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What If We Just Don’t Ask “What If”?

Recently I visited an alma mater of mine.

Sidenote: I just had to look up “alma mater” to make sure it means “a school I once attended” rather than “a school from which I graduated”.

The fall after I completed high school I entered Tennessee Technological University as a freshman majoring in German and stayed there for six months.

Tennessee Technological University

I loved my time at TTU, short-lived as it was. My visit a couple of weeks ago brought back all kinds of memories. I drove by Jobe Hall, which is where I lived on the third floor. I walked through the student union. I walked across the quad to the south end where I remembered that it was in one of those buildings where I learned that I absolutely despise geology. I remembered the day all the clubs set up tables across the lawn, and how I had no interest whatsoever in pledging a sorority. There were other memory sparks on the day of my visit; I’m glad I made the trip.

The main reason I chose TTU for my college career (or, as it turned out, the first part of my college career) was the German language program. Each year in high school I made the trek with other German students at my school to TTU’s Spring Festival (Fruehlingsfest) so that we could compete in nerd categories like Extemporaneous Speaking, Dictation, Declamation, Music, Art, Baking (yep), and more. While the pretzels I baked for competition one year were hard as rocks, I excelled at the actual language feats of strength, and entered more competitions each year. The Spring Festival was a truly great advertisement for TTU’s German program.

By the end of my junior year I had gone through all of the German classes my high school offered so I took Spanish I and Russian I. I maintained an A average in Spanish even while often showing up to class late due to my visiting Jim while he was in the lunch room that same period, and I did pretty well in Russian even though today I mainly only remember “Da”, “Nyet”, and that my name spelled in Russian looks like “Meruca”. My Russian teacher was a young woman who had been a translator at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and that got me thinking about my future. I thought that being a German translator was one of many career possibilities I could be extremely excited about, and looked forward to becoming a collegiate German major at TTU.

I had an amazing time at TTU, taking second level German and working in the foreign language department as an assistant. When Jim and I got married halfway through my freshman year, I packed it up after spring quarter and moved to Virginia. After regrouping, I enrolled in community college and then transferred to Old Dominion University where I completed my degree in…Elementary Education. The Education degree made more sense to me after getting married. I have early childhood memories of sitting on my grandmother’s lap as she told me that I was going to be a teacher someday, and she was definitely on my mind as I made the decision to switch majors. Teaching, I thought, would be a much more stable career than anything I could do with a degree in German.

Sometimes I have regrets about that choice and wish I had continued in my new state of residence as a German major. Looking back, I know now that I could have figured it out. I just don’t think that I had the imagination or the desire to put the effort into finding a way to make that major work at that time, but every time I think about it I regret my inaction a little bit.

What if I had figured it out and stuck with the German major? What if I never switched to Elementary Education? What if I had switched to majoring in Journalism instead (which was my original Plan B)?

What if?

Truthfully, I don’t spend a lot of time on “What if?” None of that nonsense matters, because every decision I’ve ever made in my life has gotten me to where I am at this exact moment, and I’m pretty happy here. I’m learning more and more that it’s better to look forward instead of back; it’s a lot more fun. Instead of asking “What if?” about anything, because without the benefit of time travel we could never know the alternate ending anyway, I reframe and ask “What can I do about it?” It’s a little more empowering that way. What can I do about slightly regretting not majoring in German? Find other ways to enjoy Germany and its language. I can travel there (Done, and will go again). I can go back to school and enroll in German classes again, for practice and fun (maybe I will). I can enjoy German music (I do). I can use the web to learn more about Germany and what’s going on over there (yep). The possibilities are only limited by my imagination.

I think one of the secrets of happiness is being able to reframe the way we think and it’s something that has always been a part of my thought process, as an optimist. Regrets are useless but a reframe, while it can’t fix everything (ugh I wish!) can give a total boost in many situations.

What can you reframe for yourself today? Do it. You might feel better.

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Home is Where the Heart is.

One of the scariest things about moving away from a long-time home is the idea of starting over again, from scratch. Finding the nearest grocery stores and other preferred shops, setting up new doctors and a dentist, figuring out if the area where you think you want to purchase a home is actually the area in which you think you’ll be happy long-term, and so many other details can be completely overwhelming. Multiply that frustration by three or four times if your long-time home also happens to be the city where you’re from originally and then multiply that by ten times if you’re a control freak who hates change. I know, that’s a lot of math for a Monday.

That’s why, when Jim was in need of a new job last summer and couldn’t find anything in the Chicago area so he started searching elsewhere, I was terrified. I knew (and stated it loudly and often–to everyone around me and also myself–throughout the process) that everything would be fiiiiiine when we finally landed, but the entire process was anxiety-inducing and the idea of leaving Chicago was a nightmare in my mind.

Then he was hired by a company in Knoxville, where our story began; we met in high school here more than thirty years ago. While the anxiety and general upset about moving away from my hometown didn’t magically disappear, that we were returning to our roots was in many ways very comforting. We’d still have to find doctors and such but we are intimately familiar with this town: his parents have lived here ever since we left the first time and mine moved away for a while but returned years ago. We knew exactly where we wanted to live, which was on the same side of town where we both lived back then and fairly equidistant to our parents’ houses, downtown, and the airport. We found the perfect house for us in the perfect location, even though it’s in the backyard of our rival high school, something I make a much bigger deal out of out loud than it actually is. As I predicted, everything is fiiiiiine now. To be honest, I love it here.

The thing is, while life is pretty great in the Chicago area, it’s also pretty great here. My fellow Midwesterners are super friendly, and so are the folks here in East Tennessee. In fact, while hard-core feminists may balk at being called “Sweetie”, “Love Bug”, “Darlin”, or “Sugar” by total strangers, that kind of stuff is totally charming to me when it’s clearly meant kindly and innocently. In fact, a couple of weeks ago at two different stores, the cashiers (one of whom, I’m certain, was at least a decade younger than I) both called me “Sweet Girl”. At forty-eight years old, while I am often sweet I know my girlish days are long gone so I’ll take it. I swooned a little bit as I smiled and walked out with my purchases both times. Ah, Southerners.

When we first moved here, if I mentioned that I had attended high school here and recently moved back after being away for thirty-one years, more often than not the response would be, “Oh! Welcome home!”

My response to that would be an uncontrollable shrieking noise and the firm statement that “Actually, Chicago is my hometown.”

Okay, the shrieking noise only happened in my head.

The “Chicago is my hometown” defiance, however, did indeed happen out loud. I started out here being so protective of my roots that I didn’t truly pay attention to what I had adopted as a personal mantra to help get myself through the transition: “You can take Melisa out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of Melisa”. Once I started absorbing that mantra and living its truth, things changed for me.

Being in Knoxville doesn’t erase my Chicago roots. In fact, I’ve learned that home really is where the heart is, and I’ve truly got a soft spot in my big ole’ heart for both cities.

Here, I can drive around and relive my teen years. I live just down the street from my orthodontist’s office, which is now owned and operated by his son. The Target that is closest to my house is the same one my mom and I used to visit every single Sunday after we grabbed the ad out of the newspaper. Right near that Target is a salon that used to be a Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor, a Friday night date destination for Jim and me. Across the street from that is the movie theater where I saw many films but most memorably, it’s where my friends took me to see the Talking Heads movie “Stop Making Sense” in order to distract me on the day Jim left for boot camp. I live ten minutes away from my old house (and Jim’s old house, which was in the next subdivision over). I can go grab a Coke or an ice cream cone from the McDonalds just outside my high school, where I worked for two and a half years with a crew full of great friends. I’m five minutes away from the mall where Jim and I spent hours and hours (and hours) as teenagers. The hotel that my dad was hired to manage, the one that brought my family to Knoxville, was torn down a few years ago but the second one he managed, the one that has the gazebo which was the setting for pictures on my graduation day, is still standing and I drive by it all the time. Some of my high school friends still live here. Knoxville is in my heart.

I was born in Chicago and have many childhood memories there, and it’s also the area in which Jim and I raised our kids. I wrote a Chicago travel guide. I was very involved with the Chicago blogging community and am blessed to have countless friends in the city and surrounding suburbs. I co-produced a show there. I love Chicago for all that it has given me and for all that it is. I always will.

Life is full of lessons if you just open your eyes (and your mind) to them.

These days, if I happen to bring up the fact that Jim and moved back to Knoxville earlier this year and then the local person with whom I’m chatting welcomes me home, I no longer bristle. I just say…”Thank you.”

More than one home

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The Lazy Daze of Summer

This summer is…different for me.

Here’s the thing: I operate on “high speed” most of the time. I have for years and years. The first part of the summer had me burning the candle at all the ends–we’re obviously not talking about a regular taper candle here–for a few key reasons:

1. We’ve been settling into a new house in a new-to-us-again town.
2. Listen To Your Mother season came and went, and due to #BlogHer17 being moved up by six weeks I didn’t have my normal month-long cushion of part-time rest before conference season got crazy.
3. Conference season was REALLY crazy. It was actually the craziest ever, for all the reasons. I’ll spare you the details. Trust me.

Then, suddenly, POOF!

1. We’re mostly settled in this awesome house.
2. The national Listen To Your Mother project is over, so there’s no preparing for next year in my schedule.
3. Conference season is over (shew, I made it!) and I’m once again doing a more-than-manageable amount of work in far less than fourteen or sixteen hours, which was my normal for at least a month.

Two things are in play right now:

1. I’m tired.
2. I have time. What? Time.

I have definitely felt more exhausted in life than I do currently. There have been times in the past when I have felt like my brain and my body could not handle one more thought, one more movement. When that happens I don’t even like to make the smallest decisions, like what I want to eat or what I want to watch on television. It’s too much.

This isn’t like that. Even three weeks after the conference, I feel like I’m walking around in a low-grade daze. A lazy daze: see what I did there? I have fallen asleep on the couch a bunch of times. Sometimes I just stare into space. Occasionally I feel myself dragging and feel like I’m two inches off the floor when I’m completely upright. It’s very strange.

Here’s how tired I am: I finally went to see “Wonder Woman” over the weekend and in the first 45 minutes I truly thought I should probably get up and go walk around in the lobby to wake up. My eyes were so heavy and I even had a bag of movie popcorn in my lap. It didn’t matter: I’m tired! The movie was amazing; my brain was shutting down, not to mention my eyes. (I recovered; don’t worry. The movie was badass and I’d see it again in a heartbeat.)

The other monkey wrench I’m dealing with which really isn’t a monkey wrench in the negative sense at all is spare time. Real spare time, the kind that just appears in the form of a blank few hours on any given calendar day. Sometimes I have it and I honestly don’t know what to do with myself, so I fritter it away just sitting and staring. I’m told that just sitting and staring isn’t really considered “frittering away time”, especially when you’re rest-deficient and fairly fried in general but it sure feels like it to someone who’s a do-er.

I went to the neighborhood pool for a little while this afternoon. I had it all to myself. I put on sunscreen and some music and then pulled a book out of my bag: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s a classic and my all-time favorite book in any genre and I’ve probably read it more than fifteen times. (Her writing is exquisite. Have you read it? My current copy–I think it’s my fourth–already has water damage because this is not its first time being read poolside.)

pool summer

I read a chapter and then got in the pool and swam and jogged a little bit. My days of teaching water aerobics affect me whenever I’m in the water: I cannot stand still…so I worked out. I made a mental note to set up a Spotify playlist specifically for pool workouts. I got out of the pool and read some more. I enjoyed a snack. I reapplied sunscreen. I got back in the pool and thought of some blog post ideas; it’s funny how becoming less busy leaves more room for creativity. I laid out to dry off, nearly falling asleep and then I came home. It was lovely, and strange.

I talked to Jim about this last week, through tears. It’s like I’ve been running a marathon for twenty-five years, only I haven’t. And I never would, by the way: I hate running. (I admire YOU for running, though, if that’s your thing. It’s not mine.)

For twenty-five years (since we had kids; I definitely had spare time before that!) I have been working and taking care of my family and doing this and that and filling all of my time with…stuff. And suddenly, after the busiest, most stressful year of my life, I’m hearing and feeling the brakes squeal.

I’m not used to burning just the one wick of a cute little votive candle, but I am trying to adjust. It’s a lot more simple than that crazy, multi-wicked candle. It feels too easy, and I struggle with that. I know I sound super weird suggesting that I struggle with the concept of easy living. I’m a workaholic, control freak, constant thinker. Emptiness in the schedule is one of the scariest and most difficult things, I’ve learned, when you haven’t had a lot of it in decades.

(And more change is coming.)

Right now as I try my best to live in and enjoy the moment and the summer, I’m trying to take inspiration from one of my favorite places, the beach.

beach summer

The beach at Sandy Hook, NJ: July 2017

I’m going to breathe in and breathe out that salty air for the rest of the summer. I’m going to ride those waves out. I’m going to practice finding things that make me smile like pushing my toes into the sand does. I’m going to look for the sun and see how having spare time enhances my ability to recharge and create things purely for the fun of creating them. Finally, I’m making a pact with myself, not to get completely used to this. Being surprised by it (and even feeling weird or guilty about it) keeps me in a place of gratitude, and I enjoy counting my blessings.

ice cream cone summer

I forgot to mention that this afternoon I also bought an ice cream cone at McDonald’s. Spontaneously. I don’t even know who I am anymore.

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Community Yesterday, Today, Always.

Community
I’ve been thinking about “community” a lot lately. Rather, I think about it all the time but lately I’ve thought about it more than usual, probably because it was conference season and my main job is to maintain and inform the BlogHer Conference attendee community on Facebook. I spent hours upon hours (as I have for the past four years since we started the group) reassuring “newbies”, what we affectionately call our first-time attendees, that they’re going to learn/make friends/have fun/come away inspired. In part due to my involvement and in part due to our conference veterans being the best, most helpful people ever and in part due to other variables, the vast majority of our newbies say that their conference experience was much better than they could have ever imagined. I’m lucky in that I get to meet lots of these people on-site every year. Talking to them IRL (in real life) is one of the perks of my job. Another community in which I thrive is my community of co-workers; we’re a tight bunch. We’ve been through a lot together.

In addition to my “regular” job, I’ve spent the last five years nurturing the “Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) Chicago” community–co-nurturing, actually: *waves to Tracey*–, and the last four years co-nurturing the national LTYM community of producers and directors in each city, as a mentor on the national team. I have always enjoyed a sense of community as one-fifth of that team, and still do even though the national project has ended, in nearly-daily text threads.

I look for community everywhere. I guess part of that is due to being an extrovert; I love people. I enjoy being alone now and then but I get a burst of energy when I’m able to spend time with others. Community can boost us up, it can hold us accountable, it can strengthen us, it can help us when we’re in need, and so many other things. My life has been enriched by people from all walks of life because I keep myself open to it; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been so lucky to have been a part of many different communities throughout my life, many simultaneously, like PTA parents, groups that originated in our temple, my various workout communities, and of course the blogger community.

Yesterday, the old-school blogging community learned of the death of Anissa Mayhew. Hers was one of the first blogs I ever read, and over the years although I wouldn’t say we were good friends, we met a few times IRL and were certainly friendly. She was an incredible woman who started writing about her younger daughter who had childhood cancer. Anissa eventually started up a new blog when Peyton went into remission. She also founded a site called Aiming Low which gave lots of writers their first shot at publishing on a well-known group site, and when she wanted to be inclusive (and a little lazy, totally aiming low) she produced a “Non-con” (non-conference). In 2009 she had a stroke and ended up in a wheelchair and she eventually had a second stroke. Through all of her health challenges she remained a good friend to many and a community champion. She was hysterical and had a wickedly inappropriate sense of humor, often leaving beefcake pictures on her friends’ Facebook walls instead of the traditional birthday greeting. Again, we weren’t good/close friends but I know all of this because Anissa really put herself out there. She. Was. Fantastic.

When news of her death rippled across Facebook yesterday, it was sad but at the same time it seemed like everyone had an Anissa story, and almost all of them involved breasts, swear words, or some other form of inappropriateness. I couldn’t help but think that Anissa would have loved this legacy she left behind in our community. (Here is an excellent post on the community’s loss.) Many of us were left feeling like it was a little reunion, a time machine trip back to the good old days of blogging when nobody was thinking about monetizing, people visited other blogs on a daily basis and actually left comments, Facebook and Twitter were new, and Instagram didn’t yet exist. It made me long for those days like crazy, when we all rallied around each other in times of sadness–like when one family lost their precious Maddie and when one of our own, Susan, died after living with inflammatory breast cancer for five years–and even when we just wanted to help. Back then I didn’t think twice before driving six hours to Columbus and six hours back in the same day (while live-tweeting the whole thing) to help deliver a van full of meat to Momo, just because her freezer was left open and the meat she had just filled it with defrosted and got ruined. We were a community and we wanted to help. I’d do it all over again.

BlogHer09 Community

My OG blogging community: these are only some of the folks I hung with at BlogHer09, Chicago. (Top: with Piper, Mishi, Colleen, Angie, & Momo. Middle left: Michelle, who I helped get started on Twitter that weekend LOL. Middle right: My sistuh Liz. Bottom left: Sue and Barb. Bottom right: Melissa/PH.)

I’m as passionate about community as I am about family. Community makes life easier and far more enjoyable. I’m going to find more ways to interact within the communities of which I’m already a part, and I’m going to find ways to create more community. In these times that seem to be taken up with technology seemingly designed to pull us apart and make us more isolated, I think it’s important to find ways to get in there and pull others closer.

What do you think of when it comes to community?

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Getting To Know Knoxville With East TN Tours

I generally have a very easy time making friends. I love meeting new people and can strike up a conversation with just about anybody. That said, I was a little concerned, before we made the move from the Chicago suburbs to Knoxville, about making new friends. I have a couple of old high school friends here and several of my blogging friends hooked me up with a fantastic person who used to blog (but doesn’t anymore). Beyond that, I wondered how I’d do. The boys are grown and out of the house so I don’t have the benefit of meeting people via being a room mom or scouts. I work from home. To make friends, it was going to take some effort.

I was recently invited to go on a food tour put on by East TN Tours, and I jumped in. (I agreed to write this post in exchange for the afternoon.) Boy, am I glad I did. Not only did I get to taste some amazing food at five local restaurants, but I learned some area history from tour guide/owner Lauren and yes, I met some people (including two Chicago natives, which was so much fun but also not shocking since I’ve met quite a few Chicagoans here for some reason).

East TN Tours

The tour started at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center on Gay Street. We found Lauren, grabbed a name tag, and before we left the building she confirmed dietary restrictions with those of us who have them, and conducted an icebreaker. From there we took off (on foot) down Gay Street towards our first destination. On the way, Lauren gave us a little bit of history with the help of a binder full of pictures.

Our first stop as Clancy’s Tavern & Whiskey House where we had the most delightful Shepherd’s Pie made with lamb. My picture is blurry so you’ll have to use your imagination: imagine a DELICIOUS dish. It’s one of Jim’s favorites so I taunted him via text with that blurry picture and then promised we’d get there for dinner soon.

Next up, The Tomato Head in Market Square. I love walking around Market Square–it’s a vibrant little slice of heaven in the middle of downtown Knoxville–and in fact; Jim and I were just hanging out there after dinner about a week before the food tour and stood outside The Tomato Head, drooling at their menu. On the food tour I enjoyed a bowl of tomato bisque soup. It was super hot outside and I was talking with my new friend Vanessa about how I was definitely going to choose the salad over the soup, but then the server said that one of the soup choices was tomato bisque and suddenly i forgot all about how I had been sweating outside just five minutes before that because that flavor happens to be a favorite. The soup was creamy and delicious.

The Tomato Head soup

Next stop: Balter Beerworks. I was excited to find out we’d be stopping there because Jim and I have enjoyed dinner there before. It’s a fun brewpub where the tables are long, similar to a German biergarten. Lauren told me something I didn’t know that made me like the place even more: the word “balter” means “to dance without skill, while having fun”. I AM IN. I’m super talented at baltering, you know. The chef came out of the kitchen to talk to us and tell us about the deconstructed burrito bowl we were about to eat, and we couldn’t wait to dig in. This was my favorite food of the day.

Deconstructed burrito bowl Balter Beerworks

Old City Wine Bar was our penultimate stop and it was lovely. The bar itself was a sight to see, with many wines “on tap”.

Old City Wine Bar

We enjoyed a delicious salad there, and I can’t remember everything that was in it in addition to goat cheese but look at this beauty:

Old City Wine Bar salad

Finally, even though we were all so full of food, we stopped at Sugar Mama’s Bakery, an adorable little place that has beer AND baked goods. They have an “all-local” tap wall and they’re using some of the owner’s family recipes for the delicious pastries. The business started as a food truck before they eventually moved into their brick and mortar location. I was actually so excited about these desserts that I didn’t take a picture before I ate them. Sorry.

What I loved about the food tour was the variety in restaurants and the fact that they’re all hyper-local. Lauren was friendly and very knowledgeable, two great qualities in a tour guide. I loved meeting new people and I loved that at each stop, we all sat in different spots so there were lots of fun conversations going on for the duration. If you try this out, make sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot, and also make sure to arrive hungry! (By the way, water was provided at each stop and we had the option to pay for other drinks.)

I want to thank Lauren so much for a fun afternoon. You can check out her site and also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to all of my new local friends, too: it was great to meet you!

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Oh Nothing, Just a Quick Header Change.

I crack myself up sometimes (okay, a lot of the time).

Since Jim and I moved to Knoxville I’ve been dying to get at the rebranding I’ve been planning for this site, but first LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO happened. Then, when I normally get a slow down period for a month or so before the conference crazy kicks in, I had to keep going because #BlogHer17 was moved up by eight weeks this year; it starts this Thursday!

So, in light of the fact that I will meet a bunch of people in Orlando this weekend and one or two of them may come to check out my blog and wonder about the Chicago thing when I mentioned that I live in Tennessee, I made a new header. It’s almost the least I could do. (The least would have been to stay away completely and leave that three-week-old post on top along with my old header but, um, NO.)

Suburban Scrawl header

Anyway, welcome to my new friends (and welcome back to my old friends; how’s my header looking?)! I’m anxiously anticipating having some time starting next week to get back to writing a little more often than every three weeks.

Back to work for me. I hope to see some of you in Orlando at #BlogHer17! Make sure to say hi if we cross paths and I don’t see you first!

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The Chalk Writing on the Wall

Not too long ago, a married couple walked into a Barcade for an evening of drinks and Ms. Pac Man. And Galaga. And Donkey Kong. And Centipede. And…well, you get the idea.

After a while, they tore themselves away from Defender for a bathroom break, agreeing to meet at the bar afterwards.

Minutes later, he approached her and said, “Oh my gosh, did you have a bunch of chalk writing on the walls in there???”

She did. Actually, she took pictures to share later because when you have a situation where women can write on walls with chalk, the results are usually fun and fascinating.

Some of the writing was supportive and complimentary.

Chalk wall: Beyonce

Chalk wall: ladies pimps

Chalk wall: girls rule

Some of the writing provided helpful suggestions.

Chalk wall: love yourself

Chalk wall: imperfections

Chalk wall: support

And some of the writing showed support via activist hashtags and famous mottos.

Chalk wall: adopt

Chalk wall: trans lives matter

After showing him the pictures of the ladies’ room wall chalk graffiti she asked, “Cool, right? What did you see on the walls in the men’s room?”

He smiled and looked away.

“Mostly crude drawings of um, body parts.”

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, I guess.

#OhMen

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Karma’s a Beach.

I’m just finishing another fantastic week hanging with my sistuh-from-anuthuh-muthuh and the rest of my New Jersey family and, as always, there were lots of shenanigans. Some of our adventures made it onto social media and some did not, but there was one particular laugh riot that needed its own blog post.

Some things I have learned about Liz over the years:

1. She is not easily grossed out
2. She can be extremely impulsive
3. She is very curious

When you know those three things about her, it shouldn’t surprise you that when she is walking on the beach and comes across some foreign object in the sand that is unrecognizable, she exclaims “WHAT’S THIS??” while kicking it over with her bare foot so she can get a better view. She kicks over rocks and wood and trash and dead crabs and other related dead sea life.

Side note: She picked up what she thought was a bagel-sized piece of shark skin over the weekend and I nearly tossed my cookies right there on the beach. “I think it’s shark skin!” she said excitedly as she walked towards me with it. “Here! Touch it!”

“NOOOOOO!” I said, running in the opposite direction.

*shiver*

That was gross.

Anyway, I’m always afraid, as she’s kicking over things, that she’s going to get stung, poisoned, cut, or some other horrible fate. Hold onto that thought as I set up what happened on Saturday.

We were at one of our Happy Places, which is Cape May. It was windy, EXTREMELY windy. There were no boats on the water and the beach looked a little bit like a desert sandstorm. It was difficult to walk and sand was depositing itself all over our clothes, in our purses, and in our hair. WINDY.

Beach hair don't care

It was a lot like a Chicago snowstorm: some of the particles flying through the air hit our face feeling a lot like tiny ice chips, and just like the snow drifts quickly in a storm, this little sandblast was having the same effect on the beach.

We were making our way south on the beach when we approached one of the rock jetties. I didn’t take a picture from that vantage point but you can see it from the other side on the left in this picture:

Cape May Beach

We were still about twenty feet from it and not very close to the water when Liz came upon a couple of those black rocks, small ones, sticking up out of the sand. In the middle of the rocks there was a little hole. She tapped one of the rocks and said, “Well THAT’S an ankle waiting to be broken…” and then, while I can’t remember if she kicked at one of the rocks or stepped on one, I saw whatever it was that she did and exclaimed “Oh my gosh, you’re like a four-year-old! Stop that!” I mean, the last thing we needed was for one of us to get hurt.

We kept on walking and as we got closer to the jetty, we were looking around for shells and such (as we do). The sand was extremely smooth there. and we started walking further away from the water’s edge, parallel to the jetty. We were talking and walking on this smooth sand, and then it happened. I only felt terror for the split second it took for my left leg to be swallowed by the sand, and then I started laughing. Liz, who was a couple of steps ahead of me, turned back when she heard me scream and when she didn’t see me at eye level she looked down and found me on the ground. She says she thought I was kidding at first. And then the laughter. What had happened was, we were walking on that smooth sand and it didn’t occur to either of us, even after Liz had found that group of rocks with the hole in it, that the sand could have covered up that much of the part of the jetty that extended up the beach towards the street. I fell into the beach, right here:

Falling into the beach

(A moment before I arrived, that was completely covered with smooth sand, looking totally innocent.)

How far did I fall? Well, my left leg went down and I fell, ahem, as far as I could with my right leg still above sand, if you catch my drift (see what I did there?).

So there I was, beyond that moment of terror and laughing my head off, holding my hand out to Liz so she could help me get out. She reached out for a minute and then grabbed her hand back to clutch her stomach because she was laughing so hard. I ended up laying back on the beach, one leg in that hole and one leg (somehow) on the sand surface, in hysterics. After the screaming laughter, she helped me out of the hole and as we continued to walk up the beach, thankful that I didn’t sprain my ankle or even break my leg (soooo thankful!), one of us brought up how “odd” the timing was, my falling into that hole right after I called Liz a four-year-old. Such a coincidence!! Okay, maybe not.

Coincidence or karma, we’re thrilled to add this story to the rich tapestry (shout out to Carole King) of crazy, fall-on-the-floor (or sand) laughing moments that we’ll talk about for years to come.

“Remember that time I fell into the beach?”
“Yep. That was a great day.

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Moving On.

I have so much to write, so many ideas in my head, that I should probably rev up my draft folder again so I can hang onto all of it for future reference. I’ll get around to it, hopefully.

Things are crazy as usual and I’ll likely write up how extraordinary our sixth and final LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO show was last Sunday, but for now I’m just going to give you the essay I read on stage at the Athenaeum Theatre and wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, if you’re celebrating it this Sunday. By the way, I’m sending virtual hugs to you if you don’t celebrate it for reasons that are difficult.

My essay is called “Moving On.”

January 2017. It was very cold in Chicago: fifteen degrees with a wind chill of about negative two hundred and forty. It was the kind of weather that you feel all the way to the center of your bones as it blows right through all the layers, and frostbite can nip ferociously at exposed skin in just minutes. So, of course, it was the perfect day to move my younger son, Jason, into his first post-college apartment near Kenosha, Wisconsin.

This move was just one piece of a bittersweet puzzle; our family was preparing to splinter apart geographically over the next few months. First Jason was moving and then Jim and I would be moving from Naperville to Tennessee. At the same time our older son Dylan would be moving from our Naperville home to Aurora so he could continue working in this area. Most of the time I was certain this was the beginning of the end, but if you caught me on the days when I possessed an abundance of optimism I would have claimed it was just the beginning of new beginnings.

A few weeks before, I had accompanied Jason on his home search. He was in brand new territory as he just gone from being a college student on a very limited budget to starting a well-paying “Real World” job which allowed him more living choices than he had anticipated. He set up a few appointments to tour the prospects, and when I offered to accompany him WITH NO EXPECTATION OF HIS ACCEPTING MY OFFER BECAUSE HE WAS NEARLY TWENTY-TWO AND TOTALLY ABLE TO MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS, I was thrilled when he took me up on it.

After a morning of House Hunters: the Post-College Edition, he eliminated everything but two favorites. The first finalist was a luxury apartment with all the bells and whistles that was within his budget but more than he wanted to spend. The other was a charming, cozy upper apartment in an old home that was thirty percent cheaper but had no shower, just a bathtub that sat under the low part of the ceiling that was slanted from the roof line, which would make standing upright in the tub impossible.

Jason hasn’t taken baths over showers since he was a toddler, but he still tried to create a compromise with himself on the absent shower because the rent was so low.

I took him to lunch so he could agonize over burgers and onion rings and suggested that we make a pros and cons list to help him decide. The luxury apartment had many advantages that were important: it was closer to work which meant a savings in gasoline. It included garage parking, a huge plus during winter in the Midwest. There was a laundry room in the spacious unit, and use of the on-site workout room and pool was part of the deal.

The little upper apartment in the old house had its share of pros but we kept revisiting that bathtub. As his mother I was compelled to warn him about that big of a compromise. After all, I’d known him since before he was born and could not imagine his giving up the ease of showering in favor of bathing in a tub involving more time…and terrible posture. I said, “If you feel like you can take only baths for the length of your lease, go ahead but…”

“Yeah…” he replied, still trying to make it work. “I think I can though! It’s so much cheaper! It should be…fine?”

“Okay,” I said, chomping on another onion ring, satisfied that I had done my due diligence, “it’s totally up to you!”

Letting go is both hard and rewarding.

We ate in silence for a few minutes and then I asked him what he was thinking.

“I’m thinking…that I wish that upper apartment had a shower.”

I knew it. Moms always know, don’t they? In this family we are not Bath People. We are Shower People!

Decision made. Luxury apartment—with a shower—it was.

Adulting is both hard and rewarding.

That’s how we ended up nailing down the destination for the big move that would happen on what seemed like the coldest day of the decade.

We made it to the apartment complex after a quick stop at IKEA for various furniture pieces with Swedish nonsense names and, after Jason picked up his shiny new key from the office, started unloading. On our first trip up to the third floor, I learned the Cardinal Rule of Moving: always bring toilet paper to the new place. There were no paper products whatsoever because in my grand plan for the day, the Target run was scheduled for after lunch. Bathroom break for mom: postponed.

The good news was, if there was any silver lining to relocating him on such a freezing cold day, it was that we moved quickly. It wasn’t long before we experienced the relief of returning that moving truck, right at the same time I experienced the relief of using the bathroom for the first time in hours.

At lunch (more burgers and onion rings), Dylan was excitedly telling Jason about all the things they’d do together that weekend. Dylan had attended college in Kenosha and planned to stay with his brother for a couple of days to show him his favorite places in town, including Ron’s Place. Ron’s Place is a Kenosha institution famous for its forty—FORTY!—varieties of Long Island Iced Teas.

Sitting there with my adult sons while they talked about taking the “Tour of Teas” and Ubering home so they could get “schwasted”, I felt…well, a little jealous. Those teas are really good!

Anyway, another feeling I had was maternal awkwardness.

“I feel like I shouldn’t be here for this conversation,” I said.
“Why not?” Dylan replied, “we’re all adults here.”

And the child becomes the parent.

After lunch we returned to the new apartment and began setting things up. As we assembled the Kallax and the Ektorp and the Poäng from IKEA, the three of us laughed and carried on easy conversation. At one point I even smiled and said something to Jason that ended with “you know, should your girlfriend move in here eventually” without cringing a bit like I would have a couple of years ago. Maybe we ARE all adults here.

It occurred to me in a flash that I was supposed to be a little sad about all of this, but that day I just couldn’t get past the happiness. It was fun to see both of my boys spring-boarding into their new stage of life, and this new phase of our relationship—our ADULT relationship—that we were all navigating together was exciting. It has been said that all good things must come to an end, but now I’m not so sure that’s always true. Often good things just become new and improved as we move on, and what’s so sad about that?

Jason moving

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Have You Ever?

Have you ever looked down at your right hand and noticed that the only ring you wear 24/7 on that right hand, the tanzanite one you got a couple of years ago when on a cruise with your husband, is missing and so you launch into a panic while you simultaneously run around the house looking for it and sob hysterically and each time you come back into the dining room where your husband is (eating a late dinner because he just walked in from his group bike ride) to report that the ring isn’t ANYWHERE, your panic level goes up a notch even as he says things like, “We’ll just have to get you a new one!” and “Don’t worry, we’ll find it!” because the ring means a lot to you and then you tell him that it must have broken off because you’ve lost weight recently but not THAT much weight and also it couldn’t have disappeared too long ago because there’s still a small indentation on your finger, and then in addition to the sentimentality of it all you realize you’re going to have to go to Charming Charlie tomorrow to get a cheap ring to wear because you nervously spin your wedding ring on your left hand and that tanzanite ring on your right hand all! day! long! and you’re going to need something on that finger really quickly to satisfy your nervous habit and then in the middle of that thought your husband says, “When was the last time you remember playing with it?” and after you think back for a second you suddenly get a figurative lightning bolt to the head that causes you to quickly walk into the kitchen where you find the ring sitting right there on top of the breakfast bar because you put it there after you took it off when you one-handedly mixed up the meatballs you made for dinner and then you start crying again because you’re so relieved and also realize that this time everything you currently have going on might have really caused you to lose your mind because how could you actually forget that you took that ring off intentionally??

Me neither.

tanzanite ring

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