Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Happy Child's St. Patrick's Day!

My youngest child, Nina, came into our lives a little later than expected.  My other children were already in school when my doctor announced I was - quite shockingly - pregnant.  We knew from the beginning that she would be the piece we never knew was missing from our family, that Nina would bring a special joy to us to complete our clan.

She has.  But because she came along later in our lives, she has grown up surrounded by adults, which has made her more mature than other girls her age.  She is adored by our grown up friends for her ability to converse intelligently with them on a wide range of topics, and don't even get her started on politics unless you want an earful of insightful and passionate opinions.  Sometimes, Nina seems so grown up, it is easy to forget that she is still, at heart, just a little kid.

Yesterday, as Nina's daddy settled in his Lazy Boy for an afternoon of Big 10 Basketball viewing, and I finished up the laundry, Nina announced she had a surprise for St. Patrick's Day.  She hid out in the art room, and later insisted her father get off his butt and take her to the craft store.  She worked very hard all day to give us an Irish celebration this morning.

First, she colored Shamrocks on paper, putting silver glitter glue around the edges.  Once the glue dried, she cut the shapes out and put them up all over the kitchen.

Then she decorated with garland…

…and made a poster…

…and created a centerpiece for the table.

Viola!  A St. Patrick's Day feast awaits!

Nina went to bed early, then rose this morning very early to get ready for Mass before completing her surprise.  I walked into the kitchen for my morning coffee, and Chef Nina was already busy.

She had the griddle on, and was making green pancakes!

Topped off with Lucky Charms!

Nina even decorated the syrup ladle…

Then she called us all to breakfast, and Chef Nina presented our meal.

We sat down to a lovely St. Patrick's Day breakfast, courtesy of Nina…

…and we all agreed it was very, very good!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, and no matter how old you are, you are never too old, or too young, for the magic and tradition of the wearing o' the green!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Things I Never Had

When I am home alone, I often have the TV on, just to keep me company.  I don't actually watch what is on the tube, it merely serves as background noise.  Once in a while, I pick up on a line or two coming through the TV speakers, and recently heard a sentence of dialogue that got me thinking.  It was a random moment, where my ears just happened to hear the TV character say,

"Those are things I never had".  The actress was lamenting the things she never had as a child, and how her life was negatively affected by their absence.  That kind of thinking brings out the worst in me and in a moment of unkindness, I looked at the TV and said "Quit whining!"

But the line stayed in my head.  I thought about it as I did the laundry.  The words came back to me during one of my many episodes of insomnia.  A theme began swirling around in my head, until I reached the point where I had to put my thoughts into perspective.
Sure, my childhood wasn't perfect.  Instead of whining about it, I was thinking how lucky I am, because I never suffered.  I had a good home, with a mom and a dad who love and respect each other to this day.  I had the too-important pair of Guess jeans in high school, which any self-respecting teen in the early 80's simply had to have.  I wore those jeans until I became pregnant with my first child.  I had delicious southern fried meals every day, courtesy of my southern mom.  My parents were far from wealthy, but we took a few family vacations, drove a decent car, and had everything we needed.  My parents were involved and caring.  Sometimes a little too involved, but what teenager doesn't feel that way?  The best thing we had, though, was books.

My parents, my sister, and I still love to read.  My dad built a library in our home, and we often went to the bookstore as a family, where my mother could never deny me that third or fourth book in my pile, even though she knew I would read all of them in a week and beg for more.  Once I started middle school, I found amazing discoveries in my father's books.  He had books on every subject, from every part of the world.  I never ran out of things to read in my parents' house.  It was in those books that I found myself.

I grew up in the city.  I realized at a very young age that I hated the city.  I longed for the wide open spaces I read about in my books, I wanted to see the mountains and rivers and valleys.  I wanted to live on a farm.  As far back as I can remember, I coveted land.  I vowed to myself that some day, I would live in a place where I couldn't see another house but I could see untamed land for miles.  Instead of the steady sounds of city life with its cars backfiring and sirens wailing and neighbors yelling, I dreamt of hearing the wind and rushing water.  I believed, as a child, that it would just happen, that I would live in a place when I grew up that existed in my books and my heart.  It never happened.

When I was seven years old, I read The Boxcar Children for the first of many times.  Oh, how I envied Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny for their boxcar home!  I wanted to run away from home and find my own boxcar to live in, but I never got very far away from my mother's watchful eyes.  In college, I went for a walk one day away from the campus, and found an abandoned boxcar in the woods a couple of miles from my dorm.  I was so delighted that whenever I couldn't sleep, I would walk there in the middle of the night and sit in that old boxcar to dream of my future.  I'm pretty sure that's when the dream was born of living in a little cabin high on a bluff deep in the woods overlooking the water.

As my life went on, I fell madly in love with a man from my hometown.  We married, and I moved straight from my parents' home to my husband's home, in the city.  I neglected my dreams as I embraced a new vision for my life with my husband and the three children that came along.  We moved to a bigger house just outside of the city, and I was happy to stay home, raise my family, and embrace suburban living.  My childhood dreams were never forgotten, they just didn't seem important anymore.

Twenty years ago, when my first child was born and I had the perfect husband and we were starting a perfect life together, no one could have told me what I would feel like now.  I couldn't foresee a time when my family would not be the center of my universe.  Then my kids grew up.  Damn them for turning out to be the responsible, independent young adults I raised them to be.  I never would have believed how much it would hurt to be so proud of my kids for making their own way.

Thinking about the things I never had has taken on an entirely new context.  I never had a mountain to climb or a river to cross.  I never had a bear, wolf, or moose run through my back yard, I didn't even have deer in my yard!  I never felt the rush of adrenaline as I rode my bike down a narrow ridge or pushed a canoe down the swift current of rushing whitewater.  I spent my childhood indoors, reading my books and imagining the lives of others, while never really living my own.

Google Images

The things I never had are what move me forward now.  There is a time for everything, and for each of us, the time is different.  I made the choices that were right for me, back then.  I did what I was meant to do by being a mother first and foremost.  I loved it!  Now, I find myself remembering my childhood dreams, and they are reawakening.  I find that I still want land around me, I still want that little cabin, and I still want to climb a mountain.  I may never have had those things before, but dreaming of them for 48 years just makes them that much sweeter.  Now is the time for me to be something all by myself, and that something will grow out of a child's longing to be outside, part of the vastness of the land and the greatness of a natural world.

These days, I don't live in a boxcar, but I do love living in my tin can, the old Airstream.  It's just like the boxcar, except I made it my own.  I park it in the woods like an abandoned old trailer so I can cook outside, search the woods for treasures, and seek its shelter at night.  Just like Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, I don't need to be found.  I need to be lost in my childhood dreams, writing the rest of my story, for once making it up as I go along.

Glass Lake, Google Images
Google Images
 I don't use my childhood as an excuse for not living passionately, in a place where I belong.  I was exactly where I belonged for many years, taking care of my family and giving them the best of me.  Now there is a new place for me to belong, and I am being drawn there because of the things I never had.  I recently searched for properties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and found the perfect piece of land.  There are 360 acres of wild land surrounding a completely undeveloped body of water called Glass Lake.  The property has a high bluff on the north end of Glass Lake, the ideal spot for my little cabin.  Of course, one of the things I've never had is a winning lottery ticket, so I won't be buying Glass Lake at the bargain price of $1.8 million any time soon, but I know there is land out there waiting for me and my cabin.   Right now, I am planning a trip to kayak on Lake Superior, and another trip to the Porcupine Mountains, and several smaller trips camping in the woods in the tin can.  Alaska is still on the horizon, too.  I will hear the rush of water, climb a mountain, see a wolf, and stand in the middle of wide open spaces and breathe the glory of the land.  My time to be inspired by the things I never had is coming.  I am older, wiser, and in the right position to fully appreciate who I might become.  I have been patient with my dreams and I believe good things come to those who wait, so as I take these baby-steps toward my future I am learning once more to be open to what lies ahead and be grateful for the things I never had.
Google Images

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Snow Days

Another storm system is hitting the Midwest today, though it is just missing my region.  Last week, I enjoyed all the stories and photos I saw from Michigan's TV6 & Fox U.P., where they experienced "Yoopergeddon" in the form of a blizzard.  I was wishing I was there, and remembering snow days from years gone by.

When my kids were younger, Snow Days were Fun Days.  It would start about 5 days before the storm, when the local weatherman would say "We are keeping an eye on this system…"  The anticipation would begin with those words, and I became obsessed with watching the news to see if the storm would, indeed, be a big one.  As the days went on, the predictions would build with phrases like "this could be a significant storm" and "…a second system could merge with this one"  as the kids and I eagerly made bets on how many inches of snow might fall and how many days school would be cancelled.  Before the storm hit, I would go to the grocery store and stock up on Pizza Rolls, milk, gatorade, and popcorn.  My husband would bring home spark plugs and cans filled with gasoline for the snowmobiles and snow blower.  The kids lined their snow boots and pants up in the hallway, readying them for the first early morning hours of snowfall.  Then we would listen to the weather report and impatiently watch out the window for those first few flakes to fall.

When we woke to the official cancellation of school and a winter wonderland in our backyard, the kids got on the phone and invited all their friends over.  By 10:00am, I would have a houseful of happy kids preparing to spend the day in my yard snowmobiling, ice skating, building snow forts, creating jumps, and stockpiling snowballs.  
In a frenzy of activity, the kids went from one fun task to another while I made hot chocolate from scratch, a pot of chili, pizza rolls, and threw mittens, gloves, hats, and snowpants in the dryer.  I kept busy with my camera, capturing these priceless days to show later at high school graduation parties and to keep for my kids to have when they start a family of their own.
These were days that left me exhausted, with a wrecked house and wet floors.  I went from the house to the rink to the front yard to the woods beyond our property, running to keep up with the kids so I didn't miss a moment.  I carried extra chairs to the kitchen table, taped hockey sticks, and filled tanks on snowmobiles.  I never plowed the driveway, because the kids needed the snow to cross over the drive on the sleds.  My windows were covered with the remnants of snow balls and my lint trap was full in the dryer.  As many as 20 kids would stumble into the house, red cheeks burning and numb toes stinging, all the while laughing and joking and loving my house on snow days.  I was the fun mom, and I loved it!

But these days, not so much.  Now, when the weatherman starts building us up to a snow day, I dread it.  The kids all grew up, and they don't come to my house anymore.  Most of them are in college, and my girls tend to spend an unexpected day off sitting on the couch and watching TV.  It drives me crazy.  When did they stop loving snow?  How did it happen that, in the blink of an eye, I went from fun mom to nagging mom?  I once called out to them "Come inside before you turn into a snowman!" and now I spend snow days begging the kids to get off the couch and just do something, anything.  I suggest my girls take the free time to finally clean their room, and I get the eye roll.  I don't even ask anymore if they could shovel the sidewalk.  I bundle myself up, go outside, shovel heavy snow, and give them dirty looks through the window as they wave to me from the couch.

Yes, these days, things are different.  The hockey rink sits unused, with no ice, a lonely behemoth standing alone in the woods.  No longer do I hear the sounds of skate blades whispering across the ice, pucks pinging off the bar, or boys cheering when they score a goal in a game of hockey with no rules.  The snowmobiles finally broke down for the last time, and I don't even know what became of them.  

The yard, once filled with shouts and laughter, now sits quietly, listening to the snowfall alone with no one to hear its special silence.  When did my kids stop being kids and start being teenagers?  I don't like it.  Instead of falling into bed at night with their arms wrapped around my neck and telling me "Thanks, mom, I had the best day!" they just move the day-long Dance Moms Marathon from the couch to their rooms, wondering why they are so tired after sitting all day.  Snow Days have become Lazy Days, and they are boring.

Winter is almost over for this year.  But next year, when I only have one teenager left at home and we have a Snow Day, I am going to drag my daughter out of the house and bombard her with snowballs.  Then I am going to help her build a snowman, pull her behind the gator on a sled, and make snow angels.  We are going outside next year, together, and I am going to once more enjoy her happy childhood, whether she is happy about it or not.  I'm not ready for Lazy Days, I want Snow Days!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dude, That's Crazy!

It is always my hope to inspire even one person to live with purpose, passion, and peace.  When you get to be my age, you tend to look back and wonder why you didn't do it sooner.  It has always been my choice; I just didn't realize it until I had years of living under my belt.

But some people make that choice at a very young age.  They are pulled by their passion and nothing gets in their way.  Surrounding myself with passionate people inspires me, and on the final evening of my recent adventure to the Michigan Ice Fest, I found myself not only inspired, but once again wondering why I had waited so long to do this!  One of my many inspirations came from an extraordinary young woman named Zoe Hart.

Zoe Hart, Google Images
Having climbed Opening Curtain during the day with Zoe, I was looking forward to her presentation and learning more about her.  Zoe's personality shines in even the briefest of moments spent in her company, but I didn't learn much about her history or what brought her here, nor did I have the opportunity to ask her my burning question about why she does this, what makes her different? The answer was self-evident in her personality anyway.  Zoe Hart is joyful, passionate, energetic, infectious, strong, supportive…shall I go on?  I could.  So much life emanates from her!  A compact little bundle of passion, Zoe's every word and every movement made me want to reach for the sky and believe I could accomplish anything.

Zoe Hart, Google Images
One of only four American women to have achieved the highest accreditation from the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association, Zoe is one of the few alpinists I met who did not grow up hearing the call to the mountains.  She grew up in New Jersey, and then went to Boston College to study English Literature in what she calls the path to a normal life.  But then her father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack, and the impact on Zoe pushed her to find her passion.  She went to the mountains, and the rest is history.  Zoe has achieved first ascents on mountains in Switzerland, Scotland, and Oman, and first female ascents in Alaska.  She also set a first ski descent speed record in Pakistan.
Maxime Turgeon and Zoe Hart, Google Images

While climbing in France, Zoe met her future husband, alpinist Maxime Turgeon, and they now live in Chamonix, France with their infant son.  When the relationship was new, Max would take care of Zoe while climbing, but now that the honeymoon is over he serves as her greatest inspiration while pushing her to her limits and insisting she carry her own weight!

Zoe Hart and Sue Nott
Google Images
Zoe's zest for living and pushing herself carries into every aspect of her life.  During her presentation, she spoke of her mentors, particularly Sue Nott, who taught her to forget she's a woman when climbing, but hide fashion magazines in her pack.  Sue died while climbing, as have other partners Zoe has had, and the impact on Zoe is to push herself further to keep their memory alive.

It was fitting that at the end of Zoe's presentation, we were honored by a special guest, Sue Nott's mother, Evi.

Maddie, Rachael, and Evi
Evi had been in our group of women that day, climbing the ice for the first time in 10 years.  I was drawn to her from the moment we met for her grace and warmth.  She is one of those rare people that makes you feel good with just a smile and a kind word.  Her encouragement for

 the rest of us that day was so genuine and uplifting.  She was attending the Michigan Ice Fest for the first time, brought by event organizer Bill Thompson to present the Sue Nott scholarship to Maddie and Rachael for their foray into ice climbing.  Each year, two young girls are awarded a scholarship to attend the ice fest and continue the passion of Sue Nott for female alpinists.

Evi faced a roomful of 450 people and spoke of her daughter with laughter and love.  After giving background on Sue's unstoppable quest for conquering mountains, Evi joked that she had sent Sue to college and begged her to complete those last 4 credits to graduate, when Sue left to climb a mountain with partner Karen McNeill of New Zealand.  Evi's voice dropped then, and it seems everyone in that room knew what was coming next except me.  You could have heard a pin drop as Evi said,

Karen Mcneill and Sue Nott, Google Images

"In May of 2006, Sue and Karen left to climb Mount Foraker in Alaska, and were never seen again".

I thought about that statement.  Never seen again.  Two days after they should have made contact, search crews set out, but other than Sue's backpack, nothing was ever found to explain what happened to these two women.  They just…disappeared.  They were taken by the mountain to forever be a part of it.

I began to understand Evi Nott's strength.  Not because she lives with the uncertainty of what happened to her child, but because even knowing the risks, she allowed her child to go.  It isn't that she just allowed it, but she loved and celebrated her daughter in living a life of passion.  It takes a special kind of love, the kind of love every mother should know, to give her child the gift of following her dream.

In Memory of Sue Nott
Google Images
Evi Nott loved and lost her daughter; but she shares her memories and inspires others to live the way Sue lived.  I am honored to have spent time with Evi, I will never forget her smile, the kind words she spoke to me, and her strength.  And even now, she climbs the ice like a pro; she wasn't even tired when she finished!  I asked her how it felt to climb again, and with her beautiful smile, Evi said,

"It felt great!"

It certainly did.

The final presenter of the weekend was a man whose name I had heard many, many times that weekend.  Everyone was talking about Will Gadd.  As his slideshow began, I quickly found out why.  This guy is crazy!  With each new slide, as Will spoke of climbs all over the world, someone would whisper "Dude, that's crazy".  This video shows just what I mean as Will and Tim Emmett climb the never-before-attempted Helmcken Falls in British Columbia, named by Gadd "Spray On".  The following images, taken from, also give you an idea of how he likes to spend his time defying sanity:

Will Gadd certainly has done things that most of us cannot even imagine.  But as he told story after story with a humorous twist, a theme began to emerge, and Will's message is worth repeating.

There is something in the Alpine world called "The List", which Will displayed on the big screen.  It is his list of all the partners and climbers he has known who have been taken by the mountain.  The List is long.  Will Gadd knows, as any climber does, that he is not on The List mostly because of luck, but also because of something he calls "the positive power of negative thinking".

To an outsider, these accomplished alpinists are crazy; who in their right mind would do this?  But everyone I met at The Michigan Ice Fest, while acknowledging the risk, spoke of safety.  People like Will, and all the other presenters at the ice fest, don't just fly to some remote part of the world and start climbing a mountain.  They spend weeks and months researching routes, equipment, weather, rock and ice conditions, and thousands of other details.  Sometimes, even after all this preparation, Will arrives for an expedition, and negative thoughts creep into his plan.  When this happens, Will aborts the climb.  He has learned the positive power of negative thinking, and its how he stays off "The List".

Every single presenter at the Michigan Ice Fest has thousands of stories to tell.  But they also have educations, experiences, and involvement with the communities who welcome them.  I was surprised to learn of the many volunteer efforts they participate in for the environment, the arts, third-world concerns like education and health care, and countless other ways in which these climbers are aware and involved.  They give back so much of themselves.  Alpinists are larger-than-life people who push themselves mentally, physically, spiritually, and never waste a minute of life.  Are they crazy?  No.  They are passionate, purposeful, and peaceful.  In a word, incredible.  I am so grateful to have met them and heard their words, to have felt, just for a moment, what they feel.  I am a better person for it.

If you've been following my story, I promised that I would give you the "Beta" on the Michigan Ice Fest; the information you need before you go.  It's very simple.  Just GO.  Once you register with Michigan Ice Fest (and I suggest you start checking in September for opening registration) you will be given the information you need.  Everything else will fall into place once you get there.

But the same advice holds true for anything.  What makes you different?  What passion is calling?  You have a choice.  You can either keep on getting through life, even with success, or you can live passionately.  It doesn't even matter what your dream is.  You can restore antique cars, make beautiful quilts, be an outdoor adventurer, a writer, a singer, an artist.  You can build an orphanage, or decide to be a positive person who brightens the lives of those around you.  You can supply clean water in third world countries.  Share your faith, teach children to read or ski down a mountain or start a website.  Invent a product.  Read every classic novel.  Anything.  You don't have to walk away from your family and your job and your responsibilities; you can do both.  But you have to commit to doing it.

I have spent the last year carving pieces of time into my busy life to do what I love most; going outside, and writing about it.  There are many obstacles, but I don't give up trying.  I believe that if I start spending at least some of my time doing what I love, everything good will follow.

Despite what my friends (and even some of my family) think, I'm not crazy because I wanted to climb ice.  The experience taught me that I am on the right track to becoming the person I always believed I would be, I just got sidetracked for 25 years.  I left the Ice Fest feeling strong, peaceful, joyful, and with the sense that I had been in the right place, with good people, and for a reason other than climbing.

This summer, I plan to Kayak in white water.  Dude, that's crazy!

Google Images