Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Homecoming King

This post doesn't involve a cute picture of our kids. It won't have a witty retelling of an embarrassing moment. What it does contain, is an inspiring and touching story of some great kids from Montivideo, MN.

This story aired on our local news tonight. Lady Di and I both had trouble keeping our eyes dry.
This video shows the love and respect this student body has for one of its classmates. It makes me proud to live in the same state as these kids. And inspires me with hope for the future. A future of acceptance and empathy. I would feel blessed if our kids grew up to be as compassionate as the kids from this school.
I'm sure many parents will connect with this student's parents.
Here is the link if you are interested.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm Ready For My Closeup.

We recently were the recipients of good news in our home. We found out that both kids received parts in the upcoming fall musical. Sweet Pea used her sugary sweetness, combined with booty shakin' choreography at her audition to win over the directors with a song she learned at Girl Scouts. Number One Son sang a few verses of 'If I Only Had a Brain'. He hid a piece of cotton in his hand to pull out of his ear for the 'head all full of stuffin' verse which wowed the judges. And it must have worked because he got one of the lead roles again this year. SP got a part as a dancer in her first production.

Both kids are excited for the play this year. The show they are in is called Alms For the Poor. Sounds like another light hearted romp, huh?

Actually, it was written by the main director of our local children's productions. Two years ago, N1S was in the show 3-6-9 Kid about the Holocaust which she also authored. We like that this director is brave enough to try some serious subjects along with comedies.

This theatre season started out a little rocky for N1S. He contracted the flu and had to miss the first practice. But don't worry, Sweet Pea went to practice and forgot her script, songbook and music CD there, just like he usually does on the first night. Luckily, N1S recovered by the end of the week to make his appearance at the second practice. Mom and Dad also went to gather up all of the needed paperwork.

Since this is N1S's fourth production, he has quite a few friends that have been in previous shows with him. I guess he's one of the big-wigs now since he's in fifth grade. At least we think he's a big-wig. This year the play was open for kids in second through eighth grade for auditions.

Sweet Pea, on the other hand, has always thought of herself as a big-wig. After N1S's performance in Hansel and Gretel last year, SP walked up to the director and told her that she was going to be in next year's play. Well, I guess she was right. As I said, she is a dancer in this play. After the first practice, we found out that the director also offered her a small solo. This information comes from SP, so we don't know if it is a solo dance, song or Shakespearean sonnet. So now she's an even bigger-wig. She has attended two whole practices and has already complained that sometimes she gets tired dancing so much. And sometimes she doesn't like to practice with the 'little kids'. The 'little kids' being, other kids the same age as her. Diva behavior already? Next, she will be asking for a dressing room with Cheetos in bowls with serving spoons. Personally, I think she is finding out that being in a play involves a little bit of work along with the fun.

So hopefully, N1S can stay healthy enough to make it to opening night. And hopefully, SP will dance even without getting a private trailer with a star on the door.

My little Diva and her Bodyguard.

And I.....E-I.....E-I.....will always love yooooooou!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Friday Night Lights

October is a wonderful month for many reasons. The change of seasons, colorful foliage and, of course Halloween are just some of the benefits enjoyed by our tenth month.

Another reason, and one of my favorites, is football season.

I enjoy football at all levels. I, of course, put aside my requisite 2 to 3 hours every Sunday to follow the Vikings. Although, sometimes I only use about 1 hour to actually watch the game and fill the rest of the time with a nap.

On Saturdays I like to spend the day in the yard or garage listening to multiple college football games on the radio.

But the best football, in my mind, is played on Friday night. I love high school football games. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to play football in high school. Along with all of the bruises and sore muscles, I received many memories and enjoyed many friendships from those four years long ago.

Our high school football teams had our up and down years, but I valued each year equally high. My high school was rather small compared to most. My graduating class had an enrollment of thirty. With such a small talent pool to choose from, our teams gave our athletes their money's worth of playing time.

Our numbers would fluctuate so much that we would switch back and forth from 11-man to 9-man football every other year. One year we even played an 8-man game. In my sophomore year, our team was still in rebuilding mode and suffered more injuries than usual. On the last game of the season we travelled to our opponent's field with thirteen players to play an eleven man game. So simple math will tell you that all but two players started and played on offence and defence. And out of the two players left on the sidelines, only one of them could play because the other freshman forgot his hip pads at home. Luckily, he didn't have to play. But we did have one injury in that game that required our last eligible player to enter the battle. Across the field, the other team lined up with around thirty extra players. They had plenty but wouldn't loan any to us. We did pretty well that game but still lost 6 to 0.

I was lucky enough to avoid any serious injury during my playing days. I did receive an opponent's helmet to my chin which required some stitches, but that just gave me a scar to prove to my kids that I actually played back then.

Back then, playing sports was pretty nerve wracking for me. I had certain rituals for good luck. I wore the same t-shirt under my uniform for every practice and game for four years. It was an orange t-shirt with a Kit-Kat candy bar logo on the front. And occasionally, I would let Mom wash it when it stood in the corner by itself.

Because I would get so nervous before games, I would fail to enjoy them much. I concentrated too much on what I was supposed to do, that I wouldn't stop and take it all in. I hardly ever celebrated on the field and rarely heard the crowd cheer when we made a good play.

So these days, I am making up for lost time. When I take Number One Son and Sweet Pea to our local high school stadium, I try to notice everything that is going on.

The first experience that brings back the glory days for me is hearing the pep band play as we walk across the parking lot.

The closer we get to the gate, the smell of concession stand popcorn reaches our noses. That mixes with the smell of newly mowed grass from the football field. Sometimes I stop and inhale deeply through my nostrils in an attempt to turn back time.

Once in the stands, I survey the entire field of green with precisely spaced white yard lines and numbers marking where rows of players do their pre-game calisthenics. They do the same jumping jacks and stretches that I did so long ago.

The noises of the game also bring back memories. A rumble of anticipation comes from the fans visiting in the stands. The cheerleaders shout out their routines mixing with the regular cadence of the players' warm up exercises. And then the silence before the national anthem, setting the stage for a rousing cheer to start off the contest.

Once the game starts, I observe that things look much different in the stands than I remember them on the field. Plays look much less confusing from up here. Today's players also seem to be faster than in my day. Regardless of today's changes, the game is still pretty much the same. The teams and stadiums are bigger. And so is my enjoyment of the game, because I enjoy the little things that go along with the game much more. Little things that I was too nervous to enjoy before.

I haven't kept in touch very well with many of my teammates over the years. But the feeling of being brothers on a team, united in one goal hasn't dimmed in me. When I do correspond with teammates of old, the past rushes back to me and is as vivid as when I first experienced it.
Here we are in our senior football yearbook photo. Quite the menacing group in our home orange jerseys. #34 was an all-state running back for us that year. #23 was a state champion wrestler. #56 is a great dad to three girls. #51 owns his own ice cream business out west and is still the school record holder in the discus. #66 has travelled the world with the Air Force. He is currently stationed in North Carolina. And #82 is still a dork.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

English Lessons from Sting

Just recently, I was downloading some Police songs to my Ipod. One of the songs reminded me of a day in my high school English class. I believe it was my freshman year and we were assigned to write a poem about anything we wanted.

So, on the morning of the day the poem was due, I asked my locker mate if his poem was ready for English class. My locker neighbor, who was a character to put it mildly, flashed a sly grin and replied, "Guess what?"

My reaction of 'What' was answered by my friend with an explanation of his 'plan' for English class.

He explained that he didn't want to write a poem last night, so he got an inspiring idea to copy a couple of verses from one of his favorite songs.

With incredulity, I blurted, "No way!"

He said, "Yeah, why not? She's not going to know the difference."

We both thought this was the best idea in the world. The song he picked was very new at the time and was just starting to get popular. But who cares? Teachers don't listen to popular music.

The song he chose was Wrapped Around Your Finger, by the Police. And he chose the first two verses from that song for his 'poem'.

To refresh your memory, the lyrics are as follows:

You consider me your young apprentice

Caught between the Scylla and Charibdes.

Hypnotized by you if I should linger

Staring at the ring around your finger.

I have only come here seeking knowledge,

Things they would not teach me of in college.

I can see the destiny you sold

turned into a shining band of gold.

As you can see, he picked a very poetic lyric. This should be an easy 'A'.

So we arrived at English class and settled into our desks and prepared to hand in our poems. Our teacher had another idea, though. She stood in front of the class and announced, "Who wants to be the first one to read their poem in front of the class?"

A low groan could be heard rippling through the room.

After a little added prompting by the teacher, someone volunteered. She read her poem and we all sat in stony silence. Our teacher then threw us another curve ball. She started asking questions, of us, about our poems. Questions like, "What made you choose those words?" , and "What does that symbolize?". Questions that high school freshman are incapable of fathoming.

The rest of the class time was taken up in this manner. Student after student would slouch their way to front of the room, sheepishly read their poem and then shrug their shoulders to the teacher's questions. Every once in a while someone would agree with whatever the teacher thought our poems meant.

At the end of the hour, our class was asked, "Is there anyone who has not read their poem yet?"

That's when I remembered my locker neighbor had not read his 'poem' yet. I then realized that our assignment involved more than just handing in an innocent piece of paper. I also realized that my friend was going to be unable to explain anything about his thought process or creative inspiration. How could he answer why he chose the words, Scylla and Charibdes? How could he even define those words? I don't think Sting could even answer those questions.

As I said, class was just about to end and our poet laureate had yet to recite. Our teacher looked at the clock and determined we had just enough time for one more poem if we hurried.

I can remember my friend dragging his feet to the front of the room and bowing his head to read his wrinkly page of college ruled notebook paper with torn fringes on one side from the spiral edge. I can remember feeling uncomfortable for him, as he hurriedly rushed through his lyrics in a language slightly above a mumble.

When he was finished, I don't think he even looked up, as if hoping that everyone would forget he was there. His head bowed as if praying for a miracle.

And a miracle was granted. The class bell rang before our teacher could ask any questions. My friend rapidly handed in his paper and darted out under the cover of noisy desks and freshmen.

I'm not sure if our English teacher knew the truth or not. I didn't ask my friend what kind of grade he got and we never talked about it again.

Until now, that is.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Last Crusade

The final chapter of our camping trip involves the activities that we enjoyed while trying to get away from it all. And since 'it all' included electricity, Number One Son valiantly battled his video game withdrawal. It wasn't until the second day that he started asking how he could recharge his game using pine needles and acorns. He made the mistake of asking me as I was going to the well to pump some more water into our cooler. "Here's the pump game, N1S. You get a point for each pump. See if you can get the high score!", I cheered.

"What do I get for high score?", he asked with suspicion.

"Bigger arms and a pat on the back.", I offered. It must have been enough because he filled the cooler.

"Next time, can we get a camp site with electricity?", he pleaded.

Since we were in the woods, there were a few nature trails that the kids and I wanted to explore. One morning N1S asked if we could go on a trail close to the beach. N1S, Sweet Pea and I found the sign at the beginning of the trail and entered the forest. SP thought of a game to collect one thing to match each color of the rainbow. Green was pretty easy since everything was green. Red and yellow were found pretty quickly too. Blue and purple were going to test her. We walked quite a ways and SP's collection was growing too large for her to carry so we made a birch bark basket to hold it all. She had found red, orange and green leaves. She found yellow, white and purple flowers and even found a bright pink leaf somehow. As my legs started to tire we came to a bridge that had a wild blueberry plant with two tiny blue berries. She actually found blue in the forest. They were the size of two shrivelled peas but she found them.
The longer we walked, the more I thought, "I really should have found out how long this trail is before we started." SP's legs were Jello-ing and N1S was sweating. Then, just over the hill, we saw a sign. Finally, the end! But the sign only told us, This trail is 2.5miles long and does not loop. Does not loop! Why wasn't this sign at the other end of the trail? As both kids howled their discontent I could swear I heard their call answered by a pack of wolves miles away.

So now I had to convince the kids that going back the way we came was the only way to get home. We hadn't planned on a five mile hike this morning but that's what we got. The whole way back the kids would ask me, "How many more miles?" "Almost there.", was my favorite lie. Luckily, we made it out of the woods and were welcomed by Lady Di and a big egg, bacon and flapjack breakfast.

If hiking to the next state and back wasn't enough, we also burned some calories kayaking around Lake Superior. We actually didn't go all the way around Lake Superior but found a nice lagoon to see turtles and toured some caves along the shore. Number One Son and Lady Di paddled one kayak and Sweet Pea and I were in the other. For some reason SP and I drew the slow boat. It may have had something to do with our uneven weight displacement. With me in the back, our kayak quickly filled with an inch of water at my end. SP felt great glee in telling everyone she saw that her dad's pants were wet the whole time we were in the kayak.

LD and N1S's kayak must have had a motor on it. As soon as we hit open water, they left us in their wake. They took off across the lake to the caves, two miles away. SP and I got about half way before we stopped in the middle of the water and started making up new verses to 'Row, Row, Row your Kayak'. Most of my verses included a muscle ache or bruise.

And camping wouldn't be complete without wildlife. We were fortunate to see and sometimes interact with the locals.
On one of our bike rides this doe bounded through the woods beside us. She had a fawn with her but I couldn't get her in the picture.

We had squirrels chittering every morning in an alarm clock fashion. Every night we had raccoons visit our coolers to check if they were shut or not. LD and I could hear them at night so we shined our flashlights on them. They would look at us, finish scratching at our coolers and move on. They were pretty smart to only check the coolers and didn't stay long when they couldn't get in. We also had a few less cuddly visitors to the campsite. Each campsite had a numbered post at the front and ours housed a hive of honey bees. And as if that wasn't enough, N1S made a friend in the grass just to the right of our post.

If you can't make it out, N1S is holding a small garter snake. It even bit him a few times. He said it didn't hurt, but felt like a little pinch. LD said she could feel it and ran for the tent. We suffered very few mosquito bites and almost no injuries. Only one stick wound above N1S's eye had to be attended to.

Well, those are the highlights of our trip to Madeline Island. Hopefully, you don't feel too itchy or dirty from so much camping reading. If it sounded fun to you, it was. We would like to go again next year. Lady Di started out firmly on the anti-camping side but I think after this trip, she has changed teams and is even looking for deals on camping equipment that we had to borrow this last time.

Thanks for joining us on our adventure.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gourmet Camping

Even though our camping trip got off to a rough start with cooler than normal weather and less than normal sleeping equipment, the morning brought with it a crisp sunny day.

Almost as soon as the squirrels told us it was morning, the kids wanted to swim at the beach. We had to delay them long enough for the temperature to reach the sixties at least. But as long as the sun was out, the kids wanted to swim. So 'Joe' and I took the kids to the beach to give the wives a break from the kids and us. The campground had a path and a boardwalk down to a large sandy beach on Lake Superior. The water was definitely too cold for me, but not for our little fish. This turned into our morning ritual pretty much every day. Breakfast was always followed by a morning swim and sand digging.
I'm not sure what Number One Son has trapped here. Or he might be setting up his green army men to recreate Normandy Beach. Each kid also had a net to catch minnows. Sadly, minnows do not react well to water filled sand holes on the beach.

Sweet Pea convinced her friend to bury her in the sand. It looks like SP is trying to tell her where to stop.N1S's friend had the same swim shirt so we were never sure who was getting into trouble.

Our friends, the Sir Camps-a-lots, had a tradition of collecting rocks from their camping trips over the years. Actually, their kids collected, the parents transported the collections before quietly losing them once at home. Our kids thought this was a great idea. Although we didn't truck all of their gravel home, we did keep a few stones until we can figure out what to do with them.

The one on the left has SP's name scratched into it. The middle one is the biggest rock N1S could find and named it Blackie and I think SP named the one on the right Rocky.
N1S also stacked some rocks and made LD promise not to tell anyone. I think he wanted people to think that they naturally stacked themselves.

Day two of our trip brought much improvement in our camping outlook. When we booked our campsite, we couldn't get the site next to our friends' site because it was already booked. But that site would be vacant on the second day of our stay, so we booked two sites down from them for the first night. On day number two we awoke and quickly looked next door to see if the family on our next site had vacated yet. Not only were they not ready to go, they looked as if they weren't going anytime soon. No totes loaded, tent still up, fire in their pit. They were still taking their kids for walks around the park! They did have until 3pm to move out, but were they going to wait until 2:59pm to pull out?

Our worries were unnecessary though. By noon they were pulling out just as we were coming back from our morning at the beach. Lady Di had almost everything re-loaded into the back of the pickup. All that was left was to transport our tent. We decided it would be easiest for all of us to grab a corner and lift. So we radioed ahead to clear the road of any traffic. Made sure there were no low hanging power lines to lift. Then we started our home moving.

Our move went quickly and without tragedy. That's me in the front with the heaviest part of the tent, of course.

Now that we were in our more permanent place, we were able to completely unpack and set up our campsite the way we wanted. And once Lady Di had her kitchen in order, we were treated to the best camping meals we ever had. Every night one or both of the kids would sing praises about the best meal of their lives. How many camping trips have you been on that featured tacos one night, pan fried fish the next and shish-ka-bobs the next? And we ate better breakfasts in the woods than we do in our kitchen. Bacon and cheesy scrambled eggs with chocolate chip and butterscotch chip pancakes. Or I suppose you call them flapjacks when camping. Dessert was provided by our neighbor's homemade icecream ball that the kids enjoyed kicking around the campground to mix the cream. And we had smores, of course. I didn't think I would actually gain weight from a camping trip.

I'm running out of room so I will have to tell you about the nature hikes, kayaking and wild animals next week.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Island Awaits

Last week, we ushered out our summer vacation with a bang. We took a family camping trip to Madeline Island in Wisconsin. This was our very first attempt at 'tent camping' as a family. We were warned by many of our friends and relatives. Almost everyone we told said, "Oooo. Goin' all da way up der, huh? Do ya want ta borrow my generator? Ya know it's goin' ta frost at night, don' cha?"

Despite our friends' efforts to scare us, we loading up the pickup and took off. And when I say we 'loaded' the pickup, I mean we had stuff stacked so high under the tarp, we looked like pioneers in our covered wagon. All we needed to complete the look, was a frying pan dangling from the side and a milk cow walking along behind.

We had every nook and cranny packed with something. The kids were separated by two duffel bags of clothes, four pillows and Sweet Pea had a case of bottled water under her feet. They were so cramped the back windows had the kids' cheek marks on them.

So with our back end scraping the driveway as we backed out, I yelled, "Who's ready for camping!" Both kids screamed, "Me!" Lady Di just sighed, "Oh Clark."

After our rousing start, we proceeded down the highway for our four and a half hour drive north to Gramma's house. We stayed with them for two days before beginning our trek 'Into the Wild.' Which was another four and a half hour drive east to Bayfield, Wisconsin. It was a pretty ride though. The leaves were about a week away from starting to turn their colors. The kids played video games. They did take a short break from Nintendo to see a bear, though.

Once in Bayfield, our adventure continued aboard a ferry ride to the island. I had never driven on a ferry before. I was kind of hoping to be just a little late and arrive just as the ferry was pulling away. Then I could say, "Hold on Honey! We can make it!" and then gun the accelerator off of the dock and do a Dukes of Hazzard jump over the water, to the boat, to much amazement and applause.

But we were on time.

We went with another family whom Lady Di has known since grade school. They wanted to play a trick on us and asked the ferry ticket lady to ask for our passports when we came through the line. We were completed suckered and our mouths dropped in bewilderment when we thought we really needed our very absent passports. But rubes will be rubes, so the rest of the camping trip was spent trying get them back.

We got across the lake without mishap and drove to the state park. We checked in with Ranger Rick and made sure to mention to check the pickup following behind us for illegal importation of firewood. Sorry about that guys. I had no idea they strip search you for that.

We got to our campsite and found it small but fine. Our traveling partners come here every year, so they got the elite campsite complete with large open area, natural gas bonfire pit and digitally timed, Glade pine scented air fresheners on each tree. We got free mosquitoes and extra bees.

Since they have camped before, 'Joe' just backed his pickup into the site, pressed the 'eject' button in his cab, and all their camping stuff flew into the air and set itself up as it landed.

I had a little more trouble.
Did you know tents had really necessary instructions? Once we had our site set up it was already getting dark and starting to cool quite rapidly. We got our sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses ready when 'Mrs. Joe' came sneaking over to our site. "Guess what!", she said with some slight irritation. "We forgot our mattresses!"

"What? The professional camping family forgot that? Oh, you must be so embarrassed.", I said with mock sympathy, try not to snicker.

Lady Di stepped right in, "We have two. You can have one of ours. We'll make do."

"Now wait a minute.", I protested.

But it was already a done deal. Luckily, we had packed two cots along with our mattresses for the kids. Unluckily, one of the cots ripped on the first night. So Number One Son, Lady Di and myself got cozy laying crosswise on one inflatable mattress with Sweet Pea getting the other cot. When we were finally all set in our sleeping bags, Sweet Pea said, "I'm so tired and my bed is soooooo comfortable. Good night." And then she started snoring. While Lady Di and I had to lay flat on our backs with our arms at our sides and my knees hanging over the edge.
We made it through that night, fixed N1S's cot with duct tape the next morning, and the rest of the week was much better.

I will write about day two in my next post. Stay tuned.

And so you don't get the wrong idea, our camping partners are still our friends. They helped us out greatly and made the trip a lot of fun. I only poke fun at them because they are such good friends. Right guys? And I'm not just saying that to get invited next year. Honest.

Stuff About Me

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I'm a 40 year old dad of two. My wonderful wife, Lady Di, and I try to keep the kids from blowing things up here in central Minnesota.