beauty hope laughter life love stars universe

i need the night

“I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark

It’s been a month since that 4 o’clock morning in the backyard with all those stars. Travis and I were sitting in patio chairs looking up at the cloudless, moonless sky waiting for shiny meteors to shoot across the sky like rockets. We talked a little, and I gasped a lot – every time I saw one soar and disappear like a magic trick. The dry, desert air was cool and we were wrapped up in blankets, listening as crickets chirped. I don’t remember a breeze, but I remember the crisp night on my cheeks and the way summer filled my lungs as I breathed it in and out.

We were out there for about an hour and saw a few dozen flying meteors, then Travis went inside to sleep a little longer. I couldn’t help staying out to watch the sky fade from black to golden blue. Most of the stars disappeared by the time I decided to head in and make waffle batter for Travis’ 31st birthday breakfast, and as I watched them vanish, I closed my eyes and tried to feel each second and everything I am thankful for.

There was something magic about that early morning. Neither of us had seen a meteor shower before, and when we saw that this one would take place on Travis’ birthday, we couldn’t pass it up. Watching a meteor shower was one of those things on an imaginary bucket list in my mind – the kind of thing I never wrote down, but would eventually experience because it’s such a Manette thing to do.

I’d started reading a book around that time about the value of darkness in our lives, both literally and figuratively, and how even though we tend to equate the night with the unfamiliar and scary things, there is so much to be gained from it. I recently read that Chaco Canyon in New Mexico protects 99% of its night sky from most light pollution, creating better living conditions for nocturnal wildlife in the area and enabling humans and plants to experience life’s natural rhythms. There is value in darkness that can’t be found in light, and on the morning of Travis’ birthday, I realized how much I missed it – how much I longed for more frequent outdoor moments beneath a million, billion stars.

Sometimes I need the night. I need to walk outside and see the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. I need to look through a telescope at the surface of the moon or a cluster of stars and realize how tiny I am in this big universe. Sometimes I need to go for a long drive with the windows down and my favorite music keeping me company. Sometimes I need a group of friends around a campfire because it’s a space where every kind of conversation can happen and no one feels awkward.

Sometimes I need to hike long after sunset and reach the top of a mountain where all I can see is black trees and the sky’s diamonds. Sometimes I need to sit on a blanket somewhere and watch fireworks burst right above me in 100 colors. Sometimes I need to soak in a hot tub where everything feels intimate, or swim in a pool where everything feels free, or funny, or both. Sometimes I need to see the ocean in the dark and hear the waves all night long.

Sometimes I need to sleep without a roof over my head so I can hear the owls and rustling leaves. Sometimes I need to be on a chairlift while it’s snowing so I can see the magic of winter with its giant trees draped in white blankets. Then I need to tromp through knee-high fresh powder and make snowballs and angels, and, for some reason, not feel cold at all.

Sometimes I need the loudness of night – the sounds of parties, and city trains, and baseball games. I crave amphitheaters, concert crowds, and my favorite bands giving everything they have on stage. And every once in a while, I might stumble to the car after dancing to thumping beats inside bars with all of my (two) dance moves.

Sometimes I need to sit on the back patio to drink tea and watch lightning strike in all directions. Sometimes I need to sit on a rooftop with friends from all different places and backgrounds and watch cigarette smoke fade into the darkness while talking about the most serious and silliest sorts of things.

Some of these things I’ve only done once, and others dozens of times. What I know is that I don’t do any of it often enough. I love how the night will wrap me up and keep me for a while. How it holds hope in all those stars. How it remembers happy moments, with many more to come.

beauty hope life love stars

deep thoughts and spanish moss


This was my view during our last afternoon in Florida a couple weeks ago. Travis and I were sitting on a bench and I kept staring ahead at these trees, the Spanish Moss dangling from their branches, the pink flowers nestled peacefully in the shade. We were having a pretty deep discussion that began with evolution. I can get on the most random of subjects sometimes. This one started in a garden and continued as we meandered up and down a quaint little street in Winter Park, where people were sipping happy hour wine and cocktails, and snacking on bruschetta, chips and salsa. It was such an unassuming place for such an involved conversation. I tend to process things out loud and Travis is a really good sounding board. He also has really good perspective on things and will offer a lot of good ideas and insight. And he doesn’t judge when these topics seemingly arise out of no where like they did that day in a beautiful garden in Florida. The conversation twisted and turned and included thoughts on where we came from and where, as humans, we are going, until finally it turned into the current state of the world and all its problems, and then somewhat suddenly, I was nearly in tears.

Do you ever feel like you’re the only one in the entire world who believes there is still good in it? That good wins? That love is the answer? That many things are actually better than they used to be despite what we see on the news and hear from many people around us? This is how I felt in that moment, in this garden, while staring at this Spanish Moss. I felt like I needed to be at least one voice in a very loud sea of voices that still believed things could get better.

Of course I am not the only person who believes there is good, love, and beauty in the world. Most people still believe in fairy tales, superheroes, happily ever afters, and that good can overcome evil. If we didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t be flocking to “Star Wars” films, and movies like “Bridge of Spies” wouldn’t be nominated for Best Picture. (Have you seen “Bridge of Spies” by the way? If not, you should. It’s marvelous storytelling about how every life matters, even if that life may be considered a so-called enemy). I would guess that more than 90 percent of the fictional stories we turn to have positive endings. Voldemort loses. The Force continues. Po’s clumsy battles overtake evil (OK, I love “Kung Fu Panda” too). Doesn’t the stories we read and watch, and the endings we hope for, say something about humanity?

However, even if we seek happy endings, I bet you’ve heard the same doom-and-gloom phrases I have throughout my life. Things like, “It’s a sign of the times,” and “The world is going to hell in a hand basket,” and “Back in the good ol’ days.” I used to believe those phrases, and unfortunately, I often still do. But in that Florida garden I couldn’t because believing all of those phrases made me feel like I was giving up on the universe even though it has proven again, and again, and again, that people can forgive, forget, become stronger, love more, create change and present opportunity. If there is no hope, then what is the alternative?

People have been saying the end of the world has been coming for a long, long time – thousands of years probably. And has the world ended yet? The truth is, women in many parts of the world actually have more freedom than they’ve ever had. There is dialogue about some of the toughest subjects concerning all life – even animals. People of various races, religions, backgrounds, and cultures are accepted in ways that they weren’t 10, 20, 30, 100 years ago. Gay people can get married in the U.S. The topic of transgender people and how to support them is actually on the table. These are all really wonderful ways we are coming together in a world that feels incredibly broken and fragile sometimes.

Five or so years ago, I decided to believe that God made us all different for the reason that we have to learn to love. People weren’t meant to grow apart, but they were also meant to be challenged. It would be too easy to love if we were all made the same, and we wouldn’t know our full potential that way. There is something a lot more beautiful in creating truthful, positive, generous, everlasting relationships with others who are not the same as us. There is grace in the way we learn to protect each other, especially those who are more vulnerable. Every single day there are people everywhere who are working to help the underprivileged, the grieving, the lost, the broken.

Sometimes I feel there is very little I can do to help this world. Maybe you feel that way, too. I felt that way in the garden, and I decided I wouldn’t forget that conversation for a long time. I wouldn’t forget that I still have faith in humanity. To counter my feeling of helplessness, I’m challenging myself from here on out to be one hopeful voice.

What if I was one of the stars in that deep, black sky? What if I was one of the little lovely stars, after all? What if my hope was like a tiny speck of light shining with all the other twinkling diamonds of hope in the night? What if your hope shimmered, too? Maybe then more people wouldn’t lose their way. People look to the stars for directions, you know. And people look to hope when all seems lost.

life stars

when it’s dark enough, we see stars

Sometimes your heart breaks into 1,000 pieces.

It happened to me 30 minutes after work while I was on my way to meet a friend for coffee. She was running late – had lost her keys in a pile of doggie blankets, and I’d just missed my turn. There were Christmas presents wrapped in colorful snowflake paper in my trunk that were ready to for the post office after our Starbucks date. I was surrounded by the most normal of things. Tramway Road. The stoplight at Academy Road. Christmas presents. Coffee plans. And then my heart shattered.

I was in the process of finding a place to make a U-turn when my mom called and I knew immediately she was crying.


“Oh no, what’s wrong.”

“I have bad news.”

“What is it?”

“It’s really bad. Your dad passed away.”

I broke. Into 1,000 pieces I broke. I’m not sure I’ve ever cried like that. The tears came fast and hot and the sobs were loud. But I needed to go. I needed to call my friend, cancel my plans and call Travis to have him come home. So my mom and I briefly hung up, I made that U-turn, pulled the car over and sent a text message to my friend, then made a call to Travis. He was with two other people when he heard me crying. He had to put me on hold. When he came back, he said he’d leave and I called my mom so we could begin piecing together how and why this could have happened.

Unexpected deaths happen somewhere every moment of every day, and this was my moment – my family’s moment – and soon the news would strike the hearts of my dad’s friends, co-workers, church members, and thousands of others. There would be people who would read his story in the news before we did, and there would be others who would find out later that night and in the days following who would be just as heartbroken as we were. Some people, like my grandparents, my aunts and uncle, would break into 1,000 pieces, too.

When something like this happens to you, sometimes you remember the details and sometimes you don’t. I can remember that I was supposed to be doing those normal things that day. There was that coffee appointment and the Christmas presents. Instead, I went home, kneeled on the ground between the couch and the computer and cried like I’ve never cried. I prayed that God would help us, that He would watch over my dad and that somehow we would get through this. And then I was laying in bed under our soft, green comforter talking to my brother on the phone as Travis came home. I was crying again – or maybe I’d never stopped – and we were trying to figure out how my dad ended up in the hospital with a gunshot wound to his back.

We wouldn’t know all the details until the next day, and in those first few hours, information was scarce. We knew he’d been shot during a hunting day-trip in Cache County, Utah. We knew he’d been with a few friends he works with. We knew he died before he got to the hospital and that he arrived there alone without any ID. Hospital personnel either did not know a lot about the incident or weren’t allowed to say, so it wasn’t until my family contacted police that some of the missing pieces began to be filled in.

It was all an accident – one big, tragic accident that would change the lives of everyone involved forever. The group of four were pheasant hunting on a ranch when a bird flew up, they went to shoot, and one of them slipped in some mud, fell in some water and the man’s shotgun fired. It’s just one of those things that can’t be explained and there’s no one to blame.

Travis and I left for Utah as soon as we could and the following 10 days would be a blur of cemetery visits, funeral arrangements and hosting. Neighbors would arrive with meat trays and huge tins of shepherd’s pie, lasagna, rice and rolls. There would be dozens of cards left on our porch and in our mailbox, and flowers in the most beautiful colors and varieties would be delivered. In a week where we’d feel more hurt and loss than we’d ever felt, we’d also feel love in ways it’s impossible to feel unless your heart is already torn in two. There would be so many kind words, hundreds of prayers from near and far, and countless shoulders to cry on.

People offered to do anything. My uncle picked up my dad’s dog who was with him when he died, and my dad’s co-workers got his truck and brought us pictures from his office. There was a 13-year-old who vacuumed my mom’s carpet one day and I can’t count the number of people who told me they would come over anytime to help with anything around the house in the future.

A teacher my mom works with brought four boxes of notes and gifts from her first grade students and other kids who attend that school, and those words and pictures drawn on pink card stock and printer paper will be cherished for years to come. Then there were fuzzy comfort blankets and gorgeous framed pictures of Jesus and necklaces from my cousin whose dad died a year ago.

I will never be able to name all the things people did, or the gifts people gave, or the thoughts that were shared, but for those things, my family and I will be forever grateful.

About 10 years ago, I discovered the quote “When it’s dark enough, we see stars,” and I’ve loved it ever since. It made me realize then as it does again now that in the darkest moments, there is still hope. Sometimes we forget about that hope, and unfortunately, sometimes it has to be dark for us to see it. If you really want to see stars, it has to be nighttime and you have to get away from all the light pollution. It’s best when there are no distractions and you’re in a place like the mountains with the smell of pine trees, the desert with its soft, white sand, or near the ocean with the waves softly crashing into the shore. You’re lucky if you can look at a coal-colored sky without clouds or the moon and there’s just you, the stars and hope.

My dad knew a lot of people and it was estimated that around 500 may have been at his viewing, and 700 at his funeral. I keep thinking that if every one of those people only said one small prayer, or had one tiny thought of hope for my family and the three men who were with my dad during the tragedy, then so far, we’ve been looked out for more than is comprehendible. I know there were people thinking of us from afar, too, and my heart will never fully know how to handle or receive all of that.

At my dad’s funeral, I spoke about how stars break up the darkest nights so that we’re able to see details of light.  For my family and I, the last couple have weeks have been darker. It’s like the sun has gone down on this great life and the stars glittering in the sky are what’s left – they’re these beautiful pieces of heaven filled with our memories.

And then I went on to share some of my favorite memories – the text messages that were exchanged as we prepared a surprise 60th birthday party for my mom, and the way his childlike heart was exposed at Disneyland when he wore Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, ate corn dogs and laughed while watching Billy Hill and the Hillbillies perform as if it were the first time. He was my family’s sports-loving, hunting and golfing enthusiast, and while he loved all those “manly” things, it wasn’t uncommon to see him cry in any movie about a dog, or get excited about choosing out a necklace for my mom, or watch Hallmark specials during the Christmas season. When I was in junior high or high school, he watched eight hours of “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea” with me and surprisingly loved it.

There were his Hawaiian shirts, bright yellow crocks and a tie for about every occasion, including one with smiley faces all over it, and others with kayaks and golf scenes. There was his sneeze that could shake a whole room and scare children, and his chuckle that made others want to join in.

In spite of these good memories – my stars – what I feel now is that there’s something missing. He should have been there Christmas morning teasing us all about how spoiled we are. He should have been reaching into his stocking and pulling out the bananas, oranges and chocolates and pretending he didn’t know they’d be there. He should have been feeling every present before he opened it and guessing what it was (much to our disappointment, he was right about 80 percent of the time). And after the holiday ended, he should have been planning the movie he’d see the next day with a giant bowl of popcorn on his lap.

I know somehow things will be OK, although I almost hate saying that because I don’t know what that means. I also know I’m lucky my dad was in my life for 30 years, and even though I wish it could be more, I’m lucky to have three decades of memories when many children don’t. He was a great example to me of someone who loved and cared for his wife, children, grandchildren, friends, siblings, parents and strangers. He had faith in many things and I admire him for that.

Lastly, I know life can change on the most normal of days. Your heart can break into 1,000 pieces while driving on your most traveled roads on a common afternoon. Even though it’s almost impossible, nothing should be taken for granted. People should be treated gently, as you never know when their hearts might break, too. The last couple weeks, I’ve felt so connected with people who love me, my family and my dad. We’re all in this together. We are all each other’s hope. Those stars will keep shining. I just need to remember to keep looking up.

friendship love stars

this heart of mine


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I’m slightly tipsy but i want to say the perfect picture in my head right now is a big table of people for dinner. With a jew, a mormon, a gay person, a buddhist, people of all races, a catholic, a bahai. and all just having dinner. drinking and not drinking. and just loving each other. and there are stars. and twinkle lights. and candles. and laughter.

I was sitting on The Owl roof in Logan, most likely with a Blue Moon in front of me, when I typed that out on my phone and sent the text to Travis. At this point in my life, I’d probably only consumed alcohol a handful of times. The first time was two months prior while camping with some friends and I was finally able to convince myself I wouldn’t go to hell if I tried Corona. I was 26 years old and my world was changing.

When you live in Utah and you drink, I soon discovered religion is a common discussion topic when people have beer or cocktails in their hands. Perhaps my experience is unique, but I’ve heard this from non-Mormons who live in Utah, too. I also realize a lot of the friends I hung out with had Mormon backgrounds and were going through similar transition periods as me. Even when you try, it’s really hard to escape the religion for some reason. I can remember one night, when we were all gathered around a table some people started talking religion across from me. I quickly turned to my Mormon friend next to me who was not drinking and told him to talk to me about something else. I didn’t want to hear or participate in the drunken analysis of why Mormons do what they do.

When I drink, I’m that person that openly expresses how I want the world to be a happy place. I will tell you all the things I like about you. I will hug you and all your friends – and while I actually control myself a lot more now, I used to make everyone link arms or hold hands in circles because that’s the way I wanted the whole world to be – friends, happy, loving. A big, fat cheesy circle of peace.

During this transition period in 2011, wanting everyone to be friends no matter their background or current situation was the thought that filled my mind on long walks through Logan Canyon, on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, and at night in my one-bedroom apartment. And I swear every time I was drinking, at some point if it didn’t come out of my mouth, I’d at least think, “I’m so happy we’re all friiieeennnddsss!!!” While I may have seemed like another annoying drunk person, the intentions were true. I really do like to imagine everyone being friends, and when there is conflict, it troubles me right down to my soul.

I haven’t been active in the church for more than four years, and I struggled with issues inside the religion for about two years before that. I’d long seen the way the church – and religion in general – can separate people. It can make outsiders feel lonely and misunderstood, and it can make members who don’t seem to fit all the criteria feel less worthy than others. I’ve seen in the Mormon church that for those who struggle with sexual orientation, addiction, gender inequality, family issues, and historical religious issues, the faith they hold dear can actually torment them.

That’s why I’m happy there have been people like John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, two Mormons who have been making a difference and including those who felt like outcasts in their own communities and church houses. Unfortunately, both were threatened with excommunication this week. Dehlin is an LGBT ally and the creator of Mormon Stories, a website with several podcasts from Mormons of all walks of life, and Kate Kelly is the founder of Ordain Women, a group which has been seeking for leaders to prayerfully ask God if women can hold the priesthood. They have also waited in lines to attend the priesthood session of General Conference – which Mormons hold twice a year – only to be denied.

When I heard Kelly and Dehlin received letters from their bishop and stake president this week about church disciplinary action, I was shocked. I didn’t think the Mormon church was that interested in excommunicating activists anymore as they did in 1993, when six feminist women were disfellowshipped or excommunicated. I thought the church had become softer, even though leaders hadn’t changed official stances on gay marriage and relationships, or women and the priesthood. Since neither Dehlin or Kelly were telling members to leave the church, and they’ve both openly said they want to be part of it forever, it seems like because they didn’t fit inside the cookie cutter mold and they opened a dialogue for issues viewed as controversial, they face being kicked out.

This hurts my heart more than it probably should. People who know me probably wonder why I care so much when I haven’t been an active member for a while now. At this point, I can’t see myself being active again in the Mormon church because I want a religion that is inclusive of all people and allows women to have the same opportunities as men, but at the same time, like many Mormons who fall away, I haven’t let it go completely, either. I see it for many beautiful things and I’m thankful for the way it’s influenced my life – and the lives of my family and friends – for good. This week, though, it broke my heart again.

Oh, this heart of mine. This troubled, aching heart that just wants the whole world over for dinner with stars and twinkle lights and candles and laughter.

I hope one day it happens. Until then, here’s a cyber circle hug.

beauty life stars

each by name


I don’t consider myself a religious person anymore, but I do believe there is someone out there who knows all of us – and perhaps all the stars – by name. Sometimes that’s what gets me through the day. To be known by a God who is greater than life makes me feel like I’m here on purpose along with all the other people and creations in the universe.

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope your weekend is wonderful.

beauty life love stars

slowly, then all at once

the fault in our stars

I promise this won’t turn into the death blog, but I just finished “The Fault in Our Stars,” a book I enjoyed very much for several reasons, including the way death was described and dealt with. It looms over the book’s characters, who are teens with cancer.

The book is written in the voice of a teenager, which was enjoyable. I liked her spunk and edge while facing horrific things. The book gave me perspective of what having cancer at a young age might feel like – to always wonder if you’re going to live or die, and continue living anyway.

I’m going to share some of my favorite lines – some may sound familiar as they seem to keep popping up on Pinterest … at least in my feed.


•  •  •  •  •

I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

•  •  •  •  •

My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.

•  •  •  •  •

That’s part of what I like about the book in some ways. It portrays death truthfully. You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence.

•  •  •  •  •

When you go into the ER, one of the first things they ask you to do is rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, and from there they decide which drugs to use and how quickly to use them. I’d been asked this question hundreds of times over the years, and I remember once early on when I couldn’t get my breath and it felt like my chest was on fire, flames licking the inside of my ribs fighting for a way to burn out of my body, my parents took me to the ER. nurse asked me about the pain, and I couldn’t even speak, so I held up nine fingers.

Later, after they’d given me something, the nurse came in and she was kind of stroking my head while she took my blood pressure and said, “You know how I know you’re a fighter? You called a ten a nine.”

But that wasn’t quite right. I called it a nine because I was saving my ten. And here it was, the great and terrible ten, slamming me again and again as I lay still and alone in my bed staring at the ceiling, the waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliff, leaving me floating face up on the water, undrowned.

life love stars

when loved ones return to the stars


For the last three months, I’ve been visiting a woman with Alzheimer’s. Every Wednesday, we’d sit at her table, watch Today, drink coffee, and talk about the same things over and over – where she grew up, her kids, her grandkids, her sparkly purple sweater, the garden, the white car across the street, going to school. I’d ask her how old she was and she’d say, “old enough,” and we’d laugh.

My job as a hospice volunteer is just to provide company and friendship to patients. I don’t take care of them, feed them or give them medicine. I don’t have any sort of medical certificate. I’m just supposed to provide company for those who may leave this life soon.

This morning, I found out this cute woman I’ve visited for the last little while has moved on to join the stars, to hopefully shine her light on her family and friends she’s left behind. Over the last few months, I’ve gotten to know her sweet husband who walked her down the aisle 60 years ago. They were two kids in love – she was young enough at 19 or 20 that state law required her to get her parents’ permission to marry. And they’ve been together ever since, living in different states out east, volunteering at their church and raising their family.

Her husband told me he asks God why he’s still here, living in his 80s. Then he’d point to his wife and say, “I’m here for her.”

It breaks my heart to think of this man alone now – a man who told me just last week his house felt too empty when his wife moved into an assisted living facility a few days before. She didn’t have the highest quality of life anymore and would sometimes do things that confuse those of us who have more control over our minds. But I wonder what it must feel like to have the love of your life – 60 years of your life – gone overnight.

The last few years, death has started to enter my life. I realize the longer I live, the more I’ll experience it, but it’s not easy. Losing my hospice patients affects me differently than losing other people in my life, or learning the tragic stories of lives ended too short. But with every death, there is a little heart ache, a little confusion, and wonder at how someone can be here one day and not the next.

If I get to be with my husband for 60 years, I’ll consider myself one of the luckiest women in the world. But as I’ve seen with hospice patients and my grandparents – it doesn’t matter how long you live; it always seems too short.

A little over a month ago, a friend and I were emailing each other about how hard death can be after we learned our college professor’s wife died at age 58, after battling an illness that took her away. We both said death is so hard and surprising and shocking every time.

Life is so strange. It’s long and it’s short. And it’s hard when you’re the one living. It’s like in the last Harry Potter movie when Dumblerdore says, “Do not pity the dead, Harry, pity the living. Above all, pity those who live without love.”

I think the only good thing about acknowledging death is that is makes you live life more fully because you realize nothing is for certain, not even tomorrow. And some days that helps me put things in better perspective. But most days, I’m not to the point of feeling that comfortable with it. Mostly I just fear it. And instead of worrying about me dying, which would probably be the most beneficial because then I’d really make sure to take advantage of every moment, I worry about losing the ones I love.

I also wonder if it’s hard for the one who dies. Wouldn’t that person miss the same things? Wouldn’t that person hate leaving families and friends behind knowing they are suffering? 

And when I think of my problems, I think they are so small. Really, people are dying everywhere, every moment, and people are crying over them. Since I work in news, I read all these stories of children and young people dying. I read about those who die in the most horrific ways. And then there are wars and there’s sickness and it’s all over the world and if I think about it too long, it’s too overwhelming.

I do believe there is a God and that he watches over everyone before, during and after this life. I do believe there is something wonderful after this life, too. I’ve never blamed God for anything, but that doesn’t mean I understand why some people leave the earth early, either. And I really do believe death can teach us how to live. But all the other parts in between can be very agonizing and painful. I think maybe death helps us look out for each other, which is a silver lining.

When my friend and I were emailing, I stumbled across this quote from the book “Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid,” by Lemony Snicket. I think it’s fitting.

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”

I’m so thankful for this life – for its twists and turns, and mostly for the love within it. The beautiful thing about love is it lasts beyond life. It can live anywhere – in  the sun, in warm summer breezes, in those moments when our hearts are so full they feel like they are going to explode. Love is in the sky and in the stars that remind us of heaven. It’s in the faces of our family members, friends and even strangers. It’s in life and in death.

Though I don’t know if there’s anything more difficult to handle or understand than losing those we care for, maybe love is the point of all of it.

love stars

love from mars and stars

A friend at work showed me these Valentine’s Day images from NASA’s Instagram page today and I couldn’t help but sharing. After all, this is my stars blog, right?

These photos are so fun and beautiful. It’s amazing how we can see love all around us, sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident, sometimes in nature, and sometimes written in the stars or on another planet. It’s everywhere!

Enjoy! The captions are from the Instagram page as well.

NASA Mars Hearts

#NASALove from the Red Planet: Mars is red, so don’t be blue. Hearts abound from us to you! From the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) team, this collection of images acquired over 3 Mars years shows some of the heart-shaped features found on Mars by the team.

NASA Cosmic Rose

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s #NASALove to celebrate – like this cosmic rose from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer captured in 2004 with its infrared eyes a pink and green rose-like picture of a cluster of newborn stars known as a nebula. “The picture is more than just pretty,” said Dr. Thomas Megeath, principal investigator for the latest observations and an astronomer at the HarvardSmithsonianCenter for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Mass. “It helps us understand how stars form in the crowded environments of stellar nurseries.” Located 3,330 light-years away in the constellation Cepheus and spanning 10 light-years across, the rosebud-shaped nebula, numbered NGC 7129, is home to some 130 young stars. Our own Sun is believed to have grown up in a similar family setting.

NASA Heart Cloud

A Valentine’s Day Mystery! Our Chandra Observatory sees a heart in the darkness – This young star cluster NGC 346 highlights a heart-shaped cloud of 8 million-degree Celsius gas in the central region. Evidence from radio, optical and ultraviolet telescopes suggests that the hot cloud, which is about 100 light years across, is the remnant of a supernova explosion that occurred thousands of years ago.

life stars

build a ladder to the stars

Bob Dylan

You know why I love stars? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Stars remind me of warm, summer nights, which I live for nearly all year long. They remind me to dream, make wishes and wonder. I love when they fall from the sky, leaving streaks of light behind them that disappear in a moment. We’ve all experienced that. And when we’re with others, it seems our jaws always drop, our hearts beat a little faster, and we ask our friends, “Did you see that?!” There’s just something magical about stars.

It’s at night, when the stars are out, that we light fireworks, go to drive-in movies, cook food over campfires and fall asleep in sleeping bags. When the moon is out, snow can sparkle, and hiking trails are lit enchantingly as we walk up hills, breathing in the fresh air.

One of my favorite memories beneath the stars in recent years took place on the island of Kauai. Four of us camped on the beach, the waves swaying back and forth, back and forth next to us. And when I looked into the sky, I’d never seen so many stars. I wanted to hold that picture for as long as I could before my eyes became too heavy and I drifted away. It was cold that night and my friend and I woke up a few times. We just kept looking at those stars. What a scene.

A couple years in a row, that same friend invited a few of us to go to a rodeo and camp at a pond by her house. I loved those nights. After we watched the horses and bulls and cowboys, we slept on the grass, laughing at each other until we got too tired and our conversations slowed down to silence and dreams.

I remember struggling through a hard time one winter a few years ago and going skiing with a bunch of college kids one night. It was so pretty that night, the snow falling as we went up the lift, the trees dressed in white blankets. I made a new friend that night. Sometimes the night provides those moments.

That same friend took me to the canyon one night to build a fire and cook fish. Well, the fish actually started on fire and were burned to a crisp, but for some reason, it was still some of the best fish I’ve ever eaten because of the company and the escape from the things I was going through.

Whenever I want to think, driving at night seems to do the trick. I love long highways, the stars, my music, my car and nothing else. Sometimes that’s just what I need to figure things out for a while.

One of my favorite races I’ve ever participated in took place partly overnight. It was a 24-hour team relay and my favorite moment was running around midnight in Morgan, Utah, the stars so shiny it was hard to be anything but grateful to be alive … and part of this really fun team moment.

People come together at night. They laugh and they cry. They talk of their dreams, maybe drink wine, maybe snack on something delicious. I can’t remember how many times my friends and I used to drive to McDonald’s or the grocery store late at night, just to come, eat and share quality time.

Last year in Albuquerque, there were a few amazing lightning storms at night. I’d never seen anything like it. My husband and I, engaged at the time, sat my the window and watched for an hour. Lightning struck in every direction. It was almost scary, but overwhelmingly amazing. Even after we finally decided to go to bed, I continued watching the show from our room. I’d close my eyes and could still see the flashes. The sky, the clouds, the stars, the storms … they do wondrous things together.

I’m the type of person who always makes wishes on stars, so in that way, stars are a thing of hope. But they are also perspective. Stars remind me that I’m small. I read on any given dark, moonless night, we are only able to see a couple thousand stars at best, but there could be up to 400 billion stars in our galaxy alone. Where are all the others?

Right now, I’m living in an apartment with a nice view of the mountains, sky and sunsets. And I’m like everyone else, a little star in a great, big universe.



a million billion trillion stars

This image captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) highlights the Small Magellanic Cloud.  Also known as NGC 292, the Small Magellanic Cloud is a small galaxy about 200,000 light-years away.

A Man Who Had Fallen Among Thieves
By E.E. Cummings

A man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat

fate per a somewhat more than less
emancipated evening
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin

whereon a dozen staunch and Meal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because

swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as if he did not care to rise

one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly confessed
a button solemnly inert.

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars

I read this poem on another blog a few years ago and fell in love with it, mostly because of the last stanza. We like to think people would never leave someone on the roadside drowning in their troubles, but it happens. I don’t think this is because people are necessarily thoughtless; maybe they just don’t know how to help or what to do. I like the idea of a person brushing the stiffened puke off this fallen man, putting him in his arms, and carrying him through a million billion trillion stars. We’ve all fallen at some point and we’re lucky if we have someone pick us up again, stagger and bang through the terror and help us see the stars.

Photo by Space Dynamics Laboratory