Thursday, December 8, 2011

Green Christmases

I do love snow, just a dusting, and just in time for Christmas.  Otherwise, snow is what makes winter my least favorite season.  I hate driving on snowy and icy roads, I hate the unpredictability of winter travel and having to cancel plans with friends... I just hate winter.  The less snow the better, whatever Bing Crosby has to say about White Christmases.  Bah, humbug.

But, winter does contain my favorite holiday:  Christmas.  It is so much fun to shop, and plan, and make homemade gifts and food to share on that special day.  Each year, my girls and I try to mix things up a bit and make Christmas not just about gifts, but have it mean something more.  This year, we are forgoing wrapping paper and using bags sewn from Christmasy cloth for our gifts.  I like the idea of recycling and using as little paper as possible; recycling is what I do every day with books, after all.  Nicholas and Jill gave me their gifts last year in cloth bags, which inspired me to do the same this year.  Thanks, Nicholas and Jill! 

So, this Christmas is a green one, whether or not there is snow on the ground.  We are going green with our disuse of paper and next year, will use the same cloth bags to house different gifts.  Also, how we choose to replace our artificial tree for next year's Christmas will further mix things up in our home.  Half the lights on our ten year old fake tree will no longer light, so it's time to retire it.  But, I hate cutting trees down to use for just a few weeks, so no real trees anymore.  And, with the girls getting older, do I really need a big tree?  Perhaps next year, we will just have all our mini trees scattered throughout the house and no central place for Christmas, rather, it can be all around us.  I like that idea.

No matter how you celebrate Christmas, whether as a secular holiday or religious one, as a commercial enterprise or simply not at all, for me Christmas is the ultimate expression of faith and family.  Each year, we redefine it in our home, but it's always uniquely Hartelt, with lots of food and laughing at each other till we cry with all our inside jokes, and uniquely Boettcher, with the ornaments made by my former in-laws still making our home festive and my daughters' generation keeping the Boettcher sense of humor and irreverence alive.  And we Hartelt Boettchers wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

School Pictures

When I was a girl, nothing was funnier in Sunday morning cartoons than Calvin subverting the will of his parents and teachers, especially on school picture day.  He put Crisco in his hair to make it shiny (and pliable).  He made faces like these:

And this:

In fact, the second picture was my facebook profile picture a few months back, because I still found it so funny. 

And, then came this fall's school pictures for my girls.  Sarah announced she wanted to dress like a mime this year, with black beret and turtleneck, and black and white makeup.  I was a little taken aback.  In my experience, most thwarting by kids of school picture day was done in the early years.  My baby brother Loren once cut his own hair the night before school picture and looked the next morning like a scalped former prisoner of war, albeit one in kindergarten.  Cathy tattooed a penguin onto the center of her forehead the night before her first grade photos, which were coincidentally on September 11th, 2001. 

Most of the penguin came off with a warm washcloth.  But, not all.  Cathy was five and loved penguins.

Sarah, on the other hand, was thirteen this fall.  She should have known better.  I perhaps also should have known better after she told me about her mime idea.  So, when her school pictures arrived, and she burst out laughing, I did, too.  After a moment of silence.

Yes, that's my girl.  My cross eyed girl with borrowed horn-rimmed glasses.  In a way, it's true what our moms used to tell us.  If you cross your eyes, they will get stuck that way.  This moment of time will be frozen forever, with my baby girl making a face at the camera.  And, if she gets irritated at my blogging about her moment of subversive triumph, well, isn't that what school pictures are for but for parents to show off? 

Momma gets the last laugh, honey badger. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anniversaries in September

Today is my 38th birthday, anniversary of my birth.  Also this month is the anniversary of my bad news diagnosis, which has turned instead into a rare gift, one which makes me value each day.  September is also the month Gonzo was hit by a car, but lived to bounce back better than ever.  I always remember where I was September 11th, 2001, as the summer days turn cool and blue.  And, the end of September marks the anniversary of my dad's passing. 

He died of Alzheimer's eight years ago on September 26th, 2003. It was a rainy Friday and I had been at the nursing home nearly non-stop for three days, but had gone to run errands, like cleaning his suit for the funeral and buying him a new tie in goldenrod yellow. Then, I went home for a nap.  I was sleeping when he died. 

For years as his disease progressed and his grasp on reality retreated, I would try to understand where or when in his memory did he think he was?  I watched him turn doorknobs in the center of a smooth wall, where there was no door.  I listened to him use German, reach for something in mid-air which I could not see, and call it, "Schoen."  It was beautiful, whatever he saw. That act of trying to get inside his head and understand my dad is what led to the writing of my book.

When I think too long about anything, I end up writing about it.  My blog usually follows a good lunch conversation or a walk with my girls.  I brooded about my dad's life and death for years, which has turned into a three hundred fifty-ish page novel.  I hope it makes sense to people who didn't live these events themselves.  I like that the timing of my book's release date coincides with September, the month when everything happens.  Because, even though great tragedies occurred this month, like 9/11, and my dad's passing, my bad health news, and Gonzo's accident, it is a beautiful month, too, to be alive and value each day.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Best Birthday Gift

Next week will be my thirty-eighth birthday.  With that many under my belt, I've had some great birthdays, and some craptastic ones. 

The winner for worst, hands down, was my thirty-fifth.  Within twenty four hours of that horrible day, Gonzo was hit by a car, his hip dislocated, some fur and skin missing, and I didn't know if he was going to make it.  That same day, U of I neurology called and told me that best case scenario, there is remission, but no cure.  I don't know how many birthdays I have left, though, I suppose no one ever does.

Birthday runners-up for best include my twentieth, when my co-workers left my birthday gifts for me to find when I came into work that morning, and my thirtieth, when Erik and the kids made me a Gollum cake.  But, the best, hands down, was last year's.  I had dozens of people trek to my house for my Backwards Birthday Party (born in 73, turned 37, so I told my friends to buy themselves a gift.  Brilliant, no?). Even better, on the actual day, my best friend for life, Beck, took me to Devotay in Iowa City, where we drank too much sangria, ate emu, laughed until we cried and wandered around downtown Iowa City, where we met Manny and Dominique.  Best day ever.

I now really love celebrating my birthdays, even if I don't always remember how old I am, until I ask what year this is and do the math.  Sure, it's a crapshoot as to the quality of birthday, but I have a hunch this year will be a good one. Beck and I will once more spend the actual day at Devotay.  That weekend will be a shared birthday party for September birthdays in our pack and I am very excited about how many people can come.  And, after setting up that bash at Capone's, I found out from Becky that there was another party planned, a surprise party for me at Devotay, which I kind of ruined by organizing the Septembers deal. 

Even though I am bummed at wrecking my chance at the first surprise party of my life, I am still really happy, happier than I've ever been.  Three years ago, I was given a real gift, being reminded that life is finite. Every day with the people of my life is a gift: my daughters, my dog (still kicking!), my family, and my second family in my friends.  The best birthday gift doesn't come in a box; it's just knowing I am loved.  I don't want presents for my birthday.  Just presence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

For All Things, Their Season

Last fall, two weeks before the first snowfall, Cathy's friend Jake was still alive.  This spring, when the lilacs were budding, Tyler was alive, and Nathan died the week my tulips bloomed.  Those deaths rocked our small town, made people mindful of everything:  the passage of time, the struggles of being teenagers, and the beauty those boys would not live to see. 

This year, my daughters lost friends and classmates for the first time in their lives in a terribly cruel and permanent way.  I lost people, too, but in more adult and expected ways.  The snow was melting and we  avoided the soft mud when Adam, John Hudson and I helped Abbi and her John load the U Haul and move away.  Abbi, Gabe, Leah, Brandon, and Justin all left my work, replaced by Jennifer, Callista, Emily, Elizabeth and Cassie. 

A few weeks ago, my friend Jodie referenced a quote about people coming into our lives at different times, sometimes only for a season, but always for a reason.  Today, Laura referenced that quote when we three were having lunch and I was reminded how beautiful a sentiment it is, and how accepting loss is part of life.  People come into your life, people leave it.  A few remain, and I was reminded of that today, too, when talking Darren's ear off; he is one of my oldest friends and my only guy friend to know me through all my adult relationships.  Sometimes, we have no control over who leaves our lives, and if it's sooner than we wish, it can hurt terribly.  Sometimes, we stay connected by love when proximity ends; Gabe is coming home this fall to visit and I see Abbi as often as I can.  And, sometimes... Sometimes, we just have to let people go.  Love can die, just like anything else.  There are seasons to love, too.  Finding the reason is sometimes harder.

But, for those uncomplicated loves in my life, the friendships that sustain me, thank you.  Darren, Becky, Laura and Jodie, and all my friends (is it a bad thing that there are too many to list?) you are amazing, wonderful people and I am so lucky to have you in my life.  I know you aren't going anywhere. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cheer Meetings & Twinkie Trees

Yesterday, on my supper break, I received an angry text from Cathy:  "We are out of shampoo. Darn Sarah."  When I called her to tell her I had bought more, I got this response:

"Mom, I can't talk right now.  I'm in a meeting."  What?  I thought she said she was eating, so I continued, "You need to stop blaming your sister for using the last of the shampoo.  She has a right to use it, too, and I just need to know before it's gone so I can buy more."  Cathy whispered, "Okay, Mom.  I really do have to go.  I. Am. In. A. Meeting."  There was lots of teenaged giggling in the background, so I gave up.  "Fine, enjoy your meeting."

On our walk last night, Cathy told me, she really had been in a meeting, of cheerleaders having a cheer-mergency over their upcoming cheer car wash.  They were giggling, because they could hear me scolding her.  Oops.  And then, Cathy went into a long spiel about what did I think she was doing, having a meeting with her stuffed animals, asking Big Bunny to please take minutes, and Walking Talking Elmo to hold all calls?

So, that was yesterday's funny.  Sunday's funny happened after I forced the kids to try a bunch of unfamiliar foods.  We bought prawn crackers, spinach buns, fish balls, egg drop soup, biblinka, shredded squid, and more, from the Oriental Market where the non English fluent cashier whistles Scorpion tunes.  That was an unmitigated disaster.  But, the after-supper party was fun.  A few of Sarah's unsuspecting friends came to join us after they returned home from boating.  As they walked down the sidewalk, Cathy, Sarah, Spencer and Kaitlyn were ready, having tied a twinkie to a ball of yarn and left it on the sidewalk.  As Ashton and Leighton approached, the twinkie slowly moved out of reach.  Then, Ashton sprinted toward it, Spencer took off running down the highway, the twinkie bounced along ("like a gazelle," Ashton later said) and the kids erupted laughing. 

Leighton loved the idea of tricking more kids in that manner, so we set to work trying to string up twinkies in our mulberry tree with low hanging branches, with yarn that could retract into the branches when the kids reached up to grab one.  We then played Pictionary and the story game, and called it a night.

My kids keep me young.  And maybe, I keep them young, too, because I don't want to see them rushing into adulthood, with all its challenges.  Their childhoods will be over soon enough, and then the house will seem very big and very quiet, with no twinkies in our trees, and no stuffed animal meetings.  Cathy can laugh about it now that she has "real" meetings, but those conferences with her toys were not that long ago.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Take One For The Team, Baby Carrot!!"

Cathy names all her facebook albums according to a comment, heard and worth remembering from that night's conversation.  One album is titled, "Where My Cabin Resigns," and when I pointed out it should be where my cabin resides, she just sighed and said, "You don't get it, Mom. You just don't get it." Ever since she was small, Cathy had an adult's ability to find the funny in any situation.  We went pedal boating the other night with Spencer and Erika, who was remembering our whole, "See that girl over there?" schtick.  We've been laughing over "See that girl over there" jokes (like, "See that girl over there?  She only thinks she's adopted") for several years, meaning Cathy came up with that joke around the age of twelve. 

She is now turning sixteen on Sunday, sharing her sweet sixteen party with her longtime friend, Erika, and here is her birthday blog, replete with old photos and a recent story for which this blog is named.  We were weeding the garden, and Cathy accidentally pulled up a baby carrot along with the weeds.  Rather than replant the tiny, feathery roots, she tossed it aside and said, "Well, now the weeds are gone, its brothers and sisters can get some sun.  Take one for the team, baby carrot!" and we laughed all night over that. 

Happy Birthday, Baby Carrot!  I am proud of you for many reasons: your sense of humor, your kindness, and your ability to deal like an adult, but enjoy life like a kid.  You made me proud when you bought Lexi's homecoming dress, when you wanted to sponsor Binti as yours (and Sarah's) Christmas present, when you opted to spend your time and money when you were given both, by going and buying toys to distribute to the Helen Nassif Pediatric Wing of Saint Luke's Hospital.  You are a great, funny girl and loved by many.