Weekend with Brad

Every year, from late September through early November, Mark makes some time to go on a few bird hunting weekends. It’s been this way for as long as I’ve known him. When my boys were little guys, they couldn’t wait for the day they could go hunting with Dad. As they grew up, those annual hunting weekends with Dad became tradition.

Now my boys are adults and they still love to hunt. Brad is an avid outdoorsman through and through. This comes as no surprise. I cut out his horoscope from the newspaper on the day he was born. It reported that he would be a lover of the outdoors. He fishes all winter and summer long, but when the middle months start to fade away, it’s hunting that takes over all of his spare time. Brad’s been hunting for weeks already. There was “early goose” season and some dove hunting. Now duck opener is fast approaching.

Mark was checking in with Brad by phone a week or so ago and asked when we were going to see him again. Brad said he thought he could take a break from his huntsman activities to make a little trip home for a couple of days. He and Dacotah came home this past weekend. Of course, Saturday and Sunday went by all too fast.

We try to do too much when he’s home. See the grandparents. Spend time with his friends who still live in the area. Visit with the neighbors. Eat a meal together. Watch a movie. Make time to play race and chase and fetch in the back yard with Dacotah and Lucy. This time, Brad also squeezed in a jaunt to a nearby gun club with a couple of buddies to shoot trap. Or skeet. I forget which. Doesn’t matter. We also included dinner out together before he came along to watch us bowl in our Saturday league.

Before he came home for the weekend, I asked Brad if he wanted to go to the Renaissance Festival on Sunday. I’ve been there a time or two in my life, and really enjoyed it, and a few weeks back, I won tickets at work for this year’s event. Mark and I haven’t been there, probably since before Brad was born, so that’s over 25 years. Our kids have never gone. The Renaissance Festival is kind of a big deal around here so I wonder if I deprived my kids of an important experience by never taking them. I always meant to. Maybe we were just always broke after an annual trip to the state fair, or busy with soccer, football, activities and back to school. Whatever the reason, we never took them.

I always tease Brad that he’s a redneck. If it involves guns, professional sports or fishing equipment, he’s in. So I figured the Renaissance Festival was a little out of his comfort zone. But he willingly agreed to go, and as we drove there on a beautiful Sunday morning, I was describing what I remembered of it. The festival employees dress in costume and speak the language. Many festival visitors will also dress up. As you come through the gates and look around at the shops and attractions, you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. He was pretty curious by the time we arrived.

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We had a great time. My take on the festival was this. Everyone is a little bit unique, some of us more than others. And if you like to really revel in your uniqueness, the Renaissance Festival is your place. Many of the costumes were elaborate and impressive. Tall, black leather boots, vests, sashes, swords and dresses with revealing bust lines were the norm. A few costumes were just strange, having nothing to do with the Renaissance. (Pretty sure Mexican capes and sombreros, and Dorothy of Kansas/Oz were not typical of the era.) Whatever the case, costumes or not, it was festive and joyful.

The weather was perfect – sunny and just cool enough to be really comfortable. We enjoyed a few different foods, the best by far being the cream puffs. We watched a Tortuga Twins show. Their sign said the performance was rated PG and it was. Lots of thinly veiled references to boobs and body parts and plenty of sexual innuendo. We laughed so hard! It felt really good to laugh like that, to see my boy laugh like that. He’s had a rough few months and I think he might just be starting to turn the corner toward some kind of normal again. Driving home from the festival, I marveled at how quickly the years have passed. Not so long ago, he was just a little boy learning what kind of person he was to become. And now, he’s this caring, kind, amazing man.

I  turned around from my spot in the front passenger seat to smile at him and his head was tipped back into the corner between the back rest and the car door, He had rolled up the fleece jacket I’d tossed into the back seat and was using it for a pillow. By the serene look on his face, I could tell he was asleep and there for just a moment was my little boy again. Just a cat nap later, he was awake again and Brad the man was back.

Early Monday morning was here all too soon and Brad and Dacotah were heading back to North Dakota, Brad needing to get back in time to go to work. If we’re lucky, he’ll be able to come home for Thanksgiving.

I don’t care how grown up they are. It always feels more like home when my kids are home. And it’s always bittersweet when they leave again.

Engaged!

The bowling alley was loud on Monday night. Three different leagues play on Mondays and they fill up the place. We girls were a ways into our first game and I had my cell phone out and was checking it periodically. When I’d left the house, Jake wasn’t yet home from work, which was strange. He’s usually home before me, but I knew he was on a big job so I wasn’t too worried. But I’d sent him a text message anyway, asking him to let me know when he finally got home.

After bowling one of my turns, I checked my phone again and noticed I’d missed a call from Brad. I knew I didn’t stand much chance of holding a conversation with him while I was in the bowling alley, so I sent him a text message asking, “What’s up?”

His return message said, “Call me, please.”

I glanced up at the board and saw that there were a number of players ahead of me. I could probably sneak away for a minute or so. I grabbed my phone and dialed while walking out of the bowling alley into the relatively quiet bar. Brad answered quickly, but my reception was sketchy.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“… just wanted to let you know…”

“Hold on, Honey,” I said. “You’re breaking up and I’m heading outside to get better service.” As I neared the exit, I said, “Okay, try again.”

“… just wanted to let you know … (unintelligible)… soon to be … (unintelligible) … in law.”

Now I had reached a place where my phone reception was clear. And I had an idea of what Brad was trying to tell me, but I wanted to be sure. And I was having trouble staying calm. “Wait! What, Honey? What did you just say? Tell me again!”

“I just wanted to let you know,” he said, “that Heather is officially your soon-to-be daughter-in-law!”

I think I might have squealed at this point. And my response was something to the effect of, “OhMyGod!YouDidIt?YouReallyDidIt?YouFinallyAskedHer?I’mSOexcited!I’mSOhappy!Congratulations!”

At this point, Brad confirmed that yes, he had finally asked Heather to marry him and she had said yes! After a brief, extremely happy exchange, he told me to go back and bowl.

“But I want to hear all about it,” I said. “Will you be home tomorrow night? How about if I call you then and you can give me all the details?”

“Okay,” he said, “But there’s really nothing else to tell.”

“I’ll call tomorrow,” I promised. I was beaming so hard I thought my face might burst. I rushed back to my team and announced, “I’m going to be a mother-in-law!” My girlfriends all squealed in delight, just like I had. A chorus of congratulations and hugs were shared. Everyone knows how much my family and I have been hoping that Brad and Heather would make this commitment to tie the knot.

I bowled really well that night. Maybe being really ecstatic is the key to good bowling?

Tuesday after work, I called Heather. (I knew Brad really wouldn’t have much more to tell me.) She told me how Brad made her think that he was surprising her with her birthday present (which he did) but then dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. When Heather told me, “I always told myself I wouldn’t cry if this day ever came, but when he asked me, I couldn’t help it! I cried!”

I loved hearing that. I had tears of joy in my eyes as Heather told me how she felt. We have considered Heather to be a part of the family for a long time now. I loved her right from the start, when during one of her first visits home with Brad, she noticed Mark being crabby. She looked right at him and asked, “Are you wearing your crabby pants? You go back to your room right now and change out of them!” Dang if Mark didn’t crack a smile and shed his crabby attitude. The rest of us were in awe of Heather at that moment.

Over the last few years, as Brad and Heather have dated, it’s become obvious that she is the girl for him. They fit with each other. They respect each other. They have fun together and always look like they are right where they belong when they are together. It’s an amazing feeling to know that a person we’ve grown to know and love wants to spend the rest of her days with our boy, wants to share it all with him. I couldn’t ask for anyone more perfect for my son and I couldn’t be happier that Heather will officially become a member of our family in 2015! (Yes, it’s a long wait, but she wants to finish school – again- first.) This will be worth the wait!

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And so the Wedding Years Begin

My kids have great friends. I have often thought this and am always grateful that they are surrounded by such good people. A few of those friends have been there all along, sticking it out through the years and along the road of life as they grew up together with my kids.

Justin is one of those friends who has come and gone through our house for many years. He’s been Brad’s friend since they first played baseball together, probably around the time they were in middle school. When he and Brad attended the same high school, their bond grew stronger. Their friendship intensified over a mutual love of the outdoors and countless fishing and hunting trips. They grew even closer when Brad stood by Justin’s side as he and his family endured the loss of Justin’s older sister, Katie to bone cancer when she was barely beyond her high school years. There was that horrible car accident they somehow survived with just a few scratches and bruises. And there were the college years when they went in different directions, but still held tight to their friendship.

Justin is one of those friends we just can’t help but love. He has been a true and loyal friend to our oldest son. And we got to see him this past weekend! I sat in a bright, pretty church on a sunny Saturday afternoon, looking upon a young man standing before family and friends. He was gazing in absolute adoration at the young woman, Jenny, to whom he was about to be wed. He was glowing with such happiness that it brought tears to my eyes.

It was the most beautiful wedding, not only because Justin and Jenny were so clearly meant for each other. They not only celebrated their new life together, but honored the memory of Justin’s sister in their ceremony by making her an honorary bridesmaid. As the congregation stood waiting for the wedding party to process, a cousin first came forward with Katie’s bouquet and placed it in a vase on the altar. Justin stood in his place at the front of the church, remembering Katie and unable to fight back the tears. All of us who knew Katie’s story were in tears at that moment, watching Justin and remembering with him. But a few minutes later, after bridesmaids and groomsmen (my son included,) were in their places, Justin’s tears turned to tears of joy as Jenny’s dad brought her to Justin’s side. Later on at the reception, there were happy memories and toasts, dancing, and an air of pure celebration.

There aren’t many weddings in my memory where such love and joy seemed so tangible. It’s hard to believe that Justin, the “boy” we’ve come to know and love, is old enough to be married. But he is. He’s found his soul mate and I couldn’t be happier for him. Brad had such a good time being a member of the wedding party and he and Heather danced the night away at the reception.

It was such a memorable occasion, one that left some of us hoping for a very similar, very special kind of day in our family’s near future!

While the boys are gone fishin’

I bowled last night, really badly. I would mentally go over all of the mechanics of throwing my ball, position my feet in my spot, stay low, roll the ball forward while following through, hit my mark… Everything should have been perfect, right? Or at least respectable, right?

But it was far from perfect. I can’t tell you how many times I watched my ball head for the pocket, just where I wanted it, and then it would suddenly hook in the opposite direction. Instead of hitting the head pin and taking down the rest of the pins, I was hitting the ten pin. Or worse, landing the ball in the gutter. At one point, I stood there after throwing my ball, just looking down the lane and thinking, “How in the heck did I even make the ball do that?”

Almost to the end of our first game, I threw up my hands in defeat, looked at my teammate, Preacher Dave as if it was his fault and said, “I give up. I hate this game!” Dave said, “No you don’t. And lemme see your ball.”

He inspected it quickly while I pouted and in an exasperated voice, informed me, “Your fingertips are coming loose.” (Fingertips are rubber inserts that fit inside the finger holes.) I was aware of their looseness, but had simply been pushing them back down in the holes for several weeks with no ill effects. But last night, they began inching up over the edge of the finger holes, enough that my ball went sailing in the other direction when it rolled over them. I got the guy in the pro shop to glue them back in after game one. He brought it back to me in time for game two, told me I should be good for the night, but to come in early next week to get new ones put in. I then threw two strikes right off the bat! Too bad I didn’t realize this before I threw my first game in the trash! BUT… as always, I had fun. And that’s all that matters. (Translation: We lost.)

Meanwhile, Mark and the boys have gone off on a man vacation. They’re spending a few days fishing on Lake of the Woods, way up north where I suspect it’s still cold. I suspect that because Brad sent pictures and in them, it looks cold!  But it seems apparent that there is some male bonding going on as evidenced by the good humor being displayed by the subjects in the photos.

Brad says: "Dad's fish... Excuse me... Dad's sorry excuse for a fish."

Brad says: “Dad’s fish… Excuse me… Dad’s sorry excuse for a fish.”

Brad says: "Jake's fish. Look, I got him to smile and show his teeth!"

Brad says: “Jake’s fish. Look, I got him to smile and show his teeth!”

Jake is smiling! With his teeth and all! I know he’s having fun if he’s smiling with his teeth.

Kacey and I didn’t get to go on a vacation this week. We’re consoling ourselves by eating pancakes for dinner, watching girl shows on Netflix and we’ll probably throw in a little retail therapy for good measure. Maybe I should buy a new bowling ball.

Really and Truly All Grown Up

The days seem to be running together lately and nothing goes as expected. We were going to take a trip up north to the in-laws’ cabin last weekend. Brad and Heather were going to drive over from North Dakota and meet us there. But a few days before the weekend, Mark’s mom suffered some chest pains. She turned out to be okay. Spent a few days in the hospital and in the end, had her gallbladder removed. I don’t  know what was ever decided about the chest pains other than they were not indicative of a heart attack. We stayed home for the weekend to do our part helping take care of the ailing parents.

Brad and Heather came here instead. Brad thought we could all go looking for a new truck for him. (Just looking, he said.) He’s been thinking “new truck” for a while now, especially since the vehicle he’s been driving is now 14 years old. He’s a college graduate with a “real” job, living on his own like a “real” adult. I guess that means he can decide to buy a new truck if he wants, even though the mom in me still wants to mother him and insist that he scale back his ambitions a bit. Play it a little safer. Maybe look for something a few years old, something more economical than a truck. But he’s not a kid anymore. He is a real adult and he’d gone over his budget and figured things out. He could manage buying new if the right deal came along.

Saturday morning, he said, “Everyone get dressed! Let’s go look at trucks.”

I thought I might tag along and look at cars to replace the nine year-old one that I’m driving and that Kacey would like to inherit some time before she forgets how to drive. But it was raining. Hard. We’re talking black skies and rain coming down in sheets. I couldn’t see me enjoying getting all soggy and soaked wandering the car lots. I said I would stay home and keep the dogs company.

“This is gonna pass over anytime now,” Brad said. But it really didn’t look like it was going to clear up. I said, no, I was staying. Mark took off with Brad and Heather to go just looking.

And it did rain for hours. And they were gone for hours. By the time they came home, the sun was beaming. So was Brad.

He found one!

He found one!

“Just looking” had turned into a deal he couldn’t pass up. Word has it his hands were shaking when he signed the paperwork, but when the last signature was made, he was the proud owner of a new truck payment and he couldn’t have been happier. Proof of his real-adulthood.

Nervous as I was about my son taking on his first major financial responsibility, I was proud and I told him so. When I was his age, I was pregnant with my second child. My car was a used car and I wasn’t sure when I’d ever be in a position for a brand new one. (Turns out that my first brand new car came along only nine years ago.) He’s enjoying his life as he goes along, not rushing headlong into it like I did. He got some important stuff taken care of, like getting an education, which allowed him to find a decent job as soon as he graduated. He’s enjoying his relative freedom before the responsibilities of a family take precedence. So good for him! He should enjoy the feeling of being a proud new truck owner.

Seems like just yesterday he was asking me to read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel to him, AGAIN and the idea of him driving a motor vehicle was in the vast in distant future. It’s true what they say. Time really does fly. Although, how I can still only be twenty-nine is beyond me. Just lucky I guess!

Life is Good – 2/2/2013

Life is GoodIt’s that time of year that I knew would inevitably come, when winter feels as if it’s been here long enough already and there’s no end in sight. This kind of winter is what I know, gray days and bone chilling cold at times. It’s not the season itself that really bothers me so much. It’s what I let it do to me. When I can’t seem to stay warm, I slow down. I stay inside, doing still and quiet things, like reading books or watching movies. My motivation  to get these muscles moving fades away. I can’t seem to get enough sleep.

These aren’t bad things, when I allow them in moderation. And lucky for me, I always seem to recognize when enough is enough. And this has been that week.

I’ve been guiltily joking about falling off the exercise bandwagon lately. Sure, there were contributing factors in the past couple of months – varying illnesses and a back strain that left a weeks-long ache in my hamstring muscle. But those things have long subsided. I said I couldn’t run outside. It was either too cold, too icy or too snowy. And as for the treadmill in the nice warm gym, it was getting boring. And the gym was packed with new bodies anyway. I felt crowded by all of those enthusiastic exercisers hell-bent on honoring their new year’s resolutions. And each day that’s gone by without any attempt by me to keep my body strong has gradually added to my pile of guilt. The guilt became too much this week, but I knew I needed something new, something to make me enthusiastic again.

I’m exploring the world of yoga! Thank you, Cable T.V. for your on-demand fitness programs that are tailored for everyone from beginner to advanced. I am once again starting the day in a healthy way. And don’t worry. I’m not giving up running – just taking a little break.

The good mojo seems to have worked its way into my work life this week too. I’ve found myself steadily busy and productive, just the way I like it. There’s been no word from the CEO about the headline contest, but he did send me another assignment yesterday. Seems he wanted a press release for a new product that’s up and coming. He gathered all of his thoughts and ideas on the subject and spewed them into an email which he then sent to me. He asked me to give it a good work over and “tighten it up” and I found myself with company approved time to just sit and write.

Brad Diploma 2Things are all good with the family. Our winter laziness has at least inspired Mark and me to do a good amount of home cooking, which feeds right into my ongoing goal to eat better.

Brad received his college diploma this week and sent me a text message to let me know. “Turns out I graduated after all,” he said. The day of graduation, he was joking that he might be cutting it close and wouldn’t know for sure until days or weeks after the graduation ceremony. I never doubted it though, and I told him so.

Kacey texted me several times this week from school. Once was to let me know that two of her friends had mentioned they were craving some soup that I’ve made on several occasions. It’s nice to know that my cooking skills are adequate enough to generate requests for a repeat performance.

Kacey also texted me to let me know she and her friends have signed up to do the Polar Bear Plunge – a fundraiser to support Special Olympics Minnesota athletes. Kacey and her team will be gathering pledges and in order to collect on them, they’ll be taking a plunge into Lake Calhoun on March 2nd – which means they’ll be taking a plunge into a hole cut into the ice and dipping into the frigid water! I think they are brave, and I am proud!

And I actually saw Jake this week and spent time with him for about an hour, while he was wide awake and in good spirits. He’s been working a lot, so time with him is often hard to come by.

And this morning, after a long, dreary, cold week… it is still cold, one degree outside as I write this. It was snowing as I left work yesterday afternoon, big, fluffy, lazy drifting flakes. The snow continued into the evening and left the landscape clean and fresh. It’s the weekend and the sun is shining.

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Temperatures are predicted to rise up into the teens today. It’s better than single digits. I’ll take it. Life is good!

Planting the Seeds for a Better World

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.  – Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, December 14th was a big day for my oldest son. That morning, the rest of the family and I were on the road to Fargo, North Dakota to see Brad. Later that day, we would all be sitting in an auditorium on the campus of North Dakota State University to watch Brad receive his college diploma. My head and heart were filled with happiness and pride in our family’s first college graduate.

The drive from our home to Fargo is about four hours long. While Mark drove and the kids slept or listened to music on their iPods in the back seat, I spent my time reading a book and catching up on a stack of unread People magazines. At one point, tired of reading, I checked in on Facebook on my cell phone and that’s when I first saw news of the shootings that had occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

I could feel my heart sinking at yet another senseless act of such horrific violence in this country. My heart broke as we heard of parents waiting and hoping desperately for the return of a child. While my family’s life continued on safe and sound, there were others whose worlds were spinning out of control. Not for the first time in my life, I worried about what a dark and dangerous world my own children were facing.

For a brief while, I thought about how unfair it was for us to be celebrating. Mark and I had the privilege of seeing our son reach a major milestone in his life while there were other parents whose children’s lives were ended before they’d barely begun. We were allowed another day to hope and dream and imagine all of the world’s possibilities for our kids. The families of the shooting victims were left to wonder how to even face another day.

There was nothing we could do for the Newtown families that day but pray for them. Our unspoken realization was that the world does go on in spite of the pain and tragedy that strikes seemingly at random. There’s not a one of us in this world who doesn’t face each day without at least a small thought in the back of our minds that if we make it through another day unscathed, we’re one of the lucky ones. And hopefully we’ll spend more of our time seeking out the goodness and light in the world as opposed to just running in fear of the dark. That’s the deal in this life. We’re all going to be scarred in some way. But we have to learn from those scars and make this a better place. Sometimes I wonder if we’re winning that battle, but I hope that by loving my kids and by nurturing their sense of self-esteem, they will go out and make a difference. Maybe their generation can figure out how to make this a safer, brighter, more loving world than we have today.

And so we celebrated my son’s graduation. And I knew we were doing the right thing when we arrived at his apartment and after reminding him again how proud I was, he wrapped me up in a bear hug and whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

We gathered together with our son, his girlfriend, Heather and her parents. We took our seats in the stands above the graduating class and watched with pride as this long-awaited moment arrived. The ceremony was impressive and as the university president welcomed us all, he asked for a moment of silence and reflection for the Newtown victims and their families. The world moved on, not in ignorance of the tragedy in Connecticut that day, but with a new resolve to prevent it from happening again.

We watched in anticipation for Brad to proceed with his class. We pointed him out to one another and gazed with pride as he accepted his diploma and a degree in Business Administration. Weeks ago, he had told me he didn’t care to participate in the graduation ceremony. He was happy to receive his diploma quietly and without fanfare. Along with Heather, we encouraged him to “walk” and as he came away from the stage with his diploma in hand, I focused my camera’s zoom lens on his face. I could see his big smile and I knew that he was not sorry.

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We love you, Brad! Go out and make it a wonderful life!