Saturday, November 25, 2017

Today I lit up my first cigarette

Today, at age 45, I did something for the first time. I lit up a cigarette. Actually, I lit two.

I went into a gas station and for the first time as an adult, I purchased cigarettes. And that gas station was nearly three hours away, the last hour on two lane rural roads.

I can't say it was the first time I bought them. I did on occasion get sent to the grocery store with a handwritten note from my mom and a dollar and some change in the late 70's to purchase them for my her. I was 6, maybe 7 the first time I ran such an errand.

Anyway, today I lit up a couple cigarettes. But I didn't smoke them. They weren't for me. The one awful puff that I tried in 6th grade was more than enough for me. They were for my mom, who still likes her Kools about four decades later.

For years we nagged her to quit. We told her it was unhealthy and complained about the smoke that we choked on and the smell that we carried on our clothes. Now, she's 82. What's another cigarette going to hurt at this point?

Today, I went to visit her in her new residence - a nursing home. She's been there 10 days. I couldn't stand the thought of hanging out there, so as quickly as I could, I wheeled her to the parking lot, got her in the car and off we went to get lunch. She didn't have much of an appetite for the hamburger and fries I got her. But she wouldn't stop asking for her Kools.

I've never let her smoke in my house or in my car. But there was a gas station next door to the Burger King we were at and it was a sunny day in the 50s in late November. So, I got her the Kools and I got a lighter and I drove across the street to a parking lot overlooking the Illinois River and found a bench. She about blew away when I got her out of the car. I helped her to the bench where she shivered in the cold.  After several attempts I got it lit and she smoked that cigarette until it was gone.

In past days, I never would have given in to such a request. But, in reality, her days are numbered. And why not just let her have a cigarette without grumbling about it?

Honestly, every time I have seen her for a while, I tell myself that it could be the last time I see her. So, I kind of hold my breath and hope all will go smoothly and that she'll be sweet and I'll be patient and we'll part ways with hugs and kisses and "I love you's" so that should it be the last time we see each other, it will be a pleasant memory.

But really, there's not much that is pleasant about nursing homes. If you're lucky, you get some very kind staff members that help make it not so unpleasant. But everything else about it is just - unpleasant. And when it gets to a point where it's the only choice, it leaves you guilt-ridden and sad. It's not a hospital stay. I've visited her many times in hospitals. This time it's permanent and it's a hard pill to swallow.

She didn't enjoy the jailbreak as much as I'd anticipated and hoped. She had an upset stomach. She said her knee hurt. She didn't smile much. She didn't laugh as much as she usually does. She had a very difficult time walking since she now spends her day in a bed or a wheelchair since she's been deemed a "fall risk" not capable of walking on her own anymore (even though she was getting around with a walker at home). My heart broke into a million pieces when she realized I was taking her back there after lunch. I wish so much I could turn back the clock to when she was in better health and didn't need round-the-clock care. But I can't. So here I am. Lighting up a cigarette for the first time - and although I loathe the things, praying that I'll have the chance to light one up for her again.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Yes, I'm a 45-year-old Millennial

One day one of my kids told me I was like a millennial on the inside - even thought I don't look like it on the outside. At first, I took offense a little to the looking my age part, but the "millennial on the inside" stuck with me. I guess it would be the equivalent of being young at heart. I know a lot of people like that. So, I took it as a compliment, not just because of the being young at heart part, but the being compared to a millennial part. Really, I think millennials are pretty cool and admire many of the things they strive to do and I feel like they get an overall bad rap.

The millennial generation gets so much flak for some of the perceived negatives - being lazy, entitled, self-absorbed. Really you find those in any age group. Technically, I'm among those in Generation X, sandwiched between the baby boomers and the millennials. Generation X is comprised of those born roughly between 1965 and 1977. The millennial range is from about 1977 to 1995. I was born in 1972 so I am a few years out of the range, but I can identify with so many things of the millennial generation. YOLO. FOMO. I love to follow pop culture. I am drawn to the creatives, side hustlers. I use social media daily in many forms. But when I think about it, I can identify with a lot of baby boom characteristics, too. I'm nostalgic. I'm a historian. I reminisce about the days before cell phones and iPads when we spent Saturday mornings recording the top 40 countdown onto a cassette tape and gathered on Saturday nights to watch Love Boat and Fantasy Island on a huge 19-inch screen in the pre-cable/pre-VHS days. I loved playing Red Rover outside with neighborhood kids, but once we got our first Nintendo, you couldn't drag me a way from Duck Hunt and Mario Karts. I think us generation X-ers kinda got the best of both worlds.

I'm always a glass-half-full kind of gal who looks for the good and there's so much good in that millennial group if you look for it. Really, I hate generalizations. They're never accurate. They're never true of all in a group. Some things can be true for a majority, but it never encompasses them all. And a lot in the millennial group push that concept - that there's no place for stereotypes and generalizations and racism and sexism a lot of other words that end is "ism." The baby boomers that lived through the 60's and and were part of that peace-loving generation should get it as much as anyone.

Like I said, I look for the positives - and I see so much promise and good in millennials. A drive for not just monetary success, but the desire to make a difference. A flexibility and ability to adapt. An ability and conscious effort to embrace those of other walks of life, backgrounds, etc. A live and let live mentality. Finding a way to incorporate their passions into their profession - or find or create a side gig that is fulfilling. An early recognition that life is short and there's no time to waste and that life should be about enjoyment and purpose, not just then grind of making a dollar. That's not to say that other generations don't have such qualities, it's just some I've seen in a lot of millennials that I admire. And it's not to say that there aren't faults or flip-sides to the YOLO way of seeing the world. But, for me, I see enough in the millennials that I really, really like and you can call me one any time you want. I'd be honored.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Feeling like furniture

When having a discussion recently with someone about my kids, we talked about how much little boys need their mothers. You do everything for them. They couldn't survive without you. And then they start growing up and don't need you so much anymore.

As the boys get older, they need me less. I don't have to feed them and change them and bathe them and read to them like I did long ago. They still need me around even as teenagers, but not as the caretaker and safety net I once was. As they get bigger, they gravitate more toward wanting to be around my husband. They want to do guy things, engage in guy talk, bond. I love that relationship between them and try not to be sad about not being the go-to person for almost everything anymore. 

There are days that it really does feel like I barely exist to them. Like I'm a piece of furniture - just something that is here, but that you don't engage with. They don't come to me to play video games with or for help fixing something. They don't come to me that often for advice. They come to me when they are hungry, they need a ride somewhere or they need a solution to something small that I can help them with - like paperwork or making a dentist appointment.

It's a little hard on a mom whose existence for so long has been wrapped around her little boys and then all of a sudden you're a piece of furniture - well a little bit more than a piece of furniture. A piece of furniture that cooks and drives.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tired of busy

Ah, I'm a person wearing many, many hats. This is one of three blogs I write, but the one that gets the least attention. It's not for lack of content. At least once a week something occurs or comes to mind that I intend to blog about and then, well, life stuff fills up every moment and I never get to it.

Maybe it's my nature, maybe it's the times we live in, maybe it's being inundated by technology, maybe it's my inability to better manage my time and set priorities, but there never seems to be spare time or down town. There's just never a time anymore where I can look around and exhale and think "ok, I have a free afternoon and I'm going to do something I'd like to do." There's always a deadline waiting or something that I need to catch up on or a child to shuffle somewhere. And the constant state of "busy" wears on you.

I am a person who likes to stay busy. I couldn't do a job where I had a lot of idle time. Now every single idle minute is seen as an opportunity to return and email or check social media. It's something I need to work on and train myself to do -- find some time not to be busy. Once in a while when I get really overloaded, I can make myself slow down and take a break, but I need to create those breaks before I get the point of overload. How do you fit in time to slow down?

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.