Sunday, December 30, 2012

It's Surprising What You Learn

Well it only took fifteen years but last night we hosted a neighborhood holiday get-together.  It was an intentional effort to reach out - the people we invited we have known for years, and they've been to our home for all the milestone celebrations, but never just "because" and now, well, that's where we find ourselves - doing a lot of things just because we can.  For years, we've been dashing in and out and always in a hurry and rarely had the extra minute to extend more than a polite hello to our neighbors.  Not that too many have noticed - everyone seems to be just as busy.

And just when I thought I might not have too much in common with these people on the guest list, I realize - hey, we all chose this neighborhood to live our sacred lives - that's a fairly compelling commonality!

It's surprising what you learn when you have a chance to talk to your neighbors.  One neighbor is a pilot and has offered to take us on a joyride.  Another built a fence on the side of his house so he wouldn't have to look at his neighbor next door, someone else isn't talking to someone else, and mostly everyone is bothered by the parking habits of another.  And, while choosing similar spots on this quiet residential street, we are all over the map politically.  But the biggest takeaway, the most important discovery, is that we have way more in common than not.

Navigationally, we are united - this street is home.  It makes sense to invest in these relationships.  Oh - and I tried caviar for the first time ever and discovered something else - fish eggs are delish!

Friday, December 28, 2012

What? WoT

WoT - The Web of Things

We are already so connected to all-things-web that there are new, mostly online (ha!), global conversations about digital detox - about the need to ditch the devices, go offline and reinvest in what really matters, in relationships.

In technology circles, I've heard more and more about WoT - the initiative to convert traditional things to web-connected SMART things that can store and share data - and can also allow programming so the devices can make decisions.  Kinda like The Jetsons.

We're already doing this.  If you have the newer equipment that controls DIRECTV, you can make a last-minute and remote decision - from nearly anywhere - and make your DVR at home record a favorite show or game.  Others can monitor their home's security and energy consumption from afar.  If my children were still in daycare, you can bet I'd be leveraging technology somehow.

On Christmas Day, with everyone gathered around the brunch table, we sat and scribed 2013 goals.  Ian wants to write an app.  I've been thinking about that.  From mundane tasks to opportunities where precision is required, where will we trend?  What do we want? 

I'd like someone to refrigerate the red about 20 minutes before I arrive home and also draw my bath.

Oh...I already get's my Shawn app.  Back to reinvesting in relationships.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Life Permits

The campus is, not surprisingly, quiet today.  Not much going on in academia between semesters.

Why is it that when no one is around, when it's quiet, it's also scary?

Maybe because we have had 31 school shootings since Columbine.  Because weapon sales are up.  Because we've seen so many massacres on school campuses.

Yes, we need to make an effort, but what?  Conneticut's gun laws were among the strongest in the nation, and that didn't help prevent all the horrible, senseless killings earlier this month.

I'd like to see a ban on those automatic and semi-automatic weapons - not sure what they are called and couldn't identify one but you know the kind:  they can hold a whole lot of bullets with the capacity to slaughter hundreds of human beings in just a few minutes.

The U.S. has more guns and more gun violence than any other civilized country in the world. And in the last few years, states' budgets for mental health services have been cut by more than $1.6 billion (per the National Alliance on Mental Illness).  Why am I thinking about this?  How can I not.  Some grim and current estimates claim there are about 300 million guns in American homes; also that there are 50 million Americans living in poverty.

I'm not so worried about Americans' rights - just our precious lives.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Principles of Kwanzaa

One by one, the presents were unwrapped, the food was served, the wine was drunk, and the kids hugged me goodbye and returned to their homes.

Even the Roto Rooter guy has come and gone (damn potato peels anyway).

My sugar high is completely worn off and my crash was hard. I'm guessing the next time we will be all home together will be in October, in advance of Matt's wedding.  That's our lives now and a quick reminder that the alternative is for them to be watching TV in the basement is all I need to slap me back to our wonderful reality.

There are still things to celebrate - they want to visit and say as much.  They refer to our home as "home" and describe it not unlike a destination retreat.  That makes this mama smile.

It's time to for me to get a move on - I don't wear pathetic well - what's next up?

Well, Kwanzaa started today and while I have zero ties to an African heritage and I'm not a big fan of week-long celebrations (three days of eating too much while sleeping and exercising too little has contributed a bit to my situational mood today), I do find the seven principles interesting:

  • Unity - to strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Self-determination - to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
  • Collective Work and Responsibility - To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
  • Cooperative Economics - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • Purpose - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • Creativity - To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  • Faith - To believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

  • Now that I'm thinking about it, these same principles are ones that I've encouraged in our home, over the years, in an unwritten way.  And maybe that's why it is so much fun when we are together, and why it's so bittersweet when it's time to say goodbye.

    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    Secret Santa

    This time of year I always reflect on a few desperate Decembers in the early nineties: when the children were young and their ToysRUs wish lists were more compelling than the household bills - and I was responsible for all of it.

    There were annual late night holiday visits from my new friends Beth and Jim. They were second-time-a rounders and they seemed so happy together. They seemed to understand what really matters: love and generosity. I met them one Fall when they started to routinely park on my front lawn for Hawkeye football games.

    Anyway, a few days before Christmas, Beth and Jim would stop by unannounced, barely ducking in my back door, just long enough to press $300 in my hand and wish my family a Merry Christmas. Every year they told me they were just passing the money to me - from someone who wanted to remain anonymous, somebody who admired me and wanted me to spoil the children. And so I did. Instead of just socks and pajamas, the kids received games and toys and candy those years.

    And after a few of these Christmases, I met Shawn Steil and the holiday visits from Beth and Jim stopped. I guess they knew it was time to spoil someone else, but their gifts, the lessons I learned from them, will outlast any other present I've given or received.

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Gift Giving

    So I've been humming a few bars of "The Servant Song" by Richard Gillard lately. I love that song - so much that I included it at my Wedding Mass, and last year Kate included it in hers:

    1. Will you let me be your servant?
    Let me be as Christ to you.
    Pray that I might have the grace
    To let you be my servant, too.

    2. We are pilgrims on a journey.
    We are brothers on the road.
    We are here to help each other
    Walk the mile and bear the load.

    3. I will hold the Christ-light for you
    In the night time of your fear.
    I will hold my hand out to you;
    Speak the peace you long to hear.

    4. I will weep when you are weeping.
    When you laugh, I'll laugh with you.
    I will share your joy and sorrow
    Till we've seen this journey through.

    5. When we sing to God in heaven,
    We shall find such harmony
    Born of all we've known together
    Of Christ's love and agony.

    What I love the most about these lyrics is that it addresses both sides of gift giving, both the giving AND the receiving. Sometimes the RECEIVING of a gift is a gift in itself:

    Pray that I might have the grace
    To let you be my servant, too.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    Miss Rank

    "Guest Readers" - yep, that's us! We had the honor of reading some holiday stories to Miss Rank's 4th grade class today!  What a thrill to see my special niece, my Goddaughter, Miss Rank, in action today.  Although a new college graduate, through her own effort and talent she has her own classroom - first year out - no small accomplishment!  And gee, is it HERS...she is clearly in charge command - while still being so very warm and kind, so very Jen.  It was fun to see her in a totally different role, the role that clearly is her passion, her identity.  I was fighting back the tears, I was so proud of her.  And then she introduced us, and explained to her "boys and girls" that it's no secret that her name is Jenifer - and then she told them she was named after me.  Wowza - then I was REALLY choking back the tears.  Thankfully one of her students, a boy, shot up his hand and said, "Miss Rank...does that mean you are Jenifer Junior?!"  It was just what I needed.

    I read O'Henry's "The Gift of the Magi" and Shawn read a simple rendition of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  We were so happy to get a peak into Miss Rank's world and I kept thinking that I wanted to time travel back to fourth grade and sit in one of those small chairs and learn from her all day long.

    I admire her happy room, and totally love this poster about what really matters.

    She is barely taller than about half of the students but look at her - kind and involved and totally in charge.

    "Rank Bank Bucks" can be earned by working on optional activities, like working on verbs.
    The bucks can be redeemed for things like working at Miss Rank's desk or buying a pencil.

    This is one very organized educator.

    Monday, December 17, 2012

    RFC 2012 - One for the books!

    I've nearly recovered and am definitely renewed from the annual "Rank Family Christmas" and I smile whenever I think of my time, our conversations, the laughs and the fun.  A visit from Santa, a photo booth, a keg of Bud Light, Card Bingo, a Holiday Puzzler  and Who Am I? games!  This group rocks!  43 of the 53 made their way to Cedar Rapids.  There was so much to celebrate - two new babies celebrating their first Christmas, two babies that most of us haven't seen taking steps, a baby announcement!, a newly married couple, a newly engaged couple, an impending retirement, and one of our favorites upstairs in a hotel room battling a debilitating cold.

    I guess you would say "LIFE" is happening all around us.

    It hit me hard when we were gathered in church, as I saw the familiar family faces returning from Communion.  Everyone has their ups and downs, their challenges and their reasons to cheer.  This is always a sentimental time, a hard time when we remember our personal losses, and especially this raw time, as we learn the news of another senseless school killing involving dedicated teachers and innocent children.  But getting together with people who know your life and your loves, and support you through all of it, that is priceless and I really do recognize this unique bond as a huge blessing in my life.

    We don't have too many chances to get together as a family, and I value it, and look forward to it, every time.  It's why I didn't go to sleep until 3 and was back up by 7 - every minute matters.  It is a thrill to belong to something this big and wonderful, and I'm very grateful and proud to be an original. 

    Thursday, December 13, 2012


    I want to share an exercise I recently did, and honestly, it's a fun doesn't even require any aerobic activity!

    The exercise involves a book by Tom Rath called Strengths Finder 2.0.  The key idea in the book is that we should focus on discovering, and then improving, our strengths.  I learned that our strengths are actually the totality of the following three things:
    • skills (acquired through training and practice),
    • knowledge (acquired through learning), way to get around it...
    • talents (things that come naturally to us).
    The book costs about $13 on Amazon ( 

    Part 1 discusses what's "right" with people.  Instead of focusing on our weaknesses, like so many self-help books do, this book doesn't even hint at a "fix" for ourselves.  This book recognizes and celebrates that, as individual as we each are, we possess unique strengths, in varying degrees.  So that...instead of ruminating about what I need to work on, I can acknowledge my strengths with the goal of turning those strengths from good to great!  People who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths, according to the book, are 6 times as likely to be engaged at work and 3 times more likely to report just having a pretty excellent quality of life generally! 

    Another compelling notion is that we CANNOT be anything we want (this goes against popular American culture but let's face it, I'm not gonna dance with the Joffrey ballet) but encourages us to realize that we can be a lot MORE of who we already are!

    Part 2 includes a unique ID code which allows you to take an online strengths assessment.  The assessment report is a valuable tool to help identify what strengths I had...and it was a fun kick on a trying day, too!  I list my strengths, for you dear reader, below, in the hope that you will share yours with me, too!  Naming our strengths to those we interact with can help with understanding and influence.  Imagine if we all recognized and appreciated others' strengths as we approached them for time, money, assistance, attention, comfort.  What might you achieve and who might you influence if you tapped on and leveraged your strengths more intentionally?

    You can see that I'm borderline obsessed on this topic.   Fair foreshadowing for anyone coming over to open gifts under our tree with me soon - get ready!

    Empathy - quiet by nature, clear-sighted, tune in to others' feelings

    Harmony - practical, realistic, attentive to what people share

    Input - your goal is to read a lot and comprehend everything you read so you are transformed in mind and spirt

    Intellection - acquiring knowledge is as much a pastime as it is a necessity of life

    Learner - you yearn to increase your knowledge and engaging in "small talk" seems like a waste of time

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    He's In!

    Remember how I talked about Austin last week?

    Well, he's in!  He's been admitted to The University of Iowa College of Dentistry!  This is a top-tier school, one of the best in the nation, and the only one in the country to offer every ADA-recognized specialty!  And he'll only be 30 minutes from home!  We are overjoyed.

    He's going to be a Hawkeye, or, in his words, a DuHawkeye!  I can't wait to share the town with him!

    Sunday, December 9, 2012

    Oaknoll bus

    Last night we had tickets to see Dan Knight Trio, featuring Marcia Hughes, in a Christmas concert.  Dan is an accomplished jazz pianist and composer and Marcia has pipes like none other - I have a special fondness for her voice as she sang at Kate's wedding and the memory of her rendition of  "Ave Maria" still keeps me awake at night.

    Our friends, Liz and Bill, joined us, and, after a bottle of very good Argentinian cab at the Mendoza wine bar, we found our places and for the next two hours were delightfully entertained as they, along with a fabulous bassist and a percussionist, performed some classics and also introduced us to new songs.

    But we couldn't resist the running joke:  "When is the Oaknoll bus going to show up?"  This was a very PG event and we were on the younger side of the attendees.  I was the only one in our group not quite eligible for the senior rate, and yet I warned everyone I might doze off.  We laughed at ourselves a lot - nervously probably.  Who are we becoming?  We decided on the evening with the carefree spontaneity of thrilled teenagers...and yet, looking around, we were definitely with the senior set.  We really enjoyed ourselves.  I'm always digging live music, Shawn enjoyed seeing the inside of the new Coralville Center for the Performing Arts building, we needed a holiday push, and getting together with old friends is always a treat.  Maybe it's time to embrace this new period of our lives - that we can go to a general admission concert and get good seats, that there is value in things that the very young and very old like alike, that aging brings with it worthwhile opportunities that our younger selves would've passed on.

    Liz and me, shortly before we squeezed thru the no-exit exit.

    My new bag - a gift from Liz, who calls me Wonder Woman.                                                          

    Saturday, December 8, 2012

    Holiday Happiness

    I'm at that point.  It's starting to come together. 

    And I'm really happy that Shawn and I have a clear division of labor for this holiday:  I make the cookies and he strings the lights outside; he makes the Chex Mex and I make the cards; he hauls in the tree and I, well, I praise him.

    We don't even discuss what a pain this is -
    we focus on the smell.

    My sister, Marie, made this wreathe for me
    many a Christmas ago and I cherish it.
    I love my handmade tree skirt...thanks, mom!
    O Holy Night!

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012


    It's almost the new year, and I'm getting older, and someone asked me about my bucket list recently.  I didn't have one.  Now I do.  I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

    I've been learning a little about it and with Africa more than just a hop away, it's an expensive idea.  There's the transportation issue and then the cost of the organized - and obligatory - trek guide (some pay as much as $5K).  Oh - and it's sorta important to be rather fit.  After all, you are hiking for 7 days to reach the summit at 19,336 feet!  It is the world's tallest walkable mountain and hikers go through 5 different climatic zones to reach the summit.  It really does sound amazing and so bucket-list-worthy.  Who wants to join me?

    Monday, December 3, 2012


    The end of Austin's cross-country days are here and, while he is gearing up for one more track season, he is starting to realize that there are other things to chase - like dent school.  He spent a lot of his day today on the UI campus, interviewing at the College of Dentistry for a chance to be one of the lucky 70 (out of 400 chosen to interview from the pool of 900 applicants).  Fingers crossed for this 3-time All American standout, who has logged more than 12,000 miles in college.  We love you, Aust!  On to new challenges and new victories - no matter what path you choose!  Cheering from the cheap seats, I will be betting on you forever...xoxo, mom

    This is typical Austin - when I asked who
     "them" was - he told me it was the team.

    Proud fan.

    Goodbye, season, er, career.

    After today's interview, I just had to treat him
    to a Gatorade at the Den.

    Thursday, November 29, 2012

    Moby Dick

    So my technical expertise is my Moby Dick - and today that whale is gone.

    I stood in front of about 40 IT professionals in my university community at a brown bag lunch today and uncovered something I was hoping no one had noticed:  this IT Manager really only knows a handful of things about IT.

    I can blame it on a number of factors:

    1) The pace at which the change is moving, driven by the consumerization and mobilization of IT, makes it a full-time endeavor to stay current on engadget, cnet, gizmodo, etc. - and sometimes, shucks, I would just rather surf on Zappos. 

    2) I'm too busy with other tasks to swap out a motherboard or review the benefits of solid state drives, along with lots of other distractions that are fun but not fruitful for me. 

    3)  That's not what I'm paid to do anymore.  And that's the key.  In most cases, we have the jobs we have because of our strengths.  Harry Kraemer, in the book From Values To Action, discusses the notion that, instead of berating ourselves for our weaknesses, we should focus on improving our strengths and also surround ourselves with people who excel in areas we are weak.  In my case, I no longer rely on screwdrivers and external drives as my tools.  My tools are self-reflection, seeking out differing viewpoints, knowing what I know and what I don't know, and keeping things in perspective.  The tools of leadership.  I'm more likely to be listening to someone who knows that IT is somehow involved in their problem or solution and my role is to connect them with the resources, the experts, the funding, the answers.

    If you want to hear Harry talk about his book, sit back for three minutes, click on the following (if you can't see the video or are having any problems, close your browser and try again, or try another browser, or give me a call...I do know a THING or two about IT problems):

    Harry made me realize that value-based leadership expects you to kill the whale in your life.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Bleeding Lip

    So you might think my lip is bleeding because we just endured the holiday weekend with family and friends.  No!  That's not so!  I had the best Thanksgiving ever.

    I've been biting my lip at work lately.  I'm all for being sensitive and politically correct, but really?  Do we always have to kiss up and ignore down?  I'm just not into that...

    One of my heroes said this:
    I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

    If only I worked with Thomas Jefferson... 

    So why does the person with the inflated, impressive title always get the attention, the resources, the funding?  What if they are wrong and the minion is doing the right thing?  Shouldn't we notice THAT?  Shouldn't we HONOR that?  I mean, GEEZ!  I like to eat, too, but my integrity is more important than my next meal.  Until I'm hungry.

    Readers...please help me.

    Bridesmaid Kate and Other Blessings

    Doesn't he have the best smile ever?

    We had the fun of Black Wednesday (another fast night at the Rank's bar, thanks to Steve and Joni and very good champagne for engagement toasts to Matt and Kelly) and all the blessings that Thanksgiving brought...especially having an honored guest,  Grant Stephen, celebrating his first Thanksgiving at my home.  Everything went so well...including a short visit from our new favorite first year analyst, Joe.   But anyway...

    One of my favorite moments of my Thanksgiving vacation was Thursday night when my DIL2B, Kelly, stopped by to share her really cool engagement photos.  Along with the fun of seeing their favorite pics (and the honor of receiving copies of all 600 of them), there was a lot of joy and excitement in the air when she asked her new "sister" (her words) to be a bridesmaid.  I was immensely touched, especially because the bond between Kate and Kelly is a bond that seems way less about Matt lately and way more about them.  While their loyalty and mutual admiration is noticeable, the positive effects of these two young, strong women enjoying each other goes beyond what they can offer each other -- their friendship is a gift for Matt, for me, and for the entire family.  Cheers to the Bridesmaid...and Here's to the Bride!

    Sunday, November 25, 2012

    Black Sunday

    I might have made this up, but this is my Black Sunday night.  I'm ready!  Let's go.  I have enjoyed five days away now and I might just be convinced that it's time to go back.  Strap the pedometer back on, throw out the leftover pies and cakes, pack my lunch and set the alarm again.  Day camp, er work, is calling.

    While I certainly would resign immediately if I won that lottery game I never play, there is something healthy about our regimens, our routines, and it only takes five days away from it all to recharge my batteries and honor the structure that I have actually, somewhere along the line, chosen for myself.

    I know it's a new week, I know it's Sunday night...because I just made plans for next weekend!  Let's go!

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Giving thanks

    The smell of the giblets, simmering on the stove, kicked off my nostalgia today. I've been overwhelmed with gratefulness. This is the eve of my favorite holiday and Ive been honored to host it for almost thirty years.

    I'm alone in this house right now, with vegetables to clean and lots of other little chores as yet undone. I've sent Shawn on another errand. The table is set and now I'm just praying the traffic gods are kind, so the most important people in my world make it home. We will catch our breath tomorrow as we share a moment giving thanks and wonder at the blessings all around us. Cheers!

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Friendly Holiday Reminders

    I never really understood why holidays brought along uninvited guests - lots of emotions, confusion and chaos, travel worries, and so many expectations.

    I'm chasing this down, this year, and trying to enjoy the journey, trying to enjoy the countdown until everyone is finally home.  I'm getting their rooms ready, and remembering their favorite foods, and I'm almost at the window pane, I'm so eager with excitement for their arrival.  Soon this quiet place will be filled with reminders of who we once were and who we have become.

    I'm reminding myself of something else, too.  Surefire tips for a successful holiday season:

    1.   Seek to understand before you are understood.
    2.   Figure out what really matters.
    3.   Focus on your priorities first.
    4.   Chill the vodka.

    Jump start conversations with these open-ended phrases:

    1.  Tell me why that's important to you.
    2.  How can I support you?
    3.  What do you need?
    4.  How did that feel?

    Keep in mind that these questions are no longer yours to ask:

    1.  How much did that cost?
    2.  Do you know what's in that?
    3.  How often do you do that?
    4.  Why don't you do that this way?

    There's nothing I enjoy more than hangin' with my family, all my twentysomethings that offer me so much.  I'm looking forward to our conversations:  around the fireplace, in the hot tub, snackin' at the island.  No doubt, at some point, someone will quietly question my place in their world.  Hopefully I will still have the conviction I once had:  to remind them that my role isn't to make them happy, it's to challenge their thinking.  And then, I'll add:  When are you coming home for

    Sunday, November 18, 2012


    Happy birthday to my beautiful, capable mom! I've always admired my mom and never could compete with her (not in an I-need-therapy way but in a she's-so-proficient way).  I favor my dad - in looks, in disposition, in skills...and I love and honor that. But to be more like mom - that would be a delight! I know I've picked up a few lessons from mom over the years, and I like to think I run my castle like she runs hers, but she is the queen.  This pretty woman bore seven children...she has more projects and energy than anyone I kmow.  My little mum - so very big to me! Happy birthday, mom! Love you!

    Birthday lunch, 11.18.2012
    Mom and Dad

     My brothers and me - not looking a bit like our pretty mom.

    Saturday, November 17, 2012

    It's Not About the Food

    Timing is everything, right?  Seeing my longtime sisterfriend Lisa as she traveled thru Iowa on I-80, was a highlight of my week month; talking with her this weekend, a few days before my favorite holiday, was perfect timing and a good reminder.  I had been thinking about how my attempts to enhance my mash potatoes - by throwing in a block of cream cheese - really under-delivered last year, and she was reminding me that we get together on Thanksgiving for bigger reasons.  She was telling me about her Thanksgiving plans.  She explained that after years of shopping and cleaning and cooking and baking - she's just not feeling it this year.  Her family has plans to relax and chill and really ENJOY each other.  Then she said they may wander out to a nice Greek restaurant.  It's just what I needed to hear:  It's not about the food.

    It's not about the food:  hanging with Lisa and her family at McDonald's.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012


    Gift angst is starting to creep in.  I'm on the lookout for TV deals...and gadget gifts...maybe a cashmere sweater or scarf.  Kate and I usually creep out early on Black Friday, in the dark, for coffee and shopping madness.  In the meantime...I'm going to think about how I can bring a little of the following into my life this holiday season. 

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012

    Comforting Words

    I'm not sure who said this or where it floated from, but I saw it recently in one of my inboxes and it's like it was written just for me (and for a particular person who I had coffee with recently - you know who you are):

    "Today may there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us."

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Three Little Girls

    I had a chance to see two of my three Minneapolis sisters this weekend (sure did miss you, Laurie!).   So I started calling it the "Three Little Girls Reunion Party" and boy...did we! 

    There's something really cool about being in this particular club.  While my parents always speak affectionately when referring to the three little girls, the four older sibs haven't always had warmth rolling off their tongues with this label (more like rolling of the eyes).  I know we injected new energy and enthusiasm into the special bond we have when we met on Saturday night, as we discussed religion, children, food, family, politics, clothing, coupons...and other life choices.

    We might be sisters, but it's really the sisterhood.  Those of you who don't have blood sisters, or have lost them, often find this in other women.  The bond:  a mirror, a window, a witness, the truth.  There's just no getting away from yourself when you have allies in your life.  Cheers to Liz and Marie!

    Lake Calhoun - a 3.4 mile walk on a 65 degree day in November.
    It doesn't get much better than this!
    And of course, wine!

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Door Casings, Newels and Balusters...Oh My!

    "Getting my steps in" around the neighborhood on Halloween night, I peaked, from the street, inside other homes as people opened their doors to answer the call. I noticed the entryways of several homes (some much better than others) and came back and immediately proclaimed, "We gotta do something about this!"

    The next night, schlepping home with the bacon, I was surprised - not with simmering soup on the stove, but with the absence of a stairway railing, as well as the passé balusters attached therein!

    Once we decided to update the stairway, well you know what happens! We decided to paint our outdated oak doors, Shawn supersized the door casing and added an inch or two to the baseboards - these inexpensive and fun tricks are giving our humble abode a little lift.

    This is what I've been doing helping with lately instead of blogging...
    Adding a little height to the baseboard was a genius idea, Shawn!

    Vocab word of the day - this is a newel, sans cap.
    I got this photo before the last baluster was removed!
    I never knew I liked spindles so much!
    My contribution - it's really hard to mess up painting doors!

    Thursday, November 8, 2012

    Where Did I Put that Extra Hour?

    The affects of moving from Daylight Savings Time have long worn off, and only some cruel reminders remain - night recedes slowly, still, in the morning.  At workday's end, I'm rushing to beat the deer on the highway.

    Tonight, in front of me downtown, I saw a young, handsome family, very caught up in the traffic and their schedule, or so it seemed.  They were seemingly unaware, in their haste, of the blessing I so appreciated.  The dad was holding the hand of the oldest, a young and loyal daughter.  The mom had her baby's hand, a son, and clearly full of energy, even with the day fading.  I was sure they didn't notice their blessings like I did.  Yes, I was judging them.  I wanted to tell them to forget about their domestic concerns, their bills, their jobs, the car, and anything else that was challenging them.  Soak in the blessing of those beautiful children who drop by, quite possibly uninvited, and find a place at the table and in your heart, for such a short visit. 

    I'm thinking of my baby, who caught a flight this afternoon to Atlanta, just for dinner.  I'm thinking of another one of my babies who had the new experience of buying a studfinder this week after buying a new home.  And I'm thinking of my oldest baby, who is thinking about babies herself.

    It's official.  I'm old.  I've uttered those words - in the quiet of the night, in the privacy of the shower, in the commotion of the car:  Where did the time go?  I'd love to have my 3 blessings at our table, under our roof, for just one more quick dinner before we head off to soccer or to scouts.  I like to think I savored every moment, and I did and do feel God's touch when I think about the gift of motherhood that graced my life - but the truth is that many moments I was just trying to hold it all together and be that household appliance they needed me to be.

    Weekend Treat and definitely in the cassette deck twenty years ago:  Sinead O'Connor - Three Babies:

    Lyrics:  each of these my three babies I will carry with me for myself I ask no one else will be mother to these three and of course I'm like a wild horse but there's no other way I could be water + feed are not tools that I need for the thing that I've chosen to be
    in my soul my blood + my bones I have wrapped your cold bodies around me the face on you the smell of you will always be with me
    each of these my three babies I was not willing to leave though I tried I blasphemed + denied I know they will be returned to me each of these my babies have brought you closer to me no longer mad like a horse I'm still wild but not lost from the thing that I've chosen to be
    and it's 'cos you've thrilled me silenced me stilled me proved things I the face on you the smell of you will always be with me.

    Monday, November 5, 2012

    The Gratitude Plan

    It's November, people!  Let's get going on gratefulness.

    I'm going to recognize and celebrate my unfinished complete life - even if I don't have enough time, money, energy, and creativity - I can close my eyes to the sound of ohmmm and think about everything that is going right in my world.  The list is long! 

    Keep a journal, reflect when rising or ending the day, tell a loved one, and remind yourself:  good things are happening all around you.  The mere expression of gratitude can have a profound impact in your life...and those around you!

    If you've forgotten the language of gratitude, as the saying goes, you'll never be on speaking terms with happiness.

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    Knockin' on Heaven's Door

    I'll admit it - I wasn't really looking forward to today's sermon because of what's happening in two days.  I was braced for Father Vu to share guidance on how we should vote, based on the Church's doctrines.

    His message was a pleasant surprise.  He talked about his admiration for the volunteers who are enthusiastically knocking on doors, putting aside their wants and wishes while pushing forward the agenda of their candidate.  He didn't share his political leanings but instead talked about the selfless spirit of those campaigning for their guy. He wondered aloud why we do not rally and promote our God with that same zeal and energy. 

    There has been a lot of talk about values and priorities recently, but this simple message is the best soundbite I've heard lately.

    Friday, November 2, 2012


    Let's start the weekend with a sweet indulgence.  She is an artist, people.  Grammatically it doesn't always fit. amd literally I'm not exactly sure of all the players in this story song, but I assume that somewhere in here she is referring to the foreverness and loveliness (do I sound like her?) of being a mother.  Sit back, enjoy, and your welcome!

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    havoc and bright lights

    I finally got around to downloading Alanis Morissette's new album, havoc and bright lights.

    I've been waiting four years for AM to release something and now she has - and I've been rockin' to it ever since.  I am so glad she's back!

    She has always been a profound lyricist, and so I was very excited to see if she would go autobiographical as she can now add marriage, motherhood, and attachment parenting to her list of topics...and I was glad she did.  It's all still there:  self-care, prayer, solitude, oversights, imperatives.  But guess what?   havoc and bright lights  has been received with mixed reviews, some saying this is too meditational...really?  She rocks just as much as ever...I find that, isn't it, well, it's a little bit ironic?

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    Empty Nester Halloween

    After answering the door about one hundred fifty times tonight, Shawn and I threw some candy in our pockets and put the rest on the front stoop, on-your-honor style.  I crossed my fingers that my festive orange bowl wouldn't get lifted, kept the light on, and escaped the neighborhood.

    We headed over to Mr. Halloween's house - my friend and colleague, Shawn, whose kids are also grown but who is a big kid himself.  He started talking to me about Halloween one hot day in July when he wondered aloud if he should be watering the drought-ridden grass so it would be okay by 10/31.  In recent weeks, he sent me pictures with the progress he was making on his scary decorations - signs he made and lawn ornaments he had installed - and tonight we saw the colored flood lights showcasing the magic mirror, the smoking cauldron, and the zombie himself in action.  He told me one of the best parts of the night, besides the obvious cuteness and joy of the kids, is that parents stop by and ring his doorbell later in the evening, after their kids are tucked in bed, just to say "thanks".

    Returning home late tonight (after trick-or-treating on Fitzpatrick Court), noticing dark front porches and smashed pumpkins, I thought about how I am so not into this "holiday" anymore.  I thought about how my friend Shawn is building a personal legacy around this crazy day.  It used to be a very big deal at my house.  But now:  No more rushing home from work to feed the kids, paint their faces, or light the jack-o-lanterns. 

    It was comforting to notice that many of our empty nester friends and neighbors also only had one pumpkin on the stoop...and lots of triangle eye carvings at that.  Maybe it's not so weird to not get into Halloween anymore.

    Forget my hideous pumpkin sweatshirt I wore every year, along with the black and orange socks and dangling pumpkin earrings.  No more gauzy cotton spider web strings hanging in the bushes either.

    Halloween is really now just a blunt reminder that I have to gear up for the holiday season.