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Eventide

It is twilight here in the north woods.  That time of evening when the sun is tinting the clouds peach against the blue sky and yet the trees across the lake are darkening to a deep green.  No breeze bothers the glass surface of the water.  Birds trill their evening song, and an occasional frog croaks to his mate.  It’s that peaceful time of day where, if you are still enough you can hear the footfalls of deer as they make their way down to drink and see fairy lights begin to blink in the forest.  While all times of the year are magical in these forests, spring seems more so.

There is a special feeling in the woods at this time of year.  A soft carpet of green blankets the forest floor, inviting you to stray from the trail and take a stroll to the horizon.  Spring means renewal and regrowth, and as I wander through the trees I see the physical manifestations, young trees reaching up toward the sky, the soft green of new leaves on old trees.  I spot the brilliant white of trillium, a sure sign that winter is done.  First one, then two and then a whole swath upon the hillside.  More, I feel the hope that spring brings.  It seems to be in the very air that I breathe.

This winter was long and hard.  Temperatures well below zero and record snow falls mirrored the gloom in our lives.  A business closing, a son who lost his way, anxiety, anger and fear mixed with prayers.  And as the air warmed, the snow melted, anxiety began to lessen.  Spring in the north woods brings more ease, more hope.  If the forest can survive, and revive, if the trillium can once again bloom, so too can this family. Just as I saw first one, then two, then a trail of white flowers leading off, I believe there will be one prayer answered, then two, then a trail of blessings in this next year.

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October 2, 1995 wBaby Jay with Bubble Bloweras a very different day than October 2, 2013 is.  At the beginning of the day, I didn’t know your name, I didn’t even know if you were a boy or a girl.  I was anxious, and scared, and excited to see the child who had been nestled close to my heart for the past nine months.  Of course you made your entrance in your own way, Despite weeks of trying to get you into the “proper” position, you preferred to approach the world standing up, not laying down.  And so you greeted the world face forward, head held high, and ready to take on the world.  It should have given me a clue to the man you are becoming.

This morning, instead of simply opening your bedroom door and telling you it was time to get up, I stood next to the bed for a few minutes and just watched you, as I used to do when you were first born.  Now,  as I did then, I marvel that I had any part in creating you.  I would gently twist a light brown curl around my finger, stare at the long lashes nestled against plump cheeks, I would smooth the blanket out over tiny legs.  You somehow always seemed to wrap them around you, and I was afraid you couldn’t move (you still do that).  I would wonder what would be in store for you in this life, what things would you like, would you like to read or would you hate books?  Would you be outgoing or shy?  Would you be a writer, an artist, a construction worker, a businessman, a truck driver, an actor, a lawyer?  I didn’t really care, my wish for my boys has always been that they are happy at what ever work they choose.  But I did wonder.

Unlike those mornings 18 years ago, I know a great deal more about you now.  As i watched you this morning, I didn’t see chubby cheeks and plump arms.  I saw a face that is thinner, with more chiseled features.  You are no longer my cuddly little boy.  You are long, lean and muscled.  You haven’t even reached your full growth yet, but you are more than half a foot taller than I am.  You still have brown hair, slightly darker, slightly less curly.  Your lashes are still impossibly long and brush your cheeks when you sleep.  Just as your face has become more chiseled, so has your personality.  You are smart, smarter than almost everyone you know.  You love books, and science.  You are competitive, but more with yourself than with others.  You always want to do better.  You are funny, in a dry way.  You have a caring heart, and don’t tolerate injustice.  You love to debate.  You are athletic.  You are a better fencer than you think you are.  You can be stubborn, and inflexible at times.  You are messy.  You enjoy reading classics from Shakespeare, philosophers such as Nietzsche, Plato and Dante.  You like stories about knights and dragons, hobbits and magicians.  You are as good in English as you are in Science.  You don’t care for Dickens.  You are not afraid to take on a challenge, you face the world head on, face forward, feet on the ground.

As when you were a baby, today I still want to protect you from all that could harm you.  My heart wants to swaddle you back up in your favorite blankie, make everything soft and easy for you.  But my head says that you need to face challenges, go through heartache, strive and push so that you become the best man you can be.   My soul sees so much in you today that tells me how absolutely awesome you will be as a man.

On your 18th birthday, I have a wish for you.  It is not a wish for just health, wealth and happiness.  It is a wish that you have a life in which you give yourself permission to try, and permission to fail.  That you give yourself the gift of patience.  That you continue to value knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  That you dream big.  And most of all my wish for you today is the same as it was 18 years ago.  That you are a kind, caring man who makes good decisions.  For if you are that, you will have a life that is well lived.  Continue to face the world as you did on the day you were born – head up, face forward and your feet on the ground.

All my love –  MomAviary Photo_130196235117704375

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A Milestone

Giggles and shrieks, a cloud of perfume, hugs all around.   A statuesque beauty sheathed in peach lace, a classic lass in a column of black, an impish Greek goddess in cream, a curly vision in purple.  Four young women totter on four inch heels, trying not to fall off.  With makeup carefully applied, hair curled and braided, pinned up with a flower, they move joyfully toward the night.

Fist bumps and smiles, a nervous laugh or two.  An intricately tied tie, light  green against a dark gray pinstripe suit, curls under control.  Black tuxedo highlighted by a white tie, another with a baby blue bow tie.   Shoes shined to a gloss.  Three dark-haired young men prepare to take on the role of gentleman of honor.   A young love, a budding romance, a friendly escort for two. Tonight they will shine, tonight they will glow. Tonight they will dance.  Tonight is a milestone. Tonight is Prom.

Although there is a chill in the air it is with good-hearted cheer they pose and smile for us in the late afternoon sunshine as we capture this moment in time.  Picture after picture our shutters memorialize their youth and beauty.  Mothers look at mothers, both pride and sadness in our faces.  Fathers watch the boys, arms folded in warning. They are all so beautiful.  The girls slim and, even in this day and age, surprisingly innocent.  With the bodies of women they are still children, just learning the power that they have.  The boys stand tall and straight.  At 16 and 17 they are but shadows of the men they will become.  If you squint, and then close your eyes, you can see them in the future.  You can see their shoulders broaden, their legs grown even longer. As one places a protective arm around his girl you can see him protecting others.  You can see the kind gentle man  another will become as he insists that his one month old little sister be in the pictures too.

To them, tonight is a night of enchantment.  It’s a night at the ball, with a limousine as their magic carriage.  As a parent, as a mother, I see tonight as a right passage.  It’s a night that means we are on the downhill side of being a daily influence in our children’s lives.  Where once I couldn’t imagine a time when my son wouldn’t need me, I now realize that there will be a day in the not too distant future where I will be extraneous in his life.  Someday another woman will take precedence in his world.  But not now, not quite yet.

For now, for tonight, I can put that thought away, and enjoy the sight of seven beautiful young people.  With joy I watch their laughter and high spirits.  With one last admonishment to “be smart”  and a quick hug, I leave them to their evening.  It is, after all, their milestone.

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On Solitude

It’s late at night.  Stars shine clear and bright in the cold winter sky, but it’s warm and cozy here inside.  Fresh from a relaxing bubble bath, wrapped in my husband’s old plaid robe, with a glass of wine sitting on the floor next to me, a small white dog on the other side of me, I watch the lights on the Christmas tree one last time for the season.  Tomorrow, I will take the tree down but for tonight I will admire the small stars of white light as they gleam against the green of the fir-tree.  Tonight is one of those rare occasions when I am alone, and don’t have work that I should be doing.  It’s my youngest’s night with his dad.  My husband is at a management conference.  And while I miss them, I am, surprisingly, content with my solitude.

There was a time when I dreaded being alone.  Being alone meant being lonely.  It often meant that my children were gone, my youngest visiting his father in another state, my oldest off creating a life of his own. Being alone meant being left behind.  It meant no longer being needed.  As life has changed, and I have grown, I have come to appreciate the peacefulness that solitude can bring.

There are many different kinds of solitude.  There is the solitude of a forest, where you are a small part of a vast empire of trees.  There is the solitude of a windswept beach, where you can feel the might of the ocean at your feet.  There is the silence and solitude of a library, where even though you may be surrounded by others, you are still alone with the words on the page in front of you.  Each has a different feel, each fills your heart in a different way.  Sometimes solitude can fill your heart with sadness, and sometimes solitude can fill your heart with peace.

We all need times of solitude in our lives, if even for just an hour or two.  Shut off the phone, turn off the TV.  Shut out the noise of the outside world, and you can discover amazing things.  Solitude can help you de-stress, it can help you see things in your world in a different light.  In the quiet of solitude, you can let your dreams unfold in your imagination, taking you wherever you desire to go.  You have no one you need to satisfy, no others needs you have to consider.  In solitude, it is just you.  For me, solitude is necessary for me to create.  My best writing comes when I am alone, when I don’t feel the pull of responsibility to others.  For a young mother, the solitude of a warm bath, with no one knocking on the door, no cries from the other room, may be enough to restore her tired spirit so that she can nurture those around her.  For the hard-working business man, the quiet of a tree stand may be enough solitude to quiet a racing mind enough to let new ideas and solutions emerge.

I have come to learn that solitude is not loneliness, loneliness is different all together.  You can be lonely in the middle of a crowded room, but solitude can’t exist there.  There is the old cliché “take time to smell the roses”.  I say – take time to appreciate the solitude, and discover what you find there.  I miss my guys when they are not here, but I am not lonely.  I will be so very glad to see them tomorrow when they are home, but for now…I am content with my solitude.

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Simple Things

Sometimes, we need a reminder that life is not all about work, making money, phone calls, emails and the hustle of everyday life.  We concentrate so hard on everything that we have to do that we forget everything else.  That’s what happened to me over the last month.  I forgot everything else. September is always a very busy month in my main business.  It’s a time of year when we push hard, working 12 or more hours many days, talking to as many as possible, selling as much as we can.  There is little time for anything else.  This year, more than any other year, I felt like selling took over my brain, and I had no room in my life for anything else.  I was running full speed ahead from the moment I got up each morning to the time I crashed each night.  I had writing to do, but no time, and no brain left for it.

I was still in that mode when I made the drive from Indiana to Wisconsin last Thursday.  I was going to stay with my  brother and nephew while my parents went to the lake for some much-needed time alone, and with my grandson and granddaughter, so their daddy and mommy could also have some much-needed away time.  As I drove, I made voice notes of things I needed to do, people I needed to call.  I went through a list of things I wanted to accomplish while I was there.  Some boxes to go through, areas to clean, talks I wanted to have with my 12-year-old nephew and 11-year-old granddaughter.  I barely noticed the countryside I was driving through I was so wrapped up in things “to do”.  It could have been spring, summer or winter, for all I noticed the brilliant orange and red of the trees I passed.

I was still in that mode when I woke up Friday morning.  Get Saraphin up and out the door for school, take the dog out, feed EJ breakfast, clean up the kitchen, go to the grocery store.  It was while I was on my way out to pick up the grocery list from my parents that my reminders started.  For some, those reminders of what’s important come when we or a loved one are suddenly seriously ill, or when we tragically lose someone.  For me, they came in the form of my grandson, EJ, who is two and a half.  When I buckled him into his car seat, he chattered as a 2-year-old will.  Where was Monkey?  Was Brutus coming? Juice? Sissy?  I handed him Monkey, put his juice cup in the cup holder of his car seat (yes, car seats have cup holders now), Sissy was at school, no, Brutus wasn’t coming with us now, Brutus would get a car ride later.  As  I drove, I looked in my rear view mirror and all of a sudden, it was 27 years earlier.  The little boy in the back seat was an almost exact replica of the little boy I had riding in a car seat back then.  Big blue eyes, eyelashes all women envy, curly light brown hair, big cheeks and a smile that steals your heart.  Going to the grocery store wasn’t a chore, it was an adventure.  It was a place where you could see new people, exclaim in wonder at the way a pineapple felt, sniff the flowers in the floral department.

All throughout the weekend, with the help of EJ and Sara, I was reminded to enjoy the simple things.  When you are chasing after a 2-year-old, you really don’t have time to think about which clients you need to call, or who you need to get an appointment with.  You have to be present and attentive, or you could find the floor covered with ice cubes because he discovered the automatic ice dispenser on the refrigerator.  When you hear the gleeful squeals of a boy and a bulldog puppy playing, how can you care about that report you should be writing?  Who needs expensive game systems when you have a sink full of water and dish soap bubbles? When Sara discovered my old ballet toe shoes in a box I was going through, I remembered how it felt to put them on for the first time.  The pure joy in her face when I said she could have them to keep reminded me that we don’t need to buy expensive gifts in order to make someone happy.

I could have continued to be caught up in all the things that I had to do, thought I should do, but the sight of the little boy in the car seat in the rear view mirror reminded me that though some days may seem endless, the years really do pass quickly.  One day, that 2-year-old will be a grown man with a little boy of his own, and all the cares and worries of an adult.  Too soon, that blond-haired girl, ecstatic because she was able to stand on her toes, will be off into the world, creating a family of her own.  I don’t think when that someday comes I will think of with regret the sale I didn’t make, but I know I would regret forgetting to enjoy the simple things.

 

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Back to School

It was appropriate that last Wednesday morning it  was cool.  After all, when you think of going back to school don’t you imagine it as being a clear. crisp, fall day?  I know there are year round schools now, and that many school districts, like ours, start well before fall, but I still think of starting school in the “fall”.  Although it was the middle of August, last Wednesday was the first day of school here.  It was the first day of Junior year for my youngest son.  How different it was from his very first day of school ever!  Then, I walked him in, got him settled in his classroom, reassured him that I would be there after school, and left with my heart in throat that my little boy was getting so big.  Wednesday, he could barely wait to jump out of the car as I pulled up to the curb.  Long legs were reaching out for pavement before I ever got the car fully stopped.  Instead of the kiss good-bye that I got on the first day of kindergarten (and for many years after that), I heard “See ya”  as the door slammed.  And my heart was again in my throat that my little boy was getting so big.

I’m at that point where I have to decide which things are “last times” and which things are “first times”.  It’s like the age-old question of “is the glass half full or half empty?”  Is he almost done with high school, or is he almost ready for college?  Is his first real girlfriend a step toward manhood, or the end of his being my boy?  Will getting his driver’s license be the beginning of his independence or the end of my being able to control where he goes?

The beginning of each school year is nostalgic and forward thinking at the same time.  We look back on what has gone before, of the changes that have happened each year and we look forward to the changes that will come.  It is a joy to watch our children becoming more mature, to see the new skills that they learn, to listen as their minds develop and their thoughts get more defined. To see them developing into the adults that they soon will be is exciting and interesting.  And oh, so heart wrenching at the same time.  Each step they take leads them away from you and towards independence.  As I watch him wave hello to a favorite teacher, and hear him calling out to a friend, a smile on his face and a spring in his step, I remind myself of the goal that I had as a new mother.  I wanted my sons to grow up as kind, caring men who make good decisions.  I believe I succeeded with my oldest, and I’m well on my way with this one, but for a little while at least, I still have a job to do.

And so as I drove away from the school last Wednesday morning, with these thoughts rolling around in my head, I reminded myself that the glass is not half full, but almost full.   I’ll enjoy the ride that Junior year will be and wait for more “first times”.

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We all know that certain smells and fragrances can affect us. They can put us in a good mood, or turn our stomachs.  The putrid smell of a rotting fish on the shoreline can wrinkle your nose and turn your stomach.    The fragrance of the wildflowers that line the drive into the cabin after a rainstorm, light, clean and fresh can lift your spirits.  I was reminded recently of how smells are also tied to our memories.  Just the hint of something familiar can take us back to another time, another place.  I have a handkerchief that belonged to my grandmother that still carries the faint aroma of her custom blended perfume.  When I take the little box out of my dresser drawer and open it, the scent takes me back to sitting with her on the 3 seasons porch, watching her “show” as she did her nails.  The smell of cedar mixed with pine can put me back on a mountain in Colorado, hiking with a friend under a clear fall sky.  Johnson’s baby shampoo will remind me of my boys, not tall and grown, but babies. How they felt snuggled in my arms, warm and drowsy, fresh from their baths. A couple of weeks ago I was doing some historical research.  There is a small museum up north that I thought might have some information that I needed.  They didn’t, but what they did have was a log bunk house used by the lumberjacks in the logging camps that covered Northern Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  I walked in and was immediately hit with the smell, followed by a flood of memories.

Log cabins, old log cabins, have a distinctive aroma. They smell of wood and pitch, of old smoke and years of dust.  To me, it is a heart warming, pleasant smell that fills me with happiness.  It brings back summers of the 1960’s, when my family owned a cabin called Ogasogg.  On a small private lake, the cabin was built by a famous artist from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  Along with the main cabin, it had several smaller structures, all made of hand crafted log.  There was the guest cabin, the hunter’s cabin, the studio, and even an outhouse that wasn’t really an outhouse, but a true bathroom.  They were all made of logs cut down on the property.  These weren’t the light-colored, fresh looking logs that are so popular today.  These were dark brown and closely fitted.  The cabin could look dark and scary if you got there late, hulking against the glitter of the lake under a night sky.  Inside, with a light lit, it would feel protective against the night, with all the creatures that scurried around through the forest.  Summers there were always summers of women and children.  Dad worked hard, and summers were the busiest time.  Concrete had to be poured, all work gotten in before winter snows made it impossible.  So he got to spend very little time there.  He would get us settled at the beginning of the summer, Mom, my 2 brothers, my sister and myself, along with a teenage babysitter or two, usually a couple of extra kids, an aunt and some cousins, and there we would stay until he came back to get us at the end of summer.  He would usually come up for a weekend or two in between.  In memory, these summers were magic.  Swimming and fishing, adventures in the woods.  Being left on Potato Chip Island by my teenage uncle and his friend.  Sleeping in the double bunk beds, boys in the top, girls in the bottom, covering our heads so that the errant bat couldn’t get us.  Going into town for a night at the drive in movie and a trip to the fudge shop.  Dinner at the restored lumberjack camp, where you could get fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and the best dinner rolls ever.  The bunk house that was at the museum was the same bunk house that had been at the restored lumberjack camp.  It had the same logging tools displayed, the same carved long canoe.  And the same smell.  The memories were so strong standing there, that I had an overwhelming desire to revisit the old cabin.  I had not been there for many, many years.  Would it be the same, too? I did go back, but that’s a story for another time.  I will say though, that it stilled smelled of wood and smoke, of pitch and old dust, and a hint, just a hint, of suntan lotion, and OFF, and pleasantly dirty children.

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