Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Turning Nine

Birthday celebrations should last for weeks.
Marissa and her friend, Erika, at the American Girl Doll bistro.
Marissa's began the weekend before her birthday, with a small gathering at the American Girl Doll store for a birthday luncheon. Our party was made to feel special, like we were the only people in the place celebrating something as wonderful as a birthday.  Marissa felt like a princess.

She spent a day with me at home six days before her birthday, just Marissa and mom time. We went for a long bike ride with a stop at the Linden Hills library to pick up a book, and a stop at Great Harvest bread for a cinnamon twist.

Marissa can make a trip to Ikea feel special, like walking through a magical universe where everything is fascinating and fun, even though we were really just shopping for a work desk for me. We took the time to stop in many display areas, checking out the kids bedroom sets, the kitchen drawers that close themselves, the pantries that have built-in shelving. They all became fun play areas to her, and we took the time to pretend.

Then, as she's done many other birthdays, she spent time by herself, singing songs, dancing, playing with her dolls and making up stories.  It was so sweet to eavesdrop on.

On her actual birthday we were in Tracy, MN, for her grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. We drove home that morning and let her open her gifts right away. The unasked for karaoke machine which I thought she might like has been her favorite plaything. The bubble gum machine is already half empty.

We celebrated dinner at her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden, with Aunt Kristi, who gave her a beautiful charm necklace.

When the server said, "Happy birthday" to her, she said "Thank you" with such charm that he had to tell her happy birthday again, just to hear her say "thank you" once more.

She smiled the entire day.

Like previous birthdays, the day was punctuated with exclamations of, "This is the best day ever!"

She is sweet and kind, funny and carefree, she is our 9-year-old Marissa.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Is Society Creating Helicopter Parents?

I found this post in my drafts folder, originally written in the spring of 2012. I don't know why I didn't post it but the topic is still relevant, even though two years have gone by since originally written. So I'm posting it now, complete with pictures from two years ago. Hard to believe that much time has already flown by.

Lindsey working on an art project. By herself.
One morning this past week I went to Lindsey's school to help her get a form from her locker. While walking along the hallway in front of the 3rd grade classrooms I saw other students' research projects that had already been turned in lined up along the windows. (See previous post on my lack of sewing abilities in assisting on this project.) While most projects were dioramas, as Lindsey predicted, a few had chosen the sewing projects.

After looking at the quality of the craftsmanship of the sewing projects, I can guarantee you that there was significant parent involvement in the final products. I thought one of the projects was a store-bought stuffed animal, until I saw the tell-tale seam where the animal had been stuffed and then sewn shut. For real? How does a teacher grade that, it so obviously isn't the child's own work?

Marissa proudly shows off her 1st grade writing project.
This same week, Lindsey's running club, Girls on the Run, has decided that their service project will be to hold a bake sale with proceeds going to the Animal Humane Society. The GOTR coordinator sent an email home to parents, explaining the group's chosen service project and informing us all that the girls would be planning the event after school on Thursday. Instructions would be coming home to the parents on what the girl would be bringing to the bake sale.

Before you could say "peanut butter chocolate chip," emails were flying around from all of the moms volunteering to bring various baked goods, cups, signs or what have you.

The coordinator emailed the group again and kindly but firmly said, "Thanks for all your enthusiasm for this service project. This is a girl-led project. Your child will be telling you what she would like to bring to the bake sale."

In other words, butt out. Such a good reminder.

Yet at the same time, in order to keep parents involved in their children's education, kids are assigned projects that in my opinion are beyond the child's ability to complete on their own. As a parent it becomes difficult to know where to start and stop with helping with the projects.

Lindsey's recent research paper and project had a great guide for parents to help with the writing piece. It reminded parents that the paper was to be the child's own writing, and that the parent's role was only to suggest edits or revisions, not to re-write the paper. There was a list of questions parents could use to help in that process.

This part is confusing to me. How can you make that clearer? You use this word a lot of times. Is there another word you can use that means the same thing? 

Those questions were extremely helpful to make sure I didn't take over writing the paper, yet could provide good feedback. But then the actual project portion of it clearly needed parent involvement to complete.

As a parent I am in disbelief at how quickly my girls are growing. It is easy to keep doing what I've done for them when they were pre-schoolers or toddlers, because I forget that they are now nearly 7 and 9, and can and should do many things for themselves. "Mom, may I have some water?" is now met with, "Sure. You know where the cups are. The faucet still works, right?"

I do not want to be a helicopter parent but I want to be involved in our children's education and lives. I am learning that it is an easy line to cross.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

One Week

I've been between jobs for one week now. Only the unemployed and retired know this feeling. There is nothing waiting for me at the office. No one needing an answer...on anything. No projects on my plate. Pure and utter blankness.

My project list at home, on a different note, has been tackled with gusto. I feel great about all the things I've done there, yet still found time to enjoy myself.

I am truly a believer that the universe works in mysterious ways, and that if we are simply patient and quiet, things will work out the way they were meant to, even if that's not how we planned them.

This job change was meant to happen, and this week between was, too.

I spent the first part of the week with my sister, who was also enjoying her final week of unemployment before starting her new job as a nurse at a hospital 2 miles from her house. We went to her apartment and hung pictures. We went for a bike ride/skate and enjoyed lovely afternoons on the patio until Wayne got home from work. We hung pictures at our house and cleaned out our front closet. Being silly sisters, we had fun every step of the way.
Artwork by Marissa (top) and Lindsey (bottom)

Then Kristi started her job and Wayne flew to Denver for a business trip. Marissa asked to stay home with me one day and so I said, "Why not?" She and I went for a bike ride to the local library and bakery. We went shopping for ideas for a home office for me, which was loads of fun for her because we were in the Ikea showroom.  Ideas galore!

Marissa enjoys a cinnimon twist from Great Harvest.
The egg! Meant for pre-schoolers, though.

The next day Lindsey asked to stay home with me and, of course, I said, "Why not?" Her idea of fun, though, was entirely different from Marissa's. She tackled the junk drawer in our kitchen because "it's the first thing on your list and it isn't done yet." While organizing,  she asked if we could organize her clothes in her drawers next, or maybe her closet, which had become the dumping ground for everything that's on her floor whenever I tell her to clean her room. Instead we went grocery shopping which she also loved doing because she loves doing the self-service checkout at Cub Foods, pretending to be a checkout girl.

My organizer. Extra allowance for this girl!

The three of us spend our mornings on the patio, I drinking my coffee and the girls watching their Kindles or playing games.  I don't have to hurry anyone out of the house to be anywhere by any time.

My first day on the job wil be a rude awakening. And yet it won't, because I don't need to drive anywhere for it. It's right here in my house. On a regular basis I do not need to spend 1 1/2 to 2 hours on the road, getting to and from my place of work. It's going to be challenging, for sure. I'm looking forward to having clients again, and to getting to know a whole new team of people.

Today's my last day of non-working status. I'm going to finally get those other items checked off my list: a massage. A skating loop around the trails. A shopping excursion (for me, thank you very much).  Then time to dive in.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Interlude...and A Dream

I don't believe I've ever taken a hiatus from this blog before of this length. It has been nearly 3 months since I last posted. So not typical of me.

So much has happened, I do not know where to begin. So I will begin by saying that it was a needed interlude.

A week after my last post I flew to Indiana and helped my sister Kristi move to Minnesota. Already in the few months she has been here she has become a part of the fabric of our family. She is getting accustomed to the area, the climate, the social and natural offerings and having family close by. Weekly meals at our home are typical. The kids are disappointed when Aunt Kristi *doesn't* come for dinner. We plan outings together, we don't plan outings together but they happen spontaneously anyway. It's been an amazing, wonderful change. As wonderful as it is, it is still change, which can be hard and takes a lot of energy to process.

It is now summer, which means I am waking early in the morning to go skating, instead of staying up late at night to blog. I have committed to appreciating each morning that I do that, and not feeling guilty for the mornings that I intend to, but don't.

Lake Harriet, 6 a.m., June 30, 2014
Even though I haven't written a blog post for quite some time, my phone is still filled with random pictures I take with the beginnings of blog posts in mind. So I still think like a blogger, though I don't write like one.

And then, last night, I had a dream. Sometimes my dreams are just nonsensical, but most of the time they are a reflection of what is going on in my life, so much so that I had to write about it. 

I dreamt that I was driving a car through a construction zone. I was following the car ahead of me as people do in construction zones, keeping a close eye on its bumper as it navigated cones and signs saying to curve this way and that. It drove along a stretch of road that appeared to be an overpass with only a temporary railing of 2x4's nailed up in place along the roadway. The 2x4's had obviously been there for some time and were in some disrepair; they were not going to keep a car on the road if the car ran into them.

We were up in the air now, in an area that was clearly going to be part of some kind of cloverleaf or connection with another highway. Suddenly the car in front of me took an abrupt left, just behind a huge cement pillar, and I couldn't see the turn. I froze. What if it had just driven off the edge and was falling back to earth? What if the signage had told it to turn left but the work wasn't done yet and there was no road? There was no way for me to know if I should follow that car.

I stopped my own car, frozen. Traffic backed up behind me and drivers grew upset. In my dream I was having a full-out panic attack, sobbing and unable to make a move, frozen with fear. Finally someone put their arms around my shoulder and said, "It's okay, just trust. Trust." And suddenly, everything was okay. The honking, the yelling, the noise and the paralyzing fear stopped, and everything was okay.

I never saw a resolution in my dream, but when I awoke I knew that I drove my car around that blind corner, and that everything was fine.

I recently put in my notice at Gillette. I love the people I work with, I have a great passion for what I do and the mission is inspiring and incredible. But signs were telling me that it was time to start considering other opportunities, so I began talking to people in my industry and asking them to keep me in mind. I recently accepted a job on the vendor side of fundraising, working with clients to raise money through telemarketing.
This was left on my desk by a co-worker the day I gave my notice.
It feels like an abrupt left. But I don't think it is.

I think that it will lead me to new skills, new co-workers whom I will enjoy working with as much as I enjoyed my old ones, to learning new things and taking on new challenges. But...it is change. And change is hard and takes a lot of energy. Even the good ones.

So there you have it. The end of the interlude...and a dream.

Monday, April 07, 2014

From Lincoln to Today

Over seven days of our spring break our family drove for 27 hours in the car and covered more than 1,500 miles. There was not a single fight in the backseat, thanks in part to the "Frozen" soundtrack which our girls LOVED to sing along with. At the top of their lungs. So while the peace was held, parental sanity was not.

One of the stops on our whirlwind spring break tour was Springfield, IL. Wayne had been there as a boy on the only vacation his family ever took. The initial reason for the trip was to see family, but while in Springfield they stopped by the Abraham Lincoln home in Springfield. Since we were heading south to Arkansas from Wisconsin and had to swing through Illinois anyway, this seemed like the perfect diversion.

What a diversion it was!

The most photographed angle of Lincoln's home.

His writing desk where he wrote many speeches.
Our first tour was of the Lincoln home. This is the 3,100 sq ft  home Lincoln the lawyer made for his family, an unheard of size for the time period. He worked late into the night as a lawyer and politician in order to give his family all the things he didn't have as a young boy:  An education.Sufficient food and clothing. Opportunity. Ironically, his eldest boy, Robert, was distant from his father, as his memories are of Abe saddling up to serve on the judicial circuit and never being home. By the time Robert's younger brothers came along, Abe's work was in town and he was home most days, so they were closer with their dad.

We then went to the Abraham Lincoln National Museum in downtown Springfield, where we spent the majority of the day. You don't have to love Abe Lincoln or history to find this museum and its presentation moving. Humbling. Respectful. Pick your adverb, it was an incredible and somber experience.

Except for this part. This part wasn't quite so somber.
I learned some things about old Abe that I didn't know.

1. He was not a popular president. As a matter of fact, between the time he was elected president and he took office 12 states had seceded from the union, they were so infuriated with his being elected. (Hmmm....I remember some politicians threatening to secede if they had to buy into this "Obamacare" business...)

Lincoln's physical features made him a favorite of political satirists.
2. Once in office, his detractors were many. He appointed some of his fiercest political foes to his cabinet. While this helped him understand what others' positions were on slavery, it was also fatiguing to constantly defend himself among his closest "advisors." One of his advisors only agreed to join him in his anti-slavery stance because he thought all the blacks would sail back to Africa after being freed, even though most of them were American-born.

This scene is seared in Marissa's head. It was very impactful and emotional.
3. Only one of his four sons lived to adulthood. Guess which one? Yep, Robert, the oldest who did not have a close relationship with his dad. The tragic deaths of the other three sons from what are now preventable disease took an emotional toll on Mary. Robert had her committed to an insane asylum after her third son's death, which occurred two years after Lincoln was killed. She wrote letters of protest which were printed in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers. The public embarrassment of having "shut away" his mother when the asylum stated she was well enough to leave forced him to petition for her release just months after her commitment. She and he never reconciled.

Scenes of Willie's illness in the White House and Mary's grief at his passing.
 4. The Emancipation Proclamation was a heavily debated and disputed document by both sides. Abolitionists said it hadn't actually "freed" anyone: blacks in the north were already free by previous legislature; states in the south said they did not have to follow the law of a "foreign" country, so it made no actual difference in the lives of slaves. It wasn't until after his death that the importance of the statement of that document was recognized and respected.

Representing the reaction to the Emancipation Proclamation
5. Lincoln was assassinated just months after the end of the Civil War. John Wilkes Booth was fine with blacks not being slaves, but when he heard the idea that they may become landowners -- or even have the right to vote! -- he was pushed to the edge. Even though his signature was on it, Lincoln did not get to see the 13th Amendment which abolishes slavery become law as not all the lawmakers had signed it at the time of his death.
The devil snuck in the back way.
The presidential portraits of Lincoln -- one for each of the four years he was in office -- showed him visibly aging what seems like decades every passing year from the heavy responsibility of war. He felt the weight of hundreds of thousands of deaths on his shoulders. I do not think he slept.

The wax figures, scenes, documents, lighting, and audio effects made history literally come to life. No one got bored. Okay, so Marissa kept trying to push me along to see the next room because it was SO COOL, but she definitely was not bored.

The White House and Civil War displays were dark. Somber. Moving. It seemed odd to go from there to the children's shop where the girls could try on period clothes and make dinner from the log cabin kitchen. That was our final stop of the day, and the following day we stopped at Lincoln's tomb before heading south on our journey.
Statue of young Lincoln on the left, and President Lincoln on the right. The heavy mantle of war is on his shoulders, weighing him down.

Ironically, we happened to arrive on the first day of it being re-opened after a 4-month closure for remodeling. Visitors could walk through the circular hall, admiring statues along the way, and eventually view Lincoln's sarcophagus. His wife and first three sons are buried in the tomb with him. His eldest and longest-living son is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, due to his stature as a politician and ambassador during his own lifetime. Many times friends tried to convince him to run for the presidency but he always turned it down, saying that there was something "fatalistic" about wanting to become president.

Considering the assassination attempts on those who followed his father in that office, there's something to be said for that. And, he had some really big footsteps to follow. I'm sure he knew that no matter how good a president, he would never measure up to his father. I don't believe many today would.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ice Cave Adventure

This winter has been a doozy. And I can still say "this winter" in late March because it still looks and feels like winter out. Highs of 20 degrees, snow in the forecast, no sign of greenery. The birds have returned, but they seem confused. ("What the hell, where's the grass?!")

The one bonus of all this cold weather is that Lake Superior was 97% frozen for the first time since 2009. This means that all the areas of the lakes that are only accessible by kayak or canoe are now accessible by walking, including the ice caves near the Apostle Islands in Bayfield, WI.

I had to go. This felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, even though I know the lake will freeze over again. There was just something about it that felt like I needed to take this chance.

For me, this was a chance. I have a great fear of walking on ice over a large body of water. The stories my dad told me as a child of people going through the ice on Lake Superior, and the times he was out hunting with our dog and broke through ice on a marsh must've scared me to the depth of my being. I consider being on lake ice a very risky venture, something I usually avoid.

And yet, to see those amazing caves! Even if I drove up there and then chickened out, I had to try.

On one particular Monday I floated my idea by Wayne, and by Friday I had plans solidified. I would drive as far as Duluth and stay at my friend Junal's house, then Saturday she and I and her boyfriend would head out to the ice caves, another hour and a half east of Duluth.

And so I went.

It was breath taking. I am so glad I took this chance and made the impromptu trip.

The weather was perfect -- about 20 degrees (a far cry from the weeks of below zero and single-digit temps we'd been having), not much wind, and mostly blue sky. We drove to the area, found parking and took a shuttle to Meyers Beach National Park. The caves were about 1.5 miles down from where we first got on the lake, and then they stretched along for over a mile. We could explore as much or as little as we wanted.

The ice was so incredibly thick that my fears dissipated. Most of the paths were packed down snow, but near the caves it was bare ice which was quite treacherous. There had been several falls, and later I heard that the weekend before a woman broke a vertebrae after taking a spill on the ice. (Glad I didn't know that before-hand).

The ice took on incredible shapes, from round globules of amber to spikes of stalagtites that looked sharp enough to impale a person. We explored a small crevice, also a challenge for me, since I get anxious in tight spaces. But it got larger once I got through the opening, and the ice formations inside were spell-binding.

From inside the crevice, looking upwards at the opening I'd just squeezed through.
The pictures do not do it justice.

One of the caves during summer.

That same cave the day I visited. 
After we explored for a couple hours, we shuttled back to the car and drove to a small place in Cornucopia, population 500, where we could get a burger and a beer. To our surprise they had black bean burger on the menu for the vegetarian among us, and they had locally made "Sassy Nanny" goat cheese that you could add to any burger. Clearly not your everyday small town fare; I assume they are accustomed to catering to people from all over. The goat cheese was fantastic, so tangy and creamy. Cost all of $.50 to add it to my burger, and they slathered so much on I think they were grateful to have someone order it before it went bad.

A burger, a beer and a warm place to rest with good company. Perfect.

We drove back to Duluth and I took off from there back home. It is amazing what adventures a person can have in just 24 hours.

The following weekend was the last weekend of the season -- they closed the access to caves after that. I learned that even though the ice by the caves is still thick enough, ice elsewhere on the lake has melted significantly. This means that you could be standing on the ice by the caves, have a strong wind come along, and suddenly find yourself 3 feet from shore. Or 10 feet, or in the middle of the lake if you weren't paying attention!

In 2009 the ice caves had a total of 8,400 visitors over the entire winter. The day I was there they had more than 14,000 visitors, and over the course of the entire season they had nearly 100,000 visitors to the caves. They chalked up the interest to the fact that it had been 5 years since a good freeze, and many visitors shared their photos via social media, which prompted others to want to make the trek. The biggest challenge was finding parking, so they worked with the local community to plow fields and other areas to create the shuttle areas. The shuttle drivers were all very nice and talked about what a boon to the local economy the caves were. They did such a great job of accommodating the crowds. I hope to see them again another year.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Blessings from the Universe

This is what our mantel looks like right now. While there are a few Valentine's Day cards up there, it is mostly filled with sympathy cards from family and friends.

The support we've gotten from everyone in our lives has been overwhelming. On the day we put Dax down a group of friends organized our girls' activities for day, so that they would be out of the house and having fun while things were happening at home.

We had the vet come to our home, a luxury I am grateful we were able to pay for.  She was kind, sympathic, patient and wonderful. I am so thankful Dax was able to pass away in his favorite place; in front of a roaring fire, on my lap. What a gift.

A good friend of mine came to be with me when the vet came to our house. Wayne dealt with Dax's passing by going for a long, peaceful run in the hush of new fallen snow. Without my friend being with me, it would have been just the vet and I. I could never have asked her to be there -- she volunteered.

As strange as it seems, a back injury which flared up the day before Dax was put down was a blessing. It gave me an afternoon to myself at home with him, resting on the couch with ice, a laptop, and a snoring dog.

Earlier in the month, I lunched with dear friends of mine. We've known each other for nearly two decades. One friend gave the others a belated Christmas gift of a CD set of "This I Believe," an NPR series of 5-minute essays. Now we don't usually exchange gifts, and I had nothing for my friend, but she had enjoyed this series so much that she wanted to share it.

What a gift that has been! The essays are from famous and not-so-famous Americans, writing from their heart about the beliefs that guide their lives. It's not religious, and some of the essays are downright quirky. Many of them were so appropriate for what our family is feeling at this time.

My favorite essay is the one recorded by Oscar Hammerstein, famed composer of The King and I, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! and many other classics. His essay is titled "Happy Talk," and my favorite lines are:

Why do I believe I am happy? Death has deprived me of many whom I loved. Dismal failure has followed many of my most earnest efforts. People have disappointed me. I have disappointed them. I have disappointed myself...
..Could I not build up a strong case to prove why I am not happy at all? I could, but it would be a false picture, as false as if I were to describe a tree only as it looks in winter. I would be leaving out a list of people I love, who have not died. I would be leaving out an acknowledgement of the many successes that have sprouted among my many failures. I would be leaving out the blessing of good health, the joy of walking in the sunshine.
Ultimately, that's what it comes down to: what we are humans choose to focus on. And as I've written before, I choose joy.

Since Dax's passing, I know of two people in my life who have lost a parent. Another has put her father into hospice care, and one friend's sister is battling breast cancer...again.

There are other people and places for me to put my energy now, for me to support those friends not in grand heroic gestures but in simple acts of kindness. My turn to return to the universe the blessings it has showered on me.