Sayonara!

Yesterday, we said goodbye to our third exchange student. Nana was visiting us from Shimizu, Japan, over our spring break, along with two other students and a chaperone. Her visit was in conjunction with a program in our community called the Chelsea-Shimizu Sister Cities exchange program. Last June, my daughter traveled to Shimizu and visited Hiroshima and Sapporo to experience world history, and Japanese culture and community.



Our week was filled with local adventure, including the tradition of painting our town rock, disc golf at Hudson Mills metro park in Dexter and touring the Big House at the University of Michigan. Hosting an exchange student for a week was easy-breezy and so much fun! We hosted a student from the Netherlands for a full school year and a student from Peru for five months.

What I’ve learned from these cultural connections is how brave the teenagers are to travel to a foreign country and immerse in a culture that is completely unknown to them. Nana was eager to try everything — food and experiences. Though we had very little knowledge of her language and she had only slightly more of our language, we communicated. Google Translate was our friend this week, no doubt. Even so, being open, flexible and, most importantly, joyful during the week sharing experiences resulted in a lifetime connection.

Reflecting on our other experiences, I am grateful our family is still connected to our Dutch “daughter.” We are not connected to our Peruvian student, which I regret. I think of her and hope she is living a full, happy life. Each experience was truly unique. I am grateful to the students for being so brave and giving my family the opportunity to grow and learn from them.

Mutual rescue, mutual unconditional love

This sweet doggy is 10 today. Moose came into our lives after our previous rescue dog, Libby, passed away from old age. Never in doubt that we would rescue another dog, we kept our eyes out for adoption day opportunities. We found Moose at an adoption Moosie - 10 years oldevent in downtown Pinckney. She was the only rust haired puppy in a litter of mutts, most of which resembled German Shepherds. (We learned mamma was likely a party girl with two suitors.) Her given name of Ginger was apropos, of course. There was something about her sweet eyes and shaky little body that drew us in. She was petrified. We decided to give her a big name of Moose, named for the tiny village amid the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a favorite family destination. Truthfully, we call her Moosie 99% of the time.

Ten years later, and she still has some anxiety around people coming into our home, though she is deeply loyal, loving, vocal, and protective. She loves kids and popcorn. She has no fear of hiking in below freezing temperatures, but has a hard time walking in the heat. Tug of war is her game of choice.

A morning hike after breakfast and a birthday treat from The Brown Basset Baker started her day. Another treat later today, some tug of war, of course, and an off leash run around the yard will wrap up her birthday fun.

When the wind blows

IMG_5558During the early hours of November 9, the winds blew in the first snow of the season. The snowfall was surprising; waking up to the chilly billowy blanket prompted spontaneous glee. A native “up north” Michigander, I can never hold back celebrating the first snow.

Quickly, though, the date sank in. This day was supposed to be the 55th wedding anniversary for mom and dad. Dad’s passing on September 11 is very fresh. Though he was 88, he died as a result of head trauma after a fall, so his sudden death was unexpected. As the day progressed, I wavered between joy for the snow and sadness for mom and dad. Additionally, my California family and friends were under wildfire siege after the tragic Thousand Oaks shootings. The wickedly warm Santa Ana winds prodded Southern California fires to spread quickly while NoCal suffered deeply from its own firestorm. The day was a tough one. Memories of dad, fear for my loved ones and concern for mom kept my stomach in knots all day… except when I walked the trails around my house or caught a glimpse of the pretty snowscape from my windows throughout the day. I am thankful the snow stayed through the night.

Today, we’re back to November brown; the shade between the last of autumn’s pretty palette and Aslan’s Narnia. My California loved ones are safe and the fires are somewhat contained. I am hopeful the brave teams of firefighters will be able to rest soon.

I am very thankful for our Great Lakes. The five giant bodies of fresh water provide protection from major weather catastrophes. As long as the snow keeps falling and nature keeps sharing its comfort, I have hope.

Fabulous 40s

Taking a page from my lovely friend Angela Berent, I thought I would reflect on three favorite moments of my 40s.  Angie wrote List Your Life: A Modern-Day Memoir, a journal-like book that provides thoughtful prompts for you to write down three related life experiences. With just a few more days before I turn 50, this pause to appreciate happy moments of the last decade fills me with gratitude.

Travel. Thanks to my husband’s work travels, the frequent flier miles pile up. It is because of those miles — which means he is away often during the year — that my family and I have enjoyed several amazing adventures in the last decade. I am grateful for travel, a necessity to me for my mental well being. Even though I am quite the homebody, I love frequent immersions in varied settings and cultures. Travel — lumped under one favorite moment — over the last decade included two trips to Jackson Hole, IMG_1803Wyoming, one to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary five years ago and, more recently, to celebrate my 15th anniversary with Kris. The Wild West calls to our family thanks to my dad’s western foray in the 1950s that prompted his baby sister, Rosemary, to move to Wyoming at 18 where she fell in love with a cowboy.

Travel also included two adventures to Europe, one in 2012 and the other this past summer. Our travels in 2012 took us to Paris; Champéry, Switzerland, and Villanova, Spain. This summer, as an early celebration for my 50th, we ventured to the Dalmatian Coast and Plitvice National Park of Croatia; Ljubljana, and the mountains and Soca River of Slovenia; Venice and the Amalfi Coast of Italy. More on all these adventures later.  Travel was big in my 40s. I am sure hoping to experience more in my 50s.

Parenting. Another huge moment, I witnessed my eldest daughter graduate high school (2014) and college (2018). I am astounded at her passion for learning and for her life goals after she wraps up a second major this December. I am in awe of her ability to juggle multiple, impressive work experiences, volunteer work and school work. I cannot wait to see her launch her career in the new year. My youngest just entered high school and I can see her blossoming. The next few years will be exciting to see her passions evolve.

Writing. Lastly, one of my most rewarding writing experiences was earning a Michigan Notable Book award in 2008 with my writing partner, Lorri. Our book (now out of print), From the Vine: Exploring Michigan Wineries, was an experience I cherish. It was a blast to write and photograph for the book and the award put us on the road meeting people during numerous presentations in small and large communities throughout Michigan.

My top three memories of my 40s encompass a lot of subtopics, which I promise to delve into more deeply in future posts. For now, though, I’ll just feel grateful.

Hello, 50

Ten years ago, I trained for the Iceman, a 28-mile mountain bike race in November in Traverse City, Michigan. My bestie, Todd, and bro-in-law, Michael, and I were set to meet up with our families in northern Michigan to celebrate my big 4-0 by conquering this rough-and-tumble ride renowned for some oft-times wicked weather.

Mountain biking was pure joy for me. Not the speediest or the most technical, I simply found joy in the maneuvering of rocky, rugged trails through forested nature preserves and mountainous canyons. Over years of riding, I earned several nicknames thanks to Todd, whose daughter with lovely Alisa now calls me Auntie PigPen. This affectionate name was well-earned as I was often the last in a pack of friends riding in the mountains of California back in the late 1990s. (Picture a swirling kick-back of trail dirt.)

Training for the Iceman in my home state of Michigan, I spent hours on the trails in Pinckney State Park with many trips through Hell. (Yup, there’s a Hell, Michigan.) As the big day neared, I felt mentally and physically ready — well, for at least a portion of the 28-mile ride. Race day arrived, and my joints and I decided that my body was not ready for that massive feat after all, so instead I entered the 8-mile Slush Cup. While that sounds super wimpy compared to the Iceman, I felt spectacular in that race. The highlight was coming around the final corner and seeing my family crazily cheering me on and *quite distinctly* hearing my eldest daughter shout, “Go, Mommy, Go.” I felt like a champion. I loved that day. Shout-out to Todd and Michael who completed the Iceman, the later of whom has accomplished it many times and is tackling it again this year.

The Slush Cup was my last time on the trails on my bike — until this year. I had stopped riding because of chronic pain (as a result of cumulative injuries). Yet, recalling the pure joy of trail riding, when a friend suggested we try to “get back on the saddle,” I ventured out this year to nearby DTE Trail in Chelsea. Taking my time, I rediscovered how much I love riding while immersed in nature. As I turn 50 this month, I plan to keep finding happiness on my two wheels in the woods.