The second book in the Waterwight trilogy will take you to places higher and deeper than you ever thought possible as Celeste discovers ancient gods who have their own ideas about what she should be doing.
Kindle download Christmas day…no fuss, no muss, no shipping.
(paperback out in January 2018)
We were delighted this week to be visited by Vail Daily news reporters! I was interviewed along with Stephanie Spong, President of the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation, Carol Glenn, City of Leadville Chamber of Commerce and Victorian Homes Tour Director, and Mary Ann Best, Treasurer and Volunteer Coordinator for the Tabor Opera House.
Patricia Bernier January 2, 1929 – October 19, 2017
While on my way to visit Mum in the hospital earlier this week, I started thinking about last words. It’s unlike me to stall when it comes to expressing myself, but what last words do you say to a woman whose life has provided the template for your own—a template you will first follow (because you have to), then alter (because you know best), and then ultimately imitate once more (because you have learned a few things since when you thought you knew best)?
Do the words “I love you” say enough? Or “thank you for your guidance, your patience, your discipline, your advice, your laughter, your hugs, your recipes”? Could any words ever express enough?
Our Mum—your sister, cousin, mother-in-law, Nana, aunt, friend—was a powerhouse. If you knew her at all, you knew how much she loved being surrounded by family and friends, and how after most of us moved away she wished all her little chickens would someday be together again on a big family compound.
You might say she liked to be in charge of things. She was a woman of strong opinions, and she was never afraid of sharing them. She raised her children in a “Father Knows Best” era, yet somehow was able to fulfill the expectations of being the perfect housewife while also instilling in her daughters the belief that they were capable of accomplishing their wildest dreams.
Mum’s dreams were for her family. Most of you know what a talented artist she was—her paintings hang in many of our homes—but she never pursued being an artist or an interior decorator as a profession. She was also an adept seamstress. The most common thread woven through Mum’s life, however, was her faith. She shared a story about when her family moved—she was in 4th grade at the time, so she was about 9—and some of the popular girls invited the new girl into their circle. “After some time I tried to save their souls and told them they’d better join the Catholic church or they would surely lose their soul and go to hell. I firmly believed it and my ‘gift of faith’ has stayed unflappable, but I have conceded that ‘God is merciful’ and some might make it to heaven.” She then recalled a cute boy who—of course—was Catholic and she couldn’t wait to kiss him—“and I did,” she said. You might say that she led her life with all kinds of passion.
Several years ago while interviewing Mum and Dad about their lives, Mum talked about not having a single regret, except that “I’m not a princess, but my Prince Charming has treated me thus . . . the only way a man should treat the woman he loves.” Much laughter ensued, and then she shared an astounding fact. In the entire span of her lifetime, she never once filled her car with gasoline! Can anyone else among you say the same? I do believe that fact alone elevated her to princess status, and in any case, the look in Dad’s eyes and his great smile whenever she told her stories were proof enough that she was his queen bee.
About a year ago I asked Mum to jot down a few ideas about how she’d like others to remember her. We girls have loved the way our parents were unafraid of these conversations, and I still laugh when I recall asking Dad for input on his funeral arrangements. “Surprise me,” he said.
Here are the things Mum wanted to be remembered for (and I quote):
My love of my God and his wondrous, awesome creation.
That I loved much.
How I handled the joys and sorrows of life. Hopefully with dignity, kindness and generosity.
Having made a happy home with the prince of my life, and raising my children with him.
Being as welcoming to my five sons-in-law and as glowing in the delight of each grandchild and great grandchild, for whom I have great dreams.
Appreciating the path God gave me as I travelled, made new friends, and enjoyed the marvelous companionship and love with Charlie, my “Marco Polo” lover, and
That I used my God-given talents to the best of my ability.
What more need I add to her list?
Some things we whispered to Mum as she finally released her ties to this world were things like “I love you . . . you set the standards for being a mother and a wife . . . thank you for your guidance, your patience, your discipline, your advice, your laughter, your hugs, your recipes . . . don’t be afraid . . . your job is done here . . . your Marco Polo is waiting for you . . . start working on that family compound in heaven . . . but please don’t start redecorating until you’ve been there a while . . . we’ll be okay, we’ll take good care of one another, just as you’ve taught us to . . .”
We whispered all the things she already knew.
Because ultimately, it’s not the last words that matter. It’s the lifetime of words and deeds and the acknowledgment that we all share and endure this human experience, this short visit on a planet designed to challenge us in different ways.
Mum accepted every challenge—even her final one—with grace and dignity, in a manner befitting the princess we all secretly believed she has been all along.
I recently had the privilege of speaking as a guest on a podcast about writing and marketing challenges with Michelle Vandepas–business and marketing strategist, TEDx speaker, best-selling author and all around great person!
We discuss writing styles, marketing strategies, writer’s block (I say “bah, humbug” to that!), and inspiration.
Put the kettle on and sip some tea while you visit with us!
Join me for just under an hour as Jerry Fabyanic–columnist, radio show host, and author of Sisyphus Wins–interviews me!
Here’s the link to his show, The Writers Talk. You might want to clean out your closet or your sock drawer while listening . . . or maybe even take notes! We talk about all kinds of writing ideas and challenges!
She’ll sit, perhaps feel
Celestial alignment flux
But won’t look skyward
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“Hi, Mum! It’s Laurel Jean. What will you be doing for the eclipse today?”
“Oh, I dunno. I won’t be looking at it, that’s for sure. I can watch it on T.V.”
Mum is more than halfway beyond her 88th year and is having trouble with her vision. I want to tell her to go ahead and take a peak, but I don’t.
She made a decision several months ago to move into an assisted living home a stone’s throw from where my younger sister lives, a decision all five of us daughters appreciate.
“The kids are gone for a few days,” she tells me. “Isn’t it wonderful they can do that now and not have to worry about me?”
I agree it’s a wonderful thing.
“You should at least go outside and sit while it’s happening,” I suggest. “You don’t have to look at it. Just feel it.”
“I suppose I could do that,” she agrees. “I could sit in one of the chairs on the porch.”
I tell her I’ll check in later.
I don’t tell her what I’m about to do.
At 10:30 a.m. I pick up my friend Elise and the two of us drive way up toward Mosquito Pass on a road that gives my old 4-Runner a workout.
“Oh! There are lots of people up here,” Elise comments as we continue our slow, upward crawl. “I guess that makes sense.”
It makes perfect sense to me. What better place to witness a solar eclipse than way up high on a mountain in Colorado?
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not shy,” I tell her, and she laughs.
Along with being a friend, Elise is the photographer for a calendar project I’m working on to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the historic Tabor Opera House in Leadville: the 2018 Calendar Girls of Leadville. One of our models suggested our motto could be “Leadville Antiques: Uncovered” because all of the women in the calendar are age 50 and older . . . and in the spirit of the original 2003 film Calendar Girls, we’ve all agreed to be photographed tastefully “uncovered.”
Although the common rule for something to be considered antique is that it be 100 years or older, according to an article in mentalfloss.com, “An exception to this rule is cars and other items that are subject to frequent wear—they can be called antique when they are over 25 years old.”
All my volunteer models have agreed that they’ve been subject to frequent wear, so splitting the difference between 25 and 100 gave us our new 50-year antique designation.
So why am I driving up this gnarly road with my photographer?
Just yesterday, my friend Char asked, “Are you doing an eclipse photo shoot for the calendar?” And then she saw my eyes grow wide. I hadn’t even considered it. And I can’t believe I hadn’t even considered it. But who could I convince with less than a day’s notice to get naked outside during the much-heralded eclipse?
After a few failed phone calls, I knew it had to be me. Suddenly, I wanted it to be me.
Elise spots a pull-off far enough away and between two other groups of eclipse watchers and we head across a field toward a large, lichen-covered boulder. It’s perfect.
I drop my clothes, don my approved eclipse-watching eye protection, grab my diaphanous silk scarf and climb atop the boulder.
The boulder is cold.
The breeze way up high on a mountain on a cold boulder under an eclipsing sun is cold.
But I’m on fire.
I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it makes me giddy.
I’m a naked antique woman experiencing a total solar eclipse in a way I’d never imagined. Though the fingernail of sun is still bright around the edge of the moon, I feel the temperature drop when I liberate my body from my sheer prop.
“Beautiful!” Elise encourages me as I turn, catching the chilling breeze in flutters of sunset-colored silk.
Elise suggests various compositions and I comply as the moon stealthily steals what little warmth the sun might offer. We laugh with each new pose I make.
“You haven’t lived till you’ve had lichen scratch your butt,” I comment. “Not sure I’m liken this!” It’s a goofy pun, but it helps release me from sudden self-consciousness.
If it’s possible, Elise is as stunned and elated as I am about what we’re doing.
“This is crazy,” I say, “and exciting, and . . . it’s probably illegal . . . but it just seems so right, right?” I’m pretty sure the other groups of people on either side of us can’t clearly see what’s happening on the cold boulder, but they probably have a good idea. My scarf is hard to miss, and although the eclipse is what they’re there for, they might make out an occasional full moon.
“When people see my work, I want them to feel joy,” Elise tells me as she snaps photo after photo, and I am filled with happiness. This is joy.
The thrill of baring all keeps the fire burning in my soul even while goosebumps cover my body. I want the movement of the celestial bodies to slow down, to appreciate what’s happening on the tiny planet and all the tiny specs upon it below, perhaps even to acknowledge me somehow. But that’s just ridiculous, and I know it.
I feel special and beautiful and just a spec naughty, and this satisfies me.
We’re just about done when I hear a jeep making its way up the road between us and the group down the hill.
“OH! My GOD!” a man’s voice carries across the field as I wrap my scarf around me and sit on the scratchy boulder.
I wonder if the jeep will stop. I wonder if I’ll be arrested. But the jeep continues its crawl up the road, and we laugh again. I’m pretty sure I’ve just made someone’s day.
I have a feeling Elise wants to experience the pure delight and freedom I’ve just experienced.
“I could take photos of you . . .”
And so I do, and they’re joyful.
We complete the photo shoot but don’t want to leave right away. Everyone has left the mountain, even the wind gods, and it’s quiet. We laugh some more and thank one another for our friendship and the experience.
“We’re all part of this . . . the eclipse dust, the lichen bones . . .” I know I sound like a hippy, but I don’t mind. I tell Elise how insignificant I’d felt standing under the star-spangled, Milky-Way-splashed sky the night of my son Nick’s 100-mile mountain race just two nights prior.
“But we’re not insignificant,” she corrects me. “We’re a part of all of that too.”
This eclipse is history. We drive back down the mountain to work and home and rain clouds approaching. We have photos we might use for the calendar project and memories of a special event made that much more memorable because of how we chose to experience it. *
I call Mum after I take a hot shower to remove the chill in my bones and the lichen from my butt.
“So?” I ask. “Did you go outside?”
She tells me she did, and she felt the temperature drop. I tell her what I’ve just done and she laughs. Even more, she understands why I did it and why I’m still giddy.
“You know,” she confesses, “when I was about twenty-two, my best friend Ginger Gray and I took pin-up girl photos of each other for our husbands. I looked pretty good back then.”
“You still look pretty good, Mum! And I love you.”
“I love you too, my darlin’ girl, to the stars and back.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
* Every photo shoot we’ve done for this calendar project has been joyful because the women who have volunteered to bare more than their souls for it have brought with them their feisty, fun-loving spirits. I hope all my readers will order multiple copies of the 2018 Calendar Girls of Leadville calendar when they’re ready. All net proceeds will be donated to the Tabor Opera House Preservation Foundation.
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If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
You might also enjoy my story about how “the girls” were used to thwart an international incident: Battle-Dressed Breasts
I led a WeWrite session for Chaffee County Writers Exchange this morning and thought I’d have a little fun with my prompt-a-thon. After deciding on a smorgasborg theme, we started the session off with this prompt:
An important person you respect and like is coming to dinner. You prepare a smorgasborg. Who is coming and what will you have on your table?
Even though I came up with the prompt, I wasn’t prepared to answer the “Who is coming” part. So I closed my journal and got my answer. HA! My Wonder Woman journal (thank you, sister-in-law, for the fun gift) got me started! Here’s what I wrote:
When Wonder Woman agreed to spend a weekend in Leadville and speak at our writing group meeting, I knew our first dinner together had to be extra special. I mean, come on now . . . Wonder Woman?
As I had no way to contact her about any potential food allergies—she’d be flying around the planet doing really important work before landing in my back yard for dinner—I’d have to guess what kind of foods she’d appreciate.
And, come on now . . . Wonder Woman having any food allergies? Ridiculous.
Nevertheless, I chose to play it safe and go with a gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, meat-free, hormone-free spread. Here’s what’s on my table:
A bowl full of rusty nails for all her mineral needs
Local spring water for all her hydration needs.
That should be enough. It she’s still hungry after dinner, I”ll take her to High Mountain Pies for pizza and beer.
[Hey, I only had 10 minutes to write this, and I used 2 minutes to figure out my “who” and think about dinner. Don’t judge!]
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If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!
Writing and stories about life, real and imagined!