making a tally sheet to give us gold checks for using the name and blue X’s for forgetting. She practiced writing her new name over and over and asked us to explain it to her teachers and friends. She told me when she went to bed that she couldn’t wait to see her “real name,” on her locker and mailbox at school.

There will probably be haters who think Savannah is too young to make choice about who she is. They’ll say she may change her mind (she might, but I don’t see that as a big deal. I think we all change our minds in learning who we are.) The truth is anyone who chooses to get hateful or indignant about honoring trans kids have clearly never done any real research on the staggeringly high self-harm and suicide rates in transgender children. If they had, they would understand that making sure our child is supported is not just kind and respectful, it’s a matter of life and death.

I hope you’ll all help us welcome our little girl with her new name of Savannah Madison. She will light up like a Christmas tree if you use her name. And as always, thanks for honoring our child by respecting who she is and how she likes to be referred to.

If It Costs More Than I Have

68278177_455156831997472_5558516399258730496_n

 

We live in divisive and trying times. We all know it and we all feel it, no matter how much we try to “stay out of it” or avoid confrontation. The toxicity of these days has seeped into the air, the water, every pore of our skin and our relationships. We can’t escape it because it’s everywhere.

This can make it feel impossible to decide what battles to pick, which fights to take on and which to let go of. What incident needs defending and what situation needs cooling off. Who we can help and when we need to step back for our own self-preservation.

It’s a tightrope that very few of us were taught to walk on, even when the world was friendlier and less outright hateful.

We were not taught to calmly talk out difficult conversations with people we don’t agree with. We were taught to ignore and avoid conversations and people we disagree with.

This means that if we’re trying to break this cycle and talk about the hard things, we are going to have some trial and error. Because the human animal, by default, looks for the easy route.

What we can handle and how much we can shoulder is going to be different for all of us, and different every day or time in our lives. It’s a personal choice that rotates like the sun.

For me, it comes down to what I can afford.

Some situations, people, and even friends and family, are energy suckers. They will hog your emotional couch so you can’t relax, keep you up all night with their drama and drain your battery. You have to decide how much to give them. Because some people will literally take all you have.

If it costs more than you have, it’s not worth it. Regardless of how cute they are, what they say, or how long you’ve known them.  No matter what their title or category in your life. If they leave you feeling beat up, blinking red at four percent battery life after every encounter, they cost too much!

We have limited time. Limited energy. Limited waking hours to invest in other humans.

Choose the ones who do not suck you dry. Choose the ones who help fill you up.

The Septum Piercing Litmus Test

67056504_10218043750218817_826332638095605760_n

Back to School From a Mother’s Heart

DD9C8EAD-3A59-4B6B-953B-2474EFDE5102
Lincoln- age 4

Today is my daughter Lincoln’s last day home with me before starting 4k. I’m feeling so conflicted about it. She’s so independent, loves to socialize and she’s very excited so this is the next right step. But she’s also my baby and the child who needs the most protection in an increasingly agitated world so letting her go even a little bit feels scary.

On the other hand, she’s found a train whistle to blow incessantly for our last morning together and that’s probably a helpful reminder to me about needing some peace.

Brice and Lincoln

For the vast majority of my adult life, my time- in both moments and years- has been spent caring for others. Taking care of my girls and my mom, and then just when the girls got somewhat self-sufficient, Brice came along. When Brice finally got old enough to leave every morning for 4K, Lincoln was a newborn. It’s been more than 8 years since I’ve had mornings to myself. And it’s been 22+ years that I’ve been the primary caregiver for many people that I love.

Georgia’s first day of kindergarten. Holly’s first day of 3k. Grand Lake, Colorado 2001

The truth is, I need some time for me. For all these years, my days have been spent picking up and dropping off kids and groceries and toys and messes. Doctors and dentists and orthodontists and appointments. Because someone needs to do it. There is always a long to-do list and the one consistent thing that drops off that list is me and my needs. My work, my writing and my photography. My chance at a social life. Everyone else’s needs seem greater, or they are louder and more adamant. My needs are a silent priority so my moments for peace and quiet disappear until its far too late to do anything except head to bed so there will be energy to do it all again tomorrow.

I’m well aware that I need this time if I ever want to finish the book I keep picking at yet never give my full attention to. I need this time to pitch articles and answer emails and take pictures and read a book or even an article without interruption.

But for every door that opens, another closes. The price for the peace and silence feels like ending of an era. Because it is. Lincoln will go into school and then she’ll be gone, at least partially. Five mornings a week she will no longer be mine. She will be her own person, separate from me completely in those hours. And in another blink of an eye, she will be in kindergarten and then she’ll be gone all day. The concentric circles that make up our lives as parents will keep widening farther and farther. After 22 years of parenting, I find this a much scarier thought than I used to. After 22 years of parenting, I’m so very much defined by this role of mom. I couldn’t separate myself from it if I tried. It’s built in like rings within the tree, counting the years and generations.

Georgia, senior. Holly, sophomore. Brice, age 3.

And now I know that I’m going to blink and these long days of constant demands and noise and “Hey Mama!” will be replaced with the silence of their absence as the circles widen even further until eventually they have lives all their own. I know this all too well. Twenty years goes by while you are picking up and dropping off and making appointments until suddenly you are the one left behind. You- the one who sacrificed your whole life so they could have theirs.

The baby who will make me a Grammie.

In truth, it all feels like it’s all coming to a head. Twenty-two years ago my oldest child was born. Now she’s having a baby of her own, as my own baby picks out her clothes for her first day of school. Even my sweet “little” Brice is suddenly looking like a big 8-year-old this year. And my husband’s vasectomy looms in the shadows of later this month, like the final tipping of the scales from one part of my life to the next.

Brice, 4k

And I’m not even saying any of it is wrong or shouldn’t be this way or that its not for the best. I’m just saying it’s really hard after all these years to let it go. To move on into the phase of big kids and grandkids and more time for me and my dreams and career and maybe even a little quiet. Sometimes even the thing you want and need so badly can be so hard to face.

But for this morning, there is a loud train whistle and a little girl singing along with Frozen. And I will take it while I have it.

Georgia, age 5. Holly, age 3. Where do the years go? ❤️

A Year of Plant-Based Life

A year ago yesterday, my husband and I embarked on a new and exciting adventure with food. We dropped meat and dairy from our diets in an attempt to become as healthy as we could.

Saying it like this makes it sound like it was some big leap of a decision that we made overnight. But for a year before that, we were already dropping foods from our diets and researching how to eat healthy. Because despite there being a thousand weight loss and exercise programs out there, it seems to me that very very few of us really know what it takes to truly be healthy.

I struggled with my weight and my health for most of my life. I would always claim “I eat pretty healthy,” or admit that I just needed to exercise more. By even when I did “eat healthy,” I didn’t see real results. And I sure as heck didn’t feel great. I mostly lost weight from extremely stressful times when I could barely eat anything at all. Or from illness. Even the year of my life that I ran 20-25 miles a week didn’t help me get the results I was looking for. Weight loss and “being healthy” always seemed to be some big secret that I wasn’t privy to.

My husband struggled with obesity most of his life as well. After becoming ill and finding out he had diabetes, he lost a lot of weight thanks to a strict regime of egg white omelettes, white meat chicken, very low calorie counts and grueling daily workouts with a trainer. His diabetes became at least decent and his blood pressure became manageable. He still required cholesterol meds. But a bland diet of only a handful of foods and a strict, intensive exercise program rarely lasts long for even the most strong-willed among us. And once kids and family commitments came along, exercising for hours each day became impossible. And eating habits reverted back to foods that were quick and readily available. Of course, the weight came back on.

This was where we were about two years ago. At the same time, I was unable to lose the weight I’d gained being pregnant and nursing our daughter, Lincoln. I was having lots of stomach problems, allergy problems, hormonal imbalances, sleeping problems, breathing issues, joint and muscle pain and mood swings. My husband needed to go back on all his meds and was having his own fair share of medical scares. We both had parents who got seriously ill and died young, and we knew we were heading in the same direction. But where do you even start? Especially if you’ve already tried it all.

This is why I often say that this has been a journey. It wasn’t one big change but a series of them. For us, it started with eliminating red meat, and then trying to get rid of more processed foods. Then it became clear that my body couldn’t handle gluten so we dropped that. We food journaled. We researched. We whittled away at our diets, trying to eliminate all foods that didn’t serve us. The true goal was not to be thin. The goal was health and wellness. The goal was to NOT die young.

We saw some successes that year. We improved but also knew there was more work to do and that we needed help. So we started to watch documentaries and read books, keeping an open mind and enlisting critical thinking and logic. We specifically wanted to know how the healthiest people on earth eat.

This is when Forks Over Knives and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn came in and changed our lives. This is when we found the answers we’d been seeking forever. And this is when we made the most difficult jump and stopped looking back. One year ago. I’m so very very thankful for that day.

Without ever being hungry, we both lost weight and immediately began to feel so much better. Without having to eat bland boring diets (or dangerous fad diets) we both got thinner than we’ve ever been. And unlike all the other times in our lives that we’d lost weight, we did all of this without exercise. And without ever feeling deprived or bored or hungry, because we eat a huge variety of nutrient-rich and filling foods. Real foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils. Whole foods.

Unlike so many fad diets out there, this way of eating and living drastically improved not just how we look but also how we feel. And most importantly, it improved our actual health. Our cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are better than your average 10 year old. Better than either or us have ever been on record in our lives. This is quite the accomplishment at 44 and 49 years old. Without meds or anything except plants as fuel, we have turned back the clocks in our arteries and our immune systems. Like some magical fountain of youth, made out of bananas and lentil soups.

The most common comment I get is, “But I could never eat that way! I couldn’t give up cheese/burgers/pizza/donuts.” But I am not some superhero and neither is my husband. We have no magical powers. We ate the standard American diet for most of our lives and we were just as addicted to it as the rest of America. We feel no superiority or self-righteousness because we’ve had all the same struggles and battles with food as most people do.

We wouldn’t be able to eat this way (for a whole year now, without exception) if it wasn’t satisfying and incredibly tasty. The biggest challenge was some patience with the learning curve of looking at food in a new way. It took a willingness to give it a little time, as well as an open mind to the possibility of a better life.

I often say that I wouldn’t go back to the standard American diet if you paid me millions. And I mean it. My allergies are gone. My stomach problems are gone. My joint pain and muscle aches and stiffness are gone. My body feels better than it did in childhood. And more than anything, the fear and dread of dying young like our parents has left the forefront of our worries.

We can’t protect ourselves against all of the pitfalls in this fragile life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look both ways and learn to cross the street safely. That doesn’t mean we don’t buckle up when we get into our minivans. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to eat for our health.

My mom had a heart attack just before she turned 54. It almost killed her, and I watched her (and cared for her) through another dozen years of health crisis after crisis. I think of this whenever I’m told my diet is “crazy.” As well as this quote form a doctor I’ve come to think of as a mentor.

“Some people think a plant-based diet, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”

-Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

What I know most certainly of all is that if my husband and I can navigate and learn this lifestyle, so can you.

The Baby-Making Shop

I’m being chased and tempted by newborns. Or at least that’s how it feels. Pictures of my babies keep popping up on my Facebook memories. And everywhere I look, someone has a round pregnant belly or a tiny baby. Like a constant reminder of something I’m trying to forget.

I’m feeling so stuck in between, as my own body begins to close down it’s baby-making shop, and my oldest daughter is presently growing me my first grandchild.

And my husband has a vasectomy scheduled for August.

All of this plays a part in these feelings. But mostly, it’s about to be so final. And I want it to be final. I begged and fought to make this vasectomy happen. But it’s still closing the door on something that’s taken up 22 years of my life. It’s hard to let go of so much in one quick snip.

I keep thinking about bringing my first baby home. Georgia was so tiny and I was scared I couldn’t take care of her since I couldn’t even keep houseplants alive. I remember learning to nurse her and comfort her and how to become a mother inside our log house in the mountains. There is inevitably so much fear and success with our first babies.

And the days after Holly was born, sitting in the hot hospital room in Denver, amazed how love multiples with each baby, like magic. Bringing my sweet, quiet dark-haired baby home to the cool mountains, to our little family comprised of her sister and me and my mom. How she completed us and made us whole.

And our tiny apartment on Park Avenue here in Beaver Dam with Brice as a newborn. The god awful heat that summer, and Brice’s little bird mouth, constantly nursing. The girls and I watching episodes of DeGrassi and passing his sweet, jaundiced little body between us. Those were some of the sweetest times of my life.

I feel like I missed a lot with Lincoln. I’d lost a lot of blood during labor and was exhausted for weeks after the birth. I broke my foot 3 weeks postpartum. Both Brice and I picked up a bad stomach flu that first month. We had lots of photo jobs with deadlines and we were in the midst of buying a house. And I was caring for my mom and was so worried about her because I knew she was not going to be with us much longer. I didn’t watch my last baby slip away into not being a baby anymore because I had so much to do. And I was too busy watching my mother leave this world.

It haunts me now, as my uterus and it’s baby-making shop shuts down and my husbands vasectomy looms closer. The minutes click by and I keep thinking that if I don’t rush out right now and make it happen, there will be no more babies.

And that’s okay. In reality, I don’t want more babies. I don’t need any more babies.

But it’s still so very hard to let that go.