Family, 2015

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Drawing I did of Veronica as a child.

 

Family is an interesting thing.  We’re all aware that it’s not just who’s married to whom, and who shared bloodlines.  It’s far more complex–and, simultaneously, simple-than that.

I’m adopted, first of all.  When I was two-and-a-half years old, in the fall of 1968, I was adopted from foster care into the Olson home.  I was Leonard and Leone’s only child (they’d lost a baby at birth nine years before I was born), and they were in their middle forties, and both professionals.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson.  September, 1969.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson. September, 1969.

I hit the jackpot on families!  No one could ask for more loving, more dedicated parents. I am grateful, daily, for my upbringing.

Also, I’ve been married twice.

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First husband and me, 1994, St. Cloud, MN

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Justin and me, 2007, Clear Lake, MN

My first marriage was ill-advised, but I deeply loved my husband, and altogether we were together ten years. Shortly after he and I began dating i n 1988, he found out he was going to be a father.  The child’s mother was a high school friend of his, Beth, with whom he’d kept up a friendship, and they’d celebrated his birthday that year, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. To make a long, long, story short, he has not been the world’s best father but I lucked out in our divorce, in 1998, and got to “keep” the kid–well, Veronica, his daughter, lived with her mother, obviously, but Beth was wonderful enough to allow me to remain in Veronica’s life.  As Beth aptly put it–I still remember what she said, and how I cried for happiness–“You love her, she loves you.”

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Veronica at Aunt Geeney’s house, 1992

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Veronica at her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1995

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Veronica and her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1996.

 

 

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Veronica at Twin Cities Gay Pride with her father and me, circa 1996.

There were a few family reunions–my ex-husband’s family, mind you–that were non-traditional.  I’ve stayed in contact with my former in-laws, and they’ve accepted my current husband without any problem. I do distinctly recall one summer gathering, at my in-law’s family homestead farm, where sitting together in a row on a picnic table were Veronica, Beth, me, and my now-current husband, Justin.  A few distant relatives, not knowing all the ins and outs, asked how we were family; this led to very interesting answers.  “Well, I used to be married to your cousin, see, and this wonderful girl is his daughter and this is her mother and his old friend.  Oh, and this is my boyfriend…”

Beth, Veronica, Justin, and I have vacationed together (Yay, Duluth!).  When asked, simply saying “family” supplies all the information anyone really needs.

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Brighton Beach, north of Duluth, 2006

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Veronica, Park Point (Duluth), 2006

Skip forward several more years, and Veronica’s now nearly 26 years old.  She lives in Sacramento, holds a Master’s Degree in public policy, and is doing great work on behalf of many people in the capital city of California.  She’s brilliant, funny, creative, and everyone’s dream of a daughter, stepdaughter, or former stepdaughter. I’m honored to have her in my life, and further honored to be friends (family?) with her mother.

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Veronica in Germany, 2006ish.

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Veronica and friend Angela, St. Cloud Java Joint, early 2000s.

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Veronica at Mills, freshman year.

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Veronica and proud mother Beth, Graduation from St. Paul Open School, 2007.

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A favorite picture of Veronica.

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Veronica at Mills. (I’ve edited the wall message for public consumption…)

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Trivia Party, 2007, St. Cloud

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Veronica’s going-off-to-college party, George Street, St. Paul, August 2007.

All this to say that while Veronica was still in junior high and high school in St. Paul, and Justin and I lived in Marshall, MN (four hours from them), our gatherings were looked forward to, and we always had the best of times with hilarious and scholarly discussions on pop culture, literature, current events, politics, childrearing, education, music, and, well, anything.  Games would be played (Wizard of Bees!). We’d eat good food (well, if we visited St. Paul, that is, rather than they visiting Marshall).  Libations would occur.  We’d go home with our bellies hurting from the laughter.

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Veronica, Beth, Justin

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Justin, Bindu, Veronica: St. Paul, circa 2008

 

Additionally, there was the annual KVSC Trivia Contest.  Veronica has played on our team (Those Meddling Kids, then WWSD) via phone when she was young, then in person from adolescence onward.  Beth now plays with us, too, though a latecomer compared with Veronica.

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Trivia nap…circa maybe 2008?

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Trivia, circa 2006

 

Since Veronica left to go to college in California in 2007, our group gatherings have been limited to summers (when she still came home, which ended a while back) and, currently, at Christmas, when Veronica still makes the trek home to Minnesota to see friends and family (and likely organize everything in sight, as she’s wont to do).  While we can connect on facebook and via email and twitter all year, Justin and I very much look forward to when the four of us (now five, as Beth is partnered with Aaron, who’s a terrific addition!) can get together.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Which we did this past Friday.  In the Twin Cities.

Theses were written on the implications of Breaking Bad and Fight Club.  Second wave feminism butted against third wave, as it normally does in our gatherings.  We spent a good forty-five minutes discussing whether “mansplaining” was appropriate or obsfucating.  Knitting occurred.  There were liters and liters of coffee drunk. Snacking and eating in interesting establishments happened (Longfellow Grill, Peace Cafe, Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar) . There was disagreement on The Decemberists (Veronica votes Nay, Karla votes Yay) and The Shins (Karla votes Yay, Veronica votes Meh).  Presents were exchanged.  Dogs were fed (and pigdogs carried…). There were hugs.

And, my God, the laughter.  Open-mouthed, head back, full-throated laughter.  The absolute best part of being with these people.

I love my family. And how I look forward to these Christmas get-togethers!

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Veronica and Justin, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

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Beth and Veronica, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

 

Gratitude 2014

I wrote a couple of years ago about being grateful, but it’s high time I revisited this destination. It’s imperative for happiness, for perspective.

In the intervening time since that blog post, I’ve lost my mother to Alzheimer’s, my father’s moved into Assisted Living, two of our cats have passed on (Muffin and Frodo), and we’re in the middle of a fight to keep our house (legal battle with the County over Medicaid assistance for Dad).

I painted Mom's nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

I painted Mom’s nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

 

 

Frodo, near the end of his illness.

Frodo, near the end of his illness.

 

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Muffin, my mother’s cat

 

Additionally, I’ve had surgery this year on my foot, keeping me immobile for a long time, then in a walking cast and on a scooter. Health concerns continue, unabated. Financial issues, as with everyone, seem to only worsen.  Justin and I have often thought that 2014 has *not* been our year.

Ouch

Ouch

 

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

 However, attitude is everything.

While I miss my mother terribly, and Alzheimer’s is the worst disease in the world, as far as I’m concerned (I once heard it described on NPR as a disease in which the victim watches as her own brain is eaten away), she was more than ready to go, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be by her side, holding her hand, as she took her last breath.  She lived a full and happy and interesting life, and left a massive legacy through her teaching.

Dad seems very happy in Assisted Living, and is getting healthier in some ways even as his age is slowly taking away other things.  He’s ninety-one, now, but still enjoying living.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

 

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

 

Dad this week on Christmas.

Dad this week on Christmas.

We miss Muffin and Frodo immensely, yet we’ve acquired both Pixel and Hershel in the last several months. Part of owning cats is acknowledging that lives are finite, and grief is inevitable.  We do it because the pain is worth it.

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Pixel

 

Hershel

Hershel

 

Our legal fight is hugely stressful, and we still don’t have final results, yet for the time being we have a roof over our heads and are enjoying our property.  And as Justin and I keep saying, “You, me, and the kitties; that’s all we need.  We can face anything else.” We don’t want to have to, but we can if we need to. Us and the kitties: that’s home.

While the surgery and recovery were problematic, I’m walking and living without the daily excruciating pain that I’d had in my foot for over three years due to arthritis and bone spurs shredding tendons.  Every month, I’m walking easier and easier!

And finances?  Well, hell…that’s just the human condition (unless you’re one of the 1%). We’re both employed. We have a place to live (at least for now, LOL). We have plenty to eat. Everything else is gravy, when you really think about it!

Hershel’s story (written elsewhere) has done a lot to restore my faith in mankind, and to bring back smiles and hope.

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

My husband is the best person on the planet, in my opinion, and I’m grateful daily to share my life with him. And while we didn’t have snow for Christmas, we did get some the next day…it’s beautiful outside.

 

 

 

Snowblowing.

Snowblowing.

 

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin likes coffee.

Justin likes coffee.

 

I love my husband.

I love my husband.

 

Justin with Wednesday Cat.

Justin with Wednesday Cat.

 

Here’s to seeing 2014 out–perhaps none too soon, but maybe I’m giving it a bad rap–and ushering a bright, beautiful, bountiful 2015 in.  

May we all have plenty to be grateful for in the coming year.

 

Outside our front door just now.

Outside our front door just now.

 

 

 

Justin’s Blog, and Why We Do This (But No Answers).

My husband has started blogging again.  Here’s my initial response:

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He writes, in his Christening piece, the following:

So, here’s the first thing; I’m not very good at this. Oh, I can navel-gaze and wool-gather with the very best of them.  If worry was a super power I could be an X-Man.  It’s just that I have not, up til the present day, been very good at keeping a record of it.  I have more than a couple of paper bound journals lying around the house with three entries in them. Digital culture and social media have been very helpful with this– I have moved through all of the platforms as they have come and gone.  I have a Myspace out there (watch out for squatters nobody’s been there in a while), Facebook, and Twitter. Of these Twitter has been most useful because it appeals to my lack of attention span.  So, while I have every good intention of keeping this going–I have to tell you this is not my first blog.

This makes me ponder the nature the navel gazing, why we do this. Even when no one is reading (or when lots of people are).  Are we justifying ourselves?  Are we marking time?  Are we reminding ourselves that time passes? Are we connecting with others?  Are we sending our brainwaves out into the universe to bounce off planets and nebulae billions of light-years away?

Are we selfish? Self-absorbed?

Are we too uncommitted to publish “real” literature?  🙂

In any case, it’s probably all the above. So what the Hell.

Happy 2015. Ours is likely going to be a blogging household.  I have three blogs (my others, besides this one, include my school blog as I blog with my kids, and our new Hershel the Christmas Cat blog).  One desktop, two iPads, two smartphones…no waiting.

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My husband, always so very serious. He needs to lighten up.

 

Grateful

(Crossposted from my School Blog, 11-20-12)

I love Thanksgiving. Not because of the old stories about pilgrims and Natives sitting down together, although that’s a nice story, but because I love that we set aside a day of the year to really take stock of what we have, how lucky we are, and how some of our (my?!?) complaining is, well, overdone. I think it’s a wonderful day to notice all the good things that surround us, and to tell the people in our lives how grateful we are.

First and foremost, I’m grateful for my husband. He’s also my best friend, the one person I want to share everything with, the person who always manages to make me laugh, the guy who takes care of me, my partner in all things, and the person I trust most in the world. I cannot even imagine my life without him, and I hope I never have to find out. Over fourteen years together, and it only gets better.

Wedding!

I’m grateful that despite their health problems, both my parents are still alive, at age 88 and 89. I’ve been blessed to have been adopted and raised by such loving people, such generous and demanding and wonderful people. I was adopted at age two-and-a half, from foster care, and again, I hit the jackpot.

Just adopted

I’m grateful for extended family…much of which might not be traditional. I’m thankful for Veronica, my stepdaughter from my first marriage, who’s the most awesome nearly-24-year-old I know. She’s going to run the world one day, starting with California.

Veronica

My family also includes my cats, present and past. I’m grateful for Ella, Frodo, Litha, Wednesday, and Muffin, and all the cuddles, scratches, surprise dead mice, and purrs they provide me.

I’m thoroughly thankful for my job, which I love. Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done–and continues to be–but also the best thing I’ve ever done. It was a career change in my 30s that brought me here, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I may tear my hair out at times, I may cry over things I cannot change, I may hate the long hours and the grading, but how lucky am I that I get paid to discuss literature? To laugh every day at the wonderful things kids say, and do? To see the world, daily, through young people’s eyes? To be part of learning, and books, and writing, and reading, and poetry, and all the things I love, for a living? Wow. I’m so very lucky. And lucky to be able to teach in an interesting place with great diversity, lots of personality, and some of the best people I’ve ever met!

While I have a host of health problems that make daily life…difficult, let’s say, I have to remember that it could always be worse. I’m alive. I’m mobile. I have good doctors, and the ability to see them and get the medications I need. As a former doctor said, I must have nine lives…and I intend to live all of them, fully. I’m thankful to be here and as healthy as I am, in spite of it all.

I’m grateful for all the good friends I have, and have had, in my life. What a wide variety of characters they are: creative, idiosyncratic, imaginative, humorous, intense, driven, aggravating, interesting, and provocative. I love this motley crew!

I’m grateful to have a nice place to live, in a nice town, with more than enough. Compared to most of the world, I live like Royalty. I’m grateful to have moved to a part of the world that agrees with me, and I’m grateful for my hundreds of trees, my backyard wildlife, and a place to call “home.”

I’m a terrifically lucky person, and I think I need more than one day a year to stand up and say “Thank you!” to all of this!

A Walk in the Woods

I’m 46, I’m fat, I’m sedentary, and I have a gazillion health problems.

For years, I’ve viewed my body as my enemy, or at the very minimum a foreign entity with which I’m saddled against my will.  Not a healthy perspective.  Moving has helped a great deal–I’m not sure how I can explain the connection between my self-concept and my immediate environment, so you’ll just have to take me on faith that the ground I walk on is important to me, as is the view from my window and the smell in the air. Now that I’m surrounded by trees, smelling pine, I’m happier.

But I’m still 46, fat, sedentary, with health problems…and possible more surgery upcoming (but I won’t think about that now, because it may not happen).

For a couple of years, I’ve had the pipe dream that I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. Not all 2100 miles of it, certainly not at once, but *part* of it. Even a small part. For someone with my health conditions, as dependent as I am on pharmacology multiple times a day to keep living, that’s a big pipe dream.  Lately, I’ve decided, against all conventional wisdom, that I’ll do it. A hundred miles a year, maybe.  Starting (as we all like milestones) the summer after I turn fifty.

Which gives me four years to slim down, get in shape, try to get rid of some of the medicines I need (or least find ones lightweight and easy to pack…), and learn what I need to learn to not die the first five miles.

I’m very, very excited. Seriously excited.

Aside from just reading books (another blog entry, that one) and looking at maps, I’ve had to start, well, *walking*. Not quite hiking yet (although I have hiking sticks with me), but at least forward motion, not on pavement, for more than a few minutes at a time.  Another good thing about my move is that there are gazillions of hiking trails in my area, not least of which is a series of trails many miles long, of varying difficulty levels, practically out my front door.  Seriously.

I’ve gone out walking a few times now, and this week I set a new goal: I need to get at least a half-hour of exercise in, every five days out of seven, minimum. So far so good.  Aside from walking, I have big plans of joining the golf course here and taking up golf (after twenty-five freaking years), and getting my canoe water-ready and in the Rum River which is a block from my house.

My first few attempts were wonderful disasters.  Wonderful in that I felt awesome and walked and walked and walked and walked–for two hours or more–which left FibroGirl here *wasted* for days and days afterward, barely able to breathe. It feels so good at the time, I don’t feel like stopping.  But I’m learning.  I need to build. (Note: it’s not muscle-pain that slays me–there’s not even a whole lot of that–but absolute exhaustion, mental and physical, that is the fallout in fibro, and the deep, chronic, non-muscle-strain type of pain that is debilitating.)

My short terms goals are simple: by this upcoming autumn, I hope to be able to walk for a day (a few hours, with breaks) with a small pack with lunch, without wiping out my whole week. And lose 50 pounds.

By next summer, I hope to have lost another 50 pounds and by the following autumn, be able to weekend hike to walk-in camp sites, with full pack.

I’ll worry about further goals leading up to the AT (I figure three weeks’ worth at a time, every summer, for that) later.  These first ones, first. And if takes me longer, who cares.  I’m not going to fret about that.  As thruhikers on the AT tend to say, “Hike your own hike.” This is me, doing something for me, on MY damn time.

In order to help me forward with my goals, I plan to blog fairly regularly about my hikes, with photos.  I’ve already made lists of places nearby (within an hour or two of home) to hike on weekends this summer, and I want to keep it interesting.  I want the hikes themselves to be worthy, not just a means to an end. I want to live in the present while I’m preparing for the future.

To begin, some pictures and notes from walks (hikes) already taken this spring, in and around Milaca, MN and Onamia, MN:

Hike #1: March, 2012.

This was the day we discovered the trails just across the road from us.  It was an unseasonably warm day in March, not covered in snow (but only patches) because this spring has been so weird, and we set out to see what was up Riverside Drive across the highway from us.  We found, first of all, a gorgeous, hilly, expansive cemetery, and secondly, paths from it to all over the place.  This particular day we chose to walk down to town via the path over the Rum River, to Rec Park,  then across town to my mother’s nursing home for a visit.

Justin, on the road leading up to what will be new discoveries for us:

Justin, Riverside Drive Milaca, March 11, 2012

Forest Hill Cemetery, MilacaMilaca Trails

 

Bridge from cemetery to Rec Park, over the Rum River

Hike #2: April, 2012.

We walked up to the cemetery again, but decided to take the paths west from it to see where they went.  There are many categories of trails here…miles and miles of them…but they all start here.  We walked around a slough, through some woods and bogs, to the river, and back again via a stand of pines. We walked for hours, and it was incredibly pleasant. I’d forgotten my walking stick, however, and only grabbed a branch partway through.  Not a mistake I’ll likely make again.

Milaca Trails Map

Discovering new paths!

Rum River

 

Hike #3: April 23, 2012.

Took the Milaca trails again, but this time on a different route, one that resulted in very up-and-down, hilly, densely wooded trails, and our getting lost, basically, not knowing the way back.  It was hella fun, though, and we did make it back after a couple of hours.  Wiped me out, but was pretty darn worth it!

 

Off we go! With walking sticks!

 

Smile! We're walking!

 

 

Hike #4: April 24, 2012.

Onamia, MN, is on the Soo Line Trail, a long ATV/bike trail that runs from Genoa, MN (southwest of Onamia) to Superior, Wisconsin, over 114 miles away. Across Highway #169 in Onamia, the the Soo crosses via an immense bridge, and I’d always wanted to walk over it.  S o, we started in the heart of town and followed it out a way, on a warm, sunny afternoon, and returned.  I want to do various sections of this trail, too; preferably in the woods.

 

Overpass on Highway #169, Onamia

 

Onamia

Hike #5: April 28, 2012 (today!).

I had the idea to go to Riverside Park in Milaca and check it out, which we did…but a walking wonderland, it’s not.  Great for picnics, or landing your canoe, and would be fantastic for frisbee.  So, after walking the river as far as we could, we headed back to the Milaca trail system and did the “red” (difficult”) section again, for about an hour.  Lots of up and down, lots of trees, and since today was very cold and overcast, it was, at times, nearly spooky…but that only added to the fun.

 

 

Canoe landing, Riverside Park, Milaca MN

Riverside Park

Into the Woods, Milaca Trails

 

Mushrooms, anyone?

 

I. Love. Forest. And Justin...

 

Trestle bridge over the Rum.