Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy with what we have

The holidays hullabaloo are winding down. I'm at work today - New Year's Eve is a fundraiser's Super Bowl. I'm waiting for today's mail and last-minute phone calls from donors as I keep tabs on our nation nearing the fiscal cliff. I suspect our politicians have their toes curled over the edge at this point.

Winter is coming. I'm looking forward to some quieter days. Some togetherness. Jeremy and I left the condo together this morning and I reflected that 2012 might be one of our best years. Save for my brother-in-law's run-in with a tree branch, our family has been healthy. (He's fine now, by the way.) Jossie is healthy and has not shown any developmental delays because of her prematurity. Our kids are small enough that life isn't too complicated yet with after-school activities and social drama. We're just here and happy with what we have (which includes my awesome new Sodastream - I'm a believer, people).

My children can be crazy little animals (as exhibited by their behavior this weekend as we paid our visits to friends) but they are mine. While their needs are great, they won't be little for forever, and I'm trying to remember that. They're only in my nest for so long, and I'm constantly trying to be present when I'm with them.

We're renewing our memberships to museums for wintertime visits, and there are stacks of Chicago Public Library books on the kids' dresser. I'm thrilled at the amount of non-digital gifts we received for Christmas, and I'm hoping for hours of imaginary play. Well, at least a few minutes.

Jossie is in love with her baby dolls. After they had gone to bed one night, I was cleaning up toys and noticed that Joss had put her doll in its high chair and had fashioned a potholder to be the baby's bib. Her doll's tray was filled with lots of play food. It made me smile.

Two years ago, during a bitterly cold January midnight's hour, Jossie's early birth knocked me upside-down.  Now, her birthday is a bright joy just a few weeks after the holidays. Jossie is little enough that we'll just have a small family party at home, and it'll be sparkly pinks, silvers and whites because I can.

Here are some of my wintertime delights right now:

On my Pandora station: The Avett Brothers
On my DVR (which I never have time to watch): The Little Paris Kitchen and she has a cookbook coming out in February!
On Jack's nightstand: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (for all those who love reading)

Much love to you and happy wishes for 2013.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A life of significance

Last Friday night, I was planning to write impassioned weekly blog posts on how we - you and me, reader - can change the world by writing our legislators, teaching our kids tolerance and love, and working with our school's administrators to make our schools safer.

A week of reflection has led me in a different direction. I'm forming the idea that we - each and every one of us - can make change. We can honor those teachers and young students whose lives were lost last Friday. And we can each do it in our own way.

I am guided by two major events this week. One - something that happens weekly. I, like many others, sought solace in my church this past Sunday. The associate pastor's sermon was based on a life of generous living, citing Luke 3:7-18. It's a life of being attentive to other's needs and to give back, and that's a life I'd like to lead.

We can't make change happen overnight. But incremental change happens daily. We can positively affect our children, our friends, our colleagues. And a moment will come when we can stand back - and maybe the end of 2012 is a good time to do this for you personally - and think about the collective positive change that has happened. Because you cared. Because you helped. Because you spoke your mind. Every little step adds up to something big.

The second major event this week brought me great sorrow. I am one of thousands of people who benefited from the leadership, guidance and teachings of Jimmie Alford, who passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 69 this Tuesday. He is a leader in the non-profit movement, and I benefited from Openlands being one of his clients and I was one of his students of a graduate class at North Park University.  He lived his life true. He wasn't ashamed to tell you of his humble beginnings and of the company he built. His love for his beautiful wife and partner, Maree, his family and society was worn on his sleeve. He believed that we as part of the non-profit world could make great societal change and everything he did, he did humbly. He had vision, leadership and compassion.

Jeremy and I attended his memorial service today. An incredible man and an incredible life of significance. He touched many and now it's our job to carry on his good service. As one friend remembered him, Jimmie never had work-life balance. He just had life balance - everything he did - in both career and family - served a higher meaning, and that's a life I'd like to lead.

So this is my simple call to action: Do not be afraid to share your gifts with the world. Positive change will come of it, I'm sure. Good night, my friends.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


After Friday's terrible story from Newtown, Connecticut, all I wanted was my family, my kids, my joy. Much of the weekend was spent thinking of and praying for the parents who lost their precious children, as well as feeling this sense of gratitude - as well as guilt for that gratitude - that I had my children with me, safe and sound. I still has moments of exasperation but overall tried to practice a bit more patience when my kids' behavior got nutty.

It was rainy and bleak most of the weekend but Jeremy and I turned up the holidays indoors. We made our annual visit to breakfast with Santa at the Chicago Botanic Garden early Saturday morning, which included a visit to the Wonderland Express. The kids loved the holiday trains; I loved seeing the miniature Chicago landmarks created from natural materials.

Visiting with Santa was an adventure. As we waited in line, Jossie kept making beelines for "San-tie, San-tie." But when it was our turn - and I set my sweet girl down in front of the big jolly man, Jossie burst into tears. When Santa asked her what she wanted, she sobbed, "baby doll."  And big brother Jack was pleased/relieved to hear he was on the nice list before asking for more Legos.

Jeremy's parents and sister arrived in the late morning for a quick weekend visit and a Hanukkah party that night. I'm not sure how it works out this way, but most of the holidays I host are the Jewish ones - Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Hanukkah. And I have to say, I kind of rocked Hanukkah Saturday night - not bad for an Italian Protestant girl. At one point, I believe I went so far as to instruct my Jewish mother-in-law on the making of latkes.

My new favorite nosh with pre-dinner drinks is Ina's rosemary cashews - a hint of heat and a hint of sweet.

Rosemary cashews
From Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home

1 pound cashew nuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until they are warmed through. Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, pepper, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl. Toss the warm nuts with the rosemary mixture until the nuts are completely coated. Serve warm.

Dinner was latkes, homemade applesauce, rack of lamb, and Brussels sprouts. Dessert was cookies and zucchini bread. It was nice to have this family time - around one table.

I really needed a little holiday.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Send our love

The teachers and administrators at Jack's school mean the world to us. As Jack is the oldest, every twist and turn of his development and learning is new to us. They have guided us, providing us sound advice. We had a field trip Friday morning with his class, and - even though each child had his or her own chaperone - I noticed the teachers periodically taking count of the kids. Yesterday, we received an email from the school's director sending pointers on talking about tragedies with kids and reaffirming her love for our children and our families.

I, like many others, will attend church today to help find reason and solace in Friday's tragedy. Let's send our love and prayers to the families who lost their loved ones. Here are the school administrators' and teachers' Facebook pages, in case you have a few minutes to send your thoughts:

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Sandy Hook Elementary's principal
Mary Sherlach, Sandy Hook Elementary's school psychologist
Lauren Rousseau, Teacher
Victoria Soto, Teacher
Rachel D'Avino, Teacher
Anne Marie Murphy, Teacher

To access the students' pages, you'll see links on the teachers' pages.

Addendum: I'm realizing that some of this pages are "unauthorized" - set up by a well-meaning person who is not related to the families. Please use your own judgement. For those who would like to send financial support to those in need, please look here for one suggestion.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's time

This holiday season, I have a new decoration - a "Happy Holidays" metal sign with lots of swirls to tuck holiday cards into. It's overflowing with adorable pictures of my family and friends' little ones.

You and me - we can't let those little ones down.

Today there was a horrific tragedy for our nation. Twenty-eight dead at a Connecticut elementary school because of a gunman; 20 of the total are children. 11 days before Christmas.

Today, we mourn. We hold our children close. We put posts on Facebook and tweet on Twitter, crying for stricter gun laws and sending our prayers to those families who lost their children. We light the candles on the menorah and the lights on the Christmas tree to represent hope. We even quote Mr. Rogers because we need common sense and a reminder of the good in the world.

Today can last as long as we need it to. To grieve. To try to make sense of a senseless act. To send peace to the families who have experienced the unthinkable. Let us have today.

But tomorrow will come.

When you become a parent, your heart is not within you any more. It walks to the bus stop; it plays at the playground; it sits in a school classroom.

We have to do something, and it's time. My readers - you - have resources at your disposable and it's time we use them. I've learned a lot from 2012, and one of my biggest lessons is that something big can start from something small. So let's have faith that we can make a change. Let's make our schools safer for our kids. For our Jack. For our Jossie. For your son. For your daughter.

It's time to write our legislators. It's time we make donations to relevant non-profits. It's time we recognize the need to make mental health care accessible for all. It's time we - you and me -  stand up to bullying and the effects it has.

Please join me. Here's a petition to sign.

And tonight, let's kiss our sleeping sweet children on their heads.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Keeping traditions

One of the nicest things about the holiday season is remembering the traditions our families taught us, as well as forging new ones.

Jeremy and I helped host a Hanukkah party at Jack's preschool last Friday. Jeremy had the kids laughing with a Hanukkah picture book he read. He also talked about our family menorah, which we inherited from Jeremy's grandparents.  They have both passed on now, but I know how much they would have loved the idea that we were sharing something so special.  That Sunday night, we lit the menorah. Jossie tried to lead us in a round of "Happy Birthday to you," while Jeremy explained the tradition. 

The next night, as Jack decorated our small but mighty Christmas tree with a few more sparkly ornaments, I take a pan of Christmas cookies out of the oven, a recipe my grandma often made. A cookie that was on every plate of Christmas cookies that she would set down on the table after dinner was done. She and my grandpa are also gone, and I am comforted by the idea of carrying on their memory in my own small ways. 

I can see the wheels turning in Jack's head. Right now, he is starting to embrace our traditions. Right now, he doesn't realize that we're kind of different in that we celebrate two holidays and two faiths. Right now, things are working for us as we honor our past and we look to the future.

The days have been crazy. My trusted co-worker - another working mama and faithful City Sweet reader - and I have started a mantra to cheer one another on. It's go time - work deadlines, school engagements and preparing for the holidays. More to come as the days quiet down, and we focus on the blessings of this holiday season.

Go, you, go!

The lights shine brightly.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

No style points

I often say we get things done in my house - it might not be pretty, but it gets done.

This past week exemplified that.

I have been sick for the better part of the last two weeks - hence no blog posts. It was all I could do to keep my family and my work going, let alone anything else. This week started with me being dead tired, still congested and plates and plates full of work at the office.

I have tried to climb back.

I ended the week in better footing. Still more work to do at the office but was energized by a new group project, an extraordinary surprise grant and a few proposals sent. We were invited to a cookie exchange Friday night, and it was all new friends to meet - the kids and I had a great time. And it was in a different part of the city we rarely visit anymore, so that was exciting and new too.

Today is December 1 and the holidays are upon us. I feel like I write this blog post every year, but I'm feeling it more and more as a mother and a fundraiser this time of year. It's busy - there are a lot of things taking my attention, and my goal is to be present this holiday season.

To be present at home with my kids. When Jossie grabs my hand with her chubby hand. When Jack asks me to cuddle when he's watching a TV show. When Jeremy is talking with me. And to be present at work. To look at my co-workers and not my email when they're speaking with me. Just to be.

The holidays are a special time. But so is time spent with people whom you love, value and admire. And that can be any day of the year.

More to come - wishing you a reflective and loving holiday season.