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.

Thirty Days of Thankfulness: Week 3 (and a half)

Since I took 5 days off from blogging (although not from Alena’s Life, thankfully), I missed my weekly recap last week. I did continue posting on Facebook throughout the weekend, so here’s where I’m at.

Day 16: Today I am thankful for sports. Yep, you read that right. I love watching sports (not competing unfortunately). From Rec league soccer to seats in a stadium and everything in between, I love being a sports fan. There’s a release in cheering on athletes that I just don’t find anywhere else. So thanks to all the athletes out there who entertain me.

Day 17: Today I am thankful for weekends. Just when I think I can’t “go” another day, the weekend arrives. I can slow my step, breathe deeply and recharge.

Day 18: Today I am thankful I got to spend the day with my mom. She is just the best and I miss seeing her every day. A few hours doesn’t make up for daily contact, but it sure was great.

Day 19: Today I am thankful for a particular book. TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME is not only a really good book; it’s the best novel I’ve read all year. This story carried me on its back in a deeply personal and revelatory way. I can’t say enough about how much I loved it, but I tried.

Day 20: Today I am thankful for good editors. During my years working for newspapers and writing for a great magazine, I was mentored, challenged, taught and encouraged by some of the best. I offer special thanks to Mary Haley, Susy Schultz, Cindy Richards and Tamara L. O’Shaughnessy for making me a better and more confident writer. In their honor I promise to write from my heart, use strong words and know when to stop.

Day 21: Today I am thankful for a 5-day weekend. After a couple of months of working evenings and weekends regularly, I am in serious need of several consecutive days of downtime. Best of all, I’ll share these days with my family, both immediate and extended. Let the relaxing begin.

Day 22: So thankful that this lovely lady is my niece. @ali_hawk1

Day 23: This evening I’m thankful for comfy pants, a fire, takeout and A Christmas Story on DVD.

Day 24: Today I’m thankful for 30-gallon Hefty Flex bags. In the past 24 hours I’ve filled 7 of them just from the toy room and basement. My sons are abundantly blessed but a deep purging is needed before Christmas hits.

Day 25: Tonight I’m thankful for Downton Abbey. Settling in for the PBS recap/preview, grateful that great television is still being made. Can’t wait for Season 3.

Only one more week of daily thank-giving. This has been a good month and a great exercise for me. What are you thankful for today?

Thirty Days of Thankfulness: Week 2

I’ve continued to post one thing each day for which I am thankful over on Facebook. Not only have I appreciated the challenge of coming up with 30 variations of “my life,” but I’ve really enjoyed seeing what others have to say during this month of Thanks.

Here’s a round-up of Week 2 posts. I encourage everyone to take a moment to give thanks for one thing each day.

Day 9: Today I am thankful for Origins bath and beauty products (or, as I like to call them, “my lotions and potions.”) I first discovered their incredible bubble bath called “Gloomaway” years ago and have since samples scrubs, hair treatments, lotions and lip balm. Gloomaway lotion remains my favorite product (maybe because of the name), but I so love to see that green box on my birthday. Thanks hon.

Day 10: Today I am thankful for girlfriends. Over the course of my life I’ve had friends who’ve held me up, pushed me forward, caught my falls and, most importantly, made me laugh. Last night I was reminded again of the importance of friends. So to all of you old and new, thank you.

Day 11: Today I am thankful for the thousands of men and women who’ve bravely served in defense of our country and our rights. I think specifically of the men in my family, of whom I am so proud. I understand that my way of life would not be possible without veterans. I honor all of them today.

Day 12: Today I am eternally grateful for saying “yes” to my husband’s marriage proposal. It was the smartest decision I ever made. I thank him for the luckiest 13 years of my life. I found a partner for the journey and the greatest dad for our sons. I love knowing he’s got our backs, always.

Day 13: Today I am thankful for technology. Can’t imagine life without email, social media or my iPhone. Am I addicted to all these screens? Probably. I’m OK with that.

Day 14: Today I am thankful for my three sons. (Yes, I’m thankful for them every day, but today I’m putting it in writing.) Each in his own way brightens my life, touches my heart, makes me crazy and fills me with pride. My sons are terrific human beings. I am a lucky mom.

Day 15: Today I am thankful for Night Owls Book Club. It’s hard to believe I’ve been meeting with them once a month for over 10 years, but I’m grateful for over 100 terrific book discussions, exposure to titles I would have never read, and the chance to make some really nice friends. All ages, all reading tastes and all opinionated, Night Owls is a standing date on my calendar.

Hello Mojo

Last week I complained (maybe I even whined a little) that I had lost my mojo. I was in an undeniable funk and I put it out there for the world to share.

What do you know? My mojo heard the call and returned to me in some pretty significant ways.

1)      I felt the blogger love. Many of you responded with kind words, funny stories and useful advice. Since so much of what we do as bloggers happens alone with just us and our computers, it’s easy to forget that we are a community. You all reminded me of that fact. I felt lifted up by friends, both those I know IRL, and those I’ve come to know virtually.

It’s much harder to remain in a funk when I know there are people waiting, watching and caring. A giant “thank you” goes out to all of you.


2)      A major milestone. (I know, I know, I’m supposed to be avoiding stats of any kind – but no one warned me that they show up on my Dashboard any time I add a new post.) Anyway, I realized last week that I have reached 100 followers. This won’t seem like much to those of you with hundreds of followers or comments or page views (or whatever measurement you use), but to me, these 3 digits seem monumental.

Even better, my 100th follow came from someone I knew in real life, and keep up with in virtual life. Justine is a smart, talented woman I once had the pleasure of directing. More recently, we have shared our love of books on social media. To see her name on my list of followers brought a huge smile to my face. To then find out she searched out my blog when looking for a good book to read…well, that just sent my mojo into a tizzy.


3)      An author encounter. I met Jonathan Tropper!!! Yes, the author of my most recent fave, This is Where I Leave You. And, the way it happened seemed fated to break my funk.

I don’t get near enough time to dwell in the world of social media. I miss twitter parties and constantly refreshing my Facebook feed, but real life has taken over. Anyway, it’s my habit to start each day with a social media check in. I just happened to see a tweet from @JTropper mentioning an appearance and Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. How did I not know about this?

So I took a chance and asked my mom (also a fan) if she wanted to join me. You have to understand that both of us are much more likely to laze on the couch reading on any given weeknight than make a 45-minute trip to Naperville to chance a meeting with an author we may or may not like in real life.

And, miracle of miracles, we actually went. Despite considering just staying in the neighborhood and grabbing dinner together, we made the trip and ended up having a great time. (More to come on Jonathan Tropper in a future post).


Unlike”3 strikes and you’re out,” these signs seemed like “3 reasons to write.” I’m not fooling myself – I still don’t have enough time in the day to read or write the way I’d like to. I will still suffer funky slumps when nothing seems possible. I will still be waiting on the next seemingly insurmountable milestone.

But I will have this, this day my mojo returned.

Monday Quote: How do I measure success?

Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.”
Susan B. Anthony

I admit it. Deep inside of me lives a numbers girl – one who wants to chart, measure and order everything. I’m convinced that if I could just assign each thing in life a place value, I could organize it. Judging by the chaos in my life, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t opt to become a mathematician.

But social media milestones are the same to me. I can become obsessed with the numbers. How many page views? Did anyone retweet? Have I posted 5 times each week? Any new Facebook comments? How close am I to my book reading goal? Has my Klout score changed?

This blog, which I began in March as a personal writing exercise, has taken on a milestone life of its own. Early on, my dear friend Patti cautioned me not to get wrapped up in WordPress stats. (Like standardized tests, they are only one measure of reach I guess.) But I’m like a junkie – checking page views and search terms, wondering when my number of followers will hit triple digits. Is it true that early week posts have more life than those posted on Fridays?

I understand how crazy this is. My blog is not commercial. I don’t have any sort of life changing mission (unless you count inspiring someone to pick up a book.) This isn’t my job.

I need to write. I like to share. It should not matter if that sharing happens with one person or one hundred. My friend Molly wrote on her blog that she writes for everyone and no one in particular. I love that idea. I just need to accept it and live by it.

And I am inspired by Susan B. Anthony. Alena’s life cannot be measured by followers or views or comments. I must measure my life, my sense of success, by “the stray dogs that amble in.” If a book moves me, I will write about it. If I have a good story to tell, I will tell it. I will choose quotes that reflect or inspire my life.

And, this week at least, I will avoid chasing milestones. I’m going stats-free for a week. Then I will see if I feel and more or less fulfilled as a blogger.

Wish me luck.

World Book Night with a little help from my son

So I participated in the first-time-in-America World Book Night last night. As with many things in my life, it didn’t go according to plan.

Way back when (6 months ago), I stumbled across a Facebook post about World Book Night in the UK. When I followed the link, I saw it was coming to the US in 2012. I love books. I love promoting books. I wanted to be a part of something bigger. I signed up for the newsletter.

When it came time to actually register and request books, I faltered. Once again, the idea of this was more appealing than actually committing to the follow-through.

Choosing titles to give away was no problem, but writing about a place I’d go and why I wanted to do this was a little harder. I’m a curl up on the couch and share my book love with like-minded people kind of girl. The thought of seeking out a place where I could find light or reluctant readers scared me. But I did it.

First paperback edition book cover

First paperback edition book cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then I was chosen and I had to move beyond my comfort zone. I had a plan. I would go to the train station and just smile and offer my book, The Kite Runner, to strangers. Gulp.

As the date approached, I turned again and again to the virtual world for courage. I followed @wbnamerica on Twitter and “met” thousands of other people giving away books. I promoted World Book Night on Facebook and received loads of encouragement from friends and family. Ultimately, I connected with real-life friends and revised my work-alone plan.

Feeling better about a group of us working together with several titles, I wore my button, passed out stickers and packed my box. Then real life interfered with my best-laid plans. My husband could not get home in time for me to meet up with my friends. Sigh.

I could have used this as a reason to not interact with strangers, but I surprised myself by adapting quickly. I brought my youngest son along for the “fun.” He was none to pleased about being taken away from his backyard soccer game to “sell” books, but he had no choice. I explained how much this worldwide event meant to me and he agreed to help.

In the end, we had a blast walking up to strangers, talking up our titles and seeing people walk away with a new book. After a slow start, and quite a few skeptical looks, one train’s worth of commuters cleared out most of our books. My son was cute and charming and more than willing to run back to the box to refresh our armloads of books. I felt like part of a much broader community as I followed the experiences of givers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Now that it is over, I can forever claim being one of the first in America. And, so can my youngest son. I like that.

Some of my favorite #wbnamerica tweets:

Stacey Mason ‏ @StaceyLMason

“Sometimes we need books. And sometimes books need us.” Perhaps half a million free books started a new conversation last night @wbnamerica

Martha Kiley ‏ @MarthaKiley

Gave Bel Canto to a bartender, barista, counter girl, pizza guy, new moms, dog walkers and a butcher. Great night! #wbnamerica

The Book Shepherd ‏ @mybookshepherd

Yesterday was World Book Night-continue it and donate books to those who will open them and fall lin for the love of the word.#wbnamerica

Gabe Eggerling @saysgabe: I have always been told it’s a Gift to receive a book, but thanks to @wbnamerica I can say it’s also a Gift to give a book!!


My box of WBN books


Proud book-nerds ready to talk to commuters.


My youngest son with an armful of The Hunger Games. Ready and willing.