Saturday, February 17, 2018

My Final Tween

This year Marissa will be turning 13 and we will officially have two teenagers in the house. Sure, it feels like we've got two already, but technically Marissa is still a "tween."

While Marissa was once our messy child, she has somehow come to appreciate order and cleanliness. Every morning she makes her bed before school. Clothes are actually put in a hamper, not strewn around the floor like they were when she was 7, and if you were to open the drawers in her desk you would find cosmetics and toiletries neatly arranged.

I spy with my little eye...
Yet there is still one throwback in her room taking her back to her childhood. Tucked away between some of her fluffy pillows is "Sheepy," the stuffed animal she slept with from babyhood on. I know she still sleeps with it, because sometimes in the middle of the night I hear the tinkle of little bells as she turns over with Sheepy in her hands.

So sweet.

Viva City Revisited

The emcee, AJ Friday, was fantastic at
keeping the crowd entertained while groups set up.
Marissa was given the opportunity to perform at Viva City, a celebration of music and dance put on by Minneapolis Public Schools. Lindsey had the same opportunity in 7th grade, and truly loved the experience of seeing and hearing from so many different schools across the city.

This year they were able to perform at the Guthrie Theater — the Guthrie! Marissa did not even know what it meant to be performing there.

The night began with a rocking drum line, made of boys and girls, thank you very much. Bands and orchestras, then choirs. Unfortunately we had to leave at the 2nd intermission, so we did not get to see the theater and dance performance troupes, which I remember as being impressive.

I loved how supportive the crowd was. If there was a beat, there were people clapping along. The acoustics were challenging as they were in a large theater and the accompanying instruments came through the sound system, but they had not put microphones over the singing groups, so most groups were drowned out by the instruments. Students were unaccustomed to singing to such a large audience; I could see each of the directors encouraging their students to be louder, louder, LOUDER!

I'm so glad that both of our daughters had this opportunity to see music from other groups, and to showcase their talents as well.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Grateful Child

In December Marissa was awarded a "HERO" award at her school. This is given to students who embody kindness, respect, encourage learning, all those traits that don't show up on standardized tests or in a report card. You know, the important stuff.

Marissa made out like it was no big deal — some teachers choose a student at random in their classroom, while others thoughtfully ask students to nominate classmates who have displayed rare kindness, then make their selection from that pool.

I could probably get a bumper sticker that says, "My child is a HERO in middle school," but instead, I'll tell a story that shows why Marissa is deserving of this award.

One day, Marissa and I were walking to a store together when she said the following to me out of the blue. As soon as we got home I wrote it down, so this is verbatim:

"You know, Mom, I was just thinking about how much Lindsey's been sick, and how much time you've taken off of work to care for her and stuff. And then I was thinking about when I was a little kid, and if I was sick and couldn't go to school and you or dad would stay home with me. I never even thought about the fact that you couldn't go to work, or that you gave up that day just to be with me. I don't know if anyone's ever thanked you for that, so I just wanted to say 'thank you.'"

And then a little snow got into my eye.

The Four-Legged Child

You have never met a pitbull so scared of the smallest things, yet unafraid of the biggest.

She will play with dogs twice her size with no hesitation. Yet today, when I popped bubble wrap near her, she practically crawled into Lindsey's lap, ears down and tail tucked, looking for protection.

Protect me, Lindsey, from the scary bubble wrap!
Beauty is so eager to please, she wants to do whatever you tell her. If she doesn't know what you're asking for, she will gaze at you until you give her a signal as to what it is, or she'll run through her usual tricks until she does one you'll reward with a treat.

She is not allowed to eat until we tell her she can. I'll put her food down, and she'll sit there and look at me for permission. If I wait long enough, two lines of drool will begin at the corners of her mouth, but she still won't eat until I say, "OK."

So instead I'll say, "Oh my," or "Oh...klahoma," or anything else, but until she hears, "okay," it remains untouched.

If we drop food on the floor, she'll look at us for permission to eat it, she won't just leap for it. A few times she started to gobble it, then Lindsey said, "Drop it!" and she actually spit it back out. She Spit. It. Out.

Is that popcorn? Are you going to drop some?
She recently completed a four-week recreational agility class with Lindsey. She was always too excited to see the other dogs (a no-no while training), but once she hit the course she was ready to run and eager to do exactly what Lindsey told her to do.

She is a running buddy for Wayne, a source of cuddles for Marissa and I, and has become Lindsey's constant companion. As what happens when you rescue a dog, she rescues you back.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Life's Not Perfect

Graphic from Malavika Suresh blog post 
I was thinking on the tagline I wrote for this blog some 12 years ago. Yes, 12! "Life's not perfect, but it sure is fun."

Not perfect indeed. My goal has always been to write about the ups and downs of life, not just the niceties. There's been one subject I haven't shared so much, because I respect my now 14-year-old's privacy. But her diagnosis of severe anxiety disorder has turned our family upside down, in ways not written about here.

This fall, she began to attend Southwest High School, our local public high school, for her freshman year. The school is two blocks from our home. I always imagined my kids going there, our home becoming a stopping off point for friends after school, a safe place for teens to gather.

Instead, after four days there, her anxiety was at such an all-time high that she could no longer muster the strength to physically leave the house. If you have ever witnessed someone having an all-out panic attack, then you understand when I say she could not physically go. This is not a matter of obstinance, will, or being spoiled. Her brain was functioning in such a way that going to school would have been bad for her health, and unpleasant for everyone around her.

So she stayed home.

Within the week we had found an option of MPS Online, the online education arm of Minneapolis Public Schools. She began taking classes online, staying home all day to work on the lessons.

But her anxiety would rear its ugly head throughout the week, despite having removed the trigger of being in a school. She often did not get a full 5 days of classwork in, which meant that as the weeks went on, she fell further and further behind. This had the added benefit of increasing her anxiety.

There's so much more, but this isn't about Lindsey, this is about our family.

In October, after nearly a month of online high school, Wayne and I began discussing how to best help Lindsey, and he floated the idea of my staying at home.

I surprised myself by not jumping at the idea. I mean, my workplace was not perfect, none are, but I have worked my entire adult life, and I really liked my job. I was given full rein over how I chose to fundraise, I got to write, my teammates are experts in their areas, passionate and driven. Plus, it was incredibly flexible with the demands my family had made on my time. I mean, what more could a fundraiser need in a job?

I had begun working at home Mondays to help Lindsey get her week started, and we discovered that Mondays were always Lindsey's best day. She got up on time, she ate healthy throughout the day, took her supplements, had a productive school day and took decent breaks (meaning walking the dog instead of playing a game on her phone.)

This idea began to grow. My husband the conservative accountant began running the numbers. Is this possible? Miraculously, it was. It was possible.

I wanted to stay at my job through the end of the year. After all, at a nonprofit, that's when all the fun stuff happens! I could not let my team down by leaving them during our busiest time of year. I gave my notice the week after Thanksgiving and gave them a month to become accustomed to the idea that I would not be starting 2018 with them.

And in January my new life began.

I can best describe the change in a single incident.

My youngest child is always ready for school nearly an hour before she needs to leave, so she can have some time to relax. One morning she and I are in the kitchen. My hands are around a mug of coffee and I am listening to her tell me about something that happened at school.

I inexplicably began looking for something to do. Surely it wasn't right that I was just sitting there, listening? There must be some task I should be doing. Then I The most important thing I could do at this moment is look her in her beautiful gray-green eyes, give her my full attention, and listen.

So I did. And I realized that it had been days — days! — since I had looked her in the eyes. What a sad statement on the busyness of life.

Yes, life is not perfect. But I am grateful that our family is in the position to make the changes we're making, to make it a little better for everyone in our family.

Friday, December 01, 2017

My Big Small Town

Best service in the city. Go if you need a new eye doctor. 
I woke up in screaming pain one day this past week. I opened my eyes and felt like someone was stabbing a knife directly into my right eye. I could not open it, I could not move my left eye without my right feeling like it was being scraped by sandpaper.

My youngest, God bless her, brought me a cold washcloth and a cup of coffee with cream, just the way I like it. I laid in bed, unable to move my eyes, or move in general without being in pain, for an hour. I patiently waited for 8 a.m. to roll around so I could call my eye doctor for an emergency appointment.

I called and got the office voice mail informing me that on Thursday, of all days, their hours are from noon to 8 p.m. But...there was a phone number to call for urgent care. I called; it was my eye doctor's cell phone.

I left a message and she called me back within 2 minutes. She made arrangements to see me that morning even though the clinic wasn't open.

By the time I arrived the pain had subsided substantially, probably due to the ibuprofen I'd been popping and the lack of eye movement. She confirmed what I suspect, which is that I had somehow scratched my cornea (I don't recommend doing this). It probably began healing overnight, but upon awakening in the morning ripped the healed cells back off my cornea, thus the stabbing pain at that time.

She called in a prescription to the pharmacy for antibiotic drops and gave me directions on how to care for it while it healed. We chatted about our kids; her oldest is in 1st grade, my youngest in 7th, at the same school.

I drove straight to the pharmacy, where I was greeted by Meg, who knew that a prescription had just been called in for me, but there was another waiting for me as well. Psst...I didn't even give her my name, first or last. They just know me there. I'm not sure if it's a good thing that the pharmacy staff knows me that well, but in this situation, it was incredibly reassuring.

I walked out of the store, smiling to myself, thinking about what an amazing small-town service experience I had while living in a major metropolitan city. As I stepped out, I saw my neighbor, an 89-year-old woman who has lived on our street her entire life, waiting at the stop light for the light to turn green. She and I waved to each other, the light turned green, and off she drove, eyes just inches above the dashboard of her large sedan.

Yep, I definitely live in a small town. In a big city.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Pinnacle of Skating Season: North Shore Inline Marathon

I have not been skating much this summer, like last summer. Last year I developed plantar fasciitis which meant my feet were in extreme pain for two days after skating. This year, my feet are a bit better, but still not great.

I've only been out on my skates a few times this summer. I did the Minnesota Half marathon the first weekend in August, and it was exhilarating. I had forgotten how awesome it feels to skate on an open road, without having to worry about bikers or others on the trail. Before I knew it I was at mile-marker 7; I couldn't believe the race was halfway over! I finished in a little over an hour and was surprised at how quickly it had gone by.

That weekend I signed up for the North Shore Inline Marathon, six weeks after my half marathon.

I only got on my skates once more between the half and the full marathon. I was not well-trained, but I didn't really care, I wasn't going for a certain time, I was going for the thrill of it. Kristi and the girls came up with me for support; my own cheering section!

The thrilled started a little early. The drive up Friday night was awful. About 20 miles outside of Duluth we hit fog that got thicker and thicker. Soon I was peering straight in front of the car, hoping to not lose sight of the lines on the road. There was no exiting the highway because I couldn't see where the pavement began or ended, and could not tell if other cars were nearby. That was not the kind of thrill I was hoping for. We made it safely to the hotel, nearly 1 1/2 hours after we should have arrived.

The morning of the marathon looked no better. We drove to the shuttle pick-up in dense fog. Once there, it began to pour. Lots of skaters were consulting with others on whether or not they were going to do the race. I had braved such terrible driving to go there, there was no way I wasn't going to try. I figured that unless they canceled the race, which they would only do for lightning, I was going to skate it.

By the time the bus got to the start line the rain had stopped, the fog lifted and there was no discernible wind. The pavement was wet but in good condition. Road improvements over the past year meant that the majority of the 26.2 miles was on smooth pavement -- no cracks or "tar snakes" to gum up wheels. Due to the wet pavement course marshalls were recommending no drafting, making what is usually a very social event one of solitude instead.

The first two miles are almost completely downhill. It felt wonderful to just tuck and go. The storm had churned up Lake Superior, which was visible to my left, angry and gray.

I had forgotten that for much of the course, skaters have to climb up and then the terrain flattens out, then climbs again. There's no coasting downhill for several miles. And then there was mile 11, a long, slow downhill, curving gently to the right.

The lake was practically in front of me as I began, sounding like an ocean in the crashing of its waves. I tucked low and began down the hill, gaining speed. Faster and faster, until I checked my watch and saw that I was going 24 mph. Cool air, crashing waves and speed=exhilaration.

The rest of the race felt wonderful until about mile 21, when my lack of training became apparent. I felt like I was using every last bit of strength and was moving in molasses. There are a couple of big hills near the end when we get off the interstate -- a volunteer walking along the side of the race course was going faster than me. How embarrassing.

Finally, the finish line! Kristi and the girls were cheering me on and I couldn't let them down. I completed the race in 1 hr 57 minutes, beating my goal of 2 hours by a few minutes. It was such a wonderful feeling, knowing I had made it through the sludge of the last few miles to finish with gusto.

I've already signed up for next year's marathon. This time, I'm going to train for it.

Just minutes after finishing. So great to see my cheer team at the end (including the one behind the camera).

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Our Dog the Celebrity

I don't mean to brag, but it turns out our dog Beauty is a celebrity.

There's a certain place we go where she is greeted by name the minute we walk in the door. Staff stop to pet her, and they can barely contain themselves taking turns to give her treats.

That place is Walgreen's.

This is one of the pluses of living in our walkable, dog-friendly neighborhood. There's a Walgreen's three blocks from our house, and they let dogs shop with their owners. Between our family of four we've got five prescriptions on auto-renew; we are there a lot. Plus it's an easy stop for a gallon of milk, some chocolate, or other items.

We know most of the employees by name. There's Kris, who walks to work 2 miles one way. Only during thunderstorms or blizzards does he take the bus. And John, the pharmacist tech, who recognizes me and knows to look for prescriptions under one of two names when I appear at his window. And Muhamed, who is afraid of dogs but tolerates Beauty. Of course, Monica is our favorite, because she feeds Beauty treats one after another right out of the box behind the register, and then usually steals one or two into our bag as she's checking us out.

We walk in and whomever is working the register usually greets the dog before s/he sees who is accompanying the dog. "Hi Beauty!" we'll hear upon entrance.

Beauty usually checks register #2 first -- if no one is there, she'll walk around to register #1 and sit politely, waiting for a treat. The minute she sees an employee in a light blue shirt in any aisle, she walks up to them and sits down, eagerly waiting for a treat.

If you let her lead the way, she'll walk you straight to the pet food/dog toy aisle, where she will sniff everything in earnest.

She doesn't usually get to have one until we check out, and then the farewells begin: "Bye Beauty! Bye pretty dog! See you again!"

Some day I'll teach her how to give out her autograph.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Concert Ticket for One, Please

On Friday night I joined dozens of my friends and fellow U2 lovers and went to the U2 concert at the US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Except I sat alone.

I knew many of my friends were planning on going, had probably purchased tickets the second they went on sale. Because our family life has been so unpredictable of late, I didn't buy one. As the date came closer and closer, I knew I couldn't miss one of my favorite bands for the second time in three years. I nabbed a cheap ticket from a neighbor on and made plans to go alone.

Turns out that I was able to have dinner beforehand with my childhood friend Lisa and her sister, Kathy, who traveled from Green Bay to the Twin Cities to visit and take in the concert. We walked to the stadium after dinner and then parted ways. I headed up to the top-most tier, second to last row from the back wall.
Lisa and Kathy, two of the four "Hirsch girls" as they will always be to our family. 

Looking out the massive glass doors of the stadium onto downtown Minneapolis on my way up to my seat.
I chatted for a bit with the couple next to me, who had also purchased their tickets from the same couple I had. But once the concert began, it was just the music and I.

I danced. I sang. I stood up when nobody else around me was. I belted out every word to the lesser known songs when no one else was singing.

The visual show was incredible. Inspiring. Magical. I am so glad I took in this experience.

The Joshua Tree, opening scene.

The real Bono is the white spot in the blue light on stage. The visuals were unbelievable.

Gives a new meaning to "harvest moon." 

It's not the first time I've gone to events on my own, the first one being Creed in 2010. I had loved the band at their height but lived in Mankato at the time, and going to the concert in the Twin Cities was a bit more daunting then. Now, on what I suspected would be their last tour, I couldn't miss them. I ended up connecting with a gay couple next to me during the concert, and we went out afterwards for a drink.

Another time two of my favorite guitarists, Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, were in a tour called "The Hendrix Experience," with some of the top guitarists paying tribute to Jimmy Hendrix. No one was interested in going with me, so I bought myself a ticket and went. I ended up leaving that one early because I had forgotten to bring ear plugs and I was so close to the stage that I was seated in front of the wall of speakers. I love a good Joe Satriani solo, but knew I was doing my ears damage when my head started ringing. When I walked out into the crisp March night the world was muted and didn't sound quite right until well into the next day. Oops.

When "Les Miserable" came back around the Twin Cities I wanted to go, even though I'd already seen it previously with my husband early on in our marriage. He had no interest in seeing it again (he also doesn't watch re-runs on TV, unless it's a Star Trek series), so I bought a ticket for one and went. I had forgotten how moving and tragic the music was; I cried through almost the entire thing. It didn't matter -- no one knew me.

One plus of buying a single ticket is that you can buy them at the last minute and get much closer to the stage than if you needed to buy two seats together. I sat in the 16th row at Creed with a walkway in front of me; yeay for extra space for dancing!

My sister goes to lots of events on her own. Sometimes I feel badly that I am not able to join her, but experiences like this one make me realize that it isn't lonely to go to events alone, it is freeing. I don't have to worry if someone else is enjoying him/herself, or if I've picked a place that meets his/her needs. I don't have to make extra stops for food, drink, or bathrooms, outside of what I need for myself.

I don't want to ever regret not taking in an experience because I wasn't willing to do it alone. So thank you, U2, for an unforgettable concert.