Family is where it’s at!

This is a post I wrote back in the summer of 2017.  I do really feel so lucky in my family … and we are prepping for another family gathering when Drew gets married next month.


I’ve spent the last few weeks with extended family and I’m reminded yet again how fortunate I have been when it comes to family. My parents have been empty nesters for at least a couple of decades, yet their home is almost always hosting one of their kids coming home to visit. This past week all of us came home for a family reunion. It is almost funny to call it that because we see each other so frequently. A few weeks earlier the majority of the extended family gathered to welcome home my nephew, Drew, who just completed a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paraguay. A few weeks before that, my sister came to Denver for a visit and we again gathered together to have a BBQ. My point being that we really don’t need an official event to spend time together. Anyway, we all arrived and the festivities began. There are enough bedrooms for all my parents’ children and spouses to have one. The grandkids were housed in tents on the back lawn. The one married grandkid got the pullout couch… what will we do when the next one marries?? Mostly our reunion included lots of sitting around with ice cream and visiting. One day we had a giant blowup water slide delivered and the kids had a great time. Even the adults took their turns. One day was the state celebration of Pioneer Day, so we watched the parade and some of the runners in the family ran the “milk run” (and dominated the medal winning!). The older teenagers organized relay races for the younger cousins (though the adults got in on the action as well). A couple of evenings we shared stories from family history about great great great grandparents. What is so amazing to me is that all five of us kids and our families really like being with each other. While we are all different and have varied experiences, we get along well and look forward to spending time together. It feel great to be part of such a safe and welcoming group.
This past weekend my kids and I went camping with Tom’s extended family. Tom is the youngest of six kids and his extended family is more extensive and multigenerational. But each of his siblings had some representation at the camp and it was so enjoyable to watch cousins catch up with each other. There were many fierce volleyball matches and a straggling hike up a nearby peak – it was great to see the long line of kids and teenagers and new parents and even us older campers struggling up the path. Andrew got to join us for the weekend and it was gratifying to see the positive changes that he has made. Mostly I was so grateful that even though Tom is gone, his brothers and sisters still include me as one of the family and want us to be part of the family gatherings. I know Tom is so pleased that they have taken such good care of us in his place.
I know there are many who don’t enjoy positive family relationships and I feel blessed with an abundance.

17. April 2018 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Family | Tags: | 1 comment

I’m Back?

I didn’t mean to stop blogging … I just stopped having things I wanted to write about.  In truth, I stopped wanting to write, full stop.  Which was a bit of an identity crisis.  I have wanted to write almost as long as I can remember.  It has been part of my identity – I read and I write (though most of my writing is personal – journaling and personal study).  But the last year or so I haven’t been that person.  I’ve found it difficult to find and settle into books.  I haven’t written much at all, apart from my “letters” to Tom.  I threw myself into DIY projects around my home but even that has lost its attraction (maybe it was trying to tile a shower in the middle of Christmas festivities??).  It’s such a weird place to be in.  Does everyone go through an identity crisis?  I’m not sure I’d call it a crisis, per se.  But when Tom died suddenly the future was unmapped and it has stayed that way.  Before, the future was this combined vision made up of things we both wanted and things that were just a natural result of the life we had built together.  But now it’s just made up of my preferences and dreams – but I’m not used to thinking of those terms, so even figuring out what those are has been tricky.

What have I been doing?  Making pottery, going to lunch with friends, being the mom, helping my kids make contact with their biological family, trying to re-establish a house cleaning routine (really, without another adult in the house to notice the inch of dust it is very easy to ignore!) … nothing too exciting.  I guess I’m still kind of floundering around trying to figure out where I should go next.  But I think blogging should be a part of that.

16. April 2018 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | 5 comments

New Drivers

I entered the world of having a new teenage driver again this year.  Somehow when I went through this with Spencer it didn’t seem as intense.  Maybe it is because my mom took him out on his first driving experiences – and Tom & I shared the driving time he had to complete (50 hours) before he could get his license.

This time around it is just me and Haley in the car together.  She has gotten so much more confident and competent in the last few months, but for a little while I wasn’t sure that was going to happen!!  I took her a couple of times to a very large, empty parking lot where she was afraid to go faster than 5 miles a hour, struggled to park between the lines of the parking spots when there were no other cars anywhere, and where she even managed to drive up onto on of the “islands”.  I didn’t think we would ever get out on the roads.

Fortunately a trip to Utah arrived and my mom was on hand again to take one of my children out to drive on actual rural roads (I did not ride along!).  Since then Haley has mastered driving around our neighborhood, our community, even the freeways near our home.  She isn’t paralyzed any more by the idea of going faster than 45 miles an hour! It’s kind of fun to watch her acquiring this adult skill and begin to grasp the wider world that is opening up to her.

I’ve thought a lot about my “learning to drive” experiences and how they compare to Haley’s  experience.  She did a 30 hour online course in preparation for getting her permit.  My parents sent me to driving school where I spent the equivalent hours in a classroom.  Once Haley had her permit, I (and my mom) have been teaching her to drive.  I had three or four lessons with a driving instructor and on the last lesson the instructor took me to the DMV to get my license.  Total time from first classroom lesson to license for me?  About 2 months.   Haley has to spend 50 hours (10 hours of night time driving) before she can get her license – and she has to hold a permit for a year before she can trade it in for that license.

I had an accident within a couple of months of getting my license – I hit a parked car (it was such a mortifying experience!!).  Spencer (who also had the same restrictions Haley has) had an accident within the first couple of years – he backed into a car in a parking lot.  Will Haley avoid the new driver accident?  I think the extra time can’t hurt, but it takes years before people become really competent drivers – you just need the experience.

The other thing  about my experience – I learned to drive in a car with automatic transmission but the car that was available to drive in my home had a standard transmission.  I had to learn to drive stick shift if I wanted to use my new privilege.  In fact, the majority of the cars I have owned and driven have been stick shift.  The first car we bought with an automatic transmission  was our first mini-van.  The second was our second mini-van.  Everything else had a stick shift.  I still prefer to drive stick shift just because the driving experience feels more interesting to me.  Spencer had to learn to drive stick shift for basically the same reasons I did – that was the car that was available to drive.  Haley will probably have to do the same and learn to drive the Pathfinder, since our minivan is our newer, more reliable car and I’m reluctant to risk it in an accident.  I think learning to drive stick shift is a valuable skill – but really, how many cars are still sold with standard transmission?  Is it a dying skill?  I wonder…

22. June 2017 by tjsjohanna
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Faithful Self Talk

I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know about the concept of “positive self talk”.  It’s that thing where you tell yourself positive things about yourself – “I am capable”, “I can do hard things”, etc.  I can’t say that I have ever really put this in practice, but I think it is because I don’t have a whole lot of negative self talk going on (how is that for being humble??) except maybe in the area of motherhood.

Last night, when I woke up at 2am and was trying to go back to sleep, I found my thoughts wandering to the whole grieving process and what had been my most successful coping mechanism.  It came with its own label – “faithful self talk”.  It was such an epiphany, I almost turned the light on and started writing.  But sleep quickly ruled that idea out (yay!)

So, “faithful self talk” is just what it sounds like.  I have found myself re-framing my experiences through the lens of faith in God.  One of the thoughts I had early on was, “you were so terrible at learning this lesson, that God had to take Tom in order to force you to do it.”  I found myself countering with thoughts like, “death is part of mortality – Tom’s death isn’t some life lesson – it’s just life.  But you can let God make it something good in your life if you will be humble and teachable”.  When I was feeling sorry for myself and my changed circumstances, it wouldn’t be long before I would be reminding myself, “think of all the people in this world who have such great trials and challenges – what makes you immune to that?  It’s part of why we are here on the earth.”  Instead of trying to mask my sorrow with explanations, I tried to just be sad – recognizing that it is so hard to be separated from those you love, that this is part of love.  When I felt particularly lonely, I reminded myself to turn to God, to trust that He knew how I was feeling and that He would find ways to offer comfort.  I have gotten good at heading off those negative avenues and reminding myself of gospel truths that put my experiences into perspective.  Along the way I have discovered that there is real happiness and joy in seeing the world in this way.

I will make one comment – it’s called faithful SELF talk for a reason.  I don’t think it would have been helpful at all for someone else to tell me these things.  The few times when people offered such commentary, I felt like they were ignoring the very real pain I was experiencing.  This is not a tool for making someone feel better.  It is a tool for me to turn to God, to use the truths of His gospel to bring me peace and happiness in the midst of sorrow.  When people we know and love are suffering, we need to be there to cry with them, to love them without advice, to serve them in ways that lessen the burden a bit.

I think it would be much harder to do “faithful self talk” if I didn’t have a firm understanding and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have a greater understanding of the parable of the 10 virgins – I didn’t really think about what I was doing all those years that I have attended church and read scripture and prayed.  But when my world changed so irrevocably, all those “drops of oil” were there, just waiting to light my way through the darkness of grief.  When Satan threw his harmful thoughts at me, I had faithful answers that reminded me of truth.  I also spent a few weeks searching the scriptures for verses that helped me make sense of my situation.  If you think it might be helpful, you can download my personal Grief Study Guide.

I learned to do this during the intense, emotional experience of losing a spouse, but now that I know how to do it, I have found “faithful self talk” a valuable tool for all the challenges I face.  I finally feel like I am learning how to “cast my burden on the Lord” (Psalm 55:22) and find rest (Matt 11:28-30).

12. May 2017 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , | 2 comments

Cleaning tip

So about two years ago I had the master bathroom remodeled.  You might remember?  The old shower door (and probably the existing tile too, though it wasn’t clear) looked like this-

(Not my actual door because I wouldn’t want a picture like this normally!)

Periodically I would try to scrub it clean with various promising products and then with plain old comet.  But it mostly looked like this.  

I had the master bathroom re-done because we had some water leakage from the shower.  I love the look of clear glass, frameless shower doors, so that’s what I had installed.  When everything was demo-ed, it looked like the leaking water was coming from cracks in the grout.  So when the new shower was installed, I was a little paranoid.  I double sealed the grout in the penny tile floor.  Once I started using the shower, I used my squeegee to clean not only the glass doors, but also the floor of the shower.  I didn’t want water pooling and causing problems.  I also started using my towel to wipe off the water drops left after squeegeeing the glass.  Fast forward to today.  This is what my shower looks like-

I’ve used a cleaning product on the shower floor once.  I’ve never used one on the doors.  They still look pretty much brand new.  I did discover that it helps to rinse off the whole shower in really hot water just before I get out.  I’ve gotten quicker with the squeegee because I know I can wipe up the sloppy parts.  It does take discipline, because who wants to stand in the shower after turning off the water??  But this totally beats trying to remove hard water spots.  And I’m happy to report that there have been no water leaks!

So maybe a silly post, but this really works!

29. March 2017 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Home Improvement | Tags: | Leave a comment

March already??

How did February get by me??  Well, actually I know the answer to that.  I’ve been up to my neck in DIY projects – painting, installing new baseboards, painting, changing out electrical plugs & switches (and pinning down the puzzle that is my breaker box), painting, decluttering, oh and did I mention painting?!?  Good thing I’m a believer in pan liners and throw away rollers – it’s bad enough that I have to clean out my brushes (I experimented with cheap brushes, but you can never paint a nice, clean edge with them).  There is still more painting to go – but nothing big.  There’s the half bath and trim around the doors and banisters – but  it’s all fiddly work that will take a lot of time and won’t give me much visual bang for my buck…  much like my current project of putting my rooms back together.  It took me most of a morning to just hang blinds and curtain rods.  Why does it take so long??  Still, things are coming together and doing projects like these is good for me.  I’m a little obsessive about how things look – I like things put away and orderly.  I can live with a mess, but not for very long.  So, when all I really want to do is go read a book, I pick up the drill or paintbrush instead and at the end of the day I feel better.  Plus, this mess isn’t going away for awhile so even if I wanted to stop, I can’t really.  I know I signed myself up for this craziness but really, it feels better than last year when I was battling depression and really didn’t want to do anything besides read.  I’m lucky I have good friends who kept me socializing.

Today as I was walking in the green belt I got to thinking about grief and grieving.  I have felt remarkably better in the past few months and it has made me try to figure out what has changed.  2014, after Tom died, was mostly just me in shock and trying to get through each day the best I could.  I did a lot of crying and talking and being constantly surprised at what grieving had to offer (like strange physical ailments and lack of appetite, and a kind of mental fog).  2015 was better in that the intense grieving came in waves of greater and greater intervals.  I dealt with a lot of personal stress. Some of it was  difficult like making the decision to have Andrew enter a residential treatment program.  Some of it was happy like helping Spencer and Kayla get married.  I’m really good in stressful situations.  I function well and my emotions stay in check.  But afterwards … when I was in college I always got deathly ill after finals.  Now I tend to fall into depression.  I have better tools than I used to, but 2016 was a really long bout of low level depression.  I kept telling myself things were going to get better – spring was coming – there’d be more sunshine and a break from early morning seminary, etc. etc.  But man, did the depression hang on.  Things started looking up this past fall, for which I’ve been so grateful.

Still, I think grieving is a funny thing.  It feels SOOO bad.  Seriously, I had no idea I could feel that bad – so bad that my body felt bad.  I had random weird stuff happen – a sudden bout of vertigo and an attack of what felt like food poisoning (but was really just an emotional reaction).  Even day to day, my appetite changed and foods tasted weird and I had no energy to do anything.  And what do we do when we feel bad? We try to fix it or distract from it or replace it.  The thing I realized really early on was that there was no fixing this.  The thing I wanted most (having Tom back) was not happening, no matter how very much I longed for it.  That was actually a freeing realization – there wasn’t anything I could do so there was no responsibility to do anything except just feel the feelings (which isn’t a picnic).  I have done my fair share of distraction – my drug of choice is reading and the more escapist the better.  But really, I can’t realistically read more now than I did before Tom passed away.  I have always used books to escape from the hard stuff for a little while, at least.  Replacing grief – that is one way of coping that is very common.  I admit, there is a big part of me that would like to jump back into the marriage pool.  I miss the companionship and the intimacy and the bigger world that comes with being a partner in a marriage.  But I’m glad that my practical side has held sway as long as it has.  I can just imagine what a second marriage would look like if I were still trying to cope with the depression I had last year.  I wasn’t in any shape to begin the work of a new relationship.  Still, there’s something to be said for finding someone who can help you work through all the emotions that grief creates.  It’s been some lonely work here.  On the upside, my ability to trust and have faith in Heavenly Father has grown by leaps and bounds.  I honestly had begun to wonder if I would really ever understand how to do that … but I have learned it over the past two and a half years, and it is a great blessing in my life.  I feel a lot less worry than I used to.  So, that’s the grief update – and maybe the last one.  Missing Tom is always going to be part of me but lately I’ve felt more at peace about that.  I’m confident that in the next life we will be reunited, and in the meantime, we both have work to do and life to live.  I’m sure there will be days when I need a good cry, but mostly life is good.

So, I’ll try and do a blog update on the diy stuff – maybe at the end of the week.  I’d like to post some pictures now that things are starting to get put back together.  Some things are waiting  on having the wood floors refinished – but I don’t want to do that until I’ve got all the painting done, so it’ll be a little while before I get there.  Still, it’s nice to see things looking cared for again.

01. March 2017 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog, Home Improvement | Tags: , , | 2 comments

Late nights

Back when my kids were younger I learned the joys of putting them to bed and then having a few blessed, quiet hours in the evening to myself (well, mostly to myself – I did share my room & bed with Tom after all).  Some days it was the only thing that kept me sane – waiting for bed time to arrive so I could be done with the difficult parenting gig for another day.  My craving for quiet, kid-free time was so great, that it warred with (and sometimes was victorious over) my need for sleep.  In fact, there were many nights when the only reason I turned out my light at a decent hour was because I was keeping Tom awake.  On those rare occasions when he was out of town, I habitually stayed up into the wee hours of the morning.

When Tom died, I worried about sleep.  Everything I read about grieving mentioned how difficult sleep was to come by.  There was the whole empty side of the bed thing.  There was the quiet vacuum into which grief and worry would rush in when all the distractions of the day ceased.  I was lucky.  Sleep did not abandon me.  Many nights I felt like going to bed was the one time of the day when I could imagine being with Tom again, which was strangely comforting.  But mostly I craved the oblivion of unconsciousness and sleep never disappointed.

But, while I haven’t struggled with insomnia, I have struggled with bad habits.  I get started with a good book and I think I’ll just read one more chapter and then it’s four in the morning and I’m kicking myself.  With no one else in the bed, I don’t have the pressure to turn the light off.  And I wish I could say it is just reading – there are an infinite number of time sinks – last night I tumbled down the rabbit hole of family history research.  “Just one more name to add, just one more record to check … oh yeah, you  have to get up in four hours to go teach seminary!” (face palm)

This morning I dragged myself out of bed with promises that I could definitely climb back under the covers just as soon as seminary was over.  It was the only thing that got me going – that lure of more sleep.  Now I’m home but the list of things I want to do today means I won’t be going back to bed – at least not this morning.  Talk to me this afternoon – unless I get dragged back into English census records and parish marriage registers!

(Want to do your own family history research?  Check out for free records searching  …  and if you have family from England or Australia I can help you get acquainted with the records available if you want a little personal tutoring.)

11. January 2017 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , | 2 comments

Christmas Memories

Many of my 48 Christmas celebrations have passed with little to make them stand out – but this year will be one I remember, because it is the first since Tom died where I feel a genuine sense of peace and even joy.  There have been no complicating bouts of intense grief, but only grateful memories of our life together and gratitude for the life that I still have.  But it got me thinking about some of the memorable Christmas days of my life.

The first real memories I have of Christmas come when I was ten or eleven.  We were living in Monterey, California and we had a new baby in the family.  We were all so thrilled that Alex had joined our family and we all fought to be the one to hold him, to play with him, to show him off. I remember how exciting it was to arrive in Utah with this exciting baby to share with our grandparents.  It may have been the same year, or maybe the next, but I remember I received a pair of overalls that my mother had made and embroidered with a rainbow – I LOVED those overalls and biked up to my best friend’s house to show them off in the hour or so we had before our family packed up our truck to head to Utah.

Another Christmas from my childhood that stands out in my memory is one we spent in Topsham, Maine.  For once there was snow on the ground and another baby in the family.  Together with another family in our church congregation we had a Christmas Eve program with a live nativity – all of us children dressed up and taking parts, with my youngest brother as the baby Jesus.  It was a singular experience in our family to act out the Christmas story and even my teenager self felt some stirrings of the Spirit and the wonderful gift of our Savior’s birth.

There was the Christmas in San Diego when my next youngest brother, Travis, woke all of us up WAY too early in the morning and we huddled around in his darkened room, waiting for the hour when our parents would FINALLY let us get up – Dad going first to turn on the Christmas lights and ready his camera.  I remember all the Christmas wrappings going up in flames in our fireplace, followed a few days later by the dying Christmas tree!!

My first Christmas away from home was spent in St. Sebastian de los Reyes, Spain.  I was a missionary for my church and I was sharing a small apartment with two other American women.  There was a Christmas party with the all the missionaries in the mission a few days before – we got a chance to meet up with friends from the various areas we had served in, sang carols and picked up packages from family, and were challenged to remember why we were serving as missionaries and to keep our focus on the message of the Savior that we were sharing.  The night before, the two Elders in our district had joined us (they staying out in the hall to follow the rules) to exchange goodies and a couple of carols.  On Christmas morning we opened our packages from home and then were invited to spend the day with an American family living in the area.  I think we got to call home and visit with family – but international telephone calls were so expensive in those days, that the call was surely brief and I don’t remember it.

Two years later I spent my last Christmas with my family as an unmarried child.  I was determined to have this last Christmas with them before everything changed.  We had a close friend and neighbor join us for Christmas Eve festivities and there were musical numbers performed.  My dad filmed the evening and we have had a lot of fun watching our younger selves.  What I remember most is that my fiance was not pleased that I was in San Diego, California and we were getting married in Salt Lake City, Utah two days later and he was worried that something would happen!!  But traveling on Christmas day was practically a tradition in our family – after all the present opening was finished, we piled into our cars and headed eastwards.  I was sick the next day (another worry for Tom!) and on the 27th he was so relieved when I showed up to the wedding breakfast healthy and happy to be there.

Our second Christmas as a married couple will always be a special one because it was the day we discovered we were going to be parents.  I had my suspicions, so we decided we would do “the test” on Christmas morning.  It was a big gamble, looking back, because we had been trying to have a baby for over a year and it would have been such a disappointing day if the test came back negative.  But I was pretty sure and we must have been anxious about it because we woke up early (4:30 or 5:00am) and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Finally I got up and did the test and there was the positive indicator!  We were so excited and awed and in disbelief.  Of course we couldn’t go back to sleep so we just laid in bed and talked and planned and laughed.  And then … we kept it a secret.  I look at pictures of that morning and I can see how happy we were and how we looked like we had this amazing secret.  But it was kind of cool to have this special thing just between the two of us.  It still ranks as the best Christmas gift I have ever received.

Our first Christmas as a family of five was pretty exciting as well.  I made new Christmas stockings for the family – the kids requested giant size stockings and got to pick out their own fabrics.  For once Tom and I felt the stress of Christmas Eve preparations – stuffing stockings, finishing up gift wrapping and setting everything out under the tree – it was all such a bigger production than we had ever had before – but it was also so fulfilling to finally have a full mantle of stockings and to feel like our family was finally starting to feel the way we had imagined when we first got married.

One more memory – the year we decided to change up our Christmas day traditions and introduced a bit of torture to the game.  Tom felt like Christmas was practically over by 7am and wanted to mix things up a bit.  So together we came up with a new routine.  When the kids got up we opened Santa gifts and stockings – and then we made them all come to breakfast.  Tom always made something yummy for breakfast and we all got into the act, helping make juice and rolls and whatever tasks he gave us as his sou chefs.  Then we told the kids to go get dressed.  And then we told them we were going to the movies.  They were a little appalled that there were still gifts to be opened and we were LEAVING THE HOUSE but they got over it!  And thus the Christmas day movie tradition was born in our home.  After the movie we returned to our home and took turns opening all the family gifts.  It was the perfect new tradition that made our family feel more united and gave us great memories to look back on.

Christmas looks different now – this year it was just Haley and I at home.  Spencer and Kayla are making their own family Christmas memories.  Andrew is spending his second Christmas away from home.  I’m sure in the coming years, things will continue to change and there will be new special Christmases to remember.  And one common gift of each year will be the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose birth and life and death can change our lives and bring peace in times of sorrow and meaning and joy at all times.  How grateful I am that every year I have the chance to celebrate and worship the gift of God’s only begotten Son to the world.

27. December 2016 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Family | Tags: , , , | 3 comments

All the latest

I’ve been sick for two weeks exactly today.  It has not been fun… tonight I feel like I’m at my breaking point – I just want Tom to put his arms around me in a great big hug and pat my head and tell me it’s going to be o.k. and I will actually get better soon.  And then he can do all the errands and take care of running Haley to her concert and make food and be the parent. I don’t usually indulge in this kind of thinking because, well, what good does it do except to make things worse??  I’ve been stoically dealing with the cough and the blocked sinuses and the sleepless nights, all the while reminding myself that this too shall pass.  But seriously??  Just sick of it already.

It’s been a busy fall.  I’m teaching seminary again (early morning scripture study class for the youth in my church) and we are studying the New Testament this year.  It has been great to go through the gospels again and to take my class on the journey with me. I have a partner this year, which has been nice – I’ve had to prepare only half the lessons, which is excellent!!  Today was our last day of the semester and I’m pleased to report that all my kiddos passed their assessment first time around this year.  Last year half the class failed the first assessment.  Hopefully that means I’m getting better as a teacher.  I think it helps that most kids are more familiar with the New Testament than with the Old Testament.  Whatever!  It was exciting for me anyway.   My class this year is mixed – Freshmen through Seniors.  It has been an interesting change and I’ve enjoyed the differing perspectives.

In October Spencer, Kayla, Haley, and I went to Universal Studios, Florida for fall break.  We are all Harry Potter fans (some of us more obsessive than others – I think Kayla and I fall into this category) so we were excited to go visit the magical world of Harry Potter.  It was a very quick trip – we spent two days in the park and then went home.  We stayed at one of the Universal Studio hotels so all our transportation was taken care of and we got to go into the park early both days.  Now is the time when I would be inserting pictures to make you all jealous – but I took exactly one picture of Hogsmeade and there isn’t even any family in it and that is just boring.  The first morning we wandered all over Diagon Alley and it really was like being in the books – all the shops felt like shops that would be in the books – even the packaging was uniquely Harry Potter.  I think my favorite part was Knockturn Alley – it felt really immersive, for some reason.  Weasleys Wizard Wheezes was pretty cool as well – I was tempted to get a Skiving Snackbox.  Hogsmeade is a bit smaller, although I loved the Owl post office!  However, I met my match in the dragon roller coaster ride.  The ride was really fun but it totally played havoc with equilibrium.  I was motionsick for a good 30 minutes – maybe more.  I avoided most of the big rides after that, which was a bummer.  Both days we ate in Harry Potter World which was a lot of fun.  We ate once at the Three Broomsticks and once at the Leaky Cauldron – and we had more than our fair share of butterbeers.  I don’t even like soda, but I liked the butterbeer.  Apart from Harry Potter World, my favorite rides were the water rides – Jurassic Park, Dudley Do Right, and a white water rafting ride.  We got completely soaked both days and traveled home with wet clothes in our bags.  It was a lot of fun to have a family vacation – the last one we took was in 2008.

We spent Thanksgiving with family at my parents’ home in Utah.  We are getting too big to fit comfortably in their home!!  There are six rooms with doors that serve as bedrooms (aside from the master bedroom) so if we all go home at the same time, there are six married couples (I still get counted in this group) and we all get rooms.  But there are kids too – two of my siblings have four kids and the rest of us have three.  It was crowded!!  My dad set up two tents in the basement – one for the boys and one for the girls.  The three teenage girls slept on the couches in the basement – needless to say there wasn’t a lot of quality sleeping going on among the kiddos.  Still, we love being together!  Andrew is back on level 2 so he was eligible for off-site visits.  He wanted to come stay for the weekend, but we didn’t think it would be safe for him to be around all the kids, so he came to the house for Thanksgiving dinner.  The next day I went and got him and the two of us spent the day hanging out – we went to a local museum, took family pictures, had lunch, and then went to see the new “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (excellent movie – I highly recommend it!!).  The third day he and I rode up to Provo and got to see some of Tom’s family which was really nice.  Although I was glad to see Andrew, the whole weekend ended up being a lot more stressful than I hoped.  I’m discouraged about his lack of progress – although I try to remind myself that the goal was to keep us all safe, not necessarily to “fix” him.  He is hard to spend time with because he alternates between arguing and asking for stuff.  It gets old.  But I am glad that I got to spend some time with him.  Unfortunately I came home with this blasted cold which won’t go away and has mutated into a sinus infection …

Holidays can be a tough time to do without Tom… but there’s something I have learned over the last couple of years.   Hard things come along – I didn’t want to go through watching Spencer and Kayla marry on my own – I didn’t want to go on a trip to Mexico as the only unattached adult in the group – I don’t want to do the myriad smaller things that are part of life like being sick or getting the car repaired or being the only parent.  But every time I have “girded up my loins” so to speak, reminding myself of others who are struggling, reminding myself that I can get through it.  And every time I have gotten through it and it has made the next time easier.  I don’t know that I will ever like being on my own or that I will ever stop missing the relationship I had with Tom.  But I have discovered that life is still good and the hard things can get easier if I’m not afraid of them.  And I will get through this dang sickness!!!

10. December 2016 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog, Family, Trips | Tags: , , , | 2 comments

Tom’s birthday and other stuff

This week was Tom’s birthday.  I remember the first birthday we celebrated without him – he’d been gone just barely two weeks.  I was still in a state of shock.  We had dinner with family and brought along a lemon cake that Tom had a fondness for.  Last year, grateful to have one of Tom’s signature recipes, I invited all my local family and made rice and beans to celebrate.  The food tasted exactly like I remembered.  It felt like the perfect tribute.  Afterwards I was violently ill and worried that somehow I had given everyone food poisoning!! But I realize now it was probably some sort of emotional reaction.  This year I finally feel like I am emerging from a dark place after an emotionally difficult summer.  I didn’t want to somehow disrupt the fragile peace and happiness I am feeling and didn’t plan any kind of celebration.  But as the day arrived, it felt like we should do something.  Driving home from school with Haley, I asked what she wanted to do.  She suggested getting balloons to release.  I suggested we get a key lime pie which was a favorite of Tom’s. On the way home I remembered that there were still a couple of filets in the freezer and thought I could fire up the grill and give cooking steaks another try.  Summer grilling was a standard in our home and steak was certainly Tom’s favorite food to grill!!  So we put together an impromptu birthday dinner and it felt perfect.  After we ate and wrote our birthday messages, we walked out our backyard and into the park and let the balloons go and remembered how much we love Tom.

Yesterday I decided it was time to clean out Andrew’s room.  When he left last fall I just closed the door so I didn’t have to look at the holes in the walls and the mess.  When my sister came to stay (when was that??) I did have to go in and clean and change sheets and vacuum so her kids could stay in the room, but afterwards I closed it back up.  This summer we have all realized that Andrew is probably not going to come back home to live.  His goal now is to start preparing to transition to independent living (though not until he ages out of the program he is currently in).  Although I’m relieved because Andrew not living at home has been SO much better for Haley (and me), it has also been a little heartbreaking.  Tom and I spent ten LONG years doing everything we could think of (and learned about) to help Andrew develop emotionally healthy bonds to our family.  We love him and were consistent and reliable and got him appropriate professional help and supported him with his challenges… And he is living in a very restrictive environment where he is making very little progress and he doesn’t want to come home to live – just to visit. All of which tells me that living in a place where he doesn’t have to deal with emotional attachment is somehow easier for him than trying to live with the give and take of family ties.  That is hard to accept.  The most important things in my life are precisely those emotional ties to family and friends – those are the things that give my life meaning and happiness.  I feel like he is rejecting the very things that will fill up that chasm he has been trying to fill his whole life.  But at least right now he is unwilling to believe that.

Anyway, I went in yesterday and bagged up all the clothes that he’s grown out of and set aside the few things that he could still use to be sent to him.  I put away in his keepsakes bin the few things he had hung on his wall (and found a few more things he had stolen and secreted away). The bed is pretty thrashed, so I think I’ll replace it with another one we can use for guests … But next up is repairing all the holes in the walls and repainting the room – and maybe think more seriously about replacing the carpeting in the house – his room is particularly terrible.  Haley and I made a run to Goodwill so everything is already gone.  It’s crazy how much better I feel now when I think about that room.

18. September 2016 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Family, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 3 comments

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