Tag Archives: family

Going Home

I get to go home tomorrow.

Hopefully.

Assuming the weather cooperates.

I’ve been on the road for five days. If all goes well I’ll get home late tomorrow evening.

Five days is probably peanuts to a lot of the “road warriors” out there that travel for their jobs, but I’m ready to go home. I drove to tonight’s stop for 2.5 hours through a mixture of blinding, white-out snow fall and slick dangerous roads, to short periods of sunny skies and clear roads. It would switch from one to the other about every couple miles, typical of Michigan or probably any other place in North America in the winter these days.

I’m in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan for the night. My knuckles are still white from the two hour grip on the steering wheel as I tried to avoid sliding off icy roads. For dinner I ate a McDonald’s Southwest Salad and I’m drinking a cheap bottle of wine scored at the local Wal-Mart a ½ mile away. ( I suddenly wonder how often the word “wine” appears in my posts?!?)

‘Cause remember, work travel is a romantic and sophisticated thing!

The blood is slowly flowing back into my knuckles.

Not to get back on the local motel thing, but I’m in the most adorable little local motel I’ve ever stayed in. I may have to get on Trip Advisor and leave a five star review. Outside there is an epic snowstorm, crazy, blinding, accumulating snow… at least the last time I looked. In the back of my mind I’m thinking if there were anywhere to be stranded for an extra day this would be a fine place.

But I’m ready to go home.

I’m seriously ready to go home.

I want to sleep in my bed. I want to hug my wife. I want to see my kids. I want to see my goats.

In a few days I’ll have forgotten anything about this trip like so many before. The next one will be on the horizon to prepare for. This was a successful trip and the next one will be too.

That’s what I do.

The hardest part for me is the leaving, the walking out the door.

Sometimes I have to talk myself up, like Stuart Smalley.

“You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it people like you.”

Once I’m on the road though, literally five minute later, driving down the road, the salesman shows his big handsome face and I’m like “YEAH BUDDY LET’S GET THIS SHIT DONE!”

So I get it done.

Can you say “Jeckyl and Hyde?!?”

A loud dose of Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” through the car stereo helps. There isn’t a set of car speakers out there capable of playing this song at an adequate volume.

When I’m gone, I don’t think it’s easy at home. My wife definitely notices, suddenly a single parent for several days. My kids? With their crazy teenage lifestyles, sometimes I seriously wonder if they know I’m gone.

I hope they do. I really do.

But when the time comes I’m always ready to come home.

To sleep in my bed. To hug my wife. To see my kids. To see my goats.

I get to go home tomorrow.

Hopefully.

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Remember that time I was Freshly Pressed?

I’m sitting here in an old school motel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, near the Northern shores of Lake Michigan. My eyes dart from the words on the computer screen that I slowly type on my old laptop to long periods of staring out the window of my room as ghostly apparitions of blowing snow race across the empty parking lot. My toes are cold and I can’t seem to get them to warm up even though they’re wrapped tightly in heavy wool socks. The desk where I am sitting is next to the window that faces out to the parking lot and I can see my car parked in front of the door to my room, some parking lot lights and the brightly lit motel sign. At the bottom of the sign in bright red neon, the word VACANCY calls out to the few passing cars though no one seems to heed the call.

I have the blinds wide open but I’m not worried about privacy because I think I might be the only guest here tonight. I have no concerns about someone walking by and staring in my window. What is likely a thriving little motel during the summer and fall tourist months is pretty much a ghost town on this frigid cold February night.

The old couple that owns this particular motel where I will rest my head tonight have to be in their 80’s. They live on site and the place is spotlessly clean. This is the third year in a row I have stayed here and each year I walk in and wonder if the old women who checks me in will remember me. But she doesn’t and I’m not really surprised considering the number of people she sees every year. But as always, as I signed the credit card receipts and passed them back to her she asked me:

“Do you drink coffee? I’ll have coffee made in the morning.”

“I sure do you” I replied, then added, “I know, I come up here every February on my way to Houghton and I always stay here.”

She glanced up at me with proud eyes that sparkled like the bitter cold snow outside and with the brightest smile she said “thank you.”

I added, “I really like this place, please don’t ever close it down!”

“We won’t, as long as we’re around” she offered.

I took my key and settled in to room 17.

 ******************

I stay in small motels like this all the time when I travel for work. I’m self employed, no company credit cards, no expense accounts, no perks. Every dollar I spend on accommodations or meals or gas for my car comes right off the top. So I do my research and I find the places that are clean and well kept and affordable.

But there’s more than that.

Yes, these motels are unquestionably no-frills, and I’ve had a few objectionable nights over the last few years where I wished I had chosen the local chain hotel.

But the homey, small town places that I find, that I consistently come back to are all privately owned businesses that the owners take pride in and work hard to keep their guests happy. As someone who spent almost 20 years working in a family business I respect that to no end and will do what I can to support that work ethic.

Plus the people are interesting!

There’s the 80’s something couple where I stay tonight.

There’s the Vietnam era veteran with the US Marines baseball cap who always says “I’d put my rooms up against any place in town!”

There’s the lesbian couple who own a place called the “Triangle Motel.”

There’s the macho guy who is a retired police chief and who always has his little dog with him.

There’s the guy who is always drinking from a can of “Miller Lite” while checking in guests.

These places are remnants from a bygone era, like the old Route 66 motels that families stayed in while driving across the country many decades ago. Sadly, these days, for every thriving motel you find that is worth the $50 room rate, there are two or three more that are sitting abandoned along rural routes that folks no longer choose to drive along.

So… what does this have to do with being Freshly Pressed?

Two years ago in February, 2013 my post Old Barn Coat was featured on the WordPress Freshly Pressed page. It happened during this same road trip that I am on now. I started writing the post while I was at home, but I finished it while sitting in the same motel that I sit in now, while sucking down a bottle of wine, on a similar, bitter cold Saturday February night.

I posted it the following Sunday.

It was a great post and I knew it at the time. It wasn’t my usual sarcastic, silly, juvenile humor. I remember struggling to figure out where and how I was going to tie everything together, but when the last line, the culmination, finally appeared to me, I knew I had come up with something good. I don’t remember thinking about the post being “pressed” but I knew it was something special regardless of the number of likes and comments.

Freshly Pressed is the closest most of us will ever get to something we write being “published”. Sure, no one is paying you for what you wrote but it is an example of someone who you don’t know, someone who doesn’t follow your blog, someone who isn’t your friend , either face to face or “electronically”, noticing something you’ve written and deciding it’s good enough that thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people should see it. That’s an honor none of us should take for granted.

 **************************

The words are flowing out now like an open tap. It’s funny how that works, one minute you can’t think of anything to say, but a few struggling, forced paragraphs later, you’ve lost track of time and you have to force yourself to stop typing.

I’ve glanced up from the screen and noticed some of the parking lot lights are off and although the VACANCY light still screams out to passing cars, I know that motel office hours are only until 11:00 and there won’t be much traffic tonight. Blowing snow still dances across the parking lot and I’m glad I’m in a warm room.

Tomorrow morning I will go say hello to the old lady at the front desk. I will turn in my key and share some of the coffee she has made. We will likely talk about the weather and life and why I’m visiting the area and I trust her eyes will sparkle as much as they did tonight when I told her I was a repeat guest.

The coffee will taste better than any cup of Starbucks Coffee bought on any corner of Main Street USA.

Because it’s not about the coffee, its about the people you share it with.

Freshly Pressed or not.

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Playing like a Kid

I limped my way into the house about 9:15 pm, dragging my left leg along the ground like some kind of Quasimodo. I dropped my basketball shoes into the giant, overflowing pile of footwear by the door and took off my coat.

“Short night” I grumbled to my family as they looked up, surprised to see me home earlier than usual.

I play basketball on most Monday nights with a bunch of other older guys ranging in age from late 30’s to mid 50’s. That along with working out three or four times a week keeps me in not great, but pretty good shape. I play because I love the game. I play because I love the competition. I feel like a teenager when I’m out there and it’s so much more fun than tedious time spent lifting weights or doing endless amounts of aerobic activity. Plus I want my kids to see that even at forty-seven years old I can still go out and run around and play like a kid. They’ll remember that some day when they reach my age and they’re questioning whether to put on their athletic shoes and tie up the laces.

As a group us old guys play hard but we are careful to avoid injuries. None of us need that at our ages. Recovery time is a lot slower now than it was when we were younger.

Occasionally it happens though.

I blew out my left calf muscle this past Monday night, about ten minutes into our first game, while stealing a pass and breaking down the court to score a basket. As I accelerated I felt a sharp pain, a “pop” if you will, and knew it wasn’t good.

Recounting the story to my family when I got home, my daughter asked “so you scored though right?”

“Yeah I scored” I answered.

“That’s what’s most important” she said with a grin on her face.

“I guess so” I said as I frantically tried to secure a bag of ice my wife had retrieved for me around my calf muscle using an old t-shirt.

It hurt like hell. It was rapidly tightening up like a rubber band being turned on a toy propeller car. It swelled up and for the first time in my life, at least on my left leg, I had what I would consider a normally sized calf muscle and not the usual matchsticks that hold me up.

I finally got the ice secured with an elastic bandage rather than the t-shirt.

I drank a big glass of water, took a few ibuprofen and felt a little nauseous.

I tried to pretend that I didn’t feel like I was going into shock.

I Googled Aaron Rodgers calf injury because if you aren’t aware the famed quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was dealing with a similar injury during the last several games of his season. I thought about how people crack jokes about him and call him things like “the golden boy” but that he must be some kind of a serious bad ass to have played several PROFESSIONAL NFL FOOTBALL GAMES with what I can only imagine was a similarly painful left leg.

The articles I read said his recovery was expected to take 4-6 weeks.

What? 4-6 weeks? I don’t have 4-6 weeks!

Oh well, it is what it is. And hey, if anyone asks I can boast that I have the same injury as Aaron Rodgers, just us two pretty boys sitting around with torn calf muscles. Pretty good company I suppose.

When I get the occasional injury like this, playing a game that I probably should have stopped participating in years ago, I always contemplate “retiring.”

“Retiring” from playing like a kid.

In fact, I pretty much consider it every Tuesday morning as I haul myself out of bed, creaking and in pain from the previous night’s exertions. It usually goes something like this:

On one shoulder, a yogi, dressed in spandex and doing a Downward Dog while gently advising me: “Steve, maybe you’re too old to be playing basketball. Perhaps some gentle stretching would be better for you.”

On the other shoulder, my late grandfather, who spent his career as a teacher and football coach at a private boarding school yelling his now infamous quote: “look down between your legs and see if you’re a man!” (You can read more about him here)

But I just can’t seem to retire yet. I still want to play like a kid.

It’s kind of like that morning when you wake up with a really bad hangover and you tell yourself “ugh… I’m never drinking again.”

Never seems to work out like you planned.

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Counting on My Fingers and Toes

Some of you old-timers may remember this post: From One to Ten.  With a little editing I’ve turned it into a song. Sorry, I pulled the audio off a video camera so the recording isn’t that great.

Counting on My Fingers and Toes

I once thought that ONE was enough.
Me by myself with only my stuff.
But I met a nice girl and love it was true.
We had a big wedding and then we were TWO.

We once thought that TWO was okay.
She and I hanging out every day.
But we drove by a sign that said, “kittens for free!”
We took home a kitten, and then we were THREE.

We once thought that THREE wasn’t bad.
There wasn’t anybody we wanted to add.
But then we decided to get one more.
A friend for our cat and then we were FOUR.

This is the story how my family goes.
Changing every day right under my nose.
Kinda like a flower living in the garden.
Sprinkle in some love and it grows and grows.

This is the story how my family goes.
How big we’ll get, well nobody knows.
For now I’ll just have to keep on counting.
Starting off small, getting bigger and bigger.
That’s how my family grows.

We once thought that FOUR was fine.
One cat was her’s and one cat was mine.
One day a beautiful baby arrived.
A sweet little girl, and then we were FIVE.

We once thought that FIVE was alright.
Though space was getting a little bit tight.
But we wanted to add one more to the mix.
Along came a boy and then we were SIX.

We once thought that SIX was nice.
Not a bird or a fish or a snake would entice.
Then we decided two dogs would be great.
We skipped over SEVEN and went straight to EIGHT.

This is the story how my family goes.
Changing every day right under my nose.
Kinda like a flower living in the garden.
Sprinkle in some love and that’s how it grows.

This is the story how my family goes.
How big we’ll get, well nobody knows.
For now I’ll just have to keep on counting.
Starting off small, getting bigger and bigger.
That’s how my family grows.

We once thought that EIGHT was plenty.
At least it was only eight and not twenty.
Then one of our dogs, she went up to heaven.
Suddenly we were back down to SEVEN.

We once thought that SEVEN was ample.
Add any more and we’d surely be trampled.
“I have two goats” said a friend of mine.
We took home the goats and then we were NINE.

We once thought that NINE was neat.
But something was missing to make us complete.
We all liked riding a horse now and then.
We got ourselves a horse and then we were TEN.

This is the story how my family goes.
Changing every day right under my nose.
Kinda like a flower living in the garden.
Sprinkle in some love and it grows and grows.

This is the story how my family grows.
Someday we may add more, I suppose.
For now I’ll just have to keep on counting.
But if we keep getting bigger and bigger.
I’ll be counting on my fingers and toes!

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The Tree of Life

Two years ago, just about this time in early October, I wrote a post called the Tree of Life and dedicated it to my son. It was on a day similar to today, the onset of autumn and days filled with deep, healing breaths of cool, crisp air and the beginning of falling leaves. I stood this morning in my kitchen, staring out the window, with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand and watched a leaf fall from the large Maple tree that sits outside our house. That same scenario, an autumn leaf falling from a tree was the spark that got me to my keyboard two years ago to produce what is one of my favorite posts on this site.

My kids both have milestone birthdays coming up in November. My son will turn thirteen and finally be a teenager and my daughter will turn “sweet sixteen”. I’m so proud of these kids and what they’ve become. Of course, what responsible, loving parent isn’t proud of every step forward their children make in life? But also, like many of you reading, years of guiding our kids in so many directions can take a deep toll on our levels of patience, understanding and compassion.

I’m not always at my most compassionate these days. My wife Kim used to say I had “the patience of Job”, whoever Job is… and she was right. I did and many days I still do. But I’m also a “You’re injured? Wrap a bandage around it and quit moaning”, kind of parent. Last evening my son was an absolute train wreck after weeks of seventh grade classes, daily football practices, Boy Scout events, and on top of that not feeling well. I wasn’t mean or angry with his “call for help”, but I certainly didn’t offer up what would have been most helpful; a strong hug from Dad and some therapeutic compassion. We got home about 8:30 pm and he laid down directly on the mattress of his unmade bed and was asleep in minutes.

Children are resilient little beasts and this morning, all was well again and he was mostly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as much as a twelve-year-old can be at 7:00 a.m. in the morning. Shortly after the kids left for school, I stood by that kitchen window, with my steaming cup of coffee and watched that leaf fall. It reminded me of my Tree of Life post and reinforced to me that although my kids may be rapidly approaching adult hood, they are still just kids who are trying to find their way in the world, trying to please their parents and teachers and friends and looking for guidance from the adults in their lives.

They are kids climbing the Tree of Life in search of that perfect autumn leaf that they can ride to bigger and better things. As adults and parents, we are that tree and though we often have to fight through the storms that life throws at us, it’s those storms that remind us, always in a most timely fashion, when to dig our roots in just a little bit deeper.

If you weren’t a follower back in 2011, here’s my story: The Tree of Life. I hope you enjoy it.

The Tree of Life

Once upon a time there was a tree.
And it grew in a beautiful place in the country.
The tree was tall and had deep roots and solid branches and green leaves.
And it was a proud tree.

One day a boy began climbing the tree.
And he knew that he wanted to climb until he reached the very top.
So the tree carefully guided him from branch to branch, higher and higher.
And the boy felt safe and loved.

The boy continued climbing the tree, a little higher every day.
And as the boy climbed the tree, the tree provided comfort and protection.
Its leaves gave the boy shelter, its branches gave the boy structure.
And its roots gave the boy a solid foundation to build on.

Then one day the boy finally reached the top of the tree.
He was excited and the tree was very proud of how far he had climbed.
But the tree knew that the time had come.
To let the boy go.

So the tree said to the boy.
“My leaves are changing colors and the wind is starting to blow.”
“Find the biggest leaf you see and climb on it and close your eyes.”
“And the wind will take you wherever you’re supposed to go.”

The boy looked to his right and to his left and up above and down below.
And finally, at the very, very top of the tree on the very highest branch.
The boy saw the most perfect leaf he had ever seen.
And he climbed onto the leaf and closed his eyes just as the tree had told him.

Soon the wind picked up and the boy could feel his leaf trembling.
He grabbed on with all his strength to be sure he wouldn’t fall.
And then he watched as the stem of his leaf began to break free.
From the tree that had nurtured him for so many years.

The boy was excited to be free and on his own.
And as the strong wind carried the leaf high up into the air like a magic carpet,
The boy turned around and waved goodbye to the tree.
And it was a proud tree.

Soon the boy was far enough away that he could no longer see the tree.
So he turned back around to watch where the wind might be taking him.
All around, the boy saw the amazing opportunities the world had to offer.
And he settled in for the ride of his life.

The wind carried the boy to mystical places and magical lands.
On exotic adventures and extraordinary challenges.
Through happiness and sadness and love and hate.
And wins and losses and successes and failures.

As the wind carried the boy he felt exhilaration and freedom.
He began to learn to control the leaf and take it where he wanted it to go.
And he grew and gained knowledge and insight and experience and wisdom.
And felt as if he could fly forever.

But eventually the boy grew weary and wished that his leaf would finally land.
And he remembered what the tree had said when he was first set free.
So he closed his eyes just as the tree had told him.
And the wind began to slow down and change directions.

When the boy opened his eyes, the wind had carried him back to the country.
There was the tree with its deep roots and solid branches and green leaves.
As the boy smiled at the tree, the wind blew one last burst.
And he landed safely right at the base of the trunk.

The boy was happy to finally be on the ground.
He knew that his leaf had fallen right where it was supposed to have fallen.
And when the tree looked down and noticed that the boy had grown into a man.
It was a proud tree.

For my son, who is climbing his own tree and will someday have to be let go.

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A Moment in Time

I’m sitting outside. It’s about 9:00 pm on Saturday night. A plastic cup of cheap wine by my side. The old boom box radio sings to me from just outside the barn. “Grassroots”, a bluegrass and roots music program is playing on NPR. We listen to it almost every Saturday night and again on Sunday mornings. A warm fire is burning in the firepit.

Nothing out of the ordinary except the usual heat of your average summer night has been pushed out by a cold spell. The temperature is in the 50’s and I sit here in long pants, a sweatshirt and stare beyond the fire to our apple tree, full of small yellow apples. I imagine the tree is wondering if it has somehow fallen behind and missed its growth season. I’m happy to see apples though, as the last two years have been very sparse.

Three of my four goats are grazing away, happy to have some human companionship outside but on this occasion not hovering around looking for their heads to be  scratched. Goats are extraordinarily affectionate creatures and it occurred to me today that I could never have imagined “farm animals” bringing me so much joy. Goat number four, Heath, is inside their barn. He is getting old and doesn’t get out as much as he used to. Like any animal, none of them will live forever and that thought saddens me, yet I am grounded knowing that we are providing them a comfortable lifestyle.

The corn field across Brown Road is being irrigated. I was annoyed this morning when the farm equipment woke me up, but now I’m soothed hearing the sound of water soaking the stalks. I hear the fsh, fsh, fsh, fsh, as the gigantic, prehistoric looking irrgation sprinkler fires out spray after spray of water, as if it is trying to keep beat with the upright bass that anchors the latest bluegrass tune on the radio.

Jonathan is inside. The girls tonight, out of town at a softball tournament. It seems like that’s the stage of life we are in, with something going on every weekend. “Divide and conquer” we like to say. You go here, I’ll go there and both kids will be happy having a parent around. He’ll come out  soon enough though and we’ll cook hobo pies on the fire before calling it quits for the night.

Though the girls are away, I’m happy to be home.  It’s peaceful tonight, a little rare, quiet, alone time. I worked around the yard a lot today, until my 45 year old back told me enough was enough. There’s something about physical work though that is rewarding. Sometimes I think it’s what we were supposed to do, before technology took it all away.

In contrast, I sit here and type on an iPad and wonder what I would do without it. The bright screen, the fire and the two security lights the only thing interrupting the total blackness of the night. Soon the bats will be out, circling the lights and getting their fill of insects.  Later tonight the coyotes will stand around in a circle, far away, but close enough that we’ll hear them howl and laugh as if celebrating a reunion of old friends. It’s dark now and everything around me has become a scene of outlines and shadows. The radio seems louder as if somehow it is disturbing the night solitude. But there’s nothing to disturb here, no one around, just me and the goats and the bats and lots of crickets and likely lots of other wildlife that I can’t see or hear.

The fire is dying now, so I will go put more wood on. Because this may be just a moment in time. But if I have any say in the matter, I’d like it to last just a little bit longer.

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A Noisy Old Place

My old house is a noisy old place…

Sometimes my house makes a whispy-whish-woo
When windows are open and winds blowing through
And sometimes my house makes a-rat-a-tat-tat
When rain’s pouring down on its roof like a hat

And sometimes my house makes a zoom-zooma-zoom
When it’s hot and there’s fans blowing air ‘round the room
And sometimes my house makes a crackity-pop
When it’s cold and the woodstove is burning non-stop

And sometimes my house make a ticka-tick-tock
When gears are wound tight on the grandfather clock
And sometimes my house makes a meepy-meep-beep
When alarm clocks go off and wake us from sleep

And sometimes my house makes a clump-a-dump-bump
When water gets pulled through the well by the pump
And sometimes my house makes a clinky-clink-clank
When hot water goes through the pipes from the tank

And sometimes my house makes an eeeky-squeak-creak
When stair steps are loose or the floor boards are weak
And sometimes my house make a thumpity-thump
When a cat on a windowsill chooses to jump

And sometimes my house makes a gushy-gish-gush
When stuff in the toilet goes down with a flush
And sometimes my house makes a gurgly-goo
When stuff in the toilet can’t make it quite through

And sometimes my house makes a whesha-whish-whesh
When the washer is getting our clothes clean and fresh
And sometimes my house makes a hum-de-dum-dum
When the dryer spins clothes in it’s rotating drum

And sometimes my house makes a…

Yakety-yak and a ticky-tak-talk and a chitty-chit-chat and a smoochity-smooch and a lovey-bug-hug and a sniffly-sniff and a hacky-yack-hack and a tooty-toot-toot and a giggly-goo and a sing-sangy-song and a laughity-laugh and a… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… and so many more!

And those are the sounds that I most want to hear
The sounds that my house enjoys all through the year
The sounds of my family, the big and the small
Those are the bestiest-best-sounds of all!

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