Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Get in the picture!

I have been cleaning out storage bins (long overdue) and sorting photos like crazy the last couple weeks. There are so many great memories of my mom both sweet and hilarious, so many wonderful old photos of my great grandmother. 

As I'm sorting and putting in albums, I came across a time when there weren't a great deal of photos with me in them. It was right around when my daughter was about two or three. This was a time when I didn't feel comfortable with who I was; I had extra weight, I looked exhausted, and I couldn't find clothes that fit right. I remember it because it took me doing exactly what I'm doing now - sorting old photos - to realize the mistake I was making by hiding from the camera.

I get it. The years go by and our bodies change. We gain extra pounds, our muscles aren't as tight, wrinkles seep onto our faces and my enemy - grey hair - finds it's way into our locks. And yes, what we all wouldn't give to be as fat as we thought we were at seventeen. We shy away from the camera, untag ourselves in photos, never include them on a Christmas card. I understand. I've been there and sometimes I still am there.

And then I look at this photo of my great-grandmother, in the moo-moo she wore with her white hair in a messy bun, and a huge grin across her face. The kind of grin where you smile back at the photo because it's obvious she is somehow having the time of her life simply standing knee deep in a river. It's one of the few photos I have of her, not because she didn't want to look fat in a photo, but because they didn't have the same photographic capabilities then. Pictures were expensive, and I am so grateful that she spared the cost of printing this photo out.

What if she had told the photographer (likely my grandfather) no? What if she had refused to be the subject? I wouldn't know what she looked like, or that my smile looks just like hers. All I'd have to remember this woman would be her name in a book with no image to accompany it. What a loss that would be!

I realized the same goes for my kids. Nearly every morning, I feel pretty lucky that my daughter will tell me I look nice. "Why are you putting makeup on Mommy? You look beautiful without it." She'll compliment my shirt (which I may secretly be thinking I look to chubby in) because she likes the design. She looks at pictures over the years in the albums and says "Mommy, I love your dress! It's pink, my favorite color!" or "Mommy, you have the best smile in this one." Wrinkles, grey hair, and pudgy arms don't exist in her mind because that's not what she sees when she looks at me; she sees her mama, just as I see my own when I look back at the only place I can see her face since she went to heaven.

Here's the thing: our kids see us as beautiful. They see our smiles, they hear our laughter, they remember how mom and dad smell. The body negativity only seeps in when it is taught, and I am guilty of that. By hiding from photos we aren't saving ourselves the embarrassment of how we think we look; we're robbing our kiddos of the opportunity to remember how happy we are to be a part of their lives and their experiences. We're instilling in them that if you don't look a certain way, you certainly shouldn't allow yourself to be photographed. We're saying that we aren't confident enough in ourselves to create a visible memory with them.

In five, ten, twenty years, our kids aren't going to look at a photo and think, "Gee mom, you looked really chubby." They may comment on a retro hairstyle or laugh about clothing choices, but behind the giggles will be the sheer pleasure they have in holding a photograph of one of the people they look up to most - the same pleasure we have when we look at photos of our loved ones.

I may not be the most confident person in the world, but I've learned over the years to step in front of the camera with my little ones. Of all the accessories I have that could make me look like a million bucks, this little girl and little boy make me look every bit as beautiful as I feel when they're in my arms. (Side note: They're the best filter my camera has ever had - every picture looks better with them in it!) 


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Checking off the 40 Before 40

Geez, 40 is creeping up on me!! I better get cracking on finishing my list before I have to start the next one! I still have a lot to do so I'm taking offers from anyone willing to help ;)

So here it is - go ahead and make your own! I try and include things that are simple things that I just don't always make time for (and should), as well as some stretch goals. Take a peek and let me know what you think. And if you do the same, share your list with me. I'd love to see it!


40 Things to Do By the Day Im 40
1.      Take a dance class. - DONE June 2015
3.      Write a complete book. DONE May 2012
5.      Go to my first Bulls game ever.
6.      Visit Nancy in Idaho.
8.      Take the kids to a big show at the Rialto or Paramount (or somewhere like that)
10.  Go back to New Orleans with friends.
11.  Go on an anniversary trip with Jaime. Somewhere. Anywhere.
13.  Go to my first Blackhawks game ever.
14.  Learn how to make cake pops. (Attempted December 2013. Unsuccessful. Will try again, so I won't cross it off. Yet. Cake pops: 1, Allie: 0)
17.  Get Jaime’s artwork displayed at a gallery.
18.  Tip a good waiter $50 on a $10 bill.
21.  Fix something big in the house myself, with tools, without asking for help.
24.  Decorate one room in the house so that it looks like a showhouse!
25.  Go wine tasting with the girls in another state.
26.   Start writing each kiddo a book about my best memories of them growing up.
27.  Travel to 5 states. (so far: Wisconsin, August 2011, Kentucky and Tennessee, August 2012; Florida, September 2012; Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida 2015)
28.  Fly in a small plane.
29.  Go to Italy or Ireland.
30.  Get a song I’ve written sung in a public venue.
31.  Take each kid to their first concert. (Peyton - July 2015 - TRAIN)
32.  See every major museum in Chicago in one summer.
33.  Take each kid on a ditch day from school and do something totally fun. (Peyton - May 2015 - American Girl, Hershey factory)
36.  Go ice skating on State street
37.  Take Alex and Pey on a rollercoaster (Half done. Alex rode one at Disney. I have a feeling Pey might be 40 herself before she goes on one). DONE! Legoland August 2016. Pey screamed until her voice went supersonic.
38.  Go to a Cub’s game in Milwaukee.
39.  Own a Dodge Charger.
40.   Organize all the bins sitting in storage.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Soundtrack of Life

Life is one giant jukebox. Lyrics filter in and out, providing a backdrop for the stories playing out in our lives. A favorite song plays for a little white before it ends, leaving you waiting for it to play again or better yet, be replaced by an even better rhythm - though you never quite forget your love of the original. Oldies but goodies find more playtime and you remember, with a smile or perhaps sometimes a tear, the moments you danced to that sweet melody. Then a new song comes on and makes you grateful for yet one more track to dance to.

That’s exactly how I’ve felt cleaning out what has fondly been called in my household "The Bins.”

You see, I moved out of my parent’s home in 2002. Before I’d even received my college diploma, I’d signed the paperwork for my own house. In a hurry to start life in the real world and forget about some sub-standard personal choices I'd made in college, I tossed a ton of pictures, cards, books, awards, and mementos into bins and moved most of them into my basement with dreams of a fresh start. When I moved again five years later with my new husband, we moved the bins with to a new basement - again.

And they sat. Again.

Over the past couple years, I’ve only cleaned out a couple. (There are a lot, embarrassingly. I am a sentimental person. And a writer. Cut me some slack!) When I start sorting through a bin, I begin reading letter after letter and before I know it I’ve wasted so much time that I don’t even get the intended task done. Then this weekend, I opened a bin and an old, familiar song started to play until a giant scratch in the record forced its retirement. Some of my favorite photos from the past were ruined, and I was truly heartbroken. Really, really sad. I know many would probably think it ridiculous that some paper and photos could break a heart but here’s the thing: I don’t collect things. I don’t collect figurines or other trinkets. I collect moments, scenes in time that are of importance to me (okay, and some just to document ridiculous fashion and wonder why good friends let others style their hair in awful ways like the photo above).

In fact, most places I go, no one else brings a camera because it is assumed I will have one to document whatever event it is. I'm THAT person.

I know not all people are sentimental. In fact, my husband is not a sentimental person. He is a sweet man, but he is not one to hang onto mementos or photos. So sitting alone and sorting, I found a few tears falling for a sadness others might not understand. They’re just photos, I reminded myself, and I clearly remember the moments they represent. A first concert with friends; hugging a high school sweetheart on the field after they won the state championship; cruising in a friend’s convertible to another summer party. All different songs in a very long playlist from life.
I don’t look back on these items and wish I was back there; there’s no point in living in the past. Where I am now, surrounded by dance recitals and baseball games and new friends that have been made over the years, is exactly where I want to be. But these moments are all very special memories of some pretty incredible times in my life that I am happy to remember. Friends that made me laugh until Dr. Pepper came out my nose; a boy who made everyone better just for knowing him; a friend who is no longer here to talk to because life took her far too soon (that's her above, helping me assemble furniture at my first house).

People come and go and while I perhaps wish I was still closer to some, the bottom line is that I am so unbelievably happy to have had the experiences I did and to have known some very special people who will forever remain a part of my heart. (I wish I was better at reaching out to old friends but even with today's technology... I'm a bit of a coward!)

While I had to retire the records of a few extraordinary soundtracks last night, their melody will always play on in my heart.



Back when I could shake my booty.

Friends through so many ups and downs. 

We need proof of our mediocre fashion choices. 


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

It Takes A Village

When it comes to kids, we've been pretty lucky. A beautiful, healthy little boy and a beautiful, healthy little girl. And I'll admit, when my oldest first started in school and they put a peanut butter ban into effect at the school to make it safer for those with allergies, I had a moment where I thought about how hard it would be to find something else for my son to eat, since he mainly lived on PB&J sandwiches.

Then I thought, seriously? I'm going to complain that it will "be hard" to find an alternative? I wanted to slap myself for the selfishness, because let's be honest: finding a replacement food is nowhere near the level of "hard" that it must be for parents of children with allergies to send their kids to school every single day, worried about if something is going to cause their children to have a reaction.

The school made it pretty easy. There was a list of snacks and of course fruits that could be brought in for snack. Lots of safe options to choose from. I'm sure there was some complaining but quite frankly, I don't believe that a child's need for peanut butter or any other food is stronger than the danger that some children face while just trying to safely attend classes.

Recently, I heard a muttering. "It's so stupid that the kids cannot bring peanut butter to school. Maybe those allergy kids should be homeschooled."

Really? Wow. Is this where we're at in 2016? 

Not eating peanut butter during the school day (p.s. there's plenty of time to eat that at home every day) is hardly a detriment. Yes, it takes a couple extra minutes to read packaging and determine if something was made in a peanut free facility. Why is it such a big deal? I wonder when, as a society, we lost compassion and empathy for others. Do we, as parents, not remember those first few nights (followed by weeks and months and years) and all the worries about how we would do anything to keep our children from harm? Why is that not extended to the children around us, too, who aren't a member of our family? We are all a community. When did we forget that? When did we become so absorbed in entitled-ness that we simply lost the notion that we should treat everyone how we would like to be treated?

This all really hit home for me one night a few weeks ago. While I'm packing lunches - and bossing kids around mom-style to do their homework, practice the drums, pack their baseball and dance bags - my son starts to help with packing his. He's being very particular about what he packs and reading labels. Curious, I asked him what he was up to. (He'd mentioned the week before that he wanted to save up for a Fitbit, so I was wondering if my gradeschooler was trying to eat healthier, too.) He said that the tables in his classroom had changed and now two of his good friends sat at his table. These two good friends, I should mention, both have peanut allergies. Severe peanut allergies.

He said he wanted to make sure that NOTHING (and yes, he stressed the nothing) he had in his lunch - or for breakfast - could hurt his friends. I watched this ten-year-old peruse the label of every single thing he put in that lunch box for the simple fact that he wanted his friends to be safe.

A ten-year-old. This kid pictured right here (with the cute dimples and sweet smile, might I add). This kid who, at ten, has a clearer grasp on compassion than some adults I've met (including myself at times!).

Now I know we're all busy in life. Stay-at-home parents and working parents both have extremely stressful and time-consuming jobs in addition to all the daily requirements of running a household and school work and activities and so on. But when without thinking of it as a burden, a ten-year-old can read labels and pack a lunch that is safe to have around his classmates, I think it serves as a reminder to us adults that there are always those couple extra minutes it takes to do the same. 

When I asked him later on why he was so concerned about packing that lunch, he replied with, "Mom, I wouldn't throw a rock at my friend so why would I do something else that could hurt them?"

Exactly. It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes, I think we forget about that.


Friday, December 18, 2015

My Husband

We've been married almost nine years, and together for more than thirteen. We have two grade school-aged kids who are just busy as can be with activities. We both work full time. We spend time helping kids with homework, doing housework, and a thousand other little things.

Needless to say, together time is a rare (and much-loved) commodity in our house.

Tonight, my husband showed me a proposal video from Neil Patrick Harris' new show. I watched it with him and at the end laughed a little as I teased him about the day he proposed to me. He didn't plan an elaborate proposal; there were no fake movies at the movie theatre or dropping down to one knee in a restaurant. He gave me the ring at home as we settled down for the night while watching some television. That's just who he is - a very low-key, non-showy guy.



I'm a daydreamer, far more than I should be. I write novels because I have these grand love stories in my head and I'm always talking to him about the next one. There are times when I wish that he was a surprise planning, big gesture guy, but then I get a smile from him and am reminded that who he is is more than enough.

I don't come home to vases full of roses. What I do come home to is a man watering an 10-year-old plant that sits on our back porch stairs in a beat up pot - one which I've forgotten to water for five days in a row. He's the one nursing it back to health, adding new soil and moving it to another place in the yard for better sun, while the other plants in our house fade away and die from neglect (my pinterest ideas are far grander than my gardening capabilities). He does it because that plant is from my mom's funeral, and while I am absent minded and forget to feed it, he does because he knows my heart would be broken if it was gone. 

I don't come home to new clothes picked out for a special date. What I do come home to is a closet full of clothes because he's done the laundry and hung and folded it. Despite being gone more hours each day between work and commute than I am, and running one kid here while I take the other one there, he is the dependable one. While I'm doodling notes on a notepad, he's making sure the washer and dryer keep busy, and says he just wants to make things a little easier for my day.

I don't come home to plane tickets for an adult-only vacation. What I do come home to is a man willing to drive 18 hours in a car with his family after a very long day at a very labor-intensive job, just to accomodate his wife's crazy vacation ideas. A man who let's her plan out every detail and will put up with stopping in random places along the way just so she can see a cafe that was in a movie that she loves. A man who can find fun just about anywhere as long as the people he loves are there.

I don't come home to diamond jewelry for every holiday or occasion. What I do come home to are my favorite things - Frango Mints, Dr. Pepper, Sons of Anarchy, or books about Al Capone - because he's been listening and knows what I love. Diamonds are pretty, but being heard is prettier.

I could go on and on. I sometimes tease him about his level of romance, but the truth is that he is very romantic. He does so much at home and at work to make sure we are taken care of and that we have a good life. I'm glad he doesn't pay attention to the lists of things that are best to get your wife on her birthday or Christmas, or all those crazy pinterest ideas about how to be romantic, because he's already got a pretty good corner on that market. 

I probably don't tell him enough, but I love him to the moon and back. 

The other day, I heard my husband mutter disappointment over how he appeared in a photo and I can honestly say, it broke my heart a little bit. Now in our mid-thirties, of course we don't look how we did 10 or 15 years ago, but he is as perfect now as he was then. 

He might not have a six pack, but that is because his time is not spent at the gym when his kids are home. His gym time happens only a few times a week: when the kids are at school on his off day, and on weekend mornings when he is awake at 5 a.m. from his body clock being so used to getting up even earlier for work.

And I don't know that I could find a harder working man. He doesn't just do his job; he really likes and believes in what he does. He is out with customers all day, carrying heavy items and doing a job so many would balk at. He drives an hour (at least) commute each way and works 10+ hour days four days a week, and then comes home and still cooks for his family.

When he sees a dirty dish, he washes it. When laundry is getting too piled up, he does it. When kids need to get shuffled here or there and I've forgotten to remind him I have a conflict, he doesn't complain.

And sometimes, he has to deal with me and my frustration that we don't get time to be a couple much. We're wired much differently. I'm a romantic; his idea of romance is doing all the dishes so I don't have to. I'm always coming up with some craft project; he's the one cleaning up scraps of paper from all over the floor. I like the Cubs; he likes that other Chicago team. And sometimes, in the grand scheme of life, we end up frustrated with each other over silly things.

No, he doesn't have the body he did 13 years ago - but neither do I. (Oh, how I wish I was as "fat" as I thought I was then!) I look at him at least once a day and smile because his handsomeness takes my breath away. Still. Every time. His eyes light up when he talks about something he's passionate about. His laugh makes me look away from whatever else I might be doing because it's so heart-filled. And at night when he wraps his arms around me when we go to sleep, I realize all over again how lucky I am to have found someone I love so much, and sometimes I still can't believe that he chooses me. 

We have our arguments and we have our date nights (and sometimes, though not often, those go together!) but I could not ask for a stronger, smarter, sweeter man than I have found in him. So babe, no, we may not look like we did - but there's no one I find more beautiful than you.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

10 Years

Okay, I'm going to ask you to bear with me through this - it's gonna get a little sappy.

On the 18th, it will be 10 years since my mom died. To be honest, I'm having a really hard time with this anniversary. The first holidays and birthdays without her were hard; the birth of my kids without her was harder; getting married without her there was brutal. I miss her like crazy every day, but this 10 year thing is really getting to me. Like, a lot, if you hadn't taken note yet.

I've been having some anxiety the past month, and I know it's because the 18th is inching up on me. It was about this time 10 years ago that mom stopped being alert. She slipped into a coma of sorts for the last couple weeks, and then she was gone. No more whispers of "I love you" (or "I glub you" as her speech got worse), no more smiles and laughs at George Carlin on the television. Just silence.

My mom's favorite animal was the bunny. She loved rabbits, and we even had a pet lop eared bunny at one point growing up. Last night, I came home to find that my sweet dog killed a bunny in our yard and could not understand why I was not thrilled with her "gift". We ended up with two more bunnies in the yard late last night, which is highly unusual. We have a fenced in yard, and a pretty rambunctious dog, so I can say with all honesty that in the five+ years of living here, I've probably seen no more than a couple bunnies total in our back yard. And never at the same time. 

So today, I dropped my son at baseball practice and decided on a whim to go to the cemetery, which is down the street, and check on her grave. I go there sometimes not because I think she's there, but because I want to make sure the weeds haven't overtaken the gravestone and that the grass is growing properly. On my way, I whispered out loud, "Mom, please have a bunny where you are so I know you're okay." And by "where you are", I meant her grave.

When I pulled up to the big tree that reminds me where her body rests, I didn't see a bunny. Not on her grave. Not anywhere around.

I cleaned off the weeds and went back to pick up my son at baseball, and then headed home. While sitting in the back yard, hubs pointed out a discovery - there were baby bunnies living in a hole in the yard!

Not only that, but mama bunny has come back around to check on them!

I should have known when I asked my mom to send a bunny to where she was, she wouldn't send one to her grave. She would send them to our home, where she watches over us.




I know it's corny, and it's a stretch, but I needed this little happening this month. My heart is still broken, but maybe just a smidge less tonight.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Back to life, back to the blog-os-phere

I'm working on another book. For anyone keeping track, I've got five written and only one of those edited. And last week, after years of pondering how to tell a certain story close to my heart, I had an idea for a storyline and began typing away at night after everyone's gone to bed.

It usually takes me months to pump out a book, which is usually around 70,000 words. In three nights, I managed to write 26,000 words. Not only that, but I find myself not wanting to stop clicking my fingers on the keyboard when my alarm finally notifies me that I better head to bed or the next day could be extremely long.

I love all my stories, I really do. There have been some ideas I've had where, after a bit of typing, I'm not feeling it and abandon it altogether. And then there are others like these that I absolutely fall in love with and cannot wait to get all of the feelings out on paper. Especially when it's an important story to me.

All of my stories have a history rooted in my life. Sure, the ideas and plots are pretty far fetched from anything that's actually happened in my life because drama and storyline is what you read a book for. But if you look closely enough at my books, you'll see that the people, places, and some of the plot are part of who I am and important people, places, and things in my life.

Take my book "The Touch" for instance. AJ is the lead character, and his name basically stands for "All J's", or all my J's, meaning Jaime, Jake, Joel, and Jose - dear friends of mine, and a husband too! The character is comprised of bits and pieces of all of them - both what I love about them and what drives me crazy about them. The grandparent figures, Helen and Matthew, have a root in my life. Helen is based off of my mom's eight best friends who are like mothers to me, and the advice they pass down - the name is even one of theirs. And Matthew is after my great-Uncle, with the name of my big brother who died right after he was born. There are more instances of my life in the books, but I'll leave it to your imagination to figure it out ;) The series definitely has some basis off people I've known, loved, and perhaps even disliked, from my teenager years on up. But other than what's above, I'm not spilling ;)

I've read that some writers don't include anything personal in their books, but I don't know if I could do that. My characters and settings all carry a part of me with them, and I do put my heart and soul into these books. Of course, not every plotline stems from real life. While I'm working on a book about bikers, I don't think my suburban, baseball and ballet chauffeuring mommy self has really experienced any of the crazy shenanigans in the book. Some of the stories are just fun.

Some of what I write is healing for me, a chance to share something I've been through without saying it out loud, if that makes sense. That's what happens in one scene in "The Vengeance". I have the opportunity to say what I need to say and find a way to make my character come out stronger on the other side, and that's an amazing feeling.

This book about love that I'm working on now as well is one that holds a special place in my heart. It contains a lot of things I wish I could have said. The character faces many of the same choices I have and in some cases, makes the same decision while in others, chooses the path that perhaps I should have taken at the time. The actual plotline, well, that's definitely a bit more dramatic than anything that has actually happened in my life (and thanks to my husbands willingness to pretend to be a character while I drop a literary plot bomb on him, has a GREAT twist in it). It holds, however, an opportunity for me to say some things I've never said and make some amends I've never made, even if the person the amends are for would never even know it's for them. That's the wonderful thing about writing; you take your life and your decisions and your own story and build that into your work to create pieces that are important to you.

So, if you ever pick up a copy of one of my books and think you get a quick glance at yourself from the words popping out on the page, you might be right.

Or wrong. 

Either way, I hope it's fun for you to wonder - because it was certainly fun to write!

Happy writing all!

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