The Stockings are Hung

I love decorating my house for the Holidays. There’s something special about the way the decorations bring a lighthearted and hopeful feeling into each room.

This year is going to be a very different one for me. For the first time since my oldest two children were born we will be apart at Christmas. We’ve shared some great memories in this house, including running out of oil (which means no heat) on Christmas morning.

The timing of the holiday combined with vacation eligibility (or lack there of) as well as the high cost of travel forced us to come to the conclusion that this year we would not be able to be together. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience and I guess in some ways it’s probably a sign of times to come.

We’re entering that transitory stage in life where my kids are building their own lives, and so too shall I continue to build mine.

I have to confess that I debated with myself about whether or not to decorate this year given the fact that we won’t all be together. When it came right down to it though, I couldn’t bear the thought of a stockingless mantel at Christmas-time.

My youngest son won’t actually admit it, but I think he would have been secretly disappointed if I had chosen not to decorate.

Regardless of whether or not we’re all under the same roof to celebrate during this time of year, our love for each other runs strong and deep.  It seems to me, that’s what the holidays are really about.

 

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas

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.

My Choices Shape My Future

My Choices Shape my Futuer

Last night I could not get past writers block. I did write for about an hour, but only managed to squeak out 2 ½ paragraphs that sounded forced. It’s easy to get carried away and strive to be profound when the art journal entry that corresponds with the written piece is “My Choices Shape My Future.”

This morning I deleted the words written last night and started over with a fresh heart.

Just as I was settling in, the steady low roar of the lawnmower stopped abruptly with the clank of the blade against a rock. I didn’t have to see what happened to know that my son felt the vibration from the impact, there were sparks involved, and the clatter was without a doubt the last noise the mower would make.

My writing direction changed once again. I was going to write about the fact that I’ve made some pretty bad choices and how they ultimately shaped my future in a good way. Thoughts about the power of positive, the importance of self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness raced through my brain.

The sound of the lawnmower brought me back to reality and to the smaller kind of choices we make every day. How we choose to handle life’s minor mishaps and whether or not we allow them to ruin the day.

This morning I had two choices, one was to be mad and ask my son rhetorical questions like, “why weren’t you paying more attention?” and then remind him that money doesn’t grow on trees and he really should be more careful. The other option was to take a deep breath before going outside, accept his apology calmly, and ask him to help me find a replacement.

For whatever reason, the first approach seems to be human nature but it really serves no purpose. My son already felt bad and knew he should have been paying closer attention, his face told me so. It wouldn’t have made either of us feel any better if I’d yelled at him. We’d both be feeling miserable, small, and angry.

Together we shopped online for a new mower. He selected an old-fashioned push mower for the following reasons: it was the most affordable, it’s environmentally friendly and quieter, and it will provide him with a little more exercise. I’m proud of the way he handled the situation. He also had choices, and he handled it maturely by owning what happened and remaining calm.

It wasn’t the way either of us wanted to start the day, but life happens and mishaps are part of the deal and we have no control over them. We only have control over how we react to them. I’m learning that facing problems calmly is far more effective and pleasant than hiding from them or living in a constant state of hysteria and discouragement.

I’ve come to believe the way we handle the little things life throws at us has a significant impact on shaping our future. It establishes a pattern of behavior and sets the stage for how we handle the big things.

My Choices Shape my Futuer

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Wonderful Moms, Especially Mine

I’d always assumed that Mother’s Day was started by Hallmark, but it turns out that’s not the case at all.  There have been various precursors to the spring holiday that can be traced back as far as the ancient Greeks and Romans.

It’s amazing to me how many historical people I’ve never heard of and the creator of the American version of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, is among them. The holiday became official in 1914 and interestingly she ended up spending the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar because it turned into such a commercialized celebration. 100 years later it looks like the holiday is here to stay.

It’s interesting to note that the roots of the holiday were started by her mother Ann Reeves Jarvis, who in the years before the Civil War, helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach local women how to properly care for their children.

I am blessed to be a mother to 3 wonderful children and I am also blessed to have an amazing mom, who inspires me in so many ways. She is a beautiful person both inside and out. She is a passionate and loving person who gives tirelessly to her family, friends, and to the St. Louis Volunteer Committee.

Three lovely ladies in Nevis

She loves music and has a special knack for entertaining and preparing fabulous meals. We not only love each other, we like each other. 🙂 One of our favorite activities to share is biking in Minnesota. My mom can out ride many people half her age, which I think is pretty darn cool!

break from biking in Minnesota

Over the years I’ve learned many valuable lessons from my mom, I think the most important one is that mother’s provide a safe haven for their children – no matter how old they are. She’s been there for me every step of the way and I know I can always count on her.

Thank you mom, for being you.

I love you.

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Author’s Note: on this Mother’s Day Weekend, it seems fitting to share one of my recent entries in my affirmation journaling project.

I Keep My Children Safe

This may seem like an odd personal affirmation, but as a parent, there is nothing more important to me than my children. Although, as a human being I sometimes wonder if I’ve been a good mother.

I’m flawed, have made mistakes, and there are more than a few things I would do differently. My guess is that my parents and their parents before them feel much the same way.

I think one thing that is different, is that with each generation, at least in my experience, we become more willing to talk honestly and openly with our children about our hopes, dreams, fears, and failures. We’re more willing to talk openly about our humanity.

There’s part of me that would love to be able to keep my children from ever having to feel pain, whether it be emotional or physical. But I also know that’s not realistic and that at some level, painful experiences are part of life and need to happen.

The emotional pain somehow seems the more difficult to handle, both as a parent and as a child. With a physical injury, there are ways to predict and anticipate when the healing process will be complete and we can get back to the activities we love. With an emotional injury, the healing process is far more uncertain and unpredictable.

I can’t keep my children from experiencing pain, but I can keep them safe.

I give them a safe place to talk, to grieve, to “be.” They don’t talk to me about about every situation but they know I’m always here with open arms, unconditional love, a shoulder to cry on, and always, always accepting and respectful of their feelings. They also know they can count on me for honesty and constructive, but maybe difficult to hear feedback and input when it’s needed.

Keeping your children safe isn’t so much about protecting them from harm as it is being there for them when they come in harm’s way.

I keep my children safe

whim·si·cal – an Unexpected Surprise

The assignment to draw a symbol of my second grade art girl didn’t feel like a good fit at first.

I loved the fact that the lesson was about embracing the part of you that wasn’t jaded by criticism and damaged by doubt, but I got tripped up on the word “whimsical” – which to me meant cutesy, girly, flowery, and well, not me.

I couldn’t see any way that I would be able to draw a ‘whimsical’ second grade dress based on my definition of the word.

Because I’m a perfectionist, I couldn’t just skip the lesson and I created my first version of the dress. I love it. It follows the guidelines, but is completely, completely mine. And not in the least bit whimsical – or so I thought.

My youngest son challenged my definition and whether or not the word might not describe me in at least some small way. He did so very cleverly, as he tends to do.

I looked it up and as it turns out, it’s not nearly as far off as I imagined, in fact there are parts of it that might even be spot on.

The Google definition:

whim·si·cal
ˈ(h)wimzikəl/

playfully quaint or fanciful, esp. in an appealing and amusing way.
“a whimsical sense of humor”synonyms: fanciful, playful, mischievous, waggish, quaint, quizzical, curious, droll, fantastical, Seussian; eccentric, quirky, idiosyncratic, unconventional, outlandish, queer, fey; informal offbeat, freaky
“a whimsical sense of humor”

Huh – in many ways that describes both me and my style when it comes to drawing. (I’m not going to reveal which adjectives I think apply to me)

I was actually pretty nervous to share the drawing with the other women who are taking the class. I was afraid they wouldn’t like it because my approach is a bit different.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few recent life’s lessons were reconfirmed.

People see us through a lens that is not filtered with self-doubt and full of limits. They see us in our full potential and sometimes even think of us in ways we’d never considered. And last, but certainly not least – the people who matter, accept us because of how we are different, not in spite of it.

There will be two versions of my second grade dress doodle, not because I didn’t like the first version – but because I did.

i am me - Doodle Art Dress

Don’t Throw Out the China

holiday table set with fine china

Divorce is hard. Even when it’s for the best it’s not an easy experience. It’s laden with “what if’s,” “should have’s” and “what do I do now’s.” This is my fourth Christmas as a single mom and tonight I’m more thankful than ever that I didn’t throw out the china.

Backing up just a bit, a little over three years ago Christian and I moved into my lovely artist’s vessel, aka home.

my lovely artist's house - the livingroom

We’d been living in an apartment that was one third of the size of the house we left behind. This meant that one third of our belongings were sold, a third was in storage, and the rest was in the apartment. Although I’m not so sure it was quite as evenly split as that.

After much angst we found a house to rent and it was time for the belongings that had been gathering dust in a storage container to meet the light of day. I scheduled the moving company to deliver the contents of the storage container and my parents volunteered to help me unpack.

surrounded by boxes

I won’t go into all of the details but suffice it to say it took me 322 days to unpack all of the boxes and turn my porch into a slice of summer.

finishing touches

Unpacking items I hadn’t seen or used in two years was almost as surreal as walking through my house and marking things with labels that designated the disposition of individual belongings as keep, sell/donate, or store.

My standard line for the day the storage arrived was, “I haven’t used it in two years so I don’t need it, put it in the donate pile.” Memories, both good and bad, poured out of each box I opened. Naively I thought the experience would be without emotion.

One of the most difficult moments was when I opened the box labeled “china.” I unpacked a dinner plate; memories of Thanksgivings, Christmases, and special occasions flooded my mind and pushed tears down my face.

Hoping no one had seen, I stood up and said, “I haven’t used it in two years, donate it.”

It’s an understatement to say I was irrational that day and if Christian hadn’t asked, “but Mom, what dishes will we use for special occasions?” – I would have thrown out the china.

For me the china represented the hope I had as a new bride and the disappointment that things didn’t turn out the way I had planned. For him the china represented family, traditions, happy times, and perhaps stability or familiarity.

Tonight he asked if he could set the table for dinner. We’d invited his girlfriend to join us for pre-holiday meal; he chose to use the china.

holiday table set with fine china

Thank goodness I didn’t throw it out.

The Stockings are Hung and I’m Ready for Christmas Hugs

It’s a cloudy, snowy Sunday.

snowy winter day in PA

I slept in and had no intention of putting up my Christmas decorations. For the first time in a while I felt a bit lonely today. Thankfully thoughts of cozy evenings with my kids during upcoming holiday visits bumped my dreary demeanor to the curb.

Normally I put my decorations up the Friday after Thanksgiving. When the kids were growing up it was a tradition to decorate the house on Friday and go to That Pottery Place to make giant mugs, dog dishes, or holiday decorations on Saturday. I still have a few of the things we made, including my favorite over-sized bright green and blue polka dot coffee cup and saucer.

It’s never been great for coffee, it’s so big the hot liquid turns to room temperature almost before you’ve had time to take a sip. It does however, make a great place to keep loose change in case one of my kids needs a little laundry money to take back home with them.

change cup

It’s the first time in my adult life that I’ve decorated the house with the knowledge there was no one coming home this evening to enjoy the holiday transformation with me. It feels a little strange.

At first I thought it was silly to decorate until the day before the inbound Christmas flights arrive. But now that I’m done and there’s a stuffed Santa on the window seat, the stockings are hung by the fireplace, flames are flickering behind the glass doors and from the winter green candle tops, I’m glad I didn’t wait.

There are a few things left to do. I need to buy a wreath, figure out whether or not I’m going to replace my outdoor decorations, and last but not least put up the tree. The tree is going to have to wait until Christian gets home and has become our new tradition we’ll decorate it on Christmas Eve.

The stockings are hung and I’m ready for Christmas hugs and warm cozy nights.

the stockings are hung

Wasn’t it Just Yesterday?

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. My Ex and I had been looking for a dog for a few months, with the help of his mom. She was very active in animal rescue and adoption efforts and passed along leads to us as they came her way.

The phone conversation started something like this:

“Hello”

Long pause.

“A miniature dachshund?! How much smaller can a dachshund get?”

I dashed downstairs to the computer and Googled “miniature dachshund,” printed out pictures of half a dozen cuties, and ran to the top of the steps holding the pictures up and singing, “see how cute they are!”

Although he was skeptical, Eric agreed to go meet Annie, a beautiful auburn mini-dachshund with a heart shaped spot on her tail. I don’t think it’ an exaggeration to say it was love at first sight.

A few months later we decided to surprise the kids with a pal for Annie. Romeo, a handsome dapple joined our family as a Christmas puppy. From the very first day we brought him home, Annie and Romeo were inseparable.

the puppers

You may be wondering why we didn’t call them Romeo and Juliet. Annie was already well over a year when we adopted her and over two by the time Romeo came along, so it didn’t seem right to change her name. Besides, we’d already assigned her several nicknames like, Anna, Anabelle, Belly, and Bellerbee and who wants to start learning a new name let alone a bunch of alternates ;)?

Romeo was a compromise for Oreo, which Katie had set her heart on for his name. We all have a different memory about how the name Romeo came to be the choice, but we all remember Katie being adamant about The name Oreo.

They loved long walks in the park, digging holes, and chasing squirrels. Back in the day when people used to thaw meat outside in the sun without worrying about food poisoning, Annie managed to leap frog onto the patio table via a chair and consumed an entire package of pork chops. Pork Chop Annie was quickly added to her long list of nicknames.

Romeo was known as Mo Mo, Me mo, Mobert, and Moby to name a few. I generally referred to them as a pair, they were my “dudes.” The dudes spent many hours chasing each other around the legs of the table, scurrying under one end of the sofa and reappearing on the other end, and slipping and sliding on the hardwood floors. Any toy with a “squeaker” became squeakerless within the first few seconds of receipt.

The winter before last, Annie’s age began to catch up with her. Stairs became more than she could manage and Christian and I shared more than a few tearful nights wondering how long she would be with us. I was thankful that she defied my prediction and came back just as scrappy and sassy as ever.

Last spring I thought the “time had come” again; Jeff and Katie even made a special trip over Memorial weekend to say farewell. Little did we know that things would turn out quite differently than we thought.

An injury and old age took Romeo from us unexpectedly in August. He was a proud boy who chased squirrels and hunted for rabbits every chance he got. He stood guard fearlessly before a storm, but had an unusual fear of flies that would send him under the nearest bed or into the closest closet.

romeo standing watch before the storm

Annie loved giving kisses, sitting on laps, and never turned down a tummy rub. Every afternoon at 4 pm, Annie assumed a watchful position on the bottom step, waiting for Christian to come home from school. Her habit didn’t change after he left for college.

Annie_saying goodbye

Yesterday, I had to do what every pet owner dreads for the second time in two months.  It was hard, but it was right. The vet was kind and compassionate and reminded me that when one of your “dudes” loses their passion for life and is experiencing discomfort, the kindest thing we can do is say goodbye.

It was a sad day indeed, but I cherish the memories of the joy the pups brought to the lives of my children and I take comfort in the knowledge that Annie and Romeo are once again together.

Fall, a Season of Ch-ch-ch-Changes

Spring is usually the season we associate with new beginnings and fresh starts. As the plants and trees come back to life after lying dormant during the long winter months our hearts fill with hope. We look forward to the season of graduations, confirmations, and weddings, the ceremonies and celebrations that represent new beginnings and change.

I hadn’t thought about it until this year, but in many ways fall is really the season of fresh starts and new experiences. Fall marks the passage of children from necessary nap-times to kindergarten kids. Every new grade marks a milestone for students and the parents who shake their heads and wonder where the time went.

This year, fall brought about one of the most significant changes in my life since the birth of my first child.

On Wednesday August 21st Christian packed up the remaining travel necessities like snacks, Cd’s, and our not so trusty GPS.

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He somehow managed to squeeze the last few items into the back seat on top of an assortment of suitcases, duffle bags, and boxes which were piled as high as possible without blocking the rear-view mirror.

Christian and his girlfriend exchanged one of the longest pre-sunrise goodbye hugs in the history of young love. The sky was clear and dry, but our eyes were not.

We started our 17 hour journey with a stop at Wawa for a not-so-nutritious breakfast and a giant cup of coffee.

The last time we packed up the car to drive 1/2 way across the country was five years ago, the fall we moved from Omaha to Yardley. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the number of changes that have taken place since we moved.  Among the many changes, is the fact that Christian is no longer a boy; he’s grown into a mature and wonderful young man.

It seems like yesterday he was making a goofy face at me on the drive to Pennsylvania.

Christian in the car on our move

And it literally was almost yesterday that he helped me tackle a thousand mile drive.

Goofy face while driving

We abandoned our outdated GPS in favor of Siri fairly early in the trip. Our not so trusty GPS kept losing the signal and recalculating routes because it lost our location.  Christian’s foot was more than a bit heavy, so it’s a good thing I was driving when we pulled into this rest stop or he might have started his college career with a speeding ticket.

speed trap

I didn’t know until this trip, just how many goofy faces my son could make.

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Thank goodness he’s also willing to smile and show me his handsome face.

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It also turns out he’s a great multi-tasker. He can switch CD’s, text with his girlfriend and at least 5 other people while having a conversation with his mom. I seriously thought his phone was going to explode.

Our stop at “Steak n’ Shake” meant free wi fi.

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Another goofy face while pondering the menu selection.

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More texting (not sure what has happened to our technology free meal rule).

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And a giant Cookies and Cream shake topped with a mountain of whipped cream.

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We arrived at Kay and John’s at 11:02 pm, just like Siri said we would. After seventeen hours in a car it was wonderful to get a hug from family friends and have a glass of wine before falling into a comfortable bed.

We followed Jeff through the maze of morning traffic and I somehow managed to keep up with my oldest son’s lane changes. Orientation leaders directed us through the parking lot and provided instructions for the drop off.

It’s incredibly well organized, the kids on the orientation team load each student’s belongings into a large bin on wheels and before you walk back from the parking garage it’s in the dorm room ready to be unpacked.

The actual unpacking was a bit discombobulated, but that’s a story for another day. People kept mistaking Jeff for an incoming student and not an alum, which gave us some good laughs.

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The next two days were full of orientation sessions. It was all a bit exhausting and overwhelming. For the first time ever, I secretly kept tissues in my purse because tears kept creeping out at the most unexpected times.

Saturday was the final day of orientation and after lunch it was time to say goodbye for now. I snagged one of the orientation leaders and cajoled Christian into one more picture.

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Now begins my journey as an empty-nester and another season of change.