Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beautiful Ashley

My heart is among many hearts hurting today. Ashley has died. I’ve written about her before. She played softball with my girls, she fought as hard as anyone who ever fought against cancer, and she left a beautiful little girl. I’ve tried really hard to be positive like Ashley always was, but frankly, it’s hard not to be pissed off. All she wanted … ALL. SHE. WANTED. … was to have time with her little girl … to have more time with her precious Avery … but that despicable cancer took her away.

Why does a young mother get stage 4 breast cancer? She had so much to give the world. She was so strong, so smart, so funny, kind and brave. We needed more of her. But cancer isn’t kind … or fair. I think we all know that one.

Her mom, Nancy, is my friend. She’s an incredible woman, and instead of allowing herself to fall apart, she stayed strong because she knew she had to help her daughter die. I know, again, that cancer isn’t fair, but her family doesn’t deserve this either! Her dad, Rex, would have traded places with Ashley in a second if he could. Both of them would have. No two parents could possibly love a child more.

I really thought Ashley would be one of the miracles … that if anyone could beat it, she would. She did everything she possibly could. EVERYTHING. And so many people prayed so hard for her. Every night I prayed for her, and I asked God to give her some extra strength from all of us. I thought maybe a little extra from all the people who loved her could help. And maybe it did. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

But this I know. She will be remembered. She did make a difference. The time she did get to spend with her family, and especially with her little one, was so valuable. She made every second count. I can’t help thinking of Princess Diana and her two amazing sons who are now honoring her memory in such beautiful ways. I believe Avery will also grow up to be like her mama, an incredible woman who will make a difference in the world.

Ashley was and always will be my inspiration. In the space of a year, her teaching job was cut, her marriage ended, she had a baby, and she was diagnosed with cancer. And what did she say on her daughter’s first birthday? She said it was the best year of her life because of her beautiful Avery.

That is what I will remember most. I will honor her every day of the rest of my life by trying to live up to that. I will remember what’s important, and I will appreciate every day. I will do what I can to make the world better, and I will always keep with me the spirit of this amazing young woman. I am so grateful that she lived, and Ashley, you really did make the world better.

Rest in peace, beautiful angel.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I Bought a Car! (or How Not to Sell a Car to a Woman)

How to lose a car sale to a woman in five easy lessons: Assume she’s stupid. Assume she doesn’t have money. Ask her if she’s married or single. Pressure her after she says she’s just test-driving. Then get pissed off when she says she’s going to sleep on it.

So I did a little bit of car buying this past weekend while visiting my friend in Florida. I ended up buying a new car, which I hadn’t planned to do (I’m a used car kind of gal), and I bought it from the second dealer I visited; and I visited that dealer because yes, everything above really happened………in 2017. Seriously.

Friend Tonya went with me to test drive cars. I was trying to decide between a sedan or SUV. I was in no hurry to buy, just thought I’d start looking, but I was ready in case “that car” appeared.

We went to the above dealer. There was a nice guy who was new, and a pushy guy who was training him. Nice Guy went with us on the test drives. We liked him.

Side Story: When the dealer guy asks for your license, it is not all that funny when your “friend” says, “Oh no, you need her license? She has a DUI.” Well, I have to qualify what I said. She thought it was stinking hilarious as I was sputtering, “I do NOT have a DUI! I’ve never had a DUI! I’ve never even caused an accident! I’ve only gotten one ticket, and that was in Grundy County in Illinois, and everybody gets tickets in Grundy County (as I was told by everyone after I got the ticket – thanks for nothing),” and fortunately, with no thanks to her, he believed me.

I’m getting off the subject, but as you can imagine, I’m still a bit scarred. She says someday I’ll laugh about it.

So I decide I’m definitely interested in a sedan, but not necessarily that one. Enter Pushy Guy. He asks me if I’m single or married. At that point, Tonya, who is slightly in front of me and closer to him, turns so that I can see her and he can’t, and she has this really funny smirk on her face that I know is saying, “Ohhhh nooooo. She’s gonna take him down!” I can’t even look at her because we have this amazing way of reading each other’s minds and collapsing into giggles, and I asked the obvious (I thought), “Why does it matter if I’m single or married?” He then went on about how he’s all about saving me money, and he wants me to get something with payments I can afford, etc, etc, to which I responded, “You don’t even know if I need financing,” and he went on some more, and when he stopped talking, I said, “and why does it matter if I’m single or married?” He said if I didn’t have a husband who could take care of my car, I would want an extended warranty. I can tell Tonya is in pain trying to keep her head from exploding, as I said, “How do you know I’m not a badass car mechanic?” He started to lose his game and asked, “Did I say something wrong?” Oh, Pushy Guy, where do I begin? And not today, please. It's not my day to educate you.

So when your experience starts like that, you’re on guard. Tonya found a car at another dealership not far away, and for reasons I can’t explain, I took her driving with me again. We show up at the other place, expecting the same kind of treatment, and I have to say I was a bit startled when a guy came out to greet me by introducing himself as he shook my hand and looked me in the eye. Huh. I wonder what’s up with that?

I went on a test drive with our new friend, Dan, along with Tonya and her husband, Peege (funny story for another day). Tonya is cracking herself up telling him the DUI story. Then I told him she forgot to mention that I had just bailed those two out of jail. And what does he say? “It's ok. We all make mistakes.” Seriously? Seriously???

Another Side Story: Leah’s car has a heated steering wheel, and it has been my dream to have one of those. It’s not something they tend to point out in Florida, because well, Florida, so I look down and see a picture of a steering wheel with heat rising, and I whispered to Tonya, "If I push this and my steering wheel starts to heat up, this baby is mine!" It did, and it was, and the long, drawn-out moral of this story is, if you treat people respectfully, they tend to respond well. They did, and I did, and I have a car with a heated steering wheel!!

I apologize for the ramblingness (ramblinguity?) of this post, but there is a serious point here somewhere. Ooh, here it is. Don’t be a jerk and assume you know something about someone else when you don’t. The End.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Standing Up

I don’t think my choice in the recent election would be a surprise to most people. To my friends who voted for Trump, I want to be clear. I still like most of you. A few of you, I never really thought much of to begin with, so if our relationship doesn’t survive, I think we’ll both be ok. And if you are wondering if you’re one of the ones I don’t like, you’re probably not one, because you should already know it, and you should pretty much know why.

Anyway, my point is, we have to move forward. I am going to try very hard not to be offensive in my comments and actions over the next few years, and I hope you can do the same. But here’s the thing. I have to stand up for what is right.

I’m not really happy about having to do this. Finally…..FINALLY…..I sold my Mahomet house, and we just closed on our parents’ Peoria house, and I’m somewhat settled in the only house I have left (Lindsay refers to it as my shedding of houses), and I’m finally…..FINALLY……at a point where perhaps I can slow down a little bit, crochet a blanket, attack my bucket list, or read a good book, and BAM, instead, I’m forced to stand up.

I have to believe those of you I still like do not support mistreatment of people for any reason, but especially based on the color of their skin, or their religion, or their sexual preference, or their gender or abilities. I have to believe you are not racists or bullies and wouldn’t stand for someone else being a racist or bully.

And maybe a lot of you can look the other way or close your eyes. Believe me, for about a week or so, I totally planned on doing that. I’ve learned I don’t have to take on every problem in the world, that I don’t have to read in great detail about every horrible news event, that it’s ok to walk away on some things, and I absolutely planned to do that.

But dammit all to hell, I grew up in a Jewish home and a Jewish community, and if I take one thing away from my upbringing, it is to stand up for what is right. It is to NEVER let mistreatment of people happen again. That’s what I remember hearing: “NEVER AGAIN.” If you didn’t grow up in my world, you might not understand how important this is. But it’s huge. It’s a commitment I owe my parents and their parents and the millions of innocent people, some of whom were my family, who were slaughtered in the Holocaust.

I would not even exist if it weren’t for the foresight of my grandparents who left Eastern Europe because they knew they would be safe in America. They knew they would have the freedom to worship the way they chose, that they could live safely and raise their families, and they would not have to worry about horrible things happening to them, because they would be living in America. My mom often would say how very grateful she was to have been born in this country.

When you have that in your background, how can you remain silent? The last time a lot of people remained silent and turned their heads, it didn’t end well. And I cannot be one of those people.

I’m not at all happy about this. When I was back in the working world, right outside my office was a huge tower that had about 100 steps in it. One day there were some kids up in the top bouncing golf balls to the ground below. You can imagine the horrible outcome if they happened to hit someone. So, I had to climb the stairs to stop them and explain to their grownups why it wasn’t safe (seriously). I was not amused. When I got to the top, I told them they were in trouble for two reasons. One was for the golf ball throwing, and more importantly, they had made me climb up to the top.

In a much more serious way, I feel again, like I have to climb up to the top. I am not at all happy about this, for the record, but I gotta do what I gotta do.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Our Parents’ House: A Happy Ending & Happy Beginning

Four dumpsters, a truckload plus five trips to drop off electronics for recycling, at least 20 trips to drop off other recycling, at least 10 bags delivered for shredding, maybe 15 trips to the used book collection box, two truckloads of furniture to the Habitat ReStore, four trips to the EPA household waste drop-off in Naperville, at least ten carloads to Goodwill, other assorted items picked up from the curb, and just like that, we finished emptying our parents’ house. Piece of cake! 

I’m still somewhat amazed we actually finished. I really kind of felt we would just be working on it forever. But it did finally end, a year and a half later, and as my sister and I were looking at our options to put the house on the market, the most wonderful thing happened. The next-door neighbors told us they would like to buy it. 

The neighbors had moved into their house a few years ago, and they were very nice. They would say hello to Mom when she was sitting out back, and they said she would always smile and wave to them. Their son would take the mail to Mom when the weather was bad. We learned the mother’s parents were coming to live with them, and we quickly found that they were also a lovely, kind couple. They called Mom “Lola Rose” which means Grandma Rose in the Filipino language. We saw their Lola at the mailboxes one day last summer, and she very hopefully asked if Lola Rose was coming home soon? We told her Mom had passed away, and she very sadly said, “Noooo!” as she clasped both my arms. I sort of fell in love with her right then. She told us she had planned to come spend time with Lola Rose when she came home because she felt that was something she could do for her. I knew it was completely sincere, even though I didn’t know her well, but some things you just know, and I knew she was truly saddened for our loss.

A year went by, and we saw them from time to time as we worked on the house. Then, as I said, when we were trying to decide what needed to be done to sell the house, the daughter told us her parents were interested in buying it. We learned their Lola had fallen in love with the house and had even named the huge front yard tree “Orlando” after the street it was on, and she had photos of it in every season. Well, I can guarantee you our Lola Rose would have loved that! She loved the tree they had planted when they built the house, and hearing this really warmed our hearts.

We spent more time with this beautiful family over the next few months as we worked to make this happen. The house needs a lot of attention, and they are excited to get started on it. Their Lola promised us she would take good care of Lola Rose’s house. That touched me immensely. I have no doubt she will care for it with love. And they will be living next to their children and grandson. Mom would have been thrilled about that also.

One of the times Lindsay was there, we all got to spend some time talking. They said when they met Lindsay and me, they knew right away we were good people. The funny thing was we had just said the very same thing about them. Sometimes you just know.

After my last visit to the house, when I went through and made sure all the personal things were removed, I sort of did a “Thanks for giving Mom so much happiness” as I closed the door with a smile, and I went to the cemetery to take one of Mom’s garden pinwheels to her. That seemed to be a fitting thing to do. While I was there, I was telling them about what we were doing with the house, and I smiled because the whole thing – selling the house to neighbors who were kind and would love it and begin their own happy memories – had seemed meant to be from the beginning. Call it what you will, it was more than a little coincidental. I started to chuckle and said, “Why am I telling you all this when I have a funny feeling you probably know more about it than I do?” 

I could picture my mama smiling as I walked to my car.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Choosing Kindness

I didn’t realize how affected I was by hatred and anger until I stopped following the election so closely and started watching the Olympics. Suddenly, instead of knotting up with anger, I was bursting with pride. I was shedding tears of joy, and I was watching opposing athletes show incredible class, congratulating each other, acknowledging the others’ skills, and celebrating. There was so much celebrating!

It reminded me of something important. I knew this, of course, but I appreciated the timely reminder. I can choose what I want to feel, and I can decide how I want to behave. And as simple as this is, I feel it’s important to say it. I am choosing kindness.

As I’ve mentioned before, a huge part of my childhood was spent with my best friends, Jackie and Janet. Their house was my safe place. I always felt welcome. I knew I was loved unconditionally. And their house was a place of joy and respect and laughter and kindness. A lot of the good in me came from all the time I spent there. This awkward kid with zero self worth became better because of their family’s kindness, not just to me, but to everyone.

I have realized over the years that the people who inspire me the most are the people who are kind. They can be friends who are lovingly raising stepchildren, ex-husbands (yes, that’s what she said) who were kind and patient with their children and the teams they coached, mamas like the one I was lucky enough to have, preschool teachers who still call my girls every year on their birthdays, volunteer firefighters who are out in the middle of the night racing to help people while I’m snug in my bed, a boss who knows you learned from your screw-up and doesn’t feel the need to chew you out, caregivers and medical professionals who give of themselves to help others who are hurting and scared…

How nice is it that I could think of so many kind people in the space of a few minutes? That says a lot for my world, a world I need to always remember to appreciate.

Recently someone I know wrote something cruel and insensitive on Facebook. I questioned her because I was so stunned. She got back in my virtual face, and then as I was “leaving” I said something snarky that I regretted not long afterward. It wasn’t terrible, she certainly was deserving, and I am still horrified by what she wrote, but I didn’t need to get caught up in her anger. She has the anger issue, and I have the freedom and the ability to walk away. I can choose kindness.

Dee Brown, the former Illinois basketball player who, in my opinion, is one of the greatest athletes of all time, demonstrated kindness at every turn. He was an incredible point guard, the “one-man fast break,” but the thing I truly loved about him was the way he always picked up a player he had collided with. It was the way he showed class and respect and yes, kindness, that put him above the rest.

My friend, Mindy, who fought against a very aggressive leukemia, was always kind. Even after her diagnosis, she was always kind……and funny……but always polite and kind. And my inspiration, Ashley, who is fighting breast cancer, demonstrates every day that she has kindness and gratitude in her heart. You know there have to be times when she feels kicked and beaten down, but she never lets it take over. She chooses kindness and joy, so she can give her daughter the best life possible, because that’s what matters.

With Ashley setting such an amazing example, how can I get pissy over silly things? How can I react to being offended by a comment that doesn’t really matter? I have had a good reminder recently as I celebrate Team USA, that the small stuff is just small stuff, and I can walk away.

So I will continue to say please and thank you, to hold doors for others, to wave other drivers ahead of me. As my mama liked to say, “Take a piece of the world and make it shine.” I don’t have to move mountains or break a world record. I can, in my own small way, make my piece of the world shine.

This doesn't mean I will be a doormat. I will always stand up for what is right. But I will do it while being kind. That is something I control, and I’ll do my bit to make the world nicer.

I am choosing kindness.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

I'm In! Well, Sort of....

Ohhh, so much to do in my new house! My office is full of boxes, papers, more boxes and files, and that’s just the top level. Two side tables just arrived, and I need to put them together. And I can’t even get through all the address changes, new bill pays, new everything! So, because I’m Andee, I’ll write a blog post instead!

I am seriously shaking my head at myself as I write this. But here’s the thing. I was so focused on moving out of my Mahomet house. I downsized so much … furniture to ReStore, smaller things to Goodwill, trash in a rented dumpster and things recycled when I could. I loaded up tubs … ok, this is even putting me to sleep. My point is I really worked hard to get ready for my move. I totally forgot that once I did move, I’d have to actually move in. All of a sudden the movers were gone, and I had boxes EVERYWHERE. And I swear they multiply when I’m sleeping!

So I’ll tell you about my new neighborhood. As was pointed out to me after my last post, I didn’t actually say where I was moving. I knew where it was, so I figured everyone did. Or I just forgot. It could have been that. Anyway, I am in Huntley, Illinois, in a Del Webb community, which is a development built specifically for people over 55 (yes, I was carded). It has 5500 homes, two pools, gym facilities, an indoor track and outdoor trails, a golf course, a restaurant, clubs for every interest and then some, day trips, classes, recreation and exercise activities … I could go on. Let’s just say I’m going to do some serious damage to my bucket list … just as soon as I finish unpacking.

I’ve met some neighbors, and more importantly, I’ve liked them. One of the first nights I was here, I was actually unpacking, when my doorbell rang. It was a neighbor telling me I needed to stop working and come over to the bi-weekly neighborhood happy hour. I said I would go to the next one, but he was not going to accept that. So what was I to do? I made a cocktail and walked across the street to meet my new neighbors. I apologized for being gross and sweaty, and the arm-twister who had invited me said, “We’re all retired. We don’t give a rat’s ass what you look like!” And I knew I was home.

Not long after that, my next door neighbor came over to introduce herself, and she brought me a box of Frango Mints. Cue happy music. One of the great moments of any trip to Marshall Field’s in Chicago was a bite into a Frango Mint. It was as if she knew me! I think we’ll be good neighbors, and not just because of my sweet tooth. We actually had a fair amount in common.

This is my biggest move since our move from Springfield to Champaign almost 30 years ago. This is definitely a happier one. I am just down the road from my grandbabies, and it also helps to not be suffering from depression. One of these days I’ll post about that, but not today. Today the sun is shining, and I’m happy and full of energy. And now that I’ve said that, seriously, I really need to go unpack.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I'm Moving!

I’m moving! I’m actually moving very soon – 10 days-ish – and I should be getting things organized, getting rid of things, etc, etc. So I’m doing what is so typical for me – anything but what I should be doing. This morning my mind said, “I know! I’ll write a blog post! I haven’t posted in more than two months, so I will do it today!” Does anyone wonder why I was the queen of the all-nighter in getting through school?

I always thought one day I would be more prepared, plan appropriately and follow through accordingly. One of my college roommates would study for a few hours every evening, then smoke a bong (it was the 70s), then watch Johnny Carson’s monologue, and then go to bed. Every night. She was so organized, and I was so in awe. I knew one day I would be just like her.

I’m almost 60 now. I’m beginning to think my behavior can’t be changed. But I’m still holding out some hope…..

Here’s the story. I’ve mentioned this before. For a very long time, I’ve wanted to someday move closer to my children, and especially to my grandchildren. Everyone else has flown the coop. Leah is in Elgin. Lindsay is currently in New Orleans after moving from New York City and about to move back to Baltimore, but most importantly, she’s not in Mahomet. Even Dave and Cindy left town! This was not part of my plan! They’re in Washington DC. So, I’m the last of our Chestnut family in Champaign County. And with Mom now gone, I don’t have a reason to live near Peoria. Soooo…..

It was easy to say that someday I’d be closer to my babies. It’s a bit harder to actually make it happen. I’m mostly excited, but not completely. I have good friends here. I love my little house here. I’ve spent almost 30 years of my life here. I’ve loved living in a major university community, where I’ve bled orange and blue and always will (some years have been bloodier than others). I loved most of the 20 years I worked for the Champaign County Forest Preserve District and will always love most of my coworkers (you know who you are, and just a few know why you aren’t). I’ve always lived south of I-80 and really think of myself as a downstate girl. I’ve loved deliveries from Filippo’s on more nights than I care to admit. Ok, when I start on the food, I know I need to move it along…..

Twenty-nine years ago, when Dave said, “I really want to take that job in Champaign,” I knew we needed to go because when I said, “I really want to be with my babies and not go back to teaching,” he had agreed to that. It was a very painful move for me. I loved Springfield…….LOVED Springfield. It was the first place I had felt like a real person. I had felt successful as a teacher. I had made many fabulous friends. I had the Barrel Head, where everyone really did know my name. And I was finishing up a master’s degree in Governmental Public Relations in the state capital where jobs were just waiting for me to apply for them! (It’s possible the jobs part was just in my head.)

So, I moved AWAY from the state capital! Excellent career move! We had a four-year-old, and we also had a two-week old colicky baby, AND I was in the midst of some pretty horrible post-partum depression, which then developed into some paralyzing panic attacks. Sure, moving to a new city sounds good! Let’s do it!

I told myself we were only going for a couple of years, and then we’d move back, although I knew in my heart that wouldn’t be the case. It did help me avoid many goodbyes though, so I went with it. Turns out I suck at goodbyes. Still do. Fortunately, now the world is much smaller, and I have learned that the friends I’m meant to keep, I will keep, no matter where they are, or how far away from them I am. At the time, though, it helped me a lot to think and say it wasn’t a permanent move.

Every time I drove back to Springfield, which was a lot because of the always-growing number of Chestnuts who still live there, I’d see the capitol dome and get a stomach ache because I missed living where I had been so happy. Then one day, after about two years, I realized I felt like a visitor to Springfield, that Champaign County was my home, and I actually was happy.

So, I know I can do this. I will make friends, and I’m not worried about that anyway, because I already have incredible friends. I will find new doctors, new restaurants, new shortcuts, new parks, new stores, other fun places to go, blah, blah. I can do it! And I have the added benefit of my grandsons (and their parents) being just 20 minutes away. No more three-hour drives. I’ll be 20 minutes down the road. AND I’ll be 50-ish minutes to an airplane that can take me to whichever city Lindsay happens to reside in on whatever day.

Love you, Champaign County, and especially Mahomet. I really do. You were good to us all. I will have fond memories of you, just as I do of Springfield, but I know it’s time. So, here’s to the next adventure….