Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I'm feeling grumpy and can't seem to get past it. Wondering if getting it out on paper (or across the internet) will help release some of it. This irritated, grumpy feeling is partly from sleeping slightly crappy for weeks, and probably even from having to work Saturday and having a full day on Sunday (not enough down time for me). I should note that I did have Thursday off last week to make up for having to work on Saturday and it was glorious.

But I know the biggest reason I am in this funk is because I didn't trust my gut. I hate when I do that. Plus, it's hard to change the decision I made at this point. You see, in my last post I mentioned that my dad and I went to see my uncle Stanley. He was battling cancer and we understood that he wouldn't be here much longer. When I found out that things had taken a turn for the worse I immediately told my dad that I would take him to Crookston. It's a 5 hour drive and I didn't want to make my 86 year old dad tackle that alone. I was willing to take time off of work even though it was a busy time of the quarter because that's what you do for your family.

Siblings - Stanley, Lester, Marian, Barney, and my dad, Frank - 2008

I assumed that I would be going back for the funeral when that time came. We got back from our visit on a Sunday and my uncle passed away on Wednesday. I knew it was coming and every time my phone rang I feared it would be my dad calling with the news. Even Facebook messages became dreadful since I thought my cousin might send news that way. I got the call on Wednesday (and obviously the passing of my uncle is impacting how I feel right now). My dad said he was going to ride up with his other brother and my cousins... and that I didn't need to come. The wake and funeral were going to be during the week and he said I already had my visit and no one would think badly if I didn't come.

The thing is I take whatever my dad says as gold. Well, not everything... there's plenty we disagree about, but I value what he has to say and if I have any doubt I'll follow his word. Five years ago my brother had a stroke and was put into an induced coma and my dad convinced me there was no reason to go to the hospital until he was out of the coma. I listened to him, but thought we should be there. Unfortunately, we would learn that my brother wasn't going to make it and three days in we finally went to the hospital to talk with the doctors and were there the next day when he was taken off all the machines and passed away. I know my presence in those first few days wouldn't have made a difference, but I know we should have been there. I live with that and for the most part it now feels like a lesson learned: trust your gut.

But here I am again. Sitting at home while my family is up north at my uncles funeral. So how did this happen? Both my dad and my husband assured me that I did not need to go. And then I started to feel bad about leaving Jesse to solo parent for another 2 - 3 days. Plus work! It was still busy and we already had the max amount of people out of the office. I felt that I needed to be responsible with work and my immediate family, but as we got closer and closer to the funeral date I felt sicker and sicker about it. Yet, I couldn't get out of my mind my responsibility to work and my immediate family, especially work.

The night before the wake I discovered that an aunt would be in town from California and by not going I would likely not see her and this made me feel even worse about it, but then I felt it was too late to call in Monday morning to work and tell them I would be out a few days (plus our company has this policy about not giving enough notice and I'm sure - just because I have a kid and get sick and such - that I am bordering on what is acceptable/unacceptable). So once again I decided, after my dad convinced me again that I was fine not going, that I would stay home. My cousin sent a message saying they would like to see me, but that she understood and that sent me into another swirl of doubt. Every moment since then I've thought "if I left right now could I still make it". But then I would think about another obstacle and just wallow in guilt and frustration.

Uncle Stanley, Aunt Marian, and my dad - 2008

I don't think I've beat myself up like this in a long time. And then I realized that this wasn't just about going to a funeral to show my respect. This was so much bigger than that. My uncle was the first of my dad's sibling to pass away. My dad and his siblings are all in their 80's - one is on the cusp of 90. My dad still acts like he's 60 or even younger, and even though I know he won't be around forever, this is a big reminder that one day he will pass away too. And the panic that arose when I found out my aunt would be there? It might be my last time to see her! I mean, Stanley was healthy a year ago. From diagnosis of this cancer to his passing was only about 7 months. Things can happen so fast and what if...

It doesn't help that my dad recently had more cancer taken off his ear (and his dad died from cancer that turned into a big lump on his ear when he was 86). Gah! Feeling so neurotic about this all right now. Oh so emotional. I know this is life - this is the way things go and I'm grateful for all the years we've had... and hope yet to have. It just feels so heavy right now.

Every moment with my family feels so important. In fact, I've never wanted to hang out with a bunch of old folks more than I do now. Please tell me about the time Lester built that chicken coop for school. Tell me about how the chickens would pick corn out of the pigs poop. Tell me about how you and Stanley worked at Coca Cola and when you put up power lines. Ha, I can't get enough of these old stories. It's as if I will be able to forever preserve my dad and his siblings in these memories. I need to know as much as I can! I want to be full of these moments of their past.

My dad comes home tomorrow and I'm already starting to feel a little less emotionally unbalanced. I know as time goes by I'll feel even better, but I know this won't be the last time I feel a little unhinged. Because, you know... life happens.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I just got back from a weekend up north with my dad. My dad's younger brother, Stanley, is battling cancer (for the 4th time) and it he doesn't have much time left, unfortunately. My dad and Stanley were really close growing up so I wanted to make sure that they got to see each other during these last days. It was a nice opportunity to hang out with my dad and hear more stories of his youth (it was a 5 hour drive so we had plenty of time to talk) even if it was for an unfortunate reason.

My dad and his siblings. My dad was the only redhead of the bunch and gained the nickname 'Red'. He's the second from the front on the left and on the far left in the picture on the right. In both, he is standing behind Stanley.

We drove up one day, and back home the next - it didn't seem like much time, but I'm so glad I got to spend this time with my dad, see my cousins, aunt, and of course my uncle. My dad is the middle kid of 5. Four boys, and one girl (the youngest). They were all about a year and a half apart. Stanley and my dad shared a room and even worked several jobs together. I got to re-hear stories I've heard before, but also got the opportunity to find out new things... like Stanley always drove (even when they were younger), and how my aunt met my uncle roller skating (it was a big thing then).

I got to hear about the time the boys brought a horse in the farm house while their parents were out. Apparently, horses go up stairs just fine, but don't want to come down. Oh, and that horse took a nice crap in the kitchen. Not sure if it was the same horse, but one got stuck in the outhouse too. It's good to hear stories of how mischievous my dad was as a youngster.

My aunt Marian on the farm in the mid 1930's?

Then there were the injuries... like when uncle Barney took his sled down the creek and happened to look up as he slid under a bridge... and peeled back some of his skin. He apparently went home and just taped his skin back down. In fact, there were quite a few 'taped the skin right back down' stories.

Some of my dad's siblings with grandpas and an uncle, Check out that mustache on Great Grandpa Riley. Yup, that's where I got my kid's name from.

After a difficult goodbye we headed home, but stopped at the old family farm first. My dad lived there from birth to age 16 when grandpa decided to sell. He farmed about 300 acres with 20 horses, 4 sons and often a hired hand. But as the older boys started out on their own and technology came into the picture (tractors) I guess he decided to sell. They moved into town, but we all think of this farm in the middle of nowhere to be ours. It's been 70 years since grandpa owned it, but we still show up from time to time, sometimes just driving by and other times stopping in.

My grandpa

My grandma (left) and her sister. Grandma died from cancer about 20 years before I was born. 

My grandpa (second from left) and his siblings (picture taken in my current living room). Grandpa also died from cancer when I was about 6 years old. Grandpa looks small here, but his brothers were just exceptionally big.

While I've driven by this place a number of times, this was my first time wandering around and talking with the current owner. The lady who owns the farm seemed hesitant to let me take pictures at first. I almost didn't because I didn't want to offend her, but once I pulled out my camera she actually asked if I would send her pictures and invited me back in the summer to take more since she said it is so beautiful at that time.

Not sure of the year of the picture on the left, but it's old. That's my grandpa on the left. He put the new foundation on the house which was a disappointment to the kids. A crooked house is much better to race your matchbox cars across.

The barn was cut down as you can see it used to have windows and the roof was higher. Apparently, grandpa painted all the buildings red, and then decided he wanted them all white a few years later... and they are still white to this day.

See that bridge? That's the one that took part of Uncle Barney's scalp off.

Part of the 300ish acres

Grandma used to hold 'church' for the kids under this tree

This aerial picture of the farm was taken long ago and posted in the newspaper. The first to identify the farm got free tickets to the theater. Years later, my brother took this old worn out picture and drew multiple pictures of the farm - one for my dad and for each of the siblings.

A number of the buildings are no longer there and another couple are on their way out, like the hog barn, but we'll always have this picture and I imagine we'll keep making random stops to see this small, but very visual connection to our past.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Riley Right Now

Oh miss Riley. I feel like I haven't really talked much about her lately. Sure, I've talked about the things we have been up to lately - which, to be honest, feels mostly like we are trapped inside with the never ending winter weather. Even my 'go with the flow' child (at least when it comes to weather) has been lamenting every time it snows that she wants it to be summer. Me too child, me too.

We haven't really been doing anything exciting lately. Work, school, music class, gym, grocery store. Repeat. This past weekend we went crazy and saw grandparents on each side. And one of these grandparents might have reminded me that I haven't talked much on the blog recently about Riley and what she's up to. Time to fix that.

Let's just say that I am enjoying her at four years old and am almost afraid to say that in case it brings down a big 'ol curse of the tantrums or something. But really, this age has been good. She still has her moments and seems to be narrowing her palate instead of widening it. Sigh. Also, I didn't know she had the capacity to eat any slower than she did at age three, but it's happened. We even used a timer one night to get her to eat faster which may or may not have created a level of anxiety that we were not trying to add into the mix.

Other than that she has been saying the best things. Recently, when leaving the gym she asked if I would be her best friend. Man, did my heart swell - especially when she agreed to be my best friend too. Jesse walked along side us clearing his voice in a 'what about me way', but Riley didn't fall for that. She declared that only two girls could be best friends. I tried to clear that up, but I think Jesse was just fine with her believing that... at least for now.

We have a 'feel good' jar where we write down what makes us feel good from time to time and then we read them all at the end of the year. Occasionally, I'll ask Riley what makes her feel good and will add it to the jar. Recently, she's started asking us at dinner time "what makes you feel good"? She pretends to write it all down (because you have to name at least 4 things apparently) and then she 'throws' it in the direction of the jar. It's fun to see her embrace this tradition in this way. It makes me feel like she gets what it is about.

Riley's still super into princesses. She still plans on being Ariel princess when she grows up (although this morning she said she was going to grow up to be Kung Fu Panda - go figure) and can often be found wearing her Ariel dress or Cinderella crown around the house. The other night as I was saying good night to her she 'fixed' my hair and 'applied' lipstick on my lips before I could leave the room. When I told her I was going to go show her dad she told me he would have to make me a princess dress, a crown and some princess slippers. Ok. And last night, she 'made' them for me herself.

Riley seems to have a pretty big heart right now - whether it's saying sweet things to us or giving away some of her books for other kids to read - I can't wait to see this in her as she ages. Since she so nicely donated a bunch of books we decided to go to the thrift store to restock. No surprise that out of the 12 or so books we got, four of them were princess books. Princess, princess, princess.

Speaking of books, she has been 'reading' more. Sure, a lot of it is her memorizing words or the story itself (how do kids remember so much - if my brain only had that capacity now), but it's coming together for her. We bought some more flash cards and videos that teach her phonetics on top of the sight words she's learned. We're not trying to force the reading thing, but she is so interested in that we are encouraging her to learn more as long as she is open to it. She requests to watch the videos frequently and usually wants to attempt to read a book or two at bedtime. If she's not feeling up to 'reading' herself she will just demand to read certain words like 'princess' and 'Rapunzel'.

Riley and I recently went on a lunch and shopping date and it reminded me how much older she's gotten... and how silly she is. She had me cracking up at her goofiness, but I was also very proud of her good behavior. I need to make a better effort to go out with just her as I could tell that time together was pretty special to her - a little one on one time with mommy.

Visiting 'friends' at Old Navy

So that's what's been happening lately. One of these days I hope to be able to give updates about how we rode our bikes outside or drew pictures with sidewalk chalk, but in the meantime my best friend and I will probably just be snuggled up in bed reading books to each other.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Camera collection

Recently, I decided to take a picture of a new camera in my camera collection. It got me to thinking that I should take pictures of all my camera's. It would be a good way to document my collection and a good way to practice with my newest camera.

I started collecting camera's innocently enough. I saw one at an estate sale, and then at a church garage sale, and then my dad gave me one that had been in the family for some time. I loved the thought that these old cameras had captured a moment in time for someone else. They weren't just camera's - they held some secret history that I would never know, but could only imagine. As someone who has a degree in psychology and sort of regrets not exploring anthropology more, it shouldn't be surprising that I was interested in the people behind these objects.

I've never been one to collect 'stuff' and never set out for these to be a collection, but once it started it was hard to pass up a camera when I came across one at a sale of some sort. I might have a bigger collection if I was still stopping at estate sales and the like, but life sometimes leads us in other directions.

That doesn't mean that I stopped adding camera's to my collection. You see, once people identify that you have a collection they want to add to it as well. I had a former roommate who once mentioned that he thought penguins were cute and years later he couldn't get his loved ones to stop buying him penguins. Penguins were everywhere in my basement. Sort of related... he now owns this super cool company that sells must have items for your pet and was just featured on the Today show. I digress, but I feel like I can say 'I knew him when...".

When I graduated from grad school a friend gave me a few cameras. It was really touching since it wasn't well known that I had a camera collection, but he knew me well. That's what friends do.

Years later a coworker gave me a camera of her father's. He had just passed away so I was hesitant to take it, but she said she wanted it with someone who would appreciate it. I was so humbled by this - I don't think she really knows how much that meant to me. (It's currently in that brown leather case in the first picture above. I recently took it out and I think it might actually have film in it. I must look into this! How cool would it be to find old pictures and be able to give them to my coworker who happens to never stop genuinely smiling. She's the best.)

Recently, my birth sister mentioned that she had been collecting camera's and asked if I wanted them. Of course! I mean, my camera collection was still within reason. I could still fit them all into one cabinet which made my minimalist husband tolerate a 'collection'. They weren't taking over the house yet so when my birth mom gave me the camera's a few weekends ago I was happy to bring them home, clean them up, and add them to the shelves.

And now the cabinet is full. Very full. Except I was also offered some camera's from a friend I haven't seen in awhile. Seems like a good excuse to get together. I mean, we haven't seen each other in years.... and connecting on Facebook doesn't really count.

I may have to get another cabinet.

There's a bed and breakfast in Stillwater, MN - The Elephant Walk. The owner is a collector of old camera's and I was able to see her private quarters and how she had them displayed on a shelf about a foot down from the ceiling that ran the perimeter of the room. I don't have the house for that, but I loved it and it's always stayed with me as a 'maybe one day...'. On a side note, totally go to this bed and breakfast. Rita and Mike run this charming place and are fantastic. Rita's deceased husband was an ambassador so much of the decor comes from around the world. This isn't a little Victorian B and B (not that there is anything wrong with those places, they're just not for me). I'd love to go back and show my husband because I think he'd really like it, but since I went there twice with an ex it would be a little odd. Wouldn't it? Since I might never get the chance to go back you should. Breakfast alone is worth it.

And I digress again...

I know people have differing opinions on cameras and the role they play in our lives. Years ago when I was traveling around Europe I met a guy traveling on his own that didn't believe in camera's. "I keep all the memories in my head", he said. Perhaps my excuse is having a terrible memory, but I couldn't imagine life without the ability to freeze a moment or two in time.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The hair salon is open...

Riley's been sick with a cold and even though she's in a fairly good mood you can tell it's getting to her. She also went to bed late and got up early so even though we lost a hour last night, this morning has felt like it's gone on forever. I suggested a she do my hair (partly so I had an excuse to just sit there) and she embraced this task fully.

The hair master in action

Every single one of her barrettes minus 4

4 barrettes for her hair (1 is on the other side)

We also played train this morning

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Planning for Luxembourg

We might be crazy. Seriously crazy, because we've decided to travel to Europe with a 4 year. Oh, and it's her first flight. Ever. We thought about getting in a quick flight to Chicago or somewhere for a long weekend trip and to introduce Riley to the flight process, but it didn't happen. So here we are planning for our first big trip with Riley in May.

Random excited picture of Riley.

We were actually going to go to Luxembourg last September, but then decided to move Riley from an in-home daycare to preschool and thought that might be a bad idea - adding too many new things at once. You might wonder why we are so set on traveling to Europe with a preschooler. Well, my husband's brother and his family moved there almost 2 years ago. It seems like the perfect excuse to go over there and yet I've worried that maybe we should wait until Riley is a little older for her to really appreciate it. However, I think she will do fine, even if I am freaking out a little about how the actual travel will go and how the time change will impact us (especially Riley).

The first thing we did to make this vacation seem real is to apply for Riley's passport. Jesse and I are good (at least for a few more years) with our passports, but Riley certainly needed one. I was feeling a little overwhelmed with all the things on my plate so I asked Jesse to take on the passport stuff. I had started it, but things had changed since I first started doing my research so I am glad he took this project on. DMV's no longer do this so you have to go to city hall or the post office and both parents have to be there. We had to make an appointment which worked out well because we were in and out really fast. Riley did great with posing for her picture and even though I had to re-fill out the paperwork because Jesse used blue ink instead of black it still went really fast. However, we just got a letter that her passport picture was overexposed and we would need to send in a new one. Especially irritating since we paid $40 at City Hall to have them take it. So now we have to find some time to go back and have them retake it. Annoying.

Then we bought our tickets which really sealed the deal. When we walked out of city hall after applying for Riley's passport Riley was ready to get on the plane to see her cousins, but getting some dates for our trip was helpful in creating a timeline for her. We showed her on a calendar so she would have a better idea of when we left, but what really helped her was explaining it in terms of the weather change. We told her the snow would have to melt that the grass would start to grow... although in MN we could have a snow storm in May so who knows. But she gets the concept so that's what matters.

Next up is planning. Since we have peeps who live there they have the inside scoop on what to check it. Even so we decided to order a Lonely Planet guide. I know everything is accessible on the internet these days, but there is something about having one of these guides that adds to the excitement of a trip. Plus, everything is organized right there for you. We do have some wish list items such as checking out a castle, maybe going to Brussels or Paris, or even someplace in Germany, a wine tasting tour, and maybe a date night with the hubby. A date night would be awesome. There are also a fair amount of cool interactive parks in the Luxembourg area that will be great to bring Riley too.

It's nice that we have a place to stay and don't have to worry about that, but we need to think about things like "what car seat is required in Luxembourg"? Also, Riley can often skip her nap so that will make planning a little easier, but I don't think she will handle 10 days without a nap and a significant time change all that great so we will have to deal with that adjustment.

Speaking of sleep, our flight leaves at 7:30ish PM. I thought this was great as I hoped that meant Riley would sleep for most of the flight. And then I remembered that I don't sleep well on flights at all. Years ago when I flew to Milan I decided that I would sleep 1 hour the night before I left and then hoped to sleep on my flight and that this would all help me feel right with the time change once there. Yeah, that didn't work - especially since I was on three different flights. My last leg was the longest and I got a little sleep, but certainly not enough (also: I woke from that slight nap with a bunch of drool running down my chin. I'm sure the hot Italian guy sitting next to me thought that was charming). There are no direct flights to Luxembourg so we will be making a stop (around 3 AM our time) in Amsterdam for two and a half hours before the last 1 hour flight to our destination.

Anyhoo, I have a number of thoughts on how to make this flight and time change more bearable, but would love to hear from other parents who have traveled with their kids... even if it wasn't international travel. We have an iPad, books, coloring stuff, games, snacks etc. My husband has the PSP Vita that should keep him somewhat occupied. I sort of wish we had a laptop too, but I can't justify buying one just for this trip. We do have a portable DVD player, but it only stays charged for 1.5 hours so I'm not sure it's worth lugging with us.

I know every kid is different, but what has worked for you when traveling? What are must have/do items that I just can't forget? Also, if you've been to Luxembourg any places that you would recommend checking out?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Happy Birthday Birth Grandma Val

I've had the chance to see both sides of my birth family recently and it reminded me that I was planning on putting together a post about being adopted. And then I remembered why I never finished it - I couldn't decide on a cohesive way to share it without it becoming a huge novel about my entire life. I was obviously making it into something bigger than it needed to be so instead I've decided to do a Q and A of sorts about how it came to be that I was adopted, how I feel about being adopted, how I made the decision to find my birth family, meeting them, and what life is like now. I have quite a few 'questions' I will be asking myself, but if there is anything in particular you are curious about feel free to leave those questions in the comments below and I will make sure to work them in.

As for this post, we went to my birth grandma's 84th birthday party so I thought I would share some pictures from that. 

Riley making her great grandma Val a card.

My birth family lives near Fairmont, MN so it's a couple hour drive for us to go visit. Because of this, we don't see each other a ton and it's really been awhile since I've seen many on my birth mom's side. Many of the guest remarked that the last time they saw us was when Riley was about 6 months old. Whoa, that was awhile ago.

The party was at my birth brother's house. Andy, his wife, Amy, and son, Blake, live in the old family farm house, but they have done extensive renovations to it so it's pretty much a new house. It was the first time I was able to visit them at their home and it was great to finally see their place and hear stories from my birth mom, Linda, about the house when she lived in it as a young girl.

Also exciting for Riley was getting another birthday gift. She's going to start thinking that her birthday lasts a month and in fact told the crowd that her birthday was the day before. We're still working on that concept of time, obviously. At any rate, she received her very first Barbie. Not sure how I feel about it. I don't like some things about Barbie (body image stuff), but Barbie was a big part of my childhood. I won't be able to shelter her from the body image stuff because it is everywhere. I can work on helping her know how to interpret it and be confident in who she is. Doesn't mean I will run out and buy her a ton of Barbie stuff or that I won't cringe at the super short dress Barbie was wearing, but I will let her enjoy this toy for what it is... a toy.

The afternoon was filled with eating, catching up, playing games, and even Skyping with my birth sister, Megan.

Andy recently finished an addition above the garage - a man cave of sorts. It included a large tv, games, and Andy's trophies (he races cars). Jesse was a little in heaven when he saw the video game and pinball machine. He's never been one to want to stay a long time at any family event, but he jokingly told me we could stay as long as I wanted once he saw this room.

My birth sister, Megan has been living in Senegal, Africa for about the last year and a half working for the Peace Corps. She's contracted until next December and has been writing about her experience here. Having the entire family together seemed like a good time to Skype and catch up. We talked about all sorts of things, but of course the weather was a 'hot' topic since it was below zero in MN, but about 100 degrees in Senegal. Yuck for both these extremes.

Riley really enjoyed herself since she found a little playmate that was about her age. She and Drew ran around the house and had an especially good time with Blake's lego set up. Note to Blake: sorry, but you might have to rebuild a thing or two.

Whoa Barbie, looks like we need to teach you how to cross those legs.

Of course, I had to get a bunch of pictures since I don't see this side of my family that often... and sneak in a picture of Jesse. I actually have a number of these pictures of him looking out a window - I could make it a series, I suppose.

A couple of my aunts with cousin's kids.

Riley with my birth mom.

Three generations

Riley had a ton of fun so I was a little worried that she would have a hard time leaving,but she did pretty good. Maybe it was because Jesse and I prepared her about 20 times. She was a gracious guest and said goodbye to the whole crowd before we headed on our way. Such a nice visit with family.

With her cousin, Blake.