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Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

It’s interview time! I’m taking part in a blog interview.  Nilsa sent me five questions, which I’ve answered below.  If you want to take part, let me know if the comments below.  I’ll send you five questions to answer on your own blog.  It’s nice filler for the end of the year.


Enjoy.

(1) Name only one blogger you really respect and tell me why.

I’m going to say Marissa, because for one reason, she got me into blogging and hence led me to meeting all the other bloggers out there!  Also because I’ve known her since we were 14 and I can say, there’s a reason this girl was homecoming queen and has like 700 FB friends.  She’s one of the most sincere, caring, genuine and fun people I know.  She’s supportive and friendly and always there to offer me advice, which is a lot.  I really think a lot of other people would be annoyed, but not Marissa.  She’s been one of my pillars in recent months and I selfishly want her and her boyfriend to move here this summer.  But I respect almost every blogger out there, I swear!

(2) If you had to pick a non-urban, U.S. destination in which to vacation for a week, where would you go?

Napa Valley.  My reasons are threefold.  One, because I love wine.  I’m a wino, I said it.  I want to drink it and visit the vineyards and enjoy it all.  Two, I’ve heard the scenery is gorgeous.  And who doesn’t like to look at pretty things?  Three, I’ve heard it has some really good hiking and biking, in addition to wineries and spas. So there’d be a lot to do in all that scenery in case I want to give my liver a break.

(3) If you had $500 to spend on housing, food and entertainment for the trip mentioned in (2), how would you spend it?

Oy…that doesn’t sound like much.  Can I bring along my mother or a sugardaddy to pay for the rest?  Kidding.  I’d see how much could get me a B&B room, and that way I’d get a healthy breakfast at least.  Can I try to pluck a few grapes from the vineyards?  Never underestimate the length a baguette can take you; I’d have to replicate my days in Europe wherein it, and some cheese, comprised my lunch.  That may necessitate more hiking than biking and well, I may have to nix the spa.  I want a bigger trip allowance!

(4) Tell me about one person with whom you’ve lost touch. If you hope for a reunion, how would you like that reunion to take place?

A few months ago, I would have answered with my friend from high school, Anna.  We were great friends in the day, and lost touch over the years as will happen.  She’s the person I always wondered about–what happened to her, what was she doing.  But we reconnected via Facebook and our reunion.  It was fun.  And I’m happy we reconnected.  Now, it’d probably be my friend L from grad school.  Again, we just lost touch somehow and I’ve always wondered what happened to our friendship and to her.  I’d like us to catch up over wine and good food and perhaps a shopping trip.  If there was one thing she and I did well it was indulging.

(5) In 2008, what was your biggest achievement and your biggest failure/disappointment?

Remember in my last post how I expressed my desire to say good riddance to 2008?  Yeah, it was a fairly craptastic year, especially in the second half.  Not-so-great things happened, and things that were supposed to be good imploded into piles of poo.  So in a year marked by death, relationships ending and changing, a trip to the ER, troubles at work, and a lot of the unexpected, I don’t know that any one thing was the biggest failure or disappointment.  But there is this.  I survived it all.  I came out of it stronger and with a sense of myself and some pride in tact, restored and added on.  I can hold my head up high with how I handled it, and how I acted this year–honest, myself, with integrity.  And that, I think, is my greatest accomplishment.

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There is this thing in the city of Chicago–and I’m sure in other cities of snowy climes–where certain street are designated as snow routes.  So if it snows a certain amount, you can’t park on them, lest you get towed. My understanding is that this is for the snow plows to get through and/or emergency vehicles.  I live on just such a street.  This weekend, I parked on said street.

This morning I checked the weather report but was assured that it wouldn’t start snowing til late afternoon/this evening.  So I went to the el and to work.  Then I checked Facebook and saw multiple statuses (stati?) about the snow that was a-falling.  And my afternoon went from hectic to just plan crazy.

My boss is a great boss.  She let me work from home one day while I waited for the mice exterminators.  Today, she let me leave to move my car before it was too late, provided it wasn’t already too late.  I made it just in time to unearth my snow-covered lump and move it to a side street.  Crisis averted.  Sigh of relief.

And speaking of snow, did anyone catch How I Met Your Mother last night?  My home state got some mad props when Marshall (Minnesotan) took Robin (Canadian) to a Minnesota-themed bar to help her feel a little more at home.  They drink beer from Bemidji and mourn the ’99 NFC championship gone awry.  But they don’t like non-Minnesotans (so untrue!) and Robin has to lie.

After much purple pride, a joke about Robin thinking there is a Rashad Tarkenton, and many jokes about Canadians being afraid of the dark (sidenote: really?  I haven’t heard that one.  It’d be unfortunate seeing as how it gets pretty dark up north this time of year) Robin is outed as a Canadian and asked to leave.  Wherein she commences on a speech about how accepting Canadians are, and how nice and how they gave us  Trivial Pursuit. Um yes, and we thank you.  But can you please take Nickelback back?  You so owe us there.

All in all, that was some good TV.  I’m down with laughing at Minnesota.  I love the movie Fargo, dontcha know?

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Not long after I decided to take my hiatus, I noticed something about this lovely chenille throw I’d recently bought myself at Target. Like many throws, it is adorned with fringey tassels at either end. One night I saw that one entire edge of the fringe was a massive, matted, knotted mess. It was not sleek and soft like it should be. I started fighting with it, got really frustrated and just gave up, ready to resign myself to a semi-mangy throw that I would just try to conceal.

Then a few nights later, as I sat watching TV under the soft chenille goodness, I thought to myself, “You can do this, just start at one end, take your time and sort it out.” And as I finished watching some drama, segued into the news and late night programming, I did it. Slowly, it untangled into a presentable, smooth and sleek picture of what fringe should be. And it struck me. That’s what I needed to do with my life.

Ok, enough of the cheesey, metaphorical ah-ha moments. Things I did while on hiatus:

-Celebrated Halloween, as a flapper girl.

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-Voted. And my guy finally won! Just when it was most important. As soon as 10:00 hit, CNN projected Obama as president-elect. And I had tears in my eyes. Not just because it was my guy, or because of the inspiration and hope he instills in people. But in all honesty because I never thought I’d see a non-white president this soon in my life. I was really, truly proud of America. Until I heard about all the anti-gay legislation that passed. It seems we may have come far racially and maybe even along lines of gender, but not sexual orientation. It’s sad. Especially because really, whose business is marriage and family? Whose? Is my life any different if two men in Boys’ Town or two women up in Andersonville want to get married? No.

-Dealt with a mouse situtaion. Thank you all for your supportive comments about how brave I was. I wasn’t. Ask my mom who heard the hysterical tears that accompanied me facing the reality that I would have to dispose of the writhing, squeaking, very-much-alive mouse in my kitchen. But I had to do it. That’s me. I do what needs to be done. And I can do it. But damn if I just don’t want to do it. I want, just once, someone else to kill the bug, or dispose of the mouse, or change the lightbulbs.

-I went to a friend’s wedding. Which, while a joyous occasion in and of itself, was interesting for two reasons. One, because it was the first time I was at a Catholic mass in a very long time. We’re talking years. And PS why does the Catholic church insist on a full mass for a wedding? Is there something wrong with JUST the ceremony? I digress. As my first Catholic mass in a very. long. time… I blanked out on the response to the readings. And so when the first reading from Genesis (much to Sixth Degree’s chagrin) was over and the reader said “The World of the Lord” I said “Amen” not “Thanks be to God” which I quickly mumbled instead.

This wedding was also interesting because of the reception. Sixth Degree had told me she thought this wedding would go all out. But I don’t think either of us expected a full-on desert buffet. Now, I haven’t been to a ton of weddings, this is true. I think my constantly single status has actually saved me from about half the weddings most of my counterparts have out there. Anyway, at the weddings I have been to (or in as the case may be), you eat your dinner and get a piece of the wedding cake. Not so at this reception. We didn’t see a crumb of that wedding cake. Instead, we were served a rather large desert, and when we went to get coffee we found a buffet of more dessert–cakes, tarts, fruit, bon-bons, chocolate-dipped strawberries, cheesecake, brownies, cookies. And when we left, they gave us our wedding cake. Like I said, I’ve never seen anything like it–but I approve.

-I volunteered at a local shelter. There is a neighborhood in Chicago called Lincoln Park (there is also a park by that name stretching a good portion of the lake shore north of downtown, and this neighborhood borders a portion of the park). The LP is pretty upper-crusty, but they have a community shelter that, I found out, functions as more of a program and less of a stop in for a bed and meal one night, kind of shelter. There are requirements for people to stay there and they offer programs to help people get back on their feet like job searching. Anyway, my friend, Sista had volunteered once and when she went again, I joined her. We made dinner for the residents–chili and some sides, nothing fancy but a good solid meal. It’s very humbling to be reminded of these people, sleeping in bunks and eating communally in a renovated church basement. As I headed home to my own apartment, stocked with food in the cabinets and refrigerator, and three rooms all to myself, it was a good reminder for the next time I grumble about waking up to go to work, or get a credit card bill for my shopping trip to Target. Right before Thanksgiving, it was a good, gentle reminder of everything to be thankful for.

-Saw Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s, one of my favorite bands this year, perform. This was the first time I’ve seen them live and they sounded great. Also one of their opening acts–Kaiser Cartell–was really good, so a new musical discovery. It was a successful musical venture.

-Went home to Minnesota to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. Recharged my batteries, ate some turkey, laughed, drank some wine and most importantly, was thankful.

-Went to my high school reunion.  It really is a post unto itself, a high school reunion.  So while you all await more, I will say this.  I went with my two best friends, Erica and Erin.  There is no one I’d rather get on that time machine with than these two.  Anyway, I hemmed and hawed for months, nay years, about going to my 10-year reunion.  In the end, I’m really happy that I did.100_6363

Oh, and in case you hadn’t realized–I think I’m back! And ironically, the snow just came to Chicago today.

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One round-trip fight, 13 hours in the car, two days in a relatively remote northern Minnesota, and many tears later, my grandmother’s funeral is over.  It went about as well as a funeral can go.  My mom and my two aunts did not want it to be an overly sad affair.  They refused to sing Amazing Grace, opting for something a little more upbeat.  The thing I liked best is that the funeral was held in a very small, non denominational church.  That meant it could be anything my family wanted.  It wasn’t restricted by the church’s guidelines like it would be at a Catholic church where they mandate types of reading and when you sing and even require communion.  Instead, this was designed purely by my mom and her sisters.

Thursday night, as we ate dinner my mom asked if my sister or I wanted to say anything.  I said I would.  I thought it was important to my mom, and it was something I could do for my grandma.  So, I started with the original blog post I made when she got so sick, about her being my example of unconditional love.  I was incredibly nervous.  But I had a lot of encouragement and some sound advice and just hoped for the strength I’d need to say what I wanted to say.

It turned out the strength I needed was to be vulnerable.  No sooner was that first sentence uttered, “My grandmother was the epitome of unconditional love,” than my voice cracked and tears began to flow and I had to pause.  But I told myself to keep going, for her.  And I saw my cousins and aunts nodding because I knew that they knew exactly what I was talking about.  Afterward, I got some compliments on what I’d said about her.  All of it true.

Northern Minnesota is extremely quiet.  I’d forgotten how quiet it is up there.  Baudette is a no-stoplight town, so you can imagine how little traffic there is.  Except for a regular rumble of the Canadian National railroad roaring past, all you could hear were the bugs and the wind.  It was a different kind of quiet than I’d noticed in Northern Ireland, where it was just still.  The quiet there could almost make you forget you were anywhere.  In Minnesota, there was just enought quiet to remind you of the world.  That’s a good thing to remember at a time like that.

We left behind that small, small town and a cemetery filled with relatives I’ve never known, save for a handful.  My sister and cousins stated they didn’t think they’d be back.  I pretty much knew it.  Because now, there really isn’t a reason to go.  Everyone we left up there is coming with us.

 

 

Bridge to Canada and, well, Canada on the other side, of course.  This picture ended up being too small to see the maple leaf waving in the distance.

The night before the funeral, when we got to town, we saw this rainbow.  It would wane a bit, then come back.  I don’t think it means anything, other than that it was something that brought a smile to my face.

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Lost in various melodies and mile markers, it was easy enough to let the reason for my trip slip my mind. Instead I busied myself with the drive, doing laundry I’d brought to my mother’s house, and catching the ballgame on TV. Avoidance was bliss.

But when my mother and I stepped off the elevator into a hot, musty common area of the nursing home, and I caught sight of my grandmother, in a wheelchair, gaunt, pale, eyes closed, reality hit me. It bowled me over, really. My heart sank. This was not the grandmother I’ve known all these years. This was someone just hanging on. And this wasn’t a place I’d picture her in. It was humid and it smelled funny. All around the room were fragile, helpless, sick people. People like her.

We approached her and my mother gently roused her from her sleep. When she looked at us, her eyes lit up. She took my hand, and for the longest time, wouldn’t let go. She held it as tightly as she could in her own frail one. Her breathing was labored, she was uncomfortable, in pain, and she could barely speak. But she was so happy to see us.

My mother talked to the nurses and they directed us to a lounge down the hall where my aunt (and godmother) could join us. She had called that morning to see when we’d be there, promising to bring banana bread. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and all of my cousins, aunts, my mom say it’s the best they’ve ever had.

When she arrived, we gathered, drinking coffee and eating banana bread while my mother tried to feed her mother some of the brunch they’d brought for her. I couldn’t help but be struck at this complete role reversal, as my mother brought spoonfuls of hot cereal to my grandmother’s mouth. It wasn’t long before she was exhausted. So we took her to her room where they put her to bed and she slowly slipped into sleep.

Sunday morning, as I left town, my mom and I went back. And found her quieter, in more pain, weaker still. As my mom went to talk to the nurses, my grandma looked at me and asked “Is Patti here?” “She’s talking to the nurses,” I told her gently. At 9:30 they were putting her back to bed. She lay on her bed wheezing, as my mom explained that I had to leave to go back to Chicago soon.

I stood next to her, sweeping her hair off her face and she looked at me and said “When are you coming back?” My hear sank. Because somehow, deep down, I couldn’t help but think that the next time I was there, she wouldn’t be. “I’m coming in July,” was all I told her. “For Erin’s baby shower. Do you remember Erin? We drove you home that time you visited. She’s having a baby in August.”

We said our goodbyes. I bent down to give her a kiss. “I love you,” I told her.

“Goodbye honey.”

As I left the room, I took one last look at her, lying on her bed, with her eyes closed, heavy from illness, exhaustion, and 94 years of living as she seemingly faded away.

I couldn’t help but think of my father. He died unexpectedly. It meant we never got to say the things we wanted or needed to say. It meant that, despite the fact he had cancer, we were caught off guard. And the surprise was something we had to deal with in his death. But it’s not any easier to anticipate and wait. It’s not easier to watch someone slowly slip away. There is no easy way to say goodbye.

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Yesterday, my oldest friend in the world (not that of all my friends she is literally the oldest, but our friendship is the oldest) left me a voicemail announcing that she is having a baby girl; I will be having a niece at the end of August.  She and her husband have gone through a lot to have this baby.  And I’m thrilled for them, and to once again be an aunty.

But there’s a part of me that just can’t believe it.  This is the same girl who bounced over to my group of friends at the first dance at our new high school.  We came from the tiny parochial school and knew hardly anyone.  She came from the big public junior high, and somehow had met my friends.  As high school progressed, I was pulled away from the Catholic school kids, but she and I quickly became, and stayed, best friends.

So when I think of her, I can’t help but see the girl who bounced over that September and the following Monday, in science class said “I’m Erin, by the way.”  This is the same girl I had sleepovers with, where we watched cheesey movies and ate junk.  This is the same girl I wrote notes to, which we’d exchange in the halls in between classes, and read as our teachers droned on.  This is the girl who had permanent shotgun in my car, and a regular ride to school.  The girl I shared a locker with for two years and who I only ever got into one fight with, just because someone else was instigating it.

But that was more than 10 years ago.  And since then, we stood up together in our other friend Erica’s wedding, we laughed a lot, she came to the hospital when my dad died, I went to her wedding, I offered my shoulder as she and her husband tried, and tried, and tried to have a baby–the one thing she always wanted, the one thing that, in those 14 years of friendship never, ever changed.

When I was home in April, I saw my nephew.  He’s Erica’s son.  He will be two in July, and I sat there and watched him run around and try to tell me…something, I couldn’t believe how much he’d grown.  Or how much his mom and I have grown.  She, along with Erin, is one of my oldest friends.  We met in ninth grade, economics class where I thought she was too cool to want to be my friend; I later found out she thought I was too smart to want to be hers.  Lessons in first impressions and judgements learned.

We became closer at the end of school.  But it once it started to happen, it happened quickly.  When Erin and I stood up at her wedding, I was the maid of honor.  It was my job to guard the rings all morning “Cheryl do you have the rings?”  “Yes, they’re in my bag where they were five minutes ago.  See?” I’d proclaim as I held two blue, velvet jewelry boxes up in the air.  I can’t help thinking of her as that young bride.  Or of us giggling in her bed room, gossiping and watching movies.  I still see her, at 14, writing “Funky Chicken” on my yearbook and doodling silly doodles.  Dropping everything at work to come to the hospital when my dad died.  Taking road trips to Duluth, or Iowa to visit Erin. 

Yet, here she is, with an almost two-year old.  When did he get so old?  When did we get so old?  When did our lives shift from Algebra tests and cute boys, passing notes and high school dances to paying bills and raising kids and establishing careers? 

I love my life.  I love almost everything about what brought me here.  Because even the hard stuff–the horrible first college, my dad dying, losing friendships–made me who I am today.  Sometimes though, I just like to pause for a moment and maybe even go back, just for a bit, to the giggling carefree us.

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Dear Body,

We haven’t always been the best of friend, have we? But I’m taking a cue from Nilsa, and writing you a letter. Because despite our ups and downs, we’re all we’ve got. You’re stuck with me; I bring you wherever I go. Since wherever I go, there you are, let’s talk.

I guess what I really want to say to you is thanks. Because you haven’t given up on me. And let’s face it, I haven’t always treated you the way I should. I wasn’t always fair or nice. Sometimes I was downright abusive. I’m sorry for that.

I guess it all started when we were younger. I was active and running around, playing with my friends, doing sports and dancing. We got on pretty well. Things started to change though.

Inside of our head was a brain. I used it. I became known as a smart girl, and not a pretty one. So, I didn’t like you very much. That bump in our nose was a turn off. Our really bad eyes that necessitated glasses were my enemy. Then, as will happen, that deepest part of us, the psyche got a little damaged. And I turned to food as comfort. You got bigger.

You must remember that. Especially when the boy we once had a crush on in second grade called us fat in junior high. Yet, by then we had gotten used to being “not pretty” and didn’t do much. Then we got to break away from the same school and people we’d been with since kindergarten. We went to the big public high school. And I shifted gears to another extreme.

Once I started slimming you down, I became obsessed with continuing and keeping it that way. Remember all the rice cakes and water? Blotting our pizza? Not having chocolate for three years? Buying everything fat free? It was a good thing it never plummeted into my never feeding you. Although there was that time, when I started to eat more normally and I tried to make you bring it back up. But you just wouldn’t do it. No matter how hard I tried. And with tears in my eyes from the effort, I got the message. I stopped the BS and started to eat again.

In college there was a Freshman 15, followed by a Sophormore 10, a Junior 20 and a Senior 5. Dad got sick and then died. We were starting a new life and got lonely. But there was food. And once again you got bigger. Only this time, when I decided to slim you down, I was smart about it. I started to watch what I eat, but kept it healthy. I joined the gym. You can’t fool me either. You really do like the exercise, even if you do act all sore the next day.

So here we are body. Four and a half years later, and we’ve been consistent. The thing is, I’ve grown into you. Not physically. Mentally. I’ve learned to accept you for what you are. I’ve learned to appreciate the good things I can see like my high cheekbones and the porcelain skin that covers you. And sure, there are things I still don’t like, the hair on top of the head for one thing, or my dry skin; I will probably never like our stomach. And I know that inevitably, you will continue to change over the years. But that’s ok. I accept you for your good and bad. Because no one is perfect. Just like I do with my friends and loved ones, I accept even the parts of you I don’t always like.

And so we are, for the most part, at peace.

~Cheryl

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