An Ode to Debi.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day, and my mom, brother and I were able to celebrate together for the first time in over a decade.  It was wonderful to be together (also: my brother had his hooding ceremony for his master’s degree, which was amazing, and proud doesn’t cover it)!

Michael graduates

Anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting my mom can tell you that she is the coolest.  We’d run into her old school friends at the grocery store or in the church parking lot, and invariably they’d pull me aside, mischief in their eyes.  “Your mom,” they’d say with a wicked grin, “she sure knew how to have fun!”  In middle and high school, my friends would lean against the kitchen island and talk to her, smitten.

During my freshman year at college – my first time at a fraternity – a senior from my hometown said, “Wait – you’re Mrs. Dixon’s daughter?  She was the hottest teacher at my school!”  Her natural, contagious joy has inspired her to dance atop a picnic table or two.

Debi

Somehow, this beautiful, effervescent woman had a daughter who was shy and anxious and had to be grounded from reading and told to go play outside.  She tried her best to teach me to wear make-up and encouraged me to stay out a little later if I wanted to.  Despite our differences, this woman has always been home to me.  She looked at this nervous little person she birthed into this world and loved me immediately and without reservation.

When she lost her husband and was left with two gutted teenagers, she grabbed us each by the hand and marched forward.  She not only kicked cancer’s butt, she learned to sit with herself in the quiet and listen, and how to start trusting the wisdom that bubbled up.

She went on a summer study abroad in Athens, Greece – the only participant (besides the professor) over 50.  And then she decided to retire from teaching to write a book.

But what I treasure most is that she has been courageous enough to share her broken places, too.  Feelings of inadequacy.  The fearful, desperate moments.  Times she felt like she had to ignore the unique beat of her heart to go along, to be loved.  Her willingness to share her truth, rather than a sanitized, cheery version of events, is a powerful gift for her children.  We are learning that we can be broken, too, and we can also be okay.  We can be afraid and also brave.

And through it all, we can dance on picnic tables.

 

 

 

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Sing-a-long.

As my step-sister Katie said upon leaving Denver this morning, “I’ve got a case of the Sundays.”  But let’s focus on the positives: I had wonderful visitors this weekend, it’s a beautiful day outside, and I used a shop vac like a boss this morning.

We visited Red Rocks this weekend and enjoyed the view from the top, after we climbed the bleachers as a rite of passage for their first trip to the amphitheater.  It was a perfect day with blue skies and a light breeze, and we wandered all over town soaking it up over local craft beers. #Denver.

Before we left Red Rocks, I took a silly photo with the statue of John Denver – it’s a long story and an inside joke, but it brought back wonderful childhood memories.  We used to drive from Indiana to Myrtle Beach, or Virginia to see my great-grandma, in the summers.  On those long drives when we weren’t allowed to sleep (shamed awake by my dad’s regular refrain of “Look out your windows!  We’re in the Smoky Mountains!  Appreciate what’s around you!”), we listened mostly to Brooks and Dunn, Clint Black, and John Denver.

John Denver Spirit at Red Rocks

Take me home, John.

Every time we hit West Virginia, we all belted “WEST VIRGINIA, mountain mama, take me home…country roads!”

The last time I was home, my mom gave me my dad’s CD case to take back with me.  Opening it felt as significant as a time capsule.  The Beatles 1 album beamed its red face out of its felt slot, reminding me of how we’d listen to it on the way home from tennis practice, and I would share my naive, new-born notions about capital M “Music” and how perfect every song was.

I flipped through the options until I reached Clint Black’s The Hard Way.  I played it in my Honda CR-V, a later model of the same car he used to drive, and though I hadn’t listened to those songs in over 15 years, every note felt familiar.  I laughed as I struggled to find the right key and remembered how my dad once told me to sing in tune or be quiet (Clint Black, for some reason, is my sing-a-long kryptonite).

I remembered us being so excited to him in the movie Maverick, and how he was listed in the credits as “Sweet-faced gambler.”

 

I’ve been feeling my dad’s presence so much lately, and it’s bringing with it memories I thought were lost.  While I’m so grateful for their return, I’m starting to realize that it has taken me 14 years to heal enough for these times to start coming back into focus.  And I don’t feel disappointed in myself or anything negative, I’m simply marveling that I’ve been healing the whole time – that my mind and soul intuitively understood when I was ready to start the next phase of healing.

What’s even better is that I know now that I’ll feel him alongside me.  When you lose someone close, you feel like you need to push through the pain until you have faced the reality that you’ll never see or talk to them again (well, that’s how I felt, anyway), at least until the afterlife, depending on your religious persuasion.  What I’m starting to realize is…maybe I don’t have to face that notion because it isn’t necessarily reality.

He may not be physically present, but he’s with me every time I hear “Better Man,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” or “Can’t Buy Me Love.”  He’s with me when I refuse to sleep on road trips because I want to soak up everything around me.  He was with me when I sat down to write this and turned on the TV to find Last Action Hero, a cheesy Schwarzenegger movie he loved.

It’s still hard every day, but I’m looking forward to this next phase,  featuring a little more trust that he’s along for the ride with me, just the same as if he were still here.  I don’t know how things will change, but for now, I’m grateful.

Here’s wishing you a week filled with connection, love, and happy memories.  Oh, and some great tunes.

 

Work it Out.

Hello, howdy, hola, friends!  (It’s been so long, I felt like you all deserved a selection of hellos.)

At the risk of starting on a note of negativity, the weather in Denver has been ROUGH lately.  I shouldn’t complain, since we get pretty spoiled out here, but dear lord.  I think we’re getting all our 65 days of rain in a row.  It makes me identify with Missy Elliott like never before.

Rainy Colorado

This is what I’ve been dealing with, people.

Naturally, I’ve handled it with patience and peace.  If by “patience and peace” you mean indulging in a disproportionate amount of whining (and wining).  Thankfully, our friend Shannon resurrected a work-out competition in which we log the number of minutes we work out each week, competing for weekly $5 rewards.

So today I dug out my old iPod and worked out to some tunes I haven’t heard in years.  The first notes of Adele and Amy Winehouse brought back memories of riding the Q train to Coney Island and the sticky feeling of your summer skin against the subway bench.  I remembered training for my first ever 5K, running past brownstones on my way to the Brooklyn Bridge.

It may still be cloudy outside, but dancing around my kitchen to Thunderheist brought a little sunshine into my day.

Here’s wishing you a little sunshine, no matter the weather.

Wedded bliss.

Hello, long-lost friends!  How’ve you been?  Hope you’ve all been enjoying the start of spring.

I just returned from a glorious wedding weekend in Michigan.  My dear friends Kate and Andy were married in a charming town on Lake Michigan, and it was a lovely wedding.  Kate is the sweetest woman I know, but she navigates New York like a native and doesn’t mess around on the basketball court.  Andy is charming and funny and such a gentleman that we were almost suspicious at first.

Best of all, he’s from Liverpool and has a kick-ass accent!

Beautiful bride

Beautiful bride!

In addition to bringing together two great people to start their next great adventure, this wedding reunited some of our best girlfriends from New York.  It’s well documented how much I love these ladies, but it bears repeating.  They’re some of the smartest, wittiest, funniest people I know, and we had so much fun drinking mini bottles of champagne, eating too much pizza (ha!  As if that were possible.), taking walks to the lighthouse, and teasing ourselves for needing multiple pharmacy trips.  “Guys – this is going to a wedding in your 30s.”

Carousel ride

Carousel ride – with hats!

On Sunday morning, we lazed around the room, flipping through a photo stream of wedding weekend pictures and already starting to miss each other.  All day I had a stomach ache that had little to do with all the bourbon.  I thought about Kate’s upcoming Derby party, Rachel’s favorite art exhibit, Hallie’s birthday in August.  Things we would have all been able to do together in New York.

We make a great effort to see each other as often as possible, but that magical world we created together no longer exists in the same way.  I called my mom after I was back safely in Denver and told her how sad I was, thinking about how things have changed.  She encouraged me to remember how grateful I was to live in Colorado and have so many great friends here, and that’s all true of course, and she was right to remind me.

Friends

Farewell spoon.

I don’t know if it’s an American trait, a Midwestern one, or something I developed on my own, but I have a habit of feeling a moment of sadness and immediately burying it under a cascade of positivity.  This time, instead of deflecting the sadness only to see it pop up elsewhere, I decided to just feel it and know I would naturally drift back towards happiness.  It felt like respect for those friendships and a level of trust in myself that I haven’t felt in a while.

So I was cranky for a couple of days, looked through the photo stream again, and ate more chocolate than strictly necessary.  I got a couple of good nights of sleep, and then our friend made a meme out of one of the wedding photos.  I laughed so hard!  I had a very productive day at work.  I ate some vegetables.  I went to yoga.

I still miss them all, but we have so many great memories from this past weekend, and now we get to plan our next reunion.

Guys…I guess this is growing up when you’re 30.

So cheers to Kate and Andy and their happy life ahead – it was an honor to celebrate with them, and I can’t wait until we’re all together again!

St. Joseph Lighthouse

This way to happiness.

 

Bachelorette Bash.

This past weekend, a bunch of my favorite ladies gathered in the Hudson Valley for our dear friend Kate’s bachelorette party.  It was an amazing weekend.  There were so many magnums of Cristal poured over so many male strippers’ chests…if by “magnums of Cristal” you mean bottles of pinot noir, and if by “over male strippers’ chests” you mean into plastic wine glasses.

I arrived in New York Thursday afternoon, once again feeling that big city’s powerful pull.  I spent so much time in New York feeling like I’d never get the hang of it (and I’m not sure anyone ever really does), but I stepped right back into the city’s rhythm as though I’d only been away for a short vacation.

Empire State Building

Empire state of mind.

My friend Kirsten graciously hosted me in her Brooklyn apartment that night, and we ran errands and grabbed a beer at one of our old haunts, catching up on friends and cooking up ideas for her web series.  It was balm for my soul in a way I very much needed.  The next day I headed into Manhattan for lunch with the old coworkers, who were as fun and kind and lovely as always.  As I walked towards the PATH train – our weekend rental car was in Jersey City – the bubble of excitement began to build.  I indulged in some mental bashing of New Jersey for old time’s sake and counted down the train stops left until I’d get to see my friends.

New York pizza

Ah, pizza. My one true love.

Sooner than I hoped, we were hugging and petting each other, saying how pretty everyone looked and all indulging in a little New Jersey bashing for old time’s sake.

One ridiculous traffic jam and a few Taylor Swift songs later, we were finally on the road.  It took me about 1.5 songs before I began asking prying questions about one friend’s new boyfriend (the answers melted us all).  These women were my world in New York.  Even though we didn’t spend our childhoods together, we grew up together, learning to be independent and how to make the right kinds of mistakes.

We spent countless hours getting ready together, hailing cabs, walking too far in too-high heels, and eating late-night pizza.  Or staying in with cheap bottles of wine and watching Face Off, containers of Thai food stacked on the coffee table as we curled into the comfort of each other’s warmth on the couch.

Saugerties lighthouse hike

Hudson Valley loveliness.

And then, one by one, a few of us decided that our New York days were over, and we moved onto new adventures. It’s a strange thing to leave your home and all these people who made it not just bearable but wonderful.  When we all get together, I tend to weird people out by saying things like, “I just can’t stop looking at your FACE!”  But I tell myself we all feel that way, which is why everyone makes the effort to come to Colorado for a birthday, or return to New York for a bachelorette party.  We had a great life, and that magic returns when we have Jenny’s beer dip, hear the story of Kate and Andy’s first date, have a dance party, and make fun of each other and ourselves, just as intoxicated by each other as we are by the wine.

Monday morning, the last of us boarded trains or drove to the city (or back to Boston for one…and to you, lovely lady, a reluctant congratulations on the football game).  With a few hours to kill before heading to the airport, I got a bagel sandwich and walked around Park Slope, drinking in the delicious familiarity of it all.

New York feels like home in a way that Denver may never – in Colorado I drive a car, changing radio stations and following the flow of traffic.  I steal glances at the mountains, and I tend to see just the city’s outline.  I’d be hard-pressed to color in the details.  But in Brooklyn, my feet helped to smooth the paving stones as I walked the mile or two from my place to Kate and Jenny’s, searched for picnicking friends in Prospect Park, or coveted the cookies in the Italian bakery below Kate’s place (we like to double up names in our group).

Brooklyn brownstone

BK all day.

I love my life in Colorado, and my friends here are amazing, too.  But for just this weekend, it was healing and refreshing to swim in our old life for a few days.  We’ll all see each other again soon for Kate and Andy’s wedding, where we’ll raise our glasses to two of the best people we know, wishing them many more adventures ahead.  I know they’ll have plenty.  And we’ll all be there to celebrate each of their triumphs – just like they do for us.

My cup is full.

#YesScotland.

When I was two, my grandparents traveled to England to visit my grandmother’s pen pal.  They also visited Scotland, and they brought back a doll for me.  This doll had golden ringlets topped with a plaid beret, and she wore a matching kilt with white knee socks and little black mary janes.  She stood upright, held by a doll stand.  She was not a doll to play with, they explained – she was to look at.  She was special.

Even better, my grandparents also gave me my very own kilt with all the accoutrements.  I was hooked.

That may seem like a superficial beginning to a life-long love, but Scotland seemed so special.  It was far away, you had to dress up to live there, and they had really classy dolls.  The summer I turned 14, my parents let me pick our vacation destination (or, at least, they let me think I picked it).  After a family agreement to skip spring break to save up, we were Scotland bound.

Scottish highlands

My grandmother, in her kind way, is fond of saying “aye, but the rain falls soft on Scotland.”  I’m sure it comes from a song, or maybe it’s an old saying, but when you’re there, it just feels like the truth.  The hills of the Highlands, edges rounded by the centuries, are green like you can’t believe, dotted with scrubby yellow gorse and purple heather and crossed by crumbling stone walls.

We rented a minivan and drove around the country, my dad stopping at each gas station in sight so we could sample every variety of Cadbury in existence.  I’ve never been oriented, but the Scottish roads and maps instantly made sense to me, and I was promoted to shotgun seat navigator, happily pointing out roundabout exits while eating a giant candy bar.

In our tennis shoes and new London Fog rain jackets, we found footing on slick cobblestones in old castles – the well-preserved and much-visited in Edinburgh, the majestic perch of Urquhart Castle above Loch Ness, and the quiet old ruins in Invergarry.

Urquhart Castle

I stood solemnly in front of stones on the battlefield at Culloden, reading clan names and feeling the weight of injustices against my adopted people as only a young teenager can.  I imagined how fierce those wild men must have been, wielding six-foot claymores in defense of their right to be.

Scottish parliament opened in Edinburgh while we stayed in Fort William.  My brother and I laid on our stomachs in our parents’ room watching news reports while I begged my parents to drive back to Edinburgh so we could be there to celebrate.  Very reasonably, we continued to the Isle of Skye.

Isle of Skye

Six years later, I sat on the floor of my bedroom, terrified and overwhelmed, while my family helped me pack for a semester in Aberdeen, Scotland.  It was the most transformative half-year of my life.  I continued my father’s quest to try all of the Cadbury (and Kinder, Ritter Sport, and Milka…), and I felt the sharp, hollow sadness of returning to Edinburgh Castle after he had died, bursting one of the last spaces where he still existed whole and vibrant in my memories.

I drank my first beer (a half pint of Stella) in the old man pub in town, where the old men taught me songs in the local Scots dialect and how to properly insult someone from Glasgow (Weegie bastards).  One of the guys in the tennis club was actually named Magnus.  Every Scot I met complained about how gray and depressing it was in Aberdeen and then bragged about some Scottish invention, all in the same sentence.  I learned to appreciate late-night kebabs and never figured out how the young Scottish women walked across the cobblestones so effortlessly, invariably drunk and wearing sky-high stilettos and very short skirts.

I learned to be independent while surrounded by fiercely proud and resilient people.  Tenacity, strength, and endurance are qualities I admire so much I had them inked on my shoulder blade a few years ago in the form of a thistle: a hardy weed and Scotland’s national flower.

While their historic vote for independence plays out tomorrow, I’ll be raising a glass of Laphroaig to Scotland.  Whatever happens, Scotland will be the same beautiful, wild, fierce, proud, and self-effacing country it is today.  As an outsider, I can’t claim an opinion in the debate.  I can only be grateful for my short time there and look forward to visiting my soul place again soon.

Friends!  I’ve been absentee lately – the last month or two have been ridiculously fun.  I went to a bachelorette party in the Poconos, my beautiful step-sister got married near Chicago, a co-worker’s daughter had her bat mitzvah, and OH YEAH, I got published in a literary magazine.

But today’s topic is my long-awaited, glorious return to New York City.  Yes, kids, after a 20-month separation from my former home, I was able to tag along on a last-minute work trip to NYC.

Park Slope

During my first year in Colorado, I had an unfocused desire to return to New York, mostly to visit friends I missed with a constant ache.  But there were other trips to take and new mountains to ski, and New York was a someday plan.  Then, a few months ago, someone at work sent a link to a hotel, which happened to be a block and a half from my old office.  I turned on Google street view and digitally walked down 26th street, which I’d done almost daily for six years.  I thought about the $10 manicure place I’d sneak out to at lunch whenever I had a date or needed a pick-me-up.  I navigated on the screen towards the Duane Reade pharmacy I’d wander around in search of snacks.

They were all pedestrian memories – literally – but it was like I could taste the flavor of my old life, and all I wanted was another slice.  So when my boss asked if I wanted to go to New York, the spring of barely contained longing overflowed in tears.  After a side eye and an incredulous “are you gonna cry?” I contained myself, and off we went.

By the time I left New York in 2012, I was capital D Done.  The teeter-totter of adventures vs. frustrations had tipped, and those frustrations were almost all I could see.  After building a restorative new life in Colorado, all I could see upon my return was home.  The shck shck shck of the subway cars on the tracks, the feel of wearing humidity like a wetsuit, the smell of…all of the things, all at once, even sitting in Midtown traffic: I had a weird urge to roll down the cab windows and lick everything.

West Village

All I wanted was to feel like I lived there again, so I had lunch with a friend on the Highline and got $10 manis at the place on 26th, and then I headed to a friend’s in Brooklyn, where we ordered Indian food and watched the Tony awards.  The next day I had coffee in Park Slope and headed into the city to visit the old office – we ate donut holes in the conference room and talked about their new babies and recent trips, and how nice the new carpet looked.  I had the great pleasure of seeing these people, who had borne with me through moves and break-ups, being the first to learn about my mom’s cancer and helping to plan her African safari to celebrate her return to health, and telling them how incredibly happy I am now.

After a charming Upper West Side lunch with one friend, happy hour with another, dinner with two more of my favorites, and one last sleep in Brooklyn, we boarded our flight back to Denver.  My soul felt refreshed, and my heart was full, both by those precious few hours in familiar surroundings (which had once felt so foreign and scary), and by the knowledge that the Rocky Mountains were waiting.

I’d ask somebody to pinch me, but I’d like to keep living this dream.