Monday, August 12, 2019

Dear Sons: Attitude is Everything (Letter #32)

Dear Sons, (Letter #32)

I jotted something down a few years back:

"You can live your life one of two ways - as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle."

Of course, I choose the latter. Some people may think it's unrealistic to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, never getting a true look at reality. It doesn't mean I ignore reality, I just focus more on the positive. I've learned over the years how important a good attitude is. It's everything. If you believe you're going to fail, you probably will.

I hope that as you grow, you'll learn and understand what I mean. Trying to talk to teenagers about having a good attitude is often fruitless. Parents' opinions and advice carry as much weight as the whiny, blabbering teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons - largely ignored and incoherent.

But as you head out into the world, you'll find that a good attitude will serve you well in so many ways. People will listen more. They'll want to be your friend. They'll enjoy your influence. It will open doors. I'm so excited to see what the future holds for all of you and where you'll go. And wherever you go, remember that attitude is everything.



Sunday, July 7, 2019

Dear Sons: Savoring the Firsts Even As You're Growing Up

Dear Sons (letter #30),

There have been many firsts in your lives that I so enjoyed witnessing. The first time you smiled. Roller over. Crawled. Talked. Walked. Went to School.

As you each grow bigger those baby and toddler firsts are long gone. But as you enter your teens there are still many things you're learning and experiencing for the first time. Only thing is...I'm not right there holding you and watching you as it happens. It's one of the hardest things in the world to learn to let go and let you live your own life without me being such a big part of it.

So, when I do still get to be part of it, it's so meaningful and gives me a lot of joy.

And this past week I got to experience a first concert with one of you.

For many people, that first concert is something that really sticks with them. I remember my first concert. I had won tickets on the radio to go to a show in the city. It was at a smaller venue in Chicago that held about 1,000. There wasn't really any seating. It was one of those standing room only shows and it was more like a club. In fact, I think there was a two-drink minimum when you went to the show. And I was only 19.

The act was Travis Tritt, who I really liked. My older sister and brother-in-law met me there. My sister was about six months pregnant at the time. It was a good show and I was definitely hooked. I couldn't wait to go to another concert. The next one was more of a traditional concert at a big venue. It was called World Music Theatre then (it's also been called the Tweeter Center and is now the Hollywood Casino Amphiteahtre) and it was to see Garth Brooks with Martina McBride as the opening act. We had seats on the lawn. My in-laws went with us, a niece and I think my sister.

Your oldest brother and I have been to many concerts together. We enjoy a lot of the same music. He loves 80s bands and country. We've seen Kiss, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bon Jovi, Kid Rock, Def Leppard and others.

I took your next bro to his first concert last year. He was 19, just like I was. His favorite singer is Phil Collins. I was excited to take him to see another artist from my era for his first concert. He was so into it that he went out and bought a drum set the next week.

Your next bro has yet to go to his first concert. It's not that I haven't tried. Two summers ago I was excited to get tickets to take all five of you to a show. It was a band that you all liked and I was glad we'd all get to have that experience together. It was devastating when we learned of Chester Bennington's suicide just a couple weeks before the concert was to take place. A couple of your brothers were huge fans and took that news really hard. Your brother reminded me that he'd wanted to see Linkin Park once before, but I had told him "no." I wasn't a big fan of the band at the time and I think it was part of a larger music festival that I really didn't want to spend my whole day at. I now really regret it.

I also regret not seeing Prince the last time he performed in Chicago. I really wanted to go, but decided not to. I didn't really want to spend the money on a ticket and I figured I'd see him next time he was in town. He died shortly after.

A couple weeks ago when I saw your two older male cousins, we talked about when I took them to Wrigley Field to see Paul McCartney. They were both teens at the time. I asked Matthew if it was his first concert and he said it was. I'm gonna give myself props here for being the cool aunt. Really, how awesome is that to have your first concert be to see Sir Paul?

So, I was really excited to go to your first concert with you this past weekend to see Billie Eilish. I didn't know any of her songs until the past few days and I still didn't really 'get her' before the show. She was a great performer to see live and I really had a blast. I am glad you did, too. It's one of those memories that you'll look back on way down the road and I'm glad I'll be part of it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Dear Sons: Your Way Isn't Always the Right Way

Dear Sons (Letter #29):

Hi, boys. It's been a little while since I've added one of these letters, but something came to mind recently and I thought I'd address it on the blog. It's something I want you to keep in mind as you grow. It's something that might take you a long time to figure out. I know it did for me. Some people never really get it. I want to make sure you understand something - that your way isn't always the right way.

I've known a lot of people who have always had to be right. Even when I knew they were dead wrong, they'd argue their position and insisted it was right. Sometimes it was a fact that you could show them in black and white to prove them wrong (and they might still argue it) and other times it's an opinion, but one that you just can't make them budge on or see any other way.

For a long time into young adulthood, I was an arguer when I thought I was right - in some cases. I'd never do it at work. And I'd rarely do it with friends. But once in a while with family I'd not back down -- but you know who I wouldn't back down with? Occasionally you dad, but really it was your grandfathers. Both of them have been wonderful guys - sweet, thoughtful, caring and would give you the shirt off their back. But another thing they had in common was being stubborn. If they thought they were right, they gave your their opinion. If they thought someone else was wrong, they wouldn't let up and would not hesitate to point out flaws.

Even thought I would try and argue, I hardly ever won. I often gave up because it just wasn't worth it to go back and forth. And I learned that it wasn't really that important to always be right. Sometimes even if I knew I was right or felt strongly that my opinion was more valid, it wasn't worth the argument. And it took a little bit, but I learned that sometimes I was the one that wasn't right or that there was more than one answer or that it was sometimes the better thing to do to just let them express their opinion without any backlash.

There seems to be a lot of it happening these days - expressing opinions and refusing to even hear the other side or acknowledge that there are two sides (or more) to an issue and not just one.

The earlier you understand and accept this, the better off you'll be. The less time you'll waste on useless arguments. But most of all, the more open you'll be to hearing others and learning from others. And I really hope that's the kind of men you'll grow to be.

P.S. This does't count for trash talking about old school video games. I'll still whip you all in a game of Tetris, Galaga or Paper Boy.



Wednesday, April 10, 2019

I'm a Meditating Hot Mess

I'm constantly on the prowl for ways to live a less-stressed life. I'm naturally an on-the-go, not-sit-still, mind-always-racing kind of gal and so it is really hard to try to train myself to slow down.

And if you've ever read the children's book If You Give A Mouse a Cookie, I often feel like that mouse. I set off to do one thing and I'm so easily distracted that I am led to starting something else, which reminds me of something else and sends me off another direction. And it happens over and over and over.

I often find it hard to focus. And two things that seem the very hard for me to focus on are 1) watching a weather forecast and 2) mediating. All my life, I have had this mental block in watching the weather. I'd sit and watch the news and as soon as the weather came on, my mind zipped somewhere else. At the end of the forecast I'd come to and think, dang, what did he just say? Once in a while I could stay with Jerry Taft long enough to figure out if I needed to wear a jacket the next day. But I finally found I was able to focus on watching a full forecast when I tuned in to Tom Skilling. Something about the passion he has about what he does was so interesting and although I still drift off from time to time when he starts talking about air masses and barometric pressure, I can pretty much stay engaged in Skilling's forecasts enough to learn what's in store for the next few days in the weather department. Now I need to find my Tom Skilling of mediation.

I've tried mediating a few times in the past and it was really a challenge. My mind goes toward overthinking something I did yesterday or what I'm going to have for lunch or that I need to clean my closet or that I have so many unfinished projects going or that I can't believe that they sent Bumbly home on American Idol - I love the skinny, gentle soft-crooning white guys and the pretty blonde country singing ladies, but come on, bring a little more diversity to the top 10 already. She was flawless and completely adorable. Anyway, where was I?

I decided to try again during this current 21-day free mediation experience from Oprah and Deepak Chopra. At day 13 I have only listened to three, so I guess that shows how committed I am. As I tried today I shook my head thinking that my mediation attempt could be a Saturday Night Live skit. That happens often in my life - when I'm in the middle of something ridiculous and I feel like I'm in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit.

Here's how it went down.

I woke up before my alarm went off. The house was quiet. Hubby had already left for work. It was overcast and not much sunlight was shining in. It seemed like a good time. I fumbled with my phone for a few minutes trying to get to the app open and to the first available day. It's actually at day 17, but the last 5 days are available when you log in. So I went to day 13.

Oprah starts off following some brief instrumental music and it's a familiar voice. The first sentences make me really smile. "We cannot accept more into our lives without truly appreciating what we already have." "Some of us have the belief that success only comes with sacrifice. That isn't really what the universe wants for you. In fact, the universe is standing by ready to fill your life with blessings."

That line about success only coming with sacrifice really sticks and I contemplate how I work too much and make too little money and how I need to make that balance much better. "Am I really even successfu'?" I think to myself. And whatever success I've had, is it worth the price of often working 11 hours on a Sunday?

From there, it's like I'm watching a weather forecast. My mind waves a little, "bye, girl" and shuts the door while my mind drifts not toward thoughts of gratitude and inner success and grace, but a lot of other topics.

I start thinking about how I used to like to play hooky from school and lay on the sofa and watch Oprah in junior high and high school. And I'd sit next to my mom and squirm if the topic had anything to do with sex and just hope she wouldn't try to start a conversation. And how do you spell hooky - is there a 'y' or an 'ey' or an 'ie". I squash the urge to pause it at that moment and Google it. See what I mean about how I sometimes lack focus? LOL

I thought about when I went to see the Oprah show in the early 1990s with my sister, my friend and my niece - who wasn't yet 18 and who they wouldn't let sit in the studio audience. So, being Aunt of the Year, we left her in the lobby to watch an archived copy on a television with the Harpo security guard while we went in and sat through the taping. (***Note: And in a happy and ironic twist, she got to go to a taping later on AFTER she turned 18. It was the one where Tom Cruise jumped on the sofa!)

I thought about how much I missed my routine back when her show was on ABC-7 at 9 a.m. I'd drop all the kids off at school, come back home and squeeze in a 1 - 2 mile walk before the show started. Then I'd sit on my keister with that tingly feeling in my legs that they were happy from the physical activity and I'd watch intently. And I wonder if I can watch the old Oprah Winfrey shows from the 1990s on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime?

I thought, "Heck, yeah, Oprah, I'd be appreciative of your three homes and millions of dollars if I were you."

I thought about Maya Rudolph doing the Oprah Weight Watchers bread commercial.

I thought about the Drake and Josh episode where they ran over Oprah.

Next thing I know, Oprah is done and Deepak beings.

I start to drift. Deepak. Deeeee Pak. Kind of sounds like a rapper name. I snap myself out of it and really concentrate on listening to him.

I pay attention to my breathing.

I hear a door slam downstairs. I pause it. I text my youngest son, who is notorious for sleeping through his alarm to see if he's awake. I text again. He responds and get back to taking in some Deepak. Deeee Pak. What kind of rap music would he make? Ok, focus. Breathe.

I try to send my mind down the path of gratitude and internalizing it. It's working. For a minute or so at a time. I drift a little. I hear kids walking to school outside since the window is slightly open. Horns beeping. Birds squawking. Water running. A lot of distractions. I think maybe I should try later. But I know once I'm out of bed, it's on. I'll be busy and it'll be harder to get back to it. So, I try harder to listen. But I really have to pee.

Ok, I breathe slow, I start to focus on listening and now it's time for the quiet meditation. The part where there are no prompts. It's just you and your thoughts. The music plays and there's no one to listen to. I'm really in trouble now. No one to guide me. My thoughts are all over the place and I try to reign them back in. I suddenly realize that Deepak was saying "ego" not "eagle" when he was talking. Now it totally makes more sense. But now I can't remember the mantra. What am I supposed to be silently repeating to myself? Darn. I've got to find out. And I've got to pee. No. Focus. Finish this meditation. Come up with a different mantra. Just keep going. I wonder how much longer it lasts?

Grattitude. Grace. Success. Got it. That wasn't the real mantra. But that's what I was telling myself. And some good thoughts came to me. And I did start to relax. Then the bell rang. I know I'm doing it wrong, but I'll keep trying. :)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

So Exciting to Confirm Irish Ancestry Going Back Five Generations

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! There’s this line that everyone’s a “wee bit Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s a fun, little joke that no matter what your nationality is, you can claim Irish for the day, even if you’re not. It's your pass to don green and drink beer and party like you're from the Emerald Isle.

My dad has always told me that his roots go back to England and Ireland, with a little Scottish thrown in there. So, I was fairly certain there was some Irish there, but I never had a real confirmation. This past summer, I took a trip with my aunt, meant to help me learn a little about our family background.

My Aunt Marilyn is my dad’s older sister. She’ll be turning 89 this month. She’s the one in the family who has had a big interest in genealogy and I always wanted to learn more from her. Taking a trip with her seemed to be a good opportunity. Marilyn was a teacher and later a probation officer. She still has that teacher way about her - she’s gentle and patient and explains everything thoroughly and seems to know everything. She's traveled the world and has had amazing experiences that I so enjoyed hearing about. 

The purpose of the trip was to make our way through four states and she was going to introduce me to some cousins (2nd and 3rd cousins) who I have never met. I was very excited about it. She also wanted me to see the farm where my grandfather was born in Kentucky.

We first went to Dayton, Ohio to meet her first cousin, Carole. We left on Labor Day and visited her at her home with her kids and a nephew and niece and their kids and the next day we went out to dinner to celebrate her 85th birthday. Carole’s mother and my paternal grandfather were siblings.

Next it was on to Ashland, Kentucky to meet a cousin, Karen, for dinner. I believe her dad and my grandfather were cousins. The third visit was to meet a cousin, Grant, in Frenchburg, Kentucky. He was closer in age to me than the other cousins we were meeting (he's around 40). Instead of staying at a hotel this time, we were welcomed into his home with his wife, Ashley, and 8-year-old son, Jaxon. 

They were so hospitable and so happy to spend time with us. If I remember correctly, Marilyn had met Grant once as a very young boy on a visit to the area decades ago. The connection with Grant is that his great grandmother was a cousin of my paternal grandfather. While my paternal grandfather (who died before I was born) was born at the Oldfield family farm in Maytown, Kentucky, his family relocated to central Illinois when he was a child. 

It was amazing to learn that the farm where he was born is still there and still intact, although the once-tobacco farm isn’t producing tobacco anymore. Grant’s grandfather and then father had lived on the farm. He’s an only child and his father passed away last year. He takes the responsibility of carrying on that family history very seriously.

One day he took us for a ride over to the farm. On the way we visited two cemeteries and although some of the names were ones I had heard in bits of conversation, I really couldn’t make a connection to any of them other than the few that Grant specifically pointed out - like his parents and grandparents. The third cemetery we visited was actually on that family farm. Grant later showed us a land deed stating that the family acquired the land around 1830. 

The little cemetery sat at the highest point on the hilly farm. We couldn’t drive up in our car and had to hop in Grant’s truck to be able to navigate the terrain. Once at the top, we snapped a couple photos. The stones are old and worn and mossy, but you could make out the names and dates. Greenery covered some of the stones, but two were easily visible - the names on them were Dennie Oldfield and Martha Oldfield. Again, the names really didn’t mean much to me - I hadn’t really heard the last name Oldfield until this leg of the trip.

We went on with our visit. Grant took us to an out of the way farm-to-table restaurant in the Daniel Boone National Forest after he learned I was a food blogger. He took us by some scenic falls in the area. And on the final day we accompanied them to church before heading on to spend a night in the capital of Kentucky, Frankfort.

That night at the hotel, Marilyn brought in a bag of papers she’d had in the car. She had a number of photos she’d been pulling out to show relatives we met. As she went through the papers, she said, “You might like to see this.” It was an amazing treasure — a handwritten family tree she’d constructed probably a quarter-century or more earlier. It followed my dad’s paternal side back to 1761 to a great-great-great-great-great grandfather who had fought in the Revolutionary War. In looking at it, I saw the same names that I had seen on headstones in the cemeteries and it sunk in that at one - maybe two of those cemeteries, I was related to every person buried there in some way. 

I matched up the names to those two headstones that were in that little cemetery high on the hill of the Oldfield family farm. It turned out Martha, whose maiden name was Murphy, was my great, great grandmother, born in 1830. Another little booklet had been typed - I could tell it had been typed on a manual typewriter - and had more detailed history of the family. It ended with a paragraph about how this information was being recorded so that it wouldn’t be lost to future generations. I got chills reading that. It was dated 1958.

As I flipped through I came to Martha Murphy and it showed that her father was John Murphy. And the next thing I read was really life-changing. It said that John Murphy’s father, also named John Murphy, was born in Dublin, Ireland. He came to the U.S. as a stowaway on a ship at age 17 and landed in Virginia. I was just in awe. I really enjoyed learning so much about where our family lived and what they did over the past couple of centuries in the United States, but I hadn’t yet seen anything with a direct link to where they were before they came to this country. It was amazing to read in a little booklet typed by a relative 60 years ago the confirmation of where this one part of the family came from. It confirmed that in the late 1700s, my great-great-great-great grandfather came here from Ireland. It was late at night and Aunt Marilyn was asleep and I was reading all this information by a dim hotel light over the desk. I was on Eastern time, an hour ahead of everyone at home, so there was no one awake to share this amazing discovery with. I wanted to jump and up and down and giggle and scream, but I had to just sit there silently and read it over and over again. I sent a quick text to my sisters and my dad that I figured they’d read in the morning: “I traced us back to Dublin, Ireland. Now on St. Patrick’s Day I can truly say that I know that I’m Irish.

So, this is the first St. Patrick’s Day that it’s confirmed that I can truly say that I am of Irish decent. And it feels so cool to really know it’s true. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Word for the New Year

I've seen all kinds of post about picking a poignant, meaningful word for the new year and living up to it. I'm not all that into making resolutions. I try all year long to live life in a happy, positive way. I should set more goals and make them happen. So, I guess my resolution could be to make resolutions. :)

When I thought about words, first thing to come to mind was a simple one - wonderful.

One of my favorite movies of all time is "It's a Wonderful Life." I love how the movie portrays how much of a difference George Bailey has made in the lives of those around him, even though he doesn't recognize it.

One of my favorite songs is "What a Wonderful World." I remember many years ago - about 24 to be exact, we were at my sister's house. My brother-in-law was going through cancer treatments and a football game was on TV. The commercials came on and the room cleared and it was just him and I. In a commercial, they were playing that song and tears started streaming down his face. "This song just makes you feel like a little kid," he said. I hugged him and we both cried. A few months later he lost his battle with cancer at age 42. Many times when I hear the song I think of him - not so much of how tragically he left the world too soon, but about what a fun, funny and kind guy he was and the impact he made on those who knew him.

So, in 2019. I aim to have a wonderful year. One where I don't take things for granted. One where I see the value in those around me and show them what they mean to me. One when I embrace those feelings of youth and enjoy spontaneous moments. More fun, less work taking in all the wonder and wonderful things I can.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What I wish I'd said when I met Joe Madden

My awesome sis got me a great gift for my birthday - tickets to a fundraising event to meet Joe Madden. Her husband's birthday is not too far away from mine and it was his birthday present, as well, so the three of us attended. He's such an inspiring and cool guy. I was definitely a giddy little girl.

What I wish I’d said while meeting Joe Maddon:

“I agree with you that baseball is more exciting on radio than on TV. In fact, the reason I am a Cubs fan is because my Dad, who grew up in Central Illinois surrounded by Cardinals fans fell in love with the Cubs while listening to them play in the1945 World Series on the radio. He was 9 years old and has been a Cubs fan ever since and passed on that love of the Cubs to his kids, who passed it on to their kids.

My dad, who is now 82, spent about a decade saying “All I want before I die is to see the Cubs win the world series.” Thank you for your part in making that happen. Thanks for your role in giving that to all the Cubs fans who waited so long. Thanks for making Cubs fans proud to be Cubs fans and for making all the heartbreak worth the wait.

Wrigley Field is my happy place and other than being at home with my family, there’s no other place on earth I would rather be. The rest of the world melts away as soon as I step in the gates. 

I was THIS close to publishing a book about the Cubs twice

When they finally make the movie about the 2016 Cubs, I hope Bill Murray plays you.”

“Will you please run for president?”

What I actually said:

Me: “You’re the coolest. I love you.”
(I wanted to say, “I love the way you manage the team” or “I love how you have the team dress up for road trips” or “I love that you were the guy to help lead them to the first World Series win in 108 years” and all that I got out was “I love you.”

Joe: “Really?”

Me: “You’re so awesome.” 

Then knowing my window was closing, I rattled off the first thing I could think of so quickly - it was like the scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is about to go down the slide after drawing a blank while meeting Santa. He stops, climbs back up and gives a 15-second spiel about the Red Ryder B B Gun he wants for Christmas. I rattled off the following in about 2.3 seconds - 

Me: “I was there at your opening press conference at the convention when you called Wrigley Field the ‘greatest cathedral in all of baseball.”

Joe: “Well it is.”

Me: “You had me from that moment. You’re just awesome.” 

And with that, I walked away wondering if he thought I was a creep or a loon or just a complete dork.