Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Pink in a World of Blue

There's no doubt that my world is blue.

My yard is a teenage boy's dream. Batting cage, soccer field, basketball court, trampoline, three dogs.

It's a good thing I really love blue.

Still, every woman needs a little pink.

I wear pink often. During this month's BWCA trip, I used my pink camp hat. A style usually used by fishermen, my hat is softly pink with some other pastels thrown in for good measure. Stained by three-years' camp use, it's still defiantly shouts "I AM WOMAN!"

I adore my girlfriends and their daugbrhters. We do ladies' lunches, girls' nights out, beach excursions, and we're now planning an NYC trip. I am blessed with girlfriends who are smart, funny, articulate, and strong. Warrior women indeed.

My favorite pink, though, is my role as a weddding coordinator at St Henry Catholic Church.

My first responsibility is to meet with the couple and give them a tour of the church. While touring I share information from the can-do and the absolutely-not-allowed lists. We spend about an hour together and we bond.

Between that first meeting and the rehearsal, we correspond via email or talk on the phone when the couple has questions. Some couples have more questions than others!

The night before the wedding, I conduct the rehearsal. We pray, talk, rehearse the procession, and walk through the entire service. Everyone with a job understands their role before the end of the rehearsal. Though I always shoot for an hour, I haven't had a rehearsal that was shorter than an hour and fifteen minutes.

On the day of the wedding, I spend six hours with the families. I act as the church's representative, greet family members, instruct the photographers and florists, and pin flowers on the appropriate participants. I monitor the time schedule, make sure the couple and wedding party eat a little food, and avert all manner and types of disasters. At the specified time, I start the wedding. During the service I act as sacristan, sound person, and janitor. Following the service, I restore the church to its original state and clear it of people before people start arriving for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This is not just a job for me. I invest all my energy in this couple's day. I pray for them, that the hope and confidence I see in their faces survives whatever life throws their way. I cry every time I witness a couple exchange vows. I fall in love with their parents, and am often invited to join them for the reception. At one memorable wedding, I was invited back to Columbia for a visit by the father of the bride who spoke no English and who offered me a blessing, kissing me on my left cheek, right cheek, and lips. He didn't know about my personal space issue, and I couldn't understand a word he was saying, but it was a delightful moment.

I make sure everything that's supposed to happen happens flawlessly. I have the perfect opportunity to be bossy at a time when people embrace a boss. I offer my hands and feet without any desire for recognition or thanks.

This is my pink and I cherish my opportunity to serve.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Portaging Their Way to Manhood... *SIGH* (we KNEW it was coming!)

Both boys came with us to the BWCA this year.

Adam’s now 17 and talking about chaperoning future BWCA trips. He loves being there. I’m not sure why. None of his other pursuits suggest he’d love rugged wilderness trips. Yet he does.

He excels at portaging. He carries a canoe on his shoulders, limiting his vision, and trapping him with hoards of mosquitoes. He doesn’t even bother to swat them while he’s walking. He sings and talks to others while he walks. When he reaches the end of the portage, he dumps his canoe and goes back up the path to help others struggling through with their own burdens. He’s cheerful and tireless. He’s never made anyone feel – at least to my knowledge – like helping them was a trial for him.

This year, he came back once when I fell with my pack. It was one of my worse falls. While walking across muddy (thick, gooey, gloppy mud) rocks, I caught my foot between two rocks and fell face forward. With my paddle in one hand and my other hand wedged between my forehead and my pack’s headstrap, there was nothing to break my fall. I scraped my knee and twisted my ankle. When everything was still, my arm was trapped under my body and the 100-pound pack on my back made it impossible to move.

Adam was the first one to find me. He untangled me from my pack and helped me get my foot out of the rocks. He brushed the mud from my knees and hefted the pack on his own. I found my arm straps and he pushed the headstrap into my hand so I could fix it across my head. When I was ready, he shifted the weight of my pack to my back and waited until I had solid footing before he gave me space. Sore from the fall and tired from the journey thus far, my forward motion was slower and sometimes non-existent. Adam encouraged and prodded me into continuous motion by telling me about his “active rest” theory, learned from a personal trainer/coach he’s worked with. Even if it’s a tiny step, he explained, you’re at least being productive. Standing still achieves nothing. (Except sometimes, when you’re almost 40, and you’re at your limit, breathing should count as “active rest”!)

To tell the truth, his theory annoyed me. It also kept me moving.

With others, he used different tactics. Two girls on our trip would drop their pack when they were tired of carrying it and wait until Adam came back to carry it for them. He did it and talked to them during the rest of the journey. With others, he just walked and talked. Or sang. My son. Singing. A miracle indeed.

Jakob is 14. He loved the outdoors as an infant. When he cried, I’d carry him outside and stand under a tree. He’d catch sight of the leaves and be still. When he was a toddler he experienced overload easily. He didn’t like big, noisy groups of people as much as his mother did. I’d often find him by the patio door watching ant business or catch him laying on Coco-the-Lab’s tummy stroking her chin. When he couldn’t get to nature, he’d do the next best thing: he’d escape to the outside of the group and lay on the floor, staring out the window.

Now a teen, he’s has different ways to diffuse, most of them physical. He shoots hundreds of baskets a day and takes hundreds of cuts in the batting cage. Even in the coldest weather, he spends as much time as he can outside burning energy.

Even so, I wasn’t sure he’d like the BWCA. It’s so rugged. And we travel with fourteen teens. There’s not a lot of solitude with a group like that. There’s no place in a nine-person camp to lay on the ground outside the circle and diffuse.

He struggled the first day with his pack. He didn’t quit. He struggled. I knew it was a little more than he expected or wanted to do. That afternoon when we reached camp, I followed the trail of his clothes – boots, socks, fanny pack, bug spray, water bottle – to the door of his tent. Peeking in the open vent, I saw him sprawled on the bare tent floor with his arms folded under his head. He was soundly sleeping. He woke long enough to inhale his dinner and then slept again.

In the morning of the second day, I watched him try to regroup. He wasn’t talking or making eye contact. He didn’t eat much. He answered questions as shortly as possible. I could see he was trying to gather his strength for the coming day.

It worked. He reached his stride the second day. He was cheerful at the end of the portages, his brilliant grin greeting me each time I saw him. He told me later he barfed twice, but he kept moving. He carried his load.

By the third day he did more than carry his load. As I climbed one uphill rockpile, a pair of boots entered my field of vision. They were Jake’s. Tipping my head up, I saw him standing, bent by the pack on his back and holding his paddle. He indicated he was fine just as I saw a second pair of boots. I lifted my head again and saw the other female chaperone on a log, her pack beside her. She – trooper that she is – had gone as far as she could go. He wouldn’t leave her though; he stayed with her until someone came to help.

I couldn’t stop. I need my momentum to help me finish my portage work. But he stopped. He waited with the bugs and the heat. He waited with the patience of a man who will be an amazing husband and father.

I’m so proud of both of them and the men they are becoming.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lessons from the Latrine


Toilet Facilities: Use latrines at designated campsites. Latrines are not garbage cans and should be used for the intended purpose only. Personal waste items such as cigarettes, cotton swabs, or plastic feminine products should always be packed out and should never go into the latrines. If you're not near a latrine, dig a small hole 6 to 8 inches deep at least 150-200 feet or more back from the water's edge. When finished, fill hole and cover with needles and leaves.

from http://www.boundarywatersoutfitters.com/bwca-rules.htm

We’ve been in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for the last eight days with fourteen teens and another couple.
If you’ve never been to the BWCA, you cannot imagine its rugged beauty or the rhythm of life in there. It's as close to the wilderness as we can get in Minnesota. There is no electricity, no internet, no plumbing. It’s the world much as God created it. The only “modern” conveniences found at each ranger-sanctified campsite are the iron campfire grate and the latrine, set a safe distance from the grate.
Incidentally, the Canadian BWCA does not have ranger-sanctified campsites and so has no modern conveniences. Campers build their own campfires and dig their own toilet-areas.
Traveling through the BWCA involves paddling a canoe and portaging (walking while carrying everything necessary for the trip).
It’s nearly impossible to imagine what it means to portage with a week’s supplies for eighteen people. Having done it for three years, I still cannot imagine it. But I can do it. Barely, though, at the beginning of the week. My 100-pound pack and I struggle. If I fall, it’s over. I have to wait with my pack -- sometimes face-down in the mud -- until someone comes along to help me heft it and place it on my back so I can continue the journey. Though I try to always carry my own load, sometimes someone has to help me finish a portage. That's okay. God wants us to know our limitations and when to ask for help.
As we consume the food, my pack gets lighter. I earn my light pack by the end of the trip.
Much to my surprise, I like portaging. I like the physical struggle. I like the feeling of earned sweat dripping off my nose. I like counting my paces and marking my journey to the other side.
I like canoeing too. I have my own rhythm, so I like to be in the front of the canoe. I don’t want to watch others not paddling or lazy-paddling. I want to count my fifty or seventy strokes and switch to the other side for fifty or seventy strokes. I like paddling continuously until we reach our destination.
I do not like visiting the latrine.
I would imagine no one really likes it.
I’m not sure they all struggle the way I do. In fact I know they don't. My seven borrowed warrior-girl daughters treat the latrine like a normal part of camp life. Or they pee in the water.
Visits to the latrine consume my thoughts when I’m not counting paces or paddle strokes.
This year, I was determined that I would go to the latrine by myself like a big girl. In the past, I’ve always asked Joe to accompany me. He does, but grudgingly. I felt ready to be independent. He's never really enjoyed needy me as much as he enjoys warrior me.
First, I decided to visit the latrine twice a day. That means no drinking unnecessary drinks.
Second, I put sanitizer spray, a lighter, and my tiny lantern in my toilet paper baggie -- my bag of goods. The sanitizer and the lantern I carried for obvious reasons. The lighter I use to burn ticks off the latrine before using it. For some reason, everything except the toilet paper disappeared by the end of the week.
Third, I planned my visits to occur during daylight hours. The first visit would occur after breakfast. The second following dinner.
Fourth, I started my pep talks before we left home: I can do this. I’m strong. I’m fearless. I’m a warrior. Those ticks don’t stand a chance. It’s only a few seconds a day. I can do this. I was ready.
Things went well the first two days. I managed my visits efficiently. My courage came at a cost: I sprinted down the path back to camp, slowing only as I caught site of the other campers.
The third day I had a problem. The latrine in the third camp was at the peak of a hill. As I sat for my morning visit (and don't be gross; we're talking about a visit for number 1), the sun broke through the light clouds and shone on me like a spotlight. For the second time in my life, I was crippled by performance anxiety.
I couldn’t let the latrine defeat me. I went to my happy place. Sitting there on the latrine with my shirt over my face, blocking any potential odors, and my baggie of goods at my feet, I dreamed of Mexican breezes and recalled rhythmic ocean sounds. I contemplated life with the seven borrowed daughters. I imagined the kind of husbands my brave and thoughtful sons will become. I made a great list of future blog topics.
And in those moments, I discovered that I am no longer a latrine-a-phobe. I can visit the latrine any time I get the urge. On our layover day, I visited the latrine a record-breaking three times. Perhaps I’ll never visit the latrine in the dark or for number 2, but we all have our limits.
Now that I’ve conquered my latrine phobia, discussions starting with the words "next year, we should..." no longer make me queasy.
Much to my dismay, I forgot all the great future blog topics as soon as I made it safely back to camp. Maybe next year I'll throw a notebook and pencil in my baggie of goods.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dear Ol' Dad

I have a great dad.

I remember him cutting pieces out of a tire and making us a swing. We’d squeal when he did “underdogs” pushing us high so he could run under the swing. I believe he had as much fun as we did. He’d push until he couldn’t anymore, and then he’d fall in the grass laughing. Staci and I were pretty little then; when we moved from the house with the meadow and tire swing, I was five years old and they were building I94 in our backyard.

We moved to “town” and dad built a new tire swing. There was no meadow though and we were getting taller. It wasn’t as much fun to do underdogs until Scott was born, so dad made other fun. Every Saturday we went outside and “cleaned” the garage and family car. At least dad did. We got really dirty doing whatever it is kids do outside on summer Saturdays. I’m pretty sure those Saturday cleaning sessions led me to believe girls don’t actually have to clean or fuel the cars. It’s a boy’s job. I’m still fairly certain it’s part of the unspoken marriage contract. I guess that’s why I have to call people to bring me fuel every now and again.

Dad taught us how to ride our bikes in the bus yard in that space between our family home and the bus sheds. I don’t remember my own learnin’ as well as I remember Staci’s. I was riding the red, white, and blue bike with the banana seat, and dad was trying to get Staci to ride the distance from door one to the end of the garage. It was the only place with concrete surface rather than gravel. He was running behind shouting encouragement and she kept turning to check that he was still with her. Her pigtails hit her in the eyes and tangled together. She was so afraid he’d trick her – and he did. He kept running with her even when she was “doing it”! Yay, Staci!

Years later, he gave his all to teaching me driving. While I make an outstanding professional driver, on my own time… well, I hit stuff. Dad knew me well enough to know my mind is more often in heaven than here on earth, but he wanted –desperately – for me to be a practical driver. He refused to let me take steps to get my driver’s license until I could drive his three wheeler in circles on the dirt, shifting up and down, without spitting gravel. I thought I was ready much sooner than he did. He just sat in a lawn chair, enjoying a beer on the warm summer day, and motioned me to keep going and going and going. It’s all good; I can drive a manual transmission with the best of ‘em. The hitting stuff is a problem. The first chance I had to drive solo was homecoming 1985. When I backed out of my parking slot with my gaggle of friends, I hit the car next to me. My seventh grade science teacher’s brand new red something or other didn’t look so brand new after that. Dad just shook his head.

I remember dad on my wedding day. I was being my bossy self, making sure all my peeps were going to flawlessly perform their assigned tasks. Dad was being his silly self when I was trying to get his attention for our third practice procession. “Dad!” Still being silly. “Dad!” Gritted teeth. “Dad!” He suddenly turns, grabs my arm, and drags me down the aisle – much to everyone’s amusement. The next day when it was time to actually walk down the aisle, dad wasn’t ready. I had to tug him. All silly deserted him and he maybe wanted to delay that walk just a little bit.

Not all dads make good fathers-in-law. Mine does. Joe was working at the company in the summers since the late 80s. He was always a hard worker, and my dad has fearsome respect for people who have a good work ethic. Shortly before our wedding in 1991, dad said, “So, Joe, think you’d rather sell ambulances or hearses?” Joe was grossed out by the thought of driving the used hearses, so he picked ambulances. The two of them went to Indiana to check out the ambulance factory and enjoy a couple other bonding experiences. Joe’s been selling ambulances for 18 years now.

“Grandpa” is, I think, dad’s favorite moniker. He fell in love with my boys at first glance, and they adore him. I remember dad sitting at his desk holding fat little Jakob. To every passerby who gave them a glance, he’d say he was just enjoying his “Jake-brake” as he gently stroked Jake’s arm or cheek. As Jake grew, they found they really loved to do belly rubs. We’d know it was belly rub time when we heard the hearty laughter coming from dad’s office. Dad’s continued building relationships with the boys even into the teen years. He enjoys attending their sporting events. He still thinks he can wrestle with them. Having heard me yelling “Don’t hurt Grandpa” since they were little, they don’t hurt him. They don’t let him win either. Whoever “wins” on a particular day is the one sitting on top of the pile. I guess it’s the whole bonding-like-bear-cubs thing all over again. Still, I’m not sure it’s only the laughter that makes dad breathless these days.

Perhaps the most difficult thing I ever had to do was call my dad the morning of our fatal bus accident twelve years ago. About a month before our accident, we’d received a call from our peers in Elk River. They’d had an accident with an empty bus and a truck. Dad and I jumped in his pickup to go offer moral support. Half-way there, I noticed his hands shaking on the steering wheel and asked him if he was okay. “You just never have to worry unless it’s a train or a truck. This was a truck.” That image – his hands shaking on the steering wheel – consumed my consciousness as I called him to tell him about the truck that hit our bus. I knew I needed to tell him we’d suffered a fatality before he heard it on the news. As I sat at my desk sobbing, someone’s hands on my back for comfort, I made that call and listened to my dad gasp. I knew he was crying with me.

My dad suffered in his marriage as another victim of my mom’s addictions. Yet after reading my blogged letter to mom, dad came to me. “Should I have stopped it? Could I have? How could I only see what she did to me? I’m sorry I didn’t do something, Kari.”


As a wedding coordinator, I hear the Corinthians definition of love often. It’s a favored second reading at weddings:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is
not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not
provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in
unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never
1 Corinthians 13

I couldn’t find a better description of my dad.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When the Warrior is Weak and Wounded...

I don't like being "in trouble."

Since I was small, I've need approval from authority figures. In order to get it, I studied people. I figured out exactly what I would need to do for each person in my life in order to get what I wanted, whether an "A" for a class, a raise, or even a simple "Job well done!" I've successfully achieved approval for most of my life.

My strategies often remind me of warriors preparing for battle: Study, study, study. Strike. Win.

After my personal paradigm shift in April 1997, I was adrift. I was 27 years old and had spent my life doing things the "right" way. I believed that people who always did the right thing would be rewarded. Although I wouldn't have articulated it, I guess I also believed the opposite was true: be bad, be punished.

I didn't recover quickly or well from the depths of the grief I experienced in 1997; in fact, I walk with a healthier version of that grief every day. Carrying those dark days with me helps me make decisions at my real job. I never relax a standard because I never want to explain or apologize for doing so. I operate under my own version of "be the best you can be" every day.

In the early days, I did peculiar things to ease my grief. Every day I went to the scene of the accident. Sometimes I was there for a few minutes and other times I was there for hours. Sometimes I went multiple times a day. I visited the three students' gravesites. I spent hundreds of hours studying reports and documents by the various inspectors and reading countless pages of depositions. I stopped talking. I was trying to find out what we did wrong, why we were punished. I needed to know so I could be sure we never failed again.

I grieved profoundly.

I didn't lose my own child. I wasn't driving the bus or truck. I didn't fail to take any action that would have prevented the accident.

I was embarrassed by my grief and shared it with very few people. I didn't think anyone would understand or worry about my insignificant loss when theirs was so much more real and important. I prayed desperately for those I thought were most affected -- the students' parents and siblings, their friends, the truck driver's wife, the responders who worked passionately to save lives...

I developed a regular habit of calling the investigators. During the last call with the Human Survival Factors Investigator, I asked--for the first and only time--why he thought the accident happened. Mr. Survival Factors thoughtfully replied, "You know I can't formally answer that question. My job is just to collect facts. The board makes a final decision about blame and culpability. But you know, Kari, sometimes bad things just happen."

Sometimes bad things just happen.

They do. It's true.

I can see in retrospect how that comment formed a step in my recovery.

I learned something important in the ensuing years: working for personal gain -- in my case, approval by others -- is worthless in the quest for an authentic and faithful life.

In the moments when I am my warrior woman self, I no longer need approval.

It's only when I'm weak and wounded that I find myself seeking approval.

Today I'm weak and wounded.

So I fall to my knees, remembering some great words of wisdom from Abe Lincoln. His comment fell on rich ground; I couldn't stop thinking about it and wrote a SALT concert based on these words:

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.

Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 210.

I lean against the solid weight of my rock and I pray.

Monday, June 15, 2009

When I Said "I Do"

Clint Black has a great song called "When I Said 'I do.'" I have a favorite part:

Only you and I can undo all that we became
That makes us so much more, than a woman and a man...

When I said I do, I meant that I will 'til the end of all time...
That's what I had in mind, when I said "I do."
by Whoever Wrote That Clint Black Song

I don't want to talk about my own marriage.

I want to talk about my job.

I'm a wedding coordinator at St Henry Catholic Church in Monticello. In fact, when the head coordinator retired, she asked if I would take her place. I guess that makes me the Coordinator of the coordinators. It's a position of authority, but also a position of service. I don't collect a wage for it.

Hollywood makes wedding coordinating glamorous. It's not. It's hard work, tons of walking, massive amounts of time and energy, and complete and total selflessness.

I do it because it's my pink in an otherwise blue -- deep blue -- world.

I realized some time ago that I would never be the Mother of the Bride. So I took a position that made me a quasi "mother of the bride" every time I coordinate a wedding.

When I'm not coordinating, I'm available to play the piano for weddings.

I love playing the piano for weddings. Not only is it MORE pink in my sea of blue, but I get paid well to play the piano. Were I doing it in the metro area, I'd be getting $200 cash for each wedding. As it is, I collect more for playing the piano for two hours than I do for coordinating for nine hours.

I collect wedding money in our vacation fund. The money I make at weddings and funerals pays for us to take a family vacation every year.

Yes, funerals too.

I love funerals. There's so much hope. So much faith. So much... God.

I never -- well, rarely cry at funerals.

Weddings? I cry at every single one.


From my vantage point, whether at the keyboard or the soundboard, I can see the groom during the vows. I can see him watch his lovely bride. I can see him recite his vows. I can see him give her the ring.

It's beautiful.

There's so much love and hope and conviction in his face.

He promises his life for her.

Does he have any idea, I wonder, what exactly that means? Does he know what paths they'll travel? What illness will strike? What infidelity will confront them?

He doesn't!

He. Has. No. Idea.


He means what he says. He loves her completely and totally in this moment. He hopes and dreams and wishes for a shared future. He believes they'll beat the odds.

I see it, and weep.

I weep because I believe they will beat the odds.

When I said "I do" I believed it too.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Crackin' da Bat!

You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time. ~Jim Bouton, Ball Four, 1970

Now that baseball season's in full swing (get it?) and thanks to our batting cage I can hear bat crackin' nearly all the time, I pause to consider the impact of the game on our family.

Jakob and I are engaged in a battle of wills. I'm only winning because he doesn't have a steady job yet. See, he wants lights around the batting cage so he can hit 24/7. I stand firm.

Half our family is obsessed with baseball.

Twenty-five percent enjoys it recreationally.

The final twenty-five percent pays no attention to it at all.

Baseball's not bad as an obsession. After all, it's part of the American Dream along with hot dogs and apple pie.

Some of my favorite movies are baseball-themed. Who can forget Tom Hanks facial expression as he utters his great line, "There's no crying in baseball!" in A League of Their Own? Or Costner's perfect game in For the Love of the Game? The great quirky romance in Fever Pitch?The steamy sexiness in Bull Durham?

My natal family didn't love baseball, so the first time I experienced it was when I was a teen and smitten with a ball player. Wearing the bold number "9" on his back even then, he was fun to watch. Passionate. Excellent. Obstinate.

He tells a story of his sister's wedding day. It starts with, "Can you believe she'd get married on a Saturday in June?" Hmmmm. I wonder if he knows that June is the most popular month for weddings and that most of them occur on Saturdays.

The story.

His sister's wedding approaches, and the family realizes there's a conflict. Joe is scheduled to play baseball the same day. His parents forbid him to play. He finds a way. Unfortunately, he slides into second base, scraping his thigh. It bleeds through the tuxedo for the rest of the day.

Having head the story many times, I knew better than to schedule any important dates during the Season. Our wedding was in January and our babies born in the off-season, Adam in November and Jakob in February.

I confess that I love the way half our family loves baseball.

I love it because it's clean and wholesome and affirming to play ball.

I love it because they do it together.

I love it because it makes them come alive.

Joe has a t-shirt he bought the first year he played at the Fort Myers Roy Hobbs World Series. It says, "You don't stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing."


Joe stopped for a few years after we had our second baby. He got old in a hurry. He wore a perpetual worried frown. He wanted to be a great provider and protector, so he took his job seriously. It showed.

Then Adam started to play sports. His chosen sport, not baseball, needed coaches. Since I was at the registration, I was happy to check the box on the form that said "A parent would like to coach."

Hahaha. That'll teach ya to send me to registration nights!

So Joe coached soccer, a game he didn't know. He developed his knowledge with the kids and when they exceeded his ability he became a referee and basketball coach. He started to sub for players on the old guys' baseball league. When the kids exceeded his coaching ability in basketball, his eyes roamed. They lit on baseball. There they stayed.

He loves coaching baseball as much as he loves playing it. He's so amazing with the boys he coaches. He sees their failures as a failure on his own part: "I must not have explained that right." One of my favorite things to watch is when he "discusses" a finer point of the game or rules with opposing coaches or umpires. He knows his baseball. I enjoy how he shares his knowledge without being rude or pushy -- but also without backing down. He's teaching everyone something in those moments.

He teaches umpires about baseball.

He teaches opposing coaching staff about baseball

He teaches his boys to stand up for what's right with respect and honor.

He's an impressive man.

Impressive enough that he invites his fourteen-year-old players to watch him. He takes their criticism with a grin and a wink and the aside, "They must be learnin' something!"

Oh, and, WOW, can that ole number nine crack that bat!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Editor in Me...

will not ever stop editing.

It's exhausting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Liar in the Dell

People talk about lying frequently these days. It's even become a main character in House with Hugh Laurie. "Everybody lies," he says.

It's probably true. I know I've lied. I like to think it's a thing of the past, but -- good GRIEF -- sometimes it seems more important to be NICE.

My mother was awfully insistent upon TRUTH. Funny. She's not a very honest person. I'm thankful that she insisted upon honesty from me. She didn't with my siblings -- probably ran out of energy.


Not long after I met Joe he told me a truth I wasn't ready to hear at the time. He said, "Kari, your mom lies to you. She doesn't know ANYTHING. Stop blabbing." He was right. She'd say something to me like, "Why did I hear you were in St. Cloud??!!??" and my immediate and tell-all response would be something like, "We weren't in St. Cloud. We were in Elk River." I'd wear a marvelously confused expression on my face too. My expression was honest. My mother's "I heard from someone..." was a lie. Mind you, her lies still work on me.

I've discovered I don't have any feelings one way or the other about liars. Lying, really, is a problem for the liar. Isn't it?

I find I need to spend my time on my own growth, health, and development than on someone else's. I take people as they wish to have me take them. If they lie... well, seriously, what can I do about it? I take them at face value. If someone were to ask forgiveness for lying to me, how could I refuse? Jesus tells us that our sins will be flung as "far as the east is from the west." I wouldn't dare deny forgiveness.

You can spend an awful lot of time trying to "suss out" the truth. (What can I say? I've been reading Elizabeth George!)

We had a Situation at work this year. It was trying for me as an employer, a wife, and a daughter. Keep in mind, I work for my dad and with my husband.

An employee's daughter made a rude and ugly comment at me. Let me give you a little history. I'll follow with the story.

We love it when our employees bring their children.

First, it helps them financially. Daycare is expensive and bus driving doesn't pay outrageously well.

Second, we love kids. Obviously! We wouldn't be in business without kids to take to and from school.

Third, I love kids. I love their exhuberence and joy. I love their simplicity. I love when they are loved and love in return. I love them.

Fourth, I love girls. I don't have one. I don't want one for myself. But I love the daughters of our employees, generally and specifically.

One little girl comes to my office every morning to feed my puppy. She makes sure he has food and water. She comes back after morning routes to help open the mail. Sometimes she answers the phone (yikes!). Other days, she shares fashion tips.

Another little girl cannot ride the bus with her mom. She learned to say the f-word. Yes. The f-word. She said it a couple times and when I found out, we had to "expel" her from the bus. Most of the time her mom has daycare. Twice this year she didn't, so the girl spent the day with our dispatcher and I. Fun. We went for walks, colored pictures, and hoorayed "potty" efforts. It was part of what makes me love my job with my entire being.

And yet.

There's always one person who is a destroyer. In our case, this person happens to be the daughter of an employee. Unfortunately, she is a liar. Apparently her mother is too.

We didn't object to this daughter riding with this mother. Why would we? We love kids. We love that our employees love their children. We love that we can help facilitate that.

One morning in response to my "Good Morning!" the young lady said something rude and inexcusable. Instead of admonishing her, her mother gasped a little and laughed.

I didn't do anything either, except decide that I've had enough of early mornings at our company. I'm a morning person by nature. I love being up and at work. If I can't be here, Joe must. He is not a morning person and dislikes being early.

Later that morning I told Joe, "I'd rather you came early so I don't have to." He wanted to know why. I told him.

Joe, always one to listen to both sides of the story, asked the employee about what happened.

Can you believe the employee lied to Joe about what her daughter said? First, the story was that the girl didn't say it. Later, the story was that they were having a conversation and I only heard the tail end of it.


Not only did she deny it, she suggested I had used a child to further my own agenda.


So now we will create a policy. We will take action to make sure that parents take responsibility for their children in our office and on our buses. The girl in question will never ride with her mother again. (Of course, she may always ride as an assigned attendee of the school on her assigned bus.)

And what's the worst thing?

I refuse to be alone with anyone's child again. I can't afford the implication that I would wrongfully accuse or misunderstand or mishandle a child.


I still love.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Real Feelings About the BWCA...

I posted the following article at www.foryourmarriage.org, forgot it, and rediscovered it. This was from my first camping trip as an adult. I submitted it shortly after our return to civilization. I honestly forgot that I fell in love with the Wilderness that first year. I cannot recall writing the final paragraph, but it makes me excited to leave again in a little less than two weeks.

Here's my story...

Joe and I have been married nearly 16 years, and have two sons. Ours is an interfaith marriage: I’m Catholic and he’s Lutheran. Both of us have strong ties to our church communities.

We were married at St Henry Catholic Church, and both our boys were baptized there: Adam in December 1991, and Jakob at the Easter Vigil Service in 1995. Where to attend church and what to believe has been a source of contention in our marriage, but we’ve arrived at a good compromise.

Imagine my surprise when Joe asked me to chaperone the Lutheran Youth on this camping trip in the Wilderness! After all, he’s known me for 21 years, and I am - by no stretch of the imagination - a camper. In fact, certain people burst into uncontrollable laughter when they heard I was going on this very rustic camping trip. But Joe, normally a sane and responsible man, was certain that I’d make a successful camper; more, he was certain I would enjoy the trip.

My job on this trip was to carry a 100 pound pack across portages. Joe strapped the pack on me in the church parking lot the morning we were packing to go. As I staggered across the asphalt parking lot from our van to the canoe trailer, I thought “What was I thinking?” I could barely shuffle my feet forward under the weight of the pack on TAR; what would I do on the rocky, twisty, muddy paths in the Wilderness?

We officially started the camping portion of our trip the next morning. Our first portage was relatively short at about 35 rods. A rod is between 16 and 17 feet. It was uphill halfway and the path was fairly wide and dry. When I slumped against a tree on the other side of the portage, I thought I could maybe handle the trip.

The portages got longer and more challenging as the day passed. I fell often. Because of the weight of the pack, I needed help to strap it on again after falling; sometimes I needed help to get up after falling with it. Covered with mud and nature, I could feel the sweat dripping off my nose and see it forming on my arms. I saw mosquitoes swarming, and could not defend myself against them. I counted paces to mark my progress, and I couldn’t talk while portaging my pack. It took all my focus to just walk and count, one foot in front of the other.

I was about a third of the way across one particularly difficult portage when I fell for the fourth time. Joe was the first person to find me and offer help. He helped me out of the pack. I stood up and he strapped it back on my back, holding the weight while I adjusted the straps. When I was ready he shifted the weight to me. Then he walked with me the rest of the way. He talked me through the remaining rods of the portage, saying things like “you’re doing great” or “just keep putting one foot in front of the other” or “you’re almost there” or “you can do it, Kari.” He never stopped talking. Thinking about it later, I was surprised; Joe is normally a man of few words. This time I was the silent one, once again using every ounce of strength and energy I had to just put one foot in front of the other.

Dropping the pack on the ground at the other side of the portage, I stood hunched, breathing deep and feeling that surge of exhilaration or adrenaline or whatever we get after intense physical activity. I repeated to myself “I will not cry. I will not cry…”

When I started to think again, I realized I would have been angry had Joe carried that pack for me. Instead, Joe just did for me what God does for all of us. God knows we have to carry heavy burdens in life, and He’s always there supporting and encouraging, walking with us through our struggle. And when we need that little extra help, God sends us a spouse like Joe, who will walk beside us and encourage us when times are tough.

As it turns out, it was Joe who was right about me: this non-camper loved the Wilderness! I am already planning next year’s packing. Those friends who laughed at the thought of me living in nature for a week are now all afraid that they’ll find themselves sweating their way through their own 41-mile journey through the Wilderness!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I Heart Joe's "100 Things"

Joe read my list of 100 things yesterday and today he surprised me with his. I was both surprised and excited to read what he wrote, partly because I was interested to know what he'd include on his list, but also because he dislikes writing and other literary endeavors. I know his list was a labor of love!

This list forms a great snapshot of his personality. He is passionate about baseball, loves being a positive light in people's -- especially kids' -- lives, and uses my favorite word ("wife") frequently. Incidentally, I hope he never pitches a perfect game; he'd be so sad without baseball in his life.

Often people crack jokes when they discover we work together. When asked, "How does that work for ya?" I grab the opportunity to say, "I get to see the side of him that creates satisfied customers. He acts first with kindness, dignity, and respect for people!" I might not see that side of him as often or as well if I only saw him outside of work.

After reading his list, I think I know why he likes having me in the BWCA with him. See #38. I have the knack for cooking over an open fire. Still, I can't make pancakes...

Joe's 100 Things
(A.K.A.: 100 Reasons Kari Loves Joe)

1) I am very happy to be alive every day.
2) I love both of my boys beyond belief.
3) I love my wife.
4) I don’t tell her enough that I love her.
5) I don’t tell my boys that I love them enough.
6) If I could have any job I would coach .
7) I hate losing!
8) I hate being late!
9) I don’t like the word hate.
10) I very rarely swear.
11) I’m not ashamed of anything I have done.
12) I’m not proud of everything I have done.
13) I may be one of the rare people that would like a second chance earlier in life.
14) I wish I could convey how important it is to always do your best.
15) I love eating at home.
16) I love grilling.
17) I don’t like A.D.D as an excuse.
18) I’m worried I have Alzheimer’s.
19) I’m worried I have A.D.D.
20) I like shiny stuff.
21) I don’t like driving the “Man Van”.
22) I like green grass in my yard.
23) My goal when pitching is to strike everyone out.
24) My realistic goal is to have one strikeout per inning pitched.
25) I don’t like giving up homeruns.
26) I want to bean the next hitter after giving up a homerun.
27) I don’t understand why my legs don’t go as fast as my brain tells them to.
28) If I was asked to coach a woman’s sport I would be happy to.
29) I wonder how to tell someone they have “It”.
30) I get upset even after winning a baseball game.
31) I have pitched no hitters but never a perfect game.
32) I need to pitch a perfect game before I stop playing.
33) I’m amazed at the tolerance of my wife.
34) I’m amazed at the things my wife will do for me.
35) I love the Boundary Waters.
36) I love being with kids in the Boundary Waters.
37) I like portaging better than canoeing.
38) There is a knack to cooking in the Boundary Waters; I don’t have it.
39) It’s amazing how far off a cloud you come when you give up a homerun.
40) Then another one back to back.
41) I would like working at a hardware store.
42) I feel bad when people don’t like me.
43) I sometimes exaggerate to make me look better.
44) Lying creates a bad feeling.
45) I like selling ambulances.
46) I like the people who buy ambulances.
47) I’m glad I sell the best ambulance.
48) I get an upset stomach before a game that I’m coaching.
49) I think about baseball all the time.
50) I don’t like throwing a 0-2 ball.
51) I like striking a guy out on 3 pitches.
52) I’m amazed that you can really “See the ball off the bat”.
53) I’m glad I had Lasik.
54) I have a goal to walk more than strike out batting.
55) I want to hit .400 or better for a season.
56) I have few people I would call on a Friday night to “Go out with”.
57) I miss the lake.
58) I don’t like tattoos.
59) It’s hard to remember everything to tell kids when coaching.
60) I wish I was as smart as my kids.
61) I don’t like to read.
62) I like trivia.
63) I think I have dyslexia.
64) Picture directions were invented for me.
65) I don’t have any desire to meet famous people.
66) I think my wife could be famous.
67) I would read her book.
68) I would try to get everyone to meet her.
69) I’m jealous of my oldest son’s ability to learn.
70) I’m jealous of my youngest son’s drive to play sports.
71) I didn’t know everything at 18.
72) I like to fish.
73) I will never forget going to counseling.
74) I will never forget “You better find something better to do with your spare time”.
75) I will never forget “Maybe it should be you!”
76) I have never tried smoking.
77) I have never tried drugs (unless you count Mt. Dew).
78) I’m too naive to find drugs.
79) I think everyone can be good.
80) I think I can help everyone.
81) I want to help everyone.
82) I like performing for people.
83) I like public speaking.
84) I once gave a 20 minute speech on the letter “Z”.
85) I once wrote a long paper on a watermelon.
86) I often think about who would be my “Phone a friend”.
87) I wonder who my wife’s “Phone a friend” would be.
88) I can’t wait to play baseball everyday.
89) I can only have white hangers in my closet.
90) I sort my clothes by style and color hanging in the closet.
91) If the towels are folded “wrong” I unfold them and refold them.
92) Sometimes when my wife makes me mad I dry her clothes.
93) Other times I just forget.
94) I like our dogs.
95) I’m having a hard time trying to decide when to put Coco down.
96) I like vacationing with my wife.
97) I like when my wife makes me do something and it turns out to be fun.
98) I trust too many people.
99) I believe people even after they don’t deserve it.
100) 100 things about me is a lot.

I "heart" Joe.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My 100 Things...

  1. I love reading 100 things about complete strangers and finding common ground with them.
  2. Daydreaming is an important part of my daily life.
  3. I believe authentic faith comes from studying and questioning and seeking God.
  4. I rarely say the words, "I wish..."
  5. But... I wish I could garden.
  6. I wish were better at being still.
  7. The best parenting advice I ever received was, "Your boys will bond like bear cubs. Don't interfere." I haven't.
  8. The second best advice I ever received was, "Don't tell them to 'be careful' all the time -- or they will be." Had to bite my tongue often!
  9. My first son has never been afraid to forge his own path.
  10. My second son wants to fly.
  11. I knew I wanted to marry Joe two weeks after I met him. I was sixteen.
  12. We waited five years to marry.
  13. When I was young, I longed for one career: I wanted to be a wife and mother.
  14. I never admitted my dream to anyone. It seemed like I was letting down the Sisterhood.
  15. I once subscribed to the dangerous notion "you're okay; I'm okay."
  16. Exclamation points make me happy.
  17. I love Mondays.
  18. In fact, my favorite day of the week is whichever day it happens to be.
  19. Kayacking is my favorite way to spend a morning.
  20. I despise canoeing.
  21. I love to cook.
  22. When I cook, I pray for the people who will eat with me.
  23. I can't think of a better way to love people than preparing food for them with all the love and hope I have to offer in that moment.
  24. I am not a baker because I don't like to measure.
  25. Smashing and mincing garlic makes me so happy I will never own a garlic press.
  26. I majored in English and Philosophy and minored in Women's Studies and Theology in college.
  27. I am thankful for my degree even though I work at the same place I worked before I completed my degree.
  28. I got a speeding ticket on my way to my Phi Beta Kappa induction.
  29. I got another one on my way to the English Department Garden Party a week later.
  30. I wasn't in a hurry or running late either time.
  31. My favorite time with my babies was the time spent breastfeeding.
  32. My family prefers eating at our table than at any existing restaurant.
  33. I miss my grandpa.
  34. I wish I missed my mom.
  35. My piano is the possession I use more than anything else I own.
  36. I love playing scales.
  37. I haven't played scales for a long time.
  38. Certain listeners can probably tell.
  39. I love running.
  40. I haven't made running a part of my life for a long time.
  41. I am determined to be ready to let go of my boys when it's time for them to move away from home.
  42. Jakbo's committment to sports impresses me.
  43. Adam's ability to talk comfortably to any person he meets impresses me.
  44. The best thing about working with my husband every day is seeing him at his best; his kindness and willingness to serve make me want to be a better person.
  45. I love coupons.
  46. As a child I was intensely shy.
  47. I can spell.
  48. While in college I thought I might want to be an historian but the first history professor I had wore polyester suits with ruffled shirts. I changed my mind.
  49. I thought I might want to be a critic.
  50. I had a talent for making people believe whatever I was criticizing was better than they initially thought. Most people don't want to hear things are better.
  51. I didn't know how to stock a pantry until I was almost 30.
  52. I didn't know how to make a roast either.
  53. My cholesterol is better than average. Yay me!
  54. I wanted four children.
  55. I still do.
  56. This summer four dogs will call my house home.
  57. I do not like dogs.
  58. Dogs love me.
  59. I do not wish I had a daughter.
  60. I love being friends with girls and will be excited to meet the girls my boys choose.
  61. I coordinate weddings so I can be bossy for an entire day and a half.
  62. Pinning corsages is a special talent of mine.
  63. I am rarely "on time" for things.
  64. My weddings always start on time.
  65. My husband wishes I could be on time for everything.
  66. He loves me even though I'm not.
  67. I sometimes cuss.
  68. Like a sailor.
  69. My huband wishes I wouldn't cuss.
  70. He loves me even though I cuss.
  71. Serving others delights me.
  72. Being served by others horrifies me.
  73. I am humbled by the kind things people do for me.
  74. I worry.
  75. Balance is important to me.
  76. I count. I count paces... breaths... tiles. I think it's OCD.
  77. My eyes turn green when I am angry.
  78. The women in my life are freakin' amazing!
  79. I wouldn't be the person I am without Joe in my life. He gives me roots.
  80. Though I wrote SALT's Feast in his honor, sometimes I forget to make sure he feels honored and beloved.
  81. I believed most of my life that nice girls don't get mad.
  82. Men and women are intrinsically, naturally, and wonderfully different.
  83. My boys are still silly with me -- even when their friends are present.
  84. Upon discovering the truth about Santa Claus, Jakob asked me, "So, if you lied to me about this, how do I know you're not lying about Heaven?"
  85. I never lied about Santa.
  86. Three-year-old Adam once wrote me a note that read, "I hate you, Mommy!!!" and was decorated with a sad smiley face.
  87. Adam was mad because I wouldn't put Jakob back in my tummy.
  88. When my auntie turned 31, I confessed to thinking she was Seriously Old. She had me write it on note paper and sign it; I received it on my own 31st birthday.
  89. I really love Sex and the City.
  90. I really love to write.
  91. The Holy Spirit is a constant, acknowledged presence in my life.
  92. I refuse to spend any time doing something half-way.
  93. Sometimes I talk people into doing things I shouldn't have.
  94. Usually they forgive me.
  95. I really love my job.
  96. I forgive too easily but remember too much.
  97. The sound of the ocean never fails to lift my spirit.
  98. When Joe turns to me in sleep and runs his hand across my skin, I feel safe and beloved.
  99. I love the word "wife" no matter the context.
  100. I rarely cry at funerals; I always cry at weddings.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Counting My Way Through the BWCA

I will be heading to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in 18 days. This is my fourth trip.

For those who have never been there, the BWCA is a little more than one million acres of wilderness. Nothing motorized is allowed. What you carry into the BWCA, you consume or carry out of the BWCA. There is no electricity. There are no conveniences. There is no concrete. It is undeveloped, largely untouched nature.

It is breathtakingly beautiful and filled with wonders like baby moose, enormous fish, and vibrant colored foilage.

We canoe through deep lakes full of water pure enough to drink without filtering. When we get to the end of the lake, we pick up our canoes and packs, and carry them across portages.
The portages between lakes are narrow passages, measured in rods. A rod is 16.5 feet. The ground is uneven and littered with tree roots and forest debris. The mud can be knee deep. Deep in those portages, there is no sense of time passing. Though you know others are present, you can't hear or see them. The loudest sound is your own breath. Portaging is a very solitary activity. It's also physically challenging.

On our trips, we bring fourteen teens. Each person carries something heavy, whether a food pack, a canoe, or a clothing pack. We travel between sixty and seventy miles during the seven-day trip. Our days follow nature's rhythm, starting at sunrise and ending at sundown.

As beautiful as it is, I would never choose to go there. I hate camping passionately. I hate being cold. I hate finding nature in my food. I hate outdoor commodes. I hate woodticks and leeches.
So, why do I go?

The first year I went because Joe asked. Last year I went because he told me "I like it better when you're here than when you're not." This year someone asked him what he wouldn't go to the BWCA without, and he answered, "My wife."
I go because sometimes we do something for someone we love without any hope or thought of personal gain.

And yet, each time I go to the BWCA, I do gain.
On last year's trip we knew we were going to have to do a mile and a half portage -- 480 rods --at one end of the trip. Joe and I chose the end, thinking we'd be seasoned and ready for that mile and a half by then.

Portages are both my favorite part of traveling and a struggle for me. Both years I've carried heavy, heavy packs on my back. The weight of them bends me in half and I struggle to walk across even level ground. Sloped ground often defeats me, leaving me sprawled on the ground until someone can help me to my feet. Yet, there's nothing to compare with the feeling of success I get when I complete a portage.

I have techniques that help me portage. I don't talk. I don't think. I don't even pray. I count paces. I am my own odometer.

Each rod, for me, takes three paces. When Joe announces the length of the portage, I multiply by three and know how many paces I will take from start to finish. It's been remarkably accurate. I need to have the measure. Using it, I can tell when I'm a third of the way... halfway... almost there. I can convince myself to finish a portage when I know I've already accomplished three-fourths of the journey.

All week I thought about the 1,440 paces I would take to get to the other side of that mile and a half portage. We finally arrived at the shore marking the start of the long portage. In the background, I could hear the kids talking about the long portage and their plans for making it across. A couple of them asked for the pace count so they could use my measure to keep track of their progress. They bargained with themselves, saying they'd go a certain distance and rest before continuing. They each had a different notion about how far they could go without stopping and different strategies for success.

I had my own plan, and I didn't care to articulate it. I was going halfway before finding a tree to lean against for a rest.
The first few feet of the portage presented the first challenge. The ground sloped sharply uphill. I needed help to hoist myself and my pack up to the actual trail.

I set off, counting.

Kids passed me.

I kept counting.
My focus is extremely narrow during a portage. Bent at the waist under the weight of my pack with the strap across my forehead, I'm physically incapable of looking ahead. Instead, I examine the ground for potential dangers. Considering I can't get up by myself, falling is a Very Big Deal.
The ground continued to steepen, so my paces were shorter than usual. At times they were so small, I couldn't count all of them. I promised myself I'd take longer paces as soon as the ground leveled, and kept moving forward.
Kids passed me again.
At the one-third mark, I encountered the first victim. One of the canoe carriers was sitting on his canoe. Lifting my paddle in a salute, I kept walking and counting.

I passed more kids. Two this time. They were leaning against a tree sharing water. Another paddle salute and more counting. The kids respected my counting and didn't try to converse with me during portages. Smarties.

The slope increased. My thighs were burning. Something in my pack was gouging my back with each pace. My breath was harsh.

I lied to myself in that moment. "What goes up, must come down." Of course, that's true of gravity, but not portages. Sometimes they are steep from start to finish.

The slope sharpened again near the halfway mark. My paces were mostly straight up instead of forward so I only counted every other pace. I stepped off one rock into a muddy patch and nearly lost my balance when I realized the mud was halfway up my calf. I only kept my balance by stepping backward. Grrr. I might have cussed. Out loud.
For an instant I thought of Jesus making His own journey with the weight of the cross on His injured back. I though of Him falling. I thought of Simon helping Jesus. I thought of Him struggling through His journey only to meet His own painful death. I knew my journey would end on the bank of the next lake, and I'd find Joe and the kids, a drink of water, and the warmth of the sun.
Just at the halfway mark, the sun burst through the canopy of trees. I had my free arm wrapped around a tree trunk in the middle of the path and balanced myself with the hand carrying my paddle. The patch of ground I could see was sloping down instead of up.

I didn't stop. I told myself I'd take another hundred paces before I stopped.
After those hundred, I talked myself into a hundred more.
I made it all the way without stopping once, although sometimes my forward progress was so slight it seemed I was at a standstill. The journey was a physical struggle for me. Near the end, the kids I passed earlier passed me again. Despite their own exhaustion, they all had a word or sign of encouragement. As I took the final steps and entered the clearing, those that arrived first applauded and shouted encouragement, "You did it! Yay, Kari!"

I wasn't first or last, but I carried my own burden. And then I stood with my bruised back and mud-caked jeans and applauded as the last of the campers took their own final steps across the portage.

The best thing about that portage had nothing to do with my own success.

The best thing was watching those fourteen teens struggle with their own challenges while taking the time to help each other at every step with drinks of water, a damp washcloth, or word of encouragement. Yay, kids!