Category Archives: family

Fun family tradition: gift bag exchange

When Andy and I moved in together and celebrated our first Christmas in our new house, I was amazed and confused by the number of Christmas decorations he owned.  Once we were in the house, his parents made a habit of bringing a new plastic container of his stuff with them on every visit, forcing him to take ownership of all of the things he had been storing at their place.

Tubs and tubs of Christmas ornaments, handmade pillows, candle holders and various other handmade knick knacks.  I asked him where all of this came from, and he explained that his family had a tradition of exchanging gift bags filled with goodies, and he had been included in the tradition — either through gift bags given to his mom or the gift bags she made.  Between the four tubs of stuff, there were more decorations that we would ever be able to use.

The first couple of years we were married, we received gift bags as a couple — from his mom, his aunts and his cousins.  Some would have a theme — one of his cousins, for example, sells Avon and gives everyone Avon products and candy each year.  This year, Andy’s Aunt Shelley’s gift bags had a clever Margaritaville theme.  In the gift bag was a palm tree cutout with the lyrics to Margaritaville on it.  Each gift in the bag, individually wrapped in brightly-colored tissue paper, corresponded to a line in the song.  A CD of Jimmy Buffet Christmas songs, for example, was tagged with the line, “Strumming my six string, on my front porch swing. . .”

Last year I decided it was time we reciprocate in the exchange, so I started collecting items the day after Christmas.  For my first gift bags I decided to go with a theme that would be both familiar and fun for me — holiday cocktails.  I had a blast buying things and putting the bags together.  Below are pictures of the finished product and its contents.

Contents included: a “Cheer” ornament, martini shaker or wine glass ornament, tea towel, snowflake cocktail napkins, snowflake drink stirs, and handmade wine charms.

My favorite part of the bags might have been the tag.  I used a Christmas martini stamp from Impression Obsession and 4 bar scalloped ovals from Paper Source to create the tags, which I colored and embellished with glitter.

I’ve already started collecting items for next year’s gift bags.  My theme will be — wait for it — sweet treats!  Another excuse to indulge my cupcake obsession.  🙂



Birthday hat pictures

Well, the hat was a big hit. And my niece looked adorable in it. And Steve never has to wear it again, so all is right in the world.


Spring has, in fact, sprung. . .

. . .from a neglected pot of dirt.  A few weeks ago, my very thoughtful dad sent us an Easter present — a pot with bulbs in it that if cared for properly, should bloom by Easter.  I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  So I watered it per the directions and put it in my favorite sunny spot where my other plants live.  It’s a really deep window sill off of our kitchen that is mostly hidden from the kitchen by curtains. 

So it’s somewhat understandable that a few weeks would go by before I realize as I am driving to work that I had COMPLETELY forgotten about my poor little plant.  As I drove to work I felt horrible.  This wonderful gift my dad had sent was probably dead and shriveled — if anything had managed to sprout at all.

I was almost afraid to look at it when I got home.  I was full of guilt as I pulled the curtain back. . .then I audibly gasped at what I saw.  There was the neglected pot, with beautiful flowers sprouting out of it!  The moss that had covered the bulbs was stuck to the tips of the flowers and leaves like a crown.  I could not believe my eyes.  This thing was watered only once and it was fully grown and beautful.

I removed the moss, cleaned it up and gave it some water.  It’s probably in rougher shape than it would be if I had cared for it properly, but it’s really pretty.  I have been admiring it all night. 

I have decided that this plant’s triumph despite difficult conditions is a sign — a sign of new and better things to come.  That is what Easter is all about, after all.



I’m not kidding.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!


“Hello, I used to live here.”

Visions of my childhood home endlessly haunt my dreams.  In some dreams I still live there and it seems perfectly natural.  In other dreams we never sold the house and we go back to visit whenever we get a chance.  Most of the time my Mom is there, and none of us seem surprised that she is still alive.  In my dreams I can remember every little detail.  The glass doorknobs.  The sparkling chandelier that would fill the dining room walls with little rainbows in the late afternoon.  The fact that the basement door would stick and needed just a bit more effort to open and close.  The way the upstairs hallway creaked, right about halfway down the hall.  The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of the three large trees in our yard, singing me to sleep at night.

Sometimes in my dreams I ‘m an outsider.  I no longer live there, but I ‘m curious about the current state of my old home.  I sneak around the yard, trying to peer in the windows.  It’s difficult to see inside, so I try the door.  Unlocked.  No cars in the driveway.  What’s the harm? 

I slip in quietly and wait for my eyes to adjust indoors.  Sometimes the house looks exactly as we left it.  A kitchen decorated in the late 70s with horrible orange and yellow wallpaper and cream-colored lace curtains.  Yellow shag carpeting and green drapes in the living room.  I ‘m always shocked in these dreams that the new owner hasn’t updated anything.  The house needed updating when we left — why wouldn’t they care enough to redecorate it?

Sometimes the house is completely different inside.  In many of my dreams I barely recognize the interior and the new owner has added on in strange ways — a gigantic living room, a ridiculous two level deck.  In one dream, an entire third floor with a winding straircase had been added.

When I ‘m an outsider in my dreams, there’s always the thrill and the fear of knowing that I ‘m not supposed to be there.  Sometimes the new owner comes home and I ‘m caught.  I try to explain that I grew up in this house and I was just curious. . .I just wanted to look around.

I think that many people have vivid and nostalgic memories of the houses they grew up in.  But I often wonder if others have recurring dreams that place them in their childhood home like I do.  I ‘ve always theorized that the house is somehow a representation of my mom.  Maybe it’s from missing her, missing a time when life was a little more carefree.  The house represents a safe place, the last place where we all lived together as a family.

All of us drive by the house when happen to be traveling through town.  When my mom was still alive, she was practically obsessed with the house.  I’m probably not much better.  A few Christmases ago I made my brother not only drive as slowly as possible by the front of the house, but through the back alley as well so I could see the back yard.  Is the swingset still there?  Of course not.  They cut down the bushes!  Well, it looks better that way, actually.

Two years ago my Dad took a picture of house when he was in town.  He sent it to me with a note that read, “On our recent trip from Cleveland we stopped by Bowling Green to show Mary the town, campus and our home. . .I thought you would like to have a copy of one of the photographs I took.”  It’s hard to describe how that photo made me feel.  On one hand, some of the details I remembered so vividly were gone.  The tree next to my bedroom, the stone path that wound around the side of the house from the sidewalk that lead up to the front door.  On the other hand, it looked great.  It was well cared-for and nicely landscaped.  What else could I really ask for?

On her way home from Michigan to Cleveland this past weekend, my sister stopped in Bowling Green to visit an old friend.  Not surprisingly, she drove by the old house.  Slowly past the front, then slowly through the alley. 

Well, I might as well stop. 

She stood in the alley a little while, taking in the yard.  It looks so much smaller than I remember! 

The doors were open, letting the fresh spring air fill the house.  She felt compelled to go up to the door.

“This may sound strange, but. . .I grew up here.  I. . .just wanted to thank you for taking such good care of the house.”

“What’s your name?” asked the woman.

The woman knew my parents from their time at the university.  She had heard about my Dad’s involvement in local goverment and his passion for preserving the neighborhood.  Our street used to be known as “University Row,” a neighborhood that several families called home.  The current owner told my sister that our old house is now the only property on the street that hasn’t become a college rental.

“Now I understand what it feels like to be sad that your old neighborhood has changed,” my sister said to me.

The woman who lives there now is really nice.  She didn’t mind my sister’s visit at all.  In fact, she was delighted to talk about the house and the neighborhood.

“Would you like to come in?”

My sister was hesitant.  Her kids were in the car and she had already stayed in Bowling Green too long.  The woman offered to keep an eye on the car while my sister looked around.

“How did it look?” I asked anxiously. 

“Really good.  Hardwood floors, nice colors. . .it just seemed so much smaller than I remembered.”

“What about the kitchen?  What did it look like?  Is it very different?”

“Um. . .white cabinets.  She added a small island.”

One question after another, my sister failed to quench my curiosity.  I wanted details.  What did she do to the bathroom?  Does the fireplace look the same?  Does the floor still creak in the middle of the upstairs hallway?  Not wanting to linger too long and knowing that the kids were waiting for her in the car, my sister moved quickly through the house, missing many of the details I desperately wished she’d noticed.

I was surprised that I didn’t dream about the house that night.  My sister’s tale only heightened my curiosity and I ‘ve been thinking about the house a lot over the past few days.  I can’t help but wonder if seeing the house for myself would stop the dreams.  Would my curiosity finally be satisfied? 

Maybe I will be the next stranger to knock on the door. 

“Hello, I used to live here.”


Bearing my soul

The Wisconsin Hospital Association sponsors an annual contest called the Wisonsin Health Care Employee Pride Program.  According to the entry form, its purpose is to “celebrate your career and recognize your commitment to caring.” I have never entered before, because the reason I take pride in my work is very personal. So personal in fact, that I had never put it into words to share with anyone. But this year I decided to enter. Not because I want to win an award, but because I have heard too many bad health care stories lately. I hope that my story will help the caregivers who read it to understand the profound impact they can have on patients.  Below is my entry. 

August 7, 2002 was the worst day of my life. That day has also been my career inspiration for the past three years. In short, I work in health care because no one should have to die because they were too afraid to go to the doctor.

My dad called me at around 7:00 a.m. on August 7, 2002 to tell me that my mom was in the hospital. At fist the doctors were not sure what was wrong with her. As the day went on we learned that my mom was suffering from congestive heart failure. I rushed to get to her, but I was too late. My mom passed away that afternoon and I did not get the chance to say goodbye.

We didn’t know my mom was sick. She hated going to the doctor, so she avoided it at all costs. Bad health care experiences from her past kept her from seeking medical care and this avoidance was eventually her demise.

There was a time when I also disliked hospitals. Like my mom, I associated hospitals with sickness and death. But when I became an employee at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in August 2005, I experienced a profound change in thinking. Thanks to the wonderful people of Aurora St. Luke’s and my own personal Planetree journey, I have learned that hospitals are a place that you go to heal.

Planetree is a philosophy of patient-centered care that teaches employees to look at patients as whole people – mind, body and spirit. In my time at St. Luke’s I have had the great fortune to meet people who have ignited within me a passion for compassionate care. I write for the employee newsletter, so I have the opportunity to meet some amazingly inspiring people.

I have interviewed patients who have triumphed through devastating illnesses. I have spoken with caregivers with extraordinary dedication and compassion for their patients. Not only have these people made me want to be a better person, they have inspired me to share my passion for patient-centered, compassionate care with others. They make me proud to be an employee of Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

My hope is that through storytelling in our newsletter and by teaching the Planetree principles to new employees, I can ignite that same passion in others. By inspiring compassionate care, I hope that I can ensure that people will have positive experiences so they will continue to seek the care that they need. Because no one should have to die because they were too afraid to go to the doctor.


Give the man a drink.

I love my dad.  I really do.  Not just because he’s a great dad, but because he is also a genuinely kind person and he makes me laugh.  When he was in town for a visit recently, Andy and I showed him some of our favorite places to hang out in Milwaukee. We had dinner at Water Buffalo then headed to The Wicked Hop for drinks.  But it wasn’t the food or the drinks that made this evening enjoyable.  It was the stories.  But I am pretty sure that the drinks helped bring out the stories.

I have a huge regret in my life.  I regret not talking to my mom more when I had the chance.  I’m not referring to frequency, because I was always in touch with my parents, even when I lived 12 hours away from them.  I mean talking.  Real, meaningful conversations. My Mom was your classic Irishwoman–private, proud and stubborn.  Which means that she kept many things to herself and rarely offered information without being asked.  So to learn more about my mom I would have had to ask, and for whatever reason that was never comfortable for me.  When she passed away in 2002, I lost any opportunity I had to ask her questions.  And now I have so many–about my family, her opinions, her scholarly work, her thoughts.

I made a promise to myself that I would not have the same regret with my dad, so I ask him a lot of questions.  Questions about our family, about his upbringing, about his scholarly work, about his thoughts and feelings on things.  My dad contributed to a budding field of study when it was just gaining currency in academia, and now I read his work in my classes.  I consider it a gift to share an interest with my father and to discuss my studies with him. But popular culture is not just my dad’s interest, it was my mom’s as well. I asked him about her work that night.  Her dissertation was on All in the Family, a groundbreaking program in television history.  What I wouldn’t give to talk to her about it now as I write my thesis. My research is also related to television. Sometimes when I am stressed out from school I wish I could call her because I know she would understand how I feel.  After all, she had a 6 year-old kid and was pregnant with me when she completed her PhD.

I love to hear my dad tell stories about my family, especially my mom.  That particular night his play by play account of his lunch in the city (Chicago) with my ninety something year-old great Aunt Tillie had me laughing until it hurt.  My dad swears that not a thing in her house has changed since 1950.  If you take her to lunch she will insist you come back to her place for dessert.  If she has a pie to serve and four guests, you will get 1/4 of the pie.  And yes, she still drives.  In the city.

The stories got better as the night went on and the drinks added up.  I think that part of growing up is learning to recognize your parents as people.  There are probably many things you don’t know about your parents and they are unlikely to tell you those things unless you ask.  In many ways having adult conversations with our parents is like getting to know an entirely different person.  And it’s great.

So anyway here’s to Mike, my dad and an amazing person.