Still Cool to Some

There’s been much anticipation the past few days of unseasonably warm temperatures here in Minnesota. Around the office, it was a frequent topic of conversation. “Got any plans for Saturday? Are you going to get outside and enjoy the warm weather?”

The news first reported predictions of fifty, and then they hinted at fifty-three. In February! In Minnesota! I heard that if we saw fifty-five degrees, we’d be breaking some weather record set years ago. When all was said and done, the day saw nearly sixty degrees!

I was puttering around the house on Saturday morning. Jack, having worked the night shift, was sleeping in our bedroom in the lower level. I was trying to keep things relatively quiet for him as I cleaned the kitchen and listened to some music playing on low volume.  It didn’t matter how hard I tried to keep things quiet inside, because Lucy was spending a lot of time barking; this whether she was inside the house or out in the yard. On such a warm day, people were out enjoying it. And that meant the walking path that runs behind our yard was busy with walkers and their dogs. Lucy just had to greet them all. She was in her glory, chasing up and down the yard along the fence, calling out her greetings to all who passed by.

Periodically, I’d poke my head out the door and shush her, and she’d look at me with momentary remorse before resuming her bark-fest once again. I thought it might help if I went outside with her. Besides, there was some clean-up I could do in the back yard. Being a dog owner, a winter’s worth of melting snow tends to reveal certain gifts.

Last weekend was warm too, although not nearly as beautiful as it was this weekend. I’d done a good deal of clean-up in the yard then. But there was still quite a bit of snow which was now quickly disappearing. I slipped on a jacket and the mud boots I bought at Fleet Farm a few years ago for just this purpose. Besides not wanting to step in anything unpleasant with good shoes, the grade of our yard means that when the snow melts, portions of it become very swampy. I wanted to keep my feet dry too.

Once outside, I quickly realized that the jacket was too much, and I hung it on the railing at the bottom of the deck stairs. Runners passed by in shorts and t-shirts. It was beautiful outside and the sun felt amazing! I proceeded to make my way around the yard with a shovel, a bucket, and a supply of plastic bags. It wasn’t long before Little Guy from next door appeared at the gate, holding his mom’s hand and pressing his forehead shyly into her leg. I greeted them and as I expected, learned that Little Guy wanted to come spend time at our place. I told him I had to finish the job I was doingbut if he wanted to hang around while I did that, he was welcome. His shy demeanor disappeared and he ran back to his driveway to get his battery-powered John Deere tractor.

Little Guy drove circles around the big White Pine. I told him to stick close to the tree where it was clear of any dog poop. He did a pretty good job of staying where he was supposed to. It didn’t take me long to finish the clean-up, (and I thought how lucky we are to have this warm-up in February. After really snowy winters, when it might be closer to April before tackling it, this can be quite a disgusting job!)

When I was done, Little Guy wanted to come inside and play Wii bowling, so we shed our boots at the back door. Lucy followed us inside. She seems to think Little Guy is some kind of giant plaything for her entertainment, and loves to chase him around as he runs circles through the kitchen.

Little Guy hung out at our house for quite a while. Jack woke up. The barking and sound of running feet in the upstairs was probably to blame, but he gets a kick out of Little Guy, so he didn’t seem to mind too much. Jack and Little Guy played Wii baseball for a while. Then Little Guy and I played Wii tennis. Soon he was asking me to play something else, but I was having trouble deciphering his four year-old words.

The light bulb finally went on. He was asking for Jenga blocks! When we’d babysat him in December, I went on a search for something we might play with him, but soon remembered that any preschool toys that might still be around are probably up in the rafters of the garage. Searching through the game cupboard back then, I’d caught sight of the Jenga game. I figured they might work as a substitute. Clearly, Little Guy remembered and wanted to play again. We built houses and towers for a while, all of which ended up in  a pile because apparently the fun of building with blocks is to knock them down.

Next we watched a cartoon called Masha and the Bear on Netflix. I’d never heard of it. My kids being in their twenties, I’m out of the loop of popular preschool television entertainment. Again, it took me some time to figure out what Little Guy was asking for before we were able to locate the show. (He finally took the Wii remote from me and scrolled through the kids’ menu until he found it himself.) Each episode of this cartoon is a series of three shorts, and they all begin with a lively song during which the characters dance on screen. Each and every time the intro song came on, Little Guy stood up from our game of blocks and danced along. His arms waved and flapped, his head flopped side to side while his feet jumped and his entire body bounced around the living room. Each time, he ended by throwing himself to the floor and giggling uncontrollably.

As we passed the time with blocks and Masha, Little Guy was constantly on the move. Whenever he’s here, he always wants to jump on the furniture, and as much as I want his time here to be fun, that’s where I draw the line. “Don’t do that,” I gently scolded as he stood up and began to jump on the loveseat.

“Why?” He asked, stopping reluctantly, although I’m sure he knows full well why.

“It’s a rule at our house,” I said. “Jumping on the cushions makes the furniture break. I’ll bet that’s a rule at your house too.”

A sly smile crept across his face and he slithered his way off the loveseat.

Periodically, Little Guy would come plop himself down in my lap and sit for a minute. Once when he put too much “oomph” behind an attempted somersault, he landed on his forehead. He fell into my lap looking for sympathy and I rubbed his head along his hairline where I imagined it hurt. I asked if he was okay.

“YEAH!” he shouted and he was off and running again. Sometimes, without warning, he’d throw himself into my arms, nearly knocking me over. Geeze, that kid has a lot of energy! “You’ve gotta warn me before you do that,” I laughed. He just giggled.

Eventually, I warned Little Guy that I would have to send him back home soon.

“Why?” he asked.

“I’m going to church with my mom,” I said.

“I don’t want you to,” he whined.

“I have to, Buddy. I promised. But you can come over again another day.”

“When you get back?” He asked.

“No, not today,” I said. “I won’t be back for a long while.”

“Ten minutes?” he asked.

“No, Buddy. Longer than that,” I laughed.

“Eleven?”

“No, I’ll be gone a few hours,” I said. “I’m going to have dinner with my mom after church.”

His four year-old attention span put an end to that conversation as he lifted his body to attention and asked, “Where’s Jack?” He was clearly done being sad about my impending departure, and Jack was his new hero.

Jack had wandered out the front door a while earlier, and I explained that he was out front, talking to Little Guy’s daddy. That’s all it took to end his sadness over the end of our play-date, and soon he was slipping his boots and hooded sweatshirt on, and then running across the front yards to join the guys.

My housework wasn’t done, but that’s okay. Little Guy isn’t always going to think I’m so cool and I want to enjoy being looked up to while I still can!

Dog Fortune

It’s no secret to anyone that I’m a full-fledged, over-the-top dog lover. Dogs don’t judge. They forgive so easily. They simply take you at face-value and love unconditionally.

I often stop to recognize how fortunate we are that Lucy Pie came along into our lives. I just adore her. Her face is full of sweetness, and she’s loaded with personality. Anytime one of us returns home from anywhere, Lucy provides the kind of welcome deserved by one who’s been away for months on end, and whose return was anticipated with sheer uncertainty. The four-legged leaping, the whipping tail-wagging, the joyous barking is enough to sweep away the darkest of moods. And Lucy runs from one person to the next, bouncing off our shins while failing to maintain any sort of self-control. It’s as if she’s saying to each of us, “Look who’s come home! Can you believe it? We HAVE to celebrate!”

Our grand-dog, Dacotah displays similar, albeit a bit more controlled affection for her loved ones. There’s no chance of feeling lonely with these two canines around. I’m constantly amazed by their intelligence, and the way they figure out how to communicate with us.

Lucy has perfected a sort of loud yawn. She does this particularly when we awaken in the morning, or when someone comes home. She opens her jaws wide and emits a noise that sounds like she is saying, “Hiiii-eeee!” I always respond, “Hi, Baby,” and then Lucy’s tail begins to thump rapidly against the floor, so happy is she to be acknowledged.

And then there’s the sneeze. When Lucy’s excitement is too much for her to contain, she sneezes, again and again! She’s so funny.

Dacotah clacks her teeth when she wants something. She might be looking to be fed, or she might want a good scratching for her often dry skin. She knows I have the fingernails for it. She’ll sit facing me, locking eyes while snapping her jaw at me while I ask, “What choo want?” When I finally run my fingernails along her shoulders and back, her whole body melts into my hands.

It’s hard not to feel happy around these girls. And they love each other as much as they love their people. When Dacotah is visiting, there’s rarely a moment that Lucy isn’t glued to her side.

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Laying claim to the sunny spot in the living room on a cold winter morning

As much as Lucy loves Dacotah, she can be a bit possessive. If Dacotah takes a toy from Lucy’s overly-stuffed toy box, Lucy runs right over to snatch the toy from her. Honestly, I want to believe she’s not always just being selfish. I think she’s hoping that Dacotah will play. She wants to chase and play tug-of-war. But Lucy’s got a bit more puppy left in her than Dacotah, and Dacotah tends to just give up and walk away, prompting us to scold, “Loooo – Seeeee!”

Lucy doesn’t tend to be bothered by the scoldings. And she is most certainly selfish about sharing “her” people with Dacotah. Lucy thinks nothing of trying to steal all attention from Dacotah’s “daddy,” Jaeger. But if Dacotah pays attention to Lucy’s people, Lucy has to squeeze between and make sure Dacotah knows we belong to her, and her alone.

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If Dacotah is next to me, then Lucy is going to be on top of me!

Even though Lucy can be very rambunctious and silly, there’s a gentle and comforting side to her too. She’s thrilled when my mom visits, and seems to know how fragile she is. When she comes over, Lucy tries hard to wait for Nana to get settled in a living room chair. Then Lucy slowly and carefully lifts herself into the chair too, squeezing in next to Nana. She tips her head way back to snuggle against my mom’s neck and shoulder, and sneaks a big, wet kiss if she can get away with it.

When I’m feeling quiet, sometimes Lucy comes to me as if to ask, “Are you okay?” She’ll move in front of me, then sit back on her haunches and hold her paws out for me to hold. She looks into my eyes and cocks her head as if trying to figure out what it is that’s going on with me.

When she sits like this, she knows I’ll eventually run my hand up and down the soft fur on her chest … and maybe this is all she’s really hoping for. But I like to think there’s more intention in her actions than just a good belly rub.

A friend and her family had to make the difficult decision to put their sixteen year-old dog down this week. I expressed my condolences and remembered what a sad and difficult decision that is to make. The loss of a beloved pet leaves an undeniable hole in one’s heart. I’ve been there too many times myself. Thinking of my friend’s loss reminded me what a gift our pets can be. They bring such joy and love to the household. I’ve always considered my four-legged kids to be members of the family. And in spite of the fur on the furniture, the occasional sock or slipper lost to puppy chewing, the periodic puking that happens just inside the back door, and the clean-up that has to be done in the yard, particularly after a snowy winter, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

As Lucy was snuggling in my lap last night, I kissed her soft head and told her, “You’re a very special dog, you know that?” She simply sighed in contentment. I think she knows.

Make these brownies. Then make s’more.

I don’t generally get my recipes from Faceb00k, but this seemed just too easy. And I needed a dessert. I’ve made them three times now. People love them. I mean LOVE them. And I mean everyone! 

The FB recipe for S’mores Brownies included a video, but I promise, you don’t need it. What you will need is:

  • a 9×13 inch baking pan
  • a box of brownie mix (Be sure to get the kind that makes enough to fill a 9×13 inch pan. My preference is any variety that includes the words rich and fudgy.)
  • about 4 standard sized Hershey Bars… plus extra for eating along the way
  • jumbo marshmallows

Assemble your brownies:

  1. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan. (Use Crisco and not a cooking spray. Trust me on this.)
  2. Mix the brownies according to the package directions.
  3. Pour half the brownie batter in the pan and spread it until the bottom is covered.
  4. Snap the graham crackers in half and layer the squares over the batter. (Don’t put so many in that they’re “wall-to-wall” in your pan. It’ll be too much. Again. Trust me.)
  5. Break the Hershey Bars into sections and layer them over the graham crackers.
  6. Arrange a nice pattern of jumbo marshmallows over the Hershey Bars.
  7. Drizzle the remaining brownie batter over the top.

You should end up with something that looks like this:

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Bake the brownies according to the package directions.

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Let them cool. Cut into squares. Then serve them and accept accolades for being such an amazing baker.

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p.s. There won’t be leftovers.

Celebrating 75

I’ve felt all knotted up lately. I’m not sure why. There never seem to be enough hours in a day, never enough days in a week. And I’ve just felt … I don’t know. Quiet. Moody. Tired. Not sad, but not enthusiastic about much either. I needed something.

I think it was my kids.

Last weekend provided a perfect excuse to call them home. My mom, their Nana turned 75 last Friday. My sis and I planned a party in her honor for Sunday afternoon. I asked the kids (the two not currently living here) if they could come home for the party. Both Jaeger and Chesney said they could. Ryker just needed a reminder to keep his Sunday afternoon free, as I expected him to join us at the party too.

Jaeger came on Friday night. Dacotah, of course, accompanied him. She came barrelling into the foyer after their four-hour drive, leaping around all of us, tail wagging fiercely, and rubbing against legs while looking for attention from anyone willing to give it. Lucy was elated to have a visit from her favorite canine friend as well as her “big brother.”

Jaeger was awfully quiet that night. He said his stomach was bothering him. I worried it had more to do with his recent break-up. It happened right after Christmas, and he hasn’t been in touch with us much since then, other than to let us know it was over. He’s not much of a talker, and in the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find the words or opportunity to offer some comfort. They had dated nearly a year. I know he’s hurting. I hurt for him. But there’s just not much I can do. He just needs time.

Saturday morning, Jaeger surfaced from the spare bedroom and plopped down on the loveseat in the living room. Turning the television on, he surfed channels until he found one of his beloved fishing shows. While he watched pro-fisherman pull Bluegills through holes in the ice, I made bacon and pancakes in the kitchen. We chatted a bit while he waited for the food to be ready. After breakfast and after cleaning up the kitchen, I joined him in the living room, settling into one of the big comfy chairs. He hoisted himself off the loveseat and wandered over to me. He bent over and just hugged me, holding on for some time. I rubbed his back and said, “I love you.” He mumbled into my shoulder, “I love you too, Mama.”

My 27 year-old son is still my little boy sometimes. Maybe he needed me too.

Little Guy from next door rang our doorbell in the afternoon. When Jaeger answered the door, Little Guy’s face lit up.

Hey!” he shouted. “I missed you!”

“You did?” Jaeger laughed.

“Yeah,” Little Guy said. “I didn’t get to see you last time!”

Little Guy’s always been rather shy, so it was fun for all of us to see his raucous display of affection and excitement. He seems to have grown up so much over the past couple of cold months. He turned four years old a few months ago. He’s gaining confidence, and getting pretty comfortable with all of us.

We were leaving to go out to dinner, so we had to send Little Guy back home, but did so with promises from Jaeger to play Wii bowling with him the next day.

Chesney came late Sunday morning. It was good to have my talkative, sunshiney girl back in the house. Jaeger teased her about why she hadn’t yet brought her new boyfriend around. She said she needed a week for mental prep first. I said I needed time to prime her dad to act like a normal human being first. Chesney agreed wholeheartedly. Don’t want to scare the poor guy off!

20150221bThe party on Sunday afternoon was nice. All of Mom’s kids and most of her grandchildren were there, as well as her oldest sister, and family from my dad’s side. The food was good, the presents were nice, and there were some beautifully sentimental birthday cards for Mom. And bonus – everyone managed to get along decently. I think Mom had fun.

We also accomplished a nice family picture, only after several takes in which the brothers made bunny ears, made goofball faces, and each pretended to put a finger in the other’s nose. Some people never grow up. Maybe that’s not always such a bad thing, though. I’ll take fun immaturity over boring and stuffy any day.

It was great to have all of my family together again for a change. I wish we’d had more time. It’s never enough. And it was hard to say goodbye when it was time for Jaeger and Chesney to leave again. It always is. But I’m so grateful to have had a couple of days with them. They were just what I needed.

Unexpectedly Extended Weekend

The temperatures have been frigid around here again this week. The arctic cold held on through the weekend, but at least the sun was out in all its splendor on Saturday. It was blindingly bright, and even if it did nothing to warm the air, it felt good to be rid of the gray overcast for a change.

We ordered the headstone for my dad’s grave site on Saturday. Mom chose a nice, moderately sized marker. It’s going to be made from a stone called Lake Superior Green. We all agreed that this particular stone was the perfect choice for Dad, having been such a lover of lakes and the outdoors. Mom is having a special symbol engraved on the stone, the one that represents Dad’s diaconate class. The main image is a cross and there’s a robed figure kneeling at the foot. Mom also chose to include the title of which Dad was so proud, Deacon. Dad would approve. His burial place will be clearly marked by Memorial Day. And since the cemetery is so near where I work, I can imagine I’ll have lots of opportunity to go visit when the weather is more accommodating.

Our visit to the cemetery was much easier this time around than last, when our grief was so fresh. As my family and I contemplated how we would customize the stone, we perused the multitude of options for memorializing a loved one. One that caught our attention was a vault made in the shape of an upright piano. That got my brothers going, and they tossed around comments such as, Mine’s going to be a bass boat, or We’re making yours in the shape of a toilet. Yep, as much as they can frustrate me, I have to admit they can also make me laugh.

Mom had been complaining for a few days that her skin hurts. Friday night, she showed me a slight rash on her left arm and asked what I thought it was. It looked like eczema to me and I gave her some cortisone cream. Saturday morning, I woke up thinking, shingles. After a quick internet search, I felt positive that was it. So after our visit to the cemetery, I took Mom to urgent care where the doctor confirmed she most definitely has shingles.

I made a trip to Walgreen’s afterwards to pick up Mom’s prescriptions. While there, I couldn’t help but notice the middle aisles of the store were obnoxiously boasting Valentine’s Day decor and products. We don’t sucked into the hype, but I did pick up a nice card for Jack, and couldn’t resist a heart-shaped box of chocolates for him with a cover that looked like duct-tape. He gave me a silly card and a couple of bags of Dove chocolates, which I’ll likely take to work to share so I don’t eat them all myself.

It’s Presidents’ Day today. Some lucky people are enjoying a day off from work in honor of the holiday. I’m off work today too, but I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it. I stayed home sick.

I woke up with something coming on yesterday morning. Jack was up at six, getting ready to go to work. Before he left, he leaned over the bed to kiss me goodbye. In the dark of our bedroom, his lips landed on my forehead and he remarked, “You’re burning up.”

img_3956He was right. I knew because I couldn’t get warm, even under a mountain of blankets. I’ve had a weirdly episodic progression of cold symptoms the past few weeks, feeling miserable and sinsus-y one day, and fine the next. It seems to have all come to a head now.  I guess my body was telling me to give it a rest. All day long yesterday, I dealt with aches and chills and that worn-out feeling that accompanies illness. My sweet Lucy suspected something was up. I spent most of the day in bed and she never left my side. What a love! Although, it was a bit much at the point when she literally laid on top of me. I nudged all fifty pounds of her off of me, and she plastered herself against my side instead. I’m feeling somewhat better today, just not enough to go back to work. I’m sure my coworkers will appreciate me keeping my germs at home anyway.

Weekend with My Girl

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Chasing (frozen) waterfalls

Chesney came home this weekend for a short but fun visit.

She’s good at staying in touch with me while we’re apart. She regularly sends me conversational texts and silly picture messages. But it’s not the same as having her here at home. Some face-to-face time with my baby girl is exactly what I needed!

She arrived home Friday evening, just in time to sit down for dinner with my mom and me. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It made Mom very happy to see her granddaughter. With a family that produced so many grandsons, Mom’s got a special place in her heart for her three granddaughters. And she is openly proud of Chesney.

Chesney’s true reason for coming home was that she’d made plans with some girlfriends for Saturday night. They were going downtown to see the World’s Toughest Rodeo. The girls’ true purpose wasn’t to see the rodeo, but to see the Granger Smith concert afterwards. I had no idea who he was, but Chesney showed me a YouTube video and I could see why the girls wanted to see him. He’s young, talented and good-looking.

After all was said and done, Chesney said she had way more fun watching the rodeo than she’d expected, and the concert was just okay. Something about the sound and setup making for a less than impressive concert experience.

During the remaining hours of her visit, Chesney and I got caught up. It was great to be able to just sit back and listen to her stories. Life through her words feels like such an adventure, (although that could be because my life now has such a rigid and not very exciting structure!) There were stories about the joys of living in a college house, and of being sick and having a roommate dote on her until she felt better. There were tales of a weekend trip to a local park with frozen waterfalls, stories about going “out,” and the challenges of working in a retail store in the mall. She’s always got a positive attitude and I just sit and marvel at her ability to march head on into whatever life brings her way.

As we sat in the living room late Friday evening, each curled up in one of the big comfy chairs, she mentioned she might need a “plus one” for my niece’s upcoming wedding in May. It didn’t click with me. I reminded her that her cousin had let it be known that if you aren’t in an established relationship, your wedding invitation won’t include a “plus one.”

“Well how long constitutes an established relationship?” She asked.

Ohhhh… The light bulb went on! So she is seeing someone. They started out as friends last fall and things have been evolving since then. In the last few weeks, they’ve decided they are more than friends. It made me happy to see the way talking about him made her smile. He graduated college last spring and already has a good job. He’s from a farming family and is the youngest of seven! Sounds good to me so far! I don’t know if he’ll be attending the wedding with her, but either way, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this relationship is good for her and continues to go well.

Saturday morning, we went out for some retail therapy. Shopping is always fun with my daughter, and we scored some great end-of-season bargains. She got a cute new pair of boots and I got a sweater I’ve had my eye on for some time, but hadn’t been willing to pay full price. Both ended up being more than half off! I do love me a good bargain!

Gabbing

Jack telling an apparently intriguing story

While Chesney went out with the girls on Saturday night, Jack and I went out for a pre-bowling dinner with a bunch of our league mates, and then proceeded to get our butts kicked on the lanes. Personally, I bowled over average. But our team just couldn’t put it together for a win. Still, we had fun. Our opponents were very social and we spent all three games talking, laughing, and cheering each other on. Some were more talkative than others. We had to keep reminding Jack when it was his turn because he was always wandering off and gabbing with one person or another.

This morning, we all slept in a bit, and then Chesney made us some yummy breakfast burritos before she packed up and headed back for her afternoon shift at her job.

The time goes way too fast when she’s here, but I love every minute of it!