49 while I was 49

Clos du BoisA friend of mine was posting her “50 at 50” activities on Facebook. They were simple moments that she shared with us as she enjoyed being 50. Things she had wanted to do or simply happened to do for the first time, we all got informed. It made me think about my approaching birthday and so I stole the idea (sent her a note thanking her for the inspiration) and began sharing “49 at 49” events in my life. I started out by making a list of things I had not done yet (to prompt me to play tourist in the Chicago metro area), as well as some things that were more aspirational. My family got going on some outings to tackle the nearby locations and then it got spontaneous. My work provided a number of opportunities and I also included the situations where I introduced my son to an experience or place. I had saved this document and looking back, I see some misses (like take a road trip to Nashville) but there were some unexpected treats along the way. I stopped to go back and take inventory and compiled the list here:
1. First visit to Halas Hall.
2. Go to Navy Pier
3. Check out the Sky Deck at Willis (aka Sears) Tower
4. Take a water taxi ride
5. Stroll down Michigan Avenue with the boys
6. See the birthplace of Ernest Hemmingway (Oak Park)
7. Invited to a behind-the-scenes tour of Brookfield Zoo & was introduced to a dolphin
8. Met Indy Car driver Juan Pablo Montoya
9. Eat ice cream for dinner
10. Birthday lunch at Pirates of the Caribbean (Anaheim)
11. Take a tour of the Robert R. McCormick estate at Cantigny Park
12. Held a back-to-school assembly for Corliss High School with guest speaker Stephen Paea, of the Chicago Bears
13. Attended a reception on the 57th floor of the Chase building and announce HopeLine grant for WINGS Metro
14. Step on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood
15. Visit the Hollywood Wax Museum
16. Attended the Domestic Violence Summit hosted by Dr. Phil & Robin McGraw
17. Met Green Bay Packer player Clay Matthews
18. Met up with Pedro Medrano for lunch (From my Freshman dorm, had not seen since graduation)
19. Visited Margie’s Candies in Chicago and had ice cream for breakfast
20. Ate dinner at Eataly (downtown Chicago)
21. Ate lunch at Ditka’s (downtown Chicago)
22. Completed the opening of Verizon’s Chicago Destination Store, with Jennifer Hudson as our first shopper
23. Attended the “Holiday Magic” event at the Brookfield Zoo with the lights on display
24. Had brunch at the Four Seasons (where we met Santa and decorated a gingerbread house)
25. Lunch in the Signature Room of the John Hancock building
26. Visited the Museum of Science & Industry and saw Christmas trees, Disney and submarine exhibits
27. Family dinner at Benihana
28. Learned about the Animal Ambassador program of the Brookfield Zoo
29. Family dinner at the Melting Pot
30. Went to the Chicago Auto Show, as well as the “Women Driving Excellence” event in McCormack Place
31. Took the first family vacation to Florida
32. Went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios
33. Stayed at the Wilderness Lodge
34. Went to Disney’s Magic Kingdom
35. Entered park for the opening ceremony with Mickey & Co.
36. Saw the evening fireworks at the close of Magic Kingdom
37. Visited with sorority sister
38. Attended an event at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (Chicago)
39. Went to a party at the Trump Hotel
40. Took a selfie with Governor Walker, of Wisconsin
41. Announced the first HopeLine grant of 2015: $100,000 to the Sojourner Family Peace Center
42. Wine tasting at Clos du Bois (Sonoma)
43. Wine tasting at Trione (Sonoma)
44. Wine tasting at Domaine Carneros (Napa)
45. Lunch at Catelli’s (Sonoma)
46. Go to Rockaway Beach (California)
47. Easter service at the Santa Rosa Alliance Church
48. Visit the Chicago Cultural Center
49. Introduced the keynote speaker (Kimberly Bryant) at the M2W conference
There were some extra items I had included in my first draft (goals) that I did also accomplish such as write a real letter rather than email, do more good deeds, and sort through old boxes. But, others I did not complete such as write five blog posts or begin Christmas shopping in the summer. Something for me to consider this year!

Time Passing…

Background: I started writing this a year ago, then I did not post it. I came upon it and another draft that now I’ll be posting so it has been two years since my last published post.
My son just turned 8. I had intended to write in time for his birthday. Being slightly compulsive, I thought the deadline would help me get back to writing. That did not happen but as we are now into his 8th year, it does provide me an opportunity to reflect.
He has made me proud so many times this year.
We had a parent-teacher conference and his teacher shared that she relies on him to help new students ease into the class. He has good leadership skills but also has a nice manner with younger kids (it was a first and second grade split class).
We watched a movie about the Tuskegee Airmen and he heard some language for the first time which prompted us to talk about racism. As we explained it, he said it made his “heart hurt.”
He actively decides on items to donate to a local domestic violence shelter. We’ve taken clothes, toys and books of his that he has outgrown. I also have given them furniture and other household goods. Recently he asked if he could give some money that had been given to him, too. He has learned to share and he realizes that he has been blessed with quite a bit.
He also makes me smile a lot. For Mother’s Day he filled out a form in school about my traits and among them he said “She always knows what to say when I’m sad.” And, he listed a hobby of mine was shopping for clothes. For the record, I tend to shop for him! He also thinks I “know his every move.” I hope he believes that for a while.
He turns his head when couples kiss on tv. He lets me cover his eyes if something violent happens in a show.
A fun area of connection for us is music. We seem to have similar tastes, which are mixed: The Fray, Maroon 5, OneRepublic, Bruno Marz all have had recent songs that we both enjoy.
I have them saved to a playlist, so that makes things easier. We listen to music mostly as we are in the car. And, we gave him a record player so a visit to a store selling vinyl makes for a good afternoon. He’s gotten a decent mix of old and new, including Michael Jackson and KISS. He’ll have interesting tastes when he gets older.

In Real Life

Riding the Camel057Several years ago, I lived in Sonoma, California and worked in a small business. I hired a marketing assistant who became a friend. I was single and Trish was married but we connected. She made plans to travel to Tunisia to visit her husband’s family and she invited me to accompany them. It was a unique offer. I had never actually considered a vacation to Tunisia. It turned out that we would need to fly through Paris, so that was going to be a few days’ visit. I decided to do it. It was an interesting trip. I had not thought through the language challenges. Her husband was tri-lingual and I had assumed his family might also be but they were not. So while he spoke English, no one else did. He sometimes would translate into French for Trish (she was bi-lingual) and she could turn around and let me know in English what was happening. Sometimes I could not follow. Perhaps the funniest episode was we were driving and I got excited as we spotted a man walking with a camel. A camel! Live, in person, just walking along the road. I wanted to take a picture, so we stopped the car. Then, Trish’s husband approached the man and said something to him in Arabic, so he stopped to pose for me. It got better! He invited me to jump on the camel. OK—I reacted without hesitation! Perhaps I should have paused to consider it more. As I sat on the camel and it stood, I was almost pitched off its back. You don’t think about it but how a camel is built, with long legs and neck, means it is a bit awkward in its movement. As it stood, it rocked forward and I did not expect to go in that direction. So I squeezed with my legs with all my might because I immediately thought of flying to the ground and having to go to a hospital where no one spoke English and then calling my mother to tell her I was hurt and thousands of miles away. This could not happen. It did not.
Well, Trish ended up quitting, then getting divorced, and she moved to Chicago. Then she returned home to Tennessee. Years passed and I moved to Chicago. I got married and had a son. She became an artist and produced theatre work. We have sent each other Christmas cards and Facebook came into existence, so we have watched as we posted random notes or photos. We have visited each other twice since I moved to the Midwest.
A week ago, I had a business trip to Nashville and she came to get me. We realized very quickly that it had been TEN YEARS since we actually had seen each other in person. TEN YEARS! I’m not sure how that much time had passed. She’s never met my son. I never met her second husband. We ate lunch, we drove to the airport, and we chatted non-stop. It was so much fun and it reminded me that I need to get to Nashville more often. I cherish the friendships I’ve developed over the years and I rely on social networks to keep in touch. For the most part, it feels like it works. After all, we can’t jump on planes and travel all over the country every year. But seeing someone live, in person, really is so much better. That short visit covered so much territory.
I have other friends, who live in California, who I’ve seen more than once in ten years. Like my friend since junior high, Susy, who was in my wedding and has come out to Chicago multiple times. Or, Aileen, who I have known for more than two decades. I saw her son as a newborn and her second son just had his Bar Mitzvah. Their kids have grown up mostly in pictures, so it is nice when you can see them in real life. Status updates or tweets only provide a limited amount of information. It is good to be reminded how to connect the old fashioned way.

Little Moments

002I recently read a blog post by a friend, Tina Seitzinger; she shared some memories of her childhood. Then she shifted to wondering what her boys might remember from their family life. It got me to thinking about how motherhood is full of surprises and lots of small moments. There were times from when my son was really little that he will not likely remember. I used to dance with him in my arms to music videos. Mary J. Blige was an early favorite of his. Now he enjoys LMFAO and Maroon 5, among others.

The Tooth Fairy visits have been good. We’ve done brunch with the Easter Bunny and Santa and have taken photos, so those events should stick.

I have randomly taken him for donuts before school where we’ve sat together enjoying breakfast dates.

Sunday mornings our family often goes out for breakfast and his order is always Fruity Pebble pancakes.

“Movie nights” happen spontaneously—all it takes it some popcorn and dimming the lights in the living room. We have amassed a huge library of movies. Someday I hope to be able to get back to my regular viewing habits but I mostly get to all the G-rated and some PG-rated family entertainment these days. I think my son appreciates it.

My husband has been responsible for us venturing to places like the farm that our park district runs, or the Renaissance Faire that is open every summer. Our son’s fascination with knights and swords ensures we’ll be doing this for a while. We also caught a Civil War reenactment recently. It was complete with a battle and cannons.

My husband has also been good about getting involved in the t-ball practices while I was more into his one attempt at soccer. All in all, I like the balance that 001we’ve had in our participation. We’ve both volunteered at his school for some events, most recently, helping with a community garden.

Then, there have been ‘firsts’ like the first outing on a beach. It was Half Moon Bay, California.

What are some of your favorite family moments?

More Bedtime Stories I Enjoy Reading

Charlie Cook coverI am constantly looking for new books for my son. We’ve made the transition from me doing all the reading to now he reads to me (mostly). Since he is in school, he is supposed to complete a “reading log” to show he has spent at least ten minutes per night reading. Does anyone else have this to do daily? His tastes run toward Star Wars. I like more variety. I decided to share a list of books (in alphabetical order) that I don’t mind reading over and over again, that have captured his imagination, too. I have included some that are holiday-oriented. I figure we can all use new suggestions, so please use the comments section to provide titles you enjoy, too.

“Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book” by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler details the adventures of a boy named Charlie Cook who likes to sit in a big armchair reading his favorite books. There are pirates, a knight and a dragon, a crocodile, and a ghost, among others, who also enjoy books. I’m not too subtle as I try to instill a love of reading in my son!

“The Duckling Gets a Cookie” by Mo Willems is really simple and yet it gets some big laughs from my son. A duckling has a cookie and the pigeon wants it. He gets it. Turns out the duckling prefers them without nuts.

“I Can Read with My Eyes Shut” by Dr. Seuss is one of a number of Seuss books we read. It contains a rather obvious lesson: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

“Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” by Robert Barry shows how Mr. Willowby shares his huge tree with his neighbors, including the Bear, Fox, Rabbit and Mouse families. Nothing goes to waste and everyone’s homes are made more festive with their new trees.  Mr-Willowby

“Room on a Broom” The pair of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler again offer some fun illustrations along with poetic language: “Over the reeds and the rivers they flew, the bird shrieked with glee and the stormy wind blew. They shot through the sky to the back of beyond. The witch clutched her bow—but let go of her wand.” And we are taken on an adventure with an unlucky witch and her passengers. We have 6 books written and illustrated by this duo and all are very entertaining.

“We Are in A Book,” I think we have more than half a dozen of Mo Willems’ works involving Piggie and Gerald as the main characters. They live life and tackle problems together. At some point, they come to the realization that they are being read. It is funny when they start to address the audience directly.

Tragedies and Loss of Innocence

In December, I was at my desk working while I kept an eye on Twitter. I started to see posts about a shooting in Newtown. I opened a few stories and realized something very bad had happened. But it was a photo of children being evacuated that rocked me to my core. Even thinking about it now brings tears to my eyes. The photographer captured a moment of sheer terror. Those little faces were so close in age to my son, as I sat there I started to imagine the scene unfolding in my neighborhood, I lost it.

photo from NY Daily News
photo from NY Daily News

I decided I needed to get to my son. I packed up and got to my car and then I realized he was still in school. So, then I t occurred to me I might upset him if I disrupted his routine. OK, new plan, run errands until he would be settled into daycare. It was better that I had an opportunity to think and plan. I realized we needed to keep network television off to avoid news coverage and limit his shows to On Demand, videos, etc. By the time I did get to him, his daycare was in the midst of a previously-scheduled party. All the kids were blissfully unaware of the day’s events. We managed to limit his exposure to tv for the next week and I communicated with his teacher so she was aware that in our household Newtown was not being discussed. Interestingly, the school district had recommended that we address the matter with our children but I decided not to follow that direction.

Flash forward to April and the bombing in Boston. As the photos of the suspects were shown on the news, it occurred to me it was time for my son to see that evil can come in the form of some average-looking young men. If he has experienced lockdown drills at school, it seems fitting to understand that bad people may appear in unlikely places. It is not a lesson I expected to approach with him just yet but I felt that he needs to be better aware. It would be great if we could preserve him in a bubble of innocence but I’m not sure that will serve him well. Unfortunately one of the victims was again a boy his age so that also drove the point home. I took to the Internet, to Twitter, to find out how others have approached these topics. There was no uniform answer. But it was helpful to gather some insights and professional opinions about how these events might impact my son. I felt mentally prepared to handle it. My husband and I are both first-time parents and with our one son, all our attention has been focused (for better or worse). I was grateful for my social network.

Life Happens

bowlingWhen I began my blog I was newly-unemployed. I decided to split my available time between my son, embarking on a job search and expanding my social media skills. It took ten months to secure a new job. During those months, my son and I went on various outings (bowling, library visits, swimming, and the zoo, among others). I was able to walk him to school every morning as he started Kindergarten and I assisted the coasummer 2011ch for his first soccer team. It was a success in many regards.

I got this blog launched and networked with better-established bloggers. I did not have a rhythm going but I did manage to produce some decent content. The new job stalled my best intentions. Life happens. My son is completing the first grade and we have been to Disneyland. Soccer was replaced by t-ball. And the tooth Fairy has made repeated visits to our house.

Last weekend, I attended a conference and Chris Brogan was a presenter. He talked about distractions and suggested if we “stopped doing stupid shit” we could get more accomplished. With that in mind, I am resuming my writing. It is a time I can carve out for me. Let’s begin…

My Life Interrupted

The goal or theme of writing this blog was how I intended to make sure my life was balanced. I started a new job in October and as a result I have not been writing. I have been very busy at work and learning a great deal, and I did not have much more to give of myself when I got home. My son started kindergarten and we’ve been surprised to find we had homework every night. My priority was to help him with his assignments and by the end of the night I’ve been spent. Happily, we are seeing all sorts of progress in his reading and writing skills, and how he can illustrate his thoughts. We’ve also had our first two parent-teacher conferences. We’re watching him develop before our eyes.

I have a neighbor who is facing health issues and her husband was recently laid off from his job. As a result, she and I have discussed our mortality. We’re close in age and had our babies within two months of each other, so our lives have been on parallel paths. In recent days, there have been announcements of the deaths of a few famous people that also struck a nerve in me. First, there was a news story that Wall Street Journal author Jeff Zaslow died in a car accident. Aside from his newspaper work, his book, “The Last Lecture” was a favorite of mine. I found so many life lessons in it and felt the connection he had made with his subject (professor Randy Pausch). His writing was powerful. Then, to read that he was the father of three daughters and had just published another book made me stop short. We all go through life knowing it will end eventually but are rather blissfully unaware of when that might be. We presume we have decades but what if it turns out there are only months (or less) left for us? Would we do things differently? Then there was Whitney Houston. A huge talent squandered. She was only 48. Two years older than me and she’s gone. Finally, there was baseball player Gary Carter. I remember enjoying his play—even though I was not a fan of the Expos or the Mets, I could just appreciate his skill.

I’m planning our first Spring Break vacation and it will be a trip to Los Angeles. A visit to Disneyland is on the agenda. My husband and I are hoping to surprise our son. We’ve seen those ads where kids are told about the destination and they go nuts. I’m not sure if we can hold out that long but we’re going to try. There are six weeks to go and we’re weakening. We have all this anticipation building for us and we do stop periodically because we want to remember to enjoy it as it happens. Taking too many pictures or having too many expectations may make it less fun in the end. But, it might just be magical.

Part of the fun of the So Cal trip is that I can hopefully see some friends who I have not seen in years. A former co-worker, college roommate, business associate—I hope we can squeeze them all in. Through social media, email and Christmas cards, we’ve managed to keep track of one another for many years but it would be really great to see people in person. Like the ad…we will be creating memories.



I love Fall! (and so does my son)

This post will be more photo-heavy than most. We live near a pumpkin patch. We visit it annually and our son has a good time there. I love taking photos. Here is one from maybe three years back as he was looking for the perfect pumpkin.

My husband introduced him to leaf piles. Yesterday a neighbor invited him over to play soccer then proceeded to build a huge pile of leaves that became the goal. I think my son spent more time in the goal than the ball.

It was raining leaves.








Then he got buried (like at the beach).


Then he emerged!

Rainbows…a little bit of magic

My son saw his first rainbow today. I have to say it was pretty cool. He was at soccer practice. I was not thrilled to be there on the sidelines because it was overcast and windy. I thought we had lucked out with no rain but the clouds opened up with about five minutes left. Off in the distance there was a rainbow and my son stopped dead in his tracks to look at it. It was a double rainbow and it looked like it ended right on top of our car. As we walked toward it he could see it was far away. I stopped in the parking lot and took a photo. We drove home and saw the other end of it,  which made the experience complete.

Looking back on this year, I may have preferred to have worked but I would have missed so much in the process. We went swimming. There were play dates. The walks to and from school. I could not have done all that if I had been employed. So I guess I am actually thankful that I was forced to have this time off and be available for my son. I hope he has good memories of this summer. I know I will.

We’ve had some fun conversations. I’ve jotted down his comments when he made me laugh. I was not sure I could use them, but his insights have been pretty entertaining.  Here are a couple: “There’s a lot of love in this family” or “You know what I like about our house? Everything.”

It is possible that we would have had similar exchanges on our way home from work. Or that he would make cute observations over the weekend. However, the sheer number of hours we spent together meant that my odds were greater to catch the small details. I will readily admit to getting tired of cartoons and non-adult activities. But like tonight, I regularly realized I was witnessing firsts and those simply cannot be recreated. Another blogger (Mommy Needs A Vacation) recently wrote about magical moments being all around us and I could not agree more.