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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Read between the Lines

While I'm not much of a scientist, I do defer to them on the issue of climate change.  And it's frustrating that the record temps, severe droughts, and extreme weather doesn't convince everybody that something weird is going on.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those damaged by Sandy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Wedding Vows and Other Life Choices

This past Saturday, we attended a wedding with Kate and Scott.  The bride and her family have been our friends since Kate was in 7th grade, the year we moved to Cedar Rapids.  The wedding was beautiful, in a traditional church with a full Catholic Mass.  The reception was at the new and modern, Hotel at Kirkwood, and it was a real thrill to be there, and especially to be hangin' with the Specials.

And while our conversations centered around all-things-wedding and the promise that one feels when witnessing two people in love tie the knot, these two married couples - the four of us - also spent a fair amount of time discussing the future, and the possibilities that float between us as options.

Maybe we should move nearer to Chicago.  Maybe they should come our way.  Maybe we should both sell our homes and move south!

The conversation actually came and went all weekend - little bits sprinkled in between real life.

In that deep place where all yearning lives, I know I want to help them when they start their family.  But how can I help from 242 miles away?  I can't be that grandma who runs over in sweats in the morning when the baby has an ear infection and mama has a conference call and Scott has to be on the job site in a few minutes.  I know, I know!  I'm writing scripts!  But how else would I spend that time in the middle of the night when I can't sleep if I didn't try to figure some of this out?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why do we do what we do?

Earlier this week, I attended a meeting in which a work colleague led a discussion on Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.  I’m sure educators and parents alike can benefit on studying Kohlberg’s theory about how children acquire their moral values – fascinating stuff!  We actually had a very provocative discussion about how Kohlberg’s ideas apply to the workplace, how we interact with others and why we behave the way we do – and then we challenged each other to apply these principles when trying to influence others.

1.    I don’t want to get into trouble – Who wants to work around paranoia…following a set of rules and unquestionably obeying?  Not me!

2.    I want a reward – this one makes a little more sense to me as it is deal making at its finest.   Basically, I’ll do something for you and you’ll do something for me (e.g. the paycheck).

3.    I want to please somebody – this one has always gotten me into trouble until I figured out that the only person I need to please is ME!

4.    I follow the rules – yes, yes, I do!  For instance, it really annoyed me when people surreptitiously snapped pictures in art museums on my recent vacation when it was clearly prohibited. 

5.    I am considerate of other people – it’s the golden rule, people!

6.    I have a personal code of conduct - the highest level of moral development, aka “doing the right thing” (not as easy as it sounds).

So what does this have to do with work?  Well, well most of us work for the reward.  But as long as we are spending so much time together, wouldn’t it be great to move towards stages 5 and 6?  In everything we do? 

Maybe I’ll revisit this on December 31.  Or on Mardi Gras.  Just kiddin’ – I’m starting (er, continuing?) TODAY!

For all teacher/readers out there, do you know about the book Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire?  It is by Rafe Esquith and here’s a fun video to pique your interest:


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kumbaya My Lord

Dang it is hard to smile when someone you love is hurting.That hurting is the evidence of your love, because on your own, you are not hurting, but because you love that person, you are hurting. 

It's nothing HUGE, dear readers - no worries - but sometimes the consolation of "building character" or "growing" just doesn't cut it and you just have to wait it out.

And the positive energy you may want to bring to the hurting, to rescue or distract or soothe your loved one, can also offend your loved one, because they are hurting so much and feel like your "tomorrow will be better" moves just prove so much how you so don't get it. 

The promise of sleep, of healing, is also the promise of perspective.  Thank God for that.

Some attribute this quote to John Lennon.  I remember it from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  I do so zen love this:

Everything will be okay in the end.

If it's not okay, it's not the end.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

And So It Is

Thirty years ago I married a man eleven years older than me.  We didn't have much in common.
Me, wearing my mother's wedding dress, 10.23.82

And I didn't understand why my loved ones weren't too thrilled...

I get it now.

And the very things that attracted me to him - his carefree attitude, his easygoing approach, his unencumbered life, his availability - were the things that ultimately drove me crazy.  I'm sorry it didn't work out, but I'm super thrilled with what I received in the process - my three precious (uh, perfect) children and a crash-course on personal development.  I hadn't really directed the play in my own life up to that point, and was punting the day I first married.

And then, over the years, things fell apart, despite my efforts to hold it together.  Things fell apart and there was no ignoring it.  And I fast-forwarded to this time now, 30 years down the road - and I so hesitated to sign off on the end of this marriage.  I wanted to grow old together.  It took me 4 years, 2 attorneys and some pretty awful ugliness before I could give up on this.  I thought of my kids, being from a "broken home" and that pained me.  I thought of them growing up and falling in love, planning and then starting marriages and what my legacy would mean for them.  And I hope it means this:  You cannot expect anyone to change and you cannot change anyone but yourself.  Love yourself, be yourself and do not lose yourself.  Identify, protect and make known what you value.  And your covenant is shattered when your spouse doesn't behave married (take it from me, I tried, for eleven+ years).

I'm so grateful for do-overs.  Grateful the kids are okay and doing well.  Grateful for Shawn.  It will be awhile before we celebrate 50 years together but there's two of us committed to growing old together.  That didn't happen for me the first time and I am so over it.  I didn't fail, the promises made to me were simply broken.  I am so NOT ashamed, so NOT burdened by it.  I accept what happened thirty years ago, because it is part of who I am, and I'm okay with that.

St. Catherine's Chapel
Site of my first marriage and the baptism of my children

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ambition, Greed and Madness

Shawn and I took in a production of Lady M, playing at the UI Theatre Mainstage today.  It's the tragic story of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but through the eyes of his wife.  It details how she ruthlessly pushed and bullied and insulted her husband to go after the throne as she grappled with her childlessness and pursued the role of Queen of Scotland...and then the play followed her descent as she struggled with the guilt and shame of all they had done (e.g. murder many times over).  In this adaptation, Lady M dies, not off stage, but center stage with blood on her hands and gown.  The play closes with a remorseful (and dead) Macbeth, reciting these powerful and famous lines:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
— Macbeth

The only cure for all that heaviness was champagne and chocolate cake.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kindness and Generosity

Today, Shawn and I attended, as a proud sponsor couple, the wedding of our first engaged couple, Dave and Michelle. It's been such an honor to help them thru the hurdles as they prepared for their marriage.  On their first visit to our home, they took a pre-marital inventory (marriage prep) test called FOCCUS - and their subsequent visits were spent talking about the points of disagreements: not only where they disagreed with the Church but also where they disagreed with each other.  It was a fascinating time that benefited Shawn and I as much or more than Dave and we pondered and dissected complex issues and prayed  - alone and with our new friends.

I just keep thinking that it really comes down to this:  kindness and generosity.  These two elements are what keeps any relationship alive, especially one in which two people co-exist in close proximity and are trying to build something together as intimate as a marriage, a home, and, well, a life.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sixty things I love about Shawn

1.      The way he treats me.
2.       Fathers honorably.
3.       Crazy for anything nuts.
4.       Shares my politics.
5.       Faithful.
6.       Likes Counting Crows.
7.       Has a can-do attitude.
8.       Low maintenance.
9.       Loves to eat.
10.   Loves to drink (socially).
11.   Loves to be merry.
12.   Is tech-savvy.
13.   Is nice.
14.   “Is nice…almost too nice.” (the only dirt I could find on him when he asked me out)
15.   Answers to the salutation:  Mr. Maloney.
16.   Loves Miguel’s pizza.
17.   Loves Miguel’s.
18.   Loves our kids.
19.   Handy around the house.
20.   Handy in the kitchen.
21.   Does all-things-cars.
22.   Prefers trendy to vintage.
23.   Has a plan.
24.   Has a retirement plan.
25.   Insists on a vacation budget.
26.   Creative.
27.   Can offer a metaphor for any situation.
28.   Great at conflict resolution.
29.   Big on understanding.
30.   Big on others.
31.   Soup-maker extraordinaire.
32.   RailEurope expert.
33.   Quick to apologize.
34.   Quick to forgive.
35.   Trustworthy.
36.   Salty, please.
37.   But sweets, too, please.
38.   Athletic.
39.   Prays.
40.   Beachcomber.
41.   Watches romantic comedies.
42.   History encylopedia.
43.   Always gets the car door for me.
44.   Drinks responsibly.
45.   Enjoys 30Rock!
46.   Doesn’t hunt.
47.   Dislikes guns.
48.   Sleeves are always rolled up.
49.   Not easily frightened.
50.   Quick wit.
51.   Baby blues.
52.   Popcorn lover.
53.   Tinkers.
54.   Liberal leaning.
55.   Easygoing.
56.   Kind.
57.   Remembers important dates.
58.   Prompt.
59.   Sports enthusiast.
60.   So dang cute.

Happy Birthday, darling.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dan!

Happy Birthday to my big bro, Dan.  I hope you have a great year and I hope we have a few more nights in the coming year like this memorable one in August - remember?  The evening began all polite and after a little vino, and a few more people joining the mix, it turned into a hot political debate and inquiries about if there was any pizza left.

Thanks for all you do for so many people!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I'm voting for Candy Crowley tonight!

I'm expecting some good television tonight!  Get out the popcorn.  I'm going to avoid any games as it's way too early in the week to track word and phrase usage and drink to the malarky.

While many of you know my politics, and many of my beloved readers have ideologies that are somewhat different, I like to think our respect for each other transcends partisan politics. Besides, I wouldn't pretend to know how anyone else should vote, and I certainly wouldn't try to get their approval for my truth, or try too much to force my beliefs on you, but I'm confident I know what I need to do.

I'm pretty sure I know what Jesus would do, too.

Candy - I know there's a bit of controversy about the MOU around this debate and what your role is - go get 'em - you have a long list of accomplishments behind you and I can't wait for you to hold their proverbial feet to the fire and bring some much-needed truth and clarity to the low-information, er, undecided, voters.

Monday, October 15, 2012

October 15 - return to work

So every October 15 I remember 10.15.1984 - the day I returned to work after becoming a mama.  It was my very own personal D-Day, and I was on the lookout for attacks.  I had spent nine weeks at home with my baby Kate and no one - I mean no one - knew what she needed better than me.  I was instantly useful and important - two feelings virtually unknown to me up to that point, which is why, initially, I took to parenthood immediately and intensely.  I had barely let her out of my sight and now I was leaving her, to go back to work, full-time, for what?  Oh, that maddening commodity we call money.  It felt like an invasion - a major threat I couldn't avert:  others would take care of her in my absence.  And then again, would others TAKE CARE OF HER in my absence?  This is before those surveillance cameras and other mobile devices, remember.

I sobbed the first several days as I pulled away from my home, even though I had arranged for her to be brought to me at lunch time and for her day to start at 11 am and end at 10 pm.

I'm pretty sure I didn't earn my salt in those early weeks back to work, but slowly and with time, I figured it out and so did she.  And nowadays I counsel my married, working girl on the pull - on the delicate challenge of earning a wage while yearning for home.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Making Time for Joy

Being away from my kids has made made me more appreciative of them, something I didn't think was possible.

It's NOT a long trip when you're not alone! We did our three-state-swing this weekend and it was the best sightseeing in ages...

Great catching Austin in Dubuque and Joe in Milwaukee before heading to a birthday dinner at the Specials! Shout out to Scott on his fine culinary skills! Best meal all week! And fun to hear more wedding details from Matt & Kelly.

And our favorite rest stop was open Sunday hangin' at 4536!  It was the icing on a sweet weekend!

Great words for any time:  "Thank you for what I've received."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Friends

"True friends stab you in the front." 

Oscar Wilde wasn't really describing my Friday friends but it's true we do challenge each other.

And these wise women, they are actually friends every day of the week, but Friday is the day we get together - it's almost religious.  These two fine women have been a great addition to my work life.  This week, for example, we discussed everything from metabolic rates and antioxidants to opera and tendonitis.  They introduced me to the film Koyaanisqatsi and told me about Philip Glass.  I learn something every time I'm with them and they are all ears when I want the floor.  Thank you, Lynnette and Virginia - and see you next Friday!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One year from today...

Shawn and I get the opportunity to formally host a dinner - the rehearsal dinner - and toast our son Matt and his bride-to-be Kelly.  We will celebrate with all of their/our loved ones the day before the big day:  October 12, 2013.

We are so excited that Matt and Kelly are making plans to marry and are honored to be included in some of the fun preparations!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mesdames and Messieurs


I know I'm called a lot of things - and maybe even other things behind my back - but the one thing I really dislike is being called Ma'am.  It may be a sign of respect, and probably a shortened version of madam, but I really got a kick out of the refined way that I was often addressed in Europe:   Mes·dames (m-dm, -däm). 

Usually followed with, the answer is right there on your ticket, Mesdame.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

And the World Smiled Back

So several weeks ago, my good pal Virginia and I were on a noontime walk and I shared my internal angst about our upcoming travel plans. I explained: To pull this itinerary off, we have planned seven airplane rides, about 1500+ rail miles, many bus and cab rides, and maybe even a vaporetto - that's a lot of dependence on people doing their jobs! She reminded me that every day, even on a typical work day, we count on others to do their jobs. Maybe that doesn't seem profound to you, but it kept me chill on several occasions. Last Monday, for instance. About 1/2 thru our trip, we were railing from Rome to Siena. We had heard murmurs of a nationwide transit strike but were reassured along the way. We had to transfer trains in a smallish town - Grosetto Italy. We had a 40 min layover and we bought waters and cookies. The train was due soon when suddenly, an announcement (only in Italian) that all transit service had stopped for the day - they decided to strike. After much debate about what the announcement said - and also what a distraught Italian woman standing nearby on the platform was saying to us - we followed her gestures and went inside the station and joined a line of tired travelers at the ticketing office. Soon, this woman broke from the line and hurriedly motioned us to join her - Trenitalia had sent a small bus. Okay, we sighed relief...while we didn't know what tomorrow held, we were happy that we had a satisfactory new plan for our destination tonight. We boarded the bus, about 25 of us. We verified: Siena? Shawn purposely sat us near the kind woman. We left Grosetto and soon saw a road sign: Siena 40 km - yay, we thought. More and more passengers were getting dropped off and we were 6 strong, including the bus driver. Then, another road sign: Siena 60 km. What? And the sun was going down. We were traveling the north country and while it was indeed beautiful, Shawn and I shared more than one apprehensive glance. I motioned to the kind lady who knew no English - pointing to my wrist - and she said something to the bus driver who told us in perfect English we would be in Siena within the hour - and we were. We said goodbye to the kind and patient woman and driver. And the trip to that beautiful town was well worth the confusion and delay. While the rail workers didn't "do their jobs" that night - others did, and their kind iassistance was not lost on us. (I didn't write about this adventure en route for obvious reasons). Our trip of a lifetime is over - many people smiled on us and helped us find our way. The kindness of strangers is a beautiful thing and it makes me more confident than ever that traveling feeds the soul.

Monday, October 8, 2012


Language barriers were the biggest in France. Really surprising but true for us! In Greece, while their average word seems to be about thirteen letters, most of their signs had English subtitles (very helpful). Barcelona was the grimiest of the cities we visited - although we thoroughly enjoyed their beautiful new beaches.

One thing that really stuck me was the general manner out on the streets at night. Whether in Athens, Rome, Nice, or Barcelona, people enjoyed the warm nights for outdoor dining and strolling but no one misbehaved - not once did I see the routine drunkenness I see in our towns, particularly with young adults. In every city we visited, people were out - sitting on steps or by a fountain, just chatting, laughing, maybe having a wine or a gelato - but zero aggression and no intimidation.

On our way home now, and the comparisons are inevitable. Of course we don't have the evidence of an ancient history, nor the beautiful Mediterranean. But we have some real opportunities, too, and traveling reminds me about why I am a proud American and that I'm a citizen of the world. Besides the biggest advantage of travel (that it is, as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, fatal to bigotry), it is so fun to discover our sameness, our common humanity: we equally hate long lines and delays, we love a bargain and our families, good food and drink help a celebration, and the human spirit is basically good.

European things we liked (in no particular order): safety in the streets (never once did we feel vulnerable to thugs the way we have in big US cities on occasion), beer sales at McDonald's (we confess to a late night run for fries - once!), strong coffee with a culture of "having a good chat" that accompanies it, their high-speed rail, a more laid-back approach to almost everything, flaky and fresh and cheap croissants and fresh fruit stands on most street corners, amazing olives and cheeses, a kind respect, by and large, for America.

European things we didn't like: pay toilets and their scarcity, high smoking tolerance almost everywhere, the dirt and grime that come with ancient civilizations, really old electrical wiring (I blew fuses on two occasions trying to use my universal hair dryer).

Signing off from Barcelona - next stop, Cedar Rapids!

Sunday, October 7, 2012


We had a great Sunday chillin' in Barcelona today. We started with strong coffee and remarked that we haven't seen lids on paper coffee cups - except at Starbucks - and decided it was a cultural difference: coffee here is not on-the-go, or "take away" as they say here. Rather, it is a reason to sit and "have a good chat" - something they seem to do here way more than we do. They are definitely slower here. We went to Cathedral de Barcelona - an ancient church with the paradox of flat screens on the gothic spires so you could see what was happening on the altar. While the Mass was in Catalun, i could decipher that it is Respect Life Sunday and that marriage is key to that value. Amen, I say! We saw some Dali pieces at rhe Art Institute and decided against the 1+ hour wait at rhe Picasso Museum, instead heading to the Platja de la Barcoloneta - we had a lot of fun wading in the Mediterranean again. Tonight, we enjoyed some seafood paella and soaking up the local culture - our last night of vacay and we are feeling so lucky about our time away. Tonight is the El Clasico - an annual grudge match between Barcelona and Madrid - the streets are full of energetic citizens - some say it's a match between Spain and the Cataluns, since the Cataluns have only recently enjoyed legitimacy. Right now, the score is tied. Buenos niches and adios, Barcelona - we have enjoyed you! Tomorrow, back in the USA!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Or we could simply pack our bags and catch a train to Barcelona 'cause this city's a drag.,.

I've been singing that "Holiday in Spain" Counting Crows song forever and now today we're living it - just arrived in Barcelona and hope to enjoy it on a Saturday night! It took a lot of today to reach this happening town - trendy, diverse and steeped in history. Now that the locals are speaking a language I recognize a bit, thank you 4 years of Spanish, maybe I'll be a little less obvious? Not! Actually, almost as we crossed the border into Spain, the train started adding English-speaking is weird how hearing your mother tongue in a foreign land really is comforting. We took three different trains from Nice to reach Barcelona, and traveled most of the day, enjoying each other and the amazing coastal scenery along the way. We love RailEurope, relatively cheap and convenient and fast (149km/hr). Often, we were alone on our cab of the train, which made it easy to stretch our legs. ttyl, Adios!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sittin at the Med...thinking of you

So Shawn and I are sitting on the shoreline of the Mediterranean in Nice, France. It's, how you say, 75 F. We are drinking some stellar French wine and eating a banette, talking about how beautiful it is here ... and how we wouldn't stay, even if we could swing it financially because, we would miss, in no particular order: Milwaukee, RFC & RFW, Miguel's with Steve & Joni, rest stops on Aspen Hills Circle, catching any activities of Taylor's, seeing Austin run, visiting our Chi-town peeps. Here we are, at the frickin' south of France, I'm realizing the thing we treasure most is you.

Monaco and Antibes

We traveled to both today. Fun trips. Monaco is def for the rich and beautiful (and smokin' thin with good shoes). We felt a bit like peasants but ironically enjoyed our cheapest breakfast ever - amazing flaky and warm croissants and fresh market fruit: total bill? Under €5! We saw the Monte Carlo casino and Shawn told me all about the James Bond movies. We climbed the steps to Prince Albert's castle and took some pretty fine shots.

We really liked Antibes and totally understand why Pablo Picasso spent his final years there - inspirational scenery and kick back atmosphere. If anyone we cared about was planning a, say, honeymoon? Our vote would be Antibes! We swam in a public beach again, with our friend the Mediterranean. I was prepared to do a Kate Middleton, but no one else was, so I went with my Midwest sensibilities and kept my t-shirt on!