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When One Door Closes…

This door at Suburban Scrawl is closing but a new door is opening! I’m ready to welcome you with a hug and some freshly-baked chocolate chip banana bread at my new site! Not much is changing except the address; I’ll be picking up right where I leave off here. Check out my first post HERE.

See you there!


Double Digits: It’s My Tenth Anniversary!

Today is the tenth anniversary of my very first post on Suburban Scrawl.

*does celebratory dance*

I’m a little amazed that I’m still here after ten years, but not surprised: I’m pretty good at keeping commitments. Truth be told, while there have been a couple of occasions when I considered shutting it all down, I have always felt that I wanted to maintain an online home indefinitely, even if I got to a point where I published new posts infrequently. (Surprise! I’m there!)

When I started, Suburban Scrawl had a Blogspot address. The background was black and my header text was purple. I know, it was horrible. Eventually my background was light blue and I designed a header that was more fitting:

It was a lot easier to write personal anecdotes on a regular basis when I started. Dylan was fifteen and a high school sophomore and Jason was twelve and in seventh grade, and there were so many family stories to record for posterity. I was only 38 going on 39–wow, those were the days!–and was trying to find a publisher for my second book. I was also teaching group fitness classes and working part time at a salon. Jim and I were getting ready to celebrate our 21st anniversary at the end of that year. We lived in Naperville, Illinois. Our beagle Roxie was only three and gave me more blog fodder than I ever wanted from a mischief-making, loaf-of-bread-eating, basically-cute-as-a-button-but-a-huge-pain-in-the-butt dog. (I miss her.)

Now? The kids have all grown up, literally. They’ve both graduated from college and are outstanding human beings, if I do say so myself. Dylan, twenty-five, is a graphic designer and Jason, twenty-two, is in the thick of a logistics management trainee program. They are still in the Chicago area, while Jim and I have relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee. We said goodbye to Roxie in February of last year. Jim is still my rock, the keeper of my crazy. He’s a saint, truly. Don’t get me started.

I…am ten years older. I found a publisher for my book in 2011. I retired from teaching group fitness classes years ago and now have the pleasure of only worrying about my own workouts. I left the salon years ago, too. I’ve spent the last ten years building up my writing experience as a freelancer as well as working in social media for an amazing, women-founded, women-run company. During my time at BlogHer I worked with some of the best (and most fun) people on earth and learned new things every day as I helped manage the social media department while working with the events team to produce two conferences each year. In my spare time (hah!) I fit in co-producing the “Listen To Your Mother” show in Chicago for six years, and was on the LTYM National Team as a mentor for other production teams for four years. All of these things–except for the book–happened because of this blog. One thing I’ve learned in ten years is that social media opportunities aren’t linear and there’s no one path to or definition of success for everyone. I have been open to new things (unusual for someone who hates change) in regards to where this blog takes me and because of that openness I enjoyed some of the best experiences of my life.

I haven’t even mentioned the people yet. I have met hundreds and hundreds of people as a result of this blog, starting with the super-tight, mega-awesome Chicago blogging community. My network there is full of smart, savvy, creatives who help lift each other whenever possible. The LTYM community in Chicago is also second-to-none; getting to know six casts-worth of people who went on a wild and crazy, three-month journey to bring their intimate motherhood stories to stage was one of my favorite things ever. We’ve already planned our 2018 summer alumni picnic!

Some of my very best friends in life, I met because of blogging (and Twitter, of course). I have also met and built relationships with some of the most fantastic kids in the world–the kids of my friends–when I popped into their towns for visits as the “cool aunt” (self-proclaimed but I think one or two of them would agree). I even discovered an entire new branch of my family (*wink*), in New Jersey. I’m not sure of any other way I could have met so many great people who “get” me and shared so many awesome adventures with them in locations all over the country, so once again I count my lucky stars I started blogging.

As for what I’m doing now, I’m still figuring things out. My time working at BlogHer and with LTYM ended (simultaneously but totally unrelated) over the summer. It feels weird not to be working working working, but at the same time I haven’t had stress levels this low in years. I’m working on building up my freelance writing business again. I have time to keep the house clean and I have time for creativity. I’m working out nearly every day. Who knows…maybe I’ll attempt to blog more regularly again. All in due time.

I have some news, too. When I found out we were moving to Knoxville I knew that a blog rebrand was in order. I started thinking about names and themes immediately, but took nearly forever (i.e. a year) to figure it out. It’s nearly ready, and this is officially the penultimate Suburban Scrawl post. Next week I’ll publish a final post telling you where I’m taking this next.

Finally for now, thank you so, so much for reading over these past ten years. Whether you’re one of the long-timers around here or you just recently found me, and whether you’re a fan of my family stories or my travel adventures, I appreciate everyone who takes time to stop by and read whatever I’ve tossed out here. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Stick with me…there’s more to come!


My Refrigerator: In Constant Evolution

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my refrigerator lately.

I remember when I was in college: my roommate and I had one of those tiny dorm refrigerators. We had typical college dorm stuff in there: leftover pizza, pudding, cheese, cans of pop…you get the idea.

When Jim and I got married, he was in the Navy and out on the ship a lot. We were also on an extremely tight budget so as I recall I had the following in the refrigerator: cheese, jelly to go with my peanut butter sandwiches, ketchup, bread, and milk for the endless supply of Kraft macaroni and cheese I kept in the pantry. (Man, I ate a lot of Kraft mac and cheese back then.)

Of course, when we started our family our refrigerator began to fill up. We had baby food and milk and cheese (of course, always cheese) and containers filled with leftovers in there. That was also the time period when our refrigerator suddenly became home to a larger-than-average variety of condiments. More on that later.

When the boys were in the single digits, I remember our refrigerator being stuffed with things like—yeah, yeah the milk and cheese and containers of leftoversLUNCHABLES. They were crazy about Lunchables, the pizza variety and the nacho variety specifically. (They never liked the lunch meat varieties much; otherwise I would have created our own homemade Lunchables with circle crackers and lunch meat cut with fun-shaped cookie cutters.) I used to catch Lunchables on sale and buy ten at once, honestly. And they didn’t last long.

A year or two ago, Dylan made the comment to me that he couldn’t believe they actually used to eat Lunchables and that made me laugh because looking back, I probably should have bought stock in Oscar Mayer. Between Lunchables and the way Dylan used to request that I write “No fillers” on his hot dogs just like they did in the commercials, surely we were an unofficial Oscar Mayer ambassador family before that was even a thing.

no fillers

I mean honestly this could have been a magazine ad if I had better mustard-writing abilities. The kid was definitely cute enough!

Refrigerator-wise, I approached the teenaged years with much trepidation. I had heard horror stories from friends about how much money they spent on food for their growing boys, and I had a feeling that even though our boys were picky in certain ways, they’d outgrow that soon enough.

They did.

The years of teenaged boyhood in our house featured the most ridiculously overfilled refrigerator, nearly all the time. It was full of just everything, and everything was precariously stacked until I was sure it wasn’t all getting the proper air flow it needed. When they were teens Jim and I used to joke with them that “we’re not going to keep buying all of this food if you’re just going to eat it.” They ate constantly, and our food budget was insane. INSANE.

Then the boys went off to college and, gradually, our refrigerator began breathing a sigh of relief. (Figuratively. I think.) It was still mostly full but it wasn’t overstuffed. We always had cheese and lunch meat and eggs and turkey bacon and salad ingredients on hand, sometimes leftovers, and of course a door full of condiments. Over the last twenty years I have often worried that the various mustards, ketchups, hot sauces, and other miscellaneous food flavorings would eventually pull the door down but what can I say: condiments are a thing here. When the boys would come home for a visit I’d head off to the store, filling a cart with all of their favorite foods and voilà; for a weekend the refrigerator would be working its hardest once again.

Fast forward to this year. It’s a necessary thing when you’re moving to another state, to go through everything in the refrigerator and the pantry, tossing, donating, and taking very little with you to the next place.

Living here in Knoxville, it’s just me about half the time because of Jim’s travel schedule, and sometimes I’m traveling too. Our refrigerator, I noticed recently, is bizarre. When we’re both home we eat a lot of salad. When we do cook, we cook enough for just the two of us and rarely have leftovers. The condiments are still there, fast and furious. Let me show you.

In my refrigerator: Condiment City

You can’t see all of the condiments here because they’re stacked but we’ve got something for everyone. And yes, those are Maker’s Mark-soaked maraschino cherries. Thanks for asking.

The rest of the refrigerator? Well, it’s full of…liquids.

In my refrigerator

I have never kept so many different drinks in the house in my life. We are never thirsty here. Ever.

In my refrigerator: pop beer pop

The liquid insanity continues on the other door.

Like everything else in my life, this refrigerator has evolved to match our circumstances. I’m not sure what future life stages will hold (for me and my kitchen), but I’m enjoying this one immensely. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m getting thirsty.

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Travel. (Just Go, Already.)

I’ve done a little bit of traveling this year.


Actually, I’ve done a lot of traveling this year.

Almost every time I go on a trip, I get texts from friends (and comments on photos that I post on social media) about how they wish they could pick up and go like I can. I get it. I was unable to do this until just a couple of years ago.

I’m in this interesting season of life right now: I’m an empty nester and, for the first time in decades, unemployed except for some freelance writing I do on occasion. I’m able to keep appointments with myself to workout nearly every day when I want. I have time to cook (!!!!). I’m able to keep up with our laundry and our house is fairly spotless about ninety-nine percent of the time. In fact, here’s a picture I just took of the living room, from up here in my loft office:

living room

Full disclosure: a pair of Jim’s shoes are under the coffee table right now and a pair of my shoes are on the rug just beyond the end of the couch of the left but at this angle you can’t see them.

My point is, my entire life has changed in the past couple of years. In addition, I place a priority status on traveling. I have absorbed the fact that we don’t always get to do what we want to do forever and ever, so Carpe Diem, you know?

If you’re reading this and wishing you could go somewhere right now, what are you waiting for? Go.

“But I can’t. I have (fill in the blank).”
“But I can’t. I don’t have (fill in the blank).”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe you have a job that eats up a lot of time. Maybe you have little kids. Maybe you think you can’t afford to do anything or go anywhere. There are many, many reasons not to travel. There are better reasons TO travel, including that quote I stuck in a graphic at the top of this post. It’s so important to get out of our own area, out of our comfort zone, to experience different environments, cultures, ways of life.

If you’re one of those “But I can’t” people, pay attention. I’m about to give you some easy, realistic tips on overcoming that “can’t” statement and then promptly getting out of your driveway.

1. Start close by. You don’t have to get on a plane to travel. In fact, experiencing areas that are near home is super fun. My best friend Liz has lived in New Jersey her entire life yet every now and then she’ll tell me that she stumbled upon a road or a park that she never knew about, usually when she’s on her way home from somewhere. It amuses me so much that she can still accidentally discover area treasures as a native of that area. Do you know what she usually does within a couple weeks of the discovery? She goes back when she has more time, to explore with intention. That’s traveling, you guys. Her enthusiasm for exploring inspires me. A couple of years ago her daughters accidentally found the place we call “Sea Glass Beach” (like mother, like daughters!), and now it’s in the regular repertoire for them, and for me when I visit.

Liz and Melisa at sea glass beach

Photo by Liz’s talented daughter, Heather.

If you don’t want to drive around relatively aimlessly hoping to find something new, use Google. Have you ever looked up your town and neighboring towns online? It’s entirely possible you’ll find surprises there. Ask your local friends where their favorite places are. That’s a start (and kid-friendly!).

2. Nearly everybody has something cool or different to see within a two-hour drive from home. Pull up Google Maps or Mapquest or your other map of choice. Figure out a two-hour (or one hundred twenty-ish mile) radius around your location. Take five minutes to research a couple of places. Literally, it will take five minutes unless you find something so incredibly interesting or chock-full of cool stuff that you want to dive in further. Find something? Awesome. On your next day off, go there. No car? Investigate public transportation or ask a friend who does have access to a car to be your companion for the day. Explore on your own or consider taking a tour. Jim and I spent a fun day in Asheville, North Carolina a couple of weeks ago. We bought trolley tour tickets so we could easily see and learn about the entire area, and now we have an idea of what we want to explore more deeply on the next daytrip there.

Asheville travel

Buskers in downtown Asheville: one of my favorite parts of the trip!

3. Make the most of any opportunity. I accompanied Jim on a business trip to Oklahoma last week. Unfortunately for me, the town where he had to be for work was home to the state prison and not much else. Fortunately for me, we got a good deal on a rental car and I visited Oklahoma City one day, Pawhuska (home of The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile) one day, and a state park on another day. I drove hundreds of miles over those three days but the scenery was different from what I’m used to and so beautiful. I did some advance research so I knew what I wanted to see, and I saw a lot. I totally forgot that Route 66 has a huge stretch in Oklahoma, but once I discovered some of it was close enough for me to explore, it went on the list.

Round Barn Arcadia, Route 66

I had never seen a round barn before that day in Arcadia, Oklahoma on Route 66.

If you know you’re going outside of your home area for any reason and you think you’ll have a little time to explore (even thirty minutes!), search on the internet for “top places to go in (put city name here)”. I can almost guarantee that Yelp and Trip Advisor will appear right on top with all you need to know about how interesting that place can be. You don’t have to GO to the top places but the list will give you some great ideas in general. I do this every time I travel to a new place, no matter where I’m going.

4. If you make plans wisely, you don’t need a lot of money to travel. If you’re short on funds, explore these possibilities: staying closer to home, driving as opposed to flying, taking public transportation, bringing your own food (or shopping for food when you get there; instead of paying forty or fifty bucks for breakfast, find a grocery store and buy a yogurt!), sticking to day trips, looking for tourism/attraction/restaurant coupons online (don’t forget Groupon!), staying with a friend, taking pictures instead of buying souvenirs, visiting smaller towns instead of big cities, walking more than driving once you get there…that’s enough to get you started. When Jim and I went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina recently we spent hours on the beach. He sat and enjoyed the cool breeze and the waves while I collected sea shells. We spent zero dollars doing that, which is my favorite. Also free? The local kite festival that we found by accident.

Outer Banks Kite Festival

This kite festival was an accidental discovery and a definite highlight.

Don’t be afraid to be flexible in your plans, which is something I can’t even believe I’m typing because six months ago that was definitely not me. I hardly recognize myself.

Traveling locally or a little further away is nearly always possible if you prioritize. You may not be able to travel exactly where you want right now because of your life circumstances but you can definitely go somewhere. Figure it out, and GO. Life is too short to wait for the perfect vacation.


Always Remember, Never Forget.

National September 11 Memorial

In 2012, I started a new personal tradition for the National Day of Remembrance. I had visited the National September 11 Memorial when I was in Manhattan for BlogHer ’12, and was extremely moved by the experience (massive understatement). It occurred to me that, rather than passively watch the televised tributes and read what the rest of the internet had to say about 9/11, each year I would involve myself by actively remembering and learning about a couple of the victims of that terrible day.

Luke G. Nee worked in municipal bonds operations at Cantor Fitzgerald. He married his wife Irene on September 11, 1982 and they had a son, Patrick. He loved the Yankees and often attended games with friends from school, or with his family. In 2007 the intersection of Minerva Place and the Grand Concourse in the North Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx, three blocks from where he grew up, was renamed “Luke Nee 9-11-01” in memory of this proud local son.

Karen Elizabeth Hagerty, a senior vice president for Aon Risk Services, was 34 years old on the day of the attacks. In reading about her I discovered that she shared my “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy, once leading a charity drive for an entire homeless shelter in the Bronx, having to hire a moving truck because she got so many donations. She also threw a birthday party for her horse, Ricardo: “A caterer brought a carrot cake in the shape of a horseshoe. There were 40 nonequine guests, and goody bags for every horse in the barn. “My sister loved her animals more than life,” Deborah Anne Hagerty said. “She called them her kids.” Someone who knew her well left a comment under one of the online obituaries that said in part, “She was an outrageous, funny, generous girl.”

LeRoy Homer, Jr was the First Officer on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after being hijacked on 9-11, killing all 37 passengers and seven crew members. He grew up on Long Island in New York and was interested in aviation at an early age, making his first solo flight when he was sixteen. He entered the United States Air Force Academy as a member of the class of 1987. He graduated in 1987, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. Homer and his wife Melodie had one daughter, Laurel. For his actions on board Flight 93, Homer received many awards and citations posthumously, including honorary membership in the historic Tuskegee Airmen; the Congress of Racial Equality’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award; the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Drum Major for Justice Award; and the Westchester County Trailblazer Award. The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation was founded in 2002. Its mission is to encourage and support young adults who wish to pursue careers as professional pilots. In addition, The Foundation promotes awareness about aviation careers to disadvantaged youth.

If you would like to do some learning and remembering today, here’s how. All you have to do is go to the September 11 Memorial website’s Memorial Guide and scroll down a little bit. On the bottom left of the screen you can click on North Pool or South Pool for a name listing. After that, pick a couple out and Google them. That’s it. It’s such a small task but so important, and the families appreciate any interest in their lost loved ones. THIS is something anyone can do.

If you would like to read about my visit to the September 11 Memorial in 2012, click here.

Hug your loved ones today. Always Remember, Never Forget.


What If We Just Don’t Ask “What If”?

Recently I visited an alma mater of mine.

Sidenote: I just had to look up “alma mater” to make sure it means “a school I once attended” rather than “a school from which I graduated”.

The fall after I completed high school I entered Tennessee Technological University as a freshman majoring in German and stayed there for six months.

Tennessee Technological University

I loved my time at TTU, short-lived as it was. My visit a couple of weeks ago brought back all kinds of memories. I drove by Jobe Hall, which is where I lived on the third floor. I walked through the student union. I walked across the quad to the south end where I remembered that it was in one of those buildings where I learned that I absolutely despise geology. I remembered the day all the clubs set up tables across the lawn, and how I had no interest whatsoever in pledging a sorority. There were other memory sparks on the day of my visit; I’m glad I made the trip.

The main reason I chose TTU for my college career (or, as it turned out, the first part of my college career) was the German language program. Each year in high school I made the trek with other German students at my school to TTU’s Spring Festival (Fruehlingsfest) so that we could compete in nerd categories like Extemporaneous Speaking, Dictation, Declamation, Music, Art, Baking (yep), and more. While the pretzels I baked for competition one year were hard as rocks, I excelled at the actual language feats of strength, and entered more competitions each year. The Spring Festival was a truly great advertisement for TTU’s German program.

By the end of my junior year I had gone through all of the German classes my high school offered so I took Spanish I and Russian I. I maintained an A average in Spanish even while often showing up to class late due to my visiting Jim while he was in the lunch room that same period, and I did pretty well in Russian even though today I mainly only remember “Da”, “Nyet”, and that my name spelled in Russian looks like “Meruca”. My Russian teacher was a young woman who had been a translator at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, and that got me thinking about my future. I thought that being a German translator was one of many career possibilities I could be extremely excited about, and looked forward to becoming a collegiate German major at TTU.

I had an amazing time at TTU, taking second level German and working in the foreign language department as an assistant. When Jim and I got married halfway through my freshman year, I packed it up after spring quarter and moved to Virginia. After regrouping, I enrolled in community college and then transferred to Old Dominion University where I completed my degree in…Elementary Education. The Education degree made more sense to me after getting married. I have early childhood memories of sitting on my grandmother’s lap as she told me that I was going to be a teacher someday, and she was definitely on my mind as I made the decision to switch majors. Teaching, I thought, would be a much more stable career than anything I could do with a degree in German.

Sometimes I have regrets about that choice and wish I had continued in my new state of residence as a German major. Looking back, I know now that I could have figured it out. I just don’t think that I had the imagination or the desire to put the effort into finding a way to make that major work at that time, but every time I think about it I regret my inaction a little bit.

What if I had figured it out and stuck with the German major? What if I never switched to Elementary Education? What if I had switched to majoring in Journalism instead (which was my original Plan B)?

What if?

Truthfully, I don’t spend a lot of time on “What if?” None of that nonsense matters, because every decision I’ve ever made in my life has gotten me to where I am at this exact moment, and I’m pretty happy here. I’m learning more and more that it’s better to look forward instead of back; it’s a lot more fun. Instead of asking “What if?” about anything, because without the benefit of time travel we could never know the alternate ending anyway, I reframe and ask “What can I do about it?” It’s a little more empowering that way. What can I do about slightly regretting not majoring in German? Find other ways to enjoy Germany and its language. I can travel there (Done, and will go again). I can go back to school and enroll in German classes again, for practice and fun (maybe I will). I can enjoy German music (I do). I can use the web to learn more about Germany and what’s going on over there (yep). The possibilities are only limited by my imagination.

I think one of the secrets of happiness is being able to reframe the way we think and it’s something that has always been a part of my thought process, as an optimist. Regrets are useless but a reframe, while it can’t fix everything (ugh I wish!) can give a total boost in many situations.

What can you reframe for yourself today? Do it. You might feel better.


Home is Where the Heart is.

One of the scariest things about moving away from a long-time home is the idea of starting over again, from scratch. Finding the nearest grocery stores and other preferred shops, setting up new doctors and a dentist, figuring out if the area where you think you want to purchase a home is actually the area in which you think you’ll be happy long-term, and so many other details can be completely overwhelming. Multiply that frustration by three or four times if your long-time home also happens to be the city where you’re from originally and then multiply that by ten times if you’re a control freak who hates change. I know, that’s a lot of math for a Monday.

That’s why, when Jim was in need of a new job last summer and couldn’t find anything in the Chicago area so he started searching elsewhere, I was terrified. I knew (and stated it loudly and often–to everyone around me and also myself–throughout the process) that everything would be fiiiiiine when we finally landed, but the entire process was anxiety-inducing and the idea of leaving Chicago was a nightmare in my mind.

Then he was hired by a company in Knoxville, where our story began; we met in high school here more than thirty years ago. While the anxiety and general upset about moving away from my hometown didn’t magically disappear, that we were returning to our roots was in many ways very comforting. We’d still have to find doctors and such but we are intimately familiar with this town: his parents have lived here ever since we left the first time and mine moved away for a while but returned years ago. We knew exactly where we wanted to live, which was on the same side of town where we both lived back then and fairly equidistant to our parents’ houses, downtown, and the airport. We found the perfect house for us in the perfect location, even though it’s in the backyard of our rival high school, something I make a much bigger deal out of out loud than it actually is. As I predicted, everything is fiiiiiine now. To be honest, I love it here.

The thing is, while life is pretty great in the Chicago area, it’s also pretty great here. My fellow Midwesterners are super friendly, and so are the folks here in East Tennessee. In fact, while hard-core feminists may balk at being called “Sweetie”, “Love Bug”, “Darlin”, or “Sugar” by total strangers, that kind of stuff is totally charming to me when it’s clearly meant kindly and innocently. In fact, a couple of weeks ago at two different stores, the cashiers (one of whom, I’m certain, was at least a decade younger than I) both called me “Sweet Girl”. At forty-eight years old, while I am often sweet I know my girlish days are long gone so I’ll take it. I swooned a little bit as I smiled and walked out with my purchases both times. Ah, Southerners.

When we first moved here, if I mentioned that I had attended high school here and recently moved back after being away for thirty-one years, more often than not the response would be, “Oh! Welcome home!”

My response to that would be an uncontrollable shrieking noise and the firm statement that “Actually, Chicago is my hometown.”

Okay, the shrieking noise only happened in my head.

The “Chicago is my hometown” defiance, however, did indeed happen out loud. I started out here being so protective of my roots that I didn’t truly pay attention to what I had adopted as a personal mantra to help get myself through the transition: “You can take Melisa out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of Melisa”. Once I started absorbing that mantra and living its truth, things changed for me.

Being in Knoxville doesn’t erase my Chicago roots. In fact, I’ve learned that home really is where the heart is, and I’ve truly got a soft spot in my big ole’ heart for both cities.

Here, I can drive around and relive my teen years. I live just down the street from my orthodontist’s office, which is now owned and operated by his son. The Target that is closest to my house is the same one my mom and I used to visit every single Sunday after we grabbed the ad out of the newspaper. Right near that Target is a salon that used to be a Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlor, a Friday night date destination for Jim and me. Across the street from that is the movie theater where I saw many films but most memorably, it’s where my friends took me to see the Talking Heads movie “Stop Making Sense” in order to distract me on the day Jim left for boot camp. I live ten minutes away from my old house (and Jim’s old house, which was in the next subdivision over). I can go grab a Coke or an ice cream cone from the McDonalds just outside my high school, where I worked for two and a half years with a crew full of great friends. I’m five minutes away from the mall where Jim and I spent hours and hours (and hours) as teenagers. The hotel that my dad was hired to manage, the one that brought my family to Knoxville, was torn down a few years ago but the second one he managed, the one that has the gazebo which was the setting for pictures on my graduation day, is still standing and I drive by it all the time. Some of my high school friends still live here. Knoxville is in my heart.

I was born in Chicago and have many childhood memories there, and it’s also the area in which Jim and I raised our kids. I wrote a Chicago travel guide. I was very involved with the Chicago blogging community and am blessed to have countless friends in the city and surrounding suburbs. I co-produced a show there. I love Chicago for all that it has given me and for all that it is. I always will.

Life is full of lessons if you just open your eyes (and your mind) to them.

These days, if I happen to bring up the fact that Jim and moved back to Knoxville earlier this year and then the local person with whom I’m chatting welcomes me home, I no longer bristle. I just say…”Thank you.”

More than one home

The Lazy Daze of Summer

This summer is…different for me.

Here’s the thing: I operate on “high speed” most of the time. I have for years and years. The first part of the summer had me burning the candle at all the ends–we’re obviously not talking about a regular taper candle here–for a few key reasons:

1. We’ve been settling into a new house in a new-to-us-again town.
2. Listen To Your Mother season came and went, and due to #BlogHer17 being moved up by six weeks I didn’t have my normal month-long cushion of part-time rest before conference season got crazy.
3. Conference season was REALLY crazy. It was actually the craziest ever, for all the reasons. I’ll spare you the details. Trust me.

Then, suddenly, POOF!

1. We’re mostly settled in this awesome house.
2. The national Listen To Your Mother project is over, so there’s no preparing for next year in my schedule.
3. Conference season is over (shew, I made it!) and I’m once again doing a more-than-manageable amount of work in far less than fourteen or sixteen hours, which was my normal for at least a month.

Two things are in play right now:

1. I’m tired.
2. I have time. What? Time.

I have definitely felt more exhausted in life than I do currently. There have been times in the past when I have felt like my brain and my body could not handle one more thought, one more movement. When that happens I don’t even like to make the smallest decisions, like what I want to eat or what I want to watch on television. It’s too much.

This isn’t like that. Even three weeks after the conference, I feel like I’m walking around in a low-grade daze. A lazy daze: see what I did there? I have fallen asleep on the couch a bunch of times. Sometimes I just stare into space. Occasionally I feel myself dragging and feel like I’m two inches off the floor when I’m completely upright. It’s very strange.

Here’s how tired I am: I finally went to see “Wonder Woman” over the weekend and in the first 45 minutes I truly thought I should probably get up and go walk around in the lobby to wake up. My eyes were so heavy and I even had a bag of movie popcorn in my lap. It didn’t matter: I’m tired! The movie was amazing; my brain was shutting down, not to mention my eyes. (I recovered; don’t worry. The movie was badass and I’d see it again in a heartbeat.)

The other monkey wrench I’m dealing with which really isn’t a monkey wrench in the negative sense at all is spare time. Real spare time, the kind that just appears in the form of a blank few hours on any given calendar day. Sometimes I have it and I honestly don’t know what to do with myself, so I fritter it away just sitting and staring. I’m told that just sitting and staring isn’t really considered “frittering away time”, especially when you’re rest-deficient and fairly fried in general but it sure feels like it to someone who’s a do-er.

I went to the neighborhood pool for a little while this afternoon. I had it all to myself. I put on sunscreen and some music and then pulled a book out of my bag: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s a classic and my all-time favorite book in any genre and I’ve probably read it more than fifteen times. (Her writing is exquisite. Have you read it? My current copy–I think it’s my fourth–already has water damage because this is not its first time being read poolside.)

pool summer

I read a chapter and then got in the pool and swam and jogged a little bit. My days of teaching water aerobics affect me whenever I’m in the water: I cannot stand still…so I worked out. I made a mental note to set up a Spotify playlist specifically for pool workouts. I got out of the pool and read some more. I enjoyed a snack. I reapplied sunscreen. I got back in the pool and thought of some blog post ideas; it’s funny how becoming less busy leaves more room for creativity. I laid out to dry off, nearly falling asleep and then I came home. It was lovely, and strange.

I talked to Jim about this last week, through tears. It’s like I’ve been running a marathon for twenty-five years, only I haven’t. And I never would, by the way: I hate running. (I admire YOU for running, though, if that’s your thing. It’s not mine.)

For twenty-five years (since we had kids; I definitely had spare time before that!) I have been working and taking care of my family and doing this and that and filling all of my time with…stuff. And suddenly, after the busiest, most stressful year of my life, I’m hearing and feeling the brakes squeal.

I’m not used to burning just the one wick of a cute little votive candle, but I am trying to adjust. It’s a lot more simple than that crazy, multi-wicked candle. It feels too easy, and I struggle with that. I know I sound super weird suggesting that I struggle with the concept of easy living. I’m a workaholic, control freak, constant thinker. Emptiness in the schedule is one of the scariest and most difficult things, I’ve learned, when you haven’t had a lot of it in decades.

(And more change is coming.)

Right now as I try my best to live in and enjoy the moment and the summer, I’m trying to take inspiration from one of my favorite places, the beach.

beach summer

The beach at Sandy Hook, NJ: July 2017

I’m going to breathe in and breathe out that salty air for the rest of the summer. I’m going to ride those waves out. I’m going to practice finding things that make me smile like pushing my toes into the sand does. I’m going to look for the sun and see how having spare time enhances my ability to recharge and create things purely for the fun of creating them. Finally, I’m making a pact with myself, not to get completely used to this. Being surprised by it (and even feeling weird or guilty about it) keeps me in a place of gratitude, and I enjoy counting my blessings.

ice cream cone summer

I forgot to mention that this afternoon I also bought an ice cream cone at McDonald’s. Spontaneously. I don’t even know who I am anymore.


Community Yesterday, Today, Always.

I’ve been thinking about “community” a lot lately. Rather, I think about it all the time but lately I’ve thought about it more than usual, probably because it was conference season and my main job is to maintain and inform the BlogHer Conference attendee community on Facebook. I spent hours upon hours (as I have for the past four years since we started the group) reassuring “newbies”, what we affectionately call our first-time attendees, that they’re going to learn/make friends/have fun/come away inspired. In part due to my involvement and in part due to our conference veterans being the best, most helpful people ever and in part due to other variables, the vast majority of our newbies say that their conference experience was much better than they could have ever imagined. I’m lucky in that I get to meet lots of these people on-site every year. Talking to them IRL (in real life) is one of the perks of my job. Another community in which I thrive is my community of co-workers; we’re a tight bunch. We’ve been through a lot together.

In addition to my “regular” job, I’ve spent the last five years nurturing the “Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) Chicago” community–co-nurturing, actually: *waves to Tracey*–, and the last four years co-nurturing the national LTYM community of producers and directors in each city, as a mentor on the national team. I have always enjoyed a sense of community as one-fifth of that team, and still do even though the national project has ended, in nearly-daily text threads.

I look for community everywhere. I guess part of that is due to being an extrovert; I love people. I enjoy being alone now and then but I get a burst of energy when I’m able to spend time with others. Community can boost us up, it can hold us accountable, it can strengthen us, it can help us when we’re in need, and so many other things. My life has been enriched by people from all walks of life because I keep myself open to it; I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve been so lucky to have been a part of many different communities throughout my life, many simultaneously, like PTA parents, groups that originated in our temple, my various workout communities, and of course the blogger community.

Yesterday, the old-school blogging community learned of the death of Anissa Mayhew. Hers was one of the first blogs I ever read, and over the years although I wouldn’t say we were good friends, we met a few times IRL and were certainly friendly. She was an incredible woman who started writing about her younger daughter who had childhood cancer. Anissa eventually started up a new blog when Peyton went into remission. She also founded a site called Aiming Low which gave lots of writers their first shot at publishing on a well-known group site, and when she wanted to be inclusive (and a little lazy, totally aiming low) she produced a “Non-con” (non-conference). In 2009 she had a stroke and ended up in a wheelchair and she eventually had a second stroke. Through all of her health challenges she remained a good friend to many and a community champion. She was hysterical and had a wickedly inappropriate sense of humor, often leaving beefcake pictures on her friends’ Facebook walls instead of the traditional birthday greeting. Again, we weren’t good/close friends but I know all of this because Anissa really put herself out there. She. Was. Fantastic.

When news of her death rippled across Facebook yesterday, it was sad but at the same time it seemed like everyone had an Anissa story, and almost all of them involved breasts, swear words, or some other form of inappropriateness. I couldn’t help but think that Anissa would have loved this legacy she left behind in our community. (Here is an excellent post on the community’s loss.) Many of us were left feeling like it was a little reunion, a time machine trip back to the good old days of blogging when nobody was thinking about monetizing, people visited other blogs on a daily basis and actually left comments, Facebook and Twitter were new, and Instagram didn’t yet exist. It made me long for those days like crazy, when we all rallied around each other in times of sadness–like when one family lost their precious Maddie and when one of our own, Susan, died after living with inflammatory breast cancer for five years–and even when we just wanted to help. Back then I didn’t think twice before driving six hours to Columbus and six hours back in the same day (while live-tweeting the whole thing) to help deliver a van full of meat to Momo, just because her freezer was left open and the meat she had just filled it with defrosted and got ruined. We were a community and we wanted to help. I’d do it all over again.

BlogHer09 Community

My OG blogging community: these are only some of the folks I hung with at BlogHer09, Chicago. (Top: with Piper, Mishi, Colleen, Angie, & Momo. Middle left: Michelle, who I helped get started on Twitter that weekend LOL. Middle right: My sistuh Liz. Bottom left: Sue and Barb. Bottom right: Melissa/PH.)

I’m as passionate about community as I am about family. Community makes life easier and far more enjoyable. I’m going to find more ways to interact within the communities of which I’m already a part, and I’m going to find ways to create more community. In these times that seem to be taken up with technology seemingly designed to pull us apart and make us more isolated, I think it’s important to find ways to get in there and pull others closer.

What do you think of when it comes to community?


Getting To Know Knoxville With East TN Tours

I generally have a very easy time making friends. I love meeting new people and can strike up a conversation with just about anybody. That said, I was a little concerned, before we made the move from the Chicago suburbs to Knoxville, about making new friends. I have a couple of old high school friends here and several of my blogging friends hooked me up with a fantastic person who used to blog (but doesn’t anymore). Beyond that, I wondered how I’d do. The boys are grown and out of the house so I don’t have the benefit of meeting people via being a room mom or scouts. I work from home. To make friends, it was going to take some effort.

I was recently invited to go on a food tour put on by East TN Tours, and I jumped in. (I agreed to write this post in exchange for the afternoon.) Boy, am I glad I did. Not only did I get to taste some amazing food at five local restaurants, but I learned some area history from tour guide/owner Lauren and yes, I met some people (including two Chicago natives, which was so much fun but also not shocking since I’ve met quite a few Chicagoans here for some reason).

East TN Tours

The tour started at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center on Gay Street. We found Lauren, grabbed a name tag, and before we left the building she confirmed dietary restrictions with those of us who have them, and conducted an icebreaker. From there we took off (on foot) down Gay Street towards our first destination. On the way, Lauren gave us a little bit of history with the help of a binder full of pictures.

Our first stop as Clancy’s Tavern & Whiskey House where we had the most delightful Shepherd’s Pie made with lamb. My picture is blurry so you’ll have to use your imagination: imagine a DELICIOUS dish. It’s one of Jim’s favorites so I taunted him via text with that blurry picture and then promised we’d get there for dinner soon.

Next up, The Tomato Head in Market Square. I love walking around Market Square–it’s a vibrant little slice of heaven in the middle of downtown Knoxville–and in fact; Jim and I were just hanging out there after dinner about a week before the food tour and stood outside The Tomato Head, drooling at their menu. On the food tour I enjoyed a bowl of tomato bisque soup. It was super hot outside and I was talking with my new friend Vanessa about how I was definitely going to choose the salad over the soup, but then the server said that one of the soup choices was tomato bisque and suddenly i forgot all about how I had been sweating outside just five minutes before that because that flavor happens to be a favorite. The soup was creamy and delicious.

The Tomato Head soup

Next stop: Balter Beerworks. I was excited to find out we’d be stopping there because Jim and I have enjoyed dinner there before. It’s a fun brewpub where the tables are long, similar to a German biergarten. Lauren told me something I didn’t know that made me like the place even more: the word “balter” means “to dance without skill, while having fun”. I AM IN. I’m super talented at baltering, you know. The chef came out of the kitchen to talk to us and tell us about the deconstructed burrito bowl we were about to eat, and we couldn’t wait to dig in. This was my favorite food of the day.

Deconstructed burrito bowl Balter Beerworks

Old City Wine Bar was our penultimate stop and it was lovely. The bar itself was a sight to see, with many wines “on tap”.

Old City Wine Bar

We enjoyed a delicious salad there, and I can’t remember everything that was in it in addition to goat cheese but look at this beauty:

Old City Wine Bar salad

Finally, even though we were all so full of food, we stopped at Sugar Mama’s Bakery, an adorable little place that has beer AND baked goods. They have an “all-local” tap wall and they’re using some of the owner’s family recipes for the delicious pastries. The business started as a food truck before they eventually moved into their brick and mortar location. I was actually so excited about these desserts that I didn’t take a picture before I ate them. Sorry.

What I loved about the food tour was the variety in restaurants and the fact that they’re all hyper-local. Lauren was friendly and very knowledgeable, two great qualities in a tour guide. I loved meeting new people and I loved that at each stop, we all sat in different spots so there were lots of fun conversations going on for the duration. If you try this out, make sure to wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot, and also make sure to arrive hungry! (By the way, water was provided at each stop and we had the option to pay for other drinks.)

I want to thank Lauren so much for a fun afternoon. You can check out her site and also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks to all of my new local friends, too: it was great to meet you!

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