The Unexpected

Last night when I got home from wandering around the Squaw Valley Wanderlust Festival I needed a snack. Maybe some coconut clusters or Wheat Thins. When I opened the pantry there they were.

The ants.Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 6.58.56 PM

Millions of them. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But at least 200 swarming around all four shelves of my closet-sized pantry. Up the sides. Under the shelves. Over the cans. Down the bag of chips. Crawling everywhere as ants do.

Last night I wasn’t in the mood. So I took out some of the food, sprayed some lethal-be-rid-of-ant spray, and hoped they would be gone in the morning.

No such luck.

They were back with a vengeance. So I turned on The Open Golf Tournament and started the coffee machine, adorned my Playtex rubber gloves, and opened the pantry door.

It’s war!

Step one: Take everything out.

The stuff in the front of the pantry was familiar. All the normal things I eat regularly. Then I ran into the jar of Marmite. It was in the back. Behind the green chilis, next to the canned pears. I started to cry. Greg bought it for a recipe, I don’t know which one. It was next to the dried grits we ate every Sunday with butter and eggs. Things got worse. I had to stop.

Screen Shot 2019-07-22 at 6.57.47 PM

I took off the gloves. Cleaning would have to wait. Grief and sadness come first. It takes over. You reel around and realize there’s no stopping the flood of memory. An unexpected place to find a whole host of life. What you use to eat as a couple. How you lived before. Meals you cooked. Pantry items Greg loved and used.

It takes a while to catch your breath. These outbursts come at strange times and places yet they are all too familiar. They pass. It’s okay.

A couple hours later I put my Playtex gloves back on. The ants long gone. I wiped down the pantry and restocked everything. Except the Marmite.


Posted in Stories | 3 Comments

The Last Weekend in June

This is the first blog without my trusty editor. Since I started Life in the West in 2014, Greg read, commented and provided feedback on each post. My style more informal than he preferred yet his complimentary editing made my writing better. More readable.

I interred Greg on June 28 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, next to his mother Connie and with his brother Steve.

The service was aptly led by Greg’s brother Scott Sabin. Brother John was supposed to do it but something about a dialysis appointment and the forgetfulness of old age. He never showed.

Scott did a beautiful job on this drizzly, mosquito-filled afternoon. Simple and clear. There were additional words from Greg’s friend Sanjay who came from Connecticut to try and understand why this happened. At the end of his tribute, he turned on a little wireless speaker and played James Taylor’s Fire and Rain.

Afterward, we caravanned to Barbeau Michigan to the Cozy Tavern and Grill where all 20 of us sat at a long table reminiscing. It wasn’t lost on us that we did the same thing in 2013 for Greg’s mom. Same place. Same people. Same food.

When we finished our meals and said our goodbyes, a smaller group of family returned to the hotel for more time together. The desire to stay connected strong while sorting it all out.

But how do you understand this? A person so gifted in the world with degrees and intelligence, passion and curiosity who left us all too soon and so confused. 


Jay Chow, Scott Lenker, Scott Sabin, Dave Chisholm, and Sanjay Gupta

The next day we journeyed back to Greg’s home town Livonia Michigan where we continued our memorializing for the friends and family that couldn’t make the trip north. An open microphone and photo slide show highlighted Greg’s life. Dave, his life-long, childhood friend and neighbor told stories of grammar school, little league, and their shared life of being paperboys for the Detroit News. His friend Jay from California and Scott from Oregon shared funny times at Intel, a sunrise hike in Israel to Masada, the 2014 World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals (4-3), and countless other experiences that made their friendships lasting.


Scott Lenker and Greg at the World Series

On Sunday when I left Michigan I wandered around the Detroit airport for hours, my flight canceled due to thunderstorms in Chicago, a last minute rerouting through Phoenix, and eventually home to Reno late that night.

Naively I thought there was a global-ness to loss. Somehow they would all feel similar. It doesn’t work that way. Each one is unique in its own crappy way.

Yet here we are with an unfinished life, in an age-old story told over and over in every small and large town worldwide. It is the story of alcoholism and the devastating fatal impact it has on our beloveds. The ones who lose the fight. The ones who lost their dreams and the hope that wasn’t enough.


“Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows, it’ll turn your head around
Well there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again.”
J. Taylor


Greg’s dad Gary and his mom Connie at Duke Graduation


Jay Chow and Greg

3 Brothers in Merritt

The Sabin brothers: Steve, Scott and Greg


Greg and his dad at the Marines Memorial Club


Catherine and Tyler Tollstrup


Posted in Stories | 8 Comments

The Power of Slogans…If You Can Remember Them

Today’s the first day of spring which happens when the earth’s axis is not turned toward the sun (summer for us in the Northern Hemisphere) or away from it (winter) but it is aligned with the center of the sun. This is a time when the day and night are as close to equal as they ever get.   

It cues the beginning of a new season. Even the buds in my garden know it’s time to wake up out of their winter stupor. They reach out of the earth toward that illustrious center of the sun.Spring

And if that’s not enough, tonight is a Full-Worm Moon. Uh? Yes. It’s the last full moon of winter, signaling the start of spring when the earthworms begin to surface. Hence the name.

This is a great day to reflect on the first part of 2019 which has been unexpectedly tough.

Living in an over-55 community is a blessing because everyone has a story and many times it’s worse than the one you are living. This fact that other people suffer too is important to remember when dwelling on our own predicaments.

There are slogans and songs for life’s woes. Even more about how to appreciate and focus on now like:  forever is composed of nows (Emily Dickinson); write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year (Ralph Waldo Emerson); or, my personal favorite:
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
— A.A. Milne

These are helpful if you can remember them which is usually when you’re not having troubles and you are sailing the calm seas of life.

Sometimes though you do remember and recall a book, or passage, or a You-Tube video that brings you relief or a reason to look at life differently. Maybe open a metaphysical  door that feels closed.bookshelf

So, as I was looking at my bookshelf of the many ways to tackle today my eyes locked on Daring Greatly.  The treatise of Brene Brown, the wise and bad-ass PhD goddess that researches shame, vulnerability, and courage.

When you are in the middle of a difficult situation most likely you feel uncertain and vulnerable. Off balance. That’s when you have options. You can own the situation or run from it. Brown says, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Exploring the discomfort takes courage.

Courage is the willingness to show up even if it doesn’t go well.  Courage is what happens when you jump feet first into the darkness not knowing how it will turn out. Yet you jump because staying where you are is untenable. Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Tell me how vulnerable someone is willing to be and I’ll tell you how brave they’re willing to be.”

She makes it seem worthwhile to own our troubles and not run from them. To lean into the parts of ourselves that are vulnerable, unknowing, or sad. And if you do, you realize you can be both afraid and brave at the same time. Just knowing I have the capacity to experience 2 polar opposite emotions brings me back to today and the first day of spring. When the day and the night are as equal as they ever are in a year. 

Posted in Stories | 7 Comments