Onward Ho!

I’ve been sort of lamenting the fact that Thanksgiving week has passed us by already. Normally, by this time of year, I’ve got my mind all over Christmas. But having had most of last week off to prepare for the family Thanksgiving, and then reveling in some well-earned down-time afterwards, my focus just didn’t stray that far ahead.

Not to mention, it was a rare long weekend during which all three of my kids were at home. I love how cozy everything feels when they’re all under the same roof. Meals and conversations are so much more lively than usual. And my grown kids are such better friends than they ever were in their younger days. We watched movies together (or more accurately, we fell asleep in front of movies.) We played with the dogs and laughed at their antics. Lucy just loves when Dacotah comes to visit and they’re pretty much attached at the hip the whole time.

Someone suggested on Friday that we put up the Christmas tree, but no one was motivated enough to go haul all of the Christmas boxes out of storage until Saturday. I’m not sure why, but it feels like Christmas is barreling at us too quickly this year, and had the kids not been so enthusiastic, I probably would have procrastinated with the decorating altogether. But since, as I mentioned, all three kids were home, and since that won’t happen again until Christmas is already here, the tree went up and so did all of the decorations around the house. The kids each have a huge box of their own ornaments, received as gifts throughout the years. Our fully decorated tree has so many memories attached to it! And truth be told, once we got started, I got in the spirit. It does feel pretty festive around here now.

Logan came barreling into our front yard on Friday, all bundled up in his snow gear and calling at the top of his lungs for me to come see the inflatable penguins and Santa Claus his dad had put up in their yard. We all gladly slipped on our boots and jackets to go out and accommodate our little friend’s request. He ended up playing coy with Kacey and getting her to chase him around in the snow. He’s such a cutie!

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Kacey took some time to go celebrate milestone birthdays with friends on Friday and Saturday night. Mark and I had our bowling league on Saturday, and both Brad and Jake came to watch us for a while. Brad’s  buddy, Joe met up with him at the bowling alley and they hung out while we bowled. They’ve been pals since they were six years old, but don’t see each other much anymore now that Brad lives a few hours away. It was great to see them “yucking it up” again just like in the old days.

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Mark’s dad was moved to a hospice facility this weekend. He had some really bad days last week in the hospital as different treatments and medications were tried in order to provide him some relief from his pain. It was so hard to see him in such bad shape, and I honestly wondered if he’d continue to be with us from one day to the next. His doctor finally put a stop to the things that clearly weren’t helping at all. The hospice facility is a beautiful place and now that he’s no longer subjected to drastic treatments, he seems more clear-headed, more like his normal self. It was almost harder for me to see him looking so “good” and still know that he’s dying. But it was good for the kids to see him that way before everyone left again after the weekend.

So I guess it was more than just a reluctance to go back to work that had me wishing I could slow down time and stop the coming days from arriving. But it’s just not possible.

Anyway, reality was calling – and I know myself too well. Too many more aimless days at home and away from routine would have me going a little stir crazy. And there’s something to be said for the rhythm and productivity of the office. Even as I was wishing for more of the kind of time I’d had all weekend, I knew it would be good for me to get back to work. And it was. Work is the place where I can test the limits of my brain and feel like I’ve really got something to contribute. How lucky am I?

Besides, if I didn’t have to get up before the sun, I’d have missed this today.

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Thanksgiving was just perfect!

Everything came together so nicely and I really could not have asked for a better day. I’m so happy!

First, I managed to pull the meal together so that everything was done and hot at the same time without the kitchen falling into disaster. In the past, I’ve struggled with trying to get the turkey carved, the potatoes mashed and the gravy made all at the same time. And then what to do with the mess of pots and pans afterwards? Our house is not that big, and even though the kitchen remodel a few years ago gave us a little more space, coordinating a large meal is still a major challenge. Not to mention the fact that everyone, whether assisting with the cooking or not, just seems to want to hang out in the kitchen!

But I planned better this time. I cleared off the countertops and temporarily stashed things like the toaster and fruit basket, my kitchen radio and coffee maker. This was to make space for serving food buffet style. I researched “make ahead” recipes and had the potatoes and extra stuffing done early and kept them warm in crock pots. I roasted the turkey and stuffing in the electric roaster out in the garage so I didn’t have that monstrosity taking up space on the countertop. Three casseroles of vegetables finished up in the oven just as the turkey was carved and gravy made, and I could wash and put away most of the big pots and pans before dinner was even served.

But more important than the food was the time spent with family. Over the past few years, one or more of my kids have divided their holiday time between us and the families of their significant others. The past year was a little rough on a couple of their love lives, but that meant that we got to have all three of our kids with us this holiday.

And we really enjoyed our extended family this time around. Everyone seemed relaxed and at ease, and the conversation was fun and filled with laughter. The term forb was born (meaning to stab someone with a fork.) Yes, a forbing actually occurred, all in good spirit. This is the kind of fun my family is capable of having and I love it when we do!

I was too busy keeping up with the serving and dishwashing, (and the eating,) to take any photos of the feast or the family enjoying it. That’s okay. I’ll be happy with the good memories in lieu of photos.

The day after was appropriately lazy … if you can call it that. I tackled a project I’ve been meaning to do forever. Years ago my sister gave me a blank recipe book, meant for writing and saving favorite recipes. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never written anything in it before, even though some of my go-to recipes look like this!

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And now I’m happy to say that most of my favorite recipes are nicely documented in the lovely book from my sister! Better late than never, eh?

While I was productively writing recipes, Mark and Kacey hit a Black Friday sale. He found a good deal on a pressure washer. She scored some fun speakers.

The day included a good amount of lounging around and dog-spoiling.

We enjoyed eating leftovers all day long, and then later, an evening of cards and fun at the neighbors’ house. All in all, it’s been an amazing holiday weekend so far. And I am beyond thankful.

In spite of what I’ve said before …

I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year for (most of) the whole fam damily. Even though in the past years, I believe I’ve said more than once that I would never again. Ever. Because …

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But in my own defense, I think I’ve added a disclaimer to my no-more-family-gatherings rants, that as adamant as I wasI probably shouldn’t take my insistence too seriously. Good thing because here I am, doin’ it again! I’ve been off work since Tuesday, cleaning house, running errands, cooking and baking ahead anything that could be done prior to the big day. It’s actually been really nice to have a break from the office and spend time around the house, leisurely preparing.

And seriously? I am glad to be doing this. For one thing, I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past year, about how I relate to others, and how I allow myself to be impacted in ways both good and bad. My siblings and I have grown up to be different people with lives that have gone in different directions. We’ve each made choices that are right for ourselves and it’s not for us to judge each other. (I know this, but I also have to remember that not everyone is so aware yet.) We’re at varying levels of contentment in our lives and sometimes our differences bubble to the surface, sometimes in really ugly ways. We’ll probably continue to unintentionally hurt each other at times. As for me, I’m finally beginning to understand the importance of forgiveness. I’ve heard it a million times and never really grasped the concept before. It’s not about avoiding getting hurt. It’s about letting go and preventing that hurt from poisoning me from the inside out. I used to think that letting go meant I was weak. Now I know that it’s just the opposite.

There’s also something much bigger contributing to my change of heart this year. I think I have a fairly good sense of brevity of life, but never has it been more apparent than now. Mark’s dad is in the hospital. His health took a downward turn over the past few years, but worsened significantly two weeks ago. He won’t be joining his family for Thanksgiving today. In fact, it seems unlikely he’ll ever go home again. We are all so sad and it’s been extremely sobering to watch his daily decline. It’s been an eye-opener, to say the least, about what is really important.

When I said never again would I host or participate in an all-family gathering, I thought I would feel good about it. But I never would. It’s not so black and white. If I walk away in an attempt to never be hurt again, I won’t be just making a clean break. I can’t just take my hurt feelings and go on my merry way. My absence would actually cast a shadow, not because I think I’m so important that I should be missed that much, but because the reason for my absence would be obvious. And not only would I have allowed myself to be hurt, but I would have spread those dark feelings around to everyone else.

And so hopefully, with this realization, comes a better ability to have reasonable expectations, and to speak up calmly when it’s justified instead of adding fuel to the fire. I will strive to be level-headed, to walk away when possible, to be more understanding, and to refuse let the bitterness of another seep inside of me and stew. Better yet, I will work harder to promote good will instead of just expecting a melee to ensue at every gathering.

Of course, it helps that the one I butt heads with the most has other plans today. :-) Mark asked me yesterday, “What would you do if he called at the last minute and said he was coming after all?” I thought for a minute and said, “I’d welcome him.” And I meant it. I don’t really want to be forever at odds with my own brother. Heck, he probably doesn’t even realize that we’re at odds!

So today I am thankful for my crazy and appropriately dysfunctional family. I am thankful we have each other and will be happy to welcome them into my home which I’ve just spent days and hours cleaning and which will probably look like a bomb went off not long after everyone arrives, gets settled and the feast begins. This house is small and no matter what I do, we’ll feel like it’s bursting at the seams once we’re all here. And I am especially thankful for my sister, who makes me laugh and keeps me sane and who is is helping to cook a good portion of today’s meal. Not to mention, her willingness to arrive early to help me pull this thing off, if not in a Martha Stewart manner, at least in a way that might please Larry the Cable Guy. (I didn’t buy any wine. No one drinks it. It’s a redneck Thanksgiving with plenty of soda and beer!)

And besides, these people make for good stories! ;-)

Seriously, though. I have it good. And I am grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Dancing in the Grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Peaceful Independence Day

Sometimes I dwell on things I can’t control. Sometimes to the point of making myself absolutely miserable. I think I’ve taught myself to believe that if I don’t worry enough – about my loved ones, or particular situations – that I’m not doing something right, and that I’m being selfish. And often, the end result is a BIG failure to live in the moment or appreciate anything else that might be right or good in my world.

I think this is a pattern of behavior that I’ve really honed over the years. And I guess I’ve just continued to do what I know.

I recently began reading a book that a coworker mentioned. She felt moved to share it with a former coworker of ours and came to me because she thought I might know how to reach him. After she described the book, I was intrigued. I said I might pick up a copy myself. She enthusiastically invited me to take her copy. She said, “I’m reading it for the second time. I can read it again later. You take it.”

My desire to read the book had nothing at all to do with the worrying habit I’ve just described. I wanted to read it because I thought it offered promise of easing some guilt over my withdrawal in recent years from the religion of my upbringing. Though I couldn’t easily sum it up here, the book’s been amazing in opening my eyes to an interesting perspective where ‘religion’ and God are concerned. Though I didn’t anticipate the book would help at all with my problem of dwelling and worrying,  it has played an unexpected part. And coincidentally, my arsenal of daily positivity messages that I receive via email and Faceb00k have come together to support a burgeoning idea that I can shift my pattern of behavior to something healthier.

Two specific ideas moved into my head over the past few days and they’ve stayed very present there.

1.  ‘Happiness’ was never meant to be a constant state of mind. It’s not something that exists outside of me and it’s not something that can be attained and held on to if I just check all the right things off of a happiness checklist. It’s out there amongst all of the other feelings and emotions I experience as a human. It takes its turn in the cycle of reality that is everyday life.

And not being happy every moment of every day? Is okay. It’s normal. Feeling down, worried, upset, angry, bored, mellow or merely content at various times? It’s normal too and I can stop beating myself up because I happen to feel those things now and then.

2. All of that worrying and obsessing I do about things that are out of my control is not going to change a thing. The world continues spinning even if I get myself stuck in some worrisome place in my head. So much is just out of my hands. A moderate level of worrying is okay. Beyond that, all I can do is keep doing what I can and keep loving and supporting my people to the best of my ability. I don’t always and can’t possibly know – how every situation is going to end. And while it all plays out, I’m still here. In my life. With opportunities and moments to grab on to. If I let too many of them pass me by because I’m dwelling in dark places that serve me little purpose, then it’s going to be pretty hard to notice anything else.

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Yesterday was Independence Day. I decided from the start to just be there, staying present in the day. I set my alarm for early and Lucy and I went out for a run. Temps were in the fifties at 5:00 am and it felt good. Lucy is a great running partner and she encourages me to keep it up when I might otherwise think I don’t have it in me. I felt stronger than ever as we ran while the sun came up.

After our run, I cleaned up quickly. Mark, Kacey, Connor and I then headed out for a day at the cabin with some of Mark’s family. We arrived in time for a big family breakfast and then everyone dispersed for various activities. Connor wanted to go fishing on the dock. Some of the nieces and a little nephew joined him. Mark and the bigger nephews got started on a building project outside the cabin while sister-in-law, niece-in-law, brother-in-law and I cleaned up the kitchen and did dishes. Funny how even something like drying the dishes of fourteen people, in a setting like that, can be fun. We bantered back and forth and made jokes until the cabin was tidy again.

Soon we were outside with the others. The building project provided some entertainment for a while. I spent some time on the dock with the kids and later, alone, just listening to the breeze in the trees and the sound of the water lapping against a boat as it sat in the boat lift. The sun disappeared behind a wall of clouds just as I’d changed into my swim suit. Then came some rain. The rain was disappointing, but it provided a chance to watch ‘The Lego Movie’ with both big and little kids. The movie was surprisingly enjoyable for all ages. Later, there was more eating as we all enjoyed a simple summer dinner together.

A few times over the course of the day, my mind wanted to wander away to things that will play themselves out, with or without me.  I’d remind myself to come back, to just “be here.” I don’t want to ignore life’s problems, but I want to get better at not letting them overshadow everything else. Yesterday was a day to be with family, to enjoy a simple place and some simple fun. I think this is something I really need to keep working on, to handle life and to support my loved ones in a more healthy and productive way. And I find myself anticipating the hours and days ahead a little more enthusiastically than usual.

This is a path I want to keep traveling.

In which I learn that what I want is not always what I need

We are now smack dab in the middle of our three-day weekend and I am loving it. And I have to say this because I didn’t expect to love it.

My husband is working this holiday weekend. And this is not all that unusual. If you know us at all, you know it’s not uncommon for Mark to work weekends. His job requires it of him, every other weekend, holiday or not. This is our norm and for the most part, I am just grateful that he is gainfully employed and able to help keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table, and help the last of the three kids get through college.

Obviously, I would prefer if Mark could enjoy every holiday at home with his family. I don’t feel quite whole when he’s not with us on these special occasions. I tend to feel a bit sorry for myself when it seems like most everyone I know is with their families, celebrating, or relaxing, or escaping everyday life … and we’re not.

I expected to feel let down this weekend. I expected to feel alone and a little bit bitter. Because my husband didn’t have to work this weekend. He chose to work.

Yes, there was a slight lack of communication in which he forgot to discuss this choice with me until it was too late to undo it. And I didn’t have the chance to tell him how much I would hate him making that choice.

I hate to admit this, but I … tend to … maybe be a little bit of a …

grudge-holder.

There. I said it. I’m a grudge-holder. (Hey. Everyone has a fault or two that needs continuous work. This is mine.) And if this weekend ended up being miserable for me, it would have been my own doing. But I made a pivotal choice yesterday morning when Mark’s alarm clock went off at 5:45 am.

As I lay there in bed, trying to go back to sleep, feeling disgruntled about being awakened on my day off, on my holiday weekend, I realized that returning to dreamland was not going to happen. It’s not in my early rising make-up to go back to sleep once I’m awake. Still, I thought I should have at least had the chance to continue sleeping past my norm.

Go out for a run, I said to myself.

I don’t run anymore, I reminded myself.

Well, since you agreed to run the Color Run with your daughter in seven short weeks, it might not be a bad idea to start again, my damn self said to me.

Fine! I’ll get up and go outside, I replied to myself. But I’m not running. I’ll just take Lucy for a walk.

But actually? I did run. Lucy wanted to run. Actually, Lucy always wants to run. And if there’s anyone who can melt my stubborn tendencies, (besides my daughter,) it’s my dog. So we ran. And it was good.

The sun was ablaze and the sky was a gorgeous blue. Flowering Crab Apple trees were in various stages of bloom all along the way and I breathed in deep, enjoying their floral fragrance. My legs weren’t in as bad of shape as I thought they would be and neither were my lungs. And Lucy was my motivation to keep going when I thought I couldn’t. By the time we came back home, I had a new attitude.

After our run and a good drink of water for both Lucy and me, I enjoyed a big cup of coffee with creamer and sat down to write. More therapy for my now significantly less bitter self.

Both Jake and Kacey were up early, and when Jake said, I’m going to make us some Belgian waffles, that sealed it. There’s nothing I love more than a hot, unhealthy breakfast with my kids on a lazy morning. Jake mixed up the waffle mix and I started some bacon in a frying pan. I ate too much bacon and the waffles didn’t come out of the iron in one piece, but it was all delicious.

Later, Kacey helped me do the minimum of cleaning we felt obligated to get done around the house. We watered our new vegetable plants out in the gardens, (we’re hoping to grow our own salads this summer,) and pulled Lucy’s pool out of the shed and filled ‘er up. Then we played with our crazy, adorable dog and laughed as she splashed in and out of her pool and ran circles in the yard under the warm, spring sun. Dogs really know how to revel. I could learn a thing or two from Lucy.

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When Lucy pooped out after so much activity, we marveled at how cute she was, all curled up and sound asleep on the family room loveseat. Kacey and I headed back out to the patio table on the deck and  “did” our finger and toe nails with some bright pink polish. My coworker, Nick was getting married in the afternoon and Mark and I were going to the reception after he got off work. Thought I might give my fingernails a rare coat of polish to go along with the dressing up I’d be doing for the occasion.

As we sat outside soaking up as much enjoyment of  the day as we could, me polishing Kacey’s nails, she said, I just love this weather. It makes me so happy.

I said, Me too, and I thought, I really am happy. And here I had been all ready to be a pouty mess.

What a gift the day, and my kids had turned out to be. I was all prepared to be in a funk for the weekend, but instead had followed my instincts to make the best of what I had. And it did turn out to be the best. I think every day about how fast the timeline of my life is moving and I realize that I can’t afford to let the precious moments slip away while I dwell on things that aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. Even the wedding reception turned out to be more fun than either Mark or I expected. There was one of those photo booth type of set-ups, and my coworkers and I got in on the fun.

NickWeddingThe rest of this weekend promises to bring more picture-perfect weather. Our good friends, Paul and Megan have invited us out for a night of walking and dining in downtown Stillwater tonight, (historic and fun place). And Mark and I have had a long-overdue conversation about his choice to work. We both agree we should have had a more solid discussion about his plans. And I can now see that he was only trying to do what he thought was best for his employer, his work life and for the family. (After all, there is some serious holiday and overtime pay involved.) I can’t fault him for being a dedicated employee and trying to take care of us. He thought he was doing a good thing. And as a compromise, he will not be working on Monday, Memorial Day after all.

I really couldn’t have asked for anything more. This weekend didn’t turn out like I thought it should, but still, somehow, it has been everything I needed. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. But sometimes, I win the battle against myself. Perspective. It’s all about perspective. And choosing the right one. It’s a lesson I have to keep on learning.

 

Still in a holiday-lazy groove

I had to go back to work today after having the past two days off in honor of the New Year. This morning felt like Monday all over again. And it wasn’t easy getting out of bed. It’s been so cold for the past couple of weeks! I have a blanket, a heavy comforter and a quilt on the bed. Last night I threw a fleece blanket on top for good measure. Mark was gone to work for the night, so I tried to convince one of the dogs to curl up and share some body heat, but when Brad and Heather are home, which they are right now, Lucy forgets I exist and attaches herself like velcro to Heather’s side for the duration of their stay. Dacotah, sick of fighting for attention against Lucy, hung out with me for a while, but soon wandered off to find her own people again.

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Can you tell I’m one of those people who can never get warm? Now I remember why I was in an exercise slump around this time last year. Just the thought of making even the short jaunt from the gym parking lot into the gym in this kind of cold is almost painful. Of course now that Jillian Michaels lives in my DVD player, I can’t use that excuse anymore.

I didn’t exercise this morning, though. I had the best of intentions of going to the gym, but … it was  seriously cold out. Also, I didn’t really sleep much last night. The combination of “kids” home on break from school and work, coming and going, the dogs romping around as long as someone was awake, and Dacotah periodically wandering back in to stick her nose in my face and make sure I was still in my bed, all kept me from getting a solid night of sleep.

I was kind of cranky as I drove to work today. In weather this cold, the roads can be icy even when they don’t look it. But some drivers drive stupid anyway and it annoys me. And then I was thinking about how once I arrived at work, how much I didn’t want to have to deal with an annoying coworker who constantly comes across as such a phony and always manages to push my buttons. I literally prayed as I drove that she would call in sick. No such luck. She showed up to work not long after I arrived.

But I was busy after a couple of days away. There was plenty of catching up to do, several month-end processes to complete and a couple of client “fires” to put out. I barely had a free moment to spare and thankfully, my coworker kept her distance. It also helps that I’ve finally learned to refuse to respond when she initiates conversation over the cubicle wall. If she can’t come address me directly, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear her. It helps.

The day was full enough that it passed quickly. I got everything caught up and under control, enough for me to have one more day off tomorrow. I figured that since the kids are home, I might as well make use of all that PTO time I accumulated over the past year and stretch out the holidays just one more day. So by afternoon, that Monday feeling had passed and the Friday feeling took over.

Sure is going to feel strange to have to work all five days next week. But I think it’ll do me good to get back into a normal routine again.