The Wagon Wheel Mystery

When we moved to the lake in East Bethel, Minnesota a couple of years ago we bought a house that had a lot of oddities, but at the top of the list were two very large old wagon wheels that had been placed in the landscaping on each side of the driveway. It still had the full bent wood encircling the metal and the old wood spokes are all still in place. They made things sturdy and to last back then. But why were they there? What was their purpose? Was it simply something
decorative, placed to define the end of the driveway? We did not think much of it, but when looking at the property we had decided it would be something we would remove early on. Before even giving them a thought we decided it was not our style.

Once we moved in we had a lot of projects that took priority over the wagon wheels, like getting rid of wood piles covered in tarps and changing out the carpeting that looked original, and of course exploring the lake with the kayaks and boats. We decided to make sure we had plenty of fun time, after all we did not move to the lake to be working all of the time. We knew some projects could wait.

Well it was good that we waited because time changed our attitude on those wagon wheels.

Along with exploring the lake in the summer we explored the local roads and parks in the winter. We started to notice the wagon wheels all over East Bethel and Wyoming (the next closet town
and the surrounding area). In fact the road we live on alone has four different properties with wagon wheels. Along County Hwy 22 our nearest large road, there are a number of properties with wagon wheels, and when we explored the side streets on our four wheeler, we started to notice even more wagon wheels. So many, that it sparked our conversation and curiosity.

Why so many wagon wheels? What is the deal with all the wagon wheels in East Bethel? I had lived in Blaine for 25 years, I’ve lived in Duluth and St. Paul, and I grew up in Pierz, Minnesota, but I have never seen so many wagon wheels in landscaping and displayed proudly as in East Bethel. I have traveled many times out west where the wagon trains were mostly headed. I did not see as many wagon wheels out west as I have seen here either. It made me ponder, especially while relaxed and walking my dogs around the neighborhood, what do these wagon wheels represent?

Over 150 years ago, families packed up their entire life into a wagon and set out on an adventure to find a better life. I cannot imagine the contemplation and decision making that preceded the actual move. The couples discussing whether the danger of the trek would be worth the reward of open land for homesteading that waited at the other end. They had a chance, not only at a new life, but a better life. They had to be sure that their wagon, with its strong wheels, could carry them the entire way over mountains, through endless prairie grass and crossing treacherous rivers. The trust, hope and bravery that must have gone into that decision is almost unimaginable today.

We even contemplate fun trips with some apprehension, and we have the internet to see every detail of where we are going, photos of every location we are going to, and we can read reviews on anything we are interested in doing. The amount of information we have to make simple decisions is endless. The lack of information that the wagon train generation had available to make life and death decisions are mind-boggling. Yet they had faith, trust, hope and an adventurous spirit that they would handle whatever life threw at them, because they were striving for a better life for themselves and for their children.

I would like to think that had I lived in the time of wagon trains, I would have been brave enough to load that wagon and see what the horizon brought. I would like to think I would have been selfless enough to know that making the decision would benefit my children and grandchildren more than me and making things better for my family would have been a driving factor.

Of course I cannot help, but reminisce back to the 1990’s when our kids and I played the computer game called, Oregon Trail and our entire family died every second game of either dysentery or we corked our wagon to forge the river and everyone drowned. As depressing as that sounds, it was a really fun game. It was challenging to see if one could get to the destination, and when we did without killing off the entire family, we had a sense of accomplishment until we started back at the beginning again and then lost everybody.

We had a lot of fun with that game, but the game hit home the realities of the real dangers the wagon train generation faced in making the decision to go. They lost about half their babies and their small children many times could not tolerate the disease and hardships. They were many times hungry and scared. I imagine myself as a mom, worrying about whether we would have enough food along the way for the family, worried and watching my kids for fever or the other dangers of the road like broken bones or encounters with wild animals. Of course the whole time also dreaming and hoping that we find our little piece of heaven on earth at the end of the long trek.

Why there are so many wagon wheels displayed in our area of East Bethel, I do not know. I know the area had a lot of Swedish settlers back in the day, but I am still in search of why so many wagon wheels survived and are so prominently displayed today here in this area of the county. I know I do not look upon these wheels in the same way anymore. I can tell you that these wagon wheels have a whole new meaning for me. They represent bravery and change. They represent hope, hard work and a promise of a better and more fulfilled life. I look upon them and remember the adventurous souls who were brave enough to change everything for the hope of something new and to trek into the unknown to find it.

The wheels inspire us to explore and to take chances and to always hope and look to the future and move forward. They represent courage for the unknown and strength in the face of fear. I am keeping my wheels as long as they hold together. As I drive in and out of my new lake place, a place my husband of 30 years and I bought to start our new empty nest life together, I am inspired to keep up the adventure, hope and spirit of the past, while looking to the future adventures that life will bring us.

Farm Work Ethic, Productivity, and the Power of the List

Growing up on a farm teaches the most powerful work ethics. There is no way you can be a successful farmer and not be a hard worker. Farming is so dependent on weather, and accomplishing many things in a certain order, by each season and on time. If the crops are not planted on time you have little to harvest. If you cultivate too early you could kill the budding plants. If you wait too long after planting, the crops are too big and will be full of weeds resulting in a poor harvest, and I could go on and on.qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new

The saying that you have to make hay while the sun is shining is a real farm motto, not just a nice cliché with bigger meaning. Literally if you don’t make hay while the sun is shining, you get moldy useless grass instead of nice hay to feed to the animals. To get everything done you had to have a good plan and sometimes it meant that you had to work late into the night after getting up before dawn. Eating and sleeping had to wait many times to get the job done. After a long day like that, there was no better feeling of satisfaction than the accomplishment of getting the job done, and no better sleep than after a hard day of work.

qz1-5img_20140401_0003_new1You cannot be a procrastinator and be a farmer.  If the weather is right and it is the right time of year, there is something that must be done that day. You learn this at a young age on the farm. The rocks have to be picked, the cows fed, the gardens planted and the fences mended. There is nobody more productive than a farmer. But you also get to pet the cats and have the dog accompany you out to the fields, and maybe even ride your horse to go mending fences instead of taking the tractor or the farm pickup.

You get to feed the chickens and play in the tall fields of hay. There were so many wonderful things about the farm, but the best thing that helped me through college and law school and in all of my jobs, was the work ethic that I had learned. It was not a problem for me to work late and to get projects done long before they were due. I did not procrastinate because I learned you had to get things done, and to get things done you had to have a plan.img_20140318_0076_new

Many times I heard my parents list off the things that had to be done the next day, and they also maintained a list for everything to be done each week. If they did not have a paper list, they had a mental list and they followed it. The work ethic learned from my parents and having a plan or list of things that needs to be accomplished leads to great productivity. It is something I have tried to pass on to our kids and I have used to be successful all of my life.

From an early age I taught my kids that hard work and a good plan always pays off, whether it is hard work at school or on a team or just at home.  I tried to make it clear that just because something is not due right away, there is a certain comfort in knowing it is done early. 54bProcrastination equals stress and sometimes equals failure.  With the kids, and especially with their technology, one could easily get a glitch that causes a last minute project to be deleted or lost in cyberspace. I have tried to teach them to get things done early so that there is plenty of time to fix problems, and also that with a good plan or list they will can accomplish anything.

I live by my to-do lists. Without a good list little gets accomplished. Before the weekends especially, soon the weekend is gone without much accomplished if I don’t have a good plan. Some of the things on the list are fun things like kayak around and explore a certain area of the lake, and there is other stuff, like clean my kitchen cupboards and wash windows before the fall weather sets in.

There is no greater feeling than to cross things off of a list and feel the accomplishment of getting things done. My husband sometimes cringes when he sees my lists, but has to admit that we get a lot done when we follow them. If we have a home weekend project, we make sure we 54chave all the supplies picked up by Friday, so we don’t have to spend our project day buying the supplies. There is no better way to get a lot done.

My lists used to be kept on paper. Now I have most lists in the notes section of my phone. I have work lists, and lists of fun places we want to visit. I have lists of projects that need to be done around the house, and wish lists of remodeling projects to be done in the next couple of years. I have garden lists, and boat and outdoor building projects. I have a list of the things that need to be done during the week and the weekend project lists. I have work lists and lists of goals to accomplish. I don’t need to follow them exactly, and I can be flexible with when things are accomplished. I have a real satisfaction in having the plans, and when I find myself with extra time, I can consult the lists to take on a project or sometimes the lists can wait and I do whatever I’m feeling called to, like going on a bike ride.

The reverse list is a special and powerful type of list. I am not sure exactly where I learned it, but it was sometime in college. The reverse list is where you write down a goal you want to accomplish, and then you work backwards to show the steps you would have to take to get there. In the 1980’s while working as a nurse I decided I would like to be a lawyer. I wrote down on the paper: I am a lawyer. I stared at it for quite a while before giving myself permission to z3dreverse list it. I thought for a while and wrote, take the Bar exam, and continued with graduate from law school, attend law school, gain admission to a law school and so on backwards until I had the very first step of what it would take, which was buy the books to study for the entrance exam to law school called the LSAT.

I put down the pen and stared at it. The one thing that was clear was this list would take hard work, but as I learned on the farm, hard work pays off and I was committed to go forward with the list. I have used the reverse list many times and it allows for full introspection, and breaks down a goal that seems unattainable into smaller steps, laying out a plan to achieve that goal.

It is good to have thoughts, goals and dreams, but once those goals are written they gain a power of their own. There is real power in the list. Even if the list is just a weekend project list, the act of writing it down creates the goal and the work ethic creates the accomplishment of that goal. Good planning, knowing the downside of procrastination, and the work ethics I learned on the farm have been instrumental in my accomplishments. I love my lists and I love the productivity and the sense of accomplishment that comes with striking things off lists.  I thank my farm roots for the productivity, work ethics and the ability of good planning with the power of the list.

The Deep Warmth and Comfort Brought on by Snow and Ice

I love Minnesota! I love to travel, but in all of our travels around the world I have never found a better place to live. The beautiful change of the seasons are a big part of that undying love for my home, but now for an unbelievable admission, as much as I love our beautiful fall colors and our warm blue summers, full of lake fun, I love the deep cold of our winters. Yes, I look forward to seeing that mercury drop and take delight in bragging about how cold our state can get. I watch img_5163-1the news each morning, as I get ready for work and I hope that the temperature is so low that we are going to break another record. I delight when they report that our exposed skin will freeze in two minutes and I delight in pulling out my warm black, fur-earflap hat with moose decorating on its sides, truly worthy of being a prop from the Grumpy Old Men movie. The lower the temperature goes, the happier I am.

There is a certain pride in survival and even though in this day and age we have reliable heat in our cars and homes, and since our jobs do not require us to be outside much, we really don’t have any serious risk of death when it’s cold. On the other hand, people die of exposure every img_4937year in Minnesota and we all know about past storms where people were caught in their stalled cars, or got lost hunting and died of exposure. Yes, I can brag that with a little bit of unpreparedness and in some cases some stupidity, or just bad luck, one can die in the cold Minnesota. It is a fact! However, our cold winters provide a certain internal calm.

As it approaches I get excited for the slower pace of winter and the silence and crisp beauty of the frozen lake. Our summers are busy trying to enjoy every beautiful day we can in the great outdoors. We kayak and we hike and travel and have as much fun in the sun as we can before the cooler weather of fall sets in, so winter feels like a break from the hectic pace of summer and a welcome rest.

That first snow fall is magic. Just watching those first flakes fall and the slow accumulation of the first bright white of winter lowers my blood pressure and makes me want a cup of hot chocolate. I love sitting in the porch watching it come down. I turn off the inside lights and turn on the outdoor lights if it is night, and I just watch and I think of other things. Watching the snow fall grounds me to the earth and to my home and provides for internal reflection of the past year and the year to come. It makes me feel warm and cozy and makes me remember my childhood and playing and winter06sledding in the snow. It reminds me of when our kids were home and we lived in our big house in the woods, with its large brick wood burning fireplace. We never had to buy wood because enough trees fell down each year on our three acres, and on the preserve that bordered two sides of us. The fireplace added cozy warmth to the house.

I loved winter with the kids in the woods and particularly liked snow days from school and work. We had very little yard around the house by choice, as I made our builder 25 years ago, take down only those trees absolutely necessary to build. We preserved the woods right up to our deck and so on those special snowy days or just any regular Saturday in Winter, we could cross country ski or just tromp through the snow right off of our deck. We made snow men and we built forts and snow tunnels. Even though I was the Mom, I winter04think I enjoyed our outdoor adventures as much as they did.

We would sometimes put on our boots and walk cross country through the preserve for miles, and end up at another road where Joe would pick us up after our little adventure. We would see possums in the trees occasionally and we would see lots of deer and all sorts of animal tracks that we tried to identify. One time we came across a dead deer with antlers and we made Joe bring a hack saw and we cut the antlers off because the kids wanted to keep them. I still have those. The kids still talk about our crazy antics.

I remember the trees heavy with snow and I remember thinking that we lived in the most beautiful woods in the world. We would stay out as long as we could stand it and come in rosy cheeked, cold and tired. The warmth and the smell of our fireplace could be felt as we took off winter03our layers of clothing. The deep warmth and comfort when coming in from the Minnesota cold penetrated through to our bones. It was a deep heat not felt in the summer. We could feel the heat hit our chilly red cheeks as we entered, and my home never felt more comfy and inviting.

As much as I love the summer and the fun of the water, I always look forward to the slow pace and that deep warmth and coziness of my home in winter. Winter warmth and reflection are such a welcome change and almost seem to provide healing for the body and the soul. Embrace your Minnesota winters and the deep warmth and comfort brought on by the snow and ice.





Don’t tell my law partners, but I have been a master over the years of sometimes playing hooky in the middle of the week.  It was most often unplanned and last minute during a regular weekday when I decided I was caught up on my work, and nothing would suffer if the work was put on hold.  I would skip work and take the kids to the zoo, the Science Museum, a movie or the Mall of America.  They were either in day care and I would take them out, or it was a holiday from school, or summer vacation and they had nothing better to do.  Those days were some of the best.  I couldn’t give them much warning because sometimes things changed at work and I could not leave, so since I did not want to disappoint them, I would not tell them until I was very img_5087sure that we were going. They were even more excited by the surprise.

On those days I would call or simply show up and say I have off, let’s go and do something fun! These spontaneous outings taught them to be flexible and go with the flow.  Now as adults they are still very good at going with the flow and dealing with changing plans or unexpected fun that arises.  All of them are always up for an adventure. I’d pack a lunch for us or more often eat out.  We loaded into the Yukon, or if I had not planned ahead well enough in advance, we’d be stuck with my commuter car since Joe usually drove the family Yukon to work. In that case I would cram them all into my little car and off we went.

img_5088The thing I remember best is that they were always so grateful for the adventure.  They never complained and seemed to be on their best behavior.  I suspect that even as very young children they knew there was something special about the unexpected middle of the week adventures.  We had plenty of fun as a family on the weekends, but this was different.  It was unexpected and exciting.

Recently I was reminded of one of those fun days as my kids fondly reminisced about a particularly  memorable middle of the week excursion.  Now that they are in their twenties and have lives of their own, I don’t get to play hooky and leave work to do fun things with them. I miss that, but I love it when they visit and I am particularly happy when they remember the good times we have had together. The event they remember was a trip to the Mall of America, when the kids were fairly young, maybe 10 years old to early teens.

I picked them up and I told them we were going to the Mall of America to ride the rides at Camp
Snoopy and have some lunch. It had been a particularly terrible couple of weeks at work, with one hearing after another and my stress level was through the roof.  I did not tell them that, but knowing kids they probably knew more than I gave them credit for.  We headed off and I bought img_5083them all wrist bands so we could ride as many of the rides as we wanted.

We did most of the rides that day, but the one that they remember best was the Mine Ride.  It was one of those rides that had a large screen playing a fairly short movie in front of you and the seats move as if you are part of the movie, and it is really loud for effect.  We had been there before, but they changed up the movie every so often so it was still new to us. The movie they played that day was called Crescendo.  It had music notes and a picture of a piano on the advertisement poster outside the ride, and it looked like an odd subject for the mine ride which usually featured a mine car and small tracks on the screen to make it feel as if you were riding into a mine shaft really fast and jerky for affect.  We took our seats as usual expecting a usual ride.

The movie started with a man in a truck on what appeared to be the streets of San Francisco, with its winding roads and steep hills.  The man backed up to a baby Grand Piano and used a long chain to connect it to the back of his truck.  Before he took off a tall, thin gentleman in a tuxedo and tails, who looked to be ready for a concert at Carnegie Hall, came out, bowed and took his place ceremoniously on the piano bench, attached to the piano, and he began to play in img_5086the middle of a street.  The piano was on wheels, and as the truck took off it pulled the piano. As he played louder and louder the truck went faster and faster, hence the Crescendo name.

When he went around corners the piano flew wide around the turns and almost hit other vehicles and just missed panes of glass carried through the street. It was one of the best comedy sequences I have ever seen.  The music was classical music, and as the truck drove faster the camera would pan onto the pianist’s face, one minute concentrating on the music and the next frightened as his piano veered towards train tracks, narrowly missing being crushed by fast moving train cars. I could not help but laugh harder and harder.

His music flowed with the crazy fast driving, and as we watched our own chairs jolted and moved as if we were riding on the piano with him, and I could not stop laughing.  It was not an, oh I am amused laugh, but a belly aching loud laugh, that everyone in the theater could hear.  I think my kids were actually a little embarrassed and I am sure that some of the people in that Mine ride probably thought I had been drinking in the middle of the day, because the laugh was so continuous and ridiculous. I don’t know why that hit me as so funny.  As we left the theatre, we had even more fun as the kids were poking fun at me for laughing so loud and hard and how the other people probably did think I was drunk.

Thinking back on it, it still makes me smile.  I think it was the slap stick comedy of it mixed with the beautiful classical music that fit each part of the pianist’s ride to a T, and the facial expressions on the pianist’s face as he would, time after time narrowly escape injury and death.

The fact that our own seats shook, rolled and rocked each time his piano went around corners and stopped suddenly, helped with the effect I am sure, but another part of my pure joy may img_5089have been the circumstance itself.  Here we were on a normal weekday when my kids would have been at home, and we were having such a great time, eating fun food and riding the rides together.  We were enjoying each others’ company instead of working the day away.  We have plenty of those days in our life time. To experience the pure joy of spending time together was the crescendo of my week, especially as a nice break to the stress of work life.

I am so glad I had that opportunity to be able to spend that time with the kids in unexpected adventures. It was fun for all of us and yet another reminder in the middle of work stress of what is important in life.  When I think back on it, I don’t remember any of those things that made me stressed that week, but I do remember a random weekday spent with my kids laughing so hard that my sides hurt and I now have the joy of reminiscing about the fun we had, so many years ago. It is easy to say we need to remember what is important in life, but we need to ensure that our most memorable, loud and intense memories and moments are those shared with family. Like the crescendo in a fine piece of music our best moments in life should be loud, intense and memorable.

Life Appreciated from the Water

IMG_3937They say water is the essence of life. I understand that statement. It is for sure a powerful physical and emotional force in my life. I am not sure what it is about water, but whether it is rain on my face or swimming in a cool lake in the summer, it affects my mood, it cleanses my soul, and nourishes my body. Water makes me feel healthy and calm. It is such a simple concept that many times we forget in our quest and stress of making a living.

I have always been attracted to water. When I was growing up on the farm we had a water hole to swim in and we had two creeks to play in. Neither was very big, but both had running water all summer and I spent an inordinate amount of time walking and playing in it. I remember walking with bare feet in the cold spring waters as it rushed over the rocky bottom. I remember cooling IMG_3769off in the hot summer sun. The water was an important part of our entertainment growing up on the farm.

We swam in the water hole on hot summer days, and when I was not playing in the creeks, I was pretending that our house was a large ship on the ocean and the lawn was the water. I pretended to walk on the sidewalks, that in my mind was the deck of the ship and I would jump onto the grass and pretended to swim with dolphins and look for sharks and rays. We did not have video games, but we sure had vivid imaginations.

We also went on picnics and swimming in the local lakes almost every weekend with our cousins. It was the late sixties and early seventies and so the parents were not vigilant, like they IMG_2717are expected to be now. Our parents and uncles and aunts sat at the picnic tables and played cards or talked while the kids all swam in the lake. The older ones watched out for the younger ones and we were expected not to drift into water over our head unless we could swim. I think we all swam well and nobody died even though no one was watching us. It was a different time.

We had a boat when I was a little older on the farm and we learned quickly how to water ski. I got really good at it from having my evil brothers drive the boat and try to dump me off of my skis. They would zig zag, drive fast and then slow to throw me as hard as they could into the water around every turn. Of course when it was my turn to drive, I paid them back big time.IMG_3591

I went to college in Duluth and lived by Lake Superior. I spent a lot of time when not studying looking at the ship wreck files at the Duluth Harbor Museum and walking or driving the north
shore. In 2004 I finally became certified in scuba diving and I have made the ocean a part of many of our trips over the years.

I still love the water. Living on the water and being older has given me a new appreciation for life. Life looks different and feels different when you are on the water. It IMG_3512does not matter how busy a day I have had or how stressed or busy I feel, the minute I am on the water my blood pressure lowers and my stress melts away. If I am in a meeting at work, I sometimes day dream of walking into the water from our beach and I imagine lowering into the water and gently swimming away from the shore. I can feel the cool refreshing water, which is a nice dream compared to the stale air and old coffee smell in the office conference room. I cannot wait to get home every night. We can take a relaxing pontoon ride around the lake or just sit and watch the water. Morning coffee is relaxing and early morning weekend kayaking has become a ritual.

Life looks different from the water. You have time to reflect and to appreciate the simple beauty of our great outdoors. I watch and hear the birds as a glide silently along the lake, and as I do, I appreciate life itself. We have an otter who makes a surprise appearance every IMG_2357once in a while, and the bass literally jump out of the water in front of my kayak. I sometimes have my dog Yogi along, and he has his own life jacket. He seems as caught up in the moment as I do sometimes. He sits and takes it all in, content to sit in front of me, as we glide along the clear lake. Just recently I bought a glass bottom kayak to be able to see the lake world below me as I glide along. I tried it on Lake Michigan looking at the ship wrecks as we would glide over the old sunken wooden boats, some from over 100 years ago. I cannot wait to see what I can find in my lake and it will now add a level of adventure and exploration to my weekend kayaking.

It is not often in our busy lives where we have the luxury of just appreciating life, being grateful IMG_3425for everything we have, our health and our ability to enjoy the beauty around us. Reflecting on how far we have come and how beautiful life is. I sometimes stop paddling and just exist. I am caught in the moment. Appreciating life from the water gives perspective to everything.

It grows appreciation for what we have and for the beauty around, and our problems seem small in comparison. Those problems that seemed large on land become insignificant and very solvable from this on the water perspective. The fast pace of life slows with the waves of the water and our life purpose is realized as not to work ourselves into the ground, but to live each day in appreciation for what we have and for what is really important in life.


Embrace Your Days, Embrace Your Life

Just this week I heard a neighbor say she cannot wait for July in Minnesota to be over because she likes to walk and it is too hot and sticky for that now. The first thing I thought of was how can anyone complain about summer in Minnesota after such a long winter? That same day at Target I heard a young mom tell her friend she cannot wait for her kids to be out of diapers, and her friend replied she cannot wait for her kids to be out of daycare. Now I know these moms are probably just cash
20140524_204551strapped and tired, and I remember those days well, but it made me think how often we use this phrase to wish our time away. I have done it many times myself, but as I get older I realize how time flies.

The days fly by, the months fly by, and the years when my kids were in diapers flew by. Their years in school are now a blur. As Benjamin Franklin said, “life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” Ben Franklin was so wise! We too often wish our lives away without appreciating each unique and wonderful time, whether it is the season of the year or the place in our life. I have made it a point to be present and to enjoy and make the most of where I am not only physically, but where I am in my life and career. I have learned that attitude is everything.

I have learned to appreciate each season.  I love our summers especially now living on the water, but I also like it when the season turns cool and the leaves change. I love putting on a plaid shirt and long pants after a long hot summer and walking among the changing leaves. I like a warm 100_6578 (2)fire in the outdoor fire ring on a cool crisp October evening. I like pulling out the Christmas decorations in December and the smell of the house when I bake Christmas treats.

We have such distinct seasons, and I know if I was not in Minnesota I would miss those dramatic changes. I have plenty to keep me busy in the dark cold winter months, especially as a writer. It is a lot easier to try to work on those novels when the lake is frozen over and my kayaks and paddle board are all stored for the winter. I also think I would grow weary of my water sports if I could do them year round. Maybe I just think that because I don’t live in California. But as the lake melts in the spring and the sun becomes brighter and icicles can be seen through the windows, melting from their tight grip on the shingles of our roof, I become excited for the warmth of spring and the possibilities that spring holds for the garden and our outdoor biking and hiking.

I enjoyed my college years even though I distinctly remember thinking how nice it would be to be done and not have to study for any more exams. I was wishing those free and fun loving years away and as much as I wanted to be done, I clearly liked the challenge of education, because I later continued on to law school for more exams and more challenges, and in hindsight the20140221_085600 (1)years sped by leaving me with some of the best friends and memories ever.

My years starting a career and making a name for myself in the legal community was challenging and fun, and as much as I tried to embrace the challenges, I have to admit that I sometimes dreaded the tedious work. I have to say however, that the part I embraced most was the extreme high of a job well done and an appreciative client, accomplished by either a win in the courtroom or in negotiating the best possible outcome in a bad situation.

I loved it when my kids were babies, even though I was tired a lot. They were so cuddly, and I loved it later when they could talk and run and they were fun to take to the zoo, the fair and on vacation. We ate ice cream and we made faces at giraffes. They were easy to please in those years with lots of energy and hugs. However, I also liked the teenage years. They had good ideas and some bad ones, but they were fun to talk with, most of the time. They also needed their NorthCascdesWAspace to grow, think and just be with their own friends. I appreciated and tried to respect their need to be able to express their own opinions as they grew into adulthood.

Our empty nest years are just starting and this simpler way of life, at the peak of our careers is easy to enjoy. We have money to travel and time to enjoy life. We have done our careers long enough that we are good at it and it is less stressful. We are both in careers where gray hair is a positive thing, in that experience, age and wisdom are all appreciated and sought after. That is a good thing.

I have tried my best at appreciating what I have and where I am, but with age has come wisdom, to truly embrace my days and embrace my life. I have worked hard for what I have, but I have also been very fortunate and I know that. I appreciate each day and I like sunny days as well as those cozy, lightning filled stormy days of pouring rain. I have learned to cherish my time and spend less time on things I do not enjoy. Don’t wish your life away. Life flies by fast enough. Time is precious and our life is precious. This is the most important wisdom that has come with age. Your little problems of yesterday fade quickly in the days and months that pass. Respect your time on this earth and cherish each season and each stage of life. Embrace each day and embrace the joy of your life.


Glitter, Champagne, and Doing the New Year Right

I love New Year’s Celebrations. It represents a reason to get together with friends for one final celebration after all of the major holidays are over and we all go back to work in January. (Usually we are trying to catch up after all of the goofing off we did during the holiday season). It is an easy holiday because there are no presents or shopping needed; it is a pure 2000fenjoyment type holiday. Also, the thought of a new fresh start is always exciting to me. You get to begin again on whatever your aspirations and goals, or set new goals. I like to look forward and decide on something new to learn in the coming year or try something I have never tried before.

Some people make New Years resolutions and set such things as weight goals or getting healthy and those are fine, but it is also our opportunity to have gratitude for all of the things we have and all of the things we have accomplished in the past year, and to shut the door on any disappointments or troubles we had in the past. We can also take stock of 2000dwhere we are with our dreams, our family, our job and life itself. We can plan and look forward to making a great year for ourselves. I plan fun things for us and get them booked in the cold winter months. I try to have something fun to do at least once each month.

Before New Years Eve I find a quiet place at home, at work, or at a coffee shop, and I do my planning and dreaming. I think, “What would I like to be grateful for next New Year’s and what steps would I take to achieve that goal?” Some are lofty, out-there goals, and others are very attainable with some discipline. Once my planning is done and I feel good about my plan, I am ready to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Every year is a new year of possibilities. New hopes, new dreams and sometimes a continuation of goals and dreams, but always mixed with plenty of gratitude for what we do have.

When the night arrives, I dress for it, I plan for it and I always enjoy it. There is always2000c champagne or some other special drink involved and glitter, somewhere or everywhere. Most years it is glitter eye shadow for the occasion and when we were in college in the 1970’s, New Year’s always involved sprinkling glitter on each other at midnight, which usually turned into dumping glitter on one another. It was a complete mess and I would find glitter in my hair and in the shower for days! When I was dating it always involved going downtown for the action of the big city and when I was married and our kids were young, it was family activities that usually ended at 10:00 p.m. instead of midnight.

IMG_4872One of my favorite New Year’s celebrations of all time was when it turned the year 2000. What a celebration that was! I cannot believe it is over 15 years ago. How time flies. There was so much hype in the years before, about our entire computer system and possibly society collapsing because of this Y2K bug as it was called. People were stockpiling food and gold and guns trying to be prepared for anything. We did not have a lot of concern and believed we were fine, but decided to take the kids out and celebrate big just in case. We went to a German restaurant that had prepared special food and they had a polka band and a guy dressed like the Kaiser getting people to dance. We had so much fun that night and threw all of our cares to the wind. We had a little wine, ate good food and danced with the kids as a family. There is nothing better than family time.

We celebrated with gusto as we ended a century and turned the calendar to the year 2000. It was the last night of a thousand years and the first night of a thousand more years, which made it particularly spectacular, but the 2000efact that it came with threats of potential doom, lent an air of “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die” attitude. The threats of gloom and doom were not very believable, so it was more exciting than any kind of real fear of a disaster. It did however, reaffirm that none of us knows what tomorrow brings, so it is important to take every opportunity to celebrate with glitter, crazy hats, and good food and drink with your family. The most important thing in life is to enjoy the moment, because on our deathbed, 2000gwe will not remember things that we did at work, but we will remember those times that we celebrated life. We will remember those times when we got dressed up and wore glitter and when we danced with a child in our arms, laughing until our sides ached and kissed at the stroke of midnight. Celebrate New Year’s with gusto every year. It is the opportunity for new beginnings and the beginning of new opportunities.

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers

I loved watching Winnie the Pooh when the kids were little. My favorite character was Tigger and my favorite line was “The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber,  their bottoms are made out of springs.” Well frankly, I love the entire cliptiggerhappy3scene with Tigger bouncing around, happy and having fun; always positive and upbeat. Then there was the Eeyore. The little donkey would walk with his head hanging down and his tail dragging with a black cloud over his head, and talk with his gloomy, depressed, pessimistic attitude, looking at the bad side of everything. Well in life I have found that everyone is either an Eeyore or a Tigger. You know I am right, because right now in your head you are placing every person you know, in your family and at work, in one or the other category.

Of course people are complex and many life factors can affect all of us, but I have a theory that each of us has selected, probably early on in our lives, clipeeyorest2the main characteristics of one or the other of these personalities. We have chosen happiness or we have chosen to be that negative nay-sayer in the family and at work. I don’t think people are one at work and the other personality at home. People select for whatever genetic, educational, family-rearing or circumstances that they are a happy person and look at the bright side of life or they do not. I do think that people can change and that is why I think there are so many studies out there about choosing happiness.

We all know that we like being around the Tiggers, but sometimes Tiggers can be exhausting, energetic and may come off as bragging too much. Really the bragging is not so much bragging to get attention; they just talk about positive, good things and don’t dwell on the difficulties of life. I also think that because they have a bright outlook, things do turn out better for them. Because they have that happy attitude they do not dwell on little things that are not perfect. For example, they do not dwell on it if the food they ordered at the restaurant was not perfect, or that someone they thought was coming to a party did not show up. They enjoy the people that do show up and they talk about the restaurant décor that was lovely or the conversation that flowed nicely at dinner.

Dwelling on the positive is a way of life. It is a lot more fun to be that person in the meeting at work who is thinking up ways to get a new initiative done or make a change, than the person who sits in the meeting telling everyone why their ideas won’t work and why the change will betigger_and_eeyore_by_inkartwriter-d57k6yi unsuccessful. Likewise it is more fun to be the person in the family around the dinner table who tells a fun story or talks about plans for the family to travel or for a fun outing, than the person who comes home grumpy and makes everyone miserable. That is the family member who can only talk about the dishes not being done and the laundry piling up. The Tigger tells stories while everyone helps with the cleaning and laundry, making plans for fun adventures.

People can change, but it takes work and even if we are normally very positive we can work on being even more optimistic and helping others feel good about themselves. Try going one week without saying anything negative, including things you say in the privacy of your own car while driving. Remember that person who pulled out slow in front of you is probably someone’s 80 years old father taking his wife to church. Remember that cashier who is struggling to check you out may have learning disabilities or it is their first job. Practice patience and positivity. Try complimenting people and only giving positive feedback at work, at home and in your community, and you will see a difference in your own happiness. Making others happy and being positive works to make a better world for everyone. There are two kinds of people; the Tiggers and the Eeyores. Choose wisely.

Be Happy In All That You Have

Thanksgiving has been a large family get together with grandparents and relatives for as long as I can remember. We ate real pumpkin pie, homemade dressing that melted in your mouth, and the turkeys that were roasted barely fit in the oven. When I was young we gathered at my grandparent’s farm, and eventually my parent’s farm, and eventually, as we grew into family lifeIMG_4231 (1) ourselves, my brothers and sisters and I took turns having the Thanksgiving dinners at our house.

I have memories of the Macy’s day parade on the TV in the background, and the adults having cocktails and wine hanging around the kitchen. We kids were playing games or with toys, and many times we played together outside. As we had our own kids the dynamics changed from us playing with cousins, to my siblings and I doing the cooking and drinking wine before we sat down to eat. Not everyone could make it every year, as there were sometimes obligations with in-laws, but we celebrated with whoever was available. The food was always amazing, and catching up with everyone and being together was really nice. It got everyone in the holiday mood and started the holiday fun.

Christmas is different. It has the religious aspects, and the Santa and gift giving fun, but Thanksgiving is special. There is no need to shop for presents and the holiday stress. It is a simple dinner with relatives and friends, but more importantly a day set aside to count our DSCN0901 (1)blessings and be thankful for what we have. It is not a time to think about our future, our goals or especially to worry about what we don’t have. We just need to take stock of what we do have and be thankful for all of those things. Remember those who face fierce battles with cancer, the loss of loved ones, loneliness and poverty. Help where you can.

To just celebrate Thanksgiving and have the dinner and the wine without the reflection is to short change yourself. I don’t mean everyone needs to be that family that has to go around the table and share out loud what they are thankful for. That is fine, but I suspect everyone feels so put on the spot or awkward that it is a meaningless exercise anyway. Many others look more on Thanksgiving to count their blessings in a more religious way. I believe that it does not matter if you are religious or not, or whether you like the historical aspect of Thanksgiving or look at Thanksgiving as a harvest celebration, that it would be a real missed opportunity not to take advantage of the meaning of this holiday and take stock in all you have.IMG_4246

I am a list maker and I am always setting goals and I have plans for the year, and a five year and ten year plan. All of those things are a little embarrassing to put in writing, but I have found that if I want to accomplish something I have to have a plan.   But as we focus on plans, we are always looking forward. That is a good thing, but it should be balanced with reflecting on what we have and being thankful and happy in all that we have. I start by being Thankful for the best kids a mom could ask for. They are all fun, happy and hard working. They have goals and I have to say that the three of them are the most fun crowd to be with on any holiday. I am Thankful for another fun year (due to good planning) and the IMG_4240ability to travel and the good jobs we have and have retained. We have a nice house on a lake and Joe and I have a lot of fun together. It does not matter if we are traveling together or taking wallpaper off or doing home projects; we have a good time together and that is important after almost thirty years of marriage.

I have learned after 57 years of life that no matter what you have, there are people who will always have more than you and there are many more who have less than you. Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time and steals your own happiness. There is always a negative or a positive way to look at everything, whether it is your past, your present or your future. If you choose to look at the negative, you rob yourself of your happiness.

On Thanksgiving take time to focus and reflect on the positive and to take note of all of the things you are or should be Thankful for. It does not matter how old you are or what you have, you have enough and you are enough. Love your family, love yourself, love your life and be positive in all that you do. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect. Take the opportunity and bask in the glow of all that you do have!! Happy Thanksgiving!




Saturday Mornings, Coffee, and Kids Sports

Coffee never tastes as good as on an early, crisp fall Saturday morning when taking the kids to a soccer or hockey practice. When our three kids were young we wanted to give them as many Karateopportunities as possible to try different sports and activities. The kids got fresh air, exercise and learned to play as a team, follow directions and get along with others. They seemed to really enjoy it, trying everything from t-ball, football, hockey, lacrosse and everyone played soccer from the time they were about three years old.

I remember the crisp fall mornings the best. For my husband and I it was a juggling act to decide who would take who where. Most often games and practices did not overlap, but occasionally we had to go in different directions. I was always looking at the schedule, and Joe and I would decide who was doing what.

MiddleJenny013If Joe would take them to soccer, which was many times, I would stay home and clean house, or cook, or catch up from the busy week, so if it was my turn to take the kids to soccer on that early Saturday morning, I relished the thought of a nice hot cup of coffee and sitting on the sidelines and relaxing in my folding sports chair (owned by every parent with kids in soccer). I would sit, relax and sip while the kids ran drills with the coaches. It was an opportunity to do nothing, just sit and not feel guilty about not doing dishes or grocery shopping or cleaning toilets. Those moments were so rare back then as we had three kids and a big house and we, like many others, were both working. It was an incredibly busy time, but we were young and energetic and we did have a lot of fun. In our house, the kids came first and as a family we tried to give them every opportunity for fun, education and sports.Ben_TBall2

The kids did not only play sports, everyone also tried band and Sara seemed to enjoy it the most, joining a multi-school band and actually traveling to play in parades all over Minnesota and even to Washington DC and Colorado. There were also years of dance and plays and swimming. They liked competitive sports and we liked watching them.

I never saw our going to practices and games as a burden, it was truly fun. We got to know a lot of the parents of our kid’s friends and we got to know all of the families from the neighborhood. The games and practices became a social event for the parents. Like in every crowd there were the over serious mom’s and the mom’s who thought their kids were bound to be professional athletes and the valedictorian of the class, and those moms who were nice enough to take the lead role in fundraising, so every kid would get a jersey with their name __3656on the back and the moms and dads got jerseys with their kids name on it. There were those moms who yelled the loudest and were the most fun at the games, to the point where it crossed your mind of whether there was only “coffee” in their insulated cup. The games were a lot of fun and brought everybody closer in the shared cheering for the teams.

The practices were sometimes more than a social event, where we, as the moms, could chit-chat about everything from our struggles to keep the house clean, to pet issues, and how to make sure the kids get their homework done, to the fun events coming up at school or in the community. Sometimes we just exchanged funny stories about family life and we laughed as we kept filling our coffees from our metal thermos. For some of us it was an hour or so of no responsibilities and a time toOctober swimming09 542 commiserate with other moms, for others it was a time to seek advice from other mothers and be encouraged that raising kids is sometimes an art and not a science and that despite all of our concerns and worries everything would be fine. That love and a hug are good every day and not to sweat the small stuff as perfection is not only impossible, but would be detrimental to the sheer enjoyment of life’s surprises.

DanceJenny013We thought enrolling our kids in sports was all about them and it was great for them over the years, but we did not realize the side benefits for ourselves as parents and especially moms. We learned from one another and we became closer as a community as we would see the same families over and over from sport to sport and from band concert to school play. Raising kids is being

part of a school and a community and should not be done in isolation. We can gain strength, encouragement and joy from one another in the shared experience. The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child shows a lot of wisdom, and is not only an expression of what is good for the child, but shows real wisdom on the support and encouragement that we all need as parents. Support, love and encourage one another as we navigate together through the beauty that is family life.  __3666IMG_6838