Four Heavenly Days

Four days away from it all. Four days to spend with all of my kids and hubby and dog and … “granddog” as the kids sometimes refer to Dacotah. Four days at the cabin with the lake just outside the door. Four days of perfect cabin weather, so hot and sticky that we couldn’t stand to stay inside for any length of time. We practically lived in our swimsuits and I spent glorious hours floating in the water.

I needed it. I hadn’t fully realized what a frenzy the past couple of months have been until I had a few days to just stop. I stopped making to-do lists. I stopped worrying about my parents. They were under someone else’s watch for those few days. I stopped obsessing about all of the things that “need” to be done around the house, and about what’s happening or not happening at work. I just stopped. And relished it all.

The weather at the lake rarely seems to work in our favor. For the handful of summer days that we’re able to be there each year, luck usually hands over clouds, rain, or cool temperatures. Kacey jokes about the eternal rain cloud over McGregor, Minnesota where the cabin resides. For the past few days, though, we got our wish. We were blessed with exactly the kind of sun and heat we always hope for when at the lake. The fishing wasn’t great. Too hot, I suppose, but the guys managed to catch one walleye that was too big to keep and a good-sized sunfish that went back in the lake just as soon as it was caught.

It was Brad’s idea to have a family vacation. My outdoorsy son proposed a few days together at one of his most favorite places in the world – his grandparents’ cabin. We all requested time off from work for the same few days and kept our fingers crossed that it would all work out. And it did – so perfectly. Brad drove over from North Dakota and met the rest of us at the cabin late Friday night. Dacotah and Lucy were overjoyed at seeing each other again, their tails wagging furiously, whipping our legs, the old furniture and everything else that got in their way. After getting settled, we all claimed a place to sleep in the old cabin. There was a friendly skirmish between Brad and Kacey for the daybed in the front room. It’s the newest and most comfortable bed in the old place, which isn’t saying much since it was second-hand when it belonged to Kacey during her toddler years and only became a cabin furnishing when she got a new bedroom set.

Ultimately, Brad won the battle and Kacey settled for the back bedroom. Jake, not being picky about where he sleeps, spent the first night on an ancient daybed in an open area off the kitchen, and subsequent nights on the couch in the front room in an attempt to sleep where there might be more airflow through the open windows. Mark and I slept in his parents’ bedroom. My father-in-law’s health kept him from his beloved cabin for the last two years before his passing last December, but his presence is still tangible there. I found it rather comforting to be in the room where his work boots are still arranged neatly alongside the dresser and his bottle of cologne still sits on top.

On Saturday we left the cabin for a few hours to attend Mark’s family reunion. A cousin hosted the event at his rural home not far from the lake. It was our first time attending since the family started reuniting a few years ago, and it was a good time! Mark’s extended family isn’t vast. His dad had only two brothers, and only one of them had kids – five of ’em. During the years we’ve been married, it’s only been the occasional wedding or funeral that brought us together with Mark’s cousins, so this was a chance to spend quality time with people we don’t see often enough. It was entertaining to see which kids go with which cousins … and amazing to see the family resemblance when we discovered two Jake-look-a-likes among the second cousins. We cooed over adorable little ones who have made grandparents out of the cousins in the past few years. And good-natured jealousies flared up when a darling little eighteen month-old girl inexplicably wanted to kiss me while the girl cousins, her aunties, protested that even they, the familiar faces could rarely coax a kiss from this little beauty. I’ve got a way with the little ones, apparently! :-)

Top Gun!

Top Gun!

Both uncles passed on long before I ever knew Mark, but Auntie Florence was at the reunion. She’s nearly ninety years old and her memory is fading. But we attended the same church as she for years and she always remembers us. I’m not sure she remembers my name, but she knows my face, and my heart swelled when she squeezed my cheeks between her hands and planted a kiss on my face.

Later, there was a trap-shooting contest among the men-folk and Jake’s smile was as big as I’ve ever seen it when he proved himself the champion! He was made to promise to return next year to defend his title.

Back at the lake in the afternoon, we wasted no time finding “floaties” in the garage and diving into the lake. The surface water was steamy, but a few feet below it was cool and inviting.

Over the next few days, we allowed ourselves to sleep, to play, to eat and relax. I ran laps up and down the long driveway in the early mornings, and then came back to the cabin to make a big breakfast – with BACON even – for everyone as they were waking up.

One of the things I really love about being at the cabin is cooking and sharing meals as a family. With nowhere else to rush off to, and no obligations hanging over our heads, cooking becomes fun again. And food just tastes so much better when we’re all together, eating, talking, laughing and happy. Also? This toaster. It makes the most perfect toast ever. You can’t get ’em like this anymore. Check out that cord!

2015-07-28a

Kacey and I spent Sunday in the water. We’d be in for a while, get waterlogged and come out. Soon the heat and humidity would become too much to bear and back into the water we’d go again. The guys spent Sunday morning cutting down a dead tree, and afterwards, joined us in the water. I’m sure it felt good after all that hard work.

Monday, we took one of the old boats out on the lake. (Everything is old at the cabin, which gives it such a nostalgic feeling, and also means that when something gets broken, it’s not a great loss. There’s something to be said for making do with just enough.) The kids hooked up a tube and took turns being dragged around our bay. When they’d had enough, we loaded the dogs into the boat with us and took a cruise around the bigger lake, admiring the other cabins and homes and contemplating what it would be like to have this property, that beach, or a mansion like any of the ones we saw.

Tuesday, our final morning arrived with a thunderstorm. We lost power for a little while and I guess it all just made it easier to accept that it was our last day and it was time to go back to reality. The power eventually came back on. The rain stopped, but a fully clouded sky promised that it wouldn’t be another picture-perfect lake day anyway. We tidied up the cabin for the next visitors and loaded up the trucks to go back home again. It was hard to say goodbye to Brad, but I reminded myself to remember what a gift the last few days had been. And if we didn’t have to all go back to work and normal life and everyday routines, none of this could have felt as special as it did anyway. It was heavenly!

Rolling into Summer

I’m off work today. Weeks ago, I’d scheduled this as a vacation day because Mark and I were planning to go out of town for the weekend. Those plans fell through, but I kept the time off and I’m glad. I have nothing in particular in mind for this day, but it’s shaping up to be a beautiful one. We’ll see what it brings, and if that’s nothing more than getting a jump-start on the weekly chores so I’m free to enjoy Saturday and Sunday, I’ll take it.

Summer seems to be well on its way and I’m loving it! There has been a good balance of rain and sun lately. We’ve had several days with temperatures in the eighties and one day reached up into the nineties already! On weekdays, I’ll take a break from work to walk around the pond outside of the office. It’s good to get away from the computer screens and corporate environment to stretch my legs. The turtles have already returned to their sunning spot on a particular log. And this time of year, I’ll often notice the sweet scent of various plants and flowers blooming along the path. One day, a couple of guys dressed in business casual were traipsing around in the trees between the walking path and the water. They were both bent over, closely scrutinizing the ground. I asked what they were looking for. One held out his hand to show me the Morel mushrooms they’d discovered and were busy collecting.

At home lately, we’ll often enjoy dinner out on the deck under the canopy, or just relax there in the evening while watching the sky for storms rolling in.

Storms Coming

2015-04-25Our deck is becoming somewhat of a wildlife sanctuary lately. Remember the chickadees that had taken up residence in the bird house not long ago? Remember how we were saddened to see that some other creature had destroyed the nest, smashed the eggs, and chased the chickadees away? Remember how Mark suspected the sparrows? Well, there’s a new bird family in there now. Wrens. They seem pretty relaxed with the frequent human and canine presence in their neighborhood. And in the mornings, they sing beautifully (and loudly!) For weeks, every time I’d hear them, I’d think, “So pretty!” Until one day I found myself thinking, “Enough already!” Still, the wrens are pretty cute, even though I was mildly disturbed to learn that it was likely they who evicted the chickadees. (Sorry for blaming you, sparrows!)

Birds aren’t the only creatures getting comfortable on our deck. Lucy spends a great deal of time snapping at and chasing flies and various other winged insects. And one day, I almost stepped on what I first thought was a little wood chip. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a tree frog. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by me putting my phone up close to his face to snap a photo.

Tree FrogUnder the deck, the rain has been good for the hostas. They’re getting out of hand early this year!

Hostas

In packing news, we continue to sort through my parents’ accumulation of fifty plus years together, in preparation for their move to the town house they’re purchasing. We’re getting better at throwing and donating things, but plenty of stuff is still finding its way to my house, at least temporarily. Kacey is now the proud owner of a GPS, and Jake, a small cooler to keep his pop and water cold while he’s out on a job site.

Earlier this week, we came across the bowling balls. My parents, of course wanted to know if I, the family bowler, would want them. I didn’t. I have two of my own bowling balls and the main one is weighted so I can throw a hook. These were your standard spare balls for throwing a straight shot. And although Mom’s is a pretty, swirly, green one, it’s not heavy enough for me. Dad’s is too heavy.

Dads bowling ball

The bowling bags were water damaged, so they’re getting thrown away. Mom’s bowling shoes are long gone and Dad’s are curled up and dried with age, so they can be thrown away too. But I wasn’t sure what to do with the balls. I’m sure I could just drop them off at the Goodwill, but was hoping I could put them to better use. I asked at the bowling alley when I was there on Wednesday, but was told they wouldn’t take them.

In a last-ditch effort to figure out the best thing to do with old bowling balls, I stumbled across a Pinterest page. Now I know what to do with the balls!

Mom and Dad’s new place has a few small garden areas. Maybe they’ll get their bowling balls back as a housewarming gift. :-)

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

Reasons to Smile

I stumbled across a bargain last Sunday while out shopping – a winter jacket, marked half off the original price, and another fifty dollars off if I text-messaged the word coats to a designated number. I’ve been keeping my eye open for a new jacket since last year and couldn’t pass this up. It was a really warm one, and simple in style and color. Perfect for me. When I brought it to the register along with a couple of other items, the cashier who rung up my purchases offered some of the worst customer service I’ve ever received. She didn’t greet me or respond when I attempted to be friendly. She scowled as she worked, and when finished, silently handed over my receipt without even looking at me. Clearly, this was a woman unhappy in her work. If I hadn’t been so eager to purchase my things at such bargain prices, I might have just walked out without buying any of it.

On Tuesday, I stopped by my parents’ place to drop off a meal to put in their fridge for another day, and to get a shopping list from my mom so I could pick up a few of their necessities. Mom complimented my new jacket and mentioned she really could use a new one. I told her what a bargain it had been and offered to take her to the store where I’d bought it so she could pick out one for herself. She said she really wasn’t feeling up to leaving the house, much less walking around a department store, but asked if I would just go pick one out for her.

Knowing that winter clothing starts disappearing quickly from the store racks this time of year, I decided to go straight there in the hopes of still finding something for Mom. I was lucky to find one jacket still available in her size, but I didn’t see the sign that was there on Sunday for the text-message discount. When I went to pay, I thought I’d just ask if the offer was still available. The cashier very kindly apologized and said it was not, but let me see what other offers might be available.

I was pleasantly surprised at her attempt to go the extra mile, especially after my experience on Sunday. This very friendly woman asked if I wanted to open up a store credit card that would earn me something like forty-five percent off my purchase. I politely declined, not wanting to take a hit on my credit score for a one-time discount.  That’s okay, I said. I’m still going to buy this. The price was still a good deal and within the amount Mom was willing to spend.

Well, let me just check something else, the cashier offered. Here, she exclaimed, pulling a clipped coupon from her register. Here’s a coupon for twenty-five percent off. She was holding it up to show me. Do you want to use this? We both knew darn well that hadn’t come in with that coupon, but she was offering it to me, simply because I had asked about another discount.

Um, sure! I said. I was a bit astounded at how hard she was working for me, especially knowing I was willing to pay the higher price. I thanked her, explaining that I was purchasing the jacket as a favor to my mom and that Mom would be thrilled and grateful for the lower price.

She smiled and proceeded to ring up the jacket. Thank you so much for doing this! I said to her.

You’re so very welcome, she offered back with a huge smile. Have a good night!

I like that store, and my experience with the crabby cashier on Sunday wasn’t typical, nor likely to keep me from shopping there again. But my experience with the much friendlier employee that Tuesday evening sure made me feel great, and I found myself letting go of any frustration I still felt when I thought back to my prior visit. I regretted not taking note of her name so I could let the company know how well she represented them.

I left with a big smile on my face and then headed off to go buy the things on my parents’ necessities list. As I wandered through another store’s aisles, finding each item, I looked down at the cart I was pushing and had to roll my eyes slightly at the things my seventy-four year-old parents consider necessities.

Candy

Between what shopping my parents manage on their own, and the errands my sister and I do for them, I know they don’t stand a chance of the candy dish running dry before one of us ends up at the store again. They absolutely didn’t need this much at one time. But they love to keep a variety of treats on hand so that every one of their kids and grandkids can find something they enjoy when visiting. Besides, I know they buy the kind in the yellow bag especially because it’s my favorite.

The rest of the week had its ups and downs. I had both work-related challenges and successes. While immersed in a project one early afternoon, I heard my phone vibrate with a new text message. I picked it up to take a look and following is what ensued.

Mark Text

I was totally surprised and wondering what he really wanted, but it seems he just wanted to connect with me. That is absolutely not typical of Mark and me. I know he loves me. He knows I love him. But we never just randomly stop to send messages like this one. This past week, he had been working second shift, so he was sleeping when I’d leave for work in the mornings and gone when I’d come home. By the time he’d get back home, I’d be sleeping. Guess he just decided to let me know he missed spending time together.

The weather early this week was warm, but gloomy. We had fog one day and gray skies several days in a row. Late in the week, the temperatures dropped and I was able to put my new jacket to good use. The cold weather brought a slight break in the clouds, just enough to  provide some relief from that dreary feeling. It’s funny how different the same sky can look depending on where you see it. Here was the view just a few blocks from home while I waited at a red light.

Sunlight

And only a half hour later, as seen from the office parking lot.

Sunlight2

Underglow

As easy as it is to be connected with so many people these days, through text messaging and social media, I’m hyper-aware that many others are struggling daily with real difficulties in their lives. Some just seem to face one tragedy after the next. By the day, I see messages asking us to pray for successful job interviews, for healing of physical ailments, or to keep loved ones from the grip of death. We may sometimes be guilty of being too connected, but this same connectedness often gives me the opportunity to be grateful for all that I have and each new day I’m graced with. It reminds me to smile whenever the chance comes along, no matter how brilliant or trivial the opportunity seems.

Prize Winning Fisherman

I don’t care how old he gets, Brad will always be my “boy.” And my boy loves the outdoors. He has since he was old enough to don a life vest and hold a fishing pole. The minute he was old enough to dress in camouflage and tag along with his dad and uncles on their fall hunting trips, he was there. As soon as he reached the age when he could take a gun safety course so he could become a real hunter, he was in class.

The weather doesn’t matter to him. There’s very little that can keep him home when a hunting or fishing trip is on the horizon. So this time of year, Brad can be found out on the frozen lakes, with a fishing line dangling through a hole in the ice.

This past weekend, he entered an ice fishing tournament with a bunch of his college buddies. He called home early Saturday afternoon and said, Hey, Mom. Can you and Dad spot me the sales tax on a brand new pick-up truck?

Whaaaaaa…..? I asked, confused.

I won a truck in the fishing tournament, he explained.

You DID? I squealed.

Nah, but I am in third place at the moment, he admitted. I’ll probably win something.

It strikes me as ironic that there are tournaments like this, that offer prizes for doing the very thing my boy would do in a heartbeat, without any incentive. He just loves to fish. When all was said and done, he ended up in fifth place. He didn’t win a pick-up truck, and just missed out on a one week vacation at an up-north lake resort. But he won a very nice auger, which is now for sale. As any serious ice fisherman would, he already has one!
2015-01-24

This is what January looks like

As much as I love the holidays with all of their festivities, food, time off from work and extra sleep, there’s always a major buzz-kill in returning to the realm of alarm clocks, rush hour traffic and typical work days. And the recent dose of extreme winter only added to the challenge of this annual adjustment.

20150110aThis week’s below-zero temps caused school closings around the state and contributed to the development of black ice on our roadways. And then there was a pretty good snowfall to boot. My typical half-hour commute twice turned into a two-hour adventure, once on the way to work, and again the next day when trying to get home. Thursday evening’s commute saw something like 300 accidents around the metro area. My white-knuckled, teeth-clenching drive exhausted me. When Friday morning arrived, I just could not drag myself out from under the piles of blankets. And the cold was beginning to get to me.  I couldn’t convince myself to go exercise before getting ready for work. I did the thing I said I’d stop doing and snoozed the alarm for an extra hour of sleep. I forgave myself this once. Sometimes you’ve just got to listen to your body.

During this point in the winter, I’m so grateful we have a warm home and a cozy beds to sleep in at night. One morning upon hearing that a major school district remained open while many others closed, I questioned the sanity of the district officials. I thought of children standing on bus stops or walking to school, knowing many would be under-dressed while a very real danger of frostbite and hypothermia existed. And then I was reminded that a large number of that district’s students are homeless. My sense of righteousness went straight out the window once I understood that school might have been the safest place for those kids during these days of life-threatening weather.

So instead of griping about the weather, I’ve tried to remind myself how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head, food to eat when I’m hungry, and the luxury of a vehicle with all-wheel drive and a remote starter.  I can drive to and from work in comfort with an added measure of safety on snowy roads.

While tempted to wonder yet again why we choose to live here, I instead made a conscious effort to remember that I am lucky enough to be able to look for the beauty in all this frosty scenery from a safe place.

Morning Moon - January 7, 2015

Morning Moon, January 7, 2015

View from my parking spot - January 8, 2015

View from my parking spot at work – January 8, 2015

Weekend Sky - January 10, 2015

Weekend Sky – January 10, 2015

This week also meant enjoying the company of my daughter at home during her last week of winter break before returning to classes. I love the conversations and laughter she brings. I love seeing her across the table from me as we enjoy family meals again. That made for a pretty good post-holiday week in spite of all the extremes.

The cold and snow may have arrived a little too soon, but

… if we look closely enough, we can find reasons to smile about it.

It was really cold all this past week. Colder than it should be for November. And we got some snow, though not nearly as much as some other places around the country! I wasn’t quite ready to stop taking my lunch-time walks around the pond behind the office. Word has it that the walking path, even if cleared of the snow gets too slippery to safely walk it, so I didn’t walk last week. But so far, I haven’t succumbed to the desire to stay burrowed under the blankets when the alarm goes off, so I don’t feel too bad about missing my mid-day walks. And I keep reminding myself that some morning exercise gives me a huge energy boost for the day. Plus Florida is only 84 days away. There’s motivation right there to keep that extra layer of winter fat from appearing.

So the furnace kicks in daily. We’re wearing winter jackets and gloves and I’m making good use of my new car’s remote starter and seat heaters. Oh man, I love those seat heaters! They work fast! I can totally deal with the time it takes for the car to really warm up, as long as my butt is hot while I’m waiting!

I’ve been working hard to keep my focus lately only on that which is right in front of me. I’m so done with that tight feeling in my chest that I now realize comes from worrying every moment about what’s next, and how difficult it might possibly be. It’s amazing – truly amazing – how much calm I now feel when I refuse to disaster-fantasize about events that might (or might not) happen, or about how to deal with certain people.  I’ve done this my whole life, and now that I’m starting to know better, I’m constantly wondering why it took me so long to figure it out. I guess I can appreciate that it took me all those years and experiences to be ready to understand this concept.

I think the winter will be a good test of this new mindset. I think it’s a matter of constantly finding reasons to smile. Like when Mark looked out the window and said, “Logan’s been over here.”

After spending so much time with Logan this summer and feeling really great about how comfortable he’d become with us, we worried about seeing our little toddler-friend over the winter. We wondered if we’d lose all that ground we’d gained with this once painfully shy little guy. I wondered how Mark knew Logan had been over when we weren’t around. “Look out the window and see,” he said.

001b

If not for the snow, we wouldn’t have known that Logan still plays out in the front yards, even when it’s this cold. I think maybe Logan and his dog, Gracie were here. And it did make me smile.