In Defense of Living

Do you ever sit down to write one thing, but something completely different bursts forth and demands to be told? It happens to me all the time.

This is one of those posts.

As I prepared to write a glowing review of the touring Broadway production of Aladdin, I froze. “How,” I asked myself, “can I possibly write about something like that, with what is happening right now in our country? In the world?

How can I even admit that I went to go see a musical in the midst of tragedy, much less justify it?”

And then, as they so often do, a Harry Potter quote rang in my head. (I will try to introduce the quote with as little spoiler as possible.) 

SCENE: A battle of the ages in the ultimate war of good vs. evil looms. Guests mingle at a wedding, in a mix of joy and discomfort.

Ginny: Seems silly, doesn’t it? A wedding. Given everything that’s going on.

Harry: Maybe that’s the best reason to have it. Because of everything that’s going on.

Yes. This simple exchange has stuck with me ever since. There are so many embedded sub-questions in here: Is this the time for happiness? Is this the time for celebration? Is this the time for love?

Sometimes, you can’t explain why one thing affects you more than other things. Ever since the Charlottesville violence a few weeks ago, dark clouds have filled either the front or the back of my mind. People died in the name of protesting hate–I’ve been stunned into a cycle of mournful quietude and exchanges of dismay and sorrow with the people around me. 

We spoke of these dark times by the candlelight around my sister’s birthday pies (lovingly homemade by my mom). Every gathering of loved ones is a blessing, one we take less for granted than ever.


How can I write about a sparkly joyous moment like a musical, which lifted my heart and filled me with wonder? How can I rationalize the disconnection from the somber everyday when playing “escape from the monster” with toddlers in sprinklers at my boyfriend’s nephew’s birthday party?

Who was escaping what?

And, again, a quote from literature resounds with me:

Fairy tales are more than real, because they prove that dragons can be beaten.” –G.K. Chesterton/Neil Gaiman

Those questions about the time for love and joy–the answer is yes, now–right now. They are essential to our makeup. If we don’t have those, if we aren’t working towards those, why fight for anything? What is the point of anything, if not those two things?

I am not suggesting we soothe away our anxieties and sadnesses about the world with shiny distractions, ignoring problems as if they don’t exist. 

I am saying–we need both. We need the armor of our loves and joys to equip us for our–the world’s–battles. Eat the birthday cake; smell the flowers; hug your family. We need these to center our focus on what we can do to help, not sink into paralyzing despair.

I’m going to focus on the animal shelters around the country sending pet food for the dogs held in loving arms above the floodwaters in Texas, on the crowded lanes of people towing their boats from other states to help those stranded in Texas–where news sources have noted a beautiful unity in the face of tragedy.  I’m going to donate used clothes to a shelter nearby bringing relief supplies to Texas this weekend–check Facebook or the news for one by you.

And as her mother heartbreakingly, inspiringly said, let us focus on Hannah Heyer’s message of love and acceptance in the face of total evil–her message only amplified by her sacrifice, ringing louder than anything so transient as death.

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What Harry Potter Taught Us, 20 Years Later

Hello, dear readers! I have missed you! Life since my last post has been thrilling, heartbreaking, amazing, rather epic and ultimately beautiful…but that’s all for another post (or dozen). Today, I’m going to be talking about an anniversary important not just to me, but to millions of readers around the globe. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter publication. I think it’s just as popular and relevant now as when it first debuted.

Despite J. K. Rowling’s battle to get Harry Potter published, the work was so instantly a pop culture smash hit that I initially shied away from it. (I’ve since learned that rabid book fans are the best fans and usually of good taste.) I’d developed my book snobbery at a very early age (likely in utero), and thus anything with mass appeal seemed unappealing to childhood me. Had I known one of the main characters herself was just such a snob, I might have been open to it earlier.

It took until the third book came out–at my sister’s utter insistence–for me to pick up the series.

I was instantly hooked, so much so I couldn’t even pretend not to be–nor did I want to. Even in a blurb, the story appeals to all: underdog finds self, triumphing over daily hardship and ultimately great evil, with a lot of love and help from quirky friends. Add magic into the mix, and it makes for a spellbinding (pun always intended) read.

Rowling is credited for “getting the world to read again,” and it’s no wonder why or how. The universal message appeals to all, but the world is so chock-full of heartwarming and quirky characters, there’s someone for everyone to relate to.

For me, that was Hermione Granger. Not since Belle (Beauty and the Beast) did I come across a character I loved so much because she was me. She was unabashedly brainy, always choosing justice over popularity. Her devotion to the pursuit of knowledge, to speaking her mind, became central to her heroism. She made it cool to be smart and opinionated.

Wingardium Leviosa! Hermione is one of my favorite cosplays!

Another aspect of Harry Potter I cherish is how it showed the world that the power of friendship and love can overcome anything–that there’s nothing more powerful than those. It did that throughout the plot in the whole series. It also did that, beautifully and unpredictably, through the fandom that linked the world together through the series. These books inspired people to be themselves, and at impressionable ages, showed teens they weren’t alone or strange. What could be more pure than a love of books (perhaps I am biased)? A Harry Potter book in someone’s hands is a universal symbol of community, of the message, “I value love, friendship, and courage, too.” It brought my community of friends and fellow bibliophiles closer, too. While my sister and I were already at maximum sister closeness, it was so much fun to celebrate every book and movie release together, having someone right in your own house with whom to discuss every plot twist and inkling! 

Sisters cosplaying for the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” book release 10 years ago!


What a unique experience it was to grow up with this series as it was coming out! It is one of the only book series I know of that “matures” as the characters get older–a neat experience for a girl paralleling the ages of the characters as the books were released (but then–children nowadays can get the same effect if they space out their reading year-to-year–but the addictive quality of these books makes that a difficult feat!). Indeed, the books became more dark and angsty as the characters grew up, which I found a fascinating and intriguing concept.

Something else Harry Potter taught us: to see magic in the everyday–that it’s all around us. Twenty years later, this is a lesson I use every day. ✨

Holy Cow: Cubs Win the World Series and Our Hearts

This is a story of resilience, of hope rewarded, of an underdog rising to greatness. It’s a story of generations, of love passed down through DNA, of unifying triumph, of a storybook “happily ever after” and banished curses.

It’s a moment in history that’s been over a century in the making, and everyone wants a part in it. Five million people filled the streets of Chicago on Friday in the seventh-largest human gathering of all time–and the largest ever in our country–to watch the Chicago Cubs’ victory parade. “Thank you for your patience,” the lauded World Series Champions of 2016 said, giving as much praise to their fans’ perseverance as their own. The Chicago Cubs had had the longest drought of any professional sports team in the history of the USA: 108 years without a championship.

#FlytheW–the Cubs won the World Series! Photo courtesy of my friend Arnaud Buttin, who attended the rally.

That number, 108, keeps popping up in uncanny ways, signs of destiny that 2016 really was our year–according to Inside Edition, the list includes:

  • The building that broadcasts Cubs games: 108 stories high
  • Stitches on a baseball: 108
  • Original address of baseball manufacturer, Spalding: 108 Madison St., Chicago
  • Run time of movies Back to the Future 2 and Taking Care of Business, who predicted future Cubs World Series wins: 108 minutes

Here is the Inside Edition video, published 10/25, predicting the win:

Also, another that came forward, necessarily after that video: Joe Maddon, the manager of the Cubs, presented the championship trophy to the rally in Grant Park at 1:08 p.m. on Friday.

This feeling of destiny is a heavy weight lifted off the shoulders of so many who have inherited this love of the Cubs from others. At first, I thought the story I shared last week about our family Cubs tradition was unique, but over this past week, I’ve read many other touching stories of people rejoicing more on behalf of their loved ones than themselves.

One man drove all day to Greenwood Cemetery, Indiana, to keep a promise to his dad–that they would listen to the World Series together. He set up a radio and a lawn chair, and they did just that.

In my own family, my dad kept an unspoken promise to his mother, who raised him to be the Cubs fan he is today. She wasn’t far away during that epic game 7 of the World Series. Her mass card sports St. Anthony of Padua, who she always loved as the patron saint of lost things–and lost causes, she added. My dad kept her mass card and the lucky marble he’d shared with her on the table we surrounded while we bit our nails, jumped up and down, hyperventilated, and nearly collapsed during that game.

St. Anthony of Padua on my grandmother’s mass card, and the lucky marble my dad shared with her

The next day, he looked everywhere for a newspaper to take to her grave–an acknowledgement, a celebration, of the moment they’d been waiting for for many decades. And while she didn’t get to see it while she was here with us, she had the ultimate view from Heaven.

The newspapers were sold out at four different stores my dad went to, but he randomly found a pristine copy of two in the wrong spot by the coffee at Jewel. Even the cashier shared her shock he’d found one, but he smiled, knowing it was a special delivery.

Special Delivery: Victory Newspapers

We figured out later that our grandma was definitely watching the game from Heaven, when we realized the three final winning games had significant dates for her: her death anniversary, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day.

The game went on forever, in a good but completely nerve-shattering way. After jumping at a leaf the next day, my mom announced her nerves were shot. Several of our friends had to turn off the game at one point because they were about to be physically ill. As for me, my heart was racing for the entire game, but I determined to make it through, no matter what! After all, if these underdogs were about to change history, I didn’t want to miss it. As a bonus, I discovered I actually can hold my breath for 4.5 hours.

The game was as epic as a Lord of the Rings movie–and this, coming from an LOTR superfan–but it was like the climax lasted the entire duration. Movie producers would dismiss a script like that because it would be too unbelievable. When the game went into an extra 10th inning because of a tie, and then when there was a rain delay–even nature was adding to the drama–that was the breaking point for some people. For the Cubs, though, it was the moment of truth–Jason Heyward, outstanding outfielder for the team this year, gave a rallying speech to the Cubs that they could break the tie, break the curses, that not all was lost.

Speaking of Lord of the Rings, it reminded me of another rallying speech:

Image result for aragorn speech gif       Image result for aragorn speech courage of men

Indeed, after that rain delay, the Cubs pulled it together to achieve a final score of 8-7. To say the crowds went WILD is an understatement. It’s no wonder that the celebration is still going strong–“Go Cubs!” has replaced “Hello” around here, and “Go, Cubs, Go,” is the anthem of every place music might be played, from my own band’s performance to our hospital’s black-tie fundraising gala. Fans–of the Cubs, of Chicago, of the underdog story–want to acknowledge this moment of unity, perseverance, and reward of faith invested, breaths held for over a century. Our fandom only increases as we learn how the players are using their fame to give back to fans, including Anthony Rizzo’s foundation for cancer research he started after beating it himself. These aren’t just good players; they’re good people. These are heroes for America’s kids that we can be proud of. That goes for the Cleveland Indians, too–I was really impressed with the civility and kindness between the opposing teams. Now that’s a lesson we could carry with us!

Thank you, Cubs, for bringing us such a happy moment in history–something we could really use right now, especially in Chicago. Here’s to hoping we can carry this optimism and camaraderie with us beyond baseball. And even though 108 might be my new favorite number, here’s to hoping for another thrilling win in 2017.

 

Drawing by my very talented sister

Top Ten: Friends’ Favorite Scary Stories

It’s almost Halloween, and what better way to get in the mood than with ghost stories? I’m sharing this list of the top scary stories suggested by my friends and family. At the moment, I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods,” and while it may not technically be a horror story, it has its frightening moments–and it certainly has ghosts and otherworldly spirits. My dad is reading a book called “Civil War Ghost Stories & Legends,” and it does sound chilling, indeed. My mom, sister, and I are also watching a show called “Salem,” which is quite spooky and intriguing, blending history with the supernatural. What stories are you immersing yourself in this Halloween? Let me know in the comments!

 

Several brave souls responded with their selections for scary stories–some, with many! The list in this link will show both their choices and who chose them: Top Ten: Friends’ Favorite Scary Stories

Go, Cubs, Go: What Baseball Means to Me–and Chicago

It was a loud, proud night in Chicagoland Saturday night. Fireworks and cheers erupted over the region, and the closer you were to the epicenter–Wrigley Field, that is–the more you could feel the roar of excitement, relief, and pride. That pride rippled around the world, as I saw posts from some of my friends in different countries, struggling to find an internet connection to add their own voice to the cheering. Every local television channel switched to broadcast the news: the Cubs won the National League champions pennant, marking the first time they’d be in the World Series since 1945!

Image result for cubs world series

Are you wondering what blog you’re reading right now–when did I become a sports fan, right? In a way, you could say this year; in a way, you could say my whole life. I’ve become more invested in the Cubs this year, partially because of the community. One of my friends, Grace, had a playoff game playing at her birthday party, and while we were all there for her (she is wonderful), and while we enjoyed the made-from-scratch food, it was the game that caused the excitement that brought us closer together. I’ve become keenly aware of the game schedule, too, as the bass player in the string band I’m in is unequivocally not available for practice or performance on any game days (and it would be unthinkable to perform without our crucial Billy on bass!).

While I’m not much of a sports fan in general, I’ve always been a baseball fan, to some extent. Our family has gone to baseball games together since I was little (though my early Cubs memories mostly revolve around Cracker Jack and Lemon Chills). Now, we try to attend Kane County Cougars games at least once a summer.

Always the highlight of our summer–great family bonding time at Cougars games! My dad found this helmet for me in my favorite color so I can safely attend post-TBI–have to protect the noggin from foul balls and homers. 😉

Although our childhood focused heavily on music (my adulthood, too!), our dad made sure my sister and I learned how to play baseball the right way. To his shoulder’s chagrin, this involved swinging a ball attached to a rope around his head for us to bat as hard as we could, without the risk of it flying into a neighbor’s window (both the technique and the caution were learned from his childhood). We played catch, too, focusing on proper form. They’re all fond childhood memories for me.

Baseball is somewhat of a family tradition for us, though I’m sorry to our lineage that my sister and I inherited mostly the enthusiasm, not the athletic grace, of the sport! My dad bonded with his dad over many things, but baseball might have been the strongest one. Even though my grandfather had to use a prosthetic leg, he didn’t let that stop him from enjoying the game with my dad, by expertly playing catch, as well as coaching my dad’s little league and senior league teams. My grandmother, too, was an avid baseball fan, mostly of the Cubs, while my grandfather was more of a White Sox fan. I guess, by my generation, we are both, a mix not only of genetics, but also fandoms. We call ourselves “Chicago fans.”

And thank you, Cubs, for giving us Chicagoans something to be fans of. Thank you for making Chicago a proud city this weekend, when we’ve had so much tragedy this year. What’s remarkable to me is the uniting factor of the game, bringing together people of all ethnicities, all genders, all generations, all religions. In a time when our country is so divided over politics, we can all come together and be proud of something quintessentially American, no matter who wins the World Series–but this fan hopes it will be the Cubs.

When I found this video, I got goosebumps. Talk about unity–you can hear thousands of people singing together in joy from almost a mile away, high in the air. This was from a National League wildcard game this season (if the embedded version doesn’t work for you, try this: https://youtu.be/Drszsid3I1s ). Skip to 1:43 for the best sound quality on Chicago’s favorite song this season!

This flag’s tradition started in the 1930s as an announcement after every Cubs win–but now, fans have adopted it to represent the Cubs in general. I guess that shows the level of confidence in our home team! Go, Cubs, Go! (Thanks to Octavarius.com for the image)

October: A Month to Celebrate and Give Back

October is one of my favorite months–possibly my very favorite–for many reasons. Long-time readers and even casual acquaintances are quite familiar with my passion for Halloween (you’ll see some Halloween posts here as the holiday gets closer–and feel free to search “Halloween” in my blog for previous posts!). Crunchy leaves, crisp (but not cold) air, autumn soups, apple-picking, so many festive opportunities…what’s not to love? As one of my favorite literary heroines famously said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” (L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables).

Image result for i m so glad i live in a world with octobers

–Pinterest User iBelieve.com

October is also the month for celebrating important awareness occasions, like National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and Breast Cancer Awareness Month–two observations that are a focus for me both at work and personally. While I’ve written about NDEAM for work with Marianjoy in the past, and continue to do so, I’m looking forward to writing about breast cancer awareness, as well, for Northwestern Medicine’s Marketing Team, having had the exciting opportunity to work more closely with them lately. How lucky we are to have top cancer and rehabilitation programs right here in the Midwest! Breast cancer has always hit close to home for me, with several family members and friends as survivors, and more friends who are currently battling the disease.

Besides writing, I decided to take the observation one step further. Financial donations are great to help with breast (and other types of) cancer; without funding, research projects to eradicate the disease wouldn’t be possible–and so I try to donate to cancer charities a couple of times a year (check out Charity Navigator to find one that fits you and has a good stewardship score). There’s another type of donation, too, that most people might not think of right away, one that requires your time, not money: hair.

It wasn’t until my traumatic brain injury in 2005, when part of my head had to be shaved for brain surgery, that I realized how important hair is to identity. For women, it’s inextricably tied in millennia-long trends denoting femininity, fertility, sexuality, youth, conservatism/rebellion, professionalism…the list goes on. For 19-year-old me, it was one of the hardest changes to my appearance I had to get used to, partly because I had no choice in the sudden change–just like cancer patients. It made me very self-conscious–with my eye patch and wheelchair, it was just one more thing broadcasting to the world that I was going through a major medical experience. And what if I wasn’t ready to share that?

Luckily for me, it was only part of my head, and I was able to do quite the comb-over to cover the bald side until my hair grew in. I always joked that Rihanna soon after took my cue and made the style a trend.

(You’re welcome, RiRi)

Fortunately, my hair grew in fairly quickly, and when it reached a point where I could get it cut into layers, I decided to donate the rest to those who were less fortunate. It felt good, the thought of helping others, when so many had been helping me.

I decided to do it again…22 months ago. Unlike my first time donating, the thought popped into my head when all of my hair was short, so I knew I was in for a long road. Over those 22 months, I only got one trim–it helped that I stayed away from heat-treating my hair, so I didn’t have to worry (much) about split ends.

The experience reminded me of the way the religious customs can remind you physically of spiritual meaning (like the practice of giving something up for Lent reminding Catholics of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice). Although I sometimes enjoy having long hair, there were many times were I couldn’t wait to get it cut again–it felt so unruly to me, but I reminded myself this hair wasn’t for me–it was for someone else. It was a good exercise in patience.

My mom made the growing process more fun with some elaborate hairstyles–some so beautiful I second-guessed cutting the hair:

Thanks, Mom! ❤

I went to my hair stylist a few times to get a length check, and finally, I was ready. I already knew the charity I wanted to donate to: Wigs 4 Kids, an organization in Michigan that provides wigs to kids and young adults for free. It’s important to research where you will donate your hair, because some organizations charge patients for their wigs (it’s a laborious process to make them, so I understand, but I’d prefer the patients to get their wigs for free). It’s also important to know how long you need to grow your hair, if it can be dyed, if it can be gray, etc., before you make the chop–each organization is different. Wigs 4 Kids requires 10″, and after my hair stylist evened it out, I had just over that to donate.

Ready!

Megan, my hair stylist, is very familiar with prepping hair to donate. It’s important to section off and secure the part that will be donated before you cut it, so it doesn’t fly all over the place. She made four braids.

Moment of truth. Even though I wanted the haircut, it’s always initially intimidating to me to part with so much hair all at once!

Done; I loved it! It was hard to believe all that hair was in that silver bag.

I really appreciated Megan’s help in getting my hair ready to go; I was happy she was so familiar with donating. After that, it was just a matter of mailing the braids to the address on the organization’s website.

I never feel better than when I’m helping others and giving back in some way. Ever since my miraculous TBI survival, I’ve felt a mission to help others as I was helped. With time and patience, hair donation is an easy and inexpensive way to help people–I highly recommend doing it, if you can. I’ve mentally committed to doing it again, though I may go for one with a shorter requirement (360 Hair looks like they take 6″ or more–sounds good to me!).

I wish you all a wonderful remainder of your October. I hope you get to enjoy your favorite traditions, and I hope you take a moment to celebrate those other important observances, too.

Happy Sweetest Day & High Tea at The Drake

Happy Sweetest Day! I hope you’re enjoying it with people you love. Read on for a very *sweet* history of this lesser-known holiday–trust me, it’s not as commercial as most people think! Also, one of my favorite Sweetest Day memories is in this post.

Today, I’m celebrating the birthday of two dear friends. Love to all my readers! ❤️

Jelly-Side Up

Happy Sweetest Day! Although it’s not popular with everyone, Sweetest Day is a holiday I enjoy (but then, you know I enjoy most holidays…). Even the origin is *sweet*: 92 years ago, 12 confectioners in Cleveland decided to give out “over 20,000 boxes of candy to ‘newsboys, orphans, old folks, and the poor,'” according to WikipediaSince then, it’s caught on in the Midwest, especially the Great Lakes region. The most common tradition I’ve seen is exchanging candy or small gifts with loved ones, or, in the original spirit, to those who are less fortunate/lonely. Some people gripe that it’s a “Hallmark holiday,” but I say any holiday about charity and love is a good one. 🙂 

Today, I had the most wonderful celebration: my sister and I got to meet two of our friends for high tea!

The anticipation beforehand was intense.

View image on Twitter On the way. The traffic was…

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