Monday, February 28, 2011

Birthday etiquette for those without birthdays

Yesterday was my Aunt Ann's birthday. She would have turned 50, except she passed away two weeks ago after battling cancer for years.

I wouldn't have remembered her birthday except that I got a reminder on Facebook saying that it was coming up. Her Facebook page is still active and her family is filling it with memories of Ann. A couple of weeks ago they used it as a forum to inform people of her wake and funeral.

I wrote something on her wall to let her family know that I was thinking of her on this day. And then I scrolled through the rest of the messages.

There were others who acknowledged that they, like me, were remembering her memory:
"You would've been 50 today. I am missing my friend."

"Best wishes to you in your new home in heaven, Ann, on what would have been your birthday."
And then there were these posts:
"Happy birthday, Ann! I hope you have a great day!"

"Wow - 50! Congratulations on a milestone!"
Did they really not know? How insensitive is this to the family, who is clearly maintaining her page to keep her memory alive just for a bit longer? How awful to wish a happy birthday to a person who no longer has one.

Certainly, social media has changed the way we interact with each other. For some it has expanded our circle of friends, deepened our relationships and introduced us to people we never would have met. For others, it has allowed us to hide behind computer screens, to avoid meeting with people face-to-face and keep us isolated.

But would a situation like this have ever happened before? Perhaps the family would have gotten one or two birthday cards for her from people who truly hadn't known. But Facebook makes it so easy to give casual wishes; her wall was deluged. And how sincere can they really be - they didn't know she had died.

It's a new twist to the hardship families need to go through when loved ones pass on: pay the medical bills, get the catalogs and  mail stopped, and inform the virtual world.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Spring" Fashion

At this time of year I chide my children to never, ever lose their mittens.

Why? you ask.

Because if they did, I couldn't go to a store and buy them a new pair. Yes, it's February in Minnesota. Yes, we are still getting snow every other day. But apparently the retailers have decided that it's time to plan for spring. The children's section of Target is filled with shorts, t-shirts and, of all things, swimsuits.


One day last week the following two catalogs arrived in our mailbox:

I flipped through them both quickly, admiring the fashions and how amazing they looked on their models.

And then I threw both of them in the recycling.  Because this is what it looks outside:

The very thought of putting on the clothes in these catalogs makes me shiver. I wonder how quickly I would get frostbite on my legs if I wore shorts, or how I would keep the snow out of the toes of my sandals if I tried to venture outside in them.

I want to curl up in a ball under my down comforter when I see pictures like this.

I understand that in other parts of the country it is warming up. My dad informed me the other day that they are starting to see 70 degrees in Arkansas, and hiacynth and daffodils are starting to pop through the earth. But when you live in warmer climates like that, 70 is not warm -- 90 is. So even in his household they are donning long pants and sweatshirts until it warms up more.

So I will do this year like I do every year. I will wait until it actually feels warm outside to get my warm weather shopping done. And that works well for me, because by then everything's on clearance and I can buy it for the prices I want to pay anyway.

Until then, you'll find me hibernating in my bed, under a few layers of blankets and down. See you in spring!

A Bittersweet Memory

Facebook is reminding me today that it is my Aunt Ann's birthday. She passed away two weeks ago after a years-long battle with cancer. She would have been 50.

I am thinking of her immediate family, for whom this is the first of many firsts of life without Ann. First year she isn't here for her own birthday, her husband's, her children's and grandchildrens. The first 4th of July without her there, the first Christmas.

The first year of life after a loss is the most difficult. Every experience, every holiday brings thoughts of "I wish she were here." It gets a little easier after that, but not by much, until one day you find yourself saying, "How many years has it been? Let me see, she was first diagnosed in spring of...hmm, I guess it's been a long time."

But that is bittersweet, too. Because after a person first leaves you, you don't ever want their memory to fade. You swear you will never forget her face, the tone of her voice, the way she smelled. Yet with time you do forget, and for a while you feel guilty for having forgotten, as if you were somehow disloyal to their being here at all.

It takes some time to finally realize that that is what is meant to happen, that the person would want you to move on, to make new memories and create happiness with those who are still in your life.

If only it took something less than time.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A House Full of Love

Tuesday evening we had a ladies night at my neighbor's house to celebrate our former neighbor's visit from New York. Our neighbor Marilynn, the matriarch of the block, hosted the get together at her home.

Heidi (seated), Roseanne and Marilynn (far right)
Marilynn has lived on our street her entire life. She grew up on one block and upon marrying her dearly beloved, now gone for 10 years, moved down the street to her grandparents' home.

She is now in her 80's and is the most amazing, independent, energetic woman you've ever met. And when you walk into her house, you walk into a house of memories.

She has black and white photos of her late husband and herself as growing children and earnest young high school graduates. There are more photos of her children, now long grown and married with kids of their own, whose smiling faces peer out from even more frames set throughout her rooms. She has sets of china teacups throughout her home, carefully arranged in little settings on side tables, built-in buffets and other nooks and crannies.
If you didn't meet the woman of the house when you first walked in, you would know that she is a woman whose family is everything to her. You would know that she values laughter and joy, and that friends and pets complete her world.
Her smile hasn't changed since her wedding photo, and she still has a zest and exurberance for life that is contagious to others.

You can tell when you walk into a house full of love, and Marilynn's house embodies it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Long Lost Friends

Need I say more, after the last few days of posts about friends who drove 15 hours to visit, about a sleepover with nail polish parties at 11 pm and all kind of sleep deprivation...

I'm just thankful to have people like our former neighbors in our lives.

A Sleepover Surprise

Our weekend plans included a sleepover for our girls with our former neighbors who drove to Minnesota from Buffalo, NY, to visit. We planned to dine out with our friends and figured if we could get a babysitter willing to watch all four girls that we may as well let them sleep over at our house. That way, after a long day of driving, their parents could sleep in and recuperate from their trip.

The sleepover almost didn't happen because yet another blizzard came through and dumped somewhere between 15 and 19 inches in 24 hours. We weren't sure if the babysitter would still be able/willing to make it to our house, or if we could even get around the city to make it out. Thankfully our babysitter came through and we managed to drive the 3 blocks to Mozza Mia, a new restaurants at 50th & France. (Yes, it was so bad out we couldn't walk it.)

We had a fabulous dinner out even though the restaurant closed early due to weather. They didn't kick us out and stuck around until we left 2 hours after they let their kitchen staff go home. (I highly recommend this restaurant and just about any restaurant their parent company. Parasole, operates.)

We got stuck in the street in front of our house and it took three of us to push the babysitter's car out of the street and onto France Avenue, which had been plowed once.

We checked on the girls and found the two younger girls sleeping in the same bed and the two older girls up and giggling.

The parents went to our neighbor's house to sleep, leaving the four girls at our house. Wayne and I went outside to begin Round #1 on the snow. Sidewalks and steps were drifted over; the snowblower could barely handle the snow and required multiple passes to clear the sidewalks and driveway.

Around 11:00 I came back in expecting to find that the older girls had also dropped off to sleep. Instead, I found that they had awoken Molly and were painting her nails in Lindsey's room. Last I'd seen Molly she was practically snoring, sleeping next to Marissa in her twin bed.

I wonder if they tried to wake Marissa up too, an impossible feat.

I quickly ended the fun and all three girls fell asleep within minutes.

Around 6:00 I heard movement - sure enough, at 6:30 am Lindsey was in our room, asking if they could get up. I made them wait until 7:00. Okay, so it was 6:55, but I got at least another 25 minutes of sleep. It doesn't matter when that girl goes to sleep, she is up at the same time every day.

The morning was filled with cartoons and a breakfast of french toast, sausage and bacon. The morning lingered into afternoon and into lunch, and then finally the family went home, giving everyone an opportunity to nap and re-charge.

A good time was had by all.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Friends Both Old and New

Fifteen hours in a car with a 4 and 7-year-old is an awfully long road trip. It's even longer when it's preceded by a nasty fever and ends with a race to beat a blizzard.

But that's what our friends did in order to drive from Buffalo, NY, to visit our neighborhood. They were going to make the trip in two days, but didn't leave on the day they had hoped due to my friend Amy's nasty fever. They ended up leaving the next day and pushing through 15 hours in one day in order to beat the snow that was predicted to start Sunday morning.

We were so honored that they took on such a long trip just to come visit.

The family moved away 3 years ago and when you're only 5 years old, that's more than half a lifetime. So we weren't surprised when both our girls were alternately excited and anxious about the visit.

Lindsey and Jamie are both 2nd graders, only weeks apart in age. Even though it had been 3 years since they'd seen each other, we figured they would get re-acquainted in relatively short time. I believe it took 10 minutes.

Jamie and Lindsey, Dec 2007.

Watching TV together, February 2011.
The biggest changes had to be with their youngest, Molly, who was just 18 months old when they moved away. She was barely talking last time we saw her, and now she is 4, a pre-schooler. Since she is a year younger than Marissa, we figured they would become fast playmates, if they remembered each other.

January 2008 - the last time Molly and Marissa saw each other.

Marissa gave Molly a good-bye kiss.
We had nothing to worry about, apparently.

For Wayne and I it was seeing old friends -- for our girls, it was making new friends of old ones.

What a wonderful way to spend a snowy, wintry weekend.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day is for...[fill in the blank]


At least in my house it is. It used to be for celebrating our coupledom, our dating life together, but it is now taken over by little girls who celebrate the day with crafts in pink and red.

Today my kids had a concert in their school, followed by "Friendship Day" parties in their classrooms.

What can I say, it was adorable. We loved every minute. I loved seeing my kids interact with their friends, watching them giggle and smile as they exchanged valentines with each other.

And we especially loved the concert.

We got to hear this next one for the last couple of weeks from Lindsey.

And our mantle was taken over by the valentines made for us by our kids.

And in the midst of our family's recent loss, this was a timely reminder of cherishing those people who are important in our lives. Today I think our whole family felt cherished.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Love Story to the End

She was just a teen when they met.

Loud, obnoxious, rude. You could hear the two of them coming from miles away -- the loud rumble of the car, shouts as the car doors slammed, and then two bodies leaping off the edge of a dock into the waters of Dana Lake, coming up shouting with cold.

That is what I remember of their courtship from my grade school perspective. They were crazy together.

They fell in love.

They got married.

People said it wouldn't last.

"They are too young."

"They don't know what they're doing."

"What will they do for money?"

But they said, "'Til death do us part" and sealed it with a lucious kiss, just to show everyone that they could.

They had a baby boy and they named him Thomas James the IV. They had a baby boy again, and named him Joseph. And then a little girl, Valerie.

They were crazy together. Playful, loud, silly and strong. You could hear the family coming from a mile away -- the loud engine of a car being driven too fast over gravel roads, car doors being slammed and shouts of bravery.

"I can jump farther than you can!" and three spindly little bodies hurled themselves off the dock into the waters of Dana Lake. The parents, now grown, stood on the shore and smiled.

The kids grew up and grew wings. They moved away to Florida, to California, to school and jobs and girlfriends and boyfriends.

The kids had kids -- a baby girl and a baby boy, sweet, towheaded grandbabies.

And the kids flew home on their wings to visit, to go boating on the lake and make memories together, their clan. They visited Dana Lake, where two little toddlers played in the sand by the shore, too little to jump off the dock...yet.

Way back in the beginning, they said "til death do us part."

And that is how it ended.

Today my Aunt Ann lost her 7-year battle with cancer. I could re-count every diagnosis, every treatment and outcome, but all that is worth knowing is that she was a courageous, stubborn woman who met every challenge with a strength of will that most of us can only admire. Her will to live was amazing. She thrived long beyond when others would have given in to her disease.

I pray for her husband, for her kids and her grandkids who will miss her strength and energy.

A light in the world has gone out.

Re-Creating Family Traditions

When I was a little kid our family had a tradition called "family night." This nearly always happened on a Friday night, and it went something like this.

Everyone arrived home from school/work and began food preparations. Dad made homemade pizza crust and we all got to stake out our parts of the pizza that we put our own toppings on. My sister and I shared one pizza, my parents made the other. Somehow my folks' pizza became "pizza soup" because my mom loaded theirs up with so many toppings that the middle was a soupy mess. It apparently still tasted good because they managed to eat it, though they had to resort to forks.

Then dad pulled out the blender and began the challenging task of making milk shakes. It's a tough recipe: vanilla ice cream, milk, and a shot of Hershey's chocolate syrup. A few minutes in the blender and voila, milk shakes for all.

We would sit around sipping our milk shakes, trying to avoid a brain freeze, and pull out the games. We played Clue (Professor Plum in the study with the candlestick), Monopoly (can we just quit now?), Aggravation, Uno and whatever else we wanted. Eventually family night would be over and my sister and I would put our matching nightgowns on, brush our teeth and go to bed.

We tried to schedule a family night at least once a month, probably more, until we got to the age when friends and school activities took priority over family night, when it was no longer "cool" to hang out with our parents.

Fast forward 30 years.

Last evening we all got home from school/work and Wayne had already begun food preparations. We sat down to a fabulous steak dinner, and then I pulled out the blender.

In went the ice cream, the milk and chocolate syrup, and then we sat around sipping our milkshakes. Marissa managed to suck down two of them and avoid a brain freeze, and Lindsey tormented Dax by blowing bubbles into hers while sitting right next to him.

Then we played Uno Attack until two little girls' eyes began drooping and they could no longer stifle their yawns. Up to bed they went in matching jammies, brushed their teeth and went to bed.

I love that I can take the favorite parts of my childhood and re-create those memories for my children. I hope they enjoy them as much as I do.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Wintry Sun

What is it about the sun in winter that does not warm us? Even the sunset is not the warm orange glow of summer, it is a cool pink and blue. Perhaps it's because after years of living in the great white north I've learned that a brillinat blue sky with no clouds means that it is bitterly cold, all the heat of the earth escaping into the atmosphere.

But there is still something about the promise of seeing the sun that makes me smile. Maybe that's because just a few short weeks ago my drive home from work was in complete dark, and now I get to watch the sun set. It's a clear sign that spring is around the corner.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Gong Xi Fa Cai

I happened to lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the Chinese New Year, which was this past week Thursday (February 3). I hadn't realized it was the Chinese New Year, but was made aware of this when we were informed that the "dragon parade" would be coming right by our table.

Like any good blogger, I happened to have my camera with me.

The parade started with a bang...literally. They had fireworks go off in the lobby which left residual smoke throughout the restaurant (thus the slightly foggy photos).

You're missing the continual noise of the drums and cymbals in these photos, but trust me, it was a noisy celebration.

Unfortunately it was lunch house on a work day, and eventually we had to leave. But we were thoroughly entertained while we were there.

If you've never eaten at Mai Village in St. Paul, be sure to try it. I've tried a different dish every time I've been and have never been disappointed.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

One Day Over Lunch

"What's going on?" I say.

My friend, who is driving the two of us to lunch, stops at the green light with all the cars around us.

She sighs. "Oh, who knows. This street is always so busy."

We see a truck in the middle of the intersection ahead of us. The front of the truck is blocking our lane of traffic, and each car in our lane is merging slowly into the next lane to pass.

"I don't know why they don't put left turn signals on this street," she says, looking for traffic so she can merge over.

I see the driver of the truck get out and stand in front of his vehicle, looking stunned.

We see a different man running towards the truck.

"What is going on anyway?" she says, and we both look to see what the man was running toward.

And then we see him.

He is lying underneath the truck and the blood is pooling. I have never seen this much blood come from one person. I have never seen this much blood. Ever.

The man is lying completely under the truck. I can only assume he was completely run over by the front tires.

My friend and I both turn away and practically scream. We cover our mouths and tears spring to our eyes.

"OhmyGod OhmyGod, why did I look? why did I look?" my friend says.

We hear the sirens and see a police car racing toward the scene from behind us. We make it into the next lane and pass by.

We drive down the street in complete silence, in disbelief at what we'd seen.

I am not normally a prayerful person, but I prayed for him and his family.

Throughout the rest of the afternoon I thought of how quickly our lives can change and how fragile we are. I thought about how we focus on the inconvenience in our lives caused by the events that devastate others.

Tonight I checked to see if the accident would be on the news and it was, under the headline "Pedestrian struck and killed by truck in St. Paul."

This is going to stick with me for a while.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

An Appropriate Birthday Gift: What Say You?

This past weekend my eldest daughter went to one of her best friend's birthday party. The day before the party we went out to buy a birthday gift for her friend, and this is what Lindsey decided to buy.

Her friend has lots of toys between she and her younger sister (sound familiar?), and Lindsey just couldn't pick something out that she wasn't sure she didn't already have. So she ultimately chose three figurines of animals that she knew her friend liked. I'm sure her friend will finds lot of different ways to play with these.

It took us a very, very long time to pick out this gift. Part of the challenge is that I try to spend a certain amount of money per birthday gift, and these three little tiny figurines were up to that limit. They seemed ridiculously expensive to me, but they look like a $5 gift. So Lindsey still kept looking for something that seemed more substantial to fill the gift bag. But we couldn't find anything that was just the right price point without getting way past our budget.

By the end of the shopping trip Lindsey had decided that the gift she chose was good enough, and that her friend didn't need a big gift to know how much she meant to Lindsey.

It got me thinking about the excess that gets lavished upon our kids for birthdays. The gifts, the parties, the goodie bags. We've been guilty of it ourselves, spending hundreds of dollars to host a birthday party somewhere other than our house, pushing little plastic bags of crappy toys into little hands as the guests walk out the door. We've now reduced gift bags to passing out balloons that we bought for the party, if even that.

When Lindsey turned four I convinced her to have a no-gift party. We asked guests to bring a donation to Children's Cancer Research Fund. She thoroughly enjoyed the party and all the activities, but after all the guests had gone she asked if the following year she could have presents.

I would love to continue to have birthday parties for my girls -- they love the party itself and the time with their friends. But I don't need to have my child receiving 10 or 11 gifts from their friends for their birthdays. Yet if I banned gifts, they would be so disappointed. And how do I make this fair, when the eldest has had two more birthdays than our youngest? Do we continue to allow the younger one to receive gifts for a couple of years after we've cut the older child off?

What are your thoughts? How do you handle birthday gifts from your kids' friends?