Baby and Business as Usual

Photo Baby Business

A newborn baby, two business professionals, and one how-to book. Luckily, Big A* weighed in at 10 pounds, 1- ½ ounces at birth, so there was more to work with and less of a feeling that he was breakable. As we were getting ready to leave the hospital, the nurse could sense my uneasiness and repeated his care instructions twice while I frantically took notes.

I told myself then and there that if I was able to soothe the temperament of an irritate Bloomingdale’s buyer throwing a tantrum over pricing, I certainly would be able to care for a baby. Yes, the best approach for me would be to stick to what I knew (business) and adapt those principles to being a mom:

Organizational Skills
Much to his grandmothers’ dismay, Big A traveled with us starting at four weeks old. After figuring the number of travel days, diapers and formula would be packed into a carton and checked on to the flight. This would alleviate having to shop in an unfamiliar city.

Hotels seemed only too happy to accommodate my request to remove items from the minibar refrigerator in order to make room for formula and would wash and sterilize the baby bottles for me each morning.

Groundwork
There was always a new toy in his restaurant bag to keep him busy. To keep him entertained in a museum, he’d pick out a postcard of a painting in the gift shop when we’d first enter, then happily spend his time there trying to match the paintings on the wall to his postcard.

Meetings
As he got older, we would share our schedules and upcoming events during dinner. When a family meeting was called, we knew that one of us was requesting time to focus on a subject, discuss it and make any necessary decisions together.

Record-keeping
Keeping a journal as he grew up did not take all that much time and is so special to me now. Photo albums! – need I say more?

Research
When important decisions came up (such as curfews), it was hard for us, as the parents of an only child, to be well-informed. At his school, I would seek out moms with a big family and ask for their input.

We weren’t surprised when, at age seven, Big A asked Santa for a briefcase. It was necessary to house his ever-growing business card collection. When Mr. Wiz* became a member of our building’s condominium board, 9-year old Big A would accompany him to every meeting with a pad and pen.

What made us realize that we had a professional on our hands was when, at age 10, Big A called a family meeting to discuss an allowance increase. He came to breakfast that Saturday wearing a shirt and tie along with his pajama bottoms, passed out typed copies of his presentation and spoke eloquently of how, now in fourth grade, his popularity was based on the number of Pokemon cards he was able to purchase and how an allowance increase combined with a slight increase in chores would change his world. The Board met in closed session and accepted his proposal unanimously.

Now, Big A is an accountant for an international company, loves to travel, still is always ready to wear a jacket and tie to dinner and continues to be the joy of our lives. I can honestly say that motherhood was the best job I have ever had.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

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 When You Just Gut to Rehab

Photo Gut to Rehab

Our elderly neighbors ran up to us and hugged us tightly. “…We heard you are moving north and we hate to see you go. Are you heading to Minnesota? …” “… No…” I said “…Just to the north side of the building…”

Back then, it was a win-win situation. Mr. Wiz* was eager to renovate and Big A* and I didn’t want to move, so we compromised. We moved three times in the same Chicago condominium building, buying and renovating units that were in their original condition.

There’s a price you pay for the privilege of transformation:

– A deep, intimate and complicated relationship with your contractor that, for the moment, takes precedence overall else. He is your lifeline to the construction-free world that you long for. You hunger for his voice, delight in his every word, sulk when he forgets to return your calls and look forward to his visits with unbridled anticipation.

– Those sleepless nights, as you review your decisions over and over again. Did I hear the salesman say, under his breath that it was just a representative sample? Do I really want my appliances to look like NASA space modules, communicate with my smartphone and plan my meals without me? Is brown the new black or is black the new brown?

– We came up with a sophisticated privacy system to counter the lack of doors (yelling “…Don’t come in! …” seemed to work), took turns vacuuming the paper protecting the wood floors (which also served as a means of communication) and washed dishes in the bathtub (still not sure why the new sink had backed up).

Even though we felt as if we had done our homework, we came up with some useful ideas that seemed to be missing from the how to books:

– Designate one person in your household to handle all communications with your contractor. This will eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

– When working on drawing up a contract, offer as much detail as you can. We prepared spreadsheets by room with the headings entitled “Demo, Construct, Electric and Cabinet and Fixtures.” Names and model numbers of any items to be purchased were also included.

– Remember that if you veer off the signed contract in any way, a change order must be written and signed by both parties.

– Affix sticky notes directly to any areas that are still in need of completion. This will bring attention to the work that is still outstanding and get it done in a timely manner.

Each time the work was completed and I had found just the right spot for my most cherished possessions, I couldn’t imagine packing them up and moving. But, pack, unpack and relocate them again we have through the years.

It’s that rush of excitement that comes with the visual culmination of all your plans and design ideas created into something new that never gets old. Funny how, at that moment, any unpleasantness is never recalled.

For those of us that can see the light at the end of those dust bunny filled tunnels, we’ll continue to move through life glancing affectionately at the Home Depot circulars, drawing up design ideas on cocktail napkins and searching for the next place to hang our hat.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

The Interview

Photo The Interview

One last chance to check for a trace
Of breakfast crumbs on your face

Remember to exude confidence
Be yourself; don’t get tense

It’s stiffer competition than I’d bargained for
I don’t think I can take much more

My pulse is racing, my hands are clammy
What must it be like for the interviewee?

My panic is soothed by a warm embrace
And the smile on my 4-year old son’s face

“…The snack was good, the playground is great
There’s a water table and a hamster named Kate…”

Relieved and exhausted, I’ve just made it through
His first kindergarten, private school interview

 

Up early and dressed for success, it’s another busy day. There’s an early morning Spanish class and a late afternoon tennis lesson. When is the piano recital? Who is your lunch date with? Will there be time for a nap? Without an iPhone, it’s hard for you to keep track, but then again, you cannot read or write yet. Thank goodness that you are able to maintain your stress levels by humming a few bars of your favorite Mozart concerto (fresh in your mind after hearing it repeatedly while still in the womb). Welcome to the life of a preschooler.

Baby boomers may have been partly responsible for originating this phenomenon. Known for their competitive and goal-centric nature, they left nothing to chance and methodically plotted out their children’s lives. As with any faction, there are always varying levels of methodology, from those that implemented a more natural and laid-back approach to those that put the “hell” in helicopter parents (a term for parents that aggressively hover over every aspect of their child’s life).

And from those seeds that were planted and meticulously tended to, the millennial was created. Born between 1980 and 2000, they are also known as the Me Generation. They have an air of confidence about them and are sometimes blamed for being a bit too self-absorbed. Given the fact that they are the first generation to have so much technology at their fingertips, they are not entirely to blame. According to Forbes Magazine“…No generation has been as publicly reviled, praised, misunderstood and analyzed as the millennials. And, with good reason. By 2025, millennials will make up the majority of the workforce…”

We’ve created a generation that works hard, plays hard and is a powerful force to reckon with. Sure, maybe our tactics may have been a bit over the top, but by the time our preschoolers hit the college campus, they learned to tolerate our unrelenting attentiveness to every aspect of their lives. And, if they could tackle that, they could handle anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Two Seniors

 

Photo My 2 Seniors

This is how I remember it happening. It was a Friday night and I couldn’t stop pacing the room. Big A* had just left me a phone message that we might be receiving a call from his Jesuit high school to report that some students were moshing at tonight’s dance. As I hurried to look up the definition of moshing (a style of dance which involves pushing or slamming into each other), JC* called to tell me she had a blind date. I quickly gave her a rundown of safety tips, but she was more interested in what dress I thought she should wear and said she would check in later.

Back when Big A was still in high school and JC was moving to Chicago to be nearer to us, their lives seemed to collide in a parallel universe for a few short months. Contrary to popular opinion, high school seniors and senior citizens seem to have more in common than most people think.

Though one goes to bed too late and one gets up too early, their main goal in life is socialization. Having completed intense research in order to track their activities during the course of one week, I discovered that these two, party animals remained neck in neck for number of hours of communal involvement.

More in-depth investigation uncovered interesting findings. While playing rugby, Big A and his teammates would scrum, which involved players packing closely together with their heads down in an attempt to gain possession of the ball. This was not too far off from a similar strategy of a group of senior women in their attempt to gain possession of 50 percent off sale items during an outlet mall visit.

Another rugby analogy presented itself in the form of the traditional sharing of food at the end of each game. The host team would stand to the side and invite the visiting team to serve themselves first, then the ravenous players would all attack the table. Again, not too distant from the sight of a group of early bird diners and an all-you-can-eat salad bar. I rest my case.

We shopped for two microwaves and settled both into their new digs; a dorm room and a senior community (which, soon gave way to a condo when JC announced that her new neighbors were too old). In my attempt to seek out some sort of a generation gap, all I actually found were grandmother and grandson shopping together at Gap Inc.

Much time has gone by, but these two still share a special bond. I can rest assured that when I am out of town, they will take care of each other, which they did recently when they enjoyed cocktails and dinner at one of the new, hot spot restaurants and took in a Gypsy Kings concert.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Holy Toledo, What a Wedding!

Photo Holy Toledo

The bride and groom surveying the Kentucky landscape.

It was their special day and they wanted it to epitomize who they were. My lovely niece and her charming beau invited parents, siblings and their best pals to the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky for their wedding ceremony. As rock climbers, they were unfazed by the “over the river and through the woods” hike to the final destination, but my sister-in-law/mother of the bride was already sure that whether she chose to hike or take the ski lift, it would be with eyes shut tightly.

The groom stood on a boulder and announced the day’s agenda. Guests were invited to say a few words and, before long, there wasn’t “a dry eye in the house.” A close friend prepared to be the celebrant by taking an online course and beautifully blended the traditional vows with the bride and groom’s loving and personal promises to each other.

As befitting the occasion, a large log cabin was rented for the weekend. Two foodie families were also joined together that weekend and took turns grilling gourmet meals. The weather smiled down on them as they enjoyed the magnificent terrain during the day, the bonfires at night and each others’ company.

We are among the 75 guests invited to a reception at the Botanical Gardens in Toledo, Ohio. We follow the path from the parking lot and soon find ourselves in the middle of 60 acres of tranquility. The reception is held in a room with big windows that overlook the sculpture garden. My excitement level, extremely high when attending any wedding, is heightened by the fact that my siblings and their children will be all together for the first time in years. This giddiness combined with the first view of the room’s décor overwhelms me.

As I hug and kiss my way around the room, I can’t help but notice out of the corner of my eye that everyone is gathering around the tables and commenting. I find out that the floral arrangements are origami paper flowers planted in edible dirt made up of chocolate covered acai berries in homemade baskets, all created by the bride. The bride’s bouquet is made of natural sola wooden flowers, hand dyed in shades of blush pink and Champagne. Lovely handmade gifts are also on display, such as painted wooden plaques designed by the groom’s sister.

This is all too much for me and I sit down, hoping the lightheaded feeling will pass. Thoughts of projects past begin to creep into my mind and each disaster begins to unfold as if it were yesterday.

The excitement of my first home economics project at age 12 that took a turn for the worst when a 24-hour dry cleaners had to be located (not easy back then) in order to remove the white chalk that was usually used on the underside of the garment. With memories of previous sewing skills, (when wrestling, the sleeves on the pajamas I made for my siblings would inexplicably fall off), it took all I had to walk the runway at the fashion show, fingers crossed all the way that I’d still have a skirt on as I exited. The family promise I made to never to use Crazy Glue again when I accidentally glued my 2 fingers together. And, the family intervention, necessary when I insisted on sewing the hem of Big A’s* grade school pants twice in one week; somehow attaching them to our bed quilt as I sat sewing and then, when the hems fell out during recess, causing Big A to topple over onto half of the kickball team, creating turmoil in the nurse’s office.

A concerned family member notices me and brings me a beverage, which is so delicious that it startles me out of my trance. It’s a rosemary Paloma, an amazing concoction of rosemary simple syrup (homemade by the groom), tequila, grapefruit juice and seltzer. Also offered is a Kentucky Mule (the bride’s jalapeño simple syrup recipe, cucumbers and bourbon), watermelon mint iced tea and apple cinnamon iced tea.

I am now picking up a pattern and learn that both families have worked together to create today’s menu and that everything is homemade: the wine, the beer, the pickles, the rolls, the salads, the beans, the wedding cake (lemon cake with blueberry filling and a lemon basil butternut icing), the chicken wings (3 flavors) and the brisket that the groom’s dad tended all night while sleeping next to his smoker. I am sure that Martha Stewart would be as impressed with this event as I was the day she instructed us all to begin a recipe by collecting cranberries from our cranberry bog.

I am full, both of food and emotions, as I look around and marvel at all the happiness and love in this room. I don’t want the weekend to end and don’t want to let go of this moment. Then, I remember that, just like a good recipe, life is meant to be savored, and when the last taste is gone, it spurs us on to create again.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Sunday in Milwaukee  

Photo Sunday in Milwaukee

Every time we visit Big A* we try to mix it up a bit, except for the $16.95 lobster lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market. That we don’t mind doing repeatedly.

We walk to Birch & Butcher from Big A’s apartment. It’s clean lines and Zen atmosphere along with the colored pencils and the page to color reminds us that this is what Sundays are for. We all agree that sharing is the right thing to do. There’s nothing better than starting the day with a lox platter (a homemade everything bagel with smoked trout, cream cheese, charred tomato, red onion jam and capers), rosemary biscuits (topped with sausage, charcuterie gravy and a poached egg) and pulled pork shoulder (with polenta, roasted mushrooms and a poached egg). Just as I wonder which banquette would be a great spot for a nap, it is time to head to our next stop.

None of us know why we never visited Villa Terrace before. Designed by renowned architect David Adler, it was originally the home of Lloyd and Agnes Smith and is now a decorative arts museum. Majestically sitting above Lake Michigan in all its Mediterranean splendor, it’s hard to believe that the home and its award-winning gardens are in the middle of the city.

We each find a favorite daydreaming spot outside, then strain our necks in order to see more of the neighbors’ lavish homes. We peruse every nook and cranny, not wanting to miss any of the family’s history, the art collections or the amazing wrought iron pieces.

What I didn’t expect was what happened next. A Korean drummer was invited to give a presentation that day and before I knew it, I was a part of her drum circle, banging to the rhythm on my instrument of choice along with others. As she collected the instruments, she told us about a recent trip to her homeland and how events such as these are such a simple way to bring people together. I leave with a spring in my step and am ready for our next stop.

The Third Ward, a historic warehouse district, has really grown into itself since Big A was in college at Marquette University. It’s always fun to walk around and visit the unique shops (though I’ve yet to make a purchase, my favorite, called Shoo,sells handmade shoes). It’s hot and 5 o’clock somewhere, so we decide to stop at the new Journeyman Hotel, take a look around and wind up at their rooftop bar.

With watches synchronized, we decide to change for dinner, then meet again. We head to Harbor House, early so we can sit outside on their Adirondack chairs and have a cocktail while we take in the view of Lake Michigan. Just as we get comfortable, the fog rolls in and we can hardly see our hands in front of our faces. As if by magic, the fog suddenly lifts when our drinks arrive and we laugh when the waiter says it was all part of the plan. We dine on raw oysters, scallops, halibut and even throw in a veal chop for good measure.

It’s been another successful visit. We’ve spent time with Big A and eaten our way around Milwaukee, with just enough time to plan our next adventures together

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up Gastronomically

      Photo Gastronomically

Unlike most young teens my age, I sailed through my chubby stage, thanks to a fan club consisting of my parents, an aunt and two sets of loving grandparents. They’d listen attentively to the detailed accounts of my life and were an enthusiastic audience, whether I was reading them my entire school report or rehearsing my lines from the school play.

Little did I know that secret family meetings were being held to discuss such topics as to how to delicately get me to remove the belt on the knit dress that I loved to wear and how to help me curb my voracious appetite. Luckily, my Spanish grandmother’s suggestion to apply some Latin folk remedies involving herbs, a pig’s snout and a short prayer were immediately vetoed.

So, it was with a combination of elevated confidence and naivety that I found myself participating in “Operation Lindita” (in the Spanish language, adding “ita” to a name indicates affection). Each evening, as JC* prepared dinner, I joined her in the kitchen and sipped a cup of hot chicken broth in the hopes of curbing my appetite. Thanks to a combination of nutritional eating and the introduction of boys into my life, I soon dropped the weight, never to have it return again.

I am not a sweet eater. I am not abstaining to show my sugarless superiority, I just prefer salty over sweet. You can count on me to guard your Halloween candy stash with nary a candy bar missing, but I am prepared to arm wrestle you for that last potato chip. I always carry some small packets of salt with me and do not travel without pretzels. I’m not sure why; an abundance of sodium chloride just makes me feel secure.

It was in college that I was first introduced to tiny utensils. The ex-Ford model hired to turn us from high school grads (still carrying the baby fat that once made us cute) into professional career women ate with a cocktail fork and a demitasse spoon and to this day, so do I.

At a recent family reunion, my siblings (all foodies) seemed to be curious about my petite partaking. As a souvenir of our time together, I sent each of them a cocktail fork and a demitasse spoon, tied with a red ribbon, and attached this poem I wrote:

When dining with utensils tiny
Frustration may leave you a bit whiny
So, savor each morsel on your plate
Watch your tummy slowly deflate
And smile in your spoon’s surface shiny

Remember, it doesn’t matter how big or small the bite, just as long as you take the time to savor each one. Bon Appetit!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.