Monday, March 21, 2016


I learned to Rollerblade in high school.  Spring of my senior year, to be exact.  I'm not sure why I never learned as a kid (maybe I couldn't put down the latest "Babysitter's Club" book or maybe I had to practice the piano, or maybe I was just too chicken shit...) but I knew I couldn't attend college in the 90's without Rollerblades.  So I headed out to Dunham's and used a friend's employee discount to purchase my sweet new wheels.  Then, I strapped them on and went searching for a place to learn-- this before "recreation trails" were found criss-crossing most towns.  I wound up at our town cemetery where smooth concrete paths and small gradual hills created the perfect place for me to practice my new hobby.

I always parked my Reliant near my grandpa's headstone and thought of him as I buckled up my blades.   While I'm still not sold on the idea of an afterlife (and wasn't back then either), I've always believed in a continued energy that extends beyond us when life ends.  I always felt my grandfather's presence during those times and as I skated around the park, I enjoyed the peace that seemed to have settled all around me.  Perhaps it was the result of the smooth and methodic sound of my wheels gliding against the pavement, or the slightly meditative state that comes from performing repetitive and comforting movements.  Or maybe that peace came from the energy of the souls laid to rest in the park.

As I glided through the cemetery paths, I often wondered about the people who had gone before me-- I studied their names and reflected on their birth and death dates.  I noted special symbols, pictures, or tidbits engraved on the headstones-- and wondered what specifically influenced their survivors to choose them.  Angels and puppies, butterflies and flowers, golf courses and even college mascots.  They all told a story, did they not?  Even now, when I visit a cemetery I find myself wondering, who were these people?  What was their story? Why did they die so young?  How did they live so long?  What happened that they died so close together?  How did they touch other lives?   Who did they leave behind?  Were they happy? Were they lonely?  And how is this world different because they were here?

Last week, we returned from the funeral of my aunt and uncle.  They died suddenly as the result of a tragic and senseless car accident. And while people are killed in auto accidents every day, a person never really believes it is going to affect them.  Rationally, I understand that my tribe is just as vulnerable to accidents as yours, but nothing prepared me for the shock of hearing this news.

In 2015, we said goodbye to my grandma Viv on Charlie's birthday.  We mourned her death, but truly celebrated her long 92 year life.  We shared stories about her life, reminisced about the wisdom and truth she brought to us, and felt grateful to have had her in our lives so long.  Later that year, my uncle died suddenly from an aggressive form of cancer.  We were shocked and stunned.  We mourned his death but couldn't quite celebrate-- as it didn't seem fair for someone to have been taken from us so quickly and without reason.  My heart broke for my cousins-- all of whom are my age-- with young children who now were missing their grandfather.  Now, with the deaths of Mary and Mike, my heart feels like it has been broken wide open again.  This time, I'm mourning for them, but more so because of the pain my cousins must be feeling.

I wish there was a way to carry their pain, to ease the weight upon their shoulders for just a few moments.  Long enough for them to play with their children, eat a nice dinner, or get a full night's sleep, without remembering the nightmare that has become reality right now.  But of course, this is not possible-- as much as we wish it could be.  So instead, I remember these people we've lost and answer those questions about the life they lived:

* Mary & Mike were amazing people, who really connected with their family, friends, and community.
* Their story is decades old-- a love story, a family story, an Iowa State Cyclones story, a community-volunteers story, a 'faith-filled' people story, a 'people you want to know' story.
* They were taken suddenly in a tragic accident
* This couple that seldom left each other's side also died side-by-side
* They touched many other lives-- probably more so than they ever even knew-- lives of their children, their grandchildren, siblings and nieces and nephews, friends, students, and community members
* They leave all these people behind, mourning their absence but remembering their presence
* This world is different because they were here.  They connected to people, they found time for others.  They truly said 'yes' to the life they were living

We all know how fragile life is, but when we are dealt cards like this, it's impossible not to think about our own mortality, the choices we're making, the life we're living, at this moment.  And as we grieve those we've lost, we discover gems of comfort by taking time to remember stories and anecdotes, and honor the legacy that they leave behind.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Plan B: Daytrippin'

Typically, we spend this week in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  We bring flannel sheets, flannel jammies, books, magazines, puzzles, movies, and fixin's for lots of comfort food.  We light a fire within minutes of arriving and basically hunker down for five days-- no expectations of what's to come, just taking the moments as they come.

But this year, we are still reeling from the news of my aunt's and uncle's sudden death ten days ago, and our hearts needed to be with our family during this time.  However, we also knew that we had an incredibly excited little boy, eagerly awaiting his spring break trip.  So, how to cut our trip short while still giving Charlie a little taste of spring break???  The solution: Day Trip.

We went ahead and drove up to the twin cities on Monday morning.  Naturally, a three hour trip turned into slightly over four once two kids' hunger and bladder needs were factored in.  (can you believe them!?) The timing worked out perfectly, however, as we were able to check in to our hotel and settle in before heading over to the Mall of America.

Our first stop was a little kiosk of a children's museum that promised fun and interactive play for little kids.  In honor of pi day (3/14), they were only charging $3.14 admission and honestly, I'm not sure I'd recommend paying more than that price.  They had a dinosaur exhibit set up and a few little physics experiments with ramps and golf balls.  I was bored after about two seconds but my six year old loved every part of it and my 18 month old loved being free to run around and throw golf balls on the floor.

Anna loved this little 'tunnel' area and ran back and forth for what felt like 100 hours. 

She was not as crazy about having been placed in the Troodon 'nest' with the dinosaur eggs.  

This guy, on the other hand, loved every-single-second of every thing we did.  

After leaving the "museum", we started to wander the mall a bit.  We popped in a store or two and Charlie talked Mason into doing an $8.00 mirror maze.  (Things my parents would have never ever in a million years said yes to) After finding their way to the end (after admitting to winding up at the beginning a few times...) we headed over to the Rainforest Cafe.  Along the way, we stopped in a candy store and I cringed as Charlie picked out 6 pieces of sugar coated gummy things.   But I have to admit, the perma-smile on his face made it totally worth it.

Next stop: The Rainforest Cafe.  Turns out, you need a reservation a day in advance if you want to eat in the rainforest so we ate on the 'patio'.  C was bummed and I felt bad so we remedied the situation with a new stuffed animal and an ice cream sandwich.  These two avenues lead straight to Charlie's heart so he was totally fine with it.

(I had to include all the pics below because C's face just cracks me up...)

Charlie reeeeally wanted to take a picture of the three of us.  I'm pretty sure I need to work on my fake smile a bit....

When our bellies were filled up with overpriced food, we headed back to the hotel for a little dip in the pool.  Again, notice Charlie's face.

This one is a total fish-- it's everything we can do to keep her from launching herself under water.  (Makes my heart so happy!)

The next morning, we woke in plenty of time to watch a good chunk of Sports Center and snuggle with Charlie's new stuffy and Anna's baby doll.  (Just for the record, this was about thirty seconds before Anna totally fell off the bed and lodged herself between the mattress and end-table, causing Mason to nearly dislocate his shoulder while leaping across the room to rescue her.  Notice that I just took pictures because I am obviously not a rescuer.  I'm a documenter.)

Eventually, we packed up and headed back to the mall for our final hoo-ra-ra:  Riding rides.  So help me God, this is supposed to be a fun activity.  And one of us really did enjoy the morning.  I'll give you a clue:

Charlie loved every single ride and would have ridden them multiple times all day long if he had the choice.  But Anna was not a fan of the place and mostly whined and cried and pulled her socks and shoes off and tried to run around.  The lines were long, the rides weren't all operating, and stupid middle schoolers kept budging in front of us.  Mason tried to get me to wipe the scowl off my face but I really just needed a glass of wine at that moment.  (Come to think of it, Anna and I should have just headed up to the bars and gotten a Bloody Mary and some graham crackers....)

But, we survived and everyone was pretty happy.  I think Anna was asleep before we buckled her into her car seat....

And Charlie was out as soon as his Happy Meal was in his belly.  

I followed suit and curled into the headrest to 'rest my eyes' while Mason drove us safely home.

Although we were only gone for just over 24 hours, we had a sweet little getaway.  Charlie's smile alone made the trip worth every second.
Notes to self for next year:
* The "toddler Tuesday" wristband is a great deal!-----But, it's only good for two hours and doesn't include most of the rides Charlie likes to go on.
* The amusement park offers a twilight special wristband after 5:30 for ten dollars off the regular price and it's good until 9:00.
*  The Homewood Suites is worth every penny for a hotel room.  Having room to spread out and a separate room for "bedtime" is amazing.
*  Pack more food for the car trip.  Anna's a big eater.  Period.
*  Call ahead for the Rainforest Cafe, or put our name in an hour ahead of time.  Even if it's only 4:45 on a Monday evening-- they still are packed.
*  The Children's Museum of St. Paul looks really cool but is not open on Mondays, of course.
*  Hypothetically speaking, if you have 'just one thing' you want to do  (like find a new pair of black heels) and your husband has 'just one thing' he wants to do (like sit in a massage chair at Brookstone for ten minutes), realize that neither of these things is probably going to happen.
*  Try try try not to get annoyed with Charlie's excitement and enthusiasm and just go with it.  This is why we do these things....  (I really did try and I really did a good job, for the record! I just want to keep this in mind next year too!)