Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Birthday Bunch

We normally have four fall birthdays in our family, and this year we added two guest birthday people.

I meant for us to be in order of our birthdays but forgot when we took the picture, it would be backwards. The names are listed right to left in order of birthdates:  Me, Kiah, Ruth, Lani, and Amy.

I started the fall birthday lineup with my carrot cake.

 Kiah (on the left) turned 23 on September 20.
She made herself a Lemoncello (sp?) cake.

Ruth (far right) stayed with us for three weeks.  
She chose to go hiking on her birthday. 

Ruth turned 25 on September 23rd. 
Kiah and Anna made her a Cinnamon Roll Cheesecake 

Lani (top right) chose a day in Duluth with her sisters. 
First we went hiking at Amnicon Falls State Park.

 A week later Amy turned sixteen on October 5th.
Kiah and Anna made two cakes - Six Layer Red Velvet
Cake and a Key Lime Chocolate Pie 

We celebrated our Daughter-in-law's birthday for the first time. 
Rachel (on the right) turned 23 on October 15th. 

Though we're thankful to celebrate our special days together,
We're all glad birthdays are done for awhile. 

Friday, October 26, 2012


"Between laughing for no reason, stupid arguments, long talks,
and making fun of each other...We've become good friends." 
--Source Unknown--

I'm linking up with Lori at Life, Love, and Laughter in a Large Family

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Velveteen Piano

Love made our piano real.
Matt and Rose moved west and their piano moved to our house. Young, untethered, and ambivalent where to put down roots, they moved to Oregon with whatever fit in their truck.

Their old, upright piano didn’t fit.

My husband was flummoxed. “Where,” he wanted to know, “will we put it?” I assured him we’d make room. I wanted a piano so bad, I didn’t care if we put it in the kitchen and ate in the backyard.

Our upstairs neighbors grumbled and stared in dismay as Keith and three men carefully moved the heavy piano down the stairs to our small, two-bedroom basement apartment.

I promised we wouldn’t play in the early morning or late at night.  

We squeezed it into our small living room and our kids instantly fell in love. I’m not musical, but I wanted my kids to have music. We didn’t have much money, but we could afford a free piano. Yes, it was old. Yes, it had seen better days. Yes, we didn’t know how to play, but I was determined we’d learn.

We enrolled our seven children in the “can’t-afford-piano-lessons-for-a-big-family" music program. As toddlers, they stood on tiptoes, and stretched up to plunk keys, loving the cause and effect of push a key, make a sound.

They loved to take the front cover off and look inside when someone played. We’d leave the cover off for days, then replace it before company came.

Over the years, invisible hands picked white plastic off the piano key tops. Nobody confessed and we never caught the perpetrator, but one by one, plastic disappeared until all the keys were rough and naked. Our kids didn’t mind the strange feel, but guest pianists always cringed the first time they played our piano. Our children didn’t wash their hands before playing, so when the keys got extra dingy, we painted them.

Kiah, at age eight, had the bright idea to write note letters with permanent marker on the middle octaves keys. Parents with nice pianos have fits over stuff like that, but we just sighed and took it in stride.

Our children banged keys, left scratches and water rings, and permanently broke three keys. One child carved her name on an inside leg. We didn’t do the piano any favors besides use and love it.

We never forced anyone to practice. Playing wasn’t a chore, but something they enjoyed. Our children barely know how to read music, but they love to learn new songs. Most of them play by ear and YouTube. One sister finds a Youtube piano tutorial, learns a song, then teaches it to the others. Every day, at least one of the girls sits down to play.

They learned piano by playing with it. Even though they never learned scales or chords or performed in recitals, they picked up bits of music theory along the way. They often pick the brains of piano-playing house guests. One daughter makes up her own songs.

With each move, Keith asked, “We don’t need to take the piano, do we?”  The girls all stared in disbelief, “Yes, we do!”

Friends who helped us move would look at the piano with dread and say, “This too?”

I had nerve to expect them to move something so heavy, but I smiled, and firmly said, “Yes, please.”

Keith’s brother often played for the kids when he came to town. They loved that Uncle Neil could play almost anything. I’d watch Neil expertly coax music from our worn-out piano and feel guilty that our kids had never had formal piano instruction.

Because the piano came to us beat up and we further hastened its decline, I assumed it would be out of tune. I asked Neil if the piano needed tuned. He always said it was a little out of tune, but not bad. Five years passed, ten years passed, fifteen years passed and, oddly enough, the tune never got worse.

Three years ago, a retired friend offered us his piano. We were torn. The newer one was much nicer than our old, faithful piano.  It looked and sounded nice, with intact, shiny white keys. Plus, it had a matching bench.

It was a tough decision, but we chose the nicer piano. The girls were elated with the new addition but felt like we were putting down a beloved family pet.

We tried to give the old piano away but no one wanted it. Keith felt like he’d imposed on friends enough over the years to move our heaviest piece of furniture so he dismantled it and stored pieces in the basement.

He found the manufacturer’s name on an inside panel. A Google search revealed that our piano’s unique features helped it stay in tune better than most pianos. Which explained why it never seemed any worse out of tune than when we first got it.

We never saw Matt and Rose again, but we used their piano for seventeen years. We’re sad that its long life ended on our watch.  I wish they could know how much our kids loved it. They never saw old and ugly. They saw fun and useful. Many people would consider it a beat-up eyesore, but to our kids, it was a real piano.

Our kids will never love the newer piano as much as they loved the old one, because they learned more than just how to play. They learned that making music doesn’t require a nice piano. They learned how to live with imperfections and to make do with what they had. They learned to love something that was old and run-down. They learned to play by delight, not drudgery. They learned to play by doing it together. They fed off each other’s skills and their combined knowledge took them farther than they could have gone by themselves.

We’ll always be thankful that years ago, we made room for an old piano, not just in our home, but in our hearts.

Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.
--Tom Lehrer--

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Whistlestop 10K

The nice thing about having kids who do interesting things is that I can write blog posts about fun stuff without actually having to do those things myself. 

Kiah ran her first marathon and hoped to do it again this year. Last May her hip started hurting and she hasn't been able to run much since. She hoped her hip could handle a 10K run. She talked our daughter-in-law Rachel into driving up from Iowa to join her. Christina and a co-worker also signed up

Rachel trained the most, Kiah, because of her injury, trained the least. Christina trained sporadically. 

They arrived at 7:00 am and the race began at 8:00 am.  
(Yes - this is a bad picture but it's the only before race one we have)

Whistlestop hosts a full and half marathon, along with a 5 and 10K race called, "Crusin' the Corridor."

Keith missed Kiah's finish last year and hasn't heard the end of it, so this year we made sure to be at the finish line.  

Our four runners started out together, and Kiah and Shea quickly got ahead. They separated at mile three when Kiah stopped to stretch her legs.  Rachel and Christina stayed together and encouraged each other to keep going. 

Shea finished first.

Kiah crossed the line one minute later. 
(This brings back bad memories of taking pictures at Kiah's high school track meets. I never mastered the art of taking decent pictures of people running.)

Thirteen minutes later, Kiah and Rachel finished. We like Rachel's cute wave.

They had a time of 1:08

 Warming up afterwards

Colorful runners are easy to keep track of in a crowd.

Wearing the nice gray running shirts 
they received for running the race. 

We're proud of all of them for finishing.

"Everyone is an athlete. The only difference is that some of us are in training, and some are not."  --Dr. George Sheehan.--

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pride Goes Before a Fall

Or alternately titled:   
Why I Love Fall But Not Falling

One never knows when their mother will fall flat on her face.

Last Sunday, gorgeous weather and Autumn-colored trees lured us outside. I took four girls and Tucker (our dog) hiking at St. Peter’s Dome. I love doing things I love with people I love.

The overflowing parking lot meant others had the same bright idea. I hoped the top of the trail wouldn’t be congested. We like to sit quietly up there and drink in the awesome view. Tucker would probably put a kink in our mountaintop cogitations. Taking a number might further dilute the experience.

Ruth (Christina’s friend) took off running. I cannot fathom running a hike. Running is for track meets and pottytraining toddlers, not for trails that start out wide and easy and gradually get narrow and difficult. I assumed she’d run the easy part and walk the hard part. (Turns out she ran the whole way, doubled back to meet Kiah and Anna, then walked back up again.)

Kiah, Anna, and Tucker took off at a brisk pace. Christina walked with me.  

I love the forest. Fresh air. The soft, sweet scent of pine. Creek sounds. Crackling leaves. Gnarled roots. Wildflowers. The contrast of blue sky and autumn leaves.

I always struggle the second mile and wonder if it’s worth it. I’m thankful to be twenty pounds lighter than my last hike there. Last year, my elbows, hips, and knees hurt. This year they don’t.  

The North Country (hiking/backpacking) Trail goes through this forest. I can’t imagine navigating those narrow, twisting trails, stones, roots, and drop-offs with a backpack on.

After carefully picking my way through an extended maze of black tree roots and fording a shallow creek, I commented to Christina, “Too bad the forest service doesn’t put boardwalk through these hard parts. They’re inaccessible for many people.”

We reached the top, and yes, it’s definitely worth it. The view is always amazing, but even more so with fall colors. More people than normal sat at the top but everyone except Tucker understood that this was a quiet spot.

Kiah said she was proud of me. “You’re in good shape and you’re holding up well. I’m glad you came.”

I swelled with pride. Yes, hiking felt good. Yes, I was holding up. Yes, I went with the girls, unlike their Dad who stayed home to watch football.

On the way down, Ruth ran off again. Kiah and Anna went ahead and Christina hung back. I told her she didn’t need to wait for me.

“I’m staying with you,” she said firmly. “I want to make sure you’re okay.”

Hmmpf!! That didn’t sit well. For twenty-seven years I had looked out for them. Since when had things switched and now I needed to be looked out for?

Five minutes later,after walking two miles up and one mile back, and being uber careful through the obviously tricky parts, on an easy downhill incline, I tripped over a small protruding rock and smashed hard into the ground.

IT HURT!!! I could hardly breathe. For once, I didn’t care if anyone saw me fall. Pain overruled other thoughts, and I desperately hoped nothing had broken.

Christina yelled down the trail, “Kiah! Get back here now!”

Christina knelt beside me. “Don’t move until I check everything.” she commanded. First born, second-year nursing students are like that.

My left knee hurt the worse. At first I couldn’t move my knee or think around the pain. I had also smashed my right hand trying to brace myself.

Kiah and Anna ran back, alarmed to see their mother crumpled on the trail, lying on her side, with her head pointing downhill. Approaching hikers stopped to help.

The group helped me get up, and though it hurt something fierce, I could walk. Christina found me a walking stick and I limped the last mile. All three girls stayed close by. Christina said, “See, Mom. This is why I wanted to keep an eye on you. I’m also thinking we need to carry a first-aid kit on future hikes.”

Kiah drove home and I limped into the house and collapsed on the couch. My knee had swollen and I had a headache. I took a bath and Ibuprofen. My knee could barely bend and I needed help getting dressed and upstairs.

I spent Monday in bed with a headache and all-over soreness. I limped until Friday and each day feels a little better, though it’s still hard doing stairs and getting in and out of cars.   

Definitely a humbling experience. To go, in a matter of seconds, from the exhilaration of fall hiking and being outdoors to smashed knee, road rash, and lying in the dirt. To make it through the hard part, only to fall in an easy part. To be annoyed at Christina for watching out for me, then to need her help this week.

I’m thankful I didn’t fall on the way up because we would have turned back and missed the view. I’m thankful Christina was nearby. She’s gifted with the ability to take charge in emergencies and quickly assess what needs done. I’m thankful I didn’t need to be carried that last mile. I’m thankful my family took good care of me this week.

I fractured my left knee years ago, so I’m glad I didn’t mess up my good right knee. I’m thankful my kids are old enough to fend for themselves, so I could convalesce without our house falling apart.

I’m thankful I got hurt doing something fun. I could have tripped in the grocery store.  Or taking out garbage, or mowing the lawn. At least I got hurt doing something I enjoy.

I’m bummed to miss the rest of fall hiking. The girls went hiking again today and I took a nap. Last week I felt fifty, this week I feel sixty.

I’ll just need to be more careful from now on. Even if it means wearing bubble wrap to hike, I’m hoping there are many more fall-free hikes in my future.