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What Remains

Dad and Grandma Reid – Alaska 1988

It is no secret that I am a stubborn person.  For those that know my family, I clearly inherited that trait from my dad.  Frankly, I am proud of that fact – and it goes deeper into my family history.  My paternal grandmother, Grandma Reid, was every bit as stubborn as her son.  I have no idea if my dad’s father was stubborn or not – sadly, he passed away long before I could meet him – but I am certain Dad inherited at least some of his stubborn nature from his mother.

After my senior year of high school, I spent the summer working with Dad and Grandma at the canoe livery, just as I had all throughout high school.  That summer, however, continues to stand out.  I normally didn’t argue or disagree with Dad.  I had learned to trust his judgement and accepted that he had reasons for the way he did things over the years.  That summer, I bristled.  I no longer wanted Dad to tell me what to do, even if he was my boss.  I couldn’t get to Michigan State fast enough.  To complicate matters, Grandma wouldn’t budge, set in her ways over the decades.  She didn’t always agree with me or Dad.  In fact, Dad and I had to make her get out of the office and enjoy herself.  That is how much she loved to work.

By August, things came to a head.  The three of us were not listening to one another, and we all thought we were right.  All these years later, I couldn’t even tell you what our disagreements were about.  Really, all that mattered is we loved one another, even if we were getting on each other’s last nerve.  Of course, things vastly improved once summer came to an end and I set off for new adventures at MSU.

While I consider myself close to Mom and her family, our stubborn natures somehow brought Dad, Grandma, and I together.  For me, it goes beyond stubbornness.  It is a drive to succeed.  It is a drive to lead a full life no matter what is thrown our way.  It is survival.

The Rifle

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Stoddard’s Landing July 2017 – Busy Saturdays!     Photo Credit:  Garrett Russell

I admit it, I take the river for granted.  It is such an ingrained part of my life – and even who I am – it is easy to overlook its power, not to mention the role it continues to play in my life.  My parents own Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds and have since June 1977, a few months prior to their wedding.  They purchased the business from my paternal grandmother who continued the business after my grandfather passed away.  The canoe livery is as much of my family history as it is my personal history.  Without the river, it simply wouldn’t exist.

Some of my earliest and best childhood memories involve the canoe livery.  I spent countless hours swimming in the river, running around the campground, and generally spending my summers with my family as they worked.  I hope my niece and nephews – and eventually my own child(ren) – will grow up the same way.  Heck, not every kid can say that they have their own busing system!  As my childhood home is located behind our Crystal Creek Campground store, my sister and I could simply catch the bus to our main location in Omer after watching Saturday morning cartoons.  All we had to do was run down the hill at either 9:15 AM, 10:45 AM, or 12:15 PM, bathing suits in tow.  Later in the day, we would turn the buses into our private forts.

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Our main location in Omer – Trust us, walk the campsites first!

One of my earliest memories of the canoe livery is of my grandmother teaching me to play the card game war in our old walk-up store.  I also remember her teaching me how to find the big dipper in the night sky at around that same age.  As a teenager, I spent countless summer weekends working with Grandma Reid, Mom, and Dad.  Grandma taught me so much about business and customer service.  Dad taught me, and continues to teach me, what it means to own a business and the value of hard work.  Mom, of course, continues to keep it all running smoothly – now more than ever.

As for the river itself, it has provided our family with a wonderful quality of life for decades.  I think of countless river trips over the years.  One of my absolute favorites took place on August 1st last summer (also known as July 32nd if you are a teacher).  I spent four hours tubing with one of my best friends.  There may have been wine involved.  We spent four hours catching up and enjoying the perfect Michigan summer afternoon/early evening.  The weather was so perfect, we almost called my brother to pick us up downstream.  We wanted to do the hour and a half trip as well.

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My favorite part of Crystal Creek Campground – “Across the road, bottom of the hill.”

It is easy to forget the power of the river on a beautiful Michigan summer day.  The Rifle is spring fed and has a swift current (about 5 MPH) during the best of times, but it can become downright dangerous if the water is too high.  In fact, we won’t rent equipment if it is too high.  Add in ice and it becomes unbelievably destructive.  Fortunately, in the years my parents have owned the business, we have only experienced severe flooding and ice damage a handful of times.  In 1984, my parents’ mobile home was flooded shortly before we were to move into our new house.  In 1991, we had 4 ft. of water in our store in Omer and ice damage at Crystal Creek.  Due to ice jamming up at Pinnacle Bridge, which cuts right through Crystal Creek, we have experienced ice damage to trees and outhouses at Crystal Creek a few times as well.  Nothing could have prepared us for this year.

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The “back yard” of my childhood home: Crystal Creek Campground.

In late February of this year, those along the Rifle River experienced flooding not seen since the 1950s due to ice buildup.  Sadly, some people living in Pinnacle Park, which is located just up river from our Crystal Creek Campground, lost their homes.  Our Crystal Creek Campground continues to look as though it was hit by a tornado.  Dad and my brother Garrett are just now beginning to clean up.  It is awful.  Once it is finished, I will share pictures.  The electrical system in that part of the campground will need to be replaced.  On a lighter note, my parents’ home, the Crystal Creek store and shower house, and other out buildings are located on much higher ground and not affected.

Fortunately, our main location faired better.  However, it did not remain unscathed.  Our store in Omer took on two feet of water and mud, as did our pole barns.  Luckily, our electrical system held.  Overall, we were lucky.  Other canoe liveries in the area experienced damage to vehicles, cabins, and more.  Some even lost canoes and kayaks down river.  Throughout this process, we have learned a few things and will be changing some processes when it comes time to close this fall.

My brother and I may never experience anything like this during our tenure as owners, but we will be better prepared.  For so many varied reasons – many of which I can’t get into here – none of us will ever forget 2018.  Here’s to a great summer and a beautiful (even if late) spring!  I am looking forward to being back at my summer office.

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Dreams

I don’t talk about my mom nearly enough.  If you would have asked me five years ago if we were close, I would have told you no, we aren’t particularly close.  I’m not exactly sure when that changed, but it did change, for the better.  As an undergrad at Michigan State University, I used to marvel at the girls who called their moms every day.  It confused me.  On one hand, I wanted that type of relationship with my mom; on the other, I loved my independence too much.  However, if I didn’t call every Sunday, I would be tracked down.

Now that I am older, I am grateful for that independence, although I can’t imagine it today.  I do talk to my mom almost every day now.  My parents were more concerned when I was commuting and taking classes at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) a few years ago than they ever were during my years at Michigan State.  I find it funny and fascinating.  I think I understand it though.  My parents still had my sister and brother at home.  They were still dealing with sports activities and whatever trouble my brother decided to get into that particular week.  Still, I would never go as far as to say that I had a difficult relationship with my parents, even when we didn’t talk all that often.  They just let me get on with having fun in college – and I did.

As a teenager, it was common for my dad, brother, and sister to watch TV together in the living room.  My mom and I would watch something else in my parents’ bedroom.  I would lounge on my parents’ bed while mom would get her clothes ready for the next day, etc.  One of our favorites happened to be Ally McBeal.  At times, we would have some great conversations too.

During one weekend home during my sophomore year at MSU, such a scenario took place when I needed my mom’s advice most.  At the time, I felt as though I had to choose between semester long Spanish programs in Spain or Ecuador.  How was I supposed to choose between the two?  I didn’t want to have to make that decision.  I wanted to do both.  I asked my mom what she thought.  All she asked is that I be home for Christmas.  It worked.  I found a way to make it work without delaying graduation.  I never forgot my parents’ support of that decision.  I also learned to be flexible and find a way to do what I wanted to do – on my terms.

Shortly before my mom retired in 2010, I learned she dreamed of writing children’s books in retirement.  Considering her career as an elementary school teacher, it isn’t surprising.  What surprised me most is:  1.  I never knew that my mom wanted to write at all.  I thought it was my dream alone, and one I didn’t share with many people at the time.  2.  I didn’t learn this from my mom, I learned it through a mutual friend.  Shocked, surprised, and happy, we began working on her children’s books together.  She wanted my input and help polishing them.

Here’s the problem:  I am way too close to my mom’s books.  I love them.  I know exactly where she is going with them, and I love the fact her books are based on part of a writing curriculum she used in her kindergarten classroom.  We both need to get writing again and finish getting those books ready to submit.  Every time we work on them, I fall in love with her books all over again.

I love the process that we have working together.  It is fun working with her and bouncing ideas off one another.  We can usually come to some sort of agreement or even come to the same conclusions.  I hope we can eventually get to the point where we are comfortable submitting them for publication.  It is time.

The funny thing is that I can just hear my mom reading her books to groups of kids.  As a child, there was nothing better than her versions of Sesame Street books.  She is great at making all of the different voices necessary to make a children’s book come alive.  Grover and the Count are still favorites with her grandchildren.  I can’t wait to hear her reading her own books in front of a crowd eager for more.

A Fresh Start

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No matter how many times I start over again, it never gets old.  I love feeling as though this time I may get it right.  This time, there are many loose ends I need to complete.  When I think about all I have experienced over the last five years, this isn’t surprising.  First, I moved in with my grandmother in November 2012 to help take care of her.  Nearing 88 years old at the time, she needed company and no longer wished to drive.  Unfortunately, she became incredibly sick that winter and ended up needing nursing home care.

A year later, I decided to go back to school to earn my teaching degree.  I started substitute teaching and taking classes.  In April 2014, my other grandmother passed away.  Even though I didn’t see her daily, I was close to her too.  Shortly thereafter, my relationship with my boyfriend of 10 years dissolved in the worst way possible.  In May it will be nearly four years, and it still hurts at times, even if I have no regrets about the outcome.

As I finished my classes and student teaching, my surviving grandmother became less active and generally sicker.  She passed away just shy of her 92nd birthday.  On Sunday, it will mark one year since she passed away.  There are several other details I could include here, but I had to see for myself, in writing, some of the major events that have marked these last several years.

I am still going through my grandmother’s things and mine as well.  I am still coming to terms with no longer being a student.  When I returned to the classroom after almost exactly 10 years since I graduated from Michigan State University, I realized how much I missed it.  Before I move ahead, it is necessary to appreciate where I have been.

It is now time for me to figure out what I want out of life.  There are some non-negotiables.  I will be a part of the canoe livery, I will have a teaching career, and I will eventually adopt.  It is the personal details that I need to work out, and I have no idea where to begin.  It is so tempting to compare myself to others and feel as though I should have accomplished more at this point in my life.  I just have to remind myself that it is my life and no one else’s.

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Focus

focusThis sums up my 2017 so far. I intended to chose a word for the year, but never did. In fact, I am still working on my word for 2016: Home. Have I made progress? Yes. Unfortunately, I am not quite there yet. I suppose it is for the best. There is still so much to do. I still have so many things to go through and do before I can truly say that I have turned this house into a home.

Right now, I need to focus to finish everything I’ve started. There is so much going on with my education and teaching career, the canoe livery, my family, and the wonderful organizations to which I belong that I find myself constantly reorganizing or changing dates if necessary. I love it. What would I do if I didn’t have such a full life? I honestly have no idea.

This is exactly why I question whether or not I even want to be in a relationship. I’m not quite sure how it would even work. Considering my plans to foster to adopt, I should make the most of these last few years of living alone. It is nice not having to answer to anyone or to be responsible for anyone else. I am increasingly aware that it will not always be this way. On the other hand, maybe I take everything in my life way too seriously.

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Leading By Example

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http://nothingbutbonfires.com/2011/06/sixty-years-memories

As my brother, sister, and I work on a project for our Mom’s 60th birthday (see link above for more information on what we are doing), I can’t help but think about role models.  It is clear from the letters we’ve received so far that my Mom left a lasting impression on at least a few of her students.  Those letters, preparing for student teaching in the fall, all combined with working with my parents and brother on a daily basis at the canoe livery make it clear that I am once and for all right where I need to be.

I do not remember a time when I did want to be like my Grandpa B. and my Dad when I grew up.  I loved my Mom dearly, but I never wanted to be “just” a teacher (how awful this sounds now).  In the case of my little sister, that is all she ever wanted to be.  In fact, I admired her for her determination and having the sense of self to know what she wanted to do with her life from the time she was born.  I just knew that I needed to create.  I’m not sure when I made the connection between business and creativity, but I did.  I watched as my parents grew their business throughout my childhood.  I watched as Grandpa B. grew his during the same time period.  The funny thing is that as much as I admired both Grandpa and my Dad, they had vastly different visions for their businesses.

Neither my Dad or Grandpa started their respective businesses.  My parents purchased Russell Canoe Livery from my Grandma Reid, my Dad’s mom.  In the case of my Grandpa, he took over his grandfather’s business with his younger brother.  After my Dad lost his father to cancer, he and Grandma Reid kept the business running.  When my parents married in 1977, they purchased the canoe livery too.  I saw the early sacrifices they made to grow their business, and even though no one expressly said so, I always believed that my Dad was more concerned with creating a business around our family’s lifestyle than business itself.  During the summer business came first, but there always seemed to be time to make memories of our own as a family.

Grandpa, on the other hand, truly loved the convenience store business.  During summer time trips to the UP (the Upper Peninsula for those not from Michigan), we would stop at his convenience stores to see how things were going.  He constantly sought to expand his business and enter into new business ventures.  My Dad sought to innovate at the canoe livery as well, and did so successfully; however, he never had an interest to expand into new business opportunities.  As I later managed one of Grandpa’s convenience stores for a short time, I learned so much from both men.

Only fairly recently did I fully appreciate my Mom’s role in the success of the canoe livery.  As I have taken on more of her responsibilities, I have a new respect for all of those summers she worked while other teachers took much needed time off.  She continues to be the glue that makes everything work.  Late in her teaching career the superintendent at the time asked her why she never pursued her Master’s degree (she ended up with the equivalent).  She simply stated that she was too busy spending her summers building a business.  I include that here because it illustrates just how under appreciated my Mom’s contributions to the family business can be at times.  There is no doubt that my Mom had a successful 32 year teaching career.  I argue that her nearly 40 year career as a co-owner of a family business is just as successful.  She worries about how our Crystal Creek Campground will run without her.  As a future owner, I worry as well.  Our Crystal Creek customers love her, and I can’t imagine Crystal Creek without her.

The funny thing is that I am largely following in her footsteps.  Not Dad’s.  Not Grandpa B.’s.  Those men taught me so much about business and impacted my career in thousands of ways, but it is my Mom’s example I will follow.  I plan to teach and spend my summer’s continuing to build Russell Canoe Livery with my brother.  If I am half as successful as my Mom as both teacher and small business owner, I will do well.

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The "back yard" of my childhood home:  Crystal Creek Campground.

The “back yard” of my childhood home: Crystal Creek Campground.

May

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Call it a casualty of having an overly full life, but I have no idea what happened to May.  It began with a quick getaway with my Mom and the end of one of the most trying semesters of my college career, Mother’s Day brought new hope and renewed faith, and Memorial Day signaled the unofficial start of my summer life.  I’ve wanted to write a post about motherhood and Mother’s Day for close to a month, and frankly, I doubt I can do my feelings justice.

Something felt different about Mother’s Day this year.  Even though in recent years I’ve been fortunate to spend Mother’s Day with my Mom and Grandma(s), the very thought of Mother’s Day was enough to make me break out in hives.  When I worked in retail, I had to keep my composure as customer after customer wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day!”  They all meant well, but they also had no idea how those words stung.  The first thing I remember wanting out of life – to be a mom – eluded me and continues to elude me, at least for now.  Even though I knew that I wanted to adopt in the future, I saw no way to do so.  Fortunately, I changed the circumstances of my life.

That is why this Mother’s Day felt so different.  There is nothing standing in my way now.  Winter semester 2016, now in the books, marked the last traditional semester of my teacher certification program, my second college career.  After completing my last class at the end of this month, only student teaching and extensive testing stand between me and my first teaching position.  I will finally be in a position to adopt and create a family of my own.  The sense of purpose – and peace – I have in my life now shapes everything I do and my future.  I know that I’ve talked about this before, but I did not expect to feel this way so soon.  I haven’t even taken classes to become a foster parent yet.  Above all, I needed to trust that I will make it happen.  I love knowing that it is now all up to me.

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Not My Mother’s Life

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Getting Married is Not An Accomplishment – Natalie Brooke – Huffington Post

As my last semester as an undergrad comes to a close (student teaching not withstanding), I can’t help but wonder what my future will bring.  I finally came to the conclusion that I will have to create my own path.  There is no template in my family for what I am about to do.  My mother, and my grandmothers and great-grandmothers before her, married by age 21 and became a mother by age 24.  I do not know what single-parenthood looks like on a daily basis.  Am I confident that I can handle being a single mother?  Yes.  Is that what I intended for my life?  No.

Add in the process of becoming a foster parent and then adoption, and I am clearly in uncharted territory.  Fortunately, I’ve been preparing for this most of my life, and I am fortunate to know several people who have adopted and served as foster parents over the years.  I have resources.  Add in the fact that most of my family lives nearby, and I know that I can do this.  I also have a wonderful group of women with Turner Syndrome that I can lean on for support too.

In fact, a comment by a fellow woman with Turner Syndrome really made me think.  Her statement summarizes what I’ve been feeling for much of my teenage years and then my adult life and nails it.

“What feels lacking is the status given to women for their fertility – and precious little else.  I think we are in the *perfect* position to blow that ideology back to where it came from and help people learn of different ways to make a family and make a life.”

Unless you’ve lived through infertility, I don’t think people recognize the extent to which women are still valued for their fertility.  That brings me to the article above.  As a society, we celebrate marriages and births.  Women are still largely defined through family and marriage.  While privately our family and friends might celebrate our academic and career accomplishments, they are not celebrated in the same way in our society.  Why not?  Who says that one has to marry to create a family?  That may be ideal, but it just might not work for everyone.

Why should I wait until I meet the right man before I pursue my dream of having a family of my own?  I already spent ten years with someone who was not right for me in the hopes that we would get married and start a family.  It turns out that he did want a family, just not with me.  As difficult as those lessons were, I am much stronger for it.  After letting go of that relationship, I was finally free to start pursuing my dreams again.  It wasn’t that my ex prevented me for pursuing them.  Instead I found myself holding back until the timing was “right” and focusing on “us” when there never truly was an “us,” at least not as how I perceived it should be.

Frankly, I would love to meet the right man, someone with whom I can share my life.  If it doesn’t happen, it isn’t the end of the world.  As I go through the process of becoming a foster parent and adopting, I am going to focus on myself and what I want out of life.  I am in a position to create the life that I want.  I might as well make the most of it.

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The “L” Word – Love

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There is no more loaded and misused word in the English language than love.  This post, as much as I wish it could be about romantic love, is about the everyday love that gets people up in the morning.  The thing is that I would not be here or in the position I am now if it were not for the love of several people in my family – namely my parents and every single one of my grandparents.  I realize that many people can say that, but not all.  Also, I have the unique perspective of being able to directly tie my future to the love and support of my parents and grandparents.  If it weren’t for my family, I would not have been able to go back to school to pursue my teaching degree.  If I am able to fully realize my dream of being a high school teacher, business owner, and mom, it certainly won’t be due to my efforts alone.  Only the love of several people could help me accomplish those goals.

When I first began thinking about this post, I couldn’t help but think of my Grandma B., my maternal grandmother.  She passed away in 2014 just as I was beginning my second college career.  She most definitely approved of my plan.  When I finally have my first classroom, I know that she’ll be watching over me from wherever she may be.  Education meant that much to her.  My other grandmother, Grandma R., values education every bit as much, but never had the opportunity to obtain a college education.  Even at 91, she reminds me at least once a week that she loved school, and she tells me old school stories that I’ve heard too many times to count.  I love it because I will never forget them.  In some ways, I feel as though I am getting an additional opportunity at a college education that she never had.  If I eventually do adopt, my child(ren) will know all about them and the profound influence they had on our entire family.

What frustrates me at the moment is that I so badly want to give back what has been given to me.  I want to help someone achieve their dreams.  I am just not there – yet.  I am not in that position – yet.  I have so much love to give and, as of yet, no family of my own.  I am simply way too impatient.