Ashes – My Messy, Beautiful

A few months ago someone I know liked a business on Facebook that creates cremation urns.

You know how we like stuff on social media. Sugar sweet piles of puppies, spinning dolphins who live in crystal blue seas, dazzling rainbow sunsets in far off lands. We like sleeping newborns, political jokes, break dancing toddlers, important messages, pleas for prayers and hundreds and hundreds of photos that we cannot unsee and occasionally we wish we could. Social media descends on our lives every day like so many birds, assailing us with images that remind us of days long since lived, or of places where we one day hope to go.

We scroll down, down, down… clicking on the occasional link that someone we truly like has posted or for whatever reason catches our eye at the moment.

Well, it turns out that on social media there’s a bunch of us that like cremation urns.

I guess.

Urns are tenderly created bowls of earth made for the purpose of housing ashes. Dedicated to offering a space in which one’s remains can be kept safe and sacred, they have been used by many civilizations across thousands of years. Like seemingly everything else on the planet, today you can buy them on Amazon.

You can bury ashes. You can scatter them. You can keep them. You can do whatever you feel is right, and you can possibly almost forget about them because they may be tucked into a brown paper bag in your closet, by the neatly folded sweaters that you never actually wear.

Truth: just seeing this “like” of urns on Facebook destroyed me a little bit for a few minutes.

A portion of my sister’s ashes has been housed unceremoniously in a paper bag on a shelf in my closet in my bedroom for over eight years now. Safely out of sight in a quiet corner, I rarely notice them. Occasionally I get up there to sort out sweaters and whoa – there they are.

It never, ever occurred to me to acquire an urn until I saw that Facebook post.

A few months after she died, my family and I scattered my sister’s ashes in the way back of my parents’ generous backyard, close to the basketball court where she spent plenty of time dribbling, free throwing, rebounding, and laughing (I didn’t play but I paid attention).

A breeze nudged the warmth of the day aside, but did little to temper our feelings. My feelings were red-hot, smoking, passionate in the anger I felt toward my sister’s death. Not toward my sister. Never ever toward her. Well, maybe just a little bit.

WHY had she gone out that day? Why to work? Why on a bike?

Why Why Why?

Then a roaring crippling sadness tumbled down the mountainside trapping me beneath its weight.

We said nothing as each of us in turn gently tossed her ashes across the creeping green ground cover that blankets this bit of land and protects it from erosion and drought.

The physical and poignant process of scattering my sister’s ashes is one that remains matchless in its depth, love and sorrow in my experience to the present day.

All the spoken words before and during and after her memorial service were beautiful and brilliant and funny and heartbreaking. I loved all the words, all the voices. They lifted and carried our family through those bleak days, but when it was my turn to hold my sister’s ashes in my bare hands I couldn’t have stood it if anyone dared whisper another goddamn word.

Hushed, we scattered some of her ashes in silence, then trekked back indoors. Our hearts and bodies were heavy.

The days and weeks afterward happened, and we began again to do the sorts of things we used to do. I moved again, and kept waking up every day.

But some of her – a piece of her – was kept aside for me. My husband and I moved a few months later, and among the boxes I tucked a flimsy paper bag full of ashes. It may have traveled on my carry-on, or lay beneath clothing in a suitcase… I cannot remember anymore.

Should I house my sister’s remains within an urn?

Do people really have urns any more?

Who imagined they would sell so well on Amazon?

I did a little research, but not much. Did you know you can turn yourself into a tree when you die? There are biodegradable urns made from coconut shells, and inside they contain seeds. You can even pick the type of plant you would like to be.

Even after eight years, it’s still too hard and horrible and impossible. I’ve been dreaming lately, and they aren’t good dreams. I believe my sister would forgive me for hitting the pause button a few times in my journey toward accepting her absence.

So I am satisfied with the paper bag in the closet. It is her life that I remember – not her remains – as I move throughout my days, as I sleep, struggle, smile, cry and think — this is the way in which I know and honor her.

I am not going to procure an urn anytime soon.

But I am going to make more of an effort to honor her memory, and realize that the life that I am living is the only one I’ve got, and love the lives around me to pieces more often. I can appreciate the joyful messiness that is parenting, working, living, loving, and being.

And the funny thing is that I feel pretty okay today, actually, a feeling I thought would never come back when my sister died. I feel happy, humbled, and realize that happiness is fleeting – is cannot be sustained. It can’t really be caught, either. I think it’s more a consequence of being in the world as one should be for the moment.

And since life is just a series of moments (as social media would confirm), I feel happy to be among them today.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! 

grande girasol



You must not blame me if I do talk to the clouds. ~Henry David Thoreau

dreaming of wellness

Hello Friday, I’m so happy to meet you today!

Today I’m linking up with Cynthia at yousignedupforwhat?!, EatPrayRunDC and MarontheRun for the weekly Friday Five. I’m excited to have discovered three new bloggers who focus on health and wellness. Evidently I’m in need of both, because last night I dreamed about being sick for what felt like all night.

In this particularly vivid dream a close friend showed up at our house with her family during a raging snowstorm. She energetically insisted that we had signed up to run a 10K foot race located across town… I didn’t recall registering, but what are you gonna do. We piled in the back of this enormous vehice, tucking our kids sans seat belts under a fleece blanket. I was unable to breathe for several minutes, congested and bleeding and tired, but no one seemed to notice.

I woke up still dreaming. It was very strange. I almost announced to my family that Mama is very, very sick and needs to stay in bed today, but then I looked in the mirror and took a few deep breaths and walked outside on the deck. The sun was out. Unbelievable. I wasn’t congested. I wasn’t bleeding. I was, in fact, no sicker than anyone else in our family, which is to say not sick.

Still, the feeling lingered for a while, and I felt cloudy. Instead of reaching immediately for caffeine I put a bunch of raw kale in the blender, threw in half a banana, some frozen blueberries and unsweetened coconut milk plus a healthy scoop of protein powder. The sound of the blender is delicious. It makes kids come running into the kitchen, but this smoothie was for me.

I drank deeply, and then I poured a cup of steaming coffee. Coffee as a side dish = perfection.

I am looking forward to a little wellness this weekend.


My Friday Five include:

1. First soccer match of the season. My oldest will play tomorrow morning under the direction of his coach aka his Dad. Chance of rain = 80%, but that’s ok. We live in Portland!

2. Pedicure. This is happening today. I’ve promised myself (any local readers want to join me?)

3. Free Friday with my little guy. He doesn’t have school on Fridays, and we get to hang out. He still challenges me on a regular basis, but he also makes me laugh. This morning he asked if he could taste my kale smoothie, but before taking a sip, he asked me if it was poison. 

4. Getting in the garden:  Our broccoli, cauliflower and sugar snap pea starts are looking good. Two days ago I carefully planted two dozen teensy containers with mixed greens, kale and carrot seeds. I placed them outdoors to get a few hours of sun. My youngest boy came running in beaming, tugging on my hand.

Mama! I planted aaallllll the carrot seeds! Come see!

Um, okay? you did what?

I planted allllll the seeds!

We walked outside. He had opened the bag of carrot seeds and dumped all of them all over my planted containers. Carrot seeds are tiny, and removing them with tweezers proved unsuccessful. Also, you’re supposed to plant carrot seeds “sparingly” which does not mean thirty per seed pot. So frustrating. The kid ruined my seeds, and was happy about it. So we’re hitting up the Portland Nursery for some cheerful starts and ladybugs.

5. Movement: a solo run and swim are on the calendar.

Happy Friday, readers!


Let’s go to the Llama Store

The boys and I walked to school this morning because the car was unavailable. It’s a spring-y, breezy, blossomy kind of day. My little guy stays home with me on Fridays, and our schedule is much more relaxed than Monday-Thursday. You can  practically hear the clouds sighing with relief on Fridays, as they float aside to let the sun shine down.

On the way home Max started talking about popsicles, and a mystery presented itself unexpectedly.

So Mama? Remember that time a very long time ago when I had a mango popsicle?

Yes, I remember (kind of, um I mean I can’t remember every single popsicle or mango feeding).

Well maybe when I get home I can just eat a mango popsicle.

We don’t have any mango popsicles. I’d have to get some at the store.

Yeah we can just go to the Llama Store. That’s where they have mango popsicles.

The what?

The Llama Store!

I confirmed that he did not mean to say Fred Meyer, New Seasons, Target or Costco. He was absolutely sure that mango popsicles are available at the Llama Store.

What on earth was the Llama Store?

It was a mysterious mystery. I kept asking him questions to get to the bottom of it, but he just kept insisting that the Llama Store was the place to get mango popsicles.

On the corner of our street there is a coffee kiosk, a taco shop, a sushi restaurant and a colmado – a small corner store that sells overpriced convenience items, lottery tickets and rolling papers. I’ve rarely gone inside.

We turned by the colmado to head home, and passed signage in the window that looked like this:


See, Mom? There’s the LLAMA. And that’s the LLAMA STORE.

Yes, I did see. And no, I didn’t correct him that it was actually an image of a camel, not a llama. The fact that it was a tobacco ad went way over his head.

Later I asked his father if by chance he had ever taken our smart little guy to the colmado to buy a popsicle.

He sure had.

Mystery solved.

P.S. The best popsicles I’ve ever had can be found not at the Llama Store but throughout the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. Known for its paletas, the city’s local  ice pops are made from fresh fruit and come in flavors like prickly pear, watermelon, coconut, and of course, mango. Magical mango nutrition on a stick.

After my last post I thought I’d take a break from blogging for awhile.

Too boring. Too depressing.


Today my youngest made me laugh more than once and it feels like worth documenting, at least to me.

Every week his preschool teacher assigns the kids a job: line leader, meeting leader, in-school cleaner-upper (I like this one), etc.

One of the jobs is called Backpack.

Backpack means you get to take a cheery red backpack home for a week. In the Backpack there is a Snowy Owl. The job is to take care of the Owl and take him with you on your adventures.

This is very exciting.

On the way home, M told me that Snowy Owl would like to have some hot cocoa today.

Really? The Owl wants hot cocoa?

Oh yes, Mama. He really wants some hot cocoa.


Because he is very, very thirsty.

Well, combine an owl’s thirst with a chilly, darkish cloudy but it just might turn into a sunshiney day, and that’s good reason for hot cocoa in my opinion.


We proceeded to have an Owl and Hot Cocoa Party.


Cups were drained.


Afterwards, the owls decided to take in some sun on the deck.

Unfortunately, M sustained an injury while the owls were resting.

Mama! I have splinters in my butt!

Deep Breath.

Really? What happened?

I don’t know! I was sitting here playing here with these friends when I got splinters in my butt!


Me, speechless. These garden gnomes were living in the Garden until recently. Evidently they are up to no good this season.

I checked out the so-called splinter area and observed zero splinters. So that was good. We went on to pick up his big brother from school, hang out at the local playground, and came home to read books, grump about dinner options and share the sweetest stories about first grade and trading notes.


That’s it, readers. Good night.

Care for hot cocoa?

As my long-time readers are well aware, my sister’s death in the year 2005 paralyzed me in many ways. I was deeply sad, but I was also angry. I was angry that clocks kept ticking, and I resented people who kept being normal. They kept shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. They kept on saying good morning and wearing life is good T-shirts. They kept running, practicing yoga and smiling. They kept getting on planes and working and drinking and sleeping and eating. They did all sorts of things which I, in fact, used to do, too.

How dare they?

It was stunningly difficult to move forward, or on, or through it all, so I didn’t for a awhile. It’s been eight years, and I still find myself deeply grieving her, but I keep shopping for groceries, planning parties, and going to work. I keep doing all sorts of stuff.

I wrote those words about a week ago, but I didn’t hit publish.

I’m not sure why loss was on my mind so much last week. It seems like a lot of people are dying unexpectedly, or earlier than they were intended to. When my sister died I crashed into a grief process that didn’t allow me to check back into life for a long time. Many people reached out bravely and warmly to comfort our family, but all I could think was they don’t understand. They don’t know. They can’t know. Others stumbled over their words, intending to offer condolences but instead made a mess of things. Sometimes the best intended words made me just laugh. The belief that my sister was now in a better place seemed (and seems) to me the most preposterous idea of all… you’d be surprised how often I heard those words, despite the truth that she was 28 years old and more alive than most of us.

You know what they say about good intentions. Well, it turns out that intent is often irrelevant. It flies in the face of truth. This is why people say they didn’t “mean” it when they use a vulgar expression or a shameful term… they don’t “intend” to hurt someone or enrage an entire community. But it happens, all too often.

The unreal thing about grief is that most of us do get through it, pretending to be normal while tending to both those who acknowledge our loss as well as those who ignore it. Practical tasks like eating and bathing may save us from drowning in the “sinking sand” of loss, as my youngest calls quicksand, and if we are lucky we are lifted up both by grace and by a profound strength that we never envisioned having or needing.

Death brings to mind the randomness of humanity, because I don’t think every thing happens for a reason. Depending on the circumstances into which we were born, we may eat, bathe, work, move, rest, want or learn – or do none of these things in a healthy way. Emotionally, too, life’s a bit of a crap shoot. Many of us hail from strong and supportive families, but many of us are also born into a dysfunctional mess, a recipe made up of mixed up relatives + complex life stuff. Add in hormones and aids I like to call mood-makers, and you’re bound to have issues.

[Sidenote: mood-makers may include but are not limited to the following: alcohol, running, sugar, caffeine, drugs, music, silence. I like to practice all of them, some more moderately so than others. What are your mood-makers?]

Last week I read about a woman who died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving behind three young children, her husband and countless friends.

Three days ago I was 39.

Now I am 40.

Rather than dreading another birthday, I am absolutely ready to take on another decade. My 30s were tough. And beautiful. And horrible. I was newly married when my sister was killed. My life, upended, changed for the worse. I didn’t know me anymore. I didn’t know my family – our dynamic of five changed abruptly to four, and we weren’t ready. I cried constantly, shook with fear, and doubted my place in the world.

Running helped. As much as I could get myself out the door, I used to go out for five and six and seven miles, meandering through the neighborhood and occasionally on a trail. If I hadn’t gone outside, I might never have left my room, that first year after my sister died.

[Sidenote: we adopted an energetic eight-week-old Lab puppy three months after her death. He was practically a service dog. Puppies don’t wait for you to feel better before they get a walk. Eight years later, he is a more mellow version of his puppy self and he brings me this incredible joy – his sweet big eyes are full of love and compassion. I highly recommend puppies as a remedy to sadness.]

To celebrate turning 40, I signed up to run 13.1 miles with a close friend. I hadn’t trained adequately, but the race was flat and scenic. Incredibly, it didn’t start raining until ten minutes after I’d finished. Around mile 10 my body was pretty much done, and my phantom broken toe was burning (stupid faux injury that I can’t seem to get rid of), but I kept going. The final mile hurt, and so I lifted my thoughts to those spirits who could help: my sister, my grandfather, my friend Dominguin. I asked them to be my angel wings.

I ran for my sister, silently, because she is gone and yet not gone.

I also ran for the woman who is lying in a hospital bed right now fighting for her life after being hit by an SUV while riding her bike.  She is a family friend, runner and cyclist. She is broken, but she is healing.

I ran for me.

Within us we all have this enormous power to heal.

Slowly and painfully the final mile ticked by, and it was over. I could stop running. A kind volunteer handed me this medal.


Angel wings.

I started to cry.

So life goes on. I am 40, and I am ready for another full (and fulfilling) decade, or at least just enjoy today, and I feel good about that. I’ve got much to look forward to, plus an incredible family, a wonderful new job, amazing friends and a home in a beautiful part of the world. I went home after the run to party with my boys. 


I don’t know exactly where my path will lead over the next ten years (or even tomorrow), but I sure plan to be on the trail.

In gratitude.


it’s my party, i can cry if i want to

I’m a bad mom. I yell too much and daydream about spending a week (or seven) on a Mexican beach BY MYSELF with alarming frequency. I sleep well in a hammock, enjoy light clothing and speak Spanish, so it’s terribly tempting. The sound of the ocean weakens, or prevents, my anxiety issues from taking over better than prescription medication or running six miles can do, although those are excellent strategies. I used to keep a journal – in writing, private-style, not a blog – and some of my truest thoughts came into view as I sat silently and listened to the crash of the surf, cool and salty, rippling gray to deep green to dark silver blue, and wrote down what I was thinking in front of the ocean, sometimes while chasing the sunrise.

Now I just listen to the crash of two small people as they tumble and roar through our landbound house. This afternoon I asked the older one why, why, WHY for the love of all that is good and holy (to quote a friend) he cannot get along with his brother, when he doesn’t fight with his friends, and in fact, has developed some sweet, respectful, funny and heartwarming friendships over the past few years.

His response was immediate. It went something like, Well, I get along with my friends because MY FRIENDS don’t break my stuff and MY FRIENDS don’t punch me when they get mad and MY FRIENDS don’t say mean words and MY FRIENDS don’t get too much into my space.

Okay. I nodded. I heard him.

Then later in the day there were these moments and even stretches of time when they played together and made each other laugh and think and smile and I was all like yeah I have these awesome kids before one of them started in again causing me to intervene at some point and use my strategies and my words and then finally YELL.

And then one of them — twenty minutes later – looked at me in his room and apologized. Like a real apology. Not one that I encouraged or invited or forced. Taken aback, we enjoyed a real nice hug and a smile. God I love these kids.

Earlier in the day, the same kid was playing with these tiny soccer player guys in the basement. I mentioned that there were a few more players upstairs, and he nodded.

Mom, would you be a dear and go and get them for me?

I could hear his teacher’s words echoing in his mind… and so I said of course, I would be happy to help.

Later, he asked his brother to bring him a toy from their shared room, and the little one accomodated (he likes to be a helper, especially on his own terms).

Big brother smiled and whispered to me: it’s like I have a tiny servant.

Seriously? I thought.

He did thank his brother for the delivery service.

My boys are keeping it real, thanks. All those Christmas letters (that I adore receiving – really) detailing evidence of the joy and dreamlike state in which the new babies and adorable toddlers on Santa’s laps provide for their parents make me cringe a little, tear up a little, and fake holiday cheer a little. It’s so not all adorable when one’s three going on thirteen year old tells you that he doesn’t love you anymore because I made him hold my hand in the parking lot after he took off in a public space. He deliberately did not mind me, and I confess to threatening — in calm, kind voice — to have to put him on a leash like a dog if he continued to run away from me. He burst into tears and said he didn’t want to be on a leash like Coppi (our dog).

You know those kid leashes, right? I’ve seen the occasional child on a leash at a grocery store or the county fair. I’ve thought they were horrible, and now my kid’s almost four and I absolutely get why people use them!

I’m not going to put him on a leash. The threat is already out there, folks. But if he takes off on me one more time I am… I am… I have no idea right now what I’m going to do. I’m sure there are like a thousand books out there like How To Not Get Your Kid To Run Away From You Even Though It’s A Fun Game For Him And Scary And Frustrating For You, but quite frankly I don’t want to use the Google to find them right now. I’d rather vent, and I love this space where I can put words out there and let it go.

Have a great night, especially you parents as we approach this magical time called Bedtime.

P.S. Here’s a glimpse of my non-minding child during swim lessons. He’s cute, because otherwise we’d have serious problems.


And P.P.S. This is the photo Miles selected to send into the Lego Contest. If he wins, he gets $100 in Legos! He is super excited even though I’ve cautioned that there are likely to be many, many other six-and-seven-and-eight-and-thirty-nine-old-Lego-contenders participating in the competition.


Tumble and Roar

Dragon Love

Yesterday afternoon my husband and I were trying to have a fairly serious and relevant-to-our-life conversation.  During the attempted ten minutes of meaningful dialog, one or both children interrupted each of us approximately every fifteen seconds.

Frustrated, my husband asked, Why is it impossible for your mother and I to have a conversation without being interrupted every freakin’ minute?

Our oldest son thought for a moment before responding, Because we’re always around? 

Tell him what he wins, friends.

It was one of those more or less typical Saturdays except that it opened with a 9:30 am birthday party at a jumping castle place outside of the city. I brought both boys and appreciated their ability to jump, slide and climb gigantic inflatables for an hour before juice and cake were consumed well before noon. My husband “took the morning off” from all of us while we were out of the house.

Later, my kids stomped around in the backyard for an hour or so while I warned them not to step in poop. It’s been a drizzly week or so and we haven’t tracked our dog’s comings and goings very closely.

Then I took them to the movies (wow, this is a really scintillating post).

This time it wasn’t The Lego Movie. There was no popcorn, a fact that would surface afterward as a negative. We attended a free filming of Khumba, a South African family film in which a deeply insecure half-striped zebra sets out to find a magical water hole in order to find his missing stripes. The movie was part of the 24th Cascade Festival of African Films and took place at the community college down the road. This very sweet Lion King-ish tale was well attended and received. While our oldest son totally got it, our youngest sort of understood the story but really, mostly liked it when I slid him a lollipop an hour into the film. He wasn’t heavy enough to make the folding movie seat sit down so he sat in my lap for the entire duration of the film.

Then we went home.

Yesterday our youngest said something that I swore to myself I’d remember — it had to do with love and turtles — but I can’t remember now. It was very sweet, though, trust me.

This is important because I tried to remember that he had been very sweet every time he crossed me after the movie… his “NO” echoing loudly when I asked him do something… anything… and then I decided to take an hour or so “off” from the family. Fortunately his father was home at the time.

Our conversations with the boys have been varied and entertaining, a saving grace for when I’ve had it up to HERE with one or both of them lately. Our oldest was very excited when an image of Nelson Mandela came across the screen prior the movie. Mr. Mandela came up in conversation later, rather unexpectedly.

Me: You know, Miles, your eyes are very pretty. You have very long eyelashes.

M: Do people ever cut their eyelashes?

Me: No, I don’t believe so. 

M:  No one? 

Me: No, it’s nice to have long eyelashes, actually.

M: Not even Nelson Mandela? Nelson Mandela didn’t cut his eyelashes?

And later:

(riding bikes today) Me: M, you know before you were born your dad and I used to go for a bike ride and we called it a “love ride”. 

M: Really? Can you and I have a love ride? 

Me: Sure.

M: Right now? Like this can be a love ride? 

Me: Ok. 

M: Ok, watch out for this tricky part. I’m super fast. I have a lot of breath in my body, too.

We proceeded to love ride around the park several times. He’s getting so big, and I’m glad for it. I don’t miss the baby days. If I’d been blogging back then I can’t imagine the posts would have been coherent. I do have a special place in my heart for parents of babes, though, babes in arms that humble and adore you 24 hours a day. I remember the way in which my husband could hold our babies, football-style, their big bright eyes calmly looking around the room while resting in his arms. I know well the aches of nursing or sleeping in a particularly uncomfortable position because that’s what made the child eat or sleep, and it was worth it. I no longer research the “best stroller” or “best carseat” or “best baby carrier”… we have moved onto soccer cleats and bicycles and backpacks. I read once about the so-called “latency” period of parenting… ages six through eleven… past unsleeping baby/terrible toddler land and yet not into teenage drama. I get that… we’re in it, at least with one… it’s rather wonderful and funny and definitely keeps me on my toes.

Later, the big guy spent a good hour drawing dragons in a plain old notebook he’d found somewhere.

M: Mom!


M: Mom!

Me: Yes? 

M: Come here! Do you want to see Whispering Death? 

Me: What?

M: Whispering Death!

I had no idea what he was talking about, but it seemed like I had no other option but to go see. Turns out that Whispering Death is a dragon. Here he is.


I also examined this guy:


Discussing, spelling and drawing dragons was a pretty neat way to spend a few minutes,  in a focused way that perhaps only a six-year-going-on-seven-year-old can do. As we wrap up our more or less normal weekend, I look forward to the week ahead, and perhaps another love ride or two.