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.

Farm Fashion, Belly Fat and Food on a Stick

Yesterday Mark and I made our umpteenth annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.

Most years, we set aside an entire day and begin our journey to the fairgrounds first thing in the morning. Not so this year. The fair days just seemed to slip on by and here we were this week, heading into the final fair weekend without having yet paid a visit. So I took half a day off from work, extending my long Labor Day weekend by a few more hours.

We quickly learned that the first difference between being early-in-the-day fair visitors and later-in-the-day fair visitor is the parking challenge. All of the good parking lots are full by noon. And even though there are many free park-and-ride lots available, most of those were full too. After driving for miles around the fairgrounds, seeing nothing but Lot Full signs, we began to feel defeated. We then cruised the residential streets near the fairgrounds in desperation, now willing to pay some homeowner an exorbitant fee to park on his front lawn and walk to the fair, but we had no luck with that plan either. Finally, as we sat in Mark’s truck at a red light, waiting to make a right turn in busy fair traffic, with no idea where to go next, we noticed all of the park-and-ride buses zooming to and from the fair entrance. As Mark was finally able to make his turn, a bus moved ahead of us; one that had just emptied of a group of arriving passengers and filled with a group of departing passengers.

“I’m going to follow that bus,” Mark said. “It must be headed back to a place to pick up more passengers. When those people get off the bus, there should be room for more people to ride to the fair. We’ll see if we can park and ride from wherever that place is.”

I don’t often credit my husband with genius ideas, but I have to admit now, this was a genius idea. We followed the bus for several miles to a large church with a large parking lot. As departing fair-goers drove out of the parking lot, we were allowed in. We hopped on the bus and were delivered right to the main entrance of the fair.

Yes! We’d finally made it! The sky was overcast, but rain didn’t appear imminent and that made for really comfortable temperatures for an afternoon of walking around for hours with thousands of other people.

2014 Fair 03

The Minnesota State Fair was originally a celebration of the state’s agriculture industry. It was fun to see that we haven’t lost the agricultural draw. I could tell because of the farm fashion.

The state fair is also a celebration of food! There is SO. MUCH. FOOD! And as you might imagine, the abundance of food attracts people of all shapes and sizes.It seemed to me that there were way more rental scooters scooting around the fairgrounds than I’ve seen before. There are some whose health legitimately prevents them from walking at the fair. But it also seems that there were so many who rode scooters simply because their weight was too much to carry on their own two feet. We stood in the ice cream line in the dairy building behind a family of severely overweight people, both parents trying to squeeze through the crowds on scooters, their kids with chubby cheeks and protruding tummies waiting their turn for another state fair goody. And it made me feel bad about the kind of life that lies ahead for those kids. The state fair can be fun, but it can also be a sad testament to our tendency toward overindulgence in this country.

But the food is delicious! Of that there is no doubt. In the past, we’ve visited the fair with friends, or with our kids. And that makes it easy to try a variety of foods because when there are several of us, we can all try a bite or two of some food, and still have room to try a bite or two of some others. With it being just Mark and me this time, we found ourselves having to eat more of each thing than we’d like to, or throwing some of it away. Still, we managed to down a few favorites as well as taste some new (to us) foods.

There is so much to see at the state fair! In the Grandstand, you can buy kitchen gadgets and cookware, fitness equipment and clothing, purses and footwear, bird feeders and outdoor furniture. The vendors are skilled at convincing you that you simply cannot live one day more without this amazing stove top grill or smoothie mix. One vendor called me out as a runner, which I found amusing since I can only be considered a runner in the loosest sense of the word. She handed me a brochure and insisted I stand on one of her machines. It looked like a form of fitness equipment, but upon placing my feet on the platform and holding on to the handles, all I felt was vibration running through my body. She said that as a runner, my joints were being abused each time I pound the pavement with my feet. For a mere thirteen hundred bucks, (normally twenty-two hundred,) I could have this preventative health device right in my own home. Just fifteen minutes a day of standing on the vibrating platform would provide daily healing to my joints and improve my workouts by some percentage I can’t remember. I accepted her brochure and told her I’d give it some thought.

I think people watching is our favorite pastime at the fair, though. People are such interesting creatures. There were young and old alike visiting the fair, babies in strollers to the elderly. There were people dressed appropriately for trekking the miles of fairgrounds in comfortable clothing and footwear. And there were those who wanted to make some type of fashion statement. We saw crazy patterned leggings on legs, high boots and high heels. We saw drastically fashioned hair cuts and colors. And it struck me sadly that little girls stop being little girls at a much younger age than they used to.

And it also occurred to me, as we noticed babies in strollers and who was pushing those strollers, that parents seem to get younger every year. Or maybe I’m just feeling the effects of my age!

Even though we traveled among thousands upon thousands of people who had come from all over the state, we still managed to run into people we knew from close to home. Mark saw a coworker and we ran into friends from Kacey’s softball days. Of course, technology played a part in bringing us together with friends. My check-in on Faceb00k alerted my good friend, Rosie that we were in the area. After seeing it, Rosie texted me and said, “Where are you? Let’s meet!” We agreed to connect in 45 minutes. And in the meantime, Mark and I just took in the sites and enjoyed what the fair has to offer.

Soon it was time to go find our meeting spot and meet Rosie. The sky had grown darker and I felt a few drops of rain on my skin. And then a few more. And then it was coming down! Mark and I took shelter under the awning of one of the food vendors and tried to wait it out.

It let up for a few minutes and we took our chance to travel once again toward our destination, but the skies let loose again. I had thought to bring a light rain jacket – but had forgotten to take it with me when we parked the truck. We ended up trying to wait out the rain again a few blocks later, but this time it didn’t appear to be letting up. And we did finally connect with Rosie, hiding out under an awning at the agreed upon meeting place. We chatted for a few minutes, but the intensity of the rain was only growing and we’d had enough. Mark and I stopped even trying to protect ourselves from getting wet and made a break for the bus stop to catch a ride back to our parking spot.

We weren’t the only ones with that idea. By the time our bus arrived and we were able to get inside of it, we were drenched! And I mean seriously waterlogged! I felt as if I’d just stood in my shower fully clothed. I sat uncomfortably as Mark drove us home over a partially flooded highway. As soon as we were back and in the house, I stripped out of my wet clothes as soon as humanly possible. It felt great to get into something dry and comfy again!

So, it wasn’t our most successful state fair trip ever, but we can say once again that we did it!