Senior Spotlight

At this time of year, high school seniors are applying for colleges, grants, and scholarships. They are answering this simple question a dozen times over from their friends, classmates, and adults: What are your plans for after graduation?

Crystel decided to apply for one college and one college only. This isn’t much of a surprise because she goes after what she wants. Always has. She doesn’t stop until she achieves her goal. She rarely alters her course. I’ve become a believer of her dreams ever since she overcame a speech disorder. At 3, she could not talk intelligibly. Juan who could understand her best often spoke for her. There came the day when she told him, “STOP.” By the time she was 7 she had graduated from speech therapy and was onto her next achievement.

When she told me that she only applied to one school, I held my breath. She didn’t have a backup plan. She submitted her college application without telling Jody and me. I thought she would have at least asked me for advice about the personal statement. After all, I am a writer. She told me that she reflected on her friend who was accepted. He’s Hispanic with a single father. I quizzed her. Did you tell them that you have two moms? Adopted? Hispanic? She kept nodding. She also said that she was Vegan. What about your Tae Kwon Do 2nd Degree Black Belt? No, she had forgotten about that.

All I could do was hope that she got accepted.

Juan on the other hand, recently told someone he was taking a gap year. Several years ago, I so strongly believed in a gap year for Juan and Crystel that I bought several books:

The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College

Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs

Gap Year, American Style: Journeys Toward Learning, Serving, and Self-Discovery

I don’t think Juan opened a page of any of those books. Especially since I had already dropped them off at Goodwill.

Even so, he had latched onto the concept of not going to college. Not now. Maybe not at all.

For many reasons, Jody and I support Juan having a ‘gap’ year. He’s in the National Honor Society, active in Student Government and just finished his last season of Cross Country. Still, his path is not Crystel’s.

An adult recently asked Crystel, “What are you doing after graduation?” She responded, “Going to the University of Minnesota.” (She was accepted). The question was followed with, “What about Juan?” Without pausing she said, “He’s going to the basement.”

Juan is graduating from his bedroom to our finished basement. His current bedroom will convert to Jody’s home office. He will continue to work as he has since he was 14-years-old.

Crystel’s desire is to study abroad. I’m sure that will happen. Juan is looking forward to living in the basement. It has the feel of an apartment. He’ll move out when he’s ready. Until then, Jody and I will have a roommate.

Passing The Torch

I pulled the box of camping supplies from the rafters in the garage. Jody and I are veteran tent campers: Boundary Waters, New Zealand, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, Itasca State Park and more. Crystel and a group of her friends were planning their first camping trip without adults over MEA weekend.

Crystel

I asked her their destination. Pattison State Park south of Superior, Wisconsin. Situated on the Black River, the park contains Big Manitou Falls, the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. Besides the waterfalls, this park also featured Interfalls Lake, a beach and over 10 miles of trails for hiking.  The reviews of the park were excellent.

She wasn’t sure if the campground would have electricity or water.  “That would be important to know,” I told her. I pulled out my computer and started googling. Electricity was a definite No. Water could be shut off depending on the temperature.

“Maybe you should get a motel?” I said.

She looked at me horror-struck. “Ah, no.”

I was a bit proud of her. Wanting to go camping instead of staying in a motel. It would be exciting. I thought of my camping trips, cooking around the fire, being surrounded by nature, and dealing with the elements. It’s all part of the adventure.

A fusty smell rose from the storage box of camping supplies. As I began to sort, I started to wonder if I had anything of value left to pass on to her. More was going in the discard pile then the keep pile. It must have been over 20 years since Jody and I had tent camped in the Boundary Waters.

Unpacking the nesting pots and pans was like unwrapping a Christmas gift. I was delighted to pull each pot and pan out and marveled how items could become a plate or bowl depending on your need. After putting the set back together, I placed it next to the blue enamel coffee pot and matching enamel cups in the keep pile.

I was committed to setting Crystel and her friends up for success. Even though we had two camp stoves, I decided to make a quick trip to REI and purchase a new one. Being warm in a tent and having hot food would be essential. I picked a stove that had 2 adjustable burners with wind-blocking panels. Best of all it had a built-in igniter. No flame thrower needed. Even I could do it.

IMG_5636

 Meal ideas, flashlights, kerosene, tent, sleeping bags, mats – I continued to prepare for her trip. I did ask her at one point if I was helping too much.

“Nah,” she said. I think she was beginning to see my value.

Her camping trip plans regressed as hastily as the weather. Cold, below freezing, rain, snow, partial sun, cloudy. Her numbers dwindled. It would be her and two other girls.

During our tent and camp stove demonstration, I mentioned to the girls that they needed to keep their camp food stored in their car so the bears wouldn’t get it.

“Bears?” one friend said.

Was it that comment or other variables that changed their camping trip to a day trip? The next day, when Crystel told me of the new plans, I confess, I choked back a sob. Her adventure was no more.

Last week she said that maybe she and I could go camping up north by ourselves. Hmmm. It could happen. Our camping supplies are already sorted. We have all the equipment. And, a camp stove I can light. What better way to pass the torch?

A Great Day for a Bike Ride

I’m one of those people. I did a Simon Cowell. I purchased an electric bike.

Did I use to look at those people with scorn? Wonder if they were cheating? Deem that I was getting better-quality exercise with every pedal. Could those E-bikers even call what they were doing biking?

At the beginning of this biking season I was going strong. Biking 11 or 14 miles with Jody. We have a great route from our house to around Lake Harriet and a longer route to Lake Nokomis.

Though I was doing well biking, I was also uncomfortable. With two knee replacements, I lost the get up and go from a dead stop. This is a problem when you are trying to move through an intersection. I also felt unsafe. I couldn’t smoothly slide my feet from the cage pedals. I had to think every stop, or I’d tip over. I replaced the pedals with platform pedals. I also wanted to sit straighter so I jimmied some handles that would allow me to do that. Nothing is pretty when I jimmy.

Biking became not fun. I learned that two knees replacements aren’t equal. My left knee stayed on the pedal rock solid. My right knee wanted to complain about the position of my foot on the pedal. It did not have the same range of motion as the left.

I would only go biking with Jody if it was sunny and no wind. Not even a breeze.   

My preferred method of exercise became walking, hiking, and climbing the hills at the ski hill. I wasn’t a slouch. I often got compliments. Especially, when the telltale signs of my knee replacement scars were visible.  

I missed biking.  Jody is a strong runner and biker. We didn’t run together. We just rode in the same car to the same spot and then had an agreed upon time to meet up. When biking, she’d bike right behind me. She would insist that my pace was fine. I was certain that I was hindering her athletic prowess.

Since COVID, Jody and I have done a lot of walking together. She calls it her bonus steps since she has already worked out for the day. I call it my one and out.

Do you see what this is all leading to? My birthday gift. 

I did read Simon Cowell’s article before buying my E bike. I did read the manual. I have not fallen off my bike. I have also not done any wheelies.

My first ride with Jody was around Lake Nokomis from our house on a very windy day. My first impression was happiness. I was five years old, it was my birthday, and my mother had just handed me a Winchester lever rife that shot plastic bullets. 57 years later, I have that same joy riding my E bike.

At first Jody wanted me to bike in front of her like old times. That wasn’t going to work. I can bike whatever pace she is biking.

The next day we rode 20 miles on the Cannon Falls Trail. The only tense time was when I was in front of Jody and I was waiting for her to catch up. “This is a lot of work, you know”, she said a little testily. I learned to adjust my gears after that and not assume she could go any faster.

Since having the bike it has become my preferred exercise. There is work to an E bike. I pedal. My calf and thigh muscles work. Biking has improved my range of motion in my right knee. I can also feel more strength when climbing steps. Jody says that she gets a better workout.

I’m now one of those people. Don’t be judgy. If you ask me, I’ll tell you, it’s like having my birthday every day.  

And how are the children? A true story.

The teenage girl first eyed the man through the concession window. He lifted the garbage can lid then set it back. He looked familiar to The Girl. Loaves and Fishes, she thought. The one who vacuumed the floor at the end of the night. Wore a green fedora hat.

His red bike overflowing with garbage, junk, and plastic bottles leaned against a column.

The Girl turned to her friend the Nordic Skier and whispered urgently, “He’s trying to get garbage.” Nordic Skier barely shrugged her shoulders. The Girl said with more emphasis, “Looking for food.”

Nordic Skier yawned. I’m not here for it, her tired posture messaged.

The man was grandpa-old. Wore a plaid long sleeve shirt, long jeans though it was a warm summer afternoon.

The Girl got busy with customers. She and her two friends worked at the refreshment stand. Ice cream, pizza, coffee and soda. Not much, really. Nothing you could find in the garbage except maybe pizza crust.

A chair scraped the floor, and the Nordic Skier was suddenly next to The Girl at the sink. Nordic Skier turned her body away, covered her mouth. “He’s drinking out of the containers.”

Finding no garbage outside, the man had moved inside to the garbage can in the corner. He had found melted ice cream in throwaway cups and bowls.

The Girl’s sigh was audible through the black face mask she wore. Her eyes threw serious shade. Like you woke now? She gazed over her friend’s shoulder to the seating area. The man was lifting a Styrofoam bowl and letting liquid drip into his mouth. “Oh my gosh, go offer him something.”

Nordic Skier’s eyebrows raised. “I’m the one that told you. Beside you’re the one that wants to help people.” She furrowed her brows. “That’s your career, periodt.”

They both turned to their other friend who was standing near the ice-cream display freezer. She was the smallest, youngest, and quietest of the three of them. A Cross Country runner. Not the fastest. Not the slowest. Observant. Steady. Strong. Formidable.

“You go,” said The Girl.

Their very quiet friend, responded, “I fully support your idea, but I’m not going to do it.”

The Girl barked at her.

The diminutive friend growled back.

“Fine!” The Girl dried her hands.

The man walked towards the door. The Girl followed him. “Sir, sir.”

He kept walking. Big Yikes. The Girl didn’t want the family who just came into the seating area to observe her struggling to talk to the man. She turned back to the refreshment stand. Nordic Skier was making a violent slashing motion across her neck and pointing forcefully to the man.

The family moved to the concession window away from The Girl.

The Girl steeled herself. “Sir, sir. Would you like us to give you some food?”

The man stopped and leaned his ear towards the girl, tapping his ear.

“Would you like some free ice-cream?”

He placed his palms in prayer.

The Girl dished out a scoop of rumba cherry because old people like rumba cherry, and a scoop of chocolate because everyone likes chocolate, and finally a scoop of rich and famous, cause, yeah, why not?

He sat down at a table. The Girl brought him his ice-cream. He bowed in prayer.

Nordic Skier said, “Oh my gosh. I’ve got the other half of the pizza I haven’t eaten.” Then she thought of the ten-dollar bill that she had found on the floor a few hours earlier. Serendipitous, for sure. She taped the ten-dollar bill to the pizza box.

While the man was eating, The Girl took a KIND bar that Nordic Skier had taken from her backpack and tossed away because the unopened wrapper had gooey stuff on it. “What are you doing? People need this. They are starving. Right here in our own town.” Nordic Skier and The Girl gave the man the KIND bar.

The man bowed in thanks.

A couple of days later, The Girl saw the man. He was waiting at the door. The Girl was tending to customers and couldn’t approach him.

The man came to the window. “She’s paying for me,” he said softly. He nodded to a woman. The woman shook her head in agreement.

“Three scoops,” the man said.

“The Usual?” The Girl asked.

He smiled.

Periodt.

 

Another Dog Story…

Crystel at 5 years old with Rosie

Was I afraid of other’s judgements, or did guilt keep me from posting the passing of Rosie, our beloved Bichon Poodle on Facebook? Four days after we put Rosie down, we came home with a ten-week-old puppy.

Neither Jody nor I were interested in posting these two life events.

Rosie had been with us for thirteen years. There were times that I thought she would last forever.

Bandit Rose was her ‘real’ name. The name on her vet charts. In time, she became Rosie. The kids were 5 years old when we got her as a puppy. Juan named her Bandit and Crystel said Rose and so it was. She was their puppy.

Rosie soon became everyone’s puppy and grew to be everyone’s dog – the people on the block, in the neighborhood, and anyone (person or dog) we would meet on our walks. She had a wag and a smile that softened your heart and made you better for the day.

Rosie and Buddy

On our walks, she would pull me crisscross across the street back and forth to meet her loves. She expected you to stop your gardening or yardwork to love her. And, you would. She had her own relationship with you. She was your dog in that moment and you were her world.

Rosie joined Maggie (Bichon Cocker) who was already part of our family. When Maggie passed away at ten years of age, we grieved for a year before getting a puppy to join Rosie. We knew it was time when Rosie initiated a game of tag with a lamb while we visited a farm. It was clear that she needed a companion.

Rosie and I grew old together. With two knee replacements behind me she was my dog to walk. Smelling the air together, sniffing at flowers, saying hello to her loves, we took our time. It didn’t matter how many blocks we walked or if we made it around Donaldson Park. What mattered was our unhurried pace and being outdoors.

While I walked Rosie, Jody ran after squirrels with Buddy our Papillion Maltese mix. Jody intentionally sprinted the opposite direction with Buddy when she saw a person or a dog coming her way. Buddy rightfully earned the nickname Trouble.

Crystel and Sadie

Rosie loved Buddy. How she could, I don’t know. He often nipped at her tail, stole her bones, and grabbed at her leash, pulling her this way and that.

Jody and I didn’t walk the dogs together, though we would leave the house at the same time and meet up towards the end of our walk. An enduring trait that Rosie had was running towards Buddy and greeting him like she hadn’t seen him in forever.  We all should be so lucky to have a Rosie in our life.

Sadie, our Bichon Shih Tzu puppy is a lot like Rosie. Everyone’s puppy, a lover of other dogs. Greeting Buddy like a long-lost friend. Sadie has even had a mellowing affect on Buddy. He is calmer and learning how to play with other dogs.

Maybe it was just that Rosie deserved so much more than a Facebook post. She needed an entire blog.

She was my girl and I miss her. We all do. Jody’s words have eased my guilt in getting a new puppy so soon after Rosie, “If we could still have Rosie with us, we would.”