Saturday, October 29, 2011

Life through the lens: day 58

So I hear the snow is falling out east. No sign of any flakes in our area yet, but the kids sure had fun during out big storm last winter.

I love one on one time with my boys

I try to work in one-on-one time with each of my boys here and there. I used to try and schedule it, now it seems it just happens as it happens. Today an opportunity presented itself and I'm glad it did. It was a lot of fun.

Earlier, I took my middle boy and my youngest boy to the bowling alley. They bowl in a Saturday morning league. Today the kids got to wear costumes and they got goodie bags. When we got home I told the boys there was the trick-or-treating event at the Tri-Town Safety Village in Schererville. The two that went bowling were on a sugar high from digging through their goodie bags and didn't want to go. The oldest two were busy putting out Halloween decorations. That left child #4. He was happy to go alone. Honestly, I was happy to take him alone. He's a sweetheart all by himself, but I knew there would be trouble and bickering with another one tagging along. I got him ready with his cape and vampire teeth. I colored his hair black and applied some dripping blood to his face and we were out the door.

Car rides with one are always a nice opportunity for conversation and a great way to get to know each child a little better by hearing things that don't come out in a crowded living room with several siblings. I remembered on the way there that I'd gotten an e-mail from Texas Corral saying that if kids came to eat in costume this weekend, they ate for free. Seemed like another great opportunity, so after he did some trick-or-treating, we went for a late lunch. He loves that place because you get to drop your peanut shells on the floor. He ate almost every bite, so when he asked for the giant brownie sundae, I splurged and we shared it.

On the way home, he asked to stop at the park. I pulled up and stayed in the car and told him he could play for 10 minutes since we'd now been out longer than I'd planned. He's not shy. He jumped out was immediately running and playing with other kids. Had I been there with my other boys at that age, they may not have gotten out of the car alone. I sat back and watched, enjoying his independence.

As we made our way home, I turned up the radio - something else I don't do with the rest of the gang there because someone complains about the noise or the type of music I'm listening to. He likes music. He likes to sing and dance. He surprised the heck out of me last summer when he did a summer musical class and performed in a play at the end of the session. He did a great job. So, we rode along, both singing out loud to the Black Eyed Peas. It was a fun afternoon - just the two of us. Mission accomplished.

Dear sons: be optimistic

Letter #9

Dear sons:

You father and I sometimes go back and forth about our views on the world. Sometimes he doesn't like my eternally optimistic outlook. I try to look at things and find the good in them. Every cloud, I'm convinced has a a silver lining. In tragedies and disasters, there's often a ray of light that comes from them. We've seen that happen in the wake of tornadoes, hurricanes, on 9/11. Horrific things can also bring out the best in people. I like to wake up looking at the new day as a new adventure. A chance to learn something new. A chance to meet someone special. A chance to enjoy myself. A chance to connect with someone else. I see the glass as half full.

Your dad sometimes doesn't see the world through rose-colored glasses the way I do. Sometimes that upsets me. Other times I have to remind myself that we're all different and we all have different thoughts and opinions and that is what makes the world as wonderful as it is -- our differences. I have to put myself in his shoes and think of why he is more pessimistic than I am. He's had different experiences. He's seen different things. And he often argues that his attitude isn't pessimistic, it's realistic -- and often that's completely true. I tend to sometimes not face reality as I should.

I often forget how different our lives our - your father and I. He heads off to work never knowing what the day will hold. As a firefighter and paramedic, he has to be ready for the unexpected. I'd imagine that's exhausting. Even when he's sleeping at night at work, he's got to have one ear on the radio, ready to jump from a warm bed in a milli-second to go off and help someone. I know that's exhausting. He's got a lot of training to do and a lot of certifications to keep up with. Some of his days are showered with rewards - he's able to help someone physically and emotionally and maybe even play a part in saving a life. However, many of his days are spent on mundane calls and sometimes it's frustrating for him  - like when someone with a small cut on a finger is being taken to a hospital as someone on the other side of town is having chest pain.

He has seen things in his career that I never want to have to witness and that are too gruesome to describe. He's also seen blatant abuse of the system, the kind that turns eager newbies into tired and often bitter veterans. The world he sees is much different that the life I lead. I can't blame him for having a different, more realistic view of the world.

Still, I hope as you grow you'll make an effort to look for the good, to not be afraid to experience new things, to be gracious when you encounter people in need, to be open to new possibilities, to not be critical of others. And keep in mind, we are Cubs fans - you can't survive in that world without a good dose of optimism. :)

I feel pretty

Ok, I've been at the mom thing for 17 1/2 years now. I spent many, many years in that sloppy sweatpants with spit-up stains and strained peas on my shirt mode. I think many moms spend a lot of their time feeling unattractive.

With the release of two books in the past couple months, I had publishers asking for photos of me to print on the book or put in an online bio. I didn't really have anything except for 15-year-old photos taken when I worked in a school district and got photos taken along with the staff and students.

I decided I should get some real photos taken. Late one afternoon before picking the kids up from school, I met my friend, MaryBeth, for some photos at a cute little park nearby. MaryBeth has gotten into the photo business the past couple years. I first met her when my youngest son was in preschool. She's a teacher aide and would take gorgeous photos of the kids at school concerts and field trips and other events. Soon, she was in business and I was so excited for her. Last year she took some great family photos for us.

Anyway, my computer is sooo slow these days and it would take me all day to upload all of them, but here's a couple of the them. It was a busy day and I raced out the door without any make-up on and in an outfit that's at least 2 years old -- not good makings for a photo shoot, but MaryBeth managed to make me look decent.

I liked this one with the pink umbrella in black and white -- a prop I suggested because it's kind of an inside joke. My kids are always running off with my umbrellas and then breaking them or leaving them at school and burying them in their rooms. Then when I am heading out in the rain, I'm left with a Spiderman or Transformers umbrella. So, I bought a pink one, sure than none of the males in my house would use it. I was right. Finally, something in the house that is ALL mine. :)

Visit MBW Photography,!/pages/MBW-Photography/143073829048927, if you want to see more from my photo shoot or more of MaryBeth's work. If she could make me feel pretty, she can work miracles. :)

Life through the lens - day 58

Ok, this is an oldie...from a couple years ago, but makes me smile. :) My middle boy at a Cub Scout rocket launching outing on a chilly fall day like today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gratitude is a gift

Many moons ago, my mom gave me a book called a "Gratitude Journal." It was meant to be written in each day and each day you were supposed to list three things you were thankful for that day. It got to be a pleasant routine to write in my book at the end of the day. When you stop and count your blessings, it makes you a happier person. It makes you appreciate what you have. It makes you look at the world through a different set of eyes - washing out envy, spite, contempt, jealousy and pettiness. You focus on the good and the bad or unpleasant things take a back seat. It really affects the way you look at the world around you.

From time to time I still pull out a journal and jot down a few things, but it's no longer a regular routine. After a while it doesn't have to be. You tend to say a prayer of thanks in your head at the end of the day for all you've got and committing it to paper isn't a priority. It's there and a grateful heart is the long-term effect. Often it was hard to narrow it down to three items and I soon upped it to five. There was never a shortage of blessings to recognize -- things as simple as a warm bed, running water, food to eat made it on the list. People who are important were entered on the pages. Experiences that were meaningful and memorable were added.

If I were to pull out my journal and insert a few items tonight, some that easily come to mind are many:

healthy children
scented candles
spouse's embrace
our pet
dedicated teachers
soft pillows
hearing things with my ears
being impressed by son's essay
close quarters
helpful hands
hot shower

Dear sons: I enjoy your company

Letter #8

Dear sons:

Today I really enjoyed your laughter. As one of you ran circles through the house with a deafening squeal, I tried to hold back the scolding and complaining. I just watched you have fun as you ran through the house chasing the dog and then running as he chased ear toward you waiting to hear you fall and then waiting to hear the tears fall. That happens often. Instead, I let you be and soaked in the craziness, the loudness and the laughter and let the chips (or kids) fall where they may.

Then I was in the kitchen and before I knew it I had two helpers. It would have been much faster and easier to do it all on my own, but I embraced your enthusiasm. I let you crack the eggs. Believe it or not, it's hard for a mom to do that sometimes. I simply watched closely, ready to scoop up the shell fragments that had fallen in the bowl along with the eggs. But you did fine. You didn't drop one bit of shell. And that's how you learned now to is by practicing it.

I need to back off and let you practice and learn. I'm still learning to do that after all these years. It was so satisfying to see your excitement in helping with stirring and mixing and reading the instructions. It was a help, not a hindrance. I try to look at your presence that way and I apologize for the times I don't recognize how much you're helping and how much you're learning.

This evening I saw this poem on a Facebook post. I try to live in the moment and enjoy all of you so the regrets will be fewer than the pleasant memories. I'm trying all the time. I don't always get it right. No mother does. I just hope I'm showing you along the way how much I love you and how much I love your company.

If I had my child to raise all over again,

I'd build self esteem first, and the house later.

I'd finger paint more, and point the finger less.

... I would do less correcting and more connecting.

I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.

I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.

I'd stop playing serious and seriously play.

I'd run through more fields, and gaze at more stars.

I'd do more hugging and less tugging.

-diane loomans

Life through the lens - days 54, 55, 56, 57

When I started this photo a day project, I knew it would be hard to keep up with. And this week has been a doozie as my computer is in slow mode and freezing up a lot. So, made a couple attempts to get something up and gave up. I'm making up for it tonight with 4 photos from my recent visit to Chicago's Historic Pullman Neighborhood. I have to make a trip back another day just to get some more photos. The arcitechture there is beyond beautiful. Take a look...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dear sons: Be confident

Letter #7

Dear sons:

The other day I met someone who exuded such confidence. You could feel it in the handshake, the speech, the eye contact. There's a reason that I tell you to speak up and to give people a firm handshake. Confidence and success kind of go hand-in-hand. Not that you can't be successful and shy at the same time, but depending on the field you're going into, it can make life much easier to show confidence when dealing with people. Some professions depend on it. It can be scary meeting new people. You might feel unsure and a bit timid. It'll make it much easier to get a job if you go in feeling confident and jobs are hard to come by these days. So, next time you meet someone, practice what I've been telling you. Give a firm handshake, look them in the eye and introduce yourself in a confident tone.



Life through the lens - day 53

Ah, this spring-like weather makes these beauties seem appropriate for late October. :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Life through the lens: day 52

The sepia tones are growing on me more and more. I take photos of babies at a local hospital and I'm loving the contrast between the black and white and sepia when I show them to parents. I'm finding that I more often prefer the sepia. Just playing around tonight and trying one out. :)

And here's the color version

Life through the lens: Day 51

Another beauty from Miss Lucille's garden...roses that look like this in late October!!!!!!! Amazing!!!

Life through the lens: day 50

Picking up leaves for a school project. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life through the lens - days 47, 48 and 49

Ok, another three-peat to help me catch up on missing a few days.

This is son number 4. He's never shy about getting his picture taken, even though his brothers often are. He's often the ham, jumping in whenever I get my camera out. He's the one who I have no trouble getting a hug and a kiss from. In fact, they often come unsolicited...and it's so nice when they do. :)

Another picture from that same warm spring day at the park. Proof that they do like each other once in a while. They've been fighting A LOT lately, so this is a nice reminder of the times they do get along. This picture is the wallpaper shot on my computer. I love seeing their smiling faces on my screen every day.

I've posted pictures before of some of the gorgeous flowers growing in the yard of my neighbor, Miss Lucille. She's nearing 90 and can run circles around me -- I mean it. She's out in her yard all year, planting and tending to her flowers. She walks like 5 miles in the morning several times a week. She goes out dancing on the weekends. Anyway...there are still lots of lovely blooms in her yard. Here's a picture I took last week.

Weekend with the boys: Svengoolie and Johnny English

Well, it was a busy weekend enjoying some time with my boys and a couple of their favorite characters. Last Friday, I took two of the boys to see Svengoolie at an appearance in Orland Park. Each year at Halloween, he makes several public appearances. This year he's been at a theatre, the zoo, a racetrack, a haunted house and a few other places. On Friday, he was scheduled to be at Party City from 7 - 9 p.m. For those of you who aren't familiar with Svengoolie, he is a character who has appearing on television in Chicagoland since before I was born. He hosts a show where he does some narration and entertaining between scenes of horror classics and B-movies, mostly those from the 40's, 50's, 60's...such classics as the Blob, Dracula and Frankenstein.

Anyway, last year my son took the boys to see Sven at the same Party City location, but the line had gotten so long that they were turning people away. So, this year we set out early, arriving around 6:20 to get in line. I figured we'd be near the front of the line and be out of there in about an hour. Well, three hours later we were still in line. The closer we got, the more I thought "We can't back out now," even though my 6-year-old and 8-year-old were driving me completely insane with their bickering, bathroom humor and hyperactive hands that had to touch everything on the shelves in front of us as the line wound around through five aisles. Finally, we made out way up to where we could actually see Svengoolie and my 8-year-old was absolutely giddy. They were so excited to finally meet him in person and get a picture. Once I saw the smiles on their faces, the three hours of misery while waiting in line for him to autograph a rubber chicken melted away.

We got home about 10:00 and I looked at the mail that was delivered that day and found passes I'd won to an advance screening of Johnny English Reborn. My kids are HUGE fans of Rowan Atkinson. We all have seen every Mr. Bean television show. We've seen Mr. Bean's Holiday and Johnny English dozens of times. I knew we'd have to go see his new movie in theatres when it came out and so I was thrilled that we'd gotten free tickets. The catch was -- it was the NEXT DAY!!!!!!!!!!! And 10 a.m.!!!!!!!!! Downtown!!!!!!!! But, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it before it was released in theatres. There are 7 of us, but there were only tickets for 6. We had to decide who would have to forego seeing it. It wasn't an easy decision and I figured we might have to flip a coin for it in the morning.

Then at 2:18 a.m. I hear someone calling from the other room. "Mmmmooooommmmm!!!!!!!!! I'm throwing up!" I followed the voice and turned on the light and yep...there was my 8-year-old vomiting everywhere. My youngest had passed out on the sofa shortly after returning. So, I decided to just let him stay where he was (which only happens maybe two or three times in a year) and tucked in my 8-year-old. The two share a room. And they sleep in bunk beds. And my 8-year-old is on top. All I can say is that it's a very good thing my youngest was asleep downstairs on the sofa. Had he been in his bed that night, he would have been awakened by a very icky shower. I'll spare you the rest of the details about what a mess it was and how hard it was to clean up. Anyway, we had a sick kid. That ruled out him going to the theatre. I'd have to see how he was in the morning and see if our trip would still go as planned. I'd called Grandpa before bed to see if he could come by to babysit someone, so he was already lined up. At 3 a.m., there was more barfing. And then again at 6 a.m. By the time we were up at 8 to get ready for the movie, he was feeling a little better. I settled him into my bed with a bowl by his side and a stack of movies to watch while we were gone. I felt a bit guilty, but Grandpa was there to take care of him and the rest of us set off to see the movie.

Getting into the city always pretty much sucks. Traffic sucks, finding your way to your destination among all the one-way streets while dodging the crazy cab drivers sucks, finding parking sucks, paying for parking ($30 for 3 hours) sucks.

Anyway, we had a blast. The move was sooooo funny. Everyone gave it a thumbs up and proclaimed it better than the first. Rowan Atkinson makes me laugh just looking at him. Before we even left, one of the boys was asking if we could see it again. We explained that it wouldn't be in theatres for another week, so there was no way to see it again, but we assured him that we'd get a copy once it came out on they could memorize yet another Rowan Atkinson movie. :)

Dear sons: tip well!

Letter #6

Dear sons:

Ok, no deep, profound thoughts in this letter...just a lesson in courtesy. :) My first job was working in a fast food restaurant. And it was HARD work. A long shift on my feet all day and I'd come home smelling like grease and chicken and whatever else was being cooked or being spilled on me that day. I got stuck working on Easter while my family was having a good time at the home of my sister-in-law's mom. I was miserable.

At that time, as a teenager, I remember thinking to myself that I did not want to do that job ever again. As soon as I got another job lined up, I was out of there. My fast food career lasted about 3 months. I was so happy to move on to an office job where I'd file and type and make coffee and water the plants. I even remember having the thought that high schools should make kids do mandatory time working in a fast food restaurant as a motivational tool to encourage them to further their education so they don't end up flipping burgers and mopping dining room floors.

I remember how hard that work was. I also know that waitresses and waiters get paid lower than minimum wage because the tips are factored into their salary. Please don't be one of those cheap, lousy tippers!!!  I've been out to eat in groups where someone wants to leave a measly ten percent or less. Frankly, it embarrasses me and I usually end up pitching in extra so that the waitress isn't shortchanged.

Fifteen percent is customary. It's what I give for minimal service. If service is good, I give twenty percent and sometimes even a little more than that if it's exceptional. As you grow up and are in the position where you're expected to leave a tip, please be generous. Sure, you'll be working hard for your money, but so are they. And it's not just food service staff that you need to leave tips to. Don't forget hotel housekeepers, bellhops, tour guides and bartenders (when you're ordering those kiddie cocktails!!!)

Life through the lens - day 44, 45, 46

Ok, I got behind a little, so here's a triple dose. :)

I love looking at the path left behind by the planes. :)

Isn't this a pretty little patch of pumpkins? Decorated by my son's 3rd grade class at a local park.

Love the colors of Fall!!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Life through the lens - day 43

So, son #4 keeps asking if he can go out and rake I'm going to turn down an unsolicitated offer to do a chore. But....there's a catch. After he rakes, he jumps and plays and in the end there's a bigger mess than there was before. But look at how much fun he's having. :)

Life through the lens - day 42

Ok, I spent quite a while trying to get this to save after I rotated it in my Nikon program and it's just not working -- so tilt your head. :) This was a cute sample of the painted pumpkins at my son's fall fest at school last week.

Dear sons: smile! :)

Letter #5

Dear sons:

I'm always suspicious of people who don't smile. I try not to be judge-y (I know that's not really a word) and make assumptions of people. Everyone has a bad day and perhaps my first encounter with someone is "one of those days," so I try to always give the benefit of the doubt.

However, when I've seen someone several times and notice the pattern, I'm not sure what to think. Part of me feels sad that they must not have much in their life to be happy about. Part of me gets a little bitter that they're raining on my parade. Part of me thinks they're up to something. In reality, it may not be any of that. It may just be their personality to remain stone faced and not show emotion. My point is - people who smile are more likable.

If I meet someone and they display a big smile, I feel comfortable. True, the person could be an axe murderer. If I am just being introduced to them, I don't know anything about them - yet. But, it makes the introduction much more pleasant. It makes people want to interact with you when you smile. It makes you want to get to know them more. Unfriendly people often don't get the same chance.

One of you boys - you probably know who you are - are hard to break the ice with. You shy away from introductions and people. You often don't give people the chance to get to know you. But those that you do open up to know how wonderful you are. When you smile, you totally light up the room. All of you do. A smile is a beautiful thing. It's a chance to show yourself and give incentive to others to get to know you better. Happy people smile more. Or maybe people smile more because they're happier. It goes hand in hand. Make an effort to smile and much as you can. It's worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Life through the lens - day 41

Flag on our tour boat in Wisconsin Dells this past August.

Life through the lens - day 40

From a nice little spot on the river in Wisconsin Dells.

Birthday of a bitterweet time

My middle son, Carter, was born 10 years ago today. For each one of my kids, there's something I recall about the events of what was going on outside the hospital the day they were born.

My oldest was born the day Jacqueline Kennedy died.

My second, born via emergency c-section, arrived on the day of the final episode of Mad About You. I was so drugged up I dozed off and missed most of it.

My fourth son was born the day my second book arrived in the mail. As I was at home in labor, a box of my new books was delivered.

When my fifth son was born, it was the day Pope John Paul II died.

Today is my third son's birthday. He was born one month after 9/11. Although I didn't personally know anyone who died in any of the terrorist attacks that day, it really touched me -- as it did most Americans. I spent a lot of that final month crying - either in sadness for all the loss and all the evil that I learned existed in the world, but also in happiness for the effort of those working diligently to pull survivors from the rubble and for the good that came from it in seeing Americans pull together. Those final few weeks of pregnancy are emotional anyway, but being pregnant on 9/11 magnified it.

I remember being in the labor room that morning and watching television coverage of the president requesting a moment of silence at the time the towers had fallen exactly one month earlier. It felt so strange. I was about to give birth. It was a happy time for me, yet I knew that across the country there were so many people hurting and so much uncertainty in what was ahead. At that time the events were so new and raw and you couldn't really put it out of your mind for long. Now ten years later, it's not the focus of the day.

I just wish he could have known what life was like before 9/11. Or better yet that he never had to know that day at all.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hallmark "Special Occasion" t-shirt giveaway

Recently I blogged about a blogging event I attended just over a week ago in Chicago sponsored by Hallmark. It was their mom blogger "Moments Between the Milestones" tour highlighting the "Life is a Special Occasion" campaign.

Here's some of the Hallmark team that was there :

It was a fun day with lots of laughs and tears. You'll notice that everyone is wearing purple shirts. The shirts had a blank box followed by the words " a special occasion." We all got a shirt and a purple sharpie and were to fill in the blanks.

In the picture above, one of Hallmark's photographers was sharing the story about his shirt. It read "7:10 a.m." Why? He explained that it's the time of day when his special needs gives him a kiss and hug before boarding the school bus. Other moms that were there filled in the blank with such items as "birthing twins," "back to school shopping," "volunteering" and "dress-up tea time with my daughters." And everyone shared the special story behind what they wrote.

My special occasion was "Svengoolie Night." On Saturday nights we have a tradition of tuning in to black-and-white B-movies from the 50's and 60's (or earlier) on a show hosted by a character named Svengoolie. Sometimes it's a movie featuring Dracula or Frankenstein. Sometimes it's about a creature from Japan like Godzilla or Mothra. Sometimes it's classics like "The Blob." It's our fun night together when we pop popcorn, have milk and cookies and bundle up under sleeping bags. It's our special occasion. Here's a picture of my shirt.

Hallmark gave each participant a bag with some goodies and it included a short-sleeved version of the shirt seen above. So, I'm giving it away to a reader so that you can insert your special occasion. Here's how to enter:

1) Subscribe to this blog on the right sidebar by clicking on "Join this Site."
2) Leave a comment on this blog, telling me what one of your special occasions would be and include an e-mail address that I can contact you at are if you are selected as the winner.
3) Follow "Mom Moments" on Facebook -!/pages/Mom-Moments/313529082299
4) Follow one of my other Facebook pages - either "Chicago Foodie Sisters" -!/pages/Chicago-Foodie-Sisters/234242656600860 or "Midwest Family Traveler" -!/pages/Chicago-Foodie-Sisters/234242656600860.

The giveaway will end on Saturday, October 15 at 6 p.m. A random winner will be chosen among those who have entered by following instructions #1 - 4 above.

Reliving childhood shortcomings

One thing that I've done as a parent that I've become very aware of is how I put emphasis on certain things to compensate for not having them as a child. I'm sure a lot of parents do this as well. In my early parenting days, I put priority on giving my kids things that I didn't have. And it can be a good thing. Take it too far and it can be unhealthy.

I've probably leaned a little toward overdoing it. Ok, maybe a lot toward overdoing it. One thing I've done this with is birthday parties. When I was a child I attended lots of fun birthday parties of classmates - or heard about ones that I hadn't been invited to. I always longed for elaborate birthday parties, but it was never in the budget. Our birthdays were celebrated on a weekend close to the actual date with my three older siblings and their significant others (and later my nieces) as guests. We'd have cake and I'd open presents. It was a good time. I always felt special on that one day when I got to open gifts (usually clothes) and got to blow out the candles.

However, it never felt satisfying. I wanted to have friends included. I wanted to hang streamers from the ceiling. I wanted to have games and prizes and goodie bags. But no matter how hard I begged, it didn't happen. One year, I decided to have a party and invited a few neighborhood friends. I don't remember if I clued my mom in on it or took care of the arrangements on my own. I think it was mostly my doing because I recall pulling coins out of my piggy bank to go to the store and buy a cake mix to bake the cake. All I had enough for was a box of jello mix, so I served jello and tried to prop a candle up in it.

Later on, when I was 11 or 12, I talked my parents into letting me have a pool party. I picked out a couple friends and my dad dropped us off at the community pool. Although it wasn't for my birthday, I once convinced them to let me have a sleepover party, which was a blast. And one Halloween I had a party that I planned out myself. I was 10. I prepared the games and homemade decorations. It's one of my fondest childhood memories and nearly 3 decades later, old friends still remember that Halloween party. I loved entertaining and I still do.

It was apparent on my oldest son's first birthday that I was going overboard. I ordered a custom cake with big bird to go along with the theme and a smash cake, put up a ton of decorations, planned games for his older cousins, made up goodie bags, had a banner made to put up in the back yard, rented a jump house, got a pinata and even rented a helium tank to fill up balloons. It was his first birthday. It's not like he was even enjoying it. He napped through most of his party.

Later parties were much of the same. One year, we had a Toy Story theme that included a retired cowboy doing rope tricks. Once his brother arrived I had to tone it down a bit. But as they got older I also added a kid party where they could invite friends. They've been held at such places as Chuck E. Cheese, Tyler's Tender, Jeepers and the bowling alley or sometimes at our house.

These days, birthdays are usually celebrated three times. Once with a party for the birthday boy and his friends. Then with a family party where his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins come. A third celebration is at home with just mom, dad and the brothers on the actual date of the birthday with cake and ice cream if it doesn't happen to be when one of the other parties is scheduled.

It took several years for it to sink in that I was overdoing it because of what I missed in my own childhood. I also recognize that I've taken this approach when it comes to clothes, vacations and extra curricular activities.

The only problem is that once you set a precedence, it's hard to retract it. Slowly, I'm scaling back on things on the family party and limiting the number of kids invited to the kid parties. I'm baking more of my own cakes. I'm finding ways to make it less work. And I'm trying to make it more about them and what they will enjoy rather than trying to make up for what I missed out on.

My writing exercise

Last week I attended the Hallmark Blogging Tour along with several other mom bloggers. The day included some interactive fun, including a creative exercise by one of Hallmark's writers. We were given envelopes with about 50 little pieces of paper with random words printed on them. We were to pick three or four words and then had about five minutes to come up with a blog entry using those words. I wrote about a day at my part-time job as a newborn photographer at a hospital. Here's my entry with the words I picked in bold:

The work day wasn't staring out well. Moms were sleeping or in the shower. Doctors were seeing patients. One little boy was going down to be circumcised. I'd been in eight rooms so far and hadn't photographed a single baby.

One mom was expecting dad within an hour and they'd then be discharged. I stopped in a couple more rooms and had some lunch then made it back down trying to time it right. I knew a nurse would be going in to do a teaching and you never know how long that will take.

I popped back in the room and mom was up and dressed and at the sink with a little blue-eyed blond girl. They were holding hands at the sink as mom dried the little girl's hands. "Dad will be right back," said mom. The little girl giggled at the sight of her new brother. It's a big contrast between being an only child and having a sibling. Whenever I encounter a sibling in a room, I never know how they'll react. More often than not, the siblings shy away at that age. She was just 2. When I asked her age, I was sure she'd say 3. She was so talkative and interested and gentle. She seemed well beyond the active 2-year-old mode.

As the baby fussed, she held a bottle, giving him a few sips to calm him down. He drifted off. The bottle slipped out and she moved in for a kiss. I almost forgot the camera was in my hand. I was lost in the moment - watching a little girl become a big sister.

Dear sons: Don't be lazy

Letter #4

Dear sons:

One lesson that I've tried to teach you and I hope you've paid attention is the importance of working hard. I could offer a dozen chiches about how anything worth having is worth working for. It often falls upon deaf ears when relaying it to an 8-year-old who would rather play video games.

There isn't an easy way to success in life. You have to work hard for it. It doesn't fall in your lap. I want you to have drive and ambition and want to be successful. I want you to know that laziness won't get you far. Not that I think you're lazy. I understand that as children you're motivated by different things. I don't blame you for wanting to play rather than work. Who wouldn't rather play than work? And I want you to enjoy your years of playtime because once you hit adulthood, there's much more work than play. I just wonder sometimes if I'm doing a good job and preparing you and teaching you balance. If you work hard, you'll get  to play hard.

Remember that when I'm telling you to take out the garbage or do the dishes, I'm teaching you lessons and preparing you for things. Dive in and do the work you need to do, even if it is as mundane as doing dishes. Having a good attitude will get you far. But that's a whole other blog for another day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Life through the Lens - Day 39

Rowhouses on 112th Street in Chicago's Pullman neighborhood.

Life through the Lens - day 38

From my visit to Pullman the other day, this is a shot of the Greenstone Church. Beautiful!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life through the Lens - Day 37

Last week about 6 p.m., after a warm day, the temperature suddenly dropped, the wind picked up and hail started falling from the sky. It wasn't huge hail. Just pea sized, but there was lots of it. And it didn't seem to be melting right away. Soon the ground was a big pile of slush.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Life through the lens - day 36

My 12-year-old is into gardening. He gets it from grandpa and dad, both avid gardeners. This is his third year growing pumpkins. Our yard isn't big enough for a pumpkin patch, so he grows them at his grandpa's house. Got some big ones this year. The one on the left was 96 1/2 pounds.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Life through the lens - day 35

So today I had to go out to Chicago's Pullman neighborhood for a writing assignment. It was my first time there...and I'm in love! The whole community is made up of buildings constructed from 1880-1884 as an industrial community for George Pullman's company, which made luxury train cars.

I parked right next to a beautiful church at the corner of 112th & St. Lawrence. This was one of the windows. I took lots of photos today, so I'll add more in the coming weeks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The lights go off, the imaginations go on

Last week we had a power outage. It caught me by surprise because at the time it went out, there was no storm. Within seconds, though, the wind kicked up and it started raining. It was around 6:00 p.m., so it wasn't dark yet. Even so, we gathered the flashlights and candles in case it stayed out for a while. And it did stay dark for a couple hours. The wind continued to howl and it got darker outside.

A couple of the boys had been in the middle of a video game, one was on the computer and the other two were watching television when it happened. Every time we have a storm and the power fails the kids have this initial reaction of "What in the world am I going to do now?" Luckily the pizza I had put in the oven has just finished cooking, so we had dinner by candlelight.

This storm turned out to be a good thing. The kids decided to pull out some toys that they don't use much anymore. Next thing I knew they were playing together and building things with Lincoln logs. They played until the lights came back on.

Even though we now had light, the kids continued to build. I got on my computer to try and get some work done. Soon the power was flickering. It happened twice. It was out less than 10 seconds, but it was long enough that I lost what I'd been working on and all the clocks had to be reset again. Just when we thought we were in the clear, it went out again. And it stayed out. By now everyone was in their pajamas, but no one wanted to venture to their room with the electricity out. I got comfortable on the sofa and the boys gathered around on the floor and the love seat and were soon snoring.

My only worry was that I had a freezer full of meat from Market Day and ice cream from Schwan's that I hoped would survive. Luckily, I was awaken around midnight by bright lights and a loud television. I turned everything off and went back to sleep. None of the kids moved an inch.

In the morning, I was able to get a good glimpse at what had kept them busy all evening. The Lincoln log tower was about 6 stories and each had a balcony occupied by plastic green army men. A road stretched out the entrance to a play mat of streets that had bumper to bumper cars on the road. I then got the explanation from my 8-year-old that the scene represented a zombie invasion. "That's why the army guys are there," he said. "And this is a traffic jam because everyone is trying to get out of town to escape from the zombies," he said as he pointed to the road.

I've become accustomed to such explanations from boys. From a girl viewpoint, it would have been just a nice cabin in the woods or perhaps a castle occupied by royalty, but with boys it's got to be a scene from a Will Smith-type action movie.

Anyway, even with the apocalyptic setting it was a great evening. Without the distractions of television, computers and video games, it creates an atmosphere for creativity and allows them to work together on something instead of competing against them on a screen. Sometimes the electronics need to shut down to allow the imaginations to turn on.

Life through the lens - days 33 and 34

Ok, neither of these are photos I took, but I'm just so excited about my two recent books. So, here's the cover image of my Mom Moments book, which came out in late July. The picture on the front is of me and my five boys taken by my friend, MaryBeth Witulski. This was my third book and it's a collection of my Mom Moments columns written for the Northwest Indiana Times.

And this is the cover image of my brand spankin' new book. I mean BRAND new. I just got my copies in the mail on Friday and it won't be available on or Barnes and for two or three more weeks. It's my first children's book. I've never met the illustrator. He's from Uruguay. I think he did a fantastic job! It's so exciting to finally see it completed.

Life through the lens - day 32

Another shot of my neighbor's garden. :)