It’s All About Me

I’m thinking of myself and I’m not sorry.

When I was in my 20’s, I had time for hobbies that weren’t for anyone’s benefit but mine. I could name a dozen things that I liked to do in my spare time. Now, I’m not sure I could name three.

About two years ago, Ev drew a picture at daycare with the theme My Mom Likes to… Her response was “do dishes”. NO! I don’t like it, they have to be done. Just like laundry and mowing the grass. They certainly don’t count as hobbies.

Having a career and family took my focus. Spare time went from checking out local bands and Friday night softball to falling asleep on the couch at 9 pm watching Netflix. I always felt guilty if I wanted to do things just for me. It just wasn’t a priority.

Since arriving in Germany, I’m getting better at doing what I like to do. Not what I have to do. Not what I should do. What I want to do. I’m purposefully rediscovering my hobbies.

There’s no pictures in it

Aside from making time to write, I’m returning to one of my first passions, reading. Don’t get me wrong, we read with the kids daily, but these books don’t rhyme, don’t involve a princess and don’t even have pictures. Gaston would not approve.

When we first moved to Maryland, Matt traveled all the time. I needed a way to make friends and keep busy, so I joined a book club. Over the nine years we were there, I made some amazing friends while reading many books outside my comfort zone. Even after the girls arrived, and my participation lessened, I enjoyed having adult discussions and the chance to explore genres that I would often overlook.

I love getting recommendations from friends and family. It helps me expand my reading list and get to know them better through which books ‘speak’ to them.

I’m not a big spender on books. I don’t keep them or re-read them so the thrift store is my favorite book store. After I read them, they get donated back – the circle of life!

I’m not opposed to special ordering books when needed, like when a group of us decided we’d read selections from a banned book list. We made it through two books before our lives interrupted and we fell off the naughty reading wagon.

We Do It Nearly Every Night

If you make something a priority, you’ll find a way to make time and do it. Virtually every night, Matt and I are getting busy between the covers – book covers. I know what you were thinking 50 Shades of Grey lovers.

Our new house is about twice the size of our previous home, so we’re experiencing some ‘growing pains’ with the girls at bedtime. On the weekends, they do sister-sleepover, but since they don’t stop giggling, talking and arguing until 10 pm those days, we make them sleep in their own rooms on school nights. This, of course, makes Evelyn panic because she hates to be alone.

To help ease her fears as she drifts to sleep, we have started to stay upstairs in our room, or the balcony off our room, so she knows we’re close. I’m loving these mini date night sessions when I have Matt to myself. We’ve opted not have a TV in our room so that usually means he and I are having real conversations without being interrupted and eventually, reading.

It also means I’m staying up late for just one more chapter then regretting it when the alarm goes off. Totally worth it though.

Don’t Be Your Own Identity Thief

I’m a wife and mom, but that’s not entirely who I am. I don’t have to let those roles define me. I can still find ways to be an individual when caring for our family. If I want to raise our girls to be healthy, strong and independent women, I need to lead by example.

It’s time to stop thinking that wanting a break is bad. Understand it’s healthy not selfish to get a hobby! And, it’s good for your partner to do it, too.

I deserve time to read, garden, take a class, shop alone, have a girl’s weekend or just sit in hot bath for hours and not feel guilty. You know, this sounds like the beginnings of a To Do List that I could actually enjoy.

Cousin Bonding Without Borders

Sometimes I feel like we’re robbing our kids of an important piece of their childhoods.

Sure, all parents at some point question certain decisions they make. Is this what will send them to therapy in a few years? Will this somehow make them have doubts about themselves or hate me or haunt their childhood memories? You know, like moving to Europe and taking them an ocean away from their family and friends.

It’s not like we lived close before heading to Germany. Our families reside in suburban Chicago and we had been in DC area for a decade. But, it was a lot easier (and less expensive) to hop on a two-hour flight or road trip 700 miles than to grab a passport and cross multiple time zones.

Don’t get me wrong, our kids will experience some amazing things living in Europe for the next three to five years. We’ll see historic sites, taste amazing foods, learn a new language and meet fantastic new friends. However, they won’t have the same childhood experiences my husband and I had surrounded by family.

Family is always there – sometimes lurking

Both my parents and grandparents had grown up in our hometown. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone knowing some member of my family or BEING a member of my family. I got into a fender bender once and when we exchanged information, the other driver took one look at my license and told me to say hi to my uncle.

When I went away to college, my amazing friends visited often so I never got homesick. Plus, a few hometown friends and my sister were there. I like to think that her initial feeling of dread and annoyance faded in the three years we shared there.

I hoped my career as the next Barbara Walters would take me to exotic places. I had moved to Chicago, Arizona, back to Illinois, then off to St. Louis, but by age 24, I was back in my hometown where I was virtually related to every third person.

It wasn’t my ideal, but it was somehow comforting.  Sharing laughs and memories with family and friends reminded me how important it is to feel you belong to something bigger – even if some of those memories are reasons none of us will ever be President, well, maybe there’s a chance.

Aren’t you Vic and Wanda’s daughter?

To our girls, Maryland is home. They were blessed with some amazing friends we had there, but they didn’t get to experience small town living. They could go to the store and not run into relatives. They could be out and about and strangers couldn’t take one look at them and confirm who their parents were.

They had instructors and bus drivers who didn’t also teach previous generations of their family. But, they missed out on feeling the embarrassing pride of family cheering for them at preschool graduation, dance recitals, school concerts or taking up two rows at church on Sundays.

Even though they have never lived in the same state, much less same town, the girls are fiercely attached to their family. They love talking to them and about them, especially the cousins. They keep their pictures in their rooms and I sometimes catch our youngest talking to them.

I can relate. My cousins were my first friends, confidants and memory makers. We had inside jokes and late-night whispers at sleepovers. We bonded over toys when we were young and complained about our parents as we got older. I read in a Boston Globe article that cousins are a unique and essential part of childhood – “Not a sibling, not a friend, but a powerful mixture of both — and they’re yours for life.” I agree.

Even now, after we have outgrown our childhood nicknames and months since we last spoke in person, there is a connection among us. For some, it will forever be the time my mom gave me a well-deserved smack across the face for lying about where I was on New Year’s Eve at age 16 – I still gingerly touch my cheek when I think about it! For others, it’s playing on the tire swing in our grandparent’s backyard or living in our bathing suits all summer running across hot asphalt to perform a synchronized swim show for our parents. I could have yelled “Chucky, NO!” at Christmas last year and we’d instantly be eight years old running up our basement stairs.

We may not share the same opinions or secrets anymore, but we know we used to. And we know too much about each other’s childhood secrets to ever forget that closeness or how we’d look forward to the next family gathering.

Family tree branches out

When in Maryland, the girls would pack weeks in advance of our 12-hour drive. They would have plans, movies and special toys for cousin sleepovers. Their excitement was contagious. My heart would melt seeing them together, their giggles like music throughout the house.

There is something about that sibling-like bond that is magical. I feel a little guilty for moving to a place that makes that experience almost impossible for my girls. The year our oldest daughter was born, the grandparents were all given a webcam. We wanted to ensure they could bond, even if we were hundreds of miles a way. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s close.

Ensuring our kids know their family and forge those life-long connections is our responsibility. We may not be able to attend family dinners or holiday BBQs, but we can get on Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, text, email and even…call.  Because no matter where you go, there is no place like home and no replacements for cousins.

  

 

We Made It

Across time zones, across the ocean and across the street from amazing bakeries and restaurants. We made it.

I had fears how it would work. Our kids were ready to move in with the neighbors to avoid leaving them. I had my ugly cry as we were sent off with a blessing from our church who has been our family for nearly ten years. We said heartfelt goodbyes to family and friends and to the house where our family began.

I had excitement and anticipation. I had doubts and concerns. We faced nearly two weeks in a hotel room before an eight hour flight to another hotel room a world away from everyone we knew and loved. I had pictured the worst case scenarios for every situation.

To my delightful surprise, it went like clockwork. Airport, flight and arrival – smooth. Adjustment to new time – smooth. Starting school and work, making friends and finding a house – smooth. I’ve been afraid to jinx it, but we’ve all adjusted to living in Wiesbaden, Germany pretty damn good.

We’ve only begun exploring our new home and the vast amount of history, culture, fun and adventure that await us. From local festivals and carnivals to farmer’s markets and amusement parks, we’ve loved everything we’ve seen so far.

We’re learning German (very slowly), getting our house in order and collecting tour books for when family and friends visit this summer. We’re tracking the best wineries and beer tours, so let me know if you have any favorites!

I’ve wondered if this was the right choice for our family since we started discussing the option a year ago. I’m sure there will be times I have insecurities, today, I don’t. The girls made friends from the base hotel and school. Our neighbors include children, and bunnies, and a park with a zip line. We have a large backyard and playroom. We have a room waiting for family to arrive.

We have years to explore and enjoy this chapter. I bet will be better than I ever thought.

A Virtual Sisterhood Still Counts

I’ve lived 700 miles from my hometown for nearly a decade. Many of my best friends are scattered around the country. During that time I’ve learned to value the virtual sisterhood in our friendships that we’ve maintained via email, phone, text, video calls and a ton of other media outlets that keep our sisterhood in tact.

There are very few friends out there like the ones you had growing up…total Stand by Me reference…and yet there are times that when you desperately need a friend, it’s not who you think it will be to catch you as you fall.

I’m in numerous groups on social media, mostly for entertainment. One of my favorites is a local ‘mommy’ group where we share a virtual sisterhood about marriage, kids, careers and best places for happy hour. We’ve talked about our kids poop – size, color, frequency –  which stores are offering the best deals on the ‘it’ toy of the day and where to get the perfect mojito.

A recent post broke my heart. A fellow member discovered her husband of more than a decade had been cheating on her over the past year. Her simple confession, and request for best places to binge eat and drink, sparked a reaction that turned my broken heart into wings.

Within minutes, this woman received so many posts I couldn’t keep up with all the comments flooding in. Our little group filled this woman’s feed with words of encouragement, sympathy and offers to help in her quest for a well-deserved binge. Over the next few days she had more than 100 posts, and I’m sure even more personal messages.

She had hundreds of women, all in her actual and virtual community, immediately there to help her vent and get on the road to healing. There post that spanned the spectrum of support. From plots for this wayward husband’s demise to offers to grab margaritas women were reaching out. Some even shared stories of their own battles with infidelity.

Women can be catty and competitive. It’s easy to lash out and put each other down – especially when you don’t have to do it face to face. There are lots of people who look at social media and don’t recognize all the positive ways it can influence and affect our lives. In this case, I was proud to be a part of this group there we stood along our sister and helped her through a terrible ordeal.

We owe it to ourselves and each other to be supportive and encouraging to our fellow women. No matter if you’ve been friends for a lifetime or just joined a group, be honest, open and understanding to each other. A virtual sisterhood counts as much as a live one when you need it, and you never know when you will need your sisters to lift you up.

Smart Girls are Taking Over

I’ve come to terms with a hard truth. By the time our girls are 10-years-old, they may very well  outsmart me.

It’s a combination of the ‘new’ way of learning, their insatiable appetite to perform various science experiments, their ability ask questions that I have not choice but to Google and my lack of remembering the majority of what I learned in school. It’s inevitable, these girls will be pass me quickly.

I love that they enjoy learning. Even more so that they love science and building with Legos or their snap circuit kits. I really hope their passion remains when they hit that age where girls often flip a switch and hate everything, including learning.

As pre-teens and early teenagers, girls begin to lose self confidence and interest in the sciences. According to a recent article on CNN.com, researching pinpoint almost the exact time girls back away from science.

Right now, our oldest is especially confident in her abilities and in her love for science. She is a natural analyst and loves to research on her own. She was thrilled to attend a STEM night at her elementary school and eagerly helped her younger sister with the hands-on experiments.

I hope she keeps that attitude as gets to those hard years when many girls start to think intelligence isn’t cool and that boys won’t like girls who are as smart – or smarter – then they are. I hope she continues to encourage her fellow females to do their best and collaborate – not see them as competition or use them as a stepping stone on her own path to success.

We have so many amazing female role models to inspire our girls. History, science, medicine and technology are filled with women who paved the way for our girls. There are more and more movies, television shows and plays features strong female characters who are as beautiful as they are witty and smart. I want all girls to know they can be any combination of traits and they will succeed and even change the world.

In a few years, as they excel in their advanced classes and I struggle to keep up with them, I’ll be the voice of encouragement. I’ll be in awe of what they solve and invent. A small part of me will take pride that somewhere in their genius DNA are my genes, too.

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

As a writer, each piece is a labor of love. It has personality. Each work is unique, yet you love each the same. It’s the same with kids. They push to your limits and challenge you to be your best. Nothing prepares you for parenthood, but the adventure is the best thing one can ever create.

There are days I beam with pride as I look at my offspring. Then there are days I remind myself that I actually prayed really hard that I would have these monkeys. Sometimes, those emotional reactions happen minutes apart.

They don’t come with instruction manuals and no two kids are alike. It’s like being thrown into a river with a bunch of random equipment like a bag of snacks, extra Legos, the most favorite lovey of all time that no longer even has a face and some crayons. Somehow you have to make a boat, keep a float and not go over a waterfall.

Then of course, you better have extra snacks because heaven forbid these kids go 20 minutes without a snack. Just make sure it’s not the snack they loved yesterday, because today that same snack is rancid.

My Circus, My Monkeys – Heaven Help Me

For more than 20 years, my career choices always included an element of writing. As a journalist, I learned the importance of fact checking, the art of story telling, the value of sources and how the written word impacts readers.

Years in marketing communications and non-profit organizations helped me recognize how to read an audience so the presented ideas are well received.

All this education and experience provided me with various successful jobs. Starting my favorite job as a parent, none of it helped me, and yet all of it helped me. My daughters are my best creations and a great source of inspiration. They’ve given me the gift seeing life from a different perspective. My daughters provide their own versions of education and experience.

On the Move

My house is a disaster. Not because we’re extra messy, which with two kids and a dog we often are, but we’re in the middle of coordinating a move to Germany.

Weeks ago, our real estate agent said we had to declutter and depersonalize our home of nine years. It was an overwhelming thought as I looked around to see holiday decorations everywhere, pictures of our girls, their toys, drawings and loads of craft supplies – oh the glitter! But a part of me was psyched to grab boxes and really clean house. Other tips for buying and selling can also come in handy during this process.

Very few things make me happier than purging junk. Those five minutes of a clean counter top or tidy room are euphoric, even I know my Monkeys will destroy the beautiful cleanliness. Between glasses of my boxed wine, I’m packing, rearranging and tossing so much of our crap. It’s liberating and overwhelming.

Nearly a decade in this house and we’ve recently found things we forgot we had. Weeks after we got married, hubby and I hopped in separate cars and began the 11 hour drive from suburban Chicago to Bowie, Maryland. I had never even heard of Bowie when we moved and I didn’t pronounce it right (like Bowie knife not David Bowie).

We found boxes that we never unpacked from our initial move. Now, I’m trying to decide to keep the boxes or purge them. I mean, they’re already packed so why not? Then again, if we haven’t even see the items inside for as long as we’ve been here, do we really need it? Jury still out on a few of those.

Selling your house means you briefly get to live in the house the way you always wanted it to be but never quite had the time, money or motivation to make it happen. I’m kind of jealous that new owners – we’ll call them the Jones’ – will enjoy a hot bath in a plain white tub versus the 1960s yellow we’ve endured.

It may have taken three years, but Mr. and Mrs. Jones won’t trip on the cracked threshold in the master bath. They can sit in comfort with the newly repaired fireplace and remodeled kitchen. They can finish off the storage space in the garage like we always wanted to as a second living room or play room.

Thankfully, the Jones’ don’t get all the fun. Since our move is to Europe, most of our small appliances stay here. We’ll have to re-purchase everything from coffee pots to lamps to vacuums. And if we’re doing all that, may as well get new towels and bedding. Maybe even new furniture. Cheers!

We’ll need extra necessities and some fun goodies for family and friends who fly over the ocean to visit us and tour various countries. With Weisbaden just 20 miles from Frankfurt, Germany, we’ll be in a prime location to take short flights, train or car rides, we better stock up! Shopping at little markets and from businesses with centuries old craftsmanship.

Moving can be stressful, but when you know it’s an adventure your family will never forget, you guzzle the glass of wine, refill and keep packing.

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Why I Write

The love of writing has been running through my veins for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, most kids dread writing assignments. Book reports brought about eye rolls and grabbing CliffsNotes to squeak out a report in the nick of time.

Not me. I loved it. What I loved more than the reading and the writing was doing it under pressure and on tight deadlines. It was exhilarating to get a final paper done with mere hours, sometimes minutes, to spare.

Most writers live in two worlds. The one in which everyone else roams and the one where their imaginations run wild. There is something about putting words onto paper, or now on a screen, that allows the thoughts in writers’ minds to manifest as reality.

I fell in love with journalism in my junior high years thanks to Barbara Walters. As I went through high school and honed skills with a very encouraging English/Journalism teacher, it soon became clear that writing was the only college major I could consider. I never loved school or studying, so in order to push my way through four years of college, I had to choose the one thing that made early classes worth it.

I wanted to take my place at the anchor desk like Babs, but my Midwestern dialect – speaking too fast and not annunciating well enough – kept me to field reporter and copy writer. After an amazing internship at NBC 5 Chicago, I moved to a small town in Arizona to launch my journalism career.

There is something about the interview, the slow divulgence of information and personal conversation. There is something about building a relationship with those in your community, in civil service, DEA agents, and occasionally a celebrity. Now I’ve interviewed athletic celebrities and even mascots – Red Bird from St. Louis. I’ve enjoying talking with Ed McMahon and sitting in press conferences with Noah Wyle.

I’ve covered elections, council meetings, police beats and education news. But there is still something about bringing out someone’s personal story. Making the everyday person on the street into a household name, even if just for a week in their small community.

In my reporter days, we had a weekly feature in our community newspaper. The Personality Profile allowed us to find the hidden gems within our coverage communities. Most people are hesitant to talk about themselves and don’t feel they have anything importance to share. As conversations developed, their inner story is revealed and everyone has a story.

Writing doesn’t just allow for the author to put their works into the hands of readers. It allows authors to bring their subjects to life. To share a portion of their imagination. To bring a glimpse of how we see the world as people, places and things to unlock and share.

Now more than 20 years since making the decision to write for a living, I’ve come home to it. I bring with me over a decade of journalism experience, five years of marketing and public relations writing and even a few years in non profit outreach. Each of those jobs and years of experience aid in my ability to manage time, work under deadlines, get the story out and touch the hearts of readers. That’s still the best job I can imagine.