Friday, March 28, 2014

Things I Learned in March 2014

Inspired by Emily Freeman’s series and a tradition in my besties’ annual letters, I’m sharing a few of the things I learned this month.


1. Moleskine, you served me well, but the truth is, I never could get you to lay perfectly flat. I loved the compact size, the attached bookmark, and especially the monthly planner with lots of blank pages. And yet…

I love this new notebook more.

I lost my 2013 Moleskine last summer and replaced it with a very cheap spiral notebook. There were things I didn’t like about it, but I was punishing myself for having lost the moleskine. By the end of the year though, there were things I liked so much better, I was never going back. Being able to lay it perfectly flat, to fold it open to just one page. Ahh. The little things.

My new notebook was more expensive ($15), has a soft cover that I love the feel of, though I do miss being able to wrap a band around the book to keep it closed. Ever looking to the next year (and in case I fill this book before the year end’s), I have my eye on this notebook next.

2. Bullet Journaling (a lesson from 2013 that’s my favorite thing in 2014)

I never did get around to writing my “biggest lessons” of 2013 post. Some were part of this monthly series, such as the amazing discovery of salad jars, (thank you, Peppermint Granberg).


Yes, still obsessed, though I’ve moved toward just filling them with veggies and adding the lettuce just before serving. See “Things I Learned in June” post, item #10.

My biggest discovery in 2013, beside salad jars, was the bullet journal (I have my friend Lara to thank for that!). It’s basically the same thing you’ve been doing all your life: writing a to-do list, but streamlined and simplified in a way that makes birds sing and the clouds part.

Then came this post from Raisin’ Cajans, whom I must have found via Lori’s PBH. Nothing earth-shattering new, except it was to me. The take-way for me included printing out and making the planner you want (eg: I never want a planner with an address/phone section because no way am I going to write that out every year---but, hello, I can print that out & glue it to a page! As someone who never has her cell phone with her but does have her planner, this alone has been huge). Also: washi tape to make labels!

All of which is to say, I love my new planner and bullet lists. The end.

3. You can’t make everyone happy, so you shouldn’t try.

I wrote a post to celebrate our 20th anniversary, about my experience planning a wedding while in grad school in a different state and trying to please both of our families while staying true to ourselves. Maybe in 20 years I’ll write a blog post about trying to please both families and stay true to myself while writing that anniversary blog post.

4. Compromise is another word to add to the long list of words that I have to think twice before saying.

My favorite stranger/friend, Elizabeth Dillow, calls these “reader words” and I find it completely understandable that Aidan might say “sub-pon-a” and I would have no idea that he’s talking about the legal term, subpoena. But I somehow can’t let go of my original pronunciation of reader words (words I first learned via text, before I had heard them spoken) even if I have heard them spoken correctly thousands of times. My friend Angie, a speech pathologist, once theorized it is because I am such a visual learner. Regardless, it is sometimes embarrassing (eg: when I referred to a novel’s “pre-face” while talking to my advisor in grad school---I’ll never forget his look of horror!).

Brian finds this “vocab dissonance” of mine hilarious and was a very good sport when, at first, I didn’t believe him that compromise isn’t pronounced com-prom-is (as in promise with com added, makes perfect sense to me). He gently insisted upon com-pra-mize. I knew the word he was saying, but I also knew the word I was saying, so I was hoping one might be the verb and the other the noun. I turned to google and learned he was right. Obviously.

But even now, my head fights it.

5. How to say Thank you very much in Japanese.

You probably know how to say it too, because I only learned now (despite my sons’ obsession with the song all of 2008) that "Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto" means “Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto.” in Japanese.

6. Fiery Furnace is probably the best part of Arches National Park.


Best is relative. But we’ve lived here nine years and I only explored Fiery Furnace for first time yesterday. Thankfully I was with Sean’s class, led by several Park Rangers, because whenever I was about to freak out (hello, young children and big drops), I could tell myself that it HAD to be safe, because if one of us died, surely someone would lose his or her job, right? They had the entire class singing, “One hand on the wall, if you don’t wanna fall” and no one died, and the place is mind-blowing amazing, so it was a good day.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not that you asked: my wedding advice

29935-Ph-W-116 new fav_edited-1

On March 19th, 1994, I married this cute boy. It is one of the great blessing of my life that we’re still together.

While there are a handful of posts about Brian on this blog, I’ve never written about our marriage. Partly out of superstition: the surest way to hit writer’s block is to talk about how well your writing is going.

Also out of respect for privacy, as one of the key elements of marriage is that it involves someone besides you (it seems obvious, but believe me, that alone can take years to fully grasp).

Marriage is profound, complex, fluid. To twist Milton’s words a bit, marriage is its own place, “and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Not an easy subject, and I have no advice to give except that if you are me, marry Brian.

I’m going to indulge myself with memory lane today, though, because it is our 20th anniversary. Today I’ll share what I learned while planning our wedding. Obviously, there can be as many different kinds of weddings as there are marriages, and my advice may not apply if you do not want to bring your original family into the new family you are creating. I don’t mean to apply that there is any one right way to plan a wedding; this is just what worked for me.

We got married in the dark ages, before Pinterest and the internet in general. So it wasn’t easy to plan a Chicago wedding while in grad school in Arizona. I was not a girl who had dreamed about “her big day” or white dresses or diamond rings. Not that there’s anything 29935-Ph-W-046wrong with that (hello, my unnamed sister, I’m winking at you). The happiest women I knew while growing up were all nuns, so I was highly suspicious of marriage. I thought, maybe, someday, when I’m 30 perhaps, if there’s some exception-to-the-rule guy out there.

I wasn’t prepared to meet that guy at age 19, fall for him at 20, and be engaged to him at 22. But Nora Ephron never wrote a truer line than Harry’s: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

I love the sentiment in this article that perhaps the party should be reserved for the 10th year anniversary.  The wedding is a day, and marriage, ideally, is a lifetime. Yet, planning a big wedding taught Brian and I a lot about working together, about compromise,and about each other’s families. Three ideas were key to my planning and my sanity during that year.

The first came from my friend Kelly, who had just gotten married the year before to his partner, Gary. This was years before gay marriage was legal anywhere, but that didn’t stop Kelly from throwing a great wedding. And here’s what he told me on a long drive to Safford, Arizona the summer before our wedding:

“The vows are promised to each other in private long before the wedding day. So the wedding is really about the families. It’s about bringing your families together.” 

I held onto those words throughout our planning. I loved Brian, and I believed in the sacrament of marriage, but we could celebrate that in Tucson. Why go back and put on a big Chicago wedding? Especially since I was young, stupid, and determined to pay for all of it without any help from our families.

We were the first from each of our families to have moved away, and the first to get married. This was incredibly hard for my parents, who would have been happy to just build onto their house and have all nine of us stay forever. I was amazed in later years when my parents and Brian’s were more laid back about our siblings’ weddings. You’re welcome, siblings.

So, coming from two Irish families, we had a big Irish Catholic wedding in Chicago, which allowed more of our relatives to participate even if it meant fewer of our friends. I’m glad we did. We didn’t make decisions based on our parents’ wishes: my mom wanted me to wear an old fashioned veil that would cover my face, and Brian’s mom wanted a no-children guest list. I would amend what Kelly said just slightly: a wedding is about bringing two families together to create a new one.

Planning a wedding is a lot like building a house. It sounds like fun to decide which appetizers you’ll serve to 200 friends and family, just as picking out a light fixture for your kitchen might be fun ---- if you didn’t have to also select 50 other light fixtures and make 200 other decisions. When I was overwhelmed with details, Brian said, “Just decide what you care about and let the rest go.” I’ve passed on this wisdom to many a bride as: “Choose three things you really care about, give your time and energy to those three, and let the rest fall into place.” You still have to make those other decisions, but they don’t really matter---just pick and move on. Start by deciding what will matter to you.

And really, the only decision that matters in the long run is the person standing next to you.

29935-Ph-W-026 ed_edited-1

I chose three things to focus on: the music, the photos and the people who would stand with us.

I have five sisters and didn’t know how to decide, so I chose my younger sisters, since my three older sisters had already been bridesmaids. I chose my friend Kris, who had been like a surrogate mother to me at Loyola, as my maid of honor. Kris taught me so much about what it means to be a good friend. Finally I chose my soul-sisters from Arizona, Mary Alice and Angie. I love that they were there that day, just as we were together to celebrate Angie’s wedding in Tucson a few years later, and just as we’ll be together in San Francisco this fall to celebrate Mary Alice’s.

Life is unpredictable, so I’m all the more grateful that these friends are still a big part of my life.

Even today, the first thing I do at church is look up which hymns we’ll be singing. Music has always played a key role in my connection to God, and while I had no idea what kind of dress or hairdo I wanted for a wedding, I definitely knew which songs. I remember our friend Jeff laughing years later when he heard “Be Not Afraid”  was one of our songs. It’s still a favorite---the lyrics don’t reprimand you for feeling fear, but tell you to not BE the fear. I can see how acknowledging fear seemed funny and unromantic to Jeff, but I also think it is an appropriate emotion as you promise to commit your life to one person. “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me, and I will give you rest.”

dave dunn band

One of the most enjoyable parts about planning our wedding (over two short visits to Chicago at Thanksgiving and Christmas break) was going to hear Irish bands. We hired Dave Dunne and his Blackwater band. According to Google, you can still hear them at Cunnaugh’s Irish Pub. Dave has a beautiful voice and a lovely manner, and one of my favorite memories of that day is watching my mom and her sisters, cousins and old friends dancing to the Siege of Ennis and the Walls of Limerick.

My cousins and I were usually pulled on to the dance floor at weddings to perform the Irish jig or reel. We chose to spare them all that fate and hire the Trinity dancers to perform at our wedding. My dad is from the west coast of Ireland and his birthday was the same week as our wedding, so we dedicated their performance to him. It was also a great way to direct the spotlight off of us for a bit.  (If you click the link, you can watch Conan O’Brien’s visit to the Trinity Dance school in Chicago!)

Irish dancers

We also hired a DJ to play during the bands breaks, because we couldn’t imagine anyone but Pink Floyd singing “Wish You Were Here,” the song of our first dance. I’ve joked many times that we should have chosen a song with a title like, ‘Glad You’re Always Here” as Brian is often gone for weeks at a time during wildfire season. Still, I love that song. And for the father-daughter dance, we had “Unforgettable,” a duet by Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie. While dancing, my dad whispered, “Hey, this is my favorite singer” as if it were just a coincidence. Without a DJ, my friends and I would never have been able to dance like crazy to the greatest song ever recorded, “I Will Survive!”

Dancing at weddingdancing with kevin

Dancing with my dad, and with my little brother, Kevin, who was our ring bearer.

I had no idea how to shoot in manual, but I already loved photography. We hired a relative of Brian’s, which was one of the most expensive parts of our budget, though I know he gave us a big discount. He had shot numerous weddings, and wasn’t interested in the ideas of this young bride. He said no when I said I wanted some black and white shots. He said no when I said I was really interested in candid shots. When I gave him a checklist of my “essential shots,” he assured me he’d been a professional for years---but one of my only regrets from that day is that there isn’t one photo of my grandmother and me. In retrospect, I admire what he was able to capture in a dark church and with so many people---wedding photography is extremely challenging and something I have no desire to try.  We just brought our own camera with black and white film, which produced the photo that remains on our bedroom dresser to this day. We had friends take candids---and some of my favorite shots are the ones they took back at my parents’ house after the wedding (re-enacting the awkward poses from the earlier photo shoot).

The last piece of advice is: “Be prepared for things to go wrong, despite all your planning and preparation.” Gretchen Rubin says, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.” And that was true. When I get nervous, I lose my voice. Not in a laryngitis kind of way, but my voice drops out of my throat and into my knees. I’m an introvert by nature, and all that focused attention was overwhelming up there on the altar with Brian. The momentousness of what we were doing was not lost on me, and I understand why some women faint during their wedding. It was time to say my vows and I couldn’t find my voice. I was starting to panic…

…and then Danny Sheridan, one of our altar boys, fainted.

Later, in our wedding video, you can see him dancing to “YMCA.” He was fine, just happened to lock his knees and all that focus got to him too. His mom, who happens to be a nurse, ran up and took care of him. Brian and I stood there, holding hands, and once we knew he was okay, we all laughed.


Which was just what we needed. Then I was able to start fresh and speak with confidence, saying my vows to Brian.


So to those planning weddings today, remember:

1. No matter how much you prepare, things will still go wrong---but those things will also make great memories.

2. You have to make a lot of decisions but most of them don’t really matter. Choose a few things that will be meaningful to you that day and then let the rest go. Spend more time getting to know your fiance, and less time on Pinterest.

3. This day isn’t really about you; it’s the birthday of a new family. It’s about bringing together two families or communities to create a new one. Let your choices and attitude reflect the foundation you want for the new family you are creating.


We didn’t have a traditional honeymoon; we had grad school to get back to. But Brian surprised me with a suite at the Swissotel, with an amazing view over the Chicago river. We spent the weekend in the city where we had met and fell in love. We went to the aquarium and to the movies (“Four Weddings and a Funeral” had just opened). And we opened and read hundreds of cards from loved ones. I’ve never forgotten the note my cousin Aileen included, though I’m probably misquoting her:

If you’re reading this, the hard part is over. Now you can enjoy the best part: being married.

I tried to share that sentiment when a good friend was getting married last summer, and our other friends were  horrified. No, they unanimously agreed, marriage is the hard part. And they’re right, marriage can be hard work. But it’s the kind of hard work that makes life worth living, the way making the kind of life you want is work. I found planning a wedding to be a lot of work. I remember the stress of driving to the airport the night before our wedding to pick up my Uncle Christy, whom I had never met before, and getting lost on the way home (so grateful you were with me, Mary Alice!). I remember saving, stressing about money. I remember trying hard to please so many different people and stay true to ourselves. The wedding was great fun, the mass meaningful, the food great, the drinks flowing, the music grand. I don’t regret any part of our big Irish Catholic Chicago wedding. In a way it was a gift to our parents, a way of thanking them for the families they had given us and acknowledging that we were leaving now to create our own family.

That work, of creating your own family starting with just the two of you, that’s the fun part. It might be hard work, but with the amazing coworker I have, each morning I wake up grateful that I get to do this work again.

the kiss

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscar Recap 2014


happy dance

Image by Liza Donnelly, a cartoonist who live-drew throughout the Oscars (hat tip to HP). Used with permission.

Several times last night I thought that I might be getting too old for the Oscars. Maybe it’s because there wasn’t a movie I was passionately rooting for, like my sister Erin was for “Philomena.” There were lots of little things I did not enjoy, but let’s focus on what was good. Here’s my list.

What I loved…

1. Lupita Nyong’o’s acceptance speech: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s.” Eloquent and smart and oh so gracious. That line is true for all of us---and I love how she still embraced her joy while acknowledging her debt.

2. Bill Murray’s shout out for Harold Ramis. It was short but sweet.

3. “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” My enjoyment of the Oscars is nostalgia based, and Darlene Love’s spontaneous singing took me right back to watching “Member of the Wedding” with my mother who loved that song.

4. Pink singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” with the montage to a movie classic in the background. Loved. Wish they had focused on a montage of work done by those who passed away during Bette Midler’s song.

5. Idina Menzel singing “Let It Go” and that Ellen restated her name correctly when she finished. My boys accused me of disloyalty because we all really did enjoy The Croods, but “Frozen” won my heart.

6. My old friend Scott winning our little Oscar prediction game with a perfect score well before others entered the same predictions. A fitting full-circle after his 2009 attempt to enter the morning after the Oscars!

7. My sister Erin, ever loyal to the movies she loves, also got a perfect score, but of 0/10 in the contest. Also loved Erin’s texts throughout the show.

8. My brother’s text after the montage of real-life heroes from movies like Gandhi, Zero Dark Thirty, All the President’s Men, Ali, Silkwood, and… To Kill a Mockingbird?


9. My kids watching the first hour or two with us. Even if I was shush-ing them half the time, and had bribed them with miniature candy bars and leftovers from their Valentine’s Day goodie bags. Thanks to How About Orange’s BINGO game, they had to pay attention to sugar up! They gave each other high-fives when someone got teary-eyed or flubbed a line, all in the name of BINGO.

They also yelled the name of every movie during that animation montage.

oscar snacks


10. Steven McQueen’s jump for joy at the end. So glad the two directors who didn’t win in their own category while their films did, last year and this year, were also producers---so they were able to accept and have their moment to share thanks.

I love that no one got cut off by the orchestra.

I love that the commercials played “movie lines”---one of our favorite games---and joined in on the celebration.

The kids kept asking me, “Which movie was she in?” when a costume designer or song writer accepted an award. I love that this award show opened their eyes to all the work, beyond acting, that goes into making a movie.

And, while I have yet to see “12 Years a Slave,” I love that all three who won for that film acknowledged their debt to Solomon Northup. The idea that this man lived and suffered and wrote about it, and that more than 100 years later, his thoughts can be known to us---that is magic of writing, the magic of storytelling, and the real magic behind the Oscars.

Post a Comment

I love hearing from you!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...