Whose Dog was That?

If you’ve ever owned a pet or have watched a dog run out into a heavily trafficked street, you’re familiar with the feeling of a racing heart, a tightened chest and a knotted stomach – even if it’s not your pet.

I was standing on the sidewalk outside of the bike shop in Park Rapids waiting for my friend to finish up his phone call when a small brown puppy raced out of the park and turned the corner onto the sidewalk adjacent to highway 34, the main drag between Park Rapids and Dorset Minnesota. Her bright red leash bounced off the pavement as she raced past me.

Soon after the dog ran by me, a woman emerged out of the same clearing and then out of nowhere a lanky teenage boy wearing a bike helmet joined her in the chase to capture the runaway pup. I’m not really sure how I thought I could help, but  without thinking at all, I followed their lead and took off down the sidewalk as a part of the rescue mission.

We all alternated between running and walking, it’s really impossible for a human (even a teenage boy) to keep up with a dog who doesn’t want to be caught and has no clue about things like the dangers of cars and really fast traffic. I jogged behind the puppy, trying to catch up while I was mentally willing her to stay on the sidewalk but fearing that she’d run into the highway.

Puppies are like toddlers, they’re oblivious to things like oncoming cars – you guessed it, after a block or two she darted off the sidewalk and onto the highway. My heart stopped, and so did all the cars. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not only did the cars behind her stop – the traffic on the opposite side of the highway slowed to a near stop; I believe that against all odds, she could have run across all four lanes and still been safe.

is that your dog
After a few blocks of running she headed back toward the park and I watched the teenage boy try and cajole her into coming to him. I figured it must be his dog and the adventure was over, so I slowed down to a walk and thought about turning around.

From behind me I heard a woman saying, “That’s not my dog, but thank you, thank you for your help!”

She jogged past me trying to catch up with the teenager and the puppy on the boulevard.

Before I could turn around, a horn beeped twice and a red minivan pulled up along side me, “Tell her the dog’s name is Bess and I found the owner,” the driver said.

“The dog’s name is Bess?”

“Yes, and I found the owner through Facebook!”

Feeling I now had a purpose I ran as fast as I could to relay the news.

“Her name is Bess and the guy in the red van knows who her owner is,” I shouted as I ran past the woman who had thanked me.

Bess had thankfully run back onto the grassy area next to the highway, but she had no intention of being scooped up by some lanky teenage boy.

“Is that your dog?” I asked.

“No, is it your’s?” he replied.

“No, but I think her name is Bess.”

Just then she scampered off behind a fence and onto a back porch.

As though we had met each other before, the lanky teen and I signaled each other silently. I took guard duty at one side of the porch and he rounded the corner to take his post on the other side. We each waited for Bess to come scurrying out so we could take her to safety.

Neither of us caught her, but we successfully set a trap that led to her safety. Bess didn’t know it, but when she figured out how to run past the two of us she ended up running right into the arms of the woman who had started the rescue chase. Thanks to Facebook and the help from some strangers, Bess and her owners were reunited.

So, all this while, my friend has finished his phone call and is trying to figure out where I disappeared to.

I waved when I saw him walking toward me.

“Were you chasing a dog?”

It took a while to explain. 🙂

A Week with the “Big Kids”

Kayaking on Big Sand

My oldest two kids are 1 year, 2 months, and 28 days apart in age and there is a five year difference between my youngest two. I think we started calling Jeff and Katie “the big kids” on the day Christian was born.

When the big kids were deciding on which college to attend we “wisely” advised them to choose a school that was within driving distance and not more than one plane ride away from Omaha. A seemingly brilliant approach to minimize travel expenses and ensure that we’d get to see them more than once a year.

Shortly after Jeff’s second semester of college in St. Louis I accepted a position with a company in Bristol, PA and began a 7 month commute between the Midwest and the East Coast. We physically moved our belongings to our new home the weekend after helping Katie move into her dorm room in Chicago.

They both successfully completed their degrees and landed jobs in their respective cities right out of school and so for the past six years we’ve lived more than double the distance apart from each other than I had anticipated. Circumstances over the past four years have left Christian and me with a lot of together time and unfortunately time and resources to spend individual time with Jeff and Katie haven’t been available.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the special opportunity to spend a week at my favorite place on earth with the “big kids.” Christian just started a new job and had to stay home so he could go to training. It was strange not having all three kids with me, and we definitely missed Chris, but it was also fun to have some time alone with Jeff and Katie.

Getting to Northern Minnesota is no small feat. I flew from Philly to Chicago and spent the afternoon writing in the cutest coffee shop ever while I waited for Katie to get home from work.

Cup and spoon coffee shop sign

Thankfully she conquered the spaghetti squash without a trip to the emergency room and we feasted on a delicious lasagna dish for dinner.

Katie cutting a spaghetti squash

Jeff arrived from St. Louis around 10 pm and we spent some time chatting and fine-tuning logistics for the 12 hour drive the following day.

I didn’t sleep a wink that night, most likely because of the three large glasses of tea I consumed late in the afternoon. I was super happy to learn that we could put Katie on the rental car as an extra driver so I could curl up in the back seat and snooze.

The lake was gorgeous and perfect for water-skiing. Jeff and Katie had their swimsuits on and were in the lake before their duffle bags were unpacked.

Big Sand lake First night sunset

They each got in a high speed tour around the lake just before the sky turned dark and ominous.

dark cloudy sky over the lake

The first few days were windy and a little on the cool side, so we entertained ourselves with trips to the local farmers market stands, the local candy store, and a variety of shops.

vegetable Market

We read books, took naps, and ended the day with a round of cards.

playing cards in the cabin

The rest of the week flew by filled with kayaking excursions and pontoon rides.

090 Kayaking on Big Sand

Beth, Jeff, and Katie on a pontoon

The pontoon is my favorite place to take pictures from. I could spend hours touring the lake at a leisurely pace while watching the clouds change in shape and color.

sunset picture from a pontoon ride

My brother and his family arrived mid-week and we finished out our vacation with lots of beach time and even a late-night girls only swim under the stars.

fun in the sun

One of our all time favorite activities is to attend the performance at the Woodtick, a small theater in Akeley, MN. It’s a musical variety show with local musicians and it’s a hoot!  There’s lots of campy humor and hand-clapping music.

The music ranges from Irish Ballads to silly songs to modern day hits and some good “ole timey” tunes as well.

Northern Minnesota is the land of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Across the street from the theater is the largest statue of Paul in the area, maybe even in the world. 😉

It’s a family tradition to take pictures in front of the statue before the performance. This year a nearby stranger offered to take the picture of the group. It’s not often that they turn out all that well, but I think this one did!

010 the whole family in paul bunyans lap
The week flew by far too quickly and before we knew it, the big kids and I were facing our 12 hour drive back to Chicago. I opted not to drive and instead spent the majority of the trip finishing an ink drawing I’ve been working on. (talk about role reversal. 🙂 )

Forest drawn in Ink

Now it’s back to reality and fall is just around the corner.

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

Road Trip!

It’s hard to believe that almost two weeks have passed since Christian and I left the house at 5 am for the airport. Travel plans for our annual vacation at Big Sand Lake involved flying to St. Louis where we met up with Jeff and Justin, packed Justin’s car and a fourteen hour drive to Minnesota.

I checked every conceivable airline, airport, and rental car combination possible. I’ve gotten pretty good at using Internet Explorer and Firefox simultaneously to try and find the best deals.  After hours of searching and countless combinations the choice remained clear. A fourteen hour drive saved me over a thousand dollars in travel expenses and there was no question that a week at the lake was worth it.

Our air travel was uncharacteristically boring.  There were no accidents on I95, my bag was a good four pounds under the limit, and I cleared security without a second glance or a pat down.  We drove to my parent’s house without getting lost and enjoyed a relaxing evening with Chinese food, board games, and a good night’s pre-road trip sleep.

While Jeff and Justin were at work, Christian and I treated ourselves to lunch and a movie.  For some reason I’d convinced myself that since Jeff got off work at 5:00 pm we would magically be on the road by 5:15 at the latest and to our overnight destination by 10:00 at the latest.  I forgot to factor in his commute time, packing the car, the obligatory picture, and the all-important stop for snacks.

Des Moines turned out to be much further away than we thought, particularly since we took a detour through Quincy, Illinois and were delayed by an unplanned stop less with less than thirty miles to go.

It was midnight when I blinked my eyes open and realized the light shining in the car was a flashlight and we hadn’t stopped to ask for directions.  Jeff, aka Mr. Speedy Pants, was busted.

After what seemed like an hour rather than ten minutes Jeff got back settled back in the driver’s seat.

“Well, how bad is the fine? “ I asked.

Jeff held up the ticket, “He was really nice and let me off with a warning.”

“Phew!  You got lucky.  How fast were you going?”

“Seventy-three in a sixty-five, I’m surprised he only gave me a warning. I don’t think he believed that I didn’t see any signs,” Jeff said.

I laughed and said, “He probably felt sorry for the mom slumped over and sleeping in the back seat.  And the good news is that you only got a warning and now we have a story. Otherwise I was going to have to make something up.”

Twenty-four hours, a never ending game of celebrity, and more than a few rest stops after leaving St. Louis we arrived at my favorite place on earth and were greeted with giant hugs and a glorious sunset.

I like to think it was the lake’s way of welcoming me home.

sunset at big sand lake, MN

sunset at big sand lake, MN

Name This Cloud…

Remember lazy sunny days?  Laying in on the side of a grassy hill and letting your imagination run wild?  A cloud that looks like a duck to one person looks like a character from an animated movie or a bull wearing a wig to another.

I’m privileged to be spending a week at my favorite spot on earth, Big Sand Lake near Park Rapids, Minnesota.  One of my favorite things to do in addition to sunbathing, bike riding, and water skiing is to hop on the pontoon at sunset and go for a leisurely ride around the lake.

The sky can change a million times from one night to the next and sometimes in a matter of minutes. A single cloud might resemble a rainbow: a puffy ribbon of pink in between a base of deep majestic purple and a crown of white.

rainbow cloud

You might see clouds shaped like birds flying through the sky, or are they cars, or maybe there’s a whale – perhaps you see something else.

There’s always the chance of seeing two ships going into battle.

cloud ships

Is the big grey cloud on the horizon an insect, an alien, or an animal?

cloud

There’s no limit to the number of ways that clouds can shift and shape and the ways our imagination can interpret them is endless.  It sort of gives new meaning to the phrase – the sky is the limit.

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Just some Fireworks…

It took almost a year, but at long last, the porch has been transformed from ceiling to floor boxes and evenings of playing the guessing game of ‘what’s behind box number three,’ and is now a place to enjoy the warm evening breeze and the last sounds of the season.

The furniture my daughter painted will always make me think of summer; the bright pink petals bursting out of the backdrop of orange are cheerful and inviting. The wicker furniture was a lesson in teamwork and well worth the sweat and near squabbles required for proper assembly. It’s a perfect place to relax and reminisce.

In the final days of summer, the booming echo of fireworks in the distance brings back memories of my recent birthday celebration.

The first surprise of that evening wasn’t the train of hugs I received when I entered the cabin, it was that my oldest son was engrossed in the newspaper and didn’t even bother to look up, let alone wish me happy birthday. I walked toward him, determined to get my birthday greeting.

He lowered the paper, grinned and said, “Happy Birthday Mom.”

I shouted, “You have a face, a clean shaven beautiful face!”

The deck erupted with laughter as I hugged him and put my hands on his cheeks to confirm that the scratchy college beard had really been replaced with the smooth look of a soon to be young professional.

I don’t know how long they had been planning it, or how they pulled it off, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised.

I couldn’t stop laughing while we tried to capture the perfect picture on the beach. My advice is this: never ever look directly into the sun for a family photo, the squinty eyes and looks of pain in no way offset the lack of shadows. Unbelievably, we did end up with a picture of all ten of us that is Christmas card worthy, with little to no ‘photoshopping’ required.

Pictures were followed by a delicious meal, a flaming birthday cake, and a round of “Happy Birthday,” which was actually quite melodious.

At my niece’s insistence, party blowers were the favor of choice; thanks to my brother’s guidance, they were the silent type. I felt a bit like a blow up punching bag clown as I was assaulted with the full force of several noiseless party blowers. I’m not sure who giggled louder, the kids or me.  All I know is amid the loud gasps, audible puffs and the thwapping sound against my cheek, the party favors were far from silent.

Dusk gave way to darkness and the neighbors’ preparations for a fireworks show began in earnest. My niece and nephew flew down the sidewalk to watch the activity. They stood still as statues and peered through the fence in anticipation and apprehension. When the first loud boom erupted and the fiery sparkles drifted against the black velvet sky, Sofia reached out and pulled her brother in close.

“It’s ok Maxy, it’s just some fireworks. I think they’re for Auntie Beth’s birthday.”

Who knows, maybe they were…

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Right Turn Ahead…Recalculating…

After checking the itinerary no less than 700 times before heading to the airport, my youngest son and I were finally airborne and on our way to Minnesota for a long-awaited vacation at the lake. 

The day had gone without a single hitch, we missed rush hour traffic and there were no accidents on I95, the shuttle bus was ready and waiting at long-term parking, we flew through security, the flight was on time, and my suitcase only weighed 48.5 lbs.

We landed safely in Minneapolis and made the trek from the far end of the airport to the tram, up three flights of escalators, and walked to the furthest corner on rental car row. 

Thanks to the unparalleled efficiency behind the desk, there were only 2 customers and 45 minutes between me and a wrestling match with the side view mirror of the Ford Fusion.  The bags were in the trunk, the mirrors were properly adjusted, on our way at last, we headed to the open road.

Only the road wasn’t so open. 

I hadn’t taken into account that we’d be leaving the city during rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon when the residents of Minneapolis pack up their cars and head to ‘the lake.’  I felt like I was back on the East coast in bumper to bumper traffic headed to ‘the shore.’

Although we had two smart phones and an iPad all equipped with navigation systems we opted to add a sense of adventure to our trip and use the directions provided by my dad along with the map the rental car attendant gave us.

We were already off to a much later start than I had hoped.  The plan was to be on the road by three p.m. and sitting down to a feast with the rest of the family by seven; however it became clear that in spite of my navigator’s best efforts, there was no shortcut to escape the heavy traffic and KFC was going to have to do for dinner.

My 15-year-old mimicked the voice of a GPS as he guided me from one turn to the next. His instructions far exceeded the limited navigation capabilities of the TomTom, as he notified me that people were flashing their lights because I needed to turn my headlights on.  Who knew they still made cars where you have to turn the headlights on yourself?

We had thirty miles to go; darkness, rain, and road signs that seemed to conflict with the directions confused both the navigator and the driver. We stopped to gather our bearings.

“Recalculating…Mom, back up so we can see what that sign said.”

“I’m not backing up on the highway,” I replied.

“You totally have time, there’s no one coming,” he insisted.

With a sideways glance I said, “I don’t recall that as an instruction from my GPS.”

“You totally could have made it,” he exclaimed once more.

We made a pact to ignore the road signs, stick to the directions, and not back up on the highway no matter how confused we got. White knuckled, I drove along the winding unlit roads to the sound of rain pounding on the roof, the hypnotic rhythm of the wiper blades against the windshield, and the deep smooth voice of my son who finally said…

 “Right turn ahead…you have reached your destination.”

Fifty and Fantastic!

Today is my birthday!  I arrived at the cabin last night and was delighted by the brightly colored balloons tied to the mailbox and on the chair reserved for the ‘birthday girl.’  My niece  bounced up and down and pointed at the happy birthday banner taped on the wall.

Her excitement was contagious.

“Auntie Beth, look,” she exclaimed.

“Are the decorations for me?” I asked.

Her brown eyes glittered; she broke into a grin and replied, “Of course they are silly.”

Tonight I’m sure there will be a cake with candles, although I hope there aren’t fifty of them, and if there are, I hope the local fire department is on standby ‘just in case’ the house goes up in flames.

Writing has become a very important part of my life, and it seems appropriate to share one of my earlier pieces as a way of expressing my happiness.  The assignment was to blindly select an item out of the ‘junk’ drawer that resides in everyone’s house.

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Birthday Candles

Birthday candles, a symbol of happiness and dreams. 

They’ve been around since the ancient Greeks, who were said to place candles on the cake they offered to Artemis, the goddess of the moon.  Some believe that the custom of lighting birthday candles was born from the belief that the gods lived in the skies and the tiny flames sent signals and prayers to the gods and therefore their prayers were more likely to be answered.

Each birthday there is one more candle on the cake, one more flame flickering, teasing, reminding us that one more year has passed. No matter how old we get, and although it’s hard to admit, there’s something that makes you feel special when you see those candles burning.

When I first picked up the box of birthday candles, I instantly thought of my kids.  Memories of their cheeks puffed out as they desperately tried to blow all the candles out at once. There’s nothing quite as daunting as blowing all the candles out in front of your relatives, especially if those relatives have perfect pitch when they sing happy birthday. Seriously, who sings happy birthday well?

My mind drifted from memory to memory. From chocolate cake on baby faces, to the grin of a teenager being served pancakes brightly lit with the ever familiar birthday candle. I recalled the obligatory pictures as they each grinned and held up their cake for the camera, snapshots of their childhood freezing time for just an instant.

There’s nothing quite like a birthday wish, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath and in one mighty exhale, we hope that we’ve blown out all the candles.  And if we have, our wish will come true.  At the very least we won’t end up with any unwanted boyfriends or girlfriends.

As a child, I remember spending weeks thinking about what would be the perfect birthday wish, something that was sure to come true.  Hoping that my parents would read my mind and I would find that very special present waiting for me.  Of course I didn’t dare reveal what I dreamt of. Everyone knows if you do it most certainly won’t come true.

Do birthday wishes come true?  I believe they do.   As a child the wish is fulfilled by the room decorated just for them, the brightly wrapped packages arriving with their guests, and the warm glow of the candles on the cake. As we mature, we realize that on that special day, when we celebrate with family and friends, our wishes are fulfilled with love and laughter and the celebration of life.  

The box of candles that stays in the drawer until it’s someone’s special day.  On that day, the yellow box filled with peppermint striped candles is pulled out of the back of the drawer.  There may be balloons and banners, perhaps even confetti or streamers, but candles will always represent the birthday celebration best.

Birthday candles, a symbol of memories and celebration.