Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Morphing into Manhood

Today my Baby turns twelve.


Twelve. Eleven doesn't sound that old, but twelve sure does.


I've watched him morph before my very eyes, especially during the past four months. I've seen this phenomenon before with the confirmation kids at our church. From sixth to seventh grade, the boys become small men, and by eighth grade they all tower over me. Not fair! At the beginning of the school year, pants off the rack reached beyond my boy's toes. So I took them to the cleaners to be altered so the child would have something suitable to wear to Middle School.


Two weeks later I listened for tsunami warnings as he left the house each morning.


Here he is in August.

And now. Hello, Man-child! Where did those shoulders come from?

I offered him three options to celebrate his birthday:


1.  Attend a Blackhawks game with an adult of his choice,
2.  Have a birthday party so he can act like a wild monkey with his friends, or
3.  Dine at a fancy restaurant with his family.


My maternal influences continue to seep into his psyche. My brilliant son chose a fancy family dinner at the Capital Grille. The day of our dinner, I ran some errands in the morning and came home around noon to find him dressed - in black pants and dress shoes, mind you - and ready for dinner.


"Um, Hon, you know that dinner is about six hours away, right?"
"Yep.  I know.  I just want to be ready on time."


So there he sat, looking at the clock all afternoon, willing time to move faster so he could dive into some delectable lobster macaroni and cheese.


Response at dinner when I asked him how he liked his meal:

And the four of us, compliments of our lovely server, Ashley.

Homeboy cracks us all up daily. Last night we worked out as a family at our local gym. Jake wants to bulk up, Kahley wants to tone up, Mr. Musky wants a full body workout, and I wander around the place aimlessly wondering when it's time to go home and eat dinner and drink wine.


This morning, Jake announced: "My boobs hurt."
"Oh honey, that's because you did so many chest weights."
Mr. Musky:  "Are you gonna start your period?"
Yep - that's how we roll before 7:00 a.m.


Jake walked upstairs, and said the same to Kahley.  "My boobs hurt."
"Are you going to start your period?"


I kid you not. And there was no way she heard her father just seconds earlier. The apples don't fall far from the trees around here. Meanwhile, I'm fighting like mad to hold my coffee down vs. spewing it all over the living room as I stifle the giggles.


Kahley: "Better check your underwear."


Lord, Help me.


Tonight, the birthday boy has but two requests. To stay in as a family and eat Pepperoni Pizza Soup, his annual request on every Winter Solstice.


Happy Birthday, my little clown. I love you, your goofy nature and your excellent choice in birthday celebrations. And I love that thing you do with your eyebrow that makes us all laugh.
I even love you when you pull your shirt up over your head and do the belly roll at Grandma's Thanksgiving dinner table.

XO,
Jen

Monday, November 21, 2011

Anniversary Weekend

Mr. Musky and I celebrated our wedding anniversary last Saturday with a weekend trip that exceeded our expectations,  starting off with a two hour drive south past innumerable farms while watching a beautiful sunset.
Saturday we kicked the morning off where we first met over 20 years ago. I am forever grateful to my big brother, who scored me a fake ID so I wouldn't have to sit home alone in my dorm room on my first day of college.

Oh - and for introducing me to a certain someone at one of the oldest drinking establishments on campus.
But not the oldest. My father saw me throw back my first beer at the distinguished Illini Inn. He claims it was a bit difficult. Wonder why it's not an issue now?

Kappa Sigma's looking good. On the outside, at least.

And the Pi Phis are as sweet as ever. So is this edifice I called home for three years. We are brave, we are bold...I know some of you know the rest, but I'll leave that out for now.
On to the tailgate party, where we were honored and priveliged to celebrate another milestone - our friends' father's 70th birthday. The brightest of this fabulous family is loyal to our beloved Alma Mater, but others hail from some other school situated north of the state line. And the Birthday Boy remains impartial, at least in terms of the shirt he dons.

These parents are among the best I've ever known. It was such a treat to celebrate with them.
Their kids are a riot...
...and their extended family just flat out rocks.

Our kids had a blast the entire weekend, and proudly represented the Orange and Blue. With a little red and black mixed in.
Thank Goodness they had a little help from Mr. Musky's cousin, who is a sophomore, and some of his friends.
As game time approached, we giggled at the Camp Randall Jump Around efforts. Or at older sisters who can still beat up little brothers without punishment from Mom and Dad.


Followed by the a message from the smart little brother to his Badger relatives.
Mr. Musky roomed with this gem his senior year, and the stories are numerous, outrageous and hysterical. We enjoyed digging some of them out of the vault over the weekend.

On to the game, which was every bit as fun as it was when we were undergrads.

Surprise - another fraternity brother walking into Memorial Stadium!
Um...yeah. Our seats were never this great when we were poor college students.
Coach Zook. Should he stay or should he go?
Great way to show that Illini spirit.
I still get goosebumps listening to the Three in One and will go to my grave saying there is nothing better than singing Hail to the Orange linked arm-in-arm with your comrades at halftime. But it just is not the same without Chief Illiniwek.
 
Thanks again, Brother Bear, for paving the way for me at the University of Illinois and for introducing me to your punky, younger friend. 

I'm off to bed to enjoy a day I've been looking forward to since October when that aforementioned Match Maker announced that his family would be flying in for Thanksgiving this year. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a story or two to report after paying homage to the Turkey later today.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I am truly grateful for every one of you who read my nonsense.

XO,
Jen


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Snowmobiling Mamas

Most definitely, there needs to be another girls weekend at the cabin.  One of the winter varietal.


We could channel our inner Sacajawea, snowshoeing through the tundra to our destinies with the beautiful Star (aka doggie below) as our guide.
I'm sure Drunk Lady Beach is just as much fun in winter as in summer. Ice Hole would help.
We could transform ourselves into greek goddesses, drinking in the nectar of the gods from Botas.
Or have squat contests while balancing champagne glasses on party horns.
Rather than consuming the weight of a small child in dip noshing, we could actually visit a local supper club for a respectable meal.
Then provide unparalleled entertainment on horse-drawn sleigh rides through the woods at no additional charge for the customers. 
We could always plow through the trails on vintage snowmobiles turning heads everywhere with our stunning beauty and headgear.
Or hit the slopes, attempting to maintain the integrity of all our limbs.
Shoot, I could even make a gorilla appear out of nowhere bearing bedtime pina coladas and cookies.


Yes, there most definitely should be a winter version of Sugar Camp Girls Gone Wild.


You in?


Happy Friday, people!


XO,
Jen

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Feeling Stupid, and Shenanigan #4

Since I left my job I oftentimes feel, in a single word, Stupid.

Let me first set the stage. Before my last day, there was a significant degree of synching and transferring of files, contacts, and calendar entries from my work PC to my Mac. At the same time, we upgraded the software on all of our home computers, not to mention Apple's latest software version for the beloved iPhone. All of which combined results in a maddening hindrance as I attempt to shift the focus in my cranium from the left side to the right to approach my new career.

Here's the problem - when it comes to mastering products displaying a minimalist little apple missing a chunk, I might as well be dropped into the middle of Shanghai and told to get home. It took me about a month to use my fingertips vs. nails on the iPhone. I allow new software to sit for a year on my desk, petrified that I won't know how to install the crap let alone effectively master it once it resides on my machine, despite my eleven-year-old's incessant, incredulous remarks and blank stares. I acknowledge these technical shortcomings, so I happily turned all things Mac over to Mr. Musky. He graciously provides me with daily updates, such as: "I put your calendar on iCloud, so now all of your devices will be synched up, regardless of where you enter the event."

I just stare back at him in grateful, stunned silence, convinced yet again that I chose the perfect life-partner.

As I type this on the Sunday morning after we fell back on our clocks, I realize that for some inexplicable computer-nerd reason, the clock on my MacBook is not displaying the right time. It's not off by an hour, but by merely 20 minutes. Mr. Musky very confidently advises me that I don't have it set up correctly and do I want him to fix it for me?

No. I do not want him to fix it for me. Surely I can figure out how to set the correct time on an electronic device. Or can I? After receiving an upgrade to my digital camera this summer, I wondered why the debaucheries of girls weekend were found snuggled between images of my daughter's second birthday and my son as a cuddly infant. Eventually I realized that the clock was never configured, which took me a few days and several references to the 400 page user manual to remedy.

So given my success with the camera, I most certainly can fix the Mac. I thoughtfully consider which icon to choose for clock settings. While Dashboard contains a clock but doesn't appear to provide a way to set it, I click on the next logical choice. System Preferences.

30 icons stare back at me.

How on God's Green Earth am I supposed to choose the right one to change the time on my bloody clock?

I graze over them all for several minutes. Again, my lovely husband is lazily relaxing on the couch with no idea what I'm trying to do. He would impatiently have resolved the issue immediately.

First choice - after something in the depths of my long-term memory whisper to me that Time Machine really has nothing to do with today's time and date, I select General. Seems reasonable, and generic enough. General proves to include all sorts of groovy things to do with your machine...but alas, I hear the Family Feud Buzzer and see a big red X on the screen in front of me.

Guess again. Sheesh. Two more strikes before managing something each of my children could have accomplished at the age of three in no less than thirty seconds.

Mail, contacts and calendar? Nah, seems too specific. Mission Control? Yep, that's gotta be it. I open Mission Control, because space travel certainly requires the right time and date.

BUZZZZ...strike two. No...that would be the controller of the nifty "corner" doodad thing that Mr. Musky so helpfully installed that still freaks me out when I move the cursor to the upper lefthand corner and all my work vanishes. I begin sweating under my pits and tasting bile in my mouth because I'm not an adept computer user, and I flashback to my Senior year in college when I had to race to the Beckman Institute to beg a computer wizard to find my final paper on a floppy disc because everything crashed and I was going to fail my class requiring a fifth year of education I had no way of paying for and if he could just recall my work I would be forever grateful and...HE DID!  I breathlessly kissed him on his stunned face and told him he saved my life and ran off to go print the damned thing and graduate.

Anxiety builds. It's been over 10 minutes, and between looking at that foreign language otherwise known as System Preferences and schizophrenically worrying about asking my fifty thousandth moronic computer question, I still have the incorrect time on my machine.  I take a deep breath, knowing that I absolutely do not want Mr. Musky to walk over here and fix this sophomoric problem with one click of the mouse.  I look at the loathsome icons again.

AH - DATE AND TIME!

Duh. This is just one example of about 3492 ways that I've felt completely imbecilic and incapable over the past four weeks. How am I supposed to pursue a career relying on a Mac when I can't understand the new software, the 'hot corners' leave me with a fight or flight response every time I lose my work, two instances for every calendar entry madly appear on the screen, and AM mystically replaces PM for those duplicate calendar entries?  Like I'm really going to be driving to clarinet lessons at 3:00 AM.  Not to mention the fact that I almost missed those clarinet lessons and DID miss a child's dental appointment the first week I no longer lived by a schedule previously ruled by 7:00 am conference calls followed by back-to-back meetings morphing into evening dinners with clients and co-workers. A schedule that I never, ever flubbed up.

All of this fretfulness left me wondering. Am I truly stupid? Did I make the wrong choice?

One of the things that I have not botched in this past month is some serious make-up sessions with my kitchen. I'm rocking out numerous dishes, including fried chicken, sausage and roasted red pepper soup, pumpkin bars, homemade gyros with tzaziki sauce (OK - Mr. Musky helped on that one), cheddar-chive-bacon-buttermilk biscuits from scratch, perfectly roasted and seasoned rack of lamb, and I could go on and on and on. The beauty of all this cooking? Our family is dining, at home, with a prayer before digging in, for 95% of the evenings since I left my job. We're engaging in enlightening conversation, laughing daily and growing closer over the dinners I'm pouring my passion into.

While feeling extraordinarily doltish one afternoon for not being able to figure out how to simply fetch a photo from Aperture and load it back onto an SD card, I retreat to where I'm more intellectually adept to prepare dinner. I physically relax as I sip on a glass of vino, start chopping the trinity, smiling as I move to garlic. The garlic alone, once smashed and releasing its aroma..takes me back to...

...I pause mid-chop, put down my chef's knife, empowered with another significant revelation for The Shenanigans of Boys. Mr. Musky rarely displays this brainlessness with which I've become so obsessed. In fact, he seems to know something about most everything - at least enough to make him appear knowledgable on any subject. I quickly scan my memory over his two closest friends. Yep - neither of them ever appear stupid...on the surface.

Shenanigan #4 - Boys treat areas where they possess lessened intelligence like the plague to make it seem as though they are intellectually superior; however, they eventually botch something up and when they do, it's on a colossal scale.

Exhibit 1 - As newlyweds, Mr. Musky and I mistakenly assumed that garlic was the end-all, be-all spice. We used it in every dish we cooked. We even walked miles in San Francisco once to visit the Stinking Rose Restaurant where garlic stars in every menu item. We love the bulbous herb so much that Mr. Musky once tried his hand at Garlic Soup. The recipe called for pureeing the soup to ensure the proper consistency. My brilliant, tech savvy husband dumped the soup into the blender, popped on the lid and jabbed "ice crush" figuring that a velocity of 240 miles per hour would most effectively pulverize the concoction for quickest consumption.

What he failed to recognize is that PV=nRT, where:

P is the pressure of the gas,
V is the volume it occupies,
n is the amount of gas there is,
R is a scientific constant, and
T is the temperature of the gas in degrees Kelvin

The lid of the blender rocketed to the ceiling and the steamy soup sprayed over every square inch of the kitchen. He claims he was most agitated that we had to order out, but I think he felt sheepish for not recalling a most basic Chemistry lesson. And for having to mop up on an empty stomach.

But at least he can still catch fish.


Exhibit 2 - one of Mr. Musky's fishing buddies, the world's most competent Boy Scout Poster Child, is always prepared for anything. He's the person you want with you if you ever have a real-life Survivor challenge, because a small army can survive out of the contents of his backpack for months. I can honestly say that I've never seen him commit a significant blunder. I almost always feel intellectually inferior around him, but now come to think of it, we rarely discuss literature. Maybe I'd school him there. Or perhaps in a karaoke competition. But definitely not in the aforementioned science lesson, and certainly not in corporate consulting on technical applications that catapult an organization ahead of their competition.

I may beat him when it comes to cleaning though. Especially a fireplace. See, this dear friend went to clean out the fireplace of his newly purchased home for the first time, and the conniving ShopVac didn't cooperate. When he pressed the power button, ash from the fireplace careened all over his beautiful, kid-free, pristine family room, into his facial cavities, down his lungs and all over the rest of his body and the first floor of his model home. The Boy Scout forgot the simplest rule of Shop Vac use - when capturing debris vs. moving it, use suck, not blow.

That's ok.  He's still a good Boy Scout, and can catch muskies with the best of them.


Exhibit 3 - the Moby Dick of Mr. Musky's friends, who can school any other human on wine parings, consumption, origin, complexity, history, etc. He'll inquire about every course of a dinner party to insure the proper wine is served. He's in his element on Boys Week at the cabin because fishing is Moby's other great passion in life. He's the most intransigent angler I know, abandons his family on vacations to become one with the sea much to his wife's chagrin, and would fish with a cane pole outfitted with a dough ball if he had to.

All geeked up on the first day of fishing a few years ago, this scene proved just too much for Moby.

Not able to contain his excitement, Moby ventured onto the dock as the sun rose for a head start on the day's activities, launching a few casts while Mr. Musky and the Boy Scout lingered over  coffee. About to ready himself for the day, Mr. Musky paused at the big sliding glass door to drink in the serenity of the lake while checking up on Moby's morning luck. What he saw next about made him spit out his coffee and gesticulate to Boy Scout to join in viewing the ridiculousness playing out below. Moby inexplicably dropped his rod and reel into the lake. Incredulous, Mr. Musky and Boy Scout shook in relentless laughter at their good friend's misfortune. They then rolled with uncontrollable guffaws as Moby lay down on his belly, reaching for that rod....reaching.....reaching....

...only to roll right off the dock into the lake. The very chilly 40 degree lake with every last ounce of his cold-weather fishing gear attached to his body.

Ah...such passion. All for a little bit of this - certainly not his personal best as recorded here, but the prettiest one, in my opinion.

Again, I've never seen Mr. Moby do anything so foolish. Shoot - he rarely talks - confirming my suspicions about Shenanigan #4. If a boy isn't the expert on the subject, he remains silent to avoid appearing a dimwit.

Moby and Boy Scout and Mr. Musky - I'd like to personally thank each of you. For making me feel better about myself if only for a blissful moment in my cozy kitchen while your hysterical stories remind me that we are all stupid once in awhile.

Now I gotta run to figure out some Photoshop software...see you next year...maybe.

XOXO,
Jen

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Very Proper Send-off

One of my last actions working in Corporate America was to send an email to the hundreds of people I was privileged to work with over the past twelve years. I received countless replies, and forwarded every single one of them to my personal email address to pull up and read on a rainy day.

It's raining today.

I re-read every message this morning, grateful for the friends and acquaintances I've made over the years. How do you say goodbye to people who you've worked and played with for over ten years? It is not easy. And luckily for me, I simply had to announce that Dim Sum was something I'd always wanted to try, and consistently demonstrate that I love me a good party. The rest, when you have fabulous friends like I'm blessed to have, all falls into place. Having phenomenal current and former team members who also love to party certainly helps.

Mama Bear joined me for my final day at work. Yes, I know it's weird to declare "Bring your Mother to Work Day." But I highly encourage you all to do it. Your Mamas love you and want to meet your friends. She made me laugh at the Naperville train station as I was listening to a conference call, no less. Before we even had a cup of coffee in our hands to await an express train into Chicago, she announced, "I could never in a million years do this every day." I replied: "Try it nine months pregnant."  I sure am glad I had my children in another lifetime when I commuted daily downtown.

My final day would not have been complete without her there. 
Nor would that first martini at the bar have tasted as delicious, just her and me, before the crowd arrived.
I was elated the entire last month of work, primarily to move forward in a new and exciting direction in my life. The message from my peers was consistently similar. A variation of "I'm thrilled for you" and in the same sentence, "I'm jealous." I wish I could take them all with me.

Some of the people were with me from the beginning of time. Or at least when I started my career at MCI over seventeen years ago, just two weeks after graduating from college.

Others were blessings dropped to me along the way, perhaps to work a single deal...

...provide encouragement along the way...
...or handle hairy customer escalations with grace, even traveling with me to smooth things over.
David Mikols - I'm holding you to it! When you travel the world you will be my guest blogger to share the highlights!

Some complained that they've seen this movie before when I left to stay home when the kids were little but ended up coming back to work 18 months later. Let's just say that the stay-at-home-mom gig was not for me, but there's no doubt about this writing venture. Regardless, I'm glad these gems got their hall passes in order to come out on a rainy, humid night. At least they didn't experience a bad hair night. Unlike yours truly. 

I've worked with some for years,


















And others for just a short time.

Some ventured out to say goodbye to me even though they moved on in their own careers. A testament to how an employer can bring people together resulting in beautiful friendships to bloom and prosper.


Meet my Work Husband, who I can easily sum up in a single yet multidimensional word: Snarky.

He really is charming.
Not to mention great at giving delightfully entertaining going away presents.

And he keeps a concubine. But we Work Wives all get along in our effort to guide him to prudent choices, which can be difficult for single men in the Windy City. In return, we never pay for our own drinks or dinners or carry our own bags when traveling with the Work Husband. It's a very lucrative deal for all involved. Meet my partner in crime, one of the other kept women.

Every hug given, kiss exchanged and topic discussed with each individual was a golden moment that night. But it's extra sweet when a customer walks in the door. This one offered to be my bodyguard in my new career. He'll definitely have the right of first refusal.

None of this would have been as sweet if Mr. Musky hadn't joined me. And while he's not the fete going type, he did say that he enjoyed himself, despite the disorderly nature of party communication. In his Type A world, people speak in an organized manner and don't flit from subject to subject or person to person.
Nothing a little smooch can't resolve.



Go Fighting Illini. 
Not the Badgers,

Nor the Buckeyes, 
Nor the Hawkeyes.

The gifts were a riot, very thoughtful and leave no doubt as to where I spent all these years.
I loved this - an AT&T "yearbook" signed by all (it's actually a book about the "new AT&T," published circa 2005, but signed with well wishes by all my fantastic friends).
It pays to save - my champagne choices from over a year ago, and a co-worker saved this for me so I know which bubbly to buy when the book gets published.
The dumping ground of AT&T Propaganda
More freebies - great for a good laugh!
Is that a harmonica? Nope - guess again
Lookie there. I made Employee of the Month on my last day!
Look what happens to your computer bag when you leave your employer. It gets very empty and your shoulder is saved thanks to the very lightweight iPad.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all who attended my Very Proper Send-Off. I loved chatting you all up, the hugs, kisses, well wishes and toasts.





You ALL are what I will miss most of all.

XOXO,
Jen