Thailand, Day 1

Leaving…We left the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. We arrived at the airport early for a flight that would take us to Chicago for our international flight.

Our flight to Chicago got cancelled. We got 5 inches of snow overnight, not a big deal. Chicago got the snow during the day. All small flights into Chicago were cancelled.

We were several hours from the airport and our flight was cancelled. What were we going to do?? Thankfully the answer arrived in less than a half an hour in the form of a coach bus. Good thing we got to the airport really early. Otherwise we might have missed the bus altogether. I was also thankful the Packers were not in the Super Bowl this year. We probably wouldn’t have been able to find a sober bus driver in the whole state!

I dressed for warm weather but the wind chills were below zero. I couldn’t wait for the 100 degree temperature change. I think I was going to enjoy Thailand’s cold season better than ours. It wasn’t until we were on the road for an hour that we finally got some heat on the bus. I didn’t bother wearing or packing a winter jacket or pants. Because, well…Thailand.

I was afraid that I forgot something. I must’ve checked my passport a million times. It was still there. What is it about leaving that tricks your mind into thinking that something important was forgotten??

We made it to the airport in Chicago with a few hours to spare. We spent 45 minutes in line just to go through security. Then a few minutes after midnight, we entered the biggest plane I’ve ever seen and were off on our adventure.

I fell into a medicated sleep for the first 5 hours. I awoke having to use the bathroom. But the guy next to me was asleep and barely spoke any English. I held it as long as I could. Then I tapped the man beside me on the shoulder. He still didn’t wake up. It was an awkward situation.

After that I couldn’t sleep. We were in the economy section. I couldn’t justify the extra couple thousands of dollars on comfort. My body was stiff, sore, and tired. I watched 3 movies…Mother!, It, and The Bad Mom’s Christmas. All except the last movie sucked. I’ve never sat still long enough in my life to watch 3 movies in a day.

After 16 hours on the plane, we finally landed in Taiwan for a short layover. The flight was smooth and I really didn’t feel afraid. I didn’t freak out. I might have gotten over my fear of flying!

Then back on the plane again for another 4 hours…

We arrived in Thailand late Tuesday morning.

I’m leaving

In about 24 hours I will be packing my bags and leaving this cold climate behind. I’ll be visiting a climate that is 100 degrees hotter than mine.

I will finish cleaning the house and doing loads of laundry. Soon I will create a packing list. I’m afraid of leaving something behind, something obvious like a camera or my passport. Don’t laugh, I’ve done things like that before. I packed a suitcase for my husband once and forgot underwear. The good news, my husband never asked me to pack his suitcase again. Last year my husband went on a sailing trip and forgot to pack any shirts.

We will be on an airplane for a total of almost 21 hours. 21 hours!!! The longest I’ve been on a plane is 6 hours and that freaked me out. We are heading to Thailand tomorrow and checking our first continent (outside of our own) off our bucket list.

What is it about traveling that makes everyone tell you about their horror story flights? Or bring up terrorists? Or plane crashes? The TV show Lost??

I’m not sure how I will handle the flight. I always have this irrational fear that I am going to start screaming on a plane. Kind of like the time I went on a roller coaster that was too much for me. I am afraid of being out of control.  I certainly won’t have any control over the plane. It makes me feel trapped.

Thankfully I have medication for that. I am going to start a stop watch on my phone after I take my medicine. A stop watch seems kind of creepy though. I don’t know any other way to keep track of time after skipping so many time zones. The last thing I want to do is OD on a plane. Yes, I suffer from chronic worry.

Since we are leaving Chicago right after midnight maybe I will sleep. But I sleep on planes like I sleep in the hospital. How can I sleep sitting straight up? Plus there is always noise…dinging from announcements, other people, hospital emergencies with a little turbulence thrown in..I always wondered why they hand out peanuts on planes. Don’t a lot of people have serious allergies to peanuts??

There is a 12 hour time change for us in Thailand. I am excited to finally see the world, it’s just the getting there that sucks! Sitting still and relaxing are not my things. Now if they had a treadmill on the plane…The more nervous I am, the more I want to move. I try not to let fear stop me. There is nothing like flying 21 hours one way to confront my fear of flying.

Paul and I are going to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We will be visiting with our old neighbors, and going on a tour. I promise to take lots of pictures and keep a journal. This will probably be the last time you hear from me for awhile. But I promise to tell you about it when we get back.

This will be the first time we are away from family and work for this long. We have family staying with the kids every night. The last time we went away things didn’t go very well. The dog tore up the linoleum in the bathroom. Alex got a rash and thought he had bedbugs (thankfully we didn’t). I expect the house to be trashed and a pile of work waiting for me when I get back.

But I think that having a break will be worth whatever we come back home to. I will try my hardest not to worry and to relax. It might be so nice that we won’t want to come back home..

The ice shove

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As you may have guessed, running and writing are two of my favorite hobbies.

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I also love photography and traveling. Unfortunately, I can’t do the last two hobbies as often as the first two. I could take pictures of everyday mundane life and selfies galore. But that bores me. So why wouldn’t it bore you??

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I didn’t have to travel far to get a few pictures of the ice shove on the bay of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. Even local friends asked where I was off to this time…Alaska? Antarctica?? No, just my beautiful home state.

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You really should consider booking a visit. Summer is the best time. But as you can see, winter is beautiful here too. Today the wind chills are only in the single digits below zero. So it is warming up out there!

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The ice shove is 20 feet high. This is the biggest ice shove I’ve seen in my lifetime. It took some really nasty weather conditions to make this. Thankfully the beauty that resulted lasted longer than the storm. Kind of like real life sometimes…

The first and last generation to listen??

The other day I watched a heartwarming video about kids that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. It started out with a cute little blip about surviving bike rides without helmets and drinking water out of hoses. Then it ended with a comment that went something like this…we were the last generation to listen to our parents and the first generation to listen to our children.

Wait…What??

Everything before that last statement was obvious. Yes, we rode bikes without helmets and drank water out of a hose…but the last statement really made me think. Could it be true??

Remember growing up in the 70’s and 80’s (if you did)? Remember when kids sporting events had parent night? Think about it. Why would they do that? On those nights parents would attend their childrens games.

Today’s parents sometimes even go to practices! That never would’ve happened in the 70’s or 80’s.

My younger brothers rode their bikes 10 miles one way into town with a group of friends for Little League practices and games when they were in grade school (without helmets…gasp…). That was not an uncommon practice.

Are we an over involved generation of parents? It the pendulum swinging back the other way from having under involved parents?

Or is it just easier to be over involved? Our kids can text us with any little problem that they have during the school day. I can fix that for you. My son texted me this week that he had a flat tire. Do you need me to come help? I never bothered my parents during the school day unless I had to call home sick. If my car broke down, hopefully I had a flashlight with me or the stranger answered the door when I knocked. We had to solve most of our problems by ourselves. 

I can tell where my teens are by pushing a button on my phone. I can get instant notifications about their grades. I can peer directly into their social media world. I can’t think of another time in history when there has been such a big gap between generations.

It is hard to put restrictions on our children’s technology when they know more about it than we do.

But were we the last generation to listen to our parents? I honestly don’t think that has changed much. Teens today get such a bad rap. How would you like someone in your business all day long? I think most teens listen just fine.

Although I do think parents have less control over their kids. Parents are looked down upon for disciplining their children, yet are also looked down upon when their kids are acting up. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

I simply think that most kids are spoiled because we give give give way too much. We care too much. We fix things too much. We won’t let them work out their own problems because we know about them as they are happening and troubleshoot them with our kids.

Are we the first generation that listens to our children? Probably. My mother was raised to be seen and not heard. She tried to break that pattern with us. We did talk a lot, but I couldn’t imagine telling her half the stuff my kids tell me.

I have had very some very open and non-judgmental conversations with my older kids about some difficult topics such as sex, drugs, drinking…you name it. Guess what? Sometimes I don’t like what I hear. But I think it is important to keep the lines of communication open and offer them guidance.

I haven’t had as many conversations with my youngest yet. Although Arabella is 14, she hasn’t started dating or even tried drugs or drinking except for the small glass of champagne I gave her recently when we were celebrating something big.

It is never too early to talk. Last year Arabella had a friend that was very depressed after coming out of the closet with a few close friends. She is still afraid to tell her parents. I found out about it before her parents did because my daughter was worried about her friend and needed someone to talk to. Also, my daughter had another friend that tried to kill herself this week. These kids are only in their early teens.

Does talking to your kids prevent bad things from happening? Does it stop them from going down the wrong path? Does it prevent you from getting a phone call that you would never want to get? Probably not, but at least they know that I will always be here if they need to talk. It’s the best I can do to help them through it.

 

 

 

 

Rocking the boat

Yesterday I got a call from Sally. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered my phone anyway. Sally was rather distressed. She is the mother of my son’s good friend Grant.

The first thought that came to my mind was…Oh crap, now what did my son do???!?

Sally told me that everyone thinks she is a horrible mother. Her son got four D’s on his report card. He told her that grades really don’t matter. She said that it didn’t make any sense because her daughter was upset that she didn’t get a 4.0. Thank goodness for our overachieving daughters or we would feel like awful parents.

My son has been struggling with his grades since 8th grade. He simply doesn’t care. We tried everything that we could think of doing. We grounded him from his computer, Xbox and friends. That just made his attitude worse and then he totally gave up. It didn’t work at all. He barely slid by without having to retake some classes in the summer. This semester he only got one D, so things are looking up.

I told Sally that I totally understand and that she isn’t a bad mother.

Look at my son! He has a brilliant mind if he applies himself. My husband Paul is a great chess player. I’ve never seen anyone beat him in person. Paul told the kids when they were little that he would buy them a car if they beat him at chess. Alex studied chess, played countless matches online, did tutorials, and joined the chess club at school. He worked hard and finally beat his dad.

Alex is also great at music. Last year he played an incredibly challenging piece for solo and ensemble. He received a perfect score at state. This year he decided to play a piece that is so challenging that he is having a hard time finding an accompanist to play this piece. One pianist said that the piece he chose would be something a doctorate candidate would play. It is very fast and extremely challenging. This is what he wants to do. But what great music college is going to accept a talented musician that has a GPA of 2.0?

Why doesn’t he take his A game to school with him? He has to decide that he wants good grades or it won’t happen.

When he was little, Alex sucked his fingers. We wanted to break him of the habit once he started school. I tried everything and nothing worked. I tried the spicy finger varnish that went on like nail polish. He stuck his fingers in his mouth and told me that he likes spicy. A couple months later he decided that he wanted to stop sucking his fingers and did.

I would call my son lazy, but I think he is just not motivated.

Both Alex and Grant worked really hard this last summer and made somewhere between $5,000 to $6,000. Sally and I both found out recently that the boys pretty much pissed away all of their money on fast food. There is no doubt that both boys probably paid for their friends to eat as well. Was there a lesson learned somewhere? What a waste!

 

Sally said that she didn’t know what to do. Ever since her son got his license he doesn’t want to hang around home anymore. Grant is her oldest child. What is she doing wrong? How could he do this when she has given him everything to help him succeed? The only advice her parents gave her in high school was not to get pregnant. She didn’t go on to school. She wants so much better for her son.

All of this is scary business for the first time mother of teenagers. I told Sally that everything would be okay. I told her that she is not a bad mother because her son was acting like an idiot.

The problem with being a parent of teenagers is that sometimes you have to watch them fail. Sometimes they make the wrong decisions and end up hurting themselves. It is heartbreaking as a parent to see this. I’m hoping someday that we can all laugh about this…like when they are parents of teenagers..

To think, I didn’t even tell Sally about the party at the cabin last summer.

It’s strange but I was able to use my own struggles to comfort another parent. We are in the same boat, I’ve just been in the boat a little longer to know how to respond to the waves that rock the boat.

 

Paul’s journey, part 10

I’m going to conclude Paul’s journey today.

Wow, that came across as a little harsh. Almost like I will be waiting at the door for him with an arsenic cocktail.

What I meant to say is that I will finish telling the story today. The story isn’t over, in fact some might say it is just beginning..

I just wanted to get the point across that Paul grew up poor starting his life in the inner city of Chicago without a father born to a teenage mother that dropped out of high school.

He had a dream of starting a business. After working very hard for almost 2 decades he saw his hard work come to fruition.

The American dream is alive and well. If Paul can do it, anyone can. The odds were against him. He is a self-made man.

It has been a huge adjustment. I don’t think the fear of not being able to make ends meet will ever go away for Paul. Being poor is so ingrained into who he is. It is a bit of an identity crisis.

I wrote a couple of series on this blog before. This was by far the hardest. If I wanted to do an adequate job of it, it would probably take me at least 6 months of writing his story everyday. I’m not going to do that here. I get bored of hearing broken records (if that is a thing anymore). I like changing things up.

So I will share with you my life. The joys, the heartaches, the journey. All of it..

I want to write a book someday about Paul’s life. It is very inspirational and remarkable story. I may just write it to leave behind for future generations. I would have to get a lot more detailed information. I told Paul that I would be writing a series about him. One day I grilled him for information while we went cross country skiing. He asked me if I would stop asking him questions about the dark days that past and we could focus on the beauty of nature on the trail instead.

Paul doesn’t spend as much time in the past like I do. He focuses more on the future.

I also found it challenging because the story isn’t over yet. I wrote a series previously about eccentric family members that passed away. I found it easier because that story is over now. There are certain things that I can grab onto and remember, but there will never be any more stories.

I have been with Paul over 20 years now. A lot has happened since we met. There was a lot that happened before we met that I couldn’t share from personal experience. I worried that my information might not be accurate enough for my liking. Also, how do you narrow down 23 years together into 10 series? To do an adequate job I would have to do a lot of thinking, note writing, and question asking. I would need an outline of sorts. Sounds like a lot of work for a hobby and I’m a marathon runner.

Plus another thing I wasn’t expecting was how my feelings got in the way. For example, if I was planning on writing a post that was positive and encouraging about Paul but we just got into a fight…how do I brush that aside?? It seems fake. He is the best thing that ever happened to me…but I want to conclude his story right now with arsenic just doesn’t give the right feel. Seriously, all is well.

All I can say was that it’s been a wild ride. I wasn’t really expecting that.

Paul’s journey, part 9

The earliest years of building the business were rough.

Whatever little money he made, he invested back into the business.

He felt like he couldn’t get away. But the business was new and exciting in those days. It was later that we started to feel burnt out. There is so much stress and pressure from the responsibility of owning a business. I don’t even know where to begin. But all of the hard work paid off over the long haul.

Paul went into work on the day our last baby was born. He dragged himself into work with strep. He drove in during major snowstorms. He even went to work after major surgery.

He had a cancer scare. He was having a lot of back pain. He went to the doctor for an x-ray. We didn’t have great insurance, so he didn’t want to spend the extra money on expensive tests. The x-ray showed a mass. They were simply going to drain and remove the mass, but the ultrasound was showing something scary. They thought it could be cancerous. They didn’t want to puncture this mass and have it spread to all of the nearby organs.

Instead they scheduled a major surgery that included the removal of several ribs. Paul spent a week in the hospital. I remember the evening of the surgery well. I sat alone in the waiting area watching the snow fall. I felt empty. This is going to sound funny, but I didn’t feel worried. You all know I am a big time worrier. Maybe I was in denial, I don’t know. He was so young then, too young to have cancer I told myself.

To tell you the truth, I am terrified that he is going to get cancer now. Last year his mother passed away from cancer. She had 3 different types of cancer and battled it twice. The year before last, his uncle died from cancer. His grandma had cancer. Currently, he has an uncle in the last stages of cancer. If I wasn’t worried before, I certainly am now.

They removed a benign cyst that was the size of a football from Paul’s adrenal gland. After surgery, he lost a lot of weight. He was pale and gaunt. I’ve never seen him so thin before or since. He was supposed to take a couple of weeks off of work. This was before the time that working out of the house was remotely possible. He was also taking a 4 credit accounting class for his MBA.

I drove Paul into the office after surgery. I helped him walk down the steps to his office wincing in pain. I left him there and picked him up at the end of the day.

Things got easier as the business grew and with technology. I joined him after a couple years. We have been able to get away. We have staff that can help keep an eye on things now. But there is always a strong sense of responsibility that comes with having your name on the door. There are times that we have to drop everything to respond to work issues. Going on vacation always meant checking emails and working.

I am excited that for the first time now, we will be able to take a vacation without working. I wonder how we will respond without the constant pressure.

 

Paul’s journey, part 8

When you decide to take the first step, you never know where it will lead you.

Paul had a dream. He was at a dead end job. He used up his vacation time to cut back his hours at his job so he could start a business on the side. He worked after work. He rented a small office nearby so he could work over his lunch hour.

Eventually Paul ran out of vacation days. They gave him an ultimatum. Either you come back full time or you leave. Sink or swim Paul.

For awhile, he stood at the edge of the precipice. What am I going to do? Should I start climbing even though I can’t see anything at the top? What if I fall? What if I fall further than I am right now? What if I fail? How will I provide for my family?

“Should I climb?”, he asked. Climb, I said.

Taking that first step on his own was the scariest. It was risky. There was a mortgage to pay and little mouths to feed. We were already living on one income.

Paul immersed himself into building a start up business. He was working towards a Master’s degree in his field of study. He took a couple of sales training classes. He knocked on many doors.

Over the years, he attained every accreditation, certification, license, and joined every industry association that he could. He started working on his MBA one class at a time while running his business. He oftentimes would start his day at 5AM doing homework before work. Then he worked until the work was done. He earned his MBA. He still grabbed at every opportunity to learn more. He worked hard and became an expert in our state.

It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took decades and years of climbing not knowing what was at the top. When the recession hit, he thought he was going to lose his footing. He managed to hang on.

Over time, Paul got used to and became very good at climbing. He is always looking ahead, always striving for that next goal. Sometimes I wish he would take a glimpse back to see how far he climbed.

All it took was being brave enough to take that first step.

Paul’s journey, part 7

It bothers me now that I didn’t keep a journal over the early years of our life together. The entries from page to page are a couple of years apart. There are so many things that happened in the gap, so many things that I wanted to say…to remember.

I’m glad I am doing it now.

It has been almost a year since Paul’s mother died from cancer. I want to say that our time with her on earth was always good, but it was at times rather rocky.

It was a long grieving process. Paul lost his only parent, a parent whose mutual path with him was oftentimes a twisted road mixed with conflict, happiness, disappointment, and love.

Martha was a difficult person to get along with. It was all or nothing with her. We were either an angel or a devil to her, nothing in between.

I was the best daughter-in-law the world has ever seen. I could do nothing wrong. The next minute I was the devil and would come careening off my pedestal. It seemed as though she had relationships like that with everyone that was close to her.

Happy elated hellos turned into screaming hollering good-byes.

Martha was an unrealistically extreme optimist. She told the kids she would buy them a pool when she retired. She would get everyone’s expectations up only to dash them into the ground. Over time I learned to translate the meaning behind her words. When she said she was going to do something, it didn’t mean that she was actually going to do it. It meant that she wanted to do it.

Martha was a bit of a free spirit. She oftentimes said she would be somewhere only to show up hours late, not show up at all, or cancel out last minute.

She always had an excuse for everything. It was always the fault of someone else, not her own. She didn’t graduate from high school because the school burned down. She didn’t have enough money for gas. It might rain for an outdoor party. It might snow for her granddaughter’s high school choir solo debut. It was too hot for the kids outdoor birthday party. She ran out of hot water. The car broke down. She had to work. She was sick.

She often made up stories that couldn’t possibly be true, but she believed them. She argued with people who tried to convince her otherwise. She, at times, thought that other people were out to get her.

Martha just wasn’t like me……she didn’t suffer from feelings of depression or anxiety. She didn’t worry about anything. She was outgoing, carefree, and spontaneous. She saw the world through rose colored glasses. She didn’t care if she was late. The clock’s ticking did not grind at her. She was happy with what she had. There wasn’t a harsh taskmaster in her head striving for more. She was easily excited by ordinary things. She was an interesting person, simple yet complex. You never knew what you were going to get.

It was hard sometimes not to feel irritated. Then there were feeling of guilt because we knew that Martha meant well. She just wasn’t playing cards with a full deck.

Life, sometimes it is a battle of heart versus mind. The logical part tells you that you shouldn’t feel a certain way, but you can’t stop from feeling the way that you do.

Regardless, we made our peace with Martha. We thanked her for her sacrifice of raising a child that she wasn’t ready to raise on her own. In the end, we knew she loved us and did the best she could. She knew that we loved her too.

Paul’s journey, part 6

I am going to skip ahead a little today…to when I met Paul.

Paul had settled down considerably since his college years when I met him.

We lived in the same apartment building. My bedroom was right above his. We met in the laundry room. I remember the day well. My cat puked up a hairball on my blanket. I was irritated that I had to make a special unplanned trip to the laundry room. But if it wasn’t for my cat, we wouldn’t have struck up a conversation.

Later that night, Paul invited me out to drinks with some friends. That really didn’t go well either. His friends were fine, except for one girl who dominated the conversation with Paul. She spoke and sputtered loudly looking only at Paul and frequently put her hand on his knee. I didn’t like her.

He kissed me that night out in the parking lot.

From that night on, I was hooked. He told me his story about growing up with a single parent in the inner city of Chicago…that was all it took. Paul played hard to get and I chased him relentlessly. There was a point when I thought that perhaps he wasn’t interested and decided to walk away. That was all I needed to hook him.

It was time for Paul to meet my parents. I instructed him on what to say and what not to say. My mother asked point blank if he believed in God. Paul said that he did not believe in God. In fact, he said that he believed in evolution. He went on and on about Darwin and natural selection as I kicked him under the table.

The following week, my mother set me up with my ex-boyfriend Brad. She came to my apartment under the guise of going out to eat. When we got to the restaurant, Brad was sitting there waiting for us. Brad cried the whole time telling me how much he missed me. I took him back to my apartment after lunch and gave him back everything that I still had of his. It took a long time for Paul to forgive my mother for this.

I believe that my mother started praying harder after the dinner date with Brad. At the time, Paul was in graduate school and was approached by the campus ministry with a Bible. Also, a friend of his who became a missionary came back into his life. Eventually, God wore Paul down. God knew I wouldn’t be interested in chasing a nice church going guy. I wanted a bad boy.

After I was already hooked, God changed the direction of Paul’s life.