The Lipstick Letters: Honesty

Bare Minerals’ “Honesty” is the color I’ve chosen to start with because what better place to begin a journey than honesty? It’s a beautiful shade of pink and I will definitely be wearing a lot of it this summer. I will say that I enjoy this brand, but I won’t be reviewing the lipstick because I am no make-up artist! In fact, it’s rare that I wear make-up at all, but I love lipstick and it’s one of several things from before kids that I am bringing back into my life for the sheer joy of it. : )

Alright, let’s get honest . . .

After several years of hard-hitting losses and beautiful, exhausting additions to my life, I’ve been trying to make small changes here and there to jump-start a much bigger shift in how I’ve been thinking and feeling. Just little things like buying clothes that actually fit after years of being pregnant and nursing, making a conscious effort to shower and get ready for the day, spending more time with my horses, and working on eating less processed foods. Which, strangely at first, brings me to bread. (Bear with me, I swear this will be a Lipstick Letter by the end! lol)

I love bread. I love mixing it, kneading it, watching it rise and rise again, baking it, sharing it with people I care about, and most especially, I love eating it. Bread is my favorite and I have had exactly zero luck making good, whole grain or seed breads that I actually want to eat. So I went looking for help in book-form, eventually choosing Peter Reinhardt’s Whole Grain Breads. On the day it arrived, I began to read and there at the end of the first chapter, the absolute last place I would have expected, I found the words I needed:

“Though you may recognize some of the steps, this method is unlike any that you have tried before. It cannot be mastered by simply reading instructions and recipes. You will have to make adjustments for your particular flour; you will have to develop a feeling for the dough so that it, rather than the words on the page, can tell you what it needs and when to move on to the next stage. You will be required to make a commitment to the process and to the mystery itself. We have taken apart conventional bread making and put it back together in a totally new and different way . . .”

Reinhardt may be a master baker, but he’s got a poet’s soul.

Over the past five years, my world has been taken apart piece by piece and I’ve been afraid to put it back together. There’s no comprehensive recipe for our best life. We’ve all got to get a feel for it as we go and, as we go, it keeps on changing and needing new adjustments if we want it to continue being good. We’re all working with our own set of ingredients and utensils, some of which come and go when we least expect it and aren’t ready. I haven’t wanted to commit to the process and I’ve been so angry with and resentful of the mystery, particularly death, that I’ve behaved as if I’m stuck, when lately, I’ve just been refusing to move.

And honestly? I’m ready to stop that now.

To be fair to myself and to anyone reading this who isn’t quite ready to stop doing the thing that you will eventually need to stop doing, I cannot fathom writing this at any other point over the past five years. Grief is a process and I don’t think anyone wakes up one day, has a good shower, puts on some lipstick and says, “Cool, I’m not sad anymore!”

I’ve been grieving since I left Idaho. One loss just rolled into another and another until I couldn’t face them all standing. I’ve been on my knees in the dark, eyes closed, bracing for the next terrible thing to happen. And I’ve been avoiding old and new connections because the pain of loss has been ever-present in my life, my heart, and the forefront of my mind.

For all that it’s taken, the pandemic did give me one thing–time to grieve. When I would have been prepping the diaper bag for adventures, taking the kids for play dates, deep-cleaning for visitors, etc, I’ve taken that time to just feel sad–to cry, to be angry, to be scared, to contemplate my future without so many of the incredible people and animals I had hoped to have more time with, and to open my eyes to all the beauty still here, right in front of me.

So here I am.

And the hardest part of getting here was being honest with myself–there’s nothing wrong with my life, it’s the way I’ve been choosing to live it that needs to change. I had excellent reasons for not putting more energy into cultivating it sooner, but with too much time, excellent reasons tend to crumble into excuses. And, at this point, my reasons are running like sand through an hourglass.

Thank you all for coming along on my adventures. Life is wild and sometimes nearly unbearably sad, but if you stop to think about it, the nearly unbearable kind of sadness always comes from the deepest, most abiding love, which is also what brings us our greatest joy and most satisfying contentment. A lesson I first learned when I was eighteen and my Aunt Shirley (forever my favorite aunt for too many reasons to list here today) passed away far too young: One way or another, the ultimate cost of truly loving is always loss and it’s always worth it.

Being Mama When Baby gets Hurt

Yesterday, one of my precious, nearly two year old boys, fell off of and hit his face on the toy box he’d climbed. He fell so hard, his teeth went right through his upper lip and gouged the wood. Luckily, the cut is completely inside his mouth, the teeth involved seem fine, and he didn’t meet criteria for stitches. That said, his swollen upper lip looks like black and red hamburger meat inside and every time I look at his sweet face, my heart hurts.

One of the choices I’ve made for my children is to give them a great deal of freedom to explore their world, make mistakes, and learn. This often results in awesome photos of messy, happy kids running wild in the woods and fields around our home. They ride horses, play with our giant dog, pick up bugs, paddle board and kayak with us, and while they aren’t fearless, they are all quite independent for their respective ages. Most of the time, I feel confident in my approach.

Then something like this happens and that confidence crumbles a little more every time I conjure the image of my child sitting on the floor sobbing with blood covering his hands and running down his chin. I hold him close, I clean him up, and thoroughly investigate the injury. But even after determining a good rinse, some ice, and time will heal the wound, I know that another little piece of my heart is wounded in a way that won’t ever heal. This is motherhood. And I finally understand how my mama can so quickly recall and describe in excruciating detail every one of my own and my three brothers’ injuries throughout our childhood.

It’s a process, but after working my way over mountains of guilt and fear, I eventually find myself back where I started. Whenever possible, I want to give them more tools to successfully navigate the world. Only as a last resort do I want to make more rules or restrictions to prevent them from being hurt. Now is the time for them to take risks and experience the results. Now, while I’m here to scoop them up and make it okay. Now, while I’m able to create spaces for them to learn where even when they fail spectacularly, the ultimate risk is relatively low.

One day, my sweet, wild girl and boys will go out into the world without me or their dad there to kiss knees, rush them to urgent care, talk them through their options and possible outcomes, tell them no, cook for them, wash their clothes, and the list goes on. Motherhood is fun, painful, beautiful, terrifying, and exhilarating . . . but it’s also a job. And navigating the delicate balance between keeping my babies safe and preparing them to take on the world on their own is one of the hardest parts that job.

The Lipstick Letters Revival

My husband bought me fifteen shades of lipstick for Christmas. FIFTEEN SHADES. Just opening the box gave me such a rush of happiness and inspiration!

Some of you may remember an old blog series I started and let languish almost ten years ago. It was about beauty and confidence and the things we think about ourselves that we come to realize aren’t true. It was based on how badly I wanted to be a woman who could wear red lipstick. I’d tried a few different shades but it always looked terrible and I was sure it was because my lips were too small or the wrong shape or that I just didn’t have the personality to carry it off.

Thankfully, I mentioned it to my best friend from high school who also happened to be a brilliant make-up artist for M.A.C. A few weeks later, I went to visit her and she surprised me with an amazing bagful of lipstick, gloss, and liner in every shade you can imagine! But, best of all, she took the time to teach me how to apply it. This is a photo I took on my birthday that same year:

Turns out, I was always a woman who could wear red lipstick. And I love this photo because you can literally see my newfound confidence shining in my expression.

Anyway, that was then and this is now and these fifteen shades of opportunity are calling me to do something fun. Over the past five years I’ve struggled with so much loss, grief, and depression on top of new babies and a pandemic, its been a challenge finding the time and energy to work through the losses and all the shifts in my identity. I initially intended to revive the Lipstick Letters as they were and write about body image as a mother of three, but nothing sounded right so I held off.

Then, I had an enlightening moment while scrolling through Instagram, where several of my incredibly talented friends were doing their thing and sharing the results. There were home-cooked meals with food they grew themselves, woven rugs, quilts in progress, redecorated rooms, you name it! And as I scrolled, a feeling of envy grew and grew until I realized it, set my phone down, and asked myself what that was all about. After a short moment of reflection, I had to laugh; I wasn’t jealous of WHAT these lovely humans were doing, I was jealous THAT they were doing at all! Successfully devoting a portion of their time and resources to things that are important to them.

My jealousy evaporated in an instant and, in it’s place, I found new curiosity and determination. Aside from being a mama and a wife, what am I doing? It’s been several dark and busy years since I felt it last, but I still recognize this particular kind of restlessness–it’s boredom. God love my beautiful, amazing children who are so fun and satisfying to raise; they absolutely do not challenge and fulfill every element of my being. Nor should they.

So I’m setting only one rule for this reboot: I can’t write about my kids here. This series is about me taking an intentional step outside my beloved role as mama to delve into other much-loved and missed parts of who I am. We’re going further than skin deep where it’s less about the lipstick on my lips (though there will still be plenty of that) and more about what puts lipstick on my soul. Many thanks to Scarlet for that perfect turn of phrase.

Going forward, each new post will feature a different shade, but for this first one, here I am in my messy living room with no make up at all. Just me, feeling hopeful about life, and excited to drag all of you along with me while I figure out what to do with myself.


It Isn’t Love

Love may have pulled us together with want and adventure. Love may crackle between us–beautiful, fun, exciting, and powerful. But we both know that you can love someone and not have or give what you need because that’s how we loved each other as teenagers. And that kind of love doesn’t last. Thankfully, we made better use of our second chance than our first and the longer our love goes on, the more I realize all that it isn’t.

It isn’t love that deepens, that’s respect.

It isn’t love that gets stronger, that’s trust.

It isn’t love that brings an end to insecurity, that’s intimacy.

It isn’t love that apologizes, that’s humility.

And it isn’t love that forgives mistakes, that’s grace.

Sixteen years and my love for you is still burning as bright and hot as when it first began but so much stronger and steadier now because of all those other things.

It’s those things that have sustained us through our life’s lowest lows and brought us up to our highest highs. And it’s not just that I can rely on you for them, but also that you’re a man I want to give them to, that keeps your ring on my finger and my heart in your hands. Of course, I love you, darlin’, but that’s not nearly all. : )

At the Top of These Stairs

I have spent countless, late-night hours nursing babies at the top of these stairs. It’s quiet and peaceful, if not the most comfortable place to sit. When my sweet Sunshine (my first baby) was born, I set up a whole nursing station with a cozy chair, books I was reading, phone charger, snacks, water . . . but with the boys, we were so far behind before we even got started, nothing like that ever came together. I used to bring them into our bed to nurse, but once we moved them out of our room, it felt like more trouble than it was worth. More and more often, I found myself stopping just outside their door and sitting down on this top step.

Sometimes, I think about what I need to get done that week or words I’d like to write. Sometimes, I think about the kids’ antics that day and make plans for fun and interesting things we can do later. I make grocery lists, budget, and sometimes read . . .

But on nights like this one, and there have been many, I just stare at the top of their heads and think about them–their whole lives from the moment I met them to this one: noting how much their hair has grown and how long they’re getting, mapping the feel of their weight in my arms, measuring their feet with my palms, pressing kisses into their soft hands, and watching them slowly-slowly drift back to sleep against my chest.

Then I sit here, much longer than necessary, the words from a book I loved as a child but didn’t understand at all echoing through my mind:

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Pandemic Thoughts

I really don’t like conflict. I like for everyone to feel good and be comfortable. So much so that I’ve had my head in a hole for months to avoid the anxiety of sorting through the logistics of relationships in a particularly controversial time. Now, I’ve put on my big girl pants and I’m dusting off my copy of Difficult Conversations.

That said, I plan to continue keeping my social media mostly all about kids, dogs, horses, writing, and all that brings me peace or joy. That’s the best reflection of me and I prefer to scream into the actual void over the electronic one.

I am deeply skeptical of being on a team when it comes to politics and I’ve never been more confident in my choice to be a registered independent.

I will never choose politics over the people I care about.

This doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions or that I’m unwilling to discuss them.

Whenever there are millions on both sides of a given issue, the term “sheep” doesn’t really fit, does it? Or perhaps it fits everyone, just with different shepherds?

I wish I still didn’t know how many people in my life and the world at large think I’m stupid, naive, content to be ruled by my government overlords, and happy to throw away my own and others’ freedom.

I imagine there are lots of other people wishing they didn’t know how many people in their lives and in the world at large think they’re stupid, racist, fascist, and happy to murder their countrymen.

I still believe that most of us are pretty much the same–just acting and speaking on differently prioritized fears. Which is not a reason to ignore issues or quit fighting for what you believe in, but might be a better place to start.

There’s always a way forward and you can’t legislate a person’s heart.

To Err is Human . . .

to forgive divine. ~Alexander Pope

When Tristan died, I lost my best and closest friend. I’ll never have all the right words together at once to describe how I feel about him, so I’m going to leave it at that. Besides, this post isn’t actually about Tristan. It’s about my other precious horses–Daisy and SoCo.

We were all devastated when he died. And when I should have been out there with them, grieving and showing them how much I love them, showing them we were all going to be okay, I was hiding in the house. For the first few months, I couldn’t even look at them, it hurt so much.

When I did finally make my way out to the barn, it was just to take care of chores–feeding, watering, mucking. A year after he passed, I finally went back into the tack room only to find that my tack was moldy. MOLDY. Even as I type this, I haven’t been back in his stall, I haven’t used my saddle (although I did thoroughly clean and condition it), and I haven’t thrown out the rest of the bag of beet pulp we were using to help him put on weight. I have a lot of work to do.

But what I have done over the past year, is reconnect to my loves who are still here. It hurt at first–going out there and not just taking care of business, but breathing them in and loving them, letting them love me back. And they do. Despite my pulling away in fear, knowing how much it hurts to lose those I love so much, they held back nothing. And how silly to pull away when I still loved them just the same all along. Pulling away doesn’t make it hurt less to lose who you love, it just leads to regret and wasted time.

To err is human, thankfully, horses are divine.

Where to Begin?

There’s so much of the past three years I want to write and I plan to write it all but where to begin?

It started with losing Tammy–a person who helped me become the woman I am, who always saw the best in me and let me know it. She was much too young, it was so unexpected, and before I could catch my breath, I was faced with the decision to put down my dog, Why?lee. Why?lee was seventeen at the time and we’d spent fifteen of those years together. It was brutal, but at his age, I knew it was coming. Three months later, my horse Tristan had to be put down suddenly. He was twenty eight and we’d spent eighteen of those years together. Despite his age, I was unprepared and completely wrecked.

Two months after that, I had a miscarriage, and in another two months I was pregnant with twins, our cars broke down at the same time, my pregnancy was a nightmare of violent illness every single day for seven months. I got so dehydrated from vomiting, I had to go to the ER for an IV.

Then we lost Kerry–one of the best humans I’ll ever meet. I wasn’t actually related to him, but he was soul-family to me and he will always be one of my highest role models. And then we lost Brent, a good man and a good friend, for devastating and unfathomable reasons I still can’t wrap my heart around.

The past three years I’ve felt like I’m always just one half-step away from a complete breakdown. It’s too much. Too much loss, too much sadness, too much worry. I am unimaginably grateful for my friends and my family, my amazing neighbors who just keep showing up even though I struggle to reciprocate, for this beautiful place where I get to watch my three, precious babies experience so much joy and wonder. Because it’s been some of the hardest living I’ve ever had to do.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that I was not, in fact, a half step away from a complete breakdown. I fell right over that edge and did have a breakdown. A breakdown doesn’t necessarily mean a complete inability to function. For me it looked like a lot of cancelled plans, a lot of not responding, not sleeping, not brushing my teeth, not taking enough showers. I stopped trying to process my grief. I stopped making plans and trying to connect. I stopped reading. I stopped riding. I stopped everything. I’d forget my thyroid medication, forget to eat, forget to respond to texts. My whole life became one minute to the next, one foot in front of the other, one absolutely necessary task at a time.

And now I’m here, having drifted so far only to come right back to the same realization that I had in the midst of my cancer treatment–this is my life and time presses on whether I’m truly living it or not. I have lost so many but there are so many who are still here. I am still here. And for what? . . . if all I do with my time is shuffle one minute to the next? I need to write out this dark chapter so I can finally close it.

So I’m straightening my shoulders and picking up the reins (and my pen ; ), even though I haven’t quite decided where I’m going yet. I know I’m ready to leave here. I’ve turned a corner and whatever comes next, I’m meeting it head on . . . in clean clothes . . . with my teeth brushed . . . and my lipstick on.

It’s Time, I Suppose

It’s time, I suppose, that I really looked at myself–my eyes, my body, my life.
“How have you been?” I might ask
but probably I won’t
because the answer is “I’ve been with the children.”
I already know.
Instead, perhaps, I could say
“What color of lipstick would you like to wear?” or
“Those shirts are so old and worn, let’s find something new.”

It’s time, I suppose, that I pulled out my notebooks
my scribbles, my art
and pored over them again
to remember where I was
when I quit writing.
My fingers have been drumming
on the dining room table
writing out a grocery list that goes
Broccoli
Avocados
Milk
the milk spilled
we must have more
Cream
my coffee needs
I need
a break from boring lists
to write about how I love
living near the wild things
where tall trees bang into each other
when the wind whips up
and dark clouds rush overhead
heavy with hail and snow and
it’s so cold
I can focus on one thing at a time
Butter
Flour
Eggs
Sigh.

It is time, I suppose
because I’m restless
and the children are napping
and I can’t remember who I was
I can’t remember what I was doing
what was important
before they came.
Not that I plan to try and go back
I don’t so much want to go back
as to figure out where to start
becoming who I am now.

It’s time, I suppose
after I finish this list
after I put together something for dinner
something with the jalapenos
which are about to go bad
a few diaper changes
some fresh pajamas
it’s almost time
bedtime is soon
I’ll tuck them in
and kiss their sweet heads
read a few stories
then it will be dark
and quiet
then I’ll start
maybe pour a glass of wine
then I’ll decide
where to begin
becoming who I am now.

Tris

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I smile when I think of you.
Our memories vivid and cherished.
Like that time I was sure we could cross
the river and you were sure we shouldn’t
but in you went anyway when I asked
and though I panicked when I felt us
begin to float downstream
you steadily made our way to shore
albeit further down than I intended.
You always did that
rescued us
steadily.
From that foggy evening I got us lost
when we first moved to Idaho
to that too steep, crumbly foothill I
pointed us up
only to have to ask you how to get down.
Or that time I had cancer
and was four days out
from a painfully thorough neck surgery
but everyone who would have told me no
had finally gone back to work and
we were alone so
of course
And when that giant tree branch
did exactly what tree branches do
and I had to choose because my neck
(stitched and glued shut as it was)
did not want to work
I chose to slide off because there was no saddle
(of course)
and the moment you felt me left of center
you stopped moving
despite your hooves sliding down
the very steep, dry, and sandy creek bank.
You just dropped your head low and turned to watch
with one, mildly annoyed, “I told you so” eye
while I slowly slowly slid
down your side
gripping first your neck, then your leg
to ease my imminent meeting with the ground.
Could you imagine if I’d had to go back
to the hospital for my idiocy?
But I didn’t (of course)
because you were you and
no matter how awful some of my ideas turned out
it always turned out okay.
I smile because I remember
and all of our memories but one
turned out fine.
I smile
but I’m stuck, Tris.
Right where you left me under the apple tree.
I understand that there is life and there is death.
I understand we all get to be here together for only so much time
and I don’t regret a moment of the 18 years
I got to love you
no matter how it hurts now you’re gone.
The part I can’t get figured
is this:
I need freedom to be happy
like I need air to breathe.
And as long as you were there in the field
I knew freedom was just as close.
I knew you would carry me right out of myself
when my thoughts got too heavy
or my burdens too much to bear.
In the two years since you’ve gone
I have learned that humans and dogs
are full of love
but cannot really offer freedom.
And I don’t want to be held
I don’t want to cry in someone’s arms.
I don’t want to talk about it,
I want to run.
I want to fly.
Not forever, not away.
Just for the joy of speed
and possibility;
all while sitting soul to soul
in the sweet silence
of being understood
without having to explain.