Are You Going to Wear THAT!?

My mother on Memorial Day 2008

My mother on Memorial Day 2008

Like most people, my mother influenced my fashion sense. She raised me with rules like don’t wear white after Labor Day; match your shoes with your belt, bag, and jacket; never wear white before Easter; and don’t mix blue and black. To this day, those rules still govern what I wear, and yet, those rules are challenged as I discover my own style and my new-found joy of fashion.

The other day, I mentioned to Sarah that I was always the weird kid in school who wore red and purple together…remembering my classmates’ sneers in childhood at my horrendous color choices.

She looked confused, “but that’s OK!” she said.

That one statement shook my world. What!? It’s OK?

A few weeks earlier, she informed me that it’s OK to wear black and blue together. I was just getting used to mixing the color of my shoes, belt, and jacket! What’s next?? Wearing white before Easter!? I would never do that!

Keri in Easter Dress at 4 Years Old

My Easter Dress at 4 Years Old

For my mom, Easter not only marked the beginning of spring, but it marked the addition of pastels and other bright colors to my wardrobe. Although the rule technically was “No White Before Memorial Day,” my mother broke that rule for Easter. She would dress me in flowery, pastel dresses, and take my picture. Before then, we dressed in black, brown, or other dark, muted colors. I would whine about the dark clothes I was forced to wear, arguing for light colors. When she worked, I would convince the babysitter that I could dress myself, and I’d run to school in my favorite purple pants and red shirt.

When my mother dressed me, I wore olive green pants with yellow or orange—her favorite colors. Of course, this was in the 1970’s—a fashion style that I laugh at now. (It seems to me that wearing red and purple together should not have been considered a fashion “sin.” In fact, I even found a 1974 image of a woman wearing red & purple together! I must have been a Maverick, and that’s why the kids laughed! They just didn’t know any better themselves!)

So, my fashion sense was built on shame: what could I dare to wear and not get laughed at? Unfortunately, it was all trial and error. So, at this early, impressionable age, I learned about fashion: t-shirts and jeans are always in style.

My fashion sense as a teenager: t-shirts & jeans

My fashion sense as a teenager: t-shirts & jeans

As I continue to wade through fashion pros and cons, I’m thankful for technology and fashion-forward friends who will tell me what looks good and what doesn’t. dress2dress1

The other day as I dressed, I pulled on a V-neck shirt with swirls of colors. There was red and purple in the shirt—along with green, blue, and yellow. I hesitated—should I wear this? Does it look silly on me? Does it match my pants? What shoes should I wear? But then I asked the important question: Do I enjoy wearing it?

It occurs to me that fashion is a sign of our times: we have fewer rules in fashion just like we have fewer rules in social norms. It’s acceptable to wear red and purple…just like it’s acceptable for same-sex couples to legally marry (well…we’re getting there). The more we’re encouraged to follow our own identity, then the blurrier fashion lines become.

And I’m OK with that.

~ Keri

Wanderlust Genes

Mom behind some sunflowers in Yellowstone NP

Mom behind some sunflowers in Yellowstone NP

I am convinced that wanderlust is inherited. My great-great-grandfather, Reverend Nelson William Crowell, was the first I know of in my family who loved to travel. He owned property near Manville, Wyoming and traveled between New York and Wyoming at a time when travel wasn’t as convenient as it is today. He was referred to as the “wanderer” in the Crowell genealogy book.This propensity for travel spread through my mother’s side of the family to me. Growing up, my mother worked several jobs to save for summer trips. We spent summers in the car traveling across the country, or we took short trips throughout Arizona. Often, I spent summers with my dad in Minnesota, North Dakota, or New Mexico.

Eventually, we branched out away from the United States into Scandinavia and Costa Rica. One summer, my mother and I toured Scandinavia, and that led to living a year in Sweden as a high school exchange student.

Getting ready to ski in Sweden.

Getting ready to ski in Sweden.

Another summer, we spent in Costa Rica where I learned a little bit of Spanish and learned to love coffee, and black beans. I can still remember the Costa Rican seasoning and the delicious hot sauce. I can’t duplicate it, but I’m trying.

Yet another summer, we traveled to Brice Canyon and Yellowstone, and that led to my desire to move to Wyoming.

When I moved away from my family and went to college, I thought my traveling days were over. I never thought I would make enough money to travel on my own. While my college friends spent spring break in Cabo San Lucas, I’d study, write papers, or work extra hours for tuition.

When I graduated, I struggled to find a job, and found myself living with my parents once again—this time in Nebraska. I worked for an advertising company and started paying off my student loans, again thinking my traveling days were over. But I couldn’t run from the inherited wanderlust. After a one-week vacation to Laramie, Wyoming to explore the University, I moved there. I lived at the KOA with my dog and loaded Geo Metro until I could find a house to rent. Two years later, I was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming.

As a grad student, once again, I found myself homebound, house sitting while my roommates jet set to Europe for three weeks while I read for class, practiced viola, and graded student essays.

Studying on the couch

Studying on the couch during spring break

For me, spring break wasn’t about traveling to exotic places and drinking to excess. It was about catching up on my schoolwork or my sleep. It was about getting ahead financially or starting on a school project. It wasn’t about fun.

Even as a full-time college instructor, I spend most breaks grading, preparing for the next semester, and reading. It’s relaxing, but I’m envious as I watch my colleagues travel to Italy, Florida, or even Phoenix.

It’s Spirit Week on campus this week, and that means a decorating contest. We decorate our area in the theme of our dream Spring Break destination. My dream? Hawaii…actually, any beach will do, but I’ve never been to Hawaii, so that would be nice.

Back in January, when the temperatures were below zero, and I was a little bit depressed returning from sabbatical, I knew I needed a little bit of hope to get me through the semester. It came in the form of an email advertisement.

Normally, I delete those, but this one, I followed the link. It lead me to various vacation deals. That’s when I decided it was time to take a real Spring Break. So, on Monday, March 16, my husband and I will be on our way to Oahu. We’ll spend three days and nights in Waikiki Beach where my husband and I plan to spend two days on the beach and in the ocean.

As people around me express their jealousy, I simply smile and say, “You’ll have your chance someday.” Hopefully, they will, but for now, it’s my turn, and who knows what this trip will bring. But I can’t wait.

~ Keri

Just a Piece of Paper

IMG_4828When I moved to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona, my life was planned: I would go to college, get published, get married at 25, have 3 children, and homeschool my children while living in the forests of Alaska. But life didn’t work out that way.

Twenty-one years later, with two college degrees, no children, and living in Wyoming, not Alaska, I finally got married.

And although there were some fairy-tale aspects of my wedding (the hummingbird that hovered over us as we said our vows, marrying where I always dreamed, in Sedona, Arizona, a man who wanted to marry me despite a cancer diagnosis six weeks before), getting there had been anything but a fairy tale.

My husband and I met on Homecoming Day in 1999. We were introduced by a mutual friend at a party that I wasn’t even supposed to attend. My date had stood me up, and so I found myself at the party instead of the football game.

Three years later, we were living together. Eight years later, he proposed. In between those years, we discussed marriage…well…we fought about marriage. I wanted to get married. He didn’t. I thought about leaving, but I couldn’t imagine life without him, and despite the occasional fights and the disappointing jewelry boxes that contained rings for my ears and not my fingers, I stuck with the man. I decided that being with him in a committed relationship without a ring or a piece of paper would be enough. In fact, I had convinced myself that we were already married.

IMG_4953To some degree, that was true: we owned a house together, we had pets, we didn’t go out with other people; we weren’t looking for anything better…we were in a committed relationship. But it wasn’t enough. Over and over again, we argued about that piece of paper, and I found it difficult to define marriage beyond the obvious property and fidelity. Instead, I focused on the ceremony itself. I would argue that we already had a marriage. “I just want a wedding,” I’d say, hoping this would convince him.

I had been planning my wedding for as long as I could remember. As a child, I dressed my stuffed animals in handkerchiefs and tissue paper, marched them up make-believe aisles, and hid them under the bed or in the closet for their honeymoon.

On the occasions we took the 45-minute drive from Flagstaff to Sedona, I dreamt of a big wedding in front of the beautiful red rocks and then gathering with my friends and family for a big celebration.

With every fight about getting married, that dream dwindled, and I would grieve its loss. But I wasn’t willing to find a new relationship. I wasn’t willing to say good-bye to this man I loved…this man whose life I shared. Instead, I conceded and finally said, “Marriage is just a piece of paper.”

When I finally let go of the fairy tale, it became reality. On top of the Big Horn Mountains on a cold, fall day in 2009, this man, who I thought would never propose, knelt in front of me and asked that question I’d been wanting to hear. Of course I said yes, and now, 4 ½ years later, the fairy tale vanquished, I still struggle to define marriage.

There is something to be said for planning a wedding, going through the hassle of the paperwork, the seating chart, juggling family dynamics and finances until that day when you stand in front of your family and friends and say those words: “in sickness and in health.” Saying those vows…all of them…makes a difference. It matters.

IMG_4906It’s intimacy.

It’s trust.

It’s learning to listen to each other as you struggle daily to remain true to your identity while also navigating through the day-to-day difficulties of life with and without your spouse.

It’s about coming home to someone who knows who you are and, yet, doesn’t understand you, but is willing to keep working at it.

It’s about compromise and communication and doing the work…and still…it’s about so much more than that.

It’s just…I don’t know…more than a “piece of paper,” and still difficult to define, but it’s worth the effort.

~ K

 

Infectious Fear

Photo by Keri DeDeo

In the dark of night, my husband calls to report he’s headed home.

I gather our two dogs and lock them away with me in the back room.

I text him, “Coast is clear,” and then I wait.

The back door squeaks open.

The floorboards in the hall creak.

The dogs whine and wag their tails at the TV room door, but their expectations go unmet.

The reason for this bizarre behavior? To keep my dog Nikko safe. Diagnosed with immune-mediated neutropenia, her immune system is compromised. Already, since her diagnosis two months ago, she has had three rounds of antibiotics for various infections: 1 from an unknown infection; 1 from a small cut on her foot, and 1 from kennel cough. She’s on another round of antibiotics for kennel cough—the first round didn’t do the trick.

We’re not sure where she contracted the kennel cough, but when we started thinking about the possibilities, my brain hurt. I also understand the fear behind Ebola.

I’m not concerned about catching Ebola. The chances of catching it in Wyoming are narrow. I do worry about family members in South Africa because they are closer to the epicenter of the outbreak, but still, they are far enough away to be relatively safe.

Besides, I have my own worries at home. Right now, we’re homebodies and I worry about the consequences of having an outside dog touch me. If a dog touches me or my clothes and has any infections or disease, then I could carry that to my dog. If I touch a person who has dogs, and those dogs are even carriers of any disease, then I could carry that to my dog. Even if I step on a patch of grass where a diseased dog has urinated, I could carry that to my dog on my shoes. If I shake someone’s hand of a dog-owner of a diseased dog, I could carry that to my dog.

If my dog touches noses with a diseased dog through the cracks in our fence, she could get ill. If her nose touches the grass where a diseased dog has urinated, she could get sick. If my other dog, Maiya, touches grass or dirt where a diseased dog has defecated or urinated, she could pass that on to Nikko.

Just like humans, dogs carry disease even if they are asymptomatic, and a compromised dog’s immune system can’t fight even the simplest infection.

It’s the same with humans. Going through chemotherapy, my immune system was compromised. The people around me had to be careful. They got flu shots, stayed away when they were sick, and my mother-in-law scattered hand-sanitizer pumps around the house. In the end, I survived, and so will Nikko.

But in the meantime, my husband and I shower and change clothes after being exposed to dogs and before petting our dogs. I disinfect surfaces, door knobs, shoes, our floors…anything I can think of that we could have touched.

To some people, this may be extreme measures. Yes, it’s inconvenient to undress in the garage and shower before petting her. Yes, it’s strange to ask visitors if they’ve had contact with dogs before shaking their hand or allowing them to come inside. And, yes, at times I feel trapped in my home for fear of bringing in disease, but then I see her sweet face and I remember the comfort and love she gave me while I went through chemo, and it just seems natural to do this for her.

Nikko

Nikko

~K