Contentment

Y’all have been here for awhile. You know me. I don’t like the cold. I do not look forward to sweaters and boots. I could easily walk away from this state for several months each year and live happily (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that). Last winter was a hard one for me, I went into it with a much better attitude and I held onto that positivity well into January. The season dragged on though, it always does. Do what you will to save your own sanity; stay in Autumn until the winter solstice, reach out and grab Spring while there is still a foot of snow on the ground. The ice and snow, sub-zero temps, layers upon layers…I can not love it.

I do hope to avoid the endless slog of sadness this winter though. I’m going to make an attempt to photograph and write about the things that bring me joy. Joy on the journey; that’s sort of one of my “things”. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go, but I have some ideas. My hope is that in sharing the things that are beautiful and warm and meaningful here on this page I can stay afloat just a bit higher this year. I want to look at this winter as a season of rest, a time to nourish and refresh. Instead of as the cold, dark place in my soul that I fall into and struggle to escape.

Please understand that I will not anticipate or be loving the winter, but I’d like to do more than survive it. The last few days I’ve felt myself slipping into bad winter-time habits; hiding indoors, sending my children out while I stay in, bundling myself in with books and blankets, not stepping out around the fire on the deck for fear of the chilly bite in the air. I am not going to do this for the next six months, I am not. I mean, except for the book part…totally going to do that.

As Autumn continues to swirl the yellow leaves in my yard as opposed to swirling snow I am choosing now to look at each good thing for what it is, not at what it is not. The leaves are crunchy under my feet, my scarf is soft and warm, the sky is clearest blue…these individual joys hold merit on their own. They do not have to be made better by comparing them with the cold-that-is-not-quite-yet-here. I know this now, but I’m posting reminders on my calendar to come back and reread these words, lest I forget.

My attitude change toward winter is a hard fought battle for me, you all know. Earlier this Summer, in deciding to stay, I found that Paul’s words came to me again and again; “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” (from Philippians 4). Don’t get me wrong, winter is nowhere near the conditions Paul is referring to, I get that. I will not compare my minuscule “suffering” to his. What I did do though is realize that my struggle with winter was not what God wanted from or for me. Yes, I believe He wanted to hear all of my complaints, to trust Him for a way out, to listen to His peace spoken in the still, small hours of frozen mornings. He also wanted me to learn, to grow, to not stay in that place where I could not, at least, be content regardless of the weather outside.

To be content has become my goal for the season ahead. I am reminding myself that contentment comes from Christ. I can (and oh! have I) worry over all. of. the. things., but this will bring my soul no rest. There is no contentment in my old fallback anxiety. I worry still, that I will succumb to the darkness and despair over the winter as I have in the past. In this worry I remembered some more of Paul’s words though and they reminded me how very not-alone I am. Both in my hatred of the season and in my desire to find joy in it.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (from chapter 4, verse 14)

I have an amazing circle of women who I will rely on to keep me on a positive track and who will allow me to complain a bit too. I am hopeful that they will continue to “share in my troubles” and that we will lift each other up without fear of giving too much. I will beg a lot of grace from my family when I don’t want to go out, and they remind me of these words, and I regret writing them because it means actually bundling up and going out, and they will give it because they are so, so good to me. It will be so good of all of you to share in my troubles.

Ultimately, I have no idea how to make this Minnesota winter, and the many I can see in my future, positive. I’m open to suggestions that do not involve actually going out into it! I’m looking for ideas that will be fulfilling, while remembering who I am fundamentally. So, while I will likely take the kids ice skating a handful of times, I have no desire to purchase snowmobiles or an ice fishing shack. Though I will take them sledding, I will still be happier to make the cocoa when we get home. There will be long underwear under my jeans and there will be stocking caps on my head until May, and I refuse to be happy about either, but I will choose to be content in the love and peace God continues to offer me.

My kids on the beach in South Texas last year…one of my favorite wintertime memories!

Sledding, Slowing, and Seeing

This is sort of a different, but not really, post for me. I frequently ramble on about getting out of this miserable weather or how much I despise the cold and dark. Occasionally I talk about something happening in the lives of my children. I’ve decided that today I will relate an adventure instead of whining, discuss a few moments of joy in winter on a day when I’d give most anything for 50 degrees warmer than it is right now. Weird right?

A few weeks ago, before the bitter cold completely engulfed central Minnesota, I took my children outside in the cold. Three whole days. I really did. I pulled on snow-pants and tucked wool socks into boots and drove out for some winter fun. This is unusual for me, if you haven’t figured that out by now. I don’t go out in the cold, I stay in, tucked under a blanket with a mug of tea in my hand most afternoons from December until, oh I don’t know…June or so. But I did this thing in the hope that embracing the cold would help it to not suck quite so much, and it did! It really, really did.

On our first day out we went to the big sledding hill in town on a perfectly sunshine-y day. Since it was the middle of the day there were only a few other kids on the hill and my bigger two went down and up at least a million times. Smiles plastered to their sweet faces. The teeny made it down, but needed convincing, and assistance, in coming back up. Eventually she and I made it across to gaze out over the river and walk along the stone ledge, we followed squirrel tracks in the patches of otherwise undisturbed snow, and she squealed with delight as she zoomed down the smaller hill.

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The sky was a perfect blue and I couldn’t help but stare up and think to myself that if this were winter, actual winter, I could handle it. For a brief moment in time I thought that I might actually make it out of this winter alive and with my smile still on my face. This day was filled with joy and peace. We were happy, even in the cold.

The second day out was more of the same. Sledding on a different hill with equally beautiful weather and, this time, friends. The day was only marred by forgotten ice skates. There were treks into the deep snow, a birds nest at eye level, and kids full of kindness. I have seldom been more surprised by a winter day than I was this day. The sun shone and the thermostats rose above 40 degrees. It was blissful and I was so very grateful.

I held out hope that this would be the winter that I didn’t hide indoors, that this would be the winter when I would do the embracing of the cold that everyone believes will bring me wintertime happiness. And I did get one more day. I am thankful for that third day and the walk we took. Being able to go out with my kids on adventures is one of my very favorite things. They have no agenda, few preconceived notions about what the day will hold. They need only a water bottle and a few snacks to explore a new space.

I love this about them.

I really hope that their attitude for adventures does not change much in the coming years, and not just for my own ease and enjoyment. If they can continue to be easy going as we travel and explore then they will continue to see the best in situations that may be less than ideal. They will keep their eyes open, slowing down to notice the red berries, the cup-shaped leaf, the tiny piece of agate in the gravel. If they can travel easy they will travel far. If they travel far they will be filled with wonder all of the days of their lives and I can think of little else that would be worth more, to give to a child.

The way this world spins, the pace it sets, the hustle we are expected to display…it causes the lives of children to be devoid of wonder. The lives of us all. I will continue to work to slow my tiny little piece of this world, if only a fraction and if only for my short time here. I will wander river paths while littles stomp in the snow. I will haul teenies up snow-hills so we can stay out longer. I will remember to bring the damned skates next time.

I will not enjoy winter. I don’t have it in me really. If it’s below 25 degrees, I’m not going out. I’m just not. I will revel in moments though. I will soak in the apricity, even if I have to sit on my living room floor under the picture window to do so. I will snap photos of joy-filled faces in deep snow and of Christmas tree lights shrouded under a blanket of white. I will be present this year, not just begging for it to end, but noticing all that I can while I’m here. This is not really what I’ve been encouraged to do by so many well wishing friends and strangers, but it is the best I can do. If it happens to get above thirty again soon, I’ll be one of the first people out there hopping over puddles, pulling sleds through the streets, and staring at the clear, blue sky.

On one of the last warm winter nights my sweet husband lit a fire on the deck, we stood out with blankets around our shoulders and hats pulled low over our ears. The stars were out and the noise of the city was somehow hushed just a bit. It was almost as if someone wanted me to see what winter could be. How I could be a small part of something that I hold such contempt for. How there is good, even in what we view as bad, and that we really don’t understand it all anyway. The peace washed over and the fire burned down to embers, time slowed, if only for a moment.

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Trusting Their Choices

I’ve been thinking about how I will allow my children to be more independent in their decision making. Since they were small, we have allowed quite a bit of freedom. Letting them jump in the puddles and then dealing with cold, wet feet has always been the best way for them to learn not to jump in puddles with tennis-shoes on. My sweet husband calls this method the “experiential” manner of parenting. I’m not sure if that’s actually a thing, but while he teases me with it from time to time, I think it is the best way to describe my overall philosophy for life. How will we learn if we do not experience?

Still, my ten-year-old is getting to a point in life where learning through doing can cost her more than just wet feet. I wonder how to provide all of the right activities for her to live her bigger-girl life without overly harsh consequences? Too much freedom given in the teen years can lead to all sorts of unchangeable life situations, choices that will need to be lived through for years to come, not just an afternoon. Yet I know that this child learns best by living, by putting her truest self out there and trying it out in the real world. I have no answers for these questions this morning, we will walk along this path together, hopefully the puddles won’t be too deep for awhile yet and we figure out the necessary boundaries as we go.

I also have been watching my littler kids, my husband and I give them a lot of space to learn by trying things out, but these two youngest kids are around a lot of other peoples parents, how do I let them think for themselves when so many other mommas don’t give their own kids the freedoms we allow? How do I respect other parents’ boundaries, while still letting my kids respect their own? I know that I need to be more vocal, explaining to my mom-friends the “why” behind the seemingly crazy things I “permit” my children to choose. I forget that our way is what has worked best for our family and, while I don’t need to force it on anyone else, I do need to respect it even in situations where other kids might not be allowed to do the things my kids choose to do.

If I don’t respect the guidelines that I show my kids one on one when we are in a group situation, it sends a mixed message and my kid may start to question her body or brain. That is something that will come back to bite me when we are climbing or on an unfamiliar trail and they suddenly question themselves in a moment of fear. I know that by letting them climb out as far as they feel safe, by letting them jump off the highest wall they are comfortable on, by simply allowing them to choose to wear a coat or not, they are learning that their choices matter. More than that they are learning that they have power over their own choice. They also see that they are capable, sometimes they fall, sometimes they flail, sometimes they come down a step first, but because we are there to bandage the scrapes and encourage the efforts, they trust themselves.

I suppose that is how I’m hoping to make it through the teen years with grace this time. We have allowed, permitted, encouraged even, this child to listen to her body. To trust her gut, to choose what is best for her through all of her “little” years. Unconsciously, by supporting her in these small things we have encouraged her to do the same with the big things to come. Hopefully she has failed enough and dealt with unpleasant consequences enough times to have those lessons to draw from as she matures. Ideally, she will have so much faith in her own body and brain that she will not fall to pressures or fail to be true to herself.

And so we continue. This day I will allow my eight-year-old to wear shorts…in January…in Minnesota…because that is his choice and he has yet to regret it, though I can’t look at him some days without shivering. I will watch my tiny stomp out into the snow wearing dress shoes and be there holding the boots I suggested before we left the house if she chooses to admit that snow is cold when it melts into your shoes! (I know that she will not admit that, she is as stubborn as I am and she will deal with wet feet for as long as she is able, but next time? She’ll choose the boots from the start because she’ll remember.) I will explain myself better to the other moms that we interact with so that I don’t have kids who second guess themselves.

This is not always easy. I often try very hard to explain my “why” to my kids when I want them to do one thing and they are certain that their own way is best. It is hard to remember that cold fingers will not kill an otherwise healthy child when my own life experiences tell me to put on mittens. It is difficult to stop and see their independence growing when the way they want to be independent causes me to need to plan ahead more. I mean, you really can’t let kids be free to explore their world without remembering to pack a spare pair of clothes and a towel or two. I’m banking on this being best though, that as they grow up they will know themselves and have a wealth of their own experiences to draw from. Not just scary words that grown ups threatened them with.

While my confidence often lags behind what I know to be true in this area, I have decided to commit to advocating for them more vocally. If your family plans to meet up with mine on one of these mild winter days please be prepared. I will not be telling my kids they can’t eat snow because they’ll get too cold, that they can’t take their coat…and hoodie…and snow-pants off (insert eye-roll here). Because I trust that when they are cold they will put them back on. I will continue to let my kids climb the trees, stand on the ledges, and jump from the rocks. Whether we are with friends or not. Because I really, really do want them to hear their own inner voice whisper and they won’t be able to do that if I’m constantly screaming at them to “not”.

Join me won’t you? It takes only a few steps. Choose a day and pack the car with all of the things you might need, take the extra time to do this. Then let your kid choose. Shorts in winter? Sure, if you want (you can pack pants). Take a few steps out onto the thin ice at the bend in the creek? Yes (you can explain currents and how far is safe, you can have spare boots and socks in the backpack). Climb on the frozen, metal playground equipment? Yep. (Maybe put dry mittens on first though?) Life should be experienced friends, even at four-years-old.

A Solstice Rambling

What keeps you here? I’d really like to know. As I sit this morning on the day with the least light available to me, the universe sees fit to roll clouds across my sky. I wonder again what keeps me here. I can rattle off a quick list; friends, family, homeschooling laws, summers in the woods, a job that pays the bills, the flowers in my garden…do all of those things outweigh the darkness though?

This is the question I’m sitting with on the darkest day of the year. Just typing those words makes me grab a copy of Robert Frost and reread his Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. While there is no snow to speak of and the weather has been mild, the dark has been deep indeed. How can something as simple as darkness affect a person so intensely? The metaphors for light and dark are easy to type out. Though they have been reflected upon before, I feel I must get them out of my head and onto the page so that this part of me that fears the dark can move forward into the winter with some small semblance of peace.

As I face the Winter; the heavy darkness, I feel in me how quiet the dark actually is. There is growth in the light, this is true, but all things rest in the dark. Why should I be any different? As I sit this morning I am hoping to relearn that not only does my body need rest from the activity and excitement of Summer, but my mind needs a break from the busy as well. While I have slowed us down quite a bit this year, given myself much needed grace to move at my own pace,  I still fill up most of the waking hours with tasks and activities. I had hoped to still our schedule even more this Winter. The darkness will serve as a reminder that not all hours need be spent with work close at hand.

Furthermore, I must remember that in Minnesota, in the Winter, the night is not actually as dark as one might believe. As I wake to care for a teeny who couldn’t sleep and look out at the snow covered ground I can see as clearly as I could during the day. The lights of the city being held close to earth because of the dense clouds overhead make me feel as though the twilight will last all night long. Clear nights are even better. The moon and stars quite nearly blaze down on us as we sit ’round a cozy fire. It’s as if we are meant to see clearly the path before us, walking without fear of the darkness, being surefooted even in the night. If, that is, we are willing to be there at all, out there in the dark.

I had been fearing the dark a little. Knowing how the cold and depth of Winter affect my mental well-being I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to get away from this season. As I sit here on this solstice morning I am choosing to see the glory that could come from the darkness. The glowing good that is coming from the night. As I type, babies sleep late in their beds, the sun hides behind clouds and asks nothing of me. There are no plants to tend, no trails to wander, no far-flung adventures to be had…and that’s okay. Actually, it’s better than okay, it is good.

This quiet darkness affords me the time to be here, to be present in this place and time. More than that, the black and white of Winter allow me to plan, to plot, to explore ideas and thoughts, hopes and dreams, if not fields and forests. The bright night sky is much like a guiding light for adventures to come. I can choose to see it as such anyway. While I may still long for warm Summer nights spent away from home, I can also enjoy these days snuggled in close.

I ask again; what keeps you here? As you look ahead to the returning of the light, from this “the darkest night of the year”, what do you hope for? long for? need? The Christmas tree lights scatter and reflect in the windows bringing more light into the dark world. Giving me one more reason to be present in this moment, in this deepening night. Does the good of the light outweigh the fear of the dark? For me, for now, I believe it does. And maybe, just maybe, there is some good in the dark as well. Look for it with me would you?

Watch for it when the snow is deep, the night is dark and the woods are lovely yes, but perhaps a bit threatening. Look for it when you are far from peace or far from home, whether by choice or circumstance. Keep an eye out when there is no other sound in your head or your heart save the wind and the swirling snow. We need not be burdened by this night, by this Winter. We can use the stillness to reflect on, and set aside those things that are not helping us to grow. We can allow the cold to do it’s own work. We really can friends, and if we will allow it to do so we just might be ready to bloom in the seasons to come.

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Winter Bucket List

I recently ran across the bucket list that the kids made for last summer. It was full of all the standard stuff; splash pad trips, picnics, camp-outs. There were also some things clearly inspired by a momma who is happier on the run; climbing at Taylor’s Falls, exploring someplace we’ve never been, watching the stars. We really did a great job this past year of crossing a lot of great adventures off our list. I am so grateful to have had those opportunities and to have checked them off and more. I walked away full of happy memories, but later I began to wonder why I never make a Winter bucket list with the littles?

Well, I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. When you despise something as much as I hate the season of frozen darkness, why would you ever make big plans for that time? For some reason this thought stuck with me. I decided that I’d write it out, sort of a winter must-do list and I’ve decided to share it here with you. This isn’t exactly an inspired list, and you won’t find me trekking through snow drifts all too often because of it. It’s a good list for me though, and even just looking at it makes me smile big!

Here it is, my list of twelve winter must-do’s; enjoy!

Burn big fires on the deck in the snow as many nights as possible.                                     This lovely fire devolved into an awesome snowball fight for my sweet husband and two of the children, the teeny and I went inside to make pizza where it was warm and there was little chance of getting pelted with flying snow. Having fires on our deck brings joy to the people that I love and I love that we all stand out there together even when it’s thirty-three degrees outside.

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Let the littles sleep under the Christmas tree lights.                                                                While this photo is adorable, these children did not sleep here. The littlest had an absolute meltdown and her daddy had to tuck her into her cozy bed. The second child came in ten minutes after I laid down and told me he could not possibly sleep upstairs. Only the oldest of the three managed to sleep under the Christmas tree lights. Not only that, but momma had a meltdown for herself because, “Why can’t I just let them do a sweet thing and make a freaking memory for crying out loud?!”. One year I know that this will happen, clearly we are not there yet, but hopefully it really does happen someday.

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Go someplace new.                                                                                                                               I’m not sure where we will go…we lightly considered loading up and heading to Texas for a Johnnie’s playoff game this weekend. That would’ve been cool, but it was a little unrealistic with such short notice. I guess we’ll have to think of someplace else to head off to. Suggestions welcome!

Lay in the sunshine as it slants through the front windows.                                                The dog is an expert at this. When the children were smaller we would sit on the living room floor and enjoy our after lunch read aloud time. I can’t remember doing this since the teeny came along though. It is something that I really want to get back to. Seriously, if you can’t go outside because it is so cold the sun should at least shine down on you in your living room.

Actually go sledding.                                                                                                                          We have gone once this year, on a half inch of snow, like we were in Georgia and had never seen snow before. I don’t quite know how I got roped into this, but it was a good day outside in the frosty air. I would like the children to go actual sledding though, on deep snow, down the big hill in the park. They love it and with snow pants on it’s really not that bad. We have gone a few times, but not since the teeny could enjoy it, which means it’s been far too long. This is our year.

 

Read more books aloud.                                                                                                                     Because, well, why not?

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Keep the driveway shoveled.                                                                                                          A modifier for this one as well, I will insist that my children keep the driveway shoveled well. This may seem unfair or a little harsh to some of you, but really, these children have boundless energy, they tear around my house knocking things over, jumping on the sofa’s…they can totally shovel the driveway.

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Eat less junk food.                                                                                                                                Somehow we have become a family who eats far too many “snack” foods. I know this began with my lack of desire to make dinner in the summer and was magnified by camping-life, but it has gotten out of hand. I can’t handle it, my body starts to scream out at me when I eat so much sugary/salty/fatty food. It really does, I’m not exaggerating at all. So the snacks just need to stop. My family has been a little annoyed by this, questions like; “why are there no chips?!” may have been asked. I feel like soon they will have all adjusted and come back to the light side (where we don’t have cookies, but we also don’t feel like shit all of the time)…maybe.

Be overly-kind to as many people as possible.                                                                           I want to do things like; make the frazzled barista smile. Give candy canes to the cashier at Aldi. Take cookies to the librarians. We have practiced this for a few Advent seasons now, but this year I want to outdo myself. I hope to inspire my littles to go above and beyond with their kindnesses and to challenge myself to simply give. Even when I don’t feel like it or think that I won’t be able. We are so richly loved, I want to do more to share that love. We took out our Advent calendar today and filled the pockets with opportunities to “do” instead of “get”, it made me proud to watch the littles decide when we would complete each of the nice things. Watch out, we may just get you with our RACK’s this year!

Write many more words.                                                                                                                    I’ve talked about this at length. There are no necessary words here, I want to write and so I need to simply sit here with my laptop and write. I’ve managed to find a direction I want to go for now, a path I’d like to follow through the snow. We shall see how it goes.

Plant a pot of succulents, or craft a terrarium.                                                                           We did this last Winter. The pretty little succulent ended up dead, because of course. I put the sad, dead, terrarium out on the deck and, as there was a broken place in the jar, the rain got in and we ended up creating a swamp. This was a really cool thing to watch over the Summer months. I’d really like to keep a plant alive in a terrarium environment though. I feel like a succulent might be more realistic because I can provide more care and control while a terrarium is supposed to be planted and left to survive on it’s own. However the whole idea of a dessert type terrarium is a little overwhelming to me, so we’ll probably just get a nice little potted cactus.

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Play the radio more-even if the house is loud.                                                                          This is something I have always struggled with. Silly right? I love to have the children sharing my space, playing, singing, even arguing, but they are so loud all of the time that I never turn the radio on. It always seems like extra noise. No sooner than I flip on the volume, do two of my kids decide to have an epic Nerf battle or someone is melting down because her Lego creation was destroyed. I can’t handle it. The radio adds this extra layer of sound that makes me want to pull my hair out. I want to turn the music on, it will help my mental state to do so. I am determined to find a way to make this happen. Perhaps I’ll report back with progress as the season progresses.

Well, there you have it. While I wish this list said; ; “drive as far South as is possible while still remaining state side…”. I am pleased with it anyway. I may print the bullet points and post them on my fridge. Am I alone in making a Winter bucket list? What would you add to your own list of Winter fun-time activities? Let me know, maybe I’ve missed something that will provide that ever-elusive Winter-joy.

 

 

 

 

Living in the Arctic Circle…No, Really.

What if I don’t want to friends? Several people, over that last couple of weeks have told me that I should simply embrace this cold, that I should enjoy this long winter. They have suggested that I take up snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing. That I should buy warmer clothes, wear the snow pants. That all of this cold and misery causes us to enjoy the short summer more. This is messed up logic y’all!

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If the summer was longer; I would be out there! All of the days that are warm, all of the days that the sun is shining, all of the days that drip with humidity and heat! I would not be longing for cool weather or waiting for the first snow to fall, I’d be soaking in the sunshine, digging in the dirt, splashing in the water! I would not have to anticipate summers arrival because it would have already arrived. I’d be there! I did try to have a reasonable attitude this year, but winter has been unreasonable in response. There has been snow and cold in seven of the past twelve months…why do I live here?!?

I’d love to tell you that I’m trying to tie this rant about coldness to some deeper meaning thought…but I’m not. This is simply me ranting. Aren’t you glad I have access to so many people via this blog? We had these crazy long icicles hanging from our deck-side roof, some of them exceeded two feet in length. After yet another recent snow, and a day of children playing out there, it looked like a small herd of unicorn lay sleeping on our deck under a pristine, white blanket.

 

Today it is melting, but there is so much more cold, wet, miserable snow in our forecast that I just cannot even! One of my bright, sweet girls reminded me that, “God has a reason for all things…”.  I sarcastically, and honestly, replied to her that the only reason I could see for God allowing this relentless winter was to convince me to move away from it! I have no #winterjoy. The depression only deepens and the sadness overwhelms and my own drama makes me want to gag.

I know what needs to happen, big wheels have been set in motion, I will not do this sulking again for the length of an entire Minnesota winter. It’s just not in me. Stay tuned dear friends, the heat of Summer will return!