Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Heartfelt Thanks 2011

Once a year I like to stop the rat race of life and reflect on the Top Ten Things for which I give thanks. Each year its different. Each year it reflects the past 12 months. And, each year I find myself overwhelmed by just how many people or products I owe a debt of gratitude. Wowzers!

Sometimes quirky, but always heartfelt, here we go...

1) Rick and Connor -- Easy. Every night I whisper a thank you to God for bringing these two gentlemen into my life. Both are a treasured gift and both challenge me to be a better version of myself. Love these boys!

2) The Ladies Tee Party Board of Directors and Volunteers -- Holy Heartstrings, Batman! These people give it all and then give a little more. Love the dedication of my inner circle of supporters -- prepping and planning for this event takes an entire year (and many bottles of wine!). They put up with my mood swings and creative impulses with grace and humility. I'm equally humbled by the amazing volunteers who take a day off work and offer it to the Ladies Tee Party. We now have more volunteers working the event than participants in the original that took place on the lakeshore almost 8 years ago.

3) Homemade Chex Mix -- Seriously. I make it the old school way, no frills or fancy seasonings. Lots of butter, worcestershire sauce, and garlic salt. Yes, garlic salt. Sure it makes your breath a little zesty, but that's what icy cold beer was made for...washing down all that Chex Mix. Mmmmmm! Now, that's a two-fer in the thankfulness department!

4) Maximize Technologies -- My husband and his partner, Keith Torno, have collected a super nerdy bunch of techs, each with heart and a sense of humor, at Maximize Technologies. West Michigan businesses are better off when they link with this brain pool -- for everything from software development and customization to network engineering and help desk support. Plus, I just adore their families! This photo is from our gathering this summer at a Whitecaps game, including everyone's spouses and kids -- what fun!

5) Neighbors -- When you buy a house you rarely think about the most important facet of that investment -- your neighbors -- until its too late. In our case we hit the jackpot! We have fantastic neighbors who have become dear friends. They've provided my son with a dog to love, a baby to look out for, incredible big brother role models, babysitters, coaches, and a fan base who really cares. I could just hug 'em all, but that starts to feel a little too Wisteria Lane for me, we'll just leave it at thankful!

6) Blandford Nature Center -- What a treasure right in the heart of the westside of Grand Rapids! We walk to a trailhead from our house and then wander under the canopy of trees along the trails, always discovering something we've never seen before. Each season brings new experiences along those trails and lots of time to chat about life with my little adventurer.

7) ARC Angels -- We were tossed together by chance...and the pursuit of a non-workstudy college job on campus. Today we remain friends because we share that history, but also because we're intrigued by each other's unique life path. Heck, we like each other! As ARC Angels, we worked in the Academic Resource Center at Grand Valley State University (okay, it was a college when I started, I think I still have paper cuts from the mailing we hand-assembled announcing the transition to University status!) for Dean Mary Seeger. Mary Beversluis was her administrative assistant at the time and took care in selecting each of us -- or so we like to say! The first photo is from a gathering just last spring, we connect several times a year with as many of our crew as possible. The second photo was taken in 1989 on campus at GVSU without Mary or Dean Seeger...see, the Angels haven't changed a bit!

8) My Parents -- I am so thankful that I was raised by two people who shared their love and values without casting judgment or restricting potential. John and Jackie Fitzgerald were in love with each other and adored their children...all nine of us! While I miss them daily, I am so grateful for all of the years we shared. I often wish that I could ask them for advice today about everything from parenting to finances to movies or football.

9) Baseball -- From Little League to the Big Leagues, I'm a fan. What's not to love about a game that is played in the sunshine (most of the time!), requires teamwork and strategy, but showcases personal dedication to the craft. Take me out to the ballgame...anytime, anywhere!

10) Daily's Frozen Drink Pouches -- Another one of those ideas that I wish I'd thought of! Margaritas or daiquiris, among other treats, sold in the supermarket, premixed in foil pouches. Just toss them in your freezer to create portable slushies complete with liquor. The Frozen Lemonade was a personal favorite this summer on the beach! It's like fun size candy bars, except they're your favorite cocktails -- fantastic!

Friday, October 28, 2011

20 and Counting!

This month Rick and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Big doin's for some, a drop in the bucket for others, an unheard of accomplishment for still others. (Please refrain from laughing out loud until the end as you view the following photos portraying our fantastic early 90s fashion, gigantic wedding party, big hair and slick mullets...we know you dressed like this too!)

For us it was a Wednesday night during a silly busy week. We toasted our togetherness with glasses of sparkling wine and roses and smushy kisses nonetheless. And then we got right back to the business of living. You see, we celebrate being a couple every day. We don't schedule date night to remind us that we should still be in love, we practice that one all the time.

I can remember my mom saying that she and my dad never fought -- they discussed issues. Sometimes they would discuss things over and over again! Contrary to that philosophy is the Rick and Mo negotiation tactic. We fight.

But, we fight honestly and openly. Most often we banter back and forth and steam a bit and then spark another round...and then we let it go. But, always, always, always, we fight with each other. We don't tell our friends and family about how mad we are about something if we haven't been honest with each other. Its solid advice, feel free to take it to the bank and save it for a rainy day...or just spend it freely on your own relationship.

Truly I think the secret to surviving more than 20 years of marriage is that we like to dance with each other. Let's be honest, there are very few people who would want to take on the challenge of dancing with either one of us. We insist on spinning and twirling and whipping each other all about the dance floor. Really, I think we were destined to be professional swing dancers, except that we are really too lazy to learn all of those precise moves (and seriously, can you imagine Rick flipping me over his head or under his legs, while I'm wearing a swing skirt - the horrors!).

At any given moment if a band, a DJ, or the radio playing in the next room strikes up a tune that either of us recognizes we are bound to grab the other and start twirling. Recently we realized how horrifying this can be to the younger generation in our midst. I was surprised to learn that our moves are not "cool" and that we are considered something of a hot mess by the kids in our family (they are only 7 and 8 years old, so I will forgive them!).

Its the cross that we must bear in accordance with our marital vows. Once you've been married this long, nobody expects cool any more. Yet, I think we've still got it. Hopefully we'll be able to hang on to it for several more decades to come.

Everyone should be so blessed to live out their lives with a person with whom they can always fight fair and who isn't afraid to spin them on the dance floor. Someone who will still turn out the lights each night with a simple "I love you." And, really, really mean it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Places that Heal

This summer as I watched my 7-year-old splash in Lake Michigan's frothy surf I was overcome with just how lucky we are and how grateful I am to these unsalted waters. They've tamed many aches and always washed hope back up on the shore.

It was this beach where Rick and I decided that we'd tell medical reality to go to hell and dove in headfirst to finally become parents. This is also where we weathered the storms that arose along that journey, always keeping an eagle eye focused on the horizon and the final goal of holding the hand of our very own child. I'll never forget the first time we brought Connor to this beach...the wind on his face made him laugh. It was so healing.

We experienced a blur of loss later that year when my father and brother died. As spring dawned, it was this beach where we returned. It is the perfect place to scream in anger and pound the waves without harming yourself or alarming the neighbors.

We returned with our mom several times over the next couple of years. Often helping her make the seemingly impossible climb down the dune stairs to the beach to revel in the splendor of the setting sun. This view always filled even our broken hearts with the possibility that tomorrow would come and bring beauty and joy. Truly healing.

My younger sisters and I were with our mom on our annual beach getaway when we realized that she was struggling with a serious health issue. There we were in the place we turned for healing, facing a challenge that seemed surreal. We laugh now at our inept bravado as we sat on the deck of my brother's beach house, drinking coffee and mulling what was happening with mom...and one of us had the audacity to say, "God wouldn't do that to us or to her, and if anything happens to mom we're just moving to the beach and putting our heads in the sand."

Mom died in January. The beach was frozen solid and the sand had rearranged the landscape and left a jagged profile in its wake. We kept our heads up and continued with our lives.

That summer we stared at the sunsets and swore we could hear our mom's voice marveling at the beauty. The waves had returned the beach to a sugar soft runway for our children's games. It was a place of healing yet again.

Now, when I swim in those waters and toss a ball on that beach with my sweet little boy, I am overcome by what a sacred place it is for us. It may be littered with tears and broken hearts, but it is certainly also shored up with moments of pure joy and the absolute confidence that life may ebb and flow, but it leaves a lasting memory in its wake.

Soon, our healing place will play host to one of those moments of hope and happiness. Later this month, surrounded by a small group of supporters, my baby sister and her love will marry on our beach and join their families in a lifetime of shared emotion.

They will stand on that beach and absorb the power of all that beauty and healing and transform it into a vow to each other and their children. We will stand united on that beach and allow ourselves to be transfixed by the glory of the setting sun and its promise of another tomorrow...for the bride and groom...and for everyone who has ever needed healing. For everyone who has ever turned to this place where God himself painted the sky and suffused the waters with such glory and peace.

Addendum (9/26/2011): They did it! Marcia and Dave were married on our beach Saturday, September 24, 2011. What a happy, spectacular event for them. We all felt honored to be invited to witness their joyful ceremony. And, really, nothing can convey all of that better than a couple of snapshots (credit to my sister Colleen Fitzgerald for the photos).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Taking Back "Me Time"

There is a reason that I'm 15 pounds overweight. Same reason that I always get scolded at the dentist's office for not flossing enough. Same reason that I typically go through several hanging baskets each summer instead of keeping one alive throughout. Same reason that I use a jar of spaghetti sauce instead of making it from scratch.

Apparently I'm otherwise occupied during those precious 15 or 30 minutes that I should be dedicating to one of dozens of activities that are super simple if I just carve out the time for them.

Honestly, I'm going to freak out if I read one more helpful article about how it takes only 15 minutes a day to have great abs or how I can have better looking skin by investing only 10 minutes a day in a 3-step process that will restore my youthful, dewy looking complexion.

Every woman's publication editor on Earth is focused on telling me how to spend every single moment of my day so that I can carve out some "me time." After all, if I followed their timetable I too would be able to swish a toilet while brushing my teeth and giving myself a pedicure, all before spending quality time with my family over a wholesome breakfast that I selected at the farmer's market the day before. My son would probably have time to practice long division during breakfast while my husband and I bantered about all the news feeds we've just scanned on our mobile phones (can I hook that up in the shower?). 

You think I jest. And, yet, I mean it. STOP sucking my life away 15 minutes at a time! I don't want to be told how to be more efficient any more. Every single time saving tip I read just makes me feel terrible about my life. If the story or conversation starts with, "Gosh, if you just spent 15 minutes a day doing ...." be prepared for me to self-combust.

Whew. Thanks for letting me unload that pistol. This probably saved, Cathy, my dental hygienist from having to live through a major hissy fit at my next appointment. And, since I've now cleared the schedule from all those self-help requirements...I'm going to sit down on my porch and enjoy a glass of my favorite wine. I call that "me time" and I've earned all 15 minutes of it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Just Want a Pan That's Still Round!

My pans are warped. Sure, I've had them for about 15 years. But, they are pans for goodness sake! They are made out of a fantastic steel and about 10 other metal derivatives, according to the sales pitch I received when I bought them. How do they warp?

I remember washing the pots and pans at my parent's house as a child. They were so bright and shiny with their copper bottoms...nothing fancy or ultra or improved about them. I'm sure they were the basic model at the time that my mom and dad married, more than 55 years ago, since they were a wedding gift.
Revere Copperclad Bottom 1-Quart Covered Saucepan
My mom was famous for burning the vegetables at dinnertime. So, these pans were sure to have a few scars from that abuse. But, they sure weren't warped. The lids fit. And, they were still in my mom's kitchen several years ago when we emptied her house after her death. I wonder where they are today...

My fantastic arsenal of cookware was the finest my money could buy at the time. I remember how proud I was of their heavy duty weight and clear, shatterproof lids. I bought all the requisite accessories -- spoons, spatulas, a giant fork, and even a coated whisk -- to prevent any ruptures in their fine, non-stick, Teflon skin.

And yet they warped!

The manufacturer said that they could be washed safely in the dishwasher. Sometimes I took them up on this luxury. Other times I washed them by hand.

I asked a manufacturer's representative about this anomaly. It was suggested that I shouldn't have placed them in the dishwasher. And, after all, they are almost 20 years old! Luckily they have a new series of pots and pans to offer me that are even more improved and fantastic than those I owned!

It's not just these darn pans, which my family will continue using until they literally fall apart. It seems to be a trend in manufacturing today. Shiny wins!

I enjoy sparkly new as much as the next person. But, honestly, I'm getting a little perturbed by the underlying theme that I'll be too distracted to notice that manufacturers are crafting and selling crap at premium prices. I don't shop at a dollar store, and I expect my purchases to reflect that.

Will it help if I start packaging up all the "stuff" that I've purchased that fails to live up to even its miniscule warranty? I'll send it back to the goofball product managers who built their projections for merit increases on immediate sales and not long-term brand commitment and satisfaction.

Is there a single consumer products brand out there that cares about what they make beyond squeezing it into the smallest possible packaging to maximize shelf-space? If yes, please point them out to me. I'm waiting...with my warped pans in hand!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Steely Spines: Books and the Ladies Who Read Them

My book club is an interesting group of friends who share an interest in reading...and in each other. It occurred to me the other day as I was thinking about how critically we review EVERY book we read that there must be a reason for our high standards. It couldn't be that we are just that snarky. Could it?

Then I took a hard look at the lives of the women and had a realization. Duh! Of course we sigh with disdain over the foibles of even the most intriguing hero in the most well reviewed books on the shelf. Our collective group has already lived a fairly rousing bit of drama in reality. The fictional characters that challenge many reader's sensibilities appear trivial to us. Almost as if they were paper dolls, easily whisked away by the draft of a swiftly opened door.

My girls have guts. We have glamour. We've lived the pants right off a lot of the more traditional book club plot lines. No wonder we're bored by convention!

How can I paint a picture that measures the infinite depth of the varied emotions we've felt, shared, celebrated, and sobbed over? Maybe some numbers regarding our 12 ladies...

Widowed -- 1
Divorced -- 3
Currently Married -- 8
Currently Involved with Long-term Partner -- 4
Children -- 31 (includes stepchildren)
Stillborn Children -- 5
Miscarriages -- Countless
Grandchildren -- 5
Currently Caring for Ill Parent(s) -- 1
Deceased Parent(s) -- 3
Provided Hospice Care for Parent(s) -- 2
Removed Loved One from Life Support -- 2
Survivor of Major Health Scare -- 3
Managing Chronic Illness -- 5
Career Transformations -- 9
Sibling Death in Violent Manner -- 3
Natural Hair Color -- 0 (it just depends on the day, people, don't judge!)
Tatooed -- 7

Good grief! Add in all the semantics of life that can't be quantified, all the time on the therapist's couches; the fertility crises; the faith challenges; the embrace of renewed faith; the broken hearts; the heart's desires realized; the moments spent wallowing near the edge of despair; the giggles that transform into guffaws of joy, and so much more. There we are. No wonder we roll our collective eyes so often at the dramatic reveal, chapter by chapter, that just doesn't seem to live up to our experiences.

As in every pursuit these ladies have endeavored, we'll keep on trying. After all, the failures are what makes the successes so insanely delightful...in print and in life. Read on, ladies, read on!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Seeing Jackie Reflected in Her Family

It's been four years since we said our last goodbye to Jacqueline Welch Fitzgerald, my mother. Indulge me for a moment as I dig out the notes I made for my mom's eulogy at her funeral mass. Delivering this was so important to me...connecting the dots from my mother to each of her nine children and sharing all that love with everyone who attended the celebration of her life. I promise its not morose...in fact, there are chuckles throughout.

I still reach for my phone to call her every day to share the silliest things...I doubt that will ever go away. Its incredible to have roots like this. Thank you, mom! Miss you every day...

I’ve been told for years how much I look like my Mom, Jackie. Like all daughters I cringe a bit at the reminder, but give me a chance and I’ll point out all of Mom’s most positive physical attributes. I’ll spare you the entire list today – but suffice to say that in my eyes Jackie was gorgeous!

As my family has supported my Mom on her Journey these last couple of months I have become more aware of just how much each of Jackie’s children resembles her in some way. You see, Jackie spent her life investing herself into a legacy that isn’t carved in granite or painted on the side of a building, rather one that lives and breathes and shares itself with so many. The living organism that is the Fitzgerald Family as a collective whole resembles its creators and today I’d like to point out the shadows of Jackie in each.

In John, the eldest, we witness the leadership skills that allowed Jackie to somehow coerce a group of nine independent-minded children and one hard-working husband to fall in line and carry out her wishes – no matter how much we whined. John, by chance and by nature, is a leader and no matter the size of the burden he will always step up to the plate immediately to shoulder it. He learned from our Mom that it isn’t the width of the shoulders, rather the pillar of strength on which those shoulders rest that allows a person to accept responsibility and carry it with honor.

Through Patrick we often glimpse diplomacy in action. Jackie wasn’t the first mother to live out the “Speak softly and carry a big stick” mantra – and Pat has certainly been schooled by the best. Trust me, it is an art to convince so many members of one family that it is big fun to spend countless hours running (and getting nowhere I might add, they just went around and around!) in the hot sun and freezing cold. Somehow he turned that into not just an activity but a passion that was shared with all of the Fitzgerald boys and even some of the girls. We have often asked Pat to negotiate the tough stuff and make everything work out for everyone. As we all know, none of those requests were easy, but all were accepted and carried out with the utmost of kindness and concern for everyone involved. Just like his Mom. True diplomats.

Number Three in our Family is Marian – Mom’s first daughter. The one she dreamed of right up until she was placed in her arms after birth. I remember Mom talking about that Moment and how she had already acknowledged to her doctor that she had two sons at home and she was sure this would be a boy too, rather than the daughter she longed for. Through Marian we can witness again the ultimate dedication of a Christian woman doing everything in her power to raise her children with faith. Jackie was committed to her children and seeing them flourish and to her faith and seeing it lived out in those children. It is an amazing testament to her love that we all survived countless Sunday masses when the giggles took over and we just couldn’t stop – although Jackie could usually halt the giggles with one snap of her fingers down the pew. She always knew who the offender was – even when it involved our Dad (who was a famous instigator of the giggles at mass). I’ve seen Marian make the same sideways glance down the pew and watched in amusement as more than one of her children straightened up and faced front. And, usually I started giggling at the sight because of the memories it invoked!

My brother, Mark, shared with Mom the ability to conceive of a vision for a goal and then fight for it no matter what the barriers. Mom taught him well to firmly believe his vision was the best possible and to put in motion whatever needed moving to achieve the goal. Most often Mom and Mark had congruent visions – over the last decade they’ve shared almost daily meals and conversations to reinforce this bond. But, wow, were these two were fun to watch when they chose different sides of something! I will never forget watching the two of them build a closet at the cottage many years ago. I can’t remember the specifics about their engineering discrepancy, but Mom was sure that her plan was the right one – and so was Mark. There is no lack of self-esteem anywhere in our family and I think it is apparent that little Jackie taught Mark to believe in his convictions and support them with passion. Even when the thing you believe in is as simple as the plan for a closet at your summer cottage!

Through Greg – the middle child – we see the humor that Mom always swore she didn’t have. After all, how can you not have a sense of humor when you are juggling nine kids and countless other responsibilities? Mom always contended that from birth Greg could light up a room just by entering it. And, as the 5th child, he learned early that in order to be noticed he needed to add a little flourish to his presence in every situation. Mom often told us that she had to learn to be funny in order to fit into Dad’s Irish family. I am sure that my parents bantered back and forth till their last days together about Mom’s English sense of humor vs. his Irish one. It still makes me laugh to think about that conversation – and how funny it really was. Mom was never the one to tell a joke outright, but she sure did light up a room when she walked in – just like her middle child.

Through Steve we witnessed Mom’s unending patience – something they shared from the earliest days. In both of them we have witnessed a serene sort of calm that must only come from within. In many cases that served them both well – for instance in those months and years that Mom would bandage and protect Steve’s hand after he burned it as a very young boy. All of us witnessed the epitome of patience when eating dinner with Steve – I think he was patiently waiting for each individual green bean to digest before chewing the next. There really is no other reason for the inordinate amount of time he spent at the dinner table each night. And, in true Jackie fashion, she allowed him his space and cleared the rest of the table around him. Never pushing or cajoling (after all, the rest of us did enough of that for her!). I believe that Steven was patiently waiting for Mom to join him on his Heavenly Journey these past two years and was there by her side giving her the space she needed to finish up matters here before she joined him this week.

Everyone who knew my Mom knows that she may have been a practical lady, but that she had a truly creative spirit. No one saw this more or shared it more fully than Colleen. Both of them seem to live their daily lives in such a matter of fact way, Colleen is an Engineer for gracious sakes. But, their spirits have always been nourished and challenged by their ability to think outside the creative confines of daily life and express their spirit in so many ways. My Mom is a poet and an author. She has painted in oil and watercolor . . . and always dreamt of the next opportunity to stir her soul with something not yet tried. In Colleen she had a confidant for those dreams. I know that they had several projects in various phases of completion that today remain unfinished – but our Mom never liked to leave something undone. I believe in the tenacity of the creative spirit and know that Colleen will find every way possible to continue to flourish creatively – not for Mom, but because of her.

In Number 9 – the youngest of the clan, Marcia, we witness the thing that always seemed to be the most obvious attribute of our Mother – intelligence. Now, Mom and Dad were always proud that they raised nine intelligent, educated kids. And, sure, we’ve all got the capacity to operate on someone’s brain, but Marcia actually does it! So, before the rest of my siblings think I’m saying that Marcia is the smartest, no, but she sure does make a good effort at it! She and Mom shared a love of learning – they challenged each other with the things they read and the ideas that were inspired. Jackie always respected Marcia’s intelligence (long before college and careers) and rightfully so, Marcia always respected Mom’s. That is the key to true intelligence, recognizing it in others and respecting their gifts. Jackie instilled a love of learning in all of her children and through Marcia we can see that her years of cultivation were meaningful in every way.

My mother had spunk! She was a faith-filled woman. And, she never wavered in her commitment to her family; from her own dear sisters and her little brother, to her parents and father-in-law, and my dad’s siblings and their children – who have always been so very dear to her. And especially her nine children as that family expanded to include in-laws and precious grandchildren that she adored.

Jackie knew how to reach out to people and comfort as well as prod. She recognized when it was time to hold back her own opinion in favor of letting someone make their own mistakes. But she was always there with a shoulder to cry on and an encouraging word about giving it one more try.

I am truly amazed today at what a forward-thinking woman my mother was. She was a goal-oriented lady who never stopped seeking knowledge about things that interested her. I love to imagine that petite, little lady when she graduated from Concord High School at the top of her class and proudly marched off with a scholarship to be the first person in her family to attend and graduate from college. She never thought much about the women’s lib movement – she’d been a working Mom with goals of her own for years. She set the bar high for her daughters and her sons. I don’t remember chores in our home ever being divided by gender – the important thing was that someone washed the dishes and mowed the lawn, not whether it was a boy or a girl. Those lessons have served me well in my career and life.

The world is less bright today without Jacqueline Marie Welch Fitzgerald. But it is a better place overall because she has been here and shared so much of herself with those she loved. Jackie lost her dear husband of 50 years two falls ago. The two of them were best friends and constant companions – as well as phenomenal dance partners! I can hear the band warming up now in anticipation of those two cutting a rug. That’s exactly how I want to imagine her today. Dancing with her love . . . and singing “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.” I’m sure hers are . . . they always were.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Personal Peek at the Year in Review

Nothing prolific to spout...no karmic revelation to report...just a simple look back at a year full of joy and challenges. Keep on swimming, people.

Here are my highlights in photos:

March -- Aunt Elaine and Uncle Ron celebrated 50 years of marriage, a great excuse for my mother's siblings to pose for my camera. Nice to see everyone together sharing in a joyous celebration!

April -- Spring Break trip to Las Vegas for the Penn Family with a side trip to the Grand Canyon. We were a bit skeptical about Vegas for a family trip, but had a blast and will definitely be back!

April -- Connor's first Little League game of the season with his dad as coach. So much fun to watch!

April -- A weekend with my girls in Pentwater was a wonderful way to reconnect and reminisce. Did Michele and I really meet in 5th grade and break up in 7th, yet somehow we've shared all of the most important moments of our lives together? Will Lynn and I ever experience another moment like our first road trip to Ann Arbor (cue music from St. Elmo's Fire) when the world seemed to stop as we pulled into town? Will Laura and I ever get our fantasy wish of leaving the day-to-day behind and becoming full-time country club wives (I can hear the laughter ringing all around me!)? Was it luck or destiny that when I broke my foot in college, I had a sorority sister like Jen willing to carry me on her back during goofy rush events (leave no sister behind!)?

May -- Connor's class picnic...what a great bunch of kids he shared Kindergarten with at Holy Spirit.

June -- Here I am with friend, Dorothy Ramos, toasting the third annual Ladies Tee Party Charity Golf Scramble to benefit the Sleeping Angels Endowment (established by my friends Katherine and Mike Schoenborn). I love organizing this incredible golf outing every year and 2010 was no exception! We raised an additional $14,000 for the Endowment and treated 135 lady golfers to a fantastic day on the links. See you this year on Friday, June 17, 2011!

June -- Nephew Kyle was called up to report to Afghanistan with the National Guard, so he and Mandy moved their wedding up by four months. It may not have been the wedding she was planning, but I sure hope it was still the wedding of her dreams! Congratulations to Kyle and Mandy!

June -- Our annual Fitzgerald Family Golf Outing always results in lots of good natured taunting, and one team earns the right to be called "Scramble Champs" for another year. This year it was Rick, Colleen, Neal, and Ryleigh -- a formidable squad to be sure!

July -- Sparklers on the beach while watching the fireworks? Heck yeah!

July -- Summertime in Michigan on the Lake...perfect! We were fortunate to share many wonderful sun-filled days at our favorite place just south of Pentwater. What a dream for a 6-year-old boy!

August -- Our wonderful neighbors transformed their backyard into a field of dreams for local kids and hosted a Wiffleball Tournament. Connor was lucky enough to be asked to join some of the boys for the day as their bat boy (the tournie is set for kids ages 8-11, so he couldn't play). What a ridiculously fun day he had -- and his team took home the trophy to boot! Incredible memories for him...and every adult who had the joy of witnessing this.

August -- Gulp! My baby is a First Grader...how did that happen?

September -- Sadly, we said goodbye to Rick's dad, Richard D. Cook. He was a gruff man who loved deeply and was infinitely proud of his children...all of them. This photo was taken a few years ago, but it is still one of my favorites of Dick with his son and grandson.

September -- Just one more memory of Dick Cook, with his pipe on his favorite stretch of beach along the Gulf in Florida. This is how I like to remember him, happy and relaxed without a worry in the world. Rest in Peace.

September -- What a lovely wedding for niece Emily and her husband Todd! Congratulations! Big love and smiles were all around...

September -- ...especially from their littlest wedding attendants, who had a blast all day...and somehow behaved themselves through the ceremony at the waterfall. Whew!

September -- Connor's flag football team was sooooo excited to play under the Friday Night Lights during halftime of a 2010 state champion West Catholic High School game.

October -- Ohhhh, ArtPrize!

October -- The family that plays dress-up together stays together...or at least has a blast on Halloween! Nephew Mark II joined us to spook the neighborhood kids and pass out shots to the adults. Bahhhaaahhhaa!

December -- Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 9 foot tree with a star on top!

 December -- We rang in the New Year at the wedding of my cousin, Tricia, to her love Tandem. We'd just said goodbye to Tricia's father, Charles Clark Sr., at the end of October. So, this was the perfect way to start 2011 fresh...and filled with joy! Congratulations to the newlyweds. And, Rest in Peace Uncle Chuck.

Thanks for indulging me...and for reading my blog. Feel free to follow and post comments. Every writer needs their readers!

Cheers to 2011!