Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Mail Brain

Nothing makes me happier than mail.  Wanna guess what was inside this package?

For answer and full story, visit today's Chicago Parent HERE.

Monday, March 25, 2013

My So-Called Teen Life with Vintage Photos & Bad Poetry

I am not good at directions.  I turn the kids' Christmas presents over to my husband for assembly.  I think Chutes & Ladders has too many rules.  I get lost driving home from the grocery store.

My inability to follow directions carries over into my blogger life as well. There are these chain-awards out there that instruct recipients to link things, answer questions, nominate people, and provide urine samples. While it's always nice to be nominated, I'm just way too lazy and unfocused to follow through.

The same applies to blog hops, blog challenges, and weekly prompts. Yet when one of my very favorite people in the whole world, Andrea from Maybe It's Just Me, personally asked that I participate in the My So-Called Teenage Life Blog Hop, I couldn't say no.

The premise was pretty easy, but the humiliation potential was limitless. I needed to locate some of my high school poetry and share it with the world. I was also encouraged to include a photo from those wonderfully big-haired high school years:

Me and my date, "George Glass."
Next up was the poetry. This was even more painful than my 12" hair. I would like to preface the following work with a request that readers still visit the blog even after enduring quite possibly the worst iambic pentameter EVER.

At the time, I thought I was a genius. It was for a sophomore year homework assignment. It might have even been for extra-credit because I was just that big of a nerd.

The Life of Riley
-Marianne aged 15

Every day I eat my Cherry Pop Tarts
and race outside before the bus departs.
Heading to first hour geometry -
I botched my proofs, please do not call on me!

At gym I've lost my uniform again,
I'm no mental threat to those three wise men.
I am so sick of reading "The Jungle."
And yet there's still my paper to bungle.  

Every day, it is exactly the same:
I've got ugly braces, my clothes are lame.  
My friends all seem to walk a path of clear,
while I'd rather skip this entire year.   

The kids I babysit for are so gross.
No babies for me!  I've had my full dose.
Finally, I find some solace at night,
here in my Raggedy Ann room, I write.  

I take careful note of all good and bad,
figuring my English teacher quite mad.
Iambic pentameter grade's unknown. 
My GPA?  Most definitely BLOWN.  

Why I did not receive more college scholarships for such obvious poetry talent is beyond me.   My thoughts now?  I still like Pop Tarts, I was a whiny teenager, and I hope all my early English teachers know what a wonderful impact they made on my life.

So there you go, Andrea.  And remember: Bloggy pay-back is a bitch.  Stay tuned. 

The sole vestiges of my high school room are now proudly on display in my sons' bedroom.  The boys, for whatever reason, don't seem to like them.

Friday, March 22, 2013


When I walked past the baked goods section of Pete's Fresh Market, I had no intention of buying anything.  Yet when I heard a lady ordering some kind of mini-cake with chocolate mouse, my focus and will-power changed.

I needed one of those.

With the three boys bouncing around like ping-pong balls, I opted for a hasty exit.  I didn't really take a good look at my purchase until much later.  That's when I noticed:


My chocolate cake had eyes.  And a sad face.  It was silently pleading with me not to kill him.

I couldn't bring myself to do the unthinkable.  I offered to split the "treat" so my trio could each have some.  Jack and Joey declined.

Danny, on the other hand, gobbled him up without second thought.

I guess I know who'll be pulling the plug on me in the nursing home, right?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Mish Mosh Post

Those linear, logical people of the world have officially named me Public Enemy #1.  It has something to do with my organizational skills.  And taxes.  I'm praying hard that one of these kids will grow up one day to help me file our 1040:

C'mon boys.  I used to give you COOKIES.  
For full write-up on my calling in a "professional" to assist, visit today's CHICAGO PARENT.

After feeling a little disappointed about the whole tax return experience, I returned to my happy place courtesy of today's Spotlight over at the "Listen to Your Mother" site:


I feel a bit like Madonna. 

Okay, so I successfully wove in chess, taxes, and LTYM. 

Time for a nap.  Definitely, definitely a nap.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Somewhere during the height of Europe's big Foot & Mouth Disease problem in the early 2000s, Doctor-Friend (who then was a poor medical student) called me up:

Doctor-Friend:  Wanna go to Ireland?

Me:  Aren't they having some kind of plague or Black Death going on there right now?

Doctor-Friend:  EXACTLY.  Airfare is super cheap and I have a great bus tour we can do.

Me (hesitantly):  Bus tour?

Doctor-Friend:  It'll be greeeeeeat!

Me:  Ok, Tony the Tiger.  I'm in.

Everywhere we went, there were signs posted to not veer off the path or step onto the lush green Irish landscape.  Naturally, we faltered. 

There's no real point here except to say how much I love Ireland, its people, and my Doctor Friend who made me go.  I'll save the story about the hostel experience for another day. 

You owe me, Doc.  BIG.

Happy St.  Paddy's Day everyone!
We traveled with a heavily tattooed and pierced British man, a handful of Australians, and several other individuals whom I can only assume were on the lam. 

Marianne:  "I think I have strep."  Doctor-Friend:  "Have some Sudafed and we'll get you a Guinness later."  She was practically Doctor Kildare. 

I think my life of not following directions started at this exact moment.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


As a fifteen-year-old high school student, I pretty much learned to embrace being uncool.  My best friends were equally uncool.  It was all fine, though.  One of the funniest lines ever spoken was in the movie Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, and it pretty much sums up my high school experience:

"You know, even though I had to wear that stupid back brace and you were kind of fat, we were still totally cutting edge."

I don't have many regrets in life.  I've made mistakes, sure, but I feel they all helped shape me into a relatively decent, if not slightly off-kilter, person.  Yet I do regret something I never did.

Her name was Cheryl and she transferred to my high school as a sophomore. On the very first day of school that year, Cheryl and I were assigned to work as biology lab partners. The girl was ridiculously funny, bubbly, and warm.  She was also terrified at the prospect of not knowing a single person in our school of over 2,000 students. Cheryl was kind and accommodated my pathological aversion to dissection. She handled most of the slicing and dicing while I took care of the paperwork.

In many ways, Cheryl should have been placed on a higher rung of the high school social ladder than myself. I immediately recognized this. So when she kept asking me to hang out or do things, I put her off. I figured she would eventually transition into a cooler circle and leave me in the dust.

Sadly, Cheryl never got the chance. She was killed in a car accident as she and a friend from her last school were pulled over on the side of the road.  The truck did not see them and hit the car. Cheryl hung on for a few days in the hospital, but eventually died from her injuries.

I have felt guilty about this for almost 25 years. I have thought about Cheryl many times throughout my life, including the day I got married and the first time I held Daniel. These were things she never got a chance to do. What if I had only brought her into our circle of nerds? Offered her a place where she was welcomed and accepted? Maybe she wouldn't have been in that car that day, reaching out to old friends for a little support.

As time went on, I often tried to bring the newbie into my circle. Whether it was the college transfer student, the latest hire at the big insurance company, or the new mom to the block, I tried to make sure nobody went it alone. Even when I didn't "click" with a person, I hooked them up with people who shared their interests or backgrounds.  It was the least I could do.

Yet recently, I have gotten complacent. Lazy. It was easier to hang out with my close group of friends who understood each other without explanation. We always know where the punchline is going. We accept each other's baggage.  We even started joking around about getting shirts that read "No New People."  But that's when Miniature Friend made an important observation:

"You have GOT to get out and hang with people outside your comfort zone and do things you're scared of.  You can't spend your entire life walking only into rooms where you know everyone there.  If you don't, you are going to miss out on a lot of great people and never even know it."

Oh crap. 

So last Sunday, I walked into a room where I didn't really know a single person.  It was the first rehearsal for the May 5th Listen to Your Mother Show:

Photo credit: Sabrina Persico

Photo credit: Sabrina Persico

We all got up and took turns reading our pieces.  Some of the people I pegged as "serious" were rip-roaringly hilarious.  And some of the people I thought for sure were going to be funny tore my heart into a thousand little pieces with their moving readings. 

Afterwards?  I needed a drink.  It was like going on the most thrilling, scary, and unpredictable roller coaster EVER.

As luck would have it, we DID all go for drinks.  I was hanging out with people who didn't know me for the first time in forever.  Who would I offend with the absence of my verbal filter?  These gals would also not understand that I'm slightly deaf, a little blind, and can't remember anyone's names or faces until I have met them exactly 425 times.

It didn't matter.  The energy of the group and the different path each woman had taken to arrive at that moment converged to create something special.  Something magical.  I was welcomed into the circle without question or thought. 

So I won't be wearing that "No New People" shirt after all.  When I get on stage May 5th, I will again think of Cheryl, Miniature Friend, and this entire experience to help remind me to live a life without regrets. 

And I'm confident that nobody will regret buying tickets to attend this amazing show, so think about getting some today! TICKETS HERE

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Sinking Feeling

Have you heard about this whole sinkhole thing going on?  I think I may have one in my house:

It is bottomless and it very well might kill me one day.

On a happier note, I totally used sinkholes to my advantage in order to set a few kids straight recently.  Full story HERE in Chicago Parent.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Darvin Furniture: The Exciting Conclusion

My thought process rarely extends past the next carpool. When other mothers ask about my schedule, I am like that old cartoon segment on Sesame Street.  You know the one, right? A little girl skips along trying to remember three things:

A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

But in my case, it is:

Get Joey off the bus, pick up Danny from his stop, gather Jack from school.

Once I handle that, only then can I focus on the next three things:

Take Dan to the orthodontist, drive the kids to chess, drop everyone off at swimming.

My life is a series of the the next three things. Yet when I blog, I live completely in the moment. There is no real plan or order to what I write. I'm like that plastic bag in Forrest Gump: I flit and float wherever the wind takes me.

So when I rambled on the other day about my inability to use an expired Darvin Furniture Gift Card given to Joe and me when we appeared in their commercial (see full post HERE), I really didn't consider what would happen next. Sure, I asked everyone to click the comment link and encourage the store to reconsider its stance on my expired card, but I didn't believe anyone would actually do it.

Have I mentioned how AWESOME my readers are? Because they totally did it. They sent Darvin a whole slew of "Let the poor, crazy girl use her flippin' gift card" requests. 

You'd think maybe then I would have anticipated the phone call I received from the manager of Darvin? Wrong again. When the caller ID showed DARVIN FURNITURE on my phone, I panicked.

Crap, were they going to sue me?

Was I in trouble?

Did I still owe them for our TempurPedic bed??

Bob the store manager instantly put my mind at ease. He didn't demand I withdraw my crazy-ass post.  He didn't hand me off to his lawyers. In fact, he was really nice.

And he promised I could use my long, long, long expired gift card whenever I came in next. Poor little Joey would finally get that lamp for his room.

Bob and I chatted a few more minutes about his many years at Darvin and how the commercial still plays in the store (oh God, our big hair!).  Then he confessed something I have often heard, but never quite believed:

"You simply don't mess around with those mommy bloggers, ha ha. Right Marianne? I mean they're like a force to be reckoned with, no?"

Holy moly.  I suddenly felt like The Godfather.  Or maybe more accurately...

The Godblogger.

See Joey there in the middle?  He did that for 365 days in a row.  I think that pretty much makes me a "made" mom, no? 


I promise to use this power for good, and not for evil. 

Or maybe I'll just work on getting everyone some free cannoli. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

In a Neighborhood Far, Far Away

Due to an important commitment, I missed out on this year's famed Southside Irish Parade.  Yet because of my generous neighbors and relatives with cameras, I still feel as though I was a part things.  So thank you to everyone who shared their pictures and adventures!  There's nothing quite like this day in all of Chicago:

This year was dedicated to first responders.  Photo credit: Allyson "Sassypants" Coglianese

My favorite leprechaun.

The next pope?  Photo credit: Megan Putman

Simply awesome.  Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor

Note: Darth Vader is wearing a kilt.  Photo credit: Kelly O'Connor
Best Next-Door-Neighbor EVER.  Blood drive May 5th - info HERE.

Photo credit: Megan Putman

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Time I Was On Oprah

Some years back, my husband and I were traipsing through Darvin Furniture looking for some beds for our boys.  As we wandered about, a lady approached and asked if we wanted to be part of the store's new television ads.  Our responses:

Joe:  Um.  Well.  Uhhhh.  It's not really....

Marianne (interrupting):  Sure!

There were several ads that aired which included us talking about everything from the prices to the size of the store.  For years, we would get random phone calls from friends spotting us on television:

"You guys are La-OOZERS."

"I'm not sure if I'm sober enough to have even seen this right, but were you guys on a DARVIN commercial?"

"Just saw you two on Oprah.  Dorks."

That's right.  They aired one of the commercials during Oprah.  I can totally say I was on Oprah.  Kinda.

Anyway, things finally settled down and I nearly forgot about the whole experience.  Yet my memory was triggered recently and someone asked if any of the ads were available via YouTube.  I checked, and wouldn't you know!

This would be the one that Cousin Kate kindly refers to as "Marianne nodding and looking adoringly into Joe's eyes as though he has just revealed the very keys to salvation."

Yup.  I'm quite the actress.

Now here's the thing.  We only got paid in a $50 gift certificate to the store.  Yet I never noticed that the card had an EXPIRATION date on it until I went to use it and the saleslady turned me away.  "Sorry - no can do!"

I'm counting on the power of the blogosphere to right this grave injustice.  If everyone can take just a second to decry the senseless refusal of my awesome Darvin gift card, who knows what could happen?  I could buy a throw pillow.  Click here to make your voice heard:


Now that I've thought about it, Joey's room doesn't have a lamp in it and he's been begging for one for years.  So do it. 

It's for the children.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sledding is Way Funner Than it Used to Be

It only took a few years of begging, but Joe somehow convinced me to give sledding another shot.

Full story here in Chicago Parent.

I think I broke the sound barrier on this trip.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Giving It Your Best Shot

When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, family members pitched in however they could.  First up?  The food train. 

You guys remember my deficiency in the kitchen, right?  I'm not exactly Julia Child.  I bowed out and turned over meal preparation to my husband.  I hope my sister-in-law remembers this generous act of kindness in my avoiding accidentally killing her with whatever recipe I was bound to screw up.    

Next up, there was a call for drivers.  This I could do. After all, I was a semi-professional chauffeur given the number of different schools, sports, and instruments I forced upon my kids. So I pulled up one morning to drive my niece Megan, a freshman in high school, to class.

For those unfamiliar with teenagers, conversations with high schoolers usually involve one or two word responses, particularly when said conversations are occurring in the wee hours of the crack of dawn:

Marianne:  Hey there, Meg!  Sheesh it's cold.  Can you believe this weather?  I'd better start packing some long underwear and extra hats for the boys!  It's like we're living in the tundra.

Megan:  Uh huh.

Marianne: how's school going?  Getting straight A's, right?  Do you like your classes this year?  How about your teachers?  Do you have nice teachers?

Megan:  Yup.

Marianne:  Well then, did you eat breakfast?  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day...gets you firing on all four cylinders.  Why, starting a day without breakfast is like not filling your lungs with air in the morning, it's just that important!

Megan:  Mmm hmm.

As we headed south on I-57 to get to Marian Catholic High School, I suddenly wondered why Megan had chosen the school.  With so many options closer to home, why Marian Catholic?  And that was when my niece lit up like a Christmas tree.  She talked excitedly about the school's fantastic basketball program, coaches, and players.

As a person with limited athleticism and moderate interest in sports, even I could not help but enjoy Megan's obvious love of the game.  It was contagious.

That little freshman I drove to school so many years ago is now a senior basketball standout.  She also speaks quite well and has dropped the two-syllable responses. Over the last few years, Megan has shown great presence and potential on-court and off.  She is also a loving and kind cousin to my boys.  But then came this weekend.

Marian Catholic High School won the Illinois State Basketball Championship:

Photo credit: Mary Walsh
It wasn't an easy victory with Marian playing a very evenly matched Rolling Meadows High School.  With the final seconds ticking down, Marian was losing by a point.  There was an inbound.  A missed shot.  Another missed shot.

I stopped watching.  My eyes locked on the game clock.

It wound down to zero.

And at that exact same moment, the crowd erupted as one final buzzer-beating shot pushed through.

Being a mom, I of course felt disappointed for the fantastic girls from Rolling Meadows who played with great skill and heart.  Yet being a proud aunt, I was delighted to see how one of Megan's earliest "big" decisions, one made at fourteen years of age, had panned out.  She could have easily attended Mother McAuley or Marist, the "comfortable" choices.  These were the schools where most of her friends were attending.  Yet her devotion to her game, her love of her sport, and her desire to win took her somewhere else.  Megan chose the road less travelled. 

And it has made all the difference.

Jack's early-morning drawing of his cousin.

Congrats to Marian Catholic and the only niece I have who I can look to borrow clothes from one day.  My heart is still in my throat, but what a ride!  Thank you for also teaching my boys where hard work and drive can lead you.  You are an inspiration!

Friday, March 1, 2013


In honor of Donna Day, Mary Tyler Mom, Team Tommy, John Norris Nolin, and all those who have fought and continue to fight childhood cancer, I am re-posting this blog about one of my heroes, Emily Beazley.  Please consider sponsoring a team or a child this year via St. Baldrick's, a charity committed to stamping out this terrible disease.  

I am not truly dazzled by much.  Perhaps I am a bit jaded, but it takes something really special to impress me.  I never could understand Blue Man Group.

Yet since April 2011, I have been dazzled repeatedly.  In following the amazing struggle, grace, and determination of a family fighting childhood cancer, I have found myself humbled. Ed and Nadia Beazley are friends of ours who continue to battle obstacles that would bring most of us to our knees. Their story needs to be told.

The first time I met Ed and Nadia, it was the first weekend after September 11, 2001. It was their wedding.  Attendees were still in shell shock over the national tragedy, and I felt horrible for the young couple starting a life together on such a somber note.

While many couples might have ignored the giant elephant in the room, Ed and Nadia recognized the deep wounds of those in attendance. They chose to embrace a mood of patriotism and togetherness. Bagpipers marched in playing not their usual wedding selections, but instead played several patriotic songs that inspired many to stand or sing along.  I will always remember that moment as the start of my own healing process after 9/11. Ed and Nadia, as it would turn out, seemed to have a special knack for mending the wounded.

When Nadia became pregnant a few months later with her first daughter, Emily, she was thrilled. I remember bumping into her and she revealed her due date. It was September 11. She must have read my look of oh no and told me confidently,"It's not like anyone ever has their baby on their exact due date, right?"

Of course, our beautiful Emily was born on September 11.

Little Emily faced a very tough first year with a host of health issues that threatened her life and included the likelihood of profound developmental delays. She was born with PPHN (persistent pulmonary hypertension) and she required an ECMO (heart and lung) bypass when she was only 4 days old.

Ed and Nadia again channeled their inner healers and saw her through a seemingly hopeless situation.  Emily wound up attending the same preschool as Daniel, and I marveled at her amazing strides and ability to exceed all medical expectations. She's got a razor sharp mind and marvelous sense of humor. Ed and Nadia had again met tragedy head-on and won.

Yet when my husband got the phone call from a mutual friend telling us that Emily had been admitted to the hospital this past April and that things looked extremely grim, my heart sank. Not again. The family had been through so much, and now cancer? The diagnosis was Stage III T-Cell Lymphoblastic Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Such big words. Such a little girl.

I went to that horrible worst-case scenario place and prepared myself for the unspeakable. Stupid me. This was Ed and Nadia. This was Emily. 

I followed the medical ups and downs through Facebook and CaringBridge. I spoke with mutual friends. It seemed like every step forward also included two steps back. While still aggressively fighting Emily's cancer, Ed and Nadia advocated tirelessly to bring attention to childhood cancers. I had no idea that pediatric cancer is one of the most under-funded research areas out there, despite it killing more children than genetic anomalies, cystic fibrosis, and AIDS combined

Emily returned to school this past week, and for a girl who has had so much struggle in her life, her biggest wish is to just feel normal. So with the help of friends, she put together a video to re-introduce herself to her classmates, detail her journey, and let them all know that she is ready for anything.

Please have a look:

When I asked Nadia if I could share her family's remarkable journey, she told me that they are simply following Emily's cue.

If you are interested in learning more about pediatric cancer research, or supporting CureSearch please visit:

Thank you, Beazley Family for all you do to inspire those around you.  And happy first week back at school, Emily!  We can talk about your future chess lessons another day.  Maybe Monday.

To read more on Emily, click here.