Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lawn Cutting 101

 Let me start by saying that I come from a long line of "Men cut the lawn."
It was my dad's motto and it has been John's motto, too.
I have never had any interest in using a lawn mower anyway for various reasons, not the least is that when I was 16 years old my dad cut his foot nearly off with a lawnmower.
Since then, I have a lot of respect for those machines.
I was in my room getting ready to go out for the evening and I still remember the horrible noise and then the silence when the mower stopped with my dad's foot in it.
I think I stayed in my room and let more level headed neighbors and my mom handle the situation, but I know it was a painful mess and it took months for that foot to heal.
Another reason I have had little interest in mowing the lawn is because I think it is highly overrated as a form of either getting sun or getting exercise, really, people, I can think of better ways to do that!
And finally, John is very particular about his lawn, his cars, and his shoveling.
He has certain ways these things must be done and I steered clear of interfering,
Until today...
 I figured since John will be spending his weekdays up in Michigan training for his job and since I will want to do things with him on the weekends, maybe I should learn to run the mower and cut the lawn, so he would not have to do that on his weekends.
That is one long sentence.
Starting the mower is not easy feat.
I have to use lots of muscle to pull that starter cord.
Finally, it was running.
I did okay today.
I am not in my groove yet and do not quite know how to tackle the logistics of the lawn, but I did a few different mow plans today and they seemed okay.
When I was finished, John did come out and "clean" up a few spots, but for the most part, I passed Lawnmowing 101 as taught by John.
We do have a hill that runs the length of our backyard at the far end.  I told him I will not attempt that.
That hill is the very spot my dad almost lost his foot!
I am steering clear of that.
Be sure and read my last post about meeting Soliana for the first time if you haven't read it yet.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Happy First Soliversary to our LIttle Sunshine, Soliana

One year ago today, June 29, John and I were waiting anxiously at the Milwaukee Airport for the Van Auken family
They left for Ethiopia as a family of three and when they deplaned and we saw them, they would be a family of four.
They were bringing Soliana home.
Most pregnancies last about nine months, the time usually goes by pretty quickly, and the end result is a newborn baby, pretty predictable.
This "pregnancy" actually only lasted five months from referral to homecoming, but it included complications which included losing Natnael in Jan. 2012.
If you would add all of that time in, this "pregnancy" lasted years.
End result though, is just as much joy as any newborn baby brings.
Our "newborn" was just shy of one year old.
It seemed to take forever waiting for them to land.
I imagine I would not have been any better waiting for word of the birth of a grandchild.
Waiting is always so hard for me.
Finally, the plane was on the ground, but it still takes so long for everyone to deplane.
And, then finally, we saw them.
That is the first time we saw our little Soliana..
Imagine what she must have been feeling.
Here she is, with people she hardly knows, meeting more people she does not know, and in a place far from the only home she has ever known,
she clung to her mama tightly and eyed us up and down not quite sure what to make of all of this.
Welcome to America, little one, Welcome home!
Here is the happy Van Auken family of four!
And, of course, the happy grandparents.
Soliana did seem to enjoy her balloon just as long as mama's hand was close by.
John and I were lucky to be able to have Tizita in the car with us on the way back to Oshkosh.
It was late, after ten by the time we were loaded up and heading north, but we did take time to stop at a gas station for a treat of milk and skittles requested by Tizita.
Apparently those are two items you cannot get in Ethiopia.
 What a journey it has been to bring our second baby home.
What a year it has been, watching her learn, grow, and adjust to her new home.
In looking back, we remember those dark, stormy skies after we
heard that Natnael had died in the Care Center, shortly after Courtney and Paul had met  him for the first time.
What would the future hold, how long before another child would be available?
But God had a plan and soon we had our sunshine, Soliana (Soliana means sunshine, by the way) and our gray skies were bright again.
God is good, all the time!
And, we know that one day soon, we will be able to meet our little Natnael and until then he is safe in Jesus' arms.
Happy Soliversary sweet Soliana, our Sunshine.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

From Aerobics to Zumba in thirty years

When the girls were young, one of my favorite activities was going to aerobics.  Sometimes the classes were held at the senior center and sometimes they were held at the pavilion at the park.
When we had them at the park, we ended our session with some water aerobics at the outdoor pool.
Those were some good, fun days.
I made many friends through my different aerobics class.
I always enjoyed being in the front row because I always prided myself on how well I could perform.
I bought and still have a few albums that we used at our classes.
The albums were done by Jackie Sorenson.
I remember one of my favorite songs was Happy Days.
I am not sure why I gave up the aerobics, but I think, if memory serves me correctly, the girls got involved in activities which took up most of our free time.
Fast forward thirty years and here we are.
Zumba is my new aerobics.
I don't stand in the front row anymore because I certainly don't do the zumba steps as well as I could do those aerobic dances
I think it has to do with being 60.
It is a bit harder to keep up with the fast moves.
Zumba involves a lot more hip moving and butt shaking than aerobics did.
I really enjoy my zumba classes because it is taught by my friend, Tonya and the other people in the class are all my friends and there is no need to worry about missing a step here and there.
Courtney came with me to two of my zumba classes when she was visiting and now she is a certified zumba instructor herself.
After her two classes with Tonya, she found a place in Oshkosh where she attended an eight hour class and got her certified.
She is hoping to start some classes at Tizita's school in the fall.
Zumba has consumed our lives.
I guess just like 60 is the new 40, so zumba is the new aerobics.
If you have not read my previous post, take a look at it.
It gives you some insight into John's employment situation over the last six years.
If you don't really care about that, carry on.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lay Offs, Obamacare Scare, and Moving on from there

It was back in November of 2007 that I pulled up to our house from school and wondered why in the world John's car was home.
I hoped he wasn't sick, but in my heart, I knew he wouldn't ever come home sick, he never gets that sick.
When I talked to him, my heart sunk and I felt like I was the one who was going to be sick.
Laid off, laid off, who even thought of such a thing
completely blindsided at that.
After years at Yaggy Colby, the company had to lay off employees to keep the company afloat.
Way back in 1976 when John started his first job in Elkhorn working for Jensen and Johnson, we never had even heard of a lay off.
Back in those good old days, you could switch jobs at will.  There were plenty of opportunities out there.
The only lay offs I ever heard of were those in the construction field where you got laid off for a few months in the winter and then got your job back when the weather was warm enough to build again.
John made $4.00 an hour in those days and we were more than comfortable with that.
We had all that we needed.
I am ashamed to say that we took health insurance and retirement benefits for granted.
They just came with the territory.
John went on to work for the city of Watertown, left there on his own accord to work for an engineering firm in Milwaukee and left there when he found a better opportunity at another engineering firm in the area.
And finally, he found the job at Yaggy Colby where he planned to stay until he retired.
It was that November day our world fell apart and we never took health insurance or other benefits for granted again.
It was a hard lesson to learn in 2007 at that first lay off
John applied for unemployment and spent every spare minute searching for a new job.
We found a cheap major medical insurance to cover us till he found a new job
We enjoyed our Thanksgiving and Christmas that year because it was nice to have him home.
In January 2008, John started his new job at McClure in Milwaukee.
It was never a great job, but in true John fashion, he went faithfully every day and did his work.
Complained a lot about Rita, the secretary and was never completely happy there, but it was a job and it was in his field and it was paying our bills.
On a sidenote, we were quite pleased with how much unemployment paid us
We were making 300.00 per week and we used very creative ways to make that work for us.
We did not realize that we would have to pay taxes on that money.
Live and learn.
By the next time, we knew to have those taxes taken out.
And, before you ask, yes, there was a next time and a next time.
Shortly, before our daughter's wedding in August, 2009, John again came home from work in the middle of the day.
Another Lay off and once again, he has one of the shortest straws.
We called it a vacation and fully enjoyed Alissa's wedding and the arrival of our first granddaughter, Tizita from Ethiopia.
John did spend most of his day applying for jobs and once again he fortunately landed one at Realtime Electric in Madison, starting there in Sept. 2009.
With a promise of "we never lay off anyone in this company" we happily pressed forward.
The commute was long and entailed battling Beltline traffic on a daily basis, but, yet again, John does not complain.  He feels blessed to have a job in his field and actually at this job, he is learning new things having to do with electrical planning.
We enjoy one very fun Christmas party where we rub elbows with the boss, who has too much to drink just like we did.
We all sang, "we are family" with arms linked.
When one's wife has arms linked with the boss, one feels quite confident in one's job security.
Let me just add, that the cost of that one Christmas gala would have easily paid John's salary for a year.
By now, John is getting pretty good at smelling a lay off and sure enough this company that never lays anyone off, laid off at least ten employees that bitter day in February 2011.
John did not even stay to listen to the shpeel from the boss, but got right up and announced, "I have to call for unemployment, I know how the system works."
This lay off was the longest and the most painful.
John almost hit rock bottom when he actually considered selling cars or working at Walmart.
Now we laugh, but it was not so funny at the time, although, I have to admit both of us kept our humor and knew God had a plan designed just for us.
Patience and waiting for a job in the engineering field paid off and six long months later, John started working for Kapitan in Sauk City, an hour and twenty minutes away.
He still proclaims, "Thank heavens, I did not have to work here" everytime we walk into Walmart.

During those six months, I was only teaching mornings and my old employer offered me a job helping with marketing in a childcare center in Oconomowoc.  God had certainly provided us with that opportunity.
Not sure I did much as a marketing specialist, but they paid me well and that money helped get us through some tight times.
It was during this long lay off that I discovered Aldi and I still do all my shopping there.

As I said, the commute is long for John each day.
No one should have to spend three hours in a vehicle daily unless they are working for UPS or FedEx, but he never complained.
I didn't even realize he had concerns about this job which went far beyond the long commute.
I knew that he had his resume out on many sites, but until recently I did not know that he is really worried about Obamacare and what that would mean to us.
You see, at Kapitan, we had to find our own insurance.  We could only afford major medical and we did find one with a very high deductible with the understanding between us that we are not allowed to get sick and if we are in an accident, we die!
Seriously, it is not funny, but unfortunately there are many people who are in that same boat.

Well, on May 1, a company showed interest  in him.
I don't think he even shared any of that with me because this interest usually fell through, but not this time.
The company kept pursuing him and that is where we went last weekend for the interview in Iron Mountain, Michigan.
Today he got an offer, too good to refuse.
Benefits, better than any he has ever had before and a feeling that he is really sought after by this company.
I am so happy for him.
It has been a long haul with much instability since that first lay off in 2007,
but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
God is good, all the time and He is in control.

Oh. and by the way, the job is in Pewaukee, which is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
He will spend a month up in Michigan learning a few  new things and getting acquainted with the company, but we are excited about this and so anxious to press forward

If any of you reading this, are unemployed at the moment, do not give up hope.
And I realize that there are many, many worse things than being unemployed and we never forgot that.
We had each other and our girls and their familie.
We did lose a grandson in early 2011 and unemployment is nothing and I mean nothing compared to that, so I am not trying to light of anyone's losses here.  I am not trying to make it sound like we had it worse than anyone else, because we didn't, but I wanted to document these past six years.
Thanks for reading, if you are still here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our Annual Zoo Trip through the years

As I said in my last post, John and I have been taking Tizita to the Milwaukee Zoo each year since she came home.
I wanted to take a step back and look at those pictures.
I  hope that we will be able to take her and now Soli and any other grandchildren that may be in our future, to the zoo each year until they are grown ups
Tiz and I always talk about how we will look on the merry go round when she is in college and we laugh.
The Milwaukee zoo is expensive, but there is no price tag for making memories with our grandchildren.
These three photos are from our first visit to the zoo in July 2009.
That is the first time we took the picture by the snake sign.  We didn't know at that time that it would become a tradition for us.

This is Tizita's first ride on the train.
For those first few years, Grandpa had to ride by himself on the seat across from us.
We always said he would sit with the next Van Auken to join the family..
Finally, he has a seat partner.
This picture is from our second trip to the zoo 2010.


 And here we are in Sept. 2011.

Still waiting for a partner for Grandpa on the train!
These pictures are from October 2012 and look, Bumpa finally has a seat mate!
Soliana has joined the family and now we finally get to do the zoo with two!
Soli was just over 1 year and she did a great job especially considering it was pretty cold that day.

And here we are in present day, 2013.
Look what difference a year makes!
Soli is almost two and absolutely loved everything about the zoo.
Tizita is six and is such a joy on these outings.
She loves to learn about all the animals and she remembers the previous visits which is really fun.
So there you have it.
A history of our visits to the zoo.
This is what being a grandparent is all about!
On a totally different note, we have heard nothing from the company that John interviewed for on Friday in Michigan.
No news may or may not be good news.
They said they would let him know early in the week and this is Tuesday.
Tomorrow becomes mid week and our hope gets a little smaller.
I am trying to stay optimistic, but my motto 
"Hope for the best, expect the worst, and roll with the punches"
is making me very anxious.
I am trying to remember how thankful we were when John got his current job at Kapitan after six months of unemployment.
At that time, it was the best news ever and we were so blessed to have a job again.
That job is still there and John can go on working just as he has been, so that in itself is a great thing, but
it is hard to think about all the benefits that the other big company was willing to offer and how much closer the commute would have been.
Oh well, it is what it is or is it?
Time now to go walking with my friend, Lynne
and then off to zumba.
In case you are wondering about those ads on my blog, I can make a few cents if any of you click on them, so if there is anything of interest to you, please click and check it out and if not, no big deal, just come back and visit me often.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

And What a Three day Weekend it was!

We are finally back at home after a action packed, fun filled three day weekend.
We started out with our road trip to Iron Mountain, Michigan.
We had never been to that area of Wisconsin or Michigan before and it is such pretty country.
John had an interview with a company up there and that company put us up in a beautiful motel and paid us generous mileage.
The interview was early on Friday AM.  By all accounts, it went well.  We should hear something early this week.  We are cautiously optimistic.
At 11:00, we left Iron Mountain for Manitowoc all dressed for Nicole and Josh's wedding.
We had to be at the church by 1:30.
For a bit, I was afraid we weren't going to make it, but we pulled into the church parking lot with ten minutes to spare.
The wedding was beautiful, very elegant. Nicole was beautiful.
After the ceremony, we had three hours before the reception so we had a late lunch with Ruth and Larry at a cute little candy story that looks like it belongs in the 1950's.
The food was delicious and cheap.  We even ended our lunch with a turtle sundae, YUM!
It was so nice to spend time with the Parkers, such nice, good people.
The reception was at Fox Hills.
It was just my kind of food, fried chicken, ham, mashed potatoes, corn, and coleslaw, does it get any better than that?  Not for me.
We stayed till about nine and then drove to Oshkosh to stay at the Van Auken B and B.
We arrived up there by 10:00, had a few beers and visited with Courtney and Paul. 
On Saturday we left bright and early for the Milwaukee Zoo on our annual trip.
Vikki and Kev gave us an annual family pass to the zoo so we were able to get in for free.
It was a perfect day, overcast and not too hot.
We always start our zoo day with a trip on the train and this trip was no different.
There were lots of people at the zoo, but we were able to walk right on the train, no waiting.
Soli was so excited for our train ride.

As we always planned long before a second grandchild was in the picture, Tiz and I always sit together on the train ride.  Bumpa gets to sit with Soli.
After the train, it was the merry go round.  Soli loves her merry go round, too.
We had an overpriced zoo lunch and then finally saw some animals.
Isn't it funny, there is so much more to do at a zoo, it is hard to even take time to see the animals.
Soli was enjoying the monkeys.
We paid to see the Sea Lion show and it was well worth it.
Tiz especially enjoyed leaning about sea lions and watching them do tricks.
Every year, we pose by the snake sign.  Mostly because we do not like snakes.
This year, Tiz was fascinated by the timber rattlers. 
We called her the little snake charmer since the snake would follow her finger.
She may be leaving my "hate snakes club" and becoming a fan of them.
Both girls crawled in the stroller when we had to make a long walk to another part of the zoo.
Lots of laughs from both of them.
It was then popsicle time.
Soli loves her popsicles.
She loves lots of things, doesn't she?
John and I had bought one ice cream sandwich to share and Soli wanted that, too.
Two fisted, very messy little lady.
Back in the stroller.
This is our tour guide, Pete the Peacock.

We followed him for a long time.
Then it was up close and personal with the giraffe.
We saw some really wonderful things at the zoo.
We made some great new memories and look forward to our next zoo trip.
Soli fell asleep as soon as she was in her carseat.
Tiz asked if we could eat at Glass Nickel Pizza where she loves the Nickel Nuggets, so we agreed.
What a great decision.
We loved the pizza and the best part is the owner who remembers the girls from past visits.
He brought each of them a huge Mr. Freeze for finishing all the food on their plates.
Such a family friendly place.

When we got back to Courtney and Paul's we opened the gifts that we had brought for Soli's first Soliversary
The soliversary is when we celebrate the first day we met our sweet little lady.
Just one year ago and I cannot imagine life without that precious little girl.
I gave her some of her own tic tacs and you would have thought I gave her the moon.
Just another one of her loves.
We celebrated with cookies and milk.
Here we are with our two blessings after a busy, busy day.
Today, Sunday, Courtney went to a zumba training class.
Paul, John, the girls and I went to church.
We wanted to take them to Cherry Berry Yogurt, but we did not have car seats, so we could not drive there.
After some discussions, we decided we would bike there
Tiz would ride the tag a long on the back of Paul's bike which John would ride.  Confused, yet?
Soli would travel in the trailer on the back of Courtney's bike which I would ride.
Paul would drive there to meet us and join us for the yogurt treat.
It all worked out beautifully
On the way home, Paul rode his bike with Tizita and I had Soli, John drove the car home.
Wonder what people thought when they saw a 40 year old man, a 60 year old woman, and two small kids.  I know I would have been wondering about such a situation.
Funny stuff.
I was just happy that I could keep up with Paul on the ride home.
After our ride and treat, John and I left for home.
Paul and the girls were in the middle of a big squirt gun fight
It was a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Look Out, Exciting weekend ahead!

John and I are off on a few adventures this weekend and we are both excited about what may lay ahead.
Tomorrow evening we are driving up to Iron Mountain, Michigan so that John can interview at a company up there.
Before anyone gets the idea that we would move up there, hold on.  The position would be with this company, but it would be at a new office just opening in Pewaukee.
Pewaukee, folks, that is only 30 minutes away.
John commutes one hour and twenty minutes one way everyday to get to his present job in Sauk City.  That is almost three hours on the road each day.
Too much time to spend in a car, so this would definitely be a blessing for that reason alone.
I will not say any more except that the company is paying for our mileage up and back and for our motel room, so even if it doesn't pan out, we still have a free night to explore an area that is new to us.
On Friday we will leave Iron Mountain to go to Nicole and Josh's wedding in Manitowoc and Mishicot.  Nicole was our kindergarten teacher this past year and I loved working with her, so I am looking forward to a fun time seeing her get married.
We will leave Mishicot and then head to Oshkosh, my favorite place to be when I can't be at home.  (Well, there and Bloomington)
We will spend the night in Oshkosh and then take off early for the zoo.
This year we are getting our annual trip in early, we are not waiting till October like last year.
We also have family passes, thanks to Kev and Vikki, so this will not be our last or only trip this year.
At any rate, it is going to be a great weekend.
Bring it on.
Please send up some prayers that God would show us the plan with this new job opportunity.
Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekend recapo-Celebrating 37 years of wedded bliss

 After the girls left on Friday, John and I had a nice, relaxing weekend which included a 21 mile bike ride and celebrating our 37th anniversary.
We took the Lake Country Trail.
We start the trail in Oconomowoc at the Imagination Station Park.
 The trail is completely paved and you can go off and explore areas of Oconomowoc, Summit, and Delafield as  you travel along.
 We arrived in Delafield which is just about nine miles from where we started.
Delafield is such a cute little town with lots of shops and restaurants.
 We opted for a snack at a gas station because we knew we would be eating a big meal that night for our anniversary.

 Cushing Park is located right off the trail in Delafield.
We always like to stop there to use the bathroom.
We came upon this mama turtle who was laying her eggs right on the path to the bathrooms.
 Not so sure that is the best place to lay eggs, but what do I know.
 We made our way back into Oconomowoc and then took a tour around the lakes there.
 Just in case anyone reading would be interested in this trail, it is flat with just one small hill, completely paved as I said before and there are many places to stop along the way for treats and a bathroom.
A small portion of the trail is on a quiet road, but traffic moves slowly there and it is not a problem.
We did stop at Culver's for a sundae to reward ourselves for a ride well done.
 Later that day, we went to Fox and Hounds for our anniversary dinner.
I had gotten a gift card from two of my students and there is always a deal, buy one dinner, get the second one for free.
Fox and Hounds is located in a beautiful setting surrounded by woods.
 We enjoyed these drinks before dinner our dinner of prime rib, duck breast, and tenderloin.  It was all so yummy.
We treated ourselves to dessert, too.
After dinner we went into their downstairs pub and had a few beers while listening to a band.
It was a great night and a wonderful way to celebrate 37 years together.
On Sunday, Father's Day, John visited his dad at the care center and I put up new decorations for my dad at the cemetery.
As a side note, John had his shirt on inside out during our drink time and dinner at Fox and Hounds.  He finally noticed and fixed it in the bathroom.  We laughed about that one!
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