Justin

I have a cousin … step-cousin, really. Justin. He’s the son of my uncle’s second wife. I think he’s about thirty years old or so now.

I didn’t really know Justin when he was growing up. I can remember Justin at one family Christmas when the entire extended family would still gather together. After that, my parents started doing their own thing at Christmas time, since their kids were growing up, getting married and having kids of our own. I probably saw Justin a handful of times throughout the years after that. And then my uncle and Justin’s mom divorced.

The next time I saw Justin was four years ago when my uncle died. He was living with my uncle (who I also didn’t see often) and was estranged from his mom by that time. I was a little shocked to see how Justin had grown up. To put it mildly, he looked like he was no stranger to trouble. We were all gathered at my uncle’s home that day as the paramedics were taking him to the hospital. He was in the last stages of illness and we all knew he probably only had days to live. Justin was moving about the house. He looked like he was packing things. I guess he knew he couldn’t continue to live at the house after my uncle was gone. He was trying to look tough, but I could see he was struggling to face what was happening. He went outside and started up the lawn mower as my uncle was wheeled out of the house on a gurney.

I didn’t know Justin at all anymore, but I felt sorry for him. No one in the family knew him anymore and maybe everyone was a little scared of him. He couldn’t lean on his mom for support. And his step-dad was dying. After the ambulance left, Justin stood on the deck looking lost. I scribbled my phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it to him. I told him to call me if he needed anything. I was a little afraid that he might call; afraid I would be nowhere near able to give him anything he might need or want. He never called. I wasn’t surprised. Maybe I was a little relieved.

Then, maybe a year ago, I stumbled across Justin on Faceb00k. I friend requested him and he accepted. We messaged a bit and he shared a little bit about his life. He had hopes at that time of making a life with a girl he was dating. He liked her child and thought they could be a family. I gathered he didn’t have much and was left to wonder how he supported himself. Didn’t really want to know, really.

Over the past year, I’ve noticed Justin’s Faceb00k posts. Sometimes I can’t respond to what he’s said because he’s posted something too vulgar or violent. Times like those, I think maybe I should disconnect our FB friendship. He lives in a different world. Then another day, he’ll post something about getting sober, becoming a better person, being the kind of person who can be involved in his kids’ lives. (I guess he has kids!) Times like these, I leave him a supportive comment and feel bad about the times I’ve thought about disconnecting.

I’ve since learned that Justin’s relationship with his mom (if you can call it a relationship) is very volatile. I know and love his mom, though I haven’t had much contact with her since the divorce. I don’t know her the way Justin describes her, but there seems to be nothing left between them. One day on Faceb00k, Justin posted a status update asking for a “mom.” Someone to check in with him for a few months and help him be accountable. I thought about offering, then for some reason, I didn’t. His life is so different from the one I live. I don’t know if anyone volunteered. I told myself I did the right thing. I alternately told myself that I was a coward.

Recently, I commented on one of Justin’s more vulnerable, yet positive status updates. It was something about wanting to be in his kids’ lives but nobody wanting him to be there. He thanked me for my words.  He said something about feeling bad that his mom had written him off. As much as I know he thinks he hates her, he clearly mourns the loss of her. I felt compelled to send him a private message. I told him to hang in there and keep moving in a positive direction. I told him that it meant a lot to me that he was with my uncle during those last months and weeks when he was dying. I told him that I worried about him and wanted him to have the good life he was trying to achieve. I said I’d like to hear about his kids.

Justin replied and said that he wanted to tell me about his kids. He also said he thought he should tell me about himself. In person. And did I want to meet for coffee soon? I said I would, even though I’ve worried about what we’ll have to say to each other. We don’t really know each other and a part of me is afraid that I’ll give the impression I can offer him more than I’m capable of. I don’t think he drives. I don’t think he has a “real” job, and I’m not entirely sure he’s always got a place to sleep at night. Maybe more so, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to make a difference and I’ll just be one more disappointment in his life. Then again, maybe there’s a real friendship in our future.

Weathering the Winter

I’m starting out by commenting on the weather. AGAIN.

This winter just seems to drag on, an endless cycle of cold and more cold. It gets to me. I wish it weren’t so, but I seem to be one of the many who are seasonally affected. I made a promise to myself to do everything possible to fight off the doldrums this winter and I’m doing okay with it. I’ve given in to the allure of hibernation a morning or two. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mopey and cranky now and then.  Old habits die hard, but I’m working hard to keep trying to change them.

breakfast cupsHaving a house full of family helps. Last weekend, all of the kids were here and we enjoyed the usual stuff – playing with the dogs, watching movies, eating food that’s so good, even if it wasn’t good for us! I tried out a new breakfast recipe while they were here and it was a hit! Eggs, sausage, cheese and hash browns – all in one. Yum!

Agg2There are lots of other ways to brighten the gray days, for instance, seeing a face I don’t often get to see in person. I had the pleasure of a visit from Agg last week! Agg’s work brings him to my vicinity now and then, so this is actually the second time we got to connect. Mark and I had a nice meal with him at a local place and we got to spend a couple of hours talking about work, football, kids, family, Agg’s travels and the winter Olympics. We had a great time!

And we booked a winter vacation to Florida. Mark and I have never taken a winter vacation in all the years we’ve been married. When the kids were younger, there was just never enough time or money. This year, we finally realized we were in a position to go somewhere warmer than here. Florida, here we come! It sure helps to have a change of temperature and scenery to look forward to.

It’s impossible though, to fill every day with big, exciting events to keep the blues at bay so I’m trying to remember to focus on the  little things that make a difference. Kacey signed us up for a color run in July, so I’ve got motivation to try to resurrect the runner in me, who was never a great runner to begin with. Maybe having a goal like the color run will help me improve.

I’m doing yoga a couple of times a week, as soon as I wake up. It makes both my body and mind feel good.

I have bowling with the girls every week and with other couples every other Saturday – always a fun time, even when my game isn’t up to par.

I’m also trying to remember to just live more. A friend posted an article on Facebook - 22 Habits of Unhappy People. I recognized a few of my own tendencies. One of them is not following through on the things I say I want to do or plan to do (using my camera, volunteering.) Another unhealthy habit was labeled loneliness. I don’t generally tend to feel overwhelmingly lonely, but because of the design of my life and my husband’s job, there are a lot of days, nights and weekends when I’m alone. I often appreciate the time I have to myself. It’s a good time to think, write, read or catch up on chores that need doing. But I also might sit alone in front of the television when I could instead connect with a friend or family member. I tend to find it easier to just stay home in the quiet rather than go to the effort of reaching out to a friend and planning something social. But when I go to the effort, I’m never sorry. I have to remember that interacting with others always lifts my spirits. And that lift seems to stick with me long after we’ve parted ways.

This weekend, I invited friends to come over and play cards after Mark came home from work Saturday evening. It wasn’t a late night, but we all had fun and lots of laughs. I’m cooking with real effort this weekend- an all day beef broth-making, soup-simmering affair. I’m rarely at a loss for words on this blog, but for some reason, tend to hang in the background when it comes to Facebook. I always appreciate those who post Facebook updates that are inspiring, funny or just invite conversation. I stepped outside my box this morning and posted something simple about myself and what I was doing today. I was rewarded with comments and conversation from girlfriends near and far. I need to do that more often! I’m going to go do some things for my parents today, take my dad shopping, and get out of the house for a while, even if it is still cold and more snow is on the way.

The winter days will pass, more quickly than it feels at the moment. Warmer days are coming. Life is good.

My Grandma’s Lasting Gift

My Grandma T made memories for her family. She made real, tangible memories with her own hands, loads of colorful yarn, her crochet hooks and a lot of love.

Birthdays and wedding showers brought stripe-patterned afghans meant to keep Grandma T’s loved ones warm on cold nights. Christmases were sure to bring new pairs of mittens, playful winter hats or long, bright scarves. My grandma was a product of the Great Depression and she found ways to use up or reuse everything in her house. Some of her creations were a crazy mix of colors because she wanted to use up all the remnants of her yarn supplies. Her gifts often came wrapped up inside empty cereal boxes or round oatmeal cartons.

When my siblings and I were growing up, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around in our family. New things came to us only on special occasions. We nearly crawled out of our skin with anticipation of birthday and Christmas gifts. And like all kids, our wish lists included many of the latest and greatest toys, games, music or clothing. If we were lucky, we might get one or two of those wishes. But Grandma T didn’t give the latest and greatest kinds of things when she gave her gifts. And that was just fine with us. We adored Grandma T’s  homemade creations because we adored her. Many cold winter days, we could be found fighting over which colorful hats and mittens belonged to whom.

Lately, it’s been hard to sit at a desk all day at work. The cold outside air seems to seep inside the office, under doors and through the windows. Sometimes I get distracted from my work by the chill I can’t seem to fend off. A few of my coworkers keep a sort of cape at work for this very reason. I’ve seen this kind of cape in stores. It’s a sort of designer blanket, made so that one can get away with wrapping up in a blanket in the office, without looking like one is wrapped up in a blanket. I’ve considered buying one. I’m just really reluctant to spend twenty-five, thirty dollars or more on something I’ll only use in the office. So I simply hope I’ll be absorbed enough in my projects that I don’t notice the cold. Or I try to remember to put on extra layers of clothing. Or I forget and suffer.

A few weeks ago, I was staring at all of the clothes in my closet, trying to decide what to wear. At the far side of the closet are things that are worn infrequently, or things that aren’t mine but couldn’t be parted with for one reason or another. Brad’s high school graduation gown is there. We had to buy it before the years when the school decided to just rent them. Kacey’s prom dresses are there too.

There was something else at that far end of the closet. It has been there for years. I’ve looked at it a million times and can’t believe it hadn’t occurred to me before now. It was one of the many memories that Grandma T made for me while she was still here with us – a cream-colored, lovingly crafted cape. My memory might be fuzzy on exactly when she gave this to me, but I know I was young, in my grade school years, I’m sure. And I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I didn’t wear it often, either because I was pretty much a tomboy who would rather wear her Smokey the Bear sweatshirt, or because my mom was afraid I’d ruin the cape while in the midst of my tomboy pursuits.  Years ago, after I was married and living in a house of my own, Mom gave the cape to me to keep. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but Grandma T had made it for me. She was long gone by that time and I couldn’t stand the idea of giving it up. So it has hung in the closet, unused all of these years, until that day a few weeks ago.

I pulled it out and wrapped it around my shoulders. The cape had been made for a child, but it was still plenty big enough to wrap around my adult shoulders and cover my adult arms. I knew how I would keep warm at work whenever the chills set in from then on.

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

Just the perfect size for keeping warm while working at the computer

And it has "arm" holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

And it has “arm” holes to free up my hands while staying wrapped up

There are so many times I’ve been reminded of and missed my Grandma T. She loved her family so dearly. She was so quick to dole out praise and so generous with her heart. She was “home” to all of her daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Even as kids, the world could be such a difficult place, but when we were in the company of our grandparents, everything seemed simple and easy. How could we not miss Grandma T every single day? There are times I still hear her calling me Honey Girl and I still miss how she wrapped her arms around me and hugged me so tightly. Now I have a daily reminder of Grandma T to put a smile on my face. And I’ll bet she’d love the fact that her tomboy granddaughter is finally so happy to wear the beautiful cape she made.

A few of Grandma T’s mittens, hats and scarves still occupy space in the winter-wear bins in our front closet. They rarely if ever get worn. Some of her afghans are still folded up neatly in a cabinet in the family room. They are too short to cover our long bodies, so we opt for the newer, heavier fleece blankets instead. But all these years later, the cape is finally, happily worn!

Quiet House

Lucy's chairFor the past month, the house has been so full of energy and activity. With Kacey home from school on winter break, there was never a dull moment here. We had frequent visits from her friends who would hang out here to watch movies and play games. Lucy reveled in all of this company and endeared herself to whomever it was that came through the door. Connor was here almost daily, watching football or hockey with Mark and eating whatever there was good to eat.

I loved coming home from work to find Kacey in the kitchen preparing dinner for the family. What a treat! And there was never a shortage of conversation, silliness and laughter.

Not that I wasn’t aware, but it really hit me yesterday that this was my last weekend with her before break came to an end. Kacey was still sleeping when Lucy started barking at a dog and its owner taking their morning walk outside on our street. She made enough of a ruckus to wake up Kacey. Kacey came trudging down the hall from her bedroom, trying to scowl at Lucy, but a smile snuck through instead. I wasn’t too sorry.

“Can’t you just not go back to school?” I fake pouted and nudged her as she found herself something to drink in the refrigerator.

“Um, yeah,” she said agreeably. “As long as you don’t mind me living here until I’m forty.”

“I don’t think I’d mind,” I said.

“I think I would,” she laughed. Really, I was relieved she felt that way. Good to know she’s got enough ambition to want to create a life of her own outside of this house.

Kace and Chase

Kace and Chase

This morning Kacey and Connor attended his baby cousin’s baptism and first birthday party. I puttered around the house, waiting for Kacey to return. I didn’t want to go anywhere because I knew that almost as soon as she was back, she would pack up her things. And then she and Connor would be on their way back to school. I didn’t want to miss my chance to hug her goodbye. She was back by early afternoon with stories about how adorable the baby was. She got to spend time too with Chase, Connor’s little brother. She always has fun with Chase. I think he likes her pretty well too.

I helped her pack up her stuff. There was a lot of stuff to pack. A girl apparently needs a lot of stuff for a whole month at home. There were a couple of duffel bags, a tote bag, a back pack and a giant, reusable Ikea bag. We laughed when she said she hoped Connor had room in his car for all of her stuff in addition to his!

As it turned out, there was enough room, and they were off. A couple of hugs, a couple of I-love-yous, and the car was backing out the driveway. I closed the front door as they drove away and the house felt immediately subdued. The water, heat and grocery bills will probably go down this month. That’s little consolation.

I know she goes to school fairly close. It’s not like we go months without seeing each other. She spends weekends at home pretty frequently. We text or call each other almost daily. I almost shouldn’t miss her when she’s away. But I do. I just love having her here.

When we were packing up Kacey’s things and I was looking at all those bags of clothes and accessories, all I could do was wonder how many more times I’ll be able to enjoy having my girl home for winter and summer breaks. She’s a college junior this year. Next year, she’ll likely get a job near school and her ability to come home on weekends and during breaks could be much more limited. Who knows? In the very near future, she may end up staying in her apartment over the summer instead of coming home. In not too many years, her own life will be taking off. And that’s what I want for my daughter. But until then, I will continue to love having her here, as often as she wants to be. Home always feels more like home when my kids are here.

Not Quite Perfect Christmas

In the hours before company started arriving on Christmas Eve, while I was puttering around doing last-minute cleaning and putting food together, I told my kids, “I think this is going to be my favorite part of Christmas. This time right now, when you are all here, helping me out, relaxing, and having fun with each other.” I’m glad I thought to tell them that.

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A quick nap for Dacotah and Kacey

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Brad and Jake having a friendly war

I had all weekend and Monday to get things ready for a house full of extended family on Christmas Eve. I was on top of things. Brad was supposed to work a half day on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. He and Heather were then going to drive home and arrive here in the late afternoon, just ahead of our company. But on Monday came reports of a big snowstorm in their area, beginning Tuesday in the early morning hours. Brad’s boss generously gave him Tuesday off and told him to get a head start on his drive home. He and Heather arrived home at midnight on Monday.  I was relieved to have them home safe and sound. During the day on Tuesday, while we prepared for the big night, my boys moved furniture in the living room to play Call of Duty on the X-Box. Kacey and Heather helped me in the kitchen. Connor passed through a time or two while taking care of his own last-minute Christmas preparations. They all laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy each other. It was a joy to be in the midst of it all.

I worried about other stuff, though. I’m sorry to say that I worried my way through Christmas. I wanted to pull off a nice Christmas for my parents. My dad had made it a point to say how happy he was to be home for Christmas this year and how much he was looking forward to spending it with all of his kids and grandkids.

Bu every family has its tensions at one time or another. I’ve had my share of family tension this year. I thought I could put it all aside for Christmas and particularly for my parents. The brother who had hurt me and my kids so much this past summer with his cruel, alcohol-induced words really seemed not to get that what he had done was so hurtful. I told myself that he had no idea how hurt I was and I should just let it go. I was ready. I wanted to let it go. But it wasn’t to be. Some people are just unhappy in life and the only thing that seems to help is making other people feel small so that they can feel bigger. I’m a non-confrontational person. When someone gets out of line with me, I seem to be physically incapable of speaking up. I do not sling hurtful words back in anger, as much as I sometimes wish I could. (Believe me, those words are inside of me. I just can’t make them come out.) In particular, with this brother, biting my tongue means keeping my parents happy. They don’t want their kids fighting and disliking each other. But I think I’ve hit the end of my rope with always having to say, “That’s just how he is. Let it go. Walk away. Be the bigger person.” A string of passive-aggressive communications from my brother and his wife during the days leading up to Christmas had frayed every last nerve in my body. It was stupid, juvenile, unprovoked stuff, like a text message conversation. “What food can we bring for Christmas? How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray.” … and then no further commitment to what, if any food they might bring to what is traditionally a somewhat pot-luck type of event. Their family of six showed up at the door with a 12-pack of Pepsi instead. There was the annoyed-sounding phone message left after I’d missed a call to my cell phone. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something, but apparently you don’t want to answer my call. CRAZY!” And then when I picked up the land line, “Oh. Nice of you to answer the house phone at least.” I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, and did my best to appease them, the end result being a knot of anxiety in my chest that would not go away. Still hasn’t.

I think I managed to pull off something resembling a decent holiday for the rest of the family, but I came out of it…. scratch that… I went through it and came out of it feeling defeated and angry. I know that Mark and the kids were not the least bit oblivious to my stress. I clearly have not really let go of the old hurts and now every new hurt, no matter how small, seems monumental. I told Mark that I’m done… really done with the extended family gatherings. It’s just not worth it to make myself and my own family miserable before, during and after every event, just because one person can’t manage to treat other people with respect. Or maybe because I take things so personally. Either way, Mark says in another year’s time, I will have forgotten how passionate I feel about this right now and I will change my mind. Not that he disagrees that I have a right to feel hurt after opening up our home and spending hundreds of dollars to entertain twenty plus people. He just doesn’t feel as fiery inside as I seem to. Maybe I will change my mind. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be so abnormal for us to start “doing our own thing” on the holidays. Our kids are adults. Not long from now, they’ll be getting married and having children of their own. It’s normal for the holidays to become more fragmented as families grow. I want to create good holiday memories with my kids, not leave them with a string of dysfunctional scenarios to mark the years.

I want to love my brother, but right now, I need to love him from afar.

After the big, loud, chaotic family party, Mark and I settled in the living room with our kids and Heather and Connor to open our family gifts. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. My kids are grown ups now, and I love to see how much more joy they now feel in the giving, rather than receiving. We laughed. I smiled. It was such a happy, relaxed time. I no longer felt as if I were walking a tight-rope.

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

Even Lucy got into the spirit!

We hit the sack well after midnight and Christmas Day arrived with a repeat of the extended family gathering with Mark’s relatives. I was physically exhausted, but much more relaxed not having to play hostess. There were family tensions there too, but at least they weren’t mine. And the day provided some of the most heart-warming moments and biggest smiles I’d felt in days.

My kids really seem to have grown up to like each other and enjoy one another’s company.

Christmas 2013 1We are all so excited that Heather will soon be our daughter- and sister-in law.

Christmas 2013 2And my kids are proving that they will someday be fabulous parents, aunts and uncles.

Christmas 2013 3

Ryan knows you are never too old to race Matchbox cars.

Christmas 2013 4

And Jake knows how to get a belly-laugh out of a kid.

I’m always sad that Christmas is over so soon. This year I have mixed feelings. There is too much I want to put behind me. I’m not proud of the way I let things eat away at me and the person I became as a result. I complained too much and couldn’t seem to let things go. This Christmas brought me many reason to feel blessed, but instead, I chose to dwell on the hurts. I need to move past this and move on.

New Year’s Eve, I’ll have another chance to spend time with all of the kids and Mark. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve decided that we don’t want to go out, don’t want to have people over either. We’re going to get into our comfy clothes, eat appetizers, maybe play some games and watch movies until we fall asleep. I owe this to them.

A new year is just around the corner. A fresh start. A chance to learn how to deal with life better. I’m ready.

We were at the lake

It seemed like my little vacation was never going to start. I was off work as of Wednesday, but because none of the kids could arrange their work schedules to be off any sooner than “early” on Friday, Mark and I decided not to leave until Friday either. There was much that could be accomplished at home in the meantime.

I spent most of Wednesday cleaning my parents’ house while it rained all day long, and then came home to do some cooking. On Thursday Mark and I finished the big “closet purge and reorganization” project, otherwise known as “nearly divorce court.” I had begun this enormous task the previous weekend and it ended leaving Mark and I feeling seriously fed up with each other. But the closets are clean and organized, the Goodwill has been well-stocked with everything we decided we could live without, and Mark and I are on speaking terms again. When Friday finally arrived, I planned to pack my bag for the weekend and make sure my own house was clean. (I hate going away and coming home to a dirty house. It must be cleaned before we go.)

My plans were slightly waylaid by the demise of the dryer on Friday morning. Mark did some investigating and quickly learned that it wasn’t worth the cost of replacing the motor. The dryer was very old and had been repaired many times. It already had more features that no longer functioned than ones that did. So a trip to the appliance store was squeezed in and I quickly picked out a new dryer. My only requirements were that it be large capacity and that the buzzer that signals the end of a dry-cycle could be turned off. (Day sleeper in the house!) I found one for a reasonable price and we were out the door within twenty-minutes with the promise of delivery for the following Tuesday.

Mark, Kacey and Connor headed for the lake not long after our visit to the appliance store. Brad and Heather left Fargo not long afterwards and began their drive to the cabin. I worked on the remaining laundry at home, shuttling loads over to my parents’ house to use their dryer. I finished cleaning, baked cookies and packed my bags. I checked the house over to make sure it was in good shape to be unattended for the weekend, double checked my packing to make sure I had everything I needed, and when Jake still wasn’t home from work, I went to the gas station to fill up the gas tank and get a car wash. Jake finally came home, about an hour and a half later than he had hoped, and he, Lucy and I hit the road just in time for the Friday afternoon rush hour.

The first hour of our drive was frustrating, but then the road opened up and we were really on our way. Jake had insisted on driving, so I got to kick back and relax in the passenger seat, helping navigate now and then. We talked, sang along to our favorite country songs, and enjoyed the scenery while Lucy alternately slept in the back seat or watched the scenery pass by out the windows. We made a stop at McDonald’s for some food and  to let Lucy out to stretch her legs and attend to other business. We finally made it to the cabin by 8:30 Friday night where everyone else was waiting for us.

And I was so exhausted that I was in bed and sleeping by ten o’clock!

We were all up early on Saturday morning, thanks to two dogs who were not only excited to be together, but to be in a place so full of new things to explore. I swear, Lucy and Dakotah were like a couple of toddlers, running from one place to the next and investigating every new taste and smell. And we, their people… we played right into it and catered to the dogs’ every whim. What can I say? They make us laugh and they reward us with complete adoration. How can we help ourselves?

The weather was beautiful and we spent much time sitting down on the new dock. The kids fished for hours and for once, the fish were biting. The dogs were fascinated by the water and the way the waves lapped up to the dock, by the fish that were being pulled from the lake and just happy to hang out with their people. Lucy still can’t be trusted not to run off, so we kept her on a leash whenever we were outside. But on the dock, she could be off leash as she quickly proved she wouldn’t leave it if any one of her people were there.

Dakotah practiced retrieving her “dummy” from the water. Heather would throw it into the lake and Dakotah would launch herself in after it, grasping it in her mouth and returning it to Heather. Lucy was fascinated and she clearly wanted a chance to give this dummy thing a try. Seeing as how she’s had very little exposure to water (except for her pool on the deck,) we took it easy at first. Heather threw the dummy just off the shore and Lucy would jump in and grab it and proudly walk it back to Heather on shore. After several attempts, Mark suggested that Heather challenge Lucy and make her swim for it. So the dummy was thrown a little further this time and Lucy heaved herself into the lake and began to walk out to the dummy. When the water became deeper than Lucy was tall… she went under water!

We all gasped, momentarily panicked, although anyone of us could have hopped in and grabbed her. But just as quickly, Lucy turned around, resurfaced and looked at us as if to say, “Where did the bottom go?”

We all cooed at her and patted her wet head and told her what a brave girl she was. Then Brad suddenly remembered something. “Oh, yeah,” he said! “I forgot that I had to teach Dakotah how to swim her first time! I’ll go put my swim trunks in and show Lucy how it’s done.” Before long, Brad was in the water, with Lucy in his arms. She was none too keen on going back in, but she let Brad hold her up in the water and within seconds, her little paws were paddling and she swam herself back to shore. We all cheered like the bunch of dog-loving doofuses that we are and I swear I saw Lucy smiling from ear to ear!

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When it was too dark to fish on the dock and the mosquitoes threatened to eat us alive, we’d head back to the cabin and watch funny movies that we’ve all seen a million times and we’d say the lines right along with the characters and crack ourselves up all over again. We slept at night on the ancient mattresses with dogs wandering from room to room all night long, unable to decide which people they wanted to snooze with. But we didn’t mind about the mattresses and the dogs, because we were at the lake, where everything slows down and there’s very little that has to be done at any specific time.

In the mornings we ate big breakfasts, like pancakes and eggs and French toast. For dinner, we grilled steaks over charcoal and buttterflied them for steak sandwiches which we ate with Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms, onions and steak sauce. Everything tastes better when you’re not watching the clock and you’ve got nowhere else to go and most importantly, you’re sharing a meal with the people you love.

The weekend, of course came to an end much too quickly. The kids wished out loud that the weekend could go just a little bit longer. It just wasn’t long enough. I felt the very same way and proposed that we start planning now for next year. And let’s make it a whole week next time. There was a chorus of agreement as we hugged Brad and Heather goodbye and headed back home.

Vacations are just never quite long enough. Guess that’s why we love them so much.

Recharged

285We had a great weekend at the lake. The weather was beautiful! My kids had fun with each other, which is always such a joy to witness. They fished together, watched movies, talked with and teased one another. And there was so much laughter.  We played games and ate meals together and slept as much as we wanted.

The weekend was pure joy for Lucy Pie and Dakotah too!

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It was just what I needed – a chance to be with the ones I love, a chance to take a breather from everyday life.

I took about 300 pictures. More coming soon!

 

Wasted

Yesterday was the most beautiful summer-like day. I’ve been waiting for a day like this for what seems like an eternity. It was perfect. Perfect cerulean skies with just a sprinkling of gauzy white clouds that didn’t stand a chance of getting between the sun’s rays and where I am. Perfectly warm … but not too much. The kind of day when the windows could be open, letting a light breeze carry in the scent of cut grass and the chirping of birds.

And I was home for it. By some stroke of luck, the handful of days I’d chosen to spend away from the office happened to land on this perfect day.

Except I didn’t even really notice it. I couldn’t see it until now. And now it’s gone.

See, I have this bad habit of saddling myself with every worry, every irritation, every little hurt until they are all I can see and all I can feel.  I know I should let go but instead I grip all this sh*t tightly and carry it around with me until I’m beyond miserable and so is everyone around me. So some things have gone wrong over the past week. And some things just haven’t gone the way I’d like them to over the past few months. And some days I give in to the temptation to keep heaping every unfair thing onto a pile and hauling it around with me.

Which is what I did yesterday.

I was relieved to go to bed last night and just escape my self-imposed misery. I slept with the window open, the only drawback of which was that I had forgotten how loud the train’s whistle sounds in the dead of night. And normally that’s a sound I take comfort in, except when it brings me back to that place of worry and anger and hurt and then I can’t get back to sleep because I can’t shut off my mind again.

And so there I am at three in the morning wondering what kind of things a person can do around the house that won’t wake up everyone else and make them think you’re a total lunatic for not going back to bed. Turns out there’s not much. But there is the internet. The internet’s a pretty quiet thing and not likely to alert anyone to the fact that I might be just slightly off my rocker. Turns out the internet is a pretty good place to find reminders that all that worry and anger and giving up a gorgeous day to self-pity? … Completely wasted and pointless effort. Turns out that in spite of all the sh*t … even the one thing that I can’t fix … it’s just not that big of a deal, really. I mean it is, but…

I’m going up north sometime today… as soon as a few things can be resolved or I can at least put a band-aid on them. All of our kids will be there and we’ll have a couple of days to be with each other … without the constant drone of alarm clocks and suburb noise and cable t.v. and ringing telephones. We’ll have a dock to sit on and a beautiful lake to look at and really bad beds to sleep in. But that’s beside the point. And with any luck, it won’t rain the whole time we’re there and we’ll probably get to go fishing and we’ll definitely get to enjoy a few meals together, watch some late night movies and just be us for a while before we go back to the real world.

We’re all okay. We’re not sick. We have a place to call home and we have plenty to eat. All the other sh*t will work itself out eventually.

It’s still dark at the moment, so I don’t know if I’ll be graced with another beautiful day like yesterday. But if I am, I won’t forget to appreciate this one.

A Week of Rain

SperryKacey had a birthday a couple of weeks ago. When asked what she wanted for her gift, she said shoes. She’d had her eye on a particular pair for quite a while. We had to order them online to get the exact style she was looking for. When they were delivered to our front door a few days later, she squealed in delight.

The weather has been full of rain. The new shoes sit in their box on Kacey’s bedroom floor, not yet worn. She says that she has wanted these shoes for so long that she refuses to take a chance on getting them wet and ruining them. She’s sprayed them three times with waterproofer. Still, she’s taking no chances until things start to dry out.

All week long, the skies have been gray. The sun comes out here and there, but mostly its dull skies, thick clouds and rain. The wind blows endlessly, tree branches swaying side to side, back and forth. Pink crab apple tree blossoms past their prime  float away in the wind, dropping like snow onto the pavement. When I open the patio door to let Lucy out in the mornings, the wooden deck and backyard grass are still soaked from the nighttime rains.

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Today there was bright sunshine streaming down from a sky that felt heavy. The wind refused to die down. After noon, weather reports warned of heavy storms in nearby areas.  I worried about Lucy at home all alone. Poor dog  is afraid of thunder! But by the time I got home from work, the sun was still shining, the wind was still blowing, and the heavy stoneware vase on the front step was laying on its side, shattered. I salvaged the decorative branches that had filled it and tucked them away in the garage. I scooped up the landscaping rocks that had added weight to the vase and tossed them back into the front garden, then picked up all the broken pieces and dumped them in the trash barrel.

Kacey came home from work as I was wandering the back yard with Lucy, tossing her ball, patting her head, and asking her why she keeps sneaking into the tomato garden. (She offered no reasonable explanation.) I joined Kacey up on the deck and we watched big puffs of clouds clump together and sail across the sky, moved along by the persistent wind. I asked, “Tacos for dinner?” She said, “Yeah, that sounds good.”

I chopped onions and tomato at the kitchen counter while the ground beef defrosted in the microwave. Kacey sat at the table and chatted with me while I got the fixings ready. The kitchen radio was tuned in to the Country station and we sang along. Baby you’re a song… You make me wanna roll my windows down … and cruise…  We got a little loud and too late, remembered we had slid the patio door open to let in some fresh air. I wondered if the neighbors had heard us from where they sat out on their deck. They probably think we’re weird. Oh well.

I heard about Kacey’s work adventures while I fried the meat at the stove. Lucy scratched the screen door to go out and then remembering she missed her people, scratched it again to come in. Kacey absently reached for the door and accommodated Lucy each time. Darn dog is wearing holes in that screen.

I was putting the taco seasoning into the ground beef when there came a frantic plea from the dog to be let back in. Kacey slid the door open once more and said, “Hey, it’s raining out!” But the sun was still shining brilliantly. Lucy doesn’t like to be rained on, but Kace and I stepped outside to marvel at the sunshower that was happening in our neighborhood. It was a quick, little shower and by the time we sat down to our taco dinner, the sky had turned threatening.

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The heavy rain came then, splattering off the canvas canopy on the deck and forcing us to crank shut the living room windows. Lucy warily watched the drops pelting off the deck. The rain was keeping her away from her playground and she wasn’t happy. It was over though, by the time we cleaned up dinner. There were still some interesting looking clouds up in the sky, but the worst of it was over. I realized then how green all the yards are. The grass is lush, the trees are full. And there was a hint of a rainbow to the east.

006bThe weekend is here. There’s more rain in the forecast for Saturday, but Sunday holds the promise of sunshine. Finally, maybe, a nice day to enjoy being outside and celebrating spring! And maybe Kacey can finally wear her new shoes!

My Boy is Happy

And that is an incredible feeling.  Even Kacey and Connor remarked on  the change in Jake.

For years, I just assumed that he was just the kid who fell into that place in the family; the one who is habitually sullen and introverted. I’ve always felt that I understood him. I was that kid. He never was much of a talker. Never was all that affectionate. I’ve worried about him through all of his school years and ever since he graduated high school. He seemed to be going through the motions of life, doing what he was supposed to do but getting little fulfillment from it all. When I’d confide my worries, friends or family would assure me that he’d find his way. I figured he would, but constantly worried about when. 

Suddenly, he’s a different person and I can only assume it’s the new job.

Jake seems to have found a good fit in his new job. He talks to us about the work and the guys with whom he works. He speaks about the details of  the job and I find myself impressed with the way he projects the intelligence he possesses. Maybe he just never found a good way to express it before. A fluke summer job that just happened to land in his lap has brought about all this positive change. He has been given the opportunity to work with his hands. He spends time on construction sites and he’s learning a valuable skill. He gets to live in the daytime world again and sleep at night. It’s like he’s waking up inside!

It’s a lot of little things lately that make me realize how much he’s suddenly discovering and accepting himself. He talks with me. Actual conversations have taken the place of the grunts and shortest answers possible. He laughs. He smiles. He volunteered to accompany to my parents’ house the other night when I was asked to come hook up the new Direct TV receiver to the new television. It promised to be a challenging endeavor, not just because I don’t have Direct TV and am not familiar with the equipment, but because my dad was sure to have lots of opinions. And he did. And he wanted to express all of them to me while I was trying to listen to the directions of a customer service rep on the phone. Jake helped me in any way he could. And when he couldn’t, he sat upstairs with his Nanna and talked her ear off. She loves that.

It’s the way he diffused my anger the other day as I was ranting about something. It was one of those times that I just wanted to vent. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “Mom! You’re so angry! I think someone needs a hug!”

My son was using humor to help me deal with my emotions! He never would have invested the time or energy before. Now he was wrapping me up in the tightest bear hug you can imagine and refusing to let go until I was laughing!

Kacey came home from school yesterday for the summer. Family dinner was in order. Jake said, “Mom, I think I should grill the brats. It’s time I learned how to be a grill-master.”

And he did. Mark, Connor, Kacey and I relaxed on the deck in the warm late afternoon sun while Jake manned the grill and chatted with us.

Who is this kid? I feel like a weight has been lifted. I can’t imagine what it feels like for him.

I worried a little bit that it took a job to bring him such confidence and happiness. But I’ve realized it’s not a bad thing. I personally place a lot of my own worth in what I do for a living and doing it well. He’s had a taste of what it feels like to put himself out there and succeed. He’s opened himself up a little bit. He believes in himself more than he ever has before. The world lies ahead of him and I can see now that the prospect is much less intimidating to him than ever before. My son is maturing and finding himself and that makes my heart just overflow with pride!