Grief and Relief


The other day someone asked me if the grief I was feeling for the demise of my marriage was similar to the grief I felt after Jim’s death. It brought me up short, because I had never really compared the two. Other than being listed on the top ten stressors in life, divorce and death never seemed to be alike in any way. I had in fact written, in my infinite lack of wisdom prior to going through both, that they were very different. I have been pondering this question a lot lately.

There ARE similarities. Like after death, there is just so much to do during and after a divorce. There are forms to fill out with identifying information listed in twenty different places. Those forms have to be handed in, and paid for. Titles get changed, real estate appointments and decisions, beneficiary changes, and changes in legal documents. And there are address changes, which will take at least a year to clear up. There is the packing up of an old life and household, deciding what to keep and what no longer is functional and/or brings joy. All of these things take up space and time, allow one to feel that they are actually making progress towards something, and serve a very real purpose of not allowing one to wallow in the deep feelings that go along with a life changing event.


So, now that most of the to do list has been checked off, I find myself with a rare day with no plans. It is a holiday weekend, one that I traditionally spent putting in a garden, but I no longer have a garden, only a few plants struggling til I can plant them in some small patio containers. What do I feel? Like in Jim’s death, I feel a combination of grief and relief.


Grief is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow or painful regret. Having loved and lost Jim to a diagnosis that took 14 months to kill him, I am no stranger to the distress of waking up everyday wondering what would have been lost over night. Irreconcilable conflict in a marriage takes a similar toll. When the conflict cannot be resolved, there is a slow erosion of respect, trust, and, yes, love, that results in ongoing sorrow. Regret is a trickier word. I felt no regret when Jim died. While I was anything but a saint of a caregiver, I did the very best I could with the tools I had at the time. Nothing between us was left unsaid, and that love has proven to stand through the trials of time. There is regret in a divorce. There is regret in not seeing the poor match ahead of time. There is regret in knowing that things I said or didn’t say added to the increased distance and differences. There is regret in knowing that decisions I made have caused another person pain. There is the mental suffering over the loss of the future I thought I had, over the loss of 5 years of blood sweat and tears poured into a landscape I loved. Yes, there is grief in divorce.


1D734A60-37EE-4C62-98D2-D1D7BD418C55Relief is defined as alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain, distress, oppression, etc. I would be lying if I did not state that there was some relief after Jim died. Even friends of his sheepishly admitted to this feeling. His last month of life was so hard. One of the beautiful things about brain cancer in the frontal lobe, is that Jim really lost the ability to process what was happening, and in many ways just became more passive, more accepting of help, more gracious with those around him. And, there was no pain. But taking care of him as things deteriorated became increasingly difficult for all of us in his immediate circle. There is relief in divorce, too. Deliverance from a relationship that is causing distress and pain allows room for the joy to seep back in. Being able to make my own decisions is so much easier than having to run them by someone else. No longer having to suppress my thoughts, feelings, and words out of fear of an angry response has been incredibly freeing.

Having been through grief and relief before, I know that this process is not linear with a clearly defined beginning and end. I know I will cycle through these feelings in the months and/or years to come. I know that some days the relief will win out over the grief, and other days will just plain be hard. I guess on those days I will just figure out yet one more person or business that I need to notify about my change of address.13679201-D5D5-4150-8277-BCDBEEEEC17F

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Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid PetitionOn Sunday, I will be joining a few other willing souls in Latah County and go knocking door to door in search of signatures to get Medicaid Expansion in Idaho on the ballot this Fall. I could go into all the financial details of why this makes sense for our state: reclaiming federal tax dollars we have already paid into, the cost to the state and county tax coffers for individuals without insurance, and the value of preventative care. Or I could go into the issue of astronomical rise of health care (which is not health insurance) costs in this country: tort reform, “cover your butt medical practices”, and the pharmaceutical industry. But others have written about all of this, and with much better grasp of all of the details. I will, instead, tell you my own health insurance story.

I have never been without health insurance. I was covered by my parents as a child, and then by student insurance as a college student. When I graduated from Physical Therapy School I headed west with my license, a free place to stay for the winter, and $600 in my pocket. My graduation present from my mother was a 3 month health insurance policy. If I remember right, it cost $99. It wasn’t quite as exciting as the new cars that my friends were getting, but it was practical. Within a month of arriving in Tahoe, I had a full time job and health benefits. When I met Jim, he was a student, had student health insurance, and I was covered by a series of my employers. We got married, Peace Corps covered us for a while, and my employers covered us while he finished his teaching degree. He was hired by Moscow School District and we got pregnant the day after the insurance went into effect. I started private contracting (no benefits) for work, and Jim’s employer covered us while our family grew. The pre-tax deductions for insurance kept rising, but it was never more than we could absorb.

Fast forward 20 years to 2009, and Jim was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very aggressive brain cancer. Due to the sick leave bank, he stayed on Moscow School District insurance up until the day of his death 14 months later. We hit both our $300 deductible and our $1000 out of pocket maximum in the first week, and then again in the 1st month after the beginning of the next calendar year. It was affordable, and with monthly MRI’s, his chemo rounds being $10,000 per infusion, and the final 4 weeks of hospice care costing $27,000, it was a godsend. If he had lived longer than those precious 14 months, we would have come close to hitting the 1 million dollar maximum life time cap. Yes, lifetime caps existed then.

Then Jim died. In addition to grieving, there is a lot of stuff to figure out after someone dies. I contacted social security to find out about widow benefits, I went in to talk with the school district about his pension and getting the family covered via COBRA. No widow benefits until I hit retirement age. Jim’s pension was $700/month. The cost of COBRA to cover myself and 2 kids….$1300/month and due to rise in January. I paid it to get us through December, but I knew I had to look elsewhere. There was one private insurance company offering health insurance in Idaho, and I couldn’t afford anything that looked like Jim’s old policy. I looked into other options. The community had been generous with financial support. I had some cash. I bought catastrophic insurance. I opened a health savings account (HSA) knowing I could, over the course of 3 years with community money, fund that to cover maximum out of pocket.  It wasn’t good insurance. There were caps on everything but catastrophic care, and dental and vision were all out of pocket. But, it was insurance. If something really bad happened, I would not lose my house. It was affordable. Then the private insurance company decided NOT to offer an ACA plan, and the only policy offered was triple the premium.

By this time, I was back to my contract work, but I could not spend over half my income on health insurance. I made too much to qualify for Medicaid. I went in to see a navigator, and I put our family on the ACA. Similar catastrophic insurance, same HSA. But preventative care was covered, and there was no lifetime cap. I made enough money that the premiums were covered by the subsidy. I was able to afford dental insurance. I met Greg. We married in July of 2015, and the kids and I both jumped on his insurance. Because Greg and my combined income was much higher, we paid the federal government back for the Jan-June subsidy I received in 2015. That was a $3200 hit.

My son, age 23, is now a public school teacher in Denver. He has good health insurance, but lacks the time to make a dentist appointment. My daughter stayed on our insurance until age 26. She works for a small non-profit, and is their one and only paid employee. She was able to negotiate a small health care stipend. She makes enough money to qualify for the ACA subsidy. Her stipend covers what her subsidy doesn’t. She is on a catastrophic plan, no dental insurance, and I will help her fund her HSA until she hits her max out of pocket. She needs some major dental work due to a playground mishap in 2nd grade. I gave her the funds for her implant as a Christmas present. Not exciting, but practical.

I know I am lucky. Jim’s illness was covered until death even though he was unable to work. I had community money to help me bridge the hardest gaps. Private insurance was affordable during the time I needed it. My family was healthy during our most vulnerable times, and we had no other debt. As a physical therapist, I could have found work with benefits, but I had the choice to provide stability for my family by staying in the same house, the same community, and in the same job. This I could not have done without the safety net of the ACA. I have never been without health insurance.

I had someone tell me last weekend, “those folks who want Medicaid….they should just get a job!” Are there folks that abuse the system? Yes. But, I am here to tell you that there are many folks (78, 000 in the state of ID) who are working, sometimes more than one job, that will benefit from Medicaid expansion. They make too much money or have too many assets for standard income based Medicaid. They earn too little to qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage through the ACA. I benefited from a safety net when my family needed it the most. I will do what I can to assure other families do not fall into the gap.

I will be gathering signatures this weekend to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot along side of my candidacy this Fall. Please give a few hours and come out and join us. If you are unable, hunt down a petition and sign it. Be kind to the folks going door to door. Many of them, as well as whom they represent, are just like me.

Medicaid for Idaho



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ProofAs likely many of you know, I have thrown my hat in the ring and decided to run for public office. I am actively campaigning for the title of Latah County Commissioner, District 1. It will be an open seat, I am running uncontested in the primary, but will have an opponent in the general election come November. While on the campaign trail, I have been referred to as “a young lady.” Greg’s immediate response was outrage, “That’s condescending and dismissive!” As a writer, I was not so quick to judge. Words have many different meanings, depending on the speaker, the context, and the intent. So, I did what I always do when confronted with confusing thoughts and emotions surrounding words. I looked them up.

“Young” as an adjective, means the following according to my online dictionary: “Having lived or existed for only a short amount of time.” I was born in 1960. I get the senior discount at the food co-op and I am a card carrying member of AARP. Ask my kids, they will tell you their mother isn’t young. “Not as old as the norm, or as would be expected.” My opponent has 5 years on me. The gentleman that is leaving this position has more than that. I am older than both remaining serving County Commissioners. My mentors in running for office are all younger than I am. “Immature or inexperienced.” While I have limited experience in public office, I know I am qualified to hold this position. I have had a long career of listening to people, helping them to solve problems, and working as a team with a wide variety of opinions and voices. “Having the qualities popularly associated with young people, such as enthusiasm, energy, and optimism.” If I did not have this, I would not be running for County Commissioner. I love this place I call home, I want to continue a long tradition of cooperative government at the county level, and I hold our current commissioners and county employees in the highest of esteem. “Young” as a noun, means “offspring.” I am blessed to still have both of my parents living. My mother, who also lives in Latah County, was recently diagnosed with terminal leukemia. She has already outlived her prognosis. My father, who manages congestive heart failure, is still working 2 days per week, and just recently performed in his first sponsored cardiac walk/run. He will be visiting in June, and I plan to drag him around on the campaign trail. Every day with these two folks still on this planet is a gift. I am proud to be their “young.”

Lance and I“Lady” is a woman “used as a polite, or old fashioned form of reference.”  It can also mean a woman of superior social position, “a courteous, decorous, or genteel woman.” I grew up in the midwest. Being polite, courteous, kind, and respectable were attributes drummed into me from my childhood home and society. Being humble always overcame superiority. I still remember thinking the biggest compliment I received upon graduating 2nd in my high school class was, “I had no idea that you were smart!” Old fashioned, perhaps. I enjoy cooking, and I still clean my own house. But I also feed my animals, build trail and fires, and can spend an entire day blissfully behind a chain saw. Of course, the only time I have heard young and lady put together into “young lady”, it was generally because I was in trouble with my parents or other respected elder.

All of this has got me thinking about labels. “Old”, “young”, “republican”, “democrat”, “conservative”, “liberal.” And then there is, “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Jewish”, “Humanist”, “Buddhist”, “Atheist.” Or the more personal, “mama bear”, “helicopter parent”, “widow”, “divorcee”, “extrovert”, “introvert.” It is human nature to want to simplify the human condition by assigning labels. But labeling goes against one of my core beliefs, which is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Labels help us to understand our world, but they can also serve to divide us, to ignore the opinions and thoughts that are different than ours, or in the worst case, to dismiss others as somehow less than ourselves.

I am running for public office. I’ve made a point of not mentioning the labels of party affiliation, religion, personality type, or my age in my campaign materials. I trust that folks would simply see me for who I am.Eggs

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A Chocolate Atom

I’ve been on the road a whole bunch this last month. 1st, I went to visit Jasper in Denver. He is entrenched in his Masters of Education. We went dancing. We spent a couple of nights in Boulder visiting my good friend from Physical Therapy school. I also went to class with him, went out to dinner with his cohort, and spent one night on a couch in his ticky tacky Weeds look-alike house. I also got to observe a period of Algebra II, where he was teaching the lesson. When he got up in front of those kids, set his posture, and then set his voice….I almost cried. He sounded so much like his dad. I used to be able to tell when Jim was dreaming about teaching and talking in his sleep. He had a “teacher voice” that was unlike anything he used with friends and family. Jasper has inherited it. I did not cry in front of those kids. I asked for a worksheet and then realized how very little I remember of Algebra II. It was humbling.

A week later, I jumped on a plane to Atlanta to spend a week with my dad. At age 83, he was in the thick of a house re-model, and I decided to go and help him paint and lay floor. We sent his wife away for the week, we worked long hours, we ate well, and took care of the pets. We talked. Greg asked why I would do this on my dime and my time. I did this because I wanted to. Partially, I love a good project, but mostly, I love my dad. Top of my mind before, during, and after, is just how lucky I am to still have him.

With Jim gone now for almost 7 years, the edges of my grief are not as sharp. The one thing that continues to stab me hard, is the realization that my children are growing up without their dad. There is nothing I can do about that. I can be their mom, but that is all I can be. Jasper wrote the following last weekend when he was feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. Jim still talks to him. For that, I am ever grateful.

Dear J-Man,

Tell me, child, what atoms you’re made of.

(I taught you matter, remember?
I broke a chocolate bar in two,
Gave you one,
Broke the other one in two,
Gave you one,
Broke the other one in two.
I said, can I keep going forever?
You said, no ’cause you’ll die first.
You were five.
You didn’t understand why I laughed.
I said, will I have any chocolate left when I go?
You said, not very much.
You said, here have some of mine.
I said, no need, child.
I said, chocolate can’t break forever.
Eventually you get a piece
That refuses to break.
I said, that’s called an atom.
You said, a chocolate atom?
I said, a chocolate atom.

(And the maddest you’ve ever been
Was the day, years later, you learned
There was no such thing as a chocolate atom.
I said, you bet there is.
You said, chocolate’s not an element.
I said, but it’s elemental.))

You said, at the service,
He’s eating chocolate somewhere.
You were right.
I watched you break, child,
And I broke you off a piece,
Saving it for when you get here,
Hoping it’d go stale.
It nearly didn’t.

You went to college, though.
I beamed so proud
You swore you could feel it.
But I watched you break again.
Four and half floors up a cold stairwell,
The only company you could cry to.
I broke you off a piece,
Saving it for when you get here,
Hoping it’d go stale.
It nearly didn’t.

You fell in love.
Couldn’t stop smiling when she was around,
Couldn’t smile unless she was around.
I knew how the story would end, child.
I wrote the book.
I watched you break.
Broke you off a piece,
Saving it for when you get here,
Hoping it’d go stale.
It nearly didn’t.

Still you turn the volume up,
Laugh louder, cry louder,
Dance louder, dream louder,
Love louder, fail louder.
Increase the amplitude, child,
And the wine glass shatters.
I’m watching you break
over, and over, and over.
Give a piece of you away,
Break the other one in two,
Give a piece of you away,
Break the other one in two.
Every time, I break you off a piece,
Saving it for when you get here,
Hoping it’ll go stale.
Please, let it go stale.

I say, can you keep going forever?
You say, no ’cause I’ll die first.
I say, chocolate can’t break forever.
Eventually you get a piece
That refuses to break.

Love forever,

Daddy Doh Doh

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I attended the Women’s March on the Palouse last weekend. I made 4 hats. They were pink. Different shades, some were striped, but they were pink. There were a lot of other pink hats at the march, and many, many, many pink signs. The majority of these pink signs were Planned Parenthood signs.img_0691

I don’t like pink. As a kid, I was much more comfortable in my brother’s hand me down jeans and grub tee shirts. Anything with lace or frills literally made me gag. I cringed when grandma sent my sister and I clothes. They were always matching, and Peggy usually got the blue or green outfit, and I was usually stuck with pink or orange. When I was finally old enough to have my own bedroom, I had my parents paint it blue, with matching blue curtains and a blue floral (I did like flowers) bed spread. I had to wear a dress to school, but in winter they let us wear pants underneath. I liked playing jump rope with the girls, but I also enjoyed hanging upside down on the monkey bars, climbing trees, and kill the guy with the ball. I was a whiz at marbles. I was so grateful when, in 5th grade, we could finally wear pants on Fridays. I was, what they called then, a tomboy. But I was a girl. A girl that did not like pink.pict0007

I still don’t like pink, but I do like Planned Parenthood. When I decided to finally become sexually active at age 24 (yes, I was a late bloomer), I was living in Tahoe and working a full time job. I could not make the trip over the mountain passes to access a true medical clinic during normal business hours. I accessed the local Planned Parenthood clinic because I could, and because they were discreet. I did not really want the doctors I was working with professionally to know quite that much about me. I needed birth control, and they provided it. I accessed them again after I moved to Corvallis to be with Jim and they counseled me through options for preventing pregnancy while in South America for the Peace Corps. After we returned, I knew that I would want to be a parent someday. They provided me with birth control, knowledge of how and when to stop it, and advised me to get a heart murmur checked out now with the eventual goal of pregnancy in my future. We moved to Moscow. I was working full time in Pullman, and accessed them again for a pregnancy test. They advised me on local family practice doctors and prenatal vitamins on that wonderful day I found out that Emerald was going to change Jim’s name to Dada. Emerald has used Planned Parenthood exclusively during her young adult life, and this has allowed her to remain STD free and childless at a time in her life that she could ill afford either. After Jim died, it slowly dawned on me, that though I could no longer get pregnant, I did have to think about safe sex if I ever had a partner again. Though I only had 2, they both accessed Planned Parenthood’s STD testing service because I asked them to. Planned Parenthood provides high quality, sliding fee scale, flexible and convenient health care. And yes, they provide safe and legal abortions to those that need them. I don’t like abortion, I like Planned Parenthood, and I don’t like pink.img_0695

After the March on Saturday, I accessed social media to view all the other sites where similar Marches were occurring. It was there that I found out that there was a group of women, pro-life women, who were intentionally excluded, and felt marginalized by these organized events. This made me sad. We have so much work to do in this world, we cannot afford to alienate nor exclude anyone. We are women, we are complex individuals living in a complicated, conflicted, and combative world. We need to be gentle with ourselves, and gentle with each other.

  • I know women that are against abortion, but have no problem with using birth control.
  • I know women that believe abstinence is the best policy prior to marriage, but they don’t banish their adult children that cohabitate from the family.
  • I know women that made bad choices in the heat of passion and had options to prevent that bad choice from becoming the rest of their life.
  • I know men that take sole responsibility for pregnancy and disease prevention because they’ve been lied to and then scared in the past.
  • I know couples where the woman got pregnant, decided to raise the child, and mandated that the father have no more contact, ever with the child…and he agreed.
  • I know many men, it you ask him if he ever got a girl pregnant, replies, “not that I know of.”
  • I know men that did not find out they were fathers until years after the mother gave birth.
  • I know people that believe that life begins at conception, others that believe it is when there is a heart beat.
  • I know folks that think it is wrong and fiscally irresponsible to keep very early, very sick babies alive, and doctors and medical technology that continue to make this possible at an earlier and earlier gestational age.
  • I know that some doctors that provide abortion are criticized as interfering with God’s will, but those same critics have no problem with in vitro fertilization or c-sections.
  • I know women that have been sent home to miscarry in the second trimester, and then 4 weeks later give birth to a viable fetus.
  • I know a young man that was the product of a developing country’s abortion (induce labor at 6 months and wait for the baby to die), and this world would be a much poorer place without his soul and humor in it.
  • I know families that would have aborted if they had known ahead of time that their child had a disability, but this did not prevent them from then raising this child in love and becoming fierce advocates for her.
  • I have sat with a mom while she lost a baby after amniocentesis revealed that her baby was just fine although the prenatal testing picked up a possible problem.
  • I know couples that have aborted fetuses due to disability, and then have gone on to conceive and have other children.
  • I know folks with genetic conditions that will have children knowing that their child will likely inherit that condition, but also know they will be the best parents for that child.
  • I know of babies that have been abandoned at safe havens, and then lovingly adopted. Babies that have been shaken and permanently disabled due to a parent’s inability to care for them. Mothers, in intractable poverty and mental illness, that kill all their children.

I could go on and on, but I have already gone way beyond my self imposed limit for writing a paragraph. I bring up this list because we are a complicated and conflicted society. We cannot become divisive knee jerk one issue people. We owe it to each other to tell our stories, and to listen to each other. We cannot afford to exclude anyone.

I don’t like abortion, but I think family planning has done more to advance the cause of women than any other agenda. Defunding* Planned Parenthood would be like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and I think most of us agree that would be murder. I can be pro-choice and be pro-life, because I am certainly not pro-death. I stand with Planned Parenthood even though I don’t like pink.

*Planned Parenthood receives no federal funding for abortion services.
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It’s 3:30 in the morning, and I am awake. I am awake because Greg got up at 3, kissed me softly, and then slipped out of bed. I am awake because it was cold in the wee hours. We heat with wood and the fire had gone out. I am awake because I have been through menopause and solid sleep in the wee hours is elusive. I am awake because I had a drink last night as Greg and I reviewed our separate days, and the rebound effect of alcohol disrupts my sleep. I am awake because 3:30 in the am is the time that Jim would always check in from the other side. I am awake and listening, but he has run out of advice for me. I am awake because I have an overactive mind, our world is a troubled place right now, and I feel powerless in what I, as a lone person, can do to fix it. And, finally, I am awake because, rather than fight it, I drank a glass of water, poured a cup of coffee, and just accepted the fact that I am awake.

Greg and I come from very different backgrounds. He was raised in a patriarchal religion and was told from a very young age that he would grow up to be head of the household. I come from a strong line of matriarchs, and head of the household is just an IRS category that I was allowed to use when I was no longer a qualified widow, but I still could list Jasper as an exemption. Greg and I do not have a shared history, we both desperately want a “settled relationship”, yet to have that requires being able to take certain aspects for granted. This is hard to do when you are still learning who the other person is, what they believe, what their hot buttons and brick walls are. I have learned that I cannot tell Greg what to do with his time and energy. He is learning that I will snap at anything that reeks of patriarchy. We are both fiercely independent people, yet we have chosen and committed to an interdependence on each other for as long as we both shall live.img_3990

Yesterday, I participated in the Women’s March on the Palouse. I started a few weeks ago knitting hats for friends that were participating. I was ambivalent about marching myself. I did not want to stand against something. I did that in the voting booth last November, and that was not effective. I wanted to be able to march for something. So, I decided to march for women’s health care and reproductive rights. I marched for wage equality. I marched for the human rights that seem so elusive to the marginalized sectors of our society. I marched as an alternative to violence and fear. I marched because I believe that love is more powerful than hate. I marched because the opposite of love is not hate, it is simply not caring. And I care. Deeply. It is who I am. And yesterday, I needed to know that I am not alone in that caring. I am so not alone. I was part of a vast sea of caring.img_0690

I have much more to say. I could write full posts generated from each sentence above. I have time. I am awake.

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30 years ago, I visited ID for the first time. I had moved from Tahoe to Corvallis, OR to be with a boy I had met 2 years before that. 3 short months into my move to a new state, Jim took off to work for the National Forest Service outside of McCall, at the Krassel Ranger District. He was marking roads for logging. He hated the job, needed the money for grad school, and I visited him halfway through his 3 month stint. I brought him blackberry pie, and we climbed Nick Peak for the first time. I went back in late October as his job was done. No pie this time, he stole a cast iron skillet from the forest service trailer, and I got to see Burgdorf for the first time. 30 years ago, Jim thought it would be a great idea to drive the road up to Warren, thru Big Creek and Yellow Pine, and then back to McCall. We got stuck in snow a short distance of the way up Warren Summit. Had to dig out with a cookie tin as we had no shovel. Jim promised we would come back and try again. The next year we got engaged on Nick Peak, the next summer we got married, the following year we were recovering from the assault in Paraguay, then there was the move to Moscow, and babies. Life has a way of going on, no matter what you promise it.

the route

Over the years, we played around on the edges of the route.

Burgdorf became a yearly family tradition. We went up in the winter, we used it as re-entry zone after river trips in the summer. But mostly, we went there in October. Crisp days for hiking or biking, cold nights where the warm pools were a balm. Cabins with family, cabins with friends, music nights. We went to Burgdorf right after Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer. I took him to Burgdorf the October before he died. Jasper and I took some ashes there as soon as the road opened up that Spring. I took a group of friends there in my first year of widowhood, and another group joined the following year. Greg joined me there for the first time last October, and this year, I went alone.

30 years ago,  Jim’s brother had just written a hiking guide book to the McCall area. He listed the Secesh River Trail/Loon Lake Loop as a hike. We biked that trail together that year. There was no bridge over the Secesh River at the Chinook Camp ground back then. I’m pretty sure we took off our shoes and waded the creek, or perhaps we just added the 10 or so miles to get back to Burgdorf. Over the years we headed back to the Secesh. We promised the kids bridges and Pooh Sticks to get them just a wee bit further up the trail. We hiked it the year that Jim was diagnosed. He couldn’t make the loop, turned around with a friend and went back. This year, I rode it on my bike again. There is a bridge over the Secesh. That mountain bike ride is listed as one of the top 2 in Idaho.

Jim and I spent a lot of time in the Lick Creek Summit area. In 1987, we got engaged on Nick Peak. Jim and his brother climbed Nick again in 1993, while I was at home discovering I was pregnant again. One summer I insisted we stay in ID rather than head to the OR coast or Canada. We had Lake Fork campground to ourselves, and lost Jasper in a huckleberry bush. Payette Powder Hounds put up yurts on the summit in the winter time. Jim was a repeat customer, and I discovered that burned trees don’t have tree wells, and I actually liked skiing in the trees. Jim and I climbed Nick again 2 weeks before he was diagnosed. I could not understand his fatigue and reluctance. The last of his ashes were spread up there the Fall after he died.

Spring Break of 2009, we headed up from Yellow Pine to the Big Creek yurts. Jim splurged that year, and hired our meals cooked in addition to the 30 miles of snowmobile support. Jim became fast friends with the snowmobile driver who was our guide but not our guide, and I really hit it off with his wife. Not being one to relax when someone else is cooking something delicious, I insisted upon helping. Turns out she catered the Big Creek Backcountry Fly In every year, and asked if I would be willing to help out that October. I said yes, Jim was diagnosed, and I could not make it. Her husband has since died of cancer, she donated the yurt to the aviation association, and the Fly In has gotten so big they have moved it down to Yellow Pine. She is still cooking for it. I’m hoping that next year she invites me to help again.

This year, on a whim, I decided to finally drive that route. There was not time to round up a posse of friends, my kids are busy with their own lives, and Greg is under new management and did not feel he could take a day off of work. I knew the snow would fly soon, and though I now always carry a shovel, I knew that I had one last window of time before the snow would begin to fly in earnest. I finally connected the back side of Lick Creek Pass to Yellow Pine. I discovered that the Secesh River trail does connect to a road at its other end. I gazed upon the Big Creek Airstrip and fantasized about flying in there and fishing my way down to the Middle Fork. My little red truck took me up and over Elk Summit, which is just about as high as the top of Nick Peak. I backed that truck over 1/4 mile to find a spot wide enough in the road for 2 rigs towing stock trailers to pass on their way to set up a hunting camp. I peed in the South Fork of the Salmon, and said “I’ll see you in a couple of days down by French Creek”. Warren summit did not defeat me this time, and I cruised easily into Chinook Trailhead for a 2 hour bike ride before arriving at Burgdorf. I camped at empty campgrounds, took off from deserted trailheads, I drove for hours without seeing a soul, I had a small cabin to myself at Burgdorf, and I watched the Milky Way dance with shooting stars.

I’m a girl from the Midwest who now lives in ID. I promised 30 years ago that I would be back. I promise today that I will be back again. I keep my promises.

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When Jasper was a little guy, he was a man of very few words. He had a lot of ear infections, so was at risk for speech delay. The therapist came to evaluate him at 18 months, and she concluded that he did not even know that words represented actions, thoughts, or things. She had asked him to go get the ball and he did not. I was not too worried. Balls were not important to him. He had a few words, “mama”, “dada”, “juice” and anything with wheels had a name as well. This boy lived for wheels. Anything van-like was a “bus” He did not have the tr blend, so anything that looked like a truck was a “f%#@”. Most interestingly, your standard station wagon or sedan was called “home”. We were not homeless. We did not live out of our car. But we were a one car/one bike trailer family at the time. I reasoned that he was learning possessive’s at the same time he was learning that words represented actual objects. When either Jim or I would drive up to the house in the Subaru, the resounding chorus was, “Mama’s home!” or “Daddy’s home!” Replace the apostrophe of contraction with one of possession, and you can understand Jasper’s wonderful confusion/conclusion!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home lately. As usual, I looked it up in my on-line dictionary. Home is:

  1. a house, apartment, of other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household: Hmm, I changed my house about a year ago. I reside here, so does Greg, so do his two horses, and our 4 chickens. The cat would like to, but she is kept outside to keep the dwelling space free of mice. My children visit here, I get some of their mail here, but they do not live here. My mom moved into a retirement duplex, and my old dog died here. I just found out that a few of the couples I thought would be in Moscow forever are leaving to live closer to extended family. While sad, I get it. They have young children. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins are important. A house/shelter does not make a home.
  2. the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered: This feels a little more true. After a year without, I finally have a garden here. I harvested basil today and my mom came up to make pesto, a tradition that has gone on for over 10 years. The new kitchen is wonderful to cook in. Space to spread out, easy to clean, and the kitchen “triangle” is the perfect size for practicing line dances. But cooked food is meant to be shared. Greg, due to the nature of his job and commute, has often consumed most of his daily calories prior to getting here. He does not expect nor want a full meal every night. Being “off” of the nightly cooking chore is freeing in some ways, but I like making good food and sharing it with those I love. Domestic tasks can be done anywhere, and do not make a home.
  3. the place or region where something is native or most common: I took a break from early morning swimming this summer to spend more time and energy at home. I would get up early with Greg, and then head out into the garden, get on the mower, or head into the woods with a chain saw and pulaski. We care deeply for this hunk of land and are doing our best to improve it, both for us and the generations to come. Much time is spent battling those plant species that are not native, but are certainly most common. We have a lifetime supply of firewood in the form of introduced/result of clear cutting vine maple. St John’s Wort, hawkweed, and ventenata try to outcompete our native grasses and the horses won’t touch them. Did you know that thistle can reach over head height and can get bigger around than a baseball bat? Work, yes, but bonding with my land in this way makes it feel more like home. When I work in the woods, I make a habit of taking the time to lie down and look up. Seeing all the different tree species against the summer sky lets me know what is possible, and what will remain long after we are dead and gone.
  4. a person’s native place or home country: After Jim died and before I met Greg, I dated a man from Montana. He had the job of his dreams in Missoula and he was in love with the bike trails and mountains of his home state. I lived in ID. I could not leave at the time as I still had Jasper to launch into the world. We made it work for a while, but distance relationships do not work forever. That summer, I took off for a week on the Salmon River. Driving down into canyon country, I realized I could never leave ID. This place, these rivers, they are part of my soul. Emerald said it best in one of her blog pieces. “The rivers of Idaho were like a fifth member of our family.”
  5. any place of refuge: When Greg and I met, I made it very clear that this community of Moscow was my home and I did not want to leave. The people of this place were the nest that held me and my family through illness, death, and that place that is even darker than death. Red table gatherings with girlfriends that had me laughing so hard the wine came out of my nose, folks stopping by just in time for a little smackeral of something, a quick trip downtown on my blue bicycle to the co-op so I could talk to someone besides the dog. A place to take a shower after running, a saggy couch to nap on in-between work appointments. Much of this has changed since moving out of town. Gatherings need to be scheduled and everyone is so busy. Nobody just pops in. Shopping trips are consolidated and get stuck inbetween work appointments, and they are done in the truck. I shower at a friends, or at the University. Still, when I take the turn off the highway, and head up the gravel road, there is a sigh of contentment. I nap on the couch. I am home.

After Jim died, the hardest time of day for me was the “ingathering” of the family at the end of the day. “Daddy’s home” was a phrase I would never hear again. Having him come through the door after a bike ride on pesto day, or hearing Jasper come thumping down the stairs after sleep (yes, when he was a teenager, these two times would often coincide), and having both boys says “Wow, something sure smells good in THIS kitchen” are joys that are no longer mine. Where I live now, I can see a vehicle approaching through my kitchen window via a dust cloud on the gravel road from about a mile away. I see friends coming up for a run on the trails I cleared, a dad bringing his two kids to spend some time with the horses and chickens, my mom coming to help make and eat pesto, Emerald approaching in her blue Subaru with or without a boat in tow,  Jasper in my little blue Yaris, Greg in his truck at the end of a long work day. It is the people who make this place home.

I sent Jasper a picture of the cut basil this morning, and asked him to tell me what day it was. His reply, “Oh man, I miss home.” Me too, baby boy. Me too.

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Livelihoods, Passions, Relationships

I just returned from a very quick 3 day trip to Corvallis to attend Jasper’s honors thesis defense. I brought my mother with me, we drove her little car, and we picked Emerald up at the Portland airport along the way. Jasper passed his defense with only minor revisions, and technically hasn’t graduated yet, but it is just a matter of time. This summer he leaves for a 12 month intensive to get his masters in Education and a teaching certificate. Emerald has already returned to the river for the summer, and I joined her for her first commercial trip down the Owyhee. She spent the winter serving sushi and ice cream, but also freelance writing and updating social media for pay. While the kids have both been out of the house for a few years, this next year marks the transition to true adulthood. I had a lot of time to think during those many hours of driving this last month. What does the “transition to adulthood” really look like? What did it mean to me? What did it mean to my mother, her mother? What will it mean for my children?

Emerald, my mom and I all shared a hotel room for a couple of nights. We did some long driving together. I enjoyed listening to my mom relate her stories of her emerging adulthood to Emerald. Though I had heard the stories before, I always glean a little something more from the narrative. My mom’s parents divorced in the 40’s. Her mother needed to earn a living, combined it with her passion for New York City, and spent most of her free time hunting down the next husband rather than being much of a mom. My mom was raised mostly by her grandmother, even returning to those grandparents when her mom remarried and she was unhappy. My mom went on to college and married my dad the day after graduation. It was what was expected. She did love him, and they had 3 kids. But my mom always worked, she pursued her passion for a higher education. When my parents divorced, she was able to take care of herself financially. Any relationships she formed after that were because she wanted to, not because she needed to. She passed those values on to her children. “Always be able to take care of yourself” was a message I heard loud and clear.

I was engaged to a man when I was in college. We made it most of the way through professional school and respective internships, and then I was abruptly dumped prior to my final 9 weeks. I lived with my mother through that (planned, as my final internship was in her geographical area) while I completed my studies and passed my boards. I worked for my dad as a roofer for a month to make enough money to get me and my little car to a free place to stay in Tahoe, and then I began to look for work. I was employed full time within a month, developed passions for mountain biking and telemark skiing, and within a few months had moved out of the free place to digs of my own. I decided that whole “wait for marriage” message I had absorbed in high school was for the birds, and enjoyed a series of flings, short term relationships, and a few longer ones. I was heart-broken again, and I broke some hearts. I met Jim during this time. He was one of the flings. I have friends from those days that will always be in my heart. I was taking care of myself.

Lor and I

Lori and I, Donner Lake

Teresa from Tahoe, on the Owyhee

So, now my kids are in the transition to adulthood.  I go for days without the “mommy radar” going off, and often, I just take care of myself. Money that my grandma had due to a succession of marriages (something she advised me to do, that I ignored) passed on to my mom, which then passed on to my kids in the form of fully paid college. It has made it easier on my kids than many. Because of this, they have had the luxury of being able to meld passions with emerging livelihood. I love seeing Jim in their passions. Emerald is a truly elegant boater and skiier. Jasper is an ultra-focused athletic dancer with a desire to teach. They both relish time away from all media, and they both know how to play, talk, and cry. While they both value their family of origin, I see them developing deep relationships of their choosing, which they enter into with their whole hearts. They are taking care of themselves.

E boat

Emerald, teaching me how to tie a knot.


Jasper at the mom’s day performance, that I missed.

So, like many kids of today, they are still on the family health insurance and cell phone plans. The cars are registered in my name and they get boring things like car insurance for their birthdays. But they are not eating out of my refrigerator, sleeping in my spare room, nor am I the first one they call when they are lonely or broken hearted. What does this transition mean to them? I don’t know. You will have to ask them. They take care of themselves.


Thesis defense…or an excuse for Kookies.

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couch lounging

I’m sick. So is, or has been, the rest of the town. It is a beautiful sunny day, and I sit here on the couch with my thermometer, the 3rd hankie of the day, nasal spray, and liquids. I have a cough. It is productive. That is good. I rallied enough to do horse chores this morning, and it sent me right back to the couch with the fever climbing again. I  have beautiful views out my windows, but I’d rather be out there in it. Or have gotten up to run to the setting moon this morning. I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling sick and tired.

When I was a kid, my parents never made a big deal of being sick. If you were sick enough to stay home from school, you were sick enough to stay in bed. No special toys, no special privileges, no bringing the TV into the bedroom. And if your cousins came to visit, and you had the mumps, you did not even get to come out and say hi. If you were sick, then rest and recover. Don’t get me wrong, they took care of us. Fed us soda crackers and 7-up only to clean up the puke 15 minutes later. Rubbed Vics on our chests and covered it with hankies. Checked our temps and smelled our throats, and took us into the doc if it was strep. But being sick was not very appealing. We got better fast, went back to school. By the time I got to high school, I never got sick. Had perfect attendance until my senior year. Then I threw a mystery fever. My mom, who was the only parent home at that time, would not let me go to school. She let me bring the TV into my room. She went and bought my favorite food. I asked her for a fresh pineapple (an unusual treat), and lost all the skin on the roof of my mouth. She told me that perhaps the mystery fever was the only way the universe could get me to slow down for a few days. I lost my perfect attendance. I rested, and recovered.

When our kids were little, I adopted what I liked about my parent’s approach. No special toys, no special privileges. Basic food and care. Doctors appointments for ear infections, strep, and dislocated fingers. No afternoon activities if you were sick from school, and fever had to be gone for 24 hours before you could go back. Rest and recover. They did not get TV in their bedrooms, but I did rent movies for them, and sometimes got sucked into them myself. By the time my kids were in high school, they were rarely sick. I called them in dead for the first 3 periods if they were up all night working on a project, but they were rarely sick. Jim and I did not have much time for illness. He learned pretty quickly that it was far more work to prepare for a sub than it was to just take cold remedies and and go in and teach. He had various aches and pains, and would end up on antibiotics every couple of years for something, but he did not even have a regular doc. I had no time for being sick. I remember one Thanksgiving having the stomach flu. Sick the day before, rallied to cook for the day, and then sick the day after.  We rarely took time off from exercise, with the justification that “I don’t stop brushing my teeth when I am sick, why would I stop running?”

The first symptom of Jim’s glioblastoma was sickness. He puked in a school assembly. He’d been feeling a little crummy the Labor Day weekend before, did not go boating as planned, and did not even want to join Jasper and I on a mountain bike ride. But, because it was so much work to prepare for a sub, he went to school that Tuesday, puked, and came home mid day. By Wednesday, when he showed no interest in going to school or prepping for the sub, I asked him to go to quick care to rule out swine flu which was going around at that time. When I got home from work and he hadn’t, I dropped him off there, went home to make dinner for Jasper, and went back and picked him up. The quick care doc gave him pain and anti nausea meds and ordered an MRI for the next day. Jim went to bed. Rest and recover. Thursday morning MRI, Jim’s last conscious effort was to try to call the sub to let her know he would not be in that day. Less than 30 minutes later he was in an ambulance. Friday he lost a chunk of his frontal lobe, and life changed forever as we know it.

So. I am sick. Being sick is not very appealing. If I miss work, it doesn’t go away, I just have to reschedule it. I have a big TV in my living room, but watching stupid TV series or sappy movies is really only fun if I can snuggle a kid while I do so. I’m not exercising, missed swimming and a run, and even decided to keep my germs out of the yoga studio. At the first sign of a bronchial cough, my wife tells me I should head into the doc. I think I still have a little bit of PTSD about going to the doc unless it is a routine wellness visit.  I rallied enough energy to make Thai chicken soup. It is my favorite food. And, if this fever persists for another day, perhaps I’ll head into the doc. He’ll just say it’s viral, and I’ll feel so lucky. Rest and recover.

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