We are GRANDPARENTS!

Our sweet little granddaughter is here! She arrived in July, three weeks early than expected. She was tiny at just four pounds, fourteen ounces, but she is healthy and growing and she’s absolutely perfect! I can’t even believe how much I’m in love with her. Oh, who am I kidding? Yes I can! I knew long before she arrived that I would adore her.

She’s just beautiful, and like every proud grandparent, I think my granddaughter is the most gorgeous baby ever born. My son, her daddy, gazes at her with such adoration, and speaks to her so gently. He looks on that little girl’s mommy with such love love and admiration. He’s got his own little family now. I marvel at how quickly the years have transported us from the time when he was our baby. And now he has one of his own. His nest is beginning to fill as ours has now emptied.

I think about that little peanut multiple times a day. I count the days until I get to visit with her and hold her again. I imagine the things we’ll do together as she grows. I’m planning how I’ll decorate one of our now empty bedrooms just for her, how I’ll fill it with toys and books, or cars and trucks, or baby dolls or whatever it is that will bring her joy. She is my joy and I’m just over the moon with happiness!

Springtime, Puppies, and Babies

It is gorgeous outside this morning. Makes me think of Oklahoma songs. There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow! Of course, I don’t have a meadow. But I can be content with our yard where the grass is suddenly green and lush, the Sedum and Hostas are beginning to stretch up out of the ground, and the Crabapple tree is exploding with pink blossoms. I love this time of year! It’s so full of promise and expectation – especially now after the year of fear we’ve just endured. (I know, I know… not everyone was fearful. But I was.)

The impact of COVID on our household is quickly fading. Jack feels much better and has been back to work for a couple of weeks now. The first week, he’d come home and collapse, exhausted on the couch for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. But he’s been more like his old self this past week, getting outside, doing some yard work, socializing with the neighbors. I’m so relieved.

Now that Jack’s feeling better and we’re fully vaccinated, we’re going to go see his mom ASAP. She’s been a trooper throughout the past year and I’m so proud of her. Her assisted-living facility took great care of the residents and had very few cases of infection. And now restrictions have been lifted significantly and we can show up without an appointment and go visit my mom-in-law in her own apartment, sans masks and plexiglass dividers. I hope she’s ready for it, ’cause she’s getting hugged!

In neighborhood news, our neighbors and good friends had a visit from their brother/brother-in-law, J, who came to Minnesota from New York to buy a puppy. J and his new puppy stayed with our friends for a few days and (being the animal lovers that we are,) we were invited to stop by for a visit. The puppy was adorable and I was tempted to steal her and take her home. My Lucy wouldn’t have appreciated it though. Either she’d be insanely jealous, or she’d mistake the puppy for a chew toy. And puppy’s owner wouldn’t have been too happy either, since she’s a very pure-bred, very expensive little canine whose future holds serious bird-hunting duties! I sure enjoyed spoiling her for a little while though. I kept cooing over her and exclaiming, “OH, she’s just a BAY-BEEEE!”

Soon enough I’ll be able to hold a real baby though. The first baby shower for Jaeger and Camping Girl’s little bundle of joy took place last weekend. Chesney and I were invited to attend and we had so much fun meeting Camping Girl’s extended family and friends.

I have to say, our granddaughter is going to be one well-dressed and well-equipped little girl. Jaeger showed up near the end of the event to help transport gifts back to their house. The entire bed of Jaeger’s truck and the back seat were packed full with gifts. And there’s still another shower to take place with my side of the family! I now have to remind myself to refrain from buying every adorable little outfit that catches my eye. (Or maybe I just need to start buying down-the-road types of things.) The first grandchild on both sides of the family is going to be so very welcomed and loved!

In preparation for Baby Girl’s arrival, Jack and I took a virtual grandparents’ class this past week. I hadn’t even known such a thing existed, but Camping Girl suggested both her parents and we take it, and I’m glad we did. Times have changed, from the way babies should be placed in their cribs, to perspectives on eating, engaging with, and just generally caring for babies. We’re all up to speed now and I can hardly wait for our granddaughter to arrive.

Baby snuggles are the best!

Post-COVID and we’re going gluten-free

Things are slowly beginning to return to normal around here. Jack went back to work on Wednesday, almost three weeks after experiencing the first signs of COVID. He normally works ten and a half hours a day. This week he kept it to eight. His company nurse thought he should have started a bit slower, working only four hours a day, but he decided to just dive back in. After coming home each day this week, he’s gone straight to the couch to lie down. After dinner, he’s back there again.

It’s occurred to me that I’ve been seeing Jack on the couch quite often for some time, even in the weeks before COVID hit him. He actually had a pretty serious flare-up in October, just weeks before Chesney and Farm Boy’s wedding, of his arthritis and other symptoms caused by his autoimmune disorder. (Granulomatosis with polyangiitis – an uncommon disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels in your nose, sinuses, throat, lungs and kidneys.) Jack had been feeling great for the year or so prior, but his medications were causing his liver numbers to climb to concerning levels. So his doctor took him off all of his meds late last summer. (I’m not sure what the logic was in completely taking him off his medications, but what do I know?) Not long after that, Jack simply crashed. Without some kind of treatment, his disorder causes Jack significant arthritis pain as well as severe sinus issues. He was in misery. So before long, he was back on his meds – at a slightly lower dose so as to try to protect his liver. But it’s just not doing the trick. The arthritis is frequent, and seems to roam randomly around his body. Jack’s been talking about asking the doctor to increase his dosages again.

It occurred to me that Jack has also made some passing remarks lately about being “too old” to do this or that anymore. (He’s only sixty!) And once, when he scoffed at a slow, elderly driver, I told him to cool it. “You’ll be him someday,” I said. “If I live that long,” he deadpanned.

That bothered me. It was the first time in over thirty years of marriage that I really felt our slight (six-year) age difference. I’m always trying new types of exercise. I just bought a stand-up paddleboard and am (again) contemplating buying a bike. Jack is contemplating dying. Not in a morbid way, really. It just appears to me that he has accepted the idea that for him, the best days are done. It makes me profoundly sad.

I can’t accept this. And I decided it was time to take matters into our own hands. Since Jack was diagnosed in 2018, I’ve shared much about his health with a good friend who is very health conscious. This friend is always learning new things about diet, nutrition, and exercise, and she’s periodically mentioned that I should listen to a weekly radio show that focuses on nutrition and wellness. She said I might find something there to help Jack. And just before Jack got really sick with COVID, for whatever reason, I finally found the time to listen to a podcast of one of the episodes, which just so happened to be about nutrition and arthritis.

I was listening to the episode while waiting in the parking lot of a medical clinic where Jack was having a procedure. The podcast featured a man who has a different autoimmune disorder and different type of arthritis than Jack. BUT he had been taking similar medications to what Jack is taking. This man talked about how bad his arthritis had become, how his doctor wanted to increase his dosages (even though it would continue to increase his liver numbers,) and how he was supplementing his prescriptions with Alleve as often as he was allowed to take it. This man described how his arthritis had gotten so bad that if he spent two hours mowing his lawn, he would be done moving for the remainder of the day.

Things kept spiraling downward. He described how he felt like he wasn’t living, but only surviving until he could take more medicine. Ultimately, his wife stepped in and proposed he do something different. She wanted him to see a nutritionist. The man was skeptical, and so was his doctor, but he agreed in order to appease his wife. He was even more skeptical when the nutritionist suggested he try eliminating gluten from his diet, just for one week. He was a self-described carb-addict and was staunchly opposed to this idea. In the end, he agreed to try it as long as he could still have one piece of toast a day. And after a week, just one week, much to his surprise, he noticed that he felt slightly better. To make a long story short, this man eliminated gluten and dairy from his diet and was able to go off of medications completely and now runs marathons. It didn’t happen overnight, and there was some trial and error along the way, but the end result was life-changing.

By the time I finished listening to the podcast, I was hyper-excited. (That’s just me. I hear stuff like this and I’m a believer!) When Jack got back in the car, I told him all about it and said I wanted him to listen to the podcast when we got home. He did. He was a bit more skeptical, but he was ever so slightly intrigued. I told him that we had to try something different. He can’t spend the rest of his life on the couch with ice and heat packs, taking more pills, and watching the world pass by. He’s too young for that. I can’t sit by and let him live that way. I said that if he would try a gluten-free diet, I would do it along with him. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But we are not going to just sit back and let this disorder suck the life out of him.

And so we’re doing it. Eating gluten-free, that is. Thankfully, we know quite a few people who have gone gluten-free in their diets either because, like Jack, they thought it might help a specific health problem, or because of severe health issues that required it. And we’ve received lots of great advice. I’ve since learned that there is much evidence that a gluten-free diet can have a positive impact on autoimmunity and arthritis. After just one week, I’m also learning it’s not all that hard to plan and prepare gluten-free foods for our meals. Our local grocery stores make it easy to find gluten-free items. Not only are there aisles dedicated to gluten-free foods, but throughout the store, the price displays on the shelves include labels that tell you whether any common items are gluten-free. Funny how I never really noticed that before. Also, can I just say? Gluten-free Oreos! You can’t even tell the difference!

This bread came highly recommended.

After telling another friend about all of this, she asked if I knew that a local pizza place nearby makes only gluten-free pizzas. I was familiar with the restaurant, but I’d had no idea before she told me. We gave that place a try last night. Due to the pandemic, the employees come out to your car when you pull into the parking lot, determine who you are and what you ordered, and then bring your pizza out to your car. We had a lovely exchange with the woman who was waiting on us. Jack asked if it was a family business and she said it was. She was the owner’s wife, and shared the story of how her husband has Celiac disease, and thus has built a very successful gluten-free pizza business. I told her that Jack’s arthritis was the reason we were trying a gluten-free diet. She told us about all the people they’ve met through their business and the stories they’ve heard. She encouraged Jack, as others have, that it may take a while to see a change. “Give it three months,” she told him. “But if it’s going to work, I promise you’ll know it within three months.” We were highly impressed, with the stories and advice, as well as the service. And the pizza was delicious. We’ll go back.

I told Jack that I haven’t seen him use an ice pack or heating pad recently. “Maybe it’s working already,” I said.

“Maybe it’s just that I’ve barely moved in three weeks,” he replied. (Can you tell who is the optimist and who is the pessimist in this relationship?)

Regardless, I remain hopeful. My husband can be a bit lazy where his health and nutrition are concerned. But he seems to be embracing this effort. At work yesterday, there was a celebration for one of his coworkers who was moving on to a new job. The plan was to order pizzas for the party, but Jack told his coworkers to count him out (since that pizza wasn’t going to be gluten-free). Instead of excluding him from the meal plans, his crew rallied around him. They decided to forgo the pizza and instead ordered subs from a place that had gluten-free options. They encouraged Jack to try the lettuce wrap -something I’m quite sure he’d scoff at if I’d suggested it. He tried something new, and he actually enjoyed it. And he was impressed that his teammates cared enough to make a change for his benefit.

I really hope this helps Jack. I can’t stand to see him giving up on his life already. And if anyone reading this has tips, tricks, suggestions, or resources to suggest, please do. I welcome it all.

When COVID came

We’ve been pretty careful. At least I have. I really haven’t had to try very hard since I’ve been working from home for over a year now and the places I’ve gone with any frequency include outside (for walks,) the grocery store, and Target.

Jack, on the other hand, goes to work everyday, with a fair number of coworkers who believe we’re being duped about the severity of COVID and who try not to wear their masks as often as they can get away with it. Jack also tells me there are hand-sanitizer dispensers all over the place at work, but which are generally empty. He’s not diligent about using hand-sanitizer anyway. I can tell because the small bottle he keeps in his truck has been there for the better part of a year without needing to be refilled.

Who knows from where it really came? Jack might have picked it up at work, from a gas pump, after touching a keypad at the home improvement store. Maybe one of our kids carried it into the house. The fact remains that Jack got COVID.

He’d had a medical procedure the Wednesday before Easter. The following day, he started having chills and feeling under the weather. His paperwork from the procedure had explained he might experience chills and fever afterwards, so we didn’t think much of it at first. The doctor called the day after the procedure to give Jack his test results. (All good.) Jack told the doctor about his chills and was advised to keep an eye on things but the doctor wasn’t too concerned.

On Friday Jack stayed home from work. On Saturday he was really miserable. He got an Urgency Room appointment on Easter Sunday. And he came home with a COVID diagnosis.

All I can say is thank God he’d already had his first dose of the vaccine two weeks prior to getting sick. Jack is immunocompromised and having one dose under his belt may be the only reason he didn’t have breathing issues. And things were bad enough as it was. My poor husband stayed in the bedroom for eight days straight, in the dark, sleeping or just laying there in misery. He got out of bed only to use the restroom a few feet away and would be winded by the time he got back into bed. During this entire time, he never once turned on a television or any screen. This is how I knew how bad it was. If you knew my husband and his love of screens, you’d have been worried too.

I managed to keep him drinking as much as possible so he’d stay hydrated, but he barely ate a thing for at least a week, and I’m sure he’s lost at least a few pounds by now. He’d tell you he had a few to spare, but worst diet ever!

On the ninth day Jack turned the slightest corner and came out of the bedroom. I have never been so relieved in my life! Knowing he was past the worst of it and the breathing struggles weren’t going to happen lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. For the past week since then, Jack has remained at home, mostly just laying on the couch watching television and still pretty weak, but eating a bit more and seeming more every day like his old self.

It was scary. A few well-meaning family and friends who work in the medical field advised about when I should watch for Jack to start having trouble breathing. I think that was the hardest part – being on the watch for truly dire straits. Thankfully, the worst never transpired. And we were supported by so many who offered to drop off groceries or do anything we needed doing, or just sent well-wishes and prayers. We didn’t really need anyone to do anything. InstaCart and Amazon made it easy to get anything we might need pretty easily. But it was nice to know people wanted to help.

Jack is now on the road to recovery and received his second dose of the vaccine yesterday. (Poor guy was told to expect the side-effects today to hit harder than normal due to receiving the shot after having had COVID.)

In the midst of Jack’s worst days, I got vaccinated myself (with the one-and-done version.) I felt slightly under the weather for the better part of a week, mainly having a loss of appetite and shedding a few pounds myself. But today I am confident we are on our way back to normalcy and I am so very grateful.

Very Early Morning Pages

I’ve been reading The Artist’s Way, and I’ve been writing the Morning Pages. Faithfully. For about three weeks now.

I’ve heard mention of the book a few times over the past few years, and recently it came across my radar again, twice, in a very short time. And so there I was on my Amazon account, buying things and thinking, “Before I check out, is there anything else I need?” And the book crossed my mind. So I found it and added it to my cart.

The book arrived a few days later and I contemplated whether I would actually put it to use. I mean, I wanted to, but I didn’t fully believe I’d stick with it. (I’ve got two skeins of yarns and some crochet needles sitting around the house that, if they could speak, would tell great tales of my inability to see a project through to the end.) The size of the book and the layout of the pages alone kind of fascinated me though. I dove in to read as soon as possible and I got a little bit stuck at the introduction because it laid out the rules for Morning Pages. Write three long-hand pages first thing every morning. Non-negotiable. Just write what’s in your head. The good, the bad, the ugly, the stupid. Just write it. Don’t try to write something. Just write anything as long as it’s three long-hand pages.

I was intimidated and I sat on the idea for a few days. I had a lot of what-ifs and too many doubts about my ability to follow through. How long would it take me to write three pages by hand anyway? Who writes by hand any more? There was also the issue of time. I already wake up very early. I have all my energy in the morning. I like to work out by 5:00 am. It gives me a mental boost to take me forward into the day. How was I going to squeeze in the writing too and still have time to shower, dress, dry my hair and start work on time? And no, I couldn’t really move the workout to a later point in the day. I tried it once. I knew I wasn’t going to stick with it. It’s early morning or nothing.

But I wanted to try this writing thing. I wanted to go on the journey to unblock my creative spirit and (as promised,) reach a point where it becomes so much easier to write than to not write.

So I started the Morning Pages. I made some concessions in my morning routine. Get up just a bit earlier than I already do. Write. Work out a little bit later than normal. Start work a little bit later too. (Because I ridiculously realized that since working from home, I’ve consistently been working more hours a day than expected anyway.)

And so I started writing first thing in the morning.

I thought I would hate it. I thought my hand would cramp up. (It does sometimes.) I thought I’d struggle to find any words to write. I don’t. I became hooked almost immediately. Even while struggling to open my eyes and get out of bed just after 4:00 am, I have wanted to get up and write, every day.

I think the beauty of it is that there’s no expectations. There’s nobody to impress because the pages are not to be shared with others. I’m not even supposed to go back and reread them myself. Just write the words and work out the muck so that my brain is free to be more creative for the rest of the day. Sometimes what I write feels so scattered, so mundane, and other times the writing leads to stunning revelations. I feel these personal break-throughs that were probably sitting there just below the surface, yet I had absolutely no idea. Like the day I realized that I have a problem with anger. Not that anyone would know this because I don’t show it. I don’t voice anger. I just get quiet. I stuff it down inside and I allow it to ruin whole days, whole weekends, or special times that are meant to be treasured but instead get clouded over. I get angry, usually over something really stupid, expectations that I assume someone else understands without me spelling it out. I don’t express anger, I think because I don’t believe I can express it productively and I don’t want to fight. And so I swallow it and go inside myself and allow it steal precious time from me. I am really just punishing my own self. This. This revelation came from writing words I didn’t know were going to come through my pen to the paper. This realization allowed me to start changing for the better, taking the pressure off of myself and learning to let go. It was kind of easy really, and mind-blowing all at the same time.

I started The Artist’s Way and the Morning Pages simply because I want to blog more routinely, like I used to three blogs and a hundred years ago. I like to write. It’s cathartic for me. It used to be so easy and I could barely go a day or two without writing. And then one day I started letting it go and then not writing became too easy. Trying to write seemed like so much effort. I want it to be effortless again.

I worry some days that I’m not achieving what I wanted. I’m still not writing formally all that much. Then again, I’m only on chapter three. The book reminds me that I’m going to go through some stuff. Some exciting, some frustrating. It will all lead somewhere if I stick with it. So I’m trusting it. Maybe I shouldn’t decide what the end result will be. Maybe I should just keep rolling with it and allow it to lead me wherever it goes.

Coming Back to Life

Daylight! We have daylight again! I have missed it so much. It might even have been worth losing that hour of sleep earlier this week just to be able to end my workday with the sun still streaming through the window. I know it’s not just me. The past few months have felt darker than most years. It’s amazing what a little natural light can do to lift the spirits!

It’s funny how the changing seasons can transform the same patch of sky that I see every single morning from my windows. Day after day, there’s a new piece of artwork inside the same frame.

The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter by the day. I can breathe again and can’t seem to get outside enough to soak in all of this nearly-spring weather. Lucy and I have been going for walks after work. She’s a little bit out of shape and needs the exercise. And even my four-legged baby senses the renewal taking place, displaying her funny sense of exuberance. As we trek through the neighborhood, she gallops as far as her leash will allow, and sniffs every patch of grass, every stray leaf, every place her nose can reach. As soon as she feels the leash go a bit slack, she bursts forth again in the hopes of more new scents, more sights to see. When her initial energy wanes, she slows to a prance, her head held high, searching right to left, up and down, making sure she doesn’t miss a thing.

I’m seeing people again, a friend in the neighborhood strolling out to the mailbox who flags me over to catch up for a few minutes. There are little kids playing in driveways who don’t know me but who eagerly shout, Hi! Hi! Hi! and wave frantically as Lucy and I pass by. I smile and wave back and Lucy’s tongue lolls out of her mouth as she considers them for the briefest moment before pulling me forward. Birds chirping. Squirrels racing. Geese honking. I have missed all of this during the long quiet we’ve just been through.

Things are slowly returning to normal. I worried that this Easter would be another lonely pandemic holiday. But I am so grateful it won’t be. We can gather together again. A bit. Normally, holiday preparations stress me out while I impossibly try to make everything perfect and conjure up expectations that can’t possibly be met. Now, as I plan to host Easter brunch with my immediate and some extended family, I’ve discarded any ideas of perfection. I’m not complaining to myself that no one else offered to host a gathering at their homes (again.) No. Like Lucy, I’m exuberant. I have missed life. I’ve missed my people. I won’t soon take either for granted again.

Waiting for my Grandbaby

Jaeger sent a message out to the family in a group text earlier this week. “We got us a thumb sucker!” It said.

My oldest son’s words were accompanied by an ultrasound photo. Apparently he and Camping Girl had been to the doctor that morning. I myself had never had an ultrasound back in the day. I had uneventful pregnancies, and at that time, if all was well, then no ultrasound. The gender of each of my own children was unknown to Jack and I until the moment each made their entrance into the world.

I marveled at the picture Jaeger had shared. Ultrasound photos have come such a long way! I could clearly make out the shape of our granddaughter’s tiny little head and the curve of her back. She held her arm at an upward angle, her hand splayed open and four delicate little fingers pointed straight towards her nose. Her thumb, as Jaeger had said, was presumably in her little bitty mouth. I felt tears of joy spring to my eyes.

She’s not even here yet and already I am so in love with this baby girl. My granddaughter. My granddaughter! My oldest son is going to be a daddy and he is absolutely giddy. He and Camping Girl are going to be such amazing parents. As for me, I’m already buying adorable baby girl clothes. I can’t help myself! Jaeger will balance out the wardrobe some. He’s already got a camouflage outfit and a matching pair of Crocs for baby girl.

Staring at the photo, I was filled with emotions. Particularly after a year that’s been so dark, she is a bright and shining star making her way into our world. I cannot wait to meet her, to hold her, to kiss her sweet cheeks, to tell her how much she is loved.

I remember having my own babies, the anxious anticipation, the sometimes panicky sense that we didn’t know what we were doing, and wondering who in their right mind decided we’d make good parents. (Although, I’m glad Someone did. Being a mom has been one of my life’s greatest joys.) I remember one particular evening shortly after Jaeger was born. Jack had gone back to work – on the night shift – for the first time since Jaeger’s birth. I was alone for the first time with my newborn, sitting in my living room and holding him in my arms, thinking how perfect he was and feeling my heart about to burst with the love I had for him. I can still picture the fuzzy yellow sleeper he was wearing (because of course, we hadn’t known ahead of time whether we should buy blue sleepers or pink ones.) I started crying as I sat cradling my baby. I was thinking about how difficult this world can be and I was feeling guilty for bringing him into it. Of course, I later realized I was probably suffering a small bit of postpartum depression. For Jaeger, the world and life have turned out to be a pretty good adventure so far. As for Jack and I, we managed to navigate parenting fairly successfully. Everyone made it out of childhood alive!

While I stared at my granddaughter in the ultrasound photo, I had some of those same feelings of dread that I’d experienced when her daddy was a newborn. This world! It’s going downhill so quickly! How can I not worry about all that this precious child faces once she arrives here?

But then I thought about how my parents must have had those same fears, just as my grandparents must have, and all of the generations before them. And yet somehow in spite of it all, tiny humans keep arriving here. We do our best to protect them, and the world just keeps on turning. In spite of life’s inevitable difficulties, hurts and fear, we continue to find joy, create beauty, and experience love. And if, like the song says, all you need is love – then our precious girl is going to be just fine. Because I have no doubt whatsoever that she will be loved beyond imagination.

Winter at the Cabin

For years, Jack and I struggled to make time to go to his family’s cabin in the summers. We’ve always loved to go to the lake, but we had kids in sports for many years which meant that evenings and weekends often found us sitting and cheering at a ball field. Jack’s job was sometimes a roadblock as well with its rotating schedule that kept him at work every other weekend. Then my parents’ health began failing and their need for help became a priority over up-north escapes.

But the years passed by, the kids grew up, my parents passed on, and Jack’s work situation changed. Suddenly we had time again to get away to the lake, to unplug, to commune with nature and simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings of my father-in-law’s happy place. We have made a true effort to get there more often lately, to make use of it and help manage the upkeep the way Jack’s dad would have wanted us to do.

The cabin is a rustic dwelling and lacks many of the conveniences we enjoy at home. To be honest, that’s part of its charm. It’s small but it has a big farm table to accommodate the large extended family. There’s no cable television, (so get outside and play!) The rooms are few but there are many places to sleep. Just don’t expect any privacy. There’s no central air conditioning; just a small window unit used only on those days when the air is truly stifling and it’s too hot to sleep. There’s no furnace, but there’s a small stove to heat things up in the fall when the guys gather for hunting trips.

Jack and I have never gone to the cabin in the winter. The conveniences are even fewer during the cold and snowy months. Since the cabin isn’t occupied on a regular basis, the water and heat are shut off after hunting season. That’s not to say that we can’t go in the winter. It just takes a more effort. It takes a couple of hours for the cabin to heat up to a comfortable level, and using the bathroom means walking outside – day or night – to use an outhouse.

Last summer while spending time at the lake with extended family, the talk turned to planning some winter trips. The idea took hold and last weekend, we made it happen.

I’m often guilty of having expectations that are too high, ending up disappointed when things don’t play out as perfectly as I imagine. As the weekend drew near, I daydreamed of perfect weather that would ensure snow on the ground but not too much. I wished for temperatures cold enough to maintain the snow cover and to keep the ice strong on the lake, but not so cold that we’d be forced back inside. I envisioned all of my kids and their significant others being able to join us. And I pictured all of us frolicking outside happily until we were exhausted and starving for one of those simple cabin dinners that always tastes best when every chair at the table is occupied. I had to keep reminding myself to take the weekend as it came, and not to be upset if everything wasn’t perfect.

I’ve made a concerted effort to find reasons to be grateful over the last year. Our winter cabin weekend made it so easy. I sincerely could not have asked for more. All of my kids and their significant others were able to join us, as well as Jack’s younger brother and his family. The weather was spectacular! Saturday was overcast with really comfortable temperatures. Sunday brought a clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine and temperatures just a bit colder than the day before. And we did it all!

I have to give credit to my brother-in-law who is just a big kid at heart. He talked Jack into participating in this weekend when I couldn’t. And once we were all at the cabin, he bounced around encouraging everyone to do this and try that. He was like a cruise director, making sure everyone was happy and having the best time imaginable! We rode sleds and tubes down the hill from the deck of the cabin down onto the lake. We made and threw snowballs. The guys did some ice fishing and the dogs ran, and ran, and ran! Thanks to my brother-in-law, I learned to drive a snowmobile as well as how to cross-country ski. The snowmobiling was exhilarating and fun! The skiing was more work than I’d imagined but such a peaceful experience. I definitely want to do more skiing.

After so much activity, I truly did work up a hunger such as I rarely feel. The food, though simple and convenient, tasted so good because it was shared with loved ones. When it was too dark to be outside any longer, we gathered around the table and played board games together, our voices growing louder as the night went on and laughter bubbling over easily. Leaving at the end of the weekend was, as it always is when departing from the cabin, bittersweet. I was anxious to get back home to a shower and a comfortable bed. But I was reluctant to see it all come to an end.

I needed this weekend. It was an opportunity to escape the sense of COVID fatigue for a while. And it is so rare that we’re able to gather all of our kids together in the same place for any length of time, much less an entire weekend. My heart swelled with love as I watched my kids talk and play together. I love seeing the incredible adults they have grown to be and the way they’ve grown closer to one another as they’ve matured. Everything about this weekend was simply amazing and I was literally overjoyed. Before I closed my eyes last night, I said a prayer of thanks for such a beautiful gift.

Too Cold to Go Outside

I haven’t been getting outside to walk for the past week or so. It’s too cold! I was really sticking with it too, well past the point in the winter that I normally do. Usually I’ve given up long before now. But if I can say anything good about a pandemic and working from home and rarely going anywhere, it’s that it has motivated me to go outside, see something besides the walls of my own house, and breathe fresh air. But the past couple of weeks with their sub-zero temperatures broke me. I’m pretty hardy, but I draw the line when the temperatures are cold enough to pose the risk of frostbite on skin exposed longer than five minutes.

It was eighteen below this particular morning.
An enjoyable view from inside the house

I miss my walks. I miss my friend and neighbor who walks with me. It always refreshes my spirit to get out of the house and talk with someone who doesn’t live with me. When the temperatures started falling, I told myself that if I couldn’t go outside, I’d still step away from my desk for a while each day and read a book, eat some lunch, watch an episode of something, or even do some laundry. But I never do. Without even giving it much thought, I just keep working. Oh, well. I’ve accomplished a lot at work and that in itself is fulfilling. It’s probably not a great long-term plan though.

This weekend promises a slight warm-up, thankfully, and next week looks good for getting outside again. I can’t wait!

Other benefits of these long, slow, quiet days? I’ve managed to stick with my goal to plan meals, cook, and eat better. I’ll dare to say that I’m well on my way to creating a solid habit of planning and shopping so that I have ingredients on hand to cook some things we’ll enjoy and feel good about eating. I’m only slightly worried I might start slacking off when spring and summer roll around.

I’m doing a ton of reading and really enjoying it.

I’ve not really worked much on crocheting. I got very excited about it at first and then I just fizzled. I’ve been too wrapped up in my books, I think. I’m not worried though. The yarn and hooks aren’t going anywhere. And obviously, neither am I!

On Being Ruined

I woke up at 3:00 the other morning and failing to fall back to sleep, lay there just letting my brain run in all directions. A particular realization rose to the surface, a feeling of being unsettled. Unsettled seems to be my constant companion, sometimes more apparent than others but always hanging around. The past year has moved me out of my comfort zone and I often feel as if I’m hovering in a sort of gray state of anxiousness, melancholy, and world-weariness.

I miss having plans. I miss seeing people. I miss looking forward to anything much more exciting than my weekly grocery run. It’s hard sometimes to stay positive when everyone you love is so close and yet so far away. Virtual reality helps, but it’s simply not the same. I want think about being in the world again, and spending time with people without the underlying fear that we might harm one another by breathing in the same space.

I see the ever-increasing divisions in this country and realize I’ve probably spent much of my life blissfully ignorant. This … everything the world is going through right now … this is nothing new. It has happened time and again, hasn’t it? I’ve just been fortunate enough to have lived most of my years in relatively calm times – or more likely was simply sheltered from the really worrisome stuff. When I was in the third grade, my elementary school suddenly enrolled a population of Vietnamese children. I remember being fascinated with the fact that they didn’t speak English. I noticed their mismatched, often ill-fitting clothing, but at that age it never occurred to me to question why, or to imagine their lives hadn’t been every bit as safe as mine. Somehow, my best friend that year was a Vietnamese girl who’d been placed in my class. We barely understood each other’s words, but we connected. And I had absolutely no idea for a very long time where she’d come from and the war that had happened in her country, or our country’s part in it.

This has happened a lot to me over my adult years, a dawning realization years in the making. Events that had previously seemed little more than a history lesson during my school years, I suddenly realized had occurred during my grandparents’ lifetime. My parents’ lifetime. My lifetime.

I often have to turn away from the news these days. I can’t ask Jack not to watch, but sometimes I have to close myself off. Sometimes when I’m cooking or doing chores, I’ll turn the television on for some background noise. I’ll find something that is just enough to keep me company but not enough to distract me from what needs doing. I’ve been watching Eat, Pray, Love on Netflix lately, either while falling asleep or while doing some chore. I long ago read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, but had never bothered with the movie. I almost always think a book is better than its movie, so this was, in my mind, the perfect one for background noise. Except that a particular line in the movie captured my attention.

Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.

Elizabeth Gilbert

I found myself sort of ranting to Jack two nights ago. He had the local news on and I was allowing myself to watch. There was a story about parents appealing to the governor to lift mask mandates for youth sports. Apparently several children have passed out while playing, presumably because the masks make it difficult to breathe during activities requiring such exertion. I watched as parent after parent was interviewed, all expressing the unfairness of requiring children to wear masks while playing a team sport. (Ironically, the story went on to say that statistics show there has been no increase in incidents of passing out as compared to before the pandemic.)

I’m normally not one to express an opinion out loud about such things. Everyone is entitled to their passions. The past year has taken its toll on everyone, and what’s a priority to some may not be a priority to others. We’re each seeing the world right now through our own unique lenses. But this news story fired me up. I looked at Jack and threw my hands up, asking, “What’s more important? That your kid gets to play basketball, or that your kid gets to play basketball in a way that offers a slightly better chance of keeping her and others around her safe? If you feel your child is at risk from wearing a mask while playing basketball, then maybe the choice should be not to play basketball this season! I mean, should we all be allowed to do the things we think we’re entitled to do? Or should we be doing whatever it takes to get beyond where we are now?”

I’m tired of it all too. I’m tired and I’m getting bored. But I also don’t think we should just throw out all precautions and play a real live game of survival of the fittest. My kids played sports. I remember how important it was to us. And yes. It’s unfair the way so many things are right now. It’s unfair that kids are falling behind because they’re not learning in the structure of a traditional classroom. It’s unfair that we can’t hold birthday parties or celebrate holidays with large groups of family and friends. It’s also unfair that people are dying.

None of us gets to do all of the things right now that we were used to doing before. And who knows if or when we’ll get to do them again. Maybe this is where my feeling of being unsettled stems from. That we might never again get to do of the things that define life as we think we know it.

The world sometimes feels to me like it’s falling apart. But isn’t this the bigger picture? Sometimes I begin to feel so defeated at all that’s going on, and then I watch the history channel and am reminded just how awful things have been before. Hasn’t this happened time and again throughout history? A ruining of sorts? What was taken for granted by one generation fails to exist for another. And it works both to our benefit and sometimes to our detriment.

I knew all of this … this trying to carry on through the pandemic … was going to get really difficult for me about this time of year anyway, with days that are still too short and when darkness comes too early. Not to mention, it’s a sub-zero deep freeze outside and that certainly doesn’t help. It’s made me a bit mopey at times, but also more introspective as well. That quote from Eat, Pray, Love keeps coming to mind. This is all so much bigger than us. So much bigger than I’ve imagined it would ever transpire to be. I’ve gone from disbelief that the virus would really affect us , to being literally afraid of it. I’ve gone from believing a resolution is just around the corner, to finding ways to stay positive and move on toward a day that’s still much too far away. I’ve experienced exhaustion and sorrow over too many other devastating and historic events that just seem to pile on top of a world that already feels much too fragile.

We are experiencing a ruining right now, I think. Funny thing is that whenever I’ve imagined such a thing, it was instantaneous and totally devastating. Before now, the world going to ruins was merely a far-fetched invention of the imagination. But I’m beginning to understand it’s not an illusion. It’s real. But it’s happening in slow motion. And this means we have some control over it, a chance to ensure that something good comes of it. It could really go either way, but I pray that our transformation holds more growth, more good than anything.