Sunday, August 17, 2014

#MattWedsKat

In the past couple years, I've been to at least a half dozen weddings that have leveraged hashtags. The social identifier becomes a billing for guest participation, an open invitation for selfies, and a means to aggregate a collection of wedding shots and commentary in real time.

Mostly, the subjects of these indexes were my age like the majority of their guests. By the last dance, dozens of outtakes had registered on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. In retrospect, nothing compared to the vast, scrolling library of images and messages that Matt and Katrina racked up last night.

Matt is my first cousin, once removed. Cousin Bob's son. Growing up, Matt and his brothers were the smaller versions of my little brother. Equally athletic, equally as emotional about Notre Dame football, equally as dressed up at Family Reunions. Katrina, his blushing bride is a St. Mary's grad, passionate non-profit marketer, and the original subscriber to my blog. (Love her.) Both mid 20s. Both among the younger half of the Millennial generation.  

Yesterday, they joined hands in marriage while their friends and family tweeted the play by play. It wasn't just the avid social sharing that made this wedding day distinct, there were other Millennial monikers that stood out.

There were more single ladies lined up to catch the bouquet than I have ever seen.
And man, did they know how to dance.
The couple had practiced their kiss, so they were going to get it right for the camera.
Chipotle got a nod during the maid of honor's speech.
Frozen got a standing ovation.
The Bridesmaids dresses were a whole lot better.
IMG_9662

The little bubble blower was mine.
IMG_9687

Everyone had an iPhone.
And everyone used the hashtag.

But mostly, next generation nuptials have more in common with their predecessors than not.
Still, nothing beats the second the back door of the Church opens.
IMG_9663

Or that moment that a beaming bride gets lost in an eye lock with her handsome prince.
IMG_9665

There will always be proud fathers and teary mothers.
IMG_9660

I dos ...
IMG_9669

will be followed by a kiss that seals the deal.
IMG_9670

There will be thunderous applause after Mass.
(More of that, Mommy.)
IMG_9674

IMG_9675

IMG_9679

Little girls will want to look just like Princess Katrina someday.
IMG_9693

Brothers will sit together, remembering when.
IMG_9709

Cousins who grew up will dance circles around each other.
IMG_9690

IMG_9692

Cocktails will be served at dusk.
IMG_9702

IMG_9704

And dancing will go on till dawn.
IMG_9713

IMG_9715

IMG_9721

IMG_9732

All day, the love shared by the couple will reflect in the eyes and hearts of those in attendance.
IMG_9730
And a whole lot of people will come together to wish the bride and groom love, laughter and a lifetime of happiness today. 
IMG_9697
Tomorrow.
IMG_9700 And all the days of their life. 
IMG_9701
Congrats Matt and Kat!  
Lo.    

Friday, August 15, 2014

Illinois

The other day, a little girl on the street showed us the bug she had caught. I coaxed Mary to take a closer look at the potato bug as Anna crinkled up her nose and told me it was a rolly polly! It's not the first time that terms and phrases from my childhood have confused others. Lighting bugs. Oh, fireflies. Hello Dollies. Oh, seven layer bars. Fritzers. Yeah, those would be farts.

Growing up, Hello Dollies or seven layer bars were a seasonal cookie, available just twice a year: the week of Christmas and the week we were in Quincy, Illinois with my grandparents.

Usually that trip required a flight to St. Louis; then a two-hour drive in our family-sized Buick rental, boasting just enough room to prevent space wars from breaking out.

You could tell we were almost there by the slowing pace of the world - the car pulling off the Highway and onto Broadway Street, the light softly setting over the Coca Cola plant, the gentle sway of the Sycamore Trees, and the sweet smiles of kids catching lighting bugs. As my Dad would point out where Sally, Marshall, Riff and Dean the Butter Bean used to live, my Mom would pass around her little pink brush. Shoes on. Brush hair. Pack stuff up.

Even in the dim light, you could see my Grandparents oak tree as soon as we turned the corner onto Forrest Avenue. Behind it was the little white house labeled 719. We would park in the driveway lined with roses and shuffle up the stairs to the front door. Butterflies, fluttering with anticipation of cookies, circled through my stomach. By the time my Dad rang the door bell, my Grandma and Grandpa were there to open it. I would have lingered over my hug and kiss longer, but I could see that platter, particularly the line of Hello Dollies from the doorway. Heaven in the form of a bite-sized layer cookie melted in my mouth.

We would take turns bragging about ourselves, giving my Grandma and Grandpa dance recital, home run, A+, and leading role proof points. Around my fourth, okay fifth Hello Dolly, my Grandpa would start to nod off or as he put it, rest his eyes. He was snoring five minutes later.

Bedtimes didn't matter on arrival night. Cookies, hugs and checking into Uncle Jim's old bedroom / corner of a hallway were the only prerogative. My sister would get the next bed over in Aunt Ann's room. Come to think of it, Erin was the only one who actually got a room. My parents and Adam always slept on the cots in the basement next to the ping pong table.

I would finally fall asleep on that first night with sweet visions of radio rolls, roast beef, Dieter's chipwiches, and Spring Lake dancing through my head. A week of fun, exclusively manufactured in Illinois, awaited.

***

There is something about where I live: the Sycamore Trees in the parks, the smell of my gas stove as I turn it on, the Fiesta Ware in my cabinets, the lighting bugs and potato bugs in my back yard, and the August air that reminds me of Quincy every summer. Maybe it's just having Illinois in common, but something about living in Chicagoland brings me a little closer to my Grandparents. And I feel like it's my responsibility to bring a little bit of Quincy to my guests, especially when they happen to be family.

Last night, Mary stayed up to see Nana and Opa arrive. She waited on the front stoop with me, eating her first Hello Dolly as a couple lighting bugs flickered around her. It was getting close to her bedtime, but it was a special night, so I let her stay up. It was worth it; worth the hellos, the hugs and the extra Hello Dolly.
IMG_9653
Lo.

Hello Dollies
IMG_9653
Ingredients: 
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup (plus a little more) chocolate chips
1 cup (plus a little more) butterscotch chips
1 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1 can Eagle brand condensed milk

Directions: 
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a 9x9 inch pan, mix together butter and graham cracker crumbs and press down to line the pan with a graham cracker crust. On top, evenly sprinkle nuts. Then layer on morsels - I do chocolate and then butterscotch. On top evenly sprinkle coconut and then top, evenly again, with sweetened milk.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the coconut is golden and toasted. Let cool for at least 30 minutes. It's easier to cut them and pull them out of the pan though when they are completely cooled. I cut them small, because they are so indulgent and they need to fit in little hands.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Mary Poppins

I grew up with two working parents: briefcases, power suits, Dictaphones, billable hours, stethoscopes, depos, caths, on-call nights, thirty-minute meals, and a nanny. Well technically quite a few babysitters - full-time, part-time and special guest appearance caregivers. But only two superstar sitters.
 
Patty.
Patty was sitting on our big Bartlett Street Porch painting watercolor murals on our legs. Jumping through the sprinkler to wash our masterpieces off. Digging through the Goody Closet - a little cupboard in the basement, filled with recyclables primed for paper mache - to pick the right supplies. Tic Tacs in the armrest of a white Chevy Beretta. Sleepovers in Cranberry. Fashion shows. Matzo. And the Squirrel Hill Library.  

And Debbie.
Debbie was frosted and permed hair. White Reebok sneakers. Skipping nap time. Getting my back tickled. Speeding down the high hills of West Mifflin in a maroon Buick Monte Carlo. Pop music. Pop culture. Mountainous portions of Linguine with Clam Sauce. Four tacos. Two Big Macs. Getting my makeup done for dance recitals. And knowing how special I was to her. 

While nothing ever replaced the hugs and squeezes that my parents gave me at the end of the day; or seeing them appear in the stands of one of my field hockey games; my nannies held a unique place in my heart.  

***

Mary's understanding of growing up in a two-income household might be slightly different than my own. The legal and medical terms have been replaced with burgers, fries and bank statements. And there's no need to preemptively add a Dr. onto anyone's name. But it was my hope earlier this year, when we switched from day-care to a full-time nanny, that Mary would get to have a relationship similar to the ones I had.

Earlier this week, first thing Monday morning to be exact, Eva came back from vacation just as Mary and I were returning from our run. It was the first time Mary had seen her in 10 days. I didn't make it two feet into our driveway before she squirmed out of her stroller and into the arms of her beloved Nanny. She remained locked in the biggest, longest hug I've ever seen her give anyone for nearly ten minutes. I honestly thought she was going to cry.   

One of the greatest fears of a working mom is that her child will end up loving his or her care giver more than her. As I witnessed the sweet embrace of Mary's reunion with Eva, the thought flickered through my mind. And my heart. But as I drove away on Monday morning, Mary proactively saying 'bye bye' as she blew bubbles from the stoop, I didn't feel sad at all. Instead I felt relieved, thankful, and reassured of my post at my desk, on the road and behind the counter every day.  

I know I'm not always there. I know there are bubbles, bike rides, swimming lessons, songs, dances, books, flowers, picnics, and play dates that I will miss. But I love that you have someone so special to share them with. I love that you have stories and memories that are tailored for you and Eva. And Mary, I'll tell you just what my parents told me: I promise to always be there when you need me. 
For all your shows.
For all your games.
For all your commendations. 
Even for all those events scheduled by and for PTA Moms.
I promise to sing and dance with you.
To read to you.
To laugh with you.
To show you the world.  
I promise to be your personal chef. Most every night of the week.
I promise to be your running partner. Or vice versa.
And I promise to try to keep the West Wind away from Eva.

Lo. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Down, Two to Go

One of the things I love about my job is its proximity to the Test Kitchen. And with it, a certain redefinition of the typical corporate meeting. Powerpoints include stunning, mouth-watering visuals. Prototypes aren't etched on flip charts, they are edible. Speeches, even the long soliloquies, tend to be salivating. And there are less pen strokes, more fork lifts. Simply put, my job tends to be quite delicious.  

The problem is, earlier this month, the food quotient of my career became an enemy. Something in my stomach flipped and the charge to show, test, taste and take notes on burger after burger, thin patty after thick patty almost lead to several job-ending upchucks right in the middle of my beloved Test Kitchen. 

In the nearly three weeks since I have last written, headaches, nausea and fatigue have ruled the better part of my days. But in an effort to diminish the pervasive plague's role in my life, there were other great things that happened.

Mary learned how to go down a slide by herself. 
IMG_9625IMG_9626
And alongside a friend.
IMG_9628
We went to the Zoo. 
IMG_9611
And to the beach. 
IMG_9638IMG_9640 IMG_9646
We got to hang out with old friends. 
IMG_9624
And meet some new ones. 
We had a short visit from one cousin. 
And a longer visit from another.
We boated with Kiki.
And plunged into chilly Lake Michigan waters.   
The grass grew. 
And it was cut. 
The house got dirty. 
And it was cleaned. 
The gherkins were harvested and pickled. 
Bubbles.
Bubbles.
And more bubbles.  
I held my breath as I tasted the control patty. 
I thought non nauseous thoughts when I tasted the thicker, juicier burger. 
I focused on just taking a bite of the pickle when I tasted the deluxe. 
I drank lots of water.
And I avoided several near projectile situations.  
My top button popped. 
I moved into roomier jeans. 
And I got a first glimpse of the little peach rapidly growing inside me. 

Yep, number two is 13-weeks on its way. And Peter and I couldn't be happier; both that Mary will be a big sister in February and that I'm finally over the rocky waters and back loving my McJob. 

Lo. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Outstanding Camper

The year before I was inducted into dorkdom as the lone 17-year old camper, I thought I had aced Session 2, 1998. And I had high hopes on the last night. Following dinner, following the final skit which would reveal the team on top after two weeks of morning and evening competitions: Dragons, Tigers, Panthers or Indians; Gary perched on his signature stool in front of Camp's congregation to share a special presentation.

My heart was racing. I knew it was my year; I had done everything right. I fought for a couple green eights, carried the flag a couple inches; and helped get the watermelon out of the pool. I hugged all the little campers and gave piggy back rides. I braided some rope necklaces while singing Kumbaya. I shined in the JC skit, clapped my hands vigorously at Campfire and promptly mellowed out before chapel. I wore Birkenstocks, missed a shower or two, and shared my deepest thoughts after each excerpt of Chicken Soup for the Soul at Devotions. And unlike everyone else, I went to bed in time. I was a shoe in, come on.

Gary said it was a unique year; one camper had risen to the top; there would be no outstanding boy and outstanding girl camper; there was one star performer. Crap.

Gary continued, "it was someone who was humble."
Crap.
"Someone who quietly leads"
I can be quiet.
"Always eager to share his warm smile."
His. Triple crap.
This year's Outstanding Camper Award goes to the unassuming guy who everyone loves. Chris.

I visualized myself taking center stage, accepting that coveted King James version of the Bible, hugging Gary, and absorbing the slow to fast claps echoing through the dining hall. I did everything right, how did I not win?
 
***

At this time of year, Calvary Camp, and the ten summers I spent there are always on my mind. And over the past couple years, I've tried to bring a little bit of Calvary to Chicagoland and share it with my family. Camp LaGrange was back in session with a record number of campers last week.

With the spike in attendance, I offered an increased number of electives. And hired a couple more counselors.

The four-day session was filled with yachting, Lake Michigan dipping, biking, and hiking; playground, pool, bubble blowing, and photography electives; camp fire songs, Chapel melodies, epic meals, canteen and of course devotions. 
IMG_9603
IMG_9596
IMG_9594 IMG_9588 IMG_9584 IMG_9576 IMG_9574
4th of July Baby on Boat Banquet Bikes Dad on Boat Diving Jan on Boat life preserver Me and Mary Peggy and Jan Photgrapher Pool baby Swimmers SGS Spider
 IMG_9579Before my campers set off to return home on Sunday afternoon, I declared an Outstanding Camper for 2014. I could tell everyone wanted the title. And trust me, everyone was deserving in their own right.

Nanny thought she was going to win after her bold triathlon performance on Saturday: 4 miles hiking, 14 miles biking, 1 mile swimming, and a trip down the twisty slide at the pool.
Erin thought her brave seamanship was award winning.
Opa thought his photography was his golden ticket.
Mary thought the prize was hers just because she was the cutest one at camp.
Cousin Meghan couldn't win, because she had won before.
And there was Aunt Dee. Unassuming Aunt Dee.

It was her attitude, perseverance, and genuine, modest leadership.
It was how she listened and made others feel like their stories were so interesting.
It was the fact that when her bum was sore, she kept on peddling.
In her presence, you might have overheard her saying something like,
"There's nothing like a cold beer."
"I just love when Mary laughs."
"These ribs are SOOOO good."
"I'll send you Grandma's recipe."
"This is Awesome."

The 2014 Outstanding Camper award goes to Aunt Dee.
Clap ... Clap ... Clap ... Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap, Clap! 

Mary, just seven more years until you experience your first sunset over Lake Erie.

Lo.