Monday, December 1, 2008

On the First Day of Advent

Last year I didn't get to live the holiday season the way I wanted to experience it. I was carrying a baby that was not meant to live in this world and my body was overridden with the naseua that is mislabeled as morning sickness. My Christmas tree didn't have a single ornament hanging from its branches. I didn't bake any holiday cookies. I didn't go Christmas shopping with my brothers and Ashley. I didn't attend the annual Christmas Carol Festival at my church.

This holiday season brings its own challenges, but this December I want to experience Advent in all of its splendor. I want to play in the snow with my boys. I want to sled down the hill a dozen times before 2008 comes to a close. I want to attend church services and close my eyes and feel the music inside the part of me that I don't fully understand. I want to bake a dozen holiday recipes and wander through the mall with my family and hang a memory on every single branch of the pine-scented tree. I want to honor old traditions and make new ones. I want to sit in front of the Christmas tree, in front of my favorite chair and think about Mary must have felt, holding the newborn promised child in her arms, looking into her baby's eyes the way I did with my sons. I want Advent to be really special, the way God meant it to be.

We began the first day of December with a Lego Advent calendar, which is not connected meaningfully to Jesus' birth, but it sure has meaning for Max and Mitchie. Their eyes sparkled as they decided who would open the first tiny door in the box containing twenty-four small Lego models. Max won the chance to open today's miniature holiday figure made of bricks, assuring Mitchell and me, "I counted it out in bed this morning. If I open the first one, Mitchell will get to do the last one. That's fair." Max opted to create his own figure out of the dozen small bricks that were inside the tiny bag. We bought the calendar at a post-holiday clearance sale at the Mall of America (which until earlier this year Max thought was actually known as Mall of Come-erica).

The boys played outside for an hour this afternoon, with me watching carefully from the foyer as I swept the floor, put away music class instruments, threw at least six pairs of shoes in the closet, and sorted through accumulated mail, asking them every five minutes, "Are you sure you're staying warm?" I was too grateful for words to hear them playing so well together, building a snow fort, and not fighting. When they came inside, they opted for Brownie Bowls instead of the hot cocoa that never gets finished after the marshmallows have been cherry-picked out of the mug. Betty Crocker, bless your soul!

Before dinner, Max and I hung ornaments on the tree that we had cut down the previous day at the tree farm. Mitchell informed us, "I'm not into decorating. I'm into playing," as he continued another chapter in the daily adventures he masterminds for his "guys." He did manage to hang a handful of ornaments in between battles and mini-dramas. Max and I finished the package of 150 hooks before Max's attention span also waned. The tree looks beautiful, with its twinkling miniature white lights and bubbling 1950's-style candles, but both of us long for the tree we had two years ago, which was the fattest -- we never use that word in our family -- Christmas tree I have EVER seen in my life. We searched the far corners of Choose and Cut Fraser Firs in hopes of finding a replica of that evergreen. This seven-and-a-half footer can't hold all of our mismatched ornaments and collected memories.

Our Advent plans continued at bedtime, when we shared our evening devotion -- When Jesus Comes Again in the Clouds, based on several chapters from the book of Revelations; read a holiday story -- Trouble with Trolls by Jan Brett, one of our favorites -- and sang a Christmas song. Max picked his favorite holiday melody, Deck the Halls, and we sang two verses before the boys were ready to close their eyes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Take a Picture ... It Will Last Longer

For years, my brothers have teased me because I take so many pictures. When we were little, we walked around Lake Harriet in late spring in the Twin Cities, my parents leading the way, me scampering back and forth from snapshot to snapshot with my little Fisher-Price 110 camera, Danny dragging along rather unhappily, and Brian smiling good-naturedly in his stroller. Never mind the fact that Danny wanted to turn around and go back the way we came when we were a quarter mile away from the car, almost all the way around the lake. We could almost see the car from our vantage point near the bandstand. Never mind the fact that Brian was too little to even remember how many pictures I took. He would have gladly made funny faces for me for a hundred more photos.

When we get together and reminisce about good times, the subject of Lake Harriet almost always comes into the conversation. For a couple of minutes we talk about Danny's illogical request to "turn around" and walk a few miles to the car instead of a few blocks, and then my brothers craftily switch the conversation to how many pictures I took of the dozens and dozens of ducklings we saw at the lake.

"How could you take a whole roll of pictures of ducks?" they exclaim.

"Good thing you ran out of film!" they continue. The teasing goes on and on.

And the teasing continues at every birthday, holiday, or afternoon on the patio when we are together. "Take a picture, it will last longer!" they used to say. They don't say it anymore because they realized I would take another picture. I ignore almost all of it, because I love taking pictures and I know my photos are good. I love taking photographs of beautiful landscapes and postcard-perfect shots. I love my photograph of the Heidelberg castle in Germany, my shot of the valley of Big Sur National Forest, looking down from the summit at sunset, the picture I took in Yellowstone National Park of the terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, the photo I snapped of authentic Mexico in Bucerias. I love the picture I took of the view of New Ulm from atop Herman the German because it reminds me of home, somehow painting a thousand memories into one four-by-six photo.

But the pictures I love the most are the ones I didn't plan to treasure. I have so many special pictures of everyday moments that maybe didn't seem special at the time. There is the impromptu photo I snapped of my sister-in-law Christine wearing her pink and purple feather boa when she was the guest of honor at the baby shower I hosted for her. I didn't know she may have already had kidney cancer then and we would have to say goodbye to her a year later. I can't find words to explain the emotions and the trueness of Christine that I captured in that moment.

There is the picture of Grandma Aggie holding Mitchell, him clutching her thin, bony fingers the way he always loved to do, she smiling because she loved it, too. After that, he was too heavy for her to hold, and she died the next year.

There is the picture of ten month-old Max covered in the orange and green of his chopped avacado and macaroni and cheese, sitting naked in his high chair except for a diaper, looking so tiny and lost in that chair that he couldn't even fit in today. At the time, I had thought, How am I ever going to get this kid cleaned up? but now I want that moment back. The picture is the next best thing.

There is the picture of Max smiling joyfully at Epcot Center, holding a very expensive Mickey-Mouse shaped cookie, standing next to an elaborate fountain. The snapshot tells nothing of the fit he threw minutes earlier inside the crowded French bakery, kicking and screaming until I had to haul all forty pounds of him out the door. But I remember, because I have the picture. There is also the picture that Troy snapped of me breastfeeding Mitchell on the ground in the next-door England section of Epcot, back when Mitchell wanted to nurse anywhere and everywhere and all the time. Amazingly and sadly (especially if you know the extent of my extended breastfeeding experience) it's one of the only photos I have of me nursing my boys.

There are the pictures from Mother's Day earlier this year, when Mitchell was having such a tantrum at the little Mexican restaurant we went to for dinner that I had to take him out to the car. The pictures I took of his silly, tired, not-in-control faces while we waited for Max and Troy have given me a hundred smiles in the months that followed that frustrating evening.

I have hundreds of photographs that are just as special to me as this handful of memories. (Just ask my brothers. They will gladly tell you how many gigabytes of digital photos I have.)

You would think that by now I would catch all of those better-take-a-picture moments, after years of practice, but sometimes I still miss the biggies. Two days ago, we returned home after being out of the house for most of the day, and when we opened the front door, the air inside the house seemed colder than the air outdoors. I went upstairs to check the thermostat, and when I saw 64 degrees on the display, I knew it was time. My days of having no heating or cooling bills were over for at least six more months. I reminded the boys that the funny furnace smell would fill the house for a few minutes the first time we turned it on for the season. In winter, our thermostat does reach 64 many times, but that night, I needed to take the chill out of the house, especially since my kiddos don't stay covered at night.

Later that evening, as the boys were getting ready for bed, Max jumped up and down and shouted, "Hey! It's the first day of turning on the furnace! Let's take a picture!"

He sounded *so* much like me in that moment.

"A picture of what?" I asked with curiosity, ignoring my brothers' taunting voices that were getting louder in my head.

"Of us standing next to the vent and shivering," Max said. I didn't take the picture -- but now I wish I would have. Somehow, his joy that evening turned out to be one of those everyday moments that I didn't really treasure until later.

Summer is Not Gone

Every morning this week has been cold and gray, except for glorious Monday. Glorious Monday is sometimes at the top of my list of oxymorons. Normally, Mondays are my laundry days, my get-a-jump-on-school-for-the-week-days, my days when my expecations for myself are way too high to meet. Mondays are also my new "start the week right" day, and for three weeks now -- it takes 21 days for something good to become a habit! -- I have woke up before everyone else, tied on my battered running shoes, turned up my favorite workout music a little too loud, and made time for running that I thought I didn't have.

This was my best Monday morning run yet. I covered less than two miles, but I had the same euphoric feeling as if I had run eight, and I was fast. But the good feeling didn't come from me or my running ability. It came from the gifts I opened on my run. I ran past a father running his little girl down their long driveway to hop on the bus, and I felt *truly grateful* to be able to homeschool my two sons. I ran past a neighbor who smiled warmly and waved to me as he was driving, and I felt *truly grateful* I am that he survived cancer. I ran past the last brilliant red leaves of sumac hanging delicately onto their branches, and I felt *truly grateful* to be able to see those deep colors in nature's palette and experience each season of the year in its Minnesotan extremes. I ran east just in time to see the sun rise, which seemed to happen in an instant, and I felt *truly grateful* for one more day in this challenging, beautiful world, a day that would be as unique as each new sunrise. I ran home, seeing the white of my breath and feeling the sweat on my skin, and I felt *truly grateful* to be so alive.

I had my moment of summer before the real day even began.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

That Queasy Anxious Feeling

I came close to a real panic attack today. I have lived through panic attacks through loved ones, and I don't mean to joke about such a frightening experience. Honestly. But I'm only half-joking.

Yesterday Troy brought donuts home from this yummy little bakery in Austin. Only half a dozen, thank goodness. The boys screamed so loudly, you would have thought he gave them a million dollars. This bakery happens to bake my favorite kind of donut in the whole world, the one I really can't find anywhere else, now that Krispy Kreme no longer exists in Minnesota. I'm talking about a light, fluffy roll with fluffy white creme filling in the center. The Krispy Kreme version was glazed, and the rolls from this bakery are dusted with granulated sugar. Since Austin is an hour away, it's not like I can get another donut like that whenever I want. There is -- no, there was -- one of them left in the box. I really wanted it. I knew if I didn't eat it now, someone else was going to eat it, or it would be hard in the box in the morning, instead of soft and creamy like it was right at that moment.

I had finally decided that I was not going to eat it, No Matter What, and even though I felt empowered, I also felt pretty nervous. I didn't know when I would get my next donut fix. Bravely, I cut the donut in half and commanded the boys to eat it.

As if that weren't enough to conquer emotionally -- because most of us know that food is twenty percent nutrition and eighty percent emotion -- Mitch picked that exact moment to ask me in his sweetest voice, "Mom, how much longer am I going to be a kid?"

That is the moment when I should have taken a deep cleansing breath, but instead, I couldn't breathe. First, no donut. Next, my kid, my baby, is reminding me that he is only going to be a kid for thirteen more years.

I looked at him, sitting in the booster chair that he doesn't really need anymore, wearing the size six diaper that he doesn't really need anymore either, but he loves them both with his whole being. His blue eyes were animated and his blonde curls, a little too long. He looked so little with no other clothes on, and I smiled when I saw the curve of his little shoulders and his round tummy. For a child who doesn't even weigh forty pounds, he was asking such a big boy question. He looked at me earnestly for my response. This week we have been working on recognizing numbers, putting them in order, reading a calendar, and adding, and I knew the mathematical answer was really important to him.

I answered in my teacher voice, which came out sounding kind of like the silly high voice I use in music class, "Well, I hope you stay a kid even when you are an adult."

I knew that answer wasn't enough , so I added, in my normal voice, "But most people say you are an adult when you are eighteen, so ... that ... gives you ............. thirteen more years," pretending to do the math, when I was really just buying time to not have to say the number out loud. I could have won an Emmy for that one-liner, because my words were matter-of-fact, even casual, completely devoid of the sad, nervous feeling that was spreading to my fingertips, my voice, my lungs. I didn't want Mitch to feel the pressure of not growing up just to keep his mom happy. If he chooses to be childlike, curious, excited, spirited, imaginative, playful, and full of big dreams for his whole life, I want him to choose that because it feels so good, not because his mom can't imagine him being all grown up. I felt that panicky feeling inside of me again, inside my chest near my heart and lungs, but maybe it was really a moment of chaos in my soul. I've heard that people see the years of their life flash before them in moments of trouble. I was trying to see the years of my life that have not yet happened: days without bathtime fights as I wash the shampoo from his hair, nights when the only teeth I brush are my own, afternoons to read a grown-up book instead of a kids' chapter book. Those are the moments that many moms wait for, especially at the end of a long day, or in the middle of a tantrum at Target. Sometimes I do that, too. But mostly I want these days to last and last and they are going too fast.

So suddenly the donut thing wasn't such a big deal anymore.

Summer, Wait! I'm Not Finished With You Yet!

The summer of 2008 was the shortest, busiest, hardest summer of my life. But I'm so sad that it's over.

I would wish it back just to experience another five-mile run, my body drenched in sweat and sunshine; another swim in the pool, every inch of me surrounded by water and the boys' laughter; another afternoon to pick tomatoes from the garden and eat them by the handful; another week of admiring my caramel-colored skin; another match on the tennis courts when it's really too hot out to play; another dinner of grilled farmer's market veggies and tri-tip; another pitcher of margaritas when it's perfectly acceptable to have a refill; another trip to the garden center to choose a dozen shades of beautiful to plant in the dirt; another impromptu stop at the ice cream shop, where six dollars buys two big smiles that will be etched in my memory forever, even though the ice cream disappeared in minutes. The tastes, the smells, the sensations of summer make every cell in my body feel truly alive.

Last weekend the last hope of one more summer day was washed, dried, folded, and packed into a plastic storage bin. The Easy Set pool (the oxymoron of the year) is no longer an empty eyesore in the backyard, collecting bugs and leaves and bacteria. It is stowed indoors for use next summer, which will indeed come faster than any of us can believe, even thought sunshine-filled days off feel so far away today. Fifteen thousand gallons of water holds so much promise for me.

Do you ever have a conversation that wasn't meant to be profound, but you aren't able to ever forget it? It was like that two summers ago when both of my beautiful grandmothers came to visit. I love them so much. My dad's mom and my mom's mom were born in the same year, 1926, within three weeks of each other. We were talking about how fast that summer had passed, and how in the world did Mitchell grow into a toddler so quickly, and Max into a boy? My grandmas couldn't believe how fast their days go, from morning until evening, as they search for time and energy to do tasks like getting the mail, going to the store, checkups at the doctor, washing a load of laundry, heating up some dinner.

"Didn't you think life really sped up after we hit fifty?" one of them asked the other.

"Oh, yes," the other one answered. "That's when time really started going fast."

Fifty years old? That's when time really goes fast?! I trust my grandmas one hundred percent, and I award both of them honorary doctorates in life experience. Between the two of them, they have experienced every possible challenge in life as women, mothers, and wives.

Does that mean that the days that disappear now are actually moving slowly? How do I resolve that with my summer that said goodbye to me while I was still welcoming it to my life, inviting it to come in a stay for awhile? Just stay for coffee and sit a spell. Please.

So today I am not mourning the end of summer, like I did last weekend, but I am wondering how to create those moments that feel like summer in all of its glory. Two of the wisest women I know told me that no matter what the calendar says, no matter what the laws of physics say, no matter that we get an extra day every four years for leap year, that time is indeed going faster every day.

I want one moment of summer every day.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Feel Good Story of the Summer

My friend Heidi recently sent me an email with a link to the story of Christian the Lion. You have to watch this! You will have tears in your eyes and a happy tightness in your throat, just like I did. God bless the animals and the people who care for them so lovingly!
You can learn more about Christian and other wildlife kept in the wild at

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Political Alternative Rock Star

Click here for more information about Ron Paul's Rally in Minnesota this Septmeber!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How to Grill

My brother Danny sent me this humorous e-mail today. Does it apply to your situation?


We are about to enter the summer and BBQ season. Therefore it is important to refresh your memory on the etiquette of this sublime outdoor cooking activity, as it's the only type of cooking a 'real' man will do, probably because there is an element of danger involved.

When a man volunteers to do the BBQ the following chain of events are put into motion:

(1) The woman buys the food.
(2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables, and makes dessert.

(3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man who is lounging beside the grill - beer in hand.

Here comes the important part:


(5) The woman goes inside to organize the plates and cutlery.

(6) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he deals with the situation.


(8) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins,sauces, and brings them to the table.

(9) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes.

And most important of all:

(10) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts.

(11) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed her 'night off.' And, upon seeing her annoyed reaction, concludes that there's just no pleasing some women....