Chickadee

Mark is a pretty talented handyman, and I can always rely on him to know the best way to manage anything that needs fixing around the house and yard. He prides himself on his ability to do quality work, and rightfully so. When friends or family need help with a project, they often call on him.

Every once in a great while, Mark uses his craftsman abilities for fun. There are several birdhouses in the backyard as proof. There are two bluebird houses on the east side of our yard, mounted on the chain link fence. Although, they’ve at times been home to families of bluebirds, the sparrows like them too. This frustrates Mark, but I think that if the sparrows like them, why not let them be?

Last year, he built a couple of smallish bird houses. Kacey thought it would be fun to paint one. Mark thought this was strange.

“Why would you paint a birdhouse?” He asked.

Kacey and I laughed. “What’s strange about it?”

“Birdhouses just shouldn’t be painted,” he said. I don’t know where he gets his ideas sometimes. I argued that colorful birdhouses are artsy and fun. I don’t think my argument won him over, but he ultimately gave in and told Kacey to have at it. So she rounded up some paint and went to work, creating a miniature barn for birds. When it was finished, she asked Mark to mount it somewhere in the yard. It might have gone in the big pine tree, or on the back wooden fence, but moving it to an appealing location for birds is not something that ever got done last summer.

And so the little birdhouse sat on the deck, on a shelf in the corner of the canopy’s frame. And being in such close proximity to humans and a very energetic dog, I imagine the birds just weren’t interested. The birdhouse remained empty and became patio decor. When we retrieved our patio furniture from the shed a few weeks ago, Kacey found the birdhouse and returned it to its position on the shelf. A shame, I thought. Maybe this year we’ll find a more suitable location for it.

2015-04-23One morning this week, while making my lunch before going to work, Mark told me to have a look out on the deck. Imagine my surprise when I saw a little chickadee getting comfortable with our “strange” barn-birdhouse so near to our people-house.

When I woke up this morning, I fed Lucy, then plunked a coffee mug under the Keurig and fetched the hazelnut creamer from the fridge. While waiting for my coffee to finish brewing, I stood in front of the patio door, looking absently out into the neighborhood. I stretched my arms up over my head and yawned, and just as I finished, noticed our bird friend perched on a patio chair just across from me on the other side of the glass. It had a beak full of dried grass and didn’t seem the least alarmed at the sight of me. In one quick motion, it hopped from the chair and flew the short distance to the bird-barn, disappearing inside. Looks like moving the birdhouse to a more suitable location is not necessary for now.

I realized that the bird was my simple pleasure this morning. While the world went on around us last week, it held its usual share of ups and downs. And I am grateful that my ups and downs are manageable enough at the moment to allow a spontaneous smile at the presence of such a tiny and common creature. 2015-04-25

Memorial Day Weekend

While many take advantage of the three-day break to go off and celebrate the unofficial start of summer, my time is being spent at home. Mark is on the night shift this weekend, otherwise we might have gone up north to his parents’ cabin at the lake. But the weather hasn’t been very cooperative as far as outdoor activities go. It’s been overcast, chilly, and raining off and on. If we were at the lake, I’d want to be outside, sitting on the dock dipping my toes or tossing out a line in the hopes of catching a fish. With this kind of weather, I’d have been cooped up inside the cabin anyway. I could have read books to my heart’s content or watched a string of movies, but I know in the back of my mind I would have been thinking of all the more productive things I could have been doing instead.

I took the absence of any kind of weekend celebration as an opportunity to catch up on things around the house. And I needed to. The natural order of the household has shifted lately. This seems to be due to the combination of Jake having a new job, Kacey returning home from school for the summer, and visits from Brad and Heather (plus dog) several weekends in a row. All of these things make me very happy, but the state of the house has suffered as a result. I start to get a little crazy when the house is a wreck and I can’t relax until things are at least somewhat back in control.

So I’ve been cleaning, tackling a mountain of laundry, putting stray belongings back in their places. The week’s grocery shopping is done. I did some cooking and delivered meals to my parents and to Mark’s. We’ve had family dinners at home all weekend long. (I love it when Connor joins us for dinner. Last night he ate three of the steaks I grilled and couldn’t stop telling me how good my twice-baked potatoes were.) I’ve enjoyed the comings and goings of all of my kids. Maybe except for the time when Lucy woke me from a sound sleep while barking excitedly at the sound of someone tiptoeing in the door after an evening out with friends. I guess I should be grateful for her guard-dog skills.

Kacey, Connor, Mark and I watched a movie together – Pitch Perfect, about a group of college girls who compete as an a capella singing group. The movie provided an abundance of juvenile humor, including a couple of scenes involving vomit that I could have done without. But it made me laugh and the musical scenes were energetic and fun. And it didn’t hurt that the movie gave a shout-out to the John Hughes feel-good movies that I used to love so much. Still do, actually.

The sun has been scarce this weekend, but the rain hasn’t been much so far. (Today could be a different story.) Many of the neighbors have been out working on their yards. The grass is green and newly planted gardens are beginning to offer some much-needed variety of color. Lucy has been learning how to walk with Mark outside of the fenced back yard and around to the front. He’s cautiously teaching her to obey her fenceless borders and she’s learning, little by little.  He keeps a close eye on her as she’s figuring out how this works. There are a lot of dogs in this neighborhood and she so badly wants to go play with them all! But even in the back yard, Lucy can enjoy canine company. Her new friend Gracie loves to run and chase along the fence with Lucy until they are both worn out. Sometimes they just sit quietly together and I have to wonder what’s going through their minds.

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Today there’s a crock-pot chili in the works for dinner. I might give the interior of my car a good cleaning. Or I might just allow myself a lazy day. Life is good.

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And to all of this country’s veterans – thank you for your service!

God’s not in the mailbox

As it often does, the lunch time conversation turned to religion. We each talked about the different ways we were raised in our faiths, our pitfalls along the way, the different beliefs we’ve held over the years. I mentioned my disappointment over the fact that I couldn’t recall having one of those big faith moments that so many people have experienced. You know the ones – those moments when someone clearly hears God speaking, or sees Him in the everyday surroundings, or simply has a defining moment when His presence is undeniably felt. I said that maybe it’s a failure on my own part that I haven’t had one of those moments. Either way, it contributes to my struggle with religion.

I wanted to lighten the mood, so I relayed an experience I had just last night. I was reading. Mark was watching t.v. and opening mail. I hadn’t been minding my husband, but he caught my attention when I heard him say, “Oh that was freaky! This is freaking me out! Look at this!”

I looked up to find him holding a sheet of paper in front of me that looked like this:

“Just stare into His eyes,” Mark told me. “Stare at them for a few minutes and you’ll see them open!”

So I stared.

And I stared.

And I stared some more.

I could literally feel my heart sink. His eyes didn’t open for me. I was sure it was a sign of my failure to be strong in my faith.

“His eyes aren’t opening for me,” I sort of whined to Mark.

“Just keep looking. They’ll open.”

I stared more. I knew what this was. I’ve seen plenty of optical illusions in my time. I couldn’t make this one work.

“I can’t see it,” I said to Mark, feeling defeated. And then I Googled the image to see what my failure said about me.

I explained to my coworkers that I was relieved to see that according to Google, this illusion was unanimously seen as a scam. The picture comes to you by mail. When you see the eyes of Jesus open, you are amazed and filled with awe. And this will make you want to follow the enclosed instructions and send your prayer requests (and some moolah!) to the designated church, which only exists as a P.O. box. Some “pastor” is getting rich off this scam. But he’s getting nada from me because the miracle failed to materialize for me.

My coworkers wanted to see the image that had me so bothered, so after lunch, I passed on a link. Thus ensued the following instant message conversation:

I’d like to think God has a sense of humor. I sure hope so because this had me laughing harder today than I’ve laughed in … I don’t know … a long time! And I’ve really been feeling like I could use a laugh lately. My coworkers sensed my feelings of worry over a silly mailing and took it upon themselves to make me see the lighter side of it. And anyone who has coworkers like mine would surely feel blessed!

Have I learned anything from this experience? Yes. I can find God wherever I think I might find him. It doesn’t have to be where others tell me he should be found.

Life is Good – February 12, 2012, New Roomies and a Happy Dog

It’s Monday Eve already. Where do the weekends go?

Not much in the line of excitement happened this weekend. I bought a smaller wallet to fit in my smaller purse. The purse is relieved. It can be zipped now without straining. Also, Kacey came home from school again, this time to celebrate the birthdays of a couple of friends. She hitched a ride home with her new roommate.

YES, I said “new roommate!” I’ve mentioned before that Kacey was having some roommate troubles with the original roomie. I know I’m a little biased, but honestly, I think Kacey is totally easy to get along with. She’s easy-going and outgoing and most people seem to like her. And I don’t really think the original roomie didn’t like her. I think she just wasn’t used to sharing living space with another person. And she didn’t seem to catch on once she started college either, and this just made her seem rude and difficult to live with.

Meanwhile, while learning to navigate other aspects of college life, Kacey made friends. She became close with one girl in particular, Caitlin. I realized this when Kacey’s stories became filled with references to Caitlin. And it just so happens that Caitlin’s roommate just moved out. She wanted to get into the on-campus apartments. When a spot opened up, she left Caitlin alone in the room and Caitlin invited Kacey to move in with her. Voilà! Everybody’s happy!

See? They’re already doing goofy photos together:

Swapping smiles :-)

So Kacey was home but she wasn’t really home, if you know what I mean. She’s a busy girl with a busy social life. And while she was busy celebrating friends’ birthdays, Mark and I went out for our usual every-other Saturday outing. We had dinner with our bowling pals at Acapulco. I had shrimp tacos. YUM! And then we bowled. I’m still trying to perfect my new skills. And they’re coming along. I’m a bit inconsistent but starting to figure things out. I got on a little roll in my first game and bowled a 188, so I was happy! And our team won all three games. We are way higher up in the ranks than we were at any given time last year. It’s progress!

This morning I woke up to sun and a temperature of nine degrees. Lucy wanted to go for a walk so I said, “What the heck!”

I bundled up with Under-Armour under my clothing and put Lucy’s suede coat on her. As usual, she was annoyed with the coat, but once we got outside and started walking, she forgot about it and just went about the business of exploring all of the new sights and smells. It was quiet out there. Not too many others were inclined to venture out this morning. We enjoyed having the neighborhood to ourselves for a change.

Later in the morning, Mark, Kacey, Connor and I ventured out to Ikea. Don’t you just love Ikea? Where else can you get so much for so little? We picked up a futon for Kacey and Caitlin’s room and a new comforter and duvet for Jake’s bed. I could have wandered around for hours looking at things and buying stuff, but the men-folk were too impatient, so we just got our necessities and got out of Dodge.

Before long, it was afternoon. Caitlin’s parents dropped her off at our house and we took the girls back to school. It was so much easier leaving my girl at school knowing she was going back with a new roommate and friend who she really likes. I think these last few months of school are going to be more like what she hoped her college experience would be.

"Welcome home. And say hi to Baby too!"

Lucy, as usual, was beside herself with joy to have us back home again. I indulged her with much petting and hugging and cooing over her cuteness. In return, she brought me her slobbery “Baby.” It’s good to be loved.

Life is Good – January 22, 2012

It was warmer this morning when we woke up. Twenty-two degrees! Lucy and I decided to go for a walk since it’s been a while. We headed out before sunrise and it was so quiet and peaceful. Did I say we walked? Lucy likes to run. She made me run a little bit too. It wasn’t so bad. I might try that again sometime soon.

There’s a temple along the route we took today. It looks really pretty in the pre-dawn morning.

Later in the morning, Jake and I went to the bowling alley. I have a friend who is not only a phenomenal bowler, she’s a bowling coach. She runs clinics to help others learn to bowl better. I nagged her for months to run a clinic at our bowling alley, and so she did. We spent three hours figuring out what we were doing wrong and what we were doing right. We practiced drills and honed our new skills. I am amazed at how much I didn’t know going into this but I’m excited to start working on improving my game. And it was really fun having Jake along with me. He keeps to himself too much sometimes, but we have our love of bowling in common. I’m really glad I convinced him to come along with me.

After bowling, it was time to return Kacey to school. Her long winter break is over. She wasn’t happy to be leaving Connor. Connor wasn’t happy to see her go. I was feeling sad she had to go back. But I keep reminding myself that college is a good thing for her; the right thing. As much as I love having her around, she has to grow up. We picked up her friend, Matt and brought him back to school too. They chatted and laughed in the back seat while we drove. I was glad Matt was there to take her mind off the sadness of leaving Connor.

It rained most of the day, so the roads were sloppy and a bit slippery. But we made it back to school safe and sound. Kacey’s good friend, Caitlin was already there and waiting for her. They were happy to see each other, which made it easier for me to drive away. My sister had come along for the ride, so I had some fun company on the drive home, making it hard to feel too down.

Besides, I give Kacey two weekends before she’s back home again. And I’m not complaining!

Life is good!

 

Life is Good – January 8, 2012

“Alex, go grab a bowl and just have some of your own!”

“No, no, I don’t want a whole bowl,” Kacey’s friend, Alex insisted as he grabbed another scoop-shaped tortilla chip and helped himself to some of the chowder that sat steaming in the bowl on the table in front of Kacey. And yet, he reached for another chip and dipped into her bowl again.

“Alex,” she laughed! “Just go get your own bowl!”

“No, I’m saving my appetite for dinner at Olive Garden, but I’ll be back afterwards and I’ll have some leftovers.” He reached for yet another chip and scooped another mouthful from Kacey’s bowl, at which point she went to the cupboard and got out a bowl for Alex.

Seeing that she intended to serve him his own portion, he insisted weakly, “I can’t eat a whole bowl.”

“I would like to eat my own dinner,” Kacey chided him while Connor laughed from the living room. She filled Alex’s bowl with a small helping of chowder and he sat down to eat with us. Connor was saving his appetite for dinner at his grandmother’s house, but asked if I’d make sure there were enough leftovers so that he could have some later on as well. I’d made a double batch. I assured him that would not be a problem.

Before our dinner was over, Alex’s dinner plans had fallen through, so he was free to enjoy the chowder without restraint. By now, the three have gone to Connor’s grandmother’s house so that Connor could eat his own dinner and they have returned again. I hear the distinct clanking of spoons in bowls coming from the kitchen. Where they are putting all of this food, I have no idea. But it sure feels good to have made something they enjoy so much!

The chowder over which everyone was making such a fuss was Mexican Chicken Corn Chowder. It was my first time making it and I can assure you that this recipe is going straight to the top of the family favorites list. The recipe come’s from Tara’s blog and I have just one word for it. Spectacular.

We ate ourselves into a stupor tonight. The chowder was so delicious, it was hard to stop, even once our stomachs were full. And we weren’t done eating once our bowls were empty. We capped off our meal with desert. Kacey was itching to make a chocolate cake earlier today and I suggested she try an icing recipe I’d found over at Emjayandthem’s. I have three words for this icing. To die for!

We were in food heaven. (Thank you for sharing your recipes, ladies!)

Of course, as you know by now, besides my New Year’s resolution, I’ve got extra incentive for all of this home-cooking I’ve been doing over the past week. My mom needs to gain some weight and I intend to help her do so. Not only am I trying to make home-cooked meals a routine at home again, I’m making sure that there’s always enough to share with my parents.

It’s been a crazy week with my mom in the hospital. My sister and I tag-teamed to make sure Dad had enough to eat and that things were taken care of around our parents’ house. We helped run errands and made sure that Dad got to and from the hospital every day. I can’t help but think what a blessing it was that Mom’s illness came on just two days before my parents’ planned departure for Arizona. How difficult it would have been for my parents, for my dad especially, if they were already settled in their winter home, so far away from their family when Mom got sick.

I’m also glad that I have plenty of vacation hours stacked up at work so that taking time off when necessary this past week was not a problem. And my boss was very understanding and flexible in allowing me time away from the office to help take care of things.

My mom is comfortable at home again. Her dog and my dad are glad to have her back. She’s got a new diet plan in which she will be eating lots of protein and fats. She needs to eat smaller portions more often over the course of each day, rather than trying to confine all of her intake into three standard meals. She’s all stocked up on Ensure shakes and protein powder. I’m going to do my damnedest to help her gain that fat layer she so desperately needs in her stomach. (And in the meantime, I think I’m going to have to work extra hard to keep my own fat layer from increasing!)

My mom is home. She’s feeling better. No one is hungry around here. Life is good.

New Years Day 2012 – Life is Good!

What a strange winter it’s been so far. For the first time in five years, we didn’t even have a white Christmas; Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I don’t miss those opportunities for driving, white-knuckled through snow-covered streets, worrying about spinning out due to a layer of ice underneath.

The skies have been gray for the past few days, but the air has been warm for this time of year. While running some errands yesterday, December 31st, I saw people coming and going in sweatshirts. No bulky jackets. No hats, no gloves, no scarves. Just sweatshirts. And get this! The local golf course was packed! Golfing in Minnesota in December! Strange.

Mark and I chose to stay home last night rather than go out to celebrate New Year’s Eve. We had a couple of offers to “do something” but I just wasn’t into it. I didn’t have much difficulty convincing Mark to stay home and watch The Help on DVD with me. (First time for him, second for me. Love this movie!) As we sat in our comfy family room chairs watching the movie by the warmth of a lovely gas-fueled fire in the fireplace,  Mark had a sudden outburst.

“Hey, look,” he said, motioning to a scene playing out in the darkness outside of our family room window. I looked and saw a shower of big, wet snowflakes falling steadily by the light of the street lamp just beyond our back fence. Winter had finally arrived. And as much as I haven’t missed the onslaught of snowstorms over the past couple of months, I realized I was feeling slightly excited that winter had finally showed up – however moderately.

This morning, we awoke to air that felt colder than it has in a long time and a nice blanket of snow over our world.

There wasn’t enough snow to really inconvenience anyone or make driving too difficult. There was just enough to brighten up the gray landscape that had settled here in recent months. It was just enough to bring the neighbors outside to shovel walks and driveways.

It was just enough to make Lucy Pie excited over having a brand new playground in her back yard and just enough to brighten my mood.

We’re in the midst of a nice, low-key, long weekend and it has afforded me the chance to breathe easy for a change. I stayed up late a couple of nights, something I don’t often do. And as a result, I slept late in the mornings, something else I don’t often do. I spent some time with my beautiful daughter, shopping the after-Christmas clearances and picking up a few bargains here and there. I’ve had time to read my book and time to watch a movie. There was time to talk leisurely on the phone with my sister and time to tackle chores here and there as I see fit. There has been time for real dinners and time to spend with my parents in these last days before they take off for Arizona for the rest of the winter. The gifts of time and leisure are such wonderful things!

It’s a brand new year, full of time and full of possibility. Life is good!