Die With Zero

Our family skipped Christmas this year. I first realized that when I returned from Hawaii on January 6. White twinkle and icicle lights strung from guttering sparkled in the chilly evening air. Multi-colored mini bulbs wrapped around shrubs and trees glowed in snow covered yards.

Except at our home. Our flight had departed from Minneapolis on December 16th. Jody and I had decided to not put up any holiday lights. Not even an artificial Christmas tree. Decorations stayed stored in the garage rafters.

In Whalers Village on Maui, we had our picture taken in front of the Christmas tree and noticed the island-style holiday decorations adorning hotel fronts.

On Christmas day there weren’t any presents. Instead, each person was to buy a $20 gift in Hawaii for the steal, switch, gift exchange dice game.

Our Hawaii experience was the gift: surf lessons, visiting a cat sanctuary on the island of Lanai, glass blowing, ATV tour, whale watching, hang gliding, a luau, and most important, being together.

Absent was any questioning if there were going to be Christmas presents. Absent was the stress of gift buying. Absent for me was any depression or negative feelings from past memories of the holidays.

It was after our trip that I started reading Die With Zero, written by Bill Perkins.

The premise of the book is to maximize your life enjoyment rather than on maximizing your wealth. Focus on generating memorable life experiences. Live life to the fullest. Don’t wait until you’re too old to be able to enjoy doing things.

Jody and I have taken many vacation trips with Juan and Crystel. I’ve included activities that we haven’t done before. We invite their friends. We generate memories.

I was so taken by this book that I purchased one for Jody, Juan, and Crystel. This summer we are planning on returning to Guatemala. Crystel and I will do a month-long homestay and attend Spanish school. Jody, Juan and his girlfriend will join us for the 5th week. We will visit with both birth families. Juan will introduce his girlfriend to his birth mom. All of us will revisit the best of Guatemala. (We’ve vacationed in Guatemala five times).

Juan’s 21st birthday is in July. Crystel’s 21st birthday in September. Their gift will be our Guatemala experience.

Jody and I are planning to hike across Spain in the spring of 2024 (before I forget any Spanish). We’ll check in with the kids from time to time. We wouldn’t want them to worry. I view my age from 65-75 as being the healthiest for hiking, traveling, and seeing the country. If we don’t have the kid’s inheritance spent (the book says that optimal age for receiving inheritance is between ages 26-35) – Juan and Crystel will be at the prime age for receiving our inheritance when we finally start to slow down.

There are a lot of holidays to skip between now and then. Many adventures, experiences, and memories to generate.

A Flower Within a Flower

I like being here with Crystel in her dorm room on Oahu. She lies on the air mattress eyeing her computer. She’s researching how to replace her lost passport. She hasn’t been able to find it since applying for a job near Waikiki Beach. Her plans to travel to Japan and Guatemala are in jeopardy.

I break the companiable silence. “How’s it going with the lost passport?”

“After I’m done eating,” she answers.

I laugh. Of course. Our sense of urgency is not the same. She’ll let me know when she needs help.

Her dorm room is spare. The University of Manoa campus is empty. Jody and I had previously thought that other families would have done the same as we did: vacationed in Hawaii with their national student exchange family member for holiday break. Instead, students had only stayed a semester and had already returned to the mainland. Crystel would be alone for New Year’s and the following week before school started. Her friend, Allie, who had visited from Minnesota had also returned home.

Lanikai Pillbox trail with Allie

Jody and I had worried about Crystel being on a vacated campus and returning to her empty dorm room in the evening from her new job. We also didn’t want her to be alone on the holiday.

During the Maui part of our vacation when I told her our concern she said, “Why don’t you come stay with me?”

“You should,” Jody agreed.

It didn’t take a moment for me to know that was exactly what I would do.

32 years ago, when I went into the Peace Corps, volunteers received their initial training for the Kingdom of Tonga on Oahu. During the plane ride from Minnesota to Hawaii, tears flowed down my cheeks. In the airplane bathroom I tried to stuff them back in. With each mile I flew – watching the dot on the large airplane screen move closer and closer to Hawaii – I shed layer after layer of my life until I knew this to be true: I had been abandoned. I was that child, that teenager, the one who had been left to fend for herself against the sexual abuse that raged in our home. To protect my three younger sisters, I reported the abuse to the police when I was nineteen years old. My parents disowned me.

I was abandoned.

Hanakapial Falls

I didn’t want Crystel to feel abandoned. To be alone. I didn’t want her walking on a deserted campus. Spending a week with her and seeing her life would be a gift. An adventure.

Hiking Lanikai Pillbox Trail with her and Allie, visiting beaches, an arduous 8-mile waterfall hike on Kauai, and kayaking were a few of the things we did.

It was on the Pillbox hike that Crystel asked me what I was thinking. I told her that I had been on this island before. How my past influences my parenting. She pointed a blossom out to Allie and me, “See that flower within a flower?”

My children are a flower within a flower. They have the holding space – love – to be beautiful and a landing spot – their mothers – to feel safe and flourish.

As The Wind Blows

That’s what our daughter says.

When she first landed in Hawaii, we enjoyed our daily chats with her.

Jody and I asked her about the phone calls: too much, too little, how are you doing? We wanted to be present for her and yet also give her the space she needed.

We knew we were at the end of our daily calls when three weeks later we disrupted her at breakfast. Dining at IHOP with newly found college friends, she left the table to answer our call.

“Oh, yeah, so you don’t need to call me anymore,” she said.

“Wait. Wait. Wait,” Jody and I responded. “We expect at least a weekly phone call.”

It took Crystel a few weeks to remember whether it was a Wednesday or Thursday that we were going to call. That made for a fortuitous two phone calls in a week. The parents were being weaned from adult daughter contact.

Facetime worked the best. At least we could see her, study her face, discern if anything was off, and she could make faces at us in the camera and use it to check her brow line.

We had been asking her the same questions, week after week. How is school? How are your roommates? How is the dining hall? What plans do you have for this weekend? Our weekly conversations changed the first time she used the line, “As the wind blows.” I felt like she was putting us off. Dismissing us.

She had been planning an outing with her roommates to swim with the sharks. It didn’t happen because as the wind blows.

I thought she was being disrespectful. I told her that we needed more engagement from her. She needed to add to the conversation.

After the phone call, when I had time to cool down, I realized that what she was saying was true. Isn’t that the way of most college students and young adults – as the wind blows. And didn’t I embrace spontaneity? Encourage her to follow her joy?

Personally, I love being in the moment, being able to go inside to determine my path or action. I phrase it as introspection.

We’ve learned to anticipate the changing winds. She’s made friends, adventured to the northern parts of Oahu, flew to Maui for a weekend, snorkeled, cliff jumped, and learned to surf. She did eventually swim with the sharks.

Crystel requested and received a permit for solo hiking on the island of Kauai for the first week in January. Though she explained that maybe she would explore the island with a friend and do day excursions, she didn’t know yet.

Letting go of our adult child is a kite in the wind. I’m proud of her. A bit nervous for her. And hope the winds always blow strong and true.

“Ua pa mai ka makani…” / “The wind has been blowing…

One Heck of a Hot Dog

Volunteering with Jody and friends.

It starts before we even leave the house. My breathing becomes short and rapid. I’m fidgety. “I’ll meet you in the car,” I tell her. I insert the key into the door lock.

“You can’t hurry me,” Jody responds. “I’ve got 5 more minutes.”

In the car we high five. “To a good game.”

This cheer is needed. We will spend the next 6-10 hours together fundraising for Juan and Crystel’s education.

Jody, Crystel, Juan and I began volunteering in April to serve food and beverage at concession stands. We’ve worked at the Excel Center, Target Center, US Bank, Allianz, Huntington Bank stadiums, Canterbury Park and others.

“Did you just push me?” Jody asks as we step out of the elevator. I thought I was guiding her through the security gate towards the check-in stand.

You learn a lot about yourself and each other at these events.

I will be amped up until we return to the car for the ride home. I’m in a flight or fight mode to get the customer his/her/their slice of pizza, hot dog, chicken tenders, or fries.

Jody feels the same adrenaline rush. We both become serious and determined. Sometimes we must remind ourselves, It’s just a hot dog.

There is no bigger distraction or challenge than working an event. From the time the doors open, and you serve your first customer until the ball is touched in the 4th quarter, 3rd period, or the hour before the venue closes, you will do nothing else besides attending to the task in front of you.

Usually, it’s a brief 20 second pleasant interaction with a customer.

Sometimes it doesn’t go well.

“Is this how big this all-beef hot dog is?” I was asked at the Vikings Cardinal game. The customer held high his still foiled hot dog. It did look especially small in his large fist.

“Dude, I’m a volunteer. I don’t make the hotdog.” Don’t squeeze it, I wanted to add. You’ll just make it smaller.

I’m not always at my best. At a Twins game, this guy and his two friends, who’d all had one too many, kept beeping the register scanner without waiting for his payment to go through. “Motherfucker, stop doing that,” I told him. He looked at me. I looked at him. “I guess I shouldn’t call you that,” I said. “I could get fired from my volunteer job.”

It can get a little dicey at alcohol cutoff time when a customer isn’t ready to be cut off. At the Minnesota hockey game against North Dakota, a customer demanded that I call my boss. She knew about these things she said loudly. She had worked in concessions before. A hard cutoff was not really a hard cutoff.

“I’m just a volunteer,” I said. I busied myself restocking as she explained to the concession managers how these things worked.

Sitting in our living room, Jody and I will go over the event. Laughing until we cry. Sometimes it’s about how we acted towards each other during the evening. Me telling her how important it is that she marks a Twin burger a Twin burger and not a Capitol burger. She in turn will tell me that I need to stop putting the pizzas in the oven one after another as she doesn’t have enough time to take them off at the other end.

The challenge, the unpredictability, volunteering with friends, and the variety of social groups we encounter make concession fundraising enjoyable.

Not a bad way to spend an evening. This year, we are well on our way to raising tuition for both Juan and Crystel’s education. Now that’s one heck of a hotdog.


According to Wikipedia, a pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.

The Camino Frances is a 490-mile pilgrimage route from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. This Camino route is walked by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. The Camino starts in France and on the way to Santiago crosses several regions in Northern Spain. For a prepared and experienced hiker, this route takes about 30 days start to finish. I estimate that it will take Jody and me 42 days to complete.

Initially, I was concerned that since both of my knees have been replaced, I might not be able to complete the journey. I shushed the concern by buying and reading Camino Easy: A Guide to the Camino de Santiago for Mature Walkers and Walk In A Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons From The Camino.

I reintroduced myself to the Hennepin County Library system, filled my bag with Camino de Santiago books and a DVD, “The Way.” If you recall, Martin Sheen plays a father headed overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camion de Santiago,” and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.

On Facebook, I joined Camino de Santiago All Routes and Camigas a Buddy System for Women on the Camino. Through numerous posts per day, I follow others as they hike. I’ve learned how to take care of blisters and whether I should pack a poncho or rain jacket.

Most people hike 15 miles a day and many carry their pack. I’ve decided that we will hike between 10-13 miles a day, take rest days, and send our packs ahead.

I continue to emphasize to Jody (even though she doesn’t ask) that we are going to take our time walking. Our focus will be on enjoying the trek, the outdoors, and the people we meet.

I can barely stop myself from packing my suitcase.

The only problem is we aren’t leaving until September 2024, and we will need our bags before then.

Researching our pilgrimage down to the miles walked per day, daily lodging, and rest days is my joy. I’m lost for hours in the planning. It’s like going on the trip twice.

Crystel is a sophomore at the University of Manoa for the 2022-2023 school year. Our Maui trip in December 2022 to visit is planned, confirmed, and booked. A binder is compiled with information: airline tickets, car rental, lodging, snorkeling, cliff jumping, surf lessons, Cat Sanctuary, Glass Blowing, ATV touring, Whale Watching, Hang Gliding, and of course a Luau.

Not all our trips go as planned. COVID cancelled our three-week trip to Japan and Crystel’s Spanish Immersion Guatemalan Homestay trip. This summer flooding cancelled our trip to Yellowstone. Cancelled trips are shelved but not tossed into the ‘never will happen’ basket.

Two weeks ago Crystel expressed interest in reviving the trip to Guatemala for Spanish learning. She asked me to join her.

Immediately, I started researching Spanish Schools and family homestays. I see possibilities. I could learn Spanish and converse with other pilgrims on the Camino. Jody and Juan could meet up with us towards the end of our month-long stay. Most importantly, I could spend 4 weeks with my daughter.

Now, that would be some pilgrimage.

I hope all goes as planned. For the month of July, 2023, I’ve booked a homestay and language school for us in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. I can barely stop myself from packing!