Saturday, September 26, 2009

Camping Renewal

Last weekend was too perfect for these parts. The cornfields stretched for miles, but with some roll to the countryside, it wasn’t a boring drive to Oregon. No, not THAT Oregon. Illinois has a little town called Oregon and that’s where my drive took me.

Past rustic red barns and horse farms, past a make-shift sign pointing to a blessing of the harvest, past so many road kill raccoons I have to make mention. Solitary but not alone, a two-lane road with so many motorcyclists you’d think they were all going to some big convention. I think, however, they just knew this weekend was one of the few left for their passion until spring.

As each cyclist passed another, they extended their left arms downward. Not being clued in to motorcycle culture, I imagine this some kind of “secret handshake,” akin to the cub scout or boy scout handshake.

On hindsight, this is an appropriate segue since scouts camp a lot and that’s where I was heading. Years ago when my son Jeff was a cub scout, I somehow got snookered into becoming a den mother. Of course trying to wrangle eight elementary-age boys into after-school crafts projects is like herding cats. Bless my friend Molly’s heart, she knew better and passed on the opportunity to lead. Her son Christian, my son, and the co-leader’s son, ring-led the other boys into all kinds of harmless mischief. I had fun but not at the time. Does that make sense at all?

Eventually, Jeff graduated cub scouts and moved onto boy scouts and his dad took over as a leader. At least on my watch, the boys didn’t try to burn down the forest on a camping trip. The boy who a attempted that was, as they say, “troubled.”

So, when Jeff felt it was time to introduce camping to Natalie and little Nicolas, I was at first reluctant. Fifty-seven year old bones don’t like sleeping on the ground in a tent. Ever the boy scout, Jeff offered up an AeroBed, clinching the trip for me. The other appeal, besides being outside on a lovely fall weekend with people I love, was Jeff’s cooking.

By the time I pulled into the crowded campground at Lowden State Park, one former Governor Rod Blagojevich closed last year due to budget troubles, Jeff and Natalie had already set up camp. Sweet! Minor items forgotten and a burnt apple cobbler in a new Lodge Dutch oven were our biggest issues. Small price to pay for stars over our heads, a roaring campfire, S’mores, great steaks, campers’ breakfast, and being with people I love.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

America’s Most Stressful Cities and One That’s Not

Forbes ranks America’s most stressful cities. I’ve lived in several cities on the list: Houston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and was born in one—Washington D.C. However, I am presently located in Chicagoland—Chicago being the most stressful of all. I can agree that driving on the expressways when necessary is stressful. I try to take Metra when I go into the city. Paying through the nose to park a car only adds insult to injury.

While I love all that Chicago has to offer after you get there, I have settled in the far west hinderlands of Chicagoland. Batavia to be specific, which is ironically the only Illinois city to make Money Magazine’s list of America’s best small towns. Ranked at number 56, my little slice of Chicagoland is a stark contrast to the big-city buzz.

Here in Batavia, the biggest thing going on a Friday night is the local Batavia High School Bulldogs game—a real Friday Nights Lights just down the street from me. Life here is simpler—farmers market on Saturday, volunteer fair at the library, arts shows, bikers up the wazoo (we are on the bike trail along the Fox River). My bank, cleaners, insurance agent, hair salon, favorite coffee shop, drugstore, and the library are all within a mile or walking distance of my place. That cuts down on stress for sure. Batavia calls itself the City of Energy and the local landscape is dotted with windmills, an omage to its once booming windmill manufacturing status.

So, let Oprah Winfrey celebrate Chicago this week as well as celebrate her 24th year in TV with what the Chicago media has dubbed Oprahpalooza as she takes over three blocks of Michigan Avenue for her show, throwing even more stress onto the shoulders of commuters. It’s okay. This is the City of Big Shoulders afterall, but I think I’ll stick to my little corner of the world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Including Samuel (and Nicolas)

Including Samuel, a documentary by Dan Habib that is airing on television stations in the U.S, chronicles a family’s journey to include their disabled son in all that life has to offer. Samuel has cerebral palsy. My long-time readers may recall that my little (born Feb. 23, 2008 at 26 weeks—1 lb. 12 oz.—101 days in the NICU) grandson Nicolas has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

So, this film hits home. I’ve just seen the 12-minute trailer. I hope you will watch this film if you have the chance. I know I will. At least click on the link and watch the trailer.

Closer to home though, as I watch little Nic crawl around army-style on the floor, I hope for the best. Hope the therapists who say they think he will walk by “three or four” are in one sense, right—that Nicolas will walk—or wrong in that Nicolas will walk sooner. Mostly, I try not to think too much about what ifs. I know that human spirit can overcome some labels and that much is left up to Nic’s spirit and determination. He has been given a tough hand to play. Many are helping him but no one can really predict. Labels are hurtful, limiting, unfair.

And that’s why inclusion is important. Not just because to me this is personal. But because all of us need to know that we have a chance to overcome, excel, fly—to soar wherever our talents may allow us to go. To walk, run, swim, create, speak, heal, cure, invent, teach, and to participate in all the other possibilities of life.

Googling BedBugs

I put Google ads back up on the blog since I am trying to make it to my $100 threshold. I don’t write to make money, but I would like to get the few bucks Google says I have earned. However, I thought it funny that three of the ads were about bedbugs. Well, that’s because I wrote about the Poundin Bedbugs Playskool toy and the fact that Colorado State didn’t have their annual sofa roundup because of the little critters. I will try to watch what I write about from now on.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

My Favorites on America’s Got Talent

America’s Got Talent: Guilty pleasure, manipulated reality talent show—that’s my take and I’m there. So far, I’m a big fan of former chicken catcher Kevin Skinner, aspiring country-ballad singer. If he’s genuine—there’s always a part of me that holds on to a bit of skepticism with these competitions—he has my vote. Then, those three Texas Tenors look awfully cute in their cowboy hats. Soprano Barbara Padilla sings beautifully, plus she’s a cancer survivor—she’s high on my list. Next week brings more semi-finalist performances. Hope they are as good as the last round.