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Play Ball!

They say that time marches on. Right now though, I think time is feeling a bit quiet and shy… perhaps it’s been bullied by this brutal Winter. Time is not doing anything so bold as marching. Instead, it’s creeping along at a snail’s pace, trying to go unnoticed.

We, in northeastern Minnesota, like many other areas of this vast country, have had a long, arduous winter. If we thought it would make a difference, we would fall to our knees in the snow, cast our eyes to the heavens and cry “Make it STOP! Please!”

We are soooooo tired of snow and cold. We long for Spring.

But alas, we are adults; and must set an example for our kids. We soldier on through the slush and snow, plastering smiles to our faces when needed; cursing and grumbling unintelligibly when we think nobody’s watching.

Here in the Northland, we have learned to adapt… to roll with the punches; to make the best of things, in spite of the weather. We call this area God’s Country, and most of the time, we love this place. It’s home, where we’ve put down our roots. Some go to warmer climes for the winter months, but most of us stay put.

Right now, I’d love to see a mosquito (through a window), hear the frogs croak, listen to the birdsong on the air, and smell freshly cut grass. Oh, to sit on the deck and sip my morning coffee!

But I digress…

Many here are eagerly awaiting the start of softball season with its warm temps, green grass, rain and even mud.

This year, as I gaze out upon a sea of snow, I realize that we may need to be more flexible than usual, and I begin to daydream…

Softball has begun, in spite of the snow that stubbornly clings to the field. It’s the first game of the season…

Crowds cheer from the bleachers as both teams trot awkwardly out onto the field sporting their new uniforms; caps with fur-lined earflaps, jerseys, pants, and socks. On one hand is the traditional ball glove, and a mitten (in team colors) covers the other.

The ball has been dyed green, a nod to the traditional color of the field.

The first pitch is thrown and it’s hit deep into right field. The batter struggles to run to first base; the outfielders are clumsy in their pursuit of the ball.

The crowd roars; applause is muffled by woolen mittens. The stands vibrate with the thunder of stomping Mukluks.

The runner rounds first base and heads for second…

A right fielder stretches to catch the ball, and just misses.

The ball drops out of sight, beneath the wavy white surface… the outfielders drop to their knees and begin digging in the snow in frantic search. The snow muffles their curses.

On past third base… the runner is headed for home, hurrying, as fast as his snowshoes can carry him.

The ball is finally found, and thrown to the third baseman who clumsily pivots, nearly tripping over his Bear Paws, to throw the ball home ahead of the runner…

The runner senses urgency. He dives for the base as the catcher reaches for the ball…

The umpire makes the call;  “SAFE!”

And the home crowd goes wild.

Living in the Extreme

It’s human nature to complain about the weather… here in northeastern Minnesota, we do it all the time. It’s the one thing everyone has in common; we are all at the mercy of the elements.

Sometimes, our complaints are just an effort at making conversation, and other times we’re angry because we’ve missed an event or had to reschedule because of rain, snow, heat or cold; maybe wind.

Many of us sit back and reminisce over seasons past… just like our parents and grandparents did when we were kids. We recall this year or that, compare stories of blizzards and floods, heat, humidity, and wind, sometimes tornadoes.

I’ve seen one major flood… in June of 2012. I don’t remember how many inches of rain fell over the course of those two summer days, but I think it was in the double digits. The rain came down too fast for the ground to absorb. We had standing water in the yard and a waterfall gushing beneath the basement door, then winding its way through the basement to the floor drain where it left as quickly as it came. We were lucky. Many were not so fortunate.

The rivers overflowed their banks. Bridges were washed out and many roads were rendered impassable. Homes were flooded and sewers backed up. People were displaced and it was months before they would once again inhabit their homes.

And who could forget the Halloween Blizzard of 1991? We didn’t measure the snowfall in inches that time; we measured it in feet! Just under four feet of the white stuff was dumped on us. I missed one shift at the hospital, then my husband drove me to a main road on a snowmobile where I was picked up by someone in a four-wheel-drive SUV. Once at work, the crew rode out the storm, filling in where needed, grabbing sleep when we could, and eating hospital food. Institutional food never tasted so good and it has since lost its appeal.

My most memorable winter was back in ‘79-‘80: I couldn’t zip my coat; my big ‘ol pregnant belly saw to that! The way I remember it, the mercury stayed below zero for three solid weeks in January. Since we didn’t have the money for a bigger coat, I kept a small blanket handy to help insulate my growing baby bump from the weather.

Then, on the twelfth of March, 1980, a blizzard hit… and a baby boy came into the world.

On that eventful morning, my husband dropped me off at my mother’s on his way to work with a promise to come straight to the hospital if things moved along quickly. He spent two short hours at work, just enough time for the roads to get slippery, before being called to the hospital.

My mom did not like to drive under ideal conditions, and driving in a snowstorm terrified her. She was a trooper though, she faced her fear head-on. She refused my offer to drive and got behind the wheel of her Oldsmobile station wagon and inched us across town and up the hill to the hospital, getting me there in plenty of time.

An x-ray revealed that my baby was breech and his neck was hyper-extended. He was born a few hours later by emergency C-section weighing in at a healthy six pounds twelve ounces and measuring eighteen inches long.

Yes, I remember that winter well.

My husband remembers 1970, a year of heavy snowfall… He tells the story of how one storm proved to be too much for the county snowplows. Those behemoths didn’t have enough power to push through the snow drifts. They were forced to think outside the box…

Finally, they fired up the big Caterpillars and used them to push the plow trucks from behind as they cleared the roads.

Others tell of 1936; another record-setting year, or so I’ve been told. Two friends were born that year and carry with them stories told to them by their mothers of record-setting heat in the summer, frigid temps and over-the-top snowfall in the winter.

Many of the records we have broken this year were set in 1936.

This winter, 2013-14, however, tops ‘em all… even those awful winters where my grandparents walked to school every day, trudging through snow, sleet, rain and wind; in extreme heat and bone-chilling cold…uphill both ways; barefoot.

This year has been worse than anything my grandparents experienced… With this much snow, spring flooding is sure to be a problem… we’re not looking forward to that.

In fact, the last time it was this cold for this long it was the winter of 1874-75 and my great-great grandparents, Jacob and Sophie, were in their prime. They had to be… they were raising seven of their eight children, the oldest of whom was my great-grandmother Anna, who was thirteen and a half. The youngest, a boy named John, was born in the fall of 1876, a year and a half after that brutal winter.

Our children and grandchildren will remember this most recent winter and upcoming spring, 2013-14, especially since our winters have been mild, thanks to the El Nino cycle we’ve been in for several years.

This winter has all the elements of legends. Today’s children will someday sit around a table and tell their stories. Their young ones will listen and learn… and retell the those same stories over the years.

If and when this year’s records are broken, decades from now (hopefully), those young children will be old and gray… if indeed they are still alive.

Those Pesky Wrinkles

I noticed, after extracting my clothes from the back of an overcrowded closet, that my go-to outfit for weddings and funerals was hopelessly wrinkled. And I needed it…now.

Ugh! I should have known…

I’d misjudged the time and there wasn’t a minute to spare… no time to drag out the iron and ironing board, so I dashed down to the laundry room and grabbed my newly purchased wrinkle releasing spray and went to work, praying it worked as advertised.

I decided to save time and change in the bathroom instead of running back upstairs.

Jim was ready and waiting for me and he was beginning to pace the floor. He liked to be early for everything, and normally, so did I, but today, time had simply gotten away from me.

I spritzed and sprayed and it wasn’t long before those longstanding creases began to relax.

Unlike myself. Or Jimbo.

We were running late, and I was to blame. This latest ‘wrinkle’ would make us even later. We would have just enough time to drive to the venue and sneak into the back of the church before the ceremony began.

I knew I would not relax until we arrived safely at our destination. Neither would Jim.

I changed quickly, slapped on a little lipstick, called it good, and headed for the door.

Jim was waiting in the car… a sure sign that his patience was spent.

We drove in silence.

It was better that way…

By the end of the evening, though, we were back on speaking terms. The ride home was much more pleasant with both of us laughing and sharing the details of our evening.

I’d hurt my back more than a year earlier and cleaning was difficult. Things like floor care and scrubbing shower walls were especially hard, and my back protested with fits of muscle spasms and sciatica for days afterward.

Jim didn’t like to clean, and with his full-time job and forty-five minute one-way commute, he really didn’t have the time, so we reworked the budget and hired Lori, a woman who came in and cleaned twice a month.

Lori arrived promptly at 9:00 that Monday morning and quickly started to clean. She dusted, vacuumed, swept and mopped, and saved the bathroom for last. Just how I used to clean… only better.

Soon, she came into the kitchen, trying unsuccessfully to keep from laughing.

“I found this in the shower,” she said with a grin as she whipped the bottle of wrinkle releaser from behind her back.

“I hate to tell you, but THIS is for wrinkles in your clothes… not your skin!”

In my haste, I’d set the bottle of wrinkle releaser on the edge of the tub, and it had soon become lost amid the other bottles in the shower: the shampoo, conditioner and body wash.

Then Lori arrived and happily sorted out the wrinkles of my life. She found a place for everything and put everything in its place.

Nice.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

I was laying on my left side, sleeping quite peacefully when the disruption began, quietly at first, then more persistently…

“Not now, Jimbo,” I mumbled half-heartedly.

His nuzzling continued, morphing into little love bites on my right earlobe. I could feel his warm breath as it caressed my neck…

“Noooooooo,” I whined, longing to return to blissful sleep.

My complaints fell on deaf ears. I swatted ineffectively behind me but he just wouldn’t stop. It was unlike him to ignore my needs… and I was decidedly NOT in the mood for love.

Begrudgingly, I cracked one eye open and peeked at the clock… it glowed back at me, its green numbers nearly boasting aloud as it read; 3:00 a.m… 3:00 a.m.

Sleep is a precious commodity at our house… more precious than gold. More important than money…

Jim routinely gets caught up in a bad habit of napping too long during the day when he hasn’t slept well the night before, then he can’t get to sleep the next night.

My sleep/wake cycle was sacrificed when I worked shifts as a nurse for nineteen years. I’m paying the price now with disrupted circadian rhythms.

The nuzzling on my neck continued and I was becoming angry. “What is he thinking?” I wondered. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I knew what he was thinking… what I really wanted to know was why now?

We’re not newlyweds; we’re rapidly approaching our twenty-sixth anniversary. We know one another better than anyone else… we don’t always see eye to eye, but we work things out. We balance each other. In some ways, we’re completely opposite, and in others, we are one. Many times, we complete each other’s sentences… We know what the other is thinking… usually.

“Why now?” I repeated aloud.

Jim became more persistent and my irritation increased exponentially.

I flipped onto my back, prepared to give him a good tongue-lashing. I knew just what I was going to say…

But it was I who was startled…

I opened my eyes and mouth at the same time, which turned out to be a mistake…

Heidi interpreted those actions as an invitation to inspect my dental work and wash the sleep from my eyes… she jumped onto my chest causing me to exhale with a whoosh. Then she set about her work, licking my face vigorously while pawing at my hands.

She was awake and well-rested. Eager to begin her day with a session of ambitious play.

Me, on the other hand? I wanted sleep… several more hours’ worth.

It took several minutes and a stern reprimand to convince the dog to settle down before I was able to go back to sleep.  Jim slept through the whole ordeal and I tried not to resent him for that…

The following morning, Jimbo told me that when he came to bed the night before, after I was asleep, Heidi wanted nothing more than a rousing session of play… which he strongly discouraged.

We were united that day, and every day since, taking turns tossing Heidi’s toys and playing ‘tug’ with her…anything to deplete her energy… all in pursuit of restful sleep.

That Time of Year

In a mere two hours, January 2014 will be in the history books. I know I am not alone when I say “Good riddance! Take all things ’Polar’ with you! Just. Go. AWAY!“

Ground Hog Day is but two days off, and we will soon learn Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction for Spring. I look forward to seeing his pudgy brown body and squinty little black eyes once again. I know he will make the national news, just like always. I hope he remembers to wear his top hat…

Now, I know there’s something else on the agenda… but what? Am I having a senior moment? Is this yet another symptom of menopause?

“Think!” I tell myself. “Think!”

“I’ve got it!” I exclaim.

My husband who is peacefully sitting in his recliner jumps a little. He puts down his newspaper, “Got what?” He asks in a chilly tone of voice.

“Cookies… I have to bake cookies!”

He looks confused and maybe a bit irritated. “Cookies?”

“Yeah, cookies. For the Super Bowl!”

He rolled his eyes before turning his attention back to more important things.

We’ve chosen not to host our big Super Bowl bash this year; I just don’t have the energy and don’t think I’d handle the raucous atmosphere very well so we’re taking a year off… scaling back and having a very small gathering instead… with just three guests.

I baked my cut-out cookies: jerseys, helmets and footballs, then googled the Broncos and Seahawks. Being the Foodie in the house, it’s just not the Super Bowl without my cookies decorated in team colors!

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Jim is the resident football fan here.

That said, I always pick a team to root for. This year, I gave it considerable thought and finally chose the Seahawks; not because I think they’re a better team, I don’t have a clue about that…

I like their team colors better than the Bronco’s.  I’m an artist, so color is pretty important to me…

Jim will appreciate my cookies on game day.  Heidi was curious about them today… she’s a Foodie like me.  She jumped up on the back of Jim’s recliner to get a look at the cookies on the counter… 

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Man, I love that dog! If only she could talk…

On second thought, that might not be such a good idea… she might give away all my secrets for a little ‘canine currency,’ aka food.

Neighborhood Sliding Party

The winter of my tenth year was particularly snowy.

My brothers and I liked to have sliding parties back then, but with no great hills around, we had to improvise.

Our father had just purchased his first snow blower; a machine capable of blowing snow quite a distance.  Dad aimed it at the southeast corner of the yard, right up against the garage.

Soon, that snow bank grew high.

Since us kids no longer had snow to shovel, we had plenty of time on our hands, especially during Christmas vacation. Back then, we weren’t allowed to watch a lot of television and we had no video games. Mom chased us outside every day for fresh air, sunshine and the ever-popular exercise.

We built snow forts and igloos in the yard and eyed the growing mountain of snow in the far corner.

Soon, we became inspired…

We huddled together in the yard planning our strategy, much like a football team before a big play. We were bundled up in snow pants, jackets, hats, scarves, heavy woolen mittens hand knit by our grandmother, and bunny boots… those off-white winter boots with leather soles as smooth as glass.

Darrell was our self-appointed job foreman, being the oldest and most experienced, he felt he was most qualified, and he was probably right. He instructed Dale and me to use shovels to carve stairs into the east side of the snow pile, then stomp the snow and pack each step down real solid so we wouldn’t break through as we climbed to the top. It wasn’t long before we built a flight of stairs high enough to reach the edge of the garage roof.

We climbed that newly constructed flight of stairs and cautiously stepped up onto the roof, crab-clawing our way to the top where, if we stood with one foot on either side of the peak, we could survey the entire neighborhood. From the summit, we called out to friends in nearby yards, inviting them to bring their sleds and join our party.

We lugged our flying saucers and mini-boggans, those yellow flexible plastic sleds from the sixties, behind us. The last kids to arrive had to settle for a good-sized hunk of cardboard to use as a sled. Grandma gave us that idea long ago, and despite it’s ugliness, it worked almost as well as the commercial counterparts.

My brother Darrell, job foreman, eldest, and most daring of all in attendance, took the maiden voyage. His chosen mode of transport: the flying saucer… aptly named for it’s ability to zoom erratically down a grade, spinning its occupant until dizzy and unable to stand alone once it finally came to a halt.

Dale and I held the yellow disk as Darrell climbed aboard; we pushed him off at his command…

He zipped down the roof, picking up speed as he went, became airborne as he cruised off the eave, landing in a whoosh of snow before accelerating even more, careening down the slope, across the yard and nearly to the crest of the opposite bank before he slowed enough to gently glide back to level ground and come to a stop.

“Whoa!” He exclaimed as he staggered to his feet. “That was fun! Just wait ‘til you try it!”

Soon, every kid in the neighborhood was in our yard, some on the garage roof, some in the yard, a few on the snow stairs, and the rest zipping about on various types of sleds.

Then mom happened to look out the window…

Her jaw dropped, and her eyes grew large. Once she recovered from the shock of seeing a gaggle of kids, all shapes and sizes, sliding off the roof of her garage, she stepped out onto the porch, broom in hand, and shooed children home to their respective parents… sternly warning them not to return. Informing them that this winter attraction was shut down for the remainder of the season. And that we three would not be playing outside in the foreseeable future.

Oh, but what fun it was while it lasted…

Christmas Hide and Seek

Pastor Dennis welcomed the children as they sat in front of the altar on Christmas Eve. “It’s nice to see so many of you here tonight.” He said. He admitted that he hadn’t planned on a Children’s Sermon, but couldn’t resist with so many kids in attendance. He was winging it.

The congregation sat up a little straighter, each person straining for a clear view of the activities up front. Children’s sermons could be unpredictable and were always entertaining…

Each child sat on the altar step, quivering with anticipation… energy pulsed through their little bodies. You could see it in their eyes.

They were all dressed in their holiday best: Izzy wore her red velour dress with white faux fur trim paired with a matching Santa hat. She looked like she came straight from the North Pole. Lindy came to church in a dress that matched her personality perfectly: a black bodice with a poufy skirt of hot pink and black. She wore a coordinating headband with a fashionable bright pink flower positioned just so over her left eye.

“What is special about tonight?” Pastor Dennis asked the kids.

Four year old Lindy exclaimed “Santa is coming!”

The congregation chuckled.

Lindy looked at her family… “Mommy and Daddy, don’t laugh!” She pleaded, eliciting more laughter from the rest of us.

Brian, early in his elementary school career, answered “Jesus was born on Christmas.”

“Well,” said the pastor, “you are both right.” He glanced at the congregation and explained, “Lindy is absolutely right… and so is Brian.” He turned back to the kids. “Santa is coming tonight. But here, in church, we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas.”

‘Pastor Dennis,” Lindy spoke above the laughter, “Why was Jesus born on Christmas?”

A brief silence was followed by a wave giggles and chuckles that rolled from wall to wall throughout the sanctuary. Lindy’s father covered his face with a hand while her grandfather laughed so hard he had tears rolling down his face.

“I’m too tired to think of an answer for that one tonight,” said Pastor Dennis as he shifted gears. “Have you kids ever played Hide and Seek?”

Every child’s head bobbed affirmatively.

Pastor Dennis and the kids discussed the rules of the game: they determined that many could play at once, all but one hid, then the seeker counted before going off to find the others.

“How high do you count?” Asked the Pastor. “Do you count to ten?”

“No! Eleven!” Greta interjected.

The congregation laughed once again.

Pastor asked “then, what do you do?”

All the children chimed “Ready or not, here I come!”

Izzy raised her hand and began waving it vigorously. “I want to hide!”

“Where?” Asked the pastor.

“There!“ The red clad little girl scampered over to the front pew and crawled beneath.

Dennis stepped in front of her hiding place. “There, now we can’t see Izzy.”

“Okay, now cover your eyes and count to eleven,” pastor instructed.

Lindy piped up. “No, count to four!”

“Okay, four: one, two, three, four…”

“Ready or not, here we come!“ The Pastor stepped aside as the kids found Izzy.

He explained that our relationship is the same way with God. Sometimes we hide from God, but He never stops looking for us. He never gives up.

Once again Izzy hid, this time behind the pulpit, and again, the rest of the kids searched.

When she was found, the pastor sent the kids back to their seats and began the adult version of his sermon, then moved on to Holy Communion.

The lights dimmed after our candles were lit and we sang ’Silent Night’ then closed with ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain.’

Lindy’s dad held her in his arms during the last two songs. She theatrically treated those of us sitting behind her with a toothy grin and a glint in her eye, targeting first one parishioner, then another as the songs progressed.

None of us were able to resist her charm… or form the words to the songs when we were under her spell.

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