A summer memoir

Twenty-seven years ago I was getting ready to head back to Provo, Utah for my first summer term experience.  It was a great summer.  I don’t know what Provo is like in the summer now, but back then the town emptied out when most students headed home.  Campus was quieter and more casual, tree shaded streets cool and empty.  One of my good friends came to school as well and we found a cheap apartment and furnished it with brick & wood shelf bookcases for all our many books (both of us studying that oh-so-useful subject “literature”).  We took long walks in the early evenings where we cemented our friendship with our wide ranging conversations.  For the first time I had a car, which was revolutionary … we took a couple of road trips to such far away places as Monroe, Manti, and Salt Lake City.  It seems pretty tame, but my BYU experience to this point had been conducted strictly within walking distance of the campus with a bus trip to the mall an adventurous rarity.

My experience that summer encapsulates all that I love about Summer – warm weather, long days, a slower pace, a relaxed schedule – freedom to follow whims and daydream a little.  This was also my last summer as a single person.  The summer of 1991 was the summer I met Tom.  It was the crowning miracle of that lovely little season.

The months that followed were the opposite of everything I love about summer.  I was finishing my degree – that last sprint to reach the finish line, filled with papers, papers, and more papers, along with heavy reading and preparation for those dreaded final exit oral exams.  I was planning a wedding (!) although I tried to push much of that work onto my mother (which I’m sure she was just thrilled to do, having her own life to manage!)  I was working and trying to spend as much time as I could with this fascinating person I was marrying.  Oh, and it was cold, which I tolerate, but never love.

It’s weird to be back in the single world.  I quite liked being married, despite all the ups and downs.  I traded a lot of freedom for marriage and children, but there were great rewards too.  There’s freedom in having someone know about all that stuff you mostly keep private – especially when they love you anyway and they “get” that stuff and suddenly you aren’t alone with it all the time.  There’s freedom in knowing that you “have someone” – a partner at every event, someone to talk to when everyone else is busy, someone to share in the successes yes – but more importantly in the failures in life.

Now I have back the freedom of only consulting myself for much of my free time. I can clean or not clean, go to bed when I want, eat what I want.  It’s like the emotional equivalent of summer – but I find myself missing the busyness of fall, the hope of spring, even the cold of winter.  I’m trying to appreciate the positives, though I think maybe singleness is only encouraging me in my tendencies to be selfish!  Still there is a part of me that whispers, “remember that magical summer?  there’s still a bit of it hanging around if you look hard enough!”

21. June 2018 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | 3 comments

Emotions and Perspective

It’s a familiar experience in my world – everything seems to be going well and I’m feeling really content and happy with my life.  Then I discover that all the time I had been so content and thinking everything was going great, there was this thing going on.  If I had been aware of this thing, I would have been anxious and worried or sad and discouraged.  All that contentment was false – it was just there because I was unaware of the reality of my situation.

It got me thinking about perspective and emotion and how I make sense of my life.  A lot of what I do is predicated on my emotion.  If I’m feeling positive and upbeat, I’m more likely to tackle housekeeping and projects around the house.  When I’m feeling down or stressed out, you can find me stretched out on my bed with a good book.  But what if those emotional cues to my behavior are false?  What if I’m all happy when events in my life should be making me miserable?  or visa versa?  It’s not such a big deal when we’re talking about whether the vacuuming gets done.  But it did make me wonder about bigger choices.  It’s the Sense and Sensibility dilemma – do I act on my emotions, ignoring convention or let my behavior be dictated by a moral frame irregardless of how I’m feeling?  In the end, both Marianne and her more sensible sister Eleanor are hurt by their choices, but only Marianne comes so close to dying – Jane Austen seems to come down in favor of being suspicious of emotion as the guiding force in action.

I’m all for feeling good – but sometimes I neglect things like heartfelt prayer because I feel like everything is going great and I don’t really need help right now.  There are a number of things wrong with that statement, starting with the idea that prayer is only good for getting things.  But also, often times, when I’m blindsided by the truth of my situation, I see that actually I did need help – I was just unaware of what was really going on.  And feeling good generally means I’m feeling content with myself – there’s nothing I need to work on or change about myself.  That’s a really bad place to be … because there are so many metaphorical weeds in my garden that need my consistent attention.  Emotions can persuade me that those weeds are not there when really, if I neglect them, I’ll be overrun in short order.

I guess my point here is I’m inclined to trust my emotions but maybe I should be a little more skeptical?  Just some random musings …

21. May 2018 by tjsjohanna
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This past weekend Haley and I had the chance to go to Utah to celebrate Kayla’s graduation.  I took exactly one picture:

So now Spencer and Kayla have officially left the world of student life behind and are looking forward to a whole new adventure.  They are still making plans for where life is going to take them next.

Despite the VERY long commencement and convocation ceremonies, there were some great remarks that reminded me of the value of education – especially for what it does to make me more capable of helping those around me.  But can I just mention how very LONG those meetings were??  With over 6,000 students graduating, there was just no getting around the crowds and lines and the waiting.  I’m grateful that part is done.

Kayla’s parents, grandparents, and sister came out for the weekend, so we got a chance to spend time together visiting and making sure Kayla felt extra special.  It was a lot of fun and I hope we get to do it again soon.

While we were in Utah, we took the opportunity to go visit Andrew.  He was recently accepted to the Job Corps program at Weber Basin in Ogden, Utah.  He’s busy finishing up his last few high school credits and working on an electrical trade course as well as finally getting his drivers license.  We’ve talked a few times over the course of the month, but this was the first time we had seen him since we took him to the airport at the first of April.  Andrew was happy to see us and was full of interesting things to tell us about his experiences.  He is enjoying classes and new friends and the general environment.  It was a relief to see that he is happy and has settled into this new phase of his life.  Spencer, Haley, Andrew, and I enjoyed dinner and then, in a nod to the many outings my grandpa Cottle arranged, we took in a round of mini-golf.  Spencer was pleased to make sure we all knew that he won! 🙂  We finished up the evening with shakes at Sonic and then dropped him back off.  Raising Andrew has been challenging, but this visit gave me a glimpse of a more hopeful future for him and for our family relationships.

Finally, one last milestone.  My uncle Sherwood Bridges passed away on April 20 and his funeral was held on Saturday.  The last few years have been particularly challenging for him due to a chronic illness that left him unable to do much of anything.  I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to hear my cousins share their memories of their dad.  I got to see a completely different side of him, and it was comforting to see how much he is loved and how much he loves his family.  While I’m sure Uncle Sherwood is grateful to be free of the worn out body he left behind, I know he is missing all his loved ones just as they are missing him.  Once again I am grateful for the knowledge that this life is not the end and that one day we will all be reunited – what a joyous day that will be!  Meanwhile, I’m just a little jealous that Uncle Sherwood can hang out with Tom, while I’m still stuck here!

I just finished Goodbye Stranger and this quote sums up the idea of milestones perfectly:

“it was like saying “and and and and” … it didn’t feel anything like the end.”

01. May 2018 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Family, Trips | Tags: , | 2 comments

The hidden power of friends

Twenty years ago or so when I was past the first flush of being “newly married” and living away from family or the friends of my youth, I discovered that I actually needed more than just my marriage in the way of a social life.  In short, I needed a close friend or two.  I remember praying more than once that I could make a good, close friend – someone I could really be myself with.  I missed the association with other women that I had had in high school and college.  Tom was great for a lot of things – but he was sorely lacking in the “girl talk” department!

It took a few years and a couple of moves, but finally that prayer was answered when an invitation to become walking partners turned into something more (Shannon, I’m talking about you!).  I don’t know about anyone else, but I have found that making friends as an adult hasn’t been easy.  Friendship takes time and lots of talking and a certain amount of “kindred spirit” connection (as Anne of Green Gables would say).  For many years one good friend worked pretty well for me – and then this wonderful friend moved and at the same time I was forced to accept that I was pretty severely depressed.  Among the many good bits of counsel my therapist gave me was the suggestion that I needed to broaden my social circle.

I’ve been grateful many times for that bit of inspired advice, but never more so than now.  I turned 50 today.  It’s kind of a big milestone birthday but I figured I’d just let this one slide by.  Haley and I would go somewhere nice for dinner and that would be good enough.  However, I didn’t count on the many good friends that I have been blessed with over the years.  I thought I was meeting a friend for lunch – but instead there was a sizable group who all came to lunch just to show me they cared about me.  I have received texts and cards and treats all day long from women who have been by my side since before Tom died, but most especially in the years since.  I am overwhelmed with the riches of friendship that my Heavenly Father has so mercifully blessed me with over the years.  There’s no denying that being a widow comes with its fair share of loneliness, but these wonderful friends have quietly lifted me when I was feeling down, have rejoiced with me when I needed someone to share my triumphs with, and have shown me over and over that I have not been forgotten or left out just because my life circumstances have changed.

So here’s to the true power for good of friendship!  And to the tender mercies of a loving God.

19. April 2018 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | Tags: , | 3 comments

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
Categories: Family | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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

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