Being Seen

Here’s something that I miss since Tom has been gone … There’s no one that knows me and who sees me in that uniquely intimate way that spouses have.  When I get dressed up, there’s no one to say, “wow, you look great today!” or if I’ve done something around the house, he’s not there to say, “great job on the slip covers”.  There’s no one to notice when I fix something or do something hard or that I’m having a low day.  It’s weird and makes me feel solitary in a way that has nothing to do with having friends or family around.  It’s one of the perks of being married that I enjoyed – both the being seen and the seeing.  I know there were days when my encouragement and appreciation made Tom feel like what he did mattered even when he had had a bad day.  I have a lot more admiration for my single friends now – I didn’t realize how much that connection meant to me until I’ve had to do without it.  

I also miss being able to check in with him – “was that mean? Am I being unreasonable? Is my understanding of this realistic?” Now I just have to figure it out in my own because he’s not around to give me a reality check! I find myself trying to rely on God more – taking my concerns to Him, trying to listen more to impressions.  It’s been a positive development in this new life I’m living, though I feel chagrined that I didn’t do it more when Tom was alive.  It does remind me a little of my experience as missionary.  Because I left a lot of my personal concerns and preferences behind for 18 months, I was more connected to Heavenly Father.  Now that I’m not investing all that emotional energy in my relationship with my spouse, there’s room to put more into my relationship with God.  I wouldn’t have chosen this, but I trust that He knows how this whole experience can be put to my best benefit if I can just stay open and teachable.  It’s not easy though.  Some days I just want to be a spoiled child and throw a tantrum about the fact that I have to keep living this life without my best friend!!  

20. April 2016 by tjsjohanna
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Chairs are done!  Thanks to my mom who helped me fix a major mistake and then sewed my pillow covers together. I did finish the seat cushion covers and I’m not giving you a close up!



The room is coming together. Now to sew throw pillows…. Three years later!

Our other update… At least one egg has hatched.  There’s a tiny bit of fluff with a big mouth in the nest.


13. April 2016 by tjsjohanna
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A new tenant


I have this lovely wreath on my door that makes me think of spring. This year it is really making me think of spring. Does it look a little bulky on top? It should. It’s hiding a nest!


And inside that nest… Eggs!


These are real bird-laid eggs, not some clever decoration from the local craft store.  Our front door has a handy window right above the nest where we can get a little peek at eggs and mommy – though the bird is pretty skittish and I finally taped a piece of paper over the window so she wouldn’t take off every time we walked past the door.


This is the best picture I could get of her without scaring her off. But we’ve seen her up close through our front window when she has perched on our hanging baskets. I finally found a picture online – she’s a House Finch.


Isn’t she pretty? Big problem though. We can’t use our front door! Not sure how to handle people coming to the door…

07. April 2016 by tjsjohanna
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A little DIY – how novel!

It’s been awhile since I posted any DIY stuff – mostly because I haven’t been doing any.  I feel lucky to keep the laundry going and feed Haley and myself, since mostly I just want to lay on my bed and read!  But I recently made a somewhat snap decision to give Spencer and Kayla one of my couches which then meant I had to start looking for some replacement furniture.

When our family moved into our most recent home, we went from one small living space to two large ones.  We had some hand-me-down furniture, none of which really fit our style or lifestyle.  Since we had a little cash from the sale of our first home, we finally (after 10 years of marriage) invested in some grownup furniture.  But we also had little kids who liked to build couch cushion forts.  So while we bought grown up furniture for our “living room”, I went the CraigsList route for the family room.  $400 later we had a nice big couch, love seat, chair, and ottoman.  It was a great deal – the upholstery was a rough, tan-ish dirty color perfect for hiding spills and crumbs; the pillows made great forts; and best of all I didn’t have to worry about the kids ruining it, since I hadn’t spent very much on it.

Fast forward to this fall – the love seat had developed a definite dip in the middle of the two seat cushions, the back cushions had been mushed out of shape so that they generally pushed the sitter off the couch, the chair was covered with cat fur that resisted cleaning, and the ottoman had been discarded after too many jumps had broken the frame.  It was time to replace – especially since I think I’m finally past the cushion fort stage.

I’ve wanted the bed-couch FRIHETEN from IKEA ever since I saw how cleverly it makes into a surprisingly comfortable queen size bed.  Haley and I went down to IKEA, measured and imagined, went home and measured again.  Then we went back and between the two of us (with a little help from some IKEA workers) loaded the giant boxes into our van, unloaded it into our house (sadly, without the help of the IKEA workers), and then put the thing together.  It was/is awesome!

Then came the question about what to put in there with it…  everything I looked at wasn’t quite right or was way out of my price range.  One night I was bemoaning my bad luck with my mom.  Together we started looking at websites (I say together – we were on the phone, each looking at our own computers – that counts as together, right??).  I found this great deal on club chairs at World Market Cost Plus.  I could get two chairs for less than the price of one chair (that I didn’t really like) at IKEA (which was the least expensive chair I had found in the style that I wanted).  The first catch?  The chair was sold without upholstery and required the purchase of a slipcover sold separately.  The second catch?  Since the chair was being discontinued, there were no slipcovers available for purchase.  Hmmm….  I talked it over with my mom – what did she think? Did the chair look like it would be difficult to cover?  It was a pretty rectangular chair.  Together we agreed that it was doable.  So I bought them.

I have actually made slipcovers and re-upholstered furniture before.  I made a very utilitarian slipcover from the cheapest fabric I could find for a hand-me-down love seat Tom and I had when we were first married.  It was VERY rectangular and was a matter of sewing straight seams along rectangles of fabric.  Super easy.  I had re-upholstered a couch I inherited from my grandmother and sewn a slipcover for the matching love seat.  It’s not out of the realm of my abilities.  But I did those projects many years ago when I had a lot more time and energy.  I was a little worried that if it was too difficult I would never get the slipcovers done and these chairs would be unusable.

They came.  I liked them a lot!  But the thought of figuring out how much fabric I needed to buy kept me from doing much.  I pulled out an old sheet and started working on a slipcover pattern – trying out how I wanted to fit things together, etc.  But I started thinking that I was putting too much effort on a pattern and I needed to just start working with the actual fabric.

Then I decided to go to Utah for my niece’s baptism, and my mother told me about this upholstery fabric store that was going out of business.  My sister and I discovered that everything in the store was $3 a yard.  Terrific prices!  I decided that I couldn’t go wrong with that price and that I was bound to find something that would work.  I was in luck!  For around $50 I had enough fabric for my two chairs.

The next weekend my parents were in town so I called on my mom’s expert knowledge of laying out patterns to help me figure my cutting plan. She helped me figure out how to lay out the rectangles of fabric that would make up my pieces so that the pattern was centered and I could use my fabric most economically. I’m so glad she helped! And then I started pinning and tracing and slowly putting my pattern pieces together. I’m still not finished but I’m getting close. Anyway, here are some pictures of the process so far …

Cutting out the fronts of the arms

fitting the back

front of arms attached to sides – still not attached to the back

Did I mention I have to make two of these? And then cover the back and seat cushions?? I have actually finished one chair cover now and am almost done with the second … and I have ordered and now have the zippers for the cushions. Maybe I’ll finish it all up over spring break. Watch here for updates!

16. March 2016 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Home Improvement | Tags: , , , , | 2 comments

Tender Mercies

In Psalm 145:9 we read: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”  I have had many experiences with the Lord’s tender mercies in my life but one that has been so apparent this past few months has been the calling to teach seminary every school morning (seminary is an early-morning scripture study class for the youth in my church).  We have been studying the Old Testament this year.

Here are some of the personal blessings I have enjoyed:

  • I find it very easy to be hermit-like.  Last year I would often drive Haley to school in my pjs and then spend my day at home doing very little and seeing no one.  The Lord knows this about me and knew that while last year I might have needed this alone time to process the huge change in my life, so much time alone is not generally good for me. This year I have to get up every morning and get dressed (in a skirt even!) and leave my house.  Most days I go on to work after seminary where I am around other people and have valuable social interactions that keep me from slipping into depression. 
  • Having Andrew in a residential treatment center is not an inexpensive prospect – going to work more often has blessed me financially to be able to manage the expense.  While I could have worked more without teaching seminary, I know that motivating myself to do so would be much more difficult without seminary (see first blessing).
  • I teach my daughter’s class and that has been wonderful.  As we have talked about how the class went each day, I have been able to have great conversations about faith and making tough choices with her.  It has brought us closer together and has given me opportunities to give comfort and counsel that she might not have asked for otherwise.
  • The class I teach is small – ten freshmen who are having their first experience with seminary. I have loved getting to know each student and find comfort in knowing that one of Haley’s peer groups is such an excellent one with kids who are all trying to come to know God better and follow Him.
  • Although I have had periods where I have spent a lot of time in the scriptures, I have also had times when I haven’t. The Lord knew that I would continue to need the strength and inspiration that comes from studying the words of the prophets.  Having to prepare daily lessons has been both very challenging and so rewarding.  I have gained a greater love for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and for the commandments that can bring peace to my life as I live them. There is something about teaching others that always helps me to understand my beliefs more clearly and also strengthens my testimony.
  • Irrational or not, having a spouse die has made me feel at times like I’ve done something wrong to have such a hard thing happen.  Being given such a trust to teach seminary has helped me to know that Heavenly Father loves me and I’m still valuable to Him.  At a time when I don’t have the blessing of a spouse who can give me positive feedback when I’m feeling down, having that comfort from Heavenly Father is especially cherished.

Truly the Lord is good. 

28. February 2016 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Blog | Tags: , , | 2 comments

Writing and Thinking

I wrote this post in my head two nights ago when I couldn’t sleep. I have a ton of empathy for sufferers of insomnia.  That feeling of laying in bed, trying to doze off, and there’s just no sleep coming … it is bearable for one night but as a chronic thing I’m not sure I wouldn’t slowly go crazy.

So, I’ve always thought of myself as an amateur writer.  I was a faithful journal writer all through high school and college – I say journal writer, but I wrote essays and more essays and letters and more letters and even poetry.  The written word is comfortable to me – it’s where I work out what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling and what I believe and why.  It’s how I communicate with others and with myself when I want to be precise and thoughtful.  So the last few months have left me feeling bewildered.  Suddenly there are no words … everything I think seems either too big to put in words, or too repetitive.  I have a book that I use to write to Tom and I feel like it is filled with the words “I miss you” a hundred million times – and nothing else.  That is an exaggeration, sort of, but if you take away all the fancy sentences and words, basically that is what I’m saying.  I’m sure if he is reading it he is bored, bored, bored!! He’s probably thinking, “come on – can’t you think of anything else to share with me besides that? How about BYU football or politics, for heavens’ sake??”  Anyway, when it comes to blogging, I have felt like there just wasn’t anything I wanted to write.  How not like me!

The truth is, I really don’t know how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking these days.  This book I’m reading, 52 Small changes for the Mind, suggests that I should be a goal setter.  A lesson we had in church a few weeks included a few questions like, “where do I want to be in 1 year, in 5 years? what do I want to learn that will help me to serve others better?”  I’m struggling with these things.  I don’t know where I want to be in the future.  I’ve made it a habit to avoid thinking about the future, which is a great coping skill when the future is full of the pain of not sharing it with Tom.  But really, can a person live the rest of their life without dreams or aspirations or goals (which all necessitate looking to the future)?  Obviously the answer is no.  The problem is that thinking about the future is a little like being asked to plunge my burned hands into really hot water.  The burns might be healing, but the fear of the pain that might still be there has me reluctant to try.  It’s much safer just sitting here in the present pretending that the future isn’t really there.

And yet the future just keeps jumping out and grabbing me.  I have a married child.  I am a mother-in-law.  That’s the future if ever there was a future.  This was the future that Tom and I looked forward to.  But we never imagined we’d be experiencing it separately.  However much I’d like to believe that my life is not changed, that Tom’s absence is a temporary thing, the truth is that it’s a whole new life I’m living whether I like it or not, whether I’m planning for it or not.

Speaking of being married – my oldest son is married!  It is crazy to think about.  How did that cute little toddler turn into a man with a wife??   I’m sure I don’t know.  Here’s some pictures of the lovely couple …



Jason Hemsoth Photography, LLC: Reception &emdash; Kayla-Spencer-3949

Jason Hemsoth Photography, LLC: Family &emdash; Kayla-Spencer-3670

We celebrated the happy occasion at THREE different venues (this is what happens when your families are spread out across the country!) in Utah, Colorado, and Indiana.  I hope Kayla’s family felt welcome among all Spencer’s family in Utah – we certainly felt welcomed in Indiana.  Hopefully we can find ways to get together again and have the chance to get to know each other better.  There were lots of friends and family who helped make the parties as successful as they were – Thanks So Much to all of you!!

Just when I thought we could settle back into everyday life, I got the news that Tom’s mom had passed away.  She was 92 years old and had been bedridden since Tom passed away.  Although she was ready to go, it was still hard.  We will miss her cheerful smile and loving care for us all.  The funeral was really wonderful – I was overcome seeing all her grandchildren – most adults now – stand to sing.  The group was huge and it really brought home the legacy she has left behind.


I guess this is the way of the world – we need a baby birth now to round out the “circle of life”!  Anyway, that’s what’s been going on in the Wood Family.  I’ll try not to let writer’s block get the better of me in the weeks and months to come…

09. February 2016 by tjsjohanna
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A Little Update

I haven’t written in awhile.  It’s not that things haven’t been going on, because they have.  My oldest child is getting married in a few short weeks.  Everyone keeps asking how the reception plans are going and if they can help.  Since the event is happening in Utah, my mom and my sister are handling most of it so I can’t even say I’m stressed about it.  But I am, sort of.  I don’t know how to have a married child.  And I don’t even have a spouse to share it with.  That’s sort of a lonely thing.  And I’m trying not to think about how this will all feel on the actual day when Tom isn’t there and once again reality hits me upside the head.  And there’s an open house in Denver that eventually I will have to make some concrete plans about.  Or maybe people will just show up and I will have packages of cookies out and water cups!!   Not really…

Apart from the wedding party plans, my middle child has been gone from my house for almost two months now.  Again, I get questions about how he is doing and how I am doing.  There aren’t satisfying answers to give.  I get weekly reports, but I have no real idea how he is doing, and apart from being glad that he is safe and being cared for, I don’t feel much emotional investment in his progress.  I spent eleven years trying everything I knew to help him.  It feels good to let someone else do that for awhile.  So the answer to how I’m doing is probably a little surprising to people.  I’m doing fine, good, really great.  I’m getting to really know my daughter in ways that I couldn’t do when Andrew was sucking all the attention and life out of me.  I can actually think a little about who I am and what I actually like to do after so many years of not having the time or energy to do either. Andrew is a problem that I don’t have to deal with for the next year or so and I figure when he is closer to coming home, that will be soon enough to start up with the emotional investment again.

As for what I spend my days thinking about … Well I still spend a lot of time thinking about Tom’s death and my life as a widow and what I want from the future and stuff like that.  It’s mostly boring stuff that feels so private.  Who would be interested or could even relate?  There are these long silences in my house where I think I should be talking to Haley but really I can’t tell her what’s going through my mind.  And I have to work hard at shutting off that part of my mind and focusing on her.  So far my second year I feel less shocked.  I don’t have these overwhelming waves of grief, although I do still get surprised by sneak attacks.  I still hate having to do things that Tom used to take care of (like cooking and putting air in the tires and taking care of the yard).  I still miss those weekend dates where we got away from the kids for a couple of hours and remembered why we liked each other in the first place.  I still have a great group of friends who invite me to lunch and text me and check in with me often – truly they are amazing.  I guess a part of me still feels like I’m just waiting – for what I’m not sure.  For Tom to suddenly show up and say I grieved really well and now he can come home? For inspiration to hit as I suddenly discover a buried dream that requires a move and a new career? For someone new to come into my life and make me fall in love with him? I really have no clue.  Part of me reminds me that trusting in God has worked really well so far and I should just keep focusing on the day to day and not worry about what is coming.  And the other part just wants to have that illusion of feeling in control. Maybe I just need to be busier so I have less time to think!!

Anyway, that’s how things have been going.  I’m pretty sure there will be no Christmas cards this year – maybe I’ll send out happy new year notes!  But underneath the worries and stress there is always that peace that has been with me since Tom died – that knowledge that Christ died and then resurrected and because of that, one day I’ll see Tom again.  Now more than ever that makes me so grateful for the birth of our Savior and Redeemer.  I hope all who are reading this will feel the joy of this Christmas season in your lives and a greater determination to follow in His footsteps.  Merry Christmas!

07. December 2015 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Uncategorized | 1 comment

A head full of thoughts

You know how Hermione in the Harry Potter books always has her hand up in class?  I used to be a little like that when I was younger.  I’m pretty sure my high school English teacher found me very irritating because I ALWAYS had something to say. It took a lot of growing up before I realized that I didn’t need to share everything I thought all the time.

Now I’m much more likely to keep my opinions to myself.  Too many people are quick to be hurt and I’m not interested in saying my peace at the expense of someone else (at least mostly).  I still have lots of opinions – I just keep most of them inside.  Before Tom died it wasn’t such a big deal.  I didn’t have to really keep them inside.  I could share them with him because that was as good as keeping them inside.  I could tell him anything and he still loved me, even if he thought my ideas were weird or wrong.  And he kept my confidences completely.  I still really admire that about him – he was completely loyal to me, even resisting the many opportunities to get a laugh at my expense.

Now, though, I don’t always know what to do with all these thoughts banging around in my head.  I find myself sorting through my friends – could I share this with her? What would he think of this?  It’s a lot of energy to self censor in this way.  It’s probably a good thing, though.  The world would be a kinder place if we thought more about what we said before we said it.  And we wouldn’t have those awful moments when we realized that what we just said came out ALL WRONG!

12. November 2015 by tjsjohanna
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I’ve become a stereotype – the single mother of a troubled kid.  It’s an uncomfortable role.  Every time I’m in a situation where strangers are interacting with me in this capacity I want to say, “wait! You don’t understand… This kid was troubled back when I was married, not widowed, and there were two functioning parents and positive role models.”  I feel the need to bring along family members or friends to things like meetings with school officials – just to show that I’m not in this completely alone.  The funny thing is, I really haven’t had anyone try to blame my child’s actions on me being single.  Everyone has been so willing to see beyond the surface, to take seriously my experiences over his lifetime as his mom.  So my uncomfortable feelings are really mostly in my own head.  

The older I get the more I realize that we take the easy way out when we look at the surface of things and figure we know the whole story.  We love to look at someone’s difficulties and tell ourselves that would never happen to us because we would make better choices.  Maybe it makes us feel safer if we think that misfortune only happens to the foolish.  But the truth is, there are a lot of people out there like me – what you see on the surface is only a small part of the story.  And how much better it is when we look at each other with compassion and a willingness to listen rather than condemn. Every time someone offers me understanding it brings me to tears – in a good way.  Not like when that guy was berating my sister for her three year old who was walking over his landscaped rocks while she corralled a five year old and had a baby in a carrier on her arm.  That was bad tears and a perfect example of how destructive our surface judgements can be towards the strangers we meet every day.

20. October 2015 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Family | Tags: , | 1 comment

Relief from burdens

This past week I took my son to a residential treatment center and left him for what will probably be a least a year away from home.  It was a difficult decision to make on so many levels.  For eleven years we have worked diligently to get him the professional help that he has needed and to encourage him in all the ways we have known and been taught to become a responsible and happy child and teen.  I have learned first hand the power of prayer to help me be patient, to feel love, and to be forgiving.  I have had moments of real inspiration on this journey, as well as countless periods of sorrow and despair.  Above all, I have learned first hand the truth about personal agency.  Despite our best efforts as parents and professionals, the agency of our children is always the deciding factor in whether our children choose to learn the lessons we seek to teach.

In the end, the safety of my family became the deciding factor, along with the realization that I could no longer supervise Andrew adequately nor keep him from involvement with the law.  Maybe it is because I have walked this road with Andrew for such a long time, but now that he has been safely delivered, I’m having no regrets or second thoughts.  I’m struggling with having hope that he will change, but I’m also feeling relief that I don’t have to watch him every moment he is awake.  I’m praying that the people who will be working with him will be able to show Andrew, in a way I never seemed to be able to, that the benefits of joining society are worth the changes and the consequences of refusing are really not what he wants.  But whether he accepts it or not, for now, I’m feeling the blessed freedom from the weight of all those worries about who he would hurt next.

15. October 2015 by tjsjohanna
Categories: Family | Tags: , | 3 comments

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