Friday, December 06, 2019

Physical Therapy: A Memory

I had the misfortune of being in two car accidents this year in which I was rear-ended. Twice. One occurred in late July, the other in late September. The one in late September did the most physical harm to me even though it was at a lower speed, because I had my neck craned all the way to the side looking for oncoming traffic. My head was nowhere near the headrest, so I had the full effect of a whiplash-like movement.

Within a day I was hurting and going to the chiropractor. Getting adjusted two or three times/week wasn't making a difference. I'd feel fine after the appointment but by the next morning my neck was stiff and painful. One Saturday I was in so much pain that I moved the entire day like a mannequin — I could not turn my head in either direction at all, and instead of looking down at things I had to bend down to see things below me.

Through a series of appointments and visits with various health care professionals, I found myself in physical therapy (PT) at PDR Clinics. I've been going twice a week for four weeks now.

I learned that while I had been doing neck stretches correctly, I hadn't been holding them for long enough for my muscles to actually benefit. I'm strengthening my muscles using their MedX machines to isolate muscles. Those difficult-to-exercise neck muscles are actually getting the workout they need to get stronger.

I've heard and know of many people who've had to go to PT for various injuries, and I'm so grateful for this area of care. It's important to put the work in — when the therapist says they want you doing stretches every day, they mean it!

All of this reminded of a time when my dad was sick. He battled colon cancer for 7 years before it finally claimed his life. During much of that time he was able to live life normally, and other times he was in so much pain and could not control his bowels, which makes living life pretty much impossible.

My dad and stepmom Terry in happier days. 
One time he was hospitalized for three weeks after a bowel resection surgery. He did not recover well, anesthesia always threw him for a loop, literally. He was out of his mind delirious for nearly five days before they realized that the painkiller they were giving him was doing that to him. Once they got him on a different painkiller he got back in his right mind and the healing could continue.

Recovering from one of many surgeries, April 2015. Grandkids Sam and Presley, wife Terry by his side.
He was so eager to get home that he convinced the doctors to release him even though he had hardly any strength after being bedridden for three weeks. In order to get into the house he sat down on the front steps and slid his butt up each stair; he could not even lift his legs high enough to climb a single step. I don't remember if the hospital bed was in their house at that time or not, but if he was able to make it up the stairs to the bedroom he probably didn't come down for several days.

Weeks went by and my stepmom-angel took care of him. He was getting a little better every day but still was very weak. I am not sure how it came about, but a doctor or someone finally convinced him to meet with a physical therapist at their house to help him build his strength.

I talked to him the day of the therapist's first visit. Dad was angry. "That was the stupidest thing ever," he grumped to me over the phone. "She had me sit in a chair and straighten my leg, hold it for a few seconds and then put it back down. It didn't do a damn thing." My dad was a big man, accustomed to being strong and active. The fact that he had weakened to the point that straightening his leg was considered "exercise" frustrated him.

The next day I called again just to see how he was doing. He was even more frustrated and annoyed because he was sore from the "supposed exercises." I think he felt even more defeated at how weak he had become.

I don't know if he ever kept up with the therapist, she may have come a few more times. And knowing how frustrated he was by the experience, I don't think he kept up with the exercises they told him to do.

After that particular hospitalization, my dad slowed down. He was never able to get back to the level of activity he'd had before, and he was incredibly slow at walking. My sister and I had a hard time walking as slowly as he did. I would literally hover a single foot in the air to make my steps as slow as his. One time Dad and Terry were in Minnesota visiting us and the four of us were walking to a restaurant. Kristi and I absentmindedly started walking at our regular pace and within a few minutes found ourselves nearly half a block in front of Dad and Terry. God bless my stepmom, she assured my dad that she was feeling "tired" and needed extra time as well so that she could walk beside him. She did that everywhere they went.

I'm missing my dad this time of year. His birthday is on Christmas Eve, this whole experience of going to PT for my own injury is reminding me of his experience.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Minnesota Definition of "Salad"

From L to R: Kathy, Mark, Millie, Sherrie, Laurie and Wayne. Thanksgiving 2015, the first without Neil.
For more than 20 years we've been celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband's family. His family has always celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. When Wayne was a senior in high school all of his three older siblings got married. All of them, in one year. Can you imagine marrying off three of your kids and having your fourth graduate high school in the same year? Whew! Anyways...

For years all of his older siblings had Thanksgiving Day at their in-laws homes, which meant that the Horsman family gathering wasn't until the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day itself didn't matter, what mattered is that family came together to spend time together, eating, visiting, playing cards or board games...eating again...

Card-playing. 2015.

Watching Christmas movies, Thanksgiving 2012.
For years I would ask what I could bring and was usually given the non-cooking task of bringing drinks for the grandkids, which, at the time, usually consisted of several 2-liters of soft drinks. I perhaps brought some dinner rolls, store bought, of course, that was it.

One year, Millie asked me to bring a salad.

When someone says "salad" to me, I picture a bowl of lettuce and spinach, tossed with tomatoes, cucumber, rings of red onion perhaps, maybe some dill weed or other things mixed with a dressing.

When my mother-in-law says salad, she means a side dish that goes alongside the turkey.

That year, I dutifully brought a salad. The tossed lettuce and vegetable kind, which went entirely untouched by family members. I watched as person after person went down the line to serve up their plate, smiled at the salad bowl, but didn't take any. It all ended up back in the frig; we ate it the following afternoon for lunch alongside other leftovers.

The next year, when I asked once again what I could bring, I was asked to bring a salad. So I did, which, again, went untouched. It seemed so odd to me, to ask me to bring a dish that no one was going to eat!

Soon the request went back to store-bought rolls and drinks for the kids, and I didn't think anything of it.

It wasn't until years later, when my sister-in-law was reminiscing about Thanksgivings past with me, that I learned that when my mother-in-law was asking for a "salad" she meant "side dish." She told me that the smiles at the salad bowl was people taking in my "city" salad.

Weather kept us from getting together with Millie this year, but we were able to gather with some of the extended Horsman family by way of nephew Travis, his wife Elizabeth and kids. It's always a treat to have our house filled with giggles, sweet little voices and quickened footsteps. And since my sister Kristi lives in town also, she got to spend some time as well with the family.

Snapchat filters are so entertaining apparently! 2019
And no, I did not serve "salad" this year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Halloween Still in our House

Our neighbor's house — they go all out!
I love Halloween. I love the idea of dressing up to be whomever you want to be. For years we've hosted Halloween parties and invited all of my girls' friends. We've made ghoulish cake, witch's brew, musty meatballs, all kinds of delicious foods disguised in gory names.

This year, Marissa and Wayne were in Iowa the weekend before Halloween, when we normally would have had a party. And sadly, Lindsey's friend group has shrunk since she's in online school, so there were few people to invite for just her set of friends. party.

I was starting to get sad about Halloween. Marissa wasn't planning on dressing up. Lindsey wanted to dress up and go trick-or-treating, but had no one to go with. It looked like it was going to be a quiet night, which made me rather sad.

But then....

At the last minute I invited my cousin Sam and his wife Sarah and their family to trick-or-treat from our house. I don't know why I didn't think of it before! Their Theodore is 3, Lucille is 15 months, and they would have a wonderful time in our vibrant Halloween neighborhood!

And so instead of being a quiet house filled with the sound of occasional doorbell ringing, we had a crazy, silly house filled with toddlers and a couple friends for my teens.

Theodore with "his Wayne." 
I made wild rice soup for dinner for us all, my traditional Halloween night meal, which was deemed delicious by those who ate it. The little ones got into costumes and away they went. Theodore had the time of his life running from house to house, trick or treating. Lucille wasn't quite so into it, but she was cute as a button as a little pig. Lindsey bought the costume for her the day before at Turnstyle for $1.75. Sarah bundled her up in her winter gear and put the costume over it all. Theodore took one look and her and declared "You're so cute!"

Lindsey and her friend Maia made ghoulish cake balls. Marissa and her friend Hanna ate pizza and watched scary movies. I went trick-or-treating with Sam and Sarah and kids for a while, then Sarah and I turned back with Lucille who was done with being in the stroller while Sam and Theodore hit a few more houses.

Aprons over costumes

Hanna and Marissa making pizza.
Maia the pirate, Lindsey the Beauty and Beauty the Beast.
After guests had left and the doorbell went silent, I was left with a dozen soup bowls to wash, a messy kitchen from all the baking and cooking, and an empty bottle of wine.

Just my kind of night.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Failure Leads to Success

Marissa and her beautiful smile.
Last week I had parent-teacher conferences with some of Marissa's teachers at her new school. She's doing really well in most classes, not so well in a couple. I met with two she was doing well in and two she was not doing as well in to get a sense of how the classes were going. Two of her classes allow all students to either re-take tests or re-submit written work. And when I spoke with both teachers on the hows and whys, I was so impressed. Their purpose:

What's the point of failing if students don't get a chance to succeed?

One teacher told me about his frustration he used to feel when he would grade an essay, return it to students and then watch them throw it away on their way out the door. To the students it was just another piece of homework that they didn't do well on, would learn nothing from and would go on to submit similar work the next assignment.

Now he allows students to re-submit essays with corrections as many times as they would like. Why? So they can learn from their mistakes. From learning how to properly cite a source to using verbs consistently, when students correct their own mistakes they tend to remember what they had done wrong and hopefully do better in future assignments. It's like having work edited by an editor — as a freelance copywriter, what a gift that would be to have a skilled editor review my work before I turned it in to a client for "grading!"

Same with Marissa's math teacher. Once a test is graded, the test is returned to students and they review it, then are given the chance to re-take the test at a later date. What's the point of finding out after the test that you did the math wrong if you don't have the opportunity to learn how to do it correctly?

Would we have any world-class gymnasts if the first time a gymnast tried the balance beam she fell off and wasn't allowed to get on it again? How are students supposed to learn these subjects when they get tested on one area, fail, and then move on to the next unit?

This is not about getting better grades, it's about actually learning the material, and I really like this approach. It takes work and re-work to get better grades, and that's when learning takes place.

Once upon a time in my career, my agency won a large client and I was asked to be the account director on it. It was an honor and big confidence booster to be chosen for this...and also a massive responsibility. It was daunting and I was afraid of failing. And fail I did — the first campaign we did for them we came in over budget by nearly six figures due to the number of small but costly blunders that had occurred along the way.

I was the director, I was given the task of picking up the phone and telling the client what we were about to invoice them. Gulp.

Because I had informed them all along the way of every mistake — and the ways in which we would NEVER let that mistake happen in future campaigns — they were understanding and expected the overage. They paid the invoice in full, with the understanding that this would NEVER happen again. And it never did. I made sure of that. Because I had been allowed to fail on that first campaign, we went on to have a long, fruitful relationship with them for years and they never had a surprise invoice again; our work was done exceptionally well with outstanding results. Now, if anyone ever asks me about a time I succeeded in my career, I tell them this story because my failure became my greatest success.

Back to those pesky parent-teacher conferences...

More importantly than Marissa's work or her grades, she is a good student in class according to her teachers. She speaks confidently even if she isn't sure of her answer, helps other students or asks for help when needed, and adds a spark of humor and light to the classroom. She is friendly to everyone she meets; her face lights up with a smile when she greets teachers and her fellow students.

No matter what grades she earns, those qualities make her a success already.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Trials and Tribulations of GPS

Last night I took Lindsey and a friend of hers to a counter-protest in downtown Minneapolis. I'd heard and read that traffic was going to be challenging. All the roads around the Target Center were closed to make room for the protesters, we had to get down there around rush hour, so leave extra time or plan alternate transportation.

My plan was to park in a ramp far away from the action and walk to the Target Center. That way we would also be away from all the traffic and could leave downtown relatively easily. It didn't exactly work out that way.

We parked in the first ramp I saw and I dropped a pin on the map to note that I had parked there. We walked to the Target Center no problem with just a few quick turnarounds when we first made it out of the ramp. I hate it when pedestrians exit parking ramps on different sides than where you entered, I always get a little twisted around at first.

We went to the protest, had a great time, ate dinner at The Local (also a great time), and then headed back to my dropped pin....which looked nothing like the ramp I had parked in. We found a staircase, went up a flight and looked around. No car, and not familiar surroundings.

So we went across the street to another ramp that looked more like the one I had parked in. Nope, no there either.

We all remembered coming down a blue staircase that was marked "2B," because we were laughing about "to be or not to be." The staircases we were trying were marked by a letter or a number, not both. They were also either purple, orange, brown, or a variety of other colors, not blue.

What. On. Earth.

Lindsey, Ava and I walked from ramp to ramp in a four-block radius for nearly an hour before Lindsey finally collapsed after yet another staircase. "I think my feet have had it, Mom," she said. It was now way past Ava's requested time to be home and getting late to be lost in downtown Minneapolis.

I ordered a Lyft and decided to try to find my car the next day. The driver told me how he always takes his parking stub with him when he parks because it has the ramp address on it, that way he always knows where he parked. This told me two things: 1. That's a really smart idea and I should do that in the future. 2. He's lost his car before or he wouldn't do that, so I'm not the only numskull who's done this.

We went home and I slept fitfully, wondering if I'd remembered to lock my car, if I had anything valuable in there, if someone had broken into mind went wild with catastrophizing. My brain is good at that.

As soon as my sister got off work the next morning she came over to my house, had a little breakfast, and we went back downtown to search for my parked car. Both Google and Apple maps marked my car in the same place they reported it the previous night, so I was interested in seeing where they hell it was and how many ramps we'd have to check before we found it. Kristi drove the same route into downtown as I had the previous night, hoping we'd come across the ramp from the same direction and it would jog my memory.

We found it immediately — the first ramp we checked. The ramp was under construction and the previous night I had gone in on a side that was dark and had many roped off spaces. The pin had dropped on the opposite side of the block, where it was well-lit with multiple ways in and out, which was why the ramp didn't look familiar to us when we searched it the previous night. Plus it was divided into two separate parking areas that did not connect. No wonder we hadn't found it the previous night.

Kristi and I left and were driving our separate ways when she called me.

"You're gonna laugh," she said.

After I'd found my car, she set her GPS to get out of downtown and head back home. After exiting the ramp, the GPS system was having her take all kind of winding side roads, not the main roads of downtown. It was making her turn this way and that, and she couldn't figure out where it was having her go until it gave her a detour for Cedar Lake Trail. Cedar Lake Trail? That's a bike path! It thought she was biking so it was having her take the less traveled streets of downtown! She pulled over, re-set it to know she was driving, and it safely and quickly directed her out of downtown and back on her route home.

"Some day we'll laugh about this," we said last night when we were taking the Lyft home. I already am.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

She Can't Drive 55

Lindsey behind the wheel of her dream F150 at the State Fair this summer.
Getting your license sure has changed a lot since I was 16. When I was learning how to drive, my classmates and I were handed the DMV driver's handbook and put in a simulator where we goofed around for an hour a day for one week. I tested for my permit after that, then I did two or three behind-the-wheels with Mr. Berceau, our biology teacher, and eventually took my driving test. I'm sure I did lots of practice hours so I could pass the test, but had the opportunity to do more when I failed my test the first time I took it. Oh well.

Lindsey had to complete 30 hours of classroom training before she could even get her permit. After that, she needs six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction with a certified instructor, then 50 "practice" hours with an adult. Which means, a parent. Which in our house means me, because we all agree that Wayne would not have the patience or composure needed to be the parent with a new driver behind the wheel.

These 50 hours should be a good mix of neighborhood, highway, daytime and nighttime driving. The night time driving is mandated — 15 hours required. There's a handy little app called "Road Ready" that can track all of your practice drives and awards you badges based on the kind of driving you do.

I had forgotten how much driving is habit. Deeply ingrained, instilled habits that experienced drivers forget to teach. Like, when you back out of parking space, you need to begin turning the wheel in the direction you want to go before you take your foot off the brake. If you don't, you end up doing what Lindsey did one Saturday afternoon, which had to be quite amusing to passersby. She parked, backed up, re-parked the car in the same spot, backed out, re-parked, backed out, until I finally realized she wasn't turning the wheel in the opposite direction before taking her foot off the brake.

She has tried to take the car out of park before she's started it. She's almost gotten out of the car before realizing she hasn't yet turned it off. She's mistaken the gas for the brake and vice versa. (But realized it quickly and corrected her mistake.) These are all deeply ingrained habits for people who have been driving for years, and they all have to be remembered by a new driver every single time.

It's so fascinating to see these habits build upon themselves. Things that were difficult to remember are becoming habit. Neighborhoods are now a snap, and now we're moving on to highways, then freeways. She's building her skills and her confidence and is always careful.

Posing with my car with her student driver sticker...and damage done in an unrelated incident.

This brings me to the title of this post.

The first time Lindsey drove down France Ave, the main street in our neighborhood, she felt like she was flying. She checked her speed and discovered she was going 20 — 5 miles under the speed limit. When we hit four-lane roads that are 40 mph, she dutifully pulls into the right lane, knowing that everyone else will be speeding around her in the left-hand lane because she's only doing 35. And she drove on a highway for the first time this week, telling me she felt like she was driving a spaceship, her elbows locked as she gripped the steering wheel, eyes fixed on the road. A semi-truck passed her on her left and she was like "Whoa!" She may have hit 55 for a minute or two, but most of the time she was being passed by a parade of vehicles.

This experience is making me realize how much trust we all have in others when we are passengers. I have to work hard to keep  my mouth shut and not point out every little hazard that I see when Lindsey is practicing. She sees it, she's slowing and signaling appropriately, she needs to not rely on me to point this stuff out because I won't always be with her. It takes a lot of trust to be quiet and let her learn.

Let's just say she and I are out of our comfort zone, but getting comfortable there.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Finding Her Religion

About a month ago Marissa asked if I could start taking her to church.

Those of you who know me know I am not a church-goer. Explaining why is a long, winding road with many philosophical points, none of which I will bore you with because this isn't about me, it's about Marissa.

We have never been a church-going family with the exception of Christmas Eve service. When the girls were younger we had beginner Bibles for them and told them Bible stories, and they got great enjoyment from watching Veggie Tales. (Marissa only recently made the connection that Veggie Tales tells Bible stories using animation and silly songs.)

This summer Marissa asked me to take her to church, but on Sunday mornings she always said, "Nah, I'd rather sleep in." Now that school has started, sleeping in until 8 to be ready for church at 9 is sleeping in, and she asked if we could start attending St. Stephen's, an episcopal church in our neighborhood.

I think part of what's encouraging this is that she realizes she is not educated about religion. Many of her classmates at Eagle Ridge are coming to the high school from Catholic or Lutheran schools. In her humanities class, they relate many of the classical works they are reading to Bible stories...which Marissa is not familiar with. She's curious, and I'm happy to encourage this curiosity.

And so we go to church. This past week we bought her a Bible so she could begin reading the stories herself. After reading much of Genesis she talked to me about the creation of the world, how God decided he had made a mistake in creating humans and sent a flood to destroy all but Noah's family.

After the first time we went to church I overheard her telling her dad all about it. "We get on our knees on these little things with cushions on them that you pull out, and we confess our sins. I don't know what sins are, but it's really cool." The last couple of weeks Wayne's come with us as well, and has seemed to enjoy the service also.

I go because Marissa wants me to. The church is stunningly beautiful and the people kind and welcoming. I'm really proud of my kid who is inquisitive and open to new experiences.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Unraveling a Life

My step-grandmother Janet Lau passed away a couple of weeks ago. She was 94 years old, in terrible pain and unable to get around due to osteoporosis and a myriad of other medical issues. She had told her son, my stepdad, several times that at night she prayed that she wouldn't wake up in the morning. She finally got her wish on August 26th and never woke to see the following day.

Her husband Norman died 40 years earlier of a heart attack, far too young. He had not been feeling well and left work to see a doctor. The doctor didn't think he had the signs of a heart attack and sent him home — he died later that day. Janet never remarried. She only ever went on one date and afterwards told family that no one could take Norman's place and never dated again.

Norman on the left, Janet on the right, their wedding photo in the middle.
When I first met her nearly 30 years ago she was busy traveling the world with her sister, Doris, who had also lost her husband. Back then I called her my "Las Vegas grandma," she could often be seen wearing one of those be-dazzled, flashy zip-up coats over a t-shirt, with sneakers that matched the coat. Her hair was dyed a strawberry red blonde and was always perfectly coiffed in soft curls around the crown of her head. She and Doris went to Vegas, Hawaii, Branston, MO and other places, taking in the sights and shows that could be had.

Janet loved to play cards. I mean, she looooved to play cards. Every time I saw her, within half an hour of her arrival we were either eating a meal or playing a game of spades, or hand-and-foot, or sheepshead (okay, I wasn't playing that one, I have no idea how, but she was able to play that strategic game until the week before she passed). She was up for any game, as long as it involved cards.

At Christmas she made a traditional German dessert called "himmel futter," or "heavenly hash." The base is called a torte but was more like a crisp meringue with dates and figs baked into it, covered by various fruits, then completely covered in whipping cream. I had never had such a thing before, and the first time I tried one I was in heaven, it is so absolutely delicious.

She raised a wonderful family. My stepdad is a patient, generous, kind and loving man. He is a gift to my mom and our family. He was the primary caretaker of Janet as she got older — he and my mother worked with the home where she lived to ensure she got her medications, managed her finances, and more.

And now she's gone. The managing and caring of Janet is complete. All there is to do is to unravel her life.

Cancel the newspaper she used to read daily. Inform the Social Security office, the government entities that need to know. Clean out her modest little place at the assisted living community. Much of her worldly goods had already been gone through and given to family members who wanted them. Furniture, kitchen wares, pieces of art and more were all in the possession of others. Now, what was left: a hair comb. Bobby pins. Nail file. Shampoo. A small jewelry chest with some last remaining pieces of jewelry. It feels weird to go through a dead woman's things, sorting and sifting the last few items for usefulness or memories.

Janet wrote her own obituary and funeral arrangements. She asked for specific readings from grandchildren, whichever ones thought they could or would want to read. My stepsister Michelle sang a touching song which Janet picked out. The service finished with some beautiful words from Janet herself (paraphrased):
The Lord has come to take me...Let kisses, kindness and love for one another replace the tears. I leave to all of you my legacy of love.  
She truly was a gift to this world and will be remembered with fondness and love.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

New High School Adjustments

While many kids are going back to school today, Marissa has already been at Eagle Ridge Academy one week. What an amazing week it's been!

Her first night she came home with a passage she had to read and answer questions about. The passage? "The Apology" by Plato, written about Socrates' trial and sentence, as translated from ancient Greek. It starts like this:
How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. 
Ummmm....yeah, sure.

For a girl who does not love to read and is often quite literal in her interpretation of writings, this was going to be a challenge. I read it aloud to her over several nights, paraphrasing what each section meant so she could make sense of it and answer the questions. If a person is unaccustomed to reading this kind of writing, it is incredibly difficult to understand. But with practice, it gets easier. By the end of the week she was starting "The Iliad" by Homer and was having no problem reading and comprehending the stanzas on her own. Wow, okay...

Some observations about her school that she appreciates:

1. She is loving wearing uniforms. So far she can't tell who the "popular" kids are in her class because everyone is dressed the same, there are no brands to distinguish between the "haves" and the "have nots."

2. The class sizes!! Her largest class is Humanities with 16 students, her smallest is Spanish with six. She is one of very few freshman in her Spanish II class and has a native Spanish speaker as a teacher, which she is super excited about.

3. School lunch is delicious! She brought a lunch the first day but after that has been eating the lunch at the school. It is freshly made there at the school, not shipped in and warmed like her lunches at Lake Harriet, and there is always a salad bar option.

4. They pipe in classical music to the lunchroom during lunch time. It is a classical education school, after all! There is plenty of room, there are even a few empty tables in the area, and she eats with the entire 9th through 12th grade students. Lunch is at a reasonable hour, because they don't need to stagger lunches due to class size. (Her lunch at her middle school started at 1:40.)

In a small group in her Humanities class they were discussing Achilles, which Marissa pronounced "Ah-CHILL-ease" having never encountered the name before. A boy in her group teased her about not being able to pronounce it. Shortly after he said, "myu-SAY" for muse, and she teased him back. The rest of the class they gave each other a hard time and intentionally mispronounced things to see who could say it the silliest.

She has already made many friends, both girls and boys, and has mixed grades in many of her classes — many are helping her get accustomed to the new things she's studying. Most everyone in school is engaged and ready to learn. She often gets frustrated and annoyed at students who talk or whisper while the teacher is talking, especially because with her ADHD she has a really hard time tuning out distractions. That is less of a problem at Eagle Ridge than at her last school.

I'm so excited for her to be at this school and for the opportunities she will have there.

Monday, September 02, 2019

The Glue That Holds Us Together: High School Reunions

Class of 1989 in 1989

Class of 1989 in 2019
This weekend was my 30th high school reunion, and it was pretty amazing.

I graduated with around 150 students from Sheboygan Falls High School. I have fond memories of my high school years — playing in the band, acting and playing for musicals, forensics competitions, and all-around fun.

Social media makes these reunions so different from what they used to be. We all keep up with each other's lives from a distance, but only what we all share on Facebook. A fun day, first day of school, a special dinner out for an anniversary, a kid's sports accomplishments.

But when we all get together, we share each other's lives. And because we've known each other so intimately, granted a long time ago, we are all pretty open about challenges facing each of us. Divorces. Careers gone askew, demanding jobs that suck the life out of a person. Challenges raising children. Caring for aging parents. The real deal that doesn't get shared on Facebook. And often these troubles are met with encouraging words of "I know what you're going through," or "You should talk to so-and-so, they went through something like that," or just, "I'm sorry that's happening to you."

Plus there are things to celebrate. One classmate opened a tab and let people know to have a drink on him. His explanation? "I've just been so fortunate in my life, and I want to share my good fortune with others." Wow, that's awesome, thank you!

I was speaking with another classmate and asking how life was going and he said, "I love my job, I love my family, I've got good health, I'm about as happy as I can be in my life right now, and I'm so grateful for it." That's the best any of us can ever hope for, and I'm so happy for him.

And sharing those high school memories, oh my! What is it about graduating high school together that becomes a glue that holds people together?

As seniors, my girlfriend Jody and I once had Domino's pizza delivered to the school for lunch. (There were other people who did this with us, I can't remember all of them.) We brought it into the lunch room to eat and the vice principal just about had a conniption, I've never seen that man's face so red. He was a small guy, not very tall or broad, but we got out of there with that pizza pretty quickly. Eventually we got smart and had pizza delivered to Jody's house just across the street. We would run to her house so we wouldn't get caught leaving the school to eat it, then dash back before the bell rang.

My friend Judi recounted spending hours in my basement, listening to music and goofing off. Had Wendy been there I could have told some good stories of a sleepover at her house where she pretended to be sleep-talking but wasn't really, she was just giving us a hard time.

Our class is planning on creating a scholarship fund and at our reunion appointed a committee of people to work on this. That's a pretty amazing legacy that we'll be leaving for future generations of graduates from Sheboygan Falls.

It was a great weekend getting together with my classmates, and I am so grateful for their being in my life, even if it's only every 5 years.
Comparing cute shoes, 25th and 30th reunions (Myself, Kelly and Rachel)

Goofing off.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Marvelous Marissa

I am woefully late in writing some updates on our dear Marissa, who surprises and amazes me every day with her incredible spirit.

Marissa graduated from 8th grade this spring, ending her 9 years at Lake Harriet Community School and our last year as a Lake Harriet family.

On screen: Marissa's kindergarten pic next to 8th grade photo.
It was a bittersweet ending to a difficult year after a classmate of hers committed suicide in February. The last four months of school were exceptionally difficult — Aria's empty chair loomed large in so many of Marissa's classes, including her homeroom (called advisory these days). She and Marissa had been good friends in 5th grade, even though they traveled in different circles at the time of her death. At the recognition ceremony Marissa and her classmates wore purple ribbons in memory of Aria, whose family attended the ceremony.

Marissa has always made new friends every year of school, sometimes gravitating back to friends she had in earlier years, other times making new friends she never knew before, even though they'd spent years together in the same school. Other times she made friends with kids who were new to the school, making them feel welcome from their first days in class. After the ceremony she gave hugs all around to all her friends, new and old, promising to keep in touch even though she'd be going to a different high school than most of them for high school.

Marissa and her good friend Hanna.
As summer is ending and we are looking forward to fall, she is preparing to attend Eagle Ridge Academy, a charter school that teaches classical education. "Classical" education means she is required to take 4 years of Latin, she has a "Humanities" class instead of history and language arts, and will begin reading historical accounts from the beginning. Like, ancient texts: Virgo, Euripides, Homer. She's been to the school recently for a new student orientation and a "meet-your-teacher" night where they took school portraits before the school year even began. By the end of the new student orientation she had made two new friends and was looking forward to seeing them on the first day of school. 

She is thoughtful, caring, concerned for others. A few weeks ago she and I were shopping in Uptown. We were approached by a woman who asked us to help her get something to eat, she had no money and was hungry. If I'd had any cash on me I would have given her some, but unfortunately I didn't and I had to turn her down apologetically. Marissa felt so badly that we couldn't help her, she asked if we could go to the ATM at the nearby Cub Foods to get some money so that if we saw her again we could give her some. I obliged, of course. We walked the same route back hoping to run into her again but didn't — Marissa was disappointed and the rest of the day wondered if she'd gotten anything to eat. 

I am sad that our time together is coming to an end as summer ends, but I am excited for the school year ahead of her. ERA keeps talking about how rigorous their academics are; I get concerned that it may be overwhelming for Marissa, who has never gravitated towards school for purely academic reasons but moreso for social ones. If schools could measure and value a student's compassion, empathy and thoughtfulness, Marissa would be top of her class. Still, I know she will do well, she is a smart kid who takes her time to think things through. I am hopeful that ERA will be the place where she can grow and learn at her own pace.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

How's the No Drinking Thing?

I was overwhelmed with the responses I got from my post about my sober curious journey. Thanks to everyone who reached out! I received a lot of texts, messages, phone calls and so forth.

I heard things like, "I've never liked the taste of alcohol so I've never taken up drinking. Because of that I am excluded from invitations to happy hour from co-workers. Ouch."

Ouch indeed. Just because someone doesn't drink alcohol doesn't mean they don't enjoy getting together socially.

Some people told me about their own journeys into and out of sobriety, and how drinking (or not drinking) has changed their lives. These stories were so educational to hear, sometimes tragic, other times hopeful. From this I've learned that alcohol truly affects the lives of so many people in this country, whether you drink or not.

The weekend after that post I hosted a happy hour at my home. I was so grateful for those friends who brought interesting sparkling lemonades and water and had recommendations for concoctions to mix with sparkling water to make it tasty. And I found a local restaurant has a "mocktail" menu with many delicious options for alcohol-free beverages. Yum!!

Am I still alcohol-free? No. I was sober for a month, which was a great experiment. During that time I had happy hours with friends, experienced a P!nk concert and had nary a drop, enjoyed better sleep most nights, and woke up more energized earlier in the morning than I typically do. Did I enjoy these things any less because I wasn't drinking? Not at all. Did I enjoy them more? Not really, to be honest.

The one thing that did NOT happen during that month is I didn't lose a single pound. I would like to lose a little weight, and I was wondering if the calories from alcohol were impeding my ability to lose weight. The good news is that I apparently don't drink so much that just cutting out drinking would make me drop 10 pounds. (That would have been concerning.) The bad news is...I didn't lose any weight after not ingesting any calories from alcohol for 30 days.

I celebrated my 30 days of sobriety with a glass of red with a grilled steak at our house. Mmmm....steak....can't have a bite without a glass of cabernet!

And since that experiment I find myself drinking less, primarily just on weekends and in lesser amounts. I do enjoy a refreshing glass of white wine on my patio in the late afternoon, and it seemed ridiculous to deny myself that pleasure when there was no reason.

This little experiment has led to my next experiment, which is that I have begun using the weight loss app Noom. If drinking less did not help me lose weight, then I needed some real guidance to help me trim the pounds that I want to drop. More on that in another post, for those who are interested!

Thanks again to everyone for your support through this journey. I feel like 2019 has become a year of discovery and growth for me, and I'm excited for what's to come!

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Ideal Independence Day

In my morning pages recently I described my "ideal day." One was an ideal day in your current reality, and another was your ideal day in an ideal world, meaning if money and resources were no object. My ideal day would start by waking up in the Italian my ideal world, that is.

I had the most ideal Independence Day this past week and it kept me smiling all day.

Laurie has been staying with us and she is just the loveliest house guest. We had the best time sitting around drinking coffee in the morning on the patio.
Laurie and a tired Beauty and Wayne after a run.
Laurie and a tired Beauty and Wayne after a run.
But my day began before then, with a 10-mile skate around the chain of lakes. I haven't skated 10 miles yet this year, I had such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. It was so quiet around the lakes at 7 a.m., not the usual bike commuters or early-morning walkers.

Map of skating route around 3 lakes

I had to drop Lindsey off at Turnstyle for work by 9, then back to the house for the aforesaid coffee and chatter on the patio, this time with niece Chelsea as well who had stayed the night at her brother's house. She and Laurie made plans to go shopping with Marissa, while I walked down to the 50th and France area to catch what I could of the Edina parade. I love parades — the 4th of July just isn't complete if I don't take in a parade for at least a little while. I caught it near the end of its route, and unfortunately by the time it got to the end it was pretty disjointed. There were long stretches where not a single group came by, then one would go by, and — five minutes later — another. I stayed there for about half an hour, enjoying the sights of the crowd that had gathered. Little girls in matching red white and blue dresses lined the streets, alongside boys in shorts with little white stars adorning them. A baby was lying flat on its back in its mother's lap, completely asleep with arms raised above its head like Lindsey used to sleep, with bulbous, noise-canceling headphones over its ears. The baby was oblivious to everything around it, and the mother was looking down at the miracle in her lap when there was a gap in the parade.

I returned home to a quiet house. Lindsey was working, our house guests and Marissa were shopping. Wayne and I look at each other like this was the most miraculous thing ever, and made plans to go out to lunch. We stopped at Turnstyle first to bring Lindsey her lunch, since she left in such a hurry that morning she didn't have time to pack one. We sat outside with her while she ate her bagel sandwich. She talked about how she was enjoying spending the morning detangling necklaces. They didn't have many customers so the necklaces that people consign that were hastily stored in bins and never made it onto the floor were finally a priority. Her co-workers were all grateful that this was a task she wanted to do, because it was loathsome to them!

Wayne and I lunched at a restaurant called Town Hall Station that I discovered by accident when I had to find alternate routes around a bridge closure. It's a former gas station, and it's completely adorable with service station decor. We had hoped to eat outside but it was just starting to sprinkle, so we sat inside by the large open garage doors, feeling the breeze and listening to the patter of the rain. Wayne had a burger and beer, I had a glass of wine and a chicken taco was that unbelievably delicious. We visited and eventually noticed that every TV in the place was turned to Wimbledon coverage. We got into watching the match that was on TV and had to stay to watch the final point. Nadal was moving on to the third round, battling an up-and-comer who had already trounced a favored player in the first round.

Photo of Town Hall Station beer and patio

Back home, I began to prep food for dinner, making cupcakes for Lindsey's "RBG dissent" cupcakes (since her batch the night before hadn't turned out), and boiling potatoes and eggs for potato salad. Marissa, Chelsea and Laurie arrived home and each got a little quiet time. They had enjoyed a lovely lunch at Cov.

Later Laurie commented to me about what an amazing young lady Marissa is — so polite, thoughtful and kind. It was so nice to hear confirmation that somehow, we are doing something right in raising our girls. Then again, I can't even take credit for Marissa's beautiful spirit.

Food prep done, I was able to sneak a nap in while Wayne picked Lindsey up from work. And then it was time to cook! Laurie made grapefruit margaritas that were refreshing, Lindsey worked on her cupcakes, laughter and chatter was on the patio, in the kitchen, everywhere. We had hoped that Kristi would be able to join us, but unfortunately was not able to get off work as there were enough patients in the hospital that she was needed. So we raised a glass in her name and gave thanks to nurses everywhere.

We gathered around our table and passed all the goodies: grilled burgers and brats, buns, condiments, homemade potato salad, baked beans. I was informed by consensus that my potato salad was not as good as Sherrie's. Yes, yes I know. But it wasn't unedible, so there is that.

After dinner we gathered outside for more laughter and stories. Eventually we decided to get ready to head to the fireworks. Marissa offered up her blanket and we all got into the car for the 5-minute drive in the neighborhood. We drove down to where we could access the Minnekahda Golf Club from its back entrance, which they open up for neighbors to get onto their grounds for the fireworks that they host.

We watched the sun go down and savored seeing the sky light up before finally falling dark. The fireworks were so wonderful! Chelsea could not believe that we could get to an area to see them that was so close without having to show up 3 hours in advance or battling crowds or traffic to leave.
Pre-firework sunset with crescent moon.
Ready for some fireworks!
There was an outdoor bar at the club that was serving members only, Wayne somehow passed off that we were guests of [insert member name here] and got us a couple of glasses of wine.

After the finale we packed up our things and were back home in 10 minutes. Other people went to bed while Lindsey and I stayed up and watched two episodes of "Stranger Things" season 3 which had just dropped. It was 1 a.m. before we finally said we called it quits and went to bed.

The ideal Independence Day.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Writing a "To Done" List

I have started using an app called "Noom" to start tracking my nutrition and exercise, in an attempt to get healthy and lose some weight. "Noom" is all about the psychology of why we eat what we eat, what triggers us to make unhealthy decisions and help us counter those. The goal is to help people make better choices moving forward so users can maintain a healthy weight the rest of our lives.

This week the coaches at Noom had us do an exercise and create a "to-done" list, and I thought it was too good to not share with others.

We all have a "to-do" list, right? Be it a for work, home, family or just you, we've all got a running list of things we need to do. Mine often consists of stuff like: get groceries, make a dinner menu for the week, run kids around to appointments, make various phone calls for house projects, et cetera. That doesn't include client projects or other things that make their way onto that list.

The coach at Noom asked us to make a "to-done" list. List all of the things that you've accomplished this past week or month or whatever, those things that were most important to you. Your "to-done" list could look something like this:

1. Had a successful project launch at work.
2. Finally made it to the dentist which I've been putting off.
3. Spent time with friends at a happy hour.

Review that list, and now ask yourself, "What of these things is important and will be remembered?" 

This became really poignant when one of my group members posted her list, which consisted of many enjoyable activities like gardening, spending time with her grandkids, finally seeing a friend she hadn't seen in decades. She had this to say about her list:

"I've been retired for 13 years, and I've told myself that there is so much I want to do in retirement. I thought I would have less stress, but I still have stress and have more health issues than ever. Making this list have made me focus on the most important things in my health and how much time I have left to enjoy it. Today is a new day with opportunities and I am going to make the best of it."

Wow. All that discovery from a weight-loss app? Yes.

Before reading her post I had made a list of my own. As expected, it consisted of many things that had been on my "to-do" list that were now done: Grocery shopping. Cleaning. Running kids around to appointments.

I made a second list after I read hers, and it read a little differently:

And then I had this epiphany: Those things that are on my "to-done" list need to start by being on my "to-do" list. I need to make room in my life for those things that bring fulfillment and happiness to me and to those around me. My kids probably won't know or care about how much grocery shopping I did, but Marissa will definitely remember going paddleboarding on a beautiful summer day with her mom, and Lindsey will have memories of learning how to drive with me in the passenger seat. (Hopefully not traumatic memories.)

Now I ask you: What things do you need to put on your "to-do" list so they make your "to-done" list?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Journey through Motherhood

At "Time to Fly" event benefiting CCRF, 2009
In my neighborhood I am surrounded by mothers at every stage of the journey. My next-door-neighbor has an adorable soon-to-be 3-year-old, down the street are siblings 8 and younger, across the street is a teenager and down from him are recent empty nesters.

My girls will be 16 and 14 this year — we are nearing the end of the "raising" portion of parenthood. Soon we will be entering the "why doesn't she ever call" portion of parenthood, followed shortly, I've heard, by the "my kids finally appreciate me" portion.

I find this stage to be rather ironic.

I mean, when our kids are little, they are just so darn cute, but they are also so much darn work! Their fingers and faces are always sticky, they are constantly needing to be fed, changed or taken to the bathroom, bathed, reasoned with, (as much as you can reason with babies or toddlers), and so on and so forth. They are a lot of work, from which parents often need a break. If I ever had even an hour to myself in my home without my children around, what a joyous time it was! Laundry got done, floors got mopped, windows got cleaned. One time Wayne and I took advantage of a "parents night out" at KinderCare, where they stayed open until 10 p.m. so parents could have a date night, and he and I washed all the windows in our house. They hadn't been washed since our kids had been born, we were happy to have spent our child-free time that way.

Marissa decided not to smile this day. 2012
Then your kids grow and grow, and at this stage they are...people. Fascinating, interesting people! They have opinions and ideas and really big, new words to communicate them. They are absorbing the world around them, making their own decisions about what's right or what's wrong, and wow, look out world, there is some change a-coming! They are so fun to do things with, to go shopping, or out to eat. 

But just as your kids get really fun to hang out with, they don't want to hang out with you. They'd rather be with their friends, watching movies, playing soccer, going to Starbuck's, building relationships with friends their own age. 

Soccer, Summer of 2017
Lindsey, Homecoming 2018
Marissa Selfie, 2019
When they want to spend time with me, I'll be here, ready to reminisce with them about the good old days when they used to play with water tables, push the dog around in a doll baby carrier, and do other silly things. Those stories are always good for a laugh.

Happy Mother's Day. 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Sweet 16 for the First Kid

Eight years ago, I wrote a blog post called "Halfway to 16." It was about Lindsey turning 8, and 16 seemed so very far away.

Now her 16th birthday is already 3 days ago. How things have changed!

At 8, she was excited to get clothes for her Barbie dolls, but was equally excited to get an iTunes gift card. I'm pretty sure she bought some Katy Perry songs with that gift card.

At 16, she asked for a large plant for her bedroom. Yes, a plant. She also has a fixation on all things flamingo. She finds them silly and quirky. So I also purchased a large standing metal planter for her room. On Friday, her actual birthday, she and I made a trip to Bachman's to get just the right plant for her room and for her flamingo.

I felt like I was being watched as I worked.

Lindsey's large plant, nicknamed Za Za. 
She got a silk butterfly hair clip to go with her butterfly dress that she wore to the Southwest winter formal. She loves dresses, she probably has 8 or 10 hanging in her closet at any time. Thanks to her job at Turnstyle she puts dresses on hold for her to try when she's not working. The butterfly dress was purchased there for $7.50. I think the hair clip cost more by the time I paid for shipping.

Opening gifts, her Marvel blanket always nearby to warm her.
She also got a journal, the feminist's journal. Lindsey has become quite the activist, marching in the women's march, even when it was 20 below zero, following politics, getting involved in environmentalism and, of course, helping animals. This summer she's going to start volunteering at the Animal Humane Society and she can't wait.

Like when she turned 8, she opted for a dinner at Benihana's restaurant. We went with Kristi, who lives in Minnesota now, unlike when Lindsey turned 8. We were thoroughly entertained by the chef who was fantastic and really made Lindsey feel special throughout the meal.
Lindsey wanted to dress up, I couldn't convince Marissa to not wear a hoodie.

Aunt Kristi with Lindsey, wearing her butterfly dress with matching hair clip.
In my original blog post I wrote about how my dad joked about coming to Minnesota once a year to see my kids. Back when they were small he'd say stuff like, "Geez, just 12 more visits and I'll be going to a high school graduation!" Sad to say, he didn't live long enough to see either of our kids graduate from high school. But I know that he is looking down and would be really proud of the young women they are becoming.

Lindsey's first beer! Just kidding. It's a frothy iced tea.