Forever My Babies

Forever My Babies

Our baby is no longer a baby, and I’m not sure when it happened. The youngest of four, somehow time seemed to always stand still longer with her. She was three for an eternity and four for what seemed like forever, and now she’s five and in kindergarten and reading sight words and making new friends. Tonight, when I tucked her into bed – I saw her as a big girl and my heart broke just a little.

Part of accepting that she is getting older, is accepting that everyone in the family is also getting older. Her oldest sister is 20, with 21 just around the corner, and I just can’t bring myself to believe that is possible. As time is passing so quickly, are they each adequately prepared for life and the responsibilities that come with it? Am I prepared as a mom to accept that as each day passes, they need me a little less, even when I feel like each day, I need them a little more?

I recently read a quote that said, “I constantly go between wanting you to stay my little baby forever, and being excited about all of the amazing things you’ll do in this life,” and I can’t even “YES!” this thought enough. Unfortunately for our youngest, I think I had it in my mind that she was just always going to be the baby, and while she may be the baby of our four children, she’s definitely not a baby any longer.

I miss the days of staying at home, when my major task for the day was just holding my babies in my arms, singing them to sleep or tickling them awake. We have traded bedtime songs (mostly) for bedtime books and even though I tend to still tickle them awake, baby coos have been traded for frustrated morning grunts (although, I must admit that most mornings, I have two very cheerful little girls). While they continue to grow and change, my love grows for each of them; and while I miss so much the days that they were babies – I also look forward to who they’ll become.

Where will their passions lie? What will fill their hearts the most? Also, will they be able to maintain the confidence to do what they want, be who they are, truly live to their fullest potential? Will they be able to stay strong and stay true to themselves? Will they be able to love again after a broken heart? Will they be able to love themselves through the different stages of their lives?

I think part of the sadness in my children growing older, is knowing that our once simple times of playing and learning our ABCs is quickly replaced with much tougher learning experiences which, ultimately, will mold them into who they’re going to be as adults. Each new day writes a new page in their life’s story; each year a new chapter.

As they learn and grow, so do I. I’m always hoping that I’m doing this parenting thing right. Am I using the right moments to teach, and not missing anything too important? Will they look back and remember all of the love that surrounded them, or will they remember the times I yelled at them to put their shoes on? Will they remember how lucky they have been to experience so much in their little lives and pass that on to their children someday? Will they remember that they’re never, ever alone? The answers are unclear as I have no idea what the future will hold, but I can hold on to the hope that they’ll never forget that I always did my best, I always loved them with every ounce of my being, and regardless of the time that continues to fly by (at lightening speed) – they’ll ALWAYS be my babies.

Autumnal Grandeur

Autumnal Grandeur

I have always looked at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s delicate, flittering wings.
But had never really seen as he rested,
Perched proudly as he searched for his mate.
So much beauty never considered.
Guilt consumes me.
I’m inspired to change.
To not only hear, but listen;
Not only touch, but feel.
Respond to the echoing call of the common loon,
Beckoning me back to Moose Lake.
Watch as my girls listen to the chorus of howling wolves
Beneath the sky’s dancing Northern Lights.
I want to observe the blue needles of the Minnesota pines become bluer,
The red carpet of dewberry become redder.
I wonder how it smells,
As I remember the comforting aroma of birch bark and blueberries,
Of campfires and fresh caught walleye.
I dream of how it feels to jump off the end of the long wooden dock
And swim in the cold lake’s waters.
I consider the stories of the woods’ tallest tree.
It has seen so much more than me.
Impressive in it’s grandeur.
I will be back,
To seek answers to all I have missed.

Inspired by my mom, I wrote “Autumnal Grandeur,” for a creative writing project in my last semester at ISU. I spent the whole semester writing and designing a book about the power of a mother/daughter bond, in which this poem was included. It was published in the Clinton Journal two years ago as a part of my mom’s column, “Naturalist Notes.” Since then, it has been edited to the way it reads now. It serves as a reminder to me, once again, of how we can always improve on the past while still preserving our memories.

The first day of school is here!

The first day of school is here!

I love my job. I had no idea how much I could possibly love a job, or that I would love so many children, families and fellow colleagues. I have children, too, and I know how hard it is to let them go and grow. I know that you’re worried about them, I know you’re scared for them, I know you want the best for them. I know when you drop them off at the door, you get in your car and cry. I know that some days, you do a “happy dance” because, man, you needed a break today. I know that you love your child with all your heart, trust me, it shows in how your child loves his/her friends or from how he pretend plays with a baby doll, or when he/she says “I miss my mommy/daddy/sister/grandma.” I know that you count down the minutes until you can see your baby again. I know, too, that some days 2 1/2 hours just isn’t enough time to get your house cleaned before it is time for you to pick up your kiddo. Before the end of the school year, I will know your child’s favorite color, favorite toy, favorite game. I will watch her beam with pride when she reaches her accomplishments, like writing her name or learning all of the colors, or making a new friend, or trying a new food. I will be there when he falls down, and I will help him up. I will hug her when she cries. I will chat with you on the phone and talk you through your fears. I will be there for your child, and I will be there for you. I am only with your child a fraction of the time you are, or his teacher is. Think about how well his teacher will know him. She is going to spend 6 1/2 hours (or 2 1/2 if he is in preschool) a day with him for the next 180 school days.

Your daughter cried on the way to school today, but so did mine. I had to drop mine off with her teacher and try not to cry myself. But here’s what I know about my daughter’s teacher AND your daughter’s teacher. She will take care of our daughters as if they were her own. She will love on them, and hug them, and make sure they eat, and get potty breaks and play. She will make sure our daughters play together and play nicely. She will help them through the hard and the bad and the sad times. She will smile with them and high five them through the good times. She will come to work early, she will stay late, she will work for free and spend her own money to make sure our kiddos have what they need to be the best versions of themselves. She will encourage them and teach them and guide them. She will love them, and they will love her. She will read to them, and maybe even teach them how to read. She will spark their imagination and encourage their creativity.

I think it was hard for me from an outside mom’s perspective to understand this. It was hard for me to believe for a second that anyone could take care of my child better than I could (or even the same). I promise you though, your child’s teacher will do the very best she can. Your child’s teacher loves children and she will love your child. I’m so proud to know so many amazing teachers, who literally give blood, sweat and tears to make sure that your child (and mine) is taken care of. I can say with certainty that your child’s teacher will lay awake at night thinking of new ways to teach, and she will lose sleep thinking of how she can help a student’s family that may be going through a tough time, she’ll lose sleep hoping that her students all went to bed with full tummies or with a kiss goodnight. She wants the best for him, just like you.

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

Traveling Internationally with Children: Tips and Tricks, Part I

We are soon headed for our second trip “across the pond” with our two youngest in tow. Now 7 and 5, the girls’ last international travel adventure was a little over two years ago. We will travel from Chicago to London, from London to Paris, from Paris to Nice, back to Paris, back to London (with a small layover in Ireland) and then return home. Our itinerary is similar to the last, replacing time in Germany with the pebble beaches of Nice (and a little extra time to explore both Paris and London).

I remember our first time traveling abroad, my husband was living in Germany temporarily for work. I couldn’t find a direct flight from the United States to Germany for the girls and I through Expedia (my preferred method of booking travel – I’ve yet to have a bad experience). All available flights were routed with a layover in Turkey. Traveling alone with small children, I wanted to be able to speak the language and, at the time, international travel to Turkey was not encouraged. I played around with the flights and found that the girls and I could travel to London first and then fly to Germany for cheaper than the flights to Germany that were routing through Turkey (and because a pit stop in London, duh).

I have traveled domestically throughout the United States many times (my 7-year-old has already been to 27 of the 50 states and stuck her toes in the Pacific, Atlantic and the Gulf), I’ve taken the all-inclusive trips to Mexico, and I’ve crossed over to Canada a handful of times, so international travel is appealing to be able to see some “new” sights while crossing “new” countries off of our collective bucket list.

I have always been a “bargain hunter” for our trips, and have never compromised quality for price. International travel is no different. I’m our family’s personal travel agent (as most moms and dads probably are – especially if you’re currently reading this), dedicating lots of time to researching areas, the hotels, the food, the locals and then I book our trip at a fraction of the cost (so get ready to research)!

If you’re looking to travel overseas (more specifically with children), I have lots of tips and tricks to share with you. Most of my advice will apply to domestic travel as well, you can just ignore the suggestions that obviously don’t apply. To clarify, I will be advising based on the assumption that you’ll be using Expedia (which I am NOT receiving compensation from), but if you have your own preferred travel app use that instead.

*First and Foremost – have/get/find your passport. It is recommended that you allow six weeks turnaround time (to be safe) when ordering a new one. Make sure it’s not expired (ten years for adults, five years for children) and also make sure you have applied for a new one if you have changed your name since your last trip*

The first step I take to traveling is to know where I want to go and what we would like to see. What is the main goal for your trip?

Relaxing? Sight seeing? Both? You’ll want to book hotels based on your ultimate take-away goal. You can buy flight and hotel packages which can save you some money, but the hotel may not be anywhere near the beach (for example), which means you’ll have to pay to travel to and from the beach (or rent a car) and that extra cost could have been better spent on a hotel closer to your preferred destination or landmark.

If you’re traveling with children, you’ll also want to make sure that the hotel is child-friendly. I once booked a flight/hotel combo package to Florida and ended up at a hotel that was essentially in spring break mode year round (I’m talking vomit on the balcony – it was bad), despite that the pictures online showed a colorfully painted pool and several playgrounds. We took all four of our kiddos on that trip and ended up booking a second (and quiet) hotel down the strip for the remainder of our stay. Double booking certainly didn’t save any money.

The second important question to answer is how many days you would like to be gone on this adventure. All of these questions are better answered with a budget in mind, of course. We would love to travel to Europe for a month at a time, but our budget worked best for about two weeks (and my husband’s vacation time wouldn’t allow a paid monthlong vacation, either). The biggest cost of your trip is the flight and hotels, but don’t forget about the somewhat hidden extra cost of bag check fees and an Uber or taxi(s). Four checked bags can add about $200 (or more) both ways (plus you have to lug that mess around). Plan to pack light and with only a {generally free} carry-on per traveler if possible (hey, no worries about lost luggage and no waiting at the baggage claim). If you’re staying somewhere with laundry service (or in an apartment or Airbnb), consider that you can also wash clothes or have them washed on your trip.

In Paris, there is a regulated taxi fee of €50 to and from the airport to your hotel. We were able to budget that into our travel cost but many places are based on a combination of mileage and time and are not as easily budgeted (be sure to look into these specifics while researching your destination, you may find helpful information regarding regulated costs or preferred modes of transportation in the area – your hotel may offer a free airport shuttle and that is definitely worth considering when it’s time to book a hotel if you’re trying to save money).

Speaking of transportation when traveling with children, car seats and area car seat laws should be researched. We purchased two BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seats off of Amazon. They pack easily without taking up much space (and then you also avoid the sometimes extra cost of requesting a car seat through your Uber or taxi service), AND, most importantly, your children are safe while traveling.

Are your dates modifiable? If so, the extra wiggle room can save you hundreds of dollars. Final round trip costs from Chicago to London were $515 per adult and $415 per child because we are leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Wednesday. I have read that there are certain days that are cheaper to fly on, however, I personally have never found this to be consistent. I always play with the dates (and different months if you can) to make sure that extending it (or shortening it) one more day would save money (leaving on a Wednesday and returning on a Wednesday would have cost us $203 more, per traveler so it was definitely worth shortening our trip by a day). Just make sure that you check general weather habits for the time you are traveling. Snow and rain at home could mean sun and heat somewhere else (and vice versa). Avoiding high travel times and holidays will always save you money. Don’t forget to research low travel times for your intended destination (you don’t really want to share the beach with 10,000 spring breakers and your three-year-old).

Hotels are typically more expensive on weekends versus weeknights so if there’s a fancy hotel you have your eye on, you can actually save more money by staying there through the week. Sometimes, staying only one weekend night can also save some cash. We stayed at a hotel in Paris in a duplex suite with a near €1000 nightly price tag for only $289USD per night (I’ve easily spent double that on hotels in Chicago that weren’t nearly as nice).

The best part of using your Expedia app for booking flight and hotels, is that once you book your flight, you save an additional percentage off of a hotel(s) in that area (and gain Expedia points for future travel). For example, the first time we went to London, I booked our flights and saved almost 70% off of a Hilton Hotel. I ended up with a total cost of $63 for the night, and it even offered a breakfast buffet (it wasn’t included in the price but the availability is convenient).

Breakfast buffets can be really great for efficiency, convenience and even budgets. Sometimes children are free, but almost always their meals are at a reduced-cost. It’s an easy way to find something you like in a county that offers a variety of “new” and maybe different foods. If you’re staying at a tropical resort, foods are usually catered towards the majority of travelers to that area but it’s not always like that when staying in a different country. In London, for example, we had baked beans and chocolate croissants for breakfast; in Oelde, Germany, melon, prosciutto and fresh baked bread. This is something to keep in mind for picky eaters (our youngest being extremely guilty of this), buffets generally offer something familiar.

Fun fact: Most other countries have much stricter government regulations and guidelines on their food than here in the United States. In many other countries (most, in fact), you won’t find an overabundant number of preservatives (if any at all) in your food, and definitely not corn syrup. I loved that in Germany, the condiments were made daily from fresh ingredients (but be prepared picky eaters, even something as innocent as fresh ketchup definitely tastes different).

Friendships are Priceless

Friendships are Priceless

My mom always told me to surround myself with interesting people. People who could talk about “things” and not others. Quoting from a letter to me titled, “Advice to my Daughter,” my mother wrote: “In your entire life, the number of people you can trust with your heart and your deepest secrets can be counted on your fingers. No one person can satisfy all of your needs. Make lots of friends – different friends for different purposes.”

I do happen to have friends of all ages, from many walks of life. For example, I have my best girl friends, the girls I can call for anything and everything. I call each one for different reasons. Whether it be to share grief and/or happiness; to get or give an encouraging word or endless support; for help from them or help for them; pedicures, shopping and lunch – I can always count on the same group of girls repeatedly without fail.

I have guy friends, some of which have been my friends for over half of my life – our friendships have continuously evolved through each stage of our lives. I have a few I talk to regularly, and a few that I may not talk to often, but we always pick up right where we last left off. Of course, I cannot exclude my dad, fiancé, or my children from my closet circle of friends. Every one of my relationships are special and different.

Thinking of my friendships, I compiled – what I believe to be – a comprehensive list of what makes lasting friendships.

1. Give support freely. You don’t always have to support the situation, but you can alway support the person.

2. Make time for friends. Setting aside time for each other will only help to nurture a friendship.

3. Be honest, trustworthy and loyal. Don’t spread rumors and don’t let others talk about your friends, either.

4. Be respectful and always show appreciation.

5. Show up, keep promises, be dependable. Friends can always count on each other.

6. Apologize after a mistake and forgive. Don’t hold grudges.

7. Be selfless. Do favors, go above and beyond – even small gestures make a big difference. Be genuinely happy for your friends through their triumphs.

8. Listen. Actually listen and remember that you don’t always need to give advice. When you must give advice, it should be thoughtful.

9. Help friends through struggles and crises.

“Try to improve their life through your friendship” – Barry Cassidy

Friendship is a give and take. Good friendships take a lot of time and investment from both sides. “They” say good friends are hard to come by, I disagree. I think you have to be a good friend to have good friends – I aspire to be as good to my friends as they are to my family and me.

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

The Great Outdoors, cont.

The Great Outdoors, cont.

There is a smell here, one that can only be described as the northwoods of Minnesota. It smells fresh and crisp, a mixture of birch bark and juniper. I have traveled enough places to know that I’ve never smelled it anywhere else. It comes in waves while I am here and when it hits me, I can’t help but smile, knowing exactly where I am and what it means.

Our third day in Minnesota was our most eventful. Hearing a commotion early in the morning, Delilah, the 9 pound lodge dog, chased off a 350 pound black bear just 50 feet from our cabin. Unfortunately, we were not privileged enough to witness that spectacle, but I’m sure it was a sight to see.

After breakfast, we headed down to the lake where we spent most of our day. We swam in the lake, both Andrew and I taking a turn at jumping off the end of the dock. Kendall caught a small bass with her minnow net and a frog that she carried around with her until he had enough and jumped back into the water.

We had one of those cheap kiddie fishing poles so the girls could fish off of the dock. Somehow Kendall managed to break the line inside of the reel before we even had a chance to try it out. Heartbroken, we went to the lodge to see if we could purchase another one.

Due to the quality of those fishing poles, they are not stocked. However, the lodge owner, Joe, made Kendall her very own pole out of a stick, some fishing line, and a chartreuse fishing jig. Wouldn’t you know that we caught at least 50 fish off the end of the dock with that pole. None of them were big enough to supply us with dinner, but the girls were thrilled, giggling and squealing with delight each time there was a fish on the end of the “pole.”

Andrew and I each took a ride on a paddle board (side note: if you haven’t tried one of those, you should). Andrew took each of the girls on their own special ride with him, and each of us took a solo ride as well.

As I got out on the lake, I sat silent in a little cove filled with lily pads and their colorful blooms. I felt the breeze wrap around me, as if it were giving me a gentle hug. I was at peace, the landscape serene. That is why people come here, and if you don’t, or haven’t – you should.

We chatted with many families that come here annually, as mine once did. One couple has been coming here for 47 years, another for 60, and all have continued to bring their families, who now bring their families, who will hopefully some day bring their families, too. It is probably unnecessary to say that we already have reservations to come back next year as well.

On Wednesday nights, the guests from the lodge all come together for s’mores and to converse around the fire. We roasted toasted coconut marshmallows to put on cinnamon graham crackers with just the right amount of chocolate, and Kendall played with her newfound friend, Grace.

Thursday we went back to town and ate, again at the Chocolate Moose, saving room for their signature cake for dessert. We sat next to an older couple who played peek-a-boo with Collins, sharing memories of their family with ours. We shopped for souvenirs, remembering to grab a case of Dorothy Molter Rootbeer, made right in Ely (this has a fun, and “Google-able” back story).

Our lodge (The Northwind Lodge) offered a painting class “Into the Brush,” taught by Joe himself. Thankfully, Andrew surprised me by signing me up, and I enjoyed an afternoon of painting (one of my all time favorite things to do).

I was privy to participating in the very first class offered through this program. Eventually, Joe plans to expand “Into the Brush,” utilizing his resources and knowledge for a mixture of indoor and outdoor painting classes (with discounted cabin stays and guided trips through the wilderness), teaching techniques for painting landscapes.

Friday was our final day. We woke up early, visiting the lake one last time before our return next year, wishing we had just one more day. I remember when I was little, we would pack up all of our things and about the time we should be leaving, mom could be found on a rock in the woods, writing in her notebook. I could never figure out what she was doing, but now I understand, she just wasn’t ready to leave.

https://visitnorthwind.com

The Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors

For the last three years, our little family has spent a week of our summer at the Northwind Lodge in Minnesota. This year, we will not be able to make it. However, next year – we will anxiously return to create more memories. If you’re looking for an amazing (and incredibly peaceful) summer reprieve, please look into the Northwind Lodge. I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

https://visitnorthwind.com

https://www.facebook.com/northwindlodgeely/

Written in 2016:

I am sitting here on a picnic table outside of our cabin just north of Ely, Minnesota. The sun is shining warmly, the waterfall is loudly pushing water down the hill into the lake, the white-throated sparrow is singing “Oh, Sweet Canada” amidst the other birds singing their morning song, and I am watching as a ground squirrel sneaks the peanuts we left him. He stealthily takes them off of a rock, running away as if there won’t be another handful waiting for him when he gets back. It may be cliche to say, but life is good – so good.

We arrived Monday afternoon after Andrew and I drove all night, switching off drivers so the other could nap before the next shift. The girls traveled well, and they, too, slept in shifts happily keeping us company through the long drive.

The girls have heard plenty about past adventures to Minnesota and were excited to start a new adventure, adding a new state to their (and Andrew’s) repertoire. I came here with my parents every summer, my mom came with hers, and her dad came with his. Several generations of our family have been to some of the exact spots we have visited since our arrival.

We are staying at the Northwind Lodge on Jasper Lake. Previously, my family frequented the North Country Lodge, just one lake over on Moose Lake. For nostalgic purposes, we drove down to the lodge my family used to stay in – which has since been broken down into personal properties. Seeing the old lodge and its new life was an emotional endeavor. Luckily, we are here to make new memories and start new traditions.

Our cabin came with a boat, which we took out an hour after we settled in. Five minutes on the lake and we saw a bald eagle swoop down to catch a fish right in front of us. Nearby, an otter playfully popped his head in and out of the water. Loons calling from across the lake completed our first boat outing.

We played in the lake, starting a rock collection of our favorite striped and speckled stones. Due to the high iron content here, it is not unusual to find Jasper in bright red hues. Quartz crystals are always a favorite and each collection gathered is guaranteed to have several.

When I was little and would come with my parents, we would fish…and fish…and fish…frequenting our personal fishing spots known to produce an abundant supply of walleye. As you can imagine, my mom had to come up with lots of creative ways to entertain a young girl in a canoe for hours every day. Inevitably, there would be a day that would rain and on those days (the best fishing days, but the worst to keep a little girl happy in a boat), my dad would fish and my mom would drive me to town to go shopping. Rain days were my favorite.

Tuesday, we took the girls to town to shop, in the same stores that brought me such joy when I was little. I was thrilled to see they are all still thriving – so many years later. We ate lunch outside on the patio of the Chocolate Moose, a restaurant I’ve eaten in countless times before. The girls picked out souvenir shirts and purses, binoculars, and a net to catch minnows.

Before we made it back to our cabin, we made another nostalgic and educational stop at the International Wolf Center. The girls were able to learn all about wolves, but unfortunately were unable to see one – maybe the next time we come to Minnesota.

Coming back to the cabin, we took a paddle boat out on the lake before grilling blueberry brats for dinner and s’mores for dessert. The girls and I fell asleep early, but Andrew had stayed up to watch for the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) that we heard might make an appearance. Thankfully, Andrew woke Kendall up and was able to take her to see the green lights of the Aurora Borealis dance across the sky, before she fell peacefully back to sleep.

The Northern Lights have not been visible here for weeks and are not a nightly occurrence. We are very lucky that this trip provided the opportunity to witness such a phenomenal light show. My heart couldn’t be happier that Andrew and Kendall were able to witness them together.

(To be continued)

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com