All hope is not lost

The other day I took some friends’ kids out for a photo shoot as a surprise gift for their Mom.  Mind you, these kids are on their Thanksgiving break and here I am, pulling them away from their basketball court, devices (though I caved and let those come along for the ride) and their couch.  The fact that they not only complied, but had a genuinely good attitude about my request is a testament to the way they are being raised.  In a typical teenager fashion, after the first stop, one of them asked what was next and how long it’ll take to get there.  The question popped up again after our last stop.  I smiled and said, “Actually…we’re headed home” which resulted in a “oh we are….okay, cool.”  Though he acted as if we had been driving for hours, the same teen spoke up to say “oh, I know where we are….we should be home in like 10 minutes.”  As we looked at the jam-packed sea of cars in front of us, his older brother and I laughed saying it might be longer than that.  

Multiple times during the car ride home, the kids thanked me for doing this for their Mom and like their genuine attitude at the beginning, they really meant these words.  It would be easy to say that was planned, their mother told them to say that….but I didn’t care—I’m a sucker for good manners and hearing nice things.  Truth be told, their parents have raised them to be respectful, use their manners and be genuinely nice.  

Once I returned the kids safety to their house, their Mom and I sat down to visit.  She played along with my surprise by not asking any questions and even saying, “I don’t know…she won’t tell me” when her husband called during our visit.  When she walked me to my car, I told her how good the kids were, how fun it was to see them get along and that she’s doing a good job.  She thanked me before we hugged good-bye and I went on my way.

Even though I don’t have any kids of my own…just a niece and nephews I adore, I know this for sure: Parenting is not easy.  It is not for the faint of heart.  I see that with my friends who are parents (such as the friend I mentioned earlier), my sister who is a mom of 5, my mom, etc….Parenting requires being the adult and setting the tone.  Parenting requires being firm, not one’s friend.  Children will get mad at you, say they hate you, threaten to run away, etc.  They will hopefully realize later on that you were only being tough for their own good.  Mind you, they may not say “thank you” outright…but in their own way, they will say it.

As we are a day from Thanksgiving, I want to express how grateful I am to my parents who always pushed me to do the right thing….who had high expectations for me and my sisters and who made the tough decisions.  I like to think they paid off.  

Enjoy the family time, the little moments, and the friends who feel like family, and find time to laugh….a lot!  Happy Thanksgiving and remember, calories don’t count on holidays….

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Christmas Through the Eyes of Children

For the past 19 years, opening presents has been scheduled around my sister’s family. For me being the youngest of 3, having the opportunity to watch my nephews and niece grow up and embrace their innocence has been one of the best presents. Yesterday was no exception. We decided to open presents before an early dinner and church. We all gathered around the tree with our piles of presents. Meagan, my niece, was in full excitement mode. Her 3 older brothers were on the other side of couch so they could spread out and have space. Their average height is about 6’2 and ages range from 15-19. Once my brother-in-law had his phone ready to record, the green light was given to start opening. My Mom and sister were on either side of me, and we all watched Meagan light up when she started tearing open her packages. Frequently throughout the Christmas season, I would hear my sister Kathy say, “I have to remember she’s only 10…and need to enjoy this time with her.” Whether it was a Bath and Body Works foaming body spray or a fun t-shirt, Meagan was all smiles. After opening a few of her own, she went over to my sister to see her gifts. My Mom and I caught Garrett, who just turned 13, punching his fist in the air out of excitement after opening a book on baseball stadiums.  Occasionally, from the other side of the couch, we would hear a “Thanks Grandma” or “Thanks Aunt Mary” from one of the boys as they unwrapped theirs. I loved turning around to see these large teenage boys, two of which are in college, still smile as they took part in the chaos. They haven’t outgrown any of it. This was evident an hour or so later as we were all gathered as a family in church (taking up almost a whole pew, I might add), when I watched my two 6’3 nephews sing along to the Christmas hymns. A proud aunt….you’re darn right!

One of my favorite songs I play repeatedly this time of year is “The Heart of Christmas” by Matthew West. The words ring so true as to how we should feel and the things we should embrace this time of year. Two verses of the song really say it well:
Wherever you are, no matter how far
Come back to the heart, the heart of Christmas
Live while you can, cherish the moment
The ones that you love, make sure they know it
Don’t miss it, the heart of Christmas

Let’s make it feel the way it used to
Let’s find that wonder of a child
You can see the magic all around you
Come on, and open up your eyes

We are all guilty of rushing through the season. I work in a school and there were moments on the last day before our break where I thought, “Seriously, we’re already here?” Of course another part of me was ready to shove everything in my bag and check out for two weeks…but I just couldn’t believe the days had gone by that fast. No kids to see everyday with excitement in their eyes, anxiously waiting Santa and “the magic of Christmas.”

As you spend the day with your family, may you slow down and enjoy every moment.

Merry Christmas!

Finally Friday: Almost Family Time

For those that live away from your family, you know how hard it is to be away from them. There are many holidays I can’t spend with my family because I live about 600 miles away. However, there is one holiday, that is non-negotiable and I am home no matter what: Thanksgiving. It happens to be my Dad’s favorite holiday as well so he loves when we are all together. For the most part, we do too, ha!

In a matter of days, I will be on a plane bound for San Antonio. I will be picked up from the airport by my middle sister. She and I are the closest out of my two older sisters. I admire her very much. She’s married with 5 kids, yes 5, and is so good at multi-tasking. Heck, you have to be with that much going on, right! I feel sorry for the people who are not close to their siblings. Granted, we have our moments where we want to look for sharp objects, but we are always there for each no matter what. I talk to one of my sisters once a week or at least twice a month when things are really hectic for both of us. Now that my parents are getting older, we really rely on each other’s strengths to get through the times and deal with critical issues. Thankfully, we all have a great sense of humor which helps us through the various trials as well.

As Thanksgiving draws more near, I am sincerely grateful for my family. Be sure to express your appreciation and gratitude for those you love.

Enjoy the weekend…it’s FINALLY FRIDAY!!!

There’s No Place Like It

When I was growing up, our summers and winters revolved around skiing, boating, putt-putt and hanging out with cousins at our condo. Our parents relaxed by keeping one eye on the kids and visiting with our aunts and uncles. Their main priority, however, was us kids. Fast forward to now…at the age of 35, I am at the point where family trips become about the enjoyment of two groups: my niece and nephews and my parents. There is one place that makes my Mom’s shoulders relax and where my Dad constantly has a smile on his face. This place is Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Most people who are not from the Chicago area have never heard of Lake Geneva. This is just fine with our family because frankly, having a lot of people know about it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we want to share what this town has to offer and why it is so special. But on the other hand, we want to wrap out arms around it and keep it a secret too. My sisters and I laughed during a recent visit, wondering what all “these people” were doing in our town.
We recently came back from about a 5-day getaway to our favorite vacation spot. My sisters, my parents and I all had July 17th circled on our calendars for about a year. After a hectic year at work, I was really looking forward to this time away. The day finally came where I was to fly out of Oklahoma City into Milwaukee to meet up with my older sister, a family friend’s daughter and my parents. Courtesy of the best airline out there, Southwest Airlines, I arrived in Milwaukee about an hour before the rest of the crew.

flight

For the sake of convenience, we rented two cars-one that could easily accommodate my Dad and another for the rest of us. The drive from Milwaukee to Lake Geneva is a fairly simple one and allows you to see part of the farm areas. I drove my Mom and we couldn’t help but smile as we came upon the exit for Highway 50 with a sign that said Lake Geneva. We immediately started making comments about changes or reminisced about some event from years ago. As we made the curve onto Lake Shore Drive, I looked over at my Mom and immediately saw her relax and knew she was in total vacation mode.

boats

Later that evening, my Mom and I had an early dinner at one of the Lake Geneva’s staples, Lake Aire restaurant. My middle sister, the one with 5 kids and the one you would think would want to sleep in, texted me the day after we arrived at 6:50 a.m. and asked if I wanted to meet up with her for a walk. This should clearly tell you how much we love this town the fact that we want to get up early and enjoy every day.

lake shore dr

The next few days became a whirlwind of visits from various cousins, aunts and friends of my parents. Some days it was mass chaos but looking back, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Saturday, my older sister rented a boat so my cousins and nephews could take part in some skiing, rafting and fun on the lake. Some made it up on the skis (albeit only for mere seconds) but they had fun and that was all that mattered.

One of my favorite moments was when my sister’s suite (which we deemed our “headquarters” since it was the biggest), was full of family members. The phone rang and I answered it. My Mom was on the other end, trying to talk while stifling a laugh.  She took a breath and said, “Well guess what, the Ryans are now coming.” I laughed and said, “Awesome…oh Mom, that’s great…the more, the merrier.” About 30 minutes later, I hugged MaryAnne and Pete Ryan (whom we have called Uncle Pete since we were little). He has been a really close friend of my Dad for close to 70 years. He is 86 years old and has the energy of a child-such a fun guy to be around.  They were accompanied by one of their sons, Tim. My sister and I made sure to grab her camera to capture their visit. Even if no one else visited the rest of our stay, my sisters and I were delighted that our parents’ friends made it up to see them.

The day before we left, I was finally able to get my Mom on her beloved Mailboat ride. I won’t go into great detail on this here but would encourage everyone to watch this video. The weather was perfect and I absolutely loved looking across the aisle at my Mom with a big smile on her face, seeing her enjoy every moment. One of the reasons she enjoys going on the boat ride year after year is to see her buddy Captain Neil Frame (who has been the captain for over 50 years)…and to make sure the young mail jumpers don’t leave out any details on the lake homes. I, however, enjoy going because I love boats and the water but also because of the beautiful homes that you see on the ride. They belong to or have at one time belong to millionaires like the Wrigley family, the Maytag family and a multitude of other wealthy Chicago families.

lake house 2 And this is their “summer home”…..

neil frame

Good ‘ole Captain Neil Frame

Our final day came all too soon. Since we didn’t leave until the evening, we decided to have lunch at The Abbey.

abbey1

I could get used to having this as a backdrop while having lunch…

abbey2Mom and Dad after lunch

After that, we made a stop at The Cheese Box (we were in the cheese state, after all). At that point, we were just right on time but made sure we headed to the airport shortly afterwards. Despite missing our exit, we made it to the airport after gassing up the rental cars and proceeded to start the departure process. We shared one flight but then I went my separate way in St. Louis. My sister, her friend’s daughter and I waited for my parents after we departed the plane.  When i asked what time their flight was, Jean said, “Um, I’m not sure” but after looking at her boarding pass and then to her watch, she goes, “Oh yikes, we’re boarding now.”  After getting the okay to go back down the jet way, I kissed my parents goodbye before heading to my gate.

As I write this, one week has gone by since we were all together. Having friends who have lost their fathers too soon, I know I am beyond blessed to have had this trip with not only one parent, but both….especially my 84 year-old father (side note: he turned 84 while on this trip which was even more special). God willing, in two more years, we will all reconvene again in our favorite vacation spot. As the motto goes, “There’s no place like it.”

What are You Grateful for Today?

Dear Readers,

I saw the above phrase on Facebook courtesy of Beach Cottage Life and it prompted me to reflect on how I spent this past Christmas Day.  From two different friends, I received invitations to spend part of the day with them.  Being away from my blood family (since I feel when you choose friends well, they become your extended family), these were perfect ways for me to be surrounded by people I care about and not dwell on not being home in San Antonio.  Today I am grateful for my friends who think enough of me to include me in their family gatherings.  I started the day by attending church, and then had lunch with one of the most thoughtful and best individuals I know, Terri Moyer.  I ended the day by having dinner with another friend, Connie Lang, and her family.  There were kids enjoying both their toys and hanging out with cousins, sisters harassing each other (all in good fun) and wine enjoyed by all.  By the time I left her house, my mouth hurt from laughing.  Not a bad way to spend Christmas.

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I am thankful for my health, my faith and for knowing that I have the power to change my surroundings.  I can choose to keep looking back on the past in a negative way or look ahead and concentrate on the positive and endless possibilities that await me.  Last, but certainly not least, I am grateful that in 3 days I will see my sister, parents and 2 of my nephews and niece.  

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas and were surrounded by those you loved.  If you care to share what YOU are grateful for today, I would love to hear it.

Sincerely,

Mary

Family and the Meaning of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the one holiday I will not compromise in being away from my family.  The one day a year I want turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and the whole works.  This is a time to count our blessings and appreciate the people in our lives.  I tend to be extra conscious of my friends during Thanksgiving-the people I can count on no matter what.

I shake my head in disgust when the focus of this particular holiday is about gifts and pre-Black Friday deals.  I would imagine that many people are revolving their holiday plans around stores’ hours on Thanksgiving Day.  Seriously??  I applaud stores like Nordstrom’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Costco and the others who ARE NOT open on Thanksgiving Day. How refreshing…stores having principles and being unapologetic about them.   For the parents who plant themselves outside a store before they’ve even digested their turkey, what does that teach our children about family and counting our blessings?  To me, it says “things” are more important than people.  Wow, how very sad!

In a matter of hours, I will be surrounded by my family which includes my 83 year-old father and 75 year-old mother, sisters, brother-in-law, nephews and niece.  What started out as plans for a quick dinner with my sister turned into a family dinner and I’m good with that.  We always enjoy each other’s company and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  There is no equal to spending time with family.  I encourage all of you to re-think your plans for Thanksgiving night and put family first.  If any of this reminds you something you’ve read in a book called Good Tidings and Great Joy, good because I love that Sarah Palin is trying to take back American values and getting people to wake up.

Sincerely,
Grateful in Norman

My 7 Random Things

While this post is only partially related to faith, family and sports, I still wanted to share. Thanks to our administrative assistant, Juli Hall, our staff shared “7 random things” about ourselves at our staff meeting this morning. This was both entertaining and insightful and I’m glad we did the activity. So, with that said, here are mine:

1. I love photography and would love to have my photos displayed in a gallery some day. For now, there are some up in a coffee shop in Moore.

2. My sister and I hope to open a B & B….here or in College Station if my nephews become Aggies.

3. I have never gotten chicken pox. One year my sisters, cousins all got it in either Ireland or Wisconsin and yet I never got it. When my Dad got Shingles, my Mom immediately sent me to get a vaccine.

4. I’m a sucker for holiday movies and relate closely to the Griswold’s in Christmas Vacation. We have many pictures of lights draped around poles with duct tape and orange extension cords.

5. One year on our way to Chicago, our suburban coasted off of I-35 and we had to get a new one in Waxahachie, TX. Every time I drove through there, I have my moment of silence, laugh and hit the gas.

6. I once met Herb Kelleher (former CEO of Southwest Airlines) at a Southwest gate in Dallas….and he is as nice as everyone says.

7. For a person who grew up quiet and introverted, I am now very sarcastic and enjoy making people laugh and lightening up a mood.

-Mary

My Blog Reinvented

Three simple words that describe “a few of my favorite things” (yes, that would be a reference to The Sound of Music).  in a nutshell.  To me, faith is believing that there is something (or someone) greater that gets me through the difficult days.  Faith is knowing that God has a plan for me though I may not understand the intricacies.  Faith is trusting God when the alternative is to stay in the past. 

 

Family is the group of people that are there no matter what.  I’m blessed to have two older sisters (yea, wasn’t always giddy about that) but I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to know they always have my back.  My parents are unconditionally supportive and I am grateful for their love.  For the past 16 years, I have been lucky enough to be an aunt.  Being the youngest child, I have absolutely loved being able to watch my nephews and niece grow up and see the world through their eyes.

Last, but certainly not least, sports.  Sports are my outlet, distraction and home away from home.   I love fall….fall is the changing of the leaves; fall is cooler weather; fall is Thanksgiving and vacation for me.  Friends may cringe when they read this, but to me, fall is basketball season.  Typically, my Wednesday and Sundays are spent at Lloyd Noble Center, home of the Oklahoma Sooners.  For those 2 hours, my mind is free of all the things I need to be doing, fixing, assessing, etc… and I am a fan.  I feel like I’m 12 years old again and in my backyard shooting hoops.  Whether I’m celebrating a fast break play by Morgan Hook or a 3-pointer from Vegas (aka Aaryn Ellenberg), or watching Coach Coale with hands on her hips and that crooked smile after some stupid call by the refs….I don’t have a care in the world but enjoying those 40 minutes of basketball.  Basketball is my first love….and thanks to a family member having introduced me to OU (and Coale’s ’02 Final Four team playing in my hometown of San Antonio), I’m a Sooner and darn proud of it. 

The Town I Love So Well

Ever since I was a little girl, there is a town that has been closely associated with my family.  This town means so much to not only my parents, sisters and myself but also my cousins and extended family.  Sometime earlier this year, my Dad (who is 82) announced that he was up for going to Lake Geneva once again.  The designated travel agent in the family, my middle sister and mother of 5, asked if he was serious.  When he continued to bring up the idea, she decided that was a yes.  Planning a trip that includes Dad is a big deal.  He’s got multiple health issues so getting clearance from his doctor to fly was a must before moving forward. Once he gave the okay, we booked our flights.   Months passed by, dates were chosen and we began to make plans.  Fast forward to July 15th.  11 people arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at various times.  I arrived a few hours after everyone else.  I was thrilled that I’d be able to look forward to take in the drive, enjoy the scenery of farms and all that comes with the Midwest.  The drive only took about 45 minutes.  When the town of Lake Geneva began to come into view, I couldn’t help but smile.  “Finally” I thought.  I pulled up to the hotel, grabbed my bag and waited for my sister to meet me so I could get into one of the side entrances.  I wasn’t there 5 minutes when I heard a voice call my name and I turned around to see my cousin wheeling a luggage cart toward the door.  He was just one of about 20 cousins I saw in the mere 4 days we were there.  I made my way to my sister’s room where there was already a crowd…and that was just the 11 of us from Oklahoma and Texas.  I sat down to eat but before I could take my first bite, in walked about 7 more cousins.  I laughed and thought, “Here we go…” The list of cousins and family members on my Dad’s side is long.  I knew we’d be seeing them during our stay…just didn’t expect to see the bulk of them on the first night.  As hungry as I was, I loved being surrounded by the chaos that comes with our family. 

For whatever reason, we only booked our stay from Sunday-Friday.  Instead of dwelling on why we didn’t reserve our rooms for longer, we simply made the most of the stay.  We ate, shopped, and just relaxed.  As we tend to do each time, we took a boat ride around the lake.  This year, we took The Mailboat.  This is the vehicle to which residents who own homes on the lake receive their mail, hence the marine delivery.  I urge you to check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-9UoDF25xg

My sisters and I enjoy seeing my Mom grin from ear to ear every time she takes the boat ride.  She has taken it so many times now that she’ll get this funny look on her face if she thinks the commentator has forgotten some pertinent fact.  Along this boat ride, you will see homes that belong to some of the wealthiest families from Chicago and across the country including the Wrigley’s (who own the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley gum) as well as the Maytag family.  Check out some of the digs:

What, doesn’t everyone have a private dock?

Yea, but where will the guests stay?

On a whim during dinner one night, my sister called a photographer that has taken pictures of our family a few times before in Lake Geneva.  She left her a message asking if she was by any chance free to take a group photo once again.  Fortunately Carol was available and two days later, we were all gathered around The Riviera. When she got there, she was greeted by about 25 of us.  She even got tears in her eyes upon seeing how much my nephews and niece had grown.  It was pretty sweet.  The background of boats and water was perfect and created such lasting memories for the whole gang of us. 

My middle sister and I are rarely seen without our cameras, especially with family around and on vacation.  So when my nephews, niece, brother-in-law and cousins rented Sea Doos, we were there to greet them, armed with our cameras to capture the moment of absolute giddiness.  My brother-in-law looked like he was a kid, I loved seeing that. 

Jay on the Sea Doo

 

Friday came all too quickly and it was time to pack up and head back home.  I left the earliest out of the group and oh man was it hard to leave Lake Geneva.  Just like Phil Coulter reflects on his hometown of Derry in Northern Ireland in The Town I Loved So Well, the town means that much to us.  Many years ago, we used to own a condo in Lake Geneva.  As soon as school was out in the summer, we would pack up the suburban and head north.  We stayed there all summer, returning to Texas only a few days before school started again.  In the winter, we flew up to Chicago, visited family and then made the 2 hour drive north.  Because of this, we got to see and experience snow at a young age and became quite close with our cousins.  We love the small town feel, the ice cream parlors, the way it relaxes all of us and simply put…the memories.  During this last visit, my middle sister Kathy got that look in her eye when we passed real estate listings.  I could tell what she was thinking because it’s the same thing we’re all wondering.  She said, “Gosh, I wonder what it would take to own a condo or suite like the one we are staying in now…” I couldn’t help but laugh because we tend to get that itch every time we visit.  This is truly the one place all of us would move in a heartbeat.  Lake Geneva is definitely the town we will always love so well. I urge everyone to visit.  As is the motto, “It’s always been the place…”