April Blogging Challenge

Yes, it’s soon April and I’m so glad we only have 26 letters in our alphabet.

April is not only the month for the A to Z Challenge. In my world, it is also birthday month for me and one of my daughters. Other years we have celebrated by getting together the week of our special dates, but this year it is not working out for us. Instead I am going to be writing about all the ways we have spent quality time together celebrating anything and everything. I am also adding my other daughter and experiences I’ve had with her to my list of stories.

The three of us are pretty good at family adventures. The progression of hair colors is not chronological, just thought I would mention that…

This year it will be challenging, as the title suggests, not just because it requires almost daily posting, but also because I have to search for photos on multiple thumb drives, computers and places in the cloud. And I have not done posts ahead as in other years. And I will be traveling away from home much of the time. And doesn’t it seem that thing in general are a little more challenging these days? (“Stop listening to the news and looking at your phone!” I tell myself frequently.)

My hope is that these stories will nudge people to find ways to enjoy their valued relationships with their adult children, their life partners, and their friends. The pandemic has us starving for time with each other and now is the time to be creative in growing relationships in any way we can.

Here’s hoping you will join me for a month of looking back on fun, and getting ideas to chase fun into the future. Thanks readers!

Winter On Its Way Out

Winter is struggling. It knows its days are numbered, but it doesn’t want to give up without a fuss. I know it likely has another storm or two to annoy us, but the longer days (yay! thank God!) and the higher trajectory of the sun are doing their job. We still have two or three feet of snow on the yards but there is melt taking place every day.

Have enjoyed watching this guy out my kitchen window.

I’ve enjoyed many things about winter, and am ignoring those other things, whatever they are.

Poor dear, literally, poor deer.

I skied 24 times, and have only to go out once more to meet my goal of 25. Some of those times could be titled “Freezing with Friends” but many have been perfect winter days and not at all uncomfortable. Skiing – we all know what it looks like and don’t give it a second thought when watching it. There’s a difference when you call it “walking on slippery surfaces with shoes over five feet long”. Suddenly it becomes ridiculous and dangerous. But, I’ve only fallen a couple of times and I have not broken any of my bones!

Soup, rolls, fruit and drink for 10,000

Our February ended with the American Birkebeiner, the biggest cross country ski event in the U.S. I’m in a much safer role for this activity. I help serve hot soup to people who’ve just done 55k on skis and lived to tell about it. Ten thousand bowls over two days – we volunteers have seen enough chicken noodle soup to last for a while.

Reading to my husband, watching Dr. Phil with Mom, early morning briefings over coffee with the family, errands, grocery shopping, a little housework now and then, trips to the clinic for doctor’s appointments, fixing meals, changing light bulbs, paying bills, playing with the cat… welcome to my world.

Which is so tame and safe compared to what is happening over in Ukraine. The people there are more like me than unlike me, with their parkas and winter hats. I think about them most of the day, pulling their suitcases across the border to safety, hiding in the subways with their children, taking up weapons and going out to actually shoot, and many of them dying. They are dealing bravely with their circumstances and I admire them, pray for them.

It doesn’t feel right to watch war on the news, to be a bystander. It feels a lot like being in the Roman coliseum watching the lions being unleashed on the undeserving and helpless. It’s not acting. It’s not a game show or a mini-series. I feel very affected and yet I have to go on working out my less important, more mundane circumstances, watching as one more winter comes to a close. I have to say, it is very strange and disturbing.

Snowflakes and Statistics

Look at them all, closely.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t run across some statistic, some number that is supposed to change my behavior, my attitude, and my life. The question in my mind is often “how on earth do they know that?’

The weather today consists of snowflakes of medium size, millions of them falling from the sky. How many times have I heard that no two snowflakes are alike? How can that be possible and who has checked it out?

You can tell me that there is science behind it but lately science has sounded like a living, changing thing much more than hard, unchanging facts. I have a hunch that there are real people behind “science”. Real people have opinions, objectives, biases, blind spots and well, they’re just fallible sometimes. When it comes to truth, I often hear “whose truth?” When it comes to science, I would like to hear more of “whose science?”

Did you know that 34% of adults still sleep with a stuffed animal or a blankie? Yeah, but I’ll bet there are lots of details about that statistic that we’d find more interesting than the statistic itself? The research was done on 2,000 people. Did they offer this information or did someone check? Were they in New York City (understandable) or in Wyoming? I have so many questions.

The average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash every day. Really? How do you average in the demolition of someone’s condemned home with the person who lives somewhere where no one even collects the trash?

The global (GLOBAL) rate for washing hands after using the toilet is under 20%. Now there’s something to think about. The CDC is involved with that one. Think of all the places they had to go, all the people they had to ask, and all the people they never bothered to ask.

Each American drinks an average of 26.5 gallons of beer and cider per year. I have a lot to catch up on if I’m to reach average status. Did the people behind this statistic want us to drink more, or less? (National Beer Wholesalers Association – go figure).

Admittedly, I am a skeptic of a lot of statistics. They can be so useful, but that’s exactly what I like to know. Useful for what, and for whom? Let’s get behind the scenes. And for so many statistics, who even cares? Quit the surveys and do something meaningful with all that research money.

What is meaningful, possibly life changing? Well, I think that if I found a person who desperately needed to know that they were unique and valued in this world, I might go ahead and tell them that no two snowflakes are alike, and they are all beautiful. However, I would not tell them that they all eventually melt, and that no one actually checks. Just sayin’…

Examples of statistics from http://www.bestlifeonline.com “50 Totally Crazy Statistics You Won’t Believe Are Real”

New Skills, New Thrills

Yes, I’m actually learning something new. I am on a launch team for a new book coming called Raising Prayerful Kids.

I chose to help with this particular launch because it deals with two of my primary interests – prayer and children. What a great pairing! I will get a sneak peek at the book which doesn’t come out until 3/8/22. I can think of so many good places to promote this topic and will be working hard to do just that.

I’ve learned that getting a book out in the world is a real job, and it goes better if you have something called a launch team. Who knew? I didn’t. This is the first time I’ve ever helped with something like this. I’m finding it quite interesting. You can apply and join too, if you feel like helping this book get known. The application to join is here https://forms.gle/1Ky3kpUUY6KXDtKJ6

Launch team is closing soon so check it out if you want to know more.

Heavy Box

Small stories about me make me think about you, because we all share some of the same weirdness.

It has been cold this week and I only had one day of meeting my 10,000 step goal. But today it warmed up to 43 degrees F and I could not resist going out for a late fall walk. It was also the first day of deer hunting season so I decided not to tempt fate by walking in the forest. I headed west into town, on the sidewalk.

I may actually have taken a bigger risk by walking in town, since there was so much to look at, so many curbs to step off, so many stores to get sucked into. My route took me up Main Street. My town is working on winning the title of “America’s Main Street” and so far has made it into the top 25 five different years, including this year. There is a lot of electric decorating that’s going to light the place up after Thanksgiving, and it really does make it a picture perfect, small town Main Street. (Please, please vote for Hayward, Wisconsin by going to this link, every day through December 12 http://mainstreetcontest.com/profile121 It’s a popularity contest – you don’t even have to go there to vote for it.)

After my halfway mark of 3,000 steps I headed home. On the way there was a big garage sale at my church, so I decided to walk through.I usually consider it safe to do that when I’m on foot because who wants to carry a bunch of stuff for a mile? Not me. My excuse for stopping was that I might find the perfect thing for Mom’s birthday. She loves garage sale treasures. Instead I found a whole box of really nice glassware – just the kind I’d been looking for at the thrift stores. They were heavy glasses, sixteen of them.

But they are pretty (heavy) aren’t they?

Leaving the sale with my box of glasses, I started looking for shortcuts home. I am always aware of the difference between “as the crow flies” and the distances I normally walk on the streets. Most of the time I’m trying to get more steps in and don’t mind, but the box wanted to get home, and there was kind of a path heading in the right direction. I took it.

Shadow of girl walking with heavy box

It turned out to be the way to the impenetrable urban woods, where the church lawn crew dumped all their leaves and pine needles. I say impenetrable, but really it wasn’t. I was able to put the box on the ground and push it under the downed pine tree and follow it out into the ditch. The road I wanted to be on was right there, where the crow was still flying, in the direction of home. I was glad there were no cars going by though.

One more shortcut remained between me and my destination. I was getting a little tired, maybe a tad clumsy as well. But the thought of tripping and ruining all my new glasses kept me going so, so carefully.

It feels a little odd walking in places I normally drive, cutting across parking lots and ditches. It feels odd and sneaky taking back alleys and roads that most people don’t travel or even know about. But honestly, at my age, there aren’t a lot of things more exciting than this to do, so I like doing this. Especially with a heavy box.

Girl and box wondering if this alley with icy potholes is a good idea

I crossed the last highway and made it home, all the glasses intact. And today, once again, I finished my 10,000 step goal. But I will say it’s going to be harder to do it very often this winter, and it’s definitely harder with a heavy box. Might not do that again, just sayin’…

Stop pretending – you’ve probably done something like this too. What was in your “heavy box”?

Laugh

Going to a doctor’s appointment is not where I usually find things to laugh about, but there are exceptions. Mom and I manage to find them. We go together to her appointments, because two sets of eyes and ears are always better than one, and also because she has decided not to drive anymore and lets me take her around.

Yesterday found us at the clinic for a pre-op exam. We were hoping it would go well so she could have her carpal tunnel surgery next week. Mom wanted to ride in a wheelchair (why waste energy?) so after I parked, I went in and got one. It had no footrests, so in we went, masks on, feet held high, to join all the other compromised and infirm in the waiting room. It’s an exercise in gratitude to watch others who are living with conditions we are glad we don’t have.

But our observations were cut short when one of the assistants opened the door, with chart in hand and called out “Owen!” No one responded and we were all wondering where Owen had gotten off to, when she called him again. Still no response.

“Could you possibly mean Gwen?” I asked. The similarities in the names was something I had often thought about because Dad’s name was Owen – one letter different, and a G is a lot like an O.

And so started our relationship with Krisy, who was willing to laugh off her poor eyesight and be thankful she had not lost an Owen but gained a Gwen. We had our short stop at the scale, in spite of Mom’s joking attempts to get past it. Mom would make a great stand up comedian with her own kind of dry humor, which I think she gets from watching Golden Girls. Krisy directed us on into the exam room and in the course of getting us settled, she noticed Mom’s purse.

“I really like your purse! I need one like that to go with my new coat.” She went on about purses that didn’t go with her coat, until Mom, thinking that she would share a valuable secret with a new friend, told her where she had gotten her really cute red purse. Mom is unabashedly proud of her ability to find pretty much anything she needs at Salvation Army. Of course, there was no chance of finding another purse like that at Salvation Army now, so Krisy just answered her with “Oh, well that’s okay. I’m kind of a purse snob anyway.” I think she was surprised and I think Mom was glad she had gotten there before Krisy.

So the vital signs got taken and the routine questions got answered and recorded on the computer while Krisy chatted with us about the new coat. I can’t remember the exact words she used to describe it, but in general, it was black and shiny. I was picturing something like patent leather when she said shiny, but the image got more defined when she said one of her co-workers told her it looked like a garbage bag, the big, black kind. Krisy was having a great time telling us this so she must not have gotten offended.

It was not the end of the coat story either. She went on to say that her coat had fur trim around the hood which she really liked – very fashionable. Only one of the doctors at the clinic had told her it looked like a squirrel, checking out a garbage bag for something to eat. That cracked her up, and we had to laugh too. The exam was off to a real good start.

We had a good little wait time after she left. I went on a long verbal critique of the picture on the wall that I was facing. Mom felt a little cheated since her wall only had a mirror. She’s not big on mirrors and is always wishing to fix what she’s seeing in them.

We have a nice, woman PA and she finally came in and explained things that would be covered in the pre-op exam. Well, actually she only got about three sentences out before she got a tickle in her throat and had to leave the room, coughing into her mask. Mom and I kind of looked at each other in horror, or maybe it just seemed that way because all we could see were each other’s eyes.

These poor healthcare workers don’t have it easy. Our PA returned after a while, reassuring us that she had a cough drop in her mouth, and had gotten over her bout with Covid a few weeks ago “but that darn tickle” was hanging on.

The rest of the exam went just fine. Mom answered all the questions the right way. The PA listened to her chest and couldn’t hear anything alien in there. Krisy came back and did an EKG on Mom – she was still just as happy as could be. We finished off with a trip down to the lab for some bloodwork, and then out the door, feet held high, whipping off our masks.

Mom and I try to laugh a little everywhere we go, but as much fun as this pre-op exam was, I can hardly wait until the Covid test on Friday and surgery next week. Yeah, just sayin’…

Mom’s best pick of the day

Suddenly Winter

It happened at night when I hadn’t paid attention to the forecast. I woke up in the morning and there were 4 inches of snow on the ground. I had already been forcing myself outside for a couple weeks, in temperatures close to freezing and my suspicion (of winter) and reluctance (to accept it) were coming on strong. The snow clinched it.

Good morning! Yeah, it really looks this dark and this snowy.

Since the snow I’ve developed some new diet and exercise parameters.

Diet first, I did the Noom thing already last spring and summer so I’ve got the psychological part well in mind. Lots of psych tricks, no “all or nothing” thinking, no real guilt about satisfying my cravings. In other words I’m going to welcome a few extra pounds of insulation. It’s cold out there. Dessert after supper every night will be the new benchmark. I’m going to weigh myself daily to make sure I’m not gaining too fast. I believe in moderation.

As for exercise, I’m going to change my daily step count goal from 10,000 to … basically whatever I get. I do enjoy a challenge though, so I might have a week or two during the winter when I see if I can keep it under 1,500 a day. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard, but I can do hard things.

My winter affirmation.

I’m thinking there might be a day now and then when it’s warm enough to bundle up and go cross country skiing outside. I have a goal for that sport too. There’s a particular hill that I attempted last year right after I got skis. This year, with the proper amount of instruction, I hope to ski down that hill and not fall over at the bottom. I missed the lesson and practice session last week. I don’t know how people make themselves leave their warm houses at 8:30 in the morning to go stand in a cold parking lot and do exercises. Besides, it was raining, wasn’t it? Somewhere?

Really though, what’s throwing me off my usual energy level and positive thinking habit is all this darkness. I’m used to going to bed when it’s dark but it’s so impractical to do that at 4:30 in the afternoon. I’m automatically tired looking at a dark sky. After a couple hours of pitch black, I tell myself it looks way too late to start cooking supper. But I have to do it anyway. The thought of dessert is the only thing that gets me through it.

All this is to say that I’m struggling, probably with the thought of winter more than winter itself. Thoughts are important, right Noom? And I live, thinking in my head, almost all the time. It’s going to be five long, dark months ahead. That’s what I’m thinking now, just sayin’…

Don’t Make Me Mad

A couple of weeks ago I went for a short hike on one of my favorite trails. It’s called a snowshoe trail because it is used primarily in the winter when walkers are asked to stay off groomed ski trails. Our northern summers are short but most of the vegetation that grows here has learned to grow fast and furiously, even in the forest.

The path through the mature woods was great – leafy, shady, very little undergrowth. Now and then there would be a tree down across the path from a storm, but nothing I couldn’t step over or go around. Since the path doesn’t show much wear from foot traffic in the summer, there are also plastic ribbons tied on trees and branches to mark the way.

But trouble started when I got to a section of forest that had been clear cut sometime in the past few years. Smaller trees, mostly birch and poplar, and all kinds of underbrush, stumps, and rotting logs made the path harder to find and harder to navigate.

Then I got to the blackberry thicket. Canes as thick as my thumb were bending over the path at eye level, lots of them, as well as smaller thorny new growth underneath them. I can’t be sure but I think the huge thorns actually moved out to grab me as I tried to lift them out of the way and pass through. It got worse the further I went, until I was too deep in to want to go back the way I had come, but could not see the end of it ahead either. Had it not been for the orange ties, I would have thought I had lost the path completely. My arms were bleeding. I was getting mad. I did eventually connect with a groomed bike path and made my way out.

I was thankful nothing was chasing me. If I had been a rabbit, that is where I would have gone to be safe from anything bigger. I vaguely remembered stories about Peter Rabbit and brambles, with new understanding.

That is when I began to plot revenge. I have a string trimmer but couldn’t see that being too effective on the thick, woody canes. I needed a machete, which I remembered from my days living in Florida. Machetes are everyday yard tools there. To my delight, my neighbor who is a retired surveyor had a machete and was nice enough to lend it to me.

Oh yeah, and a holster to go with it.

After my arms healed up, I returned to the woods. I was filled with energetic indignation. My resolve to clear that path was so strong I completely ignored the possibility of cutting my own leg open and bleeding to death. I approached the offending area, swinging right and left until I began to feel blisters coming where my hand gripped the knife. When I downed the biggest canes, I had to throw them aside and deal with the thorns again, but I won! The path got cleared. I tied new orange ribbon markers. I felt powerful.

I know this is a weird story, but it’s true, and it’s an example of how anger fuels resolve and can actually be a positive force. There’s a lot of anger out and about these days, and some of it can be used for good. But please notice that not once did I think about burning the forest down. I love the forest and I want to be in it. So do a lot of other people. Now others can go along that path safely with me.

However, if in the future, you’re out hiking in my part of the country, be careful of blackberry thickets which can be deadly. Also, if you see ahead of you an old, bloodied person with a machete, you might want to hang back a little.

Machete came with orange ribbon. I was pleased.

When I Don’t Have to Wait

It’s a strange, hard world out there. It’s time we fight back with a little fun. I have lots of thoughts on the subject and will be writing about it for the rest of October.

Everywhere we turn these days there is something to wait for. I wait in traffic, at the grocery store, for commercials to quit, for the spooling to stop, for food to be cooked, for my hair to dry, for sleep to come, for the headache to go away. What surprises me though, is that I find myself waiting for things I don’t have to wait for – out of habit, I guess. It is a habit I am setting out to conquer.

On this beautiful evening, calm, warm enough to sit outside, I’m not waiting to light a fire in my Solo Stove. Making fire (small and controlled) and watching the flames has always been fun for me so I followed the fun and started my fire. I knew I would love this little fire pit, but I can see that if I waited for others to come enjoy it with me, I would not be getting much use out of it. I do like to invite others to sit around the fire, but that usually involves some planning ahead. When it’s only me, I could be doing it any night when the weather is nice, even without a plan. Why wait?

Waiting can be a good thing, right? Why? Because I have to let the people in line before me go first (unless I want to get thrown out of the store…). Because the food tastes better when it’s cooked long enough. Because things work out better when I match my desires with right timing, right circumstances, right preparedness. I learn that patience is a good thing and I learn patience by having to wait.

But what about not waiting? You see, I’m learning that I won’t have much fun if I wait for it to happen by itself. I’ve spent my share of time feeling sorry for myself, wising I was having fun, being pitiful. I can decide to have fun, sometimes with others, but even when I’m alone. Often that is my only choice. I have a ready list of those things I enjoy doing, because everything in life goes better with fun mixed into it. It’s medicine really.

And honestly, fun is a huge part of my faith life, my life with God. I’m not sure I’ve ever read the word “fun” in the Bible, but I have seen “pleasure” and “enjoy”which are probably about the same thing. I can’t imagine the abundant life that God says he wants me to have, without it also being fun. I feel it in my heart, God is in favor of fun.

All this to say that it’s a good night out here on the patio. There’s work to do inside the house, which I’m not doing. I’m alone with my writing pad and my cup of tea, watching a warm, glowing fire. No guilt, no regrets. I’m having fun and fun is good. (Wish you were here…)

“Full of Feelings” Month: Social Awkwardness

Today I am basking in my role as Queen of Social Awkwardness. There are others who you might say look and act the part more than I do, but in my mind, I am it.

It’s not that I lack a proper degree of self respect, self confidence. For the most part I am comfortable with myself, and have grace for my shortcomings. It’s when I get around other people and want to feel comfortable with them that the awkwardness hits. I’m aware that I’m often the one standing by myself somewhere, looking for another person like myself, someone not engaged in a conversation, someone who’s not quiet sure what to do next. It’s always a relief to find this person because if they are ready to engage, I’m helping myself and them. Both of us can feel a little more comfortable.

I love people. Very much. I want them to know that. Truth, is I am also a people pleaser. I don’t have a lot of strong opinions, or dictates and the ones I do have – well, I’m okay with putting them second in importance to someone else’s once in a while. I think of it as flexibility. To me the question is, if they are the right people, why not please them? It gives me pleasure to do so.

But social awkwardness comes when I don’t know if I am doing that. I tell myself to stop wondering about it and just do the best I can, in those uncomfortable places that I might find myself. Because, maybe comfort is overrated. Maybe it’s more real and more “normal” to feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a good thing?

The last thing I should allow that awkward feeling to do, is to be an excuse to avoid people. What if everyone has some degree of discomfort, at times, in some places? I kind of suspect that is the case. Maybe I should be uncomfortable and make the first move, even if I can’t remember the person’s name, even if they look hard to engage, even if my own discomfort is overwhelming me.

Ultimately I know that for me, God is the person I want most to please. I have to trust that he’s going to help me love other people as they should be loved. Even in my social awkwardness, and stumbling around with words, God can help them know that I care and cover over the mistakes I make. Maybe it’s part of being brave and letting God be my social director. Yeah, that might be it. Just sayin’…

Queen of Awkwardness and oh, so comfortable.