Saturday, April 28, 2012

Did You Say Nine?

We were late getting Lindsey's birthday party invitations out, between a trip to Arkansas and then Boston. Most people received the invitation with only one week's notice. Yet only one child wasn't able to make it. How is that possible? So here we were again, two years after we said "We'll never have THAT many kids again," at a party with 13 children.

Eight of the 13 guests.
At least this time they were older and the activities more contained.

Lindsey's birthday party was at Grand Slam this year, a batting cage/mini-golf/laser tag/bumper car/game arcade kind of place. It was an interesting place to have a party, because once everyone arrived the kids all split up into different areas and went to their favorite activities. It was fun to see how the kids all interacted with each other, with one group of four going in one direction, then meeting up with a different group and splitting into different groups of kids depending on what everyone wanted to do.

Marissa was allowed to bring a friend so she had someone her age to do things with. They rode on the bumper cars, got out and then got right back in line for the bumper cars again. I think they rode in those cars about 7 times. At one point enough other kids from the party joined them so that all nine bumper cars were from our party and they all knew each other. It was hilarious to watch as they would maneuver their cars into each other, or drive in reverse, waiting to run into someone without knowing who it was, but knowing that at least they would KNOW them.

The highlight for Lindsey had to be the laser tag; she and various groups of friends played it at least 4 times, and it takes at least 15 minutes to play one game of laser tag each time.

In the meantime, Wayne and I would walk the area, checking for stray kids who didn't have anyone to do something with, or who needed help with arcade games, etc. We ate a late lunch (or early dinner, depending on your point of view) of pizza and cake.

I don't know why, but it was completely exhausting. Three hours in this noisy, energetic place with hundreds of kids and adults milling around, trying to keep track of 13 little girls (and then making sure all 13 were picked up at the end of the party) was completely and utterly exhausting. I don't know what well that energy comes from, because it's not physical energy; it's parenting energy, or something. It gets empty very quickly when there are 13 kids pulling from it all the time.

And so we went home, and Lindsey opened her gifts with just the four of us there to appreciate them, with Wayne taking notes for the thank you notes that would be written later. We had a dinner of popcorn and will shortly go to bed, all of us.

Lindsey showcases a gift while Dax licks his lips from eating leftover popcorn.
What a great time.

Earlier in the week, when I went to the bakery to order her cake, they asked me what I wanted written on it. I said, "Happy...wait, 9? 9th birthday? Oh my God, I can't believe she's nine." Where are these years going to?

I'm logging off now, gotta go hug my kids again, before they don't want my hugs anymore.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Running Spirit

While in Boston, I had the opportunity to run a 5k which was the day before the big marathon. It started in downtown Boston, wound through the city streets and ended at the same finish line as the marathon. The finish line is a permanent marking in the pavement in Boston, and is clearly a pretty historic place to be as a runner. How could I say no?

So Sunday morning while the rest of the family slept, I got up early and took a cab to get as close to Copley Square as possible. (I would've taken a shuttle but they weren't running at 6:00 in the morning.) I had plenty of time to walk around, grab a bagel and a water, and sit on the steps of a church and take in the sights.

Many of the runners were doing the marathon the next day; this was just their final warm-up run before the big day. The start line for the 5k had markers for people who wanted to run a 5-minute, a 6-minute, and a 7-minute mile. After that, it was an open line-up. Like that's not intimidating.

Pretty soon we were off, and it was a great run. I only walked at the water stops and at one point had to walk up a hill, because so many people ahead of me had started walking that I had no choice but to walk as well. We ran past churches that were probably 400 years old, and historic centuries-old buildings juxtaposed against modern glass skyscrapers behind them.

I completed in 35:35, my fastest 5k time. It was awesome coming across the finish line with the spectator bleachers full of people yelling and clapping for people they don't know. People with marathon shirts were out cheering on their friends or family members. Those spectators were probably going to be running the marathon the next day, but still came down to cheer on others whose goals were not as lofty as their own.

I got my medal, my goodie bag and then headed back down to the finish, as I wanted to make sure I took a good look at it. They were already taking up the chip mat at the finish, as it had been over an hour since the race had begun. But suddenly, from beyond the finish line, you could hear the crowd roar -- there was one more runner coming in. The volunteers quickly put down one portion of the mat again so the runner could get his official chip time, and then he came into view.

He was a middle-aged man who was very overweight. He wasn't going much faster than a walk but was definitely running in short, slow steps. You could see him gasping for breath -- this was clearly a difficult cardiac feat for him.

The crowd went wild.

The encouragement and cheers that this man received were probably as loud as the Boston marathon winner as he crossed the finish line. It was so inspiring to see someone work so hard for his goal, and to see so many people respond positively to his efforts. He crossed the finish line and had several people clap him on the back with congratulations on a job well done.

That was the highlight of that race for me.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Traveling with the Team

I have a glimpse of what it would be like to travel with an athletic team. Not a group easily recognizable by 90% of Americans, but maybe a team locally known but somewhat recognizable by a wider subset of people.

The security line on the way to Boston was filled with people wearing five-fingered shoes, carrying workout backpacks with gels stuck in the outside pockets, studying the latest weather forecast for Monday in Boston. Which got worse every day, by the way. But more on that later.

One piece of luggage took longer than the others to get through the security screening. Lindsey and I stood there and patiently waited and waited for it to come through, and finally the TSA agent, who was looking at the contents of the bag on his screen, looked and us and said, "What are you doing with cowbells in your luggage?" He smiled as he let the luggage finally slide all the way out to where we could reach it.

We had a layover in Chicago, and nearly everyone on our flight to Chicago had a final destination of Boston. We ran into other people from Wayne's running club who also had layovers in Chicago....but were not on either of our flights. The airport was filled with people wearing blue and yellow finisher jerseys from prior years, or with the orange and black gear from the 2012 marathon.

Reverse this on the way back.

Everyone's big event is complete. Even more orange and black or blue and yellow is seen throughout the airport. From the security line to the shuttle bus to the people sitting in the terminal, anybody would come up to someone else wearing the colors. The camaraderie was incredible.

"How'd your run go?"

"Congratulations on your run."

"How was the heat?"

Oh yeah, back to that.

The week before we left for Boston the forecast for race day was a high of 78. Unseasonably warm, but doable.
Crowd shot of runners and spectators at mile 17.
A few days later it was adjusted to a high of 82. Then 84. Then eventually 87. Only on Monday, of course, it was going to be a bit cooler the day before AND after actual race day.

Wayne's hopes of running a fast race went out the window. He adjusted his plans, wisely, to simply enjoying the experience and stay hydrated.

Wayne at mile 17, grabbing some coconut water and ice.
He completed the race in 4:04, his slowest marathon ever. It was 84 degrees at the start and 89 degrees at the finish. But he finished on his feet and was able to function later in the day, which was more than others could say.

Wayne said that some of the best help on the course came from the spectators. For much of tbe race the runners are going through small towns, running right in front of people's houses. They were setting their sprinklers out to spray the runners, handing out oranges or popsicles or beers. (Not that the beer would help hydrate runners, but at least you wouldn't CARE you were in the med tent.) Where we were standing at mile 17, homeowners had pulled out their garbage and recycling cans for everyone to pitch into.

It was fantastic to be a part of something so big, even if from the sideline.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hannibal, MO

On the way back from my dad's place in Arkansas we stayed over once more in Hannibal, MO, boyhood home of Mark Twain, or Sam Clemens, as he was known as a kid.
I had wanted to tour Mark Twain's home on our way down, but the desire to arrive at our destination by dinner hour was more pressing, so we spent time on the way back to Minnesota.

Last year I read Mark Twain's autobiography...Volume 1. And in case you didn't know, Mark Twain's works today continue to stir readers up, with some parents and other groups advocating to change the most derogatory word in his classic books (it starts with an "n") with more acceptable terms, while purists believe we should leave well enough alone.  He insisted that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death, out of concern that his progressive ideas would bring retribution to his family.

Outside of his views, Mark Twain had a way to paint a picture with words, and his witticisms were intelligent, satirical and are widely quoted yet today. As he aged his sentimentality over his boyhood roots grew.
The introductory plaque before entering Mark Twain's home
I loved that his home was presented with Mark Twain's own words when he toured his own home as an adult. He had already become famous, his works well-known and his company in great demand. He had become a confidant to President Grant, had met world leaders and toured the nation and the world speaking. But he was brought to tears by the sight of his old home and of the streets of Hannibal, MO.

I love this quote -- don't we all feel like this as we move through life?
Hannibal has remained a small river town, though they have clearly capitalized on their renown as Mark Twain's hometown. The streets slope down to the river and are met by a large berm to hold back the flood waters (that part is probably new since Mark Twain's time). While cars have replaced the horse and buggy, the streets are still lined with many of the original buildings built in the 1830's and 40's, all now on the historical register and well-preserved, home to businesses that would have made Mark Twain chortle.

This building was erected in 1839...and is now home to Groomingdale's, a pet boutique.
Huck Finn's home was preserved as well -- wait, you say, wasn't Huck Finn a fictional character? Yes, but he was based very closely on Mark's boyhood friend, Tom Blankenship. The Blankenship family was poor and lived in a small one-room house on the edge of town. It's hard to believe that a family with 9 children resided there.
Huck Finn's home
Inside Huck Finn's home. So tiny!
The Mark Twain museum brought to life five of his most famous novels, and on upper floors of the museum you could view the original collection of art that Norman Rockwell completed depicting scenes from his books. Some became Saturday Evening Post covers, others were done simply to honor a great American author.

The museum did a great job of creating interactive parts for kids, but Mark Twain's fame and works are still lost on our girls. Some day they will understand his importance in American literature, and hopefully they will go back.
Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
I'll close with one of my favorite quotes, still relevant today.
Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Four States South

On our way to my dad's place I realized I have never crossed the Minnesota border into Iowa.

Hard to believe, isn't it?

Guess what -- it looks a lot like Minnesota. We drove through Mason City, Waterloo, Keokuk and then to Missouri. We stayed over in Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of one of my favorite American authors, Mark Twain.

After two days of driving we reached our destination -- a little log cabin in Paragould, Arkansas.

It was such a change of pace for us -- so peaceful and quiet. I loved hearing the birds in the morning, the crickets in the evening. The cabin was always filled with a woodsy scent, mingled with coffee and cooking smells.

My dad and stepmom were such gracious hosts. My stepmom stocked the trailer where we stayed with art projects, crayons and paper for the girls, and we enjoyed many home-cooked meals.

We went to the nature center in Jonesboro one day, and learned about Crowley's Ridge, a geological area covering miles of Missouri and Arkansas. We saw snakes in terariums and in the wild, and the girls got to try their hand at duck and goose calls.

The girls played with the dogs. They explored the property with my dad, which was so sweet to see. They rode around the property on Turfy, a golf cart Dad and Terry own, and swung in the hammock.

On our last day the girls took individual trips in to town with one of the grandparents, during which time they were utterly spoiled and got just about anything they asked for. (Thank goodness Terry knows where the Dollar General store is.)

Best of all, our kids got to know their grandparents. Lindsey chatted her grandpa's ear off one day, and Marissa naturally gravitated to Terry, asking her about her favorite color, holiday, hobbies, etc.

It was a visit well worth the drive. We'll be doing it again, I'm sure.

Friday, April 06, 2012

In A Picture

I took 244 pictures over the past week.

Oh I'm sorry, didn't I tell you what we did this past week?

Our family of four packed up the car and drove for two days. We arrived in Arkansas, home of my dad and stepmom. We stayed for 3 days, and spent two days driving back home.

What can I say, it was a ball. The girls were incredibly well-behaved the entire way down, our greatest fear and a big reason why we hadn't made the trip earlier in their young lives. My dad expressed to me his concerns before we arrived that there wasn't "enough to do" at their place. He follows me on Facebook, he reads my blog, he knows how much we pack into our lives living in a metropolitan area like the Twin Cities.

We learned that all we really need is a few wooded acres and two big dogs.

If I had to sum up our experiences in one picture, this would be the one, of the 244 that I took.

It says everything about the week.

But of course, I can't leave it there, so more blog posts on the trip will be forthcoming. But this photo sums it up.