Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I LOVE a Night at the Casino

Last year on New Year's Eve I discovered the secret to a perfect way to celebrate.  Go to a casino near you.  My husband and I dropped our son off at a party, and knowing we had to pick him up later, we decided to go out for dinner.  I turned to him and said, "Let's go to a casino and try to win our supper." 

Who knew.  We walked into the greatest party ever.  Folks were in their jammies wearing crowns on their heads.  Other were in their finest.  Live music was playing on three different stages.  The line to the buffet ran two lengths of the hallway.  Darn.  "All the crab legs you can eat."  I'm in. 

Free drinks were being passed along to those of us at the slot machines and gambling tables.  I was surrounded by happy people.  No whining allowed. My secret love is the slot machine.  Love the sounds, the colors, the whirl of the images, the anticipation.  I admit that I'm addicted, but I know my limit.  I have no choice.  I'm the one who brings in a certain amount and when it's gone, it's over.  The image of the poor schmuck at the ATM taking money out haunts me.  "Gee, this is the only time money spits out of a machine for me."

We won that night.  Enough to eat all the crab legs I could.  Too bad they ran out by the time I made it to the front of the line.  The hostess looked at my face, and felt so bad, she let us eat for free.  That meant we had more money to play with.  So we skipped dessert and went back.  Won again, and left before I left a loser. 

I'm looking forward to my new annual tradition of gambling in the New Year.  I'm actually giddy, which could be a bad thing.  Any Christmas money that came my way, went into my, "New Year's Eve," fund.  Trust me.  It's not enough to mourn the loss of my son's college fund.  Gas to drive him to college...maybe.

There's a lot to be grateful for this year.  Grateful to have been present for those special times.  Lot of times I wished I was behind bars, and not be around to witness the not so good times as well.  My oldest daughter moved into a new apartment yesterday afternoon.  My son and I spent a supremely cold day moving furniture.  She was living with my mom and keeping her company while mom recovered from bypass surgery.  Mom was happy to see my daughter leave, which really means she's going to be fine now.  She's strong again.  She's ready to start bowling.  Feeling lonely takes more strength to get over.  In time.  We skipped strapping the mattress to my truck.  I looked at my daughter, and told her to stop at the mattress shop.  My treat.  They deliver same day.  I'm grateful to help her move on.  I'm grateful to have been there. 

Yesterday, my husband handed in his resignation at work.  A new opportunity has come along, and he's taking it because, "This could be my last hurrah."  The new company gave him a generous allowance for a new car.  He doesn't have to drive his dad's old car anymore.  The one with a dent from last Thanksgiving when I was so excited to go shopping with my son late at night that I backed up right into the side door of his car.  AND my husband witnessed the whole thing.  Oye.  What a night.  To help him celebrate his new job, my son wants us to buy his dad a new leather briefcase.  Perfect gift for his birthday which is around the corner.

On the way home from moving his sister, my son announced that he needs a new prescription for contacts.  "I can't see s--- anymore."  Thank you. 

Just as I started to worry about all the money I was spending, I stopped to realize how lucky we are.  Grateful to spend money towards my daughter's new life.  Grateful to spend money towards my husband's new move.  Grateful that my son is growing.  And...don't think I'm crazy....but thanks to Blago, I'm grateful that this month I can say, "I'm debt free." 

I was always determined to be in a better financial place by the time he's out of prison.  I didn't want to look back and think he saved more by cleaning toilets than I saved.  I met my primary goal this month.  No more credit bills or car payments.  Granted, the bathroom has to be repaired and the house needs repairs that I avoided in order to meet my goal, but I'm entering that phase next.  

Happy New Year.  And if you get depressed or feel alone tonight, imagine what it must feel like to be sitting in a cell looking at the pictures of your family on a wall.  That image HAS to motivate you to join me at the casino!!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Final Kiss

My father-in-law passed away late last night.  He was in a nursing home, as he put it, "just waiting to die."  St. Peter didn't hesitate to open the gates for him. A finer man you won't know.  He was love.   

I stopped by to visit him a few days ago.  We watched another Cubs loss together.  As I was leaving, he took my hand and kissed it.  "You were a wonderful daughter-in-law.  Thank you."  Thank YOU, Dad.  

My husband regrets that his dad never saw a Cubs championship.  I told him that grown men and women, grandchildren, widows will ALL be in mourning for their dad the day the Cubs win.

I'm grateful for that final loving touch.  Grateful that I was with my husband when he received the news. I can't imagine learning your loved one is gone over the phone, and then returning to a room filled with strangers. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

2 Summers Down. 12 Summers to Go.

This is the weekend I dread.  The weekend that reminds me that it's over.  If there's anything I've learned from jotting down my thoughts in this blog, it's that I have to force myself to do things that I might never do...just because I can.  It's easy to stay home.  I'm grateful that I don't have to. 

The highlight of my summer was watching a meatball sandwich eating contest at the Italian street festival in Chicago with my daughter.  We screamed out loud.  It was hot and crowded.  Best time.  I would normally have stayed home to avoid the heat and crowds.  After the gelato, unique taste treats from local Italian restaurants, and music, my daughter turned to me and said, "Mom, this was such a great idea.  I loved it."  

I started the summer with a trip to Vegas with friends.  No one loves a slot machine more than I do.  Baseball tournaments with my son took me to Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina.  It's nice knowing I can be there to support him.

My yard looks great.  I worked hard to turn it into my little oasis.  Mom's health is improving.  

2 summers down.  My only regret is that I didn't spend time at the beach or my local pool, but I'm grateful for all the beautiful pleasures I took time to enjoy. Blago has 12 more to go.  Come to think of it, walking the beach is still possible this month.  At least for me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Room With A View

My kitchen window faces the yard.  The kitchen needs to be updated.  I like the '70's look, but my son calls it something else.  It doesn't really matter to me, because my view of the yard with blooming flowers is very special.  I can't imagine not having a beautiful view and a table next to the window.  This is where I have my morning coffee.  I pay the bills.  I talk to my son after school here.  I'm able to look past the old cabinets and outdated floor. My kitchen table is made from old barn wood.  I've had it since the children were born.  I forget the role this table has played in our lives. 

Over the summer, I've weeded and planted new shrubs and flowers.  It took a lot of work.  I did it because of this window.  It's a view I've taken for granted.  I realized that Blago takes a look out at a yard once in a while, but it's a little different than my yard!  He's lucky if he has a window in his cell. 

The birds have discovered my yard.  I turned on the sprinkler, and they're flying in for a bath and respite from the intense heat.  Simple joy. I'll add new fall colors as gratitude for my room with a view.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Color My World

It's been a busy summer for me.  I've been taking care of mom since her heart surgery.  Rough road, but it's getting easier.  Grateful to be there for her.  I found that my yard had a calming effect.  Pulling weeds and clearing dead wood was soothing. 

I recently read the story of a man who was released from years spent in prison on a wrongful conviction.  When asked what he missed the most while he was behind bars, he said, "Colors."  His room was tan and everything around him was white and tan.  I had to laugh.  I had just painted the bedrooms white.  The color was peaceful to me, but I understood what he missed. 

My own closet has a standard black and white wardrobe.  Suddenly, I missed colors.

Last week, I entered a local nursery.  At that moment I took great joy in appreciating what this man had missed.  I filled the car with pinks, blues, orange.  Every day I take time to water the colorful additions to my garden and I think of what this man missed.  My good friend told me to buy flowering shrubs.  "You'll love the colors and you'll appreciate summer even more."  She's right.

I'm wearing hot pink shoes.  Beige flats?  No. Pink makes me happy. I brought out my collection of jade dishes.  LOVE that color.  I've always loved that color.    Color my world with gratitude. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Keeping Mom Company After Heart Surgery

One minute I'm pulling weeds in the yard.  Next minute I'm on my way to help mom decide on angioplasty or heart by-pass surgery.  A conversation that sounds like, "Shall I have a salad or sandwich for lunch?"  Everyone was calm.

Mom was complaining of shortness of breath last week.  Her stress test wasn't good.  The angiogram showed two blockages.  One blockage would be easy to stent.  The other blockage was difficult.  The doctors stopped the angiogram and gave us the options.  With surgery, mom would be on a long road to recovery.  With angioplasty/stents, her road to recovery would be easier, but she'd always be looking over her shoulder, wondering if the stents are causing a recurrence in the blockage.  

The decision to do the by-pass wasn't easy.  She said, "I'd like to see my grandchildren get married."

I'm watching her as she rests in the hospital.  Her surgery was a success.  Her strength comes back each day.  I'll be with her on this road and for that I'm grateful.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taste of Freedom

Last month I was on the road and listened to an intriguing "60 Minutes" interview on the radio. The story focused on a young man who was born and raised in a prison camp in North Korea.  Can you imagine what that was like?  I can't.  Nothing to eat except watered down soup.  He was always hungry, but he didn't know any other life.

The man was in his 20's when a new prisoner came in and talked about the food outside of camp.  He told tales of spices that existed outside the chained fences.  The young man was so determined to taste the foods, that he and the new prisoner hatched a plan to escape.  Yet, while climbing the fence, the new prisoner was electrocuted.  The young man escaped. 

When asked by the reporter what the best thing about freedom is, the young man replied, "So many wonderful things to eat."  Since I started this practice in gratitude for my freedom, I'm thrilled when I'm out to eat, or at the grocery store.  I knew I wasn't crazy.  I walk down the aisles grateful for the selection from the bakery to produce.  Never gave it much thought before.  I insist that everyone order something different when I'm out at a restaurant so I can test all the dishes.  

I  took my son and daughter to Taste of Chicago last weekend.  Yes, it was crowded.  But it was fun.  People were out enjoying what some of Chicago's restaurants have to offer.  Loved the spinach pizza.  The spicy empanadas were perfect. The weather was beautiful.  I was grateful for The Taste of Freedom.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Suit For a Big Girl Job

My daughter and I went out to lunch a few weeks back.  She handed me a card and said, "I'll know the results on Friday."  Holy heaven.  The blood drained from my face.  "NO. It's not a pregnancy test.  I applied for a management position in my company!"  The card was a sweet note thanking me for being supportive of her decisions.  I told her that if she got the job, I'd be thrilled to buy her a new suit.  Deal.

She interviewed with the manager. The next week she called to say she learned that she didn't get the job.  Someone told her that the sales director's daughter won the position.  I hung up the phone, laid on the couch, and never got up. 

The next day, she called to say the manager had asked to speak with her in a few hours.   I told her he doesn't want a disgruntled employee.  He's going to give you a pep talk.  Just take it in.   It turns out that he called to congratulate her on getting the job.  I asked,  "What did he say?"  She said, "I don't know.  I blacked out.  The only thing I remember is that he said, "Let me show you your  office." 

Yesterday we went shopping for that new suit.  The salesman asked, "Is this your daughter's new Big Girl Job Suit?"  She was so excited.  I was so proud.  Who cares that it's a silly, demeaning phrase.  Would you call it a, "Big Boy Job?" So grateful to shop with her and share this experience.  

Blago spent thousands of dollars on new suits for his Big Boy Job.  I sort of get how important he felt as he was being fitted, as he touched the rich fabrics.  I get how sad he will be when he misses the opportunity to help his daughter find her first business suit. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Being With My Son On His 16th Birthday

He's such a handsome young man.  Today is my son's 16th birthday.  I could have been working out of town, but the thought of not being with him today sickened me.  He and I share the same birthday.  The date falls on Mother's Day. 

My mom is going strong at 80.  We all went out to brunch.  Last night I took my son out for a steak.  I couldn't take him to get his driver's license.  I just don't have the courage.

It's been a day filled with gratitude for me.  I remind myself that Blago's daughter turned 16 a few months ago.  It must have sickened him that he couldn't hug her.  That's all I want from my son today.  A hug.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gotta Love Going Out For Breakfast

I love going out for breakfast.  There's just something so perfect about a pot of coffee that doesn't end.  Nothing finer than a stack of pancakes. 

My cousin told me her favorite memory as a parent was taking the kids out for breakfast after church on Sundays.  Look around you.  Families are sharing stories, laughs.  They don't have to spend a fortune. You don't have to dress up. The day is still ahead of you.  At a recent funeral I attended, the eulogy was given by the 14 year old grandson of the man who passed.  He told us that what he'll miss most is going out to breakfast with his grandpa. 

My son had a late arrival at school last week.  He asked me if we could go out for breakfast.  So grateful for that time with him. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I'm Up At 3am. Must Be Flea Market Day.

I love a good nap on a Sunday.  One of those full-on 2 hour naps. No one to tell me that I can't nap.  Today marks the return of Wolff's Flea Market.  I was there at 3:30 in the morning so I could watch the dealers unload their goods.  It was freezing out and the wind was crazy. 

The fella with the baked goods was there with the best almond crescent rolls.  Best.  I don't feel too guilty, because I walk the entire lot at the market for 4 straight hours.  Didn't find anything great this time.  Chicago is the hardest market in the world when it comes to competition from "pickers" and antique dealers.  The guys out there are fierce.  One vendor pointed to a small wooden box and told me to look inside where I'd find sterling jewelry.  The fella next to me grabbed the box and literally shoved his fist on my knuckles so I'd let go of the box.   I didn't let go.  I regret not shoving my knuckles down his throat. 

I was back before everyone woke up and took that nap.  Grateful that I am free to spend my Sunday any way I wish.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Obituaries Never Tell You Who The Person Was

My mother's cousin died this week.  His obit reveals his age, the name of his wife, his children, his grandchildren.  It doesn't tell you that this was a man who truly led by example. 

He was born in Italy, but his parents chose to move to America so their four children could prosper.  His father was my grandmother's brother. 

He went to school here and made certain that each of his sisters and brother would go on to school.  He served our country in Vietnam, and quietly came home. 

He married a beautiful, strong woman whose family came to America from the same town in Italy.  They worked together to open a beauty salon, and he later developed and sold real estate.  They raised 3 daughters and were blessed with 5 grandchildren.  Their first house was small, but soon moved into a fabulous house on a small lake.  Somehow, he managed to convince the girls to move their families to be near him.  I think of him as the captain who sailed his little crew safely to an island. 

It's hard to imagine anyone's kids actually wanting to live near their parents.  Yet his love was so genuine, that living any other way would be ridiculous.  He took care of everyone.  They would be safe.

Over the past few years he stayed afloat even though the real estate market shut down.  He never spent money like a fool.  He didn't need new suits. If he worried, he kept it to himself or shared that with his wife.  He was always such a positive force.   Never judged.  He accepted you.  When he greeted you, he always took the time to look at you and genuinely care how you were doing and what you were up to. 

His funeral will be held tomorrow.  68 years old.  Heart attack.  The doctors gave him a clean bill of health just last week.  All tests, including the EKG, looked great.  He had returned from a trip to Mexico with his wife, the love of his life.  His anchor.  He was cooking dinner at the outdoor grill, where he was found.  After dinner he had planned to visit his youngest daughter who was excited to show him videos of their little baby who is due in a few months.  Not a bad way to go.  Always taking care of the ones you love. 

I'm grateful that I can visit him one last time.  Grateful that I can mourn with his family. Treat others as you want to be treated.  So sorry that I didn't tell him that's what his example taught me.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

College Campus Visits & Looking Towards the Future

My son and I traveled to a few different colleges this past week.  I don't know what it is about this that makes it more fun than sitting on a beach in Florida over spring break.  I really love it.  I traveled with my daughters to various schools and the same feeling was there.  It's all about looking towards the future. 

My son's a sophomore, and he'd love to play baseball in school.  Most folks look for the science building, or campus cafeteria first.  I head out to the baseball field before checking in on the campus.  It turns out he actually did visit Florida Gulf Coast last year while playing in a Florida tournament. "There were palm trees behind the baseball field, mom."  That's nice.

The students on campus are wonderful.  I love being around them.  They're always looking forward to the future and they don't have to be in the, "real world," for a while.  Maybe that's why they're always smiling and looking pretty happy.  You see that same look on the prospective students.  Optimism.  Sad to know that rejection letters wait in the background.  Enjoy it while I can.

I can't put any value on sharing this time of optimism with my son.  I don't care how many schools and baseball fields I visit.  I'm just grateful that I can be there with him on this journey.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring Is In The Air

I was out this afternoon and there it was, that something in the air that tells you spring is here.   I'm looking forward to getting something new done around the house.  What if this is the year that I plant flowers that turn out like the ones on the covers of the garden magazines?  It's possible.

My family is planted in front of the television set watching the NCAA Tournament.  Will this be the year my son chooses the winner?  It's possible.  Did you know there's a school called, Florida Gulf Coast? 

My daughter left for a fun trip to New York and Florida.  I'll be checking out colleges with my son.  We're not traveling far, but it's fine.  Besides, it won't be long before he leaves for the dreaded college spring break trip.  I'll enjoy my time with him.

I love this time of the year.  I wonder what spring smells like for Blago?  The possibilities for me are endless. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Marathon Television Is Too Much Fun

Everyone I know talks about their addiction to the PBS series, "Downton Abbey."  The story covers the family and servants who live in a castle in England during WWI.  I'm too busy watching shows like, "My Strange Addiction." 

Today I started a project at home, and turned on the Downton series.  LOVE my ComCast.  I started with the first season, and by the end of the night, I was on season 2.  No commercials and I didn't have to wait until next week to find out what happens.

No excuses.  There was no one to tell me I had to turn off the T.V.  I do this every once in a while.  I wish I could do it more often.  So grateful that I can do it at all.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Extraordinary Moments Count

Yesterday was a wonderful day.  It was filled with extraordinary moments.  Blago's wife said he has missed those ordinary moments with his family, and those are the times in my own life that I've recognized in this journal. 

However, when the extraordinary moments come along, you have to rejoice and hug them, and be grateful you're there to enjoy.

I spent the afternoon at an intimate bridal shower celebrating with extended family.  Great lunch at the restaurant that serves the best dessert.  Children who were babies yesterday, showed up as beautiful and smart 6 and 7 year olds.  So nice to catch up.

Last night was my cousin's wedding.  He was one of my dad's favorite nephews.  I gave him a hug and told him how proud my dad would have been of him.  He was 7 years old when my dad passed away.  He now owns one of Chicago's favorite restaurants...literally named, "Chicago's Favorite Pizza & Italian Restaurant," by WGN-TV.  I haven't seen my cousins in a long time.  It was a fun night. 

My daughter brought a young man she's been dating.  It was the first time we met.  So nice to see her happy.  I'd be crushed if I only knew him through photos.  I gave him a hug.  That what you do when extraordinary moments happen.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Time Really Does Fly By

The bigger lesson for me as I noted all the joys I found in my life this past year while being free to enjoy and appreciate them, is that time really goes by so incredibly fast.  Yesterday, I sat down to ask myself what I learned by giving gratitude for a year.  In the back of my mind, I thought of how fast the year went.

Ironically, this morning I read that Patti Blagojevich, the gov's wife, felt the same way.  She said the year has, "has flown by so quickly."  Lucky for them. 
She also said that her husband missed the big things, like their daughter passing her driving test.  But he also missed the smaller things, like breakfast with the kids before they leave for school.  Ordinary moments. 

Ordinary moments are what I've discovered in this exercise in gratitude. You can't pinpoint them until you actually look for them.  You don't realize how wonderful the breeze feels against your face while you're sleeping until you make a genuine effort to appreciate it...the ordinary moments.  There's an atitude adjustment that starts to take place. I don't drive past mansions along the lake and envy those families any longer. I'm grateful to have a comfy house of my own with a working shower!  I buy fresh flowers to place in the house as a peace offering.  Thank you for being my shelter.  I know it's corny.

When I look for and give gratitude for those ordinary moments, it eases the pain when crap hits the fan.

Patti said the gov. is learning to play the guitar.  That's nice.  I should bring out the music books and practice the piano.  However, I was disgusted by his free time.  Why are we, as taxpayers, paying for someone to learn to play the guitar and teach history lessons to prisoners, and keep up with his jogging?  Workers are needed everywhere to teach history to less fortunate children, to clean bathrooms, to work in soup kitchens, to clean highways. What happened to chain gangs?

You've taken everything from this man.  His family, his license to practice law, his humilty.  Why sit in prison?  Let him go home and WORK for the state of Illinois.  For FREE. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Living Life Like I Just Got Out of Prison...One Year Later

It's been one year since I watched Blago walk through those prison doors.  Doors open, he steps inside, and my head spins.  The reporter declares that former Governor Blagojevich is going to be an old man when he gets out in 14 years.  An old man.  How can that be?  He's MY age. 

Blago spoke the night before he left for prison on how grateful he was for everything.  I promised myself right there that I would be grateful that I wasn't Blago.  I wanted to remind myself that being free was something I couldn't take for granted.

Most people had the same reaction when I mentioned this blog.  "That's really a stupid idea."  I know.  It's not like I ever liked the guy, or gave him a second thought.  I could never pronounce the name, so I called him, "Gov. blowfish." I threw a kitchen towel at the radio when I heard he was elected
governor.  "Can't anyone see he's an idiot?"

So now I have to step back and ask myself what this past year has been like for me.  Has this exercise in gratitude been a stupid idea after all?  Ironically, yesterday put it all into perspective.

I woke up late, since I didn't have to work.  The sun was shining through the curtains, and the birds were singing.  My window was open and a cool breeze was coming through.    Stop and think about this. 

a.  I woke up late.  You don't get to wake up late in prison...with 4 pillows!

b.  The sun was shining through curtains.  No windows in prison cells.

c.  My window was open, so I could hear the birds.  In prison, there's an alarm or bells to wake you.

d.  I woke to a cool breeze.  Seriously.  That won't happen in a prison cell.

I had a great cup of coffee and fresh blackberries with my oatmeal.  Later, I took the dog for walk, but since it was so beautiful out, I walked over to the woods for a change of scenery. 

a.  Who has fresh blackberries in prison?   (I spotted them in the grocery store and asked myself that same question, and that's why they were in the fridge.)

b.  I was free to change my usual walk with the dog.  I took a different route.  New scenery.  When you exercise in prison, it's the same view day after day after day.

I swear this is the truth.  The mailman dropped off my new CD from Amazon.  My son was shocked that I still order these instead of downloading.  Anyway, "Stevie Ray Vaughan's Greatest Hits, " came in the mail.  I took it to the bathroom, turned on the hot shower, and Stevie rocked the house.  I even touched up the grey in my hair. 

a.  A long, hot shower is the one luxury I no longer take for granted.
b.  To play my favorite music as loud as I want is pure joy.
c.  I can wash that grey right out of my hair!  (Sorry, Blago.)

I was home when my son came in from school.  He was eating a snack, while  we caught up on things, and I drove him to his tutor. 

a.  I will always be grateful for this simple joy.  Imagine being unable to see my children.   Imagine not being there in person to have a heart to heart talk. (I believe this former governor is a stronger man than I've given him credit for being.)

After dropping off my son, I drove to the grocery store.  Aisle after aisle of choices.  I ended the night at a department store, picking out a new pair of shoes.

You get it, I know.  But it's reminding yourself that gets tricky.  When I was at the grocery store, it wasn't a chore anymore.  I was genuinely grateful for all the choices I had.  I didn't even care that I couldn't afford the expensive shoes.  I was just happy to treat myself to something new for spring.  You don't do that if you're Blago.  You don't do anything I did in ONE day when you're not free.

I promised myself that I wasn't going to be watching Blagojevich leave prison on television 14 years later, and wondering what I had done with my own life.  I've completed the first course towards a degree in a specialized field that I work in.  Not so sure I would have been motivated to do this before.  I also paid off credit cards.  The very last thing I wanted to know is that Blago had saved more money cleaning toilets than I had saved. 

I also forced myself to go out and do things because I was free to.  My husband and I went out on New Year's Eve this year instead of watching the ball drop on TV.  We had a blast.  Going out to lunch has become my new obsession.  I love to linger.  Love to try new restaurants. Because I can. 

Was it watching a man my age, a man with an almost identical background as mine, walk into prison for 14 years, or was it the idea that in 14 years I would be an old lady that caused me to freeze?  Both.  I just don't want to plod along and not be grateful for my freedom.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Being A Parent Is Like Riding A Bull

This past week was incredibly tough for my family.  There were times when being behind bars, away from it all, sounded really good.  An act of horseplay, ended up with a young man needing 2 staples on his head.  My son wasn't the kid with the injury.  One of the last calls you ever want, is the call from Dean of Students.  "Your son is in my office."  Oye.  Run. 

The night before, I went in to say goodnight to my son, and found him feeling sad about something.  "My girlfriend and I are...taking a break from each other. "  Oh, sweetheart.  Your first break up.  I was the person whom he confided in.  He trusted me.  I was able to touch him.  Hold his face.  Rest my head on his chest.  Talking to him over the phone from an isolated cell would have crushed me. 

The call from the Dean's office came the next morning.  Though not intending to injure the other boy....with a highlighter.... it happened.  Everyone agreed.  Not acceptable behavior.  One week suspension.  One week.  No school.  No friends.  No baseball.  I drove my son home.  I looked at him sitting there in the backseat.  Being a parent is like riding a bull.  My only goal is to hold on.  I'm not letting him throw me off.  Where's my strength? 

Home schooling is a great tool.  Try it.  Teaching him world history and discussing the industrial revolution was more fun for me than him.  Keeping up with math and chemistry meant was a different story, but a tutor helped.  I cheated.  The point is, I wasn't thrown off. 

The rest is up to my son.  He has to face his coach, the team, the students.  Rumor has it that some boys on the baseball team are trying to set him up so he can face another suspension.  That gives THEM more playing time.  Welcome to the real world, my friend.  My son is playing with kids who put the "I" in team. 

I have to get back to my routine, work, groceries, flat tire.  My son is back to his routine.  We're together. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let It Snow...and Snow

The snow everyone's been anticipating is finally here.  We ran around yesterday taking care of errands that we knew shouldn't be done on a day that's expected to be a pain in the neck.  Everyone was complaining. I had to drive downtown, but I'm glad I was down there when it was rain and slush, not ice and snow. 

When I got back, I took the dog for quick walk.  He was loving it.  Jumped up and down, playing in the snow.  I stopped to realize how ridiculous it is to be sitting inside watching the snow fall, when I can be out enjoying the moment.

My son came home early from school.  Ahhh...Freedom!!  He didn't stay inside.  He went out to play in the snow.  That's living right.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Facing Down My Fear

Last week there was a tragic story of a bright, 21 year old woman, on her way home from work.  Her car spun out of control and she died in the wreck which was so bad it shut down the expressway.  Her father was quoted in the paper reflecting, "I'm so glad I had a chance to tell her every day that I loved her."  Every parent's worst nightmare.

Imagine the irony for me when a few days later I went to a visitation at a funeral home for the elder parent of someone I know.   My husband and I couldn't find a parking spot anywhere near the place.  I was stunned to see a line of young people wrapped around the building....twice.  I stopped to ask if we were all visiting the same person.  No.  A young woman turned to me and said, "I don't know if you heard about the accident that shut down the expressway the other day.  This is for that girl."  My god.  Her parents were somewhere in that funeral home.  They were living through their worst nightmare.

My son will be turning 16 in a few months.  I've been making all sorts of excuses to avoid going to the DMV to get his permit so he can learn to drive.  I'm the giddy parent who stays up late at night looking forward to the phone call that it's time to pick up my son.  It's not an aggravation for me.  It's always a relief.  "At least he's not driving."  I freeze every time the phone rings early in the morning.  Is my daughter safe?  Did she have an accident on the way to work?  I know.  It's just me.  I do have reason to fear this.  My younger daughter had an accident on her way to high school.  She looked down to change the dial on the radio and slammed into a parked car on the side street.  The owner came out and told her he was calling the police.  She told him, "Oh, don't.  I've just called them."  She lied.  She had called us.  That gave us the opportunity to pay the owner gobs of money to repair his car and avoid legal troubles for my daughter and a spike in the insurance.   She lied.  Not smart.  But, I always thought she'd make a great attorney.   She lives in the city now.  She takes public transportation.

My older daughter called me in the middle of the night once when she was in high school.  The middle of the night.  "Mom.  I hit a police car and we're going to have to pay."  How's THAT for a call.  My husband and I drove to the scene of the accident.  On the way I was kicking myself for leaving my passport at home.   Damn.  That was the only thing keeping me from leaving the country.  My heart dropped as we approached the site.  HUGE lights were up as police were examing the scene.  What's happening?  Is my daughter ok?  I saw my old car that she was driving.  The minivan was crushed.  I had just put $700 into repairs.  Oye.  It turns out that she didn't hit the police car.  The police car hit her as she was turning.  He was answering a call for, "shots fired, " and was going down the street at a reckless speed.   She was wearing her seat belt.  Her car was pushed so fast, she nearly hit a lamp post, but she managed to hold on to the steering wheel.

Now it's my son's turn to send me over the edge.  I mean it.  I'm too old for this.  There's a funny You Tube video of a gal who says, "I ain't got no time for this."  That's how I feel.  Yet, the other day, I put my big girl panties on and asked my son if he wanted to try driving with me.  He looked up and quietly pulled on his jacket.  We went to a nearby cemetary.  I know...if anything happens, we don't have far to go.  Ha ha.  But I let him drive around the path.  He drove in reverse.  I told him to think of the geese in the road as people crossing the street while texting.  They're not looking at you.  It felt wonderful to be able to help my son grow. 

Blago's daughter turned 16 this year.  He wasn't there. I'm grateful that I can be there for my son.  I'll take him to the DMV, not because I want to, but because it's his right of passage as a young man, and I can be there to soak it in. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guilt By Association

Holy cow!  I've been following the downfall of former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.  If I were to leave a theatre in which the movie was about Jackson and all the other lives that have been brought down due to their association with Rod Blagojevich I would say, "What a great story.  What a great movie.  Who is the brilliant writer?"  Jackson illegally used campaign funds to treat himself to crap like Michael Jackson souvenirs.  $750,000 down the drain.  The investigation began once his name was in the mix of people who went knocking on Blago's door when Obama's Senate seat was open.  There's nothing wrong with suggesting you're the right replacement for the job.  You just can't show up at the door with a bucket of money.  It doesn't look right.  Elvis memorabilia might have worked. 

I'm grateful that the only people who don't want to be associated with me are my children.  But can you imagine if the very sound of your name being linked with someone else causes an F.B.I. investigation, a look into your tax returns, a snub, a cold shoulder, a chuckle,  a roll of the eyes, a deep sigh? 

What's in a name?  Honor.  Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse, worked his whole life to serve his community.  You can argue that he did it for show, etc.  You can argue that he preaches family values, yet has a second family on the side.  I personally believe that after Martin Luther King died, Jackson saw an opportunity and ran with it.  Now all the good work and accomplishments mean nothing.  He'll be associated with his son's name.  The guy who bought Michael Jackson's fedora. 

I wonder what Blago is thinking as he reads the story.  "Serves him right."  "Ha ha.  I'm not the only one who was nailed."  I wonder what his children think.  "Mom.  Can we use your maiden name?"

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Returning Home After Guilt Trip Is Sweet

I've been working away from home for the past two weeks.  In a way it's like prison.  You're free, of course, but you leave everything behind. I felt guilty since my husband had all the responsibilities of taking care of things here.  I was incredibly sad to have missed my son's basketball games.  So many little things come up that you can't attend to, because you're just not there.  I couldn't help my son look for his lost gift card.  My daughter needed help with her car. My mom didn't have someone to take her to the doctor's office.  It's not vacation.  It's literally a guilt trip.

Getting back the other day was sweet for me.  So nice to hug my son who was sleeping.  Grateful to help my mom with simple errands for an entire afternoon.  A visit with my father-in-law who has moved to an assisted living center was comforting for both of us.   There was a last minute change in my son's basketball practice schedule.  No problem.  Happy to pick him up early.  Grateful that my husband didn't need to leave his office to do this.  I took my son to the grocery store with me last night.  We were just happy to be together. My husband and I caught up on our favorite t.v. show.  Simple things, they say, are the nicest.  They're right. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Celebrate Your Birthday...Celebrate Good Times

My husband's birthday is in January.  It's always the coldest day of the year.  Always.  Never fails.  The temperature in Chicago drops to 7 below, the roads freeze.  We rarely go out to celebrate due to the weather.  I'll pick up a nice cake, and we sing around the kitchen table. 

This year was different.  I made a point of making plans to go out and celebrate his birthday.  Our kids dropped what they were doing and made their way downtown in the cold.  Parking was hard to find. Line at the restaurant was long. The kitchen table was looking good.

We enjoyed a terrific meal in a restaurant we had never been to and ordered dessert for his birthday treat.  No one sang!  We were happy to be together as a family celebrating life.  

I went out of my way to do this, because Blago celebrated his birthday in prison last month.  I doubt he received hugs or a birthday dessert.  His family must have been sad that they couldn't share or celebrate his day with him. 

Ten years ago, my cousin died at the age of 37.  She left 3 young children.  At her wake I stared at a photo of her with her family standing in front of the castle at Disneyworld. She was beaming.  Another cousin walked up behind me and said, "That was taken just before she discovered the lump." 

I hated my birthday until that night.  I thought of how much my cousin would have loved to celebrate another birthday.  It's a gift we take for granted. 

Enjoy Life!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On The Road Again!

This week I'm in the Texas area on a work project.  I drove from Chicago to Dallas.  Most folks look at me like I'm insane when I say that I drove down here.  I thought I was going to go insane as I approached Oklahoma, but a funny thing happened.  I realized how lucky I am being able to get on the road and just drive. 

Oklahoma wasn't so bad after all.  I imagined not being able to get into my car and just drive away.  Suddenly, the landscape looked green.   In Texas, I've made a point of appreciating everything around me.  Who knew Texas BBQ was so good.  I stopped at a restaurant known to have the best chili in the state.  Hot!!  I wouldn't normally have done that before.  I'd be happy just sitting in my room alone.  But, I'm not behind bars.  I don't have to sit in my room alone.  I can, "see things that I may never see again and go places that I've never been."

I'm not necessarily looking forward to the drive back, but I won't go insane. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Blasting Stevie Ray Vaughan's CROSSFIRE

Each one of us has a song that lights up our mood.  My father-in-law jumps when he hears Frank Sinatra sing anything, but his favorite is, "You Make Me Feel So Young." My son loves hip-hop.  My mom smiles when she hears Dean Martin sing, "Return To Me." 

I'm listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan's, "Crossfire."  What an amazing guitar.  Such a tragedy to have lost this talent over 20 years ago.  First thing I did was blast the radio.  I'm ready to take on a dreaded project.  Wouldn't you be sad if you loved Elvis and couldn't blast the radio when he came on?

Love your music, especially if your favorites are on albums along a shelf.  Play it loud..because you can.  Dance, even if it's while you're cleaning the house. Look forward to the weekend...because you're free to do whatever you want to do. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Compassion For Aaron Swartz

On Sunday I read the story of  Aaron Swartz, who was a brilliant young man in his 20's raised in Highland Park, Illinois.  He was an advocate for free and open Internet access to academic papers.  He, in fact, developed a free encyclopedia reference guide while only in high school.  Imagine the potential.  

In his quest to achieve his goal of Internet access, federal prosecutors say he broke into an office at MIT and somehow downloaded millions of journal articles.   He was to stand trial for breaking in and theft for illegal downloads.  His family believed that Aaron could have received a prison sentence as long as 30 years.  Imagine the waste.  

The prospect of facing the time in prison was not what troubled Aaron.  According to his father, "he worried that a finding of guilt could diminish his prospects forever.  If you look at a life like Aaron's and you see a felony conviction, it substantially restricts what you can do with your life."  Aaron hanged himself last week.  He was 26 years old.  My daughter's age.  Imagine the heartbreak.  

I've had to face the loss of a friend who hanged himself.  He too was waiting for his trial on a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon.  Stupid.  It wasn't the potential prison time he worried about.  He knew, if convicted of a felony, he would lose his job at the bank.  He would lose his insurance.  Everything snowballed in his mind.  He would lose this, he wouldn't be able to do that, how would he support his elderly mother, where would he go.  He once asked me if he was found guilty at trial, would they take him in right away or would they allow him to go home.  I now know why he asked me that.  His attorney kept delaying the hearings.  She thought time would be his friend.  He couldn't take the pressure any more.   His elderly mother saw him hanging from the rafters in his garage.  Imagine the shock.  

Federal prosecutors spend a load of time on nothing.  I wish they'd come to Chicago and put away the animals that destroy lives.  Where did the drugs come from that found their way into my son's school?  Get to work.  It took years and stupid amounts of money to prosecute Aaron.  For what?  It took years and stupid amounts of money to prosecute Blago.  For what? 

It takes extraordinary courage to face time in prison, the loss of your name.  It takes extraordinary courage to face the loss of your freedom.   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Loving My Fireplace!

I'm watching Denver playing against Baltimore in the playoffs.  Looks like it's freezing in Denver.  I have a fireplace just sitting here.  I haven't put a fire on in a long time.

I doubt that there's a lounge in prison with a blazing fire overlooking the mountains in Colorado.  Nuts, pizza, drinks?  I don't think so. 

Sometimes it's just the little things you forget that remind you how glorious it feels to be free.  The warmth of the fireplace is my reminder.  Time to start a fire.  It's really comfy here.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Give Grandparents A Break. Let Them Retire.

It looks like one of my favorite Chicago reporters got it wrong, or at least her source got it wrong.  I listened to Fran Spielman on the radio when she was a student at Northwestern.  She talked sports with the late Ed Schwartz. We're going back more years than I want to count.  She's now Chicago's top City Hall reporter. Today she reported that Alderman Richard Mell is retiring.  He's the father-in-law of the former Gov. Blagojevich.  It turns out that she's wrong.  He's been announcing his retirement for the past five years, but he's not stepping down any time soon.

Chicago's media has been all over the story because Fran's source gave her information that wasn't factual.  How Fran will recover from this is the story on the news.

I think everyone has overlooked the obvious.  In response to the story Mell said, "I'd like to retire and move to Florida when it's cold.  But, the winters have been beautiful here.  I'll keep on making sure your snow gets shoveled."

What he's REALLY saying is, "I CAN'T retire.  I'd like to retire and move to Florida where I can golf, play poker with the guys at the pool, have early dinners by the beach.  But I can't.  I have to take care of my granddaughters.  Who is going to pay for their private school education?  Who is going to pay for college?  Their father is in prison. No one will hire their mother.  They're living in the same house that I have to pay the mortgage on."  That's what he's REALLY saying.  "The winters have been beautiful here?????"

My mom wants to leave for Florida and stay a few weeks.  I've been encouraging her to go.  "Pretend you're Estelle at the pool!  Wear a bathing cap with flowers on it."  I'm grateful that my husband and I can take care of our children without my mother struggling to help us out. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Chicago's Great Escape Failed Because There Was No Plan

The other night I was feeling guilty because there I sat, in the middle of a million things to do during the holidays, watching television in my jammies.  Just as I started to stir, I thought about the 2 bank robbers who escaped from Chicago's jail.  A mind-blowing escape through a chiseled cinderblock, down ropes of bedsheets, through Chicago's streets in a taxi, stopping home for a quick bite, and off to freedom before anyone even noticed.  We all secretly cheered.  What a plan.  But then, the next day, one of the guys is found at his friend's house, watching television in his shorts.  He gave up without a fight. 

I thought about this as I was in the middle of my guilt trip.  For god's sake.  All this man wanted to do was sit in his shorts and watch television.  This was the good life.  Freedom.  A trip to the fridge for a snack.  A simple joy that I wasn't appreciating.  I stayed up to watch all the, "Hardcore Pawn," segments I've missed without the guilt.  Too many trips to the fridge, though.

The second guy is still on the loose.  He had a plan.  That's what separates us.  Those who plan and those who let the wind take us wherever it wants to blow. In preparing for battle, Eisenhower said, "I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible."  I know this quote.  I think about this quote whenever I see Bill Rancic, and his wife Juliana.  He's the Chicagoan who won the first Celebrity Apprentice.  I can't stand this couple.  Every time I read about them they've achieved yet another goal.  In the few short years that they've been wed, they've started a reality television series, written books, made a slew of money in one venture after the other.  But in reality, I envy them.  The wind just didn't blow them along.  They're successful because they made plans.  Even when life threw them extraordinary wallops, they kept moving forward.  They planned. 

My friend sent me a text this morning.  The man she adores gave her a diamond engagement ring.  Not bad for a 56 year old broad.  She's planning her honeymoon.  My son wrote out his baseball tournament schedule for the year.  He's planning on how to improve his stats.  I love him so much.  I received a call last night from a jeweler I work with inviting me to attend a convention in Vegas at the beginning of this summer! 

I have a calendar in front of me.  I'm grateful that I'm going to fill it with work plans, baseball games, a wedding.  I'm going to work on my plan for the year.  Goals.  Grateful that every day won't look like the next day with no plans in my future.  What do you say when you're looking at 14 years in prison?  Happy New Year?  I can't keep up with the Rancics, but I'll do what's important to me. 

I wonder what the second escapee is up to? 

-------(1/4) Well, so much for a well thought out plan.  Looks like the second escapee has been captured in a suburb not too far from his home!