Gratefulness

This week…

An actual phone call from Brad. Hi Mama. Just calling to talk. Mom is for getting my attention. Mama is his term of endearment and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. He renewed his lease on the apartment in Fargo for another year. Maybe this time next year he’ll look at moving closer to home again, he says. As much as I want him closer to home now, he wants to give his job at least another year and establish a good work history before moving on. Smart boy! He’ll be home for Thanksgiving. The old Brad is resurfacing after the heartache of the past months. I’m happy. And relieved.

2014-10-17Another phone call from a kid, this one from Kacey. She was pretty sick last week, with a fever, chills, spots in her throat and a rash on her body. And as someone who has rarely ever been seriously ill, she had to make her first all-by-herself decision to see a doctor. Her symptoms mirrored those of strep throat. It wasn’t strep throat. She was tested for mono and it wasn’t that either, thankfully. But she was treated with antibiotics and feels much better now. It was good to hear the energy back in her voice and know that she was able to get back to her old self, focus on studying again, and have a little fun with friends again.

Jake and his new girlfriend, Alysha. Introvert and private person that he is, it took him awhile to bring her around and make introductions. She’s sweet and he’s clearly enamored with her. She’s bringing out good things in him and I love the results of the ego boost he’s feeling. He hangs out at home a little more often, and talks to me more, giving a long-missing bit of insight into his world.  He’s maturing, realizing how good it feels to think of someone besides himself for a change. And he’s visibly happy. I love it!

Fall. The color of the sky. The smell of dried leaves. The red, orange and gold hues in the tree-tops. Geese in a V-formation flying over the house, honking, making Lucy stop sniffing one of the many invisible-to-me trails in the backyard to gaze up in curiosity. Temperatures just cool enough that Lucy is willing to snuggle again. Doggie snuggles are the best!

New guy at work – blowing me away with his skills and adaptability. New girl at work – provides frequent opportunities to remember my patience and shows me where my training skills need more work. And gratefulness that all three of our new teammates are so personable and willing to learn.

The weekend. So glad it’s here. While Mark is off on a hunting jaunt, I’m going with my sister to do some hunting of my own – for bargains at the new outlet mall.

Hope your weekend is happy!

Golden Landscape

I switched my hours at work. This was partly due to our newly expanded department. Change brings more change. When it was just the three of us, we had a little more flexibility. Start early, leave early. Start a little later, leave a little later. But ultimately, there was nothing to say any one person was required to start and end her day at any specific time. And we were usually all out the door no later than 4:30.

Enter three new team members and the boss now thinks it makes sense to have someone covering all the bases until five. We all get it, but no one was chomping at the bit to take that 8:30 to 5:00 shift. At a team meeting, the six of us tossed around ideas. Take turns. Rotate weeks. Rotate days. Rotate months. While one person argued for rotating weeks, another was pushing for rotating days. And as this was going on, I was thinking to myself that maybe I wouldn’t mind having a little more cushion in the morning. Maybe I’d just volunteer to be that five o’clock person. While the discussion went on, largely unresolved, I finally spoke up and said that I would possibly volunteer to just cover the later end of the day.

My two long-time team mates were a little taken aback. Clearly, neither of them wanted to make any serious commitments to working until five. They asked if I was sure, and I said I just wanted to run it by Mark to make sure he had no issues with me making the change, but I would probably let them know the next day that I had it covered.

As we walked back to our desks after that meeting, they continued to ask if I was sure. They suggested I try it for a little while, but then speak up if it wasn’t working out and we could go back to the idea of rotating responsibility. And I agreed that I would, but assured them that I might actually like having that extra half hour in the morning. I like to go to the gym a few mornings a week and always feel like I’m rushing home afterwards in order to clean up and get out the door to work on time. With the later start time, I can relax a little. And truth be told, I’ve been at work until five for the last several weeks anyway. Why not shave that extra time off of the front end of the day? Our new team mates all have children of varying ages, and are tied to daycare, school and activity schedules. Those days are behind me. And I didn’t want to add stress to their lives by making them take a turn with the late shift if it was just as easy for me to adjust my hours altogether.

So I did. And here’s the thing. It takes me for-ev-er to get home after work! I don’t know why the five o’clock rush hour is so much worse than the 4:30 rush hour, but criminy! Granted, much of this is due to some major road construction near my office (I think) and when it’s complete, it should be much easier to get through the local streets and over to the freeway, (I hope.) Over the few days I’ve been making the later commute home, I’ve found that there’s no getting around the congestion. And even once I get through the road construction, or through the alternate route that everyone else is taking too, there’s that stretch of freeway on my home stretch that’s just always so jammed up. Last night, it was almost six o’clock before I walked in the door. A 17.2 mile drive took me nearly an hour and I could just feel every last one of my nerves fraying as I inched my car toward home. I walked in the door and Mark asked, “How was your day?” And I replied, “This five o’clock shift is bull shift!”

‘Cept I didn’t say bull shift.

He laughed, and I reminded him and myself that I should try that other route that would at least help me avoid the home stretch traffic jam.

Tonight I tried the other route and it shaved ten minutes off my drive. I realized I was much, much calmer than yesterday, singing along to the radio and recognizing that the view was so much prettier than the one I get on the freeway. I looked ahead of me as I drove the road to home tonight and saw that the fall landscape was just golden. And the fall sky is such a deeper shade of blue than the summer sky. Everything around me seemed so warm and beautiful. It brought me back for a moment to my grade school days, and shuffling home through dry leaves along the sidewalks that led to home. I have always loved fall and still do.

So I found my perk for now. And I suspect I’ll soon grow accustomed to the change in hours and drive time and it will be no big deal.

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And what? No! I wasn’t snapping photos while driving… Shush! Okay, maybe just one. Kids, do not try this at home. Do as I say, not as I do, etc.

Really, though. Isn’t that just the prettiest?

Sling-Shotting and Flying

Fall poked its head in this week. The nights and morning have been downright chilly. Long sleeves and light jackets have reappeared, but I’m refusing to retire my sandals and flip-flops before the end of this month.

I had big plans for my Saturday. After having been on vacation through last weekend, I was looking forward to a day at home to restore order around the house, restock the groceries and get the laundry under control again. And then I was reminded of a saying. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I was anything but at home yesterday and my chores weren’t tackled nearly to the degree I’d hoped. My mom is having a rough time and I ended up trekking her to and from a couple of appointments, and made a trip to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. And then because Mom was feeling so under the weather, I took my dad to his church for five o’clock mass where he was on deck to preach and then went back to pick him up later. It occurred to me that I might have just stayed and spent some time in church, but I didn’t. It’s been years since I regularly attended and I was grateful Dad didn’t ask about it. I’m sure it bothers him greatly, my drifting away from his faith, but I appreciate him respecting my choice by leaving it be.

I ran on the treadmill at the gym last week, finally conceding to the mornings that have grown steadily darker as the summer days wane. But this being Sunday, I was happy for the luxury of sleeping until the sun was already up, with no particular schedule to meet. I could run outside again. Lucy was thrilled, though she about drove me nuts as the hound portion of her mixed breeding kicked into high gear and she stopped to sniff the scents she’d been missing all week. Her four legs have this crazy ability to stop dead in her tracks without her toppling over. My gears need time to gradually slow before stopping. We must have been a sight, the two of us, with her pulling up short to investigate every single ever-loving smell. And me sling-shotting past her time and again. I think it’s time for Lucy to start having daily walks that are separate from my runs. I’m pretty sure this stop-and-start business is impeding any forward progress I hope to make in my running abilities.

Still, I enjoyed my time outside again. It’s funny how much changes even with even the gradual shift in the season. One thing I noticed all summer long is how few people I’d encounter around the neighborhood as I ran along the pedestrian-friendly asphalt paths. This morning we shared space with a surprising number of other runners, walkers and dogs. In summers past, I used to exchange good mornings with a regular stream of people, but not so these past few months. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the warmth. I can’t say heat because it really didn’t get all that hot here this summer, particularly in the early part of the days before the sun had fully risen. In fact, I was grateful all along for the kind of temperatures and air that made it easier on my lungs and allowed me to keep working toward improvement as a runner.

And there was wind today like I don’t remember feeling in some time. As Lucy and I moved west and then south along our usual route, it seemed fierce and I felt it rushing in my ears, even though I knew this was somewhat of an illusion. Experience told me that when I reached our halfway point and turned back the other direction toward home, it would turn into a gentler breeze. The walkers today sported long pants and fleece jackets. I’d dressed in capris and short sleeves, knowing I’d work up a sweat and I was grateful for the wind that kept me cooler.

Sky 1The sky today held a heavier hue, confirming the transition of seasons that’s beginning to take shape. I do love the fall months and can only hope that signs of winter remain at bay until it’s their turn. Already one morning this week, I awoke to the feeling of cold air on my nose, my arms clutching the blankets in a tight curl around my body. I succumbed to the warmth of my bed and snoozed the alarm clock beyond hope of working in any amount of exercise before getting ready for work. That is a bad habit I really hope to squelch over the winter months.

My back and my inner spirit were glad that I resisted the urge to hibernate this morning. Spending time outside, appreciating the scenery of my neighborhood, and getting my heart rate going always gives me a boost that tends to carry me through the rest of the day. And truth be told, I knew Lucy was revelling in the return to a routine she greatly loves, so I couldn’t be too upset as she stopped me mid-stride once again to investigate a spread of gorgeous purple coneflowers beneath an electrical tower along the way. I stopped to let her sniff to her heart’s content and took the chance to study the prickled brown center of one of the flowers, knowing soon enough they’ll be fading away for the season.

Sky 3Today is shaping up to be a gorgeous day, with a few remnants of summer and a glimpse of fall evenly sprinkled within. A high school acquaintance shared some inspiration on Faceb00k this morning and we exchanged a few comments as a result. He left me with encouragement to go forward and create, to fly, and to enjoy this beautiful day. I’m going to go do my best!

Celebrating October

For a week or so, I’d been semi-contemplating what to wear to work on Halloween. Office appropriate costumes, the announcement said. There would be trick-or-treating in the break room as well. Always being in touch with my inner child, I signed right up.

First I thought I might dress as the company VP. I could have pulled it off by wearing one of Mark’s dress shirts and my own pair of khaki dress pants. The VP has a strut that I can imitate pretty well. This would have been the icing on the cake of this costume. But I decided it would only have been funny to a select group of people. Then I thought about this leopard get-up that Kacey wore last year, but I tried it on last night and after checking myself out in the mirror, couldn’t imagine wearing it around the office all day. So around eight o’clock last night, I started rummaging around Kacey’s closet. I sent her a text message and asked if she still had any softball jerseys hanging around. She said she did, directed me to where to find them and asked if I was planning to dress up as her. I said I was. It turned out to be office appropriate and comfortable. And I was glad I made the effort. When I got to work, I was greeted by a rocker and a Catholic high school girl-jock, otherwise known as my office team mates.

Halloween 2013(The vampire teeth were my contribution to the treat pool. I bought about 90 sets of teeth last night for the office party!)

The house was full of other October activity this past week. While Kacey was home, she wanted to make Old-Fashioned Soft Pumpkin cookies.

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We made a double batch; half for her to take back to school and half for the rest of us to enjoy at home. These are one of our favorites! SO good!

Jake was hungry for something pumpkin-y too. He had asked a couple of weeks ago if I could make Pumpkin Spice bread. I didn’t have a recipe, having never made this kind of bread. But the first one I looked up sounded good. So after the cookies, we baked the Pumpkin Spice bread. And it was delicious! Jake proclaimed it to be amazing and phenomenal. Coming from a kid who doesn’t elaborate much on anything, I considered it high praise.

005bAnd it wouldn’t be Halloween without a jack-o-lantern, now would it? Last Friday while I was making hot dagos for dinner, Kacey eyed up the pumpkin I’d bought at the grocery store and had plunked on the front step. She announced that she was going to carve it. I said she should have at it. If it were left up to me, we’d just have a punkin. But thanks to Kacey, we now have a cyclops jack-o-lantern to greet the trick-or-treaters.

006bIt’s been cloudy and rainy the past couple of days. It’s done raining now,and it’s a cold night. But that won’t stop the trick-or-treaters. And we’re ready for ‘em!

Halloween 2013 BHard to believe tomorrow we turn the corner to November already!

 

 

 

 

Happy Goals

Kacey came home from school for the weekend. She and Connor had a wedding to attend – his uncle’s. It was a casual affair, a second marriage for both the bride and groom. The event was a  fifties-themed backyard party and Kacey and Connor dressed accordingly, to the best of their ability anyway. As college students on limited budgets, poodle skirts and leather jackets weren’t really in the cards. But I thought they looked great.

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Mark and I went bowling while the kids were gone. We were home at a decent hour and the kids were already back from the wedding. They said they had fun. The food was good and there was even some dancing, which they love to do.

This morning, Mark, Kacey and I went to the farmers market in St. Paul. We bought carrots, bell peppers, sweet corn, radishes, beets, cauliflower and apples. I think Mark would have bought more stuff, but I reminded him that we had to be able to realistically eat all this stuff before it went bad. Besides, we couldn’t carry anymore in our overloaded arms.

At home, Kacey and I baked. I had a bunch of bananas going bad that we made into bread and I’d been craving some pumpkin cookies I made for the first time last year. So we did those too. I always have so much more fun working in the kitchen when she’s there to work alongside me or just keep me company.

We packed up some of each for Kacey to take back to school. She also took a little cooler of things I’d been freezing in individual portions for her. The oven in her apartment gets hotter than it should and the girls have burned a lot of food in their attempts at home cooking. So I’ve been stashing stuff in the freezer for Kacey – a couple of containers of pot roast and potatoes, some chicken and wild rice soup, pulled pork and taco meat. Kacey was thrilled. She said something about feeling a little bit bad for letting me do so much for her. I told her I enjoyed the chance to still “mother” her whenever I could. She said, “Good. ‘Cause I like it when you do.”

Everybody’s happy!

Speaking of being happy, I’ve been thinking about things I can do to promote a more positive attitude. I found a good quote to keep in mind this week. Considering where the idea of “happy goals” began, this seems appropriate.

Anger QuoteI’ve thought and thought and thought about what my specific goals should be. And I finally realized I was putting too much pressure on myself to come up with something really impressive. But then I finally realized that starting simple might be the better way to go, at least at first. So, this week I will strive to:

  1. Look for the good – There are usually more smiles, laughs and positive exchanges in my days than negative. I will choose to let the good stuff take up residence in my head and let the negative stuff roll off my back.
  2. Get outside – I spend too much time inside, at a desk, behind a computer. Fall is my favorite time of year. And I have a dog who loves to go for walks. She has plenty of room to run in the yard, but she would much rather go exploring around the neighborhood.
  3. Eat better - at least one vegetable a day. (I’m good with fruits, not so much with vegetables.)
  4. Perform a random act of kindness

In a week, maybe I’ll be willing to share how it all went. :-)

Thanksgiving Time is Here

Had a few shopping errands to run this weekend so Mark and I found ourselves in several stores this afternoon. It’s clear that as far as the retail world is concerned, Christmas time is here. I just can’t get all that excited about it yet. I’m just not in that big of a hurry. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving, and not simply because it’s a passage to the Christmas season. I like Thanksgiving. I love the holiday feeling it brings without all the hurry and rush.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that shuts down operations and gives employees time off, not only for Thanksgiving Day but the day after as well. My kids who are away at school will be coming home and I’m anxiously awaiting the happy chaos that fills the house when everyone is here. I’ll have four wonderful days to enjoy having them all back in the fold again. We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with Mark’s family at his sister’s house. And I’m sure we’ll all overeat and come home exhausted.

After Thanksgiving, the next three days are ours.  I love to stay up late at night with the kids, watching movies and talking and laughing, knowing I won’t have to wake up to an alarm clock. I love to wake up in the morning and know that they’ll be here to spend lazy mornings with me, sitting in our pajamas, eating big breakfasts and drinking coffee.

And maybe the weather has a little something to do with my mood too. It’s been a beautiful, warm weekend. Rather unseasonable for this time of year, you might even say. The weather man says it’s going to continue through Thursday. When I drive through the neighborhoods, so many of the homes are still displaying their fall decor. There are pumpkins everywhere and it makes me want to bake. Something… pumpkin-y! So today I did just that. Don’t these look good?

Trust me. They are delicious!

No, I’m not ready to immerse myself in the Christmas season just yet. This week is Thanksgiving season and I play to enjoy it to the fullest.

You’re never too old to carve a jack-o-lantern

Kacey and Connor came home from school for the weekend. Both were craving some home cooking! Connor’s grandma made him a special meal of barbecued ribs. Kacey had asked for Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder. She got her wish too.

While at the grocery store on Friday night to pick up some of the necessary ingredients, Kacey mentioned that she wanted to carve pumpkins. Her friend, Amanda was home from her school for the weekend and they wanted to make a little party of it. So we bought chowder ingredients and pumpkins.

Saturday afternoon, the kids gathered at the kitchen table and went to work.

Scoopin’ the “guts” out

Kacey generated a pattern on the computer for her pumpkin.

Connor worked on a shape of the state of Minnesota.

Amanda created a pretty elaborate spider web pattern.

I made a caramel corn snack mix while the kids worked.

Proof that you’re never too old to have this kind of fun.

The finished jack-o-lanterns

The kids talked while they worked. Amanda is having boyfriend problems and she didn’t seem to mind my presence as Kacey and Connor offered her sympathy and advice. I marveled over the fact that they are grown-up enough to be in love, grown-up enough to offer mature perspectives to one another, grown-up enough to manage college and vote and balance a checking account, and yet, they could still make an afternoon out of pumpkin carving. Once again, I was reminded how lucky I am to have such good “kids” in my life.