Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge - Day 7

On the seventh day of The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge, the prompt is: 7 Wonderful Things that Happened in 2016. How many awesome things happened to you during the last twelve months? Surely picking just seven should be a piece of cake!

1. Flower bulbs that I planted in Fall 2015 came up in Spring 2016. I planted more bulbs than I ever planted in past year.

This Spring, they came up.

The tulips were so beautiful.

I wish I planted more bulbs for denser flower beds.

They were still eye-catching even though they a bit far apart. Not sure if tulips spread or not since the distance recommended between the bulbs is rather large. We'll see in 2017 what happens.

2.  Of the walks I took with the dogs, there was a fun and memorable one when I Aspen with me (Cooper was recovering from Lyme's Disease).

I parked the car on a rural road that we hadn't walked down before. There were cows in the distance that all came walking and running over to us.

Both the cows and Aspen were equally curious with one another.

As we walked down the road, the cows followed us along the fence line. As we walked further down the road, the cows went back to grazing. When we returned to where the cows were, they spotted us and again came walking and running towards us. I'm so happy I had my camera with me to remember these friendly cows and fun walk.

3. Listening to my daughters' music skills improve, and hearing them perform for others.

Both the girls take piano lessons and Sophia also takes harp lessons.

Having a house filled with music is wonderful.

I enjoy listening to both of them practice.

It's been equally as nice listening to Sophia perform throughout the year at churches, nursing homes, funerals, and weddings.

4. Going to Washington, Idaho, and Oregon with my sister.

My sister paid for my trip to these three states in June. It was such a great trip - not only traveling with her and seeing things I hadn't seen before - but doing things I would never have been able to do.

We both thoroughly enjoyed going to the Chihuly glass museum as well as touring the Seattle space needle.

We waited for about 30 minutes for a storm passed before being able to go inside a wind turbine in Washington.

As much as you see these from a distance, being right next to one makes one feel so small. I believe the tour guide said an entire school bus could fit into the rectangular part to which the blades are attached.

My sister also had booked a train ride from Seattle to Portland. It was a multi-hour trip, but we had our own room and could eat in the dining car.

A highlight of our time in Portland was seeing the thousands of roses at the rose garden.

5. Seeing wildlife up close.

It's a simple highlight of the year. I got to see a tiny fawn up close at Fawn Doe Rosa in Wisconsin.

During the same visit, a deer was leaping through the field and literally jumped a couple feet in front of me. Although startling, it was certainly a memorable experience.

The girls and I also trapped an opossum that was in our barn this fall. Since we have horses, having an opossum on the property isn't good. So, we had to do an "Opossum Relocation Program."

We had studying opossums during the 4-H Wildlife Project Bowl. We've seen dead ones on the road, but never a live one up close.

Through the process of capturing it, we also were able to see it play dead and bare its teeth (it has the most teeth of any North American mammal). It was an interesting experience.

6. Spending time with family and the pets.

Being able to spend time with family is always a highlight. It can be as simple as seeing a small town parade.

The floats, marching bands, and surprises - like the base of a hot air balloon - were memorable.

Spending time with the girls at the Minnesota State Fair and seeing them compete was definitely a highlight. Olivia competed in Shooting Sports. Her focus was on archery - a new sport she learned this year.

Sophia competed in Child Development. She shared what she did with creating three types of bags for children and teens in the foster care system.

Both the girls co-presented and competed in the club's Community Pride division. They did very well on behalf of the 4-H club.

Spending time with family members also meant working on special projects together - like the Barn Quilt Trail.

We painted and installed 11 barn quilts this year. It was such a feeling of satisfaction to get the project done by December 9th!

We also worked together on the final seeding and planting of perennials at the Pollinator Habitat Park that we had been working on since August 2015.

Prairie Restorations did all the major seeding and the girls seeded some areas by hand that the tractor didn't reach.

Spending time with family also meant celebrating Olivia's adoption day on November 17th.

Thanksgiving was on November 24th this year.

We celebrated Sophia's adoption day on November 27th this year because she was playing the harp at a wedding on her actual adoption day (November 26th).

Of course, for me, spending time with the pets is always special. Both the dogs have their own unique personality.

They enjoy one another's company and ours.

When we come home we can hear them howling like wolves as they look at us from the dining room window. I looked up why dogs do this. Apparently with wolves, one (or more) wolves will stay back while the others go hunting. The wolves call the others back home by howling.

I wonder if they consider us part of their pack and they are calling us back home.

7. Attending WE Day and being able to see the key speakers up close.

We were able to see Buzz Aldrin at WE Day. He had a lot of interesting stories and experiences to share.

Paula Abdul share her experiences about the challenges of growing up without having much money and always feeling like she wasn't good enough. She talked about how she overcame those challenges.

I was very proud of Sophia who received an award at WE Day and spoke in front of 18,000+ youth and educators. She will be heading to Arizona in 2017 to attend a leadership camp.

The last key speaker was George Takei.

He spoke about living in the Japanese internment camp during WWII. It was a powerful talk.


So, I would consider those experiences highlights of my year.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge - Day 6

I'm half way through The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge. The sixth day asks what are six regrets you have from 2016.

The prompt is not about looking back with negativity, it is about identifying where we went wrong so we can take a more positive route in the future.

1. Spending too much time volunteering with one organization. Although I love volunteering, I overcommitted my time to one organization. What I didn't do was set limits on what was enough.

So, while everyone seemed to be enjoying everything I coordinated, it came at an expense: less time with my family, less time creating memories to look back upon, not enough time with certain homeschooling subjects (particularly the ones that were more difficult and require more teaching time), less time spent doing hobbies I enjoy, and less time spent outside.

In essence, I traded a significant part of this past year for creating experiences and products for other people. I need to create boundaries and limits with my time so I can do the things that I enjoy doing and spending it with people who truly matter in my life. 

2. Not being able to save as much as I had hoped. Although we were able to pay off our debt (except the mortgage) with inheritance money, it still hasn't resulted in the hope I had for saving a significant amount of money for retirement and emergencies. It seems like it is one challenge after another this year.

Perhaps 2017 will be different...or maybe I need to structure things differently so meeting my goals is possible.

3. Not beginning yoga or walking as much as I wanted to during the past year. I have the DVDs and the mat for yoga. I just never started.

I wanted to take the dogs for frequent walks...started in the spring and then Cooper got Lyme's Disease and was sick for quite a while. I was so worried about the deer ticks and it happening again. So, I let fear be my excuse for not taking him and Aspen out.

This fall - once it had cooled down and walking was easier on them (they have a challenging time with high heat and humidity), I took them on some walks. And then it got cold. Both dogs aren't able to walk in the snow or ice without their paws freezing. We've tried the dog boots and they either come off or the dogs won't walk in them.

Poor time It's a lot of excuses. Some legitimate and others that are just that: excuses for an easier/lazier way of life.

4. Not sticking with regular spiritual practices. At one point, I was writing and doing a lot of creative projects as part of my spiritual practices. When I began over-volunteering, the spiritual practices fell to the wayside.

I look at 2012 (the year my Dad died). I did so many creative things and challenged myself to learn new things. There was a feeling of accomplishment and moving forward even though I was grieving.

2016 feels like a year of stagnation and poor decision-making. It was a year of coasting more so than active engagement in life...or at least that's what it feels like to me.

Having regular spiritual practices challenged me to live a more full life. It's time to get some of these practices back in place and make them a priority.

5. Not spending as much time outdoors with Sophia and Olivia; the dogs; and myself. We used to spend a lot of time outdoors exploring the farm and nature. Everything was fascinating and beautiful. We used the Handbook of Nature Study and we would do nature journaling. I have many fond memories of those years.

We used to go on walks at the state park...or even down the road with the dogs. I had actually put in my calendar state parks that I wanted to explore in 2016 - ones that we had never been to that looked like they would be pretty places to visit.

We didn't go to any of them. Not a one. Again, it was because of #1.

I'm going to write down the names of those parks in my calendar again this year. This time we're going to visit them...go hiking with the dogs, camping in a yurt with the girls, and maybe try some new food over a campfire.

6. Trying to please and accommodate everyone's needs. This applies mostly the 4-H club I lead. During the summer, there was considerable interest in the club and 99 people were at the first club meeting this year.  There were way too many people - and some of them simply showed up without letting me know. It was insane.

To effectively handle that size group, we used three different meeting spaces at the community center. Yet, in order for meetings to run well, for safety reasons, and noise control, not everyone could be in one space.  Some people weren't happy with the new arrangement.

Then as the months went on, there was one challenge after another: we couldn't cap the enrollment on the club even though we couldn't handle any more youth; we set up a website for a major event only to be told it had to be redone on the organization's main website; we tried to design a t-shirt for our club, but no one liked the design specs that we had to use; and some families needed another space where their kids could run around indoors and be loud. The community center isn't that place.

As much I tried to accommodate everyone's needs, it's not possible. And, honestly, I have no idea why I felt the need to try to offer something for everyone and meet everyone's needs. It can't always be done.

The original reason why I wanted to lead a 4-H club was to give Sophia and Olivia more opportunities to be leaders with 4-H and build their leadership skills; and have them be able to meet and do things with other homeschoolers. Simple. I need to re-visit those goals and pare down what I do in 2017. It is the healthiest thing to do...and one that would support my overall life goals.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge - Day 5 (In Memory of Shadow)

Continuing with The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge, I'm on Day 5 now. Today's theme: 5 Life Lessons You Learned in 2016.

The question that is posed is: "Whether we realize it or not, we all learn something new every single day of our lives. So what have you learned in the year just gone?"

These aren't really new things that I learned...they are more a reminder about life lessons that I need to continue practicing:

1. It’s okay to let your children see you cry.

Today Shadow, our 11-year old cat, died. He wandered onto our farm back in the early 2000s. Originally an outdoor cat, he gradually learn to trust us as we fed him food.


He eventually came indoors for about a week when it was 20-something below zero for multiple nights. It was safer for him that way.

Eventually, when it was warmer, he went back outdoors. He'd walk with Olivia to her preschool bus and then hide in the trees as the bus approached. He'd appear again when the bus returned around lunch time to drop her off.

Once he became an indoor cat, he loved being around us and observing what we were doing. He liked when we would do homeschool experiments and activities, and wanted to be right there watching.

He got along beautifully with the other cats.

All of the cats also had wandered onto our farm or were rescues. Shadow got along with all of them.


He even got along with the dogs and the dogs enjoyed his company as well. He'd keep me warm at night (I'm under the blue blanket on the bed).

In about September 2015, he developed hyperthyroidism. Basically, his heart was beating so fast and burning up his body. He became thinner with each passing month.

On the 28th, his breathing was labored. He sat in my lap for a long time as I pet him. I sensed that he was nearing the end.

He was laying near the heat registers and on the Christmas lights that were by the wood stove to keep warm.

On the 29th, he was laying next to the Christmas tree. This was not a normal place for him to be - in the middle of the floor. I sat down next to him. He reached out his paws to me, and I pet him. He was so frail.

He meowed in a way that was not like himself. I knew it was time. Olivia was walking by and saw me. I told her that Shadow was dying. She got everyone else and we all said goodbye.

Sophia, Olivia, and I took him to the vet to be euthanized. I couldn't see him suffer any longer. Wrapped in a blanket and laying on a pillow, we made our way to the vet. We were all in tears.

Shadow was truly one of the best cats that we have ever had.

2. Be grateful for this moment, it is all there is.

This life lesson builds upon the first one. We need to be grateful for the moment we are in. We are not totally present and available if we are dwelling in the past or future.

Even more important is recognizing the times that we need to slow down and stop. Be right in the moment, and grateful for that particular experience.

I am so thankful that I happened to pass by the living room when I did. Otherwise, I might have not seen Shadow and we would have missed being with him as he passed away. It was important for us to be there for him...just like he was there for us for so many years.

3. Over-prepare and then go with the flow.

This has more to do with a major event that our 4-H club did in November called One Stop Donation Drop. There were so many details involved with planning and executing this event. Everything was planned down to the smallest detail.

However, when a major snowstorm/ice storm occurs on the day before the event, there's not much to do except go with the flow. What happens...who shows...what money is raised...what items are donated - all is out of my control.

We just have to be grateful for those who did make it to the event; and donated or supported the 20+ organizations in some way.

4. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

One of the things I do is support the girls' interests. For Sophia, that means music - whether she is performing for people at nursing homes, churches, weddings, or funerals; or for animals at Northwoods Humane Society.

For Olivia, her interests have been in the visual arts and creating a Barn Quilt Trail. This has been a two-year project that just was completed earlier this month.

I also have done a lot with homeschooling - field trips, hands-on activities, cooking/baking, and science experiments - so that their school years would be filled with lots of memorable experiences.

Birthdays and half-birthdays are celebrated; and holidays throughout the year are an important to our lives. Some traditions are ones that have been passed down from my parents, while others are ones that are new ones that I've learned from living in a town that has a strong Swedish influence, from taking the girls to the Waldorf school when they were young; or from Pinterest.

All these things - and more - have added so many memories and rich experiences to our lives. I'm hoping that when they look back on their childhoods that they smile and remember fondly what we did together.

5. Don’t compare your life to others’ lives. You have no idea what their journey is about. This life lesson kind of ties into a couple other ones: Be content with little and Concern your life with more than money.

There are many times when money is tight since we're a one-income family who is choosing to homeschool (and pay for all the resources we need) and incorporate art and music into the girls' lives. Our health insurance is not good so we pay a significant amount each month just to cover the premium and overly-priced appointments and medicine.

Nevertheless, it's important to be content in one's current life. If I'm always looking at what others have and thinking that I need that, then I would never be happy. I remind myself that I have enough. That's the key word. Enough.

Does what I have meet my needs? Is it sufficient? If the answer is yes, then it is enough. Chances are, it's more than enough.

Would I want more expensive things or better clothes or more luxurious services? Sometimes I think I would. Then I think of what would be needed or exchanged in order to get those things. It's not worth it.

To me, there are always greater pursuits in life than money. I value being of service and making a difference in the world. If I'm a slave to money in order to get those high-priced items, we couldn't volunteer and do the things that we find so meaningful in our lives.

We couldn't enjoy the things that are around us - like beautiful sunsets; seeing wildlife at our farm and around the area; and enjoying the simple things in life.

So, my life does look a lot different than others. I can't compare it fairly because what I value isn't something that everyone else values. And that's okay. I'm content with my life and how it has unfolded.