Thursday, July 16, 2015

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” Emerson (Ralph Waldo, that is)

I've missed talking with you all. It's incredible to believe that summer is whipping right along and a full month has passed since I put pen to paper or rather clicks to the keyboard.

I've learned that I and my people like some structure and all the more so when school's out. I'm not an over-scheduler and certainly don't step into this role in summer (of all seasons), but with some simple math I concluded that in summer we have an average of thirteen and a half hours of wide awake time to fill. Though they are darling and hilarious and great fun, even a long-fused momma like me can lose her shizzle after the 37th inquiry of "What else can we do?" comes from the mouths of the darling babes before noon time. Bless. Camp Activities Director I am not.

So, for the past two summers I have reaped the goodness of the plentiful variety of Vacation Bible School programs for my children. There are more than a few things to love about living in the south, but one of my personal favorites is the amazing offering of fantastic and free VBS camps available to local kids all summer long. The churches absolutely count on members of the community (not just the congregation) coming to enjoy the programs. The schedules are set early in the spring and the resourceful parent can have their little nippers registered in a different camp every week from June to August if they so chose. I do not so choose, but I certainly do (unashamedly) send them to more than one (or two) camps each summer.

This year our calendar was a glistening masterpiece of color-coded schedules thanks to the Zionists, the Lutherans, the Baptists and the community church. And seriously, God bless the Zionists because their program runs from 8:30am-4:30pm with snacks and lunch included for three days and costs exactly zero dollars. Hand to the heavens! The other programs run from 9am-noon, but offer just enough time for the Reluctant Camp Activities Director (woman in the mirror) to have a moment or two of silence and some coffee dates with friends. Though the girls bemoaned the ongoing programming a time or two, I know they enjoyed having a mother who wasn't going ape-loony all the live-long day. And truthfully, we still had a daily allotment of nine or more hours of awake time together, but who's counting?

After I'd allowed them to be educated/indoctrinated by all manner of believers (denomination/schnemomination - it's free child care, people. For the love!), our schedule was set for family vacation. We had a trip on the books for months to go down to South Padre at the end of June. But when my aunt Judy passed away June 15 ;and her memorial was set for the weekend we planned to depart, we shifted things slightly so that I could fly to Wichita to join my family in celebrating her extraordinary life. I cannot begin to tell you how incredible the time was and I am honored to have been a part of it. I really want to write about my time there and I will at some point. I'm just so glad it worked for me to go.

When I returned, Dirk and the girls picked me up at the airport with bags packed with all of the necessities for vacation, and hearts full of all of the anticipation of uninterrupted time together. The respite at the beach absolutely did not disappoint. It was magical in many ways to see the strength and beauty in the consistent waves crashing onto the shore everyday. Dirk and I watched the girls ride the waves on boogie boards with new found confidence and agility now that they are both strong swimmers. Though we've taught them to have a great respect for the power of the ocean, it was wonderful to be in the water with them and enjoy it together rather than hold onto to them with a death grip for fear they'd float off to Mexico alone. Of course one of the true gems of a beach vacation is that the Camp Activity Director is not on duty. The ocean becomes the unmatched playmate.

I spent a lot of time just looking at Dirk and the girls in disbelief that they're mine. Like I kind of can't believe I get to keep them. Truly mothering along side of Dirk is just more than I ever could have imagined. I knew it would be a good gig but it's so fun to see new things that remind me that the three of them are such extraordinary people.

More than once I had this feeling that was familiar to me but not in the company of my own family. You know how when you're around someone else's children who are really precious and fun and you hear them tell funny stories or make interesting conversation you just sit back and enjoy them. You just get to appreciate all of their unique contributions to the world because you don't have to do any of the heavy lifting--you're just there to appreciate them because nothing's required of you. That's how I felt around my girls countless times while we were at the beach. I mean, I got that I wasn't completely off duty and they required some parenting along the way, but it was just downright enjoyable. Wow, did that feel good to reap a harvest of ten years of tilling the soil. Treasured times.

We came home and had one day to unpack and launder everything and re-pack for our annual trip to Minnesota. We left on the fourth of July and found ourselves in the absolute lap of luxury at the Mall of America's Blu hotel, thanks to our dear friend Kristin who serves as the Director of Convention Services and Catering there. Suffice it to say, we were all spoiled to the core by her VIP set up for us and reveled in every second of it.

I only wish we'd had more than one night there, but if it had to be just one night, Independence Day wasn't a bad choice. Watching the fireworks in a bug-free, traffic-less, air conditioned, private suite with gorgeous hors d'oeuvres isn't all bad, turns out.

We were also fortunate to gather with some dear friends we've loved for thirteen years and reunited Emerson with some of her very first friends in Minnesota with whom she still corresponds and counts as part of her closest circle of friends. Kelly and I noted how wonderful it was to see our girls pick up just where the left off the same way that we do. For some sad reason, I took not a single picture (worth posting!) from our time together. So instead I share a favorite snap from another occasion of these two dear girls who are like family to us, Kelly and Lauren.

Aren't they gorgeous? You don't even know. Kelly is the strongest woman I've ever met and I've met some warriors. She's absolutely unstoppable and has fought for her family with a fierce love and strength that is show-stopping. After more than a decade of shared life together, we have so many common memories and hilarious inside stories that one phrase can have us both in stitches. "Infinity scarf" is one of so many. She's one of earth's rare gems and I'm so glad she's in my life.

This beautiful love is a whisperer to all animals, a spirit of encouragement, a risk-taker, and precious friend to all. She is also my goddaughter and will always have a piece of my heart.

When we left, she said to Kelly, "Only 364 more days until I see Emie again." That.heart.

From there we spent our time "Up North" as we call Northern Minnesota, was wonderful as well. The girls and I were lucky enough to spend one night in the cabin of some dear friends of ours who own a gorgeous home on one of Lake Vermilion's largest private islands accessible only by boat.

There are only eight cabins on the whole of it, so much of it is left un-tampered and absolutely stunning. You cannot imagine how quiet and calm it is there. If ever there was a writer's retreat, that would be it. But for our visit, we enjoyed Amy's famous sangria, a sunset pontoon cruise, wild caught salmon for dinner, and wonderful conversation. Ainsley fell in love (all over again) with Madeline and Sophie who have always been a tenderhearted and darling girls. Though Ainsley is much younger, the girls always made room for her in their times of play when we lived in Minnesota and their affections were not lost on my girl. Ainsley has been pining for new friendships and I think her heart reached new heights when she discovered the uniquely beautiful gift that reconnecting with true friends can be. She would not leave the girls' side for the entire visit. My heart was filled with such gratitude and hope in that setting for so many reasons.

The winters in Minnesota are extraordinary and heartless and long. It continues to astound me, that after months of assault and abuse from unimaginably cold temperatures, ice, and snow, the grass always comes back just as green and bold as before. The trees' leaves fill out and the lake's waters open. It's so brave and generous of them to give it another go year after year. There's just nothing like a Minnesota summer to renew hope in a person. Though the girls sometimes ask to go north when it's snowing, I'm so thankful we get to go there at the time of year when everything is emboldened and colorful.

The remainder of our visit was spent with Dirk's parents who still live in his childhood home in a city just 100 miles south of the Canadian border. Visiting there always floods my heart with memories. It is where I had my first glimpse of Minnesota when Dirk drove me there from my home in California in 1999. We made that town our home for the first eighteen months of our marriage and there were more than a few occasions when I felt like I was in a foreign country. Now though, it's strangely familiar to me and I understand the quiet pulse of the lifestyle there better than I used to. It was slow when we lived there and has slowed even further since, but it's a wonderful place to come and rest and care for the people who carefully and wisely raised the man I love.

Now my little tribe is all here at home for a bit until I take off next week for my high school reunion. Thirty years have passed since I wore acid washed jeans and sprayed my hair with innumerable cans of Aqua Net. There are friends coming from all over the country to attend the event and I'm eager and a bit nervous to walk back into that part of my world again. Aside from the wardrobe and hair, I hardly recognize the girl who tossed her cap into the air in the warm afternoon sun of 1985. But I am so grateful to be going back changed, stronger, and more comfortable in my own well-worn skin than I ever was when it was taut and smooth.

I've heard it said that life brings you to unexpected places and love brings you home. I like that. I've called so many different places home over the years, and I don't know if there are more places yet to come, but I know this--wherever we land, we'll bring our best and all that we've gathered from each of the places we have lived and loved.

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