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Home Away From Home

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Ireland was so welcoming, that it felt like our home away from home. When we checked into Flannary’s and saw that the room that the staff thought was ready for us wasn’t quite ready, we went back to tell the receptionist. We ended up getting a larger room with an extra bed. Now we had one double bed and two twin beds. Dad said, “One for each of us:  Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Baby Bear!”

Since Papa Bear and I had traveled for hours and were awake most of that time, Papa Bear stayed in the room while Baby Bear and I went to the hotel restaurant. The restaurant was crowded for that time of day. Everyone seemed bubbly as their conversations seemed to bounce off the walls. As we looked at the menu, even though we longed to try an Irish coffee just because of its name, we decided to get a Bailey’s coffee instead.  We knew it would taste better to us.

The waiter looked our way every once in a while in between waiting on tables. When he checked in with us, I admired his lilting voice. Most times I could understand the Irishmen, but when the men talked very fast, it was difficult for me to understand. I was glad to have Katie there to translate for me, even though they were speaking English!

Because Katie and I hadn’t had a good sit down chat for quite a while, we talked for a couple of hours! Lately our only means of communicating had been through Skype or sending in-box messages every once in a while. Not knowing what was new in her life was quite a change for me since I was used to hearing from Baby Bear almost every day.

When Papa Bear joined us, we decided to stay at the hotel restaurant for dinner since the food appeared to be quite good. When Sean delivered our entrees, it was like the comforts of home to sit down and eat a warm meal of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies. Papa Bear liked his fish and chips, and Baby Bear enjoyed a plate of pasta.

As we munched away, a gentleman who was sitting at the bar, suddenly busted out in song. We had no idea what he was singing, but the Gaelic words and melody were a hit amongst the crowd.  His act of bursting out in song didn’t seem like it was anything out of the ordinary to the staff or customers.  His serenade only lasted a short while, and then he was gone.

As we finished up our meal, it felt like a blessing to have the car safely parked in the lot having survived the travels of our first day.  We were glad to get ready to settle in and get a good night’s sleep on a bed!

Mama Bear’s bed was “just right!”

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A Sight for Sore Eyes

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I stumbled out of the car and briskly walked towards the door. I was so relieved we arrived. A series of moments had taken place to get me to that door, and I think maybe the seed was planted by the TV show, The Gilmore Girls. Rory, the main character, always talked about how she wanted to backpack through Europe. As my daughter Katie and I watched the show, Katie often commented on how she would like to go to Europe someday.

I would say, “Oh, but that’s so far away. You really wouldn’t want to go that far away from home.” Katie was often reminded about traveling to far away places when her classmates from grade school and high school travelled away on mission trips. “I didn’t even want to bring it up because I knew you and Dad would say no,” she told us. She was right about that.  After Katie went off to college, she hinted about travel abroad programs to Rome and Greece.

“Oh, but that’s so far away. You really wouldn’t want to go that far away from home for that long,” I repeated over again and hoped that something would distract her and make her want to stay. Or I said, “How about you do a short trip, like your sister.” Laura traveled abroad for three long weeks when she was in college. But, Mom’s idea of keeping Katie close to home was not an option for the determined young lady. Katie informed us that she went to a travel abroad meeting at school. “I am going to go to Ireland,” she announced. “The director is awesome, and I think I would learn a lot.” A plan to go to Ireland was smart because of the Irish roots Katie inherited from her father.

It was funny how the orientation meeting for parents and students was on St. Patrick’s Day. I wore my shamrock scarf and my husband dressed in bright Irish green colors. Katie told us that we looked like we were going to a party. As we learned more about the trip, the better we felt.

Next thing we knew, Katie was packing her one suitcase and one carry on that would have to last her for a semester in Ireland. It was hard for me to imagine how such a fashionable young lady was going to manage with one suitcase. As she scattered all of her favorite clothes on the bedroom floor and resolved to eliminate the unnecessary items, I still marveled how her dream of traveling abroad wasn’t even going to be stifled by having to abandon about 90 percent of her wardrobe!

When Katie stood in line with her future travel companions to check on her suitcase at the airport, I realized that the hardest part of being a parent is the letting go. But letting go doesn’t mean that we couldn’t go visit! I never thought that I would be one who would travel abroad, but my husband and I set about making plans.

Soon we were on an airplane to Philadelphia and then on a flight to Dublin. We flew over the Atlantic Ocean at night and having had a very busy day, I longed to lie down, but there was nowhere to go. I thought about how beds were underrated. I snoozed a bit until I was woken up by bits of turbulence or fellow passengers who were coughing, snoring or emitting unusual odors.

Thankfully, the sky started to light up and we saw how different the clouds looked beneath us. They seemed more compact and fluffy! As we went through the cloud bank, and the patchwork quilt of greens and browns greeted us, we felt lucky to see a land that was unfamiliar.

We ate a quick breakfast of eggs, sausage and potatoes and wondered why the breakfast menu offered pudding. We didn’t order pudding, but later Katie told us that Irish pudding is pig’s blood mixed with some other stuff like grains and looks like sausage!

We found the Go Bus, got on board and traveled through the sleepy town of Dublin along the Liffey River. After we went through a long tunnel, we were able to enjoy the countryside. I said, “This is the longest I have ever traveled to see someone!”  We snoozed off and on, and in between we spotted cattle or sheep happily grazing amongst the many colors of green that are divided by stone walls.

When we arrived at the bus station in Galway three hours later, we were surprised that we had to pay 20 cents to go through the turnstile to get to the bathroom. It’s the first time I had to pay for such a visit. The words, “I like to live in America, everything free in America,” a song from West Side Story kept running through my head.

My husband called the rental car company and a very nice young lady came to get us to deliver us to our rental car. We carefully paid attention to how she drove on the right side of the car, but on the left side of the road. It was scary how the traffic came at us from what we thought was the wrong direction. The pedals on the floor are the same as in the US, but everything else was backwards. We could not find signs identifying the names of the streets. The driver pointed out that sometimes they are on the sides of buildings or stuck on stone structures!

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By the time we were in our rental car and ready to go, I prayed that we would make it safely to our destination. My husband drove, and I think I was glad it was not me.  It took a while, but we found our hotel which was quite crowded with people trying to check in. When we got to our room, we grabbed a few items from our suitcase to deliver to our daughter, went to reception to ask for directions and headed out.

I felt cramped as we drove along because the streets are quite narrow and don’t have shoulders. It always felt like we were going to hit the curb, and I hated that I felt like a driving instructor as I had to remind myself and my husband to stay on the left side of the road. The travel book that I read before we left said that driving in Ireland is stressful; I wished that the author would have elaborated that point a little more because I missed seeing how beautiful the sky and mountains were and the pretty bay that we passed by because I was worried about everything! When we saw the sign we were looking for, we scooted over into the driveway, got honked at, passed by a parking lot, and found the cottage with a big sigh of relief.

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We rehearsed the procedures of putting the car in park. I got out and knocked on the door. We arrived at the time we predicted. When Katie greeted us, I thought to myself, “You are really a sight for sore eyes.” We hugged and I knew that all that it took to get to that door was going to be worth it. Not only to visit with our daughter but to be in such a beautiful place.

The journey to that door helped us discover that our children’s dreams can be and often are contagious!

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.  ~St. Augustine

Why Did I Wait So Long?

It seemed like a nice day for a walk around the lake. Katie and I got into the van where Lila was patiently waiting. There was just a little hint of thunder way off in the distance, but we ignored it and went on our way.

Just as we were about to park, a couple little raindrops speckled the windshield. This was our first walk around Lake Harriet since all the snow had melted away, and we really didn’t want to turn around especially since we all had been suffering from a very bad case of cabin fever.

“Let’s just walk a couple blocks and see how it goes,” Katie said. She pointed to Lila as if to say that we didn’t want to upset her because it seemed as if Lila had been trying to control her little squeaks of excitement on the ride over. We really didn’t want to disappoint our dog by getting back in the van and heading home right away, did we?

As we walked, the sweet lilac blossoms and flowers from blooming trees mingled together to help us forget the long cold winter that seemed like a bad dream to us now. We slowly climbed down the steep and narrow stairs. Lila listened to me as I told her to go slow, and we made it safely to the walking path. I thought it would be better to go in a different direction than usual because as I looked at the clouds, I hoped the rain would pass over the east side of the lake and miss us.

When we passed by the Elf’s house, we could see that his door, that is located in the nook of a tree, was closed. Under the crack of the door, we could see that many brightly colored dandelions had been left by some visitors.  A couple little drops of rain started to fall on us and on the path before us. We hoped that the Elf’s house would stay dry.  Many walkers passed by and no one seemed to mind the little rumblings of thunder. Not even the little boy who was on his bike and cheerfully asked his Dad, “Is it raining?”

“Yes,” said the Dad in a chipper voice.

Since it was warm and humid, the cool raindrops felt good. I was glad that no one could tell that underneath it all, I really was sweating! The clouds rumbled back and forth to each other as if they were having a conversation. Their lightening didn’t seem to brighten up the sky, so we just walked along more than just a few blocks. Lila kept us on pace and still seemed to be as excited to be outside as we were. As we rounded a corner, the rain started to fall down in sheets and we couldn’t see across the lake any more. Sometimes the trees sheltered us with their new bright leaves.

When we came to the area close to the band shell, many people sat in the sheltered area out of the rain. We decided to keep on going. A girl continued rollerblading while she held onto her Mom. Even though the wheels kept slipping along the path, the girl didn’t give up and neither did her mother. They just kept on going.

Lila got off track for a bit to sniff at something as Katie and I patiently waited. When we saw that Lila had found a stinky dead mouse, I told her she had a good sniffer, and that we had to keep on going.

For a short time, the sky was bright and we thought that maybe it was going to get clear. We walked along, and no drops of rain hit us to get us any wetter. As we got closer to the van, a bright light flashed and soon we heard the thunder. The lightening was showing itself now, and was no longer having a conversation just between the clouds. The rain came down again, but now it was a little bit harder.

We made it to the van safe and sound. Even though our clothes got soaked through, we realized that it was a nice day to walk around the lake after all. I also realized that I hadn’t walked in the rain like this since I was a little kid. Why did I wait so long?

Some people feel the rain — others just get wet. ~Roger Miller

Way Off in the Sky

Sometimes my husband and I went on dates to the airport to watch the airplanes land and take off. We parked the car on Post Road, rolled down the windows and listened to the powerful jets as they took off and landed. I really didn’t think that was an unusual sort of date to have with a boyfriend until I told my friends about it later on, and they thought it was funny. Maybe I didn’t think it was rare event since my Dad used to take our entire family to the Crystal airport when I was a kid. We stood by the chain link fence, stuck our noses through the holes and watched the little airplanes take off and land. The steady rhythms around the airport always felt sort of soothing.

Last weekend, while we were visiting our son Matt at his school during Aviation Parents Weekend, we waited for him at the airport while he had a flying lesson. My husband and I sat in our minivan, the cool wind blew through the open window while the steady, soft noise of the little airplanes buzzed around us. A lot of the more experienced kids gave their parents rides so many airplanes dotted the bright blue sky, and we watched as they meandered about. Sitting there watching the planes reminded me of the dates my husband and I used to have, and now we were waiting for our son to come down from out of the sky.

When Matt was finished with his lesson, we saw him walk towards the building with his instructor. I couldn’t help but think about when he was just a little guy standing out in our backyard with his little jean jacket on and his blond, wavy curls blowing in the wind. The airplanes flew right over our house. Matt would point his index finger towards the sky, and he held that hand close to the side of his face right next to his eye. Sometimes he wobbled as he tried to keep his balance while he stared up at the “big birds.” He would always announce when he saw an airplane even though we too could hear it traveling over our house and sometimes rumbling the ground.

As Matt grew, so did his knowledge of airplanes because his Dad was such a big fan too. They both studied schedules and would know when a certain plane was going to Japan or some foreign destination. They would ramble off the makes of the different jets and could tell which airline it was even if it was way off in the sky too far away for me to even tell.

Today Matt made his first solo flight. Ever since he was a little kid, from the time he could say the word “airplane,” he has always wanted to fly, and today he did, all by himself!

It might be funny to go on a date to watch airplanes, but somehow it all worked out!

The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul. ~Walter Raleigh

Too Many Dogs!


Bernese Mountain Dog.  Photo Courtesy of www.praisephotography.com

“Want to come with us to the dog park?” I asked Katie.  The words “dog” and “park” are just a couple sounds that make Lila’s ears perk up.

“The dog park stinks,” said Katie.  Not only did Lila’s ears bounce again at the sounds of those words, so did she.

“Plus, I need coffee.”   Luckily, there is a Caribou Coffee on the way.

“We can get coffee on the way!”  I said.  Lila and I can count the number of times Katie has been to the dog park on one paw.  We were happy to have the company.

Lila continued to jump up every once in a while as she watched us search for our sunglasses, hats, mittens and boots.

Lila went straight to the van after I opened the garage door.  When we arrived at the coffee shop, we had to leave Lila alone for a few minutes.  I try not to leave her alone in the van, but she handled the short abandonment very well and the inside of the van was intact after we got back.

Lila started her whiney cry as we got closer to the park.

“What’s the matter?”  Katie asked.  “Is she always like this?”

“Yes, she’s excited.”  The closer we get to the park, the louder the whining gets.

“It’s crowded,” said Katie.

I opened the door, and instructed Lila to go to the gate.  I’ve learned to just let Lila find her way by herself once we arrive.  The times I’ve tried to leash her up and hold her back have not been very good on my sciatic nerve.

Lila barked at the gate as if she were instructing me to hurry.

“I’m coming,” I said while I watched her jump, almost as high as the top of the gate.

“Did you see that lab jump?” a lady commented to her friend.  People are always amazed.

Lila ran fast towards the pink tennis ball after I chucked it across the park.  Even though we haven’t had any snow for a while, the snow at the dog park is still a bright white, all except for the little yellow spots that can be seen here and there.  We followed Lila along the worn away path.

“Do those boots have any sort of grip on the bottom?”  I asked Katie as I looked at her Uggs.  It seemed as if I could walk faster with my unfashionable boots that didn’t slide about.

“No, they’re kind of hard to walk in on the snow,” said Katie.

Lila still does not drop the ball for me, but when other dogs greeted Lila she abandoned the ball and forgot where she left it.  I was able to grab it quick, and Lila noticed right away.

“Don’t even try to keep up, Howie,” a man said to his little dog.  Howie and the man watched Lila run after the tennis ball.

It was nice to be outside and enjoying the day.  All the hustle and bustle of the holidays didn’t leave much time for me to be outside with the dog.  The sunny, blue sky and the white snow made the dog park seem fresh and clean.  One of the joys of winter is that the usual bad smells are frozen.

As a Bernese mountain dog came running towards us on its way to Lila, Katie commented on how she liked the smaller dogs.  Another lab joined us all at the park and had somehow gotten Lila’s pink tennis ball.  For a minute I had a hard time telling the two labs apart.

“Ricky, that’s not yours,” I heard a lady say.  Ricky dropped the ball, ran and jumped up to lick a lady on her face.  I remembered back to the day when Lila used to do that to practically everyone she met.  Ricky made Lila look like a good girl!

“Can we go now?” Katie asked.  “There are just too many dogs here!”  Lila was ready to go too.  We went on our way, Katie still holding her Caribou coffee cup in her hand.

Empty Nesters Still Nest

“May I help you find something?” the saleslady asked.

“Yes, do you have any Lazy Susans?” It was my first time in a long time shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I had been to this store a very long time ago and decided that I should stay away from it then because I thought it was expensive and frivolous. That was back when I was a stay-at-home mom. Now I am practically an empty nester.

“I think we have some over here.” I followed her over to all the kitchen gadgets. “What will you be using it for?”

“To organize vitamins and aspirin in my cupboard,” I said. I thought back to the day when my daughter, Katie, told me that I should really organize “that cupboard.” I felt like I looked at her funny when she told me that because she is not always so very organized.

“They are called turntables now,” the saleslady told me with a swift turn of her head as she looked back at me.

“Oh.” I was happy she told me this because I didn’t want to go around saying Lazy Susan all the time if I wasn’t using a popular term and not being up-to-date. Some Susan somewhere must have started a movement against derogatory name calling on behalf of herself and her fellow Susans. Obviously, I didn’t hear about the revolution.

“I ask because we have several types of turntables. I think this one here will best suit your needs. The other types of turntables that we have are wooden and very large.”

The plastic turntables were stacked on a shelf and came in two different sizes. There was a larger single-shelf turntable and a smaller one with two shelves. I wondered out loud if there was a larger double-shelf turntable.

“I will go check our stockroom,” she said. I hadn’t seen such great customer service for a while and I was definitely impressed.

I wandered over to the wall that contained all sorts of utensils. My friend, April, told me about her pineapple corer, and I found one and put it my basket. A bright yellow banana saver screamed “Buy me, buy me.” I don’t know how I managed to live without these items for so long!

“I couldn’t find the larger type with two shelves,” the friendly lady reported back to me.

“Thank you for looking. I think the smaller one will work just fine.”

I found a nice cotton blanket on clearance and headed for the cash register. The cashier greeted me as if we were long-lost friends! While heading for the exit, I spied a wire shelving unit that looked like it would fit under the bathroom sink and help us find things easily. I knew I would be back soon.

When I got home, I piled up old medications in a bag to toss at the local pharmacy and found a new home for my Lazy Susan turntable. Every morning I turn the table and easily find my daily vitamin and fish oil that will hopefully help me remember to say turntable, not Lazy Susan.

The next week when I was in the checkout line at Marshall’s, sitting there, just for me, was a double-shelf turntable. I picked it up and bought it with my new socks. The moment I got home, I organized the shelf that holds the peanut butters, oils, vinegars and honey.

Since the two youngest kids left for college, I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning. This is good because when you clean you might find your kid’s old forgotten bag of Halloween candy sticking to a shelf and wonder how long it’s been sticking there! You also might forget about wondering why your kid is not always so organized.

Empty nesters still nest, but I didn’t think I’d be emptying the house this way!

Babies of the Family

I guess I really didn’t get what the big deal was about being the baby of the family until we had to send our own Baby of the Family off. Ever since I can remember and even after I grew taller than Mom, she always referred to me as “Her Baby” or “Our Baby” or “The Baby of the Family.” Mom liked saying all those phrases with a laugh after I grew to be taller than her.

My Mom's Baby of the Family

My Mom’s Baby of the Family

When I was very small I thought, “I am not a baby. I wish she would stop calling me that.” In my mind, I balled up my fists and stomped. In real life, I just took it and smiled because I sort of got a lot of attention from those phrases. I guess it bothered me enough though that I decided I wouldn’t call my youngest child “The Baby of the Family” or “Our Baby” or “My Baby,” until now because My Baby started his first day of college the other day.

My Baby and Me

My Baby and Me

A few days before we left to drop Matt off, Laura said, “Mom, why are you so worried? Matt is probably the most independent one in the family. He’s even more independent that you are.” It was true. I guess I was just worried about how I was going to handle moving the youngest one out of the nest, and I knew it would be a tough day for me. One would think that I would be used to sending kids off to college by now, but I’m not. That feeling of missing them when they’re gone doesn’t go away.

The Babies All Together!

Our Babies All Together!

Since Mike and I helped Matt move in on a Saturday, and because it’s such a long drive home, Mike announced that we should really get a move on early Sunday morning. I agreed and realized then that my hug with Matt the Saturday night before was my good-bye hug. As we drove away from town and kept getting farther away from My Baby, I couldn’t help but sniffle. Memories of favorite days spent with Matt when he was just a little kid started to pop into my mind.

Matt and I used to like to hang out by the bridge by our house. Back then, I decided I would sit and watch as long as Matt wanted me to no matter how long it took, and I always was ready to sit on the bridge even if we had just done that same thing the day before. The trees towered high over the water, and it was like we had our own little fort just for us. Matt searched for handfuls of rocks on the side of the creek, and he threw rock after rock into the water just to see how far away it would land and what kind of splash it would make. We would comment on which were the “good ones” by how big the splash was. I knew that the next year when Matt would be in kindergarten that he probably wouldn’t want to throw rocks in the creek with his Mom just to see what kind of splash they make, and I was right.

Plus Our Baby was the last one of our kids that Dad and I got to share and teach childhood things to. You know, some things like how to:

• tie shoes;
• ride a bike;
• put on and tie skates;
• roller skate and ice skate;
• float and swim;
• hold hands while crossing the street or just because it felt nice and secure;
• remain calm during thunderstorms by giving hugs;
• listen to bedtime stories; and
• say bedtime prayers.

After we got home, I wrote out a grocery list for the coming week. I tried to stop those sniffles from coming back as I realized I wouldn’t have to buy Gatorade, frozen pizzas and Oreos for a little while. I wandered up to see the state of Matt’s bedroom with vacuum cleaner in hand. His room looked pretty bare and as if he took almost all of his possessions with him. I briefly noticed a white, plastic Target bag on his bookshelf and thought it must be some sort of trash, but when I got a text from Matt later that day, he said that there was a bag on his bookshelf, and that it was a present for me and Dad.

I retrieved the bag, searched for Dad, and we opened it together. A card was on top, and the first sentence started by saying, “Thanks for all your love and support.” More tears had to be wiped away as I realized Babies of the Family do grow up. My Mom’s endearing phrase stuck with me that day, and I finally figured out that it’s not so bad being called the Baby of the Family after all.