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.

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.

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.

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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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

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The Joy of Seizing Rare Opportunities

I have found that opportunities sometimes present themselves in the blink of an eye, and we are either smart enough to accept them or we let them go and they are gone forever. I had such an event this past summer. My son is a senior in college studying Geology at Winona. I was quite busy at work, but he called and said he wanted to go to the Duluth area and see some rock IMG_4003formations and he would be doing some hiking on the Superior hiking trail.

Now my son probably would have loved his time alone or would have liked to bring a friend, but he knows how much I love the Superior hiking trail and the Duluth area, so he was kind enough to think of me and offer to take me along. He also knows that if possible, I never turn down an opportunity for an adventure or a road trip. That is way more fun than working. I have never studied geology, but it is one of those fun subjects everyone likes to hear about and who has not collected rocks at one time or another. I have always loved rocks and now as the mother of a geologist, I have rocks everywhere at our house and in the garage and in the gardens. I love them and so jumped at a chance to go along.

IMG_2596We have a lot of history with Duluth. It is one of our family’s favorite places. We took the kids there every year when they were young. I have a Minnesota bar convention in Duluth every second year and the kids would get to go along, and in the other years we made sure we at least went for a long weekend. The Bar conventions had a multitude of family fun planned, while we were busy at the convention meetings. One year the kids rode a Pizza train from Duluth to Two Harbors that had music and magic acts and activities for the kids during the ride. This kept them busy with Dad while the Bar convention had a cocktail party for the members. The kids still remember it and I actually think one of them still has the conductor hat she got on that train ride over ten years ago.

IMG_2407I went to college in Duluth too and so it has strong memories for me, but more importantly it is one of the most beautiful areas of Minnesota. It has hiking, biking, good restaurants, beautiful waterfalls and scenery, and nice hotels right on the Lake in Canal Park. I had worked my way
through college cooking at Grandma’s Saloon and Deli in Canal Park and I was actually fortunate enough to live on Park Point across the lift bridge from Grandma’s in Duluth, when I was a Junior and Senior in college. Three of us girls working at Grandma’s rented the house on the lake side from the Manager of Grandma’s. It was a beautiful place. I fell asleep to the sounds of Lake Superior waves hitting the shores and the sound of the bridge and the large loaded ore boats communicating by sound as they went through the lift bridge on their trek across Lake Superior.

IMG_2526When Ben was nice enough to call to see if I could go along to Duluth, I could have easily said I just could not make it. Making changes in my schedule and rearranging my calendar is not impossible, but it takes some work on my part. Thank goodness I seized the moment. Without hesitation I said yes and asked and firmed up the days we were going. I made the changes to my schedule and I made us reservations at the Inn on Lake Superior, my favorite hotel. It has nice rooms and pools, but they are also right on the Lake and have beautiful views. You can walk right out the back door of the hotel onto their back patio and you are on the walking trail on the shore of Lake Superior. At night they have a fire pit going and they bring large trays of the makings for smores. You can walk in the dark along the lake and actually walk out onto the pier to the lighthouse and look back at the Duluth lights glimmering against the dark backdrop of hills.  It is beautiful!IMG_2607

We had three days and a packed schedule for our adventure, starting the first afternoon with a hike to the end of Park Point. We had beautiful weather and hiked the entire way until we could see Wisconsin. It is a lovely trail that starts at the airport at the end of the road on the Point and goes through old growth pine forests and along the beach. We of course had dinner at Grandma’s and Ben had to again hear my stories of days gone by, when I worked there and the fun we had. We went to Ely and went down into the old mine and the entire way there and back Ben stopped and pointed out interesting rock formations and areas he needed to see, or ones he had seen on past field studies and wanted to show me. It is amazing to think that I have driven that North Shore so many times over the years IMG_2440and he could stop and point out rock formations and even an old fault line that I had never noticed before.   It is so interesting when your kids take up such a fun area of study and you as a parent learn something new.

The Soudan mine, now a State Park open to tours, was particularly interesting. We had been there when our kids were very young, but Ben was so young he could barely remember it. When we first got our hardhats to go into the small, loud elevator to descend over a mile into the earth, a light went off for him. He said he did remember the hard hats and the elevator ride. He was fascinated with the mine tour now that he has so much knowledge about the geology of it all. We both had a wonderful time and I learned a lot.

On our last day we hiked a small portion of the Superior hiking trail. This is a gem of our state. It winds through heavy forests, up and down rocky ledges and along waterfalls and streams. It has IMG_2573beautiful bridges and is well maintained, safe and well mapped. We ran into other hikers occasionally, but we felt completely immersed in nature. Being experienced in such things, we had plenty of water and some Gatorade and snacks along. We took our time and we took a few rest stops. It was just he and I, and we had a nice chance to talk about everything from the family, our past adventures, plans for future adventures to some of his plans for after college. It was so great to hear the birds and the water flowing and feel the moist, cool air of the thick forest, and to just spend time together. It was warm on the trail and after more than 4 hours of hiking, we were really sweaty and hot. We stopped at the next State Park rest area and completely changed clothes before finding another good local restaurant for a meal together.

IMG_2463Once those kids leave for college they need to forge their own life and they are busy with that, and that is a good thing, but it is so nice when we can take an opportunity like this between their busy life and ours, to be together even if just a few days. Even though I was tired after our trek in the woods, I felt refreshed and more alive than I had in weeks. Nature does that to a person, but more importantly sharing time in nature with those we love is life renewing.

Had I not taken that spur of the moment opportunity to go with Ben when he called and not juggled my calendar around to spend time with him on the North Shore, I would have lost the opportunity for a great hike and education in the geology of Northern Minnesota, but more importantly I would have forever lost that moment of time with him. There is sheer joy in seizing those rare opportunities. They present themselves in a moment and if we do not seize the moment, the moment is gone forever. Fun living is the seizing of those rare opportunities that present themselves.