Friday, September 30, 2011

Life through the lens - day 31

Ok, this one goes back awhile, but I love this shot. It's from 2009 when I was with my son's 4th grade class on a field trip to Springfield, IL. This is the the sky over the capitol building.

What’s your special occasion?

I had the opportunity this past week to attend a blogging event sponsored by Hallmark. It’s a tour where mom bloggers are invited and are able to take part in creative exercises. It was held at Uncommon Ground in Wrigleyville right near one of my favorite places on earth – Wrigley Field. It was a great experience.

The workshop went along with their new marketing campaign of “Life is a Special Occasion.” Some of the bloggers sent in pictures and home video of their families in advance with stories about what some of the special moments in their lives have been. They were made into a video with accompanying music that got many of us moms emotional. Lots of tissue was passed around the room as we watched.

Following was a neat photo assignment given by one of Hallmark’s photographers. He had each of us pair up and take photos of someone, but to work it so that it was non-gender specific. It was harder than you’d think, but also left room for creativity. My partner, Stephanie, pointed out that her boots looked like they could be worn by either sex. I shot some photos of the bottom of her legs against the worn wood and tile floor and the distressed wood against the bar. It made for some really cool photos that I never would have thought to take on my own.

Another exercise was led by one of the company’s writers who gave us envelopes with random words. We were to pull three or four and in about five minutes come up with a blog posting that incorporated those words. It was quite fun and again the tissues were pulled out during the sentimental stories.

My favorite part of the day was when we were given t-shirts that read “_______ is a special occasion.” We were given Sharpies to write in everyday moments that were special occasions to us. I didn’t have to think long.

Others shared theirs. One mom wrote “giving birth to twins” and explained about her difficult pregnancies and labors giving birth to twin girls and later twin boys. Another wrote “peeking in on my kids one last time before going to sleep” and described how looking at their innocent sleeping faces washed away the stresses of earlier in the day. The male photographer had us all in tears saying that his was “7:10 a.m.” That was the time of day when his special needs son gave him a hug and kiss before boarding the bus for school.

Here's a picture of me with my shirt...and my red nose and eyes from all the crying. :)

Mine read “Svengoolie Night.” Since many from the company were from Kansas City, I had to explain who he is. Svengoolie is a character who hosts a Saturday night show featuring mostly black and white B-movies such as “The Blob” and those with Dracula or Frankenstein. It airs on WCIU at 9 p.m. each Saturday.

I picked it because that’s the one time during the week when we all stop what we’re doing and gather in the living room. With five kids, it’s often hard to get everyone in the same place at the same time. We eat cookies and popcorn and sometimes order a late night pizza. We all snuggle up with blankets and enjoy the time together. It reminds me of my Saturday nights as a kid watching “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” as we'd pull out the sleeper sofa and cover up with mom's hand made quilts. It was a Saturday night tradition. Svengoolie is our Saturday night tradition and my most special occasion. What’s yours?

Here's video of me at the event explaining our "Svengoolie Night."

Cupcake devastation

I knew this day was coming. Still, I'm devastated. I just wasn't prepared for the day when I would no longer be able to bake cupcakes for my kids' class parties. My oldest son is a high school senior, so I've been baking cupcakes for classes since his preschool days - about 15 years total.

My cupcakes are definitely not professional looking. They're homemade looking. They always have some special touch to them - sprinkles or candies or decorative edibles on top. Sometimes I'd bake them in ice cream cones rather than paper cupcake liners. The kids always loved that. They'd often ask for two. And it always made me smile when they did. It feels good to spread happiness through food. I can't explain the disappointment I feel that I can no longer continue my cupcake baking tradition. My youngest is only in first grade. He's just starting. I should have a good five years left of cupcake baking, yet the privilege has been pulled out from under me.

There is a good reason for the change. The school has a couple kids with food allergies. So, rather than take a risk that they'll eat something they shouldn't, they've adopted a policy that the only treats that can come to school are ones that are store bought and have clearly marked ingredient labels. Even bakery goods aren't allowed because there isn't a list of ingredients that comes with it. I understand the reason behind it, but it still kinda sucks. I certainly wouldn't want to endanger the health of any young kids and I don't really know who they are or the extend of their allergies. It's just a bummer for the other 470 kids or so that don't have food allergies.

Luckily I still have a house full of kids to bake for and I bake once in a while for Meals on Wheels, so my cupcake baking is far from over. I'll just have to scale it back a bit. It's possible I'll go through withdrawal and you'll find me out on a corner trying to hand out cupcakes to random strangers. Cupcakes anyone?

Life through the lens - days 29 & 30

Well, I was in the process of posting yesterday's picture when our power when out. So today it's 2 for 1. This is a pic from two summers ago. My son, then 10, planted pumpkins in Grandpa's garden. Two of them were huge! This is the smaller of the two. He's growing them again this year. It's about time to go pick them. I think five managed to grow big this year. We'll have to go over there to see how much bigger they've gotten.

And picture #2 - from the same season as the pumpkin - some purple peppers picked from the garden.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A pleasant interruption

"Mmmmoooommm?" I hear in a loud whisper. I'm startled awake. It's 2:50 a.m. He moves in closer. "I think I saw a giant spider run under my bed." They'd been watching a big spider outside on the garage earlier, so I'm guessing a bad dream of being chased by a giant spider followed. "Can I sleep in your bed just for a little while?" I know that probably means the rest of the night, resulting in little sleep for me and probably a sore back from twisting around him. My husband stirs and gets up to go to the bathroom.

"Sure, come here," I tell him. He puts his head in the crook of my arm and snuggles close to me. It's been a long time. I had him next to me often in his early years. He's now 6. It takes me back to the many nights of comforting him in my bed when ear infections kept him up at night before he had ear tubes put in. I miss those nights of his head nestled under my neck when I could hear and feel him breathe.

Two minutes later, my husband is back upstairs. "Do you want me to tuck you back into your bed?" he asks. My son mutters a quiet "Ok." No argument or stalling. He turns to get out of bed and falls on the floor. Poor thing. He gets up without a word and staggers to his bed. I'm normally cranky when I am awakened these days, but that was a pleasant interruption. I drift back off to sleep smiling.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Life through the lens - day 28

So yesterday I went to this Hallmark Blogging Tour event in Chicago at Uncommon Ground, an eatery in Wrigleyville housed in an old building at Grace and Clark. I like the charm of all the distressed woodwork and the charachter of the worn floor, giving hints to its past. There were different interactive exercises for us to participate in, one being an assignment by a Hallmark photographer to take a photo of someone else that didn't identify gender.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dear sons: Don't give in to the gossip

Letter #3

Dear sons:

As you get older, you'll find that not everyone grows up even though they grow older. I'm not sure how it works in the boy world, but in the other part of the universe, you can't escape gossip. From what I can recall, it seemed to really take hold in junior high. Even in adulthood, I know many people who seem to thrive on gossip and talking negatively about others. I can't say I've never done it. I have. And more times than I'd like to admit. It's easy to get caught up in. After sitting and listening for a while, sometimes you throw your two cents in without realizing you're feeding it. I immediately feel terrible afterwards.

The online dictionaries define gossip as "casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true." Now, I sometimes remember quotes like I do jokes, where I manage to slip up the punchline, but I recall reading a line somewhere many years ago along the lines of "Simple minded people talk about other people. Average people talk about events. Brilliant people talk about ideas." I don't know who to attribute it to or if I've gotten it correct, but you get the idea. It's true. Successful people discuss ideas. They identify problems and solve them. They don't waste their time on office gossip or neighborhood soap operas. When I come across someone who feels the need to gossip and constantly tear others down, it's pretty obvious that 1) Their life is probably pretty empty and they fill their need for drama by gossiping. 2) They're probably lonely. 3) They're probably jealous. 4) They're seeking attention. Bottom line - you're not going to remedy any of that by insulting others behing their backs.

I hope that this gossipping issue isn't quite as big a deal in the male world. But, I'm sure you'll be faced with such people at times, whether male or female. I hope you'll be mature enough to ignore it. I hope you'll be stong enough not to be tempted to partake in it. And I hope you'll be courageous enough to let the gossiper know that she or he will get much farther in life by finding better things to talk about.

Life through the lens - day 27

Just looking back through summer photos and found this one of my youngest little guy -- just chillin' in a lawn chair. That kid has had sunglasses attached to his face since he was about 2. For a while, he had a whole collection and a leather coat to go with it. He'd put them on and strut around like he was 2 going on 42. :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life through the lens - day 26

This pic was from one of my favorite days of the summer at my favorite place - Wrigley Field. Got a chance to go to the Fan Appreciation Day with my oldest son and was able to wander around the park, checking out the dugout, clubhouse, press box, batting tunnel and going out on the field. This picture was in the locker room. Just gave me goosebumps standing there looking down the row of jerseys. What a cool day!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Life through the lens - day 25

Bowling season has begun again. Child #3 has been bowling in a league for three years so far. Child #4 and #2 gave it a try, but it fizzled out. This year, child #5 is trying it out. So far he's enjoying it. I think his favorite part is at the end when he gets a dollar to spend on the arcade games or in the gumball machines. This is what he picked out today from one of the machines. He wore it all day. :)

Dear sons: Don't lose that spunk

Letter #2

Dear sons:

Believe it or not, the world as you see it now won't look the same in a few years. You'll grow up and get bigger and get to stay up later and have more freedom. That's not all that changes. The world gets bigger and life gets harder. Being responsible isn't as easy or as thrilling as you may think it is. Sometimes being a grown up is hard and sometimes it's not fun. And sometimes we grown ups forget to have fun. Sometimes we get self-concious and are afraid to let loose and be ourselves. I get so much joy in seeing you enjoy life before those insecurities creep into your concious.

Brandon, last night when we were shopping I watched in amusement as you sang and danced. You didn't care about who was around or what you sounded like or looked like. As we packed groceries, you asked, "Do skunks live outside here?" I explained that there are skunks in the neighborhood, but we usually don't see them because they come out at night. "So, we could walk out of here and one of them might walk right up to us?" I went on to tell you that it would be very unusual for that to happen because they'd be too scared of you." Then you said, "That's right. If you don't bother them, they won't bother you." Then you broke into song, repeating that line over and over in a funky disco sound with a "Na, na, na. and a chicka, chicka, chow" thrown in here and there. You spun around and did karate kicks and danced all over the checkout lanes with the lack of inhibition of a spunky 8-year-old.

Then you whistled all the way to the car. You held onto the cart, let your head drop back and exclaimed, "Wow, the town looks so beautiful when you look at it upside down."

You reminded me a little of myself long ago. When I was around kindergarten age, my family referred to me as "the ham." I was always singing and dancing and doing anything to attract attention or perform. As the years went on, I got more shy and reserved. I wish I hadn't. Life would be much more fun if I had the courage to sing and dance and not worry about what other people thought. I enjoyed revisiting that in you. I enjoy seeing that in your brothers, also. For each of you it has existed, longer for some than for others. Keep that for as long as you can. Keep dancing, Keep singing. Don't stop to look or listen to other's criticism. I love your spunk. I envy it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Life through the lens - day 24

And here's another flower shot. I probably have enough flower photos to fill a whole year, but I promise to throw in some others so there's a little variety. Aren't these pretty, though? Flowers have such vibrant colors. That's why I like to photograph them so much.

Dear sons: I'm proud of you

I've been following a blog by one of my former editors in which she writes daily letters to her daughter, who I think is about 9-years-old. I really enjoy her explanations and advice. A lot of it isn't stuff that will make sense to her now, but when she gets older I'm sure she'll appreciate having these letters to look back at. It got me to thinking that it's been more than a decade now since I started writing about my kids. I write often about them, but I've never written to them. I thought it would be a nice thing to start doing, especially since I'm not very good at expressing things verbally. I can get my point across much better on paper. So, I figured I'd add these letters into my blog entries and hopefully some day my boys will get around to reading them.

Dear Sons:

Today I'm starting what I hope will be a regular project of writing letters to you. I'm always writing ABOUT you, but figured it might do some good to write something meant to be read by you. I don't think any of you have any interest in reading my columns about you. I often think before I write and wonder if I'm writing something that may embarrass you or upset you should you read it or hear about it from someone else. I try to be conscious of that as I share stories about each of you.

In this letter, I want to emphasize how proud I am of all of you boys. Why? Ok, I was inspired by an old guy on a late night talk show. It's a comedy/talk show hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. It's on way past your bedtime, so you probably don't know who he is. And some of his stuff isn't quite appropriate for you - which is why it's on so late at night. Anyway, Kimmel's show has been on for quite some time. I don't watch it regularly, but sometimes catch a little bit of it when I'm up late. And you know I am up late OFTEN. I'm quite a night owl, something I've been trying to reverse for years to no avail. One of the characters on his show was his Uncle Frank. Frank was a retired police officer who Kimmel brought on as a security guard and included in lots of his skits and monologues. He was a humorous guy who was funny without really trying. He had a cute demeanor - friendly and a bit nonchalant and apathetic about some things as men in their 70's sometimes become.

A couple weeks ago I tuned in and Kimmel was talking about Uncle Frank and laughing. After a couple minutes I realized that Uncle Frank had died and Kimmel was sharing his memories about him. He talked and talked. I looked at the clock and it had been nearly 15 minutes with nothing but talk about Uncle Frank and no commercials. Kimmel eventually went from laughter to tears and soon I was weeping along with him. He said one bit of advice that Uncle Frank gave everyone was "Your kids know you love them. Tell them you're proud of them." It's completely true. Kids know they are loved. I, like many parents, verbalize it pretty much daily. I'll give you guys a hug and a kiss (if you'll let me) and say "I love you." I often say it when I tuck you in or say goodnight to you. However, it's not very often that I say the phrase "I'm proud of you." And I really am. I just don't tell you.

So many of the things you do make me proud - when you share something with one of your brothers or look out for him, when you express sympathy for someone who is hurting, when you do a chore without me telling you to, when you offer up the money in your own piggy bank if you know money is tight, when you sit in bed and read at night not because you have to but because you want to, when you set a good example for your brothers, when you put a lot of work into something, when you exhibit responsibility, when you show respect, when you get a good grade, when you say something to make me smile exactly when I need it. I probably comment more on things I'm not happy about than what I'm proud of. I promise I'll say it more and show you more how proud you make me. And it's all thanks to Uncle Frank.

Life through the lens - day 23

I love taking flower pictures...and when I accidentally capture some creatures along with it, that's even better. :)

Life through the lens - day 22

Busy day yesterday, so I'm behind in posting. Here is the pic for day 22. We have had TONS of spiders around our yard this year. And a few times we've been held hostage by huge webs made on the front porch that seem impossible to maneuver around. This one was in the garden, spun between a couple of sunflowers.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Life through the lens - day 21

Tonight was the first Cub Scout pack meeting for the new year. The pack always kicks off the year with a visit from the Traveling World of Reptiles. They had all kinds of neat creatures from far away places - Africa, Australia, etc. My son had so much fun. He had ahold of my Nikon for much of the night, snapping away, which I'm thinking will come in handy when it's time for the PTA fine arts contest at school. Don't remember the name of this frog...the second largest frog species in the world if I recall. Oh, and props to the boy who allowed the tarantula to be placed on his head. Yikes!

Keeping up with the big boys

I'm watching my four youngest boys and a couple of their friends run around the back yard playing tag. The oldest in the bunch is 12. The youngest is my baby, age 6. Ok, that's way to old to be called a baby. I know. That's just the curse of being the youngest.

Aside from being the youngest, he's small for his age. A whopping 30 pounds or so, that can still fit into size 4T clothes.

It's just not fair how the youngest one grows up so much faster than his siblings. He's exposed to so much more than his older brothers were as he spies in on them playing video games or overhears their jokes. While at age 6, I could sit an enjoy shows like Barney with my firstborn, he wouldn't think of watching it. Not because he doesn't like it, but because his big brothers make fun of Barney. He does what he observes the big kids doing. He tries to keep up and follow along...and really, he does a good job at it. I just wish he wasn't so good at it sometimes.

I don't think I'll ever get used to the noise

School got out early today. And I have two extra kids at my house. They are all outside, but it's a lovely day and the windows are open. And it's loud. Even though they are outside. I'm glad they are playing outside. Often when friends are over, they simply want to hibernate in front of the TV with the XBOX.

One of the visiting boys just started playing organized football this year, so he's got the whole gang going in a game of tackle football. Football is not my thing. Even in watching professional football, I cringe. I shudder. I wince. I squint. I simply don't like to see people hurting eachother. So, when all my boys are playing football, my first thought is that someone is going to end up squished or bumped or knocked down...or maybe seriously injured. Sometimes I think I'm just too feminine for this household. I get all knotted up inside when they start playing aggressively. I need to get over it. I don't need to jump in every time they wrestle. It's easier said than done.

I also should be used to the noise by now, but sometimes it bothers me. Some days I can focus and all the background noise is there without me noticing. But when it accompanies wrestling or football, forget it. I can't ignore it. Sometimes I just throw my hands up and tell my husband he's in charge. Then if someone gets hurt, it's on his watch, not mine. He doesn't see what the big deal is. He, after all, was a rowdy boy once. He understands it. I don't. Never will.

Life through the lens - day 20

I love taking pictures in churches. I have an opportunity to do so in many churches in Northwest Indiana because I write for a senior magazine with a monthly "Faith" feature. So, I do profiles on volunteers, church secretaries, choir directors, sunday school teachers, food pantry cooks, parish nurses, bible study leaders and others. Today I was at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Dyer, In. I'd been there before to photograph a church member and remembered how beautiful it was. It's full of lots breathtaking stained glass windows. In between snapping pictures of my subject, Tom, I snapped this one. I wish I'd had more time (and more battery power) to get some more shots.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Life through the lens - day 19

It was a rainy day, so I stayed in and did some baking and cooking. Here's what I made today:

A pot of tortilla soup
Ribs in the crock pot
Cherry Cobbler
Apple galette
Peach galette
Beef enchiladas
and blueberry muffins for breakfast tomorrow. Made from a mix, but I added a couple cups of frozen blueberries that we picked last month. They look yummy! Looking forward to having some in the morning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life through the lens - day 18

Had to pop another flower pic in here....another from Miss Lucille's yard. :)

You know you're becoming your mother when...

Oh, boy, there are soooo many ways to finish that sentence. Remember when you were a child and there were all these embarrassing, annoying or quirky things your mother would do? You swore you never would. Then years down the road you find yourself doing something and it hits you: "I'm becoming my mother!"

Today, I did one of those mom things. I do it often. Today it just jumped out at me. I was talking to random strangers in the grocery store. My mom has often been one to strike up a conversation with anyone who will listen. I recall as a child being in the grocery store rolling my eyes as a trip for milk and bread turned into a 45-minute philosophical conversation  in the produce aisle with someone she'd never met.

Today, I found myself commenting to others standing near by. "Wow, that's a good price." "Have you ever tried this? It's really good." Sometimes it's an elderly gentleman excited about the conversation. Sometimes it's another mom who is in total agreement with whatever I'm saying. Today, as I reached for lunchmeat, I started babbling about how they used to have this Black Forest Shaved ham that was really good and my kids loved it, but they don't have it anymore. Now they only have turkey. "Do you think I could trick my kids into thinking this is ham?" I asked. The young guy, who looked about age 20, just chuckled and gave me this look like "Why are you asking me, lady?" Yep, it was something my mom totally would have done. And I did it.

Life through the lens - day 17

My neighbor, Lucille, has a beautiful yard full of flowers, so in the spring I go over and get pictures of all the gorgeous blooms. I'm sure throughout the year I'll have many more to add from her flower gardens.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Silence is golden

I had forgotten how much I enjoy silence. After a long summer with a constant house full of kids, I'm once again able to enjoy some spans of time when the house it quiet. The first few days of the new school year always strange and bittersweet. After that wears off, it is incredibly relaxing to be able to sit down and have a few moments to think without all the noise and distraction that keeps me from even being able to form coherent thoughts.

I'm getting used to it - having those quiet pockets. Then as it gets closer toward 3:00, I brace myself. I prepare for the storm. When everyone steps back into the house, it's always an explosion of voices. "Mom, look at this." "Mom, you need to sign this." "I forgot my lunchbox." "Mom, he's bothering me." "Mom, can I have a snack?"

Don't get me wrong. I love my kids. I love their voices. I love hearing about their school day. It's just such an abrupt change from the silence to the bombardment of noise. Makes the silence that much sweeter.

Life through the lens - day 16

That's my oldest son. I keep telling him he needs a haircut! ;) Anyway, in the spring we had a chance to go explore Wrigley Field on a day the team was away. It was a fan appreciation weekend for season ticket holders. Anyone who knows me, knows that the Friendly Confines are one of my very favorite places on this earth. It was awesome to be able to go out and walk on the field, check out the clubhouse, dugouts, batting tunnel, press box and more. We had a blast!!! Took this while lying down in the lush grass in the infield. I took a LOT of pics that day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life through the lens - day 15

From our recent trip to the apple orchard. This guy sure was moving fast. I'm surprised I caught him.

Life through the lens - day 14

Witch's Gulch in Wisconsin Dells. I thought this was a pretty cool picture.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Life through the lens - day 13

I love flowers and love taking pictures of flowers. I love how the camera picks up the vibrant colors and detail. This isn't the best picture, but makes me smile. It was taken at Centennial Park in Munster.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Life through the lens - day 12

Today felt like a warm summer day (Duh! It is still SUMMER!) and I wish I could have gone to the pool or the beach. Seems like it's been forever since I wore my bathing suit. In reality, it's only been a couple weeks. This pic is from what was probably my favorite day all summer... a trip to the beach in Whiting with my hubby and boys.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It makes me sad when the average learners get left out

Often in education, special programs and opportunities are available to those who fall at each end of the learning spectrum. Special needs are addressed with additional resources and staffing as they should be. Additional programs, extracurricular activities and classes are often available to those who are considered gifted. If you fall in between, there are a lot of opportunities you miss out on. And the majority of students are in that middle range.

I am a big believer in finding a child's strengths and building on those skills or seeking out what their interests are and making their lessons more enticing by relating them to what kids want to learn about. Schools do little to apply this to individuals and for average learners there way fewer opportunities to pursue their learning passions.

I recall when my son was in 3rd grade, which was the grade when honor roll is first recognized and enrichment classes are first offered. My son had been on straight A honor roll and I'd heard about the enrichment program from another mom who had a son in it - she told me that they spent time in school doing special projects and had the opportunity to go on educational field trips. I had never received any kind of information about it or even knew it was available until that point. It sounded like something I thought my child would enjoy and benefit from. He often complained he was bored in class and I thought the change of scenery would be good for him and was excited about the possibility of him having a chance to go on more field trips. I asked the teacher and was told kids were eligible based on test scores and my son's test scores must not have been high enough. I mentioned him being on straight A honor roll and asked if current grades were taken into consideration. I asked my son's teacher to check into it. It was relayed back to me that my son was considered too shy and that group discussion was mandatory. I was disappointed. Just because he didn't score in the 95th percentile - and because he wasn't very talkative -  didn't mean he wouldn't benefit from this type of instruction. If anything, it might have helped to improve his test scores and perhaps been a small group that he would have felt more comfortable talking in front of. But the answer was no.

One year my teenager asked if he could take a summer class -- just because he wanted to. He thought he could perhaps take a social studies class that was required for graduation and get it out of the way or maybe take an available elective. He just wanted to take a summer class. It caught me off guard that he would voluntarily take additional classes in the summer months when he didn't have to. I was also proud that he was taking the initiative at taking advantage of an educational opportunity.

I remembered that when I was in school I had wanted to take a summer class one year, but we simply didn't have the extra money for me to do so. The high school I attended offered many electives in the summer - foreign languages, art, music, theatre, business and various social studies, science and literature classes.

I contacted my son's high school to find out how to sign him up for summer school. I was told that he COULD NOT take a summer class just because he wanted to. Summer school was only for students who had failed classes. It was only for make-up to help kids who were behind get credits to graduate on time. "We don't have any summer enrichment" the administrator told me. Again - an average learner who had been passing classes was passed over. The spots were only for failing kids. I was upset. I still am - if you couldn't tell.

My latest brush with this topic came last week when my middle schooler came home from school and voluntarily told me he was very disappointed. He's not the kind of kid who comes home and tells me all about his day, so when he does come home and start talking, I know I need to listen. He was upset because he wouldn't be able to take art class at all this year. I asked why and he explained that the block class schedule had changed and classes ran more weeks than they had previously, which had eliminated art for his grade. He mentioned an "Advanced Art" class, but that he couldn't take it.

My son said that his grade last year had been high enough for advanced art, but that he didn't get in the class. So, I called the school to see what I could find out. An administrator did explain that the change in schedule meant that it wasn't available to everyone. Most 6th graders got it, but those who didn't could stay after school for some art instruction. 8th graders got to take it. 7th graders (my son's grade) didn't get to take it at all....except for about 20 who were hand picked by the art teacher to be in an advanced art class. It equates to less than 10 percent of the 7th grade class. The adminstrator explained that the selection process was done by the art teacher choosing those gifted students that she thought had the highest artistic ability. My son is no Normal Rockwell, but he is artistic. He can draw. And he LOVES it. He's not crazy about school, but he loves art. The happiest day I recall from 6th grade was when he brought home a ceramic bowl he made in art class. He was so proud of it. It crushes me that the subject he loves the most, he isn't able to take because he doesn't fall into that gifted category. I asked if there was any way to get him into that class. It doesn't sound promising. It just doesn't sit well that there are many more opportunities for those kids at the top of the heap to be raised even higher, but little effort to take the average learners and help propel them to a higher level.

Before hanging up I asked about foriegn language offerings. I'd seen in the newspaper that the district was adding Spanish to the curriculum. That made me so happy. I'm am so for teaching foriegn language to children at a young age. I've written articles on the topic in the past. I remember writing years ago about how pleased I was to see that an area school was introducing Spanish to kindergarteners -- at the optimum time to learn a new language. My oldest took language class at the local college at age 8. Another son took a summer class that introduced him to the Spanish language and culture at the same age. So I asked the administrator when children would be learning Spanish. I didn't expect the answer I got -- it's only for that top 10 percent or so, based on their test scores. So, if you fall below that, you're out of luck. Another kick to those who want to learn more, but are pushed back to help the top of the class achieve more. It makes me so sad. And I'm sure there are kids out there who are very bright and very capable, but don't score well on tests. Because all of these programs for the gifted bunch are based on test scores, some kids who really should be eligible aren't because they didn't do well on a standardized test. I've always wanted my kids to be well-rounded individuals....learn a foriegn language, learn to play an instrument, take opportunities to go places and learn from experiences outside of the classroom. I feel as if the education system my kids are in view it as if there's less value or no value in giving these opportunities to the average kids.

There are countless celebrities, business executives, etc. who have confessed that they were not the best students. There are many who have made it far and been highly successful even without having been valedictorian. Perhaps we should put more value in the average learner and afford them more opportunities. It's often a little nudge and an invitaiton for inclusion that can propel them to great things.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where were you when the world stopped turning?

Alan Jackson is one of my favorite musical artists. He has a calm, soothing voice. He sounds good without the effects of vocal strains that so many artists incorporate into their singing. He also is a songwriter and can produce hits about the simplest of subjects. He's old school, yet his music has a modern feel. It's a perfect mix of old and new. One of the best songs ever written, in my opinion is "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?" - a tune he wrote in the days following 9/11.

So, where was I? I was in the shower. I should have been at work, but I was 8-months pregnant and awoke in the wobbly, achy, exhausted, irritated state you might expect. I called in and used a sick-day. I had been trying to save up the days to lengthen my maternity leave, but on this Tuesday morning I felt unusually miserable and exhausted. My husband had taken our second grader off to school and had returned. He popped his head on the door to say that my sister had called and said to turn on the television because a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I'd never been to New York. I wasn't at all familiar with the area. I jumped out of the shower and started watching. And watching. And watching. I didn't do much else that day. Or for several days. I remember my husband, a firefighter, make a remark along the lines of "Do you know how many firefighters just died?" as the first building collapsed.

I'll carry that story with me forever. I'll remember where I was when it happened. Just like I remember being in my 7th grade language arts class when the space shuttle exploded or being in my car waiting to have the emissions test done when it was announced on the radio that we had invaded Iraq and the Gulf War had begun. My memories of other events are a bit foggy - Elvis' death, John Lennon's death, the shooting of Ronald Reagan. I was quite young, but remember learning the news of all while sitting in my living room watching the news.

Where were you?

Life through then lens - day 11

9/11 photo exhibit continues in Munster this week

If you're looking for a way to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary today, the Center for Performing Arts in Munster has a temporary exhibit that runs for one more week that includes photo images of the World Trade Towers in the years before 9/11 and the events of 9/11/01 and the days that followed. I stopped in the other day to view the exhibit and it was well worth taking the time to go. Tomorrow there is also a service beginning at 1:30 to include music and spoken words related to the tragedy.
Names of the emergency personnel are printed in white on the stripes of the flag.

9/11 fallen firefighter remembered often

I was trying decide what I wanted to write in my blog today. Then I came across this column I wrote in 2006. So, here it is again:

9/11 fallen firefighter remembered often

Christian Michael Otto Regenhard is a man whom I never met and who lived hundreds of miles away. However, he's someone I think of often. Here's why.

On September 11, 2001, I woke up feeling nauseous, fatigued, achy and swollen as you might expect from a woman who was 8 months pregnant. Although I only had about four weeks left of work before going on maternity leave, I felt lousy enough to stay home and use a sick day.

After my oldest son was off to school, I got in the shower. A few minutes later, my husband stuck his head in the door and said that my sister called and said to turn on the television because a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

I hurried out of the shower. I've never been to New York and didn't know anything about the towers or the area. I sat in front of the television and watched in horror as another tower was struck and each came crashing to the ground.

I didn't know one person who was directly impacted by the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but like most other Americans, I felt such a sense of sorrow and just sobbed for days.

My due date was Oct. 15, 2001. I hoped my baby, which we knew would be a son, wouldn't arrive on Oct. 11, 2001. I just didn't want his birthday associated with the one-month anniversary of those horrific events (like I had any choice in the matter!).

I loved the name Carter and we were pretty sure that Carter would be our son's first name. We were still mulling over middle names. We'd come up with a list of two dozen or so that we were considering. One of them was Christian.

On Sept. 24, my husband and two older sons weren't home and I turned on the television to watch the prayer service that was taking place at Yankee Stadium. As the camera panned around the crowd showing somber faces grasping photos of loved ones missing in the disaster, for just a couple seconds it focused in on a woman holding a large picture of a young firefighter.

Underneath the photo was the name "Christian." I knew right then that I'd found our son's middle name.

Carter Christian arrived on Oct. 11, 2001. I remember watching the television in my labor room that morning as the president spoke and asked for a moment of silence for all those lost exactly one month earlier.

Although I knew nothing more about this man except that he was a firefighter missing in New York on 9/11, I thought about him often -- whenever I'd say or write my son's full name, when I'd look at the calendar on the 11th of the month, when something would come on television about the World Trade Center towers.

Earlier this year, I thought I'd do some looking on the Internet to at least learn his full name. Within a couple minutes I'd found a site listing the 343 firefighters lost on 9/11. I read each name on the list until I found the first name Christian. There was only one with that first name, Christian Michael Otto Regenhard. It also had his picture.

Just this week, I thought I'd try to find out more than just his name. An Internet search brought up numerous articles on his memorial service and his mother's attendance in hearings related to 9/11 and the organization she started in Christian's memory, the Skyscraper Safety Campaign (

I learned that Christian had just graduated from the fire academy in July 2001 and was a rookie, or "probie" in firefighter terms. He had served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and had traveled to 22 different countries. He was a hero whose life ended way too soon, like so many others that day.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Life through the lens - day 10

Ok, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm trying to keep up with my picture a day thing. Tomorrow will be busy as I'm doing a book signing and have lots of errands to run, so I'm getting tomorrow's pic up early. We've done a lot of kite flying this summer. This shot was from a recent day by the baseball field at the local high school. Looks so pretty up in the sky. Last week when we were in Michigan this one took a nosedive into a cornfield and couldn't be recovered. R.I.P. to our double decker kite! (I don't know why, but this image is showing a shaded line at the bottom. No idea why it's there...I hope it goes away when it posts!)

Life through the lens - day 9

There's a park in the next town that the kids have dubbed "Spiderman Park." Why? This spectaular climbing pyramid of red rope resembles a big spiderweb. First thing they do when we get there is climb straight to the top. I used to stand at the bottom -- a nervous wreck, but they've now made countless trips up and down and I've relaxed a little. They're growing up and I can't stand under them every minute waiting to catch them if they fall -- although when one of them did a "Mom, look! No hands!" my heart started thumping a bit harder.

You can laugh about it later

I often hear comments from people along the lines of  "I don't know how you do it." It often makes me uncomfortable, feeling like these people think I have this perfect life and that I have it all together. Most days it couldn't be farther from the truth. Kids fight and make messes, things break, I lose patience, I forget things, I burn dinner, I run late, I have a basket of laundry in the living room that's waiting to be folded for 4 days. Other times, things are good. They feel really good -- almost perfect. The kids get along good, I don't forget anything major, I'm on time and the house is in decent shape and I fully appreciate the gifts I've been given and the joy in seeing my children learn and explore.

Recently when someone made such a comment to me, I wondered if I give the impression in my columns and blogs that I have a perfect, holding-it-all-together life. If I gave the impression that I'm trying to come across that way, I'm sorry. Sometimes the crazy days are just too much to write about. Sometimes the events are to embarrassing or too painful to discuss with strangers who may read it. Sometimes I am completely mortified, but later am able to laugh of such events -- like the time my son was so scared about going into the dentist office that when I was filling out papers in the waiting room, he darted out the door and hid. The receptionist and I spent several minutes outside looking for him before we discovered him hiding in the bushes. At the time, I just couldn't share that one. Now, years later, I can laugh about it. So, if it seems like I'm "doing it all" and doing it well, there's a lot you don't know, but maybe I'll tell you in a few years when I can finally see the humor in it.

Life through the lens - day 8

Well, my computer seems to be dying a slow death. SLOW. It's taking forever to do anything, so I tried loading a photo to post last night and an hour later I gave up when it still wasn't working. I'm trying again.

I loved this adorable sitting room in the Inn at Aberdeen, a bed and breakfast in Valparaiso, Indiana that I visited last fall. Makes me want to grab a cup of tea, a book and an afghan and snuggle up.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Life through the lens (days 6 and 7)

Well, I knew when I said I'd post a picture a day, it wouldn't be that easy. Some days are so hectic, it's hard to find time to log on. So, here are pics for days 6 and 7. Also, I started out intending to post a picture taken that very day, but I realized it will be easier to just post a random recent picture, but to try and post every day. Here's the newest entries:

Day 6: A grandfather/grandson moment at the orchard.

Day 7: Isn't this flower BEAUTIFUL???? No, idea what it's called, but I love it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The world through the lens

Early in the summer I got a Nikon camera that I've been enjoying. I saw a photographer on Facebook who did a project of posting a photo a day for 365 days. It was fun to watch the variety she posted. I thought I'd do the same. Today is September 5th, so will start off with five days worth and go from here.

We've had some gorgeous sunflowers in the garden. I've been taking lots of pictures of them during the day with the bright blue sky as a backdrop, but I think this one turned out nicely.

Okay, day two. I take lots of pictures of food for my blog, Chicago Foodie Sisters ( This was an easy chocolate eclair cake I made. It was yummy. :)

Day three - As we were sitting down to eat dinner, we noticed this little critter right outside the window feasting on sunflower seeds.

Day four - A colorful pile of peppers at a farm stand we visited in Michigan.

Day five - We did some peach picking in Galien, Michigan. Here's our picks - Klondike Whites.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Destination: Wisconsin Dells for one last summer getaway

With just a few days to spare before the whole gang was back in school, we took a short trip to Wisconsin Dells. We had been there in 2008 just after the massive flooding that caused Lake Delton to drain. This time, it had been fully restored and things were bustling. We stayed at a place we hadn't been to before - the Chula Vista Resort. It was a lovely resort, surrounded by a lush golf course at the north end of the Dells. It featured an indoor water park and an outdoor water park that were side by side. Right in front of the main lobby were a miniature lazy river and a pool with basketball hoops. In back was a wave pool and a large hot tub area, which was so relaxing in the evening with a nearby fireplace. Our condo was a two bedroom, two bath condo with a full kitchen and a hot tub. The CVB was kind enough to comp one night and we added a second at our expense since we wanted to spend a little more time there.

Our first day was spent chilling out in the water, which was just what we needed after the nearly four hour ride. On day two, I set off with my oldest to hit some of the attractions while my hubby and the other boys explored the water parks some more.

We first went for a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks. If you're ever in the Dells, be sure to take a Duck ride. The amphibious vehicles were made during World War II for military use and today there's a large fleet of them for tours that introduce riders to both the land and the water with some history thrown in by entertaining guides. On our last visit, we went on the Dells Army Ducks...same premise, but painted in camo coloring.

We also spent a little time downtown, shopping and stopping in the H.H. Bennett Gallery and the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. We then went on a two-hour Upper Dells Tour, which was way more involved and informative than I expected. It included a stop at Witch's Gulch and Stand Rock. We were able to see some incredible rock formations of a rare limestone found only four places in the world.

We finished off the day with dinner at Paul Bunyon's, a local eatery that I was drawn to due to my fascination with muffler men (those big fiberglass statues that were common along road stops in the 1960's and 70's.) It was a fun experience with a good, hearty meal.

The next day we did a little more swimming and checked out of the Chula Vista Resort, followed by a trip to the Tommy Bartlett Science Exploratory. What fun! It has tons of hands-on exhibits that kids will love. We had the cool opportunity to ride a bike on a wire (see below.) What was most fascinating was being able to check out the MIR Space Station!!!! It's the only one of its kind in the U.S. (one other exists in Russia.) How cool is that? I had fun chatting with a French exchange student who was manning the space simulator ride. The Dells seems to have exchange students from many places to help staff attractions and resorts during the peak travel season.

We had so much fun on the water the day before that I decided to take a family boat ride - this time on a jet boat. We enjoyed an ice cream cone as we waited to board. It was quite a ride. The pilot did all kinds of dips and twists and turns that left us soaked. 

We decided to have dinner on the way out of town and we picked a good place - Buffalo Phil's. I admit that I'm a Chicago pizza snob and usually don't find pizza I like when I get too far away from Chicago, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pizza there. We got a 1/2 sausage and 1/2 pepperoni and also a barbecue pizza that went fast between all the boys. It also had tables where your food could be delivered by train, but it necessitated a 20 minute wait, so we decided a regular booth would do. There's also a big arcade/indoor amusement park attached that we skipped since we didn't want to get home too late, but would have definitely checked out otherwise.

We love the area and, of course, the kids are always up for a trip to a water park. I'm hoping to visit Mt. Olympus on a future trip. It looks like so much fun. I've also heard great things about the Kalahari Resort. Our previous visit was spend at the Wilderness Resort, which had ideal lodging for family. We stayed in a condo and went back and forth between several indoor and outdoor water parks and the kids loved making their own animals in the bear-building workshop.

Just an FYI...on our last trip, we also visited Wisconsin Deer Park, Riverview Amusement and Water Park, Wizard Quest and the B & H Trout Farm where the kids did some fishing. All are great family attractions to see when you're in town. As the warm weather subsides and the crowds die down, it's a great time to hit the area to do some fishing. The larger resorts also have indoor water parks and other activities, so it makes a great spot for a family getaway all year round.

AFV gets approval from all

Just had to post that it's often hard to find appropriate stuff on television that all occupants of the house of all ages will enjoy since they range from 6 to 43. Tonight the boys were excited about watching America's Funniest Videos, which was on all day. It's not often you find a show that you liked watching as a child that your kids also like to watch. What makes it even better is that some of these re-runs are from when I was a teenager. They all giggle like crazy at people falling off of objects or running into trees or animals doing funny things. Beats a lot of the mindless, crude and violent images that are on many other channels. So it gets mom's seal of approval, as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lagging behind, but catching up

I really should post more often. I say that a lot. Lately I've been reading more blogs and noticing how some of these moms post several times a week, some even posting daily. Gosh, I wish I could keep up with that, but I don't think that's ever going to happen - between home, five kids, a husband, a dog, a part-time job outside the house, my writing work done inside the house, trying to help out a little at school, maintaining three blogs and countless social network statuses, keeping up with deadlines on the regular print publications I write for, trying to promote and sell my latest book, prepare for my next book coming out and get ready to submit another book proposal and some other things in between, my time is a bit limited.

Anyway, here's what this week was like. Monday was the first day of school. My husband and I took them for their first day and then I went off to work. Tuesday, I got the kids off to school and had a long day at work. Wednesday was the first day with the kids back at school and me home in a quiet house...well for part of the day anyway. My oldest stopped home for lunch because he has a couple classes in one building in the morning, then travels to another building for additional classes. I soaked up the quiet. I did long overdue housework. I spent some time on the computer doing nothing really useful. Thursday, another quiet day of getting some work done at home and some shopping and cooking done. Today was Friday. My husband worked. The kids were all gone. It was all me. I met my friend, Michelle, for breakfast. Michelle is my breakfast buddy. I have friends that I do certain activities with and it's so nice to have them all -- like Toni, who is also my breakfast buddy, but she likes Aunt Sally's, so that's where we go. Michelle and I usually stick to Baker's Square. Heather is another breakfast buddy of the Baker's Square variety. Ellie is my movie buddy. We get together to go to a dinner and a movie. Cindy and Cheri are my bowling buddies. Then there's a set of club buddies I have. My friends from the historical society. The PTA moms. My neighbor who plans the block party with me. My friend, Fran, who I occasionally go to concerts with. There's the play date moms. My sisters who are my forever friends and who I enjoy so much. It's so nice to have such roles with so many different people.

Michelle is a gem - always encouraging and fun to be around. It was great to have breakfast with her and chat. Now that the school year is back in full swing, I'll look forward to more visits with my variety of friends. :)