My BBM Journey: Day 66

I think when I started this challenge I hoped I would stick with it, but was nervous that I would fall off the wagon. Here we are though, day 66 and still rockin’ and rollin’! I saw the picture Briana posted this morning of her day 75 progress, the one where she is wearing the red dress. Whoot whoot! She looks great, doesn’t she? I am not there, but I saw that picture and I thought, “I’m going to be there. In fact, I’m getting closer every day!” Positive thinking, people, don’t under estimate the power of positive thoughts. Like wise, don’t under estimate the power of negative thoughts. Those will kill your dreams before they even have a chance to take flight.

I wanted to do a recipe post today, but alas, my cabinets are pretty bare and my meals are more budget friendly odds and ends than spectacular clean eating creations. I know my progress is a bit inhibited by budget restrictions, but I have come to terms with it and continue to do the best I can. Meals have been heavier on the pasta and bread than I would like, but I know my life goes in cycles and spurts, it won’t be like this forever. I refuse to focus on the negative, instead I am focusing on all the things that are good and positive.

I feel like I don’t have a whole lot to say today, but I hate to go days without checking in. I’m just keepin’ on keepin’ on, and really that’s what this whole thing is really about. It’s not just about the glamour of results or having daily epiphanies, it’s about the consistent grind, the daily getting up and getting it done.

Today’s motivational photo is a shout out to the amazing little girl that keeps us all laughing and active. She NEVER stops singing and dancing.

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Happy Hump Day, everyone! Keep it smiling and positive!

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What is BBM?

Bikini Body Mommy, a movement led by Briana Christine, and you can find out more at http://www.bikinibodymommy.com

Did you miss my first post outlining my goals? Find it here.

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/my-newest-project-an-overview/

Looking to find some inspiration on Pinterest? You can follow me there too.

To get my daily posts through the  90 day challenge in your inbox, hit the subscribe button at the top left of this page, right under my profile picture.

And finally, has this post delighted, inspired, or amused you? Feel free to share it with your friends.

My BBM Journey: Day 59

A beautiful run this morning in the humidity. Even in the summer warmth, the morning is my favorite time of day, things are so fresh and bright. We had a little thunderstorm last night, so everything was especially clean and fresh. We ended up getting really busy last night and didn’t get our BBM work out done, but we did have a killer run in the morning, so it wasn’t a total loss. Still, I now feel compelled to do yesterday and today back to back this evening. If you don’t see any more blog posts it is because I followed through on this plan and died. ūüėČ

I get to harvest my very first tomatoes and zuccini that I grew myself in the garden, either today or tomorrow. That’s exciting. Nothing like fresh produce! And that means I need to visit the farmer’s market really soon. Can’t wait!

We have a weigh in day tomorrow. (Yay.) I also have a jam packed day with a rigid schedule, so that will be fun and interesting. At least the weigh in and remeasure day falls before the holiday. Clarksville TN, which is the nearest “big” town, is having it’s fireworks show on the 3rd rather than the forth, we’re hoping to take the kids to see that. Knowing that day would be crazy busy, I did the 4th of July photos a few days early. (Yesterday.) Here’s my adorable crew.

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Happy 4th of July a little early!

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What is BBM?

Bikini Body Mommy, a movement led by Briana Christine, and you can find out more at http://www.bikinibodymommy.com

Did you miss my first post outlining my goals? Find it here.

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/my-newest-project-an-overview/

Looking to find some inspiration on Pinterest? You can follow me there too.

To get my daily posts through the  90 day challenge in your inbox, hit the subscribe button at the top left of this page, right under my profile picture.

And finally, has this post delighted, inspired, or amused you? Feel free to share it with your friends.

My BBM Journey: Day 51

I just wanted to check in, let you all know I’m still working hard, doing extra running, and eating as well as possible. In fact, I’m up early this morning to go do a grocery run before my hubby has to go to work. We are back to being a one car family for now, which certainly has it’s challenges, but also gives me the opportunity to do more walking if I happen to need something from the store down the street. See friends, the glass is never half empty for me, it is always half full.

I came across an inspirational quote on Pinterest the other day and loved it. “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Really think about that one and let it sink in. It’s true. Your attitude changes EVERYTHING.

I don’t really have much to say or add here, I just wanted everyone who is following my posts to know I’m still going, still pushing it, still living real life with you all. ūüôā

For inspirational photo, how about a video of our family evening activity the other night? Nothing better than spending time together as a family and being active outside. I try to take every opportunity to not make our family time involve a glowing screen and even if it’s just for a few minutes in the evening after work, the kids love when their dad plays with them. Having a healthy family, for me, includes spending quality moments together, being active outside. In fact that is essential. There is just far too much technology out there, it’s easy to find yourself constantly watching the tv, or using the computer, or looking down at your phone. I think it is so important for kids growing up these days to be taught there is life and fun beyond tech devices. When I was little it wasn’t anything to play outside all day long. It was normal. Now there are some kids who barely go outside at all and don’t know what to do with a back yard. We parents actually have to teach our kids how fun “outside” is, and no better method of teaching than by example.

 

___________________________________________________________________________________

What is BBM?

Bikini Body Mommy, a movement led by Briana Christine, and you can find out more at http://www.bikinibodymommy.com

Did you miss my first post outlining my goals? Find it here.

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/my-newest-project-an-overview/

Looking to find some inspiration on Pinterest? You can follow me there too.

To get my daily posts through the  90 day challenge in your inbox, hit the subscribe button at the top left of this page, right under my profile picture.

And finally, has this post delighted, inspired, or amused you? Feel free to share it with your friends.

Memories in Time

I was thinking about something this morning. People who really know me know that I’m all about taking pictures. I mean, not just during the Holidays or special occasions, I take pictures almost every day. I take pictures of random, ordinary moments, sometimes just a quick snap shot, sometimes taking it to the picture editor and embellishing it a little. I post many to Facebook, but there are some that just sit on my computer for a while until I finally decide I’m ok with deleting them or I move them to a named folder to keep for good. My friends and family have varying degrees of the opinion that I’m “picture crazy”, and others who are more of an acquaintance might think I’m silly, annoying, or even a little self-absorbed.

Well, you have to understand my history to understand my pictures.

I was born in the 80’s, into a world of Polaroids, long before the digital age. It wasn’t nearly as easy or as cheap to take and keep pictures around as it is today. You had to keep the photos in album books if they were going to stay nice, and film and books cost money and you had to keep buying them. To get a good portrait shot, you had to pay a photographer and pay for copies of those photos, and then you had to buy frames and all that. This, of course evolved a little, but pretty much was the norm until the very late 90’s, early 2000. Needless to say, my parents having 3 kids at that time, and 8 by the time it was all said and done, had better things to spend money on.

In addition, when I was 9, my family moved from a big, normal house into a tiny 31 foot travel trailer to travel west and begin a new life of adventure and pioneering. (Long story for a different day.) We had to down size to the very barest of minimals to fit us all in. After giving precious items to friends and family, many things just had to be pitched, including a lot of photos. It sounds harsh, but my mom did what she had to do and a drawer full of pictures and Polaroids that had never made it into albums had to be thrown away. I remember she cried while those memories went into the trash. Baby pictures, birthdays, family snap shots – all gone. To this day, I have no pictures of myself as a baby except for the few that my aunt has shared from the ones she kept. Sometimes, and Facebook has been a great thing in this respect, a long-lost memory surfaces as a very old picture is scanned and shared by family or friends that my mom reconnected with in the past few years. It is rare, though.

Between that time and the years we lived in Colorado and then Kentucky, disposable cameras were cheap and made it much easier to take pictures, but developing still cost money, and after moving so much, we learned to travel light and we didn’t take many pictures that have survived. There is a small handful that each of my sisters and my mom have, pictures my dad hand-picked before he died of the cabin he built and the years in Colorado.

Then, in 2005, I moved out on my own and was introduced to a world of rapidly evolving digital cameras and camera phones. I was young and single, so I had very little incentive to take pictures for a little while, but then I got married, a year later we were pregnant with the first grandchild on Hubby’s side and moving a thousand miles away to Colorado to open our first restaurant. My mom in law bought me my very first, very own digital camera. Suddenly, pictures were so easy to take, and storing them on our new laptop was incredibly easy too. No more developing charges, bulky photo albums, and any “bad shots” could easily be deleted. It was life changing.

But the biggest piece of this puzzle fell into place later that year, the reason why I like to capture so many ordinary moments.

Many who have read this blog and followed it even a little know that in 2008 we lost our first baby girl to a surprise and mystery condition she was born with. She lived 17 days, all of them in a NICU unit, and while I took pictures and a few videos, I did not realize she would die and how many memories I would not make. I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, and even if I had, there would be none of the ordinary moments we take for granted. There were no pictures of her first bath, her first time getting dressed up for church, her first steps, her first birthday, her first day of school, and there certainly weren’t any every day moments to remember and smile over. What’s worse is that the time I did spend with her is missing huge chunks in my memory. I have blocked out most of the traumatic days of her in the NICU laying in pain, unable to be held by us, a blur of doctors and medicine and sterilization. Those are the only memories she is part of and many of them are lost.

We were blessed, by surprise no less, the following year with our rainbow baby Faith. From about half way through that pregnancy (the point where I begin to remember life again, the months directly after Skye died are almost completely gone, I vaguely remember very little, clips here and there) I had decided that no matter the outcome, I was not going to wait to spend time with her. I was going to make memories and make the most of her time with me, whether that was days or years. I talked to her all the time, just as you would a friend, when she was in my belly. I told her what I was doing, how things looked, my hopes, my fears, why I was doing a certain chore and how. Someone watching me would have pegged me as insane, walking around the house talking to “nobody” about needing to do the dishes and why one brand of soap was better than another.

I took pictures of my pregnant belly, but I really began taking pictures when Faith was born and I just never stopped. Over the past 3 years the picture-taking has really evolved as I found fabulous free picture editing sites to fix flaws and enhance the mood of the shot, add frames, etc. and Facebook has been invaluable for storing my pictures in albums. In fact, after my first computer crashed, I learned a valuable lesson. I lost even more of the few precious memories I had, pictures of Skye, on my old laptop, and would have been utterly devastated if I had not put pictures on Facebook and videos on YouTube. So yeah, I post A LOT of pictures on Facebook and my friends may or may not think I’m a little obsessed, but I don’t care. I know that several times I have needed to download them back off the web to have them.

Memories friends, you can’t buy those. They are priceless.

Just a Fall day at the park with my girl.

 

Every time I snap a picture of this little girl loving life, I think of another little girl who is not here. She never got the chance to go down the slide.

 

Another every day memory. One day she’ll be grown up and this picture will be all I have. I don’t take it for granted.

 

 

Capture Your Grief Day 19: Special Project

They say one of the best ways to find healing in your grief is to reach out to someone who is going through something similar and offer help, sympathy, compassion – in other words, minister to them and you will actually be ministering to yourself. I have found this to be true. I have had the honor of meeting so many beautiful people on this sacred journey, all traveling a similar path. It’s not something you hope for, but since I’m here, I’m glad I have had so many opportunities to love, help, share, and bless others.

This past June I had the honor of embarking on a project that is very personally dear to my heart.

When I first started out on this loss journey, I could not possibly know that one of the hardest things about losing my baby was that I lost all the potential memories we might have made. Those little things like her first tooth, or her first taste of ice cream, or trying to keep her from tearing the wrapping off the presents under the Christmas tree before Christmas, or splashing in a mud puddle after a Summer rain – you don’t realize all the things you say goodbye to forever when you say goodbye to your baby.

Like many other families, I began collecting keepsake Christmas ornaments each year beginning the year I got married. My favorite part of getting a tree and decorating it is not making it picture perfect or color coordinated. My favorite part is putting on the tinsel and remembering the first time I helped my Grandmother decorate her big tree when I was a girl. Its putting on the lights and remembering how my dad used to get so frustrated with untangling all those lights, but he and my mom would work at it, bickering back and forth, and the finished tree was sparkly and glorious. Its pulling those ornaments out and remembering having my little sisters (who are all but grown now) painting little childish designs on simple ball ornaments so we could have unique keepsakes to hang on our first tree as a married couple, or seeing “Champion 2006” and marvelling that it has already been 6 years we’ve been married, or pulling out the little pink and white candy cane and remembering how when everyone else had all but forgotten I was spending my first Christmas without a baby in my arms, the wonderful people at Hearts and Hands had not and they sent a hand written card and that ornament to me in my darkest, loneliest hour, several months after everyone else had gone on about their lives and I was stuck in a Hell I could not escape.

My project has been several years in the making, an idea and a wish mostly, but this year it materialized into “In Memory Of” an ornament donation program. Many people who don’t understand loss, especially child loss, think the last thing you want to do is “dampen the holidays with grieving for a loss” but what so many don’t understand is, we don’t stop grieving. Holiday, ordinary day, everyday, you don’t stop thinking of your baby and wishing for those memories you never got a chance to make. I personally think the holidays are even worse, that’s when you think of them the most.

Each year when I pull out those precious ornaments, its like pulling out the memories, and since I had such a short time to make them with my baby, the few memories I have concerning Skye are the most precious. Since she has died we still get her an ornament each year, or I make one. I do this for all my kids. Hanging them on the tree each year gives me the opportunity to remember and even to make new memories with my family as my kids here on earth begin to learn about the sister they never met, how special she was, and why that makes them even more special to me and Daddy. It is beautiful.

My ornament donation program took off from the very start, showing me that so many other families felt the same way I did. I have cried over tender, heart-felt emails telling me how I have touched them with my work and how I don’t know what that ornament means to them. Yes, they are free, but it is not the cost of the item that is the blessing. Most of my recipients can easily go and buy their own ornaments, make them, or even buy the ones I make that are for sale. I believe the magic is in the fact that someone cares enough to hand make this little token, knowing acutely how inadequate it is to fill the void, yet how beautiful it is to truly care days, months, even years after you have lost your baby, by someone who knows first hand how precious the memories are. The word donation simply means filling an emotional need rather than a financial one.

I have a waiting list for bereaved parents, specifically parents that have suffered loss through miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, or early childhood death (basically children 5 and under) because these parents got so little time to make memories, and that is ultimately what my program is about, making and enjoying memories. To find out more about this program you can visit my Facebook page.

http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151200439886271&set=a.10151009575456271.479378.362725131270&type=3&theater

Ornaments from my “In Memory Of” donation program.

The Sunshine State of Mind

¬†I sat here this morning and reread a few posts I wrote several months back touching on my childhood. I love to walk down memory lane and it’s fairly therapeutic¬†to tell of my life, even if I’m the only one who ends up reading it. However, I can’t help but be frustrated and a little sad¬†that there are huge chunks of my life that are literally indescribable. I can’t seem to put into words, that most people will grasp or understand enough to do the story justice, some of the fragments of my life. I have lived a rather strange life, plain and simple. I’m not apologetic, I’m just stating a fact.

 As I sat here for a moment this morning, wanting to write a little more about my life, I scanned through the files in my mind and came upon my teen years. The years between 13 and 19 are so chock full of rich history that makes me who I am today that it is impossible to truly know me without knowing all of that. However, it is also the most difficult part to tell, more difficult than my wild days as a young adult, more difficult than the loss of our business and the death of our daughter. Perhaps one day I will be able to put it into words, but that is not today.

¬†Instead, I’m going to call on a much earlier time frame, my childhood in Florida, and our recent vacation.

¬†All the memories of this happy time in my history¬†came flooding back last summer when Josh and I went on the first real vacation of our married life and really since our childhood. He’d been to Florida on vacation several times with his parents and to visit friends long before he’d met me, but I had not been back to the state since my family left for Colorado when I was 9 years old. I had not seen the ocean at all since then, though I had been just a few hours away in¬† South Carolina, New York, and Texas at different points in time.

Me, my brothers Nick and Naaman, my mom, and our dog, Sandy. I think I was about 6 or 7 years old here

¬†My childhood in Florida ranks among the happiest years of my life. My family was all together in one state (my Gramma, Mom’s sisters, her brother, and their children.) and we were all close. We’d go to the beach together, go to the park, the mall, the flea market, hang out at my Gramma’s house and swim in the pool, there was almost not a day that went by that I didn’t spend time with my cousins, aunts, uncle, and grandmother.

 I remember cook outs by the pool, the grill fired up, chicken and corn on the cob and baked potatoes wrapped in shiny foil all laid across the grates, fresh fruit salad with kiwi and mangos and bananas and watermelon. (You could not have a cook out without watermelon.) All the kids would be splashing in the pool, my brothers and I, my cousins Jessica and Kaleb, sometimes cousins Jon and Greg, and later, Rebecca and little India. To this day, grilled chicken ranks among my favorite foods.

¬†We lived only fifteen minutes from the beach, so we went often. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s there was very little environmental awareness connected to global warming and marine conservation. We would go to the Bathtub Beach and swim right out to the reef. When the tide was out it was very easy to access, sometimes you could even wade, you didn’t have to swim. We would climb right up on the reef and explore, searching for marine life and sea urchins, using our little snorkel sets to dip beneath the water and watch the fish and search for sand dollars. Today, this Beach is in danger of being shut down due to the deterioration of the reef. They started implementing a “no walking on the reef” regulation in 1994 as this problem began making itself apparent. I remember this because the very last time we went to the beach right before we left Florida the life guard was shouting for people to get off the reef and I was confused since we had always gone out there for as long as I can remember.

¬†In Florida’s hot, humid climate, knowing how to swim is all but a requirement. I learned at a very early age. I don’t think I can even remember¬†as far back¬†as when¬†I didn’t know how, that’s how young I was when I learned. We might as well have been fish, that’s how much time we spent in the water. My Grandmother’s pool was an in-ground with a 7 foot deep end. I remember being very afraid of the suction cleaning system that rolled along the bottom of the pool when we weren’t using it, sucking up the debris¬†that would fall in. My father had personally landscaped¬†Gramma’s back yard while he was running his landscaping business when I was very little, and he had put in some big palm trees, nice and close to the concrete walkway around the pool. They made for some very nice shade, but they would also drop big round seeds, about twice the size of a marble. The pool system, nick-named “Creepy”, would suck them up when they would sink within reach of its submerged¬†vacuum head. I remember frogs would fall into the pool too, eventually meeting the same fate, being sucked up through Creepy’s long hose and ending up in the filter basket. It was always fascinating to find them, in a gross sort of way, when we would clean the filter.

¬†Sometimes we would jump in the pool before Creepy could be taken out and coiled neatly out-of-the-way. I was always very careful to stay clear of “him”, but my brothers were not afraid of him at all. My older brother would often dive down and grab the vacuum¬†head and chase me with it. It made a horrible, loud sucking noise when it reached the surface and started gulping air, helping to perpetuate its illusion¬†of being alive.¬†I was so terrified, I thought I would be sucked up through the hose and end up swirling in the filter, bloated and lifeless like one of those poor frogs. (I’ve always had a vivid, if rather unrealistic imagination.) I would swim for the nearest edge of the pool and bolt out, sometimes scraping my knees on the rough cement, and scream and cry until my mother or aunt or grandmother would come outside scolding, telling us we needed to take the vacuum out before we got in or we might break it. I would have gladly done this every time if I wasn’t so terrified of Creepy. I couldn’t even bear to touch him.

 Such carefree days those were! The year round warm weather made it seem like summer all year. There was no division of the seasons and time seemed to float by lazily. I was so young, my biggest worry was when lunch would arrive. (All the swimming and out doors play made us very hungry.) Even back then I had very few friends and while my brothers were hanging out with the neighborhood kids, I was hanging out with my mom and Gramma and Aunt Shanny at the bead table in the living room.

¬†Ah, beads! Yet another fond memory and love that carries into my life today. My grandmother and aunt Shannon had their own business, they created unique beaded jewelry and would sell it at the flea market and to area surf shops and high-end¬†consignment stores. Their work was always in demand and my mom would often help. It was a great time for family bonding. Since I was the only girl and my brothers were always off doing their own thing, Gramma, Shanny, and Mom would often let me have my own corner of the big bead table set up in the living room. It was a big formal dining table, completely covered in plastic containers of beads, leaving just enough space for 4 or 5 people to work on a piece of jewelry. There were seed beads and clay beads, trade beads, polished stone beads, round, square, cubical, large, small, shiny, dull. Every kind of bead you could think of in every color of the rainbow. And not just on the table, but in boxes and bins and drawers under the table and around the table. It was an artist’s heaven.

¬†We would spend weekends just sitting and making jewelry. Necklaces, earrings, anklets, bracelets, whatever our creative juices would demand. I would usually have the job of making the coffee, you could not make jewelry with out a cup of coffee to stimulate your creativity, and the older ladies would talk and visit and I was allowed to be right there, feeling all grown up, if I promised not to get too chatty. (I was a very “talk your ear off” kind of kid once I was allowed to get going.) I think most of the jewelry I made was disassembled when I was done, but I remember some pieces were deemed good enough to put on the “sell” rack. I was so proud when this happened, and even prouder when I’d hear the news that one of my creations had¬†sold. To this day, my grandmother and aunt Shannon make beaded jewelry and sell it. They live in Arizona now, and they have a few other irons in the fire in addition to beaded jewelry, but it is still a family passion.

One of my Grandmother's lastest creations for sale online in her Etsy store.

(Feel free to check out my grandmother’s Etsy store, it’s becoming quite popular in the short time she’s had it open, just since early 2010.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/DesertHippie642?ga_search_query=deserthippie642&ga_search_type=seller_usernames 

My aunt Shannon also has an online Etsy store she has been filling with her own line of creations and neat treasures she has picked up from here and there.

 http://www.etsy.com/shop/JunqueyardRoyalty?ref=pr_shop )

¬†All these wonderful memories and more were pulled out and dusted off on mine and Josh’s recent trip to Florida for a much-needed¬†and long-awaited vacation. Granted, we stayed on Fort Walton Beach, and that is a long ways from where I grew up in Stuart on the East Coast, and very different, but it was Florida and it was ocean and beach. It was fantastic! The weather was beautiful the whole time and there were barely any people for the beginning of August. The oil spill in the gulf had scared a lot of vacationers away, but there wasn’t a trace of oil to be seen where we stayed. We left Faith home with her grandmothers and it was just me and him, very carefree and romantic.

¬†I’d never been to the¬†Destin area, and could not believe the scenery. I now know why they call it the Emerald Coast and talk about the sugar white sand. It was so different from¬†what I remember as a kid, yet comfortably familiar. The water was the color of green Listerine. I don’t really know how else to describe it. It was crystal clear, beautiful emerald-green.

Listerine Green!

¬†We were able to do a lot of activities that we hadn’t counted on because our condo came with discount offers and we didn’t have the baby to think about. We were very busy for being on vacation. We went snorkeling and road¬†a giant speed boat called the Seablaster, and we went deep-sea¬†fishing. (Josh caught fish, I did not, but we had loads of fun.) We got sunburned in spite¬†of plenty of sunscreen, and we went sand crabbing¬†well into the night every night. We didn’t do much sleeping because we tried to catch the sunrise on the beach, coffee in hand, almost every morning. It was glorious to be back in the sun and the sand after years of being away. We spent five days there, a rather generous amount of time for a vacation, but it still wasn’t even close to enough. We were like most people I’m sure, spending the whole drive home trying to figure out how we could move there permanently and not be excommunicated by our families. Of course, once we got home and settled back into normal life those thoughts were replaced by reality and common sense.

Destin's Harbour Village from the bay.

¬†Still, on cold days like this, with snow piling up outside my door, I think about Florida and relive the good times. I’m back in the sun with a really nice tan and there is water everywhere I go. Walks on the beach, fishing from the pier, salty ocean air, seagulls, and all the other sweet memories. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll figure out how to make a relocation work. (Not anytime soon, don’t worry.) For now, I’ll just treasure the recollections.

Taken on our deep-sea fishing trip.

Dawn

Brownie (Part 3: Ghosts)

Winter slowly ebbed somewhere around the end of May and June brought the budding of the cottonwoods that grew along Ute Creek. The San Luis Valley is the largest alpine valley in the world. It spans 8,000 square miles and has an average altitude of 7,500 feet. It takes a little while for the warm weather to get established but it can get up to 90 degrees farenheit at midday in the dead of summer. The sun at that altitude is very intense. Even someone like myself with a darker skin tone can get a sunburn in the dead of Winter on a sunny day if you stay unshaded long enough. (My mom used to get sunburned while driving on long trips in the car. The sun streaming through the windshield coupled with the snow reflecting its rays was a stifling combination.)

Brownie was approaching¬†a year old. This milestone did not affect her playful¬†character. She would still chase a string at the drop of a hat, or anything else that moved. One of her favorite past times was pouncing on Sandy’s tail. Our trusty dog was getting older and had long since abandoned the frivolity of puppyhood. His favorite thing to do was lie down close to one of us and quietly listen to¬†conversation or watch the babies play while keeping a safe distance and¬†out from under feet. If somebody happened to look his way he would politely wag his tail for a second, but he wouldn’t even bother to lift his head from his front paws.

Brownie was often crouching behind a wall or the couch, waiting for his tail to move, her eyes fixed intently on it and a devilish gleam¬†could be seen in them as she waited. The moment came, that poor, innocent tail knew not the danger that lurked out of view, and¬†a startled¬†Sandy would jump¬† when she pounced and bit the moving tip. He would get up nervously, sniff her back and she would let out her signature “Purrr?” ever so innocently playing coy at his investigation of her offensive tackle. She’d lick his nose as if to say she was sorry and would not do it again, but as soon as he settled back in to his comfortable spot she would scamper to her hiding¬†place and the whole thing would begin all over. Sometimes she would wait till he was all stretched out, napping peacefully, and she would charge him head on and jump on his¬†face with all fours and claws bared. He was a good sport, he never once snapped at her or got mean, he just looked from her to us with worry in his eyes as if begging us silently to intervene. They were good friends though, many times curled up together for a nap, her head on his paw.¬† They defied the traditional cat/dog stigma.

With Brownie’s¬†physical maturity came the male cats. The prospect of her having kittens was exciting for me, and for my brothers too, because I had promised each of them first pick of the litter. They saw how special Brownie was to me and felt a little left out, I think. They wanted a pet that could be all theirs.

Brownie was more than just a pet for me though. She was my friend, my silent companion who seemed to understand me with almost human perception. She knew how to read my moods. She knew when to be playful and when to curl up next to me quietly when I needed comforting. She was an active part of my imaginary games and she followed me like a puppy where ever I went. She sat next to me when I was studying and purred softly as I read, batting the pages of my book gently as I turned them, as if she was helping me turn each one. She was as adventurous as I was and greeted each new experience and all new surroundings with a head on approach.

We had bought property high up in the Sangre¬†de Cristo¬†mountains while we lived in Stone Wall, but that Summer of 1997 was the first real chance we had to spend time up there and live at 11,000 feet in elevation. We packed up our old Avion, borrowed a truck to pull it, and we tugged that poor old friend to its final¬†resting place at the top of a mountain – literally. It is there to this day, nestled inside the walls of our unfinished log cabin, a den for animals of all kinds. I know this because in 2008 my husband and I made a couple of trips¬†up to our old property to see if it was still there. Sure enough it was, in a sad condition, left for over ten years to the severity of the elements in a place where humans only frequented during the Summer to gather firewood and poach elk illegally. Seeing it so diminished from its former¬†humble glory brought a wave of tears as I stood there with my husband and seven months pregnant with my daughter Skye. The cabin, with all the memories and tears and sweat built into its¬†walls, now lonely and unkept, decaying back into the fir forest that surrounded it, was almost more than I could bear, and yet I am so glad I made the trip to give it the¬†one final goodbye that had been so long in coming. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself….

Ah, that Summer! At the time, I never thought I would look back and wish so desperately for that Summer to return, to go back in time to the beauty and innocence and simplicity of those few short months on “our mountain”. We actually owned a little over five acres, but the remoteness of its location and the lack of human habitation made it seem like so much more. We could hike the rough dirt roads up there for miles in any direction and never see a sign of another person for days at a time. It really was like owning the whole mountain and having it to ourselves.

Pulling our trailer up those steep roads and then placing it among the trees on our property, on a very steep grade, is a story that time won’t allow me to go into. Let me just say that it was an indicator of the immense family effort we would have to under go to fulfill my dad’s life long dream of living out west and building a real log cabin, by hand, just like the pioneers.

Perhaps of all my family, I was the most genuinely enthusiastic about this endeavor because it meant we would finally have the garden and animals and lifestyle my dad had been telling us about. His interests had found an unlikely soil deep in my soul in which to take root and I couldn’t wait to grow things and milk goats and have chickens. Naturally, we couldn’t do all that until we had a place to live.

Even with my excitement about our “pioneering”, the work it took to achieve the desired goal was hard. For machinery¬†we had a chainsaw. Granted, a very big chainsaw, but there was no bulldozer, no crane, only sweat and sheer will. Looking back I am amazed that we accomplished so much with so little and in such a small amount of time. From mid June to the end of September we raised that cabin from foundation to just shy of putting a roof on and closing in the gables. I’m talking about the main frame, none of the inside and finishing work. For man power we had mostly my mother and my older brother who was only fourteen. My dad was still working full-time logging. He was only able to spend the last thirty minutes of daylight sawing down logs for the cabin, the weekend putting them together, and sometimes we’d turn on a flood light powered by generator to do work after dark. That left us to do preparation work while he was gone all day. This included dragging those logs down the mountainside to the building site.

Once again, time does not permit me to go into great detail on the building itself. I will take the liberty of inserting a post here from my mother’s blog that goes into more detail on the construction of the cabin. It is written from her perspective, of course, so for those of you who are unfamiliar with this part of my story, take a moment to read this and you will have a better understanding of what I’m talking about. ( http://itisrighttowrite.wordpress.com/2010/03/23/the-cabin/¬†)¬†I want to paint a picture of the other activities we engaged in while waiting for Dad’s direction and help on the next steps in the building process.

It was not all work, there was some play, especially for me. I usually had charge of watching Noel and Naomi while the others were working on the cabin. I liked this job and since it was a very important one, it worked out well for everyone. I would take the girls down below the building site to a sunny spot where my dad had cut trees, intending to build there first. He later pushed the cabin site further up the hill into the trees and a bit closer to the natural mountain springs that flowed on the edge of our land. (Best water you’ve ever tasted, crystal clear, flowing over a granite gravel bed, pure right from the source.)

I would build little rock houses with Noel while Naomi played contentedly with some bark or sucked her pacifier and watched us. The houses started out very simple, but slowly evolved into rock labyrinths¬†just the right size for a cat. We would spend hours making these “cat hutches” with roofs and doors and windows and then we would shut Brownie inside to explore. For some reason she didn’t think it was as fun as we tried to make her believe and she always made her escape through some tiny hole we had left unconsidered. She would just bully her way through into the open air, scamper off a few feet and then look back as if to laugh and tell us we needed to step up our game. We would improve our construction, put her in again, and she would once more escape. It was great fun and especially entertaining to Noel who was only coming up on two years old.

We also went exploring, the boys and I, when the babies were napping and mom was resting at midday. Not too far off our property we found a cluster of boulders and we built forts and pretended like we were orphans surviving on our own after running away from the orphanage¬† because the bad people were going to separate¬†us. (Don’t ask me where we came up with our ideas, I don’t have a clue.) One day during this type of game we became aware of a multitude of wild mushrooms and fungi growing in the woods and somehow we ended up having a hide-and-seek/ tag/ mushroom war. It had very specific rules that I don’t remember now, but bombing each other was the object of the game and you had to stand still and count to 50 before you could resume playing once you were hit. Your opponent knew you were hit because most of the projectiles left either a brown or yellow smear on your clothes. Mom was not¬†happy when she discovered how we were passing the time. She issued a cease-fire…..permanently.

We went on hikes, we picked wild strawberries and raspberries, we found a stream and went fishing, and all in between building a cabin by hand and other daily living, such as doing laundry with a bucket and washboard and cooking on a wood stove and open fire. At 11,000 feet, where just breathing can be difficult, we were frolicking like deer, having uphill races, and hiking to where it was too high in elevation for trees to grow, and higher. Needless to say, our lungs grew strong, our muscles stronger, and we all lost a lot of weight.

There were plenty of times when my brothers tired of the games I liked to play and I went off by myself with only Brownie for company, wrapped in a world of my own. This was usually ok with me, but every once in a while my feelings were hurt that they didn’t want to play with me, or I was angry about an argument we had. I always took comfort in Brownie. I knew she was always there for me and didn’t think my ideas were stupid.

About a couple of weeks¬†after moving up to the mountain, Brownie gave birth to kittens. I had always wanted to witness this miracle¬†of birth and I knew it was animal nature to go off in the middle of the night and quietly bring their young into the world away from prying eyes. As Brownie got bigger and it became very obvious that she was due any day, I became nervous that I would miss this important milestone. She was always off hunting or exploring and it would have been very easy for her to slip away to some secret hiding place and let nature take its course. My mom prepared me for this disappointment by reminding me that it was very likely to happen. All the same, I always tried to follow her and keep an eye out to make sure she wasn’t going too far, but it was impossible to keep track of her.

One morning I woke up and she wasn’t her usual energetic self. She just layed at the foot of my bed, only going out briefly to use the bathroom before coming back to meow at the trailer door. She seemed tired and wanted to stay curled in a ball and sleep. Somewhere around noon it became apparent that her time had come and I can’t even describe the excitement I felt that I would be able to be present for this event. I marvelled that she had chosen, of all places, my bed. It was wide open, in the middle of the traffic zone, between the living area and the bathroom, and not at all a quiet or secluded place. However, she seemed not only comfortable, but insistent that she stay right there, so we made her a nest of old¬†towels and let her be.¬†I stayed by her side, like a sympathetic mother, and as I gently stroked her head she would pause between contractions to lick my hand. She was perfectly content to have me close and touch her. She seemed calmed by my presence.

By evening, there were three little babies and a very proud mother purring contentedly over her new family. I was thrilled, there was one for each of my brothers and one for me. My joy was short-lived, however, the little boy kitten didn’t make it through the night. I had promised my brothers first pick, and while I was a little disappointed that I would not have a new little charge, I had Brownie and that was fine with me. I was sad for the little one that didn’t make it though, he was orange and his two sisters were brown tabby, like their mother. They looked almost identical with only a streak of white on one’s face to distinguish them. My brothers named them Kiki and Kitten and they soon became just another part of the family.

With two little mouths to feed, Brownie went into hunting over drive. Small game was plentiful up there on the mountain and after several days of watching her bring in her catches I started keeping a journal of all the little critters I saw her bring home. There is really no telling how many she caught that I wasn’t able to see, but the list I had by the end of the summer averaged one or two different animals a day and included mice, chipmunks, shrews, birds, and even snowshoe hares. She was a regular lioness, taking it upon herself to feed the whole family. Perhaps she thought we were going to eat them too!

Those days flew by surprisingly quickly. As the cold crept up on us we hurried to finish the cabin to the point where we could winter in it, but it just was not to be. As the heavy frosts came and then snow, we realized we had better move back down to the valley before we got snowed in completely and found ourselves unprepared to deal with months of waist-deep snow and no supplies.

We found that the trailer we had wintered in the year before was rented, but just down the street Karen had another mobile home for rent. This one was a double wide, a three bedroom with more space than the first. We moved in just as Winter’s full fury hit us with a two-day¬†snow storm. A storm of a different kind hit us too. Every single one of us came down with a horrible flu, from Dad all the way to little Naomi who was just about to turn a year old. The babies got it first and we thought it was their teeth coming in, but as it hit¬†Mom, my brothers, and finally me, all we could do¬†was lay around in a decrepit state. The strongest person of the hour would drag themselves from one person to another administering cool, wet¬†clothes, emptying bowls, and bringing sips of water until they were too weak to continue and then somebody else would take a turn. It was dreadful. It lasted for several weeks, cycling through each of us and leaving us even thinner than we already were. Just as we started getting back to normal another sickness hit, this time the kittens.

It started as something mild, a little drop in energy, but then it quickly turned to listlessness and not eating, and finally dry heaving. We were not set up to pay veterinary¬†bills, we weren’t even set up to pay human bills, so to this day I’m not sure what exactly it was, but I suspect distemper. About a day before the kittens succumbed to their illness, I let Brownie out for a while and she never returned. It wasn’t like her to stay out all night, but I thought since the kittens were about five months old, maybe she had gone into heat again and she would be back in the morning. All the morning brought was a worsening in the kittens’ condition and later that evening they died, first Kitten and then Kiki. We were all heart-broken, we cried, but I had an even deeper pain inside and I frantically pushed it down, way, way down, where it could not choke me so badly.

Even as we buried the kittens together in a shoebox under the cottonwood tree out back, I held out hope that Brownie would return. Days went by, and then weeks. My mom had long since told me Brownie had probably been sick and gone off to die. I tried to face this realization, I tried to be brave, especially in light of the fact that my brothers had also lost their little friends. I cried several nights but I prayed hard that it wouldn’t be true, that she would just come back.

I know now that I was dismissing the inevitable, that I just didn’t want to face my fear and loss, but I got this notion in my head that Brownie had loved the mountain and had gone back up there to hunt and wait for us next summer. The movie “Homeward Bound” replayed in my head and I made myself believe that this must be true. I kept these things to myself lest I be laughed at by my brothers or even worse, told it wasn’t true. I prayed every night that she would be safe up there and I bargained with God that if He would just let me have her back I would do anything¬†He wanted. I missed her terribly. I missed her silly antics, her funny questioning purr, her companionship and comfort – I missed my friend. I was approaching those awkward teenage years that seem to magnify the littlest problems and nobody understood me. We found out my mom was pregnant with baby number six and my dad had to break from logging because of the weather and take a job trucking over the road. Many times he would take my mom and keeping the household running was pretty much my responsibility while she was away for two-day trips. I felt lonely and wanted so badly for Brownie to be there.

I remember¬†the day we finally got to go back up to the mountain. I think it was July before we were able to make it up there since my mom gave birth to Nevada in mid June, the usual date by which the snows were melted enough to make the roads passable up there. I remember¬†getting out of the car in the cul-de-sac¬†at the end of our road and running off to the boulders that lined the edge of the hill. It was a place where we had constructed¬†cat hutches¬†the Summer before¬†and where Brownie and I had played by ourselves. I waited for the rest of the family to head up the slope to assess the condition of the cabin and see how it had wintered, then I called, “Kitty, kitty, kitty,….” quietly at first, then a bit louder. I waited for Brownie to appear, praying with all my might, calling her again and again. Of course she never came. After about fifteen minutes I stopped calling and just looked around at the world we had shared so closely that summer a year ago. There was an ache in my chest that had been shoved down for a whole Winter and now it slowly floated to the surface where I could feel it, pounding against my ribcage and tightly gripping my throat. I heard my mom calling my name to come help out with something and I turned away, knowing I could not say what I had been doing since everyone had long since thought I was at peace with the truth of the matter, that Brownie had died last Winter and wasn’t coming back. I knew it now, but I was far from at peace with it.

That Summer of 1997 was really¬†the last one of my childhood. Caring for my sisters had a way of making me grow up and mature quickly with responsibilities. The loss of my friend only added to the reality of growing up. It was my first hard lesson. I learned that no matter how hard you wish for something, it doesn’t always mean it will come true. I also learned that it is the ones we love the most that have the capacity to bring the greatest pain.

We never did find the time to finish the cabin or fulfill the dream of living simply, like pioneers. Not in Colorado, anyway. In the beginning of July,1999, we moved to Kentucky…. but that is a story in itself.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

As I mentioned before, I revisited many of my old haunts in 2008 with my husband while pregnant with my first child. I had done a short four months in Colorado on my own in 2005, but had never ventured over the La Vita pass, and certainly had not gone to visit the cabin. When my husband and I had our restaurant in Colorado, we somehow found time to make this important journey a couple of times. I say important because my husband knew very little about my life growing up and it was so unique that I found it frustrating to try to explain. As we drove the same roads I had driven ten years before and I pointed out all the places of interest, all the memories came flooding back to me. I was a little girl again, ten and eleven years old, looking at this new and exciting world through fresh, innocent eyes. My daddy was my hero, life was an adventure, and there was nothing that hope and dreams could not overcome.

As we stepped out of the car onto the cul-de-sac, I looked off into trees that rose up next to the stream and I could almost see Brownie scampering out of the vegetation¬†with her latest kill proudly in her jaws. As we climbed the short distance to the cabin, my little reverie slowly vanished like smoke on the breeze. Our pride and the object of our love and toil stood with ten years of age in the severest of weather conditions. The walls stood, as they probably will for another ten years and more thanks to my dad’s hearty use of oversized logs and re-bar, but the floor was mostly unsafe to walk on, the trailer enclosed inside was a shambles, it’s carpet and upholstery¬†ruined with dirt and animal droppings, clearly a den for porcupines or even a mountain lion. Any human belongings had long since been torn up for mouse nests, cabinets scavenged for any remnants of food, everything was just a mess.

¬†I didn’t take pictures as I had planned. Maybe I forgot, but more likely I could not bring myself¬†to capture our once mighty fortress, now brought to its knees¬†by the elements and time, in such a permanent manner. I preferred to picture it the way it¬†is in my memory, along with that happy summer and my friend Brownie. I did, however, take pictures of the prints¬†we had put in the cement “chinking” between the logs. They remain to this day as a testimony to our love and hard work. They are personal messages from each of the ones who labored there, every day for a whole summer, even my little sisters have their part in the memorial. Noel’s chubby little hand print and Naomi’s foot print are engraved there along with my mother’s and brothers’ etchings, right next to mine. Only my dad does not have something written in that cement, but his finger prints are all over that five acres. From the trees he cut there are stumps, now weathered gray and awaiting their sentence of slow decomposition. There is a hollow etched deep into the earth where we began to construct a root cellar. There is a trench about seventy feet long that ends in a deep, dry depression where a little reservoir¬†once offered us clear, cold water much closer to our cabin than the springs originally were. Silt has plugged the mouth of the trench, drying up this life line to our little pool and leaving the springs to flow in their original paths uninterrupted once more. And of course, there is the cabin itself, a slowly decaying testimony to one man’s dream and the sheer¬†strength of the human will.

As I stood up there on that property that day in 2008, Josh and I talked about buying it back from whoever owned it and finishing the cabin, but I knew deep inside that it was just a nice thought. It was neither monetarily feasible nor practical to build on this one of a kind structure, drawn up in the unique mind of my father. No, this dream had died a long time ago.

That was the last time I would see the ghosts of my childhood, we left Colorado shortly after that to come back to Kentucky. I am so glad I went up there though. Even though it was painful and I cried, I got some kind of closure that I had needed. Looking at all those memories, one by one, but through the eyes of a grown up me and in retrospect, I could find a smile even in the pain. I could find joy in thoughts of my first dear friend. I realized I still missed her and always would. She could never be replaced and I would never try. She will forever remain in my heart the Brownie of  the last years of my childhood, along with the ghosts of that Summer, 1997.