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Monthly Archives: February 2016

What will you do with your one extra day?

Making a birthday cake — A Netflix original series

God bless the babysitters

Tomorrow, a person who changed the entire trajectory of my life celebrates a birthday (and so does my husband).

I met the person I’m talking about when she was about 15-years old. Eerily calm and consistently capable, she unfrazzled my life and reintroduced me to the profound joy of solitary pursuits.

Her name is Jenny Flannery-Bosin and she was our family’s first babysitter.

My husband and I had our first child when we were 23-years old and, despite clear and growing evidence that we were winging the whole parenting thing, those babies just kept coming.

I remember thinking with mounting panic as we packed up our oldest son and prepared to remove him from the safe confines of his hospital bassinet, “Are you mad? This sweet, squirmy little thing is our precious child! You can’t be sending him home with us! We have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.”

My husband spent that whole first night sitting at the foot of our bed, staring at the little bugger, asleep in our hand-me-down crib.

“I don’t think we have to watch him while he sleeps,” I offered helpfully, though, frankly, I wasn’t sure either.

We never used a pacifier on any of our first three children, because we didn’t know they existed. We didn’t know about baby sitters either, not really.

I’m not even sure what divine intervention occurred to bring Jenny into our lives but, one day, there she stood on the bright yellow linoleum of our weird kitchen floor, smiling and holding one little baby, as the two others circled near.

“So, I’m going to leave then,” I said, edging my way to the door. “And you’re going to..?”

“I’ll take them to the park,” she said.

I high-tailed it out to the car before she could change her mind.

And, here’s the really beautiful thing, the next time I asked? She came back.

In fact, until she left for college, an act of betrayal from which I am still recovering, Jenny consistently babysat my three oldest kids. They looked forward to her visits as much as I did, which made my escapes blissfully guilt free.

God bless the babysitters.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Jenny grew up, became a teacher, a wife and a wonderful mother to three adorable boys.

I feel lucky all over again as I see her pictures scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. They show her and her boys picking apples, building snowmen, making crafts and doing all the things I know she did with my lucky children all those years ago.

I want to take this opportunity to wish Jenny a Happy Birthday and to say thanks for the rescue.

You brightened our world.

Flannery-Bosin family

Here’s our former babysitter with her boys. It has been no surprise to us that Jenny grew up to be a wonderful teacher, wife and mother.

Jenny Flannery Christmas ornament

We gave her this ornament many years ago because she was the first best babysitter we ever had. She set the bar and we were lucky enough to have some wonderful babysitters after she left. (Apparently, Jenny is still more organized than I because when I asked if she could send me a picture of the ornament we gave her some 20 years ago, she responded within 10 minutes with this shot.)

Bigger Beauty and the Beasts

God bless the babysitters because these three kept us hopping until Molly came along to keep us all in line.

 

 

 

 

On milestones and brothers who marry well

My sister in-law wears elegance like a hand-spun silk scarf that, casually tossed over her right shoulder, lands with perfect flair every single time.

You see it in her home which could, on an ordinary Monday, provide plenty of perfect photos for a House Beautiful spread.

On questions of style, we always Ask Robin.

“What should I wear that gala thing Saturday night?”

Ask Robin.

“Where should I hang this picture?”

Ask Robin.

“Shoes or boots?”

Ask Robin.

We’re as grateful for her style, as we are for her substance.  She and my brother are teaming up to raise four uncommonly beautiful children on sweet dreams, competitive drive and deep belly laughs.

A passionate volunteer, Robin recently spearheaded a fundraising campaign for “Shelter from the Storm,” to build a women and children’s shelter in her home town. A savvy businesswoman, she and her mother Ricki developed a company that sold knitting patterns. She also has worked with my brother Mike to build his corporation, which now includes three companies in 12 locations.

Perhaps due to the crazy pace of her daily schedule, Robin also works out hard. She invited me to her Body Pump class one Saturday morning. I selected my weights like a fool.

“Are you sure you want to start with those?” Robin asked politely.

“I think I’m good,” I shrugged.

One hour later, I painfully made my way out to my car. My hands shook as I lifted my car key and tried to insert it into the ignition.

Robin knocked on my car window.

“Thanks for coming down,” she said cheerfully, not a drop of sweat on her brow. “Great class, huh?”

“So great,” I said with the very last of my breath.

Today, as Robin celebrates a milestone birthday, we want to wish her the happiest of days and tell her how grateful we are that nearly 22 years ago, she said, “I do.”

Robin and Trenette

I think this picture, which I shot at a Packer tailgate earlier this year, captures Robin’s sense of fun.

William and Robin

More shenanigans with my sister in-law Robin and former Packer running back William Henderson.

Robin and mom

Robin and her mother in-law, Grandma Peggy, during a Thanksgiving tailgate this year.

Robin and the girls

I like this picture of Robin, Molly, and her cousins Rachel and Olivia, also taken at Thanksgiving this year.

kostelnik girls

But this is my favorite picture of Robin, on the beach with her daughters Olivia, Hannah and Rachel, at my sister Kathy’s wedding rehearsal. Such beauty, right?

 

Accidental blessings

Gender Equality and that special place in Hell

Molly likes to dress as Rosie the Riveter on spirit days at school. For one thing, the costume is easy. For another, it reflects her passion for gender equality and, lastly, it gives her a reason to wear bright red lipstick and a matching red bow.

Last year, she and her friend Ella launched a Gender Equality Club at Appleton North High School.

An essay she wrote explains her passion for the cause.

“Just as there is no male equivalent to bitch or ho, there is no male equivalent to ditz, or dumb-blond. It’s just harder to call a boy dumb than it is a girl,” she wrote. “Gender issues are easy to ignore. If an article keeps ping ponging across your news-feed, you can simply scroll past it. If a video circles through Tumblr, you don’t have to watch it. If you don’t see it happen, it doesn’t.”

More than 60 students showed up for the Gender Equality Club’s first meeting and it has only picked up steam since then. The club hosts provocative discussions, like one on gender equality in religion that featured dual presentations by a Hindu high school student and an octogenarian Catholic nun.

Because she pays such close attention to these issues, Molly, who dressed as Gloria Steinem for Halloween last year, immediately brought the now famously unfortunate comments by Ms. Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright to my attention prior to them showing up all over every single social media account I monitor.

Steinem suggested that young female voters were supporting Bernie Sanders because “when you’re young you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ and the boys are with Bernie.” Meanwhile, at a Clinton rally, Albright suggested there was a special place in hell for women who didn’t support Hillary.

As off-putting as the comments were, their implication that women owed Hillary Clinton their vote merely by virtue of their shared gender did trigger great conversations, much like the one between my daughter and me.

We discussed the role gender plays in politics. I told her I even disagreed with Madame Secretary Albright’s later explanation of her “special place in hell” remark, in which she called the election of a female president “previously inconceivable.”

But I was born in 1964, I told Molly, and I never, ever found the notion of a female president inconceivable.

Molly turns 18 in August and is very anxious to cast that first ballot. I’m thrilled that she’ll be able to vet candidates according to her own standards, and vote her scruples not her sex.

Molly as Rosie the Riveter

Molly likes to dress as Rosie the Riveter because it’s an easy costume and she can wear red lipstick. She’s also a passionate advocate for gender equality.

Kathy and Gloria Steinem

She dressed as Gloria Steinem for Halloween.

The oldest alumnae on the court

Presidentine’s Day and the fine art of mothering a comedienne

I am the proud mother of a sketch comedienne, which means I get to laugh every day.

Honestly.

Text messages crack me up. Phone calls make me snicker and don’t even get me started on the emails.

I get to see scripts before they become shows, and then I get to sit in audiences of admittedly varying sizes and laugh with them.

Oh sure, there’ve been less than comfortable times —  jokes that grandma shouldn’t hear, lines that require explanations, ambitious daughters who yearn to succeed and seek advice I can’t offer.

But comfort can be overrated, and lives without risk are boring. So, I thank God every day that I gave birth to a woman brave enough to put herself out there, and talented enough to do it well.

Katherine’s days are long, she works a regular job, teaches theatre games to children in a homeless shelter, attends early morning boot camp fitness classes, writes and performs weekly, and sees lots of shows in the extremely active Chicago theatre community.

I try not to think about the late night Ubers and early morning walks. But those days are also fulfilling and that same Chicago community has introduced her to some of the kindest people I know.

This week, Pure & Weary released its sixth video in a monthly series I’ve genuinely enjoyed. This video is edgy and I had to remind myself as I watched it, that my little peanut is a grown woman.

We watched it several times and guess what? Each time? We laughed.

Treat yourself to a little Presidentine’s Day humor. It’s all in good fun.

Baby Katherine

Awwww. This little peanut has been making us laugh since the day she was born.

Pure and Weary 14

Pure & Weary performed to a full house at this year’s Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival.

Sketchfest group shot

And, lucky I got to be there too. It turned out to be a Girls’ Night Out with Katherine’s aunts from both sides of the family and her cousin Lizzy. 

 

A Moveable Feast

I tasted Hemingway through the sugar cane straw of my perfect mojito last week and I may never be the same.

No matter that it was three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and I was the only member of my party to imbibe, that lime pulp danced on my taste buds like a wily marlin on the cool blue sea and I savored it as long as I could.

Later, we strolled through Miami’s Little Havana and feasted on the glorious colors there.

A wise old marketer sat on a bench outside his cigar shop and smoked, luring patrons in with the scent of his fat stogie and the winked promise of crusty stories. A line snaked out a famous ice cream shop and, across the street, serious gamers sat in the crowded Domino Park studiously ignoring (or covertly posing for) passing tourists assembled there.

Bright street art covered happy walls, and painted roosters stood sentry everywhere.

I followed our able tour guide, my nephew and fellow blogger Robert, through the neighborhood, cell phone camera cocked and ready to record. Again, I could have spent days exploring the food and shops, but we had a schedule to keep (and a Miami Heat game to attend), so we pressed on.

Later that night, we exited the American Airlines Arena and saw Miami’s Freedom Tower lit up in green and orange (in honor of University of Miami president Julio Frenk’s inauguration).

I felt, for a little while, as though we had traveled to Cuba…and I really wanted another one of those muy deliciosa mimosas. Viva La Pequeña Habana!

Welcome to Little Havanna

Welcome to Little Havana, USA where painted roosters preen.

Versailles bakery

Just as I was snapping a picture from the outside of the Versailles Bakery, a famous Cuban spot, this adorable little beret-wearing tyke ran over to the window on the inside with a look of pure glee…I’m still smiling back at him.

Please take a number

And if adorable toddlers weren’t enough, just look at the spread of Cuban baked goods!

Mojito

I really should have just shot that unbelievable mojito, which you see hiding shyly behind my bowl of bean soup. I thought it would be more socially acceptable, though, to include my Sunday lunch. But, oh my! That mojito…

Table shot

The requisite table shot, which I tried to take in the ubiquitous Versailles Restaurant mirrors. I’m not sure this shot was a success, but the people in it are some of my faves. 

Street art

But I did love this shot of a Little Havana street mural.

Homemade Cuban ice cream

Homemade Cuban ice cream.

Domino Park

The game is serious in Domino Park.

Waiting for a game

This dapper gentleman was waiting for a game.

Cuban Cigars

How about this marketing ploy? You sit outside your Cuban tobacco shop, smoking a giant cigar and chatting up the ladies? Rough work, and this guy does it every day.

Freedom Tower

I liked the look of this yellow cab at the base of Miami’s Freedom Tower, which is considered the Ellis Island of the South. 

Florida and its amazing technicolor dreamcoat

Even more than the sunshine, our friends south of the Mason Dixon line seem to be hording the crayons this time of year.

With mango tango sunrises, mountain meadow water, cerulean skies and jungle green palm trees places like Florida wrap their mitts around the 120 count box, while up here in the Midwest, we’re stuck with a couple fat stubs — white, black and gray.

That’s why a quick trip to Florida can be such a feast for the eyes. We pale Midwesterners emerge from southbound planes and cars squinting like Cool Hand Luke after 30 days in the box.

“The light! The light!”

We stumble around a little, slap on a thick layer of sunscreen, and venture forth.

That’s what I did anyway.

Following a morning rain,  I grabbed my camera on our last day in Florida and went for a walk, giddy with the opportunity to document all of that color reflected in warm rain puddles.

I couldn’t bring the crayons home, though it’s always miraculous when the colors slowly find their way back to Wisconsin.

But, I did score a picture or two and, on dull, gray afternoons, I’ll close my eyes, draw back the curtain, to see for certain what I thought I knew…Florida and its amazing technicolor dreamcoat.

Palm trees reflection

I loved the reflection of the palm trees in the rain puddle. Can you spot me in this photo?

Racing reflection

This racing themed home, with its fancy gate, also made a cool reflection in the rain puddle.

Reflection in an alley

That’s the beach on the far side of this alley. I just thought the perspective and the puddle were cool.

Reflection in orange

An amazing technicolor dreamcoat of a house.

Short's Beach

I loved this colorful direction sign on the beach and the fact that this raft rested near it. Check out the boats in the distance too. I liked the whole composition of this frame.

Sunrise in Florida

I sat on an empty beach one morning shooting the sunrise. I’ve seen better sunrise pictures (mostly from my brother in-law Chip) but I did like the boat on the horizon and the glorious color of the sky.

The grandma and the kite

And, speaking on colors, I enjoyed watching this grandma and her twin granddaughters fly this colorful kite on the beach after the rain.