Eileen's Life Lessons

I love vacation! Time with family undistracted, sight-seeing, dining out, the break from the routine. Before the post-vacation laundry is caught up, I’m already planning the next trip we’ll take. But after each time away, I also love coming home.

On this vacation I discovered that I do not love New York City. Molly, my 13-year-old, bought one of the iconic T-shirts: I [heart] NY, but I think I’m wavering closer to “like” rather than “love.” Now if they’d offered an I SURVIVED THE HEAT IN NY or an I SPENT ALL MY MONEY IN NY shirt, I’d’ve been all in on that sentiment.

In fairness, once you get used to the assault on your wallet and on your senses—the crowded streets, the constant honking, and the myriad of rather offensive smells—there’s much to enjoy in the Big Apple.

1. Fun shops. Dylan’s Candy Shop was a colorful experience. Name a candy, you can find it there: personalized chocolate bars, gummy anything sold by the pound, fudge, ice cream, the biggest gum balls I’ve ever seen. Three stories of sweet treats.

2. Food vendors. At almost any intersection you can find a hot dog, bagel, gyro, kabob, ice cream or other vendor. Our favorite (thanks to a recommendation from the Van Almelos) was Mr. Softee ice cream. I hope somewhere in Indy I can find the frozen coconut treats I enjoyed there!

3. History. We took some fabulous photos of Lady Liberty and spent the better part of an afternoon reliving the immigrant experience at Ellis Island. Thousands of people left their homelands for the promise of America. Quotes from interviews with interpreters and immigrants from the early 20th century were heart-warming—and sometimes heart-wrenching.

4. Current events. We walked around Ground Zero, saw the Freedom Towers, and visited a storefront museum dedicated to the events of 9/11. Very touching. That was a two-kleenex day.

5. Culture. Here’s why we really went to NYC: to see a Broadway show. And we got to see two in one day thanks to the half-price ticket booth, some inside scoop, and our stamina. The lady who sold us the second set of tickets was so excited that we were having what she called a “two-show day.” Brooke Shields and Roger Rees were marvelous in The Addams Family and Daniel Radcliffe was very impressive in How To Succeed in Business. Who knew this Harry Potter-star could move like that!

So while Molly and I won’t be wearing matching T-shirts, I do appreciate that NYC was the site of some great family time. Just don’t ask me to go back in July.


I love those “pay it forward” commercials. It was a great campaign by Liberty Mutual, each scene showing how one good deed leads to another. Jake and I could’ve starred in one last week if the cameras had been rolling.

It wasn’t really my idea. I speculated that the old church bus/van stalled at the turn light would be too heavy to push. I guess Jake took that as a challenge and suggested that we pull over and give it a try. So we traipsed across traffic to announce to the van driver that we’d come to save the day. At least she didn’t laugh at us. Did I mention that I was in a summer skirt and sandals?

Twenty seconds into the effort, we hadn’t made it budge. I guess the guys in another car didn’t think we could do it on our own so they jumped out and joined our force. Pretty soon the van was rolling out of the intersection. Then a man driving a heavy-duty truck volunteered to push the van, bumper to bumper, down the road and into a parking lot a block away. Problem solved, with a group effort.

I like to think that others who witnessed our rescue went on to do more good deeds, just like in those commercials. But I’m actually grateful cameras didn’t catch me, dressed more for church than for damage control, pushing a 15-passenger van through traffic.

I love my dog, Cooper. Although we aren’t sure of his exact birthdate, since we adopted him from the Humane Society, we celebrated his 5th birthday yesterday. He is very obedient and has come a long way in the 3 1/2 years he’s been part of our family.

I do not love how much he sheds in the spring. And I do not love that, being a protective part-German Shepherd, he scares the BEJEEZUS out of everyone who comes to the door. One little noise outside and he goes crazy. Ten seconds later he’s your best friend, but initially he’s fierce! Except yesterday, when I heard a noise in the garage. Where was my guard dog then?

The noise instantly reminded me that I hadn’t closed the garage door. I also knew instantly that someone was stealing my bike, the second bike taken from our garage in as many weeks. AAHHH!

All 5′ 3″ of me ran after the hoodlum racing away on my bike, yelling about what a jerk he is. It took me about 10 seconds to realize, while seething with anger, that I could hop into my van and catch up with him. Unfortunately our subdivision has just enough turns that I couldn’t find him–and he should thank his lucky stars! I pictured myself slamming this kid off my bike, laying him out flat with one kick to the gut, and taking my bike back home, the perfect television-scene triumph. In my mind I called that kid every name in the book, for all the good it did.

Hours later I recounted the story to my son and I found myself gritting my teeth–a reaction I haven’t had since childhood fights with my own dear brother. Describing the events obviously relit my Irish temper and I felt more swear words coming on. Jake suggested I calm down, I was scaring him, and my laughter at that thought defused my anger for the moment.

If you know me, you probably have a hard time imagining me like this. I’m usually pretty mild mannered and rather sane. But this violation brought out the worst in me.

I should make it a habit to close the garage door between outings, but part of me–the vengeful part of me–hopes this little thief comes back again to take the only bike left, a Malibu pink two-wheeler that Molly’s outgrown. We’ll be ready for him, me and my dog. And both of us have been called “scary” this week…heh, heh, heh.

I love to exercise. I don’t love to sweat. See a problem here?

Every once in a while I need to remind myself that, indeed, I am not a runner. Today was my most recent validation. I felt good, dragging the dog with me, coaxing him and myself from corner to corner, turn to turn, meeting each goal with ease. Encountered the Brebeuf cross country team at one corner. I’m sure they were impressed that Jake’s mom runs too. But shortly after waving to them I stopped to walk and the sweat started pouring–yuck!

Did I mention that I’m not a pretty sweat-er? Women are supposed to “perspire,” right? That’s sounds more dainty. Not me, no “glistening” for me.

There was only about a block when I was afraid I might die, then I caught my breath again. I thought for sure that I’d gone about a mile and a half, but I was disappointed to measure just under .9 miles.

Everyone in my family runs–even my 13-year-old Molly is training for a 5K in July, and she’s up to 2 miles within a week. Many of my friends run too, wearing those great light-weight outfits. I want to be in that crowd, talking about my time in my most recent race, about routes I like the most, about how my toe nail has turned black and may fall off soon. OK, maybe not that part.

If you see me out running any time soon, you’ll know that my short-term memory is getting worse and I had to try it again.


I love to laugh. You’ll see me smile a lot but I don’t laugh out loud very easily, not like my friend Ivette. Her laugh is boisterous and contagious.

When I want to make myself laugh–real tears-rolling-down-my-face, can’t-catch-my-breath kind of laughter–I call to mind one incident in particular. (Unfortunately for my husband, David, it’s at his expense.)

A couple of years ago, I was on one of my many vitamin kicks, strongly encouraging everyone to consume a multi-vitamin after dinner. Always last in line, David took his and started chewing it–but it wasn’t a chewable vitamin. I think he confused it with the chewable vitamin C tablets that were the same color orange. The look on his face–see, I can’t even write about it without getting hysterical–was priceless. It’s an incident we joke about it our family on a regular basis.

A close second to the vitamin face in its power to make me laugh is my mother doing aerobics: At the height of the aerobic craze of the ’80s, my mom and I took classes at Peak Performance. I can picture her trying to catch up with the class, going the wrong direction, just like in the movies–that was my mother. Jazzercise in the ’90s was just as hilarious–she would always be a move behind. And when we’d exercise at home, we’d usually both end up on the floor convulsing with laughter.

If laughter is the best medicine, I guess those closest to me are doing their best to make me healthy.

Here’s wishing you a big belly laugh today!


I love Bradford pear trees in the spring, covered in white blossoms, perfectly shaped and full. I don’t love seeing them in pieces after a strong wind has blown through. But they serve as a reminder to me to shape up or risk losing a limb.

Today I saw the remnants of a pear tree standing in someone’s yard, one of the major branches broken from the crook of the trunk. Apparently this type of tree grows so rapidly in our climate that it becomes top heavy and is easily broken in strong winds. It’s in its nature to be beautiful yet weak.

It’s in my nature as a perfectionist to spend way too much time writing a blog entry. It’s in my nature as a control freak to take charge of a situation if I don’t like where it’s headed. It’s in my nature to interact with the people around me at the grocery store, to console a crying child, to return a stranger’s smile.

It’s also in my nature to overreact to anything I consider a personal slight, to get overwhelmed when my due dates get too pressing, to yell at other drivers when I disapprove of their maneuvers (not so they can hear me—I don’t want to get beat up). Thank God it’s in our human nature to learn from mistakes, to change our less-than-desirable traits.

That poor pear tree couldn’t stop its own growth, just continuing in the same direction until it became top heavy and weak. Becoming top heavy isn’t my problem—ha!—but I might want to change my ways before I get weak and embarrass myself, snap at my husband just because I’m stressed about work, or ostracize my friend.

And after each windy night, I’m reminded again.

I love waking up and remembering a dream I had. Except when I wake up in a panic over it.

I think dreams are a manifestation—big psychologist word of the day—of our worries and our hopes. What thoughts are swimming around in our minds oftentimes show up in our dreams, whether we recognize them or not. And equally, our dreams can affect our waking thoughts. I know mine will today.

This morning’s dream goes into the Nightmare category, for sure: It’s Christmas Eve and we’re getting ready for midnight Mass. It’s still early in the evening so I’m maybe making dinner?—can’t recall clearly. But what I do remember is the realization that tomorrow is Christmas and I haven’t bought any presents. AAAHHH!

The real sense of panic seized my heart so hard that I woke up. (Built-in survival mechanism?) So I’ll never know: Did Supermom find the perfect gifts on the shelves of the corner pharmacy? Did she empty the ATM so that she could fill the stockings with cash? How did our hero save the day? Sigh.

I know why I had this dream: But would the psychologist in me call it a control issue or a fear-of-failure issue? I’m afraid that if I’m not superorganized—read uptight—and on top of every aspect of my life, then I’m going to EPIC FAIL and forget something rather important like picking up my daughter after school or buying Christmas presents. So as much as I want my family to take initiative, I really want things to be done my way. Oh wait, that’s a whole ‘nother issue, and maybe a dream for tonight.

Here’s a tea-cup toast to owning our issues, day and night.


Mid-Life Realizations & Reflections

43 years of life experience,
19 as a wife,
16 as a parent,
15 as a writer
= thousands of mistakes made,
lots of lessons learned (some learned more than once), and immeasurable amounts of grace received

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