Saturday, March 23, 2013

Blessings Upon Blessings

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you'll know that a couple of weeks ago Wayne and I made an impromptu purchase. A very strange purchase, if you know us at all.

We traded in my beloved Civic for a Lexus. A Lexus I say, did you hear me? Me, a Lexus??



Crazy talk.

But I was tired of getting stuck in the snow, of having to strategically select alternate routes through my neighborhood and downtown St. Paul to get to work because my car couldn't handle snowy or ill-plowed streets. And no matter how good the snow removal, when it snows 10 inches or more in 24 hours, the plows just can't keep up. We considered a smaller SUV or cross-over, but ultimately decided an all-wheel-drive sedan would do the trick, we didn't really need the cargo space.

We had talked about trading in my car in a couple of years, but Wayne found a used Lexus for a great deal at a dealership north of us. We went up to take a look, liked what we saw and bought the damn thing then and there.

Change of subject.

This year our spring break happens to fall during the exact same week as my stepsister's and her family's. This meant that for the first time we can coordinate our vacations so that our annual winter/holiday get-away doesn't have to take place on a rushed weekend between full school/ work weeks. We can leisurely take our time getting to our destination and spend extra time with each other!

At the same time, we had to figure out when to get to Tracy to celebrate Wayne's mom's birthday which is in early April, so we decided to go down the earlier part of our spring break. We'll be celebrating both Easter and her birthday on the same weekend, even though her birthday is technically closer to the first weekend in April than the last weekend in March.

Change of subject once again...or not.

My aunt recently passed away. She was much loved by many near and far, not least of all her own octogenarian sister and brother-in-law who live in St. Peter, MN. Could I, perchance, drive them to the funeral in Michigan?

It took a little finagling to get our schedules and locations to work, since I will already be halfway to our destination in Wisconsin on my vacation, but I believe we've finally worked it out where I will meet them halfway across Wisconsin, drive them all the way to Michigan, and drive them back after the weekend is done.

Something I could NOT have done had I still been driving my little Civic. There's no way I would have asked two people in their 80's to ride in my tiny little car with no suspension for 8 hours.

Something I could NOT have done had we also had to be back in Tracy celebrating Wayne's mom's birthday, something that -- at his parents' advancing age -- we do not want to miss.

Something I could NOT have done had I not already been on spring break and already planned to take most of the days off to make this trip. As it is, I will only need to take one additional day off of my planned vacation for the trip back home.

I truly believe all of these seemingly unrelated incidents aligned together to allow this trip to Michigan to happen. And while I'm not looking forward to the reason for our gathering, I am looking forward to the gathering itself, seeing cousins I haven't seen for a decade or more, aunts and uncles and all sorts of relatives I probably don't remember meeting.

Thanks, universe.


P.S. This is the hat I am wearing to her funeral. She was too joyful of a woman to wear all black.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Honoring a Soul Through Stillness

I'll be honest, I haven't really been able to stick with the 21-day meditation challenge.

As I've said before, stillness and I are not friends. Hardly acquaintances, really. And I've tried to get to know stillness better over the last week and a half, but I'm not really finding what I want in the quiet.

This morning, however, I had a moment.

Chap and Carol Smathers, Summer 2010.
I awoke early, my normal waking up time for getting a workout in, except a workout was not what I had planned. I lay quietly in bed, thinking of my Aunt Carol. We had learned the day before that she was in hospice care and was not expected to make it through the night. I wondered as I lay there slowly waking up if she would be doing the same this day.

My Aunt Carol is an amazing woman, vivacious and fun. She exudes joy -- it bubbles out through her laugh, her smile, her eyes. She cannot tell a joke without her telling of it being the funniest part. She seeks out the bright side of every situation and surrounds herself with positive, kind-hearted people.

Her husband, my Uncle Chap, died of heart failure about a year and a half ago. He had a slow decline with no medical answers to his declining energy and lack of appetite. We all worried about how Aunt Carol would fare after his passing, but she proved herself a resilient woman. She surrounded herself with friends and relied on family to help put her life back together, and she forged on.

She became ill only a month or so ago, landing in the hospital several times with inexplicable fluid in her lungs. She gasped for breath and panicked when it didn't come -- I cannot imagine the feeling. She was told her lung capacity was compromised, possibly related to living with asthma for her 8-plus decades, and that she would need to be on oxygen the rest of her life.

Shortly after this sentence (and this was a sentence to this active, social butterfly), she moved to Atlanta to stay with her daughter for the rest of the winter, with plans to return to her home when the weather turned better in Michigan. While there she had more bouts of unexplained fluid build-up, with little to do but treat it when it happened.

This clearly was not living to her. There is more to this story I am sure, but ultimately she opted out of ventilator support and chose to go to a hospice for care.

Tuesday evening I received said email from my dad, saying that she was not expected to live through the night.

At 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, as I wondered if she were going to wake up today, I placed my hands over my heart center and committed myself to her well-being. I wished for peace for her, for freedom from pain, freedom from panic for her next breath, and for the start of her existence on a new plane. I thanked her for her being a part of our lives, for being a joyful person to our family and others, and wished her well.

I felt a warmth spread out from the center of my chest, warming my hands and my body, and I smiled.

Hours later I received the call that she had passed, and I was sad for her leaving us, but comforted in knowing I had already said good-bye to her soul, even if her physical body could not hear it.

So that was my stillness for the day. It was peaceful. It was fulfilling. And it is helping me to understand that my Aunt Carol is in a better place.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Don't Read! Top Secret!

A couple of weekends ago Wayne went to our bank and opened savings accounts for our girls. We had been putting their college savings into an online banking account and decided to transfer the money to where all the rest of our finances are.

The girls probably should have gone with him to sit down with the banker, learn about saving money and get these little banking marketing tactics in person. But they didn't, so he came home with two electronic piggy banks that count the change you put in, and two "Junior Agent Saver Club" portfolios.

A few days later Marissa finally noticed the portfolio sitting on her dresser, and walked into our room singing "Mommy," in a knowing tone of voice.

"This says top secret," she says. "And I'm going to open it and read it."

(You can hear that tone of voice, right? As if she has announced she is about to do something that I've expressly told her she isn't allowed to do, just to challenge me.)

"Okay," I say, "I just hope you aren't scared by what you read."

She opens the velcro very slowly and officially, and opens the front cover.

She begins to read about saving money, leaning over the document as if she's just discovered the Magna Carta.

She suddenly stands upright with a puzzled look on her face. "What is this? Some kind of joke?"

I laughed. "It's a guide to your savings account, honey. I think they just thought kids would be more interested to read it if it looked interesting."

"Hmmph," she says, shutting it firmly. "Some people think they are sooooo funny."

Someone clearly wasn't very impressed by Wells Fargo's marketing.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Challenge of a Different Kind

Many of you know I've been working hard on improving my physical being. I'm now consistently working out 5 days a week and have been watching the number on the scale drop and -- more importantly -- watching the size of my clothes get smaller and smaller.

So far I've lost 3 inches around my waist and two inches in my hips, along with changes in muscle tone that just make for a leaner, meaner me.

I have done the 60-day Insanity: Asylum challenge, followed by the 90-day Chalean Extreme challenge. I am now in "maintenance mode" on my Chalean program, combining strength-training circuits with cardio workouts.

But now it's time for a challenge of a different kind.

If you've been reading along, you'll know that I tried meditation for the first time while vacation in Florida with my sister-in-law. She incorporates daily meditations into every aspect of her life, and has a new-found peace about her. I found the experience...unsettling. Stillness and I do not get along.

We are about to become acquainted.

At my sister-in-law's urging, I have taken on a 21-day meditation challenge being promoted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. I signed up online for the free 21-day trial. I'll be getting daily emails from them with links to recordings of a 15-minute guided meditation. That's definitely what I need; guidance.


Now the question is whether or not I can carve 15 minutes out of my day for this meditation practice. I already set my alarm a whole lot earlier than I used to for my physical work outs; how will I fit in my spiritual practice?

I haven't found the answer to that yet, but am working on finding a spot in my life. I basically gave up watching TV to fit my fitness in -- I think I can give up 15 minutes of sleep before going to bed at night.

The meditation challenge begins March 11 -- are you interested in joining me? Go to the Chopra Center's website to learn about this challenge and sign yourself up. And if you aren't up for it yourself, then look for updates from me on my 21-day challenge. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Aunt Kristi Visits

Right after the holidays I received a text from my sister that read something like this: "I miss those girls. When can I come up and visit again?"

Why, how quickly can you make it up here?!

So this past weekend was the scheduled visit, unfortunately a short one due to school, so Friday night in and Sunday afternoon out.

Before Kristi arrived the girls started making plans. What to do once she arrived? Hmmm...

Before long, a list had been made:


Kristi had things she wanted to make sure she fit in, like a run and a workout, and she and I had already made plans to go out dancing Saturday night.  But then we had to make sure we fit in things like playing hangman, making cupcakes, and all other kinds of activities.

We managed to fit it all in, and then some.

Lindsey shows Kristi her story she's been working on at school.

Outing to Lush, a new store that opened near our house.

A break at Caribou.
Breakfast items from dad that accompanied our pancakes. (Thanks, Dad!)

Lindsey makes dinner for us all.

Marissa reads her book report about Ruby Bridges to Kristi.
More cooking by the 9-year-old. I could get used to this!

Sunday morning comics.
While our night out at the dueling piano bar was fun, I would have to say the most fun we had was Saturday afternoon, walking around our neighborhood on an outing. First we stopped at Lush, a new cosmetics store that opened near us. I didn't even know it was there but Lindsey knew all about because a friend of hers received a bath bomb as a birthday present at a party recently. The place made shopping for - of all things - bath products just plain fun, and they gave us all hand treatments using their products. The girls got bath bombs from Aunt Kristi, and used some of their own money to buy some other items. 

Then we stopped at Caribou for a little break, followed by a walk to the nail salon where some of us opted for pedicures and others got manicures.

Being the FourSquare addict that I am, I checked in at every location. Saturday evening, when my friend Janey arrived at our house for our girls night out, she said, "I had so much fun watching what you guys were doing today! Looks like you had such a great time." I'm sure it looked like busy bees rushing around, but considering that we walked to all of them, it was just a relaxing, enjoyable time.

Before we knew it, it was Sunday afternoon and I was dropping Kristi back off at the airport. There was some sadness at our house, but happiness that she had made the trip and plans for the next one.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

You Talking to Me?





My sister was in town this past weekend and we decided to whoop it up after the kids went to bed Saturday night by going to a dueling piano bar.

If you love music and dancing without a loud booming beat, you need to go to one of these places. Watching talented musicians as they switch from piano to guitar to drumset, all while singing popular tunes that the crowd requests, is impressive. Not to mention a whole lot of fun.

We were not lucky enough to be able to reserve a table since our party was so small so we spent the evening standing near the back of the floor, dancing when the music moved us or talking over it when it didn't. Traffic was moving behind us as people went to and from their tables and servers delivered food and drinks.

An employee was selling single roses and silly light-up leis, and he passed by our group several times. He finally got our attention and struck up a conversation.

He says to me, "You look like you work out."

First I looked around, to see which of my friends he was talking to, assuming he was talking to Gianna, my friend and coach who started me on this whole fitness journey. But he's not, he's looking at me. Then I think to myself, "That's the lamest line I've ever heard." But we ended up in a discussion about fitness. Turns out he's a lifelong fitness buff who used to run marathons. Quickly, I might add. His record is 2:51, or a cool 6:31 pace for all 26.2 miles. He talked about how working out and running helped keep him mentally grounded through difficult times in his life.

I eventually introduced him to Gianna and they continued the conversation for some time before he moved on, but not before handing every single one of us a rose. No charge; he liked our group and wanted to give us all a rose.

And later my friends agreed that saying "you must work out" is not a lame line if you say it to someone who actually looks like she works out. I have to be honest, that made me feel pretty good.

I got me some good-lookin' friends and family! And some really, really bright lipstick. Oops.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Marissa's Class Work

Lately Marissa's been bringing home half-finished worksheets with notes from her teacher, telling us to have her finish the worksheets at home and return them. One was an intimidating-looking page of math problems that was half finished, with a note to time her on how long it took her to do the rest of the worksheet and report that back to the teacher.

We know her teacher pretty well since she was also Lindsey's 2nd grade teacher, and knew that this kind of work was not part of how she normally gets parents involved.

We suspect Marissa's been goofing off during school time, having too much fun chatting with her friends to complete the work in the classroom like she's supposed to. Still, it had us curious.

Then this past week I received an email from her teacher, which read something like this:

Jenny,
I am having Marissa bring her classroom work home for you to look at. PLEASE MAKE SURE SHE RETURNS IT THE FOLLOWING DAY. I wanted to make sure you saw it.

"Great," I'm thinking, "what is this girl up to now?"

Marissa traipses into the house and cannot wait to show me her work that her teacher told her to bring home.

"We're writing instructions," she says. "My instructions are on how to get a friend."

And she reads to us.

video

In case you can't get it to play, some of the instructions are:

1. Go to a school, any school.
2. Find a girl who looks like she is not a bully.
3. Ask her if she wants to play. If the answer is yes, then you can play together.
4. Make sure she has a good time.
5. Ask her about herself, and then ask her if she would like to be a friend. If the answer is yes, then you have a new friend! You are going to have lots of fun together.

Her teacher wanted me to see it because she thought it was so precious.

I was glad it wasn't instructions on how to open a bottle of wine.