Wednesday, June 13, 2018

One sad little girl...

Tonight it happened - my daughter found herself crying a river of unstoppable tears.

She'd made her grandpa a fleece tie blanket last year. She carefully perused every fleece fabric available at Hobby Lobby until she found the perfect one - a light blue and grey print with deer and geese adorning the pattern. Her grandpa loved the outdoors and she just knew he'd love that print. 

We took the pieces home and she meticulously helped cut all the edges before she and her brother tied each duo together to form a fleece blanket big enough for their six-foot-four grandfather. She helped sew on a white fabric heart into one corner, where she signed all of our names and decorated it, complete with "We love you!" across the top.

When she delivered it to her gramps, he ooh'd and ahh'd over it. He didn't always say much, but when the kids were around, he always tried his best to be a little more cheerful and talkative. He wrapped it around himself with a little help from her, and it stayed on his bed every day after that. When he passed, I brought it back home to her from the nursing home. She wanted it, but she didn't want to see it quite yet, which was completely understandable.

Yesterday was four months since he passed, and kid2 has been pretty okay. She smiles when we talk about gramps, she visits her grandma at their house and it doesn't really seem to phase her (whereas kid1 has trouble sometimes seeing the house without grandpa there). They spent all day with their grandma there today and did all sorts of fun stuff - wading through the creek, hiking along the creek, taking a bike ride, searching for turtles. She was so excited to tell us about everything they did (she just adores her Grandma, too!) When she came home, she wanted her grandpa blanket.

All snuggled up in her grandpa blanket.
As I wrapped her in it, she began crying the tears I hadn't seen since the funeral. Big crocodile tears spilling forth along with her gentle whispers of "I miss him so much, Mom." He was her idol. She adored him. She loved his stories and his (terrible) jokes. She loved his tickles. She loved making him laugh with her own terrible jokes. She loved snuggling him on a couch, reading to him, and most of all, she loved fishing with him. He wasn't just her grandpa, he was her buddy. She relished her visits with him.

These two, always outfishing one another.
There are days when I think my heart couldn't possibly ache any more than it does, and then moments like this happen. Then I quickly realize that the pain in my heart can expand exponentially when I see my little ones in pain. She doesn't understand why her grandpa had to go to heaven. None of us do. Add onto that the fact that she never even got to meet her grandma, who died three years before she was born, and the ache in her heart is far greater than I can imagine. She's not only sad that her loved ones are gone, but scared that it's going to happen to someone else she loves.

I hugged her in my arms and tucked the blanket around her until her cries softened and she drifted off to sleep. These are the moments I'm reminded of how much the little things mean to those we love. I asked her what her favorite thing about grandpa was, and she said, "Fishing with him. He'd always want to go fishing with me." It isn't about the gifts and the material items in life. Those things come and go. It's the time and the moments we spend with those we love that make a lasting impression on them. Twenty years from now, his voice will have faded in her memory. She won't remember every wrinkle on his face, nor will she still have the knick knacks he bought her. What she will have is the memories of sitting on that small, one lane bridge with a fishing pole in her hand and a smile on her face as her grandpa tells her yet another joke. So today, go out and make a memory with someone. You never know how much it might mean to them.

One of my favorite memories of them - the kids came up with the idea to type out 70 things they loved about Grandpa on his 70th birthday! Look at my Dad's grin - he was so tickled with it! Definitely one of the best moments I can remember.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Guest Author: Denise M. Baran-Unland

Today, I'd like to introduce you to a fellow author, and a tremendous talent. In addition to her successful career as a features editor at a daily newspaper in the Midwest, Denise is the author of the Gothic vampire BryonySeries. She is the co-founder of WriteOn Joliet, a local writing group that gathers individuals of all writing genres for support, critique, laughter and learning. She is a former freelance writer and features writing teacher at a homeschool cooperative and current instructor for a small monthly writer's workshop. She has six children, three step-children, many grandchildren, and four cats. She wears many hats (both literally and figuratively), and you can visit her at or at her blog,!

At the Joliet Public Library Authir Fair.

Denise has answered for us a number of questions about her books, and how they are a perfect read for individuals or families!

What inspired you to write the Bryony series?
I was lying on the couch in early January 1985 while my 2-year-old and 8-month old were napping, reading from a Christmas present The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories, and trying to quell the all-day morning sickness that confirmed the presence of my third child.

Ever since I can remember, I had wanted to write a novel (especially a vampire or other supernatural novel), and I wanted the main character's name to be Melissa (my favorite name at the time). When I was fifteen, I did extensive research on vampires, Dracula, and witchcraft in the hopes of writing that novel.

You see, when I was thirteen, I hand-wrote a 141-page novella (with a main character named Melissa), so a novel seemed like the next step. My supernatural research fascinated me, but I never wrote anything.

So anyway, that day on the couch, I had just finished one of the short stories from the "Dracula" book and lay there flat on my back, book opened across my chest, and musing on why I found these stories so appealing.

As I mused, I decided I would use those elements to finally write my own vampire novel. I was twenty-three and not getting any younger, LOL.

By the time the kids woke up, I had a skeletal story: a teen girl from 1972 (named Melissa, of course) living in a broken family meets a stranger by a misty lake at night and becomes intrigued by him. As she crosses the foggy woods to get home, she gets lost in a time warp and arrives home at midnight. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend (selfish, unstable people; I think her mom might even have been an alcoholic) yell at her and ground her. But she continues to sneak out to meet the man by the lake.

During the time warp, she 's transported to the Victorian era, where she meets the stranger again as a dashing gentleman. She learns he's a vampire but prefers the dashing illusion and decides not to ignore the dead part. 

That's not how the story eventually goes. But it was the initial base. Which goes to show how stories change as writers develop them.

The original premise of adolescent idealism, allowing illusion to overtake good sense - and the danger in that, remained the premise of the story.

What audience does this book appeal to? 
I had written it for teen girls, but more adults have read it than teens. I'm not certain why. Perhaps today's teens like different types of stories, and I'm simply out of touch with that.

What is the message or the ideal you want your series to convey to teenagers?
Don't be so desperate for love that you'll accept it in potentially harmful ways. Look past the veneer and seek out truth. Don't let infatuation blind you. Be yourself (in the series, Melissa takes on aspects of a dead girl's life whom she imagines to be more beautiful and desirable than she) and be wary of "secret" relationships and covert meetings, all of which have romantic appeal, but almost never have movie happy endings.

How is your main character relatable to today's teenagers?

  • She's feeling alone (her father has just died, and the family has abruptly moved out of state).
  • She's uncertain of herself and feels she can never measure up (especially to Bryony, whom she's never met -Bryony is the dead girl - but idolizes just the same)
  • She's an introvert (her favorite hobby is reading).
  • She's shy in new situations.
  • She's idealistic and romantic.
  • She desires true love.
  • She daydreams.
  • She has a lot of internal monologue. 
  • She lives in a single parent home.
  • She's navigating a father-substitute now that her mother has a new man.
  • She bickers with her younger brother Brian.
  • She likes hanging out with her friends but is missing her old ones.
  • She gives in to peer pressure, especially the whims of a conceited acquaintance who engages in risky behaviors.

What makes your story different from other teen and YA books?
It's not centered around issues (such as substance abuse, sex, bullying); it doesn't feature a role model for a heroine; and it's not set in modern times or a fantasy universe. 

Instead, it's literary work that explores the needs and wants that are typical of most teens and the power all teens have to make good or bad choices - along with facing the rewards or consequences of those choices.

And it's done through the type of story that won't go out of style and has the enduring appeal of vampires.

Is this book series something that could be enjoyed amongst a family of all ages?
Maybe not all ages. But perhaps ages twelve and up. And there are enough hero elements, along with a teen male protagonist in the third book, to interest boys, too.

What would be some good discussion points for a family or a group reading your book? What would you like them to take away from your series?
It's interesting you ask that because a parent coach wrote a thoughtful introduction to Visage, the second book in the BryonySeries trilogy.

Rather than offering precise points, I think discussion can happen organically if parents and teens read the books together. That was one of my reasons for writing the series with a third person perfect point of view.

This POV has the benefits of first person (to bring the reader close to Melissa) and third person (to add some distance). This helps the reader to move through the story through Melissa's perspective but with objectivity. 

Several readers have told me that'd like to talk sense into her!

But instead of telling teens how to behave and what to think, teen readers can discern those conclusions themselves through Melissa's actions and the way she reasons her behavior.

And parents, whose memories of their own teen years may be hazy, can relive those turbulent times through the stories and gain insight into the needs and challenges their own teens are facing and the best ways to address them.

Did you read a lot with your kids when they were growing up?
I read A LOT as a kid (I was the asthmatic kid that sat inside), and I read to and with my kids, too. We homeschooled through high school, so our reading was steeped in literature. We read aloud every day (some days, all day) and discussed what we read as we went along.

When my kids were too young to read, I read to them.

When they were learning to read, they read their lessons aloud to me.

When they were proficient readers, we read together by alternating paragraphs (laughing when someone got a long one and gloating at the short ones). This continued until they graduated high school.

I also read aloud to them over meals, one chapter a day from books such as Treasure Island and Wind in the Willows.

What advice would you give a young writer who finds inspiration in your series and would like to begin writing their own novels?
Read a lot. Write a lot. There's really no substitute for either.

Expect your writing to sound horrible. Because it will be. Don't be discouraged. It's part of the process.

Expect to rewrite your horrible writing a lot. Because that's the only way the good writing will emerge. And it will, if you keep at it.

Mostly, enjoy! It's soooooo much fun! 

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us, Denise! To purchase Denise's books or read more about them, visit

Friday, May 4, 2018

The trees bloom again...

Today, I had a moment in this beautiful weather to stop and just look around outside - something I have not taken the time to do lately. I realized that I hadn't truly noticed the change from winter to spring. (Granted, it snowed here like two weeks ago, so we're just starting with warmer weather!) The trees are already budding with leaves and I love the smell of flowers beginning to bloom.

After a morning of estate work for Dad's estate, I couldn't help but think about the tree and how we are all kind of like them. We start off small and grow, we have good seasons and bad ones. We have obstacles that cause us to lose our blooms, we sulk for a bit, then we pick ourselves back up and start again, bigger and better.

I haven't written a poem in a long time. It's not the best, but I wanted to jot it down before I forgot it.

The might oak stands strong and tall
Past days it grew and grew
Spring sun so warm
The buds have formed
To face the world anew.

The leaves thus grow and sway along
To summers gentle breeze
The fruit does call
As the air turns fall
The sky it always sees.

But darkness comes to bear the news
That trouble is so near
The leaves drift down
To a crackling sound
And the days grow thick with fear.

The mighty oak stands strong and tall
Though she now hibernates
Through sleet and snow
Until she knows
Spring is on the way.

She’ll bloom again and light the world
With colors rich, so then
Tis like us all
Who fear the fall
But who rise up once again.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

My apology to teachers...

It's that time again. It happens every year: my annual apology to my kids' teachers. 

Seriously true. 

I'm so sorry, teachers, because Teacher Appreciation Week is when I've basically run out of steam. It's not that I don't appreciate you; I do. You are amazing people who deserve far more than one week of appreciation. The country needs to move this week to September, because then you'd get some incredible Pinterest-inspired crafty item from us (plus a gift card to Target to get the stuff you really want). You seriously would have Instagrammed it and been like, "Look how much my students love me!" But now? Now, I only had time to rush them to the grocery store eight minutes before drop-off to pick up your favorite snack for Teacher Snack Day.

My kids are carrying ripped backpacks that likely have a snack still in them from September 2017. I found a spoon in my daughter's backpack the other day, and I can't even remember the last time I sent a spoon to school. Then I found more. They've apparently all been in there for months. Sadly, didn't even notice they were missing from my kitchen.

See this? This is the kind of stuff that happens in
COSTUME! That's right - I made that.
 If Halloween were right now,

she'd be wearing a red t-shirt with a
"W" drawn on in sharpie and blue leggings
with a hole in both knees.
It's gone from snowing to 80 degrees in a week, and that's not helping the situation. My mind knows I should be inside prepping for the next day, but my heart is marching around with a sign that says "No More Indoors!" 

Their uniforms are stained with who knows what (white shirts for 3rd graders?! Why?!) and are creeping dangerously close to being crop tops, mini skirts and man-pri's because they need to fit in it one more month. 

Their socks are two different lengths because I've bought 4,000 of the same sock this year and for some reason, none of them match now. None. How do they shrink to different sizes? And why are only five socks left? And I'm fairly certain my daughter has resorted to wearing her brother's socks rather than risk the sock pile in the basement, so you'll probably notice brown stains (which I assure you is baseball field dirt and not poo).

One kid still has one of the three lunchboxes I purchased for him this year, but he's not using it because frankly, I don't have any lunch food and didn't get to the store Sunday, so hot lunch again it is! (Sorry Ms. Lunch Lady!) 

The other has completely lost all her lunchboxes so we're straight 1990s paper baggin' it. Plus $1.25 for the snack table so she can buy cereal and milk because she won't eat anything else and I'm out of tupperware to use as bowls. (And out of cereal. And out of milk.) Maybe it's with the missing lunchboxes. And the missing socks.

I'm not sure if they brushed their teeth or their hair this morning and I may have combined two or three things for snack because I don't have enough of any one thing to fill the ziploc bag. 

Their school shoes have a hole in the toe and yes, I have hot glued the heel on the other and fingers crossed it holds 29 more days. 

Oh, and I colored in the scuffed spots with a sharpie, because #lifehacks

I think the fact that they have homework done and have made it to school on time every single day basically makes me Wonder Woman. Maybe in the fall, I'll make myself my own handmade Woder Woman costume.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Today, it happened...

As I was leaving work, I dialed Dad. (The nursing home number, but Dad's number).

I was so used to calling every night as I was leaving the office to tell him I was on the way or, if I couldn't make it, just to talk. It almost becomes instinct when you have a set pattern: get off work, get in car, dial the same number.

Today was a beautifully warm day after an onslaught of more winter temps, and I was thinking about fishing. Which is probably why I dialed that number.

Growing up, he and I spent a lot of time fishing. When mom got sick and he refused to leave her side for anything, I was able to convince him to get out for a couple hours and fish with me to relax. He'd usually catch something crazy like a turtle, and I'd catch all the small fish, and we'd plot our story for when we got home to embellish how big the fish really were.

He was only 73 and it's so unfair. That's still young. My step-mom was telling me the other day how lucky she felt that they got to do so much together - over 20 trips they went on during their marriage! That's what he loved to do, go on trips. Then there were outings, where it was just a couple of days here or there within driving distance. He loved to be in that pickup truck heading somewhere, spying antiques and making deals.

I feel like a broken record on this blog lately, but it helps to get these thoughts out. I listened to a voicemail he left me for mother's day a couple years ago, and I love hearing his voice again. I took a peek at a notebook I've kept since high school, where he and I would play rummy and keep score. We'd leave each other little messages - sometimes inspiration, sometimes smack talk. 

I think the most important reminder I've had from all this reminiscing is that the memories I have with him aren't of stuff; they aren't material things. It's the moments: the car shows, the fishing trips, the card games, the trivia quizzes. We had a lot of great times together, and I will hold those in my heart forever.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Just when you think...

Just when you think you're finally getting past the hardest parts of losing someone you love, you realize you aren't. All the sadness and pain comes sweeping back. It comes at unexpected moments, and no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to stop the heartache.

There's a thousand little reminders every day. Like watching my son pull out his pencil case and quickly push something back inside. When I asked what it was, he slowly pulled it out. It's a small, index-card sized photo album I'd made a decade ago when he was just a baby. It's got a handful of photos, and I had made two: one for him, and one for my dad. Inside, the photos detail a sunny spring day when his grandpa had pulled out the old Model-T from the garage and took him for his very first ride in it. He's sitting next to Gramps, steering, then sitting on his lap.
"Sometimes I just like to look at it," he tells me. "Can I keep it in there?"

It's moments like these when all the pain in my heart is dwarfed by the pain that's in his. I wish I could take it away for him. He's still learning to understand death, and it hasn't been an easy road. He's not asking to go fishing, and I wonder if he'll even want to go this summer. Do I push him to? Do I just give it time? He loved those days out by the creek, casting and having Gramps pull all his fish off the hook. I know it's pretty hard to imagine doing something you love again without the person you loved doing it with. In time, I know his heart will start to heal; I just wish I could speed up the process.
And my little girl, snuggling her grandpa teddy bear. She's sad, but she handles it far differently than her brother. I remember being around her age when my grandpa died, and I didn't quite understand the finality of it. She misses him greatly, but she tends to look back with smiles and memories, which is a wonderful way to remember him. 

Two different children and two very different ways of handling the same situation.

This weekend, I did some cleaning and organizing at his house and at one point, I sat in an old wooden chair and cried for the better part of a half hour. Looking around at his life and what he treasured, it almost feels like he's not gone. It feels like he will come walking in the door at any moment with one of his ridiculous knock-knock jokes and asking if I have a Mounds bar around. But the reality set in and I cried and cried, missing him more than words can say.

And in the words of one very smart little boy: "The pictures are nice, but I'm just glad that we had a lot of fun times to remember."


Monday, April 9, 2018

It's hard to admit...

It's hard to admit when you have shortcomings as a mom. It's even harder to see the truth behind it. But, there is definitely beauty in the realization and the positive shift that can happen when you make some changes.

My daughter is beautiful, strong and independent. I have no doubt she will run her own business or be a CEO someday, because she has charm and charisma and brains, and takes charge in any situation. (These are also the things, however, that can drive me crazy sometimes, but that's another post!)

We didn't capture any photos of our coloring sessions,
but they're pretty similar to this painting session we
had a while back!
Last year, I was taking care of Dad as I've talked about here on the blog before. That experience is something I wouldn't change for the world. My Dad was an incredible guy who worked so hard to provide a good home, all the necessities, a great education (including college), and a lot of "wants" like vacations growing up. Most of all, though, he always shared his love and his time. Outside of a disagreement here and there where we needed some time to understand each other, we spoke just about every day and saw each other often - the best times being those we spent fishing and watching him be a grandpa to his grandbabies. Being able to be a caretaker this last year was a pretty remarkable experience because I was able to take care of him. When we knew his time was running shorter over his last six months, I spent as much time as I could at the nursing home visiting and reading to him. Everything else could wait because that was time together we'd never be able to get back. It was a mixture of sad and happy all at once, but I am grateful for every moment we had together.

Though as most things do, spending more time up there meant spending less with my family. On top of working full time and a full schedule of activities for two young kids, there just wasn't a lot of time left over in the week for family bonding. I tried not to miss too many baseball games or dance classes, but as life happens to go, there were certainly things I missed. When I did show up, I often realized I wasn't truly there - my mind was wondering about what else needed to be done for dad or a work project that needed to be completed. As a family, we still went plenty of places together, but much less than we used to. Sometimes, once I arrived home and plopped down on the couch, tucking in at bedtime was passed because I just wanted to rest. 

Shoes! Thank you, Payless, for BOGO
and a $10 off $25 coupon!
All of it made for tension in the house. I am blessed with a wonderful and patient husband and two sweet and patient kiddos. But the tension was evident in small, day-to-day things. When Dad passed away, I made a promise to my kids and husband to spend much more time with them - not going out and doing things necessarily, but on listening and just being together; putting work away when it's time to put work away and just being with the people I love. Though I still have to work and have other duties since Dad passed that still need to be overseen, I took some time over spring break to step away from "work" and have some 1:1 time with the kiddos. It was wonderful.

Though we didn't go on vacation or do anything that really cost anything, it was a refreshing time for all of us - especially my daughter and I. There was no arguing and no frustration with each other during our days together. We did things the other enjoyed (I colored with her, she went shoe shopping with me), and talked about everything under the sun. And I think we both felt a little happier and stronger once we started talking to each other instead of at each other.

Life can sometimes get in the way for us and daily tasks can weigh us down. As the weight gets heavier, we get more frustrated, we argue more, we blame more, we dismiss more. What I learned by spending time with my daughter is that often times, we don't see that we're sharing that weight with others even if we aren't intentionally doing so. As a mom, that's especially important to realize and prevent. My kiddos will have enough to handle in life without me adding to it. And that's a shortcoming I'm working on, with a little help from some amazing kids.


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