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Weekly Update

Thunder and Limes

I like thunderstorms.

I like the silence that descends before the water hits the ground and the way that the rain can start as splatters and crescendo into a downpour.

Even better, I like when it starts as a downpour, heavens releasing every drop of water they contain, unwilling to ease anyone into anything.

I like the way the sky becomes dark and it feels like night. It feels wrong, the midday light turning to that of evening dusk. But more than wrong, it feels very much right.


Also, I like cooking.

I’m not referring to the frantic, get dinner on the table, with four different variations to appease all tastes, kind of cooking. I am adamantly NOT referencing that.

What I am talking about, is the kind of cooking that involves chopping vibrant vegetables. The kind of cooking that evokes childhood memories. Basil in pesto, garlic on garlic, lemon. The sounds of bacon sizzling, the taste I sneak of the cake batter, the meatball hot out of the oven that I pop into my mouth. It is a meditation that involves all of the senses, wrapping me into a cocoon, reminding me that for this minute, I am here, fully present & all is right in my world.

The kind of cooking that leaves the kitchen dusted in flour, the dishwasher filled with measuring cups, scraps of sweet potato peels, and vibrant purple cabbage decorating countertops.


I love watching the drops of rain hit the ground, bouncing off of the steamy black pavement, or the raindrops racing across car windows, enveloping the other drops in their path, claiming victory at the bottom of the window.

The way the street shines, becomes glossy, and the world that I thought I knew by heart takes on an entirely different appearance.

Rain jackets and umbrellas, puddles for jumping, raindrop facials.

It is the same world I occupy every day, but with rain, everything is transformed.

When the storm lifts, when the sky brightens, I feel a little bit of sadness creep in, that this transformed landscape is returning to normal. The skies are done with their tantrum, the pause is over, everybody can just go back to what they were doing, forgetting that, for a moment that the world was different.


The mint and limes that once decorated my counters combine to create something they were not capable of alone. They are still them and they are also something new, the same way the sky transforms with the addition of nimbus clouds and raindrops.


It gives me great hope for this world, how things transform with simple additions.

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Weekly Update

Metamorphosis

We bought two milkweed plants a couple months ago after a neighbor showed me her caterpillar-covered milkweed.

Alice followed me as I carried the plants out of the car. “Where are you going to put them?” she asked, big blue eyes darting around the yard. I told her I planned to put them on the side of the house, because, to be honest, the milkWEED didn’t really fit in with the landscaping.

Alice had other plans though. She wanted them front and center, right next to our walkway. Though it didn’t help the decor, there are some times it isn’t worth arguing with Alice. In fact, it is almost never worth arguing with the dimpled-handed, wide-eyed, dictator.

She helped dig up the sandy soil and wrestle the weeds into their new home.

The leaves were covered in small dark dots. Eggs.

We checked the plants daily. I grew impatient as the black dots remained black dots. I began to wonder if they even were caterpillar eggs, or if the plants were just diseased.

But one morning, as I examined the plants, I noticed tiny holes covering the leaves. I flipped a leaf over, and sure enough, there was a teeny tiny caterpillar, munching her way through a leaf.

In the beginning….

I was mesmerized. Alice and Avery were…. sort of intrigued?

Each morning, I dragged the girls outside to stare at the caterpillars. We watched as the tiny holes on the leaves turned into large holes. We watched as the caterpillars shed their skin and grew larger. We watched as entire leaves disappeared and as the caterpillars ate down the stems of the plant.

Caterpillar looking for milkweed.

The plants disappeared as the caterpillars grew chunky, and I began to wonder when we would find a chrysalis.

Google told me that when a caterpillar is around 2 inches long, it turns into a chrysalis. So I measured them. They were easily two inches. I looked at them expectantly. I checked on them hourly, not wanting to miss the big transition.

But they didn’t. They ate, and they ate, and they ate. Again, I felt impatient. The same sort of impatience I felt when I was nine days overdue with Avery.

Nature really irks me sometimes, with its slow, never rushing progress.

I grew convinced that the lizards who live in our petunia plants must be eating the fat caterpillars, so I bought more milkweed plants and moved the remaining caterpillars to plants inside our screened-in lanai, away from the lizard population. I put them next to the glass sliding door in the kitchen, where we could watch them.

Finally, one day, I watched as a caterpillar hung herself upside down in the “J shape.” And I knew, it was about time.

I camped out in the kitchen, unsure of what I was looking for, but not wanting to miss the transformation of a chunky caterpillar into a green, gold-studded chrysalis.

Well, it turns out they hang in that J-shape for 12-24 hours, sometimes longer. So the next morning, as I darted to take a shower, it shed its final layer of skin.

And when I returned to the kitchen, it was in the final throes of scootching, bunching, and swinging itself into its beautiful green home for the next two weeks.

Caterpillar -> Chrysalis

Again, the waiting games were on.

I examined the chrysalis multiple times each day, looking for a sign- any sign- that a butterfly might emerge. If I looked at the chrysalis from the right, sun-lit angle, I could see the wings, neatly folded up.

As the days passed, the chrysalis turned from bright green to a darker green, eventually becoming see-through right before the butterfly emerged.

Hours before a Monarch emerges.

And then one morning, right as the sun was rising under dark thunder clouds, I noticed that the shape of a chrysalis had changed. I went outside to investigate further, and watched, as a newly emerged butterfly hung, her wings still folded and crumpled.

The crumpled wings of a newly emerged Monarch

Consistent with the great timing of nature, I had to go drop Avery off at school, so I couldn’t watch the transformation unfold.

When I returned, her wings had expanded to full size, wrinkle-free, and breath-taking. I brought her out of the screened-in enclosure, outside to the world. Her dainty legs clung to my finger.

She began to flap her wings, testing them out.

And then she flew. As if she had never, as Chad likes to put it, slimed around, eating leaves.

As I watched her fly away, I was reminded of a question Alice asked weeks earlier as we watched the caterpillars devour leaves. “Mom, does a caterpillar know it is going to turn into a butterfly?”

“I don’t know,” I had replied at the time. I was struck by her question. It was so deep, and simply worded something I often wondered about myself.

But now, after watching the whole process, I don’t know if that piece of the puzzle even matters. Maybe they don’t need to know the end result.

Maybe, the end result is a tiny piece of the puzzle, holding the same weight as every other moment. While I was caught impatiently waiting for the next transition, the caterpillar moved at her own time. Each moment was beautiful.

It is in the becoming, that I learn a lot from these chunky creatures. That they didn’t rush. That transformation wasn’t a loud, crowd-drawing process. It was silent. And patient.

The world continued to revolve. The transformation took place without applause or encouragement. The butterflies didn’t listen to my impatient muttering about hurrying up, nor did I get a notification about when the caterpillar would change into a chrysalis, or when the butterfly would emerge.

The butterflies reminded me that the best things happen in their own time. They gain inherent beauty from following their own path, growing on their own terms, transforming on a schedule only they can determine.

And the end result? It is perfect. But so is every other step of becoming.

Categories
Weekly Update

Vast, Like the Trees

After making our descent over the orderly grid blocks of Minneapolis containing houses and trees with changing leaves, we touched down on the MSP Airport tarmac.

Our suitcases were packed with a contrasting mix of dress clothes- black, for my Grandma’s funeral, and white flower girl dresses for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

I was anxious about this trip: the last time we flew into Minneapolis was disastrous- Alice puking on the flight and dry heaving in the rental car, which prompted Avery to faint, and then sympathy puke.

But as we pulled out of the rental car lot, I exhaled. The trip had gone without a hitch.

The first thing I always notice when driving out of the rental car lots in Minnesota is the trees. They are tall and wide, expanding, the antithesis of the skinny palm trees that linger awkwardly, mop heads blowing in the wind. The oak and maple trees are wild and audacious– a stark contrast to the manicured trees of Florida, who are hesitant to grow just an inch outside of their preconceived outline. And I like that a lot. The trees of Minnesota have a lot to teach.

My Grandma passed away over a year ago, yet with the timing of COVID, we were unable to have a funeral. I was beyond the waves of tearful grief hitting at unexpected times, I could talk about her without crying, and it seemed as if grief had run its course.

Her zebra print swimsuit is framed in the bathroom that leads out to our pool. Her blue flowered china is neatly stacked in my cabinets. I have voicemails from her saved, asking if I could please, for the love of all things holy, deposit the check she gave me 3 years ago so she could balance her checkbook. She is no longer here- but she is remembered daily.

It seemed odd, gathering so late after her death, to mourn something that had ripped our hearts apart long ago. The wounds had scarred over and it seemed as if there was nothing left to heal.

But as the pastor delivered the sermon at her memorial, grief washed over me again- filling my chest and eyes with the heavy, crushing feeling.

I tried to hold back the tears, but they still found a way to slip out. And in case you haven’t tried it yet, crying in a mask is messy business.

When it came time to bury her ashes, I had a chance to hold the urn containing the grains that made up who she was. It was odd- holding every ounce of the feisty, vivacious person I knew, now a silent mound of dust.

But there was an indescribable peacefulness.

As we stood in a half circle around her urn, with the pastor uttering the final blessings, a warm wind that was powerful yet gentle wrapped around us. And I knew, that she was there.

I remembered a long run I had gone on soon after she had passed. I could feel her presence deeply, and had talked to her as the miles ticked by. “Hi, G,” I had whispered on an exhale. The wind gusted around me.

The pastor reminded us that Grandma or as we fondly refer to her- G-Dizzle, would live on through us. We all carry different aspects of her from the imprint she left on our lives.

For me, it is the love of pinot grigio, a dry sense of humor, and the pointer finger that comes out when I get fired up.

As I said my final goodbye, hand pressed against the wooden box containing her earthly remains, I was reminded that pain is rooted in love. That the heartbreak I was experiencing was because of the deep love we had shared.

And I wouldn’t trade an ounce of the pain in exchange for the beauty that my world holds because she was in it.

Two days later, I watched my brother and sister-in-law exchange vows under the silver maple trees lining the Mississippi river. I watched a leaf float down from the tree, released from its duties. The wind caught it and guided it to the ground in a zig-zag, fluttery pattern.

I was sitting between my nieces and nephews- little Abigail, less than 2 weeks old. The moment contained it all. Love, new life, loss, joy, peace, and beauty, oh the beauty.

And it was vast, like the silver maples.

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Weekly Update

Path of Resistance

I received a message from one of my friends, joking that for the next mom’s morning out, we should do a swamp walk. Attached to her message was a link.

I was intrigued. Coming from Minnesota, I had never heard of such an activity, and it sounded like a bad idea, because…..alligators?

I clicked on the link. It detailed how you can sign up to be led on a walk through the swamp. Not on boardwalks, but in the water. The particular one I was looking at was rated 5/5 difficulty and was a 5 mile adventure through “a couple inches to a couple feet of water.”

My brain lit up. It sounded like something I was capable of. I love spending time outside, and a swamp walk sounded so… nature-y.

The stars aligned: I was somehow able to convince life insurance actuary husband who is healthily fearful of alligators and snakes to approve of my participation in such an event. AND, I was able to find a babysitter. So, I registered. Shockingly, none of my friends were interested willing to risk their lives.

So last Thursday morning, under the pink skies of sunrise, I found myself driving to the swamp walk with a considerable amount of anxiety.

I had already tried to talk myself out of it the day before, the survival-motivated side of my brain arguing that my allergies could be COVID and I should definitely not go and infect other people.

As I drove, my brain continued to bring up other valid arguments against attending: being unable to find the remote parking lot, alligators, snakes, not being able to keep up with the group, but mostly- the highest fear- was spending five hours, doing a rather intense activity, with a group of people I didn’t know.


As I ran through a list of the worries on loop, it occurred to me that often, when I am facing something I feel a lot of resistance towards- something that scares the crap out of me- it usually means I am on the right path.

I’ve encountered these moments before jumping off the diving board, before entering a room full of people I don’t know. The seconds that lead up to giving a speech, the pause before the gun goes off at the start of a race.

For me, these moments are marked by a racing heart, flip floppy stomach, and sweaty palms. I do not enjoy being in these moments. In fact, I almost despise them. I would completely despise them if I didn’t know, if I hadn’t learned, that these moments typically occur right before something great happens.

Usually, pushing through the resistance brings me to new places, new people, the opportunity to try something new. And almost always, I leave with a sense of accomplishment.

Maybe, these moments that I try to avoid should be sought out.


And so, as I turned off on a remote dirt road, lined by tall skinny cypress trees, hitting approximately 5 potholes per second, I ignored the voice in my head that said, “This looks like a spot you could get murdered.” And instead of following the voice in my head, I followed the dirt road, to a parking lot filled with the friendliest nature geeks you’ll ever meet and a disgusting port-a-potty.

The thing I had feared most- awkward moments with strangers- didn’t happen. I forgot that nature people are some of the most down to earth, hilarious, and friendly people.

We slogged through the water, stopping to look more closely at snail eggs, swamp apples, and the Lincoln Log cocoons of bagworm moths. We found a turtle, watched a water moccasin slither away, noticed a hawk feather, and then the hawk above, camouflaging into the tree, watching us curiously.

It was 5 hours of wonder, and it left me more refreshed than a massage. There is something about spending time surrounded by the color green. I left with muddy feet and new friends. It turns out, swamp walks are really good for the soul. Maybe just my soul?

Whatever it is for you, here’s to following the path of resistance. I’d highly recommend you give it a try. Safely. With other people. Because, as my mom reminded me, even the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns) go out in pairs. Which is precisely the motherly advice I’d expect to receive after walking through a swamp containing alligators and snakes.

Laura

PS- I didn’t take any pictures in an effort to remain fully present. But you can check out this website for pictures and learn a bit more about “Wet Walks”.

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Weekly Update

Wildflower

Country music gains a new dimension when listened to while driving through the country. The dirt roads, open fields, and endless blue sky add depth to the music; a new understanding. It’s one thing to hear it, another thing to be in it, completely submerged.

As we drove up and down country roads, the should-be exhaustion from a day filled with travel melted into calm. Our view was lit by a pastel sunset, hay bales, and cemeteries backlit by a gradation of colors. Black tree silhouettes stood firmly in the fading light. And I found my anti-country-music-self, humming along to Garth Brooks.

Dusk fell, and my eyes widened, trying to catch a glimpse of the fireflies that I knew were in the fields.


We took our annual trip to Iowa and Missouri, where Chad’s family has a farm and lake house.

Again, I found myself running up and down the endless hills of Missouri, trying not to die on the uphill’s, and distracting myself with views that only country roads can supply.

I was surrounded by open fields of wildflowers with farmland in the background, dotted by hay bales- a stark contrast to the houses that sit 4 feet apart in Florida, every inch of ground being developed and marketed.

The flowers gave me a good excuse to pause and catch my breath as I closely examined them. I ran among the milkweed, chicory, Carolina horsenettle, and wild carrots.

Coming from flat Florida, my legs were not ready for the rolling geography. I ran, fully present to a moment that contained both pain and beauty, focusing on just getting to the next patch of red clover, the next crack in the sidewalk, the next.


As my legs whined over-dramatically, I tried to distract myself.

I wondered how long it took for the flowers to spread across the fields. I wondered if certain wildflowers are more likely to grow next to each other- like friends.

I wondered if they were scared, when they took root. I wondered if their end goal was covering entire fields, or if they just focused on the beauty of the square inch they occupied.

One wildflower is beautiful. But a whole field? It’s next level.


It wasn’t until we were back in Iowa, bumping across the dirt roads that I spotted one, then many, fireflies rising from the ground. After tucking the girls into bed, I stood at the window, watching as they lit up the night.

One firefly is awe-invoking. But a whole field? Next level.

These moments, for a suburb girl, are pretty magical.


On the plane ride home, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have noticed the wildflowers if I hadn’t been stuck in the oxygen-deprived, gasping search for air as I ran up and down the hills. I wouldn’t have seen the fireflies if it wasn’t dark out.

Sometimes, I purposely put myself into these uncomfortable situations. Like when I laced up my running shoes and coaxed one foot in front of the other. Other times, I find myself in these situations as inevitably as day transitions to night.

Dark, but with beauty.

I’m intrigued by the combo. It seems they are often paired together, dark moments the perfect backdrop for the beautiful ones. Darkness, accentuating the light.

I don’t know what it means exactly, but I do know that we all experience darkness in one form or another. So the next time you find yourself in the dark; whether self-inflicted, or inevitable, find your wildflower or firefly to focus on.

Find your light.

Laura

PS- including links to my recent work published outside of this website:

You Don’t Need Another Parenting Book

Mom Jeans

I’m Not the Mom I Intended to Be

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Weekly Update

4

She eats pepperoni for breakfast and lies on the floor when she’s tired. She still has dimples on her knuckles and calls pajamas, “Pajammies,” which in my book is the most adorable thing ever. She uses my back massager on a regular basis, to “relax” . She blames her gas on her dolls. She likes to eat butter straight up, and gosh darn it, I can’t blame her.

About 3 months ago, she developed a hobby that she named, “Stickering.”

She carefully layers the stickers onto a sheet of printer paper, ensuring that there is no white space between stickers. Her creation is complete when both sides of the paper are covered. She usually works in some sort of pattern: often, spiraling from the outside to the inside of the sheet. She works on these creations for about an hour a day and it takes about 5 days to have a fully complete product.

She tells me that when she grows up, she wants to be a “o-fessional stickerer”. I asked her what o-fessional stickerers can do & she informed me that when she’s an o-fessional, she will be able to sticker a lot faster.

She sits quietly, taking one sticker off the sheet and carefully placing it on her piece of paper. She works slowly, methodically, patiently, until she is done.

These are all qualities I never really recognized in her, but that she’s had all along. It’s funny how as a parent, you can impose your belief of who the child is, over who they actually are. Believing that you know them better than they know themselves.

The proof is in the pudding. Or in this case, the stickering.

She is entirely her own being, with no engrained people pleasing tendencies. She does what she loves, even when we laugh at her.

She dances whenever she hears music- in the aisles of stores, at hockey games, at church. She doesn’t sugar coat things. And there is a heck of a lot I could learn from her.

The idea that kids know less than us, that they shouldn’t be taken as seriously, can’t be right. Sure, maybe they don’t know physics, but I think they have a greater understanding of some things then we as adults do, because their brains haven’t been taken over by social norms and people pleasing tendencies.

They have an abundance of wonder.

She is a thinker. She won’t always respond immediately, but within hours or days, she will respond to situations with insightful thoughts.

And sure, I’m her mom. So maybe I am biased, but she’s pretty incredible.

She taught me to dance when I am happy. That sometimes, a good cry is all you need to wipe your tears and move on. To think outside the box. To relax.

She is perfect as she is, and I love every inch of her.

Happy Birthday, Alice Jane!

Love, Mama

Alice Quotes of the Year:

“It is an old car! It is missing part of the roof!” – Alice on antique corvette

Avery asked Alice if she could borrow some stuffed animals. Alice replied, “No you called them babies last time so you have lost your privilege!”

Alice informed me that her dolls real mom died when she fell into a volcano, but that before she fell in, she asked Alice to take care of her baby when she died.

I told Alice there would be consequences if she came downstairs during quiet time, to which she reliped, “There will be consequences for YOU, if YOU don’t get your butt up here right now!”

“We can only yell if there’s an emergency or if we are pooping during quiet time.”

We were waiting for a gap in traffic so I could turn left and Alice yelled, “Come on buddy! C’mon grandpa!” She got my road rage.

When Avery and Alice argue, I remind them to say, “I don’t agree with you, but I still love and respect you.” Alice has turned it into, “I don’t agree with you, AND I don’t respect you.”

Avery draws pictures of Jesus’ family and Alice draws pictures entitled, “The Two Runaway Children” and, “Evil Daddy Shrinking Mommy”.

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Weekly Update

May You Be Fierce: A Wish for My Preschool Graduate

When the year started, Avery was, as us loud people brusquely diagnose, “shy.” She didn’t talk to her teacher for the first month of school. We weren’t sure if she would live silently forever, or if she would take root in her class.

It started gradually, a shoot peeking out of the ground. Each Monday, she informed us of the letter of the week. A few months in, we were excitedly told that she had been selected as “Line Leader”, a highly coveted position in the preschool class. By the end, we were counting fingers and sounding out words, talking about volcanos, and discussing composting. But it wasn’t the knowledge acquired that I was impressed by.

I watched as she blossomed. I watched as she started making eye contact when people talked to her, watched as she answered questions, talking in her “loud voice”. She developed quite a sense of humor, and along with it, the breathless kind of silent laugh that goes on for so long, you wonder if she’s getting enough oxygen as her face turns bright red. She aptly acquired the nickname, “Giggles”. She was comfortable in her skin, fully being who she was.

I watched as she interacted with other small humans kindly, thoughtfully.

And so, when it came time to watch Avery walk across the graduation stage, I felt, unexpectedly sentimental. I watched the same kid who didn’t talk to the teacher for the first month of school, shout-sing and dance in front of an auditorium jam-packed with people.

It was a new kind of feeling that I hadn’t experienced yet as a parent. And the feeling I got, from watching her be proud of herself; from watching her be so happy in being precisely who she is, being her total authentic self; I don’t know what that feeling is named. But it was a combination of joy and pride and beauty; it was the awe-inspiring and majestic feeling you get when you look at a mountain, or a waterfall, the feeling of being simultaneously captivated and devastated that you can’t stay in the moment forever. All of these feelings and emotions smooshed together in my chest and made me want to cry and laugh at the same time.

Also? It was heart-wrenching. Heart-wrenching in that I knew this moment wouldn’t last forever for her.

I so badly wished I could freeze time; solidify this moment. Her, in a tropical print shirt with a white skirt with fading gold Minnie Mouse heads peppered across, an outfit she happily chose that morning. She didn’t exactly fit in with her classmates in pleated dresses with matching bows, but gosh darn, she was glowing. Her, smiling over at me whenever she got the chance, occasionally waving with a gleeful grin. I wanted this part of parenthood to last forever. I wanted this relationship that she had with herself, the ability to be fully who she is, to last forever.

She’s too little to hear it; to understand it, but if I have one wish for her, it is that she somehow, in this society that is so critical of body image, where the soul-sucking act of fitting in is viewed as imperative for survival, remains true to her colors. Bold. Audacious. Able to recognize that these rules are something she can choose not to follow.

I am sad she’s graduating from preschool; moving on to the next phase of life. But overriding that sadness is a fear of what is to come. A fear of dipping my child into a world that is not always compatible with authenticity and joy. Fear of the hardships she will face. A fear that I have no idea if I will be able to raise her to be buoyant. It’s a part of parenthood that isn’t often discussed; it is deep, dark, and terrifying.


Sometimes we verge onto the edge of these discussions when we talk about how scared we are for our kids to have phones. Sure, security plays a role in our concerns. But more so? We know what phones have done to us. We know the magnifying impact that the ever-expanding world of media and technology can have on our adult brains. We know the ability they have to suck us in, to mindless scrolling and endless comparison against images that are not real, filtered lives that only show the best moments, or carefully curated moments.

Is it fair to submerge them in this world? Can someone please tell me how to raise a kid in a world that I have difficulty thriving in myself?

My fears layer atop each other. The line between fear for my kid and sadness about my own experience with the world is indistinguishable. They meld into one.

Is this a universal fear of parenthood? Did the cave people have an overwhelming fear that God forbid, their child was going to be an adult who used a fork? Would forks change society forever?

Maybe this fear is central to parenthood. Maybe, regardless of when you raise your child, you are fearful for the way the world will evolve by the time you die, by the time they have to take a stab at it themselves.

Will she be okay?

I don’t know. And that is the hardest, biggest, battle of parenthood. The anxiety, that hits the moment your child graces the world with their presence, that something awful will happen. The fear that we aren’t in control of the most important, precious, part of our life. That we can’t always protect. That bad things happen. That mistakes will be made and please God, let them be manageable ones.

When my Avery was first born, I viewed her as an extension of me. She had been literally, woven into my body. She was a part of me, and I, a part of her. When she learned to talk though, I faced the curious reality that she was an entirely separate domain from me. That she is her own little human, who has her own little opinions, and that, she holds these opinions fiercely.

And as annoying as it is when I tell her it’s time to brush her hair & she adamantly says, “No,” I hope with all my heart that she keeps this fierce part of her nature.

Because, as she will learn, if you don’t make choices for yourself, life will make them for you.


We are in the glorious and brief window of her, being completely happy with who she is.

It seems cruel, how quickly this period disappears. I desperately want to take her to an island where there is no TV, no social media, nothing. I want to cloak her, wrap her up, and keep her safe.

But I also know that she has to develop the skillset to thrive in this medium. It isn’t fair to lock her away from the reality which she inhabits. However, it is also my job to teach her to question this reality. To show her that the world isn’t everything it portrays itself to be.

That there is so much good. That it isn’t all dark, but also, that some of it is. That the world is full of beauty if you look in the right places. That human connection will be the key to survival; the key to thriving. That screens, while sometimes beneficial, are not the world.

And yes, I realize the irony that I’m looking into a screen as I type this, watching as letters combine to form the words and sentences that make up this essay that I hope one day she will read, and understand, and hopefully not be too embarrassed by her mom.

I watched in awe as she shimmied her hips, unabashedly, while the rest of her classmates followed the choreographed moves (which shimmied hips were not a part of). I was not in awe of the dance move- she got my dance skills. I was in awe of her willingness to take her own path, to veer off the train tracks, to be her one and only, beautiful, authentic, unique self.

And I hoped, one day, maybe, that I will be as brave as her. 

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Weekly Update

Summer

Growing up, Summer began on Memorial Day with a race into the lake, winner being the person who was crazy enough to submerge in the frigid waters. The water of Long Lake was murky brown, and sketchy things happened on the shores- but I was too little to notice.

Summers were marked by peaches, plums, and nectarines ripening in brown bags on top of the fridge, raspberry picking in thorny patches, swimming “laps” in our kiddie pool, lunches outside, and hours spent aimlessly roaming. It was chasing Monarch butterflies, catching grasshoppers, and mosquito bites; lots of them.

I had mostly forgotten these things. But as I bit into a juicy peach this morning, memories came rushing back. I shared half of the peach with Avery, hoping to transfer the flavors of summer to a very blonde girl with very brown legs, who is growing up in the eternal summer of Florida.


After graduating college and heading to work, summers became a thing of the past. I carefully calculated my PTO so I could take a week off up North, but that’s about as close to summer as things got.

The first year of living in Florida was a year of summer, with no schedules to follow or home to maintain.

But this year, things changed. For 9 months, I drove Avery back and forth between preschool and home, 2 hours worth of commuting, 5 days a week. We were tethered to the schedule of pick up and drop off.

Two weeks ago, I watched Avery cross the stage at preschool graduation. I realized with a start, that despite the heavy feeling in my heart that I think all mamas get when their babies graduate from anything, we were about to slip into 3 precious months of freedom.

No longer bound to commutes or schedules, our days are lighter, containing fewer musts and more lets. Currently, we are enjoying not having to get dressed for the day, mostly wearing pajamas all day and putting on a new pair each night. Outfits are so complicated.

I don’t have to wake with my usual ferocity, trying to cram running and showering and praying and writing all in before Avery pads down the stairs. I do continue to try to fit all of these things in before her blonde mop appears before me, snuggling into a hug, but the pressure is off.

We spend our awake time slothing around, doing nothing in particular. This might be because preschool graduation was the perfect petri dish for a bug to take down the entire preschool class and their families. So mainly, we mope around, with junky coughs and sniffles. But hey, we are free.

Bedtime is later now, so we are no longer rushing against the clock to get the girls into bed by a certain time, to ensure a certain number of hours of sleep are acquired before the whole thing starts all over.

There is less math over how early we need to leave to be on time (or at least, not rudely late) and less battle planning over what things need to be packed for optimal survival of the day. There are a lot fewer calculations in this summer life.


After the girls are tucked in, I drag my yoga mat outside as the sun is setting; usually, not thrilled to be taking 30 minutes that could be spent loading the dishwasher. Slowly, I melt as downward dog becomes tabletop, and tabletop becomes child’s pose. During bridge pose, I watch as the clouds cross the sky, moving microscopically slow. Yet when I close my eyes for just a minute, I open them to an entirely different scene; clouds having sneakily rearranged themselves.

This summer will not be the same as my childhood summers; things are a little different here. For one thing, we will bake in the humid oven of Florida. Unlike crisp Minnesota lakes, the ocean is warm and leaves our skin sticky with salt and sand. Lunches will be enjoyed inside, in the cool reprieve of air conditioning. And raspberry bushes are a thing of northern states.

Yet while the clouds might have shifted, creating a new view, we are still under the same blue sky. The essence of summer; the late nights, popsicles, scootering and biking, pajamas for days, peaches and nectarines and plums, will remain. And that is what I most hope to transfer to my little nuggets.

Happy Summer,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

The Healthy Vacation

Three years ago, for Chad’s 30th birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Hilton Head, SC- just the two of us. This was back when we lived in MN, and the warm weather was so welcome. It didn’t hurt that they have great golf courses.

We went for a long weekend. The trip was amazing and we vowed to return.

Realizing that we only live 8 hours away now, it got put on the bucket list for 2021. Now living in FL, we visited for the cooler weather. Chad did his usual thorough research and found a reasonably priced condo on the ocean. Despite my concerns that there might not be enough to do, we booked for a week.

Given the length of this trip, I righteously appointed it as a, “healthy vacation,” vowing to eat well and continue exercising. I packed my running shoes, carrots and apples. I also packed a family size bag of peanut butter m&m’s. I will let you judge what my actual intentions were.

Each morning, I stepped outside in my running shoes to witness as the world quietly woke up. The sand of Hilton Head beach is firmly packed, providing solid ground for running. It took a minute to fall into the rhythm of the run- waiting for my jagged breath to sync up with the rhythm of the waves whooshing in, shortening and lengthening my strides to avoid stepping on jellyfish, all in the pinky purple morning light.

The sun rose as a big ball, hazy. Murky air surrounded it, giving the sky a pastel effect. Endorphins collided with beauty and peace; the best sort of outcome you can have with a run.

I ended each run by taking off my shoes and wading into the ocean, cool salt water enveloping my legs.


It was a heavy on nature kind of trip. We watched in awe as hundreds of tiny crabs emerged from holes in the salt marshes, waving their arms, and skittering back to their holes whenever they detected a threat. We caught, out of the corners of our eyes, jumping mullet, in the otherwise calm pond waters. We watched from our deck as a large pod of dolphins swam by, catching their dinner and occasionally stopping to play.

One day, we came upon a beach of horseshoe crabs mating. The female crab was buried under the sand, while multiple male horseshoe crabs attempted to attach to her so they could fertilize the eggs once they were laid. *

I explained to Avery and Alice what was happening. Chad shot me a look. It’s the same look that he gives me when I let the girls jump from a spot that is a little too high for his actuarial risk calculations, or when I pick up a millipede and ask if they want to hold it.

“Do you really want to use horseshoe crabs for your explanation of the birds and the bees? Five males on top of one female?” he asked, good protective father that he is.

“Fine,” I replied, “maybe you are right. I just thought it would be funny if the girls look back on life and remember that I tried to teach them about the birds and the bees with horseshoe crabs.”


It was the kind of vacation that left tan lines and chipped toenail polish. It was the towels out to dry over chairs, sand in our sheets, swimsuits count as underwear kind of vacation. The type where days meld together, sunrises becoming sunsets, days less governed by clocks, and more governed by whims. The kind of vacation where nothing was perfect and that is why everything was perfect.

By the end of the trip, my brain had also taken on the pastel effect; a little murky, but with beautiful subdued thoughts. I watched as Chad typed, “Stock Market” into his phone and wondered what sort of food they served at this market. When I saw the financial graphs and arrows appear, when I realized he was still existing in the non-vacation world, at least partially. And I was fully submerged: only concerned about my next meal, wondering about the food at the elusive restaurant, “Stock Market.”

We left relaxed. A week had been the perfect amount of time- long enough for our brains to fall into the lull of the ocean waves, long enough for endless bouts of family giggles, long enough.

When it was time to go home, we sleepily piled into the truck at 5am with sun kissed skin, a trunk that was packed to the brim, and memories for a lifetime.

And if I’m going to be honest, by the time we pulled into our driveway 9 hours later, we were exhausted. Already in need of another vacation.

But I think that is just how it goes when you travel with kids.


* Horseshoe crabs have been around, relatively unchanged for 445 million years- yes, they were here prior to the dinosaurs. They actually are not part of the crab family and are more closely related to spiders. Most importantly, in my subjective opinion, they are one of the ugliest creatures to inhabit the earth. You’re welcome, for yet another nerdy fact.

Categories
Weekly Update

Catching the Wave

If you are looking to get writer’s block, I would highly recommend taking a writing class.

Now, I question every decision I make, every word choice. I miss the days when I could sit down and bang out a blog post in an hour. These days, it feels tedious, my once carefree process bogged down by doubt.

It is also true, I hope, that growth requires an awkward stage before the blossoming stage. I have arrived fully in the land of awkwardness, bags packed, unsure of how long I will stay. If my awkward phase lasting from 4th grade to junior year of college is any indication, I could be here awhile.


A few months ago, after a glass of wine on date night, I convinced Chad that we needed to buy boogie boards before we went to watch the sunset. Things get really wild after I have one glass of anything.

He didn’t quite understand the urgency of the situation; but good husband that he is, he went along with my wine driven aspirations. I tried to explain to him the joy of a perfectly caught wave. He looked down at me and smiled, blue eyes gleaming. Did he think this was funny?

Unfortunately, we arrived to a very still ocean that night; wave free. Glassy water. Murphy’s Law of Boogie Boarding: buy a boogie board and all the waves will disappear.


Boogie boards bring back memories of a family trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina after my senior year of high school. We rented a house on the ocean. The waves were huge and the water was full of jellyfish. But in his typical you’ll-be-fine-ness, my Dad had us all in the ocean within an hour of arriving to the house.

I look back in awe of my parents, sending their eight kids out into big waves, trusting that we were strong enough swimmers. Their confidence in us was (is) powerful.

They were the opposite of “helicopter parents” yet no one ever broke a bone, and I think the number of ER visits among 8 kids can be counted on one hand… not counting the time someone took a hockey puck to the face and got stitches in the bathroom at home. I can only hope I do half the job they did.

We spent every day of that trip on the boogie boards in thick humid air, riding the waves. We learned why rash guards are a thing, our bellies rubbed raw by the salt, sand, and seawater that sandwiched itself between our skin and the board.

It is addicting, catching a wave. Learning to time when you start paddling so you align yourself just ahead of a cresting wave. The force you feel behind you, the thrill of speeding toward shore, becoming for a moment, one with the ocean.

But before we got good at it, there was a big period of learning.

We had to learn the best spot to wait for the waves, and more dangerously, how to get there. We were knocked down and experienced nosefuls of saltwater until our Dad taught us to dive down, popping back up once the power of the wave lifted and released us.

Once we had that down, we had to figure out how to catch a wave: waiting for the perfect one- one that was just about to crest. One that was not too far, and not too close.

This was something our Dad couldn’t teach us.

Sometimes we started paddling too soon; other times, we were too slow. Waves passed beneath us, leaving us floating in almost the same spot where we had started.

But soon, we learned the rhythm. And when everything went right; when the stars aligned, it was magic. Pure magic.


A couple of weeks ago, my nieces came to visit- they are a bit older than Avery and Alice and the perfect playmates. When they are here, the girls run off, and for a moment, it’s like they can parent themselves. It is lovely.

We spent a day on a pontoon out on the ocean. The sky was cloudless and the water was warm enough for swimming. We brought along the boogie boards, hoping to finally get some use out of them.

On this particular day, there were small waves, but they had just enough oomph to give the girls a taste of catching a wave.

I tried to explain how to do it- waiting for the right wave, starting to kick at the right time, paddling until the the water swells and picks you up with its force.

But an explanation can only go so far; it is more of a feeling that one has to acquire- a sense. The girls went through the same learning curve- getting passed by some waves, catching others.

A lot of stars need to align to catch a wave.


Maybe writing is like that too.

I’m constantly missing waves, or being completely overpowered by them. Flattened by the great essayists, I begin to doubt there is value in my own voice.

I’m in waist deep water, waiting to understand the rhythm of a force much larger than me. I’m waiting for my senses to attune themselves with the cadence of the ocean.

For now, I am enjoying the salty water and the sand beneath my toes. I’m trying to accept the nosefuls of saltwater that come with the territory.

The learning is part of the journey- not just something to overcome. It is not “before”, it is “part of”. It should not be excluded from the rest of life.

So here’s to embracing the awkward, brace filled moments that eventually lead you to straight teeth. The moments of being knocked over by waves, that eventually become moments of catching big ones. The moments that are not always enjoyable, but push us forward, bringing us to new places.

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Stomach Ball

Here is another writing assignment from my class: sharing a childhood memory. Enjoy!

I clearly remember the first time I performed brain surgery. The patient had thick blonde hair, but it only grew around the perimeter of her head, leaving an open patch of her scalp. This meant that no shaving was required before the operation. Convenient, because my mom didn’t let me borrow her razor, and the sharpest tool I owned was safety scissors.

My patient, Sally, required no sedatives. Her blue eyes were wide open with fixed pupils; typically an ominous sign, but not when your patient is a Cabbage Patch Doll.

I’m sure you have questions about a five-year-old brain surgeon.

  1. No, I wasn’t allowed to have a scalpel, so I used a red pen instead. It was handy because it left a red trail of blood.
  2. My knowledge of the brain was essentially nothing, but I did have a great “Body Atlas” book that I referenced during operations. And yes, this is the same book that inspired me to draw anatomically correct naked bodies on our driveway in chalk. While my dad seemed impressed by the detail, he hosed them off the driveway immediately.
  3. Finally, to answer your burning question: the head of a Cabbage Patch Doll was too hard to cut through with my red pen scalpel, so there was a lot of imagination involved in these operations.

I finished up operating just in time to say goodbye to my oldest sister, Rachel, who was off to the Science Museum for a birthday trip with no siblings.

Was I jealous? Maybe, but there were other important things to be done: collecting acorns, drawing brain tumors, snooping.

The afternoon passed and Rachel returned home, toting in a little white bag, her gift shop purchase. Inside? Stomach ball.

I was enraptured, but of course, I was simply a peon in her rule of the house. I would not be allowed to touch this precious object.

Hold up, you don’t know what stomach balls are?

I’m sorry. I thought everyone knew.

The stomach ball was about the size of a baseball, and squishy, like a stress ball. It was clear, and inside were the stomach and intestines, bathed in green goop. It made a lovely noise whenever it was squeezed, the same gurgle you might hear from your stomach right before encountering explosive diarrhea.

When Rachel was not around, I would find it and squeeze it between my fingers, organs oozing out between my thumb and forefinger. I was intrigued by the intestines. What were they made of? How were they so squishy? I wondered what they felt like.

They looked lonely. No one wants to be stuck in a clear ball. Except for hamsters, hamsters do seem to enjoy it.

How, I wondered, could this problem be solved?

Red pen scalpel poked me through my pocket.

My brain ticked. Neurons fired. A lightbulb appeared.

My brain surgeries on Sally had never gotten far because her skull was too hard. Also because my parents didn’t give me a scalpel. But stomach ball? Oh, stomach ball was teeming with opportunity.

My fingers itched. While Rachel was practicing piano, a mandatory 30 minutes, I snuck into her bedroom and snatched stomach ball from the shelf.

I pulled out my scalpel and attempted to make an incision. But the ball was too squishy and morphed around the pen, unwilling to pop.

Dang, these red pen scalpels. Worthless. The wheels in my brain turned.

A kitchen knife? No, I couldn’t reach them.

The saw in the garage? Too violent. I did not want to maim the intestines in the process of extracting them. This was not “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

I needed something heavy.

I happened to know that beds are heavy because when I tried to run away, Rachel had helped me tie mine up so I could bring it with me. She was a kind one, that Rachel.

I lifted the mattress and slid stomach ball underneath, planting my 40-pound self on top, envisioning the ball bursting open, intestines oozing out.

I peeked under the mattress. Nothing. Stomach ball remained intact.

I found my sister Amelia and explained I needed help. This was a risk. Amelia was holy. She liked to play “nun.” I was not sure if she could be tempted.  

But it turns out Amelia is the kind of sister who is there when you need to pop stomach balls. She agreed; I needed more weight on the mattress. We both hopped atop the bed.

I remember laughing as we bounced, wicked grins plastered across our faces, sure our evil plan would work.

For a minute, we forgot about stomach ball and gleefully jumped on the bed. But I couldn’t be distracted for long; this was, after all, a pivotal moment in my life.

Carefully, we lifted the mattress. I pulled out stomach ball and examined it.

Sure enough, our plan had worked. There was a hole. I squeezed some of the green goo out and prepared to extract the intestines.

I was caught in the glory of the moment and hadn’t heard the kitchen buzzer go off, marking the end of piano practice.

Suddenly, the door barged open. Rachel stood in the doorway. Her steely eyes darted around the room. Scalpel. Stomach ball. Wicked grins.

She.

Was.

Furious.

Rachel ratted on us and our mom threw the stomach ball away. Rachel was devastated at the loss of stomach ball; I was devastated that I never found out what the intestines felt like.

Thirteen years later I went to college, and learned that skulls aren’t opened with scalpels; they are opened with saws. I got to touch real intestines; though the formaldehyde was overpowering and it was an anticlimactic moment.

Medicine, as it turns out, was a lot more fun when I was a kid.

Categories
Weekly Update

Wide Eyed

As I mentioned last week, my focus will be away from the blog for a bit while I take my creative writing class. However, I thought I would share my first assignment with you: writing a profile of myself as a writer, sharing literary and life influences. Consider yourself warned, it is long.

As the sun dipped low in the sky, our mom called us in from the backyard, where we were submerged in the world of imaginary play. If it was summer, the chirp of crickets filled the air, signaling that night had arrived. If it was winter, we unlaced our skates, quickly putting on our boots before freezing air stung our toes.

We trudged up the hill, beckoned by the warm glow of the open back door.

After racing to put on our pajamas and vying for the best spot on the couch, we were quiet, ready to listen to our latest book.

No longer on the couch, I found myself barefoot in the grass, blue dome overhead. I listened to the narrative of Laura Ingalls Wilder, also a Midwestern girl with, needless to say, the best first name. I listened with wide eyes as she described a panther that silently stalked the family from the trees. I fell asleep with the sheets pulled tightly over my head to protect me from the panthers, though they still found me in my dreams.

While Ingalls Wilder captured the magic of the wilderness, Beverly Cleary captured each conceivable emotion of childhood through her character, Ramona.

I related to Ramona on so many levels. The way her mouth got dry when she was in trouble, the rising anger when her classmate Susan copied her owl, the love-hate relationship she had with her sister. I wished I could be as free-spirited as Ramona. I was in awe of how she acted on her impulses; how everyone knew exactly how she was feeling. Hidden in the mass of my siblings, I did my best to stay under the radar and away from the limelight.

“She ran from her conscience and from God, who, as they said in Sunday School, was everywhere. She ran as if Something was coming to get her. She ran until her lungs felt as if they were bursting with the smoky air.”- “Ramona the Brave,” Beverly Cleary


I also ran, but not from God. I ran until my lungs pleaded for oxygen and my legs drowned in lactic acid. I ran as my brain worked to convince my body it was not dying, despite the S.O.S. messages being fired between neurons. I ran.

My parents required me to do a sport freshman year of high school. Since I lacked hand-eye coordination, I joined the cross-country team.

The thing about running is you have a lot of conversations with yourself.

“Walking is so great. I should appreciate it more.”

“But you know what’s even better? Lying on the couch.”

“No driver! Don’t wave me through! I just wanted a minute to catch my breath. Gah, now I have to keep going. Screw you and your nice manners, you wonderful human, you!”

Through running, I found my voice. I had endless conversations with myself. I listened to plenty of conversations in my brain. I was both the participant and the observer.

Though I wasn’t writing yet, I came to know my voice well.

I continued reading, with “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my favorite book. I was inspired by Atticus Finch, going against the grain to take a stand for what he believed.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”- “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee­­­­­


Poking around in the peritoneal cavity of cadavers was as close as I was going to get to climbing inside of someone else’s skin.

In college, my days were spent pouring over anatomy and physiology textbooks, memorizing foreign words. I was captivated by the language of medicine. Mitochondria. Zygomatic bone. Patella. Cytoplasm. Lacrimal gland.

I told my friends I was going to name my first child, “Mitochondria” because I thought it would make a beautiful name. “Ria” for short. We all snorted with laughter as we downed our 10th coffees, cramming for the latest exam.


After I became a nurse, I worked on the blurry line between life and death, finding out for myself that fairy tales don’t have happy endings.

The prince fights cancer, not a dragon. Like the fairy tale, the prince doesn’t give up. He remains “Full Code” and undergoes CPR three times to try and make it to his daughter’s high school graduation. But the prince doesn’t win; cancer does, and the princess is left to attend their beautiful daughter’s graduation alone.

I ran, facing the emotions I had suppressed while doing chest compressions, the depressing fairy tale ending, the reality that medicine couldn’t fix everyone. I ran until I could face my nightmares, no longer about panthers. I ran until I was okay.

Working a rotation of all three shifts, night and day blended; time warped. Reading at this time was not books. It was charts.

“56yo Female, presents with confusion. History of liver cirrhosis, MELD score 32, jaundice noted bilateral eyes. Rectal tube placed. Lactulose Q2hrs. Will continue to monitor.”

“Alert and oriented x2. Oxygen sats 90%, HR 136, BP 80/40. Primary doc paged to notify. Will monitor closely.”

Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor. Will continue to monitor.


I got married and learned that despite what I had been told, I was able to get pregnant very easily. Very as in, the night of our wedding, easily.

While pregnancy came easily, labor and delivery did not. Avery was born blue. The NICU team huddled over the incubator, where it took four attempts to intubate her. I watched as her oxygen saturation dropped dangerously low, the same pit forming in my stomach as did when participating in a code.

Except this was my kid, and now I was a mom, lying naked on a hospital bed under fluorescent lights, almost as vulnerable as she was. I was supposed to protect her; but instead, I helplessly watched as she struggled to take her first breath of air.

Though she was little, she was fierce. After her intubation, they were able to clear her airway. Three days later, we left the hospital. My world crashed. I morphed from having complete confidence in myself to absolute terror that I would accidentally kill my baby. Life seemed scarily fragile. Avery didn’t seem too shaken.

As a new mom, I prioritized sleep over reading. But when I returned to work, I listened to books on my commute. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only person overwhelmed by motherhood when listening to, “And Now We Have Everything,” by Meaghan O’Connell.

I was inspired to resume running after listening to, “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis. “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, gave me the push I needed to leave my cushy job in cardiac research to challenge my brain with oncology research. I questioned the narrative I had created about my life after reading, “Braving the Wilderness,” by Brené Brown.

“The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives… It’s showing up in our vulnerability and our courage, being both fierce and kind.”- “Braving the Wilderness,” Brené Brown


What better way to practice being simultaneously fierce and kind, than in the battle against cancer?

When I worked in oncology research, my mind was filled with beautiful words. Pembrolizumab. Nab-paclitaxel. Daunorubicin. Atezolizumab. Drug names that for some, meant a cure. For others, simply hope.

“These spots could be cysts. But if they are cancer, this is very bad news.” I listened as a young Indian doctor delivered this news, her big eyes sharp, her lilt lyrical, her news, terrifying. I watched as the wife squeezed her husband’s hand, trying to offer support on a journey only he could take. And I read the scan results three days later. Cancer.

With that, finally, I began writing. I wrote because I didn’t like the ending my patient was being given. I didn’t like the ending any of my patients were given. I wrote, for fear of what my ending would be.

Oftentimes, life doesn’t make sense. It is full of tragedy. It isn’t governed by the rules of fairness. But when I write, I can coax my brain to put the disjointed pieces of thoughts and emotions together, create a story, discover meaning, or at least, start to understand.

I journaled about motherhood, about work, about the darkness that coexisted with the light.


When we moved from Minnesota to Florida, I started a blog to keep my relatives updated. It was great because I no longer had to repeat the same stories when I caught up with people. But better, I uncovered a hidden passion.

I like the process of creating a blog post. Finding inspiration in a book I am reading, a podcast I’m listening to, a moment in nature, or simply a thought that crosses my mind as my brain is flooded with endorphins during a run. My words spill onto the screen, as I ferociously try to capture everything before I forget.

After leaving the word vomit alone for a bit, I edit.

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Edit, until the thoughts that were hazy have come into focus. That is my favorite part.

Categories
Weekly Update

Thirty One

I’m just going to go ahead and admit that I like birthdays almost as much as I did when I was five. Maybe more, now that they can include margaritas.

There is a certain delight that surrounds getting cards and packages in the mail. My mom always feels compelled to write on the packages she sends, “Do NOT open until your birthday.” It’s as if she knows I still lack self control at the young age of 31.

This year she forgot to write it on the package, so she called me to tell me not to open it until my birthday. And it’s a good thing, because I would have opened it otherwise.

I like how the day feels special from start to finish; with even the mundane feeling extraordinary. Flossing my teeth is a lot more fun on my birthday, maybe because of the sense of gratitude I have for another year of eating without dentures.

When I visited the dentist last month, they had a section on the sheet asking what my dental goals were. Unsure of what they were looking for, I wrote, “Avoid dentures and root canals.”

My dental goals were just like my birth plan, simple and to the point: “Give me an epidural ASAP, and keep the baby alive.” The nurses liked that one. Also, I wanted Chad to play “Push it” by Salt N Peppa while I was pushing, but he refused.


I like the sound of thirty-one. It doesn’t end in the deeeeeee sound that thirty ends in. It sounds more concise. Knowledgeable. Wise?

This year’s birthday was full of my favorite things: A run in the morning, a chai tea latte, browsing a book store, opening packages and cards, chik-fil-a, writing, kayaking with the manatees, dinner with Chad & the girls, my in-laws and some friends, margaritas, better than sex cake made by my amazing mother in law, and yes, that is the honest name, despite the number of eyebrows it raises.

I’m not saying that the name of the cake is accurate, but I will vouch for it being super delicious.


If you haven’t had the chance to kayak with manatees, I’d highly recommend it. Manatees are simultaneously one of the ugliest and cutest creatures. (Please, manatees, teach me your ways.) They are HUGE, with small little heads and creepy/adorable black eyes, and whiskers covering their bodies.

It is terrifying and awe inspiring when they swim under your kayak. It makes me think about Moby Dick, because I fear my kayak will capsize. I imagine I am in the ocean, kayaking over a blue whale; but alas, it is just me in a river with a manatee. Just the right amount of adventure for this boring thirty one year old.

Also, I’ve never read Moby Dick so please excuse me if nothing about Moby Dick relates to capsizing kayaks. The picture on the cover just makes me think it might.

Did you know that manatees are related to elephants? And that they aren’t actually fat, they just have super huge intestines? Neither did I. Now you’ve learned something from my blog, after almost 2 years of reading it. Thanks for hanging in there.

It’s the 31 year old wisdom I’m channeling.


Two of my friends came for the weekend. One, I’ve known since babyhood, and for the other, since high school. They are the kind of friends that know so much of your history that conversations can quickly go deep since little explanation is required of past events.

As we watched the sunset together, on a chilly by FL standards night, we huddled close, wrapped tightly in beach towels. We had spent the past 3 hours discussing the bad and good that had made up our last year.

We all experienced different forms of loss. COVID changed a lot. Life changed a lot. We are not the same people who we were when we ran together in high school. Quite contrary, we all changed significantly through the different routes we chose to take through life.

On the beach, it seemed for a moment, that we had made it to the other side off the loss, the change. For a moment, we were suspended in the beauty of orange hues that lit our existence as the sun slipped down in the sky. We had made it through the past, we were sitting firmly grounded in the present, toes rooted in the sand, and for a minute, there wasn’t the future to worry about.

It was a beautiful moment. And then we smelled pot.

We looked around, trying to figure out who the guilty party was… but realized everyone was looking at US.

Now maybe I look like a pot smoker. To be honest, I don’t really know what a pot smoker looks like, but I envision baggy pants. That’s it, just baggy pants. I wasn’t wearing baggy pants.

*Steps on soapbox.

I’ve never smoked pot in my life. I’ve never done it, period. Because, you know… there are many ways to do it. If I were to DO IT, I would eat the gummies. Because I like gummies. But I think I like control too much to do pot.

I’m sure no one is shocked by this confession.

ANYWAY.

The funny thing is, that of all people on the beach, we were the least likely to be the pot smokers. In high school, we were the goodie goods. We left a party once because someone was smoking a cigar.

We were very risk adverse. Our parents had nothing to worry about and they knew it.

When we returned home from the party, I told my mom what had happened, wide eyed. (Again, let me reiterate, someone was smoking out of a cigar, so basically nothing happened). I’m pretty sure my mom had to suppress laughter.

So back to the beach. It smelled like pot and everyone was staring at us. The sun had set, so we packed up our things to leave.

As we walked to the parking lot, a guy yelled, “Hey, smelled like you were having fun over there!” We shook our heads and shrugged, “Wasn’t us!” He continued, “I was about to send Grandma over!” And then a Grandma looking lady waved her hands and cheered.

She looked like fun. Maybe someday, I will be fun like her.

But not for awhile. Today Avery told me that she wants to move to a different state because, “I don’t like living with grumpy people.”

Shots fired, Avery.


I bet you’re wondering how I’m going to conclude a blog post that covered the topics of birthdays, dentures, better than sex cake, “Push it” by Salt n Peppa, manatees, best friends, sunsets, and pot.

I also, am wondering the same thing.

Sometimes, life gives us a beautiful narrative, a storyline that is easy to follow. More often, it’s a mod podge collage of events that somehow make it onto the same poster board.

This past year of life has been a beautiful mess. It produced quite a few finished puzzles, melt downs, half marathons, quarantines, sunsets, zoom meet ups, clorox wipes (or lack thereof), and moments of quiet.

Here’s to another one,

Laura

PS- The blog posts might be fewer and farther between. I’m currently taking a creative writing class, which I am absolutely loving, but it does cut into my free time to write for the blog. The class ends at the end of April and things should pick back up around then.

Categories
Weekly Update

The Tiniest Details

We found ourselves surrounded by lush shades of green, the silence of a dirt path under our feet, and a view backlit by rays of the setting sun, flooding through the tree branches. The path we hiked started out as a typical Florida hike: flat land running along a river, mangrove trees with their roots dipping into the water, signs warning of alligators, and the forest floor covered in greenery, teeming with life.

A quarter of a mile into the hike, the palm trees made way for skinny stocks of bamboo, thickly populating the side of the path. Ten steps further, we were enveloped in a forest of full grown bamboo, reaching way up into the sky. They gently creaked as they shifted in the wind, and it felt for a moment, as if we had been transported into another world.

When we reached the half way point of the hike, the pace changed from the girls sprinting ahead, to the girls lagging behind, waving ferns that they had collected along the way, poking each other, and sweeping the dirt with their pretend brooms. My stomach was grumbling, and I was feeling very hangry. I just wanted them to hurry it up so we could get dinner.

After five times of trying to hurry Alice along, I realized I didn’t have much control over the situation (a seemingly common theme in my life). And that rather than being annoyed by it, I could just soak in the moment. It was a hard choice to make, given my hanger, but I decided to at least try.

I started to notice the tiniest details, easily overlookable, accenting our hike. The alluring pop of red berries the rosarypea vine flaunted, enticing enough to draw one in for a closer look, despite the fact that if ingested, can quickly kill a full grown human.

The understated white flowers of the hairy beggarticks, the plain jane beauty of the dried out blooms of rue, the climbing vines of the air yam, looking like doilies when used as a food source by bugs, and the trees covered in airplants, housing a stunning view if you only looked up.


Sometimes, life gets choppy and rough. It can be difficult to see the purpose, the meaning, in the fogginess of the storm.

Sometimes, in trying to find the big picture, we lose sight of the small details that make up our reality. We try to grasp for more, for a clearer view. The harder we look, trying to put pieces of the puzzle together, the hazier it gets.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to strive for the big things: new house, career, car; and yet, it’s the tiniest details that end up bringing the most joy? The tiny grains of sand between my toes, the way Alice absentmindedly pats my chest when I’m holding her, the exact same way she did when she was a baby, a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie, still gooey and warm.

While I am a firm believer in striving for improvement, trying new things, changing, I am an equally firm believer that beauty is readily available to soak in, and should not be overlooked in the pursuit of bigger and better things.


The beauty? It’s everywhere.

It’s the 75 year old worker at Lowes, wearing a veteran cap, who gave me his secretly stashed last small tube of clear caulk, patiently explaining to me how to re-caulk our kitchen sink, and telling me to get rid of the special caulking kit I had in my cart that he deemed, “not necessary to waste your money on”.

It’s the way Alice’s nose crinkles as she smiles.

It is in the sunrises and sunsets, the peanut butter M&M’s, the way Chad’s always knows the right thing to say when I’m out of sorts. It is Avery’s infectious giggle as she tells a story that only a five year old could find funny, the finger painted artwork that covers our walls, the “juicy kisses” that Alice gives each night, which I swear cause me to breakout.

Blink, and you could easily miss them; but mark my words, the moments are there.


In Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project,” she talks about the concept of “gazing in wonder.” It is one of my favorite take-aways from her book, and I use it often.

For me, gazing in wonder involves tiptoeing into Avery and Alice’s room after they are fast asleep, creeping up to their beds, and studying their angelic faces, peaceful breathing, and dimpled hands. It is the practice of trying to soak in, embrace, another moment with their little selves that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

Beauty abounds. If you read the news, you might not be convinced of that. But if you turn off your phone, shut your computer, and look, I guarantee you will unearth it.

Find your beauty. Gaze in wonder. Repeat.

Cheers,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Anchored

We drove past our old condo and passed a stretch of road I used to run. It was the route for my warm up loop, a slow and creaky first mile to shake the cobwebs out and wake up my foggy brain. I usually ran this route right as the sun began to rise, hoping to avoid the sweltering temperatures.

Along the route, there is a pond surrounded by palm trees and corporate buildings. It always has a fishy smell, especially when the fountain is running, blowing miniscule water particles onto your face.

I always held my breath when the fountain was on; I could not risk inhaling some waterborne illness, like brain eating amoebas.

If I ran past the pond at just the right time, I could catch the first rays of the sun peaking over the horizon and reflecting the hues of the sky onto the glassy pond water. The dark outlines of palm trees were backlit by the pinky purple sky.

The scene was calm; Florida was still waking up. Street lamps cast friendly cones of orange tinged light, and the silence was occasionally dotted by the whoosh of a passing car.

I ran this stretch of the loop in a western direction, so the only way I could catch this view is if I remembered to look back. Some days I was too tired and forgot, entirely missing a beautiful moment in time. But the more I ran the route, the more I remembered.

So much so, that as we drove past the pond in broad daylight, my brain whispered, “Look back”.

the view

Both literally and figuratively, I’ve been looking back a lot over this past month.

I’ve been working on compiling our family photo album for 2019-2020, which has flooded me with mostly happy memories of the big move and our first year in Florida.

Since moving into our new house, I’ve reviewed a lot of artifacts, trying to determine what holds sentimental value and what can be let go of.

I told myself I was going to review the contents of a box packed with keepsake items quickly, but I was immediately sucked into the vortex of memories, looking at photographs, reading old notes, reminiscing.

I read notes from those who are no longer here today. My diabetic Grandpa’s last note to me (and my all time favorite), “Greetings from the prison nursing home. It has been the best year yet for Christmas goodies. Sugar levels at an all time high.”

I laugh every time I read the note, envisioning his endearing to me, yet probably frustrating to his medical team, resistance to following a diabetic diet. He also had the hilarious yet very naughty habit of reusing insulin needles, which he told me about with great pride. I am sure his chart was plastered with the words “noncompliant patient”.

I could hear my Grandma’s dry humor when I read her encouraging note about parenthood: “It only gets worse.”

I looked back on old pictures. Old aspirations. My old self.


Sometimes I like to revisit my old self. The one who drew endless portraits of carrot looking people at age 4, the very serious poetry at age 10, the obsession with running in high school, the nerd phase of college, the shaky existence of post college life, trying to find stable footing while establishing a career and finding love, newly married, the earthquake of becoming a young mom of two young kids, and finally, now.

Each couple of years seems to have a theme. Something that I focused on, worked towards, loved. Each theme, a different strand that strongly knitted me into who I am today.


With the recent celebration of the New Year, I’ve begun to switch my focus in a forward direction: to what lies ahead.

I’m at a spot in life that doesn’t have a clear path. I have the freedom of being a stay at home mom, with a large blessing of being able to decide how to spend my precious moments.

It is scary: looking into the unwritten future, wondering about the right path forward. But also, freeing, exhilarating, exciting, hope filled.


If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that life is short.

Nothing quite drills that in like doing CPR on a body that was only minutes ago breathing, talking, living; now, splayed in bed with the a blank stare, surrounded by a team frantically working to put lines in, pump drugs, and rhythmically trying to push the heart back into remembering how it is supposed to beat.

Or the news of a sudden death. Or a terminal diagnosis. Or a lost pregnancy.

Life is, and then life isn’t.


There is this thing called “anchoring”. In boating, I’m pretty sure it is a good thing. In medicine, it’s a bad thing.

Anchoring is when in the process of making a diagnosis, the doctor gets stuck on one idea. And no matter how many other facts disprove their current diagnosis, they can’t see clearly. They are anchored, tethered on a line to an incorrect idea, unable to escape the pull of how their mind wants to portray the situation.

Unfortunately, it’s not just doctors who experience anchoring.

We all get stuck in one way or another, whether it is a dysfunctional thought pattern, only seeing life through a certain lens, or telling ourselves we can’t, or aren’t enough, or that we don’t have the inborn talent required.

This year I’m taking my own advice and leaving my comfort zone, embracing the messy, and trying new things.

Instead of a resolution this year, I decided to write a list of goals. I work well with goals and tend to be more inspired to follow a list than a resolution.

I’m taking a creative writing class, decreasing the amount of time spent on my phone, and running a 5K- a welcome relief to the long distances of half marathon training.

The list stares me in the face each morning as I sip my coffee. And I like it.

I would highly recommend you make your own list. Make time for the things you love, gosh darn it, because if you don’t, your time will fill itself.

Wishing you a messy, adventurous, brave year. May you try new things, meet new people, and question why you live the way you do. Because, when it comes down to it, we are currently living our one shot.

May you look back and remember where you came from: the people, places, and things that made you who you are today.

And yet, may you also pull up that anchor and move forward.

Onward,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Home for Christmas

Christmas, to me, is a holiday that fully involves the senses. The sound of jingle bells and Christmas music, the smell of pine trees, the taste of gingerbread, the prickly branches of the Christmas tree and the sharp pointy end of a candy cane when savored slowly, and how if you squint your eyes just right, the Christmas lights look like stars. Maybe this is why it is such a nostalgic holiday; it has so many pathways to bring back memories.


Christmas in the Uppgaard house was a big deal, all starting when the Advent wreath appeared at church, with the first purple candle lit and flickering.

Each Sunday evening after we finished dinner, we gathered around our own candle lit Advent wreath, trying to pay attention during the prayers, while anxiously awaiting the Christmas cookies and eggnog that followed.

We ended our prayers by singing a Christmas song, usually “Silent Night” or “Away in the Manger”, during which, whoever was leading started the song too high or too low, causing giggle fits between the siblings and stern looks from the parents as half the group went too high and the other half tried to compensate by switching octaves, only to end up way too low. Let’s just say that our family isn’t full of good singers (although there are a few).

After our prayers concluded, cookies were eaten, and the eggnog was glugged, it was time for the highly anticipated candle snuffing.

We had a Christmas-themed candle snuffer, dark green with a holly leaf and berry on top of the cap. We rotated through the position of candle snuffer, and all who were not selected looked on jealously as the snuffing commenced.

Invariably, someone (Pieter or Anders), put the snuffer too far down on the candle, splattering the hot wax and ruining the shape of the candle. Most nights ended with an in-service on how to properly use a candle snuffer, put on by no other but the esteemed Dr. Uppgaard.


The taste of gingerbread brings me back to the large kitchen table that our Dad had built himself, big enough for a family of 10 plus an extra leaf for guests.

There, we decorated freshly cut and baked gingerbread cookies. Envision 8 kids at the table, each with their own knife to spread frosting, and sprinkles. Let’s just say it was a process, and I don’t know how my parents have remained psychologically intact after 35 years of cleaning up sprinkles and frosting that I’m sure made their way into every crevice of the house.

Given that we were kids, we always thought it was best to try and put as much frosting as possible on the cookies. They were a recipe for diabetes, heart disease, and a disaster of a kitchen. And while they tasted good, most were ugly.

Some of my creativity may be rooted in the gingerbread decorating: the cyclops, the headless man dripping in blood (red frosting and red sprinkles), the one hundred and seven ways to decorate a star cookie, and the classic, “how many red hots can you fit onto one cookie” competition.

In these pre-COVID days, there was a fair share of finger-licking, despite instructions to avoid this behavior. To make matters more precarious, there was a rule: once you are done decorating gingerbreads, you can lick whatever frosting and sprinkles are left on your plate.

Obviously, the way to exploit this rule was to “accidentally” dump mounds of sprinkles on your plate while decorating cookies. “Oops! I guess I will have to eat those later!”

The moral of the story is that our parents are saints and gingerbreads from our house could have caused a worldwide pandemic had COVID hit back in the 90’s. Contact tracing would lead the CDC back to the cookie platters my mom innocently gifted people.


Christmas Eve morning, as my siblings and I sat around the table eating our last healthy meal for the next two days, my dad would stomp inside, bringing in a wave of cold air and a cardboard box full of chopped wood for the fire.

He’d stop by the table on his way over to the fireplace. “Do you think Santa’s going to come tonight?”


Christmas Eve afternoons were spent at Grandpa and Grandma Dubay’s house. It is important to note that I have over 40 cousins on that side of the family (and honestly, I’m not sure what the actual number is).

Upon entrance, we made our way up the orange shag carpet stairs where we were greeted up top by our little, maybe 5 foot tall, 100% Irish, Grandma. She smothered us in hugs, kisses, and whispers in our ears about how much Jesus loved us.

Grandpa could be found at the stove, stirring gravy or checking the temperature on the massive turkey he had been cooking all day. He took great pride in those 30 lb turkeys, and maybe even more pride in his electric carving knife.

We brought our winter coats back to our Grandparents’ bed, the only spot in the house large enough to hold the winter gear of 40+ people. En route, we passed the kitchen table filled with sides, rolls, salads, and my Aunt Brenda’s famous fudge. We eagerly eyed up the food, planning which foods would make the cut for our first plateful.

After eating, we processed through the house with our cousins, singing Christmas carols, with the leader of the procession holding the Jesus figurine from the nativity set. We walked through each room, finally processing back to “the porch”, where we placed baby Jesus in the nativity set and prayed as a family.

An uncle would mysteriously disappear to take a nap to sleep off the turkey, and soon after, Santa arrived.

His arrival was marked by the sound of jingle bells and “ho ho ho’s”. The youngest of the group hid in terror, while the oldest in the group couldn’t wait to pull at Santa’s beard and try to out him.

Santa distributed presents, then knelt in front of the Nativity scene to pray, and left, reminding us to be good for our parents.

After that, we were free to run loose with our cousins in the tiny house until it was time to go, stopping at the kitchen table for another cookie, pickle, or fudge, whenever we needed strength to continue on with our arduous little lives.


Christmas mornings started bright and early, while it was still dark. Our Dad opened the bedroom door and announced, “Santa came!” while we all clamored out of bed.

We waited atop the stairs until every child was ready. Our dad led us down the stairs to a scene that can best be described as magical: glistening presents illuminated only by the lights of the Christmas tree. We tried to make out the dark shadows of gifts, only to be led past the tree to the family room where our bulging stockings hung by the crackling fire.

“The Nutcracker” ballet music played on the record player as we read the note from Santa, noting that he had eaten all the cookies we’d left out and that Rudolph had a couple bites of the carrots.

Then we opened our stockings, and finally, we made our way under the tree to open gifts. It was mass chaos, but consistent with the parenting style of Dr. & Mrs. Uppgaard, it was organized chaos.


After the gift opening, there was a flurry of activity as we attempted to get dressed for church and eat breakfast prior to 7:30am mass.

We arrived at church when it was still dark, the church only lit by candles, and filled with the music of the violinists warming up.

There, in the quiet church, we muttered prayers of thanks; and for those still waiting on a desired gift, prayers of petition.


After church, we made our way to Grandma Uppgaard’s house. She had a string of jingle bells attached to her doorknob, cheerily ringing whenever the door was opened.

G greeted us at the door, pulling us into a boney yet warm hug with kisses on the cheeks, her blue eyes twinkling. Her house always smelled delicious, usually with undertones of prime rib and accents of cheesy potatoes and wild rice.

Compared to the Dubay side of our family, the Uppgaard side was a little quieter, with only 4 cousins. We spent our time opening gifts in an orderly fashion, playing with our cousins, and leaving by 2pm.

The rest of the day was leisurely spent napping, eating leftovers, and playing with our new toys.


They were the best of days, the Christmases of my childhood. Looking back, it’s not the gifts I received that stuck (although I do remember Sally, the cabbage patch doll who I attempted to do brain surgery on).

What did stick are the memories of time spent with people I loved, the laughter, the feeling of coziness, the magic.


With COVID, we will be staying in Florida for Christmas this year. It will be nothing like the Christmas I described above; and yet, Florida does have a charm of its own for Christmas.

There is something rather beautiful about a fully lit palm tree, despite the fact that it isn’t a pine tree. We are able to drive around in our golf cart to view the Christmas lights in the neighborhood without freezing to death. And thankfully, we do have family down here to celebrate with.

Wishing you and yours the Merriest Christmas, whether celebrated in palm trees or pines,

Laura

There are memories that couldn’t fit into this post but still stand worth mentioning: the angel candles with fans above that always ended up rotating in the wrong direction, the pickup hockey games in the rink out back, the sibling sleepover on Christmas Eve (when we all crammed ourselves into one bedroom and got the worst sleep of our lives), the cranberry fluff and party mix, and the newish and awful tradition of lutefisk which in my book is not a food, the sibling gift exchange where every year at least one sibling forgets who they have and ruins the entire thing, and finally, the years that Santa would forget a gift, luckily to be quickly “found” by our parents.

Categories
Weekly Update

Beautiful Mess

Avery has reached the age of listening and actually paying attention to song lyrics. It is disappointing that I can no longer listen to “Slim Shady” with her, and if a song ever contains the word “stupid”, I’m sure to hear about it from the lyrics police.

“Mom,” she says seriously, “we aren’t supposed to say the word stupid.” I sigh, switching stations, “You’re absolutely right. That was not good at all. I can’t believe they said that!”

Being married to an Iowa boy, I listen to a lot of country music. Clarification: not by choice; but, simply by proxy. As we were road tripping to Georgia, Chad had his country music station blaring.

As we drove up and down the endless hills, the song, “Beautiful Mess”, by Diamond Rio came on. It’s one of my favorite country songs, mostly because it is catchy. The girls were being quiet in the back of the car; I assumed they were either asleep or on the edge of it.

As the song drew to an end, Avery piped up from the back of the car, “Mom, what’s so beautiful about a mess?”


The question caught me off guard. I fumbled through my answer, the same way I fumbled the first time she asked me how babies get out of tummies.

“Well you know how some things are beautiful but can be messy at the same time?” She nodded, unconvinced, still confused. “It’s like that”, I said, popping my 100th handful of Peanut Butter M&M’s. The most non-answer of non-answers, a great skill I’ve honed as a parent.


Whether she realized it or not, she asked a profound question. One that I wish I could have answered more eloquently. But, such is life, and heck, she probably wouldn’t have appreciated an eloquent answer.

If I could rewind back to her question, here is what I’d say:

The mess is the crayons strewn across the floor, the beauty is the adorable family portrait you made, meticulously labeling each family member in your endearing, shaky, 5-year-old hand writing.

The mess is the toys and goldfish crumbs inhabiting every room of our house, including bathrooms. It’s the yelling and tantrums, it’s “The Chipmunks” playing on repeat, it’s the sticky handprints covering our windows. The beauty? That our house holds you, my sweet girls.

The mess is the flour covering seemingly every surface of our kitchen, the sink full of dishes, my achy feet. The beauty is the fresh baked caramel pecan rolls.

It’s the baby you get to hold in your arms after a hell of a labor.

It’s the tears you cry after you lose someone you love. The inseparable marriage of love and pain.


You see doll, beauty and mess travel together. If you avoid the mess, you’re also going to lose some of the beauty.

Although the word “mess” has negative connotations and “beauty” has positive ones, don’t let that trick you.

It’s not black and white. The world isn’t all mess or all beauty. They exist as a pair. Sometimes it seems like one significantly overpowers the other: the beauty of a waterfall; the mess of a destructive storm. But if you look closer, you might see how they balance each other out.

Sure, the waterfall is stunningly beautiful. But for it to form, it had to erode the rocks to create the perfect ledge for water to cascade over. This took time, lots of time. And for the rocks, maybe pain. Trees had to fall to clear way for this majestic force. Nature had to submit to the powerful flow of the water. It’s beautiful, yes, absolutely, but there was definitely some mess involved with creation of the final product.

Storms can cause a lot of damage. They can rip apart seemingly intact structures within seconds. They can be terrifying, earth changing, massive forces of nature. And yet. And yet. And yet.

As the sky begins to lighten, there is an almost eerily peaceful calm. It’s as if the earth takes a collective breath, pausing before resuming life. Storms clear space for new growth and provide necessary nutrients for life. With the destruction comes new life, beauty.


Sweet girl, I’m telling you this because I want to be absolutely sure that you know not to be frightened by messes.

At multiple points in your life, you will have to make scary decisions that involve both mess and beauty. Don’t let the beauty blindside you; but of equal and almost greater importance, don’t let the mess scare you.

Make the mess. Slog through. Find your beauty.

Love,

Mama

Categories
Weekly Update

Mountain

I stepped out of the car, inhaled the fresh mountain air, and experienced the tingly joy of the crisp molecules filling each tiny alveoli in my lungs. I surveyed the autumn colors on the trees surrounding the cabin and I heard the unexpectedly loud roar of the water from the creek behind the cabin.

In this moment, despite the global pandemic, a tense election, and depressing news each night, all was right in the world.

When we first drove down to Florida last year, we were surprised and inspired by the beauty of the Appalachian mountains running through Tennessee. I vowed we would return with the girls.

We found a breathtaking spot in the mountains of Northern Georgia; a little town by the name of Helen. This trip was a risk. We decided to make the drive with the girls, which was 10 hours from Florida with good traffic.

I’ve learned from parenting to go into things, especially vacations, with really low expectations. There will be whining. Someone will get carsick and puke. Despite perfect planning, someone won’t be pleased with our choice of activity for the day. And it’s a guaranteed fact that despite being labeled a vacation, it will not be relaxing.

But for some reason, the stars aligned and the girls traveled perfectly. I guess I packed enough stickers. And Benadryl.


As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a love for road tripping. Which is always surprising to me, probably because when we were younger, 3 hour car rides felt like an eternal hell.

Road trips carry with them a serenity that the hustle and bustle of the airport does not. When you fly, you are literally catapulted through the air at 500 mph and come to a screeching halt when you reach your destination. Driving on the other hand is much slower, but allows you to take in the views and stop when you feel inspired. It has a calming, almost meditative impact.

My breathing slowed as I took in the giant loblolly pine trees lining the road, occasionally dotted by bright red sumacs. We drove through cotton fields which were stunningly beautiful, and I wondered, if that land could talk, what it would say.


The town of Helen, Georgia is quaint. There are no fast food places or chain stores. The internet sucks. I was delighted to find myself free from the pull of my phone, the news, and social media happenings.

We stayed at a little cabin about 5 minutes from downtown Helen. It was everything we needed for the trip. It had a fireplace, at which, I taught the girls the Minnesotan skill of sitting close to warm your back. There were bunk beds: an extremely exciting fact for Avery and Alice. Out back, there was a fire pit overlooking the river.

Coming from a gated community of perfectly manicured lawns, this cabin was a great reminder that things don’t need to be perfect to bring joy. Unruly bushes, un-raked leaves, dirty windows, moss covered deck; none took away from the charm, or the breath of fresh air that this cabin held.

We drank endless cups of hot chocolate with marshmallows, warmed ourselves by the fireplace, had bonfires, struggled to get thumbs into mittens, explored, ate s’mores, got marshmallow stuck in our hair (Chad didn’t have this problem), and took in the vast beauty of the mountains.

We let our guards down and giggled as a family as picky eater, Alice, shocked us all and ate a dried cricket that I had purchased for my Dad as a gag gift. She then went on to eat two more, as Chad stared at me in horror, wondering what sort of mother would let her child eat crickets. They are a great source of protein, okay?

Not as addicting as Sour Cream & Onion Chips

I faced my fear of heights and went on the “Mountain Coaster”, that took Avery and I screaming down the side of the mountain. For Avery, the screams were of pure joy. For me; pure terror as I saw my life flash before my eyes.


On the last night of our trip, I dreamed I was a high school senior, coming to terms with the fact that I had to leave my cross country team. “But all that I know and love is over. How can my life move on?” I asked, with tears in my eyes.

It was a familiar scene that comes into play at most major life changes. Most recently, I commiserated to Chad that life couldn’t get better than holding a fresh baby in my arms. I wouldn’t be able to top it. I was going to get old, become a grandparent, and die. The best parts of life were over, I concluded.

Little did I know what was ahead.


Appalachian Mountains

As Chad reminded me as we drove through the mountains to visit a nearby town, “You gotta drive up the mountain to get the good views.”

And I think this perfectly summarizes life.

Mountain driving is terrifying, especially if you have a fear of heights. There are plenty of places you could easily die. There are some stretches of road that you have to pray your car up, and other stretches that you too easily careen down, giving your car’s brakes the workout of a lifetime.

2020 certainly hasn’t been easy. The pandemic has changed a whole lot. We know a couple people who died of COVID. We know many people who lost a family member during COVID times and were unable to say goodbye, or attend a funeral for closure.

The holidays are going to be different this year. It feels weird and uncomfortable; sad and strange.

And yet, time will continue to pass. Eventually there will be a vaccine that comes out. Hopefully it will be effective, and life will go back to some semblance of normal.

For now, we just need to focus on getting up the mountain. And while the view on the journey up can’t compete with that of the top, there is plenty of surrounding beauty.

So wherever you are on your mountain, stop for a second to take in the view. To soak in the great miracle that is life. Things aren’t perfect, but as the cabin reminded us: things don’t need to be perfect to bring joy.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

What Does an Actuary Actually Do?

Imagine a young version of me with post-breakup short hair. Like, boy short. I was newly graduated from college, had just finished a multiple month stint getting over mono (thanks, ex), and was working at THE Mayo Clinic.

It was a precarious stage of life. I was old enough to have a full time job that dealt heavily on the foggy line between life and death; yet, young enough where I was still trying to establish who I was and what was important. I spent many a day leaving work feeling totally incompetent.

But when I look back, it was the best of times. I lived in a quaint townhome, just a five minute walk from work. It was bright and airy in the spring and summer and warm and cozy in the winter months.

My roommate, Ally and I were close friends. Dinner was sometimes popcorn and sometimes hamburger helper. It wasn’t out of question to be in my pajamas about ready for bed only to be asked to join a group of friends at the strip of bars in downtown Rochester. Oh, the energy I had, back in the day.

Life was near perfect, but it was missing something. Or should I say, someone.

I was encouraged by a friend to create an online dating profile. I’m a rather risk adverse person. It seemed daring. Almost too daring. But, on the other hand, I was already single… so what did I have to lose?


In walks Chad.

I was drawn to his profile by his cute picture, specifically, his smile. He looked like a fun guy and I couldn’t hold it against him that he was from Iowa.

We started messaging.

Well, actually, I messaged him first. My first words to Chad were, “What does an actuary actually do?”

Because, side-note, I thought an actuary took care of birds.

First we messaged back and forth on the website (eHarmony). Then, he gave me his number, prefacing it with, “Well, you don’t seem like some crazy person…”

Such a romantic. Little did he know what he was getting into.


You know how they say you just know when you meet your future spouse? I’d have to agree.

Our first in-person date was at a coffee shop in Rochester, MN.

Being the cautious person I am, I planted an undercover friend at the table directly next to us.

It was a cloudy January afternoon. I shivered on my walk to the coffee shop, but not because it was cold. The nerves of a first date are the worst.

I stepped into the coffee shop, inhaled the smell of espresso and tried to exhale my nerves. My eyes darted around. First, they rested on undercover friend. Check; security covered.

Next, my gaze rested on Chad. His blue eyes were more piercing than I had noted in his dating profile pictures. His smile was just as reassuring.

Conversation was easy. Chad had a calming presence. It was clear he was extremely intelligent, but not in an overbearing or cocky way. Best of all, he was funny.

Our first date was supposed to just be coffee. But it transitioned to checking out a book sale, then, bowling, and finally dinner. As we said goodbye, I knew he was the one.


Chad drove down from Minneapolis to Rochester for a date EVERY WEEKEND. Eventually, I moved to Minneapolis to be closer to him (and my family).


When he proposed, I can’t say I was shocked (because I picked out a ring and told him he needed to propose by April so we could have a Fall wedding.) Also of note… I bought my wedding dress before he proposed. Maybe I’m the cocky one in our relationship.


Our wedding was amazing. When I think about it, I am bombarded with memory clips of a snowy day, walking down the aisle and thinking to myself, “This is the most beautiful scene”. I remember sitting on the altar, listening to one of the readings and tightly grasping Chad’s hand, trying to stop my own hand from shaking.

And I remember dancing. A lot of it. We danced so much that my calves were sore for a week. I literally LIMPED around for the first week of our honeymoon because of my unconditioned legs.

When the night was over, I felt a pang of sadness when I realized this iconic day in our life was done. (Which is why every year I ask Chad if we can do a vow renewal / wedding do over.)


Marrying Chad was easily the best decision I’ve made in life.

He is the most patient person I know; and thank goodness for that, in an estrogen saturated house full of girls and a wife who can get a little feisty and hangry at times.

He is a perfect partner: a great listener, hilarious, patient, and eats the broccoli soup I make despite growing up on a beef farm. He laughs at my jokes and gives the best hugs.

Like parenthood, we didn’t fully understand what we were getting into when we got married.


I am no expert on marriage, but in our 6 years together I have learned:

  • It is always easier to get along when we do fun things together. Furniture shopping, for example, IS NOT FUN. We try to balance out the not funs with funs.
  • Date night is a must, ESPECIALLY after kids.
  • Avoid going to bed mad at each other.
  • Choose humor in the tedious situations that could turn into arguments.

Ok, these are boring. Let me give you the real lessons I’ve learned:

  • It is better to ask the other person if they know how to swim (well) BEFORE you jump out of a boat into the Atlantic ocean. This piece of advice is both literally and figuratively. Sorry, Chad. I am glad you survived our honeymoon.
  • The question, “Where do you want to go for dinner?” sparks the most marital conflicts and should be avoided at all costs.
  • When you got your driver’s license, you thought you were done with the “behind the wheel” lessons. But then you got married and now you have a permanent instructor.
  • “Fine” needs to be re-defined in the dictionary. “A passive aggressive way of insinuating you are thoroughly NOT pleased with the current situation”
  • Do not ever wake a sleeping spouse unless there is blood or someone is actively dying.
  • How to start war: Drink the last refrigerated diet coke and don’t replace it.
  • Buy the remote finder. It will save you years of therapy.
  • Also, HIRE MOVERS.
  • Any question that begins with, “Do you know where my….” implies that you stole it and hid it out of spite. When in reality, it is exactly where they left it last. OR, it was moved it to its correct location. Disclaimer: “correct location” is subject to change. I will not be held responsible for any lost or damaged items.
  • Before marriage, if you watch the TV show “Snapped” you will think the killers are psychotic. 1 month after marriage, you will understand.

All kidding aside, the past 6 years have been the best years of my life. I’ve loved a lot, learned a lot, and hopefully have become a somewhat better person (thanks to my sweet spouse).

Happy Anniversary, Chad Michael. I love you cosmos.

Laura

PS- I still don’t understand what actuaries actually do. My basic understanding is this: spreadsheets.

Categories
Weekly Update

A Letter to the New Mama

My sister just had her first baby; and so, I feel the sisterly need to share a little wisdom.

Dear Mama,

Yes, you! This is your new name for the rest of your life. At first it will be cute, then it will be annoying, and then it will go back to endearing. No matter what media, society, friends, enemies or anyone else tries to convince you of, you are perfectly capable of your role as a parent.

Regardless of how that baby exits your body, you are a champ. I personally believe they should give out trophies. “A FULL GROWN BABY EXITED MY BODY” will be the inscription. Better yet, a license plate. Instead of, “Save the sea turtles,” it will say, “Save my sanity.”

Parenthood lie #1: “It’s the most natural thing ever! Women have been giving birth since the beginning of time!”

I found this in my photo archives, around the time I had Alice. I have nothing else to say.

I’m here to tell you that there is nothing natural about the birth process and it feels like a very bad idea (see photo above for further proof). This is on my list of things to talk to God about when I croak.

Once the baby is out of your body, society has determined that while a pregnant body is adorable, a postpartum body is not.

This is BS. Your body is amazing. You literally grew this child from one to TWO TRILLION cells. Then you pushed the full grown baby out of a 10cm hole. It is nothing short of a miracle. So, yes, your body might have changed a bit. Maybe irreversibly, but also, beautifully.

Next on the agenda?

Food. Not for you, silly. THE BABY. Remember, everyone has shifted their opinionated focus from your pregnant belly to your child and how you are parenting them.

There are two options. Breast milk & formula. Whiskey is no longer advisable, unfortunately. Both are great AND your kid will turn out fine whichever way you go. The decision you make will not change your greatness as a parent. By the time your kid goes off to kindergarten, no one will know whether your kid was breast fed or formula fed. And quite frankly, no one will care.

Instead of pregnancy horror stories, people will now share breastfeeding horror stories. The time they got a huge golf ball sized clot in their boob that someone had to massage out and it hurt like the dickens. Or the time they filled their freezer with extra breast milk only to learn that their baby refused to drink it. Or when their child grew teeth and literally bit their nipple off. (Just kidding. I don’t know if this one has actually happened but it was my greatest fear. I can’t google it for fear of what I will learn.)

As you’ve noticed, since becoming pregnant, everyone has an opinion about your life as a parent. What parenting style are you going to use? Free Range? Crunchy? Attachment?

I prefer a combination survival of the fittest and leave me alone parenting.



I could go on and on about all of the dilemmas you will face and be judged over. Cloth diapers or disposable? To work or stay at home? Whether or not to bribe with fruit snacks. How you potty train the kid. To sleep train or not. Co-sleeping?

The great news is that you are now the parent. You get to make the decisions. It’s not up to the opinionated mass of humans who creep their way into the crevices of your brain.

Parenthood lie #2: Everything will be okay because you are the expert on your kid.

WRONG. Whoever coined this phrase couldn’t have been a parent.

According to my five year old, I am NEVER right. As the expert on my children, I cannot explain why they are so weird. I do not know why they do the things they do. I am not an expert, let me assure you.

It is terrifying when you leave the hospital and they load you in the car with your baby, calling, “good luck!” as they slam your door. I wanted to zombie crawl back up to the postpartum floor, plaster my face to the window at the nurses station, and creepily ask, “Can I live here forever?”

After a bit of time, you will learn to read your babies cues. And by this, I mean, you will learn to read their screams. At least that’s what they say. Personally the best I got at cue reading was, “My child is crying. Something must be wrong. What something is, I have no idea.”


The good news is that even though you have absolutely no clue what you are doing with your baby, you are the expert on YOU. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to be a martyr to be a good parent. Your kid will be happier if YOU are happier.

So if your boobs don’t have it in them to breast feed, don’t. If your house is overtaken by an explosion of baby crap and you don’t have it in you to clean and organize all of it, don’t. Get as much sleep as you can. Find people you trust to give you a break when you need one and watch that cute kid of yours. If people offer help, take it. Find mom friends who are honest- who aren’t going to feed you BS about how perfect their child is and what a clean house they live in.

Stop beating yourself up for not being enough. You. Are. Plenty.


When the baby arrives, you will be engulfed in a massive life change. Your life went from doing normal adult things to obsessively tracking how many wet diapers your little genius baby produces. Your life will be dictated by a schedule of when the next feed is due and naps. You’ll find yourself in a dark room, holding a baby who will only go to sleep if you do squats on repeat for 90 minutes. And you’ll wonder, “how did I get here?”


I can repeatedly tell you how magical and life changing it is once you have that baby in your arms. How one second you’re you and the next you are a completely different person. But until you have that baby in your arms, you won’t get it.

Even if your baby cries all day, at the end of it, you’ll stare at that little terrorist sleeping peacefully in the crib on your chest and nowhere else and wonder how you got so lucky.

Like most rewarding experiences, parenthood is a lot of work. It is draining, never ending, crying on the kitchen floor kind of work. It is exhausting, hair pulling, cringe worthy, down in the trenches kind of work.

It will make you question everything you’ve ever known. Undoubtedly, it will bring you to your knees.

Some days you’ll wonder if you made a mistake. You’ll debate about if you have it in you to put them up for adoption.


This is the section of the letter when I’m supposed to tell you it’s worth it.


It’s worth it.


I wish there was a way to capture accurately why this is. Because as we all know, mathematically it doesn’t add up. If you bring out a balance scale, it might tip heavier on the end of poop explosions and temper tantrums.

One day, your kid will smile at you for the first time. Holidays will regain the magic they held when you were a child. You will witness so many firsts. You will be reminded that life truly is a miracle.

You will sit in awe as you watch them take their first step. Annunciate their first word. String together their first sentence. You will watch their personality blossom. You will learn things about yourself that you never realized until you watch them mirror your phrases and routines.

The days will be long, but the years short.

One day you’ll realize that their cute potbelly disappeared and that they no longer have dimples on their hands. You’ll notice with a start that your “baby” is no longer a baby.

And somehow, just like that, you will have survived the phase of parenting a baby. You will look back and wonder how you did it. You’ll wish you had given yourself a little more grace and a little less beating yourself up over cluttered countertops.

You will have mad respect for your younger, sleep deprived self who kept moving forward because it was the only way to go.

Buckle up, mama. It’s going to be one heck of a ride.

xo,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

What I Didn’t Know

When I was pregnant with Avery, I was bombarded with information from other parents, wanna be parents, and non-parents who believed they were experts anyway.

About half of what I heard was horror stories of labor and delivery gone wrong. The other half was parenting advice and warnings that my life was going to change forever.

The horror stories and warnings always wrapped up with the final sentence, “But it’s the best thing that will ever happen to you.” No one really elaborated further on this point.


Most of the things I was told and warned about were and are very true.

Labor is not for the weak of heart… the unfortunate news is that if you are weak of heart (like me), once you are pregnant, the baby has to come out some way.

Sleep deprivation can cause your entire world to crash down; and, it’s something you don’t fully understand until you are hallucinating that you are holding your crying baby only to be shaken awake by your husband to find yourself rocking a pillow.

And yeah, you go from being a fun, youthful person who loves to stay up late at classy parties (or on bar roofs), who has a successful career, and a flourishing social life to a pathetic old person who gets excited about going to bed at 8pm, any sleep stretch longer than 2 hours, and a $20 dollar off coupon on diapers. DIAPERS. Your life boils down to sleep and excitement over diapers, the vessel you pay a lot of money for that contains your childs bodily fluids and is promptly tossed in the trash.

All of the warnings were true. And to be honest, despite the 24/7 advice and warnings I was receiving, they left out some important details.

For example, why didn’t anyone tell me about how you go from having a nice car to a car that literally contains probably 3 pounds of crushed up goldfish packing every crevice. Melted fruit snacks are scattered throughout your now junky form of transportation and act as a traveling lint roller… becoming covered in dirt, grime, and goldfish crumbs in their journey around your car.

Or that some babies go through a phase where literally no diaper known to man will contain their explosive poops. This phase lasts months. And you panic, thinking something is horribly wrong with your child’s GI tract. But in fact, this is normal.

Repeat after me: “Explosive poop is my new normal.”

I’m still disappointed that kids don’t have some sort of warning that goes off before they puke. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve caught kid puke. IN MY BARE HANDS. Actually, I can tell you because it was very traumatic and I have it burned in my memory. Three. Once on an airplane, once in a restaurant, and once in a car.

And no one thought to mention how weird kids are.

Examples from our household:

-Well first of all, kids hate sleep and have to be prodded to eat. If that isn’t weird, I don’t know what is.

-Alice informed us she will only eat cucumbers on Saturdays. (I take advantage of the fact that she never knows what day it is)

-This conversation was overheard at the dinner table:

Child: “You gotta kill pigs so we can eat bacon.”

Parent: “Don’t you feel bad about that?”

Child: “Yummy yummy in my tummy”

-One of our children, I won’t name names, conned the other child into wiping her butt after she pooped.

-Alice thinks the word “lit” means sick and uses it frequently to describe people who are ill.

-Every month or so, I find my children playing the game, “Our mom is dead”. It is rather morbid, but at least they seem happy without me.

-One child, after admiring her poop (in the toilet, thank goodness), announced “it’s my lucky day!” and walked away. I’m still wondering what exactly she was pleased about. The poop? Getting it in the toilet?


Of all the loads of advice I heard, no one was able to accurately capture and communicate the magic that kids bring to life. No one really elaborated on the, “But it’s the best thing that will ever happen to you”

Kids are an invitation to pause and consider why we don’t dance more or sing at the top of our lungs. They ask genuinely deep questions that make us rethink how we live.

They give us an opportunity to dig into our deepest places. To find out how patient we really are. How we act during sleep deprived, stressful situations.

My favorite part about kids though, is how brave and resilient they are.

It starts early. When they learn to walk, they literally face plant and get back up to keep walking. MULTIPLE TIMES.

Have you face planted recently? It hurts.


If I were to go back and give myself one piece of advice about parenthood, it would be: “You have very little control. Stop fighting that and embrace it.”

From day one, Avery persistently taught us that she would do things in her own time. The first time she taught us this is when she arrived NINE DAYS LATE. I’m still pissed.

Then we were concerned that she wasn’t crawling when most babies were. So we got her evaluated, only to be told, “There’s nothing wrong with her. Find what motivates her and she should start crawling soon.” The next day I set a bowl of puffs on the floor across the room from her. She crawled across the room as if she knew how to do it earlier and simply chose not to.

Out of the caution that only a firstborn child (of an actuary) can have, she walked around on her knees for a few months before she got on her feet and started walking like a normal kid.

Most recently, she went from refusing to put her head in the water to deciding to start swimming. Like, swimming across the pool on her back with very little coaching.


Here’s the thing. Kids do terrifying things on a daily basis. They trust us when we say that putting your head underwater won’t kill you. They pet dogs that are larger than them. They go off to school, leaving the people who have kept them alive and figure out how to navigate.

As I watched Avery swim across the pool on her back, with a big smile on her face that she maintained even when her head dipped under water, I thought to myself, “Dang, that’s pretty brave.”

I watched as she attempted to show off her swimming tricks and got endless nosefuls of water (the worst). And yet, she exuded such joy. She was so proud of getting over her fear of swimming… and she loved it.

Kids do things like this on a daily basis. Their days are full of opportunities to try new things. Sure, opportunities for failure, but also, brimming with opportunities for success.

Adults come no where near to the amount of new experiences that kids have per day. In part, this is because we are seasoned. We’ve lived a little longer. We know how to walk and talk.

But have you ever considered…

When did you stop trying new foods or foods that you thought you didn’t like? And why? Is it because now you just know everything about what you like and hate?

And when was the last time you tried a new activity? Or went out of your comfort zone and talked to someone new?

Just because we are adults, doesn’t mean we have to stop learning, trying, and being open to failure.

Yeah, kids are a lot of work. Life changing. Weird. Sometimes annoying.

But without a doubt, they are the best thing that has happened to me. They’ve infused my days with new ways of looking at life. They are funny. They remind me what it means to be human, and have taught me a heck of a lot more than I will ever teach them.

With that, I’ll leave you with a question that they left with me:

When’s the last time you did something scary?

Cheers,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Letting go, Letting in

Everyone from a state that experiences winter knows that in the autumn, the leaves fall off trees. Right? Right.

But have you ever wondered why the leaves fall off? Or what prompts them to begin falling in the first place?

It all begins with a cascade of hormonal changes in the tree. Chlorophyll declines, as do auxins, signaling to the tree that it is time to begin the act of self preservation: cutting all unnecessary energy expenditures that could be fatal in the frigid winter. With shorter days and less daylight, leaves are no longer worth the energy they require to maintain.

The leaves change color as they lose the chlorophyll that normally keeps them green. As they lose their chlorophyll, the tree stops receiving signals that the leaves are healthy and cuts them loose.

This, my friend, is the science of beautiful fall colors and large leaf piles.


The afternoon sun back-lit a blue Ford truck loaded to the brim with items that had filled our Minnesota house. I brushed the dust off my pants, half relieved that we had managed to complete the task, half anxious at the thought of parting with these goods.

We were in Iowa, and had just spent the morning sorting through our belongings that had been in storage for a little over a year. When we came to Florida, we only brought two car loads full. We had rented a fully furnished condo, and by fully furnished, I mean down to towels, kitchenware, even Christmas decorations.


And now here we were, back to look at the objects that made up most of our daily life back in Minnesota. Objects that we had packed up, not knowing where we would land or when we would see them again.

We did just fine without our “stuff”. Thrived, actually. But the moment I saw our boxes, I couldn’t wait to rip them open and soak in the presence of inanimate objects. Objects that I couldn’t even remember.

Mainly I loved looking at everything because it stirred old memories that my brain had filed in the deep abyss of unnecessary memories.

I hugged a quilt that my Dad’s employee had made as a gift for Avery prior to her birth. The quilt remained on her bed from the moment we weren’t concerned about SIDS all the way up until we left Minnesota.

I found the 3 candles that I bought right before Chad and I got married. I purchased these candles to decorate our little downtown Minneapolis apartment prior to our wedding so when we returned home from our honeymoon, it would look Christmassy.

The scent of these candles evokes immediate thoughts of fireplaces with cackling fires, cozy sweaters, and the excitement of Christmas preparations.


We went through each box to determine what would be helpful in our new home; more so, what we couldn’t bear to part with. As for the rest, we cut it loose, knowing that its baggage outweighed the benefit.

We pared down our belongings from a trailer-full to 17 boxes that we mailed to Florida.

It was another goodbye. It was a goodbye that was easier than hugging family and friends goodbye, but a tough one, nonetheless.

Having a trailer full of things in storage back in Iowa had been like a security blanket. Mentally, I was able to tell myself that there was still a good chance that we would return home, and settle down in the Midwest, close to family.

The goodbye to our stuff was a goodbye to a hope for a future in the Midwest; an alternative life path that always played in the back of my brain.

These leaves were no longer helping us. Instead, they were an energy expenditure that was no longer beneficial for us to cling on to.


After shipping off the last of our things in storage, we drove from Iowa to Minnesota to celebrate my brother’s wedding.

I soaked in the beauty of a Minnesota fall. The leaves were a magnificent array of colors. The air had a crisp feel to it.

I moaned. Chad raised an eyebrow. “I just wish we could live here in the fall, it is so gorgeous.” To which he retorted, “Yeah, but it only lasts 3 weeks and then the leaves are gone and it’s negative 30 out.”

Certainly, he has a point. The tree’s do lose their beautiful leaves. And it is sad. They hunker down for a bleak winter, looking rather barren without their leaves. But by spring, they wake up from their dormancy and create buds, flowers, and leaves.

Maybe the trees have something to teach on letting go. They do it every year, saying goodbye to the leaves that make up a large part of their appearance- of how we identify them- of who they are.

Sometimes we have to let go to survive. Sometimes, a part of us that was once helpful and healthy is no longer, so despite our positive memories, we must cut it loose.

Sometimes we have to let go to create space for what can be, and what will be. We have to let go to find space to more tightly hold on to the things we love.

Happy Fall, y’all,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Holding Space

I’m writing this from a new bedroom, on a new bed, in a new house. Everything smells new; and for the moment, life feels foreign.

We still don’t have hand towels in the bathroom, so each time I wash my hands, I face the predicament of whether to dry them on my shirt, a feral child, or let them air dry. The worst thing is, the hand towels are in the dryer… I just keep forgetting to grab them.

You may have noticed the radio silence on the blog. I superstitiously didn’t want to say anything about the new house until we closed.

That being said, we bought a house. We closed the Friday before Labor Day, and are approximately 70% moved in. We live about 10 minutes from our old condo, still close to where Chad’s parents and grandparents live during the winter.

Our new digs

For me, house hunting was less about checking off criteria from a list and more about my heart saying, “Yeah, I could see us making this a home”. It was less about a purchase and more about a commitment to the future- I could see us being happy here, I can see the girls growing up in this house, I can envision Christmas and birthdays and family dinners.

Home is the place where you can let your guard down. It’s the place where you stop sucking in your stomach. Pants are optional. (Underwear is however, REQUIRED, in this household.) It is a place where you can truly be yourself and not worry about judgement.

Despite the fact that we were hunting for a home 1725 miles away from “home” for me, I still found myself searching for the familiar. I wanted a home with multiple levels (a lot of FL homes are one level due to the aging population), because that is what I grew up with. And the home we picked is on a golf course.


“I can’t believe you wanted to live on a golf course,” Chad said with a grin, as if shocked by the fact that I would live on a golf course. But see, he didn’t realize that golf courses are almost as familiar to me as they are to him.

Sure, I don’t spend 4 hours on the course 3 times a week playing actual golf, but golf courses are where I ran cross-country races for 6 years of my life.

Running a race is painful, and in those moments of pain you enter a deeply introspective relationship with yourself.

“I hurt,” your muscles scream. “I know this feels like you are dying, but I promise you aren’t,” your brain tries to reassure your muscles as they drown in lactic acid and your oxygen deprived lungs. Your body slowly tunes out unneeded energy expenditure.

You stop caring what you look like. You’re not worried about anyone else’s opinion. All you are left with is the conversation between your brain and your body. In the pain, there is a silence, an honesty, an acceptance. You can’t fight back or suppress emotions.

It is on golf courses that I witnessed the battle between my body and my brain. There is an intimacy that comes from pushing yourself through discomfort.

So for me, yes, golf courses are very familiar. Just not in the traditional sense.


This transition is bittersweet.

“Are you going to miss the old place?,” my mom asked on our weekly call, referring to our 3 bedroom condo that we’ve rented for the past year.

The condo was small. A little too small when it came to the whole Chad working from home and needing quiet during his conference calls. The kind of small that kept us shushing the girls, trying to keep the noise levels below ear splitting for our poor downstairs neighbor.

But also, the condo was exactly the right size. The year we spent there was full of growth. We explored the unknown as a family, with the condo being like a familiar, homely nest we could return to at the end of the day.

We tracked buckets of sand into that place. The walls were covered in adorable art projects. We snuggled together out on the lanai, watching afternoon storms roll in, taking in nature’s great show. We gathered around the kitchen table as a full family for 3 meals on most days. I can’t count the number of times I carried a sleeping child up the stairs after an adventure filled day.

Bread baking at the condo

Awhile back I read a book that talked about the concept of “holding space for hope”. I’ve really tried, but I can’t figure out who wrote it- if I had to guess it was probably by Lori Gottleib, Brene Brown, or Glennon Doyle Melton.

For us, the condo held space for hope. When we moved down to Florida, we had no idea what the future held. We didn’t know if we would love it or hate it. We believed we would be moving to Iowa after a winter spent in FL. I wasn’t sure if I would be horribly homesick, or if this would be a massive failure. And on top of that, I was trialing being a stay at home mom.

The condo offered us space to try something new and be okay if we failed. And that was one of the most freeing feelings in the world; to know that either way, if we failed or were successful, we would be just fine.


Sunset this past week

My favorite part of Florida is the ocean.

I have never felt God more than when I watch a sunset. There is something so calming, peaceful, awe inspiring about watching a big ball of fire 93 million miles away slip below the horizon.

It is in the moments of sitting on an expansive beach, hearing the powerful waves crash against the shore, and watching the big ball of fire make its journey across the sky that I am reminded of my minuscule size in this vast universe.

The thing we’ve realized about sunsets is that they are a lot more beautiful if there are clouds. Sure, a clear day is gorgeous. But when you add clouds to the equation, it adds a whole new dimension to the view.

The sun provides stunning backlights to big, billowy cumulus clouds. Every inch the sun moves down creates a whole different picture- with light being blocked in different areas and light shining through in new spots.


Cloudy sunsets are a great reminder that in life, sometimes cloudy moments accentuate the beauty.

This year hasn’t been perfect. We’ve missed our families and the places we grew up. But these clouds have accentuated the light that this year has brought to us.

Wishing you the beauty of a cloud filled sunset,

Laura

PS- We picked this house because it has plenty of space for visitors. So please come visit us. We would love to see you!

Categories
Weekly Update

Year One

Dear Readers,

It has been a year. One full year of Florida living. A year filled with sand everywhere, sunsets, tons of ice cream, unbelievable amounts of sweat, missing home, new friends, laughter, tears, and every conceivable emotion in between.

This year was a risk, an adventure, a “who am I and what am I capable of” kind of year.

Rewind back 18 months and you would find Chad and I in the middle of long conversations about what direction we wanted to point our future, about how much change and loss we could handle, and mainly about how to escape the snow.

There were endless lists of “pros and cons” that we reviewed each time, trying to weigh our options and make a logical decision.

But the more we circled the topic, we eventually realized that we could circle the topic forever. There was no right answer. Any decision we made would involve loss, but also, positive gain.

We finally agreed that we should stop wondering and start doing.


I laced up my shoes by the light of my phone flashlight. I recently discovered that if I don’t turn on any lights, I’m able to sneak out of the house for a morning run without waking our lightest sleeper, Avery.

I quickly opened the badly in need of WD40 door and stepped out into the early morning. The humidity immediately hugged me, as if I was covered in a blanket.

The neighborhood was quiet, and the houses themselves took on the personas of sleepy giants. After I completed my usual gaze at the stars, I slowly walked out the front gate.

Once I was through the gate, I began my slow shuffle. My body groaned and my brain tried to warn me that this was not what it had hoped for this morning.

I watched the first glow of morning light tint the sky while I waited for my heart to catch up with the self-inflicted increased oxygen demands. Breathless, I reflected on a podcast I recently listened to called, “The Happiness Lab.”

Shout out to my lifelong friend, Regina, for getting me hooked on this podcast.

The podcast is narrated by Dr. Laurie Santos, a psychology professor from Yale. The topic is obviously, happiness. The episode I recently listened to talked about how sometimes… often, your brain thinks you can achieve happiness by doing things that won’t cultivate happiness: sleeping in late, skipping a workout, watching 8 hours of TV, scrolling endlessly through social media, wealth.

She argues that happiness takes work. It is not a state you can reach and stay at forever, nor can you buy it. And sometimes, oftentimes, it is putting in tough work that doesn’t feel fun that will lead to an end result of happiness.

I knew this was true from a running perspective. I am not a fan of waking up at 6 to get a run in, nor am I usually a fan of running while I’m doing it. But the endorphins I get at the end, or the feeling of finishing a long run… those make it worth it.

While I continued to let my brain ruminate on the topic, I watched as the sun rays broke through the humid atmosphere of Florida. The sun rising here looks exactly like the pictures 5 year olds draw of the sun; the big ball with rays of light streaming out.

How sunrises look. Also, what my family looks like.

I was struck by the beauty of the sunrise. A moment I would have easily missed had I listened to my brain and slept in.

I shuffled on, realizing that this entire year has been reflective of the fact that happiness is something to be worked for.

Selling our Minnesota home was a lot of work, saying goodbye to my family was a wrenchingly* hard decision, being outgoing and making friends in a new state was not within my comfort zone, etc.

BUT, the people we’ve met here have been so gracious, kind, and welcoming. Southern charm, I guess you would call it. We love being minutes away from Chad’s parents and grandparents for 5 months of the year.

We have enjoyed the ability to get outside every day in a t-shirt and shorts, no matter what month of the year it is. We love our family swims after dinner, the way that sunsets and rises involve a lot of pink and purple, the summer storms, and the chance to be on an adventure, together.


What I learned from this year is that we are never stuck. Nothing is holding us captive in one situation or another. Change is always possible. And sometimes the best way forward is to simply start moving forward.

Perhaps my favorite part of this whole year has been rediscovering my love for writing. I have loved reading all of your comments and feeling connected by words. Thank you for being the best bunch of fans.

Love to all,

Laura

*I’m aware that “wrenchingly” is not a word, but you know what I meant and it sounds right.

Categories
Weekly Update

Avery Marie 5.0

I remember snippets. It was a cold day. I think there was snow. I hadn’t been feeling quite right. I figured I was fatigued or had a bug. But just to be sure, I stopped at a CVS to pick up a pregnancy test. It was three weeks after Chad and I married and barely a week since we had returned from our honeymoon.

“This will probably be something I laugh about after I take it and it comes back negative,” I thought as I waited in line for the cashier to ring me up.

The next snippet in my brain flashes to watching the pregnancy test turn positive in our apartment bathroom in downtown Minneapolis. I shouted to Chad, “uh… you better come here.”

Instead of thinking, “wow, I’m pregnant,” I thought, “Dang, I must have a brain tumor” (a very rare reason pregnancy tests are positive when in fact the woman is not). Chad of course believed that the pregnancy test couldn’t possibly be right, so we stopped at Target to pick up five pregnancy tests and red Gatorade.

Five positive pregnancy tests and half a Gatorade later, the statistics were clear enough for Chad to be convinced that I was pregnant, and a state of shock set in.

Avery’s pregnancy was not an easy one. It was full of nausea, vomiting, and fainting spells. I lost 10 pounds in the first trimester. I fainted in the heart transplant meeting at work (yes, it is super embarrassing to faint in front of a group of cardiologists).

I fainted on the bathroom floor in front of a very concerned Chad. I insisted I hadn’t fully passed out as he hurried me to the Emergency Department. “Well do you remember when I slapped your face?,” he asked.

I was incredulous. “No. Why would you do that?”

“To wake you up.” This is what happens when you put an actuary in a medical situation.

Needless to say, I was anxious to give birth by my due date. But consistent with her feisty and stubborn personality, Avery arrived nine days late.


As I lay laboring in the hospital bed, I wondered out loud, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready to be a mom. What if the baby hates me?” My midwife looked down and smiled, “You will be a great mom. Your baby will love you and you will love her, just wait and see.”

I had assumed that once Avery popped out, I would be filled with eternal joy and everything would make sense, and we would live happily ever after. I expected her birth would be peaceful. There would be soft lighting, classical music and tears of joy.

Instead, I lay writhing on a hospital bed, buck naked, while a team of 2 doctors, a midwife, the entire c-section team, neonatologist, and NICU team watched, aided by very fluorescent lights for their optimal viewing pleasure.

I added to the zen by glaring directly at the doctors and loudly asking, “Why is there a finger up my butt hole?” To which the doctor apologized, “Sorry ma’am, I’m trying to prevent you from tearing.” What a chivalrous guy. Classical music and soft lighting my a**.

I was told that the baby was in trouble and I had one last shot to push her out before they were going to rush me to c-section. I somehow mustered enough strength and was soon greeted by a very blue creature.

In my nurse brain, I classified the situation as bad. I watched as they attempted to intubate her three times, with her sats dropping into the 50’s. Fourth time was the charm, and they sped her out of the room with Chad following closely behind.

After I was stitched up, the room cleared. It was just me and my postpartum belly which was disappointingly not flat at all. A timid aide poked her head in the door to ask if she could get me some toast.

I was pretty sure I was a mom now, but I didn’t see a cute, cuddly baby anywhere in sight. Toast in this moment didn’t make sense. I wanted my baby, not toast. So I declined.


Two hours later I was wheeled to the special care unit to meet Avery. Luckily her intubation was short lived and she was able to breath on her own once they suctioned a mucus plug out of her lungs.

They wheeled me up to an incubator and informed me that this was my baby. I peered inside. I saw a chunky, beat-up baby, with adorable fuzzy hair.

Cute, but blonde. Couldn’t be my kid.

The kind NICU nurse tried to teach me how to breastfeed. But, Avery just wanted to sleep and so did I. After an hour of futile latching attempts, Chad wheeled me back to our room, leaving fuzzy blondie behind. “See you in 2 hours!,” the NICU nurse called behind us. What a joke, I thought as I shook my head, I push out a baby and I don’t even get to sleep to recover?


Parenthood wasn’t what I expected. For me, there wasn’t an immediate joy or love.

It was around 3 months when Avery started smiling and interacting more, when my heart melted and I fell in love.

She patiently taught me that kids are resilient. That I don’t need to be a perfectionist to be a good parent. That formula isn’t the devil, and in fact worked just fine.

She taught me that peek-a-boo is hilarious (because the adult looks like an idiot), and to giggle like a maniac. She reminded me that it’s okay to cry when you’re sad, and to scream in delight with excitement.

The emotions of kids haven’t been dulled by societal norms. In fact, nothing about kids is really bound by norms. They march to the beat of their own drums. And that, is admirable.


We are coming up on Avery’s FIFTH birthday. She starts preschool on Monday.

She is no longer a pot-bellied toddler. Her legs are long and browned by the sun. Her sentences are no longer 3 words strung together, she speaks in rivers of words, effortlessly constructing stories (or bossing us around). Thank goodness she has maintained the same deep and infectious giggle of babyhood.

She has definitely acquired the first child personality. She stands with her hand on her hip and bosses us all around, while carrying on a conversation over her play cell phone.

She is sweet and gorgeous, courageous and cautious. She can negotiate like a terrorist. She’s firey. She’s stubborn in the best and worst way. The girl will go places, mark my words.

The midwife was right. I love Avery and she loves me. Maybe we followed a non-traditional path to get there. She patiently and stubbornly taught me who she is, and in learning who she is, I fell deep in love.

Happy Birthday, Aves!

Love,

Mama

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Weekly Update

Feels Like: Home

I took in the view of the Minneapolis skyline and felt a heaviness in my chest that I didn’t anticipate. Maybe it was my soul reminding me how badly I had wanted to come home to say goodbye to my grandma before she passed.

Maybe it was the huge relief of knowing I would finally get to see “my people”- the ones who raised me, who grew with me, who know me best. Or maybe it was just the fact that I had a massive migraine after a tantrum ridden flight and an hour long wait for our rental car.

Regardless, there we were, driving through Minneapolis. Chad, cheerfully trying to chat me up, and our backseat passengers voicing their displeasure in this long day of travel.

It had been 9 months since we were in Minnesota as a family, 4 months since I had snuck up by myself for a quick 24 hour trip for a friends birthday.

The hotel we were staying at was just 5 minutes from our old house, so it goes without saying that I insisted we must drive past our old house at a creepily slow pace.

The tears started splattering when we turned onto our block and passed the park I spent countless hours at- teaching the girls how to climb up to the slides, pushing them on the swings until their sweet blue eyes got heavy, toddling around as a new family of 4.

I remember going down the slide when I was nine months pregnant with Alice hoping it would put me into labor. I remember taking Avery to the park with Alice snug in the baby carrier when she was just 3 days old.

When we passed our old house, I was basically a nut case, sobbing, while Avery and Alice were confused about why Mommy could be crying. Wasn’t that their job?

When we drove down to Florida last August, I listened to one of my favorite books on Audible, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.” In the book, the author highlights the relationship of change and loss.

“As a therapist, I know a lot about pain, about the ways in which pain is tied to loss. But I also know something less commonly understood: that change and loss travel together. We can’t have change without loss, which is why so often people say they want change but nonetheless stay exactly the same.”

Lori Gottlieb

And so, in the front seat of a rental car, stuffed with my mostly favorite people, I grieved the loss produced by a change we purposefully made almost a year ago. A change that, yes, has produced so much good; but a change that, yes, has also produced loss.


Us Minnesotan’s like to go “Up Nort” (north), to spend time at the lake each summer. My Dad’s side of the family has the tradition of spending a week each July together at a lakeside resort.

Our family vacations in the best possible way: very few organized activities, schedules that run more on how we feel than by what time it is, high quality junk food, a rotation of lounging by the pool and the lake, and late nights playing poker or mafia.

Usually we start a puzzle at some point and in prior years, we would finish it. Lately we’ve given up 1/4th of the way through. This year we stuck to a 25 piece Winnie the Pooh puzzle. Avery and Alice finished it in 15 minutes. We were all relieved.

Showers are not required, nor are outfit changes. If you’re wanting to clean up a bit, you can always turn your shirt inside out. Before guests come, we do try to put deodorant on and brush our 4 front teeth.

This was our first year without G-Dizz (or as normal families may call their elder, Grandma).

Her absence was palpable. Her comfy chair sat empty, and we half expected a snarky comment to come from that direction at any time. We missed her shriek during poker games whenever she was upset by losing. We missed her classy figure, sitting poolside while wearing her zebra print swim suit, sipping a beer. Mostly, we missed her in all the normal moments that we couldn’t share together.


Have you ever noticed the beauty of familiar things? Like how the first time you listen to a song you might hate it, but by the tenth time you hear it, it might be your favorite song? Or how you can travel the world, but still find home to be your favorite place to be?

For me, it is birch trees, lakes, cool morning weather, and fireplaces. No matter how far I go, or where I end up living, these things will always stick out to me as the most comforting, beautiful things.


And now, we are back home… at our Florida home. I’m soaking in sleeping in my own bed, with my favorite pillows, wearing my faithful polka dot bathrobe that has been with me for the past 6 years.

I had my weekly visit with Donna, the slightly monotone checkout lady at Target (monotone people unite). I had my weekly wave with deli meat man (name unknown) who’s wife has MS.

The girls are happy to be reunited with their toys, and Chad is happy to be reunited with his golf course.

This year has been full of change and loss. Beauty and pain have coexisted. But Florida is sure beginning to feel like home, in the best possible way.

With that said, I find it fitting to announce that we are beginning to house hunt down here in Florida and plan to stay while.

Wishing you all the courage to make scary changes, the people to love you through it all, and the beauty that comes with the change.

I hope you never forget the people, places, and things that have molded you into who you are today.

Above all, I hope you soak in the “normal moments” with those you love.

Cheers,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

From the Middle

I recently finished reading Empty, by Susan Burton, who wrote about her life-long struggles with eating disorders; mainly, fluctuating between binging and anorexia.

Her story isn’t unique. Plenty of people have disordered thoughts and actions related to eating, on a wide spectrum of severity.

What is unique about the book is that the author wrote it from the middle of her struggle. She is not recovered and looking back with new-found wisdom. She bravely chose to tell her story “as is”, from a spot of struggle, not clarity.


What I’ve come to appreciate through blogging is that writing is a medium of art. The same story can be told from billions of different perspectives. It can be spun into different webs; it can be interpreted in completely different lights. The same event can make one person laugh and another person cry.

Stories are easiest to tell retrospectively, when you finally have a chance to look back. It is easiest to find the meaning; and certainly, have a clearer perspective once you are out of the heat of the moment.

But what about the middle? It makes up most of our life. We spend a much higher percentage of time in “middle moments” than in “end moments”.


Since our return to Florida, I’ve been trying to embrace the pea- soup- thick humidity that has descended upon us. Last week, I (stupidly) slept in one morning and wasn’t able to sneak out for a run until Chad was able to watch the girls… at 1pm.

The heat was disgusting. Even “easy pace” felt difficult. As I was slogging along, encapsulated in 114 degree heat, and in a pretty negative mindset about how horrible this was, I was passed by a landscaping golf cart.

Immediately the golf cart fumes and scent of freshly cut grass transported me back in time to the days of high school cross country. It’s funny how a smell can do that.

Whenever I think of high school cross country, I get a slightly nauseated, slightly anxious, nostalgic feeling that spreads through my body. Sounds weird, but I’m guessing most people who have participated in a pain inducing sport can relate.

This scent trigger brought my mind back to a day we were on the track, running repeat 300’s. 300 meters is a gross distance. It’s short enough where you should be able to sprint, but long enough that you feel like you want to die.

Our coach at that time was Mr. Rod. Mr. Rod was tall, funny, and innately understood the pain that running could induce. As we struggled through the workout, he gathered us up for a pep talk.

I’m sure we all had looks of hatred on our faces- he wrote the workout after all. There was no need for him to acknowledge the pain we were in; that was baseline knowledge, punctuated by someone puking in the background.

He simply said, “Break it down. Run the first 100 fast, float in the middle, and sprint the last 100.” Some angsty teenager asked with attitude that only a teenager can have, “What do you mean float?” To which Mr. Rod replied with a smile, “Just pretend you’re floating.”

Sounded pretty stupid to me.

But, given that I was on deaths door, I tried the floating idea.

The crazy thing was, when I envisioned myself floating in the middle of the last couple 300’s, it felt a hundred times easier, and yet somehow I was still running just as fast.


And just like then, I find myself in the middle. Given the large number of new COVID cases in Florida, we are back to quarantine, in the house, with young kids.

I keep wishing to find myself at the end of this COVID story- to be able to look back, smile, and find some inspirational meaning.

But for now, I find myself in the middle and to be blatantly honest, I’m not floating. The days are filled with tantrums (by the kids and me) and messes. I’m covering the positions of line cook, maid, therapist, anger management coach, teacher, friend, enemy, mother, and wife.

My story from the middle isn’t inspirational, I would say it’s more of a “what not to” story. Making a necklace would be cute but beads bounce all over the house and look suspiciously like candy. Running in 114 degree heat after eating tacos NEVER ENDS WELL. 3 year olds CANNOT BE REASONED WITH. Crafts that are found on Pinterest rarely turn out as well as the promising pictures <liars>.

My story from the middle is messy. (Literally and figuratively, ok?) It’s not something that people will read and say, “I really want to try that! Sounds like she has her life figured out!”

So for now, I’m going to break it down into 100’s and try to float.

Off to Target to buy floaties… and wine. Lots of wine.

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Fireflies

We just returned from a 10 day trip to Iowa and Missouri to spend time with Chad’s family.

The trip was motivated by 1) our love for our family and 2) an urgent need to escape the confines of our condo and go somewhere that the girls could run free for awhile.

The trip was exactly what we needed.

We were greeted by cool weather by our standards… the kind of weather that doesn’t induce sweating within your first minute outside. The air felt crisp to us Floridians, and we enjoyed humidity free sunshine.

Chad’s family has a cabin on a lake in Missouri, about 2 hours from their farm in Iowa. We spent most of our trip at the cabin, logging many hours cruising around the lake in the pontoon, swimming in the water (without fear of alligators), and fishing.

We soaked in family time. Our days didn’t adhere to the schedule that normally dictates our lives. We spent long hours on the water, pausing to eat when we got hungry and rest when we were tired.

I took advantage of the beautiful cool weather and explored Missouri on my morning runs. For those unfamiliar with the geography of Florida, it’s about as flat as it gets. Missouri on the other hand? Rolling hills. Never. Ending. Massive. Huge. Painful. Mountain-like, hills.

I have a weird love for running hills. I love how running hills is so painful that you can’t think about your whole run at once- otherwise you’d die just at the thought of it.

I don’t even try to take it one hill at a time… I break up each hill: “To the next mail box” and then, “to that clump of yellow flowers” next, “to the shadow of that tree”.

Hills require intense focus. Your mind doesn’t can’t wander to think about the long list of “to-do’s” or rewind to replay an argument you recently had, or ruminate on the latest issue that requires solving.

No, your brain is stuck in the moment. It is stuck on the next tiny chunk of road that requires focus. Your legs burn, and your lungs feel like they are about to explode. And right when you feel like you are on the doorstep of death, the road slowly flattens, your heart keeps beating, and your legs carry on.

The focus that hills require becomes almost meditative. With the chatter of the brain quieted by the hill induced exhaustion, you find yourself present; available to face any passing thoughts without judgement.

…………………………………………

We spent our final night of the trip in Iowa so the girls could spend some time on the farm the following morning. Chad and I had a couple of errands to run to move around some of our things in storage.

We were driving at dusk, bumping over dirt roads and soaking in the views of mist covered fields with dark purple clouds billowing above.

I was transfixed by the quiet beauty of Iowa when Chad asked, “Do you see them?”

“See what?” I asked.

“Fireflies.”

I blinked and shifted my focus toward the fields. Sure enough, I watched as tiny twinkling lights arose from the fields in the thousands. I’ve never seen that many fireflies at one time.

“It’s magical” I whispered, not wanting the moment to end.

“They kind of stink,” he said, with a smirk.

“WHAT?” I asked, hoping I didn’t hear him right.

“Every time they pass gas, they light up,” he said with a wide smile.

The moment was officially ruined.

…………………………………

Traveling during a pandemic is about what we expected. People were not required to wear masks in the airport or on the airplane- if I had to guess, I’d say around 50% of people wore masks.

Surprisingly, the flight attendants were not required to wear masks. The ones who did wear them would take them off when they talked. I wanted to yell, “YOU’RE DEFEATING THE ENTIRE PURPOSE”… but I didn’t… because Alice had pulled down her own mask to eat a lollipop, and then lick her sticky fingers.

We tried to be as careful as possible, but… kids will be kids. Alice was intrigued by the plastic toilet seat cover in the airport. So intrigued, in fact, that I caught her stroking the crinkly toilet seat cover. Meanwhile, Avery found her joy by using the powerful hand dryers to get a professional grade blow out.

Don’t worry though, we had lots of “Hamitizer” (hand sanitizer), and we used it.

And that, my friends, is our update. We are back in FL and re-adjusting to life post vacation. COVID is rampant here, so we are doing our best to remain safe.

Love to all,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

The Pause

These are weird times. If I’m honest, they are scary, terrifying, earth quaking, world stopping, beautiful, real, heart breaking, quiet, loud, soul searching moments.

As we begin to crawl out of quarantine and isolation, it has never been clearer to me that humans need connection. Not social media connection, not technology connection, real, face to face, huggable connection.

We paused. The world literally shut down.

It felt like a pause between heartbeats. If you’ve ever participated in a code, you are familiar with the pause. It’s the moment when everyone in the room stops the organized chaos to check for a return of a heartbeat.

It is the moment when we stop all of our external stimulus and look to the body of our patient giving their body a chance to declare itself.

Sometimes, there is nothing more that can be done. There are not enough drugs, not enough chest compressions, and not enough brains to bring every body back. During that pause, we watch the rhythm on the cardiac monitor that was created by chest compressions fade to a flat line.

But sometimes, that body declares itself. As we stare at the monitor, we watch the heart return to it’s rhythm: first the p wave, then the QRS complex, and finally the T wave. Sometimes the rhythm is shaky to start, and then it’s as if the heart remembers what it was built to do.

Once the heartbeat returns, the focus is shifted to stabilizing the patient- to making sure that their body has everything it needs to sustain the heartbeat. To keep it going and make it stronger.

………………………………..

I never anticipated that in being a parent, my entire though process would be challenged. Having a little 2 and 4 year old questioning everything, has given me pause.

The past 10 weeks have been full of big discussions about little people questions. We’ve talked a lot about death, given my Grandma’s recent passing.

We’ve talked a lot about how we eat animals and how animals die before we eat them.

When I returned from the grocery store with bacon, Alice asked me if I killed a pig there. When I returned with , salmon, she asked if fish were swimming around at the store.

We read Charlotte’s Web each night before bed. At the end of the book, Avery was delighted to learn that Charlotte had saved Wilbur. Alice asked, “So Wilbur isn’t going to be bacon?”

I couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad about that.

We’ve talked about germs and discussed on end why it is important to wear a mask. We have discussed the importance of social distancing as a way to protect other people, not just ourselves.

………………………………….

I naively envisioned that after quarantine was over, everything would just return to normal. However, now that we are entering the stages of re-opening, it is clear that reality may never return to what it was before. While scary, this isn’t necessarily bad.

Before jumping back into our old life as we knew it, we’ve taken a pause. Do we want our life to come back as it was? Or is it time to make changes? Time to return to life in a different form?

………………………………………………………..

During our 12 weeks of social distancing and isolation, we’ve taken time to work on art projects each day. This time has been as therapeutic for me as it has been for the girls.

One of my favorite authors and researchers, Brene Brown, has written on the importance of creativity. She talks about how the lasting impact it can have on a kid if you tell them (verbally or through nonverbal cues) that they aren’t “good” at art.

This statement resounded with me. As a kid, I never perceived myself as a good artist. My grades in art class reflected this. I believed you either were or weren’t born artistically inclined.

But after reflecting on Brene Brown’s work, I’ve taken time to incorporate creativity and art into my daily life. Most of my paintings are pretty awful. I can’t draw well. But I love it anyway.

We’ve explored with paint, glue, and scissors. I have learned to start with the phrase, “tell me about….” rather than saying, “nice tree!”. And the mess, oh the mess.

“The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.” Brene Brown

……………………………

It seems right now that the world might be falling apart. There are so many things that I cannot control.

But, there are so many things that I can control. I’m taking this time to move my focus outward. To be a good person. To show my kids how to be generous, compassionate, and loving.

Most importantly, I am trying to model good listening. Putting down my phone, getting on their level, shutting off the endless list of tasks that need to be accomplished, and listening. I can only hope that by role modeling this skill, they will pick up on it and listen to others.

It’s true, there is a lot of bad in this world. But change starts on a cellular level. It starts with one person. And I don’t doubt that with some creativity, pause, and good listening, we can get there.

Wishing you and yours peace, joy & love.

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

A Goodbye

My memories are like dreams, the best possible kind. I remember rolling down the hill in her backyard, and spending lazy summer days lounging in front of the lake together. My memories are full of poker chips and goldfish (for when the poker chips were unavailable).

I remember the shriek she would make when someone would unexpectedly beat her in five card draw, the way she’d stand with a hand on her hip while she bossed my dad around, and most especially the way that her smile lit up her entire face and left her eyes twinkling.

She was a lovely combination of beer lover and Emily Post. Her manners were impeccable and she was capable of carrying a conversation with anyone, all while keeping the topic off herself. These conversations usually occurred while she sipped a cold one in a tall glass.

She carried herself with a quiet strength and grace; the kind of strength that you can only acquire from getting through difficult times.

She went by the name “G” or “G Dizz” short for “G-Dizzle”; a gansta name we appointed her with in my younger years, that stuck all the way until now. She never let her classiness get in the way of embracing the name.

She called me “L”, which is I guess, her attempt at a gansta name. On her voicemails (which I have saved so I don’t forget her voice), she calls me “sweetie pie” and ends her messages with “Love ya”. At the end of phone conversations, she would follow the “love ya” with kiss noises before she hung up the phone.

We said goodbye to my Grandma this past week. Because of the pandemic, it was not in any form a normal goodbye. I didn’t get to hold her hand, or whisper in her ear how much I loved her. I didn’t get to sit by her side and soak in her presence for one last time.

No, this goodbye was different. Lucid to her last day, she kindly used her final energy to take FaceTime calls from those who needed to say goodbye.

Graceful as always, she apologized for her slurring thanks to a recent stroke and informed me that she was wearing the bathrobe I had given her for her birthday five years ago.

The call was quick; less than five minutes. I didn’t want to impede on her napping and thankfully we had spent plenty of time in prior weeks chatting over the phone so that when this goodbye came, it would be okay to keep it short.

A day or two after squeezing in all of her goodbyes, she died quietly, surrounded by family.

She is and was and will always be in my memory, beautiful.

Sending love to all,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

The Year Time Stopped

I can’t tell you how often I wished that time would slow down. Prior to coronavirus, days were gone in the blink of an eye and we lived at a frantic pace darting from one event to another.

But when quarantine hit, it finally felt as if time stopped. The days feel long, the month feels REALLY log, and the year is dragging at snail pace.

Parenting two young kids under “shelter in place” orders has been a challenge, but I’ve realized the kids are a lot more resilient and accepting of change than this old grump.

The girls have filled their days with A LOT of imaginary play, reading, outside play, and yes, more TV than usual. It was tricky at first to figure out a balance of how to get through the day with everyone remaining psychologically intact. It helped once I lowered my expectations.

Lunch is spent on our porch as a family, passing time guessing what color of car will pass next. The girls are currently in last place in this never ending competition, as they haven’t figured out that a pink car will likely never drive past. Annoyingly, actuarial Chad bases all of his guesses on car color statistics. This unfortunately means he is winning.

Our afternoons are filled with Dominoes, Go Fish, and Soggy Doggy (the worst kid game ever). When I can no longer handle the monotony of playing the same game over and over, we head outside to play on the driveway.

Everything has slowed down. I no longer rush the kids, as there is literally nothing to rush for. We take our time on walks, examining spider webs, waving to passing bikers, and stopping for frequent snack breaks.

The goal is no longer to cram everything possible into 24 hours. Instead, now the goal is to stay in the moment and stick with an activity as long as we can.

We are feeling blessed. Our families are healthy. Chad works from home at baseline, so nothing has changed there. And as of today, no one has lost their sanity yet.

I’m using my time to catch up on activities that have been on my to-do list for far too long. I caught up on the girls photo albums. A week prior to us receiving our shelter in place order, I ordered a large stack of books that have been on my “to read list”. I haven’t read this much (for enjoyment) since childhood & it has been an absolute breath of fresh air.

For a perfect sanity supplement, I’m continuing my training for a half marathon that was supposed to take place in early May (now moved to June). The long runs are a perfect escape from the house, and the endorphins are a big help for… you know, being kind to my housemates.

We are praying hard for those who are sick and all the essential workers who are keeping this country running.

Sending love to all,

Laura

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Weekly Update

Hitting Pause

I’ve never had any desire to pause, rewind, or re-live any part of my life. However; recently, I’ve been wishing for a pause button.

I have hit a sweet spot in life. All of the change that has taken place over the years has slowly but surely fit all of the puzzle pieces into a beautiful picture.

It is scary to acknowledge that life is at a peak right now. I know that life isn’t all peaks, and eventually we will encounter a valley. But I’m soaking in this sweet spot.

When I stopped working to stay at home with the girls, I feared that I would become less. I wouldn’t be as valuable since I was no longer bringing in a paycheck. I would be stupider since I wasn’t interacting with patients and providers on a daily basis. And what was I going to say when people asked what I do?

Sure, some of it is true. I can’t rattle off oncology drugs like I used to be able to. I am not bringing home a paycheck. And people frequently ask what I do. The answer? “A helluva lot more than when I worked.”

Here’s the thing though: I’ve never been happier.

Our days feel endless- sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way. They are filled with unprovoked dance parties, singing the same three songs over and over, and stopping to watch the ants.

We have entered the stage of exploring the world while sunlight streams through the trees. We experience wonder on a minute by minute basis, stopping at any moment to admire whatever nature treasure we find.

We take care of baby (doll), read an endless stack of books, and try to find answers to life’s biggest questions: Where can we find a butterfly to catch? How can you tell if a woman has a baby in her tummy vs food? <important life skill for survival> How can we go to Minnesota?

Sure, our days are peppered with skinned knees, the occasional tantrum, and slivers from climbing the slanty palm tree with bare feet. While the joy we experience is beautifully un-masked, the sadness, anger and pain also remain un-hidden. We cry about bonked heads because, dang it, they hurt!

There is dirt under our fingernails. Our house isn’t Pinterest perfect clean. Heck, it isn’t clean… period. And we haven’t quite nailed down social norms.

We are working on keeping our dresses down at dinner, because although tempting, the restaurant is not an appropriate place to compare tummy size. Church isn’t really a spot for yelling. And sadly, comparing poop sizes really isn’t ever appropriate.

Our days end with family prayers in bed. Our little people have big prayers, and nothing makes my mama heart happier than hearing them.

Because, what I’ve learned from my kids is this: life is beautiful.

Somewhere in my adult years, I forgot to look at the world with wonder.

But these little people have patiently taught me to pause and watch the meticulous choreography of an ant colony, to watch in awe as the sky turns pinks and purples after its last rays have dipped below the horizon, and to always, without fail, accept gifts of smashed flowers from little dimply hands.

They taught me that life isn’t about climbing the career ladder. That joy isn’t derived from a paycheck. And that love wins, always.

………………………………………………………………..

I was able to sneak home for a little less than 24 hours this past weekend for a surprise birthday party for one of my friends.

I wasn’t sure how a 24 hour trip would go, but given that I was able to travel without kids (thank you, Chad & in-laws), I was able to enjoy beautiful, uninterrupted conversations with my family. I left Minnesota refreshed, and so happy to have been able to squeeze the people I love.

In other news, we are all well.

Coronavirus is slowly but surely beginning to impact us, first and foremost through the toilet paper shortage we are experiencing. Luckily I stocked up a while back, so we should be set for a few months. And I’m not below using diaper wipes if necessary. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Sending love to all back home,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

“You’re doing good”

We walked out of the clinic into the bright sunlight. By “walked”, I mean, Avery and Alice ran like maniacs while I power walked behind them with my mom-ly muffin top jiggling, yelling things like “Red light!” or “slow down” or “don’t let a car squish you!”

All of a sudden, the girls came to a halt. I knew it couldn’t be that they were actually listening to my pleads from behind, so I looked ahead.

There it was, the golf cart. You see, in Florida, not only do we have PLENTY of parking, which is a stark contrast to my Minneapolis upbringing, but Florida is gloriously set up for old people. And so, despite the fact that we only parked about 20 steps from the clinic doors, they have a golf cart shuttle that brings you from the front door to your car.

Yes, I know. It’s fantastic. The potential for laziness here is incredible. It’s why I have a muffin top.

The girls always insist we take a golf cart ride to our car, so we push all the old people with walkers and wheelchairs out of the way, and climb aboard.

Just kidding, we don’t do that. I mean, we don’t do the pushing the old people part. We do ride the golf cart though.

The golf cart is always driven by a 60+ year old, typically wearing a golf shirt and visor. I’m not sure if you needed to know this, but I’m just sharing the deets.

This particular ride was a good one. It wasn’t your typical boring ride. It started with the golf cart guy leaning back and whispering to the girls, “it’s my first day on the job, sorry if the ride is crazy.” He preceded to swerve through the parking lot while the girls giggled up a storm.

Was it an act? Or was it truly his first day, and had he indulged in a few cocktails prior? I will never know. Either way, it was brilliant of him.

As he screeched to a stop in front of our car approximately 15 seconds later, the girls hopped out and thanked him after I reminded them to say thank you. (I’ve noticed that 85% of my sentences as a parent are, “Say thank you!”, with forced cheeriness.)

As I mentally prepared for the arduous task of buckling two kids into car seats (car seats are the worst), golf cart man drove off, turning back to yell, “You’re doing good, mom!” And my heart melted.

I truly believe these are some of the kindest and best words a parent can hear, even better if they come from a total stranger. Best, if they are spoken after a totally ordinary moment, not when I’m being a show-off parent and drilling my kid on the ABC’s in the grocery store line.

We were at the doctor because I was pretty sure Alice had an ear infection. Sure enough, she did. And for bonus points, she also had the flu.

The flu was a surprising diagnosis because she wasn’t really acting sick enough to have the flu. The resilience of kids is mind boggling. When I have the flu, I am on deaths door.

Being the good citizen that I am, I cancelled all of our plans for the next few days and quarantined the kids.

But quarantine is boring and we were recently stuck inside after Avery’s ear surgery, so the thought of spending all my time inside with the kids was daunting.

In one of my brightest moments of all parenting time, I made the decision to combine flu quarantine with potty training for Alice. Might as well kill two birds with one stone, right?

Right.

The method of potty training we chose is called “The Naked Method”: you let your kid run around naked from waist down and pray for the best. I like to call it the “Naked and Afraid Method” .

Golf cart man’s kind words echoed in my head as I cleaned up pee off the floor the first two times and I nodded. “Yes, I am doing good,” I agreed, pleased with myself.

The third time I was cleaning pee off the floor, his words once again echoed in my head, and I thought to myself, “I really am a good mom, look at me, not losing it after cleaning pee up all day!”

After this thought crossed my brain, a child who shall not be named knocked a bowl of soggy wheaties off the table, then got up and tracked the soggy wheaties across our entire living space.

It was then that I lost it and decided that I must not be a good mom after all. It’s funny how things can turn so quickly.

The great news is that after peeing on the floor 6 times in one day, Alice woke up the next morning and was basically potty trained. By “basically” I mean, she hasn’t had any accidents except for the one time she peed while she was in the shower, but some people do that on purpose, so… I cannot judge her intentions. Maybe it wasn’t an accident.

In other news, we celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday on 2/17.

Approximately 2 days after I mailed out Christmas cards this year, I received a call from my father-in-law, Doug at 9pm. He wanted to discuss the Christmas card I had sent out.

Yes, he liked the pictures, but he was distraught that I hadn’t included in our note on that back of the card that we are able to spend endless time with Doug and Nancy given that our FL home is 7 minutes from their Florida home.

And so, given that this is his Birthday Month, I’d like to spell out my gratitude for Doug Onstot, especially now that we live so close to each other.

When I first met Doug, I was a nervous girlfriend, trying my best to impress Chad’s parents. I was a city girl, through and through.

Doug, being Doug, decided to welcome me to Iowa (and the family) by taking Chad and I for a ride in his new ranger.

As he whipped up and down ditches and across empty cornfields, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I was sandwiched between Doug and Chad and there wasn’t a whole lot of room.

Doug was clearly pleased with his new ranger and his driving abilities, as he calmly smiled and kept glancing over at Chad and I, probably enjoying the look of pure terror in our eyes. My terror was rooted in my hate for speed, Chad’s terror was likely rooted in the fact that he knew exactly what his father was capable of (and didn’t want to lose such a catch of a girlfriend).

On first impression, I gathered that Doug liked going fast, he was loud and the life of the party, and everyone in Indianola, Iowa knew him.

After 5 years of marriage into the Onstot family, I can attest that all of the above first impressions are true. But I will also say that over time, my understanding of Doug has evolved.

When Avery was born, I got to experience the Papa in him. I watched as this loud man with big hands held my sweet girls when they were babies, rocking them to sleep in his recliner.

Doug watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with the girls on Saturday mornings. He teaches them about combines and tractors, but has also acquired a knowledge of Disney Princesses and the Paw Patrol.

What I’m trying to say here is that underneath his tough facade, he has the sweetest soft spot for his grandkids.

The other thing I like about Doug? I never have to guess what he’s thinking. He is filter free, generally speaking… and in this politically correct culture that shies away from offending anybody, I find it refreshing.

“Remember how big your ass got when you were pregnant?” Yes, Doug, I remember.

I think I will end my post on those words. Sending love to all back home,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Talking to Dolphins & Feeding the Fish

“Happy Birthday, self,” I thought as I watched beautiful tropical fish swarm the top of the turquoise blue water, feasting on my vomit.

Let me back up.

Since I am now filled with 30 years of wisdom, I told Chad what I wanted for my birthday, rather than making his poor soul guess. I informed him that I wanted a surprise trip.

“Is it really a surprise if you know it’s coming?” he asked, his blue eyes sparkling as if he thought I hadn’t already considered this conundrum. Men. I told him as long as I didn’t know location, it would be a good enough surprise.

In the days leading up to the trip, I couldn’t contain my excitement or my nosiness. Thus, I insisted that we add a new rule- Chad would provide one clue per day on where we would be going.

And so, Chad, the most patient person I know, continued to play the game by my rules, doling out a clue per day.

But if you know me, you know that I am extremely geographically challenged AND impatient. Rules were quickly amended so that Chad could provide multiple clues per day.

2 days before the trip, rules were overthrown and I demanded that he tell me where we were going.

Chad had planned a trip to Marathon, FL, which is one of the islands on the chain of islands leading up to Key West.

We dropped the kids off with my (amazing) in-laws and road tripped of to our final destination, which was about 4 hours away, taking us through Miami (yes, on Superbowl weekend), through a chunk of the Everglades, and finally, across multiple islands linked together by bridges.

Marathon, FL won me over with it’s southern architecture, rocky beaches, and lighthouses. There was an uncharacteristic to Florida chill in the air that reminded me of Duluth.

Despite the fact that Chad isn’t a huge fan of ocean swimming, he put on his “husband of the year” swim trunks and ventured out snorkeling with me.

That is exactly how I found myself jumping into the choppy waters of the Atlantic ocean. If I had to rank nature experiences I’ve had in my life, this was by far, one of the coolest.

The turquoise waters are beautiful on surface level, but a whole new world opened up the moment we jumped into the water.

We were surrounded by schools of brightly colored fish, underwater mountains of coral, and forests of purple sea fans dancing in the surge of waves. We watched in silent terror and glee as a massive green eel stuck his creepy head out of a crevice below.

Being submerged in this underwater world was fascinating. And yet, despite the magic of the moment, after an hour of being pushed and pulled by the crashing waves, my stomach was not impressed. The salt water tasted too salty, and my stomach alerted me that it was time to puke.

I crawled out water and hoisted myself back up onto the boat. The captain took one look at me and said, “Why don’t you go talk to the dolphins?” while pointing his thumb toward the back of the boat.

And that is precisely how I found myself hurling into the beautiful waters, only to realize that the tropical fish loved my regurgitated sub sandwich. (TMI? Sorry.) The islander sitting next to me flashed a toothless smile as he watched the fish feast on my puke and sighed, “Nothing goes to waste here, does it?”

While the snorkeling trip involved bodily fluid, it was a weird but fitting way to mark the start of my 30’s.

Life, I’ve learned, rarely has 100% perfect moments. And if I wait only for those, I wouldn’t have much to celebrate. But A LOT of life has not quite perfect moments that are full of mistakes or bodily fluids or tough spots.

I’ve realized that embracing the not quite so perfect moments makes life became a hell of a lot more enjoyable.

So here’s to embracing the imperfect moments our lives are weaved together by. Here’s to talking to dolphins, feeding the fish, and finding joy in the experience.

Wishing you all the best,

Laura

PS- For all who are wondering, Avery’s surgery went very smoothly. Thank you for the thoughts and prayers!

Categories
Weekly Update

Oh, the Magic

Hi all,

You may notice that my blog posts are fewer and farther between. I’ve noticed too. You see, we are slipping into a lovely new normal. Our days aren’t filled with as many “firsts”, our weeks have begun to develop routine, and our new world doesn’t feel quite so foreign.

And with this, I feel like I have less to write about… less to report. There are less moments bookmarked as “blog worthy” in my brain, yet our days are equally enjoyable.

Our days aren’t filled with as many new experiences, but we’ve continued our adventure.

Blog worthy bookmark: Kayaking Date with Chad

Shells from our date

Chad and I ventured out on a tandem kayak to explore the channels off of the ocean. We paddled through tunnels of mangrove trees, checked out an island only accessible by boat and found some great shells, and enjoyed a beautiful sunny evening on the water.

Like any good date, it involved adventure and teamwork. I insisted on sitting in front of the kayak so I got the best view, but this provided Chad with the unfair advantage of being able to stop paddling and mooch off of my hard work unbeknownst to me.

We quickly learned that tandem kayaks work best when you paddle together and are on the same page about where you want to head (much like life, in general). So we paddled “Left, right, left, TREE CHAD, TREE!” together while discussing what we would do if a python dropped from a mangrove tree or a gator arose from the water.

I told Chad that if an alligator attacked us, I would become frozen in fear. “Sorry,” he said with a sheepish smile, “but if we get attacked by an alligator, I’m running and leaving you behind.” I wasn’t surprised… 5 years of marriage has us communicating on a much more honest and unfiltered level.

Blog worthy bookmark: Disney

The magic.

Like any All-American family, we had Disney on our bucket list to check out. We wanted the girls to experience a magical moment, and what better than Disney World.

Growing up, I heard about all of my friends’ family trips to Disney. I jealously wondered why our family (filled with 8 kids) never went.

My sister was in Orlando for a conference and brought her daughter along, so we decided to check out Disney together and give our kids a magical experience. And boy, was it ever.

Admission cost $400 for one day for the three of us (Alice is under 3 so we didn’t have to pay for her). Lines for experiences were 1+ hours. The introvert in me cringed in a park packed with touristy, stroller pushing (me included), whiny kid wielding (also me included), selfie taking, hoards of people.

Alice had been telling us in the weeks leading up to our trip that she was going to see Mickey, Minnie and Pluto and Mickey was going to let her pet Pluto.

And much to Alice’s chagrin, Minnie, Mickey and Pluto were not walking around the park to interact with the kids. Oh, no. If you wanted to see Minnie and Mickey (no Pluto) , you had to wait in line… for an hour.

We left the park with the understanding that magical moments do not occur in over-priced amusement parks. We realized what we knew all along, the magical moments occur while watching the sunset, or during bedtime prayers, and in the unexpected and oh so welcome hugs and slobbery kisses from the kids.

Magical moments cannot be bought or for that matter, planned, and I am extremely grateful for that.

Blog-worthy Bookmark: Kid Updates

Alice continues to live a great life full of attitude and spunk. While she is generally an easy kid to parent, our days are becoming peppered with a few tantrums that only a 2 year old could throw. After today’s tantrum, she informed me, “I’m forgiven” rather than saying “I’m sorry”. Girl gets to the point.

The other night after she’d been tucked in, she shouted to me to bring a kleenex because she had a booger. When I arrived to her room, kleenex in hand, she said, “Oh sorry, Mom. I put it on my blankie. Let me get you another one.”

I still can’t believe Avery is 4. She inherited the introverted side of my personality, but is slowly coming out of her shell with her cute group of friends who we spend time with on a weekly basis.

In November, Avery blew a hole in her ear when she had a bad ear infection. Unfortunately, the hole did not heal on its own and we learned that she will require surgery to repair the hole.

My mama heart was not prepared for the news. I think sometimes I expect that I will act like a nurse instead of like a parent when I learn medical news about our kids…but there is a hard line in the sand. Mama emotions always overrule the logical nurse in me.

Luckily, the surgery will only take about 30 minutes and there is an 80% chance of success. If it fails, we have other options. But… we are putting our energy toward the positive. When I asked the surgeon if it would be hard or painful for her, he replied, “It will be for you, but not for her”. Oh so true. Her surgery is on February 4th- keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

That’s all for now, friends. Sending love and prayers to all back home.

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Merry Christmas from Sickville

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… because we are all sick. Well, not all of us. I have somehow avoided the plague. But you know the sense of impending doom you have when a bug is traveling through the family and you just know you’re next? I’m feeling it.

It started with Chad. I knew it was bad when he dropped out of a golf tournament because he wasn’t feeling well. I’m pretty sure in our 5 years of marriage it is the one and only time he’s stopped a tournament early.

Avery and Alice caught the bug at the exact same time, two days later. It’s a weird one because it seems like they are getting better, but then they regress and get worse. The main symptoms are runny nose and junky cough… and shockingly the girls haven’t perfected the art of nose blowing and covering mouths for coughs and sneezes, so I am living in a cesspool of germs.

Poor Alice has been hit the hardest, with her respiratory bug turning into a stomach bug yesterday. The good news is, Alice is getting pretty good at warning us before she pukes.

She yells, “Get the cup mom!” about 5 seconds before she starts spewing. (The cup being hospital grade puke bags that I purchased when I was pregnant- a great alternative to puking into a bowl.)

I hate everything about puke. When I became a nurse, I thought that it was a fear/ disgust I’d be able to overcome. But I learned that all nurses have one bodily fluid that they hate and unfortunately, the disgust never leaves.

Alice; however, is not disgusted by puke. The first time she puked, she puked up the blueberries and cheese stick she had eaten minutes earlier. She was very upset to have lost them and demanded that I gave her back her puked up blueberries and cheese stick. You will be pleased to know I didn’t give in to her demands.

I have severe cabin fever from all the time we’ve spent inside. Alice STILL has a fever but when we took her into the doctor today, both flu test and strep test were negative… so we’ve been told to wait it out and come back in if she still has a fever on Sunday.

I write this from my perch on the couch next to Alice, who is lying on the puke barrier towel and watching Paw Patrol, which I have watched far too much of in the past week.

Other news-

We are going to celebrate Christmas in Florida as 1) we have Chad’s family here to celebrate with and 2) so the girls can have a relaxing, non-travel filled holiday.

It’s not as weird as I thought it would be to be celebrating Christmas in warm weather. It helps that it gets dark early- which makes it feel more wintery.

Kid Cuteness

Every night when we pray as a family, Avery ends her prayer with “And please let Daddy teach me how to golf”.

Alice will say, “You da best, Mom!” at random points in time and it always melts my heart.

Sending love back home to all in the wintery wonderland!

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

A Floridian Thanksgiving & Christmas Preparations

Hi all,

I know it has been a little while since my last post. I have been a bit busy managing the new blog and I was waiting for a more blog- worthy stories to happen before I posted again.

I will be cutting back on these update posts to once every 2 weeks now that we are settled into FL and don’t have exciting stories on a weekly basis. (Hopefully that statement doesn’t jinx us.)

Since I last wrote…

We had our first Thanksgiving in Florida. Given that I was a bit emotional over Halloween, I assumed Thanksgiving would be rough. But in all honesty, it was a really enjoyable, non-emotional day. The day started with a 5k with one of my mom friends. As there were over 4,000 people who ran it, we were forced able to run at a leisurely pace.

We spent the rest of the day cooking, enjoyed a visit with Grandma Helen & Grandpa Chet and had Thanksgiving. dinner with Chad’s parents. I taught Avery and Alice how to knead bread dough, which brought back childhood memories of making homemade bread with my Dad on cold winter mornings.

This past week we went to a cute little Christmas festival that our town puts on. They had a snow machine so all the Floridian kids who had never experienced snow in real life could make a snowball and play in the snow. The Minnesotan in me got a big kick out of that.

We got the obligatory picture with Santa. I envisioned a cute picture of just the girls and Santa with smiles all around. What we got was a picture of a terrified Alice who didn’t let me leave and an unsure Avery.

This past weekend we had a visit from my future sister in law, Shelby, and my good friend from high school, Jill. It was so fun to see familiar faces and bring them to our favorite spots.

We built our best sand castle yet with Jill. By some miracle, the girls didn’t destroy it until after the picture was taken.

We finally put up a Charlie-Brown style Christmas tree: much smaller than usual and without any of our ornaments from home, which are all in storage. It’s beginning to look a lot like feel like Christmas, despite the lack of cold weather.

If you are interested in checking out the new blog I write, here are a few of my favorite posts from the last month or so:

And for All of These Things, I am Thankful: An unfiltered list of things I am thankful for, contributing to my survival as a parent. (Funny)

Parental Burnout: What it is, why it happens, how to prevent it and how to make it stop.

All American Stay at Home Mom: A journey through the history, cultural norms and pressures facing today’s modern stay at home moms.

Plan on my next post in two weeks!

Sending lots of love to all back home,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Reporting Live from: FL

Hi All,

Whenever I write these posts, I have to sift through the pictures from the last week to remind myself what we’ve been up to. Call it mom brain or dementia, but I have very short term memory. Avery asked me the other day, “Mom, why do you always forget things?” Uhhhh, probably because your list of demands is super long.

Ok, I’m not seeing anything too exciting in the pictures. It looks like we went to the beach to watch the sunset last Monday- that was a gorgeous night and the ocean was as calm as a lake. The waves lapped against the shore covered in sea shells, producing the most beautiful sound. Chad found a perfect sea shell and I was jealous. He wasn’t even looking & I’m always psycho Eagle Eyes walking around like a mad woman in search of the perfect shell.

Next, I see we went to the farmers market. It was a much cooler day than the last time we went, so we greatly appreciated that. I made the mistake of giving Alice a sugar cinnamon pretzel, which, kept her quiet the whole time, but resulted in a huge mess.

On further review of pictures, I note that one of the girls stole my phone and documented me, looking fine as wine, eating a cookie. Don’t judge the mess. Or my appearance. I have kids, okay?

Do you like my middle of day wardrobe choice? Bathrobe layered on top of sweats.
A glamorous shot of me telling the kid to put the phone down. I’m still not sure which kid but I’m guessing Avery.

Friday was our 5th wedding anniversary- woot woot! We celebrated with a family dinner followed by ice cream. We missed the sunset as it sets so early now 😦 But made up for it…

On Saturday we went to the beach and watched a stormy and beautiful sunset. We were a bit under-dressed as the wind whipped around and the waves gave us a show. When the sun peeked out for a minute, we had a beautiful view.

A Stormy Sunset

I spent a big chunk of the week working on an article for my Parenting and Travel blog on “Parental Burnout”. I felt pretty burned out from the article by the end, but thankfully posted it last night, so it is officially off my plate. You can read it here.

That’s about all I have to report. Chad’s parents are due to arrive in FL later this week and we could not be more excited!

Sending love,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Pompano Beach, FL

I’m writing this post from our sunny family room while lounging on the couch with Chad and Avery, while Alice is taking a rare but oh so needed nap.

We took a last minute family trip to Pompano Beach, FL (on the Eastern coast of FL) while Chad played in a golf tournament. The west coast of Florida is surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico while the East coast is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, giving Pompano Beach much larger waves, and a darker sand- similar to what you might see surrounding Minnesota lakes.

We arrived at our oceanfront hotel on Thursday and went to get pizza for dinner at a cute Italian joint. After, we went for a walk on the beach in the dark. It was beautiful to watch the dark waves crashing against the shore, the white clouds passing over the moon above, all while being surrounded by the people I love most.

The girls insisted on playing a game of hide and seek on the beach, which was pretty easy as the picked the same hiding spot each time- and if they hadn’t, their giggles and white blonde hair lit by the moon would have given them away. These magical moments are what keep us traveling as a family. Which is good- because there are plenty of un-magical moments.

While Chad played a practice round of golf on Friday, Avery and Alice did what any kids traveling to a cool destination want to do- swim at the hotel pool. And so that is what we did for 6 hours straight. Alice recently discovered how to hold her breath underwater, so loves jumping in at any chance she gets. Once our cautious Avery realized that Alice had fun jumping in, she joined the fun.

As any golfer might do, Chad was keeping a close eye on Saturday’s weather- and much to his chagrin, we woke up on Saturday to a very windy, rainy day. The girls and I dropped Chad off at the golf course and wished him well (there is nothing cuter than Avery shouting “Good luck, Dad!”) before returning to our hotel. We watched kite surfers take advantage of the windy, wavy day.

Unfortunately, Alice had woken up with a bad cold. And she was doing the weird grunty breathing she does before she starts wheezing/ needs to go in to be put on steroids. I was watching her closely, hoping that I was just imagining things. My anxiety was increased as of course, this was the one trip where I didn’t bring my stethoscope or her neb machine. Her last episode of her asthma type symptoms was almost a year ago, last Thanksgiving. I was hopeful that she had outgrown the reactive airway disorder, as doctors said she might.

But alas, here we were. Given that her symptoms weren’t improving and we had a car ride home ahead of us, I took her into urgent care. Luckily, her oxygen sats were fine and the nurse practitioner couldn’t hear any wheezing. Chad finished his round shortly after we finished at urgent care. And might I note that despite the high winds and rainy weather, Chad won the tournament, adding yet another trophy to his growing collection.

I was hoping for an uneventful car ride home. (Why do I hope for these things?) Half way through the trip, Alice mentioned that her tummy hurt. Immediately I realized I forgot to give her the Benadryl I usually give her to pre-medicate before travel to prevent….my thought process was interrupted by the volcano of puke that erupted, covering Alice, her precious blankie and car seat.

Remember how I talked about magical moments that can happen while traveling with kids? Well, this was not one of them. Luckily, we made it home in once piece. Alice fell asleep after the puke incident at 6pm and slept through the night. As for Avery and me, we fell asleep on the couch at 7pm.

Alice continues to recover today…actually, all of us continue to recover. Our week ahead should be quiet, aside from our 5 YEAR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY on Friday- crazy, right?

Funny moments from the week:

  • As we were eating breakfast, Avery said, “I love you” out of the blue & my heart melted. Then she kissed the muffin she was eating and whispered “I love you so much”. And it became clear she wasn’t talking to me.
  • Alice smacked Avery in the stomach and yelled “Tummy high five!”. I was about to tell her not to hit when Avery proceeded to whack Alice in the stomach and yell “Tummy high five!”, after which they both had a giggle fit. So, I guess we will consider it sisterly bonding.
  • “Mom, where are all my boogers? Who took all of them?!”- a very upset Alice
  • As we were walking back to the hotel from the beach, I looked back to check on the girls only to catch Avery dumping an entire bucket of sand over her head. Needless to say, despite numerous hair washes, she still has a head full of sand.

Sending love to all,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Halloween in Florida

Hi All,

We are finally starting to settle into a normal routine after returning from Minnesota. All of the sudden, Alice seems older, and I found myself staring at the girls thinking to myself, “Oh my goodness. I don’t have a baby anymore.”

It’s funny how unless you tell your brain otherwise, you will continue to see your kid as a baby even when they are far past that stage. The progression from baby to toddler to kid is so gradual, and when you see their cute face each and every day, it is harder to notice the change.

That tangent aside, we are all doing well! This past week was full of Halloween fun and for the first time, I really missed home. Holidays aside, Florida just feels like a big vacation- a never ending summer. But celebrating a holiday without my traditions from back home- crunching in the fall leaves, drinking hot apple cider, knowing the neighbors as we trick or treated- felt foreign.

We did a trick or treating event at a Farmers Market the day before Halloween with a group of mom friends and their kids, after which we cooled down at a splash pad. A sweet group of mom friends with similarly aged kids has been so welcoming and inclusive- which has made all the difference in adjusting to Florida… and stay at home mom life. I was not expecting to find friends this easily and quickly, but I am so grateful I have.

Trick or Treating at the Farmers Market

I never thought I would say this, but I missed having a chilly Halloween. Our Halloween was muggy and in the 90’s. I was hopeful that the fan inside of my inflatable dinosaur costume would keep me cool, but the costume acted as an oven and the fan did absolutely nothing to cool me down. The girls were dressed in costumes that, in retrospect, would have been much more appropriate for MN weather and were not at all appropriate for the hot temps here.

Florida trick or treating is hit or miss- given the fact that there are many older communities without kids, you have to find a neighborhood that has kids to go trick or treating in. Our neighborhood doesn’t do trick or treating so we went to a “Trunk or Treat”- it was a very efficient way to go. The girl’s buckets were full within 10 minutes, and as we were drenched in sweat, we booked it out of there.

Halloween

We have insane amounts of sugar in our house right now. In addition to the Halloween candy, Chad’s Grandma made him a whole peanut butter pie on Halloween and also sent us home with amazing pumpkin pie cookies. And prior to all of these sweets entering our home, I made the very bad mistake of grocery shopping hungry. So in our fridge also sits 3 mini pies. If anyone wants to come eat sugar with us….you’re all invited.

We had our first real experience with red tide yesterday. For all you non-Florida people, here is my scientific understanding of red tide: Red tide is caused by an algae bloom in the ocean. It does not refer to the red seaweed that washes up on the Florida shoreline (although I was convinced it did until some nice local man explained it to me).

It is caused by multiple environmental factors but interestingly is not related to pollution. It kills a lot of fish, leaving them to stink up the shoreline and the red tide can cause respiratory distress in humans.

Yesterday the beach was covered in dead fish- including a puffed up blowfish- and water snake looking things. It was quite gross. We definitely noticed the respiratory effects- mainly junky coughs and congestion while at the beach. Luckily it resolved when we left. So, no plans for the beach until that dies down.

Alice quotes from this week that made me laugh:

“I’m going to choose blue ice cream so I can have blue poop!”

On trick or treating: “My fingers were melty”

And a funny Avery story: Avery likes it when we take turns telling “spooky stories” on car rides. These generally consist of stories about a ghost, alligator, or King Kong eating whiney girls- gotta incorporate life lessons and use parenting scare tactics. Anyway, she told a story that went like this: “One day, Amy got hit by a car.” (1) I don’t know who Amy is. 2) Congrats, Avery on actually telling a scary story). She continued, “And they put a band aid on and she was all better.” Very anticlimactic ending.

As promised, I launched my professional blog on November 1st. You can check it out here: www.parentingandtravel.com !

Sending love to all back home! And seriously, if you want sugar, come visit us. Otherwise, plan on me being 20 lbs heavier then next time you see me.

Xo,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Weddings on Weddings

I love weddings. It is so fun to meet all the family and friends who have formed the couple into who they are today. I love putting faces to names. I love watching the groom watch the bride as she walks down the aisle, the glowiness of the new couple, and the joyful anticipation of the happy years ahead. I love listening to the vows and remembering my shaky voice as I took my own vows. And obviously I love a good reception full of happy people, cake & dancing.

And so, I was not disappointed to celebrate a second wedding (in 2 weeks) back home in Minnesota. In my head I called it “the nerd wedding” because it was full of pharmacists and other medical professionals as both Jill and George are pharmacists. If you needed to code, this would have been the place to do it. (Luckily no one did.)

Jill and I met back in high school when we ran cross country and track together. There’s something about running that innately bonds people; I think it has to do with the pain that running can induce. When you are in pain at the same time as someone else, it connects your hearts. You don’t need to talk to understand that the other person is also suffering. A side glance will do to communicate, “I am with you. We’ve got this.”

And so, ever since high school, Jill and I have been close friends despite different life paths. After we both went to college in Winona, MN (Jill at St. Mary’s University and me at Winona State University), she went on to graduate school to become a pharmacist while I worked as a nurse and got married. I had my first child. She graduated from pharmacy school and went on to residency. She met her now husband during residency. I had my second child. She finished residency. I moved to Florida. And then she got married.

I think it is special that we’ve been able to maintain our friendship. It can be really tough to maintain friendships long term, especially when you are at completely different life stages. She has remained a tried and true friend as I went through the ups and downs of motherhood, despite having no children of her own (yet).

So anyway, the moral of this sappy portion of the post is that I couldn’t be happier for Jill and George.

The girls traveled okay. After their rock star traveling last trip I was hopeful it was an indication that things were changing for the better. Alice is exploring the terrible two’s and her new favorite way to express unhappiness is banging her head on things. I’m terribly sorry to the man sitting behind her on the airplane whose tray table was rocked by Alice earthquakes every 20 minutes. We ate dinner at a classy restaurant in Minneapolis while Alice threw a tantrum under the table…at least she was contained and hidden.

But while the travel was not smooth, it definitely wouldn’t classify in the “top 3 worst trips” (if you’re curious what would, think on the level of projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea at the same time in a hotel bathroom. TMI? Sorry)

Highlights from the trip aside from the wedding include: seeing my parents and their chocolate lab puppy, “Bear”, visiting some old coworkers at Minneapolis Heart Institute for lunch, and visiting my cousin who works at Perkins prior to our flight back to FL.

Chad flew to Canada for an Actuarial conference (BOOOOOORING) while the girls and I flew back to Florida. The girls were pretty good travelers once the plane took off & we made it home intact and still loving each other. We are lying low today. The girls are happy to be back to their toys and I am happy to be back to my bed.

Quote of the week:

A plumber came by to fix a leaking pipe. When I told Avery not to use that toilet since the water is shut off, she asked “What happened, Mom? Did someone go potty too hard?” Uhhhhhh….I guess that is a possibility.

Sending love from FL,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

“Recovery” Week

We are just about at the 2 month mark of our Florida adventures. This upcoming week we will be heading to Minnesota (again) for my friend Jill’s wedding. Jill and I have been friends since high school and I am so excited for her to tie the knot with George!

This past week has mainly been a recovery week for the Onstot clan. As included in last week’s report, I came down with a cold when we returned home from Minnesota, so I’ve been trying to get some extra rest. The girls went through their usual “return from travel” adjustments, which include a few extra meltdowns per day along with increased clinginess. They adjusted much faster this time around. Yay!

Chad’s grandparents are now in Florida for the winter and we are loving having them nearby. Avery and Alice played shuffleboard for the first time, surprisingly not resulting in any injuries of themselves or others.

The mall near our house has a farmers market every Thursday. I took the girls for the first time this week. I thought it would be a really fun experience but the girls were pissed that it was not air conditioned. “That’s the thing,” I tried to tell them, “the fun thing about a farmers market is that it is outside!” They gave me a look that I only envisioned they would give me when they turned into teenagers. So…. we will check that one off the bucket list.

We made it to three beach sunsets this week, which were gorgeous and left us all feeling calm at the end of the day. We saw two washed up jellyfish- we aren’t sure if it was related to red tide, or simply a random occurrence. Avery and Alice received the “Do not touch the jellyfish” education, and actually followed the advice.

A tropical storm blew across us yesterday and experienced our first almost full day of rain. The gloomy weather was welcome as it gave me a chance to catch up on housework and prepare for the week ahead. Coming from Minnesota, I have this mindset that we MUST BE OUTSIDE when the weather is nice. But since the weather is nice every day, we spend a lot of time outside… and sometimes it is lovely to have a day where I don’t feel guilty about being inside.

We still found a rain-free window to get to the pool. As expected, it was empty so we enjoyed the pool to ourselves. We ended our evening on the perfect note with a game of Dominoes with Chad’s Grandparents. We played boys against girls. Helen and I let the boys win so we didn’t have to listen to them whine for the week.

I regret teaching Alice the phrase, “Today, Junior!” as she yelled it in church today while waiting for people to finish going through the communion line. “Today, guys!” She had important two year old things to do I guess.

The girls and I spent this afternoon at the beach while Chad golfed. There were huge waves (result of tropical storm) which washed up some neat shells. Our plans to watch the sunset were dashed by a rain storm and a diaper blow out. At the same time.

As I am reading through this post to check for typo’s, I realize this was not a “recovery week”. We packed in a lot, in keeping with the Onstot pace.

I have some exciting news to share! All of the positive support I’ve received from readers of this blog has inspired me to start a legit blog that will cover the topics of parenting & travel. I’ve been working on setting it up for the past 6 weeks and am excited to announce that my planned launch date is November 1st. I will give you more info next week! This blog will remain intact because it is perfect for giving more family/ friend geared updates.

Xo,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

A Minnesota Wedding

As promised, last week’s update is late as we were in MN for my sister Amelia’s wedding. The trip was a whirlwind and we did not stop moving from the moment we left Florida until we returned home. I am surprised and proud to report that the girls traveled like absolute champs.

I think my pride over their traveling well is finally a combo of me having realistic expectations from them when we travel, and the fact that they are actually getting better at it. When I first started traveling with the girls, I had really high expectations- no tantrums, good listeners, and that they would go to bed without complete meltdowns.

Now when we travel, I expect tantrums. And sure, we get a couple- always on the airport floor, which is teeming with germs. But because I’ve come to expect them, I’m able to calmly wait it out without getting all feisty myself and in turn riling up the girls even more.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will snuggle with the girls until they fall asleep when we are traveling (and maybe have even come to enjoy it).

Minnesota greeted us with dreary weather and snow, confirming the fact that we are happy we moved to FL.

The wedding was beautiful. I could not be happier for my sister, Amelia and her husband, Brian. As I stood at the altar, I had my eyes glued on Brian when Amelia started processing down the aisle. Of course, Amelia was looking absolutely stunning and radiant. He sighed when he first saw her and his eyes began to tear up. “That’s right!” I wanted to yell, “You got a good one!” We danced the night away and my calves are still sore (like, literally more sore than after I ran a marathon). I take weddings seriously, okay? Also, my dance moves are pretty horrible so I’m sure my bad dancing form contributes to my sore legs.

Avery and Alice were flower girls for the wedding. None of us expected that they would make it down the aisle gracefully, but they did. I was shocked. Did someone drug my children? Why were they behaving so well? It is still a mystery what their motive was for behaving well, but I will take good behavior when I get it.

<<side note: It is possible that the good behavior was related to the fact that I told the girls King Kong would come and eat them if he heard them whining.>>

It was so lovely to be able to see a lot of our MN family and friends. While we love living in Florida, it is really sad to be so far away from our peeps. I was able to get my hair cut and styled by my favorite hair stylist who has been cutting my hair since I was 6 days overdue with Avery. We danced the night away with our childhood neighbors growing up- and while we haven’t seen each other in a LONG time, it was as if no time had passed.

I got to see one of my favorite aunts (who religiously reads this blog and always leaves a nice note)- shout out to Aunt Kris! And my Grandma, who is way cooler than anyone else’s Grandma as she goes by the name “G-Dizz” a true gangsta at heart (who graciously accepted this name I gave her back when I was in middle school).

Not too surprisingly, I came down with a case of the sneezes on the plane ride home, which quickly morphed into a full blown upper respiratory cold. Yesterday I spent the day on the couch, napping away most of the day while letting the kids watch an insane amount of TV. But it was so worth it- though I’m still tired, I feel a million times better today.

We are happy to be back home in our Florida digs. The Florida weather is now a bit cooler, with highs in the upper 80’s. This week should be a quiet one, allowing catch up on laundry and cleaning and hopefully some time to relax before we travel back to MN in 2 weeks for my good friend, Jill’s wedding.

Sending love to all,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Curdled Milk

A few weeks ago, as I was suffering from a case of writers block, I prayed, “Dear God, please help me find things to write about.” And high in heaven, God laughed. I imagine Him shaking His head and saying, “I’ve got you covered.”

For those who are squeamish, consider yourselves forewarned, this update contains bodily fluids.

I love watching the sun set over the beach. It is so peaceful, calm, and everyone on the beach sits in awe. It doesn’t matter if it’s the couple who has lived here for 50 years or the international tourists. As the sun sets and the last few rays disappear, everyone watches, soaking the moment in.

The sunset provides beautiful lighting- and everything looks magical with the orangey glow reflecting off the dark blue water. Awhile back, we watched a sunset at the beach after dinner. We sat on the pavilion to avoid sandy feet, but I was so inspired to bring the family back for a picnic dinner and then a swim during a sunset. In my head, it sounded so lovely. So picture perfect. So calm and peaceful.

And so, Chad and I decided to make the magic happen. Last Saturday we packed up what felt like all of our belongings, wrangled the girls into their swimsuits and brought them to Fort Myers beach. We had just survived the stomach flu and we were excited that the girls were healthy and we could finally get out of the house and do something fun.

Things were going well. I was feeling good about our dreamy sunset swim after a relaxing dinner.

After swimming for a while, we realized the girls would need dinner prior to sunset so we decided to go to a restaurant on the ocean where we could watch the sunset from our table. It was not the swimming during sunset I had conjured in my mind, but it would do. “No problem,” I thought to myself, “I’m a parent… I’m used to these compromises.”

We were seated at a nice table at a restaurant with a beautiful view of the pending sunset. The girls were whiney but such is life. As we waited for our food, I ordered the girls milk to drink. Because I’m a good mom who is going to prevent osteoporosis in her children by feeding them tons of calcium. The girls drank their milk (and whined) while Chad and I tried to carry a civilized conversation. It felt like the food took forever, but it finally arrived.

I attempted to move Alice, who was sitting on my lap, to her own chair. But she kept whining and being clingy. Then she uttered a phrase that made me freeze dead in my tracks, “I have to pee.” If you read last week’s post you will know exactly what is being referenced here. My brain went into a combination of denial and trying to make calculations as only a mom brain can: should I rush her to the bathroom? Should I just catch it in an empty water glass on the table? Or maybe just with a napkin? All those thoughts crossed my mind in the 0.00025 seconds before she projectile vomited curdled milk EVERYWHERE.

My jaw dropped. Everything started moving in slow motion. Our sweet waiter had just arrived to check on our food and witnessed the whole event. “I am so sorry,” I gasped as I picked my puke cover child up and placed her on a chair in attempt to clean up what I could. Our waitress was so kind and said, “Oh don’t worry about it. The milk she drank probably curdled. That’s why I don’t like to give kids milk at outdoor restaurants. My daughter does the same thing.” “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy didn’t you warn us?” I wanted to ask. But there was no time to continue the conversation, because Mount Alice erupted again, covering a whole new trajectory with curdled milk vomit.

Chad watched in horror. “Get her out of here!” he whispered in a panicked voice. And so I did what any parent would do. I picked up my puke covered child and ran out of the restaurant, unsure when the volcano would erupt next, leaving Chad to deal with the puke, our waiter, and Avery.

Luckily she only puked twice. This is now Avery’s favorite story to tell anyone who will listen: “My stitster (can’t pronounce sister) PUKED at the restaurant.” Everyone who hears the story takes 10 steps back until I’ve reassured them that the stomach bug is long gone… we think.

Aside from this traumatic event, it has been a pretty quiet week. Next week’s update will be a little late since we will be in MN at Amelia’s wedding through Sunday.

Sending love to all,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Week 5 update: Frogs & Vomit

It is hard to believe we are over a month into this Florida stay. When talking to my Mom on the phone the other night, she asked, “Does it feel like home yet?”

We are at the “we feel comfortable and can relax here” stage of adjusting to our new place but it doesn’t feel homey quite yet. I created an infographic to show where we are in the process. I’d say we are right between stage 2 and stage 3.

This week was spent readjusting to being back in our Estero place after spending last week in Palm Beach, FL. As we were settling in, Avery and Alice were playing with their blocks. Avery came over and reported, “Mom, there is a frog in our block box.” She tends to be a bit over dramatic and anytime she sees a black piece of fuzz, she freaks out and tells me we have an ant in the house. With this, I never take any insect/animal reports from her too seriously.

Anyway, I went to check out the situation because I am a good mom. Initially, it looked like a turd on the block box lid. And I was about to ask who pooped in the block box when I noticed that the turd had beady eyes that were staring at me. What happened next can best be described as chaos as Chad and the girls panicked that the frog was going to escape the box and live in our house forever. Due to my training in emergency situations, I was able to calmly carry the lid outside and thankfully the frog did not hop off until we were outside.

the frog/toad….looking guilty

We went to the Children’s Museum in Naples, FL. The museum was incredible. It was built off of a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) thought process and incorporated a lot of science and creative thinking activities. The girls favorite part was a fake orchard/ garden they had, where they could transport the picked food to the grocery store, where they could pretend to buy the food and take it over to the restaurant where they could cook and serve it. We spent a whopping FOUR HOURS there. I would highly recommend it to anyone in the Naples area with kids.

We played our weekly round of mini golf. I’d like to report that I got a hole in one (accidental) and at one point in the round I was beating Chad (on the 2nd hole). There was a fake gorilla on the course that Alice was terrified of and refused to pose for a picture with it. After our game, we went to the beach on a whim to watch the sunset. It was beautiful.

Sunset at the Beach

A few days later, Alice caught a stomach bug similar to one Avery had 2 weeks ago. It was the dreaded middle of the night wakeup, where I found Alice sitting in bed, covered in vomit, reporting “I peed”. Because, hey- if you’ve ever puked before it kind of is like peeing… out of your mouth…with chunks. So I spent the night in Alice’s room, bolting out of bed every time she uttered the words “I need to pee in the bucket.” I’ve never been so terrified of pee.

I’m experiencing a bit of cabin fever after spending 2 days inside with the sick kid. Today we ventured to target, which was glorious. The girls are obsessed with the large red balls outside Target. Every time we get there, they yell, “Mom, can we touch two balls?” And then I internally laugh. Last time we were there, one of the girls said, “Mom, these balls are so HOT!”

I’ll end on that note.

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

Tofu & Turtles

“Be like tofu,” she said with a grandmotherly smile, “take on the flavor of Mayo (the hospital, not the food). Absorb its unique culture.” And just like my college days, I’ve been practicing taking on the flavor of Florida.

The culture here is quite the mix. I’ve been mistaken as Spanish speaking multiple times, with people speaking Spanish to me as if I must know the language. I do know a few phrases “Me gusta helado” (I like ice cream) and “Me llamo Laura” (my name is Laura). Both important phrases that have gotten me quite far in life and here in Florida.

This has been a week of firsts for us: Chad’s first nationals golf tournament, first alligator sighting (in the zoo), first dolphin sighting (at the beach, about 20 yards away from where we were swimming), and first time snorkeling in the ocean.  

We spent 7 nights in Palm Beach while Chad played in his tournament. The girls and I explored the area while Chad played in the tournament:

  • Manatee Lagoon – was a bust since it is not Manatee season. No manatees were spotted, but does look like a cool spot during manatee season. https://www.visitmanateelagoon.com/
Manatee Lagoon
  • Palm Beach Zoo – we saw their “white alligator”- which is pretty much the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen and a normal alligator (also creepy due to how well it camouflaged into the pond). https://www.palmbeachzoo.org/
The only picture I have from the zoo. Alice was experiencing the effects of a sugar high.
  • Palm Beach Science Center – captivated us for hours. They had a lot of fun exhibits with my favorite being a neuroscience exhibit and the girl’s favorite being the kids area. https://www.sfsciencecenter.org/
Science Center
  • Loggerhead Marine Life Center— A turtle hospital that cares for injured adult sea turtles and also cares for baby sea turtles who had trouble making it out to sea. While we were there, we were able to watch them do an ultrasound on a sedated 290 lb turtle. I was fascinated by all of this… my sidekicks however, were not. https://marinelife.org/
The babies!!!!
An injured adult sea turtle
  • Juno beach – was gorgeous, but were unable to swim there due to big waves & “unsafe conditions”.
The waves @ Juno Beach

While we weren’t out exploring, we spent a lot of time at the resort hotel pool. The girls made a few “friends” who were fun at the beginning, but then turned into normal 3 & 4 year olds. As we tried to leave one day, 3 year old friend Gracie said, “NO! YOU CANNOT LEAVE!” And then I happily left her with her mom. There were sharing wars of course. But also fun things like the game of “let’s see how much water we can dump on mom’s head” and endless alligator rides. The childless women of the pool, luxuriously sunbathing in peace while sipping pina coladas, shot smiles of amusement as they watched me give endless alligator rides. Whenever I hopped out of the pool to reapply sunscreen or grab a drink of water (not vodka unfortunately), dictator Alice would yell (in a tone eerily similar to mine when they are in trouble), “MOM! GET IN THE POOL!” Jeepers, kid.

PGA Resort Pool

We came back a day early since Chad finished his golf round earlier than expected. After 7 days of hotel living, we were so ready to be back “home”. It feels lovely to be back in our Florida place, where we don’t all have to share one room. The girls don’t sleep well when we travel, so I’m enjoying full nights of sleep again.

On Saturday we went to the beach, where we saw the dolphin and a live sand dollar (which I learned is a living creature). To top off a lovely day, we stopped for ice cream on our way home at “Sweet Melissa’s”, where we are becoming regulars.

Building Sandcastles at the Beach.

The past two days have been gloriously humidity free, making 90 degrees feel… might I say, cool? *** Of note, our AC is finally fixed- thank goodness. We are looking forward to 3 weeks of no travel and then will be heading back to Minnesota for my sister Amelia’s wedding!!!

Sending love back home,

Laura

Categories
parenting

Parenting Simulation Activities

So, you’re pregnant. Congrats! Now what? Here is a comprehensive list of activities you can do to practice parenting skills:

  1. Get up every two hours at night. Pull your boob out of your shirt or mix a bottle of formula. Watch horrible TV for 20 minutes while feeding your imaginary baby. Put baby back to bed. 3 minutes later, get out of bed. Try to sooth imaginary baby. Repeat x 20.   
  2. Rub melted chocolate into half of your baby outfits. Attempt to get the stain out. *In this simulation you are not allowed to eat the chocolate off of the outfit. That would be a fatal mistake in the real parenting world.
  3. Practice feeding baby food to a rock. Or a rabid dog. Both would be similar to what you will experience.
  4. Have someone scatter goldfish across your floor every day. Make sure they put them all over the house and in obscure locations. Then step on them or rub them into the carpet.
  5. When you go grocery shopping, throw one item out of your cart every 30 seconds. Pick it up. Put it back in cart. Repeat.
  6. Take $1,500 and throw it in the garbage. That’s to simulate paying for diapers.
  7. While eating dinner, wait 5 minutes between every bite of food you take. Sometimes for fun you can take 1 bite, pause for 30 minutes, and then return to your meal. At this point you can take 5 bites. But then your imaginary baby will wake up. Throw the rest of your meal away.
  8. Take a class on negotiating with terrorists.
  9. Have someone ask you the same question over and over for one hour straight.
  10. Before you leave the house, run up and down your stairs 10 times. Spend 10 minutes searching for a “lost” item. Put a coat on your cat. Try to herd the cat into the car. Once cat is in car, attempt to buckle into the car seat.
  11. Do laundry for your entire neighborhood.
  12. Bring a puppy to a restaurant. Make it sit in the high chair for the entire meal.
  13. Have someone interrupt every sentence you speak for the next 5 years.
  14. Sit in a rocking chair and rock for 24 hours straight. This will simulate length of time it takes to get baby to sleep and keep them asleep.
  15. Stop using half of your dishwasher to simulate amount of space required for baby bottles and baby things.
  16. Have hide 50 pacifiers throughout the house. Set an alarm for 3am. When it goes off, you must find one of the pacifiers in the dark. Alarms should also be set for 4am, 4:20am, 5am, and 6am. You must find a different pacifier at each of these time points.
  17. Every time you take a picture (of a person, place or thing), say “smile!” (while obnoxiously smiling yourself) at least 15 times before each picture. Take at least 100 pictures to try to capture one where your desired object is smiling.
  18. Shake a whole box of lucky charms into your car- make sure to get in the crevices.
  19. Sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” every time you are in the car for the whole car ride.
  20. Have someone respond “No” to you every time you ask them a question.  

I’d love to hear your own ideas!

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

“Do Not Fill With Alcohol”

I write this after returning from a five hour stint at the pool with Avery and Alice. It was a relaxing morning, and the girls would have continued to play for many more hours had Alice not yelled, “Mom! I’m pooping in the pool!” (Disclaimer 1: she was wearing a pool diaper. Disclaimer 2: pool was full of adults who did not know this.)

We are currently at a PGA golf resort in Palm Beach, FL for a vacation while Chad plays in a nationals tournament. Palm Beach is on the East coast, almost directly across from where we live. It was a 2.5 hour drive across the Everglades/ Big Cypress National Preserve. Each side of the highway is fenced in, which we speculate is in place to keep the gators and snakes off the road. Chad asked me how long I would survive if I got stranded in the Everglades. I told him I would probably only last a day. “What would kill you?” he asked. “Starvation,” I replied. He smiled, “Do you know that most people can survive over a week without food?” Not me. I need food every 4 hours.

Chad is in his glory, golfing every day. I am enjoying being surrounded by like-minded golf widows while lounging at the pool. We will be here for a week and then return back “home” to Estero, FL.

Avery and Alice are turning into fishies and it has been so fun to watch them learn to swim. I think Avery will be swimming within a month or so- she’s doing great with kicking, paddling, blowing bubbles, and she’s starting to put her face in the water. Alice likes floating around in her life jacket and has become very proficient at paddling wherever she wants to go. Despite SO MUCH SUNSCREEN, we’ve all turned a few shades darker.

Other things to report on prior to this trip:

  • Our AC has been malfunctioning for about a week. It’s not completely broken but it keeps the house between 76-78 degrees. Apparently it is some rare problem that two different AC guys have never seen before. A part has been ordered & hopefully will be fixed soon. We are very appreciative of the fact that we are renting and this is not our financial problem.
  • Alice is becoming quite the chatty Kathy. While waiting for Chad the other day, she plopped down on the floor and remarked, “I’m just going to sit here and talk.” And that she did.
  • I made a 75 year old friend, Gene, who is always at the pool. The first day I wore mascara while in FL he looked at me and smirked, “I don’t know how to tell you this but you have black circles around your eyes. I haven’t seen that in a long time!” He’s honest so I will keep him around.
  • The weather in FL is very consistent- 92 degrees each day with a 30 minute rain shower around 5pm; otherwise, sunny. It is a bit too hot for my liking, but we try to do our outside activities in the morning/ evening to work around it. I’m loving all the sunshine.
  • I tried going for a run at 3pm the other day and it was a very bad idea. Way too hot. It is tough to stay hydrated even on short runs, so I invested in one of those water backpack things. It had the funniest warnings: “Do not fill with milk” (duh, I’m not stupid), and “Do not fill with alcohol.” I can’t believe I didn’t think of that! So now I carry my water backpack filled with wine. Makes life a lot more enjoyable!

That’s all for now. Sending love,

Laura

Categories
parenting

The Psychological Impact of Spending Too Much Time with Illogical Humans

Stay at Home Parenting, Part 1: Psychological impact of spending too much time with illogical humans

As a working mom, I had the utmost respect for stay at home moms because as I liked to put it, “I think I would go psychotic.” I have to give my working self kudos, because I hit the nail on the head. Two months into this gig, I’m about psychotic.

Stay at home parenting is funny, because it doesn’t fully hit you until months (or years?) until you’re into it. It has a building effect. 1st week of stay at home parenting: “Look how cute they are listening to stories.” 4th week of stay at home parenting: “There is too much crime in this paw patrol city. Mayor Goodway needs to up her game.” 5th week of stay at home parenting: “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy does Paw Patrol exist?”

First week of staying at home, I gushed to Chad, “It’s so easy. Now I don’t have to cram cleaning the house and giving the kids attention into 3 hours of a day, after a full day of work.” And certainly, I had a point there. The house is cleaner; and, I have endless time to spend with the children.

The difference between being a working mom and a stay at home mom is more of an emotional/psychological difference than anything else. You have both the benefit and the disadvantage of a full day to spend with your children.

When I worked, I had a built in group of friends/ adults who I got to interact with 8 hours a day, 4 days a week. I was able to use my brain to think about complex topics and problem solve on a high level. I was thanked for my work. We had adult conversations! I didn’t have to run around at lunch time, negotiating a meal that would satisfy the cheese stick only child, picking up food off the floor and wiping messy hands. Most importantly, I got to drink my coffee in peace and didn’t have to talk to anyone until I had consumed a full mug.

Now I interact with extremely emotional children who are completely illogical. My brain cells are now used to calculate avoidance of tantrums. My creativity is used to devise a plan to put a diaper on a running 2 year old as she yells, “Naked baby!” I serve as a referee between illogical arguments:

Child 1: “She’s my mommy!”
Child 2: “Nooooo! She’s my mommy”
Me: “I’m not sure how to explain this without going into too much detail, but it is possible for a female to mother two children. She has plenty of eggs.”
Child 1: “Can we have eggs for breakfast?”  
Me: thinks to self, “argument averted, self high five!”

I answer endless why questions:

Child: “Mom, why won’t the bug in the pool hurt me?”
Me: “Because it’s dead”
Child: “But why is it dead?”
Me: “Because bugs can’t survive in the water”
Child terrorist (chanting): “Bugs can’t survive in water. Bugs can’t survive in water. Bugs can’t survive in water!”

Then child sees a water bug. All hell breaks loose because BUGS CAN’T SURVIVE IN WATER. Or can they?

My initial goal as a stay at home mom was to raise well-adjusted children who don’t need to see a therapist in their adult years due to poor parenting. I wanted them to be smart, have good manners, and treat others kindly and with respect.

My goals now: Maintain sanity. Survival of self and children.

In spending such vast amounts of time with these young children, their illogical behavior has begun to rub off on me. I’ve changed my parenting tactics and they are aimed at survival only. Favorite lies I’ve told my children to encourage good behavior:

  1. “If you don’t brush your teeth, they will fall out. Then you won’t have any teeth. Then you won’t be able to eat.” This has backfired a few times when the kids were exhausted, needed to go to bed immediately and I tried to skip teeth brushing. It triggered a full blown meltdown: “But I don’t want my teeth to fall outttttttttt!!!”
  2. “If a car runs over you, you will be squished like a pancake and I will have to eat you.” (got this gem from my Dad, works wonders in parking lots)
  3. “Alligators can hear whiny children and they will come eat you. You better stop whining so they can’t find you.” They are legit terrified by this one. It is especially great if the doorbell rings when they are whining because then I can say, “Uh oh, I think the alligator is here.” It shuts down the whining real quick.

Certainly, being a working mom had its own set of difficulties, and that could be an entirely different blog post. So often, “working mom” vs. “stay at home mom” are compared as if one is better than the other. Having lived both realities, I’m learning that one is not superior to the other. Each has its own difficulties. Each has its own joys. But maybe more importantly, in each reality, the kids will turn out okay. And maybe I will too.

Best,

Laura

Categories
Uncategorized

Out of Place

It was my turn to pick out a dinner spot. I did my due diligence and yelped the heck out of our options. I picked a French restaurant that was very well reviewed and off we headed.

Chad and I have very different styles of making decisions. I spend about 2 minutes in total researching different options and then I go with my best educated guess. Chad spends weeks, months, if not YEARS, researching different options, reading extensive reviews, talking to people, and trying things out. We noticed this difference very quickly when we renovated our first home together, just months into our marriage. On the record, I will not say that one style is better than the other. But off the record, I would concede and say that Chad’s style always ends in better results. I’m just too lazy to do the full amount of work that he puts into decision making.

The first sign that my restaurant choice may not have been the best is when the host asked “Can I help you?” Well obviously, we came for dinner. My eyes darted around the restaurant. Oh no. White tablecloths. Candles. Wine glasses already on tables. The restaurant was full, but it was so….how do I best put this? QUIET. My gaze returned to our motley crew. Chad per usual was in golf attire, I was in my obnoxiously pink leggings and a running top, and best of all, Avery was wearing her T-shirt that has a puppy and kitty wearing sun glasses. (Alice actually looked decent).

The host sullenly led us to a table. After we were seated, Chad shot me “the look”. He had a crazy look in his eyes and his mouth twitched as he tried to suppress a smile. This is the same look he gave me when I set up an interview for a nanny potential at our home; shortly after she arrived we learned that she was homeless. My bad.

It was a stressful meal. Of course there was no kids menu at this classy place, and definitely no crayons and paper. Alice took off her diaper so casually that I didn’t figure it out until I saw a wet diaper sitting next to me. She contributed to conversation with, “ ‘Scuse me, I burped” and “WHY IS THERE A SPIDER IN HERE?” in her yelling voice. The waiter wondered if the (super nice) water glasses would be appropriate for the girls? I confirmed that unless he liked cleaning up broken glass, this would be a bad idea. The girls feasted on a caprese salad (the closest thing to a kid friendly meal they had). And by feasted, I mean, they ate all the tomatoes and decided they didn’t like the rest. I supplemented the rest of the meal with the orange tic tacs I keep in my bag for emergency situations such as these.

If you’ve ever moved, changed jobs, or experienced a first day at a new school, you have probably experienced a similar moment. It’s that feeling of, “I am so out of place here”. It is never a fun feeling to experience, but I’ve found that it usually means I am on the right track to adjusting. To feel “in place” or like “these are my people” we have to jump out of our comfort zones and try new things. It may not immediately lead us to a feeling of belonging, but it will bring us a step closer.

Here is to trying new things, stepping out of your comfort zone, and finding your spot. May you find your people and your places. May you have the humor to laugh off the awkward moments and the grace to be kind to others when they might be experiencing such a moment.

And for now, we will be dining at McDonalds- the ones with a happy place.

Cheers,

Laura