Trains and Markets, and Magic, Oh my

bike tire wheel window

Last weekend was without a doubt the best Memorial Day Weekend of my life.  A few weeks ago, the “big kids” surprised me and purchased their own plane tickets to come visit me in Pennsylvania.

We started something new during Christmas travels; we now depend on SEPTA and New Jersey Transit for train transportation to and from the airport. It’s awesome because instead of spending time on I95 or the New Jersey Turnpike, I can clean like a mad woman up until the very last moment. Katie texted me two stops early so there would be no risk that she’d have to wait in the rain at the train-stop.

Somehow I managed to stay awake long enough to pick Jeff and Justin up from Trenton Transit Station. I’d like to say it was an uneventful drive, but apparently my daughter and I have a different vocabulary when it comes to driving directions and we almost ended up headed to NYC instead of Philly.

Saturday was a kick back day, the kids went to the mall and played games while I prepared the meals that had been requested for the weekend menu.  As always enchiladas were at the top of the list.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and I was happy to wait for a few minutes for the train and take some pictures on the platform. I always laugh when I look at pictures of my kids and me.  I’m so much shorter  than them and they’re so much fairer than me it’s sometimes hard to see the family resemblance.

wating for the train with my kids

I probably shouldn’t have let Katie sit on the edge of the platform with her feet resting on the tracks, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture. Maybe it was my way of making up for not letting her eat dirt when she was little. (that’s a funny story)

waiting for the train with feet on the tracks

Apparently my children are never too old to play complicated versions of Paddy Cake.  They  make me laugh out loud.

Grown people Playing Paddy Cake

Our first destination was Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street. It’s over 3,000 square feet of mosaic art and the walls are covered with shiny glass and mirrors from floor to ceiling, both inside and out.

Philadelphia Magic Garden outside wall

The second floor was a perfect place to check text messages and send funny pictures.

texting in the magic garden

I wonder what if the walls of the artist’s home are covered in tile and mirrors as well.

It was a great location for a mother and daughter picture.

045

The plan was to go to the Italian Market on South Street after the Magic Garden, the only problem was that I didn’t know the name of the market. The Italian Street  Market is lined with shops and stores of all kinds. It’s like taking a step back in time to the days before grocery stores and malls.

We’d been there a couple of Christmases ago on a walking tour, but the only thing any of us could remember was that it was on South Street. (I can’t believe I’ve never written about it the walking tour)

I made up my mind that it was called the South Street Market and so that’s what we set off to find. After a mile and change, we reached the South Street Supermarket on the corner of South Street and something. It was pretty obvious we were in the wrong place. Everyone whipped out their smart phones and fired up Google.

Within a few minutes we discovered that the Magic Gardens is two blocks away from where we had intended to go. We were limited on time (lasagna was waiting for us at home) so I suggested we take cabs to the Italian Market. I was instantly overruled and the kids voted to continue our impromptu tour of the city and head toward the Gelato shop.

It was Justin’s first trip to Philly and he wanted to make the trip complete with a Philly Cheese Steak. We’re not sure why, but Yelp led us to Di Bruno Bros and there were no Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. On the plus side, they did have the gourmet cheese spread that we’d hoped to buy at a shop in the Italian Market. Score!

A few blocks later we stumbled across an authentic Philly Cheese Steak shop and the day trip was complete. It was a day where nothing went according to plan, but everything turned out just right.

Superbowl V – A Championship Year

Five years ago today, I boarded a plane in Omaha, Nebraska and landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was a bittersweet day and one that set in motion a series of changes in my life that I never could have foreseen.

“Did you land safely?” he asked.

“Yep, I’m about to head north to Bensalem and I’ll check into the hotel,”

The conversation paused while the wave of applause and cheers subsided.

“Wow, sounds like it’s quite a party.  I can’t believe I’m missing it,” I said.

“I know first time in almost twenty years, hopefully you can find somewhere to watch the game and enjoy it.  Good luck on the new job tomorrow, give me a call and let me know how it goes. I’d better get back to the game and guests,” he replied.

The first day at my new job included introductions to my new staff, a tour of my new apartment (which looked nothing like the pictures online), and an outburst of tears when I discovered the fact that I’d improperly packed senior pictures and they were covered with scratches.

Five years later I’m writing this from my new office, which is located at the top of my stairs.

15_linkedin and a whole new world

The pups are in their place, sleeping soundly at my feet while I type away – the clicks on the keyboard are a constant sound in the house.

19_my assitants romeo and annie

It would be easy for me to look at the past five years and say that moving was a bad idea.  A near foreclosure, major changes in family status, and the helplessness I felt when we first moved as I watched my youngest son experience severe growing pains in a completely unfamiliar environment top the list.

There were times when I felt like moving boxes was a bigger challenge than moving mountains.

ceiling to floor boxes
ceiling to floor boxes

But somehow the space magically transformed into a little slice of paradise.

finishing touches

There were days I questioned myself as a parent and doubted my choices. I’ve come to learn that we all do.  The smiling faces of my beautiful children is a constant source of joy and realization that what’s important is the communication about the choices, not the decisions themselves.

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas

At the age of fifty, I learned to laugh out loud, with joy, and without embarrassment.  I began to understand that life is meant to be celebrated.

the gangs all here

I discovered the gift of writing and that the color of my soul is the sun.

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

I now know that there’s more than one way to experience a visit to the zoo.

butterfly

And a walk through the neighborhood can reveal unexpected treasures.

fred the frog
fred the frog

I’ve learned that it’s never too late to learn something new and that we all have the capacity to amaze ourselves.

029 final sunflower_cropped

I know how to “batten down the hatches” and draw strength from candles in the storm.

candle in the storm - ink drawing on handmade paper

When I started this blog a year or so ago the title “It’s a Whole New World,” was the biggest understatement of the century.

Each of the past five years has had it’s ups and downs and in one way or another they’ve been a winning season, but this past year has definitely been a championship year.  I have a feeling, the upcoming season is going to be even better.

Home Alone – A Glimpse of my Empty Nest

Colorful Ink Drawing on handmade flax paper

It’s impossible for me to believe that in just a little more than six months I am going to be an Empty Nester.

Christian is in St. Louis this weekend. He and Jeff went to a concert last night and are hanging out today.  I think it’s awesome that my kids get along so well and enjoy doing things together.

We listened to one of the band’s CD and Christian navigated us along the New Jersey Turnpike.

“So am I taking the train or are you picking me up from the airport?”  he asked.

“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.  It would be good practice for when you’re coming home from college for breaks. I’ll leave it up to you, just let me know what you decide.”

The phrase “coming home from college” caught in my throat just a bit.

He looked more ‘grown up’ than ever as he flashed his boarding pass and driver’s license for the TSA agent and he exuded the confidence of a well grounded teenager. It was as though I was watching a movie preview or looking into the future.

It’s been an adjustment each time I watched one of my kids begin their college adventure, but this time is going to be the biggest change of all.  Christian and I have been on our own for the past three years and have developed a very comfortable routine and enjoyable relationship.

I’m so happy to be among the parents who can say that they genuinely like their kids and that my kids like me back.

My nest will soon be empty and although I have some apprehension about being on my own, I’m also looking forward to exploring the next phase of my life.

Who knows what my next adventure will be?

What is More Quiet Than Quiet?

Christmas Tree In Rockerfeller Plaza

I had a very special Christmas this year.  Jeff and Katie, my two oldest kids, were both able to get the same days off over the holiday.  They both flew in on the 21st of December and we had until the 27th to enjoy being together.

I’m getting pretty creative these days when it comes to travel, and I’ve become a huge fan of taking the train any time I can.  Jeff and Katie both agreed to take the train from the airport (I really didn’t give them much of a choice). This meant that instead of trying to coordinate arrival times, airports, and costs for flights from two different cities I could focus on getting the best fare.

Things went smoothly aside from a couple of flight delays and a train stop due to a police  check and they were both here by 3 P.M.  We kicked off the weekend with a night of food and laughter with friends.

Dan, Brian, Paul, and Mary arrived on Saturday evening bearing gifts and board games.  We played Say Anything before dinner and laughed until we almost cried.  We played another game after dinner and wrapped up the evening with hugs.

We had a traditional Christmas Eve;  and although the minister attempted to draw an analogy between the movie Elf and Buddy’s use of maple syrup to the joy of Christmas, the church service was very nice.

Posing for the obligatory Christmas Eve family picture took a little more time than usual this year but in the end we decided it was worth it.

her kids on Christmas Eve

One of the things I love most about my kids is that they love being ‘kids’ they are never ‘too cool’ to be goofy and have fun together.

Katie, Christian, and Jeff on Christmas Eve

We packed in as much as we could during the week and in addition to seeing the Hobbit and Le Miz, we spent a cold and rainy afternoon in NYC.

I think it’s a good thing that we didn’t check the forecast before we left or we might have decided to stay home instead of dodging icy raindrops so we could say we’ve seen the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza.

Jeff, Katie Christian in NYCJeff, Katie Christian in NYC

I think we stayed just long enough to flag down a couple of random strangers to take our picture before we hailed a cab.  Which by they way, was the best $11.00 I’ve ever spent.

NYC in the rainy cold at Christmas

Thursday was the return travel day and filled with shuttling the kids to their destinations. I dropped Jeff off and fought back the goodbye tears until I was home.

Christian looked up when I walked in the door, “It’s so quiet.”

“I know, it’s funny how even when everyone is here, even when it’s quiet it feels like it’s not,” I said.

He nodded.

There’s a sound that is more quiet than quiet, and that’s the silent echo that bounces off the walls after a week with all of my kids.  In some ways I think it’s a sound of love.

Behind the Scenes of a PSA – Hours of Work for a Few Seconds of Fame

Christian and Chris scoping out the camera angle

I always wondered why it took so long to make a movie and figured it had more to do with the temperament of the stars than the actual process.

Christian’s assignment from his independent film study course was to create a PSA to increase the awareness of parents when it comes to alcohol usage among teens.  The filming started in early October and finished it in a series of one to two hour sessions throughout the month.

Chris and Christian had already put in hours worth of work before they arrived at the house.  They brainstormed the idea, created the story board, and carefully planned each scene.

I was under strict instructions to wear exactly the same thing for each session.  Other than the forgetting to wear my watch once (which caused a re-shoot and a production delay), that part was easy.  The more difficult part was making sure my hair and make up turned out the same each time.

The hair part was especially tough as the closer we got to being finished, the more I needed to get a cut and color.  I told them the next time we do this, I need to have a wardrobe and make up assistant.

It was really amazing to watch the boys map out each scene and figure out how to overcome the minor obstacles associated with filming at our house.  Some of the more challenging ones were lighting and odd reflections, floors that shake the camera when you walk too hard, and a couple of noisy miniature dachshunds.

For about a month, nightstand and floor lamps that could double as a spotlight were scattered throughout the house along with props for the project.  The funniest and my favorite was that pictures of my “fake” son replaced ones of my real kids while we were in production mode.

The grand finale was the scene with the police officer.  I can’t help but wonder what people were thinking when they saw the police car in my driveway for most of the afternoon.  I’m pretty sure they weren’t able to see the boys behind the camera.

Christian and Chris scoping out the camera angle

The teachers and the police officer were awesome, they let the boys run the show but also shared helpful tips and ideas. They made quite the creative team.  It was fun to have multiple cameras and to hear them talk in ‘movie making’ speak.

Police Officer, Boys, and Teachers in front of the Police Car

The officer was particularly helpful in providing insights as to how the scene would unfold and what various reactions might be.  He was an awesome co-star.

Star and Costar - Beth and Police Officer

I can’t say enough about these two young men.  They’re not only talented, they are polite, intelligent, and fun to be around.  I can honestly say I looked forward to every session and I was kind of sad when we were done.

Beth, Christian, and Chris in front of the police car

After we finished filming the final scene, the guys had some fun.  Christian and Chris had a hard time looking tough as they were put under fake arrest and escorted to the back of the squad car.

Christian and Chris trying to look tough - fake arrest

I’m not sure what was going on here, but I think it must have been something about how to fit my 6’4″ son into the car.

the guys problem solving and setting up the scene for the police car

I had to take one last picture for the day, but somehow I don’t think this will be the last picture taken of Christian in front of a media van.

Christian in front of the PHS video van

The video was released on YouTube in November after weeks of editing and tweaking.  I could be biased, but I think it’s brilliant.

The Signs Were There All Along – PSA

police car

police carI secretly wanted to be an actress.  In junior high (that’s what we called middle school back in the olden days) I was very active in the drama club and we put on plays and weekly skits at lunch time. For a variety of reasons I didn’t continue with drama in High School and by the time I went to college it seemed like pursuing a business degree made more sense.

It was the right decision, but I always wondered what it would be like to be an actress.  As a senior, Christian has the unique opportunity to participate in an independent study program focused on film.

One of his recent projects was to create a Public Service Announcement for a local organization that is focused on educating kids and parents about the risks associated with things like teenage alcohol use.  His teacher, Mr. Mahoney, teamed up Christian and Chris and gave them complete freedom to develop the storyline, coordinate production, and create the video.

“Would you be willing to be in a video for school?” Christian asked.

My ears perked up, ever since he and Jeff made the silent movie last year, I’d wanted to be in one of Christian’s video productions, “Of course I would.  What will I be doing?”

“We’re making a PSA about alcohol awareness for the Lower Makefield – Yardley – Falls – Tullytown (LYFT) organization.  Its supposed to be focused toward parents and that they need to be aware of what their kids are doing. So we’d like you to be the mom of a teenager who is drinking and you are completely oblivious.”

I looked up, “So you want me to be a bad mom for the video?”

“Not necessarily bad just unaware. Oh and by the way, I won’t be your son for the filming. So I hope its OK if we have a few pictures of Chris around the house for a while,” he replied.

We grinned at each other, “I suppose it would be hard to keep us in the same frame.  You’d either have to walk on your knees or I’d have to stand on a stool or learn how to walk on stilts.”

“Exactly,” he said.

The filming began a couple of weeks later. For the following month I looked forward to the days when I would take an afternoon break from working and became an actress. It was great fun to work with the boys and they did an excellent job of directing.

My favorite part was watching and listening as they collaborated on the scenes and figured out the best way to work around issues and get the best shot.

The final scene was surprisingly emotional to do.  The police officer that volunteered his time was super.  He provided some great insights and was extremely supportive of the boys.  We also managed to have some fun with it all.

I have to wonder what my neighbors thought when they saw a police car parked in my driveway for the better part of an afternoon. A “behind the scenes” post will be coming with lots of great pictures.

Whirlwind Weekend

Chicago in the Fall

Last weekend, I had an unprecedented experience in the long term parking lot. The shuttle bus picked up everyone but me.  I don’t know how the driver missed me, I drove right past him on my way in.  While I watched him leave the lot I called the main number (I just happen to have it stored as a contact). They were very apologetic and assured me that the next shuttle would pick me up.

Thankfully  I’d been smart enough to leave my house at 5:30 am for my 8:00 flight so while I was slightly annoyed at being left behind, there was no danger of missing my flight.  I shivered and waited for what seemed like a lot longer than 15 minutes. Finally I saw the lights of the shuttle bus.  I watched them bob and weave from one aisle to the next and for whatever reason, my row was passed by, not once – but twice.

I thought for sure the driver was going to turn right and pick me up but he kept going straight.  What baffles me even more than the fact that I’d given the dispatcher my location was the fact that it was dark and I was wearing an ivory cape and he still didn’t see me.

For the first time in my life I was glad that I have a loud and rather booming voice. I’m sure I looked like a crazy woman running from the middle of the row toward the shuttle.  Trying to wave your arms and shouting “STOP” at the top of your lungs isn’t as easy as it sounds when you’re rolling a giant purple suitcase and the straps of your laptop case and purse keep sliding down your arm.

Surprisingly, he heard me even though my starting point was the middle of a very long row of cars.  My fears about looking like a crazy woman were somewhat confirmed by the looks on the other passengers faces; either that or they were just displeased about having their exit to the airport interrupted.

The rest of my trip was smooth and even though my boarding position for my Southwest flight was B15, I still scored an aisle seat in the second row.  My bag was the first one on the carousel (that never happens) and I got a cab driver who didn’t need directions to Katie’s apartment.

I should probably mention that the purpose of my trip to Chicago was two-fold.  It worked well for my client to meet on a Monday which created an opportunity for me to mix business and pleasure and spend the weekend with my daughter.

I love the fact that my kids and I really like each other and enjoy doing things together.  Sometimes it’s hard because we live so far away from each other, but in other ways it makes our visits even more special.

I was anxious to see Katie’s new apartment and to finally meet her roommate Dena.  The cabbie found her apartment with no problem. I’d been warned that the neighborhood isn’t “the best,”  but I was very pleasantly surprised and thought her building was quite cute and welcoming.

There’s no buzzer, so I texted my arrival and Katie flew out of the front door and into my arms for a big hug.

We spent the morning lounging and deciding what to do. After much discussion and no decisions, we headed to Walgreen’s to buy umbrellas and a day pass for the train.  Katie took me to one of her hangouts, a fun restaurant called The Blue Line.  Believe it or not I didn’t take a picture of it.  I was hungry, it was raining, and I forgot my camera.

After breakfast we spent the afternoon dodging raindrops, running for trains, and laughing about the things you can learn when you eavesdrop.  It was fun to get a feel for Katie’s surroundings and simple things like how she gets to work. Now when she calls me and says she’s almost at the train or bus stop, I can picture it in my mind.

Katie had an alumni event to attend on Saturday evening. So I hung out with Dena and prepped for my Monday meeting until it was time to call a cab to meet up with Katie and her friends.

The cab ride downtown was the polar opposite of my ride from the airport.  I don’t think the driver took a single breath.  By the time he dropped me off at the club, I knew his entire life story as well as his sister’s, and at least one member of his church.

I arrived at just the perfect time, they had just gotten a table for the group.  It tickled me to no end that every time someone new arrived Katie put her arm around me and announced, “This is my mom!”

Beth and Katie

After four years of hearing about Katie’s adventures, friends and coworkers I was finally able to put names with faces.  It was a fun night and we kept each other out until 2:30 in the morning.  I can’t remember the last time went out, let alone stayed up that late.

Sunday was a lazy day.  We slept in and then watched the movie Rent, which is one of our favorites.  Katie’s voice was so hoarse from introducing me over the noise at the bar that she couldn’t sing along.  After lunch we braved the rain, took in a movie, and picked up some groceries.

Last year I started watching The Walking Dead with Christian, so it worked out perfectly that Katie and Dena wanted to watch the premiere and have dinner at the Blue Line.

In addition to the regular fare, such as nachos, burgers, and beer they also created and served Halloween themed shots and drinks – which went well with the theme of the night.  It was awesome to finally have the chance to treat my daughter and her roommate to dinner.

Katie and Deena

We called it an early night and it was lights out around 10.

The rain and cloudy skies cleared overnight and I hugged my daughter tight and tried not to cry while we said goodbye.  I couldn’t help but take the sun peeking through the clouds as a sign that the meeting with my client would go well.

Chicago in the Fall

It was a whirlwind and completely wonderful weekend!

Sunsets on Big Sand

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

I’m always sad to see summer come to an end.  Summer always has been and always will be my favorite season.  I love the heat, the sun, and especially the long days.  Although the one thing that’s nice about the sun rising later is so do the dogs.

Looking at the upcoming forecast and highs in the upper 60’s and lows in the 40’s was a reminder that I’m going have to trade in my flip flops and ankle bracelet for shoes that cover my toes and eventually socks.

It seemed like a good day to post some of my favorite pictures from this summer.  I don’t think there is anything as beautiful as a sunset on  Big Sand Lake, MN.

My parents have a cabin on the bay, their beach is called Iowa Beach even though the lake is in Minnesota.  I think that’s because at one time most of the cabins on the lake were owned by families from Iowa.  The gate between their cabin and the lake always fascinates me.  I think it makes a great frame for a sunset.

sunset on big sand lake through the garden walk gate

On the first night we were there, the sunset reflected off of the pontoon like an invitation for an evening cruise, which of course is one of my favorite things to do at the lake.

pontoon at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

One of the things that amazes me about the lake is the variety of cloud formations.  No two days are alike and its always a treat, my favorite is when they turn vibrant colors like pink and orange.

pink clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Every once in a while a picture just happens and the unbelievable reflection of the clouds in the calm surface of the water was a once in a lifetime moment.

perfect reflection of clouds at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

My favorite dinner cruises are when we take chicken dinners and wine on the pontoon and tour the lake while we eat.  Hmm…I don’t have any pictures of that; I must have been too hungry to think of capturing the moment – next year.

The pontoon not only doubles as a dinner cruise ship, its often also a fishing boat.

fishing at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Sometimes my kids don’t mind when I take pictures of other people.  They’ve never said it, but I think there are two unwritten rules.  Only take pictures of people if there is absolutely no chance of being caught and make sure it’s a picture worth taking.  I think the image of a canoe slipping through the water at dusk follows both rules.

A Canoe at sunset on Big Sand Lake, MN

Oftentimes we stay out on the lake until the sun has almost set and we can see the lights on the other boats and pontoons as they quietly return to the bay.

Pontoon coming to shore from a sunset cruise on Big Sand Lake, MN

My dad caught the shutter bug this summer and took over for me after I left.  I think my favorite picture and sentiment is the one he sent from his phone in an email.

He said – “the lake without beth”

I said – are you trying to make me cry?

He said – yes

stormy sky

He knew it would make me both cry and smile to know he captured a moment that said “it’s not the same here without you and we miss you.”

Farewell to summer and greetings to fall.  I’m lucky because sunsets on the towpath are beautiful as well.

sunset on the towpath

D.L. Day – And so It Begins

no standing - dancing only

I know many parents that dread the day their kids pass the road test and get the green light to drive from the state department of Motor Vehicles, or in the case of Pennsylvania – the Department of Transportation.  I am not one of those parents.

In fact I was a little concerned a couple of years ago when Christian expressed very little interest in driving and wasn’t even sure he wanted to get his license to drive.  Thankfully a trip to North Dakota with my parents last summer changed his perspective.  My uncle Alan has given all three of my kids their first driving lessons.  (I think I secretly wish he’d given me mine, but we won’t talk about the experience on the interstate between Lincoln and Omaha.)

Seven months ago Christian got his permit. He passed on the first try – not really a surprise.  I’m sort of hoping the daughter of the guy who sat next me that day never passes.  It was her fifth attempt.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say it may not be a good idea for her to be driving.

Surprisingly we’ve had very few “moments” since he’s been driving.  That includes the night before his final road test when we drove to the site of the test to re-run the course and to practice parallel parking.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised but I was when we drove into the parking lot and there were at least a half dozen hopefuls hitting the curb and bumping into pylon cones as they tried to master parallel parking.  Christian and I ran through the course and several parking exercises without incident and mutually agreed he was ready for the final test.

His road test was scheduled for mid afternoon and the drive there was an opportunity for Christian to warm up for the final exam.  The route to PennDot is currently under construction.  There are a lot of lane changes and traffic gets very bogged down.

“STOP, STOP, STOP,” I shout.

Christian turns his head, “What are you talking about? We’re on the highway. I can’t stop.”

I frantically waved my hands at the bumper to bumper line of cars, “You need to slow down…it’s all jammed up ahead.”

With the confidence of a teenage driver he replied, “We’re fine.  I’m fine.  I saw it.”

I wasn’t as sure. It could have been last minute nerves on my part, maybe I misjudged the upcoming traffic jam, or maybe it was a good thing I shouted out.  I knew he was rattled and I felt bad about that.  And as he pointed out later, it wasn’t a great idea to shout out the word “STOP” while he was driving on the highway.

In spite of the poorly timed “moment,” he passed the road test with flying colors, handed me the keys.  After which, he handed me the keys and said “I think it’s best if you drive home.”  I could very well be the only mother whose kid didn’t drive home after getting their license, but it was probably a good call.

He’s off and driving now and in fact the roles have somewhat reversed.  Today I took the train to Philly for my writer’s group meeting and he dropped me off and picked me up from the station.