Saturday, May 13, 2017

The best time for a break is when you don't have time for one

The Chicago Foodie Sisters, Becky and Carrie 
May is always my busiest month of the year. With four kids in school, there are always end of year things going on - papers coming home for field trips and picnics and banquets and concerts. I have two boys with May birthdays (and this year the April birthday got pushed back and not celebrated until early May.) In years past there have been multiple kids to get to soccer and baseball practices and games, sometimes traveling up to an hour to get to them. It always seems to be when there are a lot of invites for press trips and events as spring has arrived and new places are opening or introducing new menus or opening new exhibits. The past two years I have also been substitute teaching and those subbing days in April and May as kids have cabin fever and are itching for the school year to end are for sure challenging and exhausting. Then there have been groups and organizations that I myself am involved in and there are end of the year dinners for those as well since they also run on a school year-type calendar without meetings in the summer. Our town's huge annual parade is always the first Saturday in May. It all just makes the whole month super crazy, busy, tiring.

Scenery in May at Eagle Ridge Resort
I've always thought the best time for a break is when you don't have time for one. When you're at your busiest is when you need it the most. I almost never watch TV. I rarely nap. I don't often take a lunch break. This time of year I find myself working 12+ hours a day, going on a few hours sleep, zoning out in mid-afternoon at the computer. But finally, I realize I need to crash. One day this month as I had deadlines looming, I knew I had to take a breather to be more productive. I got the kids off to school and went back to bed and slept for four hours. I really, really needed it. When I woke up, I felt a little behind the 8-ball as the day was half over, but I was so much more energetic and focused. One evening I claimed the sofa and television and watched a couple reruns of "This is Us."
Sunset at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena, IL

One fabulous combination work/break thing to happen this month was an overnight trip with my sister. The two of us started a food blog together close to 6 years ago, but with our busy lives we don't get to dine out together often anymore and most of our food experiences happen separately. She's had two little ones since we launched the blog and I'm just trying to tread water between five kids and working a number of freelance and part-time gigs and doing the chauffeur thing.

The two of us went out to Galena for a media trip I've been invited to the past few years. Last year I went with my husband and two of the boys, but this year I was so happy that Becky and I got to go together. The sisters' getaway was much needed. It actually only lasted about 35 hours, but it was enough to recharge. We were there representing our food blog and were treated to some fantastic food at Eagle Ridge Resort and taken on a guided hunt for morel mushrooms that are in prime picking season right now. We spent a little time in the charming downtown for a little drive, walk and lunch before arriving at the resort. And after our hunt and luncheon were completed on day two, we both made our way to the spa for a massage before heading home. I could have easily passed over the e-mail and declined based on what was on the calendar already and how much else I had to do, but I'm so glad I didn't. If there's any time of year that a getaway like that was needed, it was now.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Year to Remember

So many people are happy to close the door on 2016 and declaring it one of the worst years ever. Undoubtedly there have been some horrific things that have happened over the past year. People are dismayed over the results of the presidential election. Celebrities - musicians, actors and Hollywood entertainment legends seem to be dropping like crazy. There's been a lot of sadness this past year.

However, while still acknowledging the unfortunate events of 2016, there were beautiful, inspirational positive things that happened as well. There were things that made me incredibly happy. Things that made me beam. Things that made 2016 an amazing year for me personally.

I can't help but think to myself that 2016 wasn't so bad after all when I hear people grumbling. Among the things that made me happy in 2016:

My son was awarded Cadet of the Year in his Civil Air Patrol Squadron
My youngest one finished up elementary school and I permanently retired from room mom duty (this one was bittersweet)
We did a little traveling around the Midwest
I got to do my annual April visit to Wrigley Field with my Dad
I got to take my son to a Cubs game for his birthday
I got to do an overnight with just hubby and no kids downtown (the last time this happened was about a decade ago)
My middle boy graduated from junior high
I wrote the manuscript for another children's book
My oldest started his senior year of high school (also bittersweet)
We had a visit from my mother-in-law who we hadn't seen in two years
My nephew got married and all 7 of us attended their beautiful wedding
My husband's aunt visited from Germany - we hadn't seen her in a couple years
One of my boys had an opportunity to take a trip to Canada
I had a lot of wonderful meals at some amazing restaurants
My son got a college acceptance letter from his first choice school
My husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage!!!
The food blog my sister and I started continues to grow and turned 5 this year!

And the most memorable event and the thing that really made this an awesome year was the Cubs' World Series win. You have to be a die-hard Cubs fan to understand the significance of this one. For my entire life and so many other Cubs fans, we've ended every season saying "Next year will be the year." It is just so unbelievable that this really, finally was the year. And I still have to pinch myself sometimes.

It's so important to me because of the tradition in our family of being Cubs fans. I've written many times before about how my dad grew up in central Illinois (surrounded by many Cardinals fans), but became a Cubs fan after listening to the Cubs in the 1945 World Series on the radio. So, of course, he raised his kids to be Cubs fans. I remember going to watch the Cubs in the bleachers with dad as a kid. And there were many summer afternoons watching the Cubs on television and celebrating wins with Harry (yes, back before lights!)

When I became a mom, you can bet I exposed them to my love of the Cubs and took them to many baseball games. My sister is a season ticket holder and for several years, each kid has received a set of tickets as a birthday/Christmas gift. I cherish those time spent taking them to games - even when they were too little to sit through a full game or more interested in the peanuts and cotton candy than what happened on the field. Of five boys, my oldest is the only one who followed along in being a hard-core, die-hard fan. He's been to several Cubs conventions and has many autographs he obtained directly from players while waiting outside the locker room or the player's parking lot or at Cubs events.

So, my oldest son, my dad and I share this big, big love of the team. This year is the year we had been waiting and waiting for. Many times in recent years my dad has said, "All I want before I die is to see the Cubs win the World Series." It was so significant and heartwarming and emotional for it to finally happen and for him - at age 80 - to be able to see it. 2016 may have been a bad year for others, but has been one of my best by far.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

There's always something to be grateful for

I was fortunate to be able to spend my Thanksgiving with several of my loved ones. There were a few missing from our celebration - my sister and brother-in-law who relocated to Arizona a couple years ago, my brother and his family, my niece in Australia, my husband who was working at the firehouse. It didn't quite feel complete, but there was so much to be thankful for. I do have to remind myself sometimes that even when things aren't going perfectly, there are so, so many things to be grateful for.

There have been some sad things and some frustrating things that have come about recently, but in the overall scheme of things, I am so blessed. I live such a blessed life. Although my parents health is on the downswing, they are still here and were able to be with several of their kids and grandkids for Thanksgiving. Although my husband was working, we will celebrate on an alternate date with another big feast. Although I've been seeking another job and not having any luck, I still am doing freelance work in the field I love and my husband, who already works very hard, has been taking on overtime when it's available. Although the house needs work, it's a warm place full of love where I see my children every day. Although our dog is slowing down and showing his age, he's still active enough to play and bring us lots of joy. Although I drove a 13-year-old vehicle with 127,000 on it to Thanksgiving dinner, it's reliable enough to take a 5-hour round trip and big enough to fit the whole gang. Although I had to scrounge up quarters from the bottom of my purse to buy ingredients to make trimmings for the big meal, I know that a paycheck is coming at the end of the week. Although I sometimes feel kind of alone, like there are a lot of acquaintances in my life, but a lack of true friends, it felt great that my siblings and nieces and nephews were happy to see me. Although my kids are growing faster than I'd like, they were all able to be with me today and enjoyed each others companionship. Every time there's a downside to something, there's a positive as well. A silver lining. A ray of light in the clouds. Don't forget to look for it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

We believed

I've spent the last 11 hours honestly trying to accomplish some work. Instead I've been watching scenes from last night's epic 10-th inning, game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians that brought a World Series Championship title to the north side for the first time in 108 years over and over and over again. There
are a LOT of people who are Cubs fans and have been waiting their whole lives for it. I don't know if it's just still sinking in or that I just don't want to let go of this feeling - this novelty of being a fan of a championship team. It took many, many, many years of believing in them for it to finally pay off. I just can't seem to focus on anything but Cubs right now. There's so much history - not just within the team and the ballpark, but for fans. I thought about the history in my life - what's happened since I've been a Cubs fan - what's changed and what hasn't. Here's one of my many social media posts from last night:

Just a quick moment of reflection - I was a Cubs fan before there were lights at the Friendly Confines, before Go Cubs Go! was played following wins, before they reviewed calls and overturned them in baseball, before there was a National League Central Division, before there was interleague play, when the Cubs games were broadcast on WGN TV and radio only, when you'd park at a seminary to head to the game, when the bleachers were the undesirable cheap seats, before they had metal detectors at the gate, before there were any statues erected around the field, when you'd head across to McDonald's after a game for a 50 cent ice cream cone, when there were no big digital screens in the outfield, when the third number on the Eamus Catuli sign was in the single digits, before Elwood Blues gave 1060 W. Addison as his home address, before Ferris Bueller skipped school and went to a Cubs game with Cameron and Sloan, before Bartman, before there were retired jerseys hanging on the flagpoles, when the other Chicago team still played at Comiskey Park, when there was a digital sign under the scoreboard that played the lyrics to Go Cubs Go while it was played following a Cubs victory, before the Ricketts became owners, when the Cubs Convention was still at the Hilton, when the Cubs Caravan would make public stops at Avalon Manor in Merrillville, IN and you could meet players and prospects, when Harry was the only one who sang the stretch, before the bleacher expansion, before Pinella and Zimmer and Frey...and there are so many fans who have experienced much, much more. And tonight we will see the biggest change of all. I can't wait!!!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Watching history in a historic place

A few weeks back I got an invite from my cousin, Cindy, to a birthday celebration for her mom's 80th birthday. Her mom, Lori, is my mom's sister and the only one of her siblings still living. They live just south of Springfield and as the date of the party moved closer, I thought I'd try to get some work done while I was down in the area ~ and explore some places to do travel articles on or cover on my food and travel blogs. 

I got in touch with the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and they assisted me with plans to visit some historic sites and notable eateries. As the plans were underway, something suddenly hit me. The Cubs were in the World Series and they'd be playing Cleveland in the World Series that Saturday - while I was in Springfield. Those who know anything about the Cubs, know that this World Series isn't just any World Series. It's the first time the Cubs have played in a World Series since 1945. And the last time they won a World Series was 1908!!!

And anyone knows me, knows that I am a HUGE die-hard Cubs fan. As excited as I was about the birthday party for my aunt and seeing some sites in Springfield, I had a sudden feeling of panic. How would I watch the game? Throughout the playoffs I had been watching the game with family - my also die-hard Cubs fan Dad and/or my life-long die-hard Cubs fan son or my season-ticket holding die-hard sister or my doesn't-like-sports and really-knows-little about baseball husband who has even jumped on the bandwagon. How could I enjoy the game so far from home without any of those important Cubs fans? What channel would it be on? Would I be able to view it at my hotel? Would I be sadly watching a loss all alone? Would it be a huge win and I wouldn't have anyone to celebrate with? These are big thoughts and decisions for a Cubs fan whose team has never been past the division playoffs in my lifetime.

I made plans to bring my 13-year-old son along. At least then if I had to watch it in a hotel room, I'd have some company from home. All my family who would be at the birthday celebration were Cardinal fans. They just don't understand the long string of misery and the need to watch and enjoy the game with other Cubs fans. And somehow, maybe because EVERYONE I know from that area is a Cardinals fan, I thought I'd be in alone in a city of Cardinals fans with no one to share in my enthusiasm. 

I went back and emailed my contact at the CVB to see if she could suggest a sports bar to me where the Cubs game would be broadcast. She came back with an answer better than I could have ever imagined. There would be a viewing party on Saturday evening on the lawn of the Old State Capitol with plans for food and drink and entertainment and old time baseballs to be thrown around as kids could play catch in the shadow of the dome of this historic building. I was ELATED. And it became one of the biggest highlights of the trip.

Even up here near Chicago, when I've gone out to watch the game - at a restaurant or a craft brewery or a sports bar, you're surrounded by a lot of non-Cubs fans. Because our city is split, I end up around a lot of Sox fans (and some just aren't all that nice.) I can be sitting at a table jumping up and down at an outstanding play that Javier Baez just made or the amazing perfectly-time line drive hit by Addison Russell or Anthony Rizzo and the people around me are just not into it. It's kind of sad. For games 3, 4 and 5, the Cleveland Indians opened their stadium for a viewing party. In Chicago - nope nothing. You could head to the sports bars in Wrigleyville, where you knew you'd be surrounded by fans - but it could cost you up to $250 just to get in the door. And it wouldn't be a place I'd take my 13-year-old. 

I also have to mention that the Cubbie spirit was displayed so well in Springfield and it was something totally unexpected. I saw W flags flying on homes and businesses. People walked down the street in Cubs gear. And everywhere I went, if I mentioned that I was visiting from Chicago or someone noticed my Cubs shirts, I heard, "Well, I'm a Cardinals fan, but I hope the Cubs win" more times than I can count. Those Cardinals fans were way classier than a lot of White Sox fans in Chicago.

I could not have been in a more perfect place on Saturday night to watch the game. It was a family-friendly environment and everyone there was rooting for the Cubs. It was an environment I wouldn't have even be able to find living just 20 miles from downtown Chicago. And, as luck would have it, it was an unseasonably warm day. It got into the mid-80s in Springfield that day at at 8 p.m. that night it was still 73 degrees. But, we weren't so lucky with the game that night. Unfortunately, we lost game 4. However, the memory of taking in history in this wonderfully historic place on a beautiful night under the stars and the dome and the red, white and blue flying above that dome with my son is something I will cherish forever. Thanks Springfield, for being a perfect host for this Chicago Cubs fan on a very memorable night!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Waited my whole life for this

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a a huge, crazy, fanatical, giddy, die-hard follower and fan of the lovable losers, otherwise knows as the Chicago Cubs. Some of the best memories of my life are of attending games with my family. My dad fell in love with the Cubs as a 9-year-old living in central Illinois (where many of his neighbors - and some family were Cardinals fans) as he listened to them on the radio in the 1945 World Series. As a result the next three generations in our family are Cubs fans. Dad is 80. He's waited his whole life for this and he is over-the-moon excited as are my siblings and I. A friend recently posted on Facebook asking people for their favorite Cubs memories. I tried to think of one. And there was no way I could pick one favorite. It was hard to even narrow it down to a few as so many memories came flooding through. So, for anyone that cares, these are some of my favorite memories as my favorite team makes history today. It will be the first time since 1945 that the World Series will be played at the Friendly Confines.

1) The tradition for the past several years of going to a game with my dad during opening week - even though we freeze our tails off every year.

2) Going to a game in '84 with my dad and twin sisters and sitting in the bleachers - all day games then, no lights yet. 

3) Snagging a foul ball during batting practice earlier this year and giving it to dad who said, "I'm going to tell people this is my Kris Bryant home run ball." 

4) Sitting next to Dorothy in the front row on her 87th birthday. She's a super fun superfan! 

5) Going to the playoffs in '07 and '08 (even though they lost) 

5) Being at the game on my birthday where Kerry Wood made his first appearance back after a long time on the DL and even though we lost it was a cool game to be at because Tom Glavine got his 500th win that night. 

6) Being there on season ticket holder day - no team there, but we got to go on the field, in dugout, clubhouse, press box and my son got to do practice batting in the batting tunnel. 

7) The Cubs convention last year with my son - when we were first introduced to Joe Maddon. 

8) Writing a poem about the cubs when I was 12 that was read on WGN radio. 

9) Meeting Jody Davis at Nick's Sports Page back in the mid-80s. 

10) The year my son won the celebrity bat kid contest from Walgreen's and got to sit in the dugout with the team and watch batting practice, was introduced on the field before the game, met Ron Santo and chatted with Ted Lilly, who showed him how to throw a curve ball. GO CUBS!!! I believe!

11) When you could easily get autographs because the players used to have to walk out of the locker room and then across the main concourse to get out of the park. They'd let fans line up for autographs. It was fun, you'd look up and one of the players would be walking next to you. Once I was walking out and looked over and Carlos Zambrano was next to me holding his little girl. Also, you could wait next to the player's parking lot to get autographs and watch them get in their cars and drive off. My son gots so many autographs that way.

12) Not a Cubbies memory, but a Wrigley Field memory - I saw Paul McCartney there and it was the best concert I've ever been to. He was like 69 at the time and played for over 3 hours.

13) Going to the Cubs Caravan appearances in January for several years and getting a chance to meet players and prospects.

14) Our family adopted several soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years. One was a young lady from Aurora who was in Afghanistan and we wrote letters/sent packages to her and her unit and learned she was a Cubs fan. When she returned from deployment, me and my son (about 8 at the time) took her and her son (about age 5) to their first Cubs game and we met for the first time. It was really touching to get to meet her in person. The next season, we did a double daddy-daughter date. She and I brought our dad's there for a game. It was her dad's first Cubs game.

15) Meeting legendary Cubs pitcher Milt Pappas twice - and taking a selfie with him. :) 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

A day to never forget

This the first September 11 since 2001 that I didn't have a newspaper column to share my thoughts about the day. I'm used to writing them down (or more often typing them on a screen) and I figured this year should be no different even if my thoughts are going in a different space and no one really reads them but me.

Each year at this time of year there's been a flood of emotions and I'd gather those thoughts and share them. In 2001 I wrote several times about the terrible events that changed the country and everyone in it. I was far from New York or the Pentagon or the field where Flight 93 landed, but as an American it affected me deeply.

I happened to be 8 months pregnant on September 11, 2001, so emotions were in high gear already. I was married to a part-time firefighter who had tested to become a full-time career firefighter and was just waiting for a slot to open up for him.

My seven-year-old was at school the morning that the terrorist attacks occurred so he wasn't at home as we watched the scene unfold live on the t.v. screen. I didn't have the television on much when he was around, but of course he was taking in all he heard and saw. I took him to a community vigil not long after 9/11 at the football field of the local high school. His dad and his fellow firefighters were all in their dress blues on the field for the event. I remember my son setting up chairs and flags in the back yard a couple times after that and asking the neighbors to come over for a 9/11 memorial service.

I should have been at work that day, but was feeling sore and fatigued and called in that morning to let them know I was taking a sick day. I was in the shower when my husband stuck his head in the door and said my sister just called and said the World Trade Center had been struck by a plane. We just watched in disbelief without words as smoke poured out of the towers. Then we watched the first one collapse. Finally my husband said something. "Do you know how many firefighters just died?'

I remember that we had our soon-to-be-born son's first name selected but the middle name was still being discussed. One of the names in consideration was Christian. When I was watching a memorial on television at Yankee Stadium at home alone, I saw a sign in the crowd of a missing firefighter with the name Christian written under it. At that moment I moved the named Christian to the top of the list.

My son was born on October 11. I was in the labor room watching the president speak and ask for a moment of silence that morning in remembrance exactly one month later. It was a somber time for the country, but a time of happiness for me. I found out my friend delivered in a room in the same hospital just down the hall within a couple hours of my son's birth. She named her little girl Liberty. They call her Libby.

I remember writing a front page story months later about a group of local firefighters who traveled to New York to visit a fire station and donate over $45,000 raised to go to the NYPD widow's and children's fund. They described how work was still being done at Ground Zero as they were there six months later and that when they'd recover a body (or part of one) all work would stop and they'd cover the victim with an American flag and carry them out.

I remember interviewing Lee Greenwood about an upcoming concert in the region a few months after 9/11 and him talking about feeding rescue workers at Ground Zero alongside Olivia Newton-John and Brooke Shields and then singing a spontaneous a cappella version of "God Bless the USA" at Ground Zero.

For at least that first year after, it seemed to be always present. In conversations everywhere. On television. Everyone was bursting with patriotic pride while still respecting the underlying somber mood as we began to realize a new normal.

I was so far removed from the situations. I had no business feeling such grief. But I felt grief for all who had lost so much. I felt an American grief for those I didn't know but who shared that common bond of living in a country that is free and on every day before it had felt so safe.

Each year I kind of throw myself back into that mindset. I want to go back to that place where everyone seemed to be in it together. Everyone seemed to be grieving together for America. I look for footage of that day on television and I watch interviews of heroes who were there or people who lost loved ones. I soak myself in it. I read all I can about it. I watch everything I can find on it. I get annoyed at the lack of coverage on most channels and the commercial breaks. I look for it to be nonstop like it was when it happened. Many years I've gone to memorial ceremonies in different communities. I want to be around those who are also remembering. I want to soak it in again. I cry. I make myself feel it all over again. And I want the days to follow to be filled with flags and good will and charity and coming together. I almost feel like time should stop again like it did then with no planes in the sky, no baseball or football games, no bustling stock exchange, but by the morning fn September 12 it has fizzled. Things are back again and I wish we remembered for more than a day.

Some feel like that's not a good thing. After so many years, it's time to move on, I've heard. For those who lived through it first hand, it's not a once a year, one day remembrance. It's something that is a constant in their mind and heart. For those who lost, it leaves a void that is there every single day. It fades a little. It lessens slightly as time passes, I would guess. But it never leaves. I feel like it shouldn't leave me. It shouldn't leave the rest of America. We need to keep hearing those stories. Keep seeing those images. Keep feeling it. Keep hurting for all those who lost so much. Some would call that dwelling. I call it remembering.