Kids, Dogs and Chaos

We had a family wedding to attend on Saturday, so all of my kiddos returned to home base for the weekend. We awaited Brad and Heather’s arrival on Friday night and wondered how it was going to work with three dogs in the house, but not to worry. Dacotah and Lucy got reacquainted easily. Then Dacotah and Bella sized each other up and decided they could deal with one another just fine. All was well.

We did a decent job of juggling shower times Saturday morning. At one point, Kacey, Heather and I were all sharing the mirror in “my” lower level bathroom. But we were all dressed and ready in plenty of time for the wedding. Everyone looked great! You’d think I’d have managed to take a family picture while we were all spiffed up, wouldn’t you? I didn’t. Oh well. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to get pictures that I miss half the fun of an event. So we’ll just chalk this up to me enjoying the event for a change. Besides, I did manage to get some shots of the kids on my iPhone camera.

love this shot of Brad and his godson, Ryan. Ryan is such a bundle of energy and so full of personality! Can you tell?

Just one of the many faces of Ryan!

What really made me happy was watching Jake interact with his cousins and family friends. Long story, but my best friend, Gina and I have mutual extended family, so she and her family were at the wedding and reception too. Gina’s beautiful, oldest daughter, Kirsten happened to be without a date. So did Jake happen to be without a date. Kirsten joked to Jake that they could be dates for the night. She did her best to get him out of his shell and onto the dance floor but he just couldn’t make himself do it. He’s so shy sometimes! But she had him smiling and blushing! It was wonderful to see him smile so much. I don’t see Jake’s smile enough.

Jake got his share of attention from the younger girls too.  Gina’s youngest daughter, Maddie clearly had a little crush on Jake and every chance she got she was climbing up in his lap, talking to him and running her hands over his buzz-cut hair. Jake tolerated this attention with more patience than I’d thought him capable of. Every time Gina and I would look over and see Maddie clamoring over Jake, we would laugh and I’d say, “Poor Jake!” Gina would say, “He’s adorable!”

He is. I wish he realized it too.

He didn’t want me to take this picture, but I managed to coax a smile out of him anyway!


Kacey and Connor

Brad and Heather

Brad, Heather, Kacey and Connor danced the night away. Mark took turns dancing with Kacey, his nieces and his sisters. I even managed to get Jake on the dance floor for one slower song. It was a good time!

We finally called it a night and headed home. The kids stretched out all over the living room in front of a movie. I was too tired to stay awake. Bella, Lucy and I headed off to bed.

Bright and early this morning, the dogs were awake and ready to go outside and rough-house a bit. While the dogs played, Brad wanted to know what was for breakfast. A big, hot breakfast is a rare treat, usually reserved for times like this when the house is full and busy. We decided on French toast and I enjoyed cooking it while Brad, Heather and Mark waited at the table for the first steaming slices to be ready for eating. I made stacks of French toast and we all ate until we were full. Eventually, Kacey decided to greet the day and came to the table to claim her share as well. Jake? Well, he’s the late sleeper, so I didn’t even count on him. I figured he’d eventually open his eyes and when he did, he would eat breakfast or lunch, depending on how late it was.

After breakfast, the girls and I went off to do some shopping, leaving the boys home to watch their hunting shows and football games. By the time we came back, Connor had joined the fun. The kids, hungry for lunch, descended on the kitchen once again, reheating leftover taco fixings and spaghetti and meatballs. Funny how food is always such a big part of family gatherings. It seems like someone is always eating, snacking or drinking. When everyone is home, I’m constantly rinsing dishes, wiping off the table and tidying up the counter tops. Funny, but at times like this, I don’t seem to mind so much.

Sunday is always my least favorite day of these family weekends. Sunday means it’s time for kids to leave home again and go back to school. And that means less chaos and fewer messes, but it also means all the happy conversation and joking and laughter fade away. I don’t mean to rush the days along, but I can’t wait for Thanksgiving when I can have this all over again.

Can’t we just stay here a while longer?

I love summer. I love coming home from work while the sun is still bright and warm and knowing it’s going to stay that way for several more hours. I love that on these days when my husband and son have already gone off to work by the time my work day has come to an end, I know that the house won’t be quiet for long. Kacey’s work day is ending and she’ll soon be coming through the front door.

I want to do all my cooking on the grill on these warm summer evenings. Everything is so easy and tastes so good when it’s been cooked on the grill. Tonight I scrubbed up a few potatoes, left the skin on and sliced them thin. I chopped a small onion and then a home-grown green pepper. Don’t green peppers smell good?  And the home-grown kind smell so much better than the store-bought kind. I made a foil packet for all of these veggies and tossed in some butter, then put it on the grill. By the time Kacey came home, the pork chops were just going on.

I sat out on the deck tonight in the only patch of shade available under the canopy. The air was warm, but not uncomfortable and the smell of dinner drifted over from the grill. Mark just refilled the bird feeders and the birds were feasting. I watered the flowers in their pots. I sipped a light beer and  listened to the sounds of traffic. There are plenty of motorcycles to see out on the road this time of year. Sometimes I think I’d like to be riding on the back of one of them.

I’ve had lots of girl time with Kacey lately. I’m soaking it up and trying not to think about her leaving for school again in a few weeks. She sits on the deck with me and tells me stories about her summer job. She’s a good employee and they like her at work. She works in a file vault with many people of other nationalities. Her boss, Dawitt has a soft spot for her, I can tell. He alternately teases her and tells her what good work she does. He says, “Kacey, you go college. Come back. I kick out old lady and give you her job.”

“Which lady,” Kacey asks?

“One out front at desk. I kick her out. She crabby.”

Kacey joins in on Dawitt’s joke. “Send her to the nursing home,” she says!

“I not say it! I not say it,” Dawitt laughs as he walks away.

I love talking to Kacey. She knows who she is and she likes who she is. I love that about her. She embraces all of the experiences that come her way. I always say I could never work in a file vault. There’s a reason they hire college kids as summer temps for that job. No one wants to stay there forever. But Kacey admits that although she might not want to deal with files for the rest of her life, she enjoys the office environment. She embraces the challenge of the work. She likes to do a good job. I feel like she’ll make her way. She’ll make the best of what comes her way and she’ll climb her way to the things she finds really fulfilling.

Lucy is happy to have Kacey home too. She gets twice the attention when Kacey is around. After dinner, they play on the living room floor with the tire toy and we laugh at how silly our dog is.

Connor is pretty likely to come around on these summer nights. If he doesn’t come for dinner, he’ll be here shortly after. Sometimes he and Kacey hang around the house and I enjoy their silliness and laughter. Sometimes they go off to find something or someplace more entertaining than home. But I like that they come and go through the door often during these summer days.

I was just thinking how summer will start coming to an end soon and how much I’ll miss it. But I just realized that as much as I love the long days and warm temperatures, the birds and the blue sky and the grill, it’s not summer that I’ll really miss so much. It’s them that I’ll miss.

I Love this Messy House

Ugh, I had to go back to work today. It’s so hard to go back to work after a four-day weekend and celebrating Christmas and eating sweets and all that fun stuff. And the hardest part of going back to work between Christmas and New Years is how quiet it is. All those other smart people thought to schedule vacation time between the two holidays and all I can think is how much I wish I were at home, sleeping late and lazing around in my pajamas too!

Okay, it really wasn’t all that bad. I sort of thrive on routine, and as much as I hated the sound of the alarm clock this morning, I knew it would be good for me to get back at it.

These last few days have been great though. I just love having my kids home. Yes, so technically, Jake is always home because he lives here. But he’s not actually around much. And that really hasn’t changed just because the holidays came through. So we’ll have to work on having some quality time soon.

But Brad and Heather have been here. They arrived on Friday with Dacotah dog and it has been so fun having them home. We’re all battling for shower time and the house is rather untidy with all the extra activity, but I don’t care! We talk and hang out. We eat together. They made an awesome vegetable-tortellini soup for all of us for dinner tonight. We played Words with Friends and cracked up when I played the word pubes over a triple word score. Brad yelled at me for use of a dirty word. I said if the game lets me play it and gives me sixty points for doing so, I’m going for it.

Lucy has fallen in love with Heather and also thinks that Dacotah is her sister and new best friend. Poor Lucy is going to be so sad when these guys leave tomorrow!

He loves her too!

"Can my friend and I go outside???"

And Kacey is home too. I get to keep her until January 22nd! I love seeing her face when I come home. Love the random text messages and phone calls I got from her during the day today. Love the fact that we can lounge around on Saturday mornings drinking coffee while I listen to her stories.

And Kacey being home means Connor comes around much more often. I am not complaining!

The fun-loving duo!

A few years ago, you couldn’t have convinced me I’d be happy to walk through my living room and see it cluttered with laptops and iPods, phones and discarded pairs of socks, half-drank water bottles and television remotes. The thought of two dogs shedding all over my furniture and floors and slobbering all over the patio door would not have been met with enthusiasm. And yet, here I am, sitting in the midst of a messy house, the kitchen cluttered, with kids and friends coming and going, and so much going on there’s no hope of keeping up with it all.

And I love it. I’m going to miss this when life goes back to “normal.”

Favorite Days

No work for me today. I have a lovely four-day weekend ahead of me. But I was up early with plans to meet my workout buddy at the gym for our five a.m. workout.

Just as I was getting ready to put on some shorts and a t-shirt, I thought to check my cell phone for any messages. Sure enough, there was one there, and sure enough, it was from my buddy. Her little boy awoke with a fever so she was taking a necessary pass on the gym.

I decided to take a pass too. As always, Christmas seems to be sneaking up on me. I think I’ve done a good job of enjoying the season. I’ve celebrated the spirit of Christmas all month-long, and still, somehow, it is upon us and it feels too soon.

Between Mark and me, we’ve got a good amount of family and so our Christmas celebrations span the course of two entire days. Christmas Eve is spent with my relatives, Christmas Day with his. And it’s my turn to host the Christmas Eve festivities. And somewhere in-between all that, we want time to spend with our kids. Just us and them. I was worried there for a while. Between Mark’s and Jake’s work schedules and the family obligations, it seemed like we might not have that chance this year. But it all worked out and I am so grateful!

I have so much to do. We’re having lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner and I want to get it pre-prepared today. I think three pans should do it! The peanut brittle (which I was planning to make the other night, but didn’t) needs to be made. I wasn’t planning to bake cookies this year. There just never seems to be enough time and I figured that was one thing we could easily do without. And then my mother-in-law requested that I bring cookies on Christmas Day! Good thing Kacey is home from school now and loves to bake! She’s been knocking off a batch or two for a couple of days now as well as wrapping as many presents for me as she possibly can while I’ve been at work.

Did I mention the wrapping? Yeah, I’m sort of a last-minute wrapper too. Thank God for Kacey! She’s been wrapping away and putting Post-It Notes on each gift to tell me who they are for. I need to tie the ribbon on each (because I had some crazy idea that instead of the easy-peasy stick-on ribbons, real ribbon would be a fun change of pace!) It was too much to expect Kacey to tie the ribbon to my liking, so I have lots of ribbon-tying and gift-tagging to do.

I spent all last evening wrapping presents for my kids and Heather and Connor. And the house needs cleaning. And there are still some things to pick up from the grocery and liquor stores. And Brad comes home tonight with Heather and Dacotah dog. And… and… and…

It’s going to be chaos. Lucy Pie isn’t going to know what to do with herself with all of her people at home for the next few days and lots of visitors. There is so much to figure out and so much to worry about and so much to get done.

And yet… these are my days. My favorite days. We’re on the cusp of Christmas. My kiddos will all be under the same roof again. My parents are home for Christmas for the first time in… what… four years? I’ll get my wish – to have some time with my family, all together for a few hours for the purpose of being with just each other.

Three days from now, I’ll look back over these days and wish they hadn’t passed us by so quickly again. So right now, I’m going to try to remember to stop and appreciate every moment while I’m in it. These are the best days of the year. These are my favorite days.

Party at the Lake

It’s a beautiful summer Saturday (so far.) I woke up shortly after five o’clock and went out for a run. The sky was just beginning to lighten up and I got to watch the sun come up over the horizon, turning the sky behind the farm fields a gorgeous glowing pink.

It was quiet outside today. Very quiet. If there was any traffic noise from the nearby freeway, I failed to notice it. The birds seemed to be in hiding. The killdeer who usually screeches at me to steer clear of her nest was nowhere in sight. I didn’t see my friend, the egret hanging out in his pond; just a lone mallard taking flight. One little robin made her presence known from her perch atop a speed limit sign.

I had a better run today, along with a better attitude than I’ve had lately. I took the advice of my friend at work and as I neared the usual end of my run, I turned the opposite direction and kept running even though my body was tempted to call it quits. I managed to add maybe three-fourths of a mile to my usual distance. It’s a start. And it felt good.

Today’s plan is to attend a party at the cabin of one of the families from Kacey’s softball team. The cabin is on Long Lake in Wisconsin, about an hour’s drive from home. We’re celebrating the end of a great season. Kacey made a bunch of white chocolate and chocolate dipped strawberries to bring along. She says they are all of the girls’ favorites. I tried a new snack recipe – Butter Ranch Pretzels. From the sounds of it, there’s going to be enough food there to feed an army.

So far it looks like a picture perfect day for boating, swimming and picnicking. We’ll see. The forecast calls for a chance of rain, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rain never transpires. Some of the families and girls are planning to spend the night, including Kacey. Mark and I aren’t campers and don’t have a tent, so we’ll just come home this evening and sleep in our comfy bed, well protected from any potential rain.

Brad has gone off to spend the weekend with the girlfriend again. Jake picked up an extra shift at work and so he won’t be joining us either. He’s more interested in making money, but he seems to really like his job, so I won’t complain.

I’m off to get ready for the big day, but before I go… Have you seen this video? Apparently this couple was married just a week or so ago, here in St. Paul and the video of their wedding procession has become an internet hit. The story behind it is in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today. I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time I watched it. So if you need something to lift your spirits, this is it. Enjoy! And have a great weekend!

Life is Good – June 4, 2009

Jake Graduating by you.His demeanor on graduation day was nothing short of joyous. I know that’s to be expected for most high school graduates, but even his sister noticed it. And siblings aren’t generally prone to caring enough to notice each other’s emotional well-being.

I volunteered for a couple of hours at his Senior All Night party and caught a glimpse of him here and there. Most of the time he was surrounded by girls and the smile never left his face! Maybe it was the girls. Maybe it was his new found freedom. It didn’t matter. It occurred to me that I can’t remember the last time Jake seemed so completely relaxed and utterly happy. It’s as if he has finally broken free of his educational chains. I remember feeling that way after graduation. I didn’t struggle with my studies the way he did, but throughout my high school years, I felt the weight of conformity and a  lack of self-confidence hanging over my head. I remember feeling like I had grown wings when I graduated. I was free to be whomever I wanted and to do whatever I chose. I can only guess that he is experiencing similar feelings of having a weight lifted. It makes my heart happy to see him this way. He hasn’t made a decision yet on what comes next, but considering all that he’s been through to reach this point, I’m not pushing yet.

Jake’s graduation would have been plenty to keep me on cloud nine, but it gets even better. My sister and her family arrived back in Minnesota this week and are getting settled in their new house, a mere ten minutes away from me. I am ecstatic! After having to settle for being approximately seven hours away from each other for the past several years, this seems almost too good to be true.

Ironically, she and I harbored a pretty good hatred of each other all the years we were growing up. Then the minute we became actual grown ups, it was as if a light had been switched on. We began to realize we had a lot in common and that we were lucky to have each other. Having my sister gone so far away the past few years made me feel as if a piece of me was missing.

I used to spend much of my free time with her and her family. The phone used to ring and it would be my sister, asking me to drop what I was doing and come over or go shopping. And I would. I took for granted that she would always be there for me when I needed her. When she moved to Illinois, I felt as if I were suffering from withdrawals. I would drive down the road near her old house and for a moment, think about swinging by before I’d remember they were no longer there. Now they are back, and like it or not, I’m afraid they’re going to have to get used to me dropping in again when I happen to be in the neighborhood.

Amidst such huge blessings this week, you might think the simple pleasures would escape me, but they haven’t. Each day that I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin; each day that I have the chance to feel the soft, green grass against my bare feet; I feel such contentment. The gardens are blossoming, some with home-grown vegetables and others with colorful flowers. The sun arrives early and hangs around until well into the evening. I feel as if the outdoors are beckoning me out of the house. The beauty and warmth of the spring fills me with such a sense of calm and peace, I can’t help but be happy.

Once again, it is clear to me, life is good.

Hey, Hey, Hey, It's a beautiful day!

What an absolutely perfect day to be off work! Temperatures are going to be in the eighties today!

I got up early and went for a run. Let me rephrase that. I tried to go for a run. I wasn’t very successful. I wonder if I need to start over and start training again as if I were a brand new runner? Anyway, it was so windy this morning, I felt like I was pushing against a brick wall. It’s been a week since I’ve run at all. The chiropractor suggested the break, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s the running that’s causing my back pain. Maybe it is just stress. Lord knows I excel at worrying. The pain hasn’t been as bad as it was last week, but it’s still lingering. I’m just going to keep trying various stretches and exercises until I get a grip on it. At least today I got out and moved, even if the run turned out to be mostly a brisk walk.

As for the rest of the day, you know that I have a love affair with the sun, so I am going to make every effort to get my chores done early and get out there and soak up some rays. This skin needs some color! The back yard needs a good clean up too after the long winter, so I can kill two birds with one stone. I spotted some hyacinths blooming in the corner of the yard. Things are coming to life again. I think I hear my camera calling!

I’m so excited about this day that I’ve been hearing this old seventies tune playing in my head all morning. Yes, I know it’s “Beautiful Sunday,” but in my mind, today it’s “Beautiful Sun Day!”

(Somehow, this cheesy video is not what I pictured while hearing the song in my head. Have a good laugh!)

Life is Good – March 27, 2009

Think they told us to sit still? by you.I was the second of four children in my family. My sister was born not quite two years earlier than I. My brothers were born two and four years later.

Growing up, I’m sure we girls were a drain on my mom’s sanity. Cory and I were as different as two girls could be. She was obedient whereas I was defiant. My sister was cooperative. I was not. I was a tomboy. Cory was a girly-girl. She could quietly push my buttons, whereas I was forceful in both my words and actions. It was a rare occasion when we got along together. Most days found us in our own separate worlds. We didn’t share friends and did everything we could to keep our distance from one another.

Mom was constantly admonishing, “Quit your bickering!” My mom had three older sisters, all of whom were out of the house by the time she started grade school. She didn’t understand why we weren’t thrilled to have the companionship of one another.

Our relationship didn’t improve in our teenage years. We were like oil and water. My sister couldn’t hide her disdain for my friends or boyfriends. I accused her of being a run-around. She was always “going out” with her best friend and I told her I couldn’t keep track of the boys in her circle of friends.

Neither of us liked the way the other dressed, yet we constantly “borrowed” each others clothing and jewelry without permission. Living in the small house in which we grew up, we were forced to share a bedroom all of our lives. I could not wait for her to go away to school when she was eighteen.

I rode along in the car on the day my parents drove my sister to college. The ride home was a quiet one. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling, but it certainly wasn’t the celebratory mood I expected. In the months that followed, I realized having the bedroom to myself wasn’t the big thrill I thought it would be either. The first time I heard the news that Cory was coming home to visit for a weekend, I was secretly ecstatic.

Something had changed. In the next few years, we began to stop judging and competing and really get know each other. We started to think we might actually like each other!  Before long, we found we had more in common than we’d ever given ourselves a chance to realize. My sister had become my best friend.

Our oldest children were born within months of each other and we shared the joys and trials of being new mothers together. We babysat for one another and we spent our free time together. When our older children were all old enough to go to school, I would spend my days off from work at her house enjoying her company and playing with my two baby nephews. Rarely a week went by that I wasn’t at her house or she wasn’t at mine.

My sister and I had finally become the friends my mom always wanted us to be. And that’s what made it so difficult when Cory and her family moved to Illinois. My best friend was gone. I was truly lonely without her. True, she is only a seven hour drive away. Visits now and then have been possible, but it just isn’t the same as having her just a few miles down the road, like she used to be. There are never enough days, never enough hours in our visits to make up for the time we spend apart. It’s been six years now since she moved away and I miss her terribly.

 We are wierd by you.On Wednesday this week, I was more tired than usual. I normally go to bed at ten o’clock, but I was ready to go at nine. I had just finished putting my pajamas on when I heard the phone ring, then Mark calling my name. I walked into the family room, mouthing to him, “Who is it?” I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to go to sleep.

“It’s your sister,” he whispered.

I was worried. It’s unlike her to call in the evening, much less near bedtime. I took the phone and put it to my ear.

“What’s up,” I asked?

“We’re moving back home,” she exclaimed!

I was so happy I couldn’t stop crying. (You know me by now. I cry at the drop of a hat.)

It’s job related. The economy has everything to do with it. They’ve both found jobs here and a house that is just as close as the last one was to mine. They’ll be here by June!


Life is Good – December 26, 2008

Another Christmas has passed us by. I am enjoying the luxury of a four day weekend and reflecting on what a wonderful holiday it was. My gifts were many. Though very few of my gifts were the kind that could actually be unwrapped, these were more than I could have hoped for.

Christmas Eve used to be a day on which we would gather together with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews for a family celebration. Things have changed over the past few years with the family now scattered among a few different states. The Christmas Eve celebration we once looked forward to is no longer possible. This year, Christmas Eve was a quiet night spent at home with my three kids while my husband worked. Aside from the fact that my hubby wasn’t here, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The kids and I cooked a steak dinner together and everyone pitched in. Jake helped prepare the steaks for the grill and set the table. Kacey made the baked potatoes and helped set the table as well. Brad grilled the steaks while I sauteed mushrooms in butter and fried some zucchini with more fresh mushrooms and sliced onions in olive oil. The four of us sat together at the table and enjoyed our dinner. Afterwards, without me even having to ask, all of the kids pitched in with the clean-up.

After dinner, we relaxed in the family room, watched The Santa Clause, and then something unheard of happened! Jake and Kacey opened up the game cupboard; the one that holds all kinds of those old-fashioned kind of games of the type that can’t be played in an electronic game system or on the computer. They dusted off a few old favorites and soon my children were playing together without bickering or antagonizing each other! They played a game of Life and then Harry Potter – Mystery at Hogwarts (the Harry Potter version of Clue.) Then out came Kerplunk and I noticed they were talking and laughing together. They were actually enjoying each other’s company. Soon the electronic Catch Phrase game came out and Jake and I faced off against Brad and Kacey. We were in hysterics and passing the game off to the next player as quickly as possible before the buzzer went off. Even yesterday, the kids kept referring back to various moments during that game to laugh again over so many of the fun moments. Their favorite was when we were playing a round of the sports and games category. Jake had to give me a clue and was drawing a blank. He began with, “It’s a baseball team…” and then hesitated. Then a light bulb went off over his head. He scrunched up one eye, curled his lips, looked me in the eye and shouted, “ARG! SCURVY!” I jumped out of my chair shouting “PITTSBURGH PIRATES,” in response and the game was tossed off to Brad just in time for the buzzer to sound and for Jake and I to earn a point. We played many rounds and honestly, I don’t know who won, and don’t think any of us cared. That evening, surrounded by my kids, with everyone enjoying each other was the best gift I could have asked for.

Christmas morning came and the kids were overjoyed with their gifts and very gracious. We don’t go overboard with Christmas gifts but the kids can always count on getting that one thing they really want (within reason) along with several other things we know they’ll enjoy. Throughout the morning, each of the three would come find me wherever I happened to be to give me a hug and say thank you again. I have great kids!

New Books by you.Mark and I had agreed not to exchange gifts this year. Of course, he didn’t follow the rules and I was mildly irritated when Kacey, playing Santa, dropped a rather heavy gift in my lap. I should have known better than to think Mark would abide by the agreement, but I couldn’t hold a grudge when I saw that he had really thought about something I would enjoy that wasn’t a huge expense. Inside the shiny wrapping paper were two brand new books. One is a book I had been wanting. The other was one I’d never heard of but is written by a Minnesota author and I’ve started already and am really enjoying it. (Mark is getting his gift today. The garage door opener bit the dust, so he’ll be buying and installing a new one today. Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. He loves the challenge of a good project.)

The rest of our Christmas day was spent at my in-laws’ home with Mark’s extended family. We managed to take a nice family picture before we became too immersed in the festivities. I might actually have to frame this one:

Family Photo 3 12/25/08 by you.

There were thirty-one of us in all and we had a great time. Mark’s dad has recovered enough from his bout with pneumonia to enjoy the day. We had a delicious meal and sat around the table long after the meal was finished, drinking wine, talking, laughing and generally having a great time. There have been years where there was tension between a few family members, but this year was just easy and peaceful. It was great!

Gift opening takes a couple of hours with so many people, and the way it begins with the youngest child and moves progressively until Mark’s parents finally open their gifts. The evening finally ended with a huge spread of Christmas cookies, candies and pies. We returned home happy and stuffed to the gills.

This morning I woke up to a wonderful 24 degrees. It’s the first time in a week that the temperature wasn’t well below zero or there weren’t several inches of new fallen snow on the ground. I was out by 6:30 this morning enjoying the darkness and quiet and a much needed run.

The coming week brings short work days again and another four day weekend. I could get used to this!

I hope that all of you were able to enjoy and recognize the gifts of this beautiful season as well!

What if we all let our inner-happy loose?

There’s a Caribou Coffee shop right outside the lobby of the building where I work. It’s a great place to get your five-dollar a day caffeine fix. I like the white chocolate mochas and the hazelnut lattes.

I wouldn’t say I’m an everyday regular at Caribou, but I go there often enough that I’m probably a somewhat familiar face.

There’s a woman who works at this shop and she’s always on staff during the early shift when I arrive downtown. She always runs the cash register while another girl prepares the coffee drinks. There’s something I’ve noticed about the woman who runs the register. She’s very pretty, but she looks like she has a hard time relaxing. Her face is kind of… tight. When I decide to stop in for a cup of coffee, it’s not uncommon to see her conversing with customers she obviously knows on a somewhat personal level. With these people she chats comfortably and even smiles on occasion, but when it’s my turn to step up to the register and place my order, the smile literally falls off her face and she becomes very sober. I’m sure I’m not the only customer to whom she reacts this way. (Gosh, I hope it’s not just me!) It’s very uncomfortable to say the least. I try not to take it personally and try to give her my order in the friendliest way I know how. I always tell her to have a good day and she replies, “Thanks. You too.” She’s not rude but she always leaves me wondering if she doesn’t like me, in particular, for some reason. What explains the friendly, relaxed attitude with some customers and not others?

Now, the difference between this woman and another employee at the coffee shop is like night and day. When I see this other employee working, it is very likely that I will decide I need a cup of coffee just to have a chance to exchange a few words with him. I don’t know his name, but he’s got an inner-happy that’s nothing short of contagious. He marches to the beat of a different drum, but he does it with confidence.  He’s a young guy of maybe twenty-five years old and from the looks of him, I’d venture to say that he probably didn’t enjoy his high school days. You see, his mannerisms and way of speaking are very effeminate. (Think Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear.) His hair is bleached platinum blonde and is styled in that sloppy yet stylish way that only the very young can pull off. He almost always wears a pink shirt, swings his hips when he walks and is always waving his hands in the air for emphasis. All it takes is one look at this guy to know that the jocks in high school gave him hell.

But despite what I imagine his younger years to have been, this guy’s personality is unstoppable. He’s like a human popcorn popper, always bouncing around a talking a mile a minute. And he NEVER stops smiling. He makes every customer feel welcome and almost before the next person steps forward he begins to show that person how important they are. He flashes a big grin and asks how they are doing. He doesn’t just ask what they would like to order. He asks, “And what can I get for you today?” He always agrees that whatever has been ordered is a spectacular choice. While he rings up the sale, he finds a way to compliment his customer in some way. Whether he notices an item of clothing, a particular piece of jewelry or a hairstyle, he makes his customers feel that they are not just another customer but someone special.

Once when I showed up wearing my wrist brace, he very worriedly asked me what I had done. I was embarrassed, telling him it was nothing; just some Carpal Tunnel symptoms flaring up. He expressed such sympathy and told me to be sure to take it easy so that I didn’t make things worse.

Normally, this guy isn’t on staff during the early shift, but a couple of weeks ago when I was just arriving at work, I noticed that he happened to be in that morning. I made a quick turn and placed my order for a Wild Pumpkin latte, a seasonal special, with the somber woman at the register. I then made my way to the end of the counter to await my drink. My favorite, friendly Caribou employee was making the drinks that day instead of manning his usual position at the register. As I stood waiting in my early morning stupor, I realized he had asked me a question but I hadn’t quite realized it in time.

“Pardon me,” I asked?

He repeated, “Did you want an extra shot of espresso today?” He added something about there being enough espresso for two drinks but since my order was the only one, he would add an extra shot at no charge.

“Sure,” I responded! I was very pleasantly surprised and he talked on about this being a great way to kick-start my day and how I wouldn’t know what to do with all the extra energy I would soon have. I could feel myself absorbing his enthusiasm and no longer felt as if I were just going through the motions of another day. He finished preparing my drink and handed it to me with flourish.

“There you go, sweetheart! You have yourself a GREAT day!”

I thanked him and wished him the same, heading off to work feeling almost exuberant. The fact that such a common, everyday transaction could have such a profound impact was not lost on me. How many of us, if we found ourselves in the position of working in a coffee shop, would consider ourselves above such a position, merely passing our time until something better comes along? Not this guy. He makes the most of every minute and every encounter. After the last time I talked with him, I found myself wishing I had the confidence to have that kind of affect on others. I wanted to be the difference between someone else having a mundane day and an extraordinary day, just by choosing the right words and appreciating that very moment. I want to be able to set someone else on a positive path simply by taking a few moments to be unselfish.

Wouldn’t this world be an amazing place if we could all find our inner-happy and set it loose on everyone around us? Think about it…