A la francaise

Today concludes my staycation. I’ve been off from work for ten days. I didn’t do much but create space. I’ve been reading voraciosly on this lately. It worked wonders. I’ve always been focused on what’s next. The last week was different.

I left B in daycare and stole the days for myself. I decluttered the house. I made a few nice meals. I went on dates with girlfriends for coffee, breakfast, lunch. Friday, Erin and I took Brynn and Isa to the zoo with Erin’s cousins. Later we ate a lovely late night meal at 112 Eatery. (Buttery sea scallops, fresh cucumber orange salad, done to perfection short ribs, and silky chocolate torte. Al fresco, to boot.) 😉

Another thing the week allowed me was to reconnect with what’s important to me outside of work. My Jerry Maguire moment. I’ve been very focused on proving myself up to now. But suddenly job, child, city, are in place. I’m not searching to climb the ladder or make a change. The grass doesn’t truly feel greener elsewhere. For this reason the break felt like a breakthrough. I spent lazy days letting float to the surface buried memories like trips abroad, trysts, and what’s made me happy over the years. (When “responsibilities” haven’t overpowered my life.) And I’ve discovered that reminiscing about my trip to Paris, eating lunch at Barbette’s, and reading Bringing up Bebe have me on a kick a la francaise.

So, what is next? I don’t know yet but I feel I’ve got a fresh start. And I’m enjoying rethinking the seemingly inevitable options. With fresh eyes I see the next phase of my life as a blank canvas. This year, thirty five has felt oddly symmetrical. Like a crest.

But for today, I’m back to work tomorrow luckily to something I love. Thanks for reading along, and for indulging my whims and caprices.



Coffee Shop + Vacation Vibes

I’m on vacation this week from work. It’s a staycation. My very first stop at the chance for time to myself is a coffee shop for time to do this. I want to journal/write this week. Arriving at Spyhouse was quite the to-do as it took me half hour to decide which Uptown coffee shop to settle into for a couple hours. I literally stalked three places all within a half mile of each other for at least 30 minutes weighing the pros and cons of table size, access to open air, hipster vibes – you know, everything that sets the mood. I’m not surprised I landed here. There’s something about us coffee-shop rats and the way we like to spend an afternoon. (Here’s to my original coffee shop love, Racy’s. And all the other favorites that followed.)

This week I’m hoping to really create space as Neil Pasricha succinctly puts it and let some ideas bubble to the surface. A sort of New Year’s resoultion exercise to reexamine priorities, have some real quiet time to think and just be. I need to refocus my energy at home and work. Fittingly, this time of year also marks my work anniversary so it is a good time to reflect. I’m thinking a lot about what I’ve learned the last year and how to use that going forward including next areas of growth and personal development.

We had a great weekend up north with Gordy and Lin, Karen, Gary and the boys. Those boys are so sweet. Gaius is getting tall and is such a sweetheart and with those blue eyes and his coordination and energy. And Keegan with his adorable zippy run and the way he looks up at you like, “Come on, Aunt Mary!” It’s fun to watch Brynn and the kids play together. She was really hard for me to handle this weekend though. She was very wound up with all the excitement of grandparents, cousins, Odie, camping, and the break from our routine.  She did totally brave a canoe ride and hiked a total of one mile with us to and from Kawishiwi Falls. (Super close to our campground east of Ely – Fall Lake which I would highly recommend for a family weekend in the woods.) But she cried and yelled a lot throughout the weekend and did not listen or take any instruction. I’m seriously worried she’s not obeying grown-ups and actually thinks she’s the boss. (Okay, is that just classic toddler?!) I don’t know exactly what to do but I’m hoping this week of no distractions of work and other things will help me get some shit together on the home front, particularly on meals and intentional activities and time with her.

Justin heads to Chicago this afternoon for a quick overnight. Erin and Isa came over today to say hi.( I love having them in town so much.) Then I went for a walk with my Aunt Susan and now here. I’m looking forward to a week with lots more of all this: spending time with people I love but don’t get to see often enough, exercise and being outside, time writing and reflecting just for me, and quality time with Brynn and Justin.

Professional/personal development stuff I’m thinking about: CFRE, Bush Fellowships, communications/leadership/nonprofit management school, community impact, blogging, yoga, books, buying a house, place. You get the drift. Geez, I’ve got it good!

That’s it on this subject for now.




YWCA Minneapolis

YWCA Minneapolis.

I started working here one year ago August 31st. I knew when I took the job  it was on the mark for who I am and what I care about. But I’ve been surprised at just how great an organization it is and the true impact it’s making on our community. Particularly for women’s health, racial justice, and the empowerment of women, kids and families.

Personally, it has been so good for my physical and mental health. YWCA is a fitness center. A health club with tons of offerings in classes, equipment, training opportunities… plus these triathlons, specialized athletic events. As an employee I think about my long-term happiness, and then the simple benefit of access to classes and a fitness sensibility. At 35, I feel I couldn’t be luckier to have landed in an org where health and wellness is the culture! Wouldn’t we all want our work places to encourage, fully support and actually even require us to take good care of ourselves as a part of our work?

It’s also having a big impact on my own awareness of my identity, and the way that shapes my reality. My first day I went through an awesome training as part of new hire orientation about the era and cultures we grew up in and how that impacts the lens through which we see the world. Our racial justice department leads these trainings internally for staff, but primarily externally for organizations throughout the community. They are so eye-opening and precisely illuminate privilege dynamics. I wish everyone had the chance to attend one of them and to educate themselves on this subject.

One could write novels on our ECE centers and extensive after school programming for Girls & Youth. Like swim lessons for kids of color, climbing walls and collaborations with MacPhail, girls getting the chance to explore STEM subjects and learn how to make financial investments.  All of these areas are so important to the future of our citizenry, communities and world.

But, what I’ve been working on lately is the Women’s Tri! It’s tomorrow morning at Lake Nokomis. (In fact, event support starts arriving at 3:30 am!) It’s the largest women’s triathlon in the region. This year, we’ve got triathletes ages 11 – late 70s, I think? It’s also the triathlon with the most women over 50. It’s mission is to celebrate the strength in all women.

To get ready for it, today we spent the day at Nokomis setting up a zillion tents and hauling all sorts of supplies and equipment. We’ve got these amazing volunteers who make it all possible, and who, for their own unique reasons, want to be involved and part of the event’s community. This includes many fabulous women and men who often get connected through the Twin Cities’ cycling, running or swimming worlds. Our volunteer leads also deserve special mention. They commit these huge chunks of their time (and summer!) to executing the event, which draws 1,200 triathletes and approximately 5,000 spectators. Why do they do it? Because they care. Because it enriches their lives.

My role in volunteer coordination fuels me. It is simple exchange of support, hard work, and the desire to make an impact. But at it’s heart it is community building. (And the chance to wear a YW orange tee!) I so enjoy meeting all the people who get involved, and the simple camaraderie and chance that’s drawn us together. In the case of the tri, it’s an event that brings enjoyment and a profound sense of accomplishment to hundreds of people. It’s one of those real, tangible community experiences that makes Minneapolis what it is. (And hopefully, makes life good here for as many people as possible.)

My main job at YWCA is fundraising, and it’s truly got to be one of the best jobs in the world. For the Women’s Tri, I’ve gotten to work with a special group of fundraisers; twenty-six triathletes signed up to do peer-to-peer fundraising for us throughout their training and tri journeys. It has been so incredibly rewarding to get to know their individual stories and motivations for competing. We’ve got first timers to veteran athletes. We’ve got a sister-sister duo who has set a goal of raising $2,500 together. We’ve got a mother-daughter team who also has a third generation family member in our ECE program. We’ve got a grandmother competing with her granddaughter. We’ve got this and so many more. They’ll all be at the finish line tomorrow for a team photo and in matching jerseys made especially for them. They’ve raise over $22,000 so far for YWCA Minneapolis programs. The best part of the job is getting to see all the comments and words of encouragement from their friends and family as they make donations in their support. To quote them, team, “You’ve got this!!”

A budding goal of the tri  is to attract more women of color to the race to compete. I’m really excited about this and look forward to seeing this grow. With the help of our racial justice department, we could examine in depth why it is historically a white sport and get creative on how to intentionally attract and be inclusive of women of color. This would further the event’s mission to celebrate the strength of ALL women.

I’m wiped right now, sitting at my computer, after today and all the work going into the event! But I’m plain excited for tomorrow – to watch these athletes stride towards their goals. I’ve even been bitten by the bug now myself thanks to the YW. I did my first triathlon this spring which led to my first 10K trail run this summer. I can say first hand that it is so worthwhile to set a fitness goal like that. It keeps you exercising in your life, which in turn has so many benefits. It’s also just so empowering to feel your own strength, determination and GRIT get you across that finish line. You finish to huge smiles, lots of water, and the welcoming hugs and congrats of those cheering for you.

(Another bonus about tomorrow?  Lake Nokomis. Blue waters, green grass, hot sunshine. And all sorts of Minneapolitans doing their thing: walking dogs, pushing strollers, swimming on the beach. A great place to spend the day.)

Coming up on that work anniversary, I look back at a year that has stretched me, taught me so much, inspired me, exhausted me… and rewarded me. I am in a lucky place in life. My passions and work align. It’s taken a lot of personal and professional exploration. It’s had its ups and downs. But, it’s been a worthwhile adventure. I wish this for everyone, to find that thing that clicks, and the chance to spend your days doing it. I’m glad to be part of this community!


Saturday, July 23, 2016

It’s overcast with a chance of storms and rain this morning when we wake up. Justin brews coffee and I head to the fridge: gasp! We’re out of milk and cream. Eventually we realize we WILL continue to function. We spend the morning in jammies doing chores and drinking coffee, black. Turns out to be one of those tiny moments that reminds you, “Hey, I can shake it up. I can have new experiences.”

I miss the chance to get out for a walk before it rains. I wanted to take Brynn to the library and the park. (She needs some new books and to burn off some energy! It’s been hot all week – like 90s and low 100s. She’s been cooped up at school because of the heat index.) So instead we truck to Target (at the Quarry) for groceries and birthday gifts: one for Ellie who turned three, and the other for Owen, due next week. Brynn says, “We go to the store, mommy?” and is a trooper the whole trip. She quite respectfully puts shampoos, lotions, and toys, in and out of our shopping cart like a serious shopper.

Home, Brynn naps. About an hour later, we open her bedroom door a crack which is our sneak move to subtly  wake her up. It’s time to head to Plymouth to the Holmay’s. It’s Ellie’s birthday party. They rented a huge inflatable water slide for the the kids and set it up in the backyard. It’s drizzling or raining hard most of the party. Then clouds part around 6:00. Grown ups sit in the garage and under a tent over the driveway; kids ride the slide and play in kiddie pools in the rain. A few parents  stand on the sidelines under umbrellas, trying to balance cold beverages and paper plates topped with brats and hot dogs. There are about 15 kids running around at any given time. Stemigs and Liz and Matt are here.

The Holmays have three kids, each of whom is so sweet.  They routinely do these fun, big parties that’ve included a bouncy house, live ponies, and – rumor has it – even a clutch of cuddly bunnies that I guess were jumping in and out of people’s laps and hopping all around. Day care families, soccer teammates, college friends, relatives, neighbors–we’re all invited. That chance for kids in summer to let loose, and for grown-ups to hang out (and drink beer!)

Now it’s evening, we’re home, and I just put Brynn to bed. I’m either going to 1.) read a book from the deck (or bed…) or 2.) watch a movie. I’m reading “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley. And just finished “The Happiness Equation” by Neil Pasricha. I also just started following Nora McInerny Purmort. These are what I’m thinking about!!

Ok, the funniest thing just happened. Another Brynn first. I stepped away from the computer to double check the title of my book. I passed the kitchen and a little critter caught my eye. (Almost gave me a damn heart attack , really.) It was Brynn, crouched on the floor. She was spying on me. About a week ago we moved her into her big kid bed. It was her first time sneaking out. When I locked eyes with her she started to grin like, “Oh, busted! Is this ok, mom?!”


Brynn, watching for cupcakes
Ellie and slide
Sweet Ellie, birthday girl!
kids and grown ups
Kiddie pool scene
Watering can
Watering can shenanigans

Love to the Johnsons (& Orlando)

Sunday afternoon journal-ing habit in full swing! We had a fabulous (sunny, muggy, then wet) overnight three miles south of Harmony, MN for the second annual Johnson Family Chistmas in June. Aka, our family reunion. Harmony is smack dab in the center of farm country. We slept beside a pasture of mooing cows. “Moo’s by moonlight,” I’ll call it.

Sadly, the weekend was dampened on the drive home with the news of the tragic  events in Orlando. Most deadly mass shooting in history in the U.S. with fifty individuals killed. It took place at an LGBTQ nightclub. Perpetrator 29 years old. Motive not all clear, although it is known the shooter had expressed strong hate for LGBTQ community. He used an assault rifle of some kind which is apparently becoming known as “gun of choice” for this violence. (See Denver Post – Of 79 mass shootings in the US since ’82, 63 done with guns purchased legally.) It’s being named a hate crime and domestic act of terror. As a citizen and mom, I am horrified we as a country are allowing this sort of violence to take place and escalate. My heart breaks for our country and world. It is especially broken for my  LGBTQ friends and loved ones and how this makes them feel. I keep thinking about the mind-body workshop I took this week and Matthew Sanford’s comments about submission, nonviolent resistance and Gandhi, and related yogic teachings.

That aside… camping on the farm was so much fun. We left Minneapolis Saturday morning at 8:30. The car was fully loaded with sleeping bags, thermarests, a pack-n-play, swimsuits, beach towels, lawn games, summer clothes, our cooler. We were on hashbrown casserole duty along with veggies and dip.

The drive was to Rochester and then 52 to Harmony where you head south on 139. Their driveway is actually one or two driveways south of the Iowa border. The terrain is lovely down there with rolling farm fields and tree groves for ample patches of shade. Wally inherited the farm from his family about ten years ago. They’ve slowly been renovating a garage into a home/cabin.

There’s a big, old, red cattle barn on the south end of the property that we took over for meals and movies. It smelled damp and earthy like a barn. It felt like a scene in a movie or like we should rent that place out for a shabby chic wedding. In the basement of the barn we set up food buffets. Out the rear door we laid out five or six eight foot tables end to end for long, family style dinner table. Barn swallows were swooping in and out this morning as we sat on the patio watching it rain.

The upper level of the barn is filled with old tables, chairs and all sorts of old farm equipment and supplies. It was dark and cozy up there. This morning, the kids nestled into chairs and under blankets up there watching movies, protected from the rain.

Brynn was in heaven and totally blissed out swimming and playing with her cousins, running around like crazy. It was so incredibly sunny and muggy yesterday we all melted. The kids had slip and slides and kitty pools to keep cool. Grown ups set up lawn chairs under an awning near the house. We sat in a circle around our OWN kitty pool with ice cold water from the hose piped in for soaking our feet. That, plus brewskies and bottles of water, was the perfect contrast to our sweaty sweaty skins. Picture at least 20 of us grown-ups.

The Johnsons always reminisce about how when the family got together when Justin’s generation were kids, the adults would just kick back and have fun and almost forget about the kids all together. The older cousins would keep tabs on the younger ones, and the pack of them would weave in and out of the grown-ups consciousness.  Whenever they reminisce like that you can feel their deep joy and pleasure in those memories. They’ve got a big family, five sisters and one brother, the brood of George and Lucile, who have truly raised the nicest and most well-adjusted group of people I know. I am so lucky to have married one of them.

To our dismay Sheldon’s had to “break camp” for Duluth around 8:00 pm because poor Gaius was sick. We still don’t know exactly what’s got him. They arrived back home at 1:00 am after the long night drive.

Other highlights: Janice and Jeff rented an RV which was a blast! They also got Brynn a fun dinosaur blow-up pool for her birthday which was a hoot. Caroline and Sean’s offer was accepted on their house. Jim and Vicki are expecting – due in November. Andrea and Greg couldn’t be there but there wedding is in October in Austin, TX.

Some of many favorite moments from the weekend:

  • Brynn in her neon striped bathing suit, belly sticking out, pale white skin, and face covered in red Popsicle.
  • Justin, 2:30 in the morning, shirtless, putting up the rain fly on our new, red, four-man coleman tent in the dark. I go out to join him, jumpy because of the lightening and my constant fear of summer storms. Snuggling once we’re back safely in the tent and realize the rain fly was on- right.
  • In the tent laying on my sleeping bag around 10:30. It’s before I fall asleep. It’s hot. I’m looking up at the night sky through the tent screen. The moon is a crescent. It is sparkling. The stars appear. Trees sway, insects buzz, I can hear the family laughing in the distance. Brynn and Justin are sleeping next to me. Realizing it’s us moving, not the moon. I watch it cross the sky.
  • Just before bed, traipsing between the tent and the car. From a distance, I watch as they release lanterns into the sky. They glow and float above the farm, into the night.



No picture this time. Just an open window beside my desk. Listening to the wind in the trees. It’s been a strange week. Got some of the best news in the world about my sister, but know many folks on hard times.

My sister got engaged which is absolutely amazing. She and Kyle were on a long weekend to South Dakota where they visited the Wall Drug, the Badlands, and Mount Rushmore. Kyle took her up for a helicopter ride above the monument and popped the question. “Love is in the air,” said Meg. They had both been playing the dating game for a number of years. Each had serious relationships with other folks that didn’t work out. But they met each other a year ago. Instantly, they were a match. The match. Rachel is a psych major working for an auto shop; Kyle is an electrician turn realtor specializing in recreational properties up north. The sad part for me personally is they’ll be moving up north for Kyle’s work. But it is so exciting to see Rachel, and them together, embarking on their adventure. Life is full of surprises. They’ve been such a wonderful part of our lives, and Brynn’s.  We’ll just have to visit a lot. I can’t wait to wedding plan with her, and for the family to come together around this. I did not know just how much joy it would bring me personally. It is a wonderful thing!

Juxtaposed against that news, many shitty things are happening in the lives of my friends and family. There’s a brain tumor, a baby with collapsed lungs, a marriage ending, numbing out, dimentia, cheating, physical and emotional pain, and profound disappointment. It sucks. I don’t know exactly what to do or how to feel. Many people facing shit situations. It feels like a new, fragile frontier at 35.

Today, though, is a gorgeous June Sunday. Brynn’s napping. I’m contemplating chores. Trying to make peace with routine life. I’ve got WomenWinning’s fundraiser tomorrow, racial justice facilitator training Wednesday, volunteer lead meeting for the Women’s Tri Thursday, and then headed to Johnson Family Reunion (second annual, “Johnson Family Fun Weekend”) Saturday. Just gathered a hashbrown casserole recipe. Laying out plans to tackle the week.

Justin’s golfing. Dishwasher humming. Plans for ice cream with P.H. later this afternoon. Rachel is coming over tomorrow to celebrate. I want to pick up some wedding magazines and a gift for the bride.


These are from Brynn’s first trip to Tofte. We took her there last fall for her first time. This was at the picnic shelter at Tofte Park.

That weekend on Saturday, we visited friends with a new baby in Grand Marais. For dinner, we cozied up at the Legion for all-you-can-eat spaghetti buffet. The next morning: breakfast at Blue Water. It was fall; October. November gales were in the air. It was blustery but mild enough for outdoor living for the weekend. We camped on Honeymoon Hill at the Grand Marais Municipal Campground. It’s the same place we go on-and-off to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Now we’ve been married ten years.

Justin worked in Tofte  at Bluefin Bay for four years in the late 2000s. We lived there for two on Tofte Homestead Road. (The other two years, commuted from a combination of Two Harbors, Pike Lake, Duluth.) The Bluefin community and Cook County neighborhood were our home. It was amazing having nothing but lake, rock and woods as your surroundings. It was so easy to hear yourself think. But it was hard, too. I struggled feeling lonely and depressed. But the surroundings were exquisite and so was the way of life. I had many interesting jobs and got to know great people. I waited tables at Papa Charlie’s, served coffee at Moondance in Lutsen, and even worked in sales for the Cook County Herald for two weeks (with their signature logo, those snuggly little bears). Finally, landed at Grand Portage National Monument where I made great friends and got to experience a singular connection to Grand Portage. During that time Hat Point was my home each week; it was staff housing. There was the breeding bird survey, stream restoration, GPS mapping, Fort Charlotte, Pigeon Falls. The ferry to Isle Royale was a daily sight. (I learned to knit.)

This time of year I get so homesick for that area. Recently, we had a blessing for Brynn near Burlington Bay Beach (aka Agate Bay) in Two Harbors. It was so nice to be up there again. I’ve always wanted to write about our time on the shore.