Kindness Rocks

It was the kind of activity that transcended ages.  Crossed cultural boundaries.  Steeped in good will.  The perfect activity for our visiting Czech family.

Surprisingly, it came as part of our farm share.  Our CSA farmer, Heather-Marie from Rising Phoenix Community Farm, does a lot more than provide us with bountiful fresh organic veggies all summer long.  She focuses on the community aspect as well.  Once a month she hosts social events for all the families that she feeds.  This time it was the Kindness Rocks Project.

Gathering on a warm summer afternoon at Hartley Nature Center, we found picnic tables laden with rocks and a supply of paints, paint pens and Mod Podge.  The idea was to paint the rocks with inspirational messages or pictures.  While I struggled to come up with designs, the girls dug in and swiftly produced colorful rocks with fun sayings.  Although we encouraged them to paint some Czech sayings, with a little help from their mom they turned out catchy English phrases and cute illustrations.  Soon the table tops filled with colorful rocks, created by young and old alike.

Pavla and girls painting rocks Rich and HeatherMarie painting rocks

The art project was fun, but it was only the beginning.  Next came the Kindness part.  Megan Murphy is the creator of this national movement, which “encourages people to leave rocks painted with inspiring messages along the path of life.”  The idea is that one message just might change someone’s whole day.  Our next step would be to find homes for our rocks.

I had thought we might scatter them during our travels and adventures over the next few weeks of their visit.  But forgetfulness meant the rocks were all still waiting in the garage on the last night of their stay.  An excursion was immediately organized, so that we could complete the mission.Kindness Rocks

Judging by the enthusiasm of the effort, the joy in clambering over giant rocks, the appeal in depositing the messages in secret hidey holes, this part of the project was a highlight of their stay.  The rock pile soon diminished, creating a rich repository of inspiration for future visitors.  Pavla translated the girls’ words for us: “Better than a playground.”

Bibi with Kindness Rocks Elenka with Kindness RocksBibi and Elenka hiding rocks

I had thought some rocks might make their way back to the Czech Republic to await being found there.  But it was far too much fun to plant them on the shores of Lake Superior.  Leaving the world with a little more kindness was the perfect finale to a wonderful visit.

Molly and Rich with Pavla and girls

 

Putting the Family back in Camping

The texts flew fast and furiously between family members. As the week wore on, the frequency intensified.

“Does someone have an extra sleeping bag we can use?”

“Anyone bringing bags?” Response: “I’m bringing trash bags.” Clarification: “Uh…the game bags?”

“Here’s a link to a spreadsheet to sign up for group meals. Each family will cook one breakfast or dinner.”  We could count on Carl to get us organized.

“S’mores! I’ll bring that stuff!”  Erik had his priorities.

“We’re running out of room. We travel with the kitchen sink these days.” That from Karen, mother of four.

“I think the whole point of car camping is to bring way too much stuff.” Little did we know just what Carl meant by that comment.

It was the first family camping trip since we took our kids to the Boundary Waters 15 years ago. That outing numbered 5 family members and required just two small tents. For this camp-out the same offspring spawned a total count of 9 adults, 7 kids and 2 dogs, including our Czech daughter, Pavla, and her two daughters.

Emanating from Ostrava, Duluth, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee we converged on Great River Bluffs State Park. Filling four campsites with six tents, we gathered to spend two days together in the great outdoors.

Camping with kids ranging from 3 months old to 11 years was pretty brave – especially when it was a first-time experience for all of those kiddos.  Even the adults faced some challenges.  Karen surprised everyone by cheerfully forgoing her careful hair styling for the weekend.  Pavla agreed to the trip thinking we meant sleeping in “campers.”  Despite the snafu in translation, she and her girls quickly adapted to the more primitive tenting conditions.

Anticipating this weekend, I’m certain we all envisioned sunny warm days and crisp cool nights. In reality, we arrived in high heat and humidity under ominous clouds, and barely got our tents up before the monsoon-like rains descended. At the same time, Rich and I discovered that a tent, two sleeping bags and sleep mats were still sitting on the floor of our garage at home. It was an easy decision to scuttle our dinner cookout and nestle into the nearest pizzeria for the duration. A quick detour via Walmart solved the missing tent problem.

Nobody slept well. Little bodies wiggled. Bugs bugged them. Night fears erupted. Young ones rose with the sun.  Even those of us without youthful charges struggled in the heat. But it’s camping. It’s all part of the experience.

Although morning brought soggy conditions and stifling humidity, the group mustered on. Wads of mud collected on our shoes as we hiked. Bug spray permeated our pours. Clothing collected grime. A legion of lawn chairs drifted between campsites for meals.  Pavla learned a new saying, “like herding cats.” And smiles persisted.Family camping breakfastA trip to the beach on the Mississippi River soothed our sweaty bodies and itchy bug bites.  Ice cream cones on the return trip sealed the pleasure.  Big kids blew bubbles for little kids.  Erik and Katie gained favored status by sharing their new puppy.  A reluctant campfire finally caught and lulled us with its mesmerizing glow.  I basked in the revelation that my only requirement for the weekend was to sit, visit, play and drink in the presence of my family.Family camping swimmingFamily camping bubblesThe fact that the World Cup finals were scheduled for 10am Sunday morning gave little pause for concern to the sports enthusiasts in the family. At the appointed hour, those lawn chairs made their final pilgrimage to Carl and Chelsea’s tent site. A flat screen TV running off the car battery grabbed the local broadcast signal and game snacks graced the picnic table. Game on!  Although I chose an alternate activity, walking the dogs with the moms and kids, I had to admire the ingenuity.Family camping World Cup gameFamily camping hikingTexts flew once again on the way home and signaling safe arrivals.  Judging by the frequency of the term “great camping weekend” I’d say it was a success.  I hope it’s not another 15 years before we do this again.Hoeg Family Camping

 

Like having lunch with my Mom

Sitting in the comfortable living room of the large colonial house I feel right at home. The decor has changed little since I visited as a little girl. The woman sitting next to me is still tall, gracious, warm and exceedingly sharp. The afternoon flies by in her company.

I don’t know how it started, really. I think the bond was forged shortly after Mom passed away. Mrs. B – I still can’t bring myself to call her Monica – was Mom’s oldest friend, dating back to their childhood in the UP. She was a constant in Mom’s life. And now in mine.

My trips to the Cities are frequently tailored around this detour to Roseville. The script rarely varies. I arrive late morning, and conversation begins simultaneously with our fervent hugs. Despite her almost-92 years, Mrs. B remembers everything from our last visit and we hungrily catch up on family news. From there we move on to current events, politics, history and the erudite selection of books she has most recently read. I note the fascinating titles to add to my own reading list. We pause long enough for Mrs. B to serve homemade soup, salad with her own dressing and coconut bread. And continue visiting over our shared meal.

It is a rare opportunity to spend time with someone who knows not only me, but my family from way back. She knows my history better than I do. She understands my roots. She has memories of my Mom that are still new to me. I relish the feeling. It is like having lunch with my Mom.

I am constantly in awe of Mrs. B’s clear and insightful mind. A seasoned mother and grandmother, she is in tune with the times and has decided opinions and insights on those roles that we now share. Her values remain unchanged, but she has lived enough to flex with the times. She is not shy about sharing her honest opinions, and I treasure her wisdom.

Michael with Mrs B

On this visit I bring along Michael, the newest addition to our collection of grandchildren at 9 weeks old. It is a sweet juxtaposition of ages. I can tell Mrs. B is anxious to hold him. Her next baby generation has yet to arrive. But her skills haven’t faded. She is able to coax a smile from him, and she has sage advice when Michael struggles with tummy troubles. Of course, it works. Mom was not well enough to hold her great-grandchildren. So I endeavor to conjure memories of her with my children as babies.

Michael smilingMom was my biggest cheerleader.  She consistently urged me on and taught me to believe in myself.  It was Mom’s lifelong encouragement that gave me the confidence to follow my dream of writing.  She was gone by the time my first story was published.  But Mrs. B not only read it, she took out a subscription to Lake Superior Magazine to keep up with my work.  Predictably, today she asks “How’s the writing going?”  And listens intently.

The afternoon slips away far too quickly.  Even as I drive away I think of many more things to talk about. And ponder not only what she said but her life example.

Six years since Mom passed away, and longer still since Alzheimer’s claimed her mind, I have her dear friend to continue to connect me with her.  I am already eagerly anticipating our next visit.

Molly and Mrs B

A Fitting Memorial Day

It is far too easy to treat the day as just another holiday. Spring’s long weekend. The traditional date that signals the start of summer.  A sign that school is about to let out. I am guilty on all accounts. Not having family members who were lost in our country’s wars, I have no personal remembrances to honor.

By all appearances, this Memorial Day would follow suit. It was cabin opening weekend, and I alternated play with spring chores at our treasured retreat on the lake. For Memorial Day, Rich and I planned an early morning bike ride.

Up before dawn, we were treated to a beautiful red sunrise reflecting in the calm waters of the lake. It was still shady and cool when we started our ride, with high hopes that the early hour would yield some wildlife sightings (me) or birds (Rich). We saw neither but were privy to the woods awakening, streams calmly wandering and copious bird chatter. A rendezvous with friends at the Effie Cafe for breakfast allowed us to catch up, share some camaraderie, and to investigate their new e-bikes.

Rich with Galen and Shiela

Whittling down the miles back to our car, we spotted a congregation of cars parked up ahead on the quiet farm road. At Fredheim Lutheran Church, American Legion members from Effie along with family and community members were gathered for a Memorial Day service. In the warm summer air and sunshine, we passed by. Then thought, why not? Returning to the site, we parked our bikes and were heartily welcomed by the assembled folk.  The 1907 church – the first in the Bigfork Valley – felt like a most appropriate backdrop for this occasion.

Friedheim Lutheran Church“See the woman with the color guard?” a bystander asked. “She’s 95 and served in the Marines.” I looked on with awe. “She’s still the organist at our church.”  I was humbled.Memorial Day ceremonySeven men in uniform lined up with their rifles. Amidst instructions from their leader and some good natured banter they practiced their moves. What they lacked in precision they more than made up in earnestness.

The ceremony was short, to the point and moving. From the Pledge of Allegiance to the strains of the National Anthem, it was the intimacy of the gathering that made it poignant. The message delivered by one of the veterans was simple yet brought the message home. He challenged one and all to live our beliefs, starting that very day.

As the final shots of the 21 gun salute echoed into silence, I couldn’t help but think long and hard about the names that were read and what they had sacrificed. I felt grateful for what they had given for our freedom. And thankful that we had stumbled on this ceremony.

Memorial Day 21 gun salute

It wasn’t just another holiday after all. It was a most fitting Memorial Day.  For a change.

Grammy, would you please?

Beware of brainstorms.  It seemed like a fun idea at the time.  Little did I know where it would lead.

Grammy with kids in slipper jammies

After my annual sewing spree making slipper jammies for my four grandchildren last Christmas, I decided to make a matching pair for Isabel’s baby doll.  With a little ingenuity, I was able to create a miniature version which delighted little Isabel.  End of story.  Or so I thought.Isabel and Baby in jammies“Grammy, Bear is really cold.”  This was Ben, Isabel’s older brother.  “He has to stay under the covers in my bed all the time.  Do you think you could make some slipper jammies for him?”

How could I refuse?  I have to admit, my heart soared.  Here was something I – and probably only I – could do for Ben.  And for Bear.  “Of course!” was the only answer.  Complete with a ribbed collar and tail-hole, Bear was soon warm and cozy.

Ben with Bear in jammies

By that time, I knew it would not end there.  I had already bought another zipper.  “Grammy, what about Kitty?  Could he have slipper jammies?”  Big sister Mya.  I was unfazed but after several hours of wrangling with tracing paper and pins, Kitty proved to exceed my design capabilities.

“Mya, we have to talk.”  This was serious face-to-face conversation.  “Kitty isn’t so sure about slipper jammies.  I tried really hard, but she asked me if I could make them for Puppy instead.”  Uncertainty crossed her face, but to my relief she agreed.  “I think Puppy needs four slipper feet, don’t you?” I suggested.  “Oh yes!”  I was saved.

Mya with Puppy in jammiesAt eight weeks old, I doubt Michael has expectations just yet.  But if cousin Maren gets wind of these developments, I see another creative slipper jammy session in my future.

Which all leads to the next logical question.  Will they expect new matching slipper jammies for their friends next Christmas, just like theirs?  I’ve saved the patterns just in case…

Be Prepared

What’s good advice for Boy Scouts also applies to bicycle touring. Our preference for rural roads and small towns means that bike shops are in short supply. We have to be self-reliant when it comes to repairs. The key word here is “we.”

I travel with my mechanic. As much as I yearn to be able to do it myself, just watching Rich strain to stretch a tire over a new tube – especially if it is an unyielding new tire – I doubt I would ever have enough strength. I have watched the process numerous times, even practiced the steps on my own under watchful eyes. But I lack the confidence to believe I could accomplish it alone on the roadside.

Four times in three consecutive days Rich had the opportunity to demonstrate his repair prowess on our Two Timing Texas Cycling Tour. Despite cycling on flat-resistant tires, road debris found its way through this armor to puncture his inner tubes. Between that and defective tubes, our inventory of spare tubes dwindled from six to two, and our single spare tire was put into service. My sole contribution to the repairs was to hold tools and hold my tongue. If you can’t be useful, advice under stress is generally not appreciated. By the third unwelcome stop, I knew enough to cease taking pictures of the repair process as well.

Rich flat tire 1Rich flat tire 2

Surprisingly, Walmart carried an off brand of our specific inner tubes. Depleting their stock boosted our comfort level for the next six days until we could properly restock both tubes and tire in a proper bike shop, 276 miles later.

Between us, we carry an array of bike tools to address other mechanical issues. Rarely have we needed them, but when my gear shift cable broke, those tools earned their extra weight. And Rich came to the rescue again.

I recently added a new apparatus of my own, which I finally mastered on this trip. Rich convinced me to upgrade to a bike with disc brakes last year. This was actually a preventive maintenance move, as my traditional brake pads had been plagued by issues in the past. In his mind, the investment was easily justified by the greater reliability of the new braking apparatus.  In other words, less wear and tear on him and fewer complaints on my part. Who was I to argue?

Loving my Specialized Vita Comp bike, I chose the exact same model for its replacement. By then, it was only available in a carbon fiber frame. It took only one ride on my new steed to discover an immediate deficiency. The purists of cycling frown on kick stands, and this bike intentionally lacks the framework for installing one. I knew this fact, but completely underestimated the impact of this loss. We stop frequently on roadsides, linger to take pictures, rest in the grass, pause to add or subtract layers of clothing. These places provide no structure on which I can rest my fully loaded bike. It sounds trivial. It is not. At least to me.

Enter the Click-Stand. After much research online and rejecting other contraptions, I settled on this simple device. Made to order from a one-man operation, it is an ingenious solution. Operating like a tent pole, it self-assembles in seconds with a cradle that easily rests underneath the frame to hold up the bike. The other essential component is an elastic band that engages one of the brakes to hold the bike still. Voila! Almost. On this tour I discovered one tweak that clinched it. Finding that the cradle tended to slip, I placed it behind my seat where it holds securely. Almost as good as a kick stand.

Click-Stand

Click stand holding bikeBrake bands

We never did need those 10 extra inner tubes. The rash of flats subsided after the first week. But we were covered. Just as the electrical tape came in handy when my fender broke. I undertook that fix in a hurry, just to silence the incessant rattle.

I have to admit we have been incredibly lucky on our tours, avoiding fatal breakdowns. But in large part it comes from having one handy husband. And being prepared.

The One that Got Away

The scene still lingers vividly in my mind. The aged house hasn’t been loved in a long time. Its pale green exterior has faded to a color even more vague, paint chipping off the narrow clapboard siding. Tall grasses fill the yard, and the wrap-around porches on two floors of the house are no longer quite level. Window shades and drooping curtains attempt to keep the outside at bay. But the air of neglect is not quite complete. The house still maintains a modicum of respect.

Stately trees stand guard between the house and the street. The morning sky lends a deep blue backdrop to their spring green. Sun warms the air and leaves twitter in the wind, casting dappled shadows.

Adjacent to the house are three trucks. Parked in the yard, side by side, facing the street. Each a different color. They have not moved in a long time. These are vintage models. Their long hoods extend well in front of the cab, with a graceful rounded front end. The grass hides the grills that must be there. Sunlight glints off their roofs.

It is a classic scene, but I realize it too late. We have just resumed cycling after breakfast in a Taqueria down the street, and I am too consumed with moving on to stop and take a picture. By the time I regret the omission I am well down the road.

I’d like to report that I have mended my ways. That I have become more vigilant about seizing the picturesque moments that present themselves. That I have increased my awareness of the slices of Americana I pass. That I have a photo collection representing the tidbits of life I have seen on our tour. But I haven’t. And I don’t.

I’m a writer, not a photographer. My eye is not honed to frame just the right elements for a pleasing presentation. Instead, I compose sentences in my head. I dream up titles for my blog posts. I work out just the right words to describe the scene, succinctly and economically. I consider the components of my book, actively living the life I am narrating into a memoir on wheels. My mind works as hard as my legs on tour.

Molly cycling Texas

I still haul my camera around. I make it my mission to document the personal side of our tour. While Rich focuses on his birds, I try to capture the memories. Or perhaps more accurately I am recording scenes to solidify them, images that I can revisit when massaging the words to describe the experience.

Yet still some get away. So I leave you with my written image. The one that is etched on my mind, not in my camera.