Monday, April 26, 2010

You know what's REALLY awesome???

Before you read this post, answer this question: What is "awesome" to you?

What do you think? The Grand Canyon? Mt. Everest? The ocean? God, perhaps?

Don't worry - there's no wrong answer. But Neil Pasricha - a self proclaimed "boring guy with a regular office job" - is redefining awesome by compiling a "catalog of the universal little pleasures we all share".

Like the feel of clean bed sheets. Or finding a $5 bill in the dryer. Or when the guy with a full cart of groceries lets you go ahead because you’re only buying one thing.

Neil's award-winning blog, 1000awesomethings.com, honors the little things in life that truly are — well — awesome.

He explains, "Well basically, I started in June of 2008. At that time, if you flipped open the newspaper it was filled with the same stuff every day. The polar ice caps were melting, there were pirates storming the seas, the economy was on the verge of collapse, and there were wars going on all over the world. Everything was so heavy. 1000 Awesome Things was meant to be that one little place where we turn the lights out, put a blanket over our heads, and just talk about popping bubble wrap, or snow days, or the smell of a bakery."

The website, 1000 Awesome Things has been listing a weekly countdown since June of 2008, and Neil just released a 400-page hardcover book entitled "The Book of Awesome: Snowy Days, Bakery Air, Finding Money in Your Pocket, and Other Simple, Brilliant Things" this month.

As I perused the list, I had one of those "aha moments". YES! Picking a 'q' and a 'u' up at the same time in Scrabble IS awesome! The smell of rain on a hot sidewalk IS awesome! When all the socks in the dryer match up perfectly IS awesome!

Why had I never appreciated these little moments for what they are? Why haven't I realized that the "take a penny, leave a penny" dish is awesome? And the smell of crayons? And when you stop the gas pump at just the right moment, and not a penny more?

Check out the List, and take a moment to ponder the Awesome Things in your life. Post them below in the comments if you'd like - I'd love to hear what you think is awesome.

Finishing a blog... is awesome!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Like butterflies... we "metamorphosize"....

I just took a walk around the perimeter of my house, and it made me a little sick.

In places, it's tough to tell the weeds from the budding plants. Dandelions have infiltrated my grass. The mulch layer is pretty sparse. My deck needs to be power washed and stained. And don't even get me started on my windows.

I used to be so on top of it all. What happened?

When I first became a wife, I read the handbook. I tried to have a decent meal on the table most nights after work. (I said I tried.) The house was tidy, the gardens flourishing, the car sparkling.

When I became a stay-at-home-mom, I apparently became Superwoman. Not only was the above still in check, but I was a playgroup starter, a room mother, a PTC committee chairperson and one of those annoying people who made homemade play-dough for their kids on a regular basis. I had the extra wipes, the stash of band-aids, and the spare pair of clothes in case of an "accident".

I was on it.

But something's happened along the way, and I just can't put my finger on it.

My kids are a bit older now, and I'm a single working mom - a writer, which means I don't keep regular hours. The house isn't quite as clean as it used to be - oh, it's tidy - but I don't polish my light fixtures or dust the cobwebs from the corners like I used to. I honestly can't remember the last time I mopped my floor. (When we got new kitchen tile, I requested the color of dirt.)

I still carry the extra wipes and band-aids, but if any of you have seen my younger son lately you may have noticed that I've plain given up on combing his hair. And though I am still a member of the PTC, I've scaled down quite a bit, using the excuse that it's time to wean the veterans and bring in the rookies. (I've been there for a total of 8 years now.)

Our meals consist of a rotating menu: Make Your Own Sandwich Night, Refrigerator Roundup, Breakfast for Dinner, Takeout, and my favorite, Freezer Fiesta. And we're lucky to eat before 7 pm.

So what's happened? Is this the Mom Metamorphosis? Have I emerged from the confines of Obsessive Compulsive Homemaking and into the Crazy Child-Bearing/Career Chick that I used to swear I'd never become?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not necessarily complaining. It's nice to kind of "be over" the stresses of keeping a perfect house. I have no problem walking away from the dishes to go play catch with my boys. And I'll gladly challenge them to a game of Scrabble before I'll fold the laundry. THAT will never change. I guess when I look back I wonder why I felt the need to do it all, and was it worth it?

I'm hoping the old adage is true - the one on my refrigerator that reminds me to not worry about the messy house, the unkempt yard, or the nine-year old van that says "Wash Me" on the back:

"One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money was in my bank account nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a better place because I was important in the life of a child."

I've emerged from my cocoon and didn't even know it. It feels good to finally stretch my wings.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Snorkeling, zip lining and rappelling! Oh my!!!

What happens when you bring together eleven strangers for a day to experience the chance of a lifetime?

In my case, you get Real World - Tulum.

As in Mexico.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of taking my first trip to this beautiful area. Warm breezes, white sand beaches and blue-green water paradise aside, this one day in the ancient Mayan city will be forever in my memory.

We signed up for this excursion not really knowing what to expect. As we hopped in the van, bleary eyed from the early wake-up call, we were greeted by what appeared to be three young girls who hadn't quite slept off their tequila from the night before. (We came to find out that it was a mother, her daughter, and her friend.) Marissa, 18, rode shotgun, and began interrogating each passenger as they entered the vehicle. "Where are you from?" "How do you like your resort? Ours sucks!" And to the driver, "Do I have time for a smoke?" "How long until we get there?"

Our driver, Carlos, was a younger, spry, good looking Mexican who spoke broken English with an endearing accent, and Marissa didn't miss a beat chatting him up in the front seat. Carlos made a point to ask everyone in the van if they had any limitations: Fear of heights? Asthma? Claustrophobia? Marissa's young friend Christina had them all.

The next couple was from Jersey, and about as opposite as the TV show Jersey Shore as you could imagine. An adorable pair, we found out later that Dawn and Barry were celebrating her recovery from a serious illness, and away from their kids, ages four and six, for the first time.

Jen and Terry, married five years, hailed from Virginia. Jen was a lively and sweet, but lamenting just turning 30. She voiced some apprehensions of the day, but seemed willing to take a stab at conquering her fears. Terry was a Marine and a former chef who had studied in Ireland but had put cooking on the back burner in order to take a job that would enable him to spend more time with his wife. He seemed like her knight in shining armor, and by the sight of the tattoo bearing her name on his shoulder, he was quite smitten by her as well.

Then there was Ruta and Gerimantas, a Lithuanian couple living in Chicago. We got to know Ruta and found, though quiet, she took on each event of the day with a sweet determination. We also discovered later that Gerimantas was mostly silent because he did not speak any English. What a day that must have been for him!

After what seemed like an interminable drive over rocky roads and countless "topes", or "speed bumps" (which they take very seriously in Mexico), we arrived in Tulum, and spent our first few hours on a guided tour of the Mayan ruins.

Tulum is the Yucatec Mayan word for fence or wall, and the walls surrounding the site allowed the Tulum fort to serve as a defense against invasion. From the numerous depictions in murals and other works around the site, Tulum appears to have been an important site for the worship of the Diving or Descending god. The history was fascinating, and we marveled that these structures were still standing and how the buildings of today would never hold up to the substantial architecture of this period. My companion commented that it was interesting that much remains unknown about this history, as our guide used phrases such as "We believe", "The theory is", and "From what we gather...". We chuckled when our young tour-mate Marissa, hot and bored, wondered why we were spending so much time looking at "a bunch of rocks".

After touring the ruins and enduring the blazing heat emulating from the rocks, we disbanded and walked up to the cliffs overlooking the ocean to take in the cool breeze. Many walked down to the waterfront and shed their sweaty clothes to hop in the surf to cool off. This water was a stunning shade of blue-green, and our view from the cliffs was breathtaking. Iguanas seemed unnerved by the tourists, and crossed our paths right and left.

Feeling refreshed, we were about to get a blast of frigid water that lay in the underground caves where our next adventure would take place. For the next hour we snorkeled in these deep caverns, dodging stalactites and listening to the squeals of the young girls when they spotted the fish that they were sure would nibble on their toes. This was my first snorkeling in a very long time, and I was thankful for the calm - albeit cold - waters to practice my technique.

We returned to "base camp" to move on to what I had been waiting for - zip lining. This was something I had always wanted to do and was not disappointed. We buckled into our harnesses and donned helmets and large gloves. As Carlos showed us the ropes - literally - we learned what to do (lean back) and what not to do (hold on to the main cable), then began our ascent up the stairs of the first of three towers, 53 feet, 53 feet and 66 feet, respectively.

When we arrived at the top, there was really no time to panic as one by one he hooked each of us up to the main cable and pushed us on our way. The ride seemed to only last seconds and was incredibly exhilarating as we glided over the trees, first for 459 feet, then 590 feet, then the longest zip line, 853 feet. On the last pass, I took my camera and snapped a few shots as I sailed through the air, but it just didn't do the ride justice.

What was surprising to me was the lack of fear I had. Maybe it was that we weren't given a chance to think about it. No one in the group really seemed to have an issue with the height, even though several in the group had mentioned their trepidation. We swapped cameras, gave the thumbs up, and reveled in our bravery.

This confidence would be put to the test, though, at our third and final adventure of the day. From the zip line towers, we moved to a rappelling tower 75 feet in the air. Carlos, standing on a low practice perch, again demonstrated the technique and invited Dawn - one of the most apprehensive - to hook up and lean backwards over the edge. We were all a little uneasy for her, but she mustered up her courage and stepped back at a 90 degree angle from the perch. OK, if she could do it, so could we. We ascended the tower and two by two were clipped to our ropes.

The most fear I had all day was standing with only my toes on the tower and leaning back into what seemed oblivion. My pedal and brake was my right hand, grasping the rope at my backside. My left hand was only for balance on the rope above me. It took me a few seconds after he said "Go" to lean back, but after some deep breaths and some "OK. OK. OK."s, I did it and rappelled my first steps down the side of the tower. From there, my feet dangled as I slowly lowered myself to the sweet earth.

What a rush.

We stood and cheered those paralyzed at the top like we had been, and encouraged them on like old pros. We praised Jen, our one tour mate whose fears overcame her and she declined to rappel. In her words, "I was scared of them all, and conquered all but one. It's been a good day."

It was a good day. After a catered lunch of some of the best chicken and Mexican rice I've ever had, we headed back to the van that would take us to our respective resorts, now chatting like old friends. We reviewed the day, talked about our families, and exchanged emails, promising to share photos and stay in touch. This whole group - divided by states, languages and ages, bonded together for a day that will live forever in each of our memories. And we may never see each other again.

If that is the case, I would like to say to Marissa, Shawna and Christina, Dawn and Barry, Jen and Terry, Ruta and Gerimantas and especially Chris: Gracias. Thank you for being a part of one of the most amazing days of my life. I could not have spent it with a more wonderful group of people, and I wish you all many, many more adventures in life.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Why I live in Illinois

If I had a nickel for every time my "friends in warmer climates" asked me, "Why do you live in Illinois?" I'd be a rich woman.

It's days like this one. And yesterday. Oh, and tomorrow.

This high-60's, mid-70's air, light breeze, sunny skies... birds chirping, trees budding and grass greening up. Yeah, OK, there's an occasional thunderstorm, hail, and perhaps a tornado or two, but that's just a reminder that Spring has sprung.

You may have these balmy days further south, or west, but I bet you don't appreciate them quite as much.

Yes, we Illinoisans - and many of our Midwest neighbors - have put up with the drudgery of the past five or six months. You warmer state inhabitants make fun of us when you see us getting dumped on with another snowstorm. You wonder how we survive with days upon days of frigid temperatures. And don't think we don't see you laugh at our seasonal affective disorder that results from endless weeks without that big yellow ball in the sky. We get it.

But what I bet you don't get is the appreciation we have for these days. This day. The day we put the screens back in the windows and leave the front door open all day. The day we kick the kids outside and go out ourselves and clean up what winter has done to our yards. The day we pump up the bike tires, wash the car by hand, and reattach the hoses to their spigots. The day we go for a walk, and marvel that the seasons have finally come full circle again.

We appreciate these days - and the ones that will come after them - because we don't really get used to them. We have winter's impending wrath as that constant reminder that days like these should be savored. So we do it.

So laugh if you will, my relentlessly warm-weathered friends. We've paid our dues, and earned our weather.

Carpe diem!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Peoria will miss Sully's smiling Irish eyes...

Mike "Sully" Sullivan passed away Wednesday - peacefully in his sleep - succumbing to a short fight with bile duct cancer.

Facebook was abuzz with the news, but one thing was interesting - all of them somehow managed to celebrate this man - "Raise a glass to Sully" was a common post. "He's opening up a tavern in Heaven" was another. Still others vowed that their next Guinness would be in his honor.

What a way to go.

Sully wasn't a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. What you saw was what you got. But for as outspoken and at times controversial as he was, everyone - even those who disagreed with him - had an intrinsic love for this man who was by all intents and purposes a character like no other.

There is a closeup photo of him on the Peoria Journal Star website - I would love to put it here but I don't want to get in trouble - but to me, it encompasses all that was Sully. The black beret covering his mop of long, wavy hair. Those eyes - those Irish eyes - full of kindness yet with a touch of piss and vinegar. The lines on his face daring anyone to guess his age, which he kept a closely-guarded secret.

The man lived life. Plain and simple. He did what he loved, and he died knowing he had a friend in most every person he met over the years in this town. If you met him once, you had been "touched" by Sully.

An Irish Catholic, I'm sure attendance at his funeral will be huge. But I also know that there will be many, many celebrations of his life going on around town for the next few weeks. I know that every time I enjoy a Guinness from now on, I will think of Sully, and raise my glass to him.

There are a lot of great Irish Blessings that I could post here, but I think this one sums up Sully best: “May you get to heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead.”

I think he made it.