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!

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!

I’m Hooked

We’re in the midst of a deep-freeze. This isn’t exactly abnormal for Minnesota. We spend a small stretch of time most every winter in the below zero to single digit temperatures. But with the added limitation on outside-the-house activities thanks to COVID, I was desperate to find something creative and new to do with my time.

I’m not sure what possessed me. Maybe it was my pending grandmother-hood. Oh, the idea of making baby blankets, baby booties, and baby hats! And how about those beautiful afghans made out of colorful squares! Dish cloths, coffee sleeves … the possibilities are endless! Whatever the draw, I’ve had an urge lately to learn how to crochet. When I was young, my grandma tried to teach me, as did a sweet aunt. My female relatives were extremely talented with all crafts requiring needles, hooks, yarn and fabrics. Growing up, my siblings and I had an endless supply of colorful winter hats, scarves, and mittens, all lovingly created by our grandma. Unfortunately, any efforts to pass those gifts on to me mostly failed. I’ve always had a small degree of creative skill, but I never managed to advance in the art of crocheting beyond making a single chain. And even that has long since been forgotten.

I’m going to give the yarn and hook another try though. Apparently you can learn any number of skills on YouTube, including how to crochet. I watched a beginner episode to determine what supplies I’d need to get started. Last weekend I picked up a set of crochet hooks and a couple of basic yarns. Yarn balls? Yarn spools? No, wait … skeins! They’re skeins, right? See? There’s hope for me. I’m learning the lingo.

And look! I’m still making single chains! Actually, I did manage to add another row at one point, but I unraveled it and decided to continue making chains until the loops are more consistent and even. Once I really get that down, (assuming I’ll get that down,) I’ll try moving on to bigger things.

Therapy Cows

I am so grateful that it’s Friday. For a short week, it sure felt endless. I had problems all week-long with the system where I do most of my work. I kept receiving errors and subsequently reporting them to the System Admin. I told the S.A. multiple times that I suspected the system generated alerts, which inform me that something is waiting in my queue, were not working. Since the S.A. has been making some changes to the layout and workflows in the system, he kept brushing off my concerns, even going so far as to suggest I might be accidentally deleting my alerts without acting on them. Things have been really busy. I was probably just overwhelmed, he said. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll run a report for you so you can see what’s outstanding,” he said.

The report was long, but I began to research each item and address it as best I could. The problem was, as much as I worked through the report, more things inevitably fell into my queue. I could not seem to keep track of my responsibilities in the system and couldn’t figure out why I was having such a hard time with a process at which I am an expert. I honestly reached the point of wondering if I was losing it. And then this afternoon, lo and behold, the S.A. sent an email marked high importance. It said that he had discovered the system was not sending alerts and therefore everyone should refrain from completing any tasks until the software provider could be consulted.

I felt vindicated. And also annoyed. When I asked how long the alerts had been out of commission, my suspicions were confirmed. Since last Friday! I know he didn’t really mean to completely disregard my concerns, but sometimes the S.A. is very confident in what he believes and sometimes I allow myself to back down too easily. But when I thought about the long hours I’d worked this week trying to get things under control … when I thought about how much I’d doubted my own capabilities the past few days, I was beyond frustrated!

I needed to blow off some steam in a productive way, so I decided to take a walk. The outside temperature was twelve degrees but I did not let that stop me. The sun shone in a clear, blue sky and I wanted to put some distance between myself and any device that would require me to interact with other humans. I pulled snow pants on over my leggings, slid my arms into a long, warm jacket, and headed out the door toward the walking path.

The asphalt was a bit icy and slick, and I had to walk carefully, but it felt good to breathe fresh, cold air into my lungs. The cows were outside up the street. They leaned curiously in my direction as I approached. When I reached their fence, I stopped to talk to them. I couldn’t help myself. They’re cute, and my dog-loving instincts always kick in when I see them. I stayed on the path and called over, “Hi babies,” in my dog-loving voice, and then they posed for a nice photo. And I felt a bit better.

Moo.

I was able to return to work for the rest of the afternoon with a renewed sense of calm. As it turns out, cows are pretty good therapy. I wonder if it’s too late to consider a career in farming?

Weekend to Weekend

2019.10.20_2bLast Saturday and Sunday were brilliant weather days, and left me with such an immense feeling of gratefulness and contentment. Clearly, this is my time of year! With Jack off on a hunting trip last weekend, I got the house cleaned and in order, and then spent Sunday afternoon fulfilling a promise to bake cookies with the little guys from next door. We had agreed on “after lunch,” so when my doorbell rang at 8:50 am Sunday morning,  I was taken by surprise. I pulled the door inward, only to find E standing on the front step beaming hopefully and asking if I was ready. I gently asked him to come back later, after I’d made a trip to the grocery store and when I’d be more prepared.

E and Little J later showed up at the agreed upon time with a friend in tow, the little guy from the other next door. Not long after, Big J and yet another neighbor boy came knocking at the door. Apparently Little J had told them I would only allow three boys to come bake with me, but Big J thought he and his friend would chance it and I welcomed them inside. I hadn’t planned on hosting a party, but they were all (mostly) so polite, and the house was filled with their laughter as they made jokes about pumpkins and underwear. As I watched them sneak candy sprinkles and dabs of frosting into their mouths, mix the frosting colors together, and generally make a big mess, I realized my patience has grown significantly since I was a young mother. We had a great time and everyone took home a plate of Halloween cookies.

After last weekend’s picturesque days, this past Monday arrived bringing with it an all-day rain and chill, along with a heavy dose of the Monday blues. The rain began to subside on Tuesday, but clouds and cold remained. By Wednesday, the sun returned and I took a break from work to go outside on my lunch break. A friend and I took two laps around the pond, kicking through a blanket of dry leaves and inhaling deeply the crisp scent of autumn. It’s the time of year that I always wish desperately would hold on just a bit longer. Driving home from the office on Thursday, I marveled at the explosion of color all around me. It wasn’t just the leaves on the trees. Even the air seemed tinged with a golden hue.

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View from my parking spot at work

It’s such a bittersweet time of year. The landscape will soon be gray and still, the temperatures encouraging a reluctance to leave the house. And like every year at this time, I’m contemplating ways to enjoy the outdoors so that winter doesn’t feel so depressing. I’ve been considering cross-country skiing, though I’ve never done it and have yet to get serious about finding some equipment.

The past week seemed sluggish after the previous week’s travels to Madison, and yet also felt a bit whirlwind-ish. While I returned to the routine of going to my own office, the workdays were hectic, in addition to the fact that Chesney’s life is changing course quickly. All I can do is sit back and watch. Her job interview went well. She was offered the position and she accepted. She moves out next weekend already, and starts the new job on the fourth of November. I can almost hear a clock ticking in the background during the hours we spend together. I’m so very happy for her, and yet still want to put the brakes on her time at home. She’s my dinner cooking partner almost every evening, and my go-to person for conversation of all sorts. We share the same weird sense of humor and taste for t.v. shows that offer an escape from the often dismal stream of world and local news. We encourage each other in our efforts to be healthy and share a mutual adoration of the family dog.

As news of her engagement, new job, and pending move spreads, she tells me that many people ask her how her mom is taking it. “Not great,” she tells them, and we laugh each time she conveys another of these exchanges. She’s kidding, sort of, when she’s says I’m not handling it well. I’m not desperate that she’s leaving and there’s never been any question in my mind that my kids would all someday leave the nest. Still, I’ve made no secret that I’m a bit saddened at the idea of not seeing her every single day, and I do love having her at home. But we both know that if she were to remain at home indefinitely, neither one of us would be completely happy about it. Her time has come to spread her wings. And it’s probably time for me to spread mine again as well.

This morning I awoke long before the sunrise. I tried to go back to sleep, but with Jack’s elbow in my back, and the rumble of his snoring filling the room, it was not to be. I start most mornings with a workout I choose from an at-home program I joined last March. It’s my habit to tackle it before I do anything else each day. So still yawning, I changed into my workout clothes, figuring I’d get it done in time to have coffee with Chesney a bit later on. I’m in the midst of an eighty-day program and just finished the first third of it yesterday. Today was supposed to be a rest day, but I felt the need to stretch out, and decided to try a yoga routine from the library of options. While the stillness of the night encompassed the rest of the house, I rolled out my yoga mat and pushed play on a beginner’s course.

Lucy tends to be an early riser too, especially if she hears me moving. I filled her dish with kibble, waited for her to finish, then let her outside and back in again before settling down on my yoga mat. As the recorded program walked me through some initial breathing exercises, Lucy sat square in front of me, trying to lick my face and making me laugh. I knew I wouldn’t master my breathing this way, but I couldn’t help reaching out to stroke her fur and give her a kiss. As long as I was sitting in the cross-legged position, Lucy continued to try to look into my eyes, and kept resting her paw on my knee. She finally gave up when I moved to get on all fours to do the cat and cow positions. She lifted herself up onto the couch then, settling into her morning nap on a blanket that had been left strewn there the night before.

As I finished my “practice,” the household began to come alive. I made some protein pancakes for Chesney and myself, the only ones who regularly eat breakfast. Jack got up and quickly left to go help a family member with a yard project. Chesney left for work, reveling in the fact that it’s the last Saturday she’ll have to spend at work from now on. Ryker, ever the night owl, remained sleeping in his room. (Nope, the nest still won’t be empty as long as he remains a full-time resident, though it will be much quieter. He’s rarely here except to sleep.)

For now, at least until mid-afternoon, the house is mine and the weekend is here. Two whole days to catch up, catch a breath, relax and take whatever these days may bring.

Transitioning

It’s a beautiful time of year here in Minnesota. Sometimes, in the dead of winter, I ask myself why I’ve chosen to live in a place where it gets so cold and feels overwhelmingly dark for weeks and months on end. But when spring and summer, and especially fall come around again, I remember.

As I was running an errand a few days ago, driving a nearby road bordered by a stretch of trees and open space, the late afternoon sun provided a deep golden backdrop for the red, orange and yellow canopies atop the trees. No matter how often I witness this particular transition of nature, it never fails to strike me with a sense of awe. Momentarily, I felt bad about rejoicing in something that essentially equates to the beginning of an end.

Almost as quickly, I realized that this season is not about endings at all. There’s no reason to feel sad about the dimming of this period of life. It’s simply part of a recurring cycle. Fall plays its part in a bigger picture. Nature quiets this time of year, tucks in for a few months, before reinventing itself and bursting back to life the next spring.

I walked a lot this past summer. In the very early part of the day, bird songs created a morning symphony and the sunrises were spectacular. Walking has been a regular part of my days for years, but this summer was different, and I felt myself coming back to life each morning in many ways. I felt a sense of peace drifting over me that I’d been missing for far too long. The lingering sadness that seemed to permeate my heart for the past few years was finally starting to dissipate.

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The days have grown shorter over the past several weeks, and I miss those brilliant summer morning walks. But those days will come around again.  In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to appreciate what’s in front of me right now.

 

Bundling Up

This week, I’ve frequently found myself feeling grateful for the remote car starter. Business casual has gone out the window at the office. It’s jeans, heavy sweaters, and as many layers as one can comfortably manage. I’ve made a new friend at work. After 4:30, we meet in front of the large break room windows pressing buttons on our key fobs until we see headlights illuminate and the tell-tale sign of exhaust plumes floating from their pipes.

Winter is in full force here in Minnesota. We’re hunkering down inside our homes, in front of our fireplaces, and under mountains of blankets when we go to bed at night.

Well, I am anyway.

And let me just say, if you’re contemplating building a new deck like we did last summer, and if you’re considering one of those maintenance-free options, think long and hard. Nobody warned us that this kind of  decking would become mildly treacherous when it rains or snows. Or when it rains and then snows. Or when it has snowed several times and the temperature remains steadily low enough to maintain all that snow on the ground, and then it rains and freezes.

Our split-level house doesn’t have a lower-level walk-out. (I think I just won the prize for most hyphenated words in one sentence!) The deck and its flight of stairs are the dog’s typical means of getting to the fenced back yard. When it rained last Monday night and then quickly dropped to single-digit temps for the week, our world became a glazed, icy wonderland. And our deck became impassable. All week-long, we’ve been bundling up and walking poor Lucy out the front door and around through the back gate to do her business.

img_4787Oh, well. As one of my favorite former coworkers used to frequently remind us in the face of complaints, “First world problems.”

Anyway, it looks like we’re having a bit of a heat wave this week. I might be able to shed a layer!

Also, there’s a lovely Mexican vacation in my near future (first time EVER!) and that makes me very. VERY. HAPPY.