Monday, October 20, 2014

Unplugged in the North Woods Thank You Camp du Nord!

Over MEA we unplugged! We left our I pads, our computers, we logged out and headed up north. We have attended Camp du Nord summer family camps before, but this was our first time at an Autumn camp. We stayed in Danes, a wonderful old cabin right on the lake.

On our way to Ely we stopped to see the Train park in Sudan

We ate meals with other families in a Lodge, had nightly fires and each read at least two books. As a family we hiked, played soccer, did a Finnish sauna and carved sticks.

Our great Cabin, hours of cozy reading!

The view from our cabin

James and John chopped enough wood for the winter and Mickey forgot to wear cool socks the whole time. Nate wrote a "North Woods Journal" by Nathaniel T Otis (has a nice literary ring to it doesn't it?) and Mark learned how to skip rocks almost as far as Dad. Mark also had the coolest top bunk bed on chains by the fire.
The best bed
Jr making one of many, many fires
Beautiful lakefront at Camp du Nord in Ely, MN
Family Camp activity, Carving pumpkins!
I brought the seeds home to make a fav snack, roasted seeds with garlic
Daisy and Lucy played in the woods, chasing away any wild life with princess musical scores. Sheff and I had a chance to hike alone and talk about goals for the year, and simply enjoy each others company. The kids all had age group from 9:30 to noon on Friday and Saturday, all 8 made connections with staff and other campers.
James found a sport in the wilderness, tetherball!
He was reigning champion but a great challenger from Edina;)
Mark hitting the water after Finnish Sauna

Our family time was precious. I wish I could save it in a ornament to hang on our tree. We were mindful of the wilderness and connected ten strong.
Sweet girlies and mama


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Can I Actually DO at this Phase

I have had the pleasure of attending two philanthropic events this week, and each has brought into focus the desire for change and taking action. The difficulty is how one goes about doing that in different phases of life.

We as a couple can not offer the necessary financial contribution, nor can we dedicate enough time to make the impact we would like at this time of raising children from 3 to 14 years old. I am very aware that I have two years until my youngest starts primary school, this will impact my ability and desire to work. I am in the process of discerning school, graduate program acceptance and transcript request forms are stacked under sports schedules and field trip information sheets. And I am thinking about meaningful work. I am not in a unique place, many, many mothers find themselves at crossroads when their youngest move towards the big yellow bus.
Lucy's portrait of her family, she told her teacher she wanted to use
extra people and more skin colors to be"more beautiful" 
On monday Sheff and I attended a gathering to learn more about Ploughshares, an organization committed to promoting peace by eliminating nuclear weapons http://www.ploughshares.org. We both left with a much better rudimentary understanding of the strife in the Middle East. Those who spoke to the issues motivated us to come home and pull out a map with the kids. We would like to start family dialogue about promoting non partisan peace, about war and global conflict. How can these issues be relevant around our immediate dinner table? We actually talked about the Middle East in terms of football, but teams and sports anger are not a bad way to talk and relate to global issues with pre teen boys!

Today I attended the Women's Foundation of Minnesota http://www.wfmn.org, and learned very scary data about the abuse of populations of girls right here in our backyard. It was a sobering lunch supporting essential work. Learning how to keep our young people safe and make changes in how at risk youth can be targeted to be exploited. Again, what can I DO right now in the busy pace of life? I can read, I can attend events to further my own knowledge and I can engage in community dialogue.

Last week I sat down with a great group of women to write thank you cards to Young Life leaders, college kids volunteering their time to spend time with our local youth. I know many who serve on school boards, are sports commissioners or take a day a month to help at a shelter or church sponsored relief project. Sheff and I look forward to the day we can give back to local athletics and education, we give what we can yearly to our Library and around the clock coaching is a huge commitment for Sheff and a joy. Giving back takes time and constancy but is vital. Different phases of life will give way to different opportunity, and that can be exciting rather than overwhelming.

As I think about the next chapter in my life my children and husband will come first, that is a priority for me personally. Faith will impact how and what I do, social justice is a passion for me. As time becomes available even in small doses I hope I can make the most of it. Be it school, more volunteer work or a part time career.

I do know that I want to continue to learn about organizations working to make our community, both local and global, a safer and more rewarding place to be for the next generation who will someday be sitting at the cross roads of what to DO next.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anniversary Gratitude

Anniversaries have come and gone for us without enough pause. We have both been great about cards, and small meaningful things. Some long walks and a few of the last 13 years married, 14 years together, we have made it out of the house but this year was a concerted effort. We made it away, all 8 children were intact upon return. I had posted ideas about restaurants and Sheff wanted me to wait to talk about being gone until we were actually safely home. He is very nonplussed by social media and uses it sparingly and carefully. I can't say I always share his perspective, but in this case I agreed.

 Our hidden little both at The Melting Pot, they took our photo and poured champagne.

We ended up trying The Melting Pot, fondue restaurant. Really fun sweet date night idea. We usually go for as spicy as possible, Japanese or Thai food. This was a good out of our element place to try and  fun to be able to talk about our parents fondue parties of the 1070s, we were musing that the way everyone seems to be getting Kuerig machines now, then the hot ticket then was a fondue set.

Walking Minneapolis and the river, our favorite part of our time away!
The best part of our date was deciding after our early romantic dinner to lace up our running shoes and hike around the city, Nicolett Mall, down by the Stone Arch Bridge and along the river front near Mill City. We enjoyed talking, people watching and getting a workout so much we did the same thing this morning after breakfast. We logged well over 6 miles each time out, and think maybe for our next leaving the kids we will ask for advice on good little cabins with hiking trails nearby.

We are very grateful for the village it took to make this possible, and for all the times in the last 13 years we have gotten out for meals, kids have had sleepovers or even post baby meals, we feel so very grateful. We admire couples who make their alone time a priority and talked about ways to make this a regular yearly tradition.

We talked about the best times, the hardest times and what we want the future times to be in our marriage. This time away was a perfect time to reset, reflect and simply enjoy each other's company.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why it Might be Important to Care About What Other People Think

Driving, carpooling and late night talks give way to conversations with my teen, preteen and elementary school age kids and their friends. Fall tryouts, tense games and new middle school dynamics make for constant backseat chatter. A phrase I heard often this week was "Why do you care what people think?" This made me wonder when we should care about what others think.

As a culture overall I would argue we have gone too far in the direction of individualism. Not caring about how our actions impact others, impact the earth and choosing the image of self (selfies) over community. There are times when doing your own thing, trusting your gut or running with an idea are  commendable. There are also times to listen to other people's opinions, times to allow people you respect to be mirrors for actions in question and times to follow the guidance of another person.

On a teenage level there are many opportunities to worry too much about other people's perceptions. Finding close friends to trust, fostering faith communities and parent connection time seem crucial. I still care what my parents think, I care what my close friends think and I care deeply that my overall actions are pleasing to God. My children have different points of faith in their lives but I urge them to find space to pray when they feel anxiety or worry about peers.

I want them to care what others think of their actions, but not in a self despairing way, rather in a way that allows for personal growth and reflection.

I have done a poor job at times in my life of caring too much about what the wrong people thought of my actions. I have found that if I focus on people that truly love and care about me, if I focus on my faith base, I am far more content in my words or decisions.

As my kids toss around the phrase, "Who cares what they think!" I hope to enter conversations about the they rather than agree wholeheartedly. I hope to talk more about creating community and less about one for all and all for one. I hope to be mindful of pleasing those around me for the right reasons, reasons that bring me peace of mind and allow me to respect myself as well as others.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Could we ever host a foreign exchange student?

We have had two houseguests this week. Two boys who line up with our sixth grader and our third grader, two very nice boys. I was unsure how this would work. I knew the positives were the boys shared classes and activities, and the negatives would be more about how my kids acted. For example, would the boys treat this like a week long playdate? Extra snacks, wanting x box over homework and so on? So far it has actually been just fine, the boys are good kids who are very happy to be caught up in the daily flow of Otis life.

After school we always have a fun and a healthy snack. Yesterday orchard apples and candy corn mix, today homemade cookies and cheese sticks. Simple but enough fun to run from bus stop to home to see what is out. The visiting boys figured out this the only snack until dinner and then joined in with homework and getting ready for sports. We have plenty of beds for extras and the boys who gave up their own beds for the guests (John and Nate re located) think is fun to have new digs for the week.

After football, soccer and gymnastics the biggest difference with having ten instead of eight is noise level and finding it hard to end the day. Two new ghosts in the graveyard players and football team members in the back yard make it seem unfair to head in at dark. It has been positive to mix up the dynamic, change the typical partnerships. We have had to work on more modesty, closing doors to change or go to the bathroom for the little ones, but that is a good thing to learn. The kids like tossing the ball more than quizzing each other for spelling tests, but for a week that is ok.

Am I ready for a foreign exchange student? No not yet. But I think someday it would be a joy to do so. I am glad we are a home that can welcome two more in for awhile. I am glad the kids are able to welcome new personalities into the fold, to continue to be kind to each other for the most part and model cleaning up and helping out. They taught the boys our dinner prayer and how to handle a Lucy tantrum with ease and humor.

Sometimes adding more to a plate can bring out the best flavors! Week two back in school has been busy and full and one to remember.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week one: Re-entry time

When one of the eight has a rare sleepover or is away at camp we always call the first hours home, re-entry. The physical change of adding a body back into the flow of life, the desire of the one away to share their experience while at the same time holding onto the time away as their own, sacred "me" time in a family of ten.

Going back to school is always both a re-entry experience for the kids and for parents, especially mom. To get stories, antidotes and obligations sorted out for so many different individuals is down right daunting. Some one needs a family photo, someone needs a different color folder, someone's teacher wanted proof we are actually related to Amelia Earhart (we are), someone outgrew their back to school shoes (in two weeks, how?!) and absolutely everyone needs money.

The first four days I have cried, celebrated, calculated, prayed and navigated with the kids. I have missed my workouts and missed my friends. I have attempted to be calm, all knowing and responsible but felt more young and emotional in the face of stress. Isn't this week supposed to be a monumental relief?

I have goals to create better file systems per grade, per kid, per school. I have goals to pair kids up for homework help and to find ways to manage the one family computer. I am hopeful that the three middle schoolers having school iPads will be a blessing rather than a curse and I know I need to get back to the basics with meal planning and managing driving schedules for our 7 activity schedules this fall.

A dear friend said yesterday "You sure LOOK like you have it all together my dear!" Well, I do not have it all together. I most certainly did not have it all together this week, but I am allowing this first week to be in the category of re-entry and look forward to the second week of school.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to the Otis Dad!

For his birthday Sheff is getting a ridiculously gooey monster cake from the kids, with a side of minnie mouse cupcakes from Lulu. Some snapshots of an amazing father, a fantastic husband and a man who's patience, fair mindedness and enthusiasm make the world a better place. 

We love you Sheffer/Dad!!
Aug 27 2014

Family first
Many little ones have gone to sleep this way:)

Teaching 5 sons how to be a man

A man who loves holding babies, did our nighttime feedings around here.

Working out with babies as weight 2007

A outdoorsman and his ballerina 2009

Date night! One coming up, we will make it happen for our 13th anniversary this year, pinkie promise. And goal to do an overnight away from the kids before we hit 15 years:) We always miss them so maybe 15 is about right but great long walks in the dark to fit it in, runs, hikes, Sunday morning church as a family, the little Japanese noodle shop we love with sake and black coffee early outside before the kids wake up.  Love you!