The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning two years ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?

To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.

I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .

Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.

And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.

So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.

I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.

So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.

The Lipstick Letters

it has something to do with how my thoughts go from
pouring to spilling
when I’ve had too much wine–
spreading across the page
and leaving a stain
no matter how I try to clean them up later.

It’s about the tangle of worries in my head
thorns that grab at my arms and legs
painfully holding me back
slowing me down . . .

It’s about realizing the tangles are all just me
the thorns are my own thoughts
so why can’t I just free myself?

It’s about how nothing helpful ever follows the phrase
“why can’t you just?”

It has something to do with wearing these words on my lips
and glossing over their lack in my life

My life is lacking something
I’m going to go get
as soon as I figure out what it is . . .

It’s about having to start here
among the thorns
when I thought I’d already have made it
to the mountaintop.



The Short Version

I had been getting up at 5am to write, but ever since daylight savings time, my children have been getting up around 5am, so today I got up at 4am because I am a glutton for punishment, but also because I love writing and if this is the only way, so be it.

I’ve overhauled my plans for The Lipstick Letters and I’m sooooooooo excited about it! Instead of posting one blog for each shade, I plan to post a collection of thoughts, poems, and whatever else strikes my fancy over the course of a month for each word. When I’m done, I plan to pull it all together, add to it a bit, and edit the full body of work into a book.

The best uncle and cousin in the world (if you know me at all, you know who I’m talking about) bought me a beautiful briefcase for my birthday which I keep packed with my notebooks, pens, laptop, etc so whenever there is a moment to write, everything is in one place, ready to go.

Writing time has also been scarce because someone in my family has been sick every week since my sweet Sunshine started kindergarten. I was warned it would be this way and all those warnings have come to pass.

Momming at the level I want and writing at the level I want are currently mutually exclusive. This is frustrating, but also simple. Momming comes first and writing will simply have to fit in the cracks for now.

Lastly, we finally got our first snow of the season and it just happened to be on the day we got our Christmas tree . . .

Keep Going

It hit yesterday. I’ve been waiting because it always does, I just never know when. It started when I woke up and went to write. I’ve been getting up around 5am to write in the mornings because it’s the only quiet time I have until after the kids are in bed for the night. And, by then, my brain might as well be scrambled eggs.

I was sitting on the couch trying to get a thought out just the way I wanted it and I was really struggling. I kept thinking no one is going to like this and I’m doing such a poor job getting it down that they probably won’t even understand it. Then these words whispered through my brain,

“Just quit. You can’t do it.”

Sounds cliche but its the absolute truth. I ignored that voice and kept going. Posted what I’d written even though I didn’t like it very much because my dislikes can’t be trusted when that voice is in my head.

It reminded me of my life before kids when I accepted a director level position with the county. It was the biggest and toughest job I’d ever taken on and while I had incredible support from my bosses and an amazing staff, lots of doubts and fears were expressed from all sides, especially in my first six months. One particularly tough day after work I was telling my husband about it and he said,

“Quit worrying about what other people think and do your job.”

Such a short and simple phrase but it was earth-shaking for me. He got right to the heart of it in just 11 words. I had the knowledge and experience to do what needed to be done, but when others around me got scared or upset I’d begin to question every little thing, put off decisions I knew were right, and generally freeze up in fear.

I wrote those words on a post it note and stuck it to the bottom of my computer monitor where I could see them every day and recite them in my mind like a mantra whenever I needed them.

I’ve started to take my own writing seriously then quit almost immediately more times than I can count over the past decade. But yesterday, when those doubts and fears rose up in my mind, I did exactly what I promised myself I would do this time–I kept going.

Just like that director job, this one is going to be tough some days. I’ll have doubts, I’ll make mistakes, not everything I put out there is going to be well-received, and my worst critic is always going to be that part of myself that just isn’t sure. So, I rewrote my husband’s words on a new note to keep handy, pressed onward, and made it through my first day of almost, but not quite, crippling self-doubt.

Whatever it is you truly want to do or be in this life, odds are good you’re going to run into obstacles along the way, odds are even better that the biggest, most challenging obstacle to overcome is going to be yourself. Quit worrying about what other people think and do your job. And if you can’t quit worrying about what other people think, do your job anyway. There’s only one way to get where you want to be: keep going.

Shifted–Body Image

This is a story about a shift in my perspective on something I thought I understood better than I did–body image.

Several months back I was showing my four year old daughter a stack of new clothes I’d ordered–mostly jeans but a few shirts as well. I was excited. They were the first new, non-maternity clothes I’d bought since I’d been pregnant with her and half of them actually fit me perfectly. I know I don’t need to tell anyone how exciting it is to find jeans that fit perfectly, so I’ll just move along to the real topic here.

I held up my favorite pair and said, “What do you think about mama’s new pants?” She’d caught on to my excitement so she jumped up and down and said, “I love them, Mama! They’re SO BIG!”

I laughed and opened my mouth to say, “Hey! Who you callin’ big?!” but by some miracle, those words got stuck on the way, maybe in my throat, maybe in my heart. It was one of those moments in life when your whole world tilts and suddenly everything that was familiar seems foreign. And I realized something so sad and so important.

All my life I’d thought girls and women grew up to hate their bodies because of society, because of bullies, because of impossible beauty standards in movies and magazines. But in that moment, it was crystal clear that it doesn’t start with society at all.

It’s mamas trying on clothes in their kitchens while their beautiful daughters and sons watch. Mamas who say things like “Who you callin’ big?” making it clear that “big” is bad, an insult, something you shouldn’t say and it isn’t good to be. When to a four year old, “big” is just a word you use when you notice that your mom’s pants are bigger than your pants. It starts with the faces we make when we look at ourselves in the mirror and we think they aren’t watching. It starts with the words we use to describe ourselves when we think they aren’t listening or won’t understand. And all those words we sling so carelessly build our babies into adults. Adults who know before they ever enter into society what to value based on what they learned at home from people who love them but may not have learned to love themselves.

I stared a beat at her sweet face, eyes still lit with happiness at my happiness, and instead of saying those dangerous, poisonous words, I said, “Heck yeah they’re big! I need room for my big, mama buns!” and we laughed and when I tried on the last outfit, she said, “You look beautiful, Mama.” and I felt that in my soul. So I thanked her and said, “I feel beautiful, baby.”

Want

I want to throw my heart in the wash. Hot/Cold, Heavy Duty Cycle and see if these feelings will come out.

I want to know why I hold on to people and things that don’t hold on to me.

I want to shake my head so hard the facts fall out, because I don’t want to see this as what it’s become.

I want to have already done the work I see before me.

I want to know why they’re dead and if they all have to die and I have to stay here, why does it have to feel this way every time?

And why can’t I stop myself from loving them all so much? Why doesn’t my heart ever run out? Even when it seems impossible that I could ever love again, even when I hope I won’t; there I go.

I want to pull a dark, heavy sky over our heads so we can talk without being overheard by God.

Friday Randoms

I’ll be honest. I was working toward bolstering my courage, but I didn’t really think I’d feel much different after declaring myself a writer. I was wrong.

Am I terrible at routine? Or do I just have no interest in it?

Sometimes, I think I’m having an identity crisis, but when the dust clears, it always turns out I’m just getting better at being who I’ve always been.

Here I stand, at the edge of this ocean inside, staring down at words that curl and rush–reaching for my bare toes. I’ve hesitated long enough; I’m going in.

I said too much. Because if I’d said nothing at all, I would’ve never felt like I didn’t say enough.

My heart is open, spilled like warm, flat soda in the parking lot. It will evaporate eventually. The rain will come and wash the rest away. And no one will know it was here.

He begged me to put my faith in him-all that was left were shattered remains of a tattered hope. I handed them over and watched them so slowly turn to doves in his palm . . . do you know how many years? . . . how much energy and patience? . . . it takes to turn pain into doves?

I may slow down here and there, but I’m never turning back.

Lucky Peak, Indeed (A repost per my mama’s request!)

This happened six years ago today! And remains one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. When the chips are well and truly down, that’s when you find out what you (and your dog) are capable of! Anyway, my mama was talking about this with my aunt the other day and asked if I’d written about it (which, of course, I had). So here it is, enjoy!

This past Sunday, I decided to go kayaking at Lucky Peak Reservoir and since no one wanted to go with me, my ever faithful Why?lee was conscripted into service as first mate.  As always, I checked the weather on my phone several times prior to putting in and it was supposed to be 88 degrees with partial clouds, then a storm at 9pm. Others must have seen the same report I did, because there were lots of people still putting their (motor) boats in when I arrived.  There were clouds, and it rained for a moment, but the sun was shining brightly and it looked to be a lovely afternoon.

Here is a photo taken right when we pulled up on a little beach about 200 yards or so from Turner Gulch:

photo 2

But, as promising as things looked when I first arrived, the clouds behind me were darkening up fairly quickly and after only five minutes on the beach, I made the decision to pack up and paddle back before things got worse.  I screwed the cap back on my coke, rolled up my chips and put them into the back hatch of my kayak.  Then I turned to get my life-jacket (which I had been sitting on) and my dog (whom I had been sitting with).  While my dog was still there, my life jacket had blown away.  Not good.

I found it hung up in some sage brush and trekked after it only to turn around when I felt a strong gust of wind and see my kayak (which was half in the water, half out) blown completely out of the water and dropped onto the beach.  Now, my little kayak is only about 10’6″ inches long but it still weighs in at a solid 45 lbs.  Not good.

I took a moment to put the life jacket on and tighten the straps while thinking over my options.  Obviously, the weather app on my phone LIED to me and the question became, do I make a break for the dock where I put in or do I try and wait it out?  Had it been earlier in the day, had I not known it was going to be worse in another hour, and had I not really, really thought I could make it, I might have tried to wait it out.  But as things stood, it seemed to me I had a good chance to make the boat ramps before things got out of hand, so I went for it.

I put in and paddled about ten yards off the shore before another gust of wind literally blew me all the way back to the beach.  I gave it a moment, the wind died down and we struck out yet again.  This time, I made it much further before another gust came through and spun the boat in a couple of 360’s all while continuing to push us back toward the shore we’d just left.  I tried to stop the spinning using my paddle and the wind tried to rip it out of my hands.  Water was coming in over the front of the boat, it started raining again, only this time the stinging your face kind of rain, and in the midst of that terrifying chaos I went into survival mode.

Everyone was trying to get off the water asap, yet another indicator to me that I was not the only one caught off-guard by the sudden arrival of gale-force winds.  I no longer expected to be able to paddle all the way back to the dock, instead, my plan morphed into getting the attention of one of the motor boats passing me and hitch a ride for Why?lee and myself.  I was confident that if we could just keep from tipping, and flag someone down, we’d be fine.

However, after three boats passed us by as I frantically waved my arms and paddle in the air while screaming “HELP!” my confidence in my plan began to slip.  The wind wasn’t letting up, my kayak had three inches of water in the bottom just from waves breaking over the front and we were as far away from the shore we left as we were from the shore we needed.  A wonderful calm came over me, I stopped feeling tired, cold and scared and resumed paddling for our lives.

I felt like a paper doll in a paper boat trying to paddle in a storm drain.  I could feel my incredible, amazing, wonderful Why?lee (who was sitting between my knees, facing forward into the wind and completely unable to lay down due to lack of space) shifting his weight to prevent us from tipping.  Every time a gust hit, he would lower his head over the bow of the kayak and brace himself.  I am confident that had I had Orion with me instead of Why?lee, we would have been in the water, boat and paddle gone, swimming for our lives.

When I was nearly halfway there, I saw a boat coming back in my direction from the boat ramps and thought it was coming for me, but as he got closer, he wasn’t slowing down so I screamed “HELP!” and waved my arms.  He cut the boat engine, lifted the hood of his poncho and looked around.  When he saw me, I yelled, “Can you help me?”  And he yelled back that he was going out to get the rest of his family, but promised he would come for us after he picked them up.

This was both wonderful and awful news, but it gave me hope and as he pulled away, I went right back to paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out, paddle, paddle, lean in and wait it out.  After what seemed like an hour, but was probably closer to seven or eight minutes, I heard something behind me, and when I turned to look, the boat was back, now with three men and two women on board.  One of the guys smiled at me and said, “Ready for a break?”

Sweeter words were never spoken.

They  hauled me into their boat, which had pretty tall sides and no easy way in from the water, then they looked at Why?lee and said, “Um, we can just tow him and the boat the rest of the way.”   I could appreciate their fear, Why?lee looks like a wolf and they didn’t know him, but no, no we can’t do that I thought, my dog is with me, he didn’t have a life jacket and I was no longer in the boat to hold him tight with my knees and make sure he didn’t fall out.

All of this ran through my mind in a matter of seconds as I grabbed one of the rope handles on the lip of the boat and leaned down, gripping his harness with only my right hand and hauling him into the boat by myself.  Looking back, adrenaline is a powerful thing because I cannot imagine how I lifted all 85 or so pounds (more than half my own body weight) of dog roughly four feet with one arm while leaning over the side of a boat.  But there you have it.

So Why?lee and I sat on the floor while our rescuers held the kayak on the side and we motored the rest of the way to the dock.  I hopped out, they helped me haul Why?lee out and then set my kayak on the dock.  I ran it up to the end, right where the pavement begins and just headed for my truck before remembering my keys were still in the kayak.  When I turned to go get them, Why?lee just sat down and looked at me with his ears laid back and an “OH HELL NO” expression on his face.  I laughed, a little hysterically, and drug him back to get the keys.  I am fairly certain it will take an act of God to get him in a kayak ever again.

photo 5

Here is a photo I snapped just before we got in the truck:

photo 3



After taking a minute to chill out, I pulled down to the boat ramp and before I could even get out, my rescuers were loading up the kayak for me.  Yet another blessing, as my arms were still trembling and generally useless.  Once I had it tied down I started to head home but quickly pulled over, shaky and just not focused enough to feel safe driving.  I got out, grabbed my coke and chips out of the boat, got back in and took this photo of the water we’d just been on (Note: Why?lee would not look at me for the photo, even though I offered him a honey BBQ Frito):
Then I saw I had a text.  It was from my dad and said, “Get home now.  It’s too scary out.”

I text him back, “You have no idea . . .”

Why?lee wasn’t speaking to or looking at me all the way home.  We were both in a bit of shock, I think.  But once we were home safe, I made him a very special dinner which included an entire can of tuna fish.  He earned it and I’m not above bribing my dog for his forgiveness.  : )

I also included each one of my rescuers in my prayers because no one has to stop.  No one has to do anything, but some people do and because they did, I never had to find out if I was strong enough to make that last hundred yards on my own.

The storm raged all night with gusting winds, lightning and thunder.  And after my hot shower, I went to bed glad I had decided to go for it and wasn’t still huddled on the beach with Why?lee praying for the storm to pass.

When I woke up the next day, I was covered in bruises and felt like I’d drank a fifth of vodka by myself and been hit by a Mack truck.  But I was also safe in my warm bed next to my also safe Why?lee bear, listening to my coffee make itself, and feeling pretty good about being alive.

So I suppose Lucky Peak Reservoir can still be considered lucky, indeed.  : )

photo(4)

Saturday Thoughts

You cannot value wisdom without equally valuing mistakes.

What you think someone else is thinking is still just what you think until you verify.

Like I love Idaho’s mountains and lakes, like I love the white sand and blue-green waters of Pensacola Beach, so have I come to love the dark forests teeming with life and long, wild winters of Massachusetts.

Shifting gears again, not quite, but almost back up to speed.

I’m beginning to understand how much death is part of the rhythm of life. I’m not okay with it and my losses hurt no less, but I see the wisdom in getting to know Grief–who will visit me many times and again should I live long enough and keep on falling in love with people and animals and life as it is in a given moment that cannot stay.

Like their Lego towers and magnet block houses, my children break my heart and put it back together over and over and over again.

Grief is Love’s heaviest dress.

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.