Saturday, December 31, 2011

Life through the lens - day 118 to 122

Well, this post gets me completely caught up. Now hopefully I can keep up and not fall behind again. As the year comes to a close, I'm grateful for so many things. One is our freedom and those who sacrifice to keep us free. Here are a few shots from the Community Veterans Memorial in Munster.

Looking back at another wonderful year of life and motherhood

Well, in less than 12 hours, 2011 will be a thing of the past. I logged on to Facebook to see so many comments about how the year sucked and how happy people are that it's almost over. A few days ago I was kind of thinking along those lines. I was focusing on the sucky (is that really a word?) things, but so many other things made it a good year.

Have there been some things that have sucked? Sure.

Like when my oldest was in gym class and a classmate was goofing off and lifted him up in the air -- and dropped him on his face on the floor causing two teeth to get knocked out.

Or like when in a frustrated and very animated conversation, he managed to knock his fist through the thin window he was standing next to that necessitated a trip to the ER and several stitches.

Or when my dad fell on some ice outside our house and fractured his ankle.

Or when one of the younger boys decided that he doesn't like to go out to recess because he thinks nobody likes him -- so instead he doesn't turn in homework (that he has already done!) so that he gets to stay in the classroom to do it and avoid going out to recess.

Or seeing my father-in-law recover from lung cancer surgery (following two heart surgeries.)

Or seeing my mom's health decline and her missing several family get-togethers.

Or seeing my dad fall off a ladder, have a seizure in front of me and then force him to go to the hospital where he found out his ribs were cracked and he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Or when the travel section of the paper that I've been writing for for the past decade was cut out in a redesign.

Or when my son got additional ear infections after having his second surgery to put in ear tubes.

Or when my son got his license and then we bought him an old car to drive -- and it only lasted about two months before the engine gave out.

Or when the painting job my teen had been doing after school and on weekends ended.

Or when my writing checks started getting smaller and the cost of gas and groceries kept going higher.

Or when cancer struck more people I know and turned their lives upside down.

Or when friends got divorced and I saw how hard it was on them and their kids.

Or when our roof started leaking and we had to spend thousands of dollars on a new roof.

But, ya know, I've never been a glass half-empty kind of person. When I turned around and looked at the totally outweighs all that sucked this year.

Like when I became a great aunt for the first time to a darling little girl in Australia.

Like when our whole family got together to celebrate my dad's 75th birthday, including his sister who traveled from Minnesota for the occasion.

Like when I got to meet a young lady I'd known only through mail and e-mail, but who I consider one of my heroes -- an Army reservist and mom in her 20's who we'd adopted when she was serving in Iraq. I was able to take her and her son to a Cubs game and it was one of the highlights of my year.

Like when dad's ankle healed faster than expected and didn't require any physical therapy.

Like when my father-in-law's check-up indicated he was cancer free after having part of his lung removed.

Like the times I've been able to spend having lunch with my mom and playing Boggle with her and laughing together.

Like the times I got to see my youngest play t-ball for the first time and how I cherished those last few days on the field knowing that it would be my last time having a little one playing t-ball.

Like when I got to see my son's little league team win their league championship.

Like starting a food blog ( with my sister that has been so much fun.

Like when we took a family vacation to Kentucky and the boys had a ball romping around on the farm we stayed at.

Like when I first looked at my book - in hard cover - the first book I'd had published in 8 years.

Like all the days I spend at one of my favorite places on earth, Wrigley Field, with some of my favorite people - my sons, my dad, my sister.

Like when we all spent a few days in Wisconsin Dells lounging in the water park and seeing the joy on the boys' faces.

Like the excited look on my son's face when he got a gerbil of his own (however, this one could also land on the sucky list as she is CRAZY.)

Like seeing my son's straight A report card and hearing about the fun things he's doing in enrichment class.

Like hearing my kindergartner read bedtime stories to me.

Like going to see Paul McCartney in concert with my son and two nephews.

Like seeing my first children's book in print.

Like having our goofy dog around who I this year FINALLY gave in to and let him up on the sofa. I haven't regretted it. He's a great cuddler.

Like spending my 20th anniversary with the man I love so deeply.

Like taking some day trips with my husband when we now had all our kids in school all day long.

Like an overnight getaway to a B & B with my hubby on the anniversary of our first date 24 years ago.

Like all the days where I've looked at my little men growing and been overwhelmed with emotion and pride and have been so unbelievably grateful that I have had so many days with.

There's good and bad each year. Everyone has their ups and downs. Their highs and lows. 2011 wasn't so bad. There was much to enjoy and be grateful for. I can't wait to see what 2012 has in store and I hope to have more of what I want the most - time with my loved ones.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

So much for a white Christmas

So, on Christmas Eve as the boys were bubbling with excitement, one exclaims, "This sucks! No snow." We live just outside Chicago. We are supposed to have snow for Christmas. Often we don't. There have been many years in the past decade or so where it has not been white. In fact, it's often raining. One year I remember driving to my sister's for our family celebration as the snow was falling. It was magical. However, now that Christmas is passed, that snow can just pass on us, too, as far as I'm concerned. Although we've had some not so white Christmases, we've had some very white Januaries, Februaries and Marches. Well, white for the brief time when it hits the ground and is untouched, then it quickly turned to mashed, muddy slush. It can skip over us for this season. Last year was a doozie...the second biggest snowfall, I believe. So we paid our dues last year. Bah Humbug!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Life through the lens - day 110 to 117

Ok, still playing catch up. But...since we didn't have a white Christmas, here are some memories of the 2011 Blizzard! 

Do your homework or I'll play some Justin Bieber music

Parenting experts will tell you that a key in getting cooperation from your kids is setting goals and rewarding them or taking away something that has value to them, like video games or an iPod. There is still something else that works -- outright punishment. It doesn't have to be cruel, although my kids might call my method quite cruel. I've learned that teenage and preteen boys dislike Justin Bieber as much as spinach or brussell sprouts. As much as picking their clean socks up off the floor or making their bed. As much as cleaning the bathroom or doing dishes. As much as taking an Algebra test or doing Literature homework. So, when all else fails threaten them with Justin Bieber music. Works like a charm every time.

The lazy days of winter

These lazy days off school and work come at a good time. I'm kinda feeling lately like I want to crawl under a rock and just hide. I always want to hibernate in the winter a bit. Ya know, spend evenings in front of the t.v. with a bag of chips and American Idol. It just seems like this year I've been bombarded and overloaded in lots of ways. And I want to go somewhere that's the opposite of Cheers, where NO ONE knows my name.

Some days I feel like maybe I shouldn't be blogging or writing columns on my family. Maybe I'm just putting too much out there. I've gotten to where I have more than a handful of friends on my Facebook page that I don't know and don't really remember how they got there. Would they notice if I defriend them? Should I do a separate page for those I don't know or don't know well and keep the one I have just for family and closer friends? Yet I do have "fans" who have send requests with nice notes and I add them and I do appreciate their comments and enjoy some of their postings.

Maybe I should stray from Facebook altogether. But on the other hand, if I'm hibernating inside during these cold, icky months then that kind of interaction is more important. Don't think I could give it up cold turkey and the fact is, it is a useful tool for work. I think in the new year I'll be really re-evaluating the work thing. If I'm not enjoying it and it's not paying off in the form of a decent paycheck, why do it? I'm kind of missing my days of working full-time in an office with a close knit group of co-workers and having lunch breaks in the lounge and conversations around the water cooler. It's nice working independently, but sometimes it feels too independent. Like I'm hibernating a little too much. Blah! So, thinking and re-arranging and goal setting are in order. After a little hibernation.

Life through the lens - day 109

From my 6-year-old. Priceless.

By the way, he came home from school and said "I didn't know how much you weigh, so I had to guess." Nice guessing, honey. He did one for Dad, too. He guessed 48-foot tall and 888 for his weight. LOL!

Life through the lens - days 101 to 108

Well, I still have a few more days to catch up. Here are some glimpses from Christmas. And I still can't get the youngest to fess up to how he got that big rug burn in the middle of his forehead.

All is calm, all is bright

Well, I've had a bit of an unintentional hiatus here. The days leading up to the holiday are always frantic and busy, although this year was not as crazy in year's past. Anyway, blogging got swept to the side to deal with the immediate needs of everyone around here. Things were popping into my head that I'd include in blog entries, but I didn't get them down fast enough to remember what they were.

Add into the mix that my computer was barely functioning during that time and getting in articles that had approaching deadlines were forced to the forefront. Programs were freezing. Internet wasn't connecting. Just one thing after another. Then someone didn't show up for a photo shoot I had scheduled. Then I rescheduled. Got there and go to snap a picture. It doesn't go. In my head, I'm thinking "Oh, crap. My memory card is full." That's not it. I get a message that there's a shutter malfunction. On the camera I purchased about six months ago. Wonderful! The gentleman is patient and taking care of other things, so I run home for another camera. Get back. Snap a couple shots. They don't look right. Ah, hah! I fiddle with the settings and they're coming out better -- and the battery is dying. And the spare has completely given out and not yet been replaced. I get what I can and go. Just one of those "Murphy's Law" days.

The week of Christmas, a flu bug invaded, hitting one kid. Then a respite for a couple days. On Christmas Eve Eve, a few hours after the school holiday parties, my son throws up. At 3 a.m., I'm in the same boat. By morning, his energy is restored. I feel and look awful. My husband heads off to my family Christmas without me, but with all the boys. I'm so bummed that I am missing out, but happy all the boys can enjoy it. The day is spent nibbling on crackers and sipping ginger ale. And napping in a dark, quiet house. Any other day of the year, I'd be thrilled to be in a dark, quiet house. Any day except Christmas Eve, often one of only a handful of occasions during the year that my parents and siblings get together in one place. I'm still sad I missed out.

The next day, I felt better and we got an invite to my sister-in-law's. My husband was stuck working Christmas, which irritated me a little. How does his shift get stuck with all the major holidays? Fourth of July? He worked. Easter? He worked. Christmas. He worked. And guess where he'll be ringing in the new year? Yes, WORK. He always seems to even get the less celebrated holidays, like Valentine's Day and Memorial Day and Labor Day and Martin Luther King Day. And guess where he'll be on those days next year? Yep, at work. I think he gets a reprieve every fourth year -- when Leap Year occurs. Just seems a tad unfair, but I guess it's not unfair if you're the one who gets all the holidays off. Oh, well. At least he has a job. That's what you've got to tell yourself these days. Anyway, sorry for going off on a tangent, there. Where was I? Oh, yeah, Christmas Day. So, I spent some time there with the boys, still not feeling 100%, but good enough to head out and not feel like I was contagious. It was nice for the kids to see their cousins, especially my two nephews, who are now both in the military.

Next day, we were invited to my in-laws. This time we all made it. We ate, the kids opened some gift envelopes and we watched t.v. and watched the kids play. We don't make it over there often, so it was nice to all be together and just hang out there. My father-in-law has had a rough couple of years. Last year, an aneurysm was discovered, which then led to open heart surgery before it could be repaired and later a discovery of lung cancer and surgery. As the years go on and parents age, each holiday becomes more special because you come to realize more and more that one of these Christmases, they'll be gone. Grandpa is an important part of their lives, so I'm glad we spend Christmas together. By the end of the night, I wasn't feeling so good again and shortly after returning home, my youngest was throwing up. Merry Christmas!

Well, yesterday he was recovered while my general icky-feeling has lingered on. By afternoon I felt good enough to head in to work. The kids had lots of new stuff to play with at home. We had planned to start undecorating the tree last night, but it didn't happen. It didn't happen today either. I'm kind of in a hurry to get it down because our living room is under construction right now and not so festive looking. In the past month or so, my husband and the boys removed a fireplace, carpeting and wood panelling and then put up drywall and a new ceiling. So, my living room has a bare unfinished wood floor and drywall behind our decorated tree. I'm getting anxious to get it out of there so that we can progress farther in finishing the room.

So, the tree stays up one more night. Honestly, I love the lights. I love sitting on the sofa with no other light on, just the glow from the strand on the trees. And I love the calm in the house after the holiday when the novelty of the new toys hasn't worn off yet and there's lots for the kids to do and the bickering is at a minimum. All is calm. All is bright. At least for tonight.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Life through the lens - days 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100

Ok, obviously someone else took shot this one because I'm in it. :) But, I just love my sisters and wanted to share this one.

I took some newborn pics of a friend's little one. Isn't this just the most adorable picture?

And my youngest one our tree decorating day.

Thinking hard on what to request from the big guy.

And my boys in front of the community Christmas tree after the official lighting ceremony.

Man's (and boy's) best friend

Dear son: Be yourselves

Letter #15

Dear sons:

Throughout your life, you'll encounter people who may not like you the way you are. If it makes you aware of a huge flaw in your character that you've somehow overlooked and that you'd like to correct, by all means, do so. However, if they make you feel bad about something you've been pretty content with already, then the heck with them. Don't change because someone wants you to change to fit their prejudices or petty insecurities. Never compromise yourself to please someone who is not worth it -- and if they expect you to change who you are to be accepted, run like the wind and don't look back.

These scenarios can start so early. They seem to run rampant during junior high and continue during high school, but even in early elementary school you hear the "I won't be your friend if you don't...(fill in the blank)" and in children who haven't yet gotten a handle on handling themselves with confidence, it can be quite hurtful.

Turning you back on someone who pushes you to change or who is downright mean because you might not fit into their clique, isn't an easy thing to do, but it's worth it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life through the lens - Days 92, 93, 94

So, I'm not much into abstract work and don't experiment a whole lot with lighting and changing my camera settings around....but I snapped this one without a flash at night. I know it's a bit blurred, but I like that the trees were brightened up a bit because it was really dark.

See what I mean? This one is pretty boring. :)
And I always love to see the wreaths with all the big bows.
This was the night we picked out our tree. I always tease my husband about picking out a "Griswold" tree that is much too tall for our house. This year, he kept that in mind and gravitated toward ones that would leave enough clearance for the angel on top. However, I was leaning toward the wider ones since it would be shorter and I wanted to be able to fit a LOT of ornaments on it. Well, it is SO wide, it extend way out into our living room and still is too big, even though it's no too tall. Oh, well. Looks pretty.

In the middle

The other day I had an "Aha" moment. (Isn't that what Oprah calls them?) A moment when something clicks and you think "Oh...that's why it's that way!"

In the midst of some middle child crisis, I thought to myself, "This is why some people only want two kids. Or maybe even just one." Well, I'm sure that's not the only criteria and not true for everyone, of course, but I'll bet there are some middle children out there who decided that they didn't want their children to have to suffer through being a middle child and so they decided there wouldn't be a middle child.

I am #4 of 6 kids. So I am a middle child, but there's also a nearly 14-year-gap between me and my older sister. She and my two brothers are much older. So, I was a middle child who was kind of an oldest child and I have twin sisters who are two years younger than I am. So, I picked up some of those oldest child characteristics, like being responsible and independent. However, I have some classic middle child characteristics, like that I was often an attention hog, felt left out and was jealous of my siblings. Perhaps my most horrible display of those middle child feelings was when my mother cut my hair because I got gum in it or something. I selfishly decided that since my flowing, long hair was gone, my sisters should also have short hair. I cut it. And not in a discreet way that it could be easily covered, I severed off an entire ponytail on one of them. My mom had no choice to cut it short, shorter than she'd even cut mine. Looking back now, I can't believe what an awful, evil thing it was to do. But when I was 5 or 6, I felt completely justified.

I have five boys. That makes three middle children. However, #2 is 5 years younger than my oldest. That kind of puts him in the "oldest" category much of the time, because his teenage brother isn't present. He seems much like the older brother, not the middle brother.

Boy #3 is in the true middle. Not so much a middle-kid character, though. Not starved for attention. Not bothered much by being outdone. Doesn't seem to care if his brothers get something he doesn't. Not the jealous type. Again, seems to have the characteristics more of an older brother, not a middle one.

Then there is child #4. He fits the middle thing to a "T." He's more on the sensitive side. His feelings get hurt more easily. He's often the loudest. The most active. The most energetic. He definitely seeks attention and sometimes it's not in the nicest of ways. He is very eager to please. Even when he does something to make you shake your head, you know it's coming from his deep-down desire to be seen and heard and recognized and given approval. He is often trying to make others laugh. Often trying to seek attention and be patted on the back. Sometimes he goes about it in the sweetest manner. Sometimes not. He has yet to cut off his brother's hair, though, so it could always be worse. I find myself often trying to explain the best choices to make and the best ways to get the positive attention he craves.

One day recently, I was driving the boys to school and looked in my rear view mirror to see him wearing a Napoleon Dynamite wig from the bin of Halloween costumes. It caught me by surprise. He had a huge grin on his face. I chuckled. He had gotten my attention. Bingo! That's what he was looking for. Then I told him that he couldn't bring it into school with him. He objected, but removed it. We get to school, the kids file out and as I see him entering the school, the wig is back on. All I could think of was the episode of the Brady Bunch when Jan gets a curly black wig and creates a fake boyfriend all to try and steal some of the spotlight from her older sister, Marcia, and get more attention. Jan, after all, was the epitome of the middle child and several of the shows were centered on her lack of being the center of things and how it made her feel. He was definitely having a "Jan" moment as I was having my "Aha" moment.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Merry Memories

Well, now that we've gotten past Thanksgiving, I can rightfully enjoy the Christmas music. I was hearing "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Silver Bells" on the radio on VETERANS DAY!!! And it had the opposite effect of what it should. It didn't make me merry and bubbly and happy and gay. It made me mad. Too much, too early.

Now that a couple weeks have passed, I can enjoy it. I love Christmas music. Actually, I get really sad when they stop playing it at 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Day. Why do they have to stop so abruptly? Can't they extend it to New Year's? Some of the songs aren't really even "Christmas" related, like Winter Wonderland and Jingle Bells. They are about snowflakes and sleigh rides. We still have those AFTER Christmas. I wish they'd continue the peppy tunes until January. I'd rather ease out of it rather than being bombarded with it from the time we take off the Halloween costumes. Ok, enough of my holiday rant. Remember, I am happy and peppy and merry and all.

So, the point to this post was that music makes me happy. Christmas music makes me super happy. I love the vintage voices that I hear on the radio -- old time crooners like Bing Crosby and Burle Ives and Johnny Mathis. I could listen to them all day long, all year round. Sometimes the songs bring back great memories. A friend had this video posted on her Facebook wall today. It made me think of three things:

1) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. The movie is a classic from the late director John Hughes. We watch it every year....although the part where this song plays gets skipped over when the kids are watching. Remember that part? :)

2) It reminds me of my former boss, Eric Kennedy. He spent every Christmas holiday basking in the sun in Hawaii with his wife. I always envied his winter getaways, but I think I really would miss being away from the wintry Chicago weather on Christmas. We used to play the tune in the office in the days leading up to his trip. It got us all into a peppy mood. And when he returned in January, refreshed and suntanned, he always kindly brought back macadamia nuts or Christmas ornaments or some other thoughtful souvenir.

3) It also makes me think of a family Christmas we spent at my sister and brother-in-law's in the early 90's, one of the last Christmases before his premature death at just age 42. Jerry was always singing and that was one of his favorite holiday tunes. So one year my niece, Kelly, and I fashioned grass skirts out of tissue paper and followed behind, attempting to do a hula dance as he did his best Bing Crosby. I really miss him, especially when we have our family get-togethers.

So, the song is bittersweet. Reminds me of good times, but also makes a little sad to think of people that aren't in my life anymore. But mostly, it brings back memories...merry ones.

Life through the lens - day 91

Well, if you read my blog on occassion, you know that I'm a foodie and I love to take pictures of food - like this big bowl of bursting blueberry muffins. :)