Friday, January 8, 2016

We embrace TV

For decades Jon and I lived without TV.  I think it was decades at least.  Ok, for several of those years we had no TV in the house- and admittedly some of that time was while we were in the Peace Corps where it was hardly feasible.  But for long stretches thereafter we went without, or with only a sad little boxy set that sat dusty in the basement.  But then we remodeled the house, added some comfort to that old basement and bought ourselves what seemed like a gigantic flat screen, but is surely modest compared to what is standard these days.  And we like it.  It has become our habit to retreat to the basement together on weekend evenings when nothing else is going down and relax to a little sitcom, or maybe one of the masterful Sherlock episodes.  Turns out that it's real fun to be transported to another place for a while.  We limit it to just one or two episodes a week, and we keep it in the basement.  But who knows where this will lead....

One step forward, another back

My youngest is at that fascinating stage of life where one minute I look at him and see a serious young adult who is trying to keep up with his teen brother, and the next moment he's careening around the living room brandishing a wand and deep back in his childhood world of spells and Harry Potter.  The nice thing is that so far he bounces between these world's lightly, seemingly happy in either one. This past Halloween he got invited to a party with his older brother.  He was thrilled.  Eli hemmed and hawed over a costume.  Should he wear one?  If so, how do you pull of a costume as a 16 year old?  After much internal debate he settled on a pirate.  It was a nice choice- mature yet still fun.  Theo had no qualms.  Despite heading out to a party with high schoolers, he was sure of himself and his llama costume.  There were no questions that he would don the furry chest and hand pieces he had sewn a few years back with his grandma, strap on the wheeled back-leg contraption he made with grandpa, throw on the furry head piece and head out in to the night with a paper mask of a llama face held up in front.  I loved watching my man-child head out into the older world, costumed so sweetly in a favorite childhood costume.

He Drives!

This morning I watched as my younger son went out into the early morning dark and cleared the car of snow.  This is a service he has yet to provide for me, his trusty shuttle driver.  But there's a new driver in town, and if the younger brother wants to milk any rides out of old Eli, he has decided he must make himself useful.  So I watched Theo head out early and wipe down the car, then Eli grabbed the keys and followed him out.  I listened from the quiet dark house as the boys called out to each other and then got in the car and drove away.  Without me.  How did we get here?

I wish the license arrival did not correspond with the darkest, iciest days of the year, but if he can master these roads, he will be golden by spring and I will be free of worries.  Right?

Crying Wolf

One of my children has a tenuous relationship with the truth.  His stories start in reality and retain a general level of truthiness.  But sometimes he veers over in to how he thinks a story should go, or how he wishes something would end.  I don't know where he got this tendency from.

On our drive up to Ely last week, as we were making our way across the last few miles, this son was up in the co-pilot seat.  DuNord is a place he truly loves and loves to share with others, so he was telling stories about the place to Haroon, our new friend from Pakistan, and his roommate.  And as he was talking, he glanced out the window and in to the snowy woods and said, "I just saw a wolf."  Right.  The way he said it was so matter-of-fact, like it was something he saw every now and then. I didn't say anything, but I thought perhaps it was a dog, maybe a coyote at most.  You don't just see a wolf while looking out your window.  Those things are elusive.

But then we got a text from pals in the next car back, independently verifying the truth of my son's statement.  I wish I had instantly believed and stopped or slowed down or at least turned my head and tried to find what he said he time he cries wolf, I will believe.

Journey in to the heart of winter

So far the winter of 2015-2016 has tended toward the irritating.  Brown, icy, cold blasts that come without moisture (also known as snow).  As cross-country ski enthusiasts, this is hard.  Theo is on the ski team and has been practicing since November.  One time he has been on his skis.  Once.

Back in the fall we made plans to head up to the northland with a pack of pals to do some skiing, some skating, some saunaing and ice-hole jumping.  We made reservations for over New Years.  As the date inched ever closer it became apparent that our winter getaway may not be so wintery.  The cities were dusted with a glaze of ice, but nothing skiable, and the reports from up by Ely weren't much better.  Unbelievably, Burntside Lake was still open, ice-free, days before Christmas.

So I convinced myself that despite the lack of skiing and winter sports, it would still be more beautiful than our street in St. Paul, and we would have good times with friends, playing games and gathering around the fire.

We drove north and things got better, a little whiter, a little more wintery.  But the front office at DuNord had signs warning against stepping on the ice, and that skiing was mostly confined to the trails in camp.  We skied around camp and it was nice, but my soul needs a little time out on the North Arm trails in all seasons, so I was determined to get out there despite the reports that it wasn't so great.  A bunch of us suited up and skied down the icy North Arm road, taking a right where we thought we saw an opening for a forest road.  The trail quickly narrowed, with the recent snow weighing down the branches of trees so every few feet we had to duck under branches.  But we emerged, like through the rabbit-hole, in to the most beautiful of winter wonderlands.  And there was enough snow to ski.  The surroundings were as gorgeous as I have ever seen them.  Every branch was thickly blanketed.  The white contrasted with the green pine branches which were offset against the brilliant blue ski. It was like we had left some crusty imitation of winter and entered the very inner heart of the season.  We didn't ski for long, but it was enough to soothe my soul and get me through the brown back in the cities.

And added bonus of this trip was bringing along our Mac international student.  He is from Pakistan and winter has been just a concept to him. We showed him how to ski and to skate.  We convinced him to take a sauna and then jump through a small hole into the frigid shallow waters of the lake.  Best of all, we initiated someone else into the wonders of getting out in to winter.

2015 kind of got away from me

2015 has come and gone with nary a blogpost.  I feel like my boys will have a hole in their childhood, if sometime in the future they sit down to read about their childhood days.  The year had it's ups and downs.  New challenges that included removing dairy from Eli's life; after tired tears over the first attempt at dairy free pizza, he has come to accept this fate.  They both grew.  Eli got his driver's license.  Theo spent more days away from home this summer than in the house.  We had adventures big and small.  Below is the 2015 holiday letter that tries to encapsulate a whole year.

When I think back on 2015 I get this image my friend once shared with me of a young man at the YMCA.  He was on a treadmill, while wearing saggy jeans.  He made the mistake of increasing both his velocity and his slope to degrees that could not be maintained without grasping on to the handles for dear life.  Problem was, one hand also had to be grabbing his pants, or they would drop around his ankles.  So he was stuck wanting to decrease the speed, drop the incline, and keep his pants on.  I can’t remember how the story ended, maybe because I don’t want to, as it sometimes feels similar to life at this house.  
I work hard to think of our life as full rather than busy.  Most the time it works, and when it does get to that place where I feel like the treadmill is out of control and my pants are sure to fall off, we look around and see how we can adjust.  Sometimes I skip a meeting to hang out with my boys and talk about school.   Sometimes (often) dinner doesn’t start until 8pm, but we still find the time to all sit around the table together, take a deep breath, and chat.  Maybe our favorite decompressor is to put aside homework, reports, and the reading of student papers, and retire to our comfy basement couch to watch an episode of something funny together.  
So what has been keeping us so full? Jon is pumping right along as St. Paul stretches and grows.  St. Paul is on the move, winning the soccer stadium deal, planning for the Ford site, becoming an ever more awesome place to live.  Eli (16) and Theo (13) are working hard in school and keeping busy evening and weekends by working on various projects.  Theo had a summer I envied; he was constantly packing for the next adventure.  He took two trips down the Namakagan (one with me, thankfully), spent time at various cabins, and backpacked on the North Shore with Widji. Eli has discovered graphic design.  He spends hours creating posters and t-shirts for school, plus games and such for himself.  This summer he meticulously studied the Napoleonic wars and created a custom deck of cards based on the army uniforms from four countries.  Weird.  But it keeps him entertained and we plan to use his new skills for our own profit sometime in the near future….because that’s what kids are for, right?  I’m still at Avalon where things are different every day, except my co-workers, who never change.  We are going to be wizened old toothless fools, still reporting for our 7:45 meetings with a smile.  Says something about the cool little community we’ve created, just not sure what it says.
Outside of those daily endeavors we’ve done some travelling.  Our biggest trip was to meet up with our China-based Dutch friends in Italy.  They usually come all the way over to Minnesota to head up to DuNord, but this year we met them halfway and rented a villa in the Italian countryside. Thank goodness it was on a winery, as between the two families, plus the addition of our Russian foreign exchange student from yesteryear, Ildar, there were 6 boys from 12-21 in that house with us. Honestly, it was a joy to hang out with such a great pack of boys, and lovely to reconnect with Ildar.  I also very much appreciated happy hour with Jon, Remco, and Esme, relaxing outside, taking in the view.  After a fabulous (but hot!) week exploring Umbria with pals, the four Sage-Martinsons headed off to England.  We were thrilled to wake up in a little cabin in Cardiff to temps of 59 and a light rain.  We took in a bit of Wales, then were off to London where the boys were equally delighted by historical sites and Sherlock locations.  

Overall, even though at times it seems as the treadmill is set too high and I feel my hands clutching at my pants to avoid a calamity, I think we’ve mostly got our pace set correctly, the incline adjusted just steep enough. We’ve enjoyed sightings of all of you as you move past on your own journeys. Thanks for all the light you have shared with us this past year, and happy holidays to all of you!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Power of Butterflies

A few weeks back I volunteered to chaperone my son's field trip to the science museum.   I love this museum, but going with 50 7th graders was a bit daunting.  I could hear them from about two floors away- a lot of energy in those kids.  It was amazing to see how everyone slowed down, quieted down, mellowed out when we walked in to the butterfly tent.  As there were butterflies everywhere- even on the ground, the behavior of the kids morphed dramatically.  They walked slowly, watching their feet.  The spoke in near-whispers, letting out gasps and giggles as the butterflies settled on hands, heads, faces.  If one landed on a 7th grader, the beam that spread across the face was fabulous.  This reaction was universal.  It was lovely.  I will chaperone that trip again.  In fact, I'd be willing to pay to go along.