Saturday, December 11, 2010

His Very First Christmas

'Tis the season to decorate for Christmas at our house. Like many others, we drag out dust covered boxes of ornaments to adorn our Christmas tree. Some of these are special treasures that have been cherished for years. Others bring a laugh or make us wonder what we were thinking (let's be honest, the High School Musical locker ornament that sings was a huge mistake!).

There is always one special ornament that washes emotion over me like a tsunami. Most often leaving me breathless for a moment, gasping for air and holding back tears. I am often paralyzed with feelings that it ressurects.

That ornament is a memento of Connor's First Christmas. And, every single time I look at it, I cry.

I'm swept back to the day I realized what my child's first Christmas would really mean. I'd taken a half day off work to start Christmas shopping and catch up on life. But, first I stopped by our house and checked e-mail (keep in mind, I didn't have 24/7 access to e-mail on my cell phone at the time!). There, in the mess of mundane topics was a message from our adoption agency. New photos!

I opened the file and waited patiently while it downloaded (probably about 3 minutes, I love DSL today!). And, there he was!

I've never felt more alone in my life. My baby was going to spend his very first Christmas in Guatemala without me.

This is not how it should go. Someone else had dressed my sweet baby in a goofy Santa hat and posed him for Christmas card photos. But it wasn't me. Someone else had quieted his tears (I could see that he'd been crying in some of the other photos they sent in the group) and kissed away whatever fear he had. But it wasn't me. Someone else was going to hold my baby in the quiet of the night on Christmas Eve and sing Christmas carols softly in his ear. But it wasn't me. I wondered if he'd receive a soft little lamb or doggie as a gift on Christmas morning, snuggled in the arms of one of his caregivers. I hoped that he would, it was his first Christmas and someone should be showering him with gifts and love. But it wasn't me.

Seemingly, I had everything. I was finally a mom. I was married to the love of my life. It was my favorite time of the year, with the hubub of activity that I love. And, yet, I sat at that computer and sobbed for hours. I cradled the 15-inch Gateway monitor like it was my baby. I wiped my tears on that screen, hoping to feel the softness of his face or the squeeze of his fingers wrapping around mine. My heart was ripped completely open, savagely and without warning...all because of that photo and all that it represented.

Later, I shared the photo with everyone. I asked them to pray for him on his very first Christmas, that it be peaceful. I spent some time on my knees too, begging the God that I knew to protect him and somehow make sure that he felt our love on that magical night and every day until we finally met. After all, Christmas is all about miracles, right?

I printed that photo and put it in Christmas ornaments as gifts for his waiting grandparents. Eventually I made my way to the local Hallmark store and purchased the Spanish version of the 2003 Baby's First Christmas ornament.

And, now, every year when we decorate our Christmas tree, as I place that ornament on the branches I whisper another prayer. It is a prayer of thanks for everyone who made sure that my baby was swaddled and loved on his very first Christmas. Those people are responsible for the most amazing gift I could ever dream of, countless future Christmases with goofy Santa hats and softly sung carols in the night. And, the child who makes it all meaningful.

Feliz Navidad from us to you...may the anticipation of your blessings make them even richer.

PS -- the following year our Christmas card portrayed the picture of happiness that we dreamt of through all those tears. Yes, miracles do happen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Time to take a breather and pay homage to the people, places, and things that made my top 10 for 2010. I learned at a very young age that saying thank you isn't just customary and polite - its required if you want to get anywhere in this world. So, here's my thankful thoughts for the year...

1) Rick and Connor...of course. I'm a lucky girl to have a husband I still love, and even like, after 19 years of marriage! And, we are both blessed beyond words to share our lives with Connor, the 7-year-old whirlwind that makes us reassess every thought and action hundreds of times a day! Thank you boys...always.

2) Mobile Technology...yes, my name is Maureen and I'm a BlackBerry addict. Wow, has this little device changed my life! Clients never know if I'm responding to a business question from my office or the beach...fantastic. Yes, I could go even further down the slippery slope of mobile computing with other devices, but I'm a little fearful that I'd stop participating in real life conversations and simply resort to texts and emails even when the person I want to connect to is in the same room! Moderation, people!

3) My Little Sisters...We became a packaged deal at a very young age, our six older siblings referred to us as "The Three Little Girls." We hated that. But, we love each other. And, they don't call us that anymore...much. We can still share clothes and shoes, but most often we are sharing a laugh, advice, and lots of love.

4) CoffeeMate French Vanilla Sugar Free Creamer...finally! Love this stuff and now I can ramp down on the insulin intake to cover it. Thank you Nestle!

5) Symlin...since we're talking about that insulin intake, I need to give a 2010 nod to my new Symlin injectable pen. Thank you for making better use of my insulin intake. It triggers me to notice that I'm actually full (surprisingly much ealier than I would have imagined - guess that's why those 15 pounds have crept onto my hips over the past few years!) and encouraging more effective digestion of the food I take in. Bravo to all the smarty pants biomedical engineers who worked on this drug. You are helping to make me a healthier person...thanks!

6) NetFlix and Roku...ahhhh, the wonder twins! Thank you for combining forces and bringing so many Scooby Doo movies into my home on command and without charging me for each one. We love movies around here and that can be an expensive obsession. But, the power of technology puts countless movies and tv shows at our fingertips for no additional cost...and Connor can operate it by himself. Joy!

7) general, I have a huge group of incredible cousins, and I love when we reconnect. But, specifically, I'm so grateful for the trio of cousins that belong to my sisters and I. We were each blessed with one child and the three of them have shared many moments in the past seven years (give or take a few months). I'm so grateful that Connor has Ryleigh and Reagan to share his life with - even though they often fight like siblings! That's part of the package!

8) Memaw...she promised my mom that she'd be there for us even after Marcia and her son divorced, and she's more than lived up to that. Carol Nauta is an incredible example of the kind of person I aspire to be. She loves my son like her own grandchildren and makes him feel special just for being Connor. And, she offers a shoulder to cry on or an embrace of love whenever it is needed by me or my sisters. The joy on Connor's face when she surprises him at a football, soccer, or little league game is infectious and reminds me of how much we need her. Thank you, Carol. I'm grateful every day that we got to keep you in the divorce!

9) My 2001 Ford Taurus SEL...what can I say, my old Bessie may be dinged up but she's still got life in her veins! Rick and I bought out my dad's lease on this car when we were waiting to adopt Connor. At the time there was a possibility that we'd find ourselves the parents of twins and my adorable Audi A4 just wasn't going to cut it for double stroller duty! My dad serviced his cars religiously and detailed them incessantly. It was barely broken-in when I took possession. At the time I thought I'd drive it for a couple of years...and here I am! She's given us some concern over the past year, but still doesn't show any signs of needing to retire. And, its funny, but I really love her now and can't imagine myself driving anything else (well, okay, that's a lie - I've got rag top dreams, but we don't talk about stuff like that in front of Bessie, she's sensitive!).

10) Lake Michigan beaches...especially Pentwater, but really, I'm thankful for all of the shoreline! What a gorgeous treat we have here in West Michigan! These beaches are perfect for dreamers, toddlers, crazy teens, and cooler toting moms...and everyone in between. If you haven't had the joy of spending an afternoon or evening on one of these beaches, please let me know. I'm happy to show you around!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Mystery of Knotted Memories

So often our memories intertwine in a jumbled pile of emotion, smell, taste, visuals, and often music. Its rare for me to think about one singular moment and hold it with clarity, keeping it from becoming tainted by another memory or shooting off on a wild tangent that bounces my thoughts about like a pinball responding to an itchy trigger finger on the lever.

That's why the end of October and beginning of November are always a bit schizophrenic for me. The smell of wet leaves and rotting pumpkins mixed with burning wax always triggers a flashback to the phone call I took seven years ago while tricksters and treaters were haunting my street. My brother, Steve, called to share that his wife Kris was hovering near death. Waiting for a donor liver that met her needs. Today I can't put all of the pieces together perfectly, but I still can smell that crazy jack-o-lantern.

Kris needed a miracle. Steve needed to talk. We had to process the fact that someone who hadn't celebrated 40 years of life would be facing something so immense without a warning. It still hurts to remember his anguished voice, begging for a solution that seemed unreal and that I couldn't provide.

Coupled with that memory is a moment of such euphoria and joy that is seems irreverant to think about it while also remembering Kris' failing health.

Rick and I had just learned that we were going to become parents. We'd received a photo that morning via Fed Ex (only really, really important stuff comes to your home via Fed Ex, that's how we knew it was a big deal!) of a little boy, just over one month old, who still weighed only 5 pounds. He was going to be our son. How could bad things be happening when our most fervent prayer was finally answered?

I remember crying on the phone with my brother that night. Tears of joy, tears of frustration, tears that reminded us both how powerfully we cared for each other and those for whom we cried.

My moment of triumph and ultimate happiness always will be edged with the reality that when you love deeply, you risk loosing greatly.

Those memories are intimately connected to someone I've never met. I don't know that person's story -- someone whose family faced their own loss with incredible bravery. My sister-in-law's life was saved by a liver donor.

These memories are a great example of the emotional journey known as the circle of life, in my case its just all twisted up like a crazy sewing knot. If I could pull apart the threads of each memory and save them as unique thoughts, would I?

Would I treasure the joy of raising my son more if my memory of learning that he was waiting for us weren't tempered with the anguish I recall hearing in my brother's voice on the phone that night? Would I be any more grateful for the blessing of Kris' life if I could smile over it and close out the pain her donor family must continue to experience each year on the anniversary that we celebrate?

Nope. I like things messy. I'll take the jumble any day. The more knots the me more places to grab on and swing.

PS -- Spare a moment today and give a thought to becoming a registered organ and tissue donor. Details here:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Broken Promises

It's time I out some broken promises. I've kept quiet for way too long.

I've subscribed to Fitness magazine for about 7 or 8 years. Not only does the magazine arrive in my mailbox, but I READ it every month. I feel like I'm doing my part. Yet, I remain decidedly unfit.

This isn't nonsense. I'm not talking about the lazy girls way out with the exercise videos that you watch while sitting on the couch eating buttered popcorn (who really eats that micro rubbish without adding butter?!) and sipping on a cabernet. No. I am not that lazy. I'm no couch potato!

I stand in my kitchen, near the bag of whole, toasted almonds that are a suggested snack food in my Fitness magazine, and read. I'm engaging my brain. I'm flipping pages. I'm not even sitting down!

I am not any fitter for the effort.

Seems like the perfect time to evaluate a bit of why the magazine is not living up to its promise of Fitness. Perhaps they are overpromising?

If I even remotely resembled one of the cover models I certainly would not subscribe to Fitness. I wouldn't have time to read magazines because when you are that Smoking Hot you don't read magazines, you use them to fan yourself at the beach. Good grief!

Know your audience...your subscribers are approaching deadlines like high school reunions and family vacations. We have middle aged booties and bellies. And, if we've already spent a lifetime finding clever ways to fit in squats while also flossing our teeth with "green" floss that we wove ourselves - we wouldn't need your magazine.

Also, reevaluate all of the resources you are currently using for nutrition tips. When I'm running through my kitchen (I'm using "running" here to refer to the act of crazily scurrying while dodging errant super balls and Lego spaceships that may be strewn about the floor en route to a meeting that may result in a paycheck) I DO NOT have time to "grab a handful of fresh berries and pop them into a wheat germ and banana smoothie." Okay, to be fair, I'm paraphrasing the tip. But, it was unrealistic anyway.

If I grab a handful of berries out of my fridge, first they will need careful sorting to assure that they are not covered in mold (I shop infrequently and rarely eat all of any fresh produce in the fridge, visitors beware). And, secondly, I'm in a rush. There is no time to whip up anything. Those berries are destined to be squashed all over the steering wheel of my car before I get out of the garage. Thirdly, I refuse to buy anything that is a germ, even if it is a wheat germ. Ridiculous.

Who needs these ideas that just make me feel terrible about myself?

I'll probably continue with my subscription...and maybe I'll send in some of my own snack-on-the-go ideas (seriously, who ever has a snack that isn't on the go?). Real stuff like only eating half of the bag of Baked Lays in one drive fit, people!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Rick's stepdad, the man who raised him, Richard D. Cook, died last week at the age of 73. Rick had the good fortune to stay with him at the Hospice House in Jackson for his final few days, offering comfort as Dick made this last transition in his life's journey.

Rick does not remember any other father, this was the person who taught him how to pitch a baseball and drive a car (a stick shift VW beetle complete with an ice scraper for the inside of the windshield!). Dick was the primary disciplinarian in his life, and when Rick is scolding our son Connor for some indiscretion I often call him "Richard D. Cook" -- and, yes, oddly, his kids did refer to him by his full name with middle initial. No idea why!

Looking back at Dick's life and his relationship with his children has brought many transitions into focus. The first is obvious -- the day he married Rick' mother and agreed to parent her five young children in addition to his own two boys. Wow! Talk about a transition.

Over the years Dick's relationship with his children made many transitions, following the ebb and flow of the marriage that made them all a family in the first place. Eventually developing into adult respect and friendship. I recall the first trip that Rick and I made to visit Dick at his home in Florida. We were living in the Chicago area and both had just completed our master's degrees. As we sat on the balcony of his apartment, watching the Gulf of Mexico transition from sun dappled azure waves to the smoky and mysterious chop of evening, I had the priviledge of listening as a father told his son just how proud he was of the man he had become.  My father-in-law was not overly effusive. But, in his more relaxed retirement in the Sunshine State, he found the perfect way to offer the highest praise a child seeks. Respect and pride. Nice transition, Dad.

Dick had perfect joy when relating to his grandchildren. He gloated about their every achievement, from phenomenal or just passable sports accomplishments to academic honors or sometimes simply passing grades to cutting a first tooth or taking that first tottering step - each accomplishment gave him more reason to be proud. The transition to grandparent was one he truly loved, all of the love without any of the disciplinary responsibilities! Perfect.

In his final days we talked about where he wished he could be, where he could go in his mind to help remove himself from the pain he felt so intensely within his body. He smiled as I asked if it would be the sugar white sands on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, kicking back on a chaise lounge chair and watching the sun drop slowly into the diamond strewn water. His smile was so serene as I spoke, I knew he was perfectly in the moment and maybe even feeling that ocean breeze on his skin. In classic form, it was when I suggested that he'd probably be sipping on a pina colada while sitting on the beach that he squeezed my hand for the first time that day.

I like to think that now he's found his perfect piece of paradise on a gorgeous, white washed sand bar and that he'll keep on strumming his guitar and smiling...enjoying the rest of the journey and whatever transitions may be waiting beyond our touch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Baby!

I admit a fondness for listening to baseball on the radio. There's something soothing in that. Reminds me of childhood journeys riding in our Country Squire wagon with my dad at the wheel listening to the Tigers. Or better yet, those isolated evenings when my bedtime came before a game wrapped up and I resorted to sneaking my brother Steven's transistor radio into bed to listen to the crackle of a few innings before I drifted off to sleep.

In my 20s I discovered the incredible combination of baseball, ice cold beer, and a sun-filled afternoon at Wrigley Field. I was astonished that so many wonderful things could be combined in one place. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still hear Harry Caray's singsong voice meander through "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." 

I'll never forget the sensation of butterflies cavorting in my stomach as I stepped out onto that hallowed ball field on Opening Day 2008. I got to high five the team as they cruised past! I stood at attention during the National Anthem (I might have snuck a peak at Mark Grace's backside, but good grief, who wouldn't have?!) right along with the team. And, I got to chat with a living baseball legend, Ernie Banks (aka Mr. Cub) who signed a dugout baseball for me, noting on it, "Keep Smilin' Maureen!" That was a baseball dream day come true (of course I don't have photos because I was there with a vendor and never thought all this magic would take place)!

Now, I've got my own little slugger stepping up to the plate and lasering in on every motion the pitcher (especially when that pitcher is his daddy!) makes, waiting for that moment of pure joy when all breathing stops and you can hear "CRACK!" for miles. Connor made the transition from tee ball to coach pitch this summer and you'd think he was playing for the Cubs and had just won the World Series to hear him talk about playing "real baseball!"

Midsummer we were fortunate enough to share in the ultimate backyard baseball experience with our neighbors, John and Kara Doyle. Together with John's brother, Dave, and his wife Michele, they hosted a Wiffleball Tournament on their own field of dreams. Kids between the ages of 8-11 came from all over the west side of Grand Rapids to send wiffleballs sailing over the home run fence that had been painstakingly constructed to exact specifications. While Connor didn't meet the age requirements for the tournament, he was asked to join a neighborhood team as their bat boy.

At the end of a long day, Connor's team emerged winners. There were trophies and tee shirts and lots of high fives and back slaps. These boys had just earned the biggest honor in the neighborhood and it came without $100 shoes or fancy digital games. Their credential was earned in the backyard with a bat and ball and a lot of tenacity.

I promise you, 20 years from now, my son (and the five wonderful young men from our neighborhood who invited him to share their glory) will recount this experience with pride. He'll probably still posses the tee shirt in a back corner of his dresser. And, the swagger he earned on that ball field will carry him through countless curve balls thrown by life.

Tune in your radio, dust off your sneakers, whatever it takes. Just get out there and play ball, baby!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Family Ties are a Matter of Course

It started as a selfish way to drag my far-flung family to visit Rick and I in our new home. Sixteen years ago we invited all of my siblings and their children and my parents to the northern suburbs of Chicago for the inaugural Fitzgerald Family Golf Outing. This past weekend we gathered again, this time at my sister's home north of Grand Rapids. We rotate hosting duties throughout the family, thus forcing a visit to everyone's current hometown once every nine years! Traditions come from strange places, huh?

It's a simple concept, we meet once a year on the last weekend of June (typically) and those who feel compelled, golf for the ego-boosting claim to hold the traveling Fitzgerald Cup for a year. Later, everyone is invited (well, we do sort of expect the kids to be out of diapers before they join the fray, but otherwise its an open door!) to play in a four-person scramble. The prize? Family honor, bragging rights for one year, and a "Scramble Champs" tee shirt.

When my parents were alive they joined us on the golf course even though neither was a golfer. My mom used to borrow Aunt Elaine's golf clubs, but she was often referred to as a secret weapon because of her gifted putting ability! 

My dad loved that he could smoke cigars the entire time on the course! After a series of strokes left him with limited use of his right arm, he would either meet us at the final hole to celebrate or ride along with one team and tackle a putt here or there.

We're a boisterous group on the golf course. Especially when someone unexpected hits a great shot. But, that is the most wonderful part of the gathering. We challenge each other and we cheer our successes. Trust me, there is a lot of taunting and good-natured teasing, but ultimately it ends up feeling pretty good. Sort of like family life in general.

Generation gaps are celebrated as the youngest of the family group are partnered with the oldest and we all work together to become the Scramble Champs for the next 12 months. I love learning about the life of whichever niece or nephew I play with as we cruise the golf course. We connect one-on-one. With a family our size that doesn't happen often, so I treasure these opportunities.

I remember clearly when one of my nephews commented about the Fitzgerald Cup at that first outing, he said, "Someday I will have my name on that Cup and when I have kids they will too."

Yep. In fact, the Cup was won this year for the first time by a player from the next generation - my niece's fiance, Todd. Sort of a momentous occasion. We took it in stride. An amber ale was poured into the Cup and it was shared by past winners. At the time we were all cheering and laughing, but now that I think about it, that was a big deal.

That's life, the big moments get mixed in with the mundane. Thank goodness we periodically step back and ponder...even if it is on a golf course. We've created something special and we didn't even realize it was happening. Nice job family!

PS - Watch your backs Fitz's, Aunt Mo isn't going to let her golf game get rusty this year -- I'll be back next June and my team will once again reign as Scramble Champs!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Gift of Grace

If you talk to me for more than five minutes you'll know that I'm a mom. That I have the best son in the world. That I am giddy with joy about the awesomeness that is being a parent to my child.

I rarely talk about the road traveled to that ultimate joy. It was littered with many stumbling blocks and dead ends. It was long. It was not a part of my master plan for my life.

And, so it goes. Crap happens to everyone. The difference is what you do with your pile when you stumble upon it.

But, because of my experience during the journey toward parenthood, I have willingly joined a dear friend on another journey that can be all encompassing at times. Ultimately, this road leads to a place filled with light and in a weird twist of humor, a bunch of goofy ladies playing golf!

Yep. You read right. This year there will also be jello shots involved. See what I mean - every bag of crap can be dressed up if you've got a bedazzler on your side!

My friends, Katherine and Mike Schoenborn, experienced the tragic end to many of their dreams when their triplet sons were stillborn. Not the chaotic life they expected on the day they learned they were pregnant. A very silent, somber conclusion that left them bereft . . . and planning a memorial rather than three baptisms.

In order to help tell their story, I listened to Kat and guided her in the creation of a video (we also had the technical skills and creative eye of another friend, Sam Ramos, to bring this video to life). I'm linking here so you can view it and hear their tale firsthand. Dig out a tissue . . .

After the loss of the Schoenborn boys, I offered to help Kat and Mike establish a lasting memorial to their sons. They've since created the Sleeping Angels Endowment at Spectrum Health Foundation.  And, each year we throw a party to raise funds for this worthy cause (hence the jello shooting lady golfers!).

We invite women to golf and have a good time. They come. They golf. They have a good time. And, we have netted more than $30,000 for the endowment in two years. Rock on, sisters!

I didn't suffer the loss that Kat did. But, I understand how it feels to want something so badly and then to be left with the dark loneliness of just that desire . . . and nothing more. Not even the hope you once felt. 

I think a lot of women share that same understanding. And, because of that, they come together one day a year and drop the cash they've been squirreling away for a summer pedicure or sassy highlights. They gamble that money on the hope and the wish that when someone else experiences the desperate saddness of a stillborn child in our community - they will feel our support. We don't fix the problem. We can't restore the joy those families felt when their baby first kicked or they saw the heart beating in an ultrasound. But, we do supply a giant group hug and a soft whisper that says "You are not alone."

And, really, who doesn't want a group of more than 100 women in golf shoes and visors on their side?!

Can you help? Yep.  GolfSponsorRemember.

I'll be at the Ladies Tee Party (It's not your Grandma's tea party, honey! But, Grandma is welcome to golf too!) on Friday, June 18 in Grand Rapids, MI at Gracewil Golf Club for a 9 am shotgun start. Join me.

Hope on, people. It's a feeling that really doesn't get old. Ever.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Am Next In Line

We all do it. I'm sure. I don't travel in the type of circles where you could ignore this chore. We all grocery shop. Right?

For some this is a fun outing. For others its a necessary evil. Ultimately though, we've all got to hit the supermarket and stock up on toilet paper and toothpaste, wine and popcorn, and periodically milk and bread.

So, we have the common experience of cruising the aisles and making our selections. Also, we have the common experience of unloading our carts in increasingly more narrow lanes (seriously, what happens if you are not super model thin? It's getting silly!). Then we get to check ourselves out, although at least two or three times in each of my self checkout experiences I must alert someone to come and help me, while waiting patiently for that support. THEN we get to bag our own groceries in our own bags!

I'm not a wimp. I am really not a cry baby. But, lately I'm a little snarky towards all grocery retailers. It seems I'm paying more and more for my groceries, but getting less and less out of the relationship!

I've got your frequent flyer card, heck I think I have six of them, conveniently sized for whatever my needs! I'm just a little unclear what you are doing for me? You want my loyalty but when I provide it there doesn't seem to be much in return.  Lately I don't even get a coherent and polite person to assist me in the checkout process (and really, when I do use the staffed lanes, I don't want the 20-something person to complain about how they have another hour to work when I've just put in a 12-hour workday and still have to manage to drag all these groceries home and put them away . . . ).

So, here's my last gift to you, my favorite supermarket of all time (you know who you are), establish a special lane for me, your card carrying frequent flyer who spends 50% of her income at your shop. Staff it with your best employees, make it a treat to get to work in this lane in fact. And, make me feel like you really give a %$#@ that I'm shopping at your store.

Thank me for bringing my own bags, tell your staffers not to sigh when I hand all 10 of my bags over (I have a lot of bags because I buy a lot of groceries, not because I want to be a pain in your kiester!). And, spring for the extra few bucks to have a few teens working to put my bags in my stinking cart. I'm tired of sweating bullets in the checkout lane because I have to race to place all of my selections on the conveyor, then help bag them, then quickly get the bags into my cart so I don't hold up anyone behind me. It's just ridiculous!

I do still love you.  And, that's why I'm sharing my thoughts now, before I freak out in the ultra-skinny lane while checking out and bagging my own soup and crackers in my own bags that conveniently carry your brand name all over them. 

Really, isn't it enough that I shop at your establishment? Must I also perform the duties of one of your parttime workers for the priviledge?

I'd like to be next in line somewhere that really gives a darn whether I shop there.  Let me know when you're ready for me . . .

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Foolishness

I grew up with a jokester for a role model. April 1 was like a national holiday to him.  When I think of my Father, I picture his face cracking into a giant grin as he says, "April Fool's!"

Ahhhhh, memories.  Thanks, Dad.

Ask any of my siblings and they will recount their own version of my Dad's infamous "There's a Pink Elephant in the Backyard" April Fool's Joke.  No elaborate props needed.  No projection imagery.  No sound effects, other than a deep voice rolling with laughter and the squeal of a child protesting the fib.

To this day I have no idea what he really meant by the Pink Elephant ploy.  Other than offering us a glimpse at the fantastical.  What could be more absurd than a Pink Elephant in our backyard?  Nothing.  Really.  And, I promise you, I tried time and time again to top it.

My Dad never set foot on Irish soil, but he certainly inherited more than his fair share of Irish wisecracking ability!  I truly believe that the silliness of this day was a welcome respite from his daily grind as a corporate accountant and father to nine.  Who doesn't need a few Pink Elephants in their life?  Am I right?!

I encourage you to join the Fitzgerald Family this April 1.  We'll all be weaving tales of spotted stegosaurs and dancing whales to whomever will listen (I mean that, we aren't that fussy!).  And, I promise you this, I surely won't be the only one testing out the Pink Elephant in the Backyard exclamation.  I do wonder if some day there will be another generation of Fitzgerald's teasing their children . . . or random neighbors . . . with this one.  I sure hope so.

Happy April Fool's Day, Dad!  Hey, did you happen to notice that spotted orangutan in the window behind you?  Gee whiz, that's crazy!  (tee hee!) April Fool's!  Gotcha . . .

Friday, March 5, 2010

These Are Some Historical (not Hysterical!) Gals

March is Women's History Month. Can I get a woot woot?!!

Over the past year, I've been fortunate to work with a group of women here in Grand Rapids who really dig history. They collaborate as the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council and sponsor a month-long celebration of women and their inspiring history. I've been helping this group tell their story and engage people to attend the activities and programs taking place all month. It's been fun . . . and educational!
Even though I'm more of a history-class-dropout-type-of-girl, I've really enjoyed learning about the women from West Michigan and how they left their heel prints on our city and community!
It got me thinking about my own world. To start with, I have loads of incredible female role models! Sure, the gentlemen in my family tree are wonderful too, but a girl has to learn about becoming a smart woman by watching guts and grace in action -- enter these terrific ladies.
1. Jacqueline Marie Welch Fitzgerald. My mom. She was all of 4' 11" tall, yet the shadow she cast was enormous!

My mom taught me that a fresh coat of lipstick can hide many flaws - and instill a sense of confidence that translates into charisma (Jackie never wore makeup, but you rarely saw her without lipstick!). And, more importantly, that a well thought-out phrase or two can mean more than lots of blustering. She never accepted "good enough" from anyone . . . how many times did she correct my grammar, right there in front of my friends? Gracious!
Jackie was historical because she took chances, she listened well, and she acted without fear. She worked to support her Korean War Veteran husband while he finished college, and often returned to the workforce while raising nine children with love and humor. She taught me to set goals and then achieve them . . . without making excuses or passing off blame when things didn't go perfectly. Nicely done, mom!
2. Nina Narcissa Belle Wood Welch. My maternal grandmother. I love the stories from my mom's sisters (oh, and Uncle Bert too, it must have been tough to be the baby in that family of gals!) about growing up on a farm in Concord, Michigan in the 30s and 40s. Grandma really could get blood from a turnip. I swear! 

My grandmother made every single person who ever crossed her path feel like they were the most important person she'd ever met. She communicated incessantly; letters from her were a regular occurrence when I was a college student. Nina was known for remembering everyone's birthday - with a card or note that was perfectly suited to that person. She lived through tough times, made difficult personal decisions along the way, and never gave up on those who mattered most - her family.
3. Mary Margaret Fitzgerald Reed. My Aunt Mary. When I close my eyes and think about her, I see her in my parent's basement in the 70s wearing a pair of white patent leather go-go boots, a plaid wool skirt that hit just above the knees, and a turtleneck (coincidentally it's an ensemble I love myself today!). She's drinking a Drewrys beer out of a can (that was light beer before light beer existed!) and she's smoking a Virginia Slim cigarette (yep, she was a poster child for the 1970's transformation of women, so funny to think back on now!). She rocked!

Aunt Mary was a professional woman in Mecosta County in the late 50s and early 60s, before she married and relocated. She took on the role of County Register of Deeds when the office was left vacant mid-term (she'd been the Assistant Register) and held the office until the next election. When needed, she jumped in and took care of business without seeking fanfare for the effort. Love that about her!
4. Dolores Welch Prue, Kathie Welch McDonald, Patricia Welch Clark, and Elaine Welch England. The formidable Welch family Aunts! My mom's sisters. Today, they are matrons of a sprawling family. A true package deal. When you need someone to have your back, look no further.

These gals held down jobs in all kinds of settings, from factories to school bus drivers (those are still some of my favorite stories to hear from Aunt Elaine and Aunt Pat, whether it was winning the bus rodeo or wrangling bratty kids - they did it all!), while raising kids and taking care of their communities. I keep wondering when Aunt Dee will slow down a bit and enjoy retirement, but she's far too busy taking meals to shut-in seniors while making time for bowling, too! Aunt Kathie is renowned for just doing what's right - she epitomizes gritty determination. These ladies don't back down from a fight. I can only hope to aspire to that level of passion for the many facets of my life. You go, girls!
Today, looking back, I feel overwhelmed with the task of following in these women's footsteps. They've all got such unique style, voice, and passion. But, I'm equally thrilled to have such incredible role models who led the way. These women wore heels, work boots, and sneakers. They pushed through stereotypes and knocked down barriers. For me. Happy Women's History Month, ladies!

Apparently now its my turn. Gulp. Wonder what the heck I can do to make the world a better place for my nieces and maybe even a granddaughter someday?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What Makes Something Zazzle?

I was taking my adorable niece, Reagan, to kindergarten the other morning.  My sister dropped her off at the crack of dawn (for me anyway) with the usual assortment of gear.  Included in the piles of snow boots, backpack, and snacks was a special bag that needed to be deliverd directly to the kindergarten teacher.

Reagan had the honor of selecting the plates, cups, and napkins for the Valentine's Day festivities in her class. 

As I wearily scrubbed my eyes to bring things into focus, my bubbly little charge dropped to the floor and unceremoniously dumped out the contents of her shopping bag.  "Wait until you see these, Aunt Mo," she enthused as only a 5-year-old can.

There, in the harsh light of my 100-watt foyer chandelier, she produced the goods.  Paper finery fit for a celebration of love.  The plates were covered in red and pink hearts.  Hearts swamped nearly every inch of the surface of each item.  Wow.

And, that's when the prolific words lept from her mouth.  She's a marketing sage.  A product development powerhouse.  The people at Dixie need this girl on their team.  She summarized what may have involved dozens of meetings by well-meaning executives; a graphic design team arguing over color and style; and research with target audiences that included a spectrum of demographics and psychographics.

Reagan nailed it all with one sentence.

"I picked these because they had the most hearts," she said in a serious, businesslike manner.  "Aren't they so pretty?"

Ahhhh, that's the secret to everything.  Don't over think it.  Just fill it up with more of the stuff that makes people smile.  Give 'em what they want.  And, add a little bit more -- sort of a dollop of whipped cream on the top -- just because you can.  And should.

So, get back to it, folks.  Whatever you do for a living.  Whatever your product or service.  Add some more hearts to the darn thing.  Why not?  It's bound to make your customers smile and sigh with joy.  Somebody listened to their desires.  Give it some more zazzle!

Besides, Reagan will be watching.  And, she's not gonna buy it if it doesn't have heart!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Noticing Miracles in Your Path

If you are anything like me, you are often praying for one miracle or another.  Rarely do we notice the results of our prayers.  Right?

Of course, I often find that my miracle requests are somewhat bodacious in nature.  They're heavy lifting, if you will.  Who prays to find spare change in your coat pocket so you can pay the parking meter? Not me.  I'm busy praying for world peace, a cure for obesity, to hit it big in the Lotto, or to have some random celebrity buy me a summer home (whatever, quit judging my miracle requests, I'm sure yours aren't so alturistic!).

The truth is that more often than we realize it we're stumbling over one miracle or another.  Typically, we're so darn busy looking for the big ticket items that we don't notice those everyday miracles in our path.

I was blatantly reminded of the everyday miracles this weekend when I received the earth shaking news that a dear friend of mine, Lynn Heilig Faber, had fallen from a ladder while conducting inventory at her Holland business.  She fell six feet onto a concrete floor.  Today she is recovering from the resulting brain injury at a local hospital.  I'm sure she doesn't feel great today, but she is alive.

The path that Lynn took on Friday was strewn with simple, everyday miracles.  They happened in real time.  Nobody was praying for them.  There wasn't a prayer chain feverishly working on her behalf.  A Higher Power just took up the charge and peppered Lynn with a handful of miracles.

I feel sort of enlightened to have noticed them.  Typically I'm oblivious to this type of thing (remember, I'm busy crossing my fingers for an A-lister to buy me that summer home on Lake Michigan!).  First, she wasn't alone at work that morning, Joe (her husband and business partner) was within earshot and responded immediately.

Second, as she fell from the top of a 6-foot ladder her foot must have tripped on a rung of the ladder.  This caused her fall to shift a bit and she landed on her shoulder first, then the back of her head hit the floor.  She's no ballerina, but I must applaud the choreography!  How often does that chain of events line up?

I've been friends with Lynn since our freshman year in college at Grand Valley State Univeresity in 1985 (holy smokes!).  She was the maid of honor in my wedding 18 years ago.  We go way back.  I feel justified in pointing out that she's always been hard-headed.  But, really?! This is a bit dramatic.  No severe brain damage.  Sure, some swelling, probably a whopper of a headache, and she'll walk like a tipsy sailor for a bit, but that's it.

Again, a miracle tossed down on the path.  No questions asked.

So, while I am not above continuing to make some very specific requests of a Higher Power (no, silly, I'm not asking God for a beach house, how crass!), I'm going to invest some time each day scanning the real estate of my life for the everyday miracles that I've already received.  I'm pretty sure that Lynn doesn't have a corner on the miracle market, so join me in seeking out those that have been slipped between the lines of your life too. 

I'm betting that we trip over a miracle or two every single day and just don't notice.  The next time I find enough change in my coat pocket for a parking meter, you're sure to hear me shout out a big old fashioned "Amen, baby!"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Service with a Smile . . . or a Smirk

Where does the concept of being nice to your customers fall in most people's job descriptions?  From the experiences I've had lately, pretty far down.

Here's a simple, yet brilliant, idea for everyone's New Year's Resolution list: Treat your customers with respect and appreciate their presence in your life.  Really.

A couple of weeks before Christmas I was shopping for my son's Christmas program outfit.  He has been growing like crazy the past few months and I realized that he needed a new pair of khaki pants for his Kindergarten debut on stage.  I sauntered in to The Children's Place at RiverTown Mall in Grand Rapids, MI, (no reason not to name names and point fingers!) and looked around at the slim pickings that were available.  I selected a pair of sweat pants and pajamas to purchase and made my way to the cashier. 

She offered me their credit card, which I declined.  Then she requested my e-mail address so that I could be up-to-date on their deals.  I respect this type of offer, heck, I've been in advertising and marketing my entire career, so I get it. 

As I declined again, I decided to share my reason -- I rarely purchase clothes at their store because they offer so little selection for boys.  It seems that if I don't like the "theme" there isn't going to be anything for me to purchase until the new theme is unveiled.  And, I continued, I'm shopping today for my son's Christmas program so the casual tee shirts won't do today.

Instead of thanking me for the input and moving on, the saleswoman informed me, "Well, most of the moms buy their children's Christmas program outfits right after school starts in the fall, so what do you expect to be available now?"


Did she just imply that I'm a lazy mom?

Help me understand how this behavior will ever encourage me to shop at her store again?

Trust me.  I won't.  Ever. Shop there again.

Come on kids, customer service applies to everyone.  Not just people with those words in their title.  Get over yourselves and treat people with respect.  I promise it will pay off.  This is Advertising, Public Relations, Marketing, and Common Sense 101. 

Happy New Year, I say with a big smile as I also note how grateful I am to have your business (aka eyes reading my blog!) today.  Come again, y'all!