Thank you, Grandma


In my 38 years, my Grandma taught me many things. These are just a few.

  • Children and babies keep us young.
  • The best bagels are lenders egg bagels with plain cream cheese cooked in the toaster oven.
  • It’s possible to be a strong woman, and still live life with grace and kindness.
  • I can be a great mom, even if I’m not the best cook.
  • There’s no sweeter smell than that of lilacs and lily of the valley, scents I will always associate with the many, many happy days spent at her house.
  • You don’t need much in life to have everything you need.
  • Everyone, even the most patient people, have their breaking point, a line that they just can’t tolerate being crossed. For her, that line was spilt milk.
  • Family always comes first, and even when you have nothing to give, you still give them everything.

My Grandma did give us everything and more. It’s hard to reconcile this world without her in it. But, I feel like I still have all that she gave me over my life and I will always be grateful to have had her here for so long teaching me so much about how to live and love. 

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Why I Write & Why I Haven’t Been

When I started this blog it was a gift to myself. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer and have thought about starting a blog pretty much since they existed. Maybe even before they existed. I’ve always had to work through my feelings by writing them out. A journal helped some, but it’s the sending them into the world that really helps me process. Whether it’s giving an emotional toast, reading a letter aloud to someone or posting my inner most thoughts to social media, I’ve always felt this sort of ritual in putting words to paper, reciting them over and over in my head until they were just so. Then saying them into the world to be kind of etched in time. Then, later, as I need a safe place with those feelings, I recite them in my head as sort of a prayer or mantra to go back to. Word for word, never changing them.

Not just for negative things, but for the happiest and best moments as well. I’ve been married nearly 16 years. At my wedding I gave a toast to my husband. At the time standing up in front of 200+ people with a microphone was the most terrifying thing I could imagine. But, to this day, I’m so glad I did it. I could still recite that toast verbatim today. On happy married days I sometimes say bits of it to myself with a wistful smile. On harder married days I say it to myself and remember that feeling, and that our life together is founded on love and hard days are just days in a life full of wonderful.

I’ve made toasts at my husband’s 40th, my grandmother’s 90th. When I went off to college I wrote a letter to each member of my immediate family. Then I made them all sit around the dinner table and I read each of them aloud through tears. A marking of a milestone in our lives, and a thank you to each of them for what they taught me. As you can imagine they were wordy and overwrought with emotion.

I’m a pretty even person, by which I mean not outwardly emotional. I like to think the people I love know I love them. But, I’m not a person of grand gestures and lots of hugging (in fact, very little hugging unless you’re my kid). I’m not so good at capturing my feelings through dialogue in the moment. I need to wrestle the words into just the right order. Write, read, rewrite. Tweak until it flows through my brain effortlessly, like words off the tongue. I think I would’ve done well in the days of lengthy letter writing. Except for my terrible penmanship, and the fact that those quill pens don’t have an easy backspace for all the editing I require.

I’ve had this on my mind for the last couple weeks as we muscle through life and its new normals. I haven’t been writing. And, I haven’t been putting my feelings in the world. For three reasons really. First, there’s so many massive emotions, but there are also so many tiny ones. But, the tiny ones seem too tiny to be worth addressing, and the massive ones too daunting to tackle. So, limbo. Second, when I started this blog I promised myself I’d write about me. My issues, my thoughts, my feelings, my reactions. Not my family’s. Not my friend’s. It’s not my place to share someone else’s story. But, this. It’s so messy and tangled up and belongs to all of us.

And, lastly, I just don’t want everything I do and say to be heavy and about loss and difficulty and grief. Because that isn’t my life. There’s pain, but there’s still joy. There’s loss, but there’s more love than ever. There are tears, but there’s so much laughter. Somehow it feels like when I posted to Instagram about the loss of my father-in-law, I drew a line for myself. By using that little square photo and caption to capture what was easily the most devastating day of my life, of my family’s life, it somehow shifted that place for me. The idea of posting caftans and weavings and glitter and nonsense seems wrong. But I’m finding I need it. I need the catharsis of putting my feelings out there (sad, silly, sarcastic, all my feelings), the normalcy of being in that community. I need to get lost in scrolling through my feed, giving support with emoji high fives and showing my love with color coordinated little hearts. The escape of looking at beautiful things with kind and wonderful people.

When massive things happen you want the whole world to pause. But it doesn’t. Life doesn’t stop or even slow down. I’ve stopped writing. And, as such, I’ve stopped sharing, and delayed healing. But I need to start again.

 

An Open Letter to President Elect Trump

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Mr. Trump, I did not vote for you.

I do not agree with your views on women, your views on Muslims, your views on African-Americans, your views on Latino-Americans, your views on disabled Americans, your views on LGBT Americans or your views on yourself, for that matter.

I do not respect you because you respect no one and have not earned my respect. I do however respect the Office of The President of the United States. And I hope in the coming months you can find respect for it as well.

I will be praying, wishing, hoping that you can realize it’s possible to lead without being a tyrant. It’s possible to be the best without making everyone else feel like the worst. It’s possible to be angry without being cruel. It’s possible to be successful without making everyone else feel like a failure. It’s possible to be both strong and kind, opinionated and respectful. It’s possible for you to accomplish all your hopes and dreams while at the same time allowing others the opportunity to accomplish theirs.

I’m a white college-educated, middle-aged, upper-middle class, successful female executive. You don’t like me anymore than I like you. But today I’m choosing to move forward with hope, respect and kindness. Can you?

“I don’t like mayo”

If you ask me about mayo, I’ll tell you I’m not a fan. But, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I liked mayonnaise as much as the next gal. On a chicken sandwich…yum. Slathered on a Jimmy John’s sub…delish. Cleverly mixed with ketchup to make that secret yummy sauce on a Whopper…Sign. Me Up. The more the better.  Mayo, what’s not to love?

But there came a time about 4 years ago that I decided to make a commitment to taking care of myself. And, at the tippy top of that list, was getting to a healthier weight. I actually reached my heaviest weight 10 years ago, before having kids, but that’s a story for another day. The point is, 4 years ago I was nearing that highest point, was not healthy and not happy. It took a lot of work and a lot of time, but I lost 50 lbs. There were lots of techniques and tools involved in doing that, but one little thing I did was DECIDE that I didn’t like mayonnaise anymore.

I know you’re thinking that’s crazy, but it’s absolutely 100% true. I told myself I didn’t like mayo, and anytime I encountered it I said I didn’t like it. I started ordering from menus asking to leave it off and replace it with dijon or nothing at all. And you know how people say that if you hear something enough times, you start to believe it’s true? Well, they’re fricken’ right. Over time, I’ve actually convinced myself I don’t like it. I’ve even gotten to the point that it kind of grosses me out in large quantities.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m the sort of person that overthinks and over analyzes everything. So, I find it fascinating how much control we have over ourselves, our thoughts, our preferences.  I really believe I can do anything I put my mind to, and that includes changing my mind.

And, the thing is, this isn’t an anomaly. I’ve convinced myself of many things in my life. I used to be scared to death of public speaking. One day I realized that if I wanted to be successful in my career, I’d have to get over it. So, I started telling myself it didn’t scare me. I would literally repeat it over and over in my head “I’m not afraid of public speaking.” And, over time, I believed it. And now it barely bothers me at all. I have dozens of other examples of this sort of “self talk” or coaching or whatever you want to call it.

People often talk about the impact our words have on others, and I whole heartedly believe words can change lives. But, I don’t think we always realize how much the words we’re saying to ourselves are shaping and changing our own lives. So, here’s to convincing ourselves we can quit what makes us unhappy and overcome what stands in our way.

Friday Nights are My Favorite

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Hands down, there is no part of my week that’s better than Friday night. It’s the most laid-back, chill time of our week. And, it’s all about the four of us. No plans, no place to be, just us having our awesome, same-every-week Friday night routine. And, it’s perfect.

First things first. I get home from work around 6pm and make myself a nice big cup of strong, black coffee. This is essential because I want to be able to stay awake long enough to enjoy as much of Friday night as possible. And, I’m old and tired, so if I don’t drink coffee, I’ll be asleep on the couch by 9pm.

Craig and the kids are already home. The kids are likely in the basement playing or outside running around with friends. I sip my coffee and talk to Craig about our day, plans for the weekend. And, most importantly what delicious food he wants to cook Saturday and Sunday, so I can make the grocery list.

At some point, we determine our dinner order. We get dinner every week from the same neighborhood joint. Nathan’s obsessed with their blue cheese dressing, and it’s Craig’s own personal Cheers!. Craig heads over to the restaurant and places the order once he gets there, which gives him some time to sip a beer and talk to friends and neighbors he runs into there every week. This usually means I have 30-40 minutes of quiet time to weave, read, write, catch up on social media or watch tv. By this point I’ve moved on from coffee to beer/wine/bourbon, whatever suits the day.

When Craig gets home, we all sit together to eat. We have a weekly contest of who has the “Poten-tater” (ie.longest french fry). After we eat we often play a game together or watch a movie. Sometimes there’s a dance party. Always there’s lots of laughing and poop jokes and nonsense.

Then it’s bedtime for the kiddos. And, Craig and I settle in to watch some tv…which usually results in him falling asleep. This is the only point in the week that I ever have control of the tv. So, I often pour myself another drink and watch my shows from the DVR into the wee hours of the night.

The whole evening is the perfect combination of having fun together, and getting quiet alone time that I so desperately need to recharge. And, it’s maybe the only part of our week that doesn’t ever feel rushed. I hate rushing, but I’m always, always rushing. It’s unavoidable. Rushing to get to work, rushing to get home, rushing out of the house, rushing back to the house. There’s never enough time in the day. Except on Friday nights when it all miraculously slows down and we’ve got nowhere to be, but home. And nothing to do, but just be our little family in our little corner of the world. Friday night, it’s exactly where I want to be.

 

Now’s Not the Time

Been thinking a lot lately about unsolicited opinions. I’ve always really struggled with being graceful when presented with advice and opinions about my personal life that I didn’t ask for. Not from people that are close to me, but rather from people I barely know at all. I really hit my breaking point on this during my pregnancies. A pregnant belly is like wearing a sign that says, “my whole life is totally up for discussion” even if we’ve never met before this very moment. I remember thinking that pregnancy was great and I’d be happy to go on being pregnant for many more months if only I could do it without having to speak to anyone.

I’ve tried to let this feeling go, and chalk it up to the fact that people mean well. They’re only trying to help. But, lately I’ve come to realize that it’s not the advice in and of itself that makes me crazy, but rather when it’s given. If I’m struggling with a decision, it’s absolutely, 100% helpful for me to hear the thoughts and feelings of the people I trust. So I can take it all into account, and make my decision from there. But, if I’ve already decided on something….please just keep your advice to yourself. Who exactly do people think they’re helping by jumping in when you’ve told them you’ve decided to do something and saying they’d do the opposite. At that point, you’ve gone from advice to judgment, and I’m not sure who that helps.

If you truly have someone’s best interest at heart, wouldn’t you simply offer support in whatever they’ve decided? Rather than sitting in judgment of their decision? I’m still going to keep working on receiving advice and judgement gracefully, but I’m inclined to give some advice of my own, think before you speak. 

Birthdays Aren’t Just for Kids

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Where is it written that we need to stop enjoying and celebrating our birthday once we’re adults? I was on a path towards doing just that, when I met Peg. Many years ago Peg and I worked together at The Land of Nod. She’s one of the sweetest and most fun people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. And, she flippin’ loves her birthday. Which translates into everyone around her also looking forward to her birthday. We once threw her a surprise party, and I’ve literally never seen someone be more gracious and enjoy a party in their honor more.

With this inspiration, I made a conscious decision to ditch the idea that birthdays are just for kids. Yes, I’m getting older, but that doesn’t really bother me. It’s not really about age. It’s about stopping and celebrating my life with the people I love, and what could be bad about that? Also, I’m an over-accommodater….to the point of annoyance, I’m sure. And, on my birthday I ditch my need to say “I don’t care, what do you want to do” and instead just say what I want. Add to that the fact that Februarys in Chicago basically suck. So, it’s something to look forward to in the dregs of winter.

So, it’s my birthday. I’m excited about it. And I don’t feel bad saying so! And, neither should you on your birthday! You’ve lived your crazy life, you’ve earned a day of celebration. Now, I’m off to eat all the Italian food, drink all the wine and soak up all the love my friends and family are sending my way.

 

Speaking Up for My Kids When I Struggle to Speak Up for Myself

First, there’s something you should know about me, I don’t like pineapple in my food. I’ll eat it on its own, but don’t like it mixed with anything, even a banana split. The idea makes me cringe. So, that in mind…I remember eating dinner at Chili’s once with my family, it was probably 18 years ago. I don’t recall exactly what I ordered, but it was probably their battered chicken fingers with a side of their yummy mashed potatoes and gravy. The whole meal was turning into a bit of a cluster, I can’t remember exactly why, but it was all a bit tense and the food was taking what seemed like forever. When the food finally arrived, the waiter set a plate in front of me that wasn’t at all the fried goodness I was expecting. Instead it was some sort of Hawaiian-inspired chicken dish with huge chunks of pineapple 😩in a sauce covering a piece of chicken. I think there may have also been ham involved (ham is the one other food I really can’t stomach). So, what did I do? I ate it. Or more accurately, I ate a few bites, pushed the food around on the plate a bit and went home hungry, while assuring my family that it was fine, I was fine, please don’t say anything.

What on earth is this compulsion to not draw attention to myself that’s so strong that I would eat something I clearly didn’t order and I definitely despise…and not only that, am paying for!? This is just one example of probably tens of thousands where I’ve chosen to not speak up on my own behalf. I’m not talking about big, huge, earth shattering things, but little moments in life where I choose to just grin and bear it because I’m not willing to say something. I’m not sure what I think would happen if I did. Probably there wouldn’t be some massive scene, but rather the other party would accommodate and we’d all move forward. Even though logically, I know it’s ridiculous, I still, can’t do it.

There have been experiences in my life that have taught me to make myself heard a bit more, but none more than parenthood. As a parent its my job to be the voice for my kids. When they were babies and couldn’t speak, I had to raise my hand in the doctor’s offices and ask the questions, or more accurately question the answers I was being given. When they attended daycare and there were issues with other kids or concerns with teachers, I had to step into the directors office and demand an explanation. When we found out Lottie had severe food allergies, I had to setup a meeting with the day care providers to train them all in the use of epi pens and the warning signs of a potentially life-threatening reaction, even though they looked at me sympathetically like I was clearly some sort of overreacting lunatic. These are big, huge, earth shattering things. And, if it’s hard for me to send back a meal that disgusts me that I didn’t even order, this is 100 times harder.

But, I have no instinct in life stronger than the one to protect my kids. My inability to protect them from everything in the world often keeps me up at night. But, this, this I can do. So I do it. I make the calls, I have the conversations. I draw attention to myself, risk being viewed as “the crazy mom who overreacts.” Because, at the end of the day, my number one responsibility to my kiddos is to keep them safe and be their voice. I’ve come to realize, in these moments I could care less what people think about me, if what I’m doing keeps my kids safe, that’s what matters.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have to go over what I’m going to say a thousand times in my head before I say it, and replay it a thousand times after. But that pit in my stomach is nothing compared to the weight off my shoulders when I know I’ve overcome my own craziness to be the mom they deserve. If I was served that pineapple and ham chicken today, I’d probably still eat it. But my kids, as long as I’m their voice, they won’t be grinning and bearing any injustice, pineapple or otherwise.

I Come By It Honestly

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I’m a compulsive maker and a hoarder of craft supplies and craft scraps. And, as it turns out, I have everyone to blame but myself. More specifically, I have my Grandma, my Aunt and my Mom to thank for my unending need to create and hoard all the things.

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Let me back up. My Grandma C grew up in a small rural town in Wisconsin, her family one of the first to live in said town. She’s a twin, and one of over a dozen kids in her family. They grew their own food and made their own clothes. They were makers long before being a maker was a thing. I’m not exaggerating when I say they made everything, I have a throw rug that my great grandma crocheted from plastic shopping bags. Nothing was wasted, nothing was purchased. Everything could be reused and reimagined into something else. It wasn’t a hobby, it was a way of life.

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When my grandparents married they lived in a small trailer on the property before moving to a little house across the road, where she and my Grandpa still live today. Between the two of them, they can make ANYTHING! My Grandpa is an incredible carpenter. I drove home from their house last weekend with a dozen wren and bluejay houses in my trunk. At the age of 83, he still feels the need to build and create items for those around him.

My Grandma worked in a garment factory for many years. She can sew anything. Her work is beyond meticulous, you wouldn’t believe the quilts she creates are handmade. Last weekend, she told me about the 10 pairs of pants she’d altered the day before for a neighbor. I don’t think a person in their town is without something at their house made by either my Grandma or Grandpa.

When we were kids, my Grandpa converted the small deck off their second floor into a sewing room for my Grandma. It’s a modest space, probably not more than 9 x 9′ in size. But, it’s her happy place for sure. She’s packed every inch of the space with supplies. The items that come out of that room are beyond incredible, crafted with so much love and care. In many of the drawers are small bits of scrap fabric. She might make a quilt today that has a bit of fabric from an outfit she made me when I was a little girl, or that even has scraps of fabric that belonged to my Great Grandma. She never throws anything away, and everything finds a new life in a new creation at some point.

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I don’t specifically remember learning how to sew or crochet. In some ways, it was like learning to talk. It was just happening around me and at some point I knew how to do it. My Grandma, my Aunts, my Mom were always making things. And we were right there, watching them, absorbing it all. They were never just sitting down, there was always a project in hand. The need to make and create is definitely in my bones.

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Until recently I never gave much thought to it. It didn’t occur to me that other people may not have been exposed to such creativity in their families. I didn’t even really think of it as creativity, it was just something that we did. Looking back, I realize that at the age of 10 my favorite place to hang out was Michael’s Craft store. I would make homemade gifts and sell things in local craft shows. I was always crafting something. I’m still, always crafting something.

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And, I’ve definitely followed in my Grandma’s footsteps when it comes to saving my scraps. I saved ever bit of yarn from my first year of weaving, and at the end of the year made a giant wall hanging from all the tiny bits. Kind of a timeline of my first year in weaving. I’ve made baby quilts from old swatches that were going to be thrown away at work. I have bins full of fabric scraps, sorted by color, that I tap into when the need arises.

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I’m so grateful to have spent my life surrounded by these incredible women, and hope to carry on the maker tradition they’ve passed onto me. Lottie’s already well on her way to full maker/hoarder status.

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