Eighteen Years and Counting

Dear Mom,

Today marks a pivotal moment in our relationship. Eighteen years ago, my life changed forever when I held your hand for the very last time. At just 18, I had no idea what would come next. Up until that moment, I had been busy planning my senior prom, anticipating high school graduation, fighting with my loser boyfriend and dreaming about my first day of college—all with your help.

Suddenly it all seemed so insignificant. Nothing really mattered without you by my side. Looking back, I’m still unsure of how I navigated through life those first few months without you. Each time faced with a decision, I sought your advice only to be met with unanswered prayers. But somehow, despite making poor choices at best, I seemed to keep bouncing back. I kept stumbling around, constantly moving forward.

Along the way, I longed for your confidence. Nothing ever seemed to phase you in life mom. I’ll never forget when my best friend dropped her pants in front of you. Most mothers would have been aghast. You didn’t miss a beat. “Show me something I haven’t seen,” you laughed.

I miss those moments. For months now, I’ve been dreading this day. It marks a time when I’ve lived longer without you. As the years go by, my memories of us start to fade. I find myself thumbing through pages of high school journals and photo albums trying to fill in the blanks time has erased.  As I look at the pivotal milestones I’ve passed over, I’m finding myself more familiar without your presence. A new normal I guess.

I wish you were here today to see my new normal. On paper, it is pretty amazing. I’ve checked a lot of things off the list that we used to talk about growing up. I graduated from college. I followed our dream of becoming a published writer, mom. Sure, I haven’t penned the next great American novel but I’m writing and sharing my stories with people. Despite numerous heartbreaks and kissing some serious frogs, I found an amazing man who loves me for me. I’m a new mom and you’re a grandma. I have a job I love. Awesome friends. I still find time to hike in the woods, read books and garden. I didn’t inherit your talent for canning cucumbers but I can make a mean flat jack just like you.

If you scratch a little deeper, you’d find I face battles similar to you mom. I hate my weight. I refuse to settle. I live life on my terms, even if people look down at it. Complacency scares me. I help others, even if it means hurting myself. I am stubborn. At times downright mean. But that meanness is often a defense mechanism to survive. Like you mom, I’m a survivor.

Eighteen years ago my life changed forever as I watched you take your last breath. For an instant, I thought time would stop. But it kept moving. And with it, so did I. You gave me no choice but to move on without you by my side. For years I was angry. Disappointed you weren’t here to share my life and answer my questions. Angry that alcoholism broke our family until at some point I had to learn to forgive.

This past year has been a game changer partly because as a new mom I’ve discovered something. You may not be here physically, but I cannot deny you are a part of me. You’re stubborn spirit and endless desire to plow ahead even with the cards stacked against you, now defines me.

In a few weeks I’m supposed to lace up my shoes and run a half-marathon. It will be my fourth race. As always, I’m nowhere near ready. It’d be easy for me to quit. But I’m a stubborn Fin who refuses to give up. I keep training in hopes that I’ll be ready come race day. Even if it means I come in dead last. I owe that to you mom. This race is just one of countless examples of you pushing to be better—to try harder—to continue to show up and play the game on my terms, not because that’s what people expect but because it is what I want to do for me.

I still miss you mom. I still wish more than anything you were here by my side. I wish I could have one more day with you, one more conversation, even share just one more moment with you. I wish that every single day. But I have also found comfort in that every milestone, failure or achievement I experience it is a piece of you shining through and reminding me of where I came from and what really matters in life. And for that, I’ll always love you.

Your baby girl

Berry Picking, Bare Feet, and Three Strange Men in an Ambulance

Prior to an unsettling event last week that caught me completely off-guard, I had the opportunity to take advantage of yet another great past-time in my neck of the woods—berry picking.

IMG_1280The wild blueberries in Bayfield County are bountiful this summer. And, thanks to having a husband who spends most of his time driving the back roads of the county checking timber sales, he’s my perfect investigator for finding the best, secret berry hot spots around. This year was no exception.

Last year I purchased a blueberry rake from Williams Sonoma. I thought this might expedite the extraction process of the miniscule royal blue gems. FYI: It doesn’t work on wild blueberries.

I only lasted 45-minutes in the early morning sun before Baby Boy Probst informed me enough was enough. But, it was long enough to harvest enough berries to make a great batch of blueberry muffins and enjoy several breakfasts of berries and yogurt. As I packed up my car, I had every intention of returning to enjoy another harvest well before the season ended. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case.

A few days later I sat in the doctor’s office and was informed I should start taking it easy. Despite my best efforts to lie low, I was dealt another surprise last Thursday when my blood pressure shot up for reasons unbeknownst to me. Within an hour I was in my doctor’s office. She immediately had me admitted to MMC. While I was never in serious danger, there was certainly an immediacy I was not expecting. My hubby soon arrived at which time I was informed it might be go time… and that they were starting a magnesium drip in my arm and sending me via ambulance to Duluth.

Other than listening in on the Second Grade Tours I coordinate for the hospital, I’ve never spent time in or around an ambulance. I can honestly say it wasn’t on my top 10 list of things to do before I die. And, I certainly didn’t want my first transport to be one that would take 75-minutes, with three men I didn’t know, no shoes, and at a heightened hormonal state.

I silently cried much of the way to Duluth for no reason. The men, clearly experts at dealing with their own hormonal wives and/or overly emotional patients, did their best to calm my nerves. (Some medication may have helped as well). It was during this long, bumpy ride that I discovered two things—they really need to repave parts of Highway 2 and being vulnerable sucks.

There is something about riding barefoot in an ambulance with a measly hospital gown and no wallet or phone that makes you feel very vulnerable. It is even worse when your feet are swollen and less than glam. Watching too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy had me envisioning us getting caught in a hurricane and me flying out of the back of the ambulance on a gurney, only to be lost in the woods in hopes some other stranger would find me. (Never mind it was sunny, dry and 70 degrees out).

Soon, the world’s longest uneventful ambulance ride was complete. I’ll spare you the details of the next 48-hours other than to say I never went into labor. Baby Boy Probst is doing fabulous. I’m stable. And, after two nights of monitoring and tests, I was allowed to return home with the understanding that this will be over in two weeks and berry picking or any strenuous activity (including work) is out of the question.

Every mother has a birthing story that is unique. Heartbreak, hope, sheer and utter joy, pain, anxiety, stress, frustration are regular emotions one rides on the rollercoaster journey of motherhood. My story is no exception. But, I’m also finding that my story is filled with angels that show-up at the most unexpected moments, asking for nothing in return other than to help me.

I’m not overly religious. But I find comfort in the chaplain who prayed for me when our adoption failed. The calming effect doctors and nurses have on being honest and direct with me at a time I want to think the worse. The nurse who came by and without even asking, offered me her Caribou coffee, knowing the hospital coffee was gasoline at best. The co-worker who didn’t think twice about checking my blood pressure daily to ensure I was doing ok and the others who have comforted me along this entire journey. Caring friends that listen to my endless ramblings without passing judgment and always knowing what to say or do. Supportive family. My breastfeeding, birthing coach and doula who answers my endless questions. My strong and compassionate husband who rubs my back, changes litter boxes (with minimal complaining) and vacuums while I nap. My puppy Joey who follows me around offering hugs and cuddles as needed, while my kitties offer me comedy relief and cues on how to rest for endless hours daily. And somewhere up there, I know the greatest angel of all—my mother is watching over me as well and reminding me that the Sisu Fin in me is strong enough for whatever comes my way in the next few weeks. Bottom line, Baby and I are both blessed.

So, my blog posts adventures in and around Lake Superior are quickly dwindling while I prepare for a different kind of adventure. But, I’ll be back soon with new stories and adventures to share about life on Lake Superior with a little one in tow. Stay tuned…

Pickles and Moms: The two have more in common than you think

The stringent smell of boiling vinegar makes me want to gag. Growing up, it was an annual tradition in our house signaling the end of summer and the start to canning season. I loathed it. I loathed the smell, the humid stagnant kitchen air, and the realization that my carefree, responsibility free life and escapades at Pinehurst Pool with friends would soon be replaced with the constraints of returning to school.

Eight weeks later, though, my mother would finally give me the signal that it was time. I’d scurry down to the basement and grab a Bell jar off the shelf. I’d run upstairs, turn the lid, pop the seal and inhale the comforting smell of vinegar subdued by large quantities of dill. Nothing could ever replace the glorious crunch of the season’s first pickles.

My relationship with my mother was similar. On certain days I loathed her. I hated that she always seemed to know exactly what I was up to, even before I knew. I hated when she called me out on my bullshit or gave me the advice I didn’t really want to hear, but needed to hear. I hated when she said no. And, I hated that she was always right. What teenager doesn’t?

I still hate the stringent smell of vinegar but love the crunchy goodness of a fresh dill pickle. And, to this day I love that all of the things I hated so much about mom, helped shape me into the person I’m proud to be today.

I know I’m not alone as I approach this Mother’s Day, missing and wishing mom was here with me to celebrate. But, if I look hard enough, I see her all around me. In the short 18 years we had together, she made an impression on me I’ll never forget. I’ll never take it for granted. And, I’ll never again underestimate that sometimes the things we despise morph into something amazing. I just hope others feel the same.

This Mother’s Day I’ll enjoy an extra crunchy pickle (or two) to celebrate this special day. Happy Mother’s Day!

This is what happiness looks like…


Happiness comes in many forms. For some gals, it involves diamonds, new shoes or designer cars. For me, it is a tractor. I’ve always wanted a tractor in part because it represents to me a simpler life. (And, because what Tomboy doesn’t dream of owning her own green and gold pride).

This past weekend I got one. Granted, it isn’t the big shiny new tractor I have drooled over while driving by Lulich Implement, but instead it is an authentic 1968 John Deere tractor/snow plow/lawn mower, complete with a 12 HP engine. A workhorse, quality tractor, without bells and whistles. I love it. I haven’t had a chance to figure out if we can use it on our hilly lake lot, that doesn’t in fact have a yard to mow, but there are plenty of fields to mow on our land in Herbster. I’m envisioning a Christmas tree farm for my family someday, complete with mowed trails and trimmed evergreens.

Is this a bit nostalgic? Perhaps. But, I’m finding this represents the life Steve and I have created for one another. It is a simple life—not boring, but plain old simple. I say this with pride because we somehow managed to figure out in our 30s (barely for Steve) that keeping things simple keeps us happy.

2012 was a year of blessings. Sure, there were ups and downs but there were also many, many moments of sheer bliss. Simple moments. We didn’t leave the Midwest this year. We didn’t change jobs. We didn’t buy a new home, or, even successfully close on a new property. In many regards, it was an average year. But, as I approach my favorite time of year celebrating with family and friends, I cannot help but take stock of how lucky I am to have an ordinary life be so extraordinary.

I stumbled across this recent posting by Jen Payne in her blog Random Act of Writing. In it, she compares the process of taking stock of what matters in life to actually making stock.

“We bring together experiences and moments, thoughts and ideas, and let them simmer for a while, mingling and merging to create a well-seasoned potage of intention.”

A well-seasoned potage of intention. I love that phrase. Purchasing the John Deere tractor was an impulse purchase at best. But, it was purchased with intention. A continued commitment and desire to live true to what we’ve become: a happy couple in Northwoods Wisconsin living the simple life.

This Christmas I wish everyone who has played a role in helping me reach this point in my life a very Merry Christmas. May you find joy in the simple things in your life.

Happy Holidays!

Final Reflections

25,000 mornings, give or take, is all we humans get. We spend them on treadmills. We spend them in traffic. And if we get lucky.. really lucky it dawns on us to go spend them in a world where a simple sunrise can still be magic.

I understand this is a commercial promoting a place I already love, but frankly it’s true. 25,000 seems like such a large number until one starts to think of how many mornings one’s wasted. How many mornings I’ve wasted unable to be present with the moment.

My jaunt around Lake Superior wasn’t magical. It didn’t change my life. As my husband put it, it wasn’t even a journey but rather a trip—a simple 8-day trip around a large lake.

Despite this, it managed to remind me of some life lessons. That in fact, people, especially those closest to you, are what matter. The most spectacular sunsets, sunrises, gushing waterfalls, and grandiose overlooks evolve into something much grander when you are with the ones you love.

As an amateur photographer, I often find myself enjoying the solitude of the Big Lake while attempting to freeze a picture perfect moment with the simple click of a shutter. This trip, I found myself almost too busy immersing myself into the experience that I almost forgot to capture the beauty surrounding me. Instead, I was living it. This is after all how memories are made.

The trip reminded me that the unexpected surprises in life are at times the best gift of all. The turquoise toilet, unguided tours, camping on Lake Superior’s shoreline, and sipping the suds off a cold brew along a sandy beach—these moments are the one’s I’ll take with me wherever I go in life.

So perhaps this journey was just a trip. An 8-day pause in a somewhat overextended, desensitized thing we call life. Regardless, it was a trip worth taking. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. Some things in life cannot be recreated… and I think that in itself is what made this trip so worthwhile.