13 Going On (Insert your age)

Yesterday I returned from a trip to New York City with my niece Jana, where we celebrated her 13th birthday. We had a blast! This was Jana’s first trip to New York – where she experienced some other firsts including her first cab ride and her first Broadway show.

We saw Wicked, did the NBC Studio Tour where we saw the SNL and Today show studios, took amazing pictures from the top of the Empire State Building, met LOTS AND LOTS of celebrities (statues that is…at the Wax Museum)…and shopped until we dropped. Jana even got to meet a bunch of famous “Viners” in the Village and wound up in one of their videos. If you don’t know what Vine is…sorry – that would take way too much explaining and is NOT what this blog post is about. And if you aren’t a teenager, or don’t have a teenager – you don’t want to know anyway.

The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building
The 82 Floor Observatory at the Empire State Building

I stole the idea of taking my nieces and nephews on a trip for their 13th birthday from my friend Megan. When she shared the idea with me a few years ago, I immediately starting making plans with my oldest nephew Joseph, whom I took to Chicago last summer.

In Chicago, Joseph and I saw the Tigers play the Cubs at Wrigley, went to the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science & Industry, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Shedd Aquarium AND the top of the Sears (technically the Willis Tower – does anyone even call it that?) Tower. We also saw at least three 3D movies (fell asleep during one of them) and got free Conan shirts from a vending machine on the street. All in three days. Aren’t you tired just reading about it??

From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower
From the top of the Sears (aka Willis) Tower

Because I don’t have children, I have showered my nieces and nephews with my maternal energy since they were born…and as many of my friends can vouch – I have also adopted their children as my extended niece and nephew family. These special trips with the kids are just as much for me as they are for them. Part of me is probably subconsciously making sure the kids don’t forget me about me eventually in my old age if I don’t end up with children of my own…But truly, these relationships are so important to me that they truly are a big part of who I am.

Turning 13 is a big milestone for a kid. I remember when I turned 13 myself and can vividly recall the challenges of middle school. Are you cringing like I am remembering what it was like?? Yikes I don’t want to do that again! And I didn’t have to deal with a fraction of what kids have to deal with today…

A major reason I do this trip is to recognize the kids for this rite of passage, and to strengthen our bond before they enter a tough phase of their lives. I want to be sure that they know they have another person who cares deeply about them – someone that will be there if they find themselves in trouble and need help or advice. Plus, I want to have the right when/if they act out in their teenage years to call them out in a way that is different than a parent. Both Joseph and Jana have experienced this with me already – and I think they know what I mean!

I remember the first time I went to New York City with my family when I was 15, and remember taking pictures from the top of the World Trade Buildings, and seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I remember seeing my first Broadway show, A Chorus Line, with my mom and sister, and going to my first Yankees game via the Subway. I also remember my first time in Chicago during my freshman year of college at Notre Dame. My roommate Diane and I took a bus to Michigan Avenue for a day of sightseeing and shopping. I had never seen an 8-story department store before!

New York and Chicago became my favorite cities to visit over the years, and I wanted to Joseph and Jana to have similar experiences of their first trips that they will hopefully remember when they are my age and much older. Through these trips, I want my nieces and nephews to start to see the world as a big place that is entirely accessible and full of possibility for them.

I can’t wait (though my pocket book can) for when my younger nephews and niece Dillon, Bridget and Trevor are old enough for their trips. I look forward to making similar memories with them, and to re-living my trips with Joseph and Jana over the years.

And in the meantime, as always, I look forward to my regular day to day lives with ALL of my nieces and nephews – Sessa’s and Cugliari’s, and all of my adopted ones too. I hope they know and feel how special each one of them is to me.

Signed, Auntie Laurie

Who Needs a Pep Talk (besides me)?

Anyone else out there relieved that January is over? I am. I can speak for me and for many of my friends that it’s been a rough start to 2013. I woke up yesterday morning, February 1st, feeling like it was New Year’s Day all over again. I felt glad to put January behind me, and felt like it was another new beginning – another chance to start the year.

I am not writing this to mope about how awful January was. It was. It could have been worse, but it still sucked. I want to simply acknowledge that it was, and put it behind me – behind all of us that had a similarly rough month. I am writing this because I want to dig deep for the energy it takes to stay hopeful in the face of what life throws at us – find the motivation I need to begin again with renewed energy.

I came across this short youtube video this week and finally watched it yesterday. If you saw my post on Facebook, you already know I feel it was the best 3 minutes and 28 seconds of my 2013. Especially since my 2013 just started yesterday. This little guy who calls himself Kid President gave me the best pep talk I have ever heard:

The cynical part of me knows that someone else wrote this..and edited the heck out of it to make it funny. But guess what, I don’t care because it’s hilarious and what this little guy says is true, and it was exactly the kick in the pants I need.

He says it much better than I can! Here is how I apply it to my life. Not quite as funny, but the point in doing this is to figure out how this helps me. Maybe it helps you too in some way in case you also need a kick in the pants.

Kid President: “The world needs you. Stop being boring.”

Me: Take risks. Be daring. Make choices. Remember doing nothing is still a choice. I want to make an impact – to make a difference.

Kid President: “Life is not a game people…but if life WAS a game, aren’t we all on the same team? I’m on your team. Be on my team!”

Me: Life is too short and is wasted the more I just sit here on the sidelines. Find the people who give me energy and avoid the energy suckers. A rising tide lifts all boats!

Kid President: “A Poem. Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the road less traveled. And it hurt, man! Really bad!…Not cool Robert Frost.”

Me: Sometimes the choice I make hurts. A lot.

Kid President: “But what if there really were two paths…I want to be on the one that leads to awesome!”

Me: I’ll never know what awesome is until I make a choice to go down one path or another. Hopefully on the other side of pain is something awesome. Like Space Jam.

Kid President: “What will be your Space Jam? What will you create that will make the world awesome? Nothing if you keep sitting there.”

Me: Nothing is going to happen unless I get off of my a$$. My Space Jam is ahead of me. I need to take some action to make it happen.

Kid President: “This is your time. This is my time. This is our time. We can make every day better for each other. If we are all on the same team, we should start acting like it.”

Me: Sounds a little like Mr. Hand…but I digress. I believe that the Golden Rule is the most important life principle ever. I believe that we get what we give, aka cosmic karma. Let’s stop arguing with each other. This is why I don’t watch Fox News EVER.

Kid President: “We got work to do. We can cry about it, or we can dance about it.”

Me: We can mope or we can have fun. I am pretty sure if Kid President were here right now, I would be dancing with him.

Kid President: “You’ve just been pep talked. Create something that will make the world awesome.”

Thanks Kid President! I’ll watch this anytime I need a chuckle, and a kick in the pants. Now I am going to post this and get going!

Wonder Women

I bought this mug a few days ago in an adorable shop in Georgetown in between business meetings.

I have a special talent…give me an extra 15 minutes before I need to be somewhere, and I will not only find a great shop, I’ll find several things that I don’t need but must have (for me or for someone else), and I will somehow find room for all of it in my suitcase. This Wonder Woman mug is the second in what I guess is now my Wonder Woman coffee mug collection. I am not exactly sure why I started this collection. I found the first one during a walk in downtown Charleston with my friend Janet last year. We stopped in at the Moon Pie store (yes you read that correctly – a Moon Pie store) where I found the mug and knew I had to have it. Here is the original:

I suppose it has something to do with being inspired with the phrase: “As lovely as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena” which is printed on on the back both of my mugs. Beauty and brains with braun mixed in – an attractive combination of qualities, don’t you think?

Each morning, the very first thing I do is let my dog Derby out and then immediately turn on my Keurig machine to make my cup of coffee. I turn on the Today Show, sit on my couch, and contemplate the day ahead. I am pretty sure I can face whatever the day brings when I take this time for myself – especially if my Wonder Woman mug is clean!

Well, today is Mother’s Day, and as I reflected during my morning ritual this morning, I started thinking about the “Wonder Women” in my life.

A few weekends ago, I got together with five of my college roommates for a mini-vacation in Florida. We shared stories with each other that would rival any chick lit novel out there! But alas, I (and they) are sworn to secrecy, so you won’t be reading our stories here or in any pending novel that I may or may not have up my sleeve.

That said, as I sat and thought about the six of us, I thought about how incredible it would be if we happened to have any of Wonder Woman’s powers, and decided to start writing to see where my thoughts would lead.

First of all, I thought about how I could REALLY use an invisible plane – one that I could  pilot the way that Wonder Woman does. It would be amazing to be able to go anywhere I wanted to go in complete stealth mode – and to be able to bring my Super Friends with me would be an added bonus! No more worrying about stuffing my clothes and purchases into my carry on…there would be room for my hot rollers too, and I could avoid having to be polite to strangers.

Second, I know the six of us could use the golden lasso of truth. Imagine the power we would have over children, spouses, significant others, bosses and colleagues if we could force them to always tell the truth! To know what the other person is thinking and feeling – no fears, no games – how refreshing that would be!

Third, I know all of us could put the indestructible bracelets to use on a daily basis. Wonder Woman always seemed to need hers to deflect bullets. I don’t think any of us have been shot at…but we could use the bracelets in a different way – to deflect all negative things that come our way – no energy suckers, no negativity, no angst, no self-doubt, no fears…no sickness, no sadness…I wish that were possible.

But – alas, we are mere mortals. We are human just like everyone else…vulnerable to the ups and downs that life brings to each of us. And as we get older, I realize that life throws a lot at all of us, and we all cope in different ways.

What makes these “wonder women” special is how they have the beauty, brains and braun to cope from within – no super powers necessary! These ladies – as many others in my life, emanate grace in the face of both the highs and the lows that life brings to all of us. They are mothers, wives, daughters and friends who don’t hesitate to put their loved ones first.

Today I celebrate these special women, as well as the other Wonder Women in my life – you know who you are! You are all as beautiful as Aphrodite and as wise as Athena in my book.

Oh Marie!

This is a story about my Mom, Marie, whose birthday is tomorrow. I have told this story a few times this week – because it’s funny, and is such a great example of what makes my mom so special. I will tell it here – again, because it will hopefully make others chuckle…and because I think there is something we can all learn from my mom about the joy of living life to the fullest.

My mom and dad just returned from a vacation that they touted as a “Big Chill Weekend” to visit their friends from high school that they hadn’t seen in many, many years. Clearly, they were anticipating having a fun, and possibly somewhat decadent time with old friends…and that is exactly what happened.

Here is the evidence:

My mother Marie at the tattoo parlor.
The end result. A palm tree.

Mom sent these pictures to all of our family with no explanation whatsoever. I literally was sitting in my cubicle at work when I opened the email, and I may have said an expletive or two out loud when I saw these pictures for the first time. My family’s reactions were so varied – and gave me a lot to think about over the last few days. My brother wasn’t too happy that he would have to explain to his young children how and why “Nina” got “inked.” I saw the pictures and immediately called my father in disbelief to get the story – and was relieved to discover the tattoo was airbrushed…whew!! My sister – the street smart one in our bunch – figured out that it was airbrushed from the picture and was completely nonplussed. My father was and is still trying to garner support from all of us being, in his words, “a united front” in disapproval of my mother ever getting a real tattoo.

As I told this story and sent the pictures around to some friends, I realized that I was doing so with a significant amount of pride and joy for my mom. Yes – my reaction had been authentic – I was relieved she didn’t get a real tattoo. But – I would seriously not have been surprised if she had actually done it – or if she does do it sometime in the future. That is who she is – someone who takes risk, who enjoys having fun, and who frankly doesn’t care all that much about what people think. She is the kind of person who will jump in the water with her clothes on…or will jump in her outdoor hot tub without them (both of these things have definitely happened). Do I want to erase that mental picture from the hot tub?? Maybe. Do I want to erase that memory and the hilarious story that ensued – absolutely not!! My mom is often unfiltered and uninhibited – speaking and acting from the heart.

I have learned so much from my mom about taking risks, about being true to who you are, about being passionate and joyful in the moment. When I tell these funny stories to my friends, I always say that I hope that I am the kind of person who would do the same things at her age. I hope that I take risks, that I am true to who I am, that I jump in the water and enjoy the moment now and at any age the way that she does.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Wisdom From My Inner Child

What is it about this time of year that makes people go insane? I was yelled at by a scary man in a big truck in the Costco parking lot yesterday over a parking space – and rather than escalating, I maintained my “cool” in front of my niece and nephew and diffused the situation. I thought about it later – about what stress and anger do to us – and how when we assume the worst about people and their intentions – that situations can easily escalate if we walk around with such short fuses.

In keeping with my struggle to stay “present” and to remember what is was to be childlike, I have been watching a lot of my favorite childhood claymation Christmas specials. There is wisdom in remembering when things were more simple, and to apply some of these lessons to our complicated adult lives.

1.The Little Drummer Boy: Made in 1968, The Little Drummer Boy is old school claymation… The little boy Aaron is an orphan who hates humanity because his parents were killed by humans. His anger was a mask for the pain he felt for his loss. I happen to think that this is a universal truth among all of us: underneath deep-seated anger is pain that hasn’t healed. When Aaron sees baby Jesus, his heart becomes filled with love, which brings me to another universal truth that I believe: love heals all wounds. This quote from the movie brings tears to my eyes and sums it up better than I can:

“Aaron’s heart was filled with joy and love. And he knew at last that the hate he had carried there was wrong. As ALL hatred will ever be wrong. For more powerful, more beautiful by far than all the eons of sadness and cruelty and desolation which had come before, was that one tiny, crystalline second of laughter. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Cover of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town/T...

2. Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Made in 1970, this claymation movie narrated by Fred Astaire tells a story of how Santa Claus (played by Mickey Rooney) came to exist. Santa, aka Kris Kringle, wants to bring toys to children everywhere but is stopped by the evil Burgermeister Meisterburger. Kris turns to the misunderstood Winter Warlock for help by giving him a toy and melting his heart. The big lesson here is that changing is as easy as putting “one foot in front of the other”.

The Year Without a Santa Claus

3. The Year Without a Santa Claus: Made in 1974 in amazing claymation, Santa is so stressed  out that even he loses the Christmas spirit and wants to take a vacation from Christmas. Who doesn’t love the Heat Miser and Snow Miser – the uber-competitive sons of Mother Nature? Most definitely the best musical number in any Christmas special ever made! By working together, Mrs. Claus and Mother Nature get the Heat Miser and Snow Miser to compromise to let it snow in Southtown so that Santa will regain the Christmas spirit. So besides the sheer joy you will feel by simply laughing as you watch this movie, you will also learn the lesson about the value of compromise – and that we are never too old to listen to our mothers.