A weekend in Chicago

We decided to take our foreign exchange students for their first trip out of the frozen tundra. My husband had a conference in Chicago. We thought we would kill two birds with one stone. Now that I think about it, boy is that a strange expression.

Unfortunately, I had to break the bad news that although we were heading south it wouldn’t be any warmer. We took off after school on Friday. We were planning to stop halfway for supper, but decided to keep going after I saw the big blob of heavy precipitation on the radar. The temps were hovering around the freezing point.

The sooner we could get there the better. This caused some hangry arguments from our daughter. Tears were shed. In fact, all three girls cried before we even got to Chicago for various reasons. That’s life with teenage girls.

We got to Chicago in a torrential downpour during rush hour. Meanwhile, I frantically tried to scrounge up some green for the tolls. They don’t just nickel and dime you anymore. We checked into the hotel Fieldhouse Jones then found a place to eat. Our daughter said her culinary arts teacher raved over a restaurant which we were glad was close to the hotel. We ate an average meal there and left to see a sign that they didn’t pass their health inspection to find out later the restaurant was nothing special, just a chain. Thanks a lot!

That night the hotel didn’t have any open parking spots, so Paul had to drive around several blocks to find an open spot in the rain after dropping us off. I felt like we were visiting Gotham city.

I let the girls pick what they wanted to do in Chicago. The girls were interested in seeing Mean Girls, but the cheapest tickets started at $150. We all thought it was too pricey so we didn’t go. I suggested the aquarium to deaf ears. Estelle wanted to search for something called the bean. Then they wanted to shop until they dropped. Me personally, I would’ve preferred to drop shopping.

We set out late the next morning. Our first stop was the Hard Rock Café for an early lunch. While I was there, I started feeling very light headed. My body started to freak out like it tends to do when I break out of my normal routine. I thought maybe I was dehydrated and started to guzzle down globs of gross chlorinated city water. But after that I felt better.

Then we set off in the rain to find the elusive bean. We circled around the city blocks only to circle around again for another time. Skyscrapers sometimes mess with maps on country folks phones. I created my own detour when we got to a sketchy area I didn’t want to walk down. It seemed unsafe. I didn’t want my nightmare of the girls getting murdered to come true. I felt nervous worrying about their safety because I didn’t even know where I was. With all of the trafficking and crime, you can never be too safe with young girls unfamiliar with our culture. It was a big responsibility.

We finally made it to the bean which was like a huge mirror in the shape of a bean. (See pictures below). We walked and walked some more and shopped. It was a cold, windy, snowy, rainy type of day. By late afternoon we put on 6 miles. It was getting dark and the prospect of walking back to our hotel in the dark was not very positive. The girls wanted to take an Uber back. Again thoughts of murder crossed my mind. An Uber or walking back on the dark rainy streets?

We took an Uber back. Our driver was great. He was a philosophizing theologian. We had an extremely deep conversation about life which was right up my alley. Later that evening Paul, the girls, and I went out for Chicago deep dish pizza. Since I am dairy free, I ordered mine with vegan cheese. It wasn’t the greatest. Vegan cheese looks and tastes like glue when it melts. My husband still makes the best pizza. Sorry Chicago. Everyone else was happy.

Then the next morning we headed out, but not before Paul and I played a close game of air hockey at the hotel. I was very impressed with the hotel. The décor was very unique. Plus we were able to get an affordable two bedroom room. One on the rooms had two sets of bunk beds. The other room had a double bed with an outside wall a couple feet from the El. I thought I would be up all night with the noise, but it wasn’t bad. That says a lot from an insomniac who can’t sleep well in her sleep number bed set to her comfort in her perfectly dark, quiet, and cool bedroom at home.

We thought we were going to have to drive home through a snow storm, but thankfully it never showed up. It’s hard to believe that our time with our foreign exchange students is half over. In a few months I will go from having four teenagers in my house to zero. Our son will be turning 20 the same month Clara and Estelle leave. Then our daughter Arabella is applying to be a foreign exchange student in France living at Estelle’s house. I’m trying to enjoy every moment I can because in the blink of an eye it will be over.

I’ll close with a couple pictures…

 

Gratitude week 2

  1. We spent the weekend in Chicago and didn’t get murdered. The girls and I went to Chicago with Paul. He attended a conference and we went shopping. I had a nightmare before we left that the girls got murdered. I was a little nervous being the “chaperone” of my daughter and our two foreign exchange students. I was afraid because they do not understand our culture and might not know what is safe. All the people that we met were wonderful. We walked 6 miles then took an Uber back to the hotel and didn’t get murdered. I don’t know what I was so worried about. Ah, I am too much country mouse.
  2. We were supposed to get a major snowstorm on the way back from Chicago. Instead we only got a dusting of snow which made the drive a lot better than we were expecting. Gotta love when the weather forecasters are wrong!
  3. I met with my therapist who read my book over Christmas break. She said it was a Christmas present to herself (which is good I told her, since I didn’t get her anything). She thought it was so wonderful she wanted to read it again. She thought I should go deeper with my writing. I am grateful that so far two out of three readers were very happy with my book. I am meeting with my third test reader tomorrow.
  4. I decided to get an even shorter haircut this week. I also am growing out my blonde hair color and letting it go grey. I think it doesn’t look the greatest. However, I got complimented by two strangers on my hair this weekend after wearing a hat on it most of the day. Bizarre. Two people raved over my unbrushed hat hair. Then another stranger complimented me on my new glasses.
  5. I am grateful my son was in a really good mood all week. Although now that I think about it, maybe it was because we were all leaving for the weekend and he had the house to himself. I also found a really cool shirt for him that he loves.
  6. I am grateful to find a beer that I am not allergic to. Also, I am grateful for goat and vegan cheese so I can enjoy macaroni and cheese and pizza. Although we had good Chicago style pizza, I am grateful that my husband makes the best pizza around that I can eat.
  7. Although I love to travel, I am grateful to be sleeping in my own bed tonight with fresh clean sheets.
  8. I am grateful we stayed at a really unique hotel called Fieldhouse Jones in Chicago. The decor was amazing, all antique sports stuff. Our bedroom wall was about 10 feet from the L which was cool. Paul and I played a game of air hockey in the hotel basement this morning. Although he beat me by one point, it’s been a long time since we had fun together.
  9. Although there were periods of rain and snow, I am thankful it wasn’t too cold to walk around Chicago.
  10. I am grateful that I don’t have a lot of plans for the rest of the month and can finally have some down time.

Gratitude week 1

I’ve decided to do something new this year. Once a week I am going write 10 things I am grateful for. Life has been pretty stressful around here lately and frankly I don’t think it is going to get better for awhile, so…..in an effort to be more positive…I want to also write about the things I am thankful for. Some really awesome things are happening too.

1. I am thankful to start off the new year with a pajama day. I only do this twice a year (unless I’m really sick), but maybe I need to do it more. It forced me to slow down and relax. Plus I wore the new pajamas and socks my mom got me for Christmas.

2. I am thankful that I am done hosting Christmas parties.

3. I am thankful half the people I expected turned up for the foreign exchange student Christmas party on Saturday. I honestly didn’t know where I was going to fit 30+ people in my house (that I didn’t know) in the winter. I wasn’t happy most of the people that didn’t attend went to a funeral instead. Maybe I shouldn’t be grateful for that. Hey, I’m new at this whole gratitude thing…so…bear with me.

4. I’m grateful to take down the tree and all of the Christmas decor. It feels like a crisp clean start to the new year now.

5. I’m grateful that I had my best workout this morning in months. I ran 6 miles at a pretty fast clip. Maybe it was just the anxiety, but I felt energetic and motivated.

6. Although the parking lot and machines at the gym were full, I was grateful to find a treadmill open in front of the TV so I could watch Family Feud. It’s a distraction from the pain and boredom of running inside.

7. I’m grateful to run into my aunt and uncle at the gym. I wasn’t too excited that my uncle’s ex-wife was also there at the same time. But hey, it makes things more exciting on a Monday morning. I’m grateful friends and enemies alike are opting for a new year of improved health. LOL

8. I’m grateful to meet yesterday with the first person who test read my book. My friend Sue is a child psychologist who specializes in autism. We had a long conversation about autism then versus now as far as diagnosis and theories go. She also explained autism in the education system. When my brother was growing up, the teachers were taught aversion therapy and punishment. Now they offer a reward based program to autistic children. I am grateful that there are so many wonderful resources out there for families now so they don’t have to go through what we went through. Sue also loved my book!

9. One of the host moms commented at the party that our house is like a resort. It’s nice to have people appreciate something we worked hard to earn. I am grateful to live in a beautiful house debt free.

10. I am grateful, although I struggle with depression, to be able to pull myself up and keep fighting the good fight.

 

My first 50k

I did it! I finished my first 50k.

The ultra marathon started at 6 AM. I got up at what would’ve been 3 AM my time at home after a restless night’s sleep.

It was still dark when the race started. I borrowed my cousin’s headlamp. I thought that I could just use my cell phone, but was told that a headlamp would work better. I never ran with a headlamp before. It was disconcerting and took some getting used to. I felt like I was running with a strobe light.

I felt tired and had stomach issues for three quarters of the race despite my best efforts to get enough rest and not eat anything that could possibly disagree with me. My body likes routine and kept cuing me that something was off. I did a lot of walking dragged along by my cousin who was always in front of me. He kept encouraging me along and everyone else along the path.

As the day grew long and the end neared, we greeted everyone and were greeted with a great job, keep going, looking good. It was a difficult course despite near perfect weather conditions. I saw runners vomit, covered in dirt, lay on the ground, and fall in front of me. Some were running the 100 mile race that started the afternoon before. Some looked strong and others looked like they were barely holding on.

Every muscle in my body screamed at me to stop after I ran the length of a marathon. My feet ran along in a slow shuffle. In my mind my movements were exaggerated. I thought I was picking up my feet high enough to get over several roots on the trail. Twice I tripped and caught myself from falling. My body jolted in a pain so fiercely never experienced before.

There was no way I could keep up to my cousin after that, but he wouldn’t finish without me. He told me how strong I was and to keep going. The closer I got to the end the more my mind told me just the opposite. I sucked at running and was despicably weak.

Meanwhile, Paul and my cousin’s wife followed us around routing for us. They stopped in the middle of the woods for a picnic lunch which prompted a runner to ask them if they were real.

C’mon now, we only have a 10k left…now a 5k. After another mile, we just had 3 miles to go. Wait you told me that a mile ago. Are you lying?

The last two miles were the hardest. It took everything I had to just keep walking. I never ran that far before. I didn’t trust myself to run. I felt like I was going to pass out. But I was determined to finish even if I had to crawl. My cousin said he would carry me across the finish line if he had to, but I said I would never allow for that.

My cousin is a very kind and caring person. He stopped to offer help to everyone he saw struggling on the path.

Finally we were about a mile away. I saw some fortune cookies left on an almost empty snack table. In only one package, there were two fortunes. I convinced my cousin that those were for us.

Ability will enable a man to get to the top, but character will keep him from falling.

Seems fitting, I guess. I am quite the character.

Finally, the end was in sight. I ran with all the strength I could muster across the finish line.

Life’s good

I feel happy with life right now. It’s been a long time since I felt this way. Things are finally coming together. I think I actually slept two full nights this week following a week of insomnia and nightmares.

What makes me happy is that everything is coming together for my family.

My daughter Angel just started her last year of college. She is dating a guy that I would be happy to call my son-in-law. I think they might get engaged soon. Her future looks pretty exciting right now.

My son Alex just started tech school. He is joining a band that I approve of. It’s all I can ask for right now.

Things are going better than expected with the foreign exchange students. I have been busy getting them registered for school and trying to do all of the fun stuff around here before summer ends. Weather wise, it pretty much has ended. It’s been a cool and rainy summer.

Arabella is doing good with her diet and one of our foreign exchange students offered to host her as a foreign exchange student next year. Things are coming together.

Paul is starting a new business, not a start up company this time but a franchise. We are getting along better now than we have before.

I am excited and nervous to be traveling to Michigan next week for my first 50k. Paul and I are taking the car ferry across Lake Michigan for the first time. I love planning trips, even if they aren’t very far. Off to another adventure which I’ll be sure to tell you about.

I don’t know what the future brings. But as for right now life is good. I’m going to hold on to that as long as I can.

A new family

Last night our foreign exchange students arrived, Clara from Germany and Estelle from France.

I felt anxious all day. I couldn’t believe it was really happening.

I worried. Would our new “children” like us? What will this next year be like?

My oldest two children are not as excited about it as I am. I think they think I’m replacing them. But maybe in a way I am. They are adults and don’t need me being a mother hen to them anymore. They are off living their own lives like they should be.

I am excited about this new adventure, but as with anything new a little frightened too.

I wonder what it would be like to see everything for the first time through their eyes. Maybe even for us, the old will become new again.

I hope it is a wonderful experience for all of us.

 

What is happening? Part 2

We left the wedding that night before the clock struck midnight. Not because something magical was happening. My car wasn’t turning back into a pumpkin. But on that day, when the clock struck midnight, my princess was turning 21. I told Angel that I would take her out for a drink at midnight. We got back home just in time for me to freshen up. When I came out of my room, Angel was fast asleep on the couch. I didn’t really want to go anyway. I was exhausted.

We took Angel out for lunch instead. We were surprised to see that a lot of restaurants were closed from the storms. Some restaurants had no electricity. The restaurants that did have power said they didn’t have enough help to cover for the restaurants that were closed and people that went out to eat because they didn’t have electricity. It caused a storm surge of customers.

It was sad to see Angel leave. It was the first time she was home after she moved out. It made me realize how much I missed her conversations. I’m not sure when she will be coming home again. After she left, I was exhausted.

I decided that I was going to go for a long run the next morning. The plan was to find a point to get on and off the trail to run to my parents house and back. I was hoping to park my car on the trail and run 10 miles one way. I wasn’t sure how it would work because of the storm damage and because I never ran the trail there before.

I left later than I wanted to the next morning. It was a nice day, not too hot and not at all rainy. The trail was heavily wooded but beautiful. The first half of the run was well groomed. I ran into a lot of people on bikes. There were several trees down and at some times it felt like an obstacle course.

But the second half of my journey was very remote. The bottom two pictures were taken on the second half of the trail. It would be a great place to hide a body. Wouldn’t it? There were fewer people along the trail here. At times I feared for my safety. It ended up being 14 miles to my parents house. I had a late lunch with my mom and headed back home.

My mom walked with me for the first 3 miles, then got picked up by my dad. She was afraid for my safety. There were times that I was too. I did something that I wouldn’t want my daughters to do. I felt vulnerable. At times I would look behind me and no one was there only to be passed by someone from behind a few minutes later without knowing they were there. It was creepy. It was starting to get dark. My mom wanted to give me a ride closer to home, but I refused.

I spent a lot of time walking. I thought I would spend a lot of time thinking, but I didn’t. My mind was empty and free. No problems, but also no solutions. It was starting to get dark. I was running out of fuel. I didn’t have much water. My feet were starting to ache. But I made it! I ran 28 miles. It was the furthest I’ve ever ran/walked and 25 of the miles I was totally alone.

I think I am ready for a 50k. I feel confident now. I wasn’t as sore as I thought I would be, but I was sore. The next day I went in for a massage. I should’ve waited because I was almost too sore.

I’ve regained my confidence, but my mom was so worried that I promised her I would never take the trail to her house again.

 

 

What is happening? Part 1

So many things have happened in the last week, I don’t know where to start. It feels like a year has passed in a week. I will try to start at the beginning.

My faith feels tested. I’ve been asking God for a sign. But so many bizarre things have happened within a week that I don’t know how to interpret them.

It started last Friday as I was picking Arabella up from volunteering at Bible camp. I finally got a call from the doctor’s office. I don’t have Celiac and the polyps that were removed are benign. My stomach is starting to feel better. The doctor said if I went off Prilosec too fast, it will cause an excessive amount of acid to pour into my stomach. That is probably what happened, but I scheduled an appointment for allergy testing anyway.

Friday night a huge storm hit where our cabin is up north causing massive damage. I think that the power finally went back on yesterday. What a mess that will be to clean up. There were multiple trees down. Thankfully no one was hurt and the cabin is fine.

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Saturday morning we awoke to get ready for my Uncle Rick’s wedding. He had a whirlwind romance proposing 36 hours after meeting and moving in with her the following week. They married 7 months later, her 4th wedding and his 3rd. They seem like a good match. I really hope it works out for them.

We were going to leave early to meet up with my brother Luke and his family for lunch. It was my daughter Angel’s 21st birthday the following day and more than anything she wanted to meet up with the family for sushi. Just as we were ready to leave, another severe storm rolled in. There was a tornado warning for the path of our house, the restaurant we made reservations at, and where the wedding was going to be held.

The sky grew dark as night and sirens were going off. The wind swirled around in many different directions. Lightening bolts slashed through the sky as thunder clapped to usher in a torrential downpour. The rain came down so hard and fast that it poured into my son’s bedroom. After the storm passed, we mopped up the water as fast as we could in our dress clothes. We were running very late for lunch. Paul was an usher for the wedding and Angel was singing. They couldn’t be late. I worried that perhaps my uncle’s union wasn’t meant to be.

We made it to the restaurant an hour after our reservations. There were only a handful of customers. The place was always a classy joint, but on that day the music was the chef’s choice. They were playing rap. When a song came on with lyrics containing every profanity known to man, my brother Luke quietly left the table and complained to management that their choice of music was not appropriate for his little girls.

The wedding itself was held in a small church without A/C. I was a little worried that all of our cell phones would go off with the weather alarm during the ceremony, but the weather turned around. After the ceremony, there was a reception with an open bar. Once one of my aunt’s found out that Angel was turning 21, she started plying her with alcohol. Why wait?

It was at about this time that my son told me he no longer believes in God. I wanted to reassure him but I reminded myself that I was having my own crisis of faith. When I was having the most doubt, other people started cramming their faith down my throat which weakened my faith even more. I knew from my experience that I just had to listen. He left after the meal telling me that his rap band had their first gig that evening, but I wasn’t invited. He turned off his locator on his phone and returned home between 4 and 6 AM.

My daughter Angel caught the bouquet. Will she be the next to marry? As she danced with her boyfriend Dan, I thought perhaps she would be.

That evening Paul and I took advantage of a stunning sunset after weathering the storm.

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And the two shall become one.

To be continued…

Running out of time

I’m STILL waiting for a call from the doctor. I did get one call yesterday. It was from someone who barely spoke English trying to sell me final expense insurance. Did they somehow know I was worriedly waiting for test results?

At least all of this waiting gave me plenty of time to think. If I end up not having Celiac, I think I will go the allergy testing route. I was going to beg the doctor to put me back on Prilosec, but decided against it. When they did the scope, they found numerous polyps in my stomach that they think were caused by long term Prilosec use. It’s rare that they are cancerous, but they could be. They did a biopsy, but couldn’t remove them all.

In the meantime, I’m running out of time. My first 50k that I signed up for is a little more than a month away. I’m planning on running a marathon distance next week.

Training for this has been incredibly challenging. I really didn’t realize how awful I’d feel off of Prilosec. I have been feeling sick to my stomach a lot or having a stomachache. Several times I have been afraid to be far away from the bathroom. I’ve had to turn around and come back home. I’ve had to run into the woods. I’ve had no where I could go.

Being anemic, I feel exhausted, weak, and lightheaded without running. Running I feel like my legs are made of lead and I have a large weight on my back. Most days I need to take a nap.

I hurt my ankle last month and had to take some time off.

The weather hasn’t been cooperating either. We had a late start to the summer with record rainfall and cool days. My favorite trails were underwater. Some of the races in our area even had to be cancelled due to the weather. Then summer hit full force. Tomorrow will most likely be one of the top ten hottest days on record in our area. Followed by more rain and strong storms.

The storms have been hitting us unexpectedly at times. Just this week I drove my daughter to camp. It was sunny, hot, and humid. We passed a lady walking with her child on the way. By the time we got to camp, there was a continuous roar of thunder and heavy rain. On the way home, I saw the lady with her daughter who was about ten. It looked like the mom was huddled on the side of the road trying to protect her daughter. I know how terrifying it can be to get caught in an unexpected storm, so I pulled over and offered them a ride home.

I hollered at them to get into my car fast because a car was coming and I didn’t know if they could see me stopped in the torrential downpour. I was out in the middle of nowhere. I was almost out of gas. I was hydroplaning. Cars were driving slow or pulled over to the side of the road altogether. But it was exhilarating. I got someone home safe. But it grew exhausting driving about a half an hour through flash flooding in a torrential downpour.

You would think that all the rain would’ve washed all the mud off my car from trying to find a hiking trail that had its access dirt road under water. But no. Unfortunately, my car was unable to get through the washed out road. Instead it looked like I went mud running which regrettably didn’t earn me any bad ass mom points with my teenagers.

Needless to say, I have also wanted to stay close to home for fear of getting caught in a bad storm. Not to mention, I had a lady come up to me when running to tell me that a bear was spotted on my running route. Then there is the endless stream of drivers hellbent on trying to run me down with their cars.

I almost deserve more than a banana and medal if I can finish this race.

The good news is that I found a new running trail pictured above. It seems pretty safe and full of nature (and bathrooms). Despite my health and fears, I am determined to run this race. I might not finish, but I sure am going to do my best to try.

 

 

Extreme empty nest solutions

On Sunday I received a phone call from the foreign exchange student coordinator a couple hours after my daughter moved out.

Sunday was a bittersweet day.

On Sunday, my best friend became a grandma for the first time.

On Sunday, it’s been a year and a day since my close friend lost her daughter in a fiery car crash.

On Sunday, my daughter moved 4 hours away and is not planning on living at home again.

I was feeling down as you can probably imagine.

My oldest daughter moved out, my son is off pet sitting this week, and my youngest daughter is volunteering this week as a camp cook. I’m feeling the empty nest kick in. I realized that I may have a harder time with this whole empty nest thing than I thought.

I’ve been a caregiver since I can remember. I was my autistic brother’s “second mom”. I also helped with my other two younger brothers.

In college, I was a caregiver for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s and a middle aged man with Paranoid Schizophrenia. I took care of my brother Matt up until after I had several kids of my own. I also took care of my Aunt Grace when she had dementia. I provided day care for several children when my kids were little.

I don’t know what it is like to not take care of someone and the thought is a little scary.

As I was crying and feeling sorry for myself, the phone rang. The foreign exchange program coordinator called and said she had an emergency situation. One of the host parents for a student from Germany ended up getting into a serious motorcycle accident and broke her back. This student was really into music and needed a home.

I was wondering what to do with my daughter’s empty room. So we filled it. Now we will be hosting two foreign exchange students starting next month, Estelle from France and Clara from Germany.

I feel like my life has meaning again. I suppose most people get another pet once they start emptying the nest. Not me, I guess you could say I am rather extreme.

Even though it might be stressful having 3 teenagers in the house again, I am going to enjoy this last year of chaos before I have an empty nest.

By the time next year rolls around, I might actually be okay with only taking care of me.