I ran into my boyfriend, Blake Shelton at the Minnesota State Fair

He’s kind of got a big head,

…but he’s Blake Shelton, so I guess he’s entitled.

You’d think that seeing Blake would have been the highlight of my visit to the fair, but oddly enough, it wasn’t. The highlight was my new sticky roller purchase.

No refills are needed, ever and, as promised, this sticky roller removes short, wiry red dog fur from my navy blue love seat like none of the other sixty-odd fur removal products I’ve tried. Comes complete with telescoping handle and a handy purse-sized roller for those embarrassing times when you realize you are out in public with dog fur stuck to the butt of your black dress pants.

They don’t call the state fair The Great Minnesota Get-Together for nothing. I think we were all there today.

Scary high swings!

And there is so much to see! We went inside the Education Building only because there was a huge line of people waiting to get in when it opened. I never did figure out what the big deal was, but we got good free stuff in there. Many of the Minnesota state colleges and universities were represented there. We got bags there! You know, the eco-friendly kind that you can take shopping and reuse again and again. And we got drawstring back packs there. I use those to carry my shoes to the gym. We filled these with all kinds of free things that were available all over the fair. I must have been in a healthy state of mind. I kept picking up flyers on good nutrition and recipe booklets and one on the benefits of flax seed. (Yeah, I’m not sure what that was about, either.)

And we ate. I don’t even want to admit everything we ate. But I will, just because the fair is an exercise in excess and so I’ll admit to doing my part. We had deep-fried cheese curds for breakfast. We had shrimp on a stick. We had turkey jerkey, Sweet Martha’s cookies, an apple pie pocket ala mode. Mark had a foot-long hot dog. We had gelato!

We saw big stuffed animals.

And artwork made out of plastic cups, forks and spoons.

There were a few things we just looked at and said, “Hmmmm. No thanks!”

Mark checked out new docks for his parents’ cabin at the lake. We both checked out motorcycles at the Harley Davidson shop. I sat in a black Cadillac SRX at the Cadillac dealer. A sales girl got in and sat in the passenger seat and tried to sell me one. I said, “Maybe in the next year.” But shhhhh… I don’t think a Caddy is in my price range. It was fun to sit in it though.

We saw strange people. We ran into old friends. We learned to follow people with strollers when trying to make our way through a crowd. People get out of the way for strollers. Mark pointed out the Cutco booth. We just bought a knife set from Cutco. I looked over to the booth where a young man looked at us expectantly. I gushed, “Cutco! I love you guys!”

We proceeded to talk with the young salesman and tell him how much we love our new knives. I bought a new ice cream scoop from him and he asked if we could just stand with him all day and continue talking about how much we love Cutco products. But we had so much more to see and do, so we said goodbye.

I bought a concoction to turn wine into a frozen cocktail. They were giving out free samples! It was good!

Mark checked out a “shack” for ice fishing.

Hell, if this is what ice fishing is all about, I could do ice fishing!

After six and a half hours, my feet hurt and my stomach was full beyond full. The sun had come out and I could feel my skin beginning to burn. There was nowhere to turn to escape the smell of sweat. So we headed for one of the fairground exits , sweaty and tired, but happy that we’d experienced the fair for another year.

Dog Whisperer

The houses on either side of ours have each sold several times over. And we’ve been lucky to have had several nice, friendly, couples living next to us over the years. The current neighbors are nice enough, both families. The ones to the east have been there for a few years now. The ones to the west have been there for half a year or so. But we just haven’t formed real friendships with any of them the way we did with the previous neighbors.

Mark does a little better with all of them than I do. He spends a lot of time outside. (Personally, I think it’s his way of avoiding the inside chores.) And Mark is not one to just quietly go about his business if he sees the neighbors out and about. He will yell over the fence, just to say hello, or ask about whatever yard project appears to be happening. He gets them talking. Me? I haven’t fared as well. The first time west-neighbor Susie came out while I was outside, Mark hollered over to her to introduce me. I was mucking around with some flowers and I stood to go meet her as I was saying hello. She said hi quickly and turned and walked away. Weird?  The neighbors all still feel a little bit foreign to me at times.

Lucy feels the same, I think. Whenever the east-neighbors come out in their yard, the fur stands up on her back and she barks and howls at them. It’s embarrassing, to be perfectly honest. Those poor people can’t work in their garden, mow the lawn or enjoy a bonfire if I happen to let my dog out at the same time. Of course, the minute I hear Lucy start up, I run outside and haul her furry little butt back inside. I’m sure she doesn’t understand, but I can’t have her howling at them all the time. (And oddly, she doesn’t do this to the west neighbors. Only the east-neighbors.)

I’ve contemplated getting a bark collar for Lucy. I’ve complained to Mark. “They’re not dog people.”

(I know this to be true. We ran into them at Petco one time. They were buying cat things.)

“If they were dog people, they would talk to her,” I said. “If they would just say something to her, maybe go up to the fence and show her they are not a threat, she wouldn’t be scared of them. I wish they would just speak to her.”

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “If they’re not dog people, they’re not dog people.”

And so every time Lucy is in the back yard, and every time I hear, “Wuff Wuff Wuff Wuff…Rowr Rowr Rowr Rowr,” I know it’s a pretty good bet that the east-neighbors are outside. Just this evening, I had that very suspicion. I went running outside and sure enough, east-neighbor man and his elderly dad were out in the back yard. East-neighbor man just smiled and waved at me, ignored Lucy and continued walking to his garden at the end of the yard. But east-neighbor man’s dad was coming toward the fence and stopped just on the other side of where Lucy was and where I was headed. As I approached, I heard him speaking very gently to Lucy. He told her what a good girl she was to protect her home that way, but that she needn’t worry as he had no intention of harming her or her family.

I apologized and grabbed Lucy’s collar, telling her “No,” and trying to soothe her. At the same time, east-neighbor man’s dad continued to talk to her and to me. He told me about his Golden Lab who is thirteen years old and suffering with cancer. He told me how she still wants to walk and the way she loves car rides. Lucy continued to bark and howl some, but she was sounding less intimidating. East-neighbor man’s dad told me how he was taking his dog for a ride the other day when he saw another dog wandering along a busy street, looking uncertain what to do. He said he stopped and the wandering dog looked at him as if to say, “What is this? There are so many cars, I don’t know what to do!”

East-neighbor man’s dad said he couldn’t allow the dog to continue wandering on such a busy street so he opened his car door and let the dog in. He checked the dog tags and contacted the owner and delivered the wandering dog home to safety. And all the while he talked, he continued to interrupt himself to look at Lucy and soothe her with gentle words until she finally sat and cocked her head at him and contemplated whether or not he was okay. And clearly, she decided he was.

When Lucy was all settled, east-neighbor man’s dad said to me, “Well, I think I’ll go help my son now,” and he ambled off to walk back to the house with him. And Lucy watched them both go and she made not a sound!

I could have hugged that man. So sweet. So patient. So gentle. And something bigger than that. So generous! He didn’t have to give my dog the time of day. He could have been annoyed at the incessant barking and howling. Had I been in his shoes, I would have been. But he wasn’t. Instead he gave Lucy and me a bit of his time and a bit of himself until everything was alright. He left me speechless.

Move Away to College Day – Kacey’s Sophomore Year

And so begins Kacey’s life as a college sophomore. Over the past few days, she’s been busy making sure all of her laundry was done and all of her necessities were packed for life in a dorm room. Everything that could be was packed in the truck last night so that she could just hop in and go this morning. We were on the road by 7:00 a.m.

Kacey’s freshman year at UW Eau Claire was fine, but she quickly realized she hadn’t found the fit she was hoping for. By the end of first semester, she had completed her application for one of the University of Minnesota schools and shortly afterwards was accepted. Several close friends were already attending school there and several others were also busy applying for admission. I could tell already today that she is going to be very happy where she is.

She’s got good friends close by. Haley’s room is just two floors above. Andi, Kacey’s pal since Kindergarten, is her new roomie.

Besties!

And of course, Connor is across the hall, along with Alex, Matt and Zwick.

Where did Matt go?

The dorms are beautiful! The dorms at Eau Claire were many years old. I remember thinking they weren’t bad. After all, they were dorms. They weren’t supposed to be spacious and beautiful. But Kacey’s new dorm at her new school was built only four years ago. Her room is palatial in comparison to last year’s room!

Check out the high ceiling!

I was happy that Kacey and Andi let us moms help put the room together while the dads went off to relax in the study room. We girls had fun arranging and organizing and making the dorm room feel homey. And we laughed when we saw the girls’ bedding. They had unknowingly color coordinated their stuff.

Andi’s black bedding with teal accents and Kacey’s teal bedding with black accents

We also laughed when we poked our heads in the rooms across the hall. The boys definitely feel confident they can survive with fewer belongings than the girls.

At one point, Kacey joked that I wasn’t allowed to cry when it came time to say goodbye. I told her it had been a tough week and I was making no promises.

“Okay,” she said, understanding.

But when it came time to say goodbye, there were no tears. It was hard to feel sad when my little girl was clearly so happy. She’s surrounded by the best of friends and I know they’ll all take good care of each other. Before we left, I not only got hugs from Kacey, but from all of her friends as well. Some of them even said, “I love you,” as they hugged me. Could I ask for better people to be in my daughter’s life???

Time for the parents to go home

The Risk of Loving

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief –
But the pain of grief
Is only a shadow
When compared with the pain
Of never risking love.”

~ Hilary Stanton Zunin

Connor’s mom’s funeral was today. It was a tough one, but it was nice. Connor picked out all of the music for the service. He also went up in front of the congregation and did a reading. He did a beautiful job. I was so proud of him.

Yesterday, it was suggested to me that maybe I am too attached to Connor, considering he and Kacey are only nineteen years old. Who knows where life will take them, right? I know that the statement was only made out of concern for my feelings. If I get too attached and somewhere down the road, Kacey and Connor go their separate ways, I’ll be heartbroken. When the concern was expressed to me, I thought to myself, “It’s too late. I am definitely attached to Connor.”

But I’ve wondered since then if I should have been more cautious with my feelings. My kids are young. Their friends and love interests may come and go from their lives. If I let myself get attached to everyone, am I setting myself up for disappointment and heartache? I don’t know if I have it in me to hold back when I really like, really admire, really love someone who comes into our lives this way. But is it careless of me to let myself get too close to people who may or may not be here for the long haul? I wondered, if I had been more careful with my feelings, if I wouldn’t have felt such a heart-crushing sadness when I learned of Connor’s mom’s passing. Maybe it wasn’t my place to hurt so deeply for a young man and family who aren’t even my own.

I recently put the WordPress app on my iPhone. It allows me to get notifications when a new blog comment is received. Today, just after leaving the church, I felt a vibration from my purse. My phone was buzzing. It was a WordPress notification. I’d received a comment from my friend, Jeni Hill Ertmer in response to one of my recent reflections on Connor and his mom’s passing and the dark feelings I experienced as a result. Jeni’s words came to me just when I needed them most. She said,

The older we get and the more we realize fully that we -none of us -is immortal, I believe causes the passing of others -whether they be young or very old -to register and linger more with us. The unfairness we recognize in the loss of someone either very, very young -as in a child -or an adult just hitting their stride perhaps -is something to be reckoned with for sure and also normal to think if my mind, my heart is so clouded,so fogged up right now in bleak thoughts and sadness, what right does the old sun have to come down and shine its glorious rays upon me and those I care deeply about too? And yet, sometimes it is just in seeing that beautiful sunshine that helps to start the healing process as we still have to look around and see that, yes -life goes on. I think it forces that realization upon us as if to say I know this is painful but let me help you in just some small way. That Kacey, Connor and their closest friends will be respective roomies and also that their rooms will be across the hall will no doubt create a close circle to envelope Connor through the first days there and also, without his Mother too. Peace -to you and especially for him as he begins the process of going forward and truly standing on his own two feet then too.

Jeni’s words washed over me and put me at peace with the sadness I’ve been feeling. She brought me peace with my feelings for Connor too. And I realized, if I’m “too” attached to him, then so be it. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. Connor loves my daughter. And Kacey loves Connor. And so I love Connor. He fits in with us right here, right now and that is good enough for me. Just like one of my own kids, when he is happy, it makes me happy. When he is hurting, I hurt. And when he needs a friend, support and love, I want him to know he can find those things in this house, with this family. There is no guarantee that anyone I love, anyone I care for is going to remain in my life indefinitely. I can’t hold back on loving anyone out of fear of losing them later. That’s no way to live. I may experience heartache somewhere down the road because I feel love. In fact, I think it’s a pretty good bet. I’ll take my chances.

Life Goes On

Kacey slept until noon today. Not unusual for your typical 19 year-old, but she’s not your typical 19 year-old. Although not as early a riser as me, my daughter likes to be awake before half of the day is gone. When she sleeps too late, she says she feels as if she’s lost a big chunk of her day. And since she worked a full-time job this summer, her body seems to have developed an internal clock that made it nearly impossible for her to sleep much past eight o’clock most days, even on the weekends.

We had committed to attending a niece’s bridal shower this afternoon though, so at noon, I knew I had to awaken Kacey so she could shower and get ready. She was groggy when I woke her, but made her way out of bed quickly after being reminded that we had a party to attend. While driving to the shower, Kacey remarked how surprised she was to have slept so late. I suggested her body might be off schedule considering the events of the past few days. I asked her if she’d slept at all Friday night when she stayed with Connor after his mom’s passing. She said they hadn’t stayed up very late and wondered instead if being so very sad could cause such exhaustion. I said I imagined it would.

Yesterday morning, while I was on the final leg of my run and headed back towards home, the sun was so bright it was nearly blinding. That was right about the time I suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness for Connor and his family and began to cry. At that moment, I wondered what right the sun even had to be shining. A little dramatic, I know. I’m just having a tough time wrapping my head around the unfairness of it all. I have been fortunate in life so far. I haven’t experienced any great tragedies or unexpected loss. And Connor, in only nineteen short years has had more than his share. I certainly don’t want to invite sorrow into my own life, but I sure wish there were some way to take some of it from Connor and his family. But that’s just not how it works. All of us, at some point, are going to experience the heartbreak of  staying behind while we say goodbye to someone we love.

I always wonder how those who have been through it are able to open their eyes the next day. How do they take another breath? Make a cup of coffee? Shower and face a new day that’s different from past days in such a vast and unwelcome way? But they do. You always hear that the return to routine and normalcy eases the pain little by little, day by day. I hope that’s true for Connor.

I was worried about Connor because he’s supposed to leave for school this Thursday. His mom’s funeral is on Tuesday. I worried that Thursday was too soon for Connor to be away from home and family and that his emotions will be too raw to jump right into the frenzy of college life. But Kacey thinks it might be a good thing. She and Connor are going to school together this fall. She transferred from her last school. He transferred from his. They have both been looking so forward to this since late last year when they were each accepted. Kacey will have a roommate of her choosing this time around, her good friend since Kindergarten, Andi. Connor will have his good friend, Alex. They’ll be among their tight circle of friends at their new school. Oh… and did I mention? Connor and Alex’s dorm room is in the same building as Kacey and Andi’s. Oh… and did I mention? Connor and Alex’s dorm room is across the hall from Kacey and Andi’s. I was a bit skeptical about this arrangement initially. They swear though that they couldn’t have orchestrated this arrangement if they had tried. But considering the past few days, I think I’m glad they’ll be so close to each other. Besides, they’re going to spend as much time together as they want to, whether their rooms are across the hall or across campus from each other. And I just don’t worry about them the way some parents might worry about their kids and significant others. It may seem that I’m being naive, but it’s not that. In spite of their fun-loving natures and ability to be silly, there’s a maturity in Kacey and Connor’s relationship that’s rare for kids their age.

I guess I realized even yesterday that distraction is a good thing. I was alone for the most part at home, and every time I slowed down and quieted my mind, the sadness would come drifting back again. I needed to get away. I had been talking with my sister earlier in the day and she had extended an invitation to come see her husband’s band play at a community event in the late afternoon. I hadn’t committed at the time, but as the afternoon wore on, I realized it would do me good. The band plays Christian rock, which is not really my thing these days, but they were fun to hear. The event was at a neighborhood park and the sole purpose was to promote a sense of community and trust among the neighbors.

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It was good for me to be with my sister and my nephews. My brother-in-law was up on stage with his band, pounding out the music that he loves. It was a sunny, warm afternoon and the park was filled with people, young and old, parents and children, friends and neighbors. The event was all about reaching out to others and loving those around us. As much as I wanted to stay angry on Connor’s behalf, I was losing the energy for anger. The music and the message began to soothe the ache in my heart just a little bit.

What I’m feeling is such a fraction of the hurt that Connor must feel. I just hope that he opens his eyes each day and takes another breath. And another. And another. I hope he walks out his door each day and still wants to take life by storm. I want enough days to pass by quickly so that one day he opens his eyes and finds that the hurt isn’t quite so bad anymore. And though his mom’s love can never be replaced, I want him never to doubt that he is loved by so many. The first of those many next days has already come and gone and Connor is already proving his ability to endure this and go on. I am so proud of him.

Goodbye, Mama D

I keep wondering why it hurts so much to know you’re gone. I can’t even say I knew you.

Remember that December two years ago when the whole metro area was bracing for a blizzard? We all knew it was coming. That Friday night, as the snow began to fall, Connor drove his little pick up truck over to his grandma’s house because it would get him closer to our house. He wanted to be sure he could get here to see Kacey the next day for their two month anniversary. But when Saturday morning arrived, he was snowed in. His little truck wasn’t going to make it out of Grandma’s driveway, much less over the roads to get to our house. Mark managed to get his big truck the mile or so through the snow to pick Connor up and bring him here.

Remember how I told Connor he would have to spend the weekend here? The roads were so bad that no one was driving anywhere unless it was absolutely necessary. Connor called you to let you know where he would be and you insisted on talking to me. You wanted to make sure the situation was “cool” and I assured you I would be here all weekend and that Connor would be spending the night in Brad’s bedroom. You and I talked on the phone for a long time that day. You told me how much Connor had talked about spending time with Kacey on their anniversary. You told me then how crazy he was for her. And even though we’d never met, it was so easy to talk with you. I couldn’t wait to meet you. I didn’t know then that my opportunities to get to know you would be gone before we really got a chance.

I knew you’d been sick for a while, but I didn’t know how bad things had become. Connor never said much, and I think I understand. Maybe our house was the place he could come and just be, without having to answer a bunch of questions and without having to bear looks of pity. We didn’t know he was carrying such a big weight on his shoulders and when he came here, Mark picked on him, teasing him  just like he does everyone else. I always come to Conn’s rescue and put Mark in his place. Conn knows I’ve always got his back and he plays on it. We’ve had a lot of laughs playing that game.

I understand why Conn didn’t talk much to us about your illness. He’s comfortable here. Really comfortable. Still, there’s a limit to the kind of stuff a kid wants to discuss with his girlfriend’s parents. I get that.

When I found out a couple of days ago that you were dying, I was floored. It hurt so much. I didn’t really know you, but I know your boy and I love him. He’s become a part of our lives and we’ve grown to love him over these past two years. It hurts to see him hurting and not be able to take that pain away from him. I know I don’t have to tell you what a great kid you have. I knew from the moment I met him that I was going to really like him. Even though Connor first made his presence known to us by toilet-papering our trees – several times – I knew I liked him the minute I met him. It didn’t take long to figure out that the toilet papering was his way of getting Kacey’s attention.

Connor is one of those people who loves life. When he comes through our door, he lights up the place. He’s always bursting with energy and he’s always got a plan to have fun. And he finds joy in the simplest of things – like playing football with the guys at the park, or going swimming at the beach, playing with my Lucy Pie or just taking your dogs for a walk with Kacey.

Speaking of Kacey, she really liked you. You probably knew that. I can’t tell you how many times she’d come home and say, “We saw Mama D today! I like Mama D.”

Do you know how much Kacey loves your little guy, Chase, too? She loved when you let Connor and her take Chase for walks in his stroller. She always has a never-ending litany of reasons she finds Chase so cute and amazing.

Connor told us Thursday night that you only had a matter of days left. All day yesterday, I waited and dreaded the news that you had gone. And when Kacey told me last night that you had passed on, all I could think of was your sweet Connor-boy. When he got back from the hospital last night, he wanted Kacey to come be with him at Grandma’s house. I told her to take my car and go. And when Grandma said Kacey could spend the night, I agreed without hesitation. Connor wanted Kacey with him and I wanted her to be there for him.

So as I was out running this morning, I was thinking about you and the fact that you’re gone now. And suddenly I couldn’t breathe and tears began to fall. I thought about the heartbreak your family is experiencing in the wake of your loss and imagined how hard it must have been to let go of your hold on this world and leave your loved ones behind for another. Connor said that you’d been talking about his dad lately and that’s when he knew things were bad. I hope Connor finds some solace in knowing that you and his dad are together again.

And suddenly I realized something. As I was wondering again how I could be so sad over the loss of someone I never really knew, I realized I was wrong. I did know you. I knew you very well. Every time I see Connor, I see you. He is everything good that came from you and his dad. I see a great sense of humor and an amazing ability to rise up again when life is throwing punches. I see a fighter and someone who is always hungry to learn more, experience more, be more. I see someone who loves so easily and to whom family is of the utmost importance. I see someone who loves to laugh and make friends and loved ones happy.

This boy of yours is such a special person. It’s no wonder my daughter loves him. It’s why it’s so easy for me to love him. And this is why it’s so hard for me to know you’ve left this world. I know Connor … all three of your boys will miss you like you’ll never know.  And I hope sooner rather than later, they’ll come to terms with the fact that you’ve now found the peace and freedom from the pain that plagued you so much in this world. If I know Connor at all, I know he’ll be okay. He has always talked about his uncles and aunts and grandparents, and I’m glad he’s got such a tight-knit family to wrap him up in their love. We’ll keep loving him too and we’ll help take care of him. I promise.

Rest in peace, Mama D. You will be missed.

I HATE this short hair! … Oh wait, maybe I don’t.

Every woman, every once in a while, gets the itch to cut her hair. I mean, really cut it. I have these itches now and then. I usually talk myself out of them. I get a little bit freaky about my hair. Any change to this head of hair happens fractionally. Most of the time.

Brad’s girlfriend cut her hair recently. It is ADORABLE. It got me to thinking that I might be ready for a change. I thought about this for weeks and weeks. I researched haircuts on the internet. I even printed out pictures to show my stylist.

On the day of my appointment, I started getting cold feet.

“I can’t do it,” I told Kacey.

“It’s just hair, Mom. It will grow back,” she said.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I told my coworker, Belinda.

“It’s just hair,” she said. “It will grow back.”

I decided they were right. I took my pictures to my appointment. I showed them to Patti, my stylist. She gasped with glee.

“Are you going to let me cut it,” she asked?

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s just hair. It will grow back.”

My hair looked pretty much like this when I sat down in Patti’s chair.

I mentally said goodbye to my hair. Patti began to cut. She watched my face in the mirror.

“Are you going to cry,” she asked?

“No,” I said, wiping a tear from my eye.

Patti cut and cut. She oohed and aahhed. She assured me it would look great. She styled it. It looked pretty good. (Doesn’t your hair always look great after your stylist does it?)

Over the next couple of days, I struggled to style my hair the way Patti did it. Short hair on me is a lot more work than long hair. I began to regret getting it cut. A couple of times I decided I hated it. But then someone said it made me look younger. And then another person said it made me look younger. And then my friend, Teri said, “I really like your hair. It makes you look younger. I mean a lot younger. Not that you looked seventy or anything before, but this style makes you look a lot younger!”

Well then… maybe I don’t hate it after all. I guess maybe I’ll keep it for a while!