Going Home

It’s hard to go back to the place I called home for so many years. Four walls that are dangerously close to feeling more foreign than comforting now almost eight months after September 29th.

We pulled around the corner to 48 Amantes, just like I’ve done thousands of times, and some of those since he’s been gone. It never gets easier. I see his truck sitting there. I see his house. The bricks he laid with his hands. The rooms that hold a lifetime of traveling artifacts, his baseball caps, his shoes. All the other mountain bikes out enjoying the trails this morning. It feels like a betrayal in some way to be in this space without him. Wouldn’t it be so simple to jump back to a day when he was here?

Sometimes crying is conscious. Your nose starts to get tingly and you decide if you’ll allow it or not. This wasn’t one of those times. It was the kind that takes over and you’re left to either surrender or surrender. The cold hard fact of him being gone hit like a wall as I walked through the door. His BBQ, his office, his chair, will somehow never be his again.

Yet in the same thought, none of that stuff matters. After he died, one of the lessons that deeply struck me was that we take nothing with us. It’s us and God, at birth and death.

So what does that mean for us in this beautiful, complicated dash in between? What do I do with this firsthand information? Sell all of my things and live in a tiny house with my husband and kids? That’s going to be a firm, toddler-style “no” for me (at least in this phase). Sell all my things and move back to Australia? A little more likely. 

Right now that lesson is manifesting as do the soul work”, which means constant, merciful reminders to myself.

When the kids are running rampant and your finger is aching to scroll or phone a friend – be present. When you’d rather sleep in – get up to pray. Pause before you purchase new things. Connect with new people. Cherish and nurture the time with people who have steadily been along for the ride. Turn toward hard emotions/pain and away from distractions. Invite God into all parts of your life first – the same God you ask for protection is the same One who inspires your creativity.  

After the dust settled, I walked into the garage. It’s the space in the house that still feels like he never left. His workbench and tools that frequented his calloused palms, still in perfect order. I always admired how he worked with such ease and comfort on projects around the house while classic rock stars hummed a low beat on the radio. He would always be the first one to greet us as we pulled into the driveway. 

“Hey Dadio”, I would say. “Hey Jen”, I can still hear him say.

Big Sur State of Mind

It didn’t take long to realize that Monterey is one of those special places where the forest meets the rugged coastline. Where you can hike in the redwoods and dip your toes into the ocean in the same stride. Wildlife is so casually abundant; sea otters doing flip turns, and seals, the same. Overly intimate seagulls flocked with abandon and brave squirrels did just about anything for a walnut.

As the race director said, Big Sur is more of a state of a mind than an exact destination. And after a salty kiss of tears, sea mist and sweet relief, I could tell Ryan knew exactly what that meant with every muscle fiber of his being.


We drove up the coast with the girls in tote – nearly one and close to three years old – our car, a mobile goldfish dispensary, our destination, the Big Sur marathon. We had been so spoiled with wildflowers recently that I tried looking at the golden hillsides with fresh winter eyes. The old El Camino Real lamp posts and distinct oak trees over rolling hills tipped me off to the approaching central coast. Tears, naps, Elizabeth Mitchell songs and delirium came in waves, but we made it to our Airbnb mostly sane and excited to meet up with our Minnesota family: Ryan’s brother and co-runner, Marcel, his wife, Beth, and their kids Nya and Nash.

We woke up the next day and went straight to the famed Monterey aquarium, the place that inspired me as a kid to want to be a marine biologist when I grow up. After a sea otter feeding and stingray petting, we got notice on Whatsapp that two members of the Dutch family were somehow at the race expo. We looked at each other laughing and confused only to realize they were actually here, in Monterey, right now. What an incredible show of support and love to appear unannounced from Holland to watch their nephews run. The world is small and full of infinite possibilities. What a legendary Big Sur (prise).

After a jam packed day of fun and some misfired nervous energy, we pulled up to our Airbnb for a certain restless night of sleep. Everyone was grumpy. As we stepped out of the car, a beautiful wild deer appeared in front of us, munching on grass in the middle of our neighborhood. It looked up at us for a few seconds and then continued eating, right next to a vibrant birds of paradise plant (his plant). I knew Dad wouldn’t miss the race.

I was anxious and couldn’t sleep, like I was the one getting up to run further and harder than I ever had. I wonder what life is like for non highly sensitive people? This race felt bigger and more emotional than any other. Ryan was nervous, of course, but he was ready and prepared in every way. He would represent America with his American flag socks, Holland and Challenged Athletes Foundation with his orange hat, and best of all, he wore my dad’s “Trails of Memories” sticker on his bib.

In the morning, our eager cheering squad made their way to the 26-mile marker, ready to bring our favorite runners home. Our eyes sat glued on the hundreds of legs in motion as the electric loud speakers drew them in for the final .2 of the race.

First up, we spotted Marcel with his white long sleeve shirt and compression socks. Strong, relieved, a high five. After two months with a groin injury and a lot of questions, he made it, and with a wildly impressive time of 3:49. What a beast!

A few minutes later, I saw the man with the orange hat appear out of the sprinkle of runners. My heart leapt and I started jumping, crying and screaming with joy. He looked at us with fierce determination and relief, blew me a kiss and threw his hand up to salute my dad. Aside from the Sydney airport in 2011, I’ve never been happier to see Ryan in my life.

He did it.  From what I heard: The first five miles he was flying. Conquering the two-mile hill at mile 10 was empowering, the huge bongo drums electrifying and mile 14 was deflating.  Moments of pause to soak up the scenery were unforgettable. He could hear me cheering his name with my all of my heart at mile 17 (which I was, just in my head) . Mile 18: claw.the.ground. Mile 22 was spent lost in marathon land, tasting the finish line and one too many Clif shot blocks. Seeing us at mile 26 was the ultimate payoff. 

All of those moments and the countless others stamped on his sole equate to a goal time of 3:58 and a newfound Big Sur state of mind that will never tire: connection, expansion, freedom and unconditional strength. 

We are so proud of you, Ryan.

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Photo cred: Big Sur Foundation
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Photo cred: Big Sur Foundation

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Something in the Way She Moves

I miss the way his hands look and the comfort of his big hugs. What I wouldn’t give to listen to his memories, hear his perspective and feel his words of encouragement and praise that always held the weight of ten people. Sometimes, selfishly, it’s only him in his human form that will do.

And still, there is beauty in the mystery of our new relationship.

Dad was such a rule follower in his earth suit. Always doing the right thing. I see him as a bit of an angel rebel in Heaven; wearing his black leather jacket and working with the Boss every day to get as close to us as possible.  Pulling countless strings up there for good days down here. And pushing the boundaries on sign allowances because he doesn’t want us to be sad or suffering.

Like this James Taylor song that has been looping in my mind like a record on a turntable since the day he left. I know it’s from him. I wonder what it means?

There’s something in the way she moves
Or looks my way, or calls my name
That seems to leave this troubled world behind
If I’m feeling down and blue
Or troubled by some foolish game
She always seems to make me change my mind
And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now
She’s around me now
Almost all the time
And if I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now
She’s been with me now quite a long, long time
And I feel fine
Every now and then the things I lean on lose their meaning
And I find myself careening
In places where I should not let me go
She has the power to go where no one else can find me
Yes and silently remind me
The happiness and the good times that I know, but as I had got to know them
It isn’t what she’s got to say
But how she thinks and where she’s been
To me, the words are nice, the way they sound
I like to hear them best that way
It doesn’t much matter what they mean
What she says them mostly just to calm me down
And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now
She’s around me now
Almost all the time
If I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now
She’s been with me now quite a long, long time
Yes and I feel fine

Baseball, Granddaughters & 2x4s

Hey Dadio,

Last week was the Padres home opener and the weather hit a soul-quenching 80 here in San Diego (there is so much pollen in the air, your allergies would be off the charts).  Did you hear that the Padres picked up Manny Machado? Remember when we sat so high in the nosebleeds at Angel stadium that I was afraid we’d fall off the edge? 

Since I know you would ask, here’s a quick granddaughter update:

Coura Joan’s two front teeth are popping through like a couple of teensy white chiclets. Her squinty four-toofed smile is the best part of my day. Her nickname of the week is Joanies, however, Maisley calls her Maya Malaya or Malanky or Makeherd (?). We have no idea where those came from. Coura climbs into every crack and crevice she can find, her favorite spot being the entertainment center. She eats each meal like I’ve never fed her before and she is most happy while booty bouncing around the coffee table, swinging, or comfortably tucked in the nook of my hip. She’s always watching and following her big sister (even if she just pushed her down) and she laughs when we laugh. She gets her helmet off in a month or so which means hard surfaces won’t go as easy on her – especially since those first steps are just around the corner.

Maisley is now dressing herself and much to my inner child’s surprise, loves anything with tulle.  The only way she lets me do “crazy hair” in the morning is by coloring it with bright hair markers. She calls popcorn, “Popcorns”, and her favorite food is a cheese stick. Her mood and energy is that of a dragon fly trapped in a glass bottle. She has challenged me in every way and I wish daily that I had a roadmap to understanding her next move and what she needs from me. Especially when she runs away from me at the aquarium and I lose her to a sea of fish and panic. She is sensitive to people and things around her, always the first to step up and help. Her preschool teachers say she is a really good listener at school. Weird…just like at home!

It’s harder as more milestones pop up and days go by because it means we are further away from how we were when you were here. But as the girls change and grow, I am excited to see your traits in them revealed.  You will always be a part of them in the form of DNA and vivid stories. So far I think Maisley has your helping hands and Coura has your go-getter determination.


I’m spearheading our mailbox renovation project on Rock Creek – although you probably already know this because I was talking out loud to you in Home Depot. “Tom the mailman” informed me that our post is about to topple over, so me and Ryan, alongside Warren and Mike are replacing it. In my first attempt at a supply run I got: 12, foot long 2x4s. I then realized I was supposed to get a 12 foot long, 2×4. I could use some light guidance for the install this weekend.

There are so many invaluable gifts you’ve given us since you left; deeper spirituality and faith, new people, greater awareness of the present moment, more knowledge about ourselves – the list goes on.  I’d rather be a girl with a dad here on Earth, but I’m going to take full advantage of these new experiences and perspectives as a form of gratitude. 

I have to remind myself all the time: our worst day was your best. From what I can imagine and what my heart knows to be true, you’ve never been happier. Life without you here is still a little like freshman year and I’m awkward and sometimes I hide in the locker room to eat lunch, but I’m slowly learning how to be in this new existence. How to honor and communicate with you in new ways.  The memories are cloudy and a little jagged, but I know one day they will come flowing out as easily as a breath.

Have you met any famous people up there like Abe Lincoln or The Great Bambino? Other than being with us all of the time, are you a guardian angel for anyone else?

Missing you every day in every way. Love you Dadio!

In a bottomless pit of gratitude and baseball game nachos (with jalapeños),

– Jen

I Thought of You

We pulled weeds yesterday. I thought of you.
We saw a mountain biker. I thought of you.
We rode a ferry on a perfect San Diego day. I thought of you.
Uge posted wanderlust-y pictures of Bondi. I thought of you.
The wind blew just so. I thought of you.

I wonder what I thought about before?

Imperfect Takes Practice

I feel like I’m chasing after something, perpetually a foot behind where I think should be.
Offensive piles of laundry.
Lost things and lost tempers.
Where’s Monkey?
Did you get Ergo?
How is it only 8:30?
How is it already 8:30?

I can throw out compassion like Tic Tacs to other people.
A break here, a bone there.
But when it comes to turning that kindness around on myself it gets lost, feels foreign and uncomfortable.
That’s how I know it’s exactly what I need.

I’ve always been someone who just pushes through.
It’s counterintuitive for me not to fight,
but learning how to be imperfect takes practice.

So I’m working on softer things like acceptance and letting go.
Finding a little give in the system for time and permission.

Right now being strong means surrendering.
Accepting anxiety.
Accepting love and anger.
Accepting that grief is a wandering road of highs and lows.
Accepting rather than throwing myself into the arena with resistance.

April is my wanderlust month. The time of year, every year, where my Google search history reads things like:
“What is the best South American country to travel to with kids” and
“Where is Glacier National Park” and
“What is it like to be in a motorhome with kids for two weeks”.
My mind’s nature is to dream up wild adventures.

Right now I’m recognizing the need to lay my full blown carpe diem to rest.
To take bites out of adventure, rather than trying to tackle a whole bucket list in one sitting.

I’m reminding myself that right now is just that. It’s not forever.
Right now is a season of longer days, birds chirping, flowers waking up and Zyrtec. Right now is finding peace in the collecting, waiting and resting.

I Found My Heart in San Francisco

This land is your land, this land is my land…

Pandora just happened to settle on these words chirped by Elizabeth Mitchell as we drove from Sausalito to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge catches my breath every time I see it. At first just peeking over Victorian rooftops and then, in plain, awe-inspiring site. We rented a convertible, because why not on a 24-hour surprise birthday trip to San Francisco with no kids?

Looking up to see nothing but blue sky and “international orange” felt like a mix between Full House dreams and a rollercoaster to freedom. Ryan reached cruising speed and my hands caught the wind above. I was completely overcome by the near perfection of the moment.

The extreme joy I felt, coalesced with an extreme fullness of my dad. Then, a deep longing to have him there with me. To experience joy with him one more time.

If I closed my eyes under the warm sun, I could almost feel him right there next to me. He always said yes to a spontaneous trip. No questions asked, other than, “When are we going?”. Windows down, one hand on the steering wheel and his elbow resting on the side of the car. A baseball cap, Oakley sunglasses, chewing Trident gum, while giving me a half smile that perfectly said, “It doesn’t get much better than this.”

I felt my dad the whole trip. Ryan said he did too. On the flights as my calming voice: “It’s going to be okay. Just enjoy it”. In the butterfly that greeted us halfway up a long hill on our hike in Marin. In the solo mountain biker cruising amidst the expanse of empty trails. In a juicy orange. In the fog horn and the ocean bell.

It’s amazing that my dad was in San Francisco. It confirmed that inkling, that he’s in me. He’s in all of us. He’s everywhere.

So, listen to the songs he loved.
Go to the places he loved to go.
Travel 500 miles away and feel him.
But also, just be. He’s right here.