Dancing in the Grass

Labor Day weekend … a time to celebrate the culmination of days of hot sun and rain showers, t-shirts and shorts, barefooting and cooling off in the lake. Yeah, we still have a few weeks to enjoy full leafy trees and colorful flower gardens, ice cream and cold drinks outside on the deck, but it will all soon come to an end. School days have begun. The sun goes down earlier in the evening. The skies stay dark until later in the morning and the sun sinks below the horizon earlier in the evening.

Summer is winding down. I’ll surely miss it, but I took the chance to throw it a party this weekend and tell it to hurry back soon!

Actually, I didn’t throw the party. My sister and brother-in-law did. I just contributed some food and helped bid the passing season a bon voyage.

My brother-in-law, Kevin is a talented bass player. At 23 years old, he picked up a bass and said to himself, “I think I’ll learn to play this thing.” And then he did. Not too many years later, he found himself in a band, called Unsung Heroes. They were good. (You might think I’m prejudiced in that statement, being related to Kevin and all, but they really were good!) My sister, Cori took notice of them while out with some coworkers after work one day and that’s how she met Kevin. Eventually, she married him and the rest is history!

I’m sorry to say that Unsung Heroes are no longer together. Marriage, growing families, and life took precedence over playing in bars every weekend. But Kevin continued to play his bass. His passion for music didn’t fade away. He and Cori passed on their appreciation and talents to their two boys. Over the past few years, as their kids grew older, Kevin got back in the band scene. He plays at church. He plays in a rock cover band. He plays in a Christian rock band and he plays in an Elvis tribute band. His music keeps him very busy, but it’s what he loves to do.

Kevin’s musical connections made for a great party this weekend. He invited all of his musician friends along with all of his non-musician friends and family for an afternoon of fun and food in the back yard. The various bands played their own stuff and also mixed it up and played with each other for a great afternoon and evening of tunes.

Here’s Tom, a talented lead singer, with his Unsung Heroes drummer, Gordy, Kevin on bass and Mike of Millie and the Misfits on guitar.

And here’s Art a.k.a. Elvis with some of his band mates and Tom.

As the sun (and a few more drinks) went down, the guests began to dance. Neighbors strolled over and joined the party in the back yard. A bunch of us ‘girls’ formed a circle on the ‘dance floor’ and shook our groove thangs! The lawn was taking a beating in ways that my husband would never allow to happen in his yard. But no one seemed to mind here. The condition of the grass was the furthest thing from anyone’s thoughts.

I requested My Sharonaa throwback to the Unsung Heroes days and the band belted it out loud and proud. As happy energy flowed through my veins, I could feel the dewy grass beneath my bare feet and the cool, damp brush of the nighttime air on my skin. I had that rare sense of throwing caution to the wind and just living in the moment. My niece, sister and I laughed at and with each other as we danced and jumped around until we were breathless, not caring what we looked like. We were having so.much.fun! 

We’d given summer a proper send-off and the party ended with promises to do it again soon.

 

Farm Fashion, Belly Fat and Food on a Stick

Yesterday Mark and I made our umpteenth annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.

Most years, we set aside an entire day and begin our journey to the fairgrounds first thing in the morning. Not so this year. The fair days just seemed to slip on by and here we were this week, heading into the final fair weekend without having yet paid a visit. So I took half a day off from work, extending my long Labor Day weekend by a few more hours.

We quickly learned that the first difference between being early-in-the-day fair visitors and later-in-the-day fair visitor is the parking challenge. All of the good parking lots are full by noon. And even though there are many free park-and-ride lots available, most of those were full too. After driving for miles around the fairgrounds, seeing nothing but Lot Full signs, we began to feel defeated. We then cruised the residential streets near the fairgrounds in desperation, now willing to pay some homeowner an exorbitant fee to park on his front lawn and walk to the fair, but we had no luck with that plan either. Finally, as we sat in Mark’s truck at a red light, waiting to make a right turn in busy fair traffic, with no idea where to go next, we noticed all of the park-and-ride buses zooming to and from the fair entrance. As Mark was finally able to make his turn, a bus moved ahead of us; one that had just emptied of a group of arriving passengers and filled with a group of departing passengers.

“I’m going to follow that bus,” Mark said. “It must be headed back to a place to pick up more passengers. When those people get off the bus, there should be room for more people to ride to the fair. We’ll see if we can park and ride from wherever that place is.”

I don’t often credit my husband with genius ideas, but I have to admit now, this was a genius idea. We followed the bus for several miles to a large church with a large parking lot. As departing fair-goers drove out of the parking lot, we were allowed in. We hopped on the bus and were delivered right to the main entrance of the fair.

Yes! We’d finally made it! The sky was overcast, but rain didn’t appear imminent and that made for really comfortable temperatures for an afternoon of walking around for hours with thousands of other people.

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The Minnesota State Fair was originally a celebration of the state’s agriculture industry. It was fun to see that we haven’t lost the agricultural draw. I could tell because of the farm fashion.

The state fair is also a celebration of food! There is SO. MUCH. FOOD! And as you might imagine, the abundance of food attracts people of all shapes and sizes.It seemed to me that there were way more rental scooters scooting around the fairgrounds than I’ve seen before. There are some whose health legitimately prevents them from walking at the fair. But it also seems that there were so many who rode scooters simply because their weight was too much to carry on their own two feet. We stood in the ice cream line in the dairy building behind a family of severely overweight people, both parents trying to squeeze through the crowds on scooters, their kids with chubby cheeks and protruding tummies waiting their turn for another state fair goody. And it made me feel bad about the kind of life that lies ahead for those kids. The state fair can be fun, but it can also be a sad testament to our tendency toward overindulgence in this country.

But the food is delicious! Of that there is no doubt. In the past, we’ve visited the fair with friends, or with our kids. And that makes it easy to try a variety of foods because when there are several of us, we can all try a bite or two of some food, and still have room to try a bite or two of some others. With it being just Mark and me this time, we found ourselves having to eat more of each thing than we’d like to, or throwing some of it away. Still, we managed to down a few favorites as well as taste some new (to us) foods.

There is so much to see at the state fair! In the Grandstand, you can buy kitchen gadgets and cookware, fitness equipment and clothing, purses and footwear, bird feeders and outdoor furniture. The vendors are skilled at convincing you that you simply cannot live one day more without this amazing stove top grill or smoothie mix. One vendor called me out as a runner, which I found amusing since I can only be considered a runner in the loosest sense of the word. She handed me a brochure and insisted I stand on one of her machines. It looked like a form of fitness equipment, but upon placing my feet on the platform and holding on to the handles, all I felt was vibration running through my body. She said that as a runner, my joints were being abused each time I pound the pavement with my feet. For a mere thirteen hundred bucks, (normally twenty-two hundred,) I could have this preventative health device right in my own home. Just fifteen minutes a day of standing on the vibrating platform would provide daily healing to my joints and improve my workouts by some percentage I can’t remember. I accepted her brochure and told her I’d give it some thought.

I think people watching is our favorite pastime at the fair, though. People are such interesting creatures. There were young and old alike visiting the fair, babies in strollers to the elderly. There were people dressed appropriately for trekking the miles of fairgrounds in comfortable clothing and footwear. And there were those who wanted to make some type of fashion statement. We saw crazy patterned leggings on legs, high boots and high heels. We saw drastically fashioned hair cuts and colors. And it struck me sadly that little girls stop being little girls at a much younger age than they used to.

And it also occurred to me, as we noticed babies in strollers and who was pushing those strollers, that parents seem to get younger every year. Or maybe I’m just feeling the effects of my age!

Even though we traveled among thousands upon thousands of people who had come from all over the state, we still managed to run into people we knew from close to home. Mark saw a coworker and we ran into friends from Kacey’s softball days. Of course, technology played a part in bringing us together with friends. My check-in on Faceb00k alerted my good friend, Rosie that we were in the area. After seeing it, Rosie texted me and said, “Where are you? Let’s meet!” We agreed to connect in 45 minutes. And in the meantime, Mark and I just took in the sites and enjoyed what the fair has to offer.

Soon it was time to go find our meeting spot and meet Rosie. The sky had grown darker and I felt a few drops of rain on my skin. And then a few more. And then it was coming down! Mark and I took shelter under the awning of one of the food vendors and tried to wait it out.

It let up for a few minutes and we took our chance to travel once again toward our destination, but the skies let loose again. I had thought to bring a light rain jacket – but had forgotten to take it with me when we parked the truck. We ended up trying to wait out the rain again a few blocks later, but this time it didn’t appear to be letting up. And we did finally connect with Rosie, hiding out under an awning at the agreed upon meeting place. We chatted for a few minutes, but the intensity of the rain was only growing and we’d had enough. Mark and I stopped even trying to protect ourselves from getting wet and made a break for the bus stop to catch a ride back to our parking spot.

We weren’t the only ones with that idea. By the time our bus arrived and we were able to get inside of it, we were drenched! And I mean seriously waterlogged! I felt as if I’d just stood in my shower fully clothed. I sat uncomfortably as Mark drove us home over a partially flooded highway. As soon as we were back and in the house, I stripped out of my wet clothes as soon as humanly possible. It felt great to get into something dry and comfy again!

So, it wasn’t our most successful state fair trip ever, but we can say once again that we did it!

Meanwhile, over here

Geeze, it’s been a while!

Mark and I spent last weekend at the lake cabin of our friends, Paul and Megan, along with a bunch of bowling friends. The weather didn’t quite deliver the sunny, warm, jump-in-the-lake kind of weekend I was hoping for. It was cloudy, cool and spectacularly humid. We spent most of Saturday sitting out on the deck wearing sweatshirts, enjoying cocktails and either participating in or watching the ongoing bean bag tournament. Later in the evening, half the group got cabin fever and headed off to a nearby casino. The other half of us sat out in the screened gazebo, listening to the breeze blowing off the lake through the trees and playing music from our phones through some impressive bluetooth speakers. I got nominated to be deejay when the previous deejay’s battery had drained on her phone. Turns out I have a good collection of music, universally appreciated among drunken bowlers. So if I ever need to make a little money on the side, there’s that.

Last weekend also saw the return of Kacey to college. Now the proud owner of a brand new to her 2004 Impala, she happily made the hour and a half drive back to school all by herself, which made me nervous. Her driving over the past few years has been pretty limited and rarely has she traveled any distance all alone. BUT, having recently given up my habit of obsessive worrying, I had to keep reminding myself not to, and to have faith that she would be safe. And she was. Arrived all in one piece and everything. Which I knew the moment she arrived since I made her promise to call me the moment she arrived. Before even getting out of the car. She’s a good kid. She complied with my motherly demands, even if they were a bit demanding.

Coming home after the weekend of fun was a little more disappointing than a normal coming home after a weekend of fun. My baby girl wasn’t here to come home to and I missed her already. She just brings light and life into the house. For the first few mornings this week, Lucy poked her head into Kacey’s now uninhabited bedroom. She’d grown used to the morning routine of jumping up on the bed and then once her girl was coerced out of bed, getting a good cuddling on the living room floor. The quiet takes some getting used to, but I have to say I don’t miss the long strands of her hair that seemed to eternally inhabit the bathroom floor!

So for excitement this week, I got five stitches removed from my head. I wish I had a super-impressive story to go along with that statement, but I don’t. Cyst removal. And can I just say that when sliced open, the head bleeds a lot!

OH! And I won tickets to the Renaissance Festival at work this week! Four of them! A coworker offered them up through an email contest he devised. He invited us to reply with a number guess between 1 and 500. The guesser of the number closest to the one that had been predetermined would win. The number 333 appeared in my head and without skipping a beat, I sent my reply. AND I WON! I haven’t been to the Renaissance Festival in about twenty years, but I remember it being a really unique and fun experience. I can’t wait to go again!

Tomorrow I’m working half a day and then joining Mark in an annual celebration of the wind-down of summer. If anyone’s looking for us, you can find us at the Minnesota State Fair where we’ll be eating ridiculous quantities of foods on a stick and doing vast amounts of people-watching. I’ll try to report back with pictures, if not of the people, for sure of the food!

I Love Lucy Pie

I maxed out the photo storage on my iPhone, so last weekend I backed up pictures to my computer so I could delete them from my phone and make room for new ones. In the process of cleaning things up, I noticed I might be a little in love with my dog. I mean, who can blame me though, really? We took Lucy on a ride tonight and she experienced the Dairy Queen drive through. She was so cute! She tried to ask the girl at the window if they sold Frosty Paws there, but apparently they don’t speak dog at Dairy Queen. I was proud of Lucy for trying, none the less.

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Based on this collection of pictures, you might be tempted to believe that my dog is lazy and does nothing but sit on the furniture, sit on her people or sleep. Wrong. The iPhone camera simply can’t capture her energy without making her look like a fuzzy blur!

Summer Days

Quiet morning around here.

Kacey’s gone with Connor to his grandpa’s cabin up north, celebrating one last summer weekend on the lake.

Jake is still sleeping, having gone to the races at Cedar Lake with his buddies last night. He came home long after I’d fallen asleep.

I checked in with Brad yesterday to see what his weekend plans were. He told me hunting season opens this weekend. Just last weekend he was here with us. Now I have hunting season to contend with if I want to see my oldest son over the next few months. But hunting season is Brad’s happy place. I wouldn’t deny him this time each year.

The past week felt like a long one. Things at work are hectic. Good, but sometimes overwhelmingly busy. One of my work friends was out all week on vacation and I realized how much she and I tend to bounce our stresses off of one another. I really felt the impact of her absence this week. On more than one occasion, I found myself looking ahead to the end of the day, wishing the hours would pass by more quickly. Not only the hours, I wished entire days would sail by so the weekend could be here sooner. And by five o’clock on Friday, I saw how easy it is to just wish time away. Soon a whole week is gone. A whole summer. Months and years.

In just seven days, my baby heads back for another year of college and the house will be too quiet again. Soon the sun won’t burn so hot.  Leaves will begin to change and fall from their branches. The taste of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers will become just a memory. The grass won’t need to be mowed so frequently, and then the plush greens will change to brittle browns. My jean jacket will come out of the front closet again.

I love fall and I look forward to fresh apples, the reds, golds and burnt orange hues in the trees. I can almost smell cookies and sweet breads baking in the kitchen again. We’ll leave the windows cracked at night and sleep with a cool breeze drifting in through the screens. These are some of my favorite things. But they’ll get here soon enough. I don’t want to miss what’s right in front of me because my eyes are already looking ahead to what’s next.

So when Lucy’s cold, wet nose swiped across my face early this morning telling me she was ready to go out for our morning trek, I didn’t roll over in favor of another hour of sleep. I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and laced up my new running shoes. We went out into the still quiet morning and greeted the hazy summer sky. We filled our lungs with the sticky summer air. We stretched our muscles as I took in the summer scenery, listened to the songs of birds, welcomed the sweat running down my face and back, and counted my blessings . Lucy tried to chase a black squirrel while I did my best to rein her in and keep my shoulder in its socket.

Upon our return home, it felt so good to come back into the air-conditioned house and gulp down a big glass of icy cold water. As I did, I noticed again the crazy sun flowers in the back garden.

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How quickly they’ve grown, starting out only from seeds tossed into an empty space in the garden as an afterthought. The tallest ones seem to be competing with the nearby pine trees to see which can reach higher into the sky. But like all of the plants in our garden, they’ll reach their peak and eventually begin to fade away. They reminded me to embrace the here and now. In spite of the fact that the laziest of days are behind us, there is still plenty of summer left to enjoy before it fades away into fall and then winter. I’m gonna squeeze every last drop out of it.

Catching a Glimpse

Jake againHe’s the one who keeps to himself, my boy, Jake. He’s gone more than he’s around, working long hours, or hanging with his friends when he’s not working. They go paintballing, swimming at Bobby’s pool, to the races, or to see Alex’s dad’s band play. I see him for little snippets of time in the morning just after he wakes up and before he heads off to work twenty minutes later. Or maybe when he’s done at work for the day, I’ll catch him just after he showers and just before he disappears again to do whatever 23 year-old guys do for fun.

He was home tonight and just lounging around. My mom had called on me to do some grocery shopping for her. I don’t like to do my own grocery shopping, much less make a second trip in the same week for someone else. I needed support. And there was Jake, just playing Call of Duty in his room with the door open. I poked my head in.

“Hey, come grocery shopping with me,” I suggested.

“What?”

“Nanna needs me to do her shopping. Come help me so I can get it done quick and get back home. Will ya?”

“I have plans,” he said in a tone that hoped I’d let him off the hook.

“What plans? When?” I asked.

“With Bobby. Whenever he texts me.”

“Then let’s go now. We’ll get done quick and you can go.”

“Okay,” he agreed.

He followed me down the hallway and to the foyer.

Kacey had just returned home from work and was getting ready to go to dinner with friends. “You’re going with mom to the grocery store?” she asked Jake, incredulous.

“Yeah,” he said.

“You’re a good person,” she told him. I knew she was impressed that he’d agreed. was impressed that he’d agreed. I mean, he should help out with some of the family stuff. And I know I could have just demanded that he come with me. But I didn’t want him to go just because I was forcing him. I was glad he’d agreed without too much resistance.

It’s rare that I get one on one time with Jake when we can have an actual conversation. We talked as we drove to the store, about my new car, about his new truck, about his job. In the store, he was playful and goofy, stepping one foot up on the cart and pushing off with the other, riding down the uncrowded, weekday store aisles. It’s not uncommon to see kids riding shopping carts through the grocery store. They’re usually not over six feet tall.

It’s so rare that Jake participates in anything domestic. It’s his age. What guy his age wants to hang around his parents and younger sister and do unfun chores? I’ll tell ya. None.

I was enjoying this time with him, getting a glimpse of the old Jake I knew so well when he was younger and less free to roam, less able to come and go as he pleased, and required to interact with me more often, simply because he was young and I was the mom. We passed through a section of back-to-school supplies. There were some items clearly targeted to the preschool crowd.

“Jake, I’ll buy you this pink fuzzy bunny backpack,” I offered, running my hand over its white belly as we passed by the display.

“No, I definitely want the yellow duck,” he said without missing a beat and no hint of a smile whatsoever.

That kid! I knew that deep down inside he appreciates my sense of humor, even if his typical response is a roll of the eyes and a faint smirk. And I didn’t know he had it in him! He came right back at me with the perfect response! He didn’t know it, but that was the highlight of my day.

Of course, he took off to hang with his pals just as soon as humanly possible after we’d dropped off the groceries at my parents’ house. I’m sure he didn’t give the shopping trip a second thought. As for me? I’ll be smiling about it for the rest of the evening.

Adjusting Our Sails

It was a busy, whole-family kind of weekend. All of our kids were under the same roof again, an occurrence that grows increasingly rare with each passing month as they move further out of childhood and become more settled in their adult lives.

Brad came home on Friday night and it was so good to see him. We learned a while back that plans for his wedding have been put on hold. It was a shock to everyone, and I needed to see for myself that he was still doing okay. We’ve all been pretty sad. I’ve had a particularly hard time knowing my son is dealing with a broken heart and there’s nothing I can do to fix it. And on the flip side of the coin, I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that his fiance, someone I had already considered one of “ours,” may not ever really be one of ours. I miss her.

It’s been a difficult learning experience. I keep reminding myself that no one is immune to the hurts and disappointments of life. My kids, like any of us, will learn and grow from their challenges. Although, as their mom, I’ll never stop wanting to shield them from the truly painful stuff. I keep wishing I could fast-forward my son through the most hurtful times and into easier days. Unfortunately, I can’t. As for me, I just have to keep reminding myself that they are young. He is strong. And everyone has to figure out what they want in life. If this isn’t right, better that they figure it out now than later.

It felt good to wrap my arms around my boy, all six foot whatever of him, and tell him in person that I love him. This weekend was time well spent. Brad is okay and we made the most of our time together. We ate – a lot! Kids at home means I want to cook – a lot! Big breakfasts full of stuff requiring maple syrup and bacon on the side, goodies for snacking, and dinners with more food than we can possibly eat in one sitting.

A wish for ice cream on Saturday afternoon turned into a family trip to the locally famous Nelson’s, where most of us had never been before. At Nelson’s, flavor choices are plentiful and portion sizes are enormous! The line of customers snaked out the door and we soon learned why. It was worth the wait!

Inside Nelsons

Kacey being the only non-first-timer, advised us to order nothing larger than the child size ice cream. Here’s Brad with his child size cone.

Brad Ice Cream

I saw a man with what must have been a regular size cone. There were at least six scoops of ice cream stacked above to top edge of the cone. I don’t think I need to explain why Kacey and I split a child size cup.

While at Nelson’s I realized we were experiencing a rare photo opportunity. “Quick, get all together,” I encouraged the kids. “I want a picture.”

Cooperation was minimal as Kacey desperately tried – and failed – to get Jake to put down his malt and smile. And while she warned me not to put any of the failed photo attempts on the internet, she did admit that this one was kind of funny. I’ll take that as permission to post just this one.

Dang Kids

The weekend included “guy time” at the Game Fair, time with old friends, big dinners, and playing with the dogs. Dacotah and Lucy soaked up every bit of attention they could elicit from their dog-loving people. We watched She’s Out of My League … again. It’s become tradition to watch this movie every time that Brad is home and compete to see who can remember and recite the most lines. We all hung out in the driveway Sunday afternoon, shooting hoops, soaking up the sun and watching Brad wash his truck while neighbors wandered in and out of the driveway to say hello.

The weekend was fun, if not a little bittersweet. Our sense of “normal” has changed a little bit. But if I’ve learned anything over the past few weeks, it’s that we’ll all be okay, as long as we have each other.