Monday, September 28, 2015

Jessica in Wonderment

How do I describe the kind of day I have had? I can tell you it ended with me crying in front of the computer some of the happiest tears ever. It started off smoothly when I took Jack over to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum​ for a few pictures. I was behind on taking his two-year portraits. He smiled and posed all on his own. He was such a ham and it was perfect.  

© 2Js Photography
Headed to Costco and after loading my groceries, I turned to put my cart away. The woman parked next to me was also done loading her car and she said, "I'll take your cart for you, I have kids, I know what it's like." I told a perfect stranger, "I love you" and I'm not ashamed of it. That moment when another human is helpful and nice for nothing in return, so refreshing!
© 2Js Photography
Went to Caribou for some iced tea. When I pulled up to the speaker, I heard, "Weeeelcome to Caribou! Tell me what you want, what you really really want!" If you know me, you know I answered as everyone should when greeted with such a great attitude, "I'll tell you what I want, I really really want a mango black tea!" I got to the drive-thru window and he said, "You're so giggly!" I replied, "It's because you are making me happy! I wish every employee in the world could do what you do!" He pointed to a tattoo on his arm, it was a smiley face but the eyes were a semicolon. He said, "You gotta be happy through hardship, I got this to remind me of that." Then he noticed I had a tattoo. He joked, "You should have gotten that in Comic Sans!" I laughed and proceeded to briefly tell him about my tattoo. It was a family thing and the font was the Royal typewriter font, which was the typewriter my brother had. I told the barista my brother took his life over two years ago. That's when he pointed to the semicolon. I let him know I knew what that meant. He smiled and we just didn't have to say anymore. We wished each other a pleasant day and I drove off. As I left the parking lot, I realized that was the first time I talked about the loss of my brother to a stranger. It wasn't weird or uncomfortable like I figured it would be, if it ever happened. I felt relieved and a small weight had just been lifted off my heart.

I was driving home, Jack was happy and we were rocking out to music. This is the part where I feel like life is too good to be true and something is about to go wrong. And then I got mad at myself. Why do I always feel the other shoe is going to drop? And who came up with that weird saying?
Yes, life goes up and down, but just because it's going up for a moment or two or three, doesn't mean it's going to crash. Good moments are good. Bad moments are bad. They aren't related. You CAN have one without the other.
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
Then I get home to find out the Minnesota Zoo​ announced the winners of the photo contest. My daughter just happens to be in the grand prize winning photo. Have I already mentioned this today? Yes, yes I have. I think I am more excited because it wasn't my photo. If it had been my photo, I wouldn't want to brag. But because I didn't take the photo, I'm okay with mentioning it again. (I'll probably tell some people on the street about it too. Would a billboard be too much?) Sorry if you're already sick of reading about it. I won't mention it again. The zoo will though, for the rest of the year. Those gorgeous eyes are going to be gazing in wonder on the zoo wall.
The Grand Prize winning photo of the 2015 Minnesota Zoo Photo Contest!
"Rylee in Wonderment"
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
And then there's another moment with a stranger that must be recognized. I have, on more than one occasion, taken a photo of a perfect stranger because I saw a moment that needed to be captured. I have then walked over to that person or their parent, showed them the photo and asked if they wanted me to email it to them. I have given them my info and told them to email me if they wanted and I would pass the photo along. When I met Tracy, the lady that took the photo of Rylee (that won the grand prize) in the butterfly garden, I was a bit frazzled. It was pretty warm. I was sweating. I had to carry Jack because they didn't allow strollers and I had to keep assuring him the butterflies were not dangerous. He was freaked out by them and it was hard not to laugh. Rylee kept calling for me to look at all the beautiful butterflies she was spotting, while Jack wanted down and then up and then down and then up. When the butterfly landed on Rylee, it landed on her back first. I snapped a photo and then it went to her nose. Tracy was right there and asked to take Rylee's picture. I was relieved because it was such a fun moment and sure enough, I had just run out of space on my smartphone for another picture. I couldn't carry around the big camera with Jack in my arms. We exchanged emails and chatted for a bit. I told her how fun it was to meet someone that did the same thing as me! She was the perfect amount of friendly.
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
A day or so later, the emails started coming through one photo at a time. Tracy had captured several amazing photos of Rylee and that gorgeous butterfly! After the fourth picture, Tracy asked if it would be okay to enter one of the photos into the 2015 Minnesota Zoo Photo Contest. Then she asked Rylee to pick the photo. All three of us happened to like the same photo. The rest, they say, is history.
©Tracy Schuffenhauer
I feel like this experience with Tracy and the photo contest is the fruit of all those times I have talked to strangers. All those encounters that resulted in a smile on my face because someone was nice enough to chat for a moment. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm taking credit for anything in regards to the winning photo, that was all Tracy. I just feel reaffirmed in my belief that it's okay to assume the best about people. Not every encounter with a stranger is going to result in a picture perfect moment, some won't even result in a smile. When those moments come where I have the chance to listen to someone's story or share a laugh while ordering food or give a compliment to an employee or learn something new in a craft store, I will let myself be open to the possibility those moments may change my life. An even crazier thought? What if I change someone's life just by listening?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My Place in History

Nine years ago at my Aunt Rita's wedding, my Aunt Chris, bestowed upon me, my grandfather's and grandmother's picture albums/scrapbooks. She said because I was the oldest grandchild in our family, it should be left to me. Their photos should be my responsibility. I was floored. I guarded that photo album with my life on the plane ride home. (I have since been told the photos are in good hands with me because I value them so much.)
My grandpa wrote, "My first vehicle."

I have been looking at these photos almost every other week ever since they came into my life. I realized I could do something amazing with these photos and be able to share them with everyone in my family! I could scan them and load them up on a DVD and make as many copies as I wanted. I could email them and I could make prints! Granted, there's a lot of photos, I have two kids, and this task is taking me way longer than I like.
My grandmother, on the right, with two friends.
Look at the fashion!
Just out for a bike ride.
My grandmother is on the left.

As I have been so honored to have these photos in my possession, I have come to realize I have a mission now. I have never felt a sense of purpose in my life that drives me everyday to finish what I have started. I know now that it is my job, my duty, (hee hee hee, duty) to be my family's biographer/historian/genealogist. It hit me like a ton of bricks about a month ago, I NEED to make a family tree. I need to give a family tree to my kids. I need to give them the information about their ancestors that I should have asked for when my grandparents were still alive. I was too young to know that I should have asked more questions of them. I should have asked them about their childhoods, there favorite teacher, their fondest Christmas memory, their first love, their first job, and what they felt when I was born. I was selfish and didn't know any better, how could I?
My grandmother, look at that fashion statement!
Part beach bum, part gypsy!

It occurred to me I have been documenting my life in such a way that I have been trying to leave all the information I can for my kids. When I am gone, I don't want them to have to wonder about where they came from for the rest of their lives. I don't want them to have questions about me that can never be answered. I have been saving pieces of my life for as long as I can remember. With the technology in photography these days, like digital cameras and smart phones, we have the capacity to document every single minute of everyday from here until the world ends. Sure, that has it's pluses and minuses, but I am going to attempt to snap all my pictures for fun and posterity.
Playing or trying to keep her balance.

I have also been fortunate to have in my care, John's family photos. I have helped go through my late mother-in-law's stuff and help my father-in-law and sister-in-law get rid of junk and in the process we have found treasures! Old photos in Jean's (my mother-in-law) wallet, birth announcements, and photos of my in-laws before they knew each other. Now I am also scanning photos from the other side of the tree!
Probably a bit of both!

Last night, I couldn't sleep, so I started scanning photos again. I was going through a few of my grandpa's pictures and a few of my grandmother's. (My grandpa developed his own photos for a long time, how cool is that?! He definitely had an artistic side to his photo taking.) Even if I were to inherit gobs of money, these old photos are worth more than gold to me. My grandmother, and I know technically that's who she is to me, but I frequently call her my mom's mom. I didn't know her. I knew my grandpa and I knew my grandma, my dad's mom, that was it. It seems strange to call my mom's mom, my grandmother. Last night, as I was looking at photos of my mom's mom, I kept getting tears in my eyes. She was gorgeous! (My Aunt Rita looks just like her!) She was always smiling, she looked so happy! She looked fun. There are pictures of her next to her friends, her sister, and then my grandpa. Oh how I wish I could have known her, not met her, known her. I have been told she was instantly loved by all those she met. (I know my mom is like that.) And then that's where I feel selfish. How can I long to know my mom's mom, when my mom didn't know her? She passed away when my mom was five or six. And that's when I get a lump in my throat because I can't imagine my life without my mom.
My grandfather, Robert John Wendell.
Everyone call him Bob, except us kids of course.
My mom's mom was obviously sophiticated and classy.
The only upside to never having met her is that she remains perfect in my mind.

My mom doesn't like to be in pictures. I get it, but I tell her she doesn't have a choice. The pictures aren't for her. The pictures are for me, for my sister, for my kids. My mom won't be around forever, I won't be around forever. Pictures help us keep our memories alive. I truly believe kids in the coming generations will have better memories, earlier memories, and hopefully more vivid memories of their childhoods because of all the pictures being taken. I hope to add something extra to those memories by giving my kids a family tree. Then I hope because I have taken the time to do that, my kids will ask questions of their grandparents and other family sooner than I thought to.
This could be my Aunt Rita!
It's my grandmother!

I know my purpose in life now. It's not a noble quest like being a doctor in an impoverished country, or an anonymous philanthropist, but dang it, I'm excited. I feel like I have a confidence and sense of self-worth because I know my parents. I have a great relationship with my parents. My parents are there for me and always have been. Both my parents had something severely lacking in their relationships with their parents. Because my mom never really got to know her mom, I think my mom missed out on something important that I know I have because I got to know my mom.
My grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Orr (Wendell)
Everyone called her Bess.

And my dad, well, we're on another quest together, we're trying to find out who his dad was. I'm saying this because I know it hurt my dad to learn the man he thought was his father, left a big question mark in my dad's life when he said he wasn't sure if he was the right guy, and that my grandma was the only one that would really know. That turned my world upside down when my dad told me that and my dad had that question in him almost my entire life. I didn't find out until several years ago. I know my dad. My dad has given me the support all girls need when they are little and then a whole new kind of support as I have become an adult with my own kids.
My grandparents on a boat. From the photos that were around it,
I think this is when they were dating.

My parents didn't have ideal parental situations. If I had a time machine, I wouldn't head back to see Abraham Lincoln give a speech or find out who killed Kennedy. No, I would take a trip and observe my grandpa in love with the grandmother I never knew and spy on my grandma and get some answers for my dad. I wouldn't change my parents' history. I exist because of that history.
This is one of the most beautiful photos I've found so far.
This is my Great Aunt Frances and the man that loved her, Al.
She was my grandmother's sister on my mom's side.

Now it's my turn to pass on this chaotic history to my kids. I'm just trying to give them a whole tree instead of a few branches.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Day I Listened to My Calves


I made this photo x-large so you could see where I walked/hiked/sprinted/almost drowned.
I was on the Ridge Trail, and then the Three-Mile Drive. Basically the perimeter of the arboretum.
Today was the day. I decided to conquer a new trail at the MN Landscape Arboretum, a harder one. The Ridge Trail didn't scare me, I've been walking a lot and my calves said they were ready. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say the first half was up hill. It seems like a long walk up hill and a long walk down. The terrain is natural, just mowed in the prairie area and then dirt and wood chips in the forest area. It's quite bumpy, as Jack will attest to. Oh yea, did I mention I pushed a stroller the whole way? Going downhill isn't just testing my legs, it's testing my arms as well. I have to hold on to Jack's stroller so it won't go speeding off without me. He might enjoy that ride but
not the crash that would follow.
Panoramic shot of where the woods got creepy.
And then I felt like I was being watched.

If Snow White had a cell phone, the story would have been very different.


Along the way we came upon three turkeys, they waddled off in a huff. Then I startled a squirrel
enough that he chirped and chattered at me until I apologized. At a crossroads we stumbled upon a turtle getting ready to lay eggs. She was in a very zen-like state, so I was able to get a picture without
bothering her.


At this point I could have turned right and been back in my car in twenty minutes. Not today! I said to myself, "You got this, take the long way and hit the three-mile trail." After all, it's paved and seems easy after the trail I had just dominated! Since you couldn't see me sweating and hear my heavy breathing, I can say dominated. So we continue our journey towards the car. It started to drizzle just a bit, but it was no big deal. As we approached another hill, we saw a single turkey. I called it and it responded. Jack thought it was funny. I impressed my son with my turkey calling ability. 
video


A little farther and it started to sprinkle. No problem, it felt good since I really worked up a sweat! And a bit farther, now it was raining, raining enough that I had to cover Jack's stroller with the rain guard. Now we were hearing thunder and even saw a bit of lightning. I found my way to an awning by a restroom. I FaceTimed John to let him know the predicament I found myself in. I could laugh about it. The one day I didn't check the weather, Mother Nature was letting me know I should have paid more attention. I took a deep breath and headed out, I still had to get back to the car and there was still a bit to go. Now it was pouring. Thunder rumbling and my cell phone was giving me weather warnings. Now my eyes were stinging from the rain and little bit of mascara getting in my
eyes. They were stinging enough for me to not realize I took a wrong turn. I ended up walking in a complete circle, an extra fourth of a mile for nothing. When I found myself right back where I called John, I was getting frustrated. I was soaked to the bone and it was raining even harder. 





Before it down poured, we saw lovely bits of nature!


That's when a red truck stopped. Two wonderful ladies that worked at the arboretum offered me a ride. I was hesitant for a moment because I was dripping wet and didn't want to mess up their seat. But it was no big deal since it was always carrying dirt covered gardeners. The gardeners following behind them put the stroller in the bed of the truck and we hopped in the cab. Jack was in heaven as we drove along. He got to see the world from a whole new perspective. He squealed in delight as he pointed at everything and let out a "wow" here and there. The two ladies were so nice and they thought Jack was a hoot. Then a call came through on their radio that a kid was sick and needed a ride. We were right there and pulled over. The lady in the passenger seat got out so the kid could get in. Turns out he was having trouble with his asthma. We drove to the visitor center. While the driver walked the kid in, I unloaded the stroller and got Jack back in it. Keep in mind, it's still pouring rain. Just as I start towards the car, a bolt of lightning cracks right over us and the thunder is immediate. 
I hear my phone give me a warning, "Lightning has been detected in your area." I yell at my phone, "No sh*t!", and hustle to the car. By the time I get Jack strapped in his car seat, water had pooled in his stroller! I get in the car and I can't believe the adventure we just had. The fiasco is over.

If I hadn't gone the long way, I wouldn't have gotten caught in the storm. But then I wouldn't have conquered the trail either. Even with the ride in the truck, I still walked over four miles! Pushing forty
pounds! My fingers and toes got a bit pruned, but no big deal. Besides, I found a deep sense of satisfaction knowing I accomplished my goal under such circumstances. 

No filters here. Just a rain soaked mess!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

She's "That" Friend...

You know the friend, the one you have to warn your other friends about before they meet her. The friend your husband is convinced will get you arrested, even though you only went out for coffee with her. The friend that became your friend when you realized she disliked someone you disliked. We all have "that" friend.

Whoops! Classic Chantel, accidentally went
in the men's restroom!
I caught her making faces
when we were supposed to be
taking an adorable picture!

Chantel is my "that" friend. I have a best friend. I have friends I've known longer than Chantel. But I have no friend like her. If I were Catholic, Chantel would be my priest. She knows more about me than anyone. She probably knows too much. What's keeping her from sharing the juicy details? I know plenty about her too. It's not a black mail kind of friendship, no no. It's a "I trust you completely" friendship and please don't judge me friendship. Sure, I'm sure she's judged me. I know I've judged her. We're both human. The moment I did judge, I was quickly reminded I wasn't perfect and there is no room for judgement in our friendship. Besides, we are usually having too much fun together to judge one another. Well, when we were together. Unfortunately we live in separate states now. It's probably a good thing, for the most part. The rest of the time it's not good because Chantel has always helped me maintain a certain amount of sanity.


I met Chantel when I moved to Texas in 2005. We both worked for Liberty Mutual. When I first got to the office I was going to work in, I was miserable. It was a boring job, no social interaction when you are stuck filing all day. The people were nice but seemed really uptight. I mean reaaaaalllly uptight. Everyone seemed to go to the same church, so they all hung out outside of work too. I was an outsider. I wanted to scream and cuss sometimes just to wake everyone up. It was so quiet all the time! One day a co-worker was fairly rude to me. I was almost on the verge of tears and kind of let it slip that I thought she was being mean. Chantel shocked me when she said what I really wanted to say. That was it, we were friends.
I finally got my girls all together.

Our friendship seemed to get stronger by the day. We sort of turned into the class clowns of the office. When we were giggling together or full on laugh snorting, we got looks from co-workers. The look that says, "What are you two up to now?" I even got to know her family. Her mom cooked for me and always lent me her ear when I was visiting. (Her mom made my bridal shower cake and other awesome homemade gifts!)

Work trip by plane turned into a road trip.

About a year after I joined that office, Chantel went on to another department. Eventually I followed her there. She put in a good word for me and I came to the best group of people I have ever worked with. EVER.


We worked hard but we laughed so much, there were days I couldn't tell you what I did that day in regards to actual work. I know work was done, because our office was the best in the country. It just was. There was a chemistry I can't explain. We all just had a great time coming to work. Chantel was the chaos in the middle of it frequently. If there was a story to tell from a happy hour or over the weekend, chances are, Chantel was a main character. I don't mean to paint that as a bad thing, it wasn't. You could just count on her to be in the headlines.

Thelma and Louise, the bags that is.

Eventually it had to change. Of course it couldn't last forever. Even though Chantel and I had to be split up (work restructure, not because we got out of control) and work in separate offices, we didn't stop having our torrid office romance. Romance being secret runs to Starbucks or Pei Wei lunches.

The bull did something we were not expecting.

Shortly after the work environment shifted, my life did too. My husband got a job that would take us to his home state, Minnesota. It was a good move for us but hard for me to say good-bye to the first place that felt like home since leaving California when I was fifteen. John moved to Minnesota with Rylee and I stayed behind to pack and keep working. It's what we needed to do financially.

We cheered our hearts out when the Rangers made it to the World Series.
The thing about Chantel isn't just that you can count on her for a priceless happy hour memory. The thing about Chantel is, you can count on her. Chantel helped me get through being apart from my husband and daughter for eight months. She let me borrow her car when mine broke down. She drove me to my house when she needed her car but I still needed to get home. She spent the night just to hang out and I spent the night at her place, just so I didn't have to be alone. On those nights, it felt like we were getting away with something. It was like having slumber party on a school night. Chantel listened and hugged me when I was missing my family. She was the first person I would call when I had something fun to do. (We got to go the Cowboys home opener for free!) We went to baseball games together. We went to the lake with friends. We went shopping. We ate, we drank, and we laughed. Oh did we laugh.

Cowboys home opener!
When it came time for me to actually leave, Chantel, with the help of several other wonderful girlfriends, through me a surprise going away party. Besides being the most surprised I had ever been in my life, I had one of the best nights of my life. The love I felt that night still makes me choke up when I think about it. Really.
Chantel paid for my Texas tattoo that we designed together.

Now we've come to a big moment in Chantel's life. Chantel asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding. Her wedding plans have changed and the date was moved up and it will be a smaller affair with just family. In no way am I hurt by this. I know this is how it has to be. I'd love to be there for her big day but I know it's just how life goes. I want to be there for her like she's been there for me. She has spoiled me on my birthdays, she was there when I wanted to celebrate living in one place for more than two years, she has loved on my babies, she cried with me when my brother passed away. I may not be able to physically be there to see her walk down the aisle but it's okay.

Last time in the office together. LMP fo' life!
Chantel is a friend you can call "that" friend and she understands what it means. She wears the title like a badge of honor. She's "that" friend I can count on to love me no matter what. I love her so much because she is "that" friend.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

RIP Angel



About a year ago, on our way home from a friend's house, Rylee asked me a pretty intense question. She asked, "If God is everywhere, and Grandma Jean and Uncle Caleb are with God, then does that mean Grandma Jean and Uncle Caleb are everywhere?"

I'll admit I was stumped on how to answer, so I said, "Let's call Grandpa, he's better at explaining something like that than I am." We called my dad and he was blown away by Rylee's question. He couldn't believe it came from a seven year old. He said, "Let me get back to you on that because I want to give you the best answer and I don't know how to make it so you can understand." So we moved on with life. Months went by and every once in a while my dad would let me know he was working on an answer for Rylee. He said he posed the question to several people and they were all very impressed by Rylee asking such a deep question at her age. I told my dad not to worry about it and that Rylee probably forgot all about the question. Well that wasn't going to happen. Of course my dad was going to get her an answer, whether she liked it or not. So about a year later my dad had an answer, he explained about God's ability to be omnipresent. As humans, we don't have that ability. He explained it succinctly and successfully. (She did need to be reminded of the question, c'mon, it was a year later.)

This is Angel when we first got her/him. Rylee named her/him Angel because she said, "She looks like an Angel."

So here we are, Tuesday night, I've preheated the oven for dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and I decided to clean the fish bowl. Rylee got her fish as a surprise the first day of kindergarten.
Rylee's fish, Angel, has been around for over two years. (Technically this is Angel number two. Angel number one was set next to an incandescent light, unbeknownst to John and I, the first night she was with us. I never told Rylee that she basically cooked that poor fish.) 

This is Angel in November of 2014, she/he changed color. Apparently Beta fish do that. I know, I Googled it.

So Angel number two has resided under an LED light these past two years and has done just fine, until tonight. (And another technicality I must mention for posterity, Angel was a dude. Rylee didn't care that we actually bought a male Beta. She wanted her fish to be a girl, so a girl she was, minus the awkward discussion with his Beta parents and large therapy bill.) I cleaned the bowl and Angel didn't handle it too well. John and I noticed she hadn't been looking that great this past week but it's not like we could do anything for her. I guess she got traumatized by the transfer process tonight. It was just her time I suppose. Rylee was there. She cried and said her goodbyes. We waited to have the standard fish funeral until John got home from work. We all marched into the bathroom, hummed Taps, pretended to do a twenty one gun salute, and keep it light. Rylee laughed at John and I being silly. She flushed Angel as I quoted Finding Nemo, "All drains lead to the ocean kid." 

February 2012

We filed out of the bathroom and sat down to eat. Rylee said, "I'll bet when animals die, they get to be God's pet." John and I agreed. 
Then she said, "But I'm not going to ask Grandpa about it, it would take way too long for an answer."
Yes, John and I laughed pretty hard at that comment.

Later John pointed out how tasteless it was to serve fish sticks for dinner.