On losing one’s mind.

I would never describe my mother as level-headed. My relationship with her is complicated and dysfunctional in the way only a relationship with a parent who has struggled with mental illness can be. Sometimes, she appears completely normal. Sometimes her affect is off. I have learned to recognize her manic periods by her tone of voice and the names she calls me. She has spent her life struggling with depression, and has made several suicide attempts over the years. She has done her fair share of manic shopping. She is horribly manipulative, and rarely honest — with herself, or anyone else. She hoardes dogs, and things that she buys from the Goodwill, carefully stacking other people’s cast-offs into piles and pathways through her home. Mom has health issues, too. She is a diabetic, and takes medicine for high cholesterol as well as depression. Occasionally, she will have a period of enlightenment when she is lucid, mostly logical, takes her medicine, and appears to be in good spirits. Sometimes these times last hours or days, sometimes months.

I live about 1700 miles away from my mother. I have all sorts of guilt about that, especially because it left my sister with greater responsibility for her, largely because of geography. On the other hand, I am nearly certain that distancing myself from my family was one of the smartest decisions I have made as an adult, even more now that I have a daughter of my own. I talk to my mother about once a week on the phone, in which she chatters on about her dogs or the weather. It’s not a real conversation, but I don’t know that I have ever had a real conversation with my mom. I check in to see if she’s lucid, if she is able to walk around, if she’s alive — that’s pretty much all these calls tell me. Lately, I thought she was doing fairly well. She was able to converse mostly normally (though still about very little), and she had recently told me she was getting rid of some of the things in her house and cleaning it, she is trying to eat healthy, she is taking walks with her dogs, and doing well. She clearly was lying.

She was admitted to the emergency room about a week and a half ago. She had chronic diarrhea due to severe colitis, was delusional, spouting nonsense, was at the lowest weight she has likely been in her life, and had a blood alcohol concentration of 200ml. After leaving against the request of the hospital and being readmitted to the ER a few hours later, she ended up in intensive care for several days. They did a full body scan, and discovered deep dementia fissures in her brain as well as encephalitis. My sister was there with her for nearly a week, trying to piece together my mother’s true health condition along with the doctors, and dealing with mom’s hostility toward her and her delusional speech the whole time.

During my mom’s stay at the hospital my sister went to mom’s house, where mom hadn’t been staying for several days since she had been house-sitting for her friend. When she got there, my sister found doors and windows left standing open, the key in the lock of the front door, piles of things everywhere, and medications that had not been taken, or had been taken incorrectly. (Too many or two few pills left in bottles.) She did not find unusual amounts of alcohol or empty alcohol bottles, so that is still a bit of a mystery, but clearly she has a problem which is strange and unexpected — I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mom drink even a half a glass of wine in my life. There are other mysteries which we are still trying to get to the bottom of, as well. The neighbors told my sister that they were concerned for mom, who often stood in her driveway for extended periods of time, doing nothing. A social worker visited mom in the hospital, and arranged for a mental health nurse to visit her once she returned home. It was pretty much agreed that if left in her home instead of assisted living, they would be expecting to see mom in the emergency room again, and likely soon, if mom was very lucky to avoid the alternative.

The state nurse came and evaluated mom a couple of days after she returned home, and mom convinced her that she’s just fine. Because she can access outpatient services, they will not place her in an inpatient facility. Because she can answer yes and no questions and sign her name, we can not legally force guardianship and move her to somewhere that she will be supervised and safe. And so now we wait for her to either die, or end up back in the emergency room, at which point she will only be released into assisted living. My sister is frustrated and angry. I am struggling with what the most humane course of action is, and with the ideas of free will, and motherhood, and obligation, and preservation of the generations. My mom told me she went to the hospital for “a couple of days” because she had the flu. And that she is perfectly fine. Legally our hands are tied, and there is a looming dread about all of this which I am still unable to put into words efficently.

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Bad blogger. No doughnut.

I have been a writing slacker lately. It seems I’ve spent the past couple of months in triage mode, and haven’t been blogging or writing anywhere. I’m hoping to remedy that, though it will likely be gradual until things shake out and we’re back in a regular routine around here.

In the meantime, I started another blog strictly about our place up here. I’ll be writing mainly about gardening and homesteading in the foothills. There will probably be some DIY mishaps recaps and tutorials. You can find that stuff here: https://redfoxmountain.wordpress.com/

In the meantime, this will be, as always my personal blog for essays, etc. Less “how to” and more how we’re doing. I’d love for you to follow both if it suits your fancy.

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2015 Goal check in…

I made a list of goals for the year here, and figured I would follow up…

Aaron had been out of town pretty much the last week and a half, which gave me a ton of time and motivation to get some projects done. I got all the emissions/title transfer/plates done on his car. (Dumb, I know, but when you have to go a couple of different places, it’s a bit of a project.) I stripped and sealed all the tile in our master bathroom, and even managed to get most of the nasty stains out that we inherited. I also put some elbow grease into the original stone fireplace, and got it all cleaned up. Who knew the entire top layer of rock next to the mantle was raw quartz?! Also, the stone it’s built from is moss rock, not the grey field stone I thought it was. And 30 years of soot is DISGUSTING! Anyhow, I think it looks pretty nice. I also repaired our linen cabinet, which got pretty banged up in the move. The locking mechanism on the door was pretty bent and mangled, but now it seems to be working fine. I’ve also been doing a ton of little tiny repairs around here… changing a shower head, fixing the way a painting was suspended… dumb stuff like that. At least I feel like I have gotten a few things accomplished.

I’ve been getting on the treadmill just about every day… at least 4 times a week, anyway. Mostly walking, because I did something crazy to my calf muscle and it’s still a little grumpy, but I’ve been trying to get to and keep a target heart rate (not too high or low) for 20-30 minutes. I haven’t lost weight, but I’ve lost a couple of inches off my waist, and more importantly, I feel better. I wouldn’t complain if the scale started to reflect it. Sleeping is still tricky for me, but I’m trying.

I took Audrey skiing for the first time last weekend, and we’re headed out again Sunday. She LOVES it. And frankly, so do I. Maybe I’ve found my new sport?

I’m not making art as much as I would like, but not giving up on it either. It’s hard to pick it up when you reach the end of the day so tired!

Keep on keeping on…

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Weekend check in.

Ended up caught in a snowstorm yesterday which made my return home from downtown nearly impossible. Roads in Denver were a mess, I-70 was icy and slow, and 285 had been shut down due to a fatality. When I finally got home, Audrey had fallen asleep on the couch after spending the afternoon sledding, and we were trying to get ahold of friends who had invited us over. We were exhausted and stuck at home with a sleeping kiddo. Our friends ended up wandering up to our house, bearing wine, desserts, and a print of one of her sketches in a handmade frame by him as a late holiday/thank you gift. All of this was a complete surprise to us, and we welcomed their company as always. Now, looking at her picture, I feel so grateful to have found such wonderful friends in just a few short months.

We ended up down the hill again today, at the apple store and a couple of other mall places. Ugh. If there is a hell in this universe, I’m pretty sure it looks like a shopping mall. Mission accomplished and I am so grateful that we are all home safe, in our quiet house in the woods where I can see the stars. I seriously think I would never survive the suburbs. Curled up by the fire with my ancient cat, I keep thinking about the good fortune I have had in this life; continue to have daily. Once again, I am reminded of what and who is important in this life, and trying to make note to remember that in all the hectic days. We are all here and safe. We are blessed in so many ways. (Also, my kid is asleep and the house is lovely and quiet!)  :)  That said, don’t ever forget how lucky you are, and go hug somebody.

Oh, and I made things. Encountered photos of these agate coasters on Pinterest, and they seemed super easy to make (which they are). It could be argued that in this family, we should just spread 6mm plastic over everything to protect the furniture, but coasters are a start. I really like how they turned out.




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Everyone makes the obligatory “resolutions post”. They all seem much the same. But I like setting goals, and I like lists, and I figure that throwing this out to the internet universe may help me to keep them. So, to my friends and family who read my little ramblings, I’m asking you to keep me honest. Help me to create some new habits this year, and I’ll help you to create some of yours. :)

My biggest priority this year is to get healthy. Not to confuse this with weight loss, because everyone says they want to lose weight the first of the year. Truth be told, I still weigh about 15-20lbs more than I did before I got pregnant with Audrey, and I would like to lose that weight, but it’s less of a priority than the rest. Some of you know I have been dealing the last couple of years with various cardiovascular nonsense, and after two years I got the green light to put off surgery for a few more years (and I’m hoping indefinitely). I decided to not take beta blockers any longer. My asthma medication and dosage is finally sorted out in such a way that it’s effective and doesn’t seem to be causing heart arrhythmias, and I seem to still be able to control my SVT attacks on my own. (Who knew a few mountaineering trips in my 20’s would be so useful now? Hooray for compression breathing!) Now I just need to work on getting my heart and lungs stronger. I am planning to start running again in earnest, but it will be slow going at the beginning. I figure if I can at the very least climb on the treadmill a few days a week, I will be making progress. That’s a far cry from the running I was doing 5 years ago, but I’ll get back there. It will just take time. Please help me to be patient and stay the course, even when running is the most disheartening thing in the world, and makes me want to cry. There are two other major factors here I need to address: first, I need to sleep. No, really. I want to set and keep a goal of at least 4 hours of uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours. I would love to be one of those people who could sleep for 8 or 9 hours, but to be honest, I’d love to be able to stay in bed for 2. I’m not entirely certain how to obtain this without medication, but I need to figure it out. Secondly, I need to figure out how to not be so stressed. Working on that, too. It’s going to take some serious practice and retraining of old habits to keep from going into the “panic and run away” mode that has been my reaction for most of my life. Again, I’m not certain how to do this. I’m trying all sorts of things. Maybe something will stick? Regardless, I’m open to suggestions.

I want to create at least one thing every week. A painting, an essay or short story, a dumb craft or sewing project that I have been planning to make forever. Whatever. Something. I plan to use this space to blog whatever it is. So, my apologies in advance if you were hoping to avoid cheesy crafts or mediocre attempts at painting with oil. :)

There are some other goals for the next year, though they are much more mundane. Pulling the siding and insulating the house, building a greenhouse so we can garden up here, putting in a cut flower bed (deer resistant varieties, please), putting up a swing set for Audrey, securing a true “emergency fund” in an amount I feel could support us for at least 5-6 months (we’re about 80% of the way there), replacing the subfloor in Audrey’s bathroom, sealing the tile throughout the house, teaching my kid to ski and ride horses, and backpacking trips in the summer. I’ll post about those as well.

So there you go. That’s my plan for 2015 in a nutshell. I have decided that there is a certain accountability factor in blogging about it, especially when 90% of my daily interactions are with a four year old. So I guess I’m counting on you to give me feedback and not let me become too much of a hermit on my little hill here or become too busy with the daily minutiae to forget the overarching goals.

<3, me.


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Snowshoeing at Yule 2014

Dear Spoon,

It has been so long since I wrote you a letter. The moments spill into days, the days into weeks, and each evening I find we both collapse in a pile as though there is simply nothing left of us. You turned four about a week ago, and this year has been busy for you. Each day you tumble into my bed between 5 and 6 in the morning, demanding snuggles and sleep, but really wanting to tell me everything about anything. Do I remember the toy you had as a baby? There was a deer outside. You had a silly dream where you rode on a dragon’s back and ate marshmallows with him. Do I like your pink blanket? She really is the softest blanket, and therefore, you are fairly certain she is magical.

You love helping in the kitchen, and helping around the house. Sometimes, you are a little too eager to help, and make a huge mess, or get yourself into a bit of a pickle. Other days you surprise me by saying things like, “Pi cat was hungry so I fed her.” All by yourself, no big deal. Your independence will carry you far I know, though sometimes it is a source of frustration for both of us. You are caught in that place between baby and child right now, and want desperately to “be big”, while at the same time, you are scared of not being little. So I snuggle you and tell you that you will be my baby when you are 106, and let you crack the eggs for breakfast.

You started preschool this year, and you have taken it by storm. You are reading in earnest now, and you love spending time in the greenhouse and library at your school. You also love making art and “doing science to things”. You have made many friends at school, which is good, since I was very worried when we left our Iowa home to come to Colorado that you would miss your friends in Iowa. While you have missed them, you have developed so many more friendships here that you cherish.

For your birthday, you wanted to have an ice skating party, so we invited some of your school friends and their families to join us at Evergreen Lake and then have pizza at Beau Jo’s. Within ten minutes on skates, you were skating circles around everyone, and you and the other kids held hands and danced as you skated around the rink. You declared it the best day ever, and I have to agree. We got you an aquarium for your birthday, and you are so excited because you want to learn more about fish. You still want to be a marine biologist, so maybe that will stick. You picked out a few freshwater fish for your tank, and you take such good care of them. You remember to feed them, and often spend an hour at a time just watching them swim circles among the plastic castle and brightly colored rocks you placed there.

You have become quite the naturalist since we moved to Colorado. You are learning all the native trees, you identify birds with me, gather rocks and pinecones, and you are the first to spot herds of deer or elk, or the shadow of a fox slinking between the aspens. You love going on hikes with the dogs, and you recently tried snowshoes, which you also took to faster than your dad or I ever could. You still love gardening with me and at your preschool, and we are planning to put in a flower bed and a greenhouse this next spring. In the meantime, you have been bringing home forced bulbs and baby houseplants that you have started at school, and between the two of us, our house has become quite a jungle while it snows outside.

You love music, and play songs for us on your ukelele and on my old guitar. You make up songs about your friends, about the cat, about pink blanket. Your favorite song is Wailin’ Jenny’s Glory Bound — we sing it and play it over and over for you. You love board games right now, and reading stories together, and playing dress up. When people meet you, they are struck by your intelligence and your kind heart, and I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t be prouder of you.

I love you,


Ice Skating at Evergreen Lake 2014


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Change of seasons


There are a couple of inches of snow on the ground, and my neighborhood looks suddenly lovely, after a month or more of brown — dried mud and bitter cold, more like western Idaho than Iowa. I have spent the second half of this year like a dog chasing it’s tail; circling and circling and left with nothing but dizziness and frustration and joy. My days have been consumed with rebuilding our home. Steady buzz of a saw and the weight of a hammer in between the dirt under my nails and giggles from this tiny person who is in such a hurry to “be big like Mama”. When our plumbing failed in July, it set into motion a series of projects. The heart wrenching thud of a sledge hammer on plaster, cedar lathe below splintering into dust, mysterious cuts on my hands as I set mosaic tile, the perpetual stain which has become my manicure. (Earlier in the year it was red cedar, more recently it has been american walnut — there is a forest under my fingernails.) There have been victories and regrets, to be certain. There has been the hand to mouth desperation that only comes from large projects. But I can see our dreams under the sawdust, and I grab at his hand to try to show him, too. Some days, he sees them more clearly than others.

My tiny beautiful girl is desperate to grow up, and I am struggling with things like preschool programs, and whether to write up another grant request for the gardens or close the computer and paint pictures in her My Little Pony watercolor book with her. Because I can already hear her telling me to go away from some day in the not so distant future. She is raw emotion most days. She is fierce, and loving, and independent, and desperate to snuggle with me all at once. She begs for siblings — a brother and a sister. She wanders into my room fully dressed for the day one morning, and fights me for an hour to put on underwear the next. This is three, and there is nothing I can do but try to hang on, and love her with the same ferocity which flows from her little heart. Translation: The time is right for “mama guilt” to hit me full in the face on a daily basis.

And the gardens, like this impetuous child, pull at my heart as well. It is hard to work so hard for something based solely upon your belief that it is the right thing to do. It is exhilarating when someone else acknowledges that it is, in fact, the right thing to do. And it is an amazing feeling when you realize that just maybe, you have made a lasting and much-needed change in a community for the better. The ball has really begun rolling on this project, and I couldn’t be happier. Or more relieved. 

To say I have fallen off the radar is an understatement. 

I have never been so grateful for the ground to freeze. I have never wanted for snow more in my life. Suddenly, I am faced with a few months where I will be able to do any necessary work from my computer and regardless of the amount of daylight. And assuming I actually get the house finished up in the next month or two, I may even have time to spend doing other things. Time to pick up paint brushes. Time to write again. Time to build a huge fire in the fireplace and knit something on the sofa while she snuggles against me and we read Narnia. It feels a little strange, but I couldn’t be more excited for time to relax just a little.

So, I’m curious… What inspires you as an artist or a writer? What are you reading that reminds you that slowing down and experiencing everything in your day is the most zen thing you could do? How do you get started creating again once you have had several months of interruption?

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