My 2012, A Year of Momentous Change

change aheadA year ago I could not have predicted the momentous changes in store for me in 2012, both personally and professionally. I was just kind of rolling along, balancing several jobs, taking care of our sons, finding time for family and reading. I had committed to reviewing all the books I read on Goodreads and was just dabbling in the wider world on blogging, via Tumblr.

For the past 13 years, I had always thought that I’d have time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life once my kids were “a little older.” I was so fortunate to have a built a good part-time job around my needs, working for Chicago Parent. But I was feeling restless, and seriously concerned about sending three boys into private high school in a few years.

Early in 2012, I met with a long-time friend in a more professional capacity. Patti is a former boss who years ago had made the decision to give up the 9-5 security and launch her own business, Go Girl Communications.  She connects mom-bloggers with businesses. And, seriously, I thought it was some kind of make-believe profession. Then we started to talk about this growing “social media” potential and I discovered how easy WordPress made it to combine words, books and pictures.

So in March 2012 I launched alenaslife, half-part a whim and half-part a plan to commit to writing as my professional future. I put myself “out there” and redoubled my efforts to pick up new assignments and make contacts outside my Chicago Parent world. I read other blogs, did research and talked to anyone who was willing to share their advice. I immersed myself in social media – WordPress, Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest.  I could do this and still be a mom, I thought.

But 2012 had other designs.things will not stay

While searching for a summer camp for my sons, I happened upon a job opening in public relations at my alma mater. I had stayed only loosely connected to my high school, but the job description seemed so absolutely perfectly, that I took a chance and applied.

I got the job.

In July, I re-entered the world of full-time employment. The change to my life (my children’s and husband’s lives too) was immediate. I know I made the right choice, but it’s not easy to go from keeping my own schedule to having a starting and ending time to my job. We are all still adjusting.

On the positive side, I love the school for which I work and the people, now friends, I’ve come to know. But, timing is everything, and starting a new job meant I lost the traction I had with my blog and my writing. I quite simply do not have the time to read and write the way I would wish.

Meanwhile, I was still trying to spend as much time as possible with my father, who was suffering the debilitating effects of ALS. Since he lived almost an hour away, I couldn’t see him as much as I wanted, but I tried to be there for him, for his wife, for my brother, for me. He was so excited about my new job, about my growing sense of confidence in myself, in his grandsons.

Then, in September, too soon, he died. I am grateful he is no longer suffering; but I am still dealing with the knowledge that my dad is gone. Even if we went weeks without talking to each other, I always knew he was there. Now, he is not. It’s strange and sad.

things changeSo, here I am as 2012 draws to a close, wondering what changes I can expect in 2013. I know “change is good,” but I sincerely hope that 12 months from now I am not contemplating a life with a new job and a major personal loss.

I wish you all a peaceful and happy new year.

Thirty Days of Thankfulness: The Final Week

It’s well past time for me to wrap up November writing projects. In fact, it’s well past time for me to write in general, but before I move on to new reviews and projects, I want to close out one of my most rewarding experiences, Thirty Days of Thankfulness.

Each day in November I stopped for 5 minutes to consider and write briefly about something for which I was thankful. I posted these on Facebook and then wrapped up each week here on alenaslife. Looking back on each week’s list brings a smile to my face and reminds me that Alena’s Life is truly filled with love and joy. That is the perfect way to enter into the Christmas season.

Day 26 –  I almost missed today’s thanks because I was so caught up in my peaceful uninterrupted time with Matthew. I am so thankful for the unanticipated moments of quiet joy.

Day 27 – Today I’m thankful for Pandora’s Christmas Medley Radio. I’m one of those purists who only listens to carols AFTER Thanksgiving day and I’m already sick of the 10 songs on 93.9, so when I’m home, it’s the Pandora mix all the way. (Really, I’m thankful for Pandora all year long. I love making my own radio stations.)

Day 28 – Today I am thankful for the Berwyn Rec. As I sat through another “Meet Your Coach” night, I thought of all the teams my sons have played on, all the coaches who’ve volunteered, all the games I’ve watched. The Rec has been a great gift to my family.

Day 29 – Today I am thankful for nothing. Seriously, “nothing” on the calendar. “Nothing” came up at the last minute. For at least one evening, my guys and I can do a whole lot of “nothing.”

Day 30 – Today I am thankful for “Thirty Days of Thankfulness.” I followed through and posted each and every day. I stopped for a moment to give thanks, internally and to the world, for the gifts I have been granted and the life I live. While I won’t continue the exercise on Facebook until next year, I hope to continue to stop and give thanks on a daily basis.

I hope everyone had cause to give thanks in November.

Alena’s favorite things

I know I’m no Oprah, but that’s no reason I can’t borrow one of her best known gimmicks. Welcome, everyone, to my first ever, Alena’s Favorite Things — Summer edition.

Here are the products and places I simply cannot live without each summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

City spot

Milennium Park for evening concerts is my happy place. Whether we go with the boys or make it a date night, this spot offers the best views of downtown Chicago, the greatest music, and fabulous people watching. We pack a picnic, some wine and a couple of chairs. Even with paying for parking (so convenient under the park), it’s an inexpensive, classy night on the town. I always come away feeling lucky to live in such a great city.

Sweet Snack

I’m tempted to go with ice cream given the season, but, honestly, Walkers Shortbread cookies are simply luxurious. We always pack a box to go with our concert picnics. I wisely managed to keep these treats out of my sons’ hands for years (they’re not cheap), but they too have discovered the rich, buttery goodness of Walkers. Then my youngest saw the “red box cookies” shaped like little Scotty dogs and now there’s no turning back. We now have the doggies, snack sized bag of cookies and the traditional shortbread “fingers” at the ready.

Nail Color

I pretty much wear nothing but flip-flops from April 1 – October 1, so I have to keep my toes in looking nice. For years I wore nothing but OPI, partly because I loved the way the company names colors. But recently, I’ve made the switch to essie. I heard from a friend that their colors don’t stain your nails (true). Also, Walgreens started carrying the brand, which makes it super convenient for me. And, the salon I use started carrying more of Essie’s colors. So, good-bye Cajun Shrimp; hello, Olé Caliente! (By the way, I could write a whole post about how much I love my monthly pedi dates with my girlfriend. Everyone should be so lucky.)



Outdoor dining

Nothing beats the outdoor patio at Oak Park‘s Maya del Sol for great food, sinfully delicious cocktails and superb service. I’ve spent many an evening with friends sampling appetizers and enjoying one of their amazing cocktails. (Tequila, muddled grapefruit and a chipotle pepper garnish — man I could go for one of those right now.) My husband and I also love it for a date night. Seriously, if you are anywhere near Oak Park, check this place out.



Let’s call her Kimmy. That’s how this bottle is affectionately known by my sisters-in-law and me. And you can generally find at least one bottle of this particular Sauvignon Blanc at any family gathering. I don’t know any of the correct terminology to talk about wine, but I know it always tastes fresh, with a little bit of citrus. It’s a crisp, clean flavor without feeling heavy. Affordable and readily available. I admit it — there is always a bottle of Kim Crawford chilling in my fridge. Kimmy is my friend.

I wish I could tell you to look under your seat to find a Favorite Things baskets to take home. But I’m no Oprah.

Monday Quote: Something new

No one can go back and make a brand new start, my friend, but anyone can start from here and make a brand new end.”
Dan Zadra

By the time you are reading this post, I will have officially started my new job. After so many years of a completely flexible schedule, I will be a member of the full-time employee world. Daunting.

Also exhilarating. I am wise enough to understand that life does not offer the opportunity for a new start, but I have one.  Leaving the place & people who have known me forever and watched me grow up, I will have the chance to make brand new first impressions.

Am I nervous? Of course.

Excited? Very.

Scared? You bet.

Confident about my decision? Getting there.

I’ve already written about my fears, so today I celebrate new possibilities with a new blog theme. Perhaps changing the look of alenaslife is not as dramatic as the real changes in Alena’s life, but I thought I’d keep with the theme.

Silly as it seems, I agonized over the new look.

Shouldn’t I just stick with the familiar look and feel? What will people think? What if I don’t like it a month from now?

Wait a minute…I’ve already asked and answered these questions about alenaslife. No doubt. No worry.

Today is a new day. A new beginning.

I said “yes.” Now what?

“You’re going to be terrific, but I’m really sad to see you go,” said my boss when I told him that, after 20 years together, I am moving on to a new job.  I have a similar feeling about this enormous step, but I would add another emotion – absolute terror.

Fear of the unknown

I am sick to my stomach when I think about the reality of my decision. I have not had a structured, full-time position since before my oldest son was born almost 12 years ago. In order to be available to my kids, I have instead cobbled together a variety of jobs, shuttling from one place to another, or working from home when my kids needed me to be here.

Of course this ability to multi-task and the projects I’ve taken on are the very things that led me to this position, but still? I can’t know what this job will be like until I actually do it. I have built an entire life around being the person who “knows” things. I don’t like this “not knowing” feeling.


Old habits die hard

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve grown up at my current company. I started filing ads there back when I was in high school. Although I moved around a great deal while there, the company has the real feel of a security blanket. My bosses have known me through boyfriends, marriage and three children. I have been with them through expansion & contraction – some really good times, and some not-so-good times. As my boss put it, “Alena is deep in the DNA of this place.”

I have created a complex job that almost defies a standard description and have really enjoyed the sense that I would not easily be replaced. I love being in a place where longevity alone provides me with a constant big-picture view. I have familiarity and history at my new job, but not that deep sense of intimacy.

I will be letting go of the security blanket I’ve come to depend on. That is both sad and scary.


A bird in hand vs. two in the bush

A few weeks back, my Monday Quote dealt with the courage to say “yes.” While this job was far from a reality at the time I wrote that post, I had a sense that changes were in store for me. I seemed to have multiple opportunities knocking at once, from social media sources, writing connections and even within my own company. What I didn’t write about then, but what I understand now, is that in saying “yes” to this opportunity, I am saying “no” to others.

I can’t help but ask myself if I made the right choice.


The things that keep me up at night

Are my sons ready for this? Will I like the job? Will I like my co-workers? Will they like me? Am I ready for this? How will I figure everything out? What will I wear?

For the immediate future, there are more questions than answers. Of course that makes me uncomfortable.


The bottom line

As I went through the interview process, I tried to understand the demands, the culture, the compensation, and growth potential that accompany this new opportunity. Every part of me felt at home during the interviews. If I can ignore my own insecurities and fears, I know that I am well qualified for this position.

During my final interview I said that I was more convinced than ever that this job has Alena written all over it.

Now I just have a few weeks to convince Alena to never let my fears get the best of me.