Monday, December 29, 2014

Fake Christmas Eve

So thankful Chris did not Miss- the plane in Detroit. The NH Vick-Jensens arrived on time ( a little early, in fact) and Fake Christmas Eve went off without a hitch. 

Cal repped his school (Illinois State), Grandpa rocked the Benji's, Magic Mike debuted a bunch of hysterical card tricks (he has the appropriate schtick), Susse Caramel all around, WATCH THE TOE. Chris made photo collages for each family of never before seen material including a picture of Mom and him as an infant (aka Aunt Joyce and Fletcher), Pat-stasche, Ethan drinking (holding) a beer at age 6 months. 

Played my game Linguistical Feud, no surprise Richard and Betsy's team won by a landslide with their consummate knowledge of Southern slang, French, British, New England, Aussie, and even Concrete slang. We learned some useful stuff (mun=man bun, Gesundheit=good health, not bless you, Monkey Dick=phallic shaped vibrator used to consolidate wet concrete, pop=lollipop, sucker or popsicle). 


Passed the torch to the next generation for strawberries this year. Mom was coughing, I had chipping nail polish I didn't care to remove and Betsy begged off for unknown reasons, so Eli, Adam, Ethan and Cal took over, not without some trepidation. By the end they were cracking themselves up as they made new and improved shapes for the traditional candies:




Fake Christmas Day, Cal is doing his own version of Name that Tune on his Ipad, Megan v. Michael. Lonely People, Let It Be, Eleanor Roosevelt?? I believe that's Eleanor RIGBY. 

I have to say December 28, 2014 was one of my best days ever. Started with paying some bills (my fave thing!), writing some Christmas cards, a crisp walk with Pat, and coffee. Went to a meeting where I heard what I needed to hear: I need to be more "spiritually fit" especially around my family. Went over to Mom and Dad's house. Connie the cleaning lady is still down, so Betsy helped me with the weekly chores. It was fun! I was spiritually fit (most of the time). The garbage and recycling were full to the rim. I downloaded Dad's pictures from Christmas (fake) and messed around with his Facebook page, finding just the right profile pic for him, after one I thought was quite hysterical (wearing a white theatrical wig which he instantly vetoed, however it had already gotten one "like"). Returned to find my house empty but the Buffalo Dip was still warm in the refrigerator, so I chowed on that (thank you Donnamarie). Betsy joined me, and then moved on. I made hamburgers on the grill for the hungry children, trying to get them some vegetables, as all they've eaten is white bread. I'm afraid they'll be as backed up as the Eisenhower Expressway at rush hour. I discovered as Michael was biting into his third burger on white bun, that some of them were dangerously pink inside, setting off a whiff of e-coli, eboli, maggot infested stomach jokes. When I told Ethan to microwave his, he said, "No, I don't want to be the only one left alive." 

We played a game of Golf (the card game) and then Michael had the brilliant idea to collect and count Pat's change $56 dollars and buy lottery tickets. $10 to Pat, $4 to Walmart for officially counting the change, and 3 different stores later they ended up $7 ahead!!  I honestly didn't think the lottery could net you any money. Pat ended the night with a huge funeral pyre in the backyard, in which he cremated a dead squirrel he had found in the yard earlier that day.

We have one more family day together, but I went to bed last night a happy and very grateful person.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Chris-Miss

Thanks for the title lead, Ethan. This our 19th year in Macomb was an anomaly. Only the second time we didn't spend Christmas Eve at my parents house opening copious piles of presents and eating our traditional supper. Not following our usual convention left Cal commenting, "It doesn't feel like Christmas Eve" and indeed it did not. This whole Christmas thing got turned around because Chris and his family are arriving on Friday and we decided to delay our extended family time until then.

Our evening consisted of me getting off work early (4:00ish) *I can't remember the last time I had to work on Christmas Eve for starters* and everyone reading books for awhile (Cal included, which is totally not Cal- being that the YMCA closed early).  I cooked dinner of Spaghetti with Clam Sauce, Garlic Bread, salad, and chicken breasts for Adam and Cal. Next we sat around talking until Eli left to play his trumpet at church. Betsy stopped in for a moment before church, noting that all the atheists were staying home. I pointed out, I am not an atheist, but an agnostic and decided I couldn't be and be around hypocrits anymore even if it meant missing a Eli performing on his trumpet with the beautiful and talented Porter sisters singing and playing ukelele.

We topped off the evening by watching Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire; another thing we never do is watch movies together. Pat went to bed before Home Alone 2: Lost in New York screened. I wandered off to make Raspberry Coffee Cake for breakfast and then went to bed.

Growing up, we always opened presents on Christmas Eve, after supper of Potato Soup and Oyster Stew. We were told this was part of our Danish heritage and took that at face value. We never had extended family around so it was always just the five of us in our own home (minus a time or two we traveled out of state for the holidays). We had our stockings on Christmas morning. My kids are used to a similar scenario with Christmas Eve at grandma and grandpa's house, and our Denecke Christmas on Christmas morning. The only other time in 19 years this didn't happen was when I encouraged my parents to spend Christmas in Louisville with Betsy's family so I could see what it was like to just be with my husband and kids. It felt hollow. After church at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, we drove around looking at lights, and Cal commented, "It doesn't feel like Christmas Eve."

In trying different variations of Christmas for different reasons, I have realized that we have built meaningful customs that are uniquely ours. In looking ahead, when my kids establish their own families and careers, we will likely undergo another shift in our holiday celebrations. I have to look forward to, embrace change, and learn to go with he flow. Let the games begin, and may the odds always be in your favor.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sweet Dreams

Sleep is one of the most talked about topics in therapy, in my marriage and in life. No one ever seems to get enough, or it they do it's never good enough.

The older I get the less I sleep. I'm sure we have all noticed this pattern in older folk. This steady decline began with having babies and interruption of sleep inherent in that. As the children got older, it seemed one ear was always listening in case something was needed. Now in my fully acknowledged middle age, I couldn't sleep past 8:00 a.m. if I wanted to, which I don't. I also have bouts of not being able to fall asleep, and definitely not staying asleep. There are multiple trips to the water closet each night with varying success of returning to REM's. Last night I just knew at 3:00 a.m. it wasn't going to work and I got up and puttered around for an hour or so and fell right back to sleep. Some of my somniferous friends from least to most effective are melatonin, Sleepytime tea, two bowls of cereal, Benadryl, and as a last resort, Rx drugs.

Did you ever wonder where the term "falling" asleep came from? I recently discovered the answer. I have several techniques I use to go to sleep particularly during day naps, and they increase my awareness of the process my body goes through. One sensation I have as I am dozing off, is that of falling. As long as I am not jolted totally awake, it's very pleasant to experience, and MUST have been where someone long ago got the phrase 'falling asleep.'

Instead of complaining about insomnia, why not embrace it?  Here are some good points about not sleeping well or long:


  • it makes time slow down- if you are constantly waking during the night, it lasts longer. Haven't you noticed if you do sleep all night, it has just rushed by in an instant? Why not luxuriate in the feeling of time standing down?
  • you can look forward (schedule allowing) to a great nap the next day
  • you can get stuff done like wrapping presents, writing blogs, or catching up on Facebook although the pundits agree exposure to screens before bedtime will disturb your sleep quality
  • some of your best ideas will be hatched in the middle of the night- then again, you may look at them less adoringly in the morning

Friday, December 12, 2014

MRSA MRSA Me

You can sing that to the tune of "Mercy Mercy Me" by Marvin Gaye. Listening on Spotify, I could burst out crying, love that song.

Turns out, though you never can tell with the sketchy, conflicting information you get from 3 different doctors, Dad's latest diagnosis is Staph infection, non-MRSA type, in the blood. Still don't know if the bone was infected after two CT scans and one MRI. The good news is, he went home Tuesday evening and is taking IV antibiotics twice a day at home for six weeks. Mom is having to learn how to run the antibiotics and clean the wound. The latter I just don't think is going to happen. No one ever nicknamed her Florence Nightingale. Me either, my nickname being Nurse Ratchett.

Betsy arrived Saturday afternoon and helped so much by keeping Dad company at the hospital. In the process, she discovered one of the best deals in Macomb, a coffee machine in the basement of the hospital that serves delicious coffee & Cafe Latte (among other delights) for 20 or 30 cents. The creamy froth is the perfect temperature and consistency, smooth and aromatic, but I digress...It was great having Betsy here, she's definitely a daddy's girl. She went home Tuesday, and the move home was one the smoother aspects of this whole experience.

Today is the first of weekly appointments with the surgeon. Mom thought they could handle it on their own, so I hope it is going well. I haven't been over to see them since Wednesday morning. I'm feeling pretty guilty about going shopping in Springfield today.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Trauma Mama Drama

Is it really Saturday already?  Where did Friday go? Oh, I remember. It started Wednesday night when my mom called to say she had called the ambulance for my dad as he spiked a temperature and she couldn't move him. She told me to get a good night's rest and she would take care of it.

Thursday morning before work, I get a call from Mom that the diagnosis is gangrene in Dad's big toe, and they would probably amputate his toe and/or foot. That was gruesome, but my busy week at work continued and since I work next to the hospital I spent my lunch hour with Dad. His toe was exposed and pretty much took away any thought of eating. I went back after work and the surgeon was trying IV antibiotics and possibly install a shunt in his foot/leg to deliver them with surgery as a last resort. My mom asked if she could "catch" his infection and he replied it was now MRSA, which I'm telling you, really set my mom off. My knowledge of MRSA is pretty limited but I feel like there's different kinds, and you don't 'catch' it unless you rub an open sore into it.  Regardless, I did agree my dad's room and stuff he had been touching his foot to, should be washed up pretty good.

Fridays I don't generally work at my regular job, but I had about two hours of paperwork to finish so I did that and then stopped in to see Dad. He was in good spirits and the toe was now covered which made visiting easier. Then I headed to Mom's house to begin cleaning with hot water, bleach, and any other disinfectants we could find. There was a lot of bedding and clothes to wash, vacuuming, bathroom cleaning and surfaces to disinfect, but I really get into cleaning. We moved and flipped the bed, and what the heck, let's get at the piles of papers and crap on the desks, even though they could hardly be harboring MRSA. About 2:00 dad called the surgeon had read the CT scan and said his veins were clear, the bone was NOT infected and he would probably be getting out of the hospital sooner than later.

Last night I went back to the hospital and read aloud a chapter from "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and Dad helped me understand the vocabulary (what a mortar is in war and some of the Spanish words), themes, and setting. I was familiar with the term "cojones"  and we had a laugh over that.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Taking Stock

Here's one of those things you read and pass along. It somehow seems a lot more interesting for the person writing it than the person reading it, but hey, if it entertains me for the evening, I'm game.


Making : mistakes
Cooking : very little
Drinking : coffee
Reading: Winter of the World, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Wanting: a day off
Looking: forward to Christmas
Playing: Sporcle missing words from literary works
Deciding: on diagnoses
Wishing: for peace
Enjoying: quietude
Waiting: for Guffman
Liking: myself
Wondering: who I'm praying to
Loving: my family, my me-time, my lunch hour
Pondering: if snowmen are Christian symbols
Considering: others who do not celebrate Christmas
Watching: what I say
Hoping: for everyone to get well, even though that is impossible
Marveling: at how the junior high boys behave in group
Needing: a good night's rest
Smelling: Simpler Thyme candle scent
Wearing: Eli's flannel shirt, jeggings and Uggs
Following: Kangaroo Spotting
Noticing: how gluttonous I am
Knowing: my husband is keen on me
Thinking: I am sweet on my husband
Feeling: exhausted and relieved
Admiring: nurses who have to look at and touch ishy stuff
Sorting: my mom's stuff
Buying: stocking stuffers
Getting: my dad's room, bedding, clothes cleaned up
Bookmarking: every few pages that I read
Disliking: gangrene and MRSA
Opening: the refrigerator
Giggling: when Betsy gets here I hope
Snacking: on frosted sugar cookies 
Coveting: is bad, sinful
Wishing: for definition in my arms
Helping: Jen get her license
Hearing: the furnace turn on and off

What a random bunch of ideas. I actually started this Wednesday, and then a bunch of stuff happened and it changed my focus a lot.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

I got this lovely email a few days ago. It truly made my day:

Hello,
> This time of the year with thanksgiving coming up next weekend (and no thanksgiving to celebrate in Sweden), we think about the wondeful time we had at your house at thanksgiving last year.
>
> This year, we are thankful that we have this great evening to remember! What a nice time we had, your hospitality was fantastic, and the evening gave us so many nice memories.
>
> Again, thank you for having us, we send all our love to everyone that will celebrate with you this year! And if you're ever in Stockholm, we would love to show you around!
>
> Happy thanksgiving!
>

> Kajsa and Martin


M.Anne, Martin, Kajsa, Martin

We had a great meal and played Minute To Win It hosted by Cal, and everyone had a fun time.  This year we don't have any new guests (planned anyway), but will enjoy the usual suspects.

In addition I am grateful for:

  • having my 3 kids under my roof for a few days
  • a vigorous walk with Pat this morning
  • a job close to home that I enjoy
  • a four day weekend
  • money in the bank
  • a sense of humor
  • good health
It's so nice to have a national holiday that has for the most part stayed uncommercialized (pet peeve- blow up turkeys waving in people's front yards) that celebrates family, food, hospitality, and thankfulness. I wish for everyone to have this in their hearts this 27th day of November 2014.


Golf Ball Challenge


Yulia and Pat

My little Wellness Warrior plan for Thanksgiving 2014- take a walk no matter what the weather is (check), only eat one plate of food at dinner, only one dessert.  I didn't say anything about Krispie Kremes for breakfast, or how big my plate is, or how high my dessert is piled, did I?


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Wellness Warrior

In my new job with a hospital (I work in the behavioral health clinic) it has been refreshing to encounter a focus on health for the employees. So far, this has translated into an extra $70 and a day off work for me, by participating in wellness activities and meeting certain biometric benchmarks. Last month was WalkTober, and we turned in miles walked using a pedometer. My first pedometer busted on the floor of the bathroom at the movie theater, but I found another one and finished the challenge, usually exceeding 10,000 steps a day, even though my job is about as sedentary as you can get.

This month's (actually 6 weeks) challenge is to complete a Couch to 5K Run or do a pull-up AKA be a Wellness Warrior. My idea is to head into the holidays as fit as possible so that I can enjoy all the treats of  the season. Since I hate to run, I chose the pull up. Sounds easy, huh? Not so. My baseline is 30 pull ups several times a week, with a counter balance of 40 pounds on an assisted pull up machine.

This week's challenge is to add 3 planks and 30-50 push ups per day in addition to your regular work out at different intervals. *break for 20 push ups* I'm back. This is really amping things up. My first plank was 30 seconds, my longest so far is 65 seconds. Supposedly, 2 minutes is the benchmark to shoot for, and I have a few more days to go.

On another note, November is feeling cold, cloudy and dreary. Perfect nap weather. *break for nap* Wow, I thought I just lost this post, but it came back. It's so boring, I knew I wouldn't have the energy to re-write it.

My new schedule is 9:00-6:00 Monday through Thursday. One advantage to working until 6:00 pm is having dinner on the table when I get home. I have to say, Pat has really stepped up in the cooking department. One delicious dinner he made was pork chops dipped in egg and Ritz Crackers. It was literally like Crack, one bite and I couldn't stop.

I don't believe in Christmas coming before Thanksgiving, however this year I already jumped the gun. Before Halloween, I had some colored lights I got from my mom's downsizing project and so I strung them all over our tiny Spruce, Bruce, outside. I haven't turned it on yet, but I still feel a little guilty. I also started Christmas shopping, mostly stocking stuffers that I see and can't resist. For some reason, I am now in the mood to decorate my dollhouse for Christmas. *break for miniature lights and tress* Okay, that's done now. The roofers have finally come...I need a cute, clever address for my house. Any ideas?



Lisa and Maggie playing in the attic.


The living room:


Monday, October 06, 2014

The Biggest Little Surprise

What does it mean when your children are grown and living on their own but you still stock Blue G2, Smuckers PB&J’s, Hershey’s chocolate syrup and whole milk?  You randomly pick up girlie stickers, paint brushes and High School Musical games?  You might just be a Big Sister like me.

Raising my three boys, there were definite gaps in my teen girl IQ. My little sister is educating me. I know the words to every Taylor Swift song. I am knowledgeable about all things Monster High. I have someone to try out crafts and art projects with. I have my own sous-chef and baker’s assistant. I have an enthusiastic tennis and racquetball partner.

My little sister looks up to my boys and often asks where they are and how they are doing. When they are home for the weekend she wants to stay for dinner and quiz their girlfriends about relationships, in a way only she can. She wonders what my husband is doing when he’s not home. She even got over her fear of cats and jokes around with Miss Pearl.

In my family, we each have a drawer (called our “nook”) on the first floor where we can throw our junk, so my little sister has her own drawer at my house. It is full of pictures, games, art supplies, puzzles, scrapbooking materials, and any odds and ends (think pinecones and ribbon) I deem of possible interest to a creative young woman. There is a piece of blue tulle in there, and she regularly wraps it around her head or waist and becomes a DJ or Karaoke star. 




We are into our fourth years as BBBS matches. I know I am becoming more a part of her life because she wants me attend her choir concerts and calls me up to let me know she got First at her bowling tournament. Her big sister before me died at a young age (my age), and she speaks of her often. We spent one afternoon locating her marker at the cemetery, and have been back once more to visit. Sometimes people ask me how long I plan on being a Big Sister. My little sister is 13, so my math says in five more years she will be 18. I’m all in if she is.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Minneapolis


My parents and I had the privilege of seeing and listening to a man who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2001. He has a PhD in Psychology and is one of the best speakers I have heard in a long time. His name is Richard Taylor, and he has dementia. Hard to believe. He could speak more fluently and eloquently than I could on my most lucid day. His message was as an advocate of people with dementia, to be treated with dignity and as if they are living, not dying. He says not to lie to people or walk into their delusions. He says we treat people with dementia as if they are getting more and more holes in them, when in reality, we are always whole, aren’t we? 

As long as I can remember my father has verbalized his biggest fear:  falling into the grips of dementia, hardening of the arteries, Alzheimer’s, senility, whatever the current phrase. At one point, my mother threw out all our aluminum pots and pans, when dementia was briefly linked to that.  Working as long possible, volunteering as much possible, performing on stage, and doing daily crossword puzzles were all part of my parent’s antidote to the possibility of developing dementia. My father’s fear was largely due to watching his mother and other family members slowly lose their cognitive functioning, that being something my father made his livelihood on (teaching at the university level). My grandmother lived with us, as her dementia took hold. She wandered, repeated, forgot things, became paranoid, accusatory and finally combative. For some reason, I became the object of her ire. I always knew she didn’t like me, but it became pretty hostile when I was in high school, which I admit I didn’t really understand. By college, I could deal much better and even came home sometimes to keep an eye on her while my parents got away for the opera or to visit friends. Luckily for Dad, my husband remarks frequently how sharp his father-in-law’s mind and wits are.

The question I most wanted to ask Dr. Taylor was if he thought it was okay that our family uses humor to deal with the prospect of dementia amongst ourselves? What we do is call out “Minneapolis” as soon as someone (anyone, any age) tells a story we have heard before, most likely, many times before.  The term comes from a memorable car trip with an aging relative in throes of dementia, who asked anyone and everyone approximately every five minutes, “Have you ever been to Minneapolis?” Minneapolis has spawned the term Dallas, which is when you know you are telling a Minneapolis story, but are doing it intentionally. The lastest wrinkle, is to call out Albuquerque when someone tells a story you’ve never heard before.

Dr. Taylor used a lot of humor in his talks, for example, he admitted to a phase of “wandering,” but said “I wasn’t wandering, I was going somewhere, I just don’t know where the hell I was going.”  He also compared the tubing on an old enema bag to what he imagined hardening of the arteries to look like. If I had to guess, I would say he would approve of our humor, and when we we lose that, we just might be in trouble. 

Friday, September 05, 2014

Confessions of an Empty-Nester

Not surprisingly, I have been asked more than once, how I am doing with the empty nest syndrome. It was not long after Eli and Cal were both lodged in their apartments near Illinois State University that I started noticing little differences around the house, most of them nice little benefits. I wasn't sure if there would be much change, since Eli was in New Jersey all summer and Cal was busy working and playing with his homies. However, here are few things that hit me these past three weeks:


  • I can lock all the doors every night because we don't have to worry if "someone" remembered their house key
  • I can walk from the bathroom to the bedroom (or wherever) in a towel or less without fear of scaring anyone to death
  • The weekly grocery bill is under $100 and the cart looks positively empty (I can splurge on T-bone steak since we can get by on one)
  • I might be able to get Pat to eat healthy now. I didn't have a chance when it was 4 or 3 against 1
  • Leftovers can be safely put away immediately after dinner
  • The house stays remarkably clean
  • It is a huge joy to be able to help our kids financially and emotionally now rather than the physicality that was put into their early years
  • Time with the boys (Adam included) becomes that much more special. Eli and Cal joined me in Louisville this past weekend and it was absolutely amazing to have that time together.  
I wouldn't tell them "don't let the door hit you going out" but I wouldn't say this phase of life doesn't have its own sweetness. You just have to open your nostrils to the new scents.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Half of Nothing is Everything

There's an essay circulating around Facebook called "16 Things Only Half-Siblings Understand."  I've tried not to use that term, which I despise, half brother, with my boys. To me they are brothers, even though they have different last names and different dads. I realize because of the almost five year age difference, some people don't know Adam is related to Eli and Cal, or that the younger boys even have an older brother, and vice versa.

The realization that Adam had a different dad and would go off with him periodically when they were little, I believe led Eli to invent "my dad with the monkeys" who was his imaginary dad who owned an ice cream store, and a castle and an amusement park. He must have found it quite mysterious and wondrous that Adam had another life outside of our family, so much that he created his own make-believe world away from us. This prompted Cal to chime in with what cool stuff he got to do with "my dad with the giraffes."  Later we were all able to spend time with Adam's paternal grandparents going to Nebraska football games and chilling at the lake.

One incident really gave me pause in how I portrayed our family.  A friend pointed out to me that my answering machine message said, "Please leave a message for Pat, Susan, Eli or Cal," excluding Adam completely. I don't know why I did this (he had his own cell phone?), and I was floored when it was pointed out to me. After that I became hypersensitive to making sure Adam was included in pictures, messages, letters, cards, etc.

I feel a lot of shame at what I just wrote. The truth is, Adam has been the longest term relationship of my adult life. He has been with me longer than my marriage, or any other friendships. I know we are bonded by that, however awkward different stages have been.  I can't tell you how pissed off I was when an ignorant clergy once suggested that I hadn't raised Adam, because somehow his faulty memory or the fact that he didn't want to attend his f---ing stupid services drew him to the conclusion I had abdicated my responsibility as a parent.  *probably need to let go of that resentment*

Adam actually helped me attract my current spouse, helped keep us together in ways he may not even know, and was even a chick magnet for his Uncle Chris. Yes, he was a pretty cute, awesome and precocious tyke. I've always called him my "best boy" and I want him to know he is 1/3 of my Everything.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I had to use Dictionary.com three times for this Post

I thought I was doing fine. I was excited for and proud of Cal for his financial intelligence, organizing skills, and ebullience over finally getting out of Macomb.  I wasn't even cranky with him the last few days. He took off today with a van not too full of stuff.  But on the way home from work it hit me.  I started bawling a couple blocks out of the parking lot.  I almost caused an accident crossing Washington Street in front of an oncoming car.  I remembered his first day of Kindergarten, and never having a problem with the older boys, balked at the idea of this being any kind of emotional milestone.  More like wrecking ball (thank you Miley Cyrus).  That day and today, the day he left for college.

Maybe it was the pressure I am putting on myself at work, which has caught the attention of my supervisor and a trusted colleague, just today, and is not assuaged by any amount of reassurance.  Maybe it's menopause. Maybe I feel bad that my former co-workers are picketing 24/7  for a fair teaching contract. Full moon, Mercury in Retrograde?

Whatever the confluence of events, the empty nest is a real emotional minefield, whether or not I expected it. Luckily Eli and I are driving over tomorrow and switching vehicles. I'm looking forward to getting out of town and making sure they both have what they need in their apartments, maybe even grab a cup of coffee in a cute shop in Uptown. But right now I just want to veg out with a book and a plate of No Bake Cookies. And a box of tissues.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Home

My friend Rob Porter said, "I had to get up early and run away, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to leave. Endless Mountains, East and West branch Susquehanna Valley, Genesee Valley. Those streams and mountains, shrouded in fog this morning with mist rising from the forests. They are my soul."

I imagine it looking something like this:







I thought that was really beautiful, but it's not my soul (home).  This is my soul:



Yeah, Eli took this picture last summer.  He told me on the way home from his summer in New Jersey, on the train between Chicago and Macomb, he felt that pull and that he was home and it was a great feeling. I don't think he'd ever been gone from the Central Illinois area long enough to appreciate that before.

I remember having that for the first time when I lived in Colorado and driving back, being overwhelmed by the cornfields and the small but rolling hills and knowing that I was home.  Yes, the mountains were beautiful and I still dream of them a lot, but the flatness, the endless fields, the silos and the pungent odor of pigs is my heart, my soul, my home.

I think Forrest Robinson said it beautifully (and I can't believe I just found this poem I have saved for many years):
                                              Western Illinois Country

This is the land of the dropping sky
where stars sparkle flat out east and west,
north and south, where you ride at night
on top of the world; and dawn sets fire
to waterbeads along roadsides, cornstalks
spider-webby and silver in the fields, running
forever. No one growing up in hills can know
the origin of thunderclouds, the slow demise
of days in blinding , pink haze or clear azure,
fielding that single star we realize is meant
for us-fresh hope rising in deluge, drought,
and snow to pierce the sky like a church spire,
watchful as a windmill waiting for wind.
This land, flat and haunted by wagonwheels,
washes into the soul like an inland sea,
its tide singing in the summer night air,
calling us forever on our passage home.

Published in Eureka Literary Magazine

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Art of Humility (and Frugality)

My parents always set a good example of humility. At a young age I was taught, however unconsciously, not to be prideful or boast. The message seemed to be that it is best to lower yourself in relation to another person, so as not to embarrass or make them feel bad; their feelings are more important than your own.  This took the form of deflecting and not being able to accept a sincere compliment, not talking about myself unless asked specific questions, always being careful not to flaunt material possessions or accomplishments, and to be sure to let everyone know how thrifty and parsimonious I am, eg. wearing the same clothes for 15 or 20 years, making do with rusty old appliances and utensils, using the public library, riding a bike or walking as transportation.  I remember growing up with the same thread bare bath towels (which are still knocking around my mother's rag bag), which were barely big enough to reach around me, stiff from drying on the line, and secretly longing for just one plush bath sheet that was warm and fluffy when pulled from the dryer.  I later learned these take forever to dry, and have the weird ability to actually repel water...a total waste.  There were certain things I rejected as an adult (reusing paper towels and baggies *although my husband would argue that point*, clothes lines, turning plastic bags into rugs *I kid you not* and thin, cheap towels ) and others I retained  (generally cooking and eating at home, doing without fancy cars or jewelry, saving and reusing paper, rubberbands, etc.) and even exceeded my parents on (thrift shop and yard sale clothes, trash picking, couponing, driving late model cars).  A few things I tried (coloring my own hair, making my own paper out of dryer lint) and decided it's just not worth it. 

More recently I have learned that humility doesn't have to be lowering myself or being ashamed of myself. It is the clear perspective of one's self, as neither above or below another person.  That has been one lesson that is harder to unlearn. I don't really like talking about myself, which is maybe why I prefer writing.  I can pretend no one is reading, and essentially this is true.   

With all that said, here are some things I am proud of (I have worked for them, but I can't say Divine intervention has not played a role, too):

  • My three healthy, smart, talented, funny and unique sons.  They are all different, but I am equally proud of them.
  • Being married for 22 years, though Pat has made it pretty easy.
  • Having a 30 year career that allows me to connect with people, not so much things or ideas, and volunteering my time to help others.
  • Maintaining 15 years of continuous sobriety.
  • Earning my master's degree.
  • Helping my children through college without taking on a debt load.
  • I have been loved.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's Started...

All my teacher and school personnel peeps have started complaining that they have to go to school (work). What a depressing cycle that is. No worries here. Already at work. And I had a really wonderful day today.

Why does my family complain that I'm addicted to Facebook, and not that I am addicted to my bicycle or walking, or even ice cream?


Thursday, July 17, 2014

10:00 PM

I heard the cicadas singing, I saw the corn grow above my head with silk emerging from the small pods, I realized the LL baseball season is about to end, the back to school sales have started and that can only mean the end of summer is coming all too soon.  We have no vacations or even little trips planned to look forward to (we are buckling down to pay for college without loans), but the end of summer now only means to me, the boys going back to school. With Eli already gone for the summer, it shouldn't be too much of an adjustment. I know Cal is excited beyond words to get out on his own. He had a good omen today when his roommate texted him to say, "one more month, bro!!" at the same moment he was thinking the same thing.

We got to see Cal coach his 13 year old traveling team last Thursday on the turf at Jacksonville. Unfortunately, they lost all their games and Cal got an earful from some upset parents. Weird to see my little boy on the receiving end of adult angst. We encouraged him to take this volunteer position to get a taste of what teaching/coaching will be like in his future. I think he handled it pretty well. There were other parents who were very supportive, which I hope we always were to the persons who coached and taught our kids. I frequently sent thank you notes to those who had a positive impact on them. It was nice to see Cal drop off his key and a thank you note to his parent helper who gave him rides and fed him over the season.

I almost can't take looking at a computer screen any longer. Much of my day is spent doing that and my eyes are going crazy. I am slowly adjusting to the new job, but the sedentary nature and intensity of the job is draining me out by Thursday. I took a nice walk about tonight and the weather and peacefulness was relaxing.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Frettings

This morning I got up with that blah feeling I have a hard time describing.  I had four days off in a row, yet I wasn't ecstatic like I should be. (Lucky I don't have all summer off to feel this way, right?)  It probably didn't help that I was up last night from about 2-5 a.m. doing everything I could think of non-pharmaceutically to get back to sleep (eating Froot Loops, writing down brainstorms, reading a book, eating oatmeal-yes oatmeal, paying bills- did you know US Cellular is closed from 11 p.m.-6 a.m.?).

After finally falling asleep, I got up at 8:00, drank some coffee (thanks Pat) and went to the Y to lift weights. I then dropped in on a Pilates class which was fantastic. Just my fitness level. I then got my hair done, ate lunch, went to Goodwill, grocery shopped and took a nap. Finally feeling myself again with some afternoon coffee and Pat home to keep me company.  Kind of turning into a thrift shop clothes hound, as I picked up 3 items today around town second hand.

Stopped at the library to see if by chance they had the new Matthew Quick novel, The Good Luck of Right Now.  Of course, they didn't so I will get it via inter-library loan, making due with Silver Linings Playbook by him (2008). Normally, I prefer to read the book first, see the movie later, but I devoured the first chapter sitting in front of Sullivan Taylor Coffee House, even though I know what's going to happen because SLP is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It's a good distraction from this weird book I've been slogging through called "Casebook" by Mona Simpson.  It's from the point of view of an adolescent boy who is running surveillance on his parents as they go through a divorce and establish new relationships. It's a little far fatched that any teenage boy would be interested in his parent's phone conversations and reading their emails.

A busy day so far, we shall see what the evening brings.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Family Time

The annual pilgrimage and Vick gathering at Macomb has concluded for Summer 2014.  A good time was had by all (I think). Some of the highlights are summarized below.

Game Nights: with Adam we played Beyond Balderdash. This is where you make up definitions for words, acronyms, dates, people or movies. You try to write an answer others think is the 'real' one.  The funny thing, the real one is often the most bizarre. Case in point, Francesco Lentini- Italian man born with 3 legs sounded way less likely than inventor of mustache wax, but guess what, he was! Google it. There's pictures.  Ethan got very creative and thus won the game. Adam was a close second.

Last night we played Charades with Cal just back from Michigan. We used a Windows app to generate the words, and they were flagrantly too easy or hard.  Ice cream or Top Marks vs. Parental Controls or Convalescence.

Physical Activity: Friday morning Betsy, Ethan and I circled most of Argyle Lake on foot while Chris rode a bike around the hilly venue.  Saturday morning we went back for more, and the walkers tried a looped hiking trail (there is only ONE in this park) while the peddler circled the lake again.  Ethan and Chris traversed Macomb on bikes that evening and Sunday morning Chris and I rode back and forth to mom and dad's on bikes.

Story Telling:  Much visiting was done around the tables, living rooms and vehicles.  While Minneapolis prevailed (code for telling the same story ad nauseum), there was some Dallas (knowingly retelling a story because you either a) want to or b) for the benefit of someone in the group who hasn't heard it), and even a few Albuquerque's (a story no one has ever heard before such as when, oh forget it, what's told in Macomb, stays in Macomb).  I wish I could record some of the conversations because we laughed till we cried at times. And I can't remember why.

Travelling within the travelling:  Betsy was on the road everyday except Thursday. Arriving Wednesday from Clarksville, she and Ethan picked up Chris at the airport in Indy and head to Springfield to pick up Adam.  Thursday she got a break. Friday, Betsy and I drove Adam back to Springfield after an early dinner. We watched the fireworks in all the little towns on our way back. Saturday we all drove to Galesburg and back for dinner. And Sunday, Ethan was due in Decatur for piano camp so I accompanied Betsy on this trek and stopped at Michael's for some decor for my office and Little Saigon to surprise Adam for dinner.  Today (Monday) Betsy reversed course and drove Chris back to Indy and then continued home to C'ville.

And let's not forget...

Food:  Mom and Dad cooked every meal that wasn't eaten in a restaurant,  Wednesday night was Taco Salad but those arriving from out of town had eaten Asian in Springfield at Mimosa's.  Thursday night was baked chicken on the grill although I missed this meal because I worked late. Friday night was Kabobs, they were amazing...


Grilling was a joint effort...



Some people just relaxed in the mighty jungle, I mean on the deck. It looks pretty lush out there, doesn't it?
I would download more pictures but it takes an eternity, I don't know why blogger uploads pictures so slowly.


Saturday evening we headed to Galesburg to try the new Iron Spike Brew Pub.  Most everyone enjoyed their meals, though some people fussed about the beer and the waitress.  My shrimp and grits was Loaded, and I mean loaded with salt, so I guess I fussed about the food.

My only regret about our time together is that we didn't take up Pat's offer of a fire on Thursday night. It was perfect weather, and he had everything set up.  Come to think of it, the weather cooperated quite nicely the whole weekend.




Everything's Better with a little Yoga

Just stretching out with a little yoga after (or was it before) my nap today and marveling at how much better I feel when I take the time to do my 12 minute routine. It literally got me through a difficult year of work. I probably missed less than five days out of 188 work days of doing yoga at 5:15 a.m. and it's not just the stretching, though my neck really thanked me for it. Two hours of driving and nine hours of solid intensity on a daily basis does not a soft neck make.  The other coping tool I used was aroma therapy shampoo and conditioner from Bath and Body. In the fall, I used the Stress Relief formula and the spring semester I went with the Energizing version. Well worth the $17 or whatever it cost over the price of 88 cent bottles of VO5.

My yoga routine has some floor stretches, seated poses, sun salutations, and balance poses followed by a corpse meditation I learned in one of my classes. A great way to start the day. It's not just the stretching, but the coordinated focused breathing that is required. Puts the mind and body in a relaxed and receptive state. Open to the experiences that will come my way, for better or worse. I know I can handle it, because I will always be back on the mat the next day.

Today I noticed it finally happened. I was doing the Plow, and my knees gently brushed my forehead. I was wondering all year when this might happen. The beauty of yoga is you don't push it or make it a competitive (even with yourself) exercise. You just do what feels right in that moment. One day it may be more or less than the next, and you practice acceptance. No wonder this ancient practice has remained and increased in popularity. What a wonderful way to counteract the insanity of our daily lives.


this is not me, by the way

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Musings from my Bike Ride 6/20/14

I had these thoughts yesterday at 7:30 a.m. and today I am trying to block out the fact Eli is going to be gone until August 13 or so.  More on that later.  I might do that in my ArmMeat blog.

So, on my bike ride early in the morning the weather was a perfect 72 degrees about.  Humid, in a good way, the way that you can smell everything intensely, like the flowers and trees. I think we still have daffodils, and those are usually reserved for early spring.  Anyway, everything smelled so nice, just what Bath and Body puts in a bottle.

Do you realize those pretty flower and plant berms have to be weeded?  You never see anyone doing it, but it must take some maintenance.  I rode about 40 minutes and it was glorious.

On my way back into town, I saw two teens interacting by a car. How I loved being a teenager in the summer...


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summers Off, Schlummers Off

This may sound odd, but trading the school job with summer's off, for part time work year round is feeling like a really good thing for me.  Don't get me wrong, I strongly believe the teachers need the summer break. Some even start the old "count down" in March or so.  A teacher lives and breathes school for 180 days, going hard all the way. It really is an intense avocation.  And a special shout out to the Special Education teachers who are required to do way more paperwork, meetings, parent contacts and student issues than regular ed teachers, all for no more pay and usually much less glory.  I'm not saying traditional teachers don't work as hard, many do. It's just the special education laws and requirements are so absurdly out of control, you couldn't slide if you were so inclined.

Back to the point here.  I have informally surveyed teachers about their enjoyment or ability to get the full benefit of the summer off, and they resoundingly agree, they have no problem basking in it to the maximum. One guidance counselor, however, agreed with me that there is a lingering sense of guilt, depression or inability to feel productive during the long break.  Turns out, she previously worked most of her career outside the education system in year round employment.  I also felt a little restricted by the schedule in only being allowed two personal days to use when and as I choose.  Again, don't get me wrong, having holidays and a long winter break, not to mention snow days, were a gift, and well appreciated...I just like the idea of taking vacation when I want or need to. For example, to attend a wedding mid year or shoot off to Jamaica in February (like I would!).

One thing you have to be careful of when you have summers off is not to complain about it to your working friends. It seems obvious but it actually took me awhile to catch on that when they ask how your summer is going, they don't want to hear, "I'm bored" or "I'm tired of sleeping in."

Except for the financial aspect, working Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday sounds pretty good to me right now. In fact, when I had this schedule in the past (when the boys were young) it was the happiest of times. I could manage the stress of the job better, knowing it was limited to a minority of the days of the week. I had time to make appointments, phone calls and take care of the business of the family during my weekdays off, as well as to do healthy things for myself such as exercise, read, write and drink copious amounts of coffee. That was a funny. And, when and if you do go back to work full time, you feel like you just got a huge raise.

So, this is all to say that I feel I made a good decision for me in changing directions at this time.  I already feel like less of a deadbeat.





Monday, June 09, 2014

Journey

It's hard to believe I will be starting a new job tomorrow.  I want this to be the last new job I have to start.  I had quickly forgotten how hard the good-byes can be when one invests heart and soul in a vocation. After giving my resignation, a huge sense of dread and fear enveloped me as I had to plan how/who/when to tell the different constituents (I know that sounds like a weird word to use) I work with: teachers, students, administrators, co-workers, in five buildings and a central office.  I quickly devised a pretty good plan, but can't help feeling I offended someone who didn't get told in person, or at all.  I thought I had my bases covered, and then more and more people kept coming to mind that I needed to say goodbye to.  I had about 3 weeks to unravel myself from the education web, and I pretty much did it without tears (mine or theirs).

One of my teacher friends had a wonderful collage of photos of students past and present made for me with the caption

EVERY GOODBYE BRINGS A NEW HELLO!

OMG, I thought today, I'm going to be introduced to many new faces which I will have to learn their names and ranks quickly.  No worries, I consoled myself, it could never be as vast and intimidating as an ENTIRE school full of personnel, whose first (for casual conversation) and last (Mrs, Ms, Mr, Miss ---in front of the students) names must be memorized as rapidly as possible, let alone Four new schools at once.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Mini Book Reviews

I just read two books back to back and they couldn't have been more different.  Beneath a Marble Sky takes place in 17th century India where the Emperor is building the Taj Mahal to honor his recently deceased wife. He has married off his favorite daughter, Jahanara, to a cruel, disgusting businessman who brutally mistreats her. She secretly falls in love with the brilliant architect of the Taj Mahal, Isa, and they find a way to be together with the help of her dying father. This story is told by Jahanara talking to her granddaughters in the 'present' so we know the outcome will be favorable for her.  This is John Shors' first novel and I went from barely knowing what country the Taj Mahal stands in, to being fully immersed in the world of war, culture, relationships and architecture of Agra, India in 1632-48.

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is set in southern Indiana a few years back and is reminiscent of "Steel Magnolias" which I saw on stage recently.  Three friends nicknamed "The Supremes" since high school meet regularly at a diner and the story weaves past and present seamlessly to reveal their rich, intertwined lives and the power of friendship. Amazingly, written by a man in the voice of a woman, Edward Kelsey Moore nails the female psyche. In a nod to 'seven degrees of separation' Moore is a concert cellist who is friends with my sister's old college pal, Claudia, who plays viola professionally in the Chicago area.

Both these novels were recommended to me by my parents, and both took about 1/3 of the way through to become engrossed, but by the end I was disappointed to reach the last page.

I am now at the beginning of The Whole World Over a 2006 novel by Julia Glass. If you have read Three Junes or anything by Glass, you will find her writing can only by described as dense.  The way she details every passing moment or thought is just incredible. Not in the way I find monotonous as when authors go on and on describing scenery. This density is internal, as if we are inside the mind of the characters and seeing and thinking as they experience life.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Delivery

I promised a post on my hope for the future generations, and now I must deliver. One thing I can honestly say, among even the very most compromised parents, I have never met a mother or father who I didn't truly believe loved their child. So, I do have faith that people I don't personally think should have children, will have children, and they will love their children, in whatever way they do.

On the bright side, I see young parents like my sister in law, Jennifer and my niece Dawn, whose children have every benefit emotionally, experientially (apparently I just made up that word), educationally, and materially. As I sat through a workshop on helping self-destructive adolescents Friday, I could not help but think of the relatively few problems my own children and I encountered as they graced through the teen years.

Here are some ways I think this generation (I think they are called the Millenials) are really smart, and hip, and cool.  They take much harder classes in high school; in my day there was no AP, Honors or Dual Credit classes. Many high school students now graduate with a semester or more of college credit and way higher level course work under their belt, thus preparing them to presumably advance further in their college years.

Let's talk about risks. Today's youth have much more education, awareness and common sense about the risks of drinking and driving, smoking and drugs. Many kids now have parent supervised parties, or at least "parent at home" parties, whereas, my generation was always looking for the empty house to have a party, if you know what I mean. I honestly believe kids today are much more likely to wear seat belts, designate a driver if there is going to be drinking, and keep in touch with their parents by text as to their plans and whereabouts.  This seems really smart to me.

Diversity is much more taken in stride today than 20 or 30 years ago.  Kids don't balk, act surprised or flinch when they are in the company of others who have disabilities, differences in sexual orientation, and certainly not racial and ethnic differences.  They have grown up not only tolerating diversity, but embracing it.  In my school, there were posters put up by the Gay Straight Alliance about marriage equality and bullying, and none of them were defaced or taken down. There are kids in wheelchairs, kids having behavioral meltdowns in the hallways, two girls or boys holding hands, and no one gives it a second look.  That's just cool if you ask me.

It goes without saying that kids today are way ahead of us in the technological and digital world.  They can figure out problems with electronics without ever thinking of looking for instructions or as we used to say, "reading the directions."  They can make movies and edit sound and play music and create art in ways that blow my generation out of the water. They are funny, too.  They make old words new again; they're constantly inventing new vocabulary. Scrape, swag, bromance and they be like you just got treated. 
They're so hip.

So, if anyone starts complaining about the next generation, you will now have some ammunition. They are just as smart, hip and cool as your generation and maybe more so. Until next time, YOLO!!!!!!!!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Generational Angst

Is it every generation's job/fate to worry about the next generation’s ability to successfully carry on the world's business?  Or is it that I work with the most dis-ordered children and families day after day? Or perhaps, am I just getting old and cranky?

Because I am seriously worried.

Parents in the 1940's worried that radio and television would be the downfall of society. Parents in the 50's worried about Rock and Roll.  Parents in the 60's worried about long hair, drugs and bra burning feminists.  My parent's generation worried about the Animal House parties and drug overdoses.  Parents in the 80’s worried about anorexia and HIV. 

I worry that today’s kids can’t two shoot baskets at the Y without looking at their phone. The young ones lie on the floor playing games on their devices for more time than they play actively. For Cripe’s Sake, they have to have radio commercials telling them to “Go Outside and Play” an hour a day.  The overweight are now the majority in the elementary schools.

Most interaction now occurs through texting and social media. Does this generation even know how to communicate face to face? And don’t get me started on their writing or ability to speak without saying “like” every other word. 

Conflict resolution?  Huh, what’s that?  They say unthinkable things on Facebook and resort to profane rants, fists and violence when confrontation does occur.  I’ve noticed an increase in sports related fights and a decrease in true sportsmanship being displayed at the high school up to the professional level.  Self abuse (cutting and suicide attempts) is the go-to way to lessen one’s personal pain. How does that make any sense?

What is going to happen to this generation of Baby Mama, Baby Daddy, good-bye nuclear family?  Even the middle class is moving away from marriage all together and those who do are divorcing at an extraordinary rate. 

Granted, my exposure to youth is heavily weighted to the most troubled and emotionally disturbed young people, who have been exposed to unbelievable trauma and dysfunctional environments.  Their lives revolve around DCFS, foster care, jail, prison, court, probation. Their coping skills are nil and their role models weak or non-existent. Many kids today don’t know who or where their biological parents are.  

And yes, I am getting old. Each day I am greeted with new gray hairs, puffier eyes than the day before, hands that could pass for a great grandmother, and a cranky attitude to match.  I hang up my clothes after wearing them for a day. I have put Kleenex up my sleeve when I’ve been too lazy to go to the trash basket. The age spots and cellulite do not go away no matter how much I pay for skin products or how much I work out.  I have gone 2-3 days (4 once even !) without washing my hair, because it “feels like it’s drying out.”  That’s when I catch that old people smell on myself.  So yes, I have definitely crossed over into the physical and mental make-up of an old person.

Whether I am in the wrong profession, moving into the wrong mindset with age, or simply carrying out my fate, I definitely have concerns.  I struggle with these issues on a daily basis.  Still, there are days when my faith is restored, and you can look forward to that in my next blog. I have not gone completely to the dark side. Maybe I just need a vacation.





Monday, January 20, 2014

Parenting the Young Adult

When I was a young adult, I could always count on my parents to be there when I had a question or problem: how do you hard boil an egg? how do you change a flat tire? what is an escrow account? how do you get wine out of the carpet? how much should I contribute to my 401k? what should I do, Adam ate a tube of lipstick? My dad was there when I bought my first car and my mom mentored me in preparing my first Thanksgiving turkey.

Now it's my turn to help my boys successfully transition to adulthood, now known as "launching."  It's a fine line to tread of being proactive, also known as lecturing and letting them learn from their mistakes.

Recently, Eli decided to cancel his overdraft protection at the bank because they were charging $60 a pop. His contention was that now the bank wouldn't  allow any purchases when he didn't have money in his account. I tried to explain that this wasn't going to prevent him from overdrawing his account, and someone could still come after him with fees, it just might be CVS or Outback.  The lecture went on for some time, on the importance of tracking all expenditures to ensure this doesn't happen.  Of course, with his generation they don't write checks, so the likelihood of overdraft is reduced but as I explained there are still some small businesses that don't process their debits immediately, which could put him in the position of overdrawing his account if he is not careful.

I have been providing Eli with recipes and cooking lessons in preparation for cooking in his apartment this year, only to hear that he cooks Hamburger Helper, ramen noodles and rice and vegetables exclusively.  I don't know why it drives me crazy that he and his roommates have a pet turtle, am I worried it might die over Winter break because they failed to get someone to look after it?  And it was all I could do when visiting not to bag up the overflowing garbage can and carry it to the dumpster.

Pat and I did win one war with Eli in December when he casually decided to leave Macomb to go back to Normal in a blizzard, or as close as we come to a blizzard in these parts. He had a commitment to play trumpet at graduation the next morning and it didn't help my fury that he came home the day before to see the midnight showing of "The Hobbitt" and that he waited all day when the weather was fine, to leave at dark just as the storm hit. I do remember a few harrowing drives back to Drake in white out conditions which probably gave me the resolve to put my foot down regardless of the consequences with his music professors. Actually, the truth is I had to get Pat to back me up and resolutely bar him from leaving. He moped around all night, but was over it in 24 hours.

Why is this focusing so much on Eli? Adam rarely asked a question or let his guard down enough to show vulnerability or a need to communicate.  Cal is still home and not spreading his wings too much yet. So, it falls to Eli to be the guinea pig of our loosening parental influence.  I think he will be all right, especially if I can learn to let go and allow him to learn from own his mistakes.