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Month: December 2013

Open Christmas Letter to My Loved Ones

Open Christmas Letter to My Loved Ones

fir and frostyAs the close of 2013 approaches, I find my thoughts are unoriginal. Like the rest of the world, I’m looking backward, recalling highlights, lowlights, surprises and sadness that dotted the past year.

It’s been a year of firsts. First trip to Europe. First novel published. First novel(s) illustrated. First chance to chair the annual Providence Hospice Fundraiser. First year serving on the board. So many new experiences. For all of the above, I was uniquely unqualified to serve. But, thanks to the grace of God, each one turned out just fine.

It’s been a year of change. My eldest daughter is mastering the art of driving. To support her bold moves toward independence, I’m doing my best teach her other survival skills she needs to leave the nest. Lighting the grill, doing laundry, balancing finances, and making good choices to name a few. My favorite is what I call, “worst-case scenario roommate.” I randomly move her stuff, invade her personal space, toss her laundry (left too long in the dryer) onto her bed, play music she can’t stand at odd times, Make noise while she’s sleeping. I agree, it’s a tad cruel, but I think she’ll thank me for it after her freshman year of college.

My youngest daughter doesn’t have to endure such horrific parenting tactics. Not yet, at least. She started at a new school this fall. What I expected to amount to a big deal because she’d been at the same place for five year, has been smooth sailing. All the credit for her positive transition belongs to her, dear adaptable, Bryn. She even tried out for the school play and won the role of Joy, the baby spider. She sparkled.

The year was marked with moments of sadness and loss. As I stood inside the doors of Notre Dame, Paris, France, I received the news that my former boss had died of cancer. Jon Pettit touched so many lives, inspired leaders from unlikely heroes and then endowed them with the skills to guide others with compassion and strength.

My beloved sister-in-law, Stacy stays in our prayers as her parents struggle with health issues that have prohibited them from traveling to Seattle for the holidays.

And as minor as it sounds, I’ve watched old friends drift away this year. I’ve been left wondering what I did to push them away. It’s difficult to watch as old friends become strangers. It leaves me feeling sad.

But, the year has sweet to go with the sour. Old friends I’d long given up on, reached out again! We’ve reconnected, this handful of people and me. And each time it happens, it feels like a warm kiss on my cheek. Yes, we’ve all got a few more gray hairs on our head, but so what? It makes the reunions feel all the more important.

This year has been defined by the ways I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone. The results have been mixed. You know about my work with Providence. But, did you know I vlog to teens? It’s a term I wasn’t familiar until a few months ago; vlogging is video blogging. It makes me squirm in my seat to think of strangers watching my videos on YouTube, but that discomfort is outweighed by the thing that presses on my heart to do it. Teens today have more thrust upon them than ever. They have 24-hour/day access to the world, and we criticize them when they make terrible decisions about what to photograph, tweet, post or text. Well, I’m cheering them on, giving them advice on waters I (thankfully) never had to navigate. I’m finding that my message is often the first positive one teens have heard. And so, I’ll keep vlogging. (cringe – gnash teeth – cringe)

I’ve attempted to reach out to my fellow indie authors to encourage their work. It’s a lonely business, writing. But, publishing a book can feel even lonelier when imagine that no one is reading what you wrote. Or the ones that do, don’t get it. On a playing field that’s tilted to the advantage of legacy publishers, I’m doing my part to read indies, shop indies and review indies. I hope you’ll join me in this effort. If you want to find your new favorite author, check out my publisher’s website, Booktrope.com. I promise you’ll fall in love.

Our 2012 Christmas puppy, Cooper, has mellowed over the course of the year. He’s mostly-trained and ever-loving. Having lived long enough to lose a number of great cats and dogs, I treasure the days with our friend, Cooper. He brings joy and unconditional love to our lives.

This year I’ve learned to guard family time. Life has driven us hard, and my family members have been flung across the map, miles from one another, too often this year.  This is not easy for us. And for me, well,  I only relax when my four people are under my roof. I sleep best when everybody’s home, safe and snug. I smile more. I dare to dream and create. So, in the days when we’re all home,  I protect our family time. I say no to invitations, really great, happy events hosted by loving people. As hard as it is, I say no to keep my family healthy and strong.

So, as you bid 2013 farewell, both the sweets and sorrows, hold your loved ones close. Say thank you to those that make your time on this planet bearable. Take responsibility for your actions. Stretch past your comfort zone. And let others have the blessing of helping you. That’s right, try to accept help.

Until next year, my friend.

Love,
Jennifer

House Ghost – a guest post by Kate Erickson

House Ghost – a guest post by Kate Erickson

413 Fir Color
The House on Fir Street, Fort Bragg, California, watercolor by Jennifer L. Hotes

From the mid- to late eighties, my husband Gary and I—along with one baby and then another—made an annual trek to visit friends who had moved from Fresno to Fort Bragg, California. During our stay, we fantasized about how lovely it would be to live a slower paced life in a small town amid pristine coastal beauty.

Every year as we drove back to Fresno, each mile returned us to the reality that we had jobs and lives that could not transfer. Back home we realized we didn’t have the skills to survive in a remote town. We were ill-equipped to face the frightening challenges of living without such amenities as Costco, Target or money.

As it turned out, we didn’t have to make the decision to move to Fort Bragg—a house made it for us.

In the summer of 1989, we were walking around the little town when, across the alley from the mortuary, we saw a For Sale sign in front of a Victorian.

“That’s our house,” I said. For some reason I felt more convinced of this than anything ever in my life. The house was white with black shutters. A black wrought iron fence enclosed a large yard. I envisioned my children playing in that yard.

Gary was silent for a minute and then said, “I think you’re right.” He wrote down the number of the realtor.

When the realtor learned our status—small children, no jobs in the area, just finished building a home in Fresno—he said, “You don’t want that house. It’s too fancy. It’s not a family house.” He took us on tours of smaller, less expensive houses. I think he hoped we’d come to our senses and settle for a vacation home.

We thanked him for his time. The next day, we drove by the Victorian and noticed an open house sign. A tall gray-haired man answered the door. We told him we wanted to buy his house. He chuckled, introduced himself as the owner and let us in.

As we walked through rooms with high ceilings and crown moldings, my feeling that this was our family home grew stronger. Afterward, Gary said he felt the same way.

We made an offer and within a couple of months were owners of the house.

In our lucid moments, we were terrified about what we’d done. We had a second home that we could barely afford and a sketchy plan to uproot our lives. There were so many ways it could have imploded.

It took us three years to manipulate our lives to allow us to move to Fort Bragg. By that time, our son was six, our daughter three and we’d added a golden retriever puppy. (When life is at its peak of crazy, make sure to get a puppy.)

About four months before we moved, I called the Bank of American Investment Services district office in Santa Rosa. I explained that I’d be moving to Fort Bragg and was interested in working as an investment advisor in that branch.

Jim Schuster, the district manager, said that he’d recently hired someone to cover the Mendocino coastal branches. I sent him my resume.

Two months later, Jim called and said the employee had not worked out. After a brief interview, he hired me to cover the three coastal branches: Fort Bragg, Mendocino and Point Arena.

In the meantime, Gary was able to transform his job as a contract and grant writer with Cal State Fresno into one he could perform remotely with brief monthly commutes to Fresno.

We moved to Fort Bragg on June 13, 1992.

As newcomers, the two most common questions we received were, “How long have you lived here?” and “What part of town do you live in?”

About a year into my job, an elderly gentleman entered the branch, leaned on his cane and shouted, “Where’s the gal who lives next door to the mortuary?”

I raised my hand.

He walked to my desk, sat down and told me the history of our home.

The original builders were Robert Bruce Markle and his wife Minnie, whose mother Sarah Foster was a survivor of the Donner Party. The entire family was buried in a plot at Rose Memorial Park, a cemetery about three blocks from our home.

Foster GraveAfter work that evening, Gary, the kids and I searched for the headstone that the Native Sons of the Golden West had erected in honor of Sarah Foster. When we found it, we got out of the car and introduced ourselves to the family who had built our house. We noticed that a daughter Margarite had died at the age of five.

As a mother, I could imagine Minnie’s heartache over losing her only daughter, her youngest child and precious baby. We picked wildflowers and laid them next to Margarite’s headstone. (I later learned she fell off a swing in the yard and suffered a fatal concussion.)

A year or so later, I was home alone, relaxing in bed. Harrison and Laine had spent the night at the house of some friends and Gary had gotten up early to go fishing. My eyes were closed, the dog asleep next to the bed, when I heard a high-pitched voice from the hallway say, “Mommy?”

“What?” I said.

The dog looked toward the hallway and thumped his tail.

I remembered I was alone in the house.

“It’s okay, Margarite,” I said. “We promise to stay and take care of you.”

And stay we have—for 21 years. When our kids became teenagers, Gary and I spoke of moving to a smaller house after they left. They eventually went onto college and adult lives in San Francisco and Oakland. As we enter into year seven of our empty nest, we can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Over a hundred years ago, Robert Bruce and Minnie Markle built this house for their family—and ultimately for us. Their spirits knew something we did not—that no matter what tribulations came our way, everything would be okay. And believe me, we have had our share of troubles—Gary’s eye condition deteriorated to the point where he was forced into early retirement, which forced me to become the breadwinner; repairs to the property always cost far more than we imagine; and other issues have caused sleepless nights.

I have not heard from Margarite since that morning years ago, but often feel the warmth of the spirits that enticed us to make this our family home. I am grateful they called to us on that sidewalk so many years ago.

Kate loves the quirky aspects of living on the Mendocino Coast so much that she writes a humor blog about it. Check it out at:  www.ithappenedatpurity.com. Her posts are funny and poignant, so go ahead and subscribe. While you’re at it, like her page on Facebook. Thanks for being a guest, Kate!

End of Life Doesn’t Mean End of Choice

End of Life Doesn’t Mean End of Choice

11_Angel Crying_unknownConversations about an end of life plan don’t sound like the stuff of holiday blogs, I realize. But tell me, when is the right time for such a talk? As I type, beloved members of my family are navigating these difficult waters. And it makes me mindful that I don’t want there to be any guesswork as to how my life ends.

So, here it is. If my brain isn’t working, and my body relies on machines to function, you have my permission to kiss me, whisper what you want to me, and unplug the machines. If I have a terminal illness, I want to spend my last days surrounded by my loved ones and pets in the comfort of my own home. I want pain relief, to make the last days as comfortable as possible.I want you to accept my decision to reject medical treatments and medications or embrace my choice to try and fight. I’d like to have a view out a window from my bed. I want to hold your hand and tell me it is okay to let go when it’s time. And when I die, so help me God, I’ll haunt you if you harbor any guilt or feeling of responsibility in regards to my passing.

At a recent board meeting for Seattle’s Providence Hospice Foundation, we were joined by the CEO, who shared his thoughts  about the future of medical care. As the rest of the medical community spirals into panic mode, touched off by the what ifs of Obamacare, we had a rich conversation about the changing state of medical care. It includes a more compassionate, loving approach to end of life issues – and is driven by the all-mighty dollar.

ICU stays are expensive, and ICU deaths are emotionally and financially bankrupting. Our pocketbooks and commonsense are making for better communication and more intimate care of the ailing. They are leading oncologists to segue into palliative care doctors, trained to treat the whole person, sooner. We are resisting the urge to push the next treatment and the next down the throats of patients. Instead we’re asking about quality of life, goals, choices.

In an article on mercurynews.com, experts assessed the costs of dying. Hospitals are beginning to question whether they are prolonging life or protracting a death. It’s good to hear the medical community thinking in this direction.

So, as unpopular as it may go down, I want you to think about the end of your life. You deserve to choose your path, and now is the time. It is a gift to yourself, and your loved ones. Spare those you love from the experience of trying their best to make decisions for you while they are raw with emotion. If you stay silent, they will have to guess. And that’s no way to finish your beautiful life.