Superbowl V – A Championship Year

Five years ago today, I boarded a plane in Omaha, Nebraska and landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was a bittersweet day and one that set in motion a series of changes in my life that I never could have foreseen.

“Did you land safely?” he asked.

“Yep, I’m about to head north to Bensalem and I’ll check into the hotel,”

The conversation paused while the wave of applause and cheers subsided.

“Wow, sounds like it’s quite a party.  I can’t believe I’m missing it,” I said.

“I know first time in almost twenty years, hopefully you can find somewhere to watch the game and enjoy it.  Good luck on the new job tomorrow, give me a call and let me know how it goes. I’d better get back to the game and guests,” he replied.

The first day at my new job included introductions to my new staff, a tour of my new apartment (which looked nothing like the pictures online), and an outburst of tears when I discovered the fact that I’d improperly packed senior pictures and they were covered with scratches.

Five years later I’m writing this from my new office, which is located at the top of my stairs.

15_linkedin and a whole new world

The pups are in their place, sleeping soundly at my feet while I type away – the clicks on the keyboard are a constant sound in the house.

19_my assitants romeo and annie

It would be easy for me to look at the past five years and say that moving was a bad idea.  A near foreclosure, major changes in family status, and the helplessness I felt when we first moved as I watched my youngest son experience severe growing pains in a completely unfamiliar environment top the list.

There were times when I felt like moving boxes was a bigger challenge than moving mountains.

ceiling to floor boxes
ceiling to floor boxes

But somehow the space magically transformed into a little slice of paradise.

finishing touches

There were days I questioned myself as a parent and doubted my choices. I’ve come to learn that we all do.  The smiling faces of my beautiful children is a constant source of joy and realization that what’s important is the communication about the choices, not the decisions themselves.

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas

At the age of fifty, I learned to laugh out loud, with joy, and without embarrassment.  I began to understand that life is meant to be celebrated.

the gangs all here

I discovered the gift of writing and that the color of my soul is the sun.

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

I now know that there’s more than one way to experience a visit to the zoo.

butterfly

And a walk through the neighborhood can reveal unexpected treasures.

fred the frog
fred the frog

I’ve learned that it’s never too late to learn something new and that we all have the capacity to amaze ourselves.

029 final sunflower_cropped

I know how to “batten down the hatches” and draw strength from candles in the storm.

candle in the storm - ink drawing on handmade paper

When I started this blog a year or so ago the title “It’s a Whole New World,” was the biggest understatement of the century.

Each of the past five years has had it’s ups and downs and in one way or another they’ve been a winning season, but this past year has definitely been a championship year.  I have a feeling, the upcoming season is going to be even better.

Advertisements

Sunsets on Big Sand

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

I’m always sad to see summer come to an end.  Summer always has been and always will be my favorite season.  I love the heat, the sun, and especially the long days.  Although the one thing that’s nice about the sun rising later is so do the dogs.

Looking at the upcoming forecast and highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the 40’s was a reminder that I’m going have to trade in my flip flops and ankle bracelet for shoes that cover my toes and eventually socks.

It seemed like a good day to post some of my favorite pictures from this summer.  I don’t think there is anything as beautiful as a sunset on  Big Sand Lake, MN.

My parents have a cabin on the bay, their beach is called Iowa Beach even though the lake is in Minnesota.  I think that’s because at one time most of the cabins on the lake were owned by families from Iowa.  The gate between their cabin and the lake always fascinates me.  I think it makes a great frame for a sunset.

sunset on big sand lake through the garden walk gate

On the first night we were there, the sunset reflected off of the pontoon like an invitation for an evening cruise, which of course is one of my favorite things to do at the lake.

pontoon at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

One of the things that amazes me about the lake is the variety of cloud formations.  No two days are alike and its always a treat, my favorite is when they turn vibrant colors like pink and orange.

pink clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Every once in a while a picture just happens and the unbelievable reflection of the clouds in the calm surface of the water was a once in a lifetime moment.

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

My favorite dinner cruises are when we take chicken dinners and wine on the pontoon and tour the lake while we eat.  Hmm…I don’t have any pictures of that; I must have been too hungry to think of capturing the moment – next year.

The pontoon not only doubles as a dinner cruise ship, its often also a fishing boat.

fishing at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Sometimes my kids don’t mind when I take pictures of other people.  They’ve never said it, but I think there are two unwritten rules.  Only take pictures of people if there is absolutely no chance of being caught and make sure it’s a picture worth taking.  I think the image of a canoe slipping through the water at dusk follows both rules.

A Canoe at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Oftentimes we stay out on the lake until the sun has almost set and we can see the lights on the other boats and pontoons as they quietly return to the bay.

Pontoon coming to shore from a sunset cruise on Big Sand Lake, MN

My dad caught the shutter bug this summer and took over for me after I left.  I think my favorite picture and sentiment is the one he sent from his phone in an email.

He said – “the lake without beth”

I said – are you trying to make me cry?

He said – yes

stormy sky

He knew it would make me both cry and smile to know he captured a moment that said “it’s not the same here without you and we miss you.”

Farewell to summer and greetings to fall.  I’m lucky because sunsets on the towpath are beautiful as well.

sunset on the towpath

Senior Pictures in a ‘Tux’

On my never ending list of things to do this summer was the task of finding a photographer and getting organized for Christian’s senior picture.  The days were slipping by dangerously fast and this very important task remained undone.  I didn’t know where to start and so I hadn’t.

My older two were sent home from school with packets of information that contained key dates, participating photography studios, and guidelines for the official yearbook portrait.

Last Tuesday afternoon Christian stopped at my desk, “I know you’re working, but have you gotten anything in the mail about senior pictures? I saw on Facebook that today they are starting on the B’s.”

“I haven’t gotten anything. They’re starting on the B’s?  What does that mean?”

“Well I guess they take the pictures at school, but I don’t know for sure if you have to,” he said.

A few phone calls later I was still baffled by the notion that senior pictures were to be taken by photographers in the auditorium and not in a private studio but I was able to schedule a time for him.  Thank goodness for Facebook or I wouldn’t have found out that he missed his original appointment.  I never would have lived that down.

Unlike his siblings’ photo sessions, all of his pictures would be taken from the waist up and wouldn’t include elaborate poses and sets.  They would all be indoors and there would be no props other than a tuxedo and a cap and gown.

The sitting fee was easy to decide on, it was five dollars for an extra few poses in his shirt and tie.

There were four temporary studios set up, three on the stage and one on the main floor.  Each studio had a screen with multiple backdrops, a camera, lights, and a photographer.  I tried unsuccessfully not to giggle about the tuxedo shirt that goes on like a strait jacket and has Velcro closures in back. I laughed out loud about the tuxedo jacket with sleeves that were too short paired with shorts and sneakers.

The photographer pinned a rose to Christian’s lapel, handed him a sheet of paper which he held in front of his chest for the first picture.  I knew it was to help identify the owner of the pictures later but it reminded me of someone posing for a mug shot.

In between the tuxedo and the shirt and tie pictures Christian re-tied his tie.

“Is it straight?”

“The knot is straight, but the tie part is a little off.  Do you want me to try and fix it?” I asked.

“No, just hand me your iPad please and reverse the camera direction,” he said.

Who knew that an iPad could double for a mirror?

We were done in under an hour, the proofs will arrive in two or three weeks, and I have a feeling the pictures will be much less expensive than Jeff and Katie’s were.  I think the strangest thing about it was the image of him in a cap and gown and how real it made his 2013 graduation feel real.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Day in the Poconos

The plan was to be on the road no later than 8 am, leaving plenty of time for getting lost or traffic on the turnpike, but not both. We left the house closer to 8:30. I remained relatively calm thanks to a low dosage of morning caffeine and the knowledge that the traffic to the Poconos on a Saturday would be nothing like the logjam on a Friday afternoon headed toward the shore.

I printed out the directions the night before and we had three smart phones and a Garmin in the car; but I was still apprehensive when all three of my potential navigators fell asleep as soon as we passed through the first toll booth. Thankfully I remembered the right exit and Katie woke up and quickly re-calibrated me just before I went south instead of north on US-209.

We made it almost without incident, but the directions from all of our devices ended seven miles from the final destination. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

There may be nothing more annoying or amusing than four people who have no idea where they are debating what the next move should be and why. In the end, we called for directions and made it in plenty of time to order lunch, rent water guns, get fitted for life jackets, and have a snack with time to spare – or so we thought.

Christian handed out the water guns while Katie waited for the snacks. Jeff and I watched for the signal that it was time to round up everyone with a red card, aka the boarding pass for the bus and the ticket for our equipment.

Jeff tapped me on the shoulder and pointed across the picnic area, “Mom, I think those people lined up by those buses all have red cards.”

“I didn’t hear an announcement,” I replied.

He shrugged and said, “I didn’t either, but I think we better go.”

It’s a good thing he noticed or we would have missed not only the bus, but the ‘boat’ as well. We threw on our life jackets, juggled the chicken strips, fries, three out of four rented water guns, and made it just in time to grab the paddles and squeeze onto the yellow school bus.

beth and jeff on the bus

katie and christian on the bus

Thirty minutes later we were headed for the rapids or as luck would have it, the ripples.  The original reservation was for a trip through the Lehigh River Gorge, but Mother Nature had other plans and we were diverted to  a somewhat lazier stretch of water.beth and katie getting ready for rafting

on the river

It was only a matter of moments until the water guns were unholstered and the the bail bucket became a weapon of defense, or were we the instigators?  The water in my eyes must have blurred my perception and my memory.water fight

We enjoyed lunch ‘on the rocks.’   The life jackets made a nice cushion for our bums  and I think for a moment I forgot just how wet my shoes were.lunch on the rocks

After lunch, it was all downhill, and in  a very good way.

We not only managed to beach our raft and avoid going over the waterfall, we made it on the first bus back to dry clothes and changing rooms. It was a glorious day.

Priorities…

On Thursday October 23, 1997 we packed up everything we owned; I spent the day supervising movers, well-meaning family volunteers, and the cable guy. I kept my eye on the weather and hoped that the rain would hold off until everything was off of the moving truck and out of the cars.

The skinniest of the three movers looked like a drown rat when he carried the last piece of furniture into the house.  The other two stood warm and dry in the dining room and didn’t bother to conceal their amusement as their buddy shivered his way into the house.  I felt sorry for him but was also glad it wasn’t me and truth to be told he wasn’t exactly a speed demon.

It rained non-stop for two days and just when I thought the weather had cleared, I realized the white dots in the sky were giant snowflakes not stars.  I groaned and shivered awake Sunday morning; even my eyelashes ached with exhaustion.  I didn’t need my glasses to figure out that the same was blinking on the face of the alarm clock.  Argh! No power meant I couldn’t make coffee and it might be hours before I could get the laundry done.

Eric forged through fourteen inches of not so fluffy white stuff, downed power lines, and streets littered with tree limbs to get much needed coffee. We resumed unpacking boxes and getting settled into our new home to the aroma of freshly brewed java.

Halfway through the day I called Gina, “Do you guys have power?”

“We do.  Is your power out? Is there anything we can do?” she asked.

“Can I come over to do some laundry so the kids have clean clothes for school tomorrow?”

“Sure, why don’t you guys plan on staying for dinner as well.”

I threw Katie and Jeff’s uniforms, a Scooby Doo t-shirt and some pants for Christian as well as some other necessities into the washer. Gina and I chatted about the freak snow storm and the latest novel by Jodi Picoult.  Laughter erupted from the kitchen and I knew that Mama had just toppled off of her plastic pyramid onto the kitchen table.  Don’t Drop Mama was a board game without age limits and rules that required no interpretation so it was perfect for everyone from a two-year-old to a grandfather.

By the time dinner rolled around we realized that our visit would be extended to an overnight stay.  In the days that followed, I discovered that it was impossible to find the right assortment of clothes for the next day in the few minutes after work and before total darkness.  Kohl’s turned out to be the perfect store to find everything from jeans and Winnie the Pooh underwear to games and toys to occupy the evening hours.

“How long are we going to live at Grandpa’s? Can’t we go to our new house?” Christian asked through tears.

“Hopefully only a night or two more, they said on the news that power should be back in ten days and it’s been seven.”

He clutched Scooby Doo and pointed at stack of sixteen inch Godzillas in cardboard houses, “Can I have one?”

“Sure, you miss the one at home?” I asked.

He nodded, “Can I take it to Childs Play?”

I smiled that ‘knowing’ smile all mothers have, “You can.  Is it because you miss your other one?”

“No… It’s so I can scare the girls.”

Life is after all, a matter of priorities.

Mischief and Mayhem

Jeff and Katie were three and two respectively when we bought our first house and they moved out of kiddie beds and hand-me-down sheets to big beds and brand new bedding sets that I was more excited about than they were.

Jeff had graduated from his Mickey Mouse obsession and moved onto dinosaurs and Katie loved everything about Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I remember how excited I was to find the perfect comforter and sheet sets for them at Target and for a price I could afford.

Moving into a new house with two toddlers underfoot quadrupled my frazzled and frenzied approach to unpacking and settling in. I was glad that the kitchen was within earshot of their bedroom and I could listen for mischief while I unpacked the pots and pans.  I smiled to the sound of quiet, mentally patting myself on the back for having such well-behaved kids and I wondered what imaginative game they were playing.

I opened the door and two sets of blue eyed guilt glanced up from between the twin beds.  I scanned the room; the walls were still white, the carpet was still blue, and there was no sign of scissors or missing chunks of hair.

Confused, I stepped further into the room, “Your sheets!  Oh no, what did you do to your sheets?  They are covered with blue ink.”

Silence.

“How could you ruin your brand new sheets?  I’ll never get the ink out. You two are in time out until I say otherwise.  Do not leave this room!”

Silence.

For the next thirty minutes I paced between the kitchen and their bedroom and tried to calm down.  I’m sure I sounded like the teacher in a Peanuts cartoon and all they heard was “Wah wah…” every time I opened their door to scold them.

I opened the door one last time, “Ok guys, I’m done being mad now, but before your time out is over is there anything else you want to tell me?”

They stood facing each other, turned toward me, and pulled their shirts up in unison to reveal tummies decorated in blue ink.

I stared at them and did the only thing that made sense.  I burst into laughter and captured the artwork with a picture.

The photo has faded, but the memory has not.

Where Do Babies Come From?

I’ve wished on more than one occasion over the past year that blogs had been invented or at a minimum I had been aware of my passion for writing when my kids were little. Kids do say and do the darnedest things and it would be great to have the funny stories recorded and shared.  Then it dawned on me, the recurring theme in my life these days is, “it’s never too late,” and there is no reason I can’t apply it to this as well.

I’ve decided to devote one post a week to a memory and an anecdote.  It seems fitting to start with the question all parents know is coming and most of us want to avoid.

I’ll always wonder what prompted Jeff to stop blowing bubbles in the bath water, peer over the edge of the tub and ask, “Where do babies come from?”

I’d only been a mother for four years and based on the combined wisdom of parents with more experience than me, I had been counting on at least four more years, and with any luck even longer, to formulate my response to this inevitable question.

The crease in his forehead and the intensity of his stare made it clear that I wasn’t going to be able to wiggle out of giving an accurate response.

I sized up the situation and, with great relief, realized that he hadn’t asked how babies were made, just where they come from; an important distinction that guided my response.

“They come from the mommy’s tummy,” I said.

He shook his head, a four year olds version of “duh,” “I know that part, but how do they get out?”

I took a deep breath, “They come out through the birth canal.”

In spite of my hope that such an official sounding answer would satisfy his curiosity, he asked, “Where’s the birth canal?”

“Well…..umm…it’s between the mommy’s legs.”

His gaze alternated between my face and my lap, “Did it hurt very much when they took your legs off?”

Priceless.

Snapdragons and Butterflies

purple snapdragon and white butterfly - medium charcoal pencil and color pencil with a touch of ink and pastel
Snapdragons and Butterflies

Today is my maternal Grandmother’s birthday.  If I’ve done my math correctly she would have 101 years young today. I have many wonderful memories of her which include learning how to properly knead dough, the taste of homemade bread fresh from the oven, and playing  “boutique” for hours on end.  However the image that most often comes to mind when I think of her is one of snapdragons and butterflies.

It seemed appropriate to post an essay  entitled Snapdragons and Butterflies to commemorate her birthday.  I wrote it in December 2010 and it’s one of my earliest completed pieces as well as one of my favorites.  It also seemed fitting to illustrate the post with my first solo drawing.  Although my original idea was to create a realistic interpretation of my favorite flower I decided a version that was more child-like was the way to go. Colored pencils were the medium of choice as well as a touch of pastel and ink.

————————————————————————————

Snapdragons and Butterflies

Snapdragons and butterflies will always and forever remind me of my grandmother. Many gardeners shy away from the delightful, but delicate flower, however she embraced the challenge associated with bringing the brightly colored blossoms to life.

I could have spent hours, and probably did, pinching the tiny blossoms, making the dragon’s mouth come to life and then releasing it.

I recall there always being tiny white butterflies dancing around the flowers. Were they vying for attention or simply enjoying the playfulness?

Snapdragons seem so delicate on the outside, but if they can survive tiny hands repeatedly pinching to open and see the dragon’s mouth, you know they are strong. Snapdragons, are much like my grandmother.

Her name was Lucy, not a common name, which is fitting because she was not an ordinary woman.

She was beautiful, whatever the setting. She might be dressed to the nines for church or a social event, or digging in the garden, tending to her flowers or vegetables, a worn work shirt tied around her waist.

I was always so proud to be a guest in her Sunday school class. Her hand encircled mine as we entered the room, and my heart would pound with love as her students rushed to greet her.

Like a flower has a fragrance, so did my grandmother’s kitchen. It was always filled with the aroma of meals made from scratch and with love. My eyes lit up when I saw the peas I had laboriously shelled as part of the delicious meal.

She somehow knew how to make something ordinary into something wonderful. How we cousins used to squabble over who got the ‘special knife’, the knife that rattled when you picked it up. To this day, I like to think it really was a precious jewel, and not a scrap of metal that was trapped in the handle of that knife.

Wherever she went, she knew someone. Oh, How agonizing it was to have to stop and wait while she visited with ‘just one more’ friend or relative. Little did I know, the memory would make me smile someday.

My favorite times were when it was ‘our’ time, we’d giggle and laugh as she tucked me into bed. The ritual never changed, as she playfully pinched my chin, nose and cheeks before the final kiss goodnight.

Her spirit touches me whenever I think about snapdragons and butterflies.

————————————————————————————

In loving memory of my Grandma Lucy. Dedicated to my mom and my daughter, the two most important women in my life, and with gratitude for four generations of beauty and grace.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Be as You Are – Let Life In

I had the best run of my life this morning.  I never thought I’d hear myself say that a five mile run was easy and I enjoyed it.  I also may never say it again, but today I felt like I was flying and I could have completed double the distance and then some, which is a good thing since I am registered for the ODDyssey half marathon in May.

I’ve never been a runner.  I went out for track one year in high school and all I remember about it, in addition to most of the meets being long, cold, and boring, it was clear that my lack of speed and enthusiasm were indicators that I should stick to swimming.  Although if I had stopped to consider the fact that my first memory of swimming was cheering coming from the bleachers when I finished my first event (a full two lengths after everyone else did) I might have given track a second try.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how strange life is and today was no exception.  I recalled the conversation that took place in 2003 and in many ways started a transformation.

“Beth, Trudy here.  The annual fundraiser for the Omaha Opera Guild is coming up and I’d love for you to chair the silent auction.”

“Me?  I don’t even belong to the guild and I wouldn’t know the first thing about chairing a silent auction.”

Not one to take no for an answer, Trudy named a dozen reasons why I was perfect for the job as well as why it would be a great experience.  I don’t think she took a single breath and before I knew it I agreed.

After conducting dozens of meetings, making hundreds of phone calls, and compiling the list of auction items and prices I found myself facing the most daunting task of all.  It was time to find a dress for this very formal event.  While trying on one size after another I realized that my entire wardrobe was designed with stretchy material and waistbands and I had done a good job of convincing myself that it wasn’t that I had gained weight but that my scale was off by thirty pounds.

One of the auction items that caught my eye was a trial membership to Curves, a women’s fitness center.  The cartoon-like image of a woman in decreasing sizes and the caption “We’re Downsizing” made me laugh (and think) and in a moment of impulse I bid on it and ‘won.’

I procrastinated for a couple of months and it took a doctor’s report that my blood pressure was high to motivate me enough to redeem the trial membership and join Weight Watchers.  Outside of chasing kids around the house and walking between the parking lot and my office I hadn’t exercised in over fifteen years and I was embarrassed to find that the thirty minute circuit workout wore me out.

Three years, thirty pounds lighter and many inches smaller I looked and felt better than I had since my early twenties. Between 2003 and 2006 a connection at Curves led me to Pilates and my instructor turned me on to kickboxing, which I loved more than anything I’ve done before or since but unfortunately my knees didn’t feel the same way.

I researched options and evaluated treatments for osteoarthritis. I read several articles that promoted strengthening the muscles around the knees as a method of pain management.  I knew I didn’t want to go back to a sedentary lifestyle so I decided to give it a try.  Among the recommended forms of exercise was my favorite, swimming, and one the doctor recommended, biking.

It was winter and I didn’t own a bike so I tried out a spinning class and was hooked.  I became a regular and I learned that spring isn’t followed by summer, it’s followed by triathlon season.

One of the other regulars stopped me after class one day, “Beth, you should do a triathlon this summer.  There’s a great one coming up in July and a bunch of people from here are doing it.”

I laughed, “You’re kidding, right?”

“Why not?” she said.

“Well, for starters I don’t own a bike and secondly I don’t run.”

She convinced me that people walk during the run portion of the event, I knew I could swim, and I’d been thinking about buying a bike.  I registered for the sprint distance triathlon associated with the Cornhusker State Games and tried to wrap my head around swimming just under a mile, biking twelve miles, and last but not least the 3.1 mile run walk segment; then I bought a bike.  Since then I’ve completed seven triathlons and five half marathons, each one of them became a story of their own.

This morning the timeline of events and people circled through my head as I ran and it dawned on me that every time I acted on “impulse,” unexpected and wonderful things happened.  I realized that it wasn’t impulse at all; when I open my heart and my head to new experiences, when I follow my instincts, and when I pay attention to the ‘me’ that I was meant to be, amazing things happen.