Celebration in the Rain

The weather has been fierce this weekend, bringing torrential rains and powerful winds. While we were out of the house, running some errands yesterday, the wind ripped the canvas canopy right off the gazebo on our deck! Oh, well. We needed a new one anyway and I found a replacement online a while ago. I just never ordered it because we didn’t need a new one that desperately.

June is graduation season though, and I was feeling bad yesterday for those whose parties were scheduled for this weekend. Our neighbor, Maria was celebrating her high school graduation yesterday afternoon. Maria’s brother, Luke graduated three years ago with Kacey. His party was the same weekend as Kacey’s. I remember that weekend well. We had a Friday evening celebration at our house and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Then came Saturday and it rained steady and heavy for two days straight. Luke and many of Kacey’s friends had to improvise on their outdoor party plans while the rain refused to let up. Maria’s mom reminded me that her oldest son, Charlie’s graduation party five years ago took place in the rain as well.

We lucked out weather-wise with all three of our kids’ graduation parties. But this is Minnesota, and the weather can be unpredictable. Any outdoor celebration has to include shelter, either from the hot sun or in case of rain. That’s why most outdoor graduation parties here are centered in the garage and include a few portable canopies set up around the yard.

The weather didn’t put a stop to Maria’s party, although the wind took out the large canopy that had been set up in her family’s back yard. The rain couldn’t keep guests from coming to celebrate with the guest of honor. We all just squeezed into the garage or house. And we had fun! Graduation parties like Maria’s give us a chance to reconnect with old friends. Many of us in this neighborhood have children of similar ages. We were all so tight when the kids were little, coordinating play dates and keeping in close touch. But as the kids grew up, as they tend to do, they expanded their interests and circles of friends. Our kids sometimes moved in different directions, and without the play dates to keep us in touch, we parents connected less as the years went by.

I love the photo collages at graduation parties and seeing the timeline of a graduate’s life. Maria had photos galore and a digital slide show too. I clearly remember when Maria’s parents and two brothers welcomed the addition of a sweet baby girl to their family. I remember that Brooks and Dunn’s version of My Maria was Maria’s mom’s favorite song back then. And now that “little” girl is heading off to college! Her photo memories were filled with pictures of her with her friends, family and many of the kids from the neighborhood. They made me smile and brought back memories of my own. They made me marvel at how quickly she seems to have grown up and reminded me how fast time passes us by.

And we got to reconnect with old friends. Even though our kids have grown up and gone in different directions, we all remain connected. We all seem to be tied to a larger circle of people in some way. Many of Maria’s friends’ parents have other children who went to school with or played sports with our kids. The weave of relationships grows larger as the years pass by, yet keeps us connected even as we move on to the next phases of our lives.

With the heavy rain and chill in the air, I didn’t think we’d stay at the party long. But we encountered so many old friends and neighbors, we were there for hours. Hugs were exchanged. We listened to each others’ stories and caught up on the goings-on in everyone’s lives. We talked about our kids – their experiences, good and bad with college. We talked about upcoming marriages, and the loss of one of our friends last week at a much too young age. We talked about figuring out how to adjust our lives as our kids move out of childhood and on to lives of their own. We comforted each other with shared experiences as our parents grow older. There was so much conversation inside the three-car garage, it was sometimes hard to hear. But what struck me most was the genuine warmth in the eyes and smiles of our friends and neighbors as we reconnected again. Many of the people we saw have moved out of our daily lives since our kids left grade school, or since their sports teams played their last games, yet we conversed as comfortably as if we saw each other daily. The laughter we shared and the closeness we felt reminded me that even though we no longer see each other on a regular basis, we’ll always have those moments in time to bring us back together when we happen to cross paths again.

The sun eventually peeked out from behind the clouds and the rain subsided long enough for the crowd of guests to find some breathing room, meandering out into the driveway and front yard. Evening was closing in by then. It was time for us to be on our way.

I rarely regret growing older. Times and celebrations like these only further remind me that growing older, though it has some pitfalls, also has so many rewards. Congratulations to Maria. My wish for her and for every graduate is that they’ll enjoy the days and years ahead and feel the same rewards of time as I feel right now. Life is a gift. Make the most of it!

Fun Night at the Bowlerama

I’m not even sure how it happened, but we took first place this year!

Yes. We did. The Ball Busters!

We only do it for the fun of it. We’re there for the laughs and to enjoy a few drinks. We’re loud. We lack any serious skills. We come early and stay late. And we usually end up placing somewhere near the bottom of the ladder. But we’re on the top rung this year! First place, Baby!

The season is divided into two halves. On the last night of the season, while the other teams get to goof off and do silly things just for fun, the team who placed first in the first half of the season, rolls off against the team who placed first in the second half. That is, unless it’s the same team placing first in each half. Then there’s no roll-off and everyone gets to play along in the Fun Night festivities.

We won both halves and first place is ours, (in case you hadn’t caught on to that fact already!) In all seriousness, we pulled it together this year. Alishea and I both pushed our averages higher than ever before. And when the team bowled well, we knocked it out of the park. We had fun while still managing to improve our games.

So Fun Fight was all about having fun. A few weeks before, the team responsible for organizing the activities approached me and asked what our team did last year when it was the Ball Busters’ turn to coordinate the festivities. I couldn’t remember off the top of my head, but promised to print off the flyer I’d saved on my computer and bring it the following week. Apparently they  decided not to mess with a good thing. Fun Night 2014 was an exact copy of Fun Night 2013. And we had so much fun!

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We played 9-Pin No Tap with prizes for high and low scores. Then we played Alternate Ball, where instead of throwing two balls each, the first bowler threw a ball, and then the next would finish the frame and so on.

Then we played Opposite Hand Bowling, where right-handers were required to throw with their left hand, and left-handers were required to throw with their right. Sheila got so caught up in laughing at one of the other girl’s attempts to bowl with an unfamiliar hand, that she forgot to switch hands herself. The whole league booed her after she threw a perfect strike with her dominant hand. Jodi made sure Sheila didn’t forget again. She tied Sheila’s wrist to her belt loop while we all howled with laughter.

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Sheila’s wearing her CHICKS WITH BALLS tournament shirt!

Oddly enough, I bowled pretty well with my opposite hand. I scored over a hundred while many others struggled to keep their balls out of the gutter. Who knew? We laughed. We got silly beyond silly. And we remembered why we do this. It’s not for the prize money. It’s not for the competition. Okay, maybe it’s a little bit for the competition. We do it to get out of the house and put a little excitement in our weekly routines. It’s about being together, doing something fun with women from all walks of life, building new friendships and strengthening the old ones.

And we’ll be back next fall to do it all over again!

Dinner with Friends

We had dinner with Dave and Shelly tonight. They’re Andi’s parents – one of Kacey’s roommates and her friend since, what? Kindergarten?

Whenever we get together, I think about how we started out. Our girls were “just” classmates at first. Two little girls in a small sea of Catholic grade school kids. Those first years in school, the classmates all sort of tested each other out. There were lots of play dates. Eventually some real bonds took hold. I remember seeing Andi with her parents and brothers at school functions. As we all got to know each other, we’d see each other in church and choose to sit close, chatting and saying hello before mass began. Kacey and Andi were a couple of  tomboys. It’s no surprise that they played on many sports teams together as they grew up. There were some sleepovers, a few years in Girl Scouts and many days spent at one house or the other. In high school, they made other friends, but always hung on to each other. All these years later, they attend the same college and share an apartment.

And Mark and I gained some great friends because of it. Just goes to show that you’re never too old to make new friends. Now we’re old friends!

Dinner this time was planned like it usually is. A few rushed Facebook messages in the days before to figure out when we were all free. Shelly told me to pick the place and time. When I asked Mark, he said, “I don’t care.”

So I picked our usual spot, a favorite local place, at our usual time.

It rained today for hours. Then it began to snow, just in time for the rush-hour drive home. It was coming down in flakes so big they made me think of cotton candy. I left work late and the drive was slow. The weatherman had predicted this and I was thinking if I were smart, I would have suggested we meet just a half an hour later, but I know Shelly likes to get to bed early. She gets up even earlier than I do!

I made it home just in time to hop in the truck with Mark and go to the restaurant. It was packed! Bingo was going on in the bar. The diners were all squeezed into the restaurant and banquet room. We managed to get a booth with a view of the door so we could watch for our friends. Shelly arrived not long after we did, saying Dave was making his way out of downtown and would be there soon. And just a few minutes later, he was!

We ordered our food; pasta, a burger, a taco salad, and one order of chicken and ribs. We talked while we ate and kept talking long after we were done. I felt like Mark and I did too much talking. We told Dave and Shelly about our vacation in Florida. We chatted about Brad and Heather’s upcoming wedding. We talked about Jake’s job and how much he likes it and how in spite of his tendency for laziness at home, he apparently has a good work ethic on the job.

We heard about Dave and Shelly’s son, Brian and his wife, Katelyn. We heard about their move to a new house. We talked about their younger son, Eric, who is Brad’s age. He’s finishing grad school soon and graduating. He’s interviewing for jobs and seems like he’ll have his choice of opportunities. I always feel such pride for Eric when I hear how successful he is, how much he’s blossomed. Shelly and I used to share our concerns and struggles over our “A.D.D.” kids, Jake and Eric. I remember how much we worried about them making their way through school. Now here Eric is, graduating from grad school, interviewing for positions at several colleges, finding his calling and loving life! I wish I’d had such a clear vision at that age!

We talked about our dogs, family, work … you name it. We talked!

The time went by too quickly. The snow had stopped by the time we were done eating and talking. We paid our tab and walked through the parking lot together, making our way through rows and rows of cars back to the far reaches where we’d had to park.

I told Shelly that we always say we’ll plan one day a month to meet for dinner, but it never works out that way. It seems like the days and weeks slip by and before we know it, we’re on an every three-month schedule. We’ll keep trying to make it a monthly date, but if we don’t, that’s probably okay. At least we know we’ll never run out of things to talk about!

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!

Bowling is Right Up Our Alley

I was running a little later than I’d planned and found myself watching the clock as I headed for the freeway entrance. The newbies were going to be there and I’d promised to show up a bit early in case anyone felt uncomfortable walking in amongst a group of strangers. I pulled into the parking lot and immediately noticed Alishea just stepping out of her car. Good. I wasn’t totally late!

We walked in together through the bar entrance and there they were, the lady bowlers! It was so good to see them after a summer apart! Hugs and hellos were exchanged as friends caught up with one another’s’ summer adventures. Soon, our secretary announced that the season kick-off meeting was ready to begin and she herded everyone into the banquet room.

There have been a few changes since we were last together. We’re a small league and we only had five teams last season, as few as the management would allow while still supporting us as a league. When at the end of last season, a few of our bowlers announced they weren’t returning, it looked like we were going to be down to four teams. A few of the girls were left without a team and it looked like our league might have to fold. I love this league. I wasn’t letting it go without a fight.

As soon as I knew we were in trouble, I started asking everyone I knew if they were interested in joining our Monday women’s bowling league. One of my favorite coworkers, Belinda enthusiastically agreed to join. Three girls from our Saturday couples league were interested. And one woman who I met at the state tournament last spring and who had passed me her phone number, agreed to join, even though she didn’t quite remember me when I called her a couple of weeks ago.

We had a fifth team again!

Our first order of business was to introduce the newbies – Megan, Jodi, Dori, Belinda and Alice – and they were graciously welcomed. The “orphans” from last season whose team had disbanded were absorbed into vacant spots on two of the other returning teams. Once the teams were established, we reviewed the bylaws and voted to do away with a few rules, like the one that says you have to wear a team shirt or pin, or else pay a dollar for each time you’re caught “out of uniform.” None of the other leagues require team shirts anymore. And being as we’re such a small league, this rule wasn’t a money-maker anyway. Everyone was glad for the new “free-dress” rule.

Some of the standard, but necessary rules were reiterated, like the one that says a late bowler can make up her missed frames as long as she arrives and starts before the end of the fifth frame. Everyone looked at one person and shouted, “GLORIA!” The room erupted in laughter. Gloria is eternally late for bowling.

Responsibilities for Fun Nite and the end-of-season banquet were handed out. My team is in charge of the banquet this year. Seems like every year we end up running one or the other. But we don’t mind. Our team puts on the best fun nights and banquets. Everyone always tells us so.

Once the bylaws were finalized, I agreed to do my presidential duty and type them up all nice and pretty within two weeks, just in time for the first night of bowling. The meeting adjourned and we headed back to the bar for some drinks and to continue the conversations that seemed to never want to end.  It’s going to be a fun season!

Us and our favorite opponents

Us and our favorite opponents

October in July

We had a little get-a-way planned last weekend – a couple of days at a cabin with a bunch of bowling friends. It’s become an annual event and last year, the weather was gorgeous. We spent hours on a pontoon in our bathing suits, puttering around the lake, soaking up the sun, enjoying some drinks and generally having a good time. We were looking forward to more of the same this year.

But no. The sun was scarce and the air felt more like fall than summer.

Platte Lake 3There was no boating, no swimming and there were definitely no bathing suits. Instead, there were sweatshirts, jackets and bonfires – not for roasting marshmallows, but for keeping warm.

Platte Lake 4But we still had fun. We played bar Bingo. And didn’t win.

Platte Lake 1There was some good fishing.

Platte Lake 5We played badminton and bean bags.

Platte Lake 2There were a few rounds of bocce ball. I’d never played before this weekend and discovered I’m pretty good at it!

020And there were yummy drinks that tasted like homemade apple pie.

018We had a dinner of the best ribs and brisket I have ever tasted, prepared and smoked for hours by our pal, Richie. We slept late in the mornings and grazed on breakfast food, lounging in our pajamas and sipping coffee until late morning. When it was too dark and cold to stay outside at night, we played a game called Guesstures, (kind of like charades,) girls against the guys. The girls always won! There was endless conversation, much laughter and general silliness.

007Whether next year brings sunshine and warmth, or clouds and cold, I’m looking forward to doing it all over again!

Finally, the Sun!

The weekend weather was beautiful, almost as if we were being rewarded for putting up with a week of clouds and rain. When I opened my eyes Saturday morning, bright sunshine was peeking around the edges of the pleated shade in my bedroom window. There was only one thought on my mind and that was to get out there! I brushed my teeth and pulled on a pair of my workout capris. Lucy seemed to understand by the way I was dressed that I was going outside and she did not want to be left behind. She sat whining by the front door until I slipped her harness over her head and hooked on her leash. Then she pulled me out the door and took me for a walk.

It was glorious! The sun was such a welcome sight and the scent of lilacs filled the air. Lucy raced along sniffing the ground every inch of the way. We crossed paths with other walkers and runners. And I realized how friendly morning people are. Everyone greeted us with a smile and a cheerful “good morning!”

Up in the northern part of the state, the wind was making it difficult to take a boat out on Lake of the Woods. The fishermen opted to call it quits a day early rather than sit around in their rented cabins wishing they were fishing. Mark called to tell me they were heading home and should be back by dinner time. But they weren’t feeling sorry for themselves. They caught their limit of fish and had some great father-son bonding time.

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The mighty fishermen

By the time I’d finished my chores on Saturday afternoon, the clouds had returned and temperatures had dropped. It was early evening before the guys got back home and by then, it was raining off and on, but we weren’t upset. The weatherman had promised that Sunday would be the best day of the weekend.

And it was. Lucy and I again started the morning with an early walk. She is so fun to watch as we travel along our route. She’s like a curious toddler, not wanting to miss a thing. There are so many scents to sniff and so many other dogs out greeting Lucy as she walks by. On our way back home today, there was a Rat Terrier barking from behind a chain link fence. He jumped furiously to get our attention, as if his barking weren’t enough! He launched himself in the air with all four feet, his body remaining level while he sailed upward and his head bypassed the top of the fence. Over and over he jumped, trying to get Lucy’s attention. He was such a funny and impressive sight!

Later in the day, I had lunch with my pal, Rose. Rose and I first met when we were six years old and have managed to stay connected all these years. Lately though, we’ve been more likely to communicate over email than in person. It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other. So we scheduled a lunch date, with no real plan as to where to go until this morning.  I suggested we go to Stillwater, a neighboring city full of history. We ate our lunch at a crowded outdoor restaurant with a view of the St. Croix River. Afterwards, we wandered the streets of downtown Stillwater among crowds of other Sunday visitors, browsing antique stores and talking non-stop for several hours. Before we headed home again, we walked along the river, making our way back to the car.

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Boaters waiting for the lift bridge to rise

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Lifelong friends

We’ve been waiting for a day like this for so long. And it was amazing!