We traveled south last week for a visit with family in Kansas.  Our route took us off the interstate and along two lane highways and county roads.  It was relaxing and much more interesting than the speed-view when traveling at 70+ miles per hour.  We stopped at small city parks and explored fields of corn and soybeans.  The temperatures were still summer-like but the days are certainly shorter.  The sunsets were beautiful like this one –  fields of flowers and a ball of fire going down over the horizon but still giving its glow and colors to the clouds above.  The field was full of dragonflies and grasshoppers, all in a feeding frenzy before fall and winter’s arrival.  It was a wonderful trip — not just for the scenery but more importantly for the time spent with family.

Family after dumpster work 8056_StaatsWe’ve just returned from a quick Thanksgiving trip south – for warmer climes and family.  After large dinners and feasts, this group gathered together at my parents’ house.  Following both my mother’s and father’s deaths in the past year, their house of 57 years has many things in need of clearing and cleaning.  This group of people who I am so happy to claim as family all chipped in with sweat, work and lots of laughter to fill a huge dumpster in a short period of time. Decisions were made on what to save, what to donate, and what to pitch.  The pool table in the basement required the strength of the younger generation, along with the assistance of a chain saw and many recommendations (some heeded and some not) to find its way up the stairs to the dumpster.  What could have been a week-long project filled with angst and tears, became a joyful celebration of the family that my parents were so proud of.

Family together_Staats

This is a photograph of a family that’s come together to support one another amid a series of losses the past six months.  There is love and caring, trust and help. We’ve shared our laughter, our tears, our sorrow, and our togetherness; we’ve opened our hearts to one another, and we’ve learned new things about each other in the process.  When one of us was down, there was someone to listen to us, someone to comfort us, someone to hold us close.  There was someone to take the lead when decisions needed to be made or tasks needed to be accomplished.  I have a renewed appreciation for each of the people in this photograph.

With the recent deaths in my family I now understand first-hand the importance of photographing and preserving the memories that we collect over a lifetime.  This photograph was taken after the funeral service for my mother.  There was a mixture of sorrow and celebration in all of our hearts, but this is my family and I’m so very proud of our love and connection – something instilled in us all by both my mother and my father.

Pink peonies 1975_StaatsOur summer has finally arrived, and with it the peonies have burst into bloom.  I’m fortunate to have three peonies in the yard; one white one that was purchased here in Minnesota and is known to be hardy for our cold winters, and two pink peonies that I transplanted from my parents’ home in Kansas.  It took those two plants a couple of years to establish themselves, but they appear to be thriving now.  A week ago we had a huge wind and rain storm that moved through, causing major damage to trees, fences, and plants.  I was worried that the peonies, which has been pummeled by the storm, would not bloom.  But they have burst forth with the brightest of colors, and the best scent around.  Just having them in the house or seeing them in the yard brings a smile to my face and an acknowledgment that summer has arrived.

Last weekend I reached a goal I set for myself earlier this year – I completed 1,500 miles on my bike for the year.  From back in mid-March when the temperatures were cool and our legs weren’t ready, we’ve biked and journeyed through Minnesota and even across the state of Kansas.  We’ve seen prairies and wheat fields, lakes and flatlands, rain and wind, hills down and up.  Sadly some of my final miles this year have been ridden alone as my riding partner hasn’t been able to be on the bike.  But he was helping me along in all the important ways with his encouragement and support.  So last Sunday with a SSE wind of 14 mph+, I headed northeast on the Gateway Trail, then meandered on county roads with that tailwind behind me.  The final miles were north on the Sunrise Prairie Trail.  My wingman met me in the town of Stacy where I watched my bike odometer turn to 5,000 miles (yea!) and the culmination of 1,500 riding miles for this year.  My bicycle has brought me in contact with great people, amazing scenery, the best and worst of weather, a sense of accomplishment, and the most wonderful feeling of adventure as I cruise along on trails and roads.  The kid in me enjoys the freedom of riding and the adult in me appreciates the bounty of sights, sounds, and memories.  So this winter as the snow is piling up we’ll be planning our biking adventures and goals for next year.

During my quick road trip to Kansas last weekend I was fortunate to photograph my niece Lucy for her high school senior pictures.  Trying to fit it in between family obligations and her volleyball games was a bit of a challenge, but we carved out some time on Sunday morning.  The day was overcast and actually quite comfortable — a perfect combination for photos.  We wandered the area, utilizing some old storefronts, an alley, an old stadium, and the train tracks that traverse through the county.  By the time we were done, Lucy had given her smile and her charming personality a real workout, but it was all worth the effort.  She’s a great young woman with an exciting future ahead of her.  I can’t wait to see what adventures and accomplishments await her.

As I set out on my bicycle early this morning the temperature was already in the 70’s and the air was thick and humid.  I was thinking about our recent 500-mile ride across Kansas and how this morning’s 20-mile ride wasn’t much in comparison.  All of the scenery across Kansas was new to me – the beauty of the plains and the rolling hills have left a mark on me, and yet today’s ride was going to be over city streets that I’ve ridden so many times before.  I set a goal to pay attention to the scenery and surroundings of today’s ride to see what I might find and experience.  As I headed east into the sun I knew there was a slight curve ahead where the cemetery trees would be shading the road, but I was amazed at the rays of sunlight piercing through the leaves amidst the haze of the humidity.  I continued on knowing that I’d be passing many lakes I’ve ridden by countless times.  I passed this scene, then turned around and went back to photograph.  In the quiet of the early morning two fishermen had a glass-like lake all to themselves — it reminded me of an old tourist postcard for the lakes of Minnesota.  I thought about sitting in the chair and watching them, but I suspected there might be more scenes waiting for me ahead.  I rode to a small prairie restoration area and was greeted by blooming butterfly milkweed and gray-headed coneflowers.  I passed a lake that we have fished on many times, yet today there wasn’t a boat in sight.  Instead there was flotilla of geese gliding quietly across the lake.  A mile further down the road and I spotted a shy doe grazing on the far side of a pond — close enough to the woods to be able to run inside if she felt threatened.  Feeling strong as I neared home I looked down and saw I was riding at 20 mph in a high cadence on a city street, much like the riding I’d enjoyed in the western flats of Kansas.  All the experiences of my ride today were ones that I could have easily passed by and not noticed, but the intention of seeing with fresh eyes had brought me an appreciation for what was here for me today, in this place, now.