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.

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Crescendo

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.

Happily Ever After

In 1984, I was a Labor and Delivery nurse at Ramsey Medical Center and I had just started law school. My brother Dave was always my partner in crime growing up on the farm and we had remained close even after college. Our lives were too busy starting our careers to spend a lot of time together, but he was always the IMG_0700first one I called if I had a flat tire or needed a new battery. I even consulted him to help me find my first apartment. I trusted him and relied upon him, but when he called in the fall of 1984 and said he had the perfect guy for me, I was more than skeptical.

Actually to be honest, I had zero trust that he had any idea what I was looking for in a guy. He told me he had met this guy at work, had gone fishing with him (a sure sign of good character) and he was perfect for me. Dave was a chemist and his work buddy was a PhD chemist. Dave wanted to set up a blind date. I had never been on a blind date and thought the idea was crazy, but because it was Dave, I agreed.

This guy named Joe called me to set up our blind date dinner. The night before the date I cleaned my apartment, because that is what we did back then. I didn’t want him to think I was messy, even if I still had zero confidence in the success of this blind date. On the night in question, fall was fully in the air, and I selected a pink sweater and a skirt to go to dinner. He was a coworker of Dave’s, and even if it did not work out, I did not want to ruin Dave’s relationship with Joe.

Joe picked me up on time, and to my surprise he was nice, relaxed, and most importantly could carry on a very interesting and fun conversation. I had dated a lot of men who were decent and hard working, but some were boring or just not very bright or had offensive world or political IMG_3814 (1)views. Joe had been raised in a German Catholic home in New Ulm Minnesota. Both of us had grown up with brothers and sisters, and had grown up in the rural areas of Minnesota.  I can say after all of this time that having a similar background and similar religious, political and world views is important in a long term relationship. Those shared experiences help in everything from our world views, to views on marriage, and most importantly child rearing.

Joe and I had a lovely dinner on that fall evening together, and spent a few hours afterward just talking in my apartment. As skeptical as I was before the date, I had turned 180 degrees. I called my brother after the date to report how it went. I told him, “This is a man I could marry.” I had never said or thought that before about anyone else.

This was a man I could marry and I did. We were engaged within a year and married within 2 years. The ceremony was in one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in Minnesota, and we IMG_3818had a heck of an open bar and dinner. Weddings in rural Minnesota back then were an all day affair and a lot of fun. We took our commitment to each other seriously back then and still do. This week is our 30th Anniversary.

Joe and I raised our three great kids together and have been partners in our adventures whether it be world travel, adventures to the zoo, or the emergency room for stitches with the kids. We have negotiated through soccer, hockey, and work schedules, and managed to share the household chores and yet have time for dinners together and a private laugh after the kids were in bed. Now as empty nesters we have reconnected for some relaxation, travel, and a lifestyle that refocuses back on us as a couple.

IMG_3816They say if you are a close couple you finish each other’s sentences. It is more like you correct each other’s sentences when you have been married a long time. I have heard my parents who have been married for over 60 years do it and we do it too. I believe it is because we have spent so much time together, have had so many shared experiences, and we both remember them differently at times. But, arguing as a couple is not a bad thing. We don’t argue about anything big, just little details.

They say the opposite of love is hate, but that is not true. The opposite of love is indifference. Only when you care about a relationship or care about a person do you fight to make it better. Show me a couple that does not bicker or care about each other or about the relationship and I will show you a couple that will not stay together.   You can only be driven mad or become mad about things you care about. Joe and I have been angry with one another, IMG_2198but never for long and never about anything big. We care, therefore we have strong feelings about each other. That is the sign of love.

I believe after all these years that finding a nice person as your spouse is THE most important thing. Everything else is secondary. Joe is one of the nicest, kindest, caring, sensitive, gentle guys I ever met. He also was, and is, an outstanding father and husband because of it. He could look at me when I was hugely pregnant and bloated with dark circles under my eyes and he could convincingly tell me how great I looked. He left hostess snowballs over the years on my steering wheel for no reason, because he knew I liked them a lot, especially when I was pregnant. He drove thousands of miles in our Yukon without complaint to show our kids at all ages the entire US and Canada by road trip. He fixed the kids cars and he worked hard for his family.

As a spouse of 30 years I can say he and I have had a lot of fun together, but I have also appreciated having him by my side for support and to share all of life’s journeys, both good and bad. We navigated the uncertainties of parenting, and I can say we are both stronger for the other. The companionship, friendship, and intimacy were all important for a full life. He has been a sounding board and a calm influence. He hasIMG_3717 been someone to talk to when needing an opinion. He has been a true partner. I saw Joe cry 5 times in our 30 years together. He cried the day we said our marriage vows 30 years ago, and he cried when each of our three children were delivered, and when we lost one of our babies through miscarriage. He is a strong, but sensitive family man that has shown his true character through his actions without bragging or without needing to be recognized.

Joe has provided the balance in my life and the JOY for 30 years, and I know that I am a lucky person. You never know if you have the Happily Ever After until you have the years behind you, with full hindsight. After 30 years, I can say with full confidence that I have my Happily Ever After. I IMG_1394have a friend and a companion. I have a guy who enjoys traveling, biking, hiking and any adventures the two of us can dream up. We have fun going to Menards on a weekend and doing projects in the house as much as going to dinner. I have a true partner who shares my life, yet we are both comfortable enough that sometimes he watches his Twins and I can watch my romantic comedies.

We have swam In the seven sacred pools on the road to Hanna in Hawaii and went shark cage driving in New Zealand. We have hiked in Alaska and warmed ourselves in the hot springs of Iceland, but all of our adventures have been better because we were able to share them together. I have my Happily Ever After! Happy Anniversary to the nicest guy a girl could ever have dreamed of in her life. Happy Anniversary to my Joe!

Fishing with Grandpa and Dad

We grew up close to Mille Lacs lake in Minnesota, and as a family spent a lot of time on Mille Lacs. We swam and water skied and fished in the summer. We had a ski and fishing boat, and
would bring our Winnebago to camp at Father Hennepin State Park. Winter was even more fun when it came to fishing. It was an event and special time with my dad and grandpa.IMG_20140318_0072_NEW

We were only about twenty minutes from Mille Lacs, and my dad and grandpa loved to go ice fishing. I remember one fall the two of them gathered scrap lumber from around the farm, and built themselves two ice houses.

Grandpa was really good at building stuff and so was dad. As father and son they were a good team. They built hard sided, dark houses which were needed for spearing. We watched as they worked for days in the large farm machine shed, with its wall full of tools and piles of salvaged parts neatly stacked under the work benches and around the outer walls. We marveled at all of the old treasures and how easily Grandpa could make old parts fit and work together to make something new.

We walked around the shed and looked at all of the old things. Sometimes we had to ask what they were. He had old parts from horse harnesses, from an era gone by and even square nails and triangular barn hinges. They saved small windows and wheels of all sizes. Grandpa was very 53dgood at saving things. He had weathered the depression and still saved everything.

It was a good attitude that more of us could be better at in today’s world. We so easily throw things away that are perfectly good. We buy too much and we waste even more. My grandma even saved bread bags and bread bag ties and the old metal band aide boxes. They learned to waste nothing and on that day of building fish houses, all the parts and saving they had done came in handy. They did not have to go into town for anything.

The houses each had a wood burning stove in it with a proper smoke stack protruding out of the roof. They built the wood stove by welding old metal together in a small box shape, the size of a large bread box. It had a small hinged door on the end to add the sticks of wood, to keep the house warm and it worked really well.   As a matter of fact, its problem was sometimes too much heat and then we had to open the door to vent it out. It was very warm and snuggly in there even on very cold days. The top of the stove was flat and so many times my mom would send cans of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup along and we would open those cans and heat the soup on the stove. It made a perfect lunch, especially since she sent along bologna sandwiches made with white squishy bread. It tasted best if actually dipped into the noodle soup.

After the houses were fully constructed and painted a light green sea foam color, a paint left from past projects, they had to be taken with the pickup, one at a time to Mille Lacs. A lot of IMG_20140318_0062_NEWdiscussion always occurred between Dad and Grandpa over the decision about where to put the houses. Should the houses be placed over the shallows, fifteen or more feet, or the deep waters? Knowing where the fish would be was a decision based upon years of fishing knowledge.

The houses were built on skids to make pulling them easier on the lake. They were considered seasonal houses and so they stayed on the lake all winter, but could be moved around by Grandpa and Dad if they wanted to try a new spot. Once set onto the lake, we could go whenever we wanted to fish. As a truck driver, Dad was laid off in the winter and there was not much farm work in the winter either. Grandpa was retired so they could go fishing anytime they wanted.

When we were not in school we could go along. We would leave with Grandpa and Dad before sunrise with our lunch in the black hinged top, old fashioned lunch pail. We usually had rice krispie bars along with our soup and sandwiches and some peanuts or other snacks for mid-afternoon. We took the pickup truck drove onto the ice along makeshift roads plowed right on the ice of Mille Lacs.

We pulled up to the fish houses and file into them. The first thing Dad and Grandpa had to do was to cut the large square holes, and then they lowered a big minnow into the hole. The minnow was held low in the hole by a loop of string around its gills, like a leash and the other end was attached to the ceiling of the fish house. This allowed the minnow to swim around in the hole, but not get away.

The person fishing had the fishing spear attached to their wrist and standing against the side of the inside of the house ready to grab if they saw a fish go after the minnow. We sat on the wood bench built into the fish house, our gaze fixed on the hole. We IMG_20140318_0090_NEWtraded off sitting with Grandpa and Dad, and a lot of good conversation took place during these outings. This is a sport that takes lots of patience. They would let us have the spear and fish too. We did not have the talent they had, but I actually remember spearing two fish over the years. One was a small Northern and the other a rough fish that is called an Eelpout. It is an ugly fish with skin. When Grandpa saw I speared it, he laughed and said “lets get that ugly thing off of our good spear.”

Sometimes during casual conversation the minnow would get jittery and start trying to swim away, and it was then that you knew there was something big coming. My Dad would grab the spear and wait. Sometimes the large Northern would swim into view, and stop to look at the minnow. Those were easier to spear, but other times you just saw the large fish dart through while going after the minnow, and sometimes there was a chance for a shot. They may came back into the hole for another pass, or other times they grabbed the minnow and they were gone.IMG_20140318_0073_NEW

It was mostly a slow relaxed sport, except for those few minutes of extreme excitement and elation if they actually speared the fish and successfully got it out of the hole. Many of the fish were of average size, but there were those very large Northerns sometimes, that made you think there were monster Northern Pike in that lake. Fortunately, we have pictures to prove that my memories were correct. They caught some really large fish, but more importantly we had some really special times with my dad and grandpa.

Fishing was a special event with Dad and Grandpa, but it was so much more. We did not know it at the time, but they were teaching us many lessons. We learned that my dad and grandpa were really talented at building things and resourceful. They taught us how to fish, but they also taught us patience, and the joy of appreciating our environment and the beauty of our lakes.

They were the best dad and grandpa kids could ask for. They left us with great memories of our times together and taught us lifelong skills. They taught us to work together as a team, to relax and have fun, and to save and not be wasteful, and by their great parenting, I feel they taught us to be good parents and to include our kids in the things we did and teach them lifelong skills. Fishing with Dad and Grandpa is not only a beautiful memory, but the age old process of passing down from one generation to another the many skills needed for a full, fun and successful life.

Meandering Through Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is an undiscovered vacation destination for many. Most Minnesotans would fly to Nova Scotia, but we decided to take almost 3 weeks one summer for a driving tour to Nova Scotia through Maine and New Brunswick, Canada with the kids. It was what we later referred toNovaScotia4 as a meandering vacation: seeing all of the sights, but taking our time to enjoy the highlights and soak in the people and natural beauty.

It was a big adventure and put a lot of miles on the Yukon, but our kids seemed to really enjoy the journey and not just the destination. They are a fun bunch who will go with the flow of their crazy parents’ travel plans. We were lucky; no one suffered from car sickness even when we drove over rolling hills, simulating the best roller coasters at a theme park. We made lots of stops too, and included places we knew they would enjoy like Prince Edward Island, the site of the home of Anne of Green Gables.

Initially we planned an aggressive driving itinerary that brought us from Minnesota to Maine within a few days. After some lovely vistas and eating the best lobsters in the world, we meandered our way north into Canada following the coastline. We stopped at many beautiful NovaScotia2places, including one called Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick where you can hike around the teetering rocks along the beach during low tide. The rocks look like large boulders on the top, but have been eroded on the bottom by thousands of years of ocean tides, so that it appears that they are teetering on a base that looks too small to support the top. They are located in the upper reaches of the Bay of Fundy, which is an interesting area in and of itself.

This area has the largest difference between high and low tide in the world. It also has reversing rivers that flow one direction at low tide and then the opposite way when the tide comes in. We have been so lucky all of these years in that my husband is not only a brilliant scientist, but he researches any area before we would go and he has an incredible base of knowledge about geography, geology and the oceans. As we moved from area to area, he would show us the natural wonders of the area and give us the historical and scientific explanation.

As we entered Nova Scotia we had seen many beautiful places, but Nova Scotia had a feel all of its own. The road followed the rocky coastline rolling up and down bordered by the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic, and over the brilliant green grasses of the flats where the road is built and bordered on the other NovaScotia5side by the sun drenched, rolling cliffs. It was hard to fully absorb the natural beauty as we drove through Cape Breton Highlands National Park, and stopped periodically to hike a short trail or have a snack while watching the North Atlantic roll in over the rocks.   We slowly made our way to a small ocean side cabin rented for the night. As the kids ran to the cabin it reminded me of the scene at the beginning of the Sound of Music where Maria spins around as she runs through the Swiss Alps. I like to think it was the natural high they were getting from feeling the cool, moist, salty air rising from the ocean mixed with the natural dark green landscape, but it may have been that they had been cooped up in the Yukon for a little too long.

Nova Scotia means New Scotland and this area was settled initially by Scottish immigrants in the early 1600’s. After a tumultuous history of claims between Scotland, France, and England the NovaScotia1 (1)Scotts finally “won out” and make up the majority of settlers in these highland regions of Nova Scotia. Our cabin was in the small seaside town of Inverness. The people of Inverness possess such a heavy Scottish accent that even though we drove there, it felt like we were in a foreign country. It was a quaint little village full of friendly warm people and delicious comfort food. Its small town charm was highlighted by the fact that they were having a wedding and a the wedding dance was at the fire station in town. Evidently the fire station was the only facility large enough to accommodate the wedding, which appeared to include everyone from the town as a guest.

We stopped for food and the kids were mesmerized by the lovely accents of the people in the NovaScotia3shops that lined the well kept streets, but we took our food back to our seaside escape as we wanted to enjoy every minute at the ocean. We ate and drank in the beauty before us. We walked along the beaches by our cabin and picked up a few pieces of brilliant sea glass and a rock or two, rocks being the kids’ favorite mementos to collect while on vacation. We actually also found a piece of a ceramic plate along the Nova Scotia beaches and daydreamed that it may be a piece off of the Titanic, as we knew that it had sank in the North Atlantic not far from there.

It added to the mystique and wonder of this lovely area to engage the local Scottish people and to dream about the history of this unspoiled place. Nova Scotia gets some visitors, but because it is so remote it has maintained its history and charm and has not been overrun with tourist mobs that sometimes demand more and more accommodations and features from their own
homeland, which can interfere with the natural and basic experience of the area. I like to appreciate a place for its natural beauty; culture and history and not complain that it is not enough like my own home.

Nova Scotia is unspoiled in its natural beauty as well as unspoiled in its people’s love of drink and dance – to celebrate a wedding, dancing the night away to highland music at the town’s fire station. You learn a lot about a place on this earth by meandering through it, without a stringent plan. It is especially precious if you can experience it with family and see beauty through the eyes of your children.

Dizzy in the Redwoods

In grade school, I had read about the large redwood trees in California. The redwoods are some of the oldest and largest trees in the world. Reading about them and seeing the pictures was amazing, but I knew the pictures could not possibly do these giants justice. I remember being mesmerized by the photo of the large tree hallowed out to allow cars to drive through. I think that was in our geography book in school back in the 1960’s. Now that was a large tree. The photo I remember showed an old time car, possibly from the 1930’s going through the tree. I Redwood2remember my grandparents visiting and bringing back not only the great photos of the tree, but the stories of the massiveness and majesty of that forest. I knew at a young age I needed to see these trees.

I did not have a chance to get to California when growing up, but thank goodness the trees have been preserved and protected for us to see and hopefully for generations to come. The redwoods are protected by the 1968 creation of Redwood National Park and at least three state Parks created in the 1920’s. The parks also protect about 40 miles of pristine Northern California coastline. Joe and I planned one of our family vacations to see the redwoods when the kids were quite young.   We decide to fly to San Francisco, rent a big van and see the redwoods. We spent the night in San Francisco riding the cable cars and of course visiting Fisherman’s Warf. We looked at all of the sea lions and ate fresh seafood brought off the boats in the harbor, before they continued north.

Redwood1The next morning we took our van and headed north over the Golden Gate  bridge to the redwoods. The morning was misty and cool as we left the city and drove up the coast. There were many fun places to stop on the way, but we were set on getting to the redwoods, so we did not spend much time at the tourist stops. We entered the National Park and the misty weather added to the mystery and the mystique. It was true, the photos do not do the trees justice. You cannot capture the feeling, the size and the sights and smells present in this old growth forest through any cameras that we had. You know when you drive down the winding roads set carefully not to disturb the trees that you are driving through history. The fog hangs heavy around the trees, and as we had read in one of the interpretive centers, the trees thrive on this fog and moist air.

We stopped for every walking trail and got out of the car to experience the trees up close. The airRedwood3 smelled so clear, moist and fresh. It felt healthy and natural. The trees were larger even than we expected and when you walked around them and through them in some cases, you could feel the life force energy of these surviving giants. As you walked along the paths the pine needles were so thick it felt like the most plush carpet you can buy. As I walked with my family I looked ahead, but mostly I kept looking up. The height of these giants was unbelievable. As I followed the trunks up with my eyes, through the mist, it made me dizzy. You actually lost track of your equilibrium. I felt light as if I was floating at some point. Despite all of our hiking we did not feel tired. It almost felt like you were drugged by the fresh, moist air. It was like looking through a fish eye lense, in a way. The lightheadedness was intoxicating. It helped that as I walked the smell of fresh pine forest freshness was overwhelming. The mist was so heavy it almost made your skin feel wet. You did not need moisturizer. If a spa could recreate the air in the Redwoods, they would be Redwood4overwhelmed with the business.

The kids ran on the trails and I could just see them soaking up this healthy environment. They were truly happy and free as they skipped and ran and walked and hugged the trees and literally at one point danced around one of the large trees with their hands in the air. They had such a natural appreciation for this beautiful place. They still remember it even though they were fairly young when we were there.

We also got to see the tree that had been hallowed out years ago so that cars could drive Redwood5through it. Of course they would never damage a tree like that now, but it was done many years ago and may have actually provided that mystique nationally to help support creating the National Park. We of course drove our van through as well and stopped at the interpretive center to see historic pictures of people driving through the tree.

I am so grateful that enough people in the 1920’s had the intelligence to realize what a beautiful place this was and to fight and push to have this place preserved for all of us to enjoy. When you are able to visit beautiful places like the redwoods, take time to think and give thanks to the people who had the tenacity and foresight to preserve these places for us to enjoy. I am sure it made them feel healthy, alive and even dizzy, and as they experienced it for themselves they were driven to ensure that no one would be able to destroy these beautiful giants and their misty and mysterious existence. Celebrate their success and pledge to honor their memories by treating these areas with care and respect and finding new areas to preserve.

Finding Inspiration

It is funny how sometimes a simple gesture or event can lead to tremendous inspiration. Many times, in hindsight, it is not earth shattering but leads to a feeling that lasts for years or even changes our thinking.   In 2008 I was attending a Bar Association convention in Duluth. The guest speaker was Will Steger, the Minnesota born polar explorer and now activist for climate change. This is a guy I have read about and admired for years. We all followed him over the years when in 1986 he completed the first unsupported dog sled journey to the North Pole. He went on to alsoIMG_5360 explore Greenland from South to North by dogsled, and in 1989 he went 3,471 miles across Antarctica again by dog sled. I remember seeing pictures of him and his team and his dogs back in the 1980’s and we were all impressed at how he and his team could survive in such harsh conditions. To say he was inspirational in the 1980s would be an understatement. This is a guy who had a crazy dream, but did what it took to follow that dream. Instead of thinking about wild adventures this guy went on wild adventures.

I knew Steger must be a tough and courageous guy, but it surprised me when I heard him speak at the Bar convention, and I realized how humble and likable he was. He definitely has a passion for educating us all on climate change and he should. This is clearly a serious problem that he has seen first hand. However, instead of preaching hate or blame, he is all about the educational piece and about a call to action for the greater good. His presentation started with how he was raised by great parents who let him explore his surroundings. He was clearly grateful to them for a good start in life and gave them a lot of credit. They let him explore even at a young age and to follow his dream, even allowing him and a friend or brother to take a boat down the Mississippi by themselves.

His presentation involved great pictures of his team of people that went on each expedition and of course pictures of his dogs, but also the pictures of melting glaciers and the loss of ice caps. He has been asked to speak frequently in Congress and all over the world on climate change, because of his knowledge and first hand experience and because he is an impressive and charismatic guy who can inspire us all. This is a man who inspires us to do better and to be better about protecting our environment through his humble quiet presentation. This is a noble thing, but I found deeper inspiration as I sat and listened to his presentation in that Duluth convention hall.

In 2008 I had three teenagers, ages nineteen, sixteen and fourteen and was getting to that point in my life where my kids were becoming more self sufficient. They were expecting and getting more autonomy and I expected good decisions from them and to be more mature than most of IMG_5359their friends. My husband and I were busy in our careers and busy with family things. Listening to Will talk about his family and how his parents loved him and expected great things from him, but did not hover, inspired me to give my own kids more leeway, but yet hold them accountable. I had few hard and fast rules, but I expected good grades, to be home at a decent hour, and they had to treat others with respect. I warned them that if they showed me that they needed strict rules by their behavior, I would be happy to give them strict rules. I never set a curfew and I never had to. They knew they had to be home at a reasonable hour depending on the day of the week and whether they had school the next day and what was reasonable depended upon their age and they knew that. They knew that if they were coming home late there better be a real great reason.

We lived on three acres of woods surrounded by acres and acres of preserve with a large pond attached to our property. The kids were always able to explore the woods with us when they were younger and by themselves or with their friends when they were older. We always encouraged outdoor adventures and encouraged curiosity through outdoor exploration. When my son showed an interest in hunting, I was fortunate enough to be able to send him out to my sister and brother-in-law’s farm in Ortonville, Minnesota, to oversee his first hunting experience after he went through gun safety training. When my high school senior daughter wanted to visit one of our foreign exchange students in Germany by herself that summer, we helped her work out the details to try the best we could to make sure it was well planned and safe and we let her go with our blessing.

My kids had no idea how much Will Steger may have inspired some of that autonomous parenting that we had in place. I have to say I was parented like that so I certainly leaned towards more independence for my kids, but a lot of their friends had really strict rules. I chose a different style and it worked.

I not only had inspiration for how I raised my kids as I listened to Steger back in 2008, but after the presentation I stood in line to buy one of his posters and to get his autograph and have a few seconds to talk with him and tell him IMG_5369how inspiring he was and is. I had seen the picture before. It was mainly of a beautiful blue sky hanging over the white blowing landscape of Antarctica. The dogs are curled in the snow in the foreground, tails protecting their faces in their harnesses waiting to get started for the day. Steger is in the picture in full Antarctic garb making the last tie downs on the over-full sled the dogs will soon be pulling across the harsh ice covered landscape. It is a beautiful picture for sure, but it represents so much more. As I stood in line looking at the poster, it was hard not to see past the beauty, to the challenge of what he had accomplished. This was no joy ride with sled dogs. This was a daily life and death struggle over more than 3000 miles. Some people had tried before him and died.

As I approached him I tried to formulate a nice statement to him, to express my admiration for him and his life’s work to educate us on environmental concerns. I have to say that my respect for him was also more than what he accomplished, but that he had in fact had a life of exploration and education as opposed to a run of the mill, work a day life. When it was my turn, he asked my name and we talked a little about the environment and he seemed sincere in his appreciation for my kind statements to him.

I shook his hand and when I left I looked at what he had written on the poster. It said, “Joan, Follow your dreams! My Best, Will Steger 2008.” Now I am sure he has written that line many times on many posters, but I felt like he was talking directly to me. It felt like he was telling me that all is possible and that no matter who you are, dreams are still important and you can work IMG_5366to realize them. This came to me at a time when it meant more than anything else. We were busy with our lives and sometimes overwhelmed with family schedules and it provided that inspiration to really think about our dreams and aspirations as individuals and as a family. To remember that toiling away is not the important part of life, but adventure and dreams are why we live.

I had that poster framed and I have had it in my home since 2008. I have read that statement “Follow your dreams” many times over the years and looked upon that young explorer in the picture willing to risk it all to follow his dreams. My dreams are not nearly as lofty, but they are mine. I look to the poster for inspiration in life and to stay encouraged in living life to the fullest and to have courage in pursuing my dreams. Inspiration can be found in little things. Use what works for you to stay encouraged in life and living it to the fullest.

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.

Cake and Crazy Hats

Cake and crazy hats are essential for the perfect birthday parties when you are raising kids. We had some real fun and crazy ones when the kids were growing up. I remember being exhausted after the birthday parties, but they were important and so it was worth it. Making a big deal BDParty6about birthdays was not only fun, but it gives kids a sense of belonging in the family and lets them know they are important and appreciated. My parents taught me that it is not about any big expensive gifts, and the parents do not have to go broke throwing the party. It is about the love, about showing them that you are glad they are a part of your life and making the kids feel special. Many times when I was growing up we had party hats made out of newspaper. My Mom baked a cake from scratch and our birthdays were special.

IMG_4375I remember making my own kids cakes from scratch when they were really little and we always had the birthday crown that was pulled out for the birthday child. We still have that crown. It looks a little worn, but it represents years of special days from the past now that my kids are all in their twenties. Once the kids were a little older and wanted things like a Ninja Turtle cake, I left the baking and decorating to Target. That took some of the burden off of me. I had to order the cakes ahead, and of course there was the deciding by the birthday child where they would have their party. Sometimes we had them at home and other times we went somewhere else. The ones held elsewhere still took aIMG_4372 lot of planning on our part. We went to the YMCA a number of times and had swimming parties in their water park. Those were nice, because the lifeguards watched the kids and the staff served the cake and we could bring in food. We also had a number of bowling parties and the Circus Pizza birthday parties with the creepy singing animals. I could never figure out why the kids liked those big stuffed mechanical bears and animals playing music. Those animals looked like a nightmare waiting to happen to me but the kids liked them and so we had multiple parties there.

One of my favorite birthday memories was when the purple Dinosaur Barney was popular. Sara really was a fan, so I paid someone to show up and be Barney in the costume. He showed up at the door, in all of his large purple glory and had a special small stuffed replica of himself for the BDParty3birthday girl. My sweet Sara was really young, maybe four or so at the time, so she was quite hesitant, especially when he came in to play games with the party goers. He had them in a circle in no time and was playing ring around the rosy.

I felt so proud to have thought of this and was feeling really great as I looked around the room and the kids all had big smiles on their faces, until I saw Sara. She looked overwhelmed and I could see that she was about to burst into tears. Good old Barney was trying to treat her special because she was the birthday girl and be beside her and hold her Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 12.18.57 PMhand in the circle game. Well I guess it is one thing to watch the big purple dinosaur on TV and another to have him standing beside you trying to hold your hand in the game. Sara was by now not just hesitant, but crying because she had had enough of the dinosaur. I went to her rescue and held her hand and reassured her. She did stop crying and played games, but she did not want to get near BScreen Shot 2015-12-09 at 12.19.09 PMarney. We did get some pictures of her with Barney, but I had to hold her and she would not look at the camera or Barney. The picture is priceless.

It is so funny how we as parents think something will be the perfect thing for our kids and even though we know them well, we get it wrong. Oh well as I say, a lot of parenting is going with the flow. She loved that stuffed Barney and she actually talked about it later, like she really liked having Barney at her party, but you could not tell at the time.

We made a big deal for our own Birthdays as well. Joe would make a big deal about mine and take the kids shopping or they would make things at home and I would do the same for him. We made cake or sometimes picked up a Treatza Pizza from Dairy Queen. We would wear the birthday crown, when we could find it – another problem sometimes in a busy household.

BDParty4We had so many birthday parties over the years, at so many different places, that the memories sometimes all run together now. What I do know is that we worked really hard as parents to make sure that our kids felt their birthday was important. We also worked really hard to make sure they appreciated all the gifts they received and to show gratitude for the good friends and loving family that they had. They were never allowed to be rude or mean to other kids and they were never allowed to not be thankful for whatever gift was given. We tried to make sure that they knew that it was not about the gift, but the thought that counts, as they say.

Now that the kids are older we try to continue to make their birthdays special. If they are going to be home, we go out to dinner at a restaurant of BDParty8their choice, or if not, I try to send them something. When I look back at the birthday party pictures and see their smiling faces, I am so thankful that we took the time, even though everyone was really busy with work and managing
a household full of kids, appointments, grocery shopping, sports and school activities to try our best to make their birthdays special.

Making a big deal about a child’s birthday shows kids how much they are loved and appreciated. It proves to them, through actions, that they are part of a family that loves them and thinks they are important. It teaches them to appreciate friends and family and to appreciate the thoughtfulness of every gift. It teaches them to make other’s birthdays special too, to keep the love flowing to friends and family. Kids need a sense of belonging and need to know that they are important. It is important to make the cake, bring out the crazy hats and make the day special.BDParty7

 

Kids and the Family Farm

Even though my career took me off of the farm and into the city, I tried to keep my farm roots and connect my own city-raised kids with farm life. Growing up on a farm is a wonderful life for kids. We had kittens and chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, horses and lots of green grass in which to run, and creeks to play in. All of the barns, corn cribs, chickens coops, farm fields and line fences filled with choke cherries, and rock piles – these were our playground. In the summer our bare feet were black on the bottom with ground in dirt that could not be removed even by a long hot bath. We usually Farm_Tractorlooked dirty and we were happy and free.

When we had kids I knew I wanted to give them a taste of that open range and of being able to get dirty and do exploring, so I knew a town size lot would not do. We bought three acres in the northern suburbs of Minneapolis, adjacent to a large preserve. We had heavy woods and a large pond to explore. My kids got dirty, they collected frogs and they loved to climb trees and play in the woods.

We took our kids to the Minnesota zoo for animal time and one of my favorite parts is the farm area with goats to pet and baby animals to hold. But we also took every opportunity to visit my friends and relatives’ farms whenever we could manage it. We took them when they were quite young to a dairy farm during calving season and they actually saw a calf being born. My kids got to bottle feed the calves and they watched the elaborate milking operation. It was a fun visit for them, but I enjoyed getting back to the farm Farm_Sara2more than I had expected. I forgot how calm things are and how relaxed I felt around the animals.

I sat and petted the barn cat while watching my kids bottle feed a little calf. They were hesitant at first, but quickly became very comfortable and seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were helping in the chores that needed to be done. It was not staged for them, this was work that had to be done to feed the animals on the farm and they really had a sense of purpose and accomplishment in getting the job done. It helped that my cousin was very patient with them, and as he handed them a bottle he said we have to feed the calves twice a day so they grow big and strong.

As they would finish he would assign them another job to feed the cats or use the fork to spread hay for the cattle. They fed chickens and they rode the four wheeler to deliver more hay to the pasture. The kids did not want to leave and neither did I. As I petted the animals and watched the cattle being milked and saw the milk being Farm_Bencollected in a bulk tank for transport, I felt a sense of loss for no longer being on the farm. There is such a basic sense of purpose when you have animals dependent upon you for life and you are producing the most basic of healthy food. There’s a lot of work to do, but it seems relaxed and everything is moving at a slower pace. The cows are fed, but they also get a little pet on the head as we pass each one. The cats are picked up and cuddled. It is that extra love that goes into the farmers work.

We visited often to give the kids the appreciation for a simpler time and real things that matter. They were so present in the moment as they helped and enjoyed everything that the farm had to offer. They learned to treat animals well and to share and enjoy the days outside. I miss the farm and especially the animals. The farm is a way of life and a connection that we lose in the city if we are not vigilant. Make the time to be outdoors, to visit the zoo and to visit the farms. Almost everyone knows someone on a farm and
Farm_Saramost farm families love to share their way of life. They now even have farms you can visit for a day or stay overnight. It is actually becoming a tourist thing.

Do what you can to keep your connections to the farm, the animals and the crops. Have a garden in your backyard or a pot. Let the kids dig in the dirt. Pick berries and go to the apple orchard. Make butter from cream just for fun. It is sad when kids don’t even know where our food comes from or how to grow simple food. When we do these things for our kids we are many times very surprised by how much fun it is for us and how relaxing a day outside on the farm can be. We don’t think of a farm as entertainment, but it is the most entertaining and relaxing day you can spend with your family.

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