Friday, November 27, 2009

"He's just not working up to his potential..."

My son thinks "outside the box". He always has. I know every parent thinks their child is the cutest, smartest, funniest, etc. But I truly feel my kid thinks differently than a lot of his peers. In fact, if you put him in a roomful of kids and adults, he'd much rather converse with the adults. He's literal, logical, and dare I say smarter than me sometimes.

Blessing or curse? You decide.

In primary school, lessons came pretty easy to my son. He never had too much homework, and any he did have, he breezed through. In fourth grade, he was recommended and accepted into the gifted program for middle school.

I was warned that some students struggle at first because they are used to having the best answer, the first answer, the "right" answer. Now, in a roomful of students that are as "smart" or "smarter" than you are, it's sometimes quite an adjustment to not always be the first to raise your hand.

What I wasn't quite prepared for was the apparent complete lack of motivation that my son would showcase as he fumbled through those middle school years.

I guess I thought that in a school full of kids "just like him" he would feel challenged - would WANT to rise above - would STRIVE to do the best he could do. Not so. In fact, he seems to be reveling in his mediocrity. He's even threatened to flunk out so he can be put in an "easier" school where it won't be so difficult for him to excel.

And the thing is - he knows this stuff. It isn't hard for him. He just doesn't want to do it. I told him it was one thing to be struggling with the material - but he's not. He's just... lazy.

I wonder sometimes where I have gone wrong in his upbringing. I look back to my own and I know for a fact that there was a definite work ethic instilled in me from a very young age. Do it, and do it well. Why have I not passed that on to my child?

I am at the point where I have done everything I think I can do to light a fire under my son. Incentives, punishments, tutoring, coaching, praising, encouraging... my last ditch effort was to threaten to show up in his math class two weeks from Monday if he didn't step it up a notch. Judging from his reaction, that might just be the ticket - this time.

I have told him time and time again that even if he doesn't have faith in himself, I have faith in him. I know he can do this. It's not rocket science to him. He just doesn't feel like it. And yes, I could let him sink or swim - but I tried that, and he sank.

So for now, I'm pulling out all the stops to try to find the magic formula to make my child WANT to succeed. But I somehow feel like that parent that shakes her head wistfully as her 35-year-old son kisses her goodbye to set out on his world tour with his heavy metal band... "He had so much potential!"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quitcherbitchin!

The mayor of Galesburg has the right idea.

Mayor Sal Garza and the Galesburg City Council have designated this Wednesday as "No Complaint Day."

In addition to helping the city foster positive feelings about the future of their economic development, he says the day is mainly designed to help residents reflect on the good things in their lives, such as friends and family.

We could all benefit from a "no complaint day".

Really, if you look at it, we have it pretty good. Sure, we all have our challenges that we face each and ever day. And I think there's nothing wrong with taking a little time out every now and then to voice our irritations - something I like to call "having a pity party". But like all great parties, at some point, someone gets drunk and falls in the punch, and then it's over.

A friend of mine has made me see this whole complaining thing in a new light. He works a crazy shift schedule, sometimes 70 hours a week. In addition to that, he's taking college classes to further his career, refinishing his basement, and spending quality time with his two children. I don't know on how many occasions I have said to him, "I don't know how you do it." His response? "I'm lucky. Some people don't have jobs. Some people can't go to school. Some people don't even have a roof over their heads, or kids to spend time with. I'm really very blessed."

I know people who constantly complain about anything and everything. Sometimes, it's my own child who seems to find nothing right with his world. I say to him what I wish I could say to some of these other people: if you don't like what's going on, change it. If you can't change it but want to, then ask for help. But sitting here and moaning and groaning about it isn't going to do anything for you, and is only going to irritate those around you.

Again, a little complaining is fine. It's the whole "misery loves company" aspect of our human nature that makes us feel like we're all in this together. But if we can bond together in our angst, let's team up and do something about it.

This Thanksgiving, amidst everything that may be wrong in your life, take a minute to reflect on what's right. You may be surprised at how blessed you really are.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm not a designer, nor do I play one on TV.

I'm getting a little miffed about the apparent blurred lines between "writer" and "designer".

I think I've gone to great lengths to define my skills, that is, writing for a living. But it seems at first meet many potential clients and employers alike seem to equate being able to write with being able to design.

Granted, the full-time jobs I have applied for have been marketing-based, asking for things like:
* developing advertising opportunities, which can involve placing ads in national, regional and specialist publications or on the radio;
* maintaining and building contacts with the media;
* writing and distributing press releases;
* managing the production of marketing materials, including writing and proofreading copy and liaising with designers and printers;
* carrying out market research and customer surveys to assess demand, brand positioning and awareness;
* evaluating marketing campaigns;
* monitoring competitor activity;
* contributing to and developing long-term marketing plans and strategies;
* managing budgets.

Lately, I've found they've tacked on one job requirement at the very end: "design skills". Wait, what? I have a degree in Journalism and a minor in Marketing. Sure, I've messed around with making my own greeting cards, creating fliers for my kids' schools, or perhaps making some "creative" alterations of a picture or two in Photoshop, but design SKILLS?

Bear with me. I understand that times are tight and employers out there are looking for employees who can multitask. But I also know that good writers are good writers, and good designers are good designers.

I gained a new appreciation for this while working closely with a young designer who turned out to become a very good friend of mine. She went to school for design and is extremely talented at it. It's her THING. She and I had many discussions about having our strengths diminished by people who "think" they can do what we've trained for probably half our lives at least. Honestly, it would be like one of us stepping in to an operating room and asking for that "pointy thingy" so we can perform an appendectomy.

OK, well, maybe not so much like that.

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't do many things WELL. But I write WELL. Sure, I could take a couple of design classes (which I think is ultimately what is going to happen) so I can add that "skill" to my repertoire, but I feel as if I am depreciating the abilities and talents of those like my friend who have a passion for it and are truly proficient at it. I would never classify myself as a designer, unless you consider stick figures fine art.

So yes, I will probably break down and try to navigate the world of Photoshop, or InDesign or Dreamweaver. And I may learn how to throw together a website just to say I can do it. But in the back of my mind, I will have my designer friend over my shoulder saying, "I can't believe you're doing that. We TALKED about this."

Writing - it's my thing. Hopefully someday someone will let me do my thing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The man on the corner

He sits in a wheelchair in his pajama pants and fleece vest.

I've passed him numerous times on my walk as I make the loop up Orange Prairie Road and around the streets that border Liberty Village, a retirement community.

At first, I simply waved, not wanting to be slowed down or distracted from my iPod tunes. This day, he motions me over, and I cross the street to say hello.

"What's your name?" is the first thing out of his mouth.
"Amy," I reply.
"How far do you walk?"
"About three and a half miles or so."

He stares at the Velcro iPod wrap I have on my arm.
"Does that check your blood pressure?"
"No," I reply with a laugh. "That's my music."

We chat for a bit - mostly him, asking me various questions about my trek. I answer, keenly aware that my heart rate is dropping and I need to get back at it. After a few minutes, I leave him sitting there and continue on, but he doesn't leave my thoughts.

A few days later, he's there again. This time, I approach him. "Have you been sitting here all this time?" I joke. He answers, "Tell me more about yourself."

I give him the general,"stranger-danger, Cliff Notes version", but that's not good enough for him. He wants to know everything - am I married... do I have children... what do I do for a living. I tell him I'm divorced with two kids, and a writer, currently "unemployed". He says he's written a few things as well, and proceeds to tell me about a lodge he and his son built up near Princeville for friends and family so they have a place to stay when deer hunting. "I call it 'BuckSnort'," he says. "I wrote about it."

I say I'd like to read it sometime. He says it's in longhand and he needs someone to type it. I offer.

"I'll pay you," he says.
"No payment necessary," I say. "I'd love to read about it."

As we chat, he tells me he was a salesman. "My customers weren't just my customers. They were my friends. I wanted to know about them - their lives." Now in his 80's (I would guess), he's recently had a stroke, and is suffering from lung cancer. He's also had a bout with skin cancer, which is evident when he pulls out a small tube of SPF 55 and offers it to me. He continues to want to know more about me, and it is obvious he is lonely.

"Isn't it funny," he says as we talk. "You have such a life, and no money. I have money, but no life."

I stood there and talked to him for probably half an hour or so - my lowered heart rate and time schedule could not have been further from my mind. I got to thinking - this man has had quite a life, and the stories he must have to tell. He points up the street to where he lives, and I vow to stop by sometime to pick up his essay and type it up for him.

As I walk home, I wonder how many others who are late in life have a treasure trove of stories that beg to be told - to their children... their grandchildren... or anyone else who can appreciate what our elders have gone through in decades past. If your grandparents are still living, do you know their story? What about your parents? Wouldn't you like to know the lives they led, the challenges they faced, the triumphs they experienced?

My mother gave her children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren the greatest of gifts. Before my grandmother on my father's side passed away, my mom took months interviewing her and wrote "Roses in December: Reminiscences of Gladys Talcott". She had 50 copies published and bound in hard cover and had my grandmother sign them all. It's a fascinating, poignant, funny and sometimes gut-wrenching window into my grandmother's life that probably would have followed her to her grave had it not been for my mom's persistence and vision.

I hope to learn more about the life of the man in the wheelchair, and more like him. If you know of someone who is interested in sharing their story, please contact me. I'd love to be the one to tell it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hurry! There's not much time left!

For all of you (like myself) who are lamenting the impending doom that is winter in Central Illinois, good news! There are still some beautiful, semi-warm days left. Take advantage of them before they are gone!

Usually by this time of year I've started my yearly winter weight gain, dug out my sun lamp and waited for that seasonal-affective disorder to kick in.

Not this year.

We've been blessed with some pretty awesome days lately, and I'm making the most of them. Here are a few fun things to do when the skies are sunny, the air crisp but not biting, and the breezes still a bit southerly:

Take a walk
I walk the same route about 3-4 times a week. I never tire of it because the landscape is always changing. In the spring, I get to see the budding trees and the geese return to the lake. In the summer, I marvel at how green everything is and how many of the same people I pass that are out doing the same thing. In the fall, my tree-lined route is gorgeous with color. Now, as things start to look a little more barren, my view is extended beyond the trees and every once in a while I catch a deer or two, that at this point are so tame they seem oblivious to the walking traffic.
Have a cookout
We have a little fire pit in the backyard that we used most of the summer. As much as I enjoyed pairing the heat of the fire with the balmy evening temperatures, there's nothing like roasting hot dogs and marshmallows while snuggled up in sweatshirts and sipping some hot apple cider. The kids and I can't get enough of it.

Check out the apple orchards
We made our annual pilgrimage to Tanners this year just the other day - way late in the season. Because of this, we had the place to ourselves, and there was no charge for the playground. The pies were "Buy 2, get one free", so of course, we bought three frozen ones to get us through the dull days of winter. We sampled the apple cider, purchased some donuts for breakfast, and drove home around 5:00 while watching the farmers perform their late harvests by the light of a gorgeous sunset.

Get out in the yard
Sometimes it gets so cold so early I give up and leave it until spring. This past weekend it was so beautiful I just had to dig in and clean up. There's something somewhat therapeutic about raking leaves, cutting down dead plants and closing up for the summer - hoses put away... check. Patio furniture covered... check. Lawn mower drained... check. One less thing I have to do in the spring.

Enjoy these days - sometimes we in Central Illinois aren't always as blessed to have the fall we've had. There will be plenty of days not too far off where we'll be held captive in our homes - either due to cold, snow, or that ever-popular "wintry mix" that you know is on its way.

I know I'm doing my best to hold those days at bay as long as I possibly can.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Altrusa a little-known "do-gooder" in the community


"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

This quote is attributed to Margaret Mead, but it most certainly applies to a small group of women with whom I had the pleasure of visiting as their guest speaker last evening.

The Peoria Chapter of Altrusa, International is comprised of a group of local, distinguished women from all walks of life - some retired professionals, others still in the workforce - all with the same mission: to volunteer their energies and expertise in projects dedicated to community betterment. They promote volunteerism, service, and have a passion for literacy and the general well-being among children in our community.

On this night they were "wrapping up" (no pun intended) one of their fundraisers - selling gift wrap - which netted more than $800 to be used to facilitate a number of service goals including (but not limited to) monetary, literary or other "wish list" items for people and agencies in need.

In addition, bags and bags of hats, gloves and mittens were piled on the table next to them - donations to the kids at Irving Primary, a school that Peoria Altrusa has taken under their wing.

They are also responsible for providing baby's first book to new moms and their infants at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. Nothing like getting kids on the reading bandwagon from the get-go! These active women also assisted in painting walls at WomenStrength, provide tutoring and assist with at-risk children within the public school system. They are in the process of offering an Altrusa Scholarship through Illinois Central College to assist a single mom or middle-aged woman trying to further her education.

Altrusa is not a new organization. It was founded by Dr. Alfred Durham, a member of Kiwanis, in Nashville in 1917. Record numbers of women were going to work during World War I and Dr. Durham saw the need for a women's civic organization. Mamie L. Bass, who served as the Superintendent of the Women's Division US Employment Services saw a higher vision for Dr. Durham's idea and through her hard work Altrusa became a classified service organization for women in 1918.

Altrusa International now has more than 17,500 members in 538 clubs in nearly every state as well as in other countries such as England, Russia, India and Ireland. They are at heart a grassroots organization that seeks to solve the problems in their own backyards. Inspired by Thoreau, Mamie L. Bass put it best when she said, "It is not enough to be good; Altrusans must be good for something." In fact, their name is an acronym for "Amity, Loyalty, Talent, Reciprocity, Unity, Service and Achievement".

I was honored to be a guest speaker at their monthly meeting last evening. I was humbled to be in the midst of so much talent, wisdom, professionalism and generosity to the community. I would encourage any of you interested in learning more about the Peoria Altrusa to contact Janet Reist at (309)635-0983.

Sidenote: When meeting with Altrusa, I mentioned their need for a website, and they agreed. If anyone is interested in partnering with me for the design side, I'm interested in making this happen for them.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Motivation is the mother of invention...

Unfortunately, sometimes, I'm the deadbeat daughter when it comes to this discipline.

Now I know I'm driven. I'm ambitious. But sometimes it's easy to let motivation fall through the cracks, especially when you're making your own hours like I am.

Take this damn computer. Please.

As a writer, I'm on this thing probably eight to ten hours a day. When I'm writing I'm in the zone, and can sit here literally for hours on end without even paying attention to anything or anyone else else around me. Other times, I'm checking emails, reading online news reports, or Facebooking... when I really should be producing some enlightening prose, combing freelance sites or making contacts.

Working from home has made me less motivated in this house I call my office. I used to be pretty OCD and still (proudly) consider myself a bit anal-retentive. However, I think I've overcome that as I look at my "office desk", otherwise known as my kitchen table when the kids are home. Looking around, I see a pile of unread mail, a grocery list, two freelance books, a huge file folder marked "To Read", a flurry of Post-It notes bearing cryptic phrases that apparently should trigger something important I have to do, a bottle of water from two days ago, some dying flowers and a Popsicle stick. Yep, I think I'm over that OCD.

Not being a slave to a schedule has reduced my motivation to give myself "set" working hours. I still haven't gotten the hang of combining working for myself, single parenting and household labor into a well-oiled machine. My plan - in a perfect world - would be to get up early (earlier than the current 5:45 am), work out, get the kids off to school, work, do a little household stuff, help kids with homework, make dinner, spend time with kids before bedtime, then more work. But somehow if my motivation isn't there for any one of those daily items, my whole day is thrown off.

For instance, there's a 2-1/2 hour window between the time my oldest and my youngest leave for school (ridiculous, I know). Sometimes I'll work during that window, skipping the workout. But if I workout later in the morning, that means a shower around noon. With my son getting out of school at 2:00 (again, ridiculous), my day gets cut short, so I try to squeeze in more work later in the day, which makes dinner nearly non-existent in our house. And though sometimes I can get motivated to work after they go to bed, other times my brain just hurts too much and the couch begs for some serious alone time with me.

Motivation is critical when you don't have anyone telling you what to do. The more I think about it, I wonder if there's a market out there as a "virtual boss" - someone whose job it is to keep all you freelancers and work-at-homers on task. Perhaps that's the only way to make ME accountable for my own time.

I need something... as I sit here at 8:00 at night - in my workout clothes - with SpongeBob SquarePants blaring in the background, because my kids are eating grilled cheese on the trays in front of the TV... again.

Sigh. I guess in the immortal words of Zig Ziglar, “People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Birthday to me... I'm 43!!!

So, 43 years ago today I came kicking and screaming into this world. And 43 years later, I'm still kickin'... and screamin'.

As I look back on my four decades plus on this planet, and look ahead to the future, I am decidedly and unusually (for me) optimistic.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. I had heard that when you turn 40, something "magical" happens. My mom said her 40's was the best decade of her life. When I first heard this back in my 20's, I thought she was smoking crack. But when I was approaching 40, I found myself looking forward to it. My teens, 20's and 30's were less than stellar, so it couldn't be any worse, right? Right. It's better. True to my mother's wise words, my 40's seem to be the decade where I am finally starting to figure it out. I'm more comfortable with myself and who I am, I'm aware of my faults and do my best to correct and deal with them, and I'm embracing and accepting the talents that I seem to have held at bay for the past few 20 or so years.

2. I may be ready to have an actual "relationship". To quote that incredibly funny comedian, Dane Cook, I've had my fair share of "relation-shits". In the past year, I have met someone who may have some serious potential (insert "wink" here). And though I don't know where it's going to lead, I am willing and surprisingly able to give it a conscious "go".

3. I'm doing what I love. Sure, this blogging thing isn't paying me a dime, but I somehow feel more fulfilled than if I were to win the lottery. And though I started this with the intent of making it a means to an end - that is, showing employers what a great writer I am and yes, they should hire me - in the meantime, it makes me feel alive in ways I can't explain. I have been writing since I was old enough to spell, but have not had the chance to really make a living at it until now. With my attempt at Kennard Communications, I feel I am finally ready - talent-wise, ambition-wise, and connection-wise - to make this dream a reality.

4. I'm parenting at warp speed. I am a single mom with a 12-year old who kicks my ass every day, and an 8-year old not far behind. I was never good with the baby/toddler years, and find I am truly embracing the fact that my kids are now old enough to enjoy some of the things I enjoy, like being outdoors, traveling, and doing stupid stuff around the house, like dancing in the kitchen or guessing the song artist on the radio. It's an exhausting, frustrating and completely exhilarating time to be a parent, and for the first time I feel like I have grown into this mommy role. No, I'm not perfect - faaaaaarrrr from it. It's a roller coaster, that's for sure, but at the end of the day, I am enjoying the ride.

5. I'm truly blessed by my family and friends. My parents aren't getting any younger, and I am very aware of this. I adore my mom and dad. I also realize that parenting NEVER ends, and they continue to rally for me and support me like they did at every sports and extra-curricular function they attended way back when. Through Facebook, I've re-discovered my brother in New York and his amazing children. My younger brother and I, enemies in childhood, are now the best of friends. And speaking of friends, I've never been one to have an army of them, but I am SO thankful for the few that I do have in my life right now. People like Frandy, Amanda, Tracie, Shannon, Mike, Wynton, Mary and Lauri are a few of the reasons I have a smile on my face, an optimistic view on my life, and a reason to wake up in the morning. They are smart, funny, supportive, and I am so happy that they are in my life.

Every New Years Eve for the past few years, I've written myself a letter - a retrospective, if you will, of the past 365 days. The past few years they've been a bit morose - divorce, a stagnant career, and other issues have made that particular year in review a real downer to read. But this year, I somehow feel that is going to be different. I'm peacefully happy, which is a short statement that I haven't been able to say in a long, long time.

So, Happy Birthday to Me! I'm 43! Here's to a great year ahead, and a big thank you to everyone who has helped me get where I am today.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why I love Halloween more than Christmas

First of all, let's get one thing straight. I KNOW Christmas - in its essence - is more important than Halloween, for obvious reasons. And if you could take all the crap that has managed to become associated with that holiday and make it go away, I'd be completely on board again. Until then, though, Halloween trumps Christmas in my book.

Halloween is one of those holidays that doesn't really require commercialization. Sure, you have your stores filled with spooky knick-knacks, your haunted houses and your candy sales, but for the most part, it is what it is. The trees are golden, the air crisp, the wind whipping and the moon nearly full. The weather alone creates the perfect aura.

There's very little to want, or to buy. It's all about what is around you. Sure there are the costumes, and if you're creative and don't have to purchase one then more power to you. But half the fun is spending an hour or so at each of those temporary Halloween places in town checking out the funniest and freakiest costumes and accessories. There are no lists to check twice, no cooking or baking involved, and no worries that someone has been left off the guest list.

Halloween even rivals Christmas as far as tradition, which I am a sucker for no matter what the holiday. Every year we make the trek to a pumpkin patch and spend an afternoon carving our creations. We sift through the pumpkin goo and pick out the seeds to roast for a yummy treat. In past years we've "boo'd" neighborhood kids - leaving secret treats on their porches and encouraging them to do the same for someone else.



This year, since Halloween fell on a Saturday, I had the pleasure of watching my two kids bounce off the walls nearly all day. My friend and I had our faces painted at ci|creative then tried to shove some healthy food down their throats before we headed out to trick or treat. As the kids tore through the neighborhoods, I took in all the moms and dads out with their costumed children, the adults sitting around the bonfire drinking spiked (I'm assuming) cider and passing out treats, and the amazing houses that were decorated to haunt. What a great way to have an old-fashioned good time with friends and family.

Halloween to me is one of those "easy" holidays to just have some fun - both adults and kids - with little pressure and very little cost. And even though this year it fell on a Saturday night and there were tons of parties around town, you would not have found me anywhere else than with my kids on this All Hallows Eve. What a treat!!!