- Autumn Comes -

Dust hangs in the air
Over petals turned velvet
Through Time's fading light.

- Evening Rains -

Lightning in a flash!
Thunder that cracks like a whip;
Hold close my dear child.

Banned Books Week

Photo by Miranda L. Sober Photography

I was a junior in high school sitting in an English class when I heard about the modern banning of books for the first time. Before class had started, our teacher had written a list of books at all angles across the blackboard that ran down the side of our classroom. As we stared at the list we started to giggle uncomfortably. Books like Where's Waldo by Martin Handford and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein were listed as being recently challenged and we just didn't understand why. We had been taught in history class about book burning and the banning of certain classics, but that was supposed to be history. In the past.

Call me a naive American, but I just didn't think we did that anymore. From an early age we learned about the ideology of the American way: the Constitution, our freedoms, our rights. So yes, I was naive. I had no idea, for the longest time, that members in our country actually broke those freedoms and turned down those rights - and that it was acceptable. As an adult, I am much more aware of the idea of freedom of speech; jaded by the reality of it. 

So I've given myself a new goal in my writing: one day I will write a book that will be challenged and maybe even banned. Not because I was deliberately lewd or graphically gory, but because my message was so strong it rankled someone's feathers and might even be considered too revolutionary for the times. 

Even now, books are being challenged the world over. Small communities in the United States are preventing Harry Potter from entering their schools or The Hunger Games. And then there are the unedited, uncensored versions of the classics - beware, literature depicting the times it was written in will decay your mind.

The two lists below share with us the classics and the modern books who have made someone's naughty list. How many have you read?


There are a few on this list that surprise me and others that I expected to see. I wonder if 50 Shades of Grey will make the list come the new decade compilation. I've read 4/46 of the Classics and 8/100 of those listed from the last decade. I have some reading to do!

The idea of banning books based on a community's morality, for language, violence, or sexual conduct, has me wondering if we will be banning fewer books in the future as our society becomes desensitized to ideas and literature which would shock our grandparents or our great-grandparents. Is the shortening of this list because we have grown to acknowledge and understand the importance of ending censorship or is it because we are developing a society who just doesn't care anymore. A thought for another day perhaps.

How many banned books have you read?

Did you find any surprises on either of these lists?  

Tell me your thoughts!

- Yuri -

Hidden in the pears,
Inside our kitchen window;
His eyes are watching.

- Eclipse -

Lovers briefly meet
Like ships passing in the night
Dancing in silence.

Mark Jenkins: National Geographic Writer and Explorer

This month the University of Wyoming hosted a guest speaker in my humble little town of Torrington and my office with the University was engaged to help! So there I stood, star-struck and sweaty because Mark Jenkins, author, explorer, and National Geographic Correspondence Writer, was letting me take a selfie with him.

I helped tape on his hands-free microphone, discussed his exploits, and explained my aspirations of making a career out of my writing, briefly mentioning my novel.

He said, "Wow! I've never written a novel!" Genuinely impressed.

This from a man who has summited Everest. Excuse me while I swoon over in the corner.  

I tried to keep my cool around him and he made it rather easy. See, Mark is a Wyoming man, born and raised, and now makes his home in Laramie, Wyoming with his wife and children. He's actually taken a position with the University. This time through Torrington he spoke on his adventure through the largest cave in the worldSơn Đoòng Cave.

Mark began his presentation informing the crowd of the culture and warm sense of welcome he, an American, received by the Vietnamese community upon his arrival. Rather than a poverty stricken country as many might believe, Vietnam has a thriving economy where "everyone drives scooters." Vietnam is a 1/4 size bigger than Wyoming, but boasts a population of 100 million people! Mark explained that although there were still physical reminders in the country of the Vietnam War (or their American War), 75% of the population were born after the war and so knew only the benefits of the American businesses who are based in their communities and of American aid which came after the war. 

Overall, Mark concluded, it was a lovely country filled with gracious, inspiring people. 

He gave a brief explanation of what spelunking was and that a caver's biggest fear was drowning rather than claustrophobia. You wouldn't know it unless you were a caver, but it makes sense. Once it begins to rain on the surface, the water flows into the cave from all different directions pooling and flooding within minutes. It's a dangerous sport and after his thorough presentation I can officially say that caving is just not for me. I'll stick to being a tourist in this arena.

The Sơn Đoòng Cave is located in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National ParkBố Trạch DistrictQuảng Bình Province,Vietnam. Equipped with two dolines and its largest chamber a staggering 3.1 miles long, 660 feet high, and 490 feet wide this cave knocks down Deer Cave in Malaysia which was once the reigning champion in the cave world. 

The cave was discovered by a young man, Hồ-Khanh, in 1991 and later explored by a British team of cavers who spent 18 years exploring the cave off and on until the 14th expedition which Mark was invited to participate in - the one where they were going to search for the end! (See, for cavers, it's about finding the end of a cave just as much as it is reaching the top of a mountain for climbers.) So this was going to be a monumental experience for all involved. Expedition members included 10 cavers, 20 porters, National Geographic Photographer Carston Peterson, and Mark.

Here is a quick map of the cave. Cavers are taking surveys and making maps of the caves as they go along - naming everything! Mark stated that his British counterparts were particularly fond of puns such as "Hand of Paw" and "The Great Wall of Vietnam" for example.

Click on all the "Source" captions in the bottom left corner to read more information about the pictures.

Prepping to enter the cave. It was a trek to get to the opening, having to go though an enormous "smaller" cave to get to the beginning of their journey.


Looking out from the inside of the mouth of the cave, they set up camp for the night and then headed into darkness with only their headlamps to guide them. Mark explained it was complete and total darkness. So dark that your hand in front of your face could not be seen. Cavers have four backup headlamps with them always because to be alone in the dark in a cave can mean getting lost and death.


Sơn Đoòng Cave is home to some of the largest stalactites in the world! Some reaching to over 200 feet tall. 


After days in darkness there came a surprise and a gut wrenching feeling of disappointment when they reached their second doline, mistaking it for the exit. Once they realised it was only a skylight, they rejoiced and explored, spending a few additional days camping in the area. This is where Mark became close with the porters who each carried roughly 80 lbs of equipment, batteries, and food for the expedition. The porters packed meat in their own food supply whereas the expedition leaders had packed vegetables and noodles! 


Dolines are created when the cave roofs collapse, leaving a jungle of vegetation and animal life growing in stark contrast to the sterile environment of the interiors of the cave. This doline was about 1000 feet tall! 


To see this incredible space in motion, check out the following video from a later expedition by travel photographer Ryan Deboodt:


Mark noted they did find a few bugs, most notably, a white spider who had evolved beyond the need for eyes, within the caves. (Um, no thank you!)


This 200 feet tall calcite wall was dubbed "The Great Wall of Vietnam" and it stood in their way of the end. The task fell to two of the cavers to climb up, drilling holes for loops of fabric which acted as a ladder for the rest of the team to follow them up. Power drills were employed along with grit and manpower to get the team up. It took more than a day's work to accomplish the feat.


Out. The end. The exit of the cave. For scale purposes, you see the little white dot to the right of the mass in the middle? Yep. That's a person.


Recently, the Sơn Đoòng Cave has opened to tourists, allowing guided tours at $3000 per person! Permits must be obtained to visit the cave and only 500 were issued for the 2015 season. 

Mark's most recent article in National Geographic is about his climb of a mountain in Myanmar!

You can find Mark's travel and adventure books below, click on the book title caption to go to Amazon:
A Man's Life                                            To Timbukto                                    The Hard Way                             Off the Map

- Lunar Love -

It's a beautiful evening;
To be gazing at the moon.
Finding it's dimples
And swimming in craters.
It's dance partner is setting
To a symphony of crickets.
And here am I;
Bathing in its light.
Firmly planted on this earth.


Inches at a time I creep higher.

The taupe rock face presses against my body as I cling to the edge. My fingers are caked in chalk, my toes sore from shallow footholds. There are few places to grip. Even fewer to find rest. And as the sun beats down on me, the sweat glistening on my back I can feel my heart beating faster.

I'm nearly there. Closer to the peak than I have ever been and my rope has just run out. I'm forced to pause here, to slow my momentum and make a decision. A rope is a safety line; a friend who reaches out when you fall. It is my protector. But I must go forward. I must see the top. I must keep going.

Dust rolls over the stone wall and brushes me in the face, sticking to it. I can taste the earthiness mingled with my own salt. The harness feels heavy against my hips. It anchors me to the surface, pulls me down, connects me to the earth in a way my shoes on the city streets do not. And my heart is beating. My decision is coming on faster. My fingers are working quickly while my mind focuses on this weight, my anchor. The rope is looped; responsible now for holding this mountain in place.

And I move forward. Heart resounding in my ears, pulsing in my fingertips. If I could only fly.

- Your Story -

Streams may be humble
As all beginnings are, but
Then we find rivers.

- Holy Dawn -

Whispers in the ear
Of salvation from your fear.
An eternal love.

- Tools of Melody -

Electric screams or 
Resounding acoustic twang;
Pick your picks genre.

- Resistance if Futile -

Your belly beckons;
With accompanying bass purr.
I reach down and rub.

- Aluminum Fields -

Discarded trash, crushed.
Recycled for later use.
Our soda nation.

From the Heart's Depths

September is Suicide Prevention Month

A lifetime ago in February of 2014 I was witness to a moment in time which has left an engraving mark on my mind and soul. The aftermath of a suicide. Just a few days afterward I was suffering from what I can only assume was a short term form of PTSD, although it was never diagnosed as such. To help find my way through the muddle of numbness and confusion I did what I do best - I wrote about it. Below is a 3,500 word essay to one of the most profound moments in my life.

Too long? Didn't read? That's ok. I'm sharing it now because whether you read it or not I want you to know, without a single doubt in your mind, how very loved you are by this stranger. How deeply your soul is connected to my own. How though I have never met you I can say with absolute certainty, just how important you are to this world. 

If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, please contact the suicide hotline at: 800-273-8255 or text 741-741 if you feel you are in crisis. For more information on suicide prevention visit NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness.

One Moment

This will not be pretty or poetic, well written or censored. But I can promise you it will be honest. Honest and real because this is my outlet. Often, my fingers speak better than my lips in times of crisis whether of love and happiness or pain and anger. This is where I choose to allow my mind to run rampant, for my thoughts to attempt clarity. Perhaps, even, where I might explore as an observer, a hidden scientist within, searching for understanding of what is felt and seen by this body.

Please understand that my motives are purely selfish as I have no intention of doing anything, but describe my own experience. I do not seek advice or pity from others, so please offer me none. With this said, allow me to begin at the most appropriate place... the beginning...

This last weekend, while I was driving to Portland, headed northbound on I-5, I came across an accident right as I was entering Eugene. Minutes before my arrival at this particular intersection a young man had jumped to his death from the overpass bridge into the right lane of northbound traffic. He was subsequently run over by a vehicle leaving his body mangled and incomplete.

The cars ahead of me and behind were the beginning of the congestion... and congestion that was being directed by civilians as the emergency vehicles had yet to arrive. There was this man, there was this brave man standing in the right lane praying, I'm sure, that the oncoming traffic saw him as he waved them into the left lane. A woman on the on-ramp waving people around the young man's body. They had covered him in a small sheet about the size of a towel. It was pink and covered some, but left much exposed.

I looked. I thought it was just a normal accident – the type we all can't help but look at. A broken bumper, maybe. But not this. Not a young man's body twisted on the pavement. His tennis shoe some feet away having been knocked off his foot. Bits of his brain scattered on the road trailing to the lump under the sheet.

We were driving slow as we passed, trying to be safe for those directing traffic. We had time to look. Too much time, but all the time we needed to comprehend what had happened.

It was instantaneous. I knew what had happened, my logical mind made the connection as to how this body became this way. There were only two options. Either he jumped or he was standing in the road waiting for someone to come. I knew what had happened and my heart shattered. This man, whoever he was, fell to his death and there he lay, his body broken and destroyed. My tears came in heaving floods, my brain was clear, perhaps numb. The only thing I could say, the only words that came were “I love you. I love you so much.” It was if my soul was reaching out to his, searching for the essence that always remains, the piece of him that is truly him, the piece that his body only harbors, but does not own. I said it over and over again. I needed him to know. He needed to know how loved he is. I fell madly in love with him. The love of a sister for a brother, a mother for her child.

After the initial shock of the situation my mind went into a panic. My best friend, the woman who is like a sister to me, was also on the road. She, too, was headed to Portland, but was she ahead or behind me in her journey? I called her as fast as I could, the tears still streaming down my face, my voice still uncontrolled. I couldn't even speak when she answered. Eventually, all I could manage was “Where are you? Have you reached Eugene yet or are you past it?” She was past it, probably 10 miles ahead of me. I was so thankful. I cried harder. Never would I want her to see what I had seen. Ever. My friend, the love that she has for me, waited with patience as I tried to explain what I had seen. I can't remember what she said, but I know she offered to wait. I had by then taken the next exit and parked my car. I needed to close my eyes, to let the tears come. I needed to lose control. And she waited on the phone with me. She let me cry. I love her so. She let me cry. After some conversation, I know not what, we hung up. I felt the need to express whatever I had rolling around in my head so I did the new normal thing – I updated my status on Facebook:

As I was writing it my friend's mother, Mutti, called me. I answered. Her mother, one of the most nurturing, loving people I know prayed for me while we were on the phone. She knows I don't believe in God and yet she prayed for my heart to find ease. For the soul of the man to find peace and know how much he is loved. She prayed for God to embrace his soul and teach him of love. It was the most beautiful prayer. An incredible prayer. Mutti invited me to the farm where she lived – just outside of Portland – so that I might find a place to decompress before going to where I needed to be. I agreed and I went.

At one point I called my husband. I don't remember when. I told him through choking tears what had happened and that I would see him soon after my detour to Mutti's where my dearest friend was going to wait for me. I had this overwhelming sense of knowing that never, ever again in my life did I want anyone I had met to feel they were unloved. It grew increasingly important with each mile passing that from this moment forward I would radiate a love of self and others for all to feel and see. Never again would anyone doubt that not one person on this earth cared for them.

That Weekend

The rest of the night I was numb. Zoned out or zoned in. Surrounded by people, but feeling completely alone and away. I was somewhere else. While I thought of nothing I still felt the nag of social obligation. It was a big night for my husband. His night of initiation into a spiritual path. It was the night he formally adopted a teacher. It was a very big deal and I remember nothing of it. I can't imagine how rude I must have seemed to those who were there. How callous or disinterested. I tried to make conversation. One woman even said, “You have something very deep going on right now. I can see it.” She assumed I was contemplative for my husband. She had no idea my tears were for my own heart and not his.

At the end of the night I begged my husband to tell his teacher where I was, what I had witnessed, why I was so distant. I asked him to tell them all that I was happy for him, but unable to express it. I needed them to know I cared... but that my mind and heart were reaching out in another direction. He understood and promised he would.

The drive home was silent. I nearly fell asleep at the wheel a few times from exhaustion. I needed home. I needed my bed. I needed my dogs. My loves. My soul puppies who could heal me.

I slept. I slept through the night in the silence of my dreams.

My dogs woke me up that next morning, long before I was ready.

It was a day of routine – laundry, dishes, dinner. I watched “Robin Hood” (the one with Kevin Costner) and built a fire. I felt fine. I was aware of what I saw, but I felt fine. I had the house to myself and felt completely fine. I ate normally and felt rather rested.

When my husband and his father came home from their weekend trip I still felt fine. I had made chicken enchiladas in red sauce. They were delicious.

It wasn't until my father-in-law offered to make dinner the following day that I began to feel it. The anxiety. The panic. The need for control. No matter what I said, I couldn't get him to relinquish the dinner. I needed to make that dinner. But he didn't know it. He didn't realize what a dinner meant to me. I went to bed early. Maybe if I went to sleep this feeling would go away?

The Aftermath 

Monday came and I was up with the alarm. The weekly routine of early mornings had begun. Our car was loaded, but we were running late. Anxiety. Our cat ran under the bed. Panic. I had no patience. I used to always have patience.

Why wouldn't he listen? Why couldn't things be just so? Why did I have to try so hard just to get out the door? Tears.

The cat was extracted and put in the living room. We got in the car and I closed my eyes. Concentrating on my breathing I tried to control the panic stretching across my chest.

You can do this, you teach this. You tell your students about anxiety. You tell them to breathe. You can do this. Fuck! Why isn't it working!?

“Are you ok, honey?”

“I'm fine....I'm just...” I'm looking away so he can't see my tears. Why am I crying? Why am I hiding? Breathing... trying to control it.

The drive is silent. My mind starts to go through the day I have ahead. Two yoga classes and then into the office until 5. I'll be fine. I start to eat my leftovers.

My husband asks me how I am doing. Our conversation revolves around... I don't even remember anymore. Something about the young man. Something about what happened. I'm crying and my heart is racing. We are disagreeing about something.

I can't finish my breakfast. I can't look at it anymore. My stomach is turning. The tortilla, covered in red, it's his skin.

It's his skin.

My tears come in heaves. I can't control it. My husband pulls over in the parking lot so he can console me. He doesn't understand, but he loves me. It hurts him to see me so confused, so distraught.

I taught in 10 minutes and I couldn't stop crying. I cried harder. The very thought of being in front of 30 people to teach them something from my heart. To create and speak to them. To have all of their eyes on me. Panic.

Through those tears my husband learned that I was not fine. I was not OK. Something was most certainly not right. This was not the wife he knew.

I tried anyway, but it took a simple question from my colleague to unravel me.

“How are you this morning?”

The tears. I couldn't keep them in. I had no answer for her. She cancelled my classes and I walked straight to the counseling office on campus.

What if she isn't there? She has to be there. She must be there....

It was before opening hours, but she saw me anyway. I broke down. Somehow I managed to fumble through my experience and somehow she managed to understand what I said. She could see my shaking. She could hear my fears, my reservations.

She listened and she asked questions. She reminded me of my resources. She asked me what I needed.

I needed to be internal. I needed to hide. I needed to be alone and away from people. I needed... I need control. So much control. I need to be able to control the little things in my life. That which can be controlled.

“Have you ever had your control taken away before?”

“... yes.... when I was 16. My boyfriend... for 3 months. But I never had triggers, not really. [That was a lie] I've managed that well.”

I needed her to be my proof. To call my supervisor and tell him I needed time. I wanted him to know everything. No secrets. I feel guilt when I stay home for being ill. I feel anxiety for not being there. I need permission to not work.

“That's a whole other side we might need to work on sometime...”

“I know.”

Her voice was calm, nurturing, caring. Her eyes were full with unshed tears. My pain hurt her heart and I loved her for it. I had no guilt with her.

We agreed that I would go home early. I wasn't sure how I was going to because we carpooled to work just like every other morning and my husband wasn't done teaching until 4, but I agreed to go home.... I didn't.

She offered me a number to call, a free resource for faculty and staff at the college. A counselor I could call when I needed to. It was a high recommendation. She explained that the way that I handle this trauma would set the tone for all other traumas I might face in the future. That by calling and getting any help that I might need would set the foundation for everything else that may come my way. I said I would call... I haven't.

When I got to my office I spoke with my boss. I told him how little I would do that day. My job being one of high customer interaction and involvement, I sought to stay behind my computer and find what control I could. The guilt began to creep in. I spent most of the morning writing the email below:

Good Morning Everyone,

Per Becky’s encouragement, I am writing you all to notify you of my situation as well as ask for your help and support. I find it a challenge to ask for help as I have never been very good at it, but I understand its importance and can see how this is an opportunity for me to grow in this area.

This weekend, while driving to Portland on Saturday, I came across an accident. A young man had jumped to his death from an overpass bridge into traffic on I-5 into the right hand Northbound lane. He was 21. The few cars ahead of me and myself were the beginning of the traffic congestion that soon was to follow the incident. At this time, the emergency vehicles had not arrived yet, but were close behind. Civilians were directing traffic and had attempted to cover him.  

Fortunately, I did not see him fall (as that was, in fact, what he had done as he released his grip from the chain-link fencing…), however, I did see the aftermath of his collision with the ground and subsequent interaction with a vehicle as it passed over him. I saw him lying on the ground, barely covered, and not complete. The experience has created a deep impact on my mind and heart and I am working on processing it. At this time, I am finding that it is difficult for me to handle stressful situations, even minor ones, as my problem solving capacity seems to be short circuiting at the moment. Being around people can trigger panic attacks and even as I write this I can see my hands shaking. I zone out often, which in all honesty, feels amazing because my mind runs blank and I don’t have to be present. And more than anything in the world, right now, I wish I could go hide and cry.

I feel it is important for you all to know the truth of the situation rather than leaving mystery to hang in the air because it will bring understanding and compassion rather than intrigue and gossip (we all can get that way.) I often feel guilty when asking for help or staying home when I am ill even when I know that I can trust the people I’m around to care rather than judge.

So I need your help. I need help controlling the little things in my life right now… which is why I am sitting at my computer trying to personalize it. I ask the ladies at the front counter to help me by allowing me to help when I can and to sit at my desk when I feel like I can’t. I know this may place a larger workload on you, but I appreciate everything you do. Sometimes I might need to just go for a walk, as Becky has wisely suggested, to walk off any building anxiety. And sometimes I might need to go somewhere to cry and be alone. I really don’t like talking about what happened because I don’t like how lax it can become when it was something so powerful and life altering for all those involved. One of the biggest things I need right now is to just be internal rather than external (social). I just need you to know so you can understand. Becky mentioned that this likely will not just go away, but will take me time to recover from. We don’t know how long it will take, but I believe with the support and love of my friends and family it will happen in due course.

Today I am going to busy myself behind the scenes with the transcript files and working on some form creation. I likely will be heeding Becky’s advice and leaving early when I feel I need to.

Thank you all for being a part of my work family and allowing me this opportunity to heal and process. Your support will be and is vital in my growth.”

The email was sent to multiple departments as I work with many on campus and was well accepted. I had many replies of offered prayers and positive thoughts. A few hugs and a couple smiles.

I stayed until closing and we went to the store. I need safe food. Food I can eat that looks nothing like I saw.

 Sleep found me early.


Tuesday's alarm was unwelcome. I couldn't get out of bed. I wasn't tired, yet I was exhausted. I called in and went back to sleep. The day was spent in my pajamas, eating chips, and playing games on the computer. I zoned out the entire time. My brain was blank, I did nothing all day, and yet my heart was pounding. All day the anxiety was there – a little voice in the back of my head questioning whether or not I was home because I was truly hurt or because I just wanted to be lazy. There was doubt and guilt present. Disbelief in my need for rest.

Another early night.


 I'm lying in my bed, hiding files beneath the covers between my husband and myself. My heart hurts, I can feel the spirit in the room. This energy of malice at the foot of our bed. It wants the files. It swoops around the bed to my side and slides its very human hand beneath my back.

My eyes bolt open. It's dark in the room and no one is there. The feeling of the hand still lingers, the residue of the energy hangs in the air. It was there. Whatever it was, it was there. Checking the time on my phone I see that it is 3AM. Two more hours before I have to wake up. I roll over to my side and hold on tightly to my dog. She kicks at the blankets and backs deeper into me. I love this dog.

Two hours of sleep pass too quickly and there I am again, canceling my classes.



I wake at 7 to start my routine. Thinking throughout the shower, the hair dryer, the breakfast. Thoughts of an observer, finding deep interest in where my mind was going. The doubt of my condition. The moments of feeling fine proving the feelings of panic and anxiety childish. The realization of how an individual with a background in mental wellbeing and holistic health could possibly believe that because her injuries weren't physical, weren't exposed that they truly didn't exist. The thought that it was all in my head.

Well of course it is all in my head, but doesn't mean it isn't real? I am not an impartial viewer, a scientist standing above a mouse in a maze – observing without interfering. I will set the record straight. I will tell myself the truth. It was then, within these thoughts, that this essay become an idea. I needed to write about it. I needed to get it out. I needed to share with absolutely nobody how I was feeling, little do I care if it is read. It is no longer within me. These thoughts are no longer rummaging about in a mind full of doubt. They have validity through publication. They are real and tangible. They are no longer only mine. 

Tales of Lineage

My grandfather has lived a thousand lifetimes within his one. A pioneer across the plains, a man of the Yukon, sailor on high seas, a scientist among slaves. He has conquered the world, spun it on his finger, and reflected against the ways of man. 

As a philosopher he stood with the masters of ancient Greece and observed their great debates. Yet, as a lover, he has seduced women on foreign beaches. In his youth, he donned spurs and broke wild mustangs on the great American prairies. Saved countries from war. Chased hurricanes and outran sand storms. 

My grandfather has lived a great many lives and has the memories to reflect on. In the darkest moments of his light filled life he can escape to a world of the remembered past. It's a talent he passed to his granddaughter and with it bears the gift. 

Within these adventures I'm panning gold in Alaska beside him. Our laughter rings out across the Dakota badlands as the sunsets behind us. Or maybe today we're studying birds and tomorrow we struggle through quicksand. Wildfire smoke fills our lungs following the discovery of a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea. No matter where we are, the distance between us, the difference in our age - together we stand, side by side, sheriffs drawing down on an outlaw gang. 

And when his lifetimes finally silence and he drifts away from this world, I know just where to find him in the pages of a book.

- Battle Scars -

I have often found
The best squeegees are broken.
Find your metaphor.

My Darling, Doubt

I have a wicked friend
Who creeps inside my mind;
Building castles made of mold
Destroying what she finds.

I have a wicked friend
Who casts shadows on the wall;
Across the things I strive for
Causing all my hopes to fall.

I have a wicked friend
Who laughs at dropping tears;
Questioning my nerve to dream
Releasing my caged fears.

I have a wicked friend
Whom I've just about evicted;
As I claim these halls of progress
My aspirations more convicted.

I have a wicked friend
Whose voice is getting smaller;
Soon she'll grab her things and leave
And my walk will be much taller.

What to Expect When They're Expecting

I'm of a certain age now where all avenues of my social media are blanketed with photos of my friends in various stages of parenting. Some who are trying, some pregnant, newborns, and school aged. You know the photos - the "first day of pre-school" or the "baby's first hiccup" and so on. I'm also fortunate enough to have friends who are older than I am and whose children are grown and beginning their own lives. So I get the photos of "grandbaby's first day of pre-school" or "grandbaby's first hiccup." It's just the season of life we are all in and I can appreciate the excitement the parents feel and am grateful for their willingness to share it with their community - living so far away from friends and family, social media truly is my main way to keep in touch.

Over the last few years, this year in particular, I have felt a shift in the dynamics of my relationships with my friends who are parents. See, I don't have children and I likely won't have children anytime soon, if ever. So suddenly, seemingly over night, a distance has been placed between them and me. It is subtle at first - during the pregnancy we all can be excited together about the impending birth and the new life who will join our circle. I can still participate and, while not understand what she is going through during her pregnancy, I can at least empathize with her and buy her ice cream. As a friend, I still have a role to play in her life. 

Once the baby comes, though, everything changes. As a friend without children your job in the friendship shifts, your ranking in that person's life shifts, your ability to help and participate shifts, your time playing together shifts... and they develop a new circle of friends whom you have nothing in common with. All for good, understandable, and obvious reasons. 

But this shift is tough to navigate - for both sides of the equation. Parents struggle to find time for their friends, making sure they feel included. It's like we (the childless) are the first born child who needs to be reminded that mommy and daddy still love them just as much even though their little sister came into the world. While at the same time the friend without children might give distance, allowing their friend to find their feet in their new role as a parent. Or maybe the opposite. 

It took some time getting used to these shifts and it took time getting used to the fact that I couldn't have access to my friends and their time as much as I used to; at the drop of a hat. There is no drop of a hat for the friend anymore - that right, rightfully so, has now been handed over to baby. So we learn to become Auntie or Uncle. It's a title which carries honor and responsibility. And it also means your friendship has shifted to something more - your friend has officially claimed you as family and loves you so much they want their children to know you as family.

Your role as a friend and as Auntie has become more, too. Yes, you've been there to support your friend getting their first tattoo, but now you get to practice what true support is. As Auntie it is your job to support your friends in the decisions they make (even if you don't agree with them). It is your job to support your friends when they haven't had two hours of consecutive sleep in 2 weeks. It is your job to find the humor in your friend being covered in a diaper blow-out and make sure they laugh about it rather than cry. It is your job to live your life without judging them for theirs. At first it might feel like your friends are going somewhere without you, but you need to remember that your timelines are different and your paths might be as well.

One of my best friends lives in Oregon, she has 2 1/2 children with her husband (see bottom feature), and we like to Skype whenever we can find time that matches up in our schedules. I remember a conversation we had exchanged during one of our 2 hours-long catch up Skype-dates. I had just finished telling her of my recent revelation of deciding not to have children (after 4 years of not being able to conceive) and the new future I was building in place of the old one. She listened as I explained how I was going to focus on my writing, go back to school for a science degree (maybe even get my PhD), and how I reclaimed a childhood dream for my future career aspirations. I explained how I was saving money to travel to Greece in summer of 2016 and probably Peru the following summer. Then it was her turn to unload the many updates of her life and she started by saying:
Well, my life isn't as exciting as yours, but...
I had to stop her there. In the past this friend, this amazing friend, had been conscious of my struggles to conceive and protective of my feelings when she had spoken to me about her experiences as a parent. But with my path finally taking its own shape there was another dynamic shift and I was able to give her the permission she needed to tell me all, every detail, every happy or frustrating moment. No matter how big or small. 

Her life is absolutely just as, if not more, exciting as my own and it's perfectly OK that her excitement stems from new recipes she has found or her 2 year old showing interest in the potty. It's OK that she gets excited that her babes are speaking in full sentences. Every milestone is exciting and worthy of my time to listen to. This is her life and she is allowed to be excited about it. And as a friend, an Auntie, I'm allowing myself to be excited about it as well.

These experiences got me thinking about the parents in my life and how the dynamics have shifted for them since growing and raising their babies. The question that particularly interested me was what they wished their single or child-free friends knew. Here are their thoughts:

Dan and Cheryl

The Skinny: I am 61 years old, married to Dan, and we have children who are 26, 33, and 36. We are a blended family. I am an Athletic Director, instructor, and Department Chair at our local Community College and Dan is the IT Director at the same school. We spend much of our time outdoors.

Parenting: We were crazy, had no idea what to expect. Dan worked while his wife was a stay home mom. I worked while my husband stayed home.

For Friends: We didn't spend enough time with the kids. Work got in the way.

Dreams: We are looking towards retirement as our next dream. If Dan could have been anything he would have gotten his degree in Geology or been an astronaut. I wish Dan would have been my first husband. We would have made beautiful children together.


The Skinny: I'll be 30 in November, am married, and have a 7 months old son. We live in Molalla, Oregon in a house with my grandma and mother. My husband and I work full time, but Hank is with my mother-in-law while I am at work. I am an office manger at a dental office and a dental assistant.

Parenting: We've wanted children since we have been together and had been trying for four years... and it finally happened! We wanted a family so we had children. 

The hardest thing I have faced as a parent is now caring for another person entirely. And the actual giving birth process was SOO hard. But I'm so happy to have it behind me. I really thought it was going to be a walk in the park. I thought it would be easy and it would just be like the movies: a baby, a family, a fairy tale. But I love it more than anything in the world! It's the hardest, most rewarding job EVER. Oh and that cloth diapers would be easy... it saves money but it isn't "easy." 

For Friends: I wish my friends who don't have kids knew that 10PM is staying up late for me. And I'd rather stay home with my kid than get a sitter and waste my money at a bar now. 

From Society: The biggest pressure from society I feel is just that everyone IS judging me, always, when I am out and about. But I try to remember I need to do what I need to do for my child. 

Dreams: My dreams are to provide ALL that I can for Hank. I wanted so long to be a mother, we tried for so long that he is a miracle and he deserves ONLY the best. If I could have done anything in the world I would be a dentist... someone once told me I wasn't smart enough and CRUSHED it. 

In Patricia's own words:
I love being a mother and every moment of every day with him and my little family. But they don't warn you about the weeks after giving birth, and when they say it goes by soo fast, IT DOES!!!
The Skinny: I'm 34, married, and have an 18 year old stepson (whom I've been involved with since we was 2 and who is just as much my son as my other children), 14 year old son, and 12, 7, 5, and almost 4 year old daughters. We live together in Arizona. My husband and I have been married going on 16 years. We are both, of course in the home. He works and I have a degree in substance abuse, but until all of the children are in school, we have decided it is best that I am home with them. Daycare was never an option for us and we are lucky that we can life off one income.

Parenting: My firstborn was a surprise, but just because he wasn't planned, doesn't mean he wasn't wanted. The rest of my family were planned. I fell in love with being a mother and strangely, I was good at it. I never I would be. When I was younger I never had any experience with children. I never babysat or had any younger siblings and honestly, I didn't think I wanted children. There was a time I even begged my mother to find a doctor that would tie my tubes so I could not have any. I was adopted and from what I could remember about my bio-mother, I was afraid I would turn out like she did. I was scared I would follow in her footsteps. I had/have a wonderful mother and think she influenced me greatly and shaped me to be the mother I am today.
My son is autistic and doesn't do well in a school setting, so we do all of his schooling at home. It's hard and most of the time I feel like I am failing him, but I give it my all. I just hope one day he thrives on his own, so I guess my another hat I wear is Teacher.

The hardest milestone we've crossed since becoming parents is losing a child. There is no greater pain thank having to bury a child. It's a pain that stays with you and you never recover from it. You have guilt and always blame yourself for what happened and sometimes I think that experience is why I am such an over protecting, helicopter parent.

My most naive thought about becoming a parent was that I would eventually sleep again. I haven't slept in 16 years.

For Friends: I wish my friends knew how hard I work. How much of yourself you give up when you become a parent and that every single bit of it is worth it.

From Society: I feel like I'm not doing good enough. My almost four year old still sleeps with me and sometimes my 7 year old still sneaks into my bed. Oh, and my almost four year old still uses a pacifier at night! Oh, the horror!!!

Dreams: My dreams vanished 16 years ago. I just want my children to be healthy and happy. I just want them to excel in everything they do. If I could do anything in the world it would be to sleep... sleep for like a month straight.

In Brandy's own words:
Don't look at other people and compare your parenting and/or life to theirs. If you do what you feel is correct for your family, then theirs doesn't matter. Who cares if their house is bigger or cleaner. Who cares if they have a fancy car. Material things don't matter; love is all that matters.
Adrienne and Nick
The Skinny: We are both around 30 and out children are two, one, and not-quite-here-yet. Nick works as a college professor nine months out of the year, Adrienne is a stay-at-home mom, but does freelance editing as opportunities arise. Outside or work, Nick is an avid hiker, painter, linguist and language-learner, geographer, and world traveler. Adrienne is a writer, quilter, pianist, homemaker, scrapbooker, and sometimes-blogger.
Parenting:"Deciding" to have children isn't really how we think about it. We both always desired a family because we came from bigger families, and we knew we wanted to invest in the next generation. But ultimately we believe that children are a blessing (and a challenge, if we're honest) that we are given more than they are a decision we make.
The hardest thing we've faced as parents is probably the constant fear of what could happen to them or what life would look like without them. But more concretely, probably the hardest hurdle we've faced was seeing one of them in serious pain and not being able to make it for them or fix it right away.
Adrienne's most naive expectation of parethood was that there would be breaks. Any breaks, ever. There are basically none, and if you're lucky enough to have some, they get exponentially smaller with each child. Nick's most naive expectation was that he would have just as much time for himself before children as after, and that he would still have summers "off." Ha ha!
For Friends: We would love for singles and couples without children to understand that you can never "shut it off" - ever - and that the blessing of children (or a spouse, for that matter) is almost as equally a challenge to put yourself and your needs aside in favor of someone else. Not 100% of the time, but at least 90%.
From Society: The greatest pressure we feel from society right now is that if we deviate from the general, politically-correct parenting "norms," then we'd better not do so in public or else it will be assumed that the government can parent our children better than we can.
Dreams: Nick - I dream of learning languages and traveling the world to use them. I want a large family where we spend a lot of quality time together, and to be part of a community where I'm known and needed. Adrienne - I dream of getting good at sewing, quilting, piano, and a few other instruments. I want to learn Spanish and maybe French, and I want to publish a few fiction and nonfiction books in my lifetime. Also, I want to be one of those old people who hosts Masterpiece Theatre.
If we could do anything in the world we would probably sail the world on cruise liners and see everything and taste all the food everywhere. And, also, raise kids that will be the next generation's leaders, because we all know they're going to need some good ones.