April Shower… of the Bridal Variety

Love doesn’t make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.      Franklin P. Jones

My niece is getting married. To a wonderful guy. It’s cause for happiness! And we could do with a reason to celebrate. There’s been a pall over the past few months since my dad’s passing.

He would have wanted to be here for this. And I know he will be – in spirit. And though his physical absence will tug on our emotions when the big day arrives, I know he would want us to rejoice in this happy occasion. And so we will.

My niece is the oldest of my parents’ eleven grandchildren, so this wedding is a first for our family. This same niece is also one of sixteen grandchildren in my husband’s family, so I’m her aunt by blood and by marriage. If you haven’t read of my odd family dynamics in one of my other blogs over the past ten years, that relationship might sound a bit confusing… My sister used to be married to my husband’s brother, and this niece is their child.

When word of the engagement first came out, and thoughts of wedding showers began to surface, I had the idea I would be involved with others in the throwing of a bridal shower. As it turns out, I was to be the one in charge. My double-aunt status, and the fact that I am my niece’s godmother, designated me as the giver of the bridal shower on behalf of Jack’s family.

It’s been a long time since I’ve given a bridal shower, but with my creative daughter’s help, I wasn’t too worried about pulling it off. Besides, I didn’t even have to host it at my own house. My niece decreed that we should throw the party at her dad and step-mom’s much larger house. That was a relief to me. Jack has a large family. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about where to fit all of the guests in my tiny living room.

I had a few months to plan and prepare for the shower, but other than making vague arrangements with Niece’s stepmom about having the shower at her house, the weeks and months just slipped by without any solid preparations. I found myself the week before the shower, with nothing done except a menu plan and the purchase of plastic plates, napkins and cups in the colors of the wedding.

Good thing I work well under pressure. The shower was on Saturday. I took the day before off work to get ready.

My day of preparation began when I woke up at three a.m. and couldn’t stop thinking about all that was as yet unplanned and unprepared. Long before the sun was up, I was surfing Pinterest in search of ideas for shower themes, decor, games and giveaways. Good thing I was up that early. By the time Chesney arrived home around noon to help, I had decided on a theme and the bulk of the shopping was done. I had centerpieces assembled and a good jump start on the cooking for our bridal brunch the next day.

Somehow, we pulled it off.

We used decorative outdoor solar lanterns and silk flowers to make the centerpieces. We later gave these away as prizes.

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And we had a little chalkboard theme going with the decor.

 

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And as a thank-you gift to all of the guests, there was something that might be useful at home. (No one leaves my party with a useless parting gift!)005a

The bride-to-be received many beautiful gifts which Chesney carefully documented for the writing of thank you notes afterwards. (Chesney hates this picture. She thinks her facial expression is goofy. There were some shenanigans happening at the moment and I thought it was cute!)

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And we even had a surprise visitor just outside on the deck.

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What a turkey!

We did it! The food was good, the guests complimented all of our efforts, and we threw a shower that looked as if we had our act together! Now on to the wedding next month, where I can relax and have fun!

No More Purple Rain

During my senior year of high school, my bedroom walls were plastered with posters, photos, and anything reminiscent of Prince.

For as long as I can remember, music had always been a staple of my life. Elvis was probably my first love. Mom had the G.I. Blues album and I remember watching it spin on the record player in the living room while all of us kids danced. Even my youngest brother, who wasn’t quite walking yet, held himself up against the coffee table and bounced his tiny body up and down to the sounds of Blue Suede Shoes.

I had a young aunt who took my sister and me to concerts at the state fair during our childhood summers. Among others I fail to remember, we saw the Captain and Tennille, and Mac Davis. I was always fascinated by those with musical talents. I daydreamed about making a living as a singer. Too bad I could never really sing, and gave up that fantasy long before I hit my teenage years.

By the time I was five years old, I had claimed Donny Osmond as my future husband. (Clearly, he didn’t get the memo.) In later years, I gave my heart to Shaun Cassidy and then Rick Springfield. But my allegiance to “bubble gum” pop began to fade around the sixth grade, when Queen came out with The Game.

I’m not sure what it was that drew me to Prince. He didn’t elicit that dreamy attraction I’d felt for some of my former music idols. He was strange. Flamboyant. He had this weird thing for the color purple. (Also, he was extremely short. At five foot nine by my high school years, Prince’s height put him out of the running as future husband material.)

His music boasted a crazy mix of energy, sexuality and spirituality. He was radical and bold, and he didn’t meet the music world’s typical standards. But he didn’t care what anyone thought. Whether his music and movies brought raging success or phenomenal failure, he continued to produce the art he so loved. You often got the sense that though he shared it with the world, he didn’t do it for the world, but simply because it was what inspired and drove him.

I remember Mom shaking her head at my bedroom wall tribute to Prince. When I played his albums, she’d warn, “If I hear one dirty lyric…”

Some of his lyrics were dirty. But lucky for me and for Mom, his style was so new and unique that we didn’t always know for certain what he was singing about.

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I still have the albums!

I remember going to see the movie Purple Rain for the first of many times. When the movie ended, people in the theater actually began to applaud and cheer. So weird! There was no one actually there to receive our applause, but I found myself joining in. I think that’s when I first realized that Prince was something really big.

Over the years, my fanaticism for Prince faded, but like many, I’ve maintained a sincere appreciation. When I first heard the news that he’d died, I was surprised that the sinking feeling in my heart was tangible. While others around me speculated with morbid fascination, I felt a quieting sense of loss. I imagine this is what my mom must have felt in the summer between my fourth and fifth grade years, when Elvis died. When a person’s impact moves you that much, you can’t help but hurt when they’re gone.

Something felt so off. I hadn’t given much thought to Prince in years, so what was it that made this tragedy weigh on me so much? For a person I never even actually knew?

Maybe it was because he was one of Minnesota’s own. Maybe it was because he had given so much to the Minneapolis community in such quiet ways. Or was it because he inspired loyalty by staying here, in the place where he’d grown up, instead of moving away to places where the rich and famous tend to dwell? Maybe it was because as much as we all thought we knew about him, he’d remained such a mystery to the world.

Probably it was because his music formed the soundtrack for my coming of age.

The local news these past few days has been saturated with stories of Prince. Not just his passing, but all of the ways he positively impacted people here in Minnesota and around the world. Although I certainly live close enough, I didn’t join the masses who have gathered the past few nights at First Avenue  to celebrate Prince’s life with all night dance parties. That wouldn’t be my style. And besides, I’d have to stay up past my bedtime. But I love hearing the stories of what’s happening as people come together to mourn and honor him. With nine shootings in just four days in the neighboring city of St. Paul this month, it’s comforting to hear that Prince’s passing is creating harmony and love among people of all generations, social status and races. Can’t we all use just a little more of that?

I imagine he was a hero to many, and a sinner in the eyes of many others. There’s speculation that drugs may have been the cause of his unexpected death, and that would be a shame. But every one of us here on earth is broken in some way. And all we can do is try to rise above it as much as possible by offering something good. Prince did that so well. And like so many, I still can’t help but contemplate his amazing life. I think what I admire most is that he did his thing, unapologetically. He didn’t wait until he felt ready. He didn’t wait for approval. He just did it and kept doing it. Maybe his message contained some darkness. But there’s no denying it was largely about love and harmony. He made us think deeper. He changed more than one generation. He made us break out of our self-imposed shells just a little bit. He showed me that it’s possible to not fit the mold, and yet … achieve greatness.

I know I’m not saying anything new here. But I join the masses in admitting that I feel his loss and he will be sadly missed. Rest in peace, Prince.

 

Dirt, sweat, and blisters

Well. Here I am again, wondering how so much time has passed without me writing a word. Life sure has changed in the past year.

I spend so much more time with my mom now, since Dad passed away, than I ever did before. I worry about her constantly. I’m not sure if her health is truly worsening, or if I’m just so much more aware of her fragility now that we spend so much time together. She’s lonely, and I’m all too aware that she often feels helpless. I know this is all pretty normal stuff for a person who is mourning the death of her longtime spouse, but I wish there was something I could do to make it better for her.

We have grown so much closer than we’ve ever been. She relies on me a lot and I want to do everything I can to make her life easier. My life feels like a constant juggling act and there’s so much that goes undone around my own house. But I’m not actually complaining. And I’m not actually unhappy about it. Because I have this overwhelming feeling that this whole situation may not last long. I hate that thought. So as long as Mom needs me, I’m going to be there for her.

My sister tag-teams with me in Mom’s care, but for various reasons, was less available last week than usual. I spent a couple of extra evenings with Mom. And as those times go, by the time I pick Mom up after my work day, make dinner, clean up, spend some time with her, and take her home again, the day is done.

This weekend, my sister was able to make up for her absence last week. She ran some errands for Mom and entertained her for dinner both nights. I got a bit of extra free time, and it was perfect timing as Jaeger was home for the weekend.

We enjoyed picture-perfect weather, and Jaeger and Jack took advantage of Saturday to work on Jaeger’s new (to him) boat.

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While they spent time wiring up the fish-finders, and cleaning and waxing the boat, I went to the back yard to tame a particular Dogwood shrub which had gotten out of control. I meant to just give it a trim, but …

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After pruning and cleaning out the dead stuff, and receiving more than a few nasty scratches up my arms, I just decided to chop the whole thing down. (Jack might be sorry now that he taught me how to use the Sawzall!) The shrub is gone now and I am not sorry! Really, it was for the best. It’s time for something new in that spot anyway.

Taking down the shrub felt so good, I decided to split the Irises, a chore that’s a least a couple of years overdue, as well as tackle some other gardening chores. I found a spade and spent hours digging, chopping, hoisting clumps of Irises and lilies to other parts of the yard, and heaving some of them over the fence for the neighbors who wanted to plant some in their yard. I continued cleaning up and replanting, using muscles I’d forgotten I had. I developed a couple of blisters, got a mild sunburn, and was dirty and sweaty from head to toe.

It felt amazing! It was like some kind of therapy, piercing the dirt with a shovel and tearing things out of the ground, knowing they’d be so much better off with some fresh space and a bit of breathing room.

Kind of like me.

It felt good to take all of that old, wild growth and tame it; to organize and rearrange and have hope that as spring continues to unfold, something pretty and peaceful will come of all that effort.

The Make-Believe World of the Boys Next Door

Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

A new family moved in next door over the winter. We didn’t have much opportunity to meet them for the first few months, it being winter and cold and all. We exchanged a wave here and there, but had little interaction until the weather started warming in recent weeks.

This new family has five little ones. All boys, I think. This is a good thing for Little Guy  who lives in the house on the other side of ours. In a neighborhood full of old farts, he’s finally got friends to play with. And I probably won’t seem so cool to him anymore, but I’ll happily relinquish my status as one of Little Guy’s few neighborhood friends (all of us being significantly older than he) in the interest of him hanging out with people his own age. Besides, unlike me, those five little boys probably have plenty of energy to keep up with Little Guy’s never-ending stream of jumping, running, dancing and somersaulting.

The neighborhood gossip-slash-retired guy across the street tells us the new family is a yours-mine-and-ours situation. Some of the kids are hers, some are his and one is theirs. The youngest one is a baby, but the other four are old enough to have been out playing in the back yard several times when I’ve come home from work lately. They appear to be very close in age, the oldest I would guess to be no more than seven or eight years old.

The previous owners left a play structure behind when they moved, but this was apparently not enough to keep all those little boys occupied. A couple of weeks ago, an additional, new structure went up, very close to our fence.

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I went out in the yard yesterday after work to play with Lucy and do a little necessary clean-up. While doing so, I noticed a plastic stick-looking thing by the fence that borders the new neighbors’ yard. Four little boys were climbing and sliding on the new play structure, shouting and screeching as little boys tend to do. All were armed with plastic Nerf guns and they all stopped to watch as I wandered over to pick up the black plastic stick.

He threw that over there,” one tattled to me, pointing at one of his brothers. He, the tattler appeared to be four or five years old.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Is it a part to one of your guns?”

He nodded and told me I could “just throw it back over.” The others stopped and quieted, watching us talk, probably curious to see if I was going to turn out to be the nice neighbor lady, or the scary, crabby neighbor lady. I think I established myself as a friendly old lady. Anyway, I’m planning ahead on being the one that gives each of them an extra handful of candy when Halloween rolls around again, so that should work in my favor.

“But you might not want to throw your things over here,” I warned them. “Lucy loves to chew on sticks, and I can’t promise she won’t chew on your toys, especially ones like this that look like sticks.”

They all agreed, and one noticed the shovel I held in my hand. He crinkled his nose and said, “You’re picking up poop with that shovel? That’s gross!

“I know,” I agreed. “I’d hate to step in it. That’s why I’m cleaning it up!”

“You should get a pooper-scooper,” one of them offered. I smiled and agreed I might.

Curiosity satisfied, the boys returned to their games of make believe. In spite of the guns in each of their grasps, I heard someone say, “Let’s play house.”

That made me smile. Those tough little gun-slingers had a soft side after all!

At the invitation to play house, one of the boys responded with fake-crying. “I want my mommy!” He wailed.

“She’s dead,” came the reply.

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I’m not sure where the game continued after that. I was pretty taken aback by the abrupt, unemotional announcement that make-believe Mommy was dead. Seems the world of pretend is a lot less innocent than it used to be.

I’m looking forward to summer and getting to know the new neighbors better, along with their little boys. I’m imagining sweetness and laughter, slip-and-slides and whiffle ball games. And hopefully, no shooting Nerf guns at my dog, and no more make-believe death in the make-believe family. The real world’s got enough of that already.

c’est la vie

During the later half of last week, there was rain, rain and more rain. Spring is gradually pushing winter out of the way, as evidenced by the mama ducks I noticed hanging around the building at work. They’re probably making nests in the landscaping, the pond being just a few yards beyond the parking lot. One of the ducks made me laugh as she paced in front of the glass doors, peeking inside and eyeing up employees coming and going from the nearby copy room.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, I awoke to a fiercely howling wind. Or maybe it was Lucy all snuggled against me that woke me. While still sleeping, I’d unconsciously sacrificed my own comfort for hers. All of my blankets  had been pulled off of me and were pinched beneath her. I was shivering, curled up in an unnatural position and had a clear ache radiating up my neck and into my head. Lucy makes herself comfortable like this when she’s cold and wants to warm up. Good thing we love that dog so much, ’cause sometimes she pushes her limits!

When I wandered into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, I noticed the yard was dusted in snow. The wind continued to howl, and Lucy spent the morning sitting and looking curiously out the patio door. Last week when Chesney was home, she’d pulled an adirondack chair out of the shed – some cheap plastic thing the former neighbors had gifted to her when they moved to their new home. Chesney had plunked the chair on the deck with the intent of sitting outside in the sunshine before realizing it wasn’t really that warm. She abandoned the idea altogether, but of course, never put the chair away again and it’s been on the deck ever since. Yesterday, the wind pushed it back and forth across the wooden decking all morning long. Lucy was fascinated, her head  moving right to left, over and over as her eyes followed the drifting chair.

Another week has come and gone too quickly and I find myself surprised that it’s already April. Middle son, Ryker turned twenty-five yesterday! We celebrated with a breakfast of birthday donuts and then he took off to spend the day with his buddies at the Northwest Sports Show, and an evening celebrating with friends. After a couple of weeks of asking Ryker what he might like for a present, and receiving no response, I told him yesterday if he didn’t come up with something, I was going to buy him new jeans (because he desperately needs some that aren’t torn, covered in  grease, or smell like asphalt.) He said that was fine. Proof that he’s not a kid anymore. Clothing is an acceptable gift.

The last couple of weeks at work have been incredibly busy. One team member was out on vacation last week, and the remaining two of us had additional time-sensitive projects on our plates. That meant extra hours and no lunch breaks. On Friday, after an exhausting and stressful week,  our boss pulled us aside to acknowledge our efforts and express appreciation, not only his own, but that of the management team above us. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. We’re ready to do it all again on this week!

In the midst of keeping my head above water at work is the constant battle to have something resembling dinner when I come home at the end of the day. This has become especially important because several times a week, I invite my mom to join us. I want to make sure she’s eating a decent meal on a regular basis. And that means we can’t just skate by, like we often used to, with everyone just finding sustenance in whatever’s in the fridge or cereal cupboard.

IMG_4101Problem is, after almost 28 years of marriage, I’ve finally realized that taking charge of dinner is just not Jack’s thing – even though some of his weekends fall during the week and he’s free all blessed day long! And even if he’s working the day shift and arrives home hours before I do. (But I’m not complaining, really. The man does laundry!) Jack’s more than willing to get take-out or go out somewhere, but I try not to agree to those options too often. However, consistently preparing a variety of enjoyable meals while working all day is a challenge for me. I make use of the crock-pot as much as possible, but one day last week, I realized I could prep something in the morning, and just leave simple instructions for Jack so things would be well underway by the time I got home. I used our kitchen doorway messaging system to leave instructions. (Who needs technology?) Jack says he almost didn’t see my notes! Luckily he did, and we enjoyed some tasty country-style ribs, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

I don’t like the way the days are just ticking by lately. I’m still fighting a tendency to continuously look ahead and worry about what’s next, still always feeling like there’s never enough getting done. In the back of my mind, there’s usually the idea that I’m not stopping to enjoy simple pleasures often enough. Today, an entire (mostly) unscheduled Sunday lies ahead. I have a lot on my to-do list, but I’m going to really try to just be in this day and enjoy it.