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Whirlyball, Where Have You Been All My Life?

Actually, I guess it’s the other way around. Whirlyball has been a Chicago staple for years and years, right here in front of me, but for some reason–and I’ll be kicking myself over it for a long time to come–I had never tried it…until this week.

(Disclosure: the fine folks at Whirlyball invited me and some friends in for some complimentary play. I was not compensated for this post.)

Whirlyball, which is a combination of lacrosse, basketball, hockey, and bumper cars, is a fast-paced team game and SO MUCH FUN. Players are buckled into “WhirlyBugs” with a plastic scoop in hand. The idea is to get a whiffle ball through the net to score points. There are penalties, too, like for “slashing” (hitting an opponent’s scoop while trying to get the ball), picking up the ball with your hands, or directly hitting someone from behind.

The first thing you have to learn when you get ready to play Whirlyball is that WhirlyBugs are NOT bumper cars. They are much faster and more responsive than bumper cars. WhirlyBugs have 360-degree steering via a single drive wheel in front, and only one pedal (the accelerator); there is no brake.

The second thing you have to learn is how to scoop up that wiffle ball. It’s much harder than you’d think.

In fact, the whole game is harder than you think, but you’re so busy laughing and screaming that it doesn’t even matter. Wait though; let me back up for a minute.

I brought some super-fun friends with me for the experience: Tracey, Samantha, and Natasha. There may have been a little trash talking ahead of time, but it was all in the spirit of fun and friendship. Yeah. That’s it.

After lots of excited Facebook messages between the four of us and the creation of a hashtag for the event (#WhirlyGirlies), the day finally arrived. I put on my game face and left for the Whirlyball location in Lombard.

Melisa Pios

Typically the game is played with five people on each team, but it was two-on-two in our case (an ideal experience for first-timers!). We were debriefed by the manager and a couple of other employees before our referee, Steve, took us onto the court to explain the rules. That poor guy, trying to explain the rules of this potentially dangerous game to four extremely extroverted ladies who were over the top excited about being out for the evening together. Steve, who I’m sure went home that night wondering what he did at work to get the short end of the stick on the “dealing with those crazy women” thing at work, made it through just fine, and we all prepared to play. It was Samantha and me against Tracey and Natasha, and we jumped right in after taking a pre-game picture.

Picture courtesy of Samantha!

Picture courtesy of Samantha!

It’s no easy feat to steer with one hand and try to scoop up a ball with the other, all while trying to prepare yourself to get slammed into another WhirlyBug or worse, the wall. It IS, however, hilarious. Did I mention that you also have to try and hear the referee, who is in a box above the court with a microphone, reminding you of the rules while calling the game (and sometimes playfully ridiculing everyone below)?

Whirlyball Sam

I honestly can’t remember the last time I laughed (or screamed) so hard. We had an amazing time. I’m pretty sure Steve the referee had a great time too, and I know he appreciated how we yelled back at him, especially that one time I begged him to give me permission to slash Tracey (he wouldn’t). He DID, however, allow us to play one final five minute game with “street rules” (ahem no rules). He probably will not forget us anytime soon.

Whirlyball Tracey

Whirlyball also has locations in Chicago and Vernon Hills, by the way. They operate mostly under a reservation system (the Lombard location has two courts), but they’ll take walk-ins if there is space available. The cost is $15 per person per half hour, and court time can be reserved with a minimum of four people.

While at Whirlyball you can enjoy a full bar and a menu including what I would call “delicious upscale bar food”. We tried the wings and the pretzel bites with Goose Island 312 beer cheese, and they were amazing. The new menu also includes other great items like flatbreads, sandwiches, and truffle fries.

At the end of the evening we were exhausted, exhilarated, and maybe a little sore in the abs from all the laughing (and okay, twisting around to get that blasted whiffle ball). I honestly could have played for another two hours but the evening league guys arrived and we had to give up the court. We’re already talking about returning and bringing more friends with us, and I know that my kids would love it too.

But first, I have to get my voice back.

So much fun, you guys. If you live in the Chicago area, GO TRY IT.

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Netflix #StreamTeam: Reinvent Yourself!

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!

The Netflix Stream Team Theme (ha! Stream Team Theme! So rhyme-y!) for March is “Reinvent Yourself”. I know a little bit about this, both as an adult and as a kid. Since you’re already fairly familiar with me as an adult, I’m going back further.

My name, as you may have noticed, only has one “s” in it. I always laugh when my mom explains that it’s because she wanted me to be “different”. (One of my sister’s names is spelled in an uncommon—err, different—way, too.) In fact, my mom didn’t even spell my nickname in the common way at first; rather than “M-I-S-S-Y”, she spelled it “M-I-S-S-I-E”. Missie. Although I appreciate this as an adult, I can tell you that as a kid it drove me nuts (I could never find anything personalized, and you know how important that is to a little girl!)

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Making Seventy-Seven Look Good

It’s Roxie’s eleventh birthday today and we’re celebrating!

Err, I’m celebrating.

(Jim doesn’t celebrate dog birthdays.)

Where does the time go???

Roxie beagle birthday

Roxie has accomplished so much in her eleven years (seventy-seven dog years, whew!). In addition to electrocuting herself as a puppy, actually eating a kid’s homework once, getting skunked, eating entire loaves of bread, bags of chocolate*, and part of a container of baking cocoa and living to tell about it, she has also run away for an afternoon (twice), ripped up paper money that totaled approximately $73 for all incidents, rolled in rabbit poo multiple times every summer, destroyed many stuffed animals, scared an infinite number of people with her “I haven’t really been stabbed but I sound like I’ve been stabbed” bark/bay/howl, and created and/or participated in countless other shenanigans.

I should have known, really. When I was trying to decide on which eight-week-old beagle puppy to bring home, I knew all about checking for temperament. Beagles are notoriously active and curious; ideally I would have chosen a puppy that was somewhat docile so we had a chance at a companion that knew how to be quiet and calm every now and then. The problem was, she was so darn cute that while I performed the temperament testing on her, I completely ignored the results that indicated I was bringing home a puppy who would keep things more than interesting for years to come. I remember flipping her over on her back and gently holding her down. A docile puppy would, in this situation, relax and wait for me to let her go. Roxie fought me every second until she wiggled out from under me.

It’s been like that ever since.

And it may just be because I’m feeling sentimental on her birthday (and also because it’s been more than a month since Jim and I spent ninety minutes cleaning up the mess when she vomited ALL OVER THE HOUSE after getting into a bag of Valentine’s Day treats I bought for the boys; worst dog-related carnage ever in the history of the world), but I wouldn’t change a thing.

(Except for that recent Valentine’s Day massacre.)

She may be a horrible listener with a mind of her own who cuddles with me only on her terms and pays attention to me mainly when I have food (especially a bowl of popcorn) in my hands, but I love this dog who still, more often than not, acts like a puppy. She is a great companion and has definitely kept life interesting for the last eleven years. I look forward to what she’s got in store for the next few.

As long as her plans include behaving more than not, which is unlikely because it’s Roxie we’re talking about, but there’s always hope. Maybe.

Happy birthday, Roxie. Extra treats for you today!

*chocolate is toxic for dogs: she got her mouth on it when we weren’t expecting her to be so stealthy and nimble! (I swear she must have retractable thumbs!)
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On Sad Songs That Make Me Very Happy

I was on the phone with Liz yesterday and we were talking about my upcoming visit, during which we’ll take a side trip to Atlantic City. I’ve always wanted to see it even though it’s not the same as it was in its heyday, and Liz says that it’s pretty much the only big stretch of New Jersey beach we haven’t checked out, so I’m in.

Cove Beach

Gratuitous beach picture (Cove Beach, Cape May NJ)

As we were talking, I said, “I was listening to my ‘Wanderlust’ playlist on Spotify yesterday and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Atlantic City’ came on! I LOVE THAT SONG. It’s so beautiful!”

Then I thought for a second, and said, “Wait, well, I love it but actually I’m pretty sure the lyrics are depressing.” Indeed.

Well I got a job and tried to put my money away
But I got debts that no honest man can pay
So I drew what I had from the Central Trust
And I bought us two tickets on that Coast City bus

Everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City

But that’s what I do. While I can get completely pumped up by the music of Pitbull and Bruno Mars and Fallout Boy, for some reason I get equally excited (as in happy) when a song containing sad or tragic lyrics comes on.

Years ago I told my sister that “Moby’s ‘Southside’ makes me SO HAPPY!!!”

here we are now going to the west side
weapons in hand as we go for a ride
some may come and some may stay
watching out for a sunny day
where there’s love and darkness and my sidearm

My Facebook friends are well aware that I get downright giddy when “Picture”, by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow comes on, especially when I’m in my car and can sing along with the windows down and sunroof open:

I called you last night in the hotel
Everyone knows but they wont tell
But their half hearted smiles tell me
Somethin’ just ain’t right
I been waitin’ on you for a long time
Fuelin’ up on heartaches and cheap wine
I ain’t heard from you in 3 damn nights

Heck, it’s been going on since I was a teenager. Did you know that Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” is actually about a 1981 riot in the Brixton area of London?

Now in the street, there is violence
And-and a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And-and I can’t blame all on the sun

I LOVE THAT SONG. It’s so…bouncy! But riots.

Perhaps my favorite example? Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” and the original German language version, “99 Luftballons”, which I actually prefer (and can still keep up with most of the German when singing along). The “translated” version is slightly different but generally they’re about a bunch of children’s balloons floating over the Berlin Wall into the Soviet sector (when there were two Germanys, kids!), and when they are fired upon because the war minister can’t identify the balloons, nuclear war commences. Wheeeeee!

99 red balloons floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it’s red alert
There’s something here from somewhere else
The war machine, it springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
As 99 red balloons go by.

I don’t do Karaoke, but if I did, “99 Red Balloons” would be my go-to.

So maybe my sense of Music Appreciation is a little warped because I allow myself to be carried away by the overall musicality rather than lyric analysis before I get too attached. I’m okay with it. I bet The Boss, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, Eddy Grant, and Nena are fine with it too.


If You Give A Melisa A Fitness Tracker…

I started wearing a fitness tracker on Sunday.

I never had plans to get one, even though approximately 7.6 out of every 10 of my friends are using them to track their daily steps.

Then Jim, who uses one himself, ordered one (the not-technically-released-yet Garmin Vivofit 2) for me.

Note: This post is not sponsored. Jim used real money to pay for my fitness tracker; I just assumed that if I didn’t mention which one I got, somebody would ask.

I adore it. I adore my husband for many reasons too but in this case it’s because he’s a genius, and here’s why: He knows that I am extremely competitive with absolutely nobody…except for myself.

Counting steps with a fitness tracker can be dang addictive.

One of the best things about a fitness tracker is that it tells you the truth, and my truth is that as much as I adore the strength and flexibility training my Dailey Method classes provide, I need to move my body more than that. (as in, IN ADDITION TO that.) Working at home means I’m on my butt for hours a day, and not moving is too easy. It’s a breeze to tell myself that I’m going to get up at regular intervals and start some laundry or walk the dog, but the tough reality is that “I just need to finish this one thing first” happens all the time.

This tool is exactly what I need, even though I’ve driven myself nuts for five days now. Wearing a fitness tracker that generates a daily goal for steps can make someone like me do crazy things to get the steps in. CRAZY.

Crazy like:

~ Leaving my Dailey Method class on foot and walking to downtown Naperville and back.

Downtown Naperville

~ Doing laps around my house while on conference calls.

~ Dancing and side-stepping while doing tasks I used to stand still for, like brushing my teeth and peeling oranges and folding laundry.

~ Making myself use the upstairs bathroom even though there is a suitable bathroom just twelve feet from where I’m working in the family room.

~ Intentionally parking much farther away from doors than I need to.

I really should have parked farther away than this; fifty more steps would have been awesome.

I really should have parked farther away; fifty more steps would have been awesome.

~ Struggling to push the shopping cart with one hand so I can swing arm that has the fitness tracker on it, because otherwise I won’t get credit for those steps.

~ Walking to the end of the driveway to check for mail even though I’m pretty sure that J already brought it into the house.

~ Pacing in the shower. Yes, it is possible and yes, I TOLD YOU I’M DOING CRAZY STUFF.

It’s incredible how much brain power I have devoted to making myself move this week.

Then again, isn’t that the point when we’re talking about health and fitness? Being intentional about my actions is one of the best gifts of self-care I could ever provide for myself. Does it take time? Gosh, yes. Do I have the time? No…and yes. I’ve always made time for what’s important, and this is important. Besides, I’ve gotten some great fresh air this week, I’ve enjoyed the scenery around me, and I’ve felt extremely victorious each day when I blow through my goal for steps, kind of like this (Source):

I’m not setting any firm long-term goals right now. At the moment I’m happy with obsessing over hitting my daily targets and I know that my general health and well-being will improve just by doing what I’m doing.

And now it’s time to end this post so I can get moving again. I think I left my cup of tea down by the mailbox.


Donna Day: Raising $$$ For Pediatric Cancer Research

Sweet Donna

Sweet Donna

Today is the 4th annual Donna Day and I am joining a huge group of bloggers in promoting a special event meant to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

Donna Day is named for the daughter of my friend (and 2013 LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO cast member) Sheila Quirke, who blogs under the name Mary Tyler Mom. Sheila and her husband Jeremy, who also have two young sons, lost their beloved Donna in 2009. Donna’s Cancer Story is documented in a series of thirty-two posts that Sheila wrote. Their story is hard to read but I think it’s so important to read.

No family should have to go through what they did but actually, lots of families are going through it. Before they turn 20, 1 in 285 children in the United States will have cancer, and worldwide a child is diagnosed every three minutes (source).

Sheila isn’t the only member of the LTYM Chicago family who knows a lot about pediatric cancer firsthand; unfortunately in January of this year (just seven short weeks ago!) we all found out that another 2013 cast member is having to learn about it, too. Sarah Z’s young daughter was diagnosed and is currently going through treatment. I can’t imagine how hard all of this must be to deal with, but Sarah and her husband are doing it with grace we are all just totally pulling for them and the complete recovery of their daughter.

Sarah is raising funds for St. Baldrick’s Foundation by participating in this year’s Donna’s Good Things head shaving event to benefit pediatric cancer research at the Candelite in Chicago on March 28 from 2:00-4:00, as is Charlie S., the six-year-old son of another LTYM Chicago 2013 cast member, Samantha. (What a great kid!) I’m excited that this year I will finally be able to attend and support my friends. It’s going to be a fun day.

Donna Day Candlelite

The Donna’s Good Things team has raised more than $280,000 for St. Baldricks in three years: would you help add to that total? Any donation, no matter how small, can help them reach their goal. You all know that a lot of little things add up, so if you have five dollars to spare, please consider clicking over to the team page and click the green “Donate” button. If you want to go the extra mile and get your head shaved as part of “Donna’s Good Things”, you can sign up there, too.

With your help, whether it’s becoming a shavee, donating money, or even just sharing this post, pediatric cancer awareness and research will get a boost. Thank you so much.

P.S. You can “like” Donna’s Good Things on Facebook here, if you want to stay posted on all of those good things!


Back In Time, If Only For a Moment

I was loading up the conveyor belt with my purchases at Target earlier today when I noticed that there seemed to be a hold up with the customer ahead of me. Once I could find no more space on the belt, which hadn’t moved in a couple of minutes, I looked up to see what was going on and my heart melted.

A little boy of no more than five years old was standing next to his young father, struggling to open his own adorable wallet and pull some paper bills out. I looked at the cashier in time to see her bagging a mid-sized Star Wars LEGO kit and then I looked at the dad, who was positively beaming.

It’s little moments like these when I want to open my big mouth, but I fought the urge. Instead I had an inner dialogue with myself about how adorable this sight was, how great it was that this little boy was being taught the value of money as well as the joy of buying something special on his own, and, the inevitable “OH MY GOSH IT GOES SO FAST BECAUSE BEFORE THEY KNOW IT THAT LITTLE BOY WILL BE TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD AND NOT EVEN CLAIMABLE AS A DEPENDENT ON THEIR TAXES.”

I could have totally high-fived that boy and complimented him on his actions, and I could have commended the dad on what a responsible young man he was raising, but it was that all-caps revelation that made me keep it all to myself. It goes so fast always comes into my mind during moments like that–always–but ever since my friend Keely read her essay “Just Wait” in last year’s LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER show in Chicago (watch HERE), I just don’t want to be that lady.

My not saying it out loud doesn’t change a thing, of course. It really does go too fast. My boys were little and buying LEGO sets only yesterday, it seems, and then they were buying iPods and guitars and computers, and then cars and hefty slices of their own college tuition. (The things grew more complex and more expensive over the years; luckily their ability to earn and save more money grew, too.)

It’s during moments like these that make me wistful and happy at the same time. I know it’s the Circle of Life. It’s someone else’s turn to beam with pride while his little kid struggles with his wallet in the checkout line, and it’s my turn to watch and smile and reflect on my own years as a mom. Just for a second, I see my own boys in the face of that little boy. They’re small again and needing lots of extra time to count out their hard-earned savings after asking the cashier how many more dollars are needed in order to pay in full.

As the conveyor belt started moving again, the little boy and his dad walked away, excitedly talking about building that LEGO set together when they went home. I smiled, pushing away the melancholy feelings over how my years of mothering flew by at the speed of light and saying a silent thank you to the universe for letting me go back in time, if only for a moment.

This was just yesterday, wasn't it?

This was just yesterday, wasn’t it?

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Better Three And A Half Years Late Than Never…

I’ve spent hours and hours (and hours) over the past few days organizing, deleting, and consolidating all of the files on my old laptop in preparation for transferring everything over to my new laptop. Adequately describing the enormity of that job is another blog post all by itself, so I’ll save it.

In going through my folders and folders (and folders) of pictures, I was able to see, all in one place, how many trips I’ve taken over the past few years. (Counting my blessings for the ability to travel, by the way. SO LUCKY.)

I revisit some of those trips via my pictures regularly (the 2010 Germany trip, cruises, BlogHer conferences, and visits to friends are my favorites) but a few of them—if you can believe it—I had forgotten about until rediscovering the photographic evidence.

Like Santa Fe.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even write about this trip. I mentioned it in the first post upon our return and SAID I was planning to write about it, but I never did. What kind of blogger am I, anyway? (Don’t answer that.)

Better late than never, I guess.

Jim and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico back in July of 2011. I think it was the first “real” vacation beyond a weekend getaway here or there that we had taken without the boys. One of us was excited about the destination and the excellent bike riding conditions, and the other one of us was excited about being able to just get out of Dodge for a few days and take some pictures. I’ll let you figure out which was which. I’ll give you a hint. Here’s a picture I took:

Santa Fe train station

What stood out about that trip is we actually went there to explore the possibility of our moving there someday, post-retirement. While I am against living anywhere out west that has a mostly brown landscape and I’m really a fan of places where the seasons actually change, Santa Fe did have patches of green so at least there was that. That said, while we had a nice vacation, neither one of us liked Santa Fe as a potential future home. A server at one of the downtown restaurants summed it up nicely: “Everyone here is either a millionaire, an artist, or a server.”

Still, it was a nice getaway and I got some killer pictures. (I took 550 over just a few days!)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Toto, we’re not in Illinois anymore.

In fact, looking through all of the pictures in my “Santa Fe 2011″ folder put what’s probably a much warmer and fuzzier glow on that town for me than I felt at the time, and I actually thought for a moment that I might like to go back and visit again someday.

Then I remembered that I left there exclaiming, “If I see ONE MORE PIECE of turquoise anything, I don’t know what I’ll do!!!”

Way too much turquoise in Santa Fe. It’s those dang artists. And millionaires.

Still, the flea market near the train station was fun and it set the stage for a picture that is one of the very best images I’ve captured in my entire life, and that’s a long time.

Santa Fe bass

It’s all about the bass (no treble).

I don’t know. Maybe there wasn’t THAT much turquoise? I should go back and check.



I think about hugs a lot.

That seems like a ridiculous statement, especially for a post-opener. My blog, my rules.

Hugs, real, live, in-person ones, can be so healing. They can fill you up a little bit (or a lot) if you’re feeling empty. They can reassure you, warm you up, and make you feel more loved in that moment than in all the other non-hugging moments of that entire day. Hugs are magical, especially the ones that linger just a couple of seconds longer than you expect.

Virtual comments on Facebook or texts that say “Hugs!”? Well, the jury is still out on those but I choose to believe that if the sentiment is really there, it’s the thought that counts. That said, I’ll take a real hug over a typed-out one any day. THAT said, sometimes virtual is your only choice so in that case, go forth and type out those hugs plus demonstrative emoticons!

I spoke with a friend last night and learned that her family was tossed a huge, tragic curve ball last week. Naturally, my mind immediately started churning about what I could possibly do to help. Right now, the answer is really nothing. I asked anyway.

“Is there ANYthing I can do? I mean, I know I can’t fix it but do you need anything??”

Her honest and simple answer surprised me and made me smile.

“To be honest, I could use a hug.”

I laughed and said, “Where are you tomorrow? I deliver!”

It was all I could do not to jump in the car at that very moment and chase her down at the meeting she was about to attend, just to try and make her feel better.

The truth is, whether you’re wrapping someone in your arms to say “hello,” “goodbye,” “I missed you,” “I love you,” “Congratulations,” or just “I’m here for you,” there’s no question that the healing powers of hugs can go all the way down to your soul if you let them.

Have you hugged your loved ones today? Just asking. (If not, what are you waiting for??)

Hugger button

Best hugger pin conference swag ever, made by Lizz P. (www.amiafunnygirl.com)


Tina Fey’s Netflix Original! (#StreamTeam)

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or so, you are well aware that Season Three of “House of Cards” (A Netflix Original Series) has just become available for streaming. I can’t tell you how many of my friends made plans to cozy up this weekend and binge-watch the adventures of Frank and Claire Underwood, played to perfection by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and in fact Jim and I won’t be far behind: we LOVE this series.

That said, there’s something else I’m super excited about that’s coming up next week, and it’s brought to us by the hilarious and smart Tina Fey.

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