Sunday, August 18, 2013


New Job -  I now have one week of my new job under my belt, and things are good. I think I am going to enjoy the work (as expected)! As usual (for me), training is a bit slow/boring. I spend the extra time (for now at least), reading manuals etc. The job is complex enough that I might not run out of manuals to look at! LOL. I have an hour lunch at my new job, and I need to figure out what to do during it! There are some people I would like to meet for lunch, but I also would like to have a list of other options of things to do that are fun or productive in a one hour lunch downtown. I can walk to the library (and did so once this week), so that will def be on the list!

Family Time - Tuesday was DH's birthday - we went to dinner as a nuclear family and went out browsing cars for fun. Wednesday was my dad's birthday - we got together with everyone who was in town and had hamburgers and cake (and lots of laughs). Friday we had pizza at my parents house. Saturday night my sister and BIL came over to play Dh's new board game (7 Wonders).

Beautiful Weather - The weather here has been gorgeous all week. We have gone on lots of walks. Last night we went to The Portland Malt Shoppe. So good!! We have also spent a lot of time relaxing on our front porch. Benjamin plays on his bike (big wheel) or with his sports equipment (balls, hockey sticks, etc) while we sit on the porch swing, surf the web, mow the lawn, or play with him.

Sad Situation - I am currently preoccupied by a sad situation that is just beyond my social circle. My brother has a nephew (on his wife's side obviously) that is in the end stages of childhood leukemia. The boy's name is very similar to Benjamin, and he is a toddler (2.5?), and he has been sick pretty much his whole life. I have never met the family or child, but I can't get the situation out of my mind. As I ate my malt, played board games with my sister, and swung on my porch swing, somewhere south of here a little boy much like my son has been struggling to breathe; his parents watching their son die and trying to do anything to prevent what at this point seems inevitable. It breaks my heart. And there is absolutely nothing to be done about it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Our AZ/CA Trip 2013

July 31st to August 7th we went on our big family trip of the year, down to Arizona to see my SIL get married, and then out to San Diego, CA to see a friend! It was a great trip and I really want to document it well, so this post may be epic!

July 31st - Benjamin's First Plane Ride
We left our house around 7am, headed for the cities.  Benjamin slept most of the way, though he did wake up long enough to start our trip off right with a doughnut from Tobies. We were kind of rushed for time at the airport, but managed to make it through check in and security without major issue. As we waited to board, he loved watching the other planes come and go, and was excited to get on one. Unlike a few months ago when we road a train and he did not seem to understand once we were on board that it was anything special, this time he definitely understood he was on a plane. As we waited to take off, we discussed what was going to happen, using the vocabulary provided us by a book we have been reading him for the past few weeks "Freddie goes on an Airplane" - meaning that soon Benjamin was "roaring" every time he saw a plane in front of us take off. And then it was our turn. Up, up and away we went!! Benjamin watched out the window from my lap. When we were up in the air and leveling out, what did Ben do? "More more!!" That's my little boy. First plane take off ever and he asks for more! His Grandfather (the air force pilot) would be proud!

He did great on the flight as well! I had packed a bunch of new-to-him toys and books, and it worked great. We had a whole set of Matchbox Construction equiptment (go to Target if you want it... Amazon is way overpriced in this case) which kept him occupied for quite awhile. We also had The Truck Book, which was new to him but very close to his (over-sized) favorite Things That Go. We also had a variety of items from the dollar section at Target - such as plastic dinosaurs, flash cards, and a vinyl cling set. He did great!

When we landed in Phoenix, he was happy to stretch his legs a bit and run around the airport (mostly in the right direction). We got all our luggage together, picked up our rental car and stopped by Burger king to eat our first real meal of the day while we waited for my ILs to arrive. They soon showed up and Benjamin leaped into their arms without any hesitation! We next went and visited DH's step Grandma who lives in assisted living in Phoenix. She is a chipper and happy 90 yrs old and loved to see her great-grandson, and had some teddy bears and magnets to amuse him with! Benjamin has now met all of his Great Grandparents that were alive when he was born, so that is nice to have.

Eventually we started the drive up to Flagstaff, about 2 hours. Benjamin slept for the first bit but then demanded entertainment, and our resources were wearing thin. None the less, I loved the drive! We climbed from 1000 ft of elevation to 8000 ft (then back down to 7000), up first through the cacti and brown gravelly foothills, then into taller brown, yellow, and red mountains, through cedars and high flat lands. Up we went into the pine tree and meadows with grey mountains in the distance. Right to the top of Arizona. Once we made it into Flagstaff we checked into our awesome hotel. By this time it was after 7pm pacific time (9pm CST). But, we hadn't eaten dinner and we wanted to see my SIL and her soon to be hubby, so we headed out to a yummy dinner at a local Mexican restaurant that was known for its Salsa bar.

August 1st - The Grand Canyon 
Our Hotel had an excellent breakfast (excellent everything really...), and we took full advantage of it throughout our stay in Flagstaff, and breakfast because the planning point of the day as well. On Thursday we were headed off to the Grand Canyon. FIL drove one car with MIL as the passenger, and I drove the second car with DH, Benjamin, and SIL in the back. It was another fun drive through some beautiful country with some good conversation. It was about a 90 minute drive.

Seeing the canyon in person was surreal. It was, as many people had described it to me, hard to take in. At first it just looks like the paintings, you cannot grasp the depth or width or sheer size of what you are seeing. Its not until you see it from a few different angles and look for the details (a bridge at the bottom, a scrap of the Colorado river, hikers making their way down), that it becomes more real. We walked along the rim near the main visitors center, taking in the sites. We bought one of those little backpack leashes for Benjamin to give us more security, and it worked well, although the areas we were in were mostly fenced. When Benjamin looked out at the Grand Canyon he said "water" "water" and quickly lost interest. He was much more interested in the benches, stairs, and pathways. He also got quite a few comments on his adorableness with his leash and hat. I can't argue with them!

We also got to visit a small geology museum, hear some thunder and see some rain over the canyon, and eat a yummy lunch in one of the restaurants in the park. Besides the benches, Ben also loved the buses. He was totally fascinated by them and did not want to get off (except of course at the end when he fell asleep in my arms!) Back in Flagstaff, more family had arrived (Aunt and Uncle S&S). We had another nice dinner out-  BBQ this time, and enjoyed a walk downtown, saw some street musicians, and had another latish night.

August 2nd - Sedona
On Friday we decided to drive through Sedona. S&S, and Aunt B in one car, DH, Benjamin, FIL and I in the other (this is the part where I mention I had to drive every where because my rental car company sucked and we didn't want to keep moving the car seat around.) Benjamin napped most the way there. We approached from the highway, seeing Sedona from the East and south  before approaching closer. Sedona is a completely different experience then the Grand Canyon because you are right inside it and can move through it, getting closer to specific formations. We mostly just drove and gawked, though we did get out of a couple places to take a longer gander. The red rocks were beautiful, and I was fascinated by the buttes, capped with trees. Benjamin liked the rocks, and liked throwing rocks off of some ridges we were on. We also stopped by a cool bridge over a deep canyon. Eventually we climbed up through a tree filled valley, up many hairpin turns to one last scenic overlook. Back in Flagstaff we had a late lunch, then spent a relaxing afternoon and evening in and around the hotel, taking the opportunity to walk through the campus of Northern Arizona University (where SIL and FBIL attend for PT and accounting). 

August 3rd - The Rehearsal
You know? I am not sure what we did Saturday morning. I think maybe just stayed in the hotel and let Benjamin nap? Maybe ran some errands? Oh yeah! We looked for shoes for Benjamin and restocked our toy and book supplies. In the afternoon we headed up to the AZ Snow Bowl - the highest elevation in the state (the mountain is over 12k feet of elevation, I would say we were 11k-11.5k up). Benjamin enjoyed running around on the deck and in ballroom where the ceremony and reception were being held. He did not enjoy waiting while they lined everything up for the rehearsal. When he was released (to be ring bearer), he took off!! Ran right up the aisle and laughed doing it, the ring bearer pillow swinging in his hand. When I scooped him up, it also quickly because clear we would want to game plan a distraction to keep him quiet the rest of the wedding as he squirmed and squeaked, wanting to run around during the rehearsal. But, it was over shortly and after a few more set-up tasks, we all headed back down the mountain to the rehearsal dinner (BBQ) at a local park. There was an awesome playground there that had a motorcycle for Benjamin to ride and many fun walkways, stairs and slides. Back at the hotel we went on a nice long walk and hit up Dairy Queen. 

Having a drink w the flower girl :)

August 4th - The Wedding
The morning of the wedding I went and got my hair and makeup done with the bridal party. It was a lot of fun. After that it was a slice of pizza at the hotel and then heading back up the mountain to help with set up and get ready ourselves. While it rained in the early afternoon, by the time of the ceremony it was gorgeous out, as was the bride. Benjamin did great as ring bearer. He and the flower girl held hands about halfway of the aisle, it was adorable. Then the flower girl got distracted by a photographer and they broke apart. Eventually they both made it up the aisle though! We had lots of distractions for Benjamin and he did fine during the ceremony (ok... he did start saying beep beep beep once when he heard a car alarm in the distance). The wedding was beautiful and I wish the couple much happiness. After that we snapped some family pictures, then headed up to the reception, where Benjamin was one of the lives of the party. We pilfered a couple of fruit tarts off of the dessert table to keep him occupied early on (he was not a big fan of the other appetizers). He ran all over, being adorable, driving his car on the dance floor, playing with the flower girl and bridesmaids, playing peekaboo behind columns. The reception was a lot of fun for everyone! There was also an amazing sunset to watch and good dancing. It was a late night! 

August 5th - The Drive
Monday morning was clean up! We shifted stuff around from the wedding, helped get everything of importance back to the bride and groom, packed our bags, and said farewell to my entire IL family. It is always sad parting. We headed back south towards Phoenix, which was actually just a way point to continue south and west towards San Diego. It was a LONG drive through the desert. The really amazing part to me about it was the changing landscape, even though it was all desert! Arizona has red, yellow and brown gravelly desert with varying amounts of scrub and cacti. As we got closer to/into California the desert and mountains got darker - black gravel, black mountains in the distance, very little scrub. Then it got yellower again and more sandy, until for one brief period it was full out yellow dunes like out of the Sahara. Then back to brown scrub... and then as you get close to San Diego, the weirdest mountains I have ever seen (and at this point I have seen a lot...). They look like giant rock piles... like giant breakwaters, except all the rocks are light pink. So odd!! And cool. Benjamin slept for the first 3.5 hrs of the drive, and then was entertained by DH for the second 3.5 hrs. We stopped for lunch at Carl Jr that had a great view of a train (which Benjamin enjoyed). When we made it to San Diego, we ended up driving around in circles a bit due to poor GPS directions, but we made it eventually to our friend's apartment. He has a beautiful view - overlooking the airport, bay, ocean, and many neighborhoods. He also had some delicious local pizza waiting for us! Benjamin seemed confused by the travel and requested cheerios for dinner, which our friend luckily had. Benjamin would live on Cheerios w/milk these days if we let him!! After dinner we walked to Cold Stone through "Old Town" San Diego, a touristy but cute area. Back at the apartment, bedtime was a bit of struggle because of no crib, but Benjamin eventually caught on and slept in the middle of the air mattress, while we stayed up chatting and playing boardgames. It was so good seeing our friend!!

August 6th - San Diego
On Tuesday our friend took us all over San Diego! We started off going to a beach where seals like to hang out! Benjamin was "barking" like a seal in no time! He also loved the ocean, loved watching the waves come in and kept asking for more (which the ocean willingly supplied). He also loved all the benches. After that we headed down to the Midway (the aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum). What could boys like more than a ship of war full of planes and helicopters to look at? It was a lot of fun and also gave us a great view of the harbor. After that was lunch at a place called "Extraordinary Desserts" that totally lived up to its name. Benjamin took a nap then, so we headed back to the departments and played more boardgames. When Benjamin woke up we went to Coronado, the Island across the bay from San Diego. It is named such because it has "fools gold" mixed into its sand, and therefore gold glinting everywhere. Benjamin was at first a bit freaked out by the sand, he didn't like the feel of it and insisted on being carried. He let me put him down when we were close to the water, but then freaked out when the wave came and touched him. Daddy to the rescue scooped him up and stood in the water and made him laugh! Then he touched the water with his hand, then eventually he let me put him down... for a bit. He walked back across the dry sand on his own. We ate at "the Burger Lounge" which was yummy! And had some frozen yogurt... then you guessed it! Benjamin fell asleep in the car and we played more board games! Stayed up too late too, but it was worth it :) 

August 7th - HOMEWARD!!
We left San Diego in the morning! Benjamin was excited about the planes again, we were both exhausted and just wanted to nap! And, unlike the first time around, we had to change planes in Denver. That went smoothly though, and we made it to the cities, got our luggage, and made the drive home without problem! Benjamin went back to his normal schedule with no issues. In fact, on Thursday in daycare, he was SO HAPPY to be back we got a glowing report from the teachers. 
WHAT a great family trip!!!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ch ch ch changes

So, obviously, there is a lot going on in my life right now. I had to prioritize what I was going to post about this weekend, and Grandma K came first. Second is the news that I am starting a new job on Monday!!!

I will be working for the local county government, as what is called a "financial worker". This means I will be determining eligibility for public aid programs like food stamps, rent assistance, and medicaid. I am very excited to start! While my job satisfaction had improved at my old position, I still disliked the micromanagement, and the corporate culture. The issue, I think, was not the corporate culture at my specific company, but rather corporate culture in general. I am excited to move back into the public sector!!

Coming up soon (hopefully) - a report on our recent vacation and Benjamin being 19m old!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Grandma K, Memorial

My paternal Grandmother was laid to rest today. I was not able to attend the funeral, so I wanted to take a minute to write about her.

Grandma was my last remaining Grandparent. She was 88 years old.

When you are a child, Grandparents are ageless. They are old, but unchanging. Its only later when you see pictures that you see their hair changing from dark to grey to white. As a child, Grandma K meant endless buckets of cookies. I especially remember the sweet chewy toffee cookies, or was it butter brickle? Grandma and Grandpa would arrive in their Suburban, with a third row "short" seat (lower to the ground) for us little ones to ride around with. We would unload their things into the guest room and the gallon ice cream buckets full of cookies to the kitchen. We would be eating them long after Grandma went home.

Grandma and Grandpa K had a beautiful lake house, which it felt like they bought just for us grand children. How many lazy summer days did I spend there? Probably less than my memory would lead me to believe, but those timeless repeating memories are best. I remember arriving after a long drive and the roller coaster hills, stepping into the hot Ohio heat, and then into the cool fresh air conditioning and into Grandma's arms for a hug. The garage had a very particular smell that I never found pleasant - hot rubber? But I would still happily go in there to find a soda or see my Grandpa "play" the player piano. We slept on a trundle bed, and since I was the younger sister, I always got the bottom bed, which remained on the floor. In the morning, we would creep upstairs for breakfast - either personal size cereal boxes where everyone got to pick their own kind (I always chose Raisin Brand), or if we were lucky, pancakes and the most delicious sausage. It is in that roomy stretched out kitchen that I learned to love my sausage with real maple syrup (and actually, to demand real maple syrup in general). Then we would go swimming - race down the hill to the lake and splash away the hours. Grandma never swam with us, but we always knew it was because she was upstairs working her magic in the kitchen. At some point she would ring the bell for lunch and we would all climb up up up the hill to eat fresh cut ham sandwiches, chips and cookies. Often the afternoon brought more swimming - or if not, playing with the electric organ, the pink tea set, board games, cards, or drawing with fruit-smelling markers. We would smell each marker and use it, then carefully put them back away in the sleeves, making sure none got lost. My favorite was black licorice, even though I preferred to color with the pink berry smelling one. Often cousins would join us and we bonded over silly games and lots of laughter. By dinner time, swimsuits were expected to be shed, bodies washed, hair combed. Feeling cozy and warm we would eat another wonderful family meal all together. Later in the evening - desert - usually ice cream or more of those wonderful cookies. Those were my days with Grandma and Grandpa Keener. Full of food, fun and love.

When I got older, in Middle School and High School, I spent different time with them. They took me to museums, and college campuses. They showed me things about their past, told me stories of my father sleeping in a drawer when he was a baby, of how little they had, and how they made due, of what their parents taught them, and how they grew up. I still loved seeing them, and my days with them were filled with food, knowledge, and love.

My Grandpa passed away in 2005, and that is when my Grandma's struggle with dementia (eventually Alzheimer's) began. I was off working in New Jersey that summer, and then back at college in the fall. I wasn't sure how often I would see my Grandma, or what she would be like when I did. Then, fortuitously, I ended up attending Ohio State University for Grad School, only an hours drive from my Grandma's house. Suddenly I was able to see her more often than ever - two to three times a week rather than two to three times a year. When I moved there in 2006, she was still relatively mentally engaged, with only occasional confusion. I drove her down to visit her sister and got to hear the two of them relive the past and eat some wonderful ham and brownies. I cooked desserts for her, she loved lemon. For one of her birthday's I made lemon cake with lemon filling and lemon frosting. I talked to her about her childhood memories, and her nursing stories. She would tell the old stories and laugh and laugh at some of the foolish things from her youth. As time passed, she declined. She became less engaged, less active, less present. I got used to repeating myself, telling her the same thing (that we were waiting for Aunt Karen to arrive, or that dinner was almost ready, or that DH had to work that day) five times in five minutes. And then she stopped asking even those questions. The confusion increased, and with it her frustration with not understanding what was going on. And it is perhaps in these final months I spent with her (before moving back to Minnesota in 2012) when she taught me one of the most important lessons. She had a mantra that she repeated anytime she got frustrated with her inability to grasp what was going on around her. My uncle nicknamed her Doris Day for it. The mantra was "whatever will be will be." She said it because it was something to hold onto, a sentence, a song, that always holds true and makes it OK to not quite know what is going on. I find myself using it sometimes as a mantra when the going in life gets rough.

My Grandma K was a great woman. She was a nurse, she raised my funny and loving father, my genius uncle, and my tender heart aunt. She baked cookies, and hams, and rang that dinner bell. She loved her husband, and her kids, and her grandchildren, and aged as gracefully as fate would allow. I am glad I had so long with her, and glad that her values and love will live on in her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.