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.

Oh, Baby!

I mentioned recently that I’ve been making an effort to journal things for which I’m grateful. Sometimes I have to dig really deep, especially considering the events of the past year and now those of the past week. Sometimes, finding a reason to be grateful is so easy! Take for example, that day recently when my oldest boy, Jaeger stopped over with his girlfriend, Camping Girl. Considering how little I’ve written here over the past couple of years, I may not have mentioned the lovely Camping Girl before. She is lovely. He loves her. She loves him. And we adore her. For quite some time, it’s been so easy for us to see they are right for each other.

Jaeger has made some remarks recently that have led us to believe a marriage proposal was in the works. Jack and I have talked about it periodically, wondering when we might finally hear some news of wedding bells. One Sunday, not long before Christmas, Jaeger and C.G. let us know they’d be stopping by that afternoon. I invited them to stay for dinner and when they arrived, homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs were cooking on the stove. We were all gathered around the island in the kitchen, chatting and waiting for the pasta to finish cooking when Jaeger whipped something white out of his back pocket. The small white thing unfurled before my eyes and I realized an announcement was being made! Though it wasn’t the announcement we’d been expecting.

We’re going to be grandparents!

It wasn’t the wedding announcement we’d been expecting, but instead, a BABY announcement! We are going to be grandparents! I can’t remember exactly how I reacted, but I remember bolting over to the other side of the island to throw my arms around both Jaeger and C.G. I cried. I exclaimed that I was so excited. I must have exclaimed it several times because Jaeger finally laughed and said, “Are you so excited, Mom?”

I am going to be a GRANDMOTHER! I am so ready for this! I am going to spoil this kid rotten! Well, maybe not rotten but there will definitely be some spoiling going on. I may have already bought a baby toy.

A few people have asked me what I’ll be called when the baby arrives. Will I be “Nanna” like my mom was? That would be really cool, but I’m thinking that this may not be a decision I’ll make myself. When my parents’ first grandchild, my niece came along, my siblings and I began to refer to my parents as Grandma and Grandpa – until my niece started talking. And she called them Nanna and Boppa. I remember Jack saying, “I’m not referring to your dad as Boppa! It’s embarrassing.” But it stuck. My dad was Boppa and he was darn proud of it.

I have a friend who is Nonna to her grandkids. Another friend’s kids call her dad, Bumpa. Heck, my own nephew couldn’t pronounce my name when he was young, and although he is now in his twenties, he and his siblings still call me Dewey. So I think I’ll be open to whatever this little one wants to call me. But in case I’m asked to choose, I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got ’em!

And P.S. A proposal was actually in the works. To make a long story short, the news of the baby beat Jaeger to the punch. Like I said, we’re thrilled. Jaeger says they’ll work on planning a wedding after they settle in with the baby, who is scheduled to arrive in late July. Lots of good stuff to look forward to around here!

The Notebook

No, not that one…

I keep a notebook at my desk in my home office. It’s hard-covered, journal-sized, and I bought it on a whim six months ago because I was drawn to the soft cover art with its biblical quote. At the time, I had the grand idea that I would use it daily to jot down reasons to be grateful. Ironically, I’ve had this same enthusiastic urge several times before in my life, even once using a blog for the same endeavor. And unfortunately, I just never seem to stick with it. Typically, a few pages are completed followed by a long absence of any activity before the notebook is relegated to a junk drawer, ultimately used merely for jotting down lists of mundane things I’m sure I’ll forget to do or buy if I don’t put those thoughts to paper. (Yes, I know that I could use my cell phone for the same reason and manage my to-dos in a much greener way. Paper just seems to be my medium of choice.)

I keep the notebook at my desk because I figured it’s the most likely place I’ll notice it and remember to use it. And that has worked pretty well, though like its predecessors, my current notebook quickly failed to be used only for its original and very specific purpose. Regardless, it has fared much better. A couple of months after starting (and just a few pages in,) I had marked the date in the top right corner as always. But this time, I added some prayers on the lower half of the page. And now half a year after buying the notebook, I can honestly say I’m succeeding in frequenting its pages more than I ever did before with the others. This is the first time I’ve stuck with the habit of using my notebook for the very reason I intended and have even gone beyond. I don’t always manage to write something daily, and I don’t always manage to identify three “gratefuls” each time I write. Sometimes a week goes by with nothing said. But I always seem to come back to it these days. My entries have expanded significantly since those first few pages. My gratefulness goes far beyond the obvious, one time writing that I was grateful for Oprah Winfrey. (Her Super Soul podcast is pretty cool!) And I’ll often make up for missed entries with more than three “gratefuls” and a longer list of prayers.

The reason for writing prayers? I guess I’ve never felt like an accomplished pray-er, but I’ve been inspired by a line I’ve always remembered from the movie The Help. There’s a character in the movie, Aibilene, who talks about writing her prayers down instead of saying them. There’s definitely something to Aibilene’s method. The more prayers I write, the more prayers I have. And the more prayers I have, the more “gratefuls” I realize.

For all that 2020 has held, and in spite of the fact that I have at times experienced levels of anxiety like never before, my notebook keeps me grounded. It gives me an outlet. It helps me find my center again when I feel like I’m spinning out of control. And if I have anything for which to thank 2020, this is definitely something.

Practicing Gratitude

I’m feeling funky lately. Everything seems to be getting under my skin. I rarely want to wish away precious time, but lately, I keep wishing this year would just fast-forward and go away.

My fitness accountability group so often helps me keep my head above water. This is usually a daily opportunity to check-in online to seek or offer support in regards to exercise and nutrition goals. But self-care is also a frequent topic and lately, it’s often simply about helping each other be okay. A lot of us are struggling right now.

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This week brought a reminder that no matter your size or how well you eat, no matter how many pushups you can do or how much weight you can lift, if stress weighs you down, you just aren’t healthy.

I looked through the list of tips for living more happily and immediately recognized that I’ve been allowing myself to get sucked into the fear, the anger, and the frustration of the world today. Even typical daily hurdles sometimes feel monumental. I picked out a few things to work on, with my main focus being to express more gratitude. I’ve not been very grateful lately, even while I recognize that my life is relatively easy and peaceful.

IMG_0002[3420]A few weeks ago while doing some shopping, a small notebook caught my eye. I remember thinking it could be a gratitude journal but (typical me) I’d tossed it aside and hadn’t done anything with it. But now I’d found some motivation and have since started writing in it. And I’m reminded that gratitude takes practice. I’ve allowed my mind to sink, to wallow just a bit too much, to hang onto darkness and a sense of helplessness. Finding reasons to be grateful has taken some real effort. But I’ve been making myself write some things down almost daily. I try to find at least three things a day to write down, even if what I’ve written feels stupid or mundane. Sometimes I only manage one thought. Sometimes I don’t write anything. But I do it if at all possible. 

One of my fitness friends shared that she often has to find reasons to be grateful in the most unlikely of circumstances. She tripped over a bunch of shoes in her house one day. Instead of being annoyed that no one could put their shoes where they belong, she told herself that she was lucky to have a houseful of big-footed teenagers who just so happen to have great taste in athletic shoes. Following my friend’s lead, I’ve been grateful to wake up to the sounds of birds singing outside my open bedroom window. I was thankful for a busy workday, particularly after a recent lull made me worry about job security. I professed how much I love my dog, Lucy, and how I appreciate her constant companionship while I’m stuck have the privilege of working from home. I appreciated a text from a friend that simply said she was thinking of me and wanted to say hi.

I would really like to deepen my sense of gratitude. After all, it’s kind of hard to be sad and mopey when you’ve got pages of things for which to be grateful. I’ll keep working at this.

Reflections on Age, Cancer, and Gratefulness

There was a twelve-year-old talking on the sports radio station in Jack’s truck. Or so it sounded to my fifty-three-year-old ears. Jack explained that he was a former University of Minnesota football player. So he’s not that young.

Well, he sounded young to me. I think back to when I was a kid and how every adult fit into one category for me. Old. My dad was fourteen years old when his brother was born and not much older when his youngest sister came along. I remember visiting my grandparents as a child. My aunt and uncle were always there at my grandparents’ house. Of course, they were! They weren’t much beyond their high school years and still lived at home. I thought they were cool. They gave my sister and me their old forty-five records. We took them home and listened to the Beatles and Lobo over and over and over again. My parents didn’t have forty-five records. Dad listened to the polka station on AM radio in his car. Mom had Elvis’ G.I. Blues and a Charlie Pride album that she’d play on the stereo which resided in our living room.

Still, I didn’t draw the distinction between my dad being an adult who held a job, owned a house, was married and had four children … and my aunt and uncle who were technically adults, but still very young adults. All of them fell into my mind’s very vague category of “old.” I was young. They knew everything and they were old.

Now I’m old. Sometimes I feel definitely old. Especially when I look in the mirror and notices the “eleven” lines between my eyebrows and the smile creases around my mouth. Most of the time I still think of myself as young though. I try to maintain that mentality. Maybe keeping a young heart and mind will help me live longer and better. Or just help me live better while I’m here.

When I was a child, death and funerals were such shocking and traumatic events. I was in second grade the first time I truly experienced the heartbreak of losing someone I loved. It was my sister’s godmother. Our families were close. Kenny was just a year older than me and I remember crying over the fact that he would have to face the world without his mom. I was just shy of my eleventh birthday when my grandpa died. It felt like I cried forever. I couldn’t imagine how any of us could ever be happy again.

Fast forward to old me. Lately, I’ve had thoughts of stocking up on sympathy cards so I’ll always have one at the ready. Older relatives, and parents of friends are leaving this world with some frequency these days. It’s an inevitable consequence of an ever-widening circle of family and friends, as well as having lived this long so far. And the older I get, the better I seem to cope with it. My faith has matured and my fear about the afterlife has significantly decreased with age. My sadness is often accompanied by a fascination and something along the lines of jealousy at the thought of the beautiful place I imagine and believe people go when they leave this world.

Regardless, I always still feel a bit shell-shocked at the news of a terminal diagnosis or death, especially when it comes much too soon. Even though death is a given, an inevitable, I guess I’ll never fully get used to it. I was reminded of this recently when I learned that a high school classmate’s life had been derailed by cancer.

I didn’t know Dee well at all in high school. We were not friends. At best, I can say that I knew who she was, and I’d be surprised if she knew who I was. She ran with the in-crowd. I was awkward and painfully shy and did my best to start forgetting my high school days the minute I graduated. A couple of months ago, Dee sent me a FaceBook friend request. I wasn’t entirely surprised. I’ve received my share of friend requests from people I barely know or don’t know at all. Besides, I know some of the high school crowd like to maintain connections with as many classmates as possible.

I didn’t think much about Dee’s request, and merely noted with mild interest a handful of posts she made on FaceBook. She seemed to be doing well and living a good life, at least as far as I could tell from the highlight reel of social media. And then one day, she posted about her cancer diagnosis. It’s bad. Really bad. I’ve been following her updates lately and can’t help compare her situation to that of my best friend who passed away three years ago at the age of forty-seven. Dee wrote a New Year’s message reminding all of us to wrap our arms around our own lives and loved ones. She said most of us don’t know when or how we will die. She doesn’t know when, but she knows how. She’s working with a palliative care nurse, so I know she has accepted that the end is coming, and coming soon.

Cancer RibbonDee is heavy on my heart every day. I’m not entirely sure why a person I barely knew then and barely know now remains so present in my thoughts, although it stands to reason since when I think about her, I think about my best friend. I think about Dee every day and I pray for her. I pray for a miracle for her, and then I don’t know whether or not to hope for it. I prayed for a miracle for my best friend. I never for a moment believed she would actually die until I was sitting next to her hospital bed, holding her hand and praying for God to take her from the pain she was in. She died the next morning. The miracle I was hoping for did not happen.

Maybe Dee is so often in my thoughts because I’m supposed to do something for her, even if that is merely to pray. Maybe it’s to remind me that life is short and there may not be endless days ahead to do all the things I want to or should do. Whatever it is, the thought of her continues to remind me to be as happy as I can be, to relax, to be gentle with those around me and forgive often.

Today as I think about Dee, I am grateful for my health, to have come this far protected from trauma and disaster, and for the blessing of an imperfect yet beautiful family and wonderful friends. Today I will be grateful for the single day that lies before me and not worry about the ones ahead. Today, I am very grateful that a person I barely know so poignantly reminds me of what is truly important. And I will continue to pray for her.

Finally a Normal Saturday (I guess I’ve missed these.)

I think every year around this time I speak (about 600 times) some really (not so) original words of wisdom along the lines of, “The holidays are always wonderful, but there’s something to be said about getting back to normal.”

There is. I’m one of those people who loves Christmas time … really loves it! I relish the joyful and generous spirit that permeates the air, the planning and giving of meaningful and simple gifts, the idea that our Christmas gatherings will be absolutely, totally, completely perfect in every way … even though the beauty of it is that they never will be. I love Christmas time so much that I usually experience a bit of blues in the days immediately following. This year was no exception. I woke up on December 26th, on break from work. I worked out. I showered. I drove the neighbors to the airport. While driving back home, I listened to Little Women on audiobook and contemplated grand plans for immense productivity during the remaining hours of my day.

Upon arriving home at approximately 10 am  … I promptly plopped onto the couch, reached for the remote, … aaand spent the next several hours watching movies and napping.

I can’t say I felt good about that. I tried to. I told myself, You’ve earned this. You entertained on Christmas Eve. You shopped. You wrapped. You cooked. You baked. You gave up precious hours of sleep. I told myself that my lounging was well-deserved self-care. But I’m not a person who feels refreshed after such a day. Unless I’m doing it due to illness, I just feel guilty. It’s one of those things I want to work on in this new year. Sitting and being still once in a while. Though maybe a bit more purposefully, and probably not while zoning out in front of a screen.

This brings me to my point which is that I woke up this morning feeling grateful for the relatively normal weekend that looms ahead. Sure, the Christmas tree still needs to come down in addition to the usual household chores and errands that I typically tackle during my weekends. But if I don’t get it all done? Who cares? Because no one is coming over to see my messy house! And if they do? Well, that’s another one of those things I’ll continue working on in the new year. NOT thinking that no one may come over until I have a Pinterest-perfect house. Besides, if I wait for that day, no one will be allowed over. Ever.

IMG_8999It was nice over the holidays. There were moments between the chaos when I glanced into the living room where all of my adult kids (and Lucy Pie) were lounging together, the Christmas tree lights glowing in the corner, and the kids’ teasing and laughter like music to my ears. Those moments filled my soul with such warmth and happiness. I adore those moments and will gladly take as many more as I can get. But the rest of it? It was wonderful but a bit exhausting as always. So today, the pressure is off. I’ll get to the shower when I get there. If my vacuuming doesn’t make it to the lower level this weekend? Oh, well. Today I raise my coffee cup in a toast to routine and normalcy.

Boosted

I talked to my friend, Kim yesterday. She is an amazing friend and always such a source of encouragement!

I first (virtually) met Kim years ago when I began blogging. I’m not exactly sure how many years it’s been since we began to form the bonds of friendship, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve stayed connected for more than ten. We’ve met in person only once, and it continues to amaze me that our friendship has not only endured, but has grown as deep as it has . After all, when I first started doing this, I didn’t really consider that any connections I made online might actually turn out to be real. And while Kim and I have both continued to write throughout the years, she’s undoubtedly done it much better than I. While I’ve written hundreds upon hundreds of blog posts, I’ve shut down a few websites and started fresh on new pages several times over. There have been long gaps between my writings. It used to be I couldn’t imagine a day without writing. For the past few years, I’ve been lucky to write something once every few months. In stark contrast to my scattered patterns of writing, Kim has maintained the same blog where I first found her, and more importantly, if she wasn’t blogging, it’s because she was busy writing and publishing several books. (And she’s good!)

At some point in recent years, Kim texted me and asked me to download an app to my phone, one called Marco Polo. The app allows us to record and send video messages to one another. I felt awkward about it at first, but really grew to look forward to Kim’s messages and to sending my own in return. With such busy lives, Marco Polo allows us to actually talk to each other without both having to be present in the very same moment. But like my pattern of blogging, sometimes Kim and I will stay in touch regularly, and other times there will be long periods of silence. For most of this summer, we had been out of touch.

After my couple of days of deep thinking last week, I was alerted to a Marco Polo message from Kim. As soon as I had a chance, I watched and listened as she shared some good news about a new opportunity she’d just accepted, something she’ll be doing in addition to her full-time job, in addition to taking care of her family and parenting, and in addition to her writing. On Saturday morning, I had a chance to respond and tell her how impressed I was with her seemingly endless energy. I also wanted her to know that her timing couldn’t have been better, and told her how much she encourages me. I gave her the cliff notes on what I’d written about just that morning, about the funk I’d been feeling for much too long, and explained that I was finally feeling as if the clouds were beginning to part. I told her she was such a great example of embracing all the life that is right in front of her, and she just made me feel as if anything can be possible if you can keep steering your mind in the right direction, which admittedly, I haven’t done so well lately.

IMG_8580[975]What followed was a quick succession of messages back and forth, with a few tears on each side, and much laughter as well. In true Kim fashion, she was not about to let me slide backwards now that I’d expressed a desire to make some positive changes. She gave me some clear directions on what she thought I should do to keep moving forward, including the purchase of a BIG dry erase marker, specifically purple or pink, with which I would write daily or weekly goals on my bathroom mirror. And she instructed me to identify in those goals how many chapters of a book I would commit to writing and finishing during specific time periods, and the goal for completion of said book.

Kim has a lot of faith in me! And I am so very grateful for her!

But … I was soon recording my laughing response. I promised to make a list (although it will more likely reside in a notebook rather than on my bathroom mirror. However, I do think I can agree to making it purple or pink!) I also told her that I was thinking I should start with baby steps, rather than ginormous, Big Foot steps. I don’t – and may never – have any great ideas for a book. But writing does make me happy. It’s cathartic, and this blog is a good place to begin (or more accurately, resume.)

Aunt Shirley and the Thankfulness Lesson

It’s Thanksgiving day, a day set aside to reflect on all for which we have to be grateful. All week long, my mind has returned to the idea that thankfulness, as a practice, fosters an attitude of gratitude. It’s something I’m constantly striving for, always working on with varying measures of success, depending on the day.

My Aunt Shirley has inspired me this week. Ninety years young, she has spent her life giving of herself. She was a June Cleaver type of wife and mother, spending her days raising four children, keeping a beautiful house, and volunteering in her small-town community. Her days haven’t all been rosy. She lost her oldest son to a nasty cancer long before his time, and she’s been without my uncle, her husband for twenty-three years now. And this past May, she moved from her home of sixty-five years to a senior apartment, adjoining to an assisted living facility and nursing home. She made the move reluctantly. Her kids were worried about her safety, navigating the old two-story house and its steep, narrow stairways with bad knees and other health issues. Aunt Shirley wasn’t thrilled, didn’t want to go through a lifetime worth of belongings and decide what to part with and what to keep. She didn’t want to leave the place that created so many beautiful memories, didn’t want to leave her neighborhood, neighbors and friends.  Up until the time of her move to senior housing, one of her volunteer activities included visiting “the old people” at the nursing home. Still, she made the best of this change in her life.

Aunt Shirley is slowing down a bit. Last year she began having some problems and doctoring for what was eventually diagnosed as Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that forms in a plasma cell. Due to her age, she has purposely limited the amount and type of treatment, and so far, she’s done pretty well. But the weekend before last, there was a scare. Her grandsons came by to have lunch with her, and found her in bed, unable to get herself up. The boys called 911 and Aunt Shirley’s family thought they’d be planning a funeral in the next few days.

My sister and I try to visit Aunt Shirley somewhat regularly, but even with the best of intentions, I don’t get there often enough. With work, my own household and responsibilities, plus an aging mother-in-law who needs help, it just doesn’t happen as much as it should. Those are all just excuses anyway, and after her recent episode, we were antsy to go see Aunt Shirley again as soon as we could get there. You know the feeling … “What if we don’t get another chance?” So last weekend as she was recuperating after her hospital stay in the transitional care facility adjoining her apartment complex, my sister and I set aside all other plans in favor of paying a visit.

A dark cloud seemed to hang over my head. My mom was the youngest of four girls. Last November, we lost the third of the four sisters, Aunt Elaine. Then came February and Mom left us. Aunt Shirley is the oldest and it seemed that she wasn’t long for this world either. It felt to me like too much loss in too little time.

My sister and I arrived at the senior housing complex after lunch time on Sunday, as requested by Aunt Shirley’s family. As we navigated our way through the hallways of the transitional care wing, searching for our aunt’s room, we saw a group come around the corner. There was Aunt Shirley, wheeling her walker across the floor, a beaming smile on her face and talking animatedly. She was surrounded by her youngest daughter, son-in-law and three of her grandsons and she looked absolutely amazing! I could not get over how good she looked and sounded after days of envisioning her as weak and frail, and fading away from us. The sight of her looking so much like her old self simply filled my heart with joy!

Aunt Shirley greeted us as she typically does … as if we were her favorite people in the world, she hadn’t seen us in years, and our visit was cause for celebration. I kept marveling at this healthy-looking person before me, as opposed to the withering woman I had pictured in my mind. And other than being embarrassed about the fact that her hair was a bit wild, she was absolutely radiant. Rather than all crowd into her little room, we decided to take our gathering to a table in a community area, then spent the next hour or so talking, reminiscing, and laughing. It was beautiful.

Aunt Shirley

Way back when – Aunt Shirley and my cousin on the left, Mom and me on the right

Aunt Shirley’s youngest daughter, who is just a month older than me, has always been one of my favorite cousins. We spent a lot of time together growing up. She was talking at one point about her younger days and what life was like, and maybe something about what a challenge she may have been as the youngest and spoiled child who came along as somewhat of a surprise after her three siblings had been around for a few years. Whatever it was that she said, it prompted Aunt Shirley to express “You are my joy. All of my children have been such a joy in my life. And my grandchildren too.”

She went on to say that she just feels so grateful to have lived the life she has. Then she looked at my sister and me and added, “And you both too! I just love you to death. I’m just so happy you came to see me today.”

It’s not often that someone gushes over me in such an unabashed way and I found myself blushing while my heart just filled with a feeling that’s hard to fully describe. It was love, of course, and happiness too. But there was something else – a reminder that not much else really matters in comparison to being a part of a family this way, staying connected, taking care of each other, and loving one other. I am so fortunate! Most importantly, Aunt Shirley reminded me of the importance of not assuming others know how we feel, and making it a point to show – and tell each other. After weeks of fretting about problems others might be happy to have, my aunt reminded me how blessed I really am.

She went on talking, effortlessly expressing her gratitude about so many things. Whereas the move from her home of many years was not made easily, she elaborated about what a nice place it is she now lives. The spaces are bright, the care is compassionate, the food is delicious, the view out of her window is beautiful. And having lived most of her life in a small town, she noted how happy she is that many of the residents are people whose paths have crossed hers through the years and how lucky they are now to reconnect on a day-to-day basis.

So many times, she repeated, “I’m just so happy you’re all here! I just love you all so much!” She went on to tell us that with her recent health scare, she thought her time here on earth might be over. But she said she didn’t feel ready yet, and that God must have more for her to do. I told her I was so glad she wasn’t ready. I’m not ready to let her go. None of us are.

As I have been stressing lately over the new job, feeling overwhelmed with a host of new challenges and responsibilities while trying to balance it all with my home life, I thought how I could take a serious lesson from my aunt. I have been complaining a lot lately. Even if not out loud, there’s been a litany of frustrations running a loop inside my head. And it occurred to me … when am I not worrying or feeling anxious about one thing or another? Now that is a skill that I’ve honed. And as much and as long as I’ve been working toward making a habit of gratefulness, I saw that I have a long way to go. I just need to keep working at it. I suppose I should cut myself a little slack. Gratitude seems to come easier with age. My younger days were too preoccupied with a sense of entitlement to make room for it. But I’m learning. Every day that I have the privilege of living, I’ll keep trying.

So here it is, Thanksgiving Day, and I get to step off the hamster wheel for a few days. My aunt has showed me that every day is a chance to remember how in the grand scheme of things, I really have nothing to complain about, and conversely, I have so much for which to be thankful. I have a roof over my head. I’m surrounded by loving family – both immediate and extended (quirky though they may be!) I have a job and one that I enjoy, and it helps sustain our lives. I have a comfy bed, plenty to eat, good friends, an adorable dog (who could also give lessons in gratefulness,) and a million other blessings in my life. It’s really just a matter of focusing on them.

My aunt gets it. And every day, I hope to get better at getting it too. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I love you, and I am grateful for you.

(Also, check this out. You’ll get a kick out of it!)

Fifty-Two

It’s my birthday today. I’ve managed to stay alive for fifty-two years so far!

I’ve been celebrating, sort of, since Friday when I took the day off work at the request of a good friend. A week ago, she sent a text saying, “Since it’s your birthday weekend, you should take the 9th off and we should go to the holiday boutique at U.S. Bank Stadium.”

So I did. And we did. We met in the middle and rode the light-rail into downtown Minneapolis. I’ve never been on the light-rail before and found it to be rather enjoyable. We got to spend the time talking and catching up instead of nervously navigating one-way streets and searching for expensive parking. We got off the train just across the street from the stadium and it was easy-peasy!

The boutique itself was massive and interesting. We saw a lot of fun stuff, but I didn’t buy much in spite of being overly amused by the abundance of novelty socks and dish towels making use of the f-bomb. They were funny. I just don’t feel the need to display curse words in my kitchen or on my feet. Not my style. I did purchase a couple of Bloody Marys for the two of us, and some over-priced eye cream. I would never have considered the eye-cream except for the young, handsome, Italian salesman who worked his sales pitch hard and gave us a trial run. Seeing for myself how my friend’s eye creases disappeared before my very eyes, I couldn’t help but be sold on it. And also because – you know. Fifty-two.

Anyway, we had a good time, the two of us, just hanging out together, solving the world’s problems, checking things out, and laughing. All in all, a good day.

The weekend was filled with more events and activities than most typical weekends. Some were in celebration of my birthday, some not, but it all contributed to my feelings of being very blessed.

We had dinner on Friday night with my brother, two years younger and his family. His birthday is one week before mine and he turned fifty this year!

On Saturday morning, we caught up with good friends over breakfast. It’s been much too long, and as we parted ways afterwards, she reminded me that good friends always come together as if not a day had passed, no matter how many actually have. She’s right. And we are so lucky to have friends like them!

When we returned home after breakfast, there was something sitting on the living room floor that caught my eye. As I wondered what the heck it was, it took a moment to register that there was a silver bow and a “Happy Birthday” message on top of it . And then my brain realized that what I was contemplating was a robotic vacuum! Shark

Now there may be some who would be offended with such a gift, but not me! I was thrilled! I literally jumped up and down with excitement when I realized what it was. (Have I mentioned that there are two dogs living under my roof? Do you have any idea how much time I spend vacuuming, Swiffering, and vacuuming again?)

While we were away at breakfast, Shark was plugged in and charging. I set him loose after a quick review of the instructions and then we proceeded to watch him do his thing, sort of defeating the purpose of having a robotic vacuum as we continued to marvel for much too long. I was skeptical at first. The pattern of movement seemed very random, but as I continued to monitor the progress, I saw that it was covering all of the necessary spaces. The dogs watched with mild curiosity but otherwise were not bothered. Shark is quiet and moves gently, not like that big, loud, scary Kirby that lives in the closet underneath the stairs. And Shark did a spectacular job! I love this thing! I can even download an app on my cell phone so that I can have the house vacuumed while I’m away from home. Best. Gift. Ever. The hubby and kids definitely hit a home-run with this one!

The only draw-back? Shark kept reminding us of a current, ridiculously popular children’s tune and we could not stop randomly bursting into song. I’m sure we’ll get over that soon! Mmm-hmm.

On Saturday night, Jack and I bowled with our league. Son Ryker bowled with us, subbing for an absent team-mate and boosted our standings with his awesome bowling skills. Jaeger and Chesney and some of their friends came too, to cheer us on. It was fun and only added to the celebratory mood!

On Sunday Jack and I attended another memorial service in which my mom was included among those being remembered. My parents were involved in several churches during the years of their lives, and this was the last church where my dad served as a deacon. I think my parents were members there for fifteen years and it’s the church where we held both of their funerals. Father Joe is the priest and he was very good to my parents. He has become very special to our family, especially in the time since my dad passed away. He greeted us when we walked in and said, “Welcome home.” That gave me a warm feeling, and in spite of my lack of attendance in an actual church lately, made me feel like I might want to go visit a bit more often.  And it seemed appropriate to  remember my mom in such a formal way over my birthday weekend. I was surprised to find myself crying. I thought maybe it has been long enough that the random bursts of sadness would have started fading away, but I guess not. It’s okay though. It’s only been nine months. And being there, remembering Mom on my birthday weekend made me feel as if both of my parents were closer to me than usual.

So today is my actual birthday and I’m off work again at the request of Chesney who suggested a mother-daughter day. I have PTO to burn before the year is over, and I love spending time with her, so it wasn’t a tough decision. She’s still sleeping as I write this and our day is loosely planned, but I know it will be a good one.  I have a feeling the entire coming year is going to be a good one, no matter what.

Eating Greasy Food in Memory of Loved Ones

 

I woke up this morning with the realization that standard time is back in effect and a whole extra hour had been added to my Sunday. That was such a blissful feeling considering that I rarely feel there are enough hours in a day.

A glance out the window revealed wet, sloppy snowflakes falling down from the sky. I wanted to get out there, go for a walk, breathe the cold, fresh air into my lungs. The new job has solidly kicked into gear and I’ve been busy trying to keep up and trying to prove that I’m up to the task. I find myself looking for ways lately to combat the anxiety that comes along with all of this. A walk was just what I needed.

Lucy Pie could sense my intentions this morning and followed me around like a shadow while I gathered up leggings and a sweatshirt, ear muffs, a warm jacket and gloves. She whined quietly a few times until she saw me reach into the garage for her harness and leash. She joyfully bounced around the foyer waiting for me to put them on her.

 

It wasn’t the first time this fall that it has snowed, and there’s not much chance that it will stick today, but those days aren’t far away, I’m sure. Lucy was in seventh heaven as we traveled along the walking path, sniffing all the smells in the blankets of leaves and keeping an eye on squirrels busy gathering their winter rations. She nearly took my arm off a time or two, trying to chase them down!

It’s been a good weekend. Last night we went to mass at St. Casimir’s Church, the church of my dad’s upbringing, where my parents were married, and where Dad eventually served as a deacon for several years. Recently, my sister received an invitation in the mail for a memorial mass in honor of those in the parish community who had passed away in the last year. Mom was among those being remembered.

I’m not a regular in the Catholic church anymore, but there was something about the experience that felt like being home. I remembered times as a child when I spent the night at Grandma’s house and we’d walk from her old house to mass at this very church. It felt so big back then and the pews were filled with people, their voices echoing against the high ceiling as we all sang the hymns and said the responses that have been solidly ingrained in my mind by now. I remembered Grandpa’s funeral there when I was just eleven years old, how hard that was, how big my sadness felt. I thought I’d never be able to be truly happy again. But of course, life eventually taught me that I would.

There were too many empty pews at mass last night. The neighborhood is aging and the size of the parish has dwindled. But I was glad to be there and envisioned Mom and Dad sitting with us in the empty seats next to my sister. At the end of the mass, we sang Let There Be Peace On Earth and it brought tears as I heard Mom playing the song on her old piano.

Some of the rest of the extended family attended as well. Afterwards, we gathered for dinner at a place where my parents often went after their weekly attendance at five o’clock mass. The restaurant is an old place, a neighborhood favorite, and one where you can sit around the bar watching a game, or find a table and order up a Juicy Lucy, or anything else fried, greasy, salty and tasty! I ordered the shrimp basket in honor of Dad. It was one of his favorites.

At the 5-8

We had so much fun remembering, eating, laughing. It was good. So good. My heart was so full and I was simply grateful to be where we are right now in this life.