Finding one small blessing each day.

A most beautiful tree July 23, 2012

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I want to start this by thanking the new friends who chose to follow my blog.  You inspired me ridiculously!  I was going to write today, and then I just wasn’t… and then I saw YOU!  I saw your friendly faces had LIKED what I had said and then oh, my goodness, am I so happy!  So thank you.  YOU are my hidden blessing of the day.

My cousin, who is a Marine, spent two years stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  He came back to the United States for a few weeks, and then went on to Afghanistan, where he was stationed for eighteen months or so.   Somehow he managed to miss every Christmas with our family.

Our Christmases have kind of changed in the years since my grandmother passed.  They’re not worse by any means, they are just different.  I say that with only a tiny smudge of sadness.  There are a lot of ways in which this is a good thing – I get to host at my home now, for example, and I get to spend days on end with my mother and stepdad in theirs.  But for my father’s side of the family,  it has become a nearly impossible feat to try to get everyone together in the same house.  Mostly, this is just because The House, her house, isn’t there for us anymore; a nesting place for us to all fly back home.  And so not only did we not get to come together again, but the Marine couldn’t come at all.

He finally was scheduled to come home from Afghanistan in late February.  We planned, we texted, we Facebooked, we emailed… we made all the plans in the world trying to figure out what weekend we might all be able to come together to celebrate this young man’s safe return home to his family.  And then this giant blizzard came through Russia and halted all travel.  We suddenly had no idea when he was coming home, or how long he’d get to stay home because he had to turn around after a certain number of days and go to North Carolina.  We just didn’t know.  So we waited.

Finally, finally he made it home.  All of us who could traveled hours and hours to converge upon my aunt and uncle’s home in Minnesota.  The home was filled with laughter, hugs, stories, and just plain… joy.  And a few more hugs.  The afternoon turned into evening and a group of us left for the airport to pick up another of our travelers.  Dusk and then early evening decended upon the city.

Turning back into the street upon which my aunt and uncle’s home sits, we all looked in surprise at the house.  There were Christmas lights lit, lining the porch and garage, a giant lit wreath above the garage.  We went inside and suddenly noticed that there was garland lining the woodwork in the kitchen, and then we saw that our aunt had put plates of Christmas cookies out.

The had decorated and baked Christmas cookies for the Marine, who had missed four years of Christmases with his family.  They had turned on the Christmas lights and decorated the most spindly, measly looking tree you have ever seen.  They stuck it on the deck next to us as we all sat outside on this cold March night in Minnesota.  My aunt’s father (who is in his eighties and is not a relation to the Marine) came over in full military attire to  pay his respects to the Marine.

It got darker and then we noticed it… the big evergreen that was lit up in all of its Christmas glory.  This tree, though, was not decorated by my aunt and uncle for their nephew.  This tree wasn’t even in their yard; it was a tree in a neighbor’s yard, on the other side of a wrought-iron fence.  This tree had been lit up by a neighbor… a neighbor who knew about the soldier who had missed so many Christmases, and knew about his homecoming that weekend.

This tree was the most beautiful Christmas tree I think I have ever seen.

It was radiant because it wasn’t just lit by pretty lights and all the retail packaging corporate America sells us over the holidays.  It was lit by kindness, and honor, and respect.  It radiated gratitude and friendship for our fellow neighbors, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews.

That, my dear friends, is an image I will never forget.


Two girls, a dad and a boat April 12, 2011

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As the miles rolled by on Sunday, singing “Parents Just Don’t Understand” with my boys, another memory came to mind that I want to share.  I kept looking out the window at the beautiful spring weather and every so often there would be a pond or a creek with the water sparkling in the sunlight.  It made me really miss Minnesota.

I love Minnesota.  I think it’s partially because Minnesota holds so many good memories for me.  Growing up, every time I was in Minnesota I was surrounded by funny, lively people who loved me unconditionally.  There are no people in the world that I laugh as much with (except my sister as no one could top her), as I do when my family is all together.  I am certain that I would have much better abs if I lived closer to them. 🙂

But back to the highway and Minnesota… as we sang the lyrics to the song and I glanced out the window and saw the sunlight dancing on the water, it brought me back to a moment.  I was probably thirteen or fourteen years old, out on a boat with my dad and my sister.  We were at Lobster Lake that year, having set up our tent in a desolate campground that made it seem as though the entire lake and forest were solely ours.

I am sitting in the middle of the boat, my sister in the front and my father in the back, and I’m wearing a white swimsuit with aqua blue flowers that I’ve been wearing for two or three days straight now (and thoroughly enjoying that fact).  We were out on the lake fishing, and I can see all of the pine trees on the shoreline, and hear the water lapping up against the aluminum side of the fishing boat, gently rocking us.  If I try hard enough, I can smell the algae-y smell of the lake water, and see the orange and white minnow bucket hanging in the water on the side of the boat.  I’ve got my lukewarm grape Shasta beside me, and my fishing pole in hand.  And my sister and I are trying to sing all the words to “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, in the right order, with perfect timing.

This is no easy feat.  Two girls just discovering “rap” music (as this was really new to us at this point), trying to get every word synchronized meant lots of laughter as one or the other of us would start the wrong line, or raising our voices happily (i.e. loudly) at our favorite parts. “They left the keys to the brand new Porsche…would they mind?…umm, well, of course not!”

Guess how many fish we caught that day?  Probably not many.  And how long were we out on that lake?  Long enough to conquer the song, that’s for sure.  And our dad sat with us, never balking at the noise, never pointing out that we were very likely scaring away any potential walleye or northern that he had hoped to catch, and let us sing our hearts out.  If his continuous smile, the shaking of his head, or the way his eyes crinkled with laughter as he untangled our lines every time we snagged them on something was any indication, I’d say (at the time) he thought we were pretty darn talented.  In fact, I probably sang even more because he was, I was sure, very impressed by his girls’ singing abilities.

It makes me laugh, just remembering.  And his patience that day…looking back, I don’t know how he did it.  I sometimes get irritated with my kids just wanting to PLAY their music, let alone singing it for hours on a lake while the fish scramble away to quieter waters and the skin on my nose blisters under the hot July sun.

I think it’s high time for a trip to Minnesota.  I want to get my kids out on a boat.  I’ll get some minnows, a lot of sunscreen, and a few poles, and set out onto the lake.   Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be lucky enough to get the chance to hear my kids sing for a few hours on end.

I sure hope so.