Far From Normal – Living My Dream

Many of us think of our lives as boringly normal, while others live the high life. Take a step back, and take a look at your life as an outsider might.

Basically, today’s Daily Prompt asks, “What is normal?” I am a happily married, mother of three. I work full-time, read voraciously and write a blog on the side. I struggle with my weight, love to watch sports, consider my husband and my mom my best friends and spend countless hours each week loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. I feel pretty normal.

We’ll just throw the idea of the “high life” right out the window. I haven’t been on an airplane in almost 10 years. I’ve driven the same car for 8. Watching celebrities and the super-rich is a source of entertainment for me, mostly in the way it’s hard not to look a car crash as you drive by.

But I’ll try, in the interest of the prompt, to look at my life as an outsider. Here’s what an outside might not see. I am living my dream life. Let me be clear. I draw a difference between the life I’ve always dreamed of and the occasional fantasy life I created. In that one, my Broadway career turns into an Academy Award acceptance speech and Hugh Jackman falls in love with me. (See? Even my fantasies are perfectly normal.)

So how can my ordinary reality be a dream life? It’s quite simple. I grew up wanting to build a solid, happy family. That’s really all. picture in your mind

Maybe it was the books I read. Trixie Belden’s family was just so good! Maybe it was growing up surrounded by parents, aunts & uncles and grandparent who all divorced. Or maybe I’m just a romantic girl who wants forever to be my reality.

So, luckily, I found a man who wanted the same thing. I don’t think our marriage is hard work or full of sacrifices. We are partners who sometimes need to compromise and sometimes get on each other’s nerves, but my husband makes me happy. I don’t want to be anywhere else. Our marriage has officially outlasted my parent’s marriage, which seems a little unbelievable to me.

marry a manWe have three sons, who do require hard work and sacrifices. This is my normal. Yes, I live in a male-dominated household. You know what that means? I am the undisputed queen.

I read (by modern standards) an abnormally high number of books. Again, living my dream. My mom would assure you that devouring books is a lifelong habit. It’s a quiet habit to be sure, but reading has opened my life to an incredible array of voices and new friendships. I wouldn’t trade my hobby for anyone else’s.

All of this boils down to what I think outsiders might find abnormal. I’m content. I see women of my generation looking around the corner for the next opportunity, for the life they’re “supposed to be” living, for the perfect balance, for more. I have what I want.

I am living my dream.want

Wordless Wednesday: Saint Odilo Fun Fair

IMG_3489 IMG_3492 IMG_3495 IMG_3496 IMG_3499 IMG_3500 IMG_3501 IMG_3502

Oh boy. Oh man.

Today, I will keep it very simple, because all I can think about is that my oldest son is twelve today. How is it possible that my little boy is quickly becoming a young man? It seems yesterday he was crawling around with his gigantic smile and discovering new things each day.

He still has the smile and the wonderful sense of discovery, but he’s as tall as I, with larger feet and longer legs. My baby is no more. I have to say that I am really looking forward to getting to know the man.

Happy Birthday my angel.


Beachwalk, 2012

Beachwalk, 2012


Daily Prompt: Struggling to Set a Good Example.


Failure_Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

Describe your last attempt to learn something that didn’t come easily to you?

You know how as parents we’re supposed to lead by example? Well, in terms of learning new things, I’m an “epic fail” as my sons would say. I avoid “new” like the plague.

This is not all negative of course. I would argue that I know my own strengths, and in the areas of communication and consensus-building, I excel. I can hold my own on a computer, in social settings, and certainly in the work place. I have a marvelous husband who takes care of all of the home and auto complications (aren’t we deliciously retro?), so I’ve never had to struggle with wiring or plumbing.

I admit my tendency to make the less challenging choice, when possible.

But, in the behavior of my sons, I’ve seen my tendency to avoid challenge in a more negative light. One of my sons struggles in sports. It just doesn’t come easily, the way school and music do. And, really, it breaks my heart to see how badly he wants to be an athletic success, and to fear that it will never happen for him.

And yet, he tries. He tries partly because we won’t let him quit. Once he signs on to a team or a class, he has to follow through. We’ll help him and practice with him, but ultimately, he’s the one on the court or on the field and he gets out there and just does it. (He doesn’t always do it with the best attitude or a big smile, but he does it nonetheless.)

There was a year where he chose not to play his favorite sport because it “wasn’t fun anymore.” My husband and I were fine with his decision, but as he sat on the sidelines and watched his brothers and friends play, he determined to try again. “I think I want to play again next year.” I know he’ll struggle, and feel frustrated and sometimes take it out on us, but I am so proud he wants to try.

So instead of modeling the behavior for my kids, I’m following my son’s lead. I’m trying to open myself up to new skills.

When I started my new job this year, I had to learn a new design program, Adobe Illustrator. I didn’t have a ton of design skills to begin with, and was only familiar with InDesign. In fact, my bosses were open to purchasing a new design program, but I realized that all the files I would need were already in Illustrator. I was being silly. I could learn a new program, right?

I’m still learning (and I still think Illustrator is often frustratingly non-intuitive), but I’m using it almost every day and getting happier with the finished product all the time. I’ve added several other programs to my resume in a few short months. I’ve improved my photography skills by sheer determination and practice, not letting my fear of failure prevent my success.

I will not quit because something is challenging. I will meet that challenge, overcome it, and move on to the next. Because that’s life, right? I will try to do this with good humor and an ability to appreciate failure as a part of the process instead of a final result.

This is the model I want to provide for my sons.

Thanks, once again, to Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.

This post puts me in mind of Frank Sinatra singing “High Hopes”.  Just what did make that little ole ant think he could move a rubber tree plant?

Surrendering to Helplessness

Parenting requires surrendering to helplessness. There are so many things, big and little, that we cannot control. From the bodily bumps and scrapes, to the emotional and social bruises my son have suffered, I have often felt helpless. Do I understand that these injuries are all part of growing up? Of course. But would I prevent those hurts from ever occurring if I could? Probably.

My instinct is to protect, to shelter, and, above all, to keep them safe.

In this regard I have never felt more helpless than the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. As I watched the news come in, and realized the horror of what had occurred in a grammar school, I could only think of those families’ pain. I am positive all of those parents in Connecticut share my instinct to protect, and yet, they were helpless in the face of one young man with guns.

I know I hugged my sons tighter that evening. I didn’t want to scare them with details, but I wanted them to understand and be able to talk about the images and news flashes that surrounded us. So, I decided to tell them in the simplest terms possible.

“There was a tragedy in Connecticut.”  “A very sick man went into a school and killed children.”  “We need to keep all of those families in our prayers.”

I watched their faces and reactions carefully. My oldest just kind of gulped and looked away. It turns out he already knew about it from classmates and wasn’t sure if I knew. He didn’t want me to feel bad. My youngest two cried, especially when they asked about how old and how many kids. Of course, my youngest (8) wanted me to promise it could never happen to him.

What could I say? I was helpless in the face of his direct question, “Mom, will I always be safe at school?” Of course I said that I believe his teachers and principal do everything they can to make his school safe. I reminded him about the security doors, and asked about their emergency plans. I was grateful for our faith, which provides the solace of both Heaven and prayer.

And yet,

When it came time to drop them off at school, I was helpless to stop my own tears. I was terribly afraid to leave them there. Afraid of my own fear that a wave in the doorway could be the last time I saw my beautiful boys; afraid that I could be rendered utterly helpless against random violence, mental illness and too many guns.

Less than a month later, drop off has gotten easier. My sons know I love them. I refuse to raise them in a climate of fear. It’s no way to live. I determine to believe the best and trust that they will come home to me each day.

That trust, too, is a surrender to helplessness.

I thank Daily Prompt for inspiring this particular post.


The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – a new review

the twelve tribes of hattieOne of the things I share with my mother-in-law (other than loving her son and grandsons) is a love of reading. Many times we have bonded over book titles. So, when I felt a book underneath the wrapping paper at Christmas, I was pretty confident she would choose a winner. I was pleased to see a title, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, which I had not yet read.

Once again, my mother in law had produced a winner.

The book opens rather dramatically with 10 month-old twins suffering with pneumonia in 1925. We are immediately thrust into Hattie’s world, its joys and its tragic misfortunes. Thereafter, each chapter is told from the perspective of one of Hattie’s children, or in a couple powerful instances, Hattie’s voice about one of her children or grandchildren.

In some ways, these glimpses into each child’s stories give this book the feel of excellent short stories, but given Hattie’s reoccurring role in each narrative, Twelve Tribes holds together as a full novel. Through these interconnected pieces, we trace not just Hattie’s life, but can look at African American history, primarily urban, in the 20th century.

His pain was his most precious and secret possession, and Six held on to it as fiercely as a jewel robbed from a corpse.”

In a brave move, Ayana Mathis doesn’t provide any easy heroes in these pages. Hattie and her tribe(s) are all broken and damaged by life and the choices they make. She is far from a perfect mother and her children don’t rise from their lot miraculously. I really appreciate that she doesn’t make this story easy on us, the reader.

The thing to do was to insult her or slap her or run her out into the night. She’d left him with all their children. She was holding another man’s baby in her arms. Anyone would agree that he ought to do something terrible to her, but she had been gone fifteen hours, and in that fifteen hours his life had crumbled like a lump of dry earth.”

Even in the end, with Hattie’s granddaughter, Mathis does not provide any resolutions to the stories we’ve read. I found the book’s ending perfectly in keeping with what had come before, experiencing a sense of closure without really knowing an “ending.”

This novel put me very much in mind of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge – interconnected stories, one strong-willed central woman around whom the novel branches out, strong sense of place, beautiful language.

Highly recommend.

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 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.

Monday Quote: Happy Anniversary

“A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity. The order varies for any given year.”  ― Paul Sweeney

I love this quote for all the ways it describes marriage. Today is my thirteenth wedding anniversary and I am every bit as “in love” as I was on that beautiful November day in 1999, but I am also much wiser.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew I was a lucky woman that day. I had found a man who would love, honor and protect. (Plus, he’s smart, funny and handsome to boot.) But I could not have known the “tolerance” and “tenacity” parts of marriage. Life to that point had been pretty easy. We were responsible to no one but ourselves. We both had both our parents and even grandparents. Financially comfortable (even carefree), we liked our jobs. “Love, trust and partnership” seemed like more than enough.

For many years, they were. But other years, we’ve held firmly to tolerance and tenacity. This has been one of those years. My father’s illness and death, my new job, the two ‘tweens in our house – the world of our marriage has not been all flowers and rainbows this year. As I ricochet from one stress point to another, I am grateful for tolerance, for good humor, for patience, and, frankly, for the delicious hot meals on which I can depend each evening.

I recognize that we are among the lucky ones, even in the face of life’s challenges. With a tenacity that startles some people, we have each other’s backs. We are in this life together with deep love, unshakable trust, true partnership, a lot of tolerance and fierce tenacity. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy anniversary to my “forever and ever.”


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