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I’m sitting down in my desk chair—and that’s OK. Yes, for a few minutes, I have nothing urgent to do. And, after the weekend we had, I have to remind myself just to relax.

We are hosting a student from Spain for four weeks, so throughout the month we’ve been picking up the pace on decluttering and cleaning. But, in typical fashion for our household, we still had a lot to do before we were to pick up Lorenzo at the airport last night, especially since we complicated matters by getting a new couch on Monday.

Now, if you live in a modern house, perhaps getting a new couch isn’t that complicated. However, for those of us who live in older homes, moving any furniture—in or out—can be close to impossible. We know to measure the door frames and where the furniture is going to go, but the tight angles at our entryways make successful moving a guess. Of course, today’s furniture is bigger than when our house was built, but I think pieces are also bigger than when we first lived here and brought in new furniture.

Yet it’s so hard to commit to sticking with smaller pieces like loveseats and chairs while skipping a couch. There’s nothing like napping stretched out on a couch. Still, after barely pushing in our new couch for the living room last year, I was almost convinced we would not buy a couch to replace the older one in our basement.

That is until I went on Facebook and saw a picture of the couch Charles was selling. After he gave us the measurements and we measured our spaces, we decided it would make a great addition to our family room. Never mind that we didn’t really have time to drive to his place which is over half an hour away. Never mind that we should have been home getting the house ready for Lorenzo.

Couch Stuck (c) SAL

Couch Stuck (c) SAL

Once again, there we were, late at night, removing doors and railings, covering up corners, etc. While the couch did fit into the house—barely—it got stuck just beyond the bottom of the stairs. I begged Sherman to go to bed and sleep on it because I didn’t think we were going to do our walls and our new couch any favors by keeping going while we were tired.

So there it sat for a couple of days, scrunched, upside down in a hallway/pass-through area. Sherman and Charles brainstormed about how we might be able to squeeze it in—Charles hated to think his nice couch was going to be wedged in our basement like the steam shovel in the old kids’ book Mike & the Steam Shovel. The two of them came up with the idea that Ziplock bags filled with something like Crisco would provide both give and smoothness to help us inch the couch through our next set of doors safely.

Couch stuck (c) SAL

Couch stuck (c) SAL

Oh, it was slow and tedious work. We had to move aside all sorts of things from Christiana’s room and push the couch through both her doors—very carefully and one at a time. While I wouldn’t want to do it again, the idea worked!

That’s right, we finally have our new-to-us couch sitting in the family room—where it’s going to stay for a very long time! And now that we finally took the time to get the rest of the house ready, I really do want to get a chance to sit there.

I’m sure that sitting on that couch will feel very comfortable and relaxing—OK sitting anywhere might feel relaxing after all that effort! Now all we have to do is take the time to enjoy the fruits of our labors . . . then we will be sitting pretty after all, even if getting the couch at this point in our lives wasn’t the best of plans.


I have to remind myself our family is entering an epic year. Transitional years are always a big deal when your only kids are twins. This is the year before it all changes: senior year in high school.

Christiana senior pic (by Cheyenne)

Christiana senior pic (by Cheyenne)

Christiana is often ready to leap into the next phase while I am busy trying to recover from the last one. The kids had barely filled in the last Scantron bubbles on their finals when she started talking to me about senior pictures. Senior pictures? Aren’t you a junior? That’s what I was thinking.

Christiana takes after her Grandpa Duane Lambert. Once she gets a bee in her bonnet, she is hard to stop. Well, as long as she didn’t expect me to do much in the middle of returning from vacation, being sick, and dealing with my mother’s illness, I was somewhat OK with moving on the pictures—if only to get one thing off the “To Do” list.

She did all the research and comparisons, looking for beautiful shots combined with an artistic eye. The Artist wanted to make sure her portraits would be artsy. I just wanted to make sure we could afford them (can you ever afford these types of pictures?) and they would be good enough.

Jackson Civic Center Mural 06/09 (c) CBL

Jackson Civic Center Mural 06/09 (c) CBL

As another sign how much this world is changing, no matter how many beautiful four-color brochures she received from photographers, she found her choice through Facebook. And yes, she knew enough to search around to make sure the photographer was legitimate. Then she presented me with her research and asked me to talk with him and make sure I agreed with her choice: Steve Sichler Photography.

One of the reasons Christiana chose Steve Sichler is that he will take pictures anywhere within thirty miles of his base, which meant she could get some urban pictures. That’s right, no suburban flower shots for her. Not that she has anything against flowers, but she was looking for architecture that was a little more unique. At first she wanted to go to Union Station a la The Fray, but then she decided the Denver Performing Arts Complex would be better. But her father, after walking around on his lunch break, suggested Denver’s Civic Center Park.

That led to she and I going on a walk (run, really, due to time restrictions) and shoot tour of Civic Center Park and locations surrounding it, including the Denver Public Library, Denver Art Museum, and the Byers-Evans House Museum. Despite our jog down to the original site plan, she had to admit her dad was right.

Cheyenne helping with senior pictures (c) CBL

Cheyenne helping with senior pictures (c) CBL

So it went that Christiana, Jackson, and I, along with Christiana’s friend Cheyenne, met with Steve outside of the Denver Art Museum earlier this week. You’re probably wondering, where was Jackson in all this decision-making? Well, he didn’t care about much except what he wore. He’ll also tell you that we made him match his sister, but he’s the one who got the most new clothes for the occasion—she only got one inexpensive solid shirt to go under her trench coat.

Steve was great with letting them choose locations, yet making sure lighting and other photographic issues were appropriate. He traipsed back and forth with them as we all went to Sherman’s close-by office building for all the clothing changes. He even had a great sense of humor in Civic Center Park with the gritty man of the streets who spent several minutes telling him what a poor camera he was using and what he should have bought. Steve just smiled and kept snapping pictures of Jackson.

Has it been so many years since I took them back to my hometown, North Platte, Nebraska, for their first real portraits with Bill Willson? He worried so that they would fall down since they couldn’t really sit up. How many years since Bill took my senior pictures, including some with my brother? (Note: Bill Willson, who died last month, had a photo studio for decades, but was also a friend of our family. Bill was a great photographer and a great man.)

Trina Senior Picture Day 06/09 (c) CBL

Trina Senior Picture Day 06/09 (c) CBL

Yes, I can do the math. It really has been 30 years since my senior pictures and 16 1/2 since the kids’ first real portraits. Time has passed. Those pictures Steve took will freeze time, just like my senior photos did. But you can’t really freeze time. We’re all three days older than we were when those pictures were taken on Monday—even those of us who were not in the pictures. Even the guy who harassed Steve about his camera.

Senior pictures really are epic, in a small way. But what’s funny is that when you’re that age you change every day. I can tell you that the person I was when Bill snapped my photos was so much younger than the one who put on the cap and gown nine months later.

Soon, thanks to Steve, we’ll have the pictures to prove how our kids were on one day in the summer right before their last year in high school—this is truly another one of those Wonder Bread progression years. Don’t blink!

Yesterday was Father’s Day. My dad’s been gone for over seven years, so Father’s Day is an odd celebration for me. But my kids have a dad, so it was his day, complete with a new digital camera, brunch in our own home, and a water balloon fight and kite flying with the extended family. It was his opportunity to slow down for an afternoon.

Sherman isn’t one to slow down too much and he doesn’t ask for much from others. So often I am guilty of not slowing down enough to see what he might want or need. It’s so much easier to jump into taking care of the kids’ needs or doing what my mom needs because those needs are either obvious—or I get requests from the people in need.

However, without Sherman, I wouldn’t be able to take care of my mother or kids as well as I do. He’s the one who takes care of me. He goes with me to see my mother when I am afraid to go alone. He moves his schedule so I can exercise and refuel. And he’s always been the meal man around here.

I am so blessed. Yet he’s not my father. He is a father to our children like my father was to me: the dad who provides materially and supports activities. But he is also much more of a father than my dad was. When my dad came home from a hard day’s work, he sat down in his chair and let people do for him.

President Obama was quoted in several places speaking on the importance of Father’s Day, as well as his personal loss of growing up without a father. Barack Obama emphasized how important it is for all children to have an involved father. I’m sure the president would have been happy to have the kind of father Sherman and I had.

But the involved fathers of today do much more than our fathers did for us—and for sure they do a larger variety of things for their wives than our fathers did for our mothers. Sherman does even more than many of the men I know now do. He doesn’t divide up work into men’s work or women’s work or dad’s work or mom’s work. If there’s a job to do, he just does it, even if that means he never gets a chance to sit down and just relax.

My kids don’t always know how lucky they are to have their dad. I think that’s because he has always given to them at the same level throughout their lives. When they get around some other families, that’s when they are often reminded just how special he is. Yes, he can get grumpy and gruff, but at the same time, he’s there for them, usually with both his offbeat humor and support—and, as Christiana would say—with that “stupid grin” on his face—even when he’s really frustrated with any of us.

Because that same humor and support never really slows down for me either, I’ve made it through this crazy year. Happy Father’s Day to the father of my children! Keep grinning!

Sherman playing Davey Jones in Cabo 05/09 (c) CBL

Sherman playing Davey Jones in Cabo 05/09 (c) CBL

Xs Mark the Spots

Xs Mark the Spots

The whine of chainsaws and occasional thuds interrupt my morning. So, today’s the day, the day my brother-in-law’s massive maple trees meet their demise. Their crimes? Pushing up sidewalks and causing maintenance woes.

The owner can either refuse to let the city cover the cost of removing the trees and be liable for future sidewalk and street repairs or give in. From an economic perspective, removing these trees makes sense for both the homeowner and the city.

Never mind the seemingly intangible benefit of air purification performed by such massive trees. Never mind the tangible cooling benefit provided to a house that will bake from the hot afternoon sun this summer and for years to come. The flickers will make their nest elsewhere and, who needs to provide such a nice home for squirrels anyway?

My husband Sherman can never stand to see a plant or a tree removed. I think he even hates that I prune the geraniums. He does not understand why a city would promote the removal of trees here in the high prairie where each tree that grows represents a hard-won battle.

I “get” how these trees don’t work. These maples that are under the knife are too big for a tree lawn, especially for a tree lawn on a one-way street. They grow into the wires. Otherwise, it might make more sense to put up with occasional sidewalk damage.

Just Starting to Remove the Trees

Just Starting to Remove the Trees

Yes, in our neighborhood we all have tree lawns that were presumably designed to provide us with tree-lined streets. Yet, back when it seemed almost folly to expect a tree to grow, no one worried about putting in the right size tree for the space—that’s why our postage stamp lot has two sixty-year-old forest permit Blue Spruces when one might be too much for the yard. We also have a huge Russian Olive tree, something that is frowned upon now, both due to allergens and the mismatch between local water availability and the needs of this non-native invader.

No one master-planned this community. First one man homesteaded his dry-land 640 acres. Then over the years, the land was divided up and combined with other former homesteads. My block alone consists of homes built around the turn of the 20th century, as well as homes built into the 50s.

Trees Stripped

Trees Stripped

I believe the one-way road came about when Cinderella City, the “largest mall west of the Mississippi,” opened up in the late 60s. No one anticipated how the sight lines would change with a change of driving directions. When we did have thriving trees growing in our tree lawn, we had to put up with lopsided trees, chopped by the city to protect that sight line.

Still, the only trees we have removed have been those that have died. According to neighborhood legend, a car accident led to the loss of the first tree from our tree lawn. Six years ago, the fast and furious spring storm that coincided with the start of the most recent war in Iraq broke one of the Russian Olive’s branches. It landed on top of the plum tree. The ugly little tree seemed to have born the scars from the earlier car accident, but its blossoms in spring and jewel-toned leaves in autumn made it worth saving. The little tree listed for about a year before we realized it was rotting away. The last lonely crab apple gave up the fight last year, done in by disease.

Sherman wants to replace our tree lawn trees, but I want to make sure we don’t pick something that’s designed to fail. I don’t want the city trimming our trees for vision or the utility company cutting off the top branches. I don’t want someone coming by to bribe us to cut them down. I want something that’s going to find a home in our tree lawn and thrive long after we are gone from this home—and this earth.

Let me tell you, when a tree falls in the thirsty plains, we definitely hear it—and mourn its demise.

No More Trees at Michael's House

No More Trees at Michael's House

That’s what I need. That’s what my mom needs. That’s what we all need.

My mom’s hospital stay has forced me to admit that her changes are picking up speed. I don’t think I can say enough to help her understand the things she needs to do for her medical care. And I can’t do it all either.

Remember when you didn’t know what to do and you could turn to your mom for help? Me, too, but those days are gone. Now she’s turning to me for help and there is only so much I can do for her. She says, “I used to be able to do all these things. Now I can’t. Why?”

Why indeed. As Sherman pointed out, sometimes life is too ironic. We all have our one thing that really makes our lives worthwhile. For my father it was his love of good food—and then when disease came after him, it took away his ability to eat. For my mother it has been her love of intellectual pursuits and, maybe, just a little bit, showing off how smart she was.

How can I assuage my mother’s fears about her losses when I can’t assuage my own? Where will this lead us? How will we relate with so much changed?

When she was in the hospital, I couldn’t get her to understand little things like why she had an IV or why she had to wear that universally humiliating gown or why it didn’t matter that her apartment key didn’t come with her on her short ambulance ride.

And now that she is back to her independent living apartment, all those medications I line up for her make no sense. She takes them all together and then wonders why she feels so poorly. There are too many for most people to understand, but together we had a system that used to work. She was so proud that she didn’t have to wait to get her medications from a staff member—her daughter brought her her medications.

Oh, I won’t be sad to give up the task. Every week as I prepare her medications, I try to channel my pharmacist father’s accuracy with pill counting. I wish I had his knowledge to understand how all these medications come together to keep her safe—and not harm her at the same time. It is a big responsibility. And one I am only up to if the patient can follow instructions.

So, tomorrow I relinquish my larger role in that duty so that someone else can make sure she doesn’t miss what she needs—or doesn’t stir together too many dangerous chemicals at the wrong times. A few months ago I know she would have been angry at me. I don’t know about now—what she knows now is that too much confusion swirls within her mind.

Still, will she turn and say, “Et tu, Brutus?”

“Help me if you can, I’m feeling down.”

Don’t you just hate it when other people’s life goals don’t coincide with yours?

My kids’ cross country/track coach and former chemistry teacher, Jill Mullarkey, is taking a position in another state. She was one of the first Littleton High School staff members we met before the kids started high school because, as cross country coach, she helped lead the casual summer running sessions.

The first night I saw her I thought she was a student! Not because she was immature, but because she was so energetic and youthful. Despite her looks, she was already a seasoned teacher. Nonetheless, it didn’t help with my confusion when she pointed out to the other coach that his running shorts were older than she was. I soon learned that no matter what her age was, she would have stood out as a leader of young people.

One thing that’s different about cross country meets is that coaches aren’t separated from the supporters, like they are in a stadium or auditorium event. Parents are often standing next to the coaches when we are cheering on our athletes. Coaches and parents alike can’t just watch a cross country meet from one stationary point—we’ve got to move around, sometimes running from one point to the next to get a glimpse at the competition—which is about way more than the finish line.

And that’s what first impressed me about Coach Mullarkey. Every year we’ve been involved with the cross country team, she’s had at least one or more athletes competing at the top level in the state. Yet Coach Mullarkey watched until her last runners came in. She didn’t reserve all her support for the best, but also looked out for every lost sheep—both on the course and in the classroom.

Both my kids benefitted from this, whether while competing or trying to complete their schoolwork. If schools were filled with teachers/coaches like Jill Mullarkey, I don’t think we’d have nearly as many problems with education today as we do. It’s a rare leader who can walk the line between having high expectations for students, doing what’s necessary to help them achieve, and being both liked and respected by most students.

She knows many of our family’s stories and has worked way harder than required by her position to provide what my kids need. I can’t even begin to explain the hole her absence will bring about for the Lamberts.

Truth is I’ve always wondered how she could take care of herself while doing so much for many other people. I want her to stay for us, but maybe she has to go for herself. I know that what she’s already given our family will stay with my kids in the long run.

As the Eagles sang:

When it all comes down we will
Still come through
In the long run
Ooh, I want to tell you, it’s a long run.

Thanks for the long run with us, Mullarkey. May all your life goals come through in the long run—and in the short run, too.

Christiana Lambert and Coach Jill Mullarkey, 09/23/08

Christiana Lambert and Coach Jill Mullarkey, 09/23/08

Jackson, Trina, and Christiana

Jackson, Trina, and Christiana

Today is the 17th anniversary of my becoming a mother. And that means my kids are seventeen years old today! Oh yes, I really did just try to make their shared birthday be all about me. But if you’re a mom, you know how much the birth that introduced you to motherhood really is about how you became someone different—forever.

I am too busy to wax all poetic about this event. But then, most of those years when you are raising your kids you really are too busy to think deeply about events while they are happening.

So today I’m thinking about making cupcakes—it works better when you need one gluten-free cake and one regular (because Jackson thinks he should get gluten on his birthday!) I’m wondering what we’re doing for their birthdays since they both want to do things with other people. Heck, I don’t even know what we’re doing about presents or cards.

I know that sounds lame, but after last week, we’re lucky they even got to have the family birthday party last night. With Mom in the hospital, I barely got to do the post-vacation things I needed to do, like laundry, dealing with the mail, and paying bills. Plus, I haven’t felt well all week and have just been beat. Then my brother and his family came to see my mom, so when we weren’t spending time with mom, we were socializing.

This, their birthday, is the first day since we returned that I can relax a little bit. And with relaxation, I can start to realize what seventeen means: the last year in our home, the kids picking out colleges, less time together, and the need to do more things for themselves. Leaving home isn’t just about freedom; it’s also about figuring out how to handle laundry, money, time, etc.

Are they any better off in that way than I was? Hmm. Let’s just say that I had to learn a lot of that when I went off on my own. Just like I had to learn a lot about mothering on the job. Can we really be ready for any of the next phases of our lives?

So happy birthday for all of us as we live this one last year together before we have to learn completely new roles, as empty nester parents for Sherman and me and as independent college students for Christiana and Jackson.

Family jumping

Family jumping

I haven’t disappeared—no far from it. It’s just there isn’t enough of me to go around. First I ran into end of school year situations and then preparations for going on vacation. I had hoped to come back, ready to blog about sunshiny, hot Mexican days and balmy, starry nights. I still hope to do that, but it’s going to have to wait.

The vacation was great—just what we needed to separate ourselves from a difficult school year and lead into the last summer before the final year of regular school for our kids. Yeah, I ended up with a cold that woke me up too early the last few days, leaving me exhausted. Christiana feared they wouldn’t let me leave Mexico (“Swine Flu Trina”) so she kept trying to keep me from talking to border officials. As if I could talk.

It’s true—Trina the Talkative left Mexico almost speechless, unable, even, to bargain on our last few purchases.

I had hoped to come home to a day when I could deal with the mail and phone messages, pay bills, catch up on laundry, and get settled into summer. That hasn’t happened just yet.

No, instead I came home late Monday night to a message from my brother saying my mom wasn’t feeling well. Yesterday Sherman and I stopped by to check on her and were glad that the facility had arranged a medical appointment for her on Thursday. Then off we rushed to a scheduled doctor’s appointment.

By the time we got home, the facility had left a message saying she had passed out after dinner and that they were sending her to the emergency room. For some reason, they hadn’t recorded my cell phone number, so I had missed being informed as this was all happening. So instead of dealing with my sore throat and giving in to taking care of my illness, I found myself on the way to the hospital where I really did have to wear a mask to protect others.

The good news is that my mom is stable, but since they’re finally doing tests to get to the bottom of her fainting spells, she’s still in the hospital. Unfortunately, her understanding level isn’t quite good enough to comprehend all the necessary evils, like IV’s, tubing, hospital gowns, staying in bed, and choosing meals. That means I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time explaining the whys and trying to get her to comply with the medical staff—which has really drained my voice.

And my heart.

My mom has always been independent, but not so much so that she wouldn’t comply with what’s requested. Now she’s desperately grasping to maintain just a smidgen of control. Who can blame her?

Yet it’s so exhausting. At least my brother and his family will be arriving to help. I’m just trying to do what I need to do for the woman who gave me life—and then helped save it four months later. I’m working hard to access my memories and remember the other starry nights we had together for so many years.

But if that won’t work, then there’s always the peace of Mexican starry nights to help me through these oh-so-cloudy nights I’m facing now.

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