How a Young Feminist Got Played

Our youngest, a seventh grader, had to interview the hubs and me as part of a school project. His questions included the normal stuff, “Where do you work?” “Where did you grow up?” etc.

But he also inquired about our favorite childhood toys. Oh the nostalgia of pondering what entertained you as a kid. And having your child assigned to ask about such things gives parents an excuse to prattle on about the good ‘ole days while the offspring are “forced” to act interested.

I thought for a moment, mentally scrolling through my memory banks in search of favorite toys. There was the Baby Alive that ate real baby food and soiled real diapers, that is until my cousin jammed a crayon down its throat. Baby Alive gagged on this early introduction of solid food and died soon thereafter. Plus, my box of 64 colors was permanently short a blue violet.

R.I.P. Baby Alive

R.I.P. Baby Alive

Then there was my Barbie Star Traveller Motor Home that I used to take Barbie pretend camping. But having actually lived in trailer park made a toy motor home seem less aspirational than say, a Barbie Dream House.

Barbie Star Traveller

Barbie Star Traveller

Later in life, the hubs and I would camp quite a bit, about which another cousin once remarked, “You spend your whole life working to not be poor. But isn’t camping like pretending you’re poor and calling it a vacation?” Never thought of it that way, but I suppose she makes an interesting point.

So I guess, when pressed, I’d have to say my favorite childhood toy was my Bionic Woman action figure. Remember Lindsay Wagner as Jaime Sommers on the 1970s television show, The Bionic Woman? That show was my first introduction to the notion that women could be badass; that women could not only fight their own battles, but also could be counted on and called upon to help others who are in dire straights.

A toy more badass than Barbie.

A toy more badass than Barbie.

As someone who was raised by a single mother whose heroic adventures included juggling childcare while going to college, becoming a registered nurse, obtaining a driver’s license near the age of 30 and buying a house all on her own, it’s no wonder I was more drawn to the idea of a bionic woman than a fashion model who pretended to be poor.

My Bionic Woman action figure also came with some sort of high-tech computer station play set. It had these rubber cables that plugged into my toy’s bionic arm and leg. It had charts and graphs that I would imagine displayed readings of her increasing levels of strength. I proudly told my son that this beloved childhood toy of mine was pretty much a pioneering female Project Lead the Way education project.

But then, he did a Google search to see for himself if such a toy existed. The search revealed that the bionic play set I was so fond of and believed to be a groundbreaking toy for aspiring young feminists everywhere was actually called the Bionic Beauty Salon. What the…?!

You've got to be kidding me.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

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Sometimes Paradise is a Hot Shower and a Snickers Bar

IMG_2679The hubs and I are in our 20th year of marriage. The actual anniversary date is still a few months off. But on some days, leading up to the big day, I find myself pondering in amazement…20 years… that’s a long time.

Our 20th year together is in many ways much easier than our first. Even though that first year was filled with adventure, romance, travels and fewer responsibilities, we were still figuring out the difference between what we expected from marriage and what was really in store.

It was during that first year of marriage, that the hubs accompanied me on a “working” trip to Hawaii and I discovered how expectations could sabotage an adventure.

The island of Kauai is everything I imagined it could be. Lush, mossy green mountains set a backdrop to a tropical island paradise dotted with palm trees and resort hotels. It was a brief trip and we didn’t know if we’d ever get another chance to return; so we crammed activities into every free moment. We played golf. We snorkeled. We took a helicopter tour of the island complete with a booming Yanni soundtrack playing in our earphones.

A view from our helicopter tour of Kauai.

A view from our helicopter tour of Kauai.

Each experience made me delirious with joy. Except… the hike.

The hubs overheard other hotel guests discussing a hiking trail that led to a waterfall. Waterfalls are his jam. We’d already been on countless hikes on other trips, through the Canadian wilderness in search of la chutes d’eau. The French word made him laugh and the triumph of finding a tucked away falls made him behave as if he’d summited a great mountaintop. And word was, that people were swimming under these secluded Hawaiian falls. We simply had to check it out.

It was said to be a three-mile hike. In our estimation, the trek would take around an hour and we would be frolicking under a waterfall like newlyweds in a romantic comedy.

That afternoon, we drove to the trailhead at the end of a road located near a deserted beach, parked the rental car and set out on our adventure. I expected to get some exercise, take pictures of some beautiful scenery and be back at the hotel in time for dinner. I brought along a backpack containing a jacket, a beach towel and a water bottle.

IMG_2682After about an hour of ambling along a dirt path through an island jungle, we began to get thirsty. It was warm. The water went quickly. We hadn’t thought to bring extra water, snacks or a flashlight for such a short jaunt. We shrugged off the minor discomfort of thirst and kept walking. Lots of hikers passed us. They were heading in the opposite direction, each telling the hubs we were almost there and that reaching the falls was totally worth the trip. These comments stoked his determination and fueled his ability to tune out my rumblings about getting tired and hungry.

We’d surely covered the estimated three miles and yet, no waterfall. The farther we traveled inland, the muddier and slipperier the path became. My stomach growled. The hubs checked his watch. He knew we needed to allow enough time to hike out before it got dark. We picked up the pace.

Finally! We reached a sign. It was the 3-mile marker. The destination we thought we’d been aiming for. But, no. This was not the spot where young dreamers would discover a jungle paradise. This was just a sign informing us that we’d reached the path that would lead us to the waterfall in approximately two more miles. What?!

We’d been misled. Deceived. We thought the trip would be easier. We weren’t prepared for this abrupt change of plans. Not fair.

I wanted to go back. But in the distance we could hear a faint sound; a spilling flow of water. The hubs begged me to press on. But we’d need to go faster if we were going to make it back out in daylight. He led. I followed. I whined. I slipped on muddy rocks. I couldn’t go faster because my mental capacity had been pre-set for what I’d believed would be an easy excursion. The hubs kept checking his watch as we marched deeper into the trees and brush. A steady stream of wet hikers passed us, heading out. “You’re almost there,” they’d say. I lost count of how many people told us we were almost there.

We reached a ravine. We’d have to hike down, cross over some boulders and logs in a stream and hike up the other side to continue. It was beginning to dawn on the hubs that continuing was unwise. In the clearing it was easier to hear what we thought were people splashing under the waterfall. We walked a bit farther, thinking we must be almost there. We were not. We could now see the falls in the distance and realized we’d never make there in time.

This is as close as we ever got to the waterfall that day.

This is as close as we ever got to the waterfall that day.

Feeling famished and dehydrated we high-tailed it back toward the trailhead in the gloaming. We couldn’t hear water or people anymore. No other hikers came by. It was getting darker by the minute. We lost the trail for a bit. I was practically in tears, asking the hubs if he knew any divorce lawyers on the mainland.

We exited the tree line at sunset, trudged across the sand to the parking lot and plopped into the rental car in our muddy shoes. We drove back to the hotel in silence. I’d never been so grateful for a hot shower and a Snickers bar.

I later decided divorce would have be an overreaction, especially since the hubs ultimately chose my comfort and safety over his personal desire to get to that damned waterfall. Since then, we’ve been on longer, more difficult hikes with less drama. That’s partly because we are more careful about being prepared for contingencies.

But more importantly, I’ve learned that my mind can play tricks on me when I have a certain set of expectations and life has other plans. The trouble in Hawaii wasn’t entirely about lacking supplies since we were only three miles from civilization. It was that I expected the trip to be easier and that I wouldn’t be uncomfortable. My mind was unprepared to endure hardship. But endure we did.

Married life has not always been what I originally expected it to be. And sometimes we’ve been caught completely unprepared for a given situation or have been unsure about how to proceed. But by putting one foot in front of the other, periodically stopping to evaluate our errors in judgement, and being committed to going in the same direction–even if that means one of us needs to change direction–we’ve managed to travel through almost 20 years of life together.

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Yeah But, Life is Beautiful. Even in Winter.

 

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

I arrived on the tundra kicking and screaming. I played the martyr for years, whining about my life being diminished by returning to the Mid-West and having to live someplace where it gets so cold. I remember going to an Eddie Bauer store in Seattle to purchase a winter coat before moving to Minnesota in 1998. The clerk asked where I was going that I needed such a warm coat. I told him we were moving to Minneapolis. The clerk gasped.

“It’s colder than Alaska there!” he said.

Panic-stricken in my puffy coat, I glanced at my husband in disbelief, searching his face for reassurance. He looked away and changed the subject, most likely because he was hoping I wouldn’t cause a scene in the store.

But I’ve managed to acclimate just a bit since then. I still complain about the cold but I have discovered that unlike winter just a couple of clicks south of Minnesota, the frigid temps up here can often mean it’s too cold for clouds to form. The sun shines brightly on below zero days, gleaming on on the crystalline snowpack. And when it’s too cold for snow to melt, winters aren’t as sloppy, grey and gross as they can be in other places that “experience” winter. Minnesota is a frosty white snow globe with its hearty people trekking to and fro in ugly shoes and ridiculous hats thinking they’re both fearless and fashionable while living in a place on the map that other people point to on the weather channel like they’re watching penguins in a documentary film. “Look how funny they look trying to walk in the snow! Why do they live there?”

I’ll admit that when we moved here from the west coast where it’s not only warmer, but there are mountains and large bodies of water, forests and vistas so grand, one cannot help but sense the presence of God, I prayed for help. I asked God to show me beauty in Minnesota. In flat, flyover country with its brain freeze temperatures and people who speak with some variation of what I can only determine to be a hybridized Canadian accent.

And almost daily, if I choose look, my eyes are opened by winter visions like this…

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Minnehaha Falls in winter by Sarah Dibbern

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Winter Carnival Ice Carving

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Frozen Falls by Sarah Dibbern

 

In addition to enjoying the beautiful winter scenery, I’ve recently been reading a delightful book by a well-known character actor, Stephen Tobolowski, titled The Dangerous Animals Club. One particularly great passage in his book reminds me of winter in Minnesota but it applies to life in general anywhere you might live.

He speaks of being a victim of “yeah, but” syndrome, a mental disorder that’s affected everyone he’s ever known, actors in particular. He says,

“Here is an example of how it manifests itself: a case study. Someone says, “What are you working on?”

“I’m playing Hamlet in a new production.”

“Wow, that’s great.”

Yeah, but we’re performing in a parking garage.”

…The “yeah, but” is the way we have developed to diminish our own lives into footnotes. To demoralize, trivialize, and squander the greatest gift we have been given–the joy of watching the sun rise for another day.”

I resolve to not diminish my life, this gift that gets renewed day after day here on the tundra. Here in beautiful Minnesota where God reveals himself in hoarfrost and frozen waterfalls and children building snowmen and hearty, bundled, wonderful people who carve an exemplary existence out of this icy landscape.

The next time you catch yourself starting to say, “yeah, but” give pause and ask for your eyes to be opened. So that wherever you are, you might be blessed to see what beauty is around you. That you will see the work of God’s hand in nature and in your life.

Is it really cold in Minnesota? Yeah, but life is beautiful. Even in winter.

 

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Pulling Myself Up by the Roots

DSCN1908Christmas vacation is over and I’m ready to get back to work. The time off was great. Restful. Fun. Togetherness. And even when the decorating, shopping, cooking and gift-wrapping at times felt overwhelming, I think I still prefer vacationing at Christmastime the most. Of course the religious and spiritual significance of the season make December special. But I also appreciate that most everyone else is also on vacation between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It’s like a universal Sabbath.

Unlike being on vacation at other times of the year, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on things going on in the world. I don’t dread a return to an overflowing email inbox, mile-long to-do lists and looming deadlines. Everybody seems to move more slowly at the end of December. This collective downshift into a lower gear helps me to truly relax and immerse into family life, entertaining and just plain lazing. And it was glorious.

But now it’s back to reality because one can only laze just so much before roots form on your ass and begin to penetrate the couch cushions, making it increasingly difficult to ever get up and get moving again at a pace required by the promise of a brand New Year. Oh, how I require a certain amount of goals, routines and demands on my time or I will most surely become a permanent part of the furniture.

Speaking of goals and the New Year, I can only stand (sit mostly) in awe of goal setting over-achievers like my blogger friend, Nina Badzin, who has set a goal to read 50 books in 2015. She’s done it before and to my mind, reading 50 books is an incredibly impressive feat, so much so, that it’s probably too much of a stretch goal for me.

I could say my first full year as editor of Edina Magazine consumed much of my brainpower, making reading books seem like a lost luxury. But something else has also prevented me from reading many books in 2014. Watching TV with my kids. They are finally at an age when I actually enjoy the television programming they choose. And in a teen’s life of seemingly endless sports practices, homework and video gaming, TV can still serve to bring an otherwise disparate family together. I wouldn’t trade these fleeting moments together for isolated book reading.

Also, my attention span has collapsed a bit from consuming continuous scraps of news stories or essays found on Twitter and Flipboard. I need to work my way back up to a regular diet of books. So my 2015 reading goal is 12 books. One per month. I know it’s no more than what’s required of an introductory book club member. But I read only seven books in 2014 making 12 seem reasonable and attainable. Plus, now it’s public. So I’m accountable.

DSCN1914Books I read in 2014:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

The Lobotomist by Jack El-Hai (Also a PBS American Experience documentary)

Please Don’t Come Back From the Moon by Dean Bakopoulos

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Reading makes for better writing. Hopefully that will be evidenced on this blog. I now have a full year of blogging under my belt. And in 2015 I’m planning more frequent posts and opportunities to begin conversations with you dear reader. Thank you, by the way, for being a part of my writerly journey. A writer without readers is… well, still a writer, albeit maybe a slightly more lonely one.

I’m also prepared to commit to daily devotions with my family. Our household religious rituals include weekly church attendance and prayers before meals. But regular scripture reading is often left to the individual. I hope to make bible study more familial by reading and discussing scripture together most nights during the evening meal. Our teens may at first groan at this resolution. But I plan to hold fast to this commitment–confident it will be a blessing to us all.

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Credit Sarah Dibbern

Lastly, over the past month or so, I’ve made it a point to call my mother every day. I plan to continue these daily calls throughout the New Year. She is a plane ride away. This makes it impossible to check in on her or take her to lunch as often as I’d like. Not having enough demands on her time means she’s acquired some of those dreaded couch cushion roots. And when your parent’s couch roots become so strong that they’ve managed to wrap tentacle-like around all things nostalgic, comfortable and familiar, a once vibrant life can struggle to flourish. What can I do? It is difficult to know how to be a good daughter. But for now, I resolve to offer words. Words of care, companionship, conversation, inspiration, instigation, joy and hope. It is my desire that a daily phone call containing a few Words by Angela might be considered uplifting in some way–just like what I hope to offer you dear reader each time you visit me here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a joyful, restful and blessed Christmas season. Please feel free to share a few of your goals for the New Year in the comments section. Happy New Year!

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“Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.” -
Viktor Frankl

 

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Gift Giving Doesn’t Make You a Materialist

For years, I’ve heard well-meaning folks lament the commercialization and materialism associated with Christmas. Heck, I’ve even joined the chorus of those who’ve vowed to cut back or cut out gift giving lest anyone get the idea I’ve bought in or sold out. But this thought process can devolve into actually hoping you don’t receive any gifts so you won’t feel obligated to return the gesture. In order to justify a sanctimonious abhorrence of elevating materialism above spirituality, you might even find yourself saying things like, “She doesn’t really need anything,” or “I can’t afford to buy everybody a gift.”

But generosity is at the very heart of God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who says we have to buy gifts at Christmas? Some of the best gifts I’ve received have been of the homemade variety; things like spiced nuts, candy, cookies and granola. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to give a gift. Gifts of service are equally nice. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or offer to babysit. “We love because He first loved us.”

Gift giving does take a bit of thought and planning, which is another thing some folks complain about. I know you’re busy. We are all busy. But if I’m honest, being too busy to think about, purchase, make or wrap a gift is really just my way of saying, “I’d rather do anything else besides something special for you.” Maybe we should re-read the old tale, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and let the notion of self-sacrifice sink in a bit before we get all uppity about gift giving.

Not a crafter or cook? Well, a store bought gift need not be expensive. The old adage, “It’s the thought that counts,” still counts. Let me clarify: scooping up a cache of crap only to decide later who gets each of our hastily purchased do-dads does not constitute being thoughtful. Being thoughtful requires us to pay attention, to listen and to take note of what gives others joy and then selecting gifts accordingly. Being thoughtful does not require us to overthink it or be anxious about choosing the perfect thing. It’s not a contest. And if it’s not perfect, be comforted in knowing that being generous or charitable is not a waste of time or money.

Inexpensive yet thoughtful gifts can include things like:

  • Books!–Fiction, non-fiction, picture books, cookbooks, etc. There are books for every interest imaginable.
  • Food and Wine–A bottle of wine or spirits, a bag of specialty coffee, a jar of honey, a box of chocolates or even a single serving of some scrumptious delight can hardly be a fail. Everybody eats.
  • Little luxuries–Hand lotion, nail polish, lip balm, hand warmers, socks or a gift basket containing a variety of similar items.

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

(Got a family too big to buy for? A friend recently shared with me how her family members pitch in to create one large charitable donation each year. Family members select the charity of choice on a rotating basis. What a great idea! Group support of charitable giving not only makes such a gesture more fun for everybody; it prevents you from seeming weird by being the only one making charitable donations in lieu of giving gifts.)

What not to do:

  • Buy items you love without giving any thought as to whether the recipient will also love it.
  • Try to be overly “helpful.” No exercise equipment, self-help books or nicotine gum unless you’re certain these types of items will be appreciated. Certain means you’ve heard it said. Certain is not, “I’m certain so-in-so needs this.”
  • Yammer on about a gift’s cost or how much stress was involved in finding or selecting it. Our exasperation kinda sucks the recipient’s joy out of receiving a gift.
  • Be ungrateful about any gift you receive. Wish lists are a guide, not a directive or command.

Let’s just say I’m back in the gift giving camp. To my mind, the lavishness of department store displays, homes drenched in Christmas lights and abundant feasts during the holidays need not be perceived as sinfully decadent. Take it in. Soak it up. Give generously without a grudging heart. Let all of the holiday excess wash over you as a reminder of the overwhelming outpouring of love and grace lavished on the world by a loving God who sent his son that first Christmas morning. Let the good news of great joy for all the people fill your heart with the sweet assurance of knowing how much you are loved. Share the love. Give a gift.

*Do you have great gift ideas or family traditions? Please share your thoughts about generosity and gift giving in the comments. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

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Inspired by Joy

Photo by Emily J. Davis

Photo by Emily J. Davis

As editor of Edina Magazine, I often get to meet interesting and inspiring people. One such person is Elvi Bankey, who has been collecting antique Christmas ornaments for nearly 30 years. She agreed to an interview and also agreed to set up most of her holiday display over two months in advance of Christmas so that we could photograph her collection for the magazine. I’m not sure I would have been so accommodating, especially when it comes to all the work involved in decorating for for the holidays.

I learned lots from Elvi about the history of various Christmas ornaments, AND what it looks like to live with a true Christmas spirit. Elvi loves Christmas. She embraces decorating for the season with joy; unlike me, who tends to groan at the mention of dragging out boxes of ornaments and manger scenes. Read about Elvi’s antique ornament collection here and then maybe join me in a pledge–I promise to try to see the holiday season through Elvi’s eyes–joyful, appreciative, loving and expectant. Thank you Elvi. You are an inspiration!

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Trying Not to Freak Out Over My Baby Growing Up

Once, when our firstborn was an infant–just weeks old and snuggled into a forest green velour sleeper embellished with red and white Christmas decals–he was asleep in my brother-in-law’s arms. My brother-in-law, whose eldest children were teenagers at the time, stared into my tiny child’s face and said, “I can’t remember my son being this small.” I was horrified.

After 32 weeks of a tumultuous pregnancy involving two extended hospital stays, weeks of bed rest and near constant fetal monitoring until the forces of maternal nature could no longer be blunted, there was a disquieting birth. And my tiny child was whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit where he stayed until his little baby body got into the habit of regular breathing.

IMG_2511I cherished every second spent holding my newborn child, my gift and blessing, so fragile yet resilient, my joy. I could not fathom how any parent could forget. So whenever our baby would wake in the night, I’d rock him in the dark and sing to him–old hymns or Stevie Nicks songs–anything I knew by heart. And I would close my eyes and resolve to commit each moment to memory. I never wanted to forget.

Yet, like the lyrics to After the Glitter Fades, only bits and pieces of my son’s infancy seem to remain a part of my brain’s permanent record. Like my brother-in-law, I gaze upon our now 15-year-old son and can hardly recall him once being so tiny.

I have made every effort to be the best mother I can be. I am not perfect. None of us are.

Older women would tell me how it all goes so fast. But when our kids were in diapers and didn’t always sleep through the night or allow me five seconds alone in the bathroom, I would wonder, “WHEN is it going to go faster?!”

DSC00428_0070And then, after years of wooden trains and Legos, superhero costumes and storybooks, I stepped through a time warp. Now I have to reach up to hug my son, who was once a 5 lb. completely dependent baby boy. I’ve tried so hard to hold on and not forget, that now I have no idea how to begin letting go.

DSCN1565Other mothers tell of how they cried on their child’s first day of kindergarten. I didn’t shed a single tear that day. I was relieved whenever our son showed signs of being able to navigate the world on his own. Milestone after milestone always brought a sigh of relief; we were doing something right. The kid was going to be okay. But wait…

He is now a freshman in high school and we (probably) only have four years left before he launches into the world for more than just a day. So I promised myself I’d speak affirmation to him every single day until he leaves for college. But then, he aggravated me, like all teenagers often do to their mothers. I don’t remember what he did, probably left wet laundry in the washing machine, something trivial but maddening, and I went all loose canon bitchy mom in need of wine or hormone injections. I’d blown my affirmation pledge after a single day. And unlike when he was tiny, I don’t have much time left to make everything right. It’s all going so damned fast!

And now, those tears I didn’t shed when he was a kindergartner come regularly. I cry whenever I consider the mistakes I may have made as a parent. And I well up as I struggle over how to best parent a man-boy who wants to travel across the country on a summer mission trip but can’t find his socks. Is he going to be okay? Am I going to be okay?

I remember being pregnant and frustrated that my pregnancy wasn’t going smoothly. I asked my doctor, “WHEN will I stop worrying and enjoy this?”

She told me the awful truth, that I would never stop worrying but that there also would be joy. Admittedly, I worry less. I’ve gone from checking on an infant every five minutes to make sure he’s breathing to trying to envision a future with grown children. I remind myself to breathe. There is definitely joy. So much joy. And yet, I haven’t been this emotional since giving birth. Just like no one can describe the crazy mix of emotions involved in becoming a new parent, no one could have prepared me for what I’m feeling at this stage of life. It once seemed so far off, and now here I am with growing boys ever closer to being grown up. I hope to remember most of it.

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