Friday, May 21, 2010

Onward and Upward

First there was Harper's practice 5K, (run prior to breaking her arm), where she, and we, discovered that she's got running in her blood.

She must have gotten a transfusion at some point in her 9 years.

Then, there was Zane's participation in his school's spring show AND end of the year graduation ceremony, where he worked through and overcame some enormous fears that he actually shared with us about both of the events.

I am blessed to have verbal children who trust us enough to share their honest feelings.

First, Harper. Those who know her now probably think I'm just one of "those" mothers when I talk about her "disappearance" and miraculous transformation that took our family on a rocky journey between years 5-8. To those folks, I just give up trying to describe or explain that time for our family, because, truly, unless you have experience anxiety first-hand, you just don't get it. If that sounds cliche, sorry. You just can't possibly understand unless you either walked beside us through that storm, or have experienced it yourself.

So, when we moved and Harper took to Beaver more quickly than any of us, we knew that we had really reached closure.

She's made amazing friends, enjoys our church so very much, and now, she has found a new "niche" with running.  The comfort in which she carries herself is a testament to God, my family (who didn't chalk up my concerns to be dramatic), an amazing first grade teacher who was first to join us in the trenches, friends (who didn't dismiss me as being high-maintenance), and some wonderfully skilled therapists who Harper chatted with right up until the week we moved.

Having gone through that experience, one can understand why, when I found my son hiding in his room the day of the school show, and crying before graduation because, as he shared it with us later "I didn't know all the other kids in the room", (all the classes graduated together), I take pause, catch my breath, and wonder if we're headed down a path that is eerily familiar - down to that statement.

Only, he surprises us and perseveres.  He sings and dances with his class and he is caught on video joyously shaking his booty off at graduation.

Even so, I will NEVER again dismiss a child's fearful tears after having gone through what we did. And I am thankful that God has brought other parents my way who are in desperate need of answers and direction and just need to talk through their concerns.

Fast forward to this week, when I had the pleasure of thanking Harper's running coach for loving her as an individual and really taking time to get to know who she is.  For her coach didn't treat her as just another 9 year old, but, rather, as a unique person.

I also had the joy of walking into the local Elementary School where rather than addressing me first, the school secretary looked Zane straight in the eye and welcomed him as a new Kindergartner, going the extra mile to give him special attention during which I simply stood by feeling pleasantly ignored.  That treatment continued at the registration table where Zane was again welcomed ahead of me.  Those small gestures were the catalyst for Zane being on cloud 9.  No kidding, ever since those two introductions and his Kindergarten assessment, his demeanor and the way he carries himself, has blossomed.  He even looks taller.

Both of them are moving onward and upward. I even think they sense it and feel it.

Suddenly, the changes seem to be moving by so quickly.

But not so quickly that I can't them all down.  Here.

Harper and Zane - you inspire me to do this.

I love you both more than you will ever know and more than I will ever be able to show you, for more often than not, my human insufficiency clutters my ability to parent.

Thanks for the grace.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

From Chicago Mom to Pittsburgh Mom

I am officially a Pittsburgh Mom. Well, at least according to I am! Not only am I a Pittsburgh Mom, but I'm a Pittsburgh Soccer Mom at that.

I know. Is your head just spinning with excitement?

Well, mine is.

For years, almost 3 of them now, I have been sharing with family and friends how I would relish the responsibility of writing a weekly column or post, for a either a paper or online publication. Paid. You know, like a real job.

Enter Pittsburgh.

I've been reading PghMom (for you Chi folks, Pgh is to Pittsburgh as Chi is to Chicago) since moving here, and have gotten to know the manager of the site. I've even cheered her on as she went from couch to 5K to half-marathon over this past year. So, when she emailed recently with the opportunity to write for the site, I jumped really high, and then began crying and thanking my children for the endless supply of material.

I am now "soccer mom" writing about parenting at

Every Thursday.

I can only equate the hundreds of posts I've written here on Cuppa Jo to those countless auditions I would take in Chicago while I waited to get cast in a choice role.  The habit and discipline of writing, even if no one was reading, only strengthened my work and my resolve to find a place to showcase my goods.

So, now that I've got Thursday covered, it's time to fill, hmmm, let's say, Tuesday.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Pure Love

"Mommy, I love you more than chocolate."

If you know my Zane, then you know that he is a chocolate freak.

It is a wonder that he has escaped each dentist visit without cavities.

For him to utter this phrase, and then top it off with a huge smooch straight up on the lips, is no small matter.  This is not a drill.

This mama-love is the real deal.

Zane, I love you too. More than buffalo wings.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Second Time's a Charm

My first visit back to Chicagoland since moving to Pittsburgh revealed how very quickly I have assimilated to my new home town of Beaver and my new big city of Pittsburgh.  I felt rather out of place during that first visit back to Chicago.  And oddly uncomfortable.

My second visit back to Chicago, (the city from which I am currently writing this post) revealed something quite different.

I love Chicago.

George and I first moved to the Chicagoland area in 1992. After seminary we remained in the northern suburbs until he landed his first job down in Evanston - where we then re-located and remained until last June. 18 years.

18 years.

My life can be divided into the:

18 years I spent growing up in northern Virginia - Northern Virginia
4 years invested at Ohio University
18 years in Chicagoland
??? years in Pittsburgh(land) - sorry, the "land" part is habit

It is amazing to me that the same number of years I spent growing up in Springfield, actually equals the amount of time I lived in the incomparable city of Chicago.

When I think about it this way, I realize that both cities could be considered my "hometown". For just as my 18 years in Springfield held life milestones, our time in Chicagoland encompassed seminary, getting by on an enormous amount of freelance jobs, auditioning/performing/teaching/private coaching, George landing his first job, purchasing our first home year, pregnancy and our introduction to parenthood, teaching music, selling a home and buying a new one, having a second child, etc.  A lifetime of experiences took place for us in Chicago.

I love Chicago.

I was fortunate to be involved in an incredible birthday celebration for an old friend this weekend. She took such care in both hand-picking with whom she wanted to share her 40th and where she would do so. Chicago was the hands down winner for the destination, and thankfully I made the cut for this momentous occasion. She loves Chicago and wanted to share her birthday and her favorite city with a number of women in her life - most of whom I had never met, and several who had never visited Chicago.

We took up residence for 2 nights at a rented condo in Boystown.  Look it up.

It was the first time in 18 years that I took in all the "touristy" Chicago haunts, not counting my last 3 months living in Chicagoland when I managed to cram the Chicago Historical Society, the Drake, the Planetarium, the (then) new modern wing of the Art Institute, and the Sears Tower (or, now, the "What you talkin' 'bout Willis Tower?") into the lives of our children before we skipped town for Pittsburgh.

Today, however, wandering around the city was a relaxed treat.

A run on the lakefront.

Walking the Mag Mile without destination.

Stopping at Garrett Popcorn rather than having it sent to me as a gift.

Taking a Trolley Tour of the city with a fabulous tour guide who reminded me why this place is so incredible.

Comedy Sportz (a favorite of mine since you don't have to worry about cringing over the material)

A limo ride through the city at night.

The result?

I love Chicago.  So much.  Always have.

I just kind of like it better as a visitor
Sure, it's sweet to live here, but as I told George over the phone, "I'm enjoying it more as a tourist."  Just feels like I have more time to really appreciate it now, then when I was a resident with a life which kept me distracted and thus obscured the beauty of this great place.

As we wandered around downtown, my memory of the landmarks was linked to auditions and/or gigs.  I auditioned there.  I shot an industrial there.  Oh, I did a Marshall Fields commercial there.  Parked there in order to audition in that building.  I don't, however, have memories of just enjoying the city.  It was always a destination for the purpose of landing a gig.  I missed out on just exploring it for fun other than the random visit to the Art Institute or the spring break that I took the kids to every museum I could.  Hey, there's nothing like wearing out your children by taking them to every free museum day you can in one week!

On my next trip back, I intend on taking some Pittsburgh gal pals with me, for I want to show it off to my new friends here in Beaver.

It is most definitely a "return-to" city.  Over and over and over.

Sweet home, Chicago.

Chicago, I may not live here any longer, but I do indeed love you.  Thank you for contributing to 18 years of my life and playing a huge part in molding me into who I am now:  a small town girl with a heart and soul of a big city.

I'll be back.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

All the World's a Small Town




All things Internet.

Are there really any "big cities" anymore?

Not the way I see it.

Today, I "spoke" with friends in Illinois, Virginia, Colorado, Maine, and California. And it's only 12:30. We "chatted" via facebook. We "caught up" via my blogs.

At the same time, folks from other states, including right here in PA, were also checking in with me - whether I knew it or not - by following those very conversations on Facebook, or catching up on a cuppa here at Cuppa Jo or Cuppa Fit.  In a warped sense, we were all in the same place at the same time today, with the only separation being physical distance.

In a small town, it seems as if everyone knows everyone and everyone's business.  Sure, this can be awkward, but it worked to my advantage Monday night when Harper broke her arm.  In two places.  Once we got settled in the ER, I recalled a conversation about orthopods that I had just had at my monthly book club gathering a week prior.  Quickly, I sent a text to a friend, asking her for the number of Harper's running coach (also a friend of this friend) whose husband happens to be an orthopedic surgeon - which I first learned through that book club conversation. 

Yeah, that was a tad bit confusing.  Just think back to that Breck Shampoo commercial and you'll be OK. Don't hurt yourself doing the math.

Wouldn't you know that the concerned doc, with the concerned running coach wife, logged on to the hospital's system and viewed her x-rays for me.

Next, I sent a photo of her x-ray via text message to another Dr. friend that we know, as well as to a third friend whose brother is an orthopedic surgeon.  She, in turn, forwarded it to him.

All three surgeons looked at the x-ray and gave me immediate advice, agreeing that she should be sedated, the bone set, and her arm cast immediately, due to the angularity (?) of the break - same course of action as I heard in the hospital (but it never hurts to get 3 more opinions.  Right?).

Interestingly enough, all three surgeons were scattered throughout different cities.

A quick status update on Facebook yielded over 30 well wishes to my pipsqueak with the broken limb, and led a few visitors straight away to the ER to cheer her up.

Feels just like a small town.

I realize that many are opposed to social media shenanigans, stating that FB, twitter, and even blogging tend to ruin one's ability to communicate verbally with others.  And indeed I respect that argument, as I have certainly experienced an overwhelming decline in both young adults (and adults) who are able/willing to address tough/uncomfortable situations in person, rather than relying upon email, FB message, or voice mail.

Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I said, "No, don't email them.  Call them.  Or sit down with them.  Talk it out." . . . .

Believe me, speaking as someone who communicates quite comfortably by means of the written word, this is advice that even I must heed.  Recently, after reading a comment on FB that I found particularly rude, I struggled to reply.  My fingers were itching to write a response, so I wrote a draft of what I wanted to "say".  In the end, I chalked up the harsh nature of the comment to the world of FB, where the speed of typing fingers tends to overtake discretion and chose to just delete the thread and let it go.

It wasn't an easy decision.

And yet, even with situations like that, whether I'm the one misinterpreting what someone else has written, or vice versa, blogging and FB have made my world richer.  And, well, smaller.

It has allowed me to "chat" with far away friends, to share my opinions, goals, and desires, (while also hearing about the needs of others), and has helped me stay connected with the "big world" by means of creating a smaller cyber-town of 300 or so people.

Similar to a small town, where word that your daughter had a bummer of a night spreads like a California wildfire, (and you return home from hours at the ER to find cookies on your doorstep), with social media, all the world is in the know.  Depending on what I choose to share.

And share I do.

Next month, I will cease calling myself "the new girl in town", the title of my pieces in The Bridge, for I have gotten to know so many new friends here in Beaver. Many know me from meeting me first hand. But others know me from reading The Bridge, and this blog, and then bumping into me at the bank, or tennis court and realizing that I'm the writer of those pieces.

So, just as you might knock on my front door to catch a chat on the porch, or grab a cup of coffee with me, know that what you read here, or on FB, is the real me:  A Jesus-lovin', coffee-slugging, exercising, cosmetic-selling, book reading, opinionated, somewhat mouthy and oh, so, transparent, woman, wife, and mother, who is flattered that you even find Cuppa Jo worthy enough to come visit.

We may not always agree, but at the very least, what you READ is what you get.

Thanks for being my neighbor - whether here in the city of Beaver, or my cyber-city.  For to me, they are one in the same.

Monday, May 3, 2010


I'm thinking an introduction may be in order for any new readers that I may have picked up since moving to Beaver last June.  While I have never thought to do so, I have come to realize that many of you who are now devoted readers may not have taken the time to go back and read my posts from 2008 and 2009.  Thus, as this is a personal blog, many of you do not know me very well, or the reason why Cuppa Jo was started in the first place.

I began blogging in 2001 when my daughter Harper was born. The blog was primarily a means of communicating her experiences to our family who lived hours from us and didn't get to see her but a few times a year. It also served as an online diary by which I could document my special moments with her, as well as share my parenting joys and struggles with other Moms out there in the world of "mommy blogging".

While those posts are no longer online, they are saved on a CD for me to give to Harper one day.

When Zane came along, I created a second page by which to document our "inZane" life. This too, has been saved to CD, and will one day be handed to him in a big, ceremonious fashion.

I tell my kids that I think about them all day, but this blog will serve as proof that Mom truly did have  both Zane and Harper on the brain and heart daily.

Cuppa Jo was created in 2008, when I could no longer keep up with separate pages for both kids. It also served as a place for me to "cry out" when we began noticing some struggles that Harper was having. Knowing that I spent years relying upon my journal as a means of communicating with my Heavenly Father, I soon realized that blogging was also a cathartic expression of the pain I was feeling for my daughter.

Many of the posts from 2008 document and detail our experience as we searched for both a diagnosis and means of treatment for her. I have never been shy about sharing this area of our lives so openly, as I was sure that at some point in time, a reader would come to me needing help for the very same issues.

And, indeed, they have.

Cuppa Joy has since morphed into my online place to share stories, opinions, moments about the children (that I have jotted down in order to share with them when I am old and senile and can't remember where I set my teeth, or worse yet, my cup of coffee), and a place for dialogue.

By reading my personal blog, you are seeing, first hand, the lens by which I view life, based upon my experiences.

Many readers have left comments on posts that I've written - not all agreeing with my sentiments about this situation or that topic, but I have always welcomed feedback. I enjoy communicating through the written word, and I also love that my words get people thinking and talking, and yeah, sometimes, a little fired up.

So comment. Ask away. Tell me my opinion is crazy. Share with me that you disagree. Celebrate with me. Type, "duh". Yell at me. Laugh with me. Cry with me. Cheer me on and rebuke me.  Go ahead and quote, "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Check in with me.

It all makes for great discussion and I will always welcome the opportunity to to discuss a piece I've written.

Thanks for pouring yourself a cuppa jo.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

This is NOT a piece on how Chicago is better than Pittsburgh.

I adore Pittsburgh.

I do think, however, that Pittsburgh can learn a thing or two about running a Marathon from Chicago. Or Boston. Or New York.  Perhaps visiting one of these races and shadowing how they are executed would be a great education for my new fabulous city.

Pittsburgh is still fairly new to the Marathon table having taken a break from throwing the race from 2003 until 2009, in order to work out some glitches. Unfortunately, last year, one of the elite female Marathoners mistakenly took the wrong turn alongside a Half-Marathoner and ended up taking second in the Half, rather than finishing the full Marathon.  Not good press. Really bad runner management.

This year, while I can't speak to the Marathon and the Half, I can speak to the relay.

My review:

Pittsburgh has bitten off more than they can chew.

Aside from the rain, which could not be controlled, and the bomb threat which caused the course to get re-routed during the race, and caused a TON of confusion up by my leg of the relay when an annoucement went out that the race was being "shut down at Mile 22", Pittsburgh still has some work to do in ironing out the glitches of running such a huge event.

The Expo rocked. Loved it.

Parking. Easy.

It was once we got to the start that the confusion began. Where was gear check? Could someone point us to the relay shuttles?

If we were able to find a volunteer in order to ask these essential questions, the answer was usually, "Hmm, I'm not sure." Thus, we relied on just following the crowd, who in turn was following us.  The result?  A ton of us walking in circles.

At the shuttle stops, the signs had apparently been printed incorrectly, or something, so a few race volunteers stood in the street yelling to the crowd as to where to load the proper shuttle to get to the designated relay exchange. One shuttle got a flat tire. My shuttle didn't know where to take us. At the end of two of my teammates legs the shuttle stops to get them back to the start were not correct and they ended up walking a few miles in the wrong direction. 

My relay stop included a few small tents, not enough mylar blankets to keep us dry during the rain (they had some, just not enough), and one table with water/gatorade. However, one didn't know of these amenities because there was absolutely no signage to alert us to them. I winded up walking to a Sunoco, grabbing a cup of coffee and, thankfully, a Kind bar, which was a much better choice then your normal gas station munchies.  I then sat against the wall for about 2 hours in order to stay dry and watch the elite runners come in.  Even with my dollar store plastic poncho, I was soaked.  My toes?  Already pruned.  The race started at 7:30.  At 9, the elites started coming by.  My exchange, however, wouldn't happen until closer to 11:15.  So I sat.

And believe it or not, met a teacher from Blackhawk High School who works with my friend who ran the first leg of the race.  Crazy.

Knowing the coffee and bar would do some work on my system (sorry, but runners talk about this stuff), I headed over to the johns around 10:30 - flushable ones. Thank God. In line, I heard the first rumblings of a "suspicious package" found at the Finish Line. The race was being re-routed while authority's inspected the package.  (Post-race, I would learn that the package, a microwave, was destroyed.)

I then began to look for my chute where I would line up until my teammate came through the pass off the baton (or, in this case, a slap bracelet).  The signs listing bib numbers, which would assist in an orderly line-up were not properly set up, but rather, left on the ground to be either tripped on, or ignored.

Suddenly over a mic, "There has been an emergency. There has been an emergency. We are stopping the race. Runner's please stop. We are stopping the race."

An ambulance than made its way to us and we "parted the waters". Once it passed us, everything resumed as normal.

For 10 minutes.

And then, "The race is being stopped. There has been a bomb threat. The race will end at Mile 22. Runner's please stop. The race is shut down."

Nothing further.

And then, it was back on again.

11:15.  My teammate came through and I TOOK OFF.  I was so happy to be leaving my exchange pergatory. After rising at 4:30, walking in the rain, getting lost on the way to the shuttles, having a driver who was unsure where to drop us off, hanging at Sunoco with others in the neighborhood - not the greatest I must add (no one needs to see thongs or track marks before a race), having the race get called, TWICE, and just feeling as if we Relayers were second fiddle, all I wanted to do was run.

Getting out of there was great incentive to take off at a nice clip.

My leg rocked: Downhill most of the way, which probably explains why I was able to run 10 minute miles for 4.3, GREAT live bands, my quick stint with "Apollo Creed" (a guy who resembled him and ran with a flag pole up his back - um, ouch), beer from Penn Brewery (skipped it - but that's cool), high-fiving a homeless guy that everyone kept ignoring, being the last leg and getting to cross the finish line, and generally feeling VERY strong once I came to my senses that I should stick to my Galloway plan rather than going all commando, are the good memories I'll take from the race.

My friends, however, were experiencing hunger, as there was no food for those who had completed their legs.  (Back when I ran the Baltimore Marathon Relay, there was a "food court area" where you would enter with your bib after taking a shuttle back to the finish.  Here?  Not so much.)

Pittsburgh, you are one great city.  So very cool.  But, I think, until you have the glitches worked out, you should stick to just a full and Half-Marathon. Why muddy the waters? I know the Relay is fun, but, I gotta tell ya, it wasn't an easy experience - and I'm not talking about the actual running part.  If the execution of a Marathon has caused you problems in the past, why add more by also organizing a Relay?  Get those races down to a perfect science, and then, put the Relay back in.

Will I run it again? Perhaps not the Relay. The Half-Marathon, however? Yep.

For as my new running shirt says, "13.1, I don't go all the way".

And I don't.  And won't.

Even though I come from the "big city", where I think they get Marathons right (yeah, if people are dropping dead on the course because it's too hot, I do support shutting down the race), you are my new home, dear Pittsburgh, and regardless of the events of today, I will continue to run you.

And you, in turn, will give me memories.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jeopardy: Harper-Style

Swear Words

"What is P. Diddy?"


"What is Lady Gaga?"

Fairy Tales

"What are stories that are performed outside one's bedroom window by a female troupe of neighborhood friends/actors (with a small guest appearance by a sibling) while being grounded and thus stuck inside."

And You Are . . .?

When we first moved to Beaver, the kids would complain about walking everywhere.  Which is funny, because having lived in Evanston, that's what we'd do.  Park at the church, and then walk.  Everywhere.

After almost a year of living here, I think the kids have finally gotten the memo that I will NOT be plopping them in the car for a quick trip to the bank, the post office, or even Beaver Super.

So, knowing that they still tend to whine and complain a bit when we walk (and in their defense, I am a a very fast walker) I was completely dumbfounded, surprised, elated, and proud when Harper ran her practice 5K on Thursday.

Since I was down with a mysterious foot pain, and needed to stay off it in prep for my leg of of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Harper ran her first 3.1 with one of the Girl On The Run helpers who is a Senior in High School. For three miles, she ran. And talked. The entire time. Stopping only for a 30 second breather. She ran strong and finished well in about 35 minutes.

George and I never realized that she could run like this. Coach said she has the "gift" of running - someone who just does so effortlessly. We're not to tell her this.


Got to meet another side of my dear girl that night.  

And who are you, Zane? My little man who woke up Wednesday morning, petrified about performing in the school show. Zane who remained wrapped in a blanket on his bed, with his little head peaking out, sharing with me how scared he was to be in front of all the people.

Zane chose to "be a snake" (in his mind - he didn't dress like a snake - but somehow "being a snake" helped him cope), and entered the sanctuary, took his ribbon, and danced around the maypole with the other children. He stood while singing, even if he barely opened his mouth, said his lines into the microphone, performed hand gestures for songs, and even danced enthusiastically to what I think was a Laurie Berkner tune.

I was shocked.

He did it Zane's way.

Zane's show and Harper's 3.1 are one in the same: the means by which they revealed to their parents a bit more of who they are, and that they can do the unexpected.

THAT's who they are.