Saturday, August 8, 2015

Driving to Mobile

We drove across the long, skinny bridge to Dauphin Island like a little matchbox car teetering on a flimsy plastic track. Our peripheral vision was swallowed by the Gulf of Mexico. My friends and I giggled nervously while I imagined a hurricane coming through and swallowing this little road.

   Road to Dauphin Island.                   Photo courtesy of

I was on a solo 6-day vacation to see friends. I took the long way. I meandered down through Southern Illinois, continued on to Nashville, hopped in the car with friends to drive to Mobile and then down to the tip of Dauphin Island. While driving is the means to an end it also serves as the transition between different worlds. As the miles stacked up behind me so did my petty work anxieties, the dishes that needed to be washed and the counter that needed to be wiped. I only had this one thing to do. Drive. The rolling Wisconsin farm hills flattened into wide Illinois farm fields which became the rolling hills of Kentucky, the flowering trees of Tennessee and the towering oaks of Alabama.

"Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road."
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Though vacations are usually about doing things, this vacation was largely about visiting. I visited with my best friend and her family and listened to stories about her girls and shared stories of my girls/boys. We took a midnight dip in the pool and tread water and talked and swam laps and talked and talked above and around the adolescent squeals of the girls.
I see her once a year. In many ways it is like no time has gone by when we see each other. We can immediately jump back into each other's lives. But I also see that a lot of time has gone by and suddenly her daughters look so much older and so much time has gone by since we last talked. But here we are having the best morning together.

I went on to visit with my Nashville friends as we drove through the pouring rain along the long Alabama highway. We arrived in Mobile and sat for long talks over coffee and over wine.

Mostly we ate. Ate and talked.

Our side trip to Dauphin Island was great and we successfully made it without drowning in the Gulf.
The stormy day enhanced my impression of this island as a rough and tumble little place. It seemed mostly wild and undeveloped.

We did spend half of our time inside of this bar though. It still counts as sightseeing. I read that they have a great bird sanctuary on the island. We did not see it.

These ladies filled up the empty spot where my girlfriend time used to be. It's hard if not impossible to balance a job and a marriage and kids and time with friends. But then you have a weekend where the balance teeters back and you feel centered again.

I didn't exactly travel across the country but traveling from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf Coast put a lot of miles in between my and my routine. As I ticked down my final highway miles at the end of my trip, I couldn't wait to rejoin my life.

Sally: Back then, cars came across the country a whole different way.
Lightening McQueen: How do you mean?
Sally: Well, the road didn't cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn't drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.
--Cars, 2006

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A walk in Minneapolis

As I walked the streets of downtown Minneapolis, early morning urban life hummed around me. People sat under the emerging sun with their coffees, young families and tourists appeared around corners, the Metro train streamed by and we all walked under the tall, shimmering buildings. The many al fresco rooftop and dining establishments were quiet, the hotel traffic was busy and downtown street life started picking up.
I soaked up the mostly unfamiliar street scapes, glowing restaurant signs, quiet skyways and small green spaces nestled into the neighborhood.  I got lost as I walked by pigeons and more quiet streets and I walked past Twins fans and visiting Cubs fans and the Target center loomed off in the distance.

Our weekend involved pushing a stroller through the rough and tumble neighborhoods on the way to Target Field. We checked the stroller, grabbed some beers and found my family in the stands. We cheered. We sweat. We ate peanuts. Some of us scored.

 We walked to Hell's Kitchen for a great meal, a nice band and good atmosphere.
photo courtesy of ehearts

 We walked over the Arch Stone Bridge for a music festival in the Mill District. 

We strolled under the hot summer sun.
The Minneapolis streets had made me nostalgic for the streets of Chicago. The streets I had walked and walked and walked when I was growing up. "How could anyone live 2 hours away from Chicago and not visit the city?" my dad would muse when we were growing up in rural Illinois. We would walk up and down Michigan Avenue, up and down State Street and down by the lakeshore. This instilled a love of Chicago, a love of big cities and a love for walking. 

Joseph Campbell talks about  having a sacred space "a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is a place of creative incubation. At first you might find that nothing happens here. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen." At first I thought a sacred space had to be a physical location but a sacred space is anywhere or anything that makes you feel free. The most recent Humans of New York post on Facebook was a picture of a 93 year old woman in her walking shoes saying:  "If you force yourself to go outside, something wonderful always happens."
Great childhood experiences settle deep in your memory banks. The best times with my husband and the kiddos all revolve around some type of adventure, a small road trip, a bike ride or just being on the move together, in sync.  As a newer foster parent, I often look at the little person in our care and want that for her. A bank of nice childhood memories to give her a good start.

 My dad had gone to the effort of coordinating the entire Minneapolis trip, getting hotel rooms and baseball tickets. He ended up missing the whole thing because he wasn't feeling well. But I experienced the gift he had given us as we walked those streets. My first thought as we left the city was "How could we live 2 hours from Minneapolis and hardly ever go?" We'll be back.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Entering into foster parenthood

I received the call at work. I had imagined getting this call and spent a lot of time wondering when it would come. There had been several false alarms over the past couple of weeks. I would see a voice mail hours after it came through. By the time I called back it was too late. I learned to carry my phone around with me. One day I was heading into a library instruction class when I saw the call come through. I hurriedly called back at the break. Our social worker explained that there was a little baby.

A year ago my husband and I sat in our little downstairs bar sharing our day with one another. On this day, we talked about parenthood, starting with the kiddos and then moving on to parenting in general. Becoming a family with Mike and his kiddos had been an exciting and very fulfilling experience. It was also overwhelming but I imagine parenting is overwhelming for everyone at some point. The only issue was that I felt I had another parental role that was still unfulfilled. I didn't know what that might look like but it was never far from my mind. As we sat there, one of us brought up this article we'd seen in the paper about foster parenting. We were both surprised at the sheer number of local kids that needed care. My husband said, "Why don't we foster?" He took the words right out of my mouth.

The foster parenting classes were a lesson in stamina. As we watched sad videos and listened to strict foster parenting policies week after week, I wasn't surprised to see people dropping out. I had expressed my reservations more than once after we'd gone home at night. I had to process what we were learning and then agree with myself to go back again. The class started with twelve and finished with seven. There were heartwarming stories too. It was gratifying to hear stories of successful foster parenting. It was exactly what you'd expect though. Or what I expected. A whole other world.

They were on our porch when I arrived home. The social worker picked up a car seat with a tiny sleeping baby in a little hooded sweatshirt. The social worker talked about the case and answered all of my questions. And then she left. It was just me and this baby. Ten pounds of dozing cuteness. This was my foray into foster parenting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Capturing my summer with an iPhone

I love the fact that summer is a whirlwind. The weeks fly by and the daylight hangs on and on. A visit from my little niece turns into a run around the neighborhood that is full of sun beams and summer breezes.

We had so much fun and I thought later about how much I wanted to just sit on the porch and do be lazy. I saw her urgency to get out and move and I followed her and I learned the thing I learn over and over.
 Moving is better than sitting.
 She squealed with delight as we walked the neighborhood. I just watched the sun set behind her, lighting up her blonde hair and reminding me of the fun of photography. Composing a shot is actually more fun with a phone because there is no fiddling with dials.

Kenny Ahern at Riverfront. He has a very silly comedic style. Parts of his show are like something you'd witness on a Parisian street corner with French accordian music playing in the background. My stepson got up on stage. Between the plate spinning and the hugging and the Irish music, I got all teary-eyed. These shows will surprise you.

My road trip through Illinois this summer made me nostalgic for the endless blue sky and corn fields that I grew up around. All sky all the time.

I took a bunch of pictures with my big camera but this one is my favorite. Just me and my pals.

Twelve kids, nine adults and a bunch of canoes on the Black River.

My husband kept stuffing away my phone but I still managed to stand on the sidelines and take pics of those more adventurous than me.

A glass of wine with the Beer by Bike Brigade

Swinging on branches.

Our one trip on the river this summer. Our tent collapsed, Mike fell in the river with our stuff, I was starving and impatient. Things didn't go according to plan. So we forgot the plan. We swam, ate lunch, danced in the water and I remembered how good spontaneity can be.

Burning marshmallows at Larry's house.

Cutest dog in the whole wide world.

Making my husband pose for another selfie.

Watching the storms roll in at Downtown Sound.

I spent plenty of time this summer being tired and unmotivated so it's nice to look back and remember that we actually did some things this summer. Some of the smallest moments made a lasting impact. And all it took was lifting an iPhone to capture them. And getting off the couch.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

My friends, Abe Lincoln and me

Yes, I did go to Springfield, Illinois on vacation. There are many historic sites there. There are some good restaurants. Oh, okay, it's really just a convenient meeting point for my Southern friends and me. There was some confusion though. My friend's dad said,"I never heard of anyone going to Springfield for fun."

We did have fun though. I really just wanted a weekend with these ladies. Having moved several times as an adult and now married with step-kiddos, making and maintaining adult friendships isn't easy. When Peter Klaven says, "I gotta get some f*ing friends" in 'I Love You, Man', I understood. I thought about the many transitional times in my life where I have thought the same thing. When I connect with old friends, I remember what it feels like to be around people that know so much of your story.

While waiting from them to arrive, I happily munched on my warm chocolate chip cookie from the front desk, drank the ice water with the floating fresh fruit and felt the happy glow of vacation. It was a brief one, just the weekend, but I was so ready to hang out with my gal pals. My husband asked me how long it would take to break out the wine once we were together.

Not long as it turns out. "We wouldn't want to disappoint Mike, " my friend said. We scooted our chairs around the little hotel table and looked on happily as Susan kept pulling more snacks and more wine out of her big cooler. We talked the way you do when you a) haven't seen each other in awhile and b) have been friends a long time so there are a lot of shortcuts.

This is a pretty organized group (I think I might be the laziest one of us) so soon we were off to catch the Frank Lloyd Wright tour before they closed.

Our tour guide was this charming person with a southern drawl and probably the best tour guide I've had. One of my friends, who shall remain nameless, developed a little crush on him. Oh yeah, and the architecture was fabulous too.

In between wining and dining, relaxing at the hotel and binging on Showtime's Masters's of Sex, we found time for the Abe Lincoln Presidential Museum.

I love that the bystanders almost look like part of the display. Can you pick out the museum statues from the museum visitors?

We walked the streets musing over the Abe-themed town. I was disappointed when our lunch place had sold out of the Abe's Ale. But he was around every other corner.

Abe's Springfield house

"It is one of the blessings of friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
After all the running around we did, the thing I really remember is hovering around the little table in the hotel room. When I was talking to my husband about his recent boys road trip he said the best part was sitting in a dingy little pizza parlor trading stories with his buddies. I drove away feeling relieved that I have friends that know me. And I know them. They know my family. I know their family. They saw me through, oh, some bad decisions...and likewise. Where will the trip be next year, I thought, as I sped away from  Springfield.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

8 kids and a dog at the Kickapoo Valley Reserve

What to do on another cold, snowy day with the kiddos? With winter hibernation settling in quickly, we turned to the hills and trails of our neighbors. The Kickapoo Valley Reserve(KVR) sits on 8,000 acres between the villages of La Farge and Ontario in southwestern Wisconsin. We went out for a day of "low-impact tourism".

The kiddo's ambivalence and impatience during the meandering car ride turned into snow-filled glee when we arrived at the reserve. Half the kids immediately disappeared into a snow pile. The visitor center was closed so we set off with a lot of energy, a little falling snow and no map.

We had the whole place to ourselves.

"The world I found was inside a book, and then that world was made up of 
even more books, each of which led to yet another world. It goes on forever and ever. 
At nine I thought I must get to Narnia or die. It would be a long time before I understood
 that I was already there."
Laura Miller, The Magician's Book: A Skeptics Adventure in Narnia

 We walked through the Narnia-like woods as if we had just rolled out of a wardrobe and the White Witch would appear at any moment. I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I was young. It's one of the few fantasy books I can remember loving...talking animals, magic wardrobes... snow-covered landscapes.. I didn't connect with all of the Christian elements of the story but loved the idea of being transported to an alternate world. And here we were. It was real.

"Wildness reminds us what it means to be human , what we are connected to 
rather than what we are separated from.
Terry Tempest Williams

As we walked by all of the natural wonders, under the falling snow and through the trees, the magical place rose up around us. 

We didn't see any woodland creatures. Or any witches. We did walk through rolling hills, over bridges and up and down trails.
I was just glad to be joined by 8 kids and a dog. Magic is always better when shared.