Wednesday, December 24, 2014

For You

 Since the beginning of Aviana's Elves, there's one person who is always first in line with both encouragement and a large donation. No matter what I choose for the year, my aunt Paula is 100% behind our efforts. Hospitals! "That's great!" Homeless! "Sounds wonderful!" Hospice! "Awww, that's perfect."

  This year was no exception, but what was... just as we were finishing up for the year, she unexpectedly passed away. How could this be? We were just texting. We were just at her house the day before with birthday and Christmas presents. 

Life changes. It shifts. Those we love come... and they go. 

So this past week was spent with family - while yesterday and the day before...
we laid her to rest. 

The purpose of Aviana's Elves is to bring those who may be going through a difficult time, a sliver of light. If only for a moment, to let them know someone is thinking of them. 

I know what this time of year felt like in the realm of our own, but now, as I watch through the eyes of my aunt's immediate family, Aviana's Elves holds new and different meaning.

If you happen to be the praying type, my wish this holiday is for some to be floated up for my aunt's family. Especially my Uncle Bob. He not only lost his sweet love of 50 years, but yesterday morning, the morning of my aunt's interment, he also lost his very favorite out of their five dogs. This is all just too much at one time.

Thank you.

This year, we dedicate Aviana's Elves to my Aunt Paula - one of the kindest, most loving, people I will ever know.

Paula Beth Lyon

Paula and Aviana on her first birthday
One month after we picked Avi up in Guatemala.

The morning of the deliveries.

Dave double checking my math - probably a good idea ; )

We loaded all the extended care packages in Dave's car, and all the remaining hospice in mine. I had already delivered 10 prior.

All ready.

"Elf Rainey, are you ready too?"


On the way, we stopped at Whole Treats and picked up muffins, cookies, brownies and donuts for both the hospice and extended care staff. 

We are always thankful when they have a cart. We wheeled at least three to this department.

We then went over to the hospice department, but I forgot to bring my camera. Val, the hospice volunteer coordinator, and her husband Joe, greeted us. She's one of the nicest people I've ever met. That day was to be her very last, as she was retiring. I was happy to have worked with her, if only for a short time. She started me on the volunteer path, and graciously connected me with others within the department. 

Our plan was for my mom to bring the scones donated by Panera up to Tahoe Forest, but there was a storm coming, so we had a slight change of plan. I think it was perfect though because it was nice to share the love around to where we began.

My friend Sara and her cutie kids delivered them to the Kaiser Roseville PICU. This is where Aviana was transferred after being released from U.C. Davis Trauma 1. The staff was wonderful to us. They were actually part of our very first Aviana's Elves too!

Everyone was especially grateful for the care packages and all of our additional efforts. With each interaction this year - my heart grew. Together we created something magical.

Thank you. 
Thank you. 
Thank you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Baking Again

The Gingerbread House I made for Christmas.

Write me if you want the recipe.

Monday, December 8, 2014

So Far, So Good

The care packages are coming along nicely! Between the two departments, we are making 65 total. There are currently 8 people on hospice, and about 35 in the extended care facility. We figure it's nice to have extra.

Day and night, I'm searching still for the perfect addition to our gift bags - one that speaks love and comfort. When I come across something, out of my skin I jump. Yes, that excited! This elf thing really does it for me.

Starbucks, Panera & Target have once again treated us well. Year after year, we're humbled by the kindness they extend our way. What Starbucks provided is well enough to share in the care packages and with the hospital staff too. I love when this happens because we wish to remember the doctors, nurses and other support staff as they work their way through the holiday season.

As we walk the days of Aviana's Elves, we come together with those from years past, but also, with those we've never met. Every interaction is meaningful and leaves us feeling full. Thank you. 

I had many bags with leaves on them, but I thought these could use a few snowflakes : )

Some of the goods.

Rainey approved.

We aren't through yet. There's still time if you'd like to donate ❤️

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fire & Ice

When faced with death, especially that of a 2-year-old, my message was clear, live. Live all I can, while I can. Before car met bodies, I was under the impression of time. In one impactful moment, I realize, I couldn't have been more wrong. 

Instead of all going black and bleak, the colors shift. They change. The clouds become more billowy. The sky more blue. On the drives back and forth to the hospital, the trees are vibrant in their varying shades.

As I float through this alternate universe, I wonder how this could be when my parallel is smashed? Our daughter hanging by a thread.

"Welcome, you have just entered a world of wide range dichotomous emotion. It's nice to meet you. Sit, stay for a while, have a cookie."

I decide quick. Take all the positive. There's already enough chaos, sad, and lonely. 

This new world has one giant magnifying glass dropped on top. With it, I'm able to examine every aspect of life, and loss. I always had a great love of nature, people, music, etc., but now, it's different. Now, they can be taken away. I can be too. This casts a new light. With these new eyes, I can truly see what surrounds, positive and negative energy, the people who suck that energy, the love, trust, compassion, and so much more.

I follow. I like where this is taking me. It holds purpose, meaning, weight. Overnight, and in a snakelike fashion, I shed the skin of who I was and become another. I gain lots of good, and lose some too. Most times, I'm at peace with the trade off. This new person must see, taste, do, and be part of everything. Our daughter has shown me what's important, but in conjunction, given me an even shorter stick for b.s. and drama. A whisper gains momentum - avoid the negative, turn towards the positive. Especially in those who surround and love us. In those who feed, instead of deplete.  

Sometimes it's a challenge to intermingle this newfound influx of adrenalin with grief. Life becomes free and full, but at the same time, draining and discouraging due to brain injury. These feelings mix together and cause me to feel like many in one. I go with it. I have to. This is the way it will be. On especially tough days, like a mantra, I repeat "there will always be something that's not going our way, something that's difficult. There has been in the past, maybe not to this level, and maybe there never will be to this extent again, but there will always be something to work through."

Aviana shows me to grab hold of moments. To live in them while we can. So, we take our little mentor's hand, and with every chance - we do. But as things intensify, so do the moments. In the beginning of tumultuous - they are clear, deep, cutting, and difficult. We are trying desperately to follow her lead, but she's taking us on a road less traveled. A road unfamiliar to the life of a parent. Parents want nothing more than to care, feed, and sustain, not the alternative. To wrap ones mind around feels foreign, but in the name of our child and her cues, we push through. I'm run down. The full extent, I can't even see for myself. Others are worried, deep down, I am not. It's simple, I'm not what matters most right now. She is.

Once the three of us are on the same page, peace is made. I can once again look to her, even in death, and see life. She's taught me to value, seize and continue. We must. I know in her absence we will live. All of us.

Sometimes it comes easy. At times, it's hard as hell. All the time, I am open to every reason our lives touched, our paths crossed. Dave and I both consciously and subconsciously use these reasons. Through her, we seek meaning throughout our days. We are cognizant of our connection to her. And because of how fiery she was in life and all she endured for those years, she pushes us in ours too. She propels us to do things we may not have, to sit through and still, and to push harder. She also encourages us to enjoy the big and small moments of our everyday. Aviana is one shining spirit.

Like bookends, here are a few of my favorites from this year -


This place was put in our path years ago. At the time, I couldn't have known its significance. Our adoption process was taking more time than expected, so it was suggested that we take one last vacation just the two of us. Our choice - Cabo.

I saw the dome. "What's that?" I questioned. I heard some words, "Hot. Meditation. Sit. Still." That was it. That was enough for me to head pool-ward.

Our next time back was a pick up and run hooky trip from our therapy program. That time, I wished to be in the mind space for the dome, but with the intensity of all that was going on back home, there was no way. Flat out and cool was all I could muster.

After Aviana died, we made the decision to once again return to our place of letting all go. As excited as I was to ride !camels! the dome was first and foremost. I looked it up -

Temazcal - a steam bath of pre-Hispanic origin that is utilized for therapeutic, detoxifying and ritual purposes, as well as a ceremony of purification and cleanliness. It signifies a return to the womb of Mother Earth for healing and rebirth as a new person.

At a time like this, I couldn't think of anything better for the two of us.

We just walked from the pool to the dome prior to signing up. 

My writing will never capture the true beauty of our Temazcal experience.

A smoke signal from hot coals guides us down. As we arrive, we're greeted by Alberto, who's dressed in white linen. Every sense awakens. Our eyes dance upon the varying shades of green. There are giant aloe vera and palm leaves surrounding the entire entrance. Tiny assortments of fresh, fragrant herbs add beautifully to this natural landscape of color and texture. Red, pink, and white rose petals mix together and rest on a backdrop of green vines. They are everywhere; lined inside and out the dome. My breath escapes me. I turn to Dave. Our eyes meet in a knowing disbelief. Next to a pitcher of fresh mint tea, three teracota cups sit in wait. We soon toast, drink, and then watch as Alberto slices those huge pieces of aloe with a Crocodile Dundee sized knife! All I can think is, "That's not a knife. That's a knife!" And it was. We are asked to rub the oozy, slime over every square inch of our bodies. So we do. I think I'm done, but Alberto gives me a half you're not finished smile. "Our face too?" I ask. Alberto laughs, "Yes, your face too."

While standing in our shell of dried aloe, we sip our tea. So taken by the dome and our nearby transformed surround, we forget to extend our near sighted eyes. On the horizon, a seaside sundae. Layered one atop the other - green grass, a sandy beach, the ocean, and in place of the cherry - a big blue sky. For a second, I wonder. What would I take my spoon to first? I can't decide, so to reality my thoughts return, and they are beautiful too. In the shadow of death, all we can think and feel is life!

"How hot?" Our vision broke. "As hot as you want. We can handle it. My words surprise, but at the same time - not at all. If she can, so can I. Coal after coal, we watch as he labor intensively transfers them from one pit to the other.

After brushing ourselves with bunches of herbs and a few other rituals, we enter the dome.

With our tea, we gather around the fire. Soon Alberto picks up a piece of the stone. He asks that we each set an intention for our practice. We think for a small amount of time. Out loud, Alberto speaks then scratches the stone across the fire, as if to burn it. He passes the stone to me.

Internally, I state what I hope to accomplish in the Temazcal that day. I scrape the stone and attempt to pass it on to Dave. Alberto stops me short and says I need to state my intention out loud. I stammer. I feel uneasy. We've seen him all over, beforehand, at the spa, he will be our Yoga on the beach instructor. He doesn't know our story. I want to stay under the radar with this. He'll now know. I question, he reassures. I look at Dave with tears. They mix with sweat from the blazing heat. Drying just as fast as they fall. I feel nauseous, salty. I love salt. Weird thoughts are causing me to procrastinate. I'm suddenly claustrophobic. I'm never squirmy in small spaces. Something is squeezing me. I turn back to the fire. The words won't come. In my throat - they're trapped. Not because of him, but because of me. I can't say them. I try again. Nothing. But tears. We sit. Time passes. Finally, through a broken voice I say, I'm hoping to heal from losing our daughter. To hold onto her memory and release the pain. I scrape the rock hard, and pass it on. Through that tiny bit of stone, I feel an immediate release. Dave cries too as he states a somewhat similar intention. I understand the importance of symbolic rituals.

Hours of meditating, chanting, healing and alternating extreme hot with some freezing cold too pass in the dome. Alberto says it's one of his longest sessions. We feel some sort of pride in staying until he called it. Like we had done right by our girl. Once we emerge, we're soaking wet, and covered in herb debris. We look at each other and laugh! Under the outdoor showers, all physicality of what occurred falls away, but internally, those hours will remain safely.

We're freezing. Alberto has big, fluffy towels and robes waiting for us. He walks us out to the grass where he has perfectly placed crisp white sheets. "Lay inside, join hands, close your eyes." he says in a hushed and gentle tone. He places one hand on each of our heads. Alberto says some of the sweetest and most important words my ears will ever hear. We later open our eyes to pure blue sky. We are one. We are new. As for Alberto - he's nowhere to be found.


To feel alive. 

There are spaces of time I have to push myself to get up and go on without her. Sometimes it's easy. Sometimes I need to remind myself. To wrangle up and grab hold of, to get going. Sometimes it takes everything I've got. Much of the time I manage, but sometimes I'm taken over. Always though, I'm seeking. Trying to find the thrill, the chill, whether in thought, person, vision, lyric, or ingredient. It doesn't matter - anything which sparks! My goal is to feel. And there's so much around, which helps. While I'm still wandering this earth, I want to do all the things she can't or didn't have the opportunity to. 

On the last night of Write the co-founder said something along these lines, "just to let you know, we may be closing the workshop by jumping into Doe Bay. So... you may or may not want to wear your swim suit under your clothes."

It had been cold all weekend and the water was much the same, if not colder. I grew up with one brother in particular who thought it funny to throw me over the side of the boat and into Lake Tahoe. If you've never been in Tahoe, it's freezing - year round. As much as I love Tahoe, that scarred me for life. So I'm a creeper. My first thought was, "Pass. I'll leave jumping in to the others."

I show up the next day in warm clothes, and definitely no swim suit in sight. At the close of the workshop, one of my very favorite people throughout the weekend spoke. She explains how she and the co-founder Jenn, start each month by jumping in. She calls it a brain stop. In that moment, you stop all that's going on, all thought, worry, anxiety, and stress. When you come out it's like starting over. After the cold, it's strange, but all you feel is warm. Her every word is like poetry. I'm not much into poetry, but that day, and in that moment - I was. And because of Kerry, I was all in.

As I said, sometimes I must be reminded. I suddenly flash to all I read in The Power of Now. It sounded much like a letting go. I am suddenly back in Alaska and all I was explaining to Gary as he was contemplating whether to join Dave and I on the ziplines through the rainforest. "You don't have to, but I think we especially need these kinds of things now more than ever. Moments that make us feel! Ones that bring us towards life alive. Ones that excite!" And he bit. We three had the best day together in Ketchikan!

Doe Bay never sounded so good.

I walk down to the bay with the group. I run back up to our room, my bags all packed by the door and ready for our taxi. Like a yard sale, I throw my clothes around trying to find my suit. Off, on, pushing my stuff back in the bag. Flips on my feet, I run back.


Hand in hand...

We run.

I guess it comes down to a simple choice really, 
get busy living,
 or get busy dying.

~ Shawshank Redemption

Friday, November 21, 2014


Hello! How are you this fall day? I'm loving it. 

I signed up for a writer's workshop at the beginning of the year, back when I could hardly commit to a dinner date, let alone a many months in advance workshop, a plane ride, and days away. Back then, this was a leap of faith. 

In the last year I've learned to join a world I once knew. It's different now; I'm different, but yet the same. I'm finally able to plan, to commit. 

As the retreat showed itself on the calendar, I had no idea we'd be living in Tahoe! As hard as it was to now leave home, I had a feeling this opportunity would be pivotal in my life.

And it was.

The workshop, the presenters, and the people I met are what dreams are made of. 

 I've been writing a book about our journey with Aviana for awhile now. I was recently at a severe standstill. I could never concretely figure out why. I had a few ideas, but couldn't break from the holdback. For various reasons, I was more frustrated than ever before.

Everything came clear during the workshop. Upon returning home, I've become a writing machine. I previously didn't understand the process. Now it's all flowing. Filling page after page is one of the best feelings.

The people I met at Doe Bay collectively set me free. For them, I am beyond grateful!

* * *

From beginning to end - this was a trip of a lifetime.

My friend Christie joined me. We started out in Seattle a day early. For some reason, I felt deja vu.

Yes, I'm late in posting - go figure. The trip was in October.

Halloween - the most wonderful time of the year! That's how the song goes, right?

I love looking around chocolate stores!

The next day we boarded a tiny plane. Destination, Orcas Island.

Doe Bay...


Doe a deer.

A female deer. I have no idea ; )

True to their name - these sweeties were everywhere. 

Me = mesmerized - hypnotized.


I wasn't zoomed. They let you come so close. I bet I could touch them. I wanted to!

We carved pumpkins!


A great man once said, "Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans." 


Our plan was to go out that night and put LED candles in these cuties. We were going to take the bombest group shot ever. 

The dear deer had other ideas. We watched them pull our pumpkins off the stage and eat them instead.

This place had such great food, but most times we were cooked for. Jesse and Jen are the ones who put on the retreat. Jesse made us the best meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert too. If you ask my mom and Dave - they say there's a whole lot I avoid. 

I ate more on this trip than I eat in a week. At every meal, I went back for seconds and sometimes thirds. Jesse made my kind of food! And the way she cooked was - how can I say, of and from the heart.

Also my kind of place. The food - so good.

Mother may I? Some more, please.

Our daily walk to the retreat house.

Thank you Doe Bay.

I will forever hold you in my heart.