Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Very Happy 4th

This past weekend, in celebration of the birth of our nation, we visited one of the many things I love about this country: its National Parks. Specifically Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. In a nutshell, it was great fun.

We are still forgetting that things have changed fairly drastically regarding camping since our newly wed days. Back then we could decide we wanted to go hiking as we got off work Friday afternoon and be packed and headed for the trail head less than an hour later. It has gone from that to getting out the door three hours later than planned. That means that after the 5 hour drive we would be getting to camp, picking out a site, setting up camp, and getting the kids ready for and in bed all by headlamp.

We debated in our minds for a bit, then wimped out and made reservations for a hotel in Bismarck (just over half-way). On our way we came up with ideas for making our next camping trip departure time closer to when planned. Hopefully they work. We got to camp the next morning and we were all much happier than we otherwise would have been.

As we got closer to the park the scenery still hadn't changed much at all. Keith remarked that he hoped we hadn't driven 5 hours just to camp somewhere flat. I was wondering the same thing.

We were oh so pleasantly wrong in our worries.

And so began what would be my first time camping since "T-day" and Jane's first time camping. Not to mention our first time camping with two little kids.

After getting camp set up and having lunch we set out on the Little Mo trail. It was so fun to watch the kiddos roam. We had brought a backpack intended for Charlie to carry a few things in but he didn't want to. We didn't push it because as we were asking him Jane was making it very clear that she wanted it. So I put it on her little back, adjusted the straps and watched her dance off in her nearly empty pack. She was tickled pink. 

(This whole thing reminded me of a very similar story my parents tell about me as a small kid...)

Left: Keith is helping Charlie figure out which way to go. Charlie is getting to be quite the little navigator.

Left: It was fun to see little sweaty Jane determined to walk and carry her pack as far as possible. A couple times I would see her kind of pulling at the straps and figured that she wanted it off. Whenever I tried to help her with that, oh boy did she let me know that I had guessed wrong! She walked almost the entire way before wanting Keith to carry her. Right: it wouldn't be a true "Katie nature blog post" without a flower picture.

Charlie, our dutiful guide.

There were these little numbered posts along the way that corresponded with numbers in the map/information pamphlet. Each one had a short paragraph in the pamphlet with a bit of information about something you could see from that particular spot. I loved being able to transform the words in the pamphlet, into words that Charlie could not only understand, but got him excited about what he was seeing. It was pure joy to see Charlie's little mind make connections and to see the fun he had as he did so. My dream job has always been a part-time job where I get to teach kids about the natural world. In the mean time I get the pleasure of practicing on my kids. :)

Jane with her pig tails, oversize jeans, and carrying her doll and sponge. Cuteness overload.
The next day was the 4th and the only full day we had, so we made the most of it. This was the long awaited day to see a prairie dog town! It was the first time for each of us (except Keith) to see one outside of a zoo and I think that even Charlie wasn't as excited as I was.

This was a bit longer (and hotter) hike than the day before, and the kids were a bit more worn out. Jane didn't walk as far (though she still insisted on it starting out) and by the end Charlie was wishing it was shorter, but they were still impressive little hikers. I would comment to Charlie every once in a while about how strong his legs were. Each time he would say "yeah!" and pick up his pace quite a bit. By the time we got back to the car he was telling us about how strong his legs were.

Lately Charlie has been making really funny faces whenever we ask him to "smile for the camera." I love it.

We made it to the HUGE prairie dog town (one of the several in the park) and I was giddy. I was really surprised to see how close they would slowly get to you when your back was turned. If we turned around slowly they wouldn't even run away.

One of the most entertaining things was watching Jane point her little finger each time she saw one and squeal with excitement. Keith would tell her that no, she couldn't keep one. Charlie, in the mean time, began digging another hole for the prairie dogs to live in.

As much as I tried to prolong the inevitable, eventually we had to head back.

I showed Charlie how to rub sage leaves in his fingers to make the smell stronger. The entire place had the wonderful smell of the Utah desert. It brought back happy memories of long solo drives out to my work site during my days at the Forest Service Shrub Lab. When I was out in the quiet expanse of the west desert, without a building in sight, it was easy to forget that there was a noisy city not too far away.

Classic family picture at scenic overlook, complete with one of Charlie's funny faces.
After the hike we drove around the park keeping our eyes open for bison.

"Mr. Triceratops," as Charlie calls him, came along (of course). At one point Charlie asked if Mr. Triceratops could have a picture taken of just himself.

We found bison! There was also a lone male that we saw grazing way up on a cliff side. Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture but it was pretty impressive to see his size and how easily he could get his 3,000+ lbs, 8 ft frame up that cliff with such agility.

Early the next morning Keith and I were awakened to the booming of a major thunderstorm. Several times the thunder would sound like a bomb was going off and we would worry about the kids waking up. Thankfully they never did.

When we all woke up later to the sound of heavy rain pelting our tent we had a few thoughts going through our minds:
1. It is so nice to have a good tent.
2. I love the sound of rain on a tent.
3. We have two little kids and we need to make them breakfast and we didn't bring a tarp to cover the cooking area!!!
4. Mental note to get a tarp and rope to keep in the camp kitchen box.

 As the onslaught of rain kept coming, we weighed our options we decided to have the kids survive on snacks until we got to a place populated enough to get something real to eat (and Charlie would keep surviving on snacks??? We had just brought stuff for low-phe applesauce pancakes for him which wasn't going to work under present conditions.)

Left: Charlie and Jane entertaining themselves in a puddle while we cooked in the shelter. Right: Jane after running, jumping, and face planting in big puddles back at the campground.
Much to our relief, as we began executing that plan, Keith spotted a lone shelter off in the picnic area. Awesome. We loaded breakfast stuffs into the truck and drove over to cook in the roomy dry shelter. After that (it had conveniently stopped raining, tender mercy) we headed back to camp, packed up and let the kids get some wiggles out in some great big puddles. Oh they had such fun! And I enjoyed it knowing that there was an extra set of clean clothes for each to be put in before we drove home.

It was such a wonderful trip and I am so blessed to have experienced it all with these guys. The thought of all the great adventures we will go on together in the future thrills me. I love them so much!

Oh, and as a bonus, on the drive out there I got another bird for my bird list. My first one in North Dakota. Number 151: the Great Egret.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Killdeer Tragedy

Several weeks ago now we started seeing a killdeer acting protective of a nest whenever we would go into the backyard. She would hobble as if she had a broken wing in an effort to draw us (and any other potential threat) away from her precious nest. For the longest time we searched for the well hidden nest until one happy day we found it! I was incredibly excited as I explained to Charlie that if we didn't touch it and were very careful of where we walked, the eggs would hatch and we would see the baby birds. He was excited and very interested to see how baby birds could come out of these seemingly drab little eggs.

Over the course of the next two weeks we would check on the nest, often at Charlie's prodding. I was becoming very protective of "our" nest that lay dangerously close to the construction zone near by. I once anxiously watched out the window as a bulldozer came incredibly close to the nest. If it made one more pass it would have destroyed the little hidden nest and I was ready to run out and inform the driver if it did. Thankfully it did not. Keith carefully went around it each time he mowed the grass and I continued to watch from our window multiple times a day with my binoculars. Through them we could see the little momma killdeer sitting on her nest without disturbing her. Without even realizing it I grew very protective of that little nest and glanced out the window every time I passed it. Although the looming danger of the construction crews was always present, the nest continued to be just outside it's boundary.

Until one day when I looked out the window to see a few survey workers standing very near to our nest.

They saw the momma desperately trying to lure them away but her broken wing act just confused them as they looked on. I started my way out the door to explain to them what she was doing and to ask them to be careful. Charlie followed me out the door.

But we were too late.

One of the workers hadn't seen the well concealed nest and stepped on it, crushing the eggs. They continued along their way completely unaware of the tragedy that they left behind. I took a look and then turned and walked inside with the thought that perhaps the momma would not abandon the lone egg that was left. As a lump grew in my throat Charlie said to me: "it's okay mommy, she still has one baby left." Sweet boy.

The poor mother bird came back to the nest. When she saw what had happened she flew a short distance away onto our lawn and began crying as she walked back and forth, only occasionally returning to the nest. I had never heard the sad sound she made before as she walked back and forth. It wasn't the usual song of the killdeer and it wasn't the call they make as they try to lure some thing away from their nest. The only way I could describe it was a cry and it went on for well over an hour. I became completely preoccupied by the tragic scene that was unfolding outside my window. As she cried, I admit, I did too. I couldn't help it. After a while she seemed to pull herself together a bit and started to clean up the nest, picking up pieces of crushed egg and flying off with them.

When she stopped cleaning I went back out to check on the nest again. She had cleaned it up well and left the lone egg. I took hope that she would not abandon it.

The rest of the day I watched through my binoculars to see if she would come back. She didn't. I watched again the next day. There was no sign of her. I couldn't understand why she would take such great care to clean up the nest just to abandon it, so I kept on watching. 

She never came back.

At first I told myself that it was silly to get so emotional about a bird that wasn't even mine. "Pull yourself together" I told myself, "this is ridiculous." "You have adopted her and her nest," Keith gently told me shortly after wards. "That is why you care so much. And I love that you care so much for all the critters." I realized that I wouldn't have found so much delight in the whole experience of watching the mother's nesting and protection habits, nor gotten so giddy with anticipation as I waited for the eggs to hatch, had I not let myself get emotionally tied up in it all.

Sometimes the joy that comes from letting yourself get wrapped up in an experience is worth the risk of a potential tragedy. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing. (Except for getting out there too late to save the eggs...)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

45 minutes

The other day I was reading through some of my journal entries from a couple of years ago when the seizures were really bad and many days were very dark. I didn't write often because of that. Perhaps I should have. This particular entry stood out to me. I wrote it during those precious few weeks after Jane was born and before I had the brain surgery.

I have been a bit hesitent to share this here because I didn't want to share something so personal and I didn't want to put a lot of focus on my struggles when I know that there are a lot of people struggling with worse things. Things that make mine seem tiny. I feared as well, that it may offend the wonderful people who love me and served me so much. And I never, never want to do that. However, I have felt strongly the last several weeks that I should post it.

I want to share it because it reminds me of that time when, despite encouragement from others, some days it was hard, nay almost impossible, to keep from letting the darkness and fear over take me. It was a battle I fought almost every single day. Don't get me wrong; there were many happy wonderful days, but I would be lying if I pretended that those times when I felt completely hopeless never happened. For better or worse, very few people saw them because I am one of those who don't break down in public. I would go into my dark bedroom, curl up in fetal position on the floor, and sob and pound the floor in private. I don't want to remember those times for the sake of dwelling on them, but rather to see what I had a very difficult time seeing then; it would get better. In some ways I wish I could go back and tell myself that. It will get better. So much better. On the other hand, as strange as it may sound to some, I am glad I can't. You see, because I went through that, I can understand a bit better what it is like to experience real anger, doubt, depression, and overall darkness.

I share this here in hopes that it may possibly help others who are struggling, truly struggling, to know that it will get better. Although I couldn't see it when I wrote this, I know it now.

"November 23, 2013 Walking in the Forest Around Lake Johnson

Today I took a 45 minute walk. Alone. It was the first time in 7 months that I have gone anywhere alone. 7 months! It as been so hard, so much pressure. I have felt the need so often to burst and scream. To breathe. To not feel eyes on me watching for the next seizure. Almost constantly I feel like I have been the focus of so much attention these last several months. A lot of it I appreciate: the prayers, fasting, help with meals and play dates for Charlie, and even the almost daily service of women coming over to just be with me. But I hate the sympathetic looks and uplifting words that come from the mournful faces of people who don't know what to say. I know they have the best of intentions, but sometimes I wish they would just say "that must really suck." Often I just want to know that someone understands or at least is trying to.

I spent a lot of those precious 45 minutes of alone time mourning my loss of independence these last 7 months and wondering when I would ever have an opportunity like this again. I kept fighting back the tears and trying to focus on the sound my feet made as they swept through the carpet of leaves and the sound and feel of the wind as it rushed through the empty branches. I tried hard to enjoy the smell of the cool air as it rushed into my lungs and the faint taste of decaying leaves that it brought with it. I have always loved the North Carolina autumns. I struggled to enjoy my brief moment without adult supervision, but the lump in my throat just kept growing.

Eventually I sat down on a log and told God that I needed help. I didn't want to go home in a worse mood than when I had left. But when I thought of going home and fighting Charlie to get ready for his nap, feeding Jane and finally searching for something of my own to eat, it made me want to keep walking for a long long time. I knew I couldn't though. I had told an anxious, but understanding, Keith that I would be back in 45 minutes and I didn't want to make his anxiety become panic.
The thought entered my mind to force myself to focus on the now. Push out thoughts of the past 7 months, push out thoughts of what would meet me at home, push out thoughts of the myriad of struggles that awaited me in my near future, push out thoughts of the unknown that lay beyond that. Just focus on now.

It took a lot of effort, but as I practiced yoga breathing and focusing on things I could feel physically (wind, log, ground) it came; and with it I began to feel happy. The weight I carried was gone. The things in the past and future were not all happy and pleasant, but that moment was. I was happy when I focused my efforts on experiencing that present peacefulness and not tainting it with thoughts, worries, and fears that would pull me away from the beautiful now."

If only I had known then how very good the seemingly distant future would be.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Let's Go Fly a Kite

Far right: Charlie got it pretty high!
 This is a short post but I wanted to document Charlie's first time flying a kite. We saw some at a park as we were walking home from another park and had to stop and watch. Charlie peppered me with questions about how they work and I told him that we could get him a kite.

Well he (of course) didn't forget and a couple weeks later we were at Walmart with a friend and he reminded me of my promise (which, I had completely forgotten about). He picked out a $3 kite and was as happy as could be. That Friday it was gorgeous and windy (it is Fargo after all) so we took it for a test run. After a little while learning how to get it from falling he got the hang of it and we were off! Charlie and I raced around the little hills as he laughed with delight. Meanwhile Jane took Keith exploring.
 It was short but super fun. I have learned to treasure the simple joys of life; they are so very good and you never know what tomorrow might bring.

Top right: Keith helping Charlie to get the kite off the ground.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Most Wonderful Day

 The Saturday of Memorial Day weekend was just about as perfect as days come. Really. Days as good as this are rare and I never take them for granted. I tried my hardest to drink in every wonderful moment.

The weather was perfect so we took a ride along the Red River. There were trees and it was so green! It sure wasn't anything like the Fargo I knew!

Charlie loves his little trailer. It adjusts so it accommodates a wide range of kid sizes/ages and it allows him to help pedal when he wants (which he did the majority of the time).  As a bonus, he also really likes the little water bottle holder on the side. He is looking very cool with his sunglasses and little "I got sweet ride and you know it" expression.

I pulled Jane in the bigger trailer. Technically it is made for two but it only worked for a little while before Jane got squished to the side by Charlie who took up (almost) the entire space. We put her little doll in there with her and she slept for most of the ride. (The main reason I pull her these days, while Keith pulls "the little Charlie that could," is that in case of a seizure the two wheels on the yellow trailer would make it more difficult to tip over.) Oh, and the picture in the upper right-hand corner is me in front of the first lilac tree I have seen here. It was where the trail ends and meets a neighborhood. I was pedaling further to find a spot wide enough to turn the trailer around in when I passed it. I had to stop and just smell it for a while. That smell takes me right back to my childhood summers at home. There were big lilac bushes covered in the sweet aroma of their beautiful flowers. We would often pick some and put them on the kitchen counter where the delicious smell would fill the room. I think heaven will smell like lilacs.

To top the day off, at the end of the trail we turned around and went a bit further to a big playground. We had snacks while Jane (who was rockin' the '80's look) and Keith discussed important things like the sunlight shinning on the tree leaves above them. After words the kids played while Keith rode back to where the truck was, drove it back to where we were, loaded up bikes and kids, and we drove off into the sunset (just kidding about that last bit).  :)

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Still Life"

I know most of you have already seen this picture,  but it is just too perfect to not document here.

I call it "Still Life with Charlie and Jane." 

Unbeknownst to me, Joe took this screen shot while we were on Skype this morning. He sent it to me a little while later and I burst out laughing. Funny how it is easier to laugh about things after they happen. 

I am holding up a book that Jane insists I hold for her so she can look at the pictures. If I slack in this job she will start fussing which will escalate until I hold it up to her desired height. Charlie is crying and screaming.  I have just told him that he won't have any Graham crackers with his lunch because he has eaten SO many already. 

And then there is me. I am in between laughing at the situation and just getting up and leaving the room in frustration; letting the chaos play out in my wake. "How is it only 10am?!?" All while trying in vain to hold a conversation with Joe. 

And dear Joe, enjoying the scene from the safety of his bachelor pad. 

Needless to say, Skype didn't last much longer. 

I am so glad he captured this unplanned moment in time so I can look back and remember the frustrating/humorous moments more clearly when my littles are grown up. 

I have this quote by Dr. Seuss written on a sticky note on my cork board. It reminds me to have a positive attitude about life because it is fleeting. Which is a reminder I often need.

"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. "
-Dr. Seuss

Monday, May 18, 2015

18 Months!

My dear little Jane is 18 (errr.. 19) months young! Right before starting this post I was looking back through some past posts and was amazed at how time flies! Her growing up is bitter sweet. Bitter because she is our last and knowing that makes me both cherish each moment and hate to see them go by. Bitter also because I know I will miss her just being small and this age. I will miss everything about it. Sweet because it is fun to see her develop her own unique personality and opinions on matters. Sweet because she is discovering every day that she can do something that she couldn't do the day before.

A funny and sometimes annoying, part of her every growing personality is how quickly she switches between smiling, sweet, happy Jane to mad, foot-stomping, "world-ending" Jane when she doesn't get what she is certain that she deserves or if someone (usually Charlie) dares to cross her. We have found that there are two things that you should NEVER take from sweet Jane: her doll and her pink shoes. Taking either of these will instantly turn sweet Jane into extremely screaming, almost uncontrollable Jane.

 Speaking of shoes, she is obsessed. Seriously obsessed and particular. She gets extremely frustrated if she can't get a pair on (this mostly goes for her shoes and Charlie's red rain boots), but if you attempt to aid her in her efforts she just gets more upset. We have found that if we hear her yelling and crying by the front door, it is a shoe related issue and we will just let her sort it out. She usually does, in time. She likes them off (but nearby) while eating and doesn't like them without socks. She is equally particular about outfits. Suffice it to say that it has been a bit of a shock as to how different kids come. Charlie still doesn't care much at all about what he wears.

She does enjoy playing with Charlie's trucks, something that Charlie is gradually beginning to accept. The picture on the right is one of my favorites. It is the moment she realized that her Easter egg contained candy. When I look at it I can still hear her loud exclamation of pure childhood excitement.

Her hair is crazy! None of the pictures in this post do it justice. I really should take the time to do her hair more often. Doing so keeps it out of her face and keeps the tangles down to a manageable level. She is pretty easily distracted when I take the time to do it, so that part is actually pretty easy.  Basically this whole idea of doing a little girl's hair, a skill that seems to come quite easily to some (see pictures below), is only slightly easier for me than if you handed me a rubix cube to figure out. I am not sure what to do with it and when I do come up with a game plan it usually turns out looking terrible. I just never take pictures of those so there is no evidence.  ;)

I love what I caught Charlie doing in the bottom left picture.
(Side note: this really should have had it's own post; but my sweet mom braved the North Dakota winter to visit when I had surgery to instal the VNS device.)

Jane LOVES books. If it is long at all than she doesn't enjoy having them read to her. However she finds joy from simply touching them, flipping through the pages, pointing out the animals and making the appropriate sounds, and just sitting there pretending to read. In relation to the animals, if she doesn't easily recognize what it is she will decide it is a dog and say "woof woof!" For example, she thinks the buffalo on the North Dakota license plate is a dog.

 One more thing: she is a true Merrill/Temus mix and LOVES olives of all kinds. She demands them if they are within her sight. She especially enjoys eating them off of her perfectly sized fingers.

We all love our dear sweet Jane, even when she throws her little tantrums. I am infinitely glad that Heavenly Father intrusted us with her care, for she is a true joy.