13 Awesome things about being an Empty Nester.

It’s been 6 months now since Chad and I joined the Empty Nest club. While we sometimes feel sad and miss having the kids close by, there are definitely some perks too!

1– Don’t feel like cooking? No problem! We can have cereal, sandwiches, or even dessert for dinner without feeling like a bad parent.

2– My schedule is soooo much more open now. No more booster meetings, parent teacher conferences, football games, choir concerts or chaperoning. My evenings belong to me again.

3– Never walking in to find a new roll of toilet paper on top of an empty one. The toilet paper always gets replaced!

4– No more chauffeur duty. I actually enjoy driving again.

5– Things are always where I left them. No more hunting around for borrowed shoes, gloves, or phone chargers!

6– No one eats things I needed for a recipe.

7– The remote controls never get lost.

8– Eating out is a LOT cheaper!

9– My car is always clean. There are no empty water bottles, trash or clothing left behind in the back seat.

10– I never have to wait for someone to remove their day old clothes from the washer/dryer.

11– I need a lot fewer groceries so I can splurge for the good stuff.

12– The house is always clean!!

And my favorite:

13– I feel like a newlywed again. We can be spontaneous and romantic. Every night can be a date night! In the summer we skipped dinner to go to the beach, in the fall we dropped everything to take a color tour road trip up the coast. We choose how to spend our evenings and weekends based solely on what we feel like doing that day. I can’t wait to see what adventures winter will hold.

Grief is not convenient

I knew my first holiday season without my mom would be emotional. Especially Thanksgiving as that was my favorite holiday to spend with my side of the family. Sometimes her birthday fell on that day too, as it did this year. We usually hosted the meal. We’d play games, watch some football, enjoy a great meal that my husband and oldest daughter took great pride in making. The house was warm, cozy and full of the sounds of laughter. I thought by acknowledging it ahead of time then maybe it wouldn’t hit me so hard on that actual day. I was wrong.

My mom popped up in my dreams every night of the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Never in a meaningful, make sense kind of way. Once she was in the background playing a flute (which she did not know how to play here on Earth!). She was also in a crazy dream in an amusement park riding on a carousel with my adult son. Other times she was just silently there, inserted into a scene without speaking. But I felt her there. Looking back, I think that she was telling me, in her very Kathy Williams way, “I’m here and I’m not gonna let you forget it!”

I spoke to my sisters and my niece the day before Thanksgiving, we all talked about mom and how hard this would be without her. We talked about my stepdad and how he is coping. I thought I had a handle on things. Then that evening out of nowhere the emotions came flooding in. (I am sitting here now with tears running down my cheeks and I can’t explain why.) I went into my bedroom to try to get a grip on it but I couldn’t stop the tears. And of course, that is the moment my daughter and son in law arrived. Having driven across the state to be with us for the holiday she walks in to find her mom crying. I really WAS so happy to see her, I just couldn’t express it the time. I stepped into the bathroom, cried hard into a towel for a couple minutes, took a couple of deep breaths and went to let my daughter know how happy I was to see them.

This was an emotional holiday for others reasons for me as well. Our son couldn’t make it. It was our first major holiday without him. As a firefighter/EMT I know more often than not he will be working on the holidays and I am going to have to get used to it. But I still missed having him home. And I was thinking about my friend Becky’s family and how hard this day must be for them. Their first big holiday without their mom/wife/sister/daughter. I thought about reaching out to them, but I didn’t think I could find the words.

On Thanksgiving day, before the football and food started, I wanted to walk down to the lake. It is where I go when I just need to breathe and center myself. My husband went with me and we didn’t talk much. The water was incredibly calm that day. It was just what I needed. I talked to my stepdad when I got back and he let me know he was ok. Sad, but ok. I’m not sure if hearing his voice helped or hurt more, but I’m glad we spoke.

That afternoon we watched the Lions lose and enjoyed a delicious meal. We laughed and played a game. I enjoyed our small gathering. I really do have a lot to be thankful for. My daughter and son in law stayed until Saturday and we had a really good visit. There was a lot of talk about Griffin’s arrival and how much their lives will change when they become parents. I can’t wait to be a grandma and hold that precious little baby. Life moves on whether we are ready for it or not.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to check on me. I appreciate your warm thoughts and comforting words. Most of you are WAY better than I am about finding the right words! I know I am not the only one dealing with loss or other problems this holiday season. We will get through this season together. We will handle the tears that come at random times and hold our loved ones a little tighter. When it seems overwhelming I urge you to find a place where you can find your center. Somewhere you can just breathe in and out and find some inner peace. If you don’t have one, you can borrow mine.

Grandma time!

Our daughter and son in law are having a baby boy! The baby is due at the end of March, which will be here before we know it!

I’ve had some to let this sink in, but it still doesn’t seem real to me. Grandmas are OLD. They wear polyester clothes, perm their hair and wear too much perfume. They carry big pocketbooks that are filled with kleenex, gum and lipstick. That’s not ME!

Then I think back and realize that my grandma’s weren’t that much older than me when I was born. They were just grandmas in the 70s, a time when Polaroid cameras, brown and orange clothes and heavy make up was fashionable. Looking back on our photo albums everyone looked older and made bad wardrobe decisions!

My generation of Grandmas are different. We grew up listening to the music of Michael Jackson, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Prince and Queen. We saw women go to space! We worked to equally support our families. We raised our kids to know it was perfectly fine for girls to play with footballs and nerf guns and boys to play with kitchen stuff. We tried to break stereotypes and increase acceptance. We are the first generation of parents that had home computers and had to navigate the added complications of parenting with them.

So it’s only natural that grandmas my age are going to be more tech savvy! Plus we have something that no other generation had. SOCIAL MEDIA! We are the women who joined Facebook when it started 10 years ago and have watched each others kids grow up. And now we are doing the same thing with our grandkids.

My grandbaby will be 4 hours away which is going to be hard. But I know we will see each other as often as possible and I know I will get lots of pictures and videos from my daughter. (I mean I get at least a dozen puppy pictures every week and those are her pets!)

And as soon as our grandson is old enough he is going to come stay with us for 2 weeks every summer. I’m already excited about that. We will go swimming, hiking, fishing, explore lighthouses, bake cookies and take a lot of silly pictures. We will listen to music and read books and go on road trips. I can’t wait to be called “Gram”!

I’m going to be a blue jean wearing, top down, music up kind of Grandma. There will be no polyester in sight. But I probably will have gum and kleenex!

Moving Forward

This past weekend my girlfriends and I got together in Gladwin for a girls weekend.  We couldn’t have asked for better fall weather.  My friend’s mom has a cabin on 20 acres that she let us use. Nothing but beautiful golden trees in sight. The colors were popping, the sun was shining and the temps in the upper 50s/low 60s the whole weekend.  It was so nice on Sunday that I put the top down for the drive home (though I did have the heat on too!).

There were 10 of us in this group of friends, but we lost Becky in July (during our last girls weekend).  Half of us have been friends since middle school/high school and the other half we picked up along the way and adopted into our group.  We get together throughout the year as we can for movies, vacations, dinner.  Some of us live closer than others, some work full time and so it just depends on who is available.  We all know we are welcome though.

Last weekend 5 out of the 9 of us were able to go.  On Friday we met up at a cider mill that had a hard apple cider tasting room. A new experience for all of us. Then we headed to the cabin, had a nice dinner and relaxed that evening. There was reading, crocheting and we even watched a movie. Something we NEVER do on a girls weekend. We stayed up late into the night talking about Becky and more serious things. Saturday we went to Dow Gardens & Whiting Forest and it was gorgeous. (I’ll make a separate post about that place soon.)  We went to dinner, sat around a bonfire for awhile and had another quiet evening at the cabin, again staying up late to talk.

It was a big change from our usual weekends where we stay up late giggling, drinking and taking silly pictures.  We typically do or say things that we tease each other about for the next year! Things we aren’t allowed to talk about with anyone else. Last weekend was much quieter. It wasn’t something we talked about or planned, no one said ” I don’t feel like playing a game” or ” I don’t want to get drunk and silly”.  It’s like we all felt the same way inside and didn’t even have to express it to each other.  I think we all just needed a weekend with each other to help heal us, not a wild and crazy kinda one.

I know we will get back to our more typical weekends.  We will be silly again and talk about Becky and laugh at her antics instead of tear up. We will smile at her memory and make new memories of our own. The cloud will lift naturally, it will just take time.  I came home last weekend feeling relaxed and grateful for my friendships. Maybe it wasn’t what I had expected but I think it was exactly what I needed.

The Tasting Room

The road to the cabin

Autumn in Michigan

My blog has been around for 3 seasons now. You have seen my pictures of beautiful blue ice on the bay and the craziness of Perchville, a mid winter Tawas Bay tradition. You have read my posts about springtime and the joy of seeing my garden start to bloom.  And there were a LOT of posts and pictures of summer time here in Northern Michigan.  Those are all great seasons and there are things I love about ALL of them. But there is nothing like fall in Michigan!

This is the time of year our state shines.  The 7 weeks from the middle of September thru Halloween have always had a special place in my heart.  Football games, cider mills, pumpkin painting, fall color tours, bonfires, warm days and cool nights.  What’s not to love?  These are some of MY favorite things:

Fall Camping

I have been camping in Petoskey in October on a couples trip. Our campsite was absolutely gorgeous surrounded by trees full of orange and yellow leaves. We did the famous Tunnel of Trees drive, sat around a bonfire, did some stargazing. I’ve also camped with the whole family this time of year.  For those trips we found campgrounds that had Halloween activities and made our reservations early. Tawas Point State Park just did one this past weekend. Hayrides, pumpkin painting, lawn games, a dance, trick or treating.  My kids have many memories of those weekends.  Whether you want a romantic weekend away or a family friendly weekend, give camping a try.  If you don’t have an RV you can find a campground with cabin rentals.    Michigan CampgroundsMichigan State Park Campgrounds

Cider Mills

Who doesn’t love a warm cinnamon sugar donut that melts in your mouth and some apple cider to wash it down?  You can also go on a hayride to pick your own apples or pumpkins, find your way through a corn maze, pet some farm animals  and browse homemade arts and crafts.  There are a LOT of options at cider mills these days!  Check out this link and see which one best fits your needs. Michigan Cider Mills

Fall Colors Road trips

It’s tricky to time your road trip just right to see the leaves at peak color.  I’m going to post a map below (ignore the dates).  You can use this map to see the general zones, each zone being about a week apart.  The predicted peak dates are always dependent on weather.  Cooler weather makes the leaves change faster, warmer weather makes the color take a little longer to peak and one bad wind storm can take away all the leaves overnight.  Keep an eye on the latest forecasts and color reports and go from there.  If you are making reservations ahead of time and need a best guess I would say you are going to see some fall color for sure the 2nd/3rd weekends of October in the upper peninsula and northern lower peninsula and then the 3rd/4th weekends for the bottom half of the lower peninsula.

I’ve already mentioned the Tunnel of Trees in the Northwest part of the lower peninsula.  Another pretty route is the River Road Scenic Byway in Oscoda.  I did a whole blog post about that road if you look back in my archives.  There are MANY beautiful places to kayak, picnic or simply admire the view.  A new one for me this year was in the Northeast part of the lower peninsula. US 23 from Au Gres up to Mackinaw City. That one will take a  3 hours around with no stops.  But you are going to want to stop! There are 5 lighthouses, many waterfront roadside parks and several state parks along the way.  If you leave the Au Gres/East Tawas/Oscoda area by 9am you should be able to stop and visit some of these places along the way, find a nice place for lunch and still make it to Mackinaw City for sunset by the bridge.  I suggest eating dinner after sunset in St. Ignace so you can enjoy the lights on the Mackinac Bridge on your way back over.

Here are some other popular road trips Michigan Fall Color Drives

 

 

Honorable mentions

Other favorite fall activities for my family include Friday night football games when our kids were in marching band, Cedar Point’s Halloweekends, haunted houses, watching the Lions win or lose on Sundays and of course, passing out candy to trick or treaters!

I know many of my readers live in Michigan and share in my love for this time of year.  For those of you that aren’t as lucky, I highly suggest a visit during this magical time.  If you need help with planning just let me know, I’d be happy to help.

One Pot Creamy Pasta

Sometimes you come home after a long day and want some comfort food but don’t have the energy to tackle a big meal and clean up.  Well, THIS is the meal for you.  It’s creamy, simple and delicious.  And you don’t have to go to 3 stores to find the ingredients which is always a bonus!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound angel hair pasta
  • 3 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth (tip-just go with the 3 cans instead of trying to do the math with a bigger carton!}
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream (NOT to be confused with cool whip/whipped cream!)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • Parsley

Instructions

1- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large pot over medium heat.  Add minced garlic as soon as butter is melted and cook for 1 minute, drop the heat if necessary so it doesn’t burn.

2- Add the chicken stock to the pot.  Once it comes to a boil add the pasta.

3- Cook the pasta, stirring frequently until done.  It won’t take long, maybe 5 or 6 minutes.  Most of the broth will be evaporated.

4- Turn off heat, add the remaining butter, heavy cream and cheese.  Toss until well blended.  I use tongs for this part.

5- Serve immediately, top with parsley and additional cheese if desired.

That’s it. I told you it is easy. Enjoy !!

Does Life Have to Be a Competition?

Sometimes it feels like our whole lives are a big competition.  It starts when you are a kid and your parents compare your grades to those of your siblings. In elementary school when you are faced with spelling bees, picking teams for kickball and who’s artwork is picked to be on display in the hall.  In middle school and high school when you start competing for choir or chair placement, sports teams and school plays. Scholarships and college placements.

We grow up feeling like we HAVE to compete with those around us.  That is how our society is built.  Don’t get me wrong, a little healthy competition is a good thing.  It pushes us to do a better and challenge ourselves.  But it is SO EASY to get completely wrapped up in it and not even realize it.

My family is a competitive family.  We love board games.  When our kids were little we taught them to shake hands at the end and say “good game”.  We tried to teach them to be a good sport and realize the value of winning and losing. I see kids go down the line after a baseball/hockey game and shake hands or high five their opponents.  Do they even realize WHY they do it or how important it is? If I could go back in time I would make sure I was having those conversations with our kids because I don’t remember if we ever did.  Later on when they were in choir, band, and theater we talked about how they aren’t always going to get the role they wanted or be first chair.  How it was important to be happy for those that earned those spots and try again next time.  That isn’t easy for ANYONE to do.

When I was in my 20’s/30’s it seemed EVERYTHING was a competition!  When you have little kids EVERY conversation seems to go back to “is she sleeping through the night/off the bottle/talking yet?”  Why didn’t we talk more about how we were feeling or the struggles of young motherhood?  Motherhood is not a competition and I promise you by the time the kids are in high school NO ONE is going to care how old they were when they started using the toilet!

I was only 25 when my oldest daughter started preschool.  I remember standing in the hallway waiting for class to be over so I could sign her out.  The other moms were older than me, had nicer clothes, better cars and seemed so put together. Here I was a stay at home mom with her hair in a ponytail, no make up, my younger daughter in a stroller next to me, feeling like I had to clarify that I CHOSE this life. No one talked to me and I felt so beneath them.  It wasn’t until my youngest son started preschool that I realized I had been wrong. I was 32 by then and had a nice house, a new car, pretty clothes and was standing in the hallway waiting for him to get out of class with the other moms.  Most of the other moms were around my age and many of us knew each other from our older kids.  But there was a young mom too.  She stood off to the side and didn’t interact with anyone.  I noticed she drove an older car and didn’t take much care with her appearance.  It clicked with me at that moment that she may feel like I had all those years ago.  Looking at it from a new perspective I realized that those other moms had never MADE me feel that way.  They were never rude or looked down on me.  I was the one who doubted my own self worth.  I never went up to them and joined a conversation.  I stood off to the side feeling inferior and blaming them for it.  Why didn’t I see that sooner?  I made sure I started conversations with the younger mom and smiled, nodded and made polite conversation when we ran into each other around town for the next decade.

When I was in my 30’s our business peaked and we were living the good life.  Huge house and acreage, boat, RV, nice vacations.  I had everything I had ever dreamed of and yet I STILL didn’t feel good enough sometimes.  I was still jealous of some of the other women. Their nails were better, they took fancier vacations, they had bigger cars.  It wasn’t until we lost it all in the recession that I realized just how good we had it, and how lucky I was.  Why is it so hard to appreciate all that we have until we lose it?  Why can’t we see that we don’t HAVE to compete with the neighbors, the other moms, our coworkers until after the fact?

My 40’s have brought me more clarity.  Part of it is having the kids get older and starting their own adult lives. That means I have to start doing MY own thing too. Part of it is going through the downsizing process and knowing how very few material things we really NEED.  Spending all those months packing, sorting and donating things that don’t really matter in our day to day lives. Simplifying our lives.  I know a big part of it is spending all that time with my mom over the last few months of her life.  Nothing really shows you what really matters until none of it matters.

My life now is a lot simpler than it used to be.  We live in a small space and I love it. I am no longer worried about friends that have bigger houses or newer cars.  I don’t care if someone can sing a song better than me at karaoke, can walk further or faster than I can, take better pictures.  I am learning to accept and appreciate myself and my own talents.  I can be genuinely happy when good things happen to those around me and not feel like that means I am lacking in some way.  That doesn’t mean I never feel jealous or less than.  It just means I am learning how to deal with those feelings in a more productive way. I don’t let them linger.  *Gratitude*Patience*Service*Kindness*

My flower garden really brings it all home.  I had some flowers that bloomed right away and then faded.  I had some that were steady all summer long.  And I had late bloomers that I didn’t even thing were going to make it that outlasted all the other flowers and are still going strong.  The flowers aren’t competing with each other. They aren’t comparing which has more petals or attracts more butterflies. They accept who they are and do their own thing.  And that makes them all beautiful in their own way.