Lunch at our usual place

cracker barrel

Today I had lunch with a friend of mine (we’ll call her Terri).  When she picked me up outside my building, she asked “So where do you want to go?”  I shook my head and said, “Oh no…your choice.”  She replied “Well, we could go to our usual place.  You’re really the only one i go there with actually.”  I smiled because I knew exactly where she meant: Cracker Barrel.  Who doesn’t love that place?  I did have to laugh when we walked in because we were decades younger than most of the crowd.

Though we’ve been there so many times, Terri and I still flipped through the menu. For two people who are notoriously “creatures of habit” (aka ordering the same thing each time), we surprised ourselves by going outside our comfort zone.  She ordered catfish and her main dish and I ordered country ham.  Ours sides remained the same but we still considered it a small victory.

This is one of my favorite places to eat because the staff is always friendly and food delicious.  Not to mention the cute merchandise.  You can really do some damage in their gift shop…yes, I’m speaking from experience.  Admitting it is the first step, stop judging.

As always, lunch was enjoyable as the company is just so easy to be around.  We can have moments of silence and be perfectly fine.  We can also make each other laugh which I love.

After just gotten out of an almost 2 hour staff meeting, lunch with Terri was just what I needed.  God has definitely blessed with me with a great group of friends.

Thank you, Hallmark!

Imagine a show that combines romance, comedy, feisty comebacks and drama all into one.  Next, add a beautiful, critically-acclaimed and very talented movie star and pair her with a popular and handsome TV star.  What do you get?  The heart-warming series on Hallmark channel, Cedar Cove. Oh, and the aforementioned actors…none other than Andie MacDowell and Dylan Neal

If you have not heard of Cedar Cove, you are missing out on a great find.  Fans of Debbie Macomber’s writing such as myself were absolutely thrilled that one of her series was going to be made into a TV series and broadcast on the Hallmark channel.  I was happy to know there were other people out there like me who simply desired a good show with great characters that I could look forward to watching week after week.  I have read Debbie’s books for a number of years and each time I read a book of hers, I feel as if I am right there in that quaint little town, experiencing the heartache, drama and typical small-town life. CC1

In the summer of 2013, the viewers were introduced to almost every character or cast member.  The way the actors engulfed themselves fully into the characters made it easy to fall in love with each and every one of them.  I applaud Hallmark for saying yes to such a refreshing show.  Andie MacDowell has been quoted as saying she gets “agitated” when watching a dark movie or something disturbing on TV.  I am the same way.  I certainly enjoy a good, suspenseful movie but sometimes when we are not expecting a scene so dramatic, we are left on edge.  In my opinion, there is not enough quality options on television nowadays.  Last year, I did not have the Hallmark channel and would have to wait a few days before I could purchase each episode and watch it on Amazon (this was one of the reasons I switched to Direct TV). 

Fast forward to today and I now look forward to every Saturday night where I get to relax on the couch and settle in for another hour of great television.  What’s even better is that when their schedules allow, the whole cast is involved in “live tweeting” with their fans during the show.  So thanks to Twitter, we are able to interact with the stars of the show.  In a matter of a few seconds, we can send a message to our favorite character and make a comment about a scene that just happened.  In a world of terrorism, bickering in Washington D.C. and school shooting sprees, thankfully there is a place we can escape for one hour each week to “a small town with a big heart.” 

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There’s No Place Like It

When I was growing up, our summers and winters revolved around skiing, boating, putt-putt and hanging out with cousins at our condo. Our parents relaxed by keeping one eye on the kids and visiting with our aunts and uncles. Their main priority, however, was us kids. Fast forward to now…at the age of 35, I am at the point where family trips become about the enjoyment of two groups: my niece and nephews and my parents. There is one place that makes my Mom’s shoulders relax and where my Dad constantly has a smile on his face. This place is Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Most people who are not from the Chicago area have never heard of Lake Geneva. This is just fine with our family because frankly, having a lot of people know about it is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we want to share what this town has to offer and why it is so special. But on the other hand, we want to wrap out arms around it and keep it a secret too. My sisters and I laughed during a recent visit, wondering what all “these people” were doing in our town.
We recently came back from about a 5-day getaway to our favorite vacation spot. My sisters, my parents and I all had July 17th circled on our calendars for about a year. After a hectic year at work, I was really looking forward to this time away. The day finally came where I was to fly out of Oklahoma City into Milwaukee to meet up with my older sister, a family friend’s daughter and my parents. Courtesy of the best airline out there, Southwest Airlines, I arrived in Milwaukee about an hour before the rest of the crew.

flight

For the sake of convenience, we rented two cars-one that could easily accommodate my Dad and another for the rest of us. The drive from Milwaukee to Lake Geneva is a fairly simple one and allows you to see part of the farm areas. I drove my Mom and we couldn’t help but smile as we came upon the exit for Highway 50 with a sign that said Lake Geneva. We immediately started making comments about changes or reminisced about some event from years ago. As we made the curve onto Lake Shore Drive, I looked over at my Mom and immediately saw her relax and knew she was in total vacation mode.

boats

Later that evening, my Mom and I had an early dinner at one of the Lake Geneva’s staples, Lake Aire restaurant. My middle sister, the one with 5 kids and the one you would think would want to sleep in, texted me the day after we arrived at 6:50 a.m. and asked if I wanted to meet up with her for a walk. This should clearly tell you how much we love this town the fact that we want to get up early and enjoy every day.

lake shore dr

The next few days became a whirlwind of visits from various cousins, aunts and friends of my parents. Some days it was mass chaos but looking back, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Saturday, my older sister rented a boat so my cousins and nephews could take part in some skiing, rafting and fun on the lake. Some made it up on the skis (albeit only for mere seconds) but they had fun and that was all that mattered.

One of my favorite moments was when my sister’s suite (which we deemed our “headquarters” since it was the biggest), was full of family members. The phone rang and I answered it. My Mom was on the other end, trying to talk while stifling a laugh.  She took a breath and said, “Well guess what, the Ryans are now coming.” I laughed and said, “Awesome…oh Mom, that’s great…the more, the merrier.” About 30 minutes later, I hugged MaryAnne and Pete Ryan (whom we have called Uncle Pete since we were little). He has been a really close friend of my Dad for close to 70 years. He is 86 years old and has the energy of a child-such a fun guy to be around.  They were accompanied by one of their sons, Tim. My sister and I made sure to grab her camera to capture their visit. Even if no one else visited the rest of our stay, my sisters and I were delighted that our parents’ friends made it up to see them.

The day before we left, I was finally able to get my Mom on her beloved Mailboat ride. I won’t go into great detail on this here but would encourage everyone to watch this video. The weather was perfect and I absolutely loved looking across the aisle at my Mom with a big smile on her face, seeing her enjoy every moment. One of the reasons she enjoys going on the boat ride year after year is to see her buddy Captain Neil Frame (who has been the captain for over 50 years)…and to make sure the young mail jumpers don’t leave out any details on the lake homes. I, however, enjoy going because I love boats and the water but also because of the beautiful homes that you see on the ride. They belong to or have at one time belong to millionaires like the Wrigley family, the Maytag family and a multitude of other wealthy Chicago families.

lake house 2 And this is their “summer home”…..

neil frame

Good ‘ole Captain Neil Frame

Our final day came all too soon. Since we didn’t leave until the evening, we decided to have lunch at The Abbey.

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I could get used to having this as a backdrop while having lunch…

abbey2Mom and Dad after lunch

After that, we made a stop at The Cheese Box (we were in the cheese state, after all). At that point, we were just right on time but made sure we headed to the airport shortly afterwards. Despite missing our exit, we made it to the airport after gassing up the rental cars and proceeded to start the departure process. We shared one flight but then I went my separate way in St. Louis. My sister, her friend’s daughter and I waited for my parents after we departed the plane.  When i asked what time their flight was, Jean said, “Um, I’m not sure” but after looking at her boarding pass and then to her watch, she goes, “Oh yikes, we’re boarding now.”  After getting the okay to go back down the jet way, I kissed my parents goodbye before heading to my gate.

As I write this, one week has gone by since we were all together. Having friends who have lost their fathers too soon, I know I am beyond blessed to have had this trip with not only one parent, but both….especially my 84 year-old father (side note: he turned 84 while on this trip which was even more special). God willing, in two more years, we will all reconvene again in our favorite vacation spot. As the motto goes, “There’s no place like it.”

There’s no place like HOME

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One year ago, I was sitting in the rehab wing of a nursing home, helping my Dad get settled in for his stay while he recovered from pneumonia.  As we were chatting, I remember looking up at the TV screen to see CNN covering the tornado damage that just hit Moore, Oklahoma.  Even as I looked at the debris on the ground and neighborhoods where houses once stood, I couldn’t comprehend the depth of it all.  My head was in San Antonio with my Dad but something began tugging at my heart.  That was my home of 7 years, Oklahoma.  Shortly after the news, I got a phone call from Coach Gasso, the head coach of Oklahoma Softball.  When I brought up the rain, she said “Rain?  How about the tornado?”  Once I heard first hand, all I wanted to do was go home.  Coach Gasso shared with me that the team’s academic advisor had lost her home in the storm and asked if the Diamond Club would be interested in helping her and her family.  Later that night, I set up a fundraising site for people to donate. 

A day later, I was headed to Austin, Texas for a conference.  As soon as I checked in at the registration table, they saw my Oklahoma shirt and said “We’re thinking of you guys.”  I smiled, tried not to choke up and said thanks.  After multiple introductions to conference attendees, I was frequently asked how everyone was doing.  It was really sweet.  On the opening day of the conference, they announced each state.  When it came to Oklahoma, there was a rousing round of applause and I put up my hand in acknowledgment. I almost teared up and definitely felt the outpouring of support.  I received another call from Coach Gasso that day.  She shared with me that one of the children that died was a huge Keilani Ricketts and OU Softball fan.  She was survived by her sister and parents.  With super regional play just days away, Coach wanted us to do something in recognition of the “Bring It” team and Game Time little league teams that coming weekend.  I basically told her we were on board for whatever she wanted.  Per her prodding, I got in touch with a friend who at the time, worked for Printing Services.  We arranged for a banner to be made welcoming the teams.  At one point in the conversation, Coach stopped and said, “Oh sorry, are you at the conference already?”  I told her it was fine and even replied, “Gosh, I’m tempted to get on I-35 and come home.”  Her response was simple “Do it.  I could really use your help.”  I was not in the right frame of mind to be at the conference and after letting my colleague know, I headed north getting into Norman a little after midnight. I drove all the way through on adrenaline, stopping only a few times to stretch my legs.  During the drive home, I kept thinking about the team and Coach Gasso.  Their priorities made me so proud to be affiliated with them.  

Due to anticipated rain, the first day of super regional play was postponed.  Instead, we welcomed the little league teams to the field, gathered around for a prayer with our players and just comforted each other the best we could.  In an effort to serve as a distraction, Coach Gasso invited the group of young girls to run the bases with the OU players and just let loose.  I peeked in on the team during this and smiled at not only the little ones having fun, but our players as well.  Anyone who watched Keilani Ricketts during college knows she is a pretty serious person and player.  The quiet yet determined player, who can throw a change-up and hit with a vengeance….was full of smiles as she held Casey Angle’s hand (sibling of Syndey Angle).  Casey became a fixture in the OU dugout throughout the rest of post-season play.  She was “one of the girls” and was welcomed with open arms by the team every time they saw her. 

As I think back to the day we won the national championship, I can’t help but smile. Yes, the plays, the pitches and the hits were unbelievable.  However, there is one memory that will stick out in my mind…seeing the team carry around the state of Oklahoma flag around the field after they won.  They did not win the championship for themselves, or for Coach Gasso….they won it for the state-the place they have called HOME during college.  They were playing for something MOORE than themselves.  Anyone who has watched the team play this year will notice the stickers on their helmets.  The HOME sticker was first placed on their helmets during the WCWS.  The other stickers represent Sydney Angle and the other lives that were lost.  I loved hearing Coach Gasso say that sticker was not going anywhere. 

Fast forward to today….one year has passed.  The lives that were lost will forever be remembered.  The house and businesses are being rebuilt.  Briarwood Elementary had its new dedication today.  There is hope and the community has come together once again.

You never know what kind of impact you will have as a person, a player or a team. The seniors from the 2013 team may not be playing anymore, but their legacy will live on forever.  Their talent and work ethic are intangible and sorely missed along with their unapologetic values.  They didn’t play for the individual glory or accolades…they played for their team, their school and in 2013, their state.  If you attend a game where OU is playing, pay attention to what the girls do after every single game: they pray.  They take the time to thank God for their health, their safety and the gifts he’s given them.  Win or lose, they “give the glory to God” as you’ll frequently hear Coach Gasso say.  What parent would not want their little girl to emulate that action?  

Celebrating one last time

As I read the comments and look at the photos from the OU Softball team’s trip to the White House yesterday, I cannot help but smile and feel unbelievably proud.  I have been around the game of softball a while because my sister’s best friend played in high school and college.  She was always around so I would support her at games.  I never completely understood or immersed myself in it until a few years ago.  I was (and for the most part, still am) more of a basketball person.  I would play and shoot until I couldn’t see the backboard anymore.  Then something happened that threw me in the deep end of the OU Softball program and I have yet to get out of the pool.

A few years ago, I directed an athletics donation be given to the Diamond Club, the booster club for softball.  A short while after, the coaches’ secretary asked if I’d help with a tailgate.  I said yes and showed up to help at the requested time.  I began meeting donors who were fans and realized this was a great group, a group I was now a part of unintentionally.  The next week, I helped out again.  I started learning names and interacting with current members.  Come the summer of 2011, I found myself being asked to be the Secretary (aka Communications person).  I laugh when people randomly come up to me at games and tailgates to ask “Are you the one who sends out the e-mails?”  I hesitate before answering…”If you’re happy with them then yes.  If not…then no.”

A class act program headed by a coach who has now not only won one championship but two..and who has met not only one, but two presidents.  A girl from California who took a chance and made her case on why she should be the head coach of a program that was in shambles.  Thank God for taking chances…

What Do You Have To Show For It?

Dear Readers,

We attend church as we have for most of our lives, we confess our sins and try to do as God would want.  What is the point-is it really worthwhile?  Even with all of that, what do we have to show for it?  That was the situation and question posed to the congregation by Fr. Wood at mass today.  If that didn’t get and hold one’s attention, you must have been hundreds of miles away.  For someone who has just recently gotten back into attending church on a regular basis, I appreciated this homily.  For a while, I was that person who questioned what I was getting out of mass, why should I bother, I’m not really seeing the point.  I even attended a few services at my best friend’s church and enjoyed them.  At the same time, I was torn, like I was turning my back on the way I was raised.  This is silly as I was still acting like a Christian and my faith in God never wavered. I didn’t stop being Catholic.

My answer to the question that Fr. Wood posed would be pretty simple.  To me, you get what you give.  Sometimes God answers us with people he feels should be in our lives.  Sometimes he answers us with a challenge which could be professional, family or even health.  Most of the time, he reminds us that it is not about us as individuals.  Our actions have consequences and affect those around us in one way or another. God will always have our back.  He will help us through the tough times and celebrate the good times.  If you don’t have his back, how can you expect to receive?

I thank God every day for what he has given me…whether that is for the people in my life or even the challenges I have faced. The challenges do something for me just like the blessings make me richer.  So if you are ever frustrated like I was, step back and think about what you have put into the equation. 

Sincerely,
Mary

2013: A Year Unlike Any Other

For the state of Oklahoma, 2013 was full of life-changing events.  Some were exciting and some unbelievably devastating.   Throughout the course of the past 365 days, I have been to my home state of Texas at least 5 times, California twice and Florida once.  As much as I love to travel, the word “home” took on a whole new meaning to me.

This year was yet another reminder of how fast things can change, and that if we are not careful, we will lose the opportunity to spend just a few more minutes with the ones we love.   We all learned that lesson firsthand when we were surrounded by the destruction of the May 2013 tornado.  I was in Texas visiting my Dad who was recuperating from pneumonia.  As I watched the news on the screen, my head was with my Dad, but my heartstrings were being tugged toward Oklahoma.  It wasn’t until I was called by our softball coach who relayed just how bad it was that I began to fully comprehend the damage and reality of it all.  I was due to spend the weekend in Austin at a conference.  After sitting through a few workshops and thanking people for saying they were praying for the state of Oklahoma, I was simply going through the motions.  I ended up leaving early.  A day later, due to a weather delay, there were no Super Regionals.  Instead, we hosted the “Bring It” and “Game Time” teams from Moore, OK at the OU Softball field.  There was not a dry eye in the group after the team chaplain, Sarah Roberts, led us in a prayer.   Selfish as it may have been, I am glad I was there.  Watching our players wipe away tears and spend time with the young players made my heart swell with pride.

To let off some energy and take their minds off, Coach Gasso let the girls run around the bases and hang out more with the OU players. One girl who became especially close to the team was Casey Angle, the sibling of Sydney Angle, who died in the tornado.  Whenever she wasn’t playing, Casey could be seen in the OU dugout throughout the rest of Super Regionals and into the WCWS.

Weeks after the deadly tornadoes, the OU Softball Team was not only playing for their university and fans, they were playing for the whole state.  On June 4, 2013 there were tears of joy as the team ran around the Hall of Fame Field after winning it all, carrying the state of Oklahoma flag and signs that read HOME.

Tragedy continued to strike close to home.  In August, the OU Softball Family lost a devoted fan in Gene Fuzzell.  Our spring tailgates will not be the same without him.  Then in October, a dear friend’s husband passed away after a short but courageous battle with leukemia.  Karl Moyer was such a great man and is missed every day.

Life is funny-we begin the year with new resolutions and a new attitude about making positive changes in our lives.  We create a plan and expect everything to go according to schedule.  Perhaps just when we were getting too comfortable, God felt we needed to be woken up.

As I begin 2014, I am grateful for my faith.  Without it, I would not have been able to understand the challenges faced this past year. I am hopeful for what lies ahead.

Make the most of everyday.
Mary